BOWING OUT GRACEFULLY
"I tried to kill you..." Helen whispered, fussing with a few long strands of his hair. They seemed determined to fall across Nikola's eyes and every few minutes she drew her warm fingertips against his forehead, tucking them back into his hair line.
It was a torture far worse for him to endure than the knife she'd thrust into his chest. Her soft attentions were a constant reminder of an affection he had forbidden himself.
"Helen... Helen – stop..." Nikola murmured, taking both her hands in his. He was sitting up against the pillows with a few heavy blankets thrown over him. The bandage visible through his half-undone shirt was no longer necessary despite the small smear of blood on it. He was afraid to tell her though, in case she started fussing again. "It is not your fault – what happened at my home. I should have told you what your father told me."
They never used to keep secrets from each other. Nikola and Helen were confidantes. So much had changed these past few months, he could not bear to lose her trust as well.
Helen folded the quilt gently around Nikola as he spoke, her long hair a soft gold in the light where it slid over her bare shoulder. The candles had nearly died by the time he finished, their wax left all in sad ruins, dripping from the desk.
Nikola told Helen everything. He explained that she was born to kill his kind; a cruel balance of the universe. Vampires needed their predators and rare, immortal beings were always there to hunt them. With deep embarrassment, he admitted that over time, he would crave her blood and that if he tried to consume it, he would die. That was why he'd taken a sample of her blood that night and tried to inject it. He had chosen to set her free of the dark ties that bound them.
"No," she whispered defiantly, shifting closer on the bed, threading her hand in his. "We decide what we are, Nikola – not our blood." Was that not the whole point of their experiment? To choose their future? "Besides..." Helen added, with that playful glint in her glistening eyes, "you're only part vampire."
He cupped her cheek tenderly in one hand. "Yes, but you are a whole immortal," he smiled warmly .
Nikola did not show affection easily but she was his friend, his – his something that Nikola was afraid to admit. "Defy nature, then?" he proposed with those bright blue eyes of his, to which she smiled. "Just – you know..." he murmured, settling against the pillows, "warn me if you feel the urge to balance out nature again."
To his surprise, she did not move to leave. Instead, Helen gently laid her head against his chest, her blond curls tumbling all over him. One of her delicate hands clutched at his open shirt making his heart falter. He didn't know what to do.
After several minutes, Nikola settled his trembling hand on the back of her dress. She had worn this one many times before but this was the first time he had noticed the smooth finish of the embroidered silk, or the tight sash wound several times around her waist.
Helen fell asleep on him last June when the weather was warm in the evenings and the storms played at the edge of the horizon. They had been watching stars on the roof that night and drifted off into sleep, curling innocently up together as the night passed. This was different. While she slept against his chest, Nikola trailed his fingers slowly down the laced-up back of her corset, counting how many times the ribbons crossed over.
When he dreamed, it was of those ribbons. They were sliding through his fingers as he undid her corset.
James frowned at his empty scotch glass. He had passed his limit several glasses ago and since fallen into intoxication. Well into intoxication, he realised, when he nearly missed the coffee table trying to put the glass down.
"What the devil are they doing in there?" James slurred, enjoying the warmth of the fire.
Sherlock was the only one still sitting up in the lounge room. Griffin was put to bed in the only other room and Druitt had stalked out to work his way through the bars. Helen had been in Tesla's room for – gods, James couldn't even read his watch any more.
"I would not like to wager on Miss Magnus returning to us," Sherlock said simply. He'd been smoking something untoward and currently looked a bit twitchy. He kept glancing suspiciously at the coat stand in the corner as if it were threatening to pounce on him at any moment.
"You don't – think..." James lowered his voice. He knew Tesla was fond of Helen but he did not seem the type for illicit liaisons. Hell, the man could hardly stand to shake hands.
"My dear Watson, you may have an eye for fine detail but every now and then you miss the big picture."
James frowned slightly and started playing with a thread that had come loose from the arm of the chair.
"You are not jealous, I hope?" Sherlock poured himself the last of the scotch.
James tugged at the thread, watching part of the material unravel. There had been a cat here once, he could tell by the scratch marks. "I was thinking about Mary," he whispered. Mary Jane Kelly, his lover. "Do you think he made her suffer?"
The Ripper had left little but a mutilated corpse for James to mourn over. James knew that to love a woman of her profession would always end in despair but he had not expected it to end in bloodshed.
"James, there is only madness in such questions," Sherlock advised softly. "I do not wish to see a mind like yours fall into an endless well of hatred of what might have passed. All you can do for her now, is find her killer."
John Druitt had spent hours in a small bar catching up on the papers. There was an old pile of them stacked haphazardly in the corner of the establishment, stained and missing pages. With a half drunk glass of bear beside him, John grazed through the headlines.
He smiled coldly when he found what he was looking for. Annie Farmer and Rose Mylett. Whilst he had been abroad, whispers of the Ripper had kept London in fear and it seemed that every woman's cry or suspicious death was now attributed first to the mysterious murderer. The ancient vampires ruled the world with fear and in a few short months, The Ripper held London's soul.
John tried not to be insulted at the pitiful nature of the two mentioned in this article. One was not even dead, a mistake he would hardly make and the other was probably a victim of her own alcoholism. There was an art to murder seriously lacking in these cases.
It would not do.
He threw the newspapers back in the corner of the bar with disgust. John would give them something to write about – something to unravel that would leave their blood running cold. First, he had a loose end to cut free. A certain Mr Nigel Griffin who knew the truth of his double life and he couldn't have that.
Gregory kept touching the surface of the window, pressing his palm to the crystalline substance similar to glass. The tunnels were rushing past them at incredible speed, many times that of a horse at full run. Ranna was seated opposite him, staring down at her hands.
"This is incredible," Gregory whispered. The spherical device rolled over, ducked and weaved through the caves and yet inside, the ride was smooth and silent.
"You do not have such methods of transport in your world?" she asked, with that slight air of Praxian superiority born into its people.
"Nothing like this," he shook his head. "My world makes a lot more noise. If something goes fast, you can hear and feel it. Creating power is an expensive, messy business."
"We have all the power we need from the heat inside the planet," she replied, standing as the transport came to a stop. "Normally, prisoners are not so – happy..." Ranna added. The enormous grin had never left Gregory's face since she had met him in the tunnels. These surface dwellers were most strange.
"I have found a whole world beneath ours – the greatest archaeological discovery of our age."
"Is that what I am... your discovery?" Ranna couldn't help a small grin on her lips as she waited for him to follow her out. He was her discovery too. The first surface dweller in five hundred years. Sadly, they did not seem to have made much progress.
"In a manner of speaking," Gregory looked almost shy. The air was cleaner in this tunnel. Everything looked new; the rock freshly cut and free of lichen despite the fresh water trickling over it making their surfaces shine back with beautiful threads of colour. They must be close to the city heart. "I must insist that after I have met with your government, you let me leave. I came here looking for Vampires and if they are no longer amongst you, I must keep looking elsewhere. My daughter and her friends depend upon me."
"I already told you," she murmured, so that the two guards accompanying them could not hear. "No outsiders are allowed to leave Praxia. It is forbidden by our highest laws. Secrecy keeps us safe. You stay here or you suffer our executioners. That is our way."
That made Gregory's smile fade. He could not spend his life trapped here, not when he had a daughter all alone in the world above.
Without warning, the city of Praxia emerged around the next corner, twinkling in the dark cavern. It was immense, half the size of London itself all buried under the ground. Buildings twice the size of the largest factories reached up, brushing the top of the cavern ceiling, some of them were even moulded onto the rock structures creating organic arches over the streets. There had to be half a million people down there.
"It isn't possible..." he whispered, staggering forward to get a better view from the ledge.
"Your world is alive, Doctor Magnus – it is not all just rock and ash down here."
"My lady, it is this way..." one of the guards stepped forward, when Ranna turned to the left, heading for another tunnel. She spun around, blushing innocently as so many of the women of her station did.
"Of course – forgive me..."
As the guard smiled back, Ranna reached forward and stole his gun from its holding, unhooking the safety and firing a sharp burst of energy square into his chest. She did not hesitate, taking down the other one before they could call for help. She was no girl, Ranna was a scientist, hungry for knowledge and there was a chance that this man could answer her questions. She was not about to just hand him over to the council – not yet, anyway.
"I – don't understand..." Gregory stepped carefully over the bodies, following her into the tunnel. It led sharply down.
"If you wish to go back to the surface, you will need my help. It will be hours before they notice my absence with all the confusion. That will give us just enough time."
"Time for what?"
Nigel slept peacefully, unaware of the tall figure looming over him, knife in hand. John was spinning the slender metal between his fingertips, letting it catch the moonlight. There was a smear of blood where the sharp tip pressed against John's thumb. A drop of it was slowly accumulating, swelling and forming a bloody tear.
It fell onto Nigel's cheek, shattering over his pale skin. He stirred, frowning for a moment before his eyes opened.
Nigel didn't say anything when he saw John above him. The torture of the Cabal could not begin to instil the fear that a motionless shadow of this man could. There was no point lying. Nigel intended to tell the others the truth and John knew it – Nigel had the dignity not to plead for his life with lies.
"You are a monster..." Nigel whispered, sitting up in bed. It was freezing in the room with the window forced open from the outside. A few lonely flecks of snow drifted in, melting on the curtains. "What we did was ground breaking – a miracle and you've turned it into this; into murder and gore."
The knife continued to spin in his fingers, another drop of blood tumbling onto the sheets.
"Can't you hear it?" John hissed, his voice barely a whisper. "I can. Your blood is rushing through your veins, begging to be free. I can smell it on the air and feel it..." he burned for it, an intense hunger of the vampires, but with no way to sate it.
Nigel was shaking his head.
"You need help, John. We did this to ourselves, let us -"
The sharp edge of the blade found Nigel's throat, pressed there not quite hard enough to draw blood.
"You wish to change me? How noble of the boy whose father desires to dissect all the abnormals of this world and cage us up. Tell me, did you hear the screams coming from the building they held you in, hmm? I did. This world is darkness and light, each has its part to play. Yours, I am afraid, is to be silent."
"Am I interrupting?" Sherlock's wiry figure hovered in the doorway. He'd been checking on Nigel every few hours. When he was this high on liquor and weed it was tricky to tell which bits of reality were constructions of his imagination. It was perfectly possible that Druitt holding a knife to Griffin's throat was a fleeting fantasy.
But wait... Sherlock knew that knife – the slender curve of knife suitable for deep, clean cuts. Druitt's height was just suitable to make the necessary first cut through the throat and his overall appearance more than passingly resembled witness statements.
"How very, very curious..." the detective whispered, taking another step into the room. What an interesting group of friends Dr Watson kept. A vampire, a lady with no appreciation of her station in life, the invisible son of a less than friendly organisation and a serial killer. Quite the collection. "Mr Druitt, is it? Or do you prefer to go by Jack..."
Sherlock offered his hand, as if to introduce himself.
"You received my letters then, I trust..." John drawled, applying more pressure to the knife. It cut through a few of the delicate layers of skin leaving a thin red line on Nigel's neck.
"They did not contain the finesse of a lawyer's hand but they stated their case plain enough," Sherlock withdrew his hand when John refused to shake. "You do not fit Scotland Yard's profile, other than a passing physical resemblance of course, I -"
John stopped him there. "Detective, you can stay and watch or go for help but whichever you choose, please, a little bit of hush whilst I work."
"Actually, I'd rather you left Mr Griffin's throat intact, if it's not too much trouble," Sherlock ventured another step into the room. "I have known the man long enough to gather he's no whore – nor is he female. You may not have a profile but your victims certainly do which means this isn't for pleasure – it's a crime of necessity, and I must say it does not suit you nearly as well. There's no prestige in survival."
"You'll 'ave to kill us both," Nigel glared, taking hold of John's arm, pressing the knife more firmly to his own throat. "Make sure you don' miss – because if you do, I'll find you an' put an end to you. You are nothin' but a failed experiment, a lab rat twisted an' deformed into a sad creature waitin' to be put out of its misery."
Oh Nigel remembered how John had turned pale at the blood in Oxford, so long ago. His speech on humanity and the dignity of life had been moving enough to sway Helen. Where was that John now?
James clipped the doorway on his way in, leaning awkwardly against it in his inebriated state. He sobered quickly when he saw the three men. It only took a moment for him to hiss the words, "It was you..." with such bitter disgust that even John flinched.
John stepped back from Nigel with an almost theatrical air as he wiped the fine layer of blood off the knife and onto his coat.
"I'm disappointed, James..." John hissed quietly, backing toward the window and the cold night air. "I had hoped you would make the connection with poor little Mary. Sweet girl – dreadful whore. I just don't think her heart was in it..."
James lunched forward, half stumbling in deep, passionate anger.
John was too fast, taking a low bow in front of his audience before falling backwards out the window without a sound. When they made it to the sill, there was no sign of The Ripper on the frozen pavement below.