PRINCE OF BLOOD
Two figures holding a single lantern, passed through the stone pillars and descended into the vampire underworld. The light flickered weakly, barely illuminating their faces.
Everything about this felt like a foolish idea.
It may have been thousands of years since the old days of glory and blood lust, but they were dealing with immortals – a race that could be slumbering beneath, waiting for their chance to once again rule over the world. Creatures that were no doubt a little upset about being usurped by a rabble of flea-bitten humans.
All Helen and Gregory Magnus could hear was the shuffle of their feet and a quiet trickle of water running over the ground; snow melt, gradually working its way through the rock. It had carved these caves for longer than any human or vampire had lived. To it, the humans were nothing but a passing curiosity, something that would vanish as quickly as it had come.
There were no choices – only one, long tunnel that kept on winding down into the Earth. It was almost coaxing them deeper, promising them that something would come from the darkness.
"Are you sure that this is a good idea?" Helen whispered, staying close to her father.
Gregory, although older now, was a born explorer. He knew exactly how to tilt his hips and place his feet so as not to slip on the wet stone floor. The deeper they went, the more Gregory started to notice a scent on the air – something sweet. He was the one holding his daughter's hand to keep her steady.
"I wonder how deep this goes..." Gregory said, his free hand on the wall to steady himself, cold water dripping slowly down his wrist. Beneath his fingertips, the black walls turned into rough, pale pink sandstone while small amounts of sand started to crunch underfoot.
It was a long way, an hour perhaps until the ground finally flattened. Helen found it difficult to judge the progression of time without the sky. Even Gregory tried to read his watch but found it had cracked against the stone on the way down.
They had expected more than bare walls after the wondrous pillars but the caves were determined in their barren landscape. At least here it was wider. Pools of fresh water formed where the ceiling dripped. Their lamplight spread further too, bouncing off the light coloured walls full of scratches that looked ominously like claw marks.
Helen's fingers settled into some of the marks, the grooves etched deep into the ancient rock.
Nikola picked up every piece of furniture in the Magnus household, setting them all back in their place. He may have been a particular gentleman before but now he was compulsive, completing activities in triplets. Folding handkerchiefs three times, striking three matches for each lantern...
Last, he found wood for the fire, setting it alight until the house was warm once again with a friendly glow. There was nothing he could do about the broken windows but at least with the curtains drawn order had been restored.
With a glass of Port, admittedly stolen from the silver tray and crystal decanter, Nikola sat himself down behind Gregory's desk and wrote three letters, to his sister, Helen and Gregory. Of course, he didn't sign them, 'Tesla' – no, he was rather hoping that the Cabal might still think him dead after the night escaping the University. Instead, he signed, 'yours affectionately, Macak'.
Copies of the notes from the Paper Museum which Charles Fort had brought were scattered in front of him, their delicate pages flapping in the breeze sneaking in the shattered window. Grotesque images of vampires stared back at Nikola, all fangs and claws with pits for eyes. Every appearance was of a dark and violent creature – yet something told him that there was more to this great race. Monsters could not rule over civilisation, not in reality. It took finesse, culture, intelligence and a certain kind of subtlety.
Taking a sip of the crimson liquid, Nikola thought back to the roses, their soft petals unfurling in the darkness of the attic above. He tried not to think about the cool blood running through his veins, the way it almost dragged its way around his body, always wanting something more. Something that Nikola would never give it.
The rose oil that Nikola had distilling upstairs could bring him control but he could already feel that with practice and concentration, he'd be able to tame this on his own. He was, afterall, a scientist, and he'd never let a mystery conquer him.
Nikola tapped his fingers over the beautiful hardwood desk, the soft dull thuds turning into the wrap of sharp claws. Every night like clockwork he changed into what most would call a monster, but he didn't feel the need to tie himself to the furniture any more. No, he was quiet calm – a vampire sipping his Port and watching the fire crackle in the corner.
Nikola set his glass down and held his hands in front of him, watching his claws slowly retract back into his hands. He waited a few minutes and then let that other feeling inside him rise again and – almost at once, the claws returned.
He smiled at the first measure of control. It would be enough for what he had to do tonight...
Oxford university hadn't changed at all. Its sandstone walls still stood against the heavy mists, softly glowing in the moonlight. There were still cracked windows, shattered roof tiles and blackened stone up on the tower above Tesla's room. The gas lights along the avenue inside the grounds created watery orbs of light like new born stars still swirling in their nursery.
There were a few lone windows glowing – offices and dormitories scattered over the upper levels. Inside one of them sat a professor, fresh from finishing late class. Five of his best students were missing, and he knew exactly why even though the university was busy writing them off as drop outs.
The professor always locked his door with two heavy locks but forgot about the open window letting out the kerosene smoke from his lamps. He didn't hear or see the tall, slender figure slip into the room, tilting their head as a cat would look at a mouse.
A few moments later, one of windows went dark and without a sound, another soul slipped from the world.
Nigel hid all of his secrets in his diary – the one laying open in John's apartment. Whatever he kept in his mind was slowly being twisted by the Cabal, distorted into fragments of memory. He wasn't like the others. Nigel had always been honest – straightforward. His mind lacked the discipline to withstand Charles Fort's attempts to break it.
"What does 'eet matter..." Nigel despaired, slumped behind the table he had been sat at. He had been invisible when brought in here but now his pale, sunken skin looked a lot like his father's.
Charles Fort had been questioning him for days. He wanted to save this poor boy and to do that, he needed to discover how these rapid changes in physiology had occurred. So far, all he had heard were tales of Nigel's father and of the Cabal, glimpses of an unhappy childhood. Nothing of use whatsoever to the organisation that paid him.
"They're all most likely dead by now." The last Nigel had seen of Nikola and Helen had been them hurrying off down the stone staircase, the Cabal not far behind.
"Who's dead?" Charles prompted further. He knew that he was close now, the other man was tired and tired people make mistakes.
"Helen..." Nigel whispered. He'd never liked the woman at the start but over the months that they had worked together, he had learned to appreciate her. He certainly wasn't in love with her like the others were – in their own ways – but he did respect her as a scientist and colleague. "And Tesla."
Charles Fort nearly dropped his quill, the dark red ink dripping onto the page.
"Tesla?" he whispered. It was not a common name, especially in this part of the world, but it was one that he held so dearly to his heart. Milka Tesla was his greatest weakness and strength. He would tear apart the world for her.
Nigel nodded, not even realising what he had done. He was well on his way to losing his mind like this – the drugs and the confinement breaking him down.
"Nikola didn't even want a part of this in the beginning," he continued.
Nikola, Charles set the quill down entirely and sat back in his chair, finally understanding. Helen Magnus, Nikola Tesla... They were running from the Cabal and he'd been hired to lead them straight into their waiting claws. Charles was instantly pale. All of a sudden he felt like he was sitting in the middle of a great web, treading on silken threads.
"They're not dead..." Charles whispered, his tone entirely different.
Nigel looked up, a flicker of hope in his eyes.
They were interrupted by a sharp knock at the door, a Cabal man waving Charles out of the room and leading him up to Griffin's office. The man was slouched behind his desk looking ancient – some relic of humanity, twisted by his years.
Charles appeared calm and professional, showing no indication of the discovery he had just made.
"I have been notified of a murder," Professor Griffin said, signing his name on a document. "An old associate and friend of mine – a lecturer back in Oxford."
Charles shifted slightly, wondering why he was being told this.
"Three deep scratches," Griffin continued, re-enacting the gesture as if morbidly fascinated, "across the throat. We are being hunted, Mr Fort – slaughtered like animals."
The old man shifted in his chair, glancing for a moment at the snow falling outside. It had been years since it had snowed here. Griffin could not see the tall man stepping out of a carriage on the other side of the road, tilting his head away from the wind. The young man's sharp blue eyes surveyed the snowy world and the large, sprawl of the museum.
"I need information," Griffin continued quietly. "I don't care how you do it – just get it. I will not sit here and wait for the others to come for me."
Nikola Tesla scattered a large flock of pigeons, sending them into a grey and white blur. They settled back onto the ground and resumed pecking at the concrete as Nikola shook off the snow and entered the foyer of the British Museum.
He didn't know where to start. The sheer enormity of the building and knowledge contained inside it was humbling. His natural urge was to flit from room to room, exploring and gazing at the glass-cased exhibit. His was keenly aware though, that he had to be gone be nightfall.
"Well, well, well..." a deep, almost soft voice drawled. "What brings a vampire to London?"
Nikola knew that voice, turning on his heal to see John Druitt lounging against the glass box housing the Rosetta stone. He was in a black trench coat, his wavy hair neatly combed down and wet at the top where the snow had fallen on him.
"John?" he asked, startled for a moment but pleased to see a familiar face. "I could ask you the same question, London is not exactly your haunt."
"Business..." John replied calmly. "Some of us still have to work for our living."
"In the museum?" Nikola lofted his eyebrow. It seemed to be an awful con-incidence that they would run into each other here.
"I saw you duck in here on my way to work. I had been starting to think something had befallen you and Helen..." he added carefully.
"She is quite well," Nikola replied quickly. "The Cabal are going to have to be quicker if they want to catch us." Nikola beckoned John away from the centre of the room to a quiet corner next to some lonely, forgotten relic. "We escaped back into mainland Europe. I took her home – Gregory as well. He showed up that night. And what of James and Nigel?"
John feigned concern well enough to fool anyone. So that's where she was. The vampire had taken her home like you would a pet. How quaint.
"James is here in London. He has become sidetracked with a friend of his here. Mr Griffin I have no information on. He has been missing for many weeks now."
"The Cabal must have him..." Nikola said quietly, almost to himself. He didn't want to think about the other possibility – that he had ended up like so many of the rats – his body failing under the pressures of the Source Blood. "It is only a matter of time before they come for the rest of us. They won't stop looking."
Nikola could not work out what it was, but there was something different about John. A scent on the air when he moved sometimes. It made Nikola catch a glimpse of desert – his vampire side stirring.
"Do you know where I can find James?" Nikola asked, his voice lowering again when another group of gentlemen and ladies passed by them.
John nodded, giving him Sherlock's address – the one he'd seen on so many letters.
"Take care, Nikola," John added as he turned to leave. "London is not safe at the present – half the city is in a panic."
Nikola had heard that too – something about murder.
Watson and Holmes were deep in conversation, the annoying, almost drunken plucking of Sherlock's violin the only thing breaking up the quiet evening. They both heard the maid's hurried footsteps up the stairs to the second floor and by the time she knocked quietly on the door, Sherlock was opening it.
"The police are here," she whispered – something that Sherlock had never understood. Why whisper in one's own home when everyone was awake? "They want to see you at once, sir."
He nodded and then closed the door, turning back to James.
"Let me guess..." said James, not looking up from the book he was reading. Another French medical text. "We are not going to the theatre."
"Oh... there is better theatre afoot, my friend," Sherlock assured him.
James Watson wasn't sure if this was something that he would call, 'theatre'. He didn't have a love for the macabre like Sherlock, nor did he look forward to what awaited him at the end of the icy street. Ahead, there was a woman shrieking, the police having given up trying to comfort her as she wailed on the curb of the road, wringing and old handkerchief through her fingers.
They were waved in at once, the sea of police momentarily parting as James and Sherlock wove their way towards the small room.
One of the policemen was watching all too closely – a tall man with his wavy brown hair tucked up inside the helmet, a beard and false black moustache making him unrecognisable as John Druitt.
There was another beautiful young girl laid out on the ground, lifeless.
"Such a shame..." James said sadly, pacing around her, stepping over a smear of blood.
"Now now old boy, what did we talk about?"
"Clinical..." James muttered back to Sherlock, slipping his hands into his pockets.
"We are no use to her if we neglect the clues before us." And at that, Sherlock knelt right down to the ground, using a pencil to lift up a lock of the woman's hair. Their was a faint indentation of teeth behind her ear. A bite made during love – tender and reserved. Unsettlingly so. "Your opinion, if you please?"
James lofted his eyebrow. Sherlock seemed to treat everything as a training exercise as if he were being groomed as a protege.
"Skill. Detachment," James said, kneeling beside Sherlock. "The killer is fascinated by something other than there mere act of killing, for that was done quickly," he pointed to where the throat had been severed, "and without torment. It is death itself, I think – or even a strange searching of knowledge that drives this creature."
"Curious, I do not bother with the why, only the how. I find the how and that takes me to the whom."
James nudged Sherlock just enough for him to fall backwards onto the ground in surprise.
"Why did you do that?" he muttered, annoyed.
James just shrugged unhelpfully, proving his point.
A sharp flash of purple frightened a small creature, hiding in the thick snow. The furry creature hopped out of sight, vanishing underground as John Druitt strode through the snow, sinking into the soft, fresh fall. It had taken some guess work – and a little bit of luck, but finally he found himself looking up at the house nestled at the tree line. Dark cliffs loomed behind and he knew at once that this was the right place.
He could almost feel the history here, the ancient vampires that had crawled up through the cold into the mountains to sleep, escaping the tide of humans. That was no way to bow out from the world, cowering and hiding. He had their blood running through his veins now but he would not follow them.