ellymelly’s fanfiction

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

CHASING TIME March 20, 2013

CHASING TIME

1. RIVER’S RUN

2. A MUDDY AFFAIR

3. MARKING THE DIFFERENCE

4. THE SCIENTIST

5. SOMETHING I MISSED

6. CRYING SILENCE

7. RETURN TO VESPAR

8. CRACKS IN THE WORLD

9. FIXED

10. HEART OF THE STORM

11. CHASING DUSK

12. REMAINS OF DYING STARS

CHAPTER 1 : RIVER’S RUN

River, River, River…” The Doctor lounged back against his Tardis with a sigh of defeat. His darling wife had defaced another one of the universe’s precious relics.

Amy tilted her head curiously, arms folded. “What is that, Doctor?”

Vesparian Ceremonial Sphere. Beautiful thing – one of the few examples of a perfect sphere and I mean atom to atom. It’s bound by an invisible, impenetrable forcefield. You could break a star trying to get into this thing.”

Then what’s that?”

The Doctor frowned. The sphere’s golden surface was distorted by some casually scrawled words in a shade of lipstick he knew all too well. “Your daughter. I hope you’re proud – this is the fourth priceless artefact in a week.”

Perhaps you should try answering your phone,” Amy squinted at the writing but it refused to translate. “Gallifrayen… What does it say?”

The Doctor was sulking, nudging the knobs of his time machine unnecessarily. They squeaked back at him.

Fancy a date?” he replied, defeated.

Amy tossed the Vesparian-thingy playfully. It remained suspended in the air, spinning slowly above them like a tiny planet. “You don’t seem very enthused,” Amy stood beside her doctor, leaning her shoulder against his.

The last time I went on a date with your daughter she caused an interplanetary war; the time before that we ended up lost on an underwater spaceship with carnivorous fish-shells.”

And the time before that?”

The universe ended.”

Amy turned one of the dials, making the centre of the Tardis glow a deeper shade of blue. The Doctor turned around, looking softly at his Pond; the girl who waited so long to see all of time – shame about the troublesome daughter.

They both smiled at the same time.

I’ll go get my husband,” she whispered.

You better…” he replied, unable to his his grin as she scurried off.

*~*~*

The world around them had died. A desert stretched across the curve of the horizon, its colour shifting through every shade of brown and red. Vincent would have been jealous; rarely did a world ache with such intensity. The planet could not even find a breath of wind to break up the heat.

Amy and Rory looked up at the purple sky and the hundreds of moons wandering around in it. Some of them were on fire, others about to collide.

Where are we?” Amy asked, spying several impact craters not far from where he’d parked the Tardis.

Or when?” Rory offered.

Your distant past, the Vesparian’s far future. This is the ruined world of Vespar after their moon came too close. Vespar’s gravity tore it apart, shredded it like cheese.” The Doctor wiggled his fingers and gestured to the sky. “The end of a world. Beautiful.”

And sad,” Amy reached for Rory’s hand. “Is this your idea of a date?”

The Doctor arched his eyebrow. “Your daughter.” The parents glared at him. “Normally River tries to arrive before the party finishes and this one ended a long long time ago.”

There’s a city down there,” Rory leaned over the small cliff where they were standing. Buried deep in the valley below were the fractured corpses of buildings. They’d been nearly hidden by the last impact.

The Doctor’s screwdriver buzzed, glowing a lurid shade of green as he held it toward the city.

No life signs.” The light flickered once. Twice. Three times. “But there is an energy signal down there.”

Beneath them, the ground trembled. It was accompanied by a low rumble on the air. In the distance, a thick plume of red dust rose up in a mushroom shaped cloud, slowly expanding up into the atmosphere. Another fragment of moon had hit the world.

We shouldn’t stay here long,” the Doctor said, then started to make his way through the soft sands.

The Vesparian city was swiftly crumbling. Rory passed too close to a building and startled when it fell to dust behind him. It had been burned, the Doctor realised.

Vesparian architects were famous for their wilful neglect of form over function. They built the most beautiful, sprawling cities which served no purpose at all. Brilliant. Buildings for the sake of them. A whole planet of visions, you should see it, Ponds.”

You could take us here a little earlier next time,” Rory purposely walked close to his wife, trying not to destroy any more of the city by breathing on it. “We always seem too arrive early or late.”

The Doctor whirled around with a hurt look. “We arrive precisely when we’re supposed to, Roman.”

‘Precisely when they were supposed to’ turned out to be the exposed innards of the parliament building. Its grand limestone walls were black and half collapsed into the main dome. The Doctor bounced into the room, brimming with giddy excitement.

He loves museums…” Amy observed, calmly picking her way through the glass display that ran the length of the room. It was filled with a sequence of gold spheres, identical to the Doctor’s.

Not a museum,” he insisted, hopping up to the gap in the cabinet where one of the spheres was missing. “Oh, you clever, clever girl.” The Doctor spun around and leaned back against the glass, waiting for the others to ask what he knew. They always made him wait a few extra minutes to temper his glee.

What’s River done now?” Rory asked, leaning down to inspect some of the other spheres.

Time capsules!” he exclaimed, tapping the glass case. “Good for three thousand years.”

How long’s it been?”

Only two, Rory. Still fresh.”

This is a very strange hobby.”

It’s not a hobby, she only ruins priceless relics when she can’t get a signal on her mobile. Come along, Ponds.” The Doctor took them both by the hand and dragged them away from the dying world. When they were safely back in the Tardis, the Doctor withdrew the gold sphere from his coat pocket, set in front of him and tapped it with his screwdriver.

Rory frowned. “You kept that in your pocket?”

I keep lots of things in my pockets.”

The sphere ignored his tapping. The Doctor tapped it again. The others watched patiently until Rory accidentally broke into a yawn.

Sorry…” he apologised.

Rory – trying to concentrate. This is a very sophisticated object with an impossibly complex security -” he trailed off as Amy grabbed hold of the sphere and twisted it. “Don’t do that.”

It worked. The sphere opened, its two halves falling aside leaving a hologram of River standing above the Tardis console.

She was dressed in a navy evening gown that glittered as she moved. The hologram was facing the wrong way so the Doctor carefully twisted the base of the hologram so that she was facing him.

It’s the Mrs,” he grinned.

This isn’t going to be like one of those Skype dates, is it?” asked Amy.

‘Hello sweetie, knew you’d figure it out with mother’s help. Vesparians are excellent record keepers. I wined and dined one of them once, they are particularly excellent with their hands. Extra fingers, makes them very talented musicians.’

The Doctor pouted quite distinctly. “I’m good at music too,” he insisted. Amy slapped him to keep him quiet.

River’s hologram stopped, looking over her shoulder as if something were coming for her. When she turned back to them, she looked afraid.

‘Can’t chat for long… Doctor, there’s a little corner of the universe where only silence is heard. I left something there.’

The hologram vanished.

Doctor, what’s going on?” Amy gently touched his arm.

She’s running.”

CHAPTER 2: A MUDDY AFFAIR

Three inch satin heels sank into the mud. They lodged and brought their owner tumbling to the ground. River cursed, clawing at the wet grass.

She sat up, unhooking the navy straps and sliding her feet out of them. River kept her eyes on the lake, searching for any hint of a time disturbance. There – on the far side – the water trembled and the moon’s reflection warped.

River scrambled to her feet and took off towards the forest leaving her shoes trapped in the mud.

*~*~*

What’s she talking about – silence is heard?” Amy had dressed warmly, doing up her stolen fur coat as Rory emerged.

Nice…” Rory winked at his wife. He remembered that night well – 1534, Anne Boleyn’s dressing room. Rory was certain that she had the fiercest scowl of any queen – possibly the worst husband too.

The Doctor looked worried, scuffing his shoes on the Tardis floor accompanied by near-inaudible muttering. Amy didn’t like it when he got like this.

Not The Silence? I thought we killed those things,” she pouted, approaching him with husband in tow.

We removed them from Earth’s timeline not the entire history of time. Humans, always thinking they’re the centre of the universe, honestly. Though in fairness -” he added thoughtfully, lifting his finger to his lips, “-you were left alone longer than advisable. Civilisations are tricky.”

Doctor…” Amy’s glare was fierce and Scottish. “That’s my little girl out there.”

The Tardis was flying through a nebula storm, nudged lightly by the excited gas. It bounced around, tumbling playfully around a few stars.

There’s only one story told about the Silence. They come from a cold, water-logged moon orbiting a pair of gas giants. Their star is so far away that most of their light comes from this duo of tiny red and orange planets.

It’s not quite strong enough to melt the oceans so the moon has lakes, half-frozen swamps and a small strip of habitable land around the equator. It’s marked on the map with a very plain looking dot.”

That’s not – as bad as I’d imagined.”

It’s not particularly memorable – bit like its creatures.” The Doctor lifted his gaze to Rory the Roman. Always cheating death – brilliant little human. “As the story goes, Silence will lose you. People forget everything,” he waved his arms about. “Who you are, why you’re there. It is a world that swallows souls. Even Time Lord souls. Both of them.”

Amy rolled her eyes. “You don’t have two souls.”

Two hearts.”

And one, raggedy old soul,” she insisted.

The Tardis touched down gently. Rory felt it land and pointed to the door that now appeared quite ominous. “Did we just?”

The Doctor nodded.

On Silence?”

The Doctor nodded again.

I’m not entirely sure I approve of the places you take my daughter.”

She finds them all on her own. I’m just doing the following. Husband – follow.”

Amy gripped Rory’s hand tightly. “Husband, follow,” she mimicked, trailing the Doctor out of the Tardis.

The cold hit them first. It snapped at their skin, trying to pry into their bones. They all shivered, huddling close.

Silence had the appearance of glass; fragile, painfully still and drenched in shades of blue. Water – or ice (it was difficult to tell), reflected the waning light from one of the planets as it set. The stars were almost as bright, dotting the ground in a glittering carpet. Amy wanted to find it beautiful but something about Silence made her skin crawl.

We’ve been here too long already,” the Doctor whispered, his breath coming from his lips in lazy clouds.

We just got here,” Rory replied.

No, no, no…” the Doctor breathed, shifting his gaze back to the corner of the horizon where the planet had already set. “We’ve been here nearly an hour.”

Rory swallowed hard. It was adventures like these when he could see the merits of waiting in the Tardis.

Try not to look at anything,” the Doctor strolled cautiously towards the open grass field that wrapped around one of the lakes. “And remember where we parked.”

*~*~*

Rory frowned, brushing his fingertips over a nasty scratch on his wrist. He looked down and saw a red line.

Did I cut myself on something?”

Amy shrugged. “Maybe in the Tardis.”

No, out here…”

Ponds!” The Doctor was laying in the freezing mud ahead, staring intently at something sticking out of the grass. As they drew closer, they realised what it was; a pair of high heels. “River…”

The Doctor dug them free and stood up, high heels dangling from his fingers.

Doctor, there are foot prints – look,” Rory knelt down. He could see where River had fallen. There were more depressions to the left where she’d run off again, heading toward the sparse forest. “And she’s being followed.”

Her pursuer’s footprints came from the lake. Dozens of them. The Doctor strolled towards the silent water, staring into its cold surface. His screwdriver buzzed quietly in his pocket, picking up a temporal disturbance somewhere in the water. Closed now… Gone.

*~*~*

Amy and Rory were not where he’d left them. He eventually found the pair huddled in front of the Tardis trying to keep warm with the moon’s second planet high in the sky.

Where were you!” Amy whacked him sharply, then tackled her Doctor with a hug. “We saw you run off into the forest and then nothing. You were just gone for hours.”

The Doctor frowned, hugging his Amy back while his mind whirred about.

I didn’t,” he whispered. “I turned towards the water and then – I was here.”

Amy pulled back and shook her head. “No – no you were gone. You pushed past us and ran into the forest after River’s tracks. What were you doing?”

I don’t know,” he whispered.

The Doctor’s face fell, watching Rory scratch his wrist. He reached into his coat pocket, hunting around until he felt a soft length of silk. He withdrew it and held the tiny parcel in his palm.

Without a word he unwrapped each corner of silk until he was left with River’s vortex manipulator. He sighed, dropping his eyes to the ground.

That’s River’s time-thing,” Rory whispered.

Yes, it is,” the Doctor tucked it back inside his jacket.

Rory looked at his wrist – three scratches this time. The last one was still bleeding where his own nails had cut through the flesh. “Doctor… how long have we been here?”

The Doctor gazed up at the sky, watching the planet trace its way behind a lone cloud. “Six hours.” He turned to the Tardis, placing his hand on its smooth, blue door. The Ponds were quiet behind him, no doubt wondering how a world could be so dead.

They weren’t.

Amy and Rory were transfixed by a silver creature emerging from the lake. As it rose the water fell around the creature’s skin like folds of silk as though it was birthing the terrible form.

What do you see?” The Doctor whispered, still facing his Tardis.

Does it matter?” Amy gripped Rory’s hand. “We’re not going to remember it. They’re like the Silence – relatives or ancestors.” She watched the creature lift its three fingered hand, dragging itself up onto the muddy bank. “What do we do?”

Back in the Tardis – keep looking at it.” He opened the door but didn’t dare turn around. If he saw it too they’d lose countless hours.

Ah… Doctor, it’s getting closer.”

I know Rory, just walk backwards. Follow my voice. Nothing can get inside this ol’ship.”

The Tardis doors shut with a reassuring thunk.

Two humans and a time lord stared at each other in puzzlement, entirely unaware of how they ended up inside. The Doctor frowned at the Tardis doors.

Did you see River,” Amy interrupted his thoughts, “when you went into the forest?”

I don’t know.” The Doctor leaned against the door, eyeing the lock.

Did River give you her time travel device?”

I don’t know.”

Is River still here?”

Wait -” Rory stepped between his wife and the Doctor. “How’d we get in here? We were outside. I distinctly remember being outside.” His wrist itched.

The Doctor managed a small smile. “Rory the Roman – that is a good question.”

CHAPTER 3: MARKING THE DIFFERENCE

What have we got?” The Doctor asked no one in particular, rubbing his hands together with renewed vigour.

Ah a – time machine?” Rory offered.

The time lord bounced on his feet, shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned playfully forward, hips first.

Technically correct but we’ve always got one of those. No, what else do we have – what’s new? Yes, yes – high heels!” He deposited River’s muddy heels on the Tardis console with a clunk. He beamed at them, proud of himself. Yes, high heels, very helpful. They weren’t even sonic. Could you sonic heels?

Amy was frowning at him. He must be doing that thing she didn’t like.

We’ve also got that time vortex manipulator,” she prodded the Doctor’s pocket where it jutted out in a weird lump. “You shouldn’t keep things like that in your pocket, it’ll wreck your favourite coat.”

As opposed to traipsing around planets of silence in the mud? Silence…” he repeated, catching a stray thought wandering about in his mind. “Roman – hand please. No, your other hand,” he clicked his fingers insistently.

Rory presented his hand.

Argh!” he grimaced, as the Doctor twisted it the wrong way and started inspecting the scratches in his skin. Five now. “Don’t know how those got there,” he admitted.

No, I don’t expect you do.”

Bit worried about them, actually.”

There was a muffled thump against the Tardis. Amy startled, spinning around to the doors. They were still locked.

Doctor – what was that?” she frowned.

Just the wind…” he lied, releasing Rory who shook his hand, holding it protectively to his chest.

What’s that for?” Rory narrowed his eyes at the pen being waved in his general direction.

A marker pen – better for your skin.”

Comforting…” Rory muttered, sliding it into his jeans. “Doctor – if you’ve got River’s time travel thing, doesn’t that mean she’s trapped here with those creatures?”

Doubtful,” he replied, strutting about the Tardis as another thud disturbed the peace.

How can you be sure? If she’s out there-”

-she couldn’t possibly have left a time capsule asking us to retrieve her favourite heels. River’s not here – not any more.”

*~*~*

That’s stealing.” The Doctor glanced nervously over his shoulder as River worked her way through the shelves, prying free book after book. She set them into his waiting arms until he had trouble seeing where he was going.

It was Vesparian’s twilight – literally and figuratively.

Several hundred years ago their civilisation had stopped growing. No buildings were built or deserts explored. Interest in alien networks and interstellar travel had been dwindling for decades. In short, they had entered a slumber, content to let the universe rush by. It was in this peace that a restless Vesparian had stumbled onto a dark secret. Time travel.

Ouch!” Books tumbled to the ground around the Doctor.

Watch where you’re going, Honey.”

The Doctor bent down, trying to balance the books in one arm as he picked the others up. He didn’t see why she needed so many. The Tardis was cluttered enough as it was. Honestly, he was going to start putting a limit on what companions could bring with them. That’s what airports did.

They’re priceless,” she insisted, running her fingertips over the spine of another book. “I’m not leaving them here to burn.”

River, we can go and visit history whenever you want. Is it necessary to lug it around with you? It’s such a human thing.”

Their theft was disturbed by the thunder of fireworks. They could see colour erupting against the fading sky through the parliament windows.

Vesparians always set off their fireworks at dusk,” he whispered against River’s ear, as she came to stand beside him. “Aren’t you missing your party?”

River slipped on her three inch, midnight heels. “Fashionably late,” she corrected.

The Doctor watched her with a lopsided grin. She was framed by the granite window – a shower of blue cinders fanning out in the sunset behind her. The building trembled a moment later as the thunder reverberated across the city. It was so beautiful.

You should join me…” River added softly, clutching an old book against her chest.

He smirked, then gestured at the pile of books in his arms. “Have to look after these.”

Vesparian dusk party – dancing, gold-wine, more dancing – last chance…”

He was tempted, very tempted but they’d synced their diaries. This version of River was too young and he didn’t know if he could resist temptation.

Actually, I thought I should check on your parents. They keep complaining that we leave them in the Tardis.”

She lofted her eyebrow curiously at him. “We do?” The Doctor’s face fell when he realised he’d done it again. “Spoilers…”

I’m going…”

River stalked toward him, placing the last book on his pile. “Don’t wait up.”

*~*~*

Thud. Thud. Thud.

The Doctor was met with blank stares from his companions.

I – don’t understand,” Rory finally admitted.

Really? Humans…” The Doctor muttered impatiently.

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

Rory frowned at the doors. “Seriously, Doctor, that noise is starting to freak me out.”

There are only a few devices in the universe that can travel in time. This…” he knocked on the console of his Tardis, “this ol’ girl will take you anywhere.”

River’s time vortex manipulator?” Amy offered.

Good for hopping about – had an old friend who used one once – probably the same one. They’re handy at a pinch but can only go for so long before they need to recharge from a Tardis. Probably why River keeps in contact.”

I think there might be other reasons…” her mother added knowingly.

Tesselectors are cool but they’d never come to a planet like Silence. Like all committee run projects they are intensely scared. The only thing we have left that can reach this time is a…”

The Doctor froze then, with his eyes wide and mouth open he turned back to the Tardis console.

River… You bad, bad girl.” The Vesparian sphere was gone. “Rory, check your wrist.”

Ah,” it took him a moment to understand. He instantly frowned when he saw a black mark on his arm. “Oh god.”

*~*~*

River tilted her head, running her fingertips slowly over the beautiful golden sphere. She was used to the pleasant tremble of fireworks now. They would continue until Vesparian’s grand moon rose and marked the start of the new year. One sunset per year – and one moonrise. The pace of this world made her feel as though she were drifting.

How does it work?” she whispered, making the Vesparian opposite her spill his drink a little.

Well, it’s a typical recording device – very simple really-” he gestured at the golden time capsule.

No…” she interrupted. “How does yours work?”

Ms Song…”

Professor,” River picked up her drink and took a delicate sip as a pink glow stained the lake. “Of archaeology.”

I thought you were a record keeper,” he sat back uneasily. He’d never trusted aliens.

I have a particular interest in objects that change the course of the universe. I’m a bit of a collector, you see – I like to preserve things but the others that are coming here tonight well…” she trailed off, shifting her gaze past him to the water. “Let’s just say they have other uses for your time machine.”

CHAPTER 4: THE SCIENTIST

Vesparians were ancient creatures. Their star was the first of its kind; large and nearly blue it had already started to fade. River remembered its corpse. Many years ago she’d perched at the doors of the Tardis, drifting idly through the scarlet nebula. This world was littered around it in a halo of dust and rock as a new star started to burn. It was one of the most beautiful sights she’d laid eyes on.

‘The first time lords – sort of…’ the Doctor had murmured against her ear. He seemed to have forgotten those words or else he never would have let her come here tonight. River paused, tilting her head thoughtfully. Maybe he didn’t know yet.

All six of the Vesparian scientist’s eyes blinked at her. They’d gone black, set deep in his wrinkled, grey skin. It was often said you could see the stars in Vesparian eyes but all River saw was panic.

Don’t run – not yet,” River warned him, taking another casual sip of her wine. “They haven’t spotted us and I’m afraid if we make a scene, this night will be over before it starts.”

Who are you?” he asked again, eyes flicking between her, the rows of tables and crowd. There were hundreds of aliens here tonight for the celebration of dusk.

I told you,” replied River, shuffling closer. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to meet you.”

Am I – famous?” the scientist asked carefully.

River caught a flicker of vulnerability in his eyes. “No.”

The scientist took the sphere in his large hands, holding it as though it were his child. “This is my life’s work,” he whispered. “I knew that something was wrong when you sent for me. What did you call it?”

Psychic paper.”

They were the words I’ve waited nearly a century to read.”

I’m sor-” she went to reach for him but the scientist withdrew.

You’re from the future.”

River didn’t bother lying.

Time travel creates a paradox inside the universe,” he warned. “It’s only possible because our universe is imperfect. My calculations suggest that this leeway has a limit. Cracks will start to appear one day and time will fracture.”

The sky tore apart in a shower of gold and silver. Everyone looked up in awe, watching the fireworks fade into the pink dusk. The moon was lifting its heavy form up over the curve of the horizon. You could almost feel the world and moon falling towards each other.

This should be buried forever,” he whispered sadly. “We were never meant to see things yet to pass – or visit those long gone.”

Nothing can be buried forever.”

What if it could be forgotten?” The scientist looked down sadly at his time machine. “And us?” He watched the moon lift up above the lake. The sky was a deep purple with shades of pink and yellow wherever smoke from the fireworks lingered.

River glanced nervously at the crowd, keeping an eye on her pursuers who were picking their way through the dinner tables. “Life begets death. In my time the universe is very old. Your star will become another star – and then another until there’s nothing left but scarlet dust.”

He focused all six eyes on the strange alien woman. “None of this happens if these people catch us, I presume?”

River took one of the scientist’s hands. He had three – the other two were holding the golden sphere. “They want to own time. Now run!

*~*~*

The Doctor turned again and sighed. The high heels were gone too.

Thud. Thud.

Are we just going to keep ignoring that ominous sound?” Rory pointed sharply at the offending door. He didn’t like unidentified sounds – with good reason.

Rory, open the door.”

Rory paled. He didn’t particularly want to do that either. “I’ll just – open the door then,” he approached it cautiously. The Doctor ushered him impatiently.

Don’t keep it waiting.”

The poor Roman was nearly shaking as he unlocked the Tardis doors and tugged them open. A strange, pale grey creature fell into the Tardis. It was about the size of a Great Dane, nearly silver with vibrant, luminous blue pads on its fingertips. Rory yelped, slammed the door and leapt off to the side behind his wife.

Now… that is interesting,” The Doctor stalked down the steps toward the creature. “You’re a very long way from home. Several billion years.”

Doctor…?” Amy fished out her husband and made him stand next to her – rather than behind.

The Doctor knelt down in front of the creature as it rolled over and stared up at the bright, Tardis lights. Six eyes blinked rapidly, bringing into focus the Time Lord’s face.

Vesparian…” The Doctor whispered, fascinated. “One of the oldest races – before time was time. What are you doing so far from home?”

The Vesparian scientist sat up and rested against the Tardis doors. He was covered in mud and looked as though he’d been running for days.

I was led astray by a woman,” he replied, holding his chest with one of his hands.

These things happen – not to worry,” the Doctor said sympathetically. “Let me guess, she was about yay high – loads of blond hair and a rather devastating navy gown?”

The Vesparian nodded. “How did you know that?”

The parents didn’t look particularly happy. They couldn’t work out whether River was a bad influence on the Doctor – or if it was the other way around.

Let’s just say we’ve met before – come on, let’s get you into something dry.”

Half an hour later, they were all sat down having a cup of tea in the Tardis lounge room. The scientist told him of the mysterious archaeologist who discovered his secret and dragged him to this planet.

Did you get a look at the people who were chasing you? Shame…”

Why can’t I remember how I got here?”

Bit of a odd planet,” the Doctor confessed. “Messes with your memory – quite a lot. Given your look of total confusion I’m going to guess that you’ve been here a while.”

I was at a party.”

We’ll make sure we drop you back. Sit over there please.”

In the corner?”

Safest place.”

I don’t think so…” the Vesparian stood up and wandered back through the ship to the Tardis console. He paced around it, fascinated by every detail. The others followed with the Doctor bringing up the rear, looking nervous. “So this is how the universe is torn apart…” the scientist whispered, recognising the time machine. He could feel the time vortex trapped inside, whirring about in a web of chaos. Beautiful. “You must be the Doctor.”

The Doctor straightened his bow tie and then offered his hand. “And you, the Father of Time.”

No one’s ever called me that.”

They do now – I’ve decided. First creator of a time-thingy.”

The Vesparian lofted all six folds of skin that sat over his eyes. “Are you sure this is your Time Device? You’re not as – learned – as I had expected a time traveller to be.”

Amy and Rory fought to hide their grins. “He stole it,” Amy offered.

Borrowed!”

Forever.”

Stop helping, Pond.”

This ‘Professor Song’,” the Vesparian continued, his tone more serious. “She said that they were coming – coming for my time machine. She also said that they hope to bend time to their will – pause it, change it – shatter it. My time device cannot do these things.”

The Vesparian took another stop towards the Doctor.

I think they’re coming for your time machine,” he whispered. “And that your Professor Song has been played. She’s led them right to you.”

The Vesparian suddenly turned to Rory and frowned. “Are you all right?” he asked, nodding at several black marks that the man appeared to have drawn on his arm.

Just – keeping myself amused…” Rory lied, looking nervously at his wrist.

CHAPTER 5: SOMETHING I MISSED

When River hit the button on her vortex manipulator, the party and adjoining Vesparian world melted in an instant. She fell several feet, landing with a sickening thud. River groaned against the freezing mud. The Vesparian scientist was out cold beside her with a bit of grass stuck to his pale skin.

A sharp crack disturbed the dark.

River lifted her head a fraction, peering through the wet grass toward the lake. Something else had fallen from the sky and landed most unfortunately in the black water. River watched as it was broke the surface and started to swim roughly toward the bank.

River nudged the Vesparian. He didn’t stir.

Carefully, she slid her hand under the scientist until her delicate fingers wrapped around the golden sphere. She retrieved it, holding history’s first time machine close to her chest. It hummed against her skin as though it were alive. There was a fraction of the universe caught inside it, spinning madly about. The accompanying chaos made her skin tingle as though the sphere could tell that she was a creature of time.

River didn’t dare let her eyes wander from the thing emerging from the lake. It dragged its awkward body onto the bank, threw its head back and shrieked at the night. The tortured sound died at the stunted, soggy forests bordering the lake.

No. She was mistaken. It wasn’t pain; it was a call to the others…

Like birds, other calls replied until Silence was wailing. River covered her ears, pressing herself back down against the sticky mud. They were coming. All of them.

*~*~*

The Doctor tilted his head at the Vesparian scientist. He was an excellent judge of people well creatures. There was something about the Vesparian that didn’t quite add up – something he didn’t like. River obviously wanted the scientist here in the Tardis, the question was why?

Why what?” Amy lofted her eyebrow.

Sorry… sorry, question for me.” Speaking his thoughts aloud was a truly dreadful habit. “I’ve been to Vespar before,” he finally added, leaning against the Tardis console in realisation. It purred back at him as best a machine could.

We know,” Rory added, trying to be helpful. “You took us there a few -”

No,” the Doctor interrupted. “No – before before.” The Doctor launched himself onto his feet, crossed the room and hit his head against the Tardis wall with a loud thump. “She took me there – well – I took her there but River has a talent for suggesting things.”

Rory and Amy exchanged and awkward look.

Ew. Parents.” Rory reminded the Doctor.

There was a party – ‘Dusk’ they call it. Best party in the universe,” the Doctor grinned. “Never been but I saw the fireworks. River wanted to go for her birthday – and books – so I dropped her off and went to save a herd of solar whales in Quel. Pretty little solar system. Sort of like Earth but with more whales…”

His companions were giving him that glare again. The one that made him feel five-hundred years old.

What happened to Melody…” Amy folded her arms sternly, stalking towards the Doctor.

She -” the Doctor paused. “She ah…”

Doctor?”

Actually, now you mention it – I don’t think I picked her back up. Ow!”

Amy had swatted him sharply across the cheek. “You left my daughter on an alien world!”

No – no – we’ve had lots of adventures since then,” he insisted. “I must have picked her up at some point.” His face fell.

What?” Rory joined in, scratching the black marks on his wrist.

When I dropped her off, she was wearing a navy dress.”

Amy was shaking her head at the Doctor. “Matching heels?”

The Doctor nodded.

You better start remembering everything you know about the Vespar fast,” Amy growled. “I guarantee you my daughter wasn’t there for the drinks and dancing.”

The Doctor wasn’t so sure about that. He’d seen River do a lot of dangerous things for the promise of dancing, including – but not limited to – breaking into the Cathedral of Archaeology. Great night.

Professor Song was after my time device,” The Vesparian offered. “She was trying to hide it. I don’t exactly remember how I ended up here but -”

Rory put his hand up as though he were in school.

I doubt that was her soul purpose for crashing your party and abducting you. She’s perfectly capable of stealing a time sphere without you noticing. Yes – Roman – you can just ask questions.”

Is there a Silence in the Tardis?”

Probably.”

I’m – very uncomfortable with that.”

*~*~*

The first creature stood by the water.

Its suit was dripping with the wet fabric sticking to its skeletal body. They were a strange, unnamed species. No one knew their origin but their large, oval eyes and egg-shaped heads bore more than a passing resemblance to human ‘alien encounter’ descriptions.

Throughout the history of various worlds they appeared like shadows, passing from planet to planet nearly unnoticed. They didn’t seem to take anything – or do anything. They were just there. They were everywhere.

River lowered herself deeper into the grass as it looked in her direction – enormous, bulbous eyes hunting the swamp for her.

Come on – where are your friends?” she breathed against the mud.

All River could hear was the water trickling through the swamp. Nothing else, not even a lone insect.

They emerged, one at a time from the mist encircling the lake. There were eight searching for her and she’d led each of them to this world one by one – tricked them into following her. It had taken her years to find them all.

River was getting ready to run when her heart stumbled. From the silence emerged the wheezing pulse of that little blue box. Its light started to flash on the rise beside the lake as it landed.

No – too early you idiot. For a time lord you have the worst timing.”

The creatures turned as a group, not sure what to make of the police box perched on the muddy hill looking entirely out of place.

Things got worse when the doors opened. River sighed as her parents assembled behind the Doctor. They were so very young this time.

Oh my – that’s probably not a good sign,” River heard the Doctor remark, frowning at the aliens all dressed in black suits looking quite ridiculous.

What are they?” her mother prodded the Doctor.

Don’t know – doesn’t look good,” he replied, bounding a few steps further out of the Tardis. “River should be around here somewhere though.”

River did the only thing that she could do. With the creatures starting to move towards the Doctor and her parents, she stood up, revealing her position. The creatures turned at once, boring their terrible black eyes into her.

River!” the Doctor waved happily.

River waved back, blowing the Doctor a kiss.

Welcome to the party,” she whispered, even though he couldn’t hear her. She found herself shaking her head fondly at the Doctor. Look at that man, she thought, strutting about the universe with no concept of its darkness.

CHAPTER 6: CRYING SILENCE

Look at those!” The Doctor pointed at the eight ominous creatures scattered around the edge of the lake. He was enamoured with them, positively gleeful as he tugged on Rory’s sleeve. “They’re like Roswell aliens in suits!”

One of Silence’s orbiting planets was setting on the horizon behind the lake. Its hazy body of shimmering gas bands and dying storms was nearly gone. What remained of this orange corpse fell as a sad reflection over the fractured ground.

Rory unhooked the Doctor from his sleeve and glanced nervously around. Amy was hiding behind his shoulder, pulling her fur coat tighter. “Doctor, what’s River doing down there with those things?”

No idea – doesn’t look good…” he trailed off, watching the creatures creep toward River. “Nope, I don’t think they’re particularly friendly.”

You keep saying that,” Rory muttered, “and it’s not the least bit useful. If you were a real actual tour guide, half your group would be eaten by now.”

The Doctor pouted, straightening his bow tie. “It’s an unfortunate fact that humans taste good with a decent Bechamel sauce. You’re all like catnip to monsters. Never take a human travelling.”

Rory gestured at himself and Amy.

Romans don’t count and Amy’s well – she’s a Pond.”

Beneath them, River stumbled through the grass, emerging on a plain of soft silt. It slid beneath her feet like ice. Her mass of blond curls bounced as she turned. The creatures were gaining ground.

They never ran. Instead, their steady pursuit was relentless. The creature closest to her lifted its thin hands, curling their bony extension at her. The air went thick around her and River doubled over in pain.

‘Come..’ the words stung in her mind like poison thrashing against her skull. ‘Come, human child. Bring us the sphere.’

River screamed, shaking her head until she was able to breathe again.

Sorry boys,” she hissed, forcing herself to keep running.

We can’t just stand here,” Rory nudged the Doctor sharply. “They’re chasing her into the forest.”

Wait – Rory, this is River. I don’t like anything about this.”

Yeah – my daughter’s being chased by creepy aliens in suits – definitely not right.”

Amy gasped softly as River fell to the ground. Her daughter expertly slipped out of the impossibly high heels and continued bare foot through the mud.

I’m going down there!” Rory insisted, taking a step forward. The Doctor grabbed his jacket and dragged him roughly back. “Let me go! Wait,” he paused, “there’s something in the lake…”

I know,” the Doctor whispered darkly. “There are time disturbances everywhere. Believe me, there’s something dreadfully wrong with this world.”

Oh god, gross…” Amy whispered, covering her mouth as they watched the black water in the lake tremble again. A sickening, native creature lifted its body out of the water. Its mouth gaped open, crying silently up at the sky. “What is that?”

It doesn’t matter,” the Doctor replied softly, eyes locked with the creature. “We won’t remember. I don’t know what it is about this world but I feel like it’s erasing more than just this moment.”

As soon as the creature sank back beneath the water, Rory, Amy and the Doctor stared blankly up at the stars. The planet was gone, fallen behind the horizon. They had no memory of River or the creatures pursing her through the forest. For them it was a new world and hey had only just arrived.

We’ve been here too long already,” the Doctor whispered.

Rory frowned. “We just got here.”

*~*~*

It was worse in the forest. The scrub was low and sharp, clawing at River like thousands of needles. She tore through it, avoiding ominous cracks in the ground where the world was literally tearing apart.

Silence was locked in an orbit too close to its parent planets, whizzing around the duel planet system so fast that they rose and set several times a day. River could almost feel the enormous pull of their gravity. She wondered how long this world could survive before it became another sad smear of dust and ice.

There were three creatures behind her, vaulting over boulders and tearing into the shrubbery. The rest were scattered in the swamp, sticking to the shadows as they flanked her. She could only run for so long.

At the base of a small mountain, River stopped. She was exposed against its grey fascade and unless she developed some nifty rock climbing skills in the next five minutes, they’d have her. River lifted her wrist and fiddled with her vortex manipulator. Two jumps left and then she’d be stranded. Time to organise herself a date.

River pressed the small silver button and closed her eyes. Silence faded. Vespar unfurled.

*~*~*

How can there be a Silence on board the Tardis?” Amy whispered, suddenly feeling cold despite her fur jacket.

The Doctor was deliberately keeping his eyes focused on Amy, Rory and the Vesparian. “Not sure. Think it might have been on board for a while now.”

How could you know that?”

You’ve been keeping track for me, Rory.”

Rory looked down at his wrist and was startled to find the black marks breeding. His heart raced – how much time were they losing? “Is it going to kill us?”

Not yet. I suspect it’s looking for the Vesparian time device.”

I thought it stole that?” Rory replied.

The Doctor shook his head. “If the Silence stole the sphere we’d be dead and River’s heels would still be here.”

She’s been in the Tardis..” Amy realised. The Doctor nodded. “You never should have given her that key.”

His lip curled into a playful smirk. “I didn’t.”

River just had a way of acquiring things.

Doctor, we can’t leave a Silence in the Tardis. If it’s hunting time travelling devices…”

I agree,” he nodded at Amy. “But how do you propose we find something that we can’t remember? It’s a fascinating adaptation.”

I prefer the Weeping Angels,” Rory muttered.

Really?”

Rory thought seriously on that for a moment. “Actually, no.”

*~*~*

Instead of a Vesparian Dusk party, River landed in the middle of a market crowd a few hundred years early. That’s the thing with vortex manipulators – they were the cheap love child of time travel devices.

The shock of midday sun blinded her as she surveyed the street. Granite buildings towered to her left in crazy geometric shapes that defied gravity. Their surfaces shone almost as brightly as their closest star which, if viewed from the hills, made the city sparkle against the sands.

River ducked into the shadows, hunting through the markets until she’d acquired shoes and a long jacket to cover her ruined dress. She returned to the streets, heading toward the centre of the city where she hoped the Parliament building had been completed.

So beautiful,” she whispered, finding its (actually quite ungainly) structure nearly complete. The Vesparians were finishing off the carvings set into the limestone. River let her hand brush against the cool surface as she swept up the steps and vanished inside.

Her low level perception filter stopped anyone from questioning her presence as she slipped through the public libraries and into the private vaults at the centre of the building.

Perfect,” River murmured, advancing toward a narrow glass display case with three identical record devices. Their gold spheres were indistinguishable from her time device.

River locked the sphere and took her lipstick out – first reapplying it to her lips before scrawling over the surface of the time device.

Fancy a date?

She didn’t see the last creature hiding between the bookshelves. Its greedy, black eyes widened at the sight of the time device. It had waited so very long.

CHAPTER 7: RETURN TO VESPAR

…she sensed it instead.

Years of luring these nameless creatures had left her tuned to their subtle presence on the air. It was a chill – a sickening whisper against her skin.

River’s heart raced. She reached into the glass case, taking out the central archive sphere. With her back to the creature and her gaze kept carefully away from the bookshelves where it hid, River smeared the same message on the archive sphere.

Instead of switching them, River kept both the time device and the archive sphere.

She had to hide the time device here – but not yet – not with the creature waiting in the shadows. As the Doctor always liked to reminder her, timing is everything.

River latched the case lid closed and headed toward the door, slipping back through the parliament building while the creature was distracted.

It could barely contain its excitement, emerging as soon as the woman had left. The creature hunted over to the glass case, ripping open the lock. Its ghastly bone hands twisted against the glass, shattering it.

MISSING.

She’d taken them both.

The creature howled furiously. All the lights shattered, raining down glass into the darkness.

River covered her ears as its shrieks echoed all the way out into the street, tearing apart the air. People stopped, turning in surprise but as soon as the sound stopped it was gone from their minds.

River took a deep breath before teleporting away, leaving the creature to its misery. They would meet again, thousands of years from now – or very soon if you were River Song.

*~*~*

River and the Doctor had been in the library for nearly half an hour, hunting through the shelves – picking apart dusty books.

Remind me, are we here for the party or the loot?” the Doctor asked, opening one of the books River had given him ‘to mind’. “I can never tell.”

You stole a Tardis, I steal history – you’re in no position to lecture,” she quipped.

He sighed, closing the book. “I prefer to live time, River. Books spoil the ending. Stories with an end… I don’t like endings.”

River smiled softly to herself. She sank back into the depths of the library. Picking just a few of these treasures was like asking her to choose versions of the Doctor. They all had their quirks – their secrets.

She stumbled against one of the shelves in surprise when the air in front of her split apart leaving a bedraggled figure half-hidden in the shadows.

Sh…” the woman whispered, straightening up, holding a finger to her lips. It was another River Song. “We don’t have much time.”

I take it our night isn’t going to plan,” River whispered, eyeing the filth all over her double’s face. Beneath her torn sleeves she could see angry bruises.

Slight hitch but I wouldn’t write it off as a total disaster.” River held up the Vesparian archive device. “I need you to leave the Doctor a message.”

River looked over her shoulder nervously. She could hear the Doctor a few shelves behind, muttering about something. “All right but we better make this quick,” she whispered, self consciously fixing her hair. “How do I look?”

Hot,” the dishevelled River replied.

Better be. That’s not the…” she added, eyeing the golden sphere.

The other River shook her head. “Just a regular archive device I’m afraid but the Doctor doesn’t need to know that.”

Are we scheming?” There was a mischievous light in River’s eyes.

River just smirked. Of course.

*~*~*

Fresh from dropping River off at her party, the Doctor lounged back against his Tardis door. The parents were still asleep – none the wiser of the adventures he had with their daughter. Probably for the best. Parents were funny about parties – too many questions.

He frowned, looking down at his bulging chest pocket. That wasn’t there before.

The Doctor reached into his coat and curiously withdrew a golden sphere. There was a messy scrawl of Galifreyan over it that could only be the result of one woman’s lipstick.

He sighed.

River, River, River…”

Obviously she was pilfering more than just books from Vespar.

A sleepy Amy emerged, tilting her head at the Doctor and his golden sphere.

What is that, Doctor?”

*~*~*

A very angry creature sat on a sand dune, gazing up at the purple sky with black eyes.

It watched another moon tear itself apart, splintering into a thousands fragments of ice and dirt. Days later the wreckage hit the atmosphere, dying in bright flashes all night and day. Many of the larger pieces tore straight through, hitting the planet’s dunes with dull thuds and sad trails of smoke.

It was waiting.

The creature had watched the pathetic civilisation of this world wither and die. Time was the master of all lifeforms but not it. Being immortal gave you a different perspective of the universe. Its linear trudge toward nothing was not enough – it had to be controlled, twisted – owned. A few thousand years of waiting was nothing considering the prize.

There it was.

A tiny blue box against the sand.

Long, bony fingers stretched. Black eyes blinked at the dusk.

The Silence stalked the three figures that emerged from the Tardis, following them into the ruins of Vespar to the parliament where it knew they’d find nothing. The woman had not returned here – it had been keeping guard all this time.

It tracked them all the way back to the Tardis.

Any particular reason you’re following us?” the Doctor spun around, facing the creature. Amy and Rory jumped beside him.

Has that been there the whole time?” Rory frowned, stepping ever so slightly back behind the Doctor.

I imagine so,” the Doctor replied calmly. His ancient eyes were wary though. He knew how this worked – what it wanted. “Why are you following us?”

The creature did not answer him.

Aw come on… it’s not like we’re going to remember. You could lay all your evil plans out with neat annotated diagrams and we’d be none the wiser as soon as we turn around. Go on… Give us a clue.”

Doctor, are you sure it understands you?” Amy asked.

Course it does,” the Doctor replied. “Don’t you? Been snooping around civilisations since stars learned how to shine. The question is, what are you doing here?” The Doctor paused, realisation hitting him. “Oh, now that is unfortunate.”

What?” Rory frowned.

The Doctor leaned toward him. “He’s trapped. Stuck on a dying world. I’d want a lift too.”

Please tell me we’re not letting a Silence hitch hike…”

The Doctor managed a grin – albeit a nervous one. “Not sure we have a choice.”

Rory paled, transfixed by the Silence. It seemed to embody nightmares – perhaps in a way it was the nightmare, the silent watcher of worlds. “It’s going to be one of those days, isn’t it?”

Exciting, isn’t it?”

No.” Rory frowned.

CHAPTER 8: CRACKS IN THE WORLD

The little blue box wavered like the last swell of high tide before sliding into the time vortex. River was left in its wake, standing alone on the rise of a dune with a purple sky burning behind her.

Fragments of moon crashed into the sands along the horizon sending pillars of dust into the sky. These towers caught the sunlight, turning pink and orange with stark outlines of gold. Destruction and beauty churning…

River smirked, her eyes sparkling with victory. Free of the Silence, she stumbled down the dune and onto the remains of a road, following it back to the ruined city.

She ducked inside the parliament building, strutting over to the glass cabinet and its archive devices. They were the only pieces of Vespar still pristine.

You’ll be safer here…” River whispered to the time device, setting it down with the others. Hidden in plain sight, River left Vespar to its fate.

*~*~*

H – how did you get there?

The Doctor’s incredulous voice made Rory and Amy jump. They saw her at once, their daughter lounging against the Tardis console as if she’d been there for some time, waiting for them to notice.

It’s rude to stare,” River replied, pushing off the console. She wandered casually over to the Doctor and placed her hand on his arm, lowering the accusing appendage he had pointed in her direction. “And point.”

No but River…” He dropped his voice, as was his habit when River got a bit too close. “Seriously, how did you get here – and if you say spoilers…

She held up her key playfully, twirling it in the light of the wheezing time machine. He took it from her, bringing the thing right up to his nose for inspection. Definitely a Tardis key – though he had no idea how she’d come across it.

Technically that wasn’t an answer,” he muttered in defeat, handing the key back to River. “And you’re all … muddy.”

River ignored him, waving instead at the Vesparian scientist who looked mildly alarmed. “So…” she drawled, idly brushing some dried grass out of her hair. “Go on, what do you think?”

Of what…?” the Doctor scratched his head, utterly confused.

This place – this wonderful, broken world…”

He was always worried by that glimmer in her eyes. Usually screaming and running followed. “I find it unsettling and to be honest, my general memory of it is a bit on the sketchy side.”

That’s because you never do your homework,” River scorned. “Come on, let me show you something that’ll really get your screwdriver buzzing.”

Amy and Rory pretended not to hear that. At all.

River returned to the console, twirling a few knobs and throwing ominous switches. Everyone lunged for a hand-hold as the Tardis lurched through space, rather than time. It wasn’t happy about it either.

They landed roughly.

The blue box was parked on the edge of a spectacular canyon. Its sheer, obsidian cliffs faintly reflected shredded husks of the galaxies wandering above. These sad spirals of stars appeared as dim rivers across Silence’s ravaged landscape.

There – you see?” River whispered, guiding their gaze toward the sky. Silence’s planet dominated the view but obscuring its left side was a terrifying sight.

The fabric of Time had shattered.

River…” the Doctor exhaled, staring at what resembled a broken mirror. Where fragments overlapped the planet he could see its life paused at different points in time. One particularly large shard showed a red corpse – another oceans that were yet to form. “Time can’t just break.”

But it did,” River replied simply. “Perhaps it was always broken.”

He was shaking his head, transfixed by the roaring tides of Time.

If time breaks, so do the laws of the universe. This is a paradox – a cancer. It could spread and consume all of existence until both everything and nothing happen at once. We’d become a time capsule, trapped in an endless circuit and this time,” he caught River before she pointed out that they’d already been to the end of time, “there’d be no fix. We couldn’t just – marry and mend the universe.”

I don’t think it works like that…” River wandered over to the Vesparian. “You’ve heard of this before?” It was hardly a question, for River knew his answer.

It was found and lost long ago,” the Vesparian replied. “In ancient times, expeditions were sent to study a rumour. I spent years collecting every fragment of research. It formed the groundwork of my time device. Our people theorised that beings who look upon raw time, circular time, can no longer perceive of it.”

More likely they absorb time particles from the tear, making anything that looks upon them unable to perceive them. The Silence…” The Doctor frowned and eyed River suspiciously. “You knew.”

I guessed,” she defended. “The Silence probably evolved here and cannot remember their own heritage. No wonder they have a fascination with time – it’s their curse. All I’ve done is bring them all home – I hope. Bit tricky to remember whether it worked.” She bit her lip cutely but it didn’t work on the Doctor’s worried expression.

Wait – wait – waaaait,” the Doctor waved his arms about frantically. “You’ve been collecting Silence – and you brought them all here. Here where we are?”

Um – not to interrupt – or anything,” Rory was pretty sure he and Amy had been forgotten about in this universe changing revelation. “But I’m a bit confused as to whether we’re in danger – or the fate of the universe is.”

Which would you prefer?” River smirked unhelpfully.

I – haven’t decided on a preference – yet… Should I?”

*~*~*

The steady thud-thud, thud-thud of the Vesparian’s two hearts was the only thing that set him apart from the marble busts encircling the lab. Like ghosts, they watched through the days and nights, daring him – scorning him – jealous…

Vesparians were creatures of beauty.

While this may not apply to their physical appearance, they had a deep appreciation for things both natural and creature-made. The Vesparian scientist found the laws of the universe more beautiful than anything. He studied their symmetry. It was not something you could teach a machine to do and certainly not a formula to be executed. This work required a living thing to devote itself.

And he did.

Ah…” his voice a susurrus against the marble.

The secret of Time unfurled before his eyes, laying bare a terrifying beauty. His hearts skipped as the pieces of his theory fell into place, unlocking and reforming. This was the humble birth of time travel, in a candlelit lab just before dawn.

CHAPTER 9: FIXED

River – that’s mad!” he gasped, pacing irritably along the cliff dislodging pebbles into the abyss. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Because you would have tried to stop me,” she replied, untangling her mud-laden hair.

The Doctor turned, strutting fiercely up to her.He cradled her face in his hands, making sure she could see nothing but his frightened eyes. They were ancient and deep. He was trying to teach her something important but River didn’t seem to be in the mood to learn.

That’s because it’s dangerous… and crazy,” the Doctor insisted.

They only escaped when the Vesparian expedition touched down,” River insisted. “Silence is the safest place for these creatures. They can’t remember their evil plans long enough to execute them. It will evolve into a world of complete madness. Then the universe will be safe.”

God, why did she have to be like this?

That’s your plan then,” the Doctor slipped away from her. “Trap the Silence on their own world with a fractured Time vortex for a babysitter?”

River folded her arms and looked to her parents. “It’s a good plan,” she shrugged.

Amy tilted her head. “Hang on…” she started, eyeing her daughter suspiciously. “Is this why you studied archaeology?”

No no…” the Doctor interrupted. “She studied archaeology to find me – didn’t you River?” he was grinning again, straightening his bow tie and puffing out his chest.

River was… quiet.

River?” the Doctor frowned.

Well – it was partly to find you,” she replied softly.

But mostly to find them,” Rory folded his arms like a cross parent. “That was very dangerous, River.”

Great, now I have three parents,” she muttered, kicking some pebbles off the cliff.

The Doctor looked up to the fractured storm of Time above. There was something about it that curled around his soul, as though it were alive – a creature slumbering.

Fine – fine…” he muttered, thrusting his hands into his pockets. “You win, River.”

Rory checked his arms. “No more black marks, for the moment. I think we lost them back in the swamp.”

Everyone back in the Tardis,” the Doctor waved his arms, ushering them all in – including the Vesparian. The Tardis trembled again. She didn’t like this world or the turbulent time swirling around it.

The Doctor moved to the Tardis console, carefully calibrating several of its settings.

What are you doing?” River asked, leaning against the console. He nudged her out of the way.

We’re going to take a closer look at this anomaly.

*~*~*

The Tardis creaked.

Amy watched as the domed ceiling of the control room warped under the pressure of the fractured time outside. The howl from the engines shook the whole room. Every now and then they stopped, wheezing desperately before churning back into life.

The Doctor unlocked the door, pushing it open.

Space was laid before them, glistening as though the void had been melted. To their right, the enormous planet hung like a jewel against the darkness. Its storms churned, oceans surged and landmasses cracked apart in an endless cycle neither alive nor dead. Silence, the small moon was obstructed by the Time distortion.

Doctor – we can’t stay here. The Tardis won’t survive,” River was still by the console, holding down some of the more fragile switches.

I just want to look at it,” the Doctor whispered, standing at the door – leaning toward the chaos.

I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” Amy added, standing behind him.

I knew a man once, who looked into the heart of Time. A Timelord…”

‘What happened to him?” Amy glanced at the storm for a moment, then looked away.

It drove him mad – well – I think he was a bit mad anyway. He heard the sound of drums… An endless march of – nothing – of Time – of life and the universe to nowhere.”

I can’t hear anything.”

The Doctor reached for Amy’s hand.

No one can hear anything in space. Seeing – well – seeing is something else altogether.”

The heavy lever that River was trying to hold down snapped up. The Tardis jolted then screeched as its wall twisted under the pressure.

RIVER!” the Doctor turned, slamming the Tardis doors.

I’m sorry! She doesn’t like flying this close to the Time storm. The Tardis can’t maintain a stable orbit – she’s falling toward it.”

Well pull her up!” the Doctor shouted.

Trying.”

Amy and Rory took the Vesparian by the shoulder and sat the creature down.

Trust me, mate,” Rory said, strapping the creature into one of the chairs. “It’s best to sit.”

It’s no good!” River continued, as smoke poured out from the console. “The Time storm is a fixed point. As soon as we enter the field we become part of it. She won’t survive the impact.”

Course she will – won’t you, o’l girl?” the Doctor petted the Tardis affectionately. Several nuts and bolts flew free, bouncing around the room like bullets. The Doctor simply petted her again – ignoring It.

River and the Doctor were thrown to the ground as a violent shudder ripped through the ship. They’d lost control of the Tardis, its engines burning in a desperate attempt to break free.

What happens at the centre of Time?” River asked, laying beside the Doctor on the floor.

I don’t know,” he admitted. “The death of all things – or the birth of the universe. Perhaps a garden party,” he added lightly, “like King George’s in 1816.”

Or a restaurant…” Rory muttered quietly.

Who would put a restaurant at the end of the universe…” the Doctor scorned, as though it were the most ridiculous thought ever.

*~*~*

The little blue box started to approach the first of the Time cracks. As she did, her fascade started to flicker between different points in its life. One minute, she was a brand new time machine with a fresh coat of pain and the next, she was wheezing and tired – scared and bruised.

Reality was crumbling and the Tardis falling straight into the heart of the storm.

CHAPTER 10: HEART OF THE STORM

They didn’t land. They didn’t crash. There was no tremble of engines or squealing of breaks. There was nothing.

Nothing at all.

The Tardis lay still, abandoned in a void.

What just happened?” Rory asked nervously, straightening up.

The Doctor cast a worried gaze at the room. “Nothing good…” he replied.

Amy’s eyes went wide. “Did we fly into that crack thingy?”

Cracks of time,” the Doctor corrected. “Yes, yes – fell straight into one.”

Doctor that is not good…”

Thank you, River…” he threw his screwdriver at her. “Make yourself useful. System checks.”

System checks?” she looked at him blankly. “The Tardis is fine.”

We always do system checks,” the Doctor insisted, waving her off. He wandered apprehensively over to the door, laying his hand against its surface. It felt cool as usual – calm. “I wonder… centre of Time.”

Doctor, are you sure you want to know what’s at the heart of Time?” River was still watching him from the Tardis console. “Older Time Lords than you have gone mad from a glimpse.”

River, you do too much homework.” He was utterly captivated, turning the lock with a soft, metallic click. As always, he went bounding into things, lowering his hand to the handle, cupping the brass knob before gently turning it. The door squeaked, slowly opening to reveal a vast and empty world of darkness. “Nothing…” he murmured.

What?” the group asked, not quite catching the Doctor’s muffled words. They all leaned in trying to get a look.

Nothing,” he repeated, this time dismissively. “Doesn’t matter.” He closed the door and locked it again before they could see. “Now, trapped in Time. No up, no down – no left or right, back or forward. Obviously can’t drift through it – how’s her engines?”

River tilted her head with a bit of a frown. “Wherever this is, they don’t like it. She won’t start.”

No points of reference, poor old girl.” The Doctor stroked the console affectionately causing River’s eyebrow to arch. “What we need is a bit of a nudge.”

River frowned when the Doctor levelled his large, needy brown eyes on her.

So that’s why you gave me your Vortex manipulator…” he whispered, impressed.

River frowned again, this time with confusion. “I didn’t – it’s – oh!” Her vortex manipulator vanished off her wrist. “You can’t just keep making suggestions and changing time!”

He ferreted around the couches, retrieving her cheap, nasty but incredibly helpful time travel device. The Doctor held up the rather well-worn device littered with scratches and stains. It even made a disconcerting rattle when he shook it next to his ear.

How long have you had this thing?”

The better question is, ‘how long did Jack Harkness have it?’” she quipped.

Doctor – please tell me we’re not going to fly the Tardis with River’s watch…” Amy cut in, a worried motherly expression on her face.

He whirled around. “Course not! Just a map. Tardis guidance systems are all confused – too much empty universe out there. This’ll give her something to aim for now, everyone sit down and strap in!

Even River took her seat, tightening their makeshift seat belts .

Don’t worry,” River assured her parents, “usually his daft plans work.”

I think he’s been winging the last nine-hundred years, personally…” Rory muttered under his breath.

The Tardis made a strained, whoozing noise, as if sniffing the vortex manipulator when the Doctor brought it close to its central shaft.

Where’s it going to take us?” Amy asked, holding her husband’s hand tightly as an eerie, green light began to bleed into the Tardis.

Doesn’t matter, as long as it takes us somewhere,” he replied, beaming like an idiot as the central column made its first heave, up and down. “It’s working…”

The Tardis lurched into life, her stardrive engines burning – her guidance system aiming for the only co-ordinates it could find.

Ooo baby it’s going to be rough…” The Doctor grinned with delight, throwing himself into a nearby seat as everything shook and crunched. Bits of the Tardis fell down, clanging to the ground and rolling around their feet. The Vesparian closed his eyes, praying to the ancient deities of Time that they survived this.

And in silence they left the void, flickering out of existence –

  • and thrown back into it.

The Tardis crashed in the sand, embedded on her side against a black dune. The sands slipped apart, fragments of crystal shimmering under a purple sunset.

Vespar…

The door opened and the Doctor fell out onto the dune. His hands and feet sank into the sand as he scrambled up, clawing his way to the ridge until he cast his eye over the city below. It shone, alive with fire and life. The third age of Vespar was alive and well. Its buildings reached to the heavens and its streets were capped in precious stones.

It’s all right!” he called behind him to the others as they tumbled out, one by one.

What is it with this planet?” River picked the sand out of her hair. Between that and the mud she looked like some kind of creature thrown out from the dawn of time – which wasn’t far from the truth. “This is the night of the party,” she whispered, pointing to the sky where a great comet was vanishing toward the horizon.

It’s a fixed point,” the Doctor sat down on the dune’s backbone. “The Tardis latched onto it and crawled out of the void.” There was a brief crackle of blue light above the parliament building, gone before anyone noticed. “That’s us arriving far too early so you can hunt for a dress.”

The Vesparian was the last to reach the top of the dune, his two hearts beating hard as he wiped a layer of sand and sweat from his forehead. “Home,” he whispered, looking down upon the city.

Looks like you’ll be able to give that speech after all, professor…” River shot him a lop-sided smile.

The professor shifted nervously. “I was rather hoping I’d be late.”

Late? Never…” the Doctor insisted. “I’m king of Time – Lord of Time – I’m never late.”

Amy gave him a good shove and the Doctor lost his balance, tumbling a way down the sand to the amusement of his companions.

River was about to follow after him when she noticed the eyes of her parents and the Vesparian scientist upon her. “What?” she asked softly, confused by the sudden chill in the air.

River…” Amy whispered.

River looked down to her bare arm – a fresh black mark adorning her skin.

The Silence…” she murmured. “They’re still here – they’ll always be here – fixed…”

Not just one,” Rory added warily, as another black mark came from nowhere. “They’re all here tonight – and we’ve brought them a time machine.”

CHAPTER 11: CHASING DUSK

I see them…” The Doctor whispered, his gaze toward the city.

The light was failing, Vespar’s trio of sun disks drenching the land in rich, golden light and rendering the sky an almost imperceptible violet. A scattering of pre-party fireworks went off in the distance, exploding in storm of red and silver. A minute later, the rumble droned over them.

The Silence were moving as a pack, racing over the sand unaware of the Tardis’s arrival. Their goal was the time device and the scientist.

We can’t cross our old time line, Doctor – you know that,” River reminded him anyway. He had a history or reckless behaviour that put her to shame – and that was impressive.

‘scuse me,” Rory put his hand up, frowning in a cute, Roman fashion. “Probably a stupid question but can’t we just get back in the Tardis and go home?”

The Doctor didn’t take his eyes off the Silence until they vanished into the city walls. “You’re right.”

Rory stuttered, “I am?”

It is a stupid question…” he delivered flatly, winking.

I’m still giving my speech – aren’t I?” the Vesparian scientist was perched on the edge of the dune, watching his home fade, its buildings becoming harder and harder to discern from the sand.

The Doctor nodded. “That you are. Come along ponds, Vesparian…” he waved them all after him as he started down the dune.

I’m not a Pond…” Rory muttered softly – to which he received a swat from his wife.

*~*~*

Professor River Song was seated at a table near the front. Her index finger traced the tip of a double-brimmed glass. Half was full with a blue, gel-like substance and the other with water. The Vesparian scientist was opposite, nervous.

Silence were dotted throughout the crowd, forgotten as they moved beside the dancers or lingered in dark corners.

A shower of scarlet fireworks and a thunderous roar. The crowd applauded, all eyes lifted heavenward except for River and the scientist. They slipped away from the table – running into the night.

And there we go…” The future River whispered, from behind the Doctor’s shoulder. They were watching from the library window where this had all started.

Our Vesparian friend should have the time device in safe hands by now. It’ll be buried before our lingering Silence realises. He’ll never find it but Vesparian work on time travel can continue. Another crisis averted,” he sighed softly, resting his hand on the window pane. “And your parents are dancing again.” Amy and Rory were down there, blurred into the crowd. “Next time you want me to take you on a date, just ask…”

More fun this way,” River offered him a lopsided. “Now… sadly for you, I have a better offer this evening. Don’t get all jealous and start a new national sport.”

The Doctor rolled his eyes at her. “Spoilers…”

That’s not a spoiler. I synced our diaries.”

He frowned. “No we didn’t.”

Ooh… tricky planet. You forgot.”

His simile lingered but there was something else in his gaze.

I wish you wouldn’t look at me like that…” River said softly, her new dress rustling against the floor as she shifted.

Like what?”

Like you’re sad.”

River…” his brown eyes often betrayed him. He was an ancient creature; the end of the universe, slaughter of his people, cities lost to dust, a small child brought back to life… he’d seen so much. When he looked at River, he saw her that cheeky smile of hers and then a blinding light. Then she was gone.

She shook her head at him. It was their rule.

He sighed, turning to the window to watch the crowd. Their scientist was back, moving from his table towards the stage to give his dreaded speech. Still, compared to being chased through time, this should be easy.

The Doctor suddenly frowned as a thought drifted through his mind.

Who are they, River?” he eyed the Vesparians. There was something that had been bothering him since the moment he landed here. They were – familiar.

River didn’t answer him at first. Instead she wandered over to the nearest bookshelf, sauntering through it as she had done before. She tugged free a slender, leather-bound book and laid it in the Doctor’s outstretched hands.

Don’t you read?” she chided playfully.

Gallifreyan.

The Doctor nearly dropped it, eyes bulging like a four year old faced with a chocolate shop. “But that means…!”

I’m afraid it does.”

He pointed his finger at her. “Cheeky…”

*~*~*

2.3 BILLION YEARS LATER

You killed a planet!” The Doctor threw up his hands, Tardis door wide open as they drifted through the void between Vespar and its moon.

It was already dying…” she replied, monitoring the moon’s destruction from the Tardis console.

The Doctor had his head stuck out the door, watching continent sized chunks break away with a hail of shards. They tumbled, drifting for a short time in a silent ballet before being inevitably sucked toward Vespar where monstrous clouds of smoke raged over the surface.

A planet – with – with cities and – deserts,” he whispered, eyes locked on the destruction.

Not very good ones,” River quipped.

That’s not the point. Planets – special. Universe – precious.”

River finally wandered over to the door where he was standing. She rested against it, a satisfied smile as huge pieces of rock tumbled by. “You should have given me a guide book – with rules.”

He tore his gaze away for a moment to scorn her. “You’d only take that as inspiration.”

Indeed, you have to be careful about the ideas you give a young girl. You don’t remember – do you?”

This was all his fault, after all.

CHAPTER 12: REMAINS OF DYING STARS

Eight years old, Melody Pond perched on the edge of the Tardis, feet dangling over oblivion with the universe stretching out in every direction. In front of her was a soft, pink star – burning all alone with no planets for company. The Tarids was fuelling her engines, mining a crack in time that arched around its puffed out, dying body for a boost.

What’s up, Pond?” the Doctor appeared behind her. He sat down and tucked himself into the small space between her and the door.

The little girl shrugged, hugging her knees up to her chest. Dirty blond hair fell over her shoulders in a crazy mess.

How about a story, hmm? You love stories.”

Melody perked up a bit, glancing up at her Doctor. “What kind of a story?”

Oh…” he sighed theatrically, leaning against the door frame. “A good one – full of explorers and timey-wimey stuff.”

They were in the ancient past. Though plentiful, the stars around them were either too dim or exceedingly bright – ready to burst open like great big water balloons at any moment and thrust out their stardust into the night. This is when the cracks had first started to appear… From the very beginning the universe was broken.

See this star?” The Doctor pointed in front of them. There were incredible arches of pink plasma spewing out – arching over and plummeting back down into the corona. “It’s getting very old and just like the Tardis, it is starting to run out of fuel. When some stars run out of fuel they swell up really really big – like this one then poof! All of its gas just flies off into space.”

Melody was impressed but a little frown crossed her features. “That’s sad…”

No, no, no…” the Doctor insisted. “Not sad. Time is a great big line-y thing with loops in it.” Melody was frowning at him again. “Okay – not really but lots of things like stars and civilisations go in cycles. This star will create another one with planets and moons.”

People?”

The next star after that will create more planets – with people. And,” he perked up. “Did I mention they were really pretty when they go boom?”

The Doctor picked her up and moved her back inside the Tardis. He closed the door and revved the engines for a few minutes, flying her another billion and a half years into the future. When they opened the door again they found themselves amongst the dust of the previous star and in its place, the healthy white glow of its child. Tiny, rocky planets hummed busily around it, some of them worryingly close to crashing into each other.

The Time crack to the right of the star seemed wider – the Tardis’s engines replying in kind with a healthy surge of power.

It’s pretty,” Melody whispered, smiling again. “Where are we?”

A very very special place – a lost solar system. No one can find it after the next few cycles well,” he amended. “An ancient race once did – Vesparians – but it’s just a story. Probably not even true.”

Did the Vesparians die too?” Melody held the Doctor’s hand as he led her back to the console.

No one knows… just like this place, Time sort of – lost them.”

The Doctor went back to the door. He looked up at the darkness in the voids between stars and wondered – then closed it.

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Fanfiction update! June 26, 2009

Hey everyone!

I have updated several of my major fanfics in the ‘Sanctuary’ category including the completion of, ‘People of the Sand’ which can also be downloaded as a .pdf file.

Its prequel, ‘Love in the Time of Science’ has entered its 18th chapter while the sequel, ‘Sanctuary of the Moon’ is now up to chapter 6.

Also, part of the same universe but set far into the future, ‘Red Dust Blue Blood’ now has 5 chapters. This fanfic is set on Mars where Helen must investigate a grisly murder whilst Ashley goes missing after an industrial accident.

All of these fanfics are rated M for adult themes and elements of horror. As a general disclaimer, I do NOT own or am affiliated with Sanctuary – I’m just borrowing them :D

 

RED DUST – BLUE BLOOD March 26, 2009

UNTOLD SANCTUARY

RED DUST – BLUE BLOOD

by ellymelly


TABLE OF CONTENTS

01 Beautiful Chaos

02 Blood Relations

03 Lovers of the Past

04 Smoke and Sand

05 Accidents and Acquaintances



1

BEAUTIFUL CHAOS

18th December, 3082

Helen watched the world escape beneath her, shrinking into a hazy ball of blue. Milk white clouds lulled by, apparently unaware of the seas shimmering beneath, plotting to transform their casual clusters into cyclones. It was always like this during the sun’s peak solar cycle – a beautiful catastrophe.

Another of the passengers roughly deposited a file into her lap. She startled, glancing up for the culprit but all she found was a bored looking bureaucrat doing the exact same thing to the next person. Raising an eyebrow, Helen Magnus flipped open the top sheet and started skimming.

It was a summary, detailing the purpose the team’s mission. She rolled her tied eyes and threw the folder onto the spare seat beside her, returning her gaze to the window. The shuttle skimmed out of the atmosphere and followed the curve of the Earth until it escaped the sun’s bombardment. In the shadow of her home planet, Helen saw the cities come alight, trailing along the coasts of continents like lonely stars.

She smiled, letting her eyelids fall closed. A moment later she was peaceful, finally asleep after a long day.

*~*~*

The man staggered backwards, holding onto the handle of the knife embedded in his stomach. Pain blurred his thoughts as his eyes searched feverishly around the room for the safe. He had dragged himself halfway through the building like this – gasping for air. Finally his hand found the keypad beside the silver box. He fumbled his pass code, slipping over the keys.

The door unlocked slowly, sliding across as the man coughed up another gush of blood. He was dying and knew it.

As soon as the safe was open, he reached into the small box and withdrew an old paper manuscript. There were footsteps coming down behind. They were tracking him, following the trail of blood straight towards him.

Panicked, the man threw the manuscript into the small, mesh wastepaper bin. He poured the remainder of his vodka over it and set the whole thing alight. The combination burned fiercely, blackening into ash as he watched.

“Found you…” announced a sinister voice, slipping into the small office behind the man. The pursuer carried a set of knives around his belt identical to the one in the man’s stomach. With an air of fascination, they withdrew another, slowly turning it between their fingers.

Flames reflected off the metal edge, dancing over the blade as it cut through the air.

The scientist, still on his feet, rested against his desk as he waited for the inevitable.

*~*~*

Mars wasn’t half as impressive as the brochures led you to believe. It wasn’t so much red, as pastel orange up close. Rust, by its very nature, was not particularly attractive. Neither was traipsing through it. There were reasons Helen rarely visited the new city and this topped them – miles and miles of sand getting into the air and over her skin. She couldn’t see what John and Ashley found so appealing.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said another member of the team, falling into step beside her. He was a young gentlemen dressed specifically for the walk rather than the orientation afterwards. Despite it all, he seemed to be enjoying himself as evidenced by the enormous grin hogging his face.

Helen didn’t respond. She shifted her shoulder bag, wondering if there’d be time to change when they reached the outer building.

“Really a marvellous feat,” the irritating man continued. “A terriformed planet, habitable to humans. Extraordinary.”

Hardly, thought Helen. Despite their best efforts, apart from breathable air, Mars was still the same lump of iron oxide it had always been. The ‘city’ held as the pride of the human race’s achievements was a smattering of buildings huddled together inside a small crater. In the beginning, when the promotional photos had been taken, they were stunning white pillars, capped in polished sheets of limestone. They glittered in the soft light, going pink at dawn and dusk. Granted, they had been beautiful then. Now the dust had got to them, reddening their edges and smudging into their facades.

Despite its three thousand permanent inhabitants, Prosperity appeared a ruin in the sand.

It was twilight before they reached the first building. The sun, a weak mew at best, had dipped behind the wall of the crater casting a shadow over the city.

The team of fourteen led by a tall man in green, filed into a squat building at the edge of the city. It was warm inside, a pleasant change from the freezing winds on the surface. Helen ditched her coat, stuffing it into her bag. She whipped her head forward, trying to shake her hair free of dust.

“Welcome to Mars,” said the leader of the group. His ginger hair was straight to his ears where it took on a light curl. “No time for sightseeing I’m afraid, we have a lot of work to do and no time to do it. Break into your teams and follow me.”

*~*~*

The scorched wreck was still smouldering when the first team approached. Level 4 of the Ecological sciences building had been badly damaged by the fire as it raged most of the night. A cloud of ash could still be seen on the horizon as the last of the light faded from the sky, revealing a glittering sky of stars. With no moon, it was their light that cast shadows after the sun was gone.

Helen was the last into the room, slinking around the burnt out doorway.

“Nice of you to join us, Magnus,” the team leader lifted his eyes to hers. Her inclusion on the team was not his choice. As far as Smith was concerned, Helen Magnus was nothing but a red flag for trouble. No-one knew anything about her except for ridiculous rumours.

The other five had lined themselves along where the windows had once been. Behind their feet was a sharp fall to the city streets. Helen joined them, waiting for the leader to continue.

“Two days ago this level was burnt to a shell. The forensic scientists have found a set of remains belonging to Dr. T. Edwards. He was of course, Mars’s chief climate engineer. This knife,” Smith withdrew a plastic bag with a blackened knife, “along with another like it, were found in the victim. It is your job, ladies and gentlemen, to find and bring this murderer to justice. Now, we have reason to believe that they are not working alone and that their ultimate goal is to destroy the terriforming equipment, making Mars uninhabitable. This must not happen. Work fast and diligently. Dismissed.”

Helen immediately made for the exit. She was stopped by a hand latching onto her coat sleeve.

“What are you doing? There’s work to do,” said Smith.

“I have contacts here,” replied Helen, tugging herself free. “You’ll have your answer inside the week.”

With that, Helen Magnus vanished out the door, descending the flight of stairs to the building’s foyer and out the double glass doors into the night.

*~*~*

Nikola adored this century.

It was a fresh, uncomplicated bed of corruption. He smiled, a thick moustache accentuating his grin. It was not so much that he loved corruption, more that all the major organisations were so busy watching each other that they left him in peace – a peace that he used to his advantage designing ever greater technology.

He sold patents whenever he needed money. Most of them ended up on space ships or Martian technologies and indeed, had he not blown the last wad of cash on this machine, he would be quite the wealthy gentlemen. Instead, he was as impoverished as he had ever been. But that was okay.

This was the main reason that he was surprised one night by the sound of the locks on his door thumping to the ground. There was another loud bang, bringing him to his feet just in time to see his door fly from its hinges and a group of people file in, covered from head to combat boot in black.


2

BLOOD RELATIONS

She ran her hand along the sand that lapped at the destroyed building’s edge. Helen felt the night through her coat – it was bitterly cold as if on the edge nothing. Martian life clung to existence by silken threads of atmosphere constantly ripped away by solar winds. The artificial magnetic shielding set up to protect the planet was fragile and in constant need of attention.

The street ahead of her led directly to a set of tall apartment buildings on the outskirts of the city. Behind them, the rim of the crater rose up, cutting a silhouette against the sky. Laneways criss-crossed in front of her, but they were all empty. She had to keep to the road as the footpaths had been consumed by unstable mounds of red sand, blown there in the recent storm. It was a constant battle against a planet that seemed set on burying them all.

More than a thousand years had passed since Oxford – since that night. It was a dream to her, a faint set of memories of times past and feelings lost to history. The only thing still sharp was the moment the needle had pierced her skin – it hurt, even now.

Helen spun silently, raising a sleek gun to the night air.

Something had darted behind her, rushing into the shadows. She eyed the parked cars nestled against the line of buildings. Helen could hear heavy breathing and the frantic heartbeats of the person cowering against a rise of sand.

“Come out if you want to live,” she took a step forward, backlit by an ocean of stars.

Whoever it was scurried around the cars and vanished into a side street.

“Or you could just run away,” Helen sighed, lowering her weapon. “Everybody else does…”

*~*~*

The black-clothed people in Tesla’s lab caught sight of the imposing scientist and froze, watching as Nikola buttoned his jacket calmly. There was an ever-present menacing air circling Nikola and the intruders could feel it tense.

“Do you have any idea,” began Nikola, his voice rising just shy of subdued fury, “whose Sanctuary you are breaking into?” He gave a cord dangling above his head a tug and the room was engulfed in a bright light which crackled, rife with scattered lightening.

Usually, this party trick was enough to startle would be thieves into leaving, but the team of whatever they were simply pulled a set of goggles over their eyes and converged on Nikola.

They were keen, he would give them that.

“I tried to be fair,” he sighed, sharpening his claws. Nikola’s eyes blackened into smooth domes as a set of sharp teeth grew from his jaw. He cocked his head, clicking several vertebras back into position as his vampirish form stirred.

The closest attacker quickly pulled out a small gun, aiming it at Tesla’s heart. Nikola raised his eyebrow. Would they ever learn?

He had expected the bullet to hurt – they always did, but this one was different. Instead of burning through his flesh, it was cold as ice, shocking his torn skin into uncontrollable shivers. He staggered backwards, inspecting the trivial hole in his coat before his knees buckled and he crumpled to the floor in human form.

“Clever little birds…” he gasped.

Nikola was paralysed, hardly able to breathe as the unknown group began emptying his draws of documents into bags, smashing anything they could reach in the process. His masterpiece, a delicate system of copper disks, met its demise at the hand the group’s leader.

When they were finished, one of them strode over to Nikola. Seeing that the scientist was conscious, he knelt down.

Nikola’s eyes caught a flicker of silver where a set of ornate knives hid along their waist.

“It has been a pleasure doing business with you,” they said. One of the others had a bottle of flammable liquid and was busy splashing it over the room.

A moment later a match was struck and Nikola was left to watch as his life’s work caught alight and burnt furiously before him. Even though he couldn’t move, a tear slipped down his cheek and onto the dusty floorboards.

*~*~*

“By God, you look exactly the same.” John stepped aside, allowing Helen into the small apartment.

He didn’t. Time had taken its toll on John in the form of scars networked across his face and neck. His hair had started to silver in patches behind his ears whilst his nose was slightly larger and his eyebrows – a little longer. He was still alluring though, in ways Helen had always struggled to understand. All she knew was that she had missed him, these last years.

“It’s been a long time,” she said, still with a very British accent, as he closed the door gently.

They stood in silence, observing one another until John broke a shaky smile and said, “I called you, twelve years ago when I was back on Earth. You were in the papers again and I –”

“I know,” Helen cut him off. “We were very busy then.”

The silence returned. She didn’t mean to be harsh, there was just a lot of things that needed to be said – centuries to recover but as it so often turned out, she didn’t have the time.

“Is Ashley here?” she asked, catching sight of a female coat hanging on the back of the door. Ashley had been offered a job with a Martian security firm, so they shared an apartment.

“She went out earlier, hunting a petty thief. I shall tell her that you’re in town. Do you have a number that I can contact you on?”

“Ecological Science Building – Level 4. I’ll be there tomorrow morning. John?” John lifted his eyes from the floor, a place that they had chosen to settle to avoid Helen’s cold demeanour. “Is there anything that I need to know about the city?” she asked. “Nasty surprises that wouldn’t have been included in my briefing? I don’t have long for this job and I can’t afford diversions.”

He smiled, ever so slightly. This place has been his home for a long time, and he knew it well. He’s never grown particularly fond of it, but he can feel its blood rising and soul stirring with every new day.

“The food shipments have been delayed two months,” he began. “I help to distribute it, what little there is left. You might also want to keep an eye on the hydrogardens, they’re in poor condition after a rupture in the main water pipe. The firm Ashley works for suspects sabotage but I don’t know Helen, whoever did it lives here as well, and if the gardens go, then they’ll die like the rest of us.”

So basically, thought Helen, chaos as usual. He opened the door for her, and she slipped out, lingering in the hallway. “Give my love to Ashley,” she said, wanting to say more. “Tell her to write again.”

“No one writes any more, Helen,” he replied, closing the door.

*~*~*

She was knee deep in water and not happy about it. The thick pipe running along the roof of the tunnel took up most of the space leaving just enough room for her to walk below, scanning it for damage.

Ashley found cause of the problem a third of the way through the tunnel. The rivets holding each section of pipe together had been half unscrewed and then hit by something, smashing them back into the pipe at strange angles. Water leaked from each one in a process that would eventually flood the whole tunnel.

“Great,” she whispered, taking out her camera and snapping away for her employer. “All I need is sabotage…”

“Progress?” Her caddy, for lack of a better description, had finally made it to her position carrying the rest of her equipment. He was a young boy new to the concept of hormones, and seemed content in his job of trailing Ashley.

“Your father’s tunnel’s buggered,” she said, focusing her flashlight on the torrents of water pouring out. “He’ll have to turn the water off and replace the whole section unless he wants to start an underwater colony…”

“Was it like he said – on purpose?”

Ashley nodded. “I reckon so. Rivets don’t usually bash each other to pieces after a late night party. Not that you’ve ever been to one of those. Bad parenting tip.”

The boy took her camera from her and stowed it away. “It’s starting then, just like they said it would.”

“I hope not,” replied Ashley, sloshing through the water back toward the exit.


3

LOVERS OF THE PAST

It started with a ‘click’. A sharp, sudden snapping of metal as one of the rivets holding the pipe in place dislodged and hit the water. Ashley froze mid conversation when the pipe above her head groaned. She could hear the thousands of litres of water gushing through the pipe, swirling, trapped in endless currents. It was begging to be free and as a second ‘click’ rang out, it might just be about to get its chance.

Ashley closed her eyes as the entire line of rivets popped, flung out into the tunnel with the enormous force of the water pressure. She stumbled forward, taking the young boy with her as the pipe shuddered and cracked, unleashing a torrent of freezing water over them.

They plunged into the water, submerged by the pressure above them. The boy’s arms flailed wildly, his feet finding the bottom of the tunnel and kicking off, propelling him back toward the surface. He emerged in a nightmare of white spray.

“Ash!” he screamed, convulsing as water stuck in his throat. He coughed it out, treading water as he spun endlessly. The air was indiscernible from the water, heavy and thick in his lungs. His eyes stung, pierced by the saline edge of the unrefined liquid pumped out of the Martian crust. The lights above were blurred into a monotonous, disorienting glow.

He couldn’t see her. All he could hear was the great roar of the fractured pipe and the pounds of another series of rivets hitting the walls of the tunnel as they exploded from their holdings.

The water was rising around him, developing a current as it searched for an exit. He was no match for it, tugged and thrown about as the dark waters gathered speed. Eventually he slipped under, no longer able to fight the drag.

The boy opened his eyes in the water, madly searching for escape. He found a thousand tiny creatures, aglow in the murky water. Their limbs were delicate, notched by several joints and feelers. They drifted peacefully by him as the last of his breath bubbled away, rising in perfect spheres through the creatures.

*~*~*

Helen felt the city rumble beneath her. It was a soft shudder, rattling a tray of refreshments servicing the huddle of investigating officers. She hung back from them, strolling in and out of the morning light coming through broken windows.

“Five minutes…” Smith reminded her, pointing at his watch. The mysterious woman wouldn’t tell him what or whom she was waiting for, but he couldn’t keep the team waiting on her behalf – well, not for much longer anyway.

She nodded back, running a hand nervously through her hair. Helen had not seen her daughter for decades, ever since she moved to this horrid planet.

The building rumbled again, hard enough for the others to glance around in confusion. Mars was supposedly geologically dead. No plates, no continents grinding against one another – no reason at all to shiver its skin.

“What is that?” Helen asked Smith, as he joined her at the window. They kept back from the edge, out of reach of the wind kicking along the edge of the building.

“No idea,” he replied, as the trembling ceased. “But it feels like it’s right below us.”

Helen’s eyebrows furrowed, peaking out under a mass of unrestrained dark hair. “Do I need to worry?”

“Shouldn’t think so. Been here five times now and on every single occasion this place throws us a curve. You can’t get settled. She’s got life left in her yet, this world.”

“Are my five minutes up?” she craned her head to get a look at his watch.

“I can’t let you stay. The company wants you out examining the shield.”

“I know,” she folded her arms and turned back to the room. Two of the team had moved towards the door, waiting. Helen and Smith joined them with a sigh audible on her lips as she spied the red haired enthusiast from orientation.

*~*~*

“So beautiful,” he grinned. The wind buffeted his red hair as the dune buggy bounced and skidded over the sand hills. The dirt was coarse and slippery, falling away from the tires as the rickety piece of machinery navigated its way to a metal outcrop on the horizon.

There were eight shield generators placed equally around the rim of the dome-shaped enclose keeping the city safe from Mars’ vacuous atmosphere. This one was nestled between a low rise of ironstone, gnarled and ghastly as it poked through the ground in melted columns.

The buggy dipped over the last of the wandering dunes and found a gravelly expanse. It wasn’t like the rolled whitestone of estates back on Earth; this stuff was a razor sharp mixture of boulders and daggers from a mountain range that no-longer existed.

“God. Damn.” Helen gripped the metal bar over their heads harder, doing her best to remain inside the vehicle as it bounced again.

All of a sudden they were stopped. Smith swore, slamming the wheel with his hand in disgust. It wasn’t the wheel’s fault that the buggy had stopped, rather the exceedingly flat tire drooped over the gravel. He ordered everybody out and they went ahead on foot while he laid himself down on the painful gravel and began jacking the tire off.

As Helen had feared, the gingerbot was tracking her, striding up through the others so that he could not so subtly fall in step with her.

“Mike,” he introduced himself. Helen muttered her name half-heartedly at him. “Oh, I know,” Mike seemed amused. “You really don’t know who I am, do you?”

Helen couldn’t help but wonder if this was a trick question to get her attention.

“Most people say I look just like him – my grandfather.”

That made her take a second look.

Pale skin mottled with blemishes, thick eyebrows with loosely curled edges forming a permanent expression of wonder, scrawny disposition made worse by well-worn attire, disarming eyes – Helen tilted her head.

Maurice Newton. Through and through. How could she have not seen it?

“Now you see him,” he said. “The rumours about you are true I see.”

Her eyes snapped away defensibly.

“If it makes any difference at all, it was my grandfather who told me about you. He thought very highly of a Ms Helen Magnus, perhaps he was even a little in love.”

Helen picked up the pace, almost falling on the uneven ground.

“She couldn’t help her curiosity – that was half the thrill of a lifetime with Helen,” as his grandfather used to say with a sad smile. “He died a happy man because of you.”

Her breath caught. She swallowed a sob, brushing away the beginnings of a tear. Of course he was dead. She knew that. Hearing it though – having it confirmed as an absolute certainty, that was something else.

*~*~*

Nikola coughed. A thick layer of black smoke oozed around him full of singed paper. He couldn’t move, forced to lie there on the floor and wait for the encroaching flames. Vampires were hardly creatures with exceptional healing power, but even the most resilient of them could not survive an inferno. Nikola was only half-vampire, if that. He could see the end of his life coming – taste it in the smoke and for the first time since that night in Oxford he realised how much he wanted to live.

They had been young then, a thousand years ago hidden away in their ad-hoc laboratory. The terror he had felt then as the needle’s contents spilled into his veins had returned to him. He could see auras of red inside the smoke and feel fronts of heat creeping toward him. This is not how the great Nikola Tesla wanted to die – helpless and alone.

His work bench collapsed. He heard it slam into the ground and snap in half taking what remained of its contents with it.

“Not like this!” he screamed out.

*~*~*

“So this is the one of the famous shield generators,” she ignored Mike’s previous comment as they reached the metal cone. It stuck out from the ground, angrily pointing at the sky with its sharp tip.

“Clever little thing,” said Mike, kneeling down beside it. As it turned out, Mike was the shield specialist, taking after both his father and grandfather. Technology was in love with him, obeying his most gentle touch.

He traced his finger over the machine’s sinister tip, carving out an intricate pattern on its cone. It was a form of code – unlocking the outer shell of the device. Helen watched closely should she need to mimic him later.

“It really shouldn’t do that,” he commented, frowning in concern as the usually invisible shielding above them flickered.

Helen looked up, catching a ripple of purple ride along the roof of the dome, showing her its contours for the first time.

“Power fluctuations,” he said, inspecting a readout on the machine’s screen. “It’s been going on for months now. I’m not talking about slight changes in output,” he shook his head at her. “Just then we lost 87% of the power required to keep the roof up, the module shifted to its backup batteries to maintain the shield which is what caused the flicker.”

“How long do the batteries last?”

“A hour, maybe. It depends on how often they’re used.”

“But we’re back on mains now,” Helen looked up to where she knew the shield was. It was back to being an invisible curtain against the morning sky.

“Yes. For the moment we’re back on the main power supply but I hate to think what would happen if it failed for any great length of time.”

“It was only this unit that was affected,” Helen noted.

“On this occasion. I have a live feed back to my lab on Earth. Nearly every unit has reported similar power fluctuations. It’s why they called me. Why did they call you?”

Helen was taken aback for a moment. Mike wasn’t nearly as pleasant as she had summarised. “They need me,” she answered, “for all the things you can’t predict.”

“I thought it was because of him,” replied Mike. “They say that you’re the only one he listens to. The only one that can control him. No one would ensure this operation without you along to babysit.”

“What on –” she was about to say, ‘Earth’ but stopped herself. “What are you talking about?”

Him. The man who built these this system in the first place. Nikola Tesla.”

Helen stopped dead. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“He should have been here to meet us,” said Mike. “As I was to understand it, the man’s never late.”

4

SMOKE AND SAND

“God, you’re an absolute mess. You’ll have to lose that moustache, singed to bloody oath.”

“Yes, thank you for your – ” Nikola rolled over, coughing violently. The smoke had worked its way deep within his lungs, blackening them. “Assistance…” he finished. Nikola’s long suffering neighbour had dragged him from the burning laboratory, down the stairs and out into the freezing snow.

Rome never changed. Millennia had passed it by calmly, as if wandering in and out of its marble streets while the rest of the world dug its feet in and battened down the hatches. Nikola buried his hands in the white powder. This was not the first time his life’s work had burned to the ground, reduced to a pile of smouldering rubble. It certainly wasn’t something that got easier to watch.

“Is there any good news?” he asked, ignoring the painful burns on his hand. They would heal.

His neighbour shook his head in amazement, “You really are an optimist.” Nikola assured him that he was just crazy. “Well, aside from the obvious fact that you’re alive – still. I swear I’ve known you for forty years and you never look any different. Yeah I know, don’t ask,” he caught himself, “the only other positive thing I can think of is the letter left for you this morning. I was on my way to deliver it to you when I found the whole place ablaze.”

“A letter?” Nikola lifted his head from the ground. Flecks of ash drifted over, spiralling with the snowflakes.

The neighbour eyed Nikola’s burnt hands, “Would you like me to open it?” Nikola glared, snatching the letter before growling, dropping it in the snow. “That’d be a yes then.” He unfolded the letter carefully, holding it up to the glow of the burning building.

To Mr Tesla, owner of patent 3029A0,

Your presence is required for immediate repairs…”

“That’d be right,” hissed Nikola. “They never pay me for anything, skimp on materials, make drastic changes to design, and then want help when it breaks.”

“Are you going to be quiet so I can read this?”

*~*~*

The shuttle dropped him roughly in the desert, miles from anywhere. Nikola eyed the landscape. It was eerily quiet and choked by peripatetic dunes. Sol was at its brightest, shining high above but at this distance it was more like a light bulb than a star. Had it not been for the shield encapsulating the area he would have frozen to death very quickly in the faint milieu of light.

He waved sardonically at the awkward craft as it rose back into atmosphere with a storm of sand. The red particles embedded themselves in every nook of Nikola, staining him a general red. He hadn’t been on Mars five minutes before he decided against it.

“Horrid planet…” he muttered, attempting to dust himself off.

The rendezvous appeared to have failed as there was nothing to ‘rendezvous’ with other than a curious rock which Nikola approached, tilting his head in curiosity. It was a vaguely round protrusion, weathered on one side by the endless grinding of sand storms. Tesla had seen a lot of rocks in his time. During those few decades he’d spent seducing a geologist, identifying rocks had become an unwanted skill. This was no rock.

He got within a nose of it, rubbing away at its surface with the sleeve of his Victorian style jacket. Underneath all the grit was an ochre colour – naturally smooth. Nikola stretched out his tongue, resting its tip on the strange surface. Instantly he felt the pull as the surface tried to suck all the moisture in. Bone – a very large lump of ancient bone.

*~*~*

These doors ain’t gonna hold the water,” an engineer hurried through the unground facility, upsetting piles of paper scattered over the office desks. “We closed them as soon as the pressure spiked but we’re losing integrity in the tunnel. It’s going to bleed out into the surrounding rock and when it can’t do that…” He came to a halt in front of the senior engineer. Professor Robert Hill was newly appointed after the sudden death of Dr. T. Edwards and currently having the worst possible day.

“We’re going to have a very pretty water feature in the middle of town…” Robert rubbed the vein between his eyebrows. By, ‘very pretty water feature’ he mean that the entire city would be drowned in thousands of litres of raw Martian water and they would lose the food gardens, essentially bringing an end to humankind’s attempts at colonisation. “What about the expert we sent in to assess the damage?”

“Ashley Magnus,” the engineer shook his head. “We had to close the tunnel doors. She didn’t make it.”

“What aren’t you telling me?” Robert took a step closer to the rattled man. “Come on, I don’t have time to be subtle.”

“It’s the boss’s kid. Video footage shows him following Magnus into the tunnel just before the accident. He didn’t come out either.”

Robert felt ill. “The force of the artesian basin will eventually break our pumps. Get those drills working on an evacuation tunnel for the water – I don’t care how rough it is, as long as the water has another option. At least we won’t all drown.”

*~*~*

The dune buggy skidded over the sand in a crazy curve, nearly tipping over before coming to rest beside Tesla. Lowering their sunglasses, the driver eyed the man running his hands over a rock. It appeared that the rumours were true – the man was a complete nutter/eccentric –whatever.

“You Tesla?” the buzz-cut Major asked, well aware that the possibility of it being anybody else was slim.

Nikola spun around with his eyes agleam, “Did you know that there was life on Mars?”

The Major did away with his shades completely. “Yeah…” he replied slowly, as if it were the most obvious thing ever said. “Get in.”

“Fascinating,” said Nikola, as he slipped into the passenger seat.

“Someone wants you dead.” The Major shifted the car back into gear, racing down the side of the dune. They were headed for one of the shield generators on the outskirts of the liveable area, a good ten minute drive.

“I would be offended if they didn’t.”

“The government has taken extra precautions, changed most of your arrangements since the incident at your laboratory. We, your security, would prefer it if you didn’t lean out over the door like that whilst the vehicle is moving…” The Major grabbed the back of Tesla’s coat with one of his enormous hands and yanked the man back into his seat. “Appreciated.”

“You should be more worried,” said Tesla, preening himself, “about what you’ve already got in the car.”

That made him laugh. “They warned me you’d be trouble.” Nikola stretched out, resting his feet on the dash. “It’s a rough ride,” he cautioned.

“And so is life,” Nikola replied, closing his eyes.

*~*~*

Helen was not pleased by the news and had set to pacing around the shield generator as Mike sieved through its error log.

“I’m going to make a catastrophic error if you keep that up,” Mike lifted his eyes to the distressed woman. “They said that he was a colleague of yours – your reaction suggests that there is more to that story.”

“Got a thousand years?” she hissed back. Mike mistakenly took that as a joke.

“Oh, here he is now – or is that our car… no, it’s definitely him.” They both stood as the buggy approached with a red trail of dust swept up behind, stalking it.

As the car stuttered to stop, Helen couldn’t help but think about a similar scene back in Egypt, 1929. Humans may have moved to another planet, but they didn’t change.

“You’re going to regret this,” Helen whispered to Mike, as she caught sight of Nikola sporting a moustache.

*~*~*

John Druitt took the stairs three at a time, gliding down toward the depths of the Ecological Science Building. He was trailed by a security team two flights above, doing their best to catch him.

“Oy!” one of the grey-suited men yelled, puffing as turned and began the next set. “I said stop!

He could see the final emergency door. John hit the landing and pushed into the engineer’s level. Half a dozen shocked scientists froze at the sight of the imposing man who was scanning the room.

“Where is she?” John growled.

One of the men, dressed in white pants and matching lab coat, shifted to the front. He was wearing a bright red hard hat, clutching a clipboard. “I am Professor Hill,” the man said.

The pursuing security team finally caught up, piling in through the door behind John in a grey blur. Several of them grasped onto John, pretending to have him captured.

“No, no…” Robert raised his hands, trying to calm the security detail. “Let him go. I was about to call him anyway.”

They did – but very reluctantly.

“Please, my office is this way.”

With the news Robert was about to deliver it wasn’t going to make a difference whether or not he had protection. Druitt was either going to help him – or kill him. It was as simple as that.

5

ACCIDENTS AND ACQUAINTANCES

The dust swirled in front of the buggy, temporarily enveloping it in a red blur which stung Helen’s eyes as its edges wafted out. She heard two doors slam. Mike straightened up beside her, wiping his greasy hands on his shirt as they both watched the dust.

A tall silhouette was the first to emerge. Like a slender shadow, it slinked toward them with a confident air. There was no mistaking that strut – the way each foot seemed to glide before landing or the rigid line of his shoulders greeting the world like a wall.

“Nikola Tesla,” said Helen, self-consciously fixing her hair.

A gentle wind kicked the dust away revealing Nikola, his escort and the buggy that was parked crookedly on the embankment. Helen had to do a double take – sporting a thick moustache and attired in an early 20th Century suit, he appeared as a distant reverie – a shadow from her past merging with the present. It was the same feeling others must experience upon seeing her.

“Did you know,” he announced as soon as he had come to a stop in front of them, “that there was life on Mars?” Nikola seemed genuinely taken with the concept, eagerly awaiting her answer.

Helen couldn’t quite believe it – three-hundred years and that was the first thing that he chose to say to her. She frowned and briefly looked away, running her eyes of the desolate border between the sky and dirt.

“Do you,” she inquired, whipping her head suddenly back with a storm of hair flying over her shoulder, “participate in television, newspapers, radio?”

Nikola ran a finger thoughtfully over his moustache. “You mean, other than inventing it?”

“It’s a worry…” Helen trailed off. Nikola took a few steps closer, dipping his head in.

“What is?” he asked, menacingly.

“You, Nikola.”

He went quiet. Yes, he was the first to admit that he led a solitary life, often cutting himself off from the rest of the world for exceptional lengths of time but he had always figured that that had something to do with the world ignoring him. Mutual apathy. Thus, the world’s events were often lost on him and the passage of time made trivial.

“But you still love me,” he ventured quietly, almost too privately for this very public meeting.

Helen couldn’t help it – she rolled her eyes dramatically and let a grin slip over her lips. “A thousand years,” she began, “and you think I’m going to admit to that in the middle of a god-awful Martian desert?”

He matched her grin with a line of sharp teeth. “It really is awful, isn’t it? I thought that Mars would be more pleasant, like a beach in the southern ocean.”

The far-too-cool-to-be-standing-here-ignored Major stepped forward and slapped Nikola on the back. “Introductions are over, time to work.”

Helen twinged, aware of Nikola’s dislike of physical contact. The military officer was just lucky that Nikola’s attention had already roamed to the field generator behind them.

“Look what they did to it…” Nikola exclaimed, pushing past Helen and Mike (whom he was yet to acknowledge). He ran his hands along the outer casings of the machine, stroking it like a favourite pet. “What a disaster.”

The rest of them assembled in a semicircle around him. “Can you fix it, Nikola?” Helen knelt beside him.

“I could re-design it,” he muttered. “But this needs to be put out of its misery.”

“We can’t do that, Nikola,” she replied. “The life support for the planet would fail – thousands of lives.”

“What did they do?” he asked himself out loud. “Scrounge up the cheapest, flippant excuse for an engineer and let him violate this beautiful design.”

Mike cleared his throat loudly. “That would be my grandfather.”

Tesla snapped his head up and narrowed his eyes madly at the scrawny, red haired individual. He looked vaguely familiar, like a bad scent that had embedded itself in the fabric. “You’re a Newton,” he hissed, as if the very words left a sour taste.

“Nikola…” Helen cautioned, sensing trouble. “Fate of the planet…”

Mike and Nikola took an instant, violent dislike of one another.

“Fine,” Nikola said at last. “It will take me a while to determine what’s wrong. You will have to leave me with it.”

Mike snarled, unhappy with the thought of his machine being left in the hands of this horrid person. “I don’t trust him.”

“Thank you,” snapped Nikola, “for the vote of confidence. I might just destroy it to spite you.”

*~*~*

“Please take a seat, Dr Druitt,” the Professor extended his arm in the direction of the minimalistic chair, half pulled out from the desk. Hill’s office was brightly lit and lined with one way glass . At its most basic, it was a corner of the lab that had been sectioned off, pretending to be an office but really, Robert Hill had only been here a few days and none of the items inside the room were his. Mostly he felt like a trespasser, borrowing his superior’s office.

John sidled into the office, ducking under the low doorway. The scientist ducked around the other side of the desk and sat awkwardly in the chair, hinting for him to do the same. John didn’t sit. He knew that something very serious had gone amiss and he was going to find out.

“As you wish,” said Robert, folding his hands nervously in his lap. “I have just been informed that the water pipes connecting the underground water with the gardens has ruptured. We are taking measures to avert damage to the city but we’re still not sure if we will succeed. The danger to the Martian colony is quite real.”

“The whole city felt the rumble,” said John simply.

“For some time now – several months, we have suspected foul play on our technologies. Someone has been sabotaging our basic services. The last case was anomalous damage to the water pipe. A Ms. Ashley Magnus was called in under contract to assess this damage.” The man opposite shifted uneasily as his dark eyes glossed in unsettled fear. “She was doing this when the first pipe ruptured. We waited, as long as we could,” Robert protested, as John turned and went to leave, already understanding that his daughter must be dead, “but we had to close the doors to save the city.”

Unchallenged, John raged out of the office and back up the stairs to the main building’s foyer. It was large and sleek, with granite walls and twisted columns with no purpose but honouring the early human architecture. The sun had risen high now – its pathetic light streamed in the heavy glass doors betraying the emptiness of the building. Everything seemed hollow on this planet. It had about every feature a loneliness. Though a few inhabitants tried to makes homes out of it, Mars had lost its life long ago and it spent its time in mourning, crying through its red tides.

As he pushed out the doors and into the street, John made a vow to the planet itself – he would find who was responsible for his daughter’s death, and he would make them suffer the unimaginable loss.

*~*~*

“Do you think he’ll be all right – out there alone?” Mike tried not to squash Helen into the opposing door of the vehicle as they turned the corner sharply. They hadn’t left Nikola entirely alone – the Major was there, watching over the landscape like some kind of predatory bird keeping its prey.

“You mean,” said Helen, over the noise of the engine, “do I think that your precious shield generator will be okay left alone in his company?” Mike shrugged in the affirmative. “Yes. You may not like him,” she continued, clinging onto the head rail for dear life as their driver came too near a protruding rock, “but there is no soul in the human race better at what he does.”

“Yet still I worry,” he sighed. “Is he really the man that –”

He was stopped by Helen’s vivid eyes, glaring at him. “Yes. But don’t say anything. There is one thing that the man’s ego doesn’t need, and that’s stroking.”

“I wanted to ask you something else –” Mike began, but he did not get to finish for the buggy was thrown sharply to the side where it reared up on two wheels and threw its two passengers onto the sand. After this, it flipped entirely with the driver still fighting the wheel. It careened along the side of a mound until burying its bonnet and pivoting upright. The driver toppled limply from his seat, snapped his back on the bars protecting the seats, and then hit the ground.

Helen stirred first. She had not lost consciousness, but her vision was blurring and several parts of her body throbbed with the impact. Something had happened, but she couldn’t recall anything but the frightening rush of sand next to her.

There was a black shuttle hastening toward them, gliding silently over the broken landscape. Helen lay there, watching it approach – unable to move.

 

SANCTUARY OF THE MOON

UNTOLD SANCTUARY

SANCTUARY OF THE MOON

by ellymelly


  1. Nothing but Lies
  2. Tracks in the Mud
  3. Empty Tombs
  4. Buried Cities
  5. Lockdown
  6. Room with Columns
  7. Blue Eyed Monster
  8. Awakening
  9. Vampire Stories
  10. The Second Bite
  11. Storm in the Desert
  12. Deeper into the Caves
  13. A World of Whispers
  14. Silver Dreams
  15. Silk
  16. Darwin’s Spiders
  17. Playing with Silver
  18. On the Edge of the Abyss
  19. Throat of Thoth
  20. Dead Walking
  21. Rivers in the Snow
  22. Ice Cliffs

 

1

NOTHING BUT LIES

It was a humid afternoon, clinging to the end of summer. Ashley ducked under the roar of the helicopter as it flung a fresh sheet of water over her face. The blades beat the surface of the nearby river, sending shallow waves onto the bank which was thick with weeds and unpleasant refuse from the last town before the rainforest.

Finally, the noisy machine lifted off the ground and headed toward the low lying mountains behind her. Dripping, she rung her pony tail onto the ground, flicking it over her shoulder before doing the same to her coat.

She waved at the pair of small children who had moved in for a closer look, half hiding behind a stand of shrubs. They had strayed from the village, following the black chopper as it sailed in close. The pair ventured out and waved back at the blonde woman, grinning with bright eyes against dark skin.

Ashley knelt onto the damp grass, slipping her backpack off. She dug through it, quickly finding her grandfather’s journal. Flipping through the delicate pages, Ashley scanned each one until she caught sight of it – a map, roughly drawn by her grandmother and beside it a line of instructions. It didn’t look particularly forthright but if her grandfather could find the Sanctuary of the Moon using this, then so could she.

Turning it around so that the North symbol lined up with her compass, Ashley started searching for matching landmarks and soon found the Smouldering Match – a dark line of smoke leisurely trailing into the sky from a volcanic outcrop. An eagle soared over head, catching her eye as it enjoyed a warm air current. She wished that she could join it, play on the air for a while away from the world and all its trouble.

Instead, she gazed at the jungle in front. The knee length grass field that she was standing in ended fifty or so metres ahead. The dark green jungle loomed beyond, like a wave rearing up on the shore.

*~*~*

They relocated detective Joe Kavanaugh to one of the guest bedrooms where he happily fell into a deep sleep. His injuries were minor and not in any immediate need of attention. Helen closed his door and turned to John, Henry and Nikola who had been shadowing her through the corridor.

“Follow me,” she said sternly, though they didn’t need to be told. All of them could feel the air tensing around the brunette as she strode ahead, clearly upset by the turn of events.

She led them to the medical lab, ushering them into a line along the glass enclosure where Will sat on the edge of the hospital bed. When Helen had seen John and Tesla appear in her foyer, she had been inches from Will’s skin with the tip of the needle. Its contents would have killed him quickly and painlessly but her instinct told her to stop, that this couldn’t possibly be the end for him, and she had been right.

“I want you to tell me again,” she said to Nikola, who had broken the line and instead reclined against the desk containing print outs of all his files. He eyed one of the piles, folding his arms across his chest with disapproval.

This one,” he nodded at Henry, “has parroted my research correctly. I have strong reason to believe that there is a small community of vampires living in the Peruvian rainforest. The closest civilisation is the water-locked city of Iquitos. If Ashley’s smart, she’ll stop there for a guide. Sadly, Ashley has the only map so once we get there, we’ll be wandering blind.”

“How did she get her hands on a – you gave it to her… If this is one of your desperate attempts to get your claws on vampire blood, Nikola, then I am going to kill you myself.”

“I assure you,” he replied, “that although it might be true that I’m making the best of the circumstance presented to me, I did nothing as advantageous as orchestrating it. It was your pet sand creature that attacked me in the middle of the night, remember?”

He had a point. “There are no copies of the map I presume…”

“None.”

“Helpful, Nikola.” Helen glanced at Will as he bent forward in pain. It was starting again. He didn’t have long. “You’re coming with us. Pack light everyone, we have a plane to catch. Not you Henry –” Helen caught his arm as he headed for the door with the others.

“But I’ve been researching this. Helen, I know the data. You might need someone with this information – you can’t just trust that man.”

“And you trust his research? For all you know Henry, he may have left that there for you to find. We have Nikola, and for the moment at least, our goals are the same. The fewer people we have with us, the faster we can move. I don’t want Ashley out there alone.”

“You know, ‘that man’ is standing right here…”

“Stay out of this, Nikola,” Helen glared at him. He bowed out of the room with a smirk.

“Helen, you’re going to need me,” pleaded Henry.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But Will needs you more.”

*~*~*

Ashley surveyed the river cutting through her path. There had been unseasonal rain, and now rivers were popping up that were not labelled on the map. This one was about three metres wide but gushing with a frightening velocity. If she missed the bank, Ashley would be washed in its current god knows how far off course.

There was no choice though, she would have to cross it.

Her backpack went first, flung across the gap where it landed safely on the other side.

“See, not so hard,” she said to herself. If her backpack could do it…

Ashley backtracked, taking a run up through a patch of clear, but muddy ground. She took one last look at the murky river as it raged past and then dug her heals in, launching herself at it in full run.

Her legs stretched out, striding through the air as her arms clawed forward until she hit the opposite bank. She landed on the ground hard and immediately started sliding down its inclined bank toward the river. The ground was covered in silty mud that was nearly impossible to get a grip on.

“Urgh, come on!” she hissed, as she felt water rushing over her boots.

*~*~*

Helen tightened her belt, drew her long, weatherproof coat around her and concealed an assortment of weapons on her body. John rested against the wall beside the front door, watching the large clock tick away the time as they waited for Nikola. Their bags were ready to go and the car was out front, prepped to take them to Helen’s private jet parked in a dark corner of the airport.

“What could possibly be keeping him?” Helen paced over the floor.

“He was never particularly reliable,” commented John, readjusting the tape Helen had strapped over his face where the creature’s claw marks cut deep.

“Will you two ever get over each other?” she shook her head. “Sometimes I think that this jealously was more about competition than actually loving me.”

Henry bounded into the room, kitted out in jeans and a jacket with heavy boots and a bundle of bags.

“Henry, we discussed this,” said Helen sternly, eyeing his travelling clothes.

“Mr. Tesla is gone,” he panted, out of breath from the run down the hall. “I checked all of the motion senses and security cameras. He disappeared into the library and never came back.”

“Typical,” grinned John.

“Don’t you dare enjoy this,” Helen instructed. “The reality is that without him, we’ve got no chance of finding Ashley – what is it Henry?”

Henry held up a bundle of papers. “I know where he’s going, Helen. I can do this. Will’s dead if we don’t leave now. Worse than dead.”

Helen shifted her gaze between the expectant Henry and the impatient John, who shrugged his approval.

“Ready to leave?” she nodded at Henry’s bags. “Let’s go then. Next time I see Nikola, he better have a bloody good explanation.”

*~*~*

Ashley looked like a mud monster that had crawled out of some festering swamp. She sniffed her arm where the mud was starting to dry into a shell and crack off. This was just like the old days, she thought, tracking abnormals in their native environment. The only difference here was that she knew that the abnormal in question was way smarter than her, worse still, she wasn’t just hunting it, she wanted to talk to it.

“Right map,” she held the book with slightly muddy hands. “A little help would be good.”

There was no path to speak of, only a trickle of water running over a twisting line of boulders cutting through the foliage. She clambered over each one, sliding on their rough surfaces until she reached their top and could stare out over the next fall of jungle.

Suddenly, the ground underneath her gave way. All she saw was the stunning view vanish to black as her body curved, free-falling. She held onto the journal, pulling it to her chest as she hit the soft ground. Ashley’s vision blurred, her thoughts fractured by the fall. Above was the bright hole where she had fallen through the weak earth. Tree roots dangled around her, one brushing over her face. She moved it aside, sitting up with a groan.

An avalanche of dirt drained off of her – not that she could get any more filthy…

“Urgh…” she rested her head on her knees, closing her eyes. “Ouch.”

It was a while before she located her torch and began inspecting her situation which couldn’t possibly be a good one. The ground which had given way was four – maybe five metres above her head. Initially, she thought that she might be able to climb up the sides of the hole, but the earth was too soft. The tree roots, though prevalent, pulled free every time she tested their strength.

With the obvious route of escape failing her, Ashley turned her attention to the ground level. The hole extended into the earth around her, almost like a cave. On closer inspection, she found that one of the side walls had been propped up by timber. It was soft and mostly rotten but at one stage it had definitely been a doorway of sorts. The inside of it was blocked by a recent fall of dirt from above, flowing out into the main room. Perhaps it would be possible to clear a space through that.

The rest of the floor was bare. There was nothing at all that she could use as leverage to climb up toward the hole at the top, not even a well placed bolder like the thousands that she had trampled over to get this far.

“I refuse to die in a hole,” she told herself firmly.

Returning her attention to the ominous doorway of wood, Ashley began to dig into it with her hands. She kept her torch off, conserving its battery unaware of the tunnel waiting beyond.

 

2

TRACKS IN THE MUD

Helen waited on the phone, impatiently tapping her fingers against the plane’s window until the tone rang out and Ashley’s message service clicked on. Helen ended the call; another message wouldn’t make any difference to the eighteen unread ones already in there – no doubt having a nice chat about why their intended recipient wasn’t answering.

“Her phone does work, doesn’t Henry?”

Henry was tucked into the chair opposite, watching the clouds waft past as Helen’s private jet skimmed in over the mountains. He had an unsightly blue rug scrunched up under his nose which he had to fold back to speak.

“Yes, like I said,” he mumbled, simultaneously hungry and sleepy after the sixteen hour flight. “She’s set up on the global roaming thing. If her phone’s not working it’s because she’s dropped it, or drowned it, or one of the many other new and interesting ways that Ashley Magnus had discovered to damage technology. I’m a particular fan of her work on the microwave.”

“Sorry Henry,” Helen realised that she’d been pestering everybody on board for hours and it was starting to grate. “I’m just worried.”

The plane shook again, falling through an air pocket. Unstable weather went with the territory. High mountains created turbulence – at least it meant that they were getting close.

“Me as well, doc.” He didn’t admit to leaving a few of his own messages on Ashley’s phone. “But we’re gonna find her. We know where she’s headed –”

“Roughly…” added Helen, with an ever-so-slightly raised eyebrow.

“I can do a little better than ‘roughly’.” These days Henry was constantly in the presence of a large pile of paper. He had brought Tesla’s print outs with him – not all of them of course, only the ones that were difficult to acquire. At the moment they were neatly filed away in his shoulder bag. “As long as she doesn’t get lost, we should all end up at the same place and you can ground her then.”

Helen really hoped so, otherwise her daughter was out there alone, about to wander into the lair of the most dangerous Abnormal that ever lived.

*~*~*

Far from walking, Ashley found herself clawing forwards through the dirt – torch clenched between her teeth whilst she tried not to dribble all over it.

She was in a bit of a tight spot – lodged between a mound of dirt and the roof of the tunnel. The hole that she had dug for herself was on the small side and so she had to squeeze painfully through it, nearly getting stuck on the way.

“Come on hips,” she grunted.

Finally, she emerged, dusting herself down unnecessarily. They layers of mud and dirt on her were never going to leave her voluntarily.

She perched on the tunnel side of the mound, with her legs dangling over the rise of dirt in front. Prying the torch from her teeth, Ashley panned its light over the area in front. What she found was a narrow, half collapsed tunnel lined with the same trestles of wood as the entrance. Whatever this place had been, its previous life was long buried.

Ashley slid down the mound onto the semi-solid ground, landing in a puff of dust.

“Well, this is better,” she said to the tunnel. At least it showed promise – in other words, she couldn’t see the end of it which meant that it had to lead somewhere.

She progressed through it, slowly at first but soon her patience wore thin and Ashley entered a jog. The air got staler as the tunnel took her down further beneath the ground. Maybe she had been wrong, perhaps this was a mining tunnel and the exit was back the way she had come. What if it was an abandoned shaft, a hunting trap, some useless idea or any number of unhelpful things?

Always look before you leap…’ Wise words she usually chose to ignore. In her defence, it was more of a ‘fall’ than a ‘leap’.

Not ready to give up, she took a few more deep breaths and settled into a pace. She was mid-step when she felt it – the lower part of her ankle buckle and roll. Orthopaedics. She couldn’t count the number of times her mother had begged her to wear them yet still she insisted on going without. It was times like these, when she was trapped in a collision course with the eager ground, that she wished she’d listened to her mother.

“Ow…” she skidded to a halt, losing her grip on the torch as her hands spread out, taking the impact. “No, no, no –” Ashley watched as her torch began to roll away from her, catching the sharpening slope of the ground. “You get back here!”

She was on her feet, half-limping half-hopping in pursuit of the escaping torch, grimacing every time that she tried to put useful weight on her sore ankle. It wasn’t seriously injured, just refusing to co-operate with her. Her torch seemed content to continue this chase, gaining speed and distance from Ashley.

Soon Ashley couldn’t see the ground in front of her – only ahead where the torch’s light bounced, unhelpfully illuminating more walls of dirt.

“Don’t make me replace you with a Maglite,” she stumbled on.

It didn’t seem to care for her insults, vanishing from sight as it dropped over the edge of something that Ashley was yet to reach. Darkness, pure and black engulfed the tunnel around Ashley. She brought herself to a sudden stop, reaching out to the wall beside.

“Shit…” she whispered.

*~*~*

They took a boat upriver from Iquitos. Their petrol motor jutted and spluttered its protest at being picked for the trip, but Dr. Helen Magnus had paid good money for its services so their guide whacked the plastic cover with his stick and it quietened.

Henry sat up front, cross-legged on the bow of the small fibreglass boat. He gripped the pale blue bars, dislodging the old paint that had never really adhered in the first place. The wind was pleasant, whipping across his face in something that felt awfully like freedom.

The Amazon rainforest sprawled out ahead, climbing up a set of mountains in front of the river. Beside them, the last field of grass was swiftly running out. Farmers waved to them from the shore and packs of children gave playful chase along the bank.

Helen had her phrase-book out, doing her best to direct the guide to the place on the map they needed to be. It was slow going, like her father – Helen had always been mediocre when it came to foreign languages.

The guide was shaking his head at her last suggestion. At first she thought that it was her poor pronunciation, but the grey-haired man took the phrasebook from her and flipped it open to a page.

No thank you,” he said. What he meant was that he would not take them past open field. The boat was already slowing, making a gentle curve toward the muddy bank thick with reeds and animal tracks.

John suddenly reached over and relieved the arguing pair of the map.

“We knew we’d be in for a walk,” he said, stoically. “Ashley will have done the same so our chances of tracking her are better if we start where she did.”

Henry’s sense of freedom soon took a turn when he found himself face to face with a sinister line of trees reaching out to him with sticky leaves. The boat had pulled up right on the edge, where the rainforest reared up at them.

“Buck up little one,” John’s hand startled Henry, as it landed on his shoulder. The tall – strange man shook Henry in a ‘friendly’ manner, no doubt his version of encouragement. “It’s not the trees you need to be afraid of.” He leant right down to Henry’s ear and lowered his voice to a whisper, “It’s me…”

Henry gave a small yelp and bounced away, finding himself in the shade of the rainforest. It was cool and surprisingly enticing after hours baking on the runabout. John gave a quiet chuckle, glancing over his shoulder as Helen came marching toward them.

“That’s the spirit Henry,” she said, striding past him and John.

*~*~*

Detective Joe Kavanaugh opened his eyes with a groan. The world hurt and his head most of all. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep in the strange room, but there was daylight creeping between the drapes as the smell of fried eggs swirling around the bed.

The blur of last night began to take shape as he sat up. Tunnels and creatures; gunshots and bickering voices – finally he remembered.

He stumbled across the dark room, took hold of the heavy folds of material and pulled them open, revealing a bright morning over the city. His eyes stung in the sudden light. Joe blinked furiously, turning his head away until he felt his skin warm.

There was a silver tray on the table beside the bed. Its contents were covered by an ornate lid with steam creeping around its sides. Breakfast.

*~*~*

“She never ever listens…”

Helen Magnus had her knees buried in a soft layer of mud beside an angry river. Rough tracks, half washed away led into the current.

“They continue over there,” John pointed to the opposite bank where a skid mark had dislodged a section of weed and leaf litter. “Give me your hands…” he stood between Helen and Henry with his palms outstretched.

They were both hesitant at first, but soon clasped tightly to John.

It was over in a flash. A sharp, dreadful moment as they teleported to the other side of the river. Henry fell over, clutching his head in pain. Helen shook it off, forcing her eyes to focus and not slip into the enticing darkness.

“That’s nasty…” Henry whimpered, clambering back to his feet. “Don’t ever do that again.”

“You would rather take your chances with the river?” said John.

“Yeah,” replied Henry, straightening, “that’s what I’m saying.”

Helen was frowning, twisting the map in every direction possible until she turned to the others. “This is the wrong way,” she said, holding the map up for them to see. “We should be further that way,” she pointed to their left, “up where that line of rocks starts.”

Henry leant backwards, trying to see around the large tree beside him. He didn’t know how Helen could find anything in this mess. There were trees, ferns, creepers, spiky plant things he didn’t know what to call, and general obstacles everywhere. He was struggling to find his own feet.

“It could be the map,” said Henry. “Ours is something that Mr. Tesla drew himself. Ashley has the original.”

“This,” began Helen unhappily, “is why I don’t trust that man.” That, and he had a habit of disappearing when he was needed most.

“Do we follow the map, or Ashley?”

Helen’s eyes flicked between Henry, John, the map and the tracks in the mud.

3

EMPTY TOMBS

“You are very late,” Tesla inspected his nails. He was seated on a large boulder, perched at its top high above the pair approaching through the undergrowth.

Helen stopped, panting as she lifted her head. Through the light covering of leaves she spied an individual who was soon to die.

“Nikola…” she whispered, narrowing her eyes at his preened form. He did not look like he’d spent hours trudging through muck but then again, Nikola had a talent for cleanliness.

Henry beat his way through the forest behind Helen, swearing at a particularly sticky plant that refused to let go of his arm. It suckered onto his skin, stuck fast.

Nasty little good for nothing piece of ancient shru-” he ran into the back of Helen, nearly knocking them both to the ground. Helen stumbled forward.

“How many times, Henry,” she said, without taking her glare off Nikola. “Eyes up.”

Henry pealed the possessive frond off of his skin with a displeased grimace. He hated forests, trees, large wild cats, slippery rocks, humid air, insects – anything that crawled, really. It was only the two of them now; Helen had sent John off after Ashley’s tracks while they stuck to the map. Helen had wanted to go after Ashley herself, but Henry wouldn’t leave the map and she couldn’t trust John on his own with Henry. At least this way, John’s motivations were headed in the right direction – find Ashley.

“Oh great,” Henry’s mood deteriorated further when he saw that ‘Tesla person’ impossibly balanced on a boulder.

“I’m been here for whole hours,” Nikola gloated, pulling his knees up to his chest, enjoying the pleasant breeze and vantage over the jungle. They were at the summit of a small hill that wanted, ever so desperately, to be a mountain.

Helen fought through the remainder of the ferns and strode out into the clearing, planting herself at the base of Nikola’s rock. She tilted her head back to speak. “I’m going to need a very good reason not to kill you,” she said, unhooking her gun. Helen snapped off the safety and aimed it straight at him.

Harsh, thought Nikola. “Only one?” he challenged. “My dear Helen, I can give you many reasons to keep me alive but I dare say one will suffice.”

“I am still waiting for it,” Helen ignored Henry, who was trying to remind her that Nikola was useful and possibly better kept alive.

“Impatience? That’s a new one for you.”

A loud ‘crack’ startled hundreds of birds who took to the air in a great curve of white, screaming as they flapped away.

“You know, that hurts my feelings…” Nikola dusted flecks of limestone off his suit. Helen had made a sizable hole next to his leg.

“Whoops…” she muttered darkly. “I appear to have missed. Care to go again?”

“Ashley’s not here,” said Nikola. “Haven’t seen her and that’s a bad sign because she had a decent head start on us.”

“Where is she?” Helen’s gun lowered slightly as Nikola edged himself forward and slid off the rock. It was quite a distance to the ground and he landed rather ungracefully in a heap.

“Ow… Well, if we’re lucky she’s gotten a bit lost – you know what girls are like. Map reading isn’t their strongest attribute.” Helen’s gun re-aligned with him. “Or,” Nikola decided that being shot at point blank range wouldn’t be fun, “she’s already inside.”

“Inside what?”

Nikola’s arms stretched out, beckoning them forward. “The sanctuary,” he grinned. “This way…”

*~*~*

Joe checked his appearance in one of the full length mirrors scattered throughout the Sanctuary’s hallways. There was a nasty cut above his eye but the stitching was holding. It was very important that he looked normal. Airlines were picky these days.

Making short work of a flight of stairs, Joe turned the corner into Helen’s office, gently opening the door and slipping inside. He felt like a small child, breaking into the headmaster’s office as he crept over to Magnus’s desk, eyeing every shadow with suspicion.

The flowers on her desk were dying, dropping petals over her desk. One unopened bud wept, dipping down where it hung over a mournful statue. Joe was looking for something very specific, hidden amongst her records which she kept locked in the desk drawer. A small black granite figurine on her desk caught his attention. He reached for it, holding the object firmly as he smashed the lock on desk with one, quick blow.

There wasn’t time to waste now. Someone would have heard that.

Joe pulled the drawer open and shuffled through a pile of papers until he found a thick folder. He pulled it out and opened on the desk. Yes, this was it; information on a camp site in the desert dated three days ago. He took the whole file, folding it under his arm as he made his way to the window.

*~*~*

Nikola pulled his unhappy entourage to a halt.

“Four – hours – of torture,” Henry gulped from a water bottle and then continued. “And this is where you take us?”

There was an eerie layer of mist burying them from the waist down. Towering above, sheltering the forest world from the fading afternoon light was an imposing cliff face. Its black surface was smooth and shimmered, as if moving with a life of its own. It looked like black glass excised from the bowels of the earth.

Nikola reached out, touching one of the carvings which framed the entrance to the cave. It was a small white circle embedded like a jewel. There were hundreds more clustered along the vertical edges. Some of the markings were circles like the one he had beneath his fingertip, the others depicted stages of the crescent moon.

“It looks real,” remarked Helen, eyeing the cave’s entrance. “I’ll give you that.”

He lay against the rock, pressing his cheek and palms onto the cool surface. This felt like home, thought Nikola. His ancestors had found a measure of sanctuary within this cave, he wondered if it would bring the same peace to him.

Henry’s head had developed a worrying slant as he watched Nikola embrace the sinister looking façade. “He’s gone all strange and stuff on us…” he said.

“No,” Helen corrected him. “This is normal. Let’s go Nikola,” she plucked him from the wall and deposited him in front of the cave entrance. “Vampires first.”

“I could – I could just wait out here…” Henry hadn’t moved from his spot in the mist. Everything about this idea smelt bad. There was something sinister swirling around him – and it wasn’t the mist.

“There’s no point in remaining outside, Mr Foss,” Nikola straightened his coat, buttoning it all the way to his neck. “They know that we’re here.” He darkened his eyes so that he could see better in the half-light of the cave. Helen took a more practical approach, fishing out her torch as she stepped into the shadows.

Henry shivered involuntarily. “Well, that makes me feel much better about the whole, ‘let’s wander into a dark, scary cave’ thing.” He lost sight of the other two as they ventured into the cave. Suddenly alone, Henry’s feet kicked into action, propelling him in pursuit despite his common sense telling him no.

*~*~*

Ashley curled her fingers over the mossy edge, gripping the delicate roots of dark-loving plants. The tunnel in front ended where the ground had been torn away. Her torch was far below, a tiny point of light glowing like a distant star.

“Shit…” she whispered, running her hands over every surface that she could reach. There had to be a way down and it wasn’t long until she found it – a damp strip of wood tied onto two lengths of rope. Moving her hands down further, she found more pieces of wood forming the basics of a ladder.

Ashley was eternally grateful that she couldn’t see this ‘ladder’. Given the way it felt in her hands, she never would have allowed herself to clamber over it, grimacing at every tremble and crack it gave in protest.

This is such a bad idea,’ she reminded herself halfway down. The ladder agreed, one of its boards snapping away from her foot. Ashley clung onto the ropes tighter, feeling for the next step as they groaned – squeaking and unravelling.

Eventually, her feet hit the ground and she was reunited with her torch. Ashley shined it back over to the ladder she had traversed. Damn, she wouldn’t be going back that way.

The ground beneath her was odd in that it bared no resemblance to the tunnel above. Down here she had to fight to find her footing on the smooth bed of river stones, polished by the small stream at the centre. It was clear that at some point the river had raged down here, filling the entire chasm.

She wanted to whistle her awe of the size of the place, but decided that the last thing she needed was a startled flock of bats freaking out. The water at her feet was running, trickling with distinct purpose over the white rocks. It had found a way out, Ashley was sure, so she followed it.

Ashley’s ears pricked up and she paused, turning slowly back toward the ladder. She listened carefully to every drip of water and shuffle of dirt. The more she concentrated on the silence, the louder the tunnel became but she didn’t hear it again – her name whispered in the darkness.

She avoided the water, clambering over the rocks and pebbles. Without sunlight, the cavern, cave, mine – or whatever this place preferred to call itself, was freezing. The water carried ice-crystals along in its current. Whenever she panned her torchlight over its surface, the beams scattered into shards of colour. There was something else in the water too – flecks of gold, tumbling over the stones and accumulating in pools around the edge of the river.

Rivers of Gold, that reminded her of something. She took a moment, seating herself on the rocky ground. Ashley pulled out her grandfather’s journal from her jacket, flipping through the damaged paper until she came to the map. There was nothing written on it about falling down large holes, which confirmed her suspicions that she was well and truly lost but a few pages on, she found an entry that peaked her curiosity. It was about the Seven Cities of Gold, searched in vain for by expeditions since 1150. Apparently her grandfather suspected its location to be in South America rather than North America but never had any success in finding it himself. Here it was, the part that she remembered, the cities sat by the edge of a golden river which carved out shimmering tracks across the land.

“Rivers of gold,” she whispered, eyeing the water. “Another day, perhaps.”

*~*~*

Ash-leeeey!”

John extended his top half over the hole, careful not to let his weight tilt him over the edge. It was a long way down and from what he could see, someone had taken the plunge into its depths recently. Ashley’s tracks ended at this hole and he had scouted the area ahead to no avail.

He called her name again, but there was no reply from his daughter.

*~*~*

“Why haven’t you been here before?” Helen stayed a few paces behind Nikola as they explored the entrance of the cave. “You clearly knew how to find this place. I’m surprised you could resist visiting the homeland of your ancestors.”

Nikola lowered his eyes to the glittering floor but didn’t say anything.

“Don’t tell me,” continued Helen, with a look of satisfaction. “An army of vicious killers born from your blood no problem but one full blood vampire – you wouldn’t dare face them alone.”

He stopped, and whispered very quietly to her. “If you knew what you were really walking into,” he said, “you’d be afraid too. Now please, a little hush.”

“What did he say?!” shouted Henry from behind, dashing into the cave after them.

Nikola sighed.

*~*~*

The plane touched down twice. Its first landing was brief, a mere taste of the ground as it bounced from the gravelly airstrip back into the crosswind which nipped the plane’s wings. The second time, the pilot grounded the plane with such force that the passengers gripped their seats in alarm.

Bit rough, Joe looked out the window, checking that nothing had caught fire.

Travel was like that around these parts. You arrived and you had to be happy with that.

Joe stepped out into a desert wind, bracing himself against the funnels of sand burning his exposed skin. The rest of the passengers scurried away, ducking into waiting cars parked in the open by the airstrip. The terminal was dark inside its locked doors and broken windows bandaged with helpings of duct tape. It was a god awful place with nothing between it and the full force of the desert lurking just over the rise.

“Doctor Kavanaugh – of Oxford University?”

Joe hadn’t noticed the tall man approach from the side. Most of his body was covered with layers of cloth, a sensible idea. Joe waved and nodded.

“I am Professor Lierdly from the expedition. We spoke on the phone. My car is over there,” he pointed at the only vehicle still braving the dust. “This way please, there’s a storm coming.”

 

4

BURIED CITIES

 

The black mountain range stuck out from the sand like a set of knives. Its thousand faces of polished rock interlaced to form a sinister barrier – sometimes catching the sun in a blinding glare. Joe could see the remains of Magnus’s camp site nestled at the base of one this monstrosity. From what he could tell at this distance, there was nothing left but ruined tents and a makeshift airstrip, gradually disappearing beneath the sand.

“We told them,” said Lierdly, from the driver’s seat. He was barely holding the wheel as the car shook its way down the gravelled track, riding a ridge. There was a dune to their left, working its way toward the road in a surge of burning sand. The professor pointed at the speckling of tents obscured by a layer of ‘liquid-air’. It’s what they called the turbulent air hugging the ground which distorted anything further than arms reach. “We say, ‘nothing to find there but dirt and rock’. My associate even offered them a share in our site – we could use the extra funding, but that crazy woman wasn’t interested and now look, all that’s left of them. They abandoned less than a week ago. In a month there’ll be nothing.”

“Crazy indeed,” replied Joe. That sounded like the Helen Magnus he knew.

They pulled up at Lierdly’s archaeological site, framed by a tent city. White linen flapped in the breeze, snapping sharply like whips cracking in Joe’s ear. People hurried everywhere carting books or screaming instructions at their satellite phones. One man tripped in his haste, scattering a box of identification tags in front of Joe and Lierdly. He swore in Dutch and then set about plucking each one from the sand while at the same time hissing behind him at someone in a tent.

On this side of the mountain range to Magnus’s camp, Lierdly and his team had set up shop beneath a series of tunnels burrowed into the rock. There more than a dozen of them poking out in no particular arrangement.

“We thought they were tombs,” said Lierdly, pointing at several starting barely a foot off the ground. Each was just over a metre high and roughly made. They could have almost been mistaken for natural caves except the rock cleaved in hexagonal pieces, and these were circular holes. “But they just go on and on. I had one of the boys take a wander and he found nothing for kilometres. Whatever’s buried in there, if anything at all, it wasn’t meant to be found.”

“Superstitious?” Joe raised an eyebrow.

“No…” he averted his eyes to the sun, “You can’t do what I do for a living and give in to that kind of thinking.” Lierdly shifted, resting his hands on his slender hips. “I’d never have made it into my first tomb. Some of my workers, locals, they think that this place is cursed. It’s the same story wherever you go in this country. This is cursed. That is cursed. Don’t touch that, the sky will fall. Mostly, I think that they don’t want us sniffing around in case we find something about their past they don’t want to know. Perhaps that is the curse.”

“Do you mind if I have a look for myself?”

Lierdly shrugged. “Go ahead. Let me know if you get attacked by a mummy. Can make good money out of that sort of thing.”

Joe’s laugh turned into a shiver as he hopped up the rocks.

*~*~*

“Is it supposed to be doing that?” Henry backed away from the cave wall nervously, as another flicker of electricity sparked into life next to his ear. There was an ever-present crackle in the background getting louder as they progressed.

“You ask me,” said Nikola, sniffing out the darkness, eyeing it cautiously, “as if I do this kind of thing often…”

Helen had her gun raised, realigning it to every sound no matter how small. “It wouldn’t be a first, Nikola,” she said in a whisper, as she stepped behind him. “You’re always claiming an affinity with these creatures.”

“Ancestry,” he corrected her, shuddering as her hair tickled across the back of his neck. He hated that she did that – always on purpose, to unsettle him and remind him who was really in charge. “A different thing altogether.”

“If you like,” she grinned, as he ran his hands over the back of his collar.

“Seriously though,” Henry had stopped at one of the walls and was entranced watching the electricity flow along tiny tracks in the rock, almost like veins. “This is not normal.” He reached his hand out to the surface, lowering it slowly to the fluid patterns until – “Ow…” he shook his hand. “Ow, ow, ow…”

The spark had been quite spectacular, lighting Henry in a sudden flash.

“You once hand-picked this thing as a protégé?” Nikola widened his eyes in disbelief as Henry muttered something about, ‘being okay’.

Helen shook her head. “It was more like an adoption,” she confessed. “What do you know about real vampires?”

Nikola shrugged, “Not much. Their records are, regrettably, destroyed or lost.”

“But you have your suspicions,” Helen prompted.

“They were civilised,” he said, “but civilisation millennia ago is not what it is today.”

“You really are worried, aren’t you? Meeting our sand creature deepened your fears that vampires have a – how would you put it, viscous side?”

“They had a talent for survival in an age noted for its brutality. Yes, it worries me. As does this…” He pointed at the currents of electricity running over the walls.

“Nikola…” she reached out and grabbed his arm with her free hand. He stopped, turning to find her eyes wide, glistening in the torchlight. “Where’s Henry?”

*~*~*

Ashley stopped, balanced on the bank of pebbles to the right of the stream. The water ended at two giant doors which towered to the roof of the cavern, out of reach of her torchlight.

Sheee-it…” she exhaled, taking a step back to take in the sight.

The doors were made of a heavy wood, intricately carved with a life-size freeze of the jungle stretching across them. Plants with their curled leaves protruded while hidden beneath them, creatures prowled. Carved trees stood at their real height, vanishing into an elaborate canopy. Two snarling jaguars faced each other in the middle, gnashing their curved teeth at each other mid-pounce. It was unlike any artwork she had seen. It was so real that Ashley hesitated to take her eyes off it in case the creatures came to life and leapt free.

The doors were not infallible though. Along their base, the water had cracked and discoloured the wood. Fragments of gold caught inside the fibrous surface making them look as if they had been dipped in liquid gold. It was like an embroidered curtain, sealing the cave. Ashley had never felt so small.

The water had not backed up at the door. Instead, it was running under it. Ashley stepped into the freezing water, grimacing as it sank through her boots and swelled around her ankles. Her skin reddened, burnt by the cold as she waded in deeper. The river’s depth had been deceiving. Soon it was up around her waist as she reached the centre of the door, holding her arms up above her head.

“Bad idea,” she grimaced as the cold became a stabbing pain. Her backpack was waterproof, and floated defiantly as she threw it into the water. It followed the current and hit the doors, bobbing against them.

There was a second current in the water. Ashley could feel its tug on her lower legs in the deep water, beckoning her forwards.

“Moment of truth,” she said, more to convince herself than the empty chamber. Ashley reached down under the water, following the line of the door. Her fingers slipped over the golden edge. A foot under the water, the door ended leaving a gap just big enough for her to slip under.

Ashley gripped onto her bag, forcing it down under the water. It fought against her but as soon as it crossed onto the other side, Ashley took a breath and submerged, following it through.

The cold was unbearable, piercing her with such force that she thought she must have fallen victim to an ancient death trap. She kept her eyes clenched shut as she hugged her backpack to her chest, letting it pull her up through the water.

They broke the surface together. Ashley coughed, wiping the water from her face before opening her eyes. She was swimming now with the water deepening beneath her. Ashley brought her torch above the water. As with the previous room, there were banks of rock on either side. Ashley swam, forcing her stiff arms to stroke their way toward the shore.

*~*~*

They turned around together but neither could see any sign of Henry.

“Henry?” whispered Helen, about to backtrack before Nikola caught the back of her coat.

“No, no… wait,” he said. Nikola tilted Helen’s torch, pointing it up toward the ceiling of the cave. There was nothing but a small flock of napping bats, swaying in their sleep. “I think this is a mistake,” he said, not letting go of her coat. Helen wasn’t sure if it was for her own safety or his.

“Where’s Henry?” Helen demanded.

“I don’t know,” he replied truthfully. “But nothing got past us, I am sure of it, which means that whatever it was didn’t have to.”

“Teleporting? Like John?”

“It wasn’t John,” said Nikola. “Stay close, I mean it.” He didn’t just mean ‘within an arms distance’. Nikola wouldn’t let Helen stray any further than their shoulders touching. They stepped in time with each other, following the cave as it sloped downward.

“There is something down here,” she said, blinking at the darkness. Helen could hear movement, subtle but quick as it changed positions. “I think that you should say something.”

“Like what?” he had morphed slightly further towards his vampire form. Nikola was a ghastly combination of pale skin, sharp teeth and large, black eyes that Helen hated to see.

“Anything. Otherwise whatever’s home is going to think that we’re trying to sneak in…” Nikola was silent, trying to work out how that differed from what they were actually doing. “All I know,” continued Helen, “is that when things sneak into my house – it doesn’t end well for the ‘things’.”

“Well you say something then!”

“This is your idea!” she prodded him sharply. He buckled temporarily, curling his claws.

“Fine. Tell me what to say and I’ll say it.”

“God, you are such a child.”

*~*~*

The desert light was absorbed by the tunnel until it was nothing more than a bright circle in the distance. Joe had to duck, crouching his body to fit inside the tunnel. It smelt stale which was no surprise given the fragile bones of desert creatures he continuously crushed under his shoes. They had curled up and died all over the place, hiding from a sandstorm and forgotten to leave.

Lierdly had given him a small amount of supplies including a strong flashlight and tent pole, ‘for the cobwebs’. Joe could think of other uses for a length of wood. He gripped the stick with one hand, aiming it at the tunnel like a prehistoric caveman might have done.

The tunnel worked its way into the mountain, sometimes constricting into a space barely big enough to crawl through and at other times intersecting with several tunnels in large, domed spaces. Joe left himself messages in the sand floor so that he wouldn’t end up walking in circles. The deeper he progressed, the more well-worn the tracks became almost like he had been skirting through the side streets and only now finding the highway.

Eventually he found himself in a tunnel tall enough for him to stand with three others beside him. He was not the first to venture down these catacombs. Many kilometres inside, the air became putrid. Joe buried his nose in his sleeve as he closed in on the source of the smell, fighting the urge to by physically sick.

A skeleton, partially decomposed had reclined against the wall. It was difficult to know how long it had been there. With dry desert air and few scavengers, his decomposition might have been greatly slowed. His clothes were native to the area and he looked peaceful, like the remains of the animals.

Joe did not linger, pushing past the horrible sight before a mysterious urge to sleep befell him.

*~*~*

Ashley sat on the bank with her knees pulled to her chest, shivering. Her body had the slightest tinge of gold from the water and she could still taste its metallic edge. If Henry had been here, he would have made a quip about that James Bond film.

This room was different to the last. Instead of a rough cave surface, she found perfectly cut stones stacked tightly together to form smooth walls. She couldn’t comment on the ceiling because it hung well out of reach of the torchlight.

Instead of a river, there was a deep pool of water filling the cave edged by a low wall, maybe half a foot tall at best. On the top of this barrier was a trail of crescent shaped lights embedded in the stone. They did not shine brightly but like glow-worms, their collective light gave the water which they encapsulated a soft aura.

As her eyes adjusted to the softer light, Ashley saw the first hint of structure emerge from the far side of the underground lake. There were buildings, several stories high, packed tightly together in a crowded facade. Her torched flickered. She hit and cursed it until its light reappeared. She may as well have held a candle to the room. There was city down here, buried away from the world. It was silent – abandoned long ago.

This, Ashley presumed, was all that remained of the Sanctuary of the Moon.

 

5

LOCKDOWN

 

“Neat…” whispered Ashley.

She probably should have gone for something a little more epic, but as she clambered over the low wall of lights and onto the paved streets of the city, words refused to form in her throat.

The Sanctuary of the Moon was empty, deserted long ago by whatever creatures had chosen to make their homes here in this underground world. There were, however, remnants of them. Ashley had stumbled across a pile of bleached bones cluttered in a corner where two buildings didn’t quite meet. The sad skeleton was the first of many as she progressed up the main street.

There was a steady trail of rats ambling along the gutter, scratching against the stone floor as they headed toward the pool of water Ashley had climbed out of earlier. She avoided them, keeping to the centre of the road where her torchlight mingled with the occasional glowing shapes on the dwellings.

It was more like a hive than a city, with its buildings scrunched together, rising and falling with the uneven floor underneath the sinister dome of the cave. Some of these had crumbled, bleeding onto the streets with rivers of rubble and dust.

Very soon, she found her eye drawn to claw marks etched into the walls and ripped bodies with scattered weapons. The procession of time could not conceal the violence of their deaths.

Ashley stopped at three intertwined remains, tilting her head from side to side as she circled them like some wandering bird of prey that had missed the feast.

“Unpleasant,” she commented, nudging one of the outlying bones with her boot. The trio had killed each other in some kind of brutal fever. Bony fingers could still be seen clasped around the neck of one, locked in an embrace even through death while the victim had plunged a short dagger through the chest of a hacked skeleton which, to her surprise, sported a sizable tail.

The extra limb was a collection of naturally duplicated vertebra, tapering toward a softly curved tip. The last few bones had been pulled out of line, no doubt by hungry rats.

Ashley retrieved her gun and then secured the backpack around her waist with several of its buckles. This place gave her the creeps and it was a long, lonely walk through it to the back wall. She didn’t know quite what she would find up there, but all the roads trailed off in that direction – it was the rats fleeing from it that made her worry.

*~*~*

Bigfoot’s gentle breathing was interrupted by a snore. Not quite stirred from sleep, he rolled over on the uncomfortable lab floor and curled into his coat. He couldn’t see Will, crouched at the glass in front of him, deciding how best to escape from the glass cage.

The restraints that had held him to the bed were now lying, chewed through, on the floor. His transformation into a sand creature was complete. When Will looked down at his skin he saw it ripple with uncertainty as it adjusted to the changing background. There was a strange dryness to the back of his throat that made it difficult to do anything but grunt at things while the lights of the room glowed especially bright. The details of the world had become intense; feeling – smell, touch – everything was a thousand times stronger.

Will sized up the sleeping creature on the other side of the glass. He rocked forward and touched the glass with an extended finger. The surface was cool – fragile even…

Bigfoot woke to the sound of shattered glass raining over him. He opened his eyes and saw a thousand scatterings of light reflected off the tumbling beads of glass as the window of the observation room fell forward with Will flying through its centre. Bigfoot had just enough time to roll before the larger shards of glass stabbed into the floor around him.

“Argh!” he groaned, as two jagged pieces cut through his fur.

Will hit the ground with the glass. Sensing the first whiff of freedom, he straightened and surveyed the room with golden eyes slit through the middle. His original abnormality – the gift of observation, had now become a serious weapon. Will could pick out every tiny detail of an environment in one turn of his head. Possible escapes leapt out at him while he kept a watchful eye on the figure writhing in pain on the ground.

“Will…” said Bigfoot, trying to stand. He clasped his paw over his arm to stop the bleeding, but the brilliant red dribbled around his fingers and onto the floor. “Will,” he repeated, pleading at the creature who was presently eyeing the door to the lab.

Will’s lips curled into a sinister grin as his body flickered in and out of camouflage.

“Listen to me,” continued Bigfoot, stumbling to his feet. He made it three laboured steps before he had to fall against one of the tables for support. “You’ve got to fight it.”

Will felt that he should know this hairy creature struggling to stand so he closed his eyes for a moment and tried to think. There was a flicker of something. A memory? A thought – he didn’t know. He wanted to be free and that desire overwhelmed everything else.

Instead of finishing off the creature, Will simply turned and pushed through the lab doors – throwing his head back in the sudden escape.

Bigfoot let himself crumble back to the floor where he crawled through the scattered glass to the other side of the room. He pried open the cabinet and dug out a set of bandages, wrapping several layers of them tightly around his arm until he could feel neither the pain nor the seeping of sticky blood.

He had to warn the detective sleeping down the hallway before Will got to him and somehow protect the other Abnormals but first, he had to lock the Sanctuary down and prevent Will from escaping into the city where he would no doubt begin picking out prey.

The computer in the lab did not have security access, so Bigfoot injected himself with a large dose of painkillers and made for the door. He paused at their ajar surfaces, sniffing the air for any sign of Will before gently pushing them open.

The hallway was empty save for a broken vase that had been knocked off a hallway table. Bigfoot, barely able to walk, threw himself at the opposite wall of the hallway, fumbling for the door to Ashley’s office. As someone mostly unaware of their office, she had not bothered to lock it.

It was a room neglected, ignored by its reluctant owner and left to sit in solitude most of the year. Its desk was bare save a lamp and computer with a wandering screensaver. The bookshelf on the opposing wall was not Ashley’s but her mother’s, built to house a special collection of bound letters written by her many associates over the years.

Bigfoot woke the computer, which, overjoyed by the attention, jolted into life with a cheerful beep.

A few minutes later, Bigfoot heard the bars on the windows clang shut and the double bolts on the doors lock firmly into place. Steel doors were sliding over the larger areas and coded doors between levels locking into place. The Sanctuary had turned itself into a prison, with him and Will locked inside.

Will, already on the ground floor, dropped to all fours and hurtled along the ground toward the main entrance. The carpet beneath him folded and slid off to the side as he rounded the corner and ploughed into the solid door as the large steel bolt slipped into place. The door shook with the impact, but remained resolutely closed.

Trapped, Will snarled, baring several rows of razor teeth to the security camera above. Bigfoot watched on, busily wrapping his wounds tighter.

*~*~*

“Do you trust me?” whispered Nikola, taking her free hand within his clawed paw. His skin was freezing, sending unpleasant shivers over her skin whenever his claws grazed her.

“Is that a trick question,” she replied softly, still holding her gun firmly to the darkness in front.

“Whatever happened to us, Helen?” he said, as they edged very slowly deeper into the cave. The light of the entrance behind them had almost vanished and now it was his torch and the electrical currents over the walls that lit the way. “You used to like me.”

“I do like you,” she hissed back. “I would have shot you already if I felt anything less than affection – as perverted as it may be. Incidentally,” she continued, “I believe it was you who last tried to kill me. This little expedition of yours may well end both of us.”

“Oh please… this wasn’t my idea. You have that ‘detective’ to thank for all this.”

That caused Helen to come to an abrupt halt, ripping her hand away from him. “What on earth are you going on about?”

Nikola’s black eyes gleamed in the torchlight which he pointed directly at her. She ducked away from the glare.

“Seriously?” he said, almost unable to grasp Helen’s naivety. “You don’t see it? Vampires – even that bastardised sand creature you tried to keep as a pet, are not animals. They are highly intelligent beings that don’t waste time. If the detective was bait, then he had already served his purpose. I for instance, would have killed him once I reached the tunnels but instead, what do we find? He is safe and well after half the night spent alone with it. There was a reason for that, Helen.”

“He wouldn’t…” but, she realised, then again Joe had more to gain than any from the sand creature. This was personal for him. He spoke ancient Egyptian, he was not afraid of the creature and after she had refused to disclose the location of the tomb, he had become especially curious. “I,” she sighed heartily, truly unimpressed with herself, “never learn.”

“An endearing quality,” Nikola grinned. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

“For the sake of argument, then,” she flinched as he took her sharply by the arm, anticipating her answer.

“Close your eyes…” he said darkly, leaning toward her.

For the last five minutes, Nikola had sensed a presence hunting them through the caves, scant feet from them at any given moment. Despite his considerable observation skills, he was yet to catch a glimpse of his pursuer. Something had changed though. The assailant had gone from observer to assassin, more than once he had felt something brush over the back of his neck, considering how to sever his spine. Nikola Tesla may be hard to kill, but he had a sneaking suspicion that ‘beheading’ might just do it.

He didn’t want her to see what had to happen next.

With considerable force, Nikola knocked Helen to the ground. She stayed down, flattened against the cave floor perfectly still with her eyes slammed shut.

Nikola’s ears twitched as he heard fabric swish to his right and a shadow turn out of sight. He reached out with his clawed hand and ripped a strip free – the first tangible proof that there was, indeed, something else with them.

The rippling of electricity intensified, flickering and flashing in the air accompanied by a continuous crackle.

He bowed his head, and when he lifted it, his transformation into ‘vampire’ was absolute. Barely recognisable as this creature of the myths and fear, he leapt up to the roof, lingering on the cold rock amidst a few sleeping bats, before falling on top of a tall, slender figure.

Nikola had not expected the frailness. The creature crumbled beneath him, groaning as Nikola’s hands tightened around their body. Layers of cloak and a muddle of movement rolled down the slight incline of the cave until they hit a wall in a huge flash of light. Electricity poured from the cave wall through them in a shower of light.

Helen, unable to resist, opened her eyes a crack to see two heads glare at each other, encircled by shards of artificial lightning. One was Nikola as she remembered him – true and frightening in his vampire form. The other was an older man with twisted features and a permanent snarl. As she looked closer Helen saw that the other man’s features had sunk toward his bones in a horrid venture between life and death.

The two vampires rolled off the wall and the cave fell back into darkness. For a moment, Nikola thought he had the pursuer beat.

“We don’t want to –” he started to say, but found himself thrown off in a sudden surge of power. Nikola yelped as he slammed into the wall next to Helen and hit the ground in a shower of glittering dust. “Hurt you…” he finished to himself.

“Look out…” whispered Helen, as she saw the other creature straighten and turn to face them.

Nikola pealed himself off the ground.

“You should not be here…” the creature hissed. Its voice was cluttered with age, scratching through his throat. The ancient vampire blinked its sharp eyes and then disappeared from sight.

Nikola swore.

“This is bad, isn’t it?” said Helen, moving to get up.

“Stay down,” he snapped sharply. “The only reason I’m not dead is because he’s curious.”

Swirls of dust kept kicking in the air, disturbed by the vampire’s feet as he teleported from corner to corner to unsettle his uninvited guests.

Maybe, thought Nikola, it was time that he tried Helen’s approach. “This is a Sanctuary?” he asked the darkness, not sure if he should expect a reply. “We come here only to search for a missing friend. We mean you no harm.”

Silence. More crackling from the walls.

“We know what you are,” Nikola continued. “We desire your help. This isn’t working…” he shot at Helen.

Helen sat up, but didn’t go so far as to stand. “For your help we can trade information on the history of your people.”

Though they couldn’t see it, the vampire’s interest peaked.

“And what of them?” said the disembodied voice, bouncing off the uneven surface of the cave.

“Grant us safe passage, and we will tell you all we know.”

“Safe passage?” the voice scratched and died off with amusement. “You have intruded into sacred ground, we are now negotiating the manner of your demise.”

“Please,” Helen said, “a friend of ours has inadvertently trespassed. We are here only to find them and return safely home. We mean you no harm.”

“Harm?” the vampire hissed darkly. “Do not speak to me of harm.” In the cave ahead, they saw a faint outline of movement as the ancient vampire slowly paced toward them. “For thousands of years I have watched my people die – cut down, tortured,” it paused to take another laboured breath, “hacked apart in fields as they fled. You cannot know what it’s like to watch children burn, smouldering into the dusk while the skeleton of your empire blackens.” They could see the creature now, standing tall with its full length cloak dragging on the ground. “You may forgive me then, if I grow wary of human promises.”

A tear steadied in Helen’s eye. “I have seen such carnage,” she replied. “But please, she is my daughter.”

This seemed to stir a memory – and a distant smile. Not so long ago there had been another like herself bravely venturing into this cave. “There was a man here once before, on behalf of his daughter. You remind me of him…”

 

6

ROOM WITH COLUMNS

 

Joe’s body froze mid-step. The catacombs had come to an abrupt end – miles of narrow tunnels culminated in an empty, circular room which was bare of everything except its sandy floor.

“Impossible…” he hissed, turning in endless circles.

He had been so sure, absolutely positive that this would lead him to the tomb of the Priests of Amun, lost for thousands of years. They were not tombs for sleeping bodies dreaming of dead worlds, but crypts to keep monsters in – monsters who were very much alive at their time of imprisonment. If he was ever to find his father, it would be amongst the angry faces of its prisoners.

The walls were painted in ochre colours and scrawls of ancient writing marched up and down it, raving stories about underworlds and gods that now lay quiet. Joe advanced, stepping carefully through the sand, holding his torch aloft.

“Urgh!” he cried, as Joe felt the sand beneath him fall away. His stomach lurched and his arms flailed wildly as he was sucked through the floor into darkness. He had just enough time to gasp a breath of air in the light and catch sight of one of the wall murals laughing silently at him.

Then, the only proof of his existence was a torch half buried in the sand in the empty room, with its light gradually yellowing. Eventually it clicked off, and the room returned to its sinister peace.

*~*~*

The ancient vampire’s eyes were black like Nikola’s, but in the depths of their pits were hints of red. These blood-stained flecks ran over Helen, inspecting every inch of her as she spoke. The tiniest beads of sweat on her skin wreaked in the vampire’s nostrils while the grazes on her cheek and neck gave way to trickles of blood. Every minute that this breathing creature survived was a testament to the vampire’s strength of will.

“Quiet now…” the vampire curled his lips into a snarl. “My manners have slipped in these long centuries alone. If you wish to leave this place, you must do so now. Leave me be.” His voice cracked like the electric currents behind him – deceptively fragile in its fluctuations.

Helen and Nikola glanced at each other.

“I cannot leave,” insisted Helen, “until I find my daughter and the man that was with us before.”

You cannot stay!” it screeched, vanishing and reappearing at the far wall where electricity swelled around it. Its plea echoed over the walls in horrid waves of agony. The vampire hid his dripping fangs behind his cloak which he raised over his head, blocking his guests from view. “You cannot stay…” he whispered to himself. The oaths of peace he took long ago were brittle now. Hunger and despair had weakened him and now he could feel the clawing of his nature begging him to kill.

Nikola recognised the symptoms and took Helen by the arm. She resisted but he lifted her toward him and growled into her ear, “Don’t…” He dragged her from the cave and led Helen back out into the mist-laden clearing. A few birds called bravely, piercing the air in short stabs.

The cave entrance was still within sight, leering at them from the cliff face.

As soon as he let go of her, Helen raised her hand and clouted him hard across his face. This time, he did not react. His vampiric form made him stronger than her, though he usually chose not to show it.

“Helen,” he said, gradually fading back to the Nikola of old. “He was going to kill you. Me as well, I suspect.”

“I don’t care…” she replied, turning and heading back to the cave. He shook his head and caught her jacket, clutching the leather firmly. Helen whipped around, striking him again and with her other hand, raising a knife to his throat. “Out of my way,” she warned.

The cold blade on his neck was a familiar touch. It was not the first time that Helen had threatened his life, and he doubted that it would be the last.

“You will have to use it,” he assured her.

“I’ve lost two people in there,” Helen steadied herself, pressing the metal harder onto him, “and I am not leaving them to die!”

“I hear you,” Nikola replied, if anything, gripping more tightly. “There are other ways into this Sanctuary, I am convinced of it. He,” Nikola referred to the vampire, “had not seen Ashley or Henry. His thoughts were loud enough for me to hear fragments of them. He is an old creature, tormented by the world and he will not let us pass.”

“Where are these other entrances?” she said, loosening her hold on the knife. It caught a beam of sunlight, blinding him with the brightness.

“I don’t know,” he confessed. “Though I believe our only course of action is to return to Ashley’s tracks and proceed from there. The Sanctuary of the Moon runs deep through these hills, tunnelled out beneath the ground. It is possible that she has inadvertently found a way in.”

*~*~*

Although Will could no longer speak, he managed an unmistakable nod at the security camera. I am coming for you it said.

Bigfoot set the computer to monitor all cameras for motion so that he could detect Will’s progress through the mansion. He could no longer see him on the screens though, as Will has mastered the art of camouflage and torn off his clothes rendering him all but invisible.

He was more creature than human now, Bigfoot could feel it, and this hybrid species seemed always hunting for revenge. Bigfoot couldn’t stay in this room, though. There was no way to defend himself or capture Will amongst the computer, empty desk and lone bookshelf.

Taking a calm breath, Bigfoot opened the door and peered out into the corridor. It was too late to seek out the detective. Will was fast now, and it wouldn’t be long until he returned to this level. The great, hairy man swung around to the right and returned to the medical room where he gathered a large amount of sedatives, several needles and three rolls of bandages. He was about to go for the tranquiliser gun – locked high in the cabinets above the main work desk, when he heard the door at the end of the corridor slam.

With no choice, Bigfoot clambered toward the small, side door which led into the storage area of the level. In five steps he was in front of the equipment lift. Bigfoot slid open the door to the small enclosure and crammed himself painfully inside. As a space meant for trays of testubes, it groaned angrily at Bigfoot’s imposition.

Will, in a strange disturbance of light, rounded the corner and caught sight of Bigfoot forcing down the door of the lift amidst a tirade of curses.

“Come on…” growled Bigfoot, bashing the metal shell as Will raced towards him, claws digging into the polished floor.

Just when Bigfoot had begun to entertain the prospect of being ripped apart, the door shifted and the lift shuddered into action, taking its heavy load down toward the basement.

Will pulled up short as the door slammed near his nose. His sharp eyes flicked to the gage on the wall beside, betraying the destination of the lift.

Bigfoot knew that he would reach the basement first – there was no doubt of that. As fast as this new Will was, he couldn’t fall through the levels of the floor like John. That said, there would not be enough time to achieve anything before his inevitable arrival.

He clutched the lift control protectively to his chest, whispering and coaxing to it as the lift slowed towards its destination. When the final thump of motion sent painful ripples through his fur, Bigfoot hit the button for the top floor. The deceit would buy him some time. Not much, granted, but he hoped that it would be enough to save both Will and the Sanctuary from destruction.

When it released him on the library level, Bigfoot stumbled as fast as he could up the corridor toward the marble staircase. He left a nasty streak of blood behind him where it trickled down his leg. It was no good, he thought, knowing that a child would have no trouble hunting him, let alone an instinctual killer.

*~*~*

Joe grimaced and rolled onto his side.

He had expected darkness – the deep, constricting blackness of the world beneath the earth. Instead, he found the gentle din of a hundred wall lamps lit along the side of a great chamber. Their soft glows provided tiny halos of light against the immense stone walls that spread high above him and deep below the pile of sand beneath.

It was like the debris from a giant hourglass and he had been poured through it, landing at its peak.

He could feel a bruise spreading over his chest where he had hit the sand. It burned under his shirt as he sat himself up and took in the spread of the underground room. It was lined with red pillars, three stories high that were severed several times with ornate gold bands. Around their girths were painted figures cowering from the sun or drowning themselves in the blue hint of Nile.

Joe peered forward in search of their bases, but the floor of the room was difficult to make out in the faint light. With nowhere to go, Joe shifted himself forward on the pile of sand until he started to slide.

Just as a great sheet of sand dislodged itself around him, accelerating his motion into an unstoppable fall, Joe caught sight of several silver bullet casings tumbling along with him. He reached out and caught one of these heavy pellets as it hurtled past, staring at it curiously as the ground below approached.

 

7

BLUED EYED MONSTER

 

The bullet casing was dull in the low light. Reflections of the flame-lit room flickered across its slender surface until Joe hit the floor with a crunch and it was knocked from his hand. It bounced several times over the floor and then rolled casually from view.

Sand fell over his body, half burying him in its final rush. Joe scraped it away from his face before it suffocated him and crawled out onto the bare floor, coughing and spluttering it from of his lungs. Unlike the tunnels above, drowned in sand, the surface of this room was pure slate. It was polished into a flawless expanse of black and gave the appearance of an endless pit except for where the pillars reflected, perfectly tessellated in a fictitious second expanse beneath his feet.

Joe could hear his laboured breath echoing around the walls. It mingled with the sound of the flames licking their holdings and a few sand grains tumbling from his clothes.

It was only then that he saw it – a large rectangular slab of slate rising up from the centre of the room as if it had grown from the floor. Its contact with the ground was seamless and the beastly thing was gilded by a line of gold writing whose fearsome words he was able to read as he edged closer, trailing his finger across them.

My face is yours, my heart is yours as you are a protector to me, for my present condition is like one that is in need, all my limbs are dismembered as the sands of the desert upon which I lie have reached me.’

The script was a fragment, bordered by writings outside Joe’s limited teaching. The remaining columns of text looked far older and had been rubbed off in places by age and use. If he had not known better, he might have thought this burial coffin to be a re-use.

‘Sarcophagus’, literally flesh eating. It was only now, after the events of the previous days, that Joe appreciated its true meaning. This name did not describe the container, which was merely a prison, but its contents which would stalk the desert evenings if allowed.

As he paced around the imposing object, which exuded a strange kind of hush as if its very presence was silencing the room, he stooped and eyed the corner of its lid. The edge had been broken, cracked and crumbled away by some heavy impact. On the floor his feet knocked several more of the mysterious bullet shells which clinked loudly.

Something had gone on in this room other than the mutterings of the dead and he feared that it wasn’t over yet.

*~*~*

Nikola rubbed his cheek. It was still sore from Helen’s multiple outbursts and had now taken on a distinct red tint – a foreign colour in the usually pale Nikola. Oh well, he figured, at least it proved that he still had a little life left in his veins.

The undergrowth was thick and difficult to pass through, even via the ‘path’ which Helen and Henry had cut earlier. Nikola had, of course, taken the easier route through the rocky back slope of the mountain. Certainly the gravel was loose and riddled with sun-basking snakes but when creatures of all sort fled from your presence, it made the going much easier.

“I should never have let you talk me into this,” moaned Helen, as the log she was balancing on creaked and shattered. She quickly skipped over it and landed on the solid ground, flicker her damp hair out of the way. “You were lying.”

“No,” he corrected her, “I was guessing. Are we near her tracks yet?”

Helen pointed at the stream gushing angrily beside them. “A few more minutes this way and we should be there.” Her bare arm was covered in pale streaks of blood where vicious mosquitoes buzzed over her in a frenzied haze, sucking and stabbing every time she paused.

“I would never betray you without cause,” said Nikola suddenly, wiping away a line of mud from his face. “I want you to know that. My ancestral species may be riddled with violence and malice but much the same can be said of yours yet I do not assume you to be distrustful – except of course, when experience differs…”

“Was that a slight, Nikola?” asked Helen, amazed that he could turn a plea into an insult. “One does not beg for their life through offense.”

“Merely an observation.”

“Fine,” she snapped. “Call my distrust of you an observation, then. Here we are…” Helen pulled up at a particularly muddy area.

At first Nikola thought she was lost, but soon his eyes drifted to the ground and he saw the definite imprints of small feet set off balance and the resulting slip marks. There was another set of tracks in the mud – these were distinctly larger – belonging to someone tall, imposing and, Nikola guessed, ill tempered.

“So you sent Johnny after her – brave…”

“Not the time, Nikola,” Helen waved him off, sensing an onslaught of jealousy. “When we’re all home and safe back at the Sanctuary, you can mope all you want and I promise I shan’t mind.”

“Now that is a lie,” Nikola averted his eyes to her. “As I have no home to speak of,” he added quickly.

They followed the tracks, (which was hardly a difficult task) until they ended abruptly at a large hole in the ground. The moss and fernery trailed down into the abyss where it had been ripped off suddenly. Water could be heard dripping somewhere below as tiny streams trickled down the exposed roots of trees.

“That would have hurt,” noted Nikola, crouching down and peering over into the darkness.

“Careful…” Helen muttered, and then trailed off when he glanced back at her with a curious smile.

“Don’t suppose you brought a rope?” he asked, spying a nearby tree with a decent girth. Indeed she had. Helen quickly whipped off her backpack and unhooked a nylon rope, holding it up for his inspection. “A woman for all occasions.”

She dropped the rope on the ground beside him. “That’s what you said in 1885.”

*~*~*

Bigfoot faltered and fell to the ground, groaning as his paw-like foot went numb and became unresponsive. He could guess at the cause but right now there was no time to stop and investigate. Bracing himself, he crawled over to a door at the top of the staircase and used its handle to haul himself back to his feet.

From the landing at the top of the marble staircase he could see his own trail of blood, dotted like a line of breadcrumbs leading straight to his pitiful figure. It got deeper and thicker half way up the stairs where pools of it dripped back down, running along the joins in the rock. He was starting to feel the effects of the painkillers and he was thankful for it even though they made the world a tad blurry.

It didn’t take long for him to be joined by the thumping of feet down the corridor. As they got closer to the open area and high ceilings of the main room outside the library, they slowed and finally stopped.

Although Bigfoot hand little hope of seeing Will, probably camouflaged, but he did catch the carpet runner slipping slightly to the side. Will was close now and Bigfoot had no way to defend himself – neither could he run.

He waited, frozen to the ground for a sign of movement. The great room was quiet – but not silent. It was amazing the things you could hear with your ears pricked up and your breathing slowed.

There – no… that was the tapestry catching the air conditioner. Bigfoot’s eyes continually flicked over the various surfaces of the room, not noticing that his trail of blood through the very centre of the room had been smeared by a new set of prints as Will slinked toward him, hiding in plain sight.

*~*~*

Joe’s hand was still on the coffin when one of the flares on the wall went out. The room dimmed as darkness reclaimed the space between two of the large pillars. There was no breeze in here – he was hundreds of metres underground so what, wondered Joe with a chill creeping over him, was that?

He headed straight to one of the well lit walls and stole the torch from its holdings. Joe brandished it in front of him, slashing through the air in warning to whatever was hunting him. He heard something scratch over the floor near the giant mound of sand and a few layers of it slip to the floor.

His stick – it was half buried under a fall of sand but well within reach. Joe jogged across the room, sending orange flickers over the wall as his torched flattened in the rush of air. He squatted and reclaimed the stick from the ground, taking it firmly in his grip.

Come out…” he whispered, in the sand creature’s native tongue. Joe had guessed that he would find them here. He had waited his whole life for this moment but he had imagined more light – less dark corners where sinister things could hide.

Shadows, sand and another mysterious gust of wind turned his head. Something scattered the loose bullet casings by the sarcophagus and for the first time he heard a grunt. Six – ten – fifty? He had no idea how many there were but one would be enough of a match so it did not matter.

You – will – die…” the words came, scattered, from all over the room.

I come to offer you freedom,” Joe replied, peering into the blackness with his torch held aloft.

He hadn’t expected it to be inches from his face, snarling as it shimmered into view. The sand creature’s cold blue eyes seemed to hate the world and all that it had done while its crimson skin, scared and burnt, told why. Its face, resting on the flame, jarred away from the heat and began to circle Joe. The creature was dressed but only barely, by a grey strip of fabric around its waist held together by a gold clip belonging to centuries past.

Another creature appeared, reclined against one of the walls directly below a torch and then another and another, all encroaching for the edges of the room. The one closest to him had bent low down to the ground and scattered away into the room, vanishing back into the walls. Joe clutched onto the stick tighter.

That was when he saw his father lumbering towards him. More blue eyes, torn shreds of clothing and fragments of humanity clinging to the thin skin covering its bones.

Childhood fear was a persistent thing – it lurked inside you, pretending to be nothing more than an embarrassing memory right up until the moment you were forced to face it. Then the claws came out. Then the fear returned – and it was real fear – a form of monster that stops your heart and seizes your muscles; your mind, overcome with blurred memories and embellished nightmares, falls silent and with it, all hope of survival.

*~*~*

Nikola and Helen made short work of the hole and, with the help of Tesla’s sharp claws, made their way through the derelict mining tunnel. The soft earth and groaning boards holding it up unnerved her as they took it at a half-run, following the bright speck of her torch as it bounced over the ground.

“Relax,” he said to her, as another light rain of dirt hit them, “this thing’s been here for millennia – it’s not going to collapse just because Helen Magnus is here…”

She didn’t look so sure. “You’d be surprised,” she replied. “Oh,” Helen pulled them both to an abrupt stop, “better and better…”

The pit below them made the original drop into the tunnels look like a small ditch. Her rope, which she had bravely left dangling through the first hole, wouldn’t have been any use down here with nothing to tie it to.

“Ideas?” she asked, honestly hoping that the rumours of his genius were true.

“Caving is not my thing,” he muttered, keenly eyeing his options. “Although…”

Although is good,” Helen crawled over to the edge of the pit and shone her torch down. She could make out the ground but only just. There was no doubting that it was a long way down.

“Fancy a ride?”

Helen nearly choked.

“With these claws I think there’s a good chance I can scale the dirt wall – you’d have…”

“Yeah, I get it.”

Their clever descent was successful. Once Nikola’s feet were planted firmly on the ground, Helen let go of his shoulders and slipped gently to the stones beneath. Nikola wiped the dirt from his claws, cursing when he found one of them chipped off at the end. Helen fought back a quip about ‘breaking a nail’, instead turning her attention to the river trickling behind them and the bright glow in the distance.

“Riverbed,” Nikola observed, stumbling over the smooth rocks loosely scattered over the cave floor.

Helen stooped and took a sip of water. “Fresh,” she remarked, and drank some more.

“Helen,” started Nikola softly, interrupting her refreshment. She stopped, cold hand to her lips with water trickling back into the running water. “That’s not a rock…” he pointed to a small, unnatural mound of rocks behind her.

 

8

AWAKENING

 

It was a grave…

A bundle of stones had been hastily packed together in a primitive pyramid which, like its ancient cousins standing guard over fallen empires, had begun to collapse into a pile of misshapen rubble. Tumbled down beside the ailing monument was a bleached skull cracked in three places with an arrow head embedded deep within its bone. Helen retrieved her torch, smacking it against her hand until it clicked obediently back on, bathing the object in light.

She knelt down and traced her fingers lightly over the skull’s smooth surface. Nikola sighed heavily, wishing she wouldn’t interact with every sinister object of curiosity. He crossed the shallow stream and came up behind her, shifting his gaze nervously around the enormous cavern as if the very walls were watching them. He didn’t want to delay in the darkness – best they move through it as quickly as possible.

“Helen…” he whispered, his voice laden with chill and reverence. “Do you believe there’s any credence to those stories about the caves around here being passageways to the underworld?” Nikola may not have been able to see her face but he felt her eyes roll. “Just checking,” he mumbled. Maybe she was right about him – maybe he did read too much.

“You are supposed to be the scariest thing down here,” she straightened and shone the torch straight between his eyes. He flinched irritably. “So start acting like it.”

She handed him the skull – which he dropped immediately and furiously wiped his hands on his coat in disgust.

“And why are you so pleased?” he finally gave in and asked after they had followed the meandering creek for a while. She had done nothing but grin and hum since they had entered this horrid place whose high, spiked ceilings and distant black walls gave Nikola the shivers.

That skull belonged to Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett – greatest explorer who ever lived – went missing in the Amazon when we were still working for that uncle of Watson’s.”

“Are you trying to comfort me?” He shook his head then tripped, rolled his ankle on a loose river stone and had to make a rather ungraceful recovery. “How you can tell that from one nondescript skull I will never know…”

Helen promptly stopped, spun slowly and revealed a gold locket laced around her hand with an elegant set of initials engraved on its front.

“Stealing again…” he muttered. “Isn’t that –” Nikola stopped, pointing to a faint glow ahead of them where a figure stirred, barely more than another mysterious shadow.

They found John crouched at the edge of a pool of water, staring up at a mighty set of wooden doors carved with all kinds of terrifying things that could be thought of by the primitive tribes that carved them. He couldn’t help but admire it – the beauty in the danger.

“I take it the front door didn’t work,” John dipped one of his fingers in the water as the crunch of feet approached. A faint shimmer of gold left its residue in his skin making it glisten for a moment until the water dried and the gold fell off back into the water like dust.

“No sign of Ashley…” Helen had to step back to take in the enormity of the doors which were more like gates to the underworld itself. Maybe Nikola had been right after all…

“I followed her tracks to the water,” John prodded at several intents in the ground.

“And you just – stopped…” Nikola was pretty certain there was only one place that Helen’s daughter could have gone and yet, here John was, pondering eternity by the side of a lake.

“Well I would have continued only I heard the two of you bickering miles away and decided to wait.”

“We do not bicker,” snapped Helen in a whisper, even though it was not the first time she had endured the accusation.

Nikola looked from John – to the door and then back again. “Aren’t we going to just…”

John breathed heavily – or it could have been his favourite – drawn out laugh he used to disturb victims before the kill. “Oh yes, Nikola, as much as I would love to let you materialise inside a solid object I suspect Helen might disapprove. We will have to swim.”

Nikola fancied a swim about as much as he fancied Thomas Edison.

“What’s the matter,” John de-cloaked and rolled his shirt sleeves up, “electricity and water not mix?”

“Like love and murder, Whitechapel…”

There was an almighty splash and they both ended up in the water – crawling on their hands and knees as Helen stepped over them with a look of long-suffering detest.

“Just stop!” Helen sloshed past them and vanished under the water, leaving a trail of bubbles in her wake.

*~*~*

Joe risked a shaky step backwards as his father approached. The others were swooping and creeping behind, circling impatiently as Joe’s father lifted a clawed hand up into the air, prepared to rip the flesh from Joe’s body and end the intrusion into their world.

“Father – please…” Joe held the torch higher into the room so that the flames roared into a fresh layer of oxygen. “I have come to free you,” he insisted, “all these years, I promised I would come back for you and I have. Don’t give up now, you can’t.”

Waves of sand tumbled around the room. The coffin at the centre protruded like a wall of sea-rock, steadfast against all the ages time could muster.

His father was barely alive. The skin around his features was stretched tight, sunken and cracked. There were long locks of grey hair twisted up together and tossed over his shoulder while a deep scar cut diagonally from his forehead to his cheek. Though it had healed decades ago, it kept a record of the torturous years lived as one of the most hated creatures in existence.

Joe’s strength dissipated when he saw bone protrude from beneath the tattered rags of clothing, the remains of the brown pants and white shirt he had worn on his final dig. Finally, the truth unfurled and Joe realised that he had come back to save a dream – nothing more. All that remained of his father had withered away and he, forever a foolish child, had held onto a vision of something he could never have back.

“Father…” he whispered, with tears dripping down the side of his face and into the sand. Joe was content. He would die down here, with his father. The freedom overwhelmed him. “It was good to see you,” he said, slowly closing his eyes to the world, replacing all its darkness with a picture of his father waving goodbye through the glare of the desert.

Waiiit…” one of the other creatures slipped beside Joe’s father, tilting its head back and forth. This one looked younger, more alive and dangerous. The curve of its lip glistened and its sharp pair of blue eyes reflected the light of Joe’s torch. Joe’s eyes peaked open. “You want your faaather?” its skin rippled.

Joe’s heart quickened fearfully. “Yes,” was all he managed. As the creature inched closer, the grand room shrank – it seemed claustrophobic and chocked by scented smoke belonging to another time.

Do something for usss,” its words carried a modern accent that matched its surprisingly new clothes. Now that Joe looked closer, he could see the same crest sewn into the breast pocket of the creature’s tattered shirt as he had seen on the camp site tents. “And maybee you can leave this place – with your faaather. We are not simply monsssters, you see.”

“What do you want?” Joe realised that he had been gradually backed against one of the walls. “I have nothing to give you.”

Surely you have heard,” it replied, creeping its claws along one of the walls, as if fascinated by the joinings of the stones. “We are vampires.”

*~*~*

Helen emerged from the water first, breached through its freezing surface like some mythical creature breaking free. She ran her hands over her face and down through her hair, wiping the water away. Gold flecks formed a second skin over her own which held a subtle glow in the almost complete darkness of the pool. It was an impressive expanse of deep water. Only the top layer of which was bearable to swim in – whenever she dipped her legs too deep she felt the vicious stabs of cold warning her not to venture further.

Nikola and John surfaced with a flurry of bubbles and coughing – apparently they had been trying to beat each other on distance and thus nearly suffocated in the attempt.

“Extraordinary,” Nikola wined, treading water in circles, “this lake is cold and huge.”

They crawled out onto the stony edge, Helen and John dragging their heavy coats which had done an excellent job half-drowning them. Helen disposed of hers, throwing it to the side.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” she said, pointing at the deserted city sprawling between the cave walls ahead of them. Its derelict condition was somehow made more beautiful by the unsettled mist licking the edges of its walls.

“Precisely how old were those scrolls, Nikola?” John couldn’t help but notice the way the remains of the sanctuary crumbled on their approach.

The low stone wall which separated the lake form the city was aglow, softly lighting the edge of the water. They approached it, scrambling over it and onto the abandoned streets of the sanctuary.

“Look!” Nikola pointed to the roof of the cave where a small hole in the rock revealed a crack of the outside world filled by the full moon. The day had ended and night begun without any of them noticing.

What…” John jarred suddenly, pulling his right shoulder away to find a small arrow embedded harmlessly in the leather, “is that?” he finished, pulling the offending item out.

“Here comes another one,” Nikola ducked out of the way allowing it to strike again at John’s chest.

“Automatic defence?” Helen offered. “We must have triggered it when –” she watched John remove a third arrow from his coat, growling at the holes. “Is it just me or is it only shooting at John?”

“It’s very irritating,” said John, sidestepping a small volley of the things which clattered on the floor in the distance. “I think we should get a move on before I am annoyed to death.”

Helen, curious, ventured toward the origin of the arrows until one whizzed past her neck, tangling in her hair. “Yeah,” she agreed, “let’s go.”

*~*~*

Joe shivered as his hands touched the freezing stone. The lid was heavy and stuck fast by more than just its weight. He was surrounded by a crowd of sand people, sneering and hissing at each other as the lid made its first crack of freedom. A rush of air escaped the crypt and the lid slipped further opening, nearly off-balancing the detective.

The innards of the coffin were as black and mysterious as its stone. Joe took his torch from the sand creature that had spoken with him and held it over the opening where he caught his first, frightful glimpse of creature slumbering inside.

“It’s dead…” announced Joe, his eyes rolling over the decayed skin and bone staring lifelessly into nowhere with surprising glassy eyes. With its lip shrunk back, an impressive line of sharp, tapered teeth protruded from the creature’s mouth.

Oh,” hissed the sand creature, inching close enough to sniff the air above the coffin, “he is only sleeping. A long and dreadful sssleep. You cannot imaaagine.”

Joe pushed the lid again, revealing more of the creature’s body. It was shrunken and racked by age like its face and wrapped in a white sheet of linen bloodied by some ancient conflict. The remains of herbs and flowers scattered through the box collapsed into dust as the fresh air brushed over their delicate forms.

As instructed, he dutifully held out his arm and with a small blade, cut across his skin. The sickening drips of blood spread over the corpse but evaporated upon touching the skeletal form. It took a while for Joe to notice the subtle changes occurring below him.

The creature was waking up, reviving, reforming as Joe’s blood continued to fall over it. Eventually it resembled the sleeping man the creature had described and Joe was allowed to wrap his arm in a length of material as they waited.

It gasped, a terrible, strangled rush of air into its lungs.

Joe staggered backwards, shoved aside by the converging crowd of sand creatures who gathered eagerly around the coffin, writhing and whispering in a dozen languages he had never heard before. His father was somewhere amongst them, teeth bared in expectation.

 

9

VAMPIRE STORIES

 

Henry Foss rolled over with a groan. The long, flaxen grass of the open field rippled around him, hissing back and forth in the wind. For a moment all he could see was navy – pure ink where the sun’s beams had vanished for the day and left the world with a blank canvas of night. Gradually though, the first pricks of light seeped through until he was face to face with a literal carpet of stars.

Blinking back the surprising glare, Henry coughed and tried to sit up – too fast. The world spun a bit, made worst by the infinite carpet of grass rearing up for several feet above him.

“W-what…” he said, ignoring the overwhelming urge to sleep. He could smell a running body of water somewhere to his right – a river? Thick, succulent leaves – some kind of fruit bird – people – the faintest tinge of diesel…

The last thing he remembered was pacing through the cave, not far behind Helen and Nikola when there had been a brilliant flash of light.

This time, Henry lifted his head from the ground gently, letting it adjust to the new altitude before he even attempted to stand and get a better idea of where he was. Instinctively, he felt for his radio.

Helen, it’s Henry – are you there?”

Static – lots and lots of it. It was a long shot at best. She was probably still in the tunnels, well out of radio range of wherever he was.

Henry stumbled to his feet, rising just above the field of grass. It went on for acres – the soft tide, barely a blur on the evening. It was bordered on his left and in front by a dense rim of darkness. Behind him he could see a derelict tractor with a few hanging lights ploughing its way through with a bronze-skinned farmer at the wheel still working and to his right – yes, there was the river. He knew where he was.

No matter how hard he tried, Henry’s mind kept wandering back to The Lost World as he ran through the long grass. Stupid – irrational fear, but he could not shake it and so had no choice but to run harder until he emerged on the muddy bank and was met with the glorious hull of their boat.

“Hola!” Henry exclaimed in absolute joy, when he saw that their guide was asleep across the back seat, basking in the night like some kind of mythical creature. The man did not stir. Henry swung a leg over the side of the boat and clambered in, reaching for the satellite phone. He had been gone for hours.

He dialled the Sanctuary at once to fill The Big Guy in on their situation and check on Will’s condition.

The phone rang out.

Henry returned it slowly to the cradle and considered it for a few minutes with the steady snore of the guide in the background. Shaking his head, Henry tried again, carefully dialling the number. Again, the phone rang out and Henry was left with a sinking worry. Something was wrong. Bigfoot never missed a call, ever.

He was so lost in his worry that he didn’t notice the tour guide behind him wake, cracking open his sun-worn eyes to the night.

*~*~*

A horrible wail scratched through the room with such ferocity that Joe Kavanaugh dropped his flaming torch to the ground and swiftly followed with his hands clasped over his ears to stop them from breaking as he bowed his head to the dirt.

The creatures joined in, hissing with the voice as they moved together around the sarcophagus in a kind of sickly tide. Soon, they were crying too – pawing at the sand with their tapered fingers. Joe, unlike most, had always thought of the sand creatures as the people they were once – but now he saw what everyone else did – their animal nature. Truly, they were some bastardised existence between humanity and the ancient past – one that was afraid.

Finally taking hold of himself, Joe reached for the torch, still burning on the ground in front of him, and scrambled to his feet, backing away toward the large tower of sand in the centre of the room. Without realising what he was doing, Joe started backing up onto it, climbing it as best he could with one hand clutching into the shifting surface.

He was too transfixed by the frightening mass of wailing creatures to realise that he was no longer progressing, merely dislodging avalanches of sand like some kind of bewildered beetle. The room had never seemed so impossibly big. There was just no way conceivably out of it, no way to escape the eternal imprisonment it was designed for.

Suddenly, the flame flicked backwards across his hand. The heat scorched him for a second, before straightening and Joe realised that the rest of the room was dead silent. The sand creatures were parting, breaking away to reveal the hunched figure of their master.

“T – time,” the word nearly died on full-blooded vampire’s lips, he had been asleep so long, “shall keep us, death – pursue us but never,” he clasped his chest as the beat of his heart grew stronger for the first time in several thousand years, “end us.”

The vampire let the words settle. His strength was growing with every moment. He could not believe that his eyes could see again, that his perpetual world of darkness was removed by the unbearable brightness of a few torches. Oh – the world, how he ached to see the arching dunes and the crystal waters of the shore, hold his child in his arms again after – but – then the memories swept over him. His child was dead – all of his people were gone. Lost, slaughtered. He raised his head. Brother, he whispered to no-one, your time is up.

Breaking free of his murderous trance, the ancient vampire straightened up, laying one of his clawed hands lazily on the coffin that had been his tomb. He eyed the sorrowful crowd of half-creatures around him, more beast than vampire as they cowered at his feet and – how interesting, a human flayed out on the sand in front of him, trying to escape.

The vampire tilted his head and lunged through the crowd in several long steps, stopping short of Joe’s terrified gasp.

*~*~*

“Skeletons, dust – ancient ruins,” Nikola picked a small chunk of rock from his hair with utter disdain, “all of my favourite things…”

John’s glower darkened as he dislodged and threw the last mini-arrow to the floor where it lay innocently. “Is he being serious?” he grumbled.

“No…” was Helen’s swift reply, as she began to regret leaving her jacket by the pool. If nothing else, it left her quite extraordinary array of weapons naked to the world.

“Then is it possible to shut him up for a while?” John matched pace with the others and they continued up the main street of the deserted city, three abreast.

“This is worse than those crypts below Rome,” said Helen. “It’s like a ghost city,” she continued, navigating her way around a twisted skeleton. “They’re all still here,” she pointed out a pile of a dozen skeletons or more blackened in a side street. “It’s horrible.” It was clear to her that the skeletons were those of Abnormals, hundreds of them collected and destroyed.

“Reminds me of Pompeii – minus the imposing mountain. Ah, here we go…” John bent to the ground and lightly grazed a footprint with his hand. “Ashley,” he muttered, “casually strolling by the looks of it.”

“She’s about the only thing that’s been here in a while,” added Helen, as another row of bleached bones peaked out from one of the crumbling building’s window.

“This sanctuary,” said John, lifting his arms and with them, the heavily soaked coat, “whatever it may have been once, is gone. I doubt Ashley will find what she’s looking for in a place like this.”

“Rash child,” Helen snapped so sharply that the two gentlemen paused and glanced at each other. Helen was wiping her cheeks quickly, brushing aside a few surprise tears. “Whatever would convince her that this was a good idea?”

John and Nikola were exceedingly quiet behind her, passing dangerous glances at each other, neither willing to betray their part. There was too much at stake for both of them to risk the truth now.

Instead, Nikola cleared his throat and paced ahead of Helen, reaching the large set of doors ahead of them first.

“The intended entrance to the sanctuary,” he said boldly, noticing that one of the doors was slightly ajar – enough for them to slip through into the darkness one by one. Ashley’s footsteps led directly through the gap.

Behind the doors they were back into familiar territory – dark, cold and every-so-slightly damp walls. They were definitely back in the tunnels. Their voices automatically fell to a hush. John, having not encountered the vampire first hand, followed the others’ lead and clicked his flashlight on.

If Helen and Tesla are this nervous, he rationed, then it must be bad.

“Helen…” Nikola whispered in something barely more than a breath on her ear. She looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “If we get caught again – I don’t think our gracious host is going to let us leave alive.”

“Thank you Nikola,” she brushed him away, “I am aware of that.”

His eyes wandered down to Helen’s waist where her pale hand had settled on the handle of a rather sinister-looking knife. It warmed his heart.

*~*~*

She was surrounded by billows of black rock, glistening in the wake of her weak flashlight with something that wasn’t quite water. With the great doors to the city well behind her, she couldn’t help but notice a few skeletal remains brushed against the cave walls. Whatever violence had transpired, it had not been confined to the city.

Ashley backed up against one of the cold walls in the tunnel system and felt into her pocket. There were still several blood samples snuggled in there which she had entirely forgotten about since the first sample had tumbled and smashed, uselessly, over the train line. She wondered now, what had been the purpose of these? They seemed of no use to her now and she was tempted to abandon them completely – destroy them but they had belonged to her grandfather and keeping them was like keeping a little bit of him.

She let them clink against each other, rolling around in her fingers until she expelled a heavy sigh and turned her attention back to Magnus’s journal, flipping it open. Ashley scanned the untidy page for the next set of instructions, hoping that although she had literally fallen from the path, there was some guidance left for her.

There is no greater gift in this enterprise than English manners.’

Ashley frowned. Manners? In a cave? Who was she to be polite to – the bats?

What are you doing here Ashley? She asked herself. It had been a while since she’d been so far out of her depth. At least hunting monsters she knew where she stood – but this, how was she to convince a vampire to help her? More to the point, how to acquire its blood and fill the empty vial in her other pocket?

Hunt it

Her mind mused. Stick to what you know best. Hunt the vampire and try not to kill it.

*~*~*

Two dark eyes bored through Joe’s face like pealing back the skin and though the vampire’s lips did not move, Joe could hear a faint whisper on the air – or in his head, he couldn’t be sure.

What is your purpose here, human?” it asked, still speaking the ancient language.

“I – ” Joe stuttered, and then realised he would have to reply in the same language if he were to have even the slightest shot at surviving. “I came to make a trade,” he said slowly, and with very poor pronunciation.

The vampire snarled in amusement, indicating that Joe should continue.

I resurrected you from your tomb in the hope that you could restore my father to human form.”

The red behind the vampire’s eyes flickered wildly with fascination.

Your father – is among us?” he asked, as the sand creatures crept in closer around them. Several rows back, Joe’s father watched the proceedings dispassionately. The vampire smelt, rather than looked at the mass of half-creatures behind him. A moment later, he smelt the blood relation. “I see…”

I bestowed upon you your freedom,” Joe lowered the torch to a less threatening position.

What you say is true…” the vampire cocked its head to the side. “You should know that not all men are honest, young human, and even less of those are fair. What can be said of men is double for our kind.

Joe fought to keep his breath steady. Maybe he was going to die after all…

But as it so happens I am bound by law to return the favour.” The vampire turned to the crowd and, with one horribly clawed finger, beckoned Joe’s father forward. “Is this your father?”

Joe nodded.

Then he is yours.”

The vampire lowered his claws to Joe’s father’s neck, casually gliding down it leaving an angry red slice that began to drip with scarlet. The man did not flinch, his blue eyes glistened, staring into nowhere without change.

It happened so fast.

The vampire dipped its head and sunk its teeth through the creature’s next. Joe’s father squealed – then gasped for breath as the vampire dug in deeper. The victim’s blue eyes turned glassy and vacant. After a few dying gasps, his body went limp and the vampire let it fall to the dirt.

“No!”Joe screamed, falling to the ground beside the crippled body of his father.

 

10

THE SECOND BITE

The ancient vampire curled his claw and beckoned the half-creatures to follow. A few minutes later, they were gone – escaped from their prison like shadows and back at large in the new world leaving detective Joe Kavanaugh and his father alone in the tomb.

Father…” Joe whispered, cradling the tortured body in his arms. His father was human again but humans were fragile things that clung ever so softly to life. The man was old and withered without the ever-vengeful vampire blood coursing through his veins.

The tomb around them was softer now with its dozens of flaming torches flickering against the wall and the black sarcophagus laid open in surrender. The glassy walls reflected the flames down onto the sand in sad halos where Joe sat.

I never stopped trying…” Joe whispered, rocking slightly with his father. “Never.”

At least his father was human, free from an eternity cowering at a vampire’s feet. Is that not what humanity had spent millennia fighting for? Joe hoped it was freedom that the human race bled for…

My son,” a weak voice cracked onto the air. “…Joe…” the old man whispered, stirring in Joe’s arms.

Joe gasped softly as his father’s eyes opened, pale green and unblinking. It was as if he had not seen the world for thirty years.

A terrible dream…” the old man breathed, gripping Joe’s hand tightly.

Hours later, Joe and his father stumbled from the last of the narrow caves and out into the vanishing light of the desert. The rim of the horizon was starting to glow. Stars peaked through the veils of shimmering air while a few lone jet trails faded.

The remains of a canvas tent tumbled past, swept up in an angry curl of air. Shreds of it caught on the rocks beside Joe and his father, tearing with a loud rip before flapping off in pieces. Sand clawed impatiently at the edges of the decimated camp site.

My god…” Joe breathed in horror at the sight before him. The faces that had wished him well only hours ago were strewn over the ground – fed upon. His stomach lurched at the deep fang and claw marks in the corpses whose eyes were left open in terror. “They killed everything.”

The vampire and his entourage of sand creatures had left nothing alive – not even the camels tied up in the south pen.

We have to get back to the Sanctuary and warn them,” Joe realised, helping his father down the sharp rocks.

The faint flicker of settlement was visible a long way off, catching the last of the light. Joe and his father took one of the Jeeps and headed off on the gravel track, chasing the sun. The sand was already blowing over them, preceding the rise of dunes creeping ever closer to civilisation. The cities may have forgotten the desert but it had not forgotten them.

*~*~*

The Sanctuary of the Moon was not a place to wander.

It was an enormous sprawl of natural caverns, trembling walls of rockfall, mirrors of freezing water that seeped deep into the earth and complex tunnels designed to confuse even the most determined human. Its undoing had left the beautiful archways of stone that spanned between the walls of an ancient promenade in decay. Some of them had eroded, returning to their natural state of rubble while others protruded from the black rock, defiantly hanging in half-broken protrusions.

The ancient vampire could feel the others hunting about in his Sanctuary, scratching from tunnel to tunnel, fumbling about in the darkness. One lone child was drawing close to his private quarters whilst the larger party that he had already warned away once, was heading toward the crypt in the centre of the Sanctuary.

There they were again – soft, hesitant footsteps, slightly uneven as they approached the thin holographic barrier hiding the entrance to his lair. It looked like rock – felt like rock. The technology was an illusion. All the vampire need do was reach out…

Instead, the vampire laid silently against the wall beside and waited. Even from here he could hear the young creature’s heartbeat on the air. Humans, they were so fragile.

Ashley hesitated.

Slowly, she turned on her heel, dragging the torchlight over the wall. Nothing. She cautiously took another step and – and the breathing returned beside her. Ashley faced the wall, trailing her gaze from where it merged seamlessly to the ceiling down to the oddly clean edge it formed with the tunnel floor.

She reached out, grazing her fingertips over the rough surface unable to see the vampire in front of her mimic her action, ghosting his fingertips in front of hers like a twisted mirror.

*~*~*

Helen’s torchlight fell on another pile of rubble and bones.

Look…” she whispered, directing John and Nikola’s attention. They were hardly a few minute’s walk from the ruined city, their progress slowed by Helen’s constant distraction. “Draconis-aelianus, the Ethiopian elephant eater.”

A dragon?” John whispered, looking at the small pile of bones. Obviously this one was an infant.

Like that hideous furry thing you used to keep in your basement?” Nikola started but Helen cut him off as she knelt to the ground, trailing her fingers over the white bone.

These things have been extinct for a thousand years. Goodness, the line of spines on its back is intact.” When the relevance failed to register with the others, she elaborated. “All its brothers and sisters were hunted to extinction for the high quality ivory in their spine. I have some ancient human artefacts made from it. They cost me a small part of my fortune.”

Nothing has changed then… It’s definitely still extinct,” Nikola quipped before he was knocked by John’s rather large, deliberate and imposing shoulder.

You’re very nearly the last of your kind, Nikola. It would be my pleasure to hasten your extinction.” John winked rather disturbingly at Nikola who could do nothing but raise a claw. “This Sanctuary is ruined…” John bent down to the ground, sliding his fingers through the layers of cave rubble until they curled around an ancient knife that had been the source of the creature’s demise.

At least in this, Nikola could agree. “I’ve counted at least three flood lines, an earthquake or two and -” he frowned, his wiry figure edging closer to the wall. He ran his fingers along an ominous crack in the black stone patched over by thick cobwebs. “Gunfire…” he murmured, as his fingers dipped into the small indents sprayed across it.

Helen found one of the cartridges, holding it in her palm. “Muscat shots… Very old gunfire…” She turned to Nikola, tilting her head in a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. “Would it be too bold of me to presume that the reason for the demise of this great sanctuary made it into your research, Dr Tesla?”

She only called him ‘Dr Tesla’ when he was being thoroughly mocked. Tesla – shifted.

It may have touched on – passed across – brushed over…”

Nikola…” Helen levelled her gaze at him.

What can I say?” he shrugged softly. “Cats guarding the pigeons – they got hungry.” A Sanctuary run by vampires? Of course that was going to end in a flurry of feathers.

I thought you liked pigeons?” Helen lofted her eyebrow, prodding him sharply as John took a step closer, narrowing his eyes at the vampire.

He’s making it up,” John hissed softly.

Nikola turned, arms folded. “Yes, I’m making it up,” he admitted theatrically. “How on earth or otherwise would I know? Don’t give me that look – I wasn’t even born when this mess went down.”

Oh believe me,” London’s most notorious murder stooped to look the scientist in the eye. “I will find a way. Somehow, this will all trail back to you.”

Black ink seeped into Nikola’s eyes. That was an incredibly awful scientific principle, not to mention a wholly unfair comment on his character as a gentleman. “I’m confident I can outwit you,” he whispered, too soft for Helen to hear. “I always could.”

Won the game – lost the war, young vamp,” John smirked. Tesla would never get what he really wanted while ever John was around.

What is Ashley trying to do here?” Helen was several paces ahead of them, peering down into the long cave. “She’s got no chance against a full-blooded vampire, has she?”

She’d leave more than a few holes in it,” Nikola replied.

I can’t help but wonder…” Helen let her hand rest on the wall beside her. “My parents spent many months of my childhood in South America – here, in the nearby city. I think my father has been here – in these caves.”

Suddenly, Helen Magnus looked vulnerable.

What if he’s sent Ashley to finish whatever it was that he started?”

*~*~*

Bigfoot dragged himself up the marble stairwell one blood-stained step at a time. Will – well, creature Will had sunk down onto all fours, preferring to crawl slowly over the ground. It was difficult to make his form out. His skin had learned to mimic its surroundings near perfectly.

Will…” Bigfoot whispered, still backing up the stairs.

Will’s skin trembled unsteadily for a moment, the natural scarlet red of sand creature skin flickering into view.

This silent stalking dragged on until Bigfoot reached the top of the stairs. There was a door behind his furry form and beyond that, the rooftop and freedom. Will wasn’t truly interested in Bigfoot – it was the door…

Without warning, Will pounced. His lean body leapt through the air, bouncing off the wall with claws outstretched. He landed heavily on Bigfoot, bringing him to the ground. Bigfoot tried to hold onto Will, keep him inside but he was simply too strong now. Will broke free and pushed the door off its hinges.

The air was beautiful as it hit Will’s face. His golden eyes tracked over he sprawl of city beyond the roof – the endless tunnels that must lay beneath them… He growled, low and deep in something akin to happiness.

Will clawed at the stone floor, setting off at a run. Bigfoot’s cry of protest was lost in the wind as Will scaled the small wall of stone and launched himself off the roof and out into Old City.

*~*~*

This way…” John whispered. He had found something – another smaller tunnel diverging.

Nikola frowned as his feet suddenly found water. Great, the tunnel was half flooded… Helen sloshed up to him, unaffected by the freezing water that was flowing slowly forwards.

Oh yes, let’s all just follow blindly…” Nikola muttered at her. He had been leading, following the scattered writing on the all of the main tunnel. Afterall, he had gone to all the trouble of finding this place, you know, built by his ancestors. Not that he was possessive about these things.

Stop pouting,” Helen whispered, giving him a gentle nudge. “Jealously doesn’t suit your ego.”

I’m not jealous, I’m annoyed,” Nikola muttered, stepping over an ill-placed bolder which turned out to be the decapitated head of an old statue. At least for a little while, he stayed close to Helen. John was further ahead, under the illusion that he was leading. “Helen…” Nikola lowered his voice. “This isn’t the way Ashley came.”

Helen looked at him softly – more like she used to when they were alone. In silent reply, Nikola reached down with his free hand and brushed it gently against hers. His soft touches, however rare, were always disarming…

Helen – here…” John stopped ahead in front of a large, curved wall.

Helen walked away from Nikola leaving him standing alone. He sighed softly – and inevitably followed. He always did.

The wall was a mosaic. Millions of tiny fragments of brightly covered pottery covered the glass-stone, stuck there by some kind of translucent resin. It was a sharp clash of styles; the layout of the wall was distinctly Egyptian with rows of slaves, horses, food and ships faithfully detailing an event but the style – there was no denying the breathtaking realism of the Greeks.

Good heavens…” Helen whispered. The animals in the mosaic looked almost real with their riders whipping them hard to get them to board the ships. It was their eyes that haunted Helen.

It’s a door,” Nikola murmured. He was standing the furthest back, in ankle deep water. “There are numbers, all along the edge.” He pointed to them. “A combination lock by the looks of it.” A very pretty one.

There must be something important behind it to go to such trouble -”

Nikola hissed at John to get him to shush. “I’m reading…”

Helen couldn’t help laughing softly at Nikola as he started muttering under his breath, eyes tracking over the tiny lines of text riddled amongst the frightening images of vampires and humans.

Nikola…” Helen whispered, walking up to him and tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention. He frowned and tried to shoo her away. He was busy trying to translate. “Nikola…” she insisted, tapping his shoulder insistently.

Helen please… I’m trying to – that really is annoying,” he protested as she switched to tugging on his sleeve. “Seriously wha-oh…

Nikola had been so focused on the text that he’d utterly failed to see the bigger picture. Strewn across the otherwise beautiful mosaic was a bloody scene warning all thinking of opening the door. Open this tomb and you’ll end up like the butchered bodies – open this tomb and you’ll release its scourge upon the earth.

A touch melodramatic, don’t you think?” Nikola breathed softly.

Helen couldn’t help her lips curling in a smile. “A distinctly vampire trait, then…”

Nikola frowned as Helen returned to John’s side at the wall. “What are you doing?”

They looked back over their shoulders as they leaned against the wall – hands outstretched. Helen’s eyes were bright with mischief. “Opening it, of course…”

Honestly – people thought Nikola was bad?

11

STORM IN THE DESERT

The wall started to grind against the stone floor.

That’s it…” Helen whispered encouragement to her boys as they grunted and growled, steadily moving the enormous door with an ear-splitting screech.

As usual, the token vampire was right – brute force hadn’t been enough. The entire wall was an intricate combination lock that stumped the other two Oxford majors for the better part of an hour. Nikola had waited patiently, inspecting his claws while they tried every primitive thing they could think of.

Humans…

Nikola…” Helen had finally drawled, calling him forward. With only the very slight advantage of a private collection of ancient texts stolen from the British Museum’s vault, Nikola picked out the numerical sequences hidden in the mural, slid his long, tapered claws into several sets of holes burrowed through the rock and listened to the satisfying ‘click’ of the door unlocking.

Physically opening it regrettably required something a little less demure.

Come on, push harder…” Helen insisted.

By all means, chip in at any time,” Nikola replied airily. There was actually a layer of sweat on his brow – how distasteful. Gods and the dust… don’t get him started on the dust.

Helen tried not to think about the elusive, full-blood vampire lurking about. It had warned them not to return and here they were, raiding his cave like common tomb raiders having some kind of party in his vaults.

Well, in fairness, at the present they were common tomb raiders.

Honestly, if you’re just going to stand there and watch, could you at least be more encouraging?” Nikola gasped, trying but failing to get a better grip on the granite. This was going to ruin his claws.

Helen smirked.

Twenty minutes later, the door was open.

The rock gaped in its wake revealing a void that was presumably a room. Helen stepped forward, shining her torch into the black. Its light tracked up the floor until it scattered over a stone sarcophagus.

No one touch anything…” she whispered, stepping carefully over the threshold and into the room.

Steady on, Indy…” Nikola followed, closely trailed by John and his ridiculously long trench coat. “Step on something here and a wall of spikes tries to impale us.”

It’s not funny, Nikola…” Helen cautioned.

Nikola thought it was, judging from his large, fang-filled grin. Ah memories.

What the devil have we got here…” John asked, approaching more cautiously than the others. Caving had always been their thing, not his.

The devil indeed, according to the entrance foyer – a creature of unimaginable danger, locked away from the world and – oh…” Nikola reached the sarcophagus and frankly after all the paraphernalia at the front, it was rather unimpressive. “I was hoping for more.”

Don’t sulk, Nikola…” Helen warned him, throwing a spare flashlight at Nikola while she stepped forward with a lighter, catching several of the ancient torches with its flame. Their oily mixture exploded into flame rendering the room instantly bathed in light, enough for them to see that it was big and empty with nothing but the rectangular stone slab at its centre. “Bloody hell.”

Nikola slipped the useless flashlight into his pocket. Sometimes he thought Helen used him as a glorified backpack.

There’s no way that’s good…” Nikola said, bending down to get a better look at where the stone sarcophagus had been ripped open. He ran his claws along the crack. It was deep and weathered. “From the inside too…”

Helen picked up a fragment of the broken tomb. “Like alien – but with stone, in an Egyptian tomb – in South America and – “

Totally not like alien…” Nikola shook his head playfully at her, flirting as always. “You don’t suppose this pissed off creature escaped and wreaked havoc on the Sanctuary? It would explain why we’ve found it in tatters.”

A single creature destroyed them?” Helen replied, her hand resting on the capstone. She’d certainly come close enough to that inside her own sanctuary. “The walls don’t elaborate on its abnormality. We have no way of knowing what it was capable of – or what became of it.”

Except…”

John looked to Nikola. “Except?” he prompted. John had been wandering around the remainder of the room but had found nothing but a few spare torches.

Nikola twirled around to face him, arms folded across his chest. “Well, think about it. We’ve got one person here who was around in that time. Someone who remembers it. The vampire…”

I really don’t think it’s a good idea to hunt him down, Nikola.”

Just how many vampires are there?” John sighed. Was the world bloody crawling with them now? One vampire was quite enough for him.

We need to get back to finding Ashley,” Helen whispered. “This place has a dark history that is better kept hidden from the world before it seeps into it…”

Nikola smirked, pacing menacingly around the ruined coffin, leaning on it casually. “Helen… you know as well as I do that a full-blood vampire is too dangerous to leave roaming free. You could offer him Sanctuary.” How many times had she used that line on him?

Helen’s hands settled on her hips, her eyes narrowing at Nikola. “And when did you develop a responsible attitude? Nikola… I’m not kidnapping a vampire for you to study.”

You kidnapped me….”

We discussed this – no vampire species resurrections. The vampires had their time and unless you find a mate-”

John coughed sharply, somewhere between a laugh and disgust.

Nikola had the good grace to look flustered. “Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of saving that pet protege of yours. The one you’re so fond of. If anything holds the key to his survival and unfortunate return to his old, whining self – it’ll be our toothy friend. I’d bet all your best wine, that’s why Ashley’s here.”

John had stolen one of the flaming torches, stalking around the room with it. “A sample of its blood -”

Nikola’s hand waved John to a hush. “It may have nothing to do with his blood. Helen – we need the whole creature if you want to play this game – and somewhere under all that morality, you know I’m right.”

Helen stared back into Nikola’s sharp, blue eyes. Damn, she hated it when he was right. “I should have shot you when I had the chance…” she sighed, shaking her head.

The vampire winked at her. “You missed.”

Tragically,” John sighed.

*~*~*

The doors slammed coldly as they stepped out of the Jeep.

Jesus…” Joe whispered, at the devastation approaching.

Rising behind the ruined airport was a storm. Murky clouds had risen up from deep in the desert to stretch out along the horizon. Stained red, they swirled into a great wave of sand casting a long shadow over the desert that was, even now, creeping over the outskirts of the airport. Joe could hear a whisper of its approaching roar, the vibration making the broken windows in the nearby building rattle and fall onto the ground.

There were people inside the building nailing boards across windows and bolting the doors closed. The hanger was full of planes and cars squeezed in together. Its heavy iron doors were fastened with chains and then abandoned. All that was left in the open was a small aircraft perched on the tarmac like a dragonfly on a lily-pad. The pilot was arguing at the entrance of the airport, glancing nervously at the storm every time he paused for breath. It was obvious they weren’t going to let him park his plane – he’d have to take his chances outrunning the storm.

Joe only spoke fragments of the native language but he approached them anyway, pointing to the plane and flashing what little cash he had left in his wallet. The man didn’t seem interested, brushing him off to resume abusing the airport staff until Joe said two words, ‘Helen Magus’. The man paused, turning slowly. There were a few moments of silence between them in which nothing could be heard but the growing rumble of the sand storm. Finally, the man waved Joe and his father towards the plane, refusing the money.

Came from nowhere…” the pilot grunted, his English broken as they strapped themselves in. Parts of the plane were held together with thick wads of duct tape. Generally, it looked like it had been compiled from war scraps picked out of the desert. “Never seen them at this time of year,” he continued, not bothering with – well, most of the preflight checks that ordinary aircraft went through. There wasn’t much point when the answers would be, ‘broken’ ‘not functioning’ ’empty’. “Fierce bastards, tear this thing apart.”

Joe gripped both his father and the seat. They had to get out of this place. A pure blood, ancient Vampire had been free for two hours and already there seemed to be a terrible power unleashed over the land.

In ancient times, the world sighed for them not because of their fangs but because they could call the desert to their will and tumble cities into dust.

*~*~*

On the other side of the world, the phone rang.

Bigfoot grunted and sidled off the infirmary table leaving a mess of blood and bandages behind him. He balanced the phone in his paw, answering the phone with that same polite, indifference he always did. He was met with static.

Say again…?” he growled.

It was Detective Kavanaugh – little bastard. By the time Bigfoot put the phone down, he was shaking his head. There was a sand-Will on the loose, missing boss with two of the most untrustworthy men on the planet and now, an escaped pure blood vampire.

Begrudgingly, he made a few phone calls to the Sanctuaries based in Africa to stay on the lookout for suspicious behaviour. He didn’t mention vampires… Best they keep that to himself for now. In all Magnus’s years building Sanctuaries around the world there was one piece of information she’d left entirely out of the records – vampires.

*~*~*

Will curled up under the streets of Old City. The train tunnels were cool and dark, perfect for his freshly created body. Despite the aching hunger, he needed to rest, making himself a nest at the side of the track where part of the tunnel wall curved generously. Like a cat, he hid amongst the stones with his dark red skin rippling into grey to match as he closed his eyes.

He still had memories of who he was but that was all that they were – a distant awareness that he had once been something else. He could remember people but they were just names now. Helen Magnus, Henry Foss, Ashley – the Sanctuary itself, none of it meant anything to him. This wasn’t William Zimmerman, no, this was a creature of the sand, like all the others. When he finally woke up – he would feed.

By the time Joe reached the Sanctuary in Old City, his father had grown too weak to walk. A small medical team flitted around them, ushering them through the foyer.

He needs to reeest…” Bigfoot drawled, laying the fragile man onto a bed before wheeling him down the hallways. Joe followed, filthy and dishevel from the rigmarole of getting here. “Few weeks of food and sleeeeep should be enough.”

Bigfoot spent the remainder of the afternoon in the lab, drawing samples of blood from Kavanaugh senior and analysing them.

…it’s a virus,” he grunted, holding up the delicate glass slide to the light. The only other creature in the underground lab that was still awake at this hour was the Sanctuary’s mermaid. She shimmered in the water, her scaled tail never settling on a colour. Gently, she placed the palm of her hand against the glass, tilting her head curiously. Mermaids did not exactly speak but they did have a way of making you aware of their thoughts and without knowing how they did it, you answered their questions.

Hiiiis blood is littered with the carcasses of the things,” Bigfoot continued, turning slightly to the tank. “Whateeever that vampire did, it killed the virus.”

He put the slide down and sighed, staring into the empty lab. On the table in front of him were photographs of Joe’s father, most pointedly of his neck which bared a row of puncture marks – a vampire bite. He nudged one of them with his fur-covered finger.

*~*~*

Henry put the radio down in disgust. No answer from anyone. The cave had rejected him and he couldn’t say that he was surprised – there appeared to be some truth to those ancient stories of vampires and werewolves not mixing and frankly he was mildly insulted. It was a Sanctuary for all – except him. Typical. Oh, finally, the boat driver was awake…

Henry reached for the map, spreading it out on the crate serving as a table to show the tour guide where he needed to go when the man suddenly lurched forward, rocking the boat sharply.

What in the-” but Henry didn’t get to finish as he ducked out of the way of large piece of wood. It hit the map, tearing it and smashing through a small lantern hanging on the boat. The guide straightened up, quickly moving in again.

You’ll make a nice addition to the collection, Wolf…” His words were thickly accented but unmistakable. The man’s eyes were white in the moonlight. He worked for a shamble of an abnormal black market – trading what he could for cash. Usually, he only happened across strays or if he was lucky, his forest traps picked up humanoid abnormals living on the fringe. Tonight, he had himself a werewolf. Pay day.

Not good…” Henry stammered, cornered. There was nowhere to go in the tiny boat except into the black water. Close by, a bird screamed into the night and splashed against the thick reeds along the river bank. Henry didn’t fancy a swim in that water…

The guide brought the blunt handle of a machete down on the back of Henry’s head, sending him to his knees. Henry was dizzy, sharp pain rushing down his spine as he turned to see the driver of the boat grinning in the night air. His teeth were eerily white.

He had no choice but to let the wolf take over, growing to his full height – his clothes tearing away as fur sprouted over his skin and long, sharp canine teeth glinting in the moonlight. Henry growled, swiping at the man who ducked, missing Henry’s paw which went on to shatter the glass windscreen.

Several of the children that Henry had seen playing in the daylight – running beside them had assembled on the bank. They crept up amongst the reeds, watching with hungry eyes the strange beast and man fighting. They knew that their forests were full of devilish creatures – it had always been so. The land of monsters some called it, a place for things of the night to hide.

The boat lurched under the weight of the werewolf causing both of them to stumble and the last lantern to fall onto the deck, shattering and catching alight. The fire ripped along the spilled oil heading dangerously close to the fuel tanks.

Holy shit…” Henry growled – the other man pausing from his attacks to stare in horror. Both of them turned at once, leaping into the water as the boat exploded in a ball of fire that lit up the night.

*~*~*

Ashley stepped back from the wall. Something was wrong. She could feel a tingle in the air, like static electricity running over her skin.

She lifted her weapon, stepping back and pointing it squarely at the wall in front of her. A cold whisper of laughter filled the air as the rock wall flickered into nothing, revealing the ancient vampire.

It was only now that Ashley realised how ridiculous her gun looked. She could empty it into this creature and it would merely straighten its robes and grin back – so she lowered it.

I’m not here to kill you,” she said quickly, with that same measured tone as her grandfather. “I’ve come for your help.”

What is it these days with humans wanting my help….?” the vampire drawled back, his tone somewhere between menace and curiosity. “I could have used your help fifty years ago.”

12

DEEPER INTO THE CAVES

Ashley lowered her weapon, deliberately letting the vampire see the safety click on. She holstered it at her waist, out of sight.

What happened fifty years ago?” she asked carefully.

The vampire retreated, sinking into the cavern and its comforting dark. He was old. Every feature on his pale face had shrivelled to the bone, reflecting the cave-light along sharp, jutting angles. His black eyes were vulnerable. Their glossy domes sat high, accommodating a multi-layered lens which refracted the light differently to humans. The adaptation caused a red glow to leak from them giving him an unfairly sinister disposition. It was easy to see how an ancient culture may have confused them with devils.

A small flicker of electricity licked the cave wall around them with a short snap.

I – I do not remember exactly,” the vampire whispered, his voice cracked. “The city fell. I read of it, scratched into the walls with my very own claws. The memories of that time are gone. I cannot explain it. I must have seen…” He turned away – flashes of something storming through his mind but he couldn’t focus on them.

Ashley shifted uneasily. “Are you the soul survivor?”

If I wasn’t then, I am now.” The vampire dragged his broken claws down the cave wall eliciting a shower of sparks. “The Sanctuary is dead. This dream…” Such a young creature could not understand what he had lost.

I’ve seen the city,” Ashley added softly. “They killed each other. You didn’t kill them, if that’s what you – ”

The vampire wasn’t listening. He stepped forward and lifted his withered hand up to her face. Ashley held her ground as he mimicked the contours of her skin with a sweep of claws.

You are a child of the blood – I can smell it in you.” His head tilted to the side as if she were a curious piece of prey. It was his blood flowing through their veins – a very strange sensation. “The same blood as the woman and that mongrel vampire. What brings you to such depths as to seek my help?”

My friend is sick,” she whispered, her features softening. “He was mauled by something we call a ‘sand creature’ – a person, bitten by a vampire and turned into a mad half-creature. I need your blood to save him.”

The ancient vampire threw his head back in chilling laughter, withdrawing from her as the sound screeched off the cave walls. This human child had wasted her time. There was no cure for the plague.

Go home – forget your friend. He is a slave to the flesh.”

*~*~*

Detective Joe Kavanaugh set the glass slide down beside the microscope. The virus was inactive – as dead as something that was never technically alive could get. He levelled his gaze at it.

So there is a cure.” Joe turned to the sasquatch. The creature was lingering amongst the delicate glassware on the opposing bench, furry paws prodding the odd slide. “There’s hope for Dr Zimmerman, if we can find him.”

And if we can fiiiind another vampire,” Bigfoot drawled. “This did not come from hiiis blood – it’s from his bite. There’s some kind of venom in this sample. I managed to isolate a small sample but hardly enough for Will.”

…the others are trying to collect blood samples. That won’t be enough…” Joe paced around the room, passing in front of the mermaid’s tank. She watched curiously, remaining little more than a silver shadow in the water. “We have to tell them.”

Beeeen tryin’ to reach them for days,” Bigfoot muttered, shaking his head. “They don’ answer their phones.”

How long have they been gone?” Joe moved to the printer, catching another analysis as it printed. Biology wasn’t exactly his thing but he’d spent enough time lurking around the lab at the department to pick up the basics.

They’ve been out of contact nearly three days,” Bigfoot replied. “Magnus must have found somethin’ out there in the jungle.”

I have to go and find her.”

You’re stayn’ here,” Bigfoot growled firmly. “We’ve got to catch Helen’s protege.”

*~*~*

Henry dug his claws into the mud and dragged himself onto the bank. Burning fragments from the ruined boat rained around him, splashing into the water or striking the bank, erupting in tiny grass fires. The smuggler’s corpse floated down stream until something pulled it beneath the water. Henry shivered, dragging himself further into the long grass.

He lay there, staring up at the night sky. The reeds whispered against his fury body, bending and sighing in the wind. The explosions from the boat were dying as it too sank into the dark river. When it was gone, only the grass fires lit the world.

Henry thought about changing into human form – of seeking out the few children hiding not far from him and asking for directions – but there was something about this world that frightened him.

The werewolf rolled over and crouched on all fours, tilting his nose to the air. A village – to his left – boats, cars and houses. Henry could smell them through the smoke.

*~*~*

We’re not equipped to take down a vampire…” Helen shook her head, hunting through her pack. There was precious little in it that could neutralise a creature that powerful.

Good to know,” Nikola flexed his claws.

Nikola, you’re only part vampire. I can bat my eyelashes and take you down.”

That caused the Serbian scientist to stumble mid-strut as he sauntered into the alcove. He was always so dramatic. “Neither of you have considered the obvious.” Nikola received blank stares from both John and Helen. “We talk to him. It. At the end of the day, vampires are rational creatures. Pissed… but still highly intelligent.”

John scoffed.

What scheme are you concocting, Nikola?” Helen straightened up, hands on her hips. “Weren’t you the one rabbiting on about how dangerous ancient vampires are? You’re up to something, I can feel it. You’re always up to something.”

Not everything your protege says is true,” Nikola insisted.

He’s a profiler…”

Nikola grinned, his fangs visible against his lips. “Perhaps I just wanted to spend more time in your company, Dr Magnus.”

Nikola…” she stalked towards him with a scowl on her lips. It was getting airless down here if only because the vampire used it all up on his bite-less flattery. “If I find out that you’ve manipulated us into coming here for one of your pet projects – endangered my daughter – I’m going to clear out your old cell in my basement.”

His grin only got wider. “Me – you – chains… Why Helen, you should have said. Ow.” He rubbed his cheek where she’d slapped him again.

Focus! God.

Nikola’s gaze settled on John, lurking against the cave wall. The man was the very embodiment of nightmare and at the present, amused by Tesla’s rejection.

Tesla ran his fingers through his spiky hair which was tainted by dust. “I can feel the vampire, he’s not far from here.” His cheek was still red when he turned back to the tunnel. “There are electrical fluctuations in the air and they’re getting stronger this way. He can smell us from miles away and evade us easily if he wishes. About our only advantage is – “

A serial killer that can teleport?” Helen interjected helpfully.

I was going to say – a genius.” Nikola pointed at himself. “Come on, Helen…” he added in a whisper, eyeing her hungrily. “We both know who he’s most interested in. How could he resist?”

Helen frowned and then shook her head at Nikola, her stomach flipping unsteadily. “Nikola – no.”

Yesssss…”

He moved towards her until his face was within inches of hers. Nikola tilted his head, lips moving to her ear to whisper. “For over a hundred years we were a world apart and yet I could still hear your heart beat – my immortal…”

Helen’s eyes closed at his whispered words. They felt as if they had fallen from another time. For so many years they’d said nothing, hidden under professional endeavours of cheap insults. Nikola was right. Helen could feel the other vampire like a cold breath of air on the world. He wasn’t like Nikola…

What if he kills me?” she murmured, her eyes opening in time to catch Nikola’s gaze. He was far too close to her, those playful eyes of his dangerous.

I won’t let him.” Opportunistic bastard that he was, Nikola stole a kiss from her neck and headed off down the corridor. “Come along…” he insisted, and continued rattling off geological facts about the cave system.

John watched on, his eyes darker than before – his smile gone.

*~*~*

The flames licked at the sky, ripping from tree to tree as a bundle of fur tore into the village. Its inhabitants were assembled outside, forming a network of water buckets and barn shovels, awaiting the wall of fire.

Henry took the door of the post office with one heavy impact. He tumbled inside, thrashing around on the ground as his fur and claws disappeared back into this skin leaving him naked on the ground.

Urgh… Ow,” Henry rolled onto his side and then used the counter to haul himself back to his feet. People screamed outside as Henry foraged through the desk drawers until he found a satellite phone.

Biggie!” he sank down into the chair with relief when he heard the familiar grunt on the line. “I’m in the middle of nowhere – I need you to track the – what?” Henry leaned forward sharply. “Are you kidding me?”

Bring the vampiiiiire back,” Bigfoot repeated. “We’ll find Will.”

When the line went dead, Henry hugged the phone to his naked chest. It was his only possession in the world.

Bloody hell. I better find some clothes.”

*~*~*

Helen couldn’t take her eyes off the vampire.

Their party of three were heading deeper into the Sanctuary, following a series of neglected tunnels that wound their way down, following ancient streams. Nikola had spent the last hour rabbiting on about the geology of this underground world, taking particular interest in the limestone caves which they passed through every so often. It was a strange mix of nature and carefully cultivated beauty, bleeding together – both equally ravaged by time.

Enough about the rocks,” John hissed, boots splashing through the water at their ankles. There was something about this place that made him uncomfortable – as though it weren’t quite dead yet. “Are we any closer?”

Helen rested her hand against her chest; her heart was beating too fast. It had been so long since she’d felt the darkness resting at the edge of her vision or felt that whispering desire. Succumb… It begged. Kill the vampire. Restore the balance.

She was startled to find Nikola frowning at her, his hand holding her at arm’s length and her knife at his delicate throat.

Wrong vampire…” he murmured, gently helping her lower the knife.

Helen nodded, slurring an apology.

John didn’t understand what was going on between the two of them. There had always been something different about Helen. The Source blood had changed them all but he’d never been able to discover how. She was ageless, at least on the surface but beyond that, she was a mystery. It killed him to see that Tesla knew her secret.

What are you not telling me?” John asked, stopping abruptly. The water rushed by his feet leaving tiny flecks of gold on his pants. “It’s been over a hundred years, I think it’s time I knew.”

Helen and Nikola exchanged looks, neither saying anything.

For heaven’s sake, Helen. You honestly trust Tesla to keep your secrets? He’s a vampire with an ego the size of Mars who’d sell you out for five minutes of fame.”

Nikola remained silent.

He left you,” John continued, “sixty years of silence after you saved his miserable life. God knows I’m not perfect Helen, but he uses you for his own cause. You’re a convenience. A rescue service with a pretty face, bottomless bank account and cellar full of wine.”

There was a long pause, Helen’s gaze locked firmly on John.

Yes, I trust him,” is all Helen would say.

John shifted uncomfortably. “The least you could do is tell me the plan. How do you envisage us walking out of here alive? And what about Ashley – or have you forgotten about our daughter?

Helen reeled around, eyes as dark as John’s.

Either you stay and help or leave, John. My secrets are my own, a hundred years won’t change that just as the years can’t wash the blood from your hands.”

I’m not the only one with blood on my hands…” John loomed over Helen. He was easily half a foot taller than her and strong enough to knock her to the ground with one blow if he chose.

I didn’t kill innocent women-”

No – just people that disagreed with you.” John snapped back before Helen could finish.

Nikola was ignoring their bickering. Something wasn’t right… He could hear whispers on the air that weren’t real, unkind voices murmuring imagined insults, egging them on. They were being played with.

Quiet!” Nikola hissed at the pair, shoving them roughly apart. “Listen… We’re not alone down here.”

13

A WORLD OF WHISPERS

The only thing holding Helen and John apart was Nikola’s firm grip. His black eyes scanned the darkness over their shoulders. He was looking for a creature. Any creature. Dry wind echoed through the caves around him, kicking up his cloak. The Sanctuary felt empty. Hollow. He startled when material ripped against his claws.

Tesla, get your claws off my coat,” John growled, attempting to free himself of the vampire. Tesla held firm – stronger than his slender frame suggested.

Only when the pair of you calm the fuck down…” he hissed. Those two could tear the world apart over the origins of English tea. Personally, Nikola would prefer to argue the merits of coffee though neither conversation warranted the end of life as they know it.

I AM CALM!” Helen screeched – then took a deep breath and had another go at sounding calm. She looked the vampire square in the eyes and whispered, “I’m calm…”

The hell you are,” Nikola tugged her closer until their noses brushed. Helen instinctively turned her head to the side. “We’re standing in the ruins of a city that tore itself apart. I think I’m starting to understand why. Now, if I let you go, do you promise not to kill your ex?”

She pulled a few inches from him. “Nikola…” Helen cautioned, eyes fierce. Her dark hair framed her face in messy tangles. He remembered when they had been lovely shade of blonde.

He sighed and set them free. John put his fingers through the claw-holes in his coat, scowling.

I think I know what destroyed this Sanctuary,” Nikola returned his eyes to the ruins of the Sanctuary. He shifted nervously, fighting the desire to un-sheath his claws. There wasn’t enough light down here – quite an admission for a vampire. “A creature of terrible persuasion.”

From the crypt?” John offered, then added darkly, “The crypt we just opened.”

For once tag along over here is right. According to your field reports, Helen, you’ve encountered abnormals that can make powerful suggestions to the mind before – why not a creature that does it softly? The vampires are history’s collectors, they might have – ”

You’ve been reading my field reports?” Helen interrupted with a scorn. Her gaze paused at the faint outlines of ruined columns and piles of rubble. “A Magoi – of sorts. Or something worse. Do you think it will attack us?”

It doesn’t need to. It felled a civilisation with a whisper. I’m sure it’s perfectly capable of dispatching us.”

If we’re dealing with a Magoi we could very well be standing in an empty room right now.” Helen reached out to touch one of the ruined columns. It felt real enough beneath her fingertips. “We stay together at all times. It’s in their nature to part us.”

*~*~*

At Nikola’s insistence, they also kept a silence as they trudged through the freezing water.

In Helen’s opinion, it was an ill-advised plan. The absence of conversation let her mind wander into dark corners she’d rather leave untouched. Paranoia creeping from the edges of her mind laced with vivid, horrible memories dredged from her soul. Another hour of this would be too long, let alone a day.

Stop – stop…” Nikola hissed. He held out his clawed hand expectantly. “Give me your weapons – come on, all of them.”

Nikola…”

I’m serious, Helen. Immortal or not, I am in no mind to end up embedded on the wrong end of your hunting knife – JESUS!” Nikola’s eyes went wide.

There it was, hovering behind Helen’s shoulder, using its sharp claws to hang from the roof. It’s skeletal hand was poised near her throat, ready to wrap its fingers and claws around her skin.

Nikola pushed Helen sharply. She crashed into the shallow water leaving Nikola to face the creature. Terrible grey skin hung off it’s jagged bones; the flesh barely alive. It opened its mouth displaying row upon row of fangs as it levelled a sharp hiss at him. Nikola lunged, claws drawn and fangs gleaming.

It evaded him.

Nikola cracked his elbow on the sharp rocks beneath the surface of the water, landing beside Helen.

What’s gotten into you, Nikola?” Helen growled, perplexed. Blood dripped down Helen’s forehead. The nasty cut had already started to heal.

Nikola’s thrashed around in the water, looking wildly for the creature. “You’re seriously telling me that neither of you saw that?”

John was equally unmoved. “I think it might be you going mad, old boy. Not us.”

The vampire scrambled to his feet, flinging himself at the darkness. He scanned his torch over every crevice of the roof corner behind the crumbled columns. “We’ve got to get out of these tunnels and back into the rooms,” he insisted. “It’s hunting us down here.”

What is hunting us?” Helen shook the water off her gun and re-holstered it. “Nikola, we didn’t see anything.” The hell she was surrendering her weapon.

Claws – withered looking body – bit like a bat with a bad attitude?”

We’re here to find the vampire,” John rescued Helen’s torch from the water. “Can we stick to one devil at a time please?”

Trying to capture an ancient, hungry vampire was the least of Nikola’s worries. He couldn’t get those cold eyes out of his mind. Whatever it was, it had been down here in the dark for a long time and now it was waiting for them.

It’s in your mind, Nikola,” Helen tried to brush some of his wet hair out of his eyes. “It’s playing tricks on you – making you see things that aren’t here. You have to concentrate on what’s real.”

My mind is perfect,” he growled, storming away from her.

The tunnel turned and headed back onto dry land. There was more light here and the narrow walls of the man-built passageway gradually turned into a corridor.

‘Nikola…’

The voice unfurled in his mind, calling him. His mother’s voice. Nikola looked up to the stone ceiling but of course, she was not there. Those grey eyes had left him long ago.

Watch it, Tesla!”

Nikola bounced theatrically off the mass murderer’s back. The vampire stepped aside, straightening his damp cloak without an apology.

We’re here. According to the blue-prints in your notes, this should be the entrance to the living quarters – hopefully where we’ll find our vampire.”

The entrance to the – I never had any blue-prints in my notes!” Nikola frowned. Helen was unfolding a water-logged map, holding it against the wall. John leaned over her shoulder, nodding. “Give me that!” Nikola snatched it away and held it up to the light.

Nikola!” Helen hunted after him, retrieving it. “Please, you’re starting to worry me.”

That’s not my map, Helen,” he insisted.

Henry printed it before we left, said he found it buried in your secret archives.” She shook her head at the vampire, then flashed her torch into his eyes. He ducked away, glaring. “Your eyes are dilated.”

It’s dark.” And now he couldn’t see.

You’re ill.

You’re the one playing with an imaginary map.” Nikola stalked toward the door and pushed. It opened.

What’s in there?” John asked.

Living quarters…” the vampire muttered.

*~*~*

Ashley ducked, sliding down the wall as the vampire’s claws scraped through the rock above her. Granite dust stung her eyes. Tears ran down her cheeks as she kicked forward, striking the vampire’s shins. He tumbled backwards in shock, rolling away in a shadow of cloth. Ashley rolled as well, finding her feet and taking off through the corridors.

A sharp crack of electricity chased her. Blue light flared for a moment, then died. Again. Again. It drew closer as she tripped down a rotten set of stairs and hit the stone floor. Her knee cracked but did not break.

Up!” she hissed at herself, dragging her body away in time to evade a fan of claws.

The vampire had turned, taking her by surprise. One minute they were discussing her grandfather and then next his eyes were red, his fangs salivating at the sight of her. He’d lunged at her neck but she was too fast.

Her torch slid free of her grip. She had to leave it, flying further down the ancient corridors. Soon the darkness was absolute save for the occasional flare of electricity. She reached out, letting her fingertips brush against both sides of the corridor as she ran.

It was behind her, dragging its claws along the stone.

Never trust a vampire. Never trust a bloody vampire. Isn’t that what her father had said? She remembered her mother in Rome. Tesla was meant to be one of her oldest friends and yet, for a moment he’d turned on her too.

She lunged forward when its claws caught her jacket. The test-tubes inside her pocket rattled dangerously against each other as the material ripped straight through and she was free again.

*~*~*

God god, there it was.

Henry tilted his head to take in the wall of black rock, arching up over the forest like a ghastly wave. The mist swirled around his waist, hiding the ground entirely. The first rays of sunlight struck his skin. It was the beginning of an angry dawn. New light was stretched by banks of smoke turning it crimson and gold. It was obscured by a stain of smoke from the village.

Let’s try this again,” Henry whispered, morphing into his wolf form. He vanished into the mist, padding silently over the ground and into the mouth of the Sanctuary.

Henry felt his claws slide as rock replaced dirt. They tapped against it, sliding uneasily. He didn’t like this place. It stank of death and dust. A few tunnels in he turned a corner and backed away. There was a pit of bodies, swept into the natural depression and left to rot into bones.

He growled, scaring a few rats.

Henry

Henry looked up, searching the darkness He could have sworn that he’d heard Helen call his name.

Henry – over here…”

No, he’d definitely heard Helen. Her voice was coming from somewhere deeper in the tunnels.

*~*~*

Someone’s coming – in quite a hurry.” Nikola looked toward the door. “It’s Ashley.”

Helen turned. “Ashley…”

Mum!” The blond girl fell into the room. She was drenched, covered in dirt and cuts with her hair tied back in a matted pony tail. She pushed herself off the ground, stumbled towards her mother and threw herself into her arms.

Helen drew her arms tight around her daughter, burying her head against her shoulder. “My little girl,” she whispered.

John ducked his head out the door and eyed the tunnel suspiciously. He found it empty but closed the door anyway.

I’m sorry…” Ashley whispered.

Don’t you ever do that to me again,” Helen murmured, kissing the top of her head.

Over her mother’s shoulder, Ashley’s eyes met her father’s. He shook his head. Neither of them would ever tell Helen what really happened all those years ago.

There’s no cure,” Ashley pulled back gently from her mother, wiping her face with what remained of her sleeve. “I found the vampire – begged him to help me – but he just laughed…”

Is that who’s chasing you?” John asked. Ashley nodded. “We can’t stay here – we’re cornered. This whole Sanctuary is a giant maze.”

Perhaps the vampires never solved the blood disease,” Nikola added cautiously. “It was the Praxians that unleashed it on them and this is an ancient vampire, from before the complete fall of the empire. He probably knows little, if anything of the modern world.”

He’s crazy, mum,” Ashley whispered. “One minute we were talking and the next – he just turned on me like I was some kind of snack.”

He’s hungry…”

That’s enough, Nikola,” Helen said quietly.

We should leave while we can,” John motioned to the door but Nikola stepped in front of him.

We can’t leave without the vampire. Remember why we’re here, Helen. Your protege will live out his life as a cursed sand creature if you walk away now. This vampire is old, all of us could take him if you’ve still got those silver-tipped tranquillisers you’re so fond of.”

Are you hurt?” Helen asked. Ashley shook her head. She handed her daughter another clip for her gun.

I’m all right,” Ashley nodded.

Nikola inspected his claws. “Are we ready? Remember – we need this one alive,” he levelled his gaze at John, who lifted his hands innocently.

Alive – as you command…” John mocked.

There was a sharp crack of lightening and then something that sounded like thunder rumbling down the corridor outside.

Here he comes…” Nikola whispered.

Ashley shifted, checking her gun. Helen withdrew a slender gun from her holster and started sliding silver-tipped bullets into the shaft. Nikola tilted his head, watching her closely. It always worried him that she kept that particular weapon close – as if she didn’t entirely trust him.

John lingered at the door – a butcher knife clutched in his fist.

Ready?”

14

SILVER DREAMS

Ready,” Helen nodded, clicking the last silver-tipped bullet into place.

Electric light flashed outside the door, branching wildly along the corridor in front of the vampire. He was starving and old. He could smell the blood, fresh and warm and he craved it. Gods to taste again – to feel again. His oath seemed meagre in the face of hunger.

The ancient vampire didn’t see Nikola pressed against the wall beside him. The young vampire hit him hard across the back of the neck, sending him stumbling to the floor with an angry growl, fangs glistening and wet.

Foolish child!” the ancient one screeched, dripping silken venom into the dirt. He turned on Nikola, long claws going straight through Nikola’s chest, dragging the young vampire up the wall with a trail of blood. “Stay out of my way.” He tossed Nikola aside into the shadows.

Nikola hit the floor to the sound of his left leg snapping. The bone shot through the skin. “Son of a…” he growled, looking down in horror.

John was next, ducking under the vampire’s sweeping claws and delivering a powerful hit to his chest. Then again, slamming his knee up into the vampire and taking him down to the ground with a quick succession of powerful hits. Ashley swung down from the ceiling, firing off two carefully aimed rounds into the vampire’s shoulders.

The bullets hissed into the vampire’s flesh, silver leaching into his blood. He reached up, cold blood running down his wrists. It was almost black.

Forgive – me?” the vampire whispered, feeling an ice take hold of his blood. Dark eyes closed, his withered body giving way to a deep, dreamless sleep.

Helen, John and Ashley stood over the bloodied vampire.

Piece of cake,” Ashley grinned, slipping her gun back into it’s holster.

We need to get him on a plane, fast. Let’s pack up and get out of here,” Helen whispered, kneeling down to restrain the vampire with ties. She looked up at a soft growl from the corner of the room. “You all right over there?”

Nikola scowled. “Oh yes, just peachy,” he hissed, pushing the bone back into his leg with a cry of pain. He held it there as his skin healed over. That hurt. “What about your puppy dog?”

Henry’s here?” Ashley asked, smiling a little.

He’s already en-route back to Old City,” Helen replied. “He checked in with Biggie a few hours ago. We’ll meet him back at base.”

Nikola limped over to the others looking paler than usual. Ashley offered him a sympathetic look. “Nasty – dude,” she nodded at his leg.

*~*~*

‘The plane’ turned out to be a helicopter picking its way through the mountains. The heat had burned off all the mist leaving a clear divide between the dark green expanse of jungle and pale blue sky. Nikola carefully eyed the rises and fall of the mountains as though looking for patterns in the chaos.

Penny for your thoughts…?” Helen asked, sitting opposite him. John and Ashley were chatting and the vampire was tied up in the cargo.

Nikola didn’t turn towards her, preferring his current view of the ancient world.

Doesn’t it bother you?” Nikola replied quietly.

Helen frowned, tilting her head. “What?”

Why did he stay there, starving in the darkness for thousands of years… Something was keeping the vampire there, Helen.”

She shrugged. “Perhaps you can ask him later, if it bothers you so.”

Nikola was quiet for a moment, tapping his claws against the glass. “Perhaps I will…”

*~*~*

Henry padded over the stone floor, leaping from side to side to avoid the rubble of ruined columns. There was water seeping from the walls, coating the floor in an ankle deep, freezing river that tumbled down stairs and trailed off into the darkness.

He had decided to remain in wolf form, covering ground quickly as he chased the echoes. Helen was here somewhere, he could hear her voice getting softer.

He barked, leaping up onto a marble block. Stretching out in front at the base of the ruined city was a deep, black lake. It was walled by a smooth, marble capped rim with glowing symbols that lit the room. There were great swirls of golden dust curling over its surface, moved by the deep, freezing currents like ribbons destroyed galaxies. The enormous door loomed behind – its ghastly figures as dead as the city.

Henry crossed the city and strutted along the marble wall, sniffing the air. The world had gone quiet again. His head lifted. Something was in the water on the far side. Henry barked.

Henry…” the voice whispered.

He broke into a run, skidding over the marble until he found a figure struggling in the water, slipping deeper into darkness. Helen’s long hair was plastered to her skin, her eyes wide and frightened. She was pale like a vampire, her strength failing as she saw the werewolf appear.

Help,” was all she managed to murmur. Helen didn’t even have the strength to reach out to him.

Henry curled his claws over the marble edge and took hold of Helen’s coat in his jaws. He pulled, tugging her out of the water and onto the dirt. She stroked his soft fur, closing her eyes as the wolf laid over her. All she knew was warmth as the wolf wailed softly.

Helen had been laying in the water for days.

*~*~*

Doc?” Henry, dressed and sitting beside a warm fire, brushed his hands over Helen’s cheek again. “Come on now, I saw you stir,” he whispered.

Helen groaned, opening her eyes. She tried to shield them from the firelight but the warmth got the better of her.

Thought I lost you there for a while,” Henry added, helping her to sit up.

She pressed her hand to her forehead in a futile attempt to stop the throbbing pain. “Where are the others?” she whispered, reaching for her gun – but Henry had everything laid out and drying on her coat.

No idea. They were here, several days ago by the smell of it. I found you alone,” he added quietly.

She accepted the heated water, sipping it carefully.

Something tried to kill me,” she whispered. “John, Nikola and I – we came under the door,” she pointed to the enormous structure that had once been the city’s defence against the world. “When I was under the water something latched onto my legs. It pulled me deeper, hooking me onto something beneath the water.” Helen looked away with a shiver. “I thought I’d drowned,” she whispered. “The next thing I remember, I was floating on the surface.”

Helen looked morbidly at the water, wondering if the others were still beneath its surface. Henry shook his head.

They definitely went through the city,” he whispered. “I’ve smelled them up in the tunnels.”

She frowned at once. “Nikola and John continued without me? No…”

Come on Doc – a vampire and history’s most notorious murderer?”

You better believe it, Henry,” she replied seriously.

Several hours later, Helen had scavenged a pair of torches from the outer walls of the city. She lit them from Henry’s fire and handed him one.

This place is huge,” Henry whispered, creeping up the main street with Helen. “And seriously creepy,” he added, passing more bleached skeletons.

What does this remind you of – Prague?”

That was a crypt,” Henry shivered.

Helen shrugged, that grin of hers stretched over her lips. “Bones, ruins – torches,” she waved hers about playfully. “Come on, those were the days, Henry.”

Hey – it was my first tomb. You took Ash and I out for a family outing. I thought we were getting ice-cream but no. Creepy dead things.”

And a giant lizard,” Helen added proudly.

Yeah – and that. Nice parenting touch.”

You called it Frank,” she smiled softly.

Well… He needed a name.”

Frank was a girl.”

Henry looked utterly guttered. His childhood robbed. “But…?”

She had two clutches of eggs while you and Ashley were at university. Oh that is unfortunate…” Helen paused, leaning into one of the ruined buildings. “It’s all right,” she brushed Henry off when he tried to tug her back. “It’s been here for hundreds of years, I’m sure it’ll survive me.”

Helen stepped into the crumbling building, avoiding the pair of skeletons huddled in the corner, their heads scattered on the far side. “Don’t you find it strange, Henry? Every one of these creatures has been killed violently – by each other – and yet the city shows no sign of invasion. If it were Conquistadors, all this would be gone,” she ran her hand along a gold embossed border in the wall. “Oh…”

Shit…” Henry finished for her. “Those – look familiar.”

They both tilted their heads up at the roof to see three perfect, white cocoons nestled against the stone. Helen bravely prodded one with her torch. The silk threads unfurled in the heat, falling to the ground and with it a pile of bones.

Dead,” she whispered. “It’s far too warm for Magoii to reproduce down here – but not enough to kill a full grown.”

I really hate those things,” Henry sighed, kicking some of the silk cocoon.

Now now Henry, what have I taught you?”

Henry rolled his eyes. “That even the most dangerous Abnormals have a right to exist,” he dutifully repeated the words Helen had drilled into him as a child.

Even Magoii. We have no idea how long these things can live but preliminary work by the Russian Sanctuary suggests they could have lifespans of hundreds of years, especially if they are left to hibernate.”

How many do you think are still down here?”

Helen looked carefully at the cocoon shell. “This could have come from a single Magoii. Come on, we better find out what happened to the others.”

Helen and Henry followed their tracks through the ancient sanctuary. After nearly a day of crawling through tunnels and wading in freezing water they realised that this place was completely dead. There was no life left here at all and whatever dream had started inside these walls had died here.

Shall we check in with the Big Guy? Maybe have him order us a nice private jet?”

Helen shook her head. “I don’t think so, Henry. We’re going the long way home this time.”

*~*~*

Nikola was milking every last ounce of sympathy out of his injury, limping toward Helen’s wine rack. He ran his claws over the dusty bottles, making a soft tapping sound. Truthfully, he’d expected her to stop him by now or at the very least issue him a warning in the form of a bullet to the back. Instead, his old friend was oddly absent, presumably down in her basement playing with the ancient vampire.

He forced himself not to be jealous, drowning those destructive thoughts in another Bordeaux.

Nikola set a clean glass on the window sill, uncorked a fresh bottle with his claw and tilted it over the crystal edge. Sand poured out of the lip, tinkling against the glass.

The bottle smashed against the floor, red wine splashing over Nikola’s shoes. He looked at his glass again.

Wine.

I’m losing my mind…”

15

SILK

Nikola knelt down, soaking the spilled wine up with a cloth. He was embarrassed by the mess, carefully attempting to draw the stains out of the rug with varying success. The remaining shards of bottle were collected in his palm until Nikola returned to his feet, relieved to see the damage mostly alleviated.

His nerves remained frayed.

With a great deal more care, he fetched himself another bottle and retreated to the safety of the sofa, lounging in front of Helen’s fire to think. He was dwarfed by the marble mantle, ironwork chandelier and tapestries that carpeted the walls.

Nikola’s mind was his greatest asset and the only thing in which he had absolute faith. If it was unravelling then he was lost. There were many things that Nikola could endure – idiocy was not one of them.

Reason your way out of it,” he told himself firmly, taking a firm swig of his wine straight from the bottle. “What do you know?”

He smirked, licking his lips.

That this is cheap wine.

What’s the matter with you?”

Nikola sneered at the interruption strutting into the office. Joe Kavanaugh was not his favourite person in the world although he had to give him credit for single handedly unleashing a vampire plague upon the Earth. Nikola would have gone for something more refined than a den of diseased half-breeds but it was a step in the right direction. Maybe. Only time would tell whether humanity would find shackles again.

This is Helen’s office,” Nikola replied dryly, as though he were the only other creature allowed to inhabit it.

Oddly enough, I noticed,” Joe kept an even tone with the moody vampire. “Actually, it’s you I came to see.”

That was even worse. Nikola twisted his lip up in disdain, downing another sip of wine. “How unfortunate.”

Joe’s look was one of infinite patience. “I was hoping to enlist your help in the search for Zimmerman. Ashley and Henry are following a lead in the subway -”

You mean the hunt?” he corrected. “No, I think not. When and if you manage to find Helen’s protege I will endeavour to return him to his former, pitiful state as per my arrangement with Helen.”

How very generous of you.”

Believe me, this is not an exercise in charity.” Nikola had his reasons.

Joe cast his eyes over the array of artefacts littering the side tables. Helen was a collector at heart and in true Victorian form she liked to decorate her world with each conquest. She wasn’t half as noble as she pretended to be.

I’m surprised,” Detective Kavanaugh added. “I thought you’d be the first in line to interrogate the full-blood vampire downstairs. Isn’t he what you’ve been searching for all these years?”

Nikola’s look was one of disdain. Not only was his business private, he resented Kavanaugh’s intimate dealings with the ancient ones, experiences which greatly exceeded his.

Our ancient friend is heavily sedated and I doubt Helen will wake him until her precious protege is well.”

And you are perfectly capable of biding your time.”

Something like that.” Claws tapped against the bottle.

Kavanaugh wasn’t finished.

And you have no designs on my father either, then?”

Nikola made an inhuman sound that could have passed for laughter. “The half-ling? Ex-half-ling actually… From what I’ve read of your report he spent most of his last four decades in a trance with little or no memory of either his cave or the vampire he kept guard over. No. Unsurprisingly I have no interest in him.”

That made the Detective feel more comfortable, sinking into the cushions, enjoying the warm glow of the fire.

You’re still here…” Nikola glared.

I’m still here.”

Nikola sighed tiredly and set the bottle of wine down with a clunk. “Are you going to make me guess?”

Actually, it’s easier if I show you.”

*~*~*

Al’right, Doc?”

Helen held her head between her hands. She could hear several heart beats in the world now – three of them clashing against each other inside her mind. Too many vampires. The balance had been lost with the awakening of two more. Nikola and the ancient one from the Sanctuary of the Moon were closest. She’d know Nikola’s heart anywhere.

I’m fine,” she lied, laying back against the car as it wove its way through Old City. She had not felt like this since Oxford.

Are you going to tell me why we’re not going home?” The Sanctuary was several blocks behind them.

We can’t go home yet, not if I’m right.”

You’re starting to worry me…” Henry turned to her as a downpour smashed against the car’s windows.

Nikola and John would not have left without me. I suspect they brought more than our souvenir vampire back with them.”

The Magoi – bloody hell.”

She tossed him a newspaper folded open to an article.

‘MISSING: The Suspected Trade of Old City’s Homeless’

‘…in the last week a suspected four people have vanished from slums around the city. Well known in their underground world, police have been unable to account for these sudden absences. The Town Hall is opening its doors this evening in a bid to offer shelter for the easy prey of what many suspect to be a human trafficking ring…’

Henry closed his eyes. “Will…” was all he said.

The Magoi will want to go home but it’s desire to migrate is going to interfere with our effort to save Will. Once we enter the Sanctuary we’ll have no way of telling who is real. The less people in there the better. I don’t want my Sanctuary to end up a pile of rubble and bone.”

Doc…” Henry added quietly. “Are we going to kill it?”

It’s too dangerous to live.”

We don’t really know anything about them, do we?”

In a hundred years we might be intelligent enough to have a conversation with them,” she replied, a dark shadow over her features. “I hope this city is worth the life of one Magoi.”

*~*~*

A gunshot rang out in the tunnel. It was absorbed by the distant rumble of a subway train, trundling through the dark.

A body fell from the ceiling. It landed with a crunch on the gravel in front of Bigfoot.

Ashley knelt down, nudging the sand creature with her boot as its body shimmered back into the visible spectrum. It was dead.

How many more of these do you think there are?” she whispered, standing up and re-loading her gun.

No ideaaaa,” Bigfoot whispered, his eyes searching the tunnels ahead. “Will has been down here for days – whatever he doesn’t kill is turned.”

There’s going to be a plague of these things.”

They worked their way through the tunnels leaving a trial of bodies for the other teams to pick up. This was getting out of hand. “We may need to contact some of the other Sanctuaries.”

Your mother wouldn’t like that,” Bigfoot replied. “She’s gone to great lengths to keep the truth of vampires from the world. They’ll ask questions when they see the fangs.”

The one Abnormal she hides…” Ashley whispered. “I used to think that the Abnormal world was a dark place but these last few weeks have shown me something else.” She paused as she climbed up onto an abandoned platform, helping Biggie up. “It’s mum’s world that is dark. I barely know her.”

Something their claws against the concrete. Ashley and Bigfoot turned, panning their flash lights over the walls.

Will sank away from the halos of light.

This world made your mother,” Bigfoot replied softly.

They both prowled closer, weapons raised and their torches sweeping back and forward. “There’s something she’s not telling me.”

Her torch caught a pair of golden eyes.

Will…”

*~*~*

Nikola stood in front of the freezer in Helen’s main lab looking greatly put out. He folded his arms crossly, reading the sign taped to its sad, stained surface.

‘OUT OF SERVICE – please use freezer on Basement Level 2’

The vampire shrugged. “So? What am I supposed to do, fix it?”

It’s not broken,” Joe replied, stepping forward. He placed his hand against the door’s surface. It was cool – the gentle hum of the freezer’s engine steady like a pulse.

Someone forgot to take the sign down, honestly, did the wolf put you up to this? I have a gnawing feeling that I’m being purposely annoyed.”

Henry’s still on a plane.” Compared to the psychotic criminals Joe was accustomed to, the vampire had a long way to go in petulance. “Ah, but that’s not the really cool bit, Doctor Tesla – pardoning the pun.”

Nikola groaned as Joe reached up to where the sign was and went straight through it. The surface was smooth – entirely sign free.

Nikola swayed back, staring at the empty freezer door. He was seriously starting to think that there were a few loose wires between his eyes and brain.

Ah, now I have your attention,” Joe whispered, lowering his hand to the handle of the freezer. He gave it a decent tug but the door refused to budge. “Now, I don’t know about you but I’m not particularly comfortable with objects coming and going from reality.”

It’s the Magoi,” Nikola whispered, feeling a cold shiver run down his back. “It must be here – it has to be.” The vampire turned on Joe with a suspicious glare.

What? Hey – no…” Joe lifted his hands innocently. “I don’t even know what a – what did you say it was?”

Magoi,” Nikola growled.

That. I have no idea what it is.”

If nothing else, Nikola doubted the Magoi would be pointing out things it had tried to hide so he gave Joe the benefit of the doubt. “Obviously it doesn’t want us to get into this freezer – so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

It was not easy and after an hour of prodding, bashing and general abuse of the freezer door, they discovered that it was not actually locked. The mind was easy to manipulate, especially for an ancient Magoi.

Flustered from exertion, they pushed open the door and were met with a thick mist of frost. Joe waved it away from his face, squinting through the freezing air. Their sweat shattered as droplets of ice on the floor. “What, in the name of god, is that…”

Nikola inched toward the seven foot bundles of silk. They glistened in the frosted air, beads of ice adoring the fine threads like jewels. There were three cocoons stuck to the far wall closest to the air ducts with a faint shadow of something moving inside each one.

Baby Magoi,” Nikola replied, voice catching. “What a nightmare.”

We should go to Helen,” Joe whispered, but Nikola caught his arm sharply, claws out.

No. We don’t go to anyone,” he growled softly, as though afraid the cocoons would tear open any minute. “First, we shut this freezer down then work out what the hell is going on. Anyone in this Sanctuary could be a Magoi – anything you see. You trust your hands and nothing else, understand?”

*~*~*

Will clawed straight up the wall, sticking to the ceiling like an oversized gecko, hiding behind the shadows of steel thick beams. His skin rippled from crimson to grey rendering him invisible.

Shit!” Ashley hissed, looking up at the dark void above. She switched her gun to stun mode and started pacing forward, tilting her head sharply trying to catch a glimpse of the sand creature. “He’s completely turned.”

Yeah, reeeeeal little piece of work,” Bigfoot growled, moving to the opposite side of the tracks. “Tried to rip me in shreds before.”

Five minutes until the next train,” she warned, stepping carefully between the tracks. The rumble of the train was already shaking the gravel around them. “I don’t want to lose him again.”

Ashley moved fast and light through the tunnel. She used the side wall as protection and kept her head up to the ceiling. Damn these things were quiet. Her torch light was obstructed by a column of dust wafting down from the ceiling. She took a shot.

Missed it,” Bigfoot hissed from the other side of the tunnel.

Yeah, but not by much,” she replied, lifting her gun again.

This time she took three shots – chasing the flurries of dust. Her last shot hit Will on the back of the leg. He let out a screech of pain, scratching frantically at the roof before falling between the tracks. The thunder of the oncoming train started to roar like a wave building up against the reef. Bigfoot grabbed the semi-conscious sand creature by one of its thrashing limbs, dragging it over the tracks.

Hiiiit it again!” he yelled.

Will twisted and writhed, scratching at Bigfoot’s furry hand. Mid run, Ashley pulled the trigger again and the creature became a dead weight.

One minute!” she hissed, picking up the pace. “Platform’s not far.”

Bigfoot lumbered along with Will’s unconscious body. Ashley reached the platform before him, throwing her gun up over the edge before vaulting over the cement barrier. She laid on her stomach and took Bigfoot’s gun first – then started to haul Will up. He was visible again – his crimson skin heavily scarred already.

Come on, hurry up!” she urged, feeling the wind whip her hair up.

Too old fo’ this,” Bigfoot muttered, barely managing to get his enormous body clear as the express train rocketed through, its horn blaring angrily.

The sound of slow applause filled the platform. Ashley frowned – then turned to see Henry and Helen standing shoulder to shoulder – Henry applauding with a smirk on his lips.

Ashley rolled her eyes at the closest thing to a brother she’d ever get. “Two vampires – two days, count says I win.”

Henry shook her head. “Nah – I brought mum home; trumps a vampire and half-vamped-protege every time.”

What on earth are you talking about?” Ashley slid her gun back into its holster.

Helen was grinning at her daughter – only just fighting the urge to rush over and take her into her arms. She hadn’t seen her in over a week. “Let’s get Will somewhere secure – then we can talk.”

*~*~*

It was perfect. Transparent, tightly bound tubes danced under the glass slide. Nikola peered through the microscope, increasing the magnification again. Millions of tiny hairs appeared, interlocking like velcro – terrible, grotesque claws binding the silk together.

Nikola straightened up slowly, his hand shifting to his hip, the other resting on the edge of the table for support. His lab was meagre in comparison to the rest of the house but it was the safest place to be. Joe was standing by the window, leaning against the sill as the sun started to set over the city behind him.

This will change the world,” Nikola announced, holding up the glass side. The fragment of Magoi silk was difficult to make out except when it caught the sunlight and shone pure silver. “Darwin’s spider, eat your your heart out. Inch by inch this is the strongest material in existence.

Joe didn’t look so impressed. He’d prefer not to fawn over a creature that was trying to kill them. “I’m not sure that farming Magoi is high on our priority list, Tesla.”

Nikola shook his head impatiently. Mortals were just so … preoccupied with the present.

I don’t think that you quite grasp the material point,” his fangs peaked out. He was about to launch into a brief history of natural substances that changed the course of human history when Joe held up both hands.

You’re not going to be making any more world altering discoveries if you’re dead,” Joe pointed out bluntly.

Nikola sighed and set the slide down. “Producing those offspring would have used a great deal of energy. It’ll need to feed – it’s probably started on the abnormals already – possibly even the staff.” Nikola strutted over his desk drawer. He pulled out a couple of prototype handguns. “Combination electric stunner and laser pulse. The pain of the small burn is enough to get the attention of medium sized prey while giving their nerves a bit of a work over.”

This is what you do for Helen…?”

From time to time. Depends how quickly I run out of money, really… We’re going to stun everything and anything walking the hallways and start making good use of the cells.”

16

DARWIN’S SPIDER

…we should have started with someone else…” Joe whispered, pressed up against the wall.

Quiet!” Nikola growled under his breath. Damn humans.

The vampire tilted his head, peering through the guest room’s battered doorway. John Druitt’s immense form was stretched out on the floor, sprawled over the rug like some great feline after a feed – presumably asleep. Odd but to be fair, John had never displayed normal behavioural patterns.

Joe leaned against Nikola’s shoulder. “I know a lot of detectives that would give their right arm to hang that man – the Ripper – most evil man in history.”

Would you stop your prattling,” Nikola turned back, flicking Joe off his shoulder with an impatient glare. Humans were dreadful at stalking. “Firstly, even if you successfully marched old Whitechapel down to HQ – which better men than you have failed to do,” he added pointedly, “there’s not a lot you can do with someone who committed crimes over a century ago.

Secondly, starting in 1958, Mao Ze-Dong oversaw the murder of seventy-eight million people; Hitler raked in twelve of his own countrymen and three million Russians on the side. Leopold II, Stalin… “ Nikola trailed off, hands waving theatrically about.

One hundred million died in the Taiping rebellion, one and half slit their own throats in ancient Mexico for a religion that left little in its wake save stains of blood on temple stairs. John is a novice in the art of evil. It’s only doe-eyed detectives like you and your predecessors that have lorded him into the rarefied atmosphere.”

Joe lofted his eyebrow slightly. The vampire seemed… miffed that Druitt was famous. More famous than him. “He fooled the man who invented my profession.”

Everyone has their weaknesses, even James.” Nikola averted his gaze, not wishing to open that particular chapter in his life. The history of the Five was not for mortals to pick apart. “Come on… enough fucking about.”

Nikola crept back up to the door.

Bloody hell…” John was gone. “Christ!” Nikola jumped when John appeared in the doorway, glass of scotch in hand.

I never had you pegged as a voyeur Tesla,” he took a slow sip of scotch. “Quaint, is that a pet?”

Detective. We’ve met but… you appear to have forgotten me.”

John made a point of eyeing the weapons in their hands.

Did I miss something?” he drawled, in that sickening tone used to lure innocent women to the blade of his knife. “Last time I checked, we were on speaking terms and this is Helen’s house. You know the rules o’l boy. This is Switzerland for us.”

It’s not personal this time, Johnny,” Nikola smirked, levelling the gun back at him with a fang-laden grin. “And despite our better judgement, we’re not here to kill you.”

John laughed coldly, pointing his glass at them.

You think that I’m just going to let you shoot –” John was interrupted by a scalding pain in his chest. He looked down to find his pocket smouldering. “What the devil…” he growled, before crumbling to the floor accompanied by the dull thud of a scotch glass.

Joe slowly lowered his sparking electric weapon. “That was a lot easier than I’d envisioned…”

Come on, grab an ankle,” Tesla muttered.

*~*~*

Mum, this place is ancient…” Ashley complained. She helped her mother break through a hefty iron door, pushing it open with an angry screech of metal and rust. Bigfoot stood back, Will’s deformed body limp in his furry arms.

It’s one of Tesla’s old haunts,” Helen explained, dusting off her hands and holding her torch up, scanning the room with it. Broken pipes, air ducts, feathers. “Should still work,” she added, flicking a switch on the wall. A deep buzz rang out through the metal wall as rows of electric lights flickered into life.

Old – like from the 4th Dynasty.” Ashley tilted her head, inspecting the carcass of an experiment.

Helen cleared one of the work benches. Bigfoot laid Will’s body onto the surface and the pair of them bound him with duct tape and chain. Crude but effective.

He’s going to wake up soon,” Helen whispered, listening to the steady beat of his heart falter. “This room was built to keep in vampires – I’m sure it’ll be able to handle a sand creature for a few hours.” The duct-tape… probably not. She injected him with the last vial of sedative. It would keep him quiet – for a while.

Mum… We can’t just leave him tied up here. It’s cruel.”

You’re going to stay here and look after him, both of you,” she added sternly, when Bigfoot went to protest. “The less people in my house the better. If you don’t hear from me before nightfall, you call the London Sanctuary and ask for Declan.”

Seriously, Mum?”

Ashley… don’t fight me on this.”

I’m much better at hunting creatures than you,” she tried following her mother but Helen pushed her firmly back into the room.

That’s why you’re staying with Will.”

*~*~*

Well string me up with the garlic…” Nikola’s deep, vampire voice purred on the air. He ran his gloved fingers through the threads of silk swaying in the air-conditioned breeze. Someone had turned it up to full over the whole mansion leaving Nikola and Joe to resort to snow jackets and gloves.

Growing from the ceiling of the corridor were long tangles of silk. Like ancient vines, they’d twisted into ropes that bonded to the floor to form flexible, sticky columns.

God, it’s like a bloody spider web,” Joe whispered, sidestepping an ominous trail of silk.

I didn’t know Magoi did this,” Nikola admitted. “It’s like a nest.”

Yeah, well the more I learn about Magoi, the less I like’m, Doc. Give me your regular psychopath any day.”

Together, they had taken out most of the Sanctuary staff and locked them in cells. There were still a few small abnormals wandering the corridors but nothing big enough for a Magoi to bother imitating. There was, however, one noticeable absence from their collection. Helen.

You’re worried about her, aren’t you?” Joe asked, as they made their way through the freezing tunnel toward the fire stairs that took them deeper into the building. The further they went, the colder it became.

Nikola kept a few steps ahead of Joe, his black eyes focussed on the sticky hallway in front. “I’m worried I left my oldest friend in a South American tomb to rot, yes,” he snapped.

The walls were entirely silk now, glistening like ice.

It doesn’t take a detective to work out that you and her were -”

Joe didn’t get to finish. In front of them a very displeased (but admittedly distracting) Helen Magnus blocking the hallway, arms folded. She levelled a stern glare at Nikola.

Nikola – where are my staff?”

Nikola lifted his home-made weapon, steadying it at her chest. “I’d be happy to show you.”

You’re not going to shoot me,” she tilted her head like a bird of prey. “We’ve got a very serious abnormal incursion,” she nodded at the silk strangling the walls.

And here I was thinking it was your new wallpaper,” Nikola quipped, no intention of lowering his weapon. “That’s close enough…” he whispered, when she started walking towards him.

Are you feeling all right?” Helen lowered her voice into a tender lull. “Even for a vampire, you’re pale. Perhaps you should lie down?”

I don’t think so,” Nikola kept the gun steady. He was pale because he was cold and naturally disposed to looking like a shard of porcelain. “Detective – whatsyourname-”

Kavanaugh…” Joe filled in helpfully.

Whatever… What do you see?”

Joe tilted his head, “Dr Helen Magnus – or a very good copy.”

Copy?” Helen snapped, indignant. “Nikola!” she clicked her fingers to get the vampire’s attention. “My house is freezing, the staff are missing and my wallpaper’s been replaced by this sticky Magoi residue. Now, what the hell is going on?”

Nikola ignored her.

Be more specific,” he whispered to Joe. “Her eyes… hair – what does she look like.”

As Joe started to describe her, the Sanctuary alarm pierced the air. Its angry ringing made Nikola flinch.

We’ve got company,” he whispered.

Could be a trick?” Joe offered.

He was right. “Bloody Magoi.” Nikola nodded at Helen. “This is why I never joined your little creature-collecting mission.”

Not as salubrious as ruling the world?” she ventured another step closer.

I offered you the world…” Nikola reminded her, eyes bright.

She took another step, lingering dangerously close. “It wasn’t yours to offer…” she purred.

NIKOLA!”

He turned at once toward the angry voice to find another Helen standing behind them, smeared with dirt and greese. Nikola did his best to ignore his favourite fantasy made real. Two Helens… My, my, my.

Helen… meet Helen,” he said.

The two Helen’s eyed each other. One of them was a Magoi, the other was not…

Stop grinning, Nikola,” the Helen covered in dirt scowled. “She’s a Magoi…”

Joe lifted his weapon, levelling it at the newly arrived Helen. “Actually Doc,” he said, “one of you is. Which one is still in question.”

If you shoot me with that, I’ll break both your wrists,” she promised darkly. “You’re still grinning, Nikola.”

He shrugged innocently.

We’ve been re-decorating,” Nikola added, his weapon still trained on the original Helen. “What do you think?”

This isn’t funny, Nikola. She will kill you.”

Don’t think so,” he replied lightly, giving Joe a meaningful look. “And on three…”

Before either Helen could move, both guns went off and they dropped to the floor. The dirt-laden Helen groaned, holding her chest. The other body shimmered, its lie crumbling until the body of the Magoi emerged. It was unconscious. Nikola curled his lip in disgust. He’d flirted with that.

He was going to add ‘Magoi hunting’ to his list of skills.

*~*~*

Son of a…” Helen stirred. She was back in her bed, tucked in amongst the soft silk sheets with a fresh tray of tea steaming on the table beside her.

Slowly, she turned to see Nikola lounging on the bedspread, a book open against his chest. He was asleep, purring softly as only a vampire could. Such cheek!

Nikola!” she nudged him gently, poking his ribs. The movement made her groan. Her chest was tight and burned from the weapon. “God, what did you shoot me with?”

Nikola turned his head, opening his eyes. They were bright blue, grinning back of her. “New toy. Don’t worry, the effects are temporary. Technically, your pet detective shot you, not me.”

You shot the other me,” she groaned wearily, “so it still counts.”

Helen closed her eyes again, rubbing her chest softly with her free hand. It hurt.

I take it you’ve restrained the Magoi?”

Tagged, restrained and waiting in the SHU,” he put the book aside, turned over and rested on his arm. Nikola was all too comfortable, lounging beside her on the bed.

…and Ashley?” Helen added, not meaning for her voice to slip into such a soft tone.

The corner of his lip curled up into a smile.

Good of you to hide them in one of my old haunts,” he replied. “I called them in as soon as our guest was contained. Your protege is restrained and awaiting treatment. You’re lucky he’s still alive. There have been police crawling all over the city looking for him.”

I should -” Helen went to get up but Nikola nudged her gently back down.

Will can wait a few more hours.”

She lofted her eyebrow at him. “And what are you going to do?”

Oh you know, the same,” he shrugged. “Rule the world from your bed.”

Nikola’s smirk was hit by a well aimed pillow.

…I still can’t believe you shot me,” she whispered, closing her eyes again.

Eh – it’s like, one-to-fifty. You shoot me all the time.”

She couldn’t help a small smile. “You usually deserve it.”

*~*~*

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The sand creature eyed the machine beside him. Will’s eyes were gold and bulging out from his skull like some kind of reptile. His skin was scarlet, dry and cracked into a scaly pattern that resembled a riverbed ruined by a thousand years of ravaging drought. He flecked his claws, watching the black extensions reflect the bright lights of the infirmary.

He snarled, trying to retreat but a heavy set of chains held him still.

Sh…” Helen whispered, stepping into view. Her white coat made her form blur against the room. “You’re safe – you’re home.”

Will opened his lips, displaying several rows of razor sharp teeth. He hissed at her.

Ashley, Bigfoot, Henry, Joe and Tesla were all seated in the gallery behind, watching the procedure. Tesla had shifted to the edge of his seat, leaning close to the glass in curiosity. It had been difficult extracting the clear, vampire venom from their new guest. Helen was holding a refined sample up to the light. She pierced the seal with a long needle.

Do you think it’ll work?” Ashley whispered.

I hope so, Ash,” Henry replied, holding her hand.

The liquid entered the drip, slowly seeping into Will’s body. He thrashed irritably against his restraints, hissing again as Helen set the empty vial down and checked him over.

Elevated pulse, temperature steady. Patient is agitated but not in pain.” Helen flashed her torch light across his eyes. “Pupils are sluggish. Will, can you hear me?”

More snarling.

Dr Zimmerman, do you know where you are?”

Will arched his body up as far as he could off the bed. There was something cold sneaking into his veins. He felt – calm… His body gently lowered itself, slowly shedding its violent red for cream.

Patient’s skin is reverting back to human form. Heart rate lowering – body temperature declining.”

The fangs retreating into his jaw sent searing pain through his nerves. Will cried out, an almost human scream shattering the quiet room. Helen fumbled for another vial, this time consisting of pain killers which she fed through the drip.

He started to convulse. Helen used her weight to press his body back down against the bed.

Stay with me, Will,” she whispered, fighting for control. She pushed his torso firmly down, pulling another strap across him.

Will struggled to breathe, gasping between ragged cries.

17

PLAYING WITH SILVER

Subject stable… pupils, sluggish but okay. Will?”

Dr Will Zimmerman, entirely human, was laid on the bed. He stared blankly at the ceiling, focused on the infirmary lights which leered at him with neon claws. Helen hovered, carefully monitoring his vitals. He could sense her now… distinguish her from the others. She had a name and fragments of memories. Helen Magnus, yes, he remembered her now. Remembered her hitting him with a damn car.

Will, can you hear me?”

Slowly, his head tilted to the side. Will nodded at her in recognition, blinking slowly as if to say something. His wrists strained against the leather restraints causing their buckles to creak.

For a while there, we thought we lost you,” she added quietly, laying her hand on his arm in soft assurance.

Nine hours later he was sitting up, flicking through Sunday’s paper in his own room. His skin itched but aside from a few nasty scratches and bruises, he was unharmed from his adventures as a sand creature.

Quite the trail of destruction, eh?” Henry said.

Henry was perched on the end of Will’s bed, playing with one of his half-built experiments. Beams of sunlight fell over the Gothic room, warming it as the afternoon started to fade. Tesla’s stolen research towered in several looming piles of paper, some arching alarmingly toward the edge of the bedside table.

It’s not exactly a badge of honour,” Will sighed, setting the newspaper down.

Yeah, but you go to be a vampire,” Henry insisted.

Can you try to be less excited by this?” Will managed a grin though, nudging Henry with his foot. “Besides, I was even less of a vampire than Tesla.”

Don’t let him hear you say that, he takes his vamp-ness very seriously. He’s having a hard enough time now that we’ve got a full blood in the basement.”

A what?” Will’s eyes went wide.

Picked up a vamp in South America. They’re real ugly,” Henry added. “Trust me, Tesla’s the plushie version.”

That must have hurt his feelings…”

Yeah, he’s sulking in my lab,” Henry looked down at the gadget in his hands. “Made you this, though. It’s a hand-light – better than a torch. Long as you’re holding it, it’ll keep shining.”

Will took it and laid it in his palm. A few minutes later the silver ball started to glow. “That’s quite cool. I’ll put it in my ‘tomb raiding’ kit for the next time Helen decides to go on holiday.”

You know what else we picked up in South America… A Magoi – fully grown pain in the ass.”

Will’s face fell, a deep frown folding across his forehead. “Man, I hate those things. It’s not still here…”

Turned the SHU into a comfy nest,” Henry cut in. “Full house. Seriously dude, we need to start having words with the boss about the type of creature she brings home. Vampires are okay but I draw the line at creepy telepathic ice creatures.”

Me too.”

Will scratched his arm until it hurt.

*~*~*

Nikola had grown bored of picking through Henry’s lab. Truthfully, there were only so many items he could break or sabotage before he got bored or felt guilty – which wasn’t a familiar. Empathy – urgh, that was for humans not semi-immortal geniuses.

He wasn’t allowed near either the vampire or the Magoi so he sulked his way back through the lofty corridors of the Sanctuary and inevitably ended up in Helen’s office. He retired to her desk, strutting around to sit in her leather chair with a glass of scotch nested in one hand.

Sometimes he regretted signing this house over to Helen to settle a few bills. He was sure that he knew its secrets better than her – even down to the compartment hidden in the wall behind the desk. Nikola had his most treasured possessions five feet from Helen and yet she’d never even noticed.

What were you doing in Old City?”

Nikola jumped at Helen’s voice, spilling his scotch. “I – what?” She may not have adopted the claws or fangs, but Helen could sneak like the best of them.

Helen sat on her desk, eyeing Nkola suspiciously. “The night the sand creature attacked you in the subway… You said you didn’t organise this situation but why were you in town? Last I heard you were in Moscow digging around in some old Cabal base. Strange co-incidence that you should be found lurking at my back door the very night a sand creature appears. Were you following me?”

Nikola set the scotch down. “No. I was following Ashley.”

Nikola!”

Though you may not believe me, it was for her own good. When I heard where she was going I knew she was in trouble.”

Helen’s eyes were nearly as black as a vampire. She leaned forwards, curling her hands over Nikola’s side of the desk, furious. “You knew that there were vampires sleeping in the desert?”

One vampire and a den of diseased humans. Yes. I knew.”

And you didn’t wake them? After all your crazy plots to revive your precious species…”

Are you crazy? If you had spent even a moment on your history Helen, you would know the tale of the brothers.”

…Brothers?” she whispered, pulling back a fraction.

Both destined to be Pharaoh, one conspired with humanity to take over the throne by dealing in Abnormals. The other led the last of the vampires out of Egypt towards the untamed North but he never made it. The vampires were slaughtered and he was entombed by his own brother for thousands of years. If released, his anger would set a rage upon the world. I want to rule the earth Helen – not tear it apart despite what you may think.”

How very noble of you.”

Whatever my intentions were,” Nikola ignored the slight. “You’ve got a pissed off ancient vampire on the loose. I’d bet your entire wine cellar that he’s headed here.”

Here?” Helen whispered.

You have his brother and I for one don’t want to be around when this ancient shit hits the fan.”

Helen hung her head, her beautiful long hair falling over her face. “Bloody hell…” she whispered.

Have you been following the reports out of the African Sanctuaries? There’s something out there, in the desert. The locals call it, ‘voices on the wind’. The vampire has hundreds of sand creatures. He’s smart, arrogant and has nothing to lose. It’s only a matter of time until he finds us.”

Dammit, Nikola… You saw how hard it was to take on the other vampire – and he was starving and weak.”

His brother will be feeding on every human he comes across. He’ll be stronger than you can imagine.”

Nikola stood suddenly, placing his hands gently over hers. Without warning he kissed her – only for a moment but it was soft and loving, his head tilting a fraction to push her gently backwards.

N-Nikola…” Helen stammered, looking up at him from under thick lashes when he pulled back. He’d tasted of scotch and wine, with something of the storm in his lips.

Don’t say anything,” he insisted, lingering for another moment – letting his cool lips tease hers. Then he walked away, leaving her in possession of the office.

*~*~*

…no, no more reports since Thursday. The locals say the voices are gone and the sands have stilled. I’d bet they’ve made it as far as Europe by now…”

Thank you,” Helen replied, and set the phone down.

She brought up a map of Africa and marked the vampire’s progress on the screen. If her reports were accurate, they were covering ground fast. It would only be so long before the ancient king worked out how to drive and fly. Helen rested her fingers over her lips. Her eyes closed.

‘Sup boss?” Henry wove through the piles of books and paper littering Helen’s office, extending his electronic tablet to her. “Fresh off the wire, one of the Parisian Sanctuary scouts has returned. It’s not good news…” he added, seeing her face fall as she started to read. “They’ve stumbled across a blood-bath in one of the illegal factories. Early reports indicate at least eighty workers with their throats torn out.”

God…” Helen trembled, handing it back to Henry. “Nikola was right about the bloodshed.”

We need to wake our vampire up.”

You honestly think he’ll help us? We kidnapped him, if you remember. Vampires didn’t rule the world because they had long fangs and a decent set of claws. They’re smart, Henry.”

I don’t think we have a choice. We just want to talk to him. If you think everything’s going south, we’ll knock him out again.”

Helen shifted uncomfortably.

*~*~*

This is the worst idea you’ve ever had…” Henry muttered to Helen.

They were both sitting above the interview room, hidden behind heavily tinted, one-way glass. The ancient vampire was tied to a chair with yards of silver chain that clinked softly every time he breathed.

The creature shifted uncomfortably against his restraints, looking at his chains with dark eyes. A few minutes later he glanced up and Henry’s stomach turned with realisation that it already knew how to break free.

Nikola sat on the opposite side of the narrow table looking tense. He’d dreamed of questioning an ancient vampire for so long, asking it the secretes of the world – this was not what he had in mind. His eyes flicked to the silver chains. They looked little better than a rope around a tiger’s neck.

Welcome to the the 21ist century,” Nikola purred, in an Ancient dialect of Egyptian. “Apologies for the chains.”

The vampire took another strained breath. His frail physique was more obvious under the harsh light. Bone protruded from his skin, cutting dark shadows over his angular form. Ivory fangs rested against his jaw, one of them chipped badly at the edge. His complexion wasn’t quite so ashen now Helen had been drip feeding him for several days. “There is no need, I speak your language fluently. You are not skilled in mine.”

Nikola flinched.

Helen…” Henry whispered warily.

He’ll be all right,” Helen replied quickly. She hoped.

Very well,” Nikola answered evenly. “We know your history and your past relationship with humanity,” he continued. “Your work establishing a sanctuary for abnormal and human creatures was noble.”

It did not end well…” the vampire cut in darkly.

That was not your fault. Magoi are very powerful creatures, more ancient than you. Causing the destruction of others is how they exist. Your sanctuary died because you were unlucky enough to stumble across one.”

That tempered the ancient vampire somewhat. “Am I to understand that you intend to let me go?”

I would like to,” Nikola replied, honestly. “We have our own Sanctuary networks indeed, this building is one of them. Your thousands of years of experience dealing with abnormals would be invaluable to us.”

You would have me a consort,” the vampire eyed his distant descendent. “In return I presume I am not to feed from the residents.”

About that,” Nikola set a crystal glass on the table and then started to pour silken, red wine into it. He nudged it toward the vampire – who was still chained and unable to accept the gift. “You have something to thank the humans for, they invented wine. I find it quite useful in curbing other cravings.

Above them, Helen rested her hand over her chest. It was tight and painful, the heartbeats in her head crashing against each other. She’d been taking light muscle relaxants to calm herself down but it wasn’t enough.

The vampire was smiling.

Why don’t you ask me what you really want to know Nikola…”

Nikola sat back, alarmed by the red pits burning in the heart of the vampire’s eyes. “I…”

There’s an army of half-lings on their way here with my brother at their bow.”

Can you stop them?”

The vampire shook his head. “No – but I can teach you how to find them.”

18

ON THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS

KASHMIR, PENSI LA MOUNTAIN PASS

Blue rock, weathered and cracked, jutted out from under the ice. Nikola slipped, landing with a muffled thud in another drift of snow curled around a wandering boulder. Their immense, cockled forms dotted the ice like sentries keeping a watch over the frozen world.

God dammit…” Tesla muttered, arms sinking into the freezing wet as he tried to push himself up. Helen backtracked, grabbed hold of his arm and tugged him free.

The hum of their helicopter faded as its tiny dot picked its way between a forest of mountain peaks, returning to base leaving them stranded on the narrow pass. Above, the skies were clear blue, arching in a perfect dome. Nikola tilted his gaze, watching the black dot move beyond his range.

Ahead, the full-blood vampire swept over the snow. He was tall, close to seven feet and slender. The creature barely made a dent in the rough terrain as he headed up the icy slope toward towering facades of cliff with their narrow pass nestled in the middle.

This isn’t what I had in mind, Helen,” Nikola lingered for a moment, letting the vampire gain ground so they could talk privately.

What else could I do? At least if he’s out here, his murderous brother won’t be drawn to my Sanctuary.”

True but if he is right, his brother and accompanying vampire fanboys have already reached these mountains – we could be walking into an army of invisible sand rats.”

He’s closer,” Helen agreed. “I can feel him. Nikola, I’m not sure how much longer I can go on like this – before I kill a vampire.”

…and I’d rather that wasn’t me,” he said quickly. “I know you’ve shot me several times, stabbed me once or twice but Helen – you’ve never truly wanted me dead. Not really…”

That’s what you think…” Their eyes locked. Nikola’s lashes were full of snow and half his face hidden under a scarf. Helen’s cheeks were wind-burned, flushing pink.

They were disturbed by Kavanaugh, who slid on the same icy patch as Nikola, stumbled and landed on Helen.

Sorry,” he mumbled, regaining his feet. “Chopper’s clear, they didn’t see anything on the ground. That’s not saying much. Those creatures are probably camouflaged.”

No, in these conditions even sand creatures will need to be clothed. They’re probably working their way through the fissures in the glacier,” she replied.

Joe frowned at Helen, then glanced nervously at his feet. The thought of sand creatures crawling underfoot made his stomach lurch. “Yeah, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”

We should catch up,” Nikola nodded, the vampire was getting too far ahead of them again.

*~*~*

The Drang Drung glacier coiled behind them. They were heading away from it into deeper snow toward the next bank of cliffs. Half the time they fell to their hands and knees, skidding down steep slopes only to climb to the other side with ice picks – except for the vampire, who used his claws.

Nikola struggled the most with the cold, shivering so hard he lost grip on his ice pick several times before hauling himself onto the flat of a particularly sharp rise.

You okay?” Joe asked, dusting snow off Nikola’s ski gear.

It’s just the cold,” he replied, sitting up and flexing his gloved hands. They were numb and sluggish.

As the officially least genetically blessed member of this expedition, I’m the only one allowed to pass out in the snow,” Joe insisted lightly, even managing to break a smile from the mongrel vampire. “Come on, your Magnus is looking this way.”

She’s not my anything,” he mumbled back, letting the detective haul him to his feet. “Please tell me it’s not looking up at that cliff with intention of climbing it.”

Joe kept in step with Nikola. The ancient vampire was eyeing the rock face with interest, pacing around in front of it – kneeling down and digging with his claws where its black rock vanished into the snow.

Think he left his keys under the door?” Nikola quipped.

He wasn’t far off. The vampire soon found what he was looking for. There was a flicker of brass against the black rock beneath the vampire’s hand. He dug deeper, revealing an intricate spiral of inlaid metal that resembled a Pharaoh’s seal.

We’re not idly wandering in search of your brother, are we?” Helen narrowed her eyes, using the same tone often used to scorn Nikola – except it didn’t work on this vampire. He was focused on inserting his claws into a series of tiny holes, sinking them in until he heard a soft click. “What are you doing?” she insisted.

The mines run deep in these mountains,” the vampire’s silken voice replied. He stood back, motioning for the rest of the group to do the same as a large section of the cliff started to shift. “They’ve not been opened for many aeons but if my brother is making passage, it will be through here.”

God, what is it with vampires and caves?” Helen hung her head. Just when she thought she’d seen the last of tunnels…

Nikola didn’t look too pleased either, gawking at the vast oblivion where the rock had opened. It was only a crack six feet wide but the fissure ran nearly eighty above their heads.

Joe clicked on his helmet light. “What are we waiting for?” he asked. “Let’s go caving.”

*~*~*

The cave door crashed shut behind them. Joe’s headlight revealed the way ahead to be a rough-cut supply route with dangerous cleaves of rock hanging from the roof, looming above them like Damocles’ swords.

Nikola and Helen clicked on their torches, shedding more light on the uninviting terrain of cracked, ice-damaged pavers placed there by the vampires. There were chariot markings in the stone but it was impassable except on foot.

Where do these lead?” Nikola asked.

The vampire turned, his long fangs glinting in the torchlight. His eyes were blacker, his bony frame suddenly imposing. “Manly places – the ground beneath your feet is hollow. There are thousands of networks like this and only some of them are vampire in origin.” The next part was in an ancient vampire language which only Nikola seemed to understand.

You think this is how your brother is passing through the modern world undetected?” Helen whispered, when it was clear Nikola would not offer a translation.

It is his natural way to travel. All young princes lean the trade route – he will not have forgotten.”

It was just as cold down here and after several hours delving deeper into the caves, the group had to stop for a rest. They were in a severely damaged area with the track broken by large pieces of rock and ice that had bled down through fissures above and frozen into eerie claws of blue ice.

Joe staked out the vampire, hovering around him asking questions despite his ever-increasing probability of ending up a snack. Helen and Nikola sat opposite each other, sipping water.

Helen, seriously – what are our chances of actually pulling this off – if and I stress if – we are able to find this vampire?”

She threw her backpack at him. It landed against his chest, making Nikola groan and frown, rustling through it for the blood-packs Helen kept in there. He took two before handing everything back to her.

Bit worried, Ms Magnus?”

Nikola… your complexion has been competing with the snow for some time now. You have to eat.”

It’s the cold,” he replied softly, flexing his fingers inside the gloves. “It doesn’t agree with me at all.”

It used to. You have a beautiful home in the snow-covered mountains.”

Had…” a long time ago. He pulled his knees up to his chest, fending off the cold air. “Maybe I’m finally getting old.”

She whacked him. “And what does that make me?”

Ancient…”

Helen glared at him but her eyes were shining. “Have a thing for older women, do you?” she teased in her very best English accent.

Nikola laughed softly – a slight curl of his lip into a smile as he lowered his gaze, dragging his over Helen. She was only four years older than him. “Next time you bring home a dangerous pet, Helen – can you try to make it something from a tropical island?”

If this is part of your long standing plot to see me in a bikini…”

Always, my dear – Detective Kavanaugh… Still alive?”

The detective wandered over to them, kneeling down onto the rock. “I don’t think this vampire’s on the level,” he warned. The three of them all glanced over, watching the vampire rest against a boulder on the far side of the passage. “What did you promise him?”

A life in the modern world, work as an advisor to the sanctuary network and the ability to continue his work studying abnormal species.”

Not enough,” Nikola purred.

Joe observed them. “Any intention of letting me into whatever this plan of yours is? No… Well, give me a heads up, will ya if my head’s in danger.”

Maybe,” Nikola grinned. He paused and turned suddenly, looking down into the depths of the passage, listening intently. The other vampire was doing the same, rigid and focused. Helen put her hand on her chest, feeling her heart stop for a moment – then start with a rush.

He’s here…” Helen whispered.

*~*~*

John Druitt lowered his large frame into the chair. Opposite, his daughter lingered by the window, keeping guard over her mother’s sanctuary. Her blond hair was dirty, pulled back into a half-arsed pony tail. This was the other side of Ashley Magnus – the business side which was slowly starting to emerge.

You wanted to see me,” he announced his presence when she did not acknowledge it.

Ashley walked towards him, carrying a small, leather journal in her hand that had once belonged to her grandfather. It was laid on the desk with a soft, accusing thud. John’s gaze settled on it and he knew why he’d been called.

My grandfather died more than a hundred years ago – but for me, it was a month ago… I found this.” Ashley showed him a slender oak box. She opened it to reveal the pistol which had killed her grandfather. “Mum kept it.”

He didn’t say anything.

Why did you take me there?” she hissed darkly, all the pain and darkness in her eyes. “I ruined mum’s life and for what – this journal? Tesla knew where the Sanctuary of the Moon was anyway. I didn’t need this!”

It wasn’t – about – you,” John replied. “It was about your mother. She needed to be set free.”

You’re even more twisted than she described,” Ashley spat, sitting back against her chair, eyeing the person she shared half her DNA with. “What’s in it for you?”

Do not attempt to understand me,” he replied, soft and slow. “I thought you had a Magoi to babysit?”

It’s secure, although I was thinking perhaps I should have left you in the SHU.”

He chuckled. “My second home.”

Tempt me – and I might just tell mum what happened.”

Tell her,” he replied, unafraid. “You won’t… because you know she’ll look at you as she looks at me. It’s our little secret.”

*~*~*

Henry stood in front of the large tank in the creature enclosure. It was an enormous wall of glass that towered three stories to the roof. It had pebbles at the bottom and twisted clusters of seaweed nearly as long as the tank was high.

Afternoon precious,” Henry whispered, placing his hand on the glass as the silvery form of the mermaid shimmered closer. “Miss me, eh? Knew you had a soft heart underneath all that cold scale.”

She didn’t seem offended, tilting her head curiously at him as she always did. The mermaid cast her eyes down to the floor, indicating the Magoi locked up several floors beneath. She was a telepathic creature and its presence, even sleeping, was of grave concern.

Yeah, I know – not much I can do about that.”

The mermaid swam down further so that she was level with Henry. She twisted some of the seaweed in her bony fingers, clearly upset.

I’m sorry,” he insisted, as she grew more distressed. “I’ll go check on it soon – promise. Hey,” he looked at her more brightly, “I should change that water filter for you. Fancy a swim?”

*~*~*

How many?” Joe breathed.

Tesla listened again. “Many…” he whispered. “I can hear them scratching over the rock but they’re a lot deeper.”

Several levels beneath.”

Jesus!” Joe jumped, when the ancient vampire appeared behind his shoulder without a sound.

Come on,” it continued, beckoning them with a sharp claw. “Let’s go welcome them to the new age.”

They reached a vertical shaft. Like a well it ran deep into the mountain allowing air in to all the levels. Looking up, they could see the tiny prick of light where it was open to the world at the uppermost point of the peak. Tiny flurries of snow drifted through the air, falling away into the abyss.

Even Joe’s human ears could hear the sound of claws in the darkness.

They didn’t speak, taking the side track through treacherous black ice and loose rock less than a foot wide. Joe and Helen kept their hands on the wall, clinging onto jagged outcrops when their feet failed to find solid ground. The vampires fared better with even Nikola resorting to claws.

Louder… The scratching had its own echo now.

There was a soft, white glow coming off the rocks where a fluorescent moss followed fresh water fissures. It was enough that they could turn off their torches for a while.

A wave of the vampire’s hand brought everyone to a stop. Something moved in the corridor ahead, shuffling out of sight around a corner. The vampire went first, undetectable as he crept up to a large boulder blocking the way. Helen, Nikola and Joe were not far behind, each with a gun loaded and drawn in wait.

They didn’t need them.

The vampire returned with a small cave mouse, dangling by its tale. It squeaked angrily until it was dropped and allowed to scurry off.

Deeper again… but soon they were far enough inside the caves that neither ice nor life bothered to linger. It was just cold rock and they were forced to turn their torches on.

They’ll see us coming a mile off,” Joe whispered to Helen.

19

THROAT OF THOTH

Helen slipped.

Her boots lost their tentative grip on the frozen ground, scraping against sharp chunks of rock. During her swift descent, one of them tripped her up entirely and sent her crashing against the tunnel wall. She landed on her side and curled against the rock-face in a foetal position with one hand caught awkwardly underneath. A sharp pain ripped up her arm, striking through the bone. Helen whimpered in shock, dragging her arm free.

Dr Magnus?” Joe gasped in alarm, quickly navigating the black ice as he rushed to her side. He rolled her over, tapping lightly at her cheek until her blue eyes fluttered open. “Are you all right?” he asked.

She groaned. Helen’s wrist hung loose against the floor, the break obvious beneath her pale skin which was quickly staining with bruises. A fragment of white bone had pierced free above her joint. “Hurts like a bugger…” she gasped.

Nikola swooped to join them, ditching his backpack on the ground. He rifled through it for the med kit.

Helen turned her head, which was rested in Joe’s lap and gave him a pleading look. Without a word, Nikola took her arm carefully and laid the broken wrist straight against a splint. Positioning it took a painful minute in which Helen bit through her lip to stop a scream. Her muffled gurgle mad both men uneasy as Nikola prodded the bone back under her skin. Nikola wrapped it tightly then nodded for Joe to bring her to a sitting position.

You’ve got a concussion,” Nikola murmured, their voices hushed. He was no doctor but he’d been friends with James long enough to make a passable go at it. At least members of The Five required band-aids rather than surgery and his pension for perfection made him halfway decent at fixing a straight break.

Everyone’s voices dropped lower when another wave of sickening claws scraping against rock shivered up the tunnels. The vampires were moving – slowly.

Like god-damn termites,” Joe muttered. It was as though the sand creatures were inside the granite walls.

We take a break,” Nikola insisted. “Our friends aren’t going anywhere in a hurry, not in this cold.”

Helen accepted the pain killers. “I’ll be all right in a minute,” she replied, shooting Nikola a meaningful look.

He sat back slowly, catching his breath. Nikola remembered all too well Helen’s extraordinary ability to heal. She should have died long ago, falling from the university roof but Immortals were as their name suggested, difficult to kill. The last thing they wanted was for the vampire to know that. Their ancient friend was some distance ahead, keeping watch or plotting his escape – it was impossible to tell.

Just a sprain, then…” Nikola eyed her sternly.

A sprain?” Joe objected, until he was hushed, lowering his voice. “Tesla I -”

A sprain,” Nikola insisted firmly. “Nothing more.”

Half an hour later, it was time. “Help her up,” Nikola directed. “We need to keep moving.”

Helen stood gingerly. She wasn’t sure what caused more agony – the initial snap or her bones knitting together again. With her good hand, she felt the back of her head where she was sporting a fresh lump. “Bloody caves…” she growled.

You dropped this,” Nikola handed over her pistol, which she slipped back into its holster.

Really, I’m okay,” she insisted, inspecting her bound wrist. “It’s not my right hand so I can still shoot things.”

Just – make sure it’s not me,” Nikola winked, even if he still looked concerned. “I won’t believe you if there’s an accident and you blame it on ‘poor aim’.”

Noted,” she agreed, as they all started up the steep rise back to the path. At least she’d fallen towards the cave and not into the abyss on the other side. Even an immortal would struggle to survive such a fall – possibly a vampire too if Nikola were nudged into it. She eyed it as they went past, a chill rippling up her spine. “We’re getting deep in the earth now – I remember the stories you told, Nikola. Hollow Earth… Cities buried beneath our feet.”

They were just stories, Helen,” he whispered back, purring against her ear while they walked.

You are not a man of stories,” she countered easily. “Dreams perhaps but not fiction.”

How wrong she was, Nikola thought, his greatest fiction was currently holding onto his arm as they walked. “I didn’t think you were listening to my stories. No, as I recall it you were too busy being practical.”

You know, you never did tell me what you and father found under the mountains at your home.”

He reply was delayed. “Didn’t I?” Well, perhaps not the whole truth.

*~*~*

What in god’s name is it doing?” Henry set down a tray of tea beside Will, then poured himself a cup and sat with their resident shrink.

In front of them was the four inch thick glass of the high security observation room. Inside, the Magoi had taken the unusual step of letting them see its natural form. They gave Henry the creeps. If you squinted a Magoi looked a like a human wrestler made from wax then left out in the sun to semi-melt. With its head tilted to the ceiling, eyes closed and breathing lowered to a near undetectable level, it could have been a statue.

Will shook his head. “Nothing good. It’s concentrating all of its power onto something, that’s why we can see it.”

I guess it’s an improvement. Still, I don’t like it one bit – neither does the mermaid and she is an excellent judge of character.”

Magnus is right though, we can’t exactly set it loose.”

Can’t we sedate it again?” Henry asked.

We’ve been trying but it hasn’t responded. I’m starting to wonder if we ever really had it sedated in the first place.”

Well,” Henry sighed, sipping his tea. “We’re going to have to do something about it eventually.”

Not until Magnus gets back. You go,” he added, when Henry reminded him about the supplies meeting. “I think I’ll stay a little longer. If we’re going to babysit this thing, we should at least endeavour to learn something about it.”

As you wish,” Henry sighed. “Just promise me you won’t name it or anything. I’m pretty sure the doc is of a mind to – you know…” his finger swept over his throat.

*~*~*

They caught up to the vampire. His skeletal figure lingered by a fork in the path. One track went East toward an exit leading to extinct mountain village. They went North-West, following the path along sharper declines. It descended many levels further until the sound of claws was hushed somewhat by the roar of an underground river.

What is that?” Joe quickened his pace to fall inline beside the solitary creature leading them.

Glacier melt,” he hissed back, fangs glistening more than usual, covered in a fine layer of saliva. He was hungry from the trek and the supplements Magnus offered did little to sate him. “These pathways can flood in Spring or Summer on short notice. Most do not make a journey at this time of year.”

The vampire may have taken a vow not to feed off humans but he still took liberties with warm-blooded animals from time to time.

They soon found the source of the roar. Their tunnel abruptly ended at the edge of black, gushing water. Whatever rock or bridge had once traversed the gap between their tunnel and the opening opposite was long gone.

We’ll be swept clear off!” Joe paced to the edge of the rock and shone his torch down. The water was rough, seething into foam where it slammed against the cave walls. They were nearly shouting to hear each other, the impending danger of the sand creatures momentarily forgotten.

The half-ling and humans won’t make it,” the vampire offered dryly, implying that he could make the jump, which Nikola highly doubted – until he remembered the damn thing could teleport.

Maybe you could go have a look, see what’s on the other side?” Nikola suggested.

The vampire laughed. “I’d rather not end up half-embedded in a wall. One does not use such a gift in uncharted territory.” He paused, peering around with his blood-rimmed eyes. “Here,” he carefully stepped out to the thing seams of rock at the side of their tunnel. At the edge was the smallest of outcrops that could only be scaled if you were holding onto the slippery wall. “We can climb down here and move over the boulders obstructing the stream.”

Are you nuts?” growled Joe, eyeing the ‘boulders’ in the water. They were the worst form of slippery – rounded and smooth from centuries of abuse by the currents coated in fresh throws of glowing moss. “I am not going over those.”

Perhaps you could swim instead?” the vampire snipped, lowering his tall body down onto the very edge of the river where he sank a few inches into the loosely piled pebbles. He could tell that the ground dropped away into the river nearly immediately. Water flowing that fast had a tendency to gouge deep passages.

Helen struggled the most, nearly losing her grip with only one good hand to cling onto the rock. Nikola all but lifted her down until they were lined along the bank, their backs pressed to the wall and water snapping at their boots.

A sharp crack and the ancient vampire was gone. There was a faint trail of purple energy fading in a ghostly silhouette before he reappeared just as suddenly on the closest boulder adrift in the stream.

Fucking, goddamn vampires!” Joe gasped, startled half to death.

The vampire spread his arms wide. His fingers tapered into sinister claws while his eyes formed black voids against his skin. “Come…” he purred at the Detective.

Worst idea ever…” Joe muttered, inching closer to the water. As soon as his boot touched the edge, the course river sand started falling away. No room for error then. He turned, paced the two measly paces to the wall and then took a flying leap at the deadly water.

Joe’s boots hit rock – then moss. Suddenly he was dropping sharply. His boots, ankles and legs submerged in a freezing froth of water.

Oh shit! he thought, flailing in panic. The current was a brute slap against his skin, jerking him sharply to the side. A bony hand grasped at his jacket, pulling him sharply back toward the rock. The ancient vampire lifted him from the river and placed him on the boulder. Joe checked his limbs – all were still present.

Helen was thrown over by Nikola. The Vampire was able to catch her mid flight, setting her down lightly beside Joe until finally Nikola joined them, slightly damp. They crossed the remaining boulders until all of them were settled in the tunnel entrance.

My brother’s army is just beyond this tunnel,” the vampire whispered. “Are you still willing to make good on your gamble, Dr Magnus?”

When Helen nodded curtly, the vampire’s gaze flicked worryingly to Joe.

What…?” the detective frowned. “Why are you all – oh come on!” his concern shifted to revulsion when he realised he was a pre-war snack. Now he knew why they’d agreed to bring him along.

*~*~*

The change was remarkable.

Joe was unconscious, resting on the dirt with a bandage around his wrist stained from the vampire’s feed. He was pale but alive, his body slowly replenishing what had been taken. Nikola was on the far side, leaning against a wall looking just as ghostly. He’d been sick watching the display.

The ancient vampire was no longer a dried shell. His flesh had instantly padded out as years of his life faded away. Instead of white, his hair was deep grey with black streaks rippled through it while all of his fangs now glistened pearl white. Vampires stole their youth from other living creatures and this one was freshly feasted.

He was handsome, Helen noticed. The regal blood lines married strong bones and deep, blue eyes which the vampire now showed, blinking up at the glowing cave-moss. They’d not been blue for hundreds of years but now they were sharp and clear like ice. Nikola had exactly the same eyes – which Helen found troubling.

Ah…” he whispered, stretching his body like a panther. “Now I remember – youth.”

Don’t get used to it,” Helen replied, approaching cautiously. “Now, for your part of the bargain.”

Nikola had made it to his feet, kneeling over the detective’s unconscious body. “What about him?”

He’s safer here,” Helen whispered.

*~*~*

There was a true abyss ahead of them. Following their tiny cave to its end, the vampire, Tesla and Helen discovered that narrow corridor of rock ended at a chasm. At least fifty feet across and another down it was as though a giant, Dune sandworm had slithered its way through the mountain and birthed this tunnel.

What is this place?” Helen demanded of the vampire. It was clearly not a natural formation in the rock.

The younger looking vampire knelt by the opening, spying over the darkness.

Don’t you know, Doctor Magnus? I had rather thought your father would have shared some of my stories. We did a great deal of talking, you see, him and I… A great deal indeed. Extraordinary man especially considering he was a mere mortal like your detective back there.”

Helen stomach was starting to turn at the sight of the vampire. They needed him strong to quarrel with his brother but right now he looked too strong for Helen’s liking. “He shared a great many stories with me but not all of them.”

A small smirk of the vampire’s lips. He knew exactly what she was. Gregory Magnus was intelligent enough to know that vampires knew of Immortals but not smart enough to deduce their volatile relationship worked both ways. Clearly the old man never told his daughter what he’d been doing in the Sanctuary of the Moon all those years ago either. This other half-ling vampire was more curious… What was it doing befriending an Immortal?

This is the ‘Throat of Thoth’,” the vampire curled a slender claw at the tunnel.

Thoth, the moon deified,” Helen whispered, earning a proud curl of Nikola’s lip.

Indeed,” he agreed. After the darkness of the cave they could see why this tunnel had earned such a name. Its walls were riddled with the glowing moss, weaving through its fissures. The whole thing looked like a great slab of marble – well, marble carved from the underworld perhaps. It had an unsettling aura about it. A threatening presence that lured them onward. “He had a fondness for knowledge and magic.”

He was real,” the vampire curled his hands around the very edge of the opening. “An ancient king, before the dawn of our civilisation had truly risen.”

Nikola’s eyes were wide and black, awestruck. “Is he still alive?”

I doubt it,” the vampire replied. “These things were legend before the first city rose out of the sand. My brother knew more about him than most. Perhaps you can ask him?”

Nikola levelled his dark look at the vampire.

Bloody hell,” Helen whispered. “How much of our history is a lie?”

How much of it was written by human hand?” the vampire countered, giving Helen her answer. “We are not here on a sight seeing tour. My brother is down here. Come, there is a way down.”

The vampire led them into the final depths of the earth beyond the reach of any help.

20

DEAD WALKING

The three figures were positively tiny against the arching throat of the granite tunnel. From above, the floor of the cavernous expanse had appeared smooth but now they were properly acquainted with the a deluge of rubble collected in its throat over the millennia.

Boulders, sand and carpets of deep, thousand year old moss made the passage difficult to scale. The challenging terrain was interrupted by sheets of melted iron which sliced into the bedrock like growths of coral. If the vampire’s brother and his legion of sand creatures were down here, they would have a hell of a time picking them out from the forest of rock.

Tesla eyed the chunks of iron warily. He knew what they were – fragments of a large meteor either naturally laid to rest or more likely dragged into the depths of a mountain for a reason. Forget treasure, the unassuming lumps of metal were worth a fortune on their own. Helen saw that look on his face and rolled her eyes. Ever the vampire.

Nobody spoke. Their torches were off, guided instead by their hands and feet scrambling for purchase on the rock. Helen struggled with her injured hand while her heart thrashed against her chest inducing a nerve-crunching headache. Three vampires – it was too much for a solitary Immortal to bear.

Breathe…” Nikola murmured cautiously, climbing beside her.

She nodded but her mind was a writhing mess. At least one vampire had to die and soon. In the past hour she’d twice found her hand on the Browning in her belt. Its cold shaft could easily pick off one of the vampires next to her.

Nikola kept searching the walls and tunnel ahead for movement. A hundred or more sand creatures were somewhere nearby. He could smell their filthy, diseased bodies. The other vampire had his nose tilted to the air as well. They were close.

Tesla stared at the next rise of flat-topped boulders. The dim glow of the moss was unbroken over the polished surface. He shook his frozen hands, trying to get them to work properly. Where the hell were they?

To Nikola’s left, the full-blood stopped. He was half a metre above, clutching at a particularly gnarled slab of meteorite, peering ahead. Something had caused him to hesitate. Nikola climbed up, perching on a smaller outcrop of rock.

Well shit!” Nikola barely whispered, instinctively curling his claws into the rock for a firmer grip.

The ground flattened out ahead into a bed of river stones. Several hundred metres along this expanse was a figure silhouetted in the faint light. It was the vampire. There was no mistaking its towering form held so rigid it could have been part of the rock. Its arms were out at its sides, claws extended like sets of carving knives. The vampire’s head fall back, tilting up at ceiling in prayer. A faint glimmer reflected off his two sets of fangs.

This vampire was not slender like the rescued vampire beside Nikola. He was a warrior. His broad shoulders were made for swinging swords and riding chariots. He’d found his old armour too – Nikola could see smooth, scale-like segments woven together over his shoulders with heavy links of metal.

A small stream of dust and pebbles rained down on Helen as she joined the two vampires. No – three, she realised, seeing the figure looming ahead. Her eyes dilated into large, black pits. This was her prey – her purpose. Instinct demanded she kill the strongest of the vampires to restore the balance and by a long way, this creature was it.

What’s it doing?” Nikola asked.

Waiting,” the vampire replied, calmly.

The brother in the distance lifted its head and slowly turned. Nikola could hear the rustle of its cloak and the thud of the leather boots against stone. It faced them, a pair of blood-red eyes glowing in the dark.

*~*~*

The Magoi screeched. Above, the mermaid thrashed in her tank, beating her fists against the glass as the sound tore through her delicate telepathic link. She couldn’t take it. Desperately, she clawed at her body ripping bloody lines down her arms and face.

Alarms blared. Heavy, automatic fire doors started to descend over the enclosures. One by one they vanished behind impenetrable grey walls. Will rolled out from underneath one moments before it crunched into the concrete.

What the hell is going on?” he coughed the dust out of his lungs.

Henry was by the mermaid’s tank, hurriedly feeding a sedative into the water. It took on a purple tinge, the mermaid jolting a few more times before her eyes closed and she drifted into sleep, sinking to the bottom of the tank. “Buggered if I know. The whole place is shutting down. Where’s Biggie?”

Feeding the birds, last I saw.”

The pterodactyls whooped about the enclosure, gnashing their teeth at the emergency lights flashing along the ceiling. Cloned during one of Helen’s more en-vogue phases, they flapped wildly over the sasquatch. He batted them away with a furry paw, making his way to the door. He closed the iron gates just as one of the creatures landed, curling its talons around the bars inches from his face.

Told you ‘id be troubl’, didn’ I?” Bigfoot grumbled, when the other two caught up to him.

You don’t think it’s the Magoi – surely?” Will asked.

Aw man that is not going to go down well with Ash,” Henry added, shaking his head. “She wanted to shoot that thing moment we found it.”

They all made their way through the sanctuary, clearing one security gate at a time.

Where is she, anyway?”

Probably down there with the damn Magoi,” Henry replied to Will. “It’ll take more than some fancy mind tricks to stop her putting a bullet through its camouflaged ass this time.”

But Ashley wasn’t down with the Magoi. She wasn’t anywhere to be found and Druitt was not help. He’d been broadening his knowledge of the library all afternoon. Or so he claimed.

Shut it up for Christ’s sakes!” Will had his arms over his ears, staring at the glass enclosure with the shrieking creature.

Screaming at the tech is not helping!” Henry spat back, both simultaneously trying to shield his ears and poke buttons on the computer board. The sirens abated first and then finally a thick smoke filled the Magoi’s glass cage. Eventually the screaming stopped followed by a thud as it hit the floor, mercifully unconscious. Henry wiped his brow. “Blood-y-hell!”

They assembled in front of the cage, waiting for the smoke to clear.

I wonder what that was all about…” Will said.

Bigfoot huffed. “Nothin’ good.”

*~*~*

There was no point hiding in the shadows. All three of them picked their way over the river stones, inching closer to the waiting vampire general. He was shrouded in darkness, an outline accentuated by glistening claws and two red points where his eyes should be. Nikola’s eyes had never been red so either it was a ‘full-blood’ thing or a sign of a well fed vampire. Either way, it wasn’t good.

Their vampire took the lead, striding up towards his brother. The two had not met since before the great killings. It was almost yesterday for one – aeons for the other.

As they grew closer, Nikola was awed by how young the larger brother, General Apries looked. No more than thirty, even with silver scars running across his bare arms, crossing bulging veins swollen by fresh blood.

‘Brother… you look – well,’ Apries sneered at his elder looking sibling. He spoke the ancient tongue of which Nikola only understood a little. ‘I knew you collected things but this -‘ his red eyes wandered over the woman, ‘-is a jewel in that crown of thorns you call a home.’

It was a frosty reception but so far free of blood.

What’s he saying?” Helen leaned close to Nikola, not liking the way the vampire gazed at her.

He shook his head. “Nothing good – something about a crown and collecting things. I presume he means us.”

Not quite what we’d agreed.”

Indeed,” he purred, flexing his fingers as if preparing to shift.

There was a drawn out silence until Apries continued. ‘When I heard you in my head, I admit I was surprised.’

‘These people have a creature,’ the vampire explained. ‘Its powers amplify our telepathy, to what end, I am unsure.’

Helen whacked Nikola in the side but he shook his head. “I don’t know what’s going on!”

The brother’s considered each other, Apries speaking again. ‘Immortals are still in the world, I guess that was to be expected. Do you know how many?’

‘This is the only one I’ve seen.’

‘She must know the key to Hollow Earth. An Immortal can always move between the worlds.’ His sharp claws dripped with the moisture in the cave. More flurries of dust rained down as though the whole tunnel were unsteady.

Nikola stiffened, glancing at Helen. “I think they’re talking about you.”

We should really run,” she took a step backward but the ancient vampire snapped out of reality in a crack of thunder. A purple glow lit the cave, flaring again as Apries appeared, arm outstretched, claws inches from Helen’s throat. She startled, stumbling over the river stones.

The vampire could smell her glorious blood – feel it pounding around her body, thumping faster and faster. Such torment. Such bliss. His claws uncurled toward her throat wantonly before he withdrew his hand. She was poison. A rose amongst a bed of thorns.

She was also young, too young to kill him.

The corner of the vampire’s lip curled up when he heard the half-ling growl protectively.

Curious,” Apries spoke, this time in heavily accented English. He had not the centuries of practice of his brother. “Is it like this for you too? How can you stand it…

Nikola did not answer him.

Amasis, still standing beside Tesla, raised his hand. “Careful brother.”

Apries hesitated, red eyes locked on him. It happened so fast. He reached forward, wrapping his hand around Helen’s throat and yanking her away from Tesla. Apries held her close, claws biting into her skin. Helen raised her gun but it was knocked easily from her gloved hands.

Let her go!” Nikola fumbled for his gun, levelling it at the General. He looked over his shoulder to the other vampire but hit was impossible to tell which side he was playing. “I said put her down!” Nikola repeated, inching closer.

The vampire drew away from him. “By all means, continue if you want her throat ripped out.”

Nikola stopped.

Another column of dust fell between them. Helen’s frightened gaze flicked between Nikola and the vampire they’d brought along. Would he honour their bargain?

Amasis, you bastard, come on!” Nikola hissed at the vampire beside him.

Swear on her life, Mongrel…” Amasis replied, dark eyes darting to Nikola.

I swear, I fucking swear!”

The general’s confidence faltered. Was he betrayed twice by his brother? The answer was ‘yes’ he realised, as Amasis lunged toward him. Apries tossed the immortal to the side, ducking out of his brother’s clawed swipe. He rolled and cut a blow upwards, landing it in the vampire’s chest. Then another, harder this time. “If you want me this time, you’ll have to do the work yourself!” growled Apries.

Nikola dragged Helen as far as he could, helping her sit. “Come on Helen, shake it off,” he begged. He could hear the vampires trading blows behind them and it was already clear that Apries had the upper hand. Which didn’t bode particularly well for them.

Helen shoved Nikola and grabbed the Browning, slipping the safety off. “We have to keep them busy,” she hissed, using a nearby boulder to help her stand. “There’s still an army down here.”

That’s what’s troubling me,” Nikola replied, peering at the dark tunnel. It was too immense to pick anything but the largest features out. He clicked on his torch, shining it up toward the roof but it couldn’t penetrate fifty feet. “Shit!”

Ahead, General Apries thrust his clawed hand into his brother’s side, clothes tearing and growls erupting from Amasis who pushed him off angrily and followed with a crack of lightning arcing off his cloak. The General dodged it, hissing and brandishing his fangs.

‘Two thousand years and you still want me dead? Wasn’t my suffering enough!’ Amasis stumbled back to avoid his brother’s knife-like claws. Apries kept coming, hatred burning through his red eyes. ‘You turned on your own kind – sided with the Cabal…’

Amasis shook his head, holding his bloodied arm as it healed. The vestiges of youth were draining from his face as he tried to heal. ‘They were never meant to win,’ he insisted.

‘You were playing the humans and you lost.’ Apries stopped for a moment, his claws held up in a moment of peace. ‘It is not too late to turn the tide against them. Join me. I’m going to rebuild our father’s empire.’

Amasis turned to look at the half-ling and Immortal scrambling back toward them, their tiny, fragile figures paling in comparison to the mighty, vampire built tunnel around them. Vampires were empire builders, preservers of the world’s knowledge. Imagine what they could do if they had another chance. ‘I want to – but…’ He looked nervously at the darkness.

‘What – Amasis?’ the general demanded.

‘Kill the half-breed – I’ll find you again, I swear.’ Amasis had just enough strength left in him to leave the world in an almighty crack of purple lightning. The sound boomed around the cavern, shifting a rain of dust from above. He was gone, leaving Apries hissing in shock.

Bloody hell…” Helen gasped, finding herself and Nikola the focus of the General’s attention.

The General didn’t come for her. In a shadow of claw and fang, it wrapped its hand around Tesla and threw him through the tunnel. He bounced like a rag doll over the stones, his gun flying off into the darkness.

Nikola!” Helen shrieked, firing off three rounds into the vampire. They clinked harmlessly off his armour.

Nikola rolled onto his back, gasping as his lungs fought for air. He titled his head away from a column of dust. He could have sworn he saw something move against the darkness above. There wasn’t time to find out what as the general threw a large rock at him. The iron hit Nikola in the chest, breaking one of his rips.

He rolled over, spitting blood onto the stones. Nikola rolled out of the way in time to avoid another rock, smashing into the ground where he had been. He heard a shot from Helen’s gun and a whistle of air as it sailed passed the vampire and missed his shoulder by inches. “Careful!”

Nikola stumbled to his feet then ducked, claws slicing the air above his head. Instinct lunged him forward, his firsts laying two heavy hits into the general’s stomach between the armour plates. A casual swat from the ancient vampire’s arm sent Nikola flying off toward the wall. Instead of hitting the unforgiving rock, Tesla landed in a mass of bony limbs that writhed beneath him.

Oh god…” he whispered, as he found himself amidst a mass of sand creatures who sank back into the tunnel like a wave receding from the shore. There were thousands of them, waiting patiently to be called by their master.

His stomach turned in terror but it was too late, Apries had hold of his ankle, dragging him back into the centre of the tunnel.

Now tell me, half-ling,” Apries growled against the side of Nikola’s face, his fangs cutting deeply into Nikola’s neck and shoulder. “Why’ve you got the Immortal, hmm?”

Nikola stumbled, unable to hold his own weight on his broken ankle. It burned painfully as the vampire held up steady. “She’s a hell of a looker…” he managed, blood running down the edge of his lip.

The vampire shook Tesla roughly, another crack of bone coming from his leg. “Can she open the door?!” he demanded violently.

The – what are you talking about?” Nikola replied, in genuine confusion.

Apries dropped him onto the sharp rock then yanked him back to his feet and started dragging him down the tunnel. Tesla struggled, leaving a smear of blood over the stones.

Helen followed, picking her way along in the darkness. She could hear the sand creatures now, clawing over the walls and ceiling, dislodging dust as they moved. They didn’t seem interested in her, creeping after their master instead.

21

RIVERS IN THE SNOW

Blood tumbled in rivers over the snow, freezing before the bodies at their source could die. One man blinked away a stray snowflake, its crystal form catching in his eyelashes. His fingers twitched against the ground, leather rasping against the snow and then went still. The black cliffs hung behind him, a demonic curtain of rock and ice framing the horror with a stark blue sky beyond.

Ashley pushed herself off the snow, groaning as pain ebbed from her bloodied arm. She inspected the trio of claw marks torn through her hiking gear, the force of which had sent her flying down into the soft snow behind some stray boulders. Her blood was still smeared on the nearest one where she’d clipped it with her head.

Staggering through a knee-deep drift, Ashley surveyed the remains of her rescue team. Even from this distance she could tell that all sixteen were dead, strewn over the area in various states of dismemberment with smears of carnage between them. Bullet casing littered the ground, gleaming like a bed of stars under the harsh sun.

The vampire had appeared from nowhere in a crack of purple light, electricity spewing forth in angry shrieks of thunder triggering micro avalanches. The rest was a haze but Ashley remembered seeing him feed from several of the team, stooping over their dying bodies with claws and fangs dripping red. The bloodshed was confirmed as she reached the top of the glacier and the bodies of her friends.

Oh god… Williams,” Ashley whispered, kneeling beside a middle-aged man. She’d been on many missions with him, including her first through the swamps of Eastern Europe when she was still a child. “You were right – I’m sorry. Mum’s gonna be so mad but I couldn’t let her go into the mountains with two vampires and a cop as cover, no chance in hell…” Her gloved hand brushed his eyes closed.

She peeled open one of the first aid kits, wrapping the cuts on her arm. Frostbite could start fast and she was no good to anyone if she let it cripple her. Ashley sighed, holding her bandaged arm for a moment then picked up one of the radios and tapped it. Nothing. A gargle of static. She swore and delved deeper into the bag. There was a locator beacon inside which she slipped into her jacket. There was already enough weaponry concealed in her combat clothes to take on a small army to which she added a flare and stun grenade.

Right, vampires – here we go,” she whispered, boots crunching against the snow. “Just like old times.”

Her dead friend seemed to smile at her as she trekked toward the cliffs.

*~*~*

As the minutes passed, Nikola could feel his body healing. Bones were knitting together, blood welling up and drying on his skin – torn muscles numbing. The ancient vampire sneered, taking care to shove Nikola roughly against the rock wall every now and then, breaking something new.

Tesla groaned softly as a fresh stream of blood ran down the side of his head. He was a scientist, not a warrior. Though it pained his ego to admit, he knew very well that he didn’t stand a chance against Apries.

No-” he protested weakly, covering his face just before he was thrust into the rock again. It cut through his hands and arms, shredding what was left of his sleeve and adding a bloody tear along his forearm.

There was water under their feet. Nikola could feel it biting at his ankles. There was something else too – snow – it was wafting through the air, gently colliding with his cheeks. How could it be snowing?

He didn’t know how long they walked for but eventually the General came to a stop. Nikola opened his eyes. The first thing he saw were two beacons of fire erupting from the floor, burning in spirals of flame and wind. The base of its jets electric blue where it was feeding off natural gas locked in the rock. The heat from the enormous pillars of fire banished any hint of ice from the rock around them, scorched off the moss and left a sooty residue over the enormous door looming beyond as though it were the passage to hell itself.

Between the two flames lay the famous granite door built to a monstrous scale. Houses could have skimmed through its breadth with room to spare. Deep grooves and a large flat landing suggested that it was designed to open towards them but nothing had shifted its weight in tens of thousands of years.

It was not ornate. Instead, simple inscriptions were scored into the gleaming black surface read, ‘Immortal Lands’ in a language few could still read.

The door.

I don’t understand,” Nikola whispered, when Apries held him close, pressing one of his sharp claws to Nikola’s fragile neck. He reached up, weakly gripping the General’s arm. “I know nothing of this – I swear.” Nikola was still taking in the shocking find. It was beyond anything he’d ever imagined finding buried under the earth. Its gleaming symbols meant nothing to him.

I believe you,” Apries hissed. His army of sand creatures shivered against the walls and ceiling, waiting, hungry. “The woman you’re with -”

Helen?”

Yes… She knows how to open the door and if she wants you back in one piece, she’s going to open it for me. Isn’t that right?” He lifted his voice, addressing the tunnel.

Helen’s response was another bullet, sheering off a nearby rock making the vampire laugh. The vampire curled the edge of his lip. “Immortals – always so testy.”

Nikola tried to pick her out against the rock. He could feel her – that rapid patter of her heart and the sound of her breath catching. She was there. “Don’t listen to him,” he managed. If this vampire desperately wanted what was behind this door then opening it was a very bad idea. “You hear me? Guh…” He gasped for air as the vampire thrust three of his claws through Nikola’s back and out his chest. There was a gurgle from Nikola’s mouth as blood welled up his throat and dripped from his lips.

Stop it!” A very angry, British voice bellowed from the cave. Helen Magnus strolled out of the shadows, gun in hand. Her eyes were like steel, fixed on Apries. “Leave him alone.”

Do you know what happens when you bleed a vampire dry?” Apries dragged his claws a few inches through Nikola drawing out a gargled screech from him. Helen could hear his blood dripping down onto the rock – his heart starting to fail. “It’s a very slow death,” he continued. “Losing your mind, drip by drip until insatiable hunger takes hold.”

Helen watched as Nikola’s head lulled back into unconsciousness.

I know that you have to kill a vampire today – all of that, ‘restoring the balance’ shit that you Immortals have been peddling since the sun first rose but it doesn’t have to be me.” Apries withdrew his claws and let Nikola fall to the ground in a damaged heap against one of the boulders. “Or him, as I see you are quite fond of the mongrel.”

Then who – Amasis?” she sneered. “He is long gone,” Helen did not lower her gun but she was running out of shots. She doubted the silver tipped rounds were enough to kill him.

I can bring you my brother,” Apries walked past Nikola’s body without so much as a glance. “I’ll even do it for you, for old time’s sake. I had a age to think things over in my tomb. Genetic memory is a powerful thing, Immortal,” he reached out to brush his claws over the stone door. “I searched mine, for hundreds of years until it started to unlock… The things I saw – glimpses of what lays beyond this door.”

Helen frowned, risking a cautious step closer. She resisted the urge to look at the sea of sand creatures churning around the walls and ceiling. They made their presence known by a constant rain of dust. “You weren’t coming for my Sanctuary?”

The vampire laughed, turning. He lounged back against the cold, rock of the door. “Did you really think that my first port of call after thousands of years imprisonment would be revenge?”

Helen was silent.

He shook his head. “Disappointing… There are much grander prizes than retribution.” Apries tapped his claws against the granite. “Can you read it?”

Helen lifted her gaze to the symbols cut into the door. She’d never seen the language before but her mind instantly translated. The flicker or recognition in her eyes was enough for Apries.

Good. Now, if you’d be so kind – how do I open it?”

Helen shook her head. “I have no idea.”

Slowly, the vampire stalked over to Nikola’s body, stepping on his neck – pressing down with his sandle until another moan escaped Nikola. “Answer carefully, Magnus.”

*~*~*

Werewolves in a hole – what happened to you?” Ashley sat down beside Detective Joe Kavanaugh. “You look like you got bit by a vampire.”

Joe, deathly pale, rested against the tunnel wall, gulping down half a bottle of water before he replied. “I did. Your mother forgot to mention I was a walking snack.”

Ashley flinched. “Sorry. Mum does things like that.”

Clearly,” he pointed at the angry fang marks on his neck.

She rested her hand on his shoulder. Ashley didn’t know Joe particularly well but he seemed like a nice enough guy and so far he’d handled the onslaught of the Abnormal world much better than any of the other institutional forces she’d come across. Maybe he might consider working for them one day. “When was the last time you saw them?”

Half a day ago?” he guessed. “That bloody ancient pain in the neck looks a lot younger now he’s freshly fed.”

Yeah,” she agreed. “He tore through our guys up top no trouble. No wonder mum won’t let Tesla feed.”

Something’s gone wrong. Amasis was on our side far as I could tell.” Joe had a terrible feeling that they’d find Magnus and Tesla’s bodies deeper in the caves.

*~*~*

A veil of dust fell over Helen, the sand creatures above shifting restlessly.

Stop it… or I won’t tell you shit, Apries,” she scowled. “Thank you,” Helen watched Apries back away from Tesla. There was just one gaping problem in Helen’s plan – she didn’t have the faintest clue how to open the door. She surveyed the enormous slab of rock, shining her torch up its facade. The surface of the stone was unnaturally smooth, certainly polished by hand and then set into place. The slab beneath Apries and Tesla was equally worked, almost like parts of a machine. Hell – what she really needed was Nikola. He was the engineer.

Apries narrowed his blue eyes at her. “What?”

The secret of the door was lost long ago,” she lied casually. “Yes, I can read the language but I need Tesla,” her hand waved at the vampire, “to help open it.”

Those blue eyes went black. “The mongrel?” he spat. She nodded. Apries snarled something untoward.

Helen nodded, her eyes betraying nothing this time. “Didn’t you wonder why an Immortal would allow a vampire to live?” she let the revelation hang in the air until it stuck. “Now you know. You’re not the only one trying to open this door, vampire.”

Apries picked Tesla up by the back of his jacket like a kitten. He glowered at the barely conscious half-breed. “That true?”

Nikola had just enough presence of mind to nod weakly.

*~*~*

Still nothing,” Joe slipped the radio back into his pocket. “We’re not officially missing for another two days.”

I’m not missing for three – I was supposed to be your backup.”

Well, thanks, I guess.”

Ashley lofted her eyebrow at him. “I heard about your dad, by the way. Now I know why you were always hanging around the gates while I was growing up.” They were nearly the same age – Joe three years her senior.

It’s why I became a detective in the first place. There is some seriously weird shit going down in Old City but most of the Force keeps their eyes closed. They don’t want to know what’s really going on. Or they’ve been told not to look. I’m not sure which.”

The corner of her lip curled up in a smile. “You know, if we both manage to live through this perhaps we could help each other out a bit. You drop me a few hints – I reel in the abnormals. Lower body count all round.”

Let’s live through this first,” he managed a proper smile, a bit of colour returning to his skin now. “Now, if you really are my back up, you better give me a hand.”

*~*~*

Nikola was sitting against one of the polished rocks in front of the door indulging his obsessive compulsive behaviour. He was using a shred torn from his jacket to wipe away as much dried blood from his face as possible but the rag was filthy, merely spreading charcoal across his flesh. Most of his bones were mended even if the pain hadn’t subsided. Still, he was in a black mood, scowling at the other vampire.

It was still snowing, tiny crystals wafting through the Throat of Thoth. He realised now that it was the constant stream of snow which caused the water to collected in the tunnel’s floor.

All right Nikola, enough now,” Helen whispered, standing a few feet from him. Her gun was back in its holster and Apries paced around the door, lost in thought with his army of sand creatures hissing in the cave behind.

This is not going well,” Tesla pointed out, tossing the rag away.

Like all of your evil plans go smoothly,” she automatically snapped back.

Usually they do – until you drop by and start unravelling them.”

Really Nikola, can we focus on the task at hand?”

He surveyed the door, polished stones and breadth of the tunnel behind. Despite his reservations, Nikola couldn’t stop his mind from attempting the puzzle at hand. “I’m not sure it’s something I should be setting my mind to.”

It’s that or he kills us,” Helen whispered.

He’s going to do that anyway. Come on Helen, you know how this goes. We help the bad guys get what they want – they return their gratitude with a few well placed bullets, or in this case fang marks. Ow!”

She’d swatted him over the head, messing up his hair. “Focus!”

Focussing…” he sighed, using the rock to help him to his feet. Several of his bones cracked back into place. He dusted off his tattered clothes and strutted up to the door. Apries narrowed his eyes at the mongrel. Such half-bred creatures were forbidden under his father’s rule.

Nikola had spent his whole adult life trying to meet a full blood vampire but the reality was rather underwhelming. “It’s not vampire in origin,” Nikola started, touching the cold stone. There was a faint current of electricity almost like a pulse coursing through the veins of imperfection. “Nor is it from Hollow Earth.”

Nikola looked over his shoulder at Helen. For the first time he saw her for the creature that she was. An Immortal. A different race entirely. A race with a past lost beneath the world – all but erased from it.

Helen shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. “What?”

He smirked. “Nothing, Ms Magnus…” His smile was stolen when he saw some of the sand creatures’ eyes peering out from the darkness at him. Nikola cleared his throat. Focus, he reminded himself before Helen could hit him again.

Whatever the answer was, it wasn’t on the door itself, so Nikola walked away – right away, down the steps and back into the tunnel of river stones.

Where the hell is it going?” Apries growled.

Patience,” Helen insisted. “Let him go. This is what he does.”

22

IMMORTAL

The ground shook. Ashley and Joe stumbled, lunging for the rough wall opposite as rock and dust consumed them from above. The stones beneath their feet bounced like popcorn, wildly smashing against their ankles. Joe yelped, boot rolling – pitching him sharply to one side.

Quick!” Ashley grabbed Joe by the sleeve of his jacket, pulling him into a cramped alcove several feet above the floor. They sandwiched themselves into it, staying above most of the debris.

Cracks tore through the volcanic bedrock with a thunderous boom. Water gushed out through the fresh fissures and froze into jagged outcrops of ice. The daggers sheered off instantly joining the rubble on the floor.

The whole place is coming down!” Joe squeezed himself deeper into the alcove to avoid a freezing spray of glacier water.

*~*~*

Nikola held his hands up innocently.

It wasn’t me!” he insisted, despite the dubious glares from both Helen and Apries.

The earthquake may have subsided but the passageway was not left unscathed. The Throat of Thoth continued to rumble overhead, boulders the size of cars slamming into the floor making Helen glance warily up the the ceiling. Eventually they stopped falling and she resumed her glare.

At least not on purpose,” Nikola amended, shifting under Helen’s sharp gaze. That woman terrified him far more than the brooding vampire.

Idiot!” the vampire raged. “You nearly brought the entire mountain down on our heads,” Apries looked flustered, his claws covered in an unappealing film of dust. His sand creatures were crawling around in a daze on the floor, licking their wounds or dragging themselves out from the rubble. Some had been swatted like flies beneath falling boulders, their innards dragged over the stone. Agonised screeches suggested some were still alive.

Hey it was a guess,” Nikola’s ego out-stripped his instinctual fear of the general. “And a darn sight better than anything you’ve come up with so far. It was a result, perhaps not a particularly desirable one but…”

If you’re going to tell me this is like your earthquake machine,” Helen joined into the chorus of disapproval, “I’m going to shoot you in the leg just like New York!”

Aw come on… that was only one iddy-bitty city block. They barely noticed!”

So help me Nikola!” Helen glowered, hair full of bits of cave.

When he first entered the tunnel, Nikola had noticed that the smooth boulders positioned in a semi-circle in front of the door were not granite. Despite the dull gleam of their polished surfaces, they were carved out of meteorite which in its own right was an incredible technical feat by the ancient builders. Nikola was beginning to hatch a theory that all the meteorite fragments passed on the way in were also deliberately placed – even if they hadn’t been tidied up to look pretty.

There was something special about this outer space corpse. Nikola didn’t claim to be a professor of geology but the magnetic and electric fields on the surface were odd. On closer inspection of the giant door he discovered the imperfections running through the granite to be the remains of the asteroid. It was probably melted together and fused by half-hearted mountain building geology. It still carried an electric charge after thousands of years. Tens of thousands… The important question was why?

Nikola had a theory about that too.

How much do you know about these ‘beings before time’?” Nikola asked Apries. “The Egyptian vampires portrayed them as gods. Were they a particularly advanced race for the ancient world or was it all just a bit of wishful myth-building?”

Apries frowned. “You should ask the Immortal. They are her ancestors, not mine.”

Helen shrugged. “Don’t look at me, Nikola. Your Egyptian mythology was always better than mine. I was too busy chasing werewolves.”

Which was totally true. Nikola sighed and carefully looked around the cave again. The only way any of them were getting through that door was if he worked how to open it. Ancient race – how hard could it be? They probably didn’t even have a refined version of the wheel…

Refusing to be outsmarted, Nikola clambered up onto a fresh outcrop caused by the earthquake. He nudged a few dazed sand creatures away as he emerged on the flat top of granite. He had a perfect view of the door and the fragments of meteorite curving around it like a series of crescent moons. They instantly reminded him of a bar magnet hungrily sucking in a storm of iron filings. The fragments of meteor where more densely clustered towards the edges of the door and every single one of them had a slight tilt to their left. No doubt they were only half the picture with a mirror image on the other side of the door.

This tunnel is a lock,” he said, standing on his large, makeshift platform. He pointed out the main rock markers for the two below. “And it has a primitive power source drawn directly from the meteorite fragments. They’re scattered all the way through.” He pointed them out.

It doesn’t look very electric,” Helen shouted up at him.

He rolled his eyes in her direction. “The circuit is open. We have to find out where it’s been broken then fix it.”

And the door will open?” Apries stepped forward.

Well – I presume so. They wouldn’t be a very clever ancient people if their doors don’t work.”

*~*~*

Hey – hey, no one’s meant to be takin’ the trucks ’til they’re cleaned and – hey!”

One of the security guards that Helen had left in charge of their temporary base thumped his hand on the solid window of the SUV. The driver ignored him, the young man hunting for keys.

I’m talkin’ to you!” he continued, moving his hand down to open the door. It was locked. The guard swore and lifted the but of his automatic rifle. He slammed it against the side of the car with an almighty clang. “You hear me in there, kiddo?!”

Amasis had left his vow of human abstinence in tatters. The moment that glorious blood touched his lips he’d felt life returning to his tortured limbs. It welled through his body, reversing the thousands of years of decay that had taken root in his bones. Now he looked more like a young prince.

The vampire turned at the banging and snarled, a full row of jagged fangs shining back at the security guard.

What the f-” the security guard started to say, lifting his gun and fumbling for his radio. The car door opened, hitting him before he could make the call. The guard flew backwards into a fire extinguisher with a dull thud. The brackets connecting it to the wall collapsed. It and the guard met the floor together before the red cylinder rolled away.

Amasis stepped carefully over it. He considered the human, one of his fangs dripping sticky venom. “I am a future king. Will you serve me?”

The guard lifted his head up in equal measures pain and amusement. “You’re ‘ff your ‘ead, mate,” he replied. “Off your bleedin’-”

Two silenced gunshots thwapped into the guard’s chest. The vampire reached forward, taking the unused weapon from the guard’s hands while he desperately tried to gargle out his last words. They never came.

Amasis steered the truck out of its metal cage and launched it onto the snow-covered road. He’d driven plenty of chariots and horses in his time but the car wiggled under his hold, slipping along the treacherous mountain road.

He was heading for the village nestled in the valley. Precious more than a litter of farms and houses, Amasis was interested in its airstrip and the plane that Magnus had brought them on. It was crucial that he return to her Sanctuary. While ever the Magoi lived, he could not outpace his brother. It had to be killed. Only then would he stand any chance of disappearing into the shadows.

*~*~*

The earthquake left the once rushing glacier torrent dividing the cave’s tunnel a ruin of rock. Ashley and Joe inspected the freshly collapsed section of ceiling to their right, blocking the river’s path entirely. The ice wall plugged its source, for the moment. At its thinnest, it was a sheet of blue-green sitting in stark contrast to its overall imposing presence of blue, white and black. It creaked eerily, tons of water quickly backing up behind the crude ice-plug leaking through only a few tiny crevices.

That’s not going to hold long,” whispered Joe, starting over the rock-filled chasm. Their surfaces were extremely slippery, both of them fumbling for grip. Joe lost his, slid down the face of a curved boulder and landed on a fresh mound of ice. “Is this a bad time to mention my claustrophobia?”

Ashley vaulted over the rocks beside him. “Trust me, you’re not. Found myself on a mission with a claustrophobic guy once – nightmare!” she drawled lightly, picking the detective off the floor on her way past. “Mind you, can’t say I’m a fan of our lovely ice-dam,” she shone her torch over it. Even the beam of light seemed to make it more unsteady.

Let’s just hope that if it breaks, it’ll follow it’s old path and not chase us down the tunnel.”

Least resistance…” A cursory glance between the river’s two options didn’t fill either of them with much confidence so they both returned to silence – until they heard it.

Ashley stopped, gun rising beneath her torch. She narrowed her eyes at the darkness in front, slowly tracking the halo of her torch across its breadth. Nothing.

What?” Joe whispered, then frowned as he heard the rustle of claws against stone. “Oh shit! I’ve heard that before.”

So’ve I…”

*~*~*

The vampire lazily chucked another pebble into the depths of the tunnel, missing the mongrel by a foot or two. He and the Immortal were sat against the door, boredly watching Tesla hunt around another outcrop of meteorite. The initial flurry of excitement was over.

If he’s stalling for time, I’m going to turn him into an orderve,” Apries hissed.

I’ve never met a vampire that bored,” Helen replied, letting her head rest against the stone. Now that it was clear their lives weren’t in any immediate danger, she was starting to wonder what was behind this damn door that made so many ancient creatures hunt for it. “How long have you known about this place?”

Apries glanced at her but never for too long, his crystal eyes fixed on the half-breed. He didn’t trust Tesla. “Since my imprisonment,” he replied, his voice sounded as young as he looked, something which Helen found quite disconcerting. “There were vague references to it buried in the temple archives but very few gave it any credence in my father’s reign.”

But before that?”

There was a time when hunting the lost world of the Immortals was the favourite pastime of young Pharaohs.”

Bit like the Grand Tour then,” Helen managed a smirk. She was watching Nikola too. He was laying his hands on various fragments of rock, no doubt trying to feel the electric current. He didn’t look as though he was having any luck. Not yet. “And your brother?”

Apries risked returning his gaze to her. It wasn’t just that he wanted to keep an eye on Tesla. It was that Magnus was enticing. She was genetically tailored to appeal to him and he was determined not to slip into that trap.

You are keen to kill him,” he pointed out, not revealing any emotion either way. “There is nowhere in this world that he can run where I won’t find him. Don’t worry, Immortal, you will have your vampire bounty before long.”

Good,” she nodded, drawing her knees up. “I have this insatiable urge to kill something coming on again.”

Both of them craned their heads and Tesla ducked down behind a particularly large hunk of meteorite almost centred to the door. It was roughly egg-shaped though little attempt had been made to polish it up. This particular rock had the faintest spider webs of gold tangled through it.

There are stories that survive today,” Helen continued, “of an ancient, advanced race – the Atlantians -” she was about to continue when Apries broke into a shrill laugh. “What?”

Those Greek whores?” he seemed genuinely amused. “Vampires were well acquainted with them, some even unwisely married into their royal family. Believe me, they are not a particularly memorable part of this planet’s history. The whole thing ended in tears and a bang.”

Serves them right for building their empire on a volcano…” Helen had to admit.

Humans always think that nothing will happen to them, that the movements of the world and space are irrelevant but I have always supposed that is due to their tiny lifespans. They cannot see the world like you or I. It breathes. Magnus was staring at him. “You believe that I am a simple warrior? I am the son of the Pharaoh, raised to rule,” he purred, eyes shifting back to their natural black for a moment.

She was momentarily caught by them. For a moment she saw a flicker of who he truly was, an emperor of the ancient world and she was way out of her depth. “You cannot rule over humans any more – those days are dead.”

You’re wrong,” Apries made her shiver. “Humanity is born to be ruled. They cannot exist without hierarchy. I may never sit on a throne but I sure as hell will rule them.”

Helen sighed. Why were vampires so god damn preoccupied with ruling the Earth?

*~*~*

Jesus motherfukin’ christ!” Joe leapt back in terror as the sand creature fell from the roof and landed in a heap at his feet. It was alive, barely, writhing in agony. It flickered between visible and invisible, desperately clutching a bloody stump where its foreleg was missing.

Ashley lowered her gun.

Jeeze…” she whispered, considering the creature. “Must have been hit by a rock during the earthquake.”

It was whining, huddling against the wall only partially aware of the humans in front of it. Somehow in its pain the deeply buried seeds of its humanity crept through. Once that had been a person, just like Will.

Ashley lifted her gun to kill it but found Joe’s hand on her arm. “Why not?” she asked.

If that were me, would you still shoot?”

The fact that she didn’t answer straight away made Joe frown and turn his attention back to the cave in front of them. Every now and then the earth shook again, the belly of the mountain clearly suffering indigestion from the people disturbing its slumber. “Leave it alone,” Joe repeated softly, as the creature’s wails grew softer. “We need to get to your mother. Whatever those vampires are after, they’re not going to keep her alive once they have it.”

Every tunnel was in a worse state than the next. Rubble, ice and running water obstructed their path and more than once the pair of them had to shift boulders the size of tables to get through. “I think we’re getting closer to the source of the quake…”

Joe raised his eyebrow but said nothing.

Finally, the narrow passageway ended – albeit in a sheer drop into a vast cavern. The walls and ceiling constantly shifted with the camouflaged bodies of sand creatures, their scarlet bodies picking up the firelight from below. Two jets of flame framed a giant door and in front of it were three people in the midst of a heated discussion.

*~*~*

I’m not wrong, Helen…” Nikola pleaded, gesturing back at the rock behind him. “I know I’ve had my fair share of daft ideas but most of them are right even if they’re not in the best interests of humanity.”

Why do I get the feeling that this is one of those times?” she hissed. “Well come on, you better show us what you mean.”

Nikola led them over to the back of the meteorite chunk. He’d been digging away at the rubble around its base, going down several feet. “These things are a lot bigger than I thought. The tunnel has filled up with debris over the years – a lot, actually. It’s a bit damaged but I don’t think that matters.”

He’d uncovered a trio of indents in the rock, egg shaped depressions with metal clasps set into their bases. Very unusual, especially as they showed no sign of deterioration.

I never thought I’d say it, Nikola – but you might actually be right for once…” Helen whispered.

Nikola tried not to look put out as the vampire knelt down, taking a closer look. “Keystones,” he said, brushing his claws over the indents. “So much for the myths. Those ancient quacks were right all along.”

You know what these are?”

Apries nodded at Helen. “I even know where one of them is provided the tomb hasn’t been raided. What…?” he lowered his voice when the Immortal shifted uncomfortably.

Most Egyptian tombs have been ransacked,” she admitted. “If you hadn’t built such huge monuments to your egos more of your civilisation might have survived.”

He was put out but not put off. “Surely humans kept some of the treasures they stole?”

The British Museum,” Nikola interrupted. “It was a long time ago but I swear I saw a strange smooth stone with indecipherable markings on it.”

Apries looked at the door, then to the room full of sand creatures. “You’d help me open this door?”

Nikola and Helen looked at each other. “You know what, I think we might on the proviso you stop snacking on humans for the time being.”

Apries was about to agree to the irritating terms when he heard crack in the distance, then a small landslide of rocks followed by a surprised yelp that certainly didn’t belong to a sand creature.

You are not here alone?”

We brought another man with us, a snack for your brother. He must have woken up and come looking for us.” Helen looked nervously up to the dark end of the tunnel where they’d emerged.

Ashley dragged Joe frantically back from the edge when the ground had given way under his weight. They froze, eyes locked on the trio beneath them who’d stop talking and turned to face them. So much for sneaking to the rescue.

Wait – what’s that?” Ashley whispered, her arms still around Joe’s waist.

There was a fourth figure in the cave now. At first she thought it was just a shadow against the wall but it had crept closer to the door. It was tall, slender and nearly inhumane in the way it moved. “MUM!” Ashley yelled, instantly giving away her position.

Helen was startled, flashing her torch toward the end of the cave but unable to see anything. “What the hell are you doing here?”

There’s something else down here!” she continued, as the shadow ducked out of view.

*~*~*

What’s it doing?” Will collapsed into the couch with a beer and tray of hot chips. It was nearly nightfall and he was drained from cleaning up the Sanctuary. Bigfoot was baby sitting the Magoi while Henry got all the security systems back to full strength. Druitt – well, he was doing bugger all as usual.

Nothing…” came Bigfoot’s reply over the radio.

Will leaned forward, turning on the monitor to confirm it. Nothing. Hours and hours of nothing since they’d knocked it out with gas.

Nothing is what I like to hear. Come on up, have some dinner. It’s not going anywhere.”

The lack of reply suggested that Biggie agreed.

Will tapped on the keyboard lazily, switching to another screen. He logged into the archives, trailing through folders until he came to one marked, ‘Tesla’. Curious, he clicked only to be confronted by a password prompt. None of his worked.

Typical,” he muttered. Magnus trusted him but obviously not completely. Not when it came to her past or anything to do with the true history of vampires. He made a mental note to berate her about that when she came back. Speaking of which, she was supposed to check in around now.

Henry strolled into the room. “Hey dude,” he said, not looking up from his ipad.

Has Magnus checked in yet?”

Nope. Helicopter returned to base on schedule and she left a few text messages before going into the mountains. Nothing since then but that’s hardly surprising considering she ended up in the mountain. Ashley checked in though.”

Where the hell is she?”

Where do you think?” Henry sighed, turning the ipad around so that Will could see the snow-laden world of the Pensi La Mountain Pass.

Great. Magnus is going to kill us either way now.”

Nah,” Henry assured. “You need to stop worrying about Ashley. She can take care of herself. I’d worry about Helen before Ashley. Hate to say it but that girl has more than a share of her father’s stubbornness speaking of-”

In his room, sharpening his knives.”

Henry shifted uncomfortably. “Really?”

Will shrugged.

Creepy. Well, I’m off for a nap – don’t let the place fall down around us, eh?” Henry slinked out. It was full moon tonight, maybe he’d go for a bit of a howl.

*~*~*

Apries was okay with a few more stray humans but not uninvited guests.

Not me…” Helen whispered to both Nikola and the general. “Maybe someone else followed you here?” she asked the vampire, but he shook his head as well. “Everyone back to the door. Can I have my gun now?”

Apries rolled his eyes and handed her the weapon. It wasn’t much good against him anyway. He flexed his claws, narrowing his eyes at the tunnel. “I didn’t hear anything – it’s not Amasis.”

Nikola, armed with only his half-sized claws, looked especially uncomfortable, raising his torch defensibly. “Can’t you sic your sand creatures on them or something?”

I already have,” he replied smoothly.

It would do them no good. The creature hunting them could make itself undetectable to anything with vampire DNA. The Immortal professor rested against a large boulder, watching the tunnel with black eyes. One vampire had to go.

Can you see it?” Joe craned his head.

Nah,” she whispered back. “If it ain’t one of ours then it’s bad news.” There was a nasty creak behind them. They turned, listening for a sudden rush of water but it didn’t come. “I don’t like this. Not one bit.”

23

ICE CLIFFS

Nikola worked it out. His stomach sank, fear spreading through his ancient blood as he realised what Helen had done – what she’d been planning all along. He should have known that she had some insane scheme, pursuing the General deep into unknown mountains. She’d made a serious miscalculation.

He tried to catch her eye without Apries noticing. Helen was edging forward into the belly of the cave under the guise of hunting out the intruder, firelight flickering over the barrel of her gun. The intruder she’d bloody well gone and invited along, thought Tesla crossly. If he made it out of here alive and in this case he really meant if, he was going to give her a right piece of his mind and possibly make a snack of her protege.

General Apries was none the wiser, black eyes darting at shadows in the tunnel. His ears pricked up at the sound of bodies hitting rock. Sand creatures – falling one by one from the roof to the floor of the tunnel. Dead.

What the hell is going on?” he demanded, as something shredded his army into a rippling carpet of bone.

Buggered if I know,” Helen lied, incredibly well, Nikola realised.

Something’s killing your army,” Nikola filled in.

The sand creatures were falling faster, several hitting the ground at a time, necks snapped. Some tried to slip away into the corners of the room but they were pursued to bloody ends. The last one put up a fight, screeching and hurling rocks until it was snatched into the darkness. An eerie silence followed.

Nikola never thought that he’d miss the sound of sand creatures scratching about but he did. He looked around, not at the tunnel but the door behind. Its stone was unyielding, offering no glimpse of its secrets or chance of escape. He was going not going to make it out of here alive. If Apries was anything like his brother then he could teleport his arse to safety. Nikola had no such luxury.

Everyone’s eyes were drawn instantly to movement.

Pacing through the centre of the tunnel was Nikola’s old Professor from University. The world’s last true Immortal and keeper of the balance between two dangerous species. His long coats swept over the stones with a soft hiss. Tall, slender and surreal, the firelight licked around him as though greeting an old friend.

Priest…” General Apries tensed, claws flexing slightly as he caught sight of the Immortal. It was not their first meeting. He tilted his head, eyes blacker than the tunnel. His amour glinted. “Well, well, well…”

Nikola’s Professor arched a narrow eyebrow.

*~*~*

600 BCE, MEMPHIS, EGYPT

Limestone pillars reached up toward the heavens, shining in the morning sun like rays of the immortal god himself. Most of the temple was buried by seas of mist, lost in the rising surge that left the walls – several hundred metres long – gleaming with moisture. They were capped with decorative carvings doubling in purpose both to scare and impress the thousands of pilgrims that traversed the known world to visit the library within. Its guests were met by eight statues guarding the gates, towering half the height of the wall. They held spears with flags flapping against the wind, empty eyes gazing at the festering city. Lines of sphinxes sat either side of the walkway, lounging like lions on the savannah.

Hut-Ka-Ptah, birthplace of the empire’s name – ‘The White Walls’, enduring and beautiful were crumbling into the sands. Its glory was lost but not its heart. The empire may have moved to Thebes and Memphis later captured by the Assyrians but the grand temple survived by the grace of local Egyptian Princes who still made the journey to pray at its alters and peruse its secret documents, too fragile to be moved.

Two of these young princes, eight and twelve, raced through the granite hallway with torches nearly blown out by the speed of their bare feet against the stone. They skidded around each corner, laughter echoing through the complex until they scampered into the depths of the main library.

The Head Priest turned slowly, lowering his patient gaze to the boys as they assembled in front of him. To them, he was so tall that the boys called him, ‘statue’.

Amasis… Apries…” he drawled each of their names so that they knew they were in trouble. Prince Amasis, by far the most curious, set his torch in a holder and scurried over to the shelves, running his sticky hands over the papyrus until he found the scroll that they had been reading yesterday. Apries was less enthusiastic, seating himself at the table, boredly flicking the edge of his quill. He was the future King but like most young Princes, he much preferred to be outside learning the art of war rather than locked in a cellar with dusty parchments.

The recent wars had lowered their numbers but there were still many Immortals left in the world, thousands even and just as many vampires. It was important to keep a close eye on the vampires, shaping the young ones and thus the next generation. The Immortals had taken up roles in the temples and nurseries, rearing baby princes and princesses.

These two though, the Priest had to admit, were a real pair. It was never a good idea to have polar opposites for heirs. It usually ended in war unless he could manage to knock a bit of sense into them – even out the balance, so to speak.

Apries stabbed the table with the sharp nib of his quill. The Priest sighed softly. This was going to be harder than he thought.

*~*~*

I might have guessed,” Apries shifted at the sight of his former Priest. There was not a day of the thousands of years on his face and he couldn’t help but wonder how Immortals ended up looking old. Unless they were immensely old. “If you’ve come to give me a lesson I think you’ll find your precious libraries burned down long ago. Humanity… what can you do?”

The Professor flinched. Apries was quite right. Humanity had destroyed the troves of knowledge carefully collected by Immortals and Vampires alike. “You know why I have come.”

Nikola was doing his absolute best to become invisible against the door. A vampire was going to die and he was determined that it wouldn’t be him.

I might have gone after Amasis – even Tesla,” the Professor glanced briefly to the scientist, “if you hadn’t come here. You know this is a forbidden world – forbidden for all of us. Now I have no choice. Tesla -if you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave this place and never return, he added, directed at the scientist.

Y-yes…” he stuttered, backing away from the door. Helen took him by the arm and tugged him out into the tunnel away from the two ancient creatures. “You could have bloody told me what you were up to!” he hissed at Helen, stepping over the corpses of slaughtered sand creatures.

Nikola, you can’t keep a secret to save your life.”

True.

Don’t suppose you gave any thought to what’ll happen when Apries teleports out of here and I’m the only vampire within claw’s reach?”

Oh Nikola – the Professor is not going to kill you. You’re only half-vampire, remember?”

It was the one and only time Nikola didn’t snap at her for pointing that out.

I wasn’t even sure he would come. It’s not like he has a phone or anything. We need to get to Ashley – and Joe.”

Yeah, he’s probably left your fan club after you fed him to Amasis…” Nikola pointed out.

He’ll forgive me,” she hoped rather than knew. “I can’t believe it, he’s killed every sand creature. I was banking on saving a few.”

Ashley and Joe were far above in the mouth of the small passage however the land bridge that had allowed Helen and Tesla into the tunnel was gone, destroyed by the earthquake.

Mum?” Ashley called cautiously, waving.

For the record, you’re grounded,” Helen muttered at her daughter. “Did you bring rope?” Her question was answered when Ashley threw down the end of a nylon rope.

Are we coming down or are you guys coming up?” she asked, not sure which was safer.

It’s snowing in here,” Nikola whispered to Helen, pointing up at the soft flecks wafting around them. “There must be an exit nearby. It’ll take days to get back to the pass and I doubt we’ve got that long.”

He had a point. Helen waved down Joe and her daughter.

*~*~*

Amasis held the terrified pilot at gunpoint, watching the mountain peaks fade away until they were indistinguishable from the puffs of white cloud. The bodies of the co-pilot and crew littered the plane, stains of blood flourishing the walls with a grisly reminder of the terror a few hours before.

*~*~*

Apries and the Professor were still talking as the group snuck down, winding their way through the Throat of Thoth toward a speck of daylight at the end of the tunnel. Nikola was right, it was snowing in the tunnel and the snow was getting heavier as they traversed the rubble.

What are they doing?” Ashley asked, glancing back over at the two figures slowly circling each other.

Preparing to fight,” Helen whispered back. “It is no light thing for two immortal creatures to duel.”

Another soft quake shook the tunnel. All of them stumbled falling amongst the rocks as more fragments of roof caved in and crashed down around them. A rock the size of a car landed next to Joe, shattering into a dozen pieces next to his head, falling away from him into the cave. He was too shocked to move.

I don’t know what you did, Nikola – but this place is unstable.”

Seriously, I just shifted one rock.” He was about to continue his defence when he heard it. Another rockfall, far in the distance. Water pushing past it. Ice snapping. “Oh shiiiiiit…” he hissed, hustling back to his feet. “Run, now!”

They barely made it fifty metres when the first surge of glacier water poured through the hole into their tunnel. It slammed into the ground, shifting boulders out of its way. The freezing water frothed, forced out of the tiny hole in a roar.

Everyone paused to watch. There was silence then a cold wind rushing over them, blowing away the snow.

Apries and the Immortal were hit first, the torrent knocking them down like bowling pins. They thrashed against the water as it threw them into rocks along with the bodies of the sand creatures, swirling around them like shrivelled Autumn leaves.

The others ran, cold spray on their backs and the first trickles of water rising underfoot as they bolted toward the end of the tunnel. The light in front grew bigger. The mouth of the tunnel opened out with a jagged edge gaping at the world. They could see the beginnings of mountains. A smear of blue sky. Nikola looked over his shoulder – and screamed.

*~*~*

Dr Will Zimmerman was asleep. Bits of chip were sprinkled over his shirt, ground into the couch as he rolled onto his stomach. The TV was on but the original program had finished hours ago. Something obscure was playing now – the kind of thing that the networks pretended they didn’t buy then sort to hide in the wee hours of the morning when only very drunk people were awake.

Druitt had been prepared to render the irritating protege unconscious but there was no need. He stepped silently through the office toward the monitors. John bent over, knocking the mouse to wake it up. A few clicks and he was scrolling through the Sanctuary’s files, hunting until he found it.

The screen prompted him for a password.

John hesitated, clearly changing his mind after a moment’s thought. The folder unlocked though he seemed slightly disappointed.

That hurts…” he whispered to Helen.

He inserted a USB drive into the computer and started copying. A snore from the couch told him he was in no danger.

*~*~*

The water hit Nikola like a wall, dislocating vertebrae as it churned against him, pushing him through the cave. He was helpless as the others sank into the water. He reached for Helen just before she went under, their fingertips brushing. Then she was gone.

Nikola had no time to think. Suddenly the world became impossibly bright. He was outside, the glare giving way to a perfect vista of the ice locked valley. He was still going forwards, flying through the air – then dropping sharply. Nikola looked down and saw nothing but white beneath. They’d been thrown clear of the tunnel and entered free-fall over the mountains.

He yelped, flailing uselessly at the water.

Boulders started dropping out of the wave, snatched from the torrent by gravity. They seemed to fall for an age before smashing into the snow below, rolling down the mountainside until they looked like fluffy white snowballs.

Nikola fell faster. The water around him was losing all its strength. Other bodies were falling, sand creatures raining down. Amongst them was a flare of dark brown hair.

Helen!” he screamed, trying to move toward her.

She was groggy, blood running from her forehead. It took her a moment to realise what was happening. “Nikola!”

They all smashed to the ground together – a brand new waterfall forming at the mouth of the cave above. It tickled down in a serene curtain, giving now indication of the violence of its birth.

*~*~*

Joe was amazed to find his eyes open. Daylight. Snow – god lots of snow. He tried to turned his head but the perfectly Joe-shaped hole in the snow was a snug fit and deep, at least ten feet. Nothing seemed to hurt but it was impossible to tell if that was because he was unscathed or more likely, very cold.

A shadow passed over his hole – then a rope dangled in. Surprised that his hands worked, Joe took hold, wrapping the nylon around his wrists. The slack vanished, a sharp tightening of the rope into his gloves – then he was pulled free.

Ashley found Tesla knelt over her mother’s body, his hands cupping her face tenderly. She stepped back, not sure what to do as Tesla leaned down, whispering something against Helen’s ear. Helen awoke a moment later, reaching up to hold Tesla’s wrist, squeezing it softly, dare she believe it – affectionately.

Where are the others?” Joe rasped, kneeling down to pick a broken vampire claw out of the snow. He held the curved, sharp object up to the light, then cringed. “Ew…”

Apries is alive,” Helen replied, kneeling now. “And I don’t have any increased desire to kill Nikola, so I guess our Immortal is too.”

Gee thanks, Helen… What about -” Nikola pointed up toward the cave and its fresh waterfall dribbling into an ice lake.

There’s no point going back until we have those stones.”

Then we are going back,” he replied carefully.

 

PEOPLE OF THE SAND November 6, 2008

UNTOLD SANCTUARY

PEOPLE OF THE SAND

by ellymelly


TABLE OF CONTENTS

01 Hunting

02 Brilliant

03 Footprints

04 Tight

05 Tag and Bag

06 Chaos and Sand

07 Travelmate

08 Magnus

09 Legacy

10 Buried in Glass Cabinets

11 The Beginning of Helen Magnus

12 Changing Skins

13 Bits and Pieces

14 Stalked

15 History Creeping

16 Whispers of the Tombs

17 Interview with a Vampire

18 Roaming Free

19 Beneath the Streets

20 Ancient History

21 Confessions of Murder

22 Friends for Life


1

HUNTING

The cobble street was difficult to pick out from the buildings that leant towards the road, drawn in by the occasional lamp post. The feeble gas flames flickering inside tried their best to warm the stone surfaces of their audience, but the dew was turning to frost. A delicate flake of snow slipped through the air, melting into a drop of water above the light. It hit a passerby who wiped the freezing liquid off her cheek, unimpressed by the weather.

Helen Magnus walked around the soft circles of light, preferring to hug the dark walls out of sight. Curious eyes watched from their bedrooms, safely tucked between the shadows.

Her sharp gaze scanned the abandoned street. The clawed feet of plump rats scurried away followed by the careful placement of a man’s footsteps.

Leather scuffed the pavement and her head snapped around, following the sound with her eyes.

“Why don’t you come out and get this over with?” she snarled, withdrawing a slither of metal from her waist band.

Almost seven feet of man reclined against a wall, John Druitt’s eyes peering up at the hollow ring of the new moon. “You can do better than that…” he spoke, not afraid of the night.

He was right, she could.

In a slick movement, her free hand slid into her belt and withdrew a pistol. Aiming it at the sound of his voice, she pulled the trigger, her eyes slamming shut with the noise.

*~*~*

“Are you certain you don’t need a doctor?” Will, cold washer in hand, felt her temperature once more. Helen’s cheeks were flushed and her dark hair matted with sweat. “Other than me, of course.”

She raised a hand and feebly pushed him off. “Immortal, remember?” she groaned, her headache worsening. “Where’s Ashley?”

Will placed his arm around her back, helping her sit on the edge of the four-posted bed. “You’re not going to like it,” he said. Will tried to wrap a blanket over her shoulders but she batted him away.

“It better not be Romania,” she muttered.

“Egypt, hunting the un-dead.”

“I don’t suppose she mentioned when she expected to be back?”

Will shook his head.

Not surprised, Helen exhaled with exhaustion. “No regard for anyone else’s plans. I brought her up better…”

There was a soft knock and the bedroom door creaked open. Bigfoot entered carrying a silver tray. The tea cups and saucers rattled against each other as he crossed the room, stepping carefully over the books littered around the floor.

“Mail as well,” he announced, after setting the tray down. He lifted up the serviettes and produced a worn envelope.

“It’s from Egypt,” said Will, astonished.

Helen frowned and opened it at once. “How long have I been out of it?” she asked, discarding the envelope which lacked a proper address.

“I was just getting to that. Eight weeks, give or take. We found you unconscious in a church graveyard.”

“Damn goblins again,” she muttered, sliding her finger nail through the top edge of the envelope. It slipped apart, revealing a soggy scrap of paper. Helen unfolded it carefully, laying it over her knees.

Will nudged in closer, tilting his head to the side to make out the paper. Lines darted everywhere in what appeared to be an erratic display. Trails of writing he couldn’t read were obscured by dribbles of whatever liquid the stains on the paper had been in another life.

“Pack your bags,” said Helen, taking a hurried sip of tea. “We’re going to Egypt.”

Will hunted out his glasses from the bed and replaced the on the bridge of his nose. “Never unpacked,” he grinned, helping Helen to her feet.

*~*~*

“There’s unsafe,” Will shifted on his arse so that the ceiling grazed his nose. The shaft or tunnel or whatever Helen said this was could barely fit their slender figures as they descended into the darkness. “Which I would define as unwise, possibly stupid behaviour resulting in injury,” he pointed to the weather-worn rope around their waists as the only thing keeping them aloft.

The crevice they were abseiling down wasn’t quite vertical but it was close enough to it that their feet failed to find footings.

Helen was in front, peering into the oncoming tunnel with a flashlight as best she could. “I can see where this is going…” she muttered.

Will twitched his head to the side. “Really?” he replied, wondering how she could see anything in that pitch.

She turned and pointed the light directly between his eyes. “I meant you train of logic.”

“Oh,” he blinked, temporarily blinded. “Well, after unwise we have ‘risky’ which I think we passed way back at those sinister doors at the opening of the tomb.” His feet slid on the polished surface. Egyptians really knew how to build their shit and worse, knew how to protect it.

“And what is this, then?” she asked, sneezing at a wafting of dust.

“Bad,” he sighed, shaking a sore hand. “Do we even know that this is the right tomb? It’s not like she’s sent us a GPS location.”

“She sent us plenty. Ashley’s down here all right, so is the thing she’s hunting which means we have to stay on our guard.”

“I’d feel much better if the big guy was here too.”

“He is here,” and with that she called out up the shaft. Bigfoot answered straight away, apparently they were almost out of rope.

“What do we do when this runs out?”

Something sinister crept over Helen’s eyes. Already at the end of her rope, she reached into a slip of leather on her calf and withdrew a blade. It caught a fragment of light as she held it to Will’s rope and sliced clean through it.

Will’s arms flailed as he started to slide down the shaft. Dust and sand flew into the air, blanketing him in a dense cloud. Holding his breath he splayed his limbs out and searched frantically for a hand hold. It was all over very quickly. Will hit the ground with a distinct thud, landing next to his flashlight which rolled lazily away from him as if nothing had happened. Unlike him, the maglite was indestructible.

Watch out!” he heard, before Helen landed on top of him, knocking him to the ground again with a fresh layer of sand.

“Urgh…” Will rolled out from underneath Helen, gasping. “Magnificent plan, truly brilliant – just one flaw –” he pointed to the black hole that they had fallen through. “How does one get back now that the rope’s cut?”

Helen, already on her knees, rolled his flashlight back to him. “Our man at the top is tying our two ropes together as we speak. The new rope should make it to the bottom no problem, besides, Ashley will have more when we meet up with her. Who knows, there might even be another way out of here.”

‘Out of here’ was an interesting way of putting it, thought Will as he skimmed his light over the room. It appeared that they had fallen into some kind of large, empty stone room.

Attired in a mixture of nylon and leather, Helen paced around the square enclosure, running her hands along the walls. The fact that they were currently trapped in a dead end did not seem to bother her as she knelt down in the far corner.

“There are no mummies in Egypt – right?” Will blurted out, continuously scanning the dark edges of the room. “No walking dead wrapped in bandages poised to bring about seven plagues or anything. I mean, we are dealing with human mutations after all, not the supernatural.”

She smiled. “You are quite right,” she replied, pressing down on a stone with a small inscription at its corner. “What I think we’ll find down here are the People of the Sand. No-one’s ever actually found one before so it’s quite exciting. It’s no wonder Ashley packed and left when she heard.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Sand…” she whispered. “Ashley put a fair amount in the envelope.”

The blocks beside her rubbed and ground against each other until one fell loose, crashing to the floor leaving a human sized hole through to the next chamber. Will examined the hole warily with a frown. He could not help but note the assortments of weaponry poorly concealed around her hips, chest, thighs and arms. The backpack in its own right carried more ammunition than food which helped to feed the worried thoughts in his mind.

Will glanced down at his meagre flashlight until he realised that he was being watched.

Helen pointed at his hands and asked, “Out of interest, what did you bring with you?”

He thought for a moment, before answering, “Batteries…” They were for the flashlight. His biggest fear had always been being left alone in the dark. Helen though, simply nodded with a concerned look.

Will decided to change the subject as they ducked and shimmied their way through the opening, brushing curtains of century old spider webs aside. Hollow exoskeletons crunched on the ground as they walked. “Are these ‘People of the Sand’ dangerous?”

Helen shrugged, “No one knows. I presume so, otherwise, why hasn’t anyone caught one?”

“I’ve never heard of them before.”

“There have always been stories, passed along from tomb robbers all the way through caravan travellers who speak of a desert creature that comes at night. Usually they’ll take a camel or horse. The most interesting stories though, come from within the tombs.”

“I don’t like where you’re heading with this explanation.”

“Your objection has been noted,” she continued.

The low passageway ended and suddenly they found that they could stand. Helen’s ear piece crackled and Bigfoot’s voice was just discernable from the static.

“He says that he’s fixed our escape,” she relayed to Will as she paced ahead of him into the darkness. Will wanted to mutter don’t go but resisted. “Right, okay,” she turned back to Will. “The rope’s tied off and he’s going to throw down a couple of bottles of water. I’m just going to go and get them. You stay here.”

She scurried off before he could protest, leaving him alone in the unexplored chamber.

“I hate this,” he muttered, kicking the shallow layer of sand covering the floor. Will took a few steps backwards until his back hit the cold wall. It made him feel better, knowing that nothing was going to pounce on him from behind. The other three points of approach still bothered him though. He skimmed his light over the ground. Helen’s footprints were clearly visible in their tight circle and eventual return to the passageway, his own ended at his feet. There were a few small trails belonging to some kind of tomb dwelling critter, but nothing bigger than a beetle.

“Back!”

Will jumped forward in fright, throwing his flashlight at the sound in defence.

Helen caught it in one hand, a little offended. “These things can hurt,” she said, throwing it back at him just as hard.

“Ow…” he had missed. “I thought you were – something else.”

Helen bent over and plucked him off the floor by the scruff of his jacket. “You’re very skittish,” she commented. “Good thing I didn’t give you a gun or I’d be dead.”

“Tomb raiding is just not my thing,” Will dusted himself off.

“Well,” she smiled, pacing into the dark, “I hope you’re better at hunting because that’s what we’re really doing.”


2

BRILLIANT

“Morning baby,” Henry paused at the tank of murky water until a silvery face appeared. “Yeah, I know you love me,” he whispered at the mermaid who flicked her hair gracefully. Her features shimmered as the light struggled to get a hold on her skin.

Her deep eyes kept him there, staring dumbly at the tank. Henry often caught himself lingering here on his way through to the main office. The floor was full of all kinds of unimaginable creatures staring out from their enclosures yet he always ended up here, with his hand to the glass.

“Brought you something,” he muttered, breaking her mournful gaze. Henry opened his laptop, balancing it awkwardly on his arm. The screen flicked on revealing a grainy image of something remotely human. “Sandman,” he grinned, outlining the human figure with a finger.

She pulled away at first, swimming back into the safety of the water with a flick of her tail.

“No, it’s okay!” he put the laptop on the ground and pressed his nose to the glass. “Please…”

The mermaid tilted her head to the side before drifting closer.

“Just a picture,” Henry continued to whisper, until she was back in front of him.

*~*~*

Helen ran her hand along the wall as they walked forward, carefully placing one foot in front of the next. “The Egyptians weren’t just smart,” her voice had already begun to lower as they moved further into the tombs. “They were paranoid. Sand traps and spiked drops are the most common form of obstacle in places like this,” she held an arm in front of Will’s chest, preventing his forward motion.

Will raised an eyebrow curiously as she tapped the ground lightly with her foot where his next step was going to be. The ground fell away at once with a miniature avalanche of sand. Will coughed and leant over to the hole with his flashlight. A rather nasty set of spikes protruded after a short drop with sinister looking tips begging to stab something.

“Point made,” he said, stepping around it.

“You should have been there in Rome when we did the Colosseum. We had wild cats as well as ShiftCreatures – you know,” she put her hands up, “those things that grab you by the head?”

“What sort of coffee do you like?”

Helen stopped and frowned. “Creatures that grab you by the head and what sort of coffee do I like?”

Will shrugged. “Either you tell me what sort of coffee you like or I run back down that corridor and hide.”

“I hate coffee,” she sneered, “but I would be happy to discuss the long and magnificent history of tea if you –” Helen raised a fist in front of them and stopped dead.

Will had no idea what that meant but presumed that he was supposed to stop. Feeling very naked, he raised his flashlight aggressively as Helen withdrew a long knife.

What?” whispered Will, sinking behind.

Helen flashed her light across the ground. “Footprints,” she pointed at the dips in the sand in front of them. They were small but far apart, made by something running.

“They just begin,” she whispered, stepping forward. “Unless –” she lifted her eyes to the ceiling and found a small opening. “Ashley came through here.”

“This is Ashley?” Will asked, wondering how some non-descript indents in the ground could be identified.

“Size six-and-a-half, slight in-turn on the left foot; can’t tell you how many times I’ve told her to wear her orthopaedics.” Helen picked up the pace to a brisk walk. “Wherever she’s going, she went there in a hurry – and with company…” she pointed to a second set of prints which appeared every ten metres or so in a tight bundle of three.

*~*~*

ERROR – search results = 0

Henry glared at the screen – Google rarely failed him so spectacularly.

“But I don’t want to go upstairs,” he mumbled, sliding out his chair and grabbing his coat. Henry blew a kiss at the tank as he left, warmed by the flash of silver.

Three flights of stairs (because he refused to use the lift while alone) took him to the library. A level exclusively for books, many protected behind wire framed cabinets or hidden in wall crevices, circled a central desk. He tried his search again at the lonesome computer and this time was directed to a small row of books at the south-east end of the room.

The city shimmered outside with a thousand trembling points of light. They would start to go out soon as the hours lagged on, the office buildings first and eventually the angry taillights of cars. It was almost time to let the wanderers out – the abnormals allowed to roam freely. Henry preferred to call them ‘pets’ but was usually clipped sharply over the ears for doing so.

Tucked away in a dark corner, Henry found what he was looking for. Grunting, he extracted a dusty A3 book and flopped to the floor with it. Deciding that ‘here’ was as good a place as any, he flicked to the index and scanned for anything scary.

“Mummies…” he repeated, finding something interesting. “Close enough. Yo Bigfoot,” he spoke into his earpiece. The simple looking communicator was actually a complex set of relays connecting him directly with his colleagues at the scene in Egypt. He waited patiently for the satellite delay, skimming through the text.

Foss,” the signal was a bit crackly, but it was defiantly the big man. “You took yooour tiime.”

“How’s the sand?” Henry smiled, scratching his chin. He’d forgotten to shave and appeared, by his standards, a bit scruffy. He made a note to look into that before the boss got home.

Good for the liice,” Bigfoot joked, although he really wasn’t much for jokes so it could have been a serious comment. “Did yoou find that book?”

He winked though there was no-one to see it. “Tell her to load the heavy stuff, these things she’s onto aren’t very friendly. This book calls them, ‘wall climbers’ but I think they’re the same thing. Claws and teeth – sensitive to light, the usual aggressive temperament of an abnormal…”

Bigfoot growled a little, resulting in a smile from Henry.

“Cool it fuzzy, you don’t count, obviously.” He flipped over to a random page. “Oooh… hope you don’t run into any of these.”

Goodbye Foss,” the radio crackled out.

“Nasty little beasts with fangs and everything ouch,” he ripped the device out of his ear as it pitched. “You could’ve said you were hanging up…” he pouted, rubbing his ear.

“Maybe I could help with that…” the silken voice trailed off as its owner paced out of the shadows. John Druitt’s leather coat caught a few traces of the city light filtering in through the cob-webbed windows.

Henry dropped the book and spun around to find Helen’s creepy ex lingering by the window.

“She used to keep this place better,” John dragged a slender finger through a trail of dust on the top of a low shelf. “Many things change over time.”

*~*~*

“And what are you planning to do with that?” Helen watched curiously as Will rolled his thumb over the lighter’s metal wheel. A sharp spark later and a slender flame dented the torchlight.

“I lied before – when I said I only brought batteries. I have this too.”

“All our problems are solved – we can finally go home because Will possesses a lighter.” She shook her head in amusement. “Seriously, what are you doing with that other than wasting time?”

“This…” he grinned, holding it up to a small crevice in the wall beside. For a few moments the flame did nothing except tremble. Then, in a sudden rush of light, it caught hold of an accelerant and zoomed off in a trail of light illuminating their surrounds.

Helen clicked her flashlight off, highly impressed.

“You’re not going to say anything?” Will failed to conceal a proud grin. “It’s okay, I know when I’m brilliant.”


3

FOOTPRINTS

“Ashley…” whispered Helen, stepping forward on shaky feet. The size of the tomb was immense – at least thirty feet to the roof and a hundred foot long. With several layers of steps weaving in around the lines of paint flecked pillars, there were many corners left hidden from view.

A steady creak came from above. Helen, momentarily forgetting the danger, descended the sand covered stairs and screamed up to the roof, “Ashley!”

Ashley was curled around a rope, dangling from a small metal ring in the ceiling. Her head was slumped forward and one leg hanging limp with a gash through her leather pants. She swung gently, like a curious pendulum or angel not quite fallen from the sky.

Helen watched a steady trail of blood drip out a line on the sand. It looked as if Ashley had been here for some time, injured and alone.

Will skidded in behind the circling mother, glancing nervously about the unexplored room.

“We’ve got to get her down, Ashley!” Helen continued to call, trying to get her daughter’s attention.

Her persistence worked. Gradually, Ashley began to stir. It started with a strand of dirty blond hair slipping over her shoulder to brush against her face, tickling her nose. Ashley shifted as her eyes parted, laden with sharp deposits of sand.

“Mum?” she muttered, trying to focus the blurry shapes running frantic circles beneath her.

“Don’t move Ashley, I’m coming up there.”

Will frowned with his head aimed at the ceiling. He wasn’t sure how Helen planned to get up there. Ashley was hanging from the centre of the room out of reach from everything; indeed, he still couldn’t work out how on earth she’d gotten up there in the first place.

He took a few steps after Helen and felt his ankle roll. Will landed on his arse in a cloud of dust and sand, coughing with surprise. That had hurt. Feeling around for the cause, he found a scattering of ammunition shells sinister enough to make him suspect Ashley as their owner.

“Helen, wait…” he said. Helen hadn’t even noticed that he’d fallen. It took him catching hold of her arm to gain her attention and even then, he wasn’t sure that she was listening. “Something went down here – these things are all over the place.” He pointed out several more piles of shells at variously locations all over the room. Either there had been a small war or Ashley’d found what she had been looking for.

Ashley renewed her grip on the rope, grimacing as her nylon-warn wrists and hands burned. Almost a day, that’s how long she’d been hanging on, hoping that the rusted metal would hold her in place. The left side of her shoulder was useless with a shard of hot metal burrowed into it. Damage from the scuffle itself was widespread and ranged from severe to superficial. To be honest, she was more worried about the claw marks leaving a scar than potential infection. That was the one thing the desert had going for it. Her adrenaline was all but gone and the actual pain was well established, seizing whatever functions remained.

“Get out of here…” she croaked, lifting her head up. Her mother and Will were scurrying over the floor beneath like a pair of rats, sniffing and hunting.

“I’m coming, Ashley…” Helen repeated, searching for anything that she could use to reach her daughter.

Underneath the layers of sand was an exquisitely tiled floor. Most of the walls displayed intact hieroglyphs, several of which Will paused at, if only in fright. Now that he looked hard at the room, there was something wrong with it. Tombs were tributes, houses for the dead to live on in – that much he had picked up from the History Channel. Will seriously did not want to meet the person who had chosen to live in this place for all eternity.

The trail of fire that he had lit in the corridor, circled the whole room. “Wait…” he breathed, eyeing the ochre urns nestled in several corners. The sand on the ground wasn’t flat as it should be, nor were Helen and his trails visible. The ground was chaotic – a whisper of what had taken place and was still going on…

There – it happened again, another set of footprints appeared in the sand from nowhere.

“Get out of here,” Ashley repeated, trying to catch sight of her mother. All she found was Will, standing rigid against the far wall with his head jolting at every new movement.

“Helen!” Will said, panic rising in his voice. His plea echoed through the room, creating a few more footprints over the floor.

Helen felt the cool snap of breeze on her neck before anything else. Turning, gun and knife drawn, she saw only a frightened Will limping to the side. Her eyes betrayed her – she knew that her guard had dropped and that now they were in deep trouble.

“Talk to me,” she instructed Ashley.

The figure on the rope wiped sweat and tears onto the back of her hand. “I’m really sorry, mum,” she leant her cheek against the rope. “I never should have come here without you. They all told me to wait but I wanted –”

“I’ll deduct it from your allowance,” Helen was turning in very slow circles, gradually edging back into the centre of the room urging Will to do the same. “Right now I need to know what you found down here.”

“You seeing this,” said Will, watching smears of sand stain the air. Helen nodded, tracking each one.

*~*~*

“Why do you want to find her?” Henry swallowed harder than he meant to, clutching the book protectively across his chest like a shield.

John Druitt continued his expedition through the room, turning things over with his elegantly long fingers. So far he thought that he was doing a good job of appearing friendly.

“Because, little Henry,” John leant over the low bookshelf behind Henry, sliding his elbows over the wood. “She’s about to walk into something that she can’t handle and I don’t much fancy the prospect of spending eternity alone.”

Henry scoffed. “You want to help her? I don’t believe you.”

“I may not be the ideal husband, but there are worse things in the world than me.” He watched the city lights start to blink-out through the window behind Henry. A pretty scene – the new moon peeking out from a cloud, silhouettes of night birds cruising overhead, kept his eyes aloft for a moment. “And she’s about to meet one of them,” he said, as if to the night.

He could be sincere, Henry would grant him that much. Still, this smelt of a set up. He’d had no indication from the others that there was trouble and for all he knew, John’s other personality was the approaching danger. “She told me what you did, all those years ago. We all know. Boss told us so that we’d never believe a word from you.”

John’s eyes flicked down, quietly burning. “I’m being pleasant right now, as an act of good faith but there are more ways that we could do this. My daughter’s in trouble – so are your friends. I’m prepared to cut you a deal on this.”

“A deal, like you slit my throat after I tell you what you want?”

“I wouldn’t make suggestions if I were you, Mr. Foss. They don’t do your imagination justice.”


4

TIGHT

Hey, can you hear me?” Helen tapped her earpiece, still clutching a knife.

Will continued to limp toward her, his eyes darting at the sporadic movement around the room. She was beckoning him forward, trying to reassure him with her gun while wiping the area with it every few seconds. Neither of them had seen anything but sand – and you couldn’t shoot at sand.

Juuust,” came Bigfoot’s reply in her ear, amongst a shower of static.

Get out of there and meet us at the campsite. Leave the rope.”

Will’s eyes went wide as he listened.

Are you iin trouble?”

Helen kept her gun high. “Just go!” she yelled, satisfied when the radio clicked off. “He can’t help us anyway,” said Helen to Will. “Ashley, I want to know if you can see anything from up there.”

Ashley, barely awake, lifted her head up and looked down on the scene. Her mother was in the centre of the room with Will cautiously making his way toward her. He was about to start his descent down the steps when Ashley croaked, “Wait – they’re all around you.”

Will stopped, his foot hovering above the sand. Helen’s eyes moved more gradually this time, lingering on every turn of stone.

I know what you are,” she whispered to the room in a silken voice not dissimilar to someone she had once known. Helen was certain that the walls could hear her. “Have you ever used one of these?” She reached behind her and withdrew a charcoal hand gun with an inscription scratched over the butt. Will thought it looked an awful lot like the one usually found resting on the hip of a certain Detective.

“Present from a friend,” she explained, holding it up for him to see. “Safety is on,” she twisted it around. “As soon as you’ve got it, I want you to slip this clip and aim it at the wall behind me. Whatever you do, don’t shoot me.”

“I-” Will didn’t get a chance to finish the thought. Helen threw the gun towards him in a steady, underarm action. It cleared the first ten feet between them. Will extended his hands toward it in expectation, cowering as the weapon spun in the air barrel first.

A line of sand ripped up from the ground between them, plucking the gun from midair as if it had hit an invisible wall. It fell to the floor with a shower of sand and a new set of footprints. Will’s outstretched hands clutched the air dumbly as he stared down at the fallen weapon.

His hairline broke into sweat. “I really don’t like what’s going down here.”

“Don’t panic,” Helen replied, “just walk towards the gun very quietly and pick it up.”

“You said you knew what these things were,” said Will, clambering down off the first step. It was a difficult thing to do carefully as his limp and the stone’s uncertain edges hindered his movement.

“Chameleons,” she replied, unable to pick any out yet. Helen knew that there were at least three in the room; one behind her, one to Will’s right and another skirting around the ceiling.

“The best I’ve seen,” added Ashley, trying to keep her eyes focused. If she could be of help, she would. “At least fifty of them though they were a tad difficult to count properly.”

“Not a time for jokes, Ashley.”

“I’m not,” she coughed, her throat dry and sore. “They’ve got a community – if you could call it that. Pack, yeah – a pack of them.”

Helen’s heart revved up a beat, not only was the sand moving but the walls as well. Pillars, stairs, ceiling – every surface was shivering, refusing to settle.

“Pick a spot and stare at it,” instructed Helen, as Will reached the gun and saved it from the ground.

He flicked the safety off with trembling fingers and pointed the gun at the wall behind Helen.

“I don’t want to alarm you,” she began, her voice miraculously steady, “but you’ve got to wait for a clean shot.”

Will wasn’t confident that he could get off any kind of shot at all. He’d never been a gun man – he was a flashlight man, a book man – a penknife man even, but not guns. They were too heavy and unpredictable and added to that, he hated the thought of what might happen if he scared and squeezed the trigger or even worse, if he did nothing at all.

Picking a spot on the wall behind her, he asked, “Why?”

“Under these circumstances – small enclosed space with stone walls, bullets bounce.”

Ashley nodded in agreement though no-one could see it. Her shoulder pained again and she remembered seeing the sparks of her bullet ricocheting off the pillar and coming back for more. Flashes of limbs, dust and an air you couldn’t breathe, it was surreal to see the room so quiet when she knew the same creatures were there, waiting for their chance.

“You got anything left up there?”

“I’ve got a clip,” Ashley replied, though she doubted that she could reach into her waistband to retrieve it.

Helen did the math. “This is going to be tight.”

*~*~*

Emerging from the wooden ladder stronger than its looks, Bigfoot’s hair-laden hands gripped the stone opening and hauled himself out into the sun. A dry wind kicked over his fur, lacing it with sand.

Good for the lice,” he grinned, as best his face would allow. He’d waited years to use that line and he was damned if he was going to let a lack of audience stop him. Foss didn’t count, he was just practice. Bigfoot ran all his best lines through him before using them in public.

Rolling onto his knees, he pulled the equipment up after him and set to work unpacking the satellite communication. He strapped the remainder of the equipment onto his back and held the transceiver aloft for signal which would be undoubtedly better up here above the ground.

A rich carpet of red stretched out in front of him. The dirt of this dust bowl was mixed with iron oxide – literally rust. At the edges of the impressive red sweep was a stark range of mountains, clawing up into the sky with water-stained sandstone which had turned a sinister black. The rendezvous point was at the base of the spire-peak. In the shadow of the cliffs, Bigfoot could see a few fires burning.

Foss, are you there?”

He walked for a few minutes, re-adjusting his luggage until he settled into a comfortable pace. Something was in the process of going wrong in the tomb, he could feel it. Danger worked its way down his spine in a shiver; a prickle of hair lifting to attention at the slightest whiff of trouble. The big man knew that he was of no use to them on his own. The shafts were too small for him to fit through. If he could bring the camp site back with him fast enough, maybe that would help.

Arrre you even listening to me? There’s trouble about. I’ll send you through what we aave as soon as I get to the camp. You better be online by then.”

Thousands of miles away, John Druitt set the radio back on the desk. Henry rubbed his fists over his brow, trying to press the correct decision into his head.

*~*~*

This time, Helen caught an outline seething into focus half way up the wall. A torso was twisting as its chest exhaled. The creature’s camouflage re-adjusted with the slightest delay giving her a tangible outline with which to track her weapons on.

It knew that she could see it. What bothered Helen most was that it didn’t seem to mind.

She followed its motion as it slipped along the wall only pausing when a pair of eyes widened in terror. Her gun had ended up aimed at Will’s nose with the creature dead behind.

Will was sure that he could see the bullet, nuzzled inside the barrel ready for its turn in the air. His body shifted to pause – no air, no thought, no movement.

“Helen…” he whispered, not sure of her intention.

“Do you trust me?” she steadied her arm and tilted her stance so that her shoulders and feet were square to him.

Will wanted to swallow but couldn’t find the courage. “I hardly know you.”

“Probably a good thing,” she curled her fingers around the trigger.

This is going to be bad, thought Will, in what was potentially his last thought.

Helen held her line of sight with sheer audacity. She would not miss. Helen Magnus didn’t know how to miss.

Duck!”


5

TAG AND BAG

Will did as he was told and ducked as a bullet ripped over his head. He slammed his eyes shut and brought his hands over his face as he hit the ground, surprised to find himself alive.

Helen’s shot hit the stone wall in a shower of sparks, missing the camouflaged creature by inches. She swore as the bullet made a return trip, flying past her right ear before she could tilt her head away and then continued on to embed itself in a pottery urn behind.

The room moved at once.

“Get up!” she yelled at Will, as every surface shifted.

Will uncovered his eyes and saw a clawed hand skim over his skin before disappearing into the sand with a rush of air. He yelped and fumbled for the gun he’d dropped, picking it up backwards.

“Arse off the ground right now,” Helen screamed, as a blur of movement headed in Will’s direction. He rolled when Helen took a shot at the ground, both of them shielding themselves as it bounced off the floor and headed toward the roof.

Ashley condensed herself into a tight ball as the stray bullet made a close pass. That horrible sound had returned to the room, the one that sounded like sandpaper on wood. They were all moving now, more than before. She had listened to the creatures slip into the room for hours in the darkness as she hung on the rope, hovering out of their reach. The ‘People of the Sand’ the books had called them, but these were neither people nor sand. They were far more dangerous.

“Heads up mum!” Ashley called, as one of the sand people launched themselves from a nearby pillar.

You could see them better in the air.

Slender arms which ended in four clawed fingers, stretched in expectation of Helen’s person. Their skin was sleek and beautiful, rippling through colours during flight. The contours of their body suggested a muscular physique – supple like a feline but human enough that Helen could make out a wicked smile, spreading as their eyes opened.

They were blue – an icy contrast with the sand. Both were trained on her as their limbs closed in and the claws fanned out in a pre-grab motion.

The creature reached her before she could move, dragging her across the floor and down a step with the impact.

Will did a double take as Helen was wiped from view. On the step beside him, a figure sat up calmly and grinned. It had been there all along and now it was ready to play. Will heard it tap its claws and fold its knees in preparation for an attack. Without thinking, he pulled the trigger at point blank range, not bothering to aim. The creature snarled as its arm went limp. A steady trail of dark blood ruined its perfect camouflage.

This upset the others. Breaking their silence, they all stepped forward, crouching or crawling.

Helen used her feet to keep the creature at bay. It was held back by her legs, forcing itself towards her. Its long arms swiped, falling just short of her face but were getting closer with each pass as it used its weight to weaken her. Her instinct was to bring her gun around and shoot, but her weapon had been lost during the collision and all she had nearby was her five inch knife.

Turning her head to the side to avoid the creature’s attacks, she stretched her arm and groped for the knife.

Damn,” Ashley whispered, as she tried to make it to her weapon. Her shoulder melted into pain as she unclipped the strap holding her gun in place.

Knife firmly in her fingers, Helen brought it toward the creature’s face. “Last chance,” she said, wondering if it could understand her.

It understood the serrated edge along the blade and the way that it caught the firelight.

Struggling for control, Helen called out to her daughter, “What do you want to do with them?”

Ashley, gun free and loaded, picked a target. “Tag and bag,” she called back. “That’s why we’re here.”

“I guess we’re taking you with us,” she goaded the creature currently trying to detach her face.

“Take them where?” Will gasped, backing away from his injured creature which continued to crawl toward him. It was taking its time, something that bothered Will greatly.

“Take them home,” replied Helen, gathering her strength.

Will shook his head. The room was full of them, most still watching the proceedings curiously as one might watch a fight. He had no doubt that they would join in when the temptation became too great. “Uh un… count me out of that one. You take this,” he pointed at the wild-eyed chameleon, “home then you can leave me here.”

The floor was covered in a constant layer of airborne sand as things raced across out of sight. Helen, mouth full of sand and eyes stinging, gathered her strength.

“Get. Off. Of. Me!” she huffed, bringing her knees to her chest before jettisoning the creature off across the room.

It squealed, shocked at the sudden action. Before hitting the pillar behind, it managed to twist its body in the air and land, clutched around the curved surface. With a wide-eyed glare, it quickly mimicked the pillar behind, barely visible as it scrambled up toward the roof.

A few others cried out, including the one closing in on Will. He brought the gun back up, aiming it at the creature’s head.

“Don’t kill it!” said Helen, getting to her feet. “We need one alive.”

“Does it have to be this one?” he replied, trying to ignore the cold eyes staring back at him. His question was answered when the creature slumped to the floor in a pile following a loud crack. Ashley nodded from her lofty position.

“Sorry, but that one was about to rip your throat open.”

“Ashley,” scorned Helen, “shoot to wound.”

“To hell with that!” Will leapt to his feet, seeing at least four more advance upon his position. He turned his head to the side and gripped the weapon with both hands. The trigger gave way beneath his fingers and suddenly he was spraying the room with bullets.

No!” Helen went to ground, unable to do anything but hope.

The creatures darted, scattering away from the initial line of fire. Will realised his mistake too late as five rounds took on trajectories of their own. The first clipped his arm and he yelled out in shock. A creature on the wall fell to the ground, writhing in pain and a final shot found the nylon rope securing Ashley to the ceiling.

Her first thought was that it had missed. As Ashley continued to swing, the rope appeared unharmed. It wasn’t until the first strand snapped that she realised that she was in trouble. Even if she survived the fall to the tomb floor, her injuries would be serious.

Enraged, a creature behind Will hit him on the back, tearing strips from the back of his jacket along with several layers of his skin. Helen rolled onto her back, sore and winded. She saw Ashley swinging high above and the rope holding her there, unfurling strand by strand.


6

CHAOS AND SAND

On her feet at last, Helen screamed at the ceiling.

“Don’t move! There’s rope in the entrance room, Will and I will – urrumph,” a creature, appearing from the side, took hold of Helen’s arm – sinking its teeth through her leather jacket. Its jaws clenched down onto her bone, extracting a shriek from her usually brave exterior. Another slammed into the back of her knees and she slumped back to the ground in pain.

The creature’s head was black now, flaunting a dull sheen and crinkled surface. It horrified her that she appeared to be wearing it, like some aggressive accessory she might have owned a century ago. She tried to pull her arm away but found herself drawn toward the creature instead. Screaming, Helen kicked sideways at its head, hoping to dislodge its teeth from her arm.

Will made it to his feet, half limping – half falling forwards with motion. His back was searing from the creature’s claws while his arm dribbled over his shoes and into the sand. He could see Helen on the floor, struggling against a creature unsure if it wanted to be sand or leather. Its back legs were digging and scratching at the floor behind as Helen tried to drag herself from its hold.

Another ‘crack’ reverberated off the walls. A creature lost its footing, rolling down the steps beside him. Will looked up and saw Ashley re-aim her weapon at the creature attacking her mother. It was clear from her growl that she couldn’t get a clean shot.

Ashley’s eyes kept the creature lined up but she couldn’t stop her hand from shaking. She wasn’t nervous, or scared – her body was going into shock most likely from all the blood she’d lost. Added to that, she knew that her legs were well and truly tangled in the rope. She had made sure of it so that she could drift in and out of sleep whilst waiting for help. Now though, it presented her with a problem; with the rope gradually breaking, she would go down with it.

Will, with a decent line of sight on Helen, brought his weapon up and took a shot at the creature. Nothing happened. Wiping away the sweat stinging his eyes, he tried again, rolling the trigger as Ashley had shown in on his first week. This time he felt the click but it was soft and empty. He was out of bullets.

Shit…” he muttered, tucking it into the back of his jeans without thinking. “What do I do?” Will yelled at the room, not caring what answered him.

Helen shouted Will’s name as she rolled on top of the creature. “At your feet! At your feeeeet!” Then she was gone again, with two creatures on top of her slashing and screaming.

Will looked down at his feet, wondering what help they could possibly be. There, to his surprise, he found the sleek form of his flashlight. He couldn’t help but grin.

Scooping it from the ground, Will hopped over the last few feet until he was right on top of scuffle. Raising it behind his head, he let loose, bringing a heavy blow onto one of the creatures. Now with one arm free, Helen took a swipe of her own, knocking the other one off of her.

“Thank you,” she said, gripping her arm with her hand to stop the blood gushing out of it.

“Mum…”

They both looked up and saw Ashley staring anxiously at what remained of her rope. There couldn’t be more than a few strands left. Instead of swinging, the rope had started to twist in tight circles, putting even more strain on the nylon.

The twang from the final snap dragged a heavy silence after it. Helen saw only her child, suspended on the air with a rope snaking off in a wild curve, thrashing out toward the wall. Ashley’s hands let go, reaching out like wings as the downward pull took hold of her. It was an action too slow to be real, as if the world had changed its motion.

Ashley!” Helen threw her body carelessly forward, dodging a stray creature. Will followed, propelling himself with such force a creature bounced off his chest in fright.

“No…” Helen stood beneath her daughter as a scream filled the room.

Will, realising that Ashley didn’t stand a chance, knocked Helen out of the way of her fall. As they headed to the ground together, Helen frantically grouped over Will’s shoulder at the sight of her daughter sailing through the air. Then, a rush of wind kicked every granule of sand from the floor and the room vanished under a hazy veil.

It was if a jet liner had decided to take off beneath them except that they could see nothing as the roar encompassed them. Like lightening in the distance, Helen and Will were vaguely aware of a blue flash bleeding through the chaos. They couldn’t hear Ashley’s scream and yet they hadn’t heard her hit the ground.

Shielding their faces in each other as the sand and wind peaked, they felt themselves tugged sharply. Will held on tight as they both slid over the floor, unable to breathe or see. They were drowning in it; the sand and the chaos. Overwhelmed with the noise, Will failed to feel the creature’s claws, digging into his ankle with no intention of letting go.

Without warning – the room went quiet.

The wind stopped as abruptly as it had begun and the sand fell back where it belonged amongst the shattered remnants of urns and bone. Sand creatures were scattered everywhere, dazed and clumsy as they staggered about with their skins in flux, upset from the disorder.

The first thing Helen and Will did was breathe.

Helen opened her eyes. She found a pair staring back at her. They were blue – but not icy and clear like the sand people. These eyes were murky with flickers of grey and green blurring into watery disks. They were stark against the expanse of pale skin, sunken under a strong brow ridge as if sheltering from the world.

“Let’s go,” they said, reaching out a hand.

Without meaning to, Helen took hold and the world faded to black.

*~*~*

Foss, you better aaanswer your damn headset or I’m coming over there to-”

We are so, so – I can’ believe how utterly and totally, phenomenally, I mean TOTALLY screwed we are!” Henry’s panicked voice had trouble deciding what to confess to first. Unable to stop the topple of words spilling from his mouth, he continued to despatch information in fragments ranked via severity. “And then – he was gone. Druitt was outta here with a mean look and I think he was headed your way.”

Back up and slow down.” Bigfoot waved the rescue party to leave without him. They were still unsettled by his appearance, most normals were. It was something he had gotten used to. It hurt, but less and less as the years wore on. “What do you mean ‘Druitt’? I thought we were dealing with Sand People.”

I know,” Henry was surrounded by open books and handwritten notes, “and we are. But I was just sitting here and suddenly he appeared from nowhere and I mean one minute there was a window and the next minute – damn, scary bastard – my arse is so gonna die.”

He triiied to kill you?”

No – well, yes, but I mean that the boss is gonna kill me when she gets back. If she gets back. Of course she’s getting back – I didn’ mean that.”

Bigfoot finally found what he was looking for – a large, nicely curved slice of metal. He threaded it through the straps of his pack and headed out the tent flap. Evening was finally starting to approach the desert. The surrounds were darker than they should have been, sheltered by the wall of rock behind the camp. Permafrost clung to the tents, thicker at the posts. By the time they reached the buried tomb, it would be night. Bigfoot’s main concern was that the desert stories were true.

Most of the camp was on the move, heading toward the strange bump poking through the sand in the middle of absolutely nowhere. They are armed to the teeth, in some cases, literally. As residents of the desert, they had a pretty good idea of what was under the sand.

Listen, we’ve got a few problems of ooour own. If Druitt turns up, we’ll deal with him. Call you back when we’re done.”

Henry gripped his headset, as if squeezing the life out it would keep it on longer. “Don’t hang up on me, don’t hang up on me, don’t -! Guh! Damn fuzzball, I hadn’t finished yet.”

There was a not so subtle scowl over the headpiece.

You – still – there?” whispered Henry.

Satelliiite delay.”

Henry had forgotten about that. “Did you,” he cleared his throat, “have something to add?”

Yeah, prep the biggest cage we have. Helen’s bringing home a new pet.”


7

TRAVELMATE

The world reappeared with a sharp flash of light and jolt of electricity that raced up her spine and played havoc with her nerves. Helen clenched her eyes shut as she felt her head split into two. The sheer agony of jumping through a gash in space and time was overwhelming and it never got easier.

John held her hand, folding it beneath his fingers while he waited for her to wake up. He watched as she murmured and frowned, no doubt suffering through the pain.

Will was unconscious, draped over the lower half of Helen’s body whilst a sand creature twitched, teeth embedded deep in his ankle. It was currently a dusky orange, unaware of the deep mahogany floor boards of Helen’s library.

John tilted his head and eyed it curiously, wondering what new pet Helen had been hunting in the desert. Suddenly he felt Ashley start to slip loose from his shoulder. Shifting his daughter’s limp weight, John whispered Helen’s name. He wanted her to see this – wanted her to know.

Helen’s eyes shot open.

Don’t,” she rasped, coughing and struggling for breath.

John let her hands slip from his hold as he stepped back, his placid look evaporating into a comfortable state of malice. He revealed Ashley, slumped carefully over his shoulder.

“Ashley…” Helen tried to get up but Will was heavy and her body was weak.

“Don’t bother,” he said softly, stepping out of her reach. “I just wanted you to see her – know that she was safe,” John finished with a strange smile forcing its way over his harsh features.

She eyed him in warning, “What do you mean – John!” Helen hid her face beneath her arm as John tore another hole in the universe. It was a violent action which ripped pieces from his soul, scattering them across time. To blame him for a gift that devoured the John she remembered was unfair but sometimes she couldn’t help it – especially when he had their daughter in tow.

“Stupid, stupid…” she beat at the ground. Ashley was gone again, dragged well beyond her reach.

“Ow… that hurts,” Will staggered into consciousness.

Helen tried for a second time to roll him off of her sore body but it was an action that was going to require his input. “Teleporting tends to hurt,” she said, slapping him hard across the face to snap him out of delirium.

“Oh god, that hurt more.”

She half heartedly apologised, helping him to lift his head and roll to the side. “You were crushing my bruised ribcage.”

“Remind me not to do that again,” he coughed up a mouthful of sand. Will’s face contorted in pain, “It really hurts…”

Helen rolled her eyes but then realised why Will was whining.

“Will,” she half-whispered, making a point of keeping her voice steady. “Keep still and – uh, tell me how many books are on that shelf over there.”

Will’s forehead crinkled up. “What shelf?”

Helen glanced over her shoulder and re-adjusted her point to a non-descript library shelf. “Just do it.”

Helen slipped her knees out first and then, with Will’s assistance, shuffled out from underneath him. She crawled around his body to the point where the sand creature had attached itself. Its body rose as it inhaled, causing a ripple of colour to propagate from its shoulders down its bony back. Helen’s hand stopped short of touching the alluring surface.

Craning her head, she saw a set of small, sharp teeth embedded in Will’s ankle amidst a mess of blood. Even in sleep this thing was biting down hard.

Little bugger,” Helen cursed, to which Will tried to whip his head around and have a look, still unaware of his travelmate.

“What – what?” he demanded, squirming in vain.

“Nothing,” Helen roused. “Stop moving and count the books.”

Will’s attention was instead drawn to a set of footsteps approaching from the right. Puffing, a dishevelled Henry rounded the entrance to the library, stopped at the site of them and placed his hands on his knees breathing heavily.

“How – the hell – did you get – what is that!” Henry pointed at Will accusingly.

Will frowned, offended. “What do you mean, what? I’m not a ‘what’ I’m a ‘docto-ooraaargh!’” he yelled in fright, seeing the creature conjoined to his ankle. “Get it off, get it off, get it ow!

Helen held him down with one elbow digging into his throat, “If you keep moving like this, you’re going to wake it up. Henry, go get the tranquiliser gun and load it with 4’s.”

Hi Henry, how was your week? Good – yeah, heard you had a bit of trouble. No, it was nothing. Your deranged ex only tried to rip me into little pieces and feed them to the exhibits while you were gone but I’m over that now, no permanent damage. He did, however, take down most of our security network and release a few abnormals for good measure but other than that everything here is –”

“This century please!”

*~*~*

“Aren’t you going to help?” Helen and Will grunted their way down the corridor toward the lift, dragging the snoring body of the sand creature. It was heavy and awkward made more difficult by the fact that both of them were injured and sore. Indeed, the only reasonably healthy individual was waiting at the lift doors, holding them open with an impatient look.

“Nope,” replied Henry, one hand in his jean pocket. “Creature goes in the cage. Computer guy stays by the computer.”

She loved what Henry had done to the place whilst she was away. All the flowers were dead, weeping over the edge of the vases stationed along the corridors. He’d left the curtains drawn, most likely out of fear whilst several mice had escaped from her lab and taken up residence under the Inquiries desk.

“You’re perfectly replaceable,” she grunted, hauling the sand creature’s arse into the lift. Both she and Will fell against the iron-grated walls in exhaustion.

Henry hit the basement level button causing the lift to lurch into action, overbalancing Will who fell on top of the sand creature – squeaked in panic, and then returned to the elevator wall with an embarrassed look.

“Not likely,” Henry acted decidedly dejected. “One look at the job description and you’d have to increase the pay which brings me back to –” He stopped when Helen pushed herself off of the wall to tackle him with a hug.

A mass of dark hair obscured his view.

“Hi, how are you – missed you,” she grinned into his shoulder.

*~*~*

They deposited the sand creature in maximum security. The door to its cage clicked shut but Helen didn’t sigh with relief until the double locks slipped into place. It looked sad, lying there on the floor. In what she guessed was a rarity for its kind, the creature looked out of place – starkly alive against the dreary cell walls.

“One down. You’ve got about three more high security threats on the loose though,” Henry moved to one of the inbuilt display systems on the wall. A floor plan of the manor appeared on screen decorated with three flashing dots.

“First,” she straightened up, sweat streaming off of her. “I’m stitching the pair of us up,” she pointed at Will who continued to drip blood wherever he went, ruining her good carpet. They both looked a mess and in need of a decent cup of tea, or in Will’s case, coffee.

Henry watched nervously as the red dots moved about the screen. “I don’t suppose that I can…”

“Yes,” she wacked him on the back as she left the secure area. The whole level was too dreary for her liking. “You can come too.”

*~*~*

“You’re thinking about Ashley,” Will winced, as Helen smeared alcohol over the deep claw wounds on his back. “We could go and look for her.”

Helen shuffled through a metal tray. She was dressed in a white coat with her hair tied back while she attended to Will’s injuries which were quite impressive for someone who ‘didn’t fight’. Finally happy, she selected a dangerous looking implement with a sharp hook on its end. Will suddenly wasn’t so sure that he wanted to be fixed.

“John’s too clever for that,” she said, lining the horrific thing up where the bullet had clipped his arm. “He knows which strengths to play on – he’ll take her where I can’t follow.”

“She’s inured though?”

“I imagine so – though I didn’t get a good look.” It was clear that Helen didn’t want to talk by the abruptness of her answers.

“For what it’s worth,” said Henry, sliding off a nearby gurney, “I don’t think he wanted to kill her.”

Will looked away as Helen picked a layer of his skin up with the tool.

“Even so…” Helen trailed off. With John, even his best intentions had a habit of attracting the worst outcomes.

An alarm went off over by the door to the lab, filling the room with flashes of red. The emergency lighting kicked on a moment later, bringing the room back to full brightness. Henry tapped away on a nearby computer and frowned, deep with worry.

“One of the loose abnormals is having a go at the windows. They managed to trip the power in the process.”

“All right,” Helen’s eyes were back to their steady façade. “We better go and round them up before they do any real damage. Yes Henry, you’re coming too. Without Bigfoot or Ashley it’s going to take all three of us.”

“I’ll try and contact him again before we go,” said Henry, hunting around for his headset. “He said he was heading off back towards the tomb looking for you. Hopefully we’ll catch him early and save him the walk.”

*~*~*

A desert wind had blown itself in from nowhere. Bigfoot was certain that whole dunes were gusting over their heads. Their flashlights were utterly useless against the turbulent layers of sand swishing around like schools of ocean fish.

The desert people whom he had brought with him as part of the expedition were huddling on the ground with thick layers of cloth pulled over their heads. Whenever he passed one, he thought that they looked like boulders, thrown at random by the ancient volcano on the other side of the dune.

Bigfoot stopped when he felt a hand reach out and grab hold of his leg. Bending down, he saw another of those ‘rocks’. This one appeared to be shouting at him, though it was difficult to tell through the noise of the wind.

“Go to ground, mate,” yelled the man. Only the profile of his nose was visible underneath the layers wrapped around his head. “Only thing to do.”

For all Bigfoot knew, they had been walking in circles for hours. The desert man was right. Not even sand people would be out in this…


8

MAGNUS

The room was lit by a series of kerosene lamps stationed on mahogany desks, cut glass coffee tables and marble mantelpieces. A fire joined the glow, burning behind its ornate iron grate. There was a heavy smell of varnish on the air – almost intoxicating as it mingled with the vase of roses.

Some of the furniture was huddled to the side, pushed out of the way to make space for a central table covered in soft layers of bedding. Ashley shifted on top of it. The pillow supporting her head smelt like her mother’s coat.

Eventually her eyes opened, catching a glimpse of the firelight playing over the ceiling. She waited for the inevitable stab of pain to hit her forehead but it never came. Her body was numb, trying to move she realised that nothing but her eyes would respond.

Her heart picked up a few beats as she took a more careful look at the roof above. It was painted a shade of green her mother wouldn’t touch with a shorn off shotgun which meant that she wasn’t at home. Ashley breathed again, confirming her mother’s scent.

Concentrate Ashley, she instructed herself. Don’t panic, you’re not dead yet. Now where the hell are you? Closing her eyes she tried to remember the last thing that had happened.

A length of unravelling rope – sand creatures closing in underneath – her stomach turning…

A door closing to her right snapped her out of it. Ashley kept her eyes shut and pretended to be asleep as something bumbled about the room, tinkering with the lamps.

Minutes passed until the footsteps walked straight toward her and came to a stop. She kept her breathing steady but couldn’t stop the occasional twitch of her eyelids.

“Almost lost you there for a moment,” a deep, warm voice said. It belonged to a gentle looking man who walked off in the direction of a solid-looking desk behind her head. Its edges were handcrafted while its centre was inlaid with green leather. “I know that you are awake,” he continued. “No use pretending, young lady.”

Ashley opened her eyes to a brightened room. “I can’t move,” she stated, almost accusingly.

Although she couldn’t see it, the man smiled and retrieved a pair of spectacles from his desk drawer, stopping to skim through a few loose sheets of paper.

“You should be thrilled to be alive,” he replied, dipping a gold nib into a pot of ink before scratching across one of the pages. He gave one of them a small nod. “The state you were left in, even I’m surprised and let me reassure you – I’m not easily surprised. The things I’ve seen – ” he sighed and trailed off.

Ashley felt helpless, unable to move or see anything other than a small patch of ceiling.

“Now,” the old man said, grinding his chair over the floorboards, “have you got a name? Or shall I continue to refer to you as, ‘curious’?”

He tottered into view, leaning over her. His appearance made her smile, though she couldn’t place why.

“Ashley,” she offered, blinking as he waved a heavily creased hand over her eyes.

“Well, Miss Ashley, you’ll have to wait until that dose I gave you wears. Your movement will return in time so too, I suspect, will some of the pain. In the meantime, why don’t you explain to me what you were doing left in a crumpled heap on my front step?”

*~*~*

“I thought that you said this would be easy…”

Helen closed her eyes, inhaling deeply as she had taught herself. The action calmed her enough to respond to her winging accomplices.

“Will, have you ever known me to use the word, ‘easy’?”

Will re-adjusted his grip on the stunning stick that she had thrown at him on their way here. “Yes,” he replied.

“And what happened then?”

“Total carnage,” Henry filled in. “What – we’re talking about the snake thing right? Why are you all looking at me – is there some law against talking now? If there is you’re going to have to start issuing memo-upd-”

Helen reached across Will and covered Henry’s mouth with her hand, combining it with a stern glare. Will, now hemmed in, peered into the dark room in front. He could hear something scratching around.

“Ah…” he mumbled, hoping the others would follow.

What he could hear was a three-legged abnormal ripping its way through Helen’s lounge room curtains. Nicknamed, ‘Pain’ mainly due to its numerous irritating escape rampages, it had been a resident of the Sanctuary for many decades.

“Not my good curtains…” whispered Helen, releasing Henry and shuffling closer into the room. The clawed fur-ball was busy tearing its way between the folds of fabric.

She’d purposely plunged the manor into darkness to confuse the abnormals let loose by John. Usually it made them disoriented and easier to catch. It also made Will prone to falling over objects and landing splattered over the floor like some work of modern art.

“He’s not going for the cage…” Henry sighed, as Helen poked her nose around the corner, tranquiliser gun raised.

The ripping stopped and was replaced by a patter of tiny feet across the floor. Helen sharpened her eyes, trying to pick the creature out from the darkness. The group jumped at a loud ‘click’ followed by a sizeable clatter as the cage door snapped shut.

“Or maybe…” Henry clicked his flashlight on and ventured into the room. “We got it!” he yelped excitedly, as his light trailed over the cage now full of fur.

“Henry, would you just wait. We’ve talked about this!” muttered Helen, cocking her weapon before following. Will raised his stick and did the same.

“He’s kind of cute when he’s all locked up – aren’t you?” Henry tapped the edge of the cage as Helen flipped the lights back on. The curtains, as she had feared, were reduced to shredded strips of fabric.

“Don’t play with him – he’s not a pet. He is a form of human being.”

“Speak for yourself,” retorted Henry. Half the time he felt like another one of her pets.

The scruffy pile of fur had two sharp eyes and stood upright in the cage, feeding its spindly arms through the trap trying to pick at the cage lock. It knew what it was doing and, given enough time, would be out and free to continue its reign of terror.

“Come on,” said Helen, retrieving the cage. “We’ll put Pain back and leave SAM where he is. Ashley can deal with him when she gets back.

Pain rattled the bars, chirping loudly. Helen shushed it with such force that it cowered into a corner.

Will fell into step beside her as they travelled down the hallway. “Wait, who’s SAM?”

“Subterranean Animal Menace. By now he’s probably nesting in the attic.”

“We’re just going to leave him there? I thought that these were high security creatures?”

Will looked worried, Helen could tell by the way he gripped his stun stick. If he gripped it any harder he’d stun himself.

“He won’t be dangerous until he starts looking for a mate which won’t be for – two weeks?” she looked at Henry for confirmation. He shrugged. That sounded about right. “Besides, I want to take a look at our new guest before he – it, whatever, wakes up.”

Henry broke away from the party and headed off back to his office to try and raise Bigfoot’s camp. There was no answer from the man himself but he did manage to catch a woman at the campsite. The line was riddled with static but he heard her say that there were strong winds in the area interfering with communications and that she would continue trying to reach the party and call him back with any news. Henry wanted to leave it there. It had been a long day, for everyone, but his stomach had been sinking all afternoon.

*~*~*

“Feeling better I imagine,” the doctor helped Ashley take her seat at the desk. He had been right about the pain returning. Apparently in this place you got a choice between mobility and comfort. The choice was simple for Helen Magnus’s daughter.

“I can walk, if that’s what you mean.” Her eyes tracked over the room. What was absent was far more interesting than what was present. No computer, light bulbs or powerpoint’s of any kind. There was not even so much as a pen in sight. The sounds of the world outside the glass windows were different too. It was quiet except for the occasional rap of what sounded like hooves.

She shook her head, there was no way that –

“Are you all right, my dear?” The doctor leant forward in concern with eyes that seemed so familiar. “You shall have to remain here this evening. It is my professional opinion that you are not in any condition to wander about and if my suspicions are correct, you’re not from around here.”

Ashley wondered what had led him to that conclusion until she noted the differences between their attire. His jacket was an olive green, tapered in around the chest where it was buttoned up to a silk neck tie, held in place by a delicate gold clip.

“Who are you?” she asked. If she didn’t know better, Ashley thought that she might be on the set of an historical English drama. Indeed, the doctor sounded an awful lot like –

“Doctor Magnus,” he smiled, “but you can call me ‘Gregory’ if you like.”


9

LEGACY

Helen held the needle up to the light, checking for any stray air bubbles gliding through the liquid. There were a few, so she flicked the glass and pushed the plunger until the freezing liquid squirted out the end, splattering over the cement and down her fingers.

“All right, let’s see if you’re as hot as Will thinks you are – genetically speaking of course,” she said to the sand creature, as she approached the crumpled form on the bed.

It was still a sandy colour with granules of light and dark dots mimicking the surface of the tomb. Several scratches on its shoulders and ankles had healed but a deep gash under its ribcage remained open. She would have to attend to that when she finished collecting samples for her research.

Presently, Helen Magnus was after the creature’s blood – not much, just enough.

With its mouth open drooling over the sheets, the sand creature’s breathing remained steady and shallow as she slid the needle into its neck. A ripple of colour propagated from the spot where the tip went in – hitting the sides of its body and circling its limbs. It twitched a bony finger or two but did not wake.

“You’re not such a bad patient,” she cooed, withdrawing the first needle and taking another from the trolley beside her. This time it was a syringe with a hollow tube, ready to collect a sample. “Last one, I promise.”

There was something very old about the sand creature – like the musky smell on closeted jackets. They looked fresh but every now and again there was that hint of age, brushing over the air.

Its skin rippled again as she began to draw the sticky blood out. Through her plastic gloves she unintentionally felt the texture of its skin. It was fine, almost tissue paper and far more fragile than she had imagined. One slip with a sharp knife and it was open, as evidenced by the gashes.

The creature’s breathing deepened to something reminiscent of a snore. Every time its body deflated, a low drawl flowed out of its razor lined mouth like words.

Her needle full, Helen withdrew the metal from the creature and snapped a lid on its top. Satisfied, she pried off her gloves and placed everything in the trolley, preparing to leave the cell.

“All done here for n-” Helen blinked, looking back to the bed where the creature had been. It was empty though she could still hear the deep rustle of the creature’s breathing coming from the empty space. Helen checked the cell door, it was closed and the rest of the small cell remained bare.

This time, Helen forced herself to look more closely at the empty bed. Sure enough, there was a slight rise and fall to the air where the camouflaged body exhaled. Its disguise was near perfect.

Beautiful but deadly, she thought as it began to wake up. Helen decided it was time to leave.

The creature agreed, whispering something under its breath.

Helen tensed.

She let go of the trolley, pushing it aside as the sand creature’s hand scratched across her neck, throwing her to the floor. She hit the opposite wall hard enough to blur her vision. Everything was slurred, images and her thoughts. She was barely able to pick out the rising form of the creature as it stretched its injured limbs, licking a wound on its arm.

There was a rattle as the trolley and its contents sped toward her, pushed by the creature. Helen stirred and lifted her legs, taking the impact. It hurt like hell, but she refused to slip into unconsciousness.

Bollocks…” she whispered, as the creature advanced. Her tranquiliser gun was on the table outside the cell – well out of reach. There was a set of keys in her back pocket and she hoped to death that the sand creature hadn’t learnt how to use them because in a moment or two, they would be at its disposal.

The sand creature fell to all fours as it grew closer, slinking from side to side. Helen wished that she could see something more than a quivering of air. It wasn’t right, dying in silence like this.

“There are other ways – to do this,” she pleaded, trying to hold her voice steady. She could hear the tap of its claws as it moved through the room and eventually the sound of its skin contorting with a subtle effervescence.

Its lips moved again, accompanied by a rolling tone.

“You’re right,” she closed her eyes, as a paw snapped her neck to the side.

*~*~*

Ashley had been watching her grandfather speak for the last half an hour without saying a word. He’d grown used to her stunned silence and resigned himself to offering her biscuits and tea instead. Whenever she accepted an item of food, he felt that they had made progress.

A shadow wiping over the room interrupted them as someone passed in front of the arched window. Ashley scared at the sound of the front door shaking on its hinges and then slammed decidedly shut. Her grandfather folded his glasses, placing them gently atop a leather-bound book and then nodded at her.

“If you’ll excuse me – that’ll be my daughter returning from the lecture. She’s a doctor you know, a better one than me. I should get her to take a look at you – check up on my needlework.”

His daughter? Oh, Ashley’s eyes went wide. “Wait –” she panicked, catching hold of his sleeve as he went to leave. “I-” she fumbled for an excuse, “would rather just rest, if you don’t mind.”

Dr. Gregory Magnus’s bushy eyebrows curled even more eccentrically. “Sure? I guess you’re right. It’s best Helen stay out of whatever’s going on – it’s a delicate time for her and you’ve got that look of trouble about you.”

Ashley couldn’t help herself frowning. Her grandfather thought she was trouble? That hurt a little.

*~*~*

She could hear her mother’s muffled voice after Dr. Magnus closed the door. It was utterly bizarre – she sounded younger – different, as if she were a completely different person. Well, she was a different person, Ashley figured. People were made out of their experiences and there were some crucial parts of Helen that were yet to happen.

Shaking her head, Ashley rose from her seat and stumbled painfully around the room.

“This can’t be happening,” said Ashley, astounded. Everything that she touched was real, too real to be a construct of her imagination. Turning a delicate china ornament under her fingers, she paused to read an inscription under its base.

Darling daughter

“Curious – isn’t it.”

Ashley almost dropped it. Saving the precious object in her palm, she rolled it back onto the mantle and twisted her head to the side. Her matted hair fell across her shoulder as her eyes picked her elusive father out of the shadows in the corner of the room.

John stepped out from the servant’s door, leaving it open should he need to leave in a hurry. His clothes matched the period – a heavy, multi-layered coat and shirt that ruffled toward the neck. The man though, was out of his time. His eyes were cruel and sad from too many lifetimes alone.

She turned warily, eyes flickering to the poker resting against the fire place.

“Curious how time can be walked through again and again,” John continued, edging forward “– trampled over like one of your grandfather’s exquisite gardens.”

What are you doing here?” she hissed, afraid for the voices in the hallway behind the other door.

“Steady…” he cracked across the room without moving, teleporting to the fireside before she could move. He wrapped his hands around the poker and lifted it free. John slipped the warm iron between his fingers, turning it curiously. “That’s one way to thank me for taking you to see your relatives. It can’t be easy, having only one for so many years.”

“You didn’t answer my question. I’m what – kidnapped and you take me home? That makes no sense.” If she didn’t know better, she’d say he was taunting her, begging for a challenge. Then again, from what her mother had told her this could just be his natural mood.

“Your mother,” he began, using the poker to lean on, “she does medical examinations of all the abnormals in her possession?”

Ashley frowned. She was trapped in the past and he wanted to chat about work? “Most of them are struggling to understand their condi-”

“Even the dead ones?” he grinned, interrupting. “She kneels down beside them with a needle, those icy hands of hers picking a spot on their neck.” John laughed quietly, as if he could see Helen doing that very thing in front of him. “The way she lingers on them, wondering if this one will be different. You never thought to ask –”

“It’s for her research library – she told me. We document the abnormal gene pattern and I know that you know that because she told me herself.”

“Why?” he drawled the word out as if its meaning were crucial to his very existence.

Ashley frowned, “Why did she tell me?”

“No.” His reserved anger was forcing its way to the surface, “Why the research?”

She opened her mouth to give the ‘tour group’ response when he pushed forward into the room and raised a hand inches from her face.

“Wrong!” his eyes swirled, wild. “Your mother’s research began in this room when she was still a child. Living forever is a terrible curse – her father saw that early and used every facet of his knowledge to help his daughter. As she grew up, they discovered a whole world of people like us – twisted forms of human, creatures with talents to rival her own.”

“I don’t understand why you’re telling me this.”

“You’ve made it painfully clear that you’re old enough to know the truth but you have no idea what goes on behind the walls of your home,” his snarl was fierce, held back by something only just stronger, “and I don’t think that you really want to.”

*~*~*

Dr. Magnus kissed his daughter on the cheek after she’d taken a moment to calm down. “You were away for a long time.”

“Please don’t start,” she replied, sternly. “I don’t have the energy left.”

“So I take it they weren’t so keen on our research?”

“Narrow minded sparrows,” she threw her umbrella at the hallstand.

He couldn’t help but smile as his daughter tore the foyer apart – hats, coats and things flying roughly to their place. “It has been my long held suspicion that the world isn’t ready for you, Dr. Magnus.”

Helen shook her head. “I’m not a doctor, still an unwanted student I’m afraid. Is there someone here?” she added, hearing an object unsettled in her father’s study. Helen crossed the floor and stretched her gloved hand towards the doorknob.

“A patient,” he stepped in front of her. “They’re tired. I think it be best we leave them be. In the meantime, you can tell me about these sparrows.”

She sighed, the first lines of a smile creeping onto the edges of her eyes. “Very well.”


10

BURIED IN GLASS CABINETS

“You like the tropics, don’t you? Yeah…” Henry grinned. “I wouldn’t want to spend all my time in arctic water either I don’t care what Helen says about your native habitat,” he adjusted the dial, spinning it up a degree or two.

The heaters in the mermaid’s tank spun into action. She swished her tail, distancing herself from the huge outlets riddled with bubbles.

Will was ‘seated’ at the desk in the centre of the room. Well – more correctly, he was balanced precariously on the back wheel of the office chair which looked as if it would slip at any moment and vomit him onto the concrete.

“Is it wise to play with that?” snapped Will, nose deep in a folder. He hadn’t been with the Magnus household long but he presumed that there were rules against tinkering.

Henry stroked the glass. “What she doesn’t know can’t get me into trouble.”

“I may not be aware of the planet’s imminent destruction – doesn’t mean it won’t be trouble. What’s the deal with you and the mermaid? You’re always over there, whispering…”

“I don’t whisper,” replied Henry defensibly. “We talk. She gets lonely.”

Will suspected that it was something a little more than compassion. “If you don’t want to tell me that’s fine, I’ll just ask Helen when you’re not here.”

Henry smiled softly at the shimmering face in the water. She smiled back and then turned, vanishing into the depths of the tank. “Speaking of Helen, how’s she going with our friendly sand monster?”

Will dragged his eyes off the report to glance at one of the surveillance screens mounted over the desk. His face froze in a look of shock when he saw her crumpled against the back wall, a trail of blood beneath her.

A high pitched yelp preceded a thunderous crash as Will’s chair overturned.

“That good, eh?” Henry half-hopped, half-paced across the room with an extensive set of keys jingling on his belt.

Will pressed a hand to his head and felt something hot and sticky. He kicked the chair off and rolled forward onto his knees, taking a moment to rest his head on the savagely hard ground.

“Oh…” Henry paused, seeing a dribble of blood down the side of Will’s face. “Hey, you look awful.”

The injured Will glared back. “Thanks Henry,” he said, hauling himself to his feet. “We need guns.”

“Guns I can do,” he chirped. “But you’ll have to bulk bill the rest,” he pointed at Will’s pretty head. “I want it known that I was opposed to the whole ‘adoption’ thing from the start. Some abnormals were just never meant for captivity.”

*~*~*

The house was pitch. Lamps at each hallway had burnt down hours ago, their bitter smell sinking with the cold which snaked its way through open windows. All of the curtains were drawn against the full moon, though they billowed occasionally, caught by the evening breeze. As they parted, cracked rivers of light flashed over the floor, lingered for a moment and then vanished as the house returned to darkness.

Ashley stepped forward, her ears pricked in horror. Each footstep was like the earth shattering so she timed them with the ‘tick’ of the grandfather clock. After twenty minutes of this, she fell into a rhythm – step, breathe, wait, step.

Creeping up the centre of the hallway, she snapped a flame into life from her lighter. In the back end of the house, the snores of the Magnus household grew louder until she could pinpoint each sleeping body behind the closed doors lining the hallway. She wished that this was a different house – or if not, that she didn’t know one of the residents so well. Her mother’s hearing was as sharp as the knife under her sleeve.

Ashley’s delicate flame flickered as another gust of wind kicked the curtain at the end of the narrow hall behind her wide open. Suddenly ever surface glowed with moonlight, layers of dust scattering the light into halos. Relived, she caught sight of the attic door.

Holding her breath, she crossed past her mother’s door. A few more feet and she was slipping her fingers around the brass handle of the attic door, pushing it open. It revealed a darkened stairwell. Ashley extended her lighter in front of her but couldn’t see past the first flight of bare wooden stairs. She left the door not-quite shut and took hold of the banister, thankful that every step took her further away from detection.

Just when she thought the narrow stairway would go on forever, her head smacked into a low lying beam and she found herself slouching in under the roof. She could hardly see anything with her tiny flame – just the occasional outline of a shelf or an unlit lamp hanging dangerously low from its hook.

She took hold of the nearest lantern and held her lighter to it. In a rush of light, the room lit up and Ashley realised that she wasn’t just standing in an attic; she was standing in a laboratory. Lighting a few more lanterns on her way toward the main desk, she couldn’t help but notice the precariously stacked bookcases lining every wall, blocking out the windows behind them. Instead of books, most were filled with piles of notes. Ill-bound files with crumpled and stained edges threatened to teeter over lopsided shelves while several fragments of bone and teeth posed as ‘bookends’.

A series of desks, some merely overturned travel trunks, set the stage for a major experimental operation. Ashley recognised the familiar stench of formaldehyde and quickly discovered a row of glass displays filled with shrivelled forms. She held her hand over her mouth, trying not to look into their glassy eyes as she slipped behind the main desk.

Tossing aside useless pages, she rifled through until she found an unopened letter. Slipping it inside of her jacket, Ashley turned to her right and eyed the wall. As her father had said, one of the ‘bookshelves’ was covered in a wire-frame mesh, originally to protect against earthquakes in its native Italy. Now, it simply obscured the titles of the medical books squeezed inside.

Sliding a knife blade between the doors, she pried the latch free. They fell open with a drawn out cry and puff of dust. Waving the air clean she pulled out the books on the bottom shelf in threes and placed them gently on the floor. Halfway across the shelf, she found what she was looking for.

A small wooden cabinet with glass doors was slotted into the shelf, hidden by the books. She quickly slid the remaining books aside and examined her find. Ashley pulled the heavy item free of the shelf and carried it back over to the table where there was more light. It was a well used object, no doubt with many lives lived, none as obscure as its current one.

One of the cut glass panels fell out in her hand as she set it down on the desk. The contents behind rattled – not used to disruption. Ashley’s breath caught. At least a dozen vials of blood were lined up in a purpose built rack. She had been so sure that it was a lie – that everything her father had told her was poisonous rubbish – but he was right and here was the proof he had promised.

Shaken by the discovery, she hadn’t heard the hesitant footsteps or noticed the pair of horrified eyes watching her remove one of the vials and slosh the liquid around under the lamp. It wasn’t until Dr. Magnus gathered the courage to speak that Ashley realised that he was there, metres from the desk with a lamp in hand.

“Put it back,” was all he said at first. Ashley froze, staring back at him blankly. He continued, “What you have taken has no worth to anybody but me. You can have anything in this house, except that.”

Guilt crept in from nowhere – unlike anything she had experienced before. She could feel any chance of a relationship with her grandfather slipping off into the night like smoke, torn apart by the air. It hurt her to do this but for once, her father had a point.

“No,” she backed away from the desk non-threateningly. “I don’t want to hurt you. Let me leave and I swear I –”

“You cannot have what you have taken,” he interrupted, passion rising in his voice. “I will not let you take it. Return it and be on your way.”

Ashley shook her head, on the verge of tears. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, reaching into the waist band of her pants where she found an antique gun. Study desk, third draw –anther thing John had known. She held it at her grandfather but made a point to aim slightly off so that should accident befall, he would not be hit. This was strictly for show. With her other hand, she hid the vials safely in a padded pocket.

Dr. Magnus recognised his gun but did not enquire. His hands trembled as his mind settled into a quiet kind of peace. There was something about the barrel of a gun which brought clarity.

He stepped to the side until he was able to touch a low table. He trailed his fingers over it, moving towards a silver letter opener.

“Stop!” said Ashley, barely breaking a whisper.

His fingers paused, scant inches from the ornate handle. “Young lady, I already know that you’re not going to shoot me,” he said, changing his hand’s direction until it slipped under a pile of paper, withdrawing a journal. It was a small book, frayed around the edges. Deep scars formed the only pattern on its leather cover. “You want treasure?” he raised the book. “It’s yours but I must insist you return that sample.” He threw the book at her. It landed on the desk but she didn’t move to claim it.

She shook her head. “I can’t give it to you,” each word forced its way out against her will.

“Don’t be so ridiculous,” he raised his voice. “I am offering you wealth that you will never see again and you are willing to give it up for something you can’t possibly use?” Her grandfather approached her, step by step over the squeaking floorboards.

Ashley forced herself to bring the weapon in line with his sparkling eyes.

“Ashley… Being different doesn’t mean that you have to hate – it doesn’t matter I guess. It is clear you made your choices long ago.”

“What are you talking about?” Ashley took a step back as he grew closer. Her blurred eyes were hot and the back of her throat caught on every breath.

“Isn’t this quaint…”

Both Ashley and her grandfather startled as John appeared in the room. He was beside her grandfather, pacing with his gloved hands clasped out of sight behind his back.

Dr. Magnus forgot all about Ashley at the sight of his former ‘patient’. “Mr. Druitt, what are you doing and how did you get here?”

“It’s all right doctor, I just want to have a nice, friendly word with your granddaughter…”

Dr. Magnus turned back to Ashley, “What-arr,”

Before either of them could move, John was behind Dr. Magnus with one hand under his chin, tilting his head painfully toward the roof while the other brandished a long, slender blade which he pressed to the doctor’s neck.

Ashley stepped forward at once, gun centred between her father’s eyes.

“Let him go!” she shouted, not caring who heard. This was out of control. “I said, let him go. I’ve got what you asked for, just leave him.”

“She’s a bit rough around the edges,” sneered John into the doctor’s ear. “That bit’s from me. Look a little harder,” he bent the doctor forward so that he could see Ashley better. “Recognise those eyes?”


11

THE BEGINNING OF HELEN MAGNUS

Dr. Magnus swallowed. The feeling of the cold blade over his delicate throat was nothing compared to the glint in the young girl’s eyes. Yes, he had seen those eyes before – every time he paused in front of the mantle where the spotted mirror reflected his own aging face. They were his eyes. Unmistakable. Hers were clearer with flecks of someone else but still –

“I don’t-” he went to speak, but John pressed the blade more firmly to the doctor’s skin.

“It doesn’t matter how,” John said, bony fingers pulling one of the doctor’s arms behind his back so that he could not struggle. Ashley’s father made sure that his body was shielded by the old man, should Ashley take a shot. “I know that you don’t believe me, Dr. Magnus, but this is all for the best. Now Ashley, please come over here and we can be on our way.”

“Not until you tell me why they’re doing this.” She meant the research. According to John, her mother and grandfather did more than nurture an interest in abnormals – they sought them out, hunted them down if necessary, all for this small vial of blood.

He does it,” John meant her grandfather, “because he loves your mother and wants her to have a normal life. He doesn’t see her like I do – recognise what she is. It would be a crime to rip away a gift like hers. A billion average lives so that just one random mutation could deliver her to the world. I – on the other hand, am not so fortunate. My body is breaking down, unable to cope with its ‘gifts’ as unnatural as they are. She helps me when she can but for others like myself, what we require is a genetic stabiliser. That’s a rare thing, Ashley. So rare that throughout your mother’s extensive life she has only come across one creature that possesses this trait and it’s right there…” he lowered his eyes to where she had concealed the vials of blood.

Ashley turned her body, sharpening her aim.

“So you see, doctor, although it’s a noble set up that you have here, for these samples to be of any use, they have to take a little trip through time. I promise that we’re not really stealing them, after all, from one Magnus lab to another… Take the book as well Ashley, it was, after all, a gift from your grandfather.”

Ashley let a tear roll down the side of her cheek, not game to loosen the grip on her weapon to wipe it away. “What creature,” she hissed.

“John, whatever you, Helen and the others did– it doesn’t matter anymore.” Doctor Magnus knew that his daughter was not like himself. She was never satisfied by the answers he gave her or the natural progression of the scientific community. He also knew that she had not been at a lecture this afternoon – nor any Thursday afternoon. She was with them – with John.

It matters to me!” John roared. “It’s killing me and Helen knows it! She said that she would help me – that she would search forever.”

“I hate you,” Ashley interrupted her arguing relations. “But I don’t want to shoot you,” she said to her father. “I want to know everything, your side. Please, leave my grandfather alone. I will come with you if you just let him go.”

John eyed her with such ferocity that her skin went cold. “All right,” he rolled the words, lifting the knife from the doctor’s throat. “Give me your hand.”

Ashley lowered her weapon, not quite to the floor as John’s blade hovered at a safer distance. With the journal in her free hand, she inched closer, stepping around the desk where the lamp continued to fill the attic with soft light.

“See,” whispered John. “All friends here.”

He had almost released the doctor completely when Ashley reached his hand. Fingers brushing over each other – the door at the bottom of the stairs slammed open with a crash that shook the room.

Ashley’s finger, still resting on the trigger of the heavy gun, jerked.

She felt the ‘click’ before it was drowned under the blast of the gun which jolted her arm upwards. Everything paused – the haze of smoke from the barrel, her father’s mouth locked open in shock and the breath in her grandfather’s lungs. Ashley blinked, her lashes falling over her red eyes releasing another sticky tear.

The world was black. Forever rolled past and she was sure that the universe had forgotten her, leaving her in the dark where she belonged. Her head split with pain as if part of her was breaking off. She screamed, dropping the gun as the darkness flashed to white.

Helen Magnus, half dressed in her pale blue cotton dressing gown, slammed the door open and took the steps to the attic three at a time. Her bare feet were cut by the nails and splintered wood, leaving smears over the steps. She didn’t notice as she neared the glow at the top. Hushed voices mingled with the dusty air, one of them belonging to her father.

It was past two in the morning when she had heard the footsteps creep past her door. Helen lay awake after that, listening to the sounds of the house, thinking that she had imagined it. Then – then she had heard her father’s bedroom door creak open and him shuffle out.

The noises persisted. She was certain that she could hear papers shuffling somewhere above her head and floorboards groaning.

Fearing the worst – an academic thief after her father’s research, Helen slipped out of bed and followed the voices down the hall.

Now, rushing up the steps, she felt the crack of the bullet rip through her. The noise echoed off the small space. Her thoughts became a world of their own, deafening her. Pressing against the wall with one hand she screamed, “Father!”

Before she could reach the final step and see around the corner into the attic itself, the room flashed a bluish white. Shielding her eyes, she stumbled into the brightness. Helen thought she saw two figures evaporate. They were gone a moment later, taking the light with them.

The lanterns were little better than candles afterwards. It was under their soft glow that she saw her father, his back to her, standing in front of one of the desks. Helen stopped at the top of the stair, her breath coming in laboured heaves.

Father?” she repeated softly. The gush of air that had accompanied the flash had set the papers into the air. They continued to flutter down around her father.

Doctor Magnus’s legs crumbled beneath him. He lunged for the desk but his body had no strength. It was as if it didn’t belong to him anymore. The world had reclaimed it and all that was left to do was shut his eyes as the floor approached.

Helen threw herself forward catching her father just as he hit the floor. She cradled his head in her arms, calling his name over and over even that she had known that he was dead from the moment the gun was fired.

That was when she saw it – the sleekly shaped metal lying unwanted on the floor beside the desk. Placing her father gently onto the floor, Helen Magnus crawled forward toward the gun…

“Helen?”

It was scorching hot at the edge of the barrel so she trailed her fingers down toward the butt. Wrapping them firmly around its base, she lifted the item from the ground, feeling its weight in her hands. There was something alluring about it.

“Come on Magnus – Henry – stun it again!”

With one hand over her chest to stop her heart breaking through, Helen rose to her feet. Her eyes skimmed over the room as if it were a dream, the edges blurred through her tears. She would find who did this. Helen felt strength welling up inside of her. Her eyes flicked to the lantern swaying in front of her. The flame wavered as she reached out her hand to it –

“She’s coming ‘round, get that damn thing off of her!”

Henry stabbed madly at the air around Mangus’s legs. Finally, he felt a jolt as the stunning stick founds the sand creature. It flickered into vision, screaming and clawing in pain as Henry slammed the cage door shut and Will pulled Helen free.

Helen mumbled something as she came to. Will, exhausted, was seated on the ground with the top half of Helen in his lap. Henry stumbled over to them, panting as he swung the stunning stick over his shoulder and rested it there.

“Close,” Henry breathed, as the sand creature continued to growl in its cell.

“What happened?” muttered Helen, her eyes finally open. Will’s hand was over her neck where a nasty scratch mark continued to bleed.

“You had a run in with the sand creature,” he replied. “Close one too.”

They helped her to her feet and began stumbling toward the lift. Helen had to be propped up on both sides, her arms around their shoulders in order to walk.

“Nearly killed ourselves getting you out of that damn cage,” said Henry. “Seriously, you should consider giving us a pay rise for life endangerment.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Henry,” replied Helen, with just enough strength left to chide them for taking their time to rescue her.

The sand creature shook off the stun, folding in all of its limbs as residual shudders rolled over its body. It narrowed its eyes at a camera just outside the cell bars. People were watching it, it knew that – but were they listening?

*~*~*

Ashley curled herself into a tight ball, rolling onto her side where she spent a few minutes just breathing. She was back in her house – left in one of the many corridors. Eventually she let out a sob, burying her face in her hands. She had killed her grandfather.


12

CHANGING SKINS

Helen checked the plasters on her neck, replacing one that had soaked through whilst she’d been attending to Will’s head. It was amazing how much damage you could incur without leaving home.

“What I can’t work out,” began Henry, hanging around the edge of the medical room whilst the other two continued to patch up. He juggled a few objects he had found on a nearby desk, ignoring a stern warning from Helen that if he broke anything his neck would be next. “Is why we can see it all of a sudden.”

About an hour ago, the sand creature, recovered from its ‘electro-shock therapy’ as Henry liked to call it, had taken on a maroon disposition. Instead of mimicking the surrounds of the cell, it seemed content to sit directly in front of the camera in full view as if it knew what the curious device outside its cell was for.

“It’s so creepy,” continued Henry. “I preferred it when it was invisible.”

“I don’t,” said Will. “At least we know where it is and what it’s up to.”

“You’re only sour because you shot yourself back in that cave.”

“It wasn’t a cave,” Will raised his finger threateningly, “it was a tomb – ow, that hurts.”

Helen held his ankle firmly as she poured liberal amounts of antiseptic over the teeth marks. She’d given him three shots as well, in case the sand creature was carrying anything nasty. Will was most worried about rabies, especially as Henry delighted in reminding him of all the adverse side effects.

“Do we know what it’s saying yet?” Will changed the subject.

“Got progress on that actually. I’ve had the digital recorder going the whole time,” he caught all of the objects he’d been playing with and returned them safely to her desk. “Live feed-” Henry tapped the keyboard in front of the monitor and then leant forward, adjusting the sound system.

A hoarse whisper filled the room. The baritone voice rolled in and out of the speakers, slightly out of sync with the creature’s lips. It was a continuous drone, sometimes hissing beyond their hearing.

The grin on Henry’s face was irritatingly bold.

“What?” Will slipped on his glasses, finally free of Helen’s sadistic repair work.

His grin broadened into ‘allknowingness’. “Ancient Egyptian…” he threw a small book at Helen, who caught it without looking. “Very old dialect. Want to know how I know?”

“Let me guess,” Will and Helen exchanged a grin, “you’re brilliant?”

“Yep – and more. I can speak it.”

Helen sighed wearily. “No you can’t,” she corrected him. “You can say two words and they’re the same two words I know, namely because you were in the room at the same time I was interviewing the college student with cognitive powers. Shocked you remembered them actually. Then again, she was a-”

“Beautiful lady?” Will finished Helen’s sentence.

“Precisely.”

“Hey…” Henry was somewhat offended by the implication. “I learn lots of things living in this place.”

“In any case,” Helen switched the sound off but left it recording. “Two words isn’t going to be enough to maintain a useful conversation with it – especially considering the words… We need someone with more experience. It’s going to be tricky though, considering the level of clearance they’re going to need…” Introducing a sand monster to a professor wasn’t top of her list of things to do this week. When she failed to return the last one, the university had not been very pleased with her.

“We could send the recording to one of the universities – have them translate it for us?” suggested Will.

“Good plan, until the creature says something classified,” Henry rolled his eyes.

Helen stared at Will for several minutes. He was resting his sore forehead on his knuckles, face scrunched up in thought. “What are you thinking?” asked Helen, slipping off her white lab coat. She threw it in Henry’s direction. He caught it and folded it neatly, laying it over her chair.

“Uh…” Will started, but wasn’t sure if he wanted to share yet. “It probably won’t work though.”

Henry slid off the desk and pointed to the door with both hands. “Can we move this conversation while he sorts through mindfiles?”

Helen nodded. They all headed out the door and down the corridor, en-route to Helen’s main office where comfy lounge chairs and warm fires waited.

Will kept one hand on the wall as they walked, not noticing as it trailed over mirrors and doors. “I know someone who might be able to help us and, as a bonus, he seems to be aware of some of the craziness going on.”

Helen narrowed her eyes, pulling Will away from the wall in time for him to avoid her good urn. “Please tell me that they’re cultured and charming…”

“More like sceptical and good looking…”

She sighed. “Close enough – urg, what was that?” It sounded like something scampering away into one of the hallway rooms as they passed. “The rats get bigger and bigger every time we leave the house in your fine care.”

“So I don’t like using mousetraps,” Henry retaliated as they continued. “Poor little things, all crumpled and fury. I can’t stand to see them like that.”

“Use one of the residents. There are several that come to mind who might be interested in a walk.”

“That is just disgusting,” muttered Henry, as the group disappeared around the corner.

Everything settled as the footsteps trailed off with the arguing voices. There was no sign of any rats – nothing hunting along the skirting boards or gnawing cosy homes into the wiring. A few withered petals tumbled to the ground from a crystal vase left unnoticed. One of the electric lights flickered, threatening to resign.

Tucked in one of the darkened rooms with only the bluish glow of moonlight for company, Ashley exhaled, collapsing onto the cold brickwork. Her mother, Will and Henry had heard her rushed escape but been too caught up in their own problems to investigate. Lucky for her as the only plausible hiding spot was under the desk – far beneath her dignity.

Her cheeks were dry but her eyes stung from crying. There was a subtle shake accompanying every action she performed which sometimes rolled over her, usually when she breathed.

Composing herself, she snuck a look at the hallway to confirm its empty status. Satisfied, she returned to the curious crack in the main hallway. Ashley ran her nails along it, following it until it ended abruptly behind one of the enormous, gold-edged portraits. She eyed the ancient duke up and down before embracing his frame, heaving him off the wire behind.

The portrait was taller than she was and heavy. Grunting, she struggled to keep it aloft for the few seconds it took to unhook it and lower to the ground. Ashley took a breath and then shifted it out of the way.

There it was. A door cut into the hallway wall. Its construction had splintered the plaster resulting in the telling crack. She’d walked past it a thousand times as a child, never questioning its presence. From now on she would question everything.

It wasn’t difficult to open. Finding it was clearly part of its security and being located in the Magnus household was another. Ashley pushed it inward. The motion carried her over its threshold until she threw her weight backwards – grabbing hold of the entrance way before she fell into the black emptiness inside the doorway.

“Woah… That’s a hazard,” she whispered, heart racing. The secret door appeared to open into one of the elevator shafts. Peering in, she could just make out the elevator amongst the steel scaffolding. Underneath her was the a three story drop to the basement floor and opposite, a small metal platform a good few meters away over the gap.

There was just enough room on her side to pull the secret door shut and balance on the plank of wood someone had cleverly built onto the wall. Getting back over the gap would be a bitch, but at the moment all Ashley was interested in was finding out what the hell was going on in her house.

She braced herself and then leapt over the elevator gap. There was a moment in the air when she didn’t think that she would clear the gap. Before she could panic, she hit the steel platform, landing rather gracefully on her feet.

*~*~*

There was sand everywhere; through his fur, under his skin and embedded in the delicate tissue at the back of his throat.

Bigfoot lifted his head free of the mound that had all but buried his body. It poured off of him, scattering in the light breeze. He coughed and rasped as he climbed out of the sand. Bigfoot rolled over onto his back and smiled.

The stars were out. It was a clear night in the desert and, most importantly, he had lived through the hellish storm which had raged for most of the night.


13

BITS AND PIECES

Detective Joe Kavanaugh dug his heels into the bitumen at the sight of an oversized hat tilted away from the sun. Its owner, a sleek – tall woman, lifted her eyes with a smile. He wasn’t fooled. Instead, he raised his hand and pointed, starting to back away.

“I knew -,” he accused her, in a tone unsure whether it wanted to be disbelief or curiosity. “Magnus…”

All the while Helen Magnus continued to approach, slinking along the sidewalk with her hands clasped delicately in front. “You know me?” she asked quietly.

“Know of you,” he corrected, backing into a street light. “I live here. No one with their eyes open can take a quiet stroll in this place without running into you.”

“Shame,” she whispered, closing the distance now that the detective was cornered. Helen stopped half a step past him, turning her head to speak. “We’d set out tea and everything.”

Kavanaugh rolled his eyes, leaning towards her. “You’re lucky that you’re cute and I’m curious, otherwise I would have ignored that not-so-subtle invitation.”

*~*~*

“I’m starting to hate this stuff,” sighed Bigfoot, pulling his paw free of the loose sand. No longer planted, he began to slide down the side of one of the ‘waves’ of sand. He dug his claws in but with nothing to grip, it took an ungraceful tumble to bring him to a stop.

Washed over by a passing dune, the entire area had been slashed into a blank canvas. It had even parked its shifting arse right over the entrance to the tomb, making a real nuisance of itself.

This would take him hours – perhaps days to find the tomb again, let alone excavate it. He tried once again to reach Helen and Will on the radio but there was nothing but scratchy static.

Three days – four tops they had left, buried under all that sand with a couple of bottles of water let alone what else was trapped down there with them.

Don’t think about it, he instructed himself. Find the rest of the group, start digging.

Find the rest of the group… Bigfoot shook his head free of sand and cast his sharp eyes over the area. Under the soft light from the stars, he could see several hundred metres easily and not one of them had so much as a footprint.

“Come on…” he muttered at nothing in particular.

*~*~*

“You know, when I was little I tried to climb over that wall,” Kavanaugh grinned, as he and Magnus strode through the electric gates. Just to the right, the wall was obscured by a large elm tree, knotted and scared from its many years enduring its patch of dirt between the wall and carpark. There was a little world created in the shadow beneath its limbs where several branches rested on the brick wall creating a canopy.

“Nearly killed yourself. I remember because your mother voiced her disapproval of my wall whilst retrieving you.”

He sighed with a light, embarrassed laugh.

“I’ve never seen so much blood come out of something so small,” she continued, as the gates clicked close behind them. They made their way toward the enormous double, half foot thick doors of the house.

“Jeez, they’re right about you – never forget a thing.” He stood to the side as she typed in the code to the door. It swung open with a warm breeze escaping from inside and a gentle glow that did not care for the cycles of the sun or moon.

“Shall we?” Helen turned back over her shoulder to make sure that he was following.

Kavanaugh stood stupidly in the doorway, just absorbing. He’d dreamt about the insides of this house his whole life – fantasised about what was kept behind its walls out of reach from the rest of the world.

Finally he nodded, returning to his adult persona as he paced into the foyer.

“Niiiice,” he eyed a set of antique chandeliers dangling down above a sweeping grand staircase. Ignoring Helen, he lingered in front of a gargoyle statue, mildly disturbed by the eyeless sockets peering back at him above fanged jaws.

“If you’re going to do this in every room…” she eyed him disapprovingly.

“I like old things,” he patted the statue. “Though this one might caution on the edge of creepy.”

Helen Magnus hustled the detective toward the nearest lift via the shortest possible route. His ability to wander around the fringes of locked doors was only matched by his unending need to touch everything. Finally in the lift, she exhaled, no longer having to hawk-eye his every breath.

Kavanaugh had his head down, peering into his crossed arms. The lift lurched, but neither of them jolted. In a way, they were very similar. They both stood in their quiet worlds, wondering and reflecting until the lift stopped and creaked open. The barred door rolled out of the way and the two of them stepped into a bare concrete corridor.

He couldn’t help but wonder what he’d gotten himself into as the labyrinth of corridors deepened and all the while they were watched by a security camera at every turn.

“It’s in here,” she said, pulling them both to a stop outside an unremarkable door.

Surprisingly, there were two people inside the room, both standing in front of an empty cell. One of them, a scruffy looking creature, waved. The other, Kavanaugh had already met.

“Ah, thought you’d be around somewhere Mr. Zimmerman,” he said. “Got your letter – obviously,” he raised his hands to the ceiling, palms up, as if to say, ‘I’m here!’

Joe Kavanaugh’s eyes fell to a bloodied bandage on Will’s shoulder where his sleeve had been rolled up out of the way. Actually, now he looked, all three of them were covered in injuries ranging from very serious to humorously trivial.

“What happened to you?” he asked Will, nodding at the shoulder.

Will glanced at it, winced and replied, “I shot myself.”

“And…” Kavanaugh continued, pacing right up to Will. He reached around behind him and retrieved the gun, still tucked into Will’s waistband. “Isn’t this mine?” The detective turned it over in his hands, brushing his fingers over it as if it were a precious object.

Helen took Kavanaugh by the shoulders and steered him toward the cell. “I was going to give that back to you. I swear.”

Kavanaugh opened his jacket and tucked the gun away. In front of him was a distinctly empty cell, something he’d travelled all this way to see via the unusual request of a doctor he hardly knew. There better be a good reason for it.

“An empty cage?” he said, unimpressed. Kavanaugh tried to move a little closer but Helen kept a firm hold of his shoulders. “You brought me all this way to see an empty cage?”

Henry fidgeted. “It was there a moment ago. Vanished when it heard the door go.”

Kavanaugh frowned, “Vanished?

Will was being eyed sternly by Helen.

“I told you to keep it calm,” she hissed at them.

“We did!” they replied in unison, before Henry finished. “At least it’s still here.”

“Hold back, vanished?” the detective peered into the cage and thought that he caught a glimpse of something move. “What’s going on Magnus and why am I here?”

Helen reached forward and tapped the cage bars. “Don’t stuff around,” she yelled at the emptiness, and was promptly answered by a roar. The deep, guttural noise hurt their eardrums, distracting them as the sand creature made itself visible by leaping forward at the bars with its mouth open in warning. It wound its fingers around the metal rods and eyed Kavanaugh coldly.

Unlike the others, the detective didn’t flinch. He stood his ground, nose to the cell where the creature continued to hiss and scratch.

“Now this is something interesting,” he whispered, staring right back at the creature.

*~*~*

Bigfoot stared down at the ground at his feet. Grain by grain, it seemed to be draining away into a point – funnelled off into nowhere deep below.

He stepped back and knelt beside, just watching. Eventually the depression grew so that he had to shuffle out of the way where the ground became unsteady. A freezing wind backed over him and he considered leaving the curious phenomenon until, from its centre, a small mound appeared and the sinking halted.

Bigfoot raised his hand, ready to slap whatever was welling up through the sand. It grew closer and closer to the surface until three fingers burst through into night air, clawing their way upward.

He startled before clambering to his feet, standing over the hand, and pulling whoever it was free of their prison. A head popped up, shortly followed by the rest of the human body. Frans, one of the members of the expedition, ripped the material away from his face and gasped.

Bigfoot sat on the ground in front of him, shaking his head in disbelief. “Frans, you’re lucky my boss makes me look first, kill later.”

Frans nodded, holding up a ‘peace’ sign while his skeletal body enjoyed breathing.

Expedition Team, this is Base Camp, come in please. Over.’

Bigfoot frowned. After hours of radio silence, his mind had begun inventing its own. It wasn’t until the message repeated and Frans tapped him on the shoulder that he realised it was for real.

“Base Camp, this is Expedition Team. Over,” he replied, standing up for better signal.

Finally!’ the voice exclaimed. ‘Expedition Team, you are requested to return to base immediately. Magnus and team are safe repeat, return to base immediately. Over.’

“Confirm message,” he replied. “Expedition Team has been compromised by a sand storm. So far only Frans and I are accounted for. Suggest course of action. Over.”

There was a pause as if she were relaying information to someone else. ‘Expedition Team, head back to Base Camp. We’re sending out an aerial team in twenty minutes. Over.’

Big foot agreed. Deciding that the best course of action was to cut toward the desert cliffs in a straight line, heading for the firefly lights of the camp, they set out at once. After all the noise of the storm, the world seemed so quiet.

The big, fury man kept his ears pricked to the ground beside and his eyes searching for other survivors. Occasional trails of wind kept them turning in circles, checking their backs for another approaching storm. All they found was a calm, clear night and still ground, slumbering under the stars.

“Over there,” Frans pointed toward a small lump in the sand, incongruent with the surrounds. They picked up their pace, stopping just short of it.

Big foot reached down and, after a moment’s hesitation, brushed the sand off to reveal a sight that made Frans stumble to the side and hurl.

The severed hand tumbled to the ground when Bigfoot realised that it wasn’t attached to a human. “Jake,” he muttered, noting the tacky jewelled ring.

Frans coughed, trying to straighten. “There’s another one,” he pointed ahead to a longer bump in the sand, and again to their left where a tuft of hair was caught above the sand. “What in the gods…”


14

STALKED

The silken dunes were littered with imperfections – rises and falls, specklings of colour belonging to shredded cloth.

“By the sands,” whispered Frans, “mus’ be the whole lot of them.”

Frans, pitiful creature that he was, happened to be correct. Dozens of bodies slept, ripped apart and left in tatters by something fierce. Bigfoot kicked a layer of sand over the severed hand and turned back toward the cliffs where the settlement’s lights flickered. Above, a chill sank from the sky, immersing them before it settled at their ankles.

“We go now,” said Bigfoot solemnly, pointing at the spot beneath the black cliffs. Frans didn’t offer resistance, happily trailing him less than a step behind.

Bigfoot may have looked relaxed, settling into a firm pace, but he kept a sharp eye on the sands, inspecting every murmur of movement. Whatever had been locked in the tombs beneath was roaming free – hungry for sport since Helen had disturbed them.

“How your friends get out?” whispered Frans, slipping down a dune. He finished the distance on his arse, hands trailing over the cool dunes for stability. Beating the carefully trod Bigfoot to the flat, he scrambled to his feet and waited.

Bigfoot glared in Frans’ direction as he passed, silently instructing him to keep quiet. Behind, Bigfoot could hear restless movement, kicking through the sand. Strange, considering the breeze had died hours ago.

“Tried to tell you, the desert things never sleep. Been here since the gods’ time. They come, they kill and then they all creep back into –”

The big man, who was busy eyeing the night with caution, pricked his ears. Frans’ incessant chattering, nuisance that it was, had fallen quiet before reaching its natural end.

Bigfoot did not stop, nor did he turn around. If Frans was silent, then he was dead.

*~*~*

Helen watched Kavanaugh tilt his head, trailing his sharp eyes over the sand creature’s face. His calmness worried her almost as much as the creature’s curiosity toward the detective. It had chosen to remain visible, picking a reddish brown for skin which might be its default setting.

“Didn’t think I’d see one of these again,” he whispered, sliding his hands down the bars. “Been a long time…” Kavanaugh spoke directly to the creature which remained transfixed by him. It wasn’t clear whether it wanted to kill or speak with him – at least it was calm for a change instead of trying to rip their throats out.

“I’m – sorry,” Henry ventured a few hesitant steps forward. “You met one of these before?”

Will had that, don’t all look at me, I invited him because he reads and writes ancient Egyptian look about him while Helen moved in closer, slinking through the room until she appeared over Kavanaugh’s shoulder.

“We should talk,” she whispered into his ear, so that the others couldn’t hear.

The detective turned away from the cage to face her, a dangerous glimmer in his eye. “Something I’ve been trying to do since I was seven. Why else do you think I clambered over your wall?”

*~*~*

Heaving for breath, Bigfoot leapt from one crest of sand to the next, stretching his arms out like wings until he hit the ground and scrambled down the other side. The camp lights were bright now and the mountain well above his head, strangling the night with its imposing blackness. There couldn’t be more than two-hundred metres left to cover.

He was pursued by a haze of sand, whipping up in great swirls behind him. It was clawed into the air by a dozen sand creatures, scaling the dunes with incredible speed. They would catch him easily before he reached safety – rip him limb from limb.

Bigfoot pushed on, withdrawing a long knife from the folds of his desert cloth. He had waited until the last moment to do so because it made running difficult. With a final look at the camp, he stopped in his own storm of sand, and waited for them to arrive.

A line of sand cut diagonally in front of the others, thrown up by a rogue creature as it hunted impatiently. Bigfoot watched it, tightening the grip on the blade as the creature paused, then shifted direction. This time it headed straight for him. Seconds away, he swung the sword over his head and slashed down where the creature would be.

The ‘crunch’ never came. Instead, the creature dove into the sand at his feet and tunnelled beneath him, bursting forth from the ground behind. It wasted no time lashing his back, ripping his clothes open with liberal smears of blood.

Bigfoot howled, pulling the sword from the ground and throwing it in a sweeping arc behind him. The creature ducked, easily missing the blade. It fell backwards onto its arms and used its feet to kick, forcing Bigfoot to the ground without any breath left in his lungs.

Gasping, he sensed the creature circling him. Playing with him until the others arrived. Bigfoot could feel the group approaching. Their attack was calculated, calm even. The scout had gone to great trouble not to kill him, which the sand creature could have done easily on the first strike. No – this was revenge – and the group wanted it.

Sensing a chance, Bigfoot gasped, filling his lungs with air. Then he rolled onto his knees crawling forward a few paces. The sand creature guarding him snapped its head around. Keeping a careful eye, it crept closer, deciding how best to disable the prey.

In the split second it took for the creature to consider its options, Bigfoot ran his sword along the ground, inches from the sand. The swipe was so fast that its only mark was a metallic scrape upon the desert air.

The creature howled, collapsing to the side, separated from its feet.

“I’m not so easy,” Bigfoot muttered, throwing the sword away as he made a dash for the camp.

*~*~*

Helen’s study was warm. She kept a large fire burning in the corner, framed by a marble mantle and iron grate. The curtains were open, tied back with silk ropes so that the city could be seen to shimmer beyond.

Detective Joe Kavanaugh had imagined standing at this window, peering out at the world through Helen Magnus’s domain. What a different world it seemed, full of monsters and magic.

“This is not the first time that you have been in my house, detective,” Helen flicked through a creature profile lying on her desk before setting it aside. She dug through a desk drawer, retrieving several crumpled letters. “Your mother was very concerned about the time you spent here. She wrote several letters to that effect.”

“Can’t think why,” he chuckled, stepping back from the window. “She took me to Egypt when I was four on one of her college projects she and dad worked on during the holidays. According to her, this one was a little different.” Kavanaugh seated himself in one of the leather chairs opposite Helen’s. She sat as well, folding her hands in front of her on the desk.

“Your mother worked on translation catalogues while your dad kept records of the –”

“I know what my parents did,” he interrupted sharply. “When my father didn’t return that night I thought of it every day for the rest of my life. My mother lied to me about how he died, so did everybody else.”

A strange smile crept over Helen’s lips, barely detectable. It wasn’t sinister, merely one of understanding. “You saw one of them…” she said, her dark eyes glistening.

He ran a slender hand through his hair. “It came to the tent, just before – the creature was like nothing I had seen, rippling between disguises as if it lived in another world. I remember freezing, unable to breathe as it moved around the tent searching for something. The thing that gets me, even now, is that it saw me – I know it did, but it didn’t touch me.”

“You were only a child,” Helen said softly. “Not a threat to it.”

“But that’s not it at all,” he continued. “because it killed three other people that night, two of them were female students and the third was a baby left alone on the bed to sleep. You know what I think? They’re intelligent and vengeful. Old as well, I imagine, as they speak the dead language. That’s why you brought me here – as a translator. Isn’t it?”

Her lack of reply was all he needed.

“I’ll help you, but I want some answers, starting with why you haven’t aged in three decades.”

*~*~*

What Bigfoot couldn’t see from the dunes was a small plane, prepped and ready on the dirt road outside the camp. As he half-ran, half-fell along the road, he saw that the lights were an empty gesture, not belonging to tents at all but carefully placed flares. Everything was gone, packed away and evacuated.

A woman stood next to the plane, waving him forward.

Bigfoot risked a look over his shoulder and saw the creatures still following him a minute or so behind. With the last of his strength, he made it to the woman at the plane who pushed him into the craft as it started to move. She followed shortly after, locking the door as the plane picked up speed along the runway.

Nobody said a word until they were airborne.

“Magnus’s orders,” said the woman, shaking her head as if she couldn’t believe it was still attached to her body. “She’s not usually one to run and hide, but these sand things are fierce. There’s one waiting for you back home.”

Bigfoot didn’t bother asking how Helen and Will had made it out of the cave. He would have his answers after the flight. Right now, he was happy just to sleep.


15

HISTORY CREEPING

“Those are the terms,” Helen held out her hand. Kavanaugh took it, shaking firmly. He agreed to follow them and soon after, they returned to the lab where Henry and Will were busy running the blood samples Helen had collected from the creature earlier.

“Definitely human,” Henry pointed at a chart on the wall. “Granted, it’s a nasty, under-evolved pain in the arse with sharp claws and a hangover…”

Joe noted that the room smelt of disinfectant and blood. On the bench running along the back wall were the scattered remains of surgical equipment, no doubt from some hurried patch job. Helen, at the very least, had a white bandage around her neck with lines of red seeping through in a distinctly claw-like manner. Injures from the creature downstairs, he presumed.

He didn’t say anything, instead Joe chose to slink back and observe. It was something he was used to, hiding in the shadows and letting the truth surface during its natural course.

“They’re not, under-evolved Henry,” snapped Helen irritably, as she nudged his scruffy form away from the computer screen displaying the results of the blood-work. “Far from it. Look at the telomeres…” she zoomed in on one of the sub-screens. It quickly filled with sets of stunted tubes that looked a bit like hacked earthworms after an early morning feeding session – except that they had been stained blue. These were the creature’s chromosomes, and the white segments on each end, the telomeres. “They’ve hardly degraded at all and they are exceptionally long compared to modern humans.”

“I don’t understand,” Henry leant on the table beside her, examining the screen.

“Telomeres,” she explained, “are believed to be responsible for the ageing process. They are, for lack of a better term, ‘disposable buffers’ at the ends of chromosomes. When DNA replicates itself, it is not a perfect process. Bits are lost of the ends of the complex strands – the telomeres cap the chromosomes taking the brunt of this process. If not for them, the body loses information and thus, begins –”

“Aging?” Henry cut in.

“Exactly. This limiting factor is like a ticking clock for life forms.”

“If cells could replicate perfectly, there’d be no limit on their age?”

She shook her head at Will. “Sadly, that condition is called, ‘cancer’. These samples suggest an organism that has found a trade off between the two extremes which allows it a greater maximum lifespan. The People of the Sand will age and die like anything else, but it will take them a while. A long while.”

“What about you?”

“Different again, I’m afraid. These things possess a unique abnormality – if you could call it that. More likely they’re a rare species that bottlenecked into this isolated group living in Egypt.”

“Didn’t exactly get a good look,” said Will, throwing another file on the desk, “but I’d say that they have extensive chromatophore organs, allowing them to shift the colours of their skin like a squid. Nifty adaptation,” he added, “common in water dwelling creatures although there are examples of it throughout all branches of the animal kingdom.”

“So, how old is this thing?” Henry looked worried.

Helen was quiet for a while, running a stray hand through her hair up into where the black strands vanished into a clip. “It’d be a guess, but I’d say the sunny side of six millennia give or take a decade.”

Henry and Will stared at each other. That couldn’t possibly be good news.

Joe, who had kept quiet at the back of the room, finally spoke.

“Why don’t you tell them what it really is,” his voice rolled over the air, low and calm. It was directed at Helen. The detective returned a bleached jaw bone to its place as a paper weight and raised his eyebrows expectantly at her.

Will took exception to Kavanaugh’s tone.

“You don’t think that Magnus would tell us if she-” Will was interrupted by Helen’s hand on his shoulder. She nodded her head gently at him until he stepped aside.

“I merely have suspicions,” she replied quietly. “I would have to cross check them and even then –”

“Helen?” Will searched her eyes, but they were difficult to catch as they glanced to the ceiling, searching for something that wasn’t there.

“These are vampires,” Helen said finally. “Pure blood vampires.” She looked back at the screen where the test results glared back at her. It had been so long, she’d almost forgotten how much it meant to her to see vampire blood smeared between glass slides.

“You better be sure,” said Will, breaking the silence that had settled.

Helen agreed. “I’ll run the checks at once. If we’ve got a vampire, then we’ve undoubtedly got problems.”

*~*~*

Ashley had learnt more about her house from ten minutes inside its walls than in her twenty-odd years traipsing about the corridors. Passageways tracked all over the place down here – some were old and decrepit while others had been maintained. The banisters she used to cross the last set of electric cables had been put in recently. She could tell by steel nails – still shining proudly, clearly believing themselves to be platinum or some precious jewel.

Yes, thought Ashley, there was definitely something worth finding buried in the walls.

She ducked under an established spider web. The resident was busy folding silvery threads around a distressed bug and did not flinch as one of Ashley’s hairs caught on a sticky strand, sending shivers through the delicate structure.

Descending many levels of ladders, Ashley reached what she presumed to be the ground floor – maybe even just below it. The innards of the building were on display. Pipes and cords were tacked onto the walls, snaking their way in all directions. One of them was dripping, somewhere off in the darkness to her left. The hum of the cooling fans droned over her footsteps and every now and then, the lifts screeched into life, showering the area with sparks which zipped brightly through the air before flickering out.

In front of her was a maintenance door. She quickly scanned it with her torch and then pushed the handle down. It clicked but Ashley had to force it open, shielding her eyes from the sudden brightness within.

Her pupils shrank to tiny points as she blinked furiously, trying to accustom herself to the harsh lighting coming from several large fluorescent strips. On the far side of the room was a metal shelf divided into dozens of narrow segments. Each one was packed with files – many of which looked ‘well-loved’. Holding most of the attention though, was a heavy wooden desk in the centre of the room. It was a beautiful desk with inlaid leather and deep red-brown hues where its lacquer had aged.

This was her grandfather’s desk.

She approached the slab of wood slowly, unsettled by its presence.

The back of her throat went dry. It was as if he was there, peering at her from the other side with striking grey eyes made cloudy by too many years of despair. He had been dead for more than a century but she had only killed him hours ago. Her breath caught as she stood there for a moment with hot tears slipping silently down her cheeks.

Deciding to avoid the desk, Ashley turned her attention to a slender bench top at the other end of the room.

Open on the stainless steel surface was a folder with Nikola Tesla’s photo unclipped and lying loose over a set of typed pages. Her mother’s writing was scrawled in the margin of the top page and then again on the back of the photo.

Apologies,’ said the script on the reverse of the photo.

Also in the folder was a letter dated in 1889 and signed by Tesla. The barely legible writing scrawled to the edges of the page. It was smudged along an old fold-line and washed out at the edge. Still, Ashley could still make out some parts-

Not quite what we expected. That said, the outcome has intriguing application which I need not instruct your mind to speculate on. This changes everything … yours always, Tesla.’

Ashley shook her head and roamed over to rack of glass vials. She didn’t have to be a student of science to recognise the substance congealing in their bases. For each vial there was also a corresponding file stacked beside most notable of all however, was a file without a vial.

Subject Unknown – Pure Sample 0049’

Frowning, Ashley reached into her pocket and retrieved the set of vials that she had taken from her grandfather’s lab. Each one had a slender label wrapped under its lip. 0030 – 0009 – 0162 and 0049.

“Back slowly away from there and-Ashley?” Helen lowered her weapon, stepping into the room.

Ashley slipped the vials back into her jacket before turning around to find her mother in shock.

“Ashley!” Helen tucked the gun into her waistband and jogged across the room to scoop her daughter into a vigorous hug. “I thought – I don’t know what I thought,” she whispered, rocking Ashley gently.

*~*~*

“I was going to show you this place, I just – we never found the right time.” Helen pulled a couple of chairs up to the old desk in the centre of the room. Her daughter sat opposite but was strangely distant as Helen took her place on her father’s side of the imposing wooden object.

“How about now?” said Ashley sharply, flicking through several folders presented to her.

Helen, though composed, was wavering on the edge of her painful memories. This room was her soul – a reminder of everything that she had lost and why it was gone, those who had betrayed her and even worse, the many she had deceived. There were parts of herself that she had not intended to share with her daughter and they were all in here, scattered over the shelves.

“There are things I would undo if given the chance again,” Helen had Tesla’s file in front of her. She glanced down at his photo but not into his dark eyes. “I’m not proud of what we did all those years ago. We were impatient for progress and I was angry,” she had briefly touched on the experiments her and her colleagues had run on themselves, “– anyway, each of us has paid for the mistake. Some of us have fared worse. It’s killing– ”

Ashley’s eyes flicked up as her mother caught her sentence with a sharp intake of breath. It didn’t matter. Ashley knew how it ended. ‘It’s killing your father.”

“And you came down here to run a blood sample from one of those creatures?” Ashley deposited the files onto the table, flinching as she felt two of the vials in her pocket knock together softly.

“I have to be sure,” Helen folded her arms. “I keep this place a secret because even a rumour of what I do down here could tear the world apart. Organisations like the Kabal and motivated individuals would do anything to run their filthy hands over this information. Nobody but you knows of its existence. Nobody-” Helen eyed her daughters seriously, “Nobody but you knows of it.”

Ashley nodded. “Run the samples,” she instructed, rising from her seat and turning to wipe a tear before her mother caught sight of it.

*~*~*

Helen Magnus hunts vampires. She hunts them all of the time, in the back of her mind – stalking them while she sleeps. It possesses her and has done since the death of her father. They were his private passion, a species of human so biologically inexplicable as to tempt him into their lairs for a drop of heavy blood.

Vampire blood: it is a substance promising drinkers mythical powers. Helen has seen a whole vial of the mysterious red syrup. One night, along with four of her closest friends, she injected it into her veins and slipped into a horrible nightmare.

The stories got it wrong. Vampires are hunted for their blood, stalked in the day they are forced to roam by night, scurrying away from the moonlight in case it betray them to a human waiting in the shadows.


16

WHISPERS OF THE TOMBS

A young Gregory Magnus wiped a thick splatter of mud from his cheek, streaking it down his face. He was soaked through, dripping from what felt like his soul though it was only his half-unbuttoned shirt.

There had to be a way to reach the next rocky outcrop jutting from the forest five or so feet above his head. Constantly checking the intensity of the light filtering from the canopy, Magnus took a running leap at the lowest rock, grazing it with slippery fingers.

“Argh…” he winced, as his body fell against the wall with enough impact to bruise his ever-diminishing ego. “The things I do for that woman,” continued his muttering.

He rung out his shirt, which presently entered a state of temporary, unpleasant dampness. It wouldn’t be long until the next afternoon shower drenched him. The weather here was like London in that way, delighting in neglecting its populace – except here in this sprawling jungle, Magnus was the only populace. It made the continual misery too personal for his liking.

He flicked his eyes to the tiny patches of sky visible through the dense foliage, wondering if it could glance at him with a touch of pity.

A distant rumble of thunder laughed back at him.

It was hardly a path. The occasional conspicuous stone – a gnarled tree that if he squinted only just looked like a jeering face – a shallow stream of black and white pebbles; these, in his opinion, failed to constitute a path. ‘Wishful thinking’ was a better approximate.

Suddenly the strap of his leather shoulder bag snapped away from the rivets holding it to its overfilled contents. Magnus’s precious items scattered into the leaf litter, instantly speckling with droplets of water from the shivering leaves above.

“Excellent. Simply excellent.”

He scooped his things up, folded the soggy flap over them and then tied his useless shoulder strap around it.

Sarah Magnus had spoken nothing but nonsense to him, but she had delivered it with pleading eyes. The gangly man had never refused those eyes anything, not even when they swirled out of control, following a theory planing above reason.

Three weeks,” Sarah’s eyes glanced down at the tea cooling. Wafts of steam lifted off the tea, swirling. Her silver spoon rattled on the saucer. “The translation is correct. We’ll find it, I promise.”

Gregory Magnus shook the memory of his wife’s eyes off, hoping that she was right. He couldn’t bear to meet those eyes if he failed to please them.

With strength he had never been credited with, Magnus hurled his injured bag into the air. The water-stained leather climbed through the light drizzle, up and over the rocks where it landed out of sight.

“Only one way now,” he said to himself, digging his foot into a moss-covered gap in the rock. Magnus curled his fingers around an exposed tree root and held on tight, lifting himself from the ground.

*~*~*

Storms threatened with the approaching evening. The world beneath his hips was buried in a heavy mist. It was like creeping through the clouds.

Gregory Magnus extended one of his hands into the intangible carpet. It was cold, coating his skin until it dripped with silvery vapour. Gregory Magnus had left Sarah in Iquitos – a water-locked city stretching out into the Peruvian rainforest. Distant relatives on her grandmother’s side were rubber farmers. Their descendents had agreed to let her stay with them locked up in a multi-levelled dwelling by the port with a view of the serpent-like river boats carting produce into the city. Her Spanish was close to fluent so she’d organised a guide to take him as far as the beginning of the map she had drawn for him.

Gregory looked at the pencil marks scratched into the paper. His map seemed more concerned with clinging onto life than it did with pointing the way.

Stumbling, he realised that he had ventured into a shallow creek, concealed by the mist. Now he shoes were as wet at the rest of him and the jungle experience was complete.

Hungry, exhausted and on the verge of giving up, Gregory vanished into the mist – smashing against a damp log. Slaters zoomed past his face, frightened by his sudden arrival in their domain. From below, the mist was even more euphoric than the world without a floor. Crawling over the log, he rolled onto the ground in a heap, panting and beaten. His bag proceeded without him, pushed forward by gravity’s irresistible longing.

There was a brief decline in front of him which ended in a gaping rock face. The bag, unfazed by the approaching cave entrance, tumbled into the dryness of the tunnel system.

The fate of his bag faded from his mind as Gregory stood up, crystal green eyes trailing over the ferocious cave. Severed away, the rock had been split open against the natural grain of the cliff. Along the vertical edges of this enormous incision were a serious of circles and crescents, accentuated by some kind of sticky white paint. These symbols appeared to glow free of their black canvas, wandering between forms like the phases of the moon.

He had found it.

*~*~*

Gregory located his bag marooned against a boulder a few feet inside the entrance. A shudder of coolness laid itself over his bare chest as soon as he stepped into the cave’s shadow. He bent down to his bag but paused –

The cave floor was dry and covered in a shimmering dust. Minerals in the walls had become powder but not lost their sparkle to time. He pressed his dripping fingers into the dirt, withdrew and held them to a stray shard of light.

That’s when he felt a breath on his shoulder, inches from his neck. In his fascination, Gregory had turned his back to the cave and faced the encroaching forest. Shuddering, he turned slowly.

Silence. Darkness. Cold.

He was alone with the cave and an imagination drowning in paranoia.

Magnus wiped his hand on the remains of his shirt and squared himself up with the cave. From his bag he extracted a cone shaped, wrought-iron object with a polished wooden handle. Into the top, Gregory stuffed a mix of dried roots and material which he quickly drowned in lamp oil. Holding a match to it, the top exploded in a ball of flame and Magnus had himself a torch.

Firelight wavered, reflected off the smooth surface of the cave walls. It was as if they had been polished. Even the ceiling, which towered above him into an endless peak, ever-narrowing out of sight, was smooth.

Lair came to mind as Gregory progressed hesitantly deeper. The forest and its dim, afternoon light had become a grey smear in the distance. Where his torch’s light faltered, blackness encroached until Gregory felt as if it would consume him and he would be lost forever to its silence. It was like an ocean that never moved – a wave captured before crashing over the deck of a listing ship. He cowered before its sinister expanse.

The torch’s flame bent sharply, flattening into an orange line. Darkness edged forward. The mysterious gust of wind switched course, whipping past too fast for the flame to catch its oxygen. Gregory turned away from the wind, protecting the flame with his back. It reached once again for the ceiling and the cavern brightened.

His shoulder was warm.

Gregory gasped, turning in tight circles.

In his frantic movements, his eyes caught flecks of white from the edges of the room. Strewn against the cave walls were pieces of bone – bleached by time or crushed into the shimmering powder they had been scattered over.


17

INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE

Ashley held the remainder of the vampire blood to the light while her mother waited for the final print out of the test results to stutter from the machine.

“Okay, let’s go,” said Helen, ripping the flimsy sheet of paper free. Ashley placed the vial with the others on the rack and followed.

The door of the secret lab took the brunt of Helen’s strength before it finally squealed on its hinges, opening into the gloom. An elevator had just passed by; showering the area in sparks which bounced like fireworks before vanishing into cinders.

Helen brushed one over enthusiastic fizzle of light from her shoulder but not before it left a scorch mark on her taped neck. All too quickly the underground was returned to darkness with only the occasional drip to keep them company.

“This way’s faster,” Helen caught her daughter’s arm, pulling Ashley under a low section of pipe. She pulled a torch from her coat and shined it at the damp corridor in front. The white circle caught a series of stairs in the distance. “There’s a stairwell to my study at the end. I find it more convenient than clambering through the elevator shafts.”

Ashley was going to ask how her mother had guessed, but she was interrupted.

“Are you going to tell me what happened?” Helen asked, without turning around. She kept her eyes on the tunnel in front, stepping over scattered pieces of pipe. Ashley’s absence had worried her – all the more so because of John’s presence. She wasn’t convinced that he would physically hurt their daughter, but Helen knew that his words were the most dangerous facet of his personality and John had never been shy of words.

“I already said,” Ashley nearly slipped on the wet floor. Her free hand felt for the wall, clutching onto a grey circuit box. “I don’t remember what happened. Did you hear that?” Ashley spun around, sliding on the same puddle of grime. The way they had come was almost pitch black without her mother’s small torch. Ashley could have sworn that she had heard a moan come from behind. A howl even. “Mum, really…”

“What is it Ashley?” Helen backtracked as her daughter ‘shushed’ her. She peered into the darkness, listening.

Helen was about to move on when she heard a soft cry in the darkness. It came in a low drone, moving through the hallway as if approaching. “I-” Helen started and then realised what was creeping toward them. “Oh no… I forgot all about him.”

Helen grabbed onto her daughter’s jacked and pulled her away down the corridor toward the exit.

“We have to go,” she muttered, in answer to Ashley’s protests. “We left SAM out. He’s roaming free – probably made a nest somewhere down here that we stepped through. It’s not import now.”

Ashley’s eyes widened. That horrid creature that she’s spent days and half a pint of blood catching was back on the loose? She shook her head in disgust and picked up the pace, overtaking her mother. She could see the door at the top of the stairs, glowing at its edges. A few minutes later they both emerged in the far corner of Helen’s office which seemed decidedly warm and cosy after the dank innards of the building.

Helen didn’t bother to catch her breath.

“Let’s go,” she instructed, and the pair of them dripped their way to the cells.

*~*~*

It shivered when they approached, darkening its skin a shade. In the time the others had been away, the sand creature had become a new entity. Certainly its appearance retained the same simmering ferocity, but its sinister intelligence – something that they had missed the first time, had overtaken its sharp facial features.

Now the sand creature sat opposite the bars of its cage, calmly picking shards of pottery from its skin. Every so often it lifted its eyes to Henry who paced back and forth, waiting for Will, Helen and Joe to arrive with translation material from the library.

“Stop it…” Henry whispered to the creature, whom he was sure could understand him. If it could have smiled, it would have. Instead, it lifted its tightly stretched upper lip to bare a glint of white where a set of sharp teeth waited.

Henry turned away and continued pacing, checking his watch for the thousandth time as Helen rushed into the room with Ashley in tow.

“Finally – Ashley?”

“Long story,” Helen waved him off.

“Cool, cool,” said Henry, “whenever just, good to see you in one piece.”

Ashley gave him a smile before she followed her mother to the edge of the cell where the creature had returned to a rather large piece of shrapnel embedded in its skin.

“Oooh…” Ashley exhaled as if something horrid had just crossed her vision, “Just as I remember them. Horrifying. Why on Earth did you bring one back with you?”

“It was an accident,” Helen explained, taking a second glance at the creature when she saw that its mood had shifted. “A lucky accident,” she trailed off, frowning at the cell.

“If you mean that trying to bite my ankle off is a ‘lucky accident’,” Will entered the room on the tail end of Helen’s explanation, still limping a little from his wound. “Then yes, it was lucky.” He nodded in Ashley’s direction.

“What’s the police escort for?” Ashley moved aside so that Joe could stroll by, calm as anything despite the creature in the cell.

Joe had arms full of heavy Ancient Egyptian text books. They weren’t exactly texts you could pick up from your local library. At least two of them were hand written by a collection of scholars but they would have to do. Helen’s book shelves weren’t famous for stocking the most up-to-date works. “Sorry to disappoint but I’m here in translating capacity only.”

Will pulled a small desk in front of the cell opposite the creature’s seat. Joe quickly deposited his load onto it and collapsed in the chair directly opposite the creature while the others arranged themselves around the room, Henry leaning against the opposite wall as far away from the cell as possible.

“So,” began Joe, “what do I say?” flicking the first book open to a random page.

“Best find out if it really does speak this language before we get too carried away,” suggested Will, handing Joe a cumbersome book. Joe frowned.

The creature didn’t stop picking things from its skin, but it did flick its eyes up every now and then as the detective whispered things to himself, hunting for the right word.

Apparently satisfied, Joe inhaled before letting a phrase roll into the air. It was an elegant sound, regally shifting its tone.

The sand creature suddenly caught the group with its piercing blue eyes. It was if their curtains had been drawn to reveal a sinister soul smiling back at them, shifting in the darkness. Quietly and slowly, the sand creature repeated the word, accentuating different parts of it in what was the correct pronunciation of the dead language.

The rest of the room breathed sharply as one.

“What – what did you say?” asked Will, slipping his glasses on and leaning over Joe’s shoulder.

Joe hadn’t let his gaze move from the creature who was now repositioning itself in its chair, apparently curious.

“’Hi’ I think,” he replied, picking another line just to be sure.

“It defiantly speaks the language,” Ashley noted. “Much good that does us. This will take forever.”

“I hate this,” Henry shook his head as Joe and the creature began an awkward discussion. “It’s creepy.”

“Are those tracking devices operational?” Helen asked. Henry shook his and then realised that she was giving him an ‘out’.

“I’ll go – do…” he muttered, hurrying away.

“I want to know everything,” Helen whispered in Joe’s ear. “As long as you need.”

*~*~*

A boy, three days from his fifth birthday, waited for his parents to return to the sand-clogged valley. Burrowed into the ancient shale and dirt was a network of tombs now flagged by excavation markers flapping in the evening breeze. Through the small hole his father had chiselled earlier in the day, the child had seen the walls littered with pictures, plated in gold on the red paint.

They had to wait, his parents had said, to open the last room. Part of the structure had collapsed during their excavation. If they opened the magnificent final cavern in the day time, the sunlight could damage the delicate ink on the pile of scrolls sitting in the far corner.

Kerosene lamps shivered like pearls under the water as they led the way over the ridge before disappearing into the final sharp drop where the tomb was nestled. A party of workers led by a pair of dishevelled but recognisably foreign archaeologists shimmied through the sand until they reached the open section of tomb.

The boy who was safely left in the main tent, tip-toed across the room so as not to wake the baby asleep in a wooden cradle. It was early enough in the evening for a cool breeze to billow the tent walls, occasionally finding a way in around the ill-repaired holes. Moonlight patterned the floor, almost as bright as the lamps scattered over the rugs.

Somewhere in his parent’s backpacks – lined along behind their beds, was his birthday present. He was not going to take it, no, Joe just wanted to know what it was. That was all.

You in bed, child?”

Joe ducked and then rolled across the floor, slipping into his bed before Mrs. Hibbet pulled back the main flap. Her nose entered first, considerably longer than most human’s noses. The little boy, with his covers pulled up to his chin to disguise the fact that he was still fully clothed, thought that she must be a witch.

I’ll leave this up for a while,” she continued, tying the flap of the tent open before vanishing back into the small colony of tents set amongst the evening desert.

At once, the tent began to cool.

Joe threw his sheets off and was straight into his mother’s pack, prying through the layers of dust ridden clothes. Reaching the bottom, he found nothing but an inch of sand. He quickly moved to his father’s things, proceeding more cautiously.

The baby coughed, startling Joe.

It coughed again, still contently asleep. The breeze was rocking the cradle ever so slightly, causing a shadow to track backwards and forwards across the tent. The lamps, burning low, flickered with the wind.

“Sh… baby,” Joe whispered. If she woke Mrs. HIbbet would be back and then he’d never get the chance. He scrambled over to the cot and pulled the baby’s blanket back over its chest, tucking it gently in. It seemed satisfied by this and quietened.

The cradle shadow crossed over Joe’s bony body as he headed toward his parents’ beds. He walked slower this time, dragging his bare feet. His excitement had worn off and now he was wondering if perhaps he should just go to bed. It was his father’s bag –

Sighing, he removed his filthy shirt and yawned. Just as his mouth reached maximum gape, his eyes caught a second shadow stir across the tent in front of him.

*~*~*

“Well,” announced Joe, as Helen returned to the cell. He had a pile of notes scrawled in various books on the edge of the desk and a line of sweat under his hairline. The sand creature was camouflaged again but she could just make out its outline in the corner of the cell near the power outlet.

“Well?” Helen copied.

“I’ve learnt the Egyptian word for, ‘Vampire’.”

“Four hours,” she eyed him worriedly. “Tell me you got more than that.”

Everyone else had abandoned the room except for Ashley who continued to eye the creature as some kind of unclaimed prey. She’d spent days hunting these things – it was a difficult emotion to switch off.

“I’d say that I have a version of the truth,” Joe continued. “These aren’t the vampires you think they are. According to this one,” he nodded at the empty corner where the sand creature was concealed, “vampires were the pharaohs of Egypt. By the way he constantly snarled when referring to them, I take it they didn’t get along. ‘He’ belongs to a family group of vampires which possess an infectious strain of the abnormal gene. Along with the others, he began life as an infected human. This is not his natural form…”

Helen lowered her eyes. This was not a pure blood sample. It would not do. Indeed, it was useless. She should have known that this creature was not one of the original civilisation of vampires. Yes, it continued to display a high level of intelligence, but its behaviour was too chaotic, unplanned, animal even. There was a desperation about it that could only be human.

“Thank you Detective Kavanaugh,” she pushed his desk aside leaving him feeling rather exposed. He quickly got to his feet and carried his chair to the wall where the desk was now discarded, some of his notes floating to the ground. “If you head upstairs, Will will show you out.”

Joe looked confused, “And when do you want me back?”

Helen withdrew a set of keys from her lab coat as she moved toward the cell door. The sand creature flickered momentarily back into view, sniffing the air.

“That won’t be necessary,” she said under her breath. “Ashley, your weapon please?”

She reached for her sidearm but remembered that all her things had been taken from her in the 1800’s… “I don’t have one. What are you doing?” Both she and Joe watched as Helen slipped the key into the cell lock. A second later there was a faint, ‘click’.

“Getting rid of it,” was all Helen said.


18

ROAMING FREE

“Thiiird time today, Will. Are you all right?” Since his return, Bigfoot had been in the medical lab, repairing the various wounds he’d picked up in the desert. Will kept him company, hobbling around the room on his sore ankle, moaning about the creature downstairs and how they should have left it in the damn desert.

“I better be,” he replied, lifting his leg onto the bed. They’d changed the dressings three times but the bite mark continued to fester. Bigfoot pulled the light over and began peeling the layers of fabric away. “I’ve got months of work accumulating on my desk and the last thing I need is rabies. How about you,” Will eyed a bloodied patch of fur on Bigfoot’s arm, “you okay?”

Bigfoot grunted.

“Was that a, ‘yes’?” Will prompted, but Bigfoot was engrossed in the discoloured bandages. With dexterity not obvious by the size of his hands, Bigfoot carefully attended the sore.

Will winced as the final layer revealed his skin. It was a mess of liquids and torn pieces of flesh which had flaked away from the stitching.

“Wiiiill…” Bigfoot fished a metal tool out of the medical tray.

Will laid back on the bed, covering his forehead with his hands. “What?” he exhaled, trying to block out the searing pain from the creature’s bite mark. There was a burning heat working its way from his ankle, up his leg and into a knot somewhere in his thigh. He was already two tablets over the sensible painkiller dose. Bigfoot had confiscated the packet half an hour ago and refused to reveal its location despite Will’s flawless impersonation of Shrek’s Puss in Boots.

Bigfoot wiped the sore clean. It was as he had thought – healed.

“Isn’t that a good thing?” Will sat up and examined his ankle. A zigzagging line of black stitching was a little puffy at the edges, but otherwise in good condition. It didn’t stop it stinging like hell though.

“Look agaaain,” Bigfoot pointed to the skin at the centre of the wound. They waited a few minutes with Will glancing at his watch and then back to Bigfoot until he saw it too – a shimmering sensation in time with a particularly large wave of pain. His skin flickered, mimicking the white sheets beneath his leg.

Will gulped.

“Shit…” he whispered, as Bigfoot reached for the intercom.

*~*~*

“Mum, what are you doing?” Ashley repeated, striding over to the cage door, holding it shut. Joe remained frozen, a few notes crumpling as his grip tightened.

Helen blinked slowly, “Let. Go.”

The creature shifted in the cage, sensing Helen’s intention.

“This is a sanctuary,” whispered Ashley, leaning against the cell door to hold it shut. Her mother had withdrawn a large blade from her leather boots and was brandishing it at the bars, letting the creature know that she was coming. “We don’t kill things unless we have to.”

“Trust me Ashley,” Helen’s voice was low and silky. She moved her head from side to side, a few strands of hair falling across her face as she followed the sand creature’s pacing. “This one has to die.”

Ashley didn’t fancy the sand creatures for their murderous personality, but still, they were last of their species. All the things that they must have seen. Their intelligence, it was possible in time that –

“No, mum!”

Helen had seen Ashley distracted and gone for the cell door but her daughter was too quick, launching herself at the bars, snapping the door shut once again. The creature hissed, changing its skin.

“This is wrong,” Ashley shook her head. “What’s gotten into you?” Her mother was like a different person, turning the knife through her fingers.

“Heeelen. Need you in the infirmary. It’s Will.”

They both glanced up at the TV screen bolted to the wall. It was filled by Bigfoot looking very concerned, urging them to hurry up.

Helen released her grip on the cell door. “Stay here,” she instructed, handing Ashley the knife. “I’ll be back in a minute. Detective,” she nodded in Joe’s direction. He was still holding his notes protectively to his chest, having difficulty swallowing.

“She always like this?” Joe breathed once Helen had left the room.

Ashley shook her head. “No.”

*~*~*

“I don’t know Heeelen. It’s spreading like an infection.”

Will’s worried look got worse as Bigfoot took Helen on a guided tour of his ankle. It wasn’t long before her hand jumped to her mouth which had never been a good sign.

“I know what this is,” she said, quietly. Her green eyes returned to Will. “But there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“You mean,” Will kicked them off as he sat up. The vampire virus was spreading through is blood stream, mutating every strand of DNA in his body. Already the skin on his ankle shifted with his mood, stretching into its new ability. “I’m going to become one of those? There’s no way…”

“I’m going to start you on a course of powerful anti-biotics,” she pointed to the far end of the room. Bigfoot nodded.

“Will that do any good?” Will caught the sleeve of her lab coat. His hand was shaking. “I don’t want to be a –”

Bigfoot returned, passing Helen a needle brimming with a yellow liquid. She wasted no time piercing Will’s skin, plunging the cool substance into his system until his eyes rolled back.

“The sand creature said that this was a virus, but the translation could be inaccurate. If this is a bacterial infection, we might just be in luck.”

*~*~*

Ashley’s hand was still resting on the cell lock.

“Is she really going to kill it?” Joe laid his things on the table and edged toward her. He folded his arms across his chest, beginning to feel the cold of the underground rooms.

“Looks like,” Ashley replied. “Detective?”

Joe was staring past her, apparently frozen. The shuffling noise that the creature had been making was suddenly absent from the room. “What’s it doing?” he asked, the question falling out of his mouth as Ashley turned.

The creature was behind her with its claws curled around the bars of the cell door. It was no longer camouflaged but a reddish brown with deeper patches of red along its spine which curled around its back legs.

Helen hadn’t locked the cage door.

*~*~*

“Hold him steady!” Helen and Bigfoot rolled Will onto his side as he began to shake violently. The bed rattled. Bigfoot took hold of Will’s knees and put all of his weight on them while Helen threw herself on the top half of his body.

“He’s going into shock….” said Bigfoot, struggling to keep hold.

“It was a large dose. There’s nothing we can do except keep him still as possible.”

It became harder and harder to hold Will down and soon he was shrieking in agony. Ten minutes later, he finally fell silent, passed out on the bed with beads of sweat rolling down his forehead. Helen and Bigfoot collapsed onto the bed, exhausted both by the physicality of holding Will to the bed, and the horror of hearing his cries of pain.

“He wooon’t stay long like this.” Bigfoot breathed.

*~*~*

“Damn…” Ashley muttered.

Her eyes opened, squinting in the sudden brightness of the cell. Her head felt as if it would crack apart – it nearly had. She was crumpled against the cell wall, bleeding onto the concrete where the creature had thrown her. The cage door was locked, trapping her inside while the room was empty except for a streak of blood along the floor where Detective Kavanaugh had been standing.

Not sure how long she’d been out, Ashley rolled onto her knees. Her lungs lurched in protest, coughing up cement dust.

“Detective?” she managed between rasps. “Joe?” Her words echoed off the cold room. “Joe, are you all right?”

Ashley crawled to the bars of her cage and used them to pull herself to her feet but she got no answer from the empty room.

*~*~*

Her mother unlocked the cell door, pushing it open harder than she needed to.

“What happened?” Helen demanded, still cloaked in her lab coat. She looked tired and withdrawn – not in the mood for this kind of catastrophe.

“You left the cell door unlocked,” Ashley spat, with a more venom than she meant to. “It pushed the door open and that’s all I remember. Joe’s gone. We have to go and look for him now – before it’s too late.”

“Joe’s dead,” Helen paced away toward the exit.

“I don’t believe that,” Ashley took off in pursuit. “Why not just leave him here? It makes no sense.” Ashley caught up to her mother at the elevator.

“If he’s not dead yet, he will be soon. You have to go and find that thing before it kills anybody else. I can’t come with you – not now that Will…” she trailed off, relieved by the glowing orb of the elevator button and its doors sliding open.

“Will?”

Helen paused, she hadn’t told Ashley about Will yet.

“You better come and see him before you go.”

*~*~*

Ashley left the house soon after, carrying more ordinance than Lara Croft. Five hours later, it was well and truly dark with storm clouds covering the half moon.

“Ah, thank you,” Helen smiled at the doorway as Henry entered carrying a tray of tea. It was his tray of tea, ready for the nightshift so that Helen could get some sleep. “Will you be good to stay until the morning?”

Henry set the tray down on the desk and looked over to where his friend was sleeping. Will must have been in the middle of a horrible dream as his head kept falling from side to side with a frown cut across his forehead.

“Sure,” he said, nudging Helen out of the way of what was now his chair. “Get some sleep. Ashley’ll find that thing – I mean, it was her who found them in the first place.”

Helen nodded, squeezing Henry’s hand in thanks before she began the long walk through the hallways of her house toward her office. The inviting glow of her fireplace crept out from under the door. She clasped the handle, almost falling into her room as her tiredness took hold of her.

Except, there was something wrong with her office.

The fire was glowing even though she hadn’t lit it, the curtains were drawn yet she hadn’t had time to do so and her chair was facing the fireplace, rocking ever so slightly as someone prodded the coals with an iron poker.

“You have a problem,” the chair announced, before spinning around to face her.


19

BENEATH THE STREETS

The gentleman in the chair drew the poker between his fingers in his very best version of seduction until the metal neared the reddened end, causing him to hiss and return it to the fireside.

Helen approached her desk cautiously, mouth slightly agape. “What happened to your face, Nikola?”

Tesla, smartly dressed in his best 19th Century suit, ignored the mystified woman, determined to control the topic of conversation.

“So,” he began, folding his hands into his lap, “I was prowling through the train tunnels, minding my own business when –”

“How did you get into my house?” she interrupted him. Helen’s stern expression hadn’t cracked under his pert mood. It was an acquired ability.

Nikola Tesla’s eyebrows lowered themselves into a disapproving grimace. “This was my house, remember?”

“I bought it,” Helen made it to her desk but was forced to sit in her guests’ seat when Tesla gave no indication that he would move. “Paid real money for it and everything.”

“Yes well,” it was clearly a sore topic, “you can’t be famous and live forever. People, nosy creatures that they are, ask too many questions. Now,” he leant forward over the table causing Helen to retreat to the cushy back of her chair. “Do you want to hear my story or not?”

“I just hope you locked the door behind you,” she muttered. Any number of things could wander in off the street. This house was like bait for cockroaches, even the well dressed ones.

An unopened note on the desk caught Tesla’s attention. He could have sworn that it was in old Nigel’s cursive. Ever inquisitive of other peoples’ business, he went to possess it but Helen swiped it from under his hand and a moment later it had vanished into one of her lab coat pockets. Short of undressing her, he would never see it again.

His eyebrows returned to their preferred lofty positions, slightly independent of each other. “Whoever said I use doors?” he quipped, instead choosing to finish off a glass of port that he’d poured himself from her private stash.

“God, you’re exhausting.”

“I’ll take that as my cue to kiss you,” he leant forward like a flash of lightening across the turbulent atmosphere, but she was too fast for him, ducking out of his reach.

“Uh ah… once is quite enough for this century.”

“Remind me to book you in for the next one.”

“You said something about a story?” Helen eyed him impatiently. Running from Nikola’s left ear and across his cheek were a series of gashes. The doctor in her wanted to stitch his skin back into place but she knew that he would heal on his own – quickly too. She could already see the edges of the cuts closing, healing themselves. He was in pain though but doing a reasonable job of concealing it.

“As I said,” Nikola was serious now, a rare condition for him, “you have a problem.”

“I have many problems, could you be more specific?”

“You’re in an atrocious mood,” he quipped, but was undeterred and perhaps even a little amused. “If you insist though, I had a bit of a run in with … something. Ah!” he raised his hand just in time to stop Helen from flinging a snide remark in his direction, “before you ask me to be more specific, I can’t because I’m not sure what it was. Tell you something for free, it had to be pretty game to try something on me considering my, well, night-time demeanour…”

“Is it dead?”

There was a gleam in Tesla’s eyes. She’d answered his question without knowing it. “So you do know what it is then,” he grinned. Craning his neck around to the point where Helen though it might snap. He shut his eyes as the electric lights in the room flickered. “Care to share?”

“Perhaps, but how do I know that you’re here for good?”

“I don’t understand the question,” replied Tesla. “Do I translate ‘good’ as ‘forever’ because I believe we’ve already sorted that out but if –”

“I don’t have time for your games,” she snapped, her patience for his charms wearing thin. “If you’re going to help us, then stay. If not – well, you’re in my chair.”

*~*~*

“There’s only one way to turn the virus back on itself,” Tesla refilled both of their glasses with the crimson liquid. They had relocated to the couch behind the double arched windows – a more comfortable position with a pleasant view of the floor to ceiling bookshelf.

To Nikola’s dismay, Helen had drawn the curtains open to reveal the moonlight. Sometimes she was afraid of the outside world, and liked to keep herself boxed in the safety of her manor but on nights like these Helen Magnus wanted the world to know that she was watching it.

Helen wove herself into the far end of the couch, well out of the scientist’s reach should he choose to try something. There was a knife under her cushion and a gun taped to the underside of the coffee table. Plenty, she hoped, to handle an old friend.

“My research – which, I realise you deplore but in this instance you will find quite useful – indicates that a pure sample of vampire blood will stave off, maybe even cure the virus. DNA records taken from the Ramesses tomb show immunity to the virus after it spread through the ancient city before the great culling.”

“Wait, you knew about this group of vampires?”d

Tesla lifted his hands above his head, surprised by Helen’s lack of faith in his ability. “I’ve devoted my pleasingly long life to this topic, of course I knew. I didn’t tell you because I thought they were all long dead – and even if they weren’t, there’re useless to me.”

“I don’t know, you could have your army of vampires. Isn’t that what you want? Indeed, is it why you’re here?”

“My my, how you misunderstand me. I feel like that homeless child begging with my bowl, but all I want is a little trust.”

“That was deep.”

“Okay, put it this way, the vampires this virus creates are animals compared to what I’m after. They lack, fineness. Still, it disappoints me that you found an ancient colony of vampires in the desert and didn’t bother to call.”

“You don’t own a phone.”

“Fact,” he sipped his port. “Listen, I can’t help you with what’s-his-name…”

“Will…” she corrected him.

Tesla waved his free hand, “Whatever. But I might be able to get that little problem back for you, if you ask me nicely.”

“I don’t know if I need your help with that. Ashley’s already out there.”

“Take a look at my face, Helen.” Nikola shuffled forward over the couch until he was right next to her. He caught her hand reaching for the knife and instead lifted it to his face so that she could feel the depth of the wound in his skin. “Do you really want her out there alone?”

*~*~*

A train rumbled in the distance, grinding through one of the hundred tunnels beneath the streets of London. Ashley was black from the grime which had slathered itself onto her hands so thick that she had to wipe them on her jacket just to keep a hold of her guns.

She didn’t use her torch. Sticking out like a sugar coated treat wasn’t a good plan so she kept her back against the wall of the tunnel, using it to guide her while her ears picked out faint sounds scattering into the passage.

Ashley was excellent at this kind of thing. The years spent playing hide and seek with first her mother and later, Bigfoot had been excellent training. Mind you, she was infinitely better at the seeking part. Hiding was more of her mother’s speciality.

It was definitely down here. There was an occasional smear across the gravel floor – a few bloodied rocks only just lit by the weak tunnel lighting. Mostly it was dark, especially where side tunnels dug away at the walls. A freaking maze was what she had down here, a cumbersome network that had been added to and re-ordered so many times that no-one had the faintest idea what was going on.

The blood belonged to the detective – at least, that was its most likely origin. The sand creature could have taken another victim on its way down but she doubted it. This thing was using Joe as bait. Something it knew the Sanctuary would come after.

She jolted, training her guns on the roof. The milieu shuddered, a mixture of the lights failing and a hot wind kicking down the tunnel.

“Relax,” she whispered to herself. “You’re the one doing the hunting, remember?”

But Ashley wasn’t the only one hunting. Nikola had been following her footsteps for more than an hour, cautiously gaining ground on her until he decided that he better announce his presence or risk getting shot. It might not kill him, but a bullet through the heart still hurt.

“Hold up…” Tesla took a hold of his overly long trench coat, preventing it from flapping around in stray air currents so that his silhouette was less bat-like.

Ashley almost lost her footing in shock, flicking on her torch and pointing it at the approaching figure. It was that man her mother used to know, crazy scientist. Great, that was just what she needed – another vampire to deal with.

“How long have you been there?” she kept her weapon trained on him as he came to a stop at her feet looking terribly pleased with himself.

Nikola shrugged, “A while. Lady of the house sent me.”

That sounded exactly like something Helen would do. Send in the cavalry. “Mum needs to put a bell around your neck or something.”

“And take all the pleasure out of sneaking? Any luck with your own project?”

Ashley rolled her eyes and pointed her torchlight at the ground where it caught a blood covered stone.

“I see,” Nikola knelt down, dabbing his finger in it. “Don’t worry,” he added, when Ashley’s nose crinkled, “I’m not going to lick it or anything.” He rubbed the substance between his fingers until there was nothing left of it but a brownish smudge. “This is close to the place where I had my little run in earlier,” Tesla pointed to his face as Ashley flicked off the light.

“You better be quiet then,” she turned away from him and continued hunting.

“I’m quieter than you,” he reassured her.

After several minutes of traipsing through the tunnel, Ashley pulled up to a halt. Tesla nearly ran into her, hopping to the side just in time to avoid her loaded weapon. She had a growl on her face.

“I can still hear you!” she shushed him irritably.

They stood their collective ground, eyeing each other suspiciously for a moment until they both realised that the noise they could hear was coming from further in the tunnel.

“You know,” Tesla murmured, redirecting Ashley’s gun toward the dark passageway in front, “I thought it’d be quieter than that.”

The owner of the noise emerged into the semidarkness, a grin spread across his face. John’s hands were clutched behind his back and his boots allowed to drag in the gravel. “Believe me,” he began at the pair, one of whom exhaled in disbelief, “if I didn’t want you to hear me, you wouldn’t have.”

“Oh wonderful,” Tesla had never particularly liked John, and now he remembered why. “The father of convenience. Mr. Druitt, let me introduce you to your daughter…” he theatrically presented Ashley.

“Quiet Nikola, why don’t crawl back down into that cave you call home?”

“Charming as always,” Nikola clicked Ashley’s light back on so that he could get a better look at his old rival. “If you don’t mind, we’re a little busy at the moment doing, ‘work stuff’.”

A spark shot across John’s shoulder. He bent over, grimacing in pain. It was clear that though he could tear the fabric of time, sometimes it turned and snarled at him, ripping away the layers of his soul. His little trip back into the 1800’s had done a lot of damage. John had to believe that it was worth it.

“You just can’t stop can you?” Tesla showed no sympathy as the tall man was reduced to a groaning mound on the floor. “Helen told you not to keep jumping about the universe.”

“She. Told. You.” John grunted, lifting himself back to his feet. “Not to be such an arse but since when did either of us start listening to Helen?”

“’scuse me?” Ashley swiped Nikola across the back of her head with the butt of the gun causing him to yelp. “Could the both of you just get over it!”

“What was that?” Tesla narrowed his eyes at her jacket, tilting his head suspiciously.

“What was what?”

He’d definitely heard something clink together inside her jacket pocket. It didn’t take the genius long to piece all the fragments together. Indeed, Watson would be proud of him.

Tesla went for Ashley’s jacket but John was there, gripping onto Tesla’s wrist no doubt hoping to crush it.

“Don’t touch her…”

“I suppose,” his slippery voice pondered, “it was you who got her into this mess. I can smell it-” he lowered his eyes to Ashley’s pocket. “Yesss… I should have noticed it before but there’s so little of it left. It was more like a memory on the air, difficult to place.” Tesla had wondered what had happened all those years ago. It was lifetime away but the mystery of Dr. Magnus’s departure from the world had ripped the five apart. “You obviously didn’t tell your mother that you shot poor old Gregory. I can’t see her taking that too well.”


20

ANCIENT HISTORY

“He’s getting worse,” Henry leant against the isolation room with a mixture of sleep and dirt trailing down from his eyes.

Sirens wailed past outside, dimmed by the layers of walls and offices that kept this room from the rest of the world. They were looking for the detective, he guessed. Since Helen had called his department they’d heard nothing but noise from the streets. Shame they were looking in all the wrong places, though Helen wasn’t about to help them.

Will was inside the glass-sheeted room, sprawled across one of the hospital beds that Bigfoot had bolted to the floor. The leather straps over his arms, legs, torso and neck strained and cracked as he arched his spine in agony. Ripples of colour spread over his exposed skin until his whole body disappeared in a veil of camouflage. A minute later, it had passed and Will coughed and cried back into human form.

The computer projections trailing over Helen’s screen suggested that the virus was working its way from the outside in, burrowing through his body. Her initial doses of anti-biotics had prevented separate infection of the initial wounds but as she predicted, had proved utterly useless against the virus.

Most of his pain was stemming from the calcium deposits building up along all of Will’s bones. His teeth, in particular, were literally growing, curving inwards as their tips sharpened to needle-like points. To achieve this, the virus was re-aligning his jaw which explained his need to chew and bite anything in reach.

Whenever she let her eyes wander over to the bed, Helen caught a glimpse of a sand creature rather than a frightened man. Even his eyes had been slit by dark ovals and his iris’s turned amber smudging out what little remained of him.

He was ravenous. In a couple of hours – morning at the latest, the IV bags would be useless. After that, they’d have to find something more substantial for him to eat to prevent his body sacrificing its integrity for the changes.

“The treatments aren’t doing anything…” Henry pried himself from the glass, paced across the room, collapsed into his chair and buried his head, nestling into his arms. He had been injecting Will with Helen’s blood to no effect. It was last time they were going to try as the result was always the same; instant loss of blood pressure, difficulty breathing, skin rash, increased anxiety, seizure, cardiac arrest.

“I am immune,” Helen told him for the thousandth time. Henry believed her but could do little else but shake off an unwelcome yawn. “Bet my life Tesla is too. Neither of us are pure blood vampires so the solution must be somewhere in this mess.” She was referring to the enormous string of her DNA the computer was trying to process. “But the code is huge. No chance of finding that kind of needle. I need years, not hours.”

“You could cross check with bloodwork from the other five,” Bigfoot suggested, struggling into a labcoat. The awkward garment nipped at his fur, dragging a few of his bandages free. “Look for common patterns.”

Helen shook her head. “Those were stolen a long time ago. James and Nigel are dead, Nikola – if he comes back, will be gone for days and as for John, your guess is as good as mine.”

“Stolen?”

Helen sighed. “Ancient history.”

A quiet snore wafted through the lab, barely audible over the hum of a dozen machines. Henry was asleep. More accurately, he had passed out from sheer exhaustion. Helen waved Bigfoot over from the other end of the lab. The big man nodded as soon as Helen gestured to the scruffy bundle on the desk.

Helen rested her head on her palms, staring at the far wall. It wasn’t just Will. Ashley was out there too, somewhere in the dark. Even Joe… all those years and now he was gone. She should have paid him more attention when he was a child, listened a little harder but she was always so busy. The work never ended. It never would. Not for her.

She returned to the computer screen, clogged with endless windows. As a scientist she knew that there was no chance that she could do this by herself in the time that Will had left. It irked her to admit it, but she needed Tesla.

*~*~*

Nikola looked as if he’d peered into the cosmos and torn out all of its secrets.

“René Barjavel would love to meet youuu-” he grimaced on the last word as John clenched down on him tighter, bending Tesla’s wrist bones toward each other. “I’m just saying,” Tesla continued, shaking off the pain, “you travelled back in time, killed your grandfather and lived to tell the tale. That’s impressive.”

Ashley’s eyes had gone red and suddenly her gun was levelled between Tesla’s eyes, daring him to go on with his taunting.

“Say it again,” she jeered, terrified by the raw emotion threatening to break free. All of her guilt had finally seen a vehicle of release and she welcomed it.

John let go of Tesla as Ashley pushed the scientist down the tunnel, led by her loaded gun. He didn’t say a word but managed to maintain a satisfied smirk.

“Ashley,” John said quietly at first, left behind as his daughter marched Tesla off in a simmering rage. “Ashley!” he said more forcibly, staggering in pursuit. His body was falling apart, like smoke swelling over the ground at night, about to meet the rising sun. “You mustn’t kill him. God I’ve wanted to in the past … and present.”

Ashley could feel her father over her shoulder. She didn’t want to listen to him either. If he hadn’t –Her grandfather was there, every time she closed her eyes. Seated behind his desk, scribbling intently at something. Then he would look up, kind eyes and a warm smile offering her a biscuit –

Her eyes opened. His were gone.

You had to give it to the man, Tesla knew his worth – when to push a person and when to lay off. Emotion was a complex thing, something he preferred to study from a distance as it had never been a friend to him.

“We need him,” John moved slowly for her gun, but Ashley spun around to face him. Two tears broke, seconds from each other, and vanished along the curves of her cheeks.

John could see the bullet, barely more than a hint of silver in the dark tube.

The air felt thick as Ashley struggled to see through rivers of mascara. The darkness of the tunnel was suffocating and the poorly lit face of her pleading father was difficult to make out.

“But I don’t need you,” she choked.

John flinched.

Ashley’s finger rolled over the trigger. Her heart pouring out with the bullet as it broke from the barrel with a whiff of smoke.

*~*~*

Young Joe Kavanaugh shivered at the shadow outside. With the lamp lights burning low, his tent was relatively dark compared with the moonlit evening. To the shadow, Joe was just a dark piece of cloth strung between metal rods, rippling in the wind.

The boy couldn’t move – he barely breathed.

Something was very wrong with this humanesque form. Joe followed the profile of the hunched shadow with his eyes. Clothes of some description were hanging in shreds, flapping free, two arms were loose at its sides and at the end of each of its fingers were dark, slender shadows that looked awfully like claws.

He was already afraid of the desert. The older children of the group had told him stories of creatures that lived in the sand, invisible things that moved with the moon to hunt small children. Joe was no fool, the older children had made that last bit up for his benefit. What cemented Joe’s limbs together were the echoes of their stories in those of the camel herders – monsters that ripped their animals apart, whispers in the evening hours around the ancient tombs…

He believed them all now.

There was nothing between him and the creature except the fragile cloth and his silence. Trembling, Joe watched on as it began to saunter away from his tent, apparently more interested in the Robinson’s tent opposite and their large collection of small dogs.

He was about to collapse onto the floor when the wind kicked the baby’s cradle, and the little girl cried.

The shadow stopped. Joe’s breath froze. Crying and tears screamed out from the cot. The sand creature turned its head back toward Joe’s tent, tilting it at the disturbance.

Joe sensed its eyes on him though he knew it was impossible. A moment later, the shadow began to move again but this time it didn’t go away – it circled his tent. Joe’s head followed the shadow, the rest of his body still itching to move. Once he caught a glimpse of it passing a small hole in the tent and it dawned on Joe that this thing was real and he didn’t have long before it found the open flap.

Using the child’s screaming as cover, he scurried across the tent floor, headed for the trunk beside his father’s temporary desk. There were papers and things inside, but when he heaved open the lid it looked large enough for him to crawl into.

Kneeling inside, Joe lowered the lid of the trunk as the creature stepped through into the tent, sniffing the air.

*~*~*

“Did you see thiiis?” Bigfoot returned after putting Henry to bed, pulling up a chair to the desk where he found Henry’s laptop open. The screen was littered with password cracking programs, some of them still dutifully prying into private servers. “He’s hacking something.”

“If it’s got a government stamp on it, then I don’t want to know.”

“No,” his hairy mitt buried the mouse, dragging it around until he’d tidied up the screen. “This – might be, no I think it iiiis. Tesla’s files. You didn’t say that he had a database…”

Helen rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t own a phone but he manages a high-speed internet?”

Bigfoot ignored Helen. “He’s working out of various organisations. Engineering companies, museums, libraries, the FBI…”

“Well, they did start confiscating his work a while back. What is Henry doing moseying around in there?” she rolled her chair over for a better look. Literally hundreds of windows were open, all of them in relation to vampire history – everything from ancient texts, supposed locations of artefacts, famous researchers and professors right up to the Underworld original movie script. “What a mess…”

“Looks like Henry’s started to filter through some of it, listing it in order of relevance and difficulty to acquire.”

Helen raised her eyebrows. That sounded like Henry to her. “What tops it?” she asked, as Bigfoot minimised a dozen useless windows and killed a security warning. Helen checked her watch. They had three hours until Will recovered from the sedative.

“Something his crackers haven’t gotten into yet.”

Helen tilted her head, a curious smile forming just under her lips. “p1g30N…” she whispered, typing over Bigfoot’s shoulder. The line went green and dozens of pages loaded onto the screen. “He never changes.”

Bigfoot mumbled for a while, skimming pages of text until he came upon a curious entry. It contained a dozen or so scanned images torn out from an old book. The typeset was clunky and the pictures barely more than smudged etchings. Helen remembered a time when that was considered swish.

“…three separate uprisings in a single reign finally forced the pharaohs to abandon their beloved cities.” It began. “Six of the royal family lay dead, slain in the streets and temples until finally Ramesses XI was cornered in a library with three of his scribes. The unfinished letter to the priests of Amun was never sent. It pleaded mercy, but the peoples of the land had no mercy left in them from decades of invasion and starvation. They left an ankh through his neck and conquered the land in the name of the gods and their people. Ramesses took his final breaths bleeding into the cold stone of the palace at Thebes with the vacant eyes of his scribe staring back.

“Those that escaped travelled north along the river and then east into the barbarian world. They followed the Silk Road, vanishing into the safety of foreign mountains. The second wave were too late to make their way on foot. Hunters, keen to seize on bounties, picked off straggling royals, driving spears through their hearts and dragging their corpses back into the cities for show.

“Frightened, the last of them crossed the desert on foot until they fell into the sea. Two ships set sail but only one made it to be reunited.

“The groups met each other in the Indian Himalayas and settled once again, building the city of Bhalassam with the remainder of their wealth. It was a last stand, a memory of all that they had once been. But the two-hundred room palace was empty and later turned into a great vault for their knowledge. Surrounding it were streets of houses and temples, also empty save the forty-five survivors. Perhaps it was their hope that the scale of their city would frighten off attackers like a ruffle of colourful feathers at a predator.

“Around their city they built six towers and capped their pyramidal tops in polished marble. Every morning they shone like the evening stars, inviting their kind to join them in isolation and safety.

“One ship had been lost during this evacuation. The wind took it through the islands and across an even greater ocean. Injured from several vicious storms, they drifted in circles until even their resilient bodies were skeletons for a beating heart.

“Finally, years later, they reached the shore of a new world. Frightening cliffs hugged the ocean, splintered into the water as they crawled up the beach. Beyond this they found a dense jungle of creatures as ferocious as themselves. Eventually they happened upon a city, built out of the solid river rock. It shone in the afternoon – a pyramid of gold as beautiful as they remembered their own. As they approached, six more cities flickered into view, each one as brilliant as the next. Thinking that they had found their ancestors, the once-rulers of Egypt wove their way through the mountains and followed the river to the first and most beautiful city.”

“Does this story have a point?”Helen interrupted Bigfoot’s reading. “Because we’re pushed for time here…” Tesla had always been a history buff. Even at college. If he wasn’t trying to kill them all with bolts of lightning then he could be found with his nose in an antiquity book.

Bigfoot scrolled through the battered pages, some of which had sections missing. “Weeell… there’s this;

“Eventually they returned across the sea to India where they found their brethren and the city of Bhalasaam under attack. A wave of humans had hunted the others, determined on their destruction. Fearing the worst, a core group escaped, travelling back to the new world seeking sanctuary there. And thus began the final stand – the Sanctuary of the Moon.”

“So that’d be a no,” Helen pushed off the ground and rolled her chair back to her own desk. “As usual, Nikola’s living his life in the past – the ancient past. So he’s looking for vampires … what a surprise. Fascinating as his hobbies are, they don’t help Will.”

Bigfoot kept reading, figuring that Henry had a good reason for his efforts.

*~*~*

“You missed…” Tesla sounded distinctly disappointed as John flashed away from Ashley’s bullet, disappearing in a rip of time only to rematerialise behind Tesla.

John crumpled to the ground in pain. His body could not take much more of this.

Tesla stepped aside, displeased with the idea of himself as a shield. It was so demeaning. “You think another dose of that stuff will help you?” he asked John, who was still heaving, coughing up blood onto the gravel. “If it doesn’t kill you, it’ll transform you into something unpleasant…”

“He-l-en didn’t thi-nk so,” he replied, bending his knee up to his chin. He took a few deep breaths and then returned to his feet, trying not to sway.

Ashley was still in shock. She’d been that angry with the world that she had taken a shot at her own father.

“Helen’s learnt a lot in the last century,” quipped Nikola, circling John menacingly.

John ignored him, waiting for Tesla to pass before stepping toward Ashley, placing a gentle hand on her cheek. She didn’t recoil. It was as if the world had stopped and she was all alone in a moment long passed.

“Ashley,” he cupped her face until he found her eyes. “You need to prepare the blood as it was done the first time, over a hundred years ago. The instructions are in your grandfather’s journal but you must hurry. You’re all I’ve got in the world,” he wiped another tear from her face, finally seeing his daughter stare back at him.

Tesla’s eyes flicked to Ashley’s jacket. Beneath its crinkled surface he could make out the line of a book. The book. For nearly a century he’d wondered where that had gotten to.

“I’m sorry, for the way everything happened,” John continued. “But we don’t know each other, not really. You never would have helped me if I hadn’t –”

She didn’t say anything.

“Shame about Will…” Tesla trailed off, deliberately breaking the silence.

Ashley blinked, awakening from her trance. “What?” she leant around her father.

“Pure vampire blood; the only known cure for what these bastardised creatures give you. It’s a very small vial though – a single sample, only enough for one of them I should think…” he smiled at John, whose face had fallen.

Nikola…” he whispered, realising the game’s end. It had been well played.

“Your father or your lover? Tough choice. I’d off them both –”

“He’s not my lover,” Ashley snapped. “Are you telling the truth? Is this,” she broke free of her father and withdrew vial 0042 from her jacket, “going to save Will?”

Her father’s eyes followed the vial and its red liquid sloshing inside.

Tesla nodded. “I am certain of it. And that is no light word for a man of my profession.”

“Ashley… Please.” John blocked her vision of Tesla and his promises. “I am your father.”

“We’re immune,” Tesla spread his arms. “John, Helen, me – the answer is in that vial.”

“She’ll know…” Ashley retreated slightly. “If I take this back to the lab she’ll recognise it. She’ll work it out like you did and then – I don’t know if I can…” It would be so much easier to save her father in secret but Will – he was there, screaming in her head. If she hadn’t of gone to Egypt chasing that stupid tip off then none of this would have happened.

“Blame it on your father,” Tesla instructed. “He’ll be dead soon any-”

“SHUT UP!” John screamed, launching himself as best he could at Tesla’s throat.

“What’s wrong John,” Tesla hopped easily out of the way, “Helen’s blood not good enough anymore?”

John hit the gravel, grazing his hands. “It doesn’t work. I don’t know why,” he growled, getting back to his feet.

“He’s going to die either way, Ashley.” He turned to John, “Maybe Helen’s not giving you the real stuff anymore. It must be a terrible drain, a leech like you-”

John caught Tesla’s coat, jolting it toward him. Nikola tried to escape, but he was dragged into John’s range with a squeak. He was a slippery creature, sliding through John’s hands but not out of his grip.

The s