This is for some of my longest readers, The Wandering Blue Andalite, 113YEARS, GSYH, PoorQueequeg, melissaadams22, samfan9 and Miss Pookamonga.
REVENGE AT ITS CRUELLEST
Helen could not drag herself to bed. The air was warm, turning her nightdress into an eternity of fabric that draped heavily off every curve. Her flesh was pronounced, swelling against it in several places. She laid her hand curiously on her stomach, following the gentle rise – then snatched it away.
The window sill was refreshingly stable as she steadied herself against it, riding out the trembles that continuously took her body hostage. Sweat rolled down her forehead as she tried to focus on the moon – the distant storm – the trees rustling against the stone and the muffled sound of her father's voice.
She slid John's ring from her finger, holding it up to the moonlight. The world refused to still, rippling in front of her as if she were standing on the precipice of a desert. Something flickered over her eyes – the faintest glimpse of a memory that was not hers. The sweet calm of darkness followed as her figure toppled to the ground. The ring rolled away, bouncing over the floorboards with a heavy clunk, clunk, clunk...
John ducked under the stone doorway, wiping blood from his arms. He tossed the rag aside and headed through the mud-choked courtyard, out onto the grass hills that encompassed the village. Goats grazed the young, sweet pasture, lifting their heads as he passed, continuing towards the lake.
He stood by its edge, gazing over the silent water with deceptively warm eyes. The world was younger by four-hundred years and yet it felt ancient. John reached out, his clothes soaked in hot blood. It was sticky against his skin, plastering the remains of the shirt to his chest. His ghastly figure cast shadows over the land before he tilted forward and plunged into the freezing water, sinking toward the black.
London was safe – history was not. John could walk in and out of a thousand lives and steal them all. It was the perfect murder which neither Helen nor James could unravel. In John's own, twisted way he was protecting them from his true nature. There was a creature inside him that drank and drank, never sated. If he did not feed its darkness it would swell out through his chest and consume him. It was the one thing John truly feared. He could not risk unleashing such pure violence on the world.
This was better. This was freedom. This was peace.
He surfaced, tilting his head to the sky. A distant scream ripped through the air as he vanished, tearing into another time.
Gregory watched the girl sleep. Around him, lamps flickered through the remains of their oil, layering the air with a delicate smoke. His desk was deep with letters, most hunting for money while the rest were rejections of his many scientific proposals. Whatever his career might have been, its ruin was absolute. His lip twisted in a soft smile. He still had his work and a world full of mystery.
The fire continued to rage beneath its marble mantle, casting everything under a pleasant glow. His gaze shifted to the walls of books. It had been so long since he had indulged in their stories. Many of them were gifts from his wife, colleagues or old friends that he had lost. He'd built them into a solemn graveyard and adorned it with pieces of the ancient world.
Slowly he stood, shifting unsteadily toward it. He remembered every book, pausing at their spines until he tipped one forward, prying it free.
"Samuel Griffin..." he murmured, dusting off its cover. It was the only book his friend had ever published when they were both young and heady on the lie that great discoveries led to fame for those that made them. Glory was reserved for the few that could carry the heart of nation. Mr Tesla would have a share of it, Watson too – in his own fashion. It was not for the Magnus family – or the Griffins... A fact which destroyed his old friend whom he'd treasured for so long.
Gregory brought the book back to the fire. He sank into his chair, laid it open on his lap and sifted through its fragile pages.
OXFORD, ENGLAND 1849
A young Gregory Magnus shook his head in dismay and pushed his intimidating tower of paperwork across the table. The other student rolled his eyes, continuing the frantic scratch of his quill.
"I am busy," Samuel repeated, blowing tenderly over wet ink.
The last workmen trudged past the boys, closing off the unfinished wing of the university library. Gregory waved at them and set about replacing the half-dozen candles that had burned down to nothing over the course of their evening study session. At least, that's what they were supposed to be doing. Study didn't interest them nearly as much as the secrets of the ancient world. Samuel's father was an explorer – his mansion in the country filled with precious relics. Gregory loved to wade through them during summer, puzzling out each one's history. It was the statues of fantastical beasts that captured his heart. They sat amongst the life-like freezes of politicians and warriors as if they were entitled to the same cemented place in history. As if they were real.
"Gregory – no," Samuel finally looked up, nudging the pile of books to one side. Some of them tumbled off, falling open onto the table.
"You're searching on the wrong continent entirely," Gregory whined, running his fingers casually through a candle flame. "A few golden idols dug up by that – what was his name? An idiot, in any case. They don't prove anything. Think of the wealth of evidence we have from the African continent. Even your father admits to there being something else to the history of that world – and you know what he's like... Regular member of the Royal Society."
"Yes and we'd be laughed right out of such a place for work like this. It would do you well to remember that," Samuel said quietly. He was younger than Gregory but looked a great deal older. Even his movements were slower, more considered and cautious than Magnus. The number of times he'd pulled that boy out of trouble could challenge the books of this grand library. "Besides, I am not interested in where the vampires were, I'm interested in where they are now."
Gregory laughed, shaking out the last match. "Dead. If there is one thing humanity is good at, it's genocide."
"Please..." Griffin scoffed. "Vampires survived a lot worse than a few rebellious humans. They're out there. Wasn't it you that first theorised their survival?"
He had to concede that point. "Indeed, but it was over a great deal of scotch if memory serves."
"My father's scotch – and yes it does."
It took three more hours until Gregory wore Samuel down. Reluctantly he picked up one of the books, slowly moving through its aging pages. It was written in the common tongue – but very poorly. Whoever had scratched this drivel into a clay tablet was near illiterate.
Samuel's eyes strained, squinting through the dark room. Around their table the library's stone gargoyles loomed from the Gothic windows, threatening to pounce. The walls exuded a chill to match the steady tap of rain against the granite walls.
"It's speaking of brothers, princes or kings – it's not clear on exactly whom."
"Vampires?" Gregory asked, shifting closer.
"Naturally. 'Pale as salted sand'..."
"Believe me, I'm paraphrasing," Griffin sighed heavily. "They started a 'great quest' – or public works project excavating a mountain range. Black cliffs..." He frowned, finding the next paragraphs worn and difficult to follow. "All I can make out is, 'powerful creatures of magic' and something about 'gardens without sun'."
"Abnormals," Gregory whispered. "Do you think they might have been searching for such creatures? We know the Greeks tried – and succeeded."
"I don't know, Gregory..." Griffin closed the book and handed it back. "Even if you manage to decode this properly, there are no mentions of maps, dynasties or cities. You can't date it – and you'll never find its contents. I'm sorry."
"The Egyptians were exceptional collectors," Gregory whispered, holding the precious book against his chest. "Though never benevolent." He watched as Samuel returned to his charts and maps, taking out a pair of compasses which he used to plot points on the university's hard copy. "What are you doing?"
"Plotting the three routes of escape from the last great massacre." He turned the map for Gregory. "Here, the main group travelled north then east, across the mountains into India. Another group attempted to flee using the river but I assume they were killed soon after but the third..." he drew his finger all the way over the Atlantic ocean, around the base of Asia and then onward over the truly mighty expanse of the Pacific. "They went here – to South America. You've heard the tales – Cities of Gold..."
"You've been seduced by a simple lie."
Griffin's eyes were bright, the firelight dancing over them. "What better way to hide the truth?"
Nikola waited all day by his window but she did not come. Helen was here, inside the university's walls. He could feel her blood, pulsing and swirling against her veins. The craving for it never diminished. Sometimes he could think of nothing else save running his claws over her cream skin, diverting to the ridge of her swollen artery. Not to kill... to taste... to death.
He shook the thought off.
"Come with me, beautiful," he whispered to his pigeon. Nikola held out his arm so that she could settle on it, digging into his coat with her tiny claws. She cooed at him, soft and loving, white as the snow that fell on the mountains around his home. Her grey eyes always greeted him, steadfast through the years.
No one noticed the young man sitting by the pond, skimming river pebbles over its glassy surface. Pigeons tumbled in the sky above him, playing in the warm air. Nikola loved to watch the ripples chase each other, adding and subtracting back to a stillness.
He was a deeply competitive creature. With The Five scattering, he missed the hunt for knowledge. As much as he adored Helen's flair for being insane and (though he was loathed to admit it) frequently right, they were pioneering different branches of science.
Nikola laid back and smiled at the granite-trimmed building, baking in the sun. His lips curled with smug satisfaction at the black singe along the roof. At least he'd left his mark on something.
When the sun started to sink, Nikola picked himself up and strolled inside. He took the long way, strutting through the nest of corridors. He cast fond glances as memories surfaced.
There – a corner where he'd frightened a social science student with his fangs.
There – the small hall in which he'd given his first (and last) lecture. Apparently it was bad form to terrify your students.
There... a simple, worn bench born of splinters. Four years ago a young Helen Magnus had waited on it all night. He did not come.
Ahead a door opened releasing a fresh wave of senior students. Their collective chatter echoed in the cavernous ceilings as they navigated toward Nikola like a school of fish. Nikola remained defiantly in their path, insisting that they weave around him. One of these creatures stopped within inches of his nose, blue eyes catching his. Nikola was rarely a man moved to silence but that was all he could manage. He caught her elbow gently, tugging her to the side as the others brushed by them, fading away.
Helen stared, caught off guard. She clasped her books to her chest, searching for something to say. She could not think of anything that wouldn't break his heart or do her feelings justice. He was leaving, she was marrying – and she hadn't even told him yet.
From the doorway, the ancient lecturer watched them for a moment with a private smile on his lips. Immortals and vampires... It should never end in friendship and yet it did, over and over, hearts torn apart and cities burned because they refused to submit to reason. A gazelle may as well marry a lion.
Neither broke the silence until Nikola's hand lifted to her cheek, the action remarkably bold in such a public setting. She blushed at once and broke free, slipping from his hold to fold into the remaining students.
Was that his goodbye?
Nikola lowered his black eyes to the ground.
Helen made it through two more classes before retreating to the streets. She wandered into the park and through the markets. They meandered around the edge of the river filled with spices and silk, all brought from London on the train. The only fine thing that she owned sat on her dresser, cased in its velvet box. Her father did not know of the proposal yet. Helen was not intentionally hiding the news but her Gregory was a rare sight these days. Whoever this new patient of his was, they kept him confined to his study through all hours of the night.
She paused in the park, watching children play across the lawn, racing between the lingering groups of shoppers with sticks and balls. A part of her heart told her that this would never be her life. In her essence, she was a scientist and they were lonely creatures in the world. You could not give yourself entirely to two things... Nikola understood that, her father had been forced to it and it was a passion born naturally inside Nigel. If she wanted to be truly great, she had to let it all go. All of it.
The road of marriage made financial sense. If she was to create her own Sanctuary and build on her father's work she needed the money. What had her father always told her? Life is a sacrifice – a balance between the heart and mind.
The nameless girl had been awake for a little over a day. She remained silent, roaming around his office, inspecting every corner of it. Gregory leaned back in his chair, tilting his head in fascination. She was more intriguing than any of his abnormal creatures. The woman was definitely human but at the same time there was something altogether more about her. Gregory wished that he could put his finger on what was amiss.
His quill dipped into the ink pot, soaking it thoroughly before letting black substance drip in heavy tears. He tapped the delicate nib against the glass, catching her attention.
"Will you ever tell me your name?"
As always, she returned his questions with silence. He shook his head, scratching some more notes into his diary before nudging the plate of biscuits toward her. Every now and then she accepted one, nibbling on it quietly.
"If it is the law that you are hiding from, you need not trouble yourself. This is not an institution that claims any ties to the police. It is a sanctuary for all creatures and people. A place of safet-y..."He was interrupted as a shadow tracked slowly over the glass window behind his desk.
The door caught in a strong wind, slamming shut behind Helen. She unravelled her coats, tossing them at the long-suffering hall stand that did its best to catch. It surprised her to see her father emerge from his office, nodding at her in greeting.
"Please – don't start..." she sighed, her lips tight as he threatened to launch into another ebbing tide of 'why she shouldn't be out so late'.
Helen was weary, leaning against the wall. She held a small leather satchel containing their notes on the accelerated development of gills in a rare species of water mammal – rejected by the Royal Science Academy. To their credit, they'd at least agreed to meet her in person to reject the thesis.
"So, I take it they weren't so keen on our research?" Gregory took the satchel from his daughter, setting it on the table. He'd played this dance for decades with the academy. His daughter would suffer for the name Magnus. Better that she change it.
"Narrow minded sparrows," she hissed. Her ferocity made him grin.
"It has been my long held suspicion that the world isn't ready for you, Dr Magnus." he rested his hand on her back, guiding her along the hallway. Helen turned, looking over her shoulder in the direction of his lab when she heard something.
"-a patient," he finished for her.
They retired to the living room. Helen brewed an unfashionably large pot of tea, sipping her cup quietly. She looked troubled and pale, too fragile for his liking.
"Is everything all right?" he accepted a cup of tea from her. "I thought that now, with you being officially on the university's books, they might treat you more kindly."
She brushed off the statement with a soft laugh. "They have been well enough to me both before and after their books were amended, father. You displease them, not me..."
"Cheeky..." he scorned playfully. She winked – such a Magnus.
"It is not the same though," she admitted. "Dr Watson has left to India, Griffin's studies are finished, Nikola intends to move abroad and Druitt-"
Gregory leaned forward in his chair, concern knitting his aging features together. "Has he done wrong by you?" he asked softly. He lived in this house too. Gregory had guessed some time ago that dealings between Druitt and his daughter were not entirely professional.
Helen shook her head, setting her tea down. "Quite the opposite," she whispered. "He... he has proposed marriage."
"My dear," his hand rested over hers. "What was your reply?"
"I did not reply," Helen lifted her gaze slowly to her father. "Though I have his ring and he thinks me his."
"He is a man of growing wealth, I am told – a successful lawyer with prospects."
"Those accounts are true."
"Helen," he took her hand, holding it between his. "Financial gain is not all there is to this world."
"A lack of finance destroyed yours – all your work..."
Gregory shook his head, his eyes sad and deep. The firelight crept into them. "Your mother destroyed mine, the day I lost her, Helen. I still see her in your eyes," he cupped her cheek tenderly with his palm. "The life of a woman is not easy in this world. I have tried to give you choices – do not make me suffer and see you marry for the sake of it. Unless..." he looked carefully at his daughter. "Unless you love him – do you?"
"I -" but she couldn't say the words. She turned from him, withdrawing her hand. The fire seemed to roar at her. "I could love him."
"Helen, there is someone you should speak to first, before you accept this proposal. You have my permission to marry whomever you choose for whatever reasons you choose but I beg you – do not do so without..."
Helen didn't let him finish, standing nervously, arms wrapping around her body. He followed her to the fireplace, standing close behind her, his voice soft. "Go tonight."
Something was amiss with the weather. A freezing wind kicked its way under the warm evening, swirling through the streets until the fresh leaves curled and shattered. Rain struck her hard as Helen wove along the road, moving swiftly through the shadows as if she were one of them. Helen's true nature was turning her into an elusive creature, one that could slip through time and the world unnoticed – by all except the man tracking her.
John kept his distance. He knew where she was going, what would transpire and how it would destroy the life of a Serbian scientist. He was not about to alter such an historical event. It was almost like a parting gift for all the hate he and Tesla bore each other.
He stopped following when Helen reached the university's gates and headed back to the Magnus house. He had unfinished business with his daughter to attend.
Lightening ripped violently through the sky, cracking it apart. It flooded Nikola's room with light that was gone just as quickly leaving the walls shaking in the accompanying thunder. He could feel every beat and pulse of the storm, churning in his head. It was entrancing, meditating on the workings of a world that he did not understand.
The rain came next, bombarding the walls and landing inside his room. His lanterns all trembled fearfully, doing their best to cast warm light over the few remaining items in Nikola's room. The trunks were packed, sitting by the door for tomorrow. All his inventions and half-thoughts had been dismantled, sold or given away to friends. Nigel kept most of them, setting them in his house among relics of the world. 'One day these will be worth something' he had insisted if only to make the vampire grin.
The hours were quickly falling away before the dawn and he should be sleeping, not lingering by a broken window staring out into a storm.
A ruffle of silk skirts and blond hair suddenly emerged from the trap door. Dr Helen Magnus, soaked from head to toe and perfectly wild, clambered into his attic. Nikola was completely frozen as she wiped the rain out of her eyes and crossed the floor. Three steps and she was in his arms, clutching tightly at his jacket.
"Nikola..." she leaned against his forehead, afraid. Her hands slid over his damp jacket, memorising the rough scratch of wool. One slipped over his shoulder and the other came to press against his cheek, cradling his pale face. She remembered those eyes, how clear and sharp they were and how easily they could succumb to the other creature in his soul. He was a vampire.
Nikola held her for a long time, dipping his head down amongst her soft, golden hair. Helen was shivering, drenched from the freezing downpour outside. He could feel her pulling him closer and closer as if trying to bury herself in his trench coat. They were bound forever by opposing forces and something stronger...
The only thing in his world was the smell of perfume and the heavy thud of her heart. It would be so easy to fall into this reverie. His eyes drifted closed as he felt something else – intimate, dangerous. He caught hold of her wandering hand as it disappeared inside the endless layers of his clothing. It was like ice as he held it at a distance.
"Helen," he whispered firmly, pulling back from her. Nikola did not know how to do this. He had always been trapped in the world, entirely alone but now Helen Magnus was pacing outside and he didn't know how to let her in.
Nikola kept pushing her away and she kept reaching for him, searching to see if there was some glimmer of hope in this, whatever it was that they had shared all these years.
"Don't..." she kept repeating softly to every refusal. Even as he freed his hand and put a step between them, she tried to follow. Helen had run here. She looked closely at her friend, at the fantasies she had hidden from herself. His were the nameless arms she fell into during sleep. When she thought of her future it was with him, side by side in a true Sanctuary of her creation. It was only now that she realised that this would never be a real option no matter how much her heart wanted it. The walls around her were closing in and he was retreating from her world, slipping out of reach. Her eyes ran hot.
Nikola stood in front of the window, framed by a new moon rising slowly above an angry bank of cloud as though it had been thrown from the fray. He had never bothered to fix the glass, preferring the wind and weather to swirl about his room. Outside the city flickered fearfully in the violence, plunging into darkness every time lightening struck the ground. Nikola couldn't bring himself to say a word. Instead he stood there, eyes locked on her hoping desperately that she would understand. He loved her, more than he'd love anything but he was afraid.
All Helen saw was his cold expression.
"I am going to marry John," she announced, taking the ring from a pocket in her coat. Helen held it up for him to see and then slowly slid the cold metal onto her finger. "Unless you have something that you want to say to me..."
Nikola had a world of things to tell her but he could not beckon any of it to leave his lips.
The first of her tears tipped over the edge of her eyes, falling in Nikola's silence. They froze pathways on her cheeks before the wind dried them. Her heart was ripped out, on display for him and yet he was just going to stand there and watch – a figure determined to remain alone. At least John had the decency to speak for what he wanted.
Helen nodded very slowly, all the hurt and anger tinting her eyes several shades darker. She had planned to walk away and simply leave him there but Helen was not so forgiving. She gathered her composure, took a breath to steady herself and then advanced on Nikola.
Confused, almost frightened, Nikola backed away until he hit the stone wall in front of the window. There was nothing between his back and the sky except a fragile curtain of night air.
She did not speak. Helen pressed her body against his, curve for curve as she leaned him gently out of the window. There was nowhere left for him to escape. Her tear-stained gaze flicked to his lips as she felt his heart stumble.
Helen did not allow him time for excuses. She closed the distance and brushed her lips over his, pausing there. He was cool, ancient and tender as he tilted his head slightly. Her fingers slid into his short hair as she rolled her tongue gently across his top lip. He shivered and let her into his mouth, hands fisting in the folds of her dress. Helen deepened the kiss, waiting until the moment when she knew that he was hers; that tense of his skin, his hand moving to her back and the gentle return of her demanding kiss. She waited until she was certain that he loved her.
Then, Helen broke away, stepping out of his embrace with a dark smile on her lips.
It was the cruellest thing she would ever do.
The fragile bird flew all night through the storm, tumbling and falling in the wind. With water soaked into its feathers, it beat back against the night, seeking out the window of light.
Nikola collapsed into a pile beside the window with his knees pulled up to his chest. He buried his head against them, succumbing to the sobs that wracked his body. He didn't care about his experiments. He didn't think about the world and all of its wonder. He didn't even notice the rivers of light cracking through the sky or the shudder of thunder ripping through the building. There were no mysteries to replace her. She had torn a hole in his soul and it would always be there, even after he'd filled it with tears, patched it over with work and pretended that it was gone. That place belonged to Helen and she took it with her that night.
A sharp strike of lightening hit the roof, tearing through the remains of his experiment. The wire burned hot and re-melted, glowing white in the sudden darkness like fiery snakes. Nikola covered his ears in the deafening roar. Every wall shook, raining dust into the room. In the chaos he saw something stir in the far corner – a feather. It tumbled on the air, floating peacefully back to the floorboards.
The violence subsided as Nikola crawled forward, lifting one of his dying lanterns. The room trembled again as a terrible, sickening truth bled into his eyes. Nikola saw the tiny pile of bones and feathers curled against the wall. She had been there for years, her bones bleached by the sunlight unseen by him amongst the remains of Autumn leaves.
"My – lady..." he whispered, kneeling before his poor little pigeon. Her feathers were still as white as snow, soft against his fingertips. Beneath her was an old stain and set of claw marks in the wood. Nikola closed his eyes, tears sticking in his heavy lashes. He had pushed that night far from his mind but the memory was there – Helen, Nigel – the evening storm and that lust for blood. She'd fluttered through his window that night, tossed around by the storm. He remembered her soft weight on his shoulder before...