A CRYPT FOR THE DAMNED
It would remain the greatest unsolved mystery in the United Kingdom; a string of violent killings, all of them women, all of them disturbingly thorough. He was a killer that played with his prey, calmly dissecting each body, rearranging their pieces in sick works of art before leaving nothing but a scattering of letters in his wake to torment the investigating officers. He is the one that got away.
It is a lie.
The steel door bolted shut against the freezing stone. Half a dozen guards settled back into their positions against the wall of the cell with no idea who they were guarding. No one knew. The prisoner had been transported here during the night, heavily sedated. Rumours abounded that the Chief Constable was inside with a gifted physician and that the door had not been opened for hours.
"Why are we trusting them, sir?" a tall, thin, middle-aged man lingered over Jack the Ripper's body inside the cell. There were no windows. Instead, wall after wall of stone and steal encroached from every side. A solitary gas light hung from the ceiling casting weak shadows over the three men beneath.
The Chief Constable, Adolphus Frederick Williamson, leaned low over the prisoner, who had been strapped down to the bed with thick lashings of leather. Adolphus was a quiet man with eyes that could tear pieces off the souls of criminals. He had a way of looking at you, or more correctly, through you. As he turned his head to the surgeon, Adolphus's greying beard scratched over his collar. Whatever the surgeon had been going to say died on his lips.
"Holmes is an arrogant and meddlesome bastard," Adolphus replied sharply. His voice was deep but soft, more of a whisper than a voice. "Alas, he has an infuriating habit of being right."
"We keep him asleep then, sedated... For how long, sir?" The doctor thought it was a foolish idea, surely they'd want The Ripper awake to answer questions? Hell – London and the Crown wanted him dead – as publicly as possible to set peace among the streets.
"Until Holmes returns to London. He found The Ripper – it is his privilege to first question."
That was not the reason. Sherlock had warned the Chief Constable that there were things afoot to make the superstitious cower. Not magic but science, experiments gone wrong. Adolphus was no fool. When someone told him to hold, by gods, man, he held.
James was deathly pale. He was framed by Gregory's wall of sinister medical equipment were he sat, breathing slowly in the leather chair. He'd given a lot of blood now – four wine glasses full and some of it was still smeared over his clothes.
Nikola was sitting on the bench, doing up his shirt with trembling hands. His eyes were black, peering through the semi-darkness at everything but James and Helen. Looking at them reminded him of how human they were and how he had become something else... Something older.
Nikola refused to come any closer, hugging the edge of the room. The blood had made him strong – too strong to be held in a basement with weak doors and feeble locks. With it came re-newed his rage at John. His memories were so clear that they made him turn for a moment, laying against the wall to steady himself.
"Where is he?" Nikola growled, his voice inhuman, belonging to some creature of the underworld.
"London," James replied, tying off the bandages on his arm. He felt fragile and ill, but it was no injury at all compared to the state they had found Nikola in. Vampires truly were nature's survivors. The days must have been bloody when humanity wiped them out.
"It is all right, Nikola – we know – what John is -"
Nikola managed a soft, cold laugh, his claws resting against the flaking paintwork. He turned back to her, slowly...
"My dearest Helen, I do not know what Whitechapel has become." Nikola's new pet name for John. "I saw him – "
"You don't have to-" James interrupted, not wanting Helen to hear an account of the bloodshed. Nikola continued anyway. This was important.
"He can tear holes in the universe..." Nikola whispered, looking ever so slightly mad. John had broken something inside of him, forever tainted the way he would see the world. "He slips through them – into London and out onto Oxford's streets. No walls can hold him – no guards."
Nikola was using his hands expressively, letting them roll through the air, accentuating his already aloof manner.
"Nikola..." James said quietly, attempting to approach but Nikola was especially careful not to let him stray close – not with the taste of his blood still on his lips.
"John is being held at Scotland Yard," Helen added softly. She was keeping her distance too, not because she was afraid of him, she was afraid of herself. "Sedated... Sherlock is insisting no one speak to him until – Nikola – what are you doing?"
Nikola had begun pacing, his claws scratching the walls now. "I need to catch a train," he muttered, his mind caught between a thousand things. The blood both confused and clarified his mind. He looked unstable, fluctuating on the edge of pure madness – or genius.
"It's the middle of the night, man," James protested with a worried look at Helen.
Nikola stopped, levelling his gaze at them.
"Kill Whitechapel," he whispered. "You have nothing to learn from him, nothing to save."
He stalked past them both, shrugging their hands off when they reached for him. "I have to catch a train," he repeated.
A moment later, he was gone, strutting by Sherlock who stepped aside and through into Oxford's moonlit streets.
"He seems to be feeling better..." Sherlock said, lounging in one of Helen's chairs that were scattered in the dining room.
Helen and James had just emerged from the basement looking worried.
Jack the Ripper stirred. His fingers flexed and the muscles in his face twitched around the dark scar running across half his face.
The doctor opened his bag and laid glass vials out along the stone floor. With quick, precise movements, he prepared another batch of sedative and injected it.
The Chief Inspector looked up from the other side of the room, watching the murderer's body go still again.
Helen washed the blood off her hands and returned to the dining room where the three gentlemen were discussing something in hushed tones. They stopped when they saw her approach, leaning back and turning to her with polite nods of their heads, guilt in their eyes.
"James – Mr Holmes..." Helen nodded back at both of them. "I am afraid you will have to return to London and do as Nikola says. If he is scared, then we should all be. I will remain here with Nigel until Nikola surfaces."
There was an awkward silence as they calmly discussed murdering one of The Five, one of their own. As for Nikola, they had their doubts that he would ever return.
"Helen – are you certain that you -" James was silenced by her head shaking slowly.
Helen was not unmoved. She remembered John's soft touches. It had been his words of reason that had drawn a bit of humanity back into her wild heart. She had destroyed him. She had destroyed them all, in a way. Of course she wasn't sure that she wanted to do this.
"No, I'm not sure, James. I'm not sure of anything any more. By gods, James – if John has done the things Nikola says – that you and Mr Holmes have seen, it is our responsibility to bring an end to the blood and the violence."
They agreed to go, Sherlock and Holmes forced to walk through the dark streets in search of a coach but there were none at this hour.
"Tell me, Watson," Sherlock said, as they pulled their coat collars up high against the cold, "are we truly planning on killing this creature without an interview?"
James cocked his head to the side, a dark grin on his lips.
"Not on my life, Holmes – not on my life. John and I have unfinished business."
"And I have questions. Questions before killing, I think..."
"As you wish it, Mr Holmes."
"And you, Dr Watson."
Nikola didn't purchase a ticket. The train had disembarked an hour ago so he followed, giving chase through the ploughed fields and gravel roads on foot. He could run – faster than the horses that used to carry humanity on their backs. Every part of him was designed for hunting and yet the only thing Nikola chose to hunt was the train screaming through the night.
He smelled it first, a fine layer of smoke pushed down by the cold air. Then he felt it, shaking the ground like a ringing bell. It was a heavy beast and Nikola caught it at the bridge where it slowed to navigate the turn into the mountains.
Nikola stumbled over the gravel, leapt to the railing and clawed his way on board. Then he straightened up, dusting himself down before opening the door of the last compartment and vanished on board.
The passengers were dressed warmly. He slipped between their fur trimmed coats, his insignificance rendering him invisible. This train was deep in the frozen mountains now – heading toward Nikola's home. He had to know the truth about his sister, one way or another. If John had so much as touched her, Nikola would show him a monster...
He fell into the bed of an empty compartment. A cold sweat covered his body making him grasp at his shirt, loosening the buttons so that he could breathe again.
James's blood felt warm inside his veins. Nikola swore at the offending sensation. He didn't want to live like this.
Helen reached up, brushing her fingers over the delicate rose buds hanging down from the dining room ceiling.
"Where did you come from?" she whispered, following the vines back to a few small cracks at the corner of the room. Nigel had pointed them out earlier before retiring to one of her guest bedrooms to rest. He wasn't strong enough to make the trip back to London yet and with nowhere to go she had agreed to let him stay.
Helen took one of the candles and ascended the stairs to the attic.
"Oh Nikola..." she whispered.
He had been making rose oil. The vines that her father had brought back from South America had flourished in the darkness and in he weeks that Nikola had occupied her house he'd acquired distilling equipment. Many of her father's vials had since been filled with the precious amber liquid. She held one of them up to the candlelight.
"You never stop fighting to be a gentleman... even when the world tells you it is impossible."
Nikola was a foreigner and despite his protests to the contrary, he craved acceptance. His accent he could be dropped but the creature inside him had to be tamed. Helen sat down amongst the forest of flowers and thorns and started filling more vials for her dear friend.
It took many hours before the Chief Constable and doctor succumbed to sleep. Adolphus was slumped forward in his chair, eyes closed and softly snoring. The doctor was standing, laid back against the wall in a precarious manner, somehow both asleep and standing.
John's eyes opened.
He had never been asleep.