Sorry for the absence guys, work has been total chaos of late. I'll try nip out a few chapters in quick succession on both this and Sanctuary of the Moon. Thank you all for reading - and for sticking with me. MUCH LOVE, ellymelly
"He will never agree to it..."
After days laid out on Sherlock's dining room, they had decided to transport Nikola back to Oxford. Shelock accompanied them, helping to lift the unconscious scientist onto the large bench in Helen's basement. Its surface was stained with lumps of melted wax from candles left to burn through the night. Empty cages were scattered everywhere with their wire fronts half-open and rats long dead. Memories lingered with the stale air as Helen's eyes wandered over her house.
It was broken.
Nikola had done a few repairs and tidied up last time he was here but it still bared the scars of several Cabal raids. There was something else though – it felt lonely. Her father's things filled the walls; medical equipment hung from hooks, bottles of chemicals huddled in dark corners, boxes that Helen had never found the nerve to open and piles of diaries threatening to tumble sideways. There were crates of fossils and half-sketched notes on them laying open on the small desk at the end of the room. It was all covered in a thick layer of dust, untouched.
They had already checked – the samples of Source Blood were still safely tucked away upstairs.
"Helen, he's getting paler," James whispered, his hand pressed to Nikola's head.
The unconscious vampire was covered in cold sweat. Some of his wounds had healed, most were at best angry red lines of scar tissue freshly grown. It was the muscle twitches that distressed Helen the most, tiny sporadic movements all over his body like a dying fish.
Vampires were supposed to heal instantly but Nikola was a new vampire. He needed blood. It was all well and good to take a moral stand against it when he was healthy but without human blood, Nikola wasn't going to make it.
"He'll die lightly," Nigel whispered, after checking the fading pulse.
"Hold this," James handed a small towel to Helen as he pushed up Nikola's shirt again to check the bandages that held his torso closed. He was bleeding through them. "Better... but nowhere near fast enough. He'll bleed out before he recovers. Helen..." he insisted again.
It was Helen that had refused to let anyone feed Nikola blood. She knew the struggle he had endured, how vehemently he'd resisted his vampire nature. Now? She'd rather go against his wishes than risk losing him. He could be bitter and pout about it later.
"It can't be me," she whispered, when they all looked to her. "There's – something about my blood. It's toxic to him."
The three men frowned but Helen offered no explanation.
"It better be me, then..." James said finally. Nigel was too weak and Sherlock was a stranger. Helen begrudgingly agreed.
"We have to wake him," she whispered, motioning for the others to lock the doors.
A freshly fed vampire would be dangerous, even Nikola.
The sand creature crouched down low, weakly lit by the torch that Gregory held. It was snarling, scratching at the sand on the ground and looking up at him with enormous golden eyes. As it moved, parts of its skin became indistinguishable from the rock – the rest of it was a deep, blood red. If it straightened up, it would look almost human, a sickly scarlet skeleton.
Without warning, it dug its claws into the sand and leapt at him. Gregory swung the torch sharply, hitting the creature on the side of the head as it tried to claw at his body. They both hit the wall in a cloud of dust – the creature's claws sheering off some loose rock before it fell, dazed to the ground.
Gregory grasped his arm where a deep gash started bleeding into his shirt. He could not make his way back through the cramped, half collapsed tunnels before the creature recovered.
The electric torch flickered unhappily. Its screen was cracked and the casing badly dented. Even in the uneven light, he could make out the sand creature coming for him again – pawing its way over the rubble with renewed determination. It was here to kill and feed. Gregory scrambled around for a rock. The first one he touched was about the size of his fist. He threw at the sand creature as it reached out to claw his face.
There was a crack as the rock fractured the creature's wrist. It howled, cowering back into a corner, near invisible.
Gregory panted hard, backed up against a bolder. He was dripping blood onto the sand as he watched, waiting for the creature to have another go at him but it didn't.
Light spilled from the far corner as another torch clicked on.
"Ranna?" he whispered, turning to see her resting against the wall.
The creature looked warily between the two humans but settled on Gregory.
"It's injured," Ranna replied quietly, trying to sit up properly. "Had a few goes at it myself."
"I think I should injure it more..." Gregory murmured, his breathing heavy. She protested, they needed it alive.
Catching it proved a challenge. Limping, they flanked it with a fine net strung between them. It was hand woven, made from refined spider silk and invisible in the dust-strewn cave.
"Careful – hold it tight..." Ranna coughed through the dust the creature was kicking up as it struggled. The sand creature cried and pawed at the ground, snarling and snapping at the net. "We used to use these all the time in the early years..." she said, as they wrapped the net around the creature, locking it inside. Tangled, it fell to the floor squirming.
In a final defence, the creature camouflaged itself leaving them with an oddly shaped, empty but mysteriously bleeding net.
"How in heaven's name do you catch a full vampire?" Gregory dusted himself down.
"You don't..." she answered darkly, collapsing back to the ground to catch her breath.
Nikola's head fell to the side. The first thing he saw was a lock of golden hair blurred across his vision. Then he felt it brush his face, tickling his cheek. He murmured something – a name but it wasn't Helen's.
"No..." Helen replied softly, one hand lightly resting on Nikola's chest. "She's not here."
Nikola blinked slowly. His eyes flickered between black and blue, unable to settle on a form.
"I'm dying," he breathed. Nikola could feel it. That bastard had killed him.
Helen simply cupped his cheek, turning Nikola's head slightly so that he was looking at her. "I won't let you," she insisted, with that determined smile he loved so much. Nikola simply paled, remembering the other girl's eyes. He had watched all the life fade from them. "Nikola, stay with us," Helen propped him back up as he lulled worryingly to the side.
James was there too, hovering in front. His shirt was rolled up on one arm displaying a bandage. He held a wine glass filled too high to be wine. The liquid was eerily still and thick. Nikola could smell it from across the room.
With Helen's help, Nikola managed to sit up. He rested back against her soft form. Her navy dress was like a dark waterfall behind his head. It was strange that his first thought was of the silk in her dress and how it reminded him of the day they'd first met. Everything seemed to remind him of that moment lately. Even dazed, he didn't miss the click as the basement door was locked from the outside.
"Helen – no," he protested, when he saw James lingering with the glass in his hand. The man looked paler for the sacrifice.
"Your high principles by damned, Nikola," she whispered back, just as fiercely. "Tonight you have to accept that you are a vampire."
The glass looked almost black. Nikola tensed, holding the arm Helen had around his chest.
"What if I turn?" he watched James slowly approach. "What if I kill you all? What if I can't stop?" What if he ended up like Druitt, calmly tearing into another human's flesh apart...
"What if you don't?" Helen countered. Her voice was full of that air of cold reason as if they were discussing mathematics. Nikola was starting to shake but Helen wouldn't take 'no' for an answer.
"Nikola," James held out the glass. "I'd take the lady's advice – or we go with my plan."
"Your plan?" his eyebrows lifted somewhere between a frown and a pout.
"I assure you, it will be far less dignified."
Nikola could see that James was deadly serious. Reluctantly, he reached out to take the slender stem of the glass between his fingertips. That smell again... He could only describe it as deep.
"If I turn into Druitt," Nikola whispered, holding the glass to the candlelight. Even dying he held onto his graceful habits. "Kill me."
The brown rims of James's eyes turned almost black. John had betrayed him – not just his trust but his intelligence. He'd been played for a fool by that man and it killed him inside. "I'll do it myself, Nikola."
Nikola brought the glass back in range of his lips. He breathed in that scent again first. He was terrified – utterly terrified that he would like it.
"To fallen empires and beautiful mysteries," he toasted, touching his lips to the rim as his eyes lingered on Helen – the most beautiful mystery of them all.
They hauled the sand creature up onto the granite slab in Ranna's lab. It fought, twisting inside the net. Ranna injected the 'empty' space with a powerful sedative, forced to guess at the creature's position. It had been mostly invisible the whole way back.
Seconds later, the net stilled and its camouflage failed.
It many ways it was beautiful. Sand creatures may have started as people but their pure red skin, golden eyes and lean, muscular bodies made them look like the peacocks of humanity.
Gregory was still catching his breath while wrapping his arm up. It was a superficial wound that hurt like hell. He grimaced at the final tug and then joined Ranna at the bench. She looked as if she could use a doctor as well.
"Magnificent..." she whispered, peeling back the spider web net. The creature was in a deep sleep. Its mouth hung ajar displaying two sharp sets of teeth, just like vampire fangs only shorter. Delicately, she tugged at the small amount of human clothing left on the creature. On one of the shreds of fabric bore a few words in a language Gregory couldn't read. "He was one of our politicians," Ranna said softly. "I dare say this is an improvement."
"Do you believe that he could be human again?" Gregory tilted his head. He had definitely managed to snap its wrist...
She frowned, her fingers brushing over the creature's temple. "I had hoped that it would be possible but – well, look at him."
Ranna had a point. The creature was barely alive. It had been starving for decades, living off whatever small creatures crawled about the caves with it. Surely none of his humanity could have survived?
"I do not know what you expect me to do for him – as I said, I have no sample of vampire blood with me. Even if you returned me to the surface, the closest I could get would be a gentlemen – a Dr Tesla, but even he is only a shadow of a vampire." And Gregory truly understood that now, as he gazed upon the terrifying faces of the ancient ones.
"You have real samples left though... Ones that you have hidden. I can help you hide the rest where no-one will find them, not even those people you love and trust." she whispered, her eyes dark. "If you bring one of your samples back to me, I shall share some of history's secret places."
"Surely your council wouldn't like that..."
Ranna's lips curled in a smirk. "No – no they wouldn't."
The first sip was sprayed over James.
"Nice..." James growled, as the vampire gagged on the blood, turning its head away in revulsion.
"That's horrid!" Nikola coughed, trying desperately not to be ill.
"Try again," Helen insisted gently. "You just need to get used to it."
He didn't want to get used to it. Nikola didn't want to do this at all.
The second time the glass came to his lips, Nikola took things more slowly. His tongue darted out first, taking a little of the blood back into his mouth. He was training himself not to reject it but he felt light headed – both hot and cold.
"Nikola," Helen finally said, when it became clear Nikola wasn't taking it. "Why don't you change?"
He tensed. The glass in his hand shook enough to make the meniscus of the blood shiver.
"James..." Helen whispered, catching his attention before nodding at the door, hinting for him to leave. He merely folded his arms and stood firm.
Nikola concentrated on his breathing, slowing it down until his heart rate steadied. He felt his skin cool, the room grow bright and his claws grow until he heard them clink against the glass. He was a vampire.
Frighteningly, as he lifted the glass back to his fang-edged lips, he didn't pull away. The smell was interesting rather than repulsive and even gently coaxed him to sip it.
James Watson watched in revulsion as Nikola began to drink the glass of blood. Helen kept a hold of Nikola's waist, whispering to him and delicately stroking his hair. By the time Nikola set the empty glass down, his wounds had stopped bleeding.
"Another," Nikola whispered, feeling stronger already.
James rolled up his sleeve and filled another glass.