A deep chill began to spread, vine-like, across Vicki's aching spine as she lay helpless on the floor, her fading hearing the only real sense that hadn't completely shut itself down. The incessant rattling and banging of chains scraped noisily through her mind as her head pounded with sickening intensity. The only warmth she felt was the lukewarm trickle of blood at her neck; she slowly raised a weakening hand to the vicious bites, her fingers lingering on the cold edge of each small would as anger and desperation burned within her. The familiar stubbornness and determination to survive she had developed over the years seemed to be making a return at the worst possible time, exacerbating the frustration she held over her practically paralysed body, her mind willing her, screaming at her to get up as she lay motionless on cold grit and hard rubble.
"Henry?" she croaked into the enveloping darkness hopefully. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he replied unconvincingly. "It'll be alright – I need you to hang on, Vicki. Stay awake. You stay with me, and I'll take care of things."
"I wouldn't bother, personally," Christina replied with surprising, brutal nonchalance. "A few more years and you'll end up like the rest of his human companions – dead, forgotten, or both; though, in all honesty, I'd be surprised if you lasted the night as it is."
"We're all going to get out of this," Henry snarled with ill-tempered menace. "Including you, Christina."
"Well, how very noble of you, Your Highness."
"Nobility has nothing to do with it. I want to know that we have a chance to settle this on neutral ground, under the right circumstances. I owe you that, if nothing else."
"Quiet!" the young guard barked impatiently. "Or I'll kill you both myself, no matter what the consequences may be. I've a certain taste for human blood that's wasting over there, so if you value her life above your own I suggest you wait for your death, as we won't kill her."
"Please," Christina smirked. "Be my guest."
The guard did not return her arrogant smile. Oddly, a silence fell upon them all as the distant sound of foreign celebrations cascaded upon them, echoing faintly into the dusty chamber; the catcalls and inhuman utterances knotted tightly in Christina's chest, juxtaposing the cool, calm exterior she held with a burning desire for escape within. She wasn't ready to truly die, to face the unknown fate she had caused for countless others over hundreds of years and, somewhere deep within her, a terrified scream signalled her desperation. She glanced at Henry, who didn't look back, choosing instead to continue struggling fruitlessly against the chains binding him tightly as he watched Vicki with fear, her ever-slowing heart beating pitifully in his ears.
His fury, sadness and frustration were becoming unbearable, eyes blackened in the gloom, reflecting the dim light flowing weakly down the stairwell. The scent of Vicki's blood caused a hunger in him that he fought valiantly, as always, to overcome – something he knew Christina would notice, though he tried his hardest to overshadow his hunger with anger directed at her. He knew, eventually, she would feel it, just as he could feel her desire, her exasperation and secret fear pulse through him, stirring a long-forgotten and deeply suppressed passion – not for her, but for what they had; for the simplicity of 'kill or be killed' and the sheer ecstasy of death. Yet now, death held the false ecstasy of silence, of nothingness, and the long-held beliefs of a spiritual life after death seemed to fade into a vapour of fear and regret as the finality of the situation dawned on him – in reality, he could not believe that any of them would get out of the room alive. He had failed them; he knew this as those sounds of violent celebration became less of an echo and more of a death knell, pealing with bloody glory as their final moment approached.
For the first time in all his years, both human and vampire, he truly felt that all was lost.
The cold, winter moon had faded somewhat as Coreen and Mike stepped out of the car, their newly acquired weaponry in tow. The morning sky was beginning to wash away the cool darkness of the night, leaving an unwelcome tingling along Coreen's skin in the weak morning light. She walked purposefully under the turquoise sky towards the building, an obvious silence still surrounding them as Mike awkwardly followed.
He had made the rather strategic decision not to confront his companion about her strange, aggressive behaviour, decided to avoid finding himself on the receiving end of whatever the hell she had done to Kane. He figured Vicki would probably know more about it, preferring to get the job done and get out of the mire of supernatural mess he had been dragged into. Part of him knew Coreen was already in too deep, and as time had gone on he half expected her naive curiosity to get the better of her. He resolved himself to doing what he could when the right time came – if he couldn't save Vicki from the dark future ahead of her, maybe it wasn't too late for her young assistant.
Coreen made no attempt to look back as she strode down the crumbling stairwell with quiet confidence, her hand clasped tightly around the hilt of a sharp dagger made of pure silver, careful not to catch herself on the keen blade, which glistened with light blue hues in the pale dawn light pervading the darkness. Adrenaline raced through her body with each quick, nimble step, her own blood pounding noisily in her ears as she grew closer to the heart of the basement.
She stopped in the shadows, with Mike close behind, and listened; the loud, impatient stomping of feet and rush of movement above alerted her as, without saying a word, she dashed through the dusty hallways and stopped behind a tall, young Nosferatu guarding the entrance to the room.
He spun round to meet her narrowed eyes, sensing her racing pulse rather than her swift, silent movements, a throaty growl raging in his throat and red eyes glinting with malevolence, sunken in his dappled, greying skin. His body was poised, taut with fury and coiled, like a tightened spring, as Coreen raised the blade slowly.
"If you hand over the keys, I'll let you live," she said evenly, staring deep into the crimson eyes of the resolute creature.
"If you turn around and walk away, I might let you live," the guard growled in reply.
Coreen smiled, unblinking, as her eyes crackled with anticipation. "If you insist."
Without a moment's hesitation, she kicked the guard hard in the stomach, causing him to double over and stagger back into the dusty, would-be tomb of his captives, stunned momentarily before he doubled his efforts against her. Mike rushed past the pair as they traded vicious blows, interested only in Vicki's wellbeing as she lay, crumpled and bloody on the hard, stone floor. He checked her pulse, relieved to feel a slow, but strong enough beat against his now bloodstained hand, and pulled her towards him, cradling her gently enough to warm her, but not hurt her. He dared not intervene as he and Henry stared at the scene with disbelief, whilst Christina smiled broadly with satisfaction as she felt the sickening fear of death dissipate into optimism.
Coreen, meanwhile, continued to fight furiously against the Nosferatu, slashing wildly with her silver dagger as he simply evaded her, taunting her with his preternaturally fast movements. She fell back as he struck her harshly across the face, causing a trickle of blood to run from her mouth as she wiped it off; she looked at the smear of blood on her hand as the guard laughed, only barely listening to his claims of world domination and defeat of the 'blood traitors', whatever they were. As he ranted with a throaty rage, something seemed to rise within her, just as it had done when she faced Kane, that threatened to overtake her rationality – an anger that eclipsed even the strongest fury she had felt, making the prospect of falling into a frenzy seem plausible and, even stranger, unavoidable.
It was with black eyes, filled with endless hatred, that she looked up at her attacker; his laughter stopped but, if anything, this new side to his enemy had only really instilled further anger at the misuse of his bloodline as he charged towards her, a war cry rattling through his throat that echoed in the dusty air of the dawn. Coreen said nothing – as if she had already seen him coming, she ducked and moved to one side, her arm stretched out with the keen blade held tightly in her grip. The guard charged, confusion set across his face, straight into the waiting, gleaming dagger as it slashed a deep wound across his taut stomach, leaving a trail of blood behind him as he fell to the floor.
Without knowing precisely how she had been able to move so quickly, she raised herself back to full height, placing her foot firmly on the naked chest of the now slightly more compliant guard.
"The key," she said simply, watching him writhe with silent pain as he continued to bleed old, ancient blood. "Now."
The guard laughed through the pain with a horrific, fanged grimace she knew she would not forget. The anger in his eyes was palpable, a tangible heat in the freezing cold air around them, his skin pulled even more tautly against the jagged bones of his face as his toothed smile became wider.
"It won't do you any good," he rasped. "I'll heal, and I'll find you. Believe me."
Coreen returned a dark, forbidding smile as she knelt by the monster, looking deep into his crimson eyes beneath his furrowed, creased brow as she brought the blade quickly across his throat; blood seeped from his neck as the remarkable dagger, imbued with uncommon power, cut through his entire neck with very little effort, leaving the loose head to loll sickeningly next to the decapitated body.
"I doubt that," she said quietly as she snatched the glinting key from his belt triumphantly, her eyes fading back to their natural, chestnut brown as she inhaled the scent of the kill, adrenaline rushing under her skin as she turned to the captives.
"Coreen, over here," Christina ordered in stern, clipped tones, mentally forcing her will upon her protégée as she felt their invisible connection grow stronger. "Get me out of this."
Coreen bowed her head in subservience to her; she hurried over without another word, all individual power and strength momentarily subdued as she reached up to free her, releasing the chains as the key clicked quietly in the lock.
Christina smiled broadly, a huge relief flowing through her as she massaged her aching wrists instinctively. She walked over to Henry and ran her hand slowly, longingly across his icy cheek as he glared at her with menace; she allowed her fingers to linger on his hard, marbled jaw, a kind of sadness mingled with a new sense of freedom beginning to take hold of her.
"I'm sorry it had to end this way, Henry," she said, a wistfulness prompted by a flurry of memories permeating her tone as her voiced swayed with nostalgia. "But I'm not sorry for making you what you are now. I'll never be sorry for the brief time we had but, as always, everyone and everything comes to an end, eventually."
Henry shook away her lingering hand with his head, anxious to distance himself from whatever spark of passion for her still burned within him. Christina smiled, a detached sort of sadness bringing a rare note of humanity to her expression; she was ready to finally let go of her one hindrance, the one thing that kept her attached to her forgotten human nature and chained her to memories of longing, of the love and loss from hundreds of years ago. She paid no attention to the other inhabitants of the room, listening only to the silence of her long-lost lover as he gritted his teeth and looked pointedly away, saying nothing and yet conveying his righteous stubbornness effortlessly. She had loved his graceful nobility, as well as his blue-blooded ruthlessness and the superiority he enjoyed in his early preternatural life; but now, like all good things she had discovered, he must come to his end.
It was with her freedom in mind that she finally turned away from him, in thought as well as deed; with a commanding glance at Coreen that conveyed her orders without speaking, she walked briskly out of the room, her boots clicking and scuffing on the small, broken stones of the floor as the noise echoed into the cold air around them.
Coreen duly followed, albeit more slowly than her mistress as that creeping sense of guilt she had felt before calling Mike to the rescue threatened to change her mind. She hesitated in the freezing, heavy silence, looking back to her friends as both Mike and Henry looked on, helpless. Her eyes glanced over Vicki, whose heartbeat continued to pump meagrely through the darkness she was engulfed in, and a stab of pity struck her heart. She turned back to the crumbling doorway as she felt Christina's forceful, relentless pull fall upon her and, before she could fight it no longer, bent down and gently dropped the silver key on the hard stone floor. Nothing was said as she moved swiftly out of the room, leaving a cold, pressing sadness upon those left behind.
Mike lay Vicki's head back gently on the floor underneath her as he scrambled for the key, Henry's encouragement only vague in his ears as he focussed on the task at hand. He knew he couldn't carry her out in time, that the vampire would once again have to come to her rescue rather than him – all this struck an unpleasant, selfish chord within him as he quickly unlocked Henry's chains and left him to do the right thing; even he could hear the scuffles and shouting from the upper floors and could now appreciate the urgency of the situation.
"Go, quickly," he said with a dry, hoarse throat Henry had not been accustomed to hear from him. "There's a car, should still be open. Use it."
Henry looked back, Vicki lying limply in his arms as he nodded briskly, summoning his strength to rush them both quickly out of danger. A quick gust of frozen air washed over the former detective as he was left alone, a rush of clarity entering his mind as he realised now what he had to do.
Henry rushed through the ruined stairways as quickly as he could, stumbling once or twice but never allowing his iron grip to slacken on his warm, fragile companion. It was good to feel her in his arms again, damaged as she may be, and he couldn't help but appreciate her familiar smell, her simple, beautiful presence back in his life. Her soft, pliant and fragrant skin pressed neatly against his own, and he could hear that she still had some fight in her.
He lay her down gently on the smooth, black leather of the car's back seat, taking care to rest her head softly on the soft surface as she breathed gently underneath him. He knew there was only one thing he could possibly do, a resolution that resonated with a deep foreboding in his mind – this was the definition of the last resort, the cause to recite the infamous phrase regarding desperate times, and something he knew he would eventually come to regret. He looked at the PI with loving sorrow and, taking a deep breath, bit savagely into the cold, hard skin of his wrist, grimacing with pain and grief as he brought the open wound to her lips.
He couldn't look at her whilst she did what came naturally, and could only feel the slight stirring of her lips on his bleeding arm in the biting cold. He breathed deeply, focussing on the right moment to let go and make sure she was still herself, to ensure the potent mixture of his blood didn't take her over the edge and into the harsh loneliness of his nocturnal world. His blood flowed into her like burning lead, pulling through his body without remorse as she drank deeper and deeper, unwilling to stop as she was pulled into his very essence; Henry was forced to wrench himself away with an anguished, pained cry, his breath hanging heavily in the wintry air as he regained his composure, eyes returning to their usual deep brown irises framed in the bleak light of dawn.
It was just as he felt a panic within him, a prickling of warning across his skin that made him sick with discomfort, that Vicki finally opened her eyes, her heartbeat singing strongly to him as he weakened, falling to his knees on the cold, stony ground.
"Mike?" she said weakly, bespectacled eyes just about able to spot a trench-coated, nimble figure running from the building as a light dusting of snow began to fall on them from above.
"Henry! Get in the car!" He shouted with undeniable urgency. "We have to go, now!"
Henry turned his fatigued body to face him, all the while trying to hoist himself up from the ground at the side of the car. He managed, with great difficulty, to get to his feet and, flinging the back door closed and the passenger door open, collapsed onto the seat. He was exhausted, and the passing of daybreak threatened his strength even further as the sickness and fear of the sun pulsed through him.
Mike threw himself into the drivers seat, revving the engine with determination as they roared onto the open road; just as the building had nearly faded into the distance behind them, a loud explosion rattled the barren landscape now covered lightly with a carpet of fresh snow. Henry only briefly saw the flames roar boldly behind them as, with little choice, he surrendered to the impending daylight with a long, drawn out sigh, descending into fatigue and a dreamless, dead sleep.
"That is you, Mike, isn't it?" came a strengthening voice from behind.
"Course it is," he replied gently. "You know I'm here. Henry's here too, he's just a little tired I guess."
"Did I…with Henry? And what about Coreen? Where's Coreen?"
"Don't worry about specifics now, Vic. We're all okay, Coreen's alive but a little…confused. We'll get her back, I promise but, at least for now, she's safe. Just focus on getting yourself right again, get some rest and…well, we'll talk about it later, okay? Right now, we've got to get you back home, and we've got about thirty minutes before Prince Charming here turns into a pile of dust and ego."
Vicki smiled, uniquely grateful for his blatant sarcasm as she shifted slightly in her seat, the memories of the evening pushed to one side as her mind flagged with tiredness.
"Alright, detective," she conceded, fading into a warm sleep. "Do what you gotta do."