"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.
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 brown 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 in 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 lecterer 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.