The black water was gentle, carrying Gregory toward the smooth rocks that hemmed in the pool. He washed up on them, the stones cool after the unnatural warmth of the underground river.
Gregory wondered if he was already dead, his consciousness slowly departing from him as he lay there, blinking up at a scattering of glowing rocks. It was as if someone had lit a candle behind the collections of quartz – the beautiful crystals backlit like veins.
Gregory rolled onto his back, coughing some of the water out of his lungs before he managed to sit up. He was somewhere deep inside the mountain even though the air swirling around him was fresh.
"Good heavens..." he whispered – only to hear his voice echo around the walls, bouncing back and forth until it died on the water.
On shaky feet, Gregory stood and found himself drawn to one of the glowing segments of rock. He placed his hand on the stone – feeling warmth flare beneath his fingers. The light flickered causing several other pairs of stones down the tunnel to glow. He followed this line of beacons and soon found another tunnel that was mostly flat with high, smooth ceilings.
Gregory felt a soft tremor underfoot as if the ground itself were stirring to his presence, dust raining down to join the mist. He was in the underworld, a relic of the Vampire's once grand empire.
It was hours before John finally persuaded Helen to leave the caves – without her father. She was pale and numb, clinging to John as he led her back down through the snow towards the Tesla house. There were lights in the windows as the world around it began to grow dark with a small trail of smoke coming from the chimney.
John knocked on the door and waited.
It was Milka that answered it – her stance immediately nervous when she saw the tall, dark haired man standing beside Helen, a loose curl covering one of his dark eyes.
"What has happened?" Milka breathed in English – but with a thick accent, a deep instinct in her not wishing to let the man inside the house.
"We must get Miss Magnus out of the cold," John insisted, without further explanation.
Milka hesitated, her hand on the door's splintered surface. It was only Helen's fragile state that convinced Milka to allow them both inside.
They settled Helen by the fire and made her drink tea spiked with rum to try and bring some colour back to her.
"And he's gone?" Milka said, in a hushed whisper to John. He had explained to her that he was one of the five that had experimented with the vampire blood – something that had not exactly helped to settle Milka's nerves. She had seen what that vile substance had done to her brother.
John was more interested in the way Milka's dark hair curled lightly on her shoulder, his gaze lingering there before he answered.
"I doubt that it was an ordinary pool of water," he replied. "The ancient ones had many means of protecting their secrets, it could be that Gregory has stumbled upon one of them."
Helen drew her legs up in the chair by the fire, watching the flames dance. It reminded her of the oil lanterns her father used to light to take her down to the cellar where all his secrets were kept.
"This is all madness..." Milka murmured. "Mr Fort explained to me the subtleties of genetic abnormalities but this – what you have all done, it is not a quirk of nature. You are playing were you should not and you have dragged Nikola with you."
John's eyebrows merely lofted, his voice deep and silken as always.
"Tesla was by no means dragged," he corrected simply. If anyone had been dragged into this mess, it was John. He had protested it from the start. If it had not been for Helen...
Milka, unable to hold John's gaze for more than a few moments at a time, glanced over her shoulder at Miss Magnus.
"There is more than one way to convince my brother of the merits of something..." she whispered softly.
John was only half listening, infinitely more entranced by the delicate curve of Milka's neck.
"Now that, gentlemen, is a vampire." Sherlock tapped the edge of the open crate with his cane.
Nikola was grinning proudly at his ancient relative while all James could muster was an exaggerated roll of his eyes. Sherlock was eyeing the long-dead vampire, more than a little fascinated.
"Holmes, how long have you been posing as one of the museum's staff members?" James sounded like a stern parent.
The other man shrugged.
"Oh, a while... The Cabal may not have told me much but then, as you know, it's not what you're told, it's how well you listen."
Nikola's arms were folded across his chest, his long claws resting on his sleeves. He wasn't sure if it was accidental or instinctual, but he seemed to keep to the shadows while vamped up. All that bright desert sun, it made vampires crave the cool dark.
"And what did you listen to?" Nikola prompted, tilting his head to watch as Sherlock leaned right over the open coffin, taking in every tiny detail of the Pharaoh.
This creature hadn't died of natural causes... Someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to reconstruct this body but it had been the victim of a massacre. Part of Sherlock was happy to divert off into solving this ancient crime but needs must when you have an evil organisation hunting you for sport.
"Professor Griffin is dying..." Sherlock replied, finally turning his attention back to the others. "His pursuit of the five of you is not some kind of jealous vendetta, he wants your secrets. He wants to live. Desperate people are the most dangerous."
Professor Griffin was an old man, perched behind his desk like one of the marble statues outside the window. Every day his skin seemed to sink a little further towards his bones until he might be mistaken for one of the mummified bodies in the vaults.
Studying those creatures had led him nowhere. There simply wasn't enough left of them for him to unlock their secret of immortality. No, what he needed was a live sample but the only man in a century to see one was the great Gregory Magnus.
When Gregory had first told him, all those years ago when they were still doing their post graduates at the university, that there were creatures in the past that had found a way to linger through eternity – Griffin had believed him. Of the three scientists, Griffin knew that he was the weakest. Instead, he excelled at business and made enough money to fund Gregory's endless expedition. Gregory may call it 'blood money' now, but it was money all the same.
Now, here they were, half a century later and the dream of immortality was his only chance at survival. What had his money bought him? Nothing. Gregory Magnus was gone and his other colleague was dead somewhere back in Oxford, slaughtered no doubt, by one of the foolish children who thought that they could play with immortality as a passing curiosity between lessons.
"Professor Griffin, the coach is ready..." one of his aids said, peaking in through the door.
"Where are the others? They should have returned by now." Griffin had sent two of his best men to investigate a sighting of Mr Watson and a vexing private detective that had been sticking his nose into Cabal business of late.
"They're – unconscious, Sir." The aid shrank back toward the door frame. "We found them lying outside one of the vaults. There was some damage to one of the coffins as well but nothing has been stolen except an old map."
Griffin's grey eyes were so sharp that they could have cut the man in two.
"Nothing sir, just a scrap of papyrus. Souvenir."
Between the three of them; Tesla, Watson and Holmes struggled to meet the price of a coach to Windsor. Whatever money Sherlock had won the week before was inevitably lost on poor gambling deals by Monday whilst Nikola had never had money of his own. James was left to foot the bill.
When they arrived, they were deposited on a snowy landscape a few hundred metres from the main town. Okay, so James' money had got them most of the way there.
"Were we, at any stage, going to come up with a plan?" James asked, trudging through the wet, cold snow. Another carriage rushed by them with a sharp pounding of hooves.
"By my thinking we have one hour and twelve minutes to decide on one before we reach the address," Sherlock added helpfully.
"I think by that time," Nikola said, arms folded into his suit. Vampires were naturally cold and this 'walking through the snow business' was not helping his natural condition. "We'll arrive frozen solid ready to sell our souls for coco and a warm fire."
Milka startled when the candles flickered.
"Mr Druitt..." she whispered, turning quickly to see him standing by the door she could have sworn was locked. "I thought you were with Miss Magnus."
John let the door close quietly leaving him and Milka alone in the intimate drawing room. She was over by the window, looking out onto the evening. He could sense her fear like some kind of drug. A calling of ancient predators that knew when their prey was cornered.
"Helen is sleeping..." he drawled, all too softly.
"Did you hear that?" Nikola stopped in the snow, tugging on James' sleeve.
They were only a few dozen metres from the large residence hiding amongst the estate gardens. Instead of walking up the long gravel driveway, they had wound their way through the hedges and park lands that surrounded what they assumed to be another of the Cabal's properties.
"There it is again..." Nikola added, when he heard another faint cry on the air.
James and Sherlock exchanged looks – they couldn't hear anything. Nikola was starting to think that he was going crazy – always hearing, smelling and feeling things that no one else could. There was a constant tremble in the air around him, the ghost of a powerful electrical field.
"Mortals..." he muttered, shaking his head and pushing past the others.
"Was he always like this?" Sherlock asked, watching the vampire trudge ahead in the snow.
"Egotistical and irritating?" James folded his arms across his chest.
There was a very light, rare smile on Sherlock's lips.
"No... Brilliant," he whispered, following the vampire.
Unsurprisingly, every window was barred and no one was ready to break down a door. It was Sherlock that found a heavy wooden hatch half buried under a bush. They yanked it open and peered at the hole beneath.
"Basement..." James stated.
"Why is everyone looking at me?" Nikola's eyes went black without him even realising it. James gestured at the hole. If anyone was going to go down into the dark, it was going to be the vampire. "When did this become a democracy?" Nikola muttered, sitting on the ground and letting his legs dangle into the dark.
Sherlock and James each took one of the vampire's arms and lowered him down as far as they could.
"Can you feel the floor?" James asked.
Nikola was dangling in mid air.
"No-aaah!" Nikola yelped, as they dropped him.
Nikola landed in a cloud of dust in some forgotten corner of a wine cellar. Like a cat, he'd gracefully landed on his feet but the effect was ruined as he sneezed.
"Bastards..." he muttered, attempting to dust himself down.
By the time the other two had followed, Nikola was perusing through the racks of dusty bottles, lingering at a few expensive reds. He had never been much of a wine connoisseur but since his rise to vampirisim he found that he had developed quite a taste for it. It also seemed to act like the rose oil, calming him. Even the most expensive bottle of red was less trouble than procuring a vial of wild rose oil.
"It is not like the Cabal to keep a wine cellar," James said, looking for a way out of the room. What he found was a set of stone steps leading up towards a bolted door – bolted from the outside of course as it was unusual for wine to escape...
"Oh, I very much doubt that it's theirs," Nikola said, rolling one of the cool bottles in his hands.
"Put that back..." James shot over his shoulder, "and come and put that superior intellect of your to greater use."
Beyond the door, they found themselves still in the house's basement. Long, narrow corridors with rooms too close together to be anything other than storage – or cells.
"I can hear it now as well..." Sherlock admitted, as another soft cry echoed down the hallway around them. "It's coming from ahead."
Nikola started off toward it but James caught hold of his arm.
"It's not Nigel," he said. He wasn't convinced that it was even human.
"That doesn't mean that we shouldn't help it," Nikola pointed out.
"Nikola, you were the one telling us that we can't afford to divert from our goals. The longer we linger here, the more likely it is that someone is going to find us – we mustn't delay with things that don't concern us.
Nikola tugged his arm free sharply.
It was warm. All around Gregory, the rocks were dripping with snow melt making the smooth ground beneath his feet slippery. Every now and then he spotted a rock with steam rising off it, filling the passage with a thick layer of mist lulling along at shoulder height. He could not see the ground beneath. It reminded him distinctly of the mists in the Amazon twenty years ago.
He didn't need light – for just as the light started to fade, he round another pair of glowing quartz set into the cave wall almost as if they were grown there.
Eventually he came to two quartz pillars, like an official gateway. He walked between them and was immediately startled by a wave of white light washing over him like silent lightening.
"What the devil...?" he breathed.
Gregory's head whipped around at a crunch of feet over the ground.
"You should not have come..." The robed figure up ahead spoke in Latin – or some evolution of the language. It had changed over time but with a culture closed off from the world, it preserved most of its natural form. "Though it is too late for you to turn back now."
Gregory stepped closer, inching towards the human.
"You are not vampire..." Gregory replied, as best as he could. Latin was by no means his natural ancient language.
The human's eyes darkened at that – with loathing.
"Those which you seek, are dead."