ellymelly’s fanfiction

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

LOVE IN THE TIME OF SCIENCE March 26, 2009



UNTOLD SANCTUARY

LOVE IN THE TIME OF SCIENCE

by ellymelly


TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Storms and Lecture Notes

  2. Universe in the Lake

  3. The Start of Something

  4. Breaking In

  5. Taking a Turn

  6. The World’s an Experiment

  7. Vivisection

  8. Secrets, Lies and Stolen Truths

  9. Sanguine Vampiris

  10. Child of the Storm

  11. Unbreakable

  12. Rats to the Slaughter

  13. First Impressions

  14. The Invisible Man

  15. Dampier’s Notes

  16. Haunting Immortals

  17. Sherlock

  18. Missing Time

  19. Dreamscapes of the Insane

  20. Nigel Walks

  21. Bloody Nights in London

  22. Trill Mill Stream

  23. A Shot in the Dark

  24. Pushing Boundaries

  25. The British Museum

  26. Nature’s Balance

  27. Nigel’s Diary

  28. Crimson Torment

  29. Beautiful Disaster

  30. Wild Roses and Empty Boxes

  31. Prince of Blood

  32. Starting From Scratch

  33. A History of the Underworld

  34. Black Water

  35. Hollow Ground

  36. Apology in Blood

  37. An Honest Gentleman

  38. Bowing Out Gracefully

  39. Creatures of the Sand

  40. Ruffle of Feathers

  41. Heart of the Storm

  42. Feed

  43. A Crypt for the Damned

  44. Pieces of Modern Science

  45. Cities of the Ancient World

  46. Reservoir of Dreams

  47. Outpost

  48. Returning to Oxford

  49. A Father’s Return

  50. Classical Chaos

  51. The Age of Light

  52. The Five

  53. Daughter of Time

  54. Revenge at its Cruellest

  55. Revelations of Love

1

STORMS AND LECTURE NOTES

A ruffle of wings settled on the window. Their blur of white faded from the air as the creature turned its elegant head and nestled its beak between the layers of feathers, knocking the rain free.

The storm over Oxford hadn’t decided what to do, so instead it loomed, slowly grazing over the twinkling gas-lit streets. The glow of the city was just enough to light the underside of the storm in the absence of starlight.

A pair of bright eyes watched the sky, scanning the clouds as they rolled through each other. He could feel their friction and smell the droplets of water tumbling – ripping electrons free as they rose and fell in a maddening struggle. It was a scene alive with expectancy, like two lovers drawn apart, desperate to rejoin in what could only be a beautiful disaster.

He breathed in the energy, waiting for –

A river of light cut through the heavens and dove into the earth with perfect silence.

The air around it burnt.

Expanded.

And began reverberating through the sky towards his window.

Nikola felt the world shudder. His shutters rattled and the pigeon hopped onto his outstretched arm in a frightened flutter, clawing its way up his suit.

Sh…” he cooed, tracing a finger down the back of its neck. It nipped him affectionately. “This is the best part.”

“You’ll catch something from that thing,” Helen climbed into the university’s attic, sitting on the floorboards before swinging her legs up through the hole.

“I thought I told you not to come up here?” he replied, still petting the bird.

“You say that every day, but you never mean it,” she closed the hatch and strolled over to the window, keeping her distance from the stray bird scaling Nikola’s shoulder. There was a storm raging over the city but it had not reached them yet. She could feel its cool wind kicking through the open window onto their faces. “We’ve got evening class.”

Tesla lifted an eyebrow. “You’re here because?”

Helen shook her head, turning her back on the window. Nikola had transformed the attic into a dormitory. A bed had been pushed against the far side of the misshapen room – meticulously made. The rest of the space he had proceeded to fill with whatever he could scavenge from the engineering laboratories. Mostly it comprised a concoction of wire – bundles and bundles of it.

“I’m here because I was the only one our lecturer could convince to come and get you.”

“Come here…”

She frowned. “Not if you-” but realised her mistake, Nikola was talking to the pigeon. Helen watched as he cupped the creature in his hands and knelt down onto the floor, as if hiding from something.

A moment later Helen screamed but no-one heard it above the roar that shattered the windows. She fell to the ground, holding her ears and slamming her eyes shut as the small room became a beacon of light. The accompanying thunder pounded through her very soul until she thought it would break.

Suddenly, there was nothing…

She opened her eyes to a ball of light several feet across, spinning slowly in the centre of the room. It shimmered with what looked like shards of lightning branching off in quiet rumbles. The sphere’s surface rippled with burning veins that pulsed in brightness – humming.

The ball-lightning didn’t stay suspended for long. At length it rolled lazily through the air and Helen had to leap out of the way as it collided with a solid wall – dissipated and vanished.

The room was returned to darkness. Helen turned her head to Nikola’s quiet laugh. He opened his palms and the pigeon flew out into the storm just as the first sheet of rain hit the walls.

“Can we go now?” Helen hissed, clearly frightened by his little show.

Nikola nodded. “I’m done…”

“You’ll be well and truly done when they university finds out you put a lightning rod on the roof!”

*~*~*

Night class was easily the most poorly attended of all the physical science classes. A quick turn about the room made its avoidance plain.

The lecturer, stunted and balanced on a high stool at the front of the room, slanted over the black board scratching illegible diagrams in-between a series of annotations that lacked internal consistency.

By default, the front bench was left empty.

It wasn’t that the few students that bothered to show disliked being close to the board, or feared looking too keen – indeed, in different circumstances the front would be an ideal seat if only to have a fair chance at deciphering the board… In this case though, the stench leaching out of the lecturer’s jacket was almost visible on the air. Like a noxious gas, it kept students at a safe distance.

A rumble of thunder woke Nigel Griffin. Snorting, he rubbed a hooked nose on his sleeve and nestled his head back in the warm ditch of his arm. Several of his books were considering a leap of faith from the desk but there was one book the world would never take from him; his diary. It was not because he kept secrets in it – he was not a particularly secretive person – no, this book contained a detailed list of all his appointments and lesson times, observations and ramblings of the world. In his first year, he’d misplaced this book, spent the day wandering around in a lost state and finally ended up locked in a cupboard. Not something he was keen to repeat.

At the back, right corner sat the rigid figure of James. Unlike the others who were either asleep or scribbling madly, James Watson narrowed his eyes and observed his peers. Every so often he tilted his head, changing subjects. The lecture board continued to fill but he didn’t feel the need to lift his feathered pen for there were far more interesting things afoot than the eternal motion of the planets.

The twin doors of the lecture room flew open with a gush of wind, startling those that had been napping. A young woman with a dishevelled mop of golden hair dragged a wiry gentleman behind her, depositing him in the nearest seat. She nodded at the lecturer and then collapsed next to Tesla, opening her book where she quickly set to work copying the board.

Nikola rolled his eyes, spun around so that he was lying lengthways across the bench, and promptly went to sleep with his head irritatingly in her lap. Helen ignored him, brushing her hair out of the way.

“Mr Tesla?” the lecturer had stopped writing to stare expectantly at the empty section of bench hiding Tesla.

“Yes, sir?” came the half muffled, mostly bored response.

“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about a bolt of lightning hitting the south end of the building, would you?” his very large, white eyebrows furrowed. The lecturer knew that the young boy was fascinated by the sheer intrigue of raw current – with good reason. He had what could only be described as affection for it; a relationship that was proving dangerous for the integrity of the building.

There was a long silence in response. The lecturer shook his head slowly and returned to the board.

“Let me know if you remember…” he muttered, picking a new piece of chalk.

Nikola, blissfully looking forward to his sleep, shut his eyes and started planning frictionless power systems. He’d just managed a smile when all the air was forced out of his lungs by the sudden impact of a heavy book on his chest. Coughing, he sat up with a start.

“What the…” there was a sizable text book in his lap.

“Niiice of you to join us,” a deep voice undulated over the air. It belonged to a tall, strong-cut face with a square chin and deep brown eyes. Eyes which trailed to Helen, hovered there for a moment, and then returned to the shocked Nikola.

“And who are you?” Nikola dusted off the book and laid it on the bench. He coughed again and then groaned, feeling his skin burn from the impact.

“I’m new,” replied John. “Well, not that new. This is my fourth class but the first one that you’ve attended since I started. Helen said that I should return your textbook and thank you for its use.”

Nikola opened the cover and saw that it was, indeed, his. Not that he’d opened it. His name was written in Helen’s careful handwriting.

“Thank you John,” whispered Helen, risking a glance.

“You leant him my book?” Nikola frowned, lowering his voice so that the ominous student couldn’t hear.

“Don’t worry, I relocated the spiders nesting on it,” she smirked. “It’s not like you missed it, Nikola. Now quiet, I have to get all this down.”

“It’s rubbish anyway,” Tesla shifted the book to the side as he scanned the board. “There’s a new theory about to be published that shows the earth is much older than that.”

“Maybe, but right now I need you to stop speaking.” She prodded him with the tip of her quill, which hurt quite a bit more than she meant it to.

It worked though. For at least two minutes Nikola did not say a word.

“Helen?”

“Sh…”

“Can I plagiarise your assignment on Inheritance and Mendal?” he inched in a bit, rocking ever so slightly until Helen flicked her damp hair over her shoulder and glared. “That’d be a no then,” he sighed, making the bench back into a bed.

*~*~*

Helen’s essay on Inheritance and Mendal mysteriously made its way into Tesla’s attic accommodation several days later where it was promptly skimmed, re-worded and presented in class where it received a B-.

According to the professor, Nikola had been marked on his ability to acquire answers discreetly.

James Watson, a creature who Nikola rarely spoke to except to taunt, held his own paper up so that its A was glaringly obvious.

“Your motor still bursting into flames?” inquired Tesla casually, ripping his own assignment into a thousand pieces.

James seldom bothered with more than one word, “Presently.”

“Excellent news. Let me know when your life goes up in smoke.” He tipped his hat and headed out the main doors to the garden.

Watson watched the strange man vanish into the morning. “Indeed…”

He was about to waltz off down to the dining hall when something beautiful caught his eye. Miss Helen Magnus, daughter of the currently discredited but once well-thought-of physician, was making her way toward him. At first he thought he must have been inadvertently standing in the way of her target but every time he took a subtle step she realigned her trajectory.

“’scuse me,” she started, quite out of breath.

He’d never spoken to her before now, except when handing out things in class and that one time they’d said an awkward, ‘good day’ in the corridor. James tried to look as pleasant as he could, shaking off his usual icy disposition and general dislike of conversation.

“Yes?” he managed, slipping his brass glasses into a more stable position, higher up the bridge of his nose.

Helen’s hands settled on her hips as she caught her breath. “I’m not wanting to disturb you,” she began, albeit a little suspiciously, “but – I was – wondering. You’re good at anatomy, if I remember?”

Not the first question he thought he’d be asked by the daughter of a doctor. “Presumably.”

“Would I be able to borrow you, for a little while? No more than an hour or so. If you have the time, of course.”

James clasped his gloved hands behind his back and nodded, curiosity getting the better of him.

2

UNIVERSE IN THE LAKE

James Watson crossed his legs, collecting his things into a neat pile beside the library table.

The university library was a conglomerate of too many years spent tacking buildings onto one another without the slightest nod to style. This haphazard maze was divided into two main sections known to the students colourfully as, ‘old’ and ‘new’. Anything vulgar built within the last fifty years fell into the latter category.

The old section was where James preferred to spend his precious time. He liked the sandstone walls, tinted green from centuries of rain and moss – it wasn’t attractive but they brimmed with character. Its aisles were cave like, dwarfed by thousands of books recording a history of human thought. Gothic chandeliers were strung between the towering bookshelves where a single librarian sorted through a trolley of books, painstakingly ordering them onto the shelves.

Today, however, he had been dragged to the new section of the library. It was bustling with near-sighted students snerching books from the shelves and piling them into towers on their friends’ arms. James raised his nose. The smell of varnish and ink permeated the air and tested his patience as he waited for Miss Magnus to return from the cabinet housing recently published papers.

“Still alive,” he made the observation of himself, when she finally returned.

Helen Magnus held several folders tied together with green and gold ribbon.

“They don’t like us borrowing these,” she began, sliding them onto the dark wood table before taking her seat opposite. “New publications except for this one,” her finger tapped the folder on top, “unpublished work by one of the university patrons. We’re especially not allowed to borrow this.”

His eyes tracked over the name on the cover, ‘Karl Landsteiner – On Red Blood Cells’ James had never borrowed anything from the library before, so this restriction did not concern him.

Helen undid the ribbon and gently spread the folder’s contents into a fan as you would a pack of cards. They were roughly printed on fine tissue-like paper with sketchy diagrams and hand-written annotations scattered throughout the text. Hesitantly, she folded her arms onto the table and leant toward James, searching him for something.

He stared curiously back with mellowed-brown eyes. A casual passer would not guess their sharpness but Helen was no casual bystander.

“I’ve been working on something for a while,” she said softly, “but I am wise enough to recognise my limits. The subject which intrigues me is young to the world and so the information I have been able to acquire is either scattered, incomplete or contradictory. Truth is, I need someone who has spent time on their own investigation of the subject matter.”

He wondered how she had known.

“Like me?” he replied, his voice softening to silk.

Exactly like you.”

Helen Magnus had surprised James Watson already. His private obsession into the workings of the human body was not public knowledge.

“You intrigue me, Miss Magnus.”

Helen, please,” she corrected him.

Helen, then. You have my attention but not my trust. Frontiers of science are often a viper pit and my good sense is telling me that you are a cunning participant in the workings of the world.” James paused. “However,” he added with a smile when he saw that she did not flinch at the accusation, “there are worse partners to be had. I would like to know one thing before I agree to help you. How did you find out about me?”

Her eyes shone.

“That was easy my dear Watson. Someone had been borrowing the campus’s supply of glassware – that, and I cornered your dorm mate, Mr Griffin, in the corridor.”

“Secrets do not become him,” said Watson of poor Nigel. “The universe has entrusted him with the awful burden of honesty and no way to hide it.”

*~*~*

Nikola found himself hovering over a small stream trickling its way around the rocks at the front of the university. He followed it through hedges and encroaching lawns all the way around the side of the building and out into the rear gardens where it ended in a freezing pond.

The back of the university looked like a long, blonde-stone rectangle lounging on the iridescent green slope. Several floors high, it was dominated by a library at its centre with sweeping iron windows and Juliet balconies.

The garden was hemmed in by the city on all sides whose noise and dirt was kept at bay by a cast-iron fence too tall to scale and capped in fleur-de-lis. A planting of plane trees hid most of the city in the warm seasons with their dense branches of soft foliage. It was nothing like home, but Tesla preferred it to the building.

He glanced back at the rock prison with a grin when he saw the shattered windows and singed stone from the lightning strike. It would take them some time to dismantle the lightning rod adhered to the roof above his room.

Nikola Tesla knelt down to the eerie pond. The creek fed into it via a gentle, metre wide channel with a steady current at its centre and slow water lulling by the banks. Croaking in the long grass Tesla could hear his prey – namely smallish green frogs. He would need at least four for his next experiment and he had just the thing to acquire them.

*~*~*

James shook his head to quiet Helen’s constant stream of hushed questions.

“It is not safe, in my experience, to mix the blood of species,” James flipped through Landsteiner’s notes. “This explains why it is even dangerous to attempt transfusions between humans. The success rate is a little under half – not a mortality rate that appeals to me.”

Damn,” Helen whispered, defeated. She had read the same thing a thousand times but she had been really hoping that the papers had been mistaken. She was about to pack up everything and vanish when James withdrew one of the folders and spun it around to face her.

“With an exception,” he said, enjoying the way her bright hair slid over her shoulders as her head snapped up. “I have found a measure of success in swine. It is an undocumented phenomenon drawn from principles in this report.”

“Could you show me?” her elbows took the brunt of her mass as she bridged the distance between them.

“Of course. I highly doubt that your motivations are sheer curiosity and I guarantee that you’ll find nothing further but mysteries until you start asking honest questions.”

Helen frowned. James Watson would not be as easily manipulated as she had hoped.

“Show me this experiment and you may ask your questions of me.”

Two great minds sized each other up and settled upon a joint disquiet.

“Tonight then,” he said. “My lab is always prepped. If you can stand the disorder, you are welcome to join me.”

*~*~*

Tesla’s frogs croaked to themselves, hopping around the woven basket that he had borrowed/stolen from Helen.

He lay on the grass, staring into the black water with an absent set of eyes. He thought about the rocks of the building grinding into dust, melting and being remade into mountains only to be pulverised at the end of the world. Then they would be a swirling cloud of particles, wandering into energy until even that dissipated – stretched to infinity. As far as he could determine, nothing was permanent in this existence. A life, memory and even the very soul was gone in the whisper of a breath.

Except for this.

Nikola sat up to watch the eddy currents swirl along the bank like tiny galaxies following the tide. He imagined the speckles of dust on the waters’ surface as the endless bank of stars sliding by and the ripples of the insects touching its tension became the endless propagation of gravity waves. Suddenly, what no man could ever hope to see was before him. Nikola looked at it and smiled, blowing a leaf across the water.

The scene was spoilt by a splash.

A muddy ball bobbed in the pond, destroying the subtle patterns of the water with a series of concentric waves. Tesla took hold of a nearby tree and stretched over the water until his cuff dipped into it.

“Urgh…” he muttered, dragging the ball back to the bank where he found a short, untidy student rubbing their nose in expectation. Tesla held the ball up to the snivelling creature who moved to take it, but Tesla withdrew, holding it well out of reach. “And who are you?” he asked.

The boy was visibly out of breath. Behind him, a line of others were assembling at the top of the hill, clearly waiting for the ball.

“Ni-gel,” he puffed, reaching again for the ball. “Com’on, give us the ball back.”

Tesla, who was both slender and tall, had no imminent desire to oblige him.

“I know you,” he said. “Aren’t you the one that snores through late class?”

“Hey man,” Nigel Griffin replied, “at least I bother to attend.”

Tesla considered this but was sure that there was little difference between absence and snoozing. Bored of this creature, Tesla threw the ball over his head, back up to where the others were waiting.

“Run along now,” Tesla shooed the student away from his presence. When he was gone, Nikola sat back on the bank only to notice a trio of frogs hopping happily to freedom. His basket had been knocked open by the ball. “Wonderful…” he growled.

“What is?” A flurry of black lace and blonde hair settled on the grass next to him. Helen lifted her hand out of the path of an escaping frog and soon found her basket upturned and suspiciously empty. “Did you steal my basket?” she raised her accusing eyes at Nikola, but he was engrossed in the stream bubbling along at their feet. “I’m going to pretend that you gave me an eloquent apology and believable excuse,” she picked up her possession, dusting the grass of its lid.

As usual, Nikola had not said a word to her. She liked that. His silence was approval. Had he wanted her gone, Nikola would have made her keenly aware of it.

“You’ll have to find your own way to class tonight,” she continued. “In my opinion, you should make an effort to be there. It’s the least you can do after causing damage to campus property.”

Nikola lost interest in the water and instead, lay back onto the grass, staring at the grey bank of clouds rolling over them. He felt a fleck of rain on his cheek as Helen joined him, stretching onto the lawn.

“Good,” Helen sighed.

*~*~*

The night was thick. Instead of raining, the clouds had fallen to the ground in a cold mist that hid everything but the uppermost level of the university.

Helen rested against the window, seeing nothing but a grey blur from the ground floor. The clock behind her ticked loudly and then chimed. Evening class was starting but Helen had no intention of attending. Instead, she waited by the window for James Watson.

3

THE START OF SOMETHING

He lingered in the foyer behind, watching her for several minutes. James couldn’t explain it or even reason why, but there was something distinctly sinister about Helen’s silhouette against the arching window that made him hesitate.

“Oh,” Helen was startled when she found James leaning on a doorway. “I worried that you wouldn’t come.”

“I am a man of my word,” he said, offering her his arm in a gentlemanly manner.

He led her up the double marble staircase and around to the main student living quarters. Helen had never been allowed here partly because she was a young lady in Victorian England but largely because she still lived at home with an overprotective father.

“There is nothing to concern yourself with,” James assured her. “The dormitories are as dull as any level.”

She rolled her eyes, far from threatened as he pulled up at his room. He knocked first but as he expected, Nigel was downstairs, nodding off happily in the lecture.

*~*~*

John was surprised by the entrance of Nikola Tesla, gracing the lecture with his presence halfway through. What surprised him more was the absence of Helen.

“Damages to the structure of the university tower have been deducted from your account,” the lecturer informed Tesla as he took his seat. “And the engineering lab would like their coil of copper wire returned as soon as you’ve untangled it from the roof.”

Nikola ignored the lecturer, instead flipping open a journal. Much to the astonishment of the room, he diligently began copying the contents of the board in a tidy font.

John found his eyes glancing at the door throughout the lecture but Helen never showed. There was another conspicuous gap in the bench belonging to an ever observant, rarely spoken James Watson. John narrowed his eyes, no-one had dared to take up Watson’s seat. It couldn’t be a coincidence.

*~*~*

Helen held a handkerchief over her mouth and nose as she stepped into James’s room.

There was a bitter smell on the air that slipped down her throat, sticking halfway where it became pure vile. She gagged, bending over in shock as she simultaneously struggled for breath and tried to avoid it.

“You get used to it,” said James, closing the door behind them. He slipped a hand around Helen’s waist and lifted her back to her feet, holding her until she regained her composure. “Please, this way.”

The room was a narrow rectangle, more like a tunnel reaching for the small window at its far end than a proper dormitory. Someone had jammed a cloth in the window’s frame, sealing out all light and air – or maybe, Helen reconsidered, sealing the terrible stench inside.

Two beds, one immaculate and the other a mess of blankets and notes, were pushed as far as possible toward the door in such a way that she hit her leg on one as she followed James deeper into the room. A line of oil lamps burnt along the right hand wall, sitting on a narrow shelf. Each one had a bulb of oil beneath them, glowing in the firelight. She could smell the citronella now. Helen followed a black trail of smoke with her eyes and saw that the ceiling was stained by a series of black circles to match each lamp.

Four desks hugged the back and side walls in a U shape. A single line of glassware spanned them. Beakers, tubes, flasks, burners, heat mats, distillers, stirring devices and scaffolding were joined in a fragile arrangement. Liquids of different colours bubbled, cooled or trickled in their respective containers.

Rats. Filthy, wild, black street rats scurried about in cages stored beneath the desks. She could hear their claws on the soiled newspapers and their teeth testing the strength of the wire. Beside them was a roughly made wooden box open at the top. Helen approached it cautiously, half kneeling on the dusty ground. It was full of hay which, to her great worry, was moving.

“Our lucky winner for today,” said James, sliding the crate out into the open. Something small and pink was moseying about inside, trying to forage for a stray piece of carrot. “Hold this please.”

James handed Helen a slender knife so sharp that it cut through the air as she took it from him. He pushed her back gently as he reached into the box, his hands disappearing into the dried grass.

“Come on,” he muttered, as the animal slipped out of his grip with a high pitched squeal, thrashing its chubby legs. Once captured, Watson expertly wrestled it onto the nearest table, holding it down with one hand whilst waving Helen over with the other. He clicked his fingers at her without lifting his eyes from the piglet.

Helen realised that he was after the knife. She placed it in his outstretched hand, turning her head sharply when he cut down into the creature’s neck.

*~*~*

Paler than usual, Helen moved quietly through the empty corridors of the university. It was almost eleven and far too late to return home. Her father wouldn’t be pleased but he expected it – Helen was often absent on Thursdays after late class. Usually Nikola would drag her back to the attic to bear witness to his latest show. He wasn’t one to enjoy the company of people, but he still needed someone to share the world which he discovered with – someone other than the snowy pigeon that haunted his window sill.

Her stomach was still turning, but she could not deny the excitement she had felt as the first real science in her life began to unfold. This was it, she was doing something of worth; discovering, investigating and it thrilled her in a terrifying sense.

Helen found a small notebook at the foot of Tesla’s attic but no Tesla. That was odd. She had never known him to be anywhere but here outside of class – or perhaps the roof though he always left the stairs down in case she dropped by. Not that he’d ever admit to it.

“You’re drenched!” Helen exclaimed in a whisper, as a decidedly wet Nikola traipsed down the corridor toward her half an hour later, seemingly caught up in his own mind. He didn’t notice her concerned frown until Helen put a hand to his head to check his temperature. He was freezing.

“Did you know that the university has a pool?” he said, louder than was acceptable for the hour.

“No I didn’t,” she eyed him with great concern. “Don’t tell me you went swimming in the middle of the night! Of all the things to do…”

He fished around with a hook for the latch to the attic. Finally he caught the ring and pulled hard, bringing the ladder-like stairs folding from the ceiling in a loud groan. Without a word, he scaled the stairs leaving a trail of water behind him. Helen hitched up her lace skirt and followed him, carrying the book under her arm.

“This yours?” she held the leather bound item aloft as soon as she reached the attic. Nikola was busy lighting oil lamps – most of which were scattered over the floor. The book looked like a possession of Tesla’s – immaculate and generally unused, but the handwriting was conspicuously legible. Out of curiosity, she gave some of the pages a quick read and found that they were lecture notes. Very un-Tesla indeed.

He continued to ignore her, strolling straight over to a tangle of wires she presumed to be his latest experiment, dripping all the way as a stream trickled from his woollen trench coat. Helen shook her head, put the book on the floor along with her bag, and came up behind him. Before he had the chance to protest, Helen had slipped the coat off of his shoulders and hung it by the window to dry. He was left in a white collared and cuffed shirt which stuck to his wet skin. Semi transparent, hints of muscle and skin were visible as he crouched down. His silk tie – blood red with gold oriental patterns, was still snuggling around his neck.

Helen’s own clothes hung around her ankles as her full length embroidered skirt caught a gust of cold wind sneaking in through the now glassless window. Taking a bundle of pins from her bag, she tacked her ringlets out of the way and changed into a spare pair of rubber boots that Nikola left in the corner. It was a necessary precaution when in Nikola’s presence to insulate one’s self from the ground should he take a fancy to a passing electric current. It wasn’t particularly ladylike, but then Helen had never been a typical lady.

Nikola began handing her things as soon as she sat down on the floor as if she were an extension of him. He didn’t ask her where she had been for half the night, but she felt the need to explain herself.

“I’ve got a little project of my own,” she began, though he didn’t stop to listen. “Of a different kind to yours. More in biological sciences – Watson is –”

“Not worth your time,” he interrupted, “and not as clever as he lets on.”

“Yes, I am aware that the two of you disapprove of one another. Do you want to hear my story or not?” she reached out and touched his hand, trying to get his attention. A light jolt of electricity jumped through her skin, dissipating down her wrist.

“Sorry…” he muttered, moving his hands away from her. “It does that. When you’re on the floor the boots don’t –” He had a habit of not finishing sentences.

“I’m going to go,” she said quietly, putting the experiment gently on the floor. “You’re busy and you don’t need me disturbing you with senseless chatter. Goodnight Nikola.”

Nikola felt the layers of her dress ruffle past him, dancing over his skin. The flames of his lanterns dimmed as she walked by them, striding through the room. He stared down at coil of wire in his hands, closed his eyes, and then put it down.

“Stay,” he whispered, just loud enough for her to hear. “Please.”

Helen stopped, halfway through changing her shoes. “You don’t need me,” she said. “And you never wanted me here in the first place. I should have left a long time ago.”

Nikola got to his feet. In the moon and lamp light, still drenched, he looked strangely off guard. He was more alive when he had a brilliant idea, she could see it in his eyes – that glint of something she wanted so desperately to see. A truth on the horizon, revealed in an instant. It was what she searched for, why she wanted to be a scientist and what excited her about Nikola.

“I need you to hold this…” he pointed at an object on the ground but kept his eyes on her. The truth was that Nikola didn’t require anyone to help him, but he needed her. Ever since she had found him at the beginning of the year, staring out from his attic window, he had needed her. “Your experiment, tell me about it,” he offered.

Helen eyed him for quite some time before finally rolling her eyes, deciding to stay.

“Later,” she said, returning to his side. They sat down together, their eyes occasionally flicking to each other but never at the same time.

“Don’t leave me,” he said softly, not daring to look at her in case she disapproved.

Helen didn’t leave. She stayed there all night by his side as he created a motor with a new kind of electricity, one more powerful than any the world had seen. By the time he was finished, Helen was asleep on the floor beside him, resting her head in her hands which still clutched onto the useless piece of wire he had given her to hold. He smiled – something he would not let her see him do.

Finished, he picked her up gently and carried her to the small bed in the corner of the attic, laying her on it. He found a warm blanket and placed it over her, then blew out all the lamps, and reclined against the floorboards for the few hours remaining before day broke.

*~*~*

Helen returned home before breakfast, depositing various items in the foyer before staggering upstairs to change. Her father, Dr. Gregory Magnus, was waiting for her at the breakfast table, reading through a newspaper. He didn’t say anything, but Helen could feel his disapproval glaring at her through the print.

“I have to leave in an hour,” he announced, as Helen sipped a cold cup of tea. “Will you be back this evening?”

“Will you?” Like father like daughter. Gregory was often missing, out on expeditions or simply gone without explanation.

Gregory sighed, folding his paper. “You’re too much like me,” he muttered.

4

BREAKING IN

The latch on the front door of the Magnus apartment dropped, crashing into the lock. Shortly after, her father’s shadow tracked over the leadlight windows in the morning glow. A horse drawn cart rattled over the cobblestones, skidding on the dew. An old man with a curved spine hushed the gas streetlights while a trio of feral dogs sniffed the curb, hunting a long vanished mouse.

Helen finished her tea, calmly draining the china cup. Her heart was beating fast as a shiver worked its way across her skin. Finally, she thought, now that she was alone with the house.

Helen’s hand hovered over the brass handle leading to her father’s study. Hesitation – something she was known for. The door would be locked. Her father always locked his study door, mainly to keep prying eyes like hers at bay. Sure enough, upon trying the handle Helen found it stuck firm.

Undeterred, she slipped her fingers into her hair, pulling out one of the pins still nesting amongst her curls. With practised ease, she fed it into the lock, turning it slowly until one of its bent ends hooked over the locking mechanism.

She leant against the door, pushing it open despite the angry squeal unleashed. It was like trespassing on sacred ground – crossing her father’s office. Helen did it quickly, heading straight for his desk. She skirted around the side of it to the front section, nudging his leather chair out of the way. There were three beautifully carved drawers along its front. Helen picked the one in the centre, jiggling it open. The old wood was damp and stuck to the tracks but she wrestled with it until it jarred forward and her eyes fell over its contents.

A dozen or so letters were scattered on top. Digging through them, Helen’s fingers expertly hunted for the silver key hidden at the back of the draw. She held it up to the light and smiled. It was attached to a gold-thread tassel which would hold its own against any respectable treasure.

*~*~*

Watson reclined against the cool brick wall behind his bed. He was seated on top of the covers, fully clothed with his feet hanging over the edge and a silk scarf around his nose to dull the stench. He liked to consider himself an early riser, never wasting a moment of the day, but Nigel Griffin put him to shame, up well before the sun even considered peaking over the cloud banks.

With half an hour before breakfast, James kept himself busy reading through the folders Helen had been so kind as to point out to him in the ‘new’ library. He borrowed them, in the more loose sense of the word. Nikola would call it ‘acquiring’ and Helen might go so far as ‘stealing’ but Watson considered it a necessity for the greater good of knowledge. Besides, he would return them well before anyone noticed their absence.

Helen had been right. The information on the subject of their study was a mess of internal contradictions held back by the technology of the time. Several writers expressed frustration at their equipment while others had spent a good portion of their research time building more sensitive equipment rather than running tests. Work was going slowly. Helen was interested in knowledge at the very edge of the horizon, perhaps even beyond it.

“Awake already?” Nigel Griffin had opened the door tacitly, slipping into the room unnoticed. He headed for his makeshift wardrobe, ducking into it, searching for his overcoat.

“Of course,” James replied, choosing the last folder.

Nigel slung the coat over his shoulders, retrieved a satchel – checking specially for his diary, and then returned to the door frame.

“We need to open that window,” he said, resisting the urge to hurl. After the fresh air of sports field, his dormitory was almost unbearable except for – he sniffed again, more carefully this time. There was a new scent wading through the usual putrid haze. It was a faint perfume – oddly familiar. “Someone’s been in here…” he said accusingly, wrapping his fingers around the door. “That blonde woman – you haven’t…”

James lifted his eyes from the file. Their meaning was clear, but he backed them up with a stern, “Of course not.”

His dormitory companion raised a scruffy eyebrow. “Right…” he decided to leave the subject alone. “Well, four of us are going into town after breakfast to replace our quills. We’ll divert to the river if we can. I’d invite you along to join us but your default answer in cases such as these seems to be an irritated, ‘no’.”

James’s silence confirmed Nigel’s assumption.

The silence was too silent.

Their room was usually a quiet raucous of animals, buried in crates and cages along the far wall yet all Nigel could hear were the rats chewing at their bars.

“What happened to the George?” he asked, worried.

“Can you obtain a new pig whilst you are in town?”

Nigel had his answer, and he was not happy about it. George was a pet, though apparently not to James who seemed to lack affection for anything alive. “I’m no errand boy,” he glared, forever sensitive of his less than privileged upbringing.

Perhaps they should have asked first, thought Watson, but he had not been aware of Nigel’s attachment to the creature. “But you can?”

“Of course I can,” muttered Nigel, slamming the door shut.

*~*~*

Helen climbed the stairs to the attic, ducking under an ill-placed beam. She struck a match and the dark landing flickered into light. With her spare hand, Helen slipped the key into the lock and entered the attic. Before progressing, she lit one of the hanging oil lamps.

The attic was not your typical laboratory. It had a makeshift feel about it, accentuated by the overturned trunks posing as desks and the tightly packed crates lining the wall in a bookshelf of sorts.

She breathed deeply, inhaling the smell of knowledge. It was a heady mix of parchment, ink and burning oil. Helen thought that it was beautiful, in a forbidden manner. Her father never brought her up here. When she was eleven years old she assembled the courage to ask about the room at the top of the stairs. He told her that it was empty. Helen Magnus learnt two important lessons that day. One; Gregory Magnus was an accomplished liar and two; there was something of great value hidden away in the attic.

It was another three years before she found herself standing in exactly the same place, staring out at the room with a flame working its way down her match.

Ouch…” she dropped the match. It burnt itself out before hitting the floor.

Helen stepped over it, striding to the largest of the trunk-desks. In the low light, she skimmed over its chaos of objects. Her father had never been neat, but this place was an exceptional mess, even by his standards.

It was odd then, she thought, when she saw a cleared segment of desk with an envelope laid out with its writing facing the attic door – opposite to the rest of the items. She bent down toward it, struggling to read its address in the waning light.

Helen’, it read.

She jerked backwards, glancing nervously at the door behind to make sure that she was alone. Helen checked the writing on the envelope again. It was definitely addressed to her. She looked more carefully at the way it was presented on the desk and it became clear, it was left there for her to find.

Predicting that she was already going to be in trouble, Helen lifted the letter up, turned it over and then slid her nail under the wax sealing it. It snapped off and the letter unfolded.

To my dearest Helen,

Time was short for us. I imagine that I have become one of your father’s stories by now, woven about in that restless imagination of his. You enjoy his stories I’m sure as it gives him pleasure to tell them well. It was my hope that one day he would tell you our story – maybe that day has passed. It is difficult, addressing a time that will not come for so long and for me, never at all.

It was my instruction that he keep one story in particular from you for as long as possible. If he has given you this letter, then you have already begun to notice the subtle changes within yourself – they said that in time you would.

Helen, you have a gift. Do not let anybody tell you otherwise. It is precious, unique and it is yours alone.

When you were fourteen months old you crawled onto a window sill and fell, three floors to the street. Against all expectations, you lived – unharmed save a scar behind your left ear. Indeed your injuries were mild and what little of them you had, you recovered from in days rather than months. The doctors did not know what to think, and so abandoned your case, putting it down to an act of God but your father and I watched you very carefully from then on.

You never got ill, Helen.

Your father studies, or I should say, has an interest in the extremities of humanity. He has seen variations on our form which test the very definition of what it is to be human. Some of his creatures are beautiful, others frightening.

He learnt that a small percentage of us have an abnormality. In all of his creative genius, he called these people, ‘Abnormals’ and began to devote a great deal of time and money studying them. Soon he discovered that he was not the first to cross this path, and together we uncovered a history of human diversity through antiquity documents up until the present day.

It became clear, like a flash of light across an evening sky, that you too, are one of them.

Time for you, will be an endless walk. It is your gift to move through its ages, free of the fear mortality brings.

Forgive me, for not being there with you.

Your mother.

*~*~*

Helen stood in front of the small oval mirror. She lifted her hair away from her ear, and turned her head to the side. A thin red line curved across her skin. Her fingers hovered over it. Was it even possible? To live forever – Helen refused to believe a word of it.

5

TAKING A TURN

She stacked her notebooks calmly, tying them together before slipping them inside her father’s leather satchel. Nothing had changed. It was only a letter. A letter from the past which meant nothing. Helen Magnus repeated her thoughts, wanting more than anything to believe them.

The tears on her cheeks had gone cold. She wiped them off, unsure of how they had gotten there without her approval.

It was mid-morning and the city was thick with bodies trying to reach their respective destinations. The university was within walking distance, visible where it rose above the other buildings. She could see its two sandstone spires, reaching up toward the sky with their tops stained, almost like the smoky peaks of mountains.

The sight of its steadfast walls drew her in. She had never felt an attachment to the place that she’d had to fight to step into and even harder to stay, but all of a sudden there was no place that she’d rather be than inside its hostile walls.

Helen joined the crowd of students trailing in through the gates. Aside from the wives of professors taking a turn around the gardens, she was the only lady making her way toward the building. The men noticed this, turning their heads ever so slightly as she walked by them. Most averted their eyes, returning to their conversations, maybe even throwing in an aside about the outrage of allowing a woman to study. It was a select few that greeted her with a smile, tipping their hats.

The truth was, the university had never officially allowed her to study within its walls. She was neither enrolled, nor on any attendance lists. She was just a woman that happened to sit inside the lecture rooms, furiously taking notes and handing in assignments for the interest of the professors who read them, not out of duty but curiosity.

“Helen,” a friendly voice approached. It belonged to Mr. Druitt, the mysterious student she had met several weeks ago, lurking in the hallway outside night class.

“Still lost?” she raised her eyebrow challengingly. They were both supposed to be in class already.

“Would your opinion of me lower if I confessed to it?” he smiled, a few strands of soft hair falling over his eyes. It made her return the smile with a slight flutter in her stomach.

“It would make me suspect of your directional skills,” she confessed, climbing the steps in front of the main doors to meet him. John was hiding in the shade of the overhang, watching the crowds scurry by. It was a favourite past time of his.

“Truth hurts,” he offered her his arm, which she took, wrapping her fingers gently around the stiff fabric of his coat.

Helen rolled her eyes, letting John escort her around the passageway which hugged the edge of the building protected by an outcrop of ornately carved wood. “This is not the way to class,” she noted, to his amusement.

“No it is not,” he admitted. “But I could not resist taking the long way.”

They did not say anything else, content to walk quietly in each others’ company.

*~*~*

Nikola kept a vigil by his attic window, brushing the remainders of the glass from its frame. He didn’t care that the shards tumbled over the roof tiles and onto the passersby below. She had not come to class and Nikola could not understand why it bothered him so much.

He had been alone all of his life, ever since the horse had reared up and pounded his brother from this life. Every time he closed his eyes he heard those hooves and saw his frightened sibling scream, reaching towards him. That had been his life until Helen had appeared, slipping into the back row of night class.

Now, when he closed his eyes, sometimes he saw her smile.

Nikola’s bony elbows dug into the corners of the window, propping his head up as he stared out at the city beyond the university’s gates. A few pigeons played on the breeze, soaring high above, hunting scraps. He watched them wistfully.

One broke from the flock to cruise by his window, buffeting his face with the flap of its wings.

“Not now,” he whispered to it, waving the attentions of the beautiful creature away.

*~*~*

They sat on the seat beneath one of the ancient plane trees. Its limbs spread out over the lawn, decorating it with shadows that shimmered in the breeze, rearranging themselves in an endless tessellation.

Helen’s arm was still locked beneath John’s, kept safe. He wanted to say, ‘You’re very beautiful…’ but didn’t dare. This woman’s reputation preceded her by two city blocks with screams of genuine terror so he settled for, “It’s a beautiful day.”

She agreed, stretching her free arm along the edge of the bench. Neither of them cared about the class going on inside the building. It was a sacrifice worth enduring and it was completely unintentional.

“Oh my,” Helen half-jumped at the chiming of the clock tower as it rang out over the university garden. “I should have been in the library hours ago.” Poor Watson, he would be waiting for her. “I really must go,” she said, freeing herself from John.

He stood with her, still smiling at the way she fussed.

“Would you like company on your long journey?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she replied quickly. “I find the walk reasonably short under normal circumstances. There has been enough diversion for one day.”

“Harsh,” John stepped back, allowing her passage.

She gave him a little wink, “The truth always is.”

*~*~*

James Watson had forgotten all about Helen Magnus.

His nose inched further and further toward the bindings of his latest find – the published journal of Claude Bernard. It was in French, which suited James. Languages were like songs to him. He learnt their rhythm until their lyrics unfolded and he could hum along in tune.

Medicine, like any other form of science, can be reduced to its mathematical base. Quantifiable principles, natural laws, predictable results – all of these should be applicable to the natural sciences as readily as to the mechanical world. It is only that the laws of natural things outweigh their counterparts in complexity that we are yet to discover their detail.’

Watson trailed his finger over the lines of text. He agreed. The world around him was full of detail, some of it too small for him to make out. There had to be laws to govern it otherwise the world he knew would fall to chaos.

It is possible to observe the crossings of these two worlds. Inside the human body are systems not unlike machinery. Their processes are quantifiable – especially those of the heart and blood. Like a machine, the heart pumps the life source around the body in accordance with a set of laws detailed in the following. Vivisections reveal these internal movements of the body. Pealing back the layers of a living organism such as a frog allows us to study these mechanical phenomena in great detail.’

Watson would copy these experiments, cruel as they were. He had to know about the world – every detail he could pry from its claws. His hunger for it would not rest. The secrets of life, more than anything, satisfied his ravenous curiosity and allowed him nights of peaceful sleep in a world he would one day be able to explain.

“Splendid, you are still here.”

Helen dragged a heavy chair halfway across the floor in a loud screech. The librarian glared viciously at the blonde, but Helen Magnus wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention. She settled her seat beside the window that James had chosen to occupy and collapsed into it, digging through her bag for a notepad.

The dreadful noise of old wood grinding against polished floors shattered the world he had retreated into. James looked up.

“I apologise for the –” she checked the clock hung above the desk where the librarian was stamping a pile of books with more force than was necessary. “It really is getting quite late,” she realised.

“It depends upon the length of your day,” replied James, returning his nose to the pages.

Helen was not used to being ignored, which was exactly what James did every time his head sagged toward the pages of a book. He had more interest in the writings of dead men than her bright eyes and curious mind. This realisation did not distress her, if anything, it intrigued her. Being taken for granted was refreshing.

Without a word, Helen produced a small, loosely bound book and balanced it atop her notepads. She made certain that its title was concealed as she began to read, giving her best impression of intrigue.

It took half an hour before James could bare the secret no more.

“I must know what you’re reading,” he said, attempting to lift the cover. Helen slid her hand over it, pinning it down.

“Nothing that would interest you,” she replied, flicking the page over.

“You are a tease, Miss Magnus,” James closed his own document, holding its cover up for her inspection. “I see that we will have to learn to share if we are to get on.”

She did the same with hers, and the pair exchanged documents.

“How very generous of you, Mr Watson,” she opened the new book dramatically. Her victorious smile shrivelled when she realised that the book was in French. Too embarrassed to confess, she suffered, skimming for equations and trying to make sense out of the few words she could understand.

“Are you unwell?” James touched her hand gently, catching Helen’s attention. She looked pale, though her cheeks had flushed bright pink. The combination made her eyes more blue than any he had seen.

The world blurred a little and Helen realised that she was not well at all. Her head was light, tasting the edges of sleep while her limbs dragged, feeling heavy.

“I don’t,” she stammered, raising a hand to her head as her books slid down her dress to the floor. “I don’t know…”

James lunged forward in time to catch the young woman as she tilted, falling from her chair.

6

THE WORLD’S AN EXPERIMENT

The students at the table opposite looked up, quills hovering over their pages dripping ink as they watched the woman collapse into the waiting arms of a young man.

Blonde ringlets scattered over James’ shoulder as her head settled on his coat. He was on one knee, easing Helen out of the chair and fully into his arms so that he could lift her. Although Helen was a slender thing, her dress and adornments with their yards of fabric tested James’ strength as he carried her through the library, curled over his shoulder.

Helen wandered in and out of consciousness, sometimes opening her eyes a crack to see the hallway flood past in a haze.

He did not delay, turning and making short work of the staircase leading to the top floor of the university. She mumbled something that he couldn’t make out as he reached the end of the stairwell, reshuffling her in his arms as she began to slip.

James arrived in the narrow corridor, barely wide enough for him to carry Helen through. There was an arched window at the far end, dusty and scratched from centuries of neglect. Above him there was a square opening in the ceiling, blocked by a folded set of stairs. With Helen still in his arms, James wrestled with a hooked rod, stretching it up to the ceiling where its sharp end caught the hoop of metal. He yanked it down and the stairs unfolded, revealing the entrance to Tesla’s attic.

What in the…”

Watson heard a voice above startle.

“Mr Tesla, your assistance please,” James called out, moving Helen to his shoulder so that he could climb the ladder, albeit awkwardly.

Tesla tripped and fell at the sound of his stairs unfurling. Someone heavy was climbing them, about to peak in through the hole in the floor. Nikola picked himself up and raced over, sticking his head through the attic where he found James heaving an unconscious Helen toward him.

“We cannot both come through. Can you reach her waist?”

Nikola was caught off guard by the intrusion, muttering and spluttering that he could. He reached down and took hold of Helen. Seated at the hole’s edge, together Nikola and James managed to navigate her into the attic. She ended up in Nikola’s lap, laid across him.

“Move your legs, Mr Tesla,” James shoved the dangling legs to the side as he tackled the last few steps of the ladder. He was out of breath but far from broken. “Come on, we need to lay her down properly.”

Nikola stared at Helen’s limp body, struck dumb. He didn’t notice the gentle rise and fall of her chest, or the pink flushing beneath her cheeks – all he saw was her still form, dead in his arms.

“It’s Helen…” he whispered, not able to tear his eyes away.

“Well spotted. Now bring her over to the bed. Today, please!” James added sharply, when the young man refused to move.

Staggering to his feet, Nikola made his way to the bed, laying her onto the carefully folded sheets. James knelt down beside Helen, taking hold of her wrist. Nikola sat on the floor next to James, leaning in toward Helen with a frightened look. He had never seen anyone faint before. Its similarity to death alarmed him.

“She will be fine,” said James, moving to her forehead. She was hot, but not worryingly so. “Do not fuss,” he waved Nikola’s hands away from the sheets he was trying to clear. “She needs air, not panic.”

“What happened?”

“I have no idea,” admitted James. “We were in the library talking and she collapsed. It is not an uncommon condition amongst women – there is probably nothing wrong except it being a particularly warm day.”

Nikola shook his head. “She’s not like that,” he insisted.

“Well,” said James, “she is today. Bring me some water.”

That disgruntled Nikola. He was not used to being treated like a common servant but for Helen’s sake, he obliged the brusque man. James took the glass from him and roused Helen with a splash of water. She sat up with a start, gasping for air.

“Steady on,” James tried to calm her as she clung onto his arm with such force he thought it might break.

“Urg…” she coughed, rasping for air as if it wouldn’t go in. James supported her back with his free arm, pushing her ever so slightly forwards.

“Nikola,” he hissed in the young man’s direction. “Take her other hand.”

Nikola’s eyes wandered to Helen’s flailing hand. He reached out and she caught it.

*~*~*

Helen sipped the glass of water, wrapped in an unused blanket Nikola excavated from the cupboard. She had stopped shaking but still looked unwell. James was over by Nikola’s experiment, kneeling down for a closer look at the unfinished motor. Ordinarily, Nikola would have shrieked and chased him off, afraid of intellectual theft but on this occasion all he did was give a disapproving glance in the other man’s direction.

“Where were you?” he asked Helen, taking the glass from her as she finished. She didn’t seem to understand the question so he asked it again.

“Oh,” she had forgotten about John and their time spent in the garden. “I decided not to come. I was running late as it was and I didn’t want to disturb the others.” It was a bold lie, and Nikola wasn’t fooled. He had lost count of the amount of times Helen had pulled him through the doors of late class with no regard toward the other students.

“This motor will never work,” observed James from in front of the small, metal and wooden object. It looked nothing at all like his own project which, incidentally, had a habit of catching on fire.

“Yes it does,” Nikola snapped over his shoulder. “It’s finished – has been for some time now.”

“Impossible.”

“A certainty, I assure you.”

“Show me.”

“Never.” Nikola was on his feet, about to pace over to James and remove him from the presence of his precious motor. “That is the future,” he declared. “Careful you don’t tread on it.”

“It is a school project,” James corrected. “And just like the rest of us, the professor will grade it and send you on your way.”

“Leave it, Nikola…” Helen had reached up and caught hold of Nikola’s coat. “He is just playing with you. James – enough. Nikola is not one for your games.”

Though neither Helen nor Nikola caught it, James had smiled, satisfied. He had proved something about Nikola that he had always suspected. The world was an experiment to James. He showed no distinction between places and people, if there was something worth learning, James would find a way to learn it regardless of the social consequences.

“And what about your little project?” Tesla tilted his head in a bird like manner. He asked Helen, not James.

He was interested now, thought Helen. Jealousy did that to Nikola.

“It’s not your cup of tea, Nikola,” she replied, letting go of him. “Wishy-washy voodoo, I believed you called the science once.”

“Well, now I am interested,” he was speaking to Helen, but glaring at James, following the man’s every movement as he paced around his floor-bound lab. Nikola just knew that he was going to step on something important. Some people had no respect for other people’s property or the delicacies of –

“I can hear you thinking, Nikola.” Helen scorned. Sometimes Nikola’s eyes betrayed his thoughts more loudly than his lips. “You know, if the two of you could get over whatever it was that set you against each other in the beginning, you’d be the best of friends.”

“An event that will never come to pass,” Nikola assured her. James agreed, accidentally crushing a small coil of wire with his boot.

“All right,” Helen spilled out to avert disaster as James kicked the object aside, “we’re investigating blood compatibility amongst species.”

Nikola spun around, running a wandering finger through his moustache. “Why?” That sounded like a perfectly horrid thing to do.

“Why anything…” she retorted, getting a little snappy herself. He was always like this with anything she did, as if she didn’t have as much right as him to possess curiosity. “The topic was raised in one our assignments and –”

“We did an assignment on blood?”

“No Nikola, you didn’t, but the rest of us did. As I was saying, my father helped me a great deal with the research – it’s a passion of his.”

“Blood is a passion of your father’s… now I really am worried.”

Helen shook her head in frustration. “You can be cruel, when you want to.”

*~*~*

“Remind me what he’s doing here…” James stood in front of his dormitory door, unwilling to open it with Nikola so close by. It was night, ten minutes before their lecture but instead of assembling in the corridor they had decided to carry on with last night’s experiment. Helen’s idea, though she had hidden it well, prompting James into the suggesting through a series of calculated questions. He had forgotten though, how he had agreed to have Tesla present.

“He’s going to have a look at your equipment – see if he can fix that electrical system so that we can carry on with the experiment. Remember? It didn’t work last time.”

Nikola grinned menacingly from behind Helen’s shoulder. No doubt the medic had it all wired backwards. Nikola wasn’t thrilled about spending more time in James’ company but he was curious to take a look at what these little Frankensteins had been up to.

“Well, you are responsible for it at all times,” James eyed Helen sternly, unlocking the door.

*~*~*

The professor was somewhat dismayed. He was used to empty seats. It didn’t bother him that students dragged their bored bodies into his lecture at all hours, hobbling and grumbling as they took their seats. He accepted the empty front row as a compromise between knowledge and social standing. Their lack of interest in the natural world would evolve and one day they would all become decent scientists.

He sighed, turning to face what remained of his room. There were four seats in particular that he didn’t like to see empty yet there they were, abandoned. It wasn’t what they were missing that worried him, it was what they were up to. Even though they didn’t know it yet, the professor could already see that the absent four possessed the streak of curiosity at the heart of brilliance – a dangerous thing to leave alone.

John Druitt had been racing to keep pace with the writing on the board when the professor threw a piece of chalk at him.

“Check your hearing,” the professor said, before adding in his soft, wafting voice, “Would you mind finding the others?”

John frowned, “Find who?”

The professor flicked his eyes to the empty seats. “Off with you,” he turned back to the board, picking a new piece of chalk.

John blinked dumbly, waiting in vain for further instruction. He closed his text book and packed away his things. Find all of them?

*~*~*

“You’re late…” Nigel folded his newspaper, throwing it off to the side as the door to the dormitory opened. His eyes widened when a young woman followed James in who in turn was trailed by the horrible man from the pond.

“Urgh…” Nikola held his nose, “It smells ghastly in here.”

“It passes,” said Helen, stepping between the beds as she followed James toward the laboratory end of the room.

Nigel waited for them to settle in front of the desk at the far end.

“I’m not gonna name this one,” said Nigel, pointing at the box of hay.

“Probably wise,” replied James.

Nikola eyed the box, catching sight of a hint of pale pink flesh. “Why aren’t we naming the pig?” he asked, but found no answer amongst the scientists.

7

VIVISECTION

“Ouch…” Nikola shook off a large spark that snapped over his skin. It left a nasty scorch mark which he attempted to rub off on his jacket to no avail. “There,” he declared finally, as the tangle of equipment spluttered into life. The room was brighter now, baking under the glow of the arclight. “All it takes is a little bit of love.”

“He’s not bad, Helen,” James muttered, nudging the young Nikola out of the way. “I’ll give you that.”

The four of them closed in on the large experiment table which sprawled along the end of the room. It was creaking under the weight of the new equipment Nigel had been busy setting up for their experiment. Despite his manners and clumsily large hands closer in nature to paws, Nigel was a perfectionist when it came to science. His rough approach yielded reliable results, much to the frustration of James.

“Shall we?” James beckoned Helen closer. She came to his side, followed instinctively by Nikola who squeezed himself in next to her.

Soon, all four of them had arranged themselves into a crowded line either side of James, staring intently as Nigel produced a basket. He reached inside and withdrew a startled creature. Nigel passed over the squirming frog, holding it steady as James wrapped his fingers tightly around it like a clamp. Nikola smiled at the frog, peering back into its dark slit eyes. It was a beautiful creature with two oversized yellow orbs for eyes and extremely long legs which it was using to bat at James’ hand leaving trails of sticky liquid on him.

James flinched, appalled by the creature.

“The book, Helen…”

Helen knelt to a large pile of books on the side wall, scanning down their spines until she dug her fingers between them and extracted her desired victim. She laid the book open on the experiment table next to James.

Nigel unrolled a leather satchel to reveal a sinister arrangement of implements tucked inside its pockets. Nikola’s breath caught as he scanned the faces of James and Nigel nervously.

“What kind of experiment are we doing, exactly…” he asked. Helen was packed in tight beside him, staring on eagerly as Nigel loosened the buckles holding the metal objects in place. The look that laced her eyes frightened Nikola – he had never seen that grin upon her lips before.

James tipped the frog onto its back as Nigel selected four long, tapered needles – holding their slender shafts up to the light.

“Good quality,” commented James, as he unfolded one of the frog’s legs, holding its squirming appendage to the table.

“Only the best,” Nigel replied, threading the sharp metal through the frog’s skin, nailing it to the wood beneath. The creature croaked in protest. Panic rippled through its body as Nigel selected another needle.

Helen gasped quietly, finding Nikola’s hand. He barely noticed the brush of fingers over his skin as he stood transfixed, watching as each of the frog’s legs were secured. Next, James selected a medical scalpel and cut a shallow slit down the centre of its chest. Nigel pulled the skin open, pinning it out of the way to reveal its inner workings.

“Oh my god!” Nikola’s throat clenched over. His stomach lurched as the little creature’s heart beat steady, pumping the lifeforce through its splayed body. It was still alive.

“Now,” said James indifferently, “we inject the sample.”

Nikola’s body convulsed. He broke away from Helen, stumbling halfway through the room before hurling his lunch over the floor.

Nigel’s nose tweaked. “Nice,” he muttered over his shoulder. “Do us a favour Helen, don’t bring your friends along for the show next time.”

“He’s not like us,” she snapped, before venturing toward Nikola who was coughing and shuddering. “Calm down,” she whispered, placing a hand on his back.

“This is wrong,” he rasped, pushing her off. “What are you doing here Helen? God…” Nikola fell to his knees, cradling his head. Helen caught him. Her arms slid to his waist and she held Nikola tightly from behind.

“Get him out of here,” hissed James, trying to ignore the distraction. According to the book, they didn’t have long to complete this experiment before the frog gave up the last of its life.

No one had noticed the door to the dormitory creak open. John, with his hand still clutched around the door’s frame, was taken aback by the scene. The stench of the room was unbelievable, toxic and nauseating as he breathed it in. Helen was over by the wall, clutching a very ill Tesla. His pale face was the first to spot John. Nigel and James stood with their backs to the door, leaning over some kind of table immersed in the bright glow of the electric light.

What…” John opened his mouth, but no more words came out.

Nigel’s eyes rolled dramatically as he swivelled around, turning to face the confused figure lingering in their doorway. “Another friend of yours?” he accused Helen, clearly displeased by the constant interruptions.

John stepped forward, dodging the beds cluttered in the walkway. There was something struggling on the table. Something small –

“It’s a living creature,” he said in horror, when he saw the tortured body of the frog breathe. Half a dozen elegant needles held it in place, quivering. A set of organs were nestled in its open body on display for the room. “This is the work of demons,” he growled at them, before striding over to Helen. “Come on,” he grabbed her sharply, pulling her away from Nikola. “We’re leaving.”

“John!” she struggled, trying to free herself as she was dragged unceremoniously through the room.

“Take him too, if it’s not too much trouble,” James pointed at Nikola, who had managed to stumble to his feet.

“Let – me – go!” Helen wriggled free, flicking her hair back over her shoulder. “What are you doing here John?”

“What am I doing? Our lecturer sent me to find you. I’ve searched half the university and where do I find the elusive Miss Magnus? In the men’s dormitory with these three!” He pointed at them, angrily.

“That’s not fair,” she replied. “What we’re doing is important.”

John shook his head. “This is not what science is about. That poor creature – what good will it do you other than a passing curiosity? What does its suffering buy you, Helen?”

“I can show you, John,” she said calmly, offering him her hand. “If you’ll let me.”

*~*~*

The carriage rattled to a halt. Its two passengers alighted, stepping into a torrent of rain which had buried the footpath beneath a sheet of rancid water. There was no thunder or lightning in tow, just clouds choked with moisture, alleviating themselves on the city of Oxford.

Helen hid under a hooded jacket, dodging a stray dog as she opened the ornate door to the townhouse and disappeared inside followed closely by John. Dripping, she turned up the gas lights. The hallway flickered into view. John undid his soggy coat and hung it on the hallstand.

“Come on,” she beckoned him down the corridor toward a set of stairs leading up toward the ceiling.

“My father is more than a doctor,” she confessed, taking the steps carefully. Helen held a lamp aloft in one hand and gripped the fragile railing with her other. She ducked under a stray beam of wood at the landing. John only ducked lower, already slouching his tall figure. “His passion for the workings of the human body led him to startling discoveries…”

He watched her slide a silver and gold key into the lock. Its beauty put the old door to shame. Helen turned the key until it clicked. “He likes keys,” she added, “something about the unlocking of secrets.”

“And treasure,” added John, as the door creaked open revealing a dark expanse.

After lighting the hanging lamps, Helen rifled through one of the upturned desks until she found a leather diary.

“My father’s life work,” she said, running her thumb lovingly over the book’s spine. “Treatments and cures to all manner of afflictions. The deeper he dug into the intricacies of humanity, the more disturbed he became. John, we’re not divine beings – humanity is greater than that, more diverse.”

“This is not good for you,” John approached, but she stepped away, opening the journal to reveal a detailed sketch of a frightening form. It was a creature, hunched with hardened skin, cracked like scales with spines of bone along its back.

“What he found shocked him,” she continued. “A world full of monsters.”

“There are more things in this life than we should know,” he replied. John’s voice was low and steady, as if trying to coax a wild animal out of its den. Helen was not one to be lured. “Just leave this,” he said softly, “and come with me.”

“You don’t understand,” Helen replied firmly. “They were not monsters – what my father found. They were people born with anomalous conditions. There is so much to learn – how can I ignore it?”

They made their way back downstairs and seated themselves in Helen’s modest lounge room. The room was dim, lit by the hallway behind. The rain outside fell harder, pounding into the glass windows with such force that Helen could feel each drop pounding through the air. John edged forward beside her.

“Listen to me,” he eyed her sternly, cupping her tiny hands in his. “There is something higher than science –” she was about to groan, “and that is morality. Before every step ask yourself not, ‘is this progress’ but ‘is this right’. That is the mark of a true scientist, something your friends have yet to grasp. You have talent. Do not waste it on these digressions.”

“Hardly a digression,” she protested. “This is the work of lifetimes.”

“But not yours,” John’s hand moved to her cheek, tenderly stroking it. Amidst her vehement defence, a tear had slid down her cheek and was going cold when he brushed it away. “Find a better way to study them, these anomalous conditions. You are brilliant,” he grinned, and she finally smiled. “So prove it.”

Eventually she nodded.

“Will you help me?”

They stood up together. He let go of her and allowed himself to be led to the front door.

“Nothing would please me more,” he admitted, collecting his coat and stepping back out into the storm. He descended the first of the three steps from the door, levelling his height off so that he could stare directly at her. He lingered, a breath shy of her lips. Helen blushed and retreated into the house, ducking behind the door.

*~*~*

It was no easy thing to sell benevolence to the others…

“Absolute absurdity – the woman’s gone mad – women in general,” James had said, snapping his book shut before finally relinquishing it.

“We’re returning this one to the library,” Helen replied sternly.

Eventually they came around. Helen’s talents extended beyond science into the realm of persuasion. As for Nikola, he seemed content as long as they weren’t torturing frogs. They set a regular date to meet and explore the world of science beyond their lectures – every Thursday evening. The unnamed pig became a pet, saved from an unpleasant fate.

Helen set about organising the dormitory into a proper laboratory. She pilfered whatever she could from the old man in charge of the university’s supplies, stockpiling it along the walls of the dorm. The library suffered heavy losses with all of its lost books ending up safely piled in Nikola’s attic except for one casualty, sacrificed in the name of science or as Nikola often insisted, ‘a completely accidental accident’.

Their collective name also came about via accident. As they made their daily strut from the lunch rooms to the garden, one student set to calling, ‘them five!’ as they passed. They travelled in a pack now, and the name stuck. James tweaked it a bit of course, improving on its grammar.

‘The Five’ made them feel like they were part of something. They weren’t really but that didn’t matter.

Nikola’s opinion of Nigel improved, if only because he found the strange man particularly skilled at acquiring equipment. Honestly, Nikola had never had so much wire to play with which resulted in weekly direct hits to the building by cruising lightning storms. Helen had less luck with Nigel, choosing to keep out of his way. He made no secret of his dislike of her; often neglecting to greet her is she arrived in a group of flat insulting her intelligence at every opportunity. James and John – now there was a curious bond. They were never particularly fond of one another, but their intellects delighted in the challenge. Deconstructing the other was an entertainment that they could sustain happily for hours and whenever they got bored with that, they returned to their other favourite past time, a shared dislike of Nikola.

*~*~*

It was another late night. Helen was tucked into a chair, half asleep as she read through a stolen library journal. A loud ‘crash’ startled her when the front door flew open and her father hurried in, slamming and locking it behind him. Gregory Magnus went directly to his study where he collapsed into his chair and began furiously writing a letter.

Helen closed the book on her lap and crept to her father’s study. She hung in the doorway, watching him tilt a candle over the folded letter, letting its wax drip. He pushed a seal into it and sighed heavily, wiping his forehead with his sleeve.

Her father was filthy. His clothing had been torn and soaked in mud. There were scratches across his forehead, some of them bleeding, and a deep gash over his hand which he’d covered with a piece of fabric torn from his shirt. She could smell the remnants of a peat bog and an overpowering dose of kerosene in the air.

“Father,” she whispered, catching Gregory’s attention. He looked up at Helen as if he’d forgotten all about her existence.

“Helen – go to your room at once and lock the door,” he instructed. Gregory undid the lid on one of the crystal vessels containing scotch. He did not bother with a glass, swigging directly from the bottle. “Quickly!” he hurried her, when she failed to move.

Helen hadn’t seen her father in weeks and now he turned up, looking like he’d spent that time crawling through sewers.

“Why?” she asked, stepping into the room. Gregory would have none of this, flaring into a rage uncharacteristic of him.

This is no time for, ‘why’!” he yelled, swiping the letter off the desk and burying it in his coat. “Do as I say and I’ll come back for you.” Gregory fled toward her, snatching the metal poker from beside the fire on his way. “I am sorry,” he said, calming enough to kiss his daughter on the head. “But you must hide. Promise you will do that for me. Take this,” he added, withdrawing a small package wrapped in damp brown paper and fastened with string. “Hide it. Keep it safe.”

There was a terror in his eyes that halted her questions. Helen simply nodded and let her father vanish back onto the streets, consumed by the night.

8

SECRETS, LIES AND STOLEN TRUTHS

Helen turned and took the corridor at a run, flinging the door to her bedroom open, not caring as it slammed against the wall. She held the mysterious parcel tightly as her eyes searched the room. Shelves, trunk, lamp-lit desk – all too obvious. Her heart pounded. She had never seen her father afraid before – fearful, yes, before any new experiment his eyes would widen, darken with the wonderful dread that the unknown provoked but tonight he had been truly afraid.

She caught the door as it bounced back and locked it, sliding down its surface until she hit the ground.

Think…” she eyed the room until a smile flicked across her lips. Cedar drawers; well loved in this and their previous life. Helen crawled over to them, sliding the bottom one open. She buried the parcel deep in the back, concealed by veils of lace and garters where no self-respecting thief would dare follow.

Helen had intended to stay put – hidden safely away as her father had instructed, but as the seconds itched on she couldn’t bare it. Helen unlatched the door and returned to the foyer where she pulled a jacket from the hallstand and wrapped it around herself.

The trees, sparsely placed along the avenue, shivered. Their wet leaves glistened like a thousand mirrors to the moonlight until they broke loose and fell away just as fickly, blanketing the ground. A wind kicked over Helen as she dodged soggy newspapers, tumbling over each other. She stepped between the soft circles of light beneath each lamp post. Her father was ahead, paused at the crossroad, unable to choose between the cracked veneers of stone walls.

Few people had the courage to venture into the streets after dark. Thieves swarmed like rats over the city, driven to desperation by an uncompromising age of enterprise. Even Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, could not escape the modern age with its silent class, rippling through the evening, flickering and dying. Helen knew that she hovered only just beyond their reach, only a few pounds from poverty.

Gregory Magnus chose the side street on his left. Helen closed in, bringing herself to a stop at the corner where she found a shadow and sunk into it. Archways and barred windows leaned over the street, boxing her and her father into a tunnel. The public lighting ended halfway down the cobble stone road leaving a sweeping shadow cutting off the remainder from existence. Beyond that curtain of darkness lurked all kind of street creature. Gregory approached it, tentatively walking along the dark edge.

Helen stepped back, making sure that she was hidden as the forms of several men emerged out of the shadows in front of her father. First, they appeared as a series of ghostly faces but gradually they grew into a set of well dressed businessmen. Her father turned to face them, drifting backwards cautiously, drawing his company out into the light.

“Doctor,” said one of them in greeting, slinking ahead of the others. He was a tall man with a leg that threatened to buckle with every step. He leant heavily on his cane as he spoke, “Trying to escape?”

Gregory chuckled nervously, checking the buttons on his coat before wiping a smear of mud off his neck with a handkerchief. “Of course not,” he replied. “I was – was looking for you.”

The remainder of the ‘pack’ waited behind, never quite making it into view. Helen stretched herself along the wall, inching closer. She was able to make out most of the conversation even though all parties kept their voices hushed.

“I am curious to see what our money had bought,” the man continued.

“You lied to me,” Gregory pointed sharply, white handkerchief still in hand. “I have done some of my own research – run into a few old friends. The Cabal may be a private research organisation but you are also in partnership with one of the most evil businesses this side of the century.” A train rattled past in the distance, screeching to a halt at Oxford’s new station. “You think that people won’t learn what you’re doing? The money that you paid me was no better than blood.”

The man glanced down at the pavement, lowering his voice into a harsh drone that broke intermittently as if his veneer of civility was cracking with it. “Enough of this time wasting.” His eyes returned to Magnus. “Where are the samples?”

“I destroyed them.”

He laughed. “That is your plan, Doctor?” he sneered, with an air of disbelief. “Poorly execute a lie and then expect me to simply let you go? You are a man of science, Magnus. I know what that means. Those samples are too important to your personal agenda to simply destroy. If you hand them over now, I may even let you keep one – as a gesture of good faith for our future business dealings.”

“I already told you, I destroyed them. Our arrangement is finished.”

There was a subtle tap of his cane on the ground. The others jumped forward, taking Gregory by the arms. They flung him against one of the walls so hard that he groaned, jarring in pain. The man rubbed his face, tired of people who fought the inevitable. Progress didn’t pretend to be pretty – it was brutal.

“One more time, Doctor.”

This time, a curl lingered on Gregory’s lips as his weather worn face grinned at the night. “You will never find them…” he whispered in defiance.

The man reached into his coat and brought out a gun, cocking it with a sinister click. Helen gasped loudly, covering her mouth too late to stop the noise reaching the huddle of gentlemen. They heard it, snapping their heads around to see a blonde woman hiding on the corner of the street, watching events unfold with more than a passing interest. Gregory saw her too and his heart sank.

“Bring her…” muttered the man.

Helen turned, hitched up her skirt, and bolted through the street, narrowly avoiding the hooves a a passing night-carriage which skidded to a halt behind her in a cloud of dust. The two men to follow navigated around the whining horse as it reared up.

“Whoa, whoa…” the coachman hushed, as the carriage tilted dangerously.

The park wall’s sandstone ripped her skirt as she half-jumped, half-fell over it, leaving tattered ends of lace flapping in the wind. Her pursuers cleared the wall easily, hitting the grass at a run as they searched and quickly found her not far ahead.

At night, the park was pitch black, protected by walls of trees keeping it well out of reach of the street lights. There were people moving about within it; lovers hiding away from the world, beggars curled up against the cold with animals stealing scraps from the grass beside them.

The ground was soft under her feet, and though Helen was a strong runner, her dress tangled and caught under her feet. Soon she was tumbling down a gentle hill with her arms flailing as wet mud coated her. She was headed for a shallow pond which lay under the only gap in the trees. A perfect reflection of the moon was disturbed by a drifting duck, leaving a wake behind its furry form.

Helen’s world was a blur of cold, pain and blackness until the men plucked her from the ground and held her until she could stand.

“A little ‘thank you’ would be nice,” said one of them, still panting. Helen was trying to scratch her way free of them, shouting to anyone who would listen. “Water that cold, you might be dead.”

They dragged her back to the alleyway where the leader had been prompting Gregory for information, as evidenced by the fresh bruises.

“Claim’s she’s a working girl…” they said in unison. Helen looked the part with filthy, torn clothes, and ratty hair limply blowing in the wind. Her father didn’t dare look at her.

“Bring her with us?” it was a question posed by one of the men that had stayed behind. His knuckles were red.

The leader waved them off. “She’s cheap.”

“So what do we do with her, leave her here?”

Helen averted her eyes as the leader left her father and hobbled toward her, leaning heavily on his stick. “What did you see, sweetie?” he asked her, suggestively.

“Nothin’,” Helen mumbled, wincing as the two beside her tightened their grip.

“We better be sure,” he whispered back, leaning over her. She didn’t see his free hand raised above her head, about to come down sharply.

“Wait,” Gregory pushed off from the wall, stumbling forwards. “Wait,” he repeated. “Let her go – I’ll get your samples back.”

“Back?” the tall man withdrew his hand and eyed Gregory curiously.

“I scattered them so that you would never be able to locate them should precisely this happen.”

“But, if I let this working girl go – you’ll get them for me? Why?”

“That is my business,” said Gregory. “I need two weeks.”

“You try my patience, Doctor. I’ll give you one week and if you don’t present with the samples you promised and we paid for, then our next meeting will be less pleasant.” The man flicked his eyes up and his company threw Helen unceremoniously to the ground.

*~*~*

Helen and Gregory sat opposite each other, staring across Magnus’s desk in silence for a long time. She realised now that the secrets she thought that she knew about her father were pitiful in comparison with the truth.

He had taken hold of his quill, running the white feather through his fingers in an endless pattern. Gregory had no idea how to begin an explanation for his actions – his entire life. He tried several times but none of these attempts reached beyond a small clearing of his throat.

The firelight flickered behind them. Helen could not take her eyes off of her father. She decided to approach the issue from the side, step carefully around the elephant.

“The Cabal, they are a private research facility – research into what exactly?”

This is the conversation that Gregory had spent his life avoiding, ever since the death of his wife Patricia, all those years ago in South America. “I am not certain,” he replied. “Though I suspect their interests are similar to mine.”

“Which are…” he was being intentionally cryptic, and Helen was sick of all the secrets.

“Helen,” he replaced the beautiful quill in its holder. “You have tremendous potential as a scientist. The lecturers must agree, otherwise they would have chased you off long ago –”

Helen stood from her chair, pacing away from the table in frustration. Slowly she turned, approaching once again but this time with an expression somewhere between tears and desperation.

“You,” she started, placing her hands on the table, “are the most talented medical researcher I have ever known and yet you keep your most important work hidden from the world. From me.”

Gregory didn’t know how to respond. Somewhere along the way his daughter had grown up, changed from a little girl with a fascination of the world into a scientist as driven as him. Her questions had simmered for a decade and now they burnt their way past him. He looked away as she continued, unable to face her sharp eyes.

“If you truly believe that I have potential father,” Helen leant even closer, resolute in her plea, “please help me achieve it.”

He had sworn never to do this but he had never been able to refuse his daughter anything. She was intelligent, a little too much so for her own good. If he didn’t share with her his secrets, she would hunt them out anyway. Without guidance – Gregory shuddered to think what she could become.

Gregory took his daughter’s hand. He led her to the far back corner of his office to a door that she had never been through.

“The attic you know about by now,” he said plainly. “I admit, I let it happen but it is nothing but a storehouse for old notes and relatively benign research.”

Helen couldn’t explain why, but she felt betrayed.

“This,” he continued, as he unlocked the door revealing a staircase leading down to an underground level, “is the reason the university will no longer let me step inside its walls. Do you remember, when you were a small child the two men who came to visit me on your fourteenth birthday?”

“They were afraid of you,” said Helen. She remembered the argument.

He nodded. “Maybe. I told them that they had limited their imagination. In truth, I think it was their wallets whose limits I had reached. The board at the university could no longer endorse my research and so I was forced to look for financial assistance elsewhere. The Cabal offered me a grant that I could not turn down. There was no money, Helen. It was the only way that I could continue.”

“I still don’t understand what it was that was so terrible.”

Gregory led Helen down the stairs. She held a kerosene lantern in her hand, lighting the way for both of them. Her father switched keys and unlocked the final door but stopped shy of opening it. Helen thought she heard scratching and crying from behind the door, not unlike the sounds of James’s room that first night.

He handed her the key. “Once you enter this door, you are on a path that cannot be reversed.”

9

SANGUINE VAMPIRIS

Helen raised the lantern, extending it into the room. Yards of heavy fabric lined the walls, tacked on to the ceiling and left to hang all the way to the dusty floor. Occasionally there was an outcrop of shelves made of solid, dark wood. Some of them had fine-netted wire nailed across the compartment and locks through their handles. As she stepped toward them, she realised why; rat-like creatures scattered away from her light, huddling in the corners of the bookshelf amongst scraps of food.

She panned the lantern across the laboratory where it caught the edges of a table. It was a bare thing, lonely at the heart of the room. There were networks of grooves carved into it which led to a tin bucket on the ground where dark patterns of a mysterious liquid were layered in stains.

In the far corner, the light picked out a pair of golden eyes which opened slowly, staring back at her. Helen stepped closer, slipping from her father’s grasp. She had gone this far – Gregory could not stop her. All of his secrets were now hers to share.

Two curved horns, half a foot long, tapered into sharp summits. They protruded from scarlet fur, bunched tightly together in uneven tufts. Like a cat’s pelt, it had two layers – a harsh, needle-like exterior with yellow tips and a second, downy coat which kept the creature warm. Except – it wasn’t fur, but feathers.

Gregory lit two of the lamps hanging from the ceiling and the room flickered into light. Helen raised her hand to her mouth to cover a gasp. A pair of wings – fragile sheets of skin, were folded onto the creature’s back. She could see two enormous paws as big as tea-saucers which it used to rest its head on while a tail curled around its body, twitching as Gregory whispered thing to it.

Helen thought that it looked just like a –

“Dragon, yes,” Gregory whispered. “At least, that’s the conclusion I have come to. I found this poor thing four months ago while I was in London. It was, well, smaller then, but how could I leave it in alley? My guess is that it was dumped by a black market animal trader – they swarm around the Cabal, making their pickings on capturing and selling Abnormal creatures.”

“No,” she whispered, unable to get over the ‘dragon’ part of her father’s sentence.

“It is an Abnormal, Helen.” He took his daughter’s hand, resting beside her as she continued to watch the creature. It eventually grew bored of the intrusion, closing its golden eyes and returning to sleep. “The cornerstone of monster stories since man picked up a pen. This,” he pointed in particular at the dragon, “is a species of reptile yet sadly I do not know where to return it. I doubt that it was born in London’s streets… There are hundreds of creatures like him, hidden away or captured by agencies like the Cabal for private research. They – they torture them and destroy whatever’s left. I can’t keep him forever, though,” Gregory added, frowning as he lowered his eyes.

Helen read her father’s journals but this – this was beyond what she could have dreamed. Worlds were unlocking, secrets unravelling and she found her heart pounding against her lungs.

“Helen, the blood samples that I acquired are from an Abnormal that not even I believed could exist. I stumbled across them once, many years ago now and decided that they were too dangerous to approach again. Vrykolakas, strigoi,upír, impundulu, Sanguine Vampiris,” Gregory rolled the words, hushing them as if each syllable was fear enough. “Vampires…” he whispered to her, like a bedtime nightmare crawling into a corner.

“Their blood is one of the most powerful substances on Earth and the Cabal would like nothing better than to get their claws onto it. They paid me exceptionally well to collect samples. You, have one of them.”

Helen guessed it to be the mysterious package her father had left in her care earlier that night.

“I entrust you to study and learn from it in my absence, while I hide the remaining two where the Cabal will never find them. All of this,” he waved his arms over the room, “is in your care. Now, listen carefully, these are resourceful people. They are going to come looking for me after the week is up – but you are a woman, my daughter. Use that, feign frivolity, make them believe that you know nothing more than needlepoint and they will leave you alone.”

She nodded very slowly. That night, her father was gone. He left a half-dried bundle of petals, shrivelled but alive as they clung to the vine creeping out from the pot. The wild rose had suffered from its journey, but its tortured form perked as Helen drizzled water over it.

*~*~*

James and John were displeased with each other after a minor disagreement over the origin of Vampires.

The five of them had found themselves an abandoned corner of the library – the old side, of course, as it was James’s turn to pick a nook for their weekly discussion. He paced in small circles between the shelves, a book resting open in his hand as he read the lines of text aloud to his audience.

Helen was listening, but with an air of discontent. They were mocking her, all of them in their own subtle ways, ever since she had told them of her father’s research. Nikola was at her feet, apparently preferring the floor. He was asleep and snoring quietly with his head balanced uncomfortably between two encyclopaedias of ancient history.

It was John who took the greatest interest in James’s speech. He was reclined in one of the library chairs which they had stolen from the main room and stowed in their private corner. Over the hour, his feet had stretched out on top of the table allowing him to balance a book on his knees which he glanced at several times, awaiting his turn to rebuff James’s argument.

And as softly thou art sleeping

To thee shall I come creeping

And thy life’s blood drain away.”

James was enjoying this, far more than was reasonable. He had always be a showman, albeit only to a select few. He traced the lines with an outstretched finger –

And so shalt thou be trembling

For thus shall-”

“Really,” interrupted John, aware of the poem’s conclusion. “Is this appropriate, considering our company?” He deliberately kept his eye away from Helen, knowing that her frown had twisted into scowl. James ignored him.

For thus shall I be kissing

And death’s threshold thou’ it be crossing

With fear, in my cold arms.”

The book snapped shut, waking Nikola.

“You get the general idea,” Watson laid the book on the table beside John. “And that, my dear John, is the beginning of the Vampire in Literature. Case closed.”

John sighed heavily.

“There are no such things as ‘vampires’ – except perhaps in farm boys’ drunkin’ stupors.” Nigel squeezed between two shelves with a fresh arm of books. “And perhaps your literature,” he conceded, handing James another book.

“I don’t know,” James inspected the man on the floor beside Helen, as Nikola yawned at the room. “Nikola’s pale enough to be one, especially with those sharp teeth he likes to flash.”

“Excuse me?” Nikola replied, sleepily. “Did I provoke you in some way?”

“Your existence provokes me.”

“Your reading bores me,” he retaliated.

“I agree with Nikola, for once,” John added, flipping through the pages of his own book. Stirring the room was the pastime he liked best.

“Enough. Enough. Enough.” Helen rolled her eyes and fell against the wall of books, sliding down it in defeat. She landed beside Nikola in a swirl of dust. He flinched in alarm, holding his breath.

James was not finished with Nikola yet. “I particularly enjoyed cruising through your latest work of poetry-” he said, slipping a scrap of crumpled paper from his coat. Nikola recognised it at once, and coughed in panic, stumbling to his feet – an action which failed as one of his legs had fallen asleep.

“My – what?” Nikola grunted as pain constricted his leg muscle, rendering him useless as James straightened the paper. “How did you – where did you get that from?”

“It was just lying on your floor last time you invited us to that spectacle of yours.” James’s finger still hurt, burnt by an ‘accidental’ passing of current which Nikola had spent hours making certain that it would do precisely that.

“That is private,” Nikola hissed.

James began to read. It was a scant few lines of scattered birds and thunder storms, beautiful enough in construction. Nikola clawed his way back to his feet, his cheeks reddening with every word falling from James’s lips.

He lunged once, but James dodged him easily. John threw his head back in a silent laugh, delight ripping the corners of his mouth into a broad smile. Nigel turned away. It wasn’t that he liked Tesla – more that he didn’t hate him.

“Fine,” Nikola’s voice wavered, his usual pride shaken. “Keep it.”

He left, sidling out between the rows of books and back into the main library where he finally vanished from their sight.

“Excellent,” Helen curled her knees up to her chest, pinning her skirt down beneath her arms. It billowed uncomfortably around her. “Look what the two of you have accomplished – not very clever considering neither can coax a current from a coil… You realise, Nikola was going to help you. He wrote up the notes on his motor, they were in his pocket.” Helen returned to her feet and collected her things from the table beside John. He shifted his feet as she approached. “Enjoy your spoils, gentlemen.”

Before leaving, she approached a stunned James and took the paper from between his fingers.

Nigel had kept quiet, his arms still laden with books. Often, especially at times like these, he liked to think of the other four as elements of nature – as strong in their opposition as their passion. They did not mix but could not keep apart either. It was an impossible system that would eventually destroy itself. Nigel could see that day approaching but he hindered its arrival as best he could by keeping the shaky peace.

*~*~*

Their way of apology was to entertain Helen’s ‘vampire’ tale as truth. Nigel’s idea.

“We’ll have to get a look at it,” James said, lowering his voice though the four of them were alone in the dormitory. “See if this sample really contains special properties.”

Helen had not forgiven them, but was nonetheless keen for their help.

“I won’t move it,” she replied. “The Cabal could be watching the house – you would have to come to it.”

“It is not as if you live in India,” smirked Nigel, hinting that the others should show more enthusiasm. They did, eventually acknowledging that they could probably meet in two day’s time.

“What about Nikola?” asked James, feeding the pig rooting around its box.

“I will speak with him,” said Helen sternly. “It’s been almost four hours; maybe he’ll have forgotten your joke.”

Helen doubted it, but she went to the hallway where Nikola’s attic lived anyway. The stairs were up, pulled well out of her reach.

“Nikola…” she called, loud enough for him to hear. It was afternoon and last classes of the day were drawing to their end. All but one room in his hallway was empty, and it was far enough away not to be troubled by her efforts to catch Nikola’s attention.

He didn’t respond, but she knew that he was up there.

“If you proceed with this, I will be forced to climb out the window and up into your room the hard way,” she threatened, casting her eye over the window to gauge whether it was possible to carry out the threat. To her amusement, it seemed that it was. A latch, not a lock, secured the window and when open, it would be big enough for her to scramble through.

“Nikola?” she tried again.

*~*~*

“Will he come?”

John was packing his things, preparing to leave. It was a decent ride to the inn which he was calling ‘home’ until the university approved his residency.

“Why are you asking me?” John paused, turning to Nigel. “I guess, Helen will probably convince him – she usually does. Tomorrow?” he changed the subject. “The meeting’s on the grass by the oak tree. I’m hoping for a fine day.”

*~*~*

She heard the footsteps first – light and quick across the ceiling. Helen turned as the hatch to the attic rattled, opening out into the hallway. A set of stairs slid down to her. She couldn’t see Nikola anywhere above. Usually, he waited for her with a smile, or outstretched hand beckoning her up.

Nikola was located by the window, brushing fragments of broken glass of the sill. He had been doing that for weeks, but there always seemed to be more of it.

“There you are,” she said, approaching cautiously.

10

CHILD OF THE STORM

The first soft flecks of rain hit Nikola’s cheeks, lingering for a moment on his pale skin before sliding along the contours of his face. They dripped onto the window sill as Helen paced slowly along the opposite wall, carefully unfurling the scrap of paper with Nikola’s poetry. She placed it on the floor beside his bed before making her way to the window.

“Leave…” he said coldly, staring out at the city. It was growing dark now. The thick clouds quickened the hours, sending Oxford into premature night. For once, he didn’t want the storm. His experiment was not ready, left as an unfinished heap of metal on the roof.

She was going to tell him that the others were sorry but there was little point – it was not true and he would certainly not believe it.

“I know that you need help,” she said instead, “and I already promised.”

Sometimes he hated her memory.

“It’s too late,” he said, staring at the swirling clouds. “The rain is here and next – the lightning.” If it attracted a stray shard of electricity before he could fix it, then there’d be a great smouldering mess on the roof to contend with.

“When did a little rain hurt anybody…” she smiled, crossing the room.

To his confusion and distress, Helen nudged him away from the window and quickly climbed out of it, ignoring Nikola’s protests.

“Helen!” he said, in distress, as she clung to the wooden joins and searched for three stones protruding from the building’s facade. She had seen him use them a dozen times to climb the short distance to the roof. The light drizzle was cold and made the rocks slippery but her grip was firm and in a flash, Nikola was left with an empty window. “Mad, mad woman,” he muttered, stepping onto the sill in pursuit, forgetting his anger.

*~*~*

“Hypothetically,” said Nigel, pulling another blanket around his back. Their room was always cold despite the dozen or so lamps they kept lit. “If this sample of blood really is what Helen says, how are we going to test it?”

James tapped the nib of his quill on the edge of the ink bottle. He was seated at a desk shoved unkindly against one of the walls near their beds, scratching out a late assignment.

“Really, Nigel,” he said, with a measured voice, “I didn’t think that I would need to remind you of Doctor Magnus’s reputation.”

“I don’t follow,” replied Nigel, even though he did. Tales of Helen’s father were colourful and abundant, but he was interested to know James’s take.

That was enough to distract James. He set the feather down and turned up the lamp next to him so that its flame flickered brightly.

“Doctor Magnus,” he began, with a theatrical air, “was head of the medical board here – until four years ago. He drove several colleagues to resign their post and a further to be transferred. Word was that his experiments made the money men squeamish – not an easy thing to accomplish. Officially, he retired into obscurity but a man of his standing and position should have been enjoying his glory years. No one in the industry would touch him after that. Most think that he lost his mind, myself included.”

“You’re a harsh judge of character. Still, I’m curious – hypothetically of course… Is it possible that there could be a shred of truth? Doctor Magnus may have been insane but Helen –”

James shrugged. “If this blood of hers is real, we would have to test it on a living thing.”

“Good luck getting that idea past John, he has a tight grip over Helen these days and Nikola will probably hurl again.”

“I thought that rats might be an acceptable halfway point to all parties.”

“Inject a rat with ‘vampire’ blood. Now there’s a notion for your fiction books.”

“You are enjoying this…” James couldn’t help but smile. Nigel rarely found pleasure in life, so to see his lip curl in wicked plotting was a welcome change. “I guess we shall find out.”

*~*~*

It was higher up that she had expected. The university’s roof sloped sharply and Helen found that she had to slip her hands between the terracotta tiles to steady herself against the wind as she worked her way toward a contraption of wire mounted on a relatively flat rise ahead.

Nikola had been right about the storm. From up here, she could clearly see it brewing over the city – churning into a dark mass of vapour. Every now and then it rumbled.

“Careful,” Nikola muttered behind her, scampering across the roof. He had done this a thousand times and navigated the slippery tiles easily.

“They just let you leave all of this up here?” she said, pointing at his experiment. Helen regretted letting go of the roof, stumbling before Nikola caught her hand and led her to the relative safety of the platform.

“Strictly? No…” he admitted. “But I think that one of the professors is curious so they let it go.”

“Our professor? Maybe he just wants a decent excuse to have you expelled,” she lifted an eyebrow curiously, as she stepped onto the platform with the experiment.

“I am undecided,” Nikola grinned. He handed her several wires and balanced a long antenna on her lap while he dug through his experiment, connecting bits of it. “You’re no help at all,” he said to her, when he tried to retrieve the antenna. Helen had the wires twisted around it in infinite loops which he struggled to undo.

Nikola worked frantically, with the rain getting heavier. She hadn’t meant to, but Helen found the sight of Nikola in a full suit, perched on the roof like a curious bird – dripping wet and tangled up in cords to be highly amusing, especially when he overbalanced. She stifled a giggle, dodging his glare as cold wind made the rain more unpleasant.

Soaked through, they finished setting the experiment. Helen and Nikola took a step back, staring for a moment at the fragile thing reaching up toward the crazy expanse of sky. It was hard not to feel the enormity of the world behind the city – to see civilisation as a small scramble on the landscape sheltering under a sky to which humanity could lay no claim.

“I see why,” she started, “you spend your time up here.”

*~*~*

James jolted, smearing ink over his page as the thunder continued to roll on outside their window.

“That was close,” he said. The walls of the building were vibrating softly, rippling with the thunder. “I don’t think that James is going to get his meeting outside tomorrow.”

“Must be a beautiful show,” Nigel pointed to the only window in their dormitory which remained blocked by cloth and wood. “A shame – I think I may go and watch the storm for a while.”

James shrugged, attempting to salvage the page. “As you please,” he said. “Would you mind,” he nodded at the pile of paper beside Nigel’s bed, “if I skimmed through your notes?”

*~*~*

Three rivers of light appeared from the cloud above and snaked their way in jagged steps toward the ground. Their light cut through the heavy rain as they intertwined, crossed each other and flashed several times in silence.

Nigel watched the shards of light, waiting for the inevitable lashing of air which always coupled the beauty. He held onto his notes tightly, not daring to leave them unattended in James’s company.

*~*~*

After the light, Helen could barely make out the dark lines of the roof. She blinked the rain from her eyes and turned to Nikola.

“Can you hear that?” he said, staring out into nowhere. Helen frowned, all she could hear was the rain lashing at their faces and the occasional gasp of thunder as the lightening approached. “That sound…” Nikola seemed lost to the world as he raised a hand up to the storm, moving it through the rain. He could hear hooves pounding into the wet earth – a distant cry as a horse rose up on a child.

“Nikola!” screamed Helen, as he tilted dangerously forward.

Nikola snapped out of the memory as another flash of light strangled the darkness from the sky.

“We should go,” he said, fearing that he had waited too long. The storm was here and they were still balanced precariously on the roof next to a lightning conductor.

*~*~*

Nigel was on the ground floor, pacing along the protected walkway of the eastern wing of the building. He thought he heard a woman’s voice cry over the thunder of the storm. Frowning, he edged toward one of the archways, leaning into the rain enough to see the opposing rooftop.

He saw two shadows make their way across the rooftop. They looked so fragile, scampering in the face of such a storm.

Helen and Nikola, it could be no-one else. Nigel shook his head as they neared the edge of the roof. Then, from nowhere, a stream of light ripped through the air and blinded him. Thunder, so heavy that Nigel felt his soul take shelter as it beat against his body. He dropped to the ground in a scatter of paper, holding his ears as the ground shook.

*~*~*

The tiles on the roof shattered beneath them. Helen fell first, grasping desperately as she began to slide toward the edge. The world was so bright – she could not see. The air splitting beside her was so violent that the end of all things may have only been a step behind. She couldn’t hear Nikola, falling behind her, his hands forgetting the roof and reaching only for her.

Suddenly there was nothing beneath her. The light vanished leaving only the violent reverberations and the sound of tiles plunging four stories to the ground, exploding on the pavement below.

Her body jerked as Nikola caught her arm. The sudden weight pulled him over the edge with her until he wedged his hand between the guttering and brought them to a stop. They hung there in the rain, swinging gently.

Out of a daze, Helen realised that she would soon hit the ground far below them. Nikola had caught onto her sleeve and fabric was stretching, beginning to rip away from its seams.

There was nothing Nikola could do except grimace through the pain as the sharp gutter edge cut into him.

The rain beat down harder as another wave of thunder brushed over them.

Helen tried to reach the wall with her other hand, but she was too far out to do anything but graze the cold rocks with her fingertips.

Now the gutter protested, snapping two of its bolts sending Helen and Nikola two feet closer to the ground. Nikola hung on, but Helen’s sleeve ripped open. She reached up with her other hand just before Nikola lost his grip.

There was blood trickling down Nikola’s wrist. Even with two hands, Helen could not hold on. Another gust of wind would be enough to knock her free.

“Nikola!” she shouted over the noise.

Nikola swallowed, feeling her slip further. “Helen…” he whispered, as she fell from his hold.

11

UNBREAKABLE

Nigel vaulted over the low stone wall and out into the storm leaving a volley of papers churning behind him.

Every echo of thunder made his body shudder as it continued to rumble in the sky above. The ancient gods were at each others’ throats, tossing bolts of light and snarling into the dark. He could hear their violence – the clashing of swords and procession of Grecian boots through the clouds.

The lawn was partly submerged and Nigel struggled to cross its muddy expanse. Once he stumbled, landing on his knees amidst a blur of water. That’s when he saw it again – a horrible image that he could not shake. Nigel grunted and made it back to his feet. He pushed forward, heading toward the other wing of the building where he had seen a shadow fall.

He raised his arm against the weather, inhaling more water than air. Nigel couldn’t understand why the world moved so slowly or how it was possible to count the heartbeats out of step with his breath while the droplets of rain hesitated, lingering for a moment before striking his face. Whatever tempo the world was supposed to dance to, it had been offset since that lightning strike.

Nigel found her almost at once, laid awkwardly on the cement pathway surrounded by broken roof tiles. The sky flashed again and again, vanishing the world in an eerie light. Nigel paused, water streaming over his eyelashes. Helen’s blond hair had scattered around her head, glistening in the rain as if full of jewels. Beneath this carpet was a dark puddle, diluted by the rain into a general crimson aura.

She must be dead. It was all he could think. Her stillness held back his breath as he bent down to Helen and placed his fingers lightly beneath her chin.

He waited, ignoring another dart of light above as he searched for a faint glimmer of life.

Oh gods…” Nigel startled, as Helen opened her lips and took a gasp of air. He whipped his hand away when her eyes slowly opened, staring blankly into the night.

“Nikola?” Helen whispered. Her vision was a muddle of indistinct forms but she could sense someone leaning over her, shaking.

“Nigel,” he corrected Helen, reaching behind her head. He wove his fingers through her blood stained hair until he cupped her skull gently and eased her off the ground with his other arm around her shoulders. He searched for the wound responsible for the bloody mess on the pavement but found nothing except an acute tenderness to his touch.

She flinched away from him.

“I feel – strange,” she said, as he forced her to sit.

“I am amazed that you feel anything at all,” he commented, glancing up at the roof of the university. It was a long way up to the damaged pipe, jutting out from the rest of the gutter. Beneath Helen was a sea of blood from a so far phantom wound. He had to get her somewhere safe and dry and inspect her more closely. A fall that large – there had to be repercussions.

“Wait,” she protested, as he lifted her from the ground. It was a struggle for Nigel. He had never been a strong man but in this he was determined. “Nikola…”

Nigel searched the dark walls of the university but the pathways were empty. “He’s not here,” he said, heading for the main gates where the occasional coach hurried past with a crash of hooves.

Helen turned her head, gazing over Nigel’s shoulder back at the silhouette of the building. There was no light in Nikola’s room. She remembered his hand, trembling with her weight as she swung from the building.

“He was…” she started, but Nigel had reached the road. He waved a one of the coaches over and bundled Helen inside of it.

*~*~*

He took her home.

Nigel set Helen onto one of the wooden chairs in the dining room and quickly fetched a basic medical kit from Doctor Magnus’s cupboard by the stairs. He returned to find her inspecting a ringlet of hair, curiously gazing at the red tinge that it had taken on.

“Let me,” he said, pulling a chair next to her. Nigel held a warm washer to her forehead, wiping the mixture of mud and blood off her porcelain complexion. For the first time, he noticed her beauty. He’d always thought of Helen, perhaps unfairly, as a vindictive woman manipulating men to her causes via her obvious charm. John thought that he was crazy, but Nigel held firm to his belief that there was a sinister edge to Lady Magnus. He often saw glimpses of it in the corners of her eyes when James slit his way through another test subject. She had even swayed the impersonal Tesla, coaxing some form of affection from him however reserved it might be.

Nigel wouldn’t go so far as to say that he was entranced by her, as the others were, but maybe he could admit to being just a little curious.

“How perplexing,” he said, running the washer down her neck following a trail of blood. “You appear to be unharmed.”

“Maybe it’s not my blood?” she offered, catching his hand as it dipped a touch too low on her neckline. She would never guess that it had been an honest accident.

“It’s yours all right,” Nigel discarded the cloth in the tray, “but search me as to how.”

They were both soaked and starting to feel the cold. Nigel was the first to rise, unbuttoning his coat as he headed to the fireplace. He busied himself lighting it, preferring to keep occupied as the awkward silence continued between them. Though they had spent many hours in each other’s company, they had never spoken alone and found themselves completely at a loss as to how to behave.

Finally, a flame flickered up through the logs and the first radiations of warmth spread into the room.

“You should change your clothes,” he mumbled at her. She nodded and vanished out the door. He heard her footsteps trail down the corridor until a door creaked open.

So this was the house of the great Gregory Magnus? Nigel had already picked out several unusual ornaments hanging from the opposite wall. He hovered over the fire, drying his shirt and pants until she returned to the dining room looking more like he was used to.

“Thank you,” she said, not taking that last step into the room, “for your help. I shall be fine now.”

“Helen, you are about as far from ‘fine’ as is possible.” Another silence. Nigel stifled a cough with his fist, turning back to the flames. His nose wanted to run, a curse from his childhood that led people to believe him perpetually in ill-health. “Now that I’m here,” he spoke to the fire, forcing Helen to venture into the room to understand him. “Would it be possible to see this mysterious sample of yours? I admit to being curious.”

Distraction – she welcomed it. “Certainly.”

Helen led him through her father’s office and down the stone steps to the basement. She caught him linger at the sight of the lab door, running his eyes over the solid planks of wood sealing its contents away from the world. They both held lanterns to the darkness as she unlocked the door and pushed it open.

The door revealed a black hole not unlike the gaping mouth of a cave. Nigel’s nose tweaked at the musty smell, heavily laden with mould spores. Helen dashed in front of him, wasting no time lighting several lanterns. The room now revealed certainly looked the part of a mad scientist’s den. As James had described Gregory Magnus, this scene suited him well – mysterious curtains, hanging lamps and equipment he didn’t want to know about. He’d almost accepted this as quite respectable – until a creature in the corner of the room growled.

“Holy – you did not mention that,” he raised his lantern in the direction of the frightening creature.

“When I said, ‘Abnormal creatures’,” said Helen, with a smile he had seen used on unwitting victims of hers before, “what exactly did you think that I meant?”

She had him there. In truth, he’d never really taken her stories seriously. “Honestly Helen, what is that?”

Eventually Nigel got over the dragon – even daring to stroke its feathered coat. Finally Helen presented the sample of blood and even his untrained eyes could see that it was special with its silken liquid swirling gracefully, its colour more rich than pure ink and its viscosity something between mercury and honey.

“I – wanted to apologise,” he offered, brushing his fingers over the glass holding the sample. “We did not have the best start.”

Helen nodded, but did not offer an apology of her own.

*~*~*

It was late afternoon of the following day when three gentlemen met in a dormitory, exhausted.

“Did you find him?” said John to the others, holding his side. It pained from running circles around the hundreds of intertwined corridors, ducking into every door in search of the missing man.

James and Nigel shook their heads, equally dishevelled.

“He’s not here,” James folded his arms, “or if he is, he’s lost a good deal of weight. I asked everyone I could find. Granted,” his hidden hand couldn’t help but dip into his coat pocket where a small gold watch nestled. “Most of them had no idea who Nikola was in the first instance…”

“I called him the ‘mad one’,” quipped Nigel. “Mostly they just shrugged. If they did see him, they apparently don’t remember. It’s like he’s completely invisible to other humans.”

“I think that we should try to take this seriously…” James frowned in Nigel’s direction.

“What is there to do?” Nigel retaliated. “He is gone and short of searching all of Oxfordshire –”

“Helen’s not going to be happy,” John sighed, interrupting Nigel. “We’ll never hear the peace of it if he doesn’t show tonight.”

*~*~*

John arrived at Helen’s door first, just on the edge of dusk. The streets were full of business men making their way home from work and small children frisking pockets with nimble hands. The gas-lighters had started their rounds, cruising between the lamp posts with a taper as the smoke of the factories sank back to the earth, tarnishing Oxford’s air with a bitter taste.

The city’s forest of spires prodded at the darkening sky. Their sandstone had blackened in the relentless weather which chose to rain most of the time making them appear sinister against the skyline.

“Did you find him?” was Helen’s first question, as she let John step past her into the house. He shook his head.

“Helen, I am sure that he is fine,” he tried to reassure her.

“You clearly don’t know Nikola,” she replied sharply. “He is never fine.”

“Tomorrow I will speak with the university heads myself if he does not arrive within the hour.”

She seemed to be satisfied with this – for the moment.

“Helen,” he reached down for her hand, which he took gently in his own. “There was something that I have been meaning to discuss with you…” he trailed off, glancing nervously at the floor rather than her confused expression. “Before all of this.”

His skin warming beneath her palm distracted her from John’s words. She found it difficult to focus on anything other than the slightest movement of his fingers and his quickening pulse.

“When I heard about what happened yesterday – I – I realised something – important that,” he ventured a glance at her, regretting it almost immediately as his throat closed over. He coughed, swallowed and tried to continue. “And my timing is – well – regrettable but – James?

Mr Watson strolled into Helen’s foyer with an air of importance. He had changed his waistcoat, apparently reverting back to his wealthy upbringing outside the university walls. This particular item of clothing was a luxurious shade of red, edged in golden thread.

His sudden arrival caused Helen and John to part, retreating to opposing walls of the entrance hallway.

James tipped his hat at them before removing it entirely.

“Afternoon,” he said in greeting – fully aware that he had just disturbed the pair. “Nigel will be here shortly. Are you certain that you are well?” James tilted his head slightly at Helen. She was paler than usual except for a bright flash of pink through her cheeks.

“Not you as well,” she turned away. “Honestly, I am surrounded by three old women.”

“Only two at the present,” James winked.

12

RATS TO THE SLAUGHTER

They waited the full hour but Nikola did not show. With the evening well underway and the moon striding above the city, the four young scientists descended the stairs to the underground laboratory.

Settled into various locations around the room – John by the door, Nigel knelt beside the dragon, James in front of the wire-faced bookshelves and Helen leaning on the central table – James theatrically spread his arms as if introducing some great Shakespearean work to his audience.

“I give you,” he bowed low, to the others’ amusement, “Exhibit A.” James Watson lifted the lid of the heavy wooden box by his feet. His surprise was a collection of furry creatures running from wall to wall of the box in a messy clamber.

“Rats…” Helen eyed James warily, leaning over the box with her mouth turned down in repulsion. “You brought me rats?”

James did not understand her dejected tone until Helen held a light to the shelves beside them where five well fed rats, significantly higher in class, were busy devising their escape. He merely waved her off and said, “The more the merrier.”

He rounded hers into his box and placed them on the experiment table. The scratching and squeaking intensified until John had his doubts that the box would hold.

“I still don’t like this,” muttered John, watching Nigel prepare the metal needles and Helen walk the sample of blood over. James dipped the needle carefully into the enticing liquid, slowly drawing it up.

“Rats are a menace,” said James, tapping the shaft of the needle, “the city will be well rid of them.”

There was a rose leaning over the lips of a vase, slowly dying in the softly lit laboratory. It had dropped several petals on the main table but its perfume remained heavy, sweet and intoxicating. It masked the sour smell of the air and had not been there the last time Nigel had called.

John smiled at the wild rose, admiring its fragile and fading beauty. He wanted to hold the delicate thing in his hands but he knew that the slightest touch would destroy it.

Nigel held the squirming rat securely in his hands. It lashed out at him with sharp teeth and knife-like claws, but he expertly clamped down, rendering it still as James pierced its side. The creature screeched unhappily, kicking its toes as James injected a small amount of the source blood into it. Once finished, Nigel carried the rat to an empty compartment on the bookshelf and locked it inside.

The four scientists closed in, observing the shocked creature for several minutes. To their surprise, the rat did nothing – absolutely nothing of interest except clean its ear with a flexible paw.

“That was anti-climatic,” remarked Watson, still brandishing a full needle of blood. “Shall we do the others?”

“Of course,” replied Helen. “One subject is hardly a balanced test. We shall do them all.”

John closed his eyes and rested back against the closed door. He heard them repeat the process again and again with all seven remaining rats and set them in the cage together. When John finally roamed over to the others, he found the rats seated quietly on their back legs, sniffing the air.

“Those are the most docile rats I have ever seen,” he said, staring through the wire. The rats didn’t even notice him trace his hands over their enclosure or feel his warm breath on the air. “Are they in shock?”

“Quite possibly,” said James, handing the empty needle to Nigel who wiped it, wrapped it in cloth and tucked it back in the medical bag.

“Give it time,” Nigel said, joining them. “When we administer medication to animals on my parent’s property it can take up to – did you hear that?”

The others looked at him curiously.

“Hear what?” queried Helen. Her blond hair was hitched out of the way, fastened by dozens of soft metal pins. Every now and then the lamp light caught one, making it flicker.

“Could have sworn I heard some kind of banging.”

It dawned on them as a collective.

“The Cabal?” whispered John, as Helen moved toward the door.

“They watch the house,” replied Helen. “A man in a brown suit, topper and cane stands at the corner in the mornings and late afternoon.”

“Was he there today?” John handed her one of the lanterns.

She shook her head. “No, I thought that it was strange.”

“Let us go,” said James, hinting at John and Nigel. “Perhaps they won’t be so bold.”

“Absolutely not,” she said sternly. “The last thing that I need is to cast suspicion on myself by entertaining three men at this late hour.”

“Very well,” said John, “but we will accompany you to the door all the same.”

*~*~*

Helen waved the shadowy figure she assumed was Nigel off as she approached the tortured surface of the front door. She could see the others, scattered in dark corners ready to pounce on her command.

The door knocked again. It was urgent – demanding and not what she had expected of the Cabal whose figures had always been imposing statues.

She took a breath, holding it in her chest as she unlatched the door and drew it open a crack.

Although the night was clear and the rain of late banished to the edge of the horizon, the first thing that Helen heard upon opening the door was the steady drip of water. She stepped to the side, opening it further to reveal a man shivering in her doorway.

“So,” he started, his voice shaken, “it is true then.”

He had seen her eyes still and glazed, covered in a layer of mist – her hair about her face mingling with flows of blood as she lay there. The sight of her, shattered on the pavement below him amongst the ruined tiles was one that he could not move. Helen Magnus had been dead. He had seen it, felt it – mourned it and, until this point, believed it.

“Nikola…” she said, but he avoided her hand, edging away. “You look as if you have drowned,” Helen observed his state. “We have been so worried, Nikola, where have you been?”

Nikola did not wish to talk about his whereabouts. What he wanted was a very particular answer from the woman glancing nervously behind her at the house.

“I know what I saw,” he said softly.

“We,” she stared, stammering as movement stirred in the house. “We shall talk later, I swear.”

*~*~*

After, Nikola was ushered in and offered a change of clothes – which he naturally declined. Nearly against his will, he was herded to the basement. James managed a vicious aside, sprouting something about ‘wandering souls causing trouble’ to which Nikola darkened his offended temper.

“I take it that I have missed the show,” said Tesla, observing the empty table with Nigel’s bag already packed and stained brown in patches.

“The opening act, perhaps,” replied Nigel, waving Nikola over to the ‘bookshelves’ where the four of them had assembled. “Oh dear…” he sighed, upon arriving. At the edges of the cage were two suspiciously still furry bodies, feet-side up with their mouths left agape from a final breath. “We lost two – not that I can say I’m surprised. They were scrawny things to begin with.”

Though he was positive that Nigel had just insulted his choice of test subjects, James kept quiet and instead observed that there was a drizzle of blood on both the deceased rats’ noses. He deduced, therefore, the cause to be internal bleeding from one or multiple organ failure.

“And what of the others?” Helen asked.

James shrugged. “They seem fine at the present. That one,” he pointed at the rat huddled in the far corner, scratching feverishly at something, “is a bit rabid for my liking.”

“I don’t know,” said John, tapping on the wire near a particularly docile rat. It was plump, seated and staring off into space. “This one looks about ready to depart from life.” It did not bother to flinch as John proceeded to rap beside it. The creature’s beady eyes gazed up at the soft lamplight beyond its bars, considering the world it had never noticed before and reflecting on its captivity.

Nikola refused to come any closer being generally repulsed by rats and all other creatures of the gutter. He did, however, notice the gentle tickle of hairs lifting from the back of his hand, standing erect. Static electricity he mused, though he could not determine its source.

Suddenly there was a snap and coruscation near the edge of the wire where Helen and James were leaning in close. They both jumped back, as did the rat which had grazed the wire with its claws and caused a serious spark of electricity to erupt.

The rat was as shocked as the humans. The action itself had not hurt but it had certainly been frightened by the loud crack.

This time, Nikola rudely parted his way through the others and folded his lofty figure over to bring his eye in line with the rat. It was not fat as John had assumed, but rather ruffled. All of its wiry hairs were sticking out making it appear like a pompom with teeth and a tail.

Do it again…” he goaded the rat, which to everybody’s surprise seemed drawn to Nikola’s keen eyes.

Slowly, its paws hopped closer – stopping all the time to sniff the air and shake its whiskers.

“What are you doing, Nikola?” asked Helen, bending down beside him.

“An experiment of my own,” he replied. “Here we go…”

Again, the rat touched the wire mesh producing a violent spark of electricity. This time it squeaked angrily, and retreated back beside the two dead rats where it set about cleaning itself.

“Well,” observed James, “it certainly wasn’t doing that before…”

“Incredible…” said Helen. “The source blood must have – I don’t even know how, allowed it to – Nikola, could you help?”

“I am not a naturalist,” he said frankly. “Though I can only presume that it is drawing on the natural potential difference between the ground and air and converting that into static potential energy.”

“But what Helen asked was how,” John grinned menacingly.

“Perhaps you would be so kind as to take a stab yourself … or is your position in this group merely ornamental?”

“Not to interrupt,” said Nigel, “but that rabid one of yours James, is getting rather close to – oh!”

They all watched on in horror as the rat in question flexed its claws, creeping up behind one of the ordinary rats and then, without warning or hesitation, leapt on top of it, sinking its teeth hungrily into its kin’s neck.

“That’s horrible!” Helen held a hand over her mouth as the rat drew blood, crushing its victim with powerful jaws and unusually sharp teeth. Its eyes were jet black orbs, enlarged as if someone had cut a planet in half and stuck them in place between the fur.

The victim rat expired. Its final kicks died silently while its plight went unnoticed by all but the blasé rat which backed away when the murderous gaze of the rabid one fell upon it.

“Christ,” said Nigel, “did you see that? Ferocious furry bastard. Sorry, Helen…” he apologised, for swearing in the presence of a lady.

“Amazing –” began James, but he was interrupted.

“Not my first choice of words,” John said, as the violent rat set its eyes on the electrically charged one.

“Well, if you would allow me to finish,” he turned away and roamed over to the experiment table as if in some kind of enlightened trance. “Amazing how it displayed characteristics reminiscent of rumoured vampirial behaviour. We can only assume that there is some truth in the myths and that, more importantly, this is indeed a pure sample of vampire blood.”

“Two results,” said Helen, “two deaths, one uncertain and three nil results, then.”

“No…” James pointed at one of the previously unnoticed rats. “Not uncertain. I don’t know what it is but this specimen has changed.”

“So what do you think?” Helen joined Watson at the table. She laid a hand on the satchel of equipment, stroking the leather suggestively.

“I’m in…” James could hardly contain his grin.

“In what?” Nikola shifted his gaze between the pair, trying to make them out as they began to pace around the table.

“Helen, you cannot be serious,” John came up behind her, reaching for her hand. “See sense.”

“My decision, whatever it may be,” shot Helen coldly, “does not require your consort.” Her interest returned to James, “The possibilities are wondrous.”

“Excuse me,” Nikola began to pace from person to person, “what are we discussing?”

“Helen has a point,” admitted Nigel. “What we have just discovered, it is an opportunity that may well pass us by in a hurry. With the Cabal due on your doorstep,” he turned to Helen, “we are not guaranteed possession of this sample indefinitely.”

“I do not want to spend my whole life wondering…” James carefully picked up the vial of source blood, holding it to one of the hanging lanterns. A thing this beautiful had to be dangerous but there was more to its silken liquid than horror, he was sure of it.

John’s temper rose. “This might be your whole life,” he pleaded with her, “if we get this wrong. It would be unwise to make our judgement in haste.”

“Judgement on what?” Nikola slammed his fist down on the table, causing the vase with the rose to shudder and fall, crashing to its demise in a storm of petals.

13

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Three of the petals skimmed off the edge of the table, caught in a swirling current of air and then, after several graceful tumbles, they were laid to rest on the dusty floorboards.

Helen and James’s shoulder’s brushed. They stood united in feverish curiosity. The source blood had ensnared them with promises. It was a trap carefully laid with delicate snares that shuddered every time their eyes wandered in its direction.

James tilted the vial. He watched as the blood moved in luscious currents. Inside he saw a shimmering universe of stars, hidden places and secrets yet missed the darkness which crept out of sight.

While James’s motivations may have run to his physical advancement, Helen sought only knowledge. She wanted to know how far the human blueprint could be pushed – where the boundary between us and the beasts lay – why she was different and if, as her father had hinted, this blood posed a cure for her condition.

“They are going to experiment on themselves,” said John, pulling away from Helen. He was deeply disappointed in her lack of self restraint. Maybe he was foolish, but he had believed her to be different from the others.

Nikola’s face faded even further to a shade approaching pearl.

“That’s right, isn’t it?” John directed his accusation at Nigel, who looked away and muttered something that sounded like, ‘yes’.

John waited for Nikola to break into objection – dissolve into one of his fits of logic declaring Helen and James to be insane. Instead, Nikola clasped his hands behind him, catching his damp cloak so that its violet silken lining quivered elusively in the candle-light.

“Why?” Nikola asked calmly, as if inquiring on the nature of two chemicals reacting.

“What kind of a question is that?” snapped John fiercely.

“A valid one,” replied Nikola in a sudden sharpness, “which was not directed to you.”

“If we go around calling ourselves ‘The Five’, pretending to be a unified group, secret society or whatever it is we’re calling ourselves this time, then the question was directed at the room.” John raised his finger accusingly in Nikola’s direction. “The proposal is preposterous! Inject ourselves with something rumoured to be the most dangerous substance on earth – after watching several of the test subjects die and another turn murderous? No – it should not be done. We make fools out of ourselves, not scientists. The sacrifice,” he looked especially at Helen, desperately seeking for the woman he remembered from the park in her cold blue eyes, “is too great.”

“Everyone makes sacrifices for their profession,” said Nikola simply, sensing that Helen had begun to sway to John’s passionate words. When it came down to it, that was all the man was – one of words. John had never had any scientific credit in the group. He was always the organiser, liaison or walking map to the various towns he had travelled through. His contacts had been useful but now he was beginning to see the other side of science and its practitioners – the side that stood on the cusp of white cliffs, pondering the fall.

“Your coat is a beautiful weave,” Nikola observed. “Tell me, do you often think of those who cowered in the half-light, spinning its cotton into delicate patterns before giving out their breath?”

“To know…” said Helen simply, in reply to Nikola’s question. Her answer was elegant but true – the answer that she should have given him the first time he had asked her about her work.

“And you – Nigel?” Nikola was not surprised when he reluctantly agreed with Helen. Nigel always sided with the majority, like a swing voter trying to not to get swept away by a rip tide. “Then we are in agreement?”

Four of them nodded but the fifth shook his head angrily. “Certainly we are not!” shouted John.

“You want to know about Flash,” said James, highly amused by the way Nikola had been courted by the biological sciences. ‘Flash’ was the name he had decided to give to the electrically charted rat. “Morality is not a question you care to consider, then. You prefer old fashion intrigue.”

“Begging your pardon, but my morality is in a better stead than yours at the present.”

James frowned. Nikola couldn’t possibly know about… James’s eyes searched Nikola’s but he would have had more luck with a lump of coal. No-one had seen him leave those nights, escaping over the university lawn in the soft moonlight except perhaps for Nikola, whose window faced the gates and – and James had to admit that it was possible.

“And yes,” Nikola finished, “naturally the behaviour of the rats intrigues me. I consider it my duty to discover the unknown,” smiled Tesla, “and I suspect that Helen would proceed with this experiment whether we were present or not, gentlemen.” He was right, she would have. “Which leaves us little choice.”

*~*~*

“The rats?” Nigel asked, as he unwrapped his medical bag once again and prepped the equipment.

“No change,” replied James, who had isolated the vampire rat and was now watching it tear at the bars. It was a feisty thing. The others were disturbed by its constant, high-pitched squealing and gnashing of its teeth over every surface.

“Not here…” said Helen suddenly, stopping Nigel. “Hidden away like this, it is not a fitting setting for what we are about to undertake.”

“She doesn’t want to die in a cellar,” winked Nigel. “Not classy enough for the lady. Where then?”

They settled on the lounge room. James arranged the chairs, Helen lit the lamps, Nigel prepared the equipment, Nikola drew all the heavy drapes shut against the night and checked the locks on the windows while John made a nuisance of himself, sulking in one of the lounges.

Helen strode through the room. Her ornate dress dragged behind her, shifting the dust while her golden hair trailed down her back in soft ringlets, some of which had been messily pulled out of the way. All of them watched as she took her place on the chair. Her breath quickened, rising and falling with her chest as hear heart thrust her own blood faster.

She heard the scratch of material on the chair’s back as John knelt beside her. He had not said a word to her since the decision, instead choosing to bow his head so that his face hid beneath several stray strands of hair.

“What are you doing?” inquired Nigel, as Nikola paced over and relieved him of the needle.

“Forgive me,” he said, “but if anyone’s going to be injecting this into Helen, it is to be me.”

“But…”

“We can’t very well let John do it as he would likely waste the blood to vex us,” Nikola was satisfied when John’s head snapped up in scorn. “There’s a strong possibility that James would splay Helen’s arm for entertainment and you, I apologise for saying, have a heavy hand. No – I shall do this and that is the end of it.”

By the light, Nikola drew the heavy needle from the vial, twisting it slowly in his fingers. It brimmed with blood. A spare droplet formed on the needle’s sharp, metallic tip, fattening until gravity tugged it free. He turned slowly with the needle held aloft. The room had grown silent. As he moved slowly toward Helen, the sound of his shoes over the floor seemed to pound in their ears. Nigel shifted behind her chair, hawking the experiment eagerly.

She was frightened.

And fury shall become us,” said James, “knowledge, burn us and the world scorn us for the truth.” He moved respectively out of Nikola’s way as if he were carrying a newborn rather than a syringe.

“It’s ready,” said Nikola, coming to rest beside her. She stopped her breath entirely, desperate to appear calm. The colour in her face betrayed her to the others.

“You don’t have to go first,” Nigel offered. It was, after all, strange to let the woman place herself in danger ahead of the men, of which there was a considerable number present. “John or I could have a go to start…”

John lifted his eyes disapprovingly as he was yet to decide upon his own fate. Still, he would allow himself to go first if it would save Helen.

“He’s right,” said James, “no need for unnecessary heroics. The side effects are completely unknown.” In humans, at least.

“Thank you gentlemen,” she finally took a breath. Her voice remained steady as she spoke, “But this experiment was of my design. I should be the one to prove its worth.”

“Helen,” John took her hand urgently. “You are certain?”

“We’ve risked too much to turn back now. We need to know. You may precede, Nikola.” She looked down and took another breath as Nikola ran his finger over her arm, nudging her sleeve out of the way. The pit of her arm trembled as the needle poised above her naked skin and his thumb slipped into position, resting on the plunger.

She could feel his heartbeat through their touching skin. It was raging, tumbling blood around his limbs but apparently not into the hand that refused to move. Nikola’s eyes flicked up. They were large and clear, giving her this final, silent chance to withdraw. He waited but she held her gaze fiercely.

Nikola slowly lowered his eyes to her arm and, with a hesitation of his own, brought the needle to her skin.

Nikola did not wait. Immediately he pushed it through her skin and began to expel the blood. Helen flinched. It was freezing – like icewater flowing into her – seeping through her veins as Nikola’s thumb pushed down determinatively on the plunger. As soon as he was done, her body shook. A sharp pain pulled her arm muscles tight and she heaved in shock, reaching blindly for Nikola and John’s hands. They both held onto her as the muscle contractions worsened and she fought to keep the pain at bay.

Nigel shifted, unclasping his hands and circling round the chair and over to his bag where he hunted through it. James did not move, instead he committed every detail of her reaction to memory. Nikola hastened a glance at John, both were lost for action as the pain turned to agony too extreme for Helen to bear.

“We’ve got to make it stop,” said John, as Nikola threw the needle to the ground and placed his other hand behind Helen’s back, forcing her forwards. “What are you doing?”

“She cannot breathe,” he replied. “Help me…” his elegant fingers had begun unlacing the back of her corset. John tried to protest but Nikola raised his voice angrily, “She’s dying, Druitt!”

“Here,” James pushed through them and set about undoing the thousands of layers of ribbon with more skill than the others would give him credit for. He muttered halfway through about the absurdity of female attire until the bodice loosened and Helen gasped. “She looks better,” he said, when Helen’s breathing settled.

“Are you all right?” John lifted a hand to her face. She nodded.

“The pain is stopping,” she said. “Ah –” she closed her eyes, trying to concentrate on what she was feeling, “slight tingling in my arm and it was cold, very cold…”

“Metallic,” whispered Nigel. “Look at the way it glistens in the light.” He pushed the vial of blood aside next to the smelling salts which he had unnecessarily excavated.

“I am fine,” she let go of both men by her side. “It was just a shock. Well…” she flicked her hair back over her shoulder. “Who’s next?”

Nikola’s head fell into his hands as he collapsed to the ground beside the chair in relief. “A moment, please,” he begged her, as he leant against the chair.

“I shall go next,” James volunteered himself. “If you please, Nikola…” he pestered the man on the ground.

The others followed in quick succession, with John falling last – still muttering his disapproval as the needle sank through his skin. Their reactions were all the same – nothing. Aside from the initial prick, the four men had no supplementary side-effects to the injection. Much like the rats, they stood dumbly, inspecting their arms for irritation but found nothing except a small hole.

“That’s it then,” said James. “Whatever is done is done.”

“Now we must wait,” said Helen quietly. She still felt uneasy – ill even.

“We will stay with you tonight,” said John, and the others quickly agreed – as much for their own sakes as for her. Nobody wanted to be alone, for fear of what they had done and what they might become.

14

THE INVISIBLE MAN

“Urgh…” Nigel stumbled, dropping the books tucked under his arm as a sharp pain stabbed through his gut. It lasted for several minutes, pounding in ever-increasing waves. “Damn…” he whispered, kneeling down for his books once it had passed. Briefly, he wondered if it had been his ill-looking lunch but soon the dread sunk in and he realised the horrifying truth.

“Oh, it’s you – not a very polite entrance,” James commented, returning to his book as Nigel took his seat in one of the abandoned chairs. The screech of its wood over the floorboards was still busy reverberating off the tightly packed bookshelves when Nigel swallowed and rubbed his forehead.

“There’s something wrong with me,” said Nigel hurriedly, as his stomach turned again. “Are you listening to me?” he added, when James continued pacing disinterestedly, stopping only to pull another book free.

“I heard you,” he replied serenely, “I am only surprised by the length of time it took for you to reach this conclusion.”

“This is no time for jokes,” Nigel leapt up and snatched ‘Rights of Man’ from him. “I think I’m in serious trouble,” he added solemnly, “and I don’t know what to do.”

*~*~*

“They’ve been no more fatalities,” whispered Helen under her breath to her neighbour, as the lecturer scratched various instructions on the board for them to copy. James, who had never sat in the second row before, shifted uncomfortably. “However…”

“‘However’ is not good,” he replied, knocking his quill from the inkpot. “Great god…” he grabbed for it and then promptly shifted out of the way of the ensuing ink trail. “Would you mind moving up a little?”

The lecturer cleared his throat, scratching the chalk harder on the board as the students re-arranged themselves noisily.

“You’ve got it everywhere,” scorned Helen, as she inspected the black stains on her fingers.

“There are reasons why I sit alone,” he admitted. “The rats though, they are all still alive?”

“Yes,” she nodded, and then paused. “Except for the one that’s missing. Its health you’ll have to guess on.”

James mouthed, ‘escaped’ as Helen went on to explain that one of the rats had levered open the bars with a spare scrap of wood allowing a mass exodus. She had rounded them up by hand with John’s help but one of them could not be found.

“That’s not encouraging, on both accounts.”

“It scratched the floor of its cage up for the wood. I may not claim a great deal of knowledge on vermin behaviour, but it does seem out of the ordinary.”

James’s face twisted into discontent. He leant against the sloped desk, propping up his head with one arm. “And the macabre one?”

“Isolated,” she rolled her eyes and made a brief effort to copy the board’s notes. “Though it hasn’t touched its food. Why all these questions? You’re usually difficult to coax into speech.”

“Nigel…” he lowered his voice, doing his best to evade the pair eavesdropping from behind. “He didn’t feel well so I had a friend of mine examine him and they found a small lump growing in the left of his stomach.”

This time the lecturer did not attempt subtly. In an elegant sequence, he snapped his chalk in two and threw both pieces at James and Helen. The first they knew of this was the sharp impacts and white marks left on their foreheads.

“If you’re not going to listen,” he said to them, “at least keep yourselves to a hush.”

*~*~*

“Don’t move…” Nikola instructed.

Against her usually rebellious tendency, Helen froze at the top of the ladder. Nikola rarely joked and she had cause to fear his experiments. This particular contraption had all the marks of sinister device with its wiry limbs trailing onto the floor beside him and one particularly thick wire stretched between two structures like a bridge.

“Watching?” he asked her, without turning around or stopping his fiddling. Her silence was taken in the affirmative. “There’s a switch on the floor beside you, would you be so kind?”

Helen, still perched on the ladder, reached forward to the switch and flicked it. A snap of light gave way to an explosion of sparks. Nikola’s hands were caught on a live circuit which pushed raw current into him at such a rate that he couldn’t feel the pain. He jolted, shook and then fell backwards when Helen finally turned the switch off.

The blackened skeleton of the experiment smoked innocently as Nikola rolled over with a groan.

“I – never – said,” Nikola gasped between waves of muscle spasms, “to turn – it – on… argh!” he held his hands up for inspection. They were intact but lightly burnt around the tips.

“You need to be more specific!” Helen climbed into the attic. She swept the cords away from him as he sat up. The usually immaculate man was in quite a state with his mop of dark hair stuck out in a dark halo, black smudges of carbon highlighting his strong features making his eyes more clear than she recalled and he had acquired a slightly burnt smell to his person. “A right state…” she said, trying to clean him up. He merely removed a pristine handkerchief from his pocket and saw to it himself.

“That was a little too exciting for my liking,” he said, shaking off the incident. “Twenty kilo-amperes and I lived, that must be a record of some form.”

Helen shook her head in disbelief. Near death incidents seemed to be a frequent occurrence when in his presence. “I’ve come about Nigel,” she started, helping him to his feet.

He seemed surprised. “Oh,” he let go of her, “I presumed it was about that other matter. I have not forgotten your promised explanation, you see.” Indeed, Nikola did not forget anything that passed through Helen’s lips whether he desired to or not.

The roof, her fall – the thunderstorm. Yes, she did owe him an explanation. “It will have to wait,” she said, slinking over to the window which was still without its glass. “You really must see to this,” she added quietly, before giving the details of Nigel’s condition.

“No…” Helen caught him, before Nikola could speak again, “he’s not imagining it. I am aware of his tendency to accentuate his many varied medical conditions, but James had him inspected and there is a definite growth.”

“Nearly overnight…” Nikola said, slipping into deep thought. “There are creatures,” he started after a period of pacing from end to end of the room, “that have extra organs. A correspondent of mine has a certain interest in natural science. She has sent me several detailed drawings of –”

She?” Helen raised an eyebrow curiously.

Nikola ignored her. “We know that these vampires or whatever you wish to call them, possessed abilities beyond our human grasp. It is natural then, that their internal structure may differ from our own.”

Helen turned her head and eyed Nikola keenly. A spark of truth flashed over her and she pointed in his direction, “You’re good…” she said, “exceptionally so.” Then she rushed past him, disturbing a cloud of black dust at his feet as she vanished into the manhole as quickly as she had come.

Nikola inspected himself, horrified at the filth accumulated around him. He had always been a clean person but today he found the concept of dirt intolerable to the point of absurdity. This morning the feeling had been so strong that he had made his bed three times and spent an hour washing.

*~*~*

“I’m evolving?” Nigel had been sat down in a remote corner of the library. Helen and James lurked off to the side, stealing looks at each other as their captive fought another wave of pain. “Am I dying?”

“It is impossible to tell,” said James. “There is no precedent for one species changing into another.”

He thought on this for a while, mentally cursing his situation. Helen interrupted, stopping at first to re-order her words.

“There’s another –” her voice trailed off, “explanation…”

“Which is?” Nigel prompted, ignoring the beads of sweat forming on his hair line. “Dammit woman, tell me what it is!”

“Uncontrolled mutation,” she shot back. “Cancer.”

“I’m afraid our only choice is to wait,” said James, “wait and see.”

Nigel threw his head back in despair and then said, “I want to look at the rats.”

*~*~*

After half an hour of intimate staring, James Watson was convinced that the intelligent rat was trying to communicate with him. The scruffy ball had run repeatedly back and forward inside the cage, pausing on each pass at the ominous lock holding the cage shut.

Next, it took its sharp claws and began to scratch and rustle about in the right hand corner of the cage. It became quite obsessed with this activity, repositioning itself, squeezed tightly against the wall. Finally James heard it – the quiet click of something as the rat dug.

James bent down, scanning under the edge of the cage door. There, at the underside of the corner was a brass pin holding the door in place. The rat scratched again and James watched as its claws brushed over the pin, knocking against it.

“Clever boy…” he whispered to it, placing his nose to the wire-fronted cage. The rat scampered over to him, staring back with huge black eyes. “But I’m afraid that I cannot help you. She…” he nodded over his shoulder in Helen’s direction, “would lock me up beside you if I tried.”

“James,” Helen had been watching him for some time now, out of the corner of her eye, “please – people will talk…”

He departed the cage with a wink and roamed back over to the experiment table which was now lit brightly by a huddle of candles around its far edge. Two of them were large and old, congealed with layers of dirty wax. Their wicks were rough, trimmed low to the wax and their flames danced wildly with the slightest passing of air.

“Research, gentlemen,” Helen unfolded a series of private correspondence and laid the envelopes on the table. “Courtesy of Nikola.”

They were elegant sketches. Drawings of creatures, layer for layer through their workings right down to the cleaned bones.

“There are pages missing,” noted James, sorting through the elegant numbers at the corners of each page.

“This is all he gave me,” Helen said. “I believe that these might help us understand your condition, Nigel.”

“Fine hand, decorative curves on the tails and ever so slight pauses between sentences. A female – I would go so far as to say that the author is a lady.”

“It is not a mystery to be solved, James,” she warned. “Would you be so kind as to put your observational skills to the matter at hand?”

Nigel leant over the papers as if to inspect them, but diverted at the last moment to blow sharply on the mountain of candles, expiring several of them. “Bright…” he said simply, and then took several of the letters away to study. “I think that I shall write my family, just in case.”

“Have – you thought about a will?” James put carefully. Helen made a scornful sound beneath her breath, but Nigel was not offended – indeed, he was smiling more brilliantly than she had seen in weeks.

“Yes, James,” he grinned, “you can have the books but you’ll have all of hell to answer, namely my brother, if you try and strut off with the shelves that match.”

*~*~*

The pair of gentlemen left late that night. She lingered in the door, watching Nigel brave the softly lit street and James hail a coach from the corner beneath a streetlight. The seasons were changing, and the cold of the evenings was beginning to show a glint of tooth.

Exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep with the curtains drawn and her bedroom door locked. The windows rattled all through the night, jarring against the inconstant gusts of wind ripping the last Autumn leaves free.

They came for it that night. When she woke in the morning, the doors had been undone and the steps to the basement tainted with muddy footprints. She was not surprised to find the heavy wooden door kicked in, the lanterns overturned and the source blood absent.

The rats assembled themselves in a line along the cage, keenly observing as Helen stepped around the broken lamps and headed for the chest of drawers at the far end. There, she searched feverishly for Nikola’s letters but they were gone.

*~*~*

Nigel woke up screaming. The dormitory was dark – well before the approach of dawn into the window that Helen had cleared. James stirred in the bed opposite. He fumbled into action as the screaming subsided, fetching a match and striking it to the wick of the lantern on the floor beside his bed. He picked it up and blinked back sleep with bleary eyes.

“Nigel?” he asked worriedly, as shapes began to form in the soft light. Nigel’s bed was empty. Its sheets and pillows were piled oddly in a mound and as he inspected the rest of the room, he found that nobody was there.

Figuring it to be a reverie, James roused on himself and went to blow the flame out when Nigel’s voice spoke.

“Sorry to have woken you – bad dream, ‘been having them since that night.”

James sat up straight and took a second, closer look at the Nigel’s empty bed. After a few quiet minutes, he whispered to the room, “Nigel?”

“No…” came the sharp, half mocking reply at once. “Karl Marx – of course it’s me.”

“Where?”

“Where what?” replied Nigel, shrugging at the confused James.

Some truth dawned on James as he saw the sheets of Nigel’s bed stir, apparently of their own accord. “How are you feeling?” he inquired delicately, of the empty room.

“Much improved,” Nigel had not felt pain since he had gone to sleep that night.

James’s eyebrows furrowed. “Interesting…” he mused.

“How so?”

James tilted the wood-framed side mirror in Nigel’s direction. “You seem to be lacking a reflection…” he said quietly, as Nigel shrieked again.

15

DAMPIER’S NOTES

James tightened the cord of his dressing gown and then lit all the lamps in the dormitory. Next, he strode up to Nigel’s bed and prodded the air approximately where his friend should be. The ‘thin air’ yelped and then scowled loudly, lashing out with stubby fingers until James stepped back, hands raised, and apologised.

“Just checking…” James excused himself, retreating from Nigel’s grasp. “I-” he tried to speak but eventually settled on, “I am speechless.” He wasn’t quite sure what else he was to think. His friend’s skin had taken on the patterns of its surrounding, constantly shifting to match either the bed sheets or the paint-stripped wall behind. About the only thing remaining to prove Nigel’s existence was the shadow stretching out over the floor.

Nigel was taking the progression of his condition poorly. He had James’s mirror clasped tightly in his hands and persisted in moving it about, analysing himself from every angle. No matter how many ways he tried to see himself, Nigel had to admit that he simply wasn’t there.

“This is terrible!” he declared, tossing the mirror across the room where it hit the floor and shattered. Nigel looked expectantly at James but quickly realised that he would have to speak if he wanted attention.

“What do you expect me to do about this?” James replied, tucking his hands into his dressing gown pockets. “It is the middle of the night – sleep on it, and we will think of something in the morning.”

“You aren’t serious,” Nigel tucked the sheets around his legs. It had become cold of a night now – bitterly so. “I can’t just forget about it and go back to sleep!” he protested. “I’m in-god-damn-visible!”

“Then you best get used to it,” snapped James sharply.

Nigel’s resemblance to the background was not perfect. Whenever he moved it took a fraction of a second for his skin to catch up to the change which meant that when moving the wall seemed to lag. However, when perfectly still as he was now, you could not pick him even when you knew where to look.

“We wait ‘till morning,” James insisted, folding himself back into bed. “Then I will provide you with all the assistance you require. I swear it; you shall have my undivided attention.”

*~*~*

It was an exceptionally long, awkward silence. None of them were sure what to say or do and it seemed that James’s idea of ‘help’ was simply to deliver Nigel to Helen’s doorstep and absolve himself of the matter.

“He looks fine,” said Helen, finally. It was true – Nigel sat in the oversized armchair with both hands clinging onto the leather arms like grim death. His clothes were oddly pulled about him as if he had dressed in a hurry and he was a bit pale – Helen would admit to that.

“Well it’s stopped now, ‘asn’t it…” Nigel scolded. He knew that he should be pleased with the sight of his skin but he knew that this present state would not last.

“It’s true,” confirmed James, standing by the fireplace. There were a few hot coals left glowing from the previous night. “I swear, when we set out this morning he was a walking suit – nothing more.”

“She doesn’t believe us,” said Nigel, reclining into the chair. “I told you this would happen. We should have come when it first started.”

*~*~*

John was alarmed by the sudden turn of his head as a hurrying passerby caught the edge of his shoulder. He scowled at once, looking for an apology which he realised would never come as the short man hurried off down the morning street, weaving between the high-hats.

He was about to turn and continue on to his lodgings when he felt his breast pocket and found it light. The miscreant, whomever he was, had taken his purse and papers. With no choice, John dodged two old gentlemen calmly and then launched into a pursuit of the creature he could just catch sight of in the distance.

It was a noble pursuit – spanning many Oxford blocks. At times John felt that he was within arm’s reach of the man and could make out the flurry of heat to his cheeks, perspiration sticking his hair to the broad forehead and the darkening collar of his coat. The hat had long ago departed him, lost somewhere in the street behind as the pair took a turn around the busy corner and found themselves directly in front of the university gates.

“Stop!” John cried out, as the assailant pushed through the iron gates (which were as yet unopened) and dashed along the path leading to the main doors. John could not understand the man’s sense, for surely the university was a trap for any thief to enter.

In the straight, the man was quick and reached the door with extra time to breathe. The heavy wooden things, ornately carved and difficult to open had just begun to close when John slammed his hand firmly into them and heaved them open once again.

To his great distress, the foyer was empty. Without students pattering through it, the room felt harsh and cold with little love shared by the swirls of marble. He had all but lost hope of pursuit when a distant slamming door set him back on the trail. The thief had run up the main staircase and along the passage to the old section of the library – which was also shut up at this early hour. The doors had been forced and were easily re-opened. Once inside John’s eyes trailed across the intricate networks of shelves that were lit only by the morning sun coming through the windows. This effect cast long shadows through the room where one could easily sneak.

He spent the next two hours – until the librarian shrieked in horror at the damage, trying to find the thief but there was no trace of him unless he had made himself into a book.

*~*~*

A great plane of sand stretched out in front of him. It was neither brown nor red but some shade that couldn’t settle in the morning light. His body was freezing. The cold twisted into his limbs and turned his sinews rigid. It wasn’t until he felt the rising sun behind him that he felt his joints shift and his legs able propel up over the ridge and down the other side of the dune.

There was a line of shadows following him. As they drew closer – gaining on him, he realised that they were caused by a struggling group of woman and children. Their exhaustion had wrenched their faces into soulless masks which traipsing endlessly toward the horizon though it always seemed to stretch out of reach.

They were running from their past. An entire civilisation had taken foot and fled and he was among them – leading them. A great sorrow washed over him. The only thing that awaited them was a slow, drawn out death which he moved them ever forward toward.

Nikola gasped – awaking in a fit of tears and despair. He had been there – marching across some wasteland with a child clinging to his shoulder.

“God…” he whispered, catching sight of the first weak beams of morning light through the open window. His breath swirled up through the air, condensing in the cold. It had been more than a dream – it was as if he had actually been standing in the desert, conscious that he would die soon. That desperate sense of hopeless determination took a while to shift as he gathered up the blankets and buried himself, trying to return to sleep

Eventually he gave in. Dressing quickly, he washed his hands again and again before making to the library where he sneaked a few books under his arm.

The librarian, old lady that she was, watched him suspiciously – craning her neck every now and then in his direction. Nikola fitted himself into the rock-lined window sill which looked out across the oval and onto the main gates. The grass was starting to die off and its brown threads had a pink lustre about them in the early light. Two pigeons picked over the expanse, fluttering at each other in jealous love.

He had a heavy book in his lap. Toward the end of it, he found a passage on the great ancient land of the early rulers. His finger slipped along the map from the old city of Cairo west, toward Minqar Abd an Nabi. Where expired rivers baked to dust, the old map showed nothing but unnamed desert – poorly drawn. Still, he could not shake the feeling that he had been there, touched its sand and watched the sun rise over its horrid scene.

To ne može biti…” he whispered. ‘It cannot be!’

*~*~*

“What of this other complaint,” offered Helen, unsure of how to proceed with no symptoms apparent, “is it possible to examine you again?

Nigel was reluctant at first, but did not desire to be turned away. As much as he despised the fact, he suspected Helen to be the better medic of them all. Her father’s blood was strong in her veins and sometimes even, he could see a bit of him in her eyes. His own father, Professor Samuel Griffin, had been a great friend to the elder Magnus. They shared a friendship whilst on the Oxford board but Griffin, like all Griffins throughout their generations, were wise with money and reluctant to watch it drain into endless pits. Nigel did not know of Helen’s knowledge on the matter but it had been Professor Griffin who first suggested that Magnus’s funds be cut in favour of the more lucrative organisation – the Cabal.

They laid him out on the table in the lab – a thing which disturbed Nigel greatly given the morbidity of the object. It was cold and hard beneath his bare back and brought alive all the hairs of his skin so that they stuck up against the air. Helen did not seem to take much note of him as she approached with her hands covered by a pair of cotton gloves. In so many ways, she looked like a magician about to conjure secrets from the world before their eyes.

“Lay still,” she cautioned, as she pressed down on his chest, feeling his ribs one by one before moving to his stomach. Soon he noticed that she was counting, carefully inventorying his innards in a manner that would have disturbed him had he not expressly allowed this.

Then she paused, feeling again and again the same area of his side. As she prodded, he felt a sharp pain.

“Intriguing,” she said curiously, digging further into his side creating great, stabbing, violent pains that racked the centre of his body.

“Careful – Helen,” James lifted a hand towards her arm, but she avoided him easily muttering, ‘Yes, yes, James – don’t fuss around me.’

Then she did something that surprised the others. Without explanation, Helen ducked out of the room and hurried through her father’s office and into the main hallway where she quickly began the ascent of the stairs toward the attic. Since its uncovering, she had not bothered to lock it. It had become another dead secret between her and her father which no longer required breath or keys.

Once inside the dark room, and after lighting a single lantern, she fetched a single precious letter from beneath a heavy book. It was the sole survivor of Nikola’s collection. On it was an impressive piece of ink-work. Stretching to the very edges of the page, which were of the thinnest paper, was detail of a sea creature. The hand that had written details along the margins was not the same as the one whom had written Nikola the letters. This was a piece from a coveted collection – which is why Helen chose to protect it.

A small life-like sketch in the bottom corner represented the octopus in its pre-autopsy glory with the ever-so-slightest humour in its eyes and twist of its tentacles which curled into a border. Beside it was the signature, W. Dampier.

She returned to Nigel who had now straightened and begun engaging in harsh words with his companion. Helen interrupted them, presenting the document.

“It is as I suspected,” she said, thoroughly pleased with herself. She drew them to a detail of the creature’s skin which under extreme magnification showed sacks of something which the detailed key explained were responsible for the animal’s camouflage. She directed them further to an addendum which wrote, ‘other examples of this cause are the contractions of specific muscles which can alter the pigment of the skin’.

Without warning, Helen sharply stuck her hand into Nigel’s stomach. He winced, contorting his face in sudden pain – though the others couldn’t see it. With a wicked grin upon her lips, Helen surveyed the bodiless suit which writhed about on her table.

“Do you require a repetition, or are we convinced of the lump’s purpose?”

“Quite convinced,” hissed the air where Nigel sat.

“Indeed, indeed…” repeated James, finding a new sense of respect for the woman.

“And they have taken the rest of the letters?” Nigel asked, as the pain grew less and his skin gradually found its form, first in waning patches but eventually settling into a solid covering.

“Everything, I am afraid,” she lied. Helen had saved the smallest of samples – a single vial, once fluid ounce; practically nothing…

“Am I dying?” asked Nigel. He replaced his white shirt and began latching it closed. Helen shook her head kindly. He didn’t think that he would ever see compassion drip from her in his direction but in this case it overflowed and spilled into the corners of her eyes.

“No,” she said firmly. “You are very much alive.”

16

HAUNTING IMMORTALS

“What is it, exactly, that you are doing?” Nikola finally looked up from his leather-bound book. John was on his stomach, attempting to see under a set of shelves pushed flush against the back wall.

John withdrew his hands from under the shelf and propped his sizable figure onto his knees. “Nothing,” he replied evasively, clawing his way up the shelf to stand. A large cloud of dust flew off him, wafting into the air where several beams of light cut through them. “Shouldn’t you be up in your attic, playing with the birds?”

Nikola was prepared to ignore the insult. It was John’s usual custom to construct as many of them as possible until one stuck and this morning he would have to do better if he wanted a reaction.

“It is not like you to wander from your domain…” John continued, wiping his hands on his trench-coat.

Nikola inspected his unwanted company with disgust and then said, “I don’t have a ‘domain’.” He turned the page of the fragile Atlas calmly, “You make me out as some kind of bat kept to its cave.”

“Ah but Nikola,” John grinned, “you cannot fly away.”

“True, but I am uncommonly good at sprinting from harm. Give me walls and I shall scale them, have no fear. Good morning,” his tone changed as his eyes flicked away from John and travelled over to the clutter of desks beginning to fill with nervous students. Amongst them, Helen Magnus weaved her way through until she arrived at Nikola and John.

“I hoped to find you here,” she said to the both of them without preference. “I have news that you must hear at once – but not here…” she added quickly. “Nigel has inadvertently made a discovery that I think shall intrigue you.”

Nikola had already closed his book and laid it on the stone windowsill with no intention of returning it to its proper place but John bowed his head and said, “I’m sorry, but you must excuse me. I have an urgent matter to attend to that cannot wait.” Without further explanation, he hastened past them and vanished out of the library, trailing a hand over the side of the doors as he went.

“Urgent matter?” asked Helen curiously, as Nikola slid off the sill.

“No good asking me,” he said. “John shares only what he thinks will injure me.”

“Perhaps it is best that we are alone,” she stepped to the side, hinting that they too, should leave the library. “As we have that other matter to discuss.”

*~*~*

Nikola did not appreciate the crispness of the morning until he found himself strolling through it with Helen by his side. Added to his usual attire was a warm white scarf that hung evenly over his buttoned coat, a set of black gloves and a tall hat which made him appear unnaturally lofty and ever so slightly elegant. He had not offered his arm, so instead Helen stayed close with her hands clutched in front of her.

The limbs of a beautiful oak bent in front of them, infringing on the path with red leaves. Some of them had fallen loose and scattered over the stone. Nikola ducked, reaching up to his hat as they navigated it.

“I have practised so many ways of telling you the following,” she started, “but in the end I decided that it would be best just to show you this-” Helen fetched an old letter from somewhere in the folds of her dress. She offered the sad looking envelope to Nikola until he took it from her.

Without any discernible change in his countenance, he removed the document from its casings, unfolded it carefully and read it through. He handed it back to her as they disturbed the pair of pigeons he had seen earlier – they were still playing in the dew laden grass, fetching each other gifts.

Although he did not say anything to her, Helen could tell that he believed every word that he had read.

“Your letters,” she offered, after it was clear he would not make a comment, “I am ashamed to say, have been stolen.”

This time Nikola stopped and dipped his head. Helen was not sure if it was anger or despair that ripped a sigh from his chest.

“I am sorry, Nikola,” Helen said earnestly. “They took everything, including the blood.”

For the first time since the night of the experiment, Nikola caught her in a fierce gaze. The curtains that hid others’ souls were absent from his steel eyes. Whenever they chose to look, they betrayed every flickering desire he had ever dreamed.

“It is of no great matter,” he replied, even though she saw a kind of torture wrack his heart. “I fear that there is worse awaiting us.”

Helen shivered with the turn of breeze.

“Our ages past are full of blood,” Nikola continued, “so much that the ground must be stained by it and rivers flow below the earth in gushing torrents of sorrow. Life approaches like an ocean stirring in the distance. Its crests mark our suffering and the next wave is arching up to meet us, I can feel its icy spray on our necks.”

She reached out for his hand but instead he took hold of her wrist and stepped closer.

“The answers are inside us now,” he held on to her tightly. “Their manifestations will either be salvation or destruction.”

“And me?” she asked, combating his imposition by lifting her free hand and laying it on his cheek.

“I can’t make you out,” Nikola leant slightly into her touch. There was warmth beneath the leather gloves and a gentle comfort.

Two sets of wings brush past them, grazing their clothes in a white blur as the pigeons scattered into the greying sky. The morning’s beauty had passed and now the clouds revealed their true, solemn shapes as they lapped at the city.

*~*~*

John waited patiently for his coach to wrestle through the traffic. The horses fidgeted at the long stops, pulling at their leather reins and shaking their heads as if in despair at the line of carriages in front of them. The street itself was soft from the past rains. Wheels venturing too near the gutters found themselves digging great grooves or veering violently.

It was well after ten when John was jerked forward. The coachman alighted and opened the door. A storm of discarded newspapers scraped past him, churning against the buildings in a filthy storm.

There was a crowd in front of the police station’s doors, with at least a dozen officers reaching over their colleagues to retrieve some form of handout. Once they obtained this document they retreated along the front wall, reading it intently with fingers brushing over their moustaches.

“Excuse me,” John said, merging into the seething crowd. He was taller than them and easily located the front desk. “I would like to report a theft,” he announced loudly. The chatter of the crowd was overbearing.

One of the crowd’s elbows accidentally stabbed into his back as they swelled, knocking John into the desk where he dislodged a tower of paper. The pages slid over each other as the fanned out over the bench in front of the disapproving secretary. John muttered an apology, quickly straightening the paper when their heading caught his attention. While the secretary processed his theft report, John plucked one of the pamphlets free and began to read.

Echo
London, U.K.
31 August 1888

HORRIBLE MURDER IN WHITECHAPEL.
WOMAN SHOCKINGLY MUTILATED.
HEAD NEARLY CUT OFF.

A tragedy, even more revolting in its details than that of George-yard, and surrounded apparently with circumstances fully as mysterious, has just occurred at Bucks-row, a low class neighbourhood, adjoining Whitechapel-road. Passing the Essex Wharf, in Bucks-row, at about 4.30 this morning, Constable Neale, 97J, found lying on the pavement there the dead body of a woman. On further examination her head was found to have been very nearly severed from her body. A horrible gash, fully an inch in width, extending from one side of the neck to the other, completely severing the windpipe. The lower portion of the abdomen also was completely ripped open, causing the bowels to protrude. The woman was at once conveyed to the mortuary, where she now lies. She is apparently about five and thirty years of age, with dark hair, of medium height, and with small features. Her clothing, which was examined by Inspector Helson, is scanty, consisting only of a threadbare cloak with a hood, a brown dress, and a petticoat, which bears the mark of Lambeth workhouse. The woman has not yet been identified.

It is thought that the woman was assailed by some man with whom she had been in company. Her front teeth had been knocked out, the woman probably having received a kick in the mouth from her assailant.

“Horrid, isn’t it?” said the secretary, handing him a form to sign. Momentarily stunned, John stared at the story.

“Yes,” he finally said, setting the paper back down with the others.

*~*~*

“When is your father coming home?” John asked Helen, later that day.

Helen was seated opposite him at the dining table, sorting through armfuls of notes while he quietly sipped a cold cup of tea.

“Lord knows, he doesn’t tell me,” she replied, as another pile of papers were deposited in the box on the floor – successfully sorted.

“It is not good for you to be alone,” he continued, finishing his tea. “A young woman, by herself – there must be some relative with whom you could stay?”

“John,” a grin crept in, “you wouldn’t be worrying over me, would you?” He was silent to her accusation. “The Cabal have been at my door for weeks, sometimes beyond it – what has brought about this sudden sentiment?”

“Nothing, only – well I read of a terrible thing that happened in London yesterday and it just made me think.” He didn’t know why, but Helen’s house never seemed safe to him. The windows were too high with easily broken glass, the doors were not set with heavy hinges and any man of reasonable fitness could manage to climb the outer wall to the unprotected windows above.

She set aside her work and reclined in the chair. “John…” she cautioned.

*~*~*

The dune fell away with every step, sucking in his feet and allowing them to be lost in the unbearable heat of the sand. In the distance he could hear the steady approach of drums.

Stop it!” he yelled, hitting the wall fiercely with his hand. Nikola forced his eyes to see the empty room around him rather than the shimmering expanse of desert sky that refused to shift from his sight. It was like another reality was trying to creep into his world and take over. He felt anger with every part of his body – overbearing hatred that wasn’t his, and thirst, the likes of which he had never known.

A hot trickle of blood rolled over his wrist. Its heat snapped Nikola back into the real world. He inspected where he had cut himself on a sharp protrusion of stone. The scarlet changed course as he turned his arm, spiralling around him. He tilted his head. Light refracted through its various layers giving it a jewel-like appearance. There was even a smell to it that he had never noted before – some kind of metallic underlay that infected the very rivers and towns of the modern world.

There was something else…

Nikola brought his wrist up to his mouth. He could feel his skin creep and a shudder through the edges of his fingertips – “No!” he jerked backwards, slamming against the floor.

*~*~*

Helen frowned wearily at her rat. It was laid out on the table of the basement, wheezing and twitching its whiskers with no real interest in life. Its features were skinny and sharp with numerous bones protruding from its fur which itself had become patchy. The murderous rat – which had hastily dispatched of its kinsman, was now barely able to draw breath.

She had provided it with a buffet of food but it refused to touch any of it. Fearing for its survival, she had even set it free but it would not leave her care. She sat with it through the afternoon and into the evening. Eventually it stirred and with great effort, crawled over to her hand, for she had fallen asleep on the table with it not far from her, and curled up against her skin then fell asleep. There they stayed, one asleep and the other, for eternity.

John opened the door quietly. The candle Helen had left burning was now a decorative mound of wax with a small flame. She was awkwardly sprawled between the chair and the table with her arm outstretched. Her face was obscured by a mass of golden hair but the gentle rise and fall of her figure told him that she was peacefully asleep.

He should have woken her, but he didn’t have the heart. Instead, he crept quietly to the table and gently quashed the candle.

*~*~*

“Does anyone else notice that we’re losing all the rats? I’m sorry to say it,” continued Nigel, during another uncontrolled fit of invisibility, “but that nagging fact does not bode well for us.”

“Well, so far – only you,” James pointed out.

Nigel shook his head, “Don’t tell me that you haven’t felt it – James…”

“I will admit,” said James after several struts around their dormitory. It was several days after the death of the last rat and Nigel’s invisibility had become more frequent and prolonged. His unexpected disappearances had frightened a maid, causing her to faint and to their great fortune, forget the reason. “That after the initial prick I had the strangest sensation. My mind was full to the point that I thought my scalp would give way to the pounding of my brain against it.”

“And then?” Nigel prompted.

“Then, something snapped. A floodgate opened and there was room for thought. Since then ideas which have been held stagnant for so long have evolved and spun themselves into tapestries ready to be written out.”

“You – are – so – full of it.”

“You asked…”

“It’s Helen I’m worried about,” Nigel changed the topic. “She seems – indifferent to the whole affair.”

“Are you certain?” James grasped a nearby quill and ran the feather through his fingers. “She suffered worse than all of us in the start.”

“Like a fever,” Nigel continued, “and fought it off.”

“A natural immunity to the blood. I wonder if she knows?”

“A woman always knows their body better than a man. I only question why she hasn’t told us yet.”

“Neither of us have been particularly kind to her. I often wish we’d started differently.”

James scratched the nib of the quill across the desk without ink. It left a single, slender mark from one end to the other. Nigel frowned at it, nudging closer for a better look. James made a second stroke, which crossed over the first in an elegant, two sided curve.

“Sanctuary,” James said, hinting at the design. “It was on the cover of the book I have just finished. I don’t know,” his voice seemed to linger slightly, “the thought appeals to me, of this place as a form of Sanctuary we can retreat to when the world fails to understand us. A house of knowledge.”

“Or a cramped, poor smelling dormitory,” Nigel corrected. “I think that you’ve been left alone with your books too long.”

“I find the need to guard them – you have heard, I suspect, of John’s theft. He lost a wallet and his travelling papers.”

“He’s not the only one to suffer a thief. I was down visiting my mother – she is regrettably ill at the present, and I turned to help her from the park bench when some shadow made off with my best knife from the medical kit – father will have me for that.”

“The age!” sighed James dramatically. “We shall have to bolt the doors and release the hounds…” He couldn’t help it if there was an eager glimmer in his eye.

“I think that it’s time we took you out,” said Nigel, hauling James from behind the desk.

17

SHERLOCK

London was bleak.

An unpleasant level of cold crunched his joints together in protest and forced James to retreat into the corner of the carriage where he enticed the little warmth that could be found between the worn leather and tattered curtain.

“See…” said Nigel enthusiastically, opening the window and sticking his head into the rush of air.

The coach made a sharp turn and in amongst the narrow streets they caught a glimpse of the Houses of Parliament – almost new with their cream sandstone blocks standing proudly. Only a few scaffolds remained, tangling at the far corners.

While there remained evidence of the 1834 firestorm in the approaching streets, the official grounds of the state had scrubbed and rebuilt diligently, burying the tragedy. The ruined buildings had been substituted with those of the modern age. Strong, tall and impressively intricate – these replacements were meant to represent the new era of humanity – the Victorian era. James thought them vile.

“You should not be doing that in your condition.”

“Nonsense,” replied Nigel, defiantly, ducking back inside with flushed cheeks. “I’m in agony – which means I won’t be vanishin’ into thin air anytime soon.”

“Is that your professional opinion or Helen’s?” James said, rubbing his hands together for warmth. It was rash to be acting on such whims at times like these. For all they knew, their altered state of health could present a danger to others and themselves – and he wasted no time reminding Nigel of it.

Just as James’s stomach decided that it had had enough of the constant rocking, their ride ended abruptly in front of a line of shops with people milling quietly about, ducking from door to door. The instant that he stepped down from the coach, James decided that he desired nothing better than to be back in Oxford, sitting quietly behind his desk with a book or two.

“Can I leave you here for a moment?” Nigel inquired, shepherding his friend toward one of the coffee houses nestled between the cold brick façades. The bitter smell was almost enough to turn James to the gutter. “I have a moment’s business to attend to and then we shall have the day to explore. You won’t – wander off… or get into trouble, I trust?”

James ignored the accusation – which hardly instilled confidence in Nigel.

“Go – if you will,” James stretched his arm out to the street in front. His warnings be damned. Nigel slowly took a few steps forward, apprehensively joining the crowd. “Foolhe muttered under his breath, after Nigel disappeared.

James pulled his coat in tight as another gust of wind ripped through the street, funnelled by the narrow lanes. ‘Grey’ was about the best compliment he could pay London. Compared to the seasonal mood of Oxford which melted between green and amber all the way through to snowy white depending on the season, these streets were inherently dull. The mess of the horses and the ever-present drizzle of rain made him sigh loudly with disapproval.

Bored, James slighted the coffee shop and instead began to pace down the street in the opposite direction, ambling into nowhere.

*~*~*

The pile of books in Nikola’s room grew. Documents that he had scoffed at, slept through or shunned now lay open on the floor where he sieved through them, nose to their pages which turned with such hurry that they disturbed the candlelight.

What was left of the morning had now passed over his window and sent his den into shade and cold. He lay across the floorboards, sheltered in this half-light. His mouth pained and, as children do, he had set to chewing things to quell the irritation as his teeth became more and more protuberant. Like a glistening row of knives, they grinned at him whenever he caught his reflection on a piece of broken glass from the window. The sight horrified him. His sullen cheeks and pale skin recoiled in fright and if he was not mistaken, there was a darkening of his fearful eyes with shadows as if he had stolen them from the room.

Nikola struggled with reality – sometimes he felt the hot sand slide beneath him, scorching through his stomach and tearing his skin away in vicious gusts but then at other times, the cold boards of the room in which he lay returned. It was a never ending reverie, a flickering mirage which could not settle – a disturbing place between two lives in which he felt tangled and yet further removed than ever.

His fingers slid over another paragraph as he tried to read its words again. It told of horrible stories and dark places of the earth’s soul where creatures of the twilight crept, kept alive by the blood of the living. Nikola’s body shook. Icy waves ran over his skin, draining its colour further. Somewhere in the distance there was a pounding of hooves, separate to these other dream worlds. Their rhythmic thunder bound his thoughts together as he shook his head and the pages of the books returned to sight as the candle burnt out.

There was a commotion at his window as a set of wings stirred, hopping along the sill. The pigeon ruffled its feathers and let out a gentle cooing as it danced around for his attention. Nikola did not detect the intrusion, and instead shook off another wave of pain until he noticed an unnatural taste on his tongue. Horrified, he felt a warm trickled down his chin and realised that his teeth had pierced through his gum.

“Hush – away, away!” Nikola waved his hand at the pigeon when it pecked him sharply.

*~*~*

Finally James made it out of the cluttered streets and into an open square. A bell nearby tolled, announcing the morning hour. Several people perked up and scurried away, realising their lateness as James strutted over the pavement.

He was halfway though, in the very centre of the square where two Peterhead granite fountains bubbled happily, when he felt the hairs on his neck twitch.

An enormous blur of grey, dirty looking pigeons flocked at his feet but refused to take flight as stepped through them. They bobbed their heads en mass and a few flapped as they skipped away. Filthy creatures, thought James, he could not understand the old women throwing seed at them from the edge of the fountains – but no amount of walking could shake the feeling off. Eventually, James was compelled to stop turn around where he found a sight that startled him.

“Excuse me, do you mind?” he said, to the tall man bent double with his nose almost grazing James’s shoe.

The strange man who had been casing James down the street and into the square stopped and, ever so slowly – like the wheels of a train first seeking motion, righted himself. He had at least a foot on James’s height but was so slender that a strong enough breeze would more than likely have been his demise. He wore a simple brown coat, sturdy shoes and carried a sharp gentleman’s stick which at present tapped threateningly on the ground.

“And you are?” James inquired, when the man did nothing but tilt his head and stare intently.

“I am not here,” he replied, with a scratchy voice.

James wrote the creature off as a poorly skilled thief. He eyed the man in warning and then continued on his way. He thought he was free until the tall man’s shadow sauntered up behind and resumed its pursuit. This time, James did not stop. He spun around, continuing his motion as he stepped carefully backwards. His, for lack of a better term, ‘stalker’ was not only following him, but mimicking his step in length and pace but all the while keeping his eyes locked on the muddy leather travel shoes.

Suddenly, the man’s head snapped up and he went to speak. James though, felt his heel catch in a misplaced stone and before he knew it, he was tumbling backwards. The ground was solid and cold. It dazed James for a moment when he found himself sprawled over it. A few Londoners grinned smugly as they passed to which James angrily glared.

“Are you all right?” said the thin man, not offering his hand.

James muttered under his breath as he staggered back to his feet and began dusting off his jacket. “Who are you?” James repeated sharply.

“The bigger question is not who I am as the answer to that is apparent to me, but rather, who are you, sir?”

“Someone who finds you intensely irritating,” James replied, deciding to step past the thin man and return back the way he had come. He had had enough of this city, and its inhabitants. This time though, the man extended his cane and tripped James who snarled fiercely as he landed on the ground again.

“Mind your step,” said the man, innocently drawing his cane behind his back, out of sight.

James didn’t bother getting up. “Fine, you have my attention,” he said, sitting on the pavement. “I am James Watson, soon to be a doctor in trade – now what is it that you want?”

“Oh yes,” the man replied, “I know that you a doctor. How long have you been in London?”

“This morning, but I assure you, I shan’t be back in a hurry.”

“From whence did you come?”

“Sorry –”James shook his head, wondering why on earth he was answering this rude man’s questions. He returned to his feet in a huff. “Good day to you sir, whoever you may be.”

“Sherlock Holmes…” the man offered, extending his hand before James could flee. “But you’ll excuse me if I don’t shake on it.” His hand trembled as he withdrew it and Sherlock quickly hid it in his pocket. The man’s fragility was not only due to his height – there was a definite fracturable quality about his features which, like a mirror, were sharp in their reflection but easily shattered.

“Oxford…” replied James, still wary of him. “Are those all your – where are you going?”

Sherlock Holmes had nodded at James’s answer as if some great truth had spread its wings before him. Now, he was making a speedy get away through the square, sending large flocks of birds into the air.

*~*~*

When Helen could not find Nikola, she retreated to the one place she could always trust to keep him.

Though it was mid-morning, she found his attic consumed by shadow. The candles he usually kept lit and the lamps that burned sweet, foreign oil had all been snuffed or burnt to the floor where they sat in sad yellow puddles.

From the darkest corner of the room, she heard a soft pigeon coo.

“Nikola?” she whispered, stepping through the scattered books littering his floor like some great ocean. He was there, curled up against the wall with a giant book held open in his lap. Nikola was reading intently when the pigeon scared and alerted him to her presence. “How can you read in this darkness?”

“I do not know,” he replied quietly, not leaving the page. “But I can.”

The sight of him brought her to a pause. He was half dead – drawn out and pale looking. Had it not been for the steady breath leaving his chest and movement of his lips, she would have assumed him lost. “You are ghostly…” she said gently. “Please, come down with me before you make yourself ill.”

“I fear,” he replied after a moment, “that it may be too late for that. In these matters, knowledge will be our greatest ally – and I must seek it out.”

She saw it now – it was a neither a mood nor a fever that had taken hold of Nikola these past days, but some dark force. “And what do you know?” she asked carefully.

Nikola’s especially dark eyes closed, blocking out the room as he spoke. A great curve of sand stretched across his vision and in the distance, he thought he saw a fleck of green nestled between the rises of glaring heat.

“Lives that are not my own…” he started. “I have been living these dreams for days now. They are too real – disturbingly so. I cannot shake them even in the daylight hours and they are full of approaching dread. My head is consumed by hatred but I cannot place its cause. I am thirsty and starving yet I cannot bring myself to eat because the thought of it sends me into fits.” He opened his eyes. “Where are your thoughts?” he asked her, when he saw that Helen had turned her head to the open window. A soft breeze was blowing her golden hair across her face, caging her features behind its ringlet bars.

“That the impossible is true,” she replied, “that you have lived these things before. I have seen accounts like these written in my father’s journal.”

“Either you are correct,” Nikola said, beckoning her closer, “and these memories will turn me mad…”

Helen sensed that he had not finished. “Or?” she prompted.

“Or you are wrong, and I am mad already. Will you sit with me a while? Maybe my grip on this world will be stronger if you are nearby.”

Helen hesitated. “Only if you let me light the lamps,” she whispered.

*~*~*

This time it was James who did the following. He tracked this, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ through the bustling crowd and down a main street where a smaller crowd of police officers were occupied with pushing back onlookers. They seemed to part as Sherlock approached. Two officers in particular nodded their heads at him.

“Holmes…” they said quietly together.

As this mass divided, James discovered the cause of their congregation. There lay at their centre a ghastly sight.

“Oh … Christ in hell…” James turned his head over his shoulder in horror. When he dared look back to the body on the pavement he had to fight the urge to collapse. In plain sight was the naked remains of what he could only assume had been a woman. She was laid open, sliced apart like a slaughtered animal. Dark pools of blood had dried around her form in a kind of grotesque halo. Parts of her were separate and others entirely missing.

Sherlock Holmes was not fazed by the atrocity of the sight. Calm as you like, he paced in circles round the corpse paying particular attention to the boot tracks left through the blood. He measured their spacing with his own step and shook his head solemnly in disappointment. There were a few muddy stains accompanying the footprints to which he paid particular interest.

“You are a police officer,” noted James, tapping Sherlock on the shoulder.

Sherlock had quite neglected to notice that his suspect had followed him. “Certainly not,” he scoffed at the idea. “My trade is private.”

James shrugged and returned to the body. “This is truly the most horrid thing I have seen,” he said kneeling close to the body. Several of the officers warned him away, but Sherlock appeared over his shoulder and hushed at the others.

After a great while, Sherlock spoke quietly, no longer able to bear the intrigue. “You have a thought,” he said, “I see it pacing about your mind.”

“These are not the incisions of a mindless violence,” admitted James finally. “They are purposeful strokes executed with patience and proper tools. I fear that you have here something more sinister than a crime of passion.”

Sherlock Holmes was not a man to grin. His features were too drawn for joy, his lips too thin to smile and the lines on his face unable to do justice to the mood – still, there was a flash of something across his eyes that betrayed his passion. There was nothing better for a man of observation than to catch onto the first scent of the hunt.

“Very good,” said Sherlock. “My conclusion also.”

“And for reasons I have yet to learn, earlier you suspected me of the crime but now – now you have learned something of the killer and of me.”

“You observe keenly.”

“As do you…” The air seemed to thicken with dark grit. Instead of grey – the streets felt decidedly dark and threatening.

“Come,” Sherlock beckoned James to his feet, “we shall speak more of these dark things.”

18

MISSING TIME

“You are particularly smug…” noted Nigel, when he finally found James lounging at the back of a coffee house. Granted, it was not the one which he had left him in but Nigel appreciated the gesture.

“Smug?” James raised his well kept eyebrow, “Surely not…”

His dark hair, usually swept neatly over his head and around his ears, was out of place. Several repressed curls had broken free and twisted at will, acquiring odd angles with the side of James’s cheek. Nigel spied patches of dirt on James’s jacket which also bared the glaring addition of a gold pocket watched pinned to his breast pocket – very unlike the Watson he knew.

Nigel collapsed onto the chair beside him. The room was pleasantly dark and warm, quite ‘den-like’ and full of swirling clouds of cigar smoke. He was feeling moderately better and quite enjoyed the dim light.

“What did you do?” he asked with an air of suspicion, placing a small parcel on the table and calling for a drink.

“Nothing that would interest you,” James replied. “Your work is done, I presume,” he said, observing the brown paper item tied half-heartedly with ribbon, “but I am sorry to say that I cannot leave London yet.”

Nigel frowned, taking a second look at his friend. His drink clinked down on the table as he leant forward and replied, “Come again?”

“Business of my own will delay me for several days. I will catch the train back to Oxford when I am finished.”

A quick breath of laughter filled the room as Nigel raised his hands aloft in cheer. “Nice try,” he grinned, hunting out a glass of water lingering on the edge of the table and taking a sip. “Nice try… Time we left I think, this London air’s getting to you,” but James was sincere and merely matched Nigel’s glass with a wink and drained it – ignoring his bewildered companion.

*~*~*

“And where is he now?” John and Helen sat in a quiet corner of the garden.

The sun was high but its weak sphere lacked the warmth of the months past. It hung over them wearily as the Earth spun ever away from it in a constant slight. Everything was gradually going quiet – the trees turning to skeletons, crickets silencing their calls and the dogs of the street retreating to their hovels in the bleak patches of thicket behind the town.

Helen adjusted her white gloves and then pulled her shall in tight around her shoulders. It kicked up in the breeze as she turned to John with her soft reply. “In his room,” she said, “I cannot wake him.”

“Call the doctor-”

“I daren’t,” Helen replied quickly, taking hold of John’s arm as he went to stand. He looked back at her, confused. “If you could see the state of him – Nikola scarcely looks human. Anyone we call would ask too many questions.” She was quiet for a moment, “I do not believe his life is in danger,” she added.

John slowly settled. “He is sleeping, that is all?”

“A deep sleep from which he can’t be stirred.”

“You should have James attend to him. He is the best doctor of us all.”

Ordinarily she would take offence but as much as it vexed her, there was more than common skill in James’s touch so instead, she nodded.

“I agree, but both he and Nigel are in London.” This time it was Helen who left her seat and began to pace across the fading lawn. John followed, coming to her side where he felt for her hand. “I have blocked out the light from his room as best I can and wrapped a blanket over him. The darkness seems to calm his sleep.”

John tangled his fingers in hers, stopping her progress towards the path. She was leaving him already, heading back to the main building. Worry was draining her complexion of all its beautiful colour, sucking the very life from her. He feared that she would wilt and die like the flowers had around them and fall back to the earth one petal at a time.

“Then we must wait,” he lowered his mouth to her hand and kissed it affectionately. “Please, do not worry – all will be well,” he insisted.

She caught him by surprise, dragging him toward her and draping herself over his shoulder in a desperate embrace. Helen wove herself around him, clinging passionately until he gave in and dipped his head toward her neck.

“I wish that I could believe you,” she murmured, as his arms tightened, “but this is all my doing. If I had not insisted that night –”

“Hush,” John drew away enough to see her face. He had always known Helen to be a strong force, fearsome even as she traced her way through the university halls like she owned their marble floors, but what he saw scant inches from him was a frightened girl. “I give you my word, Helen, everything will be fine. We will fetch James as soon as he returns and he can see to Nikola. For now – let him sleep.”

She pulled away. “Still… this has gone too far. Our rash actions are starting to exhibit consequences that we’re not prepared for. Nigel – I can’t even begin to understand what is happening to him. He may not show it but he endures hideous pain and James is disturbed by the heightened state of his senses. He sees things, smells them and hears them long before the rest of us. The minute details of the world are overwhelming him and unless he finds a use for his gift it will drive him mad.”

“Are…” he stammered, cleared his throat and started anew. “Are you all right, Helen?”

Helen nodded. “And you? I see so little of-”

“Do not worry, I am fine,” he insisted.

John waited with Helen as long as he could but as afternoon came and went, he was called away by an insistent professor and had not returned. It was now early evening and she was seated behind James’s desk in the dormitory. The room was much cleaner now that his animal captives had been let loose. Even the unnamed pig had been freed to Nigel’s farm where, she had heard, it played alongside her dragon – Helen could see that relationship ending in tears…

James had not given away his obsession with chemistry though – glassware littered the benches and if anything, had grown to plague proportions. Their bubbling contents released heavens knew what into the air whilst she was certain that he had left something growing in the Petri dishes nearest to her. The combination left her drowsy as she stared blankly at the wall in front of her.

She was startled when the door shuddered. It creaked open then closed and locked on its own without a soul passing through it.

“Helen?” exclaimed the empty room in fright. “What are you doing here?”

Blinking back sleep, Helen made out the faint outline of Nigel moving toward the cupboard where he promptly fished out a coat and wrapped it around himself causing a peculiar sight.

The bodiless coat approached.

“Not again…” sighed Helen. “That’s three times in a week.” His spells of invisibility were becoming more frequent.

“I know,” he replied. “And I had to leave my best clothes in London. People tend to stare at floating outfits. Had a hell of a time catchin’ a ride home like this.”

“Where is James?” she asked, setting the feathered pen which she had been using down on the desk.

“As always, I am glad to see that you desire my company.” If he hadn’t been transparent, she would have seen him avert his eyes to the floor in real despair.

“It’s not like that…” she insisted.

*~*~*

Nigel and Helen stood against the far wall of Nikola’s attic. Their backs were pressed painfully against the cold stone as they shivered, unnerved by Nikola.

He was awake and seated on the floor between two oil lamps. The curtain over the window had been pulled back to reveal the swelling moon, creeping into the sky above clouds. Layers of mist worked their way up the walls of the university, hiding the grounds in undulating river of cloud. Some of it had settled inside the room and snaked around Nikola, almost affectionately.

Nikola was reading from an old scroll which tumbled onto the floor with its unread end curled up. He had not given any indication that he was aware of their presence, nor had he spoken since they had begun watching him.

Helen and Nigel were speechless. If Nikola had appeared inhuman before, he was positively fictitious now.

His skin had sunk away from his bones and lost its colour. As he finger trailed along the lines of handwritten text it was followed by the scratching sound of his overly long fingernail which tapered into a claw-like hook. By far the most frightening change in Nikola’s appearance was his eyes. They were large expanses of jet black where his pupils had consumed the whole eye leaving only pits. They bared no expression as they diverted from the page to the faces of his audience.

Nikola lowered the scroll.

“You must leave,” said Nikola, in an impassionate voice that sent cold chills over the necks of Helen and Nigel. It was not a request, but a warning.

Nigel, who had been visible for a while now, stepped protectively in front of Helen. “We need to examine you, Nikola. I believe that you are experiencing a side effect of –”

“You must leave,” Nikola repeated.

Nigel hastened a glance at Helen before replying, “Why?” He knew his question to be unwise the moment he had asked it, for Nikola’s eyes expanded slightly while his head tilted to the side. If he was not mistaken, there was a row of sharp teeth glittering beneath the man’s lip two of which extended well beyond the others.

“Because I can hear your hearts thumping in my ears,” Nikola lifted a taloned hand, pointing at them. Though he kept his voice steady, it peaked ever so slightly with urgency.

A strong breeze through the window upset the lanterns. The room hovered in and out of darkness. Nikola was now standing as a single shadow, imposing on the room as he lingered by the wall where a couple of feathers tumbled by. They had not seen him move there.

Helen’s eyes strayed to a dark stain on the floor. Great streaks of crimson were smeared over the floorboards in front of Nikola, and, as the lights brightened and the chill-laden air settled, Helen saw a bundle of feathers in amongst the shadows.

Nikola remained deathly still.

“You best hurry…” he insisted. “My reading of our condition disturbs me but there is nothing we can do this deep in the night.”

“What are you on about?” Nigel progressed cautiously into the room. Helen had been right about Nikola, his body was riddled with something foreign – a dark spell or ancient curse.

Nikola ignored the dangerously close Nigel.

“Helen,” he did not look at her, instead choosing to turn his back on them and speak to the empty wall, “lock the hatch and don’t come back here until the first light of morning.”

“Com’on now,” Nigel was barely an arm’s length from him, “you’re scaring her, Nikola, let us take a look at –”

*~*~*

John stirred. The room was dark and empty save for a destroyed mirror resting against the wall and an odd collection of specimen jars. He rolled over, clutching his head as it throbbed in his hands. John swore, certain that he could feel his skin peeling back and laying itself over the dust-ridden marble.

He was in the spare classroom where he had met the professor only it was much later in the evening and all the lights were out. The professor too, had left long ago and now there was only John writhing on the floor in agony.

These headaches had worsened over the last week. At first he had thought them to be a side effect of the large volumes of wine he had taken to consuming but then they began appearing at all hours, increasing in severity. Two days ago he had had his first blackout – a complete wipe of his memory. He had found himself alone in Oxford’s park, asleep on the grass near the lake with no idea of how he had arrived there.

The truth literally hurt – he was suffering ill effects of the experiment. Like the others, pain seemed to be a common feature in their reactions. So far John was hoping it would be the only thing that he would have to endure.

Eventually the pain subsided and he was able to pick himself up off the floor. He headed to the double glass doors and leant against them, staring out at the evening. The moon lit the heavy fog and a few skeletal branches criss-crossed the star patterns. The nights were getting longer as winter edged its way in. Before long twilight would be the new day and the stars their main light.

*~*~*

Sherlock had brought his new companion to an empty room. There was nothing particularly special about the barren expanse of floorboards or single window that broke the otherwise grey walls, but the tall man retreated to an abandoned corner and puffed away expectantly on his pipe, motioning for Watson’s opinion.

James Watson waved away a thin trail of smoke and eyed the room carefully. The centrepiece of the room was a very obvious streak of blood smudged into the thickly layered dust.

“There has been no-one in this room,” added Sherlock, as James remained fixated on the floor, “since I followed the man whom I believed to be the killer here.”

“You’ve seen him?” James snapped his head around as his companion puffed another cloud into the room.

“After the first murder I took to lurking through London’s streets after dark. I was ready to give up my new hobby when I heard the poor lady’s screams. By the time I reached her, the man had completed his hideous business and was fleeing through the side streets. This townhouse has one entrance – down the stairs and through the door we entered. When the man did not reappear after many hours, I risked a peek inside and found things as you see them. He, whomever he is, vanished.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time a criminal has evaded capture.”

“No…” Sherlock replied, amused. “But I do believe it may be the first time that one has literally vanished into thin air…”

James followed Sherlock’s sharp eyeline and realised the reason that he had been brought here. The deep sheet of dust in the floor told the story of the night’s events. Like a book, it could be easily read. The man, the killer, had entered the room hastily with long strides and come to rest by the opposing window. He had lingered there, no doubt watching the sky until he stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. There were slide marks and great sweeps of clean floor near the blood stain where someone had sat and then – that was it. There was no more to the story. No tracks returning to the door or body in the room. The man had vanished, simple as that. Which was impossible.

“I see…” said James, taking out a handkerchief and wiping his forehead.

Sherlock lifted his head and exhaled a long trail of smoke. “I thought you might,” he replied.

19

DREAMSCAPES OF THE INSANE

They were not far now. The ground beneath the desperate human convoy had begun to thin, giving way to grey stone beneath. Glimpses of sapphire stole their eyes where hints of water blinked in the dips of the horizon. This great river system which waned in and out of flood, spurned the people into a final surge despite its desperate salt encrusted banks.

The strongest of the group overtook Nikola as they clawed up a ridge of sand then stopped, gazing out over the sunken land beneath. There was a long, distorted mirror of the sun in the snake-like tract of water which ran as far as they could see from curve to curve. A small port waited for them somewhere on its edge and beyond the white sails – the promise of freedom.

It was a long way to those ships.

Nikola let the others pass him. He turned away from the beautiful scene back toward the desert they had just survived. The sound of drums and marching feet was still creeping closer. Even through the sharp wind that kicked at his ears, he was able to make out the distant clink of swords and shouted words from the fearsome commander.

He set down the child in his arms. It smiled and ran off in chase of the other children tumbling down the last dune with cries of delight. Nikola searched the sand, whispering curses into the air until a blinding point of light burst into life like the sun itself, rising to greet the day.

His body froze and for a moment all he could do was watch as more and more flecks of light emerged until they formed a definite line backed by a darker smear of men. It was an army.

Nikola ran his tongue through his sharp teeth and out across his cracked lips. The deep pits of his black eyes erupted with a flash of red as he snarled and dropped everything save his knife to the ground.

*~*~*

“Don’ – don’ touch me,” Nigel retreated from her, falling toward the dormitory wall where he collapsed, shaking and clutching his shoulder. Several deep gashes cut through his skin which splayed out in horrific sheets. It was difficult to see the extent of the damage as his body shimmered, rippling in and out of focus.

Loud crashes barely made it through Nigel’s haze of pain as Helen rooted through James’s possessions in search of the medical kit, scattering its contents in her careless haste. Nigel wasn’t sure how much time had passed but there was a large pool of sticky blood forming on the ground by the time she returned to him with a bottle of whisky.

This time, he did not fight her off. He groped for the bottle, held it to his mouth and gulped the raw liquid until the fire in his throat distracted him from the lacerations on his chest. When he woke he found a somewhat untidy track of stitching tying him back together. The bottle of whisky rested half-empty beside him so he reached over but it was snapped away.

“No,” said Helen firmly, shifting it out of his reach. “When I’ve finished, you can drink the remainder.” She unfurled several strips of ripped sheet, frowning – they were not as clean as she would have liked.

“Doctor?” It was a request, not an observation.

This distressed her. “I can’t,” she whispered, sloshing the alcohol over him. He groaned and fought back a cry when she silenced him with a gentle hand over his mouth. “You mustn’t,” she cautioned. “It is late and they will hear you.”

“Give m’that!” he muttered, snatching the bottle. Disgruntled neighbours were the last of his worry. Helen wound the bandages tightly around his girth as best she could, fastening them with pins. “I’ll lie,” Nigel continued, “tell ‘em it was an animal or somethin’ – nobody has to know it was’im…”

It was too much for Helen; kneeling, she bowed her head to the ground and choked back several deep sobs.

“Helen…” prompted Nigel finally. She raised her head and he was taken aback by the tear stains down her furiously red cheeks. “We don’t have a choice. You have to find him.”

Helen wiped her face with the hem of her skirt only to find it soaked through with Nigel’s blood. There were rivers of it over the floor, staining the timber.

“I don’t know where he is,” she replied quietly.

“Your father is the only one tha’ can help us,” he continued, watching in despair as the fresh bandages turned a violent red. “Abnormals, they’re his life, Helen. We’ve had this knowledge for a few short weeks an’ look at the mess we’ve made of it. There is no choice – he is the only person who will believe us.”

“Except for the Cabal,” she had already begun tearing new bandages. “I kn – I suspect that they have found him, why else would he have not returned?”

“Oh, dear Helen –” Nigel stopped, frowning as the alcohol blurred his vision so that two Helens approached, shifting next to him. “You do not understand the first thing about hunting. A dear must be invisible from everything if it is to survive, including the grass.”

*~*~*

John locked the door behind him, lit the lamps and collapsed onto his bed. The first light of morning was threatening to topple over the horizon when he turned over, fully clothed, and fell into a deep sleep. It was to his great surprise then that he awoke on the floor, curled into a foetal position with his jacket doubling as a blanket.

*~*~*

“Good gracious!” the lecturer exclaimed, with a look of bewilderment. Helen led him over to Nigel’s bed and pulled back the sheets so that he could see the extent of the wounds crisscrossing the young boy’s chest.

“I didn’t want to move him,” she said hastily, stepping back. “When I found him I-”

“Miss Magnus,” the lecturer interrupted, “to save the asking of awkward questions like, ‘what are you doing in the gentlemen’s dormitories at this hour?’ I’m going to pretend that you aren’t here.” Helen paused. Nigel was asleep – or too intoxicated to open his eyes. “Which means,” continued the lecturer over his shoulder, “that you shouldn’t be here…”

Finally she took the hint and quietly left. Once the lecturer heard her safely down the stairs, he placed a cold hand on Nigel’s shoulder.

“Are you going to tell me what really happened?” he asked Nigel. The boy replied with a defiant grunt, gradually opening his eyes. They were bloodshot and began to weep as the soft light pierced his irises. “I guess not,” the man sighed. “Your father,” he muttered, as he cut through Helen’s makeshift bandages, “would have my soul if he knew the trouble I’ve let you get into. You’ll forgive me, but this is going to hurt.”

*~*~*

They came on them like thunder – first a violent crack of sound and then a succession of ever more powerful waves that shook their bones and eventually, broke them.

Nikola ducked as a bronze figure lept over him, slicing through the air with a hooked sword. It hit the stone ground and turned, glaring back at him with a victorious grin. A thousand more of his kind rushed past, storming toward the screaming flock of vampires on the final flats before the river. The soldiers cut them down as easily as running through them. Nikola felt every sickening blow as the children grew silent and a pink foam formed in the water.

The commander spun his sword menacingly as he approached Nikola. His necklace of lapis and gold glimmered like a giant, godly sundisk as his chest heaved.

You cannot run,” he hissed at Nikola. “Your evil will know the dust before this day is out.”

And yours will endure,” replied Nikola, lunging.

The battle was swift.

The last woman to fall stood in front of a group of children brandishing a sword that she had stolen from one of the soldiers. She screamed at them, cried and finally fought them off until her throat was slit and she collapsed in a lifeless mound.

Nikola was the only vampire that they left alive. For three weeks they carted him across the desert bound to a camel. Eventually he saw a rise of frightening mountains loom out from the sand. Their black edges were sharp and jagged as they stretched in the sun.

No…” Nikola whispered.

As they approached the sound of chisels and workman roared up in his ears. An entire civilisation crawled, pulled and swore as they dug deeper into the mountain. Nikola was transferred to the ground and forced to walk into entrance of the tomb surrounded by the commander and his men.

*~*~*

“You’ll live – it surprises me to say.”

Nigel thanked the lecturer. His father’s old friend tucked him back into bed and went to leave as morning stumbled into the sky.

“Whatever it is,” he said, with his weathered hand paused on the door, “that the five of you are up to, it ends – you understand? Rest, and then I want you back in class where I can keep both my eyes on you. Feel free to pass that along.”

*~*~*

They brought him to a black slate room, deep under the mountain range. A line of priests, gilded and half dead in a collective trance, had their eyes rolled back in their head as they chanted spells into the air.

What frightened Nikola most was the stone coffin rising out from the floor. Its lid rested on the ground beside and seemed to wait for him – beckoning him toward it. At the edges of the room, between the enormous columns, were the caskets of his friends. They were all dead. He guessed it long ago, but to know it sent racking sobs through his heart. The Priests of Amun were entombed and awaited him in whatever life might succeed this one.

One day,” sneered Nikola, to his brother, “far from this one, I will find you. It does not end here.”

The commander ignored the cursed creature as it was wrestled into the sarcophagus, chanting and screeching. He gave the order and the slaves moved forward, sliding the lid over the coffin.

Nikola gasped, his eyes snapping open as the bright sunlight burnt into his face. He was on the floor of his room, staring out the open window. A ratty curtain had half fallen down and flapped in the freezing wind. It was day and Nikola had had the most terrible dreams.

*~*~*

It was mid-morning when the lecturer nearly died of shock. His white hair fell across his astonished face (which had not slept) and his piece of chalk snapped in two as Helen, Nigel and John presented themselves for class. His surprise paled in comparison to the look on Helen’s face when Nikola strutted in, immaculate as usual and slipped in next to her. For a solid ten minutes she did little but stare at Nikola, quite unable to believe his serene figure scribbling notes from the board.

“Come Miss Magnus,” said the lecturer, catching her attention. “He won’t bite.”

She wasn’t so sure.

Nigel grimaced. It was a struggle to stay upright but he’d rather be out here than suffocating in his room. Still, the slender figure of Nikola calmly seated next to Helen was almost more than he could handle.

Nikola wasn’t copying notes from the board. Instead, he was engrossed in a letter which he ripped from his book and folded several times before sliding it across the desk, sneaking it under Helen’s hand. Her eyes flicked up as he pushed the note further under her palm.

Don’t make me beg,” he whispered to her, in a familiar, warm tone.

*~*~*

“Leaving, so soon?” Sherlock perked up from the couch where he had spent the previous day in a delirium of sorts. The pipe smoke was still thick in the room, clasping at the furnishings and choking the room with its scent.

James shooed the courier away and set the letter down on the desk. He frowned and shook his head, taking a seat by a cold tray of tea and biscuits. “I should, but I’m not going to. A friend of mine is ill, but it has all been taken care of. They can do without me for a time.”

“Excellent, as I have planned for us tonight a mission of sorts – an experiment in chance. Care to partake? Ah – don’t bother, for I already know your answer. You would not be here unless you felt the heat of the chase. Perhaps and if we’re lucky, the moon will be bright and the dark figures which prowl the streets, easy to pursue.”

“You think the killer is going to kill tonight?”

“Come Watson, he has a proper name now. ‘Jack the Ripper’ he professes, in poor English I might add, and his need for blood has returned and so too, shall we.”

20

NIGEL WALKS

They met outside the class, darting away from the main stream of students to lurk in a corner with Nigel cruising ominously in the background, never lifting his eyes from Helen and Nikola.

“Do you remember?” she asked him, as soon as the roar of footsteps had tapered off. Helen had her books clasped protectively across her chest. She leaned over them, balancing her chin on their worn spines.

“Not everything,” he confessed, “but enough to understand your –” Nikola instinctively reached toward her but she backed away, “fear…” he trailed off. “Is he going to be all right?” Nikola and Helen glanced at the pacing Nigel, who glared firmly back at Nikola.

“He almost wasn’t…”

“Helen,” Nikola quickly changed the subject, “as bad as things are now, they’re about to get a lot worse.”

“Worse than last night?” she shot, angrily. She didn’t mean to – it wasn’t his fault but still

“Our bodies are only beginning to adapt to their new, should we say, skills. Given a few more weeks even the lesser of us will be a powerful and alarming creation. Be assured,” he said, in a hushed voice, “we will lose control.”

John, delayed by the professor, finally made his way out of the classroom and into the foyer where he found Nigel waiting. The other man purposely rolled his eyes over to the far wall where John caught sight of Nikola and Helen locked in tight conversation.

“What happened to you?” John asked. He had been staring at Nigel’s prominent bandages throughout class trying to decide if Nigel had been hit by a coach or thrown under a train.

“Tell you in a minute,” he said, as Nikola and Helen made their way towards them, weaving around a few straggling students. Helen pointed to the stairs and the four of them headed off in a clump.

They reconvened in the sanctity of the library, hunting out their favourite haunt in a forgotten corner of knowledge. The layers of mould over the shelves were challenged only by the encroaching dune of dust that dulled everything with an eerie coat of grey. It got all over their clothes as they shuffled into their usual positions and waited for Helen to finish the horrific story of the previous night.

“You did what?!” John leapt from his chair toward Nikola.

Helen stepped in front him, pacing backwards as John continued to lunge forward, raising his fist at Nikola’s head.

“Sit’own John,” Nigel pointed to the overturned chair. “We’re supposed to be scientists, let’s at least pretend to act like’em.”

Helen, hands resting on John’s collar, pushed him gently off her. John wanted to crush Nikola into a thousand pieces but was eventually convinced to back off and retake his seat, albeit with a dangerous look. “This better be good.”

“Just to clarify,” Nikola strolled the length of the bookshelf with his hands clasped behind his back. He looked taller like this, ever so slightly more gentlemen-like as he surveyed the other three. “Am I the only one who has seriously researched the history of vampires?” There was silence. “So start from the beginning then – okay.”

John was deeply displeased, Nigel was in more pain than usual and Helen was nauseated by the very memory of what Nikola had been last night – all the same, they held their tongues and listened.

Nikola pulled a book from beneath one of the shelves and placed it, open on the floor, in front of them.

“Egypt,” he said, “first known occurrence of an Abnormal race known to us as vampires. After their brief mention they vanish from all record until they reappear in Europe, thousands of years later subject to a mass slaughter. Some must have survived because several hundred years after, your father arrives with a pure sample of vampire blood.

“It may surprise you all to learn that we are not the first fools to taste the temptation of vampire blood. Those in the ancient world thought of it as a river of youth – a glimpse of godly immortality.

“Fifth century BC – Herodotus writes of Ethiopians with exceptional long life. As it turns out, the last colony of vampires left in Africa settled the areas nearby and fell prey to frequent native attacks. The tribes that ingested their blood made extraordinary claims of being, ‘faster than the wind’ and ‘stronger than the lion’. I think,” he continued, “from our own experience, we know the cause.”

“But we inject’d it…” said Nigel, “straight in our arms – not the same as drinkin’ it.”

“No,” Nikola agreed with him. “We’ve reached a whole new level. I can only assume that our symptoms will not be temporary but permanent and more pronounced.”

Christ,” Helen swore. “If the Cabal find out they’ll want us for their labs. They collect creatures like us.”

“That too,” Nikola closed the books and returned them to the shelves. “Are they are already watching us.”

Especially you…” she caught Nikola’s eye.

“And what,” John stretched his arm across the table. The white lace sleeve peeking out from his coat trailed across the wood. On one of its beautiful edges was a tiny fleck of red. “Are we to do? They are sure to work out what we’ve done eventually.”

“We end it,” said Nikola. “We find your father,” he moved to Helen, and then returned to his pacing, “he will know of a cure, and then we finish this cursed business. Do you have something to add, Nigel?”

Nigel cleared his throat, tucked the edge of one of his bandages in, and then spoke, “It’s just –” he stopped and went quiet, thinking better of his comment. It wasn’t until he was prompted by the others that he continued. “Only that, well it is a unique opportunity,” he said.

NO!” John hit the table with his fist, sending the glasses of water bouncing into the air. “We’ve been down this road before and look where it leads.” He looked deliberately at Nikola, as if he were the source of all that was evil in the world of Abnormals.

“It’s easy for the three of you,” spat Nikola. “Nigel vanishes every now and then and John’s temper’s worse than ever, but I am the one who is becoming a monster – don’t try to pretend it’s anything else.”

“’scuse me, did I imagine having my chest ripped open?”

“Apologies,” Nikola quickly snapped back at Nigel, “I must have missed it while in a murderous trance.”

Helen raised her hands aloft and, as loudly as she could within a library, hushed them.

“This is not a game of, ‘whose worse off than whom?’ gentlemen,” she said sharply. “Urgh!” she collapsed into one of the empty seats, moving John’s arm off Nigel’s diary. The day was already beginning to wear on her – and it seemed as if it were ending too soon with the heavy rain clouds clogging out the sun leaving little to filter in through the gothic windows and around the cluttered library to their den.

“I know that we must find my father,” she said, “but he has either hidden himself away from the world or been captured by the one organisation we must steer clear of so what are we to do?”

“Eliminate our options,” Nigel’s waves of pain were getting stronger. It was a strange phenomenon – the more his wounds healed the more pain he felt. His body had things backwards. “I could have’a snoop and no-one would be the wiser for’it.”

*~*~*

Night – Nikola’s room was boarded up – the attic stairs strapped closed with belts and his sole window and lonely square of sky, hastily covered by planks. Helen, too nervous to sleep, kept herself busy in her father’s study, sifting through the few loose field notes she found in forgotten draws. The rose he had brought for her survived by a few ill looking leaves which wept toward the lamplight.

Nigel though, cursed the season for its cold. While walking the poorly lit streets, he dressed himself in a trenchcoat, winter pants, hat pulled low to the collar, gloves and a neck scarf. So long as he didn’t lift his head, the average passerby would not notice the absence of his neck and face.

His wounds were mostly healed. Even that had surprised him. Just under twenty-four hours to heal major injuries could not be written off as co-incidence. He risked removing the bandages. The grating of his clothing over the scars hurt, but did no further damage.

According to John, who’d been able to get his hands on some property development papers, the Cabal owned a large cotton mill on the other side of the river – one that worked all through the night, churning out exquisite garments. Oddly, they were one of the few factories not to change their workload over from human to machine as the trend had set. It was a glaring contradiction for the Cabal who seemed to take the future of human technology as a personal challenge.

In his present state, he could not risk a coach so he walked the distance briskly. The black smog that fell to the earth, compressed by the cold air of the evening, was even thicker between the towering walls of the factories. Mounds of earth on the side of the road, kicked up by passing traffic, had already begun to whiten with frost.

It was a desperate and heartless place whose score was the steady click of machinery behind the tin walls. The occasional infant screamed for its mother but she would not be home until dawn.

The Cabal’s factory, misleadingly labelled, ‘Empire Cotton’ was not quite as impressive as the name promised. All its windows were alight but there was no movement behind them, not even a lonely factory worker staring out at the other side of the city.

When Nigel reached the corner where the building reared up, flush with the pavement, he ducked out of the lamplight and into a narrow alley where he de-clothed and hid his belongs under a scramble of weeds. Now he really was cold. The only danger of detection were the shadows he left, so he clung to the walls, grinding up against their filthy surfaces as he approached one of the entrances.

There was no door to the alley at all – only a poorly lit hole in the wall of the building through which Nigel scampered, not wanting to linger in the narrow passageway. It felt more like descending into a mine than a factory as the passage continued, twisting around several times until it came to a set of stone stairs. These led both up and down.

Nigel hesitated. Surely down, he thought at first, would be the most natural place for any untoward activity that they might be carrying out for if you were going to hide someone, you wouldn’t do it on the main factory floor. Then again, he glanced up at the staircase leading up several flights, there was something very wrong about the factory itself.

He still didn’t have very good control over his invisibility, and he most certainly didn’t want to get trapped in a place like this – naked.

Goddamn!” he muttered, and then began to climb the steps.

*~*~*

“That boy stole your purse,” said Sherlock calmly, as he and Watson pushed their way through the evening crowd. It was the night shift of workers swarming to their twilight labour.

“It wasn’t my purse,” Watson corrected him, “it was a folded piece of fabric with two shillings I keep in my pocket that masquerades as my purse.”

“Paranoid – good, it shows the proper sense of fear for one’s existence.”

“Says the man leading an expedition through London’s most dangerous streets at night on the hunt for a murderer…”

“Point,” Sherlock whirled around, raising his cane dramatically, “taken…”

Eventually the streets quietened and London’s famous rains let go over them. The horrid downpour was on the verge of sleet when Sherlock caught hold of Watson’s cloak and yanked him into a shadow.

“What do you see?” he whispered, as a thirty-something woman sauntered down the opposite side of the road.

It took Watson a moment to see her. She was so used to blending into the background that even when keen eyes were after her, she failed to register as little more than a watermark. Elizabeth Gustafsdotter was tall for a woman of her age, but she hid this blessing under long black garments and a crepe bonnet. It was her checked scarf that gave her way, knotted loosely around her neck.

“Only a working girl,” replied James, pulling his arm free of Sherlock, who was still puffing away on his pipe. “Hold on a minute – where are you going?”

Sherlock merely winked and stepped out into the light.

*~*~*

A spotted rat scurried past him, leaping over onto his bare feet – a move which started them both. It squeaked in surprise at finding itself aloft before resuming its escape back down the stairs. He probably should have followed the rat…

It took three floors to reach the first landing. Up until this point it had been so quiet that Nigel didn’t think his invisibility would be enough to hide him if someone did happen along.

Finally, the low drone of hushed conversation leaked out from the walls. He could have just broken into an accounting firm for all the enthusiasm in their voices. The door at the top of the landing was slightly ajar with a bright band of light gushing out of it, spilling into the stairwell. Stepping into that would be as good as screaming.

He approached cautiously, one step at a time until he was beside the landing. From here he could glimpse through the door into the large warehouse floor.

There was a reason no-one was at the windows – they were all huddled in the centre of the room, congregated in a kind of ring around something that Nigel couldn’t see above their bobbing heads. Gentlemen and women, dressed in white, craned their heads and struggled on tip-toes until a frightening shriek silenced them.

Like a wave, they rippled back and promptly re-shuffled. Nigel risked another inch along the wall, edging his nose around the corner and into the room. He retreated instantly – for standing on a platform above the group was a man glaring down into the circle’s centre with cold eyes.

Nigel slammed his eyes shut. He felt his skin ripple uneasily and his wounds seer but it was nothing compared to the evil of the aging man, balanced by a black and gold cane, addressing the crowd with his soft but persuasive voice.

Professor Samuel Griffin was displeased. The creature writhing on the crowd in the centre of the circle of scientists was dying in pain.

“Another…” was all Professor Griffin said. He waved at the pack then turned and dismounted the podium. A young boy rushed forward into the circle and injected the deformed creature with a clear liquid that killed it.

21

BLOODY NIGHTS IN LONDON

“Evening, young lady,” Sherlock Holmes announced himself, falling into step beside her.

Elizabeth, well accustomed to the manners of men after dark, eyed him with disapproval and hurried her pace discreetly.

James watched on from the other side of the road, struggling to keep sight of the pair as the rain beat down harder and harder until the street became a miserable blur. The entire city of London was vanishing beneath a dark cloud which filled the air with restless rumbles and the occasional flash of light as if it knew the hideous events unfolding beneath.

Eventually Sherlock brought her to a stop. She spoke for a while, waving her arm vaguely at the road behind her as if giving directions. He bowed low, thanking the lady, and then kissed her hand and let Elizabeth pass.

“And?” James prompted, upon his return.

Both men were drenched and suffered streams of water pouring off the rims of their hats and the trims of their equally long coats. The smell of wet dog stuck in the air as the animals of the street sought shelter, scurrying past them in frantic dashes before hiding under weed beds or discarded crates.

“Naturally, she is suspicious of strange men,” Sherlock replied, “but she did mention that there was word of a tall, cloaked gentleman lurking about the area, sinister kind of creature that none of the other girls had seen before. He tried to enlist the services of a few working girls but they all refused him.”

“Turned away by a prostitute – that would rub.”

“Indeed it – Christ,” Sherlock spun elegantly and peered intently down the street, “did you hear that?”

The rain poured down in an impenetrable wall until all James could make out was the pounding sheets of water against the cobblestone. He wiped the water out of his eyes bit it did no good.

The intense gaze of Sherlock’s eyes could have split silver glass in two. The ordinarily reserved man screamed something at James that it was indistinguishable from the roar of the rain, then he threw his pipe to the ground and broke into a desperate sprint in pursuit of the woman who had vanished into the night.

*~*~*

Nigel pressed himself against the cold wall until even the smallest groove of the old brick surface dug painfully into his skin. He could still hear his father’s voice inside the room, occasionally rearing above the drone of the others, directing them – controlling them.

He should have left then, when the first flickers of light bounced off his skin betraying his presence – but he didn’t. Professor Griffin was inside that laboratory pacing from corner to corner like some kind of predator casing his territory and Nigel felt more like a child than ever. He could have been five years old hiding behind the barn door as his father killed the chickens, completely petrified, his arms and legs immobilised and heart shaking with every hushed word uttered.

That’s it everybody,” announced another, softer voice. Nigel didn’t have to see its owner to know that they were a born underling, the kind of creature that liked to lurk around the seat of power feeding off the scraps. “We’re done for the night.”

Chairs moved at once quickly followed by a shuffle of shoes heading for the door amidst the swish of thirty lab coats thrown into the corner.

“What a night – I’m getting too old for this shit,” said the first scientist to reach the door. The rest of the group swelled behind him in a flood funnelled directly to the place where Nigel had chosen to hide.

“Won’t be gettin’ old,” replied another voice, “if we keep this work up. If they didn’ pay like they do…”

It was too late for Nigel to move as the crowd rolled past, bumping and nudging against him. His breath caught as the first elbow caught his side and stuck there for a moment. A shoulder clipped his chest, shoes crushed over his feet and clothing brushed across his naked skin but not a single one of them noticed as they filed down the stairs. When the final stragglers trickled into the stairwell, he let himself breathe.

“Professor…” said the soft voice again, just shy of the doorway. “He is waiting for you downstairs.”

“It must be urgent if he is unannounced,” replied Professor Griffin, gradually making his way towards the door, flicking off the panels of lights as he progressed. “Word on the source?”

There was a slight pause and the glow from the room diminished again.

No… I believe he has come about your son.”

Nigel’s eyes flicked open so fast they nearly rolled back into his head. There was no time to creep along the wall. Shocked into action, Nigel pealed himself free and began his silent flight down the stairs before his father reached the door. By the time his father’s cane clicked out of the room, Nigel was off the landing and had started on the long corridor toward the black hole at the end streaked by the driving rain.

He was almost there, so close that he could smell the rain, when a cloaked figure stepped into the tunnel, swearing at the weather and completely blocking Nigel’s escape.

Nigel stopped and slammed himself against the wall as the man rung out the bottom of his cloak onto the floor where a sizable puddle was busy forming. His father’s voice, which had followed him down the stairs, was rounding the platform and entering the corridor. It was a narrow stretch and Nigel was hemmed in on both sides by the approaching parties. Though he was invisible from a distance, he wasn’t sure he wanted to test his ability in close quarters.

“Evening Bill,” Professor Griffin raised his hand in greeting as he and his assistant closed in.

To Nigel’s horror, ‘Bill’, not content to wait in the entrance, began pacing forwards.

“I came as soon as I could get away,” Bill replied, reaching to remove his hat. “It’s not easy getting coaches in this weather.” He pulled the soggy item on his head free to reveal a cluster of damp, white hairs. Nigel had to stop himself from gasping as the sleepy face of his college lecturer glanced meaningfully back at the rain.

The two encroaching parties were almost on each other now, neither more than a few yards away from Nigel.

“It’s not all good news, Samuel – your boy was hurt. He’s – he seems to be recovering fast but you asked me to watch over him and I have.”

“And I am grateful for the favour.”

“But it is not why I came all this way…”

“It isn’t?” Griffin’s eyes widened.

“I must confess, when you raised this other matter with me I doubted that I would be of any assistance to you. There have been a lot of years go by since those days at Oxford and I had my doubts.”

“Gregory asked your help?”

“I have not seen Gregory since the night we dismissed him. As for the object you desire, I have not come across that either, not directly, but I believe I have learned its fate.” He ran a nervous hand through his hair, unable to hide its subtle quiver. “I am quite certain of my suspicions.”

Griffin’s eyes flared dangerously.

“I don’t know how they did it,” continued the lecturer, with a touch of jealousy, “but a group of my students have had the source in their possession and have –” it took him a moment to garner the courage to make the accusation as its content was so filthy – so despicable even to the dark workings of the Cabal that he feared uttering it, “ingested it.”

Samuel couldn’t stifle the laugh cracking through his throat. “A group of school children in possession of one of earth’s most powerful substances?” he shook his head, whipping his cane against the wall beside where Nigel was hiding.

“Not just any children,” the college lecturer went on, “sometimes they frighten me – more than you,” he added, not quite in jest. “One of them is Gregory’s child. There’s something wrong with them – something different since all this started. I’ve spent my whole life watching children grow into adults but these kids, they grew up overnight.”

Griffin turned and whispered to his assistant.

Bill’s hearing was sharp. “You’re going over there now?”

“At once,” Griffin snapped, breaking into as much of a stride as he could given his bad leg. “And you shall accompany us.”

*~*~*

Watson and Sherlock hit the warehouse door at a run. The horses on the carriage storming up behind them startled – throwing their heads back in shrills, pulling against their reins as they veered and slammed to a halt on the side of the poorly lit street.

“Whoa, whoa girls!” the driver tried to calm them, as the creatures reared again. They stamped their hooves and backed away from the small alley beside the main road where two men pounded on a large factory door.

“Open the door, open the dooooor!” screeched Sherlock, rattling the large iron handles furiously before moving onto the hefty bolts attaching the door to the wall. Watson leant his knee, Sherlock climbed onto to it and stretched up to pull the top bolt free. Together, Watson, Sherlock, and the owner of the carriage took a run at the door.

It squealed and fell inwards, still attached via the lock. All three men spurned forwards into the lamp-lit shed which turned out to be a grain house full of machinery grinding and packing in the background.

The rain became a dull presence in the background and Sherlock was finally able to explain why they were breaking into private property.

“There’s a woman in here,” he said to the two gentlemen, who were struggling to catch their breath. “And we have to find her before…”

The carriage owner stepped forward and knelt down to the dusty floor where a dark smear of blood was glistening, still fresh. There was a crack – like lightening but inside the shed, accompanied by a quick flash of purple light.

“There…” Watson pointed to the sound, and the three of them darted around a giant set of grinding stones to find nothing but an empty corner.“Nothing,” whispered Watson, shaking his head. “He was right here, I know it.”

“He was here,” said Sherlock, creeping around the churning stones where he stooped to examine the elegant knife cast aside by the killer. Its blade was coated in a jewel-like liquid which trickled off its sharp surface.

Watson’s face lost all of its colour. “I’ve seen that before,” he said slowly.

A rush of frightened whispers filled the room as the carriage driver backed away, crossing his chest at the sight of Elizabeth, strewn across end of the room beyond the churning stones.

*~*~*

The carriage roared off into the night and Nigel followed, dashing out into the storm clear forgetting his clothes. His skin may have been mimicking the dreary surrounds of the derelict streets leading to the bridge, but the rain gliding over his body was just enough to create a shimmering outline like a mirage streaking through the dark.

He had no hope of catching his father and the lecturer on foot, so when Nigel came across an unattended horse tethered to a garden fence neighing irritably, he freed it and rode bareback through the night.

The horse galloped down the streets, over the bridge and back into the main city where the few people left outside parted in fright as the ‘unmanned’ horse tore madly past them. Once at the university gates, Nigel swung his leg over and fell down the side of the stallion and onto the muddy street. As far as he could tell, he had preceded their arrival but they could not be far behind. Terrified, Nigel made it through the main doors and flung himself up the marble stairs and along the corridor to Tesla’s attic.

The ladder was down and a soft glow lit the entrance to his room. Nigel had not expected that after the horrific and terrifying events of the previous night.

“Tesla?” he called, between gasps of breath. There was a shuffle in the ceiling and shortly after Nikola’s perfectly preened head popped into view looking quizzically down at the empty corridor.

The only thing out of place was a streak of water that ended at the base of the stairs put there seemingly by magic.

“Is Helen with you?” the empty space asked hurriedly.

Nikola narrowed his eyes and took a closer, more careful examination at the corridor. “Nigel,” he trailed off with an air of displeasure, “a sight for sore eyes I presume…” he snipped.

The ladder rattled as something grabbed on and started climbing. Nikola ducked out of the way of Nigel’s well camouflaged body as it protruded into the ceiling and caught sight of Helen seated by a rather mangled experiment.

“Who is it, Nikola?” she asked softly, still unaware of Nigel surveying the room.

Nikola straightened and leant his hand to the vacant air which took a hold and pulled itself into the room. “The great, invisible man,” replied Tesla lazily.

“We have to leave right now,” Nigel jogged over and took Helen by the arm, pulling her roughly from the floor. He dragged her toward the exit amid her protest until Nikola intervened.

“Steady on, Nigel!” he hissed, unable to detach him completely. “What’s all this about?”

“There’s no time to explain,” he whispered, reaching out to take hold of Nikola’s arm as well. “But if we don’t leave this building right now, we’ll be pets of the Cabal inside the hour. They know ‘bout us, what we did, and they’re comin’ to collect. Personally, I’d rather not be their latest attraction but it’s up to you.”

Nikola broke away and ducked over to the open window. He had a clear view of the front gates and soon after saw the carriage lights pull up at the gates. Nikola threw himself away from the window and nearly tripped as he pushed the others toward the ladder.

*~*~*

They were trapped.

The three of them had planned their exit through the lower levels and out the kitchens but as they had begun their descent of the stairs, the front doors were thrown open and three gentlemen hurried across the marble, coming to a pause in the grand foyer. Instinctively, Nikola, Helen and Nigel had recoiled and backtracked to the side of the stairwell where they could peer over the balustrade.

Nikola instantly recognised their natural sciences lecturer but couldn’t place the other two. Beside him, Helen had frozen and gone pale, glaring at the man tapping his cane over the stone.

“It’s him,” she whispered, hiding in the shadows at the top of the stairwell. “The man from the street. He is the one after the source blood and my father.”

Nigel was bitterly ashamed of himself, of his connection to the work of his father, so much so that he kept quiet as the gentlemen whispered to each other and the lecturer finally pointed at the stairwell where they were huddled.

You will find the Magnus girl and Mr Tesla this way,” said the lecturer.

“Our lecturer works for the Cabal?” Helen whispered.

“We have to go,” Nikola took hold of Helen and pulled her away down the corridor, flying over it as the gentlemen took to the stairs behind them.

“This way,” Nigel said, opening one of the doors along the corridor for the others to slip into.

Their pursuers heard the click of the door and followed easily, coming to a stop at the library doors several minutes later.

“Strange,” whispered the lecturer, pushing the doors open quietly, “there is no way out from here – it is a dead end.”

“Stay here…” Griffin directed his assistant to guard the doors, and then snuck into the dark library with the lecturer at his side.

22

TRILL MILL STREAM

I thought you were ‘aat home, Helen?” Nigel squeezed himself into the narrow space, lowering his rough, country voice to a hush.

They were huddled in a non-descript corner of the library, well out of sight of the entrance way, taking shelter where two bookshelves didn’t quite meet leaving a space for them to slip through against the wall and peer out from between the books. The thunder and rain outside hid the sound of their breath which, between them, was like a hoarse chorus behind the thudding of their hearts.

I was…” she replied, nudging one of the old books to cover a hole in the shelf. Helen felt Nikola’s sharp intake of breath beside her and stopped short of elaborating.

Your father is not their prisoner,” Nigel continued, as a few slender shadows streaked across the room. His own father and their lecturer were hunting about the reception area of the library, quite a distance from them. Still, their ghostly forms flicking through the room turned Nigel’s invisible skin cold. The others were blissfully unaware that this was the cruel face of his father, a man he had endured and feared. “They are still searching for him.”

Helen could not decide if she felt relieved or more concerned for her father than ever. It was very unlike Gregory to go without contacting her for this long. He must be in trouble.

And there was somethin’ else,” Nigel added, somewhat nervously. Helen could see a slight mist coming from where she presumed his mouth to be. His talent could hide many things, but not everything. “I doubt very much that it was the Cabal that robbed your house that night. They are still searching, quite desperately, for the source blood.”

What?” Helen whipped her head around, covering his face in a soft curtain of golden curls.

They do not have a sample of the source blood, which they would if it had been them.”

Who else could possibly know? Who else would –”

He’s still in Oxford,” said Nigel, solemnly. It had to be true. Helen’s father was somewhere within the city’s walls, scurrying in and out of the Cabal’s reach.

Hate to interrupt…” Nikola had been anxiously watching their own lecturer wander worryingly close, stooping down to check underneath the research tables. “But I think we should discuss this later, perhaps where there aren’t people trying to capture us…”

He has a point…” Helen whispered back.

We could overcome three men…” Nigel offered.

“No,” Nikola replied sternly, louder than he had meant to. Their lecturer flinched and briefly glanced in the direction of their hiding place. They fell silent for several minutes. “Best not to give them a demonstration,” Nikola continued, once the lecturer was out of sight, “as they’ll be back with things we can’t fend off – like bullets.”

Can’t hit what they can’t see,” none of them could see Nigel’s grin.

Congratulations on your luxury,” snapped Nikola, quickly losing patience with the man he’d never particularly liked in the first place. “And on that note, what was the second part of your brilliant, ‘escape through the library’ plan, or are you intentionally trying to get us trapped?”

You forget, this is my home,” Nigel shifted beside them. “My father –” he hesitated, he couldn’t tell them that it was his father currently hunting them, so he settled for, “worked here. Come on, follow me,” he tapped Helen’s arm lightly.

Nigel crept round the end of the bookcase and crossed the short distance to the opposing wall. Unable to see him, Helen and Nikola frequently had to hunt for shadows or swipe at the air to get a grip on Nigel’s location. Once, Nikola even whispered, ‘Steady on Nigel, remember we can’t see you!’ after completely losing him behind a bookshelf.

Finally, after escaping a close call with their lecturer, the three faced a wall in the old wing of the library, just short of where they usually chose to haunt.

“I don’t get it,” said Helen, her face laced with concern with their pursuer’s footsteps audible in the background. “We’re still trapped…”

An invisible force took hold of her hand and pulled her toward the wall, just before she hit its unfriendly surface, she noticed a gap between the shelf and the wall just big enough to slide through. The darkness of the library gave way to a spiral stairwell – open to the sky. The rain poured in from above, creating gushing torrents down the unsafe looking stone steps that led infinity downward. Nikola appeared behind her, ducking as soon as he felt the cold rain on his head.

Nigel stepped back and pulled Helen down a few steps in front of him before she stumbled, reached for the wall and swore.

“Nigel – what are you doing?” she hissed, balancing herself. Nikola followed, carefully navigating the slippery staircase that lacked any barrier on the right hand side, it was simply open to the dark hole with rain falling into nowhere.

“Keep going down,” the air around where Nigel stood muttered. “Then follow the tunnel, it will take you outside the university walls.” He reached through a spider web into an alcove in the wall beside them, dragging an oil lantern out. Using one of the old matches left there with it, he struck it under the protection of the rock and lit the wick. A small flicker of warmth suddenly revealed his shadow. He handed Nikola the lantern and said, “Look after her.”

Then Nigel scrambled past them, back into the library to delay his father and the lecturer for as long as possible.

For a moment Helen didn’t move, staring back at the entrance with the rain falling over her cheeks and hair.

“Come on,” Nikola said softly but firmly, taking her hand and leading her down the treacherous stairs.

“We can’t just leave him to-” but she was interrupted by Nikola, holding her more tightly as if he were frightened that she would vanish.

“Yes we can,” he said.

The rain poured down harder, clinking on the protective glass around the lantern and drenching Helen and Nikola. Nikola was hardly dressed to begin with, in only his white shirt, tied loosely at the top, and dark brown slacks and so he felt the coldness of the rain draining him. He was sure though, that Helen felt it worse with the heavy layers of her dress dragging on the ground, water logged and threatening to trip her at every step. Although she was now following him obediently, he daren’t let go of her hand in case she fell. Not that it would kill her, he reminded himself.

*~*~*

John threw himself against the wall of his apartment, gasping for air, his eyes running wildly over the room. Warm blood trickled from his clothes onto the floor, pooling in dark stains. It wasn’t his. His memory was a blur, a streak, a turbulent mirage that glinted in a sinister fashion but revealed nothing.

One moment he had been reclined in his chair with a book ready for sleep and the next he had stumbled through the door, soaked and panicked covered in someone else’s blood.

His head burned. John groaned and cupped his hands around his scalp, crumbling to the floor in confused agony. For some reason the flash of the crazed rodent’s teeth entered his mind. This vampire blood was sending him crazy.

*~*~*

James Watson leant against the shaking glass window of the train as it rattled violently against his head. He couldn’t see anything out of it with the heavy rain streaking across its surface other than the occasional gas light yet he couldn’t bring himself to sleep. There was something brewing in the air outside telling him that he had to return to Oxford as soon as possible. More than their lives depended upon it.

He twisted the item in his hands, turning the cold metal over and over. Nigel’s knife might be beautiful but it had done terrible things this night – and others. James wondered if its owner had done the same.

So many beautiful young women, torn and mutilated, left for the world to find, cast aside like rubbish. It had to end. He had sworn to Holmes that it would.

*~*~*

They flew off the last step and found themselves face to face with a low tunnel exhibiting an arched ceiling made of ancient bricks. It was the most foreboding sight either of them had ever laid eyes on and even Nikola, who often sought out the darkest corners to lurk in, hesitated.

He held the lantern out in front of them, temporarily letting go of her hand as he took a few cautious steps forward.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” he said, and tentatively entered the tunnel, ducking his head.

It smelt stale, dank and abandoned. He heard her join him, treading out of the rain into the tunnel. There was just enough room for them to walk side by side, something that neither of them objected to.

“What is this place?” she said, noticing the age of the bricks. “It doesn’t look anything like the rest of the building.”

“If I were to guess,” he started, running a finger over the tunnel’s surface as he moved through, “I’d say that the college has been built on top of Roman ruins. Not an uncommon practice in this part of the world.”

The thought made her shudder as she wondered how many other places there were like this under the city she lived in, forgotten remnants of the ancient world slumbering underground.

“That’s – a little eerie,” she confessed.

He smirked, “It never ceases to amaze me the disquiet your culture has with its past.”

Sometimes she forgot that he was so different to her – brought up far away in some part of the world she would never see – one that enjoyed its distant past.

“I can’t help it,” she said, letting go of her dress so that it dragged over the filthy floor. It could hardly make a difference, it was already well beyond ruined. She must have looked a frightful mess – all her curls hung limply by her face, dripping onto her clothes which were several shades darker. Her makeup was at best, a few sorrowful streaks down her cheeks.

Nikola turned his head to her, looked her up and down and said nothing.

She nodded, her suspicions confirmed. Yes, she was positively wild – something the great Nikola Tesla abhorred.

Then he did something very unexpected – he stumbled.

“Nikola?” Helen frowned in concern, stopping with an arm on his back.

He shrugged whatever it was off, including her hand.

“Let’s keep going,” he said, “I feel like one of your rats trapped in this tunnel – and we all know what happened to them, Helen.”

*~*~*

Nigel waited patiently, invisible against the wall.

Several more people from the Cabal entered the library, accentuated by the slamming door and grunted instruction to ‘search!

Resisting the urge to swear aloud, Nigel sidled his way along the endless rows of shelves toward his lecturer who was unwisely still checking the study desks alone, out of sight of the others. It was the perfect, and possibly his only chance to even the odds.

Though Nigel did not make a sound, some primordial reflex twitched inside the lecturer and his eyes shot up, scanning the rain stained gothic windows, following the dim light to the bookshelves opposite. He could have sworn – but there was nothing there. Nothing but rows of silent books, so why couldn’t he shake the feeling that he was being watched?

Begrudgingly, Bill resumed his task of searching the endless forest of desks and chairs for any sign of the students. Frankly, he was beginning to doubt that they were still in here. Perhaps they had doubled back behind them and they had … had missed them? Mind you, that was about as likely as Professor Griffin getting his hands on the source blood. It never ceased to amuse Bill how easily his old colleague underestimated him. Acquiring the source blood was a dangerous game, and he was playing for keeps, old friendships be damned.

Thud.

The lecturer’s world went blank as he cascaded to the ground, hit from behind by a single, heavy hand. Nigel could not believe that he had just done that. If he lived through this, he was definitely expelled.

His luck was short lived as two of the extras brought in to assist heard the lecturer’s demise and rounded a nearby corner to investigate. Nigel knew that they couldn’t see him, but he was keenly aware of his long, slender shadow cast across the room mingling with the tables. If you didn’t know where to look you would have missed it but should he so much as breathe the wrong way he was gone.

The two men, roughly the same size and shape except the closest to him had a long mess of straight hair, took a few steps forward toward the fallen lecturer.

“Heck!” exclaimed one in a whisper. “Quiet little buggers, then, aren’t they?”

The other man replied in a low, gruff slur of words.

“Leave him,” the first man finally decided, “keep searching, they are not far.”

*~*~*

“Nikola, Nikola – stop!” Helen fumbled for the sleeve of his shirt, catching the damp material in her hands, pulling him to a stop. He was not well and she could feel his skin trembling beneath her hands as she stepped in front of him and forced him to bring his eyes up to hers. She gasped. So that is what he had been trying to hide – two dark, glossy orbs belonging to something far from human.

Nikola didn’t say anything, he just turned away from the lamp’s light and lowered his head to the ground.

She let go of him and took a fearful step back. Not here, not now – he couldn’t.

“That’s correct,” he murmured against the wall as another violent wave took hold of him.

It took a few moments for reason to outweigh her fear.

“No…” Helen replied firmly, pushing the lantern back toward him and lifting his face so that she could see it better.

His eyes had returned to normal and his shaking had ceased – for the moment. She had no idea how long it would take for the transformation to take place but it could not be long.

“I am not leaving you,” she continued, seeing the fear welling up behind his steel eyes. “Now – come on.”

This time it was Helen who took the lead, clawing at the thick, sticky webs that littered the arched tunnel as darkness encroached both in front and behind them. Without warning, the floor of the tunnel took a turn downward and they had to use the walls to stop them from sliding over the mossy floors. There were constant rivers of water pouring past them, and they were getting larger – no doubt as the rain pounded harder down the distant stairwell.

“Oh…” Helen’s breath caught as freezing water seeped through her shoes and she realised her feet were submerged. She stepped backward, bumping into Nikola who had been uncommonly quiet.

The tunnel in front was still slowly heading downward, but the way ahead was flooded with a black expanse of water – one that they would have to navigate if they wanted to make it out.

“Don’t stop,” Nikola suddenly said behind her. He looked almost normal in the soft light, his hair a dripping fright of black and his cheeks flushed. It was a demeanour so far from what she was used to that she couldn’t stop the smile curling across her lips.

He frowned at her.

“You find our predicament amusing?” he queried, trailing his hand up the wall beside, straightening his posture so that he positively loomed. That was more the Nikola she remembered.

She thought about that for a moment. People hunting them so that they could perform horrendous experiments on them – vampire blood trickling through their blood transforming them into things she didn’t even want to think about – her father lost, missing somewhere on the run from a murderous organisation that would stop at nothing to find him and her own lecturer in on the whole thing – a man she had trusted with Nigel’s life.

“No,” she quipped, “I don’t think amusing is the right word.”

“Then let us get on with it,” nudged her forward, and her feet hit the cold water again. She nearly slipped, barely able to maintain her balance.

His heavy leather boots entered the water first and he felt nothing except a slight skid of his sole over the bricks. Finally though, as they progressed further and deeper, the water rose up over his ankles accompanied by a few green sparks.

Helen’s eyes widened as the water flickered and a tingle rippled over her skin.

“What…” she started, but Nikola’s sarcastic tone had returned.

“Water and electricity,” he drawled, “rarely mix.” When she continued to look confused he added, “Another gift from our experiment. It should worry you,” he added, “we don’t have much time.” And as if to prove it, a glossy sheen returned to his eyes.

*~*~*

Nigel had dodged his pursers for about as long as he could. They were smart, caging him into a corner by carefully sweeping and securing each alcove until he was left hiding in plain sight beside the entrance to the secret passageway. He really didn’t want to be here – it was stupid, they would find it this way but they had not given him a choice.

Now he could see all three of them, no more than ten metres away, whispering and signalling to one another.

This is it, he told himself, flexing the few lean muscles he had. He would make a run for it, head toward the library doors, draw them out, away from Nikola and Helen.

He was about to make his move when the unthinkable happened – the beautiful interlude from the pain that he had been enjoying, abruptly ended. He knew it before he saw it – his body stirring into view and the gaze of his pursuers suddenly settling on him with surprise.

*~*~*

The water only got deeper as they ventured further until Helen had to hold the delicate lamp aloft, scant inches from the arched ceiling. She convulsed, seeing the curtain of spiders – all black – tangled legs, as they hung out of the water’s reach. She felt a few of them fall onto her shoulders and neck but had long ago given up on removing them. They showed up worse on Nikola’s white shirt which was translucent as it dragged through the chest high water.

Oh god, she thought, it better not get any deeper.

It wasn’t just the cold – it was the stench of stagnant water that drove her to ill. They had slowed down, ploughing rather than hurrying until they heard a splash in the distance and several voices shout.

23

A SHOT IN THE DARK

The Cabal were in the tunnel.

Nikola clenched his fists together, trying to fight the pain of the transformation that had begun its hostile hold on his body. He could feel the ancient memories returning. The world around him had begun to blur between water and sand – a surreal landscape that he shook off with a sharp turn of his head.

Focus, he had to breathe slowly and concentrate. The water in the tunnel lapped at the top of his shoulders and beside him, Helen could barely keep the lantern from its surface. This was no time to falter.

“They’re coming,” she managed, thrashing about in the water beside him.

There were at least two Cabal pursing them through the tunnel – gaining on them. Neither carried a light and instead seemed to be drawn to the solitary glow of Helen’s lantern.

“I hope Nigel wasn’t lying about this tunnel meeting the river,” Helen peered into the blackness in front. At the moment it looked as if they would drown – lost in its depths. The water was quickening, enticing – luring – freezing around her.

“You have reason to doubt him?” Nikola’s hand was permanently clasped around Helen’s waist, hooked under her small belt– helping to keep her afloat with all her endless yards of fabric.

“Truthfully,” she risked a glance at him and was relieved to find Nikola there – rather than the creature taking hold of him, “how well do we really know him?”

“The only person I trust,” he replied, looking deeply into her, “is you.”

Nikola was quite serious causing her to look away at once, her cheeks blushing. Nikola had never been forthcoming – with anyone, but when he chose to be his confessions had more weight than open declarations of love.

It wasn’t that the water in the tunnel was getting shallower – more that the roof was getting higher. All of a sudden, the archway over their heads gave way to an enormous underground room.

They were wading through some kind of drainage system – a series of tunnels and chambers that channelled water from under the city back out into the river. It was an endless mess of dead ends and water.

On both sides of them, three or so metres away, were a series of floods steps onto a narrow pathway that ran along both walls and ahead of them was an old stone bridge, precariously traversing the water.

It was impossible to make out the ceiling now. Helen held the lantern high so that its glow on the dark water stretched far in front of them.

There was a strong current down here, and it was dragging them along almost against their will. Another foot of depth and they would be helpless.

“We should try for the side,” said Nikola, trying to drag Helen closer to the safety of the stone edge, but she shook her head and pulled him back.

“No – this water leads out, it must,” Helen protested. “It is the fastest way out.”

Nikola didn’t seem to agree. His skin was shivering again – and not from the cold. He had already bitten through his gum trying to stop the transformation but his will was breaking, faltering as the cold water weakened his resolve.

There they are,” said a breathless voice behind them. There was a loud splash as one of the Cabal henchmen crawled up onto the footpath and helped the older man up beside him.

Get them,” was all the Professor said, staggering to the wall for support.

Helen and Nikola turned to find their pursuers horribly close behind them. A man plunged into the deep water after them while the other slowly progressed along the walkway at the side, hissing instructions. Helen recognised him at once – it was the man from the street – the man that had threatened her father – and the moment he laid his eyes on her there was a flicker of recognition.

“Oh God,” Helen swore, and then threw the lantern into the water, throwing the underground world into total darkness.

*~*~*

The train pulled into Oxford’s platform – screeching against the water drowning the tracks. It was nearly morning when Watson dipped his head and raced through the downpour towards a lonely coach but not yet light enough to see without the gas street lanterns.

“James Watson?” the drenched man, wrapped in several layers of heavy fabric shouted. His hands kept a tight hold on the uneasy horses tied to the carriage.

James nodded, “The University, please – fast as you can!”

The driver whipped the horses as soon as Watson slammed the carriage door shut and slid across the leather seats.

*~*~*

Nigel beat against the small box containing him, thrashing about like a snared fox. They had him in a container no larger than a coffin – barely room to breathe as he pounded away at the lid, hoping to break the locks or hinges.

His efforts were repaid with a loud crash as one of the Cabal watching him slammed his fist onto the crate.

Enough!” a low voice growled.

Not on your life, Nigel thought defiantly, kicking and punching at every surface but it was too late. There was a strange lurch followed by a not-so-gentle rocking and he realised that he was being carried. He was vaguely aware of doors closing and the tilt as steps were descended until finally his body slipped sharply and he slammed into the top of the box.

The transport crate was thrown into the back cart and quickly began soaking in the rain. Nigel, dazed from the impact, whispered again and again.

No…”

He had seen what became of Cabal test subjects. Should he make it to the factory, he would be lost forever.

*~*~*

The Professor pulled one of the waiting lanterns from the tunnel wall beside him and struck a match.

Despite her best efforts, Helen was awkward in the water. Her garments dragged endlessly behind her and she felt herself sinking whenever her feet lost contact with the ground. Nikola was a short distance in front – one of his hands held onto hers, pulling her as best he could. They could both hear the Cabal agent as he lashed about in the water, growing ever closer and see the approaching solitary light of the Professor as he observed the capture.

Suddenly Helen felt a sharp tug on her dress, dragging her briefly under the water. The Cabal agent had her now. She slipped from Nikola’s hold and he frantically grasped at the water for her, shouting her name.

“Nikola!” she screamed, water flying in her face as the Cabal agent worked his way closer – pawing his way up her dress, strengthening his grip.

He pulled a knife and brandished it for Nikola’s benefit, warning him to let go but the violent movement of the three bodies lurched them sideways – Helen’s arm falling against the blade.

She felt it instantly – the unsettling tingle as the nerves were sliced and then, in a wave, the searing pain. Hot red blood trickled over her arm and the knife, dripping into the water she gasped.

Another Cabal agent entered the tunnel with a second lantern, sliding along the tunnel to the Professor.

Nikola finally caught her flailing, uninjured arm and Helen became the centre of a deadly tug of war.

Help him,” said the Professor to the second Cabal henchman. “I need them both.”

The Cabal agent nodded and waded into the water toward the fray.

She was slipping from Nikola again as they drifted under another stone bridge.

“Nikola…” she reached her other arm out to him. It was bleeding profusely but the constant gushing of water over it disguised all but the diagonal tear, “Please…”

Nikola knew what had to be done. He could not hold onto her against the two men. They would both be captured, killed – tortured. It had to be this way.

“Don’t stop,” he instructed her – his face wild with a mix of fear, hope and desperation.

At first she did not understand – but then she saw it – the dark veil fall over his eyes.

“No…” she pleaded, as Nikola’s human features faded and twisted. Helen could see him giving into it – the pain of the other world inside him.

He did not fight the transformation. With every moment his strength grew, the tunnel brightened and his fear was replaced with something quite unexpected – hunger.

The Cabal agent watched in mute fear but did not relinquish his hold.

In a surge of strength, Nikola ripped Helen from the other man’s grasp and threw her into the deep water at the centre of the tunnel where she was quickly caught in a torrent of gushing water, whisking her away.

Nikola!” she shouted back, struggling to stay afloat. “Nikola no!” but it was too late. The soft light of the two lanterns faded quickly to black and she was left alone, caught in the dark water. For many minutes there was nothing but her ragged breath and the churning of water.

Helen felt lost in some form of after world as she was taken along with the current. The water got deeper – the tunnel wider and the darkness more silent until a gunshot rang out – and shattered it.

“Nik-ola…” her voice broke into a sob, as she realised that it was too late to save him.

*~*~*

James Watson stormed through the university gates, his light travel case lifted above his head as an attempt at protection against the rain. He pushed past an old man, nearly knocking him to the ground in haste.

“Apologies,” James muttered, laying a hand on the man’s shoulder to steady him. “So sorry…”

Professor Samuel Griffin recovered quickly, nodding at the young man that he was okay before continuing to the road where his carriage awaited with the box in the accompanying cart.

“Did you get it?” Professor Griffin asked, before stepping out of the rain.

One of his henchman nodded, shaking some of the water off their face.

“Yes sir, just the one. Tricky bugger, knocked your associate out cold. Do you want us to go get him?”

Professor Griffin thought on it for a moment before, fixing his gloves before answering, “No… he is alive?”

“Oh yes, alive – unconscious but alive.”

“Then we leave him.”

*~*~*

Helen gave up fighting against the water. She let allowed the darkness to pull at her, the cold numbing her body of everything as she thought of Nikola’s lifeless body, following her. Or perhaps they would have recovered it – to experiment on him – it was just – too horrific – she could not think of it without shuddering.

She did not notice the exchange of the darkness of the tunnels to the darkness of night. With a gush of fresh air, she was propelled into a narrow stream bordered by weeds and long grass.

A man, pacing along the bank startled at the site of the woman floating by and ran along in front before sliding down the bank and plucking the sobbing woman from the water.

She gave no protest – barely acknowledging the gesture until she heard the soft word.

Helen…”

Helen blinked away the tears and tilted her head up to the face of the man whose arms she is protectively encircled in.

“Father?” she whispered, looking on his wearied but loving face.

“Yes,” was his quiet reply. He lifted one of his large hands to cup her face, wiping away a line of tears from her cheek.

Gregory Magnus had waited all night on a gamble, stalking the banks of the Trill Mill stream for the students. He had watched the Cabal storm the school but could do nothing but wait. It more than worried him that it was only his daughter to emerge from the tunnels.

“What happened?” he asked her, even though it was clear by her tears that many terrible things had transpired since his departure.

She wanted to tell him everything. The experiments, the blood, her condition, the Cabal but in the end all she managed was, ‘Nikola…’ before falling against his shoulder.

Gregory’s arms enveloped his daughter and held her as they sat together, strewn over the bank, the water still brushing over their feet. They stayed like that for several minutes – Helen burying herself in her father’s jacket, him, stroking her matted hair – his eyes falling to the trail of blood dripping from her arm. He knew, all too well, that no injury would kill her – and now she knew it too.

“Helen!” Gregory’s voice suddenly jarred, and he pushed her gently away, freeing himself – his eyes locked on the river behind where another body floated by.

It was Nikola – unconscious in the current, his vampire teeth protruding over his lips and his shirt a pale red from blood.

Gregory stumbled down the bank, catching hold of Nikola’s arm, pulling him to the edge. With great effort, he and Helen hauled the vampire up onto the bank and laid him out flat on the grass. Helen held her hand over her mouth. She was shaking with shock and cold at the sight of Nikola’s hollow eyes staring into nowhere. His shirt was ripped open in the front – slashed in several places.

“Is he…” she whispered, but couldn’t finish the sentence.

Gregory knelt down beside Nikola and searched for a wound but could find nothing.

“Helen,” he started, as he felt for a faint heart beat on the body. “Tell me the truth, did you experiment with the Source Blood?”

She nodded slowly.

“And Nikola, did he ingest – or…”

“We derived a serum from it,” she interrupted him.

If he wasn’t so horrified, Gregory would have been proud.

“We all took it, Nikola, John, James, Nigel and myself.”

Gregory’s eyes fluttered closed in horror.

“He is not dead…” he finally said, his hands reaching inside his coat. “Nikola is like you now.”

*~*~*

James Watson flung open the door to his dormitory so hard that one of the hinges snapped clattered to the floor leaving the door to scrape over the floorboards. The room was empty.

Nigel?” James asked the empty space, but he was not there.

If Nigel had been in London and slaughtered that poor girl, it would have been difficult to arrive first. Nigel’s absence only made James more suspicious of his roommate. The man was invisible – he could vanish without a trace – commit crimes and no-one be the wiser. In short, Nigel Griffin was the perfect profile for a murderer – but how was James to prove it? Not even Mr Holmes would entertain such a notion.

Whatever the case, he had to warn Helen of his suspicions. If she was still in the building, she was to be found in Tesla’s attic, so that’s where he headed. When he arrived, he paused at the sight of the stairs unfolded. Nikola never left the stairs down at this hour and though there were lights burning in the room, there were no soft voices accompanying it.

James stepped closer, eventually climbing the ladder. As his head emerged in the attic he saw that the lanterns were reaching the last of their oil and the room was abandoned and had been for some hours.

There was someone going on tonight – and it wasn’t good.

*~*~*

The carriage shook and rattled its way back across Oxford with haste – its precious cargo in tow. Professor Griffin sat resolute, like some kind of marble statue – his hands folded in his lap. Though he did not show it, his strength was failing fast. It took all Samuel’s strength to maintain his composure.

“Only one, one out of five,” observed one the Cabal agents, inspecting a vicious set of claw marks along his arm. The scars beneath burned like nothing else. “They are fast, and strong.”

“Of course they are,” replied Griffin, glancing out the window at the weak lights of the town.

“He’s – ” the Cabal agent hesitated before finishing, “your son…”

Griffin flinched with regret. He could hear the box on the cart behind rocking about, smashing against its prisoner.

“I know,” he said slowly.

24

PUSHING BOUNDARIES

Gregory Magnus was not dressed in his usual gentlemanly attire. Instead his simple olive coat – worn and patched, was buttoned over a cotton shirt. During the months he had grown a thick grey beard which stuck out from his chin in a three inch carpet matted against the oncoming cold. He looked both well travelled and bedraggled – like someone that had been living on the outskirts of society.

Kneeling on the soft, wet ground beside the ghoulish body of Nikola Tesla, Gregory carefully trailed his eyes over the claws, protruding teeth, pale skin and pitted eyes. The likeness was uncanny.

Sanguine Vampiris, in the flesh – or near enough.

“Extraordinary…” he exhaled, shaking his head slowly. “Are the others – like this?”

Helen had one hand over her stomach and the other across her mouth to stop herself from crying.

“No,” she replied softly, “it’s – different. Nigel is –” Helen had to think for a moment. What exactly was Nigel? What were any of them? “He’s a chromataphore,” she eventually settled on, “but he suffers terrible pain. Watson and John are changed also – but in more subtle ways I –” Helen could not bear to look at her father, “whatever their bodies are doing – they are not finished yet.”

“And you are unchanged,” Gregory added, when she neglected to mention herself. He knew that she would be – her abnormality was very specific.

Instead of rain, a few flecks of snow took to the air, tumbling helplessly around them before melting on the grass – but not Nikola’s cold skin – which suddenly flinched beneath one of the tiny crystals.

“Helen,” Gregory spurred into action, reaching into his jacket pockets as Nikola’s skin shivered and breathed. “There is much to tell you but this is not the place.”

“What is that?” Helen watched her father produce a small, corked glass bottle with a thick, silky liquid swirling like perfume. As the stopper was removed, perfume is exactly what Helen could smell. It invaded her senses with its bold floral scent – something that she faintly remembered from childhood but could not place.

Nikola was stirring again – his clawed fingers flexing against the mud, chest rising higher and his pitted eyes beginning to search the void of night above.

Gregory wasted no time. He took a needle from his coat, dipped it into the liquid and drew it into the syringe. It swirled lusciously like some kind of gold in the half-light. Next, Gregory re-stoppered the bottle and tapped the needle lightly against his fingers. He ignored Helen’s whispered questions, bringing the tip of the needle to Nikola’s skin and forcing it through in one quick motion. A moment later the liquid had vanished into Nikola’s body, caught up in his crimson currents.

“What have you done…?” Helen went to lay her hand on Nikola’s forehead as he began to shudder but Gregory grasped her wrist and stopped her.

“Don’t touch him,” he cautioned, as Nikola’s body sweated and shook more violently.

Nikola’s limbs pounded against the ground, his neck jarring sharply as a high-pitched screech left his lips. It was over as soon as it started. The black consuming Nikola’s eyes faded out revealing his frightened grey irises while his claws shrank back to nails. His teeth flattened and returned to their normal state until all that remained was Nikola, lying on the ground, raising a hand to his forehead awakening from a recrudescent dream.

Gregory fell back onto the ground, relieved while Helen rocked forward, catching Nikola’s flailing arms.

Nikola!” she breathed, her fingers trailing over his body and face, searching for the injuries she knew he must have. They flitted over his collar bone, down his chest and dipped under the edges of his open shirt and then back up to his face as Nikola tried to sit up, questions brimming on his lips.

“Stop – stop,” he begged, finally seated with both Helen and Gregory bookending him. “H-h-how?” Nikola stuttered, struggling to regain control of his body. He remembered the tunnel, the dark freezing water and the horrible moment when he had allowed the transformation of his body. Beyond that, the world was a blur of screams and pain.

Gregory swallowed the lump in his throat and held the glass bottle up for Nikola to see. “This suppresses the effects of the ancient blood.”

Helen’s warm arms wrapped themselves around Nikola’s waist and back, holding him upright. Her arm was still bleeding but it had already begun to heal from both edges in an unnaturally fast manner.

“It is not a cure,” finished Gregory, letting Nikola take the bottle from him and examine it. “Little more than the beginning of an idea, but it will have to do as it is all we have.”

“Then – I will always be like this,” Nikola said slowly, licking his dry lips and handing the bottle back.

This has always been part of you. A reaction this extreme…” Gregory had heard of such historical lineages but never seen one himself. Mr Tesla’s history was intrinsically linked to the vampire race, of that much he was certain.

Nikola felt overwhelmingly ill but the tight pair of arms around his waist kept him steady.

“I am sorry,” Gregory meant it, gazing down at the ravished body of the young man, barely alive, “but there is no time to delay. The Cabal grow bolder with every moment we waste. Nikola…” he waited until the man’s pale grey eyes returned to him. Then, Gregory withdrew a set of crumpled notes from his pocket, folded and tied together with a brown length of ribbon. They are Nikola’s notes – supposedly stolen.

His sister’s notes. “Where did you?”

“I stole them, from my own house. Nikola – they are incomplete. I must have the rest…” Gregory’s eyes were quite desperate. “I can fix this – I can but I must have your help.”

They couldn’t know that what Gregory needed to fix wasn’t the effects of the blood but the genetic curse bestowed upon his daughter. He had been searching more than twenty years and now he was within arm’s length. He could save her – he could – even if his own life was the price.

*~*~*

James Watson poked the library door with a single, elongated finger. The door squealed as it swung open, crying out at the night. All the lights were off but a crack in the storm-ridden sky allowed a few strong beams of moonlight to strike at the floor.

He edged in warily.

James’s eyes were caught by a couple of upturned chairs in the study area to the side. The heavy wooden things had been thrown out from their table and now lay strewn over the floor. Criss-crossing lines of moon-light lit the way in front of him as he moved around from the new library into the more familiar old section. Despite this alcove having become a second home to him, James Watson felt a prickle run along the hairs at the back of his neck as he looked around the deserted area. It too was littered with open books, thrown onto the floor and left like corpses.

God above,” James whispered, carefully stepping around the books, his eyes scanning the room for any sign of Nikola, Helen or Nigel.

He was about to lose hope – one hand brushing over his clean shaven chin in bafflement, when he heard a low, pained groan come from the floor behind him.

James spun around, his overly long travelling coat flaring out. There it was again – the rumbling of air through someone’s throat.

“Hello?” James offered tentatively to the room. It was unlikely that someone here to harm him would have announced their presence.

He backtracked to the clutter of tables and chairs – surprised to find a man writhing on the floor – something that he had completely missed on his first pass through the room.

“Sir!” he breathed out, kneeling to the floor beside the grey-haired man.

*~*~*

John emerged from a bowl of freezing water – hands clasped closely to his face, rubbing away the hazy tangle of memories. He had passed out on the floor again – awoken sprawled awkwardly over the scuffed floor surrounded by dried tracks of blood – someone else’s.

His dreams were terrible. They were vast stretches of darkness filed with an overwhelming desire – a lust of sorts. An insatiable urge to prey upon the innocent and even in waking it was creeping up on him.

He tried desperately to wash it away – to shock himself with the cold water into believing it to be just that, a dream but the tainted water, sick with blood, defied his will.

John’s hands shook, dripping with the pale red water. The only question on his lips, “What have I done?”

*~*~*

James held a handkerchief to the lecturer’s head, dabbing at a trail of blood working its way down the side of his face before dripping onto the shoulder of his jacket.

“Sir…” James began, helping the man into one of the nearby chairs. They sat there in the fractured moonlight. His continued silence was an invitation for the professor to elaborate.

A choice. Whatever had happened, it was clear that the lecturer’s old friend Griffin had abandoned him – left him for dead on the floor. Whatever business arrangements they had had in the past were clearly at an end.

“Someone – I heard voices shouting,” the lecturer lied, closing his eyes in pain as James pressed firmly on the wound, cleaning it. “It was that woman-”

“Helen?” James prompted and was met with a nod. He felt his stomach turn – unable to shake the image of all those slaughtered women in London.

“Yes,” the lecturer continued. “And men – several of them. I don’t know I – I dressed and came into the library. It was dark and then someone hit me from behind.” He was very convincing in his lie – a talent of his. “That is all that I remember.”

James collapsed back into the chair opposite, lost in worry. What could be done? He knew very well that there was nothing to be done at this hour of the morning except maybe – the thought occurred to him – John – yes, perhaps he could find John.

“Sir,” James started, leaning toward the old man who was busy inspecting the injury on his head. “We must find John Druitt – do you have his current residence?”

*~*~*

The urgent knock at the hotel door roused John from his tumultuous sleep. He quickly struggled out of the chair, striding past the fireplace which had burnt down to glowing coals. Looking more human in his dressing gown, he unlatched the door and opened it a crack. He was met at once by James Watson’s alert expression.

“John – thank god,” said Watson, pushing open the door and letting himself into the room. He had left the professor back at the university.

“James?” John said sleepily, closing the door behind them. Though they had known each other for many months now, he had never met with James outside the university walls and certainly had not disclosed the details of his residence. “How did you find me? Why have you found me? God, is that the hour?” the questions rolled out on top of one another.

“There is no easy way to tell you this, John,” James paced about the room anxiously, never settling for more than a moment on any one place. “It’s Helen,” he let her name linger before adding, “and Nikola and Nigel. They are all missing.”

*~*~*

Nikola clutched the bundle of papers lovingly – eventually folding them and stowing them inside his new jacket. Less than five hours had passed since his transformation. Gregory Magnus had wasted no time ushering him and Helen back to the house where he rustled up some clothes for Nikola and ushered them out of the house and into a waiting coach that was now shaking and lumbering down the morning road en-route to the train station.

Helen was beside him and Gregory opposite. No-one could bring themselves speak – instead they were lost in their own worry and plans at the enormity of the task ahead of them for which they were ill-prepared.

Despite the desperation of their situation – the utter hopelessness of it all, Nikola could not banish the flicker of comfort that he would see his family again – his mother and the youngest of his sisters still waiting at home. The notes were in her handwriting – Milka had always been the most like Nikola.

Nikola shifted and turned his head, glancing at Helen. She had drifted off to sleep, leaning against the leather interior of the carriage with a mess of golden hair tumbling everywhere.

*~*~*

ONE WEEK LATER

As they progressed further north the air grew colder and winter took foot. Permafrost made the ground hard underfoot while passing clouds dusted the steam engine with snow. Their windows were hidden beneath sheets of ice making the view outside a blur.

The world here was slowing, frozen under layers of white. Lines of trees stood bare against the world, stripped down to blackened tangles of twigs. Jagged hills and farmed valleys became part of the endless curtain of winter beyond the train window.

Nikola, wrapped in freshly bought clothes – a simple grey gentleman’s suit with a muskrat fur coat that was soft to the touch and long enough to bury your fingers in, was unbuttoned. He wore black, fur lined gloves and sturdy warm shoes with thick soles. Where they were going, his home, the cold was unforgiving. He had not been there in several years, not since leaving to further his education. He had missed the wildness of the place – the way it lingered at the fringe of civilisation, listening closely to the whispers of its past.

He felt the train take the slow turn as the tracks crossed one of the unmoving rivers and turned south. It was the final leg of the long journey.

Helen had been pacing through the compartment, travelling it end to end like a pendulum swinging back and forth. Her long gown of brown and black brushed against the walls as she passed, rustling. She lingered at the open door to Nikola’s compartment, her eyes watching him as he watched the world chug by.

“You are home,” she observed, crossing her arms over her chest. Despite her attire, she was cold. When Nikola did not reply, Helen eased into the compartment and seated herself opposite him. Her dress fanned out, settling in layers of lace and fur at his knees.

He did not move or acknowledge the world – so Helen reached forward and rested one of her gloved hands on top of his.

“Nikola…?” she said softly.

His eyes flicked first to her hand and then gradually roamed to her face. Her cheeks were flushed red from the cold but her eyes remained wild and blue – clear like the ice around them. He placed his other hand atop hers and was alarmed at the cold he felt through his glove.

“You are freezing,” he said, rubbing her hand between his.

The door of the compartment rattled as it was closed. Nikola and Helen turned to find Gregory Magnus, also dressed warmly, standing by the edge of the single bed. His expression was one heavy with regret at the task that awaited him at the same hour every day.

“I know…” said Nikola, before Gregory could say anything.

25

THE BRITISH MUSEUM

“Give him a minute,” Helen murmured, her hand still securely between Nikola’s.

“I daren’t.” Gregory moved over to them. “It is nearly twenty-four hours,” he said, “if we wait…”

The last time had been nearly as bad as the first. It appeared the longer they held off Nikola’s natural instincts, the worse their manifestation became. Four days had now passed since his last transformation and now the moon was high and the night approaching, they could not risk it. The injection had to be administered regularly and without fail.

“Helen…” Nikola untangled his hands – her cue to leave.

“This isn’t right,” she said, as she moved past her father, her hand resting on the brass door handle. The two gentlemen didn’t look at her and remained silent until she left.

Gregory withdrew the glass container holding the remainder of the rose-oil. There was less than half remaining. The train shook as Gregory took Helen’s place in front of Nikola who was already shrugging out of his heavy coat and rolling up the sleeve of his shirt.

“How long?” Nikola asked calmly, extending his bare arm out. How long until the bottle was empty?

With a needle in one hand, Gregory expertly undid the seal of the bottle and the pungent fragrance filled the air.

“A month,” he replied, “if we’re careful.”

Nikola nodded. A month of humanity left. A month before he became a monster. A month before he would end it all.

“Does she know?” Nikola flinched as the needle went through his skin. He couldn’t help but think of that night, long ago, when this had all begun.

“No,” Gregory answered.

Neither of them would tell her.

*~*~*

The old man sat by the cage – staring for hours at the emptiness behind the bars. His years had advanced horridly in the short week – disfiguring his face with deep creases and sagging layers of skin that hung under his eyes. White hair – too long for his face, hung limply by his ears while his wrinkled hand resting on the smooth top of his walking cane – continued to shake.

Coward…” jeered the empty cage. “Kill me, if you’re goin’ t’ kill me.”

There – a flicker – an imperfection in the air.

Samuel Griffin didn’t respond to the taunt. It had been the same for days now. Pacing – endless pacing and sneering like some kind of animal. Mostly, that was all Professor Samuel Griffin saw – when he could, an animal.

“It is not in my interests to kill you,” Professor Griffin eventually replied, as the outline of his son rippled in and out of view. The underground vaults at Empire Cotton were mostly bare rooms burrowed out of the earth and lined with concrete. Water stains down their bleak interiors broke up the otherwise grey expanse while oil lamps around the room made the air heavy with smoke. Occasionally the wailing of some other creature could be heard.

“Then what?” Nigel shot back, seated at the opposite side of the small enclosure with his knees pulled up to his chin, rocking with the cold.

“What you have done to yourself is…” Professor Griffin’s words faltered, weighed down by an insidious hatred, “is monstrous.”

Nigel’s skin rippled wildly until his figure reappeared. His eyes were bright red at their centres – a frightening contrast to his pale skin which was stretched thinly over his bones like tissue paper.

Professor Griffin breathed sharply. His son – no – this creature was a travesty of nature.

“Do you know what the Cabal are?” Professor Griffin composed himself. “Ten thousand years ago humans were enslaved by an abnormal race known as Sanguine Vampiris. We were the cattle of civilisation – preyed upon, slaughtered and used to build their sparkling empires but now,” Griffin’s voice lowered, “we shall have our revenge. We shall hunt them down – every last one of them…” His tone suggested that this now included Nigel. “This is a war,” he continued, “there is bloodshed, there is sacrifice – do not mistake me for a weak man because my body has failed me.”

Father…” Nigel moved to the bars of the cage, curling his fingers around them, desperation taking hold. “Please.”

“You stopped being my son when you became one of them,” Professor Samuel Griffin spat back. “My whole life – do you have any idea what-” but there was no point explaining the history of their family – the suffering that they had endured. It was over now. The Griffin lineage had ended – when Samuel died – and he knew that it would be soon – they would enter the pages of history and live no more.

A slamming door startled them both as several men entered, one of them grunting, “We’re ready, sir,” to Professor Griffin. Griffin merely nodded, and the men descended on the cage, unlocking its door and grabbing roughly at Nigel.

“Where are you takin’ me? Answer me!” Nigel screeched as cold hands wrapped around his naked body and something was injected into him, at once making his limbs numb and heavy. He didn’t remain conscious long enough to hear their answer.

*~*~*

The roof of the train carriage arched over Helen, ornately decorated with brass and wood fixtures. A deep red carpet underfoot matched the colour of the walls which were broken periodically by windows, oil lamps and silk curtains with oriental scenes hand sewn into them. She would have appreciated the luxury of her surrounds more had she not been able to hear the retching coming from Nikola’s compartment. The wild rose oil made him ill, horribly so. She cursed herself, raising the eyebrows of the few passengers scattered around her.

Helen ignored the young gentleman opposite her, pretending to read his paper while trying to catch her eye every so often. Her father had spoken to him several times during the week. He was a wealthy individual, well schooled and was presently interested in funding scientific enterprise. Her father was courting his finance but Helen didn’t trust him at all. The man couldn’t be more than twenty and was far too at ease with the world for her liking.

Half an hour passed in silence until her father stepped out into the lounge area and nodded in her direction meaning that Nikola was finally asleep. Instead of joining her, Gregory Magnus wandered over to the young gentleman and took a seat beside him.

“Mr Fort,” Gregory said politely.

The man lowered his newspaper, dragging his attention away from the article entitled, ‘MANSION HOUSE – A FOOLISH FREAK’ and the exert that had been of particular interest;

Clerks must have their jokes apparently, and there is reason to suspect that the Whitechapel murders may have prompted them to the making of some grim ones lately. The Lord Mayor, however, has widely laid it down that if stupid practical jokes are inevitable so should be their punishment. It had pleased a warehouse clerk, who came before him yesterday, to extinguish a lamp and so darken the access to houses in Upper Thames street at a time when all East end people are specially sensitive as to the necessity for abundant light.’

“Charles – please,” the man corrected Gregory. Though the man was clearly American in origin, his accent and physical features were Dutch.

“Is it the sense of adventure that finds you on this train or something else?” Gregory enquired lightly, making conversation.

Charles Fort folded his newspaper away.

“A woman,” he declared finally, his eyes drifting but never settling in Helen’s direction. Charles was endowed with a thick moustache and a firm build covered by an expensive suit that made him appear suave but adventurous. It was fair to say that Charles was handsome in the classical sense and charismatic to the point that a room would turn to his smallest gesture.

“From America, it is a long way to come,” observed Gregory. “She must be beautiful.”

“Very,” Charles quickly cut in – his dark brown eyes warm and friendly for someone his age. “Though it is her wit that I cherish,” he added. “She is a scientist, like myself.”

Gregory seemed to find this admirable and the two continued chatting for several hours. Helen meanwhile, excused herself and vanished into the adjoining compartments, inevitably finding herself lingering beside Nikola’s bed, watching him sleep.

He was turned awkwardly on his side like he had fallen there. His face was pale and his breath shallow and sharp.

“I’m sorry,” Helen said quietly, moving wayward strands of hair from his sleeping face.

Not wishing to leave, she retook her place in the seat by the window with the collection of Nikola’s papers. She flicked through them even though she had already read every word. How Nikola’s sister had acquired originals of William Dampier’s notes was a mystery. They were coveted and hard to come by. The great explorer had died nearly two-hundred years ago yet still his research and discovery of the natural world was mostly untouched. At times like these – with scores of people venturing out into the world to discover its secrets, there was a sea of information building up and not enough eyes to understand it.

*~*~*

Though James Watson had scoured the newspaper every day for news from the London about the killings, he had heard nothing for weeks. It seemed that the world was eerily quiet – as if waiting for something. Even Sherlock Holmes had dropped out of contact, not bothering to wire him for many days now.

Eventually, James discarded the paper on John’s drinks table with an exhausted, “Nothing…” following it closely. The afternoon had settled into the beginning of night and a crisp breeze worked its way in through the partly open curtains.

“James,” said John sternly, picking lint off his trench coat, “do not wish them dead.”

“You are right – as usual,” James replied. “Though the longer the quiet the worse I fear the storm will be.”

With the others missing, James and John had taken to each other’s company, attempting to unravel the terrible mysteries around them. John in particular had been affected by Helen’s sudden absence.

“Maybe it is over,” John offered, buttoning his coat, preparing to leave the house on business, “and The Ripper has lost his taste for the sport?”

“No…” James folded his hands in his lap. “Insanity like that – ravenous hunger for violence? It ends when his blood joins the floor. Whoever he is, he will return – and soon, I think.”

John paced across the room, collecting various items before waiting at the door with a serious expression.

“I hope you are wrong,” he said solemnly, and headed out.

James was left with the approaching night and the wall of newspaper cut outs pinned to the back of John’s hotel coach like a drawing board. He stared at it for hours on end, trying to find some kind of method amongst the brutal acts. So far, the only anomaly that he could make out was that the murders had stopped abruptly when Nigel Griffin had disappeared from the world.

It would be so easy to believe the worst and often he wanted to but there was something lurking at the back of Watson’s mind that didn’t add up – an irritating question that would not rest. Why? Why would Nigel kill?

James needed help. He would write to Sherlock Holmes and confess everything.

*~*~*

The British Museum of Natural History lounged out over London like some great ruin from a forgotten world. Its wings, held up by rows of white ionic columns and capped by elaborate freezes, stood out from the night with an eerie glow. Gas lights flickered along its exterior walls, flaring in the night air while the sheer size of the building dwarfed the streets and parks surrounding it.

It was formidable, in every sense of the world. This was a place that warned all who entered it that ‘hic iacet vostra historia’ whether you accepted it or not. There were things within its walls that had been scavenged from the furthest reaches of man’s exploration, excavated from time and dirt to be studied and wondered at.

The evening was well underway when the coffin-shaped crate was carted through the entrance foyer of the British Museum by two men. They trampled over the marble floors, passing by the brand new display of Pantheon Marbles that were still being unpacked. A few special collection handlers waved the pair of men on, directing them through to the private offices at the far end of the building where they found a door labelled, ‘Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan’.

They set the crate down and knocked.

“He’s not here,” said a voice, as the door opened to reveal a young, oily faced man. He was a student, left to look after the department during the long hours that researches spent either in the vaults or sensibly asleep.

“What do you mean, ‘he’s not here’?” replied the larger of the two Cabal men.

“Our specialist has chosen to spend some time abroad. I was instructed to tell you that your appointment has been delayed until next month. There is nothing I can do I am afraid.”

“What are we supposed to do with this?” the man pointed at the crate containing Nigel Griffin.

The man leant over the wooden box for a cursory inspection of its labels. “What is it?” he asked but received no answer. “We have an excellent storehouse,” he offered.

The men did not look convinced.

“This is not acceptable,” said the second Cabal man, stepping toward the greasy boy in an intimidating manner. “Cargo like this is fragile – difficult and expensive to move.”

“I am sorry,” is all the young man could say. “The Cabal are exemplary patrons and we extend to you are deepest, most sincere gratitude but the situation cannot be helped. Mr Fort is out of contact and will return by the end of the month.”

*~*~*

Nikola awoke to a pair of bright blue eyes.

“How long?” he asked, moving to sit up.

Helen pushed him back down firmly, preventing him from moving too soon.

“Four hours,” she replied.

“And I didn’t…” his voice trailed off, leaving his questioning eyes to finish.

She shook her head. “No Nikola, you did not hurt anyone. I promise.”

His eyes closed briefly in relief. Helen was sitting on the bed beside him. He could feel the slight depression of the mattress and the soft fur of her dress against his hand. The sickly-sweet smell of the oil had been replaced by her and he could feel his strength returning.

Something dripped onto the bare skin of his hand. It was warm and instantly shattered over his skin. Nikola opened his eyes to find Helen quietly crying. There was a sheen to her eyes which was shedding tears whenever she blinked.

“No…” said Nikola quietly, lifting his hand up to her cheek, sitting up as he did so. “You must not,” he insisted, wiping his thumb over her cheek as his hand cupped her face.

“Nikola…” another pair of tears fell and rolled over his hand.

He pulled her slowly toward him until their foreheads lightly touched and he could feel every shudder running through her.

“It will be all right…” he whispered.

“If I could take it back, I would,” she said quietly.

“I would not let you,” Nikola turned his head slightly, and she slipped onto his shoulder. She turned into his neck, trying to bury herself there. “Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, we are no more.”

Eventually Helen nodded against him.

“Helen, you did not fail,” he continued firmly, lifting her up and pushing her back so that he could look on her tear stained face. A pain, worse than anything his vampirical transformation could cause, ripped through him when he saw the unnecessary sorrow in her features. Nikola did not need her pity – he needed her. “Your virtue is your desire for knowledge. It must never be separated from you.”

26

NATURE’S BALANCE

The brick buildings loomed, walling in the paved streets that criss-crossed the inner city of London with their bleak facades. Webs of wire choked their way from rooftop to rooftop, sagging and rocking in the occasional breath of wind. Rubbish, scattered in the gutter, joined in – waltzing endlessly with itself in sad spirals.

A line of soft gas lights appeared like a string of lustrous pearls on dusk, accentuating the blue on a lady’s dress as she knocked on one of the non-descript doors. She waited, tilting her head up to the sky as it blushed pink.

He has watched her for several nights – always on the same doorstep when the evening begins. Then, half an hour later, she returns to the street and embarks on the short stroll down Miller’s Court, under the filthy curve of a small bridge before disappearing into the Ten Bells.

John slipped in amongst the other patrons of the bar, indulging in a drink. He sipped it slowly.

She was beautiful.

Her lightly curled blond hair was pulled up and then left to scatter over her shoulders and down her back. Whenever she caught John’s gaze, it was with piercing blue eyes that always seemed to smile. By all accounts, she was the superior of the room, somewhat of a breeze drifting through the dreary setting.

While the others drank, she chatted, courting several of the better gentlemen. It wasn’t until this particular night that she approached the tall man perched at the counter of the bar, quietly observing the room.

There was a peace around him and Mary liked that – it reminded her of someone she used to see back in Oxford.

*~*~*

Helen, Gregory and Nikola braced themselves against the cold as they stepped off the train and onto the small platform.

There was a light snow falling around them, dusting their fur trimmed clothes with white flakes. The air was cold but clean, buffeting them in occasional gusts as it ripped through the river valley, guided by the edges of the pine forests and cliff faces.

The dramatic scenery was like a drug that wooed the party forward toward the carriage that awaited them with four black horses and a rather intoxicated driver clutching a bottle of whisky protectively to his chest.

Having never been outside Oxford since she was a child, Helen took a moment to graze her eyes over the jagged black mountain range disappearing beneath a layer of low lying cloud. It was positively wild, a land free of the modern harnesses that cities imposed upon the earth. Then Helen realised – she had seen this place before, every time she looked into Nikola’s eyes. He carried it with him.

She sighed, her cheeks turning red with the cold.

“Helen, we’re late,” her father said quietly, nudging her toward the carriage where Nikola extended a hand to help her up.

*~*~*

The wire came for James Watson mid-way through morning. He was still at the university, shuffling through the piles of research and unreturned library books that Tesla had left behind when there was a knock at his dormitory door. His lecturer appeared and handed him a slip of paper.

“It came through my desk directed to you,” said the lecturer. He still had a bandage taped to the back of his head from the attack more than a week ago in the library.

It has started – Holmes

James folded the paper into his pocket. “Thank you, I shall join you in a minute,” he said, and closed the door.

So, it wasn’t over yet.

Though James knew it was morally ambiguous at best, some part of that message filled him with a rush of excitement – there was still a chance to solve this case, to outwit another human being – a monster in all regards. There was no choice, he would away to London at once and offer his assistance (and suspicions) to Holmes.

Before he could leave the city, James went to collect his research from John’s hotel room. They had spent most nights in each other’s company since the sudden disappearance of the others, sharing theories, trying to see through the chaos of the Ripper’s actions. John would bring home as many newspapers as he could find in the evenings and then James would rip them apart and pin articles of interest to the back of the couch. Their shared passion for the hunt had inadvertently sparked a friendship neither of them really understood.

James fumbled for the key and then slid it into the lock of the rather battered and sticky hotel room. It creaked open.

“Evening, James…” said John’s voice almost at once. He was waiting in his armchair with a larger than normal pile of newspapers on the table beside him. “You’re early.”

“Have you heard?” James slipped into the room and closed the door.

John raised an eyebrow and then purposefully glanced at the sheer volume of newspapers he had spent the better part of the afternoon collecting. “Evidently,” John drawled. “It appears the subject of your obsession has re-appeared.”

James crossed the room, collapsing behind the couch where he threw his briefcase to the ground, snapped it open and started filling it with the newspaper articles from the couch. This caused a flurry of paper, which John observed serenely, making no move to assist.

“You are going then, I knew you would,” said John.

“I can’t stay here and be a silent observer like everyone else,” replied James, with his fists full of paper.

“And you’re going to catch him?” James added, with his relaxed air of amusement. “Don’t forget these…” he tapped the newspapers beside him.

James muttered something and shifted the pile into his case, making it bulge unnaturally at the seams.

“This too…” John leant across the arm of his chair toward the coach, stretching out an envelope in Watson’s direction between his two long fingers. “It came for you an hour ago.”

With no time to spare, James snatched the letter and threw it in his briefcase with everything else.

“You could come,” offered James, closing the lid on the case and rising to his feet. His heavy trench coat swelled around him – it was the last of many layers of clothes.

John averted his eyes and shifted further into the warmth of his chair. “I have work, unlike you, I cannot abandon my life so easily. Be careful,” John added, before James could leave the room, “this killer is a nightmare in his own mind, mocking you from hell.”

James nodded earnestly, and left.

*~*~*

The snow continued to fall, turning the road into a dangerous, ice-ridden indent that the horses struggled to navigate. Their driver was on his feet, leaning forward to investigate the road ahead, carefully tapping the rumps of the beasts with his whip.

It was a slow, nervous journey that was taking more than twice as long as they had planned. The world around them was dimming – disappearing…

“Do not worry,” Nikola said to Gregory and Helen. “He has passed these roads in much worse.”

Eventually the weather cleared. The snow stopped and for the first time since arriving in Smiljan they could see patches of blue sky.

Nikola’s house comprised of two white buildings perched on a gentle rise, pushed up against the encroaching wilderness of thickets and low trees. The smaller of the two was the family church, no more than twenty paces from the front door of the main house.

The carriage pulled up on the flat between the buildings and released its travel-wearied passengers. Burdened with luggage, they trampled through the snow toward the house. One of the old trees strewn in the snow caught Helen’s attention. It was a large, gnarled creation that had been split into two and left in a blackened, horrific state for all to see.

“Nikky?” a small voice poked out from behind the front door, pushing the heavy thing open.

Nikola dropped his cases to the ground and strode forward to meet the young woman who threw herself into his arms.

The sight startled Helen, she was not accustomed to seeing him show such open affection.

“Missed you,” said Nikola, lifting his little sister off the ground, spinning her before returning her safely to her feet. “God, you have grown,” he added, she was nearly as tall as him.

“Come inside,” Milka beckoned. “Introductions can wait until you are all warm.”

*~*~*

“I received your letters,” explained Milka, as soon as the party was settled around the open fire. The letters in question were piled on the table beside her. “You were most adamant about the urgency, so I wrote to my trusted friend. He shall be here presently.”

Nikola stoked the fire with a large iron poker before returning to his seat on the couch beside Helen and Gregory.

“I do not intend to sound forward,” Gregory set his cup of tea down on the table in front of them. He couldn’t help his eyes wandering to the glass jars resting on every available surface. They were full of the preserved remains of creatures, yellowed with age. “But time is against us.”

Milka glanced at her brother who nodded discreetly. “You want to see the rest of Dampier’s notes,” she said. “As you wish – but first,” she flicked her clear, sharp eyes up at them. They were the mirror of Nikola’s and matched her pale, delicate skin. “You will tell me everything.”

*~*~*

Watson waded through the sea of navy policemen. Their faces were sombre enough to drown in London’s miserable grey as they relayed orders to each other.

“James! Let him through,” the tall, thin figure of Sherlock Holmes stuck out from the crowd like a giraffe, brandishing his cane. He pushed people roughly aside, allowing James Watson to claw his way to the entrance of the building.

“I’ve never seen such a fuss,” said Watson, as he was pulled into the shadow of the narrow hallway of the small terrace.

“It is warranted,” replied Sherlock in a tone that near froze the air around him. “Never, in all the long years I have spent on this earth, digging through the worst of humanity – and believe me James, I have dug, have I seen anything like it.”

They approached the bedroom at the back of the house. There was nobody in there except the crime scene photographer, folding up the tripod of his camera.

*~*~*

“Can you finish it in time?” Helen roamed around the small room at the back of the house. Her father was at the centre of a sprawl of papers on the floor, carefully leafing through them.

“I think so,” he replied after a few long moments. “Exquisite…” he whispered at the notes.

Helen leant against the wall beside the solitary window, bowing her head in the candlelight. “He’s getting worse,” she finally said. “Since we crossed the border he’s been paler – more withdrawn and sometimes I think he’s hovering on the edge of –”

“It’s the countryside,” Gregory replied, not letting his eyes leave the coveted notes. “I had wondered if bringing him back to this ancient place would have an effect.”

“And yet you let him come?” she snapped, surprised that her father would do such a thing.

“He has to be here, Helen,” this time, he did look at her. “Mr Tesla is the closest thing to Sanguine Vampiris that we’ll find in the time remai-”

Helen was shaking her head in disbelief, “You’re risking his life for your research? Father….”

“Helen,” Gregory worked his way to his feet, “I am only going to ask you this once. Are you a scientist? Not long ago you stood in my study and demanded that I share this world. You have to make a choice but know this, if I can complete my research I can help him but without him, it can’t be done.”

Her eyes fell closed.

Gregory sighed softly. “Now you understand. We cannot know where knowledge will take us or who it will sacrifice.”

“It’s time for his treatment,” she pushed off the wall and crossed the room briskly. Helen couldn’t stand to entertain the thought of Nikola as some form of ‘price’ to be paid in the quest for knowledge. “I’ll fetch him,” she added, closing the door more heavily than was necessary.

So this is how John had felt – that night he had discovered her with the others.

Helen shook her head sharply, flicking her long curled hair back over her shoulder as she checked the rooms lining the narrow hall, eventually ending at the empty sitting room with its raging fire burning alone.

“Nikola?” she offered the room, but found no answer. Aside from the fire, it was near dark, so Helen lit the lamps sending a warm glow through the room, playing off the specimen jars that cluttered every corner and shelf.

A bright flash of light through the window caught Helen’s attention. She had not noticed the storm lingering overhead, sitting mute over the nearby mountains. It was neither raining nor snowing and the wind was quiet against the plate glass windows. What struck her was a dark silhouette against the sky – a figure standing outside the window, staring out at the storm.

Helen paced down the hall and pulled open the heavy front door, stepping out into the night. She smelt a thousand foreign things on the air. Trees – the late fallen snow – the stables at the base of the small hill where wild roses clawed their way over headstones, they all mingled together as she padded through the snow.

“Nikola…” she announced herself.

The sky ahead was flashing silently with pink and green. Like far off sparks, the lightning played in the clouds.

“Can you feel it?” he asked, his body facing the storm. Every hair on his body was prickling, alive with the electric potential energy in the air. Nikola could literally feel the pull between the sky and the ground – like standing under a waterfall, threatening to drown him in its power. There had been no time to explore this particular change in his biology, indeed, he wasn’t exactly sure what it was – but there was a definite affinity with electrical force developing inside him. Nikola wanted to understand it and to do that, he had to experience it – share it.

The small house was aglow behind them, each of its windows hurling forth yellow light into the evening.

“I can’t feel anything,” Helen replied softly, swaying on her feet.

“It’s beautiful,” Nikola murmured, as a branch of light spilt through the inky space above them.

“No,” Helen corrected him, her voice dragging unnaturally. “I can’t feel anything,” she finished, as the world faded to black, slipping away from her as it had done back in Oxford.

Nikola turned in time to see Helen collapse into the snow, splayed out like a fallen angel.

*~*~*

At first James didn’t see the body.

The bedroom was small, barely more than four brick walls with a table and bed pushed against the far side. There were blood-soaked sheets strewn from one end of the room to the next, sitting in deep crimson puddles that were yet to be soaked up by the floor. A particularly large bundle had been left on the bed and on the wall behind there was a fan-shaped spray of blood that could have only be made in the initial attack.

James was about to ask after the body when the full scope of the scene struck through him. The pile on the bed was the body.

He stepped further into the room, careful not to disturb the evidence on the ground. James tilted his head to the side and found himself staring at the mutilated face of a woman.

“Christ,” he exhaled. “Christ – Christ…” James repeated.

“He’s getting bolder,” said Sherlock from behind, letting James make his own impressions of the scene.

Sherlock could have imparted the initial police report – explained what they already knew, but the more that James Watson came with on his own, the more valuable his input into the investigation would be. Sherlock was walking a fine line as it was. He was not officially a police officer. He was, at best, a self employed investigator that the police force tolerated – allowing yet more unknown guests wander through a crime scene was definitely stretching the line thin.

“We have to talk,” ventured Sherlock, after a good hour spent inside the room, “about this…” he produced the long letter Watson had sent him a few days ago detailing the experiment The Five had engaged in – and its consequences. “You are incorrect, my friend.”

James nodded.

“Do we know who she is?” James was still crouched by some of the woman’s remains. Most of her internal organs had been removed and placed with purpose around the room as were large portions of her skin. The stroke that killed her was undoubtedly the large gash across her neck, severing several of her major arteries.

“Yes,” replied Sherlock. “Mary Jane Kelly – she appears to have been well kn – James?” Sherlock launched himself forward in alarm as James staggered backwards, about to fall.

*~*~*

It was Nikola who ventured into Gregory’s temporary study this time, closing the door purposely behind him. He had left Helen asleep on the living room couch under Milka’s care. She was unconscious but breathing normally exactly as he had seen her the day Watson had brought her to his attic.

Gregory looked up and saw at once that Nikola had not come for an idle chat.

“What are you keeping from Helen?” Nikola asked seriously.

Gregory tilted his head, examining the young man. “She showed you her mother’s letter?” his question was answered with an affirmative silence. “I don’t know what you mean…” said Gregory.

“Helen may believe you blindly,” said Nikola, “but you know more about her abnormality than you let on. She is immortal – what else?”

The older man had to swallow hard. Since Gregory had discovered the truth, he knew that he would have to share it with Nikola eventually.

Nature’s Balance – have you heard of it?” asked Gregory, seating himself behind Nikola’s father’s desk. “It is a contemporary theory which states that just as physical forces come in pairs, so too do biological systems. For every species on this earth there is a counter – every predator has its foe.”

Nikola moved in front of the desk, standing rather than sitting in the opposing chair.

“You are a predator Nikola,” Gregory continued. “A divergent species of human that branched off from humanity leaving you a cut above our natural enemies. Nikola, you may not be aware of this yet and, believe me, it hurts me to tell you,” Gregory motioned for Nikola to take his seat which he eventually did. “My research has led me to believe that Sanguine Vampiris are an enduring life form. Now, I realise that you are not a pure blood vampire but judging from what I’ve already seen of your healing abilities, you have inherited their signature gift of immortality.”

“I can’t die?” Nikola replied, unsure of what he felt.

Gregory moved his journal into view, opening it. “Nikola, what I’m about to tell you, no-one knows but me. I need your assurances that you will keep it that way, especially from Helen. It is for her own safety.” Satisfied by the quick nod of Nikola’s head, Gregory continued. “Some time ago, I managed to track down the last living pure blood vampire. It had isolated itself in a cave in South America, hidden away from the world. It is only a guess, but I believe that vampire was nine thousand years old. I won’t lie to you – he was a weak and broken creature but I that is likely due to the vow he made to never take human blood.”

“It is a choice, then?”

“There is hope for you yet, Nikola.”

“But that is not why you are telling me this story…”

“No,” Gregory confessed. “What the vampire confided in me was something worse than I had feared. Helen is – she is an immortal – but it is not a benign gift. She is your balance, Mr Tesla, designed in every way to hunt and destroy you. Helen is still young, there is some biological process going on inside her, transforming her. She is drawn to you, I can tell but soon Nikola, very soon she will try to kill you and you will do the same.”

“I’ll-”

“The vampire described it as an irresistible urge to feed,” Gregory interrupted. “Her blood will kill you, Nikola – and likely not a lot else will but you’ll crave it beyond all reason, resolve and love.”

27

NIGEL’S DIARY

Several hours later, Nikola moved through the darkened house, striding silently down the corridor of his childhood as the sky flared outside. Its occasional rumbling sent shivers of electricity down Nikola’s spine, forcing his shoulders to shudder in response.

He stepped into the faint glow of the lounge room, averting his eyes to the source of flickering light. A single oil lamp was fading in the corner – its oil run dry leaving an empty vessel and smoking wick about to burn out.

The rest of the household had retired in his absence. Nikola could hear the harmony of sleep around him – the gentle rises and falls of delicate breath accompanied by the deep rumble of Gregory Magnus rising through the walls in waves.

Lurking in the doorway, Nikola could see the back of the leather couch and peeking out from one end, a curtain of golden hair. He closed his eyes, considering the gravity of what he was about to do.

*~*~*

Watson collapsed back into Sherlock Holmes, nearly bringing the wiry man to the ground but Sherlock was stronger than he looked and had braced himself for the sudden weight.

What in God’s name…?” Sherlock uttered, dragging the man out of the crime scene before any evidence fell victim, shocked at two thick streams of hot tears pouring down Watson’s cheeks. The man was inconsolable, breaking apart in a most un-gentlemanly manner.

“Decorum, I beg of you,” pleaded Sherlock, but his words fell to the ground unheard.

Watson could not speak. He failed to notice that he had been half-led, half-carried to the back of the house and deposited roughly in a chair. He didn’t even acknowledge Sherlock Holmes backing away, observing him clinically with his clear, hard eyes better suited to the murderous mysteries of the world. All James Watson could think of was that room and what remained of his lover, Mary Jane Kelly.

James’s head rolled back and suddenly he was off the chair, knees hitting the ground sharply as he hurled onto the floor, rasping again and again until his ragged breathing turned back into desperate sobs.

It was just – too monstrous to conceive – he simply could not.

*~*~*

She was peaceful now. Whatever force had taken hold of Helen earlier had dissipated. However, if Gregory was correct – and he had an irritating habit of being so, they would be seeing a lot more of this ‘new’ Helen.

Nikola didn’t want to think about that…

Finally he mustered the courage to open his eyes and sweep around the couch – his fingers running over the cracked leather. Helen was laid uncomfortably between its divided cushions and – Nikola hesitated, he had not expected that – his sister was knelt on the floor beside the bed, also asleep. Milka was just like their mother, a healer of souls.

It did not matter, this had to be done and there was not likely going to be another chance.

Gregory’s words weighed heavily on him as Nikola moved up beside Helen’s outstretched arm. Her sleeve had been caught and pulled up out of the way leaving an expanse of delicate, bare flesh growing cold as the fire lost its heat. His fingers brushed over the soft surface causing his breath to catch. Nikola’s own cold hands seemed to draw warmth from her. It was almost intoxi-no… He lifted the metal needle he had been carrying and steeled himself, bringing its sharp tip to her skin. Nikola placed his other hand over the top to steady the shake of his first.

It had to be done.

So Nikola did it in a fluid movement. The needle slipped through Helen’s skin and at once Nikola began to draw a sample of her dark blood up into the syringe. It wasn’t long before the vial was full and Nikola withdrew the needle, capping it and stowing it in his large jacket pocket just before she stirred.

He bent down, concealing his purpose for being there by disturbing the blankets covering Helen. She was waking now, her eyes fluttering open and closed thick with sleep. Nikola manoeuvred his arm under her back then his other roughly beneath her knees and suddenly he was lifting her gently from the couch. Instinctively Helen curled into him with a soft murmur – a natural reflex.

“It is beyond my manners to allow you to sleep on the couch,” he explained, when she woke enough to eye him questioningly. He felt her arms tighten around his neck as he carried her through the narrow hallway.

Helen mumbled nothing in particular, apparently choosing to slide back into whatever world she had been immersed in. She was sound asleep before he made it into his room.

He settled her on the bed, letting her fumble blindly about for covers and pillows until she stilled and returned to her deep, steady breathing.

Another brief current of white light flitted through the room, streaming in from the large window above his desk. He could see the mountain ranges from here. Often he had sat on his bed and watched the storms roll through like peaceful beasts grazing the sky but it was different now that he could feel them. He had never truly appreciated the frightening power suspended in the air but it was there, tantalisingly close.

His eyes drifted back to her a she shifted, her hair falling across her face, covering it in messy ringlets. Nikola’s lip twitched in a half-smile. She was his only friend; he didn’t want to live in a world where that wasn’t true.

Nikola?”

He hadn’t realised that she was awake again, quietly watching him as he watched her.

“Yes?” he replied, moving slowly over to her. After a brief hesitation, he dipped his hand down to her face, catching some of her wayward hair and gently lifting it so that he could see her bright blue eyes.

Helen leant onto his hand as it trailed along her face and then unfolded her free arm to catch hold of his sleeve.

“Thank you…” she said quietly. Thank you for taking us to your home, for trusting us with your work – for not hating me for what happened back in Oxford.

Nikola looked at her deeply. It was obvious that sleep had affected her sense of propriety but he could not ignore the truth that mingled with her words – cutting them into his soul.

“Good night, my lady,” he stated firmly, escaping her hold as he stood and left. Nikola hurried back to the main room which was now empty, where he reclaimed the lounge and fell asleep as the last life in the lamps expired.

*~*~*

Reality rippled like a strip of muslin on a lady’s skirt. Violet and Indigo flashes poisoned the air around John where passing beams of light were captured and split apart. The hairs running down the back of his neck prickled in expectation. He could not stop this – life had been ripped away from him enough times for him to understand that he had to let it happen.

John was seated in his hotel with a book open in his lap. He exhaled as colour filled the room, preparing himself for the torture that would surely follow.

It was swift and brutal, crippling his limbs and thoughts as pain seared through every facet of his being. John’s eyes slammed shut in agony as the sensation continued. It was like dying – every time. His consciousness was evaporating – stretched out too thin until it finally breaks.

The book fell to the floor in the empty room – its handwritten pages teased by a current of air that vanishedwith the purple light.

I followed the last of our party today…’ the page read, in Nigel’s untidy scrawl. ‘Most of the secrets I have learnt were unintentional. James and his lover, whom he visits when he thinks I am asleep – Nikola and his trips to the Hinksey Heights to watch the storms – my father and the many hell houses where he keeps his monsters locked away – but Montague… it was no accident when I glanced over and saw something I fear to even write … the very world shuddered and in a moment he had vanished more completely than I ever will.’

A few more pages flipped over and then back again, ‘I remained there in the street for hours in the rain and wind until I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prick up. It was near eleven when the night was lit once again with muted tones of purple and green and there he appeared. His face was obscured by thick blood. I don’t know how or what I shall tell the others – but it is clear now that the vampire blood we injected does more than change our physical bodes – it permeates our mind, taints it and twists it into something that is not us.’

My pain returned to me and I became visible again – standing naked in the alley way. He saw me – and he knew… he knew…’

*~*~*

Sherlock Holmes guided Watson through the main streets of London as they wove between the swarm of top hats. It was a short walk from Miller’s Court to their accommodation but Sherlock decided to draw it out as much as possible, slowing his step as they roamed out of the heavy smog into the commercial district with its marble buildings and iron lamp posts.

“How…?” James choked, as they skirted around London’s park. A rush of dead leaves tumbled at their feet. He is still shaking – the image of Mary feeding a pool of rage inside him. “How can someone do that to another human being? Why her… She was -” that summarised her now – she was.

“You knew her…” for once, it didn’t take a genius. “You loved her… Who was she?”

James was about to reply when his eyes locked onto a grey-haired figure stepping out of handsome carriage. He knew that man – he had literally run into him the night everyone disappeared, outside Oxford university in the rain.

“Do you believe in co-incidence?” James quickened his step in pursuit. “I don’t…”

Ordinarily Sherlock liked to know who they were following and why but he was willing to let Watson have some liberty given the circumstance.

As a pair, they slinked along the streets, never encroaching on the old man as he swung a right past a grand fountain and hauled himself up the marble steps to the front door of the British Museum.

There were tourists and researches everywhere, crowding the lobby as Sherlock and Watson dipped their heads into the foyer – searching for the balding top of the man but he was gone.

*~*~*

The early morning brought with it a light snowfall, one that fell silently against the windows of the cottage. Nikola turned on the couch. It was freezing now that the fires had reduced to ash-laden coals and yellow milieu of candles replaced by the sickly white glow from the sun.

Nikola was only vaguely aware of the crunch of snow beneath the carriage and the quick trample of hooves outside. A moment later a quiet knock at the door finally woke him from sleep. As always his dreams were stained with places he’d never been to and fragments of blood-soaked lives.

Sitting up too fast, Nikola held his head for a moment – wondering why he was awake. The man at the door knocked again and this time Nikola found it within himself to leave the couch and cross the room muttering his disapproval in Serbian.

He unbolted the door and pulled it open.

“…Mr Fort?” Nikola said at length, astonished to find the man from the train standing in his doorway. Charles Font was dressed in heavy, dark furs and carried a bag in either hand. What had been an elegant moustache was now laced with ice from the journey and his cheeks red from the cold. “Whatever brings you here?” and how did you find us?

“Mr Tesla…” Charles nodded politely at the gentleman he’d scarcely met on the train. It was his understanding the Mr Tesla was taken ill for the majority of the trip and he could see evidence of it in his paleness. “I apologise for the earliness of the hour,” he began, “but I am in actual fact, unforgivably late.”

Late? Nikola mused to himself. He wasn’t even invited.

Nikola eyed the man with an air of suspicion.

“Gregory Magnus invited to you…?” Nikola eventually offered as a plausible excuse. It would be unwise to turn away a possible investor.

“Actually,” Charles looked very much as if he wanted to come inside out of the cold, but Mr Tesla was standing firmly in front of the door. “My invitation precedes the pleasure of making Gregory’s acquaintance…”

Ch-arles?” a lady’s voice behind started in delight.

Nikola glanced over his shoulder to see his sister fully – no – over dressed for the hour of the morning standing behind him.

Charles tilted his head to see around Nikola – an unabashed smile shaking off the cold.

Miss Tesla…” Charles replied, mimicking her tone.

*~*~*

“I am have been abroad for several months now,” Charles had stripped down to the suit he had worn on the train. Milka set a tray of tea in front of him with a warm smile before seating herself on a chair to his right. The two Magnus’s and Tesla watched on – Nikola with a piercing look that would have burned a lesser man.

“It took weeks of work, but the Accademia dei Lincei granted me access to their vaults. You have never seen anything like it – thousands upon thousands of prints, Milka, hundreds of volumes of the world’s natural history from the Roman era onwards tucked away in bundles. I wanted to look at them all…” he paused to take a sip of his tea.

Milka, it was now clear, was the woman Charles Fort had crossed continents for. He was her contact that had been acquiring rare documents like Dampier’s Notes to answer Nikola’s questions. It was also plain to see that they were very much in love.

“I wasn’t permitted to make copies but I kept diligent notes – everything I could remember.” Charles set his tea down and reached into his briefcase, opening its worn leather and fishing out a hefty pile of hand written journals. “Sanguine Vampiris though recorded history…” he said, presenting the notes to Milka.

Charles’s eyes wandered over to the figure of Nikola – running up the man’s pale features. “Really…” he near-whispered. Here sat before him a remnant of Sanguine Vampiris. Charles ached to see him come alive – reveal the abnormal that ran within their entire family. When he looked at Milka, Charles could see those same, clear eyes – eyes that held all the ancient mysteries of the earth. “Abnormalities,” Charles’s voice was low in wonder as he spoke to Nikola, “shed light on the true character of the normal…”

Nikola though, remained more concerned about his sister’s hand settling on Mr Fort’s knee than anything else.

Gregory, sensing trouble, cleared his throat and spoke up.

“I – I remember you mentioning the Cassiano dal Pozzo’s Museo Cartaceo … the ‘Paper Museum’,” George shuffled forward on his chair. “Their vaults are locked – I have tried myself for many years but my letters remain unreturned – did you…?”

“I enjoy the benefit of contracting to a very persuasive organisation,” Charles replied but stopped short of mentioning it by name. He reached once again into his briefcase and this time withdrew a set of heavy paper sheets, tied loosely together. On each one was a detailed collection of ink strokes, illustrating the various terrifying aspects of a vampire. “These are copies,” Charles said, “but they are yours – Nikola…” he finished, turning to hand the pile to Nikola as a form of peace offering. “Your sister is very persuasive – I fear that I cannot refuse her anything.”

Helen tilted towards Nikola as the papers changed hands.

“Remarkable…” said George. “You cannot know the honour that you show us, Mr Fort, or the profound difference your research will make.”

*~*~*

Professor Samuel Griffin easily evaded the crowd in the British Museum as it swelled around the newly acquired Greek marbles. Instead, he darted away down one of the unassuming corridors that led to department offices.

He was not pleased. When he lifted one of his wrinkled hands to knock on the door, it was with sharp – unfriendly strikes.

“Is he here?” Griffin growled, leaning heavily on his walking cane as the door opened to reveal a ratty, young man.

“Professor…” the young man nodded in nervous respect. “I regret to inform you that he has not yet arrived…”

“Not – yet – arrived?” Griffin repeated slowly, with an air of disbelief. His eyebrows crept up higher with each word. “What exactly is it that he is doing with my money?”

“I – I,” the man stuttered, he was only minding the office.

“I am a patient man – but there are limits. Feel free to pass this along,” Griffin shifted in the doorway. “Young Mr Fort will be back in this office by this time next week or we will take our business elsewhere.”

*~*~*

John collapsed onto the ground – his knees sinking into the foul smelling mud. He was in a marsh lit by the white glow of the full moon suspended high above, drowning out the stars. John’s face crumpled in disgust when he saw the sickening rises over the ground accentuated with spears and arrows.

Hundreds of bodies lay rotting around him. John pushed off the ground, stumbling to his feet. The smell of war was strong but it didn’t belong to his time.

The unsheathing of metal behind him, snapped John’s head around. Glistening armour on a man’s torso twisted and a blade came down on John’s face – slicing through his cheek.

John growled in pain, stumbling back before the world tore and vanished and he found himself returned to his hotel room.

28

CRIMSON TORMENT

John held his face as warm blood streamed through his fingers and down onto the floor, following him in a sickening trail as stalked through the apartment, seeking out a mirror. In his reflection he found a wretched creature gazing back – a stranger lurking in his brown eyes. Once soft, they had been ruined by misery – sick from the thirst of blood.

He tilted his head, raising his muddied fingers to a long arch sliced across his cheek where the sword had grazed him. The pain was nothing compared to the agony of ripping through the universe but it still stung fiercely, severing his nerves and leaving his face limp.

John groaned as he dipped his hands into a basin of water, cupping the cool liquid in his grasp before bathing the wound. The water beneath him turned red, spilling over the sides of the china bowl and onto the floor in scarlet tides.

Eventually, his eyes returned to the mirror. He prodded and pulled at the torn flesh. How many times had he dragged a knife over another’s skin – cut right to the bone, quartering them like animals in a slaughter house? How many had he killed through the centuries that he jumped across? John could not remember.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked himself sternly – searching for something in his destroyed face. Why did this thing – this creature inside him take hold? Where did its anger for the world come from?

It was definitely a remnant of some ancient world that lived within him. If this was what it did to him – what then, had become of the others?

*~*~*

Nikola’s cat wandered in tight circles around the base of Helen’s skirt, leaving a trail of short black hairs on the fine lace. She found it difficult to scorn the affectionate creature that was purring so loudly she could feel the vibration in the air.

“Macak…” she bent down, lowering her fingers to the feline who padded forward and sniffed at her hand before rubbing against it. “You are a mischievous thing,” she shook her head, unaware that she was being watched.

Her father, Nikola and Mr Fort had been in conference all morning – no doubt discussing the particulars of a business settlement. Milka, meanwhile, was somewhere in the church opposite the house or walking through the snow which had been falling all night. This left Helen all alone except for the persistent feline which took the bold move of leaping onto her lap.

Macak…” this time the cat’s name was said with practiced reprimand, causing its paw to hesitate.

Helen startled to see Nikola hovering in the doorway, relaxed against the wood as if he had been there some time.

“Is – the meeting finished?” she asked tentatively. They had not spoken since last night – since she had awoken in his bed. Her memory of the evening was fragmented at best but she did remember being in his arms…

“No,” Nikola remained in the doorway, “but, my part is.” He dipped his head, changing the way the mid-morning light played on his sculpted face. “Your father and Mr Fort have much to discuss, I fear we won’t enjoy their company for many hours yet. He has given us all we desire.”

Silence – broken only by the loud purring of his black cat beneath Helen’s fingers as it decided to take the risk and curl up in her lap.

“Are you-” Nikola paused as they both tried to speak at the same time. “Pardon me,” he excused himself for interrupting and hinted for her to go first.

Helen’s eyes dropped nervously. “Nothing – only,” she lifted her gaze to him with a waver of seriousness. She wanted to ask about what happened last night – but truthfully she knew. “I suppose he wanted to see your fangs…” she changed the subject and her demeanour. “Mr Fort was quite enthralled by you.”

One of Nikola’s expressive brows curved upwards. He started to edge into the room – pacing first around the walls and then to the window where he watched the snow falling. “That he was,” he answered, tapping the glass lightly with two slender fingers – playing with its cold.

“Nikola…” Helen eventually said, at the end of another awkward silence. “Sit with me.”

His grey eyes watched her again. She was the warmth of the room – a season out of step with the frozen world.

Nikola’s fingers trailed down the glass, returning to his side. His weight shifted – backwards first, as if he were considering retreating while a private war raged within. He knew that he should not feed the terrible curse that was growing in both of them. Nikola had hoped that distance would be their salvation but her warmth made him little more than a moth, circling hopelessly.

He rocked forward as the front door was thrust open with a gust of snow-laced wind. Milka flew in with it, running around the door and heaving it closed.

Nikola drew back to the safety of the window and Helen averted her eyes to the cat.

One Month Later

“Back to stay, old boy?” John drawled leisurely, as the door to the hotel room creaked open.

James Watson eyed him severely. “I have been here for three weeks, what notion makes you think I will up and vanish now?”

“You won’t be able to stay away from Sherlock Holmes indefinitely,” John stood and moved to pour them both a drink. He was prepared for their evenings now, in which they would sit and discuss the focus of Watson’s obsession. The deliberations seemed to calm them both – even if all they achieved was chasing their tails in circles in search of the elusive Whitechapel murderer. “I am a poor substitute for his wit.”

“Holmes is busy,” James replied simply, closing the door and shedding off his coat. “And you still haven’t answered my question from last night.”

“Which one was that?” John held out a glass of port; they were out of everything else. “The one about the Ripper’s choice of victim or – what was it? What sort of person could walk the streets with blood stained clothes and yet not draw attention?

James took the glass gladly and replied, “Both…” He sipped his port quietly for a moment. “It’s looking better-” he nodded to the scar on John’s face.

“Lousy thieves,” John quipped back. “I’m told there is little hope of finding them. The city is overwrought with scoundrels – though it is nothing compared to what the good societies of London must endure.”

James looked sadly for a moment – he had not told John that the last Ripper victim had been his lover or that the force that drove him now was closer to revenge than curiosity. He had to know what sort of a person could do such a thing. He longed to sit them down and ask them what part of their soul had broken to allow such evil through onto the world? “I sympathise.”

“Surely,” John sank back into his chair which was pulled close to the fire, “you’re not still on about Nigel…”

“Is it really so crazy?” James picked through a tower of newspapers with his free hand. “You’ve seen it – the man can make himself invisible – wander in and out of the world at will and where is he now? It was his knife John – I plucked it from the crime scene myself.”

“Your Holmes does not seem to agree with you.”

“No…” James had to admit that Sherlock’s firm rebuff of the theory distressed him. “…he does not.”

“He is a wise man,” John observed quietly.

“That does not make him infallible.”

*~*~*

Charles Fort deposited his hat, coat and travel cases roughly onto the nearest desk. It was one out of a half dozen littered around the walls of the British Museum Department of the Sudan office – most covered in towers of manuscripts and unprocessed artifacts from the deserts near Egypt.

Three large rugs hung over the walls, covering the cracked paint with muted reds and ochres. Half open crates, piles of unanswered mail and a bewildering assortment of pottery fragments carpeted the remaining space.

Charles’ nose crimpled with displeasure as it detected the faintest trace of illicit smoke wafting through the air. It was present in every single academy and library through Europe. Was the whole world mad?

Charles sighed dramatically.

The only other person dwelling in the room was a fragile sort of man that had clearly weathered a century or two. He was hunched over with a velvet top hat hiding his wispy hair that floated around his ears like cobwebs. When Charles cleared his throat, the old man lifted his pair of cold, sharp eyes.

“Are you the fabled Mr Fort?” the man’s voice scratched through his wrinkled throat.

The office was freezing. There was silent snow falling against the windows where ice had replaced the glass, blurring the city outside with a sad hue. Charles decided that perhaps he really did need his coat – pulling it around him as he settled himself into the chair.

“I would not bother…” the old man continued. “They will be here shortly.”

A deep exhale slipped from Charles’s lips. The Cabal were not known for their understanding and he had not brought anything worth the hundreds of pounds that they had spent on him. Still, he was a skilled constructor of fables, so maybe he could bluff his way through –

The door to the office opened and Professor Griffin appeared smothered in layers of fur. He leant heavily on his cane as he hobbled into the room and shut the door, drowning out the sound of tourists.

“Professor,” Fort was on his feet, bowing respectfully at the sight of his employer whom he was yet to meet. “I am –”

“Charles Fort – I know,” the last words were laced with significant detest. “Tell me, did you enjoy your time abroad?”

“I – certainly…”

“Then I certainly hope you have something to show for it.”

The old man seated at the corner desk flicked his gaze between the two men before returning to his work.

“This way, Mr Fort – we cannot delay any longer…” Professor Griffin stepped back through the door, beckoning Charles to follow.

*~*~*

Gregory held a lantern out to the darkness, peering into the low cave. There were several such structures littered through the hills behind Nikola’s house – buried into the ironstone cliff faces. Rumour had it that terrible creatures lived in these hills, long ago – Gregory was hoping that there was some truth to those stories.

He proceeded carefully.

Gregory lifted one hand to the wall of the cave, trailing it over the freezing rock. Aside from the wind gusting past the entrance in howls – the world was eerily silent.

The only living creatures that Gregory encountered as he progressed deeper were colonies of tiny spiders that spun their webs between cleaves of rock, spreading sticky nets like a curtains. He found it a comfort to see life clinging to the fringes like he had done for so many months.

Just as the ceiling of the cave dipped uncomfortably low on his head, he caught sight of a bleached pile of bones protruding from the dirt.

“Yes…” he whispered, finding his footing on the uneven ground.

Gregory had to clamber over two conjoined rocks nearly blocking the cave completely.

“Sleeping exactly where you should be,” he said, sliding down the flat side of one of the boulders. He landed on his feet, bent double in the cave as he inspected the frightening remains. “Your old friend says good day to you,” Gregory whispered respectfully.

Upon death, human bones were fragile – crumbling with time but these – there was something other than calcium hardening their sharpened edges.

Gregory knelt beside them, slipping off his should bag. He withdrew a small trowel from it and scraped at the dirt built up around the bones, revealing an entire skeleton of a Sanguine Vampiris.

*~*~*

Nikola sat alone in his room, staring at the two vials on his desk.

One was empty – clear like the ice across the world outside. The only remnant of the rose-oil it once brimmed with was a sweet scent on the air. Nikola flicked the glass idly with his finger – knocking it over so that it rolled along the desk and vanished off the edge, landing with a shatter.

The remaining vial sat like a jewel, its quivering liquid taunting Nikola with its promise of freedom – freedom at such a terrible cost. He wanted to live but not like this and now he was out of time.

*~*~*

“What is it?” Charles peered down at the unassuming crate on the ground.

The vaults of the British Museum were vast and cluttered. Their poorly lit rooms seemed to propagate on forever. Charles stood beside Griffin in one of its corners, enduring the frigid air as several of his colleagues attacked the box with a crowbar – forcing the wooden lid off with a crunch of splinters. It was uncannily like opening a coffin.

“Christ…” Charles whispered as the pale body of a man appeared. “Who is that?’

“My son, Mr Fort,” Griffin bent to brush his fingers over the icy skin of his child. “I brought you here,” he continued slowly, “to save him.”

From death…? Charles tilted his head at the body, edging closer to the young man. He looked like he had been dead for less than a day – two at the – “Mother of God!” Charles startled backwards as the body’s chest rose and fell slightly in a silent breath. “The man is still alive.”

“The boundaries which divide life and death are at best, vague,” Griffin replied coolly – deeply aware that death was encroaching ever closer on him. “Show me what my money has bought, Mr Charles – return my child to me.”

Griffin would have this expert purge his son of the filthy blood and return his son to him whole – or not at all.

*~*~*

It was dark by the time Gregory returned to the Tesla house. They had left some lamps lit for him – which he snuffed one by one on his way to Nikola’s room. He knocked gently before entering.

Nikola…” Gregory sighed, seeing the other man slumped forward onto his desk. “Wake up!” he pulled Nikola’s shoulders back, waking him from a heavy sleep.

Nikola looked far from healthy – his eyes darker than normal as if something wild were starting to stir behind them. He had not transformed for many weeks but now… There would be no way to stop it.

“Leave me…” Nikola muttered, trying to shrug off the hands holding him straight.

“I do not think so…” Gregory trailed off when he saw the dark vial of blood on the desk in front of Nikola. “That better not be what I think it is.”

“I will not live as a monster,” Nikola replied firmly, standing up and wiping the sleep from his eyes. He ran his cold hands over his suit – straightening the creases. “It is my choice.”

“I found one – in the caves. There have been vampires living in these hills for centuries. I think – Nikola, I believe that it is more than the source blood for you. You alone may be able to find a measure of control if it has always been part of-”

“Control?” he cut Gregory off. “I have read of their past – my past.” Nikola went quiet for a moment. “What happens if I hurt someone? I have not been entirely honest with you – even before – there is an urge inside me and I cannot control it. I want to kill her, Gregory. Do you understand? I look at Helen and…”

Gregory faltered for a moment.

“Exactly…” Nikola hissed.

Neither man was aware of the small figure listening at the door, peering through the ajar door into the room.

“Nikola, I cannot just let you…”

“Yes, you can,” Nikola laid his hand on Gregory’s shoulder for a moment. Then, Nikola turned to his desk and pulled the top draw out. A heavy needle rolled forward with the action, caught by Nikola’s quick fingers. “It would be foolish to delay – I can already feel it stirring.”

29

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER

Gregory was shaking his head.

“No, Nikola – this – this is madness…” he whispered, watching in horror as Nikola expertly pierced the vial with the syringe, drawing the dark blood up into the shaft. The liquid looked sinister, swirling around in its transparent prison. “She will never forgive me.”

Nikola held it aloft – examining his death with a kind of morbid curiosity. A deep shiver ran down his back and over his skin as the storm over the mountains stirred. It was growing closer. With every stream of light that ripped through the sky, Nikola lost a measure of control.

He held out the needle to Gregory with a pleading look in his near-black eyes.

“If you please,” was all Nikola said, as if he were simply offering Gregory a seat. The only thing that betrayed Nikola’s resolve was the slight shake of his hand as the needle passed between them.

*~*~*

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost…” the old man drawled, as Charles Fort collapsed back in his chair looking pale.

Charles stared blankly at the wall in front. The boy he’d seen – it was – he was barely alive. This shell of a creature was now under his charge and the thought despaired him. Nigel Griffin, whatever he had been before, was long gone – transformed into a monstrosity of the human form.

“Mind your own matters…” Charles snapped back at the old man, with uncharacteristic scorn. What was he supposed to do with impossible tasks? The only thing he could do – he would write to Milka.

*~*~*

Helen rolled over, woken early from sleep. Her room was dark and the sky beyond the window flickering with stars. It was late – that much she could tell by the heaviness of her limbs as she climbed from bed and crossed the cool room. There was a bright beam of light slicing through the night, coming from the room next to hers – Nikola’s room.

“Miss Tesla?” she asked softly, when she saw Milka in the hallway, lingering by the ajar door.

Milka turned at once, lifting a hand to hush Helen.

“What’s going on?” Helen inquired, quietly this time, as she moved over to the other woman. She could hear Nikola and her father talking softly in the room but could not understand what they were saying.

“I do not know…” Milka whispered – her voice heavily accented, returning to her position by the door. “Your father looks like he is about to administer an injection of some form to Nikola. I did not know that he was ill.”

The rose oil? Helen thought, moving to peer over her shoulder into the room. What she saw made her breath catch. It was not rose oil – it was deeper than that – more horrifying.

“Good God,” Helen whispered. “Is that blood?”

*~*~*

Inside the room, Gregory held the needle to the light, tapping it several times so that a full drop of red fell to the floor – shattering over the ground.

“Before I…” Gregory trailed off briefly. “Nikola, I am sorry for this,” his voice lowered into something that was barely a whisper. “I only wish that I could help you instead of this. You are a good man,” he finished, pressing the sharp tip of the needle to Nikola’s skin. “What do I tell Helen?”

Nikola was quiet for a moment.

“Tell her – tell her that I do not regret it, and that this was my choice.” He did not wish to see her carry any blame at all. “And tell her…” his voice caught as images of his life back at Oxford flickered by – stark against reality; Helen lifting her head with a faint smile over her lips – an open window with a storm and her leaning on his shoulder – the nights that dragged to morning without either of them noticing – her fiery voice rising above the lecture bringing a smirk of amusement to his lips.

“Tell her I apologise for leaving her experiment early…” he settled on. It felt – apt. She would understand.

Gregory nodded, albeit reluctantly.

“If you are ready then,” he said, brushing his thumb over the glass syringe. Just as he pierced Nikola’s skin, the door flew open, slamming against the wall with such force one of its hinges snapped off.

Milka stormed through the room, striking at Gregory’s hand – knocking the needle free. It tumbled through the air, almost surreal in its slow spiral down before it powderised on the floor leaving nothing but a dark stain on the wood.

The two men stood in shock for a moment, their eyes lifting to the livid young woman whose dark hair and wide blue eyes were made her look every inch as threatening as a vampire.

Helen still lingered in the door, not quite understanding what had very nearly transpired. Nikola saw her there, dressed in only the fine cotton nightie – pale in the evening light. Instantly he felt his stomach clench as his body fought the change. The room was getting brighter as his eyes darkened and expanded. The urge was simply too strong, he would kill her if he stayed.

He broke away from Gregory and Milka, rushing past Helen and out along the hallway – taking the corner straight to the front door which he threw open. Nikola landed in the freshly fallen snow, willing each of his laboured steps to flee.

Helen instinctively followed, vanishing from the room in an instant.

“Helen!” he father screamed out, trying to go after her but the small Serbian girl pushed back against his chest.

“You knew!” she hissed, unable to believe that their house guest had nearly killed Nikola. “He is my brother!”

Helen could see Nikola not far ahead, trudging slowly through the snow until he stumbled – crawled a little way, and then willed himself back to his feet.

Nikola…” she whispered, following him – gaining ground quickly. When she reached him, Helen instinctively took hold of his shoulders, trying to stop his progress. “Nikola stop – just stop!” she pleaded, slipping in front of him, ignoring the freezing cold air.

What she found made her hesitate. She had seen Nikola morph before – even under the effects of the rose oil he would sometimes start to turn but this – this was different. There was something distinctly wild and ancient about the look in his eyes. It was as if she was not looking at Nikola at all, but some creature that had crawled its way back from the edges of the world.

“N-Nikola…” she whispered, reminding herself firmly that despite appearances this was Nikola.

“Helen,” he growled, trying to carefully bat away her hands with his while they were still human. “You must let me go – I cannot stay here, you must let me go…” he kept pleading.

Part of him wanted her blood – wanted to kill her and the other to protect her – it was simply tearing him apart.

“You cannot be here,” he said, his voice barely human – his body constantly fighting the change eating away his humanity. “You do not understand Helen – I want – it wants to kill you and now I cannot be killed. I must leave this place at once and never return.”

Helen was shaking her head, not believing his words.

“Don’t do this, Nikola. You need me. I need you…” This was her fault. She had brought this upon the five of them. What had started as an innocent curiosity had mutated into something destructive. Nigel was gone, James spent more and more time away and John was oddly silent – distant – and something in that disturbed her. It was a cruel twist of fate that she was the only one to resist the effects of the experiment.

“No…” he exhaled sadly, pushing her away more forcibly – or trying to. Every time he attempted to move from her he found her hands clutched back at his jacket, refusing to let him leave. “Stop this, Helen. Go back to the hou-”

Nikola was silenced as Helen dragged him into her arms, her freezing hands tangled in his coat.

“If you kill me, you kill me… Either we both die or neither of us.”

She had realised that it was her blood that would kill him – it must be for she remembered the prick in her arm that night on the couch and the crimson needle about to break Nikola’s skin. There was something in her blood that fought against the Source Blood, that rejected it. To inject or ingest it would surely start a fatal war within Nikola’s body – a sure way to kill the unkillable.

It was too late to do anything about Helen’s choice. Nikola could feel the sweep of coldness through him as he started to change. He accepted her embrace, holding onto her tightly as his eyes darkened and the evening brightened into a glistening – snow choked landscape with the lightening flashing over the ground, reflected like the watery sunset on the ocean – the dying embers of the world.

“…Helen…” he whispered, closing his black eyes and burying his head dangerously against the warm skin of her neck.

She felt him settle there, closer to her than he had ever been. He smelled of the pine forest behind them, of snow and of science. There was a faint tingle of electricity through him as if he were borrowing some of it from the storm rumbling over the mountains.

How had she never noticed before – never realised what must have been so plain to see? She loved him and yet, she had destroyed him.

“…Nikola…” she murmured in return, feeling the inevitable change in his body as the vampire in him surfaced.

Nikola changed. His skin paled to rival the snow, nails grew and heart rate slowed. The smell of blood, Helen’s, tainted the air whilst that irrepressible hunger inside of him tried to claw its way to the surface.

No… he insisted to himself. Gregory’s words came back to him. He was not just the by-product of Helen’s experiment – vampirism was in his soul, in his blood – part of his heritage. He could control it – quiet it. The vampires of ancient times were not simply blood-hungry animals, they had built up civilisation around them therefore reason told him that he could control this – he would.

There was a long moment of silence with two figures standing still against the night.

“Is that still you?” a quiet voice against Nikola’s shoulder asked. They have been there many minutes but neither of them had moved.

“Yes…” he replied firmly, in defiance of the transformation. His voice was low and crackled, almost inhumane but he was still Nikola Tesla.

“Oh thank god…” Helen pulled back enough to see him. Gracious… it didn’t look like him but-

Helen flinched, not sure why at first. There was a fluttering in her stomach – something not quite right as if she were nauseous. At the sight of Nikola’s dark vampire eyes and sharp row of teeth, a foreign sensation came over Helen and a frightening realisation that was not her own.

She wanted him dead.

Before she could recoil in horror at the thought, Helen had withdrawn the small knife she kept on herself at all times for protection.

*~*~*

Gregory and Milka were still in Nikola’s room. The young lady, who it turned out could be as fierce as any Cabal, had Gregory backed against the window, thoroughly dressing him down about attempting to kill her brother. So far she’d had nearly every secret from the man – the five, the blood – she’d blinked a little at the first mention of ‘vampire’ but was willing to accept that there were a lot of things about the world she did not know. If her love for Charles Fort had taught her anything, it was that the world was vast and its secrets deep.

“And that is the best that you could come up with – your genius solution – allowing my brother to murder himself for the sake of your daughter? After everything that this family has done for you…” Milka had her sharp finger pressed into Gregory’s chest. “I should throw you out of my house, Dr Magnus! Out into the freezing snow-”

Milka briefly paused her tirade to look out the window where she saw the unexpected sight of two figures locked in an embrace, illuminated by the soft light of the house. She wasn’t sure what to make of the gesture, Gregory turning his head cautiously to see what had taken Milka’s attention.

They both watched on first in confusion, then in horror as Helen appeared to stab something suddenly into Nikola, who arched and recoiled away from her – lifting his clawed hands as if to beg her to stop only for Helen to attack him again, the impact sending them both writhing into the snow.

Gregory swore sharply, pushing away from Milka and rushing through the house. This is exactly what he had been afraid of…

“Helen…!” he shouted, running as best he could through the thick, soft snow. Gregory saw the blood first – the snow around them was covered in dark streaks and drops as was Helen’s nightie.

It was all Nikola’s. Afraid of hurting her with his sharp claws – Nikola could do little to defend himself against Helen’s attacks except to plead and whisper her name, trying to drag her out of whatever force had a hold of her.

Gregory grabbed his daughter firmly and pulled her off Nikola, the force of it making them both fall back.

“Get him inside!” Gregory screamed at Milka, who had followed him out. “Take him back to his room – quickly!” They had to separate them – as fast as possible.

Milka was in shock at the sight of her brother as a vampire – claws and teeth and – god those eyes didn’t even look human any more. He was still her brother though, and he needed her so Milka scooped him out of the snow with more strength than most gave her credit for and took him back into the house.

Helen continued to struggle in Gregory’s arms. It took him all his skill to relieve her of the knife – throwing it somewhere out into the snow where it could do no further harm.

“Sh…” he whispered, hand resting on her head to calm her. “It’s over – it’s over…”

*~*~*

Nikola and Helen were locked in separate rooms.

Helen – unharmed but terribly shaken was wrapped in blankets staring blankly at the cup of tea before her. Nikola was laid down on the bed in his room with Milka cleaning and bandaging the multiple knife wounds that Helen had left. They were starting to close up already but Milka was determined to fuss. He was still a vampire – and every now and then Milka would pause – eyeing the long claws or glancing at his inhumane face.

“I know about the experiment,” she said quietly, securing one of the bandages. Milka had that same scornful tone that their mother used to use. “Why…?” she asked sharply, unable to understand what would possess her brother to do such a thing to himself.

It was a good question – and its answer deceptively simple.

Nikola lifted his hand to her cheek, saw his long claws and immediately lowered it.

“Curiosity…” he replied softly.

That only earned him an even darker look from Milka who may have tied that last bandage just a bit too tight.

*~*~*

James Watson found himself strolling through the British Museum with the other gentleman and ladies, wandering by the daunting array of exhibits with the crowds. He was not here to sight-see though.

His gaze picked through the bustling crowd, searching for the tall, slender form of Sherlock Holmes. The man was late – an irritating habit that he seemed to have, indeed sometimes he did not show at all if something else had taken his fancy during the day.

When Sherlock Holmes did finally arrive, he looked decidedly worse for wear. His general scruffiness was accentuated by a significant amount of dust that made it look as if he’d been crawling about somewhere that he shouldn’t – cobwebs collected on his shoulder and a dark grease stain on his neck. Added to that was the notable absence of his cane and pipe.

“Busy day…?” James tried very hard not to berate the tardy detective – too much…

Sherlock seemed oblivious to his lateness and instead started strolling about the museum, leaning in curiously to various glass cases – always inspecting, always moving. He was nauseating to watch.

“Your friend is here,” Sherlock muttered absently, tapping a stone idol with his long finger.

James was silent for a moment in mild shock.

“Nigel is here…” he repeated the man’s words. “How do you know?”

“I have been following those ‘Cabal’ men of yours – did a bit of checking with some of my associates. The man we followed here on the first day and who has made several return visits is Professor Samuel Griffin – Nigel Griffin’s father.”

“Nigel’s father is Cabal…” James whispered, horrified. The link was implied if not obvious even if Sherlock made no sound of confirmation.

“The ‘Cabal’ as you call it, is well hidden under layers of legitimate businesses. ‘Empire Cotton’ is one such business that Professor Griffin is a Company Director of… These people, whoever they are, have been around for a very long time…”

The manner in which Sherlock drawled those last few words beckoned Watson to follow him – the air suddenly thick with intrigue as Sherlock slinked away. James, knowing that it was better not to question the man when he was in one of his moods, allowed himself to be led through the various exhibits, weaving their way between the banks of gentlemen peering through glass enclosures at the curiosities of past worlds and times that seemed more like a dream to Victorian England.

James Watson’s mind was elsewhere… Nigel’s father was Cabal. Surely – logically – that made Nigel Cabal as well. Had they been betrayed by the very person they’d trusted their secrets to? He’d always been a quiet man. Too quiet. God, how could he not have seen it? Was that why he kept a diary – scrawl down their lives and hand them over to the Cabal…

It was clear that Sherlock knew exactly where he was going, quickly making use of an unassuming staff door to slip out of the fray and into the quieter world of the museum’s inner sanctum.

“…Holmes…” James started to question, as it became clear that they were definitely out of place. One of the interns paused to look at them, unsure whether to stop them or not. Sherlock merely silenced James with a raised hand and beckoned him to continue following.

If James had tried this himself, he most certainly would have been stopped – but there was something in the airs and manners of Sherlock that allowed him to wander through untouched by the world through a seemingly endless array of settings without disruption.

It was only when they descended another flight of stone stairs and picked their way through a lock that Sherlock started to sneak. He was frightfully good at it too – near vanishing into the semi-darkness like a nocturnal predator.

“This way…” Sherlock said, voice low as he tapped the door with his shoe, opening it to a cold rush of stale air.

It took James a moment to realise that they had entered the first layer of the museum vaults. Lining the walls of the dusty room were items that were awaiting their display. Crates and boxes of artefacts were all decorated with hand tied labels determining their exhibit, contents and origin. Most obvious amongst the collection were the half-lion, half-winged creatures of the Babylonian statues that used to decorate the walls of Babylon. James took a moment to linger in front of the giant things – his skin chilling at the sinister expressions carved into the solid sandstone.

“Come along, Watson,” Sherlock hit the other man sharply behind the knees with a stick he’d stolen from along the walls. Gentle persuasion had never been a talent of Sherlock’s.

They were in the first of many rooms – each harder to break into than the next. With each door they penetrated – the collection of the museum’s treasures thickened. When they were in the fifth room, the air was well and truly laden with the dust of the ancient world. The blank eyes of stuffed creatures peered back at the gentlemen progressing through the room whilst the unopened crates, piled high on top of each other, were like a forest around them.

“Gracious…” James breathed. The museum above was impressive – but seeing the unprocessed mass of history all compressed here together was breathtaking.

Sherlock had far more interest in the coffin-like crate ahead – the one with its lid missing and the edges where it had been, broken and splintered as if it had been attacked by a crowbar and left open and empty in the corner of the room.

“What is this?” James asked, coming to stand behind the empty crate. It looked – unassuming except for its obvious lack of occupation and identification label.

“Your friend,” Sherlock began, “Griffin – he was in this crate not three days ago.”

“…he’s dead?” James stared down at the empty coffin. For all the anger and suspicion he had directed at Nigel – to think him dead…

“No,” Sherlock replied simply, after a moment. He had deliberately delayed his response in order to examine James’s reaction. “I do not believe that he is.”

God – then what on earth was he doing in a coffin? James mused sombrely.

James made a more careful inspection of the crate. There were no obvious signs that Nigel was injured – no blood or damage inflicted on the box from the inside.

“His father – Professor Griffin, is a regular guest of the museum and patron – though, despite his ongoing funding of this institution, he has never shown much of a personal interest and yet he is here every afternoon at four.”

Why would the Cabal help to fund the museum? They didn’t strike James as the philanthropic types.

“You think that Nigel is here, with his father?” replied James, not sure what to think anymore.

Sherlock simply nodded.

“This – Cabal – formally the Ba’altic Resistance – I have taken the opportunity to do a little digging. Now, I admit that anthropology is and was never a strength of mine but I think you may find this of use to you.”

At that, Sherlock left the crate and continued through the room.

*~*~*

“Were you the only one that changed?” Professor Griffin sat forward to lean on the desk in one of the private rooms of the museum. The air was claustrophobic with the high backed chairs barely able to fit inside where several people were pressed against each other – observing the pair at the desk.

Nigel – barely lucid, pulled a blanket tighter around his naked form.

“What?” he answered weakly, his body starved of food and sunlight. He had been submitted to an endless amount of tests – some of them he was conscious for – some of them not. He had lost all track of time and days.

Professor Griffin slammed his frail fist down hard on the table to snap his son to attention.

The experiment – Helen’s house – the vampire blood.

“No…” he replied groggily. There was a cocktail of drugs running through his system, making the world blur in and out of focus.

Griffin was taking notes, scratching down things whenever Nigel spoke. The quill may as well have been a knife for all the damage that it would do.

“Druitt, Tesla, Watson – Magnus – ” Griffin trailed their names of – the last with considerable distaste. They had not been able to find Gregory Magnus or his daughter since that evening in the alley. They needed that blood sample. “What became of them?”

“I – I don’t know…”

“When Bill found you – you had been attacked by – a creature,” Griffin snarled. “Was it one of them?”

Nigel nodded – face contorted and then he tried to shake his head in denial though it was too late.

Griffin ran through the names again before he got a response – his son hesitated at the sound of Tesla’s name. Of course, the foreigner.

The questioning continued in this manner for many hours. By the time that Professor Griffin had finished with his son he had learnt one very important thing; the reaction that Gregory’s daughter had had to the serum had been unique… She was a natural rejection of the Abnormal blood – a – a cure, perhaps. He needed to find Gregory’s daughter in order to save his son from the sickening bastardisation of nature that he had become.

*~*~*

Not demons of the underworld,” Sherlock corrected, as James read aloud from one of the research journals they had pulled out of a box of archives. There were dozens of notebooks in the box at their feet – a collection of hand written journals from various scientists, historians and explorers throughout history. Some of them were contemporary – others were copies made of ancient scrolls appearing in their original Greek and Latin forms which James had no trouble browsing over.

“No, these were ‘travesties of the human form’. I believe you call them Abnormals – mutations from the norm – nature’s experiments.” Sherlock presented one of the journals to Watson to have a closer look at the sketches.

“The ancient Cabal captured and killed these creatures?” James flicked through the pages.

“You are playing with a very large cat, Watson – are you sure that you wish to continue this?”

“Do I have a choice?” he replied, hand going to his hip in thought. They won’t stop hunting us – not after what we did. We’re too valuable to them. Goddammit!” he growled, kicking the empty box in fury.

*~*~*

Nikola soon learned that his vampire formed could not hold him indefinitely – it was like it needed to rest and so, come the morning – he awoke to himself again – his claws replaced with human hands.

Helen…” he groaned, remembering the bloodshed in the snow. He went to sit up but his sister’s hand on his chest pushed him firmly down. “Milka… let me go,” he pleaded softly.

Milka shook her head firmly.

“You nearly killed each other last night – you will stay where you are,” she snapped, still clearly upset by the turn of events. “Miss Magnus was unharmed but her father does not think that it is a good idea for you to see her.” Ever.

After a few minutes argument, Nikola managed to sit up, pulling his shirt away from his chest and examining the bandages that had been wrapped around him. Through protest, he unwound them, finding his skin smooth and unmarked beneath.

“God…” Milka whispered. There was no way that he could heal like that – the stab wounds had been deep and messy. “The Magnus’s will be leaving this afternoon,” she said simply. “You cannot both stay here or one of you will end up dead. That much is abundantly clear.”

Nikola shook his head firmly.

“She cannot go home, Milka. The Cabal are waiting at her door. That is why we are here – she has nowhere else to go.”

“And what happens tonight, Nikola? Will you try and kill her again? Will she try and kill you…? We cannot live like this.”

“No,” Nikola agreed. It was far too dangerous. “I will go…”

*~*~*

Later that afternoon, Nikola’s bags were loaded into a waiting carriage. He lingered by the house, pacing through the snow with the sound of his sister and Gregory arguing in the background.

Idly, he wandered off the path and onto the snow covered grass, wandering along the side of the building until he came upon Helen’s frost covered window. He could just see through it to where she was sitting at his desk, her head between her hands.

Nikola knocked softly on the glass to catch her attention.

She looked up at once, pushing her chair back and hurrying to the window. They could not talk to each other through the thick, frosted window but Nikola pressed his hand against the cold glass – a silent apology as his clear, blue eyes looked sadly upon her.

Helen’s hand rested against the glass, mimicking his – feeling some flicker of warmth there.

Their worlds had been separated by something more cruel than a layer of glass – something the departing winter could not amend.

30

WILD ROSES AND EMPTY BOXES

The train back across Europe seemed all the more long and cold without Helen Magnus. During the day, Nikola would sit at the window of his private compartment and stare out at the frozen world, keeping to himself as the train rattled its way over glassy lakes and expanses of farmland all locked into place by the snow drifts encroaching down from the black mountains.

He looked ill, but only because his skin was as frosted as the ice-choked landscape. The only part of him that remained untouched were his eyes, still a startling shade of blue, piercing anyone that dared approach.

Of an evening, he paid good money to one of the staff to tie him down to the bed with leather straps and lock the door with strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed. They only agreed out of fear and the look in those blue eyes – it was of quiet pleading, a dark desperation that spoke of a man that had lost his grip on the world which no amount of solitude could claw back.

Nikola needed to discover his history, their history, if The Five were going to have any future in this world. To do this, he would have to travel to London and the sprawling museum that coveted the secrets of the world. He had never been inside the walls of the British Museum, but its reputation more than preceded it.

First, though, Nikola had to return to Oxford. He had unfinished business with a treacherous professor…

“Tea or coffee?” a lady with a trolley rattled to a stop beside the open door.

“Coffee,” Nikola replied, more alone in the world than ever. Goodness knows what had become of James, John and Nigel.

He briefly wondered how his snowy pigeon was doing. She had probably hidden for the winter by now making a nest out of the eves above his window. His old friend that he had neglected since this lust for knowledge had begun.

*~*~*

Helen Magnus was not happy.

Her fierce gaze was levelled at her father as he worked at the dining table in the Tesla house. The silence was full of hurt and confusion. There had been too many secrets and now Nikola was gone.

Milka had been standing by the window for hours, watching the snow fall. She looked a little like a vampire herself, pale and tall. Helen’s eyes kept flicking to her, feeling hopelessly guilty for what had transpired and angry…

“Helen…” Gregory drawled quietly, not looking up from his diary. The long feathered quill was darting over the page, scratching it a little. It was Nikola’s and quietly hostile to this new user. “You could stare down death itself.”

His daughter kept glaring, the windows around the house vanishing under ice even though the fire burned brightly behind them. Nikola’s cat was stretched out in front of it, pawing at the carpet.

“Tesla has made his choice,” Gregory continued. “He is a grown man – he will be all right.”

Helen knew him better. Nikola was one of those people that needed to be looked after – brilliant scientist – but if not watched carefully he’d forget to eat or put on a warm jacket when watching the storms roll over.

“He is going to get himself killed,” she said quietly, keeping her voice low enough so that Milka could not hear. She did anyway, shifting slightly by the window. “The Cabal know what we have done. If he returns to Oxford, they will hunt him down.”

They had come close before and with James, John and Nigel scattered, there was no safe harbour left.

Gregory carefully set the pen down on the journal. He was not sure he understood why, but his daughter clearly had an affection for this man. Gregory had always found Mr Tesla rather abrasive and, well, odd.

“My first concern in the world is you…” he insisted. Sometimes, Gregory could not help noticing how very much like her mother Helen was. He could almost see her sometimes. “Part of the secret of your immortality is in the caves around this house. Tesla’s heritage and the heritage of vampires. We’re not leaving until I have collected more information and with it, perhaps we can set things right.”

He reached over the table for her hand which she relented and gave him. Gregory squeezed his daughter’s hand softly.

“Help me…” he whispered.

*~*~*

Nigel Griffin was huddled towards the back of a small, bare room – his body shivering with the London cold. The little food that had been provided for him lay untouched at the door. He could smell the narcotics embedded in it, the untested concoctions that the Cabal used to keep him medicated and more ‘communicative’. If they wanted any more of his secrets, then Nigel was determined that they would have to result to more persuasive means. All he could do was hope that his father would not go so far.

He startled slightly when the heavy bolt holding the door closed slipped with a clunk. A stocky man entered the room. He was definitely European though he looked more Dutch than English with his thick moustache hiding the top of his lip. This man certainly did not appear to be of the same cut as the other Cabal henchmen but no doubt his purpose would be.

“Mr Griffin, I presume?” Charles said softly, almost in a friendly manner as he approached the blanket hanging over what looked like air. His accent was a mixture of American and European and heavy, almost drowning out the words.

Definitely not home-grown Cabal.

Nigel was invisible but was able to slowly flicker into focus, keeping the blanket tight around him. It was his only possession in the world. He did not reply, merely nodded.

“Do you mind if I refer to you as, ‘Nigel’…?” It always helped to give things a name – it calmed them.

Charles noted that the man was clearly in poor health, pale and sickly looking with his hands constantly shaking. Though, compared to how he had looked when Professor Griffin had first opened that crate, Nigel was the picture of health. Fascinating, he thought coldly.

“If it pleases you,” Nigel replied dryly.

“My name is Charles Fort,” Charles said, striding into the room so that the guards could close the door, giving them some privacy. “Your father has –” he paused as Nigel half-laughed. “-has sent me here in order to be of assistance to you. He wishes me to undo whatever it was that has transpired.”

“What is done cannot be undone,” Nigel stated simply. “As you cannot un-burn a match you cannot remove what’s embedded itself within me.”

“Forgive me, Nigel – but you shall have to convince me of that and for your own sake, I hope that you are wrong.”

“What will he do to me – if I can’ be ‘fixed’?” Nigel asked quietly after a while.

Charles shifted uncomfortably on his feet wondering what on Earth he was doing here. He should have stayed with Milka instead. She still wrote to him, her letters beating him to London. He read them all with a tender heart.

“He will make you disappear…” Charles answered reluctantly, the truth burning on his lips.

Charles was here to help, not harm – but if he was unsuccessful…

*~*~*

Oxford was bleak as Nikola Tesla stepped off the carriage onto the icy path, tucking his coat around himself as he crossed the road and started off down the street. It seemed that the winter had stolen all of its charm leaving little but skeletal trees and cold stone, both of which looked grey against the equally colourless sky. The other gentlemen and ladies kept close to each other – huddling against the chill that had settled over the world.

Nikola came to a stop in front of the old wooden door, fishing a key from his pocket and slipping it into the brass lock. It turned at once, the door opening in to the house that had been abandoned for so long. As feared, the Magnus house was in a sad state of disarray having been once again raided by filthy Cabal hands no doubt searching for Gregory and his daughter.

He picked his way through the broken furniture and shredded books, veering left into Gregory’s office. The window had been smashed open, its curtaining billowing over a floor showered in glass. Stepping over the mess of displaced possessions, Nikola placed a board to cover the window and at least stop the cold as he turned back to the house.

This would be his home for a while – at least until he found James, Nigel and John and discovered the heart of what was really going on with The Five and the Cabal. Nikola was determined to unravel this mess and bring it to an end, one way or another.

When Nikola was certain that he had secured the house, he took the other key that Gregory had given him and located the stairs at the back of the house – ducking quickly up them where he found a door. He unlooked it and reached into the darkness, his hand grasping at the promised lantern which he lit quickly, sending a warm glow of light upon the attic. This place was untouched – left exactly as Gregory had described.

Nikola inched into the room, his eyes lingering on the piles of paper and letters covering the upturned boxes. There was a certain sweet smell up here, coating the air. He momentarily lingered on a leather bound journal, flicking through it pages seeing the contorted faces of fanciful creatures but his attention was drawn away to something that was not supposed to be there.

Tangled over the collective of upturned crates was a thicket of thorns and dark green leaves. A vine was thriving in the darkness of the attic, growing into the papers and books as if seeking the knowledge in their pages. It was slender but strong, hostile to any touch with razor-edged leaves. Peaking out from underneath this hell were flecks of colour. Wild roses.

“Bloody hell, Gregory…” Nikola whispered, stepping closer. He had never seen anything like it.

Carefully, Nikola bent down. The closer he got to the roses, the stronger the sweet smell became. This is what Gregory used for the rose oil, the only thing that could calm the vampire tendencies within him.

“So that’s why you sent me here… Clever boy.”

*~*~*

With Nigel returned to his holding cell once it became clear that he had too many drugs in his system to be of use, Professor Griffin and his colleagues discussed their options. The group of Cabal had men returned to the museum, going back through the little research that they had managed to find on the history of Abnormals. Despite more than adequate finance, the museum had not been particularly forthcoming. They were dealing with academics, and they worked at a special pace that made snails look like a rare breed of racing hound.

A sample of Nigel’s blood would give them a trace of the vampire blood that Gregory Magnus had cheated them out of. That much, Professor Griffin knew for certain and had his scientists in Oxford working on – though it was hardly the same thing. It would never be any more than a watered down whisper. A last resort – but at least it was something.

Samuel’s body was failing quickly. His white hair fell limply around his face and his skin hung off his bones like tissue paper.

These bastardised creatures – vampires – they had the secret of immortality and he was not going to give it up then he would undo what these monsters had done to his son.

There was a knock at the door breaking the huddle of whispering scientists apart. An old man opened the door. It was one caretakers from the museum, the one that always seemed to be quietly pushing paper in the office.

“Excuse me, gentleman,” the man said, leaning heavily on his cane with his back bent double. He was covered in dust and smelled of the vaults almost as if he were one of the exhibits. “There were two men asking about you.”

The old man was observant, carefully studying the faces of those that standing around Professor Griffin. He had a talented memory, one that could tell what profession you had chosen in life, the number of children that you had – if you were rich, a gambler or murderous just from a couple of careful glances.

Professor Griffin hardly noticed the old man but seemed troubled by the comment.

“Who?” he rasped sharply, giving his notes to one of the other men to hide away in a briefcase.

“They did not leave their name but I heard them speaking out in the foyer, they have come up from Oxford.”

That only darkened Griffin’s mood. He knew well who they must be, two of the gentleman involved in the experiment.

The old man turned to leave but then lingered at the door, looking over his shoulder. “I thought I heard them say that they were staying at Inn down on Southampton Row.”

*~*~*

“What the devil are you doing now?” James had always thought that Sherlock was a strange sort of gentleman but really, sometimes he was entirely inexplicable. Especially now, as he all of a sudden ducked into a side street ad kicked in an old door. Then, instead of entering the premises he had just unlawfully broken into, Sherlock scurried down the alleyway and hid behind a pile of crates.

James indulged him, only because he was curious, squatting out of sight.

Several minutes later there was a clamour and quick succession of footsteps as two men in dark, cheap cotton suits and thick leather cloves came to a stop in front of the door. They did not say anything, looking at each other before cautiously going inside.

Now James understood – and was rather disturbed that he had not noticed.

“How long have they been following us?” he asked in a whisper.

“Two days,” Sherlock replied, stepping out of the shadows and calmly pacing back past the door. He lingered, closing the doors silently and locking them in with his cane, trapping the men inside. Life was like a game to Sherlock. He knew that one day he’d lose, but in the meantime he was going to enjoy himself. “I don’t owe anyone money at the moment so I can only assume that they are following you.”

That, and the make of their suits.

“Cabal,” James slipped on his gloves as the wind took on a chill, a few snow flakes wafting down. It wasn’t quite snowing in London but it was definitely trying to. It would though, there was a storm sweeping over Europe and it was only a matter of time before it reached the white cliffs.

“They’re not very friendly.”

They certainly weren’t. The two men were even less happy when they discovered that they’d been tricked.

“It’s time we got back to work,” said Sherlock, swiping a new, more expensive cane from a street stall. It had a brass head in the shape of a lion head and was smooth, worn and scratched from a long life of use.

“That’s stealing…” James pointed out.

“I’m providing a service to humanity,” Sherlock replied, testing out the strength of the stick in his hands.

“About that service to humanity – we have found nothing on this, ‘Jack the Ripper’ since we have come here. Is it possible that he has moved on?”

“Serial killers don’t move on,” Sherlock wove through the crowds milling by the water’s edge. “They like to make nests and our friend has made his nest right here. ”

“Charming.”

“We have to wait, they always make a mistake and when they do, we’ll be there my dear Watson.”

“I’m not your dear anything,” James frowned, when Sherlock hit him playfully with his new walking stick. This one was definitely sharper than the other one. Sometimes James missed John, Nigel and even Nikola’s company.

“They only thing that you have to keep in mind is that we are more infinitely more intelligent. Well…” he looked James up and down critically, “moderately more in your case.”

*~*~*

John closed all the windows and doors in his apartment. He had packed up all the newspaper clippings that James used to leave all over the floor and returned order. It was almost clinical – the fire, the chair and the glass of wine He liked the control.

He knew what his dreams were now – what his blackouts had meant. It was part of his mind finally crawling out of the shadows and he felt so alive as he let it take him over.

The others could never understand. Ripping through time and space, it was a rush like nothing else, something that was changing him. He was changing. John almost didn’t recognise himself now as he half-smiled at the women that brushed by him in the dead of night, beckoning him their eyes.

He was all too willing to go with them, to let them take his money.

It was the same story every time. A tender start like he wanted with… with Helen. It was only now that he realised his affection for the woman that had started this whole thing. Helen Magnus. One day he would find her.

In an old, run down room, the street women sat him down. He’d run his hands over their shoulders, across their delicate necks with the pale skin blushing. It was the blood he wanted, pulsing beneath the surface.

Somehow the vampire urges in the Source Blood had been corrupted. John wanted to see the red liquid spill, almost like a hunger.

Tonight, this woman seemed to be enjoying herself, already moaning as he undid the lace work at the back of her corset. Her hair was long and blond, falling in loose curls over her shoulder as he placed a gentle kiss against her spine.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered, in a low voice that he knew they liked.

He’d enjoy her first – he had paid afterall.

*~*~*

Helen held the lantern while her father tried to shuffle between the rocks. They were high above the snow covered valley where Nikola’s house snuggled near the tree line, slotted in amongst the sharp rocks where it was warmer. The whole hillside was a honeycomb of caves that moved deeper and deeper, seeking out something.

Gregory took the lantern from her as she clambered through, dressed in riding pants. It was the only source of light now and whenever it flickered, they had to relay on the feel of the rock under their hands, and the freshness of the air to keep them safe.

When Helen finally made it into the small alcove, she realised exactly why her father was so excited about these caves.

Gregory held up the lantern.

In front of them was a pair of sandstone columns, completely unlike the native rock in the area, ornately carved at the top and bottom where they met the cave. They were marble with white, grey and pink streaked through their surfaces almost like ripples in water. These columns of rock looked as beautiful as the day they were set.

It was an entranceway.

“Goodness…” Helen whispered, reaching out to touch the cool stone. Hers were the first hands to caress the stone in hundreds of years. Possibly thousands.

Gregory stood beside her at the entranceway. They could be walking through the gates of hell or finally into the light of immortality.

31

PRINCE OF BLOOD

Two figures holding a single lantern, passed through the stone pillars and descended into the vampire underworld. The light flickered weakly, barely illuminating their faces.

Everything about this felt like a foolish idea.

It may have been thousands of years since the old days of glory and blood lust, but they were dealing with immortals – a race that could be slumbering beneath, waiting for their chance to once again rule over the world. Creatures that were no doubt a little upset about being usurped by a rabble of flea-bitten humans.

All Helen and Gregory Magnus could hear was the shuffle of their feet and a quiet trickle of water running over the ground; snow melt, gradually working its way through the rock. It had carved these caves for longer than any human or vampire had lived. To it, the humans were nothing but a passing curiosity, something that would vanish as quickly as it had come.

There were no choices – only one, long tunnel that kept on winding down into the Earth. It was almost coaxing them deeper, promising them that something would come from the darkness.

“Are you sure that this is a good idea?” Helen whispered, staying close to her father.

Gregory, although older now, was a born explorer. He knew exactly how to tilt his hips and place his feet so as not to slip on the wet stone floor. The deeper they went, the more Gregory started to notice a scent on the air – something sweet. He was the one holding his daughter’s hand to keep her steady.

“I wonder how deep this goes…” Gregory said, his free hand on the wall to steady himself, cold water dripping slowly down his wrist. Beneath his fingertips, the black walls turned into rough, pale pink sandstone while small amounts of sand started to crunch underfoot.

It was a long way, an hour perhaps until the ground finally flattened. Helen found it difficult to judge the progression of time without the sky. Even Gregory tried to read his watch but found it had cracked against the stone on the way down.

They had expected more than bare walls after the wondrous pillars but the caves were determined in their barren landscape. At least here it was wider. Pools of fresh water formed where the ceiling dripped. Their lamplight spread further too, bouncing off the light coloured walls full of scratches that looked ominously like claw marks.

Helen’s fingers settled into some of the marks, the grooves etched deep into the ancient rock.

*~*~*

Nikola picked up every piece of furniture in the Magnus household, setting them all back in their place. He may have been a particular gentleman before but now he was compulsive, completing activities in triplets. Folding handkerchiefs three times, striking three matches for each lantern…

Last, he found wood for the fire, setting it alight until the house was warm once again with a friendly glow. There was nothing he could do about the broken windows but at least with the curtains drawn order had been restored.

With a glass of Port, admittedly stolen from the silver tray and crystal decanter, Nikola sat himself down behind Gregory’s desk and wrote three letters, to his sister, Helen and Gregory. Of course, he didn’t sign them, ‘Tesla’ – no, he was rather hoping that the Cabal might still think him dead after the night escaping the University. Instead, he signed, ‘yours affectionately, Macak’.

Copies of the notes from the Paper Museum which Charles Fort had brought were scattered in front of him, their delicate pages flapping in the breeze sneaking in the shattered window. Grotesque images of vampires stared back at Nikola, all fangs and claws with pits for eyes. Every appearance was of a dark and violent creature – yet something told him that there was more to this great race. Monsters could not rule over civilisation, not in reality. It took finesse, culture, intelligence and a certain kind of subtlety.

Taking a sip of the crimson liquid, Nikola thought back to the roses, their soft petals unfurling in the darkness of the attic above. He tried not to think about the cool blood running through his veins, the way it almost dragged its way around his body, always wanting something more. Something that Nikola would never give it.

The rose oil that Nikola had distilling upstairs could bring him control but he could already feel that with practice and concentration, he’d be able to tame this on his own. He was, afterall, a scientist, and he’d never let a mystery conquer him.

Nikola tapped his fingers over the beautiful hardwood desk, the soft dull thuds turning into the wrap of sharp claws. Every night like clockwork he changed into what most would call a monster, but he didn’t feel the need to tie himself to the furniture any more. No, he was quiet calm – a vampire sipping his Port and watching the fire crackle in the corner.

Nikola set his glass down and held his hands in front of him, watching his claws slowly retract back into his hands. He waited a few minutes and then let that other feeling inside him rise again and – almost at once, the claws returned.

He smiled at the first measure of control. It would be enough for what he had to do tonight…

Oxford university hadn’t changed at all. Its sandstone walls still stood against the heavy mists, softly glowing in the moonlight. There were still cracked windows, shattered roof tiles and blackened stone up on the tower above Tesla’s room. The gas lights along the avenue inside the grounds created watery orbs of light like new born stars still swirling in their nursery.

There were a few lone windows glowing – offices and dormitories scattered over the upper levels. Inside one of them sat a professor, fresh from finishing late class. Five of his best students were missing, and he knew exactly why even though the university was busy writing them off as drop outs.

The professor always locked his door with two heavy locks but forgot about the open window letting out the kerosene smoke from his lamps. He didn’t hear or see the tall, slender figure slip into the room, tilting their head as a cat would look at a mouse.

A few moments later, one of windows went dark and without a sound, another soul slipped from the world.

*~*~*

Nigel hid all of his secrets in his diary – the one laying open in John’s apartment. Whatever he kept in his mind was slowly being twisted by the Cabal, distorted into fragments of memory. He wasn’t like the others. Nigel had always been honest – straightforward. His mind lacked the discipline to withstand Charles Fort’s attempts to break it.

“What does ‘eet matter…” Nigel despaired, slumped behind the table he had been sat at. He had been invisible when brought in here but now his pale, sunken skin looked a lot like his father’s.

Charles Fort had been questioning him for days. He wanted to save this poor boy and to do that, he needed to discover how these rapid changes in physiology had occurred. So far, all he had heard were tales of Nigel’s father and of the Cabal, glimpses of an unhappy childhood. Nothing of use whatsoever to the organisation that paid him.

“They’re all most likely dead by now.” The last Nigel had seen of Nikola and Helen had been them hurrying off down the stone staircase, the Cabal not far behind.

“Who’s dead?” Charles prompted further. He knew that he was close now, the other man was tired and tired people make mistakes.

“Helen…” Nigel whispered. He’d never liked the woman at the start but over the months that they had worked together, he had learned to appreciate her. He certainly wasn’t in love with her like the others were – in their own ways – but he did respect her as a scientist and colleague. “And Tesla.”

Charles Fort nearly dropped his quill, the dark red ink dripping onto the page.

Tesla?” he whispered. It was not a common name, especially in this part of the world, but it was one that he held so dearly to his heart. Milka Tesla was his greatest weakness and strength. He would tear apart the world for her.

Nigel nodded, not even realising what he had done. He was well on his way to losing his mind like this – the drugs and the confinement breaking him down.

“Nikola didn’t even want a part of this in the beginning,” he continued.

Nikola, Charles set the quill down entirely and sat back in his chair, finally understanding. Helen Magnus, Nikola Tesla… They were running from the Cabal and he’d been hired to lead them straight into their waiting claws. Charles was instantly pale. All of a sudden he felt like he was sitting in the middle of a great web, treading on silken threads.

“They’re not dead…” Charles whispered, his tone entirely different.

Nigel looked up, a flicker of hope in his eyes.

They were interrupted by a sharp knock at the door, a Cabal man waving Charles out of the room and leading him up to Griffin’s office. The man was slouched behind his desk looking ancient – some relic of humanity, twisted by his years.

Charles appeared calm and professional, showing no indication of the discovery he had just made.

“I have been notified of a murder,” Professor Griffin said, signing his name on a document. “An old associate and friend of mine – a lecturer back in Oxford.”

Charles shifted slightly, wondering why he was being told this.

“Three deep scratches,” Griffin continued, re-enacting the gesture as if morbidly fascinated, “across the throat. We are being hunted, Mr Fort – slaughtered like animals.”

The old man shifted in his chair, glancing for a moment at the snow falling outside. It had been years since it had snowed here. Griffin could not see the tall man stepping out of a carriage on the other side of the road, tilting his head away from the wind. The young man’s sharp blue eyes surveyed the snowy world and the large, sprawl of the museum.

“I need information,” Griffin continued quietly. “I don’t care how you do it – just get it. I will not sit here and wait for the others to come for me.”

Nikola Tesla scattered a large flock of pigeons, sending them into a grey and white blur. They settled back onto the ground and resumed pecking at the concrete as Nikola shook off the snow and entered the foyer of the British Museum.

He didn’t know where to start. The sheer enormity of the building and knowledge contained inside it was humbling. His natural urge was to flit from room to room, exploring and gazing at the glass-cased exhibit. His was keenly aware though, that he had to be gone be nightfall.

“Well, well, well…” a deep, almost soft voice drawled. “What brings a vampire to London?”

Nikola knew that voice, turning on his heal to see John Druitt lounging against the glass box housing the Rosetta stone. He was in a black trench coat, his wavy hair neatly combed down and wet at the top where the snow had fallen on him.

“John?” he asked, startled for a moment but pleased to see a familiar face. “I could ask you the same question, London is not exactly your haunt.”

“Business…” John replied calmly. “Some of us still have to work for our living.”

“In the museum?” Nikola lofted his eyebrow. It seemed to be an awful con-incidence that they would run into each other here.

“I saw you duck in here on my way to work. I had been starting to think something had befallen you and Helen…” he added carefully.

“She is quite well,” Nikola replied quickly. “The Cabal are going to have to be quicker if they want to catch us.” Nikola beckoned John away from the centre of the room to a quiet corner next to some lonely, forgotten relic. “We escaped back into mainland Europe. I took her home – Gregory as well. He showed up that night. And what of James and Nigel?”

John feigned concern well enough to fool anyone. So that’s where she was. The vampire had taken her home like you would a pet. How quaint.

“James is here in London. He has become sidetracked with a friend of his here. Mr Griffin I have no information on. He has been missing for many weeks now.”

“The Cabal must have him…” Nikola said quietly, almost to himself. He didn’t want to think about the other possibility – that he had ended up like so many of the rats – his body failing under the pressures of the Source Blood. “It is only a matter of time before they come for the rest of us. They won’t stop looking.”

Nikola could not work out what it was, but there was something different about John. A scent on the air when he moved sometimes. It made Nikola catch a glimpse of desert – his vampire side stirring.

“Do you know where I can find James?” Nikola asked, his voice lowering again when another group of gentlemen and ladies passed by them.

John nodded, giving him Sherlock’s address – the one he’d seen on so many letters.

“Take care, Nikola,” John added as he turned to leave. “London is not safe at the present – half the city is in a panic.”

Nikola had heard that too – something about murder.

*~*~*

Watson and Holmes were deep in conversation, the annoying, almost drunken plucking of Sherlock’s violin the only thing breaking up the quiet evening. They both heard the maid’s hurried footsteps up the stairs to the second floor and by the time she knocked quietly on the door, Sherlock was opening it.

“The police are here,” she whispered – something that Sherlock had never understood. Why whisper in one’s own home when everyone was awake? “They want to see you at once, sir.”

He nodded and then closed the door, turning back to James.

“Let me guess…” said James, not looking up from the book he was reading. Another French medical text. “We are not going to the theatre.”

“Oh… there is better theatre afoot, my friend,” Sherlock assured him.

James Watson wasn’t sure if this was something that he would call, ‘theatre’. He didn’t have a love for the macabre like Sherlock, nor did he look forward to what awaited him at the end of the icy street. Ahead, there was a woman shrieking, the police having given up trying to comfort her as she wailed on the curb of the road, wringing and old handkerchief through her fingers.

They were waved in at once, the sea of police momentarily parting as James and Sherlock wove their way towards the small room.

One of the policemen was watching all too closely – a tall man with his wavy brown hair tucked up inside the helmet, a beard and false black moustache making him unrecognisable as John Druitt.

There was another beautiful young girl laid out on the ground, lifeless.

“Such a shame…” James said sadly, pacing around her, stepping over a smear of blood.

“Now now old boy, what did we talk about?”

“Clinical…” James muttered back to Sherlock, slipping his hands into his pockets.

“We are no use to her if we neglect the clues before us.” And at that, Sherlock knelt right down to the ground, using a pencil to lift up a lock of the woman’s hair. Their was a faint indentation of teeth behind her ear. A bite made during love – tender and reserved. Unsettlingly so. “Your opinion, if you please?”

James lofted his eyebrow. Sherlock seemed to treat everything as a training exercise as if he were being groomed as a protege.

“Skill. Detachment,” James said, kneeling beside Sherlock. “The killer is fascinated by something other than there mere act of killing, for that was done quickly,” he pointed to where the throat had been severed, “and without torment. It is death itself, I think – or even a strange searching of knowledge that drives this creature.”

“Curious, I do not bother with the why, only the how. I find the how and that takes me to the whom.”

James nudged Sherlock just enough for him to fall backwards onto the ground in surprise.

“Why did you do that?” he muttered, annoyed.

James just shrugged unhelpfully, proving his point.

*~*~*

A sharp flash of purple frightened a small creature, hiding in the thick snow. The furry creature hopped out of sight, vanishing underground as John Druitt strode through the snow, sinking into the soft, fresh fall. It had taken some guess work – and a little bit of luck, but finally he found himself looking up at the house nestled at the tree line. Dark cliffs loomed behind and he knew at once that this was the right place.

He could almost feel the history here, the ancient vampires that had crawled up through the cold into the mountains to sleep, escaping the tide of humans. That was no way to bow out from the world, cowering and hiding. He had their blood running through his veins now but he would not follow them.

32

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

Nikola showed up on the doorstep of the unassuming 221B Baker Street early the next morning. The snow had stopped and the faint pink above was almost a promise of better times to come as it bled across the sky.

After negotiating with the reluctant lady – something about foreigners ruining the city, murder everywhere – Nikola made short work of the stairs and knocked on the door of the private apartments.

The place was dank and dark with paint pealing off the walls in disgust. There were ghostly halos where pictures used to hang and strange indents in the fresh wallpaper that looked curiously like bullet holes. Nikola took a deep breath and instantly regretted it, covering his noise with his hand. Smoke.

Eventually the door creaked open to reveal a man that certainly wasn’t James Watson.

“Apologies good sir,” Sherlock said, lounging against the door frame and holding a smoking pipe – his third for the morning which had him in rather high spirits.

The smoke made Nikola cough and wave the wretched stuff away, his delicate vampire senses overwhelmed. He had enough addictions at the present.

“A tad busy this morning – not accepting new clientele. Especially those lacking in finance and you – my Serbian friend, look distinctly impoverished.”

Sherlock took another puff, drawing the toxic smoke in deep. He tilted his head and canted closer to Nikola – eyeing him. His assumption was not entirely correct.

The vampire found all this most disconcerting. He didn’t enjoy being he subject of study.

“You’re not here for me at all…” Sherlock reasoned, shushing Nikola when he tried to explain. “You’re here for dear Mr Watson – a friend, no acquaintance perhaps. You have something in common and my guess would be a woman.” The stranger had a neat presentation, almost military except his manner was all wrong for that. Definitely methodical though – obsessive judging by the immaculate presentation of his old clothes. No amount of pressing could hide the fraying edges of his sleeve. “Fellow scientist – Oxford, but you’ve been abroad for sometime.” He had that whiff of wilderness about him.

Nikola frowned and went to push by the irritating gentleman, but found a hand on his chest, preventing it. A hand that Nikola utterly glared at. People didn’t touch him.

“Recluse – of course,” Sherlock continued. “Neat to the point of obsessive. There is a hint of nobility about you but not enough to suggest an official status. Something older and -“

“Tesla?” James appeared behind Sherlock just as the vampire was weighing up the pros and cons of disposing of Sherlock’s body. James struggled to peer over the shoulder of the tall, wiry man whose clouds of smoke were starting to fill the corridor like mist.

“I was getting to that,” Sherlock frowned.

“Very slowly,” Nikola glared, as he stepped out of reach. His mood was considerably more sombre than Sherlock’s. “Can I have a word with you?” he shifted his gaze to James.

James’s eyebrow lofted higher. That was Nikola though. Down to business as usual. He didn’t seem to be a particularly social creature.

*~*~*

“Look at the walls…” Gregory whispered, running his fingers along he sandstone. The softer, pink stone was carpeted in writing that looked as if it had been scratched into the rough surface. “It’s – delirious…” Gregory shook his head, trying to read it.

The dialect of Ancient Egyptian was poorly formed and erratic in structure. Gregory held the lantern closer, his nose almost to the wall as his eyes scanned up and down the lines of text. It would start by speaking of two brothers – princes – and then suddenly shift to a desert. The endless sand that a great many people endured for days and nights as they headed towards the coast. They were running from something – the brothers? No… Gregory shook shook his head. A brother.

“What does it say?” Helen whispered, standing beside her father. She had not yet learned to read this language and was still rather disturbed by the long scratches across the walls that obscured some of the text.

“It’s a recount of the ancient vampires’ escape from Egypt,” he whispered, still reading. “It was bloody. Here…” he pointed at a segment of text that was followed by a crude drawing shower how many women and children were slaughtered on the banks of the river. “Only a handful escaped – and they fled to these mountains.”

“Thousands of years ago – it is what Mr Tesla dreams of…” Helen whispered. They must all be dead now, buried in these caves. “It does explain the superstition in this area.” Helen had been reading through the books in the Tesla house – ancient stories of dark creatures roaming the landscape, stealing women in the night.

“What is the matter, father?” Helen whispered, seeing Gregory suddenly frown and take a step back from the wall.

Gregory had heard his story before – the lone Vampire he had found in South America when Helen was just a child. This must be what became of the other survivors. The ones that had escaped on foot. If that vampire was still alive, then there was a chance that these ones could be as well.

“Nothing it’s -” he was about to explain when a faint blue glow caught his eye. Gregory turned and without explanation, started walking deeper into the caves.

The light was coming from the floor – drawing him closer until he heard his feet break through a shallow layer of water. He was standing on the edge of an enormous underground lake and somewhere in the middle, deep beneath the water, was a light source.

“It’s flooded…” Helen whispered. This was the end of the cave. The enormous roof didn’t lead anywhere and the entire end of tunnel was submerged, heading deeper into the mountain.

“It must be the fresh snow-melt. Many, many years of it.”

It was eerie, the blue like an endless sky with no edge and no depth. You could fall forever into water like that, sink through the world. The soft glow created a faint shadow along one of the walls behind the humans. It was a creature, slinking silently along the cave wall almost as if it were a part of the rock.

“What is that?” Helen whispered, stepping beside her father. The water was warm – inexplicably so. It should be freezing but something was heating it. Perhaps there was some lingering volcanic activity in the area – a hot spring. “It must be right at the bottom of he lake…”

“Stay here…” he said softly to Helen, handing her the lantern. He had to know.

“You’re not going in there,” she immediately protested, catching his arm.

“I didn’t come all his way to turn back.” Gregory insisted that she take the lantern. “If you want to help your friend, Mr Tesla, then we have to go deeper.”

Helen went quiet, holding the lantern and then her father’s jacket as he slipped it off.

“I should come with you…” she whispered, laying his things down on a nearby boulder.

“No, Helen. I won’t have you catching cold.”

Her eyes flicked up in one of her long suffering glares. For all the defiance he encouraged in her – he was still a protective parent.

“Now, now young lady,” Gregory smiled softly at his daughter, kissing her softly on the cheek. “Just this once, do as your father says.”

Helen stood by the edge of the water as her father slipped off his shoes and then began to wade into the warm water. The shallow edge dropped away quickly, sending Gregory under the water in a splash that startled Helen.

“I’m all right,” he called back to her when he surfaced. “It is just a little slippery.”

Soon, he was swimming carefully into the centre until he was treading water above he soft glow of light.

“I will see you in a moment,” he promised Helen, before diving under the water.

*~*~*

“Fascinating…” Sherlock whispered, peering at Nikola.

The vampire had curled up on the chaise by the fire to keep warm, the flames chasing away a few dark memories. James was in the chair opposite, watching the pair cautiously.

“If you do not stop studying me, I am going to bite you,” Nikola hissed. He had told them both everything that had transpired – the Professor, Helen, Gregory…

“Gentlemen don’t bite,” Sherlock easily quipped, still puffing on that infernal pipe.

“Vampires do.”

“You are not a vampire,” not a real one, at least.

Nikola’s eyes darkened. “Try me.”

“Stop it!” James set his glass down, shaking his head. “Nikola, you are telling me that Helen is all the way over on the fringes of the Austrian Empire – with Gregory, chasing down some ruins?”

“James, if we don’t find out more about the vampires then we are walking blindly on this path. The blood will kill us all.” It was all right for James but Nikola – he was a monster.

“And what about our Professor? You are no murderer, Nikola.”

Nikola tapped his fingers over the leather as if they ended in claws.

“It wasn’t that he betrayed us – he knew too much James. He helped the Cabal find us once, he would do so again.”

“We have to find John,” James finally added, before lighting his own pipe. James had never smoked before but now addictions seemed to plague him. The woman he loved had been hideously slaughtered and James’ heart was in pieces even though he would never show it. He was sure that he’d never love another woman.

“I ran into him this morning,” Nikola admitted. “He was the one that told me how to find you.”

“I have not spoken to him in weeks,” James replied, passing over a few letters. They were his correspondence with John. “He simply stopped writing one day. No doubt fed up with the case I am investigating.”

“Case?” Nikola asked, glancing at the letters. “You’re working on the Ripper case. I was under the impression that the great and all powerful Scotland Yard was handling that.”

“They are,” Sherlock interrupted, picking up his battered violin to tug annoyingly at a few strings. “But occasionally the old boys hire out some independent advice – and routinely fail to pay for it..”

“You’re a private detective…” Nikola realised. They had a reputation for being overpaid stalkers hired by rich men to watch their wives. “I take it there was another murder – the streets are quiet in the evenings…”

Indeed, with the London smoke pressed down to street level as the cold nights set in, you could barely see anything beyond stone walls and weak gas lights.

“Four now,” James said quietly. “He has to be stopped -“

“I don’t disagree with you,” Nikola cut in, “but I am afraid we have more pressing matters. We must find Nigel and destroy all mention of our names and the Source Blood in the Cabal’s possession. If not, we will spend our lives either hiding, running or enslaved.”

*~*~*

Helen could see the shadow of her father in the water, swimming down toward the light. She watched him keenly, wondering how long he could hold his breath for until she turned as a few pieces of rock tumbled off the cave wall.

She was never normally this skittish, but there was something about this place.

“Is someone there?” she whispered.

The cave creature flattened itself against the rock only a few feet in front of her. It’s skin mimicked the rock perfectly making it impossible to see in the half-light. It was a scrawny thing, mostly bone and skin with long, lean muscles that it used to clamber through the deep network of caves. Rarely did it venture out into the world – only when it was starving.

Helen frowned, stepping forward – listening to every breath the rock took. She was closing in on the creature. She was nearly nose to nose with the cool stone when two golden eyes opened.

*~*~*

A small piece of folded paper slid under Nigel’s door between the rock and the ancient wood. He heard the footsteps quickly disappear, its envoy vanishing.

Night was over the land, and Nigel had been moved to new quarters. It had taken all day by coach and judging by the fresh smell in the air, he was in a country house in some kind of wood. There were others here – rooms of creatures that snarled and clawed at the walls whenever the Cabal scientists walked by. Nigel was yet to meet them…

Welcome to Windsor, Mr Griffin.

The note was in Charles Fort’s neat hand. Nigel wasn’t alone and that was a great comfort.

*~*~*

The invisible creature leapt forward onto her, pinning Helen to the cave floor before she could move. Its bony hands were strong and ended it long, sharp claws that scratched the rock. Those eyes… there was something almost human behind them, peering out from beneath the amber.

Helen started to struggle but it was simply stronger than her. When it started to hiss, Helen’s blood ran cold. It appeared that the rows of tapered teeth inside its mouth were not able to camouflage. She could see them quite clearly, glistening and looming ever closer to her neck.

It ended in a flash of purple. The universe ripped apart above them with a sharp crack before a set of hands pulled the cave creature up and threw it hard against the wall. The creature cried out, cowering at the feet of the enormous human before scurrying off into the darkness.

“Dear me…” a deep, silken voice drawled. “The floor is no place for a lady.”

Helen could hardly believe her eyes. Towering over her in a long black cloak dusted with snow was John Druitt.

“…John…” she stammered, her blond curls falling limply over her face. No one noticed that the water behind was empty and still…

33

A HISTORY OF THE UNDERWORLD

The museum swarmed like a hive. Fresh snow flurries during the night made the stone building look like an ice cavern crowded in between a mountain range of icy structures. The streets themselves were mostly bare save a few individuals, thick collars turned up, hurrying through the freezing air. It was as if the Arctic had descended upon the city, turning it into a bleached skeleton. Somewhere in the distance, a bell was chiming to mark the hour.

Three men in long coats, gloves, scarves and top hats stood in front of a sarcophagus. They peered down at the faded paint and decaying wood. A shrivelled body lay stripped of all it’s gold and jewels. This was a Pharaoh of Egypt and yet all Nikola could see was death, not a hint of its glorious past.

“He looks human to me,” Sherlock said, inspecting the corpse. As far as he knew, vampires had sharp teeth and long claws – rather distinctive, really.

“So does young Mr Tesla,” James pointed out, nodding at the tall, slender man standing beside him who looked human enough.

“True, but I am only half vampire,” Nikola shrugged, confused by the sight. “It does not make any sense – unless – unless this is not the original body.”

“You think the museum might have switched them?” James shifted, tilting his head.

“It is certainly possible. And, if it is as you say and the Cabal are one of their major benefactors…” Nikola’s implication clear. The real mummies were somewhere beneath their feet, in the vaults. “What if our history has been kept from us? Twisted for thousands of years?”

“Wiped from existence in body and memory,” James murmured quietly. “Humanity must have really hated the ancient ones to go to such trouble. If we are to take samples – it must be of the originals…”

“Perhaps we are merely an acquired – James, where the devil did Sherlock go?”

James frowned and looked beside him to see an empty space where Sherlock had been standing a moment ago. He sighed and shook his head in defeat.

“He’s always wandering off like that.”

“Very comforting…” Nikola muttered, turning around to lean back against the glass enclosure housing the coffin. His finger came to rest on his lips as he thought carefully. “We have to check. The Cabal are hiding the vampire history for a reason, we need to know what it is they’re -”

“Nikola,” the other man took a step closer so that he could whisper firmly. “We should find Miss Magnus first, free Griffin from the Cabal – then we can hunt down this precious history of -”

“No,” Nikola interrupted. “Don’t you understand, James? We’re the ones being hunted now. We may not get another chance at this. Stay here if you will – I am not afraid of the dark.”

Nikola did not give James a chance to answer him as he darted off into the crowd of people. They could not keep running. Knowledge was survival.

*~*~*

“John…?” Helen whispered again, too shocked to take the hand John extended to her. She was not sure if it was the confines of the cave or the strange blue light coming off the water, but deep shivers were travelling over her skin. “How did you -”

John knelt down to the cave floor, his leather clothes creaking. His voice was soft as he spoke to her, as if coaxing a frightened animal from a snare.

“I found Tesla and Watson in London,” he explained. “They told me that you were here. I was worried.”

The smile that he gave her was soft and tender, the effect ruined somewhat by the fresh cut running diagonally over his face.

“What happened to you?” Helen murmured, her cold hand reaching up to boldly rest against his cheek just shy of the angry tear in his skin.

John leaned into her touch a little. Memories of a frightened woman slashing at him with a knife flickered through his memory.

“The Cabal…”

“Oh…” Helen gasped softly, and then knelt, taking him gently into her arms. She held him protectively for a moment. “I was frightened that I would not see you again. When the Cabal came for us at Oxford we just fled. I’m sorry,” she closed her eyes, hiding in his arms.

John pressed a soft kiss to the top of her head but his eyes were cold now.

*~*~*

James was seriously starting to re-think the company he was keeping of late. He has spent most of his life quietly observing the world, keeping well out of trouble but since meeting a blonde woman in a corridor he’d found himself in no end of mischief. At present it involved following a half-vampire through corridors and down endless stairwells as the descended deeper and deeper into the museum underworld.

“Really Nikola…” James muttered, as Nikola used one of his long claws to pick a lock. “You’re starting to control it now – aren’t you?” he added.

Nikola pried the door open and then stepped into an office. He turned up the nearest lantern and paced quickly to the desk, rattling through the drawers until he found a set of keys.

“There is a solution to every mystery,” Nikola replied, holding up the keys triumphantly. “One just needs to unravel it.” Nikola’s eyes were nearly black in the lamp light, a relic of the vampire world standing in the half-light.

The two of them moved quickly now, their feet nothing but a soft shuffle as they reached the vaults. The last time that James had been here with Sherlock, they had not dared to venture so deep. Nikola’s sharp eyes scanned the plaques on the front of every iron door until his paused, trench-coat fanning out as he stopped suddenly.

“Here…” he whispered, unlocking the heavy door before he pushed against it. Nikola struck a match, the darkness parting as the fragile light burned in hand. Behind him, James worked quickly, lighting two lanterns and closing the door enough so that at a passing glance it looked undisturbed.

Boxes. Long and narrow. Their dimensions were eerily similar to that of a human.

“There are dozens of them,” James whispered, walking slowly up to one of the glass enclosures. They could not see anything with the woods of the coffins nailed on. His hands were laid almost reverently on the glass. “Tesla – do you -” but James had to quickly move out of the way as Nikola brought a hammer crashing down onto the glass, shattering it like a bubble breaking in the wind.

Glass rained to the grown leaving only the wooden box. The hammer still in Nikola’s hand, he flipped it over so that he could use its curved edge to start prying out the nails.

“For heaven’s sake…” James muttered, shifting uncomfortably as Nikola tore open the coffin.

Fangs. Long, tapered teeth curving out of the ancient jaw. Nikola was transfixed by them. It was as if the creature were merely sleeping. Was it even dead?

“Dear god,” James breathed over Nikola’s shoulder. “I had no idea.”

This creature – it looked nothing like Nikola. The fangs were demonic, the top row reaching nearly to the chin bone. Someone had crossed its arms over its chest leaving the claws on display, fanned out from each hand. Though it was in a poor condition, the remains of this creature left only one feeling in those that saw it – fear.

“This flows through our veins?” James whispered.

Nikola’s eyes closed. Sand. The reflection of the sun over the dunes. These were not his dreams – they belonged to the creature in the box.

Then the door of the vault slammed shut.

*~*~*

There was a fine mist rising off the pool of water in the cave behind John and Helen. The water was warm and the air getting cooler, causing the thin layer of vapour to roll out through the cave floor and around their ankles.

Helen blushed softly when she realised that she was holding John so closely. He had always been more tender with her than he should, but there were no promises – no declaration that made her his. It was then that she felt a sudden cold spread through her. She peeled back from him and turned sharply to the water.

“Father…” she whispered, realising that he had been gone far too long.

The water was deathly still, as if it had never been disturbed.

“He went into the water,” she continued, hurrying to its edge, “he was looking for the source of the light.”

John’s eyes searched the water but he could see nothing below or above its surface.

“How long ago did he leave?” he asked, a wake forming in the water around his boots.

“Too long,” she breathed back.

*~*~*

“Excellent plan, Mr Tesla – simply wondrous…”

“Oh, quit your mocking, James,” Nikola snipped irritably.

“Well, I’m glad you’re at peace entombed in a room full of dead bodies,” James had never been fond of small spaces as it was. He had an instinctive fear of being trapped just like one of his poor lab rats.

“History,” Nikola corrected him. “History,” Nikola repeated, as he paced back and forth in the dim light, casing the room for escape options. So far all that he could see was a door they weren’t getting through any time soon, and an air vent that a pocket watch would struggle to fit into.

“You are wasting your time, Nikola, I’ve looked.” And James was certain that his gaze was sharper than the vampire’s.

“It’s the Cabal – it has to be. There’s no good reason for the museum staff to lock us down here.”

“Unless you stole from them.”

“For the last time, James, I don’t steal.” Why did everyone assume that he stole things just because he pilfered from the university supply room? And the library. Occasionally Helen’s books too.

There were muffled voices on the other side of the door, no doubt standing guard. James listened to them for a while, but could make out nothing.

“I doubt they’ll be leaving us on our own,” James added in a low whisper. “We should be planning for when they come in…”

“I can take four – maybe five at a time,” Nikola said quietly. He may be a scrawny thing but he was strong and had the advantage of a sharp set of claws.

James looked… concerned.

“Are you sure it’s safe for you to turn? I saw Nigel…” After Nikola had slashed him nearly to pieces.

“We all have our vices, James. I’m trying to limit mine to wine and women.”

James simply scoffed. Nikola’s gaze flicked up sharply, his eyes jet black.

“It is no secret, Nikola,” James added, after taking a moment to take in the beady, vampire gaze. “But I am afraid you’re more like Helen’s pet than her suitor.”

Although Nikola’s countenance remained unchanged, he felt something start to tear inside him. He wanted to speak – to reply with some off-hand quip but any denial would ring false. James had a way of reading people, even Nikola.

*~*~*

The old man shuffled along the dark hallway in the museum vaults, his cane tapping on the floor with each stop. There were two gentlemen ahead dusted in snow standing guard by one of the vault doors. Odd, really – considering all that there was to find down here were relics long forgotten, in too poor a condition to exhibit.

It was not until the old man came to a stop in front of them that they glanced down.

“Can I be of assistance to you gentlemen?” the old man asked, his voice as frail as his wisps of white hair. He had a metal badge pinned to his jacket showing that he was part of the museum staff.

“Professor Griffin has something of value in the vault,” one of them replied, recognising him as the old man from the office – the one that shuffled paperwork.

The old man nodded, and then tilted his head.

“Strange… I wasn’t aware of any new arrivals.”

The two guards shifted, but the old man seemed to lose interest, turning away. Neither of them saw the sharp snap of the man’s cane hit their throats. They grasped at the tender skin, coughing awkwardly before the old man straightened up to his full, quite impressive height, and started to hit them again. He laid several heavy blows on each one until the two stocky men fell to the floor, unconscious.

*~*~*

Nikola and James were glaring at each other, the conversation having taken a turn for the worse as it historically did between the two. Long vampire claws tapped against the table that Nikola was leaning on. He looked considerably more threatening as a vampire, but not enough to scare James.

“Nikola…” James sighed, almost boredly. “I am not trying to insult you, merely pointing out an immutable fact. As a scientist, you should be familiar with those.”

Nikola all but huffed, rolling his dark, beady eyes. He pushed off the table and traipsed over to the ancient mummy, pulling some equipment out of his coat to take a sample.

“Not that it matters anyway, if we are to be pets of the Cabal…” James admitted, now that they were trapped.

“I thought the English were supposed to be more optimistic…” Nikola drawled, slipping the glass vial back into his jacket. “We’re not dead yet, James – just a little more confined than normal.” James didn’t see the vampire slip something else into his pocket as well, a small fragment of papyrus that he wrapped in silk.

James was about to reply when the lock on the door clicked. Both gentlemen tensed, backing into opposing corners of the vault, hiding in the shadows as best they could.

Slowly, the door creaked open to reveal the bodies of the two Cabal guards lifeless on the ground. Stepping over them was and old gentlemen, cane tapping over the ground as he peered into the room. James and Nikola exchanged glances and slowly crept out from their hiding places, approaching the man.

“Well well well…” the old man said – his voice oddly familiar.

James turned up the wick on the kerosene lamp, the vault suddenly brightening.

“What the devil…?” James breathed.

“Close enough,” Sherlock winked, pointing his cane playfully at James before sliding the wig off his head. He’d always been good with disguises. “That’s the second time those two have tried to follow us. They were taking you here,” he held out a street map to James. Sherlock’s gaze though, was levelled at Nikola, inching forward out of the darkness looking very much like a bad work of fiction. “Interesting eyes…”

“Interesting hair…” Nikola replied, his voice almost metallic. Then, he peered over James’ shoulder, looking at the map. There was a property circled, about a day’s journey by road.

“…Nigel…” they both whispered.

Sherlock nodded.

“Your Mister Griffin.”

*~*~*

John waded around in the water, ducking under its warm surface and gazing into the endless underwater world. He could see nothing but rock walls and more water. There was no sign of Gregory Magnus. He broke the water, gasping for air, his long, dark brown curls plastered flat.

“Nothing…” he called out to Helen, who was waiting anxiously by the bank.

He breast-stroked through the water, swimming as far in as he dared. John felt his stomach dropping as he looked down to see the sheer depth of the water beneath him. He felt – fragile – like he might suddenly be sucked deep under the water never to be seen again.

“There must be something,” Helen called back.

“I cannot swim any further,” John replied, as he reached the cave wall on the other side. “It ends here.”

*~*~*

Gregory Magnus had been dragged deep under the water by some unseen current. He had nearly made it to the source of light when it swept him to the side and under a rocky outcrop. Darkness. It was all he could make out as his lungs started to burn. He kept his arms and legs close to his chest as the water tossed him about, picking up speed. He was being taken deeper into the cave system, further than he could ever hope to swim back.

It was a shock when he felt himself start to fall. The water passage had ended in a waterfall – air flooding back into his lungs as he hurtled toward what he assumed would be a messy death on a cavern floor. He still couldn’t see anything, the caves blacker than the evening sky. The end didn’t come. Instead, Gregory was smashed back into the dark water, vanishing beneath it.

He didn’t move, waiting to see which way he floated before he started to swim back toward the air.

34

BLACK WATER

The black water was gentle, carrying Gregory toward the smooth rocks that hemmed in the pool. He washed up on them, the stones cool after the unnatural warmth of the underground river.

Gregory wondered if he was already dead, his consciousness slowly departing from him as he lay there, blinking up at a scattering of glowing rocks. It was as if someone had lit a candle behind the collections of quartz – the beautiful crystals backlit like veins.

Gregory rolled onto his back, coughing some of the water out of his lungs before he managed to sit up. He was somewhere deep inside the mountain even though the air swirling around him was fresh.

“Good heavens…” he whispered – only to hear his voice echo around the walls, bouncing back and forth until it died on the water.

On shaky feet, Gregory stood and found himself drawn to one of the glowing segments of rock. He placed his hand on the stone – feeling warmth flare beneath his fingers. The light flickered causing several other pairs of stones down the tunnel to glow. He followed this line of beacons and soon found another tunnel that was mostly flat with high, smooth ceilings.

Gregory felt a soft tremor underfoot as if the ground itself were stirring to his presence, dust raining down to join the mist. He was in the underworld, a relic of the Vampire’s once grand empire.

*~*~*

It was hours before John finally persuaded Helen to leave the caves – without her father. She was pale and numb, clinging to John as he led her back down through the snow towards the Tesla house. There were lights in the windows as the world around it began to grow dark with a small trail of smoke coming from the chimney.

John knocked on the door and waited.

It was Milka that answered it – her stance immediately nervous when she saw the tall, dark haired man standing beside Helen, a loose curl covering one of his dark eyes.

“What has happened?” Milka breathed in English – but with a thick accent, a deep instinct in her not wishing to let the man inside the house.

“We must get Miss Magnus out of the cold,” John insisted, without further explanation.

Milka hesitated, her hand on the door’s splintered surface. It was only Helen’s fragile state that convinced Milka to allow them both inside.

They settled Helen by the fire and made her drink tea spiked with rum to try and bring some colour back to her.

“And he’s gone?” Milka said, in a hushed whisper to John. He had explained to her that he was one of the five that had experimented with the vampire blood – something that had not exactly helped to settle Milka’s nerves. She had seen what that vile substance had done to her brother.

John was more interested in the way Milka’s dark hair curled lightly on her shoulder, his gaze lingering there before he answered.

“I doubt that it was an ordinary pool of water,” he replied. “The ancient ones had many means of protecting their secrets, it could be that Gregory has stumbled upon one of them.”

Helen drew her legs up in the chair by the fire, watching the flames dance. It reminded her of the oil lanterns her father used to light to take her down to the cellar where all his secrets were kept.

“This is all madness…” Milka murmured. “Mr Fort explained to me the subtleties of genetic abnormalities but this – what you have all done, it is not a quirk of nature. You are playing were you should not and you have dragged Nikola with you.”

John’s eyebrows merely lofted, his voice deep and silken as always.

“Tesla was by no means dragged,” he corrected simply. If anyone had been dragged into this mess, it was John. He had protested it from the start. If it had not been for Helen…

Milka, unable to hold John’s gaze for more than a few moments at a time, glanced over her shoulder at Miss Magnus.

“There is more than one way to convince my brother of the merits of something…” she whispered softly.

John was only half listening, infinitely more entranced by the delicate curve of Milka’s neck.

*~*~*

“Now that, gentlemen, is a vampire.” Sherlock tapped the edge of the open crate with his cane.

Nikola was grinning proudly at his ancient relative while all James could muster was an exaggerated roll of his eyes. Sherlock was eyeing the long-dead vampire, more than a little fascinated.

“Holmes, how long have you been posing as one of the museum’s staff members?” James sounded like a stern parent.

The other man shrugged.

“Oh, a while… The Cabal may not have told me much but then, as you know, it’s not what you’re told, it’s how well you listen.”

Nikola’s arms were folded across his chest, his long claws resting on his sleeves. He wasn’t sure if it was accidental or instinctual, but he seemed to keep to the shadows while vamped up. All that bright desert sun, it made vampires crave the cool dark.

“And what did you listen to?” Nikola prompted, tilting his head to watch as Sherlock leaned right over the open coffin, taking in every tiny detail of the Pharaoh.

This creature hadn’t died of natural causes… Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to reconstruct this body but it had been the victim of a massacre. Part of Sherlock was happy to divert off into solving this ancient crime but needs must when you have an evil organisation hunting you for sport.

“Professor Griffin is dying…” Sherlock replied, finally turning his attention back to the others. “His pursuit of the five of you is not some kind of jealous vendetta, he wants your secrets. He wants to live. Desperate people are the most dangerous.”

*~*~*

Professor Griffin was an old man, perched behind his desk like one of the marble statues outside the window. Every day his skin seemed to sink a little further towards his bones until he might be mistaken for one of the mummified bodies in the vaults.

Studying those creatures had led him nowhere. There simply wasn’t enough left of them for him to unlock their secret of immortality. No, what he needed was a live sample but the only man in a century to see one was the great Gregory Magnus.

When Gregory had first told him, all those years ago when they were still doing their post graduates at the university, that there were creatures in the past that had found a way to linger through eternity – Griffin had believed him. Of the three scientists, Griffin knew that he was the weakest. Instead, he excelled at business and made enough money to fund Gregory’s endless expedition. Gregory may call it ‘blood money’ now, but it was money all the same.

Now, here they were, half a century later and the dream of immortality was his only chance at survival. What had his money bought him? Nothing. Gregory Magnus was gone and his other colleague was dead somewhere back in Oxford, slaughtered no doubt, by one of the foolish children who thought that they could play with immortality as a passing curiosity between lessons.

“Professor Griffin, the coach is ready…” one of his aids said, peaking in through the door.

“Where are the others? They should have returned by now.” Griffin had sent two of his best men to investigate a sighting of Mr Watson and a vexing private detective that had been sticking his nose into Cabal business of late.

“They’re – unconscious, Sir.” The aid shrank back toward the door frame. “We found them lying outside one of the vaults. There was some damage to one of the coffins as well but nothing has been stolen except an old map.”

Griffin’s grey eyes were so sharp that they could have cut the man in two.

“Map?”

“Nothing sir, just a scrap of papyrus. Souvenir.”

“Arrogant bastards.”

*~*~*

Between the three of them; Tesla, Watson and Holmes struggled to meet the price of a coach to Windsor. Whatever money Sherlock had won the week before was inevitably lost on poor gambling deals by Monday whilst Nikola had never had money of his own. James was left to foot the bill.

When they arrived, they were deposited on a snowy landscape a few hundred metres from the main town. Okay, so James’ money had got them most of the way there.

“Were we, at any stage, going to come up with a plan?” James asked, trudging through the wet, cold snow. Another carriage rushed by them with a sharp pounding of hooves.

“By my thinking we have one hour and twelve minutes to decide on one before we reach the address,” Sherlock added helpfully.

“I think by that time,” Nikola said, arms folded into his suit. Vampires were naturally cold and this ‘walking through the snow business’ was not helping his natural condition. “We’ll arrive frozen solid ready to sell our souls for coco and a warm fire.”

*~*~*

Milka startled when the candles flickered.

“Mr Druitt…” she whispered, turning quickly to see him standing by the door she could have sworn was locked. “I thought you were with Miss Magnus.”

John let the door close quietly leaving him and Milka alone in the intimate drawing room. She was over by the window, looking out onto the evening. He could sense her fear like some kind of drug. A calling of ancient predators that knew when their prey was cornered.

“Helen is sleeping…” he drawled, all too softly.

*~*~*

“Did you hear that?” Nikola stopped in the snow, tugging on James’ sleeve.

They were only a few dozen metres from the large residence hiding amongst the estate gardens. Instead of walking up the long gravel driveway, they had wound their way through the hedges and park lands that surrounded what they assumed to be another of the Cabal’s properties.

“There it is again…” Nikola added, when he heard another faint cry on the air.

James and Sherlock exchanged looks – they couldn’t hear anything. Nikola was starting to think that he was going crazy – always hearing, smelling and feeling things that no one else could. There was a constant tremble in the air around him, the ghost of a powerful electrical field.

“Mortals…” he muttered, shaking his head and pushing past the others.

“Was he always like this?” Sherlock asked, watching the vampire trudge ahead in the snow.

“Egotistical and irritating?” James folded his arms across his chest.

There was a very light, rare smile on Sherlock’s lips.

“No… Brilliant,” he whispered, following the vampire.

Unsurprisingly, every window was barred and no one was ready to break down a door. It was Sherlock that found a heavy wooden hatch half buried under a bush. They yanked it open and peered at the hole beneath.

“Basement…” James stated.

“Why is everyone looking at me?” Nikola’s eyes went black without him even realising it. James gestured at the hole. If anyone was going to go down into the dark, it was going to be the vampire. “When did this become a democracy?” Nikola muttered, sitting on the ground and letting his legs dangle into the dark.

Sherlock and James each took one of the vampire’s arms and lowered him down as far as they could.

“Can you feel the floor?” James asked.

Nikola was dangling in mid air.

“No-aaah!” Nikola yelped, as they dropped him.

Nikola landed in a cloud of dust in some forgotten corner of a wine cellar. Like a cat, he’d gracefully landed on his feet but the effect was ruined as he sneezed.

“Bastards…” he muttered, attempting to dust himself down.

By the time the other two had followed, Nikola was perusing through the racks of dusty bottles, lingering at a few expensive reds. He had never been much of a wine connoisseur but since his rise to vampirisim he found that he had developed quite a taste for it. It also seemed to act like the rose oil, calming him. Even the most expensive bottle of red was less trouble than procuring a vial of wild rose oil.

“It is not like the Cabal to keep a wine cellar,” James said, looking for a way out of the room. What he found was a set of stone steps leading up towards a bolted door – bolted from the outside of course as it was unusual for wine to escape…

“Oh, I very much doubt that it’s theirs,” Nikola said, rolling one of the cool bottles in his hands.

“Put that back…” James shot over his shoulder, “and come and put that superior intellect of your to greater use.”

Beyond the door, they found themselves still in the house’s basement. Long, narrow corridors with rooms too close together to be anything other than storage – or cells.

“I can hear it now as well…” Sherlock admitted, as another soft cry echoed down the hallway around them. “It’s coming from ahead.”

Nikola started off toward it but James caught hold of his arm.

“It’s not Nigel,” he said. He wasn’t convinced that it was even human.

“That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t help it,” Nikola pointed out.

“Nikola, you were the one telling us that we can’t afford to divert from our goals. The longer we linger here, the more likely it is that someone is going to find us – we mustn’t delay with things that don’t concern us.

Nikola tugged his arm free sharply.

*~*~*

It was warm. All around Gregory, the rocks were dripping with snow melt making the smooth ground beneath his feet slippery. Every now and then he spotted a rock with steam rising off it, filling the passage with a thick layer of mist lulling along at shoulder height. He could not see the ground beneath. It reminded him distinctly of the mists in the Amazon twenty years ago.

He didn’t need light – for just as the light started to fade, he round another pair of glowing quartz set into the cave wall almost as if they were grown there.

Eventually he came to two quartz pillars, like an official gateway. He walked between them and was immediately startled by a wave of white light washing over him like silent lightening.

“What the devil…?” he breathed.

Gregory’s head whipped around at a crunch of feet over the ground.

You should not have come…” The robed figure up ahead spoke in Latin – or some evolution of the language. It had changed over time but with a culture closed off from the world, it preserved most of its natural form. “Though it is too late for you to turn back now.”

Gregory stepped closer, inching towards the human.

You are not vampire…” Gregory replied, as best as he could. Latin was by no means his natural ancient language.

The human’s eyes darkened at that – with loathing.

Those which you seek, are dead.”

35

HOLLOW GROUND

Dead…” Gregory whispered, reaching out to touch the wet stone walls. “What is this place?”

The hooded figure remained half-hidden in the steam that was lifting off the rocks. Their voice was flat, its tone difficult to judge as it spoke in the ancient dialect of humanity.

A tomb. A monument. A gateway…” they replied. This place was many things to many races. To some, it was a sanctuary.

Gregory took a measured step toward the figure but they retreated, determined to remain out of reach.

And what does that make you?” he asked suspiciously, trying not to show his nervousness. In many ways, this figure was more frightening than a vampire. At least Gregory knew what their cold, calculated motivations were. The pure blood vampire he had met back in South America had been more than fair despite its insatiable hunger.

An envoy,” the figure whispered.

Their hands emerged from the robe, smaller than Gregory had expected and delicate, like those of a woman. Slowly, they lifted the hood, folding the heavy material to lay over their shoulders. Her long, dark hair fell free. She couldn’t be more than twenty, realised Gregory. He was wrong.

Come with me…” she beckoned him to follow.

*~*~*

Nikola, James and Sherlock continued through the hallways inside the house. Faint screams lingered on the air, dying to silence as they turned each corner. They found an empty lab and stole inside it for a moment, hiding there as a group of scientists swept down the corridor in a pack of white coats and thick-set glasses.

This place is like a bloody nest,” whispered Nikola, as he rested with his back to the door, holding it closed just in case. James, meanwhile, had opened one of the storage closets and taken out three spare lab coats.

We best wear these…” he said, throwing the coats at the other gentlemen.

Sherlock perused the files laying open on the desk, sniffing the paper rather than reading the print.

This is mad,” Nikola added, buttoning up the lab coat. They had no plan and no way of finding Nigel in a maze like this. “We’re going to end up experiments in one of those rooms.”

What the Cabal would give to have another member of the five… School children that had played with things behind their understanding.

Now somewhat camouflaged, they crept back into the main hall. Of the three of them, only Sherlock made a convincing scientist. Ironic. He just had a way of walking like he owned everything.

Then, there was a faint crunch of snow outside the building and without warning, Nikola grasped at the two gentlemen and tugged them out of sight around a corner.

What is it?” James demanded in a whisper.

Nikola simply hushed him and a moment later, the others heard it too. The front door was thrown open with a heavy slam, several maids rushing up through the house to take muddy coats from the men at the door. They ushered them inside, fussing and talking softly as if to calm a wild beast. There were three of them; strong, roughly cut men. They were independent contractors that specialised in catching things. You had to specify if you wanted the catch alive…

Is – is he back?” one of the maids asked shyly, barely looking up at one of the men. The only reply she received was a crooked smile. No one escaped them. “That’s the second time,” she whispered.

Sherlock broke away from the other two and started off down the corridor towards the door. The other two reached out after him but missed.

Crazy son of a -” Nikola hissed, and then glared at James for bringing him along.

The contractors were led to the parlour where they lounged around the table, fresh from their last hunt.

Tough bastard, that one…” one of them said, waving his hand to ask for wine. “Can’ even see the littl’ bugger.”

He’s lucky we found him. The frost would have got him eventually,” another of them added, before turning his attention to the door. There was a scientist lingering there – tall, scrawny looking creature with a long nose and sharp eyes. Another arrival from mainland Europe, no doubt. The Cabal seemed to have an unlimited supply of them. “What do you want?”

Sherlock remained at the door, carefully scrutinising each man, learning more about them in a few calculated glances than they could in an hour of questioning.

Where is my patient?” Sherlock asked dryly, with a distinct air of disapproval. The contractor rolled his eyes.

Back in his pen – it would be nice if you kept him there this time. I thought he belonged to that American, Mr Fort?”

Inwardly, Sherlock smiled but his outward expression was a distasteful sneer.

I am – borrowing him. Perhaps if the security in this facility were better, I would not have missing patients and you would not have to go find them.”

Careful with your tone…” the largest man replied, lifting his gaze from his glass. He could break that scrawny arse of a doctor without blinking.

It was a quarter of an hour before Sherlock returned to others, looking very pleased with himself. Nikola was resting back against the wall, arms folded and eyes nearly black.

Second level – third door,” Sherlock said brightly. He’d always said the more brute in the man, the softer their mind and he had manipulated the three bounty hunters beautifully. “He is under the care of one of the Cabal scientists… A Mr Fort.”

Nikola’s gaze snapped up.

Charles…” he whispered. “It couldn’t be.” Not the man that his sister was so dearly in love with. ‘I have been contracting to a very persuasive organisation…’ those had been Charles’s words, all those weeks ago. Nikola was furious. “Where is he?” Nikola all but growled.

I just said – second level, thi-”

No,” Nikola interrupted Sherlock. “Mr Fort…”

*~*~*

Helen Magnus was packing.

The few things she had brought with her had been stuffed into a bag mostly filled with books and notes from the ruins. Her father was gone but she simply could not face that hideous truth right now. The others needed her and she could not let them face the Cabal on their own, not when the experiment was of her doing.

You cannot leave…”

Helen startled, whirling around to face the door. John was there, silent as always. He had a way of appearing without a sound.

John – you know I must,” she replied simply. “Nikola was going to London to find James. If Nigel is trapped somewhere, I need to help them find him.”

And your father?” John drawled. There was something about John’s manner; his long, dark hair falling in an unruly tangle around his face, a glint of something dark in his eyes…

Milka will be here,” she said simply. “She will write as soon as she has word.”

John didn’t say anything. The house had been unnaturally quiet all afternoon – with Milka nowhere to be seen.

And how are you planning to get all the way back to London, Helen? You have no money.”

She paused. A small oversight. She had been planning to stow away on the train, befriend a gentleman if she had to. There were no lines for Helen, she would find a way.

I thought as much.” John paced into the room, letting his fingers trail over the cracking wallpaper. It left flecks of red under his nails. “I think it is time I showed you my gift in all of this.”

Your – “

Tesla is a vampire, Griffin can vanish at will and I – “ he opened his arms dramatically, “can go anywhere I choose.”

There was a sudden crack of purple light, their air splitting violently as John vanished from the room. Helen gasped softly, her hand going to her mouth. Some part of the universe had twisted and snapped letting John fall through it into – into goodness knows where. It was not possible.

John…?” she whispered, but the room was empty.

*~*~*

Do you have a name?” Gregory asked, still in Latin. For a ‘dead language’ it seemed to be doing just fine even with his limited vocabulary.

He had been following the young woman down through the caves for more than an hour, passing through several more glowing stones. It was only when they had come to an enormous gorge that the true scale of this place hit him. It was as if they were wandering through the underworld itself with fissures steadily venting steam and gas from the walls. Gregory felt – precarious, lingering here between the two worlds. It was no place for complex life to linger.

The woman looked back over her shoulder at the man, her face framed by waves of auburn hair. There was no harm in him knowing her name – he would most likely be dead soon. The council were cautious in these turbulent times. Their leader was dying.

Ranna,” she whispered, her eyes as dark as the grey walls.

Gregory had to keep one hand on the wall to steady himself on the uneven ground. He lacked the young woman’s grace to scale the rocks that had caved in from above, obscuring their path.

I take it that you do not come down here often,” Gregory said, sitting down so that he could slide safely off one of the boulders. This place was like a ruin itself.

We have little need of the surface. You – disturbed one of our sensors.”

Sensors… like the delicate needle of an earthquake detector.

You felt me coming as a spider feels the silk of its web tremble…”

Ranna paused, looking at him blankly. It took Gregory a moment to realise he had slipped into English. He shook his head in apology and they continued on in silence.

*~*~*

John…?” Helen whispered again, turning on her heel. The room remained empty, sunlight filtering through a gap in Nikola’s curtains, the air thick with dust. Minutes passed and Helen resumed packing.

She gasped, nearly falling as a crack, thunderous as a lightening storm, ripped through the air behind her.

For God’s sake, John!” she held her heart desperately as it beat unnaturally. He was frightening her – intriguing her.

Cupped in John’s hand was a tiny, fragile and delicate rose. Its burgundy petals already beginning to wither.

From your father’s office,” John said, and Helen knew that it had to be true. Only her father knew where that ancient species thrived. “Did you know – they are growing wild through your house?” Helen shook her head softly, cautiously reaching forward – brushing her fingers over its drying petals. “Let me show you…”

*~*~*

Her eyes slammed shut. She kept a deathly grip on her bags and held her breath as John wrapped his arm around her waist and – and Helen didn’t even hear the snap as she fell through the universe.

The ground came to her feet all too fast but she felt nothing. No shift, no speed, no movement. One moment they were in Nikola’s house, half a world away and now they were somewhere dark. At first she thought she might be blind as John’s arms slipped from her waist. Helen set the bags down on the ground but did not try to move.

She could smell the remains of a fire place, old books, leather couches that had seen too many visitors and a dampness – like a cave.

The house is boarded up,” John whispered, stepping away from her. “From my understanding, Tesla’s doing…”

Helen carefully ventured forward, immediately ducking at the feel of a heavy, wet flower brush through her hair. At least, that is what it reminded her of but –

A match was struck, a bright spark settling into a warm glow near John’s fingertips as he stooped to light the candles scattered over the table. It did not bring much light but it was enough for Helen to make out a low canopy above her head where the ceiling should have been.

They were standing in her living room but it was obscured by thick, thorny vines growing through the plaster above. The tiny specimen of wild rose that her father had left in the attic had escaped, flourishing in the darkness of the boarded in house.

My gods…” Helen whispered, reaching up to touch the beautiful flower that had startled her. It smelled sweet and ancient. “It’s taking over, some kind of unnatural acceleration in its growth. Roses do not grow like this, nothing grows like this…”

Not even the most prolific weed could sprawl across the world with such enthusiasm.

My father said it was an ancient suppressant to a vampire’s hunger,” Helen continued, tugging the flower free. Its petals fell apart in her hand, slipping through her fingers and wafting to the floor. “Nikola proved as much.”

Nikola not Tesla. The distinction was not lost on John. Much had changed since Oxford.

The vampires must have tinkered with its genetic make-up, accelerating its growth.”

John chuckled almost coldly.

They are far ahead of us in scientific understanding,” Helen replied dryly.

So Mr Tesla keeps insisting but…” John drawled, wandering by the boarded windows to light the fire place. “…it seems we inferior humans exceeded them in survival.”

True. Helen was starting to wonder what that said about humans.

Why would he board the house up?” Helen asked, ducking under a bower of roses that almost seemed to sway towards her. “My father sent him here to collect some things but -” she stopped when she realised why. The Cabal had been here again. The beautiful double doors that normally separated the study from the living room had been ripped free and smashed to pieces. Nikola had stacked them as best he could out of the way.

Helen felt irrepressibly cold.

We have to continue onto London. There is nothing here for us.”

London… John knew the place well.

*~*~*

The others tried to hold Nikola back as he stormed into one of the small labs on the south wall, damn near ripping the hinges off the door. He stalked straight across the room before the man behind the desk could even look up and, with an enormous grunt of vampire strength, Nikola lifted the desk with one hand and tossed it to the side with a crash. Charles Fort was left utterly stunned, still sitting in his chair, pen in hand.

Mr Te-” but Charles didn’t even get to finish his name as the livid vampire hit him sharply across the face with an open hand, sending him tumbling off his chair.

Really, Nikola!” James growled, trying to lock the door but only half succeeding. It was in poor shape.

Nikola was about to rain down on Charles with another blow but Sherlock caught his wrist.

Just a moment, before you break his jaw. I have questions.”

The vampire’s eyes were large and black, rimmed by a thin sliver of red like the last of a setting sun.

Charles had scrambled to his feet, backing against the freezing window.

It is not what you think, I swear…” he gasped, hands shaking slightly. “Well – it was but I didn’t know, Nikola – I didn’t know.”

*~*~*

The ground was bleeding. Thick, slow rivers tracked through the crevices of rock and then dripped in a sticky, black veil. It was a twisted waterfall, grotesque and yet oddly enthralling in its hellish-beauty.

You must not touch,” Ranna caught Gregory’s hand as he went to touch a trickle of the liquid. “The rocks here are unstable. The pressure of the mountains above are crushing toxins out of the quartz, shattering it. It will burn through your skin like acid.”

Gregory let his hand slip from hers. It was warm and soft. Just for a moment, he remembered what it was like to hold hands like hers, many years ago now. He only understood half of what she said.

A lot changes with great passages of time,” she continued quietly. “These tunnels are destabilising now, we shouldn’t stay.”

Ranna took him deeper, the ground beneath their feet hollow with layers of passages dug out by vampires. They were long gone though, leaving only the occasional scratch in the wall to say that they had ever existed.

Hours later, they reached the edge of the outpost. It was a metal box – not unlike one of the factories clinging to the banks of the Thames. This one was suspended sixty feet above the ground by some kind of metallic limbs burrowed into the cavern walls. The whole thing was humming, a metallic drone as its engines processed what it could from a small geothermal vent. It too would close soon.

Gregory could see other figures now, workmen frantically moving about under the building like a small troop of ants. Their clothes were similar to a military uniform but all of them covered in dirt and torn from months of work without relief.

This will all be gone in a month,” Ranna said quietly. “We save what we can.”

This is your world?” Gregory whispered, stepping forward, tilting his head back to take in the amazing structure. She simply laughed.

36

APOLOGY IN BLOOD

The last time they met face to face, Helen Magnus tried to kill him. Helen remembered feeling helpless, watching her hand clutch the knife and drive it through Nikola’s flesh. She had wanted to scream as his cool blood coated her hands and ran into the snow.

Then she had straddled him, forcing his body into the freezing white powder as she stabbed him again and again – more than sufficient to kill any mortal. All Nikola had done was lay there in surrender to her, his hands and their sharp claws held at a safe distance, his black eyes pleading with her to stop.

John turned when he realised Helen was no longer walking beside him. He found her, lingering at the top of the stairs, staring absently into the semi-darkness of the house.

I am not sure I can do this…” she whispered, her blue eyes fearful.

John set his lantern down and strode back up to her, taking her hand softly in his. She was cold. “This is your idea,” he reminded her quietly.

Yes but – ” it sounded ridiculous – even in her mind. “There are things that you don’t know about me John – things that I have done.”

He fought a cruel smile at the depth of the unknown lurking in his own soul. If only she knew. He was willing to bet that her forgiveness would not be deep enough, even for him.

I tried to kill him,” Helen looked away, ashamed of herself. Nikola had cried out in pain with each sickening thud of her blade. What the hell drove her to such a senseless act of violence? Why did she keep losing consciousness around her four, closet friends… “There’s something wrong with me, John – something that I can’t fix.”

She could not even blame the vampire blood. This was in her blood, her soul. Helen confessed everything to John and when she fell silent, he gently tugged her to rest against his chest.

Her blond ringlets bounced gently against his cheek as his long fingers trailed through her hair, stroking her. John knew how to calm a woman, what to whisper against her ear to make her sink further into his arms. He had forgotten though, what it was like to hold Helen Magnus. She was no common lady. John was drawn to her strength, her beauty – and her darkness.

*~*~*

Tesla always thought of Charles Fort as a gentleman older than himself but the truth was Charles barely scraped his years beyond twenty-three. He had one of those eternal faces and now it was riddled with fear. Mr Fort’s back was pressed hard against the freezing window pane, his hands held up in a silent plea.

I swear to you, Mr Tesla,” Charles was ignoring the others. Nothing bore into him as sharply as Nikola’s eyes – not even Sherlock’s. “I had no idea that the organisation that hired me was the one hunting you down. I was sent as a favour – to save a life. It suited me to travel in the hopes of seeing, well – your sister again…” he admitted very softly.

Again...? Nikola thought with a growl.

Your friend is under my care – Professor Griffin’s son. I do what I can to assist him in his escapes but they always bring him back. They’ve been watching me closely,” his voice dropped to a natural whisper. He shook his head sadly – if only he could have warned them sooner. “None of you will leave this place.”

Where is Nigel?” James whispered, his arms folded across his chest.

I can take you to him,” Charles replied quickly. “They have just brought him in again. Listen – I have a plan.”

*~*~*

Charles Fort led the men up to the third story of the building. The air seemed to be slightly warmer up here, the paint fresh and the bars on the windows still free of rust. Nikola was never half a step from Fort. Betraying Nikola was one thing but to do the same to his sister was something else entirely.

The last cell in this level was empty. Its floor was wet with half-melted snow and there were a few smears of mud caked on the bars. Charles unlocked the cage-like cell, stepping inside it. Only Nikola followed, the other two deciding it was better not to walk into a trap.

Charles knelt down on the ground, reaching out until he found Nigel’s invisible form.

He’s out cold,” Charles whispered, slipping off his lab coat and wrapping it around the invisible man. Sherlock stared in fascination at the empty patch of ground. The camouflage was flawless, like a giant squid mimicking the rocks and coral.

We’ve got to get him out of here,” James whispered.

I’ve tried,” Charles sighed in defeat. “I may have succeeded with another of the test subjects in here but this is Griffin’s child – he won’t let him be taken. I am supposed to cure him of this affliction.”

But you cannot…” James said quietly.

Charles shook his head. “I cannot.”

As the strongest, Nikola had the task of lifting Nigel onto a gurney. They covered his body with a sheet and made it look as if he were just another casualty of the Cabal.

There is a transport, every afternoon back to London. If we can get him onto that cart we can take the drivers and ride out of here.” Something that Charles had not been able to do on his own. He was an academic, an adventurous one for sure but certainly not a violent man.

They had no trouble working their way back to the ground floor. Most people knew Charles and nodded as they walked by. As a group, they crossed the muddy yard to the renovated stables where boxes of supplies and cages of abnormals were being stacked ready for loading.

A late addition, Dr Fort?” the man standing beside the transport cart said, looking at the body. “It needs to be properly packed and documented before I can approve it.” The man pointed at the long, shallow crates at the side. James and Nikola immediately lifted Nigel into one of them, fitting the lid carefully. “Paperwork…” the man shook his head, still refusing to take the box.

Give me a few minutes, I will collect the necessary documentation,” Charles said calmly. Nikola, naturally, followed. When they were back in the main building, Charles lowered his voice at Nikola. “Mr Tesla, Griffin will recognise you…”

And he will know you betrayed him if he finds you in his office,” Nikola replied simply.

It took nothing for Nikola to disable the lone guard outside the door and pick the lock. Charles was keenly aware that Mr Tesla could snap his neck just as fast.

I want you to see something, Mr Tesla,” he beckoned the vampire over to the far wall. There was a wooden cabinet nailed to the plaster board, not very deep. It was locked but Charles had managed to steal a key during his long months here, opening the delicate doors to reveal rows upon rows of vials. Each one was a slightly different shade of red. Blood. “This is his obsession…” Charles whispered.

From Nigel…” Nikola realised, stepping closer. “He is trying to extract the Source Blood from Nigel’s?”

And failing.” Charles picked one of the vials from the cabinet. “Its impurities are too great. Nigel is no vampire. His blood lacks the one quality that Professor Griffin hungers for…”

Immortality,” Nikola whispered. What else did dying men crave?

He mistakenly thinks that he requires all five of you to piece the blood’s properties back together.” Charles shifted his weight, setting the vial back down onto the shelf. “All he needs is you, Nikola.”

*~*~*

James and Sherlock waited calmly by the crate containing Nigel. No one paid them much attention. The place was full of men in lab coats, coming in and out. The horses were still being fed, pawing boredly at the ground with their noses buried in hay buckets.

They’ve been gone a while…” James whispered. “What if he wakes up in there?”

My dear Mr Watson,” Sherlock drawled calmly, sitting on the crate. “The more you fret the longer time will feel to you. As for Mr Griffin well… we never specified that our cargo was dead.”

There were less people in the room. At first, Sherlock thought it strange that he had noticed this fact but soon it was joined to another fact – one of the barn doors had been closed. A third fact, the man verifying cargo had just walked out.

It’s quiet,” James muttered absently.

Sherlock tilted his head as the boy sweeping out vacant horse stalls also ducked out under the remaining door – closing it behind him. The horses fussed softly, leather and metal straining over their coats.

James…” Sherlock whispered. “I don’t want to alarm you but -”

But the three burly contractors were pacing towards them.

*~*~*

Helen had her father’s gun concealed under her skirts, a knife too. Nikola had left her notes, one on her bed – another in his attic. She followed the notes to the British Museum in London, John’s ability allowing them to cover ground quickly.

How quaint of the vampire,” John half chuckled as Helen stalked through one of the exhibits – searching. “It’s like a treasure hunt.”

He knew that I would be coming for him,” she replied, ducking down to reach behind one of the sarcophagi. Another note.

Where to this time?” John ran his long fingers across the glass edge of a display. It felt threateningly sharp.

Windsor…” she whispered, folding the note backup. She never let John see the writing at the bottom; ‘very truly yours’… Helen only hoped that Nikola could forgive her.

*~*~*

Without the Source Blood, you are the only creature left that Griffin can use to solve the riddle of immortality,” Charles looked sad, guilt washing through his eyes. “I’m sorry Nikola.”

There was a scuffle outside, a dozen armed personnel running towards the barn, surrounding it. Nikola stepped over to the glass. It was too late, the Cabal knew.

You betrayed us…”

Charles shook his head, his resolve firm. “No, Mr Tesla,” he said, watching the vampire brush his hand uselessly over the glass window, “I told you that the Cabal watch me.”

Nikola could see that in moments the others would be trapped but there was nothing that he could do. He turned to face Charles, his eyes clear this time – a human blue. “What are you doing, Charles?”

Charles pulled the doors shut on the cabinet.

Saving you – forgive me.”

The glass window behind Nikola shattered. A crack followed; sharp thunder on the air. Nikola felt the cold stream of blood first, seeping through his shirt. Charles discarded the gun on the table, crossing quickly to Nikola, catching the man before he fell to the ground.

Straight through the heart. Even a vampire’s body quaked under the wrecked flesh. Nikola grasped at Charles’ arm, his bloody fingers gripping at the man that had killed him.

A flare of red. Not in the room but between the leaves kicking over the university lawn. Nikola could still remember the day they had met, her scarlet dress trailing out behind her; the first time she glanced back over her shoulder to see him watching from the park bench.

*~*~*

Which ones are you taking?” Sherlock asked, quickly on his feet, cane in hand. He twisted the handle and unsheathed a slender blade.

Uh…” James stood also but the best he could do for a weapon was an old broom used to sweep up the hay. He brandished it anyway, trying to look threatening. “Whichever one lunges at me?”

Good man,” Sherlock grinned.

Bloody hell, thought James, he’s enjoying it…

37

AN HONEST GENTLEMAN

The first man to lunge was the tallest with a thick red beard and cold, grey eyes. He swung his machete just shy of Sherlock’s head. Sherlock ducked, the cold sound of metal cutting air ringing in his ears. Like an insect, Sherlock spun under the man’s blade and quickly slashed his sharp cane against the killer’s chest. The material of his jacket and shirt shredded to reveal a slender line of red.

Nice shot…” James whispered, still a spectator.

You worry about your own problems, my dear Watson,” Sherlock replied, spinning out of the way of another heavy blow. His opponent may be slow but it would only take one hit from a creature like this to kill.

Watson’s problems came in the form of a crate, easily lifted by one of the remaining men and thrown straight at James’s head. As a gentleman unaccustomed to such things, he gasped, ducked into a tiny ball and cried out as he was covered in splinters and hay from the crate exploding on the wall behind him.

That wasn’t very friendly,” James muttered, standing up and brushing the hay from his shoulder.

They are not subjects for you to study, James,” Sherlock said, scratching his opponent with his cane again, this time down his chiselled cheek. “And I dare say they are less behaved than your notes and bottles of scotch.”

James fished around in the hay and found a broom, brandishing it proudly at the man that had attacked him. The man chuckled coldly, reaching forward. James swung the broom as hard as he could but the man merely caught it in his enormous hands and – snapped it, leaving James with a very sad looking broom head.

Well done, old boy…” Sherlock’s sharp eyes glistened.

*~*~*

When the vampire went still, Charles Fort let him slip out of his arms leaving Nikola slumped against the wall. There was blood everywhere, far more than he had ever expected. It was sprayed over the broken glass from the window, smeared across the cream walls and dripping from Charles’s neck. The dark stains had ruined Nikola’s shirt and vest, some of it still oozing slowly down the vampire’s chest to form a pool on the floor.

He could not look into Nikola’s eyes. They were a clear blue – very human eyes that had not been ready to leave the world. So young. Now they were empty.

Charles withdrew a syringe from his jacket and quickly drew what he could from Nikola’s arm, filling a small glass vial. Then, he moved over to the tiny cabinet on the wall and threw everything inside it to the floor, shattering the samples of Nigel’s blood, every last one of them. All of Professor Griffin’s work was destroyed in an instant.

There were rushed footsteps outside just before the door was thrown open, slamming back against the wall. The scene was grim; Nikola lifeless against the wall with Mr Fort standing over him, a bloody hand print on the sleeve of his shirt.

It was Professor Griffin and two of his goons, both of them raising a gun towards Charles.

What is this?” Griffin barked. His anger had made his frail body stronger. He saw the shattered remains of the cabinet.

Charles straightened, holding up the single vial of vampire blood.

Is this what you’re looking for?” he asked, a slight waver of fear in his voice. This could not be undone and his life would certainly be forfeit for it.

Griffin’s eyes tracked slowly from the vial in Fort’s trembling hand to Tesla, dead and cold against the wall. A wry smile tugged at the corner of the old man’s lips. Clever.

The last vial of vampire blood…” Griffin hissed, taking a step into the room.

If you want to live forever,” Charles whispered, his fingers ready to crush the vial if they moved any closer, “then blood from your son will not suffice. I’ve studied the files you gave me, the reports of the five children at Oxford and their experiment. Only one possesses the required gene from the original sample of blood…” Charles motioned to Tesla behind him. “This is his blood. With it, I can give you what you want – the immortality that you dream of and a cure to the plague that ravishes you.”

Griffin shifted, leaning on his cane.

Your terms…” because there were always terms.

Their lives, all of them,” Charles whispered, despite Griffin’s snarl. “You let Watson, Sherlock and Nigel Griffin go and they can take the body of their friend with them,” he nodded at Tesla. “Then I will help you. I’ll give you everything you want. You hired me, Professor – brought me from the other side of the world. You know I can do this.”

Give up my son?”

Charles nodded. “Those are my terms.”

*~*~*

John teleported Helen to the grounds of the Cabal manor. They were behind a bank of hedges, over looking the pair of white buildings near the main driveway. One of them was a barn of sorts, surrounded by armed men.

Take your hands off my jacket, it’s worth more than that mat of horse hair masquerading on your-” Sherlock was silenced as the man dragging him out of the barn hit him sharply over the face. Another man had James, a knife to his neck.

Helen gasped and went to move but John caught her wrist and tugged her back down next to him.

Wait…” he whispered. “We have no idea what’s going on.”

Something wasn’t right… A man ran from the main house toward the barn, stopping to talk with the men there, motioning over to the barn and then to horses and carriage already waiting in the driveway. The men didn’t look happy about the conversation and soon, a crate was brought out from the barn and loaded into the carriage while James was ushered into the back.

More shouting went on between the men and then a bloody body emerged from the main house. Helen knew at once that it was Nikola. It only took one man to carry his slight body and load it roughly next to James. Helen gasped softly, covering her mouth. It couldn’t be. Not like that. Not so easily…

Sherlock was hunted up into the front of the carriage and handed the reins.

Go!” the man grunted at him, still sporting a couple of nice scratches from Sherlock’s cane. “Go now!”

Sherlock, for once, didn’t ask questions. They were being offered freedom and so he snapped the reins against the horses and took off down the gravel driveway.

*~*~*

Charles waited by the window, watching as the carriage raced away, nearly missing the turn on the main road. Then it was gone, joining dozens of other identical carriages all on the main road to London. They were safe. It was the best that he could do and hopefully, it was enough to redeem his soul.

The two men lowered their guns.

All right, Mr Fort. You and I have work to do. I have held up my end of the bargain.”

Charles was looking at the bare trees bending softly in the wind. The flurries of snow kicked up and sent tumbling into the air made him smile, each one of them a complex riddle of ice crystals. The world was beautiful. Not as beautiful as Milka.

Still smiling, Charles closed his eyes and smashed the vial against the window pane.

*~*~*

Nikola – Nikola!” James whispered. The man was sprawled awkwardly over the back seat, frighteningly still.

He’d been shot – his clothes soaked in blood. James undid Nikola’s shirt, pushing it open; shot through the heart but the wound was oddly small. The skin that had been shredded was fresh as though it had just healed.

Nikola should be dead but James was observant… He held his hand up to cover Nikola’s open eyes for a moment, then removed it, watching the pupils shift size. Alive, even if he wasn’t breathing yet.

Bloody vampire,” James breathed in relief.

“I cannot believe you tried to hit them with a broom!” Sherlock yelled from the front of the carriage, trying to keep a handle on the horses as they raced over the uneven, icy road. “How’s the vampire?”

James relaxed back into the cracked leather seat, one hand on Nikola’s chest.

Alive…” James replied.

He took a moment and then pulled at the leather separating the seats from the luggage. The wooden crate containing Nigel was there, being battered from side to side. James reached over and prised off the lid. Nigel was half conscious, blinking back the sudden light.

*~*~*

They’re going to let them go?” Helen whispered. She was in shock, preferring to ignore what she had seen. She could not lose her closest friend and father in the same week – it was too much to bear.

John had his hand settled on the small of her back as they remained hidden behind the ice-laden hedge. “Looks that way.”

That doesn’t make any -” Helen was cut short by two quick gunshots. Their sound was dull, as if they’d come from inside the main building.

James keeps a small apartment in London. I wager that’s where they’re heading. We can meet them there…” he whispered.

*~*~*

It had just finished snowing on Baker street. Everything was peaceful. The wintry sky was oddly inviting. A strong wind earlier had lifted the smog out of the streets and left nothing but the crystal sky above, starkly perfect against the muddle of city beneath.

Why is James staying here?” Helen asked, running her gloved hand down the banister. They were lingering outside. The others should arrive soon.

Our dear James is working on a case. He’d dabbling in Scotland Yard.”

Helen looked up at the unassuming building. It was set tight between the other houses, wall to wall, a copy of its brothers.

There is a particularly juicy crime at the present,” John continued when Helen said nothing. He was almost disappointed that she didn’t ask about The Ripper. Did she even know? “A serial murderer is working his way through-”

His?” she asked, her gaze flicking up. “Is there not a debate in the papers at present regarding the gender of the killer?”

Ah – so she did know… John’s brown eyes seemed all the deeper, his hand resting low on Helen’s back again. “A lady could not do such things.”

Helen could still feel Nikola’s warm blood over her hands. “Yes they could.”

A very tired pair of horses dragged a carriage to a stop in front of Helen and John. The beasts were panting, not even bothering to fuss against their reins. They’d been run a long way at high speed. Sherlock, dusted in snow, waved at the pair.

And you, I presume, are the lady Magnus…” the tall, wiry man grinned. He could easily see why Mr Tesla was so taken with her. She was a beautiful woman, if somewhat wild. She was no lady of the court, so to say but she was a stunning creature. Sherlock tossed her the key to the door, which she easily caught. “We have to get them inside.”

*~*~*

They laid Nikola on James’s bed. Helen would let none of them near him, ushering them all back into the main room and closing the door. James and John were back to their old habit of sitting by the fire, scotch in hand whilst Sherlock tended to Nigel. He had slipped back into a deep sleep and not yet spoken to any of them.

Nikola stirred as Helen sat down on the bed next to him.

Sh…” she whispered, pressing a warm washer to the small wound on his chest, wiping some fresh blood away. It had nearly healed.

He looked so fragile in the candlelight. Nikola had always been a slight man but his charisma hid it well. When he was awake he was as fierce as any man, his blue eyes burning them into submission. She’d seen him stare down lecturers, businessmen and frighten the life out of the Cabal men come to kill them. The only time she had ever seen him afraid was when she’d come at him with a knife.

Helen?” he choked out, his hands clutching softly at the bedding. His blue eyes reappeared under heavy lashes, the world a blur but for her blond hair and smile. “Are you – hurt?” Nikola whispered, an unsteady hand lifting up to her cheek.

She chuckled softly, taking his hand and guiding it to her warm skin.

38

BOWING OUT GRACEFULLY

I tried to kill you…” Helen whispered, fussing with a few long strands of his hair. They seemed determined to fall across Nikola’s eyes and every few minutes she drew her warm fingertips against his forehead, tucking them back into his hair line.

It was a torture far worse for him to endure than the knife she’d thrust into his chest. Her soft attentions were a constant reminder of an affection he had forbidden himself.

Helen… Helen – stop…” Nikola murmured, taking both her hands in his. He was sitting up against the pillows with a few heavy blankets thrown over him. The bandage visible through his half-undone shirt was no longer necessary despite the small smear of blood on it. He was afraid to tell her though, in case she started fussing again. “It is not your fault – what happened at my home. I should have told you what your father told me.”

They never used to keep secrets from each other. Nikola and Helen were confidantes. So much had changed these past few months, he could not bear to lose her trust as well.

Helen folded the quilt gently around Nikola as he spoke, her long hair a soft gold in the light where it slid over her bare shoulder. The candles had nearly died by the time he finished, their wax left all in sad ruins, dripping from the desk.

Nikola told Helen everything. He explained that she was born to kill his kind; a cruel balance of the universe. Vampires needed their predators and rare, immortal beings were always there to hunt them. With deep embarrassment, he admitted that over time, he would crave her blood and that if he tried to consume it, he would die. That was why he’d taken a sample of her blood that night and tried to inject it. He had chosen to set her free of the dark ties that bound them.

No,” she whispered defiantly, shifting closer on the bed, threading her hand in his. “We decide what we are, Nikola – not our blood.” Was that not the whole point of their experiment? To choose their future? “Besides…” Helen added, with that playful glint in her glistening eyes, “you’re only part vampire.”

He cupped her cheek tenderly in one hand. “Yes, but you are a whole immortal,” he smiled warmly .

Nikola did not show affection easily but she was his friend, his – his something that Nikola was afraid to admit. “Defy nature, then?” he proposed with those bright blue eyes of his, to which she smiled. “Just – you know…” he murmured, settling against the pillows, “warn me if you feel the urge to balance out nature again.”

To his surprise, she did not move to leave. Instead, Helen gently laid her head against his chest, her blond curls tumbling all over him. One of her delicate hands clutched at his open shirt making his heart falter. He didn’t know what to do.

After several minutes, Nikola settled his trembling hand on the back of her dress. She had worn this one many times before but this was the first time he had noticed the smooth finish of the embroidered silk, or the tight sash wound several times around her waist.

Helen fell asleep on him last June when the weather was warm in the evenings and the storms played at the edge of the horizon. They had been watching stars on the roof that night and drifted off into sleep, curling innocently up together as the night passed. This was different. While she slept against his chest, Nikola trailed his fingers slowly down the laced-up back of her corset, counting how many times the ribbons crossed over.

When he dreamed, it was of those ribbons. They were sliding through his fingers as he undid her corset.

*~*~*

James frowned at his empty scotch glass. He had passed his limit several glasses ago and since fallen into intoxication. Well into intoxication, he realised, when he nearly missed the coffee table trying to put the glass down.

What the devil are they doing in there?” James slurred, enjoying the warmth of the fire.

Sherlock was the only one still sitting up in the lounge room. Griffin was put to bed in the only other room and Druitt had stalked out to work his way through the bars. Helen had been in Tesla’s room for – gods, James couldn’t even read his watch any more.

I would not like to wager on Miss Magnus returning to us,” Sherlock said simply. He’d been smoking something untoward and currently looked a bit twitchy. He kept glancing suspiciously at the coat stand in the corner as if it were threatening to pounce on him at any moment.

You don’t – think…” James lowered his voice. He knew Tesla was fond of Helen but he did not seem the type for illicit liaisons. Hell, the man could hardly stand to shake hands.

My dear Watson, you may have an eye for fine detail but every now and then you miss the big picture.”

James frowned slightly and started playing with a thread that had come loose from the arm of the chair.

You are not jealous, I hope?” Sherlock poured himself the last of the scotch.

James tugged at the thread, watching part of the material unravel. There had been a cat here once, he could tell by the scratch marks. “I was thinking about Mary,” he whispered. Mary Jane Kelly, his lover. “Do you think he made her suffer?”

The Ripper had left little but a mutilated corpse for James to mourn over. James knew that to love a woman of her profession would always end in despair but he had not expected it to end in bloodshed.

James, there is only madness in such questions,” Sherlock advised softly. “I do not wish to see a mind like yours fall into an endless well of hatred of what might have passed. All you can do for her now, is find her killer.”

*~*~*

John Druitt had spent hours in a small bar catching up on the papers. There was an old pile of them stacked haphazardly in the corner of the establishment, stained and missing pages. With a half drunk glass of bear beside him, John grazed through the headlines.

He smiled coldly when he found what he was looking for. Annie Farmer and Rose Mylett. Whilst he had been abroad, whispers of the Ripper had kept London in fear and it seemed that every woman’s cry or suspicious death was now attributed first to the mysterious murderer. The ancient vampires ruled the world with fear and in a few short months, The Ripper held London’s soul.

John tried not to be insulted at the pitiful nature of the two mentioned in this article. One was not even dead, a mistake he would hardly make and the other was probably a victim of her own alcoholism. There was an art to murder seriously lacking in these cases.

It would not do.

He threw the newspapers back in the corner of the bar with disgust. John would give them something to write about – something to unravel that would leave their blood running cold. First, he had a loose end to cut free. A certain Mr Nigel Griffin who knew the truth of his double life and he couldn’t have that.

*~*~*

Gregory kept touching the surface of the window, pressing his palm to the crystalline substance similar to glass. The tunnels were rushing past them at incredible speed, many times that of a horse at full run. Ranna was seated opposite him, staring down at her hands.

This is incredible,” Gregory whispered. The spherical device rolled over, ducked and weaved through the caves and yet inside, the ride was smooth and silent.

You do not have such methods of transport in your world?” she asked, with that slight air of Praxian superiority born into its people.

Nothing like this,” he shook his head. “My world makes a lot more noise. If something goes fast, you can hear and feel it. Creating power is an expensive, messy business.”

We have all the power we need from the heat inside the planet,” she replied, standing as the transport came to a stop. “Normally, prisoners are not so – happy…” Ranna added. The enormous grin had never left Gregory’s face since she had met him in the tunnels. These surface dwellers were most strange.

I have found a whole world beneath ours – the greatest archaeological discovery of our age.”

Is that what I am… your discovery?” Ranna couldn’t help a small grin on her lips as she waited for him to follow her out. He was her discovery too. The first surface dweller in five hundred years. Sadly, they did not seem to have made much progress.

In a manner of speaking,” Gregory looked almost shy. The air was cleaner in this tunnel. Everything looked new; the rock freshly cut and free of lichen despite the fresh water trickling over it making their surfaces shine back with beautiful threads of colour. They must be close to the city heart. “I must insist that after I have met with your government, you let me leave. I came here looking for Vampires and if they are no longer amongst you, I must keep looking elsewhere. My daughter and her friends depend upon me.”

I already told you,” she murmured, so that the two guards accompanying them could not hear. “No outsiders are allowed to leave Praxia. It is forbidden by our highest laws. Secrecy keeps us safe. You stay here or you suffer our executioners. That is our way.”

That made Gregory’s smile fade. He could not spend his life trapped here, not when he had a daughter all alone in the world above.

Without warning, the city of Praxia emerged around the next corner, twinkling in the dark cavern. It was immense, half the size of London itself all buried under the ground. Buildings twice the size of the largest factories reached up, brushing the top of the cavern ceiling, some of them were even moulded onto the rock structures creating organic arches over the streets. There had to be half a million people down there.

It isn’t possible…” he whispered, staggering forward to get a better view from the ledge.

Your world is alive, Doctor Magnus – it is not all just rock and ash down here.”

My lady, it is this way…” one of the guards stepped forward, when Ranna turned to the left, heading for another tunnel. She spun around, blushing innocently as so many of the women of her station did.

Of course – forgive me…”

As the guard smiled back, Ranna reached forward and stole his gun from its holding, unhooking the safety and firing a sharp burst of energy square into his chest. She did not hesitate, taking down the other one before they could call for help. She was no girl, Ranna was a scientist, hungry for knowledge and there was a chance that this man could answer her questions. She was not about to just hand him over to the council – not yet, anyway.

I – don’t understand…” Gregory stepped carefully over the bodies, following her into the tunnel. It led sharply down.

If you wish to go back to the surface, you will need my help. It will be hours before they notice my absence with all the confusion. That will give us just enough time.”

Time for what?”

*~*~*

Nigel slept peacefully, unaware of the tall figure looming over him, knife in hand. John was spinning the slender metal between his fingertips, letting it catch the moonlight. There was a smear of blood where the sharp tip pressed against John’s thumb. A drop of it was slowly accumulating, swelling and forming a bloody tear.

It fell onto Nigel’s cheek, shattering over his pale skin. He stirred, frowning for a moment before his eyes opened.

Nigel didn’t say anything when he saw John above him. The torture of the Cabal could not begin to instil the fear that a motionless shadow of this man could. There was no point lying. Nigel intended to tell the others the truth and John knew it – Nigel had the dignity not to plead for his life with lies.

You are a monster…” Nigel whispered, sitting up in bed. It was freezing in the room with the window forced open from the outside. A few lonely flecks of snow drifted in, melting on the curtains. “What we did was ground breaking – a miracle and you’ve turned it into this; into murder and gore.”

The knife continued to spin in his fingers, another drop of blood tumbling onto the sheets.

Can’t you hear it?” John hissed, his voice barely a whisper. “I can. Your blood is rushing through your veins, begging to be free. I can smell it on the air and feel it…” he burned for it, an intense hunger of the vampires, but with no way to sate it.

Nigel was shaking his head.

You need help, John. We did this to ourselves, let us -”

The sharp edge of the blade found Nigel’s throat, pressed there not quite hard enough to draw blood.

You wish to change me? How noble of the boy whose father desires to dissect all the abnormals of this world and cage us up. Tell me, did you hear the screams coming from the building they held you in, hmm? I did. This world is darkness and light, each has its part to play. Yours, I am afraid, is to be silent.”

Am I interrupting?” Sherlock’s wiry figure hovered in the doorway. He’d been checking on Nigel every few hours. When he was this high on liquor and weed it was tricky to tell which bits of reality were constructions of his imagination. It was perfectly possible that Druitt holding a knife to Griffin’s throat was a fleeting fantasy.

But wait… Sherlock knew that knife – the slender curve of knife suitable for deep, clean cuts. Druitt’s height was just suitable to make the necessary first cut through the throat and his overall appearance more than passingly resembled witness statements.

How very, very curious…” the detective whispered, taking another step into the room. What an interesting group of friends Dr Watson kept. A vampire, a lady with no appreciation of her station in life, the invisible son of a less than friendly organisation and a serial killer. Quite the collection. “Mr Druitt, is it? Or do you prefer to go by Jack…”

Sherlock offered his hand, as if to introduce himself.

You received my letters then, I trust…” John drawled, applying more pressure to the knife. It cut through a few of the delicate layers of skin leaving a thin red line on Nigel’s neck.

They did not contain the finesse of a lawyer’s hand but they stated their case plain enough,” Sherlock withdrew his hand when John refused to shake. “You do not fit Scotland Yard’s profile, other than a passing physical resemblance of course, I -”

John stopped him there. “Detective, you can stay and watch or go for help but whichever you choose, please, a little bit of hush whilst I work.”

Actually, I’d rather you left Mr Griffin’s throat intact, if it’s not too much trouble,” Sherlock ventured another step into the room. “I have known the man long enough to gather he’s no whore – nor is he female. You may not have a profile but your victims certainly do which means this isn’t for pleasure – it’s a crime of necessity, and I must say it does not suit you nearly as well. There’s no prestige in survival.”

You’ll ‘ave to kill us both,” Nigel glared, taking hold of John’s arm, pressing the knife more firmly to his own throat. “Make sure you don’ miss – because if you do, I’ll find you an’ put an end to you. You are nothin’ but a failed experiment, a lab rat twisted an’ deformed into a sad creature waitin’ to be put out of its misery.”

Oh Nigel remembered how John had turned pale at the blood in Oxford, so long ago. His speech on humanity and the dignity of life had been moving enough to sway Helen. Where was that John now?

James clipped the doorway on his way in, leaning awkwardly against it in his inebriated state. He sobered quickly when he saw the three men. It only took a moment for him to hiss the words, “It was you…” with such bitter disgust that even John flinched.

John stepped back from Nigel with an almost theatrical air as he wiped the fine layer of blood off the knife and onto his coat.

I’m disappointed, James…” John hissed quietly, backing toward the window and the cold night air. “I had hoped you would make the connection with poor little Mary. Sweet girl – dreadful whore. I just don’t think her heart was in it…”

James lunched forward, half stumbling in deep, passionate anger.

John was too fast, taking a low bow in front of his audience before falling backwards out the window without a sound. When they made it to the sill, there was no sign of The Ripper on the frozen pavement below.

39

CREATURES OF THE SAND

The cold air stung against their skin. Shadows encroached on the pavement like nightmares on the edge of dreams. Every dried leaf tumbling against the cobblestone was a footstep making Nikola glance over his shoulder and peer into the night.

Sherlock, Watson and Tesla had spread out through the streets of London, centring around Whitechapel. If they had to search every whore house and alley they would. The Ripper was their mistake, their creation.

Tesla stopped beneath one of the gas-lit lights, glancing up at the feeble flame, flickering in the wind. Its glass enclosure was choked with ice while a long, slender crack spread through one of its panels. Nikola would change the world – very soon. These streets would be bathed in artificial light, not just from lamp posts but spilling out of windows. There was nowhere for darkness to hide in his future.

*~*~*

James was four streets over, silently descending the brick steps to the waterfront. He could hear the soft lap of the tide against the wall as he followed it under a small, derelict bridge. Anger, so fierce he didn’t understand it, made the world waver like some kind of desert storm approaching. James couldn’t focus when the truth was so sharp. He was plagued by vivid memories – her soft hands reaching around him to unlatch the hooks of his waistcoat drowned out by twisted pile of flesh strewn over the bed. His lover in ruins.

Did John hate him that much? To not just kill the woman he loved but have her himself and then torture her… As long as he lived, James could never forgive this. He wanted John to hurt.

*~*~*

Nikola moved with a silence that scared him. Vampires were predatory, he knew that well. Claws, fangs and black eyes that made the night thin – it was the feeling of hunting that he had been unprepared for. Instinct told him how to track John, how to hold his faint scent of burnt parchment on the air and pursue it.

There was no-one out here save fat rats and drunkards too heavy to roll from where they’d fallen. Sherlock had said that tonight John would kill – and so they had to keep searching. Nikola turned down another street and swept over the road.

Nikola fell back against one of the sandstone walls, glistening from a fine coat of ice. His leather trench coat clipped against the back of his heals making the vampire look like another shadow. He’d heard something – a crackle of energy on the air, yet he knew of nothing that could produce such a sound.

Slow, careful steps started down the street. Nikola pressed himself harder against the stone, sliding into a small gap between two buildings. Nikola was a vampire, Nigel was invisible, James was far too smart for his own good – but what was John? The truth was, none of them really knew. He had kept so quiet, all these months.

…and there he was. John Druitt – Jack the Ripper, strolling the half-lit street as if lording over an empire. His soft curves of brown hair had been shorn off leaving a bare skull. It made him taller, colder – drawing attention to the slender red scar cutting down half his face.

*~*~*

Ranna drew him deeper into the caves, sweeping down corridors and through heavy metal doors that she unlocked using a green jewel on her bracelet. He followed without a word, only stopping when the last door slammed shut behind him.

A shiver ran down his back at the sight. This must be her lab.

It was a large, circular room with an ornate, gold trim. He couldn’t read the script etched into the precious metal although the strokes looked faintly Sumerian. Along the walls, cylindrical containers stood from floor to ceiling filled with an eerie, grey liquid. Floating inside them was something that made Gregory’s stomach turn, his feet stumbling backwards until his back hit the door.

Vampires.

Each tank contained what remained of a vampire, stripped naked and preserved in all their tortured glory. Most were badly injured, limbs shredded or their throats slit open. Unseeing eyes stared blankly out, mouths full of sharp teeth accentuated by two, slender fangs that reached past their chins. One of them still had a necklace of jewels around its shrivelled neck, fused to its skin.

Gregory swore under his breath, slowly pacing forward towards one of the containers. Even in death, these creatures were pure fear, humanity’s hunters. Gregory understood now that he lived in a world without balance. Humanity was free – but to what end?

Is this what you came for, Dr Magnus?” Ranna was knelt down by the bench, pulling out folders of documentation. The folders looked comparatively primitive in her lab compared to the eerie glow of light coming from the walls as if by magic.

Actually, I was rather hoping that they’d be more – alive…” he replied in a whisper, his eyes following the long set of claws on this particular vampire. One of them was snapped in half, dangling by a fragile thread of skin.

Over the centuries, vampires have come for us, breaking through our defences. The one in front of you is Geb, ruler of a great many lands above but it was the underworld he wanted. He came alone and killed four-hundred of us.”

By himself?” Gregory whispered.

All without a sound. He had a fondness for taking the life from his victims in pieces, leaving their bodies scattered through our city.” Their blood had never come out of the rocks. “If it is vampires that you seek, I strongly dissuade you, Dr Magnus. Be thankful that they have left you in peace.”

Why are they here?” he asked, slowly pacing around Ranna’s showcase of dismembered vampires. “Do you study them?”

Ranna stood back up, leaning against the bench as the man strode around. “There is -” but how to put it? “A disease amongst our people, spread by the vampires. Half-creatures…” she trailed off. “It makes monsters out of men.”

*~*~*

Anyone would think that John wanted to be followed. He was pacing brazenly under the street lights, one hand resting on the wall as he walked. Nikola could see the white dust coating his hand from the chalky stone.

Nikola followed at a safe distance, keeping to the shadows as he tracked John to an unassuming building pressed tight between the others. Its facade had seen better centuries, the brickwork stained black from the smog. At the moment, the black layers of air were settled knee-height, pushed down to ground by the dense, freezing air. It was disconcerting, being unable to see your feet through the unsettled, grey sea rippling over the ground.

John knocked at the cracked door, waiting patiently until a young woman opened it. It was clear that she had been expecting him, inviting him in with a nod and closing the door.

*~*~*

Gregory came back to stand opposite Ranna, leaning on the marble bench top.

We are not sure exactly how it happens,” she continued, handing Gregory a blurry, black and white photo from one of the security cameras. It was the only image that they had of one of these creatures – these People of the Sand as they had been called, long ago. “They were human, once – but something in the vampire venom changes them. There were reports, in ancient times, of sand creatures that the vampires used to guard their tombs. They used to escape in the night and decimate desert caravans.”

A blood disease of some kind, it had to be… Gregory thought quietly, examining the image. The creature in it was distinctly human and yet its limbs hand lengthened to allow it to climb with ease. Its back was arched, the bones of its spine pronounced.

And this is the only image you have of one?”

Ranna nodded. “The creatures have a unique adaptation – one that the vampires themselves do not possess. Their skin can perfectly mimic their surrounds, rendering them all but invisible. We will need one alive if we wish to study it. If you ware what you say you are, Dr Magnus, perhaps you can help me find a cure.”

And if I do?” Gregory asked, closing the folder.

I will give you your freedom – and all the information I have on the Immortals.”

Gregory’s gaze snapped up sharply. How did she…?

When our system scanned you, we found traces of the carrier gene. If you have female children then it is likely they will manifest the true immortality. Our last immortal was killed a hundred years ago by that…” Ranna pointed at another of the vampires. This one in distinctly worse shape.

And what about the rest of your people? They’ll know that you are missing.”

Ranna just smiled. “They will be far too busy worrying about geological shifts to trouble themselves over one missing priestess.”

As if to solidify her point, the ground beneath them rumbled again. This entire place seemed to be on the verge of tumbling into the underworld.

There is more that I should tell you…” Gregory said quietly, resting on the bench. He could not help his eyes catching one of the ghostly vampires behind Ranna. “My daughter and her colleagues experimented with Vampire blood.”

Ranna’s eyes went almost black, although Gregory could not tell whether it was with horror or intrigue. “Pure blood?” she prompted softly.

Gregory nodded. “It was given to me freely by a living vampire.”

Despite Ranna’s display of vampires, their blood was still a rare and precious substance. It fell to dust shortly after their death unless kept in airtight vials.

It is rumoured to have remarkable properties…” she whispered. “Including the healing of this plague.”

Gregory shook his head slowly at her. “I do not have it with me. There are other samples but they are back in England.” When she looked at him blankly, Gregory had to explain briefly about the world, its countries and its cities. It had changed a great deal since the last notes were made on it. The underworld changed, but it rarely grew. Cities migrated at the earth shifted, following the cracks of heat.

As Ranna explained her world’s history in turn, Gregory started to feel uneasy.

There was an uprising,” she continued, far more animated now than he had ever seen her. The young woman had taken off her long priestess robes and draped them over the bench leaving her in a suit similar to what a man would wear though slightly more fitted with more feminine details around the collar and cuffs.

In Ancient Egypt – against the Vampires,” Gregory agreed. Yes, he had read that. The ancient Cabal had led the uprising, coaxing the population to rise up against the vampire race and overthrow them in a very human way – with bloodshed.

It took years of planning but our people found a way to convince the others to join us – to be free.”

Your people?” he asked carefully, his eyes lifting back up to the strange text around the walls. Gregory had seen some of those symbols before. They were pressed into an old, heavy door almost like a cartouche. Samuel Griffin’s door. “You are the Cabal,” Gregory whispered, carefully keeping his tone even.

Ranna nodded, repeating the word in its ancient tongue – pointing to the words above the door.

Despite our numbers, many of the vampires escaped. We took the cities, the lands and the creatures that they had brought from the ends of the Earth. Decades later, the vampires regrouped. We had no choice but to retreat under the ground and leave the others to their fate. From what we understand, the vampires never truly recovered, eventually falling under subsequent human rules.”

Greek descends came to rule Egypt, common humans that tried to emulate the ancient ways, but it was all smoke and mirrors. Rome conquered soon after,” Gregory added. Ranna was taking notes.

*~*~*

Nikola had no choice but to knock on the door. The lady was in trouble, whoever she was and there was no time to rustle together any backup.

A slight, mousey sort of a girl answered it. She had small, grey eyes – wild locks of unkempt hair and a tattered dress held together by years of untidy patching.

Not tonight, sir…” she said almost boredly. “If Leeton sent you over, I already told him that I’m working all evening.”

There was a shuffle of clothes or bedding from the room behind. These houses were narrow – a door then a hallway barely wide enough to walk down. Steps branched off to the side, leading to the upper level while the hallway twisted left, ending in a room only big enough for a single bed, small desk and wardrobe.

Madam, you are in a great deal of danger,” Nikola whispered, not realising that his foreign accent, towering height and long trench coat made him fit the latest newspaper description of The Ripper. Oblivious to her growing wariness, Nikola extended his hand to her. “You must come with me.”

She stepped back, half-hiding behind the door. “I think you should leave…”

I cannot,” Nikola insisted. “There is a gentleman here with you, he’s -”

The woman cut him off, slamming the door in Nikola’s face.

Dammit!” he hissed.

*~*~*

Who was that?” John asked, seated on the bed, his shirt already hanging open.

A man – foreigner type…”

Tesla… John smiled. “By all means, show him in.”

40

RUFFLE OF FEATHERS

I beg you, Helen, come away from the window.”

Helen ignored him. Her stomach pressed against the sill as she leaned out into the night. The moon was up, a lopsided arc of light knocked onto its back, slowly setting toward the horizon. It would be gone in a few hours, leaving the night cold and dark.

Nigel was well enough to stand. There was a faint hue of colour in his sunken cheeks and warmth in his skin after several hours spent by the fire with Sherlock. He was not the man he had been back at Oxford. That boy was gone. Nigel had lost all his extra weight – and then some. It made his features eerily similar to that of his father’s – harsh and squarish.

Please, at leas’ keep this over your shoulders,” Nigel cautiously draping a woollen blanket around her.

It scratched at her bare shoulders but Helen relented, clutching it tight.

I should be out there,” she said hollowly.

Nigel had never seen her look this lost. Only a few hours ago, they had woken her up with the truth about John. He would never forget how innocent she had looked, draped over Tesla, sound sleep. They were not lovers, no – his friends were more complicated than that.

Helen, this isn’t your-”

Please don’t do that,” she interrupted, shifting away from him. It was her fault. John had warned her about the dangers of rushing into the unknown, that knowledge had a dark side. She had dragged him into this experiment with a few soft smiles and lingering looks and she knew it. What he had become… every time she tried to think about it, she felt ill.

Leave me be,” Helen begged.

*~*~*

Nikola was still standing in front of the door when it opened again. He was so surprised that he nearly fell through the doorway, stumbling awkwardly.

The shy girl stepped back, silently inviting him into the house. He tried to plead with her again but she simply closed the door and retreated to the safety of the bedroom and into John’s arms.

Ah… Nikola. I thought as much…” John drawled, brazenly kissing the woman in is arms.

Nikola watched.

He had never shared even a whisper of such intimacy. The way their lips moulded together and tongues brushed, it made his mind wander to – but he was interrupted by the sound of metal sliding against leather.

John pulled a knife free of his belt and pressed it to the woman’s exposed cream neck. She startled, trying to struggle but John’s arm wrapped hard around her chest like a cage, holding her still.

John – don’t do this…” Nikola whispered, instantly lifting his hands in surrender.

John seemed intoxicated by the scent of fear slipping onto the air. Nikola could smell it too – but it turned his stomach.

Isn’t this why you’re here, Nikola?” John asked casually, pressing the knife harder against the woman’s neck. Nikola could hear the young woman’s pulse quicken – feel the heavy thudding crawl through his soul. “This is part of us all, now. I know that you want to feel it – the rush as their blood spills…” he drawled his words as he let the knife graze hard enough to produce a line of blood.

The woman whimpered in sharp pain, her gaze locked with Nikola’s, pleading silently.

John chuckled cruelly, placing a soft kiss just above the blood on her neck. “This is all very familiar…” he whispered. “If memory serves – your sister made the exact same sound as I slowly slit her throat…”

Nikola went pale. It was a lie. It had to be a lie.

Did you not wonder how Helen made it back here in such excellent time?” John threw the girl at the wall. She collapsed in a pile, unconscious with a cloud of lead dust from the old wall settling over her.

Nikola smelled it first, the air tainted with ozone before it was ripped apart in a violent swirl of purple light. John vanished for a moment, reappearing in the same display inches from him. Nikola stumbled back in a mixture of surprise and fear. The laws of the universe had shattered and now he was left looking straight into the eyes of the man who took pleasure in slaughtering innocent women. Had his sister been amongst them?

So this is your gift, John…” Nikola realised, the air still rippling like the desert horizon before dawn.

More useful than claws, I’ll think you’ll find,” John replied, the knife held tight as if it were merely an extension of his hand. “Touching…” John tilted his head at Nikola, “the vampire has tears.”

Nikola’s eyes went black, instinctively hiding the emotion. “I swear, John – if you’ve touched her…”

She tasted wonderful…” John hissed, leaning up against Nikola’s ear, his breath hot and sticky. “You should have heard the way she moaned – so beautiful and fragile, as I enjoyed her again and again…”

Nikola swung at John, his fist slamming hard into the side of John’s head, setting him off balance before the vampire unsheathed his claws and released an inhumane growl onto the air.

*~*~*

Helen was startled by a bundle of white feathers flapping frantically onto her window sill.

Gracious!” she gasped, at the beautiful, snow white pigeon. “What are you doing here?”

It was Nikola’s pigeon, there was no mistaking the delicately speckled bird. The creature hopped about restlessly, pecking at the sill and cooing noisily. It had flown all the way from London through the freezing wind and still had flakes of ice between its feathers which it scattered over the wood.

She tried to stop it but the bird flew into the room, settling on the ground by the fire, trying to warm up.

He’s not here…” Helen whispered at the bird, for all the good it would do.

She fed it the last of the bread crusts from her plate and tried to usher it back to the window but the bird wouldn’t go. Instead, it hopped up onto Helen’s arm and started nipping at her, insistently flapping as if it wanted to say something. The poor thing was distressed.

Nigel rushed into the Helen’s room, drawn there by the commotion.

What in…?” he gasped, seeing the white bird flap around Helen’s head. “Isn’t that Nikola’s bird?”

Helen tried to shoo it away but the pigeon was hysterical.

Yes – but something is wrong with her.”

Nigel, having grown up on a rural property with lots of various birds reached forward and, after several attempts, caught the pigeon. It wiggled and tried to peck at him.

I’ve never seen a pigeon act like this.”

*~*~*

Gregory waited for the signal, hanging back against the damp cave wall like a deformed outcrop of limestone, trickled there through the millennia. There were fossils in the walls, tiny impressions of shells and fish smooth beneath his fingertips. Some of them were terrifying – a matrix of teeth and bones while others left only the faintest indents in the rock that he could slide his fingers into.

Ranna was several yards ahead of him, creeping about in the pitch as good as any vampire. The lights to these corridors had been turned off several weeks ago when the roof began to cave in. Even now it was creaking overhead like an old galleon at see, sighing between the waves.

There was sand everywhere… These were the remnants of ancient beach caves, long ago thrust up into the sky and then slammed back down under the earth. It seemed to be moving beneath his feet, sometimes swirling about in idle currents of air. It was restless…

Ranna…” Gregory breathed fearfully, but there was no reply from her. Everything about this was a terrible idea. The Praxians had tried to catch sand creatures for hundreds of years but they were more elusive than their vampire counterparts.

He thought he heard something, a scratch against the wall – a few splinters of rock tumbling to the ground. Gregory turned the top on the device she had given him and light immediately shone out surrounding him in a soft glow.

Silence.

Gregory was alone in the cavern with nothing but a smear of blood where Ranna had been.

*~*~*

The night is quiet, old boy…” Sherlock announced his presence, taking the steps down to the old bridge two at a time.

James was by the water, the sinking moon casting a soft glow over the Thames. There were boats everywhere, fishing and ferrying things from shore to shore. He could see their lanterns bobbing up and down.

He will kill again tonight,” James whispered, gazing out over the water. “I sat with him, Holmes, night after night discussing the Ripper case and he let me.” He fell silent, his eyes never leaving the reflection of the moon on the water.

Sherlock had made the same mistake – a rarity for him. There was something elusive about Druitt’s personality. He was like the wind, never settling but always there – a calm breeze one moment and a deadly storm the next.

He is not an easy man to read, Watson…” Sherlock replied quietly, in a softer tone than normal.

James shook his head. “I should have known. Innocent lives have been lost because I couldn’t see what was right in front of me. That is unacceptable.” Slowly, he turned to Sherlock. For the first time, his soft brown eyes were fierce. “It will not happen again.”

*~*~*

Nikola hit him hard because it felt good.

John landed on the ground beside the bed. Nikola had slipped a few good swipes in now leaving claw marks visible in the thick, black leather of John’s trench coat. John inspected his arm. The sight of his own blood spilling onto the floor made him smile. He held Nikola gaze and then – and then he was gone again.

Nikola swore in Serbian at the empty floor. This was impossible. How did you contain someone that could vanish into thin air? He remembered reading that now – how the greatest detective minds could not unravel the Ripper’s secret – one minute he was there, the next…

Argh!” Nikola suddenly arched backwards in pain. His claws flexed. Weakly, his hand lifted to his chest where he felt the sharp tip of a knife sticking out of his suit. John was behind him with his knife thrust as deep into Nikola’s back as he could push it. “John…” Nikola whispered, his body trembling at the injury.

The woman on the floor stirred again, her eyes opening.

Do not look so worried, Nikola…” John murmured, twisting the knife. Nikola writhed sharply. “We’re just getting started.”

John ripped the knife out and hit Nikola over the back of the head with the blunt end of it. Nikola fell to his knees, his world empty except for the comforting darkness.

*~*~*

Gregory turned around but was met with darkness on all sides. The ground rumbled again, threatening.

Ranna…” he whispered, reaching out to touch the wet smear of blood. It was human.

He kept his light on this time. There was something down here all right, something hiding. More sand – sliding down the walls and into small pyramids. Gregory pressed deeper, ducking under the half-collapsed tunnel until he found another stain of blood on the underside of the rock.

*~*~*

Nikola was only vaguely aware of the struggle beside him. He could hear the rustle of material and a woman’s muffled cries as John raped her. The woman was scratching at the floorboards leaving white lines from her nails in the wood – a sad stain of desperation.

He finished and she went still, hoping rather than believing that the worst was over. John vanished in a flash of light leaving them alone in the locked room.

Nikola’s eyes were still closed as he tried to move but his wrists and ankles were held by a set of slender chains keeping him splayed out like one of the creatures in James’s lab. Silver, of course, something that he could not break free of.

Sir – sir, please wake up…”

The woman reached out with a trembling hand to the monster beside her. He had claws and terrifying black eyes that reminded her of the demons in the church windows but he was not evil. Her fingertips brushed over his claws making Nikola’s eyes snap open.

His head rolled to the side, dark eyes taking in the young woman. She was shaking, her dress ripped open at the front allowing her breasts to hang free. He could easily make out their soft curves in the failing moonlight. Most importantly, she wasn’t restrained.

Madam…” Nikola whispered, the knife wound in his chest still healing, “you must leave. He will return for us.”

She rolled over and scrambled awkwardly to her knees.

Not without you, sir,” she replied, crawling over to him. “Whatever you are…” Her eyes could not help lingering on his long, sharp claws. “You came to save me.”

Nikola retracted them, letting his body fall back into his human form. Of course… He was so used to being with The Five that he had forgotten that most would see the monster he had become, not the man that had experimented with history.

He – he will kill you,” Nikola murmured, his voice strained as he tried to tug against his restraints. He could feel her soft hands flitting over his wrists, trying to pry the silver chains off his skin. “Please – please…” Nikola kept whispering.

Tell me your name, sir,” the woman said, trying to distract him. There was a thick puddle of blood beneath him but from what she could see, he had nearly healed. There were many things that she did not understand in this world. It was the age of industry – the rebirth of science. She couldn’t read but every weekend she went to the park to listen to the students recite works of literature. Frankenstein was nearly a century old – perhaps life was beginning to imitate art…

Nikola…” he replied.

You have an accent – are you visiting us here in London?”

Sort of… I have friends here.”

Friends like you?” her eyes seemed sharper in the moonlight, stained with tears. “John, he is one of your friends…” she realised.

Nikola shook his head slowly. John had never really been his friend, colleague, perhaps. “We were all scientists,” he said, feeling a little stronger as the chains around his wrists were loosened. “One of our experiments changed us, in ways we couldn’t predict.”

The woman brushed her fingers over his cheek. “Claws?” she said simply, and he nodded.

We’ve only just realised what became of John. Miss -”

Lizzie…” she whispered, as one of the chains unravelled, freeing Nikola’s hand. “Is it true, what John said about your sister?”

Nikola turned onto his side to face her. “I hope not…” He sat up a little, taking hold of her hand with his free hand. “You cannot free me in time,” he said softly, “but you can run for help. Lizzie, I need you to find my friends.”

41

HEART OF THE STORM

I don’t want to leave -”

Nikola cut Lizzie off by pressing his finger gently to her lips. Even though Nikola knew that John was probably many city blocks away, he was afraid that even their whispered words would bring him back. The young woman was trembling in the moonlight, frozen and in shock.

Take my coat,” Nikola said gently, nodding to where it was abandoned on the floorboards. “Baker street, do you know it?” When she nodded, Nikola gave her directions to Sherlock’s house where he knew she’d find safety. “Now go…” he begged.

She made it to her feet and then stooped to pick up his jacket. Nikola held his nerve, trying not to struggle against the sharp silver chains that still bound one of his wrists and both of his ankles to the ground.

I’ll find your friends,” she promised softly, holding his gaze as she retreated towards the door.

Nikola nodded as the moon dipped down below the window, sending the room into a thick shadow. The air temperature dropped, cold against his vampire skin as it dried the enormous blood stain on his shirt. “Go…” he murmured again, when her hand lingered on the door handle.

She did, turning the handle and drawing the door open. It came toward her too fast. The heavy wood was thrust against her fragile body, hitting her in the face and throwing her back against the wall. She crumbled down to the floor with a soft cry.

John appeared in the doorway, slowly dragging a longer, curved knife harmlessly over the palm of his hand. He leaned menacingly against the doorway watching with cold amusement as the vampire struggled sharply against the silver.

As if he’d be so careless as to let them escape.

*~*~*

Any sign of John?” Helen rushed at the door as James and Sherlock returned. Helen faltered when she realised that there was one man missing. More correctly, there was a vampire missing. “Where’s Nikola?”

There were feathers all over the room. Sherlock stepped coldly by the distressed woman and prowled around to the fireplace where he found a slender pigeon taking cover in the light. The poor thing was cooing mournfully. All the windows had been closed to stop it from escaping. He reached out to the creature with his long, gnarled fingers but the pigeon pecked him sharply.

Curious…” he whispered, as Miss Magnus and James squabbled behind him.

You didn’t leave Tesla on the streets, did you?” Nigel moved gingerly towards Sherlock, careful not to put too much weight on his ankle. “If John Druitt was going to kill one of us – it would be Tesla. They have hated each other from the start.”

Sherlock leant against the mantle, happy to soak in some of the fire’s heat. “Because of Miss Magnus…?”

Partly.” Nigel pulled the throw more tightly around his shoulders. He was still weak from his weeks in Cabal custody. “Even before that, they were set against each other. Tesla is methodical, reserved and still believes in humanity – John made a career out of deception. Oil and water, those two – waiting for someone to strike a match. ”

We’ll give him an hour,” Sherlock turned to the others, breaking up the escalating argument between Helen and James. “If Tesla’s not back by then, we’ll all go looking for him.”

Helen folded her arms. “An hour’s too long.”

An hour is how long we wait,” Sherlock insisted, and the other two men nodded in agreement. He wanted to catch the Ripper this time and what better time to pounce than when he was settled into a killing?

*~*~*

The Ripper tied Nikola back down, properly this time so that the vampire could barely writhe against the floor. All Nikola could do was watch. John’s face occasionally caught the moonlight. The fresh scar over his cheek looked like a black tear and was his bald head skull-like with eyes sunken into their sockets. He could have been Death, wandering from the pages of nightmares.

Let – the girl – go…” Nikola whispered, turning his head, trying to avoid the old rag that The Ripper was about to stuff into his mouth. The only reply he got was a sharp hit across the face, breaking his nose and spraying blood over the floor.

Calmly, John waited for Nikola to heal, making sure he could breathe again before he stuffed the cloth in his mouth and tied another length of material over it, finally silencing Tesla. Then he went after the girl…

He didn’t kill quickly.

For several minutes he let her stumble around the room in search of an escape, it was only when she went for the open window that he grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the floor next to Nikola. His weight was more than sufficient to hold her delicate form down as he teased his long blade over her skin.

The longer he kept her alive, the more blood he would see flow. He was turning it into an art form – prolonging their suffering to satisfy his lust of blood. There was just something about the way it tumbled over their cream skin – how it made him feel alive.

Soon, the small cuts weren’t enough so his blade went deeper. A dark stain crept out over the floorboards, seeping into Nikola’s shirt where he lay beside her. At some point, the woman had reached out to hold Nikola’s hand. He was still holding onto her when her skin went cold and John re-arranged what was left of her for Sherlock Holmes to find.

Thick tears were running down Nikola’s cheeks when John finally turned to him. John held the knife up and tilted it to catch the moonlight. Like him, it was drowning in blood.

Nikola struggled one last time as John knelt over him and ripped open Nikola’s shirt.

What was it that you were reading back in Oxford?” he said casually, as though they were in the library discussing an assignment. “Ah yes, something about vampires being immortal.” John reached down and removed the rag from Nikola’s mouth so that he could speak.

Fuck you…” Nikola hissed, his voice heavily accented. He’d tried changing into his vampire form but it did no good. The silver chains were inescapable.

I thought we might put your theory to the test, in the interests of science. You’ve always been so fond of facts and experiments. Let us see if you can die…”

John placed the tip of the knife in the centre of Nikola’s breast plate.

You better pray that I die,” Nikola growled. “Because I will hunt you all the days of my life until the time comes when I can make you suffer all the pain you’ve inflicted on the world-” Nikola was cut short as the knife plunged through his chest, shattering bone and tearing arteries. It pierced his lung and made him gasp for air in a sharp cry of pain.

Nikola continued whispering in his native language. It was almost like he was chanting to himself, willing his body to survive as John hacked through it.

*~*~*

The storm was behaving in a most peculiar fashion. It had been building slowly over London for hours but it seemed to have stalled, concentrating over a corner of the city, rumbling above it. The pigeon pecked at the glass window, brushing its beautiful wings against it.

Helen had dressed and was seated facing the door. She watched it like a hawk, waiting for Nikola’s return but he hadn’t come.

Satisfied?” she growled, when the full hour was up and the others assembled at the door.

Nigel had opted to stay behind in case Nikola returned. He draped Helen’s coat over her shoulders as she advanced upon the other two.

We’ll start where we parted from him. It’s best we don’t separate this time,” Sherlock picked up his long cane and nodded for them to follow.

The night was no place for a lady but Helen Magnus had always had something fierce about her… She was a hunter at heart and quickly pulled ahead of the others, instinctively hiding in the long shadows. James and Sherlock ducked in and out of whore houses but no-one had seen a man matching Nikola’s description. Helen followed the pigeon instead, trailing the white creature as it flew and hopped down the filthy streets.

Freezing air had pushed the smog down below their knees. It stank of smoke and industrial chemicals and several times Helen tripped over steps she couldn’t see. The sky above them rumbled again – it seemed that the bird was leading them toward the heart of the storm.

*~*~*

Gregory stood perfectly still. Even then, his shallow, frightened breaths sounded like thunder rumbling through the half-collapsed cave.

He was surrounded by a weak halo of light – too bright against his skin and yet hopelessly faint on the tunnel walls. What he really needed was a flaming torch – even a lantern was of more use than this artificial light. Immediately in front of him he could see the rough walls of the tunnel. At his feet where broken fragments of rock with freezing water lapping gently at their bases. The rock closest to him was stained red on its side where something bloody had been dragged over it.

Ranna…” he whispered, slowly inching forward.

The ground shook again and he was forced to duck as more rock and sand showered him. His useless light flickered and when he straightened up, the smear of blood was gone.

Gregory swore. Either his mind was playing tricks on him or this half-creature that she had described to him was intelligent enough to cover its tracks. He couldn’t go back alone. The residents of the underworld city would kill him and without Ranna he would be trapped in the tunnels. So he pressed on.

Awkwardly, he lifted himself up onto the first large stone and climbed over its wet surface, sliding down the other side where he landed in a deep puddle of water. More sand. It had fallen along the walls and beneath his feet it was carved out by tiny channels of water. He knelt down with the light, illuminating a sequence of depressions in the sand. They were long, loping footsteps.

He followed them. They led deeper into the collapsed tunnels which seemed to tilt downward, tracking through the softer, more unstable layers of earth. Down here, the air was stale and the limestone walls flecked with opal.

Then suddenly, the narrow tunnel ended. He looked up at the raw edges where it had been cut through the rock. Whoever had been mining down here had given up and walked away from this band of opal and there was simply nowhere else that the cave creature could have – oh

Slowly, Gregory turned. The air in front of him rippled.

Clever bastard…” Gregory whispered, at the sand creature.

*~*~*

The bolt of lightening came from nowhere. One minute the sky was an unsettled grey, lit from beneath by a sinking full moon. The next, a river of light rushed down and into a small room, striking a killer through the chest. It flashed as the air ripped apart around it, deafening Nikola as John lurched sharply backwards.

It was over. The world went black as John fell sideways onto the blood-drenched floor.

Two streets over, Helen jumped as the thunder made the ground shake.

Bloody hell!” yelled James, who was holding onto a wall for support. “What the devil was that?”

It came from over there,” Helen pointed behind the buildings where they were standing.

Sherlock tugged at their clothes. “This way…” he said, taking off at a run.

The pigeon was ahead of them, coming to rest on the open window of an unassuming residence. She cooed into the darkness that smelled of death and blood.

Nikola, barely conscious, opened his eyes and saw his faithful bird, backlit by the moon. He was sure that it was a dream – or a ghost before the darkness claimed him.

Goodnight, beautiful…” he whispered to it, letting the darkness claim him.

*~*~*

James forced the door in with a violent kick and then turned around quickly, catching Helen before she could rush by him. He forced her back out the door, preventing her from seeing the carnage inside. Sherlock sidestepped them both, moving swiftly into the room. Oh yes, they were in the right place.

Let me go – let me go!” Helen struggled against him but James was having none of it.

I don’t care what your father lets you do, while ever I am around, I will not allow a lady into a crime scene.”

Fine!” she hissed, breaking free from him. “Just go to him. Please – I can’t bear to think of him alone.”

James nodded and vanished into the room after Sherlock, leaving Helen to hail down a carriage outside and bribe the driver to wait.

God in heaven…” James breathed.

A woman was dead – no question. James had to turn away to steady his stomach. It was too similar to the death of his beloved companion. Nikola though…

He’s alive…” whispered Sherlock, finding a pulse on what was left of the vampire’s throat. “Your friend didn’t get to finish.” Nikola may have been alive but he was in a bad way. “We need to get him back to my house at once. I have medical supplythere that will help him.”

And him?” James growled at an unconscious John Druitt. The lightening bolt had struck him straight through the chest, blackening his clothes and leaving angry red rashes over his skin.

We take him to Scotland yard. Our cellars there are most accommodating.”

42

FEED

“He will never agree to it…”

After days laid out on Sherlock’s dining room, they had decided to transport Nikola back to Oxford. Shelock accompanied them, helping to lift the unconscious scientist onto the large bench in Helen’s basement. Its surface was stained with lumps of melted wax from candles left to burn through the night. Empty cages were scattered everywhere with their wire fronts half-open and rats long dead. Memories lingered with the stale air as Helen’s eyes wandered over her house.

It was broken.

Nikola had done a few repairs and tidied up last time he was here but it still bared the scars of several Cabal raids. There was something else though – it felt lonely. Her father’s things filled the walls; medical equipment hung from hooks, bottles of chemicals huddled in dark corners, boxes that Helen had never found the nerve to open and piles of diaries threatening to tumble sideways. There were crates of fossils and half-sketched notes on them laying open on the small desk at the end of the room. It was all covered in a thick layer of dust, untouched.

They had already checked – the samples of Source Blood were still safely tucked away upstairs.

“Helen, he’s getting paler,” James whispered, his hand pressed to Nikola’s head.

The unconscious vampire was covered in cold sweat. Some of his wounds had healed, most were at best angry red lines of scar tissue freshly grown. It was the muscle twitches that distressed Helen the most, tiny sporadic movements all over his body like a dying fish.

Vampires were supposed to heal instantly but Nikola was a new vampire. He needed blood. It was all well and good to take a moral stand against it when he was healthy but without human blood, Nikola wasn’t going to make it.

“He’ll die lightly,” Nigel whispered, after checking the fading pulse.

“Hold this,” James handed a small towel to Helen as he pushed up Nikola’s shirt again to check the bandages that held his torso closed. He was bleeding through them. “Better… but nowhere near fast enough. He’ll bleed out before he recovers. Helen…” he insisted again.

It was Helen that had refused to let anyone feed Nikola blood. She knew the struggle he had endured, how vehemently he’d resisted his vampire nature. Now? She’d rather go against his wishes than risk losing him. He could be bitter and pout about it later.

“It can’t be me,” she whispered, when they all looked to her. “There’s – something about my blood. It’s toxic to him.”

The three men frowned but Helen offered no explanation.

“It better be me, then…” James said finally. Nigel was too weak and Sherlock was a stranger. Helen begrudgingly agreed.

“We have to wake him,” she whispered, motioning for the others to lock the doors.

A freshly fed vampire would be dangerous, even Nikola.

*~*~*

The sand creature crouched down low, weakly lit by the torch that Gregory held. It was snarling, scratching at the sand on the ground and looking up at him with enormous golden eyes. As it moved, parts of its skin became indistinguishable from the rock – the rest of it was a deep, blood red. If it straightened up, it would look almost human, a sickly scarlet skeleton.

Without warning, it dug its claws into the sand and leapt at him. Gregory swung the torch sharply, hitting the creature on the side of the head as it tried to claw at his body. They both hit the wall in a cloud of dust – the creature’s claws sheering off some loose rock before it fell, dazed to the ground.

Gregory grasped his arm where a deep gash started bleeding into his shirt. He could not make his way back through the cramped, half collapsed tunnels before the creature recovered.

The electric torch flickered unhappily. Its screen was cracked and the casing badly dented. Even in the uneven light, he could make out the sand creature coming for him again – pawing its way over the rubble with renewed determination. It was here to kill and feed. Gregory scrambled around for a rock. The first one he touched was about the size of his fist. He threw at the sand creature as it reached out to claw his face.

There was a crack as the rock fractured the creature’s wrist. It howled, cowering back into a corner, near invisible.

Gregory panted hard, backed up against a bolder. He was dripping blood onto the sand as he watched, waiting for the creature to have another go at him but it didn’t.

Light spilled from the far corner as another torch clicked on.

“Ranna?” he whispered, turning to see her resting against the wall.

The creature looked warily between the two humans but settled on Gregory.

“It’s injured,” Ranna replied quietly, trying to sit up properly. “Had a few goes at it myself.”

“I think I should injure it more…” Gregory murmured, his breathing heavy. She protested, they needed it alive.

Catching it proved a challenge. Limping, they flanked it with a fine net strung between them. It was hand woven, made from refined spider silk and invisible in the dust-strewn cave.

“Careful – hold it tight…” Ranna coughed through the dust the creature was kicking up as it struggled. The sand creature cried and pawed at the ground, snarling and snapping at the net. “We used to use these all the time in the early years…” she said, as they wrapped the net around the creature, locking it inside. Tangled, it fell to the floor squirming.

In a final defence, the creature camouflaged itself leaving them with an oddly shaped, empty but mysteriously bleeding net.

“How in heaven’s name do you catch a full vampire?” Gregory dusted himself down.

“You don’t…” she answered darkly, collapsing back to the ground to catch her breath.

*~*~*

Nikola’s head fell to the side. The first thing he saw was a lock of golden hair blurred across his vision. Then he felt it brush his face, tickling his cheek. He murmured something – a name but it wasn’t Helen’s.

“No…” Helen replied softly, one hand lightly resting on Nikola’s chest. “She’s not here.”

Nikola blinked slowly. His eyes flickered between black and blue, unable to settle on a form.

“I’m dying,” he breathed. Nikola could feel it. That bastard had killed him.

Helen simply cupped his cheek, turning Nikola’s head slightly so that he was looking at her. “I won’t let you,” she insisted, with that determined smile he loved so much. Nikola simply paled, remembering the other girl’s eyes. He had watched all the life fade from them. “Nikola, stay with us,” Helen propped him back up as he lulled worryingly to the side.

James was there too, hovering in front. His shirt was rolled up on one arm displaying a bandage. He held a wine glass filled too high to be wine. The liquid was eerily still and thick. Nikola could smell it from across the room.

With Helen’s help, Nikola managed to sit up. He rested back against her soft form. Her navy dress was like a dark waterfall behind his head. It was strange that his first thought was of the silk in her dress and how it reminded him of the day they’d first met. Everything seemed to remind him of that moment lately. Even dazed, he didn’t miss the click as the basement door was locked from the outside.

“Helen – no,” he protested, when he saw James lingering with the glass in his hand. The man looked paler for the sacrifice.

“Your high principles by damned, Nikola,” she whispered back, just as fiercely. “Tonight you have to accept that you are a vampire.”

The glass looked almost black. Nikola tensed, holding the arm Helen had around his chest.

“What if I turn?” he watched James slowly approach. “What if I kill you all? What if I can’t stop?” What if he ended up like Druitt, calmly tearing into another human’s flesh apart…

“What if you don’t?” Helen countered. Her voice was full of that air of cold reason as if they were discussing mathematics. Nikola was starting to shake but Helen wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

“Nikola,” James held out the glass. “I’d take the lady’s advice – or we go with my plan.”

“Your plan?” his eyebrows lifted somewhere between a frown and a pout.

“I assure you, it will be far less dignified.”

Nikola could see that James was deadly serious. Reluctantly, he reached out to take the slender stem of the glass between his fingertips. That smell again… He could only describe it as deep.

“If I turn into Druitt,” Nikola whispered, holding the glass to the candlelight. Even dying he held onto his graceful habits. “Kill me.”

The brown rims of James’s eyes turned almost black. John had betrayed him – not just his trust but his intelligence. He’d been played for a fool by that man and it killed him inside. “I’ll do it myself, Nikola.”

Nikola brought the glass back in range of his lips. He breathed in that scent again first. He was terrified – utterly terrified that he would like it.

“To fallen empires and beautiful mysteries,” he toasted, touching his lips to the rim as his eyes lingered on Helen – the most beautiful mystery of them all.

*~*~*

They hauled the sand creature up onto the granite slab in Ranna’s lab. It fought, twisting inside the net. Ranna injected the ’empty’ space with a powerful sedative, forced to guess at the creature’s position. It had been mostly invisible the whole way back.

Seconds later, the net stilled and its camouflage failed.

It many ways it was beautiful. Sand creatures may have started as people but their pure red skin, golden eyes and lean, muscular bodies made them look like the peacocks of humanity.

Gregory was still catching his breath while wrapping his arm up. It was a superficial wound that hurt like hell. He grimaced at the final tug and then joined Ranna at the bench. She looked as if she could use a doctor as well.

“Magnificent…” she whispered, peeling back the spider web net. The creature was in a deep sleep. Its mouth hung ajar displaying two sharp sets of teeth, just like vampire fangs only shorter. Delicately, she tugged at the small amount of human clothing left on the creature. On one of the shreds of fabric bore a few words in a language Gregory couldn’t read. “He was one of our politicians,” Ranna said softly. “I dare say this is an improvement.”

“Do you believe that he could be human again?” Gregory tilted his head. He had definitely managed to snap its wrist…

She frowned, her fingers brushing over the creature’s temple. “I had hoped that it would be possible but – well, look at him.”

Ranna had a point. The creature was barely alive. It had been starving for decades, living off whatever small creatures crawled about the caves with it. Surely none of his humanity could have survived?

“I do not know what you expect me to do for him – as I said, I have no sample of vampire blood with me. Even if you returned me to the surface, the closest I could get would be a gentlemen – a Dr Tesla, but even he is only a shadow of a vampire.” And Gregory truly understood that now, as he gazed upon the terrifying faces of the ancient ones.

“You have real samples left though… Ones that you have hidden. I can help you hide the rest where no-one will find them, not even those people you love and trust.” she whispered, her eyes dark. “If you bring one of your samples back to me, I shall share some of history’s secret places.”

“Surely your council wouldn’t like that…”

Ranna’s lips curled in a smirk. “No – no they wouldn’t.”

*~*~*

The first sip was sprayed over James.

“Nice…” James growled, as the vampire gagged on the blood, turning its head away in revulsion.

“That’s horrid!” Nikola coughed, trying desperately not to be ill.

“Try again,” Helen insisted gently. “You just need to get used to it.”

He didn’t want to get used to it. Nikola didn’t want to do this at all.

The second time the glass came to his lips, Nikola took things more slowly. His tongue darted out first, taking a little of the blood back into his mouth. He was training himself not to reject it but he felt light headed – both hot and cold.

“Nikola,” Helen finally said, when it became clear Nikola wasn’t taking it. “Why don’t you change?

He tensed. The glass in his hand shook enough to make the meniscus of the blood shiver.

“James…” Helen whispered, catching his attention before nodding at the door, hinting for him to leave. He merely folded his arms and stood firm.

Nikola concentrated on his breathing, slowing it down until his heart rate steadied. He felt his skin cool, the room grow bright and his claws grow until he heard them clink against the glass. He was a vampire.

Frighteningly, as he lifted the glass back to his fang-edged lips, he didn’t pull away. The smell was interesting rather than repulsive and even gently coaxed him to sip it.

James Watson watched in revulsion as Nikola began to drink the glass of blood. Helen kept a hold of Nikola’s waist, whispering to him and delicately stroking his hair. By the time Nikola set the empty glass down, his wounds had stopped bleeding.

“Another,” Nikola whispered, feeling stronger already.

James rolled up his sleeve and filled another glass.

42

A CRYPT FOR THE DAMNED

London trembled.

It would remain the greatest unsolved mystery in the United Kingdom; a string of violent killings, all of them women, all of them disturbingly thorough. He was a killer that played with his prey, calmly dissecting each body, rearranging their pieces in sick works of art before leaving nothing but a scattering of letters in his wake to torment the investigating officers. He is the one that got away.

It is a lie.

The steel door bolted shut against the freezing stone. Half a dozen guards settled back into their positions against the wall of the cell with no idea who they were guarding. No one knew. The prisoner had been transported here during the night, heavily sedated. Rumours abounded that the Chief Constable was inside with a gifted physician and that the door had not been opened for hours.

“Why are we trusting them, sir?” a tall, thin, middle-aged man lingered over Jack the Ripper’s body inside the cell. There were no windows. Instead, wall after wall of stone and steal encroached from every side. A solitary gas light hung from the ceiling casting weak shadows over the three men beneath.

The Chief Constable, Adolphus Frederick Williamson, leaned low over the prisoner, who had been strapped down to the bed with thick lashings of leather. Adolphus was a quiet man with eyes that could tear pieces off the souls of criminals. He had a way of looking at you, or more correctly, through you. As he turned his head to the surgeon, Adolphus’s greying beard scratched over his collar. Whatever the surgeon had been going to say died on his lips.

“Holmes is an arrogant and meddlesome bastard,” Adolphus replied sharply. His voice was deep but soft, more of a whisper than a voice. “Alas, he has an infuriating habit of being right.”

“We keep him asleep then, sedated… For how long, sir?” The doctor thought it was a foolish idea, surely they’d want The Ripper awake to answer questions? Hell – London and the Crown wanted him dead – as publicly as possible to set peace among the streets.

“Until Holmes returns to London. He found The Ripper – it is his privilege to first question.”

That was not the reason. Sherlock had warned the Chief Constable that there were things afoot to make the superstitious cower. Not magic but science, experiments gone wrong. Adolphus was no fool. When someone told him to hold, by gods, man, he held.

*~*~*

James was deathly pale. He was framed by Gregory’s wall of sinister medical equipment were he sat, breathing slowly in the leather chair. He’d given a lot of blood now – four wine glasses full and some of it was still smeared over his clothes.

Nikola was sitting on the bench, doing up his shirt with trembling hands. His eyes were black, peering through the semi-darkness at everything but James and Helen. Looking at them reminded him of how human they were and how he had become something else… Something older.

Nikola refused to come any closer, hugging the edge of the room. The blood had made him strong – too strong to be held in a basement with weak doors and feeble locks. With it came re-newed his rage at John. His memories were so clear that they made him turn for a moment, laying against the wall to steady himself.

“Where is he?” Nikola growled, his voice inhuman, belonging to some creature of the underworld.

“London,” James replied, tying off the bandages on his arm. He felt fragile and ill, but it was no injury at all compared to the state they had found Nikola in. Vampires truly were nature’s survivors. The days must have been bloody when humanity wiped them out.

“It is all right, Nikola – we know – what John is -“

Nikola managed a soft, cold laugh, his claws resting against the flaking paintwork. He turned back to her, slowly…

“My dearest Helen, I do not know what Whitechapel has become.” Nikola’s new pet name for John. “I saw him – “

“You don’t have to-” James interrupted, not wanting Helen to hear an account of the bloodshed. Nikola continued anyway. This was important.

“He can tear holes in the universe…” Nikola whispered, looking ever so slightly mad. John had broken something inside of him, forever tainted the way he would see the world. “He slips through them – into London and out onto Oxford’s streets. No walls can hold him – no guards.”

Nikola was using his hands expressively, letting them roll through the air, accentuating his already aloof manner.

“Nikola…” James said quietly, attempting to approach but Nikola was especially careful not to let him stray close – not with the taste of his blood still on his lips.

“John is being held at Scotland Yard,” Helen added softly. She was keeping her distance too, not because she was afraid of him, she was afraid of herself. “Sedated… Sherlock is insisting no one speak to him until – Nikola – what are you doing?”

Nikola had begun pacing, his claws scratching the walls now. “I need to catch a train,” he muttered, his mind caught between a thousand things. The blood both confused and clarified his mind. He looked unstable, fluctuating on the edge of pure madness – or genius.

“It’s the middle of the night, man,” James protested with a worried look at Helen.

Nikola stopped, levelling his gaze at them.

“Kill Whitechapel,” he whispered. “You have nothing to learn from him, nothing to save.”

He stalked past them both, shrugging their hands off when they reached for him. “I have to catch a train,” he repeated.

A moment later, he was gone, strutting by Sherlock who stepped aside and through into Oxford’s moonlit streets.

“He seems to be feeling better…” Sherlock said, lounging in one of Helen’s chairs that were scattered in the dining room.

Helen and James had just emerged from the basement looking worried.

*~*~*

Jack the Ripper stirred. His fingers flexed and the muscles in his face twitched around the dark scar running across half his face.

The doctor opened his bag and laid glass vials out along the stone floor. With quick, precise movements, he prepared another batch of sedative and injected it.

The Chief Inspector looked up from the other side of the room, watching the murderer’s body go still again.

*~*~*

Helen washed the blood off her hands and returned to the dining room where the three gentlemen were discussing something in hushed tones. They stopped when they saw her approach, leaning back and turning to her with polite nods of their heads, guilt in their eyes.

“James – Mr Holmes…” Helen nodded back at both of them. “I am afraid you will have to return to London and do as Nikola says. If he is scared, then we should all be. I will remain here with Nigel until Nikola surfaces.”

There was an awkward silence as they calmly discussed murdering one of The Five, one of their own. As for Nikola, they had their doubts that he would ever return.

“Helen – are you certain that you -” James was silenced by her head shaking slowly.

Helen was not unmoved. She remembered John’s soft touches. It had been his words of reason that had drawn a bit of humanity back into her wild heart. She had destroyed him. She had destroyed them all, in a way. Of course she wasn’t sure that she wanted to do this.

“No, I’m not sure, James. I’m not sure of anything any more. By gods, James – if John has done the things Nikola says – that you and Mr Holmes have seen, it is our responsibility to bring an end to the blood and the violence.”

They agreed to go, Sherlock and Holmes forced to walk through the dark streets in search of a coach but there were none at this hour.

“Tell me, Watson,” Sherlock said, as they pulled their coat collars up high against the cold, “are we truly planning on killing this creature without an interview?”

James cocked his head to the side, a dark grin on his lips.

“Not on my life, Holmes – not on my life. John and I have unfinished business.

“And I have questions. Questions before killing, I think…”

“As you wish it, Mr Holmes.”

“And you, Dr Watson.”

*~*~*

Nikola didn’t purchase a ticket. The train had disembarked an hour ago so he followed, giving chase through the ploughed fields and gravel roads on foot. He could run – faster than the horses that used to carry humanity on their backs. Every part of him was designed for hunting and yet the only thing Nikola chose to hunt was the train screaming through the night.

He smelled it first, a fine layer of smoke pushed down by the cold air. Then he felt it, shaking the ground like a ringing bell. It was a heavy beast and Nikola caught it at the bridge where it slowed to navigate the turn into the mountains.

Nikola stumbled over the gravel, leapt to the railing and clawed his way on board. Then he straightened up, dusting himself down before opening the door of the last compartment and vanished on board.

The passengers were dressed warmly. He slipped between their fur trimmed coats, his insignificance rendering him invisible. This train was deep in the frozen mountains now – heading toward Nikola’s home. He had to know the truth about his sister, one way or another. If John had so much as touched her, Nikola would show him a monster…

He fell into the bed of an empty compartment. A cold sweat covered his body making him grasp at his shirt, loosening the buttons so that he could breathe again.

James’s blood felt warm inside his veins. Nikola swore at the offending sensation. He didn’t want to live like this.

*~*~*

Helen reached up, brushing her fingers over the delicate rose buds hanging down from the dining room ceiling.

“Where did you come from?” she whispered, following the vines back to a few small cracks at the corner of the room. Nigel had pointed them out earlier before retiring to one of her guest bedrooms to rest. He wasn’t strong enough to make the trip back to London yet and with nowhere to go she had agreed to let him stay.

Helen took one of the candles and ascended the stairs to the attic.

“Oh Nikola…” she whispered.

He had been making rose oil. The vines that her father had brought back from South America had flourished in the darkness and in he weeks that Nikola had occupied her house he’d acquired distilling equipment. Many of her father’s vials had since been filled with the precious amber liquid. She held one of them up to the candlelight.

“You never stop fighting to be a gentleman… even when the world tells you it is impossible.”

Nikola was a foreigner and despite his protests to the contrary, he craved acceptance. His accent he could be dropped but the creature inside him had to be tamed. Helen sat down amongst the forest of flowers and thorns and started filling more vials for her dear friend.

*~*~*

It took many hours before the Chief Constable and doctor succumbed to sleep. Adolphus was slumped forward in his chair, eyes closed and softly snoring. The doctor was standing, laid back against the wall in a precarious manner, somehow both asleep and standing.

John’s eyes opened.

He had never been asleep.

44

PIECES OF MODERN SCIENCE

Helen woke with a start. Her dreams had been of wild roses and desert sands – things that history had lost.

She found herself sprawled out on the attic floor, laid over an old trench coat which, on closer inspection, turned out to be Nikola’s. The silk lining was partly torn away, no doubt the reason for its abandonment. She looked at it sadly, fingering the frayed edges before laying her head down on the soft material.

He had only been gone five days. It was not long enough for him to write or a letter be returned to her. She checked the door every morning regardless. This was Tesla, he had a way of surprising her whether it be an invitation to a grand lecture or a fragment of poetry left inside her books.

This time, he didn’t and the silence was unbearable.

She may as well stare at the evening sky and ask it for answers.

*~*~*

Half a world away, Nikola paced across the freezing snow. His boots sank through it in a futile search for solid ground. It was snowing even now. He watched the flurries fall from dark swells of cloud looming over the mountains like a silent wave.

He pulled his jacket around him and stumbled toward the small pair of bumps in the otherwise pristine hill. Underneath their ice-laden roofs were his house and the accompanying chapel. Ten more inches of snow and they’d entirely vanish from the winter landscape.

When he reached the house he heard the roof creak under the weight of snow. Nikola was terrified of what its walls might hide. John had been here, unattended among the people he cared for most in this world. He had not even slept since leaving Helen’s house. Every time he closed his eyes he saw a pool of blood inching over the dusty floor .

Steadying himself, he knocked and stepped back, patiently waiting. He fiddled nervously with his clothes, trying to listen for sounds of life within the house as the seconds dragged by. He was considering pushing in the door when the latch went.

It opened slowly and there she was. His beautiful little sister.

“Milka…” he whispered, scooping her up into his arms without explanation, holding her tightly against his chest. She giggled lightly, always happy to have her brother returned to her. Nikola didn’t care that there was snow blowing into the house, or that he was crying softly against her shoulder. She was alive and that was all that mattered.

“Nikky, you shall crumple this new dress if you do not put me down,” she protested, with an affectionate smile.

He set her gently down and allowed himself to be ushered inside. They sat by the fire, their hands clasped together. Nikola had convinced himself that he would never look upon her again.

“Really, you’re acting very strange,” Milka insisted, squeezing his hands. “Did something happen in London – to your Miss Magnus?”

His Miss Magnus? Normally, that would have been sufficient to make him blush.

“She is not my anything, Milka,” he reminded her quietly. Being his sister, she chose not to believe him and instead shifted, resting her head against his shoulder. “I was so worried about you,” Nikola admitted, kissing the top of her head tenderly.

There was an uncharacteristic pause as a shiver passed over Milka’s skin.

“Is something the matter?” he asked her.

She did not reply at first, watching a log tumble down in the fireplace with a storm of embers. “There was a man that came here,” she whispered. “He appeared with Miss Magnus. She seemed to know him well enough so I allowed him to stay here.”

Nikola tensed, his arms securely around her. What had John done…

“I – was afraid of him,” Milka whispered, hiding against Nikola. She did not say anything further so Nikola simply held her close. When she did eventually speak, it caught him off guard. “Have you word from Mr Fort? I know you are not fond of him, Nikky but his letters ease the lonely winters here.” And made her smile.

Nikola’s breath froze in his throat.

Slowly, he sat back, turning to face her on the couch.

“You do have word…” Milka smiled, unable to hide her happiness. “I thought he must have been with you and Miss Magnus, helping you in your work – is he well? Have you brought a letter -“

Nikola’s fingertips settled on her lips, gently silencing her.

“Milka…”

*~*~*

“Is there no way that you can wake him?” Sherlock peered sharply at the man strapped down to the bed. He was a slumbering demon, a shadow that prowled London.

Sherlock didn’t like it when things weren’t going according to his wishes. He was thoroughly used to getting his way. The extra pipe he’d smoked before coming here was making him pace in dizzying circles about the room, muttering unhappily. At least he’d left the damn violin at home this time.

“We should call the doctor back,” James replied, reclined calmly against the cold cell wall.

“Can’t…” Sherlock muttered, almost to himself. “No one has seen the doctor since last night. The man’s vanished.”

James frowned at that. Perhaps even the doctor was sick of London and its murderers. His thoughts were interrupted by a loud shuffle and clash of keys at the door as the Chief Inspector entered.

“Gentlemen,” he greeted, locking the door behind him. “It has been decided by the Crown that The Ripper is to be executed, tonight.”

Sherlock was – incensed. “We have yet to question him,” he protested, infinitely more upset about having his plans upset than a man being punished without trial.

“Sir, it is not my decision. I’ve bought you a few hours but after that, even if he does not wake, you have to surrender him. He’s been deemed too dangerous to transport to the courts so he’ll be tried here and executed – death by firing squad, far kinder than he deserves.”

“This – is a perversion of the course of justice,” Sherlock replied darkly, advancing on the Chief Inspector.

The Chief Inspector nodded but in all his long years of service he found himself untroubled by it. “And this man is a perversion of God’s creatures. He must die and he will – tonight.”

“Well – aren’t you going to say anything?” Sherlock snapped at James, who had remained silent after the Chief Inspector left.

“No,” he replied flatly. “For once, Sherlock, I agree with The Crown.”

“I am rarely wrong about a man’s character James, this is not you. You’d follow the law off a cliff. Revenge – it doesn’t suit you.”

James’s eyes were nearly as black as Nikola’s. “Hang the law, Holmes. John must die.”

*~*~*

“It’s still human…” whispered Gregory, peering over the sand creature stretched out on Ranna’s bench. “See – along here…” he trailed a silver instrument over the creature’s slightly parted skin. It was alive but heavily sedated. “This reminds me of a body wracked by disease.”

“I agree,” Ranna moved closer, her shoulders pressed against Gregory’s. “I have seen similar changes in our own kind but admittedly, never on a scale like this. This is closer to a partial mutation, an attempt at transforming the body into something else but it failed. It always fails.”

“Perhaps it is not a human disease…” Gregory was taking more blood samples. “Our physiology may be similar to that of a vampire but internally there are no doubt a great many differences to allow their healing powers.”

“And the claws… Fangs… Black eyes…”

“All right,” Gregory chuckled softly. “Still, in my notes I theorised that pure blood vampires could be turned into humans and vice versa. There are accounts of half-breeds in some of the ancient writings so at our most basic, we are similar enough for this virus or whatever it is to attack both forms.”

“And in vampires… I wonder what would happen…”

“There’s a very simple way to find out.” Ranna nodded at once of the grisly, floating corpses.

Gregory frowned, “I don’t follow.”

“Well…” Ranna grinned. “The one thing we do have is a surplus of vampires. Let us see if we can raise one from its watery grave…”

*~*~*

Nikola faced the dark mountains.

Milka draped a fur-lined jacket over his shoulders and then laid her head against his back for a moment. She was still crying silent tears, holding a tiny leather journal to her breast. Letters from Fort…

“Nikky – don’t go…”

Another light snow started to fall, catching in Nikola’s eyelashes. He blinked them away as black bled into his irises.

He left her standing in the snow, watching as his slender form vanished against the tree-line at the base of the mountains. It took him hours to clamber over the ice-covered rock, making his way up to the gaping cave mouth. At the faint breath of danger, Nikola placed his hand over his chest. There was no sign of what John had done to him but he could swear the pain would never entirely vanish.

Beneath him, he felt the faintest rumble. The ground was hollow. It trembled like spring ice, splintered by a thousand fractures. He wondered how many vampires had been driven into the cold regions of the world, fleeing their deserts and empires to sink into the ground.

*~*~*

Sherlock hit James so hard across the face that the scientist fell to his knees – one hand reaching for the wall to steady himself. A trickle of blood slipped over his split lip and dripped down onto the pavement.

“Bloody hell!” James hissed, staggering back to his feet.

Sherlock looked remorseless. They were in a cramped alley out the back of Scotland Yard, both of them looking damp in the misting rain. Beneath their feet, the ice over the pavement was melting and cracking into slush.

“For God’s sake, Holmes – you cannot just beat me into submission!” James protested, touching his lip gently.

“What happened to your questions – your unfinished business?” Sherlock demanded fiercely.

“When The Crown tells you to do something, Sherlock, you do it. If you’re asking me, ‘would I like to wake John?’ – of course I do. I want to look into his eyes and find out why he did it. I want him to know his fate but as far as justice goes – I couldn’t give a shit.”

Sherlock hit James again, this time across the back of his knees with his cane sending James to his knees, scowling.

“Bloody fucking hell,” James groaned this time. The freezing water on the street soaked into his pants as he sat on the ground. “Even if I wanted to help you – which I don’t, there is nothing I can do. The Chief Constable answers to The Crown and I’m telling you now, Sherlock, The Crown couldn’t care less about your little game of questions.”

Sherlock hit the nearest lamppost sharply with his cane. “Being right is the most irritating thing about you,” he muttered bitterly. “We’ll have to do this the other way.”

“Other way…?” James asked suspiciously, hauling himself back to his feet.

“Come with me…” Sherlock muttered, storming back into the building.

James wasn’t sure that he wanted to follow. He knew Sherlock well enough to guess that this was a bad idea. That sick feeling in the pit of his stomach only grew when they stopped by an evidence room to borrow a hefty pair of bolt cutters. James swore as he watched Sherlock thieve a set of iron handcuffs and small hand gun.

They went directly to the holding room. In seconds Sherlock had the lock undone. He forced his way into the room swiftly followed by James, who closed the door. It was empty save for the slumbering Ripper.

Holmes went directly to The Ripper while James stalked slowly around the empty cell, running his sharp gaze over every inch until he hesitated.

“Holmes – Holmes stop!” James whispered, grabbing Sherlock’s slender arm. There was a tiny blood splatter of blood near the chair – a day old at least. Beside it were halos of more blood cleaned from the concrete floors. Pools of it. The doctor. The Chief Inspector hadn’t told them everything…

Sherlock had already half-untied John Druitt from the bed. The hand hanging free snapped up, grasping Sherlock’s cravat. John dragged the flailing detective right down to whisper against his ear.

“Thank you…”

John threw the Sherlock across the tiny cell where he landed against the wall with a dull thud.

“Holmes!” James gasped, watching his friend hit the table first and then the floor, unconscious.

It only took a moment for John to free his other hand.

“Have to say, James… I’m surprised to see you here,” John drawled, as he stood up. He circled slowly, staring down the significantly smaller man. His white cotton shirt was unbuttoned to the waist, torn at the edges where were flecks of red had faded into the weave. The scratch marks Nikola had left across his chest were still there…

James inched backwards, the unlocked door to his right and Sherlock on his left, lifeless. His back hit the cold wall. “I came to ask you some questions.”

John’s laugh was disturbingly warm. “You had such a long time to ask me questions, all those evenings in Oxford.” He was almost wistful, dark brown eyes fixed on James. “You disappoint me, old friend.”

“How many have you killed?” James whispered.

“More than you’ll ever find,” John replied. “There are so many nameless faces in this city.”

“They’re not nameless.”

John smirked as Sherlock stirred. “I can’t stop, James. Don’t you see?” A ripple of energy flickered over John’s skin, turning his eyes black. A moment later, he vanished – tearing apart the universe.

*~*~*

When James returned to Oxford, it was alone.

Sherlock had gone into hiding, both of them wanted men with Scotland Yard hunting them at every turn. James knocked on Helen’s door, tugging his hat down to hide his face as he waited in the shadows.

“James?” Helen whispered when she opened the door. She beckoned him in, sitting down with a glass of Brandy in the library. “Is it done?” She was looking into her glass, watching the liquid swirl around.

“Yes,” James lied, unbuttoning his jacket. “It’s done. John is dead.”

45

CITIES OF THE ANCIENT WORLD

Nikola held his lantern aloft. Inside the glass case its flame wavered unsteadily, barely more than a trembling blue glow against the darkness. The tunnel fell away sharply in front domed by the rotted remains of wooden pillars. The roof crumbled constantly as he passed, muddying the air, making him cough into his sleeve every few breaths.

His hand flailed out to the wall to steady himself as his feet slipped over stretches of black ice. It was a nightmare. At one point he gave up and fell to the the ground, sliding from bolder to bolder with the lantern between his teeth. No one had been into these catacombs for centuries… Helen and her father must have come via a different network of tunnels.

Nikola growled as his lantern flickered out and darkness quickly engulfed his tiny figure.

“Bloody hell,” he whispered, shaking the lantern in frustration. There was nothing left of its oil. Nikola threw it aside angrily and heard it shatter against a nearby wall.

He tried to remember what he could of the cave in front, feeling his way through the next dozen or so yards until he entered the unknown. All he could do was slip deeper into the earth and hope it didn’t swallow him.

He gasped sharply when his hand smeared through something on the rock. The liquid was freezing at first but quickly started burning through his skin like acid. Frantically, he wiped it over the dirt, cursing and groaning as his blood mixed with dust. Nikola held his fingers to his nose and jolted away in revulsion. That explained the foul smell on the air. It must be seeping out of the rocks…

Nikola cradled his throbbing hand in his lap,trying not to imagine what it must look like.

*~*~*

“Was it – quick?” Helen asked quietly, a generous glass of whiskey cupped in her hands. She hadn’t touched it yet.

James nodded, pacing beside the fireplace in Helen’s living room. He’d been doing that for the past half hour, wearing the oriental rug thin.

“He was executed cleanly. Several gunshots, one to the head. The Crown wasn’t taking any chances.” James was an accomplished actor, even remembering to flinch at the mention of the invented wounds.

Helen felt cold sink through her skin despite the shawl draped over her shoulders. She couldn’t shake the idea that they were all just like the lab rats from the original experiment, dying one by one. John was dead because of her and that was difficult to swallow…

“It is better this way,” she murmured, determined not to let him see her cry. “John was always the most gentle among us.”

James fought the urge to scoff. He’d seen a different John, right from the start. It was all in the mannerisms of the man. Everything felt – calculated. Cold. False…

Helen closed her eyes, remembering the way John’s hand had brushed against her cheek back on the university lawn. He’d promised her the world and she’d very nearly agreed, falling into his soft, stolen kisses.

There was a shuffle of paper as James started rolling a cigarette.

“Where is Holmes?” Helen asked, taking a sip of her whiskey. James wasn’t telling her the whole story, of that she was certain.

James lit up, quickly filling the room with lazy clouds of smoke.

“He’s off on another tour of Africa. One of his old military friends has funded an expedition to investigate the murder of a wealthy investor. You know Holmes… Can’t resist a trail of violence.”

“No, I don’t.” Helen snapped back quickly. She didn’t know Holmes at all but the little she did know suggested that he was a bad influence on James. Case and point, his new habit of filling the room with smoke. “Are you staying the night?”

James leaned against the wall beside the fire place, exhaling another white plume that lingered over the strange forms of Gregory’s collected artefacts. He had no choice. John was free again and he knew exactly where he was headed. Right here.

“The week – if I can.”

*~*~*

Nikola stopped when his feet vanished over a jagged edge of rock. He swore in Serbian, shuffling backwards. The drop could be two feet or fifty…

For the past few hours he’d been following the sound of running water. Now he could hear it rushing over something close by, crashing over rocks and swirling down below. There was even a light spray on the air that tasted fresh against his lips.

“You’re a vampire,” he reminded himself, shaking his painful hand again. “It’s not like this will kill you. Well, it shouldn’t kill you.”

He edged forward, feeling his way through the drop. His entire leg up to his thigh was dangled over the edge before he relented. The further he went the more slippery and wet things got. Cautiously, he moved his other hand over the ground beside him, dislodging a few small stones. He hurled them as far as he could and then listened to them fall.

They hit water.

Nikola’s heart beat faster. If it was a deep pool his odds of survival went up a few notches.

This is not one of your best ideas,” he muttered in yet another language, flitting between them the more nervous he got. Nikola could still feel the occasional flicker of warmth from James’s blood still in his veins. It made him reckless.

He launched himself off.

Cold air rushed over his body as he dropped. It felt like he was falling forever… and his mind didn’t help, unconsciously counting the feet he was falling. Soon it had racked up numbers Nikola doubted he could survive, even if he hit wa-

He hit three inches of water – then solid bedrock. A thousand things snapped inside his body in blinding streaks of pain until Nikola’s mind went blank.

*~*~*

Helen sat alone in her father’s office as night fell.

The world outside had entered an eerie still as if it were waiting for something. Every detail was snuffed out by a heavy fog of smoke that ate away at the sandstone walls. It made the bark of the trees black and hid untoward residents from sight, wrapping the whole city in a filthy blanket. Even the moths had changed the patterns on their wings to match the misery. She’d seen them on display when she was a little girl. Even now she smiled at the memory of her father walking her through the glassed exhibits.

Everything changes,” he used to whisper to her, lifting her up onto his shoulder. “All the creatures you see today will be different tomorrow. Even us.”

Will I be taller?” the little blonde girl asked. Her father just smiled.

The memory snapped her back to reality. Her father had been gone so long she was starting to worry that he might not return.

Helen glanced at her father’s old journal laid open on the desk. Its pages were full of sketches. Most were of the strange creatures he’d encountered on his early travels but amongst them was a rough drawing of her mother. Her lip curled up into a smile. Helen looked more and more like her, except for the waves of long, dark hair that fell carelessly to her waist.

Something move in the corner of the room, over in the shadows.

At first she thought it was Nikola’s damn pigeon again but no – this time there was a flicker of brown eyes. She knew them intimately.

John.

Helen slammed her eyes shut and took a few, slow breaths, only then did she lock back at the empty room. John was dead and he wasn’t coming back. She was chasing shadows.

Bloody thing won’t bloody – Helen, would you mind coming here a moment?” James muttered from another room.

Helen sighed, closing the journal.

After she was gone, the shadows stirred. A cloaked figure ran his fingertips along the wall, tracing a pattern in the wallpaper until he reached the desk. He opened one of the drawers, casually nudging paperwork aside until he revealed the slender letter opener. The fingers stroked the blade lovingly and then removed it from the drawer.

*~*~*

Nikola rolled over onto his stomach, groaning as bones locked into place. They knitted back together as cold water lapped around his face. It was black, like a shallow sea at night stretching out into forever.

His fangs were extended and claws at full stretch, dripping with his own blood. Black, vampire eyes picked out the faint glow of ancient lichen from the rock. It wound over the walls in patterns – following the creases in the rock, providing the pool of water with an edge.

A carved edge of stone. Deliberate. Ancient.

Of course… This was the realm of vampires – you had to be one if you wanted to weave your way through it.

When he was able, Nikola stumbled to his feet. He focussed on what he could see. The cliffs surrounding the body of water turned out to be the ruins of a reservoir. Limestone growths blurred the edges of the granite blocks and the shifting of the earth had cracked its sides beyond repair. Still, when he tilted his head up he could even see where the water line once sat. This was meant for a large settlement. A city.

He decided to follow the edge, staying in the shallows. The sound he made wading through the water echoed across the walls, drowning out any hope he might have of hearing anything else. Nikola couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t alone down here. In a world of monsters, it was entirely possible that something had survived the long centuries down here.

Soon, the water rose to his knees and it kept getting deeper. He tried scrambling over the submerged boulders, clinging to collapsed sections of roof and overhangs but eventually he was left with no choice but to swim through open water.

He passed a waterfall. Nikola could hear it frothing and growling to his right but all he saw was a void where the glowing lichen ended. Nikola guessed that it must be fed from snow melting on heated rocks.

There was something about the water he didn’t like. It wasn’t just that he couldn’t see it, it felt like it might betray him at any moment and suck him into the darkness.

Up ahead there was hope in the form of a faint blue aura. He swam quickly, wading when the water grew shallow. He emerged on a thin strip of land separating the black water he’d come out of and the eerie pool of softly glowing water ahead.

Nikola couldn’t even hazard as guess as to what made it glow like that but it illuminated this small cave beautifully.

“By gods,” Nikola whispered, catching sight of all the mad scrawls etched into the walls. It was Egyptian, an ancient dialect of it literally clawed over every surface. He tried to read fragments of it, following it around the alcove but none of it made any sense.

What mad thing had written this using its claws?

His eyes closed at a faint whiff of perfume on the air. Helen’s…

Nikola knelt down to find a pair of women’s gloves abandoned on the rock. Nikola held them to his cheek for a moment, they were soft and comforting. How many times had he felt these gloves tenderly brush his skin while they were in the lab working or taking a stroll through an Autumn afternoon in Oxford?

He slipped them into his jacket where they’d be safe before continuing onto the edge of the glowing water. This time he found Gregory’s clothes abandoned by the water’s edge. He looked carefully at the footprints in the dirt. This is as far as Helen had ventured but Gregory had continued into the water and not returned. Nikola knew that he had to do the same.

Nikola doesn’t know that he’s being watched from the back of the cavern. Folded up inside one of the crevasses is a violent red sand creature eyeing its ancient kin pick over the ground. It didn’t dare approach as the vampire moved to the water’s edge and dived in, swimming out into the currents before being dragged down beneath the surface toward the city beneath.

*~*~*

Helen slept fitfully, tossing and turning as she relived the moment her father was pulled under the water in the cave. He drowned, her mind whispered cruelly.

John sat beside her on the bed, spinning the delicate letter opener between his fingers. He used the sharp, silver edge to lift one of her locks of hair off her face.

“Why did you have to be so beautiful?” he whispered, leaning closer. “We could have been happy but now – we’re all monsters. You most of all.”

He had opened the window in her room, letting the moonlight and snow in through the curtains.

Nikola tried to fight against the water as it dragged him deeper. He was tossed between the currents until his lungs burned for air. His mouth opened, filling with water in a desperate attempt to breathe.

Suddenly it ended.

He was swept off the edge of some great waterfall, falling through sweet air which he greedily gasped. He made out a few lights below him before he plunged into another pool of water.

Nikola swam towards the stairs and climbed out, taking a moment to catch his breath before wandering over to examine the enormous colonnades of glowing marble. There were several of them, each warm to the touch as he pressed his hands to them.

“Beautiful,” he whispered. They reminded him of jewels.

Nikola moved towards the only passage. Even down here the world was being shaken apart. Pieces of the decorated plaster walls were laying on the floor. He stepped over them, eyeing the corridor in front warily.

Just as the path fell into darkness another pair of marble columns emerged. They were gorgeous – more grand than the simple torches or mirror systems found in Egypt.

“So this is where you all went…” he whispered. “Down into the earth.”

Nikola trailed off as he reached the end of the tunnel. It, like the thousands of other tunnels littered around the cavern, ended abruptly. They all looked out over an enormous cave and huddled in the the middle of it was a city. Its spires reached up four and five stories towards the roof, grazing against the ceiling. Buildings that looked as if they were plucked from the streets of Paris were packed in shoulder to shoulder among a rat’s nest of roads and alleyways.

Running between these buildings was something incredible – like a train but one that hugged the sides of the buildings several stories up – and spherical. These bubbles of light whizzed around with a faint hum that reminded him of an electric motor.

There were thousands of people beneath him but none had noticed the vampire in the shadows.

Something wasn’t right.

The city snuggled in the depths of the cave didn’t feel like the product of thousands of years of vampire industry. There were no lingering hints of their grand columns like back in the passageway and no sense of scale… Vampires loved to be theatrical but this ancient city was disappointingly practical.

He stepped back from the edge and used the wall to steady himself as the ground shook again. The lights beneath flickered and people fled to the protection of the buildings. A few large rocks dislodged from the cave roof and tumbled down, crashing through a city tower.

Everything fell quiet again.

This place was on the edge of its demise – Nikola could feel it. The closer he looked the more clear it became that this was a decaying outpost.

He pressed on, making his way down the latticework of ladders and platforms that led to the ground. Nikola had taken the precaution of returning to his human form as he wandered through the streets. Gregory was here somewhere…

*~*~*

John ran the tip of the letter opener down the side of Helen’s neck while she was asleep, following a vein that curved a few times before vanishing beneath her skin. The blade hovered, considering whether or not to follow.

Helen stirred at the press of the knife to her neck. At first, she thought it another of her nightmares. She’d woken to John at the foot of her bed brandishing a knife a thousand times.

“John…?” she mumbled. “You’re – dead…”

The cold press of metal to her neck wasn’t. It was very real.

“‘fraid not,” John replied, pressing the letter opener more firmly against her skin. “James was mistaken – not much of a doctor, it seems.”

Helen’s heart raced. She was terrified as he leant down, brushing his lips over hers. Her hand went uselessly to his shoulder, trying to push him back.

“…I’m not here to kill you…” he whispered, his lips nearly touching hers. “I’ve come for your help.”

46

RESERVOIR OF DREAMS

Jesus Christ!” Gregory leapt back from the table, knocking over Ranna’s equipment.

The vampire lashed to the table snarled. Its mouth gaped open displaying tapered fangs which glistened at the promise of Gregory’s flesh. Heavy silver bands secured its wrists, neck and ankles but the creature could still writhe enough to make the table rattle uneasily.

It’s not going anywhere,” Ranna placed a calming hand on Gregory’s arm.

Around them the cave dripped as each tremor shook apart the rock. Very soon they’d be swallowed entirely by the earth and Gregory couldn’t shake the feeling that he was already drowning.

I’ve done this before,” Ranna continued. “The clones do not live long, so I advise you to hurry if you want to ask your questions.”

Gregory crept back toward the vampire. Its original body floated behind in one of the glass coffins. Like an eerie shadow, it stayed in the corner of Gregory’s eyes.

This copy won’t be perfect,” she warned him, “though it will possess fragments of memory. When we tried this process with humans, we created entirely new beings with no knowledge of their previous selves. As far as I can gather, this is a vampire phenomenon. They store their memories in their blood.”

The vampire clawed at the table, glowering with sharp black eyes. Even as a shadow of its former self, it was terrifying.

I thought we were going to test the virus…” Gregory’s voice dropped to a hush. There was something in Ranna’s manner that unsettled him, particularly in the way she loomed over the vampire. Her lip was curled as if enjoying its suffering.

It would be a waste to kill it without first learning what we can.”

*~*~*

John allowed Helen to sit back against the pillows but kept the sharp edge of the letter opener to her throat.

It was not right, what we did. Everything was -” he glanced out the window at the moon peaking through a tiny gap in the fog. “Perfect.”

John, it does not have to be this way,” Helen lifted her hand tentatively, resting it on his jacket where it folded over his thigh.

Spare me the speech about morality and choice, Helen,” John replied sharply, snapping his inhumane gaze back to her. “James delivered its arguments with more eloquence and still I remain unmoved. I’ll never forget that night when I found the four of you in Watson’s room, tearing into the flesh of that poor creature. Am I really so different now? Perhaps that is what you hate most…”

She trembled. John’s eyes were nearly black like Nikola’s but there was none of his warmth in them. Indeed, all Helen could see was her reflection in those glass-covered pits.

You said that you came for help,” she kept her speech steady. “I cannot do that with a knife to my throat.”

He pressed the knife harder to her skin in response.

And if I put this away, will you try to kill me like Dr Watson or Mr Tesla?” There was an unsteady silence between them. “You keep monsters in your basement and I wonder if that is where you will put me… Another piece for your collection – something for you to study?”

John-”

It is what I am. The whole of Europe wants me dead, Watson and Tesla most of all.”

The knife was withdrawn until its blade no longer touched her skin. Helen inched her hand up to his, laying it over the rough, damaged skin. It was stained by blood and littered with a thousand scars.

Let me help you, John.”

He was silent. John would be a fool to trust her but it was only a minor addition to his present foolishness – for he loved her. He could not stay away from her, torn by his twin desires to hurt and protect her. His love was a calamity of contradiction. John wanted her to feel the pain that he endured, watch her bleed like all the others onto the streets of London but an equal force demanded that he love her, passionately and forever.

*~*~*

The vampire was very uncooperative. It screamed for its slaves, yelled abuse at Ranna and Gregory – only a fraction of which they could understand and then turned its attentions on trying to escape its restraints.

Enough of this,” Gregory hissed in alarm, waving Ranna over. She took a swab of the vampire’s fangs, catching a sticky drop of venom and placed it in a glass container. Considering the virus originated from some vampire bites, they might be able to study it in its raw form.

Let’s see what happens if this thing mixes with your blood…” Ranna muttered under her breath, as she took a vial of blood from the sand creature and injected it into the vampire. “Odds are, it will kill it.”

And for a while it appeared to do exactly that. The vampire went into fits, lurching violently against the table as the toxin attacked its system. It frothed at the mouth and moaned in pain, barely able to breathe.

This is how you kill a vampire…” Ranna whispered, fascinated. Her people had been trying to kill them for thousands of years with little luck. One touch of this and –

Wait,” Gregory, stepped closer as the vampire fell still. “No, that’s not right…” he peered down, watching the vampire’s eyes go from black to blue. Its claws retracted, sinking into broken human nails. “My god. It’s human.”

Ranna stared in disbelief at the shrivelled human on the table. In the same way that sand creatures looked like ravaged forms, this human looked like a sickly vampire stripped of all its strength. It was frightened too, confused by the warm blood flowing under its skin.

Vampires didn’t die out – they became us.” Gregory shook his head, hand over his lips. “They’ve been laying dormant in our race ever since. They’re in our blood.

That’s incredibly clever… Introduce a virus to the vampires – one that they can carry without killing them. When they prey on humans, as they inevitably do, it turns the victims into bastard creatures, one bite or scratch from them and you’ve lost another vampire. It uses their very survival against them.”

And pure vampire blood injected into a human can insight these abnormal remnants to surface – albeit unpredictably.”

They both stared at the human.

We should bury this…” Gregory reached for the vial of vampire venom. Ranna’s hand gripped onto his sleeve, stopping him.

Not while there’s a vampire alive in this world.”

*~*~*

Old as it was, this human city was built on the ruins of an ancient one. Every now and then, a building peaked out from the surrounds with weathered stone that matched the cavern. Instead of polished brickwork, these oddities bore scared facades and shadows of ancient gods chiselled into their towering columns which twisted together like snakes.

There were mysterious sphere sculptures littered through the city, each weighing several tonnes. They looked like planets, fallen from the sky, scattered among the skeletal remains of a grand temple which thrust out of the park.

It was Vampire in origin.

Nikola lingered by one of these ancient buildings, hunting into a narrow alley that separated it from the others. He could see the centuries written into the crumbling walls along with the remnants of a great battle. He looked more carefully. Each of these old buildings was stained black at the edges from a fire that had burned for days, suffocating the cave. It must have looked like a pit of lava with ten thousand screaming souls.

Nikola understood; the vampires that built this city were besieged and the invaders were still living amongst its carcass. It made Nikola uneasy, picking up his pace as he returned to the streets. The language spoken around him was familiar but too bastardised by isolation to be learned yet.

He stopped along with everyone else when the ground shook again. The earth gave a deep growl, tearing loose outcrops of rock which tumbled down the walls of the cave with resounding booms until they crashed through buildings along the city outskirts.

Without warning, Nikola was swept up in a sea of people racing through the narrow streets.

The crowd threw Nikola sharply against one of the marble pillars when they spilled into the grand hall. The world was shaking from after-tremors, making even the most substantial building ripple like a desert mirage. Instructions bellowed from the walls, directing people to shuttles and tunnels and insisting that they stay calm.

Nikola collapsed to the ground, leaning back against a vast marble freeze. Its details caught his eye and made a fresh wave of fear crawl under his skin. Vampires, hundreds of them lay maimed amongst a sea of swords and arrows. Nearly all had their heads severed except for the unlucky few tied to pyres.

Slowly, his head tilted upwards to take in the scale of the scene. Standing atop the battlefield was a warrior bearing an enormous, glittering shield. Finally, something that he could read, ‘Victory to us, Cabal’.

Nikola swore, staggering back to his feet. He pressed his body against the wall, trying to hide. The hundreds of people crushed against him were Cabal – all of them.

He fought against the crowd, ducking out of the building and escaping into one of the parks. He couldn’t stay here. Even with the chaos of the city collapsing, if they found out that he was a vampire, Nikola would end up on one of those pyres.

Nikola’s feet went from underneath him as another, more powerful quake struck. This time he couldn’t even hear the screams as the building he’d just been in swayed dangerously. The keystone over the main arch popped free like a champagne cork, flying out into the street where it tore through several people, dismembering them.

One by one the immense stones slipped free and crashed onto the road, bringing the entire building down in a billowing roar of marble dust that blanketed the heart of the city. Nikola slammed his eyes shut and hid beneath his cloak as it choked the air around him. Then came the spray of glass from the windows, raining down until an eerie, white silence remained.

The city was dying. He had to find Gregory – fast.

*~*~*

That’s it… He’s gone,” Ranna pulled a sheet over the ex-vampire as it went still. “We have to take this knowledge to Praxis. It could change everything – finally free us from the darkness.”

Yes, they had their cities but they could never be free while ever the last of the vampires and their bastard sand creatures skulked about in the shadows.

Praxis?” Gregory asked, growing increasingly worried by the earthquakes rolling through the caves.

Oh, you should see it, Dr Magnus,” she whispered reverently. “Her spires reach ten times as high and gleam with silver. There are fresh waters pools that you could lose whole buildings in.”

Gregory held her as the ground shook violently. A great boom thundered through the caves as something crashed down in the city. They fell to the ground, seeking shelter under the bench. The wall of her lab split apart, tearing the rock. Freezing water sprayed out, quickly soaking through their clothes before they could react.

The dead vampire was forced off the table and landed on the floor with a sickening thud. Gregory stared at its pale eyes for a moment before another fierce jet of water hit them.

We have to leave,” Gregory tugged Ranna from under the table. The water was around their ankles, rushing passed them and out into the tunnels where it thrust over the edge sharp edges of rock and down into the city, filling it like some ancient reservoir.

Wait,” Ranna rescued various items from her lab, piling them into a leather satchel. Among them was the vial of vampire venom and another sample of blood from the Sand Creature. It was still alive – heavily sedated and now covered in freezing water.

Behind, one of the glass tanks shattered, spewing forth brown, festering preserve and the rubbery carcass of its dead vampire.

Now!” Gregory insisted, grasping her arm and hauling her out of the lab. They were hit at once with a strong current of water, nearly at their knees. Water was pouring through a thousands cracks in the tunnels. “We’ve got to head up – against the water.”

And so they did, using the wall to drag themselves against the water.

*~*~*

In the city, Nikola looked up at the cliffs encircling him. He could hear the roar of water making its way towards him like an approaching storm hidden by the horizon’s curve. Slowly, Nikola turned, taking in the full view of his demise.

Instantly, he frowned. There was something wrong with this place, something that had been bothering him since he set foot in the city. The mysterious sphere sculptures, the perfectly circular cut of the chasm – the sparse cluster of ancient buildings. This wasn’t a Vampire city – it was a machine.

He turned again and counted the tunnels, each spaced at regular intervals both up and along the walls to allow for rapid filling and draining. Nikola remembered the reservoir above and assumed that this must be its main chamber. The Cabal probably sealed it off and built in the safety of this artificial cave…

Nikola sprinted up to one of the giant spheres, tracking around it. It wasn’t free standing. Each one sat on concrete blocks which – he dug away at the dirt – contained tablets of instructions. He translated each one furiously, crawling around and tearing at the soil.

Behind him, the screaming rose as the water encircling the city touched the first block of houses, cutting off the bridge to the escape tunnel.

Trust humans to build in a water trap – honestly…

*~*~*

John was drawn towards her, captivated by the glow of her golden hair in the moonlight and faint perfume that drew memories of long walks in Oxford’s endless gardens. He wanted her then but he needed her now.

Ignoring her muffled protest, John closed the gap between them and pressed his lips firmly against hers.

Helen startled, grasping hold of his arms, fisting at the material of his coat. He was too strong to push away when he shifted closer. They struggled briefly until he let the letter opener fall onto the floor, taking hold of her wrists instead and pressing them down against the bed. She arched up to him but then turned her head away, looking out the open window to the moon already sinking in the sky.

*~*~*

We’re never going to make it!” Ranna shouted. Gregory was several feet in front of her, fighting his way through the rising water that gushed about his waist in a foaming broth.

Neither of them could hear over the roar it made. It was simply overpowering, in every sense.

Gregory!” Ranna cried out, as she slipped from the wall leaving her dangling with only one hand still clutching at the slippery rock.

Gregory turned in time to see Ranna swept off the rock and into the maelstrom. He screamed her name but she was already gone, dragged underneath the water and thrown into god knows where.

*~*~*

Nikola perched atop the enormous sphere, struggling to pull out a copper rod that had been hidden inside it for centuries. It was still a perfect rose complexion, almost iridescent in the light. He felt a satisfying click as it locked into place before he pushed with all his strength, turned the handle to the tune of another click, click, click…

Nobody but him noticed as a random assortment of tunnels closed, heavy doors sealing off the rivers of water. There were four more spheres to set in order to completely seal the chamber but Nikola had to work quickly. His mind had already made a rough calculation of how long he had before the city was swallowed entirely.

He was on the third sphere when the ground jerked fiercely, throwing him off balance. Nikola hit his head hard on the sphere, tearing open his forehead. He felt the warm gush of blood run over his eyes and down his cheek, blinding him as he tumbled the rest of the way down to the grass.

Staring up at the ceiling, he watched it crumble. Columns of limestone the size of buildings fell silently towards the city, tumbling in a terrifying ballet before crashing with enormous throws of rock and water.

Nikola felt a fine rain of ash brush over his face. He couldn’t stay here – he refused to die here.

With a groan, he rolled onto his side and clambered back up onto the sphere, heaving out the cylinder at its heart and locking it back into place. He rested on its cross-bar as he watched half the remaining tunnels surrounding the city close, significantly slowing the stream of water.

There was one more sphere to close before the city, or what was left of it, was safe.

Then the lights went out, plunging the reservoir and its city into darkness.

*~*~*

Gregory tried to keep going but his hands were near frozen from the water and lost their grip. A moment later he was part of the swirling water, struggling on its surface to stay afloat as the current sped along in the darkness.

He had no concept of where he was except that every now and then he was thrown against the walls. They scraped at his skin and tore his clothes before discarding him back into the river. A strange calm settled over him as he surrendered to the motion.

It ended abruptly. The water veered sharply down, plummeting out of the cave wall. Gregory found himself in free-fall, looking out over the ruined city just as its lights flickered out.

47

OUTPOST

Silence.

The city was strangled by it as she lay in the darkness, drifting like a helpless ship with its lanterns put out. Marble dust swirled in a choking fog, mixing with the water to form a sludge that lapped around the streets with the ever-encroaching tide. The chamber continued to fill from the remaining tunnels, water tumbling down the ancient rock in dozens of waterfalls. Nikola was among the bodies strewn over the ground, motionless.

A sharp crack cut the air. Those left in the city looked up toward the ceiling but could not see the enormous slab of rock swaying eerily, held aloft by tree roots.

At the very edge of the city, something splashed through the water and hauled itself up onto the street. The man in his late fifties lay there for a moment, panting for air which came laced with chalk. The freezing water made him numb to the sharp cobblestones littered with broken glass from the buildings.

Gregory clutched the leather bag to his chest. He’d managed to save his notebook containing the story of these people – these Cabal and their history of the underworld. Everything else, the samples, the vampires, Ranna… They were all lost.

Groaning, he stood unsteadily and started into the ruined city.

*~*~*

James refused to sit at the breakfast table, instead choosing to lean against the wall with an inscrutable facade better suited to Oxford’s walls.

The third place at the table had already been made use of, its diner downstairs waiting in the basement amongst the disused cages and medical equipment of Gregory’s workroom.

Druitt… Even the name made James ill. The thought of him in the house, no less at Helen’s invitation, was enough to make him hurl – which he had done twice already after watching Helen lead London’s most notorious mass murder down from her room. Good god he couldn’t even entertain that thought.

Helen’s gaze remained levelled at him, her eyes strikingly blue this morning. “He needs-”

James cut her off, turning his head to look past her in disgust. He couldn’t see the people milling about on their way to work, or horses dragging carriages through the street in an endless procession as the night lamps were snuffed. All he’d ever see were the bloodied rooms and strewn out victims of the man casing about downstairs.

I should have let you see…” he hissed, his normally even voice full of venom. “The girl laying beside Tesla – there was so little of her that she was identified by the remains of her dress. Is that your wish, Magnus?” James closed his eyes and was immediately met with visions of dismembered torso drowned in blood. Tesla, what would this do to him? He wasn’t overly fond of the man but he had no desire to see him cast into despair.

Helen had shifted at the mention of his name. That sinking guilt in her stomach was linked inextricably to Nikola even though she was a long way from admitting it. She had made no promises to him.

It will destroy him,” James warned, turning back to Helen. For the first time, his dark brown eyes saw true cruelty in her.

This is my work, James,” Helen replied defiantly, every bit her father’s daughter. “I created the darkness in John. Given enough time, I am confident of undoing the damage from the vampire blood. If Tesla can control full-blown vampirism then with treatment and time John will be returned to himself.”

The worrying reversal of first names was not lost on James.

You cannot fix Druitt. The core of the man has been corrupted.”

I do not need your permission – or your help,” Helen snapped, hitting her teacup sharply against its saucer.

You’ll have it whether you like it or not, or I shall take a stroll back to Scotland Yard.” He wasn’t going to leave her alone with John for a second. “I’m sure the Queen and her ministers would be very interested to discover Jack the Ripper, alive and well… Gregory Manus is not exactly on their list of darling scientists and this is his house.”

James could have sworn that there were flames dancing in her eyes but it could have been the dying ember of the last night lamp snuffing out.

If you do that,” she warned, “I’m sure they’ll want to know how he escaped execution and from what I understand, you and Mr Holmes were the ones that let him go.”

The bastard escaped, James hissed to himself.

*~*~*

Gregory stumbled through halos of warmth made by spot fires. Perhaps he could find one of those machines – what had Ranna called them? Shuttles. He could not think of any other way out of this tomb. At least the water was rising slowly now, with only a scattering of tunnels left unsealed. Gregory counted his blessings that he’d been thrown free before his tunnel had closed, otherwise he’d be dashed against the rock and drowned by now.

Mr Tesla – good heavens!” Gregory knelt to the ground at once. He’d very nearly fallen over the man laying beside the giant granite sphere. “Can you hear me, Mr Tesla?” he asked, slapping Nikola’s unshaven face gently to rouse him.

Nikola stirred, groaning something untoward as he rolled onto his side, eyes still firmly shut.

Good man…” Gregory whispered, helping to support him. “What – in the name of all that is abnormal – are you doing down here?”

Nikola coughed, holding his side as he sat up. “Looking for you,” he mumbled back.

Gregory sat on the ground beside the sphere. He shook his head in fond amusement. “You may be an arrogant bastard, Tesla – but your heart’s in the right place.”

That very nearly made Nikola grin.

*~*~*

James and John locked eyes. They paced around each other, sharks circling in the dim light before taking up their respective places at opposite ends of the large table. Occupying in the centre of the room, it was lit by a line of fat candles half burned and spilled onto the wood. They wavered in the disturbed air, sending horrific shadows onto walls, shaped by the assortment of equipment and specimens.

John leered out from the darkness and James had to look away. He couldn’t stand to feel those eyes on him. They taunted him – frightened him – fascinated him…

Helen entered, her arms full of books stolen from Oxford’s library. She deposited them on the table with a cloud of swirling dust that made the candles tremble. One went out and sulked into mess of molten wax.

Stealing again, Helen?” John asked with a familiarity that made James’s stomach turn afresh. When she smiled quietly and fussed with her hair, James seriously considered leaving her to her fate. Love was ridiculous.

Borrowing,” Helen corrected, hunting out a slim book. She blew the dust off its cover and carefully flicked through the handwritten pages.

That’s not from the library,” James took a step toward the table, tilting his head curiously. “It’s Tesla’s.”

He borrowed it from the library,” she shrugged in reply. “Here – I knew I’d seen it somewhere before.”

Helen turned the book around forcing the two gentlemen to tolerate each other’s presence long enough to read. It was an old legend of a young boy turned by a vampire that managed to return to human form by convincing another vampire to bite him. Vampires don’t bite vampires so it was likely that the myth was purely a warning to teach young vampires not to bite each other.

James shook his head.

Even if it this were not the superstitious nonsense it appears, you are one pure blood vampire short of actually having one.”

Tesla -” Helen started, but James cut her off.

Is not the vampire he wants us to think he is.”

John shifted, hands clasped behind his back. “And I lack claws and fangs…” Not exactly a vampire either.

It’s the principle, gentlemen.”

*~*~*

We’re in a giant, vampire reservoir?” Gregory repeated, gazing around nervously at the concave walls that surrounded the city. With much of the remaining city ablaze, the darkness had been broken into a soft, yellow hue.

A water supply for a vast city, I assume,” Nikola added. “It must be somewhere beneath us.”

Long dead.”

Perhaps, perhaps not… At the moment reaching it is our best chance of surviving.”

Gregory looked at the last granite orb behind them. They had closed all the tunnels now and stopped the water rising. They were left trapped with fires quickly eating their oxygen.

I’d wager,” there was a gleam in Nikola’s eyes as he climbed up on top of the sphere and surveyed the dark water, “that this will all drain away into the city below. It’s what it’s designed to do. For a reservoir to work there have to be tunnels to channel the water.”

Tesla, those would be submerged – if you’re lucky enough for them to be intact at all after the quakes. I’ve been here for a while, the place is a wreck.”

It was difficult but Nikola watched the water closely, monitoring the debris floating over its surface. Gregory heard a disconcerting creak and looked up to see the enormous stone hanging above the city. There was water dripping off it like rain.

…Tesla…” Gregory’s voice dropped to a whisper. Nikola saw it too and watched helplessly as vines started snapping, one by one.

*~*~*

They dove into the water together and swum out toward the whirlpool. Thousands of objects floated toward it including the grisly sight of bodies, cold and lifeless. Hundreds of them bobbed up and down in the freezing water along with everything else, spiralling like planets flung in dizzy circles around stars.

Feel it?” Nikola asked, treading water. There was a warmer current beneath them, sucking downwards.

Tesla… I-” Gregory felt the tentative tug on his legs. The water wanted them. “We’ll never make it.”

Dr Magnus…” Nikola whispered, illuminated only by the orange light from the fires onshore. Somewhere in the city, another building crumbled to the ground. “I promised your daughter that I’d bring you back. She terrifies me more than this cave or the water beneath our feet.”

Gregory lofted his eyebrow in amusement.

You have a point,” he conceded. “Shall we?”

They submerged together. Nikola clawed at the freezing water, undulating his body, forcing himself down into the current. The liquid clutched at him and dragged him into a strangely warm column water. He felt Gregory thrashing behind, caught as well.

The enormous segment of rock dangling above the city swayed. Its rough surface cut through more of the tree roots. One by one they snapped, flying out of sight. The boulder groaned, tipping forwards with another symphony of ruined vines then fell.

Even the water shook as the rock smashed into the heart of the outpost. The city was pulverised in a great cloud of dust that blew out the fires and sent the reservoir into darkness. Finally, the only sound was that of rock raining back down into the water. The Cabal outpost was gone.

*~*~*

It didn’t take long for James and John to tire of the books. They’d left Helen to it, reading at the table as the candles burned down further and further. Each had taken up residence in opposing chairs and had been locked in glare for the better part of an hour.

What were their names?” James asked calmly. John remained silent, spread out over his chair with a glass of scotch. The man was an enigma. Sometimes he thought he saw flickers of genuine feeling for those around him but then the illusion was shattered by a cold smirk. “How many, then?” Still silence. “Why…” John shifted very slightly, lifting the scotch to his lips for a sip.

Why not?” he replied, his eyes dark in the ever-fading candlelight. “I know you feel it too – embrace it,” John taunted, too softly for Helen to hear.

Pass…” James hissed. Another long silence. “Do you believe, for one moment that Helen will cure you – that you even want to be cured?”

Anything is possible, James.”

James looked at those deep brown eyes again but found nothing in them.

*~*~*

Drowning, Nikola’s lungs burned. He tried to swim up – to the side – anywhere but down. Down was all there was. He struggled, writhing helplessly with his hands at his throat. Nikola needed to breathe – crack. The smooth edge of the tunnel hit his arm and grazed along it. He was moving fast.

The tunnel hit a stationary lake and sent him tumbling. Violent turbulence nearly broke Nikola’s back as he was flipped again before he felt air against his face for a moment – not long enough to breathe.

His mouth was full of water which he tried to swallow. Too late, his lungs expanded on their own and he felt the water drag down his throat into his lungs. Nikola was thrust up into the air again, thrown there by the power of the rushing water. Air mixed with the water in his lungs as his body was spat out onto a rocky outcrop. His arms wrapped around it, gripping tightly.

Tesla!” Gregory sailed through the air, pawing uselessly at it. His body started falling, twisting and then searing pain overwhelmed him as his shoulder hit the rock and popped out of its socket.

Nikola swore profusely in Serbian in reply, his mouth full of blood. The left side of his face was grazed so badly that the skin hung off it in places. Already, it was healing, shedding dead skin and growing fresh stretches of it. It made him hungry…

Magnus?” Nikola clambered over the rock, heading toward the screams.

Something else was with them, riding the currents. The sand creature cut elegantly through the water. It had been in the caves so long that the skin between its fingers had fused into webbing, propelling its body onto the shore. The injuries it sustained in the lab were healing but its memories were sharp. It could see the body of one of the humans that had subjected it to such suffering. Silently, it crept over the rocks.

The bag – the bag!” Gregory shouted.

Nikola growled and reached into the water, stumbling to keep his footing as he scooped Gregory’s backpack out of the water.

It was quieter down here. The water writhed silently except for when it hit the rocks, splashing against them. Hundreds of marble columns glowed around them, dotted over the rocks like lamp posts. Gregory was lying on the ground, clutching his dislocated shoulder. A few yards away, the sand creature waited – its body twisted, waiting to pounce, completely invisible against the rock.

Nikola slipped several times, hitting the uneven ground. The rocks were black, scattered roughly like a natural shoreline. Huge columns towered over them in a forest of marble. Nikola used one of them to help him back to his feet.

For heaven’s sake, stop moving,” Nikola growled at Gregory. He rolled the older man over carefully, wincing at the sight of Gregory’s limp arm. “You know this is going to hurt…” Gregory just nodded. It wasn’t his first dislocation.

Eventually, Gregory managed to sit. His shoulder pained but at least he could move his arm now. He was getting too old for this…

Where are we?” he asked. The marble columns created a glare and the way they were scattered over the rocks made them appear as a glowing wall.

Nikola explored, walking around some of the columns. It felt eerily like a maze.

As soon as the vampire slipped out of sight, the sand creature struck. It launched itself, hitting Gregory in the chest, forcing him back down onto the rock with a sharp cry. The creature opened its mouth in a snarl, rippling out of camouflage so that its prey could see its scarlet skin, riddled with scars.

Gregory cried out, hitting the creature with his good arm. “Bloody hell!”

Nikola raced back, startled by the sight. It was – a creature but one he’d never seen before. Still, it was familiar, buried in memories that weren’t his. Before he could think, Nikola’s claws extended out of his hands, unfurling further than he knew they could go. Sharp fangs filled his mouth and Nikola opened his mouth in a loud growl that vibrated deep in his chest.

The creature hesitated, hissing at Nikola in fear.

Nikola growled again, advancing with terrifying black eyes.

Gregory looked just as frightened as the creature when Nikola arched forward, claws extended and roared.

*~*~*

Twisted stone towered above Nigel. Beside every window of Oxford University’s great library stood a gargoyle. They appeared to be grown out of the walls, leering out over the books. He stood in front of one of them, his face cut in half by the moonlight. Demons, history was full of them.

Are you looking for something in particular, Mr Griffin?” the librarian asked. It was late in the evening and she wanted to close soon. The man had been standing beside the windows for hours, staring up at the statues, pacing between them.

Nigel didn’t take his eyes off the stone gaze of the gargoyle.

I’ve found it – thank you.”

48

RETURNING TO OXFORD

Their lips clashed together without warning. Helen moaned, John stepped forward and pressed her against the basement wall. Green silk slid through his fingers. The candles dripped onto the floor, near death. She placed her palms on his chest, feeling John’s ragged breath and heart beat wildly.

Helen mumbled his name. It started as a protest but slipped into surrender when he brushed his tongue over her lips and beckoned them to part. He was the first to kiss her like this – to possess her so entirely. Now that she knew what it felt like to belong to someone, her body was helpless to stop his advances.

This was wrong – it had to be wrong. All those women… The hands that had slain them touched her body, moving to the lace-work on the back of her dress, intent on unravelling it. She should push away –

John…” Helen gasped. He lifted her easily, using his body to hold her against the wall. Blonde ringlets tumbled free, bouncing beside her face. His kisses ran hot down her neck until another moan reverberated from her throat. “He’ll hear…”

His blunt teeth grazed along her vein. The world felt like it was falling – falling toward him.

He silenced her by stealing her lips, kissing them until they were red and swollen.

In the next room, James curled his fingers around the arms of his chair. His nails stabbed into the leather, marking it with dozens of tiny crescents. Muffled cries filled the air, not quite drowned by the wall or the fire burning down beside him. It wasn’t just revulsion that made his breathing shallow. Jealousy was an insidious emotion and he loathed himself for it.

*~*~*

Tesla was so bloody quick.

The sand creature sprawled over Gregory didn’t stand a chance. For a moment it thought about retreating into the jungle of glowing columns, clambering up their smooth surfaces out of sight or even diving down into the water but Nikola speared it with his claws, driving them deep into the creature’s withered flesh before it could move. It thrashed back, scratching at him, squealing. The thing wasn’t strong enough to stop a vampire – even a half-breed like this one.

The poor sand creature twisted, screeching at the holes in its body. Blood dripped out of its mouth while its eyes, their rims burning gold, flared with one last ember of humanity. Dark blood sprayed over Gregory as Nikola lifted the creature above him and pulled it apart in a revolting death. There wasn’t much left of it when it slipped off his claws and fell to the ground with a wet slap.

Gregory stared at Tesla, who was standing above him, claws dripping.

It was evil…” Nikola whispered.

Gregory didn’t say a word.

*~*~*

Professor Samuel Griffin felt a cold breath on the back of his neck. There was a draught crawling through the rotted window of the manor house. It had been weeks now that he could barely stand on his old bones. He hated the way they creaked as he shuffled between the fireplace and his favourite desk, crunching together like ancient boulders. The sprawling leather chair had become his preferred perch from which he watched the row of poplars quiver, dusted by fresh snow.

The manor itself was more than a thousand years old. Its Roman ancestry could be seen in the plinths guarding the front gate. Their decayed stone towered over those that made it past the walls, hedges and gates that kept the outside world at bay. Mist clung to the ground, refusing to lift with the morning light trickling through the empty branches of oaks and elms.

The Cabal left him to this – to die. His embarrassing loss of the five school children and the precious sample of vampire blood hastened his demise. A vote was held. Their new leader was rash and terrified of the world. It would be a disaster, Griffin could tell. How could you study something, learn from it and appropriate its gifts if you killed it on sight? Foolish. He’d been there with Gregory Magnus at the start… The first time they’d dreamed of a world beyond this one – a world of monsters and science, a world of endless possibilities and they hadn’t been afraid.

It wasn’t the money that Samuel resented, he’d given that to Gregory knowing full well he’d never see it again, it was the recognition. The last vampire outpost, buried in the Amazonian jungle was his find. Months of his life were played out in libraries across the country, buried in dust. Nights and days vanished as he chased down fragments of rock that no one else could translate. He had cracked the language of the vampires, translated their thousands of scrolls. In the end, it was Gregory Magnus that had stood inside the Sanctuary of the Moon, Gregory who had brought back its secrets to London and refused to share them with the world.

They had been friends once.

Griffin frowned, shifting in his chair. The gates were open.

*~*~*

Nikola washed his hands in the water – then washed them again as if the blood refused to shift. Instinct was a terrifying thing, especially if you were an apex predator.

Gregory shifted uncomfortably nearby, standing with a definite tilt, trying to protect his sore shoulder. He examined one of the columns but could not determine what made the stone glow. At first he thought that it might have been gas – he’d seen amazing experiments with vacuum tubes lighting up when electrical currents were passed through their gas but no – the very stone itself was emitting a bright glow. He couldn’t decide whether it was some kind of technology, a naturally occurring substance or if the rock had been artificially engineered.

Neither of them mentioned the sand creature as they wove their way around the pillars. Everything about this second chamber dwarfed the first. Nikola felt ill whenever he looked up, trying to see where the pillars met the roof. They tapered in to each other, perspective warping them into a ceiling of light. The Cabal city was a creature wracked by old age but this – it was pristine.

This way,” Nikola murmured, slipping through a final pair of columns. He stopped at the sight before him, reaching for the warm surface of a column to steady himself.

It was grown out of the rock, clawing up in layers as if it had flowed from the mouth of the earth. The majestic city glowed, basking in its own warmth like a pearl clutched protectively between two gaping jaws of cave. They overlooked it, standing on a small outcrop of rock.

Fist sized balls of light – hundreds of them – floated in the air surrounding the city. They were magnetically repelled from both the rock in the ceiling and the ground, lingering between the two in a thick band.

The City of Stars,” Nikola whispered. “Heart of the ancient world.”

Nikola – it’s huge,” Gregory shook his head in wonder. Most incredible of all were two protrusions of white rock, thrusting out of the ground and reaching up toward the ceiling. Fangs… They tapered to sharp points almost like a gateway.

I did not believe that it was real…” Nikola admitted, balanced on the precipice of rock. Something flashed across his memory – a sensation of being dragged through the corridor, of blood in his mouth as he looked over the city. A memory.

Is it an outpost?” Gregory asked. The ground was rumbling above them but it didn’t trouble this cavern.

No. It is a storehouse of knowledge – a vault. It was built by the first Pharaohs, a pair of brothers, to store every precious piece of knowledge discovered or brought back from exploratory parties sent to the outer reaches of the world.”

A museum…”

Of sorts. Dr Magnus – the knowledge in those walls, everything that has been lost to us…” It made him tremble. “The Cabal lived right above it.” Thankfully, they’d not laid a grubby paw on it.

Gregory’s eyes wandered over the buildings and streets, searching for movement but it was like a skeleton, picked clean of life. “It’s dead.”

The words rang in Nikola’s ears. Everything to do with his race was dead, all that remained of them were the vials of blood Gregory had scattered over the world.

Together, they stepped forward towards the city, maintaining a reverent silence as they descended the twisted staircase of rock cut into the wall. When they reached the base and found themselves on solid ground, Nikola noticed a curtain of air hanging in front of them like mist. It reached out in every direction.

Some kind of scanning device, perhaps?” offered Nikola. He’d encountered one earlier. They decided to reach out at the same time. Their hands found a cold surface, smooth like glass. For a second, their fingers sank through it, reaching toward the other side.

Suddenly, electricity snapped through their bodies and the air in front of them fractured, ripped apart in a great purple flash eerily similar to John’s gift. The thunder tore around the cave walls as Nikola and Gregory vanished.

Nikola landed in fresh snow. He laid on his back, staring up at the blue sky. The tops of trees swayed in the edges of his vision while an eagle circled lazily, high above. He was home. Nikola could smell it in the air. Gregory lay sprawled beside him, wincing as he tried to move his injured arm. The city was gone – it had rejected them, throwing them back out into the world. It wasn’t going to share its secrets so easily.

*~*~*

The middle-aged butler couldn’t see the man striding across the lawn. The sun was weak in these early hours and Nigel’s pale shadow went unnoticed as he kept to the tree line. Being invisible had its advantages although he was beginning to wish that there was a way of keeping his clothes. It wasn’t so much being naked that bothered him (although it did leave him feeling rather vulnerable), it was the inconvenience of not being able to carry anything.

At the moment, he’d found a way to cheat this flaw. Though desperately uncomfortable, he managed to fit a small vial inside his mouth. Safe inside his lips, it was definitely invisible like the rest of his body.

He slipped easily in through the front door. This was his child-hood home and he knew every corner of it. His mother’s grave was on the back lawn in front of the lake next to the two dogs. The rooms on his left were for guests and entertaining. To his right, which is where his footsteps led him, was his old room. He ducked inside and silently closed the door.

Everything was as he’d left it three years ago for the start of university. Nigel was no longer a scrawny little thing but he managed to find trousers, a shirt and jacket to wear. He slipped the vial into his pocket and headed back out into the house, climbing to the third floor.

There was a time when he’d been afraid to venture up here into his father’s domain. Now, it smelled of death and decay – of age not old enough to have lost its stench. The marble gods grinned menacingly from every statue set into the corridor. Their perfect human forms had always fascinated Nigel’s father. If only he knew the truth of that great race…

I knew that you would come.”

Nigel froze in the doorway. His father’s voice came from the chair in front of the windows, facing the world. The room was several degrees colder than the rest of the house despite the roaring fire.

Observe, son, how the world turns onward.”

Not everyone has forgotten you,” Nigel replied, striding into the room. He could see now that there was nothing left in his father to fear. “You imprisoned me,” he added bitterly, moving over to the fire where he could see his father’s face. “It is a blessing that my mother was not alive to see it.”

Or to see what you have become,” Samuel whispered. His grey eyes shifted to look upon his son. The boy was stronger now – a man.

Nigel shook his head in disbelief. “I’m not a fool any more. You didn’t torture me because of what I am, you did it because of what you want to be. I failed you, even in that. I am not immortal, father. It appears you picked the wrong young brat.”

His father didn’t say anything to that. The guilt in his eyes was enough of a reply. Silence followed until Nigel withdrew a tiny vial from his coat. Inside it was the unmistakable liquid that Griffin had spent his life hunting.

Why are you here?” Samuel’s voice cracked as his eyes focused on the crimson liquid.

Despite everything, father, what Dr Magnus did was wrong. This belongs to you. He brought back several samples of untainted vampire blood, hiding them across the world. This is what remains of the vial we stole that night. There is not enough for the Cabal to make use of however, there is enough for one dose – one chance for you to see if the ancient gods think you worthy of their gift.”

Samuel used all his strength to pry his ailing figure out of the chair. He leaned heavily against the window sill, staring at his son. Nigel looked exactly like his mother…

Will you stay?” the old man asked.

Yes…” replied Nigel. “I’ll stay until it’s done.”

*~*~*

Helen returned to school. The walls were blacker than ever, polluted from the growing city of factories embracing Oxford. She ducked around the parties of gentlemen loitering by the gates, several of them trying to get her attention as she strode across the lawn.

Morning, Miss Magnus,” one of her professors dipped his hat at her, pleased to see one of his brightest biologists return. “Oxford has been dull without you.”

She looked different – alive and ever so much more trouble than before. Helen had no fear of the male world any more – what was left to fear when she took its darkness to bed at night?

Mr Griffin, well, well, well…” Helen sauntered over to Nigel. He’d taken refuge in an empty classroom and proceeded to graffiti the board with his latest mathematical theorems. He had turned into quite the genius despite the shaky start.

Is that not a tone normally reserved for Helen Magnus?” he turned, eyes bright. His usual brown suit was gone, replaced with mourning black. Even his shirt was black, sleeves rolled to his elbows, lightly dusted with white chalk.

49

A FATHER’S RETURN

The cold water crashed over his skin, foaming past the lean muscles as he dragged his body along the length of the pool. Lap after lap, his feet hit the concrete wall, pushing off. Eventually he emerged, hauling his dripping body out onto the side of the university’s pool.

Mr Tesla…” an unamused voice drawled down at the scrawny young man. The Dean looked over the troublesome pupil – last of the missing five to return. A curious case, exceptional students vanish without a trace – especially this one. There had always been something odd about Mr Tesla. “I am honoured that you have decided to grace us with your presence.”

Tesla’s sharp-toothed grin was wide and full of trouble. He was brilliant and knew it. Unfortunately he was a lousy stud