THANK YOU so much for all your support. I have recovered my files but not my computer. Trust me, I'm thrilled. LOL anything not to lose my files. Here is chapter 28 - and again, THANK YOU for sticking with me despite the unforgivable gap in updates.
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 bowel 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 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 of 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."