ellymelly’s fanfiction

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

Rome (role play) October 20, 2009

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

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

ROME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a dark flicker in his eye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikola picked a private booth along one of the walls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awkward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikola sized the agent up.

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

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

He flexed his claws.

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

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

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

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

“Very unwise,” Tesla snarled.

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

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

“Shame, I really did love this suit.”

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

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

“Nikola!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technically he thought, it’s not stealing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikola looked unbelievably hurt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikola bounced back from the stairwell.

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

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

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

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

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

Yours…” said Nikola, inspecting his claw lazily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something was wrong – they were still falling.

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

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

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

TESLA’S LAB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that a challenge or a threat? He wondered.

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

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

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

Perhaps a bit of both?

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

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

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

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

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

She wasn’t exactly unscathed either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nikola.”

He raised it higher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…traffic me safely out of the country.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll see what I can do.”

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

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

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

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

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

That sounded positively ominous.

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

“And what would that be?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Very generous…” he assured Helen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikola always stood his ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He dreaded what kind of an answer she was reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually his eyes drifted to the shopfront.

“We should probably…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NIGHT TIME TRAVEL

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

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

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

“You called?” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The driver gave Nikola a wink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…Nikola…”

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

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

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

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

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

His eyebrows lifted a little as she kicked the seat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His fingers moved against hers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONSTER SIGHTING IN OUTSKIRTS OF OLD CITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You object?” he lowered the paper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She nestled in closer, shifting in her seat to settle against him. One arm tucked up against her, laying lightly across her stomach while the other hand came to rest on his thigh. Though she was almost lost to sleep, there was a comfort to be had in knowing Nikola, her old friend, someone who understood her better than so many others, was right there.

Nikola exhaled deeply, deciding to finally give in and enjoy whatever this was that Helen was giving him. He moved a bit as she did. Oh, she’s comfortable with him all right – she always had been – since Oxford.

As Helen curled up to him, Nikola lowered one of his arms, lighting draping it down her shoulder and along her arm until his hand rested on top of hers, both rising and falling on her stomach in time with Helen’s sleepy breaths.

He let his head rest back into the seat until, as a pair, he and Helen were lounged as best they could in the confined space – and all the while Nikola tried desperately not to think about the hand she’d decided to leave on his thigh.

Helen sighed in content, the puff of air soft and warm against Nikola’s throat. To anyone walking by, they could very well be just what they were pretending: a couple very much in love. Helen, of course, being a Victorian woman put little stock in the endurance of romantic love and more in the ideas of trust and comfort in a kindred spirit. She’d always felt, as most Victorian women, that love came with time. John had been an exception to that rule, she was certain.

But Nikola claimed to have loved her for so long, despite everything. Time, distance, John, Ashley, even their own altercations. Whereas, despite the same things, Helen had always felt comfortable with him. Though others may doubt it, she knew beyond all doubt that he would be at her side should she need him.

Quite some time passed while Helen slept in Nikola’s arms, dreams of a peaceful life moving like shades and spectres through her mind. As pleasant as sleep was, she was too soon jarred back to reality by a particularly rough patch of turbulence the plane encountered. Blue eyes snapped open, wide, pale, and alert. Her fingers tensed against his leg, back straightening as consciousness was thrust upon her. A second, perhaps two, passed before Helen recalled they were travelling. One more before the realisation that she was snuggled against Nikola.

“Oh dear,” she murmured softly.

Nikola, roused from sleep, caught the end of her sentence, mumbling his reply through a thick haze of sleep.

“What is?” he said, his eyes slowly opening to the dim light of the cabin. It took a few moments for him to realise that he had been asleep – with Helen cuddled against him – on a plane – that was now bouncing through pockets of air.

It was a kind of artificial twilight inside the plane with most of the passengers sleeping, snoring in the near-darkness with only the occasional reading light casting halos of light over their owners.

At some point during the many hours they had apparently been sleeping blissfully, someone had thrown one of the complimentary blue blankets over them to stave off the inevitable chill of air-conditioning.

If he hadn’t been awake on the first jolt, the next once certainly did it. Nikola’s head rolled to the side then jerked up – properly alert as he felt Helen’s hand tense against his thigh and her body stir awake.

Helen let out a sleepy grunt, blinking away the lingering haze. A quick glance around the darkened plane brought the realisation that they weren’t yet landing. Her hand lifts from Nikola’s leg, rubbing at her eyes.

“How long did I sleep?” inquires she in a quiet voice.

The wrist with his watch was currently buried somewhere under the blanket covering them. That particular hand of his was still cupping hers – resting comfortably on her warm skin.

Nikola averted a yawn as he tried to speak.

“About as long as me,” he replied, most unhelpfully. Nikola never slept in public and he felt quiet disoriented waking up to an environment that had clearly been moving and changing while he wasn’t watching.

The turbulence was settling now – more than likely they had just cleared a mountain range.

Helen’s eyes blinked rapidly, a surprised look overtaking her features. “You… slept?” The awe wasn’t so much in the fact that he’d slept, but that he’d done so as they were fleeing the country and while in a mostly public place. Then she noticed the blanket, his arm around her and a slight heat came to her cheeks.

He frowned at her.

“Stranger things have happened,” he said, defiantly. “Besides,” he continued, his frown becoming a challenging smirk, “you slept too.”

Was she blushing again? He couldn’t tell in the half-light – it robbed all the colour from the world. Though, Nikola had to admit, it did little to calm the violent blue of the blanket thrown over them. It was just in its own little universe.

“What do you think,” he started, purposely glancing at the blanket, “worst blue you’ve ever seen?”

Nikola sleeping is rarer than her sleeping. “I’ve been shot at, chased, and thrown from a building in the last few days. I rather think I’m entitled to some rest.”

She’d never admit it, but she’s thankful for the change in topic. Peering down at the blanket still draped over them, Helen smiled lightly. “Even in the half-light it’s nearly blinding.”

And thoroughly kissed, he wanted to add to that list but didn’t. His thumb grazed over the back of her hand as he considered her – but they were interrupted by a sharp click.

All around them, the lights of the plane flickered on and the seat-belts signs flashed. A few people groaned in protest as the chime of the pilot’s intercom rang out.

“Good evening ladies and gentleman. We are now beginning our descent … please return to your seats.”

There was a general shuffling of disapproval around them as people glared through the new light, gathering up their things and re-arranging themselves. As for the third passenger beside Nikola, he had been squished into the side of the plane but didn’t seem to mind.

They would have to untangle themselves – but that meant admitting that they were indeed, tangled up.

Helen joined in the collective groan. She was far too comfortable and not horribly inclined to move. Helen shifted in her seat, pressing closer to him before moving slightly back. The hand his fingers crushed against under the blanket moved to take hold of his.

“H-” he went to protest with her name, but amended it to, Johanna…” as she continued to do the exact opposite of what they were supposed to be doing.

Somehow she was getting closer to him, something Nikola didn’t think possible after having the one and only Helen Magnus asleep in his arms. Her hand was threading through his and his objections were falling away with every millimetre she claimed.

Helen’s look was quizzical. She opened her mouth as if to speak. Maybe something more?

Alas, the moment was ruined when a stewardess came to snatch their blanket away and chide them for not sitting properly while the place descended.

“She certainly told us,” Nikola, now seated correctly with nothing but the myriad of creases in his good jacket to show for last few hours, pulled the armrest back down between them to avoid further scorn. “It’s a good thing that your Italian is rusty,” he assured her.

Helen pulled her hand back in silence. Once the arm rest was returned to its proper position, she glanced over to him with an awkward look. “We must’ve slept most of the way.”

Nikola’s eyes dropped to his mostly ruined coat as he said, “Evidently…”

Truth was, they both looked rather ruffled with his hair jutting out oddly at the side where he had been resting against the seat.

He couldn’t help a satisfied smirk on his lips as he looked at her.

Helen lifted her hands to smooth, then fluff out her hair. She brushes a few wrinkles from her shirt, the platinum band around her finger catch the light and drawing her eyes. For a brief moment, she simply peered at it, captivated, before she returned to preening.

Nikola kept catching her glancing at her ring but chose to say nothing.

“You look fine, he assured her, as she continued to flit about beside him.

He on the other hand, well, he looked like most people did after long haul flights.

“Where exactly are we?” he inquired, as he had not even checked his tickets.

Of course he‘d say that! She could roll around in mud and he’d still tell her she’s beautiful.

Helen pauses in her fussing blinking off the last remnants of sleep. “Uh… New York.”

Nikola frowned inexplicably and turned away.

He hadn’t been expecting that feeling upon realising that he was about to return to the city where most of his ‘life’ had been spent. So many memories – tragedies – friends and they were all gone. History had even forgotten him.

“Oh,” he said quietly, before his eyes returned to her, a little paler than before. “New York.”

The shift in his demeanour didn’t go unnoticed. “We won’t be here long,” she assured. “Our flight to Detroit leaves in the morning.”

“Plenty of time to get caught and killed then,” he mused aloud in a light tone, flicking off whatever that moment of quiet had been.

“My bet is that the Cabal travelled first class…”

Helen snorted at that. “You don’t think they’d have taken the opportunity in the sin hours in which we slept?” Why, was that a little stab at him for not staying awake?

Nikola gave her one of those, ‘like that was my fault’ looks.

“Maybe we played our roles a bit too well,” he teased, “and they simply passed us by.”

Neither Nikola or Helen could know that that was exactly what had happened on the flight – or that an innocent couple three seats behind them were about to be pulled up by security on arrival.

A good thing for contacts.

Helen turned to Nikola, lifting a hand to smooth over his hair on one side. It was standing up unnaturally from being slept upon. Her smile was soft, almost fond. Once done she took his hand and mused, “Welcome to America, Milos.”

“Worrying…” he observed her. “Whenever I see you with that look, trouble is never far behind.”

Nikola’s fingers slid from Helen’s, running over the back of her hand until they curled around her wrist, holding her in a gentle grasp. In a quick, simple movement he had flipped her hand over, exposing the base of the wrist where the palm met onto which he lowered his head and pressed a kiss into the delicate skin there.

It was worrying all right – worrying how easily they slipped back into this closeness – how the centuries apart were quickly forgot and the need to paw at each other won out. Each testing the other’s boundaries until someone tapped out. It was a dangerous game they used to play and Helen usually won.

“I am not sure America is ready for me,” he grinned, his breath warm on her skin.

Pawing! He makes it sound as if they’re randy teenager with no sense of propriety!

The touch of his lips to her skin took Helen by surprise, though she hid it well. A slight widening of her eyes, a quick, soft gasp for breath were her only betrayals. Nikola undoubtedly felt the speeding of her pulse at the touch.

“I’m not sure I am,” she murmured in reply.

The plane was landing. A slight bump as its wheels hit the tarmac was the first Nikola and Helen knew of it.

“I guess we’re going to find out,” he replied – let it linger – and then added, “because it appears we have arrived.”

The bump jarred her senses back, her eyes narrowing slightly as she glanced toward the front of the plane. It was barely a few seconds since they’d touched ground before Helen’s PDA was in her hands.

“A driver will be awaiting us. We’ll be staying in…” Helen stopped, a small frown pursing her lips. “We have a decadent room in Times Square.” Far more expensive than she would’ve liked, but it helped to keep up the appearance of a honeymooning couple.

The flight attendant swept past them as soon as the plane had come to a stop, leaving a trail of expletives at the sight of Helen’s PDA in use.

“She really doesn’t like us,” he grinned, rising from his seat behind Helen – his briefcase uppermost in his priorities.

There was a general shuffle as the passengers became a solid mass, funnelled through the plan and out into the terminal where they immediately began to disperse. They were almost at the baggage carousel when Nikola heard it – angered and confused voices coming from gate they had just departed. Without drawing attention, Nikola tilted his head and glanced over his shoulder through the crowds of people.

“Helen,” he said quietly, directing her attention to the airport security pulling up an innocent couple while a Cabal agent lost his temper.

She glanced back casually, one hand clutching her bag, the other his hand. Helen’s eyes didn’t linger long. “We need to hurry. Fortune is on our side for the time being.”

Though the last thing they needed was to draw more attention to themselves. She couldn’t shake the edge of nervousness as they gathered their luggage from the carousel and made their way to the car awaiting them.

NEW YORK

“Niiiiice…” he tilted his head up to the chandelier tangled high up in the ceiling.

The hotel was gorgeous – a vast improvement on the hovel he had occupied last time he had been in town. It was difficult not to let his eyes wander around the various art displays as they wandered toward the check-in desk.

“This is certainly the best escape plan I’ve ever been a part of,” he hissed under his breath.

Helen snorted a breath as she followed along beside him, her eyes trailing over the decor of the place. Far too ritzy. Helen was already dreading how much this was going to cost her.

“I rather preferred planning your funeral in ’43,” she hissed back with a frown. “Can you at least fake an Eastern European accent for our check-in?” It would make their cover more plausible.

“I’ll try not to take that personally…” he drawled back in his best Croatian accent.

Oh yes, the stay here was going to take a stab at Helen’s bank account but unlike him, she was uncommonly apt at acquiring finance. Case and point – her castle-like residence.

“Ah yes…” Nikola said, as they approached the reception desk with a pretty, well kept girl tapping away at a computer behind it.

For her part, Helen played the role of the eager bride, fidgeting slightly while clinging onto Nikola’s free arm. She left the check-in process to him, only dropping the façade once they were alone in the room.

“Honestly,” exclaimed she as she paced through the decadent room. “As if my contacts couldn’t have found something more modest!” Helen didn’t fail to realise that this was the best cover. After all, surely the Cabal would expect that she’d hide out in a modest hotel. What better way to keep them off the trial than to travel economy then book the honeymoon suite of an opulent hotel in Times Square.

“I saw a deli just down the street. I’m going to get some supplies. Do you want anything?”

Nikola strolled through the lavish room and found himself a leather couch by the window. He folded himself into it, lounging back with his shoes on the graceful arm.

Instead of answering her, Nikola glanced over his shoulder at her with a look of disapproval. Satisfied that he had been left alone after the door closed firmly behind her; Nikola quickly spun around and hopped off the couch, taking the opportunity to inspect the room properly. Yes it was most certainly an expensive room. The enormous windows looked out over the city while the fashionable furnishings gave the room a clean but comfortable feel – something you could easily live in. (Or maybe he would always hold a soft spot for hotel rooms, given his history of residence in them?)

Finally his eyes rested on a false cupboard underneath the kitchen area. That was no cupboard… He wandered over to it – tapping its sheer surface lightly with his finger.

It was the mini bar…

Not only did she see a deli, but a drug store, too! Needless to say, between buying snacks to tide them over for the night and the next plane ride and purchasing some decent skin and hair care products, Helen was gone nearly an hour. Upon her return… Nikola pointedly wasn’t where she left him. She’d never admit to the flash of worry in her eyes as they scanned the area and found nothing.

Except an empty minibar.

Whatever concern she’d felt evaporated as she followed the trail of tiny, empty bottles to… the bedroom. Inside, Helen gave the man a blank look. Partly because the candles and rose petals were so… something (and clearly he either hadn’t seen the bottle of champagne or he was saving it), and partly because there was Nikola, draped out across the bed and the flowers, surrounded by those little bottles from the minifridge.

They were all empty – of course – hardly enough to keep him busy. Indeed, he had consumed the entirety of the minibar – one of the many reasons why it was unwise to leave Nikola Tesla alone in a hotel room.

Nikola heard a pair of feet pad into the room and draw to a halt at the door. His eyes fluttered open from the half-sleep he had been enjoying. As it turned out, beds were infinitely more comfortable than airplane seats. Languidly, he rolled off his back, onto his side to find Helen, shopping in hand, looking a little miffed. A few rose petals dislodged around him, tumbling over one another.

“Ah,” he sighed contentedly, “room service…” The way he accentuated the observation with a cocked eyebrow suggested he wasn’t after food.

Helen. Just. Stared.

Then, without any hesitation, she reached into the bag from the drug store. With one hand, she thumbed off the cap of a leave-in hair conditioning spray and promptly spritzed Tesla with it. Like a half dozen times.

The first jet of slimly liquid took him by surprise. All of a sudden there was something cold and wet stinging his eyes which promptly slammed them shut with a muttered, “Urgh…”

The initial strike was quickly followed by a succession of secondary attacks as his chest and neck fell victim to the conditioning bottle.

Finally Nikola realised exactly what she had done. He wiped his face with the back of his hand, removing the gel.

Ruined… was all he could think as he looked down at his shirt.

“What – was – that – for?” he growled, seriously displeased with the overpowering rose fragrance now wafting from him.

“I’ll appreciate you minding your cheek despite this ruse,” Helen snapped. Then she added, “Be thankful I don’t have mace.”

Nikola’s eyes flashed dangerously back – their vampire traits turning his pale eyes into black marbles.

“I see your sense of humour hasn’t improved,” he hissed at her.

With great difficulty, he began to slide forward and manoeuvre himself off the bed without dripping the conditioner on the bedspread. Anyone who didn’t know him better might have suspected that his sluggish movements and occasional fumbling betrayed his abnormally high blood/alcohol content.

That amused her. She watches as he slithered away, moving to pick up the trail of bottles from the bed to the minibar. “Every time I see you, I find myself thrown into danger,” she called after him. Once the room was tied, Helen sank down onto the edge of the bed. A few minutes passed before she frowned. Why hadn’t she noticed before Nikola went into the bathroom? A few minutes more left Helen shifting this wy and that before finally she walked over to the door.

“Don’t come out of the shower, Nikola. I… have to use the toilet.”

Nikola froze for a moment – the shower spray already hot and pouring over him. The Bathroom was extensive but (tragically) lacked a shower curtain. It was a mostly open-plan shower with a curved wall that one could try to hide behind, albeit not very effectively.

Heavy layers of steam filled the air like a kind of fog, blurring the world a little.

Nikola backed away toward the wall as he heard the door open.

Not to worry! Helen’s got her eyes on the ground to keep them from wandering anywhere unsavoury or inappropriate. Such a decadent bathroom matched the motif of abundance in this room. Oh, how Helen shivered at the thought of its price.

The thought flicked through her mind that Nikola’s going to use all of the hot water in the building. So much steam in only a few minutes’ time… For that, however, she was thankful. It at least gave them a small measure of privacy.

Damn Nikola thought to himself, when he reached for the micro-bottles of shampoo and conditioner that were supposed to accompany showers at hotel rooms. There weren’t any. Not fond of the prospect of standing for an unknown amount of time cursing the modern shower for its oversight, Nikola decided to make use of his unwanted guest.

“Helen…” he started, ducking out of the stream of steaming water just enough to speak. Nikola assumed she was listening, though she gave no answer. “Pass me whatever it was that you just bought – please,” he attached as an afterthought.

Oh Lord. Helen rolled her eyes and breathed out a sigh.

“I didn’t bring it in with me,” she hissed from the toilet. Instinct caused her to turn her head she spoke, though she quickly jerked her eyes back to the floor. She had, in fact, left it on the sink which was out of reach. “Give me a moment.” As an afterthought, she added, “Might want to step out of the water.” Because she’s going to flush now.

He was going to – and maybe he did by a step or two, but Nikola quickly realised that that wasn’t going to work. The (what Nikola now considered to be poor) design of the bathroom meant that he had to endure the cold rush of water for the sake of his modesty.

Nikola suddenly felt very compromised and wondered what fit of folly had induced him into what was about to happen. He turned the temperature of the water up to something near scalding, creating more clouds of mist to obscure the room. It was almost suffocating.

Helen would’ve looked away, Nikola. His modesty is as important to her as to him. Once she finished her business, Helen moves to grab the bag with the toiletries she purchased. Without turning fully toward him, she reached out to hand him the plastic bag with the soaps and shampoos.

God, Nikola, how can you breathe?”

He stifled a cough – the water vapour clogging his lungs.

Nikola heard her approach and thrust his hand out for the bag, misjudging slightly causing his hand to accidentally clamp around Helen’s wrist.

“Sorry…” he muttered, fumbling over her hand until he found his way to the plastic bag. Nikola could just see her face through the plumes of mist tumbling around them. She was looking away. Her hair was damp, falling around her face nearly dripping. God, she hadn’t changed in over a hundred years.

The touch startled Helen and she turned to face him, though swiftly wished she hadn’t. Colour rushed to her face and Helen quickly raised her eyes to and locked them on his face. “…”

As she turned to face him, he saw her eyes run from the floor to his face, causing his breath to catch. Thank goodness for the mist. He was surprised to see her cheeks flush as her eyes settled on his face. She was getting rather drenched now – the water from the shower splattering over her.

For a moment, one short, sweet moment, Helen was lost. That is until she heard her blackberry ringing angrily just beyond the bathroom. She pulled her arm back with haste, her fingers losing their grip on the bag of toiletries. “I need to get that,” she offered as an excuse to leave the bathroom in a hurry.

Nikola, of course, dropped the bag and had to fish around through the mist for the shampoo once Helen had gone in search of her blackberry. He wasn’t quite sure what had just happened but something had definitely happened.

Shaking his head, Nikola turned the hot water down – if only so that he could breathe, and began lathering up his hair. How had he gotten himself into this utter mess? And why, god why, did Helen have to pick such florally shampoo?

Beggars can’t be choosers, Nikola. At least this would be better for his hair than the hotel’s offerings. A few minutes passed, Helen’s voice muffled by distance, the closed door, and the spray of the shower. A few minutes more before there came an urgent knock at the door before it opened just a sliver. “Shake a leg, Nikola. We need to get out of here.”

Could he not enjoy five minutes of peace? Nikola looked up in confusion, oddly surrounded by bubbles.

“Go?” he shouted through the spray. “We just got here…”

He was in no mood to go anywhere and was it just his imagination or did Helen sound more insistent than usual.

“The Cabal have caught our scent,” she offered in a grave voice.

Nikola actually sighed and lowered head, the shower washing away most of the soap. Reluctantly he turned it off and wrapped one of the towel-bathrobes around himself, pacing over to the slightly open door.

He can see Helen just shy of it, by the bed pacing frantically around.

Nikola cleared his throat to get her attention.

“My clothes?” he says, as they are no longer in the bathroom where he’d left them in a heap.

Once he called out, Helen nudged open the door, praying silently he at least had a towel to protect his modesty. “Something clean,” she informed, gesturing to the neatly folded clothes in her hands. Yes, let’s ignore the fact she took them from his suitcase. He’d notice that she’s also in different clothes, her usual black leather. Just in case.

“My my,” Nikola purposely lounged in the doorway – his bathrobe a tad loose. “You’ve been in my suitcase,” he observed.

Somehow the urgency of the situation wasn’t rubbing off on him. Nikola usually responds to threat best if he can actually see it.

Her eyes skimmed over him, her lips set in an unimpressed line. Helen sauntered over, her step deliberate. Why, was that an exaggerated swish of her hips as she moved? The clothes in her hands were thrust against him and Helen remained still waiting for him to take them.

“If I have to throw you down and dress you myself to get you out of here before we’re captured or killed, don’t think I won’t do it.”

Nikola swallowed hard. He made no effort to take the pile of clothes from her (which she was currently crushing).

“My my,” he rolled the words in a playfully threatening way, “what a curious proposition.”

She is, in fact, crushing the clothes against him. A good thing the room is still so full of steam that it could possibly pull any wrinkles out of them. Helen gave the bundle a little push into Nikola chest as she glowers at him impatiently.

“We haven’t the time for games, Nikola,” she pressed, urgency lacing the words. “Get dressed. We can play later.”

Nikola rolled his eyes dramatically and backtracked into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

He reappeared a few minutes later, dressed in a CRUSHED suite with damp, spiked hair which only added to his unimpressed demeanour.

Nikola roamed through the bedroom, stepping into his shoes as he goes.

“Better?”

Helen, of course, was pacing through the room, eyes moving from the door, to the window, to her Blackberry. She looked up at Nikola’s words, urgency etched into her face. “We don’t have much of a head start. It seems as if they haven’t managed to pin down our aliases yet, but we need to move quickly.” She paused to type into the phone and then tucked it away into a hidden, inner pocket of her leather jacket. “Let’s go.”

Nikola retrieved his briefcase and hoisted her heavy bag onto his shoulder.

“Are you aware,” he made it to the door, opening it just a crack to check that the hallway was clear, “that your major relationship in life is with a machine?” Nikola looked back over his shoulder, hinting at the pocket of her leather jacket where the phone had just vanished into.

“You might want to work on that,” he advised, opening the door fully and stepping aside to allow her to leave first. “Immortals before geniuses…”

Helen snatched up her smaller bag, pulling the strap crossways over her shoulder, and padded toward the door. “I rather think that applies to both you and I,” she mused as she stepped into the hall.

“Nikola, you’re hardly an appropriate person to lecture me on relationships. Especially with technology made possible by your work…” Helen jerked her head for him to follow. “I left the card key in the room, we can check out virtually in the morning.” Down the hall she want, alert and attentive for any sign of danger.

“So what you’re really trying to say, rather in-eloquently,” he closed their hotel door so it didn’t look completely like they’d left in a rush, “is that you’re actually having a relationship with me – well, my work, that is.”

Nikola followed her with his signature, paranoid glance over his shoulder.

“I knew there was something odd about the way you looked at my saucy little book – as you called it.” Not that he was letting her name his inventions.

Good thing he’s behind her so he doesn’t see her rolling her eyes. Once the elevator arrives, Helen reaches in to hit a random floor before waiting for another elevator to arrive. And people think Tesla’s paranoid. Helen steps into the next elevator, pushing the button for the lobby with impatience. Once more she pulls out her humming Blackberry and peers at it with consternation.

“The head of the New York Sanctuary chartered a private plane for us. It leaves as soon as we get back to the air port. She says there’s a taxi waiting for us two blocks from here.”

Nikola watches with amusement.

“It doesn’t matter how many decoy lifts you send down, they’re still going to be waiting for us at reception – unless you care for another freefall?”

He steps into the lift with her and this time it’s his turn sigh as she pulls out her blackberry. Again.

“Two blocks?” Tesla looks far from amused. “Were they lost?

“They’re not here yet, according to my intel,” she pointed out. “We need to hurry though,” Helen insisted. “The distance is due to traffic. Have you forgotten we’re in Times Square?”

“Please…” he drawled, “how long have you known me?” As if the great Tesla forgets.

The elevators opened with an ominous, ‘ping!’ to reveal a rather suspicious looking lobby. There were far too many business men pretending to read upside down newspapers, twitching towards the elevators.

“Is this room how you remember it?” he muttered, wondering just how far it was to the glass doors on the opposite wall. He also glanced at the fire exit to their left – a move which definitely attract attention.

Helen’s eyes scanned the room and she nodded in approval when Nikola glanced to the fire exit.

“Nikola,” she whispered. “There is nothing in that bag I can’t part with.” Yes, he’s free to drop it or throw it at any attackers. “Walk toward it causally unless someone runs at us.”

“Because it wouldn’t be at all suspicious if I were to leave your bag in the middle of the lobby…” he grinned at her. Still, Helen Magnus short on clothes? Maybe he would abandon the case after all.

Nikola did as he was told and pretended to head towards the magazine rack that was near the fire exit. There were definitely eyes following them, eyes that weren’t in the least fooled by his subterfuge.

“Pesky little things,” he commented, swerving toward the fire exit.

Before he left the lift, she swatted him in the chest for being cheeky. She too meandered in the general direction of the fire exit, waiting for Nikola to bolt. She watched as eyes fell on them and fingers flew over keys sending their location to who knows where.

“Go,” she murmured.

Nikola heard her murmur in his ear and he instantly relaxed his hand around the handle of her bag – dropping it to the floor with a loud crash.

Well, that certainly got their attention. Half a dozen men launched themselves from their seats and skidded over the marble floors in pursuit.

Nikola hit the fire exit door first, pressing down on its metal bar before throwing it open. He ushered Helen through it and then slammed it closed, pausing for a moment to lay his and on it – imparting a nice little electrical surprise for the next person lucky enough to touch it.

Helen darted out the door, sparing a backward glance to ensure Nikola was still behind. At some point, she’d pulled the Blackberry from her coat and peered at it. “Nikola, here!” she called to him, all but diving into a nondescript taxi that came screeching to a halt in front of them.

Halfway into the taxi – Nikola grinned with satisfaction as the fire exit door sparked, marking the demise of at least one Cabal agent. The taxi, meanwhile, began to speed off without the least bit of consideration for him, and Nikola had to launch himself through the open door, slamming it behind him, to avoid being left in a pile of dust on the street behind.

“So much for your luxury hotel,” he straightened his jacket and set his briefcase safely on his lap. “What can I say – their wine was cheap and their lobby infested with rodents. Your taste is definitely slipping.”

“Slipping?” she panted in question, peering out the rear window as the driver (not just any driver, but an agent of the local Sanctuary) made quick work of the traffic, putting distance between them and the hotel with impressive skill. “It should’ve been obvious in the troublesome company I’m still keeping.”

It wasn’t long that they were on the road, speeding to less crowded parts of the city that Helen was once more consulting her Blackberry. A sudden jerk of the vehicle to one side, pulled her attention away. The sound of shots were cause for alarm.

“I think they may still be following us…” Tesla said sarcastically, twisting around to look behind before suddenly ducking out of the way of a volley of poorly aimed bullets.

“This constant peril is not working for me,” he slumped against the seat, well aware that the shell of the car was no match for automatic weapons. “And yet you are still focused on your blackberry,” he noted, as Helen’s head dipped once again to the screen. “Honestly, I’m actually starting to feel the cold pang of jealousy,” he finished melodramatically.

Helen graced him with a scathing look. The sort that clearly showed the inappropriateness of his wit. Then again, Nikola’s comments were often pointed during these most inopportune of times. “Change of plans,” she called over the squeal of tires and the ruckus of one, two cars pulling up to their vehicle. She pushed the phone back into her pocket and drew her own weapon, preparing to return fire.

Over the noise and the rain of shattering glass, Helen called out to the driver, the man doing his very best to escape very untimely death as well as pursuit. A small charter plane is waiting for them at private air field, if only they can get to it. “Jealousy doesn’t sui–” The words were cut off as another hail of bullets tore through the rear window. Helen cried out as one struck her, splattering hot blood across Nikola’s face.

All the sound was ripped from the world except the sharp cry from Helen as her body jarred. Nikola’s eyes closed instinctively as the warm spray of blood fell across his face. It wasn’t his.

When he opened his eyes, it was in a moment of shock. The driver was arching his head back, shouting something over and over but all Nikola was looking at was the dark spread of red across the side of Helen’s shoulder and her gaze starring into nowhere.

“Helen…” he whispered, through another onslaught of bullets, diving across the seat to catch her as she began to slide into view of a Cabal car pulling up beside them.

Glazed eyes stared out at nothing, the slack expression showing little other than shock. For a moment, she pressed a hand to her injured shoulder, pulling it away to see the blood on it before the rest of reality seemed to come back into sharp relief.

That arm was going to be useless until it was tended to, Helen thought with no small measure of consternation. Gun still in her good hand, she looked to Nikola through a haze of pain.

“I need you…” A rough jerk of the vehicle cut her off as did the volley of shots fired at them once more. “I need you to get my Blackberry, Nikola. It has the directions the driver needs…”

Nikola caught her bloodied hand in his as she withdrew it, the gun slipping to the seat between them as the car swerved.

“I need you…” he heard her say, as a fresh round of bullets sounded the demise of his side window. It rained safety glass, covering them in tiny scratches. “…to get my Blackberry…”

The scorn on the air was palpable.

Nikola reluctantly let go of her hand and carefully (as best he could in a swerving car), hunted it out inside her jacket pocket.

“Any last words for your blackberry?” he quipped, holding it aloft.

Helen panted softly, glowering at Nikola.

“Lose it, accidentally or otherwise, I will destroy you.”

Surely he knew better than to toss it, their lifeline, right now. Her contacts that helped them thus far would be put in danger, locations and travel plans exposed. It simply wouldn’t be a good plan. Holding on to consciousness grew more difficult and Helen slumped against Nikola.

“I’m trusting you… to get us out of here.” And then all went black.

He was about to make a snarky remark about it being ‘worth the risk’ when Helen seemed to rock unsteadily and all of a sudden she was on his shoulder, mumbling incoherently until she slipped into unconsciousness.

This wasn’t good… Nikola thought, as Helen slid from his shoulder into his lap, leaving a dark stain of blood over his suit. She was losing far too much of it, even for an immortal.

The taxi swerved again but this time it deliberately hit the Cabal-driven car beside them, knocking it into a street lamp. The impact threw Helen and Tesla roughly around the backseat and then again as the driver pulled a handbrake turn into a gravel drive leading to a small airstrip where a private jet sat waiting, lights on – ready to go.

“Drive not crash!” Tesla screamed at the driver, stowing Helen’s gun in his briefcase before turning her over, checking her pulse, not wanting to watch the way colour was leeching from her skin at an alarming rate.

The driver stopped looking at the road and glared at Tesla shouting, “You don’t like my driving?!” He too, had narrowly avoided being shot, as evidenced by the bullet hole in the headrest of his seat.

Nikola eased open Helen’s jacket just enough to see the wound on her shoulder better. Her white shirt was now dark red and torn in an absolute mess that he had no time to investigate further.

The brakes were slammed on without warning and the taxi fishtailed to a stop beside the plane.

“Get out of my RUINED car,” the driver yelled, glanced nervously at the three cars following them, turning onto the tarmac not far away.

Nikola kicked open his door, causing another hail of broken glass. The driver was out as well, pulling his gun and aiming it at the oncoming Cabal cars. Nikola thrust his briefcase and Helen’s bag at him.

“Get these to the plane – NOW,” at which point the driver obeyed.

Next, Nikola pulled Helen gently across the back seat until he could slip his arms underneath her and lift her from the car, scooping her up so that her head fell against his neck.

He swore at the screech of the Cabal cars pulling up around him. They were already opening their doors and aiming their weapons.

Helen in his arms, Nikola sprinted the short distance to the waiting plane where several Sanctuary personal had begun returning fire. Nikola was at the foot of the jet when he remembered…

…Blackberry…in the car…

“What are you doing, man?” one of the men said, as Tesla paused.

“The – the…,” Tesla tried to explain before deciding that it would only waste time. “Hold this,” by ‘this’ he meant, ‘Helen’. The man started to protest but was given no choice as Helen was transferred to his grasp.

“Christ, is that Helen?” was all Tesla heard him say as Nikola swivelled, bowed his head and raced back through the party of bullets to the car.

This better be gods-damn-worth-it… he snarled, as a bullet clipped is jacket but not him. Nikola retrieved the damnable piece of technology and somehow made it back to the plane uninjured and unimpressed. “You don’t want to know,” he hissed at the scowling man, holding the door open.

CITY OF GLASS

Sleep clung to Helen stubbornly. She fights for consciousness with great effort, a soft groan and the slight flutter of lashes alerting any nearby that she’s coming to. Her vision is blurry at first, taking a few blinks to focus and cast off the remaining sleep from eyes. The dully coloured ceiling and walls weren’t familiar to her, nor the scratching sheets drawn up around her frame.

A few seconds more passed before Helen recalled the car chase and fire fight. Worry lances through her, followed by a sharp jolt of pain as she tried to push herself upright. A hand flew to her shoulder, Helen now noting the bandages beneath the simple tank top. That’s right, she’d been shot. Pale eyes widened, then. Had she been captured? And where was… “Nikola?!”

Nikola’s head popped into view at once, bobbing up and down beside her. He was on the floor, next to her bed, hunting out an awkwardly placed powerpoint in a last-bid attempt to charge Helen’s Blackberry.

“Steady,” said Nikola, dropping the cords in his hands. He stood up and re-arranged Helen’s pillows, fussing around so that she could sit without injuring herself further. “That was no scratch,” he nodded at her bandages.

There were still a few residual scratches on his face from the glass. Some of the deeper ones appeared as angry red lines darting over his face at odd angles – much like Helen’s although she didn’t have nearly as many.

Yes well, being passed out in Nikola’s lap certainly helps to keep the glass shards from her face.

A worried line creased her brow, pulling her lips into a downward bow. Having just woken, Helen hadn’t yet had time to steel herself against outward shows of emotion. Her hand reached to him, grabbing his with a firmness wholly uncalled for in a calm situation.

“Where are we?” Her eyes flicked over him, scanning him for any sign of injury. “Are you all right?”

Nikola was tugged unceremonious down toward the bed, causing him to lean oddly as Helen clasped onto his hand, crushing it with her urgency.

“Middle of nowhere – known affectionately by its inhabitants as, ‘Toledo’.”

He noticed that she was pulling him a little closer, glancing over his cuts and abrasions. Typical, she was the one who was shot, not him.

“Am I all right?” he eyed her scornfully. “The better question is are you all right?”

Helen closed her eyes and breathed out a sigh, her fingers slacking in their grip. “I’ll live, I’m sure.” When her eyes opened once more, they were clearer, more intense than before. “How long have we been here?”

Nikola felt her relax.

“Not quite a day,” he answered, brushing a few wayward curls from her face as she clearly hadn’t noticed them. Nikola’s fingers hovered over her skin, barely touching it as he restored her hair to some form of order.

“The surgeons operated on you mid-flight – they did a good job,” mainly because he spent every spare second threatening to feed off them if they didn’t. He really hoped they didn’t tell her that. He’d be in SO much trouble.

Helen’s eyes drifted closed once more and she smiled as she exhaled. At length she finally chuckled, though it did make her shoulder ache fiercely.

“Damn it. I really liked that jacket.” Helen groaned quietly as she shifted against the pillows to get a better look around the room. “I suspect this is going to be home for a few days.”

“On that front,” Nikola untangled himself and rose to his full height, “I can be of assistance.”

He paced over to the far end of the room, opening a wardrobe from which he withdrew a hanger with Helen’s jacket.

It looked – fine.

Nikola roamed back and laid the jacket out in Helen’s lap on the bed.

“The test of a good jacket – can it survive a decent fight?” He smiled. “And you are correct, I expect we’ll be here for a few days, doctor’s orders. Also, there’s a contract of sorts out on our head…can’t think why.” He tried to look innocent.

The moment was spoiled by an unhealthy ‘beeping’ sound from the floor beside them. Nikola’s lip curled up in a silent snarl.

Perplexing! By all rights there should’ve been a bullet hole in that jacket but… Helen couldn’t find the slightest flaw. Whatever awe she felt at that feat was forgotten by the sickly beeping of her phone. A laugh tore from Helen, causing tears to spring to her eyes (both form pain and amusement).

“Is that my…?”

Nikola was practically glowering.

“Unfortunately – I don’t think that it likes me,” he said, bending down to retrieve it.

Try as he might to keep it alive, it seemed determined to die after its heroic rescue.

He placed it in her hands at which point it seemed to shift to an affection ‘beep’ rather than one of displeasure.

“See…” he muttered.

“Despite your thoughts to the contrary, it has no feelings.” And then Helen did something most shocking: she pressed the button that powered off the Blackberry. She set it aside and turned her attention to Nikola. “Thank you, Nikola.”

Nikola gave the abandoned and finally silent machine a second look. Eventually he dragged his eyes away from it and back to Helen, who looked remarkably serene.

“If I hadn’t run into you in Rome, I’d probably be locked in a Cabal lab by now. All this – is,” he doesn’t normally admit to these things, so it takes him a few goes to say, “my fault…

The amusement melted from her face and her fingers still clutching Nikola’s hand tightened. “Nikola,” she murmured, her voice both sympathetic and chastising. “You are far too precious a being for the Cabal to every hold captive. If this is the price to keep you free, I pay it gladly.”

He averted his eyes at once, suddenly finding a patch of wallpaper fascinating.

“You shouldn’t have to,” he replied, his eyes closing. “It was too high.”

“I know that were situations reversed, you would help me.” There’s no doubt in her words at all. Despite whatever questionable encounters they’d had in the past, Helen knew she could count on Nikola. He could easily have left her behind for the Cabal, but he hadn’t.

“I’ll be fine,” assured she. “Stop this fretting.”

His gaze flicked back to her.

“Don’t tell anyone though – it would ruin my reputation.” Nikola squeezed her hand in reassurance. “Rest a while – you can get back to thwarting my plans for world domination later…”

Helen looked down to his hand, returning the squeeze gently. “No rest for the weary, Nikola. Every moment I’m not actively thwarting you, you’re making headway.”

She takes another look around the dull room, noting the ‘security’ measures. The door is bolted and a chained, the curtains drawn. And then her gaze fell to Nikola once more. “Are you… you’re hovering.”

“No choice,” Nikola replied perfectly innocently. “My … hand,” he said, hinting at the way she had clasped onto it a while ago and made no plan to release it.

What was not innocent was the way he lowered himself perhaps a millimetre closer – nothing she would notice.

Her eyes move to their clasped hands and she manages a resigned smile. “You’re worried.”

“Sh…” he shook his head at her. “People will hear you.”

Nikola? concerned? Please! – well, maybe just a little. Repeated and prolonged hand-holding wasn’t usually a sign of hostility.

A look of completely unimpressed disbelief came over her face. “What people? We’re the only ones here!” Then her eyes widened slightly, concern flickering into them. “Were we followed?!”

Nikola laughed lightly, highlighting the deeply embedded smile lines around his face.

“Not that I know of – it was quite a daring escape we made. Car chase – plane taking off through a hail of bullets – emergency mid air surgery – hauling your sorry state across the tarmac…”

Helen frowned, giving him an unhappy look. “Don’t forget this is your fault.”

“But you forgive me…” his grin only got wider. “You always do.”

“A quality you take for granted,” she snapped. “My patience has bounds, Nikola.” She pulled her hand free of his and gave him a friendly swat to his shoulder. “You could do to be a bit kinder while I’m laid up.”

“Ow,” he mocked, looking intently at the place where she had swatted him.

Kinder?
he mused. “Then I shall do the gentlemanly thing, and allow you to get some rest,” said Nikola, leaning down after a moment, to gently kiss her on the forehead.

Helen smiled gently, waiting until the last possible second to tilt her head back. Yes, Nikola, she learned that little kiss stealing trick from you.

Instead of meeting with Helen’s forehead, Nikola’s lips brushed over Helen’s in surprise.

An involuntary gasp escaped him as Nikola realised what she’d done. Helen’s head tilted further, sliding Nikola’s mouth against hers – prolonging their stolen kiss.

A trick learned from the master. Helen’s eyes falls closed and she leaned upward, into the kiss with a soft groan thanks to the ache in her shoulder. There was no effort made on her part to put distance between them. In fact, Helen’s lip parted slightly against his.

He was vaguely aware of her pulling him gently down toward her – of her uninjured arm gliding over his back and the way she moaned against him – parting her lips.

Nikola’s hands splayed onto the bed either side of him, supporting his weight as he teased his tongue over Helen’s lip.

It didn’t linger long. Helen knew better. She pulled back slightly, just enough to give them room to breathe, but still kept her arm around him, not quite ready to let him escape completely.

That fraction of a second was enough for it to dawn on Nikola what they were doing.

Her eyes were enormous and frighteningly close to him. For once they weren’t glaring at him with suspicion or chiding him for insolence – they were simply looking at him.

“Uh…” Nikola managed, not quite as smoothly as he would have liked. It was surprisingly difficult to speak when you couldn’t breathe. “I think I might have your meds checked…” there was no other explanation for her – friendliness?

Nikola began to slip slowly from her hold.

She let him move away, her hand falling back to the bed as Helen let out a soft breath. It was odd seeing him insecure, amusing, but odd. The man was usually so confident in everything. A gentle smile came over her face as she watched him move away.

“They’re fine, Nikola,” Helen assured. He’d hear no explanation from her as doing so would imply that there had to be some reason she’d kissed him other than simply wanting to do so.

Nikola didn’t say anything – instead he just kept backing away, crossing the room without turning – opening the door without noticing that he broke its locks and finally closed it, shutting her safely behind it.

He stared at the closed door.

Finally, Nikola turned and laid himself against the cool surface of the door, dipping his head with a sigh.

After several days of laying low to let their trail go cold, Helen was feeling restless. Cooped up the Sanctuary was one thing. Cooped up in a tiny hotel room was another completely. There were only so many times she could soak in the small bath basin and read through the woefully small amount of literature on Toledo. Finally, Helen emerged dressed and styled.

“Nikola?”

Nikola was not far away, perched on the open windowsill – still reading that stolen book of Helen’s.

“What are you doing walking about…?” he asked sternly, lowering the book with a playfully-cross expression. Truth was, Nikola was relieved to see her strength returned and damn she had dressed to kill. Why though, he wasn’t quite sure as there was nowhere to go.

Oh, she knew he was going stir-crazy too. Flipping open a page in the catalogue advertising the Toledo Museum of Art, Helen held it out to him. “Let’s go here.”

Nikola squinted at the image on the page and slowly raised his eyes back to her questioningly.

“You want to go to the Museum,” he said slowly, clarifying. “Now…” Her continued silence meant that he was on the right track.

Nikola’s brow furrowed a bit as he closed the book.

“Your near-death-sympathy-credits are wearing out,” he reminded her, as he hopped off the sill like some kind of bird.

“It’s either that or the zoological gardens. There seems little else to do in this place.”

Helen Magnus was beckoning him forward and all he could do was roll his eyes and throw the book into a nearby chair.

“Museum first,” he said firmly. “The animals are always more friendly after they’ve been fed.”

Nikola managed to twirl, collect, and put on his coat at the same time – buttoning it as he led the way to the door.

Helen chuckled lightly. “We’ll get a decent meal while we’re out,” she offered, snatching up her own jacket as she sauntered toward the door.

They weren’t in the museum five minutes when Nikola discovered that he had a fondness for glass. Fondness – fascination – whatever it was, he felt compelled to touch every delicate expensive object he could find.

This display, of course, was not helping Helen’s health as she watched items worth thousands rock unsteadily as Nikola let them.

Helen gave Nikola a hard look each time he moved to touch the art. Once or twice she even made to swat at his hand.

“Nikola,” she hissed, reaching out to bat at his hands, though checking herself to spare whatever valuable item he was poking at. “Stop it!”

“I can touch or buy,” he replied. “The latter may leave you as impoverished as me.”

Nikola averted her swatting hand, pacing through the aisles of glass structures, trailing his fingers over them so that they bobbed behind him like a wave.

Eventually his luck ran out – as one rather large, especially pretty vase teetered past the point of no return and began its descent toward the ground.

Helen glowered after him in silence. That is until he started touching things again. She paced after him, righting any of the more precariously wobbling. Until that vase began a-tumbling.

Nikola!” Helen screamed out in a breathless voice. Yes, she was diving for that vase, trying to slide between it and the floor.

Nikola’s shoulders hunched instinctively, awaiting the crash and accompanying crunch of glass – but it never came.

He whirled around to see Helen splayed out on the floor, her palms extended expectantly and the expensive vase held aloft by – the curator…a gentleman of about fifty who looked none-too-pleased.

The man glared first at Helen, (because she was closest) and then at Nikola, halting his hand mid-air as it reached for another precious item.

“Out…” the man managed through gritted teeth that rivalled Nikola’s.

Helen didn’t know whether the curator was more angry because she’d made so much noise or because she was presently bleeding through her clothes onto the floor. With difficulty Helen pulled herself to her feet, scowling at Nikola before turning to apologise whole-heartedly to the curator.

She waited for no explanation, grabbing Nikola by the collar of his shirt and dragging him toward the exit. As she left, she promised the curator a hefty donation to his museum as an apology for the troubles.

Outside, Helen glowered at Nikola, pacing dangerously toward him. “I have faith in your ability to do great things,” hissed she. “I am quickly losing faith in your ability to do the simple things. Adhering to certain social norms of behaviour, for example. Those things in there do not belong to me, nor to you, and yet you touch them, play with them as if they’re simply toys, without regard for their value or fragility or for what a bumbling imbecile you appear to be for doing so!”

None too pleased about being dragged around by his collar, Nikola did little but roll his eyes through her scolding. He’d heard much worse.

“Aw, come on…” he eventually said, when Helen paused briefly to take a sharp breath.”It’s been decades since we’ve been kicked out of somewhere.” More than a century, actually – British Museum, 1889 though Nikola always maintains that that was her fault.

Nikola’s grin was decidedly cheeky until it suddenly turned into a concerned frown. Without explanation, he reached forward and began undoing Helen’s jacket – pushing it to one side to better see where all the blood was coming from.

Oh, she just kept on glowering, pushing his hands away. “Good of you to be concerned now for the ramifications of your actions! You used to be so far-seeing! Immortality has dulled your brilliance!” Yes, she’s just taking her jabs where she can at this point.

“Oh lighten up,” Nikola said off-offhandedly, as he batted her annoying hands out of the way.

“Keep still woman,” he scorned, as she continued to struggle against his efforts.

Nikola had slipped her soft cotton shirt down over her shoulder as well now, and was inspecting the two stitches that she had partially town. He was also completely unaware of the strange looks passersby were giving them.

Nikola,” Helen snapped, glaring at the man. “This is positively indecent, stop it!”

Nikola paused – indecent? – oh… He suddenly noticed the creamy curve of Helen’s shoulder on which his hands were resting.

He lifted his right hand and picked up the edge of the cotton shirt, sliding it slowly up to a more respectable position. Nikola flashed her a frown a cross doctor might give.

“You’ve torn your stitches,” he stated matter-of-factly, trying to ignore the way his pulse had picked up pace.

Next, he reached to her sleeve and straightened her jacket, putting Helen back exactly the way he had found her.

Helen glared at him, her eyes both hot and cold in their anger. “You tore the stitches,” she growled. “With your childish antics and thoughtlessness!”

Nikola stepped backwards with a dangerous look. She really was determined to chide him despite his best efforts.

“You said you liked it rough…” he declared, thinking back to the plane.

He couldn’t understand why she was still mad at him. Nikola had never been a particularly normal person – he couldn’t help his unsocial tendencies and really, he did try.

Colour flashed across her cheeks, her eyes widening slightly. Damn his eidetic memory!

“I’m leaving you at the zoo with the rest of the animals!”

“Mere bars will never hold me,” he assured her, entirely satisfied by the flare of colour to her cheeks.

However, Nikola did not miss the important part of Helen’s comment, namely, that she had no intention of abandoning him on a foreign street. No need for all her hard work rescuing him to go to waste.

Without further words, Helen pivoted on her heel and began to stalk off toward their rental car. The drive to the zoo wasn’t long, but oh was it tense. Helen in her fuss decided it best to give Nikola the cold shoulder rather than lecture him. She’d begun to believe he was like a poorly behave cat, the sort that looks right at you before making mischief just to be sure it has your attention.

At the zoo (which is one of the best in the nation, the brochure boasts!) Helen paid the admission for them both and promptly ducked into the gift store. Maybe she could find a leash to keep the unruly vampire on.

He was genuinely surprised when she didn’t ask for an adult and child when buying the tickets – though her new tactic in dealing with him seemed to be to ignore him outright.

That was fine by Nikola – silence helped him think. He didn’t begin worrying until he caught Helen in the ‘pet’ section of the gift store, snooping around leads and collars.

He swooped slowly past her, cocking an eyebrow – making sure she saw it – and then continued on his way to the zoo entrance.

Oh no, she was getting a child harness for him. Helen grinned as she picked up the item and took her purchase to the counter to pay. Outside of the store, before they once again mingled with the crowd of zoo-goers, Helen smiled sweetly and beckoned Nikola over.

“Nikola?”

Nikola, who was hovering by one of the free-roaming peacocks, wandered over to her. She looked – like she was up to something.

“Mmm?” he replied, unfolded one of the free maps he’d been handed.

A wicked smile spread over her lips as she sauntered over and promptly snapped a wrist cuff onto his arm. In her hand, Helen held the end of the tether to keep Tesla from wandering off.

“That’s much better. Let’s be off, then!”

Nikola lifted up his wrist and inspected the article tying him to Helen. He blinked.

“You didn’t tell me you were into bondage,” he quipped, just as he was yanked sharply by the leash. He nearly tripped, having to take a few quick steps to catch up.

If people weren’t looking before, they certainly were now.

This is you laying low?”

“If you hadn’t proven yourself a hopeless fool at the museum, this wouldn’t be necessary. I don’t think you can regenerate entire limbs should they be torn off by animals you feel inclined to poke.”

Helen sighs. Of all the people in the world she had to be stuck with, it just had to be Nikola.

“It’s not the exhibits that I’m afraid of ripping bits off me,” he stated, as she continued to drag him along.

“The aquarium is nearest,” Helen droned, giving a little tug on the leash. Oh, how that brought a smile to her lips. Though, in honest, even a straight jacket couldn’t restrain Nikola if he didn’t want it to. At least he was allowing her this little delusion of control.

“Have you ever seen flashlight fish?” inquired she, as they meandered into the vestibule of the aquarium. Just inside was a dark display with curtains draped over it and a small group of people waiting their turn to go inside.

Large volumes of water suspended overhead made Nikola nervous. He’d never been fond of the stuff after first drowning in it and secondly electrocuting himself for the first time.

Nikola realised that the leash worked both ways, and decided to test his theory with a light tug.

“No…” he replied, “but I am fond of the dark.”

Not to worry, Nikola, this is one of the oldest buildings in the zoo. There’s no over-the-head water displays. Merely large displays of tanks with local and exotic fishes, small sharks, jelly fish, moray eels, etc etc.

Nikola kept pulling the leash toward him, winding Helen in before she realised what was happening.

“Don’t stray too far,” he cautioned, as the stepped into the darkness of the exhibit. “Wouldn’t want to get lost…”

And then he let the lead slack.

Oh, she noticed. She simply chose to ignore it. Sadly, they weren’t alone in the small, dark exhibit. Bodies piled in behind them, from the sound children and teenage girls all jumbling and jostling about to get a look at the flicker lights of the fish.

One rough bump pushed Helen into Nikola, her hand lifting to his chest to keep herself from running him down. In the darkness, she could barely see the gleam of his eyes as she peered up at him, pressed flush against him. The flicker of the fish went unnoticed as the breath caught in her chest.

The room was aglow with the flicks and bursts of the Flashlight fish as they glimmered out of the darkened tanks like fishy-stars.

Nikola could see Helen perfectly in this near blackness – one of the perks of being part-vampire. Though what he hadn’t expected was to end up with one Helen Magnus colliding with his chest – her curves perfectly fitted against his body while her hand worked its way up his suit, apparently under the pretence of ‘steadying’ herself.

He stumbled, set slightly off balance by her but thankfully found the solid edge of the building rather than a bumbling crowd.

“No more wine for you…” he whispered, trying to ignore the way her breath hitched.

“Mm, more likely light-headedness from blood loss,” Helen breathed our slowly. She slid her hand up to his shoulder where she patted him firmly. “Remember those stitches you tore?” Her hand lifted to lightly pat his cheek before she moved away, tugging the leash.

When her hand ran up his shoulder Nikola felt a ripple of electricity follow it.

I tore? Nikola thought to himself. Hardly.

As Helen pushed away from him, giving a sharp pull to the leash, he couldn’t help the spark of static electricity that jumped through the air in a bright flash and discharged on the metal handle of a door.

He seriously hoped that no-one saw that – perhaps the Flashlight fish would cover for him.

Victory is sweet and you can bet Helen relished it in silence. That tiny crackle of static might have been overlooked by another, but not by she. A small smile touched her lips as they moved from the flashlight fish into the aquarium proper.

“I read in the brochure that there’s a rainforest exhibit with free-flying birds.” Anything to ease the silence that was settling. It was comfortable, but Helen wasn’t sure she liked how pleased she was at startling Nikola like that.

Nikola was ready to agree to just about anything as long as it took them out of this pitch environment where his occasional spark was far too obvious for his liking.

Besides, he was feeling a bit peckish – an exotic bird would make a nice snack.

“I like birds,” he drawled, following her (though he had little choice).

“I seem to recall a fondness for pigeons,” Helen teased. As they walk, she slowly wound the tether around her hand, leaving less distance for Nikola to move. She certainly didn’t mind this little game; it gave her something other than the Cabal threat and the ache in her shoulder about which to think.

Helen’s seen so many rare and exotic creatures, there isn’t much a zoo can provide her in terms of entertainment. Though, she drifts to a stop in front of a tank of moon jellies. They’re just so pretty and shiny!

Helen’s winding him in, shortening the leash with every absent turn of her hand. Nikola wonders if she’s forgotten she’s doing it while she gazes up at another tank of jellyfish – their enormous blue forms like giant electrons wafting through space.

Eventually his hand brushes against hers – completely out of leash. He carefully lifts his eyes to Helen who is still enthralled in the tank. Nikola purposefully lifts one of his fingers, running it softly over the palm of her hand.

Helen’s breath caught at the soft static poke. Thought she made no effort to pull her hand from his touch. In fact, her fingers curled gently around his. Maybe it was the slow float of the jellies around them, but time seemed to slow as Helen turned to look at Nikola bathed in the blue glow.

“There you are,” he said, as she turned slowly toward him. It had been a while since she had really seen him through all their running-from-death and usual bickering.

Another jelly fish floated by, leaving a trail of light across Helen’s face. Nikola felt her fingers curl around his.

He lifted his other hand and brought it to the side of her face, brushing her wild hair behind her ear. There, she looked practically the same as she had in 1888, hair colour aside.

Helen breathed out slowly, her eyes slightly wide and more luminous than usual. Perhaps it was something about the light, their proximity, or maybe just the fact that all her anger seemed to dissipate. Whatever it was, Helen seemed to forget the throng of people meandering about them.

“You should kiss me now,” she murmured. “Before I change my mind.”

The hand lingering on her hair snuck down to rest on her neck as Nikola stepped forward, closing the distance between them before Helen could finish her sentence.

Half a breath from her, he tilted his head to the side and let his eyes fall closed as he brushed his cool lips briefly over hers – leaving her wanting…

“We can’t have that,” he whispered.

“Mmm,” Helen hummed, keeping her eyes half-closed. Her fingers trail up the back his hand, lingering at his wrist. She sighs out a warm breath against his skin. “That’s too bad,” she murmured, making quick work of the fastening on the kiddie-harness. “You’re on your own taking care of that static problem.” That said, Helen pivots away from him, brushing the curve of her hip against him before sauntering away.

A spark snaps between Nikola’s now free hand and the metal edge of the jelly tank with a sharp crack that several tourists notice and begin backing away from.

He thought he’d settled that little problem more than a century ago – but evidently not when Helen was close by.

Helen is already turning away from him, her body purposely brushing over his eliciting a moan louder than was decent.

“Helen…” he nearly pleaded, his hand falling down her shoulder and ending at her waste where it blocked her escape.

She gives him a hard, chastising look, a little embarrassed by his outcry. Good thing for her the eerie blue light from the jelly tanks helps mask the colour in her cheeks.

Turning back to face him, Helen moves in close enough to whisper, “Yes, Nikola?”

But Nikola isn’t interested in asking a question.

He takes the opportunity of her hesitation to regain the ground he’d lost between them. Nikola leant further towards Helen – unable to help the slight currents of electricity surging through wherever their skin touched as he move to steal a more demanding kiss from her, something that he has wanted to do for more than a century.

Helen’s hand slid along Nikola’s arm, her fingers twining with his. Her eyes fluttered closed and she breathed out as their lips met. She parted hers easily, allowing him into the wet heat beyond.

“Helen…” Nikola’s lips only just managed to murmur against hers before he felt them part beneath him, enticing him forward.

The kiss deepened immediately, drowning out the world as his tongue rolled over her top lip and then found itself lost in her, sliding against hers.

His hand tightened around her waist while the other roamed up her back, through her hair until it cupped the back of her neck.

Carefully, Nikola tilted his hips and in a slow, fluid motion, began to twist Helen to rest in his lower arm.

To say she wasn’t surprised by the drama of the kiss would be a lie. Helen lifted a hand, letting it settle comfortably on the back of his neck. It was as much an intimate gesture as a practical one.

Helen’s tongue moved against his, mindful that Nikola likely wasn’t expecting her to reciprocate. Somewhere in the back of her mind she registered the ‘awwws’ and ‘ewwws’ from those around either thinking their public display of affection cute or disgusting.

Nikola answered Helen’s enthusiasm with ardor, pressing his lips closer to hers and tilting her back even further. His arms encircled her now, holding her securely as Nikola kissed her languidly and passionately.

Most of the crowd were now in favour, encouraging the random pair that had decided to steal the show from the jellyfish.

Those who weren’t paying attention simply continued by admiring the fish. Nearby, and older gentleman commented that they must be newly-weds.

Helen clung to Nikola, hoping only not to over-balance and topple over, though that though was far from the front of mind. No, it was the warmth of him against her (though still far cooler than a regular human), the taste of him and the faint scene of ozone that always seemed to surround him that dominated her thoughts.

Just as the crowd leered in to watch as Nikola’s mouth moved in for what was definitely a second kiss, a strange crackling sound began working its way around all the tanks and through the low lighting.

Oblivious, Nikola moaned softly into Helen’s mouth as she took control of the kiss from him. Her hands were clutching at him – he could feel them crumpling his good suit but he didn’t care. He held her more tightly, keeping her impossibly close as if he were afraid of her vanishing.

Suddenly, a bright light tore through the air, splaying out in jagged rivers and hitting some of the nearby tanks. It was over as quickly as it had started, but it left the room in complete pitch except for the glowing jelly fish.

The crackle of the electricity and the flash of light before it went dark. Her lips lingered only a moment longer before she pulled away with a panted laugh.

“Nikola!” She exclaimed in a breathless whisper. “Tell me it was you this time?”

Nikola realised that the (now slightly frightened) eyes of the room were on them. The crowd was positively fearful of the sudden absolute darkness that they had been plunged into.

Helen though, seemed relaxed in his arms. He pulled away from her with a satisfied smile and said.

“Oh yes, that was me.”

“We should pretend it wasn’t and find somewhere safe.”

“Safe?” he said against her ear, nipping gently at its lobe with just a hint of sharpened teeth. “Vampire – remember?” Nikola finished, before righting her – carefully setting Helen back to her feet.

Oh he had wanted to do that for a long time.

She’s still mostly tangled in his suit and Nikola hasn’t even noticed the strange angles his hair has acquired since Helen’s fingers ruffled it.

Helen licked her lips and pulled back enough to look him in the eye (as best she could in the jelly-glow). “I have a few tricks up my sleeve that will keep me safe from the likes of you.”

“That sounds like a challenge…” he replied, returning her bold look with a mischievous one of his own.

Nikola noticed that her eyes were heavily dilated in the blue-light, drinking him in unabashedly.

In this game, Helen usually won. She was the bolder of them, despite Nikola’s best efforts.

Helen reached out for his hand, clasping it in hers and giving a light tug. “Let’s get out of here.”

Nikola’s shoulder went down with the tug before his feet kicked in and followed.

“You are aware, I trust, that you have just quoted the most cliché line in television history…” Nikola digging for trouble? Playfully perhaps.

God, he felt like he was back in Oxford being dragged by Helen to the library in pursuit of another one of her insane ideas.

“Where, exactly, are you absconding me to?”

Helen smiled, pulling him through the crowd.

“Some place with light so I can better keep my eye on you.” Once outside of the aquarium, Helen stopped, putting her hands on his shoulders. She looked over him, an amused expression on her features.

“I thought you took care of that little problem years ago.”

“I did,” he said, as her hands roamed to his shoulders, building another current inside him. These public displays were going to be the death of him.

Nikola’s head fell back slightly, trying to abate another spark. Thankfully this time it was hard to pick out it from the bright day.

“You’re doing this on purpose,” he muttered.

She nodded, brows lifting in amusement. “Yes, well, it is entertaining, I must admit.”

“I can think of better ways to keep ourselves amused Mrs Jovović…” said Nikola, starting to walk again so that Helen had to keep stepping backwards.

Helen’s brows loft as she keeps in step with him. “Why, Mr. Jovović, I wasn’t aware you had those sorts of ideas,” she teased.

“Well you certainly didn’t marry me for my money,” he replies, moving his hands to her waist to navigate her around an oncoming group of people.

He’s a bit lost, actually, and has no idea where they’re supposed to be going.

Helen grins, leaning in close. “Let’s finish our tour. We paid to get in, after all.”

“Best make ourselves more respectable then,” he said, lifting his hands up to hers before removing them from his shoulder.

They were approaching the African section of the zoo. Nikola liked dangerous things and so started to steer them in that direction.

Helen hoped that Nikola didn’t get the urge to swim with the hippos. As they walked through the exhibit, Helen slipped her hand into Nikola’s twining her fingers in his.

“Having fun, Mr. Jovović?”

“Now I am,” he replied, spying the cheetah enclosure approaching. He had a fondness for fellow sharp-clawed species.

It didn’t escape him that she was holding his hand – and not just holding it – intertwining her fingers in his like a lover would – not that they were.

With her, he felt like he was walking through some kind of mirage – one that might shimmer and vanish if he analysed it too closely.

A bit more electricity cracked off him – just a tiny spark that she wouldn’t notice. He would have to make a point of controlling that. It wouldn’t do to wear his emotions on his sleeve like that.

The cheetah enclosure was several metres below them, protected by a fence running at waist height. Nikola lifted his hands up to rest on the fence, naturally bringing Helen’s with it.

If not for her watch, the little static shock would’ve gone unnoticed. At the tiny crack, Helen jerked her eyes to the man beside her, a warm, perhaps slightly flirtation expression settled over her features.

Noting the way in which Nikola’s eyes lit when they fell on the creatures with claws and fangs, Helen resolved to keep her grip firm. She may even retrieve the child harness from her shoulder bag and tether him once more.

Honestly, Nikola was on his best behaviour this time – content to watch the small shifting of tall, bronze grass where he could just make out the slinking form of the cat.

That was – of course, until something completely out of his control happened.

They hadn’t seen the very large, well marked sign that said,

DO NOT LEAN ON FENCE

and so were surprised when it suddenly screeched, bent – and sent them flying through the air towards the enclosure with its shifty grass.

“Ni-Nikola!” Helen barley managed before the last syllable extended into a cry as the toppled into the swaying savannah grass.

Urmph… Yeah, that stung a bit.

After a moment, Nikola rolled over and withdrew a sharp stick that had staked him through his ribcage with considerable scorn.

“Nice,” he hissed, tossing the bloodied stick aside before scanning the grass of Helen. It was difficult to see anything but the rustling five-foot grass.

“Helen?” he called.

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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

 

LOVE IN THE TIME OF SCIENCE March 26, 2009



UNTOLD SANCTUARY

LOVE IN THE TIME OF SCIENCE

by ellymelly


TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Storms and Lecture Notes

  2. Universe in the Lake

  3. The Start of Something

  4. Breaking In

  5. Taking a Turn

  6. The World’s an Experiment

  7. Vivisection

  8. Secrets, Lies and Stolen Truths

  9. Sanguine Vampiris

  10. Child of the Storm

  11. Unbreakable

  12. Rats to the Slaughter

  13. First Impressions

  14. The Invisible Man

  15. Dampier’s Notes

  16. Haunting Immortals

  17. Sherlock

  18. Missing Time

  19. Dreamscapes of the Insane

  20. Nigel Walks

  21. Bloody Nights in London

  22. Trill Mill Stream

  23. A Shot in the Dark

  24. Pushing Boundaries

  25. The British Museum

  26. Nature’s Balance

  27. Nigel’s Diary

  28. Crimson Torment

  29. Beautiful Disaster

  30. Wild Roses and Empty Boxes

  31. Prince of Blood

  32. Starting From Scratch

  33. A History of the Underworld

  34. Black Water

  35. Hollow Ground

  36. Apology in Blood

  37. An Honest Gentleman

  38. Bowing Out Gracefully

  39. Creatures of the Sand

  40. Ruffle of Feathers

  41. Heart of the Storm

  42. Feed

  43. A Crypt for the Damned

  44. Pieces of Modern Science

  45. Cities of the Ancient World

  46. Reservoir of Dreams

  47. Outpost

  48. Returning to Oxford

  49. A Father’s Return

  50. Classical Chaos

  51. The Age of Light

  52. The Five

  53. Daughter of Time

  54. Revenge at its Cruellest

  55. Revelations of Love

1

STORMS AND LECTURE NOTES

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

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

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

He breathed in the energy, waiting for –

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

The air around it burnt.

Expanded.

And began reverberating through the sky towards his window.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come here…”

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

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

Suddenly, there was nothing…

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

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

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

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

Nikola nodded. “I’m done…”

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

*~*~*

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

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

By default, the front bench was left empty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Helen?”

“Sh…”

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2

UNIVERSE IN THE LAKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wondered how she had known.

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

Exactly like you.”

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

“You intrigue me, Miss Magnus.”

Helen, please,” she corrected him.

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

Her eyes shone.

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

Except for this.

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

The scene was spoilt by a splash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good,” Helen sighed.

*~*~*

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

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

3

THE START OF SOMETHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

4

BREAKING IN

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

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

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James’s silence confirmed Nigel’s assumption.

The silence was too silent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helen’, it read.

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

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

To my dearest Helen,

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

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

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

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

You never got ill, Helen.

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

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

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

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

Forgive me, for not being there with you.

Your mother.

*~*~*

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

5

TAKING A TURN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*~*~*

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

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

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

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

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

“Would you like company on your long journey?”

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

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

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

*~*~*

James Watson had forgotten all about Helen Magnus.

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

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

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

It is possible to observe the crossings of these two worlds. Inside the human body are systems not unlike machinery. Their processes are quantifiable – especially those of the heart and blood. Like a machine, the heart pumps the life source around the body in accordance with a set of laws detailed in the following. Vivisections reveal these internal movements of the body. Pealing back the layers of a living organism such as a frog allows us to study these mechanical phenomena in great detail.’

Watson would copy these experiments, cruel as they were. He had to know about the world – every detail he could pry from its claws. His hunger for it would not rest. The secrets of life, more than anything, satisfied his ravenous curiosity and allowed him nights of peaceful sleep in a world he would one day be able to explain.

“Splendid, you are still here.”

Helen dragged a heavy chair halfway across the floor in a loud screech. The librarian glared viciously at the blonde, but Helen Magnus wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention. She settled her seat beside the window that James had chosen to occupy and collapsed into it, digging through her bag for a notepad.

The dreadful noise of old wood grinding against polished floors shattered the world he had retreated into. James looked up.

“I apologise for the –” she checked the clock hung above the desk where the librarian was stamping a pile of books with more force than was necessary. “It really is getting quite late,” she realised.

“It depends upon the length of your day,” replied James, returning his nose to the pages.

Helen was not used to being ignored, which was exactly what James did every time his head sagged toward the pages of a book. He had more interest in the writings of dead men than her bright eyes and curious mind. This realisation did not distress her, if anything, it intrigued her. Being taken for granted was refreshing.

Without a word, Helen produced a small, loosely bound book and balanced it atop her notepads. She made certain that its title was concealed as she began to read, giving her best impression of intrigue.

It took half an hour before James could bare the secret no more.

“I must know what you’re reading,” he said, attempting to lift the cover. Helen slid her hand over it, pinning it down.

“Nothing that would interest you,” she replied, flicking the page over.

“You are a tease, Miss Magnus,” James closed his own document, holding its cover up for her inspection. “I see that we will have to learn to share if we are to get on.”

She did the same with hers, and the pair exchanged documents.

“How very generous of you, Mr Watson,” she opened the new book dramatically. Her victorious smile shrivelled when she realised that the book was in French. Too embarrassed to confess, she suffered, skimming for equations and trying to make sense out of the few words she could understand.

“Are you unwell?” James touched her hand gently, catching Helen’s attention. She looked pale, though her cheeks had flushed bright pink. The combination made her eyes more blue than any he had seen.

The world blurred a little and Helen realised that she was not well at all. Her head was light, tasting the edges of sleep while her limbs dragged, feeling heavy.

“I don’t,” she stammered, raising a hand to her head as her books slid down her dress to the floor. “I don’t know…”

James lunged forward in time to catch the young woman as she tilted, falling from her chair.

6

THE WORLD’S AN EXPERIMENT

The students at the table opposite looked up, quills hovering over their pages dripping ink as they watched the woman collapse into the waiting arms of a young man.

Blonde ringlets scattered over James’ shoulder as her head settled on his coat. He was on one knee, easing Helen out of the chair and fully into his arms so that he could lift her. Although Helen was a slender thing, her dress and adornments with their yards of fabric tested James’ strength as he carried her through the library, curled over his shoulder.

Helen wandered in and out of consciousness, sometimes opening her eyes a crack to see the hallway flood past in a haze.

He did not delay, turning and making short work of the staircase leading to the top floor of the university. She mumbled something that he couldn’t make out as he reached the end of the stairwell, reshuffling her in his arms as she began to slip.

James arrived in the narrow corridor, barely wide enough for him to carry Helen through. There was an arched window at the far end, dusty and scratched from centuries of neglect. Above him there was a square opening in the ceiling, blocked by a folded set of stairs. With Helen still in his arms, James wrestled with a hooked rod, stretching it up to the ceiling where its sharp end caught the hoop of metal. He yanked it down and the stairs unfolded, revealing the entrance to Tesla’s attic.

What in the…”

Watson heard a voice above startle.

“Mr Tesla, your assistance please,” James called out, moving Helen to his shoulder so that he could climb the ladder, albeit awkwardly.

Tesla tripped and fell at the sound of his stairs unfurling. Someone heavy was climbing them, about to peak in through the hole in the floor. Nikola picked himself up and raced over, sticking his head through the attic where he found James heaving an unconscious Helen toward him.

“We cannot both come through. Can you reach her waist?”

Nikola was caught off guard by the intrusion, muttering and spluttering that he could. He reached down and took hold of Helen. Seated at the hole’s edge, together Nikola and James managed to navigate her into the attic. She ended up in Nikola’s lap, laid across him.

“Move your legs, Mr Tesla,” James shoved the dangling legs to the side as he tackled the last few steps of the ladder. He was out of breath but far from broken. “Come on, we need to lay her down properly.”

Nikola stared at Helen’s limp body, struck dumb. He didn’t notice the gentle rise and fall of her chest, or the pink flushing beneath her cheeks – all he saw was her still form, dead in his arms.

“It’s Helen…” he whispered, not able to tear his eyes away.

“Well spotted. Now bring her over to the bed. Today, please!” James added sharply, when the young man refused to move.

Staggering to his feet, Nikola made his way to the bed, laying her onto the carefully folded sheets. James knelt down beside Helen, taking hold of her wrist. Nikola sat on the floor next to James, leaning in toward Helen with a frightened look. He had never seen anyone faint before. Its similarity to death alarmed him.

“She will be fine,” said James, moving to her forehead. She was hot, but not worryingly so. “Do not fuss,” he waved Nikola’s hands away from the sheets he was trying to clear. “She needs air, not panic.”

“What happened?”

“I have no idea,” admitted James. “We were in the library talking and she collapsed. It is not an uncommon condition amongst women – there is probably nothing wrong except it being a particularly warm day.”

Nikola shook his head. “She’s not like that,” he insisted.

“Well,” said James, “she is today. Bring me some water.”

That disgruntled Nikola. He was not used to being treated like a common servant but for Helen’s sake, he obliged the brusque man. James took the glass from him and roused Helen with a splash of water. She sat up with a start, gasping for air.

“Steady on,” James tried to calm her as she clung onto his arm with such force he thought it might break.

“Urg…” she coughed, rasping for air as if it wouldn’t go in. James supported her back with his free arm, pushing her ever so slightly forwards.

“Nikola,” he hissed in the young man’s direction. “Take her other hand.”

Nikola’s eyes wandered to Helen’s flailing hand. He reached out and she caught it.

*~*~*

Helen sipped the glass of water, wrapped in an unused blanket Nikola excavated from the cupboard. She had stopped shaking but still looked unwell. James was over by Nikola’s experiment, kneeling down for a closer look at the unfinished motor. Ordinarily, Nikola would have shrieked and chased him off, afraid of intellectual theft but on this occasion all he did was give a disapproving glance in the other man’s direction.

“Where were you?” he asked Helen, taking the glass from her as she finished. She didn’t seem to understand the question so he asked it again.

“Oh,” she had forgotten about John and their time spent in the garden. “I decided not to come. I was running late as it was and I didn’t want to disturb the others.” It was a bold lie, and Nikola wasn’t fooled. He had lost count of the amount of times Helen had pulled him through the doors of late class with no regard toward the other students.

“This motor will never work,” observed James from in front of the small, metal and wooden object. It looked nothing at all like his own project which, incidentally, had a habit of catching on fire.

“Yes it does,” Nikola snapped over his shoulder. “It’s finished – has been for some time now.”

“Impossible.”

“A certainty, I assure you.”

“Show me.”

“Never.” Nikola was on his feet, about to pace over to James and remove him from the presence of his precious motor. “That is the future,” he declared. “Careful you don’t tread on it.”

“It is a school project,” James corrected. “And just like the rest of us, the professor will grade it and send you on your way.”

“Leave it, Nikola…” Helen had reached up and caught hold of Nikola’s coat. “He is just playing with you. James – enough. Nikola is not one for your games.”

Though neither Helen nor Nikola caught it, James had smiled, satisfied. He had proved something about Nikola that he had always suspected. The world was an experiment to James. He showed no distinction between places and people, if there was something worth learning, James would find a way to learn it regardless of the social consequences.

“And what about your little project?” Tesla tilted his head in a bird like manner. He asked Helen, not James.

He was interested now, thought Helen. Jealousy did that to Nikola.

“It’s not your cup of tea, Nikola,” she replied, letting go of him. “Wishy-washy voodoo, I believed you called the science once.”

“Well, now I am interested,” he was speaking to Helen, but glaring at James, following the man’s every movement as he paced around his floor-bound lab. Nikola just knew that he was going to step on something important. Some people had no respect for other people’s property or the delicacies of –

“I can hear you thinking, Nikola.” Helen scorned. Sometimes Nikola’s eyes betrayed his thoughts more loudly than his lips. “You know, if the two of you could get over whatever it was that set you against each other in the beginning, you’d be the best of friends.”

“An event that will never come to pass,” Nikola assured her. James agreed, accidentally crushing a small coil of wire with his boot.

“All right,” Helen spilled out to avert disaster as James kicked the object aside, “we’re investigating blood compatibility amongst species.”

Nikola spun around, running a wandering finger through his moustache. “Why?” That sounded like a perfectly horrid thing to do.

“Why anything…” she retorted, getting a little snappy herself. He was always like this with anything she did, as if she didn’t have as much right as him to possess curiosity. “The topic was raised in one our assignments and –”

“We did an assignment on blood?”

“No Nikola, you didn’t, but the rest of us did. As I was saying, my father helped me a great deal with the research – it’s a passion of his.”

“Blood is a passion of your father’s… now I really am worried.”

Helen shook her head in frustration. “You can be cruel, when you want to.”

*~*~*

“Remind me what he’s doing here…” James stood in front of his dormitory door, unwilling to open it with Nikola so close by. It was night, ten minutes before their lecture but instead of assembling in the corridor they had decided to carry on with last night’s experiment. Helen’s idea, though she had hidden it well, prompting James into the suggesting through a series of calculated questions. He had forgotten though, how he had agreed to have Tesla present.

“He’s going to have a look at your equipment – see if he can fix that electrical system so that we can carry on with the experiment. Remember? It didn’t work last time.”

Nikola grinned menacingly from behind Helen’s shoulder. No doubt the medic had it all wired backwards. Nikola wasn’t thrilled about spending more time in James’ company but he was curious to take a look at what these little Frankensteins had been up to.

“Well, you are responsible for it at all times,” James eyed Helen sternly, unlocking the door.

*~*~*

The professor was somewhat dismayed. He was used to empty seats. It didn’t bother him that students dragged their bored bodies into his lecture at all hours, hobbling and grumbling as they took their seats. He accepted the empty front row as a compromise between knowledge and social standing. Their lack of interest in the natural world would evolve and one day they would all become decent scientists.

He sighed, turning to face what remained of his room. There were four seats in particular that he didn’t like to see empty yet there they were, abandoned. It wasn’t what they were missing that worried him, it was what they were up to. Even though they didn’t know it yet, the professor could already see that the absent four possessed the streak of curiosity at the heart of brilliance – a dangerous thing to leave alone.

John Druitt had been racing to keep pace with the writing on the board when the professor threw a piece of chalk at him.

“Check your hearing,” the professor said, before adding in his soft, wafting voice, “Would you mind finding the others?”

John frowned, “Find who?”

The professor flicked his eyes to the empty seats. “Off with you,” he turned back to the board, picking a new piece of chalk.

John blinked dumbly, waiting in vain for further instruction. He closed his text book and packed away his things. Find all of them?

*~*~*

“You’re late…” Nigel folded his newspaper, throwing it off to the side as the door to the dormitory opened. His eyes widened when a young woman followed James in who in turn was trailed by the horrible man from the pond.

“Urgh…” Nikola held his nose, “It smells ghastly in here.”

“It passes,” said Helen, stepping between the beds as she followed James toward the laboratory end of the room.

Nigel waited for them to settle in front of the desk at the far end.

“I’m not gonna name this one,” said Nigel, pointing at the box of hay.

“Probably wise,” replied James.

Nikola eyed the box, catching sight of a hint of pale pink flesh. “Why aren’t we naming the pig?” he asked, but found no answer amongst the scientists.

7

VIVISECTION

“Ouch…” Nikola shook off a large spark that snapped over his skin. It left a nasty scorch mark which he attempted to rub off on his jacket to no avail. “There,” he declared finally, as the tangle of equipment spluttered into life. The room was brighter now, baking under the glow of the arclight. “All it takes is a little bit of love.”

“He’s not bad, Helen,” James muttered, nudging the young Nikola out of the way. “I’ll give you that.”

The four of them closed in on the large experiment table which sprawled along the end of the room. It was creaking under the weight of the new equipment Nigel had been busy setting up for their experiment. Despite his manners and clumsily large hands closer in nature to paws, Nigel was a perfectionist when it came to science. His rough approach yielded reliable results, much to the frustration of James.

“Shall we?” James beckoned Helen closer. She came to his side, followed instinctively by Nikola who squeezed himself in next to her.

Soon, all four of them had arranged themselves into a crowded line either side of James, staring intently as Nigel produced a basket. He reached inside and withdrew a startled creature. Nigel passed over the squirming frog, holding it steady as James wrapped his fingers tightly around it like a clamp. Nikola smiled at the frog, peering back into its dark slit eyes. It was a beautiful creature with two oversized yellow orbs for eyes and extremely long legs which it was using to bat at James’ hand leaving trails of sticky liquid on him.

James flinched, appalled by the creature.

“The book, Helen…”

Helen knelt to a large pile of books on the side wall, scanning down their spines until she dug her fingers between them and extracted her desired victim. She laid the book open on the experiment table next to James.

Nigel unrolled a leather satchel to reveal a sinister arrangement of implements tucked inside its pockets. Nikola’s breath caught as he scanned the faces of James and Nigel nervously.

“What kind of experiment are we doing, exactly…” he asked. Helen was packed in tight beside him, staring on eagerly as Nigel loosened the buckles holding the metal objects in place. The look that laced her eyes frightened Nikola – he had never seen that grin upon her lips before.

James tipped the frog onto its back as Nigel selected four long, tapered needles – holding their slender shafts up to the light.

“Good quality,” commented James, as he unfolded one of the frog’s legs, holding its squirming appendage to the table.

“Only the best,” Nigel replied, threading the sharp metal through the frog’s skin, nailing it to the wood beneath. The creature croaked in protest. Panic rippled through its body as Nigel selected another needle.

Helen gasped quietly, finding Nikola’s hand. He barely noticed the brush of fingers over his skin as he stood transfixed, watching as each of the frog’s legs were secured. Next, James selected a medical scalpel and cut a shallow slit down the centre of its chest. Nigel pulled the skin open, pinning it out of the way to reveal its inner workings.

“Oh my god!” Nikola’s throat clenched over. His stomach lurched as the little creature’s heart beat steady, pumping the lifeforce through its splayed body. It was still alive.

“Now,” said James indifferently, “we inject the sample.”

Nikola’s body convulsed. He broke away from Helen, stumbling halfway through the room before hurling his lunch over the floor.

Nigel’s nose tweaked. “Nice,” he muttered over his shoulder. “Do us a favour Helen, don’t bring your friends along for the show next time.”

“He’s not like us,” she snapped, before venturing toward Nikola who was coughing and shuddering. “Calm down,” she whispered, placing a hand on his back.

“This is wrong,” he rasped, pushing her off. “What are you doing here Helen? God…” Nikola fell to his knees, cradling his head. Helen caught him. Her arms slid to his waist and she held Nikola tightly from behind.

“Get him out of here,” hissed James, trying to ignore the distraction. According to the book, they didn’t have long to complete this experiment before the frog gave up the last of its life.

No one had noticed the door to the dormitory creak open. John, with his hand still clutched around the door’s frame, was taken aback by the scene. The stench of the room was unbelievable, toxic and nauseating as he breathed it in. Helen was over by the wall, clutching a very ill Tesla. His pale face was the first to spot John. Nigel and James stood with their backs to the door, leaning over some kind of table immersed in the bright glow of the electric light.

What…” John opened his mouth, but no more words came out.

Nigel’s eyes rolled dramatically as he swivelled around, turning to face the confused figure lingering in their doorway. “Another friend of yours?” he accused Helen, clearly displeased by the constant interruptions.

John stepped forward, dodging the beds cluttered in the walkway. There was something struggling on the table. Something small –

“It’s a living creature,” he said in horror, when he saw the tortured body of the frog breathe. Half a dozen elegant needles held it in place, quivering. A set of organs were nestled in its open body on display for the room. “This is the work of demons,” he growled at them, before striding over to Helen. “Come on,” he grabbed her sharply, pulling her away from Nikola. “We’re leaving.”

“John!” she struggled, trying to free herself as she was dragged unceremoniously through the room.

“Take him too, if it’s not too much trouble,” James pointed at Nikola, who had managed to stumble to his feet.

“Let – me – go!” Helen wriggled free, flicking her hair back over her shoulder. “What are you doing here John?”

“What am I doing? Our lecturer sent me to find you. I’ve searched half the university and where do I find the elusive Miss Magnus? In the men’s dormitory with these three!” He pointed at them, angrily.

“That’s not fair,” she replied. “What we’re doing is important.”

John shook his head. “This is not what science is about. That poor creature – what good will it do you other than a passing curiosity? What does its suffering buy you, Helen?”

“I can show you, John,” she said calmly, offering him her hand. “If you’ll let me.”

*~*~*

The carriage rattled to a halt. Its two passengers alighted, stepping into a torrent of rain which had buried the footpath beneath a sheet of rancid water. There was no thunder or lightning in tow, just clouds choked with moisture, alleviating themselves on the city of Oxford.

Helen hid under a hooded jacket, dodging a stray dog as she opened the ornate door to the townhouse and disappeared inside followed closely by John. Dripping, she turned up the gas lights. The hallway flickered into view. John undid his soggy coat and hung it on the hallstand.

“Come on,” she beckoned him down the corridor toward a set of stairs leading up toward the ceiling.

“My father is more than a doctor,” she confessed, taking the steps carefully. Helen held a lamp aloft in one hand and gripped the fragile railing with her other. She ducked under a stray beam of wood at the landing. John only ducked lower, already slouching his tall figure. “His passion for the workings of the human body led him to startling discoveries…”

He watched her slide a silver and gold key into the lock. Its beauty put the old door to shame. Helen turned the key until it clicked. “He likes keys,” she added, “something about the unlocking of secrets.”

“And treasure,” added John, as the door creaked open revealing a dark expanse.

After lighting the hanging lamps, Helen rifled through one of the upturned desks until she found a leather diary.

“My father’s life work,” she said, running her thumb lovingly over the book’s spine. “Treatments and cures to all manner of afflictions. The deeper he dug into the intricacies of humanity, the more disturbed he became. John, we’re not divine beings – humanity is greater than that, more diverse.”

“This is not good for you,” John approached, but she stepped away, opening the journal to reveal a detailed sketch of a frightening form. It was a creature, hunched with hardened skin, cracked like scales with spines of bone along its back.

“What he found shocked him,” she continued. “A world full of monsters.”

“There are more things in this life than we should know,” he replied. John’s voice was low and steady, as if trying to coax a wild animal out of its den. Helen was not one to be lured. “Just leave this,” he said softly, “and come with me.”

“You don’t understand,” Helen replied firmly. “They were not monsters – what my father found. They were people born with anomalous conditions. There is so much to learn – how can I ignore it?”

They made their way back downstairs and seated themselves in Helen’s modest lounge room. The room was dim, lit by the hallway behind. The rain outside fell harder, pounding into the glass windows with such force that Helen could feel each drop pounding through the air. John edged forward beside her.

“Listen to me,” he eyed her sternly, cupping her tiny hands in his. “There is something higher than science –” she was about to groan, “and that is morality. Before every step ask yourself not, ‘is this progress’ but ‘is this right’. That is the mark of a true scientist, something your friends have yet to grasp. You have talent. Do not waste it on these digressions.”

“Hardly a digression,” she protested. “This is the work of lifetimes.”

“But not yours,” John’s hand moved to her cheek, tenderly stroking it. Amidst her vehement defence, a tear had slid down her cheek and was going cold when he brushed it away. “Find a better way to study them, these anomalous conditions. You are brilliant,” he grinned, and she finally smiled. “So prove it.”

Eventually she nodded.

“Will you help me?”

They stood up together. He let go of her and allowed himself to be led to the front door.

“Nothing would please me more,” he admitted, collecting his coat and stepping back out into the storm. He descended the first of the three steps from the door, levelling his height off so that he could stare directly at her. He lingered, a breath shy of her lips. Helen blushed and retreated into the house, ducking behind the door.

*~*~*

It was no easy thing to sell benevolence to the others…

“Absolute absurdity – the woman’s gone mad – women in general,” James had said, snapping his book shut before finally relinquishing it.

“We’re returning this one to the library,” Helen replied sternly.

Eventually they came around. Helen’s talents extended beyond science into the realm of persuasion. As for Nikola, he seemed content as long as they weren’t torturing frogs. They set a regular date to meet and explore the world of science beyond their lectures – every Thursday evening. The unnamed pig became a pet, saved from an unpleasant fate.

Helen set about organising the dormitory into a proper laboratory. She pilfered whatever she could from the old man in charge of the university’s supplies, stockpiling it along the walls of the dorm. The library suffered heavy losses with all of its lost books ending up safely piled in Nikola’s attic except for one casualty, sacrificed in the name of science or as Nikola often insisted, ‘a completely accidental accident’.

Their collective name also came about via accident. As they made their daily strut from the lunch rooms to the garden, one student set to calling, ‘them five!’ as they passed. They travelled in a pack now, and the name stuck. James tweaked it a bit of course, improving on its grammar.

‘The Five’ made them feel like they were part of something. They weren’t really but that didn’t matter.

Nikola’s opinion of Nigel improved, if only because he found the strange man particularly skilled at acquiring equipment. Honestly, Nikola had never had so much wire to play with which resulted in weekly direct hits to the building by cruising lightning storms. Helen had less luck with Nigel, choosing to keep out of his way. He made no secret of his dislike of her; often neglecting to greet her is she arrived in a group of flat insulting her intelligence at every opportunity. James and John – now there was a curious bond. They were never particularly fond of one another, but their intellects delighted in the challenge. Deconstructing the other was an entertainment that they could sustain happily for hours and whenever they got bored with that, they returned to their other favourite past time, a shared dislike of Nikola.

*~*~*

It was another late night. Helen was tucked into a chair, half asleep as she read through a stolen library journal. A loud ‘crash’ startled her when the front door flew open and her father hurried in, slamming and locking it behind him. Gregory Magnus went directly to his study where he collapsed into his chair and began furiously writing a letter.

Helen closed the book on her lap and crept to her father’s study. She hung in the doorway, watching him tilt a candle over the folded letter, letting its wax drip. He pushed a seal into it and sighed heavily, wiping his forehead with his sleeve.

Her father was filthy. His clothing had been torn and soaked in mud. There were scratches across his forehead, some of them bleeding, and a deep gash over his hand which he’d covered with a piece of fabric torn from his shirt. She could smell the remnants of a peat bog and an overpowering dose of kerosene in the air.

“Father,” she whispered, catching Gregory’s attention. He looked up at Helen as if he’d forgotten all about her existence.

“Helen – go to your room at once and lock the door,” he instructed. Gregory undid the lid on one of the crystal vessels containing scotch. He did not bother with a glass, swigging directly from the bottle. “Quickly!” he hurried her, when she failed to move.

Helen hadn’t seen her father in weeks and now he turned up, looking like he’d spent that time crawling through sewers.

“Why?” she asked, stepping into the room. Gregory would have none of this, flaring into a rage uncharacteristic of him.

This is no time for, ‘why’!” he yelled, swiping the letter off the desk and burying it in his coat. “Do as I say and I’ll come back for you.” Gregory fled toward her, snatching the metal poker from beside the fire on his way. “I am sorry,” he said, calming enough to kiss his daughter on the head. “But you must hide. Promise you will do that for me. Take this,” he added, withdrawing a small package wrapped in damp brown paper and fastened with string. “Hide it. Keep it safe.”

There was a terror in his eyes that halted her questions. Helen simply nodded and let her father vanish back onto the streets, consumed by the night.

8

SECRETS, LIES AND STOLEN TRUTHS

Helen turned and took the corridor at a run, flinging the door to her bedroom open, not caring as it slammed against the wall. She held the mysterious parcel tightly as her eyes searched the room. Shelves, trunk, lamp-lit desk – all too obvious. Her heart pounded. She had never seen her father afraid before – fearful, yes, before any new experiment his eyes would widen, darken with the wonderful dread that the unknown provoked but tonight he had been truly afraid.

She caught the door as it bounced back and locked it, sliding down its surface until she hit the ground.

Think…” she eyed the room until a smile flicked across her lips. Cedar drawers; well loved in this and their previous life. Helen crawled over to them, sliding the bottom one open. She buried the parcel deep in the back, concealed by veils of lace and garters where no self-respecting thief would dare follow.

Helen had intended to stay put – hidden safely away as her father had instructed, but as the seconds itched on she couldn’t bare it. Helen unlatched the door and returned to the foyer where she pulled a jacket from the hallstand and wrapped it around herself.

The trees, sparsely placed along the avenue, shivered. Their wet leaves glistened like a thousand mirrors to the moonlight until they broke loose and fell away just as fickly, blanketing the ground. A wind kicked over Helen as she dodged soggy newspapers, tumbling over each other. She stepped between the soft circles of light beneath each lamp post. Her father was ahead, paused at the crossroad, unable to choose between the cracked veneers of stone walls.

Few people had the courage to venture into the streets after dark. Thieves swarmed like rats over the city, driven to desperation by an uncompromising age of enterprise. Even Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, could not escape the modern age with its silent class, rippling through the evening, flickering and dying. Helen knew that she hovered only just beyond their reach, only a few pounds from poverty.

Gregory Magnus chose the side street on his left. Helen closed in, bringing herself to a stop at the corner where she found a shadow and sunk into it. Archways and barred windows leaned over the street, boxing her and her father into a tunnel. The public lighting ended halfway down the cobble stone road leaving a sweeping shadow cutting off the remainder from existence. Beyond that curtain of darkness lurked all kind of street creature. Gregory approached it, tentatively walking along the dark edge.

Helen stepped back, making sure that she was hidden as the forms of several men emerged out of the shadows in front of her father. First, they appeared as a series of ghostly faces but gradually they grew into a set of well dressed businessmen. Her father turned to face them, drifting backwards cautiously, drawing his company out into the light.

“Doctor,” said one of them in greeting, slinking ahead of the others. He was a tall man with a leg that threatened to buckle with every step. He leant heavily on his cane as he spoke, “Trying to escape?”

Gregory chuckled nervously, checking the buttons on his coat before wiping a smear of mud off his neck with a handkerchief. “Of course not,” he replied. “I was – was looking for you.”

The remainder of the ‘pack’ waited behind, never quite making it into view. Helen stretched herself along the wall, inching closer. She was able to make out most of the conversation even though all parties kept their voices hushed.

“I am curious to see what our money had bought,” the man continued.

“You lied to me,” Gregory pointed sharply, white handkerchief still in hand. “I have done some of my own research – run into a few old friends. The Cabal may be a private research organisation but you are also in partnership with one of the most evil businesses this side of the century.” A train rattled past in the distance, screeching to a halt at Oxford’s new station. “You think that people won’t learn what you’re doing? The money that you paid me was no better than blood.”

The man glanced down at the pavement, lowering his voice into a harsh drone that broke intermittently as if his veneer of civility was cracking with it. “Enough of this time wasting.” His eyes returned to Magnus. “Where are the samples?”

“I destroyed them.”

He laughed. “That is your plan, Doctor?” he sneered, with an air of disbelief. “Poorly execute a lie and then expect me to simply let you go? You are a man of science, Magnus. I know what that means. Those samples are too important to your personal agenda to simply destroy. If you hand them over now, I may even let you keep one – as a gesture of good faith for our future business dealings.”

“I already told you, I destroyed them. Our arrangement is finished.”

There was a subtle tap of his cane on the ground. The others jumped forward, taking Gregory by the arms. They flung him against one of the walls so hard that he groaned, jarring in pain. The man rubbed his face, tired of people who fought the inevitable. Progress didn’t pretend to be pretty – it was brutal.

“One more time, Doctor.”

This time, a curl lingered on Gregory’s lips as his weather worn face grinned at the night. “You will never find them…” he whispered in defiance.

The man reached into his coat and brought out a gun, cocking it with a sinister click. Helen gasped loudly, covering her mouth too late to stop the noise reaching the huddle of gentlemen. They heard it, snapping their heads around to see a blonde woman hiding on the corner of the street, watching events unfold with more than a passing interest. Gregory saw her too and his heart sank.

“Bring her…” muttered the man.

Helen turned, hitched up her skirt, and bolted through the street, narrowly avoiding the hooves a a passing night-carriage which skidded to a halt behind her in a cloud of dust. The two men to follow navigated around the whining horse as it reared up.

“Whoa, whoa…” the coachman hushed, as the carriage tilted dangerously.

The park wall’s sandstone ripped her skirt as she half-jumped, half-fell over it, leaving tattered ends of lace flapping in the wind. Her pursuers cleared the wall easily, hitting the grass at a run as they searched and quickly found her not far ahead.

At night, the park was pitch black, protected by walls of trees keeping it well out of reach of the street lights. There were people moving about within it; lovers hiding away from the world, beggars curled up against the cold with animals stealing scraps from the grass beside them.

The ground was soft under her feet, and though Helen was a strong runner, her dress tangled and caught under her feet. Soon she was tumbling down a gentle hill with her arms flailing as wet mud coated her. She was headed for a shallow pond which lay under the only gap in the trees. A perfect reflection of the moon was disturbed by a drifting duck, leaving a wake behind its furry form.

Helen’s world was a blur of cold, pain and blackness until the men plucked her from the ground and held her until she could stand.

“A little ‘thank you’ would be nice,” said one of them, still panting. Helen was trying to scratch her way free of them, shouting to anyone who would listen. “Water that cold, you might be dead.”

They dragged her back to the alleyway where the leader had been prompting Gregory for information, as evidenced by the fresh bruises.

“Claim’s she’s a working girl…” they said in unison. Helen looked the part with filthy, torn clothes, and ratty hair limply blowing in the wind. Her father didn’t dare look at her.

“Bring her with us?” it was a question posed by one of the men that had stayed behind. His knuckles were red.

The leader waved them off. “She’s cheap.”

“So what do we do with her, leave her here?”

Helen averted her eyes as the leader left her father and hobbled toward her, leaning heavily on his stick. “What did you see, sweetie?” he asked her, suggestively.

“Nothin’,” Helen mumbled, wincing as the two beside her tightened their grip.

“We better be sure,” he whispered back, leaning over her. She didn’t see his free hand raised above her head, about to come down sharply.

“Wait,” Gregory pushed off from the wall, stumbling forwards. “Wait,” he repeated. “Let her go – I’ll get your samples back.”

“Back?” the tall man withdrew his hand and eyed Gregory curiously.

“I scattered them so that you would never be able to locate them should precisely this happen.”

“But, if I let this working girl go – you’ll get them for me? Why?”

“That is my business,” said Gregory. “I need two weeks.”

“You try my patience, Doctor. I’ll give you one week and if you don’t present with the samples you promised and we paid for, then our next meeting will be less pleasant.” The man flicked his eyes up and his company threw Helen unceremoniously to the ground.

*~*~*

Helen and Gregory sat opposite each other, staring across Magnus’s desk in silence for a long time. She realised now that the secrets she thought that she knew about her father were pitiful in comparison with the truth.

He had taken hold of his quill, running the white feather through his fingers in an endless pattern. Gregory had no idea how to begin an explanation for his actions – his entire life. He tried several times but none of these attempts reached beyond a small clearing of his throat.

The firelight flickered behind them. Helen could not take her eyes off of her father. She decided to approach the issue from the side, step carefully around the elephant.

“The Cabal, they are a private research facility – research into what exactly?”

This is the conversation that Gregory had spent his life avoiding, ever since the death of his wife Patricia, all those years ago in South America. “I am not certain,” he replied. “Though I suspect their interests are similar to mine.”

“Which are…” he was being intentionally cryptic, and Helen was sick of all the secrets.

“Helen,” he replaced the beautiful quill in its holder. “You have tremendous potential as a scientist. The lecturers must agree, otherwise they would have chased you off long ago –”

Helen stood from her chair, pacing away from the table in frustration. Slowly she turned, approaching once again but this time with an expression somewhere between tears and desperation.

“You,” she started, placing her hands on the table, “are the most talented medical researcher I have ever known and yet you keep your most important work hidden from the world. From me.”

Gregory didn’t know how to respond. Somewhere along the way his daughter had grown up, changed from a little girl with a fascination of the world into a scientist as driven as him. Her questions had simmered for a decade and now they burnt their way past him. He looked away as she continued, unable to face her sharp eyes.

“If you truly believe that I have potential father,” Helen leant even closer, resolute in her plea, “please help me achieve it.”

He had sworn never to do this but he had never been able to refuse his daughter anything. She was intelligent, a little too much so for her own good. If he didn’t share with her his secrets, she would hunt them out anyway. Without guidance – Gregory shuddered to think what she could become.

Gregory took his daughter’s hand. He led her to the far back corner of his office to a door that she had never been through.

“The attic you know about by now,” he said plainly. “I admit, I let it happen but it is nothing but a storehouse for old notes and relatively benign research.”

Helen couldn’t explain why, but she felt betrayed.

“This,” he continued, as he unlocked the door revealing a staircase leading down to an underground level, “is the reason the university will no longer let me step inside its walls. Do you remember, when you were a small child the two men who came to visit me on your fourteenth birthday?”

“They were afraid of you,” said Helen. She remembered the argument.

He nodded. “Maybe. I told them that they had limited their imagination. In truth, I think it was their wallets whose limits I had reached. The board at the university could no longer endorse my research and so I was forced to look for financial assistance elsewhere. The Cabal offered me a grant that I could not turn down. There was no money, Helen. It was the only way that I could continue.”

“I still don’t understand what it was that was so terrible.”

Gregory led Helen down the stairs. She held a kerosene lantern in her hand, lighting the way for both of them. Her father switched keys and unlocked the final door but stopped shy of opening it. Helen thought she heard scratching and crying from behind the door, not unlike the sounds of James’s room that first night.

He handed her the key. “Once you enter this door, you are on a path that cannot be reversed.”

9

SANGUINE VAMPIRIS

Helen raised the lantern, extending it into the room. Yards of heavy fabric lined the walls, tacked on to the ceiling and left to hang all the way to the dusty floor. Occasionally there was an outcrop of shelves made of solid, dark wood. Some of them had fine-netted wire nailed across the compartment and locks through their handles. As she stepped toward them, she realised why; rat-like creatures scattered away from her light, huddling in the corners of the bookshelf amongst scraps of food.

She panned the lantern across the laboratory where it caught the edges of a table. It was a bare thing, lonely at the heart of the room. There were networks of grooves carved into it which led to a tin bucket on the ground where dark patterns of a mysterious liquid were layered in stains.

In the far corner, the light picked out a pair of golden eyes which opened slowly, staring back at her. Helen stepped closer, slipping from her father’s grasp. She had gone this far – Gregory could not stop her. All of his secrets were now hers to share.

Two curved horns, half a foot long, tapered into sharp summits. They protruded from scarlet fur, bunched tightly together in uneven tufts. Like a cat’s pelt, it had two layers – a harsh, needle-like exterior with yellow tips and a second, downy coat which kept the creature warm. Except – it wasn’t fur, but feathers.

Gregory lit two of the lamps hanging from the ceiling and the room flickered into light. Helen raised her hand to her mouth to cover a gasp. A pair of wings – fragile sheets of skin, were folded onto the creature’s back. She could see two enormous paws as big as tea-saucers which it used to rest its head on while a tail curled around its body, twitching as Gregory whispered thing to it.

Helen thought that it looked just like a –

“Dragon, yes,” Gregory whispered. “At least, that’s the conclusion I have come to. I found this poor thing four months ago while I was in London. It was, well, smaller then, but how could I leave it in alley? My guess is that it was dumped by a black market animal trader – they swarm around the Cabal, making their pickings on capturing and selling Abnormal creatures.”

“No,” she whispered, unable to get over the ‘dragon’ part of her father’s sentence.

“It is an Abnormal, Helen.” He took his daughter’s hand, resting beside her as she continued to watch the creature. It eventually grew bored of the intrusion, closing its golden eyes and returning to sleep. “The cornerstone of monster stories since man picked up a pen. This,” he pointed in particular at the dragon, “is a species of reptile yet sadly I do not know where to return it. I doubt that it was born in London’s streets… There are hundreds of creatures like him, hidden away or captured by agencies like the Cabal for private research. They – they torture them and destroy whatever’s left. I can’t keep him forever, though,” Gregory added, frowning as he lowered his eyes.

Helen read her father’s journals but this – this was beyond what she could have dreamed. Worlds were unlocking, secrets unravelling and she found her heart pounding against her lungs.

“Helen, the blood samples that I acquired are from an Abnormal that not even I believed could exist. I stumbled across them once, many years ago now and decided that they were too dangerous to approach again. Vrykolakas, strigoi,upír, impundulu, Sanguine Vampiris,” Gregory rolled the words, hushing them as if each syllable was fear enough. “Vampires…” he whispered to her, like a bedtime nightmare crawling into a corner.

“Their blood is one of the most powerful substances on Earth and the Cabal would like nothing better than to get their claws onto it. They paid me exceptionally well to collect samples. You, have one of them.”

Helen guessed it to be the mysterious package her father had left in her care earlier that night.

“I entrust you to study and learn from it in my absence, while I hide the remaining two where the Cabal will never find them. All of this,” he waved his arms over the room, “is in your care. Now, listen carefully, these are resourceful people. They are going to come looking for me after the week is up – but you are a woman, my daughter. Use that, feign frivolity, make them believe that you know nothing more than needlepoint and they will leave you alone.”

She nodded very slowly. That night, her father was gone. He left a half-dried bundle of petals, shrivelled but alive as they clung to the vine creeping out from the pot. The wild rose had suffered from its journey, but its tortured form perked as Helen drizzled water over it.

*~*~*

James and John were displeased with each other after a minor disagreement over the origin of Vampires.

The five of them had found themselves an abandoned corner of the library – the old side, of course, as it was James’s turn to pick a nook for their weekly discussion. He paced in small circles between the shelves, a book resting open in his hand as he read the lines of text aloud to his audience.

Helen was listening, but with an air of discontent. They were mocking her, all of them in their own subtle ways, ever since she had told them of her father’s research. Nikola was at her feet, apparently preferring the floor. He was asleep and snoring quietly with his head balanced uncomfortably between two encyclopaedias of ancient history.

It was John who took the greatest interest in James’s speech. He was reclined in one of the library chairs which they had stolen from the main room and stowed in their private corner. Over the hour, his feet had stretched out on top of the table allowing him to balance a book on his knees which he glanced at several times, awaiting his turn to rebuff James’s argument.

And as softly thou art sleeping

To thee shall I come creeping

And thy life’s blood drain away.”

James was enjoying this, far more than was reasonable. He had always be a showman, albeit only to a select few. He traced the lines with an outstretched finger –

And so shalt thou be trembling

For thus shall-”

“Really,” interrupted John, aware of the poem’s conclusion. “Is this appropriate, considering our company?” He deliberately kept his eye away from Helen, knowing that her frown had twisted into scowl. James ignored him.

For thus shall I be kissing

And death’s threshold thou’ it be crossing

With fear, in my cold arms.”

The book snapped shut, waking Nikola.

“You get the general idea,” Watson laid the book on the table beside John. “And that, my dear John, is the beginning of the Vampire in Literature. Case closed.”

John sighed heavily.

“There are no such things as ‘vampires’ – except perhaps in farm boys’ drunkin’ stupors.” Nigel squeezed between two shelves with a fresh arm of books. “And perhaps your literature,” he conceded, handing James another book.

“I don’t know,” James inspected the man on the floor beside Helen, as Nikola yawned at the room. “Nikola’s pale enough to be one, especially with those sharp teeth he likes to flash.”

“Excuse me?” Nikola replied, sleepily. “Did I provoke you in some way?”

“Your existence provokes me.”

“Your reading bores me,” he retaliated.

“I agree with Nikola, for once,” John added, flipping through the pages of his own book. Stirring the room was the pastime he liked best.

“Enough. Enough. Enough.” Helen rolled her eyes and fell against the wall of books, sliding down it in defeat. She landed beside Nikola in a swirl of dust. He flinched in alarm, holding his breath.

James was not finished with Nikola yet. “I particularly enjoyed cruising through your latest work of poetry-” he said, slipping a scrap of crumpled paper from his coat. Nikola recognised it at once, and coughed in panic, stumbling to his feet – an action which failed as one of his legs had fallen asleep.

“My – what?” Nikola grunted as pain constricted his leg muscle, rendering him useless as James straightened the paper. “How did you – where did you get that from?”

“It was just lying on your floor last time you invited us to that spectacle of yours.” James’s finger still hurt, burnt by an ‘accidental’ passing of current which Nikola had spent hours making certain that it would do precisely that.

“That is private,” Nikola hissed.

James began to read. It was a scant few lines of scattered birds and thunder storms, beautiful enough in construction. Nikola clawed his way back to his feet, his cheeks reddening with every word falling from James’s lips.

He lunged once, but James dodged him easily. John threw his head back in a silent laugh, delight ripping the corners of his mouth into a broad smile. Nigel turned away. It wasn’t that he liked Tesla – more that he didn’t hate him.

“Fine,” Nikola’s voice wavered, his usual pride shaken. “Keep it.”

He left, sidling out between the rows of books and back into the main library where he finally vanished from their sight.

“Excellent,” Helen curled her knees up to her chest, pinning her skirt down beneath her arms. It billowed uncomfortably around her. “Look what the two of you have accomplished – not very clever considering neither can coax a current from a coil… You realise, Nikola was going to help you. He wrote up the notes on his motor, they were in his pocket.” Helen returned to her feet and collected her things from the table beside John. He shifted his feet as she approached. “Enjoy your spoils, gentlemen.”

Before leaving, she approached a stunned James and took the paper from between his fingers.

Nigel had kept quiet, his arms still laden with books. Often, especially at times like these, he liked to think of the other four as elements of nature – as strong in their opposition as their passion. They did not mix but could not keep apart either. It was an impossible system that would eventually destroy itself. Nigel could see that day approaching but he hindered its arrival as best he could by keeping the shaky peace.

*~*~*

Their way of apology was to entertain Helen’s ‘vampire’ tale as truth. Nigel’s idea.

“We’ll have to get a look at it,” James said, lowering his voice though the four of them were alone in the dormitory. “See if this sample really contains special properties.”

Helen had not forgiven them, but was nonetheless keen for their help.

“I won’t move it,” she replied. “The Cabal could be watching the house – you would have to come to it.”

“It is not as if you live in India,” smirked Nigel, hinting that the others should show more enthusiasm. They did, eventually acknowledging that they could probably meet in two day’s time.

“What about Nikola?” asked James, feeding the pig rooting around its box.

“I will speak with him,” said Helen sternly. “It’s been almost four hours; maybe he’ll have forgotten your joke.”

Helen doubted it, but she went to the hallway where Nikola’s attic lived anyway. The stairs were up, pulled well out of her reach.

“Nikola…” she called, loud enough for him to hear. It was afternoon and last classes of the day were drawing to their end. All but one room in his hallway was empty, and it was far enough away not to be troubled by her efforts to catch Nikola’s attention.

He didn’t respond, but she knew that he was up there.

“If you proceed with this, I will be forced to climb out the window and up into your room the hard way,” she threatened, casting her eye over the window to gauge whether it was possible to carry out the threat. To her amusement, it seemed that it was. A latch, not a lock, secured the window and when open, it would be big enough for her to scramble through.

“Nikola?” she tried again.

*~*~*

“Will he come?”

John was packing his things, preparing to leave. It was a decent ride to the inn which he was calling ‘home’ until the university approved his residency.

“Why are you asking me?” John paused, turning to Nigel. “I guess, Helen will probably convince him – she usually does. Tomorrow?” he changed the subject. “The meeting’s on the grass by the oak tree. I’m hoping for a fine day.”

*~*~*

She heard the footsteps first – light and quick across the ceiling. Helen turned as the hatch to the attic rattled, opening out into the hallway. A set of stairs slid down to her. She couldn’t see Nikola anywhere above. Usually, he waited for her with a smile, or outstretched hand beckoning her up.

Nikola was located by the window, brushing fragments of broken glass of the sill. He had been doing that for weeks, but there always seemed to be more of it.

“There you are,” she said, approaching cautiously.

10

CHILD OF THE STORM

The first soft flecks of rain hit Nikola’s cheeks, lingering for a moment on his pale skin before sliding along the contours of his face. They dripped onto the window sill as Helen paced slowly along the opposite wall, carefully unfurling the scrap of paper with Nikola’s poetry. She placed it on the floor beside his bed before making her way to the window.

“Leave…” he said coldly, staring out at the city. It was growing dark now. The thick clouds quickened the hours, sending Oxford into premature night. For once, he didn’t want the storm. His experiment was not ready, left as an unfinished heap of metal on the roof.

She was going to tell him that the others were sorry but there was little point – it was not true and he would certainly not believe it.

“I know that you need help,” she said instead, “and I already promised.”

Sometimes he hated her memory.

“It’s too late,” he said, staring at the swirling clouds. “The rain is here and next – the lightning.” If it attracted a stray shard of electricity before he could fix it, then there’d be a great smouldering mess on the roof to contend with.

“When did a little rain hurt anybody…” she smiled, crossing the room.

To his confusion and distress, Helen nudged him away from the window and quickly climbed out of it, ignoring Nikola’s protests.

“Helen!” he said, in distress, as she clung to the wooden joins and searched for three stones protruding from the building’s facade. She had seen him use them a dozen times to climb the short distance to the roof. The light drizzle was cold and made the rocks slippery but her grip was firm and in a flash, Nikola was left with an empty window. “Mad, mad woman,” he muttered, stepping onto the sill in pursuit, forgetting his anger.

*~*~*

“Hypothetically,” said Nigel, pulling another blanket around his back. Their room was always cold despite the dozen or so lamps they kept lit. “If this sample of blood really is what Helen says, how are we going to test it?”

James tapped the nib of his quill on the edge of the ink bottle. He was seated at a desk shoved unkindly against one of the walls near their beds, scratching out a late assignment.

“Really, Nigel,” he said, with a measured voice, “I didn’t think that I would need to remind you of Doctor Magnus’s reputation.”

“I don’t follow,” replied Nigel, even though he did. Tales of Helen’s father were colourful and abundant, but he was interested to know James’s take.

That was enough to distract James. He set the feather down and turned up the lamp next to him so that its flame flickered brightly.

“Doctor Magnus,” he began, with a theatrical air, “was head of the medical board here – until four years ago. He drove several colleagues to resign their post and a further to be transferred. Word was that his experiments made the money men squeamish – not an easy thing to accomplish. Officially, he retired into obscurity but a man of his standing and position should have been enjoying his glory years. No one in the industry would touch him after that. Most think that he lost his mind, myself included.”

“You’re a harsh judge of character. Still, I’m curious – hypothetically of course… Is it possible that there could be a shred of truth? Doctor Magnus may have been insane but Helen –”

James shrugged. “If this blood of hers is real, we would have to test it on a living thing.”

“Good luck getting that idea past John, he has a tight grip over Helen these days and Nikola will probably hurl again.”

“I thought that rats might be an acceptable halfway point to all parties.”

“Inject a rat with ‘vampire’ blood. Now there’s a notion for your fiction books.”

“You are enjoying this…” James couldn’t help but smile. Nigel rarely found pleasure in life, so to see his lip curl in wicked plotting was a welcome change. “I guess we shall find out.”

*~*~*

It was higher up that she had expected. The university’s roof sloped sharply and Helen found that she had to slip her hands between the terracotta tiles to steady herself against the wind as she worked her way toward a contraption of wire mounted on a relatively flat rise ahead.

Nikola had been right about the storm. From up here, she could clearly see it brewing over the city – churning into a dark mass of vapour. Every now and then it rumbled.

“Careful,” Nikola muttered behind her, scampering across the roof. He had done this a thousand times and navigated the slippery tiles easily.

“They just let you leave all of this up here?” she said, pointing at his experiment. Helen regretted letting go of the roof, stumbling before Nikola caught her hand and led her to the relative safety of the platform.

“Strictly? No…” he admitted. “But I think that one of the professors is curious so they let it go.”

“Our professor? Maybe he just wants a decent excuse to have you expelled,” she lifted an eyebrow curiously, as she stepped onto the platform with the experiment.

“I am undecided,” Nikola grinned. He handed her several wires and balanced a long antenna on her lap while he dug through his experiment, connecting bits of it. “You’re no help at all,” he said to her, when he tried to retrieve the antenna. Helen had the wires twisted around it in infinite loops which he struggled to undo.

Nikola worked frantically, with the rain getting heavier. She hadn’t meant to, but Helen found the sight of Nikola in a full suit, perched on the roof like a curious bird – dripping wet and tangled up in cords to be highly amusing, especially when he overbalanced. She stifled a giggle, dodging his glare as cold wind made the rain more unpleasant.

Soaked through, they finished setting the experiment. Helen and Nikola took a step back, staring for a moment at the fragile thing reaching up toward the crazy expanse of sky. It was hard not to feel the enormity of the world behind the city – to see civilisation as a small scramble on the landscape sheltering under a sky to which humanity could lay no claim.

“I see why,” she started, “you spend your time up here.”

*~*~*

James jolted, smearing ink over his page as the thunder continued to roll on outside their window.

“That was close,” he said. The walls of the building were vibrating softly, rippling with the thunder. “I don’t think that James is going to get his meeting outside tomorrow.”

“Must be a beautiful show,” Nigel pointed to the only window in their dormitory which remained blocked by cloth and wood. “A shame – I think I may go and watch the storm for a while.”

James shrugged, attempting to salvage the page. “As you please,” he said. “Would you mind,” he nodded at the pile of paper beside Nigel’s bed, “if I skimmed through your notes?”

*~*~*

Three rivers of light appeared from the cloud above and snaked their way in jagged steps toward the ground. Their light cut through the heavy rain as they intertwined, crossed each other and flashed several times in silence.

Nigel watched the shards of light, waiting for the inevitable lashing of air which always coupled the beauty. He held onto his notes tightly, not daring to leave them unattended in James’s company.

*~*~*

After the light, Helen could barely make out the dark lines of the roof. She blinked the rain from her eyes and turned to Nikola.

“Can you hear that?” he said, staring out into nowhere. Helen frowned, all she could hear was the rain lashing at their faces and the occasional gasp of thunder as the lightening approached. “That sound…” Nikola seemed lost to the world as he raised a hand up to the storm, moving it through the rain. He could hear hooves pounding into the wet earth – a distant cry as a horse rose up on a child.

“Nikola!” screamed Helen, as he tilted dangerously forward.

Nikola snapped out of the memory as another flash of light strangled the darkness from the sky.

“We should go,” he said, fearing that he had waited too long. The storm was here and they were still balanced precariously on the roof next to a lightning conductor.

*~*~*

Nigel was on the ground floor, pacing along the protected walkway of the eastern wing of the building. He thought he heard a woman’s voice cry over the thunder of the storm. Frowning, he edged toward one of the archways, leaning into the rain enough to see the opposing rooftop.

He saw two shadows make their way across the rooftop. They looked so fragile, scampering in the face of such a storm.

Helen and Nikola, it could be no-one else. Nigel shook his head as they neared the edge of the roof. Then, from nowhere, a stream of light ripped through the air and blinded him. Thunder, so heavy that Nigel felt his soul take shelter as it beat against his body. He dropped to the ground in a scatter of paper, holding his ears as the ground shook.

*~*~*

The tiles on the roof shattered beneath them. Helen fell first, grasping desperately as she began to slide toward the edge. The world was so bright – she could not see. The air splitting beside her was so violent that the end of all things may have only been a step behind. She couldn’t hear Nikola, falling behind her, his hands forgetting the roof and reaching only for her.

Suddenly there was nothing beneath her. The light vanished leaving only the violent reverberations and the sound of tiles plunging four stories to the ground, exploding on the pavement below.

Her body jerked as Nikola caught her arm. The sudden weight pulled him over the edge with her until he wedged his hand between the guttering and brought them to a stop. They hung there in the rain, swinging gently.

Out of a daze, Helen realised that she would soon hit the ground far below them. Nikola had caught onto her sleeve and fabric was stretching, beginning to rip away from its seams.

There was nothing Nikola could do except grimace through the pain as the sharp gutter edge cut into him.

The rain beat down harder as another wave of thunder brushed over them.

Helen tried to reach the wall with her other hand, but she was too far out to do anything but graze the cold rocks with her fingertips.

Now the gutter protested, snapping two of its bolts sending Helen and Nikola two feet closer to the ground. Nikola hung on, but Helen’s sleeve ripped open. She reached up with her other hand just before Nikola lost his grip.

There was blood trickling down Nikola’s wrist. Even with two hands, Helen could not hold on. Another gust of wind would be enough to knock her free.

“Nikola!” she shouted over the noise.

Nikola swallowed, feeling her slip further. “Helen…” he whispered, as she fell from his hold.

11

UNBREAKABLE

Nigel vaulted over the low stone wall and out into the storm leaving a volley of papers churning behind him.

Every echo of thunder made his body shudder as it continued to rumble in the sky above. The ancient gods were at each others’ throats, tossing bolts of light and snarling into the dark. He could hear their violence – the clashing of swords and procession of Grecian boots through the clouds.

The lawn was partly submerged and Nigel struggled to cross its muddy expanse. Once he stumbled, landing on his knees amidst a blur of water. That’s when he saw it again – a horrible image that he could not shake. Nigel grunted and made it back to his feet. He pushed forward, heading toward the other wing of the building where he had seen a shadow fall.

He raised his arm against the weather, inhaling more water than air. Nigel couldn’t understand why the world moved so slowly or how it was possible to count the heartbeats out of step with his breath while the droplets of rain hesitated, lingering for a moment before striking his face. Whatever tempo the world was supposed to dance to, it had been offset since that lightning strike.

Nigel found her almost at once, laid awkwardly on the cement pathway surrounded by broken roof tiles. The sky flashed again and again, vanishing the world in an eerie light. Nigel paused, water streaming over his eyelashes. Helen’s blond hair had scattered around her head, glistening in the rain as if full of jewels. Beneath this carpet was a dark puddle, diluted by the rain into a general crimson aura.

She must be dead. It was all he could think. Her stillness held back his breath as he bent down to Helen and placed his fingers lightly beneath her chin.

He waited, ignoring another dart of light above as he searched for a faint glimmer of life.

Oh gods…” Nigel startled, as Helen opened her lips and took a gasp of air. He whipped his hand away when her eyes slowly opened, staring blankly into the night.

“Nikola?” Helen whispered. Her vision was a muddle of indistinct forms but she could sense someone leaning over her, shaking.

“Nigel,” he corrected Helen, reaching behind her head. He wove his fingers through her blood stained hair until he cupped her skull gently and eased her off the ground with his other arm around her shoulders. He searched for the wound responsible for the bloody mess on the pavement but found nothing except an acute tenderness to his touch.

She flinched away from him.

“I feel – strange,” she said, as he forced her to sit.

“I am amazed that you feel anything at all,” he commented, glancing up at the roof of the university. It was a long way up to the damaged pipe, jutting out from the rest of the gutter. Beneath Helen was a sea of blood from a so far phantom wound. He had to get her somewhere safe and dry and inspect her more closely. A fall that large – there had to be repercussions.

“Wait,” she protested, as he lifted her from the ground. It was a struggle for Nigel. He had never been a strong man but in this he was determined. “Nikola…”

Nigel searched the dark walls of the university but the pathways were empty. “He’s not here,” he said, heading for the main gates where the occasional coach hurried past with a crash of hooves.

Helen turned her head, gazing over Nigel’s shoulder back at the silhouette of the building. There was no light in Nikola’s room. She remembered his hand, trembling with her weight as she swung from the building.

“He was…” she started, but Nigel had reached the road. He waved a one of the coaches over and bundled Helen inside of it.

*~*~*

He took her home.

Nigel set Helen onto one of the wooden chairs in the dining room and quickly fetched a basic medical kit from Doctor Magnus’s cupboard by the stairs. He returned to find her inspecting a ringlet of hair, curiously gazing at the red tinge that it had taken on.

“Let me,” he said, pulling a chair next to her. Nigel held a warm washer to her forehead, wiping the mixture of mud and blood off her porcelain complexion. For the first time, he noticed her beauty. He’d always thought of Helen, perhaps unfairly, as a vindictive woman manipulating men to her causes via her obvious charm. John thought that he was crazy, but Nigel held firm to his belief that there was a sinister edge to Lady Magnus. He often saw glimpses of it in the corners of her eyes when James slit his way through another test subject. She had even swayed the impersonal Tesla, coaxing some form of affection from him however reserved it might be.

Nigel wouldn’t go so far as to say that he was entranced by her, as the others were, but maybe he could admit to being just a little curious.

“How perplexing,” he said, running the washer down her neck following a trail of blood. “You appear to be unharmed.”

“Maybe it’s not my blood?” she offered, catching his hand as it dipped a touch too low on her neckline. She would never guess that it had been an honest accident.

“It’s yours all right,” Nigel discarded the cloth in the tray, “but search me as to how.”

They were both soaked and starting to feel the cold. Nigel was the first to rise, unbuttoning his coat as he headed to the fireplace. He busied himself lighting it, preferring to keep occupied as the awkward silence continued between them. Though they had spent many hours in each other’s company, they had never spoken alone and found themselves completely at a loss as to how to behave.

Finally, a flame flickered up through the logs and the first radiations of warmth spread into the room.

“You should change your clothes,” he mumbled at her. She nodded and vanished out the door. He heard her footsteps trail down the corridor until a door creaked open.

So this was the house of the great Gregory Magnus? Nigel had already picked out several unusual ornaments hanging from the opposite wall. He hovered over the fire, drying his shirt and pants until she returned to the dining room looking more like he was used to.

“Thank you,” she said, not taking that last step into the room, “for your help. I shall be fine now.”

“Helen, you are about as far from ‘fine’ as is possible.” Another silence. Nigel stifled a cough with his fist, turning back to the flames. His nose wanted to run, a curse from his childhood that led people to believe him perpetually in ill-health. “Now that I’m here,” he spoke to the fire, forcing Helen to venture into the room to understand him. “Would it be possible to see this mysterious sample of yours? I admit to being curious.”

Distraction – she welcomed it. “Certainly.”

Helen led him through her father’s office and down the stone steps to the basement. She caught him linger at the sight of the lab door, running his eyes over the solid planks of wood sealing its contents away from the world. They both held lanterns to the darkness as she unlocked the door and pushed it open.

The door revealed a black hole not unlike the gaping mouth of a cave. Nigel’s nose tweaked at the musty smell, heavily laden with mould spores. Helen dashed in front of him, wasting no time lighting several lanterns. The room now revealed certainly looked the part of a mad scientist’s den. As James had described Gregory Magnus, this scene suited him well – mysterious curtains, hanging lamps and equipment he didn’t want to know about. He’d almost accepted this as quite respectable – until a creature in the corner of the room growled.

“Holy – you did not mention that,” he raised his lantern in the direction of the frightening creature.

“When I said, ‘Abnormal creatures’,” said Helen, with a smile he had seen used on unwitting victims of hers before, “what exactly did you think that I meant?”

She had him there. In truth, he’d never really taken her stories seriously. “Honestly Helen, what is that?”

Eventually Nigel got over the dragon – even daring to stroke its feathered coat. Finally Helen presented the sample of blood and even his untrained eyes could see that it was special with its silken liquid swirling gracefully, its colour more rich than pure ink and its viscosity something between mercury and honey.

“I – wanted to apologise,” he offered, brushing his fingers over the glass holding the sample. “We did not have the best start.”

Helen nodded, but did not offer an apology of her own.

*~*~*

It was late afternoon of the following day when three gentlemen met in a dormitory, exhausted.

“Did you find him?” said John to the others, holding his side. It pained from running circles around the hundreds of intertwined corridors, ducking into every door in search of the missing man.

James and Nigel shook their heads, equally dishevelled.

“He’s not here,” James folded his arms, “or if he is, he’s lost a good deal of weight. I asked everyone I could find. Granted,” his hidden hand couldn’t help but dip into his coat pocket where a small gold watch nestled. “Most of them had no idea who Nikola was in the first instance…”

“I called him the ‘mad one’,” quipped Nigel. “Mostly they just shrugged. If they did see him, they apparently don’t remember. It’s like he’s completely invisible to other humans.”

“I think that we should try to take this seriously…” James frowned in Nigel’s direction.

“What is there to do?” Nigel retaliated. “He is gone and short of searching all of Oxfordshire –”

“Helen’s not going to be happy,” John sighed, interrupting Nigel. “We’ll never hear the peace of it if he doesn’t show tonight.”

*~*~*

John arrived at Helen’s door first, just on the edge of dusk. The streets were full of business men making their way home from work and small children frisking pockets with nimble hands. The gas-lighters had started their rounds, cruising between the lamp posts with a taper as the smoke of the factories sank back to the earth, tarnishing Oxford’s air with a bitter taste.

The city’s forest of spires prodded at the darkening sky. Their sandstone had blackened in the relentless weather which chose to rain most of the time making them appear sinister against the skyline.

“Did you find him?” was Helen’s first question, as she let John step past her into the house. He shook his head.

“Helen, I am sure that he is fine,” he tried to reassure her.

“You clearly don’t know Nikola,” she replied sharply. “He is never fine.”

“Tomorrow I will speak with the university heads myself if he does not arrive within the hour.”

She seemed to be satisfied with this – for the moment.

“Helen,” he reached down for her hand, which he took gently in his own. “There was something that I have been meaning to discuss with you…” he trailed off, glancing nervously at the floor rather than her confused expression. “Before all of this.”

His skin warming beneath her palm distracted her from John’s words. She found it difficult to focus on anything other than the slightest movement of his fingers and his quickening pulse.

“When I heard about what happened yesterday – I – I realised something – important that,” he ventured a glance at her, regretting it almost immediately as his throat closed over. He coughed, swallowed and tried to continue. “And my timing is – well – regrettable but – James?

Mr Watson strolled into Helen’s foyer with an air of importance. He had changed his waistcoat, apparently reverting back to his wealthy upbringing outside the university walls. This particular item of clothing was a luxurious shade of red, edged in golden thread.

His sudden arrival caused Helen and John to part, retreating to opposing walls of the entrance hallway.

James tipped his hat at them before removing it entirely.

“Afternoon,” he said in greeting – fully aware that he had just disturbed the pair. “Nigel will be here shortly. Are you certain that you are well?” James tilted his head slightly at Helen. She was paler than usual except for a bright flash of pink through her cheeks.

“Not you as well,” she turned away. “Honestly, I am surrounded by three old women.”

“Only two at the present,” James winked.

12

RATS TO THE SLAUGHTER

They waited the full hour but Nikola did not show. With the evening well underway and the moon striding above the city, the four young scientists descended the stairs to the underground laboratory.

Settled into various locations around the room – John by the door, Nigel knelt beside the dragon, James in front of the wire-faced bookshelves and Helen leaning on the central table – James theatrically spread his arms as if introducing some great Shakespearean work to his audience.

“I give you,” he bowed low, to the others’ amusement, “Exhibit A.” James Watson lifted the lid of the heavy wooden box by his feet. His surprise was a collection of furry creatures running from wall to wall of the box in a messy clamber.

“Rats…” Helen eyed James warily, leaning over the box with her mouth turned down in repulsion. “You brought me rats?”

James did not understand her dejected tone until Helen held a light to the shelves beside them where five well fed rats, significantly higher in class, were busy devising their escape. He merely waved her off and said, “The more the merrier.”

He rounded hers into his box and placed them on the experiment table. The scratching and squeaking intensified until John had his doubts that the box would hold.

“I still don’t like this,” muttered John, watching Nigel prepare the metal needles and Helen walk the sample of blood over. James dipped the needle carefully into the enticing liquid, slowly drawing it up.

“Rats are a menace,” said James, tapping the shaft of the needle, “the city will be well rid of them.”

There was a rose leaning over the lips of a vase, slowly dying in the softly lit laboratory. It had dropped several petals on the main table but its perfume remained heavy, sweet and intoxicating. It masked the sour smell of the air and had not been there the last time Nigel had called.

John smiled at the wild rose, admiring its fragile and fading beauty. He wanted to hold the delicate thing in his hands but he knew that the slightest touch would destroy it.

Nigel held the squirming rat securely in his hands. It lashed out at him with sharp teeth and knife-like claws, but he expertly clamped down, rendering it still as James pierced its side. The creature screeched unhappily, kicking its toes as James injected a small amount of the source blood into it. Once finished, Nigel carried the rat to an empty compartment on the bookshelf and locked it inside.

The four scientists closed in, observing the shocked creature for several minutes. To their surprise, the rat did nothing – absolutely nothing of interest except clean its ear with a flexible paw.

“That was anti-climatic,” remarked Watson, still brandishing a full needle of blood. “Shall we do the others?”

“Of course,” replied Helen. “One subject is hardly a balanced test. We shall do them all.”

John closed his eyes and rested back against the closed door. He heard them repeat the process again and again with all seven remaining rats and set them in the cage together. When John finally roamed over to the others, he found the rats seated quietly on their back legs, sniffing the air.

“Those are the most docile rats I have ever seen,” he said, staring through the wire. The rats didn’t even notice him trace his hands over their enclosure or feel his warm breath on the air. “Are they in shock?”

“Quite possibly,” said James, handing the empty needle to Nigel who wiped it, wrapped it in cloth and tucked it back in the medical bag.

“Give it time,” Nigel said, joining them. “When we administer medication to animals on my parent’s property it can take up to – did you hear that?”

The others looked at him curiously.

“Hear what?” queried Helen. Her blond hair was hitched out of the way, fastened by dozens of soft metal pins. Every now and then the lamp light caught one, making it flicker.

“Could have sworn I heard some kind of banging.”

It dawned on them as a collective.

“The Cabal?” whispered John, as Helen moved toward the door.

“They watch the house,” replied Helen. “A man in a brown suit, topper and cane stands at the corner in the mornings and late afternoon.”

“Was he there today?” John handed her one of the lanterns.

She shook her head. “No, I thought that it was strange.”

“Let us go,” said James, hinting at John and Nigel. “Perhaps they won’t be so bold.”

“Absolutely not,” she said sternly. “The last thing that I need is to cast suspicion on myself by entertaining three men at this late hour.”

“Very well,” said John, “but we will accompany you to the door all the same.”

*~*~*

Helen waved the shadowy figure she assumed was Nigel off as she approached the tortured surface of the front door. She could see the others, scattered in dark corners ready to pounce on her command.

The door knocked again. It was urgent – demanding and not what she had expected of the Cabal whose figures had always been imposing statues.

She took a breath, holding it in her chest as she unlatched the door and drew it open a crack.

Although the night was clear and the rain of late banished to the edge of the horizon, the first thing that Helen heard upon opening the door was the steady drip of water. She stepped to the side, opening it further to reveal a man shivering in her doorway.

“So,” he started, his voice shaken, “it is true then.”

He had seen her eyes still and glazed, covered in a layer of mist – her hair about her face mingling with flows of blood as she lay there. The sight of her, shattered on the pavement below him amongst the ruined tiles was one that he could not move. Helen Magnus had been dead. He had seen it, felt it – mourned it and, until this point, believed it.

“Nikola…” she said, but he avoided her hand, edging away. “You look as if you have drowned,” Helen observed his state. “We have been so worried, Nikola, where have you been?”

Nikola did not wish to talk about his whereabouts. What he wanted was a very particular answer from the woman glancing nervously behind her at the house.

“I know what I saw,” he said softly.

“We,” she stared, stammering as movement stirred in the house. “We shall talk later, I swear.”

*~*~*

After, Nikola was ushered in and offered a change of clothes – which he naturally declined. Nearly against his will, he was herded to the basement. James managed a vicious aside, sprouting something about ‘wandering souls causing trouble’ to which Nikola darkened his offended temper.

“I take it that I have missed the show,” said Tesla, observing the empty table with Nigel’s bag already packed and stained brown in patches.

“The opening act, perhaps,” replied Nigel, waving Nikola over to the ‘bookshelves’ where the four of them had assembled. “Oh dear…” he sighed, upon arriving. At the edges of the cage were two suspiciously still furry bodies, feet-side up with their mouths left agape from a final breath. “We lost two – not that I can say I’m surprised. They were scrawny things to begin with.”

Though he was positive that Nigel had just insulted his choice of test subjects, James kept quiet and instead observed that there was a drizzle of blood on both the deceased rats’ noses. He deduced, therefore, the cause to be internal bleeding from one or multiple organ failure.

“And what of the others?” Helen asked.

James shrugged. “They seem fine at the present. That one,” he pointed at the rat huddled in the far corner, scratching feverishly at something, “is a bit rabid for my liking.”

“I don’t know,” said John, tapping on the wire near a particularly docile rat. It was plump, seated and staring off into space. “This one looks about ready to depart from life.” It did not bother to flinch as John proceeded to rap beside it. The creature’s beady eyes gazed up at the soft lamplight beyond its bars, considering the world it had never noticed before and reflecting on its captivity.

Nikola refused to come any closer being generally repulsed by rats and all other creatures of the gutter. He did, however, notice the gentle tickle of hairs lifting from the back of his hand, standing erect. Static electricity he mused, though he could not determine its source.

Suddenly there was a snap and coruscation near the edge of the wire where Helen and James were leaning in close. They both jumped back, as did the rat which had grazed the wire with its claws and caused a serious spark of electricity to erupt.

The rat was as shocked as the humans. The action itself had not hurt but it had certainly been frightened by the loud crack.

This time, Nikola rudely parted his way through the others and folded his lofty figure over to bring his eye in line with the rat. It was not fat as John had assumed, but rather ruffled. All of its wiry hairs were sticking out making it appear like a pompom with teeth and a tail.

Do it again…” he goaded the rat, which to everybody’s surprise seemed drawn to Nikola’s keen eyes.

Slowly, its paws hopped closer – stopping all the time to sniff the air and shake its whiskers.

“What are you doing, Nikola?” asked Helen, bending down beside him.

“An experiment of my own,” he replied. “Here we go…”

Again, the rat touched the wire mesh producing a violent spark of electricity. This time it squeaked angrily, and retreated back beside the two dead rats where it set about cleaning itself.

“Well,” observed James, “it certainly wasn’t doing that before…”

“Incredible…” said Helen. “The source blood must have – I don’t even know how, allowed it to – Nikola, could you help?”

“I am not a naturalist,” he said frankly. “Though I can only presume that it is drawing on the natural potential difference between the ground and air and converting that into static potential energy.”

“But what Helen asked was how,” John grinned menacingly.

“Perhaps you would be so kind as to take a stab yourself … or is your position in this group merely ornamental?”

“Not to interrupt,” said Nigel, “but that rabid one of yours James, is getting rather close to – oh!”

They all watched on in horror as the rat in question flexed its claws, creeping up behind one of the ordinary rats and then, without warning or hesitation, leapt on top of it, sinking its teeth hungrily into its kin’s neck.

“That’s horrible!” Helen held a hand over her mouth as the rat drew blood, crushing its victim with powerful jaws and unusually sharp teeth. Its eyes were jet black orbs, enlarged as if someone had cut a planet in half and stuck them in place between the fur.

The victim rat expired. Its final kicks died silently while its plight went unnoticed by all but the blasé rat which backed away when the murderous gaze of the rabid one fell upon it.

“Christ,” said Nigel, “did you see that? Ferocious furry bastard. Sorry, Helen…” he apologised, for swearing in the presence of a lady.

“Amazing –” began James, but he was interrupted.

“Not my first choice of words,” John said, as the violent rat set its eyes on the electrically charged one.

“Well, if you would allow me to finish,” he turned away and roamed over to the experiment table as if in some kind of enlightened trance. “Amazing how it displayed characteristics reminiscent of rumoured vampirial behaviour. We can only assume that there is some truth in the myths and that, more importantly, this is indeed a pure sample of vampire blood.”

“Two results,” said Helen, “two deaths, one uncertain and three nil results, then.”

“No…” James pointed at one of the previously unnoticed rats. “Not uncertain. I don’t know what it is but this specimen has changed.”

“So what do you think?” Helen joined Watson at the table. She laid a hand on the satchel of equipment, stroking the leather suggestively.

“I’m in…” James could hardly contain his grin.

“In what?” Nikola shifted his gaze between the pair, trying to make them out as they began to pace around the table.

“Helen, you cannot be serious,” John came up behind her, reaching for her hand. “See sense.”

“My decision, whatever it may be,” shot Helen coldly, “does not require your consort.” Her interest returned to James, “The possibilities are wondrous.”

“Excuse me,” Nikola began to pace from person to person, “what are we discussing?”

“Helen has a point,” admitted Nigel. “What we have just discovered, it is an opportunity that may well pass us by in a hurry. With the Cabal due on your doorstep,” he turned to Helen, “we are not guaranteed possession of this sample indefinitely.”

“I do not want to spend my whole life wondering…” James carefully picked up the vial of source blood, holding it to one of the hanging lanterns. A thing this beautiful had to be dangerous but there was more to its silken liquid than horror, he was sure of it.

John’s temper rose. “This might be your whole life,” he pleaded with her, “if we get this wrong. It would be unwise to make our judgement in haste.”

“Judgement on what?” Nikola slammed his fist down on the table, causing the vase with the rose to shudder and fall, crashing to its demise in a storm of petals.

13

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Three of the petals skimmed off the edge of the table, caught in a swirling current of air and then, after several graceful tumbles, they were laid to rest on the dusty floorboards.

Helen and James’s shoulder’s brushed. They stood united in feverish curiosity. The source blood had ensnared them with promises. It was a trap carefully laid with delicate snares that shuddered every time their eyes wandered in its direction.

James tilted the vial. He watched as the blood moved in luscious currents. Inside he saw a shimmering universe of stars, hidden places and secrets yet missed the darkness which crept out of sight.

While James’s motivations may have run to his physical advancement, Helen sought only knowledge. She wanted to know how far the human blueprint could be pushed – where the boundary between us and the beasts lay – why she was different and if, as her father had hinted, this blood posed a cure for her condition.

“They are going to experiment on themselves,” said John, pulling away from Helen. He was deeply disappointed in her lack of self restraint. Maybe he was foolish, but he had believed her to be different from the others.

Nikola’s face faded even further to a shade approaching pearl.

“That’s right, isn’t it?” John directed his accusation at Nigel, who looked away and muttered something that sounded like, ‘yes’.

John waited for Nikola to break into objection – dissolve into one of his fits of logic declaring Helen and James to be insane. Instead, Nikola clasped his hands behind him, catching his damp cloak so that its violet silken lining quivered elusively in the candle-light.

“Why?” Nikola asked calmly, as if inquiring on the nature of two chemicals reacting.

“What kind of a question is that?” snapped John fiercely.

“A valid one,” replied Nikola in a sudden sharpness, “which was not directed to you.”

“If we go around calling ourselves ‘The Five’, pretending to be a unified group, secret society or whatever it is we’re calling ourselves this time, then the question was directed at the room.” John raised his finger accusingly in Nikola’s direction. “The proposal is preposterous! Inject ourselves with something rumoured to be the most dangerous substance on earth – after watching several of the test subjects die and another turn murderous? No – it should not be done. We make fools out of ourselves, not scientists. The sacrifice,” he looked especially at Helen, desperately seeking for the woman he remembered from the park in her cold blue eyes, “is too great.”

“Everyone makes sacrifices for their profession,” said Nikola simply, sensing that Helen had begun to sway to John’s passionate words. When it came down to it, that was all the man was – one of words. John had never had any scientific credit in the group. He was always the organiser, liaison or walking map to the various towns he had travelled through. His contacts had been useful but now he was beginning to see the other side of science and its practitioners – the side that stood on the cusp of white cliffs, pondering the fall.

“Your coat is a beautiful weave,” Nikola observed. “Tell me, do you often think of those who cowered in the half-light, spinning its cotton into delicate patterns before giving out their breath?”

“To know…” said Helen simply, in reply to Nikola’s question. Her answer was elegant but true – the answer that she should have given him the first time he had asked her about her work.

“And you – Nigel?” Nikola was not surprised when he reluctantly agreed with Helen. Nigel always sided with the majority, like a swing voter trying to not to get swept away by a rip tide. “Then we are in agreement?”

Four of them nodded but the fifth shook his head angrily. “Certainly we are not!” shouted John.

“You want to know about Flash,” said James, highly amused by the way Nikola had been courted by the biological sciences. ‘Flash’ was the name he had decided to give to the electrically charted rat. “Morality is not a question you care to consider, then. You prefer old fashion intrigue.”

“Begging your pardon, but my morality is in a better stead than yours at the present.”

James frowned. Nikola couldn’t possibly know about… James’s eyes searched Nikola’s but he would have had more luck with a lump of coal. No-one had seen him leave those nights, escaping over the university lawn in the soft moonlight except perhaps for Nikola, whose window faced the gates and – and James had to admit that it was possible.

“And yes,” Nikola finished, “naturally the behaviour of the rats intrigues me. I consider it my duty to discover the unknown,” smiled Tesla, “and I suspect that Helen would proceed with this experiment whether we were present or not, gentlemen.” He was right, she would have. “Which leaves us little choice.”

*~*~*

“The rats?” Nigel asked, as he unwrapped his medical bag once again and prepped the equipment.

“No change,” replied James, who had isolated the vampire rat and was now watching it tear at the bars. It was a feisty thing. The others were disturbed by its constant, high-pitched squealing and gnashing of its teeth over every surface.

“Not here…” said Helen suddenly, stopping Nigel. “Hidden away like this, it is not a fitting setting for what we are about to undertake.”

“She doesn’t want to die in a cellar,” winked Nigel. “Not classy enough for the lady. Where then?”

They settled on the lounge room. James arranged the chairs, Helen lit the lamps, Nigel prepared the equipment, Nikola drew all the heavy drapes shut against the night and checked the locks on the windows while John made a nuisance of himself, sulking in one of the lounges.

Helen strode through the room. Her ornate dress dragged behind her, shifting the dust while her golden hair trailed down her back in soft ringlets, some of which had been messily pulled out of the way. All of them watched as she took her place on the chair. Her breath quickened, rising and falling with her chest as hear heart thrust her own blood faster.

She heard the scratch of material on the chair’s back as John knelt beside her. He had not said a word to her since the decision, instead choosing to bow his head so that his face hid beneath several stray strands of hair.

“What are you doing?” inquired Nigel, as Nikola paced over and relieved him of the needle.

“Forgive me,” he said, “but if anyone’s going to be injecting this into Helen, it is to be me.”

“But…”

“We can’t very well let John do it as he would likely waste the blood to vex us,” Nikola was satisfied when John’s head snapped up in scorn. “There’s a strong possibility that James would splay Helen’s arm for entertainment and you, I apologise for saying, have a heavy hand. No – I shall do this and that is the end of it.”

By the light, Nikola drew the heavy needle from the vial, twisting it slowly in his fingers. It brimmed with blood. A spare droplet formed on the needle’s sharp, metallic tip, fattening until gravity tugged it free. He turned slowly with the needle held aloft. The room had grown silent. As he moved slowly toward Helen, the sound of his shoes over the floor seemed to pound in their ears. Nigel shifted behind her chair, hawking the experiment eagerly.

She was frightened.

And fury shall become us,” said James, “knowledge, burn us and the world scorn us for the truth.” He moved respectively out of Nikola’s way as if he were carrying a newborn rather than a syringe.

“It’s ready,” said Nikola, coming to rest beside her. She stopped her breath entirely, desperate to appear calm. The colour in her face betrayed her to the others.

“You don’t have to go first,” Nigel offered. It was, after all, strange to let the woman place herself in danger ahead of the men, of which there was a considerable number present. “John or I could have a go to start…”

John lifted his eyes disapprovingly as he was yet to decide upon his own fate. Still, he would allow himself to go first if it would save Helen.

“He’s right,” said James, “no need for unnecessary heroics. The side effects are completely unknown.” In humans, at least.

“Thank you gentlemen,” she finally took a breath. Her voice remained steady as she spoke, “But this experiment was of my design. I should be the one to prove its worth.”

“Helen,” John took her hand urgently. “You are certain?”

“We’ve risked too much to turn back now. We need to know. You may precede, Nikola.” She looked down and took another breath as Nikola ran his finger over her arm, nudging her sleeve out of the way. The pit of her arm trembled as the needle poised above her naked skin and his thumb slipped into position, resting on the plunger.

She could feel his heartbeat through their touching skin. It was raging, tumbling blood around his limbs but apparently not into the hand that refused to move. Nikola’s eyes flicked up. They were large and clear, giving her this final, silent chance to withdraw. He waited but she held her gaze fiercely.

Nikola slowly lowered his eyes to her arm and, with a hesitation of his own, brought the needle to her skin.

Nikola did not wait. Immediately he pushed it through her skin and began to expel the blood. Helen flinched. It was freezing – like icewater flowing into her – seeping through her veins as Nikola’s thumb pushed down determinatively on the plunger. As soon as he was done, her body shook. A sharp pain pulled her arm muscles tight and she heaved in shock, reaching blindly for Nikola and John’s hands. They both held onto her as the muscle contractions worsened and she fought to keep the pain at bay.

Nigel shifted, unclasping his hands and circling round the chair and over to his bag where he hunted through it. James did not move, instead he committed every detail of her reaction to memory. Nikola hastened a glance at John, both were lost for action as the pain turned to agony too extreme for Helen to bear.

“We’ve got to make it stop,” said John, as Nikola threw the needle to the ground and placed his other hand behind Helen’s back, forcing her forwards. “What are you doing?”

“She cannot breathe,” he replied. “Help me…” his elegant fingers had begun unlacing the back of her corset. John tried to protest but Nikola raised his voice angrily, “She’s dying, Druitt!”

“Here,” James pushed through them and set about undoing the thousands of layers of ribbon with more skill than the others would give him credit for. He muttered halfway through about the absurdity of female attire until the bodice loosened and Helen gasped. “She looks better,” he said, when Helen’s breathing settled.

“Are you all right?” John lifted a hand to her face. She nodded.

“The pain is stopping,” she said. “Ah –” she closed her eyes, trying to concentrate on what she was feeling, “slight tingling in my arm and it was cold, very cold…”

“Metallic,” whispered Nigel. “Look at the way it glistens in the light.” He pushed the vial of blood aside next to the smelling salts which he had unnecessarily excavated.

“I am fine,” she let go of both men by her side. “It was just a shock. Well…” she flicked her hair back over her shoulder. “Who’s next?”

Nikola’s head fell into his hands as he collapsed to the ground beside the chair in relief. “A moment, please,” he begged her, as he leant against the chair.

“I shall go next,” James volunteered himself. “If you please, Nikola…” he pestered the man on the ground.

The others followed in quick succession, with John falling last – still muttering his disapproval as the needle sank through his skin. Their reactions were all the same – nothing. Aside from the initial prick, the four men had no supplementary side-effects to the injection. Much like the rats, they stood dumbly, inspecting their arms for irritation but found nothing except a small hole.

“That’s it then,” said James. “Whatever is done is done.”

“Now we must wait,” said Helen quietly. She still felt uneasy – ill even.

“We will stay with you tonight,” said John, and the others quickly agreed – as much for their own sakes as for her. Nobody wanted to be alone, for fear of what they had done and what they might become.

14

THE INVISIBLE MAN

“Urgh…” Nigel stumbled, dropping the books tucked under his arm as a sharp pain stabbed through his gut. It lasted for several minutes, pounding in ever-increasing waves. “Damn…” he whispered, kneeling down for his books once it had passed. Briefly, he wondered if it had been his ill-looking lunch but soon the dread sunk in and he realised the horrifying truth.

“Oh, it’s you – not a very polite entrance,” James commented, returning to his book as Nigel took his seat in one of the abandoned chairs. The screech of its wood over the floorboards was still busy reverberating off the tightly packed bookshelves when Nigel swallowed and rubbed his forehead.

“There’s something wrong with me,” said Nigel hurriedly, as his stomach turned again. “Are you listening to me?” he added, when James continued pacing disinterestedly, stopping only to pull another book free.

“I heard you,” he replied serenely, “I am only surprised by the length of time it took for you to reach this conclusion.”

“This is no time for jokes,” Nigel leapt up and snatched ‘Rights of Man’ from him. “I think I’m in serious trouble,” he added solemnly, “and I don’t know what to do.”

*~*~*

“They’ve been no more fatalities,” whispered Helen under her breath to her neighbour, as the lecturer scratched various instructions on the board for them to copy. James, who had never sat in the second row before, shifted uncomfortably. “However…”

“‘However’ is not good,” he replied, knocking his quill from the inkpot. “Great god…” he grabbed for it and then promptly shifted out of the way of the ensuing ink trail. “Would you mind moving up a little?”

The lecturer cleared his throat, scratching the chalk harder on the board as the students re-arranged themselves noisily.

“You’ve got it everywhere,” scorned Helen, as she inspected the black stains on her fingers.

“There are reasons why I sit alone,” he admitted. “The rats though, they are all still alive?”

“Yes,” she nodded, and then paused. “Except for the one that’s missing. Its health you’ll have to guess on.”

James mouthed, ‘escaped’ as Helen went on to explain that one of the rats had levered open the bars with a spare scrap of wood allowing a mass exodus. She had rounded them up by hand with John’s help but one of them could not be found.

“That’s not encouraging, on both accounts.”

“It scratched the floor of its cage up for the wood. I may not claim a great deal of knowledge on vermin behaviour, but it does seem out of the ordinary.”

James’s face twisted into discontent. He leant against the sloped desk, propping up his head with one arm. “And the macabre one?”

“Isolated,” she rolled her eyes and made a brief effort to copy the board’s notes. “Though it hasn’t touched its food. Why all these questions? You’re usually difficult to coax into speech.”

“Nigel…” he lowered his voice, doing his best to evade the pair eavesdropping from behind. “He didn’t feel well so I had a friend of mine examine him and they found a small lump growing in the left of his stomach.”

This time the lecturer did not attempt subtly. In an elegant sequence, he snapped his chalk in two and threw both pieces at James and Helen. The first they knew of this was the sharp impacts and white marks left on their foreheads.

“If you’re not going to listen,” he said to them, “at least keep yourselves to a hush.”

*~*~*

“Don’t move…” Nikola instructed.

Against her usually rebellious tendency, Helen froze at the top of the ladder. Nikola rarely joked and she had cause to fear his experiments. This particular contraption had all the marks of sinister device with its wiry limbs trailing onto the floor beside him and one particularly thick wire stretched between two structures like a bridge.

“Watching?” he asked her, without turning around or stopping his fiddling. Her silence was taken in the affirmative. “There’s a switch on the floor beside you, would you be so kind?”

Helen, still perched on the ladder, reached forward to the switch and flicked it. A snap of light gave way to an explosion of sparks. Nikola’s hands were caught on a live circuit which pushed raw current into him at such a rate that he couldn’t feel the pain. He jolted, shook and then fell backwards when Helen finally turned the switch off.

The blackened skeleton of the experiment smoked innocently as Nikola rolled over with a groan.

“I – never – said,” Nikola gasped between waves of muscle spasms, “to turn – it – on… argh!” he held his hands up for inspection. They were intact but lightly burnt around the tips.

“You need to be more specific!” Helen climbed into the attic. She swept the cords away from him as he sat up. The usually immaculate man was in quite a state with his mop of dark hair stuck out in a dark halo, black smudges of carbon highlighting his strong features making his eyes more clear than she recalled and he had acquired a slightly burnt smell to his person. “A right state…” she said, trying to clean him up. He merely removed a pristine handkerchief from his pocket and saw to it himself.

“That was a little too exciting for my liking,” he said, shaking off the incident. “Twenty kilo-amperes and I lived, that must be a record of some form.”

Helen shook her head in disbelief. Near death incidents seemed to be a frequent occurrence when in his presence. “I’ve come about Nigel,” she started, helping him to his feet.

He seemed surprised. “Oh,” he let go of her, “I presumed it was about that other matter. I have not forgotten your promised explanation, you see.” Indeed, Nikola did not forget anything that passed through Helen’s lips whether he desired to or not.

The roof, her fall – the thunderstorm. Yes, she did owe him an explanation. “It will have to wait,” she said, slinking over to the window which was still without its glass. “You really must see to this,” she added quietly, before giving the details of Nigel’s condition.

“No…” Helen caught him, before Nikola could speak again, “he’s not imagining it. I am aware of his tendency to accentuate his many varied medical conditions, but James had him inspected and there is a definite growth.”

“Nearly overnight…” Nikola said, slipping into deep thought. “There are creatures,” he started after a period of pacing from end to end of the room, “that have extra organs. A correspondent of mine has a certain interest in natural science. She has sent me several detailed drawings of –”

She?” Helen raised an eyebrow curiously.

Nikola ignored her. “We know that these vampires or whatever you wish to call them, possessed abilities beyond our human grasp. It is natural then, that their internal structure may differ from our own.”

Helen turned her head and eyed Nikola keenly. A spark of truth flashed over her and she pointed in his direction, “You’re good…” she said, “exceptionally so.” Then she rushed past him, disturbing a cloud of black dust at his feet as she vanished into the manhole as quickly as she had come.

Nikola inspected himself, horrified at the filth accumulated around him. He had always been a clean person but today he found the concept of dirt intolerable to the point of absurdity. This morning the feeling had been so strong that he had made his bed three times and spent an hour washing.

*~*~*

“I’m evolving?” Nigel had been sat down in a remote corner of the library. Helen and James lurked off to the side, stealing looks at each other as their captive fought another wave of pain. “Am I dying?”

“It is impossible to tell,” said James. “There is no precedent for one species changing into another.”

He thought on this for a while, mentally cursing his situation. Helen interrupted, stopping at first to re-order her words.

“There’s another –” her voice trailed off, “explanation…”

“Which is?” Nigel prompted, ignoring the beads of sweat forming on his hair line. “Dammit woman, tell me what it is!”

“Uncontrolled mutation,” she shot back. “Cancer.”

“I’m afraid our only choice is to wait,” said James, “wait and see.”

Nigel threw his head back in despair and then said, “I want to look at the rats.”

*~*~*

After half an hour of intimate staring, James Watson was convinced that the intelligent rat was trying to communicate with him. The scruffy ball had run repeatedly back and forward inside the cage, pausing on each pass at the ominous lock holding the cage shut.

Next, it took its sharp claws and began to scratch and rustle about in the right hand corner of the cage. It became quite obsessed with this activity, repositioning itself, squeezed tightly against the wall. Finally James heard it – the quiet click of something as the rat dug.

James bent down, scanning under the edge of the cage door. There, at the underside of the corner was a brass pin holding the door in place. The rat scratched again and James watched as its claws brushed over the pin, knocking against it.

“Clever boy…” he whispered to it, placing his nose to the wire-fronted cage. The rat scampered over to him, staring back with huge black eyes. “But I’m afraid that I cannot help you. She…” he nodded over his shoulder in Helen’s direction, “would lock me up beside you if I tried.”

“James,” Helen had been watching him for some time now, out of the corner of her eye, “please – people will talk…”

He departed the cage with a wink and roamed back over to the experiment table which was now lit brightly by a huddle of candles around its far edge. Two of them were large and old, congealed with layers of dirty wax. Their wicks were rough, trimmed low to the wax and their flames danced wildly with the slightest passing of air.

“Research, gentlemen,” Helen unfolded a series of private correspondence and laid the envelopes on the table. “Courtesy of Nikola.”

They were elegant sketches. Drawings of creatures, layer for layer through their workings right down to the cleaned bones.

“There are pages missing,” noted James, sorting through the elegant numbers at the corners of each page.

“This is all he gave me,” Helen said. “I believe that these might help us understand your condition, Nigel.”

“Fine hand, decorative curves on the tails and ever so slight pauses between sentences. A female – I would go so far as to say that the author is a lady.”

“It is not a mystery to be solved, James,” she warned. “Would you be so kind as to put your observational skills to the matter at hand?”

Nigel leant over the papers as if to inspect them, but diverted at the last moment to blow sharply on the mountain of candles, expiring several of them. “Bright…” he said simply, and then took several of the letters away to study. “I think that I shall write my family, just in case.”

“Have – you thought about a will?” James put carefully. Helen made a scornful sound beneath her breath, but Nigel was not offended – indeed, he was smiling more brilliantly than she had seen in weeks.

“Yes, James,” he grinned, “you can have the books but you’ll have all of hell to answer, namely my brother, if you try and strut off with the shelves that match.”

*~*~*

The pair of gentlemen left late that night. She lingered in the door, watching Nigel brave the softly lit street and James hail a coach from the corner beneath a streetlight. The seasons were changing, and the cold of the evenings was beginning to show a glint of tooth.

Exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep with the curtains drawn and her bedroom door locked. The windows rattled all through the night, jarring against the inconstant gusts of wind ripping the last Autumn leaves free.

They came for it that night. When she woke in the morning, the doors had been undone and the steps to the basement tainted with muddy footprints. She was not surprised to find the heavy wooden door kicked in, the lanterns overturned and the source blood absent.

The rats assembled themselves in a line along the cage, keenly observing as Helen stepped around the broken lamps and headed for the chest of drawers at the far end. There, she searched feverishly for Nikola’s letters but they were gone.

*~*~*

Nigel woke up screaming. The dormitory was dark – well before the approach of dawn into the window that Helen had cleared. James stirred in the bed opposite. He fumbled into action as the screaming subsided, fetching a match and striking it to the wick of the lantern on the floor beside his bed. He picked it up and blinked back sleep with bleary eyes.

“Nigel?” he asked worriedly, as shapes began to form in the soft light. Nigel’s bed was empty. Its sheets and pillows were piled oddly in a mound and as he inspected the rest of the room, he found that nobody was there.

Figuring it to be a reverie, James roused on himself and went to blow the flame out when Nigel’s voice spoke.

“Sorry to have woken you – bad dream, ‘been having them since that night.”

James sat up straight and took a second, closer look at the Nigel’s empty bed. After a few quiet minutes, he whispered to the room, “Nigel?”

“No…” came the sharp, half mocking reply at once. “Karl Marx – of course it’s me.”

“Where?”

“Where what?” replied Nigel, shrugging at the confused James.

Some truth dawned on James as he saw the sheets of Nigel’s bed stir, apparently of their own accord. “How are you feeling?” he inquired delicately, of the empty room.

“Much improved,” Nigel had not felt pain since he had gone to sleep that night.

James’s eyebrows furrowed. “Interesting…” he mused.

“How so?”

James tilted the wood-framed side mirror in Nigel’s direction. “You seem to be lacking a reflection…” he said quietly, as Nigel shrieked again.

15

DAMPIER’S NOTES

James tightened the cord of his dressing gown and then lit all the lamps in the dormitory. Next, he strode up to Nigel’s bed and prodded the air approximately where his friend should be. The ‘thin air’ yelped and then scowled loudly, lashing out with stubby fingers until James stepped back, hands raised, and apologised.

“Just checking…” James excused himself, retreating from Nigel’s grasp. “I-” he tried to speak but eventually settled on, “I am speechless.” He wasn’t quite sure what else he was to think. His friend’s skin had taken on the patterns of its surrounding, constantly shifting to match either the bed sheets or the paint-stripped wall behind. About the only thing remaining to prove Nigel’s existence was the shadow stretching out over the floor.

Nigel was taking the progression of his condition poorly. He had James’s mirror clasped tightly in his hands and persisted in moving it about, analysing himself from every angle. No matter how many ways he tried to see himself, Nigel had to admit that he simply wasn’t there.

“This is terrible!” he declared, tossing the mirror across the room where it hit the floor and shattered. Nigel looked expectantly at James but quickly realised that he would have to speak if he wanted attention.

“What do you expect me to do about this?” James replied, tucking his hands into his dressing gown pockets. “It is the middle of the night – sleep on it, and we will think of something in the morning.”

“You aren’t serious,” Nigel tucked the sheets around his legs. It had become cold of a night now – bitterly so. “I can’t just forget about it and go back to sleep!” he protested. “I’m in-god-damn-visible!”

“Then you best get used to it,” snapped James sharply.

Nigel’s resemblance to the background was not perfect. Whenever he moved it took a fraction of a second for his skin to catch up to the change which meant that when moving the wall seemed to lag. However, when perfectly still as he was now, you could not pick him even when you knew where to look.

“We wait ‘till morning,” James insisted, folding himself back into bed. “Then I will provide you with all the assistance you require. I swear it; you shall have my undivided attention.”

*~*~*

It was an exceptionally long, awkward silence. None of them were sure what to say or do and it seemed that James’s idea of ‘help’ was simply to deliver Nigel to Helen’s doorstep and absolve himself of the matter.

“He looks fine,” said Helen, finally. It was true – Nigel sat in the oversized armchair with both hands clinging onto the leather arms like grim death. His clothes were oddly pulled about him as if he had dressed in a hurry and he was a bit pale – Helen would admit to that.

“Well it’s stopped now, ‘asn’t it…” Nigel scolded. He knew that he should be pleased with the sight of his skin but he knew that this present state would not last.

“It’s true,” confirmed James, standing by the fireplace. There were a few hot coals left glowing from the previous night. “I swear, when we set out this morning he was a walking suit – nothing more.”

“She doesn’t believe us,” said Nigel, reclining into the chair. “I told you this would happen. We should have come when it first started.”

*~*~*

John was alarmed by the sudden turn of his head as a hurrying passerby caught the edge of his shoulder. He scowled at once, looking for an apology which he realised would never come as the short man hurried off down the morning street, weaving between the high-hats.

He was about to turn and continue on to his lodgings when he felt his breast pocket and found it light. The miscreant, whomever he was, had taken his purse and papers. With no choice, John dodged two old gentlemen calmly and then launched into a pursuit of the creature he could just catch sight of in the distance.

It was a noble pursuit – spanning many Oxford blocks. At times John felt that he was within arm’s reach of the man and could make out the flurry of heat to his cheeks, perspiration sticking his hair to the broad forehead and the darkening collar of his coat. The hat had long ago departed him, lost somewhere in the street behind as the pair took a turn around the busy corner and found themselves directly in front of the university gates.

“Stop!” John cried out, as the assailant pushed through the iron gates (which were as yet unopened) and dashed along the path leading to the main doors. John could not understand the man’s sense, for surely the university was a trap for any thief to enter.

In the straight, the man was quick and reached the door with extra time to breathe. The heavy wooden things, ornately carved and difficult to open had just begun to close when John slammed his hand firmly into them and heaved them open once again.

To his great distress, the foyer was empty. Without students pattering through it, the room felt harsh and cold with little love shared by the swirls of marble. He had all but lost hope of pursuit when a distant slamming door set him back on the trail. The thief had run up the main staircase and along the passage to the old section of the library – which was also shut up at this early hour. The doors had been forced and were easily re-opened. Once inside John’s eyes trailed across the intricate networks of shelves that were lit only by the morning sun coming through the windows. This effect cast long shadows through the room where one could easily sneak.

He spent the next two hours – until the librarian shrieked in horror at the damage, trying to find the thief but there was no trace of him unless he had made himself into a book.

*~*~*

A great plane of sand stretched out in front of him. It was neither brown nor red but some shade that couldn’t settle in the morning light. His body was freezing. The cold twisted into his limbs and turned his sinews rigid. It wasn’t until he felt the rising sun behind him that he felt his joints shift and his legs able propel up over the ridge and down the other side of the dune.

There was a line of shadows following him. As they drew closer – gaining on him, he realised that they were caused by a struggling group of woman and children. Their exhaustion had wrenched their faces into soulless masks which traipsing endlessly toward the horizon though it always seemed to stretch out of reach.

They were running from their past. An entire civilisation had taken foot and fled and he was among them – leading them. A great sorrow washed over him. The only thing that awaited them was a slow, drawn out death which he moved them ever forward toward.

Nikola gasped – awaking in a fit of tears and despair. He had been there – marching across some wasteland with a child clinging to his shoulder.

“God…” he whispered, catching sight of the first weak beams of morning light through the open window. His breath swirled up through the air, condensing in the cold. It had been more than a dream – it was as if he had actually been standing in the desert, conscious that he would die soon. That desperate sense of hopeless determination took a while to shift as he gathered up the blankets and buried himself, trying to return to sleep

Eventually he gave in. Dressing quickly, he washed his hands again and again before making to the library where he sneaked a few books under his arm.

The librarian, old lady that she was, watched him suspiciously – craning her neck every now and then in his direction. Nikola fitted himself into the rock-lined window sill which looked out across the oval and onto the main gates. The grass was starting to die off and its brown threads had a pink lustre about them in the early light. Two pigeons picked over the expanse, fluttering at each other in jealous love.

He had a heavy book in his lap. Toward the end of it, he found a passage on the great ancient land of the early rulers. His finger slipped along the map from the old city of Cairo west, toward Minqar Abd an Nabi. Where expired rivers baked to dust, the old map showed nothing but unnamed desert – poorly drawn. Still, he could not shake the feeling that he had been there, touched its sand and watched the sun rise over its horrid scene.

To ne može biti…” he whispered. ‘It cannot be!’

*~*~*

“What of this other complaint,” offered Helen, unsure of how to proceed with no symptoms apparent, “is it possible to examine you again?

Nigel was reluctant at first, but did not desire to be turned away. As much as he despised the fact, he suspected Helen to be the better medic of them all. Her father’s blood was strong in her veins and sometimes even, he could see a bit of him in her eyes. His own father, Professor Samuel Griffin, had been a great friend to the elder Magnus. They shared a friendship whilst on the Oxford board but Griffin, like all Griffins throughout their generations, were wise with money and reluctant to watch it drain into endless pits. Nigel did not know of Helen’s knowledge on the matter but it had been Professor Griffin who first suggested that Magnus’s funds be cut in favour of the more lucrative organisation – the Cabal.

They laid him out on the table in the lab – a thing which disturbed Nigel greatly given the morbidity of the object. It was cold and hard beneath his bare back and brought alive all the hairs of his skin so that they stuck up against the air. Helen did not seem to take much note of him as she approached with her hands covered by a pair of cotton gloves. In so many ways, she looked like a magician about to conjure secrets from the world before their eyes.

“Lay still,” she cautioned, as she pressed down on his chest, feeling his ribs one by one before moving to his stomach. Soon he noticed that she was counting, carefully inventorying his innards in a manner that would have disturbed him had he not expressly allowed this.

Then she paused, feeling again and again the same area of his side. As she prodded, he felt a sharp pain.

“Intriguing,” she said curiously, digging further into his side creating great, stabbing, violent pains that racked the centre of his body.

“Careful – Helen,” James lifted a hand towards her arm, but she avoided him easily muttering, ‘Yes, yes, James – don’t fuss around me.’

Then she did something that surprised the others. Without explanation, Helen ducked out of the room and hurried through her father’s office and into the main hallway where she quickly began the ascent of the stairs toward the attic. Since its uncovering, she had not bothered to lock it. It had become another dead secret between her and her father which no longer required breath or keys.

Once inside the dark room, and after lighting a single lantern, she fetched a single precious letter from beneath a heavy book. It was the sole survivor of Nikola’s collection. On it was an impressive piece of ink-work. Stretching to the very edges of the page, which were of the thinnest paper, was detail of a sea creature. The hand that had written details along the margins was not the same as the one whom had written Nikola the letters. This was a piece from a coveted collection – which is why Helen chose to protect it.

A small life-like sketch in the bottom corner represented the octopus in its pre-autopsy glory with the ever-so-slightest humour in its eyes and twist of its tentacles which curled into a border. Beside it was the signature, W. Dampier.

She returned to Nigel who had now straightened and begun engaging in harsh words with his companion. Helen interrupted them, presenting the document.

“It is as I suspected,” she said, thoroughly pleased with herself. She drew them to a detail of the creature’s skin which under extreme magnification showed sacks of something which the detailed key explained were responsible for the animal’s camouflage. She directed them further to an addendum which wrote, ‘other examples of this cause are the contractions of specific muscles which can alter the pigment of the skin’.

Without warning, Helen sharply stuck her hand into Nigel’s stomach. He winced, contorting his face in sudden pain – though the others couldn’t see it. With a wicked grin upon her lips, Helen surveyed the bodiless suit which writhed about on her table.

“Do you require a repetition, or are we convinced of the lump’s purpose?”

“Quite convinced,” hissed the air where Nigel sat.

“Indeed, indeed…” repeated James, finding a new sense of respect for the woman.

“And they have taken the rest of the letters?” Nigel asked, as the pain grew less and his skin gradually found its form, first in waning patches but eventually settling into a solid covering.

“Everything, I am afraid,” she lied. Helen had saved the smallest of samples – a single vial, once fluid ounce; practically nothing…

“Am I dying?” asked Nigel. He replaced his white shirt and began latching it closed. Helen shook her head kindly. He didn’t think that he would ever see compassion drip from her in his direction but in this case it overflowed and spilled into the corners of her eyes.

“No,” she said firmly. “You are very much alive.”

16

HAUNTING IMMORTALS

“What is it, exactly, that you are doing?” Nikola finally looked up from his leather-bound book. John was on his stomach, attempting to see under a set of shelves pushed flush against the back wall.

John withdrew his hands from under the shelf and propped his sizable figure onto his knees. “Nothing,” he replied evasively, clawing his way up the shelf to stand. A large cloud of dust flew off him, wafting into the air where several beams of light cut through them. “Shouldn’t you be up in your attic, playing with the birds?”

Nikola was prepared to ignore the insult. It was John’s usual custom to construct as many of them as possible until one stuck and this morning he would have to do better if he wanted a reaction.

“It is not like you to wander from your domain…” John continued, wiping his hands on his trench-coat.

Nikola inspected his unwanted company with disgust and then said, “I don’t have a ‘domain’.” He turned the page of the fragile Atlas calmly, “You make me out as some kind of bat kept to its cave.”

“Ah but Nikola,” John grinned, “you cannot fly away.”

“True, but I am uncommonly good at sprinting from harm. Give me walls and I shall scale them, have no fear. Good morning,” his tone changed as his eyes flicked away from John and travelled over to the clutter of desks beginning to fill with nervous students. Amongst them, Helen Magnus weaved her way through until she arrived at Nikola and John.

“I hoped to find you here,” she said to the both of them without preference. “I have news that you must hear at once – but not here…” she added quickly. “Nigel has inadvertently made a discovery that I think shall intrigue you.”

Nikola had already closed his book and laid it on the stone windowsill with no intention of returning it to its proper place but John bowed his head and said, “I’m sorry, but you must excuse me. I have an urgent matter to attend to that cannot wait.” Without further explanation, he hastened past them and vanished out of the library, trailing a hand over the side of the doors as he went.

“Urgent matter?” asked Helen curiously, as Nikola slid off the sill.

“No good asking me,” he said. “John shares only what he thinks will injure me.”

“Perhaps it is best that we are alone,” she stepped to the side, hinting that they too, should leave the library. “As we have that other matter to discuss.”

*~*~*

Nikola did not appreciate the crispness of the morning until he found himself strolling through it with Helen by his side. Added to his usual attire was a warm white scarf that hung evenly over his buttoned coat, a set of black gloves and a tall hat which made him appear unnaturally lofty and ever so slightly elegant. He had not offered his arm, so instead Helen stayed close with her hands clutched in front of her.

The limbs of a beautiful oak bent in front of them, infringing on the path with red leaves. Some of them had fallen loose and scattered over the stone. Nikola ducked, reaching up to his hat as they navigated it.

“I have practised so many ways of telling you the following,” she started, “but in the end I decided that it would be best just to show you this-” Helen fetched an old letter from somewhere in the folds of her dress. She offered the sad looking envelope to Nikola until he took it from her.

Without any discernible change in his countenance, he removed the document from its casings, unfolded it carefully and read it through. He handed it back to her as they disturbed the pair of pigeons he had seen earlier – they were still playing in the dew laden grass, fetching each other gifts.

Although he did not say anything to her, Helen could tell that he believed every word that he had read.

“Your letters,” she offered, after it was clear he would not make a comment, “I am ashamed to say, have been stolen.”

This time Nikola stopped and dipped his head. Helen was not sure if it was anger or despair that ripped a sigh from his chest.

“I am sorry, Nikola,” Helen said earnestly. “They took everything, including the blood.”

For the first time since the night of the experiment, Nikola caught her in a fierce gaze. The curtains that hid others’ souls were absent from his steel eyes. Whenever they chose to look, they betrayed every flickering desire he had ever dreamed.

“It is of no great matter,” he replied, even though she saw a kind of torture wrack his heart. “I fear that there is worse awaiting us.”

Helen shivered with the turn of breeze.

“Our ages past are full of blood,” Nikola continued, “so much that the ground must be stained by it and rivers flow below the earth in gushing torrents of sorrow. Life approaches like an ocean stirring in the distance. Its crests mark our suffering and the next wave is arching up to meet us, I can feel its icy spray on our necks.”

She reached out for his hand but instead he took hold of her wrist and stepped closer.

“The answers are inside us now,” he held on to her tightly. “Their manifestations will either be salvation or destruction.”

“And me?” she asked, combating his imposition by lifting her free hand and laying it on his cheek.

“I can’t make you out,” Nikola leant slightly into her touch. There was warmth beneath the leather gloves and a gentle comfort.

Two sets of wings brush past them, grazing their clothes in a white blur as the pigeons scattered into the greying sky. The morning’s beauty had passed and now the clouds revealed their true, solemn shapes as they lapped at the city.

*~*~*

John waited patiently for his coach to wrestle through the traffic. The horses fidgeted at the long stops, pulling at their leather reins and shaking their heads as if in despair at the line of carriages in front of them. The street itself was soft from the past rains. Wheels venturing too near the gutters found themselves digging great grooves or veering violently.

It was well after ten when John was jerked forward. The coachman alighted and opened the door. A storm of discarded newspapers scraped past him, churning against the buildings in a filthy storm.

There was a crowd in front of the police station’s doors, with at least a dozen officers reaching over their colleagues to retrieve some form of handout. Once they obtained this document they retreated along the front wall, reading it intently with fingers brushing over their moustaches.

“Excuse me,” John said, merging into the seething crowd. He was taller than them and easily located the front desk. “I would like to report a theft,” he announced loudly. The chatter of the crowd was overbearing.

One of the crowd’s elbows accidentally stabbed into his back as they swelled, knocking John into the desk where he dislodged a tower of paper. The pages slid over each other as the fanned out over the bench in front of the disapproving secretary. John muttered an apology, quickly straightening the paper when their heading caught his attention. While the secretary processed his theft report, John plucked one of the pamphlets free and began to read.

Echo
London, U.K.
31 August 1888

HORRIBLE MURDER IN WHITECHAPEL.
WOMAN SHOCKINGLY MUTILATED.
HEAD NEARLY CUT OFF.

A tragedy, even more revolting in its details than that of George-yard, and surrounded apparently with circumstances fully as mysterious, has just occurred at Bucks-row, a low class neighbourhood, adjoining Whitechapel-road. Passing the Essex Wharf, in Bucks-row, at about 4.30 this morning, Constable Neale, 97J, found lying on the pavement there the dead body of a woman. On further examination her head was found to have been very nearly severed from her body. A horrible gash, fully an inch in width, extending from one side of the neck to the other, completely severing the windpipe. The lower portion of the abdomen also was completely ripped open, causing the bowels to protrude. The woman was at once conveyed to the mortuary, where she now lies. She is apparently about five and thirty years of age, with dark hair, of medium height, and with small features. Her clothing, which was examined by Inspector Helson, is scanty, consisting only of a threadbare cloak with a hood, a brown dress, and a petticoat, which bears the mark of Lambeth workhouse. The woman has not yet been identified.

It is thought that the woman was assailed by some man with whom she had been in company. Her front teeth had been knocked out, the woman probably having received a kick in the mouth from her assailant.

“Horrid, isn’t it?” said the secretary, handing him a form to sign. Momentarily stunned, John stared at the story.

“Yes,” he finally said, setting the paper back down with the others.

*~*~*

“When is your father coming home?” John asked Helen, later that day.

Helen was seated opposite him at the dining table, sorting through armfuls of notes while he quietly sipped a cold cup of tea.

“Lord knows, he doesn’t tell me,” she replied, as another pile of papers were deposited in the box on the floor – successfully sorted.

“It is not good for you to be alone,” he continued, finishing his tea. “A young woman, by herself – there must be some relative with whom you could stay?”

“John,” a grin crept in, “you wouldn’t be worrying over me, would you?” He was silent to her accusation. “The Cabal have been at my door for weeks, sometimes beyond it – what has brought about this sudden sentiment?”

“Nothing, only – well I read of a terrible thing that happened in London yesterday and it just made me think.” He didn’t know why, but Helen’s house never seemed safe to him. The windows were too high with easily broken glass, the doors were not set with heavy hinges and any man of reasonable fitness could manage to climb the outer wall to the unprotected windows above.

She set aside her work and reclined in the chair. “John…” she cautioned.

*~*~*

The dune fell away with every step, sucking in his feet and allowing them to be lost in the unbearable heat of the sand. In the distance he could hear the steady approach of drums.

Stop it!” he yelled, hitting the wall fiercely with his hand. Nikola forced his eyes to see the empty room around him rather than the shimmering expanse of desert sky that refused to shift from his sight. It was like another reality was trying to creep into his world and take over. He felt anger with every part of his body – overbearing hatred that wasn’t his, and thirst, the likes of which he had never known.

A hot trickle of blood rolled over his wrist. Its heat snapped Nikola back into the real world. He inspected where he had cut himself on a sharp protrusion of stone. The scarlet changed course as he turned his arm, spiralling around him. He tilted his head. Light refracted through its various layers giving it a jewel-like appearance. There was even a smell to it that he had never noted before – some kind of metallic underlay that infected the very rivers and towns of the modern world.

There was something else…

Nikola brought his wrist up to his mouth. He could feel his skin creep and a shudder through the edges of his fingertips – “No!” he jerked backwards, slamming against the floor.

*~*~*

Helen frowned wearily at her rat. It was laid out on the table of the basement, wheezing and twitching its whiskers with no real interest in life. Its features were skinny and sharp with numerous bones protruding from its fur which itself had become patchy. The murderous rat – which had hastily dispatched of its kinsman, was now barely able to draw breath.

She had provided it with a buffet of food but it refused to touch any of it. Fearing for its survival, she had even set it free but it would not leave her care. She sat with it through the afternoon and into the evening. Eventually it stirred and with great effort, crawled over to her hand, for she had fallen asleep on the table with it not far from her, and curled up against her skin then fell asleep. There they stayed, one asleep and the other, for eternity.

John opened the door quietly. The candle Helen had left burning was now a decorative mound of wax with a small flame. She was awkwardly sprawled between the chair and the table with her arm outstretched. Her face was obscured by a mass of golden hair but the gentle rise and fall of her figure told him that she was peacefully asleep.

He should have woken her, but he didn’t have the heart. Instead, he crept quietly to the table and gently quashed the candle.

*~*~*

“Does anyone else notice that we’re losing all the rats? I’m sorry to say it,” continued Nigel, during another uncontrolled fit of invisibility, “but that nagging fact does not bode well for us.”

“Well, so far – only you,” James pointed out.

Nigel shook his head, “Don’t tell me that you haven’t felt it – James…”

“I will admit,” said James after several struts around their dormitory. It was several days after the death of the last rat and Nigel’s invisibility had become more frequent and prolonged. His unexpected disappearances had frightened a maid, causing her to faint and to their great fortune, forget the reason. “That after the initial prick I had the strangest sensation. My mind was full to the point that I thought my scalp would give way to the pounding of my brain against it.”

“And then?” Nigel prompted.

“Then, something snapped. A floodgate opened and there was room for thought. Since then ideas which have been held stagnant for so long have evolved and spun themselves into tapestries ready to be written out.”

“You – are – so – full of it.”

“You asked…”

“It’s Helen I’m worried about,” Nigel changed the topic. “She seems – indifferent to the whole affair.”

“Are you certain?” James grasped a nearby quill and ran the feather through his fingers. “She suffered worse than all of us in the start.”

“Like a fever,” Nigel continued, “and fought it off.”

“A natural immunity to the blood. I wonder if she knows?”

“A woman always knows their body better than a man. I only question why she hasn’t told us yet.”

“Neither of us have been particularly kind to her. I often wish we’d started differently.”

James scratched the nib of the quill across the desk without ink. It left a single, slender mark from one end to the other. Nigel frowned at it, nudging closer for a better look. James made a second stroke, which crossed over the first in an elegant, two sided curve.

“Sanctuary,” James said, hinting at the design. “It was on the cover of the book I have just finished. I don’t know,” his voice seemed to linger slightly, “the thought appeals to me, of this place as a form of Sanctuary we can retreat to when the world fails to understand us. A house of knowledge.”

“Or a cramped, poor smelling dormitory,” Nigel corrected. “I think that you’ve been left alone with your books too long.”

“I find the need to guard them – you have heard, I suspect, of John’s theft. He lost a wallet and his travelling papers.”

“He’s not the only one to suffer a thief. I was down visiting my mother – she is regrettably ill at the present, and I turned to help her from the park bench when some shadow made off with my best knife from the medical kit – father will have me for that.”

“The age!” sighed James dramatically. “We shall have to bolt the doors and release the hounds…” He couldn’t help it if there was an eager glimmer in his eye.

“I think that it’s time we took you out,” said Nigel, hauling James from behind the desk.

17

SHERLOCK

London was bleak.

An unpleasant level of cold crunched his joints together in protest and forced James to retreat into the corner of the carriage where he enticed the little warmth that could be found between the worn leather and tattered curtain.

“See…” said Nigel enthusiastically, opening the window and sticking his head into the rush of air.

The coach made a sharp turn and in amongst the narrow streets they caught a glimpse of the Houses of Parliament – almost new with their cream sandstone blocks standing proudly. Only a few scaffolds remained, tangling at the far corners.

While there remained evidence of the 1834 firestorm in the approaching streets, the official grounds of the state had scrubbed and rebuilt diligently, burying the tragedy. The ruined buildings had been substituted with those of the modern age. Strong, tall and impressively intricate – these replacements were meant to represent the new era of humanity – the Victorian era. James thought them vile.

“You should not be doing that in your condition.”

“Nonsense,” replied Nigel, defiantly, ducking back inside with flushed cheeks. “I’m in agony – which means I won’t be vanishin’ into thin air anytime soon.”

“Is that your professional opinion or Helen’s?” James said, rubbing his hands together for warmth. It was rash to be acting on such whims at times like these. For all they knew, their altered state of health could present a danger to others and themselves – and he wasted no time reminding Nigel of it.

Just as James’s stomach decided that it had had enough of the constant rocking, their ride ended abruptly in front of a line of shops with people milling quietly about, ducking from door to door. The instant that he stepped down from the coach, James decided that he desired nothing better than to be back in Oxford, sitting quietly behind his desk with a book or two.

“Can I leave you here for a moment?” Nigel inquired, shepherding his friend toward one of the coffee houses nestled between the cold brick façades. The bitter smell was almost enough to turn James to the gutter. “I have a moment’s business to attend to and then we shall have the day to explore. You won’t – wander off… or get into trouble, I trust?”

James ignored the accusation – which hardly instilled confidence in Nigel.

“Go – if you will,” James stretched his arm out to the street in front. His warnings be damned. Nigel slowly took a few steps forward, apprehensively joining the crowd. “Foolhe muttered under his breath, after Nigel disappeared.

James pulled his coat in tight as another gust of wind ripped through the street, funnelled by the narrow lanes. ‘Grey’ was about the best compliment he could pay London. Compared to the seasonal mood of Oxford which melted between green and amber all the way through to snowy white depending on the season, these streets were inherently dull. The mess of the horses and the ever-present drizzle of rain made him sigh loudly with disapproval.

Bored, James slighted the coffee shop and instead began to pace down the street in the opposite direction, ambling into nowhere.

*~*~*

The pile of books in Nikola’s room grew. Documents that he had scoffed at, slept through or shunned now lay open on the floor where he sieved through them, nose to their pages which turned with such hurry that they disturbed the candlelight.

What was left of the morning had now passed over his window and sent his den into shade and cold. He lay across the floorboards, sheltered in this half-light. His mouth pained and, as children do, he had set to chewing things to quell the irritation as his teeth became more and more protuberant. Like a glistening row of knives, they grinned at him whenever he caught his reflection on a piece of broken glass from the window. The sight horrified him. His sullen cheeks and pale skin recoiled in fright and if he was not mistaken, there was a darkening of his fearful eyes with shadows as if he had stolen them from the room.

Nikola struggled with reality – sometimes he felt the hot sand slide beneath him, scorching through his stomach and tearing his skin away in vicious gusts but then at other times, the cold boards of the room in which he lay returned. It was a never ending reverie, a flickering mirage which could not settle – a disturbing place between two lives in which he felt tangled and yet further removed than ever.

His fingers slid over another paragraph as he tried to read its words again. It told of horrible stories and dark places of the earth’s soul where creatures of the twilight crept, kept alive by the blood of the living. Nikola’s body shook. Icy waves ran over his skin, draining its colour further. Somewhere in the distance there was a pounding of hooves, separate to these other dream worlds. Their rhythmic thunder bound his thoughts together as he shook his head and the pages of the books returned to sight as the candle burnt out.

There was a commotion at his window as a set of wings stirred, hopping along the sill. The pigeon ruffled its feathers and let out a gentle cooing as it danced around for his attention. Nikola did not detect the intrusion, and instead shook off another wave of pain until he noticed an unnatural taste on his tongue. Horrified, he felt a warm trickled down his chin and realised that his teeth had pierced through his gum.

“Hush – away, away!” Nikola waved his hand at the pigeon when it pecked him sharply.

*~*~*

Finally James made it out of the cluttered streets and into an open square. A bell nearby tolled, announcing the morning hour. Several people perked up and scurried away, realising their lateness as James strutted over the pavement.

He was halfway though, in the very centre of the square where two Peterhead granite fountains bubbled happily, when he felt the hairs on his neck twitch.

An enormous blur of grey, dirty looking pigeons flocked at his feet but refused to take flight as stepped through them. They bobbed their heads en mass and a few flapped as they skipped away. Filthy creatures, thought James, he could not understand the old women throwing seed at them from the edge of the fountains – but no amount of walking could shake the feeling off. Eventually, James was compelled to stop turn around where he found a sight that startled him.

“Excuse me, do you mind?” he said, to the tall man bent double with his nose almost grazing James’s shoe.

The strange man who had been casing James down the street and into the square stopped and, ever so slowly – like the wheels of a train first seeking motion, righted himself. He had at least a foot on James’s height but was so slender that a strong enough breeze would more than likely have been his demise. He wore a simple brown coat, sturdy shoes and carried a sharp gentleman’s stick which at present tapped threateningly on the ground.

“And you are?” James inquired, when the man did nothing but tilt his head and stare intently.

“I am not here,” he replied, with a scratchy voice.

James wrote the creature off as a poorly skilled thief. He eyed the man in warning and then continued on his way. He thought he was free until the tall man’s shadow sauntered up behind and resumed its pursuit. This time, James did not stop. He spun around, continuing his motion as he stepped carefully backwards. His, for lack of a better term, ‘stalker’ was not only following him, but mimicking his step in length and pace but all the while keeping his eyes locked on the muddy leather travel shoes.

Suddenly, the man’s head snapped up and he went to speak. James though, felt his heel catch in a misplaced stone and before he knew it, he was tumbling backwards. The ground was solid and cold. It dazed James for a moment when he found himself sprawled over it. A few Londoners grinned smugly as they passed to which James angrily glared.

“Are you all right?” said the thin man, not offering his hand.

James muttered under his breath as he staggered back to his feet and began dusting off his jacket. “Who are you?” James repeated sharply.

“The bigger question is not who I am as the answer to that is apparent to me, but rather, who are you, sir?”

“Someone who finds you intensely irritating,” James replied, deciding to step past the thin man and return back the way he had come. He had had enough of this city, and its inhabitants. This time though, the man extended his cane and tripped James who snarled fiercely as he landed on the ground again.

“Mind your step,” said the man, innocently drawing his cane behind his back, out of sight.

James didn’t bother getting up. “Fine, you have my attention,” he said, sitting on the pavement. “I am James Watson, soon to be a doctor in trade – now what is it that you want?”

“Oh yes,” the man replied, “I know that you a doctor. How long have you been in London?”

“This morning, but I assure you, I shan’t be back in a hurry.”

“From whence did you come?”

“Sorry –”James shook his head, wondering why on earth he was answering this rude man’s questions. He returned to his feet in a huff. “Good day to you sir, whoever you may be.”

“Sherlock Holmes…” the man offered, extending his hand before James could flee. “But you’ll excuse me if I don’t shake on it.” His hand trembled as he withdrew it and Sherlock quickly hid it in his pocket. The man’s fragility was not only due to his height – there was a definite fracturable quality about his features which, like a mirror, were sharp in their reflection but easily shattered.

“Oxford…” replied James, still wary of him. “Are those all your – where are you going?”

Sherlock Holmes had nodded at James’s answer as if some great truth had spread its wings before him. Now, he was making a speedy get away through the square, sending large flocks of birds into the air.

*~*~*

When Helen could not find Nikola, she retreated to the one place she could always trust to keep him.

Though it was mid-morning, she found his attic consumed by shadow. The candles he usually kept lit and the lamps that burned sweet, foreign oil had all been snuffed or burnt to the floor where they sat in sad yellow puddles.

From the darkest corner of the room, she heard a soft pigeon coo.

“Nikola?” she whispered, stepping through the scattered books littering his floor like some great ocean. He was there, curled up against the wall with a giant book held open in his lap. Nikola was reading intently when the pigeon scared and alerted him to her presence. “How can you read in this darkness?”

“I do not know,” he replied quietly, not leaving the page. “But I can.”

The sight of him brought her to a pause. He was half dead – drawn out and pale looking. Had it not been for the steady breath leaving his chest and movement of his lips, she would have assumed him lost. “You are ghostly…” she said gently. “Please, come down with me before you make yourself ill.”

“I fear,” he replied after a moment, “that it may be too late for that. In these matters, knowledge will be our greatest ally – and I must seek it out.”

She saw it now – it was a neither a mood nor a fever that had taken hold of Nikola these past days, but some dark force. “And what do you know?” she asked carefully.

Nikola’s especially dark eyes closed, blocking out the room as he spoke. A great curve of sand stretched across his vision and in the distance, he thought he saw a fleck of green nestled between the rises of glaring heat.

“Lives that are not my own…” he started. “I have been living these dreams for days now. They are too real – disturbingly so. I cannot shake them even in the daylight hours and they are full of approaching dread. My head is consumed by hatred but I cannot place its cause. I am thirsty and starving yet I cannot bring myself to eat because the thought of it sends me into fits.” He opened his eyes. “Where are your thoughts?” he asked her, when he saw that Helen had turned her head to the open window. A soft breeze was blowing her golden hair across her face, caging her features behind its ringlet bars.

“That the impossible is true,” she replied, “that you have lived these things before. I have seen accounts like these written in my father’s journal.”

“Either you are correct,” Nikola said, beckoning her closer, “and these memories will turn me mad…”

Helen sensed that he had not finished. “Or?” she prompted.

“Or you are wrong, and I am mad already. Will you sit with me a while? Maybe my grip on this world will be stronger if you are nearby.”

Helen hesitated. “Only if you let me light the lamps,” she whispered.

*~*~*

This time it was James who did the following. He tracked this, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ through the bustling crowd and down a main street where a smaller crowd of police officers were occupied with pushing back onlookers. They seemed to part as Sherlock approached. Two officers in particular nodded their heads at him.

“Holmes…” they said quietly together.

As this mass divided, James discovered the cause of their congregation. There lay at their centre a ghastly sight.

“Oh … Christ in hell…” James turned his head over his shoulder in horror. When he dared look back to the body on the pavement he had to fight the urge to collapse. In plain sight was the naked remains of what he could only assume had been a woman. She was laid open, sliced apart like a slaughtered animal. Dark pools of blood had dried around her form in a kind of grotesque halo. Parts of her were separate and others entirely missing.

Sherlock Holmes was not fazed by the atrocity of the sight. Calm as you like, he paced in circles round the corpse paying particular attention to the boot tracks left through the blood. He measured their spacing with his own step and shook his head solemnly in disappointment. There were a few muddy stains accompanying the footprints to which he paid particular interest.

“You are a police officer,” noted James, tapping Sherlock on the shoulder.

Sherlock had quite neglected to notice that his suspect had followed him. “Certainly not,” he scoffed at the idea. “My trade is private.”

James shrugged and returned to the body. “This is truly the most horrid thing I have seen,” he said kneeling close to the body. Several of the officers warned him away, but Sherlock appeared over his shoulder and hushed at the others.

After a great while, Sherlock spoke quietly, no longer able to bear the intrigue. “You have a thought,” he said, “I see it pacing about your mind.”

“These are not the incisions of a mindless violence,” admitted James finally. “They are purposeful strokes executed with patience and proper tools. I fear that you have here something more sinister than a crime of passion.”

Sherlock Holmes was not a man to grin. His features were too drawn for joy, his lips too thin to smile and the lines on his face unable to do justice to the mood – still, there was a flash of something across his eyes that betrayed his passion. There was nothing better for a man of observation than to catch onto the first scent of the hunt.

“Very good,” said Sherlock. “My conclusion also.”

“And for reasons I have yet to learn, earlier you suspected me of the crime but now – now you have learned something of the killer and of me.”

“You observe keenly.”

“As do you…” The air seemed to thicken with dark grit. Instead of grey – the streets felt decidedly dark and threatening.

“Come,” Sherlock beckoned James to his feet, “we shall speak more of these dark things.”

18

MISSING TIME

“You are particularly smug…” noted Nigel, when he finally found James lounging at the back of a coffee house. Granted, it was not the one which he had left him in but Nigel appreciated the gesture.

“Smug?” James raised his well kept eyebrow, “Surely not…”

His dark hair, usually swept neatly over his head and around his ears, was out of place. Several repressed curls had broken free and twisted at will, acquiring odd angles with the side of James’s cheek. Nigel spied patches of dirt on James’s jacket which also bared the glaring addition of a gold pocket watched pinned to his breast pocket – very unlike the Watson he knew.

Nigel collapsed onto the chair beside him. The room was pleasantly dark and warm, quite ‘den-like’ and full of swirling clouds of cigar smoke. He was feeling moderately better and quite enjoyed the dim light.

“What did you do?” he asked with an air of suspicion, placing a small parcel on the table and calling for a drink.

“Nothing that would interest you,” James replied. “Your work is done, I presume,” he said, observing the brown paper item tied half-heartedly with ribbon, “but I am sorry to say that I cannot leave London yet.”

Nigel frowned, taking a second look at his friend. His drink clinked down on the table as he leant forward and replied, “Come again?”

“Business of my own will delay me for several days. I will catch the train back to Oxford when I am finished.”

A quick breath of laughter filled the room as Nigel raised his hands aloft in cheer. “Nice try,” he grinned, hunting out a glass of water lingering on the edge of the table and taking a sip. “Nice try… Time we left I think, this London air’s getting to you,” but James was sincere and merely matched Nigel’s glass with a wink and drained it – ignoring his bewildered companion.

*~*~*

“And where is he now?” John and Helen sat in a quiet corner of the garden.

The sun was high but its weak sphere lacked the warmth of the months past. It hung over them wearily as the Earth spun ever away from it in a constant slight. Everything was gradually going quiet – the trees turning to skeletons, crickets silencing their calls and the dogs of the street retreating to their hovels in the bleak patches of thicket behind the town.

Helen adjusted her white gloves and then pulled her shall in tight around her shoulders. It kicked up in the breeze as she turned to John with her soft reply. “In his room,” she said, “I cannot wake him.”

“Call the doctor-”

“I daren’t,” Helen replied quickly, taking hold of John’s arm as he went to stand. He looked back at her, confused. “If you could see the state of him – Nikola scarcely looks human. Anyone we call would ask too many questions.” She was quiet for a moment, “I do not believe his life is in danger,” she added.

John slowly settled. “He is sleeping, that is all?”

“A deep sleep from which he can’t be stirred.”

“You should have James attend to him. He is the best doctor of us all.”

Ordinarily she would take offence but as much as it vexed her, there was more than common skill in James’s touch so instead, she nodded.

“I agree, but both he and Nigel are in London.” This time it was Helen who left her seat and began to pace across the fading lawn. John followed, coming to her side where he felt for her hand. “I have blocked out the light from his room as best I can and wrapped a blanket over him. The darkness seems to calm his sleep.”

John tangled his fingers in hers, stopping her progress towards the path. She was leaving him already, heading back to the main building. Worry was draining her complexion of all its beautiful colour, sucking the very life from her. He feared that she would wilt and die like the flowers had around them and fall back to the earth one petal at a time.

“Then we must wait,” he lowered his mouth to her hand and kissed it affectionately. “Please, do not worry – all will be well,” he insisted.

She caught him by surprise, dragging him toward her and draping herself over his shoulder in a desperate embrace. Helen wove herself around him, clinging passionately until he gave in and dipped his head toward her neck.

“I wish that I could believe you,” she murmured, as his arms tightened, “but this is all my doing. If I had not insisted that night –”

“Hush,” John drew away enough to see her face. He had always known Helen to be a strong force, fearsome even as she traced her way through the university halls like she owned their marble floors, but what he saw scant inches from him was a frightened girl. “I give you my word, Helen, everything will be fine. We will fetch James as soon as he returns and he can see to Nikola. For now – let him sleep.”

She pulled away. “Still… this has gone too far. Our rash actions are starting to exhibit consequences that we’re not prepared for. Nigel – I can’t even begin to understand what is happening to him. He may not show it but he endures hideous pain and James is disturbed by the heightened state of his senses. He sees things, smells them and hears them long before the rest of us. The minute details of the world are overwhelming him and unless he finds a use for his gift it will drive him mad.”

“Are…” he stammered, cleared his throat and started anew. “Are you all right, Helen?”

Helen nodded. “And you? I see so little of-”

“Do not worry, I am fine,” he insisted.

John waited with Helen as long as he could but as afternoon came and went, he was called away by an insistent professor and had not returned. It was now early evening and she was seated behind James’s desk in the dormitory. The room was much cleaner now that his animal captives had been let loose. Even the unnamed pig had been freed to Nigel’s farm where, she had heard, it played alongside her dragon – Helen could see that relationship ending in tears…

James had not given away his obsession with chemistry though – glassware littered the benches and if anything, had grown to plague proportions. Their bubbling contents released heavens knew what into the air whilst she was certain that he had left something growing in the Petri dishes nearest to her. The combination left her drowsy as she stared blankly at the wall in front of her.

She was startled when the door shuddered. It creaked open then closed and locked on its own without a soul passing through it.

“Helen?” exclaimed the empty room in fright. “What are you doing here?”

Blinking back sleep, Helen made out the faint outline of Nigel moving toward the cupboard where he promptly fished out a coat and wrapped it around himself causing a peculiar sight.

The bodiless coat approached.

“Not again…” sighed Helen. “That’s three times in a week.” His spells of invisibility were becoming more frequent.

“I know,” he replied. “And I had to leave my best clothes in London. People tend to stare at floating outfits. Had a hell of a time catchin’ a ride home like this.”

“Where is James?” she asked, setting the feathered pen which she had been using down on the desk.

“As always, I am glad to see that you desire my company.” If he hadn’t been transparent, she would have seen him avert his eyes to the floor in real despair.

“It’s not like that…” she insisted.

*~*~*

Nigel and Helen stood against the far wall of Nikola’s attic. Their backs were pressed painfully against the cold stone as they shivered, unnerved by Nikola.

He was awake and seated on the floor between two oil lamps. The curtain over the window had been pulled back to reveal the swelling moon, creeping into the sky above clouds. Layers of mist worked their way up the walls of the university, hiding the grounds in undulating river of cloud. Some of it had settled inside the room and snaked around Nikola, almost affectionately.

Nikola was reading from an old scroll which tumbled onto the floor with its unread end curled up. He had not given any indication that he was aware of their presence, nor had he spoken since they had begun watching him.

Helen and Nigel were speechless. If Nikola had appeared inhuman before, he was positively fictitious now.

His skin had sunk away from his bones and lost its colour. As he finger trailed along the lines of handwritten text it was followed by the scratching sound of his overly long fingernail which tapered into a claw-like hook. By far the most frightening change in Nikola’s appearance was his eyes. They were large expanses of jet black where his pupils had consumed the whole eye leaving only pits. They bared no expression as they diverted from the page to the faces of his audience.

Nikola lowered the scroll.

“You must leave,” said Nikola, in an impassionate voice that sent cold chills over the necks of Helen and Nigel. It was not a request, but a warning.

Nigel, who had been visible for a while now, stepped protectively in front of Helen. “We need to examine you, Nikola. I believe that you are experiencing a side effect of –”

“You must leave,” Nikola repeated.

Nigel hastened a glance at Helen before replying, “Why?” He knew his question to be unwise the moment he had asked it, for Nikola’s eyes expanded slightly while his head tilted to the side. If he was not mistaken, there was a row of sharp teeth glittering beneath the man’s lip two of which extended well beyond the others.

“Because I can hear your hearts thumping in my ears,” Nikola lifted a taloned hand, pointing at them. Though he kept his voice steady, it peaked ever so slightly with urgency.

A strong breeze through the window upset the lanterns. The room hovered in and out of darkness. Nikola was now standing as a single shadow, imposing on the room as he lingered by the wall where a couple of feathers tumbled by. They had not seen him move there.

Helen’s eyes strayed to a dark stain on the floor. Great streaks of crimson were smeared over the floorboards in front of Nikola, and, as the lights brightened and the chill-laden air settled, Helen saw a bundle of feathers in amongst the shadows.

Nikola remained deathly still.

“You best hurry…” he insisted. “My reading of our condition disturbs me but there is nothing we can do this deep in the night.”

“What are you on about?” Nigel progressed cautiously into the room. Helen had been right about Nikola, his body was riddled with something foreign – a dark spell or ancient curse.

Nikola ignored the dangerously close Nigel.

“Helen,” he did not look at her, instead choosing to turn his back on them and speak to the empty wall, “lock the hatch and don’t come back here until the first light of morning.”

“Com’on now,” Nigel was barely an arm’s length from him, “you’re scaring her, Nikola, let us take a look at –”

*~*~*

John stirred. The room was dark and empty save for a destroyed mirror resting against the wall and an odd collection of specimen jars. He rolled over, clutching his head as it throbbed in his hands. John swore, certain that he could feel his skin peeling back and laying itself over the dust-ridden marble.

He was in the spare classroom where he had met the professor only it was much later in the evening and all the lights were out. The professor too, had left long ago and now there was only John writhing on the floor in agony.

These headaches had worsened over the last week. At first he had thought them to be a side effect of the large volumes of wine he had taken to consuming but then they began appearing at all hours, increasing in severity. Two days ago he had had his first blackout – a complete wipe of his memory. He had found himself alone in Oxford’s park, asleep on the grass near the lake with no idea of how he had arrived there.

The truth literally hurt – he was suffering ill effects of the experiment. Like the others, pain seemed to be a common feature in their reactions. So far John was hoping it would be the only thing that he would have to endure.

Eventually the pain subsided and he was able to pick himself up off the floor. He headed to the double glass doors and leant against them, staring out at the evening. The moon lit the heavy fog and a few skeletal branches criss-crossed the star patterns. The nights were getting longer as winter edged its way in. Before long twilight would be the new day and the stars their main light.

*~*~*

Sherlock had brought his new companion to an empty room. There was nothing particularly special about the barren expanse of floorboards or single window that broke the otherwise grey walls, but the tall man retreated to an abandoned corner and puffed away expectantly on his pipe, motioning for Watson’s opinion.

James Watson waved away a thin trail of smoke and eyed the room carefully. The centrepiece of the room was a very obvious streak of blood smudged into the thickly layered dust.

“There has been no-one in this room,” added Sherlock, as James remained fixated on the floor, “since I followed the man whom I believed to be the killer here.”

“You’ve seen him?” James snapped his head around as his companion puffed another cloud into the room.

“After the first murder I took to lurking through London’s streets after dark. I was ready to give up my new hobby when I heard the poor lady’s screams. By the time I reached her, the man had completed his hideous business and was fleeing through the side streets. This townhouse has one entrance – down the stairs and through the door we entered. When the man did not reappear after many hours, I risked a peek inside and found things as you see them. He, whomever he is, vanished.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time a criminal has evaded capture.”

“No…” Sherlock replied, amused. “But I do believe it may be the first time that one has literally vanished into thin air…”

James followed Sherlock’s sharp eyeline and realised the reason that he had been brought here. The deep sheet of dust in the floor told the story of the night’s events. Like a book, it could be easily read. The man, the killer, had entered the room hastily with long strides and come to rest by the opposing window. He had lingered there, no doubt watching the sky until he stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. There were slide marks and great sweeps of clean floor near the blood stain where someone had sat and then – that was it. There was no more to the story. No tracks returning to the door or body in the room. The man had vanished, simple as that. Which was impossible.

“I see…” said James, taking out a handkerchief and wiping his forehead.

Sherlock lifted his head and exhaled a long trail of smoke. “I thought you might,” he replied.

19

DREAMSCAPES OF THE INSANE

They were not far now. The ground beneath the desperate human convoy had begun to thin, giving way to grey stone beneath. Glimpses of sapphire stole their eyes where hints of water blinked in the dips of the horizon. This great river system which waned in and out of flood, spurned the people into a final surge despite its desperate salt encrusted banks.

The strongest of the group overtook Nikola as they clawed up a ridge of sand then stopped, gazing out over the sunken land beneath. There was a long, distorted mirror of the sun in the snake-like tract of water which ran as far as they could see from curve to curve. A small port waited for them somewhere on its edge and beyond the white sails – the promise of freedom.

It was a long way to those ships.

Nikola let the others pass him. He turned away from the beautiful scene back toward the desert they had just survived. The sound of drums and marching feet was still creeping closer. Even through the sharp wind that kicked at his ears, he was able to make out the distant clink of swords and shouted words from the fearsome commander.

He set down the child in his arms. It smiled and ran off in chase of the other children tumbling down the last dune with cries of delight. Nikola searched the sand, whispering curses into the air until a blinding point of light burst into life like the sun itself, rising to greet the day.

His body froze and for a moment all he could do was watch as more and more flecks of light emerged until they formed a definite line backed by a darker smear of men. It was an army.

Nikola ran his tongue through his sharp teeth and out across his cracked lips. The deep pits of his black eyes erupted with a flash of red as he snarled and dropped everything save his knife to the ground.

*~*~*

“Don’ – don’ touch me,” Nigel retreated from her, falling toward the dormitory wall where he collapsed, shaking and clutching his shoulder. Several deep gashes cut through his skin which splayed out in horrific sheets. It was difficult to see the extent of the damage as his body shimmered, rippling in and out of focus.

Loud crashes barely made it through Nigel’s haze of pain as Helen rooted through James’s possessions in search of the medical kit, scattering its contents in her careless haste. Nigel wasn’t sure how much time had passed but there was a large pool of sticky blood forming on the ground by the time she returned to him with a bottle of whisky.

This time, he did not fight her off. He groped for the bottle, held it to his mouth and gulped the raw liquid until the fire in his throat distracted him from the lacerations on his chest. When he woke he found a somewhat untidy track of stitching tying him back together. The bottle of whisky rested half-empty beside him so he reached over but it was snapped away.

“No,” said Helen firmly, shifting it out of his reach. “When I’ve finished, you can drink the remainder.” She unfurled several strips of ripped sheet, frowning – they were not as clean as she would have liked.

“Doctor?” It was a request, not an observation.

This distressed her. “I can’t,” she whispered, sloshing the alcohol over him. He groaned and fought back a cry when she silenced him with a gentle hand over his mouth. “You mustn’t,” she cautioned. “It is late and they will hear you.”

“Give m’that!” he muttered, snatching the bottle. Disgruntled neighbours were the last of his worry. Helen wound the bandages tightly around his girth as best she could, fastening them with pins. “I’ll lie,” Nigel continued, “tell ‘em it was an animal or somethin’ – nobody has to know it was’im…”

It was too much for Helen; kneeling, she bowed her head to the ground and choked back several deep sobs.

“Helen…” prompted Nigel finally. She raised her head and he was taken aback by the tear stains down her furiously red cheeks. “We don’t have a choice. You have to find him.”

Helen wiped her face with the hem of her skirt only to find it soaked through with Nigel’s blood. There were rivers of it over the floor, staining the timber.

“I don’t know where he is,” she replied quietly.

“Your father is the only one tha’ can help us,” he continued, watching in despair as the fresh bandages turned a violent red. “Abnormals, they’re his life, Helen. We’ve had this knowledge for a few short weeks an’ look at the mess we’ve made of it. There is no choice – he is the only person who will believe us.”

“Except for the Cabal,” she had already begun tearing new bandages. “I kn – I suspect that they have found him, why else would he have not returned?”

“Oh, dear Helen –” Nigel stopped, frowning as the alcohol blurred his vision so that two Helens approached, shifting next to him. “You do not understand the first thing about hunting. A dear must be invisible from everything if it is to survive, including the grass.”

*~*~*

John locked the door behind him, lit the lamps and collapsed onto his bed. The first light of morning was threatening to topple over the horizon when he turned over, fully clothed, and fell into a deep sleep. It was to his great surprise then that he awoke on the floor, curled into a foetal position with his jacket doubling as a blanket.

*~*~*

“Good gracious!” the lecturer exclaimed, with a look of bewilderment. Helen led him over to Nigel’s bed and pulled back the sheets so that he could see the extent of the wounds crisscrossing the young boy’s chest.

“I didn’t want to move him,” she said hastily, stepping back. “When I found him I-”

“Miss Magnus,” the lecturer interrupted, “to save the asking of awkward questions like, ‘what are you doing in the gentlemen’s dormitories at this hour?’ I’m going to pretend that you aren’t here.” Helen paused. Nigel was asleep – or too intoxicated to open his eyes. “Which means,” continued the lecturer over his shoulder, “that you shouldn’t be here…”

Finally she took the hint and quietly left. Once the lecturer heard her safely down the stairs, he placed a cold hand on Nigel’s shoulder.

“Are you going to tell me what really happened?” he asked Nigel. The boy replied with a defiant grunt, gradually opening his eyes. They were bloodshot and began to weep as the soft light pierced his irises. “I guess not,” the man sighed. “Your father,” he muttered, as he cut through Helen’s makeshift bandages, “would have my soul if he knew the trouble I’ve let you get into. You’ll forgive me, but this is going to hurt.”

*~*~*

They came on them like thunder – first a violent crack of sound and then a succession of ever more powerful waves that shook their bones and eventually, broke them.

Nikola ducked as a bronze figure lept over him, slicing through the air with a hooked sword. It hit the stone ground and turned, glaring back at him with a victorious grin. A thousand more of his kind rushed past, storming toward the screaming flock of vampires on the final flats before the river. The soldiers cut them down as easily as running through them. Nikola felt every sickening blow as the children grew silent and a pink foam formed in the water.

The commander spun his sword menacingly as he approached Nikola. His necklace of lapis and gold glimmered like a giant, godly sundisk as his chest heaved.

You cannot run,” he hissed at Nikola. “Your evil will know the dust before this day is out.”

And yours will endure,” replied Nikola, lunging.

The battle was swift.

The last woman to fall stood in front of a group of children brandishing a sword that she had stolen from one of the soldiers. She screamed at them, cried and finally fought them off until her throat was slit and she collapsed in a lifeless mound.

Nikola was the only vampire that they left alive. For three weeks they carted him across the desert bound to a camel. Eventually he saw a rise of frightening mountains loom out from the sand. Their black edges were sharp and jagged as they stretched in the sun.

No…” Nikola whispered.

As they approached the sound of chisels and workman roared up in his ears. An entire civilisation crawled, pulled and swore as they dug deeper into the mountain. Nikola was transferred to the ground and forced to walk into entrance of the tomb surrounded by the commander and his men.

*~*~*

“You’ll live – it surprises me to say.”

Nigel thanked the lecturer. His father’s old friend tucked him back into bed and went to leave as morning stumbled into the sky.

“Whatever it is,” he said, with his weathered hand paused on the door, “that the five of you are up to, it ends – you understand? Rest, and then I want you back in class where I can keep both my eyes on you. Feel free to pass that along.”

*~*~*

They brought him to a black slate room, deep under the mountain range. A line of priests, gilded and half dead in a collective trance, had their eyes rolled back in their head as they chanted spells into the air.

What frightened Nikola most was the stone coffin rising out from the floor. Its lid rested on the ground beside and seemed to wait for him – beckoning him toward it. At the edges of the room, between the enormous columns, were the caskets of his friends. They were all dead. He guessed it long ago, but to know it sent racking sobs through his heart. The Priests of Amun were entombed and awaited him in whatever life might succeed this one.

One day,” sneered Nikola, to his brother, “far from this one, I will find you. It does not end here.”

The commander ignored the cursed creature as it was wrestled into the sarcophagus, chanting and screeching. He gave the order and the slaves moved forward, sliding the lid over the coffin.

Nikola gasped, his eyes snapping open as the bright sunlight burnt into his face. He was on the floor of his room, staring out the open window. A ratty curtain had half fallen down and flapped in the freezing wind. It was day and Nikola had had the most terrible dreams.

*~*~*

It was mid-morning when the lecturer nearly died of shock. His white hair fell across his astonished face (which had not slept) and his piece of chalk snapped in two as Helen, Nigel and John presented themselves for class. His surprise paled in comparison to the look on Helen’s face when Nikola strutted in, immaculate as usual and slipped in next to her. For a solid ten minutes she did little but stare at Nikola, quite unable to believe his serene figure scribbling notes from the board.

“Come Miss Magnus,” said the lecturer, catching her attention. “He won’t bite.”

She wasn’t so sure.

Nigel grimaced. It was a struggle to stay upright but he’d rather be out here than suffocating in his room. Still, the slender figure of Nikola calmly seated next to Helen was almost more than he could handle.

Nikola wasn’t copying notes from the board. Instead, he was engrossed in a letter which he ripped from his book and folded several times before sliding it across the desk, sneaking it under Helen’s hand. Her eyes flicked up as he pushed the note further under her palm.

Don’t make me beg,” he whispered to her, in a familiar, warm tone.

*~*~*

“Leaving, so soon?” Sherlock perked up from the couch where he had spent the previous day in a delirium of sorts. The pipe smoke was still thick in the room, clasping at the furnishings and choking the room with its scent.

James shooed the courier away and set the letter down on the desk. He frowned and shook his head, taking a seat by a cold tray of tea and biscuits. “I should, but I’m not going to. A friend of mine is ill, but it has all been taken care of. They can do without me for a time.”

“Excellent, as I have planned for us tonight a mission of sorts – an experiment in chance. Care to partake? Ah – don’t bother, for I already know your answer. You would not be here unless you felt the heat of the chase. Perhaps and if we’re lucky, the moon will be bright and the dark figures which prowl the streets, easy to pursue.”

“You think the killer is going to kill tonight?”

“Come Watson, he has a proper name now. ‘Jack the Ripper’ he professes, in poor English I might add, and his need for blood has returned and so too, shall we.”

20

NIGEL WALKS

They met outside the class, darting away from the main stream of students to lurk in a corner with Nigel cruising ominously in the background, never lifting his eyes from Helen and Nikola.

“Do you remember?” she asked him, as soon as the roar of footsteps had tapered off. Helen had her books clasped protectively across her chest. She leaned over them, balancing her chin on their worn spines.

“Not everything,” he confessed, “but enough to understand your –” Nikola instinctively reached toward her but she backed away, “fear…” he trailed off. “Is he going to be all right?” Nikola and Helen glanced at the pacing Nigel, who glared firmly back at Nikola.

“He almost wasn’t…”

“Helen,” Nikola quickly changed the subject, “as bad as things are now, they’re about to get a lot worse.”

“Worse than last night?” she shot, angrily. She didn’t mean to – it wasn’t his fault but still

“Our bodies are only beginning to adapt to their new, should we say, skills. Given a few more weeks even the lesser of us will be a powerful and alarming creation. Be assured,” he said, in a hushed voice, “we will lose control.”

John, delayed by the professor, finally made his way out of the classroom and into the foyer where he found Nigel waiting. The other man purposely rolled his eyes over to the far wall where John caught sight of Nikola and Helen locked in tight conversation.

“What happened to you?” John asked. He had been staring at Nigel’s prominent bandages throughout class trying to decide if Nigel had been hit by a coach or thrown under a train.

“Tell you in a minute,” he said, as Nikola and Helen made their way towards them, weaving around a few straggling students. Helen pointed to the stairs and the four of them headed off in a clump.

They reconvened in the sanctity of the library, hunting out their favourite haunt in a forgotten corner of knowledge. The layers of mould over the shelves were challenged only by the encroaching dune of dust that dulled everything with an eerie coat of grey. It got all over their clothes as they shuffled into their usual positions and waited for Helen to finish the horrific story of the previous night.

“You did what?!” John leapt from his chair toward Nikola.

Helen stepped in front him, pacing backwards as John continued to lunge forward, raising his fist at Nikola’s head.

“Sit’own John,” Nigel pointed to the overturned chair. “We’re supposed to be scientists, let’s at least pretend to act like’em.”

Helen, hands resting on John’s collar, pushed him gently off her. John wanted to crush Nikola into a thousand pieces but was eventually convinced to back off and retake his seat, albeit with a dangerous look. “This better be good.”

“Just to clarify,” Nikola strolled the length of the bookshelf with his hands clasped behind his back. He looked taller like this, ever so slightly more gentlemen-like as he surveyed the other three. “Am I the only one who has seriously researched the history of vampires?” There was silence. “So start from the beginning then – okay.”

John was deeply displeased, Nigel was in more pain than usual and Helen was nauseated by the very memory of what Nikola had been last night – all the same, they held their tongues and listened.

Nikola pulled a book from beneath one of the shelves and placed it, open on the floor, in front of them.

“Egypt,” he said, “first known occurrence of an Abnormal race known to us as vampires. After their brief mention they vanish from all record until they reappear in Europe, thousands of years later subject to a mass slaughter. Some must have survived because several hundred years after, your father arrives with a pure sample of vampire blood.

“It may surprise you all to learn that we are not the first fools to taste the temptation of vampire blood. Those in the ancient world thought of it as a river of youth – a glimpse of godly immortality.

“Fifth century BC – Herodotus writes of Ethiopians with exceptional long life. As it turns out, the last colony of vampires left in Africa settled the areas nearby and fell prey to frequent native attacks. The tribes that ingested their blood made extraordinary claims of being, ‘faster than the wind’ and ‘stronger than the lion’. I think,” he continued, “from our own experience, we know the cause.”

“But we inject’d it…” said Nigel, “straight in our arms – not the same as drinkin’ it.”

“No,” Nikola agreed with him. “We’ve reached a whole new level. I can only assume that our symptoms will not be temporary but permanent and more pronounced.”

Christ,” Helen swore. “If the Cabal find out they’ll want us for their labs. They collect creatures like us.”

“That too,” Nikola closed the books and returned them to the shelves. “Are they are already watching us.”

Especially you…” she caught Nikola’s eye.

“And what,” John stretched his arm across the table. The white lace sleeve peeking out from his coat trailed across the wood. On one of its beautiful edges was a tiny fleck of red. “Are we to do? They are sure to work out what we’ve done eventually.”

“We end it,” said Nikola. “We find your father,” he moved to Helen, and then returned to his pacing, “he will know of a cure, and then we finish this cursed business. Do you have something to add, Nigel?”

Nigel cleared his throat, tucked the edge of one of his bandages in, and then spoke, “It’s just –” he stopped and went quiet, thinking better of his comment. It wasn’t until he was prompted by the others that he continued. “Only that, well it is a unique opportunity,” he said.

NO!” John hit the table with his fist, sending the glasses of water bouncing into the air. “We’ve been down this road before and look where it leads.” He looked deliberately at Nikola, as if he were the source of all that was evil in the world of Abnormals.

“It’s easy for the three of you,” spat Nikola. “Nigel vanishes every now and then and John’s temper’s worse than ever, but I am the one who is becoming a monster – don’t try to pretend it’s anything else.”

“’scuse me, did I imagine having my chest ripped open?”

“Apologies,” Nikola quickly snapped back at Nigel, “I must have missed it while in a murderous trance.”

Helen raised her hands aloft and, as loudly as she could within a library, hushed them.

“This is not a game of, ‘whose worse off than whom?’ gentlemen,” she said sharply. “Urgh!” she collapsed into one of the empty seats, moving John’s arm off Nigel’s diary. The day was already beginning to wear on her – and it seemed as if it were ending too soon with the heavy rain clouds clogging out the sun leaving little to filter in through the gothic windows and around the cluttered library to their den.

“I know that we must find my father,” she said, “but he has either hidden himself away from the world or been captured by the one organisation we must steer clear of so what are we to do?”

“Eliminate our options,” Nigel’s waves of pain were getting stronger. It was a strange phenomenon – the more his wounds healed the more pain he felt. His body had things backwards. “I could have’a snoop and no-one would be the wiser for’it.”

*~*~*

Night – Nikola’s room was boarded up – the attic stairs strapped closed with belts and his sole window and lonely square of sky, hastily covered by planks. Helen, too nervous to sleep, kept herself busy in her father’s study, sifting through the few loose field notes she found in forgotten draws. The rose he had brought for her survived by a few ill looking leaves which wept toward the lamplight.

Nigel though, cursed the season for its cold. While walking the poorly lit streets, he dressed himself in a trenchcoat, winter pants, hat pulled low to the collar, gloves and a neck scarf. So long as he didn’t lift his head, the average passerby would not notice the absence of his neck and face.

His wounds were mostly healed. Even that had surprised him. Just under twenty-four hours to heal major injuries could not be written off as co-incidence. He risked removing the bandages. The grating of his clothing over the scars hurt, but did no further damage.

According to John, who’d been able to get his hands on some property development papers, the Cabal owned a large cotton mill on the other side of the river – one that worked all through the night, churning out exquisite garments. Oddly, they were one of the few factories not to change their workload over from human to machine as the trend had set. It was a glaring contradiction for the Cabal who seemed to take the future of human technology as a personal challenge.

In his present state, he could not risk a coach so he walked the distance briskly. The black smog that fell to the earth, compressed by the cold air of the evening, was even thicker between the towering walls of the factories. Mounds of earth on the side of the road, kicked up by passing traffic, had already begun to whiten with frost.

It was a desperate and heartless place whose score was the steady click of machinery behind the tin walls. The occasional infant screamed for its mother but she would not be home until dawn.

The Cabal’s factory, misleadingly labelled, ‘Empire Cotton’ was not quite as impressive as the name promised. All its windows were alight but there was no movement behind them, not even a lonely factory worker staring out at the other side of the city.

When Nigel reached the corner where the building reared up, flush with the pavement, he ducked out of the lamplight and into a narrow alley where he de-clothed and hid his belongs under a scramble of weeds. Now he really was cold. The only danger of detection were the shadows he left, so he clung to the walls, grinding up against their filthy surfaces as he approached one of the entrances.

There was no door to the alley at all – only a poorly lit hole in the wall of the building through which Nigel scampered, not wanting to linger in the narrow passageway. It felt more like descending into a mine than a factory as the passage continued, twisting around several times until it came to a set of stone stairs. These led both up and down.

Nigel hesitated. Surely down, he thought at first, would be the most natural place for any untoward activity that they might be carrying out for if you were going to hide someone, you wouldn’t do it on the main factory floor. Then again, he glanced up at the staircase leading up several flights, there was something very wrong about the factory itself.

He still didn’t have very good control over his invisibility, and he most certainly didn’t want to get trapped in a place like this – naked.

Goddamn!” he muttered, and then began to climb the steps.

*~*~*

“That boy stole your purse,” said Sherlock calmly, as he and Watson pushed their way through the evening crowd. It was the night shift of workers swarming to their twilight labour.

“It wasn’t my purse,” Watson corrected him, “it was a folded piece of fabric with two shillings I keep in my pocket that masquerades as my purse.”

“Paranoid – good, it shows the proper sense of fear for one’s existence.”

“Says the man leading an expedition through London’s most dangerous streets at night on the hunt for a murderer…”

“Point,” Sherlock whirled around, raising his cane dramatically, “taken…”

Eventually the streets quietened and London’s famous rains let go over them. The horrid downpour was on the verge of sleet when Sherlock caught hold of Watson’s cloak and yanked him into a shadow.

“What do you see?” he whispered, as a thirty-something woman sauntered down the opposite side of the road.

It took Watson a moment to see her. She was so used to blending into the background that even when keen eyes were after her, she failed to register as little more than a watermark. Elizabeth Gustafsdotter was tall for a woman of her age, but she hid this blessing under long black garments and a crepe bonnet. It was her checked scarf that gave her way, knotted loosely around her neck.

“Only a working girl,” replied James, pulling his arm free of Sherlock, who was still puffing away on his pipe. “Hold on a minute – where are you going?”

Sherlock merely winked and stepped out into the light.

*~*~*

A spotted rat scurried past him, leaping over onto his bare feet – a move which started them both. It squeaked in surprise at finding itself aloft before resuming its escape back down the stairs. He probably should have followed the rat…

It took three floors to reach the first landing. Up until this point it had been so quiet that Nigel didn’t think his invisibility would be enough to hide him if someone did happen along.

Finally, the low drone of hushed conversation leaked out from the walls. He could have just broken into an accounting firm for all the enthusiasm in their voices. The door at the top of the landing was slightly ajar with a bright band of light gushing out of it, spilling into the stairwell. Stepping into that would be as good as screaming.

He approached cautiously, one step at a time until he was beside the landing. From here he could glimpse through the door into the large warehouse floor.

There was a reason no-one was at the windows – they were all huddled in the centre of the room, congregated in a kind of ring around something that Nigel couldn’t see above their bobbing heads. Gentlemen and women, dressed in white, craned their heads and struggled on tip-toes until a frightening shriek silenced them.

Like a wave, they rippled back and promptly re-shuffled. Nigel risked another inch along the wall, edging his nose around the corner and into the room. He retreated instantly – for standing on a platform above the group was a man glaring down into the circle’s centre with cold eyes.

Nigel slammed his eyes shut. He felt his skin ripple uneasily and his wounds seer but it was nothing compared to the evil of the aging man, balanced by a black and gold cane, addressing the crowd with his soft but persuasive voice.

Professor Samuel Griffin was displeased. The creature writhing on the crowd in the centre of the circle of scientists was dying in pain.

“Another…” was all Professor Griffin said. He waved at the pack then turned and dismounted the podium. A young boy rushed forward into the circle and injected the deformed creature with a clear liquid that killed it.

21

BLOODY NIGHTS IN LONDON

“Evening, young lady,” Sherlock Holmes announced himself, falling into step beside her.

Elizabeth, well accustomed to the manners of men after dark, eyed him with disapproval and hurried her pace discreetly.

James watched on from the other side of the road, struggling to keep sight of the pair as the rain beat down harder and harder until the street became a miserable blur. The entire city of London was vanishing beneath a dark cloud which filled the air with restless rumbles and the occasional flash of light as if it knew the hideous events unfolding beneath.

Eventually Sherlock brought her to a stop. She spoke for a while, waving her arm vaguely at the road behind her as if giving directions. He bowed low, thanking the lady, and then kissed her hand and let Elizabeth pass.

“And?” James prompted, upon his return.

Both men were drenched and suffered streams of water pouring off the rims of their hats and the trims of their equally long coats. The smell of wet dog stuck in the air as the animals of the street sought shelter, scurrying past them in frantic dashes before hiding under weed beds or discarded crates.

“Naturally, she is suspicious of strange men,” Sherlock replied, “but she did mention that there was word of a tall, cloaked gentleman lurking about the area, sinister kind of creature that none of the other girls had seen before. He tried to enlist the services of a few working girls but they all refused him.”

“Turned away by a prostitute – that would rub.”

“Indeed it – Christ,” Sherlock spun elegantly and peered intently down the street, “did you hear that?”

The rain poured down in an impenetrable wall until all James could make out was the pounding sheets of water against the cobblestone. He wiped the water out of his eyes bit it did no good.

The intense gaze of Sherlock’s eyes could have split silver glass in two. The ordinarily reserved man screamed something at James that it was indistinguishable from the roar of the rain, then he threw his pipe to the ground and broke into a desperate sprint in pursuit of the woman who had vanished into the night.

*~*~*

Nigel pressed himself against the cold wall until even the smallest groove of the old brick surface dug painfully into his skin. He could still hear his father’s voice inside the room, occasionally rearing above the drone of the others, directing them – controlling them.

He should have left then, when the first flickers of light bounced off his skin betraying his presence – but he didn’t. Professor Griffin was inside that laboratory pacing from corner to corner like some kind of predator casing his territory and Nigel felt more like a child than ever. He could have been five years old hiding behind the barn door as his father killed the chickens, completely petrified, his arms and legs immobilised and heart shaking with every hushed word uttered.

That’s it everybody,” announced another, softer voice. Nigel didn’t have to see its owner to know that they were a born underling, the kind of creature that liked to lurk around the seat of power feeding off the scraps. “We’re done for the night.”

Chairs moved at once quickly followed by a shuffle of shoes heading for the door amidst the swish of thirty lab coats thrown into the corner.

“What a night – I’m getting too old for this shit,” said the first scientist to reach the door. The rest of the group swelled behind him in a flood funnelled directly to the place where Nigel had chosen to hide.

“Won’t be gettin’ old,” replied another voice, “if we keep this work up. If they didn’ pay like they do…”

It was too late for Nigel to move as the crowd rolled past, bumping and nudging against him. His breath caught as the first elbow caught his side and stuck there for a moment. A shoulder clipped his chest, shoes crushed over his feet and clothing brushed across his naked skin but not a single one of them noticed as they filed down the stairs. When the final stragglers trickled into the stairwell, he let himself breathe.

“Professor…” said the soft voice again, just shy of the doorway. “He is waiting for you downstairs.”

“It must be urgent if he is unannounced,” replied Professor Griffin, gradually making his way towards the door, flicking off the panels of lights as he progressed. “Word on the source?”

There was a slight pause and the glow from the room diminished again.

No… I believe he has come about your son.”

Nigel’s eyes flicked open so fast they nearly rolled back into his head. There was no time to creep along the wall. Shocked into action, Nigel pealed himself free and began his silent flight down the stairs before his father reached the door. By the time his father’s cane clicked out of the room, Nigel was off the landing and had started on the long corridor toward the black hole at the end streaked by the driving rain.

He was almost there, so close that he could smell the rain, when a cloaked figure stepped into the tunnel, swearing at the weather and completely blocking Nigel’s escape.

Nigel stopped and slammed himself against the wall as the man rung out the bottom of his cloak onto the floor where a sizable puddle was busy forming. His father’s voice, which had followed him down the stairs, was rounding the platform and entering the corridor. It was a narrow stretch and Nigel was hemmed in on both sides by the approaching parties. Though he was invisible from a distance, he wasn’t sure he wanted to test his ability in close quarters.

“Evening Bill,” Professor Griffin raised his hand in greeting as he and his assistant closed in.

To Nigel’s horror, ‘Bill’, not content to wait in the entrance, began pacing forwards.

“I came as soon as I could get away,” Bill replied, reaching to remove his hat. “It’s not easy getting coaches in this weather.” He pulled the soggy item on his head free to reveal a cluster of damp, white hairs. Nigel had to stop himself from gasping as the sleepy face of his college lecturer glanced meaningfully back at the rain.

The two encroaching parties were almost on each other now, neither more than a few yards away from Nigel.

“It’s not all good news, Samuel – your boy was hurt. He’s – he seems to be recovering fast but you asked me to watch over him and I have.”

“And I am grateful for the favour.”

“But it is not why I came all this way…”

“It isn’t?” Griffin’s eyes widened.

“I must confess, when you raised this other matter with me I doubted that I would be of any assistance to you. There have been a lot of years go by since those days at Oxford and I had my doubts.”

“Gregory asked your help?”

“I have not seen Gregory since the night we dismissed him. As for the object you desire, I have not come across that either, not directly, but I believe I have learned its fate.” He ran a nervous hand through his hair, unable to hide its subtle quiver. “I am quite certain of my suspicions.”

Griffin’s eyes flared dangerously.

“I don’t know how they did it,” continued the lecturer, with a touch of jealousy, “but a group of my students have had the source in their possession and have –” it took him a moment to garner the courage to make the accusation as its content was so filthy – so despicable even to the dark workings of the Cabal that he feared uttering it, “ingested it.”

Samuel couldn’t stifle the laugh cracking through his throat. “A group of school children in possession of one of earth’s most powerful substances?” he shook his head, whipping his cane against the wall beside where Nigel was hiding.

“Not just any children,” the college lecturer went on, “sometimes they frighten me – more than you,” he added, not quite in jest. “One of them is Gregory’s child. There’s something wrong with them – something different since all this started. I’ve spent my whole life watching children grow into adults but these kids, they grew up overnight.”

Griffin turned and whispered to his assistant.

Bill’s hearing was sharp. “You’re going over there now?”

“At once,” Griffin snapped, breaking into as much of a stride as he could given his bad leg. “And you shall accompany us.”

*~*~*

Watson and Sherlock hit the warehouse door at a run. The horses on the carriage storming up behind them startled – throwing their heads back in shrills, pulling against their reins as they veered and slammed to a halt on the side of the poorly lit street.

“Whoa, whoa girls!” the driver tried to calm them, as the creatures reared again. They stamped their hooves and backed away from the small alley beside the main road where two men pounded on a large factory door.

“Open the door, open the dooooor!” screeched Sherlock, rattling the large iron handles furiously before moving onto the hefty bolts attaching the door to the wall. Watson leant his knee, Sherlock climbed onto to it and stretched up to pull the top bolt free. Together, Watson, Sherlock, and the owner of the carriage took a run at the door.

It squealed and fell inwards, still attached via the lock. All three men spurned forwards into the lamp-lit shed which turned out to be a grain house full of machinery grinding and packing in the background.

The rain became a dull presence in the background and Sherlock was finally able to explain why they were breaking into private property.

“There’s a woman in here,” he said to the two gentlemen, who were struggling to catch their breath. “And we have to find her before…”

The carriage owner stepped forward and knelt down to the dusty floor where a dark smear of blood was glistening, still fresh. There was a crack – like lightening but inside the shed, accompanied by a quick flash of purple light.

“There…” Watson pointed to the sound, and the three of them darted around a giant set of grinding stones to find nothing but an empty corner.“Nothing,” whispered Watson, shaking his head. “He was right here, I know it.”

“He was here,” said Sherlock, creeping around the churning stones where he stooped to examine the elegant knife cast aside by the killer. Its blade was coated in a jewel-like liquid which trickled off its sharp surface.

Watson’s face lost all of its colour. “I’ve seen that before,” he said slowly.

A rush of frightened whispers filled the room as the carriage driver backed away, crossing his chest at the sight of Elizabeth, strewn across end of the room beyond the churning stones.

*~*~*

The carriage roared off into the night and Nigel followed, dashing out into the storm clear forgetting his clothes. His skin may have been mimicking the dreary surrounds of the derelict streets leading to the bridge, but the rain gliding over his body was just enough to create a shimmering outline like a mirage streaking through the dark.

He had no hope of catching his father and the lecturer on foot, so when Nigel came across an unattended horse tethered to a garden fence neighing irritably, he freed it and rode bareback through the night.

The horse galloped down the streets, over the bridge and back into the main city where the few people left outside parted in fright as the ‘unmanned’ horse tore madly past them. Once at the university gates, Nigel swung his leg over and fell down the side of the stallion and onto the muddy street. As far as he could tell, he had preceded their arrival but they could not be far behind. Terrified, Nigel made it through the main doors and flung himself up the marble stairs and along the corridor to Tesla’s attic.

The ladder was down and a soft glow lit the entrance to his room. Nigel had not expected that after the horrific and terrifying events of the previous night.

“Tesla?” he called, between gasps of breath. There was a shuffle in the ceiling and shortly after Nikola’s perfectly preened head popped into view looking quizzically down at the empty corridor.

The only thing out of place was a streak of water that ended at the base of the stairs put there seemingly by magic.

“Is Helen with you?” the empty space asked hurriedly.

Nikola narrowed his eyes and took a closer, more careful examination at the corridor. “Nigel,” he trailed off with an air of displeasure, “a sight for sore eyes I presume…” he snipped.

The ladder rattled as something grabbed on and started climbing. Nikola ducked out of the way of Nigel’s well camouflaged body as it protruded into the ceiling and caught sight of Helen seated by a rather mangled experiment.

“Who is it, Nikola?” she asked softly, still unaware of Nigel surveying the room.

Nikola straightened and leant his hand to the vacant air which took a hold and pulled itself into the room. “The great, invisible man,” replied Tesla lazily.

“We have to leave right now,” Nigel jogged over and took Helen by the arm, pulling her roughly from the floor. He dragged her toward the exit amid her protest until Nikola intervened.

“Steady on, Nigel!” he hissed, unable to detach him completely. “What’s all this about?”

“There’s no time to explain,” he whispered, reaching out to take hold of Nikola’s arm as well. “But if we don’t leave this building right now, we’ll be pets of the Cabal inside the hour. They know ‘bout us, what we did, and they’re comin’ to collect. Personally, I’d rather not be their latest attraction but it’s up to you.”

Nikola broke away and ducked over to the open window. He had a clear view of the front gates and soon after saw the carriage lights pull up at the gates. Nikola threw himself away from the window and nearly tripped as he pushed the others toward the ladder.

*~*~*

They were trapped.

The three of them had planned their exit through the lower levels and out the kitchens but as they had begun their descent of the stairs, the front doors were thrown open and three gentlemen hurried across the marble, coming to a pause in the grand foyer. Instinctively, Nikola, Helen and Nigel had recoiled and backtracked to the side of the stairwell where they could peer over the balustrade.

Nikola instantly recognised their natural sciences lecturer but couldn’t place the other two. Beside him, Helen had frozen and gone pale, glaring at the man tapping his cane over the stone.

“It’s him,” she whispered, hiding in the shadows at the top of the stairwell. “The man from the street. He is the one after the source blood and my father.”

Nigel was bitterly ashamed of himself, of his connection to the work of his father, so much so that he kept quiet as the gentlemen whispered to each other and the lecturer finally pointed at the stairwell where they were huddled.

You will find the Magnus girl and Mr Tesla this way,” said the lecturer.

“Our lecturer works for the Cabal?” Helen whispered.

“We have to go,” Nikola took hold of Helen and pulled her away down the corridor, flying over it as the gentlemen took to the stairs behind them.

“This way,” Nigel said, opening one of the doors along the corridor for the others to slip into.

Their pursuers heard the click of the door and followed easily, coming to a stop at the library doors several minutes later.

“Strange,” whispered the lecturer, pushing the doors open quietly, “there is no way out from here – it is a dead end.”

“Stay here…” Griffin directed his assistant to guard the doors, and then snuck into the dark library with the lecturer at his side.

22

TRILL MILL STREAM

I thought you were ‘aat home, Helen?” Nigel squeezed himself into the narrow space, lowering his rough, country voice to a hush.

They were huddled in a non-descript corner of the library, well out of sight of the entrance way, taking shelter where two bookshelves didn’t quite meet leaving a space for them to slip through against the wall and peer out from between the books. The thunder and rain outside hid the sound of their breath which, between them, was like a hoarse chorus behind the thudding of their hearts.

I was…” she replied, nudging one of the old books to cover a hole in the shelf. Helen felt Nikola’s sharp intake of breath beside her and stopped short of elaborating.

Your father is not their prisoner,” Nigel continued, as a few slender shadows streaked across the room. His own father and their lecturer were hunting about the reception area of the library, quite a distance from them. Still, their ghostly forms flicking through the room turned Nigel’s invisible skin cold. The others were blissfully unaware that this was the cruel face of his father, a man he had endured and feared. “They are still searching for him.”

Helen could not decide if she felt relieved or more concerned for her father than ever. It was very unlike Gregory to go without contacting her for this long. He must be in trouble.

And there was somethin’ else,” Nigel added, somewhat nervously. Helen could see a slight mist coming from where she presumed his mouth to be. His talent could hide many things, but not everything. “I doubt very much that it was the Cabal that robbed your house that night. They are still searching, quite desperately, for the source blood.”

What?” Helen whipped her head around, covering his face in a soft curtain of golden curls.

They do not have a sample of the source blood, which they would if it had been them.”

Who else could possibly know? Who else would –”

He’s still in Oxford,” said Nigel, solemnly. It had to be true. Helen’s father was somewhere within the city’s walls, scurrying in and out of the Cabal’s reach.

Hate to interrupt…” Nikola had been anxiously watching their own lecturer wander worryingly close, stooping down to check underneath the research tables. “But I think we should discuss this later, perhaps where there aren’t people trying to capture us…”

He has a point…” Helen whispered back.

We could overcome three men…” Nigel offered.

“No,” Nikola replied sternly, louder than he had meant to. Their lecturer flinched and briefly glanced in the direction of their hiding place. They fell silent for several minutes. “Best not to give them a demonstration,” Nikola continued, once the lecturer was out of sight, “as they’ll be back with things we can’t fend off – like bullets.”

Can’t hit what they can’t see,” none of them could see Nigel’s grin.

Congratulations on your luxury,” snapped Nikola, quickly losing patience with the man he’d never particularly liked in the first place. “And on that note, what was the second part of your brilliant, ‘escape through the library’ plan, or are you intentionally trying to get us trapped?”

You forget, this is my home,” Nigel shifted beside them. “My father –” he hesitated, he couldn’t tell them that it was his father currently hunting them, so he settled for, “worked here. Come on, follow me,” he tapped Helen’s arm lightly.

Nigel crept round the end of the bookcase and crossed the short distance to the opposing wall. Unable to see him, Helen and Nikola frequently had to hunt for shadows or swipe at the air to get a grip on Nigel’s location. Once, Nikola even whispered, ‘Steady on Nigel, remember we can’t see you!’ after completely losing him behind a bookshelf.

Finally, after escaping a close call with their lecturer, the three faced a wall in the old wing of the library, just short of where they usually chose to haunt.

“I don’t get it,” said Helen, her face laced with concern with their pursuer’s footsteps audible in the background. “We’re still trapped…”

An invisible force took hold of her hand and pulled her toward the wall, just before she hit its unfriendly surface, she noticed a gap between the shelf and the wall just big enough to slide through. The darkness of the library gave way to a spiral stairwell – open to the sky. The rain poured in from above, creating gushing torrents down the unsafe looking stone steps that led infinity downward. Nikola appeared behind her, ducking as soon as he felt the cold rain on his head.

Nigel stepped back and pulled Helen down a few steps in front of him before she stumbled, reached for the wall and swore.

“Nigel – what are you doing?” she hissed, balancing herself. Nikola followed, carefully navigating the slippery staircase that lacked any barrier on the right hand side, it was simply open to the dark hole with rain falling into nowhere.

“Keep going down,” the air around where Nigel stood muttered. “Then follow the tunnel, it will take you outside the university walls.” He reached through a spider web into an alcove in the wall beside them, dragging an oil lantern out. Using one of the old matches left there with it, he struck it under the protection of the rock and lit the wick. A small flicker of warmth suddenly revealed his shadow. He handed Nikola the lantern and said, “Look after her.”

Then Nigel scrambled past them, back into the library to delay his father and the lecturer for as long as possible.

For a moment Helen didn’t move, staring back at the entrance with the rain falling over her cheeks and hair.

“Come on,” Nikola said softly but firmly, taking her hand and leading her down the treacherous stairs.

“We can’t just leave him to-” but she was interrupted by Nikola, holding her more tightly as if he were frightened that she would vanish.

“Yes we can,” he said.

The rain poured down harder, clinking on the protective glass around the lantern and drenching Helen and Nikola. Nikola was hardly dressed to begin with, in only his white shirt, tied loosely at the top, and dark brown slacks and so he felt the coldness of the rain draining him. He was sure though, that Helen felt it worse with the heavy layers of her dress dragging on the ground, water logged and threatening to trip her at every step. Although she was now following him obediently, he daren’t let go of her hand in case she fell. Not that it would kill her, he reminded himself.

*~*~*

John threw himself against the wall of his apartment, gasping for air, his eyes running wildly over the room. Warm blood trickled from his clothes onto the floor, pooling in dark stains. It wasn’t his. His memory was a blur, a streak, a turbulent mirage that glinted in a sinister fashion but revealed nothing.

One moment he had been reclined in his chair with a book ready for sleep and the next he had stumbled through the door, soaked and panicked covered in someone else’s blood.

His head burned. John groaned and cupped his hands around his scalp, crumbling to the floor in confused agony. For some reason the flash of the crazed rodent’s teeth entered his mind. This vampire blood was sending him crazy.

*~*~*

James Watson leant against the shaking glass window of the train as it rattled violently against his head. He couldn’t see anything out of it with the heavy rain streaking across its surface other than the occasional gas light yet he couldn’t bring himself to sleep. There was something brewing in the air outside telling him that he had to return to Oxford as soon as possible. More than their lives depended upon it.

He twisted the item in his hands, turning the cold metal over and over. Nigel’s knife might be beautiful but it had done terrible things this night – and others. James wondered if its owner had done the same.

So many beautiful young women, torn and mutilated, left for the world to find, cast aside like rubbish. It had to end. He had sworn to Holmes that it would.

*~*~*

They flew off the last step and found themselves face to face with a low tunnel exhibiting an arched ceiling made of ancient bricks. It was the most foreboding sight either of them had ever laid eyes on and even Nikola, who often sought out the darkest corners to lurk in, hesitated.

He held the lantern out in front of them, temporarily letting go of her hand as he took a few cautious steps forward.

“I don’t think we have a choice,” he said, and tentatively entered the tunnel, ducking his head.

It smelt stale, dank and abandoned. He heard her join him, treading out of the rain into the tunnel. There was just enough room for them to walk side by side, something that neither of them objected to.

“What is this place?” she said, noticing the age of the bricks. “It doesn’t look anything like the rest of the building.”

“If I were to guess,” he started, running a finger over the tunnel’s surface as he moved through, “I’d say that the college has been built on top of Roman ruins. Not an uncommon practice in this part of the world.”

The thought made her shudder as she wondered how many other places there were like this under the city she lived in, forgotten remnants of the ancient world slumbering underground.

“That’s – a little eerie,” she confessed.

He smirked, “It never ceases to amaze me the disquiet your culture has with its past.”

Sometimes she forgot that he was so different to her – brought up far away in some part of the world she would never see – one that enjoyed its distant past.

“I can’t help it,” she said, letting go of her dress so that it dragged over the filthy floor. It could hardly make a difference, it was already well beyond ruined. She must have looked a frightful mess – all her curls hung limply by her face, dripping onto her clothes which were several shades darker. Her makeup was at best, a few sorrowful streaks down her cheeks.

Nikola turned his head to her, looked her up and down and said nothing.

She nodded, her suspicions confirmed. Yes, she was positively wild – something the great Nikola Tesla abhorred.

Then he did something very unexpected – he stumbled.

“Nikola?” Helen frowned in concern, stopping with an arm on his back.

He shrugged whatever it was off, including her hand.

“Let’s keep going,” he said, “I feel like one of your rats trapped in this tunnel – and we all know what happened to them, Helen.”

*~*~*

Nigel waited patiently, invisible against the wall.

Several more people from the Cabal entered the library, accentuated by the slamming door and grunted instruction to ‘search!

Resisting the urge to swear aloud, Nigel sidled his way along the endless rows of shelves toward his lecturer who was unwisely still checking the study desks alone, out of sight of the others. It was the perfect, and possibly his only chance to even the odds.

Though Nigel did not make a sound, some primordial reflex twitched inside the lecturer and his eyes shot up, scanning the rain stained gothic windows, following the dim light to the bookshelves opposite. He could have sworn – but there was nothing there. Nothing but rows of silent books, so why couldn’t he shake the feeling that he was being watched?

Begrudgingly, Bill resumed his task of searching the endless forest of desks and chairs for any sign of the students. Frankly, he was beginning to doubt that they were still in here. Perhaps they had doubled back behind them and they had … had missed them? Mind you, that was about as likely as Professor Griffin getting his hands on the source blood. It never ceased to amuse Bill how easily his old colleague underestimated him. Acquiring the source blood was a dangerous game, and he was playing for keeps, old friendships be damned.

Thud.

The lecturer’s world went blank as he cascaded to the ground, hit from behind by a single, heavy hand. Nigel could not believe that he had just done that. If he lived through this, he was definitely expelled.

His luck was short lived as two of the extras brought in to assist heard the lecturer’s demise and rounded a nearby corner to investigate. Nigel knew that they couldn’t see him, but he was keenly aware of his long, slender shadow cast across the room mingling with the tables. If you didn’t know where to look you would have missed it but should he so much as breathe the wrong way he was gone.

The two men, roughly the same size and shape except the closest to him had a long mess of straight hair, took a few steps forward toward the fallen lecturer.

“Heck!” exclaimed one in a whisper. “Quiet little buggers, then, aren’t they?”

The other man replied in a low, gruff slur of words.

“Leave him,” the first man finally decided, “keep searching, they are not far.”

*~*~*

“Nikola, Nikola – stop!” Helen fumbled for the sleeve of his shirt, catching the damp material in her hands, pulling him to a stop. He was not well and she could feel his skin trembling beneath her hands as she stepped in front of him and forced him to bring his eyes up to hers. She gasped. So that is what he had been trying to hide – two dark, glossy orbs belonging to something far from human.

Nikola didn’t say anything, he just turned away from the lamp’s light and lowered his head to the ground.

She let go of him and took a fearful step back. Not here, not now – he couldn’t.

“That’s correct,” he murmured against the wall as another violent wave took hold of him.

It took a few moments for reason to outweigh her fear.

“No…” Helen replied firmly, pushing the lantern back toward him and lifting his face so that she could see it better.

His eyes had returned to normal and his shaking had ceased – for the moment. She had no idea how long it would take for the transformation to take place but it could not be long.

“I am not leaving you,” she continued, seeing the fear welling up behind his steel eyes. “Now – come on.”

This time it was Helen who took the lead, clawing at the thick, sticky webs that littered the arched tunnel as darkness encroached both in front and behind them. Without warning, the floor of the tunnel took a turn downward and they had to use the walls to stop them from sliding over the mossy floors. There were constant rivers of water pouring past them, and they were getting larger – no doubt as the rain pounded harder down the distant stairwell.

“Oh…” Helen’s breath caught as freezing water seeped through her shoes and she realised her feet were submerged. She stepped backward, bumping into Nikola who had been uncommonly quiet.

The tunnel in front was still slowly heading downward, but the way ahead was flooded with a black expanse of water – one that they would have to navigate if they wanted to make it out.

“Don’t stop,” Nikola suddenly said behind her. He looked almost normal in the soft light, his hair a dripping fright of black and his cheeks flushed. It was a demeanour so far from what she was used to that she couldn’t stop the smile curling across her lips.

He frowned at her.

“You find our predicament amusing?” he queried, trailing his hand up the wall beside, straightening his posture so that he positively loomed. That was more the Nikola she remembered.

She thought about that for a moment. People hunting them so that they could perform horrendous experiments on them – vampire blood trickling through their blood transforming them into things she didn’t even want to think about – her father lost, missing somewhere on the run from a murderous organisation that would stop at nothing to find him and her own lecturer in on the whole thing – a man she had trusted with Nigel’s life.

“No,” she quipped, “I don’t think amusing is the right word.”

“Then let us get on with it,” nudged her forward, and her feet hit the cold water again. She nearly slipped, barely able to maintain her balance.

His heavy leather boots entered the water first and he felt nothing except a slight skid of his sole over the bricks. Finally though, as they progressed further and deeper, the water rose up over his ankles accompanied by a few green sparks.

Helen’s eyes widened as the water flickered and a tingle rippled over her skin.

“What…” she started, but Nikola’s sarcastic tone had returned.

“Water and electricity,” he drawled, “rarely mix.” When she continued to look confused he added, “Another gift from our experiment. It should worry you,” he added, “we don’t have much time.” And as if to prove it, a glossy sheen returned to his eyes.

*~*~*

Nigel had dodged his pursers for about as long as he could. They were smart, caging him into a corner by carefully sweeping and securing each alcove until he was left hiding in plain sight beside the entrance to the secret passageway. He really didn’t want to be here – it was stupid, they would find it this way but they had not given him a choice.

Now he could see all three of them, no more than ten metres away, whispering and signalling to one another.

This is it, he told himself, flexing the few lean muscles he had. He would make a run for it, head toward the library doors, draw them out, away from Nikola and Helen.

He was about to make his move when the unthinkable happened – the beautiful interlude from the pain that he had been enjoying, abruptly ended. He knew it before he saw it – his body stirring into view and the gaze of his pursuers suddenly settling on him with surprise.

*~*~*

The water only got deeper as they ventured further until Helen had to hold the delicate lamp aloft, scant inches from the arched ceiling. She convulsed, seeing the curtain of spiders – all black – tangled legs, as they hung out of the water’s reach. She felt a few of them fall onto her shoulders and neck but had long ago given up on removing them. They showed up worse on Nikola’s white shirt which was translucent as it dragged through the chest high water.

Oh god, she thought, it better not get any deeper.

It wasn’t just the cold – it was the stench of stagnant water that drove her to ill. They had slowed down, ploughing rather than hurrying until they heard a splash in the distance and several voices shout.

23

A SHOT IN THE DARK

The Cabal were in the tunnel.

Nikola clenched his fists together, trying to fight the pain of the transformation that had begun its hostile hold on his body. He could feel the ancient memories returning. The world around him had begun to blur between water and sand – a surreal landscape that he shook off with a sharp turn of his head.

Focus, he had to breathe slowly and concentrate. The water in the tunnel lapped at the top of his shoulders and beside him, Helen could barely keep the lantern from its surface. This was no time to falter.

“They’re coming,” she managed, thrashing about in the water beside him.

There were at least two Cabal pursing them through the tunnel – gaining on them. Neither carried a light and instead seemed to be drawn to the solitary glow of Helen’s lantern.

“I hope Nigel wasn’t lying about this tunnel meeting the river,” Helen peered into the blackness in front. At the moment it looked as if they would drown – lost in its depths. The water was quickening, enticing – luring – freezing around her.

“You have reason to doubt him?” Nikola’s hand was permanently clasped around Helen’s waist, hooked under her small belt– helping to keep her afloat with all her endless yards of fabric.

“Truthfully,” she risked a glance at him and was relieved to find Nikola there – rather than the creature taking hold of him, “how well do we really know him?”

“The only person I trust,” he replied, looking deeply into her, “is you.”

Nikola was quite serious causing her to look away at once, her cheeks blushing. Nikola had never been forthcoming – with anyone, but when he chose to be his confessions had more weight than open declarations of love.

It wasn’t that the water in the tunnel was getting shallower – more that the roof was getting higher. All of a sudden, the archway over their heads gave way to an enormous underground room.

They were wading through some kind of drainage system – a series of tunnels and chambers that channelled water from under the city back out into the river. It was an endless mess of dead ends and water.

On both sides of them, three or so metres away, were a series of floods steps onto a narrow pathway that ran along both walls and ahead of them was an old stone bridge, precariously traversing the water.

It was impossible to make out the ceiling now. Helen held the lantern high so that its glow on the dark water stretched far in front of them.

There was a strong current down here, and it was dragging them along almost against their will. Another foot of depth and they would be helpless.

“We should try for the side,” said Nikola, trying to drag Helen closer to the safety of the stone edge, but she shook her head and pulled him back.

“No – this water leads out, it must,” Helen protested. “It is the fastest way out.”

Nikola didn’t seem to agree. His skin was shivering again – and not from the cold. He had already bitten through his gum trying to stop the transformation but his will was breaking, faltering as the cold water weakened his resolve.

There they are,” said a breathless voice behind them. There was a loud splash as one of the Cabal henchmen crawled up onto the footpath and helped the older man up beside him.

Get them,” was all the Professor said, staggering to the wall for support.

Helen and Nikola turned to find their pursuers horribly close behind them. A man plunged into the deep water after them while the other slowly progressed along the walkway at the side, hissing instructions. Helen recognised him at once – it was the man from the street – the man that had threatened her father – and the moment he laid his eyes on her there was a flicker of recognition.

“Oh God,” Helen swore, and then threw the lantern into the water, throwing the underground world into total darkness.

*~*~*

The train pulled into Oxford’s platform – screeching against the water drowning the tracks. It was nearly morning when Watson dipped his head and raced through the downpour towards a lonely coach but not yet light enough to see without the gas street lanterns.

“James Watson?” the drenched man, wrapped in several layers of heavy fabric shouted. His hands kept a tight hold on the uneasy horses tied to the carriage.

James nodded, “The University, please – fast as you can!”

The driver whipped the horses as soon as Watson slammed the carriage door shut and slid across the leather seats.

*~*~*

Nigel beat against the small box containing him, thrashing about like a snared fox. They had him in a container no larger than a coffin – barely room to breathe as he pounded away at the lid, hoping to break the locks or hinges.

His efforts were repaid with a loud crash as one of the Cabal watching him slammed his fist onto the crate.

Enough!” a low voice growled.

Not on your life, Nigel thought defiantly, kicking and punching at every surface but it was too late. There was a strange lurch followed by a not-so-gentle rocking and he realised that he was being carried. He was vaguely aware of doors closing and the tilt as steps were descended until finally his body slipped sharply and he slammed into the top of the box.

The transport crate was thrown into the back cart and quickly began soaking in the rain. Nigel, dazed from the impact, whispered again and again.

No…”

He had seen what became of Cabal test subjects. Should he make it to the factory, he would be lost forever.

*~*~*

The Professor pulled one of the waiting lanterns from the tunnel wall beside him and struck a match.

Despite her best efforts, Helen was awkward in the water. Her garments dragged endlessly behind her and she felt herself sinking whenever her feet lost contact with the ground. Nikola was a short distance in front – one of his hands held onto hers, pulling her as best he could. They could both hear the Cabal agent as he lashed about in the water, growing ever closer and see the approaching solitary light of the Professor as he observed the capture.

Suddenly Helen felt a sharp tug on her dress, dragging her briefly under the water. The Cabal agent had her now. She slipped from Nikola’s hold and he frantically grasped at the water for her, shouting her name.

“Nikola!” she screamed, water flying in her face as the Cabal agent worked his way closer – pawing his way up her dress, strengthening his grip.

He pulled a knife and brandished it for Nikola’s benefit, warning him to let go but the violent movement of the three bodies lurched them sideways – Helen’s arm falling against the blade.

She felt it instantly – the unsettling tingle as the nerves were sliced and then, in a wave, the searing pain. Hot red blood trickled over her arm and the knife, dripping into the water she gasped.

Another Cabal agent entered the tunnel with a second lantern, sliding along the tunnel to the Professor.

Nikola finally caught her flailing, uninjured arm and Helen became the centre of a deadly tug of war.

Help him,” said the Professor to the second Cabal henchman. “I need them both.”

The Cabal agent nodded and waded into the water toward the fray.

She was slipping from Nikola again as they drifted under another stone bridge.

“Nikola…” she reached her other arm out to him. It was bleeding profusely but the constant gushing of water over it disguised all but the diagonal tear, “Please…”

Nikola knew what had to be done. He could not hold onto her against the two men. They would both be captured, killed – tortured. It had to be this way.

“Don’t stop,” he instructed her – his face wild with a mix of fear, hope and desperation.

At first she did not understand – but then she saw it – the dark veil fall over his eyes.

“No…” she pleaded, as Nikola’s human features faded and twisted. Helen could see him giving into it – the pain of the other world inside him.

He did not fight the transformation. With every moment his strength grew, the tunnel brightened and his fear was replaced with something quite unexpected – hunger.

The Cabal agent watched in mute fear but did not relinquish his hold.

In a surge of strength, Nikola ripped Helen from the other man’s grasp and threw her into the deep water at the centre of the tunnel where she was quickly caught in a torrent of gushing water, whisking her away.

Nikola!” she shouted back, struggling to stay afloat. “Nikola no!” but it was too late. The soft light of the two lanterns faded quickly to black and she was left alone, caught in the dark water. For many minutes there was nothing but her ragged breath and the churning of water.

Helen felt lost in some form of after world as she was taken along with the current. The water got deeper – the tunnel wider and the darkness more silent until a gunshot rang out – and shattered it.

“Nik-ola…” her voice broke into a sob, as she realised that it was too late to save him.

*~*~*

James Watson stormed through the university gates, his light travel case lifted above his head as an attempt at protection against the rain. He pushed past an old man, nearly knocking him to the ground in haste.

“Apologies,” James muttered, laying a hand on the man’s shoulder to steady him. “So sorry…”

Professor Samuel Griffin recovered quickly, nodding at the young man that he was okay before continuing to the road where his carriage awaited with the box in the accompanying cart.

“Did you get it?” Professor Griffin asked, before stepping out of the rain.

One of his henchman nodded, shaking some of the water off their face.

“Yes sir, just the one. Tricky bugger, knocked your associate out cold. Do you want us to go get him?”

Professor Griffin thought on it for a moment before, fixing his gloves before answering, “No… he is alive?”

“Oh yes, alive – unconscious but alive.”

“Then we leave him.”

*~*~*

Helen gave up fighting against the water. She let allowed the darkness to pull at her, the cold numbing her body of everything as she thought of Nikola’s lifeless body, following her. Or perhaps they would have recovered it – to experiment on him – it was just – too horrific – she could not think of it without shuddering.

She did not notice the exchange of the darkness of the tunnels to the darkness of night. With a gush of fresh air, she was propelled into a narrow stream bordered by weeds and long grass.

A man, pacing along the bank startled at the site of the woman floating by and ran along in front before sliding down the bank and plucking the sobbing woman from the water.

She gave no protest – barely acknowledging the gesture until she heard the soft word.

Helen…”

Helen blinked away the tears and tilted her head up to the face of the man whose arms she is protectively encircled in.

“Father?” she whispered, looking on his wearied but loving face.

“Yes,” was his quiet reply. He lifted one of his large hands to cup her face, wiping away a line of tears from her cheek.

Gregory Magnus had waited all night on a gamble, stalking the banks of the Trill Mill stream for the students. He had watched the Cabal storm the school but could do nothing but wait. It more than worried him that it was only his daughter to emerge from the tunnels.

“What happened?” he asked her, even though it was clear by her tears that many terrible things had transpired since his departure.

She wanted to tell him everything. The experiments, the blood, her condition, the Cabal but in the end all she managed was, ‘Nikola…’ before falling against his shoulder.

Gregory’s arms enveloped his daughter and held her as they sat together, strewn over the bank, the water still brushing over their feet. They stayed like that for several minutes – Helen burying herself in her father’s jacket, him, stroking her matted hair – his eyes falling to the trail of blood dripping from her arm. He knew, all too well, that no injury would kill her – and now she knew it too.

“Helen!” Gregory’s voice suddenly jarred, and he pushed her gently away, freeing himself – his eyes locked on the river behind where another body floated by.

It was Nikola – unconscious in the current, his vampire teeth protruding over his lips and his shirt a pale red from blood.

Gregory stumbled down the bank, catching hold of Nikola’s arm, pulling him to the edge. With great effort, he and Helen hauled the vampire up onto the bank and laid him out flat on the grass. Helen held her hand over her mouth. She was shaking with shock and cold at the sight of Nikola’s hollow eyes staring into nowhere. His shirt was ripped open in the front – slashed in several places.

“Is he…” she whispered, but couldn’t finish the sentence.

Gregory knelt down beside Nikola and searched for a wound but could find nothing.

“Helen,” he started, as he felt for a faint heart beat on the body. “Tell me the truth, did you experiment with the Source Blood?”

She nodded slowly.

“And Nikola, did he ingest – or…”

“We derived a serum from it,” she interrupted him.

If he wasn’t so horrified, Gregory would have been proud.

“We all took it, Nikola, John, James, Nigel and myself.”

Gregory’s eyes fluttered closed in horror.

“He is not dead…” he finally said, his hands reaching inside his coat. “Nikola is like you now.”

*~*~*

James Watson flung open the door to his dormitory so hard that one of the hinges snapped clattered to the floor leaving the door to scrape over the floorboards. The room was empty.

Nigel?” James asked the empty space, but he was not there.

If Nigel had been in London and slaughtered that poor girl, it would have been difficult to arrive first. Nigel’s absence only made James more suspicious of his roommate. The man was invisible – he could vanish without a trace – commit crimes and no-one be the wiser. In short, Nigel Griffin was the perfect profile for a murderer – but how was James to prove it? Not even Mr Holmes would entertain such a notion.

Whatever the case, he had to warn Helen of his suspicions. If she was still in the building, she was to be found in Tesla’s attic, so that’s where he headed. When he arrived, he paused at the sight of the stairs unfolded. Nikola never left the stairs down at this hour and though there were lights burning in the room, there were no soft voices accompanying it.

James stepped closer, eventually climbing the ladder. As his head emerged in the attic he saw that the lanterns were reaching the last of their oil and the room was abandoned and had been for some hours.

There was someone going on tonight – and it wasn’t good.

*~*~*

The carriage shook and rattled its way back across Oxford with haste – its precious cargo in tow. Professor Griffin sat resolute, like some kind of marble statue – his hands folded in his lap. Though he did not show it, his strength was failing fast. It took all Samuel’s strength to maintain his composure.

“Only one, one out of five,” observed one the Cabal agents, inspecting a vicious set of claw marks along his arm. The scars beneath burned like nothing else. “They are fast, and strong.”

“Of course they are,” replied Griffin, glancing out the window at the weak lights of the town.

“He’s – ” the Cabal agent hesitated before finishing, “your son…”

Griffin flinched with regret. He could hear the box on the cart behind rocking about, smashing against its prisoner.

“I know,” he said slowly.

24

PUSHING BOUNDARIES

Gregory Magnus was not dressed in his usual gentlemanly attire. Instead his simple olive coat – worn and patched, was buttoned over a cotton shirt. During the months he had grown a thick grey beard which stuck out from his chin in a three inch carpet matted against the oncoming cold. He looked both well travelled and bedraggled – like someone that had been living on the outskirts of society.

Kneeling on the soft, wet ground beside the ghoulish body of Nikola Tesla, Gregory carefully trailed his eyes over the claws, protruding teeth, pale skin and pitted eyes. The likeness was uncanny.

Sanguine Vampiris, in the flesh – or near enough.

“Extraordinary…” he exhaled, shaking his head slowly. “Are the others – like this?”

Helen had one hand over her stomach and the other across her mouth to stop herself from crying.

“No,” she replied softly, “it’s – different. Nigel is –” Helen had to think for a moment. What exactly was Nigel? What were any of them? “He’s a chromataphore,” she eventually settled on, “but he suffers terrible pain. Watson and John are changed also – but in more subtle ways I –” Helen could not bear to look at her father, “whatever their bodies are doing – they are not finished yet.”

“And you are unchanged,” Gregory added, when she neglected to mention herself. He knew that she would be – her abnormality was very specific.

Instead of rain, a few flecks of snow took to the air, tumbling helplessly around them before melting on the grass – but not Nikola’s cold skin – which suddenly flinched beneath one of the tiny crystals.

“Helen,” Gregory spurred into action, reaching into his jacket pockets as Nikola’s skin shivered and breathed. “There is much to tell you but this is not the place.”

“What is that?” Helen watched her father produce a small, corked glass bottle with a thick, silky liquid swirling like perfume. As the stopper was removed, perfume is exactly what Helen could smell. It invaded her senses with its bold floral scent – something that she faintly remembered from childhood but could not place.

Nikola was stirring again – his clawed fingers flexing against the mud, chest rising higher and his pitted eyes beginning to search the void of night above.

Gregory wasted no time. He took a needle from his coat, dipped it into the liquid and drew it into the syringe. It swirled lusciously like some kind of gold in the half-light. Next, Gregory re-stoppered the bottle and tapped the needle lightly against his fingers. He ignored Helen’s whispered questions, bringing the tip of the needle to Nikola’s skin and forcing it through in one quick motion. A moment later the liquid had vanished into Nikola’s body, caught up in his crimson currents.

“What have you done…?” Helen went to lay her hand on Nikola’s forehead as he began to shudder but Gregory grasped her wrist and stopped her.

“Don’t touch him,” he cautioned, as Nikola’s body sweated and shook more violently.

Nikola’s limbs pounded against the ground, his neck jarring sharply as a high-pitched screech left his lips. It was over as soon as it started. The black consuming Nikola’s eyes faded out revealing his frightened grey irises while his claws shrank back to nails. His teeth flattened and returned to their normal state until all that remained was Nikola, lying on the ground, raising a hand to his forehead awakening from a recrudescent dream.

Gregory fell back onto the ground, relieved while Helen rocked forward, catching Nikola’s flailing arms.

Nikola!” she breathed, her fingers trailing over his body and face, searching for the injuries she knew he must have. They flitted over his collar bone, down his chest and dipped under the edges of his open shirt and then back up to his face as Nikola tried to sit up, questions brimming on his lips.

“Stop – stop,” he begged, finally seated with both Helen and Gregory bookending him. “H-h-how?” Nikola stuttered, struggling to regain control of his body. He remembered the tunnel, the dark freezing water and the horrible moment when he had allowed the transformation of his body. Beyond that, the world was a blur of screams and pain.

Gregory swallowed the lump in his throat and held the glass bottle up for Nikola to see. “This suppresses the effects of the ancient blood.”

Helen’s warm arms wrapped themselves around Nikola’s waist and back, holding him upright. Her arm was still bleeding but it had already begun to heal from both edges in an unnaturally fast manner.

“It is not a cure,” finished Gregory, letting Nikola take the bottle from him and examine it. “Little more than the beginning of an idea, but it will have to do as it is all we have.”

“Then – I will always be like this,” Nikola said slowly, licking his dry lips and handing the bottle back.

This has always been part of you. A reaction this extreme…” Gregory had heard of such historical lineages but never seen one himself. Mr Tesla’s history was intrinsically linked to the vampire race, of that much he was certain.

Nikola felt overwhelmingly ill but the tight pair of arms around his waist kept him steady.

“I am sorry,” Gregory meant it, gazing down at the ravished body of the young man, barely alive, “but there is no time to delay. The Cabal grow bolder with every moment we waste. Nikola…” he waited until the man’s pale grey eyes returned to him. Then, Gregory withdrew a set of crumpled notes from his pocket, folded and tied together with a brown length of ribbon. They are Nikola’s notes – supposedly stolen.

His sister’s notes. “Where did you?”

“I stole them, from my own house. Nikola – they are incomplete. I must have the rest…” Gregory’s eyes were quite desperate. “I can fix this – I can but I must have your help.”

They couldn’t know that what Gregory needed to fix wasn’t the effects of the blood but the genetic curse bestowed upon his daughter. He had been searching more than twenty years and now he was within arm’s length. He could save her – he could – even if his own life was the price.

*~*~*

James Watson poked the library door with a single, elongated finger. The door squealed as it swung open, crying out at the night. All the lights were off but a crack in the storm-ridden sky allowed a few strong beams of moonlight to strike at the floor.

He edged in warily.

James’s eyes were caught by a couple of upturned chairs in the study area to the side. The heavy wooden things had been thrown out from their table and now lay strewn over the floor. Criss-crossing lines of moon-light lit the way in front of him as he moved around from the new library into the more familiar old section. Despite this alcove having become a second home to him, James Watson felt a prickle run along the hairs at the back of his neck as he looked around the deserted area. It too was littered with open books, thrown onto the floor and left like corpses.

God above,” James whispered, carefully stepping around the books, his eyes scanning the room for any sign of Nikola, Helen or Nigel.

He was about to lose hope – one hand brushing over his clean shaven chin in bafflement, when he heard a low, pained groan come from the floor behind him.

James spun around, his overly long travelling coat flaring out. There it was again – the rumbling of air through someone’s throat.

“Hello?” James offered tentatively to the room. It was unlikely that someone here to harm him would have announced their presence.

He backtracked to the clutter of tables and chairs – surprised to find a man writhing on the floor – something that he had completely missed on his first pass through the room.

“Sir!” he breathed out, kneeling to the floor beside the grey-haired man.

*~*~*

John emerged from a bowl of freezing water – hands clasped closely to his face, rubbing away the hazy tangle of memories. He had passed out on the floor again – awoken sprawled awkwardly over the scuffed floor surrounded by dried tracks of blood – someone else’s.

His dreams were terrible. They were vast stretches of darkness filed with an overwhelming desire – a lust of sorts. An insatiable urge to prey upon the innocent and even in waking it was creeping up on him.

He tried desperately to wash it away – to shock himself with the cold water into believing it to be just that, a dream but the tainted water, sick with blood, defied his will.

John’s hands shook, dripping with the pale red water. The only question on his lips, “What have I done?”

*~*~*

James held a handkerchief to the lecturer’s head, dabbing at a trail of blood working its way down the side of his face before dripping onto the shoulder of his jacket.

“Sir…” James began, helping the man into one of the nearby chairs. They sat there in the fractured moonlight. His continued silence was an invitation for the professor to elaborate.

A choice. Whatever had happened, it was clear that the lecturer’s old friend Griffin had abandoned him – left him for dead on the floor. Whatever business arrangements they had had in the past were clearly at an end.

“Someone – I heard voices shouting,” the lecturer lied, closing his eyes in pain as James pressed firmly on the wound, cleaning it. “It was that woman-”

“Helen?” James prompted and was met with a nod. He felt his stomach turn – unable to shake the image of all those slaughtered women in London.

“Yes,” the lecturer continued. “And men – several of them. I don’t know I – I dressed and came into the library. It was dark and then someone hit me from behind.” He was very convincing in his lie – a talent of his. “That is all that I remember.”

James collapsed back into the chair opposite, lost in worry. What could be done? He knew very well that there was nothing to be done at this hour of the morning except maybe – the thought occurred to him – John – yes, perhaps he could find John.

“Sir,” James started, leaning toward the old man who was busy inspecting the injury on his head. “We must find John Druitt – do you have his current residence?”

*~*~*

The urgent knock at the hotel door roused John from his tumultuous sleep. He quickly struggled out of the chair, striding past the fireplace which had burnt down to glowing coals. Looking more human in his dressing gown, he unlatched the door and opened it a crack. He was met at once by James Watson’s alert expression.

“John – thank god,” said Watson, pushing open the door and letting himself into the room. He had left the professor back at the university.

“James?” John said sleepily, closing the door behind them. Though they had known each other for many months now, he had never met with James outside the university walls and certainly had not disclosed the details of his residence. “How did you find me? Why have you found me? God, is that the hour?” the questions rolled out on top of one another.

“There is no easy way to tell you this, John,” James paced about the room anxiously, never settling for more than a moment on any one place. “It’s Helen,” he let her name linger before adding, “and Nikola and Nigel. They are all missing.”

*~*~*

Nikola clutched the bundle of papers lovingly – eventually folding them and stowing them inside his new jacket. Less than five hours had passed since his transformation. Gregory Magnus had wasted no time ushering him and Helen back to the house where he rustled up some clothes for Nikola and ushered them out of the house and into a waiting coach that was now shaking and lumbering down the morning road en-route to the train station.

Helen was beside him and Gregory opposite. No-one could bring themselves speak – instead they were lost in their own worry and plans at the enormity of the task ahead of them for which they were ill-prepared.

Despite the desperation of their situation – the utter hopelessness of it all, Nikola could not banish the flicker of comfort that he would see his family again – his mother and the youngest of his sisters still waiting at home. The notes were in her handwriting – Milka had always been the most like Nikola.

Nikola shifted and turned his head, glancing at Helen. She had drifted off to sleep, leaning against the leather interior of the carriage with a mess of golden hair tumbling everywhere.

*~*~*

ONE WEEK LATER

As they progressed further north the air grew colder and winter took foot. Permafrost made the ground hard underfoot while passing clouds dusted the steam engine with snow. Their windows were hidden beneath sheets of ice making the view outside a blur.

The world here was slowing, frozen under layers of white. Lines of trees stood bare against the world, stripped down to blackened tangles of twigs. Jagged hills and farmed valleys became part of the endless curtain of winter beyond the train window.

Nikola, wrapped in freshly bought clothes – a simple grey gentleman’s suit with a muskrat fur coat that was soft to the touch and long enough to bury your fingers in, was unbuttoned. He wore black, fur lined gloves and sturdy warm shoes with thick soles. Where they were going, his home, the cold was unforgiving. He had not been there in several years, not since leaving to further his education. He had missed the wildness of the place – the way it lingered at the fringe of civilisation, listening closely to the whispers of its past.

He felt the train take the slow turn as the tracks crossed one of the unmoving rivers and turned south. It was the final leg of the long journey.

Helen had been pacing through the compartment, travelling it end to end like a pendulum swinging back and forth. Her long gown of brown and black brushed against the walls as she passed, rustling. She lingered at the open door to Nikola’s compartment, her eyes watching him as he watched the world chug by.

“You are home,” she observed, crossing her arms over her chest. Despite her attire, she was cold. When Nikola did not reply, Helen eased into the compartment and seated herself opposite him. Her dress fanned out, settling in layers of lace and fur at his knees.

He did not move or acknowledge the world – so Helen reached forward and rested one of her gloved hands on top of his.

“Nikola…?” she said softly.

His eyes flicked first to her hand and then gradually roamed to her face. Her cheeks were flushed red from the cold but her eyes remained wild and blue – clear like the ice around them. He placed his other hand atop hers and was alarmed at the cold he felt through his glove.

“You are freezing,” he said, rubbing her hand between his.

The door of the compartment rattled as it was closed. Nikola and Helen turned to find Gregory Magnus, also dressed warmly, standing by the edge of the single bed. His expression was one heavy with regret at the task that awaited him at the same hour every day.

“I know…” said Nikola, before Gregory could say anything.

25

THE BRITISH MUSEUM

“Give him a minute,” Helen murmured, her hand still securely between Nikola’s.

“I daren’t.” Gregory moved over to them. “It is nearly twenty-four hours,” he said, “if we wait…”

The last time had been nearly as bad as the first. It appeared the longer they held off Nikola’s natural instincts, the worse their manifestation became. Four days had now passed since his last transformation and now the moon was high and the night approaching, they could not risk it. The injection had to be administered regularly and without fail.

“Helen…” Nikola untangled his hands – her cue to leave.

“This isn’t right,” she said, as she moved past her father, her hand resting on the brass door handle. The two gentlemen didn’t look at her and remained silent until she left.

Gregory withdrew the glass container holding the remainder of the rose-oil. There was less than half remaining. The train shook as Gregory took Helen’s place in front of Nikola who was already shrugging out of his heavy coat and rolling up the sleeve of his shirt.

“How long?” Nikola asked calmly, extending his bare arm out. How long until the bottle was empty?

With a needle in one hand, Gregory expertly undid the seal of the bottle and the pungent fragrance filled the air.

“A month,” he replied, “if we’re careful.”

Nikola nodded. A month of humanity left. A month before he became a monster. A month before he would end it all.

“Does she know?” Nikola flinched as the needle went through his skin. He couldn’t help but think of that night, long ago, when this had all begun.

“No,” Gregory answered.

Neither of them would tell her.

*~*~*

The old man sat by the cage – staring for hours at the emptiness behind the bars. His years had advanced horridly in the short week – disfiguring his face with deep creases and sagging layers of skin that hung under his eyes. White hair – too long for his face, hung limply by his ears while his wrinkled hand resting on the smooth top of his walking cane – continued to shake.

Coward…” jeered the empty cage. “Kill me, if you’re goin’ t’ kill me.”

There – a flicker – an imperfection in the air.

Samuel Griffin didn’t respond to the taunt. It had been the same for days now. Pacing – endless pacing and sneering like some kind of animal. Mostly, that was all Professor Samuel Griffin saw – when he could, an animal.

“It is not in my interests to kill you,” Professor Griffin eventually replied, as the outline of his son rippled in and out of view. The underground vaults at Empire Cotton were mostly bare rooms burrowed out of the earth and lined with concrete. Water stains down their bleak interiors broke up the otherwise grey expanse while oil lamps around the room made the air heavy with smoke. Occasionally the wailing of some other creature could be heard.

“Then what?” Nigel shot back, seated at the opposite side of the small enclosure with his knees pulled up to his chin, rocking with the cold.

“What you have done to yourself is…” Professor Griffin’s words faltered, weighed down by an insidious hatred, “is monstrous.”

Nigel’s skin rippled wildly until his figure reappeared. His eyes were bright red at their centres – a frightening contrast to his pale skin which was stretched thinly over his bones like tissue paper.

Professor Griffin breathed sharply. His son – no – this creature was a travesty of nature.

“Do you know what the Cabal are?” Professor Griffin composed himself. “Ten thousand years ago humans were enslaved by an abnormal race known as Sanguine Vampiris. We were the cattle of civilisation – preyed upon, slaughtered and used to build their sparkling empires but now,” Griffin’s voice lowered, “we shall have our revenge. We shall hunt them down – every last one of them…” His tone suggested that this now included Nigel. “This is a war,” he continued, “there is bloodshed, there is sacrifice – do not mistake me for a weak man because my body has failed me.”

Father…” Nigel moved to the bars of the cage, curling his fingers around them, desperation taking hold. “Please.”

“You stopped being my son when you became one of them,” Professor Samuel Griffin spat back. “My whole life – do you have any idea what-” but there was no point explaining the history of their family – the suffering that they had endured. It was over now. The Griffin lineage had ended – when Samuel died – and he knew that it would be soon – they would enter the pages of history and live no more.

A slamming door startled them both as several men entered, one of them grunting, “We’re ready, sir,” to Professor Griffin. Griffin merely nodded, and the men descended on the cage, unlocking its door and grabbing roughly at Nigel.

“Where are you takin’ me? Answer me!” Nigel screeched as cold hands wrapped around his naked body and something was injected into him, at once making his limbs numb and heavy. He didn’t remain conscious long enough to hear their answer.

*~*~*

The roof of the train carriage arched over Helen, ornately decorated with brass and wood fixtures. A deep red carpet underfoot matched the colour of the walls which were broken periodically by windows, oil lamps and silk curtains with oriental scenes hand sewn into them. She would have appreciated the luxury of her surrounds more had she not been able to hear the retching coming from Nikola’s compartment. The wild rose oil made him ill, horribly so. She cursed herself, raising the eyebrows of the few passengers scattered around her.

Helen ignored the young gentleman opposite her, pretending to read his paper while trying to catch her eye every so often. Her father had spoken to him several times during the week. He was a wealthy individual, well schooled and was presently interested in funding scientific enterprise. Her father was courting his finance but Helen didn’t trust him at all. The man couldn’t be more than twenty and was far too at ease with the world for her liking.

Half an hour passed in silence until her father stepped out into the lounge area and nodded in her direction meaning that Nikola was finally asleep. Instead of joining her, Gregory Magnus wandered over to the young gentleman and took a seat beside him.

“Mr Fort,” Gregory said politely.

The man lowered his newspaper, dragging his attention away from the article entitled, ‘MANSION HOUSE – A FOOLISH FREAK’ and the exert that had been of particular interest;

Clerks must have their jokes apparently, and there is reason to suspect that the Whitechapel murders may have prompted them to the making of some grim ones lately. The Lord Mayor, however, has widely laid it down that if stupid practical jokes are inevitable so should be their punishment. It had pleased a warehouse clerk, who came before him yesterday, to extinguish a lamp and so darken the access to houses in Upper Thames street at a time when all East end people are specially sensitive as to the necessity for abundant light.’

“Charles – please,” the man corrected Gregory. Though the man was clearly American in origin, his accent and physical features were Dutch.

“Is it the sense of adventure that finds you on this train or something else?” Gregory enquired lightly, making conversation.

Charles Fort folded his newspaper away.

“A woman,” he declared finally, his eyes drifting but never settling in Helen’s direction. Charles was endowed with a thick moustache and a firm build covered by an expensive suit that made him appear suave but adventurous. It was fair to say that Charles was handsome in the classical sense and charismatic to the point that a room would turn to his smallest gesture.

“From America, it is a long way to come,” observed Gregory. “She must be beautiful.”

“Very,” Charles quickly cut in – his dark brown eyes warm and friendly for someone his age. “Though it is her wit that I cherish,” he added. “She is a scientist, like myself.”

Gregory seemed to find this admirable and the two continued chatting for several hours. Helen meanwhile, excused herself and vanished into the adjoining compartments, inevitably finding herself lingering beside Nikola’s bed, watching him sleep.

He was turned awkwardly on his side like he had fallen there. His face was pale and his breath shallow and sharp.

“I’m sorry,” Helen said quietly, moving wayward strands of hair from his sleeping face.

Not wishing to leave, she retook her place in the seat by the window with the collection of Nikola’s papers. She flicked through them even though she had already read every word. How Nikola’s sister had acquired originals of William Dampier’s notes was a mystery. They were coveted and hard to come by. The great explorer had died nearly two-hundred years ago yet still his research and discovery of the natural world was mostly untouched. At times like these – with scores of people venturing out into the world to discover its secrets, there was a sea of information building up and not enough eyes to understand it.

*~*~*

Though James Watson had scoured the newspaper every day for news from the London about the killings, he had heard nothing for weeks. It seemed that the world was eerily quiet – as if waiting for something. Even Sherlock Holmes had dropped out of contact, not bothering to wire him for many days now.

Eventually, James discarded the paper on John’s drinks table with an exhausted, “Nothing…” following it closely. The afternoon had settled into the beginning of night and a crisp breeze worked its way in through the partly open curtains.

“James,” said John sternly, picking lint off his trench coat, “do not wish them dead.”

“You are right – as usual,” James replied. “Though the longer the quiet the worse I fear the storm will be.”

With the others missing, James and John had taken to each other’s company, attempting to unravel the terrible mysteries around them. John in particular had been affected by Helen’s sudden absence.

“Maybe it is over,” John offered, buttoning his coat, preparing to leave the house on business, “and The Ripper has lost his taste for the sport?”

“No…” James folded his hands in his lap. “Insanity like that – ravenous hunger for violence? It ends when his blood joins the floor. Whoever he is, he will return – and soon, I think.”

John paced across the room, collecting various items before waiting at the door with a serious expression.

“I hope you are wrong,” he said solemnly, and headed out.

James was left with the approaching night and the wall of newspaper cut outs pinned to the back of John’s hotel coach like a drawing board. He stared at it for hours on end, trying to find some kind of method amongst the brutal acts. So far, the only anomaly that he could make out was that the murders had stopped abruptly when Nigel Griffin had disappeared from the world.

It would be so easy to believe the worst and often he wanted to but there was something lurking at the back of Watson’s mind that didn’t add up – an irritating question that would not rest. Why? Why would Nigel kill?

James needed help. He would write to Sherlock Holmes and confess everything.

*~*~*

The British Museum of Natural History lounged out over London like some great ruin from a forgotten world. Its wings, held up by rows of white ionic columns and capped by elaborate freezes, stood out from the night with an eerie glow. Gas lights flickered along its exterior walls, flaring in the night air while the sheer size of the building dwarfed the streets and parks surrounding it.

It was formidable, in every sense of the world. This was a place that warned all who entered it that ‘hic iacet vostra historia’ whether you accepted it or not. There were things within its walls that had been scavenged from the furthest reaches of man’s exploration, excavated from time and dirt to be studied and wondered at.

The evening was well underway when the coffin-shaped crate was carted through the entrance foyer of the British Museum by two men. They trampled over the marble floors, passing by the brand new display of Pantheon Marbles that were still being unpacked. A few special collection handlers waved the pair of men on, directing them through to the private offices at the far end of the building where they found a door labelled, ‘Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan’.

They set the crate down and knocked.

“He’s not here,” said a voice, as the door opened to reveal a young, oily faced man. He was a student, left to look after the department during the long hours that researches spent either in the vaults or sensibly asleep.

“What do you mean, ‘he’s not here’?” replied the larger of the two Cabal men.

“Our specialist has chosen to spend some time abroad. I was instructed to tell you that your appointment has been delayed until next month. There is nothing I can do I am afraid.”

“What are we supposed to do with this?” the man pointed at the crate containing Nigel Griffin.

The man leant over the wooden box for a cursory inspection of its labels. “What is it?” he asked but received no answer. “We have an excellent storehouse,” he offered.

The men did not look convinced.

“This is not acceptable,” said the second Cabal man, stepping toward the greasy boy in an intimidating manner. “Cargo like this is fragile – difficult and expensive to move.”

“I am sorry,” is all the young man could say. “The Cabal are exemplary patrons and we extend to you are deepest, most sincere gratitude but the situation cannot be helped. Mr Fort is out of contact and will return by the end of the month.”

*~*~*

Nikola awoke to a pair of bright blue eyes.

“How long?” he asked, moving to sit up.

Helen pushed him back down firmly, preventing him from moving too soon.

“Four hours,” she replied.

“And I didn’t…” his voice trailed off, leaving his questioning eyes to finish.

She shook her head. “No Nikola, you did not hurt anyone. I promise.”

His eyes closed briefly in relief. Helen was sitting on the bed beside him. He could feel the slight depression of the mattress and the soft fur of her dress against his hand. The sickly-sweet smell of the oil had been replaced by her and he could feel his strength returning.

Something dripped onto the bare skin of his hand. It was warm and instantly shattered over his skin. Nikola opened his eyes to find Helen quietly crying. There was a sheen to her eyes which was shedding tears whenever she blinked.

“No…” said Nikola quietly, lifting his hand up to her cheek, sitting up as he did so. “You must not,” he insisted, wiping his thumb over her cheek as his hand cupped her face.

“Nikola…” another pair of tears fell and rolled over his hand.

He pulled her slowly toward him until their foreheads lightly touched and he could feel every shudder running through her.

“It will be all right…” he whispered.

“If I could take it back, I would,” she said quietly.

“I would not let you,” Nikola turned his head slightly, and she slipped onto his shoulder. She turned into his neck, trying to bury herself there. “Our virtues and our failings are inseparable, like force and matter. When they separate, we are no more.”

Eventually Helen nodded against him.

“Helen, you did not fail,” he continued firmly, lifting her up and pushing her back so that he could look on her tear stained face. A pain, worse than anything his vampirical transformation could cause, ripped through him when he saw the unnecessary sorrow in her features. Nikola did not need her pity – he needed her. “Your virtue is your desire for knowledge. It must never be separated from you.”

26

NATURE’S BALANCE

The brick buildings loomed, walling in the paved streets that criss-crossed the inner city of London with their bleak facades. Webs of wire choked their way from rooftop to rooftop, sagging and rocking in the occasional breath of wind. Rubbish, scattered in the gutter, joined in – waltzing endlessly with itself in sad spirals.

A line of soft gas lights appeared like a string of lustrous pearls on dusk, accentuating the blue on a lady’s dress as she knocked on one of the non-descript doors. She waited, tilting her head up to the sky as it blushed pink.

He has watched her for several nights – always on the same doorstep when the evening begins. Then, half an hour later, she returns to the street and embarks on the short stroll down Miller’s Court, under the filthy curve of a small bridge before disappearing into the Ten Bells.

John slipped in amongst the other patrons of the bar, indulging in a drink. He sipped it slowly.

She was beautiful.

Her lightly curled blond hair was pulled up and then left to scatter over her shoulders and down her back. Whenever she caught John’s gaze, it was with piercing blue eyes that always seemed to smile. By all accounts, she was the superior of the room, somewhat of a breeze drifting through the dreary setting.

While the others drank, she chatted, courting several of the better gentlemen. It wasn’t until this particular night that she approached the tall man perched at the counter of the bar, quietly observing the room.

There was a peace around him and Mary liked that – it reminded her of someone she used to see back in Oxford.

*~*~*

Helen, Gregory and Nikola braced themselves against the cold as they stepped off the train and onto the small platform.

There was a light snow falling around them, dusting their fur trimmed clothes with white flakes. The air was cold but clean, buffeting them in occasional gusts as it ripped through the river valley, guided by the edges of the pine forests and cliff faces.

The dramatic scenery was like a drug that wooed the party forward toward the carriage that awaited them with four black horses and a rather intoxicated driver clutching a bottle of whisky protectively to his chest.

Having never been outside Oxford since she was a child, Helen took a moment to graze her eyes over the jagged black mountain range disappearing beneath a layer of low lying cloud. It was positively wild, a land free of the modern harnesses that cities imposed upon the earth. Then Helen realised – she had seen this place before, every time she looked into Nikola’s eyes. He carried it with him.

She sighed, her cheeks turning red with the cold.

“Helen, we’re late,” her father said quietly, nudging her toward the carriage where Nikola extended a hand to help her up.

*~*~*

The wire came for James Watson mid-way through morning. He was still at the university, shuffling through the piles of research and unreturned library books that Tesla had left behind when there was a knock at his dormitory door. His lecturer appeared and handed him a slip of paper.

“It came through my desk directed to you,” said the lecturer. He still had a bandage taped to the back of his head from the attack more than a week ago in the library.

It has started – Holmes

James folded the paper into his pocket. “Thank you, I shall join you in a minute,” he said, and closed the door.

So, it wasn’t over yet.

Though James knew it was morally ambiguous at best, some part of that message filled him with a rush of excitement – there was still a chance to solve this case, to outwit another human being – a monster in all regards. There was no choice, he would away to London at once and offer his assistance (and suspicions) to Holmes.

Before he could leave the city, James went to collect his research from John’s hotel room. They had spent most nights in each other’s company since the sudden disappearance of the others, sharing theories, trying to see through the chaos of the Ripper’s actions. John would bring home as many newspapers as he could find in the evenings and then James would rip them apart and pin articles of interest to the back of the couch. Their shared passion for the hunt had inadvertently sparked a friendship neither of them really understood.

James fumbled for the key and then slid it into the lock of the rather battered and sticky hotel room. It creaked open.

“Evening, James…” said John’s voice almost at once. He was waiting in his armchair with a larger than normal pile of newspapers on the table beside him. “You’re early.”

“Have you heard?” James slipped into the room and closed the door.

John raised an eyebrow and then purposefully glanced at the sheer volume of newspapers he had spent the better part of the afternoon collecting. “Evidently,” John drawled. “It appears the subject of your obsession has re-appeared.”

James crossed the room, collapsing behind the couch where he threw his briefcase to the ground, snapped it open and started filling it with the newspaper articles from the couch. This caused a flurry of paper, which John observed serenely, making no move to assist.

“You are going then, I knew you would,” said John.

“I can’t stay here and be a silent observer like everyone else,” replied James, with his fists full of paper.

“And you’re going to catch him?” James added, with his relaxed air of amusement. “Don’t forget these…” he tapped the newspapers beside him.

James muttered something and shifted the pile into his case, making it bulge unnaturally at the seams.

“This too…” John leant across the arm of his chair toward the coach, stretching out an envelope in Watson’s direction between his two long fingers. “It came for you an hour ago.”

With no time to spare, James snatched the letter and threw it in his briefcase with everything else.

“You could come,” offered James, closing the lid on the case and rising to his feet. His heavy trench coat swelled around him – it was the last of many layers of clothes.

John averted his eyes and shifted further into the warmth of his chair. “I have work, unlike you, I cannot abandon my life so easily. Be careful,” John added, before James could leave the room, “this killer is a nightmare in his own mind, mocking you from hell.”

James nodded earnestly, and left.

*~*~*

The snow continued to fall, turning the road into a dangerous, ice-ridden indent that the horses struggled to navigate. Their driver was on his feet, leaning forward to investigate the road ahead, carefully tapping the rumps of the beasts with his whip.

It was a slow, nervous journey that was taking more than twice as long as they had planned. The world around them was dimming – disappearing…

“Do not worry,” Nikola said to Gregory and Helen. “He has passed these roads in much worse.”

Eventually the weather cleared. The snow stopped and for the first time since arriving in Smiljan they could see patches of blue sky.

Nikola’s house comprised of two white buildings perched on a gentle rise, pushed up against the encroaching wilderness of thickets and low trees. The smaller of the two was the family church, no more than twenty paces from the front door of the main house.

The carriage pulled up on the flat between the buildings and released its travel-wearied passengers. Burdened with luggage, they trampled through the snow toward the house. One of the old trees strewn in the snow caught Helen’s attention. It was a large, gnarled creation that had been split into two and left in a blackened, horrific state for all to see.

“Nikky?” a small voice poked out from behind the front door, pushing the heavy thing open.

Nikola dropped his cases to the ground and strode forward to meet the young woman who threw herself into his arms.

The sight startled Helen, she was not accustomed to seeing him show such open affection.

“Missed you,” said Nikola, lifting his little sister off the ground, spinning her before returning her safely to her feet. “God, you have grown,” he added, she was nearly as tall as him.

“Come inside,” Milka beckoned. “Introductions can wait until you are all warm.”

*~*~*

“I received your letters,” explained Milka, as soon as the party was settled around the open fire. The letters in question were piled on the table beside her. “You were most adamant about the urgency, so I wrote to my trusted friend. He shall be here presently.”

Nikola stoked the fire with a large iron poker before returning to his seat on the couch beside Helen and Gregory.

“I do not intend to sound forward,” Gregory set his cup of tea down on the table in front of them. He couldn’t help his eyes wandering to the glass jars resting on every available surface. They were full of the preserved remains of creatures, yellowed with age. “But time is against us.”

Milka glanced at her brother who nodded discreetly. “You want to see the rest of Dampier’s notes,” she said. “As you wish – but first,” she flicked her clear, sharp eyes up at them. They were the mirror of Nikola’s and matched her pale, delicate skin. “You will tell me everything.”

*~*~*

Watson waded through the sea of navy policemen. Their faces were sombre enough to drown in London’s miserable grey as they relayed orders to each other.

“James! Let him through,” the tall, thin figure of Sherlock Holmes stuck out from the crowd like a giraffe, brandishing his cane. He pushed people roughly aside, allowing James Watson to claw his way to the entrance of the building.

“I’ve never seen such a fuss,” said Watson, as he was pulled into the shadow of the narrow hallway of the small terrace.

“It is warranted,” replied Sherlock in a tone that near froze the air around him. “Never, in all the long years I have spent on this earth, digging through the worst of humanity – and believe me James, I have dug, have I seen anything like it.”

They approached the bedroom at the back of the house. There was nobody in there except the crime scene photographer, folding up the tripod of his camera.

*~*~*

“Can you finish it in time?” Helen roamed around the small room at the back of the house. Her father was at the centre of a sprawl of papers on the floor, carefully leafing through them.

“I think so,” he replied after a few long moments. “Exquisite…” he whispered at the notes.

Helen leant against the wall beside the solitary window, bowing her head in the candlelight. “He’s getting worse,” she finally said. “Since we crossed the border he’s been paler – more withdrawn and sometimes I think he’s hovering on the edge of –”

“It’s the countryside,” Gregory replied, not letting his eyes leave the coveted notes. “I had wondered if bringing him back to this ancient place would have an effect.”

“And yet you let him come?” she snapped, surprised that her father would do such a thing.

“He has to be here, Helen,” this time, he did look at her. “Mr Tesla is the closest thing to Sanguine Vampiris that we’ll find in the time remai-”

Helen was shaking her head in disbelief, “You’re risking his life for your research? Father….”

“Helen,” Gregory worked his way to his feet, “I am only going to ask you this once. Are you a scientist? Not long ago you stood in my study and demanded that I share this world. You have to make a choice but know this, if I can complete my research I can help him but without him, it can’t be done.”

Her eyes fell closed.

Gregory sighed softly. “Now you understand. We cannot know where knowledge will take us or who it will sacrifice.”

“It’s time for his treatment,” she pushed off the wall and crossed the room briskly. Helen couldn’t stand to entertain the thought of Nikola as some form of ‘price’ to be paid in the quest for knowledge. “I’ll fetch him,” she added, closing the door more heavily than was necessary.

So this is how John had felt – that night he had discovered her with the others.

Helen shook her head sharply, flicking her long curled hair back over her shoulder as she checked the rooms lining the narrow hall, eventually ending at the empty sitting room with its raging fire burning alone.

“Nikola?” she offered the room, but found no answer. Aside from the fire, it was near dark, so Helen lit the lamps sending a warm glow through the room, playing off the specimen jars that cluttered every corner and shelf.

A bright flash of light through the window caught Helen’s attention. She had not noticed the storm lingering overhead, sitting mute over the nearby mountains. It was neither raining nor snowing and the wind was quiet against the plate glass windows. What struck her was a dark silhouette against the sky – a figure standing outside the window, staring out at the storm.

Helen paced down the hall and pulled open the heavy front door, stepping out into the night. She smelt a thousand foreign things on the air. Trees – the late fallen snow – the stables at the base of the small hill where wild roses clawed their way over headstones, they all mingled together as she padded through the snow.

“Nikola…” she announced herself.

The sky ahead was flashing silently with pink and green. Like far off sparks, the lightning played in the clouds.

“Can you feel it?” he asked, his body facing the storm. Every hair on his body was prickling, alive with the electric potential energy in the air. Nikola could literally feel the pull between the sky and the ground – like standing under a waterfall, threatening to drown him in its power. There had been no time to explore this particular change in his biology, indeed, he wasn’t exactly sure what it was – but there was a definite affinity with electrical force developing inside him. Nikola wanted to understand it and to do that, he had to experience it – share it.

The small house was aglow behind them, each of its windows hurling forth yellow light into the evening.

“I can’t feel anything,” Helen replied softly, swaying on her feet.

“It’s beautiful,” Nikola murmured, as a branch of light spilt through the inky space above them.

“No,” Helen corrected him, her voice dragging unnaturally. “I can’t feel anything,” she finished, as the world faded to black, slipping away from her as it had done back in Oxford.

Nikola turned in time to see Helen collapse into the snow, splayed out like a fallen angel.

*~*~*

At first James didn’t see the body.

The bedroom was small, barely more than four brick walls with a table and bed pushed against the far side. There were blood-soaked sheets strewn from one end of the room to the next, sitting in deep crimson puddles that were yet to be soaked up by the floor. A particularly large bundle had been left on the bed and on the wall behind there was a fan-shaped spray of blood that could have only be made in the initial attack.

James was about to ask after the body when the full scope of the scene struck through him. The pile on the bed was the body.

He stepped further into the room, careful not to disturb the evidence on the ground. James tilted his head to the side and found himself staring at the mutilated face of a woman.

“Christ,” he exhaled. “Christ – Christ…” James repeated.

“He’s getting bolder,” said Sherlock from behind, letting James make his own impressions of the scene.

Sherlock could have imparted the initial police report – explained what they already knew, but the more that James Watson came with on his own, the more valuable his input into the investigation would be. Sherlock was walking a fine line as it was. He was not officially a police officer. He was, at best, a self employed investigator that the police force tolerated – allowing yet more unknown guests wander through a crime scene was definitely stretching the line thin.

“We have to talk,” ventured Sherlock, after a good hour spent inside the room, “about this…” he produced the long letter Watson had sent him a few days ago detailing the experiment The Five had engaged in – and its consequences. “You are incorrect, my friend.”

James nodded.

“Do we know who she is?” James was still crouched by some of the woman’s remains. Most of her internal organs had been removed and placed with purpose around the room as were large portions of her skin. The stroke that killed her was undoubtedly the large gash across her neck, severing several of her major arteries.

“Yes,” replied Sherlock. “Mary Jane Kelly – she appears to have been well kn – James?” Sherlock launched himself forward in alarm as James staggered backwards, about to fall.

*~*~*

It was Nikola who ventured into Gregory’s temporary study this time, closing the door purposely behind him. He had left Helen asleep on the living room couch under Milka’s care. She was unconscious but breathing normally exactly as he had seen her the day Watson had brought her to his attic.

Gregory looked up and saw at once that Nikola had not come for an idle chat.

“What are you keeping from Helen?” Nikola asked seriously.

Gregory tilted his head, examining the young man. “She showed you her mother’s letter?” his question was answered with an affirmative silence. “I don’t know what you mean…” said Gregory.

“Helen may believe you blindly,” said Nikola, “but you know more about her abnormality than you let on. She is immortal – what else?”

The older man had to swallow hard. Since Gregory had discovered the truth, he knew that he would have to share it with Nikola eventually.

Nature’s Balance – have you heard of it?” asked Gregory, seating himself behind Nikola’s father’s desk. “It is a contemporary theory which states that just as physical forces come in pairs, so too do biological systems. For every species on this earth there is a counter – every predator has its foe.”

Nikola moved in front of the desk, standing rather than sitting in the opposing chair.

“You are a predator Nikola,” Gregory continued. “A divergent species of human that branched off from humanity leaving you a cut above our natural enemies. Nikola, you may not be aware of this yet and, believe me, it hurts me to tell you,” Gregory motioned for Nikola to take his seat which he eventually did. “My research has led me to believe that Sanguine Vampiris are an enduring life form. Now, I realise that you are not a pure blood vampire but judging from what I’ve already seen of your healing abilities, you have inherited their signature gift of immortality.”

“I can’t die?” Nikola replied, unsure of what he felt.

Gregory moved his journal into view, opening it. “Nikola, what I’m about to tell you, no-one knows but me. I need your assurances that you will keep it that way, especially from Helen. It is for her own safety.” Satisfied by the quick nod of Nikola’s head, Gregory continued. “Some time ago, I managed to track down the last living pure blood vampire. It had isolated itself in a cave in South America, hidden away from the world. It is only a guess, but I believe that vampire was nine thousand years old. I won’t lie to you – he was a weak and broken creature but I that is likely due to the vow he made to never take human blood.”

“It is a choice, then?”

“There is hope for you yet, Nikola.”

“But that is not why you are telling me this story…”

“No,” Gregory confessed. “What the vampire confided in me was something worse than I had feared. Helen is – she is an immortal – but it is not a benign gift. She is your balance, Mr Tesla, designed in every way to hunt and destroy you. Helen is still young, there is some biological process going on inside her, transforming her. She is drawn to you, I can tell but soon Nikola, very soon she will try to kill you and you will do the same.”

“I’ll-”

“The vampire described it as an irresistible urge to feed,” Gregory interrupted. “Her blood will kill you, Nikola – and likely not a lot else will but you’ll crave it beyond all reason, resolve and love.”

27

NIGEL’S DIARY

Several hours later, Nikola moved through the darkened house, striding silently down the corridor of his childhood as the sky flared outside. Its occasional rumbling sent shivers of electricity down Nikola’s spine, forcing his shoulders to shudder in response.

He stepped into the faint glow of the lounge room, averting his eyes to the source of flickering light. A single oil lamp was fading in the corner – its oil run dry leaving an empty vessel and smoking wick about to burn out.

The rest of the household had retired in his absence. Nikola could hear the harmony of sleep around him – the gentle rises and falls of delicate breath accompanied by the deep rumble of Gregory Magnus rising through the walls in waves.

Lurking in the doorway, Nikola could see the back of the leather couch and peeking out from one end, a curtain of golden hair. He closed his eyes, considering the gravity of what he was about to do.

*~*~*

Watson collapsed back into Sherlock Holmes, nearly bringing the wiry man to the ground but Sherlock was stronger than he looked and had braced himself for the sudden weight.

What in God’s name…?” Sherlock uttered, dragging the man out of the crime scene before any evidence fell victim, shocked at two thick streams of hot tears pouring down Watson’s cheeks. The man was inconsolable, breaking apart in a most un-gentlemanly manner.

“Decorum, I beg of you,” pleaded Sherlock, but his words fell to the ground unheard.

Watson could not speak. He failed to notice that he had been half-led, half-carried to the back of the house and deposited roughly in a chair. He didn’t even acknowledge Sherlock Holmes backing away, observing him clinically with his clear, hard eyes better suited to the murderous mysteries of the world. All James Watson could think of was that room and what remained of his lover, Mary Jane Kelly.

James’s head rolled back and suddenly he was off the chair, knees hitting the ground sharply as he hurled onto the floor, rasping again and again until his ragged breathing turned back into desperate sobs.

It was just – too monstrous to conceive – he simply could not.

*~*~*

She was peaceful now. Whatever force had taken hold of Helen earlier had dissipated. However, if Gregory was correct – and he had an irritating habit of being so, they would be seeing a lot more of this ‘new’ Helen.

Nikola didn’t want to think about that…

Finally he mustered the courage to open his eyes and sweep around the couch – his fingers running over the cracked leather. Helen was laid uncomfortably between its divided cushions and – Nikola hesitated, he had not expected that – his sister was knelt on the floor beside the bed, also asleep. Milka was just like their mother, a healer of souls.

It did not matter, this had to be done and there was not likely going to be another chance.

Gregory’s words weighed heavily on him as Nikola moved up beside Helen’s outstretched arm. Her sleeve had been caught and pulled up out of the way leaving an expanse of delicate, bare flesh growing cold as the fire lost its heat. His fingers brushed over the soft surface causing his breath to catch. Nikola’s own cold hands seemed to draw warmth from her. It was almost intoxi-no… He lifted the metal needle he had been carrying and steeled himself, bringing its sharp tip to her skin. Nikola placed his other hand over the top to steady the shake of his first.

It had to be done.

So Nikola did it in a fluid movement. The needle slipped through Helen’s skin and at once Nikola began to draw a sample of her dark blood up into the syringe. It wasn’t long before the vial was full and Nikola withdrew the needle, capping it and stowing it in his large jacket pocket just before she stirred.

He bent down, concealing his purpose for being there by disturbing the blankets covering Helen. She was waking now, her eyes fluttering open and closed thick with sleep. Nikola manoeuvred his arm under her back then his other roughly beneath her knees and suddenly he was lifting her gently from the couch. Instinctively Helen curled into him with a soft murmur – a natural reflex.

“It is beyond my manners to allow you to sleep on the couch,” he explained, when she woke enough to eye him questioningly. He felt her arms tighten around his neck as he carried her through the narrow hallway.

Helen mumbled nothing in particular, apparently choosing to slide back into whatever world she had been immersed in. She was sound asleep before he made it into his room.

He settled her on the bed, letting her fumble blindly about for covers and pillows until she stilled and returned to her deep, steady breathing.

Another brief current of white light flitted through the room, streaming in from the large window above his desk. He could see the mountain ranges from here. Often he had sat on his bed and watched the storms roll through like peaceful beasts grazing the sky but it was different now that he could feel them. He had never truly appreciated the frightening power suspended in the air but it was there, tantalisingly close.

His eyes drifted back to her a she shifted, her hair falling across her face, covering it in messy ringlets. Nikola’s lip twitched in a half-smile. She was his only friend; he didn’t want to live in a world where that wasn’t true.

Nikola?”

He hadn’t realised that she was awake again, quietly watching him as he watched her.

“Yes?” he replied, moving slowly over to her. After a brief hesitation, he dipped his hand down to her face, catching some of her wayward hair and gently lifting it so that he could see her bright blue eyes.

Helen leant onto his hand as it trailed along her face and then unfolded her free arm to catch hold of his sleeve.

“Thank you…” she said quietly. Thank you for taking us to your home, for trusting us with your work – for not hating me for what happened back in Oxford.

Nikola looked at her deeply. It was obvious that sleep had affected her sense of propriety but he could not ignore the truth that mingled with her words – cutting them into his soul.

“Good night, my lady,” he stated firmly, escaping her hold as he stood and left. Nikola hurried back to the main room which was now empty, where he reclaimed the lounge and fell asleep as the last life in the lamps expired.

*~*~*

Reality rippled like a strip of muslin on a lady’s skirt. Violet and Indigo flashes poisoned the air around John where passing beams of light were captured and split apart. The hairs running down the back of his neck prickled in expectation. He could not stop this – life had been ripped away from him enough times for him to understand that he had to let it happen.

John was seated in his hotel with a book open in his lap. He exhaled as colour filled the room, preparing himself for the torture that would surely follow.

It was swift and brutal, crippling his limbs and thoughts as pain seared through every facet of his being. John’s eyes slammed shut in agony as the sensation continued. It was like dying – every time. His consciousness was evaporating – stretched out too thin until it finally breaks.

The book fell to the floor in the empty room – its handwritten pages teased by a current of air that vanishedwith the purple light.

I followed the last of our party today…’ the page read, in Nigel’s untidy scrawl. ‘Most of the secrets I have learnt were unintentional. James and his lover, whom he visits when he thinks I am asleep – Nikola and his trips to the Hinksey Heights to watch the storms – my father and the many hell houses where he keeps his monsters locked away – but Montague… it was no accident when I glanced over and saw something I fear to even write … the very world shuddered and in a moment he had vanished more completely than I ever will.’

A few more pages flipped over and then back again, ‘I remained there in the street for hours in the rain and wind until I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prick up. It was near eleven when the night was lit once again with muted tones of purple and green and there he appeared. His face was obscured by thick blood. I don’t know how or what I shall tell the others – but it is clear now that the vampire blood we injected does more than change our physical bodes – it permeates our mind, taints it and twists it into something that is not us.’

My pain returned to me and I became visible again – standing naked in the alley way. He saw me – and he knew… he knew…’

*~*~*

Sherlock Holmes guided Watson through the main streets of London as they wove between the swarm of top hats. It was a short walk from Miller’s Court to their accommodation but Sherlock decided to draw it out as much as possible, slowing his step as they roamed out of the heavy smog into the commercial district with its marble buildings and iron lamp posts.

“How…?” James choked, as they skirted around London’s park. A rush of dead leaves tumbled at their feet. He is still shaking – the image of Mary feeding a pool of rage inside him. “How can someone do that to another human being? Why her… She was -” that summarised her now – she was.

“You knew her…” for once, it didn’t take a genius. “You loved her… Who was she?”

James was about to reply when his eyes locked onto a grey-haired figure stepping out of handsome carriage. He knew that man – he had literally run into him the night everyone disappeared, outside Oxford university in the rain.

“Do you believe in co-incidence?” James quickened his step in pursuit. “I don’t…”

Ordinarily Sherlock liked to know who they were following and why but he was willing to let Watson have some liberty given the circumstance.

As a pair, they slinked along the streets, never encroaching on the old man as he swung a right past a grand fountain and hauled himself up the marble steps to the front door of the British Museum.

There were tourists and researches everywhere, crowding the lobby as Sherlock and Watson dipped their heads into the foyer – searching for the balding top of the man but he was gone.

*~*~*

The early morning brought with it a light snowfall, one that fell silently against the windows of the cottage. Nikola turned on the couch. It was freezing now that the fires had reduced to ash-laden coals and yellow milieu of candles replaced by the sickly white glow from the sun.

Nikola was only vaguely aware of the crunch of snow beneath the carriage and the quick trample of hooves outside. A moment later a quiet knock at the door finally woke him from sleep. As always his dreams were stained with places he’d never been to and fragments of blood-soaked lives.

Sitting up too fast, Nikola held his head for a moment – wondering why he was awake. The man at the door knocked again and this time Nikola found it within himself to leave the couch and cross the room muttering his disapproval in Serbian.

He unbolted the door and pulled it open.

“…Mr Fort?” Nikola said at length, astonished to find the man from the train standing in his doorway. Charles Font was dressed in heavy, dark furs and carried a bag in either hand. What had been an elegant moustache was now laced with ice from the journey and his cheeks red from the cold. “Whatever brings you here?” and how did you find us?

“Mr Tesla…” Charles nodded politely at the gentleman he’d scarcely met on the train. It was his understanding the Mr Tesla was taken ill for the majority of the trip and he could see evidence of it in his paleness. “I apologise for the earliness of the hour,” he began, “but I am in actual fact, unforgivably late.”

Late? Nikola mused to himself. He wasn’t even invited.

Nikola eyed the man with an air of suspicion.

“Gregory Magnus invited to you…?” Nikola eventually offered as a plausible excuse. It would be unwise to turn away a possible investor.

“Actually,” Charles looked very much as if he wanted to come inside out of the cold, but Mr Tesla was standing firmly in front of the door. “My invitation precedes the pleasure of making Gregory’s acquaintance…”

Ch-arles?” a lady’s voice behind started in delight.

Nikola glanced over his shoulder to see his sister fully – no – over dressed for the hour of the morning standing behind him.

Charles tilted his head to see around Nikola – an unabashed smile shaking off the cold.

Miss Tesla…” Charles replied, mimicking her tone.

*~*~*

“I am have been abroad for several months now,” Charles had stripped down to the suit he had worn on the train. Milka set a tray of tea in front of him with a warm smile before seating herself on a chair to his right. The two Magnus’s and Tesla watched on – Nikola with a piercing look that would have burned a lesser man.

“It took weeks of work, but the Accademia dei Lincei granted me access to their vaults. You have never seen anything like it – thousands upon thousands of prints, Milka, hundreds of volumes of the world’s natural history from the Roman era onwards tucked away in bundles. I wanted to look at them all…” he paused to take a sip of his tea.

Milka, it was now clear, was the woman Charles Fort had crossed continents for. He was her contact that had been acquiring rare documents like Dampier’s Notes to answer Nikola’s questions. It was also plain to see that they were very much in love.

“I wasn’t permitted to make copies but I kept diligent notes – everything I could remember.” Charles set his tea down and reached into his briefcase, opening its worn leather and fishing out a hefty pile of hand written journals. “Sanguine Vampiris though recorded history…” he said, presenting the notes to Milka.

Charles’s eyes wandered over to the figure of Nikola – running up the man’s pale features. “Really…” he near-whispered. Here sat before him a remnant of Sanguine Vampiris. Charles ached to see him come alive – reveal the abnormal that ran within their entire family. When he looked at Milka, Charles could see those same, clear eyes – eyes that held all the ancient mysteries of the earth. “Abnormalities,” Charles’s voice was low in wonder as he spoke to Nikola, “shed light on the true character of the normal…”

Nikola though, remained more concerned about his sister’s hand settling on Mr Fort’s knee than anything else.

Gregory, sensing trouble, cleared his throat and spoke up.

“I – I remember you mentioning the Cassiano dal Pozzo’s Museo Cartaceo … the ‘Paper Museum’,” George shuffled forward on his chair. “Their vaults are locked – I have tried myself for many years but my letters remain unreturned – did you…?”

“I enjoy the benefit of contracting to a very persuasive organisation,” Charles replied but stopped short of mentioning it by name. He reached once again into his briefcase and this time withdrew a set of heavy paper sheets, tied loosely together. On each one was a detailed collection of ink strokes, illustrating the various terrifying aspects of a vampire. “These are copies,” Charles said, “but they are yours – Nikola…” he finished, turning to hand the pile to Nikola as a form of peace offering. “Your sister is very persuasive – I fear that I cannot refuse her anything.”

Helen tilted towards Nikola as the papers changed hands.

“Remarkable…” said George. “You cannot know the honour that you show us, Mr Fort, or the profound difference your research will make.”

*~*~*

Professor Samuel Griffin easily evaded the crowd in the British Museum as it swelled around the newly acquired Greek marbles. Instead, he darted away down one of the unassuming corridors that led to department offices.

He was not pleased. When he lifted one of his wrinkled hands to knock on the door, it was with sharp – unfriendly strikes.

“Is he here?” Griffin growled, leaning heavily on his walking cane as the door opened to reveal a ratty, young man.

“Professor…” the young man nodded in nervous respect. “I regret to inform you that he has not yet arrived…”

“Not – yet – arrived?” Griffin repeated slowly, with an air of disbelief. His eyebrows crept up higher with each word. “What exactly is it that he is doing with my money?”

“I – I,” the man stuttered, he was only minding the office.

“I am a patient man – but there are limits. Feel free to pass this along,” Griffin shifted in the doorway. “Young Mr Fort will be back in this office by this time next week or we will take our business elsewhere.”

*~*~*

John collapsed onto the ground – his knees sinking into the foul smelling mud. He was in a marsh lit by the white glow of the full moon suspended high above, drowning out the stars. John’s face crumpled in disgust when he saw the sickening rises over the ground accentuated with spears and arrows.

Hundreds of bodies lay rotting around him. John pushed off the ground, stumbling to his feet. The smell of war was strong but it didn’t belong to his time.

The unsheathing of metal behind him, snapped John’s head around. Glistening armour on a man’s torso twisted and a blade came down on John’s face – slicing through his cheek.

John growled in pain, stumbling back before the world tore and vanished and he found himself returned to his hotel room.

28

CRIMSON TORMENT

John held his face as warm blood streamed through his fingers and down onto the floor, following him in a sickening trail as stalked through the apartment, seeking out a mirror. In his reflection he found a wretched creature gazing back – a stranger lurking in his brown eyes. Once soft, they had been ruined by misery – sick from the thirst of blood.

He tilted his head, raising his muddied fingers to a long arch sliced across his cheek where the sword had grazed him. The pain was nothing compared to the agony of ripping through the universe but it still stung fiercely, severing his nerves and leaving his face limp.

John groaned as he dipped his hands into a basin of water, cupping the cool liquid in his grasp before bathing the wound. The water beneath him turned red, spilling over the sides of the china bowl and onto the floor in scarlet tides.

Eventually, his eyes returned to the mirror. He prodded and pulled at the torn flesh. How many times had he dragged a knife over another’s skin – cut right to the bone, quartering them like animals in a slaughter house? How many had he killed through the centuries that he jumped across? John could not remember.

“What is wrong with you?” he asked himself sternly – searching for something in his destroyed face. Why did this thing – this creature inside him take hold? Where did its anger for the world come from?

It was definitely a remnant of some ancient world that lived within him. If this was what it did to him – what then, had become of the others?

*~*~*

Nikola’s cat wandered in tight circles around the base of Helen’s skirt, leaving a trail of short black hairs on the fine lace. She found it difficult to scorn the affectionate creature that was purring so loudly she could feel the vibration in the air.

“Macak…” she bent down, lowering her fingers to the feline who padded forward and sniffed at her hand before rubbing against it. “You are a mischievous thing,” she shook her head, unaware that she was being watched.

Her father, Nikola and Mr Fort had been in conference all morning – no doubt discussing the particulars of a business settlement. Milka, meanwhile, was somewhere in the church opposite the house or walking through the snow which had been falling all night. This left Helen all alone except for the persistent feline which took the bold move of leaping onto her lap.

Macak…” this time the cat’s name was said with practiced reprimand, causing its paw to hesitate.

Helen startled to see Nikola hovering in the doorway, relaxed against the wood as if he had been there some time.

“Is – the meeting finished?” she asked tentatively. They had not spoken since last night – since she had awoken in his bed. Her memory of the evening was fragmented at best but she did remember being in his arms…

“No,” Nikola remained in the doorway, “but, my part is.” He dipped his head, changing the way the mid-morning light played on his sculpted face. “Your father and Mr Fort have much to discuss, I fear we won’t enjoy their company for many hours yet. He has given us all we desire.”

Silence – broken only by the loud purring of his black cat beneath Helen’s fingers as it decided to take the risk and curl up in her lap.

“Are you-” Nikola paused as they both tried to speak at the same time. “Pardon me,” he excused himself for interrupting and hinted for her to go first.

Helen’s eyes dropped nervously. “Nothing – only,” she lifted her gaze to him with a waver of seriousness. She wanted to ask about what happened last night – but truthfully she knew. “I suppose he wanted to see your fangs…” she changed the subject and her demeanour. “Mr Fort was quite enthralled by you.”

One of Nikola’s expressive brows curved upwards. He started to edge into the room – pacing first around the walls and then to the window where he watched the snow falling. “That he was,” he answered, tapping the glass lightly with two slender fingers – playing with its cold.

“Nikola…” Helen eventually said, at the end of another awkward silence. “Sit with me.”

His grey eyes watched her again. She was the warmth of the room – a season out of step with the frozen world.

Nikola’s fingers trailed down the glass, returning to his side. His weight shifted – backwards first, as if he were considering retreating while a private war raged within. He knew that he should not feed the terrible curse that was growing in both of them. Nikola had hoped that distance would be their salvation but her warmth made him little more than a moth, circling hopelessly.

He rocked forward as the front door was thrust open with a gust of snow-laced wind. Milka flew in with it, running around the door and heaving it closed.

Nikola drew back to the safety of the window and Helen averted her eyes to the cat.

One Month Later

“Back to stay, old boy?” John drawled leisurely, as the door to the hotel room creaked open.

James Watson eyed him severely. “I have been here for three weeks, what notion makes you think I will up and vanish now?”

“You won’t be able to stay away from Sherlock Holmes indefinitely,” John stood and moved to pour them both a drink. He was prepared for their evenings now, in which they would sit and discuss the focus of Watson’s obsession. The deliberations seemed to calm them both – even if all they achieved was chasing their tails in circles in search of the elusive Whitechapel murderer. “I am a poor substitute for his wit.”

“Holmes is busy,” James replied simply, closing the door and shedding off his coat. “And you still haven’t answered my question from last night.”

“Which one was that?” John held out a glass of port; they were out of everything else. “The one about the Ripper’s choice of victim or – what was it? What sort of person could walk the streets with blood stained clothes and yet not draw attention?

James took the glass gladly and replied, “Both…” He sipped his port quietly for a moment. “It’s looking better-” he nodded to the scar on John’s face.

“Lousy thieves,” John quipped back. “I’m told there is little hope of finding them. The city is overwrought with scoundrels – though it is nothing compared to what the good societies of London must endure.”

James looked sadly for a moment – he had not told John that the last Ripper victim had been his lover or that the force that drove him now was closer to revenge than curiosity. He had to know what sort of a person could do such a thing. He longed to sit them down and ask them what part of their soul had broken to allow such evil through onto the world? “I sympathise.”

“Surely,” John sank back into his chair which was pulled close to the fire, “you’re not still on about Nigel…”

“Is it really so crazy?” James picked through a tower of newspapers with his free hand. “You’ve seen it – the man can make himself invisible – wander in and out of the world at will and where is he now? It was his knife John – I plucked it from the crime scene myself.”

“Your Holmes does not seem to agree with you.”

“No…” James had to admit that Sherlock’s firm rebuff of the theory distressed him. “…he does not.”

“He is a wise man,” John observed quietly.

“That does not make him infallible.”

*~*~*

Charles Fort deposited his hat, coat and travel cases roughly onto the nearest desk. It was one out of a half dozen littered around the walls of the British Museum Department of the Sudan office – most covered in towers of manuscripts and unprocessed artifacts from the deserts near Egypt.

Three large rugs hung over the walls, covering the cracked paint with muted reds and ochres. Half open crates, piles of unanswered mail and a bewildering assortment of pottery fragments carpeted the remaining space.

Charles’ nose crimpled with displeasure as it detected the faintest trace of illicit smoke wafting through the air. It was present in every single academy and library through Europe. Was the whole world mad?

Charles sighed dramatically.

The only other person dwelling in the room was a fragile sort of man that had clearly weathered a century or two. He was hunched over with a velvet top hat hiding his wispy hair that floated around his ears like cobwebs. When Charles cleared his throat, the old man lifted his pair of cold, sharp eyes.

“Are you the fabled Mr Fort?” the man’s voice scratched through his wrinkled throat.

The office was freezing. There was silent snow falling against the windows where ice had replaced the glass, blurring the city outside with a sad hue. Charles decided that perhaps he really did need his coat – pulling it around him as he settled himself into the chair.

“I would not bother…” the old man continued. “They will be here shortly.”

A deep exhale slipped from Charles’s lips. The Cabal were not known for their understanding and he had not brought anything worth the hundreds of pounds that they had spent on him. Still, he was a skilled constructor of fables, so maybe he could bluff his way through –

The door to the office opened and Professor Griffin appeared smothered in layers of fur. He leant heavily on his cane as he hobbled into the room and shut the door, drowning out the sound of tourists.

“Professor,” Fort was on his feet, bowing respectfully at the sight of his employer whom he was yet to meet. “I am –”

“Charles Fort – I know,” the last words were laced with significant detest. “Tell me, did you enjoy your time abroad?”

“I – certainly…”

“Then I certainly hope you have something to show for it.”

The old man seated at the corner desk flicked his gaze between the two men before returning to his work.

“This way, Mr Fort – we cannot delay any longer…” Professor Griffin stepped back through the door, beckoning Charles to follow.

*~*~*

Gregory held a lantern out to the darkness, peering into the low cave. There were several such structures littered through the hills behind Nikola’s house – buried into the ironstone cliff faces. Rumour had it that terrible creatures lived in these hills, long ago – Gregory was hoping that there was some truth to those stories.

He proceeded carefully.

Gregory lifted one hand to the wall of the cave, trailing it over the freezing rock. Aside from the wind gusting past the entrance in howls – the world was eerily silent.

The only living creatures that Gregory encountered as he progressed deeper were colonies of tiny spiders that spun their webs between cleaves of rock, spreading sticky nets like a curtains. He found it a comfort to see life clinging to the fringes like he had done for so many months.

Just as the ceiling of the cave dipped uncomfortably low on his head, he caught sight of a bleached pile of bones protruding from the dirt.

“Yes…” he whispered, finding his footing on the uneven ground.

Gregory had to clamber over two conjoined rocks nearly blocking the cave completely.

“Sleeping exactly where you should be,” he said, sliding down the flat side of one of the boulders. He landed on his feet, bent double in the cave as he inspected the frightening remains. “Your old friend says good day to you,” Gregory whispered respectfully.

Upon death, human bones were fragile – crumbling with time but these – there was something other than calcium hardening their sharpened edges.

Gregory knelt beside them, slipping off his should bag. He withdrew a small trowel from it and scraped at the dirt built up around the bones, revealing an entire skeleton of a Sanguine Vampiris.

*~*~*

Nikola sat alone in his room, staring at the two vials on his desk.

One was empty – clear like the ice across the world outside. The only remnant of the rose-oil it once brimmed with was a sweet scent on the air. Nikola flicked the glass idly with his finger – knocking it over so that it rolled along the desk and vanished off the edge, landing with a shatter.

The remaining vial sat like a jewel, its quivering liquid taunting Nikola with its promise of freedom – freedom at such a terrible cost. He wanted to live but not like this and now he was out of time.

*~*~*

“What is it?” Charles peered down at the unassuming crate on the ground.

The vaults of the British Museum were vast and cluttered. Their poorly lit rooms seemed to propagate on forever. Charles stood beside Griffin in one of its corners, enduring the frigid air as several of his colleagues attacked the box with a crowbar – forcing the wooden lid off with a crunch of splinters. It was uncannily like opening a coffin.

“Christ…” Charles whispered as the pale body of a man appeared. “Who is that?’

“My son, Mr Fort,” Griffin bent to brush his fingers over the icy skin of his child. “I brought you here,” he continued slowly, “to save him.”

From death…? Charles tilted his head at the body, edging closer to the young man. He looked like he had been dead for less than a day – two at the – “Mother of God!” Charles startled backwards as the body’s chest rose and fell slightly in a silent breath. “The man is still alive.”

“The boundaries which divide life and death are at best, vague,” Griffin replied coolly – deeply aware that death was encroaching ever closer on him. “Show me what my money has bought, Mr Charles – return my child to me.”

Griffin would have this expert purge his son of the filthy blood and return his son to him whole – or not at all.

*~*~*

It was dark by the time Gregory returned to the Tesla house. They had left some lamps lit for him – which he snuffed one by one on his way to Nikola’s room. He knocked gently before entering.

Nikola…” Gregory sighed, seeing the other man slumped forward onto his desk. “Wake up!” he pulled Nikola’s shoulders back, waking him from a heavy sleep.

Nikola looked far from healthy – his eyes darker than normal as if something wild were starting to stir behind them. He had not transformed for many weeks but now… There would be no way to stop it.

“Leave me…” Nikola muttered, trying to shrug off the hands holding him straight.

“I do not think so…” Gregory trailed off when he saw the dark vial of blood on the desk in front of Nikola. “That better not be what I think it is.”

“I will not live as a monster,” Nikola replied firmly, standing up and wiping the sleep from his eyes. He ran his cold hands over his suit – straightening the creases. “It is my choice.”

“I found one – in the caves. There have been vampires living in these hills for centuries. I think – Nikola, I believe that it is more than the source blood for you. You alone may be able to find a measure of control if it has always been part of-”

“Control?” he cut Gregory off. “I have read of their past – my past.” Nikola went quiet for a moment. “What happens if I hurt someone? I have not been entirely honest with you – even before – there is an urge inside me and I cannot control it. I want to kill her, Gregory. Do you understand? I look at Helen and…”

Gregory faltered for a moment.

“Exactly…” Nikola hissed.

Neither man was aware of the small figure listening at the door, peering through the ajar door into the room.

“Nikola, I cannot just let you…”

“Yes, you can,” Nikola laid his hand on Gregory’s shoulder for a moment. Then, Nikola turned to his desk and pulled the top draw out. A heavy needle rolled forward with the action, caught by Nikola’s quick fingers. “It would be foolish to delay – I can already feel it stirring.”

29

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER

Gregory was shaking his head.

“No, Nikola – this – this is madness…” he whispered, watching in horror as Nikola expertly pierced the vial with the syringe, drawing the dark blood up into the shaft. The liquid looked sinister, swirling around in its transparent prison. “She will never forgive me.”

Nikola held it aloft – examining his death with a kind of morbid curiosity. A deep shiver ran down his back and over his skin as the storm over the mountains stirred. It was growing closer. With every stream of light that ripped through the sky, Nikola lost a measure of control.

He held out the needle to Gregory with a pleading look in his near-black eyes.

“If you please,” was all Nikola said, as if he were simply offering Gregory a seat. The only thing that betrayed Nikola’s resolve was the slight shake of his hand as the needle passed between them.

*~*~*

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost…” the old man drawled, as Charles Fort collapsed back in his chair looking pale.

Charles stared blankly at the wall in front. The boy he’d seen – it was – he was barely alive. This shell of a creature was now under his charge and the thought despaired him. Nigel Griffin, whatever he had been before, was long gone – transformed into a monstrosity of the human form.

“Mind your own matters…” Charles snapped back at the old man, with uncharacteristic scorn. What was he supposed to do with impossible tasks? The only thing he could do – he would write to Milka.

*~*~*

Helen rolled over, woken early from sleep. Her room was dark and the sky beyond the window flickering with stars. It was late – that much she could tell by the heaviness of her limbs as she climbed from bed and crossed the cool room. There was a bright beam of light slicing through the night, coming from the room next to hers – Nikola’s room.

“Miss Tesla?” she asked softly, when she saw Milka in the hallway, lingering by the ajar door.

Milka turned at once, lifting a hand to hush Helen.

“What’s going on?” Helen inquired, quietly this time, as she moved over to the other woman. She could hear Nikola and her father talking softly in the room but could not understand what they were saying.

“I do not know…” Milka whispered – her voice heavily accented, returning to her position by the door. “Your father looks like he is about to administer an injection of some form to Nikola. I did not know that he was ill.”

The rose oil? Helen thought, moving to peer over her shoulder into the room. What she saw made her breath catch. It was not rose oil – it was deeper than that – more horrifying.

“Good God,” Helen whispered. “Is that blood?”

*~*~*

Inside the room, Gregory held the needle to the light, tapping it several times so that a full drop of red fell to the floor – shattering over the ground.

“Before I…” Gregory trailed off briefly. “Nikola, I am sorry for this,” his voice lowered into something that was barely a whisper. “I only wish that I could help you instead of this. You are a good man,” he finished, pressing the sharp tip of the needle to Nikola’s skin. “What do I tell Helen?”

Nikola was quiet for a moment.

“Tell her – tell her that I do not regret it, and that this was my choice.” He did not wish to see her carry any blame at all. “And tell her…” his voice caught as images of his life back at Oxford flickered by – stark against reality; Helen lifting her head with a faint smile over her lips – an open window with a storm and her leaning on his shoulder – the nights that dragged to morning without either of them noticing – her fiery voice rising above the lecture bringing a smirk of amusement to his lips.

“Tell her I apologise for leaving her experiment early…” he settled on. It felt – apt. She would understand.

Gregory nodded, albeit reluctantly.

“If you are ready then,” he said, brushing his thumb over the glass syringe. Just as he pierced Nikola’s skin, the door flew open, slamming against the wall with such force one of its hinges snapped off.

Milka stormed through the room, striking at Gregory’s hand – knocking the needle free. It tumbled through the air, almost surreal in its slow spiral down before it powderised on the floor leaving nothing but a dark stain on the wood.

The two men stood in shock for a moment, their eyes lifting to the livid young woman whose dark hair and wide blue eyes were made her look every inch as threatening as a vampire.

Helen still lingered in the door, not quite understanding what had very nearly transpired. Nikola saw her there, dressed in only the fine cotton nightie – pale in the evening light. Instantly he felt his stomach clench as his body fought the change. The room was getting brighter as his eyes darkened and expanded. The urge was simply too strong, he would kill her if he stayed.

He broke away from Gregory and Milka, rushing past Helen and out along the hallway – taking the corner straight to the front door which he threw open. Nikola landed in the freshly fallen snow, willing each of his laboured steps to flee.

Helen instinctively followed, vanishing from the room in an instant.

“Helen!” he father screamed out, trying to go after her but the small Serbian girl pushed back against his chest.

“You knew!” she hissed, unable to believe that their house guest had nearly killed Nikola. “He is my brother!”

Helen could see Nikola not far ahead, trudging slowly through the snow until he stumbled – crawled a little way, and then willed himself back to his feet.

Nikola…” she whispered, following him – gaining ground quickly. When she reached him, Helen instinctively took hold of his shoulders, trying to stop his progress. “Nikola stop – just stop!” she pleaded, slipping in front of him, ignoring the freezing cold air.

What she found made her hesitate. She had seen Nikola morph before – even under the effects of the rose oil he would sometimes start to turn but this – this was different. There was something distinctly wild and ancient about the look in his eyes. It was as if she was not looking at Nikola at all, but some creature that had crawled its way back from the edges of the world.

“N-Nikola…” she whispered, reminding herself firmly that despite appearances this was Nikola.

“Helen,” he growled, trying to carefully bat away her hands with his while they were still human. “You must let me go – I cannot stay here, you must let me go…” he kept pleading.

Part of him wanted her blood – wanted to kill her and the other to protect her – it was simply tearing him apart.

“You cannot be here,” he said, his voice barely human – his body constantly fighting the change eating away his humanity. “You do not understand Helen – I want – it wants to kill you and now I cannot be killed. I must leave this place at once and never return.”

Helen was shaking her head, not believing his words.

“Don’t do this, Nikola. You need me. I need you…” This was her fault. She had brought this upon the five of them. What had started as an innocent curiosity had mutated into something destructive. Nigel was gone, James spent more and more time away and John was oddly silent – distant – and something in that disturbed her. It was a cruel twist of fate that she was the only one to resist the effects of the experiment.

“No…” he exhaled sadly, pushing her away more forcibly – or trying to. Every time he attempted to move from her he found her hands clutched back at his jacket, refusing to let him leave. “Stop this, Helen. Go back to the hou-”

Nikola was silenced as Helen dragged him into her arms, her freezing hands tangled in his coat.

“If you kill me, you kill me… Either we both die or neither of us.”

She had realised that it was her blood that would kill him – it must be for she remembered the prick in her arm that night on the couch and the crimson needle about to break Nikola’s skin. There was something in her blood that fought against the Source Blood, that rejected it. To inject or ingest it would surely start a fatal war within Nikola’s body – a sure way to kill the unkillable.

It was too late to do anything about Helen’s choice. Nikola could feel the sweep of coldness through him as he started to change. He accepted her embrace, holding onto her tightly as his eyes darkened and the evening brightened into a glistening – snow choked landscape with the lightening flashing over the ground, reflected like the watery sunset on the ocean – the dying embers of the world.

“…Helen…” he whispered, closing his black eyes and burying his head dangerously against the warm skin of her neck.

She felt him settle there, closer to her than he had ever been. He smelled of the pine forest behind them, of snow and of science. There was a faint tingle of electricity through him as if he were borrowing some of it from the storm rumbling over the mountains.

How had she never noticed before – never realised what must have been so plain to see? She loved him and yet, she had destroyed him.

“…Nikola…” she murmured in return, feeling the inevitable change in his body as the vampire in him surfaced.

Nikola changed. His skin paled to rival the snow, nails grew and heart rate slowed. The smell of blood, Helen’s, tainted the air whilst that irrepressible hunger inside of him tried to claw its way to the surface.

No… he insisted to himself. Gregory’s words came back to him. He was not just the by-product of Helen’s experiment – vampirism was in his soul, in his blood – part of his heritage. He could control it – quiet it. The vampires of ancient times were not simply blood-hungry animals, they had built up civilisation around them therefore reason told him that he could control this – he would.

There was a long moment of silence with two figures standing still against the night.

“Is that still you?” a quiet voice against Nikola’s shoulder asked. They have been there many minutes but neither of them had moved.

“Yes…” he replied firmly, in defiance of the transformation. His voice was low and crackled, almost inhumane but he was still Nikola Tesla.

“Oh thank god…” Helen pulled back enough to see him. Gracious… it didn’t look like him but-

Helen flinched, not sure why at first. There was a fluttering in her stomach – something not quite right as if she were nauseous. At the sight of Nikola’s dark vampire eyes and sharp row of teeth, a foreign sensation came over Helen and a frightening realisation that was not her own.

She wanted him dead.

Before she could recoil in horror at the thought, Helen had withdrawn the small knife she kept on herself at all times for protection.

*~*~*

Gregory and Milka were still in Nikola’s room. The young lady, who it turned out could be as fierce as any Cabal, had Gregory backed against the window, thoroughly dressing him down about attempting to kill her brother. So far she’d had nearly every secret from the man – the five, the blood – she’d blinked a little at the first mention of ‘vampire’ but was willing to accept that there were a lot of things about the world she did not know. If her love for Charles Fort had taught her anything, it was that the world was vast and its secrets deep.

“And that is the best that you could come up with – your genius solution – allowing my brother to murder himself for the sake of your daughter? After everything that this family has done for you…” Milka had her sharp finger pressed into Gregory’s chest. “I should throw you out of my house, Dr Magnus! Out into the freezing snow-”

Milka briefly paused her tirade to look out the window where she saw the unexpected sight of two figures locked in an embrace, illuminated by the soft light of the house. She wasn’t sure what to make of the gesture, Gregory turning his head cautiously to see what had taken Milka’s attention.

They both watched on first in confusion, then in horror as Helen appeared to stab something suddenly into Nikola, who arched and recoiled away from her – lifting his clawed hands as if to beg her to stop only for Helen to attack him again, the impact sending them both writhing into the snow.

Gregory swore sharply, pushing away from Milka and rushing through the house. This is exactly what he had been afraid of…

“Helen…!” he shouted, running as best he could through the thick, soft snow. Gregory saw the blood first – the snow around them was covered in dark streaks and drops as was Helen’s nightie.

It was all Nikola’s. Afraid of hurting her with his sharp claws – Nikola could do little to defend himself against Helen’s attacks except to plead and whisper her name, trying to drag her out of whatever force had a hold of her.

Gregory grabbed his daughter firmly and pulled her off Nikola, the force of it making them both fall back.

“Get him inside!” Gregory screamed at Milka, who had followed him out. “Take him back to his room – quickly!” They had to separate them – as fast as possible.

Milka was in shock at the sight of her brother as a vampire – claws and teeth and – god those eyes didn’t even look human any more. He was still her brother though, and he needed her so Milka scooped him out of the snow with more strength than most gave her credit for and took him back into the house.

Helen continued to struggle in Gregory’s arms. It took him all his skill to relieve her of the knife – throwing it somewhere out into the snow where it could do no further harm.

“Sh…” he whispered, hand resting on her head to calm her. “It’s over – it’s over…”

*~*~*

Nikola and Helen were locked in separate rooms.

Helen – unharmed but terribly shaken was wrapped in blankets staring blankly at the cup of tea before her. Nikola was laid down on the bed in his room with Milka cleaning and bandaging the multiple knife wounds that Helen had left. They were starting to close up already but Milka was determined to fuss. He was still a vampire – and every now and then Milka would pause – eyeing the long claws or glancing at his inhumane face.

“I know about the experiment,” she said quietly, securing one of the bandages. Milka had that same scornful tone that their mother used to use. “Why…?” she asked sharply, unable to understand what would possess her brother to do such a thing to himself.

It was a good question – and its answer deceptively simple.

Nikola lifted his hand to her cheek, saw his long claws and immediately lowered it.

“Curiosity…” he replied softly.

That only earned him an even darker look from Milka who may have tied that last bandage just a bit too tight.

*~*~*

James Watson found himself strolling through the British Museum with the other gentleman and ladies, wandering by the daunting array of exhibits with the crowds. He was not here to sight-see though.

His gaze picked through the bustling crowd, searching for the tall, slender form of Sherlock Holmes. The man was late – an irritating habit that he seemed to have, indeed sometimes he did not show at all if something else had taken his fancy during the day.

When Sherlock Holmes did finally arrive, he looked decidedly worse for wear. His general scruffiness was accentuated by a significant amount of dust that made it look as if he’d been crawling about somewhere that he shouldn’t – cobwebs collected on his shoulder and a dark grease stain on his neck. Added to that was the notable absence of his cane and pipe.

“Busy day…?” James tried very hard not to berate the tardy detective – too much…

Sherlock seemed oblivious to his lateness and instead started strolling about the museum, leaning in curiously to various glass cases – always inspecting, always moving. He was nauseating to watch.

“Your friend is here,” Sherlock muttered absently, tapping a stone idol with his long finger.

James was silent for a moment in mild shock.

“Nigel is here…” he repeated the man’s words. “How do you know?”

“I have been following those ‘Cabal’ men of yours – did a bit of checking with some of my associates. The man we followed here on the first day and who has made several return visits is Professor Samuel Griffin – Nigel Griffin’s father.”

“Nigel’s father is Cabal…” James whispered, horrified. The link was implied if not obvious even if Sherlock made no sound of confirmation.

“The ‘Cabal’ as you call it, is well hidden under layers of legitimate businesses. ‘Empire Cotton’ is one such business that Professor Griffin is a Company Director of… These people, whoever they are, have been around for a very long time…”

The manner in which Sherlock drawled those last few words beckoned Watson to follow him – the air suddenly thick with intrigue as Sherlock slinked away. James, knowing that it was better not to question the man when he was in one of his moods, allowed himself to be led through the various exhibits, weaving their way between the banks of gentlemen peering through glass enclosures at the curiosities of past worlds and times that seemed more like a dream to Victorian England.

James Watson’s mind was elsewhere… Nigel’s father was Cabal. Surely – logically – that made Nigel Cabal as well. Had they been betrayed by the very person they’d trusted their secrets to? He’d always been a quiet man. Too quiet. God, how could he not have seen it? Was that why he kept a diary – scrawl down their lives and hand them over to the Cabal…

It was clear that Sherlock knew exactly where he was going, quickly making use of an unassuming staff door to slip out of the fray and into the quieter world of the museum’s inner sanctum.

“…Holmes…” James started to question, as it became clear that they were definitely out of place. One of the interns paused to look at them, unsure whether to stop them or not. Sherlock merely silenced James with a raised hand and beckoned him to continue following.

If James had tried this himself, he most certainly would have been stopped – but there was something in the airs and manners of Sherlock that allowed him to wander through untouched by the world through a seemingly endless array of settings without disruption.

It was only when they descended another flight of stone stairs and picked their way through a lock that Sherlock started to sneak. He was frightfully good at it too – near vanishing into the semi-darkness like a nocturnal predator.

“This way…” Sherlock said, voice low as he tapped the door with his shoe, opening it to a cold rush of stale air.

It took James a moment to realise that they had entered the first layer of the museum vaults. Lining the walls of the dusty room were items that were awaiting their display. Crates and boxes of artefacts were all decorated with hand tied labels determining their exhibit, contents and origin. Most obvious amongst the collection were the half-lion, half-winged creatures of the Babylonian statues that used to decorate the walls of Babylon. James took a moment to linger in front of the giant things – his skin chilling at the sinister expressions carved into the solid sandstone.

“Come along, Watson,” Sherlock hit the other man sharply behind the knees with a stick he’d stolen from along the walls. Gentle persuasion had never been a talent of Sherlock’s.

They were in the first of many rooms – each harder to break into than the next. With each door they penetrated – the collection of the museum’s treasures thickened. When they were in the fifth room, the air was well and truly laden with the dust of the ancient world. The blank eyes of stuffed creatures peered back at the gentlemen progressing through the room whilst the unopened crates, piled high on top of each other, were like a forest around them.

“Gracious…” James breathed. The museum above was impressive – but seeing the unprocessed mass of history all compressed here together was breathtaking.

Sherlock had far more interest in the coffin-like crate ahead – the one with its lid missing and the edges where it had been, broken and splintered as if it had been attacked by a crowbar and left open and empty in the corner of the room.

“What is this?” James asked, coming to stand behind the empty crate. It looked – unassuming except for its obvious lack of occupation and identification label.

“Your friend,” Sherlock began, “Griffin – he was in this crate not three days ago.”

“…he’s dead?” James stared down at the empty coffin. For all the anger and suspicion he had directed at Nigel – to think him dead…

“No,” Sherlock replied simply, after a moment. He had deliberately delayed his response in order to examine James’s reaction. “I do not believe that he is.”

God – then what on earth was he doing in a coffin? James mused sombrely.

James made a more careful inspection of the crate. There were no obvious signs that Nigel was injured – no blood or damage inflicted on the box from the inside.

“His father – Professor Griffin, is a regular guest of the museum and patron – though, despite his ongoing funding of this institution, he has never shown much of a personal interest and yet he is here every afternoon at four.”

Why would the Cabal help to fund the museum? They didn’t strike James as the philanthropic types.

“You think that Nigel is here, with his father?” replied James, not sure what to think anymore.

Sherlock simply nodded.

“This – Cabal – formally the Ba’altic Resistance – I have taken the opportunity to do a little digging. Now, I admit that anthropology is and was never a strength of mine but I think you may find this of use to you.”

At that, Sherlock left the crate and continued through the room.

*~*~*

“Were you the only one that changed?” Professor Griffin sat forward to lean on the desk in one of the private rooms of the museum. The air was claustrophobic with the high backed chairs barely able to fit inside where several people were pressed against each other – observing the pair at the desk.

Nigel – barely lucid, pulled a blanket tighter around his naked form.

“What?” he answered weakly, his body starved of food and sunlight. He had been submitted to an endless amount of tests – some of them he was conscious for – some of them not. He had lost all track of time and days.

Professor Griffin slammed his frail fist down hard on the table to snap his son to attention.

The experiment – Helen’s house – the vampire blood.

“No…” he replied groggily. There was a cocktail of drugs running through his system, making the world blur in and out of focus.

Griffin was taking notes, scratching down things whenever Nigel spoke. The quill may as well have been a knife for all the damage that it would do.

“Druitt, Tesla, Watson – Magnus – ” Griffin trailed their names of – the last with considerable distaste. They had not been able to find Gregory Magnus or his daughter since that evening in the alley. They needed that blood sample. “What became of them?”

“I – I don’t know…”

“When Bill found you – you had been attacked by – a creature,” Griffin snarled. “Was it one of them?”

Nigel nodded – face contorted and then he tried to shake his head in denial though it was too late.

Griffin ran through the names again before he got a response – his son hesitated at the sound of Tesla’s name. Of course, the foreigner.

The questioning continued in this manner for many hours. By the time that Professor Griffin had finished with his son he had learnt one very important thing; the reaction that Gregory’s daughter had had to the serum had been unique… She was a natural rejection of the Abnormal blood – a – a cure, perhaps. He needed to find Gregory’s daughter in order to save his son from the sickening bastardisation of nature that he had become.

*~*~*

Not demons of the underworld,” Sherlock corrected, as James read aloud from one of the research journals they had pulled out of a box of archives. There were dozens of notebooks in the box at their feet – a collection of hand written journals from various scientists, historians and explorers throughout history. Some of them were contemporary – others were copies made of ancient scrolls appearing in their original Greek and Latin forms which James had no trouble browsing over.

“No, these were ‘travesties of the human form’. I believe you call them Abnormals – mutations from the norm – nature’s experiments.” Sherlock presented one of the journals to Watson to have a closer look at the sketches.

“The ancient Cabal captured and killed these creatures?” James flicked through the pages.

“You are playing with a very large cat, Watson – are you sure that you wish to continue this?”

“Do I have a choice?” he replied, hand going to his hip in thought. They won’t stop hunting us – not after what we did. We’re too valuable to them. Goddammit!” he growled, kicking the empty box in fury.

*~*~*

Nikola soon learned that his vampire formed could not hold him indefinitely – it was like it needed to rest and so, come the morning – he awoke to himself again – his claws replaced with human hands.

Helen…” he groaned, remembering the bloodshed in the snow. He went to sit up but his sister’s hand on his chest pushed him firmly down. “Milka… let me go,” he pleaded softly.

Milka shook her head firmly.

“You nearly killed each other last night – you will stay where you are,” she snapped, still clearly upset by the turn of events. “Miss Magnus was unharmed but her father does not think that it is a good idea for you to see her.” Ever.

After a few minutes argument, Nikola managed to sit up, pulling his shirt away from his chest and examining the bandages that had been wrapped around him. Through protest, he unwound them, finding his skin smooth and unmarked beneath.

“God…” Milka whispered. There was no way that he could heal like that – the stab wounds had been deep and messy. “The Magnus’s will be leaving this afternoon,” she said simply. “You cannot both stay here or one of you will end up dead. That much is abundantly clear.”

Nikola shook his head firmly.

“She cannot go home, Milka. The Cabal are waiting at her door. That is why we are here – she has nowhere else to go.”

“And what happens tonight, Nikola? Will you try and kill her again? Will she try and kill you…? We cannot live like this.”

“No,” Nikola agreed. It was far too dangerous. “I will go…”

*~*~*

Later that afternoon, Nikola’s bags were loaded into a waiting carriage. He lingered by the house, pacing through the snow with the sound of his sister and Gregory arguing in the background.

Idly, he wandered off the path and onto the snow covered grass, wandering along the side of the building until he came upon Helen’s frost covered window. He could just see through it to where she was sitting at his desk, her head between her hands.

Nikola knocked softly on the glass to catch her attention.

She looked up at once, pushing her chair back and hurrying to the window. They could not talk to each other through the thick, frosted window but Nikola pressed his hand against the cold glass – a silent apology as his clear, blue eyes looked sadly upon her.

Helen’s hand rested against the glass, mimicking his – feeling some flicker of warmth there.

Their worlds had been separated by something more cruel than a layer of glass – something the departing winter could not amend.

30

WILD ROSES AND EMPTY BOXES

The train back across Europe seemed all the more long and cold without Helen Magnus. During the day, Nikola would sit at the window of his private compartment and stare out at the frozen world, keeping to himself as the train rattled its way over glassy lakes and expanses of farmland all locked into place by the snow drifts encroaching down from the black mountains.

He looked ill, but only because his skin was as frosted as the ice-choked landscape. The only part of him that remained untouched were his eyes, still a startling shade of blue, piercing anyone that dared approach.

Of an evening, he paid good money to one of the staff to tie him down to the bed with leather straps and lock the door with strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed. They only agreed out of fear and the look in those blue eyes – it was of quiet pleading, a dark desperation that spoke of a man that had lost his grip on the world which no amount of solitude could claw back.

Nikola needed to discover his history, their history, if The Five were going to have any future in this world. To do this, he would have to travel to London and the sprawling museum that coveted the secrets of the world. He had never been inside the walls of the British Museum, but its reputation more than preceded it.

First, though, Nikola had to return to Oxford. He had unfinished business with a treacherous professor…

“Tea or coffee?” a lady with a trolley rattled to a stop beside the open door.

“Coffee,” Nikola replied, more alone in the world than ever. Goodness knows what had become of James, John and Nigel.

He briefly wondered how his snowy pigeon was doing. She had probably hidden for the winter by now making a nest out of the eves above his window. His old friend that he had neglected since this lust for knowledge had begun.

*~*~*

Helen Magnus was not happy.

Her fierce gaze was levelled at her father as he worked at the dining table in the Tesla house. The silence was full of hurt and confusion. There had been too many secrets and now Nikola was gone.

Milka had been standing by the window for hours, watching the snow fall. She looked a little like a vampire herself, pale and tall. Helen’s eyes kept flicking to her, feeling hopelessly guilty for what had transpired and angry…

“Helen…” Gregory drawled quietly, not looking up from his diary. The long feathered quill was darting over the page, scratching it a little. It was Nikola’s and quietly hostile to this new user. “You could stare down death itself.”

His daughter kept glaring, the windows around the house vanishing under ice even though the fire burned brightly behind them. Nikola’s cat was stretched out in front of it, pawing at the carpet.

“Tesla has made his choice,” Gregory continued. “He is a grown man – he will be all right.”

Helen knew him better. Nikola was one of those people that needed to be looked after – brilliant scientist – but if not watched carefully he’d forget to eat or put on a warm jacket when watching the storms roll over.

“He is going to get himself killed,” she said quietly, keeping her voice low enough so that Milka could not hear. She did anyway, shifting slightly by the window. “The Cabal know what we have done. If he returns to Oxford, they will hunt him down.”

They had come close before and with James, John and Nigel scattered, there was no safe harbour left.

Gregory carefully set the pen down on the journal. He was not sure he understood why, but his daughter clearly had an affection for this man. Gregory had always found Mr Tesla rather abrasive and, well, odd.

“My first concern in the world is you…” he insisted. Sometimes, Gregory could not help noticing how very much like her mother Helen was. He could almost see her sometimes. “Part of the secret of your immortality is in the caves around this house. Tesla’s heritage and the heritage of vampires. We’re not leaving until I have collected more information and with it, perhaps we can set things right.”

He reached over the table for her hand which she relented and gave him. Gregory squeezed his daughter’s hand softly.

“Help me…” he whispered.

*~*~*

Nigel Griffin was huddled towards the back of a small, bare room – his body shivering with the London cold. The little food that had been provided for him lay untouched at the door. He could smell the narcotics embedded in it, the untested concoctions that the Cabal used to keep him medicated and more ‘communicative’. If they wanted any more of his secrets, then Nigel was determined that they would have to result to more persuasive means. All he could do was hope that his father would not go so far.

He startled slightly when the heavy bolt holding the door closed slipped with a clunk. A stocky man entered the room. He was definitely European though he looked more Dutch than English with his thick moustache hiding the top of his lip. This man certainly did not appear to be of the same cut as the other Cabal henchmen but no doubt his purpose would be.

“Mr Griffin, I presume?” Charles said softly, almost in a friendly manner as he approached the blanket hanging over what looked like air. His accent was a mixture of American and European and heavy, almost drowning out the words.

Definitely not home-grown Cabal.

Nigel was invisible but was able to slowly flicker into focus, keeping the blanket tight around him. It was his only possession in the world. He did not reply, merely nodded.

“Do you mind if I refer to you as, ‘Nigel’…?” It always helped to give things a name – it calmed them.

Charles noted that the man was clearly in poor health, pale and sickly looking with his hands constantly shaking. Though, compared to how he had looked when Professor Griffin had first opened that crate, Nigel was the picture of health. Fascinating, he thought coldly.

“If it pleases you,” Nigel replied dryly.

“My name is Charles Fort,” Charles said, striding into the room so that the guards could close the door, giving them some privacy. “Your father has –” he paused as Nigel half-laughed. “-has sent me here in order to be of assistance to you. He wishes me to undo whatever it was that has transpired.”

“What is done cannot be undone,” Nigel stated simply. “As you cannot un-burn a match you cannot remove what’s embedded itself within me.”

“Forgive me, Nigel – but you shall have to convince me of that and for your own sake, I hope that you are wrong.”

“What will he do to me – if I can’ be ‘fixed’?” Nigel asked quietly after a while.

Charles shifted uncomfortably on his feet wondering what on Earth he was doing here. He should have stayed with Milka instead. She still wrote to him, her letters beating him to London. He read them all with a tender heart.

“He will make you disappear…” Charles answered reluctantly, the truth burning on his lips.

Charles was here to help, not harm – but if he was unsuccessful…

*~*~*

Oxford was bleak as Nikola Tesla stepped off the carriage onto the icy path, tucking his coat around himself as he crossed the road and started off down the street. It seemed that the winter had stolen all of its charm leaving little but skeletal trees and cold stone, both of which looked grey against the equally colourless sky. The other gentlemen and ladies kept close to each other – huddling against the chill that had settled over the world.

Nikola came to a stop in front of the old wooden door, fishing a key from his pocket and slipping it into the brass lock. It turned at once, the door opening in to the house that had been abandoned for so long. As feared, the Magnus house was in a sad state of disarray having been once again raided by filthy Cabal hands no doubt searching for Gregory and his daughter.

He picked his way through the broken furniture and shredded books, veering left into Gregory’s office. The window had been smashed open, its curtaining billowing over a floor showered in glass. Stepping over the mess of displaced possessions, Nikola placed a board to cover the window and at least stop the cold as he turned back to the house.

This would be his home for a while – at least until he found James, Nigel and John and discovered the heart of what was really going on with The Five and the Cabal. Nikola was determined to unravel this mess and bring it to an end, one way or another.

When Nikola was certain that he had secured the house, he took the other key that Gregory had given him and located the stairs at the back of the house – ducking quickly up them where he found a door. He unlooked it and reached into the darkness, his hand grasping at the promised lantern which he lit quickly, sending a warm glow of light upon the attic. This place was untouched – left exactly as Gregory had described.

Nikola inched into the room, his eyes lingering on the piles of paper and letters covering the upturned boxes. There was a certain sweet smell up here, coating the air. He momentarily lingered on a leather bound journal, flicking through it pages seeing the contorted faces of fanciful creatures but his attention was drawn away to something that was not supposed to be there.

Tangled over the collective of upturned crates was a thicket of thorns and dark green leaves. A vine was thriving in the darkness of the attic, growing into the papers and books as if seeking the knowledge in their pages. It was slender but strong, hostile to any touch with razor-edged leaves. Peaking out from underneath this hell were flecks of colour. Wild roses.

“Bloody hell, Gregory…” Nikola whispered, stepping closer. He had never seen anything like it.

Carefully, Nikola bent down. The closer he got to the roses, the stronger the sweet smell became. This is what Gregory used for the rose oil, the only thing that could calm the vampire tendencies within him.

“So that’s why you sent me here… Clever boy.”

*~*~*

With Nigel returned to his holding cell once it became clear that he had too many drugs in his system to be of use, Professor Griffin and his colleagues discussed their options. The group of Cabal had men returned to the museum, going back through the little research that they had managed to find on the history of Abnormals. Despite more than adequate finance, the museum had not been particularly forthcoming. They were dealing with academics, and they worked at a special pace that made snails look like a rare breed of racing hound.

A sample of Nigel’s blood would give them a trace of the vampire blood that Gregory Magnus had cheated them out of. That much, Professor Griffin knew for certain and had his scientists in Oxford working on – though it was hardly the same thing. It would never be any more than a watered down whisper. A last resort – but at least it was something.

Samuel’s body was failing quickly. His white hair fell limply around his face and his skin hung off his bones like tissue paper.

These bastardised creatures – vampires – they had the secret of immortality and he was not going to give it up then he would undo what these monsters had done to his son.

There was a knock at the door breaking the huddle of whispering scientists apart. An old man opened the door. It was one caretakers from the museum, the one that always seemed to be quietly pushing paper in the office.

“Excuse me, gentleman,” the man said, leaning heavily on his cane with his back bent double. He was covered in dust and smelled of the vaults almost as if he were one of the exhibits. “There were two men asking about you.”

The old man was observant, carefully studying the faces of those that standing around Professor Griffin. He had a talented memory, one that could tell what profession you had chosen in life, the number of children that you had – if you were rich, a gambler or murderous just from a couple of careful glances.

Professor Griffin hardly noticed the old man but seemed troubled by the comment.

“Who?” he rasped sharply, giving his notes to one of the other men to hide away in a briefcase.

“They did not leave their name but I heard them speaking out in the foyer, they have come up from Oxford.”

That only darkened Griffin’s mood. He knew well who they must be, two of the gentleman involved in the experiment.

The old man turned to leave but then lingered at the door, looking over his shoulder. “I thought I heard them say that they were staying at Inn down on Southampton Row.”

*~*~*

“What the devil are you doing now?” James had always thought that Sherlock was a strange sort of gentleman but really, sometimes he was entirely inexplicable. Especially now, as he all of a sudden ducked into a side street ad kicked in an old door. Then, instead of entering the premises he had just unlawfully broken into, Sherlock scurried down the alleyway and hid behind a pile of crates.

James indulged him, only because he was curious, squatting out of sight.

Several minutes later there was a clamour and quick succession of footsteps as two men in dark, cheap cotton suits and thick leather cloves came to a stop in front of the door. They did not say anything, looking at each other before cautiously going inside.

Now James understood – and was rather disturbed that he had not noticed.

“How long have they been following us?” he asked in a whisper.

“Two days,” Sherlock replied, stepping out of the shadows and calmly pacing back past the door. He lingered, closing the doors silently and locking them in with his cane, trapping the men inside. Life was like a game to Sherlock. He knew that one day he’d lose, but in the meantime he was going to enjoy himself. “I don’t owe anyone money at the moment so I can only assume that they are following you.”

That, and the make of their suits.

“Cabal,” James slipped on his gloves as the wind took on a chill, a few snow flakes wafting down. It wasn’t quite snowing in London but it was definitely trying to. It would though, there was a storm sweeping over Europe and it was only a matter of time before it reached the white cliffs.

“They’re not very friendly.”

They certainly weren’t. The two men were even less happy when they discovered that they’d been tricked.

“It’s time we got back to work,” said Sherlock, swiping a new, more expensive cane from a street stall. It had a brass head in the shape of a lion head and was smooth, worn and scratched from a long life of use.

“That’s stealing…” James pointed out.

“I’m providing a service to humanity,” Sherlock replied, testing out the strength of the stick in his hands.

“About that service to humanity – we have found nothing on this, ‘Jack the Ripper’ since we have come here. Is it possible that he has moved on?”

“Serial killers don’t move on,” Sherlock wove through the crowds milling by the water’s edge. “They like to make nests and our friend has made his nest right here. ”

“Charming.”

“We have to wait, they always make a mistake and when they do, we’ll be there my dear Watson.”

“I’m not your dear anything,” James frowned, when Sherlock hit him playfully with his new walking stick. This one was definitely sharper than the other one. Sometimes James missed John, Nigel and even Nikola’s company.

“They only thing that you have to keep in mind is that we are more infinitely more intelligent. Well…” he looked James up and down critically, “moderately more in your case.”

*~*~*

John closed all the windows and doors in his apartment. He had packed up all the newspaper clippings that James used to leave all over the floor and returned order. It was almost clinical – the fire, the chair and the glass of wine He liked the control.

He knew what his dreams were now – what his blackouts had meant. It was part of his mind finally crawling out of the shadows and he felt so alive as he let it take him over.

The others could never understand. Ripping through time and space, it was a rush like nothing else, something that was changing him. He was changing. John almost didn’t recognise himself now as he half-smiled at the women that brushed by him in the dead of night, beckoning him their eyes.

He was all too willing to go with them, to let them take his money.

It was the same story every time. A tender start like he wanted with… with Helen. It was only now that he realised his affection for the woman that had started this whole thing. Helen Magnus. One day he would find her.

In an old, run down room, the street women sat him down. He’d run his hands over their shoulders, across their delicate necks with the pale skin blushing. It was the blood he wanted, pulsing beneath the surface.

Somehow the vampire urges in the Source Blood had been corrupted. John wanted to see the red liquid spill, almost like a hunger.

Tonight, this woman seemed to be enjoying herself, already moaning as he undid the lace work at the back of her corset. Her hair was long and blond, falling in loose curls over her shoulder as he placed a gentle kiss against her spine.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered, in a low voice that he knew they liked.

He’d enjoy her first – he had paid afterall.

*~*~*

Helen held the lantern while her father tried to shuffle between the rocks. They were high above the snow covered valley where Nikola’s house snuggled near the tree line, slotted in amongst the sharp rocks where it was warmer. The whole hillside was a honeycomb of caves that moved deeper and deeper, seeking out something.

Gregory took the lantern from her as she clambered through, dressed in riding pants. It was the only source of light now and whenever it flickered, they had to relay on the feel of the rock under their hands, and the freshness of the air to keep them safe.

When Helen finally made it into the small alcove, she realised exactly why her father was so excited about these caves.

Gregory held up the lantern.

In front of them was a pair of sandstone columns, completely unlike the native rock in the area, ornately carved at the top and bottom where they met the cave. They were marble with white, grey and pink streaked through their surfaces almost like ripples in water. These columns of rock looked as beautiful as the day they were set.

It was an entranceway.

“Goodness…” Helen whispered, reaching out to touch the cool stone. Hers were the first hands to caress the stone in hundreds of years. Possibly thousands.

Gregory stood beside her at the entranceway. They could be walking through the gates of hell or finally into the light of immortality.

31

PRINCE OF BLOOD

Two figures holding a single lantern, passed through the stone pillars and descended into the vampire underworld. The light flickered weakly, barely illuminating their faces.

Everything about this felt like a foolish idea.

It may have been thousands of years since the old days of glory and blood lust, but they were dealing with immortals – a race that could be slumbering beneath, waiting for their chance to once again rule over the world. Creatures that were no doubt a little upset about being usurped by a rabble of flea-bitten humans.

All Helen and Gregory Magnus could hear was the shuffle of their feet and a quiet trickle of water running over the ground; snow melt, gradually working its way through the rock. It had carved these caves for longer than any human or vampire had lived. To it, the humans were nothing but a passing curiosity, something that would vanish as quickly as it had come.

There were no choices – only one, long tunnel that kept on winding down into the Earth. It was almost coaxing them deeper, promising them that something would come from the darkness.

“Are you sure that this is a good idea?” Helen whispered, staying close to her father.

Gregory, although older now, was a born explorer. He knew exactly how to tilt his hips and place his feet so as not to slip on the wet stone floor. The deeper they went, the more Gregory started to notice a scent on the air – something sweet. He was the one holding his daughter’s hand to keep her steady.

“I wonder how deep this goes…” Gregory said, his free hand on the wall to steady himself, cold water dripping slowly down his wrist. Beneath his fingertips, the black walls turned into rough, pale pink sandstone while small amounts of sand started to crunch underfoot.

It was a long way, an hour perhaps until the ground finally flattened. Helen found it difficult to judge the progression of time without the sky. Even Gregory tried to read his watch but found it had cracked against the stone on the way down.

They had expected more than bare walls after the wondrous pillars but the caves were determined in their barren landscape. At least here it was wider. Pools of fresh water formed where the ceiling dripped. Their lamplight spread further too, bouncing off the light coloured walls full of scratches that looked ominously like claw marks.

Helen’s fingers settled into some of the marks, the grooves etched deep into the ancient rock.

*~*~*

Nikola picked up every piece of furniture in the Magnus household, setting them all back in their place. He may have been a particular gentleman before but now he was compulsive, completing activities in triplets. Folding handkerchiefs three times, striking three matches for each lantern…

Last, he found wood for the fire, setting it alight until the house was warm once again with a friendly glow. There was nothing he could do about the broken windows but at least with the curtains drawn order had been restored.

With a glass of Port, admittedly stolen from the silver tray and crystal decanter, Nikola sat himself down behind Gregory’s desk and wrote three letters, to his sister, Helen and Gregory. Of course, he didn’t sign them, ‘Tesla’ – no, he was rather hoping that the Cabal might still think him dead after the night escaping the University. Instead, he signed, ‘yours affectionately, Macak’.

Copies of the notes from the Paper Museum which Charles Fort had brought were scattered in front of him, their delicate pages flapping in the breeze sneaking in the shattered window. Grotesque images of vampires stared back at Nikola, all fangs and claws with pits for eyes. Every appearance was of a dark and violent creature – yet something told him that there was more to this great race. Monsters could not rule over civilisation, not in reality. It took finesse, culture, intelligence and a certain kind of subtlety.

Taking a sip of the crimson liquid, Nikola thought back to the roses, their soft petals unfurling in the darkness of the attic above. He tried not to think about the cool blood running through his veins, the way it almost dragged its way around his body, always wanting something more. Something that Nikola would never give it.

The rose oil that Nikola had distilling upstairs could bring him control but he could already feel that with practice and concentration, he’d be able to tame this on his own. He was, afterall, a scientist, and he’d never let a mystery conquer him.

Nikola tapped his fingers over the beautiful hardwood desk, the soft dull thuds turning into the wrap of sharp claws. Every night like clockwork he changed into what most would call a monster, but he didn’t feel the need to tie himself to the furniture any more. No, he was quiet calm – a vampire sipping his Port and watching the fire crackle in the corner.

Nikola set his glass down and held his hands in front of him, watching his claws slowly retract back into his hands. He waited a few minutes and then let that other feeling inside him rise again and – almost at once, the claws returned.

He smiled at the first measure of control. It would be enough for what he had to do tonight…

Oxford university hadn’t changed at all. Its sandstone walls still stood against the heavy mists, softly glowing in the moonlight. There were still cracked windows, shattered roof tiles and blackened stone up on the tower above Tesla’s room. The gas lights along the avenue inside the grounds created watery orbs of light like new born stars still swirling in their nursery.

There were a few lone windows glowing – offices and dormitories scattered over the upper levels. Inside one of them sat a professor, fresh from finishing late class. Five of his best students were missing, and he knew exactly why even though the university was busy writing them off as drop outs.

The professor always locked his door with two heavy locks but forgot about the open window letting out the kerosene smoke from his lamps. He didn’t hear or see the tall, slender figure slip into the room, tilting their head as a cat would look at a mouse.

A few moments later, one of windows went dark and without a sound, another soul slipped from the world.

*~*~*

Nigel hid all of his secrets in his diary – the one laying open in John’s apartment. Whatever he kept in his mind was slowly being twisted by the Cabal, distorted into fragments of memory. He wasn’t like the others. Nigel had always been honest – straightforward. His mind lacked the discipline to withstand Charles Fort’s attempts to break it.

“What does ‘eet matter…” Nigel despaired, slumped behind the table he had been sat at. He had been invisible when brought in here but now his pale, sunken skin looked a lot like his father’s.

Charles Fort had been questioning him for days. He wanted to save this poor boy and to do that, he needed to discover how these rapid changes in physiology had occurred. So far, all he had heard were tales of Nigel’s father and of the Cabal, glimpses of an unhappy childhood. Nothing of use whatsoever to the organisation that paid him.

“They’re all most likely dead by now.” The last Nigel had seen of Nikola and Helen had been them hurrying off down the stone staircase, the Cabal not far behind.

“Who’s dead?” Charles prompted further. He knew that he was close now, the other man was tired and tired people make mistakes.

“Helen…” Nigel whispered. He’d never liked the woman at the start but over the months that they had worked together, he had learned to appreciate her. He certainly wasn’t in love with her like the others were – in their own ways – but he did respect her as a scientist and colleague. “And Tesla.”

Charles Fort nearly dropped his quill, the dark red ink dripping onto the page.

Tesla?” he whispered. It was not a common name, especially in this part of the world, but it was one that he held so dearly to his heart. Milka Tesla was his greatest weakness and strength. He would tear apart the world for her.

Nigel nodded, not even realising what he had done. He was well on his way to losing his mind like this – the drugs and the confinement breaking him down.

“Nikola didn’t even want a part of this in the beginning,” he continued.

Nikola, Charles set the quill down entirely and sat back in his chair, finally understanding. Helen Magnus, Nikola Tesla… They were running from the Cabal and he’d been hired to lead them straight into their waiting claws. Charles was instantly pale. All of a sudden he felt like he was sitting in the middle of a great web, treading on silken threads.

“They’re not dead…” Charles whispered, his tone entirely different.

Nigel looked up, a flicker of hope in his eyes.

They were interrupted by a sharp knock at the door, a Cabal man waving Charles out of the room and leading him up to Griffin’s office. The man was slouched behind his desk looking ancient – some relic of humanity, twisted by his years.

Charles appeared calm and professional, showing no indication of the discovery he had just made.

“I have been notified of a murder,” Professor Griffin said, signing his name on a document. “An old associate and friend of mine – a lecturer back in Oxford.”

Charles shifted slightly, wondering why he was being told this.

“Three deep scratches,” Griffin continued, re-enacting the gesture as if morbidly fascinated, “across the throat. We are being hunted, Mr Fort – slaughtered like animals.”

The old man shifted in his chair, glancing for a moment at the snow falling outside. It had been years since it had snowed here. Griffin could not see the tall man stepping out of a carriage on the other side of the road, tilting his head away from the wind. The young man’s sharp blue eyes surveyed the snowy world and the large, sprawl of the museum.

“I need information,” Griffin continued quietly. “I don’t care how you do it – just get it. I will not sit here and wait for the others to come for me.”

Nikola Tesla scattered a large flock of pigeons, sending them into a grey and white blur. They settled back onto the ground and resumed pecking at the concrete as Nikola shook off the snow and entered the foyer of the British Museum.

He didn’t know where to start. The sheer enormity of the building and knowledge contained inside it was humbling. His natural urge was to flit from room to room, exploring and gazing at the glass-cased exhibit. His was keenly aware though, that he had to be gone be nightfall.

“Well, well, well…” a deep, almost soft voice drawled. “What brings a vampire to London?”

Nikola knew that voice, turning on his heal to see John Druitt lounging against the glass box housing the Rosetta stone. He was in a black trench coat, his wavy hair neatly combed down and wet at the top where the snow had fallen on him.

“John?” he asked, startled for a moment but pleased to see a familiar face. “I could ask you the same question, London is not exactly your haunt.”

“Business…” John replied calmly. “Some of us still have to work for our living.”

“In the museum?” Nikola lofted his eyebrow. It seemed to be an awful con-incidence that they would run into each other here.

“I saw you duck in here on my way to work. I had been starting to think something had befallen you and Helen…” he added carefully.

“She is quite well,” Nikola replied quickly. “The Cabal are going to have to be quicker if they want to catch us.” Nikola beckoned John away from the centre of the room to a quiet corner next to some lonely, forgotten relic. “We escaped back into mainland Europe. I took her home – Gregory as well. He showed up that night. And what of James and Nigel?”

John feigned concern well enough to fool anyone. So that’s where she was. The vampire had taken her home like you would a pet. How quaint.

“James is here in London. He has become sidetracked with a friend of his here. Mr Griffin I have no information on. He has been missing for many weeks now.”

“The Cabal must have him…” Nikola said quietly, almost to himself. He didn’t want to think about the other possibility – that he had ended up like so many of the rats – his body failing under the pressures of the Source Blood. “It is only a matter of time before they come for the rest of us. They won’t stop looking.”

Nikola could not work out what it was, but there was something different about John. A scent on the air when he moved sometimes. It made Nikola catch a glimpse of desert – his vampire side stirring.

“Do you know where I can find James?” Nikola asked, his voice lowering again when another group of gentlemen and ladies passed by them.

John nodded, giving him Sherlock’s address – the one he’d seen on so many letters.

“Take care, Nikola,” John added as he turned to leave. “London is not safe at the present – half the city is in a panic.”

Nikola had heard that too – something about murder.

*~*~*

Watson and Holmes were deep in conversation, the annoying, almost drunken plucking of Sherlock’s violin the only thing breaking up the quiet evening. They both heard the maid’s hurried footsteps up the stairs to the second floor and by the time she knocked quietly on the door, Sherlock was opening it.

“The police are here,” she whispered – something that Sherlock had never understood. Why whisper in one’s own home when everyone was awake? “They want to see you at once, sir.”

He nodded and then closed the door, turning back to James.

“Let me guess…” said James, not looking up from the book he was reading. Another French medical text. “We are not going to the theatre.”

“Oh… there is better theatre afoot, my friend,” Sherlock assured him.

James Watson wasn’t sure if this was something that he would call, ‘theatre’. He didn’t have a love for the macabre like Sherlock, nor did he look forward to what awaited him at the end of the icy street. Ahead, there was a woman shrieking, the police having given up trying to comfort her as she wailed on the curb of the road, wringing and old handkerchief through her fingers.

They were waved in at once, the sea of police momentarily parting as James and Sherlock wove their way towards the small room.

One of the policemen was watching all too closely – a tall man with his wavy brown hair tucked up inside the helmet, a beard and false black moustache making him unrecognisable as John Druitt.

There was another beautiful young girl laid out on the ground, lifeless.

“Such a shame…” James said sadly, pacing around her, stepping over a smear of blood.

“Now now old boy, what did we talk about?”

“Clinical…” James muttered back to Sherlock, slipping his hands into his pockets.

“We are no use to her if we neglect the clues before us.” And at that, Sherlock knelt right down to the ground, using a pencil to lift up a lock of the woman’s hair. Their was a faint indentation of teeth behind her ear. A bite made during love – tender and reserved. Unsettlingly so. “Your opinion, if you please?”

James lofted his eyebrow. Sherlock seemed to treat everything as a training exercise as if he were being groomed as a protege.

“Skill. Detachment,” James said, kneeling beside Sherlock. “The killer is fascinated by something other than there mere act of killing, for that was done quickly,” he pointed to where the throat had been severed, “and without torment. It is death itself, I think – or even a strange searching of knowledge that drives this creature.”

“Curious, I do not bother with the why, only the how. I find the how and that takes me to the whom.”

James nudged Sherlock just enough for him to fall backwards onto the ground in surprise.

“Why did you do that?” he muttered, annoyed.

James just shrugged unhelpfully, proving his point.

*~*~*

A sharp flash of purple frightened a small creature, hiding in the thick snow. The furry creature hopped out of sight, vanishing underground as John Druitt strode through the snow, sinking into the soft, fresh fall. It had taken some guess work – and a little bit of luck, but finally he found himself looking up at the house nestled at the tree line. Dark cliffs loomed behind and he knew at once that this was the right place.

He could almost feel the history here, the ancient vampires that had crawled up through the cold into the mountains to sleep, escaping the tide of humans. That was no way to bow out from the world, cowering and hiding. He had their blood running through his veins now but he would not follow them.

32

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

Nikola showed up on the doorstep of the unassuming 221B Baker Street early the next morning. The snow had stopped and the faint pink above was almost a promise of better times to come as it bled across the sky.

After negotiating with the reluctant lady – something about foreigners ruining the city, murder everywhere – Nikola made short work of the stairs and knocked on the door of the private apartments.

The place was dank and dark with paint pealing off the walls in disgust. There were ghostly halos where pictures used to hang and strange indents in the fresh wallpaper that looked curiously like bullet holes. Nikola took a deep breath and instantly regretted it, covering his noise with his hand. Smoke.

Eventually the door creaked open to reveal a man that certainly wasn’t James Watson.

“Apologies good sir,” Sherlock said, lounging against the door frame and holding a smoking pipe – his third for the morning which had him in rather high spirits.

The smoke made Nikola cough and wave the wretched stuff away, his delicate vampire senses overwhelmed. He had enough addictions at the present.

“A tad busy this morning – not accepting new clientele. Especially those lacking in finance and you – my Serbian friend, look distinctly impoverished.”

Sherlock took another puff, drawing the toxic smoke in deep. He tilted his head and canted closer to Nikola – eyeing him. His assumption was not entirely correct.

The vampire found all this most disconcerting. He didn’t enjoy being he subject of study.

“You’re not here for me at all…” Sherlock reasoned, shushing Nikola when he tried to explain. “You’re here for dear Mr Watson – a friend, no acquaintance perhaps. You have something in common and my guess would be a woman.” The stranger had a neat presentation, almost military except his manner was all wrong for that. Definitely methodical though – obsessive judging by the immaculate presentation of his old clothes. No amount of pressing could hide the fraying edges of his sleeve. “Fellow scientist – Oxford, but you’ve been abroad for sometime.” He had that whiff of wilderness about him.

Nikola frowned and went to push by the irritating gentleman, but found a hand on his chest, preventing it. A hand that Nikola utterly glared at. People didn’t touch him.

“Recluse – of course,” Sherlock continued. “Neat to the point of obsessive. There is a hint of nobility about you but not enough to suggest an official status. Something older and -“

“Tesla?” James appeared behind Sherlock just as the vampire was weighing up the pros and cons of disposing of Sherlock’s body. James struggled to peer over the shoulder of the tall, wiry man whose clouds of smoke were starting to fill the corridor like mist.

“I was getting to that,” Sherlock frowned.

“Very slowly,” Nikola glared, as he stepped out of reach. His mood was considerably more sombre than Sherlock’s. “Can I have a word with you?” he shifted his gaze to James.

James’s eyebrow lofted higher. That was Nikola though. Down to business as usual. He didn’t seem to be a particularly social creature.

*~*~*

“Look at the walls…” Gregory whispered, running his fingers along he sandstone. The softer, pink stone was carpeted in writing that looked as if it had been scratched into the rough surface. “It’s – delirious…” Gregory shook his head, trying to read it.

The dialect of Ancient Egyptian was poorly formed and erratic in structure. Gregory held the lantern closer, his nose almost to the wall as his eyes scanned up and down the lines of text. It would start by speaking of two brothers – princes – and then suddenly shift to a desert. The endless sand that a great many people endured for days and nights as they headed towards the coast. They were running from something – the brothers? No… Gregory shook shook his head. A brother.

“What does it say?” Helen whispered, standing beside her father. She had not yet learned to read this language and was still rather disturbed by the long scratches across the walls that obscured some of the text.

“It’s a recount of the ancient vampires’ escape from Egypt,” he whispered, still reading. “It was bloody. Here…” he pointed at a segment of text that was followed by a crude drawing shower how many women and children were slaughtered on the banks of the river. “Only a handful escaped – and they fled to these mountains.”

“Thousands of years ago – it is what Mr Tesla dreams of…” Helen whispered. They must all be dead now, buried in these caves. “It does explain the superstition in this area.” Helen had been reading through the books in the Tesla house – ancient stories of dark creatures roaming the landscape, stealing women in the night.

“What is the matter, father?” Helen whispered, seeing Gregory suddenly frown and take a step back from the wall.

Gregory had heard his story before – the lone Vampire he had found in South America when Helen was just a child. This must be what became of the other survivors. The ones that had escaped on foot. If that vampire was still alive, then there was a chance that these ones could be as well.

“Nothing it’s -” he was about to explain when a faint blue glow caught his eye. Gregory turned and without explanation, started walking deeper into the caves.

The light was coming from the floor – drawing him closer until he heard his feet break through a shallow layer of water. He was standing on the edge of an enormous underground lake and somewhere in the middle, deep beneath the water, was a light source.

“It’s flooded…” Helen whispered. This was the end of the cave. The enormous roof didn’t lead anywhere and the entire end of tunnel was submerged, heading deeper into the mountain.

“It must be the fresh snow-melt. Many, many years of it.”

It was eerie, the blue like an endless sky with no edge and no depth. You could fall forever into water like that, sink through the world. The soft glow created a faint shadow along one of the walls behind the humans. It was a creature, slinking silently along the cave wall almost as if it were a part of the rock.

“What is that?” Helen whispered, stepping beside her father. The water was warm – inexplicably so. It should be freezing but something was heating it. Perhaps there was some lingering volcanic activity in the area – a hot spring. “It must be right at the bottom of he lake…”

“Stay here…” he said softly to Helen, handing her the lantern. He had to know.

“You’re not going in there,” she immediately protested, catching his arm.

“I didn’t come all his way to turn back.” Gregory insisted that she take the lantern. “If you want to help your friend, Mr Tesla, then we have to go deeper.”

Helen went quiet, holding the lantern and then her father’s jacket as he slipped it off.

“I should come with you…” she whispered, laying his things down on a nearby boulder.

“No, Helen. I won’t have you catching cold.”

Her eyes flicked up in one of her long suffering glares. For all the defiance he encouraged in her – he was still a protective parent.

“Now, now young lady,” Gregory smiled softly at his daughter, kissing her softly on the cheek. “Just this once, do as your father says.”

Helen stood by the edge of the water as her father slipped off his shoes and then began to wade into the warm water. The shallow edge dropped away quickly, sending Gregory under the water in a splash that startled Helen.

“I’m all right,” he called back to her when he surfaced. “It is just a little slippery.”

Soon, he was swimming carefully into the centre until he was treading water above he soft glow of light.

“I will see you in a moment,” he promised Helen, before diving under the water.

*~*~*

“Fascinating…” Sherlock whispered, peering at Nikola.

The vampire had curled up on the chaise by the fire to keep warm, the flames chasing away a few dark memories. James was in the chair opposite, watching the pair cautiously.

“If you do not stop studying me, I am going to bite you,” Nikola hissed. He had told them both everything that had transpired – the Professor, Helen, Gregory…

“Gentlemen don’t bite,” Sherlock easily quipped, still puffing on that infernal pipe.

“Vampires do.”

“You are not a vampire,” not a real one, at least.

Nikola’s eyes darkened. “Try me.”

“Stop it!” James set his glass down, shaking his head. “Nikola, you are telling me that Helen is all the way over on the fringes of the Austrian Empire – with Gregory, chasing down some ruins?”

“James, if we don’t find out more about the vampires then we are walking blindly on this path. The blood will kill us all.” It was all right for James but Nikola – he was a monster.

“And what about our Professor? You are no murderer, Nikola.”

Nikola tapped his fingers over the leather as if they ended in claws.

“It wasn’t that he betrayed us – he knew too much James. He helped the Cabal find us once, he would do so again.”

“We have to find John,” James finally added, before lighting his own pipe. James had never smoked before but now addictions seemed to plague him. The woman he loved had been hideously slaughtered and James’ heart was in pieces even though he would never show it. He was sure that he’d never love another woman.

“I ran into him this morning,” Nikola admitted. “He was the one that told me how to find you.”

“I have not spoken to him in weeks,” James replied, passing over a few letters. They were his correspondence with John. “He simply stopped writing one day. No doubt fed up with the case I am investigating.”

“Case?” Nikola asked, glancing at the letters. “You’re working on the Ripper case. I was under the impression that the great and all powerful Scotland Yard was handling that.”

“They are,” Sherlock interrupted, picking up his battered violin to tug annoyingly at a few strings. “But occasionally the old boys hire out some independent advice – and routinely fail to pay for it..”

“You’re a private detective…” Nikola realised. They had a reputation for being overpaid stalkers hired by rich men to watch their wives. “I take it there was another murder – the streets are quiet in the evenings…”

Indeed, with the London smoke pressed down to street level as the cold nights set in, you could barely see anything beyond stone walls and weak gas lights.

“Four now,” James said quietly. “He has to be stopped -“

“I don’t disagree with you,” Nikola cut in, “but I am afraid we have more pressing matters. We must find Nigel and destroy all mention of our names and the Source Blood in the Cabal’s possession. If not, we will spend our lives either hiding, running or enslaved.”

*~*~*

Helen could see the shadow of her father in the water, swimming down toward the light. She watched him keenly, wondering how long he could hold his breath for until she turned as a few pieces of rock tumbled off the cave wall.

She was never normally this skittish, but there was something about this place.

“Is someone there?” she whispered.

The cave creature flattened itself against the rock only a few feet in front of her. It’s skin mimicked the rock perfectly making it impossible to see in the half-light. It was a scrawny thing, mostly bone and skin with long, lean muscles that it used to clamber through the deep network of caves. Rarely did it venture out into the world – only when it was starving.

Helen frowned, stepping forward – listening to every breath the rock took. She was closing in on the creature. She was nearly nose to nose with the cool stone when two golden eyes opened.

*~*~*

A small piece of folded paper slid under Nigel’s door between the rock and the ancient wood. He heard the footsteps quickly disappear, its envoy vanishing.

Night was over the land, and Nigel had been moved to new quarters. It had taken all day by coach and judging by the fresh smell in the air, he was in a country house in some kind of wood. There were others here – rooms of creatures that snarled and clawed at the walls whenever the Cabal scientists walked by. Nigel was yet to meet them…

Welcome to Windsor, Mr Griffin.

The note was in Charles Fort’s neat hand. Nigel wasn’t alone and that was a great comfort.

*~*~*

The invisible creature leapt forward onto her, pinning Helen to the cave floor before she could move. Its bony hands were strong and ended it long, sharp claws that scratched the rock. Those eyes… there was something almost human behind them, peering out from beneath the amber.

Helen started to struggle but it was simply stronger than her. When it started to hiss, Helen’s blood ran cold. It appeared that the rows of tapered teeth inside its mouth were not able to camouflage. She could see them quite clearly, glistening and looming ever closer to her neck.

It ended in a flash of purple. The universe ripped apart above them with a sharp crack before a set of hands pulled the cave creature up and threw it hard against the wall. The creature cried out, cowering at the feet of the enormous human before scurrying off into the darkness.

“Dear me…” a deep, silken voice drawled. “The floor is no place for a lady.”

Helen could hardly believe her eyes. Towering over her in a long black cloak dusted with snow was John Druitt.

“…John…” she stammered, her blond curls falling limply over her face. No one noticed that the water behind was empty and still…

33

A HISTORY OF THE UNDERWORLD

The museum swarmed like a hive. Fresh snow flurries during the night made the stone building look like an ice cavern crowded in between a mountain range of icy structures. The streets themselves were mostly bare save a few individuals, thick collars turned up, hurrying through the freezing air. It was as if the Arctic had descended upon the city, turning it into a bleached skeleton. Somewhere in the distance, a bell was chiming to mark the hour.

Three men in long coats, gloves, scarves and top hats stood in front of a sarcophagus. They peered down at the faded paint and decaying wood. A shrivelled body lay stripped of all it’s gold and jewels. This was a Pharaoh of Egypt and yet all Nikola could see was death, not a hint of its glorious past.

“He looks human to me,” Sherlock said, inspecting the corpse. As far as he knew, vampires had sharp teeth and long claws – rather distinctive, really.

“So does young Mr Tesla,” James pointed out, nodding at the tall, slender man standing beside him who looked human enough.

“True, but I am only half vampire,” Nikola shrugged, confused by the sight. “It does not make any sense – unless – unless this is not the original body.”

“You think the museum might have switched them?” James shifted, tilting his head.

“It is certainly possible. And, if it is as you say and the Cabal are one of their major benefactors…” Nikola’s implication clear. The real mummies were somewhere beneath their feet, in the vaults. “What if our history has been kept from us? Twisted for thousands of years?”

“Wiped from existence in body and memory,” James murmured quietly. “Humanity must have really hated the ancient ones to go to such trouble. If we are to take samples – it must be of the originals…”

“Perhaps we are merely an acquired – James, where the devil did Sherlock go?”

James frowned and looked beside him to see an empty space where Sherlock had been standing a moment ago. He sighed and shook his head in defeat.

“He’s always wandering off like that.”

“Very comforting…” Nikola muttered, turning around to lean back against the glass enclosure housing the coffin. His finger came to rest on his lips as he thought carefully. “We have to check. The Cabal are hiding the vampire history for a reason, we need to know what it is they’re -”

“Nikola,” the other man took a step closer so that he could whisper firmly. “We should find Miss Magnus first, free Griffin from the Cabal – then we can hunt down this precious history of -”

“No,” Nikola interrupted. “Don’t you understand, James? We’re the ones being hunted now. We may not get another chance at this. Stay here if you will – I am not afraid of the dark.”

Nikola did not give James a chance to answer him as he darted off into the crowd of people. They could not keep running. Knowledge was survival.

*~*~*

“John…?” Helen whispered again, too shocked to take the hand John extended to her. She was not sure if it was the confines of the cave or the strange blue light coming off the water, but deep shivers were travelling over her skin. “How did you -”

John knelt down to the cave floor, his leather clothes creaking. His voice was soft as he spoke to her, as if coaxing a frightened animal from a snare.

“I found Tesla and Watson in London,” he explained. “They told me that you were here. I was worried.”

The smile that he gave her was soft and tender, the effect ruined somewhat by the fresh cut running diagonally over his face.

“What happened to you?” Helen murmured, her cold hand reaching up to boldly rest against his cheek just shy of the angry tear in his skin.

John leaned into her touch a little. Memories of a frightened woman slashing at him with a knife flickered through his memory.

“The Cabal…”

“Oh…” Helen gasped softly, and then knelt, taking him gently into her arms. She held him protectively for a moment. “I was frightened that I would not see you again. When the Cabal came for us at Oxford we just fled. I’m sorry,” she closed her eyes, hiding in his arms.

John pressed a soft kiss to the top of her head but his eyes were cold now.

*~*~*

James was seriously starting to re-think the company he was keeping of late. He has spent most of his life quietly observing the world, keeping well out of trouble but since meeting a blonde woman in a corridor he’d found himself in no end of mischief. At present it involved following a half-vampire through corridors and down endless stairwells as the descended deeper and deeper into the museum underworld.

“Really Nikola…” James muttered, as Nikola used one of his long claws to pick a lock. “You’re starting to control it now – aren’t you?” he added.

Nikola pried the door open and then stepped into an office. He turned up the nearest lantern and paced quickly to the desk, rattling through the drawers until he found a set of keys.

“There is a solution to every mystery,” Nikola replied, holding up the keys triumphantly. “One just needs to unravel it.” Nikola’s eyes were nearly black in the lamp light, a relic of the vampire world standing in the half-light.

The two of them moved quickly now, their feet nothing but a soft shuffle as they reached the vaults. The last time that James had been here with Sherlock, they had not dared to venture so deep. Nikola’s sharp eyes scanned the plaques on the front of every iron door until his paused, trench-coat fanning out as he stopped suddenly.

“Here…” he whispered, unlocking the heavy door before he pushed against it. Nikola struck a match, the darkness parting as the fragile light burned in hand. Behind him, James worked quickly, lighting two lanterns and closing the door enough so that at a passing glance it looked undisturbed.

Boxes. Long and narrow. Their dimensions were eerily similar to that of a human.

“There are dozens of them,” James whispered, walking slowly up to one of the glass enclosures. They could not see anything with the woods of the coffins nailed on. His hands were laid almost reverently on the glass. “Tesla – do you -” but James had to quickly move out of the way as Nikola brought a hammer crashing down onto the glass, shattering it like a bubble breaking in the wind.

Glass rained to the grown leaving only the wooden box. The hammer still in Nikola’s hand, he flipped it over so that he could use its curved edge to start prying out the nails.

“For heaven’s sake…” James muttered, shifting uncomfortably as Nikola tore open the coffin.

Fangs. Long, tapered teeth curving out of the ancient jaw. Nikola was transfixed by them. It was as if the creature were merely sleeping. Was it even dead?

“Dear god,” James breathed over Nikola’s shoulder. “I had no idea.”

This creature – it looked nothing like Nikola. The fangs were demonic, the top row reaching nearly to the chin bone. Someone had crossed its arms over its chest leaving the claws on display, fanned out from each hand. Though it was in a poor condition, the remains of this creature left only one feeling in those that saw it – fear.

“This flows through our veins?” James whispered.

Nikola’s eyes closed. Sand. The reflection of the sun over the dunes. These were not his dreams – they belonged to the creature in the box.

Then the door of the vault slammed shut.

*~*~*

There was a fine mist rising off the pool of water in the cave behind John and Helen. The water was warm and the air getting cooler, causing the thin layer of vapour to roll out through the cave floor and around their ankles.

Helen blushed softly when she realised that she was holding John so closely. He had always been more tender with her than he should, but there were no promises – no declaration that made her his. It was then that she felt a sudden cold spread through her. She peeled back from him and turned sharply to the water.

“Father…” she whispered, realising that he had been gone far too long.

The water was deathly still, as if it had never been disturbed.

“He went into the water,” she continued, hurrying to its edge, “he was looking for the source of the light.”

John’s eyes searched the water but he could see nothing below or above its surface.

“How long ago did he leave?” he asked, a wake forming in the water around his boots.

“Too long,” she breathed back.

*~*~*

“Excellent plan, Mr Tesla – simply wondrous…”

“Oh, quit your mocking, James,” Nikola snipped irritably.

“Well, I’m glad you’re at peace entombed in a room full of dead bodies,” James had never been fond of small spaces as it was. He had an instinctive fear of being trapped just like one of his poor lab rats.

“History,” Nikola corrected him. “History,” Nikola repeated, as he paced back and forth in the dim light, casing the room for escape options. So far all that he could see was a door they weren’t getting through any time soon, and an air vent that a pocket watch would struggle to fit into.

“You are wasting your time, Nikola, I’ve looked.” And James was certain that his gaze was sharper than the vampire’s.

“It’s the Cabal – it has to be. There’s no good reason for the museum staff to lock us down here.”

“Unless you stole from them.”

“For the last time, James, I don’t steal.” Why did everyone assume that he stole things just because he pilfered from the university supply room? And the library. Occasionally Helen’s books too.

There were muffled voices on the other side of the door, no doubt standing guard. James listened to them for a while, but could make out nothing.

“I doubt they’ll be leaving us on our own,” James added in a low whisper. “We should be planning for when they come in…”

“I can take four – maybe five at a time,” Nikola said quietly. He may be a scrawny thing but he was strong and had the advantage of a sharp set of claws.

James looked… concerned.

“Are you sure it’s safe for you to turn? I saw Nigel…” After Nikola had slashed him nearly to pieces.

“We all have our vices, James. I’m trying to limit mine to wine and women.”

James simply scoffed. Nikola’s gaze flicked up sharply, his eyes jet black.

“It is no secret, Nikola,” James added, after taking a moment to take in the beady, vampire gaze. “But I am afraid you’re more like Helen’s pet than her suitor.”

Although Nikola’s countenance remained unchanged, he felt something start to tear inside him. He wanted to speak – to reply with some off-hand quip but any denial would ring false. James had a way of reading people, even Nikola.

*~*~*

The old man shuffled along the dark hallway in the museum vaults, his cane tapping on the floor with each stop. There were two gentlemen ahead dusted in snow standing guard by one of the vault doors. Odd, really – considering all that there was to find down here were relics long forgotten, in too poor a condition to exhibit.

It was not until the old man came to a stop in front of them that they glanced down.

“Can I be of assistance to you gentlemen?” the old man asked, his voice as frail as his wisps of white hair. He had a metal badge pinned to his jacket showing that he was part of the museum staff.

“Professor Griffin has something of value in the vault,” one of them replied, recognising him as the old man from the office – the one that shuffled paperwork.

The old man nodded, and then tilted his head.

“Strange… I wasn’t aware of any new arrivals.”

The two guards shifted, but the old man seemed to lose interest, turning away. Neither of them saw the sharp snap of the man’s cane hit their throats. They grasped at the tender skin, coughing awkwardly before the old man straightened up to his full, quite impressive height, and started to hit them again. He laid several heavy blows on each one until the two stocky men fell to the floor, unconscious.

*~*~*

Nikola and James were glaring at each other, the conversation having taken a turn for the worse as it historically did between the two. Long vampire claws tapped against the table that Nikola was leaning on. He looked considerably more threatening as a vampire, but not enough to scare James.

“Nikola…” James sighed, almost boredly. “I am not trying to insult you, merely pointing out an immutable fact. As a scientist, you should be familiar with those.”

Nikola all but huffed, rolling his dark, beady eyes. He pushed off the table and traipsed over to the ancient mummy, pulling some equipment out of his coat to take a sample.

“Not that it matters anyway, if we are to be pets of the Cabal…” James admitted, now that they were trapped.

“I thought the English were supposed to be more optimistic…” Nikola drawled, slipping the glass vial back into his jacket. “We’re not dead yet, James – just a little more confined than normal.” James didn’t see the vampire slip something else into his pocket as well, a small fragment of papyrus that he wrapped in silk.

James was about to reply when the lock on the door clicked. Both gentlemen tensed, backing into opposing corners of the vault, hiding in the shadows as best they could.

Slowly, the door creaked open to reveal the bodies of the two Cabal guards lifeless on the ground. Stepping over them was and old gentlemen, cane tapping over the ground as he peered into the room. James and Nikola exchanged glances and slowly crept out from their hiding places, approaching the man.

“Well well well…” the old man said – his voice oddly familiar.

James turned up the wick on the kerosene lamp, the vault suddenly brightening.

“What the devil…?” James breathed.

“Close enough,” Sherlock winked, pointing his cane playfully at James before sliding the wig off his head. He’d always been good with disguises. “That’s the second time those two have tried to follow us. They were taking you here,” he held out a street map to James. Sherlock’s gaze though, was levelled at Nikola, inching forward out of the darkness looking very much like a bad work of fiction. “Interesting eyes…”

“Interesting hair…” Nikola replied, his voice almost metallic. Then, he peered over James’ shoulder, looking at the map. There was a property circled, about a day’s journey by road.

“…Nigel…” they both whispered.

Sherlock nodded.

“Your Mister Griffin.”

*~*~*

John waded around in the water, ducking under its warm surface and gazing into the endless underwater world. He could see nothing but rock walls and more water. There was no sign of Gregory Magnus. He broke the water, gasping for air, his long, dark brown curls plastered flat.

“Nothing…” he called out to Helen, who was waiting anxiously by the bank.

He breast-stroked through the water, swimming as far in as he dared. John felt his stomach dropping as he looked down to see the sheer depth of the water beneath him. He felt – fragile – like he might suddenly be sucked deep under the water never to be seen again.

“There must be something,” Helen called back.

“I cannot swim any further,” John replied, as he reached the cave wall on the other side. “It ends here.”

*~*~*

Gregory Magnus had been dragged deep under the water by some unseen current. He had nearly made it to the source of light when it swept him to the side and under a rocky outcrop. Darkness. It was all he could make out as his lungs started to burn. He kept his arms and legs close to his chest as the water tossed him about, picking up speed. He was being taken deeper into the cave system, further than he could ever hope to swim back.

It was a shock when he felt himself start to fall. The water passage had ended in a waterfall – air flooding back into his lungs as he hurtled toward what he assumed would be a messy death on a cavern floor. He still couldn’t see anything, the caves blacker than the evening sky. The end didn’t come. Instead, Gregory was smashed back into the dark water, vanishing beneath it.

He didn’t move, waiting to see which way he floated before he started to swim back toward the air.

34

BLACK WATER

The black water was gentle, carrying Gregory toward the smooth rocks that hemmed in the pool. He washed up on them, the stones cool after the unnatural warmth of the underground river.

Gregory wondered if he was already dead, his consciousness slowly departing from him as he lay there, blinking up at a scattering of glowing rocks. It was as if someone had lit a candle behind the collections of quartz – the beautiful crystals backlit like veins.

Gregory rolled onto his back, coughing some of the water out of his lungs before he managed to sit up. He was somewhere deep inside the mountain even though the air swirling around him was fresh.

“Good heavens…” he whispered – only to hear his voice echo around the walls, bouncing back and forth until it died on the water.

On shaky feet, Gregory stood and found himself drawn to one of the glowing segments of rock. He placed his hand on the stone – feeling warmth flare beneath his fingers. The light flickered causing several other pairs of stones down the tunnel to glow. He followed this line of beacons and soon found another tunnel that was mostly flat with high, smooth ceilings.

Gregory felt a soft tremor underfoot as if the ground itself were stirring to his presence, dust raining down to join the mist. He was in the underworld, a relic of the Vampire’s once grand empire.

*~*~*

It was hours before John finally persuaded Helen to leave the caves – without her father. She was pale and numb, clinging to John as he led her back down through the snow towards the Tesla house. There were lights in the windows as the world around it began to grow dark with a small trail of smoke coming from the chimney.

John knocked on the door and waited.

It was Milka that answered it – her stance immediately nervous when she saw the tall, dark haired man standing beside Helen, a loose curl covering one of his dark eyes.

“What has happened?” Milka breathed in English – but with a thick accent, a deep instinct in her not wishing to let the man inside the house.

“We must get Miss Magnus out of the cold,” John insisted, without further explanation.

Milka hesitated, her hand on the door’s splintered surface. It was only Helen’s fragile state that convinced Milka to allow them both inside.

They settled Helen by the fire and made her drink tea spiked with rum to try and bring some colour back to her.

“And he’s gone?” Milka said, in a hushed whisper to John. He had explained to her that he was one of the five that had experimented with the vampire blood – something that had not exactly helped to settle Milka’s nerves. She had seen what that vile substance had done to her brother.

John was more interested in the way Milka’s dark hair curled lightly on her shoulder, his gaze lingering there before he answered.

“I doubt that it was an ordinary pool of water,” he replied. “The ancient ones had many means of protecting their secrets, it could be that Gregory has stumbled upon one of them.”

Helen drew her legs up in the chair by the fire, watching the flames dance. It reminded her of the oil lanterns her father used to light to take her down to the cellar where all his secrets were kept.

“This is all madness…” Milka murmured. “Mr Fort explained to me the subtleties of genetic abnormalities but this – what you have all done, it is not a quirk of nature. You are playing were you should not and you have dragged Nikola with you.”

John’s eyebrows merely lofted, his voice deep and silken as always.

“Tesla was by no means dragged,” he corrected simply. If anyone had been dragged into this mess, it was John. He had protested it from the start. If it had not been for Helen…

Milka, unable to hold John’s gaze for more than a few moments at a time, glanced over her shoulder at Miss Magnus.

“There is more than one way to convince my brother of the merits of something…” she whispered softly.

John was only half listening, infinitely more entranced by the delicate curve of Milka’s neck.

*~*~*

“Now that, gentlemen, is a vampire.” Sherlock tapped the edge of the open crate with his cane.

Nikola was grinning proudly at his ancient relative while all James could muster was an exaggerated roll of his eyes. Sherlock was eyeing the long-dead vampire, more than a little fascinated.

“Holmes, how long have you been posing as one of the museum’s staff members?” James sounded like a stern parent.

The other man shrugged.

“Oh, a while… The Cabal may not have told me much but then, as you know, it’s not what you’re told, it’s how well you listen.”

Nikola’s arms were folded across his chest, his long claws resting on his sleeves. He wasn’t sure if it was accidental or instinctual, but he seemed to keep to the shadows while vamped up. All that bright desert sun, it made vampires crave the cool dark.

“And what did you listen to?” Nikola prompted, tilting his head to watch as Sherlock leaned right over the open coffin, taking in every tiny detail of the Pharaoh.

This creature hadn’t died of natural causes… Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to reconstruct this body but it had been the victim of a massacre. Part of Sherlock was happy to divert off into solving this ancient crime but needs must when you have an evil organisation hunting you for sport.

“Professor Griffin is dying…” Sherlock replied, finally turning his attention back to the others. “His pursuit of the five of you is not some kind of jealous vendetta, he wants your secrets. He wants to live. Desperate people are the most dangerous.”

*~*~*

Professor Griffin was an old man, perched behind his desk like one of the marble statues outside the window. Every day his skin seemed to sink a little further towards his bones until he might be mistaken for one of the mummified bodies in the vaults.

Studying those creatures had led him nowhere. There simply wasn’t enough left of them for him to unlock their secret of immortality. No, what he needed was a live sample but the only man in a century to see one was the great Gregory Magnus.

When Gregory had first told him, all those years ago when they were still doing their post graduates at the university, that there were creatures in the past that had found a way to linger through eternity – Griffin had believed him. Of the three scientists, Griffin knew that he was the weakest. Instead, he excelled at business and made enough money to fund Gregory’s endless expedition. Gregory may call it ‘blood money’ now, but it was money all the same.

Now, here they were, half a century later and the dream of immortality was his only chance at survival. What had his money bought him? Nothing. Gregory Magnus was gone and his other colleague was dead somewhere back in Oxford, slaughtered no doubt, by one of the foolish children who thought that they could play with immortality as a passing curiosity between lessons.

“Professor Griffin, the coach is ready…” one of his aids said, peaking in through the door.

“Where are the others? They should have returned by now.” Griffin had sent two of his best men to investigate a sighting of Mr Watson and a vexing private detective that had been sticking his nose into Cabal business of late.

“They’re – unconscious, Sir.” The aid shrank back toward the door frame. “We found them lying outside one of the vaults. There was some damage to one of the coffins as well but nothing has been stolen except an old map.”

Griffin’s grey eyes were so sharp that they could have cut the man in two.

“Map?”

“Nothing sir, just a scrap of papyrus. Souvenir.”

“Arrogant bastards.”

*~*~*

Between the three of them; Tesla, Watson and Holmes struggled to meet the price of a coach to Windsor. Whatever money Sherlock had won the week before was inevitably lost on poor gambling deals by Monday whilst Nikola had never had money of his own. James was left to foot the bill.

When they arrived, they were deposited on a snowy landscape a few hundred metres from the main town. Okay, so James’ money had got them most of the way there.

“Were we, at any stage, going to come up with a plan?” James asked, trudging through the wet, cold snow. Another carriage rushed by them with a sharp pounding of hooves.

“By my thinking we have one hour and twelve minutes to decide on one before we reach the address,” Sherlock added helpfully.

“I think by that time,” Nikola said, arms folded into his suit. Vampires were naturally cold and this ‘walking through the snow business’ was not helping his natural condition. “We’ll arrive frozen solid ready to sell our souls for coco and a warm fire.”

*~*~*

Milka startled when the candles flickered.

“Mr Druitt…” she whispered, turning quickly to see him standing by the door she could have sworn was locked. “I thought you were with Miss Magnus.”

John let the door close quietly leaving him and Milka alone in the intimate drawing room. She was over by the window, looking out onto the evening. He could sense her fear like some kind of drug. A calling of ancient predators that knew when their prey was cornered.

“Helen is sleeping…” he drawled, all too softly.

*~*~*

“Did you hear that?” Nikola stopped in the snow, tugging on James’ sleeve.

They were only a few dozen metres from the large residence hiding amongst the estate gardens. Instead of walking up the long gravel driveway, they had wound their way through the hedges and park lands that surrounded what they assumed to be another of the Cabal’s properties.

“There it is again…” Nikola added, when he heard another faint cry on the air.

James and Sherlock exchanged looks – they couldn’t hear anything. Nikola was starting to think that he was going crazy – always hearing, smelling and feeling things that no one else could. There was a constant tremble in the air around him, the ghost of a powerful electrical field.

“Mortals…” he muttered, shaking his head and pushing past the others.

“Was he always like this?” Sherlock asked, watching the vampire trudge ahead in the snow.

“Egotistical and irritating?” James folded his arms across his chest.

There was a very light, rare smile on Sherlock’s lips.

“No… Brilliant,” he whispered, following the vampire.

Unsurprisingly, every window was barred and no one was ready to break down a door. It was Sherlock that found a heavy wooden hatch half buried under a bush. They yanked it open and peered at the hole beneath.

“Basement…” James stated.

“Why is everyone looking at me?” Nikola’s eyes went black without him even realising it. James gestured at the hole. If anyone was going to go down into the dark, it was going to be the vampire. “When did this become a democracy?” Nikola muttered, sitting on the ground and letting his legs dangle into the dark.

Sherlock and James each took one of the vampire’s arms and lowered him down as far as they could.

“Can you feel the floor?” James asked.

Nikola was dangling in mid air.

“No-aaah!” Nikola yelped, as they dropped him.

Nikola landed in a cloud of dust in some forgotten corner of a wine cellar. Like a cat, he’d gracefully landed on his feet but the effect was ruined as he sneezed.

“Bastards…” he muttered, attempting to dust himself down.

By the time the other two had followed, Nikola was perusing through the racks of dusty bottles, lingering at a few expensive reds. He had never been much of a wine connoisseur but since his rise to vampirisim he found that he had developed quite a taste for it. It also seemed to act like the rose oil, calming him. Even the most expensive bottle of red was less trouble than procuring a vial of wild rose oil.

“It is not like the Cabal to keep a wine cellar,” James said, looking for a way out of the room. What he found was a set of stone steps leading up towards a bolted door – bolted from the outside of course as it was unusual for wine to escape…

“Oh, I very much doubt that it’s theirs,” Nikola said, rolling one of the cool bottles in his hands.

“Put that back…” James shot over his shoulder, “and come and put that superior intellect of your to greater use.”

Beyond the door, they found themselves still in the house’s basement. Long, narrow corridors with rooms too close together to be anything other than storage – or cells.

“I can hear it now as well…” Sherlock admitted, as another soft cry echoed down the hallway around them. “It’s coming from ahead.”

Nikola started off toward it but James caught hold of his arm.

“It’s not Nigel,” he said. He wasn’t convinced that it was even human.

“That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t help it,” Nikola pointed out.

“Nikola, you were the one telling us that we can’t afford to divert from our goals. The longer we linger here, the more likely it is that someone is going to find us – we mustn’t delay with things that don’t concern us.

Nikola tugged his arm free sharply.

*~*~*

It was warm. All around Gregory, the rocks were dripping with snow melt making the smooth ground beneath his feet slippery. Every now and then he spotted a rock with steam rising off it, filling the passage with a thick layer of mist lulling along at shoulder height. He could not see the ground beneath. It reminded him distinctly of the mists in the Amazon twenty years ago.

He didn’t need light – for just as the light started to fade, he round another pair of glowing quartz set into the cave wall almost as if they were grown there.

Eventually he came to two quartz pillars, like an official gateway. He walked between them and was immediately startled by a wave of white light washing over him like silent lightening.

“What the devil…?” he breathed.

Gregory’s head whipped around at a crunch of feet over the ground.

You should not have come…” The robed figure up ahead spoke in Latin – or some evolution of the language. It had changed over time but with a culture closed off from the world, it preserved most of its natural form. “Though it is too late for you to turn back now.”

Gregory stepped closer, inching towards the human.

You are not vampire…” Gregory replied, as best as he could. Latin was by no means his natural ancient language.

The human’s eyes darkened at that – with loathing.

Those which you seek, are dead.”

35

HOLLOW GROUND

Dead…” Gregory whispered, reaching out to touch the wet stone walls. “What is this place?”

The hooded figure remained half-hidden in the steam that was lifting off the rocks. Their voice was flat, its tone difficult to judge as it spoke in the ancient dialect of humanity.

A tomb. A monument. A gateway…” they replied. This place was many things to many races. To some, it was a sanctuary.

Gregory took a measured step toward the figure but they retreated, determined to remain out of reach.

And what does that make you?” he asked suspiciously, trying not to show his nervousness. In many ways, this figure was more frightening than a vampire. At least Gregory knew what their cold, calculated motivations were. The pure blood vampire he had met back in South America had been more than fair despite its insatiable hunger.

An envoy,” the figure whispered.

Their hands emerged from the robe, smaller than Gregory had expected and delicate, like those of a woman. Slowly, they lifted the hood, folding the heavy material to lay over their shoulders. Her long, dark hair fell free. She couldn’t be more than twenty, realised Gregory. He was wrong.

Come with me…” she beckoned him to follow.

*~*~*

Nikola, James and Sherlock continued through the hallways inside the house. Faint screams lingered on the air, dying to silence as they turned each corner. They found an empty lab and stole inside it for a moment, hiding there as a group of scientists swept down the corridor in a pack of white coats and thick-set glasses.

This place is like a bloody nest,” whispered Nikola, as he rested with his back to the door, holding it closed just in case. James, meanwhile, had opened one of the storage closets and taken out three spare lab coats.

We best wear these…” he said, throwing the coats at the other gentlemen.

Sherlock perused the files laying open on the desk, sniffing the paper rather than reading the print.

This is mad,” Nikola added, buttoning up the lab coat. They had no plan and no way of finding Nigel in a maze like this. “We’re going to end up experiments in one of those rooms.”

What the Cabal would give to have another member of the five… School children that had played with things behind their understanding.

Now somewhat camouflaged, they crept back into the main hall. Of the three of them, only Sherlock made a convincing scientist. Ironic. He just had a way of walking like he owned everything.

Then, there was a faint crunch of snow outside the building and without warning, Nikola grasped at the two gentlemen and tugged them out of sight around a corner.

What is it?” James demanded in a whisper.

Nikola simply hushed him and a moment later, the others heard it too. The front door was thrown open with a heavy slam, several maids rushing up through the house to take muddy coats from the men at the door. They ushered them inside, fussing and talking softly as if to calm a wild beast. There were three of them; strong, roughly cut men. They were independent contractors that specialised in catching things. You had to specify if you wanted the catch alive…

Is – is he back?” one of the maids asked shyly, barely looking up at one of the men. The only reply she received was a crooked smile. No one escaped them. “That’s the second time,” she whispered.

Sherlock broke away from the other two and started off down the corridor towards the door. The other two reached out after him but missed.

Crazy son of a -” Nikola hissed, and then glared at James for bringing him along.

The contractors were led to the parlour where they lounged around the table, fresh from their last hunt.

Tough bastard, that one…” one of them said, waving his hand to ask for wine. “Can’ even see the littl’ bugger.”

He’s lucky we found him. The frost would have got him eventually,” another of them added, before turning his attention to the door. There was a scientist lingering there – tall, scrawny looking creature with a long nose and sharp eyes. Another arrival from mainland Europe, no doubt. The Cabal seemed to have an unlimited supply of them. “What do you want?”

Sherlock remained at the door, carefully scrutinising each man, learning more about them in a few calculated glances than they could in an hour of questioning.

Where is my patient?” Sherlock asked dryly, with a distinct air of disapproval. The contractor rolled his eyes.

Back in his pen – it would be nice if you kept him there this time. I thought he belonged to that American, Mr Fort?”

Inwardly, Sherlock smiled but his outward expression was a distasteful sneer.

I am – borrowing him. Perhaps if the security in this facility were better, I would not have missing patients and you would not have to go find them.”

Careful with your tone…” the largest man replied, lifting his gaze from his glass. He could break that scrawny arse of a doctor without blinking.

It was a quarter of an hour before Sherlock returned to others, looking very pleased with himself. Nikola was resting back against the wall, arms folded and eyes nearly black.

Second level – third door,” Sherlock said brightly. He’d always said the more brute in the man, the softer their mind and he had manipulated the three bounty hunters beautifully. “He is under the care of one of the Cabal scientists… A Mr Fort.”

Nikola’s gaze snapped up.

Charles…” he whispered. “It couldn’t be.” Not the man that his sister was so dearly in love with. ‘I have been contracting to a very persuasive organisation…’ those had been Charles’s words, all those weeks ago. Nikola was furious. “Where is he?” Nikola all but growled.

I just said – second level, thi-”

No,” Nikola interrupted Sherlock. “Mr Fort…”

*~*~*

Helen Magnus was packing.

The few things she had brought with her had been stuffed into a bag mostly filled with books and notes from the ruins. Her father was gone but she simply could not face that hideous truth right now. The others needed her and she could not let them face the Cabal on their own, not when the experiment was of her doing.

You cannot leave…”

Helen startled, whirling around to face the door. John was there, silent as always. He had a way of appearing without a sound.

John – you know I must,” she replied simply. “Nikola was going to London to find James. If Nigel is trapped somewhere, I need to help them find him.”

And your father?” John drawled. There was something about John’s manner; his long, dark hair falling in an unruly tangle around his face, a glint of something dark in his eyes…

Milka will be here,” she said simply. “She will write as soon as she has word.”

John didn’t say anything. The house had been unnaturally quiet all afternoon – with Milka nowhere to be seen.

And how are you planning to get all the way back to London, Helen? You have no money.”

She paused. A small oversight. She had been planning to stow away on the train, befriend a gentleman if she had to. There were no lines for Helen, she would find a way.

I thought as much.” John paced into the room, letting his fingers trail over the cracking wallpaper. It left flecks of red under his nails. “I think it is time I showed you my gift in all of this.”

Your – “

Tesla is a vampire, Griffin can vanish at will and I – “ he opened his arms dramatically, “can go anywhere I choose.”

There was a sudden crack of purple light, their air splitting violently as John vanished from the room. Helen gasped softly, her hand going to her mouth. Some part of the universe had twisted and snapped letting John fall through it into – into goodness knows where. It was not possible.

John…?” she whispered, but the room was empty.

*~*~*

Do you have a name?” Gregory asked, still in Latin. For a ‘dead language’ it seemed to be doing just fine even with his limited vocabulary.

He had been following the young woman down through the caves for more than an hour, passing through several more glowing stones. It was only when they had come to an enormous gorge that the true scale of this place hit him. It was as if they were wandering through the underworld itself with fissures steadily venting steam and gas from the walls. Gregory felt – precarious, lingering here between the two worlds. It was no place for complex life to linger.

The woman looked back over her shoulder at the man, her face framed by waves of auburn hair. There was no harm in him knowing her name – he would most likely be dead soon. The council were cautious in these turbulent times. Their leader was dying.

Ranna,” she whispered, her eyes as dark as the grey walls.

Gregory had to keep one hand on the wall to steady himself on the uneven ground. He lacked the young woman’s grace to scale the rocks that had caved in from above, obscuring their path.

I take it that you do not come down here often,” Gregory said, sitting down so that he could slide safely off one of the boulders. This place was like a ruin itself.

We have little need of the surface. You – disturbed one of our sensors.”

Sensors… like the delicate needle of an earthquake detector.

You felt me coming as a spider feels the silk of its web tremble…”

Ranna paused, looking at him blankly. It took Gregory a moment to realise he had slipped into English. He shook his head in apology and they continued on in silence.

*~*~*

John…?” Helen whispered again, turning on her heel. The room remained empty, sunlight filtering through a gap in Nikola’s curtains, the air thick with dust. Minutes passed and Helen resumed packing.

She gasped, nearly falling as a crack, thunderous as a lightening storm, ripped through the air behind her.

For God’s sake, John!” she held her heart desperately as it beat unnaturally. He was frightening her – intriguing her.

Cupped in John’s hand was a tiny, fragile and delicate rose. Its burgundy petals already beginning to wither.

From your father’s office,” John said, and Helen knew that it had to be true. Only her father knew where that ancient species thrived. “Did you know – they are growing wild through your house?” Helen shook her head softly, cautiously reaching forward – brushing her fingers over its drying petals. “Let me show you…”

*~*~*

Her eyes slammed shut. She kept a deathly grip on her bags and held her breath as John wrapped his arm around her waist and – and Helen didn’t even hear the snap as she fell through the universe.

The ground came to her feet all too fast but she felt nothing. No shift, no speed, no movement. One moment they were in Nikola’s house, half a world away and now they were somewhere dark. At first she thought she might be blind as John’s arms slipped from her waist. Helen set the bags down on the ground but did not try to move.

She could smell the remains of a fire place, old books, leather couches that had seen too many visitors and a dampness – like a cave.

The house is boarded up,” John whispered, stepping away from her. “From my understanding, Tesla’s doing…”

Helen carefully ventured forward, immediately ducking at the feel of a heavy, wet flower brush through her hair. At least, that is what it reminded her of but –

A match was struck, a bright spark settling into a warm glow near John’s fingertips as he stooped to light the candles scattered over the table. It did not bring much light but it was enough for Helen to make out a low canopy above her head where the ceiling should have been.

They were standing in her living room but it was obscured by thick, thorny vines growing through the plaster above. The tiny specimen of wild rose that her father had left in the attic had escaped, flourishing in the darkness of the boarded in house.

My gods…” Helen whispered, reaching up to touch the beautiful flower that had startled her. It smelled sweet and ancient. “It’s taking over, some kind of unnatural acceleration in its growth. Roses do not grow like this, nothing grows like this…”

Not even the most prolific weed could sprawl across the world with such enthusiasm.

My father said it was an ancient suppressant to a vampire’s hunger,” Helen continued, tugging the flower free. Its petals fell apart in her hand, slipping through her fingers and wafting to the floor. “Nikola proved as much.”

Nikola not Tesla. The distinction was not lost on John. Much had changed since Oxford.

The vampires must have tinkered with its genetic make-up, accelerating its growth.”

John chuckled almost coldly.

They are far ahead of us in scientific understanding,” Helen replied dryly.

So Mr Tesla keeps insisting but…” John drawled, wandering by the boarded windows to light the fire place. “…it seems we inferior humans exceeded them in survival.”

True. Helen was starting to wonder what that said about humans.

Why would he board the house up?” Helen asked, ducking under a bower of roses that almost seemed to sway towards her. “My father sent him here to collect some things but -” she stopped when she realised why. The Cabal had been here again. The beautiful double doors that normally separated the study from the living room had been ripped free and smashed to pieces. Nikola had stacked them as best he could out of the way.

Helen felt irrepressibly cold.

We have to continue onto London. There is nothing here for us.”

London… John knew the place well.

*~*~*

The others tried to hold Nikola back as he stormed into one of the small labs on the south wall, damn near ripping the hinges off the door. He stalked straight across the room before the man behind the desk could even look up and, with an enormous grunt of vampire strength, Nikola lifted the desk with one hand and tossed it to the side with a crash. Charles Fort was left utterly stunned, still sitting in his chair, pen in hand.

Mr Te-” but Charles didn’t even get to finish his name as the livid vampire hit him sharply across the face with an open hand, sending him tumbling off his chair.

Really, Nikola!” James growled, trying to lock the door but only half succeeding. It was in poor shape.

Nikola was about to rain down on Charles with another blow but Sherlock caught his wrist.

Just a moment, before you break his jaw. I have questions.”

The vampire’s eyes were large and black, rimmed by a thin sliver of red like the last of a setting sun.

Charles had scrambled to his feet, backing against the freezing window.

It is not what you think, I swear…” he gasped, hands shaking slightly. “Well – it was but I didn’t know, Nikola – I didn’t know.”

*~*~*

The ground was bleeding. Thick, slow rivers tracked through the crevices of rock and then dripped in a sticky, black veil. It was a twisted waterfall, grotesque and yet oddly enthralling in its hellish-beauty.

You must not touch,” Ranna caught Gregory’s hand as he went to touch a trickle of the liquid. “The rocks here are unstable. The pressure of the mountains above are crushing toxins out of the quartz, shattering it. It will burn through your skin like acid.”

Gregory let his hand slip from hers. It was warm and soft. Just for a moment, he remembered what it was like to hold hands like hers, many years ago now. He only understood half of what she said.

A lot changes with great passages of time,” she continued quietly. “These tunnels are destabilising now, we shouldn’t stay.”

Ranna took him deeper, the ground beneath their feet hollow with layers of passages dug out by vampires. They were long gone though, leaving only the occasional scratch in the wall to say that they had ever existed.

Hours later, they reached the edge of the outpost. It was a metal box – not unlike one of the factories clinging to the banks of the Thames. This one was suspended sixty feet above the ground by some kind of metallic limbs burrowed into the cavern walls. The whole thing was humming, a metallic drone as its engines processed what it could from a small geothermal vent. It too would close soon.

Gregory could see other figures now, workmen frantically moving about under the building like a small troop of ants. Their clothes were similar to a military uniform but all of them covered in dirt and torn from months of work without relief.

This will all be gone in a month,” Ranna said quietly. “We save what we can.”

This is your world?” Gregory whispered, stepping forward, tilting his head back to take in the amazing structure. She simply laughed.

36

APOLOGY IN BLOOD

The last time they met face to face, Helen Magnus tried to kill him. Helen remembered feeling helpless, watching her hand clutch the knife and drive it through Nikola’s flesh. She had wanted to scream as his cool blood coated her hands and ran into the snow.

Then she had straddled him, forcing his body into the freezing white powder as she stabbed him again and again – more than sufficient to kill any mortal. All Nikola had done was lay there in surrender to her, his hands and their sharp claws held at a safe distance, his black eyes pleading with her to stop.

John turned when he realised Helen was no longer walking beside him. He found her, lingering at the top of the stairs, staring absently into the semi-darkness of the house.

I am not sure I can do this…” she whispered, her blue eyes fearful.

John set his lantern down and strode back up to her, taking her hand softly in his. She was cold. “This is your idea,” he reminded her quietly.

Yes but – ” it sounded ridiculous – even in her mind. “There are things that you don’t know about me John – things that I have done.”

He fought a cruel smile at the depth of the unknown lurking in his own soul. If only she knew. He was willing to bet that her forgiveness would not be deep enough, even for him.

I tried to kill him,” Helen looked away, ashamed of herself. Nikola had cried out in pain with each sickening thud of her blade. What the hell drove her to such a senseless act of violence? Why did she keep losing consciousness around her four, closet friends… “There’s something wrong with me, John – something that I can’t fix.”

She could not even blame the vampire blood. This was in her blood, her soul. Helen confessed everything to John and when she fell silent, he gently tugged her to rest against his chest.

Her blond ringlets bounced gently against his cheek as his long fingers trailed through her hair, stroking her. John knew how to calm a woman, what to whisper against her ear to make her sink further into his arms. He had forgotten though, what it was like to hold Helen Magnus. She was no common lady. John was drawn to her strength, her beauty – and her darkness.

*~*~*

Tesla always thought of Charles Fort as a gentleman older than himself but the truth was Charles barely scraped his years beyond twenty-three. He had one of those eternal faces and now it was riddled with fear. Mr Fort’s back was pressed hard against the freezing window pane, his hands held up in a silent plea.

I swear to you, Mr Tesla,” Charles was ignoring the others. Nothing bore into him as sharply as Nikola’s eyes – not even Sherlock’s. “I had no idea that the organisation that hired me was the one hunting you down. I was sent as a favour – to save a life. It suited me to travel in the hopes of seeing, well – your sister again…” he admitted very softly.

Again...? Nikola thought with a growl.

Your friend is under my care – Professor Griffin’s son. I do what I can to assist him in his escapes but they always bring him back. They’ve been watching me closely,” his voice dropped to a natural whisper. He shook his head sadly – if only he could have warned them sooner. “None of you will leave this place.”

Where is Nigel?” James whispered, his arms folded across his chest.

I can take you to him,” Charles replied quickly. “They have just brought him in again. Listen – I have a plan.”

*~*~*

Charles Fort led the men up to the third story of the building. The air seemed to be slightly warmer up here, the paint fresh and the bars on the windows still free of rust. Nikola was never half a step from Fort. Betraying Nikola was one thing but to do the same to his sister was something else entirely.

The last cell in this level was empty. Its floor was wet with half-melted snow and there were a few smears of mud caked on the bars. Charles unlocked the cage-like cell, stepping inside it. Only Nikola followed, the other two deciding it was better not to walk into a trap.

Charles knelt down on the ground, reaching out until he found Nigel’s invisible form.

He’s out cold,” Charles whispered, slipping off his lab coat and wrapping it around the invisible man. Sherlock stared in fascination at the empty patch of ground. The camouflage was flawless, like a giant squid mimicking the rocks and coral.

We’ve got to get him out of here,” James whispered.

I’ve tried,” Charles sighed in defeat. “I may have succeeded with another of the test subjects in here but this is Griffin’s child – he won’t let him be taken. I am supposed to cure him of this affliction.”

But you cannot…” James said quietly.

Charles shook his head. “I cannot.”

As the strongest, Nikola had the task of lifting Nigel onto a gurney. They covered his body with a sheet and made it look as if he were just another casualty of the Cabal.

There is a transport, every afternoon back to London. If we can get him onto that cart we can take the drivers and ride out of here.” Something that Charles had not been able to do on his own. He was an academic, an adventurous one for sure but certainly not a violent man.

They had no trouble working their way back to the ground floor. Most people knew Charles and nodded as they walked by. As a group, they crossed the muddy yard to the renovated stables where boxes of supplies and cages of abnormals were being stacked ready for loading.

A late addition, Dr Fort?” the man standing beside the transport cart said, looking at the body. “It needs to be properly packed and documented before I can approve it.” The man pointed at the long, shallow crates at the side. James and Nikola immediately lifted Nigel into one of them, fitting the lid carefully. “Paperwork…” the man shook his head, still refusing to take the box.

Give me a few minutes, I will collect the necessary documentation,” Charles said calmly. Nikola, naturally, followed. When they were back in the main building, Charles lowered his voice at Nikola. “Mr Tesla, Griffin will recognise you…”

And he will know you betrayed him if he finds you in his office,” Nikola replied simply.

It took nothing for Nikola to disable the lone guard outside the door and pick the lock. Charles was keenly aware that Mr Tesla could snap his neck just as fast.

I want you to see something, Mr Tesla,” he beckoned the vampire over to the far wall. There was a wooden cabinet nailed to the plaster board, not very deep. It was locked but Charles had managed to steal a key during his long months here, opening the delicate doors to reveal rows upon rows of vials. Each one was a slightly different shade of red. Blood. “This is his obsession…” Charles whispered.

From Nigel…” Nikola realised, stepping closer. “He is trying to extract the Source Blood from Nigel’s?”

And failing.” Charles picked one of the vials from the cabinet. “Its impurities are too great. Nigel is no vampire. His blood lacks the one quality that Professor Griffin hungers for…”

Immortality,” Nikola whispered. What else did dying men crave?

He mistakenly thinks that he requires all five of you to piece the blood’s properties back together.” Charles shifted his weight, setting the vial back down onto the shelf. “All he needs is you, Nikola.”

*~*~*

James and Sherlock waited calmly by the crate containing Nigel. No one paid them much attention. The place was full of men in lab coats, coming in and out. The horses were still being fed, pawing boredly at the ground with their noses buried in hay buckets.

They’ve been gone a while…” James whispered. “What if he wakes up in there?”

My dear Mr Watson,” Sherlock drawled calmly, sitting on the crate. “The more you fret the longer time will feel to you. As for Mr Griffin well… we never specified that our cargo was dead.”

There were less people in the room. At first, Sherlock thought it strange that he had noticed this fact but soon it was joined to another fact – one of the barn doors had been closed. A third fact, the man verifying cargo had just walked out.

It’s quiet,” James muttered absently.

Sherlock tilted his head as the boy sweeping out vacant horse stalls also ducked out under the remaining door – closing it behind him. The horses fussed softly, leather and metal straining over their coats.

James…” Sherlock whispered. “I don’t want to alarm you but -”

But the three burly contractors were pacing towards them.

*~*~*

Helen had her father’s gun concealed under her skirts, a knife too. Nikola had left her notes, one on her bed – another in his attic. She followed the notes to the British Museum in London, John’s ability allowing them to cover ground quickly.

How quaint of the vampire,” John half chuckled as Helen stalked through one of the exhibits – searching. “It’s like a treasure hunt.”

He knew that I would be coming for him,” she replied, ducking down to reach behind one of the sarcophagi. Another note.

Where to this time?” John ran his long fingers across the glass edge of a display. It felt threateningly sharp.

Windsor…” she whispered, folding the note backup. She never let John see the writing at the bottom; ‘very truly yours’… Helen only hoped that Nikola could forgive her.

*~*~*

Without the Source Blood, you are the only creature left that Griffin can use to solve the riddle of immortality,” Charles looked sad, guilt washing through his eyes. “I’m sorry Nikola.”

There was a scuffle outside, a dozen armed personnel running towards the barn, surrounding it. Nikola stepped over to the glass. It was too late, the Cabal knew.

You betrayed us…”

Charles shook his head, his resolve firm. “No, Mr Tesla,” he said, watching the vampire brush his hand uselessly over the glass window, “I told you that the Cabal watch me.”

Nikola could see that in moments the others would be trapped but there was nothing that he could do. He turned to face Charles, his eyes clear this time – a human blue. “What are you doing, Charles?”

Charles pulled the doors shut on the cabinet.

Saving you – forgive me.”

The glass window behind Nikola shattered. A crack followed; sharp thunder on the air. Nikola felt the cold stream of blood first, seeping through his shirt. Charles discarded the gun on the table, crossing quickly to Nikola, catching the man before he fell to the ground.

Straight through the heart. Even a vampire’s body quaked under the wrecked flesh. Nikola grasped at Charles’ arm, his bloody fingers gripping at the man that had killed him.

A flare of red. Not in the room but between the leaves kicking over the university lawn. Nikola could still remember the day they had met, her scarlet dress trailing out behind her; the first time she glanced back over her shoulder to see him watching from the park bench.

*~*~*

Which ones are you taking?” Sherlock asked, quickly on his feet, cane in hand. He twisted the handle and unsheathed a slender blade.

Uh…” James stood also but the best he could do for a weapon was an old broom used to sweep up the hay. He brandished it anyway, trying to look threatening. “Whichever one lunges at me?”

Good man,” Sherlock grinned.

Bloody hell, thought James, he’s enjoying it…

37

AN HONEST GENTLEMAN

The first man to lunge was the tallest with a thick red beard and cold, grey eyes. He swung his machete just shy of Sherlock’s head. Sherlock ducked, the cold sound of metal cutting air ringing in his ears. Like an insect, Sherlock spun under the man’s blade and quickly slashed his sharp cane against the killer’s chest. The material of his jacket and shirt shredded to reveal a slender line of red.

Nice shot…” James whispered, still a spectator.

You worry about your own problems, my dear Watson,” Sherlock replied, spinning out of the way of another heavy blow. His opponent may be slow but it would only take one hit from a creature like this to kill.

Watson’s problems came in the form of a crate, easily lifted by one of the remaining men and thrown straight at James’s head. As a gentleman unaccustomed to such things, he gasped, ducked into a tiny ball and cried out as he was covered in splinters and hay from the crate exploding on the wall behind him.

That wasn’t very friendly,” James muttered, standing up and brushing the hay from his shoulder.

They are not subjects for you to study, James,” Sherlock said, scratching his opponent with his cane again, this time down his chiselled cheek. “And I dare say they are less behaved than your notes and bottles of scotch.”

James fished around in the hay and found a broom, brandishing it proudly at the man that had attacked him. The man chuckled coldly, reaching forward. James swung the broom as hard as he could but the man merely caught it in his enormous hands and – snapped it, leaving James with a very sad looking broom head.

Well done, old boy…” Sherlock’s sharp eyes glistened.

*~*~*

When the vampire went still, Charles Fort let him slip out of his arms leaving Nikola slumped against the wall. There was blood everywhere, far more than he had ever expected. It was sprayed over the broken glass from the window, smeared across the cream walls and dripping from Charles’s neck. The dark stains had ruined Nikola’s shirt and vest, some of it still oozing slowly down the vampire’s chest to form a pool on the floor.

He could not look into Nikola’s eyes. They were a clear blue – very human eyes that had not been ready to leave the world. So young. Now they were empty.

Charles withdrew a syringe from his jacket and quickly drew what he could from Nikola’s arm, filling a small glass vial. Then, he moved over to the tiny cabinet on the wall and threw everything inside it to the floor, shattering the samples of Nigel’s blood, every last one of them. All of Professor Griffin’s work was destroyed in an instant.

There were rushed footsteps outside just before the door was thrown open, slamming back against the wall. The scene was grim; Nikola lifeless against the wall with Mr Fort standing over him, a bloody hand print on the sleeve of his shirt.

It was Professor Griffin and two of his goons, both of them raising a gun towards Charles.

What is this?” Griffin barked. His anger had made his frail body stronger. He saw the shattered remains of the cabinet.

Charles straightened, holding up the single vial of vampire blood.

Is this what you’re looking for?” he asked, a slight waver of fear in his voice. This could not be undone and his life would certainly be forfeit for it.

Griffin’s eyes tracked slowly from the vial in Fort’s trembling hand to Tesla, dead and cold against the wall. A wry smile tugged at the corner of the old man’s lips. Clever.

The last vial of vampire blood…” Griffin hissed, taking a step into the room.

If you want to live forever,” Charles whispered, his fingers ready to crush the vial if they moved any closer, “then blood from your son will not suffice. I’ve studied the files you gave me, the reports of the five children at Oxford and their experiment. Only one possesses the required gene from the original sample of blood…” Charles motioned to Tesla behind him. “This is his blood. With it, I can give you what you want – the immortality that you dream of and a cure to the plague that ravishes you.”

Griffin shifted, leaning on his cane.

Your terms…” because there were always terms.

Their lives, all of them,” Charles whispered, despite Griffin’s snarl. “You let Watson, Sherlock and Nigel Griffin go and they can take the body of their friend with them,” he nodded at Tesla. “Then I will help you. I’ll give you everything you want. You hired me, Professor – brought me from the other side of the world. You know I can do this.”

Give up my son?”

Charles nodded. “Those are my terms.”

*~*~*

John teleported Helen to the grounds of the Cabal manor. They were behind a bank of hedges, over looking the pair of white buildings near the main driveway. One of them was a barn of sorts, surrounded by armed men.

Take your hands off my jacket, it’s worth more than that mat of horse hair masquerading on your-” Sherlock was silenced as the man dragging him out of the barn hit him sharply over the face. Another man had James, a knife to his neck.

Helen gasped and went to move but John caught her wrist and tugged her back down next to him.

Wait…” he whispered. “We have no idea what’s going on.”

Something wasn’t right… A man ran from the main house toward the barn, stopping to talk with the men there, motioning over to the barn and then to horses and carriage already waiting in the driveway. The men didn’t look happy about the conversation and soon, a crate was brought out from the barn and loaded into the carriage while James was ushered into the back.

More shouting went on between the men and then a bloody body emerged from the main house. Helen knew at once that it was Nikola. It only took one man to carry his slight body and load it roughly next to James. Helen gasped softly, covering her mouth. It couldn’t be. Not like that. Not so easily…

Sherlock was hunted up into the front of the carriage and handed the reins.

Go!” the man grunted at him, still sporting a couple of nice scratches from Sherlock’s cane. “Go now!”

Sherlock, for once, didn’t ask questions. They were being offered freedom and so he snapped the reins against the horses and took off down the gravel driveway.

*~*~*

Charles waited by the window, watching as the carriage raced away, nearly missing the turn on the main road. Then it was gone, joining dozens of other identical carriages all on the main road to London. They were safe. It was the best that he could do and hopefully, it was enough to redeem his soul.

The two men lowered their guns.

All right, Mr Fort. You and I have work to do. I have held up my end of the bargain.”

Charles was looking at the bare trees bending softly in the wind. The flurries of snow kicked up and sent tumbling into the air made him smile, each one of them a complex riddle of ice crystals. The world was beautiful. Not as beautiful as Milka.

Still smiling, Charles closed his eyes and smashed the vial against the window pane.

*~*~*

Nikola – Nikola!” James whispered. The man was sprawled awkwardly over the back seat, frighteningly still.

He’d been shot – his clothes soaked in blood. James undid Nikola’s shirt, pushing it open; shot through the heart but the wound was oddly small. The skin that had been shredded was fresh as though it had just healed.

Nikola should be dead but James was observant… He held his hand up to cover Nikola’s open eyes for a moment, then removed it, watching the pupils shift size. Alive, even if he wasn’t breathing yet.

Bloody vampire,” James breathed in relief.

“I cannot believe you tried to hit them with a broom!” Sherlock yelled from the front of the carriage, trying to keep a handle on the horses as they raced over the uneven, icy road. “How’s the vampire?”

James relaxed back into the cracked leather seat, one hand on Nikola’s chest.

Alive…” James replied.

He took a moment and then pulled at the leather separating the seats from the luggage. The wooden crate containing Nigel was there, being battered from side to side. James reached over and prised off the lid. Nigel was half conscious, blinking back the sudden light.

*~*~*

They’re going to let them go?” Helen whispered. She was in shock, preferring to ignore what she had seen. She could not lose her closest friend and father in the same week – it was too much to bear.

John had his hand settled on the small of her back as they remained hidden behind the ice-laden hedge. “Looks that way.”

That doesn’t make any -” Helen was cut short by two quick gunshots. Their sound was dull, as if they’d come from inside the main building.

James keeps a small apartment in London. I wager that’s where they’re heading. We can meet them there…” he whispered.

*~*~*

It had just finished snowing on Baker street. Everything was peaceful. The wintry sky was oddly inviting. A strong wind earlier had lifted the smog out of the streets and left nothing but the crystal sky above, starkly perfect against the muddle of city beneath.

Why is James staying here?” Helen asked, running her gloved hand down the banister. They were lingering outside. The others should arrive soon.

Our dear James is working on a case. He’d dabbling in Scotland Yard.”

Helen looked up at the unassuming building. It was set tight between the other houses, wall to wall, a copy of its brothers.

There is a particularly juicy crime at the present,” John continued when Helen said nothing. He was almost disappointed that she didn’t ask about The Ripper. Did she even know? “A serial murderer is working his way through-”

His?” she asked, her gaze flicking up. “Is there not a debate in the papers at present regarding the gender of the killer?”

Ah – so she did know… John’s brown eyes seemed all the deeper, his hand resting low on Helen’s back again. “A lady could not do such things.”

Helen could still feel Nikola’s warm blood over her hands. “Yes they could.”

A very tired pair of horses dragged a carriage to a stop in front of Helen and John. The beasts were panting, not even bothering to fuss against their reins. They’d been run a long way at high speed. Sherlock, dusted in snow, waved at the pair.

And you, I presume, are the lady Magnus…” the tall, wiry man grinned. He could easily see why Mr Tesla was so taken with her. She was a beautiful woman, if somewhat wild. She was no lady of the court, so to say but she was a stunning creature. Sherlock tossed her the key to the door, which she easily caught. “We have to get them inside.”

*~*~*

They laid Nikola on James’s bed. Helen would let none of them near him, ushering them all back into the main room and closing the door. James and John were back to their old habit of sitting by the fire, scotch in hand whilst Sherlock tended to Nigel. He had slipped back into a deep sleep and not yet spoken to any of them.

Nikola stirred as Helen sat down on the bed next to him.

Sh…” she whispered, pressing a warm washer to the small wound on his chest, wiping some fresh blood away. It had nearly healed.

He looked so fragile in the candlelight. Nikola had always been a slight man but his charisma hid it well. When he was awake he was as fierce as any man, his blue eyes burning them into submission. She’d seen him stare down lecturers, businessmen and frighten the life out of the Cabal men come to kill them. The only time she had ever seen him afraid was when she’d come at him with a knife.

Helen?” he choked out, his hands clutching softly at the bedding. His blue eyes reappeared under heavy lashes, the world a blur but for her blond hair and smile. “Are you – hurt?” Nikola whispered, an unsteady hand lifting up to her cheek.

She chuckled softly, taking his hand and guiding it to her warm skin.

38

BOWING OUT GRACEFULLY

I tried to kill you…” Helen whispered, fussing with a few long strands of his hair. They seemed determined to fall across Nikola’s eyes and every few minutes she drew her warm fingertips against his forehead, tucking them back into his hair line.

It was a torture far worse for him to endure than the knife she’d thrust into his chest. Her soft attentions were a constant reminder of an affection he had forbidden himself.

Helen… Helen – stop…” Nikola murmured, taking both her hands in his. He was sitting up against the pillows with a few heavy blankets thrown over him. The bandage visible through his half-undone shirt was no longer necessary despite the small smear of blood on it. He was afraid to tell her though, in case she started fussing again. “It is not your fault – what happened at my home. I should have told you what your father told me.”

They never used to keep secrets from each other. Nikola and Helen were confidantes. So much had changed these past few months, he could not bear to lose her trust as well.

Helen folded the quilt gently around Nikola as he spoke, her long hair a soft gold in the light where it slid over her bare shoulder. The candles had nearly died by the time he finished, their wax left all in sad ruins, dripping from the desk.

Nikola told Helen everything. He explained that she was born to kill his kind; a cruel balance of the universe. Vampires needed their predators and rare, immortal beings were always there to hunt them. With deep embarrassment, he admitted that over time, he would crave her blood and that if he tried to consume it, he would die. That was why he’d taken a sample of her blood that night and tried to inject it. He had chosen to set her free of the dark ties that bound them.

No,” she whispered defiantly, shifting closer on the bed, threading her hand in his. “We decide what we are, Nikola – not our blood.” Was that not the whole point of their experiment? To choose their future? “Besides…” Helen added, with that playful glint in her glistening eyes, “you’re only part vampire.”

He cupped her cheek tenderly in one hand. “Yes, but you are a whole immortal,” he smiled warmly .

Nikola did not show affection easily but she was his friend, his – his something that Nikola was afraid to admit. “Defy nature, then?” he proposed with those bright blue eyes of his, to which she smiled. “Just – you know…” he murmured, settling against the pillows, “warn me if you feel the urge to balance out nature again.”

To his surprise, she did not move to leave. Instead, Helen gently laid her head against his chest, her blond curls tumbling all over him. One of her delicate hands clutched at his open shirt making his heart falter. He didn’t know what to do.

After several minutes, Nikola settled his trembling hand on the back of her dress. She had worn this one many times before but this was the first time he had noticed the smooth finish of the embroidered silk, or the tight sash wound several times around her waist.

Helen fell asleep on him last June when the weather was warm in the evenings and the storms played at the edge of the horizon. They had been watching stars on the roof that night and drifted off into sleep, curling innocently up together as the night passed. This was different. While she slept against his chest, Nikola trailed his fingers slowly down the laced-up back of her corset, counting how many times the ribbons crossed over.

When he dreamed, it was of those ribbons. They were sliding through his fingers as he undid her corset.

*~*~*

James frowned at his empty scotch glass. He had passed his limit several glasses ago and since fallen into intoxication. Well into intoxication, he realised, when he nearly missed the coffee table trying to put the glass down.

What the devil are they doing in there?” James slurred, enjoying the warmth of the fire.

Sherlock was the only one still sitting up in the lounge room. Griffin was put to bed in the only other room and Druitt had stalked out to work his way through the bars. Helen had been in Tesla’s room for – gods, James couldn’t even read his watch any more.

I would not like to wager on Miss Magnus returning to us,” Sherlock said simply. He’d been smoking something untoward and currently looked a bit twitchy. He kept glancing suspiciously at the coat stand in the corner as if it were threatening to pounce on him at any moment.

You don’t – think…” James lowered his voice. He knew Tesla was fond of Helen but he did not seem the type for illicit liaisons. Hell, the man could hardly stand to shake hands.

My dear Watson, you may have an eye for fine detail but every now and then you miss the big picture.”

James frowned slightly and started playing with a thread that had come loose from the arm of the chair.

You are not jealous, I hope?” Sherlock poured himself the last of the scotch.

James tugged at the thread, watching part of the material unravel. There had been a cat here once, he could tell by the scratch marks. “I was thinking about Mary,” he whispered. Mary Jane Kelly, his lover. “Do you think he made her suffer?”

The Ripper had left little but a mutilated corpse for James to mourn over. James knew that to love a woman of her profession would always end in despair but he had not expected it to end in bloodshed.

James, there is only madness in such questions,” Sherlock advised softly. “I do not wish to see a mind like yours fall into an endless well of hatred of what might have passed. All you can do for her now, is find her killer.”

*~*~*

John Druitt had spent hours in a small bar catching up on the papers. There was an old pile of them stacked haphazardly in the corner of the establishment, stained and missing pages. With a half drunk glass of bear beside him, John grazed through the headlines.

He smiled coldly when he found what he was looking for. Annie Farmer and Rose Mylett. Whilst he had been abroad, whispers of the Ripper had kept London in fear and it seemed that every woman’s cry or suspicious death was now attributed first to the mysterious murderer. The ancient vampires ruled the world with fear and in a few short months, The Ripper held London’s soul.

John tried not to be insulted at the pitiful nature of the two mentioned in this article. One was not even dead, a mistake he would hardly make and the other was probably a victim of her own alcoholism. There was an art to murder seriously lacking in these cases.

It would not do.

He threw the newspapers back in the corner of the bar with disgust. John would give them something to write about – something to unravel that would leave their blood running cold. First, he had a loose end to cut free. A certain Mr Nigel Griffin who knew the truth of his double life and he couldn’t have that.

*~*~*

Gregory kept touching the surface of the window, pressing his palm to the crystalline substance similar to glass. The tunnels were rushing past them at incredible speed, many times that of a horse at full run. Ranna was seated opposite him, staring down at her hands.

This is incredible,” Gregory whispered. The spherical device rolled over, ducked and weaved through the caves and yet inside, the ride was smooth and silent.

You do not have such methods of transport in your world?” she asked, with that slight air of Praxian superiority born into its people.

Nothing like this,” he shook his head. “My world makes a lot more noise. If something goes fast, you can hear and feel it. Creating power is an expensive, messy business.”

We have all the power we need from the heat inside the planet,” she replied, standing as the transport came to a stop. “Normally, prisoners are not so – happy…” Ranna added. The enormous grin had never left Gregory’s face since she had met him in the tunnels. These surface dwellers were most strange.

I have found a whole world beneath ours – the greatest archaeological discovery of our age.”

Is that what I am… your discovery?” Ranna couldn’t help a small grin on her lips as she waited for him to follow her out. He was her discovery too. The first surface dweller in five hundred years. Sadly, they did not seem to have made much progress.

In a manner of speaking,” Gregory looked almost shy. The air was cleaner in this tunnel. Everything looked new; the rock freshly cut and free of lichen despite the fresh water trickling over it making their surfaces shine back with beautiful threads of colour. They must be close to the city heart. “I must insist that after I have met with your government, you let me leave. I came here looking for Vampires and if they are no longer amongst you, I must keep looking elsewhere. My daughter and her friends depend upon me.”

I already told you,” she murmured, so that the two guards accompanying them could not hear. “No outsiders are allowed to leave Praxia. It is forbidden by our highest laws. Secrecy keeps us safe. You stay here or you suffer our executioners. That is our way.”

That made Gregory’s smile fade. He could not spend his life trapped here, not when he had a daughter all alone in the world above.

Without warning, the city of Praxia emerged around the next corner, twinkling in the dark cavern. It was immense, half the size of London itself all buried under the ground. Buildings twice the size of the largest factories reached up, brushing the top of the cavern ceiling, some of them were even moulded onto the rock structures creating organic arches over the streets. There had to be half a million people down there.

It isn’t possible…” he whispered, staggering forward to get a better view from the ledge.

Your world is alive, Doctor Magnus – it is not all just rock and ash down here.”

My lady, it is this way…” one of the guards stepped forward, when Ranna turned to the left, heading for another tunnel. She spun around, blushing innocently as so many of the women of her station did.

Of course – forgive me…”

As the guard smiled back, Ranna reached forward and stole his gun from its holding, unhooking the safety and firing a sharp burst of energy square into his chest. She did not hesitate, taking down the other one before they could call for help. She was no girl, Ranna was a scientist, hungry for knowledge and there was a chance that this man could answer her questions. She was not about to just hand him over to the council – not yet, anyway.

I – don’t understand…” Gregory stepped carefully over the bodies, following her into the tunnel. It led sharply down.

If you wish to go back to the surface, you will need my help. It will be hours before they notice my absence with all the confusion. That will give us just enough time.”

Time for what?”

*~*~*

Nigel slept peacefully, unaware of the tall figure looming over him, knife in hand. John was spinning the slender metal between his fingertips, letting it catch the moonlight. There was a smear of blood where the sharp tip pressed against John’s thumb. A drop of it was slowly accumulating, swelling and forming a bloody tear.

It fell onto Nigel’s cheek, shattering over his pale skin. He stirred, frowning for a moment before his eyes opened.

Nigel didn’t say anything when he saw John above him. The torture of the Cabal could not begin to instil the fear that a motionless shadow of this man could. There was no point lying. Nigel intended to tell the others the truth and John knew it – Nigel had the dignity not to plead for his life with lies.

You are a monster…” Nigel whispered, sitting up in bed. It was freezing in the room with the window forced open from the outside. A few lonely flecks of snow drifted in, melting on the curtains. “What we did was ground breaking – a miracle and you’ve turned it into this; into murder and gore.”

The knife continued to spin in his fingers, another drop of blood tumbling onto the sheets.

Can’t you hear it?” John hissed, his voice barely a whisper. “I can. Your blood is rushing through your veins, begging to be free. I can smell it on the air and feel it…” he burned for it, an intense hunger of the vampires, but with no way to sate it.

Nigel was shaking his head.

You need help, John. We did this to ourselves, let us -”

The sharp edge of the blade found Nigel’s throat, pressed there not quite hard enough to draw blood.

You wish to change me? How noble of the boy whose father desires to dissect all the abnormals of this world and cage us up. Tell me, did you hear the screams coming from the building they held you in, hmm? I did. This world is darkness and light, each has its part to play. Yours, I am afraid, is to be silent.”

Am I interrupting?” Sherlock’s wiry figure hovered in the doorway. He’d been checking on Nigel every few hours. When he was this high on liquor and weed it was tricky to tell which bits of reality were constructions of his imagination. It was perfectly possible that Druitt holding a knife to Griffin’s throat was a fleeting fantasy.

But wait… Sherlock knew that knife – the slender curve of knife suitable for deep, clean cuts. Druitt’s height was just suitable to make the necessary first cut through the throat and his overall appearance more than passingly resembled witness statements.

How very, very curious…” the detective whispered, taking another step into the room. What an interesting group of friends Dr Watson kept. A vampire, a lady with no appreciation of her station in life, the invisible son of a less than friendly organisation and a serial killer. Quite the collection. “Mr Druitt, is it? Or do you prefer to go by Jack…”

Sherlock offered his hand, as if to introduce himself.

You received my letters then, I trust…” John drawled, applying more pressure to the knife. It cut through a few of the delicate layers of skin leaving a thin red line on Nigel’s neck.

They did not contain the finesse of a lawyer’s hand but they stated their case plain enough,” Sherlock withdrew his hand when John refused to shake. “You do not fit Scotland Yard’s profile, other than a passing physical resemblance of course, I -”

John stopped him there. “Detective, you can stay and watch or go for help but whichever you choose, please, a little bit of hush whilst I work.”

Actually, I’d rather you left Mr Griffin’s throat intact, if it’s not too much trouble,” Sherlock ventured another step into the room. “I have known the man long enough to gather he’s no whore – nor is he female. You may not have a profile but your victims certainly do which means this isn’t for pleasure – it’s a crime of necessity, and I must say it does not suit you nearly as well. There’s no prestige in survival.”

You’ll ‘ave to kill us both,” Nigel glared, taking hold of John’s arm, pressing the knife more firmly to his own throat. “Make sure you don’ miss – because if you do, I’ll find you an’ put an end to you. You are nothin’ but a failed experiment, a lab rat twisted an’ deformed into a sad creature waitin’ to be put out of its misery.”

Oh Nigel remembered how John had turned pale at the blood in Oxford, so long ago. His speech on humanity and the dignity of life had been moving enough to sway Helen. Where was that John now?

James clipped the doorway on his way in, leaning awkwardly against it in his inebriated state. He sobered quickly when he saw the three men. It only took a moment for him to hiss the words, “It was you…” with such bitter disgust that even John flinched.

John stepped back from Nigel with an almost theatrical air as he wiped the fine layer of blood off the knife and onto his coat.

I’m disappointed, James…” John hissed quietly, backing toward the window and the cold night air. “I had hoped you would make the connection with poor little Mary. Sweet girl – dreadful whore. I just don’t think her heart was in it…”

James lunched forward, half stumbling in deep, passionate anger.

John was too fast, taking a low bow in front of his audience before falling backwards out the window without a sound. When they made it to the sill, there was no sign of The Ripper on the frozen pavement below.

39

CREATURES OF THE SAND

The cold air stung against their skin. Shadows encroached on the pavement like nightmares on the edge of dreams. Every dried leaf tumbling against the cobblestone was a footstep making Nikola glance over his shoulder and peer into the night.

Sherlock, Watson and Tesla had spread out through the streets of London, centring around Whitechapel. If they had to search every whore house and alley they would. The Ripper was their mistake, their creation.

Tesla stopped beneath one of the gas-lit lights, glancing up at the feeble flame, flickering in the wind. Its glass enclosure was choked with ice while a long, slender crack spread through one of its panels. Nikola would change the world – very soon. These streets would be bathed in artificial light, not just from lamp posts but spilling out of windows. There was nowhere for darkness to hide in his future.

*~*~*

James was four streets over, silently descending the brick steps to the waterfront. He could hear the soft lap of the tide against the wall as he followed it under a small, derelict bridge. Anger, so fierce he didn’t understand it, made the world waver like some kind of desert storm approaching. James couldn’t focus when the truth was so sharp. He was plagued by vivid memories – her soft hands reaching around him to unlatch the hooks of his waistcoat drowned out by twisted pile of flesh strewn over the bed. His lover in ruins.

Did John hate him that much? To not just kill the woman he loved but have her himself and then torture her… As long as he lived, James could never forgive this. He wanted John to hurt.

*~*~*

Nikola moved with a silence that scared him. Vampires were predatory, he knew that well. Claws, fangs and black eyes that made the night thin – it was the feeling of hunting that he had been unprepared for. Instinct told him how to track John, how to hold his faint scent of burnt parchment on the air and pursue it.

There was no-one out here save fat rats and drunkards too heavy to roll from where they’d fallen. Sherlock had said that tonight John would kill – and so they had to keep searching. Nikola turned down another street and swept over the road.

Nikola fell back against one of the sandstone walls, glistening from a fine coat of ice. His leather trench coat clipped against the back of his heals making the vampire look like another shadow. He’d heard something – a crackle of energy on the air, yet he knew of nothing that could produce such a sound.

Slow, careful steps started down the street. Nikola pressed himself harder against the stone, sliding into a small gap between two buildings. Nikola was a vampire, Nigel was invisible, James was far too smart for his own good – but what was John? The truth was, none of them really knew. He had kept so quiet, all these months.

…and there he was. John Druitt – Jack the Ripper, strolling the half-lit street as if lording over an empire. His soft curves of brown hair had been shorn off leaving a bare skull. It made him taller, colder – drawing attention to the slender red scar cutting down half his face.

*~*~*

Ranna drew him deeper into the caves, sweeping down corridors and through heavy metal doors that she unlocked using a green jewel on her bracelet. He followed without a word, only stopping when the last door slammed shut behind him.

A shiver ran down his back at the sight. This must be her lab.

It was a large, circular room with an ornate, gold trim. He couldn’t read the script etched into the precious metal although the strokes looked faintly Sumerian. Along the walls, cylindrical containers stood from floor to ceiling filled with an eerie, grey liquid. Floating inside them was something that made Gregory’s stomach turn, his feet stumbling backwards until his back hit the door.

Vampires.

Each tank contained what remained of a vampire, stripped naked and preserved in all their tortured glory. Most were badly injured, limbs shredded or their throats slit open. Unseeing eyes stared blankly out, mouths full of sharp teeth accentuated by two, slender fangs that reached past their chins. One of them still had a necklace of jewels around its shrivelled neck, fused to its skin.

Gregory swore under his breath, slowly pacing forward towards one of the containers. Even in death, these creatures were pure fear, humanity’s hunters. Gregory understood now that he lived in a world without balance. Humanity was free – but to what end?

Is this what you came for, Dr Magnus?” Ranna was knelt down by the bench, pulling out folders of documentation. The folders looked comparatively primitive in her lab compared to the eerie glow of light coming from the walls as if by magic.

Actually, I was rather hoping that they’d be more – alive…” he replied in a whisper, his eyes following the long set of claws on this particular vampire. One of them was snapped in half, dangling by a fragile thread of skin.

Over the centuries, vampires have come for us, breaking through our defences. The one in front of you is Geb, ruler of a great many lands above but it was the underworld he wanted. He came alone and killed four-hundred of us.”

By himself?” Gregory whispered.

All without a sound. He had a fondness for taking the life from his victims in pieces, leaving their bodies scattered through our city.” Their blood had never come out of the rocks. “If it is vampires that you seek, I strongly dissuade you, Dr Magnus. Be thankful that they have left you in peace.”

Why are they here?” he asked, slowly pacing around Ranna’s showcase of dismembered vampires. “Do you study them?”

Ranna stood back up, leaning against the bench as the man strode around. “There is -” but how to put it? “A disease amongst our people, spread by the vampires. Half-creatures…” she trailed off. “It makes monsters out of men.”

*~*~*

Anyone would think that John wanted to be followed. He was pacing brazenly under the street lights, one hand resting on the wall as he walked. Nikola could see the white dust coating his hand from the chalky stone.

Nikola followed at a safe distance, keeping to the shadows as he tracked John to an unassuming building pressed tight between the others. Its facade had seen better centuries, the brickwork stained black from the smog. At the moment, the black layers of air were settled knee-height, pushed down to ground by the dense, freezing air. It was disconcerting, being unable to see your feet through the unsettled, grey sea rippling over the ground.

John knocked at the cracked door, waiting patiently until a young woman opened it. It was clear that she had been expecting him, inviting him in with a nod and closing the door.

*~*~*

Gregory came back to stand opposite Ranna, leaning on the marble bench top.

We are not sure exactly how it happens,” she continued, handing Gregory a blurry, black and white photo from one of the security cameras. It was the only image that they had of one of these creatures – these People of the Sand as they had been called, long ago. “They were human, once – but something in the vampire venom changes them. There were reports, in ancient times, of sand creatures that the vampires used to guard their tombs. They used to escape in the night and decimate desert caravans.”

A blood disease of some kind, it had to be… Gregory thought quietly, examining the image. The creature in it was distinctly human and yet its limbs hand lengthened to allow it to climb with ease. Its back was arched, the bones of its spine pronounced.

And this is the only image you have of one?”

Ranna nodded. “The creatures have a unique adaptation – one that the vampires themselves do not possess. Their skin can perfectly mimic their surrounds, rendering them all but invisible. We will need one alive if we wish to study it. If you ware what you say you are, Dr Magnus, perhaps you can help me find a cure.”

And if I do?” Gregory asked, closing the folder.

I will give you your freedom – and all the information I have on the Immortals.”

Gregory’s gaze snapped up sharply. How did she…?

When our system scanned you, we found traces of the carrier gene. If you have female children then it is likely they will manifest the true immortality. Our last immortal was killed a hundred years ago by that…” Ranna pointed at another of the vampires. This one in distinctly worse shape.

And what about the rest of your people? They’ll know that you are missing.”

Ranna just smiled. “They will be far too busy worrying about geological shifts to trouble themselves over one missing priestess.”

As if to solidify her point, the ground beneath them rumbled again. This entire place seemed to be on the verge of tumbling into the underworld.

There is more that I should tell you…” Gregory said quietly, resting on the bench. He could not help his eyes catching one of the ghostly vampires behind Ranna. “My daughter and her colleagues experimented with Vampire blood.”

Ranna’s eyes went almost black, although Gregory could not tell whether it was with horror or intrigue. “Pure blood?” she prompted softly.

Gregory nodded. “It was given to me freely by a living vampire.”

Despite Ranna’s display of vampires, their blood was still a rare and precious substance. It fell to dust shortly after their death unless kept in airtight vials.

It is rumoured to have remarkable properties…” she whispered. “Including the healing of this plague.”

Gregory shook his head slowly at her. “I do not have it with me. There are other samples but they are back in England.” When she looked at him blankly, Gregory had to explain briefly about the world, its countries and its cities. It had changed a great deal since the last notes were made on it. The underworld changed, but it rarely grew. Cities migrated at the earth shifted, following the cracks of heat.

As Ranna explained her world’s history in turn, Gregory started to feel uneasy.

There was an uprising,” she continued, far more animated now than he had ever seen her. The young woman had taken off her long priestess robes and draped them over the bench leaving her in a suit similar to what a man would wear though slightly more fitted with more feminine details around the collar and cuffs.

In Ancient Egypt – against the Vampires,” Gregory agreed. Yes, he had read that. The ancient Cabal had led the uprising, coaxing the population to rise up against the vampire race and overthrow them in a very human way – with bloodshed.

It took years of planning but our people found a way to convince the others to join us – to be free.”

Your people?” he asked carefully, his eyes lifting back up to the strange text around the walls. Gregory had seen some of those symbols before. They were pressed into an old, heavy door almost like a cartouche. Samuel Griffin’s door. “You are the Cabal,” Gregory whispered, carefully keeping his tone even.

Ranna nodded, repeating the word in its ancient tongue – pointing to the words above the door.

Despite our numbers, many of the vampires escaped. We took the cities, the lands and the creatures that they had brought from the ends of the Earth. Decades later, the vampires regrouped. We had no choice but to retreat under the ground and leave the others to their fate. From what we understand, the vampires never truly recovered, eventually falling under subsequent human rules.”

Greek descends came to rule Egypt, common humans that tried to emulate the ancient ways, but it was all smoke and mirrors. Rome conquered soon after,” Gregory added. Ranna was taking notes.

*~*~*

Nikola had no choice but to knock on the door. The lady was in trouble, whoever she was and there was no time to rustle together any backup.

A slight, mousey sort of a girl answered it. She had small, grey eyes – wild locks of unkempt hair and a tattered dress held together by years of untidy patching.

Not tonight, sir…” she said almost boredly. “If Leeton sent you over, I already told him that I’m working all evening.”

There was a shuffle of clothes or bedding from the room behind. These houses were narrow – a door then a hallway barely wide enough to walk down. Steps branched off to the side, leading to the upper level while the hallway twisted left, ending in a room only big enough for a single bed, small desk and wardrobe.

Madam, you are in a great deal of danger,” Nikola whispered, not realising that his foreign accent, towering height and long trench coat made him fit the latest newspaper description of The Ripper. Oblivious to her growing wariness, Nikola extended his hand to her. “You must come with me.”

She stepped back, half-hiding behind the door. “I think you should leave…”

I cannot,” Nikola insisted. “There is a gentleman here with you, he’s -”

The woman cut him off, slamming the door in Nikola’s face.

Dammit!” he hissed.

*~*~*

Who was that?” John asked, seated on the bed, his shirt already hanging open.

A man – foreigner type…”

Tesla… John smiled. “By all means, show him in.”

40

RUFFLE OF FEATHERS

I beg you, Helen, come away from the window.”

Helen ignored him. Her stomach pressed against the sill as she leaned out into the night. The moon was up, a lopsided arc of light knocked onto its back, slowly setting toward the horizon. It would be gone in a few hours, leaving the night cold and dark.

Nigel was well enough to stand. There was a faint hue of colour in his sunken cheeks and warmth in his skin after several hours spent by the fire with Sherlock. He was not the man he had been back at Oxford. That boy was gone. Nigel had lost all his extra weight – and then some. It made his features eerily similar to that of his father’s – harsh and squarish.

Please, at leas’ keep this over your shoulders,” Nigel cautiously draping a woollen blanket around her.

It scratched at her bare shoulders but Helen relented, clutching it tight.

I should be out there,” she said hollowly.

Nigel had never seen her look this lost. Only a few hours ago, they had woken her up with the truth about John. He would never forget how innocent she had looked, draped over Tesla, sound sleep. They were not lovers, no – his friends were more complicated than that.

Helen, this isn’t your-”

Please don’t do that,” she interrupted, shifting away from him. It was her fault. John had warned her about the dangers of rushing into the unknown, that knowledge had a dark side. She had dragged him into this experiment with a few soft smiles and lingering looks and she knew it. What he had become… every time she tried to think about it, she felt ill.

Leave me be,” Helen begged.

*~*~*

Nikola was still standing in front of the door when it opened again. He was so surprised that he nearly fell through the doorway, stumbling awkwardly.

The shy girl stepped back, silently inviting him into the house. He tried to plead with her again but she simply closed the door and retreated to the safety of the bedroom and into John’s arms.

Ah… Nikola. I thought as much…” John drawled, brazenly kissing the woman in is arms.

Nikola watched.

He had never shared even a whisper of such intimacy. The way their lips moulded together and tongues brushed, it made his mind wander to – but he was interrupted by the sound of metal sliding against leather.

John pulled a knife free of his belt and pressed it to the woman’s exposed cream neck. She startled, trying to struggle but John’s arm wrapped hard around her chest like a cage, holding her still.

John – don’t do this…” Nikola whispered, instantly lifting his hands in surrender.

John seemed intoxicated by the scent of fear slipping onto the air. Nikola could smell it too – but it turned his stomach.

Isn’t this why you’re here, Nikola?” John asked casually, pressing the knife harder against the woman’s neck. Nikola could hear the young woman’s pulse quicken – feel the heavy thudding crawl through his soul. “This is part of us all, now. I know that you want to feel it – the rush as their blood spills…” he drawled his words as he let the knife graze hard enough to produce a line of blood.

The woman whimpered in sharp pain, her gaze locked with Nikola’s, pleading silently.

John chuckled cruelly, placing a soft kiss just above the blood on her neck. “This is all very familiar…” he whispered. “If memory serves – your sister made the exact same sound as I slowly slit her throat…”

Nikola went pale. It was a lie. It had to be a lie.

Did you not wonder how Helen made it back here in such excellent time?” John threw the girl at the wall. She collapsed in a pile, unconscious with a cloud of lead dust from the old wall settling over her.

Nikola smelled it first, the air tainted with ozone before it was ripped apart in a violent swirl of purple light. John vanished for a moment, reappearing in the same display inches from him. Nikola stumbled back in a mixture of surprise and fear. The laws of the universe had shattered and now he was left looking straight into the eyes of the man who took pleasure in slaughtering innocent women. Had his sister been amongst them?

So this is your gift, John…” Nikola realised, the air still rippling like the desert horizon before dawn.

More useful than claws, I’ll think you’ll find,” John replied, the knife held tight as if it were merely an extension of his hand. “Touching…” John tilted his head at Nikola, “the vampire has tears.”

Nikola’s eyes went black, instinctively hiding the emotion. “I swear, John – if you’ve touched her…”

She tasted wonderful…” John hissed, leaning up against Nikola’s ear, his breath hot and sticky. “You should have heard the way she moaned – so beautiful and fragile, as I enjoyed her again and again…”

Nikola swung at John, his fist slamming hard into the side of John’s head, setting him off balance before the vampire unsheathed his claws and released an inhumane growl onto the air.

*~*~*

Helen was startled by a bundle of white feathers flapping frantically onto her window sill.

Gracious!” she gasped, at the beautiful, snow white pigeon. “What are you doing here?”

It was Nikola’s pigeon, there was no mistaking the delicately speckled bird. The creature hopped about restlessly, pecking at the sill and cooing noisily. It had flown all the way from London through the freezing wind and still had flakes of ice between its feathers which it scattered over the wood.

She tried to stop it but the bird flew into the room, settling on the ground by the fire, trying to warm up.

He’s not here…” Helen whispered at the bird, for all the good it would do.

She fed it the last of the bread crusts from her plate and tried to usher it back to the window but the bird wouldn’t go. Instead, it hopped up onto Helen’s arm and started nipping at her, insistently flapping as if it wanted to say something. The poor thing was distressed.

Nigel rushed into the Helen’s room, drawn there by the commotion.

What in…?” he gasped, seeing the white bird flap around Helen’s head. “Isn’t that Nikola’s bird?”

Helen tried to shoo it away but the pigeon was hysterical.

Yes – but something is wrong with her.”

Nigel, having grown up on a rural property with lots of various birds reached forward and, after several attempts, caught the pigeon. It wiggled and tried to peck at him.

I’ve never seen a pigeon act like this.”

*~*~*

Gregory waited for the signal, hanging back against the damp cave wall like a deformed outcrop of limestone, trickled there through the millennia. There were fossils in the walls, tiny impressions of shells and fish smooth beneath his fingertips. Some of them were terrifying – a matrix of teeth and bones while others left only the faintest indents in the rock that he could slide his fingers into.

Ranna was several yards ahead of him, creeping about in the pitch as good as any vampire. The lights to these corridors had been turned off several weeks ago when the roof began to cave in. Even now it was creaking overhead like an old galleon at see, sighing between the waves.

There was sand everywhere… These were the remnants of ancient beach caves, long ago thrust up into the sky and then slammed back down under the earth. It seemed to be moving beneath his feet, sometimes swirling about in idle currents of air. It was restless…

Ranna…” Gregory breathed fearfully, but there was no reply from her. Everything about this was a terrible idea. The Praxians had tried to catch sand creatures for hundreds of years but they were more elusive than their vampire counterparts.

He thought he heard something, a scratch against the wall – a few splinters of rock tumbling to the ground. Gregory turned the top on the device she had given him and light immediately shone out surrounding him in a soft glow.

Silence.

Gregory was alone in the cavern with nothing but a smear of blood where Ranna had been.

*~*~*

The night is quiet, old boy…” Sherlock announced his presence, taking the steps down to the old bridge two at a time.

James was by the water, the sinking moon casting a soft glow over the Thames. There were boats everywhere, fishing and ferrying things from shore to shore. He could see their lanterns bobbing up and down.

He will kill again tonight,” James whispered, gazing out over the water. “I sat with him, Holmes, night after night discussing the Ripper case and he let me.” He fell silent, his eyes never leaving the reflection of the moon on the water.

Sherlock had made the same mistake – a rarity for him. There was something elusive about Druitt’s personality. He was like the wind, never settling but always there – a calm breeze one moment and a deadly storm the next.

He is not an easy man to read, Watson…” Sherlock replied quietly, in a softer tone than normal.

James shook his head. “I should have known. Innocent lives have been lost because I couldn’t see what was right in front of me. That is unacceptable.” Slowly, he turned to Sherlock. For the first time, his soft brown eyes were fierce. “It will not happen again.”

*~*~*

Nikola hit him hard because it felt good.

John landed on the ground beside the bed. Nikola had slipped a few good swipes in now leaving claw marks visible in the thick, black leather of John’s trench coat. John inspected his arm. The sight of his own blood spilling onto the floor made him smile. He held Nikola gaze and then – and then he was gone again.

Nikola swore in Serbian at the empty floor. This was impossible. How did you contain someone that could vanish into thin air? He remembered reading that now – how the greatest detective minds could not unravel the Ripper’s secret – one minute he was there, the next…

Argh!” Nikola suddenly arched backwards in pain. His claws flexed. Weakly, his hand lifted to his chest where he felt the sharp tip of a knife sticking out of his suit. John was behind him with his knife thrust as deep into Nikola’s back as he could push it. “John…” Nikola whispered, his body trembling at the injury.

The woman on the floor stirred again, her eyes opening.

Do not look so worried, Nikola…” John murmured, twisting the knife. Nikola writhed sharply. “We’re just getting started.”

John ripped the knife out and hit Nikola over the back of the head with the blunt end of it. Nikola fell to his knees, his world empty except for the comforting darkness.

*~*~*

Gregory turned around but was met with darkness on all sides. The ground rumbled again, threatening.

Ranna…” he whispered, reaching out to touch the wet smear of blood. It was human.

He kept his light on this time. There was something down here all right, something hiding. More sand – sliding down the walls and into small pyramids. Gregory pressed deeper, ducking under the half-collapsed tunnel until he found another stain of blood on the underside of the rock.

*~*~*

Nikola was only vaguely aware of the struggle beside him. He could hear the rustle of material and a woman’s muffled cries as John raped her. The woman was scratching at the floorboards leaving white lines from her nails in the wood – a sad stain of desperation.

He finished and she went still, hoping rather than believing that the worst was over. John vanished in a flash of light leaving them alone in the locked room.

Nikola’s eyes were still closed as he tried to move but his wrists and ankles were held by a set of slender chains keeping him splayed out like one of the creatures in James’s lab. Silver, of course, something that he could not break free of.

Sir – sir, please wake up…”

The woman reached out with a trembling hand to the monster beside her. He had claws and terrifying black eyes that reminded her of the demons in the church windows but he was not evil. Her fingertips brushed over his claws making Nikola’s eyes snap open.

His head rolled to the side, dark eyes taking in the young woman. She was shaking, her dress ripped open at the front allowing her breasts to hang free. He could easily make out their soft curves in the failing moonlight. Most importantly, she wasn’t restrained.

Madam…” Nikola whispered, the knife wound in his chest still healing, “you must leave. He will return for us.”

She rolled over and scrambled awkwardly to her knees.

Not without you, sir,” she replied, crawling over to him. “Whatever you are…” Her eyes could not help lingering on his long, sharp claws. “You came to save me.”

Nikola retracted them, letting his body fall back into his human form. Of course… He was so used to being with The Five that he had forgotten that most would see the monster he had become, not the man that had experimented with history.

He – he will kill you,” Nikola murmured, his voice strained as he tried to tug against his restraints. He could feel her soft hands flitting over his wrists, trying to pry the silver chains off his skin. “Please – please…” Nikola kept whispering.

Tell me your name, sir,” the woman said, trying to distract him. There was a thick puddle of blood beneath him but from what she could see, he had nearly healed. There were many things that she did not understand in this world. It was the age of industry – the rebirth of science. She couldn’t read but every weekend she went to the park to listen to the students recite works of literature. Frankenstein was nearly a century old – perhaps life was beginning to imitate art…

Nikola…” he replied.

You have an accent – are you visiting us here in London?”

Sort of… I have friends here.”

Friends like you?” her eyes seemed sharper in the moonlight, stained with tears. “John, he is one of your friends…” she realised.

Nikola shook his head slowly. John had never really been his friend, colleague, perhaps. “We were all scientists,” he said, feeling a little stronger as the chains around his wrists were loosened. “One of our experiments changed us, in ways we couldn’t predict.”

The woman brushed her fingers over his cheek. “Claws?” she said simply, and he nodded.

We’ve only just realised what became of John. Miss -”

Lizzie…” she whispered, as one of the chains unravelled, freeing Nikola’s hand. “Is it true, what John said about your sister?”

Nikola turned onto his side to face her. “I hope not…” He sat up a little, taking hold of her hand with his free hand. “You cannot free me in time,” he said softly, “but you can run for help. Lizzie, I need you to find my friends.”

41

HEART OF THE STORM

I don’t want to leave -”

Nikola cut Lizzie off by pressing his finger gently to her lips. Even though Nikola knew that John was probably many city blocks away, he was afraid that even their whispered words would bring him back. The young woman was trembling in the moonlight, frozen and in shock.

Take my coat,” Nikola said gently, nodding to where it was abandoned on the floorboards. “Baker street, do you know it?” When she nodded, Nikola gave her directions to Sherlock’s house where he knew she’d find safety. “Now go…” he begged.

She made it to her feet and then stooped to pick up his jacket. Nikola held his nerve, trying not to struggle against the sharp silver chains that still bound one of his wrists and both of his ankles to the ground.

I’ll find your friends,” she promised softly, holding his gaze as she retreated towards the door.

Nikola nodded as the moon dipped down below the window, sending the room into a thick shadow. The air temperature dropped, cold against his vampire skin as it dried the enormous blood stain on his shirt. “Go…” he murmured again, when her hand lingered on the door handle.

She did, turning the handle and drawing the door open. It came toward her too fast. The heavy wood was thrust against her fragile body, hitting her in the face and throwing her back against the wall. She crumbled down to the floor with a soft cry.

John appeared in the doorway, slowly dragging a longer, curved knife harmlessly over the palm of his hand. He leaned menacingly against the doorway watching with cold amusement as the vampire struggled sharply against the silver.

As if he’d be so careless as to let them escape.

*~*~*

Any sign of John?” Helen rushed at the door as James and Sherlock returned. Helen faltered when she realised that there was one man missing. More correctly, there was a vampire missing. “Where’s Nikola?”

There were feathers all over the room. Sherlock stepped coldly by the distressed woman and prowled around to the fireplace where he found a slender pigeon taking cover in the light. The poor thing was cooing mournfully. All the windows had been closed to stop it from escaping. He reached out to the creature with his long, gnarled fingers but the pigeon pecked him sharply.

Curious…” he whispered, as Miss Magnus and James squabbled behind him.

You didn’t leave Tesla on the streets, did you?” Nigel moved gingerly towards Sherlock, careful not to put too much weight on his ankle. “If John Druitt was going to kill one of us – it would be Tesla. They have hated each other from the start.”

Sherlock leant against the mantle, happy to soak in some of the fire’s heat. “Because of Miss Magnus…?”

Partly.” Nigel pulled the throw more tightly around his shoulders. He was still weak from his weeks in Cabal custody. “Even before that, they were set against each other. Tesla is methodical, reserved and still believes in humanity – John made a career out of deception. Oil and water, those two – waiting for someone to strike a match. ”

We’ll give him an hour,” Sherlock turned to the others, breaking up the escalating argument between Helen and James. “If Tesla’s not back by then, we’ll all go looking for him.”

Helen folded her arms. “An hour’s too long.”

An hour is how long we wait,” Sherlock insisted, and the other two men nodded in agreement. He wanted to catch the Ripper this time and what better time to pounce than when he was settled into a killing?

*~*~*

The Ripper tied Nikola back down, properly this time so that the vampire could barely writhe against the floor. All Nikola could do was watch. John’s face occasionally caught the moonlight. The fresh scar over his cheek looked like a black tear and was his bald head skull-like with eyes sunken into their sockets. He could have been Death, wandering from the pages of nightmares.

Let – the girl – go…” Nikola whispered, turning his head, trying to avoid the old rag that The Ripper was about to stuff into his mouth. The only reply he got was a sharp hit across the face, breaking his nose and spraying blood over the floor.

Calmly, John waited for Nikola to heal, making sure he could breathe again before he stuffed the cloth in his mouth and tied another length of material over it, finally silencing Tesla. Then he went after the girl…

He didn’t kill quickly.

For several minutes he let her stumble around the room in search of an escape, it was only when she went for the open window that he grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the floor next to Nikola. His weight was more than sufficient to hold her delicate form down as he teased his long blade over her skin.

The longer he kept her alive, the more blood he would see flow. He was turning it into an art form – prolonging their suffering to satisfy his lust of blood. There was just something about the way it tumbled over their cream skin – how it made him feel alive.

Soon, the small cuts weren’t enough so his blade went deeper. A dark stain crept out over the floorboards, seeping into Nikola’s shirt where he lay beside her. At some point, the woman had reached out to hold Nikola’s hand. He was still holding onto her when her skin went cold and John re-arranged what was left of her for Sherlock Holmes to find.

Thick tears were running down Nikola’s cheeks when John finally turned to him. John held the knife up and tilted it to catch the moonlight. Like him, it was drowning in blood.

Nikola struggled one last time as John knelt over him and ripped open Nikola’s shirt.

What was it that you were reading back in Oxford?” he said casually, as though they were in the library discussing an assignment. “Ah yes, something about vampires being immortal.” John reached down and removed the rag from Nikola’s mouth so that he could speak.

Fuck you…” Nikola hissed, his voice heavily accented. He’d tried changing into his vampire form but it did no good. The silver chains were inescapable.

I thought we might put your theory to the test, in the interests of science. You’ve always been so fond of facts and experiments. Let us see if you can die…”

John placed the tip of the knife in the centre of Nikola’s breast plate.

You better pray that I die,” Nikola growled. “Because I will hunt you all the days of my life until the time comes when I can make you suffer all the pain you’ve inflicted on the world-” Nikola was cut short as the knife plunged through his chest, shattering bone and tearing arteries. It pierced his lung and made him gasp for air in a sharp cry of pain.

Nikola continued whispering in his native language. It was almost like he was chanting to himself, willing his body to survive as John hacked through it.

*~*~*

The storm was behaving in a most peculiar fashion. It had been building slowly over London for hours but it seemed to have stalled, concentrating over a corner of the city, rumbling above it. The pigeon pecked at the glass window, brushing its beautiful wings against it.

Helen had dressed and was seated facing the door. She watched it like a hawk, waiting for Nikola’s return but he hadn’t come.

Satisfied?” she growled, when the full hour was up and the others assembled at the door.

Nigel had opted to stay behind in case Nikola returned. He draped Helen’s coat over her shoulders as she advanced upon the other two.

We’ll start where we parted from him. It’s best we don’t separate this time,” Sherlock picked up his long cane and nodded for them to follow.

The night was no place for a lady but Helen Magnus had always had something fierce about her… She was a hunter at heart and quickly pulled ahead of the others, instinctively hiding in the long shadows. James and Sherlock ducked in and out of whore houses but no-one had seen a man matching Nikola’s description. Helen followed the pigeon instead, trailing the white creature as it flew and hopped down the filthy streets.

Freezing air had pushed the smog down below their knees. It stank of smoke and industrial chemicals and several times Helen tripped over steps she couldn’t see. The sky above them rumbled again – it seemed that the bird was leading them toward the heart of the storm.

*~*~*

Gregory stood perfectly still. Even then, his shallow, frightened breaths sounded like thunder rumbling through the half-collapsed cave.

He was surrounded by a weak halo of light – too bright against his skin and yet hopelessly faint on the tunnel walls. What he really needed was a flaming torch – even a lantern was of more use than this artificial light. Immediately in front of him he could see the rough walls of the tunnel. At his feet where broken fragments of rock with freezing water lapping gently at their bases. The rock closest to him was stained red on its side where something bloody had been dragged over it.

Ranna…” he whispered, slowly inching forward.

The ground shook again and he was forced to duck as more rock and sand showered him. His useless light flickered and when he straightened up, the smear of blood was gone.

Gregory swore. Either his mind was playing tricks on him or this half-creature that she had described to him was intelligent enough to cover its tracks. He couldn’t go back alone. The residents of the underworld city would kill him and without Ranna he would be trapped in the tunnels. So he pressed on.

Awkwardly, he lifted himself up onto the first large stone and climbed over its wet surface, sliding down the other side where he landed in a deep puddle of water. More sand. It had fallen along the walls and beneath his feet it was carved out by tiny channels of water. He knelt down with the light, illuminating a sequence of depressions in the sand. They were long, loping footsteps.

He followed them. They led deeper into the collapsed tunnels which seemed to tilt downward, tracking through the softer, more unstable layers of earth. Down here, the air was stale and the limestone walls flecked with opal.

Then suddenly, the narrow tunnel ended. He looked up at the raw edges where it had been cut through the rock. Whoever had been mining down here had given up and walked away from this band of opal and there was simply nowhere else that the cave creature could have – oh

Slowly, Gregory turned. The air in front of him rippled.

Clever bastard…” Gregory whispered, at the sand creature.

*~*~*

The bolt of lightening came from nowhere. One minute the sky was an unsettled grey, lit from beneath by a sinking full moon. The next, a river of light rushed down and into a small room, striking a killer through the chest. It flashed as the air ripped apart around it, deafening Nikola as John lurched sharply backwards.

It was over. The world went black as John fell sideways onto the blood-drenched floor.

Two streets over, Helen jumped as the thunder made the ground shake.

Bloody hell!” yelled James, who was holding onto a wall for support. “What the devil was that?”

It came from over there,” Helen pointed behind the buildings where they were standing.

Sherlock tugged at their clothes. “This way…” he said, taking off at a run.

The pigeon was ahead of them, coming to rest on the open window of an unassuming residence. She cooed into the darkness that smelled of death and blood.