Firstly, I would like to thank the people that have been reviewing this. It absolutely makes my day to know that people enjoy my little (long?) stories. This particular one has quite a bit to go yet, so stay tuned. Don't forget to check out its accompanying fics, "People of the Sand" and "Sanctuary of the Moon" as there is plot scattered through all of them that will start to become important LOL
I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH!
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.
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 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.