Ralph undid the rope around Fei Yin's wrist and rubbed the raw skin gently with his large thumb.
"I'm sorry," he said softly.
"Why are you doing all this?" asked Fei Yin.
"I don't have a choice...he made me, he said if I didn't then..."
Ralph blinked away tears.
"I never wanted to hurt anybody. It was only meant to be a threat...but he had other plans..."
"Who? Who is he?"
Ralph shook his head.
"I can't," he stepped away from her. "I've already put you in enough danger. He's crazy."
Fei Yin bit her lip and sat back, fully taking in her surroundings. It looked like an old cave, dry and warm but domed and echo-ey.
It gave her the chills.
"Where are we? she asked.
"By the river," he stated simply.
"The river?" Fei Yin shivered.
"It's the only place I could take you."
"He's coming, Fei, and he doesn't care who stands in his way," Ralph was starting to look mighty feverish, sweat was forming on his brow and his hands were beginning to shake.
"Ralph, you don't look well," Fei Yin came over to him and placed a gentle hand on him.
"It's wearing off, the serum he gives me, it's wearing off," he pulled a syringe out of his pocket. "I stopped taking it...for you."
Fei Yin stated at it with wide eyes.
"Take it!" she insisted. "Or he'll kill you!"
Ralph shook his head.
"No! I become...I'm like an animal, I have no control...I'll hurt you as if you were nothing, I don't want to," Ralph shook his head emphatically.
"Do you have any water?" Fei Yin tried to remain calm.
He nodded and pointed to his tool kit.
"In there," he groaned.
Fei Yin nodded and went over finding the small canteen.
Ralph leaned against the wall, cradling his aching wrist.
"I never wanted to do this. I only ever wanted to...to take you out, you know, buy you flowers one time. Talking to you...you didn't care about my size, you weren't scared of me," Ralph looked at her in a way she couldn't describe and she bit her lip. "Course, I know you were only being nice, that's what you are, a sweet girl...you're nice to everybody."
Fei Yin brought over the canteen.
"You don't give yourself enough credit," she said with a sweet smile. "You are nice as well."
"Not anymore, I've sold my soul to the devil," he winced.
Fei Yin shook her head and opened the canteen lifting it up to his lips so he could drink from it.
"You're not evil, Ralph," she said with more courage than she has ever had before. Spending time with Tesla was beginning to rub off on her a little, it helped that she was thinking about what he would do in this situation. "Whoever is controlling you is the monster."
"He's worse than that," Ralph was visibly shaking throughout now. "He's the devil himself, here to destroy us one by one."
Fei took a rag from the toolkit and dumped a small amount of the water on to it, using the now damp cloth to mop his forehead with.
"I'm sorry," Ralph whimpered.
Fei Yin gave him a soft smile and leaned over tentatively and pecked his cheek.
His shakes seemed to calm down a fraction at the warm gesture.
"Your bodyguard isn't normal either," Ralph said after a moment.
"Nikola?" she blinked at his sudden change in topic.
"What kind of hell's creature is he?"
"What are you talking about?"
Nikola stopped running at his unnatural speed; he was vampired out in full-mooned glory, his blood-black eyes gleaming in the faint starlight.
He sniffed the air. He could smell her, him as well to an extent, but mostly the soft flowery scent of the young girl he'd spent the past week protecting.
The rain had stopped pouring for a brief respite but judging by the clouds a larger and more violent storm was on its way.
He sniffed again. It was faint but it was there.
His fangs bared and he let out a growl. If he hurt her in any way there'd be no stopping him from killing him.
He hissed and began running again.
Ralph was shaking badly now, his good arm wound around his middle as he fought the nausea of his apparent withdrawal. Fei Yin continued to mop up his overheating forehead.
"You're too kind," he muttered hoarsely.
"You're sick," said Fei Yin.
"Yah, but you could've run, you could've kicked me and ran back to the castle not believing a word I said," groaned Ralph.
"And leave you like this?" Fei Yin said with genuine surprise, it had never even occurred to her to run.
"See? That's why I love you," Ralph reached a shaky hand to caress her cheek.
Fei Yin froze slightly at the gesture and at his words.
"I know you don't reciprocate, not after all I've done, but I do," he smiled weakly. "You think of everyone before yourself...even if that person has done you wrong."
"You don't have to feel anything back, I'm just...letting you know," he winced and shivered, his arms clutching around him tighter. "I feel so sick. Like I've been poisoned."
"Maybe you have," Fei Yin, looked at the hypodermic needle lying next to his fist.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Ralph laid his large hand over her tiny one. "Thank you."
"I'm sorry, I wish I could've..."
Before she could finish her sentence a loud banging jolted her attention elsewhere.
Nikola burst in. His hair sticking on end almost looking animalistic, his fangs bared and his talons elongated.
Fei Yin jumped back at the sight of her transformed protector. Without a moment of thought he grabbed Ralph and slammed him against the wall.
"Fei Yin, get out," the deep unnatural rumble caused her and Ralph to quiver in fear.
"Don't hurt him," Fei Yin said.
"He kidnapped you and has tried to kill you before, and I will not let him get away with it," he growled, his clawed fingers wound closer to Ralph's throat.
"He's not keeping me captive, just look at him, he can barely walk," said Fei Yin with a surprising amount of courage.
Nikola de-morphed and stepped back.
"He's going through some kind of withdrawal," continued Fei Yin. "From this."
She held up the vial.
Nikola took it gently in his human hands.
"What is this?" he growled at Ralph.
"It's what he gave me," gasped Ralph through his fever.
"Who gave it to you?" Nikola pressed sternly.
"I don't...I don't know his name," Ralph's head drooped as he fell into semi-unconscious.
"Nikola, you should go back to the castle, I'm safe here, really," said Fei Yin as she tended to Ralph.
"I can't do that," Nikola shook his head. "It's my job to protect you."
"I'm not the one who needs protecting now, its Ms Hayward," said Fei.
"Laren? But Ralph is here," Nikola said confused.
"I know, it's not Ralph who'll be coming after her," Fei watched as Nikola's genius mind began to put things into place.
"You mean, whoever orchestrated this is..."
Fei Yin nodded.
Nikola's eyes widened as realization dawned on him and he turned back to the entrance of the small cavern.
"I...I..." he was stumped on what to do. He had to save Laren but he couldn't just leave Fei Yin here unprotected with a man who had yet to earn his trust. He was torn.
Laren stirred the strange, sticky mixture in the tub with a large wooden spoon, traditionally used for laundry but in this case it worked just fine.
She hummed as she stirred, only to break the fearful silence of the now empty castle. Daniel and Finn had managed to evacuate the rest of her staff and Gruber had offered to drive them to a safe location in town, but it still left her, Daniel, and Finn to safeguard her family home.
Outside the castle walls Finn patrolled the perimeter shot gun in arms and dogs at his heels. The bloodhounds sniffed the ground happily.
On the inside, Daniel was nailing wood boards overtop the windows and spare doors leaving only a few special escape routes in case whatever happened got exceedingly out of hand.
It was eerily quiet around the whole house, and a heavy misty fog swirled around their heels putting everyone on high alert.
Laren finished stirring the mixture and wiped her hands, getting up from the stool she had placed beside the tub. It was ready; all she needed to do was check up on Daniel and Finn. She could hear the tap tap tap of Daniel's hammer as he nailed another board over one of the windows. As could also hear Finn's dogs barking and yipping away. She stepped out of the bathroom and looked down the hall.
She was worried; she felt it as she looked at his closed door. She quietly crept over, as if she could be caught and snuck in. The room smelt like him instantly upon entering, like spice and wine and old books.
The bed was made but wrinkled, the book of poetry he'd been carrying around all day sat on the nightstand. She could still recall the events of last night with crystal clear clarity. She could feel the bumps of the healing wound on her breast where his teeth and entered her, her fingers ghosted over them gently. He had marked her, marked a piece of her heart as his own where George couldn't reach her.
She was still wearing his shirt, and though it was slowly losing his scent, what was left was mingling with hers and she liked the smell very much, it was comforting.
She sat on the edge of the bed and lightly caressed his pillow.
What was to happen when all of this was through? Would he stay? Would she go with him? Would he want her to? All the uncertainty had her stomach winding into knots.
She laid her head on his pillow and breathed in deeply, remembering the feeling of his arms wrapping around her last night, cradling her softly against him, the soft and peaceful sigh he had emitted into her hair.
She could have laid there forever.
Her daydream was ended abruptly by the sound of gunshots and yelling. Finn's dogs were barking up a storm as he was firing at something.
Laren sat up quickly and ran to the window to see what was happening and what he was shooting at. The fog was so thick she could barely see the ground below her, let alone Finn and his dogs.
One last shot was fired before it went eerily silent again.
Laren felt goosebumps prickle her skin.
The dogs howling and whimpering through the fog made her jump but then they went silent as well. Her heart started beating very loudly and her breath quickened.
She left the warm and safe protection of Nikola's room to check on Daniel. He was no longer hammering away which made her fear the worst.
She ran around the main level searching for him. She found his hammer but he was nowhere in sight. She was tempted to call out for him but thought against in, unsure if she could even stabilize her voice to make any noise above a whisper
She heard a noise behind her and she spun around erratically looking for its source.
"Nikola?" she called out instinctively.
There was no response.
Suddenly, the same fog that had plagued the outside sky was now filtering in, as if it were the threat itself. The room was quickly filled to the brim with it. She could barely see past her nose. She trembled and backed into a wall. She jumped away from it and kept moving.
She suddenly felt a hand or something like it reach for her arm and she screamed, running away, managing to find the door to the room and reach it, despite the thick smog. She made it to the foyer and ran as fast as she could to her room. He slammed the door shut and locked it tight before launching herself over to her bed and pulling the small pistol from between the mattress and the box spring. She sat behind the bed using it as a barricade as she double-checked that the weapon was loaded.
Panic was rising in her throat and she let out a squeal or squeak before calming herself. This was not the first time she had been in danger; just with the smoke and the confusion she was having an adverse reaction to it. Soon Nikola would be coming back and whatever was out there would have to deal with him, she would just have to hold her own until then.
Laren clicked the safety off the weapon and gently turned to hoist herself up partially on her knees, poising the gun towards the door.
The fog had followed her and was creeping underneath the crack in the door. It was frightening, this ethereal fog chasing after her, it was like something out of a Mary Shelley story or an Edgar Allan Poe poem.
It wafted in slowly as if searching for her. She instinctively moved away from it slightly.
A sudden bang at the door made her jump. The doorknob jiggled slightly at first, then secondly with a lot more haste. Someone or something was trying to make its way in.
The fog was coming in heavier now, filling up the room slowly but surely.
She wanted to call out for him, she wanted for him to save her. She had never wanted her protector more than she wanted him right now.
She crawled back, trying to escape the encompassing fog, still holding the gun in her now shaking fingers.
It sounded like someone was trying to rip the door off its hinges.
The fog was so thick now she could barely see the outline of her bed anymore, let alone the door.
A loud crack and the room went silent. She listened for footsteps, for breathing, for any sign that what was chasing her was human.
She shivered, clutching the gun tighter to her.
If it was Nikola he would've called out to her, said something, anything to aleve her panic.
It wasn't Nikola.
Before she could comprehend she felt a shadow move around her and encompass her face, throwing her into darkness as she let out a shrill and terrified scream.
"I can't just leave you here," Nikola scrubbed a hand through his hair.
"Yes you can, it's more dangerous for me to come with you than to stay here," Fei said with more determination than she's shown the entire time he's been here.
"He's unpredictable," Nikola defended.
"He won't hurt me," Fei Yin kept mopping up Ralph's brow as he shivered in his feverish dreams.
"It's my job to protect you, Fei," he said sternly.
"And Ms. Hayward's," said Fei. "You love her."
Nikola's resolve was weakening at the mention of her name. His whole body screamed to run back to the castle and hold her in his arms but his sense of duty kept him rooted to the spot.
"Fei, just...just let me put you someplace safe, somewhere where I know you'll be safe, just not here," he pleaded.
"It will take too much time, Ms. Hayward is in danger now," Fei said boldly.
"Since when have you become princess of the brave?" Nikola barked.
"I had a good role model," she smirked at him.
Nikola rolled his eyes, now was not the time to be emulating his self-sure way of stubbornness.
"I'm flattered but I can't leave unless I know you're safe, and frankly his little apology did very little to that effect. And look at him! If someone were to come looking for him how could he possibly defend you. He can barely stay awake let alone stand. You are sitting ducks if this turns out to be more than a one man deal."
Fei Yin shook her head.
"His strength will recover," she said confidently.
"Maybe in a week, but we don't have that kind of time," sighed Nikola.
"Neither do we have the time to argue, just go!"
"Fei Yin, I must insist, you either come with me willingly or I throw you over my shoulder and drag you along," Nikola stood firm and threatening.
"I don't think Ralph would appreciate that," said Fei Yin.
"Well what's he going to do about it?" Nikola sneered.
"He still has this hypodermic needle," she held it up for him to see. "If he saw you dragging me away unwillingly he could take it to regain his strength and then you really would have a problem.
Nikola gaped. Since when did the little Chinese lotus learn to extort?
"You can't ask me to trust your life in the hands of a man who aimed flaming arrows at your hea-"
The sound of footsteps cut him off and his head snapped to their source.
"What is it?" asked Fei, her timidity returning.
Nikola shushed her and went to the side of the wall near the entrance.
The footsteps got louder and more hesitant, more careful and he poised himself ready to strike at whatever was coming.
His talons elongated slightly and his fangs protruded from behind his lips slightly.
The footsteps got closer and closer and...
"Daniel!" Fei Yin sprung up just as Nikola was about to pounce on the offending boy. He spun and quickly de-morphed before turning back to him fully human.
Fei Yin wrapped her arms around his neck.
"I told you not to follow me!" Nikola barked.
"I didn't...I didn't know what else to do," Daniel protectively wound an arm around Fei's shoulders.
"You were supposed to stay back and protect Laren!" Nikola grabbed the young Scotsman by the collar and glared at him fiercely.
"I did, I was doing exactly what you told me to do and then...then it came...it took my brother and his dogs, I managed to escape. It was so quiet...it came in the fog...I ran to find you," Daniel blurted out quickly.
"How did you find me?" Nikola asked calmly.
"Daniel's one of the best trackers in the land," Fei Yin answered for him. "He can track anything."
"Except for the thing that attacked us...there was no sounds...just fog," Daniel jumped in.
Nikola released him and scrubbed a hand over his face and through his hair.
"And Laren?" he asked, worry seeping into his voice.
"I don't know," Daniel shook his head.
Nikola let out an exasperated breath.
"Fine, you stay here and look after Fei and that one," Nikola pointed sternly at Ralph. "Do not move, do not go out, do not even pace, just sit and stay here with your gun pointed at the entrance until I come back for you, is that perfectly clear?"
"And if he wakes up just let Fei Yin handle him, ok?"
Daniel nodded again.
"What if you don't come back?" Daniel asked as Nikola started to head out of the cavern.
"Just stay here!" Nikola barked.
Before Daniel could ask anymore Nikola was off at full vampiric speed towards the castle, praying that Laren was still alive when he got there.
Laren's eyes opened lazily. Where was she?
Her eyes were blurry and her head felt groggy.
All she remembered was the fog and the door and then nothing.
She looked around as her eyes adjusted.
It was very dark and she couldn't see much beyond the small halo of light that surrounded her.
This was the old bath quarters underneath the servant quarters if the castle. She recognized it as such.
It used to have almost a natural spring coming from the river back in the days when the river was higher. Hot coals were used to heat the water creating an almost Grecian like bathhouse in the Scottish countryside for use by the fighting clansmen. It had never been in use for as long as she has lived but her father and grandfather maintained it, making sure no animals nested inside destroying the ancient architecture and tiling of the bathhouse.
The constant sound of water dropping wasn't unusual in this place as there was a mouth leading from the bathhouse to the riverbank.
The castle rested on a now high spot so there wasn't a steady stream but the tell tale sign that she was in the bathhouse was that she could here the river rushing by echoing through the dark cave like surroundings.
The river moved much faster at this point, whereas the common spot used for swimming, where she and Nikola had swam together, was a lot calmer.
She was bound, both her hands and her feet to what felt like one of the dining room chairs.
The light came from one of the old chandeliers used to light this place. Her father had always used to light them when she was a child to keep the old place alive. When all the candles were lit they cast warm glows, making all of her memories of the old bathhouse rather warm and inviting.
But now with only the meager amount of light and probably the lack of up keeping, it seemed rather menacing.
She shivered slightly and jumped at the sound of the ground shifting; a footstep or a rock being kicked.
"Who's there?" she called.
She looked around.
"Show yourself!" she barked. "What do you want from me?!"
Her scream echoed through the cavern.
In the shadows she could just make out a silhouette of someone, a man, possibly?
"Who are you?" she glared right at it. "Why are you here?"
The silhouette moved slightly.
"Answer me!" she barked. "You coward!"
It was moving closer to her.
"If you're going to kill me then get it over with," Laren spat.
"I'm not going to kill you," finally came a response from the shadow.
Laren's voiced hitched. That voice.
"It can't be..." she gasped.
The shadow stepped slowly from the shadows and into the light.
He had scars along his face, partially from shrapnel, partially from torture. He wore imperial garments, a black leather trench coat and a black military uniform, the symbols and medals foreign to her. He wore a black eye patch as well over his right eye. But even through the menacing garb and the atrocious scars she saw it was him.
"George?" she gasped, feeling somewhere between immense joy and profound fear.
"Laren, my love," he grinned and a jolt of fear struck through her. "Miss me?"