STARTING FROM SCRATCH
Nikola showed up on the doorstep of the unassuming 221B Baker Street early the next morning. The snow had stopped and the faint pink above was almost a promise of better times to come as it bled across the sky.
After negotiating with the reluctant lady – something about foreigners ruining the city, murder everywhere – Nikola made short work of the stairs and knocked on the door of the private apartments.
The place was dank and dark with paint pealing off the walls in disgust. There were ghostly halos where pictures used to hang and strange indents in the fresh wallpaper that looked curiously like bullet holes. Nikola took a deep breath and instantly regretted it, covering his noise with his hand. Smoke.
Eventually the door creaked open to reveal a man that certainly wasn't James Watson.
"Apologies good sir," Sherlock said, lounging against the door frame and holding a smoking pipe – his third for the morning which had him in rather high spirits.
The smoke made Nikola cough and wave the wretched stuff away, his delicate vampire senses overwhelmed. He had enough addictions at the present.
"A tad busy this morning – not accepting new clientele. Especially those lacking in finance and you – my Serbian friend, look distinctly impoverished."
Sherlock took another puff, drawing the toxic smoke in deep. He tilted his head and canted closer to Nikola – eyeing him. His assumption was not entirely correct.
The vampire found all this most disconcerting. He didn't enjoy being he subject of study.
"You're not here for me at all..." Sherlock reasoned, shushing Nikola when he tried to explain. "You're here for dear Mr Watson – a friend, no acquaintance perhaps. You have something in common and my guess would be a woman." The stranger had a neat presentation, almost military except his manner was all wrong for that. Definitely methodical though – obsessive judging by the immaculate presentation of his old clothes. No amount of pressing could hide the fraying edges of his sleeve. "Fellow scientist – Oxford, but you've been abroad for sometime." He had that whiff of wilderness about him.
Nikola frowned and went to push by the irritating gentleman, but found a hand on his chest, preventing it. A hand that Nikola utterly glared at. People didn't touch him.
"Recluse – of course," Sherlock continued. "Neat to the point of obsessive. There is a hint of nobility about you but not enough to suggest an official status. Something older and -"
"Tesla?" James appeared behind Sherlock just as the vampire was weighing up the pros and cons of disposing of Sherlock's body. James struggled to peer over the shoulder of the tall, wiry man whose clouds of smoke were starting to fill the corridor like mist.
"I was getting to that," Sherlock frowned.
"Very slowly," Nikola glared, as he stepped out of reach. His mood was considerably more sombre than Sherlock's. "Can I have a word with you?" he shifted his gaze to James.
James's eyebrow lofted higher. That was Nikola though. Down to business as usual. He didn't seem to be a particularly social creature.
"Look at the walls..." Gregory whispered, running his fingers along he sandstone. The softer, pink stone was carpeted in writing that looked as if it had been scratched into the rough surface. "It's – delirious..." Gregory shook his head, trying to read it.
The dialect of Ancient Egyptian was poorly formed and erratic in structure. Gregory held the lantern closer, his nose almost to the wall as his eyes scanned up and down the lines of text. It would start by speaking of two brothers – princes – and then suddenly shift to a desert. The endless sand that a great many people endured for days and nights as they headed towards the coast. They were running from something – the brothers? No... Gregory shook shook his head. A brother.
"What does it say?" Helen whispered, standing beside her father. She had not yet learned to read this language and was still rather disturbed by the long scratches across the walls that obscured some of the text.
"It's a recount of the ancient vampires' escape from Egypt," he whispered, still reading. "It was bloody. Here..." he pointed at a segment of text that was followed by a crude drawing shower how many women and children were slaughtered on the banks of the river. "Only a handful escaped – and they fled to these mountains."
"Thousands of years ago – it is what Mr Tesla dreams of..." Helen whispered. They must all be dead now, buried in these caves. "It does explain the superstition in this area." Helen had been reading through the books in the Tesla house – ancient stories of dark creatures roaming the landscape, stealing women in the night.
"What is the matter, father?" Helen whispered, seeing Gregory suddenly frown and take a step back from the wall.
Gregory had heard his story before – the lone Vampire he had found in South America when Helen was just a child. This must be what became of the other survivors. The ones that had escaped on foot. If that vampire was still alive, then there was a chance that these ones could be as well.
"Nothing it's -" he was about to explain when a faint blue glow caught his eye. Gregory turned and without explanation, started walking deeper into the caves.
The light was coming from the floor – drawing him closer until he heard his feet break through a shallow layer of water. He was standing on the edge of an enormous underground lake and somewhere in the middle, deep beneath the water, was a light source.
"It's flooded..." Helen whispered. This was the end of the cave. The enormous roof didn't lead anywhere and the entire end of tunnel was submerged, heading deeper into the mountain.
"It must be the fresh snow-melt. Many, many years of it."
It was eerie, the blue like an endless sky with no edge and no depth. You could fall forever into water like that, sink through the world. The soft glow created a faint shadow along one of the walls behind the humans. It was a creature, slinking silently along the cave wall almost as if it were a part of the rock.
"What is that?" Helen whispered, stepping beside her father. The water was warm – inexplicably so. It should be freezing but something was heating it. Perhaps there was some lingering volcanic activity in the area – a hot spring. "It must be right at the bottom of he lake..."
"Stay here..." he said softly to Helen, handing her the lantern. He had to know.
"You're not going in there," she immediately protested, catching his arm.
"I didn't come all his way to turn back." Gregory insisted that she take the lantern. "If you want to help your friend, Mr Tesla, then we have to go deeper."
Helen went quiet, holding the lantern and then her father's jacket as he slipped it off.
"I should come with you..." she whispered, laying his things down on a nearby boulder.
"No, Helen. I won't have you catching cold."
Her eyes flicked up in one of her long suffering glares. For all the defiance he encouraged in her – he was still a protective parent.
"Now, now young lady," Gregory smiled softly at his daughter, kissing her softly on the cheek. "Just this once, do as your father says."
Helen stood by the edge of the water as her father slipped off his shoes and then began to wade into the warm water. The shallow edge dropped away quickly, sending Gregory under the water in a splash that startled Helen.
"I'm all right," he called back to her when he surfaced. "It is just a little slippery."
Soon, he was swimming carefully into the centre until he was treading water above he soft glow of light.
"I will see you in a moment," he promised Helen, before diving under the water.
"Fascinating..." Sherlock whispered, peering at Nikola.
The vampire had curled up on the chaise by the fire to keep warm, the flames chasing away a few dark memories. James was in the chair opposite, watching the pair cautiously.
"If you do not stop studying me, I am going to bite you," Nikola hissed. He had told them both everything that had transpired – the Professor, Helen, Gregory...
"Gentlemen don't bite," Sherlock easily quipped, still puffing on that infernal pipe.
"You are not a vampire," not a real one, at least.
Nikola's eyes darkened. "Try me."
"Stop it!" James set his glass down, shaking his head. "Nikola, you are telling me that Helen is all the way over on the fringes of the Austrian Empire – with Gregory, chasing down some ruins?"
"James, if we don't find out more about the vampires then we are walking blindly on this path. The blood will kill us all." It was all right for James but Nikola – he was a monster.
"And what about our Professor? You are no murderer, Nikola."
Nikola tapped his fingers over the leather as if they ended in claws.
"It wasn't that he betrayed us – he knew too much James. He helped the Cabal find us once, he would do so again."
"We have to find John," James finally added, before lighting his own pipe. James had never smoked before but now addictions seemed to plague him. The woman he loved had been hideously slaughtered and James' heart was in pieces even though he would never show it. He was sure that he'd never love another woman.
"I ran into him this morning," Nikola admitted. "He was the one that told me how to find you."
"I have not spoken to him in weeks," James replied, passing over a few letters. They were his correspondence with John. "He simply stopped writing one day. No doubt fed up with the case I am investigating."
"Case?" Nikola asked, glancing at the letters. "You're working on the Ripper case. I was under the impression that the great and all powerful Scotland Yard was handling that."
"They are," Sherlock interrupted, picking up his battered violin to tug annoyingly at a few strings. "But occasionally the old boys hire out some independent advice – and routinely fail to pay for it.."
"You're a private detective..." Nikola realised. They had a reputation for being overpaid stalkers hired by rich men to watch their wives. "I take it there was another murder – the streets are quiet in the evenings..."
Indeed, with the London smoke pressed down to street level as the cold nights set in, you could barely see anything beyond stone walls and weak gas lights.
"Four now," James said quietly. "He has to be stopped -"
"I don't disagree with you," Nikola cut in, "but I am afraid we have more pressing matters. We must find Nigel and destroy all mention of our names and the Source Blood in the Cabal's possession. If not, we will spend our lives either hiding, running or enslaved."
Helen could see the shadow of her father in the water, swimming down toward the light. She watched him keenly, wondering how long he could hold his breath for until she turned as a few pieces of rock tumbled off the cave wall.
She was never normally this skittish, but there was something about this place.
"Is someone there?" she whispered.
The cave creature flattened itself against the rock only a few feet in front of her. It's skin mimicked the rock perfectly making it impossible to see in the half-light. It was a scrawny thing, mostly bone and skin with long, lean muscles that it used to clamber through the deep network of caves. Rarely did it venture out into the world – only when it was starving.
Helen frowned, stepping forward – listening to every breath the rock took. She was closing in on the creature. She was nearly nose to nose with the cool stone when two golden eyes opened.
A small piece of folded paper slid under Nigel's door between the rock and the ancient wood. He heard the footsteps quickly disappear, its envoy vanishing.
Night was over the land, and Nigel had been moved to new quarters. It had taken all day by coach and judging by the fresh smell in the air, he was in a country house in some kind of wood. There were others here – rooms of creatures that snarled and clawed at the walls whenever the Cabal scientists walked by. Nigel was yet to meet them...
Welcome to Windsor, Mr Griffin.
The note was in Charles Fort's neat hand. Nigel wasn't alone and that was a great comfort.
The invisible creature leapt forward onto her, pinning Helen to the cave floor before she could move. Its bony hands were strong and ended it long, sharp claws that scratched the rock. Those eyes... there was something almost human behind them, peering out from beneath the amber.
Helen started to struggle but it was simply stronger than her. When it started to hiss, Helen's blood ran cold. It appeared that the rows of tapered teeth inside its mouth were not able to camouflage. She could see them quite clearly, glistening and looming ever closer to her neck.
It ended in a flash of purple. The universe ripped apart above them with a sharp crack before a set of hands pulled the cave creature up and threw it hard against the wall. The creature cried out, cowering at the feet of the enormous human before scurrying off into the darkness.
"Dear me..." a deep, silken voice drawled. "The floor is no place for a lady."
Helen could hardly believe her eyes. Towering over her in a long black cloak dusted with snow was John Druitt.
"...John..." she stammered, her blond curls falling limply over her face. No one noticed that the water behind was empty and still...