BORN OF VIOLENCE
The air was choked with ice. It fell from the edges of the gaping cave, sheering off with every breath of wind ripping against the cliffs. It howled around the four figures, screaming of lost worlds and buried demons entombed beneath the rock. Helen closed her eyes. The drop at her feet made her head spin. There was barely an inch of slippery rock between her boots and the edge; beyond that there was nothing but a fall and endless ocean of snow.
"Ironic..." Amasis purred, his claws digging into the ice spikes. This twisted forest of ice was formed by the initial surge of water instantly freezing before it could spew from the cave's mouth. Flurries of snow made it grow throughout the months and now they rose up from the ground and down from the ceiling like the jaws of some great, ancient beast. "An Immortal afraid of mortality's fall."
Helen's eyes snapped open, as dark as any vampire's. They settled on Amasis lingering in front, his infuriating smirk chiselled into his face like one of those leering Sphinxes. He was cocky but quieter than his older brother. In a way Amasis reminded her of Sherlock, plotting while the world paced on, oblivious to his ill wishes and schemes.
"Death is an escape – falling is an inconvenience," Helen replied sharply, shifting herself along the ledge.
Amasis's lip curled further, forming a smile. After a pause, he extended his hand, claws dripping with water. "Here, come away from the edge," he offered to help. His brother was watching from the side along with the half-breed. Nikola's jealousy was barely contained.
"Thanks, but I'd rather fall," Helen snapped, pushing past Amasis who had to dig those claws of his into the ice to stop from losing his footing. She clambered up beside Nikola, leaning close to his ear. "There are far too many vampires on this cliff," she whispered.
"I'll try not to take that personally," Nikola replied steadily, then gestured to the mouth of the cave. It had once stood fifteen feet high but now its throat was choked from the dramatic ice flow. Their group teetered on the uneven ground, heads brushing the roof of the cave. There was a frozen river beneath their feet covered in a fine layer of snow that gave them just enough traction to carefully edge into the tunnel.
"I hope you have a plan, Nikola. If there's this much ice obstructing the cave, you're not going to be able to reach the door let alone the console at its base – which is probably destroyed," she added quietly. "Acquiring the stones was the easy part of this plan."
"Who says I have a plan?" he replied, blue eyes clearer by the minute.
Helen leaned even closer, the warm mist of her breath drifting over Nikola's face. "You always have a plan, Nikola."
He shook his head but whether that was in answer to her accusation or the destruction of his cave, remained unclear. "The door is uphill from here. I am hoping the cavern had time to drain before this surge of water froze."
"Hell of a gamble," Helen pointed out, stooping under a dagger of ice.
"Says the 'toast of Blackpool'," Tesla drawled in reply. He'd seen her swindle more than a small fortune away in the 1920's.
"At least I was only gambling with my money – mostly. Besides, it was a faze."
Nikola smirked. "Surely it's better to risk someone else's finances? Seems foolish to gamble with one's own." He had a rare talent for acquiring funds – though it waned when it came to the business of keeping them.
"Like Wardenclyffe – o'l boy?"
Tesla's face fell. That was one step too far and she'd soured it further, channelling Druitt's tone. "Helen..."
"Please!" Apries growled at the children. "Bicker on another ice flow." He stormed past them, scaling the ice with his claws.
"Sorry – I didn't mean," Helen tried to amend.
"Yes, you did," Nikola cut her off, following the vampire up the ice.
LONDON, 4th SEPTEMBER, 1666
John breathed in the ash.
Ah, London – it burned through the night, blazing in the dark like a second star sunken into the surface of the Earth. He loved it, the chaos and the terror. There was death in every corner and the brighter the buildings shone, the darker the shadows they cast. He traced those shadows, slipping silently through the sullied streets.
The records told of barely half a dozen deaths. They were wrong. John could hear the unmistakable screams pouring out from the buildings as they crumbled back into the earth. If anyone knew death, it was him. He'd watched it claw into corpses, turn the eyes of the most beautiful wench cold and dark. Perhaps there was a little vampire in every human, clutching at their heart in that final moment before death.
John wasn't here for the usual pleasantries. 1666 was the year of the demon and there was one residing in London tonight.
There was a bank of townhouses at the edge of the blaze. A warm, ominous glow fell over the marble facades, taunting the rock with its approaching destruction. Horses pawed at the ground, tied to carriages laden with every possession that could be torn out of a house. Children stared, too afraid to cry at the creeping wall of flame. Their parents threw more and more into the carts until the wheels fell off and the horses dragged the ruined carts down the cobble streets in panic.
Not number 5B.
A hot gale from the East hit John's face. Thunder shook the earth beneath his feet. He turned to see a plume of fire claw up into the sky as the Palace of Whitehall exploded into a turret of hell.
A creature watched for the window of his house. Tall, skeletal and entirely unnoticed by the world, the Immortal had flames reflected in his dark eyes. There was something about the total annihilation of civilisation that fascinated him. Again and again he watched it unfold and yet nothing ever changed. Buildings tumbled, people died and no matter how hopeless and dark the night, the sun would rise over head tomorrow and time would tick on. Humans were like a plague, scrambling from one land mass to the next like the rats that had laid disease and waste to this city and yet he had a twisted sense of admiration for their pathetic forms. They persisted. Unlike so many other races, they simply refused to die and that made them special. The meek truly would inherit the Earth – simply because they were the last players in the game.
Another flare of flame behind the building opposite jolted the Immortal into action. He could wait no longer. This street would burn and with it, the house he'd quietly built. It was time to move again.
The Immortal gathered up a few items, no more than two bags and fastened a heavy cloak over his shoulders. He didn't notice the man leaning against the wall, watching the fire approach. Instead, he headed down the street, cutting a path around the fire hoping to reach the river. There were too many people clogging up the roads out of town. The last thing he wanted was to find himself trapped in a street, burned alive – especially by his own fire.
This Immortal was not like John's Professor. He was younger, with red hair flowing in waves to his shoulders. There was something altogether darker in his eyes. He was a demi-god, playing with the future of humanity, shaping it subtle – and in cases like tonight – bold ways. It was the ultimate experiment in world building. Let the vampires conquer, this Immortal was more than happy to build.
John didn't care. He was here for one reason – to learn how to kill it.
Snark-laden as it was, Tesla's gamble was firm. As they progressed deeper into the cave system, the ice faded off, replaced first by a thickening layer of snow and then, finally, by solid rock. It was deeper than Helen remembered. A trip which had taken seconds on a wave of freezing water took the group most of the day.
They flicked their torches on, beams of light parting the abyss ahead. Apries stepped over the frozen corpse of a sand creature, averting his eyes from its twisted expression of horror. Though these bastardised creatures were never truly vampire, they had still been his companions in the bridge between life and death, the hell of purgatory, walled by rock and left to rot. He remembered them, silent in his tomb, feeble heartbeats on the air. Apries wanted to ask his brother what had become of his true family, of the empire but he wouldn't give him the satisfaction.
"Any sign of the Immortal?" Nikola asked, perambulating the tunnel.
Helen shook her head. "I can't feel him. Are you sure you didn't kill him?"
Apries snarled, leering out of the shadows like a panther. "Believe me, I would be a great deal more relaxed if I had." If the Immortal caught up with them, he'd disembowel them all. "Ah, your ancient lock, Dr Tesla... Still here." Apries shone his torch at the cluster of rocks protruding from the cave floor.
Beyond, the enormous doors stood unharmed, solid and silent. Nikola couldn't help but see it as a mouth that, if opened, would swallow up the world.
"It's intact," Nikola breathed, striding up to lay his hand on its cold surface.
"So it would seem, Dr Tesla – so it would seem..." Apries drawled. He was not about to admit that he was impressed by this mongrel.
Even Amasis found his interest peaking. He'd read of this door but had never believed it real. Yet here it was, clearly real. Were its rumours true? If so, they were about to open Pandora's Box and spew forth true destruction on the world. From whatever ashes were left, they'd pull together a new world. Their world. Amasis glanced at the half-breed. No doubt his dreams were the same.
Henry's lab was patched up like a wounded animal. Duct tape coated various objects, ominous wiring hung from the ceiling as though the innards of the Sanctuary were spilling down into the room, crackling with the occasional flare of electricity. He didn't have a new desk yet, so he was set up on the floor, bits and pieces of a ruined engine spread out over a mat. Henry sat on one side, legs folded up on an Indian cushion nicked from Helen's office. Ashley was sat opposite him on another cushion, watching.
"You're very quiet today," Henry commented, without looking up from his latest project.
She shifted, knees drawn up to her chest. "I'm worried."
"Come on Ash, your mum can handle a couple of vampires and a bit of mountaineering."
"I don't like them – Apries and Amasis. They make my blood run cold."
"Just because one of them gave you the eye..." That earned Henry a scorn-laden glare. "I'm just kidding. Those things are creepy. I swear, I'll never complain about Tesla being a vamp again. He's mostly human in comparison."
"That'll break his heart."
"Nah, I think your mum got there first."
Ashley flinched slightly. She remembered Paris, all alone with Tesla. He wasn't as mean as he liked to pretend, or as cold. It vexed her to admit that he had some kind of heart locked away under all those silk vests and ridiculous cravats. "Yeah I try not to think about my mum's conquests," she brushed Henry off lightly.
"Oh – bad mental image," Henry grimaced, setting his things down onto the mat. "Have you seen Biggie lately? He was meant to organise a pick up this afternoon of those irritating rat things."
She shook her head. "Last time I saw him was the briefing before everyone left. He's probably held up dealing with all the extra personal. I swear, it's like we adopted a swarm of humans."
"Yeah, you're probably right. Hey – wanna help me patch that wall?"
Ashley's eyebrows furrowed together. "No..."
"Come on Ash," he begged.
"Don't use the puppy dog eyes on me. They don't even work when you're a wolf."
Nikola knelt by the outcrop of misshapen meteor. There were frozen corpses littered around him in a gruesome field of rubble. He ignored them, pretending they were rubble amongst the debris.
"Bring it closer, yes," he whispered, beckoning Apries to settle his torchlight on the rock and its three, stone shaped indents. Carefully, Nikola set the velvet pouches containing the stones onto the ground, unwrapping each one with steady hands.
"Hurry it along, Tesla," Amasis shifted uncomfortably. "That Immortal won't stay away forever."
"He's right," Apries nudged the half-ling with his boot.
"Sh!" Nikola snapped. "Patience is a gods-damn-virtue."
"Who said that?" Apries looked puzzled.
Delicately, Nikola took the smallest stone and placed it flush against the matching indent in the rock. The molten surface seemed to suck it in, holding it fast without latches. "Magnetic..." Nikola purred, letting his hand linger over the stone. It was growing warm, softly aglow with a hint of purple. "This place has some life left in it yet. The ancient powers of the universe will lay dormant forever."
It was the same with the other small stone and when both were in place, a soft hum started to seep out of the asteroid remnant.
"Can you hear that?" Nikola whispered in excitement. "The rock is singing."
"It's field resonance," Amasis whispered – to a completely shocked Tesla.
"How do you know about field resonance?" Nikola snapped. "You've been asleep for a thousand bloody years.."
"You think you're the first vampire to dabble in physics? Just because humanity burned our empire of knowledge to the ground doesn't mean it didn't exist. Hell, it was probably the blood memory that allowed you to re-write some of it back into history."
Nikola's face fell like a pigeon with clipped wings.
"Nikola, focus," Helen knelt down beside him, her hand on his knee. She squeezed his knee softly, looking up into his eyes. Sometimes he looked like a small child, his naive gaze cast over the world with hope and wonder only to receive a sharp kick to the stomach.
"But I invented -"
"Sh... I know. Now you're going to unlock the greatest trove of knowledge in the world." She averted his attention to the immense door looming over them. "This'll be your knew discovery. You can add, 'explorer' to your list of accomplishments."
Finally, he nodded and set the last stone into place.
John knelt in a pool of blood, entrails and sodden clothes. The remains of the Immortal coated the boat and stained the water in dark, freezing currents. Behind him, the Great Fire of London raged yet all that reached the water was a soft, orange glow.
To John, the light was scarlet, like the blood on his hands. The strength of the Magoi blood pulsed against his skin and cursed his heart into a slow, plodding rhythm.
"Everything dies," he whispered to the corpse strewn over the boat. "Don't take it personally."
'Nobody knows what happened to the Immortals,' Amasis had told him, as they stood on the deck of the ship. 'They vanished over the years, flickering from the world. Perhaps the Cabal turned on them, or fate changed favour. We'll never know, I guess.'
John knew. He was Death and he'd come for them all.