THROAT OF THOTH
Her boots lost their tentative grip on the frozen ground, scraping against sharp chunks of rock. During her swift descent, one of them tripped her up entirely and sent her crashing against the tunnel wall. She landed on her side and curled against the rock-face in a foetal position with one hand caught awkwardly underneath. A sharp pain ripped up her arm, striking through the bone. Helen whimpered in shock, dragging her arm free.
"Dr Magnus?" Joe gasped in alarm, quickly navigating the black ice as he rushed to her side. He rolled her over, tapping lightly at her cheek until her blue eyes fluttered open. "Are you all right?" he asked.
She groaned. Helen's wrist hung loose against the floor, the break obvious beneath her pale skin which was quickly staining with bruises. A fragment of white bone had pierced free above her joint. "Hurts like a bugger..." she gasped.
Nikola swooped to join them, ditching his backpack on the ground. He rifled through it for the med kti.
Helen turned her head, which was rested in Joe's lap and gave him a pleading look. Without a word, Nikola took her arm carefully and laid the broken wrist straight against a splint. Positioning it took a painful minute in which Helen bit through her lip to stop a scream. Her muffled gurgle mad both men uneasy as Nikola prodded the bone back under her skin. Nikola wrapped it tightly then nodded for Joe to bring her to a sitting position.
"You've got a concussion," Nikola murmured, their voices hushed. He was no doctor but he'd been friends with James long enough to make a passable go at it. At least members of The Five required band-aids rather than surgery and his pension for perfection made him halfway decent at fixing a straight break.
Everyone's voices dropped lower when another wave of sickening claws scraping against rock shivered up the tunnels. The vampires were moving – slowly.
"Like god-damn termites," Joe muttered. It was as though the sand creatures were inside the granite walls.
"We take a break," Nikola insisted. "Our friends aren't going anywhere in a hurry, not in this cold."
Helen accepted the pain killers. "I'll be all right in a minute," she replied, shooting Nikola a meaningful look.
He sat back slowly, catching his breath. Nikola remembered all too well Helen's extraordinary ability to heal. She should have died long ago, falling from the university roof but Immortals were as their name suggested, difficult to kill. The last thing they wanted was for the vampire to know that. Their ancient friend was some distance ahead, keeping watch or plotting his escape – it was impossible to tell.
"Just a sprain, then..." Nikola eyed her sternly.
"A sprain?" Joe objected, until he was hushed, lowering his voice. "Tesla I -"
"A sprain," Nikola insisted firmly. "Nothing more."
Half an hour later, it was time. "Help her up," Nikola directed. "We need to keep moving."
Helen stood gingerly. She wasn't sure what caused more agony – the initial snap or her bones knitting together again. With her good hand, she felt the back of her head where she was sporting a fresh lump. "Bloody caves..." she growled.
"You dropped this," Nikola handed over her pistol, which she slipped back into its holster.
"Really, I'm okay," she insisted, inspecting her bound wrist. "It's not my right hand so I can still shoot things."
"Just – make sure it's not me," Nikola winked, even if he still looked concerned. "I won't believe you if there's an accident and you blame it on 'poor aim'."
"Noted," she agreed, as they all started up the steep rise back to the path. At least she'd fallen towards the cave and not into the abyss on the other side. Even an immortal would struggle to survive such a fall – possibly a vampire too if Nikola were nudged into it. She eyed it as they went past, a chill rippling up her spine. "We're getting deep in the earth now – I remember the stories you told, Nikola. Hollow Earth... Cities buried beneath our feet."
"They were just stories, Helen," he whispered back, purring against her ear while they walked.
"You are not a man of stories," she countered easily. "Dreams perhaps but not fiction."
How wrong she was, Nikola thought, his greatest fiction was currently holding onto his arm as they walked. "I didn't think you were listening to my stories. No, as I recall it you were too busy being practical."
"You know, you never did tell me what you and father found under the mountains at your home."
He reply was delayed. "Didn't I?" Well, perhaps not the whole truth.
"What in god's name is it doing?" Henry set down a tray of tea beside Will, then poured himself a cup and sat with their resident shrink.
In front of them was the four inch thick glass of the high security observation room. Inside, the Magoi had taken the unsual step of letting them see its natural form. They gave Henry the creeps. If you squinted a Magoi looked a like a human wrestler made from wax then left out in the sun to semi-melt. With its head tilted to the ceiling, eyes closed and breathing lowered to a near undetectable level, it could have been a statue.
Will shook his head. "Nothing good. It's concentrating all of its power onto something, that's why we can see it."
"I guess it's an improvement. Still, I don't like it one bit – neither does the mermaid and she is an excellent judge of character."
"Magnus is right though, we can't exactly set it loose."
"Can't we sedate it again?" Henry asked.
"We've been trying but it hasn't resonded. I'm starting to wonder if we ever really had it sedated in the first place."
"Well," Henry sighed, sipping his tea. "We're going to have to do something about it eventually."
"Not until Magnus gets back. You go," he added, when Henry reminded him about the supplies meeting. "I think I'll stay a little longer. If we're going to babysit this thing, we should at least endeavour to learn something about it."
"As you wish," Henry sighed. "Just promise me you won't name it or anything. I'm pretty sure the doc is of a mind to – you know..." his finger swept over his throat.
They caught up to the vampire. His skeletal figure lingered by a fork in the path. One track went East toward an exit leading to extinct mountain village. They went North-West, following the path along sharper declines. It descended many levels further until the sound of claws was hushed somewhat by the roar of an underground river.
"What is that?" Joe quickened his pace to fall inline beside the solitary creature leading them.
"Glacier melt," he hissed back, fangs glistening more than usual, covered in a fine layer of saliva. He was hungry from the trek and the supplements Magnus offered did little to sate him. "These pathways can flood in Spring or Summer on short notice. Most do not make a journey at this time of year."
The vampire may have taken a vow not to feed off humans but he still took liberties with warm-blooded animals from time to time.
They soon found the source of the roar. Their tunnel abruptly ended at the edge of black, gushing water. Whatever rock or bridge had once traversed the gap between their tunnel and the opening opposite was long gone.
"We'll be swept clear off!" Joe paced to the edge of the rock and shone his torch down. The water was rough, seething into foam where it slammed against the cave walls. They were nearly shouting to hear each other, the impending danger of the sand creatures momentarily forgotten.
"The half-ling and humans won't make it," the vampire offered dryly, implying that he could make the jump, which Nikola highly doubted – until he remembered the damn thing could teleport.
"Maybe you could go have a look, see what's on the other side?" Nikola suggested.
The vampire laughed. "I'd rather not end up half-embedded in a wall. One does not use such a gift in uncharted territory." He paused, peering around with his blood-rimmed eyes. "Here," he carefully stepped out to the thing seams of rock at the side of their tunnel. At the edge was the smallest of outcrops that could only be scaled if you were holding onto the slippery wall. "We can climb down here and move over the boulders obstructing the stream."
"Are you nuts?" growled Joe, eyeing the 'boulders' in the water. They were the worst form of slippery – rounded and smooth from centuries of abuse by the currents coated in fresh throws of glowing moss. "I am not going over those."
"Perhaps you could swim instead?" the vampire snipped, lowering his tall body down onto the very edge of the river where he sank a few inches into the loosely piled pebbles. He could tell that the ground dropped away into the river nearly immediately. Water flowing that fast had a tendency to gouge deep passages.
Helen struggled the most, nearly losing her grip with only one good hand to cling onto the rock. Nikola all but lifted her down until they were lined along the bank, their backs pressed to the wall and water snapping at their boots.
A sharp crack and the ancient vampire was gone. There was a faint trail of purple energy fading in a ghostly silhouette before he reappeared just as suddenly on the closest boulder adrift in the stream.
"Fucking, goddamn vampires!" Joe gasped, startled half to death.
The vampire spread his arms wide. His fingers tapered into sinister claws while his eyes formed black voids against his skin. "Come..." he purred at the Detective.
"Worst idea ever..." Joe muttered, inching closer to the water. As soon as his boot touched the edge, the course river sand started falling away. No room for error then. He turned, paced the two measly paces to the wall and then took a flying leap at the deadly water.
Joe's boots hit rock – then moss. Suddenly he was dropping sharply. His boots, ankles and legs submerged in a freezing froth of water.
Oh shit! he thought, flailing in panic. The current was a brute slap against his skin, jerking him sharply to the side. A bony hand grasped at his jacket, pulling him sharply back toward the rock. The ancient vampire lifted him from the river and placed him on the boulder. Joe checked his limbs – all were still present.
Helen was thrown over by Nikola. The Vampire was able to catch her mid flight, setting her down lightly beside Joe until finally Nikola joined them, slightly damp. They crossed the remaining boulders until all of them were settled in the tunnel entrance.
"My brother's army is just beyond this tunnel," the vampire whispered. "Are you still willing to make good on your gamble, Dr Magnus?"
When Helen nodded curtly, the vampire's gaze flicked worryingly to Joe.
"What...?" the detective frowned. "Why are you all – oh come on!" his concern shifted to revulsion when he realised he was a pre-war snack. Now he knew why they'd agreed to bring him along.
The change was remarkable.
Joe was unconscious, resting on the dirt with a bandage around his wrist stained from the vampire's feed. He was pale but alive, his body slowly replenishing what had been taken. Nikola was on the far side, leaning against a wall looking just as ghostly. He'd been sick watching the display.
The ancient vampire was no longer a dried shell. His flesh had instantly padded out as years of his life faded away. Instead of white, his hair was deep grey with black streaks rippled through it while all of his fangs now glistened pearl white. Vampires stole their youth from other living creatures and this one was freshly feasted.
He was handsome, Helen noticed. The regal blood lines married strong bones and deep, blue eyes which the vampire now showed, blinking up at the glowing cave-moss. They'd not been blue for hundreds of years but now they were sharp and clear like ice. Nikola had exactly the same eyes – which Helen found troubling.
"Ah..." he whispered, stretching his body like a panther. "Now I remember – youth."
"Don't get used to it," Helen replied, approaching cautiously. "Now, for your part of the bargain."
Nikola had made it to his feet, kneeling over the detective's unconscious body. "What about him?"
"He's safer here," Helen whispered.
There was a true abyss ahead of them. Following their tiny cave to its end, the vampire, Tesla and Helen discovered that narrow corridor of rock ended at a chasm. At least fifty feet across and another down it was as though a giant, Dune sandworm had slithered its way through the mountain and birthed this tunnel.
"What is this place?" Helen demanded of the vampire. It was clearly not a natural formation in the rock.
The younger looking vampire knelt by the opening, spying over the darkness.
"Don't you know, Doctor Magnus? I had rather thought your father would have shared some of my stories. We did a great deal of talking, you see, him and I... A great deal indeed. Extraordinary man especially considering he was a mere mortal like your detective back there."
Helen stomach was starting to turn at the sight of the vampire. They needed him strong to quarrel with his brother but right now he looked too strong for Helen's liking. "He shared a great many stories with me but not all of them."
A small smirk of the vampire's lips. He knew exactly what she was. Gregory Magnus was intelligent enough to know that vampires knew of Immortals but not smart enough to deduce their volatile relationship worked both ways. Clearly the old man never told his daughter what he'd been doing in the Sanctuary of the Moon all those years ago either. This other half-ling vampire was more curious... What was it doing befriending an Immortal?
"This is the 'Throat of Thoth'," the vampire curled a slender claw at the tunnel.
"Thoth, the moon deified," Helen whispered, earning a proud curl of Nikola's lip.
"Indeed," he agreed. After the darkness of the cave they could see why this tunnel had earned such a name. Its walls were riddled with the glowing moss, weaving through its fissures. The whole thing looked like a great slab of marble – well, marble carved from the underworld perhaps. It had an unsettling aura about it. A threatening presence that lured them onward. "He had a fondess for knowledge and magic."
"He was real," the vampire curled his hands around the very edge of the opening. "An ancient king, before the dawn of our civilisation had truly risen."
Nikola's eyes were wide and black, awestruck. "Is he still alive?"
"I doubt it," the vampire replied. "These things were legend before the first city rose out of the sand. My brother knew more about him than most. Perhaps you can ask him?"
Nikola levelled his dark look at the vampire.
"Bloody hell," Helen whispered. "How much of our history is a lie?"
"How much of it was written by human hand?" the vampire countered, giving Helen her answer. "We are not here on a sight seeing tour. My brother is down here. Come, there is a way down."
The vampire led them into the final depths of the earth beyond the reach of any help.