A river is a sum of all the water in the world. Take one drop away and it will trickle back into the ocean and find its friends amongst the waves.
James perused through the rows of books, pausing at the spine of Karl Landsteiner's, 'On Red Blood Cells'. Beside it was an addition, a work by N. Griffin regarding exotic botany of the new world. The corner of his lip curled into a smile – head tilting, at least one of them had entered the pages of history.
The great Sherlock Holmes was seated beside a gargoyle, stroking its stone head as if it were a pet. His skin had tanned heavily under the African sun, creasing around his eyes and cracking across his forehead. A ratty beard trailed off his chin, no doubt a form of camouflage he'd long forgotten.
"Are you going to go with him?"
"No, I don't think so," James replied, sitting on one of the nearby tables. Doyle had offered to pay for a passage to South America with Fawcett, front row seats on another great adventure but James was not after gold. People fascinated him, not the relics of forgotten times.
"Then you are coming with me?" Sherlock grinned this time, resting his arm on the statue. One of his teeth was half broken giving him a rather vampiric appearance that fitted eerily well beside the Gothic décor of the library.
"Holmes... I did not say that," James sighed, looking over the ancient room with all its memories. This had been his home, hidden away amongst the shelves and shadows. Somehow he'd forgotten all the bickering and sneering that went on between The Five. Memories were like that, coloured by affection – even his calculating mind was guilty of sentiment.
"You cannot deny that you're curious..." Sherlock added, eyes bright and hopeful. His body may have aged dramatically but his eyes were equal measures young and foolish. "It's the puzzle that fascinates you."
"No doubt that is why you are here," James remarked, glancing up at his friend. Caught out, Holmes stood and wandered about the empty corner of the library. "This puzzle is done, old friend."
"Done – but not understood," Sherlock whispered.
James could not stop a quiet laugh.
"If there is one certainty, it is that you will learn nothing of John's character from a library. He begrudged this place and the afternoons spent in it."
"That is something," Holmes insisted.
"At some point, Sherlock, you are going to have to accept that John has been driven mad by the vampire blood – that he does these cruel and violent things of his own ruined will. They are not calculated acts like so many of your high-brow killers. John simply is..."
"Every murder has a motive," Sherlock sank back against the window. He'd spied the secret passage poorly concealed by a bookshelf – this old building was full of them. "Why did he send notes to the police, menacing London if his acts were indiscriminate violence? Each kill was a work of twisted art. We were led on detailed hunts as though he dared us to catch him. The man is a killer and I refuse to believe that some experiment of yours made him so."
"If you are right, Sherlock – then Helen is in grave danger," James replied, voice hushed.
"There is nothing we can do about that. No one can touch a man that vanishes into time. It will be up to her whether she lives or dies. Come with me."
"To Africa? No, Holmes. I'm not made for the heat."
"Not Africa. I'm heading east toward India. There is word of an ancient god terrorising a tea plantation – a creature that flies with razor wings. The locals say it is a guardian of the underworld that lives on a tree of spears created to torture creatures of hell," he acted the words as theatrically as possible.
"And this is your idea of a good time?"
Sherlock just smiled, twisting his fingers through his goaty beard.
A green velvet dress dragged along the corridor. Stone arches branched above, knitting together in an avenue of cream rock. The figure darted left, stepping into the path of a gentleman.
James lofted his eyebrow, finding a rather beautiful obstacle in his way.
"Miss Magnus..." he drawled. He could not help notice her impossibly young face. "And what are your motivations this time... Is it mystery you seek or have you detained me due to pure curiosity?"
She took another few strides forward, reaching down to toy with the conspicuous bag slung over his shoulder.
"Were you going to say goodbye?"
James looked guilty.
"This is not goodbye," he promised. "I'm going to find you another abnormal to study."
"Yes, Nigel told me about your upcoming adventure. Be careful."
"I've lived with a vampire and history's most notorious killer – and now you're asking me to be careful?" He set the bag down and drew her into a warm embrace. "I'll be back before the fall. Stay out of trouble, young lady."
"You know I won't..." she whispered, kissing his cheek.
Helen watched as his figure faded into the corridors of Oxford university, eventually swallowed up by shadows. The world started to spin, blurring at the edges. She reached for the wall, resting against its icy surface. A cool hand pressed to her back and she startled.
"Nikola..." she whispered, seeing a familiar set of steel eyes.
"We were wondering what became of you." He led her back to the tea house where Nigel was sitting at a table with John. Nigel was attempting to be pleasant and John tried not to look murderous.
"Is this the King's money?" Helen asked, sitting beside John. He diverted his gaze to her for a moment. She had not spoken to him since that afternoon in her basement.
"Partly," Nigel winked. "Most of it has been spent on the new green houses. He's got me creating black roses for Her Majesty."
"Attempting..." John corrected.
"Let me guess, you've got a small section reserved for more interesting pursuits..." Helen eyed Nigel suspiciously.
"Perhaps..." was all Nigel said.
Nikola whacked the smug scientist over the head with a newspaper, dropping it onto his lap. Nigel frowned and scanned down the page, seeing his name in print. There were three, £3 notes scattered over the page.
"You mean I win?" he asked, looking up at the vampire.
Nikola nodded. "First to print – fair is fair but you still owe me £30 if I make it to the front page." He thanked the woman that poured a fresh cup of coffee for him. "I've been thinking," he began, deliberately not looking at Helen. "I might take up an offer of employment." He paused, running his fingertips around the rim of his cup before adding, "In Budapest."
Helen shifted forward, her expression unreadable.
"Someone has foolishly offered you a job?" Nigel nudged the vampire. "Congratulations – it's not digging trenches, I hope..."
"Telegraphs," he corrected, still not meeting Helen's gaze. "The money is poor but I will be working with another Serbian inventor. Five years, I'd imagine," he added, answering John's question.
Helen's sleeve caught the edge of her teacup, sending it over her saucer and onto the table. Hot tea flooded the pastries before she could lunge forward with a napkin. "I'm sorry, Nigel," she whispered, trying feverishly to clean the mess. Her movements were sluggish and uncoordinated, nearly tipping several other items over.
This time, Nikola did watch. He knew very well why Helen was upset but he didn't have the courage or composure to come to her aid.
"Excuse me," she whispered, withdrawing from the table. John and Nigel stood as she fled, debating whether to follow her before sitting back down at the ruined table. Nikola remained inert, fingertips still circling the porcelain lip.
Helen lingered on the corner of the lawn. She was hiding on a low wall beneath several archways that bowed towards a veil of jasmine. She laid her cheek to the stone, unaware of the warm tear running down her skin.
She had been watching a steady stream of graduates parade over the grass, flanked by friends and parents. Their black robes billowed in the wind which occasionally seized a hat and sent it tumbling over the lawn. It was the first time in eight years that she truly felt like an imposter. All this time she'd fed the joke that she was a stowaway. To be slapped in the face by its truth left her heartbroken. She was not a doctor. She was not even a student. Nikola was leaving.
She closed her eyes, clinging to the stone.
"You are not an easy woman to find." Helen sat up sharply, turning to see her professor standing behind her. The professor glanced at the graduates and then at the tear-stained face of his brightest student. "I believe you have forgotten something."
The immortal professor withdrew a rolled up document from his robes. It was tied with a red ribbon, stamped with Oxford's seal. She stared at it in shock.
"This will not allow you to practice medicine in a clinic," he stressed, "but it officially makes you Dr Magnus."
"...why?" she stammered softly, holding it protectively to her chest. Always that question.
"The future begins with freedom, Dr Magnus. I won't have them clip your wings before you fly."
After a long moment of respectful silence, Helen offered her hand. The professor took it, shaking it firmly.
"I still expect you in my class next week. You'll have more than one set of letters after your name, I think."
The fumes were sweet, sinking through the air as if it were heavy and sick with alcohol. Helen had never seen a bottle so large, swollen against its black glass. The Spanish label was faded, stained and peeling away but age had served to improve its taste. Her father poured two glasses, setting one in his daughter's hand. He lifted the other high in a toast.
"I cannot practice," she reminded him, swallowing the warm liquid.
"On people..." Gregory clarified. "You were never particularly good with them anyway."
She feigned insult, lofting her eyebrow and taking another sip.
"Magnus family trait."
"Nikola always insisted that you were a lousy doctor," she laughed softly, then turned more serious as she averted her gaze to the fire, feeling the warmth of the wine in her veins and the distant beat of the vampire's heart.
Hours later, Helen lay on her bed watching the moon as it lifted through the fog. Eventually it vanished from sight leaving a pale hue in the room. Nikola's gift rested in front of her. She was half way through it, reading as though he were sitting beside her reciting it aloud instead. Helen could almost hear his patient voice whenever she let her fingertips brush over the page.
She was too ill to read tonight – presumably from the wine. It had turned on her stomach, making her curl up against a pillow.
Several blocks away, Nikola shooed his pigeon off a pile of forgotten books. He sighed when he realised that they belonged to the library and were hopelessly overdue. His very depleted bank account could not suffer the bill so he nudged them back against the wall, hoping that someone would eventually find them.
"Come on, you're making this very difficult," he cooed at his bird, waving her away again when she hopped across his desk, sending items tumbling off it. She pecked sharply at his finger, glaring at him. "What on earth is wrong with you tonight?"
If a bird could pout, she would have.
Nikola shook his head, setting his trunk aside.
"Enough packing for tonight, I think," he relented, flopping down onto the floor before he lost a finger to his pet. The halo of candles wavered, their flames wriggling in the turbulent air. He rested his hands on the sliver of bare skin where his shirt had pulled aside. Nikola was cool, something that he had not grown used to after all these years.
Every time he went to close his eyes, he was haunted by that brief glimpse of Helen's gaze. It had devoured him, twisted around his heart and made his stomach sink with... with something. He never let his mind settle on that feeling, afraid of what he might learn.
There was an audible sigh of relief through many departments of the university as The Five dissembled.
Finally all manner of stolen items re-emerged, vacant labs were be safe from the absconding pupils, expensive equipment could be left unattended without fear and the administrative staff had given up their full time job of chasing those five students for assignments.
They had left a stain on Oxford – quite literally in the case of the black roof. More importantly, the walls had birthed another pack of scientists and thrust them out onto the world.
Gregory Magnus had been dozing in his study when he was awoken by a loud thudding on his front door which caused the heavy oak to shake against its frame.
"The devil?" he mumbled, rolling off the settee. He tugged an old cardigan around his shoulders and shuffled to the door. A dark silhouette rippled across the glass, vanishing as quickly as the furious knocking. Cabal? No... they'd lost interest in him long ago.
Gregory opened the door and gasped. The only light belonged to the moon, swollen and heavy in the sky but it was enough to illuminate a woman laid out over the steps at his feet.
"Miss?" he bent down to her, carefully brushing the long, blond hair off her face. She was young, pale and bared an eerie resemblance to his daughter. "God above, what has happened to you?"
With creaks of protest from his aging bones, Gregory lifted the young girl off the ground and brought her inside. He set her down on the couch in his office, checking that she was in no immediate danger before quietly pushing his furniture aside. He brought one large table into the middle of the room and cleared it. Then Gregory draped some of Helen's spare bed linen over it and lifted the unconscious girl onto it.
His first thought was that she had been attacked by a thief but the deep gashes across her skin were too violent.
"Something has had a real go at you..." he whispered, lighting several lanterns so that he could see her better.
There were claw and teeth marks all over her, embedded against a patchwork of dark bruising on skin. The strange garments, similar to riding attire, had torn open on the leg and back. Blood seeped from the deeper wounds, staining the sheets. There was no mistaking it – many of these injuries were that of a vampire.