27

CITY OF LOVE

PARIS, SAINTE CHAPELLE

"Yeah, this is absolutely what I envisioned Paris to be like!" Ashley had her head half out of the car, severely cut blonde hair flapping about in the night air as she watched the antique street lights flit by, huge chateaus rising behind them in a wall of cream and grey. The Seine was on their right, meandering along between the concrete. A giant steel statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex rose up from the river on the other bank, caught in the water like a glowing spectre from the Cretaceous. "Awesome."

"Watch the bloody road!" Nikola pointed to the street in alarm as the car veered toward the curb. It clipped it, bouncing back with a rattle. "I see you got your driving skills from your mother."

"From Henry," she corrected.

"Oh excellent..." Nikola had changed into a fresh suit. Not that you could tell, all his clothes were variations on the retro-Victorian. He had the keystone in his hand, rolling it over and over. It was warm with energy and adorned with tiny scratches that he was itching to inspect under a microscope. "How did you know I was in Oxford?"

"Look, Vlad," Nikola glared at her choice of nickname, "mum's making me do this. I'm not thrilled about being your chauffeur."

"I don't need any help!"

"Uh ha..." she turned into one of the island's side streets. More beautiful buildings framed the street, lit from beneath with fairy lights climbing along their walls. "And back at that house – you were totally fine."

"Totally."

Ashley smirked.


"Lay still..." Amasis hissed at John.

Druitt was strapped to the table with thick leather restraints around his ankles, torso, arms and neck. Amasis moved closer, obstructing the harsh electric lights as he brandished a long needle. Its tip was thick and angled to allow heavy droplets of liquid to drip neatly into a patient's eyes.

"The last time I dabbled in biology I ended up a serial killer," he joked.

Amasis was amused. "Well, now I'm going to give you claws."

"Claws – I thought – oh, a vampire joke," John realised, testing the restraints to make sure they'd hold.

Amasis's cold fingers held John's eye open. He lowered the ominous needle closer, a bead of blood swelling on its tip. Magoi blood.

"Look on the bright side," the vampire's eyes were impenetrable – black and huge as he leaned closed to John who flinched as the cold blood hit his pupil and turned the whites of his eyes red. Amasis moved the needle to the other eye. "Madness is a relief; like death the mind is abandoned to peace."

"It won't come to that," John replied, blinking away the second drop of blood. "The world has had plenty of chances but it hasn't succeeded in taking my mind." Just his heart.


"This is it," Nikola nodded for her to pull up on the curb.

She tucked the car in a visitor park and opened her door. "No way."

"What were you expecting?" Nikola let himself out. Above him towered an impressive wall of perfectly carved sandstone beyond which poked the famous Sainte Chapelle, glowing in the dark like all the other ancient buildings.

"You said, 'library'," Ashley joined him, crossing her arms, noting the locked gate and sign that stressed visiting hours were finished. "This is a cathedral. Not the same thing."

"Clearly you've never been to Rome," he muttered, leaping over the chain attempting to deter trespassers.

Opened in 1248, the Sainte Chapelle was over seven hundred years old. A watercolour mix of grey and cream on its roof and walls; inside was an explosion of lurid coloured glass branching into Gothic ceilings that made the 70's look sleepy.

"It's huge," Ashley commented, as they walked across the neatly kept grass courtyard toward the actual chapel.

It was tall, long and not particularly wide. Beautiful equilateral arches hid more stained glass windows set behind, richly carved spires reached four stories up the walls and erupted in flourishes of carved crosses behind which receded the steep, high roof. Protruding from the middle of this was an enormous spire nearly the same height as the building itself.

"This thing has been here forever," Nikola whispered. "Helen and I took an unofficial tour after school. She made the poor fellow give her a detailed history – took hours mostly because he was violently in love with her."

Ashley side-eyed the vampire. She still found it very weird that her mother used to hang out with him, apparently of her own free will. "Some of the lights are still on. I don't know how you plan on breaking in without damaging anything."

"Break in?" he scoffed. "I think not. This building belongs to Helen now."

"Mum owns this and she never told me?"

"Did she tell you about the villa in Italy?" Nikola watched Ashley's shock turn into a frown. "No?"


They were awoken by howls shuddering through the depths of the steel ship. In complete darkness, Henry and Will sat up, still bound tightly.

"What was that...?" Will murmured.

"Dude is that Druitt?" Henry pricked his ears. Beneath the hideous keening was a definite human moan. "I thought he was working with the psycho vamp?"

"Never know what a serial killer's kinks are-"

"Oh come on – gross!" Henry complained. "Serious though, that sounds like bad news."

The cries stopped. Neither of them could decide whether that was a good sign.


"I must say, I am surprised to see you," a remarkably young man ushered them to a small room separate from the main chapel. Even though modest compared to the building, it was had a high ceiling, hand carved room with mahogany fixtures and candles affixed to the wall with iron.

Nikola was grinning, blue eyes sparkling mischievously in the candlelight. "Please don't tell me you're still sore over that old book..."

"Tesla-" Ashley eyed him in warning.

"The one you stole? Yes, yes I'm still angry with you and if Dr Magnus hadn't called me herself I never would have let you back in this holy place. You – you vampire!"

Nikola seemed heartily amused. "Well, she did call and I believe you have an artefact to show us. We're pressed for time."

The man was desperately unhappy, hand clutching his pen so hard the plastic looked about to snap. "Yes, a relic brought back by Dr Watson nearly a century ago but I can't think what possible good it will do you. It has some cultural significance but my experts assure me it is just a lump of meteorite passed between cultures until it ended up in India around a thousand years ago. I'm not entirely comfortable giving it to you."

"That as it may be..." Nikola gestured to the door. The man had no choice, grumpily heading out the door – which he slammed – leaving Ashley and Tesla alone in his office.

"Dude – you must have pissed him off," Ashley whispered. "What did you steal?"

"Family relic!" Nikola insisted. "Vampire scroll so technically, as the last living vampire, it was mine."

She whacked him. "You're not the last living vampire, mongrel."

"That – breaks my heart..."

They bickered for twenty minutes straight.

"Jeez, how long's it take to retrieve one old rock from downstairs?" she kicked her feet up onto the desk, shuffling into her chair.

"Not this long unless he's being purposely petulant," Nikola admitted, picking at his claws.

"You didn't bring your Oxford friends with you, did you?"

"I don't even know who they are," he admitted. "It's been bugging me." And his shoulder still hurt.

Ten more more minutes crept past before Nikola could stand it any more. He stood up, pacing anxiously around the office. The electricity cut out with an angry snap leaving a few candles flickering in the corners of the office. Ashley and Tesla looked at each other – and drew their weapons.


"I wish Ashley was here," Detective Kavanaugh muttered, lounging on Helen's couch with an arm full of paper still warm from the printer. Helen was behind her desk, flicking through an equally intimidating forest. It was late with several tea services scattered over the various side tables.

"Would you prefer I left Nikola on his own?" she replied, sipping freezing tea from a chipped porcelain cup.

"I could have gone."

Helen nearly chocked on her tea.

"What?" Joe turned his head to look at her. "You don't think I can handle one science geek?"

"The only reason Nikola will behave is because Ashley's my daughter. Anyone else he'd shrug off then promptly land himself in trouble. If I'm going to have to go through eternity with a vampire as my balance, it's damn well going to be Nikola. At least I know I can stare him down from world domination."

"Better hope he finds those stone things then."

"Don't worry yourself, detective. If Nikola has a talent beyond the realms of science, it's theft."


"If we break anything in this building, your mother will kill us both," Nikola pointed out helpfully, sneaking along one of the chapel's underground tunnels. The tunnel was less than generous, maybe four feet wide forcing them to shuffle awkwardly down it with flash lights bouncing off an endless monotone of stone.

"Shall I tie one hand behind my back as well?" she huffed.

"Don't snark at me, young lady."

"I cannot believe that you were nearly my dad," she muttered under her breath, glaring at the darkness that encroached both in front and behind. Suddenly she collided with the vampire. "What the hell, dude? Why'd you stop?"

"When did Helen say that?"

She shoved him, annoyed. "I don't know, ages ago. Gross subject – do not want to talk about it."

"Ashley, I have never slept with your mother."

"What am I, five?" she rolled her eyes. "You practically trail her around with your mouth open and a badge on your cravat saying, 'totally tapped that'." He was glaring at her in a way totally foreign to her. She realised it was confusion. "Seriously – never?"

"Never," he repeated firmly.

She looked him up and down, then tilted her head. "Never anyone? You need to get laid. Awkward..." Ashley added, when Tesla took on a rather ashen appearance. "Well, we are in Paris – perhaps I could drop you off at one of th-"

"I really don't want to talk about this any more."

"Trying to help!" She actually felt sorry for him. Yes, he was a thieving, egotistical bastard with a god complex but a century and a half was a long time to be lonely. "I – can't believe I'm saying this but you could try asking mum out for dinner instead of getting into trouble all the time."

He didn't respond.

"What are you so afraid of?" Ashley pressed gently, seeing Tesla in a slightly softer light. Her mum was right, he was an acquired taste. It wasn't just pity that made her care – he was desperately innocent like a kitten sitting behind glass in a pet store, pawing at the glass. A hundred and fifty years and no one had adopted him.

"It's no secret," Nikola finally replied, fidgeting with a crack in the mortar. "I have loved her nearly all my life – everyone knows it, including her. I can take a hint, Ashley. She's not interested but as long as I never hear those words from her lips I can pretend that I have a chance maybe not at the moment but in a century – or two – hey!"

Ashley didn't give the poor vampire much choice. With hardly any room to move, she took a few steps forward and wrapped her arms around him in a proper hug. He was terrified and stiff which confirmed her suspicion that he didn't get hugged much.

"I don't hug," he insisted, blonde hair strewn over his face.

"You do now, vampy," Ashley insisted. "If you want to my date mum, you have to start being more friendly." Hell her actual dad was history's most notorious serial killer, what harm could a vampire do? "If you break her heart, I'll shoot you."

"Noted," he replied, finally lifting one hand hesitantly up to rest on her back. "Well... this is lovely and all but shouldn't we get going?"

"Things to kill, shit to steal?" she grinned, stepping back and cocked her gun.

"That sounds about right." Besides, he was royally embarrassed and positive he'd only shared such intimate details because Ashley was half-Helen.

"Oh, and where'd you leave that other rock? I saw you playing with it back in the car. Don't want it getting nicked if this all goes to shit."

"Language. It's safe..." he assured her.

"Bloody vampires," Ashley muttered, nudging him again.

They continued along the narrow tunnel which lost condition with stones shaken free, shattered on the ground; holes big enough to house bird spiders ominously covered in webs... A muffled smash drew their attention. It came from behind the wall. Neither of them made a sound, sneaking toward the only door that led into the underground library.

Their torches clicked off as they opened the door. Torchlight darted frantically at the other end of the room. Half a dozen people were searching for something, scrambling along the rows and rows of manuscripts dotted with display cases housing religious relics donated by various kings and queens.

Nikola and Ashley moved undetected, slipping along an adjacent isle, half bent over with the ceiling nearly on their heads. Nikola instantly recognised the blonde mercenary from Oxford hissing orders in French. He had a few new friends, more locals That made it more likely to be the Immortal's doing. Apries hadn't been free long enough to have an extensive network of willing humans.

That was a bad sign.