THE SECOND BITE
The ancient vampire curled his claw and beckoned the half-creatures to follow. A few minutes later, they were gone – escaped from their prison like shadows and back at large in the new world leaving detective Joe Kavanaugh and his father alone in the tomb.
"Father..." Joe whispered, cradling the tortured body in his arms. His father was human again but humans were fragile things that clung ever so softly to life. The man was old and withered without the ever-vengeful vampire blood coursing through his veins.
The tomb around them was softer now with its dozens of flaming torches flickering against the wall and the black sarcophagus laid open in surrender. The glassy walls reflected the flames down onto the sand in sad halos where Joe sat.
"I never stopped trying..." Joe whispered, rocking slightly with his father. "Never."
At least his father was human, free from an eternity cowering at a vampire's feet. Is that not what humanity had spent millennia fighting for? Joe hoped it was freedom that the human race bled for...
"My son," a weak voice cracked onto the air. "...Joe..." the old man whispered, stirring in Joe's arms.
Joe gasped softly as his father's eyes opened, pale green and unblinking. It was as if he had not seen the world for thirty years.
"A terrible dream..." the old man breathed, gripping Joe's hand tightly.
Hours later, Joe and his father stumbled from the last of the narrow caves and out into the vanishing light of the desert. The rim of the horizon was starting to glow. Stars peaked through the veils of shimmering air while a few lone jet trails faded.
The remains of a canvas tent tumbled past, swept up in an angry curl of air. Shreds of it caught on the rocks beside Joe and his father, tearing with a loud rip before flapping off in pieces. Sand clawed impatiently at the edges of the decimated camp site.
"My god..." Joe breathed in horror at the sight before him. The faces that had wished him well only hours ago were strewn over the ground – fed upon. His stomach lurched at the deep fang and claw marks in the corpses whose eyes were left open in terror. "They killed everything."
The vampire and his entourage of sand creatures had left nothing alive – not even the camels tied up in the south pen.
"We have to get back to the Sanctuary and warn them," Joe realised, helping his father down the sharp rocks.
The faint flicker of settlement was visible a long way off, catching the last of the light. Joe and his father took one of the Jeeps and headed off on the gravel track, chasing the sun. The sand was already blowing over them, preceding the rise of dunes creeping ever closer to civilisation. The cities may have forgotten the desert but it had not forgotten them.
The Sanctuary of the Moon was not a place to wander.
It was an enormous sprawl of natural caverns, trembling walls of rockfall, mirrors of freezing water that seeped deep into the earth and complex tunnels designed to confuse even the most determined human. Its undoing had left the beautiful archways of stone that spanned between the walls of an ancient promenade in decay. Some of them had eroded, returning to their natural state of rubble while others protruded from the black rock, defiantly hanging in half-broken protrusions.
The ancient vampire could feel the others hunting about in his Sanctuary, scratching from tunnel to tunnel, fumbling about in the darkness. One lone child was drawing close to his private quarters whilst the larger party that he had already warned away once, was heading toward the crypt in the centre of the Sanctuary.
There they were again – soft, hesitant footsteps, slightly uneven as they approached the thin holographic barrier hiding the entrance to his lair. It looked like rock – felt like rock. The technology was an illusion. All the vampire need do was reach out...
Instead, the vampire laid silently against the wall beside and waited. Even from here he could hear the young creature's heartbeat on the air. Humans, they were so fragile.
Slowly, she turned on her heel, dragging the torchlight over the wall. Nothing. She cautiously took another step and – and the breathing returned beside her. Ashley faced the wall, trailing her gaze from where it merged seamlessly to the ceiling down to the oddly clean edge it formed with the tunnel floor.
She reached out, grazing her fingertips over the rough surface unable to see the vampire in front of her mimic her action, ghosting his fingertips in front of hers like a twisted mirror.
Helen's torchlight fell on another pile of rubble and bones.
"Look..." she whispered, directing John and Nikola's attention. They were hardly a few minute's walk from the ruined city, their progress slowed by Helen's constant distraction. "Draconis-aelianus, the Ethiopian elephant eater."
"A dragon?" John whispered, looking at the small pile of bones. Obviously this one was an infant.
"Like that hideous furry thing you used to keep in your basement?" Nikola started but Helen cut him off as she knelt to the ground, trailing her fingers over the white bone.
"These things have been extinct for a thousand years. Goodness, the line of spines on its back is intact." When the relevance failed to register with the others, she elaborated. "All its brothers and sisters were hunted to extinction for the high quality ivory in their spine. I have some ancient human artefacts made from it. They cost me a small part of my fortune."
"Nothing has changed then... It's definitely still extinct," Nikola quipped before he was knocked by John's rather large, deliberate and imposing shoulder.
"You're very nearly the last of your kind, Nikola. It would be my pleasure to hasten your extinction." John winked rather disturbingly at Nikola who could do nothing but raise a claw. "This Sanctuary is ruined..." John bent down to the ground, sliding his fingers through the layers of cave rubble until they curled around an ancient knife that had been the source of the creature's demise.
At least in this, Nikola could agree. "I've counted at least three flood lines, an earthquake or two and -" he frowned, his wiry figure edging closer to the wall. He ran his fingers along an ominous crack in the black stone patched over by thick cobwebs. "Gunfire..." he murmured, as his fingers dipped into the small indents sprayed across it.
Helen found one of the cartridges, holding it in her palm. "Muscat shots... Very old gunfire..." She turned to Nikola, tilting her head in a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. "Would it be too bold of me to presume that the reason for the demise of this great sanctuary made it into your research, Dr Tesla?"
She only called him 'Dr Tesla' when he was being thoroughly mocked. Tesla – shifted.
"It may have touched on – passed across – brushed over..."
"Nikola..." Helen levelled her gaze at him.
"What can I say?" he shrugged softly. "Cats guarding the pigeons – they got hungry." A Sanctuary run by vampires? Of course that was going to end in a flurry of feathers.
"I thought you liked pigeons?" Helen lofted her eyebrow, prodding him sharply as John took a step closer, narrowing his eyes at the vampire.
"He's making it up," John hissed softly.
Nikola turned, arms folded. "Yes, I'm making it up," he admitted theatrically. "How on earth or otherwise would I know? Don't give me that look – I wasn't even born when this mess went down."
"Oh believe me," London's most notorious murder stooped to look the scientist in the eye. "I will find a way. Somehow, this will all trail back to you."
Black ink seeped into Nikola's eyes. That was an incredibly awful scientific principle, not to mention a wholly unfair comment on his character as a gentleman. "I'm confident I can outwit you," he whispered, too soft for Helen to hear. "I always could."
"Won the game – lost the war, young vamp," John smirked. Tesla would never get what he really wanted while ever John was around.
"What is Ashley trying to do here?" Helen was several paces ahead of them, peering down into the long cave. "She's got no chance against a full-blooded vampire, has she?"
"She'd leave more than a few holes in it," Nikola replied.
"I can't help but wonder..." Helen let her hand rest on the wall beside her. "My parents spent many months of my childhood in South America – here, in the nearby city. I think my father has been here – in these caves."
Suddenly, Helen Magnus looked vulnerable.
"What if he's sent Ashley to finish whatever it was that he started?"
Bigfoot dragged himself up the marble stairwell one blood-stained step at a time. Will – well, creature Will had sunk down onto all fours, preferring to crawl slowly over the ground. It was difficult to make his form out. His skin had learned to mimic its surroundings near perfectly.
"Will..." Bigfoot whispered, still backing up the stairs.
Will's skin trembled unsteadily for a moment, the natural scarlet red of sand creature skin flickering into view.
This silent stalking dragged on until Bigfoot reached the top of the stairs. There was a door behind his furry form and beyond that, the rooftop and freedom. Will wasn't truly interested in Bigfoot – it was the door...
Without warning, Will pounced. His lean body leapt through the air, bouncing off the wall with claws outstretched. He landed heavily on Bigfoot, bringing him to the ground. Bigfoot tried to hold onto Will, keep him inside but he was simply too strong now. Will broke free and pushed the door off its hinges.
The air was beautiful as it hit Will's face. His golden eyes tracked over he sprawl of city beyond the roof – the endless tunnels that must lay beneath them... He growled, low and deep in something akin to happiness.
Will clawed at the stone floor, setting off at a run. Bigfoot's cry of protest was lost in the wind as Will scaled the small wall of stone and launched himself off the roof and out into Old City.
"This way..." John whispered. He had found something – another smaller tunnel diverging.
Nikola frowned as his feet suddenly found water. Great, the tunnel was half flooded... Helen sloshed up to him, unaffected by the freezing water that was flowing slowly forwards.
"Oh yes, let's all just follow blindly..." Nikola muttered at her. He had been leading, following the scattered writing on the all of the main tunnel. Afterall, he had gone to all the trouble of finding this place, you know, built by his ancestors. Not that he was possessive about these things.
"Stop pouting," Helen whispered, giving him a gentle nudge. "Jealously doesn't suit your ego."
"I'm not jealous, I'm annoyed," Nikola muttered, stepping over an ill-placed bolder which turned out to be the decapitated head of an old statue. At least for a little while, he stayed close to Helen. John was further ahead, under the illusion that he was leading. "Helen..." Nikola lowered his voice. "This isn't the way Ashley came."
Helen looked at him softly – more like she used to when they were alone. In silent reply, Nikola reached down with his free hand and brushed it gently against hers. His soft touches, however rare, were always disarming...
"Helen – here..." John stopped ahead in front of a large, curved wall.
Helen walked away from Nikola leaving him standing alone. He sighed softly – and inevitably followed. He always did.
The wall was a mosaic. Millions of tiny fragments of brightly covered pottery covered the glass-stone, stuck there by some kind of translucent resin. It was a sharp clash of styles; the layout of the wall was distinctly Egyptian with rows of slaves, horses, food and ships faithfully detailing an event but the style – there was no denying the breathtaking realism of the Greeks.
"Good heavens..." Helen whispered. The animals in the mosaic looked almost real with their riders whipping them hard to get them to board the ships. It was their eyes that haunted Helen.
"It's a door," Nikola murmured. He was standing the furthest back, in ankle deep water. "There are numbers, all along the edge." He pointed to them. "A combination lock by the looks of it." A very pretty one.
"There must be something important behind it to go to such trouble -"
Nikola hissed at John to get him to shush. "I'm reading..."
Helen couldn't help laughing softly at Nikola as he started muttering under his breath, eyes tracking over the tiny lines of text riddled amongst the frightening images of vampires and humans.
"Nikola..." Helen whispered, walking up to him and tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention. He frowned and tried to shoo her away. He was busy trying to translate. "Nikola..." she insisted, tapping his shoulder insistently.
"Helen please... I'm trying to – that really is annoying," he protested as she switched to tugging on his sleeve. "Seriously wha-oh..."
Nikola had been so focused on the text that he'd utterly failed to see the bigger picture. Strewn across the otherwise beautiful mosaic was a bloody scene warning all thinking of opening the door. Open this tomb and you'll end up like the butchered bodies – open this tomb and you'll release it's scourge upon the earth.
"A touch melodramatic, don't you think?" Nikola breathed softly.
Helen couldn't help her lips curling in a smile. "A distinctly vampire trait, then..."
Nikola frowned as Helen returned to John's side at the wall. "What are you doing?"
They looked back over their shoulders as they leaned against the wall – hands outstretched. Helen's eyes were bright with mischief. "Opening it, of course..."
Honestly – people thought Nikola was bad?