40

RUFFLE OF FEATHERS

"I beg you, Helen, come away from the window."

Helen ignored him. Her stomach pressed against the sill as she leaned out into the night. The moon was up, a lopsided arc of light knocked onto its back, slowly setting toward the horizon. It would be gone in a few hours, leaving the night cold and dark.

Nigel was well enough to stand. There was a faint hue of colour in his sunken cheeks and warmth in his skin after several hours spent by the fire with Sherlock. He was not the man he had been back at Oxford. That boy was gone. Nigel had lost all his extra weight – and then some. It made his features eerily similar to that of his father's – harsh and squarish.

"Please, at leas' keep this over your shoulders," Nigel cautiously draping a woollen blanket around her.

It scratched at her bare shoulders but Helen relented, clutching it tight.

"I should be out there," she said hollowly.

Nigel had never seen her look this lost. Only a few hours ago, they had woken her up with the truth about John. He would never forget how innocent she had looked, draped over Tesla, sound sleep. They were not lovers, no – his friends were more complicated than that.

"Helen, this isn't your-"

"Please don't do that," she interrupted, shifting away from him. It was her fault. John had warned her about the dangers of rushing into the unknown, that knowledge had a dark side. She had dragged him into this experiment with a few soft smiles and lingering looks and she knew it. What he had become... every time she tried to think about it, she felt ill.

"Leave me be," Helen begged.


Nikola was still standing in front of the door when it opened again. He was so surprised that he nearly fell through the doorway, stumbling awkwardly.

The shy girl stepped back, silently inviting him into the house. He tried to plead with her again but she simply closed the door and retreated to the safety of the bedroom and into John's arms.

"Ah... Nikola. I thought as much..." John drawled, brazenly kissing the woman in is arms.

Nikola watched.

He had never shared even a whisper of such intimacy. The way their lips moulded together and tongues brushed, it made his mind wander to – but he was interrupted by the sound of metal sliding against leather.

John pulled a knife free of his belt and pressed it to the woman's exposed cream neck. She startled, trying to struggle but John's arm wrapped hard around her chest like a cage, holding her still.

"John – don't do this..." Nikola whispered, instantly lifting his hands in surrender.

John seemed intoxicated by the scent of fear slipping onto the air. Nikola could smell it too – but it turned his stomach.

"Isn't this why you're here, Nikola?" John asked casually, pressing the knife harder against the woman's neck. Nikola could hear the young woman's pulse quicken – feel the heavy thudding crawl through his soul. "This is part of us all, now. I know that you want to feel it – the rush as their blood spills..." he drawled his words as he let the knife graze hard enough to produce a line of blood.

The woman whimpered in sharp pain, her gaze locked with Nikola's, pleading silently.

John chuckled cruelly, placing a soft kiss just above the blood on her neck. "This is all very familiar..." he whispered. "If memory serves – your sister made the exact same sound as I slowly slit her throat..."

Nikola went pale. It was a lie. It had to be a lie.

"Did you not wonder how Helen made it back here in such excellent time?" John threw the girl at the wall. She collapsed in a pile, unconscious with a cloud of lead dust from the old wall settling over her.

Nikola smelled it first, the air tainted with ozone before it was ripped apart in a violent swirl of purple light. John vanished for a moment, reappearing in the same display inches from him. Nikola stumbled back in a mixture of surprise and fear. The laws of the universe had shattered and now he was left looking straight into the eyes of the man who took pleasure in slaughtering innocent women. Had his sister been amongst them?

"So this is your gift, John..." Nikola realised, the air still rippling like the desert horizon before dawn.

"More useful than claws, I'll think you'll find," John replied, the knife held tight as if it were merely an extension of his hand. "Touching..." John tilted his head at Nikola, "the vampire has tears."

Nikola's eyes went black, instinctively hiding the emotion. "I swear, John – if you've touched her..."

"She tasted wonderful..." John hissed, leaning up against Nikola's ear, his breath hot and sticky. "You should have heard the way she moaned – so beautiful and fragile, as I enjoyed her again and again..."

Nikola swung at John, his fist slamming hard into the side of John's head, setting him off balance before the vampire unsheathed his claws and released an inhumane growl onto the air.


Helen was startled by a bundle of white feathers flapping frantically onto her window sill.

"Gracious!" she gasped, at the beautiful, snow white pigeon. "What are you doing here?"

It was Nikola's pigeon, there was no mistaking the delicately speckled bird. The creature hopped about restlessly, pecking at the sill and cooing noisily. It had flown all the way from London through the freezing wind and still had flakes of ice between its feathers which it scattered over the wood.

She tried to stop it but the bird flew into the room, settling on the ground by the fire, trying to warm up.

"He's not here..." Helen whispered at the bird, for all the good it would do.

She fed it the last of the bread crusts from her plate and tried to usher it back to the window but the bird wouldn't go. Instead, it hopped up onto Helen's arm and started nipping at her, insistently flapping as if it wanted to say something. The poor thing was distressed.

Nigel rushed into the Helen's room, drawn there by the commotion.

"What in...?" he gasped, seeing the white bird flap around Helen's head. "Isn't that Nikola's bird?"

Helen tried to shoo it away but the pigeon was hysterical.

"Yes – but something is wrong with her."

Nigel, having grown up on a rural property with lots of various birds reached forward and, after several attempts, caught the pigeon. It wiggled and tried to peck at him.

"I've never seen a pigeon act like this."


Gregory waited for the signal, hanging back against the damp cave wall like a deformed outcrop of limestone, trickled there through the millennia. There were fossils in the walls, tiny impressions of shells and fish smooth beneath his fingertips. Some of them were terrifying – a matrix of teeth and bones while others left only the faintest indents in the rock that he could slide his fingers into.

Ranna was several yards ahead of him, creeping about in the pitch as good as any vampire. The lights to these corridors had been turned off several weeks ago when the roof began to cave in. Even now it was creaking overhead like an old galleon at see, sighing between the waves.

There was sand everywhere... These were the remnants of ancient beach caves, long ago thrust up into the sky and then slammed back down under the earth. It seemed to be moving beneath his feet, sometimes swirling about in idle currents of air. It was restless...

"Ranna..." Gregory breathed fearfully, but there was no reply from her. Everything about this was a terrible idea. The Praxians had tried to catch sand creatures for hundreds of years but they were more elusive than their vampire counterparts.

He thought he heard something, a scratch against the wall – a few splinters of rock tumbling to the ground. Gregory turned the top on the device she had given him and light immediately shone out surrounding him in a soft glow.

Silence.

Gregory was alone in the cavern with nothing but a smear of blood where Ranna had been.


"The night is quiet, old boy..." Sherlock announced his presence, taking the steps down to the old bridge two at a time.

James was by the water, the sinking moon casting a soft glow over the Thames. There were boats everywhere, fishing and ferrying things from shore to shore. He could see their lanterns bobbing up and down.

"He will kill again tonight," James whispered, gazing out over the water. "I sat with him, Holmes, night after night discussing the Ripper case and he let me." He fell silent, his eyes never leaving the reflection of the moon on the water.

Sherlock had made the same mistake – a rarity for him. There was something elusive about Druitt's personality. He was like the wind, never settling but always there – a calm breeze one moment and a deadly storm the next.

"He is not an easy man to read, Watson..." Sherlock replied quietly, in a softer tone than normal.

James shook his head. "I should have known. Innocent lives have been lost because I couldn't see what was right in front of me. That is unacceptable." Slowly, he turned to Sherlock. For the first time, his soft brown eyes were fierce. "It will not happen again."


Nikola hit him hard because it felt good.

John landed on the ground beside the bed. Nikola had slipped a few good swipes in now leaving claw marks visible in the thick, black leather of John's trench coat. John inspected his arm. The sight of his own blood spilling onto the floor made him smile. He held Nikola gaze and then – and then he was gone again.

Nikola swore in Serbian at the empty floor. This was impossible. How did you contain someone that could vanish into thin air? He remembered reading that now – how the greatest detective minds could not unravel the Ripper's secret – one minute he was there, the next...

"Argh!" Nikola suddenly arched backwards in pain. His claws flexed. Weakly, his hand lifted to his chest where he felt the sharp tip of a knife sticking out of his suit. John was behind him with his knife thrust as deep into Nikola's back as he could push it. "John..." Nikola whispered, his body trembling at the injury.

The woman on the floor stirred again, her eyes opening.

"Do not look so worried, Nikola..." John murmured, twisting the knife. Nikola writhed sharply. "We're just getting started."

John ripped the knife out and hit Nikola over the back of the head with the blunt end of it. Nikola fell to his knees, his world empty except for the comforting darkness.


Gregory turned around but was met with darkness on all sides. The ground rumbled again, threatening.

"Ranna..." he whispered, reaching out to touch the wet smear of blood. It was human.

He kept his light on this time. There was something down here all right, something hiding. More sand – sliding down the walls and into small pyramids. Gregory pressed deeper, ducking under the half-collapsed tunnel until he found another stain of blood on the underside of the rock.


Nikola was only vaguely aware of the struggle beside him. He could hear the rustle of material and a woman's muffled cries as John raped her. The woman was scratching at the floorboards leaving white lines from her nails in the wood – a sad stain of desperation.

He finished and she went still, hoping rather than believing that the worst was over. John vanished in a flash of light leaving them alone in the locked room.

Nikola's eyes were still closed as he tried to move but his wrists and ankles were held by a set of slender chains keeping him splayed out like one of the creatures in James's lab. Silver, of course, something that he could not break free of.

"Sir – sir, please wake up..."

The woman reached out with a trembling hand to the monster beside her. He had claws and terrifying black eyes that reminded her of the demons in the church windows but he was not evil. Her fingertips brushed over his claws making Nikola's eyes snap open.

His head rolled to the side, dark eyes taking in the young woman. She was shaking, her dress ripped open at the front allowing her breasts to hang free. He could easily make out their soft curves in the failing moonlight. Most importantly, she wasn't restrained.

"Madam..." Nikola whispered, the knife wound in his chest still healing, "you must leave. He will return for us."

She rolled over and scrambled awkwardly to her knees.

"Not without you, sir," she replied, crawling over to him. "Whatever you are..." Her eyes could not help lingering on his long, sharp claws. "You came to save me."

Nikola retracted them, letting his body fall back into his human form. Of course... He was so used to being with The Five that he had forgotten that most would see the monster he had become, not the man that had experimented with history.

"He – he will kill you," Nikola murmured, his voice strained as he tried to tug against his restraints. He could feel her soft hands flitting over his wrists, trying to pry the silver chains off his skin. "Please – please..." Nikola kept whispering.

"Tell me your name, sir," the woman said, trying to distract him. There was a thick puddle of blood beneath him but from what she could see, he had nearly healed. There were many things that she did not understand in this world. It was the age of industry – the rebirth of science. She couldn't read but every weekend she went to the park to listen to the students recite works of literature. Frankenstein was nearly a century old – perhaps life was beginning to imitate art...

"Nikola..." he replied.

"You have an accent – are you visiting us here in London?"

"Sort of... I have friends here."

"Friends like you?" her eyes seemed sharper in the moonlight, stained with tears. "John, he is one of your friends..." she realised.

Nikola shook his head slowly. John had never really been his friend, colleague, perhaps. "We were all scientists," he said, feeling a little stronger as the chains around his wrists were loosened. "One of our experiments changed us, in ways we couldn't predict."

The woman brushed her fingers over his cheek. "Claws?" she said simply, and he nodded.

"We've only just realised what became of John. Miss -"

"Lizzie..." she whispered, as one of the chains unravelled, freeing Nikola's hand. "Is it true, what John said about your sister?"

Nikola turned onto his side to face her. "I hope not..." He sat up a little, taking hold of her hand with his free hand. "You cannot free me in time," he said softly, "but you can run for help. Lizzie, I need you to find my friends."