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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.
"Professor!" 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 professor'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.
"Professor..." 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 professor'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 professor 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 professor 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.
"Professor," 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.