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. "
"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.