SANCTUARY OF THE MOON
- Nothing but Lies
- Tracks in the Mud
- Empty Tombs
- Buried Cities
- Room with Columns
- Blue Eyed Monster
- Vampire Stories
- The Second Bite
- Storm in the Desert
- Deeper into the Caves
- A World of Whispers
- Silver Dreams
- Darwin’s Spiders
- Playing with Silver
- On the Edge of the Abyss
- Throat of Thoth
- Dead Walking
- Rivers in the Snow
- Ice Cliffs
NOTHING BUT LIES
It was a humid afternoon, clinging to the end of summer. Ashley ducked under the roar of the helicopter as it flung a fresh sheet of water over her face. The blades beat the surface of the nearby river, sending shallow waves onto the bank which was thick with weeds and unpleasant refuse from the last town before the rainforest.
Finally, the noisy machine lifted off the ground and headed toward the low lying mountains behind her. Dripping, she rung her pony tail onto the ground, flicking it over her shoulder before doing the same to her coat.
She waved at the pair of small children who had moved in for a closer look, half hiding behind a stand of shrubs. They had strayed from the village, following the black chopper as it sailed in close. The pair ventured out and waved back at the blonde woman, grinning with bright eyes against dark skin.
Ashley knelt onto the damp grass, slipping her backpack off. She dug through it, quickly finding her grandfather’s journal. Flipping through the delicate pages, Ashley scanned each one until she caught sight of it – a map, roughly drawn by her grandmother and beside it a line of instructions. It didn’t look particularly forthright but if her grandfather could find the Sanctuary of the Moon using this, then so could she.
Turning it around so that the North symbol lined up with her compass, Ashley started searching for matching landmarks and soon found the Smouldering Match – a dark line of smoke leisurely trailing into the sky from a volcanic outcrop. An eagle soared over head, catching her eye as it enjoyed a warm air current. She wished that she could join it, play on the air for a while away from the world and all its trouble.
Instead, she gazed at the jungle in front. The knee length grass field that she was standing in ended fifty or so metres ahead. The dark green jungle loomed beyond, like a wave rearing up on the shore.
They relocated detective Joe Kavanaugh to one of the guest bedrooms where he happily fell into a deep sleep. His injuries were minor and not in any immediate need of attention. Helen closed his door and turned to John, Henry and Nikola who had been shadowing her through the corridor.
“Follow me,” she said sternly, though they didn’t need to be told. All of them could feel the air tensing around the brunette as she strode ahead, clearly upset by the turn of events.
She led them to the medical lab, ushering them into a line along the glass enclosure where Will sat on the edge of the hospital bed. When Helen had seen John and Tesla appear in her foyer, she had been inches from Will’s skin with the tip of the needle. Its contents would have killed him quickly and painlessly but her instinct told her to stop, that this couldn’t possibly be the end for him, and she had been right.
“I want you to tell me again,” she said to Nikola, who had broken the line and instead reclined against the desk containing print outs of all his files. He eyed one of the piles, folding his arms across his chest with disapproval.
“This one,” he nodded at Henry, “has parroted my research correctly. I have strong reason to believe that there is a small community of vampires living in the Peruvian rainforest. The closest civilisation is the water-locked city of Iquitos. If Ashley’s smart, she’ll stop there for a guide. Sadly, Ashley has the only map so once we get there, we’ll be wandering blind.”
“How did she get her hands on a – you gave it to her… If this is one of your desperate attempts to get your claws on vampire blood, Nikola, then I am going to kill you myself.”
“I assure you,” he replied, “that although it might be true that I’m making the best of the circumstance presented to me, I did nothing as advantageous as orchestrating it. It was your pet sand creature that attacked me in the middle of the night, remember?”
He had a point. “There are no copies of the map I presume…”
“Helpful, Nikola.” Helen glanced at Will as he bent forward in pain. It was starting again. He didn’t have long. “You’re coming with us. Pack light everyone, we have a plane to catch. Not you Henry –” Helen caught his arm as he headed for the door with the others.
“But I’ve been researching this. Helen, I know the data. You might need someone with this information – you can’t just trust that man.”
“And you trust his research? For all you know Henry, he may have left that there for you to find. We have Nikola, and for the moment at least, our goals are the same. The fewer people we have with us, the faster we can move. I don’t want Ashley out there alone.”
“You know, ‘that man’ is standing right here…”
“Stay out of this, Nikola,” Helen glared at him. He bowed out of the room with a smirk.
“Helen, you’re going to need me,” pleaded Henry.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But Will needs you more.”
Ashley surveyed the river cutting through her path. There had been unseasonal rain, and now rivers were popping up that were not labelled on the map. This one was about three metres wide but gushing with a frightening velocity. If she missed the bank, Ashley would be washed in its current god knows how far off course.
There was no choice though, she would have to cross it.
Her backpack went first, flung across the gap where it landed safely on the other side.
“See, not so hard,” she said to herself. If her backpack could do it…
Ashley backtracked, taking a run up through a patch of clear, but muddy ground. She took one last look at the murky river as it raged past and then dug her heals in, launching herself at it in full run.
Her legs stretched out, striding through the air as her arms clawed forward until she hit the opposite bank. She landed on the ground hard and immediately started sliding down its inclined bank toward the river. The ground was covered in silty mud that was nearly impossible to get a grip on.
“Urgh, come on!” she hissed, as she felt water rushing over her boots.
Helen tightened her belt, drew her long, weatherproof coat around her and concealed an assortment of weapons on her body. John rested against the wall beside the front door, watching the large clock tick away the time as they waited for Nikola. Their bags were ready to go and the car was out front, prepped to take them to Helen’s private jet parked in a dark corner of the airport.
“What could possibly be keeping him?” Helen paced over the floor.
“He was never particularly reliable,” commented John, readjusting the tape Helen had strapped over his face where the creature’s claw marks cut deep.
“Will you two ever get over each other?” she shook her head. “Sometimes I think that this jealously was more about competition than actually loving me.”
Henry bounded into the room, kitted out in jeans and a jacket with heavy boots and a bundle of bags.
“Henry, we discussed this,” said Helen sternly, eyeing his travelling clothes.
“Mr. Tesla is gone,” he panted, out of breath from the run down the hall. “I checked all of the motion senses and security cameras. He disappeared into the library and never came back.”
“Typical,” grinned John.
“Don’t you dare enjoy this,” Helen instructed. “The reality is that without him, we’ve got no chance of finding Ashley – what is it Henry?”
Henry held up a bundle of papers. “I know where he’s going, Helen. I can do this. Will’s dead if we don’t leave now. Worse than dead.”
Helen shifted her gaze between the expectant Henry and the impatient John, who shrugged his approval.
“Ready to leave?” she nodded at Henry’s bags. “Let’s go then. Next time I see Nikola, he better have a bloody good explanation.”
Ashley looked like a mud monster that had crawled out of some festering swamp. She sniffed her arm where the mud was starting to dry into a shell and crack off. This was just like the old days, she thought, tracking abnormals in their native environment. The only difference here was that she knew that the abnormal in question was way smarter than her, worse still, she wasn’t just hunting it, she wanted to talk to it.
“Right map,” she held the book with slightly muddy hands. “A little help would be good.”
There was no path to speak of, only a trickle of water running over a twisting line of boulders cutting through the foliage. She clambered over each one, sliding on their rough surfaces until she reached their top and could stare out over the next fall of jungle.
Suddenly, the ground underneath her gave way. All she saw was the stunning view vanish to black as her body curved, free-falling. She held onto the journal, pulling it to her chest as she hit the soft ground. Ashley’s vision blurred, her thoughts fractured by the fall. Above was the bright hole where she had fallen through the weak earth. Tree roots dangled around her, one brushing over her face. She moved it aside, sitting up with a groan.
An avalanche of dirt drained off of her – not that she could get any more filthy…
“Urgh…” she rested her head on her knees, closing her eyes. “Ouch.”
It was a while before she located her torch and began inspecting her situation which couldn’t possibly be a good one. The ground which had given way was four – maybe five metres above her head. Initially, she thought that she might be able to climb up the sides of the hole, but the earth was too soft. The tree roots, though prevalent, pulled free every time she tested their strength.
With the obvious route of escape failing her, Ashley turned her attention to the ground level. The hole extended into the earth around her, almost like a cave. On closer inspection, she found that one of the side walls had been propped up by timber. It was soft and mostly rotten but at one stage it had definitely been a doorway of sorts. The inside of it was blocked by a recent fall of dirt from above, flowing out into the main room. Perhaps it would be possible to clear a space through that.
The rest of the floor was bare. There was nothing at all that she could use as leverage to climb up toward the hole at the top, not even a well placed bolder like the thousands that she had trampled over to get this far.
“I refuse to die in a hole,” she told herself firmly.
Returning her attention to the ominous doorway of wood, Ashley began to dig into it with her hands. She kept her torch off, conserving its battery unaware of the tunnel waiting beyond.
TRACKS IN THE MUD
Helen waited on the phone, impatiently tapping her fingers against the plane’s window until the tone rang out and Ashley’s message service clicked on. Helen ended the call; another message wouldn’t make any difference to the eighteen unread ones already in there – no doubt having a nice chat about why their intended recipient wasn’t answering.
“Her phone does work, doesn’t Henry?”
Henry was tucked into the chair opposite, watching the clouds waft past as Helen’s private jet skimmed in over the mountains. He had an unsightly blue rug scrunched up under his nose which he had to fold back to speak.
“Yes, like I said,” he mumbled, simultaneously hungry and sleepy after the sixteen hour flight. “She’s set up on the global roaming thing. If her phone’s not working it’s because she’s dropped it, or drowned it, or one of the many other new and interesting ways that Ashley Magnus had discovered to damage technology. I’m a particular fan of her work on the microwave.”
“Sorry Henry,” Helen realised that she’d been pestering everybody on board for hours and it was starting to grate. “I’m just worried.”
The plane shook again, falling through an air pocket. Unstable weather went with the territory. High mountains created turbulence – at least it meant that they were getting close.
“Me as well, doc.” He didn’t admit to leaving a few of his own messages on Ashley’s phone. “But we’re gonna find her. We know where she’s headed –”
“Roughly…” added Helen, with an ever-so-slightly raised eyebrow.
“I can do a little better than ‘roughly’.” These days Henry was constantly in the presence of a large pile of paper. He had brought Tesla’s print outs with him – not all of them of course, only the ones that were difficult to acquire. At the moment they were neatly filed away in his shoulder bag. “As long as she doesn’t get lost, we should all end up at the same place and you can ground her then.”
Helen really hoped so, otherwise her daughter was out there alone, about to wander into the lair of the most dangerous Abnormal that ever lived.
Far from walking, Ashley found herself clawing forwards through the dirt – torch clenched between her teeth whilst she tried not to dribble all over it.
She was in a bit of a tight spot – lodged between a mound of dirt and the roof of the tunnel. The hole that she had dug for herself was on the small side and so she had to squeeze painfully through it, nearly getting stuck on the way.
“Come on hips,” she grunted.
Finally, she emerged, dusting herself down unnecessarily. They layers of mud and dirt on her were never going to leave her voluntarily.
She perched on the tunnel side of the mound, with her legs dangling over the rise of dirt in front. Prying the torch from her teeth, Ashley panned its light over the area in front. What she found was a narrow, half collapsed tunnel lined with the same trestles of wood as the entrance. Whatever this place had been, its previous life was long buried.
Ashley slid down the mound onto the semi-solid ground, landing in a puff of dust.
“Well, this is better,” she said to the tunnel. At least it showed promise – in other words, she couldn’t see the end of it which meant that it had to lead somewhere.
She progressed through it, slowly at first but soon her patience wore thin and Ashley entered a jog. The air got staler as the tunnel took her down further beneath the ground. Maybe she had been wrong, perhaps this was a mining tunnel and the exit was back the way she had come. What if it was an abandoned shaft, a hunting trap, some useless idea or any number of unhelpful things?
‘Always look before you leap…’ Wise words she usually chose to ignore. In her defence, it was more of a ‘fall’ than a ‘leap’.
Not ready to give up, she took a few more deep breaths and settled into a pace. She was mid-step when she felt it – the lower part of her ankle buckle and roll. Orthopaedics. She couldn’t count the number of times her mother had begged her to wear them yet still she insisted on going without. It was times like these, when she was trapped in a collision course with the eager ground, that she wished she’d listened to her mother.
“Ow…” she skidded to a halt, losing her grip on the torch as her hands spread out, taking the impact. “No, no, no –” Ashley watched as her torch began to roll away from her, catching the sharpening slope of the ground. “You get back here!”
She was on her feet, half-limping half-hopping in pursuit of the escaping torch, grimacing every time that she tried to put useful weight on her sore ankle. It wasn’t seriously injured, just refusing to co-operate with her. Her torch seemed content to continue this chase, gaining speed and distance from Ashley.
Soon Ashley couldn’t see the ground in front of her – only ahead where the torch’s light bounced, unhelpfully illuminating more walls of dirt.
“Don’t make me replace you with a Maglite,” she stumbled on.
It didn’t seem to care for her insults, vanishing from sight as it dropped over the edge of something that Ashley was yet to reach. Darkness, pure and black engulfed the tunnel around Ashley. She brought herself to a sudden stop, reaching out to the wall beside.
“Shit…” she whispered.
They took a boat upriver from Iquitos. Their petrol motor jutted and spluttered its protest at being picked for the trip, but Dr. Helen Magnus had paid good money for its services so their guide whacked the plastic cover with his stick and it quietened.
Henry sat up front, cross-legged on the bow of the small fibreglass boat. He gripped the pale blue bars, dislodging the old paint that had never really adhered in the first place. The wind was pleasant, whipping across his face in something that felt awfully like freedom.
The Amazon rainforest sprawled out ahead, climbing up a set of mountains in front of the river. Beside them, the last field of grass was swiftly running out. Farmers waved to them from the shore and packs of children gave playful chase along the bank.
Helen had her phrase-book out, doing her best to direct the guide to the place on the map they needed to be. It was slow going, like her father – Helen had always been mediocre when it came to foreign languages.
The guide was shaking his head at her last suggestion. At first she thought that it was her poor pronunciation, but the grey-haired man took the phrasebook from her and flipped it open to a page.
“No thank you,” he said. What he meant was that he would not take them past open field. The boat was already slowing, making a gentle curve toward the muddy bank thick with reeds and animal tracks.
John suddenly reached over and relieved the arguing pair of the map.
“We knew we’d be in for a walk,” he said, stoically. “Ashley will have done the same so our chances of tracking her are better if we start where she did.”
Henry’s sense of freedom soon took a turn when he found himself face to face with a sinister line of trees reaching out to him with sticky leaves. The boat had pulled up right on the edge, where the rainforest reared up at them.
“Buck up little one,” John’s hand startled Henry, as it landed on his shoulder. The tall – strange man shook Henry in a ‘friendly’ manner, no doubt his version of encouragement. “It’s not the trees you need to be afraid of.” He leant right down to Henry’s ear and lowered his voice to a whisper, “It’s me…”
Henry gave a small yelp and bounced away, finding himself in the shade of the rainforest. It was cool and surprisingly enticing after hours baking on the runabout. John gave a quiet chuckle, glancing over his shoulder as Helen came marching toward them.
“That’s the spirit Henry,” she said, striding past him and John.
Detective Joe Kavanaugh opened his eyes with a groan. The world hurt and his head most of all. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep in the strange room, but there was daylight creeping between the drapes as the smell of fried eggs swirling around the bed.
The blur of last night began to take shape as he sat up. Tunnels and creatures; gunshots and bickering voices – finally he remembered.
He stumbled across the dark room, took hold of the heavy folds of material and pulled them open, revealing a bright morning over the city. His eyes stung in the sudden light. Joe blinked furiously, turning his head away until he felt his skin warm.
There was a silver tray on the table beside the bed. Its contents were covered by an ornate lid with steam creeping around its sides. Breakfast.
“She never ever listens…”
Helen Magnus had her knees buried in a soft layer of mud beside an angry river. Rough tracks, half washed away led into the current.
“They continue over there,” John pointed to the opposite bank where a skid mark had dislodged a section of weed and leaf litter. “Give me your hands…” he stood between Helen and Henry with his palms outstretched.
They were both hesitant at first, but soon clasped tightly to John.
It was over in a flash. A sharp, dreadful moment as they teleported to the other side of the river. Henry fell over, clutching his head in pain. Helen shook it off, forcing her eyes to focus and not slip into the enticing darkness.
“That’s nasty…” Henry whimpered, clambering back to his feet. “Don’t ever do that again.”
“You would rather take your chances with the river?” said John.
“Yeah,” replied Henry, straightening, “that’s what I’m saying.”
Helen was frowning, twisting the map in every direction possible until she turned to the others. “This is the wrong way,” she said, holding the map up for them to see. “We should be further that way,” she pointed to their left, “up where that line of rocks starts.”
Henry leant backwards, trying to see around the large tree beside him. He didn’t know how Helen could find anything in this mess. There were trees, ferns, creepers, spiky plant things he didn’t know what to call, and general obstacles everywhere. He was struggling to find his own feet.
“It could be the map,” said Henry. “Ours is something that Mr. Tesla drew himself. Ashley has the original.”
“This,” began Helen unhappily, “is why I don’t trust that man.” That, and he had a habit of disappearing when he was needed most.
“Do we follow the map, or Ashley?”
Helen’s eyes flicked between Henry, John, the map and the tracks in the mud.
“You are very late,” Tesla inspected his nails. He was seated on a large boulder, perched at its top high above the pair approaching through the undergrowth.
Helen stopped, panting as she lifted her head. Through the light covering of leaves she spied an individual who was soon to die.
“Nikola…” she whispered, narrowing her eyes at his preened form. He did not look like he’d spent hours trudging through muck but then again, Nikola had a talent for cleanliness.
Henry beat his way through the forest behind Helen, swearing at a particularly sticky plant that refused to let go of his arm. It suckered onto his skin, stuck fast.
“Nasty little good for nothing piece of ancient shru-” he ran into the back of Helen, nearly knocking them both to the ground. Helen stumbled forward.
“How many times, Henry,” she said, without taking her glare off Nikola. “Eyes up.”
Henry pealed the possessive frond off of his skin with a displeased grimace. He hated forests, trees, large wild cats, slippery rocks, humid air, insects – anything that crawled, really. It was only the two of them now; Helen had sent John off after Ashley’s tracks while they stuck to the map. Helen had wanted to go after Ashley herself, but Henry wouldn’t leave the map and she couldn’t trust John on his own with Henry. At least this way, John’s motivations were headed in the right direction – find Ashley.
“Oh great,” Henry’s mood deteriorated further when he saw that ‘Tesla person’ impossibly balanced on a boulder.
“I’m been here for whole hours,” Nikola gloated, pulling his knees up to his chest, enjoying the pleasant breeze and vantage over the jungle. They were at the summit of a small hill that wanted, ever so desperately, to be a mountain.
Helen fought through the remainder of the ferns and strode out into the clearing, planting herself at the base of Nikola’s rock. She tilted her head back to speak. “I’m going to need a very good reason not to kill you,” she said, unhooking her gun. Helen snapped off the safety and aimed it straight at him.
Harsh, thought Nikola. “Only one?” he challenged. “My dear Helen, I can give you many reasons to keep me alive but I dare say one will suffice.”
“I am still waiting for it,” Helen ignored Henry, who was trying to remind her that Nikola was useful and possibly better kept alive.
“Impatience? That’s a new one for you.”
A loud ‘crack’ startled hundreds of birds who took to the air in a great curve of white, screaming as they flapped away.
“You know, that hurts my feelings…” Nikola dusted flecks of limestone off his suit. Helen had made a sizable hole next to his leg.
“Whoops…” she muttered darkly. “I appear to have missed. Care to go again?”
“Ashley’s not here,” said Nikola. “Haven’t seen her and that’s a bad sign because she had a decent head start on us.”
“Where is she?” Helen’s gun lowered slightly as Nikola edged himself forward and slid off the rock. It was quite a distance to the ground and he landed rather ungracefully in a heap.
“Ow… Well, if we’re lucky she’s gotten a bit lost – you know what girls are like. Map reading isn’t their strongest attribute.” Helen’s gun re-aligned with him. “Or,” Nikola decided that being shot at point blank range wouldn’t be fun, “she’s already inside.”
Nikola’s arms stretched out, beckoning them forward. “The sanctuary,” he grinned. “This way…”
Joe checked his appearance in one of the full length mirrors scattered throughout the Sanctuary’s hallways. There was a nasty cut above his eye but the stitching was holding. It was very important that he looked normal. Airlines were picky these days.
Making short work of a flight of stairs, Joe turned the corner into Helen’s office, gently opening the door and slipping inside. He felt like a small child, breaking into the headmaster’s office as he crept over to Magnus’s desk, eyeing every shadow with suspicion.
The flowers on her desk were dying, dropping petals over her desk. One unopened bud wept, dipping down where it hung over a mournful statue. Joe was looking for something very specific, hidden amongst her records which she kept locked in the desk drawer. A small black granite figurine on her desk caught his attention. He reached for it, holding the object firmly as he smashed the lock on desk with one, quick blow.
There wasn’t time to waste now. Someone would have heard that.
Joe pulled the drawer open and shuffled through a pile of papers until he found a thick folder. He pulled it out and opened on the desk. Yes, this was it; information on a camp site in the desert dated three days ago. He took the whole file, folding it under his arm as he made his way to the window.
Nikola pulled his unhappy entourage to a halt.
“Four – hours – of torture,” Henry gulped from a water bottle and then continued. “And this is where you take us?”
There was an eerie layer of mist burying them from the waist down. Towering above, sheltering the forest world from the fading afternoon light was an imposing cliff face. Its black surface was smooth and shimmered, as if moving with a life of its own. It looked like black glass excised from the bowels of the earth.
Nikola reached out, touching one of the carvings which framed the entrance to the cave. It was a small white circle embedded like a jewel. There were hundreds more clustered along the vertical edges. Some of the markings were circles like the one he had beneath his fingertip, the others depicted stages of the crescent moon.
“It looks real,” remarked Helen, eyeing the cave’s entrance. “I’ll give you that.”
He lay against the rock, pressing his cheek and palms onto the cool surface. This felt like home, thought Nikola. His ancestors had found a measure of sanctuary within this cave, he wondered if it would bring the same peace to him.
Henry’s head had developed a worrying slant as he watched Nikola embrace the sinister looking façade. “He’s gone all strange and stuff on us…” he said.
“No,” Helen corrected him. “This is normal. Let’s go Nikola,” she plucked him from the wall and deposited him in front of the cave entrance. “Vampires first.”
“I could – I could just wait out here…” Henry hadn’t moved from his spot in the mist. Everything about this idea smelt bad. There was something sinister swirling around him – and it wasn’t the mist.
“There’s no point in remaining outside, Mr Foss,” Nikola straightened his coat, buttoning it all the way to his neck. “They know that we’re here.” He darkened his eyes so that he could see better in the half-light of the cave. Helen took a more practical approach, fishing out her torch as she stepped into the shadows.
Henry shivered involuntarily. “Well, that makes me feel much better about the whole, ‘let’s wander into a dark, scary cave’ thing.” He lost sight of the other two as they ventured into the cave. Suddenly alone, Henry’s feet kicked into action, propelling him in pursuit despite his common sense telling him no.
Ashley curled her fingers over the mossy edge, gripping the delicate roots of dark-loving plants. The tunnel in front ended where the ground had been torn away. Her torch was far below, a tiny point of light glowing like a distant star.
“Shit…” she whispered, running her hands over every surface that she could reach. There had to be a way down and it wasn’t long until she found it – a damp strip of wood tied onto two lengths of rope. Moving her hands down further, she found more pieces of wood forming the basics of a ladder.
Ashley was eternally grateful that she couldn’t see this ‘ladder’. Given the way it felt in her hands, she never would have allowed herself to clamber over it, grimacing at every tremble and crack it gave in protest.
‘This is such a bad idea,’ she reminded herself halfway down. The ladder agreed, one of its boards snapping away from her foot. Ashley clung onto the ropes tighter, feeling for the next step as they groaned – squeaking and unravelling.
Eventually, her feet hit the ground and she was reunited with her torch. Ashley shined it back over to the ladder she had traversed. Damn, she wouldn’t be going back that way.
The ground beneath her was odd in that it bared no resemblance to the tunnel above. Down here she had to fight to find her footing on the smooth bed of river stones, polished by the small stream at the centre. It was clear that at some point the river had raged down here, filling the entire chasm.
She wanted to whistle her awe of the size of the place, but decided that the last thing she needed was a startled flock of bats freaking out. The water at her feet was running, trickling with distinct purpose over the white rocks. It had found a way out, Ashley was sure, so she followed it.
Ashley’s ears pricked up and she paused, turning slowly back toward the ladder. She listened carefully to every drip of water and shuffle of dirt. The more she concentrated on the silence, the louder the tunnel became but she didn’t hear it again – her name whispered in the darkness.
She avoided the water, clambering over the rocks and pebbles. Without sunlight, the cavern, cave, mine – or whatever this place preferred to call itself, was freezing. The water carried ice-crystals along in its current. Whenever she panned her torchlight over its surface, the beams scattered into shards of colour. There was something else in the water too – flecks of gold, tumbling over the stones and accumulating in pools around the edge of the river.
Rivers of Gold, that reminded her of something. She took a moment, seating herself on the rocky ground. Ashley pulled out her grandfather’s journal from her jacket, flipping through the damaged paper until she came to the map. There was nothing written on it about falling down large holes, which confirmed her suspicions that she was well and truly lost but a few pages on, she found an entry that peaked her curiosity. It was about the Seven Cities of Gold, searched in vain for by expeditions since 1150. Apparently her grandfather suspected its location to be in South America rather than North America but never had any success in finding it himself. Here it was, the part that she remembered, the cities sat by the edge of a golden river which carved out shimmering tracks across the land.
“Rivers of gold,” she whispered, eyeing the water. “Another day, perhaps.”
John extended his top half over the hole, careful not to let his weight tilt him over the edge. It was a long way down and from what he could see, someone had taken the plunge into its depths recently. Ashley’s tracks ended at this hole and he had scouted the area ahead to no avail.
He called her name again, but there was no reply from his daughter.
“Why haven’t you been here before?” Helen stayed a few paces behind Nikola as they explored the entrance of the cave. “You clearly knew how to find this place. I’m surprised you could resist visiting the homeland of your ancestors.”
Nikola lowered his eyes to the glittering floor but didn’t say anything.
“Don’t tell me,” continued Helen, with a look of satisfaction. “An army of vicious killers born from your blood no problem but one full blood vampire – you wouldn’t dare face them alone.”
He stopped, and whispered very quietly to her. “If you knew what you were really walking into,” he said, “you’d be afraid too. Now please, a little hush.”
“What did he say?!” shouted Henry from behind, dashing into the cave after them.
The plane touched down twice. Its first landing was brief, a mere taste of the ground as it bounced from the gravelly airstrip back into the crosswind which nipped the plane’s wings. The second time, the pilot grounded the plane with such force that the passengers gripped their seats in alarm.
Bit rough, Joe looked out the window, checking that nothing had caught fire.
Travel was like that around these parts. You arrived and you had to be happy with that.
Joe stepped out into a desert wind, bracing himself against the funnels of sand burning his exposed skin. The rest of the passengers scurried away, ducking into waiting cars parked in the open by the airstrip. The terminal was dark inside its locked doors and broken windows bandaged with helpings of duct tape. It was a god awful place with nothing between it and the full force of the desert lurking just over the rise.
“Doctor Kavanaugh – of Oxford University?”
Joe hadn’t noticed the tall man approach from the side. Most of his body was covered with layers of cloth, a sensible idea. Joe waved and nodded.
“I am Professor Lierdly from the expedition. We spoke on the phone. My car is over there,” he pointed at the only vehicle still braving the dust. “This way please, there’s a storm coming.”
The black mountain range stuck out from the sand like a set of knives. Its thousand faces of polished rock interlaced to form a sinister barrier – sometimes catching the sun in a blinding glare. Joe could see the remains of Magnus’s camp site nestled at the base of one this monstrosity. From what he could tell at this distance, there was nothing left but ruined tents and a makeshift airstrip, gradually disappearing beneath the sand.
“We told them,” said Lierdly, from the driver’s seat. He was barely holding the wheel as the car shook its way down the gravelled track, riding a ridge. There was a dune to their left, working its way toward the road in a surge of burning sand. The professor pointed at the speckling of tents obscured by a layer of ‘liquid-air’. It’s what they called the turbulent air hugging the ground which distorted anything further than arms reach. “We say, ‘nothing to find there but dirt and rock’. My associate even offered them a share in our site – we could use the extra funding, but that crazy woman wasn’t interested and now look, all that’s left of them. They abandoned less than a week ago. In a month there’ll be nothing.”
“Crazy indeed,” replied Joe. That sounded like the Helen Magnus he knew.
They pulled up at Lierdly’s archaeological site, framed by a tent city. White linen flapped in the breeze, snapping sharply like whips cracking in Joe’s ear. People hurried everywhere carting books or screaming instructions at their satellite phones. One man tripped in his haste, scattering a box of identification tags in front of Joe and Lierdly. He swore in Dutch and then set about plucking each one from the sand while at the same time hissing behind him at someone in a tent.
On this side of the mountain range to Magnus’s camp, Lierdly and his team had set up shop beneath a series of tunnels burrowed into the rock. There more than a dozen of them poking out in no particular arrangement.
“We thought they were tombs,” said Lierdly, pointing at several starting barely a foot off the ground. Each was just over a metre high and roughly made. They could have almost been mistaken for natural caves except the rock cleaved in hexagonal pieces, and these were circular holes. “But they just go on and on. I had one of the boys take a wander and he found nothing for kilometres. Whatever’s buried in there, if anything at all, it wasn’t meant to be found.”
“Superstitious?” Joe raised an eyebrow.
“No…” he averted his eyes to the sun, “You can’t do what I do for a living and give in to that kind of thinking.” Lierdly shifted, resting his hands on his slender hips. “I’d never have made it into my first tomb. Some of my workers, locals, they think that this place is cursed. It’s the same story wherever you go in this country. This is cursed. That is cursed. Don’t touch that, the sky will fall. Mostly, I think that they don’t want us sniffing around in case we find something about their past they don’t want to know. Perhaps that is the curse.”
“Do you mind if I have a look for myself?”
Lierdly shrugged. “Go ahead. Let me know if you get attacked by a mummy. Can make good money out of that sort of thing.”
Joe’s laugh turned into a shiver as he hopped up the rocks.
“Is it supposed to be doing that?” Henry backed away from the cave wall nervously, as another flicker of electricity sparked into life next to his ear. There was an ever-present crackle in the background getting louder as they progressed.
“You ask me,” said Nikola, sniffing out the darkness, eyeing it cautiously, “as if I do this kind of thing often…”
Helen had her gun raised, realigning it to every sound no matter how small. “It wouldn’t be a first, Nikola,” she said in a whisper, as she stepped behind him. “You’re always claiming an affinity with these creatures.”
“Ancestry,” he corrected her, shuddering as her hair tickled across the back of his neck. He hated that she did that – always on purpose, to unsettle him and remind him who was really in charge. “A different thing altogether.”
“If you like,” she grinned, as he ran his hands over the back of his collar.
“Seriously though,” Henry had stopped at one of the walls and was entranced watching the electricity flow along tiny tracks in the rock, almost like veins. “This is not normal.” He reached his hand out to the surface, lowering it slowly to the fluid patterns until – “Ow…” he shook his hand. “Ow, ow, ow…”
The spark had been quite spectacular, lighting Henry in a sudden flash.
“You once hand-picked this thing as a protégé?” Nikola widened his eyes in disbelief as Henry muttered something about, ‘being okay’.
Helen shook her head. “It was more like an adoption,” she confessed. “What do you know about real vampires?”
Nikola shrugged, “Not much. Their records are, regrettably, destroyed or lost.”
“But you have your suspicions,” Helen prompted.
“They were civilised,” he said, “but civilisation millennia ago is not what it is today.”
“You really are worried, aren’t you? Meeting our sand creature deepened your fears that vampires have a – how would you put it, viscous side?”
“They had a talent for survival in an age noted for its brutality. Yes, it worries me. As does this…” He pointed at the currents of electricity running over the walls.
“Nikola…” she reached out and grabbed his arm with her free hand. He stopped, turning to find her eyes wide, glistening in the torchlight. “Where’s Henry?”
Ashley stopped, balanced on the bank of pebbles to the right of the stream. The water ended at two giant doors which towered to the roof of the cavern, out of reach of her torchlight.
“Sheee-it…” she exhaled, taking a step back to take in the sight.
The doors were made of a heavy wood, intricately carved with a life-size freeze of the jungle stretching across them. Plants with their curled leaves protruded while hidden beneath them, creatures prowled. Carved trees stood at their real height, vanishing into an elaborate canopy. Two snarling jaguars faced each other in the middle, gnashing their curved teeth at each other mid-pounce. It was unlike any artwork she had seen. It was so real that Ashley hesitated to take her eyes off it in case the creatures came to life and leapt free.
The doors were not infallible though. Along their base, the water had cracked and discoloured the wood. Fragments of gold caught inside the fibrous surface making them look as if they had been dipped in liquid gold. It was like an embroidered curtain, sealing the cave. Ashley had never felt so small.
The water had not backed up at the door. Instead, it was running under it. Ashley stepped into the freezing water, grimacing as it sank through her boots and swelled around her ankles. Her skin reddened, burnt by the cold as she waded in deeper. The river’s depth had been deceiving. Soon it was up around her waist as she reached the centre of the door, holding her arms up above her head.
“Bad idea,” she grimaced as the cold became a stabbing pain. Her backpack was waterproof, and floated defiantly as she threw it into the water. It followed the current and hit the doors, bobbing against them.
There was a second current in the water. Ashley could feel its tug on her lower legs in the deep water, beckoning her forwards.
“Moment of truth,” she said, more to convince herself than the empty chamber. Ashley reached down under the water, following the line of the door. Her fingers slipped over the golden edge. A foot under the water, the door ended leaving a gap just big enough for her to slip under.
Ashley gripped onto her bag, forcing it down under the water. It fought against her but as soon as it crossed onto the other side, Ashley took a breath and submerged, following it through.
The cold was unbearable, piercing her with such force that she thought she must have fallen victim to an ancient death trap. She kept her eyes clenched shut as she hugged her backpack to her chest, letting it pull her up through the water.
They broke the surface together. Ashley coughed, wiping the water from her face before opening her eyes. She was swimming now with the water deepening beneath her. Ashley brought her torch above the water. As with the previous room, there were banks of rock on either side. Ashley swam, forcing her stiff arms to stroke their way toward the shore.
They turned around together but neither could see any sign of Henry.
“Henry?” whispered Helen, about to backtrack before Nikola caught the back of her coat.
“No, no… wait,” he said. Nikola tilted Helen’s torch, pointing it up toward the ceiling of the cave. There was nothing but a small flock of napping bats, swaying in their sleep. “I think this is a mistake,” he said, not letting go of her coat. Helen wasn’t sure if it was for her own safety or his.
“Where’s Henry?” Helen demanded.
“I don’t know,” he replied truthfully. “But nothing got past us, I am sure of it, which means that whatever it was didn’t have to.”
“Teleporting? Like John?”
“It wasn’t John,” said Nikola. “Stay close, I mean it.” He didn’t just mean ‘within an arms distance’. Nikola wouldn’t let Helen stray any further than their shoulders touching. They stepped in time with each other, following the cave as it sloped downward.
“There is something down here,” she said, blinking at the darkness. Helen could hear movement, subtle but quick as it changed positions. “I think that you should say something.”
“Like what?” he had morphed slightly further towards his vampire form. Nikola was a ghastly combination of pale skin, sharp teeth and large, black eyes that Helen hated to see.
“Anything. Otherwise whatever’s home is going to think that we’re trying to sneak in…” Nikola was silent, trying to work out how that differed from what they were actually doing. “All I know,” continued Helen, “is that when things sneak into my house – it doesn’t end well for the ‘things’.”
“Well you say something then!”
“This is your idea!” she prodded him sharply. He buckled temporarily, curling his claws.
“Fine. Tell me what to say and I’ll say it.”
“God, you are such a child.”
The desert light was absorbed by the tunnel until it was nothing more than a bright circle in the distance. Joe had to duck, crouching his body to fit inside the tunnel. It smelt stale which was no surprise given the fragile bones of desert creatures he continuously crushed under his shoes. They had curled up and died all over the place, hiding from a sandstorm and forgotten to leave.
Lierdly had given him a small amount of supplies including a strong flashlight and tent pole, ‘for the cobwebs’. Joe could think of other uses for a length of wood. He gripped the stick with one hand, aiming it at the tunnel like a prehistoric caveman might have done.
The tunnel worked its way into the mountain, sometimes constricting into a space barely big enough to crawl through and at other times intersecting with several tunnels in large, domed spaces. Joe left himself messages in the sand floor so that he wouldn’t end up walking in circles. The deeper he progressed, the more well-worn the tracks became almost like he had been skirting through the side streets and only now finding the highway.
Eventually he found himself in a tunnel tall enough for him to stand with three others beside him. He was not the first to venture down these catacombs. Many kilometres inside, the air became putrid. Joe buried his nose in his sleeve as he closed in on the source of the smell, fighting the urge to by physically sick.
A skeleton, partially decomposed had reclined against the wall. It was difficult to know how long it had been there. With dry desert air and few scavengers, his decomposition might have been greatly slowed. His clothes were native to the area and he looked peaceful, like the remains of the animals.
Joe did not linger, pushing past the horrible sight before a mysterious urge to sleep befell him.
Ashley sat on the bank with her knees pulled to her chest, shivering. Her body had the slightest tinge of gold from the water and she could still taste its metallic edge. If Henry had been here, he would have made a quip about that James Bond film.
This room was different to the last. Instead of a rough cave surface, she found perfectly cut stones stacked tightly together to form smooth walls. She couldn’t comment on the ceiling because it hung well out of reach of the torchlight.
Instead of a river, there was a deep pool of water filling the cave edged by a low wall, maybe half a foot tall at best. On the top of this barrier was a trail of crescent shaped lights embedded in the stone. They did not shine brightly but like glow-worms, their collective light gave the water which they encapsulated a soft aura.
As her eyes adjusted to the softer light, Ashley saw the first hint of structure emerge from the far side of the underground lake. There were buildings, several stories high, packed tightly together in a crowded facade. Her torched flickered. She hit and cursed it until its light reappeared. She may as well have held a candle to the room. There was city down here, buried away from the world. It was silent – abandoned long ago.
This, Ashley presumed, was all that remained of the Sanctuary of the Moon.
“Neat…” whispered Ashley.
She probably should have gone for something a little more epic, but as she clambered over the low wall of lights and onto the paved streets of the city, words refused to form in her throat.
The Sanctuary of the Moon was empty, deserted long ago by whatever creatures had chosen to make their homes here in this underground world. There were, however, remnants of them. Ashley had stumbled across a pile of bleached bones cluttered in a corner where two buildings didn’t quite meet. The sad skeleton was the first of many as she progressed up the main street.
There was a steady trail of rats ambling along the gutter, scratching against the stone floor as they headed toward the pool of water Ashley had climbed out of earlier. She avoided them, keeping to the centre of the road where her torchlight mingled with the occasional glowing shapes on the dwellings.
It was more like a hive than a city, with its buildings scrunched together, rising and falling with the uneven floor underneath the sinister dome of the cave. Some of these had crumbled, bleeding onto the streets with rivers of rubble and dust.
Very soon, she found her eye drawn to claw marks etched into the walls and ripped bodies with scattered weapons. The procession of time could not conceal the violence of their deaths.
Ashley stopped at three intertwined remains, tilting her head from side to side as she circled them like some wandering bird of prey that had missed the feast.
“Unpleasant,” she commented, nudging one of the outlying bones with her boot. The trio had killed each other in some kind of brutal fever. Bony fingers could still be seen clasped around the neck of one, locked in an embrace even through death while the victim had plunged a short dagger through the chest of a hacked skeleton which, to her surprise, sported a sizable tail.
The extra limb was a collection of naturally duplicated vertebra, tapering toward a softly curved tip. The last few bones had been pulled out of line, no doubt by hungry rats.
Ashley retrieved her gun and then secured the backpack around her waist with several of its buckles. This place gave her the creeps and it was a long, lonely walk through it to the back wall. She didn’t know quite what she would find up there, but all the roads trailed off in that direction – it was the rats fleeing from it that made her worry.
Bigfoot’s gentle breathing was interrupted by a snore. Not quite stirred from sleep, he rolled over on the uncomfortable lab floor and curled into his coat. He couldn’t see Will, crouched at the glass in front of him, deciding how best to escape from the glass cage.
The restraints that had held him to the bed were now lying, chewed through, on the floor. His transformation into a sand creature was complete. When Will looked down at his skin he saw it ripple with uncertainty as it adjusted to the changing background. There was a strange dryness to the back of his throat that made it difficult to do anything but grunt at things while the lights of the room glowed especially bright. The details of the world had become intense; feeling – smell, touch – everything was a thousand times stronger.
Will sized up the sleeping creature on the other side of the glass. He rocked forward and touched the glass with an extended finger. The surface was cool – fragile even…
Bigfoot woke to the sound of shattered glass raining over him. He opened his eyes and saw a thousand scatterings of light reflected off the tumbling beads of glass as the window of the observation room fell forward with Will flying through its centre. Bigfoot had just enough time to roll before the larger shards of glass stabbed into the floor around him.
“Argh!” he groaned, as two jagged pieces cut through his fur.
Will hit the ground with the glass. Sensing the first whiff of freedom, he straightened and surveyed the room with golden eyes slit through the middle. His original abnormality – the gift of observation, had now become a serious weapon. Will could pick out every tiny detail of an environment in one turn of his head. Possible escapes leapt out at him while he kept a watchful eye on the figure writhing in pain on the ground.
“Will…” said Bigfoot, trying to stand. He clasped his paw over his arm to stop the bleeding, but the brilliant red dribbled around his fingers and onto the floor. “Will,” he repeated, pleading at the creature who was presently eyeing the door to the lab.
Will’s lips curled into a sinister grin as his body flickered in and out of camouflage.
“Listen to me,” continued Bigfoot, stumbling to his feet. He made it three laboured steps before he had to fall against one of the tables for support. “You’ve got to fight it.”
Will felt that he should know this hairy creature struggling to stand so he closed his eyes for a moment and tried to think. There was a flicker of something. A memory? A thought – he didn’t know. He wanted to be free and that desire overwhelmed everything else.
Instead of finishing off the creature, Will simply turned and pushed through the lab doors – throwing his head back in the sudden escape.
Bigfoot let himself crumble back to the floor where he crawled through the scattered glass to the other side of the room. He pried open the cabinet and dug out a set of bandages, wrapping several layers of them tightly around his arm until he could feel neither the pain nor the seeping of sticky blood.
He had to warn the detective sleeping down the hallway before Will got to him and somehow protect the other Abnormals but first, he had to lock the Sanctuary down and prevent Will from escaping into the city where he would no doubt begin picking out prey.
The computer in the lab did not have security access, so Bigfoot injected himself with a large dose of painkillers and made for the door. He paused at their ajar surfaces, sniffing the air for any sign of Will before gently pushing them open.
The hallway was empty save for a broken vase that had been knocked off a hallway table. Bigfoot, barely able to walk, threw himself at the opposite wall of the hallway, fumbling for the door to Ashley’s office. As someone mostly unaware of their office, she had not bothered to lock it.
It was a room neglected, ignored by its reluctant owner and left to sit in solitude most of the year. Its desk was bare save a lamp and computer with a wandering screensaver. The bookshelf on the opposing wall was not Ashley’s but her mother’s, built to house a special collection of bound letters written by her many associates over the years.
Bigfoot woke the computer, which, overjoyed by the attention, jolted into life with a cheerful beep.
A few minutes later, Bigfoot heard the bars on the windows clang shut and the double bolts on the doors lock firmly into place. Steel doors were sliding over the larger areas and coded doors between levels locking into place. The Sanctuary had turned itself into a prison, with him and Will locked inside.
Will, already on the ground floor, dropped to all fours and hurtled along the ground toward the main entrance. The carpet beneath him folded and slid off to the side as he rounded the corner and ploughed into the solid door as the large steel bolt slipped into place. The door shook with the impact, but remained resolutely closed.
Trapped, Will snarled, baring several rows of razor teeth to the security camera above. Bigfoot watched on, busily wrapping his wounds tighter.
“Do you trust me?” whispered Nikola, taking her free hand within his clawed paw. His skin was freezing, sending unpleasant shivers over her skin whenever his claws grazed her.
“Is that a trick question,” she replied softly, still holding her gun firmly to the darkness in front.
“Whatever happened to us, Helen?” he said, as they edged very slowly deeper into the cave. The light of the entrance behind them had almost vanished and now it was his torch and the electrical currents over the walls that lit the way. “You used to like me.”
“I do like you,” she hissed back. “I would have shot you already if I felt anything less than affection – as perverted as it may be. Incidentally,” she continued, “I believe it was you who last tried to kill me. This little expedition of yours may well end both of us.”
“Oh please… this wasn’t my idea. You have that ‘detective’ to thank for all this.”
That caused Helen to come to an abrupt halt, ripping her hand away from him. “What on earth are you going on about?”
Nikola’s black eyes gleamed in the torchlight which he pointed directly at her. She ducked away from the glare.
“Seriously?” he said, almost unable to grasp Helen’s naivety. “You don’t see it? Vampires – even that bastardised sand creature you tried to keep as a pet, are not animals. They are highly intelligent beings that don’t waste time. If the detective was bait, then he had already served his purpose. I for instance, would have killed him once I reached the tunnels but instead, what do we find? He is safe and well after half the night spent alone with it. There was a reason for that, Helen.”
“He wouldn’t…” but, she realised, then again Joe had more to gain than any from the sand creature. This was personal for him. He spoke ancient Egyptian, he was not afraid of the creature and after she had refused to disclose the location of the tomb, he had become especially curious. “I,” she sighed heartily, truly unimpressed with herself, “never learn.”
“An endearing quality,” Nikola grinned. “You still haven’t answered my question.”
“For the sake of argument, then,” she flinched as he took her sharply by the arm, anticipating her answer.
“Close your eyes…” he said darkly, leaning toward her.
For the last five minutes, Nikola had sensed a presence hunting them through the caves, scant feet from them at any given moment. Despite his considerable observation skills, he was yet to catch a glimpse of his pursuer. Something had changed though. The assailant had gone from observer to assassin, more than once he had felt something brush over the back of his neck, considering how to sever his spine. Nikola Tesla may be hard to kill, but he had a sneaking suspicion that ‘beheading’ might just do it.
He didn’t want her to see what had to happen next.
With considerable force, Nikola knocked Helen to the ground. She stayed down, flattened against the cave floor perfectly still with her eyes slammed shut.
Nikola’s ears twitched as he heard fabric swish to his right and a shadow turn out of sight. He reached out with his clawed hand and ripped a strip free – the first tangible proof that there was, indeed, something else with them.
The rippling of electricity intensified, flickering and flashing in the air accompanied by a continuous crackle.
He bowed his head, and when he lifted it, his transformation into ‘vampire’ was absolute. Barely recognisable as this creature of the myths and fear, he leapt up to the roof, lingering on the cold rock amidst a few sleeping bats, before falling on top of a tall, slender figure.
Nikola had not expected the frailness. The creature crumbled beneath him, groaning as Nikola’s hands tightened around their body. Layers of cloak and a muddle of movement rolled down the slight incline of the cave until they hit a wall in a huge flash of light. Electricity poured from the cave wall through them in a shower of light.
Helen, unable to resist, opened her eyes a crack to see two heads glare at each other, encircled by shards of artificial lightning. One was Nikola as she remembered him – true and frightening in his vampire form. The other was an older man with twisted features and a permanent snarl. As she looked closer Helen saw that the other man’s features had sunk toward his bones in a horrid venture between life and death.
The two vampires rolled off the wall and the cave fell back into darkness. For a moment, Nikola thought he had the pursuer beat.
“We don’t want to –” he started to say, but found himself thrown off in a sudden surge of power. Nikola yelped as he slammed into the wall next to Helen and hit the ground in a shower of glittering dust. “Hurt you…” he finished to himself.
“Look out…” whispered Helen, as she saw the other creature straighten and turn to face them.
Nikola pealed himself off the ground.
“You should not be here…” the creature hissed. Its voice was cluttered with age, scratching through his throat. The ancient vampire blinked its sharp eyes and then disappeared from sight.
“This is bad, isn’t it?” said Helen, moving to get up.
“Stay down,” he snapped sharply. “The only reason I’m not dead is because he’s curious.”
Swirls of dust kept kicking in the air, disturbed by the vampire’s feet as he teleported from corner to corner to unsettle his uninvited guests.
Maybe, thought Nikola, it was time that he tried Helen’s approach. “This is a Sanctuary?” he asked the darkness, not sure if he should expect a reply. “We come here only to search for a missing friend. We mean you no harm.”
Silence. More crackling from the walls.
“We know what you are,” Nikola continued. “We desire your help. This isn’t working…” he shot at Helen.
Helen sat up, but didn’t go so far as to stand. “For your help we can trade information on the history of your people.”
Though they couldn’t see it, the vampire’s interest peaked.
“And what of them?” said the disembodied voice, bouncing off the uneven surface of the cave.
“Grant us safe passage, and we will tell you all we know.”
“Safe passage?” the voice scratched and died off with amusement. “You have intruded into sacred ground, we are now negotiating the manner of your demise.”
“Please,” Helen said, “a friend of ours has inadvertently trespassed. We are here only to find them and return safely home. We mean you no harm.”
“Harm?” the vampire hissed darkly. “Do not speak to me of harm.” In the cave ahead, they saw a faint outline of movement as the ancient vampire slowly paced toward them. “For thousands of years I have watched my people die – cut down, tortured,” it paused to take another laboured breath, “hacked apart in fields as they fled. You cannot know what it’s like to watch children burn, smouldering into the dusk while the skeleton of your empire blackens.” They could see the creature now, standing tall with its full length cloak dragging on the ground. “You may forgive me then, if I grow wary of human promises.”
A tear steadied in Helen’s eye. “I have seen such carnage,” she replied. “But please, she is my daughter.”
This seemed to stir a memory – and a distant smile. Not so long ago there had been another like herself bravely venturing into this cave. “There was a man here once before, on behalf of his daughter. You remind me of him…”
ROOM WITH COLUMNS
Joe’s body froze mid-step. The catacombs had come to an abrupt end – miles of narrow tunnels culminated in an empty, circular room which was bare of everything except its sandy floor.
“Impossible…” he hissed, turning in endless circles.
He had been so sure, absolutely positive that this would lead him to the tomb of the Priests of Amun, lost for thousands of years. They were not tombs for sleeping bodies dreaming of dead worlds, but crypts to keep monsters in – monsters who were very much alive at their time of imprisonment. If he was ever to find his father, it would be amongst the angry faces of its prisoners.
The walls were painted in ochre colours and scrawls of ancient writing marched up and down it, raving stories about underworlds and gods that now lay quiet. Joe advanced, stepping carefully through the sand, holding his torch aloft.
“Urgh!” he cried, as Joe felt the sand beneath him fall away. His stomach lurched and his arms flailed wildly as he was sucked through the floor into darkness. He had just enough time to gasp a breath of air in the light and catch sight of one of the wall murals laughing silently at him.
Then, the only proof of his existence was a torch half buried in the sand in the empty room, with its light gradually yellowing. Eventually it clicked off, and the room returned to its sinister peace.
The ancient vampire’s eyes were black like Nikola’s, but in the depths of their pits were hints of red. These blood-stained flecks ran over Helen, inspecting every inch of her as she spoke. The tiniest beads of sweat on her skin wreaked in the vampire’s nostrils while the grazes on her cheek and neck gave way to trickles of blood. Every minute that this breathing creature survived was a testament to the vampire’s strength of will.
“Quiet now…” the vampire curled his lips into a snarl. “My manners have slipped in these long centuries alone. If you wish to leave this place, you must do so now. Leave me be.” His voice cracked like the electric currents behind him – deceptively fragile in its fluctuations.
Helen and Nikola glanced at each other.
“I cannot leave,” insisted Helen, “until I find my daughter and the man that was with us before.”
“You cannot stay!” it screeched, vanishing and reappearing at the far wall where electricity swelled around it. Its plea echoed over the walls in horrid waves of agony. The vampire hid his dripping fangs behind his cloak which he raised over his head, blocking his guests from view. “You cannot stay…” he whispered to himself. The oaths of peace he took long ago were brittle now. Hunger and despair had weakened him and now he could feel the clawing of his nature begging him to kill.
Nikola recognised the symptoms and took Helen by the arm. She resisted but he lifted her toward him and growled into her ear, “Don’t…” He dragged her from the cave and led Helen back out into the mist-laden clearing. A few birds called bravely, piercing the air in short stabs.
The cave entrance was still within sight, leering at them from the cliff face.
As soon as he let go of her, Helen raised her hand and clouted him hard across his face. This time, he did not react. His vampiric form made him stronger than her, though he usually chose not to show it.
“Helen,” he said, gradually fading back to the Nikola of old. “He was going to kill you. Me as well, I suspect.”
“I don’t care…” she replied, turning and heading back to the cave. He shook his head and caught her jacket, clutching the leather firmly. Helen whipped around, striking him again and with her other hand, raising a knife to his throat. “Out of my way,” she warned.
The cold blade on his neck was a familiar touch. It was not the first time that Helen had threatened his life, and he doubted that it would be the last.
“You will have to use it,” he assured her.
“I’ve lost two people in there,” Helen steadied herself, pressing the metal harder onto him, “and I am not leaving them to die!”
“I hear you,” Nikola replied, if anything, gripping more tightly. “There are other ways into this Sanctuary, I am convinced of it. He,” Nikola referred to the vampire, “had not seen Ashley or Henry. His thoughts were loud enough for me to hear fragments of them. He is an old creature, tormented by the world and he will not let us pass.”
“Where are these other entrances?” she said, loosening her hold on the knife. It caught a beam of sunlight, blinding him with the brightness.
“I don’t know,” he confessed. “Though I believe our only course of action is to return to Ashley’s tracks and proceed from there. The Sanctuary of the Moon runs deep through these hills, tunnelled out beneath the ground. It is possible that she has inadvertently found a way in.”
Although Will could no longer speak, he managed an unmistakable nod at the security camera. I am coming for you it said.
Bigfoot set the computer to monitor all cameras for motion so that he could detect Will’s progress through the mansion. He could no longer see him on the screens though, as Will has mastered the art of camouflage and torn off his clothes rendering him all but invisible.
He was more creature than human now, Bigfoot could feel it, and this hybrid species seemed always hunting for revenge. Bigfoot couldn’t stay in this room, though. There was no way to defend himself or capture Will amongst the computer, empty desk and lone bookshelf.
Taking a calm breath, Bigfoot opened the door and peered out into the corridor. It was too late to seek out the detective. Will was fast now, and it wouldn’t be long until he returned to this level. The great, hairy man swung around to the right and returned to the medical room where he gathered a large amount of sedatives, several needles and three rolls of bandages. He was about to go for the tranquiliser gun – locked high in the cabinets above the main work desk, when he heard the door at the end of the corridor slam.
With no choice, Bigfoot clambered toward the small, side door which led into the storage area of the level. In five steps he was in front of the equipment lift. Bigfoot slid open the door to the small enclosure and crammed himself painfully inside. As a space meant for trays of testubes, it groaned angrily at Bigfoot’s imposition.
Will, in a strange disturbance of light, rounded the corner and caught sight of Bigfoot forcing down the door of the lift amidst a tirade of curses.
“Come on…” growled Bigfoot, bashing the metal shell as Will raced towards him, claws digging into the polished floor.
Just when Bigfoot had begun to entertain the prospect of being ripped apart, the door shifted and the lift shuddered into action, taking its heavy load down toward the basement.
Will pulled up short as the door slammed near his nose. His sharp eyes flicked to the gage on the wall beside, betraying the destination of the lift.
Bigfoot knew that he would reach the basement first – there was no doubt of that. As fast as this new Will was, he couldn’t fall through the levels of the floor like John. That said, there would not be enough time to achieve anything before his inevitable arrival.
He clutched the lift control protectively to his chest, whispering and coaxing to it as the lift slowed towards its destination. When the final thump of motion sent painful ripples through his fur, Bigfoot hit the button for the top floor. The deceit would buy him some time. Not much, granted, but he hoped that it would be enough to save both Will and the Sanctuary from destruction.
When it released him on the library level, Bigfoot stumbled as fast as he could up the corridor toward the marble staircase. He left a nasty streak of blood behind him where it trickled down his leg. It was no good, he thought, knowing that a child would have no trouble hunting him, let alone an instinctual killer.
Joe grimaced and rolled onto his side.
He had expected darkness – the deep, constricting blackness of the world beneath the earth. Instead, he found the gentle din of a hundred wall lamps lit along the side of a great chamber. Their soft glows provided tiny halos of light against the immense stone walls that spread high above him and deep below the pile of sand beneath.
It was like the debris from a giant hourglass and he had been poured through it, landing at its peak.
He could feel a bruise spreading over his chest where he had hit the sand. It burned under his shirt as he sat himself up and took in the spread of the underground room. It was lined with red pillars, three stories high that were severed several times with ornate gold bands. Around their girths were painted figures cowering from the sun or drowning themselves in the blue hint of Nile.
Joe peered forward in search of their bases, but the floor of the room was difficult to make out in the faint light. With nowhere to go, Joe shifted himself forward on the pile of sand until he started to slide.
Just as a great sheet of sand dislodged itself around him, accelerating his motion into an unstoppable fall, Joe caught sight of several silver bullet casings tumbling along with him. He reached out and caught one of these heavy pellets as it hurtled past, staring at it curiously as the ground below approached.
BLUED EYED MONSTER
The bullet casing was dull in the low light. Reflections of the flame-lit room flickered across its slender surface until Joe hit the floor with a crunch and it was knocked from his hand. It bounced several times over the floor and then rolled casually from view.
Sand fell over his body, half burying him in its final rush. Joe scraped it away from his face before it suffocated him and crawled out onto the bare floor, coughing and spluttering it from of his lungs. Unlike the tunnels above, drowned in sand, the surface of this room was pure slate. It was polished into a flawless expanse of black and gave the appearance of an endless pit except for where the pillars reflected, perfectly tessellated in a fictitious second expanse beneath his feet.
Joe could hear his laboured breath echoing around the walls. It mingled with the sound of the flames licking their holdings and a few sand grains tumbling from his clothes.
It was only then that he saw it – a large rectangular slab of slate rising up from the centre of the room as if it had grown from the floor. Its contact with the ground was seamless and the beastly thing was gilded by a line of gold writing whose fearsome words he was able to read as he edged closer, trailing his finger across them.
‘My face is yours, my heart is yours as you are a protector to me, for my present condition is like one that is in need, all my limbs are dismembered as the sands of the desert upon which I lie have reached me.’
The script was a fragment, bordered by writings outside Joe’s limited teaching. The remaining columns of text looked far older and had been rubbed off in places by age and use. If he had not known better, he might have thought this burial coffin to be a re-use.
‘Sarcophagus’, literally flesh eating. It was only now, after the events of the previous days, that Joe appreciated its true meaning. This name did not describe the container, which was merely a prison, but its contents which would stalk the desert evenings if allowed.
As he paced around the imposing object, which exuded a strange kind of hush as if its very presence was silencing the room, he stooped and eyed the corner of its lid. The edge had been broken, cracked and crumbled away by some heavy impact. On the floor his feet knocked several more of the mysterious bullet shells which clinked loudly.
Something had gone on in this room other than the mutterings of the dead and he feared that it wasn’t over yet.
Nikola rubbed his cheek. It was still sore from Helen’s multiple outbursts and had now taken on a distinct red tint – a foreign colour in the usually pale Nikola. Oh well, he figured, at least it proved that he still had a little life left in his veins.
The undergrowth was thick and difficult to pass through, even via the ‘path’ which Helen and Henry had cut earlier. Nikola had, of course, taken the easier route through the rocky back slope of the mountain. Certainly the gravel was loose and riddled with sun-basking snakes but when creatures of all sort fled from your presence, it made the going much easier.
“I should never have let you talk me into this,” moaned Helen, as the log she was balancing on creaked and shattered. She quickly skipped over it and landed on the solid ground, flicker her damp hair out of the way. “You were lying.”
“No,” he corrected her, “I was guessing. Are we near her tracks yet?”
Helen pointed at the stream gushing angrily beside them. “A few more minutes this way and we should be there.” Her bare arm was covered in pale streaks of blood where vicious mosquitoes buzzed over her in a frenzied haze, sucking and stabbing every time she paused.
“I would never betray you without cause,” said Nikola suddenly, wiping away a line of mud from his face. “I want you to know that. My ancestral species may be riddled with violence and malice but much the same can be said of yours yet I do not assume you to be distrustful – except of course, when experience differs…”
“Was that a slight, Nikola?” asked Helen, amazed that he could turn a plea into an insult. “One does not beg for their life through offense.”
“Merely an observation.”
“Fine,” she snapped. “Call my distrust of you an observation, then. Here we are…” Helen pulled up at a particularly muddy area.
At first Nikola thought she was lost, but soon his eyes drifted to the ground and he saw the definite imprints of small feet set off balance and the resulting slip marks. There was another set of tracks in the mud – these were distinctly larger – belonging to someone tall, imposing and, Nikola guessed, ill tempered.
“So you sent Johnny after her – brave…”
“Not the time, Nikola,” Helen waved him off, sensing an onslaught of jealousy. “When we’re all home and safe back at the Sanctuary, you can mope all you want and I promise I shan’t mind.”
“Now that is a lie,” Nikola averted his eyes to her. “As I have no home to speak of,” he added quickly.
They followed the tracks, (which was hardly a difficult task) until they ended abruptly at a large hole in the ground. The moss and fernery trailed down into the abyss where it had been ripped off suddenly. Water could be heard dripping somewhere below as tiny streams trickled down the exposed roots of trees.
“That would have hurt,” noted Nikola, crouching down and peering over into the darkness.
“Careful…” Helen muttered, and then trailed off when he glanced back at her with a curious smile.
“Don’t suppose you brought a rope?” he asked, spying a nearby tree with a decent girth. Indeed she had. Helen quickly whipped off her backpack and unhooked a nylon rope, holding it up for his inspection. “A woman for all occasions.”
She dropped the rope on the ground beside him. “That’s what you said in 1885.”
Bigfoot faltered and fell to the ground, groaning as his paw-like foot went numb and became unresponsive. He could guess at the cause but right now there was no time to stop and investigate. Bracing himself, he crawled over to a door at the top of the staircase and used its handle to haul himself back to his feet.
From the landing at the top of the marble staircase he could see his own trail of blood, dotted like a line of breadcrumbs leading straight to his pitiful figure. It got deeper and thicker half way up the stairs where pools of it dripped back down, running along the joins in the rock. He was starting to feel the effects of the painkillers and he was thankful for it even though they made the world a tad blurry.
It didn’t take long for him to be joined by the thumping of feet down the corridor. As they got closer to the open area and high ceilings of the main room outside the library, they slowed and finally stopped.
Although Bigfoot hand little hope of seeing Will, probably camouflaged, but he did catch the carpet runner slipping slightly to the side. Will was close now and Bigfoot had no way to defend himself – neither could he run.
He waited, frozen to the ground for a sign of movement. The great room was quiet – but not silent. It was amazing the things you could hear with your ears pricked up and your breathing slowed.
There – no… that was the tapestry catching the air conditioner. Bigfoot’s eyes continually flicked over the various surfaces of the room, not noticing that his trail of blood through the very centre of the room had been smeared by a new set of prints as Will slinked toward him, hiding in plain sight.
Joe’s hand was still on the coffin when one of the flares on the wall went out. The room dimmed as darkness reclaimed the space between two of the large pillars. There was no breeze in here – he was hundreds of metres underground so what, wondered Joe with a chill creeping over him, was that?
He headed straight to one of the well lit walls and stole the torch from its holdings. Joe brandished it in front of him, slashing through the air in warning to whatever was hunting him. He heard something scratch over the floor near the giant mound of sand and a few layers of it slip to the floor.
His stick – it was half buried under a fall of sand but well within reach. Joe jogged across the room, sending orange flickers over the wall as his torched flattened in the rush of air. He squatted and reclaimed the stick from the ground, taking it firmly in his grip.
“Come out…” he whispered, in the sand creature’s native tongue. Joe had guessed that he would find them here. He had waited his whole life for this moment but he had imagined more light – less dark corners where sinister things could hide.
Shadows, sand and another mysterious gust of wind turned his head. Something scattered the loose bullet casings by the sarcophagus and for the first time he heard a grunt. Six – ten – fifty? He had no idea how many there were but one would be enough of a match so it did not matter.
“You – will – die…” the words came, scattered, from all over the room.
“I come to offer you freedom,” Joe replied, peering into the blackness with his torch held aloft.
He hadn’t expected it to be inches from his face, snarling as it shimmered into view. The sand creature’s cold blue eyes seemed to hate the world and all that it had done while its crimson skin, scared and burnt, told why. Its face, resting on the flame, jarred away from the heat and began to circle Joe. The creature was dressed but only barely, by a grey strip of fabric around its waist held together by a gold clip belonging to centuries past.
Another creature appeared, reclined against one of the walls directly below a torch and then another and another, all encroaching for the edges of the room. The one closest to him had bent low down to the ground and scattered away into the room, vanishing back into the walls. Joe clutched onto the stick tighter.
That was when he saw his father lumbering towards him. More blue eyes, torn shreds of clothing and fragments of humanity clinging to the thin skin covering its bones.
Childhood fear was a persistent thing – it lurked inside you, pretending to be nothing more than an embarrassing memory right up until the moment you were forced to face it. Then the claws came out. Then the fear returned – and it was real fear – a form of monster that stops your heart and seizes your muscles; your mind, overcome with blurred memories and embellished nightmares, falls silent and with it, all hope of survival.
Nikola and Helen made short work of the hole and, with the help of Tesla’s sharp claws, made their way through the derelict mining tunnel. The soft earth and groaning boards holding it up unnerved her as they took it at a half-run, following the bright speck of her torch as it bounced over the ground.
“Relax,” he said to her, as another light rain of dirt hit them, “this thing’s been here for millennia – it’s not going to collapse just because Helen Magnus is here…”
She didn’t look so sure. “You’d be surprised,” she replied. “Oh,” Helen pulled them both to an abrupt stop, “better and better…”
The pit below them made the original drop into the tunnels look like a small ditch. Her rope, which she had bravely left dangling through the first hole, wouldn’t have been any use down here with nothing to tie it to.
“Ideas?” she asked, honestly hoping that the rumours of his genius were true.
“Caving is not my thing,” he muttered, keenly eyeing his options. “Although…”
“Although is good,” Helen crawled over to the edge of the pit and shone her torch down. She could make out the ground but only just. There was no doubting that it was a long way down.
“Fancy a ride?”
Helen nearly choked.
“With these claws I think there’s a good chance I can scale the dirt wall – you’d have…”
“Yeah, I get it.”
Their clever descent was successful. Once Nikola’s feet were planted firmly on the ground, Helen let go of his shoulders and slipped gently to the stones beneath. Nikola wiped the dirt from his claws, cursing when he found one of them chipped off at the end. Helen fought back a quip about ‘breaking a nail’, instead turning her attention to the river trickling behind them and the bright glow in the distance.
“Riverbed,” Nikola observed, stumbling over the smooth rocks loosely scattered over the cave floor.
Helen stooped and took a sip of water. “Fresh,” she remarked, and drank some more.
“Helen,” started Nikola softly, interrupting her refreshment. She stopped, cold hand to her lips with water trickling back into the running water. “That’s not a rock…” he pointed to a small, unnatural mound of rocks behind her.
It was a grave…
A bundle of stones had been hastily packed together in a primitive pyramid which, like its ancient cousins standing guard over fallen empires, had begun to collapse into a pile of misshapen rubble. Tumbled down beside the ailing monument was a bleached skull cracked in three places with an arrow head embedded deep within its bone. Helen retrieved her torch, smacking it against her hand until it clicked obediently back on, bathing the object in light.
She knelt down and traced her fingers lightly over the skull’s smooth surface. Nikola sighed heavily, wishing she wouldn’t interact with every sinister object of curiosity. He crossed the shallow stream and came up behind her, shifting his gaze nervously around the enormous cavern as if the very walls were watching them. He didn’t want to delay in the darkness – best they move through it as quickly as possible.
“Helen…” he whispered, his voice laden with chill and reverence. “Do you believe there’s any credence to those stories about the caves around here being passageways to the underworld?” Nikola may not have been able to see her face but he felt her eyes roll. “Just checking,” he mumbled. Maybe she was right about him – maybe he did read too much.
“You are supposed to be the scariest thing down here,” she straightened and shone the torch straight between his eyes. He flinched irritably. “So start acting like it.”
She handed him the skull – which he dropped immediately and furiously wiped his hands on his coat in disgust.
“And why are you so pleased?” he finally gave in and asked after they had followed the meandering creek for a while. She had done nothing but grin and hum since they had entered this horrid place whose high, spiked ceilings and distant black walls gave Nikola the shivers.
“That skull belonged to Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett – greatest explorer who ever lived – went missing in the Amazon when we were still working for that uncle of Watson’s.”
“Are you trying to comfort me?” He shook his head then tripped, rolled his ankle on a loose river stone and had to make a rather ungraceful recovery. “How you can tell that from one nondescript skull I will never know…”
Helen promptly stopped, spun slowly and revealed a gold locket laced around her hand with an elegant set of initials engraved on its front.
“Stealing again…” he muttered. “Isn’t that –” Nikola stopped, pointing to a faint glow ahead of them where a figure stirred, barely more than another mysterious shadow.
They found John crouched at the edge of a pool of water, staring up at a mighty set of wooden doors carved with all kinds of terrifying things that could be thought of by the primitive tribes that carved them. He couldn’t help but admire it – the beauty in the danger.
“I take it the front door didn’t work,” John dipped one of his fingers in the water as the crunch of feet approached. A faint shimmer of gold left its residue in his skin making it glisten for a moment until the water dried and the gold fell off back into the water like dust.
“No sign of Ashley…” Helen had to step back to take in the enormity of the doors which were more like gates to the underworld itself. Maybe Nikola had been right after all…
“I followed her tracks to the water,” John prodded at several intents in the ground.
“And you just – stopped…” Nikola was pretty certain there was only one place that Helen’s daughter could have gone and yet, here John was, pondering eternity by the side of a lake.
“Well I would have continued only I heard the two of you bickering miles away and decided to wait.”
“We do not bicker,” snapped Helen in a whisper, even though it was not the first time she had endured the accusation.
Nikola looked from John – to the door and then back again. “Aren’t we going to just…”
John breathed heavily – or it could have been his favourite – drawn out laugh he used to disturb victims before the kill. “Oh yes, Nikola, as much as I would love to let you materialise inside a solid object I suspect Helen might disapprove. We will have to swim.”
Nikola fancied a swim about as much as he fancied Thomas Edison.
“What’s the matter,” John de-cloaked and rolled his shirt sleeves up, “electricity and water not mix?”
“Like love and murder, Whitechapel…”
There was an almighty splash and they both ended up in the water – crawling on their hands and knees as Helen stepped over them with a look of long-suffering detest.
“Just stop!” Helen sloshed past them and vanished under the water, leaving a trail of bubbles in her wake.
Joe risked a shaky step backwards as his father approached. The others were swooping and creeping behind, circling impatiently as Joe’s father lifted a clawed hand up into the air, prepared to rip the flesh from Joe’s body and end the intrusion into their world.
“Father – please…” Joe held the torch higher into the room so that the flames roared into a fresh layer of oxygen. “I have come to free you,” he insisted, “all these years, I promised I would come back for you and I have. Don’t give up now, you can’t.”
Waves of sand tumbled around the room. The coffin at the centre protruded like a wall of sea-rock, steadfast against all the ages time could muster.
His father was barely alive. The skin around his features was stretched tight, sunken and cracked. There were long locks of grey hair twisted up together and tossed over his shoulder while a deep scar cut diagonally from his forehead to his cheek. Though it had healed decades ago, it kept a record of the torturous years lived as one of the most hated creatures in existence.
Joe’s strength dissipated when he saw bone protrude from beneath the tattered rags of clothing, the remains of the brown pants and white shirt he had worn on his final dig. Finally, the truth unfurled and Joe realised that he had come back to save a dream – nothing more. All that remained of his father had withered away and he, forever a foolish child, had held onto a vision of something he could never have back.
“Father…” he whispered, with tears dripping down the side of his face and into the sand. Joe was content. He would die down here, with his father. The freedom overwhelmed him. “It was good to see you,” he said, slowly closing his eyes to the world, replacing all its darkness with a picture of his father waving goodbye through the glare of the desert.
“Waiiit…” one of the other creatures slipped beside Joe’s father, tilting its head back and forth. This one looked younger, more alive and dangerous. The curve of its lip glistened and its sharp pair of blue eyes reflected the light of Joe’s torch. Joe’s eyes peaked open. “You want your faaather?” its skin rippled.
Joe’s heart quickened fearfully. “Yes,” was all he managed. As the creature inched closer, the grand room shrank – it seemed claustrophobic and chocked by scented smoke belonging to another time.
“Do something for usss,” its words carried a modern accent that matched its surprisingly new clothes. Now that Joe looked closer, he could see the same crest sewn into the breast pocket of the creature’s tattered shirt as he had seen on the camp site tents. “And maybee you can leave this place – with your faaather. We are not simply monsssters, you see.”
“What do you want?” Joe realised that he had been gradually backed against one of the walls. “I have nothing to give you.”
“Surely you have heard,” it replied, creeping its claws along one of the walls, as if fascinated by the joinings of the stones. “We are vampires.”
Helen emerged from the water first, breached through its freezing surface like some mythical creature breaking free. She ran her hands over her face and down through her hair, wiping the water away. Gold flecks formed a second skin over her own which held a subtle glow in the almost complete darkness of the pool. It was an impressive expanse of deep water. Only the top layer of which was bearable to swim in – whenever she dipped her legs too deep she felt the vicious stabs of cold warning her not to venture further.
Nikola and John surfaced with a flurry of bubbles and coughing – apparently they had been trying to beat each other on distance and thus nearly suffocated in the attempt.
“Extraordinary,” Nikola wined, treading water in circles, “this lake is cold and huge.”
They crawled out onto the stony edge, Helen and John dragging their heavy coats which had done an excellent job half-drowning them. Helen disposed of hers, throwing it to the side.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” she said, pointing at the deserted city sprawling between the cave walls ahead of them. Its derelict condition was somehow made more beautiful by the unsettled mist licking the edges of its walls.
“Precisely how old were those scrolls, Nikola?” John couldn’t help but notice the way the remains of the sanctuary crumbled on their approach.
The low stone wall which separated the lake form the city was aglow, softly lighting the edge of the water. They approached it, scrambling over it and onto the abandoned streets of the sanctuary.
“Look!” Nikola pointed to the roof of the cave where a small hole in the rock revealed a crack of the outside world filled by the full moon. The day had ended and night begun without any of them noticing.
“What…” John jarred suddenly, pulling his right shoulder away to find a small arrow embedded harmlessly in the leather, “is that?” he finished, pulling the offending item out.
“Here comes another one,” Nikola ducked out of the way allowing it to strike again at John’s chest.
“Automatic defence?” Helen offered. “We must have triggered it when –” she watched John remove a third arrow from his coat, growling at the holes. “Is it just me or is it only shooting at John?”
“It’s very irritating,” said John, sidestepping a small volley of the things which clattered on the floor in the distance. “I think we should get a move on before I am annoyed to death.”
Helen, curious, ventured toward the origin of the arrows until one whizzed past her neck, tangling in her hair. “Yeah,” she agreed, “let’s go.”
Joe shivered as his hands touched the freezing stone. The lid was heavy and stuck fast by more than just its weight. He was surrounded by a crowd of sand people, sneering and hissing at each other as the lid made its first crack of freedom. A rush of air escaped the crypt and the lid slipped further opening, nearly off-balancing the detective.
The innards of the coffin were as black and mysterious as its stone. Joe took his torch from the sand creature that had spoken with him and held it over the opening where he caught his first, frightful glimpse of creature slumbering inside.
“It’s dead…” announced Joe, his eyes rolling over the decayed skin and bone staring lifelessly into nowhere with surprising glassy eyes. With its lip shrunk back, an impressive line of sharp, tapered teeth protruded from the creature’s mouth.
“Oh,” hissed the sand creature, inching close enough to sniff the air above the coffin, “he is only sleeping. A long and dreadful sssleep. You cannot imaaagine.”
Joe pushed the lid again, revealing more of the creature’s body. It was shrunken and racked by age like its face and wrapped in a white sheet of linen bloodied by some ancient conflict. The remains of herbs and flowers scattered through the box collapsed into dust as the fresh air brushed over their delicate forms.
As instructed, he dutifully held out his arm and with a small blade, cut across his skin. The sickening drips of blood spread over the corpse but evaporated upon touching the skeletal form. It took a while for Joe to notice the subtle changes occurring below him.
The creature was waking up, reviving, reforming as Joe’s blood continued to fall over it. Eventually it resembled the sleeping man the creature had described and Joe was allowed to wrap his arm in a length of material as they waited.
It gasped, a terrible, strangled rush of air into its lungs.
Joe staggered backwards, shoved aside by the converging crowd of sand creatures who gathered eagerly around the coffin, writhing and whispering in a dozen languages he had never heard before. His father was somewhere amongst them, teeth bared in expectation.
Henry Foss rolled over with a groan. The long, flaxen grass of the open field rippled around him, hissing back and forth in the wind. For a moment all he could see was navy – pure ink where the sun’s beams had vanished for the day and left the world with a blank canvas of night. Gradually though, the first pricks of light seeped through until he was face to face with a literal carpet of stars.
Blinking back the surprising glare, Henry coughed and tried to sit up – too fast. The world spun a bit, made worst by the infinite carpet of grass rearing up for several feet above him.
“W-what…” he said, ignoring the overwhelming urge to sleep. He could smell a running body of water somewhere to his right – a river? Thick, succulent leaves – some kind of fruit bird – people – the faintest tinge of diesel…
The last thing he remembered was pacing through the cave, not far behind Helen and Nikola when there had been a brilliant flash of light.
This time, Henry lifted his head from the ground gently, letting it adjust to the new altitude before he even attempted to stand and get a better idea of where he was. Instinctively, he felt for his radio.
“Helen, it’s Henry – are you there?”
Static – lots and lots of it. It was a long shot at best. She was probably still in the tunnels, well out of radio range of wherever he was.
Henry stumbled to his feet, rising just above the field of grass. It went on for acres – the soft tide, barely a blur on the evening. It was bordered on his left and in front by a dense rim of darkness. Behind him he could see a derelict tractor with a few hanging lights ploughing its way through with a bronze-skinned farmer at the wheel still working and to his right – yes, there was the river. He knew where he was.
No matter how hard he tried, Henry’s mind kept wandering back to The Lost World as he ran through the long grass. Stupid – irrational fear, but he could not shake it and so had no choice but to run harder until he emerged on the muddy bank and was met with the glorious hull of their boat.
“Hola!” Henry exclaimed in absolute joy, when he saw that their guide was asleep across the back seat, basking in the night like some kind of mythical creature. The man did not stir. Henry swung a leg over the side of the boat and clambered in, reaching for the satellite phone. He had been gone for hours.
He dialled the Sanctuary at once to fill The Big Guy in on their situation and check on Will’s condition.
The phone rang out.
Henry returned it slowly to the cradle and considered it for a few minutes with the steady snore of the guide in the background. Shaking his head, Henry tried again, carefully dialling the number. Again, the phone rang out and Henry was left with a sinking worry. Something was wrong. Bigfoot never missed a call, ever.
He was so lost in his worry that he didn’t notice the tour guide behind him wake, cracking open his sun-worn eyes to the night.
A horrible wail scratched through the room with such ferocity that Joe Kavanaugh dropped his flaming torch to the ground and swiftly followed with his hands clasped over his ears to stop them from breaking as he bowed his head to the dirt.
The creatures joined in, hissing with the voice as they moved together around the sarcophagus in a kind of sickly tide. Soon, they were crying too – pawing at the sand with their tapered fingers. Joe, unlike most, had always thought of the sand creatures as the people they were once – but now he saw what everyone else did – their animal nature. Truly, they were some bastardised existence between humanity and the ancient past – one that was afraid.
Finally taking hold of himself, Joe reached for the torch, still burning on the ground in front of him, and scrambled to his feet, backing away toward the large tower of sand in the centre of the room. Without realising what he was doing, Joe started backing up onto it, climbing it as best he could with one hand clutching into the shifting surface.
He was too transfixed by the frightening mass of wailing creatures to realise that he was no longer progressing, merely dislodging avalanches of sand like some kind of bewildered beetle. The room had never seemed so impossibly big. There was just no way conceivably out of it, no way to escape the eternal imprisonment it was designed for.
Suddenly, the flame flicked backwards across his hand. The heat scorched him for a second, before straightening and Joe realised that the rest of the room was dead silent. The sand creatures were parting, breaking away to reveal the hunched figure of their master.
“T – time,” the word nearly died on full-blooded vampire’s lips, he had been asleep so long, “shall keep us, death – pursue us but never,” he clasped his chest as the beat of his heart grew stronger for the first time in several thousand years, “end us.”
The vampire let the words settle. His strength was growing with every moment. He could not believe that his eyes could see again, that his perpetual world of darkness was removed by the unbearable brightness of a few torches. Oh – the world, how he ached to see the arching dunes and the crystal waters of the shore, hold his child in his arms again after – but – then the memories swept over him. His child was dead – all of his people were gone. Lost, slaughtered. He raised his head. Brother, he whispered to no-one, your time is up.
Breaking free of his murderous trance, the ancient vampire straightened up, laying one of his clawed hands lazily on the coffin that had been his tomb. He eyed the sorrowful crowd of half-creatures around him, more beast than vampire as they cowered at his feet and – how interesting, a human flayed out on the sand in front of him, trying to escape.
The vampire tilted his head and lunged through the crowd in several long steps, stopping short of Joe’s terrified gasp.
“Skeletons, dust – ancient ruins,” Nikola picked a small chunk of rock from his hair with utter disdain, “all of my favourite things…”
John’s glower darkened as he dislodged and threw the last mini-arrow to the floor where it lay innocently. “Is he being serious?” he grumbled.
“No…” was Helen’s swift reply, as she began to regret leaving her jacket by the pool. If nothing else, it left her quite extraordinary array of weapons naked to the world.
“Then is it possible to shut him up for a while?” John matched pace with the others and they continued up the main street of the deserted city, three abreast.
“This is worse than those crypts below Rome,” said Helen. “It’s like a ghost city,” she continued, navigating her way around a twisted skeleton. “They’re all still here,” she pointed out a pile of a dozen skeletons or more blackened in a side street. “It’s horrible.” It was clear to her that the skeletons were those of Abnormals, hundreds of them collected and destroyed.
“Reminds me of Pompeii – minus the imposing mountain. Ah, here we go…” John bent to the ground and lightly grazed a footprint with his hand. “Ashley,” he muttered, “casually strolling by the looks of it.”
“She’s about the only thing that’s been here in a while,” added Helen, as another row of bleached bones peaked out from one of the crumbling building’s window.
“This sanctuary,” said John, lifting his arms and with them, the heavily soaked coat, “whatever it may have been once, is gone. I doubt Ashley will find what she’s looking for in a place like this.”
“Rash child,” Helen snapped so sharply that the two gentlemen paused and glanced at each other. Helen was wiping her cheeks quickly, brushing aside a few surprise tears. “Whatever would convince her that this was a good idea?”
John and Nikola were exceedingly quiet behind her, passing dangerous glances at each other, neither willing to betray their part. There was too much at stake for both of them to risk the truth now.
Instead, Nikola cleared his throat and paced ahead of Helen, reaching the large set of doors ahead of them first.
“The intended entrance to the sanctuary,” he said boldly, noticing that one of the doors was slightly ajar – enough for them to slip through into the darkness one by one. Ashley’s footsteps led directly through the gap.
Behind the doors they were back into familiar territory – dark, cold and every-so-slightly damp walls. They were definitely back in the tunnels. Their voices automatically fell to a hush. John, having not encountered the vampire first hand, followed the others’ lead and clicked his flashlight on.
If Helen and Tesla are this nervous, he rationed, then it must be bad.
“Helen…” Nikola whispered in something barely more than a breath on her ear. She looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “If we get caught again – I don’t think our gracious host is going to let us leave alive.”
“Thank you Nikola,” she brushed him away, “I am aware of that.”
His eyes wandered down to Helen’s waist where her pale hand had settled on the handle of a rather sinister-looking knife. It warmed his heart.
She was surrounded by billows of black rock, glistening in the wake of her weak flashlight with something that wasn’t quite water. With the great doors to the city well behind her, she couldn’t help but notice a few skeletal remains brushed against the cave walls. Whatever violence had transpired, it had not been confined to the city.
Ashley backed up against one of the cold walls in the tunnel system and felt into her pocket. There were still several blood samples snuggled in there which she had entirely forgotten about since the first sample had tumbled and smashed, uselessly, over the train line. She wondered now, what had been the purpose of these? They seemed of no use to her now and she was tempted to abandon them completely – destroy them but they had belonged to her grandfather and keeping them was like keeping a little bit of him.
She let them clink against each other, rolling around in her fingers until she expelled a heavy sigh and turned her attention back to Magnus’s journal, flipping it open. Ashley scanned the untidy page for the next set of instructions, hoping that although she had literally fallen from the path, there was some guidance left for her.
‘There is no greater gift in this enterprise than English manners.’
Ashley frowned. Manners? In a cave? Who was she to be polite to – the bats?
What are you doing here Ashley? She asked herself. It had been a while since she’d been so far out of her depth. At least hunting monsters she knew where she stood – but this, how was she to convince a vampire to help her? More to the point, how to acquire its blood and fill the empty vial in her other pocket?
Her mind mused. Stick to what you know best. Hunt the vampire and try not to kill it.
Two dark eyes bored through Joe’s face like pealing back the skin and though the vampire’s lips did not move, Joe could hear a faint whisper on the air – or in his head, he couldn’t be sure.
“What is your purpose here, human?” it asked, still speaking the ancient language.
“I – ” Joe stuttered, and then realised he would have to reply in the same language if he were to have even the slightest shot at surviving. “I came to make a trade,” he said slowly, and with very poor pronunciation.
The vampire snarled in amusement, indicating that Joe should continue.
“I resurrected you from your tomb in the hope that you could restore my father to human form.”
The red behind the vampire’s eyes flickered wildly with fascination.
“Your father – is among us?” he asked, as the sand creatures crept in closer around them. Several rows back, Joe’s father watched the proceedings dispassionately. The vampire smelt, rather than looked at the mass of half-creatures behind him. A moment later, he smelt the blood relation. “I see…”
“I bestowed upon you your freedom,” Joe lowered the torch to a less threatening position.
“What you say is true…” the vampire cocked its head to the side. “You should know that not all men are honest, young human, and even less of those are fair. What can be said of men is double for our kind.”
Joe fought to keep his breath steady. Maybe he was going to die after all…
“But as it so happens I am bound by law to return the favour.” The vampire turned to the crowd and, with one horribly clawed finger, beckoned Joe’s father forward. “Is this your father?”
“Then he is yours.”
The vampire lowered his claws to Joe’s father’s neck, casually gliding down it leaving an angry red slice that began to drip with scarlet. The man did not flinch, his blue eyes glistened, staring into nowhere without change.
It happened so fast.
The vampire dipped its head and sunk its teeth through the creature’s next. Joe’s father squealed – then gasped for breath as the vampire dug in deeper. The victim’s blue eyes turned glassy and vacant. After a few dying gasps, his body went limp and the vampire let it fall to the dirt.
“No!”Joe screamed, falling to the ground beside the crippled body of his father.
THE SECOND BITE
The ancient vampire curled his claw and beckoned the half-creatures to follow. A few minutes later, they were gone – escaped from their prison like shadows and back at large in the new world leaving detective Joe Kavanaugh and his father alone in the tomb.
“Father…” Joe whispered, cradling the tortured body in his arms. His father was human again but humans were fragile things that clung ever so softly to life. The man was old and withered without the ever-vengeful vampire blood coursing through his veins.
The tomb around them was softer now with its dozens of flaming torches flickering against the wall and the black sarcophagus laid open in surrender. The glassy walls reflected the flames down onto the sand in sad halos where Joe sat.
“I never stopped trying…” Joe whispered, rocking slightly with his father. “Never.”
At least his father was human, free from an eternity cowering at a vampire’s feet. Is that not what humanity had spent millennia fighting for? Joe hoped it was freedom that the human race bled for…
“My son,” a weak voice cracked onto the air. “…Joe…” the old man whispered, stirring in Joe’s arms.
Joe gasped softly as his father’s eyes opened, pale green and unblinking. It was as if he had not seen the world for thirty years.
“A terrible dream…” the old man breathed, gripping Joe’s hand tightly.
Hours later, Joe and his father stumbled from the last of the narrow caves and out into the vanishing light of the desert. The rim of the horizon was starting to glow. Stars peaked through the veils of shimmering air while a few lone jet trails faded.
The remains of a canvas tent tumbled past, swept up in an angry curl of air. Shreds of it caught on the rocks beside Joe and his father, tearing with a loud rip before flapping off in pieces. Sand clawed impatiently at the edges of the decimated camp site.
“My god…” Joe breathed in horror at the sight before him. The faces that had wished him well only hours ago were strewn over the ground – fed upon. His stomach lurched at the deep fang and claw marks in the corpses whose eyes were left open in terror. “They killed everything.”
The vampire and his entourage of sand creatures had left nothing alive – not even the camels tied up in the south pen.
“We have to get back to the Sanctuary and warn them,” Joe realised, helping his father down the sharp rocks.
The faint flicker of settlement was visible a long way off, catching the last of the light. Joe and his father took one of the Jeeps and headed off on the gravel track, chasing the sun. The sand was already blowing over them, preceding the rise of dunes creeping ever closer to civilisation. The cities may have forgotten the desert but it had not forgotten them.
The Sanctuary of the Moon was not a place to wander.
It was an enormous sprawl of natural caverns, trembling walls of rockfall, mirrors of freezing water that seeped deep into the earth and complex tunnels designed to confuse even the most determined human. Its undoing had left the beautiful archways of stone that spanned between the walls of an ancient promenade in decay. Some of them had eroded, returning to their natural state of rubble while others protruded from the black rock, defiantly hanging in half-broken protrusions.
The ancient vampire could feel the others hunting about in his Sanctuary, scratching from tunnel to tunnel, fumbling about in the darkness. One lone child was drawing close to his private quarters whilst the larger party that he had already warned away once, was heading toward the crypt in the centre of the Sanctuary.
There they were again – soft, hesitant footsteps, slightly uneven as they approached the thin holographic barrier hiding the entrance to his lair. It looked like rock – felt like rock. The technology was an illusion. All the vampire need do was reach out…
Instead, the vampire laid silently against the wall beside and waited. Even from here he could hear the young creature’s heartbeat on the air. Humans, they were so fragile.
Slowly, she turned on her heel, dragging the torchlight over the wall. Nothing. She cautiously took another step and – and the breathing returned beside her. Ashley faced the wall, trailing her gaze from where it merged seamlessly to the ceiling down to the oddly clean edge it formed with the tunnel floor.
She reached out, grazing her fingertips over the rough surface unable to see the vampire in front of her mimic her action, ghosting his fingertips in front of hers like a twisted mirror.
Helen’s torchlight fell on another pile of rubble and bones.
“Look…” she whispered, directing John and Nikola’s attention. They were hardly a few minute’s walk from the ruined city, their progress slowed by Helen’s constant distraction. “Draconis-aelianus, the Ethiopian elephant eater.”
“A dragon?” John whispered, looking at the small pile of bones. Obviously this one was an infant.
“Like that hideous furry thing you used to keep in your basement?” Nikola started but Helen cut him off as she knelt to the ground, trailing her fingers over the white bone.
“These things have been extinct for a thousand years. Goodness, the line of spines on its back is intact.” When the relevance failed to register with the others, she elaborated. “All its brothers and sisters were hunted to extinction for the high quality ivory in their spine. I have some ancient human artefacts made from it. They cost me a small part of my fortune.”
“Nothing has changed then… It’s definitely still extinct,” Nikola quipped before he was knocked by John’s rather large, deliberate and imposing shoulder.
“You’re very nearly the last of your kind, Nikola. It would be my pleasure to hasten your extinction.” John winked rather disturbingly at Nikola who could do nothing but raise a claw. “This Sanctuary is ruined…” John bent down to the ground, sliding his fingers through the layers of cave rubble until they curled around an ancient knife that had been the source of the creature’s demise.
At least in this, Nikola could agree. “I’ve counted at least three flood lines, an earthquake or two and -” he frowned, his wiry figure edging closer to the wall. He ran his fingers along an ominous crack in the black stone patched over by thick cobwebs. “Gunfire…” he murmured, as his fingers dipped into the small indents sprayed across it.
Helen found one of the cartridges, holding it in her palm. “Muscat shots… Very old gunfire…” She turned to Nikola, tilting her head in a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. “Would it be too bold of me to presume that the reason for the demise of this great sanctuary made it into your research, Dr Tesla?”
She only called him ‘Dr Tesla’ when he was being thoroughly mocked. Tesla – shifted.
“It may have touched on – passed across – brushed over…”
“Nikola…” Helen levelled her gaze at him.
“What can I say?” he shrugged softly. “Cats guarding the pigeons – they got hungry.” A Sanctuary run by vampires? Of course that was going to end in a flurry of feathers.
“I thought you liked pigeons?” Helen lofted her eyebrow, prodding him sharply as John took a step closer, narrowing his eyes at the vampire.
“He’s making it up,” John hissed softly.
Nikola turned, arms folded. “Yes, I’m making it up,” he admitted theatrically. “How on earth or otherwise would I know? Don’t give me that look – I wasn’t even born when this mess went down.”
“Oh believe me,” London’s most notorious murder stooped to look the scientist in the eye. “I will find a way. Somehow, this will all trail back to you.”
Black ink seeped into Nikola’s eyes. That was an incredibly awful scientific principle, not to mention a wholly unfair comment on his character as a gentleman. “I’m confident I can outwit you,” he whispered, too soft for Helen to hear. “I always could.”
“Won the game – lost the war, young vamp,” John smirked. Tesla would never get what he really wanted while ever John was around.
“What is Ashley trying to do here?” Helen was several paces ahead of them, peering down into the long cave. “She’s got no chance against a full-blooded vampire, has she?”
“She’d leave more than a few holes in it,” Nikola replied.
“I can’t help but wonder…” Helen let her hand rest on the wall beside her. “My parents spent many months of my childhood in South America – here, in the nearby city. I think my father has been here – in these caves.”
Suddenly, Helen Magnus looked vulnerable.
“What if he’s sent Ashley to finish whatever it was that he started?”
Bigfoot dragged himself up the marble stairwell one blood-stained step at a time. Will – well, creature Will had sunk down onto all fours, preferring to crawl slowly over the ground. It was difficult to make his form out. His skin had learned to mimic its surroundings near perfectly.
“Will…” Bigfoot whispered, still backing up the stairs.
Will’s skin trembled unsteadily for a moment, the natural scarlet red of sand creature skin flickering into view.
This silent stalking dragged on until Bigfoot reached the top of the stairs. There was a door behind his furry form and beyond that, the rooftop and freedom. Will wasn’t truly interested in Bigfoot – it was the door…
Without warning, Will pounced. His lean body leapt through the air, bouncing off the wall with claws outstretched. He landed heavily on Bigfoot, bringing him to the ground. Bigfoot tried to hold onto Will, keep him inside but he was simply too strong now. Will broke free and pushed the door off its hinges.
The air was beautiful as it hit Will’s face. His golden eyes tracked over he sprawl of city beyond the roof – the endless tunnels that must lay beneath them… He growled, low and deep in something akin to happiness.
Will clawed at the stone floor, setting off at a run. Bigfoot’s cry of protest was lost in the wind as Will scaled the small wall of stone and launched himself off the roof and out into Old City.
“This way…” John whispered. He had found something – another smaller tunnel diverging.
Nikola frowned as his feet suddenly found water. Great, the tunnel was half flooded… Helen sloshed up to him, unaffected by the freezing water that was flowing slowly forwards.
“Oh yes, let’s all just follow blindly…” Nikola muttered at her. He had been leading, following the scattered writing on the all of the main tunnel. Afterall, he had gone to all the trouble of finding this place, you know, built by his ancestors. Not that he was possessive about these things.
“Stop pouting,” Helen whispered, giving him a gentle nudge. “Jealously doesn’t suit your ego.”
“I’m not jealous, I’m annoyed,” Nikola muttered, stepping over an ill-placed bolder which turned out to be the decapitated head of an old statue. At least for a little while, he stayed close to Helen. John was further ahead, under the illusion that he was leading. “Helen…” Nikola lowered his voice. “This isn’t the way Ashley came.”
Helen looked at him softly – more like she used to when they were alone. In silent reply, Nikola reached down with his free hand and brushed it gently against hers. His soft touches, however rare, were always disarming…
“Helen – here…” John stopped ahead in front of a large, curved wall.
Helen walked away from Nikola leaving him standing alone. He sighed softly – and inevitably followed. He always did.
The wall was a mosaic. Millions of tiny fragments of brightly covered pottery covered the glass-stone, stuck there by some kind of translucent resin. It was a sharp clash of styles; the layout of the wall was distinctly Egyptian with rows of slaves, horses, food and ships faithfully detailing an event but the style – there was no denying the breathtaking realism of the Greeks.
“Good heavens…” Helen whispered. The animals in the mosaic looked almost real with their riders whipping them hard to get them to board the ships. It was their eyes that haunted Helen.
“It’s a door,” Nikola murmured. He was standing the furthest back, in ankle deep water. “There are numbers, all along the edge.” He pointed to them. “A combination lock by the looks of it.” A very pretty one.
“There must be something important behind it to go to such trouble -”
Nikola hissed at John to get him to shush. “I’m reading…”
Helen couldn’t help laughing softly at Nikola as he started muttering under his breath, eyes tracking over the tiny lines of text riddled amongst the frightening images of vampires and humans.
“Nikola…” Helen whispered, walking up to him and tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention. He frowned and tried to shoo her away. He was busy trying to translate. “Nikola…” she insisted, tapping his shoulder insistently.
“Helen please… I’m trying to – that really is annoying,” he protested as she switched to tugging on his sleeve. “Seriously wha-oh…”
Nikola had been so focused on the text that he’d utterly failed to see the bigger picture. Strewn across the otherwise beautiful mosaic was a bloody scene warning all thinking of opening the door. Open this tomb and you’ll end up like the butchered bodies – open this tomb and you’ll release its scourge upon the earth.
“A touch melodramatic, don’t you think?” Nikola breathed softly.
Helen couldn’t help her lips curling in a smile. “A distinctly vampire trait, then…”
Nikola frowned as Helen returned to John’s side at the wall. “What are you doing?”
They looked back over their shoulders as they leaned against the wall – hands outstretched. Helen’s eyes were bright with mischief. “Opening it, of course…”
Honestly – people thought Nikola was bad?
STORM IN THE DESERT
The wall started to grind against the stone floor.
“That’s it…” Helen whispered encouragement to her boys as they grunted and growled, steadily moving the enormous door with an ear-splitting screech.
As usual, the token vampire was right – brute force hadn’t been enough. The entire wall was an intricate combination lock that stumped the other two Oxford majors for the better part of an hour. Nikola had waited patiently, inspecting his claws while they tried every primitive thing they could think of.
“Nikola…” Helen had finally drawled, calling him forward. With only the very slight advantage of a private collection of ancient texts stolen from the British Museum’s vault, Nikola picked out the numerical sequences hidden in the mural, slid his long, tapered claws into several sets of holes burrowed through the rock and listened to the satisfying ‘click’ of the door unlocking.
Physically opening it regrettably required something a little less demure.
“Come on, push harder…” Helen insisted.
“By all means, chip in at any time,” Nikola replied airily. There was actually a layer of sweat on his brow – how distasteful. Gods and the dust… don’t get him started on the dust.
Helen tried not to think about the elusive, full-blood vampire lurking about. It had warned them not to return and here they were, raiding his cave like common tomb raiders having some kind of party in his vaults.
Well, in fairness, at the present they were common tomb raiders.
“Honestly, if you’re just going to stand there and watch, could you at least be more encouraging?” Nikola gasped, trying but failing to get a better grip on the granite. This was going to ruin his claws.
Twenty minutes later, the door was open.
The rock gaped in its wake revealing a void that was presumably a room. Helen stepped forward, shining her torch into the black. Its light tracked up the floor until it scattered over a stone sarcophagus.
“No one touch anything…” she whispered, stepping carefully over the threshold and into the room.
“Steady on, Indy…” Nikola followed, closely trailed by John and his ridiculously long trench coat. “Step on something here and a wall of spikes tries to impale us.”
“It’s not funny, Nikola…” Helen cautioned.
Nikola thought it was, judging from his large, fang-filled grin. Ah memories.
“What the devil have we got here…” John asked, approaching more cautiously than the others. Caving had always been their thing, not his.
“The devil indeed, according to the entrance foyer – a creature of unimaginable danger, locked away from the world and – oh…” Nikola reached the sarcophagus and frankly after all the paraphernalia at the front, it was rather unimpressive. “I was hoping for more.”
“Don’t sulk, Nikola…” Helen warned him, throwing a spare flashlight at Nikola while she stepped forward with a lighter, catching several of the ancient torches with its flame. Their oily mixture exploded into flame rendering the room instantly bathed in light, enough for them to see that it was big and empty with nothing but the rectangular stone slab at its centre. “Bloody hell.”
Nikola slipped the useless flashlight into his pocket. Sometimes he thought Helen used him as a glorified backpack.
“There’s no way that’s good…” Nikola said, bending down to get a better look at where the stone sarcophagus had been ripped open. He ran his claws along the crack. It was deep and weathered. “From the inside too…”
Helen picked up a fragment of the broken tomb. “Like alien – but with stone, in an Egyptian tomb – in South America and – “
“Totally not like alien…” Nikola shook his head playfully at her, flirting as always. “You don’t suppose this pissed off creature escaped and wreaked havoc on the Sanctuary? It would explain why we’ve found it in tatters.”
“A single creature destroyed them?” Helen replied, her hand resting on the capstone. She’d certainly come close enough to that inside her own sanctuary. “The walls don’t elaborate on its abnormality. We have no way of knowing what it was capable of – or what became of it.”
John looked to Nikola. “Except?” he prompted. John had been wandering around the remainder of the room but had found nothing but a few spare torches.
Nikola twirled around to face him, arms folded across his chest. “Well, think about it. We’ve got one person here who was around in that time. Someone who remembers it. The vampire…”
“I really don’t think it’s a good idea to hunt him down, Nikola.”
“Just how many vampires are there?” John sighed. Was the world bloody crawling with them now? One vampire was quite enough for him.
“We need to get back to finding Ashley,” Helen whispered. “This place has a dark history that is better kept hidden from the world before it seeps into it…”
Nikola smirked, pacing menacingly around the ruined coffin, leaning on it casually. “Helen… you know as well as I do that a full-blood vampire is too dangerous to leave roaming free. You could offer him Sanctuary.” How many times had she used that line on him?
Helen’s hands settled on her hips, her eyes narrowing at Nikola. “And when did you develop a responsible attitude? Nikola… I’m not kidnapping a vampire for you to study.”
“You kidnapped me….”
“We discussed this – no vampire species resurrections. The vampires had their time and unless you find a mate-”
John coughed sharply, somewhere between a laugh and disgust.
Nikola had the good grace to look flustered. “Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of saving that pet protege of yours. The one you’re so fond of. If anything holds the key to his survival and unfortunate return to his old, whining self – it’ll be our toothy friend. I’d bet all your best wine, that’s why Ashley’s here.”
John had stolen one of the flaming torches, stalking around the room with it. “A sample of its blood -”
Nikola’s hand waved John to a hush. “It may have nothing to do with his blood. Helen – we need the whole creature if you want to play this game – and somewhere under all that morality, you know I’m right.”
Helen stared back into Nikola’s sharp, blue eyes. Damn, she hated it when he was right. “I should have shot you when I had the chance…” she sighed, shaking her head.
The vampire winked at her. “You missed.”
“Tragically,” John sighed.
The doors slammed coldly as they stepped out of the Jeep.
“Jesus…” Joe whispered, at the devastation approaching.
Rising behind the ruined airport was a storm. Murky clouds had risen up from deep in the desert to stretch out along the horizon. Stained red, they swirled into a great wave of sand casting a long shadow over the desert that was, even now, creeping over the outskirts of the airport. Joe could hear a whisper of its approaching roar, the vibration making the broken windows in the nearby building rattle and fall onto the ground.
There were people inside the building nailing boards across windows and bolting the doors closed. The hanger was full of planes and cars squeezed in together. Its heavy iron doors were fastened with chains and then abandoned. All that was left in the open was a small aircraft perched on the tarmac like a dragonfly on a lily-pad. The pilot was arguing at the entrance of the airport, glancing nervously at the storm every time he paused for breath. It was obvious they weren’t going to let him park his plane – he’d have to take his chances outrunning the storm.
Joe only spoke fragments of the native language but he approached them anyway, pointing to the plane and flashing what little cash he had left in his wallet. The man didn’t seem interested, brushing him off to resume abusing the airport staff until Joe said two words, ‘Helen Magus’. The man paused, turning slowly. There were a few moments of silence between them in which nothing could be heard but the growing rumble of the sand storm. Finally, the man waved Joe and his father towards the plane, refusing the money.
“Came from nowhere…” the pilot grunted, his English broken as they strapped themselves in. Parts of the plane were held together with thick wads of duct tape. Generally, it looked like it had been compiled from war scraps picked out of the desert. “Never seen them at this time of year,” he continued, not bothering with – well, most of the preflight checks that ordinary aircraft went through. There wasn’t much point when the answers would be, ‘broken’ ‘not functioning’ ’empty’. “Fierce bastards, tear this thing apart.”
Joe gripped both his father and the seat. They had to get out of this place. A pure blood, ancient Vampire had been free for two hours and already there seemed to be a terrible power unleashed over the land.
In ancient times, the world sighed for them not because of their fangs but because they could call the desert to their will and tumble cities into dust.
On the other side of the world, the phone rang.
Bigfoot grunted and sidled off the infirmary table leaving a mess of blood and bandages behind him. He balanced the phone in his paw, answering the phone with that same polite, indifference he always did. He was met with static.
“Say again…?” he growled.
It was Detective Kavanaugh – little bastard. By the time Bigfoot put the phone down, he was shaking his head. There was a sand-Will on the loose, missing boss with two of the most untrustworthy men on the planet and now, an escaped pure blood vampire.
Begrudgingly, he made a few phone calls to the Sanctuaries based in Africa to stay on the lookout for suspicious behaviour. He didn’t mention vampires… Best they keep that to himself for now. In all Magnus’s years building Sanctuaries around the world there was one piece of information she’d left entirely out of the records – vampires.
Will curled up under the streets of Old City. The train tunnels were cool and dark, perfect for his freshly created body. Despite the aching hunger, he needed to rest, making himself a nest at the side of the track where part of the tunnel wall curved generously. Like a cat, he hid amongst the stones with his dark red skin rippling into grey to match as he closed his eyes.
He still had memories of who he was but that was all that they were – a distant awareness that he had once been something else. He could remember people but they were just names now. Helen Magnus, Henry Foss, Ashley – the Sanctuary itself, none of it meant anything to him. This wasn’t William Zimmerman, no, this was a creature of the sand, like all the others. When he finally woke up – he would feed.
By the time Joe reached the Sanctuary in Old City, his father had grown too weak to walk. A small medical team flitted around them, ushering them through the foyer.
“He needs to reeest…” Bigfoot drawled, laying the fragile man onto a bed before wheeling him down the hallways. Joe followed, filthy and dishevel from the rigmarole of getting here. “Few weeks of food and sleeeeep should be enough.”
Bigfoot spent the remainder of the afternoon in the lab, drawing samples of blood from Kavanaugh senior and analysing them.
“…it’s a virus,” he grunted, holding up the delicate glass slide to the light. The only other creature in the underground lab that was still awake at this hour was the Sanctuary’s mermaid. She shimmered in the water, her scaled tail never settling on a colour. Gently, she placed the palm of her hand against the glass, tilting her head curiously. Mermaids did not exactly speak but they did have a way of making you aware of their thoughts and without knowing how they did it, you answered their questions.
“Hiiiis blood is littered with the carcasses of the things,” Bigfoot continued, turning slightly to the tank. “Whateeever that vampire did, it killed the virus.”
He put the slide down and sighed, staring into the empty lab. On the table in front of him were photographs of Joe’s father, most pointedly of his neck which bared a row of puncture marks – a vampire bite. He nudged one of them with his fur-covered finger.
Henry put the radio down in disgust. No answer from anyone. The cave had rejected him and he couldn’t say that he was surprised – there appeared to be some truth to those ancient stories of vampires and werewolves not mixing and frankly he was mildly insulted. It was a Sanctuary for all – except him. Typical. Oh, finally, the boat driver was awake…
Henry reached for the map, spreading it out on the crate serving as a table to show the tour guide where he needed to go when the man suddenly lurched forward, rocking the boat sharply.
“What in the-” but Henry didn’t get to finish as he ducked out of the way of large piece of wood. It hit the map, tearing it and smashing through a small lantern hanging on the boat. The guide straightened up, quickly moving in again.
“You’ll make a nice addition to the collection, Wolf…” His words were thickly accented but unmistakable. The man’s eyes were white in the moonlight. He worked for a shamble of an abnormal black market – trading what he could for cash. Usually, he only happened across strays or if he was lucky, his forest traps picked up humanoid abnormals living on the fringe. Tonight, he had himself a werewolf. Pay day.
“Not good…” Henry stammered, cornered. There was nowhere to go in the tiny boat except into the black water. Close by, a bird screamed into the night and splashed against the thick reeds along the river bank. Henry didn’t fancy a swim in that water…
The guide brought the blunt handle of a machete down on the back of Henry’s head, sending him to his knees. Henry was dizzy, sharp pain rushing down his spine as he turned to see the driver of the boat grinning in the night air. His teeth were eerily white.
He had no choice but to let the wolf take over, growing to his full height – his clothes tearing away as fur sprouted over his skin and long, sharp canine teeth glinting in the moonlight. Henry growled, swiping at the man who ducked, missing Henry’s paw which went on to shatter the glass windscreen.
Several of the children that Henry had seen playing in the daylight – running beside them had assembled on the bank. They crept up amongst the reeds, watching with hungry eyes the strange beast and man fighting. They knew that their forests were full of devilish creatures – it had always been so. The land of monsters some called it, a place for things of the night to hide.
The boat lurched under the weight of the werewolf causing both of them to stumble and the last lantern to fall onto the deck, shattering and catching alight. The fire ripped along the spilled oil heading dangerously close to the fuel tanks.
“Holy shit…” Henry growled – the other man pausing from his attacks to stare in horror. Both of them turned at once, leaping into the water as the boat exploded in a ball of fire that lit up the night.
Ashley stepped back from the wall. Something was wrong. She could feel a tingle in the air, like static electricity running over her skin.
She lifted her weapon, stepping back and pointing it squarely at the wall in front of her. A cold whisper of laughter filled the air as the rock wall flickered into nothing, revealing the ancient vampire.
It was only now that Ashley realised how ridiculous her gun looked. She could empty it into this creature and it would merely straighten its robes and grin back – so she lowered it.
“I’m not here to kill you,” she said quickly, with that same measured tone as her grandfather. “I’ve come for your help.”
“What is it these days with humans wanting my help….?” the vampire drawled back, his tone somewhere between menace and curiosity. “I could have used your help fifty years ago.”
DEEPER INTO THE CAVES
Ashley lowered her weapon, deliberately letting the vampire see the safety click on. She holstered it at her waist, out of sight.
“What happened fifty years ago?” she asked carefully.
The vampire retreated, sinking into the cavern and its comforting dark. He was old. Every feature on his pale face had shrivelled to the bone, reflecting the cave-light along sharp, jutting angles. His black eyes were vulnerable. Their glossy domes sat high, accommodating a multi-layered lens which refracted the light differently to humans. The adaptation caused a red glow to leak from them giving him an unfairly sinister disposition. It was easy to see how an ancient culture may have confused them with devils.
A small flicker of electricity licked the cave wall around them with a short snap.
“I – I do not remember exactly,” the vampire whispered, his voice cracked. “The city fell. I read of it, scratched into the walls with my very own claws. The memories of that time are gone. I cannot explain it. I must have seen…” He turned away – flashes of something storming through his mind but he couldn’t focus on them.
Ashley shifted uneasily. “Are you the soul survivor?”
“If I wasn’t then, I am now.” The vampire dragged his broken claws down the cave wall eliciting a shower of sparks. “The Sanctuary is dead. This dream…” Such a young creature could not understand what he had lost.
“I’ve seen the city,” Ashley added softly. “They killed each other. You didn’t kill them, if that’s what you – ”
The vampire wasn’t listening. He stepped forward and lifted his withered hand up to her face. Ashley held her ground as he mimicked the contours of her skin with a sweep of claws.
“You are a child of the blood – I can smell it in you.” His head tilted to the side as if she were a curious piece of prey. It was his blood flowing through their veins – a very strange sensation. “The same blood as the woman and that mongrel vampire. What brings you to such depths as to seek my help?”
“My friend is sick,” she whispered, her features softening. “He was mauled by something we call a ‘sand creature’ – a person, bitten by a vampire and turned into a mad half-creature. I need your blood to save him.”
The ancient vampire threw his head back in chilling laughter, withdrawing from her as the sound screeched off the cave walls. This human child had wasted her time. There was no cure for the plague.
“Go home – forget your friend. He is a slave to the flesh.”
Detective Joe Kavanaugh set the glass slide down beside the microscope. The virus was inactive – as dead as something that was never technically alive could get. He levelled his gaze at it.
“So there is a cure.” Joe turned to the sasquatch. The creature was lingering amongst the delicate glassware on the opposing bench, furry paws prodding the odd slide. “There’s hope for Dr Zimmerman, if we can find him.”
“And if we can fiiiind another vampire,” Bigfoot drawled. “This did not come from hiiis blood – it’s from his bite. There’s some kind of venom in this sample. I managed to isolate a small sample but hardly enough for Will.”
“…the others are trying to collect blood samples. That won’t be enough…” Joe paced around the room, passing in front of the mermaid’s tank. She watched curiously, remaining little more than a silver shadow in the water. “We have to tell them.”
“Beeeen tryin’ to reach them for days,” Bigfoot muttered, shaking his head. “They don’ answer their phones.”
“How long have they been gone?” Joe moved to the printer, catching another analysis as it printed. Biology wasn’t exactly his thing but he’d spent enough time lurking around the lab at the department to pick up the basics.
“They’ve been out of contact nearly three days,” Bigfoot replied. “Magnus must have found somethin’ out there in the jungle.”
“I have to go and find her.”
“You’re stayn’ here,” Bigfoot growled firmly. “We’ve got to catch Helen’s protege.”
Henry dug his claws into the mud and dragged himself onto the bank. Burning fragments from the ruined boat rained around him, splashing into the water or striking the bank, erupting in tiny grass fires. The smuggler’s corpse floated down stream until something pulled it beneath the water. Henry shivered, dragging himself further into the long grass.
He lay there, staring up at the night sky. The reeds whispered against his fury body, bending and sighing in the wind. The explosions from the boat were dying as it too sank into the dark river. When it was gone, only the grass fires lit the world.
Henry thought about changing into human form – of seeking out the few children hiding not far from him and asking for directions – but there was something about this world that frightened him.
The werewolf rolled over and crouched on all fours, tilting his nose to the air. A village – to his left – boats, cars and houses. Henry could smell them through the smoke.
“We’re not equipped to take down a vampire…” Helen shook her head, hunting through her pack. There was precious little in it that could neutralise a creature that powerful.
“Good to know,” Nikola flexed his claws.
“Nikola, you’re only part vampire. I can bat my eyelashes and take you down.”
That caused the Serbian scientist to stumble mid-strut as he sauntered into the alcove. He was always so dramatic. “Neither of you have considered the obvious.” Nikola received blank stares from both John and Helen. “We talk to him. It. At the end of the day, vampires are rational creatures. Pissed… but still highly intelligent.”
“What scheme are you concocting, Nikola?” Helen straightened up, hands on her hips. “Weren’t you the one rabbiting on about how dangerous ancient vampires are? You’re up to something, I can feel it. You’re always up to something.”
“Not everything your protege says is true,” Nikola insisted.
“He’s a profiler…”
Nikola grinned, his fangs visible against his lips. “Perhaps I just wanted to spend more time in your company, Dr Magnus.”
“Nikola…” she stalked towards him with a scowl on her lips. It was getting airless down here if only because the vampire used it all up on his bite-less flattery. “If I find out that you’ve manipulated us into coming here for one of your pet projects – endangered my daughter – I’m going to clear out your old cell in my basement.”
His grin only got wider. “Me – you – chains… Why Helen, you should have said. Ow.” He rubbed his cheek where she’d slapped him again.
Nikola’s gaze settled on John, lurking against the cave wall. The man was the very embodiment of nightmare and at the present, amused by Tesla’s rejection.
Tesla ran his fingers through his spiky hair which was tainted by dust. “I can feel the vampire, he’s not far from here.” His cheek was still red when he turned back to the tunnel. “There are electrical fluctuations in the air and they’re getting stronger this way. He can smell us from miles away and evade us easily if he wishes. About our only advantage is – “
“A serial killer that can teleport?” Helen interjected helpfully.
“I was going to say – a genius.” Nikola pointed at himself. “Come on, Helen…” he added in a whisper, eyeing her hungrily. “We both know who he’s most interested in. How could he resist?”
Helen frowned and then shook her head at Nikola, her stomach flipping unsteadily. “Nikola – no.”
He moved towards her until his face was within inches of hers. Nikola tilted his head, lips moving to her ear to whisper. “For over a hundred years we were a world apart and yet I could still hear your heart beat – my immortal…”
Helen’s eyes closed at his whispered words. They felt as if they had fallen from another time. For so many years they’d said nothing, hidden under professional endeavours of cheap insults. Nikola was right. Helen could feel the other vampire like a cold breath of air on the world. He wasn’t like Nikola…
“What if he kills me?” she murmured, her eyes opening in time to catch Nikola’s gaze. He was far too close to her, those playful eyes of his dangerous.
“I won’t let him.” Opportunistic bastard that he was, Nikola stole a kiss from her neck and headed off down the corridor. “Come along…” he insisted, and continued rattling off geological facts about the cave system.
John watched on, his eyes darker than before – his smile gone.
The flames licked at the sky, ripping from tree to tree as a bundle of fur tore into the village. Its inhabitants were assembled outside, forming a network of water buckets and barn shovels, awaiting the wall of fire.
Henry took the door of the post office with one heavy impact. He tumbled inside, thrashing around on the ground as his fur and claws disappeared back into this skin leaving him naked on the ground.
“Urgh… Ow,” Henry rolled onto his side and then used the counter to haul himself back to his feet. People screamed outside as Henry foraged through the desk drawers until he found a satellite phone.
“Biggie!” he sank down into the chair with relief when he heard the familiar grunt on the line. “I’m in the middle of nowhere – I need you to track the – what?” Henry leaned forward sharply. “Are you kidding me?”
“Bring the vampiiiiire back,” Bigfoot repeated. “We’ll find Will.”
When the line went dead, Henry hugged the phone to his naked chest. It was his only possession in the world.
“Bloody hell. I better find some clothes.”
Helen couldn’t take her eyes off the vampire.
Their party of three were heading deeper into the Sanctuary, following a series of neglected tunnels that wound their way down, following ancient streams. Nikola had spent the last hour rabbiting on about the geology of this underground world, taking particular interest in the limestone caves which they passed through every so often. It was a strange mix of nature and carefully cultivated beauty, bleeding together – both equally ravaged by time.
“Enough about the rocks,” John hissed, boots splashing through the water at their ankles. There was something about this place that made him uncomfortable – as though it weren’t quite dead yet. “Are we any closer?”
Helen rested her hand against her chest; her heart was beating too fast. It had been so long since she’d felt the darkness resting at the edge of her vision or felt that whispering desire. Succumb… It begged. Kill the vampire. Restore the balance.
She was startled to find Nikola frowning at her, his hand holding her at arm’s length and her knife at his delicate throat.
“Wrong vampire…” he murmured, gently helping her lower the knife.
Helen nodded, slurring an apology.
John didn’t understand what was going on between the two of them. There had always been something different about Helen. The Source blood had changed them all but he’d never been able to discover how. She was ageless, at least on the surface but beyond that, she was a mystery. It killed him to see that Tesla knew her secret.
“What are you not telling me?” John asked, stopping abruptly. The water rushed by his feet leaving tiny flecks of gold on his pants. “It’s been over a hundred years, I think it’s time I knew.”
Helen and Nikola exchanged looks, neither saying anything.
“For heaven’s sake, Helen. You honestly trust Tesla to keep your secrets? He’s a vampire with an ego the size of Mars who’d sell you out for five minutes of fame.”
Nikola remained silent.
“He left you,” John continued, “sixty years of silence after you saved his miserable life. God knows I’m not perfect Helen, but he uses you for his own cause. You’re a convenience. A rescue service with a pretty face, bottomless bank account and cellar full of wine.”
There was a long pause, Helen’s gaze locked firmly on John.
“Yes, I trust him,” is all Helen would say.
John shifted uncomfortably. “The least you could do is tell me the plan. How do you envisage us walking out of here alive? And what about Ashley – or have you forgotten about our daughter?”
Helen reeled around, eyes as dark as John’s.
“Either you stay and help or leave, John. My secrets are my own, a hundred years won’t change that just as the years can’t wash the blood from your hands.”
“I’m not the only one with blood on my hands…” John loomed over Helen. He was easily half a foot taller than her and strong enough to knock her to the ground with one blow if he chose.
“I didn’t kill innocent women-”
“No – just people that disagreed with you.” John snapped back before Helen could finish.
Nikola was ignoring their bickering. Something wasn’t right… He could hear whispers on the air that weren’t real, unkind voices murmuring imagined insults, egging them on. They were being played with.
“Quiet!” Nikola hissed at the pair, shoving them roughly apart. “Listen… We’re not alone down here.”
A WORLD OF WHISPERS
The only thing holding Helen and John apart was Nikola’s firm grip. His black eyes scanned the darkness over their shoulders. He was looking for a creature. Any creature. Dry wind echoed through the caves around him, kicking up his cloak. The Sanctuary felt empty. Hollow. He startled when material ripped against his claws.
“Tesla, get your claws off my coat,” John growled, attempting to free himself of the vampire. Tesla held firm – stronger than his slender frame suggested.
“Only when the pair of you calm the fuck down…” he hissed. Those two could tear the world apart over the origins of English tea. Personally, Nikola would prefer to argue the merits of coffee though neither conversation warranted the end of life as they know it.
“I AM CALM!” Helen screeched – then took a deep breath and had another go at sounding calm. She looked the vampire square in the eyes and whispered, “I’m calm…”
“The hell you are,” Nikola tugged her closer until their noses brushed. Helen instinctively turned her head to the side. “We’re standing in the ruins of a city that tore itself apart. I think I’m starting to understand why. Now, if I let you go, do you promise not to kill your ex?”
She pulled a few inches from him. “Nikola…” Helen cautioned, eyes fierce. Her dark hair framed her face in messy tangles. He remembered when they had been lovely shade of blonde.
He sighed and set them free. John put his fingers through the claw-holes in his coat, scowling.
“I think I know what destroyed this Sanctuary,” Nikola returned his eyes to the ruins of the Sanctuary. He shifted nervously, fighting the desire to un-sheath his claws. There wasn’t enough light down here – quite an admission for a vampire. “A creature of terrible persuasion.”
“From the crypt?” John offered, then added darkly, “The crypt we just opened.”
“For once tag along over here is right. According to your field reports, Helen, you’ve encountered abnormals that can make powerful suggestions to the mind before – why not a creature that does it softly? The vampires are history’s collectors, they might have – ”
“You’ve been reading my field reports?” Helen interrupted with a scorn. Her gaze paused at the faint outlines of ruined columns and piles of rubble. “A Magoi – of sorts. Or something worse. Do you think it will attack us?”
“It doesn’t need to. It felled a civilisation with a whisper. I’m sure it’s perfectly capable of dispatching us.”
“If we’re dealing with a Magoi we could very well be standing in an empty room right now.” Helen reached out to touch one of the ruined columns. It felt real enough beneath her fingertips. “We stay together at all times. It’s in their nature to part us.”
At Nikola’s insistence, they also kept a silence as they trudged through the freezing water.
In Helen’s opinion, it was an ill-advised plan. The absence of conversation let her mind wander into dark corners she’d rather leave untouched. Paranoia creeping from the edges of her mind laced with vivid, horrible memories dredged from her soul. Another hour of this would be too long, let alone a day.
“Stop – stop…” Nikola hissed. He held out his clawed hand expectantly. “Give me your weapons – come on, all of them.”
“I’m serious, Helen. Immortal or not, I am in no mind to end up embedded on the wrong end of your hunting knife – JESUS!” Nikola’s eyes went wide.
There it was, hovering behind Helen’s shoulder, using its sharp claws to hang from the roof. It’s skeletal hand was poised near her throat, ready to wrap its fingers and claws around her skin.
Nikola pushed Helen sharply. She crashed into the shallow water leaving Nikola to face the creature. Terrible grey skin hung off it’s jagged bones; the flesh barely alive. It opened its mouth displaying row upon row of fangs as it levelled a sharp hiss at him. Nikola lunged, claws drawn and fangs gleaming.
It evaded him.
Nikola cracked his elbow on the sharp rocks beneath the surface of the water, landing beside Helen.
“What’s gotten into you, Nikola?” Helen growled, perplexed. Blood dripped down Helen’s forehead. The nasty cut had already started to heal.
Nikola’s thrashed around in the water, looking wildly for the creature. “You’re seriously telling me that neither of you saw that?”
John was equally unmoved. “I think it might be you going mad, old boy. Not us.”
The vampire scrambled to his feet, flinging himself at the darkness. He scanned his torch over every crevice of the roof corner behind the crumbled columns. “We’ve got to get out of these tunnels and back into the rooms,” he insisted. “It’s hunting us down here.”
“What is hunting us?” Helen shook the water off her gun and re-holstered it. “Nikola, we didn’t see anything.” The hell she was surrendering her weapon.
“Claws – withered looking body – bit like a bat with a bad attitude?”
“We’re here to find the vampire,” John rescued Helen’s torch from the water. “Can we stick to one devil at a time please?”
Trying to capture an ancient, hungry vampire was the least of Nikola’s worries. He couldn’t get those cold eyes out of his mind. Whatever it was, it had been down here in the dark for a long time and now it was waiting for them.
“It’s in your mind, Nikola,” Helen tried to brush some of his wet hair out of his eyes. “It’s playing tricks on you – making you see things that aren’t here. You have to concentrate on what’s real.”
“My mind is perfect,” he growled, storming away from her.
The tunnel turned and headed back onto dry land. There was more light here and the narrow walls of the man-built passageway gradually turned into a corridor.
The voice unfurled in his mind, calling him. His mother’s voice. Nikola looked up to the stone ceiling but of course, she was not there. Those grey eyes had left him long ago.
“Watch it, Tesla!”
Nikola bounced theatrically off the mass murderer’s back. The vampire stepped aside, straightening his damp cloak without an apology.
“We’re here. According to the blue-prints in your notes, this should be the entrance to the living quarters – hopefully where we’ll find our vampire.”
“The entrance to the – I never had any blue-prints in my notes!” Nikola frowned. Helen was unfolding a water-logged map, holding it against the wall. John leaned over her shoulder, nodding. “Give me that!” Nikola snatched it away and held it up to the light.
“Nikola!” Helen hunted after him, retrieving it. “Please, you’re starting to worry me.”
“That’s not my map, Helen,” he insisted.
“Henry printed it before we left, said he found it buried in your secret archives.” She shook her head at the vampire, then flashed her torch into his eyes. He ducked away, glaring. “Your eyes are dilated.”
“It’s dark.” And now he couldn’t see.
“You’re the one playing with an imaginary map.” Nikola stalked toward the door and pushed. It opened.
“What’s in there?” John asked.
“Living quarters…” the vampire muttered.
Ashley ducked, sliding down the wall as the vampire’s claws scraped through the rock above her. Granite dust stung her eyes. Tears ran down her cheeks as she kicked forward, striking the vampire’s shins. He tumbled backwards in shock, rolling away in a shadow of cloth. Ashley rolled as well, finding her feet and taking off through the corridors.
A sharp crack of electricity chased her. Blue light flared for a moment, then died. Again. Again. It drew closer as she tripped down a rotten set of stairs and hit the stone floor. Her knee cracked but did not break.
“Up!” she hissed at herself, dragging her body away in time to evade a fan of claws.
The vampire had turned, taking her by surprise. One minute they were discussing her grandfather and then next his eyes were red, his fangs salivating at the sight of her. He’d lunged at her neck but she was too fast.
Her torch slid free of her grip. She had to leave it, flying further down the ancient corridors. Soon the darkness was absolute save for the occasional flare of electricity. She reached out, letting her fingertips brush against both sides of the corridor as she ran.
It was behind her, dragging its claws along the stone.
Never trust a vampire. Never trust a bloody vampire. Isn’t that what her father had said? She remembered her mother in Rome. Tesla was meant to be one of her oldest friends and yet, for a moment he’d turned on her too.
She lunged forward when its claws caught her jacket. The test-tubes inside her pocket rattled dangerously against each other as the material ripped straight through and she was free again.
God god, there it was.
Henry tilted his head to take in the wall of black rock, arching up over the forest like a ghastly wave. The mist swirled around his waist, hiding the ground entirely. The first rays of sunlight struck his skin. It was the beginning of an angry dawn. New light was stretched by banks of smoke turning it crimson and gold. It was obscured by a stain of smoke from the village.
“Let’s try this again,” Henry whispered, morphing into his wolf form. He vanished into the mist, padding silently over the ground and into the mouth of the Sanctuary.
Henry felt his claws slide as rock replaced dirt. They tapped against it, sliding uneasily. He didn’t like this place. It stank of death and dust. A few tunnels in he turned a corner and backed away. There was a pit of bodies, swept into the natural depression and left to rot into bones.
He growled, scaring a few rats.
Henry looked up, searching the darkness He could have sworn that he’d heard Helen call his name.
“Henry – over here…”
No, he’d definitely heard Helen. Her voice was coming from somewhere deeper in the tunnels.
“Someone’s coming – in quite a hurry.” Nikola looked toward the door. “It’s Ashley.”
Helen turned. “Ashley…”
“Mum!” The blond girl fell into the room. She was drenched, covered in dirt and cuts with her hair tied back in a matted pony tail. She pushed herself off the ground, stumbled towards her mother and threw herself into her arms.
Helen drew her arms tight around her daughter, burying her head against her shoulder. “My little girl,” she whispered.
John ducked his head out the door and eyed the tunnel suspiciously. He found it empty but closed the door anyway.
“I’m sorry…” Ashley whispered.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” Helen murmured, kissing the top of her head.
Over her mother’s shoulder, Ashley’s eyes met her father’s. He shook his head. Neither of them would ever tell Helen what really happened all those years ago.
“There’s no cure,” Ashley pulled back gently from her mother, wiping her face with what remained of her sleeve. “I found the vampire – begged him to help me – but he just laughed…”
“Is that who’s chasing you?” John asked. Ashley nodded. “We can’t stay here – we’re cornered. This whole Sanctuary is a giant maze.”
“Perhaps the vampires never solved the blood disease,” Nikola added cautiously. “It was the Praxians that unleashed it on them and this is an ancient vampire, from before the complete fall of the empire. He probably knows little, if anything of the modern world.”
“He’s crazy, mum,” Ashley whispered. “One minute we were talking and the next – he just turned on me like I was some kind of snack.”
“That’s enough, Nikola,” Helen said quietly.
“We should leave while we can,” John motioned to the door but Nikola stepped in front of him.
“We can’t leave without the vampire. Remember why we’re here, Helen. Your protege will live out his life as a cursed sand creature if you walk away now. This vampire is old, all of us could take him if you’ve still got those silver-tipped tranquillisers you’re so fond of.”
“Are you hurt?” Helen asked. Ashley shook her head. She handed her daughter another clip for her gun.
“I’m all right,” Ashley nodded.
Nikola inspected his claws. “Are we ready? Remember – we need this one alive,” he levelled his gaze at John, who lifted his hands innocently.
“Alive – as you command…” John mocked.
There was a sharp crack of lightening and then something that sounded like thunder rumbling down the corridor outside.
“Here he comes…” Nikola whispered.
Ashley shifted, checking her gun. Helen withdrew a slender gun from her holster and started sliding silver-tipped bullets into the shaft. Nikola tilted his head, watching her closely. It always worried him that she kept that particular weapon close – as if she didn’t entirely trust him.
John lingered at the door – a butcher knife clutched in his fist.
“Ready,” Helen nodded, clicking the last silver-tipped bullet into place.
Electric light flashed outside the door, branching wildly along the corridor in front of the vampire. He was starving and old. He could smell the blood, fresh and warm and he craved it. Gods to taste again – to feel again. His oath seemed meagre in the face of hunger.
The ancient vampire didn’t see Nikola pressed against the wall beside him. The young vampire hit him hard across the back of the neck, sending him stumbling to the floor with an angry growl, fangs glistening and wet.
“Foolish child!” the ancient one screeched, dripping silken venom into the dirt. He turned on Nikola, long claws going straight through Nikola’s chest, dragging the young vampire up the wall with a trail of blood. “Stay out of my way.” He tossed Nikola aside into the shadows.
Nikola hit the floor to the sound of his left leg snapping. The bone shot through the skin. “Son of a…” he growled, looking down in horror.
John was next, ducking under the vampire’s sweeping claws and delivering a powerful hit to his chest. Then again, slamming his knee up into the vampire and taking him down to the ground with a quick succession of powerful hits. Ashley swung down from the ceiling, firing off two carefully aimed rounds into the vampire’s shoulders.
The bullets hissed into the vampire’s flesh, silver leaching into his blood. He reached up, cold blood running down his wrists. It was almost black.
“Forgive – me?” the vampire whispered, feeling an ice take hold of his blood. Dark eyes closed, his withered body giving way to a deep, dreamless sleep.
Helen, John and Ashley stood over the bloodied vampire.
“Piece of cake,” Ashley grinned, slipping her gun back into it’s holster.
“We need to get him on a plane, fast. Let’s pack up and get out of here,” Helen whispered, kneeling down to restrain the vampire with ties. She looked up at a soft growl from the corner of the room. “You all right over there?”
Nikola scowled. “Oh yes, just peachy,” he hissed, pushing the bone back into his leg with a cry of pain. He held it there as his skin healed over. That hurt. “What about your puppy dog?”
“Henry’s here?” Ashley asked, smiling a little.
“He’s already en-route back to Old City,” Helen replied. “He checked in with Biggie a few hours ago. We’ll meet him back at base.”
Nikola limped over to the others looking paler than usual. Ashley offered him a sympathetic look. “Nasty – dude,” she nodded at his leg.
‘The plane’ turned out to be a helicopter picking its way through the mountains. The heat had burned off all the mist leaving a clear divide between the dark green expanse of jungle and pale blue sky. Nikola carefully eyed the rises and fall of the mountains as though looking for patterns in the chaos.
“Penny for your thoughts…?” Helen asked, sitting opposite him. John and Ashley were chatting and the vampire was tied up in the cargo.
Nikola didn’t turn towards her, preferring his current view of the ancient world.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” Nikola replied quietly.
Helen frowned, tilting her head. “What?”
“Why did he stay there, starving in the darkness for thousands of years… Something was keeping the vampire there, Helen.”
She shrugged. “Perhaps you can ask him later, if it bothers you so.”
Nikola was quiet for a moment, tapping his claws against the glass. “Perhaps I will…”
Henry padded over the stone floor, leaping from side to side to avoid the rubble of ruined columns. There was water seeping from the walls, coating the floor in an ankle deep, freezing river that tumbled down stairs and trailed off into the darkness.
He had decided to remain in wolf form, covering ground quickly as he chased the echoes. Helen was here somewhere, he could hear her voice getting softer.
He barked, leaping up onto a marble block. Stretching out in front at the base of the ruined city was a deep, black lake. It was walled by a smooth, marble capped rim with glowing symbols that lit the room. There were great swirls of golden dust curling over its surface, moved by the deep, freezing currents like ribbons destroyed galaxies. The enormous door loomed behind – its ghastly figures as dead as the city.
Henry crossed the city and strutted along the marble wall, sniffing the air. The world had gone quiet again. His head lifted. Something was in the water on the far side. Henry barked.
“Henry…” the voice whispered.
He broke into a run, skidding over the marble until he found a figure struggling in the water, slipping deeper into darkness. Helen’s long hair was plastered to her skin, her eyes wide and frightened. She was pale like a vampire, her strength failing as she saw the werewolf appear.
“Help,” was all she managed to murmur. Helen didn’t even have the strength to reach out to him.
Henry curled his claws over the marble edge and took hold of Helen’s coat in his jaws. He pulled, tugging her out of the water and onto the dirt. She stroked his soft fur, closing her eyes as the wolf laid over her. All she knew was warmth as the wolf wailed softly.
Helen had been laying in the water for days.
“Doc?” Henry, dressed and sitting beside a warm fire, brushed his hands over Helen’s cheek again. “Come on now, I saw you stir,” he whispered.
Helen groaned, opening her eyes. She tried to shield them from the firelight but the warmth got the better of her.
“Thought I lost you there for a while,” Henry added, helping her to sit up.
She pressed her hand to her forehead in a futile attempt to stop the throbbing pain. “Where are the others?” she whispered, reaching for her gun – but Henry had everything laid out and drying on her coat.
“No idea. They were here, several days ago by the smell of it. I found you alone,” he added quietly.
She accepted the heated water, sipping it carefully.
“Something tried to kill me,” she whispered. “John, Nikola and I – we came under the door,” she pointed to the enormous structure that had once been the city’s defence against the world. “When I was under the water something latched onto my legs. It pulled me deeper, hooking me onto something beneath the water.” Helen looked away with a shiver. “I thought I’d drowned,” she whispered. “The next thing I remember, I was floating on the surface.”
Helen looked morbidly at the water, wondering if the others were still beneath its surface. Henry shook his head.
“They definitely went through the city,” he whispered. “I’ve smelled them up in the tunnels.”
She frowned at once. “Nikola and John continued without me? No…”
“Come on Doc – a vampire and history’s most notorious murderer?”
“You better believe it, Henry,” she replied seriously.
Several hours later, Helen had scavenged a pair of torches from the outer walls of the city. She lit them from Henry’s fire and handed him one.
“This place is huge,” Henry whispered, creeping up the main street with Helen. “And seriously creepy,” he added, passing more bleached skeletons.
“What does this remind you of – Prague?”
“That was a crypt,” Henry shivered.
Helen shrugged, that grin of hers stretched over her lips. “Bones, ruins – torches,” she waved hers about playfully. “Come on, those were the days, Henry.”
“Hey – it was my first tomb. You took Ash and I out for a family outing. I thought we were getting ice-cream but no. Creepy dead things.”
“And a giant lizard,” Helen added proudly.
“Yeah – and that. Nice parenting touch.”
“You called it Frank,” she smiled softly.
“Well… He needed a name.”
“Frank was a girl.”
Henry looked utterly guttered. His childhood robbed. “But…?”
“She had two clutches of eggs while you and Ashley were at university. Oh that is unfortunate…” Helen paused, leaning into one of the ruined buildings. “It’s all right,” she brushed Henry off when he tried to tug her back. “It’s been here for hundreds of years, I’m sure it’ll survive me.”
Helen stepped into the crumbling building, avoiding the pair of skeletons huddled in the corner, their heads scattered on the far side. “Don’t you find it strange, Henry? Every one of these creatures has been killed violently – by each other – and yet the city shows no sign of invasion. If it were Conquistadors, all this would be gone,” she ran her hand along a gold embossed border in the wall. “Oh…”
“Shit…” Henry finished for her. “Those – look familiar.”
They both tilted their heads up at the roof to see three perfect, white cocoons nestled against the stone. Helen bravely prodded one with her torch. The silk threads unfurled in the heat, falling to the ground and with it a pile of bones.
“Dead,” she whispered. “It’s far too warm for Magoii to reproduce down here – but not enough to kill a full grown.”
“I really hate those things,” Henry sighed, kicking some of the silk cocoon.
“Now now Henry, what have I taught you?”
Henry rolled his eyes. “That even the most dangerous Abnormals have a right to exist,” he dutifully repeated the words Helen had drilled into him as a child.
“Even Magoii. We have no idea how long these things can live but preliminary work by the Russian Sanctuary suggests they could have lifespans of hundreds of years, especially if they are left to hibernate.”
“How many do you think are still down here?”
Helen looked carefully at the cocoon shell. “This could have come from a single Magoii. Come on, we better find out what happened to the others.”
Helen and Henry followed their tracks through the ancient sanctuary. After nearly a day of crawling through tunnels and wading in freezing water they realised that this place was completely dead. There was no life left here at all and whatever dream had started inside these walls had died here.
“Shall we check in with the Big Guy? Maybe have him order us a nice private jet?”
Helen shook her head. “I don’t think so, Henry. We’re going the long way home this time.”
Nikola was milking every last ounce of sympathy out of his injury, limping toward Helen’s wine rack. He ran his claws over the dusty bottles, making a soft tapping sound. Truthfully, he’d expected her to stop him by now or at the very least issue him a warning in the form of a bullet to the back. Instead, his old friend was oddly absent, presumably down in her basement playing with the ancient vampire.
He forced himself not to be jealous, drowning those destructive thoughts in another Bordeaux.
Nikola set a clean glass on the window sill, uncorked a fresh bottle with his claw and tilted it over the crystal edge. Sand poured out of the lip, tinkling against the glass.
The bottle smashed against the floor, red wine splashing over Nikola’s shoes. He looked at his glass again.
“I’m losing my mind…”
Nikola knelt down, soaking the spilled wine up with a cloth. He was embarrassed by the mess, carefully attempting to draw the stains out of the rug with varying success. The remaining shards of bottle were collected in his palm until Nikola returned to his feet, relieved to see the damage mostly alleviated.
His nerves remained frayed.
With a great deal more care, he fetched himself another bottle and retreated to the safety of the sofa, lounging in front of Helen’s fire to think. He was dwarfed by the marble mantle, ironwork chandelier and tapestries that carpeted the walls.
Nikola’s mind was his greatest asset and the only thing in which he had absolute faith. If it was unravelling then he was lost. There were many things that Nikola could endure – idiocy was not one of them.
“Reason your way out of it,” he told himself firmly, taking a firm swig of his wine straight from the bottle. “What do you know?”
He smirked, licking his lips.
That this is cheap wine.
“What’s the matter with you?”
Nikola sneered at the interruption strutting into the office. Joe Kavanaugh was not his favourite person in the world although he had to give him credit for single handedly unleashing a vampire plague upon the Earth. Nikola would have gone for something more refined than a den of diseased half-breeds but it was a step in the right direction. Maybe. Only time would tell whether humanity would find shackles again.
“This is Helen’s office,” Nikola replied dryly, as though he were the only other creature allowed to inhabit it.
“Oddly enough, I noticed,” Joe kept an even tone with the moody vampire. “Actually, it’s you I came to see.”
That was even worse. Nikola twisted his lip up in disdain, downing another sip of wine. “How unfortunate.”
Joe’s look was one of infinite patience. “I was hoping to enlist your help in the search for Zimmerman. Ashley and Henry are following a lead in the subway -”
“You mean the hunt?” he corrected. “No, I think not. When and if you manage to find Helen’s protege I will endeavour to return him to his former, pitiful state as per my arrangement with Helen.”
“How very generous of you.”
“Believe me, this is not an exercise in charity.” Nikola had his reasons.
Joe cast his eyes over the array of artefacts littering the side tables. Helen was a collector at heart and in true Victorian form she liked to decorate her world with each conquest. She wasn’t half as noble as she pretended to be.
“I’m surprised,” Detective Kavanaugh added. “I thought you’d be the first in line to interrogate the full-blood vampire downstairs. Isn’t he what you’ve been searching for all these years?”
Nikola’s look was one of disdain. Not only was his business private, he resented Kavanaugh’s intimate dealings with the ancient ones, experiences which greatly exceeded his.
“Our ancient friend is heavily sedated and I doubt Helen will wake him until her precious protege is well.”
“And you are perfectly capable of biding your time.”
“Something like that.” Claws tapped against the bottle.
Kavanaugh wasn’t finished.
“And you have no designs on my father either, then?”
Nikola made an inhuman sound that could have passed for laughter. “The half-ling? Ex-half-ling actually… From what I’ve read of your report he spent most of his last four decades in a trance with little or no memory of either his cave or the vampire he kept guard over. No. Unsurprisingly I have no interest in him.”
That made the Detective feel more comfortable, sinking into the cushions, enjoying the warm glow of the fire.
“You’re still here…” Nikola glared.
“I’m still here.”
Nikola sighed tiredly and set the bottle of wine down with a clunk. “Are you going to make me guess?”
“Actually, it’s easier if I show you.”
Helen held her head between her hands. She could hear several heart beats in the world now – three of them clashing against each other inside her mind. Too many vampires. The balance had been lost with the awakening of two more. Nikola and the ancient one from the Sanctuary of the Moon were closest. She’d know Nikola’s heart anywhere.
“I’m fine,” she lied, laying back against the car as it wove its way through Old City. She had not felt like this since Oxford.
“Are you going to tell me why we’re not going home?” The Sanctuary was several blocks behind them.
“We can’t go home yet, not if I’m right.”
“You’re starting to worry me…” Henry turned to her as a downpour smashed against the car’s windows.
“Nikola and John would not have left without me. I suspect they brought more than our souvenir vampire back with them.”
“The Magoi – bloody hell.”
She tossed him a newspaper folded open to an article.
‘MISSING: The Suspected Trade of Old City’s Homeless’
‘…in the last week a suspected four people have vanished from slums around the city. Well known in their underground world, police have been unable to account for these sudden absences. The Town Hall is opening its doors this evening in a bid to offer shelter for the easy prey of what many suspect to be a human trafficking ring…’
Henry closed his eyes. “Will…” was all he said.
“The Magoi will want to go home but it’s desire to migrate is going to interfere with our effort to save Will. Once we enter the Sanctuary we’ll have no way of telling who is real. The less people in there the better. I don’t want my Sanctuary to end up a pile of rubble and bone.”
“Doc…” Henry added quietly. “Are we going to kill it?”
“It’s too dangerous to live.”
“We don’t really know anything about them, do we?”
“In a hundred years we might be intelligent enough to have a conversation with them,” she replied, a dark shadow over her features. “I hope this city is worth the life of one Magoi.”
A gunshot rang out in the tunnel. It was absorbed by the distant rumble of a subway train, trundling through the dark.
A body fell from the ceiling. It landed with a crunch on the gravel in front of Bigfoot.
Ashley knelt down, nudging the sand creature with her boot as its body shimmered back into the visible spectrum. It was dead.
“How many more of these do you think there are?” she whispered, standing up and re-loading her gun.
“No ideaaaa,” Bigfoot whispered, his eyes searching the tunnels ahead. “Will has been down here for days – whatever he doesn’t kill is turned.”
“There’s going to be a plague of these things.”
They worked their way through the tunnels leaving a trial of bodies for the other teams to pick up. This was getting out of hand. “We may need to contact some of the other Sanctuaries.”
“Your mother wouldn’t like that,” Bigfoot replied. “She’s gone to great lengths to keep the truth of vampires from the world. They’ll ask questions when they see the fangs.”
“The one Abnormal she hides…” Ashley whispered. “I used to think that the Abnormal world was a dark place but these last few weeks have shown me something else.” She paused as she climbed up onto an abandoned platform, helping Biggie up. “It’s mum’s world that is dark. I barely know her.”
Something their claws against the concrete. Ashley and Bigfoot turned, panning their flash lights over the walls.
Will sank away from the halos of light.
“This world made your mother,” Bigfoot replied softly.
They both prowled closer, weapons raised and their torches sweeping back and forward. “There’s something she’s not telling me.”
Her torch caught a pair of golden eyes.
Nikola stood in front of the freezer in Helen’s main lab looking greatly put out. He folded his arms crossly, reading the sign taped to its sad, stained surface.
‘OUT OF SERVICE – please use freezer on Basement Level 2’
The vampire shrugged. “So? What am I supposed to do, fix it?”
“It’s not broken,” Joe replied, stepping forward. He placed his hand against the door’s surface. It was cool – the gentle hum of the freezer’s engine steady like a pulse.
“Someone forgot to take the sign down, honestly, did the wolf put you up to this? I have a gnawing feeling that I’m being purposely annoyed.”
“Henry’s still on a plane.” Compared to the psychotic criminals Joe was accustomed to, the vampire had a long way to go in petulance. “Ah, but that’s not the really cool bit, Doctor Tesla – pardoning the pun.”
Nikola groaned as Joe reached up to where the sign was and went straight through it. The surface was smooth – entirely sign free.
Nikola swayed back, staring at the empty freezer door. He was seriously starting to think that there were a few loose wires between his eyes and brain.
“Ah, now I have your attention,” Joe whispered, lowering his hand to the handle of the freezer. He gave it a decent tug but the door refused to budge. “Now, I don’t know about you but I’m not particularly comfortable with objects coming and going from reality.”
“It’s the Magoi,” Nikola whispered, feeling a cold shiver run down his back. “It must be here – it has to be.” The vampire turned on Joe with a suspicious glare.
“What? Hey – no…” Joe lifted his hands innocently. “I don’t even know what a – what did you say it was?”
“Magoi,” Nikola growled.
“That. I have no idea what it is.”
If nothing else, Nikola doubted the Magoi would be pointing out things it had tried to hide so he gave Joe the benefit of the doubt. “Obviously it doesn’t want us to get into this freezer – so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
It was not easy and after an hour of prodding, bashing and general abuse of the freezer door, they discovered that it was not actually locked. The mind was easy to manipulate, especially for an ancient Magoi.
Flustered from exertion, they pushed open the door and were met with a thick mist of frost. Joe waved it away from his face, squinting through the freezing air. Their sweat shattered as droplets of ice on the floor. “What, in the name of god, is that…”
Nikola inched toward the seven foot bundles of silk. They glistened in the frosted air, beads of ice adoring the fine threads like jewels. There were three cocoons stuck to the far wall closest to the air ducts with a faint shadow of something moving inside each one.
“Baby Magoi,” Nikola replied, voice catching. “What a nightmare.”
“We should go to Helen,” Joe whispered, but Nikola caught his arm sharply, claws out.
“No. We don’t go to anyone,” he growled softly, as though afraid the cocoons would tear open any minute. “First, we shut this freezer down then work out what the hell is going on. Anyone in this Sanctuary could be a Magoi – anything you see. You trust your hands and nothing else, understand?”
Will clawed straight up the wall, sticking to the ceiling like an oversized gecko, hiding behind the shadows of steel thick beams. His skin rippled from crimson to grey rendering him invisible.
“Shit!” Ashley hissed, looking up at the dark void above. She switched her gun to stun mode and started pacing forward, tilting her head sharply trying to catch a glimpse of the sand creature. “He’s completely turned.”
“Yeah, reeeeeal little piece of work,” Bigfoot growled, moving to the opposite side of the tracks. “Tried to rip me in shreds before.”
“Five minutes until the next train,” she warned, stepping carefully between the tracks. The rumble of the train was already shaking the gravel around them. “I don’t want to lose him again.”
Ashley moved fast and light through the tunnel. She used the side wall as protection and kept her head up to the ceiling. Damn these things were quiet. Her torch light was obstructed by a column of dust wafting down from the ceiling. She took a shot.
“Missed it,” Bigfoot hissed from the other side of the tunnel.
“Yeah, but not by much,” she replied, lifting her gun again.
This time she took three shots – chasing the flurries of dust. Her last shot hit Will on the back of the leg. He let out a screech of pain, scratching frantically at the roof before falling between the tracks. The thunder of the oncoming train started to roar like a wave building up against the reef. Bigfoot grabbed the semi-conscious sand creature by one of its thrashing limbs, dragging it over the tracks.
“Hiiiit it again!” he yelled.
Will twisted and writhed, scratching at Bigfoot’s furry hand. Mid run, Ashley pulled the trigger again and the creature became a dead weight.
“One minute!” she hissed, picking up the pace. “Platform’s not far.”
Bigfoot lumbered along with Will’s unconscious body. Ashley reached the platform before him, throwing her gun up over the edge before vaulting over the cement barrier. She laid on her stomach and took Bigfoot’s gun first – then started to haul Will up. He was visible again – his crimson skin heavily scarred already.
“Come on, hurry up!” she urged, feeling the wind whip her hair up.
“Too old fo’ this,” Bigfoot muttered, barely managing to get his enormous body clear as the express train rocketed through, its horn blaring angrily.
The sound of slow applause filled the platform. Ashley frowned – then turned to see Henry and Helen standing shoulder to shoulder – Henry applauding with a smirk on his lips.
Ashley rolled her eyes at the closest thing to a brother she’d ever get. “Two vampires – two days, count says I win.”
Henry shook her head. “Nah – I brought mum home; trumps a vampire and half-vamped-protege every time.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” Ashley slid her gun back into its holster.
Helen was grinning at her daughter – only just fighting the urge to rush over and take her into her arms. She hadn’t seen her in over a week. “Let’s get Will somewhere secure – then we can talk.”
It was perfect. Transparent, tightly bound tubes danced under the glass slide. Nikola peered through the microscope, increasing the magnification again. Millions of tiny hairs appeared, interlocking like velcro – terrible, grotesque claws binding the silk together.
Nikola straightened up slowly, his hand shifting to his hip, the other resting on the edge of the table for support. His lab was meagre in comparison to the rest of the house but it was the safest place to be. Joe was standing by the window, leaning against the sill as the sun started to set over the city behind him.
“This will change the world,” Nikola announced, holding up the glass side. The fragment of Magoi silk was difficult to make out except when it caught the sunlight and shone pure silver. “Darwin’s spider, eat your your heart out. Inch by inch this is the strongest material in existence.”
Joe didn’t look so impressed. He’d prefer not to fawn over a creature that was trying to kill them. “I’m not sure that farming Magoi is high on our priority list, Tesla.”
Nikola shook his head impatiently. Mortals were just so … preoccupied with the present.
“I don’t think that you quite grasp the material point,” his fangs peaked out. He was about to launch into a brief history of natural substances that changed the course of human history when Joe held up both hands.
“You’re not going to be making any more world altering discoveries if you’re dead,” Joe pointed out bluntly.
Nikola sighed and set the slide down. “Producing those offspring would have used a great deal of energy. It’ll need to feed – it’s probably started on the abnormals already – possibly even the staff.” Nikola strutted over his desk drawer. He pulled out a couple of prototype handguns. “Combination electric stunner and laser pulse. The pain of the small burn is enough to get the attention of medium sized prey while giving their nerves a bit of a work over.”
“This is what you do for Helen…?”
“From time to time. Depends how quickly I run out of money, really… We’re going to stun everything and anything walking the hallways and start making good use of the cells.”
“…we should have started with someone else…” Joe whispered, pressed up against the wall.
“Quiet!” Nikola growled under his breath. Damn humans.
The vampire tilted his head, peering through the guest room’s battered doorway. John Druitt’s immense form was stretched out on the floor, sprawled over the rug like some great feline after a feed – presumably asleep. Odd but to be fair, John had never displayed normal behavioural patterns.
Joe leaned against Nikola’s shoulder. “I know a lot of detectives that would give their right arm to hang that man – the Ripper – most evil man in history.”
“Would you stop your prattling,” Nikola turned back, flicking Joe off his shoulder with an impatient glare. Humans were dreadful at stalking. “Firstly, even if you successfully marched old Whitechapel down to HQ – which better men than you have failed to do,” he added pointedly, “there’s not a lot you can do with someone who committed crimes over a century ago.
“Secondly, starting in 1958, Mao Ze-Dong oversaw the murder of seventy-eight million people; Hitler raked in twelve of his own countrymen and three million Russians on the side. Leopold II, Stalin… “ Nikola trailed off, hands waving theatrically about.
“One hundred million died in the Taiping rebellion, one and half slit their own throats in ancient Mexico for a religion that left little in its wake save stains of blood on temple stairs. John is a novice in the art of evil. It’s only doe-eyed detectives like you and your predecessors that have lorded him into the rarefied atmosphere.”
Joe lofted his eyebrow slightly. The vampire seemed… miffed that Druitt was famous. More famous than him. “He fooled the man who invented my profession.”
“Everyone has their weaknesses, even James.” Nikola averted his gaze, not wishing to open that particular chapter in his life. The history of the Five was not for mortals to pick apart. “Come on… enough fucking about.”
Nikola crept back up to the door.
“Bloody hell…” John was gone. “Christ!” Nikola jumped when John appeared in the doorway, glass of scotch in hand.
“I never had you pegged as a voyeur Tesla,” he took a slow sip of scotch. “Quaint, is that a pet?”
“Detective. We’ve met but… you appear to have forgotten me.”
John made a point of eyeing the weapons in their hands.
“Did I miss something?” he drawled, in that sickening tone used to lure innocent women to the blade of his knife. “Last time I checked, we were on speaking terms and this is Helen’s house. You know the rules o’l boy. This is Switzerland for us.”
“It’s not personal this time, Johnny,” Nikola smirked, levelling the gun back at him with a fang-laden grin. “And despite our better judgement, we’re not here to kill you.”
John laughed coldly, pointing his glass at them.
“You think that I’m just going to let you shoot –” John was interrupted by a scalding pain in his chest. He looked down to find his pocket smouldering. “What the devil…” he growled, before crumbling to the floor accompanied by the dull thud of a scotch glass.
Joe slowly lowered his sparking electric weapon. “That was a lot easier than I’d envisioned…”
“Come on, grab an ankle,” Tesla muttered.
“Mum, this place is ancient…” Ashley complained. She helped her mother break through a hefty iron door, pushing it open with an angry screech of metal and rust. Bigfoot stood back, Will’s deformed body limp in his furry arms.
“It’s one of Tesla’s old haunts,” Helen explained, dusting off her hands and holding her torch up, scanning the room with it. Broken pipes, air ducts, feathers. “Should still work,” she added, flicking a switch on the wall. A deep buzz rang out through the metal wall as rows of electric lights flickered into life.
“Old – like from the 4th Dynasty.” Ashley tilted her head, inspecting the carcass of an experiment.
Helen cleared one of the work benches. Bigfoot laid Will’s body onto the surface and the pair of them bound him with duct tape and chain. Crude but effective.
“He’s going to wake up soon,” Helen whispered, listening to the steady beat of his heart falter. “This room was built to keep in vampires – I’m sure it’ll be able to handle a sand creature for a few hours.” The duct-tape… probably not. She injected him with the last vial of sedative. It would keep him quiet – for a while.
“Mum… We can’t just leave him tied up here. It’s cruel.”
“You’re going to stay here and look after him, both of you,” she added sternly, when Bigfoot went to protest. “The less people in my house the better. If you don’t hear from me before nightfall, you call the London Sanctuary and ask for Declan.”
“Ashley… don’t fight me on this.”
“I’m much better at hunting creatures than you,” she tried following her mother but Helen pushed her firmly back into the room.
“That’s why you’re staying with Will.”
“Well string me up with the garlic…” Nikola’s deep, vampire voice purred on the air. He ran his gloved fingers through the threads of silk swaying in the air-conditioned breeze. Someone had turned it up to full over the whole mansion leaving Nikola and Joe to resort to snow jackets and gloves.
Growing from the ceiling of the corridor were long tangles of silk. Like ancient vines, they’d twisted into ropes that bonded to the floor to form flexible, sticky columns.
“God, it’s like a bloody spider web,” Joe whispered, sidestepping an ominous trail of silk.
“I didn’t know Magoi did this,” Nikola admitted. “It’s like a nest.”
“Yeah, well the more I learn about Magoi, the less I like’m, Doc. Give me your regular psychopath any day.”
Together, they had taken out most of the Sanctuary staff and locked them in cells. There were still a few small abnormals wandering the corridors but nothing big enough for a Magoi to bother imitating. There was, however, one noticeable absence from their collection. Helen.
“You’re worried about her, aren’t you?” Joe asked, as they made their way through the freezing tunnel toward the fire stairs that took them deeper into the building. The further they went, the colder it became.
Nikola kept a few steps ahead of Joe, his black eyes focussed on the sticky hallway in front. “I’m worried I left my oldest friend in a South American tomb to rot, yes,” he snapped.
The walls were entirely silk now, glistening like ice.
“It doesn’t take a detective to work out that you and her were -”
Joe didn’t get to finish. In front of them a very displeased (but admittedly distracting) Helen Magnus blocking the hallway, arms folded. She levelled a stern glare at Nikola.
“Nikola – where are my staff?”
Nikola lifted his home-made weapon, steadying it at her chest. “I’d be happy to show you.”
“You’re not going to shoot me,” she tilted her head like a bird of prey. “We’ve got a very serious abnormal incursion,” she nodded at the silk strangling the walls.
“And here I was thinking it was your new wallpaper,” Nikola quipped, no intention of lowering his weapon. “That’s close enough…” he whispered, when she started walking towards him.
“Are you feeling all right?” Helen lowered her voice into a tender lull. “Even for a vampire, you’re pale. Perhaps you should lie down?”
“I don’t think so,” Nikola kept the gun steady. He was pale because he was cold and naturally disposed to looking like a shard of porcelain. “Detective – whatsyourname-”
“Kavanaugh…” Joe filled in helpfully.
“Whatever… What do you see?”
Joe tilted his head, “Dr Helen Magnus – or a very good copy.”
“Copy?” Helen snapped, indignant. “Nikola!” she clicked her fingers to get the vampire’s attention. “My house is freezing, the staff are missing and my wallpaper’s been replaced by this sticky Magoi residue. Now, what the hell is going on?”
Nikola ignored her.
“Be more specific,” he whispered to Joe. “Her eyes… hair – what does she look like.”
As Joe started to describe her, the Sanctuary alarm pierced the air. Its angry ringing made Nikola flinch.
“We’ve got company,” he whispered.
“Could be a trick?” Joe offered.
He was right. “Bloody Magoi.” Nikola nodded at Helen. “This is why I never joined your little creature-collecting mission.”
“Not as salubrious as ruling the world?” she ventured another step closer.
“I offered you the world…” Nikola reminded her, eyes bright.
She took another step, lingering dangerously close. “It wasn’t yours to offer…” she purred.
He turned at once toward the angry voice to find another Helen standing behind them, smeared with dirt and greese. Nikola did his best to ignore his favourite fantasy made real. Two Helens… My, my, my.
“Helen… meet Helen,” he said.
The two Helen’s eyed each other. One of them was a Magoi, the other was not…
“Stop grinning, Nikola,” the Helen covered in dirt scowled. “She’s a Magoi…”
Joe lifted his weapon, levelling it at the newly arrived Helen. “Actually Doc,” he said, “one of you is. Which one is still in question.”
“If you shoot me with that, I’ll break both your wrists,” she promised darkly. “You’re still grinning, Nikola.”
He shrugged innocently.
“We’ve been re-decorating,” Nikola added, his weapon still trained on the original Helen. “What do you think?”
“This isn’t funny, Nikola. She will kill you.”
“Don’t think so,” he replied lightly, giving Joe a meaningful look. “And on three…”
Before either Helen could move, both guns went off and they dropped to the floor. The dirt-laden Helen groaned, holding her chest. The other body shimmered, its lie crumbling until the body of the Magoi emerged. It was unconscious. Nikola curled his lip in disgust. He’d flirted with that.
He was going to add ‘Magoi hunting’ to his list of skills.
“Son of a…” Helen stirred. She was back in her bed, tucked in amongst the soft silk sheets with a fresh tray of tea steaming on the table beside her.
Slowly, she turned to see Nikola lounging on the bedspread, a book open against his chest. He was asleep, purring softly as only a vampire could. Such cheek!
“Nikola!” she nudged him gently, poking his ribs. The movement made her groan. Her chest was tight and burned from the weapon. “God, what did you shoot me with?”
Nikola turned his head, opening his eyes. They were bright blue, grinning back of her. “New toy. Don’t worry, the effects are temporary. Technically, your pet detective shot you, not me.”
“You shot the other me,” she groaned wearily, “so it still counts.”
Helen closed her eyes again, rubbing her chest softly with her free hand. It hurt.
“I take it you’ve restrained the Magoi?”
“Tagged, restrained and waiting in the SHU,” he put the book aside, turned over and rested on his arm. Nikola was all too comfortable, lounging beside her on the bed.
“…and Ashley?” Helen added, not meaning for her voice to slip into such a soft tone.
The corner of his lip curled up into a smile.
“Good of you to hide them in one of my old haunts,” he replied. “I called them in as soon as our guest was contained. Your protege is restrained and awaiting treatment. You’re lucky he’s still alive. There have been police crawling all over the city looking for him.”
“I should -” Helen went to get up but Nikola nudged her gently back down.
“Will can wait a few more hours.”
She lofted her eyebrow at him. “And what are you going to do?”
“Oh you know, the same,” he shrugged. “Rule the world from your bed.”
Nikola’s smirk was hit by a well aimed pillow.
“…I still can’t believe you shot me,” she whispered, closing her eyes again.
“Eh – it’s like, one-to-fifty. You shoot me all the time.”
She couldn’t help a small smile. “You usually deserve it.”
Beep. Beep. Beep.
The sand creature eyed the machine beside him. Will’s eyes were gold and bulging out from his skull like some kind of reptile. His skin was scarlet, dry and cracked into a scaly pattern that resembled a riverbed ruined by a thousand years of ravaging drought. He flecked his claws, watching the black extensions reflect the bright lights of the infirmary.
He snarled, trying to retreat but a heavy set of chains held him still.
“Sh…” Helen whispered, stepping into view. Her white coat made her form blur against the room. “You’re safe – you’re home.”
Will opened his lips, displaying several rows of razor sharp teeth. He hissed at her.
Ashley, Bigfoot, Henry, Joe and Tesla were all seated in the gallery behind, watching the procedure. Tesla had shifted to the edge of his seat, leaning close to the glass in curiosity. It had been difficult extracting the clear, vampire venom from their new guest. Helen was holding a refined sample up to the light. She pierced the seal with a long needle.
“Do you think it’ll work?” Ashley whispered.
“I hope so, Ash,” Henry replied, holding her hand.
The liquid entered the drip, slowly seeping into Will’s body. He thrashed irritably against his restraints, hissing again as Helen set the empty vial down and checked him over.
“Elevated pulse, temperature steady. Patient is agitated but not in pain.” Helen flashed her torch light across his eyes. “Pupils are sluggish. Will, can you hear me?”
“Dr Zimmerman, do you know where you are?”
Will arched his body up as far as he could off the bed. There was something cold sneaking into his veins. He felt – calm… His body gently lowered itself, slowly shedding its violent red for cream.
“Patient’s skin is reverting back to human form. Heart rate lowering – body temperature declining.”
The fangs retreating into his jaw sent searing pain through his nerves. Will cried out, an almost human scream shattering the quiet room. Helen fumbled for another vial, this time consisting of pain killers which she fed through the drip.
He started to convulse. Helen used her weight to press his body back down against the bed.
“Stay with me, Will,” she whispered, fighting for control. She pushed his torso firmly down, pulling another strap across him.
Will struggled to breathe, gasping between ragged cries.
PLAYING WITH SILVER
“Subject stable… pupils, sluggish but okay. Will?”
Dr Will Zimmerman, entirely human, was laid on the bed. He stared blankly at the ceiling, focused on the infirmary lights which leered at him with neon claws. Helen hovered, carefully monitoring his vitals. He could sense her now… distinguish her from the others. She had a name and fragments of memories. Helen Magnus, yes, he remembered her now. Remembered her hitting him with a damn car.
“Will, can you hear me?”
Slowly, his head tilted to the side. Will nodded at her in recognition, blinking slowly as if to say something. His wrists strained against the leather restraints causing their buckles to creak.
“For a while there, we thought we lost you,” she added quietly, laying her hand on his arm in soft assurance.
Nine hours later he was sitting up, flicking through Sunday’s paper in his own room. His skin itched but aside from a few nasty scratches and bruises, he was unharmed from his adventures as a sand creature.
“Quite the trail of destruction, eh?” Henry said.
Henry was perched on the end of Will’s bed, playing with one of his half-built experiments. Beams of sunlight fell over the Gothic room, warming it as the afternoon started to fade. Tesla’s stolen research towered in several looming piles of paper, some arching alarmingly toward the edge of the bedside table.
“It’s not exactly a badge of honour,” Will sighed, setting the newspaper down.
“Yeah, but you go to be a vampire,” Henry insisted.
“Can you try to be less excited by this?” Will managed a grin though, nudging Henry with his foot. “Besides, I was even less of a vampire than Tesla.”
“Don’t let him hear you say that, he takes his vamp-ness very seriously. He’s having a hard enough time now that we’ve got a full blood in the basement.”
“A what?” Will’s eyes went wide.
“Picked up a vamp in South America. They’re real ugly,” Henry added. “Trust me, Tesla’s the plushie version.”
“That must have hurt his feelings…”
“Yeah, he’s sulking in my lab,” Henry looked down at the gadget in his hands. “Made you this, though. It’s a hand-light – better than a torch. Long as you’re holding it, it’ll keep shining.”
Will took it and laid it in his palm. A few minutes later the silver ball started to glow. “That’s quite cool. I’ll put it in my ‘tomb raiding’ kit for the next time Helen decides to go on holiday.”
“You know what else we picked up in South America… A Magoi – fully grown pain in the ass.”
Will’s face fell, a deep frown folding across his forehead. “Man, I hate those things. It’s not still here…”
“Turned the SHU into a comfy nest,” Henry cut in. “Full house. Seriously dude, we need to start having words with the boss about the type of creature she brings home. Vampires are okay but I draw the line at creepy telepathic ice creatures.”
Will scratched his arm until it hurt.
Nikola had grown bored of picking through Henry’s lab. Truthfully, there were only so many items he could break or sabotage before he got bored or felt guilty – which wasn’t a familiar. Empathy – urgh, that was for humans not semi-immortal geniuses.
He wasn’t allowed near either the vampire or the Magoi so he sulked his way back through the lofty corridors of the Sanctuary and inevitably ended up in Helen’s office. He retired to her desk, strutting around to sit in her leather chair with a glass of scotch nested in one hand.
Sometimes he regretted signing this house over to Helen to settle a few bills. He was sure that he knew its secrets better than her – even down to the compartment hidden in the wall behind the desk. Nikola had his most treasured possessions five feet from Helen and yet she’d never even noticed.
“What were you doing in Old City?”
Nikola jumped at Helen’s voice, spilling his scotch. “I – what?” She may not have adopted the claws or fangs, but Helen could sneak like the best of them.
Helen sat on her desk, eyeing Nkola suspiciously. “The night the sand creature attacked you in the subway… You said you didn’t organise this situation but why were you in town? Last I heard you were in Moscow digging around in some old Cabal base. Strange co-incidence that you should be found lurking at my back door the very night a sand creature appears. Were you following me?”
Nikola set the scotch down. “No. I was following Ashley.”
“Though you may not believe me, it was for her own good. When I heard where she was going I knew she was in trouble.”
Helen’s eyes were nearly as black as a vampire. She leaned forwards, curling her hands over Nikola’s side of the desk, furious. “You knew that there were vampires sleeping in the desert?”
“One vampire and a den of diseased humans. Yes. I knew.”
“And you didn’t wake them? After all your crazy plots to revive your precious species…”
“Are you crazy? If you had spent even a moment on your history Helen, you would know the tale of the brothers.”
“…Brothers?” she whispered, pulling back a fraction.
“Both destined to be Pharaoh, one conspired with humanity to take over the throne by dealing in Abnormals. The other led the last of the vampires out of Egypt towards the untamed North but he never made it. The vampires were slaughtered and he was entombed by his own brother for thousands of years. If released, his anger would set a rage upon the world. I want to rule the earth Helen – not tear it apart despite what you may think.”
“How very noble of you.”
“Whatever my intentions were,” Nikola ignored the slight. “You’ve got a pissed off ancient vampire on the loose. I’d bet your entire wine cellar that he’s headed here.”
“Here?” Helen whispered.
“You have his brother and I for one don’t want to be around when this ancient shit hits the fan.”
Helen hung her head, her beautiful long hair falling over her face. “Bloody hell…” she whispered.
“Have you been following the reports out of the African Sanctuaries? There’s something out there, in the desert. The locals call it, ‘voices on the wind’. The vampire has hundreds of sand creatures. He’s smart, arrogant and has nothing to lose. It’s only a matter of time until he finds us.”
“Dammit, Nikola… You saw how hard it was to take on the other vampire – and he was starving and weak.”
“His brother will be feeding on every human he comes across. He’ll be stronger than you can imagine.”
Nikola stood suddenly, placing his hands gently over hers. Without warning he kissed her – only for a moment but it was soft and loving, his head tilting a fraction to push her gently backwards.
“N-Nikola…” Helen stammered, looking up at him from under thick lashes when he pulled back. He’d tasted of scotch and wine, with something of the storm in his lips.
“Don’t say anything,” he insisted, lingering for another moment – letting his cool lips tease hers. Then he walked away, leaving her in possession of the office.
“…no, no more reports since Thursday. The locals say the voices are gone and the sands have stilled. I’d bet they’ve made it as far as Europe by now…”
“Thank you,” Helen replied, and set the phone down.
She brought up a map of Africa and marked the vampire’s progress on the screen. If her reports were accurate, they were covering ground fast. It would only be so long before the ancient king worked out how to drive and fly. Helen rested her fingers over her lips. Her eyes closed.
“‘Sup boss?” Henry wove through the piles of books and paper littering Helen’s office, extending his electronic tablet to her. “Fresh off the wire, one of the Parisian Sanctuary scouts has returned. It’s not good news…” he added, seeing her face fall as she started to read. “They’ve stumbled across a blood-bath in one of the illegal factories. Early reports indicate at least eighty workers with their throats torn out.”
“God…” Helen trembled, handing it back to Henry. “Nikola was right about the bloodshed.”
“We need to wake our vampire up.”
“You honestly think he’ll help us? We kidnapped him, if you remember. Vampires didn’t rule the world because they had long fangs and a decent set of claws. They’re smart, Henry.”
“I don’t think we have a choice. We just want to talk to him. If you think everything’s going south, we’ll knock him out again.”
Helen shifted uncomfortably.
“This is the worst idea you’ve ever had…” Henry muttered to Helen.
They were both sitting above the interview room, hidden behind heavily tinted, one-way glass. The ancient vampire was tied to a chair with yards of silver chain that clinked softly every time he breathed.
The creature shifted uncomfortably against his restraints, looking at his chains with dark eyes. A few minutes later he glanced up and Henry’s stomach turned with realisation that it already knew how to break free.
Nikola sat on the opposite side of the narrow table looking tense. He’d dreamed of questioning an ancient vampire for so long, asking it the secretes of the world – this was not what he had in mind. His eyes flicked to the silver chains. They looked little better than a rope around a tiger’s neck.
“Welcome to the the 21ist century,” Nikola purred, in an Ancient dialect of Egyptian. “Apologies for the chains.”
The vampire took another strained breath. His frail physique was more obvious under the harsh light. Bone protruded from his skin, cutting dark shadows over his angular form. Ivory fangs rested against his jaw, one of them chipped badly at the edge. His complexion wasn’t quite so ashen now Helen had been drip feeding him for several days. “There is no need, I speak your language fluently. You are not skilled in mine.”
“Helen…” Henry whispered warily.
“He’ll be all right,” Helen replied quickly. She hoped.
“Very well,” Nikola answered evenly. “We know your history and your past relationship with humanity,” he continued. “Your work establishing a sanctuary for abnormal and human creatures was noble.”
“It did not end well…” the vampire cut in darkly.
“That was not your fault. Magoi are very powerful creatures, more ancient than you. Causing the destruction of others is how they exist. Your sanctuary died because you were unlucky enough to stumble across one.”
That tempered the ancient vampire somewhat. “Am I to understand that you intend to let me go?”
“I would like to,” Nikola replied, honestly. “We have our own Sanctuary networks indeed, this building is one of them. Your thousands of years of experience dealing with abnormals would be invaluable to us.”
“You would have me a consort,” the vampire eyed his distant descendent. “In return I presume I am not to feed from the residents.”
“About that,” Nikola set a crystal glass on the table and then started to pour silken, red wine into it. He nudged it toward the vampire – who was still chained and unable to accept the gift. “You have something to thank the humans for, they invented wine. I find it quite useful in curbing other cravings.”
Above them, Helen rested her hand over her chest. It was tight and painful, the heartbeats in her head crashing against each other. She’d been taking light muscle relaxants to calm herself down but it wasn’t enough.
The vampire was smiling.
“Why don’t you ask me what you really want to know Nikola…”
Nikola sat back, alarmed by the red pits burning in the heart of the vampire’s eyes. “I…”
“There’s an army of half-lings on their way here with my brother at their bow.”
“Can you stop them?”
The vampire shook his head. “No – but I can teach you how to find them.”
ON THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS
KASHMIR, PENSI LA MOUNTAIN PASS
Blue rock, weathered and cracked, jutted out from under the ice. Nikola slipped, landing with a muffled thud in another drift of snow curled around a wandering boulder. Their immense, cockled forms dotted the ice like sentries keeping a watch over the frozen world.
“God dammit…” Tesla muttered, arms sinking into the freezing wet as he tried to push himself up. Helen backtracked, grabbed hold of his arm and tugged him free.
The hum of their helicopter faded as its tiny dot picked its way between a forest of mountain peaks, returning to base leaving them stranded on the narrow pass. Above, the skies were clear blue, arching in a perfect dome. Nikola tilted his gaze, watching the black dot move beyond his range.
Ahead, the full-blood vampire swept over the snow. He was tall, close to seven feet and slender. The creature barely made a dent in the rough terrain as he headed up the icy slope toward towering facades of cliff with their narrow pass nestled in the middle.
“This isn’t what I had in mind, Helen,” Nikola lingered for a moment, letting the vampire gain ground so they could talk privately.
“What else could I do? At least if he’s out here, his murderous brother won’t be drawn to my Sanctuary.”
“True but if he is right, his brother and accompanying vampire fanboys have already reached these mountains – we could be walking into an army of invisible sand rats.”
“He’s closer,” Helen agreed. “I can feel him. Nikola, I’m not sure how much longer I can go on like this – before I kill a vampire.”
“…and I’d rather that wasn’t me,” he said quickly. “I know you’ve shot me several times, stabbed me once or twice but Helen – you’ve never truly wanted me dead. Not really…”
“That’s what you think…” Their eyes locked. Nikola’s lashes were full of snow and half his face hidden under a scarf. Helen’s cheeks were wind-burned, flushing pink.
They were disturbed by Kavanaugh, who slid on the same icy patch as Nikola, stumbled and landed on Helen.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, regaining his feet. “Chopper’s clear, they didn’t see anything on the ground. That’s not saying much. Those creatures are probably camouflaged.”
“No, in these conditions even sand creatures will need to be clothed. They’re probably working their way through the fissures in the glacier,” she replied.
Joe frowned at Helen, then glanced nervously at his feet. The thought of sand creatures crawling underfoot made his stomach lurch. “Yeah, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“We should catch up,” Nikola nodded, the vampire was getting too far ahead of them again.
The Drang Drung glacier coiled behind them. They were heading away from it into deeper snow toward the next bank of cliffs. Half the time they fell to their hands and knees, skidding down steep slopes only to climb to the other side with ice picks – except for the vampire, who used his claws.
Nikola struggled the most with the cold, shivering so hard he lost grip on his ice pick several times before hauling himself onto the flat of a particularly sharp rise.
“You okay?” Joe asked, dusting snow off Nikola’s ski gear.
“It’s just the cold,” he replied, sitting up and flexing his gloved hands. They were numb and sluggish.
“As the officially least genetically blessed member of this expedition, I’m the only one allowed to pass out in the snow,” Joe insisted lightly, even managing to break a smile from the mongrel vampire. “Come on, your Magnus is looking this way.”
“She’s not my anything,” he mumbled back, letting the detective haul him to his feet. “Please tell me it’s not looking up at that cliff with intention of climbing it.”
Joe kept in step with Nikola. The ancient vampire was eyeing the rock face with interest, pacing around in front of it – kneeling down and digging with his claws where its black rock vanished into the snow.
“Think he left his keys under the door?” Nikola quipped.
He wasn’t far off. The vampire soon found what he was looking for. There was a flicker of brass against the black rock beneath the vampire’s hand. He dug deeper, revealing an intricate spiral of inlaid metal that resembled a Pharaoh’s seal.
“We’re not idly wandering in search of your brother, are we?” Helen narrowed her eyes, using the same tone often used to scorn Nikola – except it didn’t work on this vampire. He was focused on inserting his claws into a series of tiny holes, sinking them in until he heard a soft click. “What are you doing?” she insisted.
“The mines run deep in these mountains,” the vampire’s silken voice replied. He stood back, motioning for the rest of the group to do the same as a large section of the cliff started to shift. “They’ve not been opened for many aeons but if my brother is making passage, it will be through here.”
“God, what is it with vampires and caves?” Helen hung her head. Just when she thought she’d seen the last of tunnels…
Nikola didn’t look too pleased either, gawking at the vast oblivion where the rock had opened. It was only a crack six feet wide but the fissure ran nearly eighty above their heads.
Joe clicked on his helmet light. “What are we waiting for?” he asked. “Let’s go caving.”
The cave door crashed shut behind them. Joe’s headlight revealed the way ahead to be a rough-cut supply route with dangerous cleaves of rock hanging from the roof, looming above them like Damocles’ swords.
Nikola and Helen clicked on their torches, shedding more light on the uninviting terrain of cracked, ice-damaged pavers placed there by the vampires. There were chariot markings in the stone but it was impassable except on foot.
“Where do these lead?” Nikola asked.
The vampire turned, his long fangs glinting in the torchlight. His eyes were blacker, his bony frame suddenly imposing. “Manly places – the ground beneath your feet is hollow. There are thousands of networks like this and only some of them are vampire in origin.” The next part was in an ancient vampire language which only Nikola seemed to understand.
“You think this is how your brother is passing through the modern world undetected?” Helen whispered, when it was clear Nikola would not offer a translation.
“It is his natural way to travel. All young princes lean the trade route – he will not have forgotten.”
It was just as cold down here and after several hours delving deeper into the caves, the group had to stop for a rest. They were in a severely damaged area with the track broken by large pieces of rock and ice that had bled down through fissures above and frozen into eerie claws of blue ice.
Joe staked out the vampire, hovering around him asking questions despite his ever-increasing probability of ending up a snack. Helen and Nikola sat opposite each other, sipping water.
“Helen, seriously – what are our chances of actually pulling this off – if and I stress if – we are able to find this vampire?”
She threw her backpack at him. It landed against his chest, making Nikola groan and frown, rustling through it for the blood-packs Helen kept in there. He took two before handing everything back to her.
“Bit worried, Ms Magnus?”
“Nikola… your complexion has been competing with the snow for some time now. You have to eat.”
“It’s the cold,” he replied softly, flexing his fingers inside the gloves. “It doesn’t agree with me at all.”
“It used to. You have a beautiful home in the snow-covered mountains.”
“Had…” a long time ago. He pulled his knees up to his chest, fending off the cold air. “Maybe I’m finally getting old.”
She whacked him. “And what does that make me?”
Helen glared at him but her eyes were shining. “Have a thing for older women, do you?” she teased in her very best English accent.
Nikola laughed softly – a slight curl of his lip into a smile as he lowered his gaze, dragging his over Helen. She was only four years older than him. “Next time you bring home a dangerous pet, Helen – can you try to make it something from a tropical island?”
“If this is part of your long standing plot to see me in a bikini…”
“Always, my dear – Detective Kavanaugh… Still alive?”
The detective wandered over to them, kneeling down onto the rock. “I don’t think this vampire’s on the level,” he warned. The three of them all glanced over, watching the vampire rest against a boulder on the far side of the passage. “What did you promise him?”
“A life in the modern world, work as an advisor to the sanctuary network and the ability to continue his work studying abnormal species.”
“Not enough,” Nikola purred.
Joe observed them. “Any intention of letting me into whatever this plan of yours is? No… Well, give me a heads up, will ya if my head’s in danger.”
“Maybe,” Nikola grinned. He paused and turned suddenly, looking down into the depths of the passage, listening intently. The other vampire was doing the same, rigid and focused. Helen put her hand on her chest, feeling her heart stop for a moment – then start with a rush.
“He’s here…” Helen whispered.
John Druitt lowered his large frame into the chair. Opposite, his daughter lingered by the window, keeping guard over her mother’s sanctuary. Her blond hair was dirty, pulled back into a half-arsed pony tail. This was the other side of Ashley Magnus – the business side which was slowly starting to emerge.
“You wanted to see me,” he announced his presence when she did not acknowledge it.
Ashley walked towards him, carrying a small, leather journal in her hand that had once belonged to her grandfather. It was laid on the desk with a soft, accusing thud. John’s gaze settled on it and he knew why he’d been called.
“My grandfather died more than a hundred years ago – but for me, it was a month ago… I found this.” Ashley showed him a slender oak box. She opened it to reveal the pistol which had killed her grandfather. “Mum kept it.”
He didn’t say anything.
“Why did you take me there?” she hissed darkly, all the pain and darkness in her eyes. “I ruined mum’s life and for what – this journal? Tesla knew where the Sanctuary of the Moon was anyway. I didn’t need this!”
“It wasn’t – about – you,” John replied. “It was about your mother. She needed to be set free.”
“You’re even more twisted than she described,” Ashley spat, sitting back against her chair, eyeing the person she shared half her DNA with. “What’s in it for you?”
“Do not attempt to understand me,” he replied, soft and slow. “I thought you had a Magoi to babysit?”
“It’s secure, although I was thinking perhaps I should have left you in the SHU.”
He chuckled. “My second home.”
“Tempt me – and I might just tell mum what happened.”
“Tell her,” he replied, unafraid. “You won’t… because you know she’ll look at you as she looks at me. It’s our little secret.”
Henry stood in front of the large tank in the creature enclosure. It was an enormous wall of glass that towered three stories to the roof. It had pebbles at the bottom and twisted clusters of seaweed nearly as long as the tank was high.
“Afternoon precious,” Henry whispered, placing his hand on the glass as the silvery form of the mermaid shimmered closer. “Miss me, eh? Knew you had a soft heart underneath all that cold scale.”
She didn’t seem offended, tilting her head curiously at him as she always did. The mermaid cast her eyes down to the floor, indicating the Magoi locked up several floors beneath. She was a telepathic creature and its presence, even sleeping, was of grave concern.
“Yeah, I know – not much I can do about that.”
The mermaid swam down further so that she was level with Henry. She twisted some of the seaweed in her bony fingers, clearly upset.
“I’m sorry,” he insisted, as she grew more distressed. “I’ll go check on it soon – promise. Hey,” he looked at her more brightly, “I should change that water filter for you. Fancy a swim?”
“How many?” Joe breathed.
Tesla listened again. “Many…” he whispered. “I can hear them scratching over the rock but they’re a lot deeper.”
“Several levels beneath.”
“Jesus!” Joe jumped, when the ancient vampire appeared behind his shoulder without a sound.
“Come on,” it continued, beckoning them with a sharp claw. “Let’s go welcome them to the new age.”
They reached a vertical shaft. Like a well it ran deep into the mountain allowing air in to all the levels. Looking up, they could see the tiny prick of light where it was open to the world at the uppermost point of the peak. Tiny flurries of snow drifted through the air, falling away into the abyss.
Even Joe’s human ears could hear the sound of claws in the darkness.
They didn’t speak, taking the side track through treacherous black ice and loose rock less than a foot wide. Joe and Helen kept their hands on the wall, clinging onto jagged outcrops when their feet failed to find solid ground. The vampires fared better with even Nikola resorting to claws.
Louder… The scratching had its own echo now.
There was a soft, white glow coming off the rocks where a fluorescent moss followed fresh water fissures. It was enough that they could turn off their torches for a while.
A wave of the vampire’s hand brought everyone to a stop. Something moved in the corridor ahead, shuffling out of sight around a corner. The vampire went first, undetectable as he crept up to a large boulder blocking the way. Helen, Nikola and Joe were not far behind, each with a gun loaded and drawn in wait.
They didn’t need them.
The vampire returned with a small cave mouse, dangling by its tale. It squeaked angrily until it was dropped and allowed to scurry off.
Deeper again… but soon they were far enough inside the caves that neither ice nor life bothered to linger. It was just cold rock and they were forced to turn their torches on.
“They’ll see us coming a mile off,” Joe whispered to Helen.
THROAT OF THOTH
Her boots lost their tentative grip on the frozen ground, scraping against sharp chunks of rock. During her swift descent, one of them tripped her up entirely and sent her crashing against the tunnel wall. She landed on her side and curled against the rock-face in a foetal position with one hand caught awkwardly underneath. A sharp pain ripped up her arm, striking through the bone. Helen whimpered in shock, dragging her arm free.
“Dr Magnus?” Joe gasped in alarm, quickly navigating the black ice as he rushed to her side. He rolled her over, tapping lightly at her cheek until her blue eyes fluttered open. “Are you all right?” he asked.
She groaned. Helen’s wrist hung loose against the floor, the break obvious beneath her pale skin which was quickly staining with bruises. A fragment of white bone had pierced free above her joint. “Hurts like a bugger…” she gasped.
Nikola swooped to join them, ditching his backpack on the ground. He rifled through it for the med kit.
Helen turned her head, which was rested in Joe’s lap and gave him a pleading look. Without a word, Nikola took her arm carefully and laid the broken wrist straight against a splint. Positioning it took a painful minute in which Helen bit through her lip to stop a scream. Her muffled gurgle mad both men uneasy as Nikola prodded the bone back under her skin. Nikola wrapped it tightly then nodded for Joe to bring her to a sitting position.
“You’ve got a concussion,” Nikola murmured, their voices hushed. He was no doctor but he’d been friends with James long enough to make a passable go at it. At least members of The Five required band-aids rather than surgery and his pension for perfection made him halfway decent at fixing a straight break.
Everyone’s voices dropped lower when another wave of sickening claws scraping against rock shivered up the tunnels. The vampires were moving – slowly.
“Like god-damn termites,” Joe muttered. It was as though the sand creatures were inside the granite walls.
“We take a break,” Nikola insisted. “Our friends aren’t going anywhere in a hurry, not in this cold.”
Helen accepted the pain killers. “I’ll be all right in a minute,” she replied, shooting Nikola a meaningful look.
He sat back slowly, catching his breath. Nikola remembered all too well Helen’s extraordinary ability to heal. She should have died long ago, falling from the university roof but Immortals were as their name suggested, difficult to kill. The last thing they wanted was for the vampire to know that. Their ancient friend was some distance ahead, keeping watch or plotting his escape – it was impossible to tell.
“Just a sprain, then…” Nikola eyed her sternly.
“A sprain?” Joe objected, until he was hushed, lowering his voice. “Tesla I -”
“A sprain,” Nikola insisted firmly. “Nothing more.”
Half an hour later, it was time. “Help her up,” Nikola directed. “We need to keep moving.”
Helen stood gingerly. She wasn’t sure what caused more agony – the initial snap or her bones knitting together again. With her good hand, she felt the back of her head where she was sporting a fresh lump. “Bloody caves…” she growled.
“You dropped this,” Nikola handed over her pistol, which she slipped back into its holster.
“Really, I’m okay,” she insisted, inspecting her bound wrist. “It’s not my right hand so I can still shoot things.”
“Just – make sure it’s not me,” Nikola winked, even if he still looked concerned. “I won’t believe you if there’s an accident and you blame it on ‘poor aim’.”
“Noted,” she agreed, as they all started up the steep rise back to the path. At least she’d fallen towards the cave and not into the abyss on the other side. Even an immortal would struggle to survive such a fall – possibly a vampire too if Nikola were nudged into it. She eyed it as they went past, a chill rippling up her spine. “We’re getting deep in the earth now – I remember the stories you told, Nikola. Hollow Earth… Cities buried beneath our feet.”
“They were just stories, Helen,” he whispered back, purring against her ear while they walked.
“You are not a man of stories,” she countered easily. “Dreams perhaps but not fiction.”
How wrong she was, Nikola thought, his greatest fiction was currently holding onto his arm as they walked. “I didn’t think you were listening to my stories. No, as I recall it you were too busy being practical.”
“You know, you never did tell me what you and father found under the mountains at your home.”
He reply was delayed. “Didn’t I?” Well, perhaps not the whole truth.
“What in god’s name is it doing?” Henry set down a tray of tea beside Will, then poured himself a cup and sat with their resident shrink.
In front of them was the four inch thick glass of the high security observation room. Inside, the Magoi had taken the unusual step of letting them see its natural form. They gave Henry the creeps. If you squinted a Magoi looked a like a human wrestler made from wax then left out in the sun to semi-melt. With its head tilted to the ceiling, eyes closed and breathing lowered to a near undetectable level, it could have been a statue.
Will shook his head. “Nothing good. It’s concentrating all of its power onto something, that’s why we can see it.”
“I guess it’s an improvement. Still, I don’t like it one bit – neither does the mermaid and she is an excellent judge of character.”
“Magnus is right though, we can’t exactly set it loose.”
“Can’t we sedate it again?” Henry asked.
“We’ve been trying but it hasn’t responded. I’m starting to wonder if we ever really had it sedated in the first place.”
“Well,” Henry sighed, sipping his tea. “We’re going to have to do something about it eventually.”
“Not until Magnus gets back. You go,” he added, when Henry reminded him about the supplies meeting. “I think I’ll stay a little longer. If we’re going to babysit this thing, we should at least endeavour to learn something about it.”
“As you wish,” Henry sighed. “Just promise me you won’t name it or anything. I’m pretty sure the doc is of a mind to – you know…” his finger swept over his throat.
They caught up to the vampire. His skeletal figure lingered by a fork in the path. One track went East toward an exit leading to extinct mountain village. They went North-West, following the path along sharper declines. It descended many levels further until the sound of claws was hushed somewhat by the roar of an underground river.
“What is that?” Joe quickened his pace to fall inline beside the solitary creature leading them.
“Glacier melt,” he hissed back, fangs glistening more than usual, covered in a fine layer of saliva. He was hungry from the trek and the supplements Magnus offered did little to sate him. “These pathways can flood in Spring or Summer on short notice. Most do not make a journey at this time of year.”
The vampire may have taken a vow not to feed off humans but he still took liberties with warm-blooded animals from time to time.
They soon found the source of the roar. Their tunnel abruptly ended at the edge of black, gushing water. Whatever rock or bridge had once traversed the gap between their tunnel and the opening opposite was long gone.
“We’ll be swept clear off!” Joe paced to the edge of the rock and shone his torch down. The water was rough, seething into foam where it slammed against the cave walls. They were nearly shouting to hear each other, the impending danger of the sand creatures momentarily forgotten.
“The half-ling and humans won’t make it,” the vampire offered dryly, implying that he could make the jump, which Nikola highly doubted – until he remembered the damn thing could teleport.
“Maybe you could go have a look, see what’s on the other side?” Nikola suggested.
The vampire laughed. “I’d rather not end up half-embedded in a wall. One does not use such a gift in uncharted territory.” He paused, peering around with his blood-rimmed eyes. “Here,” he carefully stepped out to the thing seams of rock at the side of their tunnel. At the edge was the smallest of outcrops that could only be scaled if you were holding onto the slippery wall. “We can climb down here and move over the boulders obstructing the stream.”
“Are you nuts?” growled Joe, eyeing the ‘boulders’ in the water. They were the worst form of slippery – rounded and smooth from centuries of abuse by the currents coated in fresh throws of glowing moss. “I am not going over those.”
“Perhaps you could swim instead?” the vampire snipped, lowering his tall body down onto the very edge of the river where he sank a few inches into the loosely piled pebbles. He could tell that the ground dropped away into the river nearly immediately. Water flowing that fast had a tendency to gouge deep passages.
Helen struggled the most, nearly losing her grip with only one good hand to cling onto the rock. Nikola all but lifted her down until they were lined along the bank, their backs pressed to the wall and water snapping at their boots.
A sharp crack and the ancient vampire was gone. There was a faint trail of purple energy fading in a ghostly silhouette before he reappeared just as suddenly on the closest boulder adrift in the stream.
“Fucking, goddamn vampires!” Joe gasped, startled half to death.
The vampire spread his arms wide. His fingers tapered into sinister claws while his eyes formed black voids against his skin. “Come…” he purred at the Detective.
“Worst idea ever…” Joe muttered, inching closer to the water. As soon as his boot touched the edge, the course river sand started falling away. No room for error then. He turned, paced the two measly paces to the wall and then took a flying leap at the deadly water.
Joe’s boots hit rock – then moss. Suddenly he was dropping sharply. His boots, ankles and legs submerged in a freezing froth of water.
Oh shit! he thought, flailing in panic. The current was a brute slap against his skin, jerking him sharply to the side. A bony hand grasped at his jacket, pulling him sharply back toward the rock. The ancient vampire lifted him from the river and placed him on the boulder. Joe checked his limbs – all were still present.
Helen was thrown over by Nikola. The Vampire was able to catch her mid flight, setting her down lightly beside Joe until finally Nikola joined them, slightly damp. They crossed the remaining boulders until all of them were settled in the tunnel entrance.
“My brother’s army is just beyond this tunnel,” the vampire whispered. “Are you still willing to make good on your gamble, Dr Magnus?”
When Helen nodded curtly, the vampire’s gaze flicked worryingly to Joe.
“What…?” the detective frowned. “Why are you all – oh come on!” his concern shifted to revulsion when he realised he was a pre-war snack. Now he knew why they’d agreed to bring him along.
The change was remarkable.
Joe was unconscious, resting on the dirt with a bandage around his wrist stained from the vampire’s feed. He was pale but alive, his body slowly replenishing what had been taken. Nikola was on the far side, leaning against a wall looking just as ghostly. He’d been sick watching the display.
The ancient vampire was no longer a dried shell. His flesh had instantly padded out as years of his life faded away. Instead of white, his hair was deep grey with black streaks rippled through it while all of his fangs now glistened pearl white. Vampires stole their youth from other living creatures and this one was freshly feasted.
He was handsome, Helen noticed. The regal blood lines married strong bones and deep, blue eyes which the vampire now showed, blinking up at the glowing cave-moss. They’d not been blue for hundreds of years but now they were sharp and clear like ice. Nikola had exactly the same eyes – which Helen found troubling.
“Ah…” he whispered, stretching his body like a panther. “Now I remember – youth.”
“Don’t get used to it,” Helen replied, approaching cautiously. “Now, for your part of the bargain.”
Nikola had made it to his feet, kneeling over the detective’s unconscious body. “What about him?”
“He’s safer here,” Helen whispered.
There was a true abyss ahead of them. Following their tiny cave to its end, the vampire, Tesla and Helen discovered that narrow corridor of rock ended at a chasm. At least fifty feet across and another down it was as though a giant, Dune sandworm had slithered its way through the mountain and birthed this tunnel.
“What is this place?” Helen demanded of the vampire. It was clearly not a natural formation in the rock.
The younger looking vampire knelt by the opening, spying over the darkness.
“Don’t you know, Doctor Magnus? I had rather thought your father would have shared some of my stories. We did a great deal of talking, you see, him and I… A great deal indeed. Extraordinary man especially considering he was a mere mortal like your detective back there.”
Helen stomach was starting to turn at the sight of the vampire. They needed him strong to quarrel with his brother but right now he looked too strong for Helen’s liking. “He shared a great many stories with me but not all of them.”
A small smirk of the vampire’s lips. He knew exactly what she was. Gregory Magnus was intelligent enough to know that vampires knew of Immortals but not smart enough to deduce their volatile relationship worked both ways. Clearly the old man never told his daughter what he’d been doing in the Sanctuary of the Moon all those years ago either. This other half-ling vampire was more curious… What was it doing befriending an Immortal?
“This is the ‘Throat of Thoth’,” the vampire curled a slender claw at the tunnel.
“Thoth, the moon deified,” Helen whispered, earning a proud curl of Nikola’s lip.
“Indeed,” he agreed. After the darkness of the cave they could see why this tunnel had earned such a name. Its walls were riddled with the glowing moss, weaving through its fissures. The whole thing looked like a great slab of marble – well, marble carved from the underworld perhaps. It had an unsettling aura about it. A threatening presence that lured them onward. “He had a fondness for knowledge and magic.”
“He was real,” the vampire curled his hands around the very edge of the opening. “An ancient king, before the dawn of our civilisation had truly risen.”
Nikola’s eyes were wide and black, awestruck. “Is he still alive?”
“I doubt it,” the vampire replied. “These things were legend before the first city rose out of the sand. My brother knew more about him than most. Perhaps you can ask him?”
Nikola levelled his dark look at the vampire.
“Bloody hell,” Helen whispered. “How much of our history is a lie?”
“How much of it was written by human hand?” the vampire countered, giving Helen her answer. “We are not here on a sight seeing tour. My brother is down here. Come, there is a way down.”
The vampire led them into the final depths of the earth beyond the reach of any help.
The three figures were positively tiny against the arching throat of the granite tunnel. From above, the floor of the cavernous expanse had appeared smooth but now they were properly acquainted with the a deluge of rubble collected in its throat over the millennia.
Boulders, sand and carpets of deep, thousand year old moss made the passage difficult to scale. The challenging terrain was interrupted by sheets of melted iron which sliced into the bedrock like growths of coral. If the vampire’s brother and his legion of sand creatures were down here, they would have a hell of a time picking them out from the forest of rock.
Tesla eyed the chunks of iron warily. He knew what they were – fragments of a large meteor either naturally laid to rest or more likely dragged into the depths of a mountain for a reason. Forget treasure, the unassuming lumps of metal were worth a fortune on their own. Helen saw that look on his face and rolled her eyes. Ever the vampire.
Nobody spoke. Their torches were off, guided instead by their hands and feet scrambling for purchase on the rock. Helen struggled with her injured hand while her heart thrashed against her chest inducing a nerve-crunching headache. Three vampires – it was too much for a solitary Immortal to bear.
“Breathe…” Nikola murmured cautiously, climbing beside her.
She nodded but her mind was a writhing mess. At least one vampire had to die and soon. In the past hour she’d twice found her hand on the Browning in her belt. Its cold shaft could easily pick off one of the vampires next to her.
Nikola kept searching the walls and tunnel ahead for movement. A hundred or more sand creatures were somewhere nearby. He could smell their filthy, diseased bodies. The other vampire had his nose tilted to the air as well. They were close.
Tesla stared at the next rise of flat-topped boulders. The dim glow of the moss was unbroken over the polished surface. He shook his frozen hands, trying to get them to work properly. Where the hell were they?
To Nikola’s left, the full-blood stopped. He was half a metre above, clutching at a particularly gnarled slab of meteorite, peering ahead. Something had caused him to hesitate. Nikola climbed up, perching on a smaller outcrop of rock.
“Well shit!” Nikola barely whispered, instinctively curling his claws into the rock for a firmer grip.
The ground flattened out ahead into a bed of river stones. Several hundred metres along this expanse was a figure silhouetted in the faint light. It was the vampire. There was no mistaking its towering form held so rigid it could have been part of the rock. Its arms were out at its sides, claws extended like sets of carving knives. The vampire’s head fall back, tilting up at ceiling in prayer. A faint glimmer reflected off his two sets of fangs.
This vampire was not slender like the rescued vampire beside Nikola. He was a warrior. His broad shoulders were made for swinging swords and riding chariots. He’d found his old armour too – Nikola could see smooth, scale-like segments woven together over his shoulders with heavy links of metal.
A small stream of dust and pebbles rained down on Helen as she joined the two vampires. No – three, she realised, seeing the figure looming ahead. Her eyes dilated into large, black pits. This was her prey – her purpose. Instinct demanded she kill the strongest of the vampires to restore the balance and by a long way, this creature was it.
“What’s it doing?” Nikola asked.
“Waiting,” the vampire replied, calmly.
The brother in the distance lifted its head and slowly turned. Nikola could hear the rustle of its cloak and the thud of the leather boots against stone. It faced them, a pair of blood-red eyes glowing in the dark.
The Magoi screeched. Above, the mermaid thrashed in her tank, beating her fists against the glass as the sound tore through her delicate telepathic link. She couldn’t take it. Desperately, she clawed at her body ripping bloody lines down her arms and face.
Alarms blared. Heavy, automatic fire doors started to descend over the enclosures. One by one they vanished behind impenetrable grey walls. Will rolled out from underneath one moments before it crunched into the concrete.
“What the hell is going on?” he coughed the dust out of his lungs.
Henry was by the mermaid’s tank, hurriedly feeding a sedative into the water. It took on a purple tinge, the mermaid jolting a few more times before her eyes closed and she drifted into sleep, sinking to the bottom of the tank. “Buggered if I know. The whole place is shutting down. Where’s Biggie?”
“Feeding the birds, last I saw.”
The pterodactyls whooped about the enclosure, gnashing their teeth at the emergency lights flashing along the ceiling. Cloned during one of Helen’s more en-vogue phases, they flapped wildly over the sasquatch. He batted them away with a furry paw, making his way to the door. He closed the iron gates just as one of the creatures landed, curling its talons around the bars inches from his face.
“Told you ‘id be troubl’, didn’ I?” Bigfoot grumbled, when the other two caught up to him.
“You don’t think it’s the Magoi – surely?” Will asked.
“Aw man that is not going to go down well with Ash,” Henry added, shaking his head. “She wanted to shoot that thing moment we found it.”
They all made their way through the sanctuary, clearing one security gate at a time.
“Where is she, anyway?”
“Probably down there with the damn Magoi,” Henry replied to Will. “It’ll take more than some fancy mind tricks to stop her putting a bullet through its camouflaged ass this time.”
But Ashley wasn’t down with the Magoi. She wasn’t anywhere to be found and Druitt was not help. He’d been broadening his knowledge of the library all afternoon. Or so he claimed.
“Shut it up for Christ’s sakes!” Will had his arms over his ears, staring at the glass enclosure with the shrieking creature.
“Screaming at the tech is not helping!” Henry spat back, both simultaneously trying to shield his ears and poke buttons on the computer board. The sirens abated first and then finally a thick smoke filled the Magoi’s glass cage. Eventually the screaming stopped followed by a thud as it hit the floor, mercifully unconscious. Henry wiped his brow. “Blood-y-hell!”
They assembled in front of the cage, waiting for the smoke to clear.
“I wonder what that was all about…” Will said.
Bigfoot huffed. “Nothin’ good.”
There was no point hiding in the shadows. All three of them picked their way over the river stones, inching closer to the waiting vampire general. He was shrouded in darkness, an outline accentuated by glistening claws and two red points where his eyes should be. Nikola’s eyes had never been red so either it was a ‘full-blood’ thing or a sign of a well fed vampire. Either way, it wasn’t good.
Their vampire took the lead, striding up towards his brother. The two had not met since before the great killings. It was almost yesterday for one – aeons for the other.
As they grew closer, Nikola was awed by how young the larger brother, General Apries looked. No more than thirty, even with silver scars running across his bare arms, crossing bulging veins swollen by fresh blood.
‘Brother… you look – well,’ Apries sneered at his elder looking sibling. He spoke the ancient tongue of which Nikola only understood a little. ‘I knew you collected things but this -‘ his red eyes wandered over the woman, ‘-is a jewel in that crown of thorns you call a home.’
It was a frosty reception but so far free of blood.
“What’s he saying?” Helen leaned close to Nikola, not liking the way the vampire gazed at her.
He shook his head. “Nothing good – something about a crown and collecting things. I presume he means us.”
“Not quite what we’d agreed.”
“Indeed,” he purred, flexing his fingers as if preparing to shift.
There was a drawn out silence until Apries continued. ‘When I heard you in my head, I admit I was surprised.’
‘These people have a creature,’ the vampire explained. ‘Its powers amplify our telepathy, to what end, I am unsure.’
Helen whacked Nikola in the side but he shook his head. “I don’t know what’s going on!”
The brother’s considered each other, Apries speaking again. ‘Immortals are still in the world, I guess that was to be expected. Do you know how many?’
‘This is the only one I’ve seen.’
‘She must know the key to Hollow Earth. An Immortal can always move between the worlds.’ His sharp claws dripped with the moisture in the cave. More flurries of dust rained down as though the whole tunnel were unsteady.
Nikola stiffened, glancing at Helen. “I think they’re talking about you.”
“We should really run,” she took a step backward but the ancient vampire snapped out of reality in a crack of thunder. A purple glow lit the cave, flaring again as Apries appeared, arm outstretched, claws inches from Helen’s throat. She startled, stumbling over the river stones.
The vampire could smell her glorious blood – feel it pounding around her body, thumping faster and faster. Such torment. Such bliss. His claws uncurled toward her throat wantonly before he withdrew his hand. She was poison. A rose amongst a bed of thorns.
She was also young, too young to kill him.
The corner of the vampire’s lip curled up when he heard the half-ling growl protectively.
“Curious,” Apries spoke, this time in heavily accented English. He had not the centuries of practice of his brother. “Is it like this for you too? How can you stand it…”
Nikola did not answer him.
Amasis, still standing beside Tesla, raised his hand. “Careful brother.”
Apries hesitated, red eyes locked on him. It happened so fast. He reached forward, wrapping his hand around Helen’s throat and yanking her away from Tesla. Apries held her close, claws biting into her skin. Helen raised her gun but it was knocked easily from her gloved hands.
“Let her go!” Nikola fumbled for his gun, levelling it at the General. He looked over his shoulder to the other vampire but hit was impossible to tell which side he was playing. “I said put her down!” Nikola repeated, inching closer.
The vampire drew away from him. “By all means, continue if you want her throat ripped out.”
Another column of dust fell between them. Helen’s frightened gaze flicked between Nikola and the vampire they’d brought along. Would he honour their bargain?
“Amasis, you bastard, come on!” Nikola hissed at the vampire beside him.
“Swear on her life, Mongrel…” Amasis replied, dark eyes darting to Nikola.
“I swear, I fucking swear!”
The general’s confidence faltered. Was he betrayed twice by his brother? The answer was ‘yes’ he realised, as Amasis lunged toward him. Apries tossed the immortal to the side, ducking out of his brother’s clawed swipe. He rolled and cut a blow upwards, landing it in the vampire’s chest. Then another, harder this time. “If you want me this time, you’ll have to do the work yourself!” growled Apries.
Nikola dragged Helen as far as he could, helping her sit. “Come on Helen, shake it off,” he begged. He could hear the vampires trading blows behind them and it was already clear that Apries had the upper hand. Which didn’t bode particularly well for them.
Helen shoved Nikola and grabbed the Browning, slipping the safety off. “We have to keep them busy,” she hissed, using a nearby boulder to help her stand. “There’s still an army down here.”
“That’s what’s troubling me,” Nikola replied, peering at the dark tunnel. It was too immense to pick anything but the largest features out. He clicked on his torch, shining it up toward the roof but it couldn’t penetrate fifty feet. “Shit!”
Ahead, General Apries thrust his clawed hand into his brother’s side, clothes tearing and growls erupting from Amasis who pushed him off angrily and followed with a crack of lightning arcing off his cloak. The General dodged it, hissing and brandishing his fangs.
‘Two thousand years and you still want me dead? Wasn’t my suffering enough!’ Amasis stumbled back to avoid his brother’s knife-like claws. Apries kept coming, hatred burning through his red eyes. ‘You turned on your own kind – sided with the Cabal…’
Amasis shook his head, holding his bloodied arm as it healed. The vestiges of youth were draining from his face as he tried to heal. ‘They were never meant to win,’ he insisted.
‘You were playing the humans and you lost.’ Apries stopped for a moment, his claws held up in a moment of peace. ‘It is not too late to turn the tide against them. Join me. I’m going to rebuild our father’s empire.’
Amasis turned to look at the half-ling and Immortal scrambling back toward them, their tiny, fragile figures paling in comparison to the mighty, vampire built tunnel around them. Vampires were empire builders, preservers of the world’s knowledge. Imagine what they could do if they had another chance. ‘I want to – but…’ He looked nervously at the darkness.
‘What – Amasis?’ the general demanded.
‘Kill the half-breed – I’ll find you again, I swear.’ Amasis had just enough strength left in him to leave the world in an almighty crack of purple lightning. The sound boomed around the cavern, shifting a rain of dust from above. He was gone, leaving Apries hissing in shock.
“Bloody hell…” Helen gasped, finding herself and Nikola the focus of the General’s attention.
The General didn’t come for her. In a shadow of claw and fang, it wrapped its hand around Tesla and threw him through the tunnel. He bounced like a rag doll over the stones, his gun flying off into the darkness.
“Nikola!” Helen shrieked, firing off three rounds into the vampire. They clinked harmlessly off his armour.
Nikola rolled onto his back, gasping as his lungs fought for air. He titled his head away from a column of dust. He could have sworn he saw something move against the darkness above. There wasn’t time to find out what as the general threw a large rock at him. The iron hit Nikola in the chest, breaking one of his rips.
He rolled over, spitting blood onto the stones. Nikola rolled out of the way in time to avoid another rock, smashing into the ground where he had been. He heard a shot from Helen’s gun and a whistle of air as it sailed passed the vampire and missed his shoulder by inches. “Careful!”
Nikola stumbled to his feet then ducked, claws slicing the air above his head. Instinct lunged him forward, his firsts laying two heavy hits into the general’s stomach between the armour plates. A casual swat from the ancient vampire’s arm sent Nikola flying off toward the wall. Instead of hitting the unforgiving rock, Tesla landed in a mass of bony limbs that writhed beneath him.
“Oh god…” he whispered, as he found himself amidst a mass of sand creatures who sank back into the tunnel like a wave receding from the shore. There were thousands of them, waiting patiently to be called by their master.
His stomach turned in terror but it was too late, Apries had hold of his ankle, dragging him back into the centre of the tunnel.
“Now tell me, half-ling,” Apries growled against the side of Nikola’s face, his fangs cutting deeply into Nikola’s neck and shoulder. “Why’ve you got the Immortal, hmm?”
Nikola stumbled, unable to hold his own weight on his broken ankle. It burned painfully as the vampire held up steady. “She’s a hell of a looker…” he managed, blood running down the edge of his lip.
The vampire shook Tesla roughly, another crack of bone coming from his leg. “Can she open the door?!” he demanded violently.
“The – what are you talking about?” Nikola replied, in genuine confusion.
Apries dropped him onto the sharp rock then yanked him back to his feet and started dragging him down the tunnel. Tesla struggled, leaving a smear of blood over the stones.
Helen followed, picking her way along in the darkness. She could hear the sand creatures now, clawing over the walls and ceiling, dislodging dust as they moved. They didn’t seem interested in her, creeping after their master instead.
RIVERS IN THE SNOW
Blood tumbled in rivers over the snow, freezing before the bodies at their source could die. One man blinked away a stray snowflake, its crystal form catching in his eyelashes. His fingers twitched against the ground, leather rasping against the snow and then went still. The black cliffs hung behind him, a demonic curtain of rock and ice framing the horror with a stark blue sky beyond.
Ashley pushed herself off the snow, groaning as pain ebbed from her bloodied arm. She inspected the trio of claw marks torn through her hiking gear, the force of which had sent her flying down into the soft snow behind some stray boulders. Her blood was still smeared on the nearest one where she’d clipped it with her head.
Staggering through a knee-deep drift, Ashley surveyed the remains of her rescue team. Even from this distance she could tell that all sixteen were dead, strewn over the area in various states of dismemberment with smears of carnage between them. Bullet casing littered the ground, gleaming like a bed of stars under the harsh sun.
The vampire had appeared from nowhere in a crack of purple light, electricity spewing forth in angry shrieks of thunder triggering micro avalanches. The rest was a haze but Ashley remembered seeing him feed from several of the team, stooping over their dying bodies with claws and fangs dripping red. The bloodshed was confirmed as she reached the top of the glacier and the bodies of her friends.
“Oh god… Williams,” Ashley whispered, kneeling beside a middle-aged man. She’d been on many missions with him, including her first through the swamps of Eastern Europe when she was still a child. “You were right – I’m sorry. Mum’s gonna be so mad but I couldn’t let her go into the mountains with two vampires and a cop as cover, no chance in hell…” Her gloved hand brushed his eyes closed.
She peeled open one of the first aid kits, wrapping the cuts on her arm. Frostbite could start fast and she was no good to anyone if she let it cripple her. Ashley sighed, holding her bandaged arm for a moment then picked up one of the radios and tapped it. Nothing. A gargle of static. She swore and delved deeper into the bag. There was a locator beacon inside which she slipped into her jacket. There was already enough weaponry concealed in her combat clothes to take on a small army to which she added a flare and stun grenade.
“Right, vampires – here we go,” she whispered, boots crunching against the snow. “Just like old times.”
Her dead friend seemed to smile at her as she trekked toward the cliffs.
As the minutes passed, Nikola could feel his body healing. Bones were knitting together, blood welling up and drying on his skin – torn muscles numbing. The ancient vampire sneered, taking care to shove Nikola roughly against the rock wall every now and then, breaking something new.
Tesla groaned softly as a fresh stream of blood ran down the side of his head. He was a scientist, not a warrior. Though it pained his ego to admit, he knew very well that he didn’t stand a chance against Apries.
“No-” he protested weakly, covering his face just before he was thrust into the rock again. It cut through his hands and arms, shredding what was left of his sleeve and adding a bloody tear along his forearm.
There was water under their feet. Nikola could feel it biting at his ankles. There was something else too – snow – it was wafting through the air, gently colliding with his cheeks. How could it be snowing?
He didn’t know how long they walked for but eventually the General came to a stop. Nikola opened his eyes. The first thing he saw were two beacons of fire erupting from the floor, burning in spirals of flame and wind. The base of its jets electric blue where it was feeding off natural gas locked in the rock. The heat from the enormous pillars of fire banished any hint of ice from the rock around them, scorched off the moss and left a sooty residue over the enormous door looming beyond as though it were the passage to hell itself.
Between the two flames lay the famous granite door built to a monstrous scale. Houses could have skimmed through its breadth with room to spare. Deep grooves and a large flat landing suggested that it was designed to open towards them but nothing had shifted its weight in tens of thousands of years.
It was not ornate. Instead, simple inscriptions were scored into the gleaming black surface read, ‘Immortal Lands’ in a language few could still read.
“I don’t understand,” Nikola whispered, when Apries held him close, pressing one of his sharp claws to Nikola’s fragile neck. He reached up, weakly gripping the General’s arm. “I know nothing of this – I swear.” Nikola was still taking in the shocking find. It was beyond anything he’d ever imagined finding buried under the earth. Its gleaming symbols meant nothing to him.
“I believe you,” Apries hissed. His army of sand creatures shivered against the walls and ceiling, waiting, hungry. “The woman you’re with -”
“Yes… She knows how to open the door and if she wants you back in one piece, she’s going to open it for me. Isn’t that right?” He lifted his voice, addressing the tunnel.
Helen’s response was another bullet, sheering off a nearby rock making the vampire laugh. The vampire curled the edge of his lip. “Immortals – always so testy.”
Nikola tried to pick her out against the rock. He could feel her – that rapid patter of her heart and the sound of her breath catching. She was there. “Don’t listen to him,” he managed. If this vampire desperately wanted what was behind this door then opening it was a very bad idea. “You hear me? Guh…” He gasped for air as the vampire thrust three of his claws through Nikola’s back and out his chest. There was a gurgle from Nikola’s mouth as blood welled up his throat and dripped from his lips.
“Stop it!” A very angry, British voice bellowed from the cave. Helen Magnus strolled out of the shadows, gun in hand. Her eyes were like steel, fixed on Apries. “Leave him alone.”
“Do you know what happens when you bleed a vampire dry?” Apries dragged his claws a few inches through Nikola drawing out a gargled screech from him. Helen could hear his blood dripping down onto the rock – his heart starting to fail. “It’s a very slow death,” he continued. “Losing your mind, drip by drip until insatiable hunger takes hold.”
Helen watched as Nikola’s head lulled back into unconsciousness.
“I know that you have to kill a vampire today – all of that, ‘restoring the balance’ shit that you Immortals have been peddling since the sun first rose but it doesn’t have to be me.” Apries withdrew his claws and let Nikola fall to the ground in a damaged heap against one of the boulders. “Or him, as I see you are quite fond of the mongrel.”
“Then who – Amasis?” she sneered. “He is long gone,” Helen did not lower her gun but she was running out of shots. She doubted the silver tipped rounds were enough to kill him.
“I can bring you my brother,” Apries walked past Nikola’s body without so much as a glance. “I’ll even do it for you, for old time’s sake. I had a age to think things over in my tomb. Genetic memory is a powerful thing, Immortal,” he reached out to brush his claws over the stone door. “I searched mine, for hundreds of years until it started to unlock… The things I saw – glimpses of what lays beyond this door.”
Helen frowned, risking a cautious step closer. She resisted the urge to look at the sea of sand creatures churning around the walls and ceiling. They made their presence known by a constant rain of dust. “You weren’t coming for my Sanctuary?”
The vampire laughed, turning. He lounged back against the cold, rock of the door. “Did you really think that my first port of call after thousands of years imprisonment would be revenge?”
Helen was silent.
He shook his head. “Disappointing… There are much grander prizes than retribution.” Apries tapped his claws against the granite. “Can you read it?”
Helen lifted her gaze to the symbols cut into the door. She’d never seen the language before but her mind instantly translated. The flicker or recognition in her eyes was enough for Apries.
“Good. Now, if you’d be so kind – how do I open it?”
Helen shook her head. “I have no idea.”
Slowly, the vampire stalked over to Nikola’s body, stepping on his neck – pressing down with his sandle until another moan escaped Nikola. “Answer carefully, Magnus.”
“Werewolves in a hole – what happened to you?” Ashley sat down beside Detective Joe Kavanaugh. “You look like you got bit by a vampire.”
Joe, deathly pale, rested against the tunnel wall, gulping down half a bottle of water before he replied. “I did. Your mother forgot to mention I was a walking snack.”
Ashley flinched. “Sorry. Mum does things like that.”
“Clearly,” he pointed at the angry fang marks on his neck.
She rested her hand on his shoulder. Ashley didn’t know Joe particularly well but he seemed like a nice enough guy and so far he’d handled the onslaught of the Abnormal world much better than any of the other institutional forces she’d come across. Maybe he might consider working for them one day. “When was the last time you saw them?”
“Half a day ago?” he guessed. “That bloody ancient pain in the neck looks a lot younger now he’s freshly fed.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “He tore through our guys up top no trouble. No wonder mum won’t let Tesla feed.”
“Something’s gone wrong. Amasis was on our side far as I could tell.” Joe had a terrible feeling that they’d find Magnus and Tesla’s bodies deeper in the caves.
A veil of dust fell over Helen, the sand creatures above shifting restlessly.
“Stop it… or I won’t tell you shit, Apries,” she scowled. “Thank you,” Helen watched Apries back away from Tesla. There was just one gaping problem in Helen’s plan – she didn’t have the faintest clue how to open the door. She surveyed the enormous slab of rock, shining her torch up its facade. The surface of the stone was unnaturally smooth, certainly polished by hand and then set into place. The slab beneath Apries and Tesla was equally worked, almost like parts of a machine. Hell – what she really needed was Nikola. He was the engineer.
Apries narrowed his blue eyes at her. “What?”
“The secret of the door was lost long ago,” she lied casually. “Yes, I can read the language but I need Tesla,” her hand waved at the vampire, “to help open it.”
Those blue eyes went black. “The mongrel?” he spat. She nodded. Apries snarled something untoward.
Helen nodded, her eyes betraying nothing this time. “Didn’t you wonder why an Immortal would allow a vampire to live?” she let the revelation hang in the air until it stuck. “Now you know. You’re not the only one trying to open this door, vampire.”
Apries picked Tesla up by the back of his jacket like a kitten. He glowered at the barely conscious half-breed. “That true?”
Nikola had just enough presence of mind to nod weakly.
“Still nothing,” Joe slipped the radio back into his pocket. “We’re not officially missing for another two days.”
“I’m not missing for three – I was supposed to be your backup.”
“Well, thanks, I guess.”
Ashley lofted her eyebrow at him. “I heard about your dad, by the way. Now I know why you were always hanging around the gates while I was growing up.” They were nearly the same age – Joe three years her senior.
“It’s why I became a detective in the first place. There is some seriously weird shit going down in Old City but most of the Force keeps their eyes closed. They don’t want to know what’s really going on. Or they’ve been told not to look. I’m not sure which.”
The corner of her lip curled up in a smile. “You know, if we both manage to live through this perhaps we could help each other out a bit. You drop me a few hints – I reel in the abnormals. Lower body count all round.”
“Let’s live through this first,” he managed a proper smile, a bit of colour returning to his skin now. “Now, if you really are my back up, you better give me a hand.”
Nikola was sitting against one of the polished rocks in front of the door indulging his obsessive compulsive behaviour. He was using a shred torn from his jacket to wipe away as much dried blood from his face as possible but the rag was filthy, merely spreading charcoal across his flesh. Most of his bones were mended even if the pain hadn’t subsided. Still, he was in a black mood, scowling at the other vampire.
It was still snowing, tiny crystals wafting through the Throat of Thoth. He realised now that it was the constant stream of snow which caused the water to collected in the tunnel’s floor.
“All right Nikola, enough now,” Helen whispered, standing a few feet from him. Her gun was back in its holster and Apries paced around the door, lost in thought with his army of sand creatures hissing in the cave behind.
“This is not going well,” Tesla pointed out, tossing the rag away.
“Like all of your evil plans go smoothly,” she automatically snapped back.
“Usually they do – until you drop by and start unravelling them.”
“Really Nikola, can we focus on the task at hand?”
He surveyed the door, polished stones and breadth of the tunnel behind. Despite his reservations, Nikola couldn’t stop his mind from attempting the puzzle at hand. “I’m not sure it’s something I should be setting my mind to.”
“It’s that or he kills us,” Helen whispered.
“He’s going to do that anyway. Come on Helen, you know how this goes. We help the bad guys get what they want – they return their gratitude with a few well placed bullets, or in this case fang marks. Ow!”
She’d swatted him over the head, messing up his hair. “Focus!”
“Focussing…” he sighed, using the rock to help him to his feet. Several of his bones cracked back into place. He dusted off his tattered clothes and strutted up to the door. Apries narrowed his eyes at the mongrel. Such half-bred creatures were forbidden under his father’s rule.
Nikola had spent his whole adult life trying to meet a full blood vampire but the reality was rather underwhelming. “It’s not vampire in origin,” Nikola started, touching the cold stone. There was a faint current of electricity almost like a pulse coursing through the veins of imperfection. “Nor is it from Hollow Earth.”
Nikola looked over his shoulder at Helen. For the first time he saw her for the creature that she was. An Immortal. A different race entirely. A race with a past lost beneath the world – all but erased from it.
Helen shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. “What?”
He smirked. “Nothing, Ms Magnus…” His smile was stolen when he saw some of the sand creatures’ eyes peering out from the darkness at him. Nikola cleared his throat. Focus, he reminded himself before Helen could hit him again.
Whatever the answer was, it wasn’t on the door itself, so Nikola walked away – right away, down the steps and back into the tunnel of river stones.
“Where the hell is it going?” Apries growled.
“Patience,” Helen insisted. “Let him go. This is what he does.”
The ground shook. Ashley and Joe stumbled, lunging for the rough wall opposite as rock and dust consumed them from above. The stones beneath their feet bounced like popcorn, wildly smashing against their ankles. Joe yelped, boot rolling – pitching him sharply to one side.
“Quick!” Ashley grabbed Joe by the sleeve of his jacket, pulling him into a cramped alcove several feet above the floor. They sandwiched themselves into it, staying above most of the debris.
Cracks tore through the volcanic bedrock with a thunderous boom. Water gushed out through the fresh fissures and froze into jagged outcrops of ice. The daggers sheered off instantly joining the rubble on the floor.
“The whole place is coming down!” Joe squeezed himself deeper into the alcove to avoid a freezing spray of glacier water.
Nikola held his hands up innocently.
“It wasn’t me!” he insisted, despite the dubious glares from both Helen and Apries.
The earthquake may have subsided but the passageway was not left unscathed. The Throat of Thoth continued to rumble overhead, boulders the size of cars slamming into the floor making Helen glance warily up the the ceiling. Eventually they stopped falling and she resumed her glare.
“At least not on purpose,” Nikola amended, shifting under Helen’s sharp gaze. That woman terrified him far more than the brooding vampire.
“Idiot!” the vampire raged. “You nearly brought the entire mountain down on our heads,” Apries looked flustered, his claws covered in an unappealing film of dust. His sand creatures were crawling around in a daze on the floor, licking their wounds or dragging themselves out from the rubble. Some had been swatted like flies beneath falling boulders, their innards dragged over the stone. Agonised screeches suggested some were still alive.
“Hey it was a guess,” Nikola’s ego out-stripped his instinctual fear of the general. “And a darn sight better than anything you’ve come up with so far. It was a result, perhaps not a particularly desirable one but…”
“If you’re going to tell me this is like your earthquake machine,” Helen joined into the chorus of disapproval, “I’m going to shoot you in the leg just like New York!”
“Aw come on… that was only one iddy-bitty city block. They barely noticed!”
“So help me Nikola!” Helen glowered, hair full of bits of cave.
When he first entered the tunnel, Nikola had noticed that the smooth boulders positioned in a semi-circle in front of the door were not granite. Despite the dull gleam of their polished surfaces, they were carved out of meteorite which in its own right was an incredible technical feat by the ancient builders. Nikola was beginning to hatch a theory that all the meteorite fragments passed on the way in were also deliberately placed – even if they hadn’t been tidied up to look pretty.
There was something special about this outer space corpse. Nikola didn’t claim to be a professor of geology but the magnetic and electric fields on the surface were odd. On closer inspection of the giant door he discovered the imperfections running through the granite to be the remains of the asteroid. It was probably melted together and fused by half-hearted mountain building geology. It still carried an electric charge after thousands of years. Tens of thousands… The important question was why?
Nikola had a theory about that too.
“How much do you know about these ‘beings before time’?” Nikola asked Apries. “The Egyptian vampires portrayed them as gods. Were they a particularly advanced race for the ancient world or was it all just a bit of wishful myth-building?”
Apries frowned. “You should ask the Immortal. They are her ancestors, not mine.”
Helen shrugged. “Don’t look at me, Nikola. Your Egyptian mythology was always better than mine. I was too busy chasing werewolves.”
Which was totally true. Nikola sighed and carefully looked around the cave again. The only way any of them were getting through that door was if he worked how to open it. Ancient race – how hard could it be? They probably didn’t even have a refined version of the wheel…
Refusing to be outsmarted, Nikola clambered up onto a fresh outcrop caused by the earthquake. He nudged a few dazed sand creatures away as he emerged on the flat top of granite. He had a perfect view of the door and the fragments of meteorite curving around it like a series of crescent moons. They instantly reminded him of a bar magnet hungrily sucking in a storm of iron filings. The fragments of meteor where more densely clustered towards the edges of the door and every single one of them had a slight tilt to their left. No doubt they were only half the picture with a mirror image on the other side of the door.
“This tunnel is a lock,” he said, standing on his large, makeshift platform. He pointed out the main rock markers for the two below. “And it has a primitive power source drawn directly from the meteorite fragments. They’re scattered all the way through.” He pointed them out.
“It doesn’t look very electric,” Helen shouted up at him.
He rolled his eyes in her direction. “The circuit is open. We have to find out where it’s been broken then fix it.”
“And the door will open?” Apries stepped forward.
“Well – I presume so. They wouldn’t be a very clever ancient people if their doors don’t work.”
“Hey – hey, no one’s meant to be takin’ the trucks ’til they’re cleaned and – hey!”
One of the security guards that Helen had left in charge of their temporary base thumped his hand on the solid window of the SUV. The driver ignored him, the young man hunting for keys.
“I’m talkin’ to you!” he continued, moving his hand down to open the door. It was locked. The guard swore and lifted the but of his automatic rifle. He slammed it against the side of the car with an almighty clang. “You hear me in there, kiddo?!”
Amasis had left his vow of human abstinence in tatters. The moment that glorious blood touched his lips he’d felt life returning to his tortured limbs. It welled through his body, reversing the thousands of years of decay that had taken root in his bones. Now he looked more like a young prince.
The vampire turned at the banging and snarled, a full row of jagged fangs shining back at the security guard.
“What the f-” the security guard started to say, lifting his gun and fumbling for his radio. The car door opened, hitting him before he could make the call. The guard flew backwards into a fire extinguisher with a dull thud. The brackets connecting it to the wall collapsed. It and the guard met the floor together before the red cylinder rolled away.
Amasis stepped carefully over it. He considered the human, one of his fangs dripping sticky venom. “I am a future king. Will you serve me?”
The guard lifted his head up in equal measures pain and amusement. “You’re ‘ff your ‘ead, mate,” he replied. “Off your bleedin’-”
Two silenced gunshots thwapped into the guard’s chest. The vampire reached forward, taking the unused weapon from the guard’s hands while he desperately tried to gargle out his last words. They never came.
Amasis steered the truck out of its metal cage and launched it onto the snow-covered road. He’d driven plenty of chariots and horses in his time but the car wiggled under his hold, slipping along the treacherous mountain road.
He was heading for the village nestled in the valley. Precious more than a litter of farms and houses, Amasis was interested in its airstrip and the plane that Magnus had brought them on. It was crucial that he return to her Sanctuary. While ever the Magoi lived, he could not outpace his brother. It had to be killed. Only then would he stand any chance of disappearing into the shadows.
The earthquake left the once rushing glacier torrent dividing the cave’s tunnel a ruin of rock. Ashley and Joe inspected the freshly collapsed section of ceiling to their right, blocking the river’s path entirely. The ice wall plugged its source, for the moment. At its thinnest, it was a sheet of blue-green sitting in stark contrast to its overall imposing presence of blue, white and black. It creaked eerily, tons of water quickly backing up behind the crude ice-plug leaking through only a few tiny crevices.
“That’s not going to hold long,” whispered Joe, starting over the rock-filled chasm. Their surfaces were extremely slippery, both of them fumbling for grip. Joe lost his, slid down the face of a curved boulder and landed on a fresh mound of ice. “Is this a bad time to mention my claustrophobia?”
Ashley vaulted over the rocks beside him. “Trust me, you’re not. Found myself on a mission with a claustrophobic guy once – nightmare!” she drawled lightly, picking the detective off the floor on her way past. “Mind you, can’t say I’m a fan of our lovely ice-dam,” she shone her torch over it. Even the beam of light seemed to make it more unsteady.
“Let’s just hope that if it breaks, it’ll follow it’s old path and not chase us down the tunnel.”
“Least resistance…” A cursory glance between the river’s two options didn’t fill either of them with much confidence so they both returned to silence – until they heard it.
Ashley stopped, gun rising beneath her torch. She narrowed her eyes at the darkness in front, slowly tracking the halo of her torch across its breadth. Nothing.
“What?” Joe whispered, then frowned as he heard the rustle of claws against stone. “Oh shit! I’ve heard that before.”
The vampire lazily chucked another pebble into the depths of the tunnel, missing the mongrel by a foot or two. He and the Immortal were sat against the door, boredly watching Tesla hunt around another outcrop of meteorite. The initial flurry of excitement was over.
“If he’s stalling for time, I’m going to turn him into an orderve,” Apries hissed.
“I’ve never met a vampire that bored,” Helen replied, letting her head rest against the stone. Now that it was clear their lives weren’t in any immediate danger, she was starting to wonder what was behind this damn door that made so many ancient creatures hunt for it. “How long have you known about this place?”
Apries glanced at her but never for too long, his crystal eyes fixed on the half-breed. He didn’t trust Tesla. “Since my imprisonment,” he replied, his voice sounded as young as he looked, something which Helen found quite disconcerting. “There were vague references to it buried in the temple archives but very few gave it any credence in my father’s reign.”
“But before that?”
“There was a time when hunting the lost world of the Immortals was the favourite pastime of young Pharaohs.”
“Bit like the Grand Tour then,” Helen managed a smirk. She was watching Nikola too. He was laying his hands on various fragments of rock, no doubt trying to feel the electric current. He didn’t look as though he was having any luck. Not yet. “And your brother?”
Apries risked returning his gaze to her. It wasn’t just that he wanted to keep an eye on Tesla. It was that Magnus was enticing. She was genetically tailored to appeal to him and he was determined not to slip into that trap.
“You are keen to kill him,” he pointed out, not revealing any emotion either way. “There is nowhere in this world that he can run where I won’t find him. Don’t worry, Immortal, you will have your vampire bounty before long.”
“Good,” she nodded, drawing her knees up. “I have this insatiable urge to kill something coming on again.”
Both of them craned their heads and Tesla ducked down behind a particularly large hunk of meteorite almost centred to the door. It was roughly egg-shaped though little attempt had been made to polish it up. This particular rock had the faintest spider webs of gold tangled through it.
“There are stories that survive today,” Helen continued, “of an ancient, advanced race – the Atlantians -” she was about to continue when Apries broke into a shrill laugh. “What?”
“Those Greek whores?” he seemed genuinely amused. “Vampires were well acquainted with them, some even unwisely married into their royal family. Believe me, they are not a particularly memorable part of this planet’s history. The whole thing ended in tears and a bang.”
“Serves them right for building their empire on a volcano…” Helen had to admit.
“Humans always think that nothing will happen to them, that the movements of the world and space are irrelevant but I have always supposed that is due to their tiny lifespans. They cannot see the world like you or I. It breathes.” Magnus was staring at him. “You believe that I am a simple warrior? I am the son of the Pharaoh, raised to rule,” he purred, eyes shifting back to their natural black for a moment.
She was momentarily caught by them. For a moment she saw a flicker of who he truly was, an emperor of the ancient world and she was way out of her depth. “You cannot rule over humans any more – those days are dead.”
“You’re wrong,” Apries made her shiver. “Humanity is born to be ruled. They cannot exist without hierarchy. I may never sit on a throne but I sure as hell will rule them.”
Helen sighed. Why were vampires so god damn preoccupied with ruling the Earth?
“Jesus motherfukin’ christ!” Joe leapt back in terror as the sand creature fell from the roof and landed in a heap at his feet. It was alive, barely, writhing in agony. It flickered between visible and invisible, desperately clutching a bloody stump where its foreleg was missing.
Ashley lowered her gun.
“Jeeze…” she whispered, considering the creature. “Must have been hit by a rock during the earthquake.”
It was whining, huddling against the wall only partially aware of the humans in front of it. Somehow in its pain the deeply buried seeds of its humanity crept through. Once that had been a person, just like Will.
Ashley lifted her gun to kill it but found Joe’s hand on her arm. “Why not?” she asked.
“If that were me, would you still shoot?”
The fact that she didn’t answer straight away made Joe frown and turn his attention back to the cave in front of them. Every now and then the earth shook again, the belly of the mountain clearly suffering indigestion from the people disturbing its slumber. “Leave it alone,” Joe repeated softly, as the creature’s wails grew softer. “We need to get to your mother. Whatever those vampires are after, they’re not going to keep her alive once they have it.”
Every tunnel was in a worse state than the next. Rubble, ice and running water obstructed their path and more than once the pair of them had to shift boulders the size of tables to get through. “I think we’re getting closer to the source of the quake…”
Joe raised his eyebrow but said nothing.
Finally, the narrow passageway ended – albeit in a sheer drop into a vast cavern. The walls and ceiling constantly shifted with the camouflaged bodies of sand creatures, their scarlet bodies picking up the firelight from below. Two jets of flame framed a giant door and in front of it were three people in the midst of a heated discussion.
“I’m not wrong, Helen…” Nikola pleaded, gesturing back at the rock behind him. “I know I’ve had my fair share of daft ideas but most of them are right even if they’re not in the best interests of humanity.”
“Why do I get the feeling that this is one of those times?” she hissed. “Well come on, you better show us what you mean.”
Nikola led them over to the back of the meteorite chunk. He’d been digging away at the rubble around its base, going down several feet. “These things are a lot bigger than I thought. The tunnel has filled up with debris over the years – a lot, actually. It’s a bit damaged but I don’t think that matters.”
He’d uncovered a trio of indents in the rock, egg shaped depressions with metal clasps set into their bases. Very unusual, especially as they showed no sign of deterioration.
“I never thought I’d say it, Nikola – but you might actually be right for once…” Helen whispered.
Nikola tried not to look put out as the vampire knelt down, taking a closer look. “Keystones,” he said, brushing his claws over the indents. “So much for the myths. Those ancient quacks were right all along.”
“You know what these are?”
Apries nodded at Helen. “I even know where one of them is provided the tomb hasn’t been raided. What…?” he lowered his voice when the Immortal shifted uncomfortably.
“Most Egyptian tombs have been ransacked,” she admitted. “If you hadn’t built such huge monuments to your egos more of your civilisation might have survived.”
He was put out but not put off. “Surely humans kept some of the treasures they stole?”
“The British Museum,” Nikola interrupted. “It was a long time ago but I swear I saw a strange smooth stone with indecipherable markings on it.”
Apries looked at the door, then to the room full of sand creatures. “You’d help me open this door?”
Nikola and Helen looked at each other. “You know what, I think we might on the proviso you stop snacking on humans for the time being.”
Apries was about to agree to the irritating terms when he heard crack in the distance, then a small landslide of rocks followed by a surprised yelp that certainly didn’t belong to a sand creature.
“You are not here alone?”
“We brought another man with us, a snack for your brother. He must have woken up and come looking for us.” Helen looked nervously up to the dark end of the tunnel where they’d emerged.
Ashley dragged Joe frantically back from the edge when the ground had given way under his weight. They froze, eyes locked on the trio beneath them who’d stop talking and turned to face them. So much for sneaking to the rescue.
“Wait – what’s that?” Ashley whispered, her arms still around Joe’s waist.
There was a fourth figure in the cave now. At first she thought it was just a shadow against the wall but it had crept closer to the door. It was tall, slender and nearly inhumane in the way it moved. “MUM!” Ashley yelled, instantly giving away her position.
Helen was startled, flashing her torch toward the end of the cave but unable to see anything. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“There’s something else down here!” she continued, as the shadow ducked out of view.
“What’s it doing?” Will collapsed into the couch with a beer and tray of hot chips. It was nearly nightfall and he was drained from cleaning up the Sanctuary. Bigfoot was baby sitting the Magoi while Henry got all the security systems back to full strength. Druitt – well, he was doing bugger all as usual.
“Nothing…” came Bigfoot’s reply over the radio.
Will leaned forward, turning on the monitor to confirm it. Nothing. Hours and hours of nothing since they’d knocked it out with gas.
“Nothing is what I like to hear. Come on up, have some dinner. It’s not going anywhere.”
The lack of reply suggested that Biggie agreed.
Will tapped on the keyboard lazily, switching to another screen. He logged into the archives, trailing through folders until he came to one marked, ‘Tesla’. Curious, he clicked only to be confronted by a password prompt. None of his worked.
“Typical,” he muttered. Magnus trusted him but obviously not completely. Not when it came to her past or anything to do with the true history of vampires. He made a mental note to berate her about that when she came back. Speaking of which, she was supposed to check in around now.
Henry strolled into the room. “Hey dude,” he said, not looking up from his ipad.
“Has Magnus checked in yet?”
“Nope. Helicopter returned to base on schedule and she left a few text messages before going into the mountains. Nothing since then but that’s hardly surprising considering she ended up in the mountain. Ashley checked in though.”
“Where the hell is she?”
“Where do you think?” Henry sighed, turning the ipad around so that Will could see the snow-laden world of the Pensi La Mountain Pass.
“Great. Magnus is going to kill us either way now.”
“Nah,” Henry assured. “You need to stop worrying about Ashley. She can take care of herself. I’d worry about Helen before Ashley. Hate to say it but that girl has more than a share of her father’s stubbornness speaking of-”
“In his room, sharpening his knives.”
Henry shifted uncomfortably. “Really?”
“Creepy. Well, I’m off for a nap – don’t let the place fall down around us, eh?” Henry slinked out. It was full moon tonight, maybe he’d go for a bit of a howl.
Apries was okay with a few more stray humans but not uninvited guests.
“Not me…” Helen whispered to both Nikola and the general. “Maybe someone else followed you here?” she asked the vampire, but he shook his head as well. “Everyone back to the door. Can I have my gun now?”
Apries rolled his eyes and handed her the weapon. It wasn’t much good against him anyway. He flexed his claws, narrowing his eyes at the tunnel. “I didn’t hear anything – it’s not Amasis.”
Nikola, armed with only his half-sized claws, looked especially uncomfortable, raising his torch defensibly. “Can’t you sic your sand creatures on them or something?”
“I already have,” he replied smoothly.
It would do them no good. The creature hunting them could make itself undetectable to anything with vampire DNA. The Immortal professor rested against a large boulder, watching the tunnel with black eyes. One vampire had to go.
“Can you see it?” Joe craned his head.
“Nah,” she whispered back. “If it ain’t one of ours then it’s bad news.” There was a nasty creak behind them. They turned, listening for a sudden rush of water but it didn’t come. “I don’t like this. Not one bit.”
Nikola worked it out. His stomach sank, fear spreading through his ancient blood as he realised what Helen had done – what she’d been planning all along. He should have known that she had some insane scheme, pursuing the General deep into unknown mountains. She’d made a serious miscalculation.
He tried to catch her eye without Apries noticing. Helen was edging forward into the belly of the cave under the guise of hunting out the intruder, firelight flickering over the barrel of her gun. The intruder she’d bloody well gone and invited along, thought Tesla crossly. If he made it out of here alive and in this case he really meant if, he was going to give her a right piece of his mind and possibly make a snack of her protege.
General Apries was none the wiser, black eyes darting at shadows in the tunnel. His ears pricked up at the sound of bodies hitting rock. Sand creatures – falling one by one from the roof to the floor of the tunnel. Dead.
“What the hell is going on?” he demanded, as something shredded his army into a rippling carpet of bone.
“Buggered if I know,” Helen lied, incredibly well, Nikola realised.
“Something’s killing your army,” Nikola filled in.
The sand creatures were falling faster, several hitting the ground at a time, necks snapped. Some tried to slip away into the corners of the room but they were pursued to bloody ends. The last one put up a fight, screeching and hurling rocks until it was snatched into the darkness. An eerie silence followed.
Nikola never thought that he’d miss the sound of sand creatures scratching about but he did. He looked around, not at the tunnel but the door behind. Its stone was unyielding, offering no glimpse of its secrets or chance of escape. He was going not going to make it out of here alive. If Apries was anything like his brother then he could teleport his arse to safety. Nikola had no such luxury.
Everyone’s eyes were drawn instantly to movement.
Pacing through the centre of the tunnel was Nikola’s old Professor from University. The world’s last true Immortal and keeper of the balance between two dangerous species. His long coats swept over the stones with a soft hiss. Tall, slender and surreal, the firelight licked around him as though greeting an old friend.
“Priest…” General Apries tensed, claws flexing slightly as he caught sight of the Immortal. It was not their first meeting. He tilted his head, eyes blacker than the tunnel. His amour glinted. “Well, well, well…”
Nikola’s Professor arched a narrow eyebrow.
600 BCE, MEMPHIS, EGYPT
Limestone pillars reached up toward the heavens, shining in the morning sun like rays of the immortal god himself. Most of the temple was buried by seas of mist, lost in the rising surge that left the walls – several hundred metres long – gleaming with moisture. They were capped with decorative carvings doubling in purpose both to scare and impress the thousands of pilgrims that traversed the known world to visit the library within. Its guests were met by eight statues guarding the gates, towering half the height of the wall. They held spears with flags flapping against the wind, empty eyes gazing at the festering city. Lines of sphinxes sat either side of the walkway, lounging like lions on the savannah.
Hut-Ka-Ptah, birthplace of the empire’s name – ‘The White Walls’, enduring and beautiful were crumbling into the sands. Its glory was lost but not its heart. The empire may have moved to Thebes and Memphis later captured by the Assyrians but the grand temple survived by the grace of local Egyptian Princes who still made the journey to pray at its alters and peruse its secret documents, too fragile to be moved.
Two of these young princes, eight and twelve, raced through the granite hallway with torches nearly blown out by the speed of their bare feet against the stone. They skidded around each corner, laughter echoing through the complex until they scampered into the depths of the main library.
The Head Priest turned slowly, lowering his patient gaze to the boys as they assembled in front of him. To them, he was so tall that the boys called him, ‘statue’.
“Amasis… Apries…” he drawled each of their names so that they knew they were in trouble. Prince Amasis, by far the most curious, set his torch in a holder and scurried over to the shelves, running his sticky hands over the papyrus until he found the scroll that they had been reading yesterday. Apries was less enthusiastic, seating himself at the table, boredly flicking the edge of his quill. He was the future King but like most young Princes, he much preferred to be outside learning the art of war rather than locked in a cellar with dusty parchments.
The recent wars had lowered their numbers but there were still many Immortals left in the world, thousands even and just as many vampires. It was important to keep a close eye on the vampires, shaping the young ones and thus the next generation. The Immortals had taken up roles in the temples and nurseries, rearing baby princes and princesses.
These two though, the Priest had to admit, were a real pair. It was never a good idea to have polar opposites for heirs. It usually ended in war unless he could manage to knock a bit of sense into them – even out the balance, so to speak.
Apries stabbed the table with the sharp nib of his quill. The Priest sighed softly. This was going to be harder than he thought.
“I might have guessed,” Apries shifted at the sight of his former Priest. There was not a day of the thousands of years on his face and he couldn’t help but wonder how Immortals ended up looking old. Unless they were immensely old. “If you’ve come to give me a lesson I think you’ll find your precious libraries burned down long ago. Humanity… what can you do?”
The Professor flinched. Apries was quite right. Humanity had destroyed the troves of knowledge carefully collected by Immortals and Vampires alike. “You know why I have come.”
Nikola was doing his absolute best to become invisible against the door. A vampire was going to die and he was determined that it wouldn’t be him.
“I might have gone after Amasis – even Tesla,” the Professor glanced briefly to the scientist, “if you hadn’t come here. You know this is a forbidden world – forbidden for all of us. Now I have no choice. Tesla -if you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave this place and never return,” he added, directed at the scientist.
“Y-yes…” he stuttered, backing away from the door. Helen took him by the arm and tugged him out into the tunnel away from the two ancient creatures. “You could have bloody told me what you were up to!” he hissed at Helen, stepping over the corpses of slaughtered sand creatures.
“Nikola, you can’t keep a secret to save your life.”
“Don’t suppose you gave any thought to what’ll happen when Apries teleports out of here and I’m the only vampire within claw’s reach?”
“Oh Nikola – the Professor is not going to kill you. You’re only half-vampire, remember?”
It was the one and only time Nikola didn’t snap at her for pointing that out.
“I wasn’t even sure he would come. It’s not like he has a phone or anything. We need to get to Ashley – and Joe.”
“Yeah, he’s probably left your fan club after you fed him to Amasis…” Nikola pointed out.
“He’ll forgive me,” she hoped rather than knew. “I can’t believe it, he’s killed every sand creature. I was banking on saving a few.”
Ashley and Joe were far above in the mouth of the small passage however the land bridge that had allowed Helen and Tesla into the tunnel was gone, destroyed by the earthquake.
“Mum?” Ashley called cautiously, waving.
“For the record, you’re grounded,” Helen muttered at her daughter. “Did you bring rope?” Her question was answered when Ashley threw down the end of a nylon rope.
“Are we coming down or are you guys coming up?” she asked, not sure which was safer.
“It’s snowing in here,” Nikola whispered to Helen, pointing up at the soft flecks wafting around them. “There must be an exit nearby. It’ll take days to get back to the pass and I doubt we’ve got that long.”
He had a point. Helen waved down Joe and her daughter.
Amasis held the terrified pilot at gunpoint, watching the mountain peaks fade away until they were indistinguishable from the puffs of white cloud. The bodies of the co-pilot and crew littered the plane, stains of blood flourishing the walls with a grisly reminder of the terror a few hours before.
Apries and the Professor were still talking as the group snuck down, winding their way through the Throat of Thoth toward a speck of daylight at the end of the tunnel. Nikola was right, it was snowing in the tunnel and the snow was getting heavier as they traversed the rubble.
“What are they doing?” Ashley asked, glancing back over at the two figures slowly circling each other.
“Preparing to fight,” Helen whispered back. “It is no light thing for two immortal creatures to duel.”
Another soft quake shook the tunnel. All of them stumbled falling amongst the rocks as more fragments of roof caved in and crashed down around them. A rock the size of a car landed next to Joe, shattering into a dozen pieces next to his head, falling away from him into the cave. He was too shocked to move.
“I don’t know what you did, Nikola – but this place is unstable.”
“Seriously, I just shifted one rock.” He was about to continue his defence when he heard it. Another rockfall, far in the distance. Water pushing past it. Ice snapping. “Oh shiiiiiit…” he hissed, hustling back to his feet. “Run, now!”
They barely made it fifty metres when the first surge of glacier water poured through the hole into their tunnel. It slammed into the ground, shifting boulders out of its way. The freezing water frothed, forced out of the tiny hole in a roar.
Everyone paused to watch. There was silence then a cold wind rushing over them, blowing away the snow.
Apries and the Immortal were hit first, the torrent knocking them down like bowling pins. They thrashed against the water as it threw them into rocks along with the bodies of the sand creatures, swirling around them like shrivelled Autumn leaves.
The others ran, cold spray on their backs and the first trickles of water rising underfoot as they bolted toward the end of the tunnel. The light in front grew bigger. The mouth of the tunnel opened out with a jagged edge gaping at the world. They could see the beginnings of mountains. A smear of blue sky. Nikola looked over his shoulder – and screamed.
Dr Will Zimmerman was asleep. Bits of chip were sprinkled over his shirt, ground into the couch as he rolled onto his stomach. The TV was on but the original program had finished hours ago. Something obscure was playing now – the kind of thing that the networks pretended they didn’t buy then sort to hide in the wee hours of the morning when only very drunk people were awake.
Druitt had been prepared to render the irritating protege unconscious but there was no need. He stepped silently through the office toward the monitors. John bent over, knocking the mouse to wake it up. A few clicks and he was scrolling through the Sanctuary’s files, hunting until he found it.
The screen prompted him for a password.
John hesitated, clearly changing his mind after a moment’s thought. The folder unlocked though he seemed slightly disappointed.
“That hurts…” he whispered to Helen.
He inserted a USB drive into the computer and started copying. A snore from the couch told him he was in no danger.
The water hit Nikola like a wall, dislocating vertebrae as it churned against him, pushing him through the cave. He was helpless as the others sank into the water. He reached for Helen just before she went under, their fingertips brushing. Then she was gone.
Nikola had no time to think. Suddenly the world became impossibly bright. He was outside, the glare giving way to a perfect vista of the ice locked valley. He was still going forwards, flying through the air – then dropping sharply. Nikola looked down and saw nothing but white beneath. They’d been thrown clear of the tunnel and entered free-fall over the mountains.
He yelped, flailing uselessly at the water.
Boulders started dropping out of the wave, snatched from the torrent by gravity. They seemed to fall for an age before smashing into the snow below, rolling down the mountainside until they looked like fluffy white snowballs.
Nikola fell faster. The water around him was losing all its strength. Other bodies were falling, sand creatures raining down. Amongst them was a flare of dark brown hair.
“Helen!” he screamed, trying to move toward her.
She was groggy, blood running from her forehead. It took her a moment to realise what was happening. “Nikola!”
They all smashed to the ground together – a brand new waterfall forming at the mouth of the cave above. It tickled down in a serene curtain, giving now indication of the violence of its birth.
Joe was amazed to find his eyes open. Daylight. Snow – god lots of snow. He tried to turned his head but the perfectly Joe-shaped hole in the snow was a snug fit and deep, at least ten feet. Nothing seemed to hurt but it was impossible to tell if that was because he was unscathed or more likely, very cold.
A shadow passed over his hole – then a rope dangled in. Surprised that his hands worked, Joe took hold, wrapping the nylon around his wrists. The slack vanished, a sharp tightening of the rope into his gloves – then he was pulled free.
Ashley found Tesla knelt over her mother’s body, his hands cupping her face tenderly. She stepped back, not sure what to do as Tesla leaned down, whispering something against Helen’s ear. Helen awoke a moment later, reaching up to hold Tesla’s wrist, squeezing it softly, dare she believe it – affectionately.
“Where are the others?” Joe rasped, kneeling down to pick a broken vampire claw out of the snow. He held the curved, sharp object up to the light, then cringed. “Ew…”
“Apries is alive,” Helen replied, kneeling now. “And I don’t have any increased desire to kill Nikola, so I guess our Immortal is too.”
“Gee thanks, Helen… What about -” Nikola pointed up toward the cave and its fresh waterfall dribbling into an ice lake.
“There’s no point going back until we have those stones.”
“Then we are going back,” he replied carefully.