Nikola knelt down, soaking the spilled wine up with a cloth. He was embarrassed by the mess, carefully attempting to draw the stains out of the rug with varying success. The remaining shards of bottle were collected in his palm until Nikola returned to his feet, relieved to see the damage mostly alleviated.
His nerves remained frayed.
With a great deal more care, he fetched himself another bottle and retreated to the safety of the sofa, lounging in front of Helen's fire to think. He was dwarfed by the marble mantle, ironwork chandelier and tapestries that carpeted the walls.
Nikola's mind was his greatest asset and the only thing in which he had absolute faith. If it was unravelling then he was lost. There were many things that Nikola could endure – idiocy was not one of them.
"Reason your way out of it," he told himself firmly, taking a firm swig of his wine straight from the bottle. "What do you know?"
He smirked, licking his lips.
That this is cheap wine.
"What's the matter with you?"
Nikola sneered at the interruption strutting into the office. Joe Kavanaugh was not his favourite person in the world although he had to give him credit for single handedly unleashing a vampire plague upon the Earth. Nikola would have gone for something more refined than a den of diseased half-breeds but it was a step in the right direction. Maybe. Only time would tell whether humanity would find shackles again.
"This is Helen's office," Nikola replied dryly, as though he were the only other creature allowed to inhabit it.
"Oddly enough, I noticed," Joe kept an even tone with the moody vampire. "Actually, it's you I came to see."
That was even worse. Nikola twisted his lip up in disdain, downing another sip of wine. "How unfortunate."
Joe's look was one of infinite patience. "I was hoping to enlist your help in the search for Zimmerman. Ashley and Henry are following a lead in the subway -"
"You mean the hunt?" he corrected. "No, I think not. When and if you manage to find Helen's protege I will endeavour to return him to his former, pitiful state as per my arrangement with Helen."
"How very generous of you."
"Believe me, this is not an exercise in charity." Nikola had his reasons.
Joe cast his eyes over the array of artefacts littering the side tables. Helen was a collector at heart and in true Victorian form she liked to decorate her world with each conquest. She wasn't half as noble as she pretended to be.
"I'm surprised," Detective Kavanaugh added. "I thought you'd be the first in line to interrogate the full-blood vampire downstairs. Isn't he what you've been searching for all these years?"
Nikola's look was one of disdain. Not only was his business private, he resented Kavanaugh's intimate dealings with the ancient ones, experiences which greatly exceeded his.
"Our ancient friend is heavily sedated and I doubt Helen will wake him until her precious protege is well."
"And you are perfectly capable of biding your time."
"Something like that." Claws tapped against the bottle.
Kavanaugh wasn't finished.
"And you have no designs on my father either, then?"
Nikola made an inhuman sound that could have passed for laughter. "The half-ling? Ex-half-ling actually... From what I've read of your report he spent most of his last four decades in a trance with little or no memory of either his cave or the vampire he kept guard over her. No. Unsurprisingly I have no interest in him."
That made the Detective feel more comfortable, sinking into the cushions, enjoying the warm glow of the fire.
"You're still here..." Nikola glared.
"I'm still here."
Nikola sighed tiredly and set the bottle of wine down with a clunk. "Are you going to make me guess?"
"Actually, it's easier if I show you."
Helen held her head between her hands. She could hear several heart beats in the world now – three of them clashing against each other inside her mind. Too many vampires. The balance had been lost with the awakening of two more. Nikola and the ancient one from the Sanctuary of the Moon were closest. She'd know Nikola's heart anywhere.
"I'm fine," she lied, laying back against the car as it wove its way through Old City. She had not felt like this since Oxford.
"Are you going to tell me why we're not going home?" The Sanctuary was several blocks behind them.
"We can't go home yet, not if I'm right."
"You're starting to worry me..." Henry turned to her as a downpour smashed against the car's windows.
"Nikola and John would not have left without me. I suspect they brought more than our souvenir vampire back with them."
"The Magoi – bloody hell."
She tossed him a newspaper folded open to an article.
'MISSING: The Suspected Trade of Old City's Homeless'
'...in the last week a suspected four people have vanished from slums around the city. Well known in their underground world, police have been unable to account for these sudden absences. The Town Hall is opening its doors this evening in a bid to offer shelter for the easy prey of what many suspect to be a human trafficking ring...'
Henry closed his eyes. "Will..." was all he said.
"The Magoi will want to go home but it's desire to migrate is going to interfere with our effort to save Will. Once we enter the Sanctuary we'll have no way of telling who is real. The less people in there the better. I don't want my Sanctuary to end up a pile of rubble and bone."
"Doc..." Henry added quietly. "Are we going to kill it?"
"It's too dangerous to live."
"We don't really know anything about them, do we?"
"In a hundred years we might be intelligent enough to have a conversation with them," she replied, a dark shadow over her features. "I hope this city is worth the life of one Magoi."
A gunshot rang out in the tunnel. It was absorbed by the distant rumble of a subway train, trundling through the dark.
A body fell from the ceiling. It landed with a crunch on the gravel in front of Bigfoot.
Ashley knelt down, nudging the sand creature with her boot as its body shimmered back into the visible spectrum. It was dead.
"How many more of these do you think there are?" she whispered, standing up and re-loading her gun.
"No ideaaaa," Bigfoot whispered, his eyes searching the tunnels ahead. "Will has been down here for days – whatever he doesn't kill is turned."
"There's going to be a plague of these things."
They worked their way through the tunnels leaving a trial of bodies for the other teams to pick up. This was getting out of hand. "We may need to contact some of the other Sanctuaries."
"Your mother wouldn't like that," Bigfoot replied. "She's gone to great lengths to keep the truth of vampires from the world. They'll ask questions when they see the fangs."
"The one Abnormal she hides..." Ashley whispered. "I used to think that the Abnormal world was a dark place but these last few weeks have shown me something else." She paused as she climbed up onto an abandoned platform, helping Biggie up. "It's mum's world that is dark. I barely know her."
Something their claws against the concrete. Ashley and Bigfoot turned, panning their flash lights over the walls.
Will sank away from the halos of light.
"This world made your mother," Bigfoot replied softly.
They both prowled closer, weapons raised and their torches sweeping back and forward. "There's something she's not telling me."
Her torch caught a pair of golden eyes.
Nikola stood in front of the freezer in Helen's main lab looking greatly put out. He folded his arms crossly, reading the sign taped to its sad, stained surface.
'OUT OF SERVICE – please use freezer on Basement Level 2'
The vampire shrugged. "So? What am I supposed to do, fix it?"
"It's not broken," Joe replied, stepping forward. He placed his hand against the door's surface. It was cool – the gentle hum of the freezer's engine steady like a pulse.
"Someone forgot to take the sign down, honestly, did the wolf put you up to this? I have a gnawing feeling that I'm being purposely annoyed."
"Henry's still on a plane." Compared to the psychotic criminals Joe was accustomed to, the vampire had a long way to go in petulance. "Ah, but that's not the really cool bit, Doctor Tesla – pardoning the pun."
Nikola groaned as Joe reached up to where the sign was and went straight through it. The surface was smooth – entirely sign free.
Nikola swayed back, staring at the empty freezer door. He was seriously starting to think that there were a few loose wires between his eyes and brain.
"Ah, now I have your attention," Joe whispered, lowering his hand to the handle of the freezer. He gave it a decent tug but the door refused to budge. "Now, I don't know about you but I'm not particularly comfortable with objects coming and going from reality."
"It's the Magoi," Nikola whispered, feeling a cold shiver run down his back. "It must be here - it has to be." The vampire turned on Joe with a suspicious glare.
"What? Hey – no..." Joe lifted his hands innocently. "I don't even know what a – what did you say it was?"
"Magoi," Nikola growled.
"That. I have no idea what it is."
If nothing else, Nikola doubted the Magoi would be pointing out things it had tried to hide so he gave Joe the benefit of the doubt. "Obviously it doesn't want us to get into this freezer – so that's exactly what we're going to do."
It was not easy and after an hour of prodding, bashing and general abuse of the freezer door, they discovered that it was not actually locked. The mind was easy to manipulate, especially for an ancient Magoi.
Flustered from exertion, they pushed open the door and were met with a thick mist of frost. Joe waved it away from his face, squinting through the freezing air. Their sweat shattered as droplets of ice on the floor. "What, in the name of god, is that..."
Nikola inched toward the seven foot bundles of silk. They glistened in the frosted air, beads of ice adoring the fine threads like jewels. There were three cocoons stuck to the far wall closest to the air ducts with a faint shadow of something moving inside each one.
"Baby Magoi," Nikola replied, voice catching. "What a nightmare."
"We should go to Helen," Joe whispered, but Nikola caught his arm sharply, claws out.
"No. We don't go to anyone," he growled softly, as though afraid the cocoons would tear open any minute. "First, we shut this freezer down then work out what the hell is going on. Anyone in this Sanctuary could be a Magoi – anything you see. You trust your hands and nothing else, understand?"
Will clawed straight up the wall, sticking to the ceiling like an oversized gecko, hiding behind the shadows of steel thick beams. His skin rippled from crimson to grey rendering him invisible.
"Shit!" Ashley hissed, looking up at the dark void above. She switched her gun to stun mode and started pacing forward, tilting her head sharply trying to catch a glimpse of the sand creature. "He's completely turned."
"Yeah, reeeeeal little piece of work," Bigfoot growled, moving to the opposite side of the tracks. "Tried to rip me in shreds before."
"Five minutes until the next train," she warned, stepping carefully between the tracks. The rumble of the train was already shaking the gravel around them. "I don't want to lose him again."
Ashley moved fast and light through the tunnel. She used the side wall as protection and kept her head up to the ceiling. Damn these things were quiet. Her torch light was obstructed by a column of dust wafting down from the ceiling. She took a shot.
"Missed it," Bigfoot hissed from the other side of the tunnel.
"Yeah, but not by much," she replied, lifting her gun again.
This time she took three shots – chasing the flurries of dust. Her last shot hit Will on the back of the leg. He let out a screech of pain, scratching frantically at the roof before falling between the tracks. The thunder of the oncoming train started to roar like a wave building up against the reef. Bigfoot grabbed the semi-conscious sand creature by one of its thrashing limbs, dragging it over the tracks.
"Hiiiit it again!" he yelled.
Will twisted and writhed, scratching at Bigfoot's furry hand. Mid run, Ashley pulled the trigger again and the creature became a dead weight.
"One minute!" she hissed, picking up the pace. "Platform's not far."
Bigfoot lumbered along with Will's unconscious body. Ashley reached the platform before him, throwing her gun up over the edge before vaulting over the cement barrier. She laid on her stomach and took Bigfoot's gun first – then started to haul Will up. He was visible again – his crimson skin heavily scarred already.
"Come on, hurry up!" she urged, feeling the wind whip her hair up.
"Too old fo' this," Bigfoot muttered, barely managing to get his enormous body clear as the express train rocketed through, its horn blaring angrily.
The sound of slow applause filled the platform. Ashley frowned – then turned to see Henry and Helen standing shoulder to shoulder – Henry applauding with a smirk on his lips.
Ashley rolled her eyes at the closest thing to a brother she'd ever get. "Two vampires – two days, count says I win."
Henry shook her head. "Nah – I brought mum home; trumps a vampire and half-vamped-protege every time."
"What on earth are you talking about?" Ashley slid her gun back into its holster.
Helen was grinning at her daughter – only just fighting the urge to rush over and take her into her arms. She hadn't seen her in over a week. "Let's get Will somewhere secure – then we can talk."
It was perfect. Transparent, tightly bound tubes danced under the glass slide. Nikola peered through the microscope, increasing the magnification again. Millions of tiny hairs appeared, interlocking like velcro – terrible, grotesque claws binding the silk together.
Nikola straightened up slowly, his hand shifting to his hip, the other resting on the edge of the table for support. His lab was meagre in comparison to the rest of the house but it was the safest place to be. Joe was standing by the window, leaning against the sill as the sun started to set over the city behind him.
"This will change the world," Nikola announced, holding up the glass side. The fragment of Magoi silk was difficult to make out except when it caught the sunlight and shone pure silver. "Darwin's spider, eat your your heart out. Inch by inch this is the strongest material in existence."
Joe didn't look so impressed. He'd prefer not to fawn over a creature that was trying to kill them. "I'm not sure that farming Magoi is high on our priority list, Tesla."
Nikola shook his head impatiently. Mortals were just so … preoccupied with the present.
"I don't think that you quite grasp the material point," his fangs peaked out. He was about to launch into a brief history of natural substances that changed the course of human history when Joe held up both hands.
"You're not going to be making any more world altering discoveries if you're dead," Joe pointed out bluntly.
Nikola sighed and set the slide down. "Producing those offspring would have used a great deal of energy. It'll need to feed – it's probably started on the abnormals already – possibly even the staff." Nikola strutted over his desk drawer. He pulled out a couple of prototype handguns. "Combination electric stunner and laser pulse. The pain of the small burn is enough to get the attention of medium sized prey while giving their nerves a bit of a work over."
"This is what you do for Helen...?"
"From time to time. Depends how quickly I run out of money, really... We're going to stun everything and anything walking the hallways and start making good use of the cells."