A/N: First off I want to thank everyone who has reviewed, Alerted, and just stopped in to read Start of Days. I am still mind boggled that I have even one single review.
This will be the last chapter. I was going to add a final showdown with ?&? vs ? but the Cabal angle has been annoying me after reading over on how antsy this story became. And I apologize for the last chapter, I think it may be completely horrid but I couldn't do much with Nikola and Ashley as they for me are so hard to write.
I am so happy that some of you found interest in this story but wish I could have written it a gazillion times better as there are so many wonderful amazing writers on this site it makes me want to toss my laptop and stories out the window! :D Your reviews and supportive PMs have kept this story alive for over a year now. Thank you for that!
I hope you all enjoy the last chapter of Start of Days and I appreciate each and every one of you for reading!
...insert a beautiful Andrew Lockington music score here...
"There is something else here I need to show you," he stated in a suppressed voice so strained in emotion she barely heard him.
"Out with it." Helen told him frowning with a deep concern flickering in her eyes.
Nikola's speech shuddered as he sucked in a single sharp breath. "Oh Helen," he told her directly raising his eyes to her. "We have the cure for Immortality. In Ashley."
"Immortality you say," John directed a concentrated scan over the holographic cell spinning above the tablet's surface. Ashley eyed her father from her curled position on the couch. John's knowledge spanned two hundred years and the heavy thought just made Ashley shake her head thinking about it. Her father's attentive stare was like a child's when finding something never seen before. The tablet's projected colors rotated brightly and John waited in silence as if these colors would translate into a language he could understand. When they did not he rubbed his chin with eyes acute. "A cure? How on Earth was this created," he asked sinking back into the red leather chair.
Helen sat alongside John, leaning into the chair's arm with hands comfortably intertwined and resting in her lap. Ashley wondered how her mother found the calm that she was upholding.
"Yeah," murmured Henry a bit confused as he tapped at Ashley's foot resting in his lap. "I thought Immortality was pretty much a done deal?"
"Not so much," rasped Biggie while dropping another oak log into the flaming fireplace. "The De-vamper turned Tesla mortal again. As did the Hollow Earth power coils did for Druitt. It seems that the Source Blood does have an Achilles heel." The hairy beast spoke almost comically as if this knowledge was something he was born with. Ashley picked up on his cheerful tone, untroubled and she caught the light huffing of an internal laugh when he prodded at the fireplace again. No reveal of stress at all. The large beast was happy. Obvious overjoyed at the family reunion unfolding before him.
Henry tapped at Ashley's foot again, this time along her heel to mock the Big Guy's Achilles heel reference. The tickle of her foot prompted a flying pillow to loft softly into his face.
Quiet giggles sounded from the couch then promptly stopped when Nikola cleared his throat to return everyone's attention. The notion did as it was intended and all eyes fell back to him.
"It was the Lazarus Virus," he explained setting down his wine glass atop a small side table lining his seated red leather chair. "It was Ashley's exposure to it before the Cabal injected the Source Blood. There was a rare mutation. A chance encounter that shifted the process of what the Cabal had intended its purpose to be. It is something specific to Ashley's DNA that causes it to change. Perhaps the overlapping of a genetic code forming from two Source Blood parents. It creates a protein that invaded the Sanguine cells."
Helen offered him a wide eyed nod trying to follow his defining cause.
"Why the Sanguine cells," Helen called out firmly, clearly speaking from her doctor standpoint.
"That's the rub," Nikola smiled up at Helen with arms raised slightly shrugging the air. "The Lazarus Virus was intended to attack Abnormals, which all have a code from the origin of the species genome in their makeup. Like the Source Blood was for us it unlocked what we already had within our genetic makeup, distinct features and genetic codes relating to an ancestral Abnormality."
"Go on," she spoke cautiously.
"As we know the Lazarus Virus targeted these very Abnormal cells, infecting them causing a rabid like reaction. A rabid sickness to cause extinction in every Abnormal in the world. Now, to Ashley's predicament," he kindly pointed over to Ashley who was biting her lip obviously swept under a spell from the magnitude of his tellings. "When the Source Blood was injected it only inhibited this Lazarus virus for a short time. You see, the Lazarus Virus had already begun its embryonic mutation in Ashley. It was nearly six weeks later that the Lazarus Virus slowly began to adapt against the Source Blood, mutating in a way that invaded the Sanguine Vampiric Cells, completely destroying most while also leaving a certain percentage dormant. This leaves me with one conclusion to a brilliant but life altering idea."
Nikola stood and motioned for John to hand over the tablet. Once he reclaimed the little device he returned to sink back into his leather chair. After waving his fingers over the device to magnetically bring up another holographic image to hover over the screen, it spun a circular shape revealing a cell with a blue blinking center. He grinned again when he lifted the device to show them all in suspended animation. "Say hello to my newest little creation."
"What is that," huffed Biggie as he scratched his scalp.
"This is just a generated simulation of a small rendition of what I call the Source Blood's angry cousin or, better known as the Magnus Derivative."
"Nice," hissed Henry slack jawed and smiling over to Ashley after poking her foot again.
"This is the protein that I believe I can recreate from your Walrus man by injecting Ashley's blood samples from after John teleported her and Henry home nearly four years ago. Your toothy dead friend still has remnants of the original Lazarus Virus intact in his fleshy corpse-"
Helen cut in adding on to what he was saying, "We only have small samples of what was left. James and I burned what was left of his body."
"All I need is a sample," Nikola advised confidently. "Like with what I used to counteract the virus when I created my antidote. We need this because there is not a large quantity of the actual Cabal antidote left itself. And this little blue blinking cell," he gazed closer at the glowing uniformed circle. "This cell can be programmed to search and destroy whatever I choose. It will be new antidote for a new DNA strand that needs to be undone...and more if need be."
If need be...
Nikola knew Helen had loved her life. Her many lives. He often wondered if Immortality was, is, a string tied so tight around her heart that she would give anything to be mortal again. To advert the loneliness of watching everyone she ever loved fade away as you go on living without them forever.
"By adding Ashley's blood serum into the effected Walrus man tissue, it will create this mutated protein once it comes in contact with the Cabal Virus. Once it mutates it will allow me to use it as a template in which I can program the nucleus to attack the Nocturnal threads in Ashley's DNA. Once and for all take away the Cabal's fingerprints still embedded to her."
"I see," was all that Helen could speak.
"So no more glowing eye night vision?"
"Yes," Nikola affirmed to Ashley.
"But what if it doesn't work," Ashley scanned all in the room with a nervous frown.
"It will work my dear," he said confidently, strongly with the flare of aristocratic presence. "We can undo what they forced upon you. You will be as you were. I promise you this. And it can be done the same for the process that causes the Immortality. I can extract a protein to keep from replicating cells that live over one millionth times their normal lifespan. Remember I was able to create an antidote to the Lazarus Virus from taking samples from Mr. Walrus," he chimed finding the name subtly amusing, "but with your mutated rarity, I can do so much more. For that little protein is more powerful than anything I have come across."
Every heart paced wildly thumping the anxious truths in their chest. Helen could hardly absorb the potential outcome. The world in which she was apart after so many days and decades had abruptly just become, normal for her. Anything that threatened to change its pace, its routine would upset that eternal rhythm. Mortal? That was not normal to her anymore.
And Nikola, if his heart could beat with life as it once did, it could have well been pounding right out of his chest.
"Dear Lord," Helen stated not realizing she had been holding her breath. "Alright, one more thing. You said Ashley was more powerful than John. What did you mean by that?"
Nikola arched his brows and placed the tiny tablet to the end table before him. "Ashley can navigate to people through her teleports. Something John cannot do."
John took a blinking realization and leaned forward in his chair, elbows on his knees in thought. "A person to person travel?"
"Whoa boy," announced Ashley hesitantly clutching her pillow close into her chest. "This has all the makings of FUBAR."
A gargled laughing huff emanated from the Sasquatch as he continuously poked at the log fire to roll over the burnt embers.
"Not fubar," he dictated in a soft voice to counter her edgy fears. "Just simple physics," he said flatly.
"Simple physics? Tesla," John explained. "I beg your encouraging demeanor but the Source Blood's effects are anything but simple."
Nikola nodded back to the proud protective father. "Ashley teleports in the same way you do. She can follow a cell phone signal to an ending point and use it to guide her. Like with how the Cabal controlled her after..." he swallowed hard to the words. Then he cleared his throat in a soft cough and continued on. "Ashley can teleport blindly as well too, as you and James did in Bhalasaam when you both teleported behind the granite stone wall in search of that secret key. But Ashley," he tilted his head her way, "Ashley has the ability to acclimate her gift to a physical form so to speak."
Helen frowned while crossing her arms. "A physical form, how so?"
"Every living thing on Earth has a magnetic field accompanying it. Even things like walls, desks, and trees. Even wine bottles," he beamed very pleased with his tasteful analogy gesturing with a tap along the rim of his empty wine glass. "This variation of a magnetic field projects a frequency map of sorts that only Ashley can travel within. As if the whole of the world is graphed in bouncing waves she can only read. Now, one's emotions are the same. Beta waves bend and travel within the world's magnetic field and when Ashley hones in to a specific person as she did that time when she jumped back to the Sanctuary from Gregory's residence." Nikola pointed right to Helen," I speak of the very event when she teleported to you when you were losing your fool mind," he smiled shamelessly.
"Do not remind me," Helen admitted regretfully. "I reviewed my Sanctuary security feeds on myself. Not engaging at all," she offered an embarrassing smile.
"Hmm," he wondered what she had looked like crazed and partial to her wits. "Well you, your presence," he waved his arms and hands in a circle. "This magnetic field you generate can be followed like a path by Ashley. By teleporting the instant she fully dematerializes she jumps onto that road that overlaps the Earth's field and follows it to that very body like a 3-Dimensional gridded map."
"You're like Night Crawler from X-Men, but the girl version," squealed Henry in a wild smile. "Ash that's so cool!"
"Yay, super-duper coolness I get it," Ashley groaned reluctantly. She had to be honest with herself and admit the gift was incredible. But it was new. Strange and it scared her. Perhaps it was for the best her genetic makeup had produced a rare super cell that could change it. "But what if I don't want it? What if I want to undo everything?"
"That is your choice Ashley," said Helen softly with thoughtful eyes. "We have much to address and discuss in the coming weeks. One day at a time. We must all remember this," she consoled with a heartfelt smile to everyone in the room.
"I'd stay X-Men awesome if you'd ask me," giggled Henry without missing a beat. Another soft pillow was tossed to his head, swiping the side of his face. He poked at Ashley's foot again and shrugged. "Just saying."
Ashley sighed contently and snuggled her head down into the soft cushion. The whole of her world had come crashing into her again in a mere nanosecond's time. And with it a future just as amazing as the past lived by The Five. Days will come and go filled with dark memories and long nights to adversities found from her abduction. But slowly they were fading with every passing hour. Becoming less prominent and in time Ashley knew they would only be a distant whisper.
Right now Ashley found herself witnessing the beautiful foundation that was the Magnus family. Devotion and genius. Dedication and love.
"Thank you Nikola," Helen broke in gently feeling the weight of all that was discussed. "Our world has afforded many changes as of late. And each will be dealt with in time."
"Immortality can be reversed and I will leave that as my last parting words," said Nikola taking to his feet. He knew Helen was aching for every second to be spent with her daughter. And all that occupied the room knew the same. "A wine cellar below is calling my name and I shouldn't keep it waiting."
Nikola winked at Ashley, grinned wider to Helen and lastly nodded to John smirking his curled lips as wide as inhumanly possible, "I for one, plan to live forever."
It was a subtle hint that he had no plans on becoming mortal again. For Nikola Tesla that would be far too boring.
"On your way down to the cellar, please do check on Young William," John added to the leaving Vampire. "He is helping prepare the breakfast. I fear he may burn the scones."
Nikola grumbled something inaudible as he disappeared into the hallway.
"Yep," Henry said tickling at Ashley's socked feet as she pulled them up to curl into her stomach. "I think that's our cue to go help with the morning brunch." Henry placed the pillows neatly to the cushion now void of his body and then swallowed Ashley in a hug, forcing his arms to push past the pain of his Magoi battle scars. "I love you Ashley," he said and his scruff and warm breaths tickled at Ashley's neck. She wrapped her one good arm around his back and patted him softy. "Love you too Gumby. And don't forget you have four years of missions and stories to tell me. Leave no stone left unturned."
"Roger that," he ended giving a small kiss to her forehead. And before he allowed the tears rimming his eyes to flow free, he turned with a fragile smile and made his emotional exit. The world for him was just as it should be.
"Come here my dearest," chimed John pulling Helen down into his lap.
The unexpected grab for her caused her to squeal un-lady like as she slid down onto his body. But before she could right herself from her awkward slide against his body he captured her mouth firmly, pressing a heated kiss to her lips. She giggled against the passionate touch and palmed gently at the sides of his jawline. "Cheeky bugger," she breathed with lips still pressed against him.
"Yuck," Ashley groaned innocently rolling her eyes.
John bellowed a rumbled laugh that became contagious in Helen. Ashley stared at the giggling pair and groaned to the sight before her.
"If this is what I have to look forward to now and forever I'd rather be locked up in the SHU. Ah, if our new home has one," she joked lightly to herself letting her eyes pin to the ceiling.
Helen finally broke free from John's lips as she swatted at his shoulder. "A SHU no. HEEL yes."
"Oh, what...you aren't serious," Ashley laughed to herself. "We have a Heel?"
"Hollow Earth Echelon Level. Or the Echelon for short," John stated proudly holding Helen close around her waist.
Ashley reached for a stray pillow near her feet and slid it beneath her head. "Hey, it does have a ring."
"A ring," John mused smiling giddily. "I like that word."
Ashley watched a tinting blush of pink creep into her mother's cheeks. "I do too..."
John rumbled another laugh, this time louder that forced his head back.
Helen gestured with a wave of her hand as she slid off his legs and stood at attention at his feet. "Scoot now. We will join you all for breakfast shortly. I want to speak with Ashley for moment."
"Of course," John agreed as his large arms swooped around her once more lifting her feet off the wood floor. "I love you Helen Magnus," he whispered with warm breaths into her ear. "And will for all eternity."
"You bet your arse you will."
Ashley sheltered her face with her pillow. "Embarrassed. Embarrassed! Oh my god I'm embarrassed!" she sang out from beneath the cotton wall with a giggle that erupted into the room.
John planted a gentle kiss to her cheek then he bowed like the manners of Old London taught him, smiling as wide as ever and letting that be the last look dissipating into a whirling light of red.
"Is it over," asked Ashley still hiding her face from beneath her pillow.
The pillow lifted from her face and she looked up to find her mother giggling, face still tinged a pink flush.
"You are spared the agony, now up you go," Helen said immersed in a bright smile.
Ashley swung her legs down to the floor and Helen dropped in next to her but not before pulling free a wood storage box from beneath the center table.
"Is the same one we brought in from outside," Ashley asked observing her mother remove a single wrapped gift from inside. The parcel was rectangular adorned in a thin red paper and tied neatly with a silver string.
"Yes it is. I know we are a few weeks away from Christmas but...," her mother's voice trailed off when she placed the gift to her lap. Ashley didn't see it but her mother's hovering gaze watched her intently, her heart still reeling in belief to a daughter that was no longer a ghostly memory.
Helen aided her in untying the silver colored tie string. Ashley then plucked the shiny bow from its sticky place and broke the taped seal of a corner's edge. The box, or whatever it was, was quite heavy.
"Henry helped me with this. He spent two days forming the-"
"Mom," Ashley's voice hitched in a grateful whine. "No hints, hush hush..."
"Pardon," her mother said overwhelmed with a constant smile.
The red colored wrapping peeled back amid a flurry of cracking embers sparking in the fireplace; the warming draft lending a continuous flow of heat to shelter around them. It was Helen's favorite place to be. Her Study and she felt an overpowering sense of comfort flooding into her heart. It was like Ashley once described it; a Sanctuary within her Sanctuary. And all that lived here could agree. It was just something settling about this room. Computers, books on the shelves, pieces and trinkets of a century's life. One single room that had served as her 'cabinet war room' for tactical overviews as schematics and plans were proposed and created for countless missions. It was a place for quiet reading, work related researching, cataloguing files and late night crashes on the couch and daytime relaxing naps. It was the heart of her Sanctuary. And now that heart was no longer broken.
Crinkled paper brought Helen out from her thoughts as Ashley continued to pull at the paper. Once the thin sheet retreated over the front side it revealed a dark charcoal case with two metal latches on each end.
"Mom," Ashley sighed deeply already guessing what would be found inside. It looked so much like the one before.
"Here," Helen said assisting her daughter. She meticulously and slowly unclipped the bright shiny metal latches and then paused, waiting for Ashley to lift the remaining contents. Ashley's fingertips traveled over the charcoal finish then pushed the top casing away from its bottom counterpart.
Blue foam engulfed the small compartment and in the very center, hidden inside a foam border was a hand gun.
It was crafted identical in design to her old one lost in the war with the Cabal.
But this one was not laden Gold.
It was vibrant Silver.
Ashley brushed her fingers over the beautiful weapon as did Helen. "Henry forged the Cerellium left over from the handle of my Father's cane. Extensive high heat can weaken the element's properties but only when cured with other metals it becomes a liquid when exposed to such gases. It serves as a thick outer coating as well as the skeleton frame for the weapon."
Warm tears crawled at the corners of Ashley's blue eyes.
"You don't know how much, this means to me."
"I promised you another," Helen said wrapping an arm across her daughter's shoulder. "I hope you find it to be the perfect replacement."
Ashley placed the heavy 9mil in her lap stretching her fingers free from her arm held captive in the blue sling. With both palms holding the weapon she awed at the supreme slick finish and meticulous crafting. Henry was an incredible weapons maker and his attention to detail was humbly warranted by a worded calligraphy inscription along the shining muzzle's bottom edge. She read it aloud, "Templum pro totus."
"Sanctuary For All," Helen said quietly feeling every sentiment of emotions spawned from her first envisioning of The Five's Abnormal adventures. "We may not continue this path here. But Sanctuary for the lost ones, the ones in need of our help will continue. "
"For how long?" Ashley asked curiously while tracing over the inscribed words with her fingertips.
"As long as you want it to be." A long beat passed between them with only the fireplace echoing sounds of habitation. Ashley responded a minute later by leaning her head back into her mother's collar bone.
Helen tilted her head down to her daughter. "My whole life has revolved around my work. I brought you into a world, a path I chose. Immortality has afforded many lifetimes to reflect on every decision I have made; selfish and ones beyond reproach. Never giving up on you, the most vital of my being. I will respect your choice if you do not want to be a part of it anymore. I will. And I have in place a substitute for my work, other's that will take over for me and continue my efforts. Will is one of them."
"No," she told her and Helen was taken back at how passionate she refused an option to live a different life. "I love what I do. What we have done. Helping Abnormals, being there for species and giving hope and love for the indifferent. I could never walk away from that. Never."
Helen's eyes flushed warm with emotion listening to her flesh and blood reflect on her soul's journey. What did she do to deserve Ashley again?
"Alright," her lips trembled. "We will make a go of it. Together."
"I wish Gregory could have been a part of this."
Helen nodded her head slightly in quiet agreement. "Yes. I would have like that very much."
"He deserved this you know... a life with you again."
"Such are the hands of fate," Helen said sadly. "But he lived a full life. His love for the both of us will live on in us. Know that much."
Ashley stared into the large spaces of the Study and the opened doorway off to their right. So many memories of this house and they seemed to drift more frequently into her mind now knowing that these walls were going to fall. Even now in this little moment she could still imagine seeing a young mohawk haired Henry racing out into the hallway, and herself chasing just feet behind them. The Study had also been a fort. A base of child dreams and imaginations. But also a magical world of story tellings and hot chocolate affairs by a raging winter fireside. Books. Stories. So many legends narrated before bedtime. Ashley could almost swear she could hear the Lichen's giggles calling back from the days of their childhood.
"Still, it's not fair," Ashley reprimanded in frustration to the things she can't change.
Helen gave a caring hug and kissed the top of her blonde head. "Let me share a few words once spoken between me and a dear friend a very long time ago."
Ashley smiled at her term a very long time ago. In the world of Helen Magnus, that was a complete understatement.
"One day I was having tea with a man named Albert. We were speaking of time. How it could change had we the chance to lay stones for a different path if we could relive our days once more. It was the fall of 1933 at a street cafe across from Princeton University. He was smoking on his pipe and for a brief instant of a moment his expression sobered to our words. He looked oddly at me with this face, a face I had never seen him make before. If was as if he was trying to recognize me."
"Yes. I visited him during seclusion in a dark time when I was afraid that I may not be able to place together events to save you. I needed some sort of guidance on the simplicities of time without my true reasoning behind it being revealed. I was looking for some sort of guarantee that there was a purpose for such a thing."
"I asked him the reason for it."
"What was his answer?"
Helen sighed inwardly and stared at the rolling flames licking the air along the oak's darkened surface. "Albert thought for a long awaited moment, puffed on his pipe as if the answer was among the simplest ever conjured. With a smile he glanced up to the cloudless blue sky and said, 'the only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen all at once'."
Ashley tried to unravel the many interpreted understandings. "What do you think he meant by it?"
Helen breathed in, amusing herself at the bewilderment of his words. "I understood it as; if everything happened all at once there would be no beginning or an end to our lives."
"No start of day. No end of night," Ashley sighed nonchalantly gripping the blanket draped on the back of the couch to pull over her.
"Mm," Helen hummed low. She paused at Ashley's words as they lingered like an echoing poetic verse between them. A soft metal lock clinked shut when Ashley closed her weapon's case.
"Ashley, I am not afraid of time anymore," came the fragile but strong spoken words.
Ashley smiled listening to the soft comforting sounds from firelight's presence.
Helen let her memories return further back in time, so long ago on that foggy night along the Thames River in which she acquired her secret shipment order. It was a simple small box carved with circling designs made of a rare metal that would hold Ashley's embryo safely for nearly one hundred years; compacted within her own plasma and stored in a small glass vial in suspended animation. The metal was formed from Cerellium, unknown to Helen at the time but its electromagnetic properties promised to protect its inner contents from any and all radiation and high intensity heat. Such rarities were traded on the black market that had found its way from Hollow Earth.
Their first encounter with the metal had been a gift from Spring Heeled Jack. The Abnormal wanted Helen to have a trinket of sorts, something to keep her whatnots in. It was only suiting after having had the most precious and kindest care offered to him during his time at the London Sanctuary. Gregory had grown curious of the metallic box, and its whereabouts as the metal would glow dimly in full darkness. After his intensive experiments done in researching the unknown properties he and Helen had discovered a black market trader that could acquire and sell the wanted item in a much smaller styled casing. It was then introduced as a method to keep Helen's unborn child safe for as long as she needed.
Ashley's shifting weight returned Helen to the present when she lifted her head noticing a small leather bounded book sitting beside the tea tray. The dark buckskin color was aged, worn deeply with creases veining the front cover. A single red tassel split the pages in the middle and held the last viewed pages from its readings. Ashley pointed over to the book.
Helen followed her directed enquiry.
"Ah," Helen voiced enthusiastically.
"Not quite, just an old poetry book."
"Poetry book? Like the one you would read to me when I was little?"
Helen let a sentimental smile grace her face. "Yes, the very same one. The Family Book of Best Loved Poems."
"Oh, can you read that poem that you would tell me reminded you of dad," Ashley begged with the innocence shared in times when her mother would read the poems to her.
"The one by Robert Bridges…?"
"You did love that one didn't you."
"Yeah. I did," Ashley muttered sleepily.
Helen reached over and pulled the poem book from its resting spot.
The moment Helen thumbed through the pages the air of aged antique paper hovered around them pulling them, instantly into precious days only found inside the Sanctuary's stone womb. And with it Ashley felt young again. As if a breach of space time opened she felt the carefree wild spirit and curiosity of her youth collide with her here and now. The love for her big castle like house. The many corridors she would run through and roller skate down with Henry. Every wall held a flaked off piece of paint or dented hole caused from the ruckus of a blond haired tomboy and lichen builder of all things metal and wires. Youth was a world within itself that Ashley believed she could always return to and walk down its halls to relive each pastime. Here at the Sanctuary.
How could a simple thing as a house spur that much devotion? It was just stone and mortar. Wood and nails. Walls and rooms...but inside it her mother's voice had never changed. Her face had never aged. And in this moment everything seemed the same.
Helen tucked her arm around Ashley's shoulder and held the book open for her daughter to see. As she had done 20 years ago. Her daughter's warm body snuggled close, engulfed by a wool blanket and fireside promised Helen's soul that it still could not fathom the truth held within her embrace. Was she dreaming? Was this nothing more than another forged blur of foreshadowed realities spawned from an Abnormal's gift? Much like the one that showed her the world of the Palefaces.
Not this time.
This is real.
Soft orange light flickered brightly as an array of embers sparked sending flashing waves across the floor and walls in the shadowed room. A great contrast to the falling snowfall adorning the Old City's structures outside. Ashley let the soothing sounds fill her being with absolute comfort and reveled in its safe haven. The Study. So many memories... Her mother had also told Ashley about her father for the first time in this room. Of course that he wasn't Jack the Ripper but a nice man that traveled the world but had died of an illness. It was an innocent story made to protect her. And one that found meaning in a lovely poem, a loving stanza held captive in Helen's heart for the love she had adored in Montague John Druitt.
A snow fall in winter and a poem for the ages Helen mused inwardly; these memories were so clear and unobstructed it seemed almost impossible that time hadn't returned them into the ether's past.
The last time she had read this poem to Ashley she was small enough to sit in her lap. With hot chocolate in small tea cups they would sip their way through poems and fairytales and for a short while escaping into the pages so filled with imaged places they would forget they were reading inside the walls of their Sanctuary. Helen would often find herself so deeply immersed she could hardly recall even turning the book's pages. And little Ashley, half the time she would drift off falling fast asleep even before Helen could reach happily ever after.
Helen drew back the red page divider letting the tasseled threads fall away. The pages were noticeably old and sepia tinted from the withers of time. The leather bound edges had clearly been worn by use. Helen couldn't count how many times she had read that very poem by the fireside to Ashley. Not counting the days she would read it alone on park benches in London, train stations in London, travels around the world and right here in her Sanctuary home.
With her hands she kept parted the sheets of the old parchment on the page of the poem. But truly no effort was needed. The book nearly opened to the page itself. The leather and page bindings had formed a parted envelope to the lines read more than from every other page.
The poem had reminded her of John in so many ways she told herself once more—her John and the love that they had shared and painfully lost. The last stanza had always been her favorite but now the words had new meaning—for they symbolized the start of new days with Ashley back by her side and back into her world.
Helen had won. She had beaten the odds with the help of Nikola Tesla and it rejuvenated her soul with purpose knowing in the end, she had the last say - I save my daughter.
Such a thought flashed back only hours ago as Ashley lay in the infirmary while Helen tried her best to believe in the unbelievable.
"Can you read it to me Mom?" Ashley asked her in a tired whisper.
"Of course love."
Helen pulled the white wool woven blanket across her daughter's shoulders and leaned closely in resting her head along her temple. Ashley rolled her fingers between the old wool knitted blanket; the one in particular that her mother had knitted while in Austria over a century ago. Another flicker of burning embers ignited a wave of bright light as the fireplace continued to roll its heated warmth into the heart of the Study. The soft lilt of her mother's accent filled the quiet room and her love for the Sanctuary and that of its harbored memories found its value as a tear slipped from her eye, traveling its sentimental trail down across her cheek. Sanctuary was not only stone fortified walls. It was family. It was love. It was everything the Magnus family was and will be for all eternity.
Ashley had slipped serenely into the realm of peaceful dreams by the time Helen had reached the last stanza of the poem. In that moment Helen slid her fingers to hold tightly to the hand of her sleeping daughter.
"I will not let thee go,
I hold thee by too many bands:
Thou sayest farewell, and lo!
I have thee by the hands,
And will not let thee go."