RESERVOIR OF DREAMS
"Jesus Christ!" Gregory leapt back from the table, knocking over Ranna's equipment.
The vampire lashed to the table snarled. Its mouth gaped open displaying tapered fangs which glistened at the promise of Gregory's flesh. Heavy silver bands secured its wrists, neck and ankles but the creature could still writhe enough to make the table rattle uneasily.
"It's not going anywhere," Ranna placed a calming hand on Gregory's arm.
Around them the cave dripped as each tremor shook apart the rock. Very soon they'd be swallowed entirely by the earth and Gregory couldn't shake the feeling that he was already drowning.
"I've done this before," Ranna continued. "The clones do not live long, so I advise you to hurry if you want to ask your questions."
Gregory crept back toward the vampire. Its original body floated behind in one of the glass coffins. Like an eerie shadow, it stayed in the corner of Gregory's eyes.
"This copy won't be perfect," she warned him, "though it will possess fragments of memory. When we tried this process with humans, we created entirely new beings with no knowledge of their previous selves. As far as I can gather, this is a vampire phenomenon. They store their memories in their blood."
The vampire clawed at the table, glowering with sharp black eyes. Even as a shadow of its former self, it was terrifying.
"I thought we were going to test the virus..." Gregory's voice dropped to a hush. There was something in Ranna's manner that unsettled him, particularly in the way she loomed over the vampire. Her lip was curled as if enjoying its suffering.
"It would be a waste to kill it without first learning what we can."
John allowed Helen to sit back against the pillows but kept the sharp edge of the letter opener to her throat.
"It was not right, what we did. Everything was -" he glanced out the window at the moon peaking through a tiny gap in the fog. "Perfect."
"John, it does not have to be this way," Helen lifted her hand tentatively, resting it on his jacket where it folded over his thigh.
"Spare me the speech about morality and choice, Helen," John replied sharply, snapping his inhumane gaze back to her. "James delivered its arguments with more eloquence and still I remain unmoved. I'll never forget that night when I found the four of you in Watson's room, tearing into the flesh of that poor creature. Am I really so different now? Perhaps that is what you hate most..."
She trembled. John's eyes were nearly black like Nikola's but there was none of his warmth in them. Indeed, all Helen could see was her reflection in those glass-covered pits.
"You said that you came for help," she kept her speech steady. "I cannot do that with a knife to my throat."
He pressed the knife harder to her skin in response.
"And if I put this away, will you try to kill me like Dr Watson or Mr Tesla?" There was an unsteady silence between them. "You keep monsters in your basement and I wonder if that is where you will put me... Another piece for your collection – something for you to study?"
"It is what I am. The whole of Europe wants me dead, Watson and Tesla most of all."
The knife was withdrawn until its blade no longer touched her skin. Helen inched her hand up to his, laying it over the rough, damaged skin. It was stained by blood and littered with a thousand scars.
"Let me help you, John."
He was silent. John would be a fool to trust her but it was only a minor addition to his present foolishness – for he loved her. He could not stay away from her, torn by his twin desires to hurt and protect her. His love was a calamity of contradiction. John wanted her to feel the pain that he endured, watch her bleed like all the others onto the streets of London but an equal force demanded that he love her, passionately and forever.
The vampire was very uncooperative. It screamed for its slaves, yelled abuse at Ranna and Gregory – only a fraction of which they could understand and then turned its attentions on trying to escape its restraints.
"Enough of this," Gregory hissed in alarm, waving Ranna over. She took a swab of the vampire's fangs, catching a sticky drop of venom and placed it in a glass container. Considering the virus originated from some vampire bites, they might be able to study it in its raw form.
"Let's see what happens if this thing mixes with your blood..." Ranna muttered under her breath, as she took a vial of blood from the sand creature and injected it into the vampire. "Odds are, it will kill it."
And for a while it appeared to do exactly that. The vampire went into fits, lurching violently against the table as the toxin attacked its system. It frothed at the mouth and moaned in pain, barely able to breathe.
"This is how you kill a vampire..." Ranna whispered, fascinated. Her people had been trying to kill them for thousands of years with little luck. One touch of this and -
"Wait," Gregory, stepped closer as the vampire fell still. "No, that's not right..." he peered down, watching the vampire's eyes go from black to blue. Its claws retracted, sinking into broken human nails. "My god. It's human."
Ranna stared in disbelief at the shrivelled human on the table. In the same way that sand creatures looked like ravaged forms, this human looked like a sickly vampire stripped of all its strength. It was frightened too, confused by the warm blood flowing under its skin.
"Vampires didn't die out – they became us." Gregory shook his head, hand over his lips. "They've been laying dormant in our race ever since. They're in our blood."
"That's incredibly clever... Introduce a virus to the vampires – one that they can carry without killing them. When they prey on humans, as they inevitably do, it turns the victims into bastard creatures, one bite or scratch from them and you've lost another vampire. It uses their very survival against them."
"And pure vampire blood injected into a human can insight these abnormal remnants to surface – albeit unpredictably."
They both stared at the human.
"We should bury this..." Gregory reached for the vial of vampire venom. Ranna's hand gripped onto his sleeve, stopping him.
"Not while there's a vampire alive in this world."
Old as it was, this human city was built on the ruins of an ancient one. Every now and then, a building peaked out from the surrounds with weathered stone that matched the cavern. Instead of polished brickwork, these oddities bore scared facades and shadows of ancient gods chiselled into their towering columns which twisted together like snakes.
There were mysterious sphere sculptures littered through the city, each weighing several tonnes. They looked like planets, fallen from the sky, scattered among the skeletal remains of a grand temple which thrust out of the park.
It was Vampire in origin.
Nikola lingered by one of these ancient buildings, hunting into a narrow alley that separated it from the others. He could see the centuries written into the crumbling walls along with the remnants of a great battle. He looked more carefully. Each of these old buildings was stained black at the edges from a fire that had burned for days, suffocating the cave. It must have looked like a pit of lava with ten thousand screaming souls.
Nikola understood; the vampires that built this city were besieged and the invaders were still living amongst its carcass. It made Nikola uneasy, picking up his pace as he returned to the streets. The language spoken around him was familiar but too bastardised by isolation to be learned yet.
He stopped along with everyone else when the ground shook again. The earth gave a deep growl, tearing loose outcrops of rock which tumbled down the walls of the cave with resounding booms until they crashed through buildings along the city outskirts.
Without warning, Nikola was swept up in a sea of people racing through the narrow streets.
The crowd threw Nikola sharply against one of the marble pillars when they spilled into the grand hall. The world was shaking from after-tremors, making even the most substantial building ripple like a desert mirage. Instructions bellowed from the walls, directing people to shuttles and tunnels and insisting that they stay calm.
Nikola collapsed to the ground, leaning back against a vast marble freeze. Its details caught his eye and made a fresh wave of fear crawl under his skin. Vampires, hundreds of them lay maimed amongst a sea of swords and arrows. Nearly all had their heads severed except for the unlucky few tied to pyres.
Slowly, his head tilted upwards to take in the scale of the scene. Standing atop the battlefield was a warrior bearing an enormous, glittering shield. Finally, something that he could read, 'Victory to us, Cabal'.
Nikola swore, staggering back to his feet. He pressed his body against the wall, trying to hide. The hundreds of people crushed against him were Cabal – all of them.
He fought against the crowd, ducking out of the building and escaping into one of the parks. He couldn't stay here. Even with the chaos of the city collapsing, if they found out that he was a vampire, Nikola would end up on one of those pyres.
Nikola's feet went from underneath him as another, more powerful quake struck. This time he couldn't even hear the screams as the building he'd just been in swayed dangerously. The keystone over the main arch popped free like a champagne cork, flying out into the street where it tore through several people, dismembering them.
One by one the immense stones slipped free and crashed onto the road, bringing the entire building down in a billowing roar of marble dust that blanketed the heart of the city. Nikola slammed his eyes shut and hid beneath his cloak as it choked the air around him. Then came the spray of glass from the windows, raining down until an eerie, white silence remained.
The city was dying. He had to find Gregory – fast.
"That's it... He's gone," Ranna pulled a sheet over the ex-vampire as it went still. "We have to take this knowledge to Praxis. It could change everything – finally free us from the darkness."
Yes, they had their cities but they could never be free while ever the last of the vampires and their bastard sand creatures skulked about in the shadows.
"Praxis?" Gregory asked, growing increasingly worried by the earthquakes rolling through the caves.
"Oh, you should see it, Dr Magnus," she whispered reverently. "Her spires reach ten times as high and gleam with silver. There are fresh waters pools that you could lose whole buildings in."
Gregory held her as the ground shook violently. A great boom thundered through the caves as something crashed down in the city. They fell to the ground, seeking shelter under the bench. The wall of her lab split apart, tearing the rock. Freezing water sprayed out, quickly soaking through their clothes before they could react.
The dead vampire was forced off the table and landed on the floor with a sickening thud. Gregory stared at its pale eyes for a moment before another fierce jet of water hit them.
"We have to leave," Gregory tugged Ranna from under the table. The water was around their ankles, rushing passed them and out into the tunnels where it thrust over the edge sharp edges of rock and down into the city, filling it like some ancient reservoir.
"Wait," Ranna rescued various items from her lab, piling them into a leather satchel. Among them was the vial of vampire venom and another sample of blood from the Sand Creature. It was still alive – heavily sedated and now covered in freezing water.
Behind, one of the glass tanks shattered, spewing forth brown, festering preserve and the rubbery carcass of its dead vampire.
"Now!" Gregory insisted, grasping her arm and hauling her out of the lab. They were hit at once with a strong current of water, nearly at their knees. Water was pouring through a thousands cracks in the tunnels. "We've got to head up – against the water."
And so they did, using the wall to drag themselves against the water.
In the city, Nikola looked up at the cliffs encircling him. He could hear the roar of water making its way towards him like an approaching storm hidden by the horizon's curve. Slowly, Nikola turned, taking in the full view of his demise.
Instantly, he frowned. There was something wrong with this place, something that had been bothering him since he set foot in the city. The mysterious sphere sculptures, the perfectly circular cut of the chasm – the sparse cluster of ancient buildings. This wasn't a Vampire city – it was a machine.
He turned again and counted the tunnels, each spaced at regular intervals both up and along the walls to allow for rapid filling and draining. Nikola remembered the reservoir above and assumed that this must be its main chamber. The Cabal probably sealed it off and built in the safety of this artificial cave...
Nikola sprinted up to one of the giant spheres, tracking around it. It wasn't free standing. Each one sat on concrete blocks which – he dug away at the dirt – contained tablets of instructions. He translated each one furiously, crawling around and tearing at the soil.
Behind him, the screaming rose as the water encircling the city touched the first block of houses, cutting off the bridge to the escape tunnel.
Trust humans to build in a water trap – honestly...
John was drawn towards her, captivated by the glow of her golden hair in the moonlight and faint perfume that drew memories of long walks in Oxford's endless gardens. He wanted her then but he needed her now.
Ignoring her muffled protest, John closed the gap between them and pressed his lips firmly against hers.
Helen startled, grasping hold of his arms, fisting at the material of his coat. He was too strong to push away when he shifted closer. They struggled briefly until he let the letter opener fall onto the floor, taking hold of her wrists instead and pressing them down against the bed. She arched up to him but then turned her head away, looking out the open window to the moon already sinking in the sky.
"We're never going to make it!" Ranna shouted. Gregory was several feet in front of her, fighting his way through the rising water that gushed about his waist in a foaming broth.
Neither of them could hear over the roar it made. It was simply overpowering, in every sense.
"Gregory!" Ranna cried out, as she slipped from the wall leaving her dangling with only one hand still clutching at the slippery rock.
Gregory turned in time to see Ranna swept off the rock and into the maelstrom. He screamed her name but she was already gone, dragged underneath the water and thrown into god knows where.
Nikola perched atop the enormous sphere, struggling to pull out a copper rod that had been hidden inside it for centuries. It was still a perfect rose complexion, almost iridescent in the light. He felt a satisfying click as it locked into place before he pushed with all his strength, turned the handle to the tune of another click, click, click...
Nobody but him noticed as a random assortment of tunnels closed, heavy doors sealing off the rivers of water. There were four more spheres to set in order to completely seal the chamber but Nikola had to work quickly. His mind had already made a rough calculation of how long he had before the city was swallowed entirely.
He was on the third sphere when the ground jerked fiercely, throwing him off balance. Nikola hit his head hard on the sphere, tearing open his forehead. He felt the warm gush of blood run over his eyes and down his cheek, blinding him as he tumbled the rest of the way down to the grass.
Staring up at the ceiling, he watched it crumble. Columns of limestone the size of buildings fell silently towards the city, tumbling in a terrifying ballet before crashing with enormous throws of rock and water.
Nikola felt a fine rain of ash brush over his face. He couldn't stay here – he refused to die here.
With a groan, he rolled onto his side and clambered back up onto the sphere, heaving out the cylinder at its heart and locking it back into place. He rested on its cross-bar as he watched half the remaining tunnels surrounding the city close, significantly slowing the stream of water.
There was one more sphere to close before the city, or what was left of it, was safe.
Then the lights went out, plunging the reservoir and its city into darkness.
Gregory tried to keep going but his hands were near frozen from the water and lost their grip. A moment later he was part of the swirling water, struggling on its surface to stay afloat as the current sped along in the darkness.
He had no concept of where he was except that every now and then he was thrown against the walls. They scraped at his skin and tore his clothes before discarding him back into the river. A strange calm settled over him as he surrendered to the motion.
It ended abruptly. The water veered sharply down, plummeting out of the cave wall. Gregory found himself in free-fall, looking out over the ruined city just as its lights flickered out.