HISTORY OF THE UNDERWORLD
The museum swarmed like a hive. Fresh snow flurries during the night made the stone building look like an ice cavern crowded in between a mountain range of icy structures. The streets themselves were mostly bare save a few individuals, thick collars turned up, hurrying through the freezing air. It was as if the Arctic had descended upon the city, turning it into a bleached skeleton. Somewhere in the distance, a bell was chiming to mark the hour.
Three men in long coats, gloves, scarves and top hats stood in front of a sarcophagus. They peered down at the faded paint and decaying wood. A shrivelled body lay stripped of all it's gold and jewels. This was a Pharaoh of Egypt and yet all Nikola could see was death, not a hint of its glorious past.
"He looks human to me," Sherlock said, inspecting the corpse. As far as he knew, vampires had sharp teeth and long claws – rather distinctive, really.
"So does young Mr Tesla," James pointed out, nodding at the tall, slender man standing beside him who looked human enough.
"True, but I am only half vampire," Nikola shrugged, confused by the sight. "It does not make any sense – unless – unless this is not the original body."
"You think the museum might have switched them?" James shifted, tilting his head.
"It is certainly possible. And, if it is as you say and the Cabal are one of their major benefactors..." Nikola's implication clear. The real mummies were somewhere beneath their feet, in the vaults. "What if our history has been kept from us? Twisted for thousands of years?"
"Wiped from existence in body and memory," James murmured quietly. "Humanity must have really hated the ancient ones to go to such trouble. If we are to take samples – it must be of the originals..."
"Perhaps we are merely an acquired – James, where the devil did Sherlock go?"
James frowned and looked beside him to see an empty space where Sherlock had been standing a moment ago. He sighed and shook his head in defeat.
"He's always wandering off like that."
"Very comforting..." Nikola muttered, turning around to lean back against the glass enclosure housing the coffin. His finger came to rest on his lips as he thought carefully. "We have to check. The Cabal are hiding the vampire history for a reason, we need to know what it is they're -"
"Nikola," the other man took a step closer so that he could whisper firmly. "We should find Miss Magnus first, free Griffin from the Cabal – then we can hunt down this precious history of -"
"No," Nikola interrupted. "Don't you understand, James? We're the ones being hunted now. We may not get another chance at this. Stay here if you will – I am not afraid of the dark."
Nikola did not give James a chance to answer him as he darted off into the crowd of people. They could not keep running. Knowledge was survival.
"John...?" Helen whispered again, too shocked to take the hand John extended to her. She was not sure if it was the confines of the cave or the strange blue light coming off the water, but deep shivers were travelling over her skin. "How did you -"
John knelt down to the cave floor, his leather clothes creaking. His voice was soft as he spoke to her, as if coaxing a frightened animal from a snare.
"I found Tesla and Watson in London," he explained. "They told me that you were here. I was worried."
The smile that he gave her was soft and tender, the effect ruined somewhat by the fresh cut running diagonally over his face.
"What happened to you?" Helen murmured, her cold hand reaching up to boldly rest against his cheek just shy of the angry tear in his skin.
John leaned into her touch a little. Memories of a frightened woman slashing at him with a knife flickered through his memory.
"Oh..." Helen gasped softly, and then knelt, taking him gently into her arms. She held him protectively for a moment. "I was frightened that I would not see you again. When the Cabal came for us at Oxford we just fled. I'm sorry," she closed her eyes, hiding in his arms.
John pressed a soft kiss to the top of her head but his eyes were cold now.
James was seriously starting to re-think the company he was keeping of late. He has spent most of his life quietly observing the world, keeping well out of trouble but since meeting a blonde woman in a corridor he'd found himself in no end of mischief. At present it involved following a half-vampire through corridors and down endless stairwells as the descended deeper and deeper into the museum underworld.
"Really Nikola..." James muttered, as Nikola used one of his long claws to pick a lock. "You're starting to control it now – aren't you?" he added.
Nikola pried the door open and then stepped into an office. He turned up the nearest lantern and paced quickly to the desk, rattling through the drawers until he found a set of keys.
"There is a solution to every mystery," Nikola replied, holding up the keys triumphantly. "One just needs to unravel it." Nikola's eyes were nearly black in the lamp light, a relic of the vampire world standing in the half-light.
The two of them moved quickly now, their feet nothing but a soft shuffle as they reached the vaults. The last time that James had been here with Sherlock, they had not dared to venture so deep. Nikola's sharp eyes scanned the plaques on the front of every iron door until his paused, trench-coat fanning out as he stopped suddenly.
"Here..." he whispered, unlocking the heavy door before he pushed against it. Nikola struck a match, the darkness parting as the fragile light burned in hand. Behind him, James worked quickly, lighting two lanterns and closing the door enough so that at a passing glance it looked undisturbed.
Boxes. Long and narrow. Their dimensions were eerily similar to that of a human.
"There are dozens of them," James whispered, walking slowly up to one of the glass enclosures. They could not see anything with the woods of the coffins nailed on. His hands were laid almost reverently on the glass. "Tesla – do you -" but James had to quickly move out of the way as Nikola brought a hammer crashing down onto the glass, shattering it like a bubble breaking in the wind.
Glass rained to the grown leaving only the wooden box. The hammer still in Nikola's hand, he flipped it over so that he could use its curved edge to start prying out the nails.
"For heaven's sake..." James muttered, shifting uncomfortably as Nikola tore open the coffin.
Fangs. Long, tapered teeth curving out of the ancient jaw. Nikola was transfixed by them. It was as if the creature were merely sleeping. Was it even dead?
"Dear god," James breathed over Nikola's shoulder. "I had no idea."
This creature – it looked nothing like Nikola. The fangs were demonic, the top row reaching nearly to the chin bone. Someone had crossed its arms over its chest leaving the claws on display, fanned out from each hand. Though it was in a poor condition, the remains of this creature left only one feeling in those that saw it – fear.
"This flows through our veins?" James whispered.
Nikola's eyes closed. Sand. The reflection of the sun over the dunes. These were not his dreams – they belonged to the creature in the box.
Then the door of the vault slammed shut.
There was a fine mist rising off the pool of water in the cave behind John and Helen. The water was warm and the air getting cooler, causing the thin layer of vapour to roll out through the cave floor and around their ankles.
Helen blushed softly when she realised that she was holding John so closely. He had always been more tender with her than he should, but there were no promises – no declaration that made her his. It was then that she felt a sudden cold spread through her. She peeled back from him and turned sharply to the water.
"Father..." she whispered, realising that he had been gone far too long.
The water was deathly still, as if it had never been disturbed.
"He went into the water," she continued, hurrying to its edge, "he was looking for the source of the light."
John's eyes searched the water but he could see nothing below or above its surface.
"How long ago did he leave?" he asked, a wake forming in the water around his boots.
"Too long," she breathed back.
"Excellent plan, Mr Tesla – simply wondrous..."
"Oh, quit your mocking, James," Nikola snipped irritably.
"Well, I'm glad you're at peace entombed in a room full of dead bodies," James had never been fond of small spaces as it was. He had an instinctive fear of being trapped just like one of his poor lab rats.
"History," Nikola corrected him. "History," Nikola repeated, as he paced back and forth in the dim light, casing the room for escape options. So far all that he could see was a door they weren't getting through any time soon, and an air vent that a pocket watch would struggle to fit into.
"You are wasting your time, Nikola, I've looked." And James was certain that his gaze was sharper than the vampire's.
"It's the Cabal – it has to be. There's no good reason for the museum staff to lock us down here."
"Unless you stole from them."
"For the last time, James, I don't steal." Why did everyone assume that he stole things just because he pilfered from the university supply room? And the library. Occasionally Helen's books too.
There were muffled voices on the other side of the door, no doubt standing guard. James listened to them for a while, but could make out nothing.
"I doubt they'll be leaving us on our own," James added in a low whisper. "We should be planning for when they come in..."
"I can take four – maybe five at a time," Nikola said quietly. He may be a scrawny thing but he was strong and had the advantage of a sharp set of claws.
James looked... concerned.
"Are you sure it's safe for you to turn? I saw Nigel..." After Nikola had slashed him nearly to pieces.
"We all have our vices, James. I'm trying to limit mine to wine and women."
James simply scoffed. Nikola's gaze flicked up sharply, his eyes jet black.
"It is no secret, Nikola," James added, after taking a moment to take in the beady, vampire gaze. "But I am afraid you're more like Helen's pet than her suitor."
Although Nikola's countenance remained unchanged, he felt something start to tear inside him. He wanted to speak – to reply with some off-hand quip but any denial would ring false. James had a way of reading people, even Nikola.
The old man shuffled along the dark hallway in the museum vaults, his cane tapping on the floor with each stop. There were two gentlemen ahead dusted in snow standing guard by one of the vault doors. Odd, really – considering all that there was to find down here were relics long forgotten, in too poor a condition to exhibit.
It was not until the old man came to a stop in front of them that they glanced down.
"Can I be of assistance to you gentlemen?" the old man asked, his voice as frail as his wisps of white hair. He had a metal badge pinned to his jacket showing that he was part of the museum staff.
"Professor Griffin has something of value in the vault," one of them replied, recognising him as the old man from the office – the one that shuffled paperwork.
The old man nodded, and then tilted his head.
"Strange... I wasn't aware of any new arrivals."
The two guards shifted, but the old man seemed to lose interest, turning away. Neither of them saw the sharp snap of the man's cane hit their throats. They grasped at the tender skin, coughing awkwardly before the old man straightened up to his full, quite impressive height, and started to hit them again. He laid several heavy blows on each one until the two stocky men fell to the floor, unconscious.
Nikola and James were glaring at each other, the conversation having taken a turn for the worse as it historically did between the two. Long vampire claws tapped against the table that Nikola was leaning on. He looked considerably more threatening as a vampire, but not enough to scare James.
"Nikola..." James sighed, almost boredly. "I am not trying to insult you, merely pointing out an immutable fact. As a scientist, you should be familiar with those."
Nikola all but huffed, rolling his dark, beady eyes. He pushed off the table and traipsed over to the ancient mummy, pulling some equipment out of his coat to take a sample.
"Not that it matters anyway, if we are to be pets of the Cabal..." James admitted, now that they were trapped.
"I thought the English were supposed to be more optimistic..." Nikola drawled, slipping the glass vial back into his jacket. "We're not dead yet, James – just a little more confined than normal." James didn't see the vampire slip something else into his pocket as well, a small fragment of papyrus that he wrapped in silk.
James was about to reply when the lock on the door clicked. Both gentlemen tensed, backing into opposing corners of the vault, hiding in the shadows as best they could.
Slowly, the door creaked open to reveal the bodies of the two Cabal guards lifeless on the ground. Stepping over them was and old gentlemen, cane tapping over the ground as he peered into the room. James and Nikola exchanged glances and slowly crept out from their hiding places, approaching the man.
"Well well well..." the old man said – his voice oddly familiar.
James turned up the wick on the kerosene lamp, the vault suddenly brightening.
"What the devil...?" James breathed.
"Close enough," Sherlock winked, pointing his cane playfully at James before sliding the wig off his head. He'd always been good with disguises. "That's the second time those two have tried to follow us. They were taking you here," he held out a street map to James. Sherlock's gaze though, was levelled at Nikola, inching forward out of the darkness looking very much like a bad work of fiction. "Interesting eyes..."
"Interesting hair..." Nikola replied, his voice almost metallic. Then, he peered over James' shoulder, looking at the map. There was a property circled, about a day's journey by road.
"...Nigel..." they both whispered.
"Your Mister Griffin."
John waded around in the water, ducking under its warm surface and gazing into the endless underwater world. He could see nothing but rock walls and more water. There was no sign of Gregory Magnus. He broke the water, gasping for air, his long, dark brown curls plastered flat.
"Nothing..." he called out to Helen, who was waiting anxiously by the bank.
He breast-stroked through the water, swimming as far in as he dared. John felt his stomach dropping as he looked down to see the sheer depth of the water beneath him. He felt – fragile – like he might suddenly be sucked deep under the water never to be seen again.
"There must be something," Helen called back.
"I cannot swim any further," John replied, as he reached the cave wall on the other side. "It ends here."
Gregory Magnus had been dragged deep under the water by some unseen current. He had nearly made it to the source of light when it swept him to the side and under a rocky outcrop. Darkness. It was all he could make out as his lungs started to burn. He kept his arms and legs close to his chest as the water tossed him about, picking up speed. He was being taken deeper into the cave system, further than he could ever hope to swim back.
It was a shock when he felt himself start to fall. The water passage had ended in a waterfall – air flooding back into his lungs as he hurtled toward what he assumed would be a messy death on a cavern floor. He still couldn't see anything, the caves blacker than the evening sky. The end didn't come. Instead, Gregory was smashed back into the dark water, vanishing beneath it.
He didn't move, waiting to see which way he floated before he started to swim back toward the air.