Sanctuary of the Moon by ellymelly
Summary:

Sequel to, 'People of the Sand'

Ashley has gone in search of an isolated colony of vampires living in the Peruvian rainforest in the hopes that a sample of their blood will save Will. Helen, John and Henry follow her but have to rely on the help of Tesla, whose motivations are under suspicion. Meanwhile, detective Joe Kavanaugh must face his past to end a lifetime intermingled with an ancient and dangerous race of Abnormals in Egypt.


Categories: Adventure, Romance, Humour, General Characters: Ashley Magnus, Bigfoot, Gregory Magnus, Helen Magnus, Henry Foss, James Watson, Joe Kavanaugh, John Druitt, Nigel Griffin, Nikola Tesla, Original, Other, Will Zimmerman
Challenges: None
Series: Untold Sanctuary
Chapters: 40 Completed: Yes Word count: 101496 Read: 50733 Published: Mar 10, 2009 Updated: Feb 09, 2014
Story Notes:
This follows directly on from 'People of the Sand'. It is not a stand alone.

1. Nothing but Lies by ellymelly

2. Tracks in the Mud by ellymelly

3. Empty Tombs by ellymelly

4. Buried Cities by ellymelly

5. Lockdown by ellymelly

6. Room With Columns by ellymelly

7. Blue Eyed Monster by ellymelly

8. Awakening by ellymelly

9. Vampire Stories by ellymelly

10. The Second Bite by ellymelly

11. Storm in the Desert by ellymelly

12. Deeper into the Caves by ellymelly

13. A World of Whispers by ellymelly

14. Silver Dreams by ellymelly

15. Silk by ellymelly

16. Darwin's Spider by ellymelly

17. Playing with Silver by ellymelly

18. On the Edge of the Abyss by ellymelly

19. Throat of Thoth by ellymelly

20. Dead Walking by ellymelly

21. Rivers in the Snow by ellymelly

22. Immortal by ellymelly

23. Ice Cliffs by ellymelly

24. To Kill A Vampire by ellymelly

25. A Sanctuary in Ruins by ellymelly

26. Bleak House by ellymelly

27. City of Love by ellymelly

28. Blood and Bullets by ellymelly

29. Adrift in the North by ellymelly

30. Crown of the Universe by ellymelly

31. Born of Violence by ellymelly

32. The Gryphon and his Gold by ellymelly

33. City of Silver by ellymelly

34. The Creature by ellymelly

35. Waiting by ellymelly

36. Balance by ellymelly

37. Fresh Tombs by ellymelly

38. Humanity in a Grain of Sand by ellymelly

39. Civillisation of Light by ellymelly

40. Sanctuary of the Moon by ellymelly

Nothing but Lies by ellymelly
Author's Notes:

Again, I stress, please read, 'People of the Sand' before commencing this. 'Love in the Time of Science is a supplementary story written as a tag to this series and can be read at any time.


 

It was a humid afternoon, clinging to the end of summer. Ashley ducked under the roar of the helicopter as it flung a fresh sheet of water over her face. The blades beat the surface of the nearby river, sending shallow waves onto the bank which was thick with weeds and unpleasant refuse from the last town before the rainforest.

Finally, the noisy machine lifted off the ground and headed toward the low lying mountains behind her. Dripping, she rang her pony tail onto the ground, flicking it over her shoulder before doing the same to her coat.

She waved at the pair of small children who had moved in for a closer look, half hiding behind a stand of shrubs. They had strayed from the village, following the black chopper as it sailed in close. The pair ventured out and waved back at the blonde woman, grinning with bright eyes against dark skin.

Ashley knelt onto the damp grass, slipping her backpack off. She dug through it, quickly finding her father’s journal. Flipping through the delicate pages, Ashley scanned each one until she caught sight of it – a map, roughly drawn by her grandmother and beside it a line of instructions. It didn’t look particularly forthright but if her grandfather could find the Sanctuary of the Moon using this, then so could she.

Turning it around so that the North symbol lined up with her compass, Ashley started searching for matching landmarks and soon found the Smouldering Match – a dark line of smoke leisurely trailing into the sky from a volcanic outcrop. An eagle soared over head, catching her eye as it enjoyed a warm air current. She wished that she could join it, play on the air for a while away from the world and all its trouble.

Instead, she gazed at the jungle in front. The knee length grass field that she was standing in ended fifty or so metres ahead. The dark green jungle loomed beyond, like a wave rearing up on the shore.

*~*~*

They relocated detective Joe Kavanaugh to one of the guest bedrooms where he happily fell into a deep sleep. His injuries were minor and not in any immediate need of attention. Helen closed his door and turned to John, Henry and Nikola who had been shadowing her through the corridor.

“Follow me,” she said sternly, though they didn’t need to be told. All of them could feel the air tensing around the brunette as she strode ahead, clearly upset by the turn of events.

She led them to the medical lab, ushering them into a line along the glass enclosure where Will sat on the edge of the hospital bed. When Helen had seen John and Tesla appear in her foyer, she had been inches from Will’s skin with the tip of the needle. Its contents would have killed him quickly and painlessly but her instinct told her to stop, that this couldn’t possibly be the end for him, and she had been right.

“I want you to tell me again,” she said to Nikola, who had broken the line and instead reclined against the desk containing print outs of all his files. He eyed one of the piles, folding his arms across his chest with disapproval.

This one,” he nodded at Henry, “has parroted my research correctly. I have strong reason to believe that there is a small community of vampires living in the Peruvian rainforest. The closest civilisation is the water-locked city of Iquitos. If Ashley’s smart, she’ll stop there for a guide. Sadly, Ashley has the only map so once we get there, we’ll be wandering blind.”

“How did she get her hands on a – you gave it to her... If this is one of your desperate attempts to get your claws on vampire blood, Nikola, then I am going to kill you myself.”

“I assure you,” he replied, “that although it might be true that I’m making the best of the circumstance presented to me, I did nothing as advantageous as orchestrating it. It was your pet sand creature that attacked me in the middle of the night, remember?”

He had a point. “There are no copies of the map I presume...”

“None.”

“Helpful, Nikola.” Helen glanced at Will as he bent forward in pain. It was starting again. He didn’t have long. “You’re coming with us. Pack light everyone, we have a plane to catch. Not you Henry –” Helen caught his arm as he headed for the door with the others.

“But I’ve been researching this. Helen, I know the data. You might need someone with this information – you can’t just trust that man.”

“And you trust his research? For all you know Henry, he may have left that there for you to find. We have Nikola, and for the moment at least, our goals are the same. The fewer people we have with us, the faster we can move. I don’t want Ashley out there alone.”

“You know, ‘that man’ is standing right here...”

“Stay out of this, Nikola,” Helen glared at him. He bowed out of the room with a smirk.

“Helen, you’re going to need me,” pleaded Henry.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But Will needs you more.”

*~*~*

Ashley surveyed the river cutting through her path. There had been unseasonal rain, and now rivers were popping up that were not labelled on the map. This one was about three metres wide but gushing with a frightening velocity. If she missed the bank, Ashley would be washed in its current god knows how far off course.

There was no choice though, she would have to cross it.

Her backpack went first, flung across the gap where it landed safely on the other side.

“See, not so hard,” she said to herself. If her backpack could do it...

Ashley backtracked, taking a run up through a patch of clear, but muddy ground. She took one last look at the murky river as it raged past and then dug her heals in, launching herself at it in full run.

Her legs stretched out, striding through the air as her arms clawed forward until she hit the opposite bank. She landed on the ground hard and immediately started sliding down its inclined bank toward the river. The ground was covered in silty mud that was nearly impossible to get a grip on.

“Urgh, come on!” she hissed, as she felt water rushing over her boots.

*~*~*

Helen tightened her belt, drew her long, weatherproof coat around her and concealed an assortment of weapons on her body. John rested against the wall beside the front door, watching the large clock tick away the time as they waited for Nikola. Their bags were ready to go and the car was out front, prepped to take them to Helen’s private jet parked in a dark corner of the airport.

“What could possibly be keeping him?” Helen paced over the floor.

“He was never particularly reliable,” commented John, readjusting the tape Helen had strapped over his face where the creature’s claw marks cut deep.

“Will you two ever get over each other?” she shook her head. “Sometimes I think that this jealously was more about competition than actually loving me.”

Henry bounded into the room, kitted out in jeans and a jacket with heavy boots and a bundle of bags.

“Henry, we discussed this,” said Helen sternly, eyeing his travelling clothes.

“Mr. Tesla is gone,” he panted, out of breath from the run down the hall. “I checked all of the motion senses and security cameras. He disappeared into the library and never came back.”

“Typical,” grinned John.

“Don’t you dare enjoy this,” Helen instructed. “The reality is that without him, we’ve got no chance of finding Ashley – what is it Henry?”

Henry held up a bundle of papers. “I know where he’s going, Helen. I can do this. Will’s dead if we don’t leave now. Worse than dead.”

Helen shifted her gaze between the expectant Henry and the impatient John, who shrugged his approval.

“Ready to leave?” she nodded at Henry’s bags. “Let’s go then. Next time I see Nikola, he better have a bloody good explanation.”

*~*~*

Ashley looked like a mud monster that had crawled out of some festering swamp. She sniffed her arm where the mud was starting to dry into a shell and crack off. This was just like the old days, she thought, tracking abnormals in their native environment. The only difference here was that she knew that the abnormal in question was way smarter than her, worse still, she wasn’t just hunting it, she wanted to talk to it.

“Right map,” she held the book with slightly muddy hands. “A little help would be good.”

There was no path to speak of, only a trickle of water running over a twisting line of boulders cutting through the foliage. She clambered over each one, sliding on their rough surfaces until she reached their top and could stare out over the next fall of jungle.

Suddenly, the ground underneath her gave way. All she saw was the stunning view vanish to black as her body curved, freefalling. She held onto the journal, pulling it to her chest as she hit the soft ground. Ashley’s vision blurred, her thoughts fractured by the fall. Above was the bright hole where she had fallen through the weak earth. Tree roots dangled around her, one brushing over her face. She moved it aside, sitting up with a groan.

An avalanche of dirt drained off of her – not that she could get any more filthy...

“Urgh...” she rested her head on her knees, closing her eyes. “Ouch.”

It was a while before she located her torch and began inspecting her situation which couldn’t possibly be a good one. The ground which had given way was four – maybe five metres above her head. Initially, she thought that she might be able to climb up the sides of the hole, but the earth was too soft. The tree roots, though prevalent, pulled free every time she tested their strength.

With the obvious route of escape failing her, Ashley turned her attention to the ground level. The hole extended into the earth around her, almost like a cave. On closer inspection, she found that one of the side walls had been propped up by timber. It was soft and mostly rotten but at one stage it had definitely been a doorway of sorts. The inside of it was blocked by a recent fall of dirt from above, flowing out into the main room. Perhaps it would be possible to clear a space through that.

The rest of the floor was bare. There was nothing at all that she could use as leverage to climb up toward the hole at the top, not even a well placed bolder like the thousands that she had trampled over to get this far.

“I refuse to die in a hole,” she told herself firmly.

Returning her attention to the ominous doorway of wood, Ashley began to dig into it with her hands. She kept her torch off, conserving its battery unaware of the tunnel waiting beyond.

Tracks in the Mud by ellymelly

Helen waited on the phone, impatiently tapping her fingers against the plane’s window until the tone rang out and Ashley’s message service clicked on. Helen ended the call; another message wouldn’t make any difference to the eighteen unread ones already in there – no doubt having a nice chat about why their intended recipient wasn’t answering.

“Her phone does work, doesn’t Henry?”

Henry was tucked into the chair opposite, watching the clouds waft past as Helen’s private jet skimmed in over the mountains. He had an unsightly blue rug scrunched up under his nose which he had to fold back to speak.

“Yes, like I said,” he mumbled, simultaneously hungry and sleepy after the sixteen hour flight. “She’s set up on the global roaming thing. If her phone’s not working it’s because she’s dropped it, or drowned it, or one of the many other new and interesting ways that Ashley Magnus had discovered to damage technology. I’m a particular fan of her work on the microwave.”

“Sorry Henry,” Helen realised that she’d been pestering everybody onboard for hours and it was starting to grate. “I’m just worried.”

The plane shook again, falling through an air pocket. Unstable weather went with the territory. High mountains created turbulence – at least it meant that they were getting close.

“Me as well, doc.” He didn’t admit to leaving a few of his own messages on Ashley’s phone. “But we’re gonna find her. We know where she’s headed –”

“Roughly...” added Helen, with an ever-so-slightly raised eyebrow.

“I can do a little better than ‘roughly’.” These days Henry was constantly in the presence of a large pile of paper. He had brought Tesla’s print outs with him – not all of them of course, only the ones that were difficult to acquire. At the moment they were neatly filed away in his shoulder bag. “As long as she doesn’t get lost, we should all end up at the same place and you can ground her then.”

Helen really hoped so, otherwise her daughter was out there alone, about to wander into the lair of the most dangerous Abnormal that ever lived.

*~*~*

Far from walking, Ashley found herself clawing forwards through the dirt – torch clenched between her teeth whilst she tried not to dribble all over it.

She was in a bit of a tight spot – lodged between a mound of dirt and the roof of the tunnel. The hole that she had dug for herself was on the small side and so she had to squeeze painfully through it, nearly getting stuck on the way.

“Come on hips,” she grunted.

Finally, she emerged, dusting herself down unnecessarily. They layers of mud and dirt on her were never going to leave her voluntarily.

She perched on the tunnel side of the mound, with her legs dangling over the rise of dirt in front. Prying the torch from her teeth, Ashley panned its light over the area in front. What she found was a narrow, half collapsed tunnel lined with the same trestles of wood as the entrance. Whatever this place had been, its previous life was long buried.

Ashley slid down the mound onto the semi-solid ground, landing in a puff of dust.

“Well, this is better,” she said to the tunnel. At least it showed promise – in other words, she couldn’t see the end of it which meant that it had to lead somewhere.

She progressed through it, slowly at first but soon her patience wore thin and Ashley entered a jog. The air got staler as the tunnel took her down further beneath the ground. Maybe she had been wrong, perhaps this was a mining tunnel and the exit was back the way she had come. What if it was an abandoned shaft, a hunting trap, some useless idea or any number of unhelpful things?

‘Always look before you leap...’ Wise words she usually chose to ignore. In her defence, it was more of a ‘fall’ than a ‘leap’.

Not ready to give up, she took a few more deep breaths and settled into a pace. She was mid-step when she felt it – the lower part of her ankle buckle and roll. Orthopaedics. She couldn’t count the number of times her mother had begged her to wear them yet still she insisted on going without. It was times like these, when she was trapped in a collision course with the eager ground, that she wished she’d listened to her mother.

“Ow...” she skidded to a halt, losing her grip on the torch as her hands spread out, taking the impact. “No, no, no –” Ashley watched as her torch began to roll away from her, catching the sharpening slope of the ground. “You get back here!”

She was on her feet, half-limping half-hopping in pursuit of the escaping torch, grimacing every time that she tried to put useful weight on her sore ankle. It wasn’t seriously injured, just refusing to co-operate with her. Her torch seemed content to continue this chase, gaining speed and distance from Ashley.

Soon Ashley couldn’t see the ground in front of her – only ahead where the torch’s light bounced, unhelpfully illuminating more walls of dirt.

“Don’t make me replace you with a Maglite,” she stumbled on.

It didn’t seem to care for her insults, vanishing from sight as it dropped over the edge of something that Ashley was yet to reach. Darkness, pure and black engulfed the tunnel around Ashley. She brought herself to a sudden stop, reaching out to the wall beside.

“Shit...” she whispered.

*~*~*

They took a boat upriver from Iquitos. Their petrol motor jutted and spluttered its protest at being picked for the trip, but Dr. Helen Magnus had paid good money for its services so their guide whacked the plastic cover with his stick and it quietened.

Henry sat up front, cross-legged on the bow of the small fibreglass boat. He gripped the pale blue bars, dislodging the old paint that had never really adhered in the first place. The wind was pleasant, whipping across his face in something that felt awfully like freedom.

The Amazon rainforest sprawled out ahead, climbing up a set of mountains in front of the river. Beside them, the last field of grass was swiftly running out. Farmers waved to them from the shore and packs of children gave playful chase along the bank.

Helen had her phrase-book out, doing her best to direct the guide to the place on the map they needed to be. It was slow going, like her father – Helen had always been mediocre when it came to foreign languages.

The guide was shaking his head at her last suggestion. At first she thought that it was her poor pronunciation, but the grey-haired man took the phrasebook from her and flipped it open to a page.

“No thank you,” he said. What he meant was that he would not take them past open field. The boat was already slowing, making a gentle curve toward the muddy bank thick with reeds and animal tracks.

John suddenly reached over and relieved the arguing pair of the map.

“We knew we’d be in for a walk,” he said, stoically. “Ashley will have done the same so our chances of tracking her are better if we start where she did.”

Henry’s sense of freedom soon took a turn when he found himself face to face with a sinister line of trees reaching out to him with sticky leaves. The boat had pulled up right on the edge, where the rainforest reared up at them.

“Buck up little one,” John’s hand startled Henry, as it landed on his shoulder. The tall – strange man shook Henry in a ‘friendly’ manner, no doubt his version of encouragement. “It’s not the trees you need to be afraid of.” He leant right down to Henry’s ear and lowered his voice to a whisper, “It’s me...”

Henry gave a small yelp and bounced away, finding himself in the shade of the rainforest. It was cool and surprisingly enticing after hours baking on the runabout. John gave a quiet chuckle, glancing over his shoulder as Helen came marching toward them.

“That’s the spirit Henry,” she said, striding past him and John.

*~*~*

Detective Joe Kavanaugh opened his eyes with a groan. The world hurt and his head most of all. He didn’t know how long he’d been asleep in the strange room, but there was daylight creeping between the drapes as the smell of fried eggs swirling around the bed.

The blur of last night began to take shape as he sat up. Tunnels and creatures; gunshots and bickering voices – finally he remembered.

He stumbled across the dark room, took hold of the heavy folds of material and pulled them open, revealing a bright morning over the city. His eyes stung in the sudden light. Joe blinked furiously, turning his head away until he felt his skin warm.

There was a silver tray on the table beside the bed. Its contents were covered by an ornate lid with steam creeping around its sides. Breakfast.

*~*~*

“She never ever listens...”

Helen Magnus had her knees buried in a soft layer of mud beside an angry river. Rough tracks, half washed away led into the current.

“They continue over there,” John pointed to the opposite bank where a skid mark had dislodged a section of weed and leaf litter. “Give me your hands...” he stood between Helen and Henry with his palms outstretched.

They were both hesitant at first, but soon clasped tightly to John.

It was over in a flash. A sharp, dreadful moment as they teleported to the other side of the river. Henry fell over, clutching his head in pain. Helen shook it off, forcing her eyes to focus and not slip into the enticing darkness.

“That’s nasty...” Henry whimpered, clambering back to his feet. “Don’t ever do that again.”

“You would rather take your chances with the river?” said John.

“Yeah,” replied Henry, straightening, “that’s what I’m saying.”

Helen was frowning, twisting the map in every direction possible until she turned to the others. “This is the wrong way,” she said, holding the map up for them to see. “We should be further that way,” she pointed to their left, “up where that line of rocks starts.”

Henry leant backwards, trying to see around the large tree beside him. He didn’t know how Helen could find anything in this mess. There were trees, ferns, creepers, spiky plant things he didn’t know what to call, and general obstacles everywhere. He was struggling to find his own feet.

“It could be the map,” said Henry. “Ours is something that Mr. Tesla drew himself. Ashley has the original.”

“This,” began Helen unhappily, “is why I don’t trust that man.” That, and he had a habit of disappearing when he was needed most.

“Do we follow the map, or Ashley?”

Helen’s eyes flicked between Henry, John, the map and the tracks in the mud.

 

Empty Tombs by ellymelly

“You are very late,” Tesla inspected his nails. He was seated on a large boulder, perched at its top high above the pair approaching through the undergrowth.

Helen stopped, panting as she lifted her head. Through the light covering of leaves she spied an individual who was soon to die.

“Nikola...” she whispered, narrowing her eyes at his preened form. He did not look like he’d spend hours trudging through muck but then again, Nikola had a talent for cleanliness.

Henry beat his way through the forest behind Helen, swearing at a particularly sticky plant that refused to let go of his arm. It suckered onto his skin, stuck fast.

“Nasty little good for nothing piece of ancient shru-” he ran into the back of Helen, nearly knocking them both to the ground. Helen stumbled forward.

“How many times, Henry,” she said, without taking her glare off Nikola. “Eyes up.”

Henry pealed the possessive frond off of his skin with a displeased grimace. He hated forests, trees, large wild cats, slippery rocks, humid air, insects – anything that crawled, really. It was only the two of them now; Helen had sent John off after Ashley’s tracks while they stuck to the map. Helen had wanted to go after Ashley herself, but Henry wouldn’t leave the map and she couldn’t trust John on his own with Henry. At least this way, John’s motivations were headed in the right direction – find Ashley.

“Oh great,” Henry’s mood deteriorated further when he saw that ‘Tesla person’ impossibly balanced on a boulder.

“I’m been here for whole hours,” Nikola gloated, pulling his knees up to his chest, enjoying the pleasant breeze and vantage over the jungle. They were at the summit of a small hill that wanted, ever so desperately, to be a mountain.

Helen fought through the remainder of the ferns and strode out into the clearing, planting herself at the base of Nikola’s rock. She tilted her head back to speak. “I’m going to need a very good reason not to kill you,” she said, unhooking her gun. Helen snapped off the safety and aimed it straight at him.

Harsh, thought Nikola. “Only one?” he challenged. “My dear Helen, I can give you many reasons to keep me alive but I dare say one will suffice.”

“I am still waiting for it,” Helen ignored Henry, who was trying to remind her that Nikola was useful and possibly better kept alive.

“Impatience? That’s a new one for you.”

A loud ‘crack’ startled hundreds of birds who took to the air in a great curve of white, screaming as they flapped away.

“You know, that hurts my feelings...” Nikola dusted flecks of limestone off his suit. Helen had made a sizable hole next to his leg.

“Whoops...” she muttered darkly. “I appear to have missed. Care to go again?”

“Ashley’s not here,” said Nikola. “Haven’t seen her and that’s a bad sign because she had a decent head start on us.”

“Where is she?” Helen’s gun lowered slightly as Nikola edged himself forward and slid off the rock. It was quite a distance to the ground and he landed rather ungracefully in a heap.

“Ow... Well, if we’re lucky she’s gotten a bit lost – you know what girls are like. Map reading isn’t their strongest attribute.” Helen’s gun re-aligned with him. “Or,” Nikola decided that being shot at point blank range wouldn’t be fun, “she’s already inside.”

“Inside what?”

Nikola’s arms stretched out, beckoning them forward. “The sanctuary,” he grinned. “This way...”

*~*~*

Joe checked his appearance in one of the full length mirrors scattered throughout the Sanctuary’s hallways. There was a nasty cut above his eye but the stitching was holding. It was very important that he looked normal. Airlines were picky these days.

Making short work of a flight of stairs, Joe turned the corner into Helen’s office, gently opening the door and slipping inside. He felt like a small child, breaking into the headmaster’s office as he crept over to Magnus’s desk, eying every shadow with suspicion.

The flowers on her desk were dying, dropping petals over her desk. One unopened bud wept, dipping down where it hung over a mournful statue.  Joe was looking for something very specific, hidden amongst her records which she kept locked in the desk drawer. A small black granite figurine on her desk caught his attention. He reached for it, holding the object firmly as he smashed the lock on desk with one, quick blow.

There wasn’t time to waste now. Someone would have heard that.

Joe pulled the drawer open and shuffled through a pile of papers until he found a thick folder. He pulled it out and opened on the desk. Yes, this was it; information on a campsite in the desert dated three days ago. He took the whole file, folding it under his arm as he made his way to the window.

*~*~*

Nikola pulled his unhappy entourage to a halt.

“Four – hours – of torture,” Henry gulped from a water bottle and then continued. “And this is where you take us?”

There was an eerie layer of mist burying them from the waist down. Towering above, sheltering the forest world from the fading afternoon light was an imposing cliff face. Its black surface was smooth and shimmered, as if moving with a life of its own. It looked like black glass excised from the bowels of the earth.

Nikola reached out, touching one of the carvings which framed the entrance to the cave. It was a small white circle embedded like a jewel. There were hundreds more clustered along the vertical edges. Some of the markings were circles like the one he had beneath his fingertip, the others depicted stages of the crescent moon.

“It looks real,” remarked Helen, eyeing the cave’s entrance. “I’ll give you that.”

He lay against the rock, pressing his cheek and palms onto the cool surface. This felt like home, thought Nikola. His ancestors had found a measure of sanctuary within this cave, he wondered if it would bring the same peace to him.

Henry’s head had developed a worrying slant as he watched Nikola embrace the sinister looking façade. “He’s gone all strange and stuff on us...” he said.

“No,” Helen corrected him. “This is normal. Let’s go Nikola,” she plucked him from the wall and deposited him in front of the cave entrance. “Vampires first.”

“I could – I could just wait out here...” Henry hadn’t moved from his spot in the mist. Everything about this idea smelt bad. There was something sinister swirling around him – and it wasn’t the mist.

“There’s no point in remaining outside, Mr Foss,” Nikola straightened his coat, buttoning it all the way to his neck. “They know that we’re here.” He darkened his eyes so that he could see better in the half-light of the cave. Helen took a more practical approach, fishing out her torch as she stepped into the shadows.

Henry shivered involuntarily. “Well, that makes me feel much better about the whole, ‘let’s wander into a dark, scary cave’ thing.” He lost sight of the other two as they ventured into the cave. Suddenly alone, Henry’s feet kicked into action, propelling him in pursuit despite his commonsense telling him no.

*~*~*

Ashley curled her fingers over the mossy edge, gripping the delicate roots of dark-loving plants. The tunnel in front ended where the ground had been torn away. Her torch was far below, a tiny point of light glowing like a distant star.

“Shit...” she whispered, running her hands over every surface that she could reach. There had to be a way down and it wasn’t long until she found it – a damp strip of wood tied onto two lengths of rope. Moving her hands down further, she found more pieces of wood forming the basics of a ladder.

Ashley was eternally grateful that she couldn’t see this ‘ladder’. Given the way it felt in her hands, she never would have allowed herself to clamber over it, grimacing at every tremble and crack it gave in protest.

‘This is such a bad idea,’ she reminded herself halfway down. The ladder agreed, one of its boards snapping away from her foot. Ashley clung onto the ropes tighter, feeling for the next step as they groaned – squeaking and unravelling.

Eventually, her feet hit the ground and she was reunited with her torch.  Ashley shined it back over to the ladder she had traversed. Damn, she wouldn’t be going back that way.

The ground beneath her was odd in that it bared no resemblance to the tunnel above. Down here she had to fight to find her footing on the smooth bed of river stones, polished by the small stream at the centre. It was clear that at some point the river had raged down here, filling the entire chasm.

She wanted to whistle her awe of the size of the place, but decided that the last thing she needed was a startled flock of bats freaking out. The water at her feet was running, trickling with distinct purpose over the white rocks. It had found a way out, Ashley was sure, so she followed it.

Ashley’s ears pricked up and she paused, turning slowly back toward the ladder. She listened carefully to every drip of water and shuffle of dirt. The more she concentrated on the silence, the louder the tunnel became but she didn’t hear it again – her name whispered in the darkness.

She avoided the water, clambering over the rocks and pebbles. Without sunlight, the cavern, cave, mine – or whatever this place preferred to call itself, was freezing. The water carried ice-crystals along in its current. Whenever she panned her torchlight over its surface, the beams scattered into shards of colour. There was something else in the water too – flecks of gold, tumbling over the stones and accumulating in pools around the edge of the river.

Rivers of Gold, that reminded her of something. She took a moment, seating herself on the rocky ground. Ashley pulled out her grandfather’s journal from her jacket, flipping through the damaged paper until she came to the map. There was nothing written on it about falling down large holes, which confirmed her suspicions that she was well and truly lost but a few pages on, she found an entry that peaked her curiosity. It was about the Seven Cities of Gold, searched in vain for by expeditions since 1150. Apparently her grandfather suspected its location to be in South America rather than North America but never had any success in finding it himself. Here it was, the part that she remembered, the cities sat by the edge of a golden river which carved out shimmering tracks across the land.

“Rivers of gold,” she whispered, eyeing the water. “Another day, perhaps.”

*~*~*

“Ash-leeeey!”

John extended his top half over the hole, careful not to let his weight tilt him over the edge. It was a long way down and from what he could see, someone had taken the plunge into its depths recently. Ashley’s tracks ended at this hole and he had scouted the area ahead to no avail.

He called her name again, but there was no reply from his daughter.

*~*~*

“Why haven’t you been here before?” Helen stayed a few paces behind Nikola as they explored the entrance of the cave. “You clearly knew how to find this place. I’m surprised you could resist visiting the homeland of your ancestors.”

Nikola lowered his eyes to the glittering floor but didn’t say anything.

“Don’t tell me,” continued Helen, with a look of satisfaction. “An army of vicious killers born from your blood no problem but one full blood vampire – you wouldn’t dare face them alone.”

He stopped, and whispered very quietly to her. “If you knew what you were really walking into,” he said, “you’d be afraid too. Now please, a little hush.”

“What did he say?!” shouted Henry from behind, dashing into the cave after them.

Nikola sighed.

*~*~*

The plane touched down twice. Its first landing was brief, a mere taste of the ground as it bounced from the gravelly airstrip back into the crosswind which nipped the plane’s wings. The second time, the pilot grounded the plane with such force that the passengers gripped their seats in alarm.

Bit rough, Joe looked out the window, checking that nothing had caught fire.

Travel was like that around these parts. You arrived and you had to be happy with that.

Joe stepped out into a desert wind, bracing himself against the funnels of sand burning his exposed skin. The rest of the passengers scurried away, ducking into waiting cars parked in the open by the airstrip. The terminal was dark inside its locked doors and broken windows bandaged with helpings of duct tape. It was a god awful place with nothing between it and the full force of the desert lurking just over the rise.

“Doctor Kavanaugh – of Oxford University?”

Joe hadn’t noticed the tall man approach from the side. Most of his body was covered with layers of cloth, a sensible idea. Joe waved and nodded.

“I am Professor Lierdly from the expedition. We spoke on the phone. My car is over there,” he pointed at the only vehicle still braving the dust. “This way please, there’s a storm coming.”

 

Buried Cities by ellymelly

The black mountain range stuck out from the sand like a set of knives. Its thousand faces of polished rock interlaced to form a sinister barrier – sometimes catching the sun in a blinding glare. Joe could see the remains of Magnus’s campsite nestled at the base of one this monstrosity. From what he could tell at this distance, there was nothing left but ruined tents and a makeshift airstrip, gradually disappearing beneath the sand.

“We told them,” said Lierdly, from the driver’s seat. He was barely holding the wheel as the car shook its way down the gravelled track, riding a ridge. There was a dune to their left, working its way toward the road in a surge of burning sand. The professor pointed at the speckling of tents obscured by a layer of ‘liquid-air’. It’s what they called the turbulent air hugging the ground which distorted anything further than arms reach. “We say, ‘nothing to find there but dirt and rock’. My associate even offered them a share in our site – we could use the extra funding, but that crazy woman wasn’t interested and now look, all that’s left of them. They abandoned less than a week ago. In a month there’ll be nothing.”

“Crazy indeed,” replied Joe. That sounded like the Helen Magnus he knew.

They pulled up at Lierdly’s archaeological site, framed by a tent city. White linen flapped in the breeze, snapping sharply like whips cracking in Joe’s ear. People hurried everywhere carting books or screaming instructions at their satellite phones. One man tripped in his haste, scattering a box of identification tags in front of Joe and Lierdly. He swore in Dutch and then set about plucking each one from the sand while at the same time hissing behind him at someone in a tent.

On this side of the mountain range to Magnus’s camp, Lierdly and his team had set up shop beneath a series of tunnels burrowed into the rock. There more than a dozen of them poking out in no particular arrangement.

“We thought they were tombs,” said Lierdly, pointing at several starting barely a foot off the ground. Each was just over a metre high and roughly made. They could have almost been mistaken for natural caves except the rock cleaved in hexagonal pieces, and these were circular holes. “But they just go on and on. I had one of the boys take a wander and he found nothing for kilometres. Whatever’s buried in there, if anything at all, it wasn’t mean to be found.”

“Superstitious?” Joe raised an eyebrow.

“No...” he averted his eyes to the sun, “You can’t do what I do for a living and give in to that kind of thinking.” Lierdly shifted, resting his hands on his slender hips. “I’d never have made it into my first tomb. Some of my workers, locals, they think that this place is cursed. It’s the same story wherever you go in this country. This is cursed. That is cursed. Don’t touch that, the sky will fall. Mostly, I think that they don’t want us sniffing around in case we find something about their past they don’t want to know. Perhaps that is the curse.”

“Do you mind if I have a look for myself?”

Lierdly shrugged. “Go ahead. Let me know if you get attacked by a mummy. Can make good money out of that sort of thing.”

Joe’s laugh turned into a shiver as he hopped up the rocks.

*~*~*

“Is it supposed to be doing that?” Henry backed away from the cave wall nervously, as another flicker of electricity sparked into life next to his ear. There was an ever-present crackle in the background getting louder as they progressed.

“You ask me,” said Nikola, sniffing out the darkness, eyeing it cautiously, “as if I do this kind of thing often...”

Helen had her gun raised, realigning it to every sound no matter how small. “It wouldn’t be a first, Nikola,” she said in a whisper, as she stepped behind him. “You’re always claiming an affinity with these creatures.”

“Ancestry,” he corrected her, shuddering as her hair tickled across the back of his neck. He hated that she did that – always on purpose, to unsettle him and remind him who was really in charge. “A different thing altogether.”

“If you like,” she grinned, as he ran his hands over the back of his collar.

“Seriously though,” Henry had stopped at one of the walls and was entranced watching the electricity flow along tiny tracks in the rock, almost like veins. “This is not normal.” He reached his hand out to the surface, lowering it slowly to the fluid patterns until – “Ow...” he shook his hand. “Ow, ow, ow...”

The spark had been quite spectacular, lighting Henry in a sudden flash.

“You once hand-picked this thing as a protégé?” Nikola widened his eyes in disbelief as Henry muttered something about, ‘being okay’.

Helen shook her head. “It was more like an adoption,” she confessed. “What do you know about real vampires?”

Nikola shrugged, “Not much. Their records are, regrettably, destroyed or lost.”

“But you have your suspicions,” Helen prompted.

“They were civilised,” he said, “but civilisation millennia ago is not what it is today.”

“You really are worried, aren’t you? Meeting our sand creature deepened your fears that vampires have a – how would you put it, viscous side?”

“They had a talent for survival in an age noted for its brutality. Yes, it worries me. As does this...” He pointed at the currents of electricity running over the walls.

“Nikola...” she reached out and grabbed his arm with her free hand. He stopped, turning to find her eyes wide, glistening in the torchlight. “Where’s Henry?”

*~*~*

Ashley stopped, balanced on the bank of pebbles to the right of the stream. The water ended at two giant doors which towered to the roof of the cavern, out of reach of her torchlight.

“Sheee-it...” she exhaled, taking a step back to take in the sight.

The doors were made of a heavy wood, intricately carved with a life-size freeze of the jungle stretching across them. Plants with their curled leaves protruded while hidden beneath them, creatures prowled. Carved trees stood at their real height, vanishing into an elaborate canopy. Two snarling jaguars faced each other in the middle, gnashing their curved teeth at each other mid-pounce. It was unlike any artwork she had seen. It was so real that Ashley hesitated to take her eyes off it in case the creatures came to life and leapt free.

The doors were not infallible though. Along their base, the water had cracked and discoloured the wood. Fragments of gold caught inside the fibrous surface making them look as if they had been dipped in liquid gold. It was like an embroidered curtain, sealing the cave. Ashley had never felt so small.

The water had not backed up at the door. Instead, it was running under it. Ashley stepped into the freezing water, grimacing as it sank through her boots and swelled around her ankles. Her skin reddened, burnt by the cold as she waded in deeper. The river’s depth had been deceiving. Soon it was up around her waist as she reached the centre of the door, holding her arms up above her head.

“Bad idea,” she grimaced as the cold became a stabbing pain. Her backpack was waterproof, and floated defiantly as she threw it into the water. It followed the current and hit the doors, bobbing against them.

There was a second current in the water. Ashley could feel its tug on her lower legs in the deep water, beckoning her forwards.

“Moment of truth,” she said, more to convince herself than the empty chamber. Ashley reached down under the water, following the line of the door. Her fingers slipped over the golden edge. A foot under the water, the door ended leaving a gap just big enough for her to slip under.

Ashley gripped onto her bag, forcing it down under the water. It fought against her but as soon as it crossed onto the other side, Ashley took a breath and submerged, following it through.

The cold was unbearable, piercing her with such force that she thought she must have fallen victim to an ancient death trap. She kept her eyes clenched shut as she hugged her backpack to her chest, letting it pull her up through the water.

They broke the surface together. Ashley coughed, wiping the water from her face before opening her eyes. She was swimming now with the water deepening beneath her. Ashley brought her torch above the water. As with the previous room, there were banks of rock on either side. Ashley swam, forcing her stiff arms to stroke their way toward the shore.

*~*~*

They turned around together but neither could see any sign of Henry.

“Henry?” whispered Helen, about to backtrack before Nikola caught the back of her coat.

“No, no... wait,” he said. Nikola tilted Helen’s torch, pointing it up toward the ceiling of the cave. There was nothing but a small flock of napping bats, swaying in their sleep. “I think this is a mistake,” he said, not letting go of her coat. Helen wasn’t sure if it was for her own safety or his.

“Where’s Henry?” Helen demanded.

“I don’t know,” he replied truthfully. “But nothing got past us, I am sure of it, which means that whatever it was didn’t have to.”

“Teleporting? Like John?”

“It wasn’t John,” said Nikola. “Stay close, I mean it.” He didn’t just mean ‘within an arms distance’. Nikola wouldn’t let Helen stray any further than their shoulders touching. They stepped in time with each other, following the cave as it sloped downward.

“There is something down here,” she said, blinking at the darkness. Helen could hear movement, subtle but quick as it changed positions. “I think that you should say something.”

“Like what?” he had morphed slightly further towards his vampire form. Nikola was a ghastly combination of pale skin, sharp teeth and large, black eyes that Helen hated to see.

“Anything. Otherwise whatever’s home is going to think that we’re trying to sneak in...” Nikola was silent, trying to work out how that differed from what they were actually doing. “All I know,” continued Helen, “is that when things sneak into my house – it doesn’t end well for the ‘things’.”

“Well you say something then!”

“This is your idea!” she prodded him sharply. He buckled temporarily, curling his claws.

“Fine. Tell me what to say and I’ll say it.”

“God, you are such a child.”

*~*~*

The desert light was absorbed by the tunnel until it was nothing more than a bright circle in the distance. Joe had to duck, crouching his body to fit inside the tunnel. It smelt stale which was no surprise given the fragile bones of desert creatures he continuously crushed under his shoes. They had curled up and died all over the place, hiding from a sandstorm and forgotten to leave.

Lierdly had given him a small amount of supplies including a strong flashlight and tent pole, ‘for the cobwebs’. Joe could think of other uses for a length of wood. He gripped the stick with one hand, aiming it at the tunnel like a prehistoric caveman might have done.

The tunnel worked its way into the mountain, sometimes constricting into a space barely big enough to crawl through and at other times intersecting with several tunnels in large, domed spaces. Joe left himself messages in the sand floor so that he wouldn’t end up walking in circles. The deeper he progressed, the more well-worn the tracks became almost like he had been skirting through the side streets and only now finding the highway.

Eventually he found himself in a tunnel tall enough for him to stand with three others beside him. He was not the first to venture down these catacombs. Many kilometres inside, the air became putrid. Joe buried his nose in his sleeve as he closed in on the source of the smell, fighting the urge to by physically sick.

A skeleton, partially decomposed had reclined against the wall. It was difficult to know how long it had been there. With dry desert air and few scavengers, his decomposition might have been greatly slowed. His clothes were native to the area and he looked peaceful, like the remains of the animals.

Joe did not linger, pushing past the horrible sight before a mysterious urge to sleep befell him.

*~*~*

Ashley sat on the bank with her knees pulled to her chest, shivering. Her body had the slightest tinge of gold from the water and she could still taste its metallic edge. If Henry had been here, he would have made a quip about that James Bond film.

This room was different to the last. Instead of a rough cave surface, she found perfectly cut stones stacked tightly together to form smooth walls. She couldn’t comment on the ceiling because it hung well out of reach of the torchlight.

Instead of a river, there was a deep pool of water filling the cave edged by a low wall, maybe half a foot tall at best. On the top of this barrier was a trail of crescent shaped lights embedded in the stone. They did not shine brightly but like glow-worms, their collective light gave the water which they encapsulated a soft aura.

As her eyes adjusted to the softer light, Ashley saw the first hint of structure emerge from the far side of the underground lake. There were buildings, several stories high, packed tightly together in a crowded facade. Her torched flickered. She hit and cursed it until its light reappeared. She may as well have held a candle to the room. There was city down here, buried away from the world. It was silent – abandoned long ago.

This, Ashley presumed, was all that remained of the Sanctuary of the Moon.

 

Lockdown by ellymelly

“Neat...” whispered Ashley.

She probably should have gone for something a little more epic, but as she clambered over the low wall of lights and onto the paved streets of the city, words refused to form in her throat.

The Sanctuary of the Moon was empty, deserted long ago by whatever creatures had chosen to make their homes here in this underground world. There were, however, remnants of them. Ashley had stumbled across a pile of bleached bones cluttered in a corner where two buildings didn’t quite meet. The sad skeleton was the first of many as she progressed up the main street.

There was a steady trail of rats ambling along the gutter, scratching against the stone floor as they headed toward the pool of water Ashley had climbed out of earlier. She avoided them, keeping to the centre of the road where her torchlight mingled with the occasional glowing shapes on the dwellings.

It was more like a hive than a city, with its buildings scrunched together, rising and falling with the uneven floor underneath the sinister dome of the cave. Some of these had crumbled, bleeding onto the streets with rivers of rubble and dust.

Very soon, she found her eye drawn to claw marks etched into the walls and ripped bodies with scattered weapons. The procession of time could not conceal the violence of their deaths.

Ashley stopped at three intertwined remains, tilting her head from side to side as she circled them like some wandering bird of prey that had missed the feast.

“Unpleasant,” she commented, nudging one of the outlying bones with her boot. The trio had killed each other in some kind of brutal fever. Bony fingers could still be seen clasped around the neck of one, locked in an embrace even through death while the victim had plunged a short dagger through the chest of a hacked skeleton which, to her surprise, sported a sizable tail.

The extra limb was a collection of naturally duplicated vertebra, tapering toward a softly curved tip. The last few bones had been pulled out of line, no doubt by hungry rats.

Ashley retrieved her gun and then secured the backpack around her waist with several of its buckles. This place gave her the creeps and it was a long, lonely walk through it to the back wall. She didn’t know quite what she would find up there, but all the roads trailed off in that direction – it was the rats fleeing from it that made her worry.

*~*~*

Bigfoot’s gentle breathing was interrupted by a snore. Not quite stirred from sleep, he rolled over on the uncomfortable lab floor and curled into his coat. He couldn’t see Will, crouched at the glass in front of him, deciding how best to escape from the glass cage.

The restraints that had held him to the bed were now lying, chewed through, on the floor. His transformation into a sand creature was complete. When Will looked down at his skin he saw it ripple with uncertainty as it adjusted to the changing background. There was a strange dryness to the back of his throat that made it difficult to do anything but grunt at things while the lights of the room glowed especially bright. The details of the world had become intense; feeling – smell, touch – everything was a thousand times stronger.

Will sized up the sleeping creature on the other side of the glass. He rocked forward and touched the glass with an extended finger. The surface was cool – fragile even...

Bigfoot woke to the sound of shattered glass raining over him. He opened his eyes and saw a thousand scatterings of light reflected off the tumbling beads of glass as the window of the observation room fell forward with Will flying through its centre. Bigfoot had just enough time to roll before the larger shards of glass stabbed into the floor around him.

“Argh!” he groaned, as two jagged pieces cut through his fur.

Will hit the ground with the glass. Sensing the first whiff of freedom, he straightened and surveyed the room with golden eyes slit through the middle. His original abnormality – the gift of observation, had now become a serious weapon. Will could pick out every tiny detail of an environment in one turn of his head. Possible escapes leapt out at him while he kept a watchful eye on the figure writhing in pain on the ground.

“Will...” said Bigfoot, trying to stand. He clasped his paw over his arm to stop the bleeding, but the brilliant red dribbled around his fingers and onto the floor. “Will,” he repeated, pleading at the creature who was presently eyeing the door to the lab.

Will’s lips curled into a sinister grin as his body flickered in and out of camouflage.

“Listen to me,” continued Bigfoot, stumbling to his feet. He made it three laboured steps before he had to fall against one of the tables for support. “You’ve got to fight it.”

Will felt that he should know this hairy creature struggling to stand so he closed his eyes for a moment and tried to think. There was a flicker of something. A memory? A thought – he didn’t know. He wanted to be free and that desire overwhelmed everything else.

Instead of finishing off the creature, Will simply turned and pushed through the lab doors – throwing his head back in the sudden escape.

Bigfoot let himself crumble back to the floor where he crawled through the scattered glass to the other side of the room. He pried open the cabinet and dug out a set of bandages, wrapping several layers of them tightly around his arm until he could feel neither the pain nor the seeping of sticky blood.

He had to warn the detective sleeping down the hallway before Will got to him and somehow protect the other Abnormals but first, he had to lock the Sanctuary down and prevent Will from escaping into the city where he would no doubt begin picking out prey.

The computer in the lab did not have security access, so Bigfoot injected himself with a large dose of painkillers and made for the door. He paused at their ajar surfaces, sniffing the air for any sign of Will before gently pushing them open.

The hallway was empty save for a broken vase that had been knocked off a hallway table. Bigfoot, barely able to walk, threw himself at the opposite wall of the hallway, fumbling for the door to Ashley’s office. As someone mostly unaware of their office, she had not bothered to lock it.

It was a room neglected, ignored by its reluctant owner and left to sit in solitude most of the year. Its desk was bare save a lamp and computer with a wandering screensaver. The bookshelf on the opposing wall was not Ashley’s but her mother’s, built to house a special collection of bound letters written by her many associates over the years.

Bigfoot woke the computer, which, overjoyed by the attention, jolted into life with a cheerful beep.

A few minutes later, Bigfoot heard the bars on the windows clang shut and the double bolts on the doors lock firmly into place. Steel doors were sliding over the larger areas and coded doors between levels locking into place. The Sanctuary had turned itself into a prison, with him and Will locked inside.

Will, already on the ground floor, dropped to all fours and hurtled along the ground toward the main entrance. The carpet beneath him folded and slid off to the side as he rounded the corner and ploughed into the solid door as the large steel bolt slipped into place. The door shook with the impact, but remained resolutely closed.

Trapped, Will snarled, baring several rows of razor teeth to the security camera above. Bigfoot watched on, busily wrapping his wounds tighter.

*~*~*

“Do you trust me?” whispered Nikola, taking her free hand within his clawed paw. His skin was freezing, sending unpleasant shivers over her skin whenever his claws grazed her.

“Is that a trick question,” she replied softly, still holding her gun firmly to the darkness in front.

“Whatever happened to us, Helen?” he said, as they edged very slowly deeper into the cave. The light of the entrance behind them had almost vanished and now it was his torch and the electrical currents over the walls that lit the way. “You used to like me.”

“I do like you,” she hissed back. “I would have shot you already if I felt anything less than affection – as perverted as it may be. Incidentally,” she continued, “I believe it was you who last tried to kill me. This little expedition of yours may well end both of us.”

“Oh please... this wasn’t my idea. You have that ‘detective’ to thank for all this.”

That caused Helen to come to an abrupt halt, ripping her hand away from him. “What on earth are you going on about?”

Nikola’s black eyes gleamed in the torchlight which he pointed directly at her. She ducked away from the glare.

“Seriously?” he said, almost unable to grasp Helen’s naivety. “You don’t see it? Vampires – even that bastardised sand creature you tried to keep as a pet, are not animals. They are highly intelligent beings that don’t waste time. If the detective was bait, then he had already served his purpose. I for instance, would have killed him once I reached the tunnels but instead, what do we find? He is safe and well after half the night spent alone with it. There was a reason for that, Helen.”

“He wouldn’t...” but, she realised, then again Joe had more to gain than any from the sand creature. This was personal for him. He spoke ancient Egyptian, he was not afraid of the creature and after she had refused to disclose the location of the tomb, he had become especially curious. “I,” she sighed heartily, truly unimpressed with herself, “never learn.”

“An endearing quality,” Nikola grinned. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

“For the sake of argument, then,” she flinched as he took her sharply by the arm, anticipating her answer.

“Close your eyes...” he said darkly, leaning toward her.

For the last five minutes, Nikola had sensed a presence hunting them through the caves, scant feet from them at any given moment. Despite his considerable observation skills, he was yet to catch a glimpse of his pursuer. Something had changed though. The assailant had gone from observer to assassin, more than once he had felt something brush over the back of his neck, considering how to sever his spine. Nikola Tesla may be hard to kill, but he had a sneaking suspicion that ‘beheading’ might just do it.

He didn’t want her to see what had to happen next.

With considerable force, Nikola knocked Helen to the ground. She stayed down, flattened against the cave floor perfectly still with her eyes slammed shut.

Nikola’s ears twitched as he heard fabric swish to his right and a shadow turn out of sight. He reached out with his clawed hand and ripped a strip free – the first tangible proof that there was, indeed, something else with them.

The rippling of electricity intensified, flickering and flashing in the air accompanied by a continuous crackle.

He bowed his head, and when he lifted it, his transformation into ‘vampire’ was absolute. Barely recognisable as this creature of the myths and fear, he leapt up to the roof, lingering on the cold rock amidst a few sleeping bats, before falling on top of a tall, slender figure.

Nikola had not expected the frailness. The creature crumbled beneath him, groaning as Nikola’s hands tightened around their body. Layers of cloak and a muddle of movement rolled down the slight incline of the cave until they hit a wall in a huge flash of light. Electricity poured from the cave wall through them in a shower of light.

Helen, unable to resist, opened her eyes a crack to see two heads glare at each other, encircled by shards of artificial lightning. One was Nikola as she remembered him – true and frightening in his vampire form. The other was an older man with twisted features and a permanent snarl. As she looked closer Helen saw that the other man’s features had sunk toward his bones in a horrid venture between life and death.

The two vampires rolled off the wall and the cave fell back into darkness. For a moment, Nikola though he had the pursuer beat.

“We don’t want to –” he started to say, but found himself thrown off in a sudden surge of power. Nikola yelped as he slammed into the wall next to Helen and hit the ground in a shower of glittering dust. “Hurt you...” he finished to himself.

“Look out...” whispered Helen, as she saw the other creature straighten and turn to face them.

Nikola pealed himself off the ground.

“You should not be here...” the creature hissed. Its voice was cluttered with age, scratching through his throat. The ancient vampire blinked its sharp eyes and then disappeared from sight.

Nikola swore.

“This is bad, isn’t it?” said Helen, moving to get up.

“Stay down,” he snapped sharply. “The only reason I’m not dead is because he’s curious.”

Swirls of dust kept kicking in the air, disturbed by the vampire’s feet as he teleported from corner to corner to unsettle his uninvited guests.

Maybe, thought Nikola, it was time that he tried Helen’s approach. “This is a Sanctuary?” he asked the darkness, not sure if he should expect a reply. “We come here only to search for a missing friend. We mean you no harm.”

Silence. More crackling from the walls.

“We know what you are,” Nikola continued. “We desire your help. This isn’t working...” he shot at Helen.

Helen sat up, but didn’t go so far as to stand. “For your help we can trade information on the history of your people.”

Though they couldn’t see it, the vampire’s interest peaked.

“And what of them?” said the disembodied voice, bouncing off the uneven surface of the cave.

“Grant us safe passage, and we will tell you all we know.”

“Safe passage?” the voice scratched and died off with amusement. “You have intruded into sacred ground, we are now negotiating the manner of your demise.”

“Please,” Helen said, “a friend of ours has inadvertently trespassed. We are here only to find them and return safely home. We mean you no harm.”

“Harm?” the vampire hissed darkly. “Do not speak to me of harm.” In the cave ahead, they saw a faint outline of movement as the ancient vampire slowly paced toward them. “For thousands of years I have watched my people die – cut down, tortured,” it paused to take another laboured breath, “hacked apart in fields as they fled. You cannot know what it’s like to watch children burn, smouldering into the dusk while the skeleton of your empire blackens.” They could see the creature now, standing tall with its full length cloak dragging on the ground. “You may forgive me then, if I grow wary of human promises.”

A tear steadied in Helen’s eye. “I have seen such carnage,” she replied. “But please, she is my daughter.”

This seemed to stir a memory – and a distant smile. Not so long ago there had been another like herself bravely venturing into this cave. “There was a man here once before, on behalf of his daughter. You remind me of him...”

Room With Columns by ellymelly
Author's Notes:

apologies for the delay!


 

Joe’s body froze mid-step. The catacombs had come to an abrupt end – miles of narrow tunnels culminated in an empty, circular room which was bare of everything except its sandy floor.

“Impossible...” he hissed, turning in endless circles.

He had been so sure, absolutely positive that this would lead him to the tomb of the Priests of Amun, lost for thousands of years. They were not tombs for sleeping bodies dreaming of dead worlds, but crypts to keep monsters in – monsters who were very much alive at their time of imprisonment. If he was ever to find his father, it would be amongst the angry faces of its prisoners.

The walls were painted in ochre colours and scrawls of ancient writing marched up and down it, raving stories about underworlds and gods that now lay quiet. Joe advanced, stepping carefully through the sand, holding his torch aloft.

“Urgh!” he cried, as Joe felt the sand beneath him fall away. His stomach lurched and his arms flailed wildly as he was sucked through the floor into darkness. He had just enough time to gasp a breath of air in the light and catch site of one of the wall murals laughing silently at him.

Then, the only proof of his existence was a torch half buried in the sand in the empty room, with its light gradually yellowing. Eventually it clicked off, and the room returned to its sinister peace.

*~*~*

The ancient vampire’s eyes were black like Nikola’s, but in the depths of their pits were hints of red. These blood-stained flecks ran over Helen, inspecting every inch of her as she spoke. The tiniest beads of sweat on her skin wreaked in the vampire’s nostrils while the grazes on her cheek and neck gave way to trickles of blood. Every minute that this breathing creature survived was a testament to the vampire’s strength of will.

“Quiet now...” the vampire curled his lips into a snarl. “My manners have slipped in these long centuries alone. If you wish to leave this place, you must do so now. Leave me be.” His voice cracked like the electric currents behind him – deceptively fragile in its fluctuations.

Helen and Nikola glanced at each other.

“I cannot leave,” insisted Helen, “until I find my daughter and the man that was with us before.”

You cannot stay!” it screeched, vanishing and reappearing at the far wall where electricity swelled around it. Its plea echoed over the walls in horrid waves of agony. The vampire hid his dripping fangs behind his cloak which he raised over his head, blocking his guests from view. “You cannot stay...” he whispered to himself. The oaths of peace he took long ago were brittle now. Hunger and despair had weakened him and now he could feel the clawing of his nature begging him to kill.

Nikola recognised the symptoms and took Helen by the arm. She resisted but he lifted her toward him and growled into her ear, “Don’t...” He dragged her from the cave and led Helen back out into the mist-laden clearing. A few birds called bravely, piercing the air in short stabs.

The cave entrance was still within sight, leering at them from the cliff face.

As soon as he let go of her, Helen raised her hand and clouted him hard across his face. This time, he did not react. His vampiric form made him stronger than her, though he usually chose not to show it.

“Helen,” he said, gradually fading back to the Nikola of old. “He was going to kill you. Me as well, I suspect.”

“I don’t care...” she replied, turning and heading back to the cave. He shook his head and caught her jacket, clutching the leather firmly. Helen whipped around, striking him again and with her other hand, raising a knife to his throat. “Out of my way,” she warned.

The cold blade on his neck was a familiar touch. It was not the first time that Helen had threatened his life, and he doubted that it would be the last.

“You will have to use it,” he assured her.

“I’ve lost two people in there,” Helen steadied herself, pressing the metal harder onto him, “and I am not leaving them to die!”

“I hear you,” Nikola replied, if anything, gripping more tightly. “There other ways into this Sanctuary, I am convinced of it. He,” Nikola referred to the vampire, “had not seen Ashley or Henry. His thoughts were loud enough for me to hear fragments of them. He is an old creature, tormented by the world and he will not let us pass.”

“Where are these other entrances?” she said, loosening her hold on the knife. It caught a beam of sunlight, blinding him with the brightness.

“I don’t know,” he confessed. “Though I believe our only course of action is to return to Ashley’s tracks and proceed from there. The Sanctuary of the Moon runs deep through these hills, tunnelled out beneath the ground. It is possible that she has inadvertently found a way in.”

*~*~*

Although Will could no longer speak, he managed an unmistakable nod at the security camera. I am coming for you it said.

Bigfoot set the computer to monitor all cameras for motion so that he could detect Will’s progress through the mansion. He could no longer see him on the screens though, as Will has mastered the art of camouflage and torn off his clothes rendering him all but invisible.

He was more creature than human now, Bigfoot could feel it, and this hybrid species seemed always hunting for revenge. Bigfoot couldn’t stay in this room, though. There was no way to defend himself or capture Will amongst the computer, empty desk and lone bookshelf.

Taking a calm breath, Bigfoot opened the door and peered out into the corridor. It was too late to seek out the detective. Will was fast now, and it wouldn’t be long until he returned to this level. The great, hairy man swung around to the right and returned to the medical room where he gathered a large amount of sedatives, several needles and three rolls of bandages. He was about to go for the tranquiliser gun – locked high in the cabinets above the main work desk, when he heard the door at the end of the corridor slam.

With no choice, Bigfoot clambered toward the small, side door which led into the storage area of the level. In five steps he was in front of the equipment lift. Bigfoot slid open the door to the small enclosure and crammed himself painfully inside. As a space meant for trays of testubes, it groaned angrily at Bigfoot’s imposition.

Will, in a strange disturbance of light, rounded the corner and caught sight of Bigfoot forcing down the door of the lift amidst a tirade of curses.

“Come on...” growled Bigfoot, bashing the metal shell as Will raced towards him, claws digging into the polished floor.

Just when Bigfoot had begun to entertain the prospect of being ripped apart, the door shifted and the lift shuddered into action, taking its heavy load down toward the basement.

Will pulled up short as the door slammed near his nose. His sharp eyes flicked to the gage on the wall beside, betraying the destination of the lift.

Bigfoot knew that he would reach the basement first – there was no doubt of that. As fast as this new Will was, he couldn’t fall through the levels of the floor like John. That said, there would not be enough time to achieve anything before his inevitable arrival.

He clutched the lift control protectively to his chest, whispering and coaxing to it as the lift slowed towards its destination. When the final thump of motion sent painful ripples through his fur, Bigfoot hit the button for the top floor. The deceit would buy him some time. Not much, granted, but he hoped that it would be enough to save both Will and the Sanctuary from destruction.

When it released him on the library level, Bigfoot stumbled as fast as he could up the corridor toward the marble staircase. He left a nasty streak of blood behind him where it trickled down his leg. It was no good, he thought, knowing that a child would have no trouble hunting him, let alone an instinctual killer.

*~*~*

Joe grimaced and rolled onto his side.

He had expected darkness – the deep, constricting blackness of the world beneath the earth. Instead, he found the gentle din of a hundred wall lamps lit along the side of a great chamber. Their soft glows provided tiny halos of light against the immense stone walls that spread high above him and deep below the pile of sand beneath.

It was like the debris from a giant hourglass and he had been poured through it, landing at its peak.

He could feel a bruise spreading over his chest where he had hit the sand. It burned under his shirt as he sat himself up and took in the spread of the underground room. It was lined with red pillars, three stories high that were severed several times with ornate gold bands. Around their girths were painted figures cowering from the sun or drowning themselves in the blue hint of Nile.

Joe peered forward in search of their bases, but the floor of the room was difficult to make out in the faint light. With nowhere to go, Joe shifted himself forward on the pile of sand until he started to slide.

Just as a great sheet of sand dislodged itself around him, accelerating his motion into an unstoppable fall, Joe caught sight of several silver bullet casings tumbling along with him. He reached out and caught one of these heavy pellets as it hurtled past, staring at it curiously as the ground below approached.

Blue Eyed Monster by ellymelly
Author's Notes:

Just a note - there is VITAL plot information for the remainder of this story written in itallics in chapter 19 of Love in the Time of Science.


The bullet casing was dull in the low light. Reflections of the flame-lit room flickered across its slender surface until Joe hit the floor with a crunch and it was knocked from his hand. It bounced several times over the floor and then rolled casually from view.

Sand fell over his body, half burying him in its final rush. Joe scraped it away from his face before it suffocated him and crawled out onto the bare floor, coughing and spluttering it from of his lungs. Unlike the tunnels above, drowned in sand, the surface of this room was pure slate. It was polished into a flawless expanse of black and gave the appearance of an endless pit except for where the pillars reflected, perfectly tessellated in a fictitious second expanse beneath his feet.

Joe could hear his laboured breath echoing around the walls. It mingled with the sound of the flames licking their holdings and a few sand grains tumbling from his clothes.

It was only then that he saw it – a large rectangular slab of slate rising up from the centre of the room as if it had grown from the floor. Its contact with the ground was seamless and the beastly thing was gilded by a line of gold writing whose fearsome words he was able to read as he edged closer, trailing his finger across them.

 ‘My face is yours, my heart is yours as you are a protector to me, for my present condition is like one that is in need, all my limbs are dismembered as the sands of the desert upon which I lie have reached me.’

The script was a fragment, bordered by writings outside Joe’s limited teaching. The remaining columns of text looked far older and had been rubbed off in places by age and use. If he had not known better, he might have thought this burial coffin to be a re-use.

‘Sarcophagus’, literally flesh eating. It was only now, after the events of the previous days, that Joe appreciated its true meaning. This name did not describe the container, which was merely a prison, but its contents which would stalk the desert evenings if allowed.

As he paced around the imposing object, which exuded a strange kind of hush as if its very presence was silencing the room, he stooped and eyed the corner of its lid. The edge had been broken, cracked and crumbled away by some heavy impact. On the floor his feet knocked several more of the mysterious bullet shells which clinked loudly.

Something had gone on in this room other than the mutterings of the dead and he feared that it wasn’t over yet.

*~*~*

Nikola rubbed his cheek. It was still sore from Helen’s multiple outbursts and had now taken on a distinct red tint – a foreign colour in the usually pale Nikola. Oh well, he figured, at least it proved that he still had a little life left in his veins.

The undergrowth was thick and difficult to pass through, even via the ‘path’ which Helen and Henry had cut earlier. Nikola had, of course, taken the easier route through the rocky back slope of the mountain. Certainly the gravel was loose and riddled with sun-basking snakes but when creatures of all sort fled from your presence, it made the going much easier.

“I should never have let you talk me into this,” moaned Helen, as the log she was balancing on creaked and shattered. She quickly skipped over it and landed on the solid ground, flicker her damp hair out of the way. “You were lying.”

“No,” he corrected her, “I was guessing. Are we near her tracks yet?”

Helen pointed at the stream gushing angrily beside them. “A few more minutes this way and we should be there.” Her bare arm was covered in pale streaks of blood where vicious mosquitoes buzzed over her in a frenzied haze, sucking and stabbing every time she paused.

“I would never betray you without cause,” said Nikola suddenly, wiping away a line of mud from his face. “I want you to know that. My ancestral species may be riddled with violence and malice but much the same can be said of yours yet I do not assume you to be distrustful – except of course, when experience differs...”

“Was that a slight, Nikola?” asked Helen, amazed that he could turn a plea into an insult. “One does not beg for their life through offense.”

“Merely an observation.”

“Fine,” she snapped. “Call my distrust of you an observation, then. Here we are...” Helen pulled up at a particularly muddy area.

At first Nikola thought she was lost, but soon his eyes drifted to the ground and he saw the definite imprints of small feet set off balance and the resulting slip marks. There was another set of tracks in the mud – these were distinctly larger – belonging to someone tall, imposing and, Nikola guessed, ill tempered.

“So you sent Johnny after her – brave...”

“Not the time, Nikola,” Helen waved him off, sensing an onslaught of jealousy. “When we’re all home and safe back at the Sanctuary, you can mope all you want and I promise I shan’t mind.”

“Now that is a lie,” Nikola averted his eyes to her. “As I have no home to speak of,” he added quickly.

They followed the tracks, (which was hardly a difficult task) until they ended abruptly at a large hole in the ground. The moss and fernery trailed down into the abyss where it had been ripped off suddenly. Water could be heard dripping somewhere below as tiny streams trickled down the exposed roots of trees.

“That would have hurt,” noted Nikola, crouching down and peering over into the darkness.

“Careful...” Helen muttered, and then trailed off when he glanced back at her with a curious smile.

“Don’t suppose you brought a rope?” he asked, spying a nearby tree with a decent girth. Indeed she had. Helen quickly whipped off her backpack and unhooked a nylon rope, holding it up for his inspection. “A woman for all occasions.”

She dropped the rope on the ground beside him. “That’s what you said in 1885.”

*~*~*

Bigfoot faltered and fell to the ground, groaning as his paw-like foot went numb and became unresponsive. He could guess at the cause but right now there was no time to stop and investigate. Bracing himself, he crawled over to a door at the top of the staircase and used its handle to haul himself back to his feet.

From the landing at the top of the marble staircase he could see his own trail of blood, dotted like a line of breadcrumbs leading straight to his pitiful figure. It got deeper and thicker half way up the stairs where pools of it dripped back down, running along the joins in the rock. He was starting to feel the effects of the painkillers and he was thankful for it even though they made the world a tad blurry.

It didn’t take long for him to be joined by the thumping of feet down the corridor. As they got closer to the open area and high ceilings of the main room outside the library, they slowed and finally stopped.

Although Bigfoot hand little hope of seeing Will, probably camouflaged, but he did catch the carpet runner slipping slightly to the side. Will was close now and Bigfoot had no way to defend himself – neither could he run.

He waited, frozen to the ground for a sign of movement. The great room was quiet – but not silent. It was amazing the things you could hear with your ears pricked up and your breathing slowed.

There – no... that was the tapestry catching the air conditioner. Bigfoot’s eyes continually flicked over the various surfaces of the room, not noticing that his trail of blood through the very centre of the room had been smeared by a new set of prints as Will slinked toward him, hiding in plain sight.

*~*~*

Joe’s hand was still on the coffin when one of the flares on the wall went out. The room dimmed as darkness reclaimed the space between two of the large pillars. There was no breeze in here – he was hundreds of metres underground so what, wondered Joe with a chill creeping over him, was that?

He headed straight to one of the well lit walls and stole the torch from its holdings. Joe brandished it in front of him, slashing through the air in warning to whatever was hunting him. He heard something scratch over the floor near the giant mound of sand and a few layers of it slip to the floor.

His stick – it was half buried under a fall of sand but well within reach. Joe jogged across the room, sending orange flickers over the wall as his torched flattened in the rush of air. He squatted and reclaimed the stick from the ground, taking it firmly in his grip.

“Come out...” he whispered, in the sand creature’s native tongue. Joe had guessed that he would find them here. He had waited his whole life for this moment but he had imagined more light – less dark corners where sinister things could hide.

Shadows, sand and another mysterious gust of wind turned his head. Something scattered the loose bullet casings by the sarcophagus and for the first time he heard a grunt. Six – ten – fifty? He had no idea how many there were but one would be enough of a match so it did not matter.

“You – will – die...” the words came, scattered, from all over the room.

“I come to offer you freedom,” Joe replied, peering into the blackness with his torch held aloft.

He hadn’t expected it to be inches from his face, snarling as it shimmered into view. The sand creature’s cold blue eyes seemed to hate the world and all that it had done while its crimson skin, scared and burnt, told why. Its face, resting on the flame, jarred away from the heat and began to circle Joe. The creature was dressed but only barely, by a grey strip of fabric around its waist held together by a gold clip belonging to centuries past.

Another creature appeared, reclined against one of the walls directly below a torch and then another and another, all encroaching for the edges of the room. The one closest to him had bent low down to the ground and scattered away into the room, vanishing back into the walls. Joe clutched onto the stick tighter.

That was when he saw his father lumbering towards him. More blue eyes, torn shreds of clothing and fragments of humanity clinging to the thin skin covering its bones.

Childhood fear was a persistent thing – it lurked inside you, pretending to be nothing more than an embarrassing memory right up until the moment you were forced to face it. Then the claws came out. Then the fear returned – and it was real fear – a form of monster that stops your heart and seizes your muscles; your mind, overcome with blurred memories and embellished nightmares, falls silent and with it, all hope of survival.

*~*~*

Nikola and Helen made short work of the hole and, with the help of Tesla’s sharp claws, made their way through the derelict mining tunnel. The soft earth and groaning boards holding it up unnerved her as they took it at a half-run, following the bright speck of her torch as it bounced over the ground.

“Relax,” he said to her, as another light rain of dirt hit them, “this thing’s been here for millennia – it’s not going to collapse just because Helen Magnus is here...”

She didn’t look so sure. “You’d be surprised,” she replied. “Oh,” Helen pulled them both to an abrupt stop, “better and better...”

The pit below them made the original drop into the tunnels look like a small ditch. Her rope, which she had bravely left dangling through the first hole, wouldn’t have been any use down here with nothing to tie it to.

“Ideas?” she asked, honestly hoping that the rumours of his genius were true.

“Caving is not my thing,” he muttered, keenly eyeing his options. “Although...”

Although is good,” Helen crawled over to the edge of the pit and shone her torch down. She could make out the ground but only just. There was no doubting that it was a long way down.

“Fancy a ride?”

Helen nearly choked.

“With these claws I think there’s a good chance I can scale the dirt wall – you’d have...”

“Yeah, I get it.”

Their clever descent was successful. Once Nikola’s feet were planted firmly on the ground, Helen let go of his shoulders and slipped gently to the stones beneath. Nikola wiped the dirt from his claws, cursing when he found one of them chipped off at the end. Helen fought back a quip about ‘breaking a nail’, instead turning her attention to the river trickling behind them and the bright glow in the distance.

“Riverbed,” Nikola observed, stumbling over the smooth rocks loosely scattered over the cave floor.

Helen stooped and took a sip of water. “Fresh,” she remarked, and drank some more.

“Helen,” started Nikola softly, interrupting her refreshment. She stopped, cold hand to her lips with water trickling back into the running water. “That’s not a rock...” he pointed to a small, unnatural mount of rocks behind her.

Awakening by ellymelly

It was a grave...

A bundle of stones had been hastily packed together in a primitive pyramid which, like its ancient cousins standing guard over fallen empires, had begun to collapse into a pile of misshapen rubble. Tumbled down beside the ailing monument was a bleached skull cracked in three places with an arrow head embedded deep within its bone. Helen retrieved her torch, smacking it against her hand until it clicked obediently back on, bathing the object in light.

She knelt down and traced her fingers lightly over the skull’s smooth surface. Nikola sighed heavily, wishing she wouldn’t interact with every sinister object of curiosity. He crossed the shallow stream and came up behind her, shifting his gaze nervously around the enormous cavern as if the very walls were watching them. He didn’t want to delay in the darkness – best they move through it as quickly as possible.

“Helen...” he whispered, his voice laden with chill and reverence. “Do you believe there’s any credence to those stories about the caves around here being passageways to the underworld?” Nikola may not have been able to see her face but he felt her eyes roll. “Just checking,” he mumbled. Maybe she was right about him – maybe he did read too much.

“You are supposed to be the scariest thing down here,” she straightened and shone the torch straight between his eyes. He flinched irritably. “So start acting like it.”

She handed him the skull – which he dropped immediately and furiously wiped his hands on his coat in disgust.

“And why are you so pleased?” he finally gave in and asked after they had followed the meandering creek for a while. She had done nothing but grin and hum since they had entered this horrid place whose high, spiked ceilings and distant black walls gave Nikola the shivers.

That skull belonged to Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett - greatest explorer who ever lived - went missing in the Amazon when we were still working for that uncle of Watson's.”

“Are you trying to comfort me?” He shook his head then tripped, rolled his ankle on a loose river stone and had to make a rather ungraceful recovery. “How you can tell that from one nondescript skull I will never know...”

Helen promptly stopped, spun slowly and revealed a gold locket laced around her hand with an elegant set of initials engraved on its front.

“Stealing again...” he muttered. “Isn’t that –” Nikola stopped, pointing to a faint glow ahead of them where a figure stirred, barely more than another mysterious shadow.

They found John crouched at the edge of a pool of water, staring up at a mighty set of wooden doors carved with all kinds of terrifying things that could be thought of by the primitive tribes that carved them. He couldn’t help but admire it - the beauty in the danger.

“I take it the front door didn't work,” John dipped one of his fingers in the water as the crunch of feet approached. A faint shimmer of gold left its residue in his skin making it glisten for a moment until the water dried and the gold fell off back into the water like dust.

“No sign of Ashley...” Helen had to step back to take in the enormity of the doors which were more like gates to the underworld itself. Maybe Nikola had been right after all...

“I followed her tracks to the water,” John prodded at several intents in the ground.

“And you just - stopped...” Nikola was pretty certain there was only one place that Helen’s daughter could have gone and yet, here John was, pondering eternity by the side of a lake.

“Well I would have continued only I heard the two of you bickering miles away and decided to wait.”

“We do not bicker,” snapped Helen in a whisper, even though it was not the first time she had endured the accusation.

Nikola looked from John - to the door and then back again. “Aren't we going to just...”

John breathed heavily - or it could have been his favourite – drawn out laugh he used to disturb victims before the kill. “Oh yes, Nikola, as much as I would love to let you materialise inside a solid object I suspect Helen might disapprove. We will have to swim.”

Nikola fancied a swim about as much as he fancied Thomas Edison.

“What’s the matter,” John de-cloaked and rolled his shirt sleeves up, “electricity and water not mix?”

“Like love and murder, Whitechapel...”

There was an almighty splash and they both ended up in the water – crawling on their hands and knees as Helen stepped over them with a look of long-suffering detest.

“Just stop!” Helen sloshed past them and vanished under the water, leaving a trail of bubbles in her wake.

*~*~*

Joe risked a shaky step backwards as his father approached. The others were swooping and creeping behind, circling impatiently as Joe’s father lifted a clawed hand up into the air, prepared to rip the flesh from Joe's body and end the intrusion into their world.

“Father - please...” Joe held the torch higher into the room so that the flames roared into a fresh layer of oxygen. “I have come to free you,” he insisted, “all these years, I promised I would come back for you and I have. Don’t give up now, you can’t.”

Waves of sand tumbled around the room. The coffin at the centre protruded like a wall of sea-rock, steadfast against all the ages time could muster.

His father was barely alive. The skin around his features was stretched tight, sunken and cracked. There were long locks of grey hair twisted up together and tossed over his shoulder while a deep scar cut diagonally from his forehead to his cheek. Though it had healed decades ago, it kept a record of the torturous years lived as one of the most hated creatures in existence.

Joe’s strength dissipated when he saw bone protrude from beneath the tattered rags of clothing, the remains of the brown pants and white shirt he had worn on his final dig. Finally, the truth unfurled and Joe realised that he had come back to save a dream - nothing more. All that remained of his father had withered away and he, forever a foolish child, had held onto a vision of something he could never have back.

“Father...” he whispered, with tears dripping down the side of his face and into the sand. Joe was content. He would die down here, with his father. The freedom overwhelmed him. “It was good to see you,” he said, slowly closing his eyes to the world, replacing all its darkness with a picture of his father waving goodbye through the glare of the desert.

“Waiiit...” one of the other creatures slipped beside Joe’s father, tilting its head back and forth. This one looked younger, more alive and dangerous. The curve of its lip glistened and its sharp pair of blue eyes reflected the light of Joe’s torch. Joe’s eyes peaked open. “You want your faaather?” its skin rippled.

Joe’s heart quickened fearfully. “Yes,” was all he managed. As the creature inched closer, the grand room shrank – it seemed claustrophobic and chocked by scented smoke belonging to another time.

“Do something for usss,” its words carried a modern accent that matched its surprisingly new clothes. Now that Joe looked closer, he could see the same crest sewn into the breast pocket of the creature’s tattered shirt as he had seen on the campsite tents. “And maybee you can leave this place – with your faaather. We are not simply monsssters, you see.”

“What do you want?” Joe realised that he had been gradually backed against one of the walls. “I have nothing to give you.”

“Surely you have heard,” it replied, creeping its claws along one of the walls, as if fascinated by the joinings of the stones. “We are vampires.”

*~*~*

Helen emerged from the water first, breached through its freezing surface like some mythical creature breaking free. She ran her hands over her face and down through her hair, wiping the water away. Gold flecks formed a second skin over her own which held a subtle glow in the almost complete darkness of the pool. It was an impressive expanse of deep water. Only the top layer of which was bearable to swim in – whenever she dipped her legs too deep she felt the vicious stabs of cold warning her not to venture further.

Nikola and John surfaced with a flurry of bubbles and coughing – apparently they had been trying to beat each other on distance and thus nearly suffocated in the attempt.

“Extraordinary,” Nikola wined, treading water in circles, “this lake is cold and huge.”

They crawled out onto the stony edge, Helen and John dragging their heavy coats which had done an excellent job half-drowning them. Helen disposed of hers, throwing it to the side.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” she said, pointing at the deserted city sprawling between the cave walls ahead of them. Its derelict condition was somehow made more beautiful by the unsettled mist licking the edges of its walls.

“Precisely how old were those scrolls, Nikola?” John couldn’t help but notice the way the remains of the sanctuary crumbled on their approach.

The low stone wall which separated the lake form the city was aglow, softly lighting the edge of the water. They approached it, scrambling over it and onto the abandoned streets of the sanctuary.

“Look!” Nikola pointed to the roof of the cave where a small hole in the rock revealed a crack of the outside world filled by the full moon. The day had ended and night begun without any of them noticing.

What...” John jarred suddenly, pulling his right shoulder away to find a small arrow embedded harmlessly in the leather, “is that?” he finished, pulling the offending item out.

“Here comes another one,” Nikola ducked out of the way allowing it to strike again at John’s chest.

“Automatic defence?” Helen offered. “We must have triggered it when –” she watched John remove a third arrow from his coat, growling at the holes. “Is it just me or is it only shooting at John?”

“It’s very irritating,” said John, sidestepping a small volley of the things which clattered on the floor in the distance. “I think we should get a move on before I am annoyed to death.”

Helen, curious, ventured toward the origin of the arrows until one whizzed past her neck, tangling in her hair. “Yeah,” she agreed, “let’s go.”

*~*~*

Joe shivered as his hands touched the freezing stone. The lid was heavy and stuck fast by more than just its weight. He was surrounded by a crowd of sand people, sneering and hissing at each other as the lid made its first crack of freedom. A rush of air escaped the crypt and the lid slipped further opening, nearly off-balancing the detective.

The innards of the coffin were as black and mysterious as its stone. Joe took his torch from the sand creature that had spoken with him and held it over the opening where he caught his first, frightful glimpse of creature slumbering inside.

“It’s dead...” announced Joe, his eyes rolling over the decayed skin and bone staring lifelessly into nowhere with surprising glassy eyes. With its lip shrunk back, an impressive line of sharp, tapered teeth protruded from the creature’s mouth.

“Oh,” hissed the sand creature, inching close enough to sniff the air above the coffin, “he is only sleeping. A long and dreadful sssleep. You cannot imaaagine.”

Joe pushed the lid again, revealing more of the creature’s body. It was shrunken and racked by age like its face and wrapped in a white sheet of linen bloodied by some ancient conflict. The remains of herbs and flowers scattered through the box collapsed into dust as the fresh air brushed over their delicate forms.

As instructed, he dutifully held out his arm and with a small blade, cut across his skin. The sickening drips of blood spread over the corpse but evaporated upon touching the skeletal form. It took a while for Joe to notice the subtle changes occurring below him.

The creature was waking up, reviving, reforming as Joe’s blood continued to fall over it. Eventually it resembled the sleeping man the creature had described and Joe was allowed to wrap his arm in a length of material as they waited.

It gasped, a terrible, strangled rush of air into its lungs.

Joe staggered backwards, shoved aside by the converging crowd of sand creatures who gathered eagerly around the coffin, writhing and whispering in a dozen languages he had never heard before. His father was somewhere amongst them, teeth bared in expectation.

 

Vampire Stories by ellymelly

Henry Foss rolled over with a groan. The long, flaxen grass of the open field rippled around him, hissing back and forth in the wind. For a moment all he could see was navy – pure ink where the sun’s beams had vanished for the day and left the world with a blank canvas of night. Gradually though, the first pricks of light seeped through until he was face to face with a literal carpet of stars.

Blinking back the surprising glare, Henry coughed and tried to sit up – too fast. The world spun a bit, made worst by the infinite carpet of grass rearing up for several feet above him.

“W-what...” he said, ignoring the overwhelming urge to sleep. He could smell a running body of water somewhere to his right – a river? Thick, succulent leaves – some kind of fruit bird – people – the faintest tinge of diesel...

The last thing he remembered was pacing through the cave, not far behind Helen and Nikola when there had been a brilliant flash of light.

This time, Henry lifted his head from the ground gently, letting it adjust to the new altitude before he even attempted to stand and get a better idea of where he was. Instinctively, he felt for his radio.

“Helen, it’s Henry – are you there?”

Static – lots and lots of it. It was a long shot at best. She was probably still in the tunnels, well out of radio range of wherever he was.

Henry stumbled to his feet, rising just above the field of grass. It went on for acres – the soft tide, barely a blur on the evening. It was bordered on his left and in front by a dense rim of darkness. Behind him he could see a derelict tractor with a few hanging lights ploughing its way through with a bronze-skinned farmer at the wheel still working and to his right – yes, there was the river. He knew where he was.

No matter how hard he tried, Henry’s mind kept wandering back to The Lost World as he ran through the long grass. Stupid – irrational fear, but he could not shake it and so had no choice but to run harder until he emerged on the muddy bank and was met with the glorious hull of their boat.

“Hola!” Henry exclaimed in absolute joy, when he saw that their guide was asleep across the back seat, basking in the night like some kind of mythical creature. The man did not stir. Henry swung a leg over the side of the boat and clambered in, reaching for the satellite phone. He had been gone for hours.

He dialled the Sanctuary at once to fill The Big Guy in on their situation and check on Will’s condition.

The phone rang out.

Henry returned it slowly to the cradle and considered it for a few minutes with the steady snore of the guide in the background. Shaking his head, Henry tried again, carefully dialling the number. Again, the phone rang out and Henry was left with a sinking worry. Something was wrong. Bigfoot never missed a call, ever.

He was so lost in his worry that he didn’t notice the tour guide behind him wake, cracking open his sun-worn eyes to the night.

*~*~*

A horrible wail scratched through the room with such ferocity that Joe Kavanaugh dropped his flaming torch to the ground and swiftly followed with his hands clasped over his ears to stop them from breaking as he bowed his head to the dirt.

The creatures joined in, hissing with the voice as they moved together around the sarcophagus in a kind of sickly tide. Soon, they were crying too – pawing at the sand with their tapered fingers. Joe, unlike most, had always thought of the sand creatures as the people they were once – but now he saw what everyone else did – their animal natural. Truly, they were some Henry Foss rolled over with a groan. The long, flaxen grass of the open field rippled around him, hissing back and forth in the wind. For a moment all he could see was navy – pure ink where the sun’s beams had vanished for the day and left the world with a blank canvas of night. Gradually though, the first pricks of light seeped through until he was face to face with a literal carpet of stars.

Blinking back the surprising glare, Henry coughed and tried to sit up – too fast. The world spun a bit, made worst by the infinite carpet of grass rearing up for several feet above him.

“W-what...” he said, ignoring the overwhelming urge to sleep. He could smell a running body of water somewhere to his right – a river? Thick, succulent leaves – some kind of fruit bird – people – the faintest tinge of diesel...

The last thing he remembered was pacing through the cave, not far behind Helen and Nikola when there had been a brilliant flash of light.

This time, Henry lifted his head from the ground gently, letting it adjust to the new altitude before he even attempted to stand and get a better idea of where he was. Instinctively, he felt for his radio.

“Helen, it’s Henry – are you there?”

Static – lots and lots of it. It was a long shot at best. She was probably still in the tunnels, well out of radio range of wherever he was.

Henry stumbled to his feet, rising just above the field of grass. It went on for acres – the soft tide, barely a blur on the evening. It was bordered on his left and in front by a dense rim of darkness. Behind him he could see a derelict tractor with a few hanging lights ploughing its way through with a bronze-skinned farmer at the wheel still working and to his right – yes, there was the river. He knew where he was.

No matter how hard he tried, Henry’s mind kept wandering back to The Lost World as he ran through the long grass. Stupid – irrational fear, but he could not shake it and so had no choice but to run harder until he emerged on the muddy bank and was met with the glorious hull of their boat.

“Hola!” Henry exclaimed in absolute joy, when he saw that their guide was asleep across the back seat, basking in the night like some kind of mythical creature. The man did not wake. Henry swung a leg over the side of the boat and clambered in, reaching for the satellite phone. He had been gone for hours.

He dialled the Sanctuary at once to fill The Big Guy in on their situation and check on Will’s condition.

The phone rang out.

Henry returned it slowly to the cradle and considered it for a few minutes with the steady snore of the guide in the background. Shaking his head, Henry tried again, carefully dialling the number. Again, the phone rang out and Henry was left with a sinking worry. Something was wrong. Bigfoot never missed a call, ever.

He was so lost in his worry that he didn’t notice the tour guide behind him wake, cracking open his sun-worn eyes to the night.

*~*~*

existence between humanity and the ancient past – one that was afraid.

Finally taking hold of himself, Joe reached for the torch, still burning on the ground in front of him, and scrambled to his feet, backing away toward the large tower of sand in the centre of the room. Without realising what he was doing, Joe started backing up onto it, climbing it as best he could with one hand clutching into the shifting surface.

He was too transfixed by the frightening mass of wailing creatures to realise that he was no longer progressing, merely dislodging avalanches of sand like some kind of bewildered beetle. The room had never seemed so impossibly big. There was just no way conceivably out of it, no way to escape the eternal imprisonment it was designed for.

Suddenly, the flame flicked backwards across his hand. The heat scorched him for a second, before straightening and Joe realised that the rest of the room was dead silent. The sand creatures were parting, breaking away to reveal the hunched figure of their master.

“T – time,” the word nearly died on full-blooded vampire’s lips, he had been asleep so long, “shall keep us, death – pursue us but never,” he clasped his chest as the beat of his heart grew stronger for the first time in several thousand years, “end us.”

The vampire let the words settle. His strength was growing with every moment. He could not believe that his eyes could see again, that his perpetual world of darkness was removed by the unbearable brightness of a few torches. Oh – the world, how he ached to see the arching dunes and the crystal waters of the shore, hold his child in his arms again after – but – then the memories swept over him. His child was dead – all of his people were gone. Lost, slaughtered. He raised his head. Brother, he whispered to no-one, your time is up.

Breaking free of his murderous trance, the ancient vampire straightened up, laying one of his clawed hands lazily on the coffin that had been his tomb. He eyed the sorrowful crowd of half-creatures around him, more beast than vampire as they cowered at his feet and – how interesting, a human flayed out on the sand in front of him, trying to escape.

The vampire tilted his head and lunged through the crowd in several long steps, stopping short of Joe’s terrified gasp.

*~*~*

“Skeletons, dust – ancient ruins,” Nikola picked a small chunk of rock from his hair with utter disdain, “all of my favourite things...”

John’s glower darkened as he dislodged and threw the last mini-arrow to the floor where it lay innocently. “Is he being serious?” he grumbled.

“No...” was Helen’s swift reply, as she began to regret leaving her jacket by the pool. If nothing else, it left her quite extraordinary array of weapons naked to the world.

“Then is it possible to shut him up for a while?” John matched pace with the others and they continued up the main street of the deserted city, three abreast.

“This is worse than those crypts below Rome,” said Helen. “It’s like a ghost city,” she continued, navigating her way around a twisted skeleton. “They’re all still here,” she pointed out a pile of a dozen skeletons or more blackened in a side street. “It’s horrible.” It was clear to her that the skeletons were those of Abnormals, hundreds of them collected and destroyed.

“Reminds me of Pompeii – minus the imposing mountain. Ah, here we go...” John bent to the ground and lightly grazed a footprint with his hand. “Ashley,” he muttered, “casually strolling by the looks of it.”

“She’s about the only thing that’s been here in a while,” added Helen, as another row of bleached bones peaked out from one of the crumbling building’s window.

“This sanctuary,” said John, lifting his arms and with them, the heavily soaked coat, “whatever it may have been once, is gone. I doubt Ashley will find what she’s looking for in a place like this.”

“Rash child,” Helen snapped so sharply that the two gentlemen paused and glanced at each other. Helen was wiping her cheeks quickly, brushing aside a few surprise tears. “Whatever would convince her that this was a good idea?”

John and Nikola were exceedingly quiet behind her, passing dangerous glances at each other, neither willing to betray their part. There was too much at stake for both of them to risk the truth now.

Instead, Nikola cleared his throat and paced ahead of Helen, reaching the large set of doors ahead of them first.

“The intended entrance to the sanctuary,” he said boldly, noticing that one of the doors was slightly ajar – enough for them to slip through into the darkness one by one. Ashley’s footsteps led directly through the gap.

Behind the doors they were back into familiar territory – dark, cold and every-so-slightly damp walls. They were definitely back in the tunnels. Their voices automatically fell to a hush. John, having not encountered the vampire first hand, followed the others’ lead and clicked his flashlight on.

If Helen and Tesla are this nervous, he rationed, then it must be bad.

“Helen...” Nikola whispered in something barely more than a breath on her ear. She looked at him, waiting for him to continue. “If we get caught again – I don’t think our gracious host is going to let us leave alive.”

“Thank you Nikola,” she brushed him away, “I am aware of that.”

His eyes wandered down to Helen’s waist where her pale hand had settled on the handle of a rather sinister-looking knife. It warmed his heart.

*~*~*

She was surrounded by billows of black rock, glistening in the wake of her weak flashlight with something that wasn’t quite water. With the great doors to the city well behind her, she couldn’t help but notice a few skeletal remains brushed against the cave walls. Whatever violence had transpired, it had not been confined to the city.

Ashley backed up against one of the cold walls in the tunnel system and felt into her pocket. There were still several blood samples snuggled in there which she had entirely forgotten about since the first sample had tumbled and smashed, uselessly, over the train line. She wondered now, what had been the purpose of these? They seemed of no use to her now and she was tempted to abandon them completely – destroy them but they had belonged to her grandfather and keeping them was like keeping a little bit of him.

She let them clink against each other, rolling around in her fingers until she expelled a heavy sigh and turned her attention back to Magnus’s journal, flipping it open. Ashley scanned the untidy page for the next set of instructions, hoping that although she had literally fallen from the path, there was some guidance left for her.

‘There is no greater gift in this enterprise than English manners.’

Ashley frowned. Manners? In a cave? Who was she to be polite to – the bats?

What are you doing here Ashley? She asked herself. It had been a while since she’d been so far out of her depth. At least hunting monsters she knew where she stood – but this, how was she to convince a vampire to help her? More to the point, how to acquire its blood and fill the empty vial in her other pocket?

Hunt it...

Her mind mused. Stick to what you know best. Hunt the vampire and try not to kill it.

*~*~*

Two dark eyes bored through Joe’s face like pealing back the skin and though the vampire’s lips did not move, Joe could hear a faint whisper on the air – or in his head, he couldn’t be sure.

“What is your purpose here, human?” it asked, still speaking the ancient language.

“I – ” Joe stuttered, and then realised he would have to reply in the same language if he were to have even the slightest shot at surviving. “I came to make a trade,” he said slowly, and with very poor pronunciation.

The vampire snarled in amusement, indicating that Joe should continue.

“I resurrected you from your tomb in the hope that you could restore my father to human form.”

The red behind the vampire’s eyes flickered wildly with fascination.

“Your father – is among us?” he asked, as the sand creatures crept in closer around them. Several rows back, Joe’s father watched the proceedings dispassionately. The vampire smelt, rather than looked at the mass of half-creatures behind him. A moment later, he smelt the blood relation. “I see...”

“I bestowed upon you your freedom,” Joe lowered the torch to a less threatening position.

“What you say is true...” the vampire cocked its head to the side. “You should know that not all men are honest, young human, and even less of those are fair. What can be said of men is double for our kind.”

Joe fought to keep his breath steady. Maybe he was going to die after all...

“But as it so happens I am bound by law to return the favour.” The vampire turned to the crowd and, with one horribly clawed finger, beckoned Joe’s father forward. “Is this your father?”

Joe nodded.

“Then he is yours.”

The vampire lowered his claws to Joe’s father’s neck, casually gliding down it leaving an angry red slice that began to drip with scarlet. The man did not flinch, his blue eyes glistened, staring into nowhere without change.

It happened so fast.

The vampire dipped its head and sunk its teeth through the creature’s next. Joe’s father squealed – then gasped for breath as the vampire dug in deeper. The victim’s blue eyes turned glassy and vacant. After a few dying gasps, his body went limp and the vampire let it fall to the dirt.

“No!”Joe screamed, falling to the ground beside the crippled body of his father.

The Second Bite by ellymelly

10

THE SECOND BITE

The ancient vampire curled his claw and beckoned the half-creatures to follow. A few minutes later, they were gone – escaped from their prison like shadows and back at large in the new world leaving detective Joe Kavanaugh and his father alone in the tomb.

"Father..." Joe whispered, cradling the tortured body in his arms. His father was human again but humans were fragile things that clung ever so softly to life. The man was old and withered without the ever-vengeful vampire blood coursing through his veins.

The tomb around them was softer now with its dozens of flaming torches flickering against the wall and the black sarcophagus laid open in surrender. The glassy walls reflected the flames down onto the sand in sad halos where Joe sat.

"I never stopped trying..." Joe whispered, rocking slightly with his father. "Never."

At least his father was human, free from an eternity cowering at a vampire's feet. Is that not what humanity had spent millennia fighting for? Joe hoped it was freedom that the human race bled for...

"My son," a weak voice cracked onto the air. "...Joe..." the old man whispered, stirring in Joe's arms.

Joe gasped softly as his father's eyes opened, pale green and unblinking. It was as if he had not seen the world for thirty years.

"A terrible dream..." the old man breathed, gripping Joe's hand tightly.

Hours later, Joe and his father stumbled from the last of the narrow caves and out into the vanishing light of the desert. The rim of the horizon was starting to glow. Stars peaked through the veils of shimmering air while a few lone jet trails faded.

The remains of a canvas tent tumbled past, swept up in an angry curl of air. Shreds of it caught on the rocks beside Joe and his father, tearing with a loud rip before flapping off in pieces. Sand clawed impatiently at the edges of the decimated camp site.

"My god..." Joe breathed in horror at the sight before him. The faces that had wished him well only hours ago were strewn over the ground – fed upon. His stomach lurched at the deep fang and claw marks in the corpses whose eyes were left open in terror. "They killed everything."

The vampire and his entourage of sand creatures had left nothing alive – not even the camels tied up in the south pen.

"We have to get back to the Sanctuary and warn them," Joe realised, helping his father down the sharp rocks.

The faint flicker of settlement was visible a long way off, catching the last of the light. Joe and his father took one of the Jeeps and headed off on the gravel track, chasing the sun. The sand was already blowing over them, preceding the rise of dunes creeping ever closer to civilisation. The cities may have forgotten the desert but it had not forgotten them.


The Sanctuary of the Moon was not a place to wander.

It was an enormous sprawl of natural caverns, trembling walls of rockfall, mirrors of freezing water that seeped deep into the earth and complex tunnels designed to confuse even the most determined human. Its undoing had left the beautiful archways of stone that spanned between the walls of an ancient promenade in decay. Some of them had eroded, returning to their natural state of rubble while others protruded from the black rock, defiantly hanging in half-broken protrusions.

The ancient vampire could feel the others hunting about in his Sanctuary, scratching from tunnel to tunnel, fumbling about in the darkness. One lone child was drawing close to his private quarters whilst the larger party that he had already warned away once, was heading toward the crypt in the centre of the Sanctuary.

There they were again – soft, hesitant footsteps, slightly uneven as they approached the thin holographic barrier hiding the entrance to his lair. It looked like rock – felt like rock. The technology was an illusion. All the vampire need do was reach out...

Instead, the vampire laid silently against the wall beside and waited. Even from here he could hear the young creature's heartbeat on the air. Humans, they were so fragile.

Ashley hesitated.

Slowly, she turned on her heel, dragging the torchlight over the wall. Nothing. She cautiously took another step and – and the breathing returned beside her. Ashley faced the wall, trailing her gaze from where it merged seamlessly to the ceiling down to the oddly clean edge it formed with the tunnel floor.

She reached out, grazing her fingertips over the rough surface unable to see the vampire in front of her mimic her action, ghosting his fingertips in front of hers like a twisted mirror.


Helen's torchlight fell on another pile of rubble and bones.

"Look..." she whispered, directing John and Nikola's attention. They were hardly a few minute's walk from the ruined city, their progress slowed by Helen's constant distraction. "Draconis-aelianus, the Ethiopian elephant eater."

"A dragon?" John whispered, looking at the small pile of bones. Obviously this one was an infant.

"Like that hideous furry thing you used to keep in your basement?" Nikola started but Helen cut him off as she knelt to the ground, trailing her fingers over the white bone.

"These things have been extinct for a thousand years. Goodness, the line of spines on its back is intact." When the relevance failed to register with the others, she elaborated. "All its brothers and sisters were hunted to extinction for the high quality ivory in their spine. I have some ancient human artefacts made from it. They cost me a small part of my fortune."

"Nothing has changed then... It's definitely still extinct," Nikola quipped before he was knocked by John's rather large, deliberate and imposing shoulder.

"You're very nearly the last of your kind, Nikola. It would be my pleasure to hasten your extinction." John winked rather disturbingly at Nikola who could do nothing but raise a claw. "This Sanctuary is ruined..." John bent down to the ground, sliding his fingers through the layers of cave rubble until they curled around an ancient knife that had been the source of the creature's demise.

At least in this, Nikola could agree. "I've counted at least three flood lines, an earthquake or two and -" he frowned, his wiry figure edging closer to the wall. He ran his fingers along an ominous crack in the black stone patched over by thick cobwebs. "Gunfire..." he murmured, as his fingers dipped into the small indents sprayed across it.

Helen found one of the cartridges, holding it in her palm. "Muscat shots... Very old gunfire..." She turned to Nikola, tilting her head in a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. "Would it be too bold of me to presume that the reason for the demise of this great sanctuary made it into your research, Dr Tesla?"

She only called him 'Dr Tesla' when he was being thoroughly mocked. Tesla – shifted.

"It may have touched on – passed across – brushed over..."

"Nikola..." Helen levelled her gaze at him.

"What can I say?" he shrugged softly. "Cats guarding the pigeons – they got hungry." A Sanctuary run by vampires? Of course that was going to end in a flurry of feathers.

"I thought you liked pigeons?" Helen lofted her eyebrow, prodding him sharply as John took a step closer, narrowing his eyes at the vampire.

"He's making it up," John hissed softly.

Nikola turned, arms folded. "Yes, I'm making it up," he admitted theatrically. "How on earth or otherwise would I know? Don't give me that look – I wasn't even born when this mess went down."

"Oh believe me," London's most notorious murder stooped to look the scientist in the eye. "I will find a way. Somehow, this will all trail back to you."

Black ink seeped into Nikola's eyes. That was an incredibly awful scientific principle, not to mention a wholly unfair comment on his character as a gentleman. "I'm confident I can outwit you," he whispered, too soft for Helen to hear. "I always could."

"Won the game – lost the war, young vamp," John smirked. Tesla would never get what he really wanted while ever John was around.

"What is Ashley trying to do here?" Helen was several paces ahead of them, peering down into the long cave. "She's got no chance against a full-blooded vampire, has she?"

"She'd leave more than a few holes in it," Nikola replied.

"I can't help but wonder..." Helen let her hand rest on the wall beside her. "My parents spent many months of my childhood in South America – here, in the nearby city. I think my father has been here – in these caves."

Suddenly, Helen Magnus looked vulnerable.

"What if he's sent Ashley to finish whatever it was that he started?"


Bigfoot dragged himself up the marble stairwell one blood-stained step at a time. Will – well, creature Will had sunk down onto all fours, preferring to crawl slowly over the ground. It was difficult to make his form out. His skin had learned to mimic its surroundings near perfectly.

"Will..." Bigfoot whispered, still backing up the stairs.

Will's skin trembled unsteadily for a moment, the natural scarlet red of sand creature skin flickering into view.

This silent stalking dragged on until Bigfoot reached the top of the stairs. There was a door behind his furry form and beyond that, the rooftop and freedom. Will wasn't truly interested in Bigfoot – it was the door...

Without warning, Will pounced. His lean body leapt through the air, bouncing off the wall with claws outstretched. He landed heavily on Bigfoot, bringing him to the ground. Bigfoot tried to hold onto Will, keep him inside but he was simply too strong now. Will broke free and pushed the door off its hinges.

The air was beautiful as it hit Will's face. His golden eyes tracked over he sprawl of city beyond the roof – the endless tunnels that must lay beneath them... He growled, low and deep in something akin to happiness.

Will clawed at the stone floor, setting off at a run. Bigfoot's cry of protest was lost in the wind as Will scaled the small wall of stone and launched himself off the roof and out into Old City.


"This way..." John whispered. He had found something – another smaller tunnel diverging.

Nikola frowned as his feet suddenly found water. Great, the tunnel was half flooded... Helen sloshed up to him, unaffected by the freezing water that was flowing slowly forwards.

"Oh yes, let's all just follow blindly..." Nikola muttered at her. He had been leading, following the scattered writing on the all of the main tunnel. Afterall, he had gone to all the trouble of finding this place, you know, built byhis ancestors. Not that he was possessive about these things.

"Stop pouting," Helen whispered, giving him a gentle nudge. "Jealously doesn't suit your ego."

"I'm not jealous, I'm annoyed," Nikola muttered, stepping over an ill-placed bolder which turned out to be the decapitated head of an old statue. At least for a little while, he stayed close to Helen. John was further ahead, under the illusion that he was leading. "Helen..." Nikola lowered his voice. "This isn't the way Ashley came."

Helen looked at him softly – more like she used to when they were alone. In silent reply, Nikola reached down with his free hand and brushed it gently against hers. His soft touches, however rare, were always disarming...

"Helen – here..." John stopped ahead in front of a large, curved wall.

Helen walked away from Nikola leaving him standing alone. He sighed softly – and inevitably followed. He always did.

The wall was a mosaic. Millions of tiny fragments of brightly covered pottery covered the glass-stone, stuck there by some kind of translucent resin. It was a sharp clash of styles; the layout of the wall was distinctly Egyptian with rows of slaves, horses, food and ships faithfully detailing an event but the style – there was no denying the breathtaking realism of the Greeks.

"Good heavens..." Helen whispered. The animals in the mosaic looked almost real with their riders whipping them hard to get them to board the ships. It was their eyes that haunted Helen.

"It's a door," Nikola murmured. He was standing the furthest back, in ankle deep water. "There are numbers, all along the edge." He pointed to them. "A combination lock by the looks of it." A very pretty one.

"There must be something important behind it to go to such trouble -"

Nikola hissed at John to get him to shush. "I'm reading..."

Helen couldn't help laughing softly at Nikola as he started muttering under his breath, eyes tracking over the tiny lines of text riddled amongst the frightening images of vampires and humans.

"Nikola..." Helen whispered, walking up to him and tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention. He frowned and tried to shoo her away. He was busy trying to translate. "Nikola..." she insisted, tapping his shoulder insistently.

"Helen please... I'm trying to – that really is annoying," he protested as she switched to tugging on his sleeve. "Seriously wha-oh..."

Nikola had been so focused on the text that he'd utterly failed to see the bigger picture. Strewn across the otherwise beautiful mosaic was a bloody scene warning all thinking of opening the door. Open this tomb and you'll end up like the butchered bodies – open this tomb and you'll release it's scourge upon the earth.

"A touch melodramatic, don't you think?" Nikola breathed softly.

Helen couldn't help her lips curling in a smile. "A distinctly vampire trait, then..."

Nikola frowned as Helen returned to John's side at the wall. "What are you doing?"

They looked back over their shoulders as they leaned against the wall – hands outstretched. Helen's eyes were bright with mischief. "Opening it, of course..."

Honestly – people thought Nikola was bad?

Storm in the Desert by ellymelly

11

STORM IN THE DESERT



The wall started to grind against the stone floor.

“That's it...” Helen whispered encouragement to her boys as they grunted and growled, steadily moving the enormous door with an ear-splitting screech.

As usual, the token vampire was right – brute force wasn't enough. The entire wall was an intricate combination lock that had stumped the other two Oxford majors for the better part of an hour. Nikola had waited patiently, inspecting his claws while they tried every primitive thing they could think of. Humans...

“Nikola...” Helen had finally drawled, calling him forward. With only the very slight advantage of a private collection of ancient texts stolen from the British Museum's vault, Nikola picked out the numerical sequences hidden in the mural, slid his long, tapered claws into several sets of holes burrowed through the rock and listened to the satisfying 'click' of the door unlocking.

Physically opening it regrettably required something a little less demure.

“Come on, push harder...” Helen insisted.

“By all means, chip in at any time,” Nikola replied airily. There was actually a layer of sweat on his brow – how distasteful. Gods and the dust... don't get him started on the dust.

Helen tried not to think about the elusive, full-blood vampire lurking about. He'd warned them not to return and here they were, raiding his cave like common tomb raiders having some kind of party in his vaults.

Well, in fairness, at the present they were common tomb raiders.

“Honestly, if you're just going to stand there and watch you could at least be more encouraging?” Nikola gasped, trying but failing to get a better grip on the granite. The task of pushing the door forced him to stand a lot closer to John than he felt comfortable with.

Helen smirked.

Twenty minutes later, the door was open. It left in its wake an enormous gape in the rock beyond which was a void, presumably a room. Helen stepped forward, shining her torch into the black. Its light tracked up the floor until it hit a stone sarcophagus.

“No one touch anything...” she whispered, stepping carefully over the threshold and into the room.

“Steady on, Indy...” Nikola followed, closely trailed by John and his ridiculously long trench coat. “Step on something here and a wall of spikes tries to impale us.”

“It's not funny, Nikola...” Helen cautioned.

Nikola thought it was, judging from his large, fang-filled grin.

“What the devil have we got here...” John asked, approaching more cautiously than the others. Caving had always been their thing, not his.

“The devil indeed, according to the entrance foyer – a creature of unimaginable danger, locked away from the world and – oh...” Nikola had reached the sarcophagus and frankly after all the paraphernalia at the front, it was rather unimpressive. “I was hoping for more.”

“Don't sulk, Nikola...” Helen warned him, throwing a spare flashlight at Nikola while she stepped forward with a lighter, catching several of the ancient torches with its flame. Their oily mixture exploded into flame rendering the room instantly bathed in light, enough for them to see that it was big and empty with nothing but the rectangular stone slab at its centre. “Bloody hell.”

Nikola slipped the useless flashlight into his pocket. “I'm going to make an educated guess that this is a bad sign,” Nikola said, bending down to get a better look at where the stone sarcophagus had been ripped open. He ran his claws along the crack. It was deep and weathered. “From the inside too...”

Helen picked up a fragment of the broken tomb. “Like alien – but with stone, in an Egyptian tomb but in South America and - “

“Totally not like alien...” Nikola shook his head playfully at her, flirting as always. “You don't suppose this pissed off creature escaped and wreaked havoc on the Sanctuary? It would explain why we've found it in ruins.”

“A creature destroyed them?” Helen replied, her hand resting on the capstone. She'd certainly come close enough to that inside her own sanctuary. “The walls don't elaborate on its abnormality. We have no way of knowing what it was capable of – or what became of it.”

“Except...”

John looked to Nikola. “Except?” he prompted. John had been wandering around the remainder of the room but had found nothing but a few spare torches.

Nikola twirled around to face him, arms folded across his chest. “Well, think about it. We've got one person here who was around in that time. Someone who remembers it. The vampire...”

“I really don't think it's a good idea to hunt him down, Nikola.”

“Just how many vampires are there?” John sighed. Was the world bloody crawling with them now? One vampire was quite enough for him.

“We need to get back to finding Ashley,” Helen whispered. “This place has a dark history that is better kept hidden from the world before it seeps into it...”

Nikola smirked, pacing menacingly around the ruined coffin, leaning on it casually. “Helen... you know as well as I do that a full-blood vampire is too dangerous to leave roaming free. You could offer him Sanctuary.” How many times had she used that line on him?

Helen's hands settled on her hips, her eyes narrowing at Nikola. “And when did you develop a responsible attitude? Nikola... I'm not kidnapping a vampire for you to study.”

“You kidnapped me....”

“We discussed this – no vampire species resurrections. The vampires had their time and unless you find a mate-”

John coughed sharply, somewhere between a laugh and disgust.

Nikola had the good grace to look flustered. “Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of saving that pet protege of yours. The one you're so fond of. If anything holds the key to his survival and unfortunate return to his old, whining self – it'll be our toothy friend.”

John had stolen one of the flaming torches, roaming around the room with it. “Ashley must have the same idea. A sample of its blood -”

Nikola's hand waved John to a hush. “It may have nothing to do with his blood. Helen – we need the whole creature if you want to play this game – and somewhere under all that morality, you know I'm right.”

Helen stared back into Nikola's sharp, blue eyes. Damn, she hated it when he was right. “I should have shot you when I had the chance...” she sighed, shaking her head.

The vampire winked at her. “You missed.”

*~*~*

They stepped out of the Jeep slamming its doors coldly.

Joe and his father took in the scene. Rising behind the ruined airport was a storm. Murky clouds had risen up from deep in the desert to stretch out along the horizon. Stained red, they swirled into a great wave of sand casting a long shadow over the desert that was, even now, creeping over the outskirts of the airport. Joe could hear a whisper of its approaching roar, the vibration making the broken windows in the nearby building rattle and fall onto the ground.

“Jesus...” Joe whispered, at the devastation approaching.

There were people inside the building nailing boards across windows and bolting the doors closed. The hanger was full of planes and cars squeezed in together. Its heavy iron doors were fastened with chains and then abandoned. All that was left in the open was a small aircraft perched on the tarmac like a dragonfly on a lily-pad. The pilot was arguing at the entrance of the airport, glancing nervously at the storm every time he paused for breath. It was obvious they weren't going to let him park his plane – he'd have to take his chances outrunning the storm.

Joe only spoke fragments of the native language but he approached them anyway, pointing to the plane and flashing what little cash he had left in his wallet. The man didn't seem interested, brushing him off to resume abusing the airport staff until Joe said two words, 'Helen Magus'. The man paused, turning slowly. There were a few moments of silence between them in which nothing could be heard but the growing rumble of the sand storm. Finally, the man waved Joe and his father towards the plane, refusing the money.

“Came from nowhere...” the pilot grunted, his English broken as they strapped themselves in. Parts of the plane were held together with thick wads of duct tape. Generally, it looked like it had been compiled from war scraps picked out of the desert. “Never seen them at this time of year,” he continued, not bothering with – well, most of the preflight checks that ordinary aircraft went through. There wasn't much point when the answers would be, 'broken' 'not functioning' 'empty'. “Fierce bastards, tear this thing apart.”

Joe gripped both his father and the seat. They had to get out of this place. A pure blood, ancient Vampire had been free for two hours and already there seemed to be a terrible power unleashed over the land. In ancient times, the world sighed for them not because of their fangs but because they could call the desert to their will and tumble cities into dust.

On the other side of the world, the phone rang.

Bigfoot grunted and sidled off the infirmary table leaving a mess of blood and bandages behind him. He balanced the phone in his paw, answering the phone with that same polite, indifference he always did. He was met with a static.

“Say again...?” he growled.

It was Detective Kavanaugh – little bastard. By the time Bigfoot put the phone down, he was shaking his head. There was a sand-Will on the loose, missing boss with two of the most untrustworthy men on the planet and now, an escaped pure blood vampire. Begrudgingly, he made a few phone calls to the Sanctuaries based in Africa to stay on the lookout for suspicious behaviour. He didn't mention vampires... Best they keep that to himself for now. In all Magnus's years building Sanctuaries around the world there was one piece of information she'd left entirely out of the records – vampires.

Out on the streets of Old City, Will had descended into the train tunnels. It was cool and dark, perfect for his freshly created body. Despite hunger, he needed to rest. He made himself a nest at the side of the track where part of the tunnel wall curved generously. Like a cat, Will curled up on the stones, his dark red skin rippling as he closed his eyes.

He still had memories of who he was but that was all that they were – a distant awareness that he had once been something else. He could remember people but they were just names now. Helen Magnus, Henry Foss, Ashley – the Sanctuary itself, none of it meant anything to him. This wasn't William Zimmerman, no, this was a creature of the sand, like all the others. When he finally woke up – he would feed.

By the time Joe reached the Sanctuary in Old City, his father had grown too weak to walk. A small medical team flitted around them, ushering them through the foyer.

“He needs to reeest...” Bigfoot drawled, laying the fragile man onto a bed before wheeling him down the hallways. Joe followed, filthy and dishevel from the rigmarole of getting here. “Few weeks of food and sleeeeep should be enough.”

Bigfoot spent the remainder of the afternoon in the lab, drawing samples of blood from Kavanaugh senior and analysing them.

“...it's a virus,” he grunted, holding up the delicate glass slide to the light. The only other creature in the underground lab that was still awake at this hour was the Sanctuary's mermaid. She shimmered in the water, her scaled tail never settling on a colour. Gently, she placed the palm of her hand against the glass, tilting her head curiously. Mermaids did not exactly speak but they did have a way of making you aware of their thoughts and without knowing how they did it, you answered their questions.

“Hiiiis blood is littered with the carcasses of the things,” Bigfoot continued, turning slightly to the tank. “Whateeever that vampire did, it killed the virus.”

He put the slide down and sighed, staring into the empty lab. On the table in front of him were photographs of Joe's father, most pointedly of his neck which bared a row of puncture marks – a vampire bite. He nudged one of them with his fur-covered finger.

*~*~*

Henry put the radio down in disgust. No answer from anyone. The cave had rejected him and he couldn't say that he was surprised – there appeared to be some truth to those ancient stories of vampires and werewolves not mixing and frankly he was mildly insulted. It was a Sanctuary for all – except him. Typical. Oh, finally, the boat driver was awake...

Henry reached for the map, spreading it out on the crate serving as a table to show the tour guide where he needed to go when the man suddenly lurched forward, rocking the boat sharply.

“What in the-” but Henry didn't get to finish as he ducked out of the way of large piece of wood. It hit the map, tearing it and smashing through a small lantern hanging on the boat. The guide straightened up, quickly moving in again.

“You'll make a nice addition to the collection, Wolf...” His words were thickly accented but unmistakable. The man's eyes were white in the moonlight. He worked for a shamble of an abnormal black market – trading what he could for cash. Usually, he only happened across strays or if he was lucky, his forest traps picked up humanoid abnormals living on the fringe. Tonight, he had himself a werewolf. Pay day.

“Not good...” Henry stammered, cornered. There was nowhere to go in the tiny boat except into the black water. Close by, a bird screamed into the night and splashed against the thick reeds along the river bank. Henry didn't fancy a swim in that water...

The guide brought the blunt handle of a machete down on the back of Henry's head, sending him to his knees. Henry was dizzy, sharp pain rushing down his spine as he turned to see the driver of the boat grinning in the night air. His teeth were eerily white.

He had no choice but to let the wolf take over, growing to his full height – his clothes tearing away as fur sprouted over his skin and long, sharp canine teeth glinting in the moonlight. Henry growled, swiping at the man who ducked, missing Henry's paw which went on to shatter the glass windscreen.

Several of the children that Henry had seen playing in the daylight – running beside them had assembled on the bank. They crept up amongst the reeds, watching with hungry eyes the strange beast and man fighting. They knew that their forests were full of devilish creatures – it had always been so. The land of monsters some called it, a place for things of the night to hide.

The boat lurched under the weight of the werewolf causing both of them to stumble and the last lantern to fall onto the deck, shattering and catching alight. The fire ripped along the spilled oil heading dangerously close to the fuel tanks.

“Holy shit...” Henry growled – the other man pausing from his attacks to stare in horror. Both of them turned at once, leaping into the water as the boat exploded in a ball of fire that lit up the night.

*~*~*

Ashley stepped back from the wall. Something was wrong. She could feel a tingle in the air, like static electricity running over her skin.

She lifted her weapon, stepping back and pointing it squarely at the wall in front of her. A cold whisper of laughter filled the air as the rock wall flickered into nothing, revealing the ancient vampire.

It was only now that Ashley realised how ridiculous her gun looked. She could empty it into this creature and it would merely straighten its robes and grin back – so she lowered it.

“I'm not here to kill you,” she said quickly, with that same measured tone as her grandfather. “I've come for your help.”

“What is it these days with humans wanting my help....?” the vampire drawled back, his tone somewhere between menace and curiosity. “I could have used your help fifty years ago.”

Deeper into the Caves by ellymelly
12

DEEPER INTO THE CAVES

Ashley lowered her weapon, deliberately letting the vampire see the safety click on. She holstered it at her waist, out of sight.

"What happened fifty years ago?" she asked carefully.

The vampire retreated, sinking into the cavern and its comforting dark. He was old. Every feature on his pale face had shrivelled to the bone, reflecting the cave-light along sharp, jutting angles. His black eyes were vulnerable. Their glossy domes sat high, accommodating a multi-layered lens which refracted the light differently to humans. The adaptation caused a red glow to leak from them giving him an unfairly sinister disposition. It was easy to see how an ancient culture may have confused them with devils.

A small flicker of electricity licked the cave wall around them with a short snap.

"I – I do not remember exactly," the vampire whispered, his voice cracked. "The city fell. I read of it, scratched into the walls with my very own claws. The memories of that time are gone. I cannot explain it. I must have seen..." He turned away – flashes of something storming through his mind but he couldn't focus on them.

Ashley shifted uneasily. "Are you the soul survivor?"

"If I wasn't then, I am now." The vampire dragged his broken claws down the cave wall eliciting a shower of sparks. "The Sanctuary is dead. This dream..." Such a young creature could not understand what he had lost.

"I've seen the city," Ashley added softly. "They killed each other. You didn't kill them, if that's what you – "

The vampire wasn't listening. He stepped forward and lifted his withered hand up to her face. Ashley held her ground as he mimicked the contours of her skin with a sweep of claws.

"You are a child of the blood – I can smell it in you." His head tilted to the side as if she were a curious piece of prey. It was his blood flowing through their veins – a very strange sensation. "The same blood as the woman and that mongrel vampire. What brings you to such depths as to seek my help?"

"My friend is sick," she whispered, her features softening. "He was mauled by something we call a 'sand creature' – a person, bitten by a vampire and turned into a mad half-creature. I need your blood to save him."

The ancient vampire threw his head back in chilling laughter, withdrawing from her as the sound screeched off the cave walls. This human child had wasted her time. There was no cure for the plague.

"Go home – forget your friend. He is a slave to the flesh."

Detective Joe Kavanaugh set the glass slide down beside the microscope. The virus was inactive – as dead as something that was never technically alive could get. He levelled his gaze at it.

"So there is a cure." Joe turned to the sasquatch. The creature was lingering amongst the delicate glassware on the opposing bench, furry paws prodding the odd slide. "There's hope for Dr Zimmerman, if we can find him."

"And if we can fiiiind another vampire," Bigfoot drawled. "This did not come from hiiis blood – it's from his bite. There's some kind of venom in this sample. I managed to isolate a small sample but hardly enough for Will."

"...the others are trying to collect blood samples. That won't be enough..." Joe paced around the room, passing in front of the mermaid's tank. She watched curiously, remaining little more than a silver shadow in the water. "We have to tell them."

"Beeeen tryin' to reach them for days," Bigfoot muttered, shaking his head. "They don' answer their phones."

"How long have they been gone?" Joe moved to the printer, catching another analysis as it printed. Biology wasn't exactly his thing but he'd spent enough time lurking around the lab at the department to pick up the basics.

"They've been out of contact nearly three days," Bigfoot replied. "Magnus must have found somethin' out there in the jungle."

"I have to go and find her."

"You're stayn' here," Bigfoot growled firmly. "We've got to catch Helen's protege."

Henry dug his claws into the mud and dragged himself onto the bank. Burning fragments from the ruined boat rained around him, splashing into the water or striking the bank, erupting in tiny grass fires. The smuggler's corpse floated down stream until something pulled it beneath the water. Henry shivered, dragging himself further into the long grass.

He lay there, staring up at the night sky. The reeds whispered against his fury body, bending and sighing in the wind. The explosions from the boat were dying as it too sank into the dark river. When it was gone, only the grass fires lit the world.

Henry thought about changing into human form – of seeking out the few children hiding not far from him and asking for directions – but there was something about this world that frightened him.

The werewolf rolled over and crouched on all fours, tilting his nose to the air. A village – to his left – boats, cars and houses. Henry could smell them through the smoke.

"We're not equipped to take down a vampire..." Helen shook her head, hunting through her pack. There was precious little in it that could neutralise a creature that powerful.

"Good to know," Nikola flexed his claws.

"Nikola, you're only part vampire. I can bat my eyelashes and take you down."

That caused the Serbian scientist to stumble mid-strut as he sauntered into the alcove. He was always so dramatic. "Neither of you have considered the obvious." Nikola received blank stares from both John and Helen. "We talk to him. It. At the end of the day, vampires are rational creatures. Pissed... but still highly intelligent."

John scoffed.

"What scheme are you concocting, Nikola?" Helen straightened up, hands on her hips. "Weren't you the one rabbiting on about how dangerous ancient vampires are? You're up to something, I can feel it. You're always up to something."

"Not everything your protege says is true," Nikola insisted.

"He's a profiler..."

Nikola grinned, his fangs visible against his lips. "Perhaps I just wanted to spend more time in your company, Dr Magnus."

"Nikola..." she stalked towards him with a scowl on her lips. It was getting airless down here if only because the vampire used it all up on his bite-less flattery. "If I find out that you've manipulated us into coming here for one of your pet projects – endangered my daughter – I'm going to clear out your old cell in my basement."

His grin only got wider. "Me – you – chains... Why Helen, you should have said. Ow." He rubbed his cheek where she'd slapped him again.

"Focus! God."

Nikola's gaze settled on John, lurking against the cave wall. The man was the very embodiment of nightmare and at the present, amused by Tesla's rejection.

Tesla ran his fingers through his spiky hair which was tainted by dust. "I can feel the vampire, he's not far from here." His cheek was still red when he turned back to the tunnel. "There are electrical fluctuations in the air and they're getting stronger this way. He can smell us from miles away and evade us easily if he wishes. About our only advantage is - "

"A serial killer that can teleport?" Helen interjected helpfully.

"I was going to say – a genius." Nikola pointed at himself. "Come on, Helen..." he added in a whisper, eyeing her hungrily. "We both know who he's most interested in. How could he resist?"

Helen frowned and then shook her head at Nikola, her stomach flipping unsteadily. "Nikola – no."

"Yesssss..."

He moved towards her until his face was within inches of hers. Nikola tilted his head, lips moving to her ear to whisper. "For over a hundred years we were a world apart and yet I could still hear your heart beat – my immortal..."

Helen's eyes closed at his whispered words. They felt as if they had fallen from another time. For so many years they'd said nothing, hidden under professional endeavours of cheap insults. Nikola was right. Helen could feel the other vampire like a cold breath of air on the world. He wasn't like Nikola...

"What if he kills me?" she murmured, her eyes opening in time to catch Nikola's gaze. He was far too close to her, those playful eyes of his dangerous.

"I won't let him." Opportunistic bastard that he was, Nikola stole a kiss from her neck and headed off down the corridor. "Come along..." he insisted, and continued rattling off geological facts about the cave system.

John watched on, his eyes darker than before – his smile gone.

The flames licked at the sky, ripping from tree to tree as a bundle of fur tore into the village. Its inhabitants were assembled outside, forming a network of water buckets and barn shovels, awaiting the wall of fire.

Henry took the door of the post office with one heavy impact. He tumbled inside, thrashing around on the ground as his fur and claws disappeared back into this skin leaving him naked on the ground.

"Urgh... Ow," Henry rolled onto his side and then used the counter to haul himself back to his feet. People screamed outside as Henry foraged through the desk drawers until he found a satellite phone.

"Biggie!" he sank down into the chair with relief when he heard the familiar grunt on the line. "I'm in the middle of nowhere – I need you to track the – what?" Henry leaned forward sharply. "Are you kidding me?"

"Bring the vampiiiiire back," Bigfoot repeated. "We'll find Will."

When the line went dead, Henry hugged the phone to his naked chest. It was his only possession in the world.

"Bloody hell. I better find some clothes."

Helen couldn't take her eyes off the vampire.

Their party of three were heading deeper into the Sanctuary, following a series of neglected tunnels that wound their way down, following ancient streams. Nikola had spent the last hour rabbiting on about the geology of this underground world, taking particular interest in the limestone caves which they passed through every so often. It was a strange mix of nature and carefully cultivated beauty, bleeding together – both equally ravaged by time.

"Enough about the rocks," John hissed, boots splashing through the water at their ankles. There was something about this place that made him uncomfortable – as though it weren't quite dead yet. "Are we any closer?"

Helen rested her hand against her chest; her heart was beating too fast. It had been so long since she'd felt the darkness resting at the edge of her vision or felt that whispering desire. Succumb... It begged. Kill the vampire. Restore the balance.

She was startled to find Nikola frowning at her, his hand holding her at arm's length and her knife at his delicate throat.

"Wrong vampire..." he murmured, gently helping her lower the knife.

Helen nodded, slurring an apology.

John didn't understand what was going on between the two of them. There had always been something different about Helen. The Source blood had changed them all but he'd never been able to discover how. She was ageless, at least on the surface but beyond that, she was a mystery. It killed him to see that Tesla knew her secret.

"What are you not telling me?" John asked, stopping abruptly. The water rushed by his feet leaving tiny flecks of gold on his pants. "It's been over a hundred years, I think it's time I knew."

Helen and Nikola exchanged looks, neither saying anything.

"For heaven's sake, Helen. You honestly trust Tesla to keep your secrets? He's a vampire with an ego the size of Mars who'd sell you out for five minutes of fame."

Nikola remained silent.

"He left you," John continued, "sixty years of silence after you saved his miserable life. God knows I'm not perfect Helen, but he uses you for his own cause. You're a convenience.A rescue service with a pretty face, bottomless bank account and cellar full of wine."

There was a long pause, Helen's gaze locked firmly on John.

"Yes, I trust him," is all Helen would say.

John shifted uncomfortably. "The least you could do is tell me the plan. How do you envisage us walking out of here alive? And what about Ashley – or have you forgotten about our daughter?"

Helen reeled around, eyes as dark as John's.

"Either you stay and help or leave, John. My secrets are my own, a hundred years won't change that just as the years can't wash the blood from your hands."

"I'm not the only one with blood on my hands..." John loomed over Helen. He was easily half a foot taller than her and strong enough to knock her to the ground with one blow if he chose.

"I didn't kill innocent women-"

"No – just people that disagreed with you." John snapped back before Helen could finish.

Nikola was ignoring their bickering. Something wasn't right... He could hear whispers on the air that weren't real, unkind voices murmuring imagined insults, egging them on. They were being played with.

"Quite!" Nikola hissed at the pair, shoving them roughly apart. "Listen... We're not alone down here."
A World of Whispers by ellymelly
13

A WORLD OF WHISPERS

The only thing holding Helen and John apart was Nikola's firm grip. His black eyes scanned the darkness over their shoulders. He was looking for a creature. Any creature. Dry wind echoed through the caves around him, kicking up his cloak. The Sanctuary felt empty. Hollow. He startled when material ripped against his claws.

"Tesla, get your claws off my coat," John growled, attempting to free himself of the vampire. Tesla held firm – stronger than his slender frame suggested.

"Only when the pair of you calm the fuck down..." he hissed. Those two could tear the world apart over the origins of English tea. Personally, Nikola would prefer to argue the merits of coffee though neither conversation warranted the end of life as they know it.

"I AM CALM!" Helen screeched – then took a deep breath and had another go at sounding calm. She looked the vampire square in the eyes and whispered, "I'm calm..."

"The hell you are," Nikola tugged her closer until their noses brushed. Helen instinctively turned her head to the side. "We're standing in the ruins of a city that tore itself apart. I think I'm starting to understand why. Now, if I let you go, do you promise not to kill your ex?"

She pulled a few inches from him. "Nikola..." Helen cautioned, eyes fierce. Her dark hair framed her face in messy tangles. He remembered when they had been lovely shade of blonde.

He sighed and set them free. John put his fingers through the claw-holes in his coat, scowling.

"I think I know what destroyed this Sanctuary," Nikola returned his eyes to the ruins of the Sanctuary. He shifted nervously, fighting the desire to un-sheath his claws. There wasn't enough light down here – quite an admission for a vampire. "A creature of terrible persuasion."

"From the crypt?" John offered, then added darkly, "The crypt we just opened."

"For once tag along over here is right. According to your field reports, Helen, you've encountered abnormals that can make powerful suggestions to the mind before – why not a creature that does it softly? The vampires are history's collectors, they might have – "

"You've been reading my field reports?" Helen interrupted with a scorn. Her gaze paused at the faint outlines of ruined columns and piles of rubble. "A Magoi – of sorts. Or something worse. Do you think it will attack us?"

"It doesn't need to. It felled a civilisation with a whisper. I'm sure it's perfectly capable of dispatching us."

"If we're dealing with a Magoi we could very well be standing in an empty room right now." Helen reached out to touch one of the ruined columns. It felt real enough beneath her fingertips. "We stay together at all times. It's in their nature to part us."

At Nikola's insistence, they also kept a silence as they trudged through the freezing water.

In Helen's opinion, it was an ill-advised plan. The absence of conversation let her mind wander into dark corners she'd rather leave untouched. Paranoia creeping from the edges of her mind laced with vivid, horrible memories dredged from her soul. Another hour of this would be too long, let alone a day.

"Stop – stop..." Nikola hissed. He held out his clawed hand expectantly. "Give me your weapons – come on, all of them."

"Nikola..."

"I'm serious, Helen. Immortal or not, I am in no mind to end up embedded on the wrong end of your hunting knife – JESUS!" Nikola's eyes went wide.

There it was, hovering behind Helen's shoulder, using its sharp claws to hang from the roof. It's skeletal hand was poised near her throat, ready to wrap its fingers and claws around her skin.

Nikola pushed Helen sharply. She crashed into the shallow water leaving Nikola to face the creature. Terrible grey skin hung off it's jagged bones; the flesh barely alive. It opened its mouth displaying row upon row of fangs as it levelled a sharp hiss at him. Nikola lunged, claws drawn and fangs gleaming.

It evaded him.

Nikola cracked his elbow on the sharp rocks beneath the surface of the water, landing beside Helen.

"What's gotten into you, Nikola?" Helen growled, perplexed. Blood dripped down Helen's forehead. The nasty cut had already started to heal.

Nikola's thrashed around in the water, looking wildly for the creature. "You're seriously telling me that neither of you saw that?"

John was equally unmoved. "I think it might be you going mad, old boy. Not us."

The vampire scrambled to his feet, flinging himself at the darkness. He scanned his torch over every crevice of the roof corner behind the crumbled columns. "We've got to get out of these tunnels and back into the rooms," he insisted. "It's hunting us down here."

"What is hunting us?" Helen shook the water off her gun and re-holstered it. "Nikola, we didn't see anything." The hell she was surrendering her weapon.

"Claws – withered looking body – bit like a bat with a bad attitude?"

"We're here to find the vampire," John rescued Helen's torch from the water. "Can we stick to one devil at a time please?"

Trying to capture an ancient, hungry vampire was the least of Nikola's worries. He couldn't get those cold eyes out of his mind. Whatever it was, it had been down here in the dark for a long time and now it was waiting for them.

"It's in your mind, Nikola," Helen tried to brush some of his wet hair out of his eyes. "It's playing tricks on you – making you see things that aren't here. You have to concentrate on what's real."

"My mind is perfect," he growled, storming away from her.

The tunnel turned and headed back onto dry land. There was more light here and the narrow walls of the man-built passageway gradually turned into a corridor.

'Nikola...'

The voice unfurled in his mind, calling him. His mother's voice. Nikola looked up to the stone ceiling but of course, she was not there. Those grey eyes had left him long ago.

"Watch it, Tesla!"

Nikola bounced theatrically off the mass murderer's back. The vampire stepped aside, straightening his damp cloak without an apology.

"We're here. According to the blue-prints in your notes, this should be the entrance to the living quarters – hopefully where we'll find our vampire."

"The entrance to the – I never had any blue-prints in my notes!" Nikola frowned. Helen was unfolding a water-logged map, holding it against the wall. John leaned over her shoulder, nodding. "Give me that!" Nikola snatched it away and held it up to the light.

"Nikola!" Helen hunted after him, retrieving it. "Please, you're starting to worry me."

"That's not my map, Helen," he insisted.

"Henry printed it before we left, said he found it buried in your secret archives." She shook her head at the vampire, then flashed her torch into his eyes. He ducked away, glaring. "Your eyes are dilated."

"It's dark." And now he couldn't see.

"You're ill."

"You're the one playing with an imaginary map." Nikola stalked toward the door and pushed. It opened.

"What's in there?" John asked.

"Living quarters..." the vampire muttered.

Ashley ducked, sliding down the wall as the vampire's claws scraped through the rock above her. Granite dust stung her eyes. Tears ran down her cheeks as she kicked forward, striking the vampire's shins. He tumbled backwards in shock, rolling away in a shadow of cloth. Ashley rolled as well, finding her feet and taking off through the corridors.

A sharp crack of electricity chased her. Blue light flared for a moment, then died. Again. Again. It drew closer as she tripped down a rotten set of stairs and hit the stone floor. Her knee cracked but did not break.

"Up!" she hissed at herself, dragging her body away in time to evade a fan of claws.

The vampire had turned, taking her by surprise. One minute they were discussing her grandfather and then next his eyes were red, his fangs salivating at the sight of her. He'd lunged at her neck but she was too fast.

Her torch slid free of her grip. She had to leave it, flying further down the ancient corridors. Soon the darkness was absolute save for the occasional flare of electricity. She reached out, letting her fingertips brush against both sides of the corridor as she ran.

It was behind her, dragging its claws along the stone.

Never trust a vampire. Never trust a bloody vampire. Isn't that what her father had said? She remembered her mother in Rome. Tesla was meant to be one of her oldest friends and yet, for a moment he'd turned on her too.

She lunged forward when its claws caught her jacket. The test-tubes inside her pocket rattled dangerously against each other as the material ripped straight through and she was free again.

God god, there it was.

Henry tilted his head to take in the wall of black rock, arching up over the forest like a ghastly wave. The mist swirled around his waist, hiding the ground entirely. The first rays of sunlight struck his skin. It was the beginning of an angry dawn. New light was stretched by banks of smoke turning it crimson and gold. It was obscured by a stain of smoke from the village.

"Let's try this again," Henry whispered, morphing into his wolf form. He vanished into the mist, padding silently over the ground and into the mouth of the Sanctuary.

Henry felt his claws slide as rock replaced dirt. They tapped against it, sliding uneasily. He didn't like this place. It stank of death and dust. A few tunnels in he turned a corner and backed away. There was a pit of bodies, swept into the natural depression and left to rot into bones.

He growled, scaring a few rats.

Henry...

Henry looked up, searching the darkness He could have sworn that he'd heard Helen call his name.

"Henry – over here..."

No, he'd definitely heard Helen. Her voice was coming from somewhere deeper in the tunnels.

"Someone's coming – in quite a hurry." Nikola looked toward the door. "It's Ashley."

Helen turned. "Ashley..."

"Mum!" The blond girl fell into the room. She was drenched, covered in dirt and cuts with her hair tied back in a matted pony tail. She pushed herself off the ground, stumbled towards her mother and threw herself into her arms.

Helen drew her arms tight around her daughter, burying her head against her shoulder. "My little girl," she whispered.

John ducked his head out the door and eyed the tunnel suspiciously. He found it empty but closed the door anyway.

"I'm sorry..." Ashley whispered.

"Don't you ever do that to me again," Helen murmured, kissing the top of her head.

Over her mother's shoulder, Ashley's eyes met her father's. He shook his head. Neither of them would ever tell Helen what really happened all those years ago.

"There's no cure," Ashley pulled back gently from her mother, wiping her face with what remained of her sleeve. "I found the vampire – begged him to help me – but he just laughed..."

"Is that who's chasing you?" John asked. Ashley nodded. "We can't stay here – we're cornered. This whole Sanctuary is a giant maze."

"Perhaps the vampires never solved the blood disease," Nikola added cautiously. "It was the Praxians that unleashed it on them and this is an ancient vampire, from before the complete fall of the empire. He probably knows little, if anything of the modern world."

"He's crazy, mum," Ashley whispered. "One minute we were talking and the next – he just turned on me like I was some kind of snack."

"He's hungry..."

"That's enough, Nikola," Helen said quietly.

"We should leave while we can," John motioned to the door but Nikola stepped in front of him.

"We can't leave without the vampire. Remember why we're here, Helen. Your protege will live out his life as a cursed sand creature if you walk away now. This vampire is old, all of us could take him if you've still got those silver-tipped tranquillisers you're so fond of."

"Are you hurt?" Helen asked. Ashley shook her head. She handed her daughter another clip for her gun.

"I'm all right," Ashley nodded.

Nikola inspected his claws. "Are we ready? Remember – we need this one alive," he levelled his gaze at John, who lifted his hands innocently.

"Alive – as you command..." John mocked.

There was a sharp crack of lightening and then something that sounded like thunder rumbling down the corridor outside.

"Here he comes..." Nikola whispered.

Ashley shifted, checking her gun. Helen withdrew a slender gun from her holster and started sliding silver-tipped bullets into the shaft. Nikola tilted his head, watching her closely. It always worried him that she kept that particular weapon close – as if she didn't entirely trust him.

John lingered at the door – a butcher knife clutched in his fist.

"Ready?"
Silver Dreams by ellymelly
14

SILVER DREAMS

"Ready," Helen nodded, clicking the last silver-tipped bullet into place.

Electric light flashed outside the door, branching wildly along the corridor in front of the vampire. He was starving and old. He could smell the blood, fresh and warm and he craved it. Gods to taste again – to feel again. His oath seemed meagre in the face of hunger.

The ancient vampire didn't see Nikola pressed against the wall beside him. The young vampire hit him hard across the back of the neck, sending him stumbling to the floor with an angry growl, fangs glistening and wet.

"Foolish child!" the ancient one screeched, dripping silken venom into the dirt. He turned on Nikola, long claws going straight through Nikola's chest, dragging the young vampire up the wall with a trail of blood. "Stay out of my way." He tossed Nikola aside into the shadows.

Nikola hit the floor to the sound of his left leg snapping. The bone shot through the skin. "Son of a..." he growled, looking down in horror.

John was next, ducking under the vampire's sweeping claws and delivering a powerful hit to his chest. Then again, slamming his knee up into the vampire and taking him down to the ground with a quick succession of powerful hits. Ashley swung down from the ceiling, firing off two carefully aimed rounds into the vampire's shoulders.

The bullets hissed into the vampire's flesh, silver leaching into his blood. He reached up, cold blood running down his wrists. It was almost black.

"Forgive – me?" the vampire whispered, feeling an ice take hold of his blood. Dark eyes closed, his withered body giving way to a deep, dreamless sleep.

Helen, John and Ashley stood over the bloodied vampire.

"Piece of cake," Ashley grinned, slipping her gun back into it's holster.

"We need to get him on a plane, fast. Let's pack up and get out of here," Helen whispered, kneeling down to restrain the vampire with ties. She looked up at a soft growl from the corner of the room. "You all right over there?"

Nikola scowled. "Oh yes, just peachy," he hissed, pushing the bone back into his leg with a cry of pain. He held it there as his skin healed over. That hurt. "What about your puppy dog?"

"Henry's here?" Ashley asked, smiling a little.

"He's already en-route back to Old City," Helen replied. "He checked in with Biggie a few hours ago. We'll meet him back at base."

Nikola limped over to the others looking paler than usual. Ashley offered him a sympathetic look. "Nasty – dude," she nodded at his leg.

'The plane' turned out to be a helicopter picking its way through the mountains. The heat had burned off all the mist leaving a clear divide between the dark green expanse of jungle and pale blue sky. Nikola carefully eyed the rises and fall of the mountains as though looking for patterns in the chaos.

"Penny for your thoughts...?" Helen asked, sitting opposite him. John and Ashley were chatting and the vampire was tied up in the cargo.

Nikola didn't turn towards her, preferring his current view of the ancient world.

"Doesn't it bother you?" Nikola replied quietly.

Helen frowned, tilting her head. "What?"

"Why did he stay there, starving in the darkness for thousands of years... Something was keeping the vampire there, Helen."

She shrugged. "Perhaps you can ask him later, if it bothers you so."

Nikola was quiet for a moment, tapping his claws against the glass. "Perhaps I will..."

Henry padded over the stone floor, leaping from side to side to avoid the rubble of ruined columns. There was water seeping from the walls, coating the floor in an ankle deep, freezing river that tumbled down stairs and trailed off into the darkness.

He had decided to remain in wolf form, covering ground quickly as he chased the echoes. Helen was here somewhere, he could hear her voice getting softer.

He barked, leaping up onto a marble block. Stretching out in front at the base of the ruined city was a deep, black lake. It was walled by a smooth, marble capped rim with glowing symbols that lit the room. There were great swirls of golden dust curling over its surface, moved by the deep, freezing currents like ribbons destroyed galaxies. The enormous door loomed behind – its ghastly figures as dead as the city.

Henry crossed the city and strutted along the marble wall, sniffing the air. The world had gone quiet again. His head lifted. Something was in the water on the far side. Henry barked.

"Henry..." the voice whispered.

He broke into a run, skidding over the marble until he found a figure struggling in the water, slipping deeper into darkness. Helen's long hair was plastered to her skin, her eyes wide and frightened. She was pale like a vampire, her strength failing as she saw the werewolf appear.

"Help," was all she managed to murmur. Helen didn't even have the strength to reach out to him.

Henry curled his claws over the marble edge and took hold of Helen's coat in his jaws. He pulled, tugging her out of the water and onto the dirt. She stroked his soft fur, closing her eyes as the wolf laid over her. All she knew was warmth as the wolf wailed softly.

Helen had been laying in the water for days.

"Doc?" Henry, dressed and sitting beside a warm fire, brushed his hands over Helen's cheek again. "Come on now, I saw you stir," he whispered.

Helen groaned, opening her eyes. She tried to shield them from the firelight but the warmth got the better of her.

"Thought I lost you there for a while," Henry added, helping her to sit up.

She pressed her hand to her forehead in a futile attempt to stop the throbbing pain. "Where are the others?" she whispered, reaching for her gun – but Henry had everything laid out and drying on her coat.

"No idea. They were here, several days ago by the smell of it. I found you alone," he added quietly.

She accepted the heated water, sipping it carefully.

"Something tried to kill me," she whispered. "John, Nikola and I – we came under the door," she pointed to the enormous structure that had once been the city's defence against the world. "When I was under the water something latched onto my legs. It pulled me deeper, hooking me onto something beneath the water." Helen looked away with a shiver. "I thought I'd drowned," she whispered. "The next thing I remember, I was floating on the surface."

Helen looked morbidly at the water, wondering if the others were still beneath its surface. Henry shook his head.

"They definitely went through the city," he whispered. "I've smelled them up in the tunnels."

She frowned at once. "Nikola and John continued without me? No..."

"Come on Doc – a vampire and history's most notorious murderer?"

"You better believe it, Henry," she replied seriously.

Several hours later, Helen had scavenged a pair of torches from the outer walls of the city. She lit them from Henry's fire and handed him one.

"This place is huge," Henry whispered, creeping up the main street with Helen. "And seriously creepy," he added, passing more bleached skeletons.

"What does this remind you of – Prague?"

"That was a crypt," Henry shivered.

Helen shrugged, that grin of hers stretched over her lips. "Bones, ruins – torches," she waved hers about playfully. "Come on, those were the days, Henry."

"Hey – it was my first tomb. You took Ash and I out for a family outing. I thought we were getting ice-cream but no. Creepy dead things."

"And a giant lizard," Helen added proudly.

"Yeah – and that. Nice parenting touch."

"You called it Frank," she smiled softly.

"Well... He needed a name."

"Frank was a girl."

Henry looked utterly guttered. His childhood robbed. "But...?"

"She had two clutches of eggs while you and Ashley were at university. Oh that is unfortunate..." Helen paused, leaning into one of the ruined buildings. "It's all right," she brushed Henry off when he tried to tug her back. "It's been here for hundreds of years, I'm sure it'll survive me."

Helen stepped into the crumbling building, avoiding the pair of skeletons huddled in the corner, their heads scattered on the far side. "Don't you find it strange, Henry? Every one of these creatures has been killed violently – by each other – and yet the city shows no sign of invasion. If it were Conquistadors, all this would be gone," she ran her hand along a gold embossed border in the wall. "Oh..."

"Shit..." Henry finished for her. "Those – look familiar."

They both tilted their heads up at the roof to see three perfect, white cocoons nestled against the stone. Helen bravely prodded one with her torch. The silk threads unfurled in the heat, falling to the ground and with it a pile of bones.

"Dead," she whispered. "It's far too warm for Magoii to reproduce down here – but not enough to kill a full grown."

"I really hate those things," Henry sighed, kicking some of the silk cocoon.

"Now now Henry, what have I taught you?"

Henry rolled his eyes. "That even the most dangerous Abnormals have a right to exist," he dutifully repeated the words Helen had drilled into him as a child.

"Even Magoii. We have no idea how long these things can live but preliminary work by the Russian Sanctuary suggests they could have lifespans of hundreds of years, especially if they are left to hibernate."

"How many do you think are still down here?"

Helen looked carefully at the cocoon shell. "This could have come from a single Magoii. Come on, we better find out what happened to the others."

Helen and Henry followed their tracks through the ancient sanctuary. After nearly a day of crawling through tunnels and wading in freezing water they realised that this place was completely dead. There was no life left here at all and whatever dream had started inside these walls had died here.

"Shall we check in with the Big Guy? Maybe have him order us a nice private jet?"

Helen shook her head. "I don't think so, Henry. We're going the long way home this time."

Nikola was milking every last ounce of sympathy out of his injury, limping toward Helen's wine rack. He ran his claws over the dusty bottles, making a soft tapping sound. Truthfully, he'd expected her to stop him by now or at the very least issue him a warning in the form of a bullet to the back. Instead, his old friend was oddly absent, presumably down in her basement playing with the ancient vampire.

He forced himself not to be jealous, drowning those destructive thoughts in another Bordeaux.

Nikola set a clean glass on the window sill, uncorked a fresh bottle with his claw and tilted it over the crystal edge. Sand poured out of the lip, tinkling against the glass.

The bottle smashed against the floor, red wine splashing over Nikola's shoes. He looked at his glass again.

Wine.

"I'm losing my mind..."
Silk by ellymelly
15

SILK

Nikola knelt down, soaking the spilled wine up with a cloth. He was embarrassed by the mess, carefully attempting to draw the stains out of the rug with varying success. The remaining shards of bottle were collected in his palm until Nikola returned to his feet, relieved to see the damage mostly alleviated.

His nerves remained frayed.

With a great deal more care, he fetched himself another bottle and retreated to the safety of the sofa, lounging in front of Helen's fire to think. He was dwarfed by the marble mantle, ironwork chandelier and tapestries that carpeted the walls.

Nikola's mind was his greatest asset and the only thing in which he had absolute faith. If it was unravelling then he was lost. There were many things that Nikola could endure – idiocy was not one of them.

"Reason your way out of it," he told himself firmly, taking a firm swig of his wine straight from the bottle. "What do you know?"

He smirked, licking his lips.

That this is cheap wine.

"What's the matter with you?"

Nikola sneered at the interruption strutting into the office. Joe Kavanaugh was not his favourite person in the world although he had to give him credit for single handedly unleashing a vampire plague upon the Earth. Nikola would have gone for something more refined than a den of diseased half-breeds but it was a step in the right direction. Maybe. Only time would tell whether humanity would find shackles again.

"This is Helen's office," Nikola replied dryly, as though he were the only other creature allowed to inhabit it.

"Oddly enough, I noticed," Joe kept an even tone with the moody vampire. "Actually, it's you I came to see."

That was even worse. Nikola twisted his lip up in disdain, downing another sip of wine. "How unfortunate."

Joe's look was one of infinite patience. "I was hoping to enlist your help in the search for Zimmerman. Ashley and Henry are following a lead in the subway -"

"You mean the hunt?" he corrected. "No, I think not. When and if you manage to find Helen's protege I will endeavour to return him to his former, pitiful state as per my arrangement with Helen."

"How very generous of you."

"Believe me, this is not an exercise in charity." Nikola had his reasons.

Joe cast his eyes over the array of artefacts littering the side tables. Helen was a collector at heart and in true Victorian form she liked to decorate her world with each conquest. She wasn't half as noble as she pretended to be.

"I'm surprised," Detective Kavanaugh added. "I thought you'd be the first in line to interrogate the full-blood vampire downstairs. Isn't he what you've been searching for all these years?"

Nikola's look was one of disdain. Not only was his business private, he resented Kavanaugh's intimate dealings with the ancient ones, experiences which greatly exceeded his.

"Our ancient friend is heavily sedated and I doubt Helen will wake him until her precious protege is well."

"And you are perfectly capable of biding your time."

"Something like that." Claws tapped against the bottle.

Kavanaugh wasn't finished.

"And you have no designs on my father either, then?"

Nikola made an inhuman sound that could have passed for laughter. "The half-ling? Ex-half-ling actually... From what I've read of your report he spent most of his last four decades in a trance with little or no memory of either his cave or the vampire he kept guard over her. No. Unsurprisingly I have no interest in him."

That made the Detective feel more comfortable, sinking into the cushions, enjoying the warm glow of the fire.

"You're still here..." Nikola glared.

"I'm still here."

Nikola sighed tiredly and set the bottle of wine down with a clunk. "Are you going to make me guess?"

"Actually, it's easier if I show you."

"Al'right, Doc?"

Helen held her head between her hands. She could hear several heart beats in the world now – three of them clashing against each other inside her mind. Too many vampires. The balance had been lost with the awakening of two more. Nikola and the ancient one from the Sanctuary of the Moon were closest. She'd know Nikola's heart anywhere.

"I'm fine," she lied, laying back against the car as it wove its way through Old City. She had not felt like this since Oxford.

"Are you going to tell me why we're not going home?" The Sanctuary was several blocks behind them.

"We can't go home yet, not if I'm right."

"You're starting to worry me..." Henry turned to her as a downpour smashed against the car's windows.

"Nikola and John would not have left without me. I suspect they brought more than our souvenir vampire back with them."

"The Magoi – bloody hell."

She tossed him a newspaper folded open to an article.

'MISSING: The Suspected Trade of Old City's Homeless'

'...in the last week a suspected four people have vanished from slums around the city. Well known in their underground world, police have been unable to account for these sudden absences. The Town Hall is opening its doors this evening in a bid to offer shelter for the easy prey of what many suspect to be a human trafficking ring...'

Henry closed his eyes. "Will..." was all he said.

"The Magoi will want to go home but it's desire to migrate is going to interfere with our effort to save Will. Once we enter the Sanctuary we'll have no way of telling who is real. The less people in there the better. I don't want my Sanctuary to end up a pile of rubble and bone."

"Doc..." Henry added quietly. "Are we going to kill it?"

"It's too dangerous to live."

"We don't really know anything about them, do we?"

"In a hundred years we might be intelligent enough to have a conversation with them," she replied, a dark shadow over her features. "I hope this city is worth the life of one Magoi."

A gunshot rang out in the tunnel. It was absorbed by the distant rumble of a subway train, trundling through the dark.

A body fell from the ceiling. It landed with a crunch on the gravel in front of Bigfoot.

Ashley knelt down, nudging the sand creature with her boot as its body shimmered back into the visible spectrum. It was dead.

"How many more of these do you think there are?" she whispered, standing up and re-loading her gun.

"No ideaaaa," Bigfoot whispered, his eyes searching the tunnels ahead. "Will has been down here for days – whatever he doesn't kill is turned."

"There's going to be a plague of these things."

They worked their way through the tunnels leaving a trial of bodies for the other teams to pick up. This was getting out of hand. "We may need to contact some of the other Sanctuaries."

"Your mother wouldn't like that," Bigfoot replied. "She's gone to great lengths to keep the truth of vampires from the world. They'll ask questions when they see the fangs."

"The one Abnormal she hides..." Ashley whispered. "I used to think that the Abnormal world was a dark place but these last few weeks have shown me something else." She paused as she climbed up onto an abandoned platform, helping Biggie up. "It's mum's world that is dark. I barely know her."

Something their claws against the concrete. Ashley and Bigfoot turned, panning their flash lights over the walls.

Will sank away from the halos of light.

"This world made your mother," Bigfoot replied softly.

They both prowled closer, weapons raised and their torches sweeping back and forward. "There's something she's not telling me."

Her torch caught a pair of golden eyes.

"Will..."

Nikola stood in front of the freezer in Helen's main lab looking greatly put out. He folded his arms crossly, reading the sign taped to its sad, stained surface.

'OUT OF SERVICE – please use freezer on Basement Level 2'

The vampire shrugged. "So? What am I supposed to do, fix it?"

"It's not broken," Joe replied, stepping forward. He placed his hand against the door's surface. It was cool – the gentle hum of the freezer's engine steady like a pulse.

"Someone forgot to take the sign down, honestly, did the wolf put you up to this? I have a gnawing feeling that I'm being purposely annoyed."

"Henry's still on a plane." Compared to the psychotic criminals Joe was accustomed to, the vampire had a long way to go in petulance. "Ah, but that's not the really cool bit, Doctor Tesla – pardoning the pun."

Nikola groaned as Joe reached up to where the sign was and went straight through it. The surface was smooth – entirely sign free.

Nikola swayed back, staring at the empty freezer door. He was seriously starting to think that there were a few loose wires between his eyes and brain.

"Ah, now I have your attention," Joe whispered, lowering his hand to the handle of the freezer. He gave it a decent tug but the door refused to budge. "Now, I don't know about you but I'm not particularly comfortable with objects coming and going from reality."

"It's the Magoi," Nikola whispered, feeling a cold shiver run down his back. "It must be here - it has to be." The vampire turned on Joe with a suspicious glare.

"What? Hey – no..." Joe lifted his hands innocently. "I don't even know what a – what did you say it was?"

"Magoi," Nikola growled.

"That. I have no idea what it is."

If nothing else, Nikola doubted the Magoi would be pointing out things it had tried to hide so he gave Joe the benefit of the doubt. "Obviously it doesn't want us to get into this freezer – so that's exactly what we're going to do."

It was not easy and after an hour of prodding, bashing and general abuse of the freezer door, they discovered that it was not actually locked. The mind was easy to manipulate, especially for an ancient Magoi.

Flustered from exertion, they pushed open the door and were met with a thick mist of frost. Joe waved it away from his face, squinting through the freezing air. Their sweat shattered as droplets of ice on the floor. "What, in the name of god, is that..."

Nikola inched toward the seven foot bundles of silk. They glistened in the frosted air, beads of ice adoring the fine threads like jewels. There were three cocoons stuck to the far wall closest to the air ducts with a faint shadow of something moving inside each one.

"Baby Magoi," Nikola replied, voice catching. "What a nightmare."

"We should go to Helen," Joe whispered, but Nikola caught his arm sharply, claws out.

"No. We don't go to anyone," he growled softly, as though afraid the cocoons would tear open any minute. "First, we shut this freezer down then work out what the hell is going on. Anyone in this Sanctuary could be a Magoi – anything you see. You trust your hands and nothing else, understand?"

Will clawed straight up the wall, sticking to the ceiling like an oversized gecko, hiding behind the shadows of steel thick beams. His skin rippled from crimson to grey rendering him invisible.

"Shit!" Ashley hissed, looking up at the dark void above. She switched her gun to stun mode and started pacing forward, tilting her head sharply trying to catch a glimpse of the sand creature. "He's completely turned."

"Yeah, reeeeeal little piece of work," Bigfoot growled, moving to the opposite side of the tracks. "Tried to rip me in shreds before."

"Five minutes until the next train," she warned, stepping carefully between the tracks. The rumble of the train was already shaking the gravel around them. "I don't want to lose him again."

Ashley moved fast and light through the tunnel. She used the side wall as protection and kept her head up to the ceiling. Damn these things were quiet. Her torch light was obstructed by a column of dust wafting down from the ceiling. She took a shot.

"Missed it," Bigfoot hissed from the other side of the tunnel.

"Yeah, but not by much," she replied, lifting her gun again.

This time she took three shots – chasing the flurries of dust. Her last shot hit Will on the back of the leg. He let out a screech of pain, scratching frantically at the roof before falling between the tracks. The thunder of the oncoming train started to roar like a wave building up against the reef. Bigfoot grabbed the semi-conscious sand creature by one of its thrashing limbs, dragging it over the tracks.

"Hiiiit it again!" he yelled.

Will twisted and writhed, scratching at Bigfoot's furry hand. Mid run, Ashley pulled the trigger again and the creature became a dead weight.

"One minute!" she hissed, picking up the pace. "Platform's not far."

Bigfoot lumbered along with Will's unconscious body. Ashley reached the platform before him, throwing her gun up over the edge before vaulting over the cement barrier. She laid on her stomach and took Bigfoot's gun first – then started to haul Will up. He was visible again – his crimson skin heavily scarred already.

"Come on, hurry up!" she urged, feeling the wind whip her hair up.

"Too old fo' this," Bigfoot muttered, barely managing to get his enormous body clear as the express train rocketed through, its horn blaring angrily.

The sound of slow applause filled the platform. Ashley frowned – then turned to see Henry and Helen standing shoulder to shoulder – Henry applauding with a smirk on his lips.

Ashley rolled her eyes at the closest thing to a brother she'd ever get. "Two vampires – two days, count says I win."

Henry shook her head. "Nah – I brought mum home; trumps a vampire and half-vamped-protege every time."

"What on earth are you talking about?" Ashley slid her gun back into its holster.

Helen was grinning at her daughter – only just fighting the urge to rush over and take her into her arms. She hadn't seen her in over a week. "Let's get Will somewhere secure – then we can talk."

It was perfect. Transparent, tightly bound tubes danced under the glass slide. Nikola peered through the microscope, increasing the magnification again. Millions of tiny hairs appeared, interlocking like velcro – terrible, grotesque claws binding the silk together.

Nikola straightened up slowly, his hand shifting to his hip, the other resting on the edge of the table for support. His lab was meagre in comparison to the rest of the house but it was the safest place to be. Joe was standing by the window, leaning against the sill as the sun started to set over the city behind him.

"This will change the world," Nikola announced, holding up the glass side. The fragment of Magoi silk was difficult to make out except when it caught the sunlight and shone pure silver. "Darwin's spider, eat your your heart out. Inch by inch this is the strongest material in existence."

Joe didn't look so impressed. He'd prefer not to fawn over a creature that was trying to kill them. "I'm not sure that farming Magoi is high on our priority list, Tesla."

Nikola shook his head impatiently. Mortals were just so … preoccupied with the present.

"I don't think that you quite grasp the material point," his fangs peaked out. He was about to launch into a brief history of natural substances that changed the course of human history when Joe held up both hands.

"You're not going to be making any more world altering discoveries if you're dead," Joe pointed out bluntly.

Nikola sighed and set the slide down. "Producing those offspring would have used a great deal of energy. It'll need to feed – it's probably started on the abnormals already – possibly even the staff." Nikola strutted over his desk drawer. He pulled out a couple of prototype handguns. "Combination electric stunner and laser pulse. The pain of the small burn is enough to get the attention of medium sized prey while giving their nerves a bit of a work over."

"This is what you do for Helen...?"

"From time to time. Depends how quickly I run out of money, really... We're going to stun everything and anything walking the hallways and start making good use of the cells."
Darwin's Spider by ellymelly
16

DARWIN'S SPIDER

"...we should have started with someone else..." Joe whispered, pressed up against the wall.

"Quiet!" Nikola growled under his breath. Damn humans.

The vampire tilted his head, peering through the guest room's battered doorway. John Druitt's immense form was stretched out on the floor, sprawled over the rug like some great feline after a feed – presumably asleep. Odd but to be fair, John had never displayed normal behavioural patterns.

Joe leaned against Nikola's shoulder. "I know a lot of detectives that would give their right arm to hang that man – the Ripper – most evil man in history."

"Would you stop your prattling," Nikola turned back, flicking Joe off his shoulder with an impatient glare. Humans were dreadful at stalking. "Firstly, even if you successfully marched old Whitechapel down to HQ – which better men than you have failed to do," he added pointedly, "there's not a lot you can do with someone who committed crimes over a century ago.

"Secondly, starting in 1958, Mao Ze-Dong oversaw the murder of seventy-eight million people; Hitler raked in twelve of his own countrymen and three million Russians on the side. Leopold II, Stalin... " Nikola trailed off, hands waving theatrically about.

"One hundred million died in the Taiping rebellion, one and half slit their own throats in ancient Mexico for a religion that left little in its wake save stains of blood on temple stairs. John is a novice in the art of evil. It's only doe-eyed detectives like you and your predecessors that have lorded him into the rarefied atmosphere."

Joe lofted his eyebrow slightly. The vampire seemed... miffed that Druitt was famous. More famous than him. "He fooled the man who invented my profession."

"Everyone has their weaknesses, even James." Nikola averted his gaze, not wishing to open that particular chapter in his life. The history of the Five was not for mortals to pick apart. "Come on... enough fucking about."

Nikola crept back up to the door.

"Bloody hell..." John was gone. "Christ!" Nikola jumped when John appeared in the doorway, glass of scotch in hand.

"I never had you pegged as a voyeur Tesla," he took a slow sip of scotch. "Quaint, is that a pet?"

"Detective. We've met but... you appear to have forgotten me."

John made a point of eyeing the weapons in their hands.

"Did I miss something?" he drawled, in that sickening tone used to lure innocent women to the blade of his knife. "Last time I checked, we were on speaking terms and this is Helen's house. You know the rules o'l boy. This is Switzerland for us."

"It's not personal this time, Johnny," Nikola smirked, levelling the gun back at him with a fang-laden grin. "And despite our better judgement, we're not here to kill you."

John laughed coldly, pointing his glass at them.

"You think that I'm just going to let you shoot –" John was interrupted by a scalding pain in his chest. He looked down to find his pocket smouldering. "What the devil..." he growled, before crumbling to the floor accompanied by the dull thud of a scotch glass.

Joe slowly lowered his sparking electric weapon. "That was a lot easier than I'd envisioned..."

"Come on, grab an ankle," Tesla muttered.


*~*~*


"Mum, this place is ancient..." Ashley complained. She helped her mother break through a hefty iron door, pushing it open with an angry screech of metal and rust. Bigfoot stood back, Will's deformed body limp in his furry arms.

"It's one of Tesla's old haunts," Helen explained, dusting off her hands and holding her torch up, scanning the room with it. Broken pipes, air ducts, feathers. "Should still work," she added, flicking a switch on the wall. A deep buzz rang out through the metal wall as rows of electric lights flickered into life.

"Old – like from the 4th Dynasty." Ashley tilted her head, inspecting the carcass of an experiment.

Helen cleared one of the work benches. Bigfoot laid Will's body onto the surface and the pair of them bound him with duct tape and chain. Crude but effective.

"He's going to wake up soon," Helen whispered, listening to the steady beat of his heart falter. "This room was built to keep in vampires – I'm sure it'll be able to handle a sand creature for a few hours." The duct-tape... probably not. She injected him with the last vial of sedative. It would keep him quiet – for a while.

"Mum... We can't just leave him tied up here. It's cruel."

"You're going to stay here and look after him, both of you," she added sternly, when Bigfoot went to protest. "The less people in my house the better. If you don't hear from me before nightfall, you call the London Sanctuary and ask for Declan."

"Seriously, Mum?"

"Ashley... don't fight me on this."

"I'm much better at hunting creatures than you," she tried following her mother but Helen pushed her firmly back into the room.

"That's why you're staying with Will."


*~*~*


"Well string me up with the garlic..." Nikola's deep, vampire voice purred on the air. He ran his gloved fingers through the threads of silk swaying in the air-conditioned breeze. Someone had turned it up to full over the whole mansion leaving Nikola and Joe to resort to snow jackets and gloves.

Growing from the ceiling of the corridor were long tangles of silk. Like ancient vines, they'd twisted into ropes that bonded to the floor to form flexible, sticky columns.

"God, it's like a bloody spider web," Joe whispered, sidestepping an ominous trail of silk.

"I didn't know Magoi did this," Nikola admitted. "It's like a nest."

"Yeah, well the more I learn about Magoi, the less I like'm, Doc. Give me your regular psychopath any day."

Together, they had taken out most of the Sanctuary staff and locked them in cells. There were still a few small abnormals wandering the corridors but nothing big enough for a Magoi to bother imitating. There was, however, one noticeable absence from their collection. Helen.

"You're worried about her, aren't you?" Joe asked, as they made their way through the freezing tunnel toward the fire stairs that took them deeper into the building. The further they went, the colder it became.

Nikola kept a few steps ahead of Joe, his black eyes focussed on the sticky hallway in front. "I'm worried I left my oldest friend in a South American tomb to rot, yes," he snapped.

The walls were entirely silk now, glistening like ice.

"It doesn't take a detective to work out that you and her were -"

Joe didn't get to finish. In front of them a very displeased (but admittedly distracting) Helen Magnus blocking the hallway, arms folded. She levelled a stern glare at Nikola.

"Nikola – where are my staff?"

Nikola lifted his home-made weapon, steadying it at her chest. "I'd be happy to show you."

"You're not going to shoot me," she tilted her head like a bird of prey. "We've got a very serious abnormal incursion," she nodded at the silk strangling the walls.

"And here I was thinking it was your new wallpaper," Nikola quipped, no intention of lowering his weapon. "That's close enough..." he whispered, when she started walking towards him.

"Are you feeling all right?" Helen lowered her voice into a tender lull. "Even for a vampire, you're pale. Perhaps you should lie down?"

"I don't think so," Nikola kept the gun steady. He was pale because he was cold and naturally disposed to looking like a shard of porcelain. "Detective – whatsyourname-"

"Kavanaugh..." Joe filled in helpfully.

"Whatever... What do you see?"

Joe tilted his head, "Dr Helen Magnus – or a very good copy."

"Copy?" Helen snapped, indignant. "Nikola!" she clicked her fingers to get the vampire's attention. "My house is freezing, the staff are missing and my wallpaper's been replaced by this sticky Magoi residue. Now, what the hell is going on?"

Nikola ignored her.

"Be more specific," he whispered to Joe. "Her eyes... hair – what does she look like."

As Joe started to describe her, the Sanctuary alarm pierced the air. Its angry ringing made Nikola flinch.

"We've got company," he whispered.

"Could be a trick?" Joe offered.

He was right. "Bloody Magoi." Nikola nodded at Helen. "This is why I never joined your little creature-collecting mission."

"Not as salubrious as ruling the world?" she ventured another step closer.

"I offered you the world..." Nikola reminded her, eyes bright.

She took another step, lingering dangerously close. "It wasn't yours to offer..." she purred.

"NIKOLA!"

He turned at once toward the angry voice to find another Helen standing behind them, smeared with dirt and greese. Nikola did his best to ignore his favourite fantasy made real. Two Helens... My, my, my.

"Helen... meet Helen," he said.

The two Helen's eyed each other. One of them was a Magoi, the other was not...

"Stop grinning, Nikola," the Helen covered in dirt scowled. "She's a Magoi..."

Joe lifted his weapon, levelling it at the newly arrived Helen. "Actually Doc," he said, "one of you is. Which one is still in question."

"If you shoot me with that, I'll break both your wrists," she promised darkly. "You're still grinning, Nikola."

He shrugged innocently.

"We've been re-decorating," Nikola added, his weapon still trained on the original Helen. "What do you think?"

"This isn't funny, Nikola. She will kill you."

"Don't think so," he replied lightly, giving Joe a meaningful look. "And on three..."

Before either Helen could move, both guns went off and they dropped to the floor. The dirt-laden Helen groaned, holding her chest. The other body shimmered, its lie crumbling until the body of the Magoi emerged. It was unconscious. Nikola curled his lip in disgust. He'd flirted with that.

He was going to add 'Magoi hunting' to his list of skills.


*~*~*


"Son of a..." Helen stirred. She was back in her bed, tucked in amongst the soft silk sheets with a fresh tray of tea steaming on the table beside her.

Slowly, she turned to see Nikola lounging on the bedspread, a book open against his chest. He was asleep, purring softly as only a vampire could. Such cheek!

"Nikola!" she nudged him gently, poking his ribs. The movement made her groan. Her chest was tight and burned from the weapon. "God, what did you shoot me with?"

Nikola turned his head, opening his eyes. They were bright blue, grinning back of her. "New toy. Don't worry, the effects are temporary. Technically, your pet detective shot you, not me."

"You shot the other me," she groaned wearily, "so it still counts."

Helen closed her eyes again, rubbing her chest softly with her free hand. It hurt.

"I take it you've restrained the Magoi?"

"Tagged, restrained and waiting in the SHU," he put the book aside, turned over and rested on his arm. Nikola was all too comfortable, lounging beside her on the bed.

"...and Ashley?" Helen added, not meaning for her voice to slip into such a soft tone.

The corner of his lip curled up into a smile.

"Good of you to hide them in one of my old haunts," he replied. "I called them in as soon as our guest was contained. Your protege is restrained and awaiting treatment. You're lucky he's still alive. There have been police crawling all over the city looking for him."

"I should -" Helen went to get up but Nikola nudged her gently back down.

"Will can wait a few more hours."

She lofted her eyebrow at him. "And what are you going to do?"

"Oh you know, the same," he shrugged. "Rule the world from your bed."

Nikola's smirk was hit by a well aimed pillow.

"...I still can't believe you shot me," she whispered, closing her eyes again.

"Eh – it's like, one-to-fifty. You shoot me all the time."

She couldn't help a small smile. "You usually deserve it."


*~*~*


Beep. Beep. Beep.

The sand creature eyed the machine beside him. Will's eyes were gold and bulging out from his skull like some kind of reptile. His skin was scarlet, dry and cracked into a scaly pattern that resembled a riverbed ruined by a thousand years of ravaging drought. He flecked his claws, watching the black extensions reflect the bright lights of the infirmary.

He snarled, trying to retreat but a heavy set of chains held him still.

"Sh..." Helen whispered, stepping into view. Her white coat made her form blur against the room. "You're safe – you're home."

Will opened his lips, displaying several rows of razor sharp teeth. He hissed at her.

Ashley, Bigfoot, Henry, Joe and Tesla were all seated in the gallery behind, watching the procedure. Tesla had shifted to the edge of his seat, leaning close to the glass in curiosity. It had been difficult extracting the clear, vampire venom from their new guest. Helen was holding a refined sample up to the light. She pierced the seal with a long needle.

"Do you think it'll work?" Ashley whispered.

"I hope so, Ash," Henry replied, holding her hand.

The liquid entered the drip, slowly seeping into Will's body. He thrashed irritably against his restraints, hissing again as Helen set the empty vial down and checked him over.

"Elevated pulse, temperature steady. Patient is agitated but not in pain." Helen flashed her torch light across his eyes. "Pupils are sluggish. Will, can you hear me?"

More snarling.

"Dr Zimmerman, do you know where you are?"

Will arched his body up as far as he could off the bed. There was something cold sneaking into his veins. He felt – calm... His body gently lowered itself, slowly shedding its violent red for cream.

"Patient's skin is reverting back to human form. Heart rate lowering – body temperature declining."

The fangs retreating into his jaw sent searing pain through his nerves. Will cried out, an almost human scream shattering the quiet room. Helen fumbled for another vial, this time consisting of pain killers which she fed through the drip.

He started to convulse. Helen used her weight to press his body back down against the bed.

"Stay with me, Will," she whispered, fighting for control. She pushed his torso firmly down, pulling another strap across him.

Will struggled to breathe, gasping between ragged cries.
Playing with Silver by ellymelly
17

PLAYING WITH SILVER

"Subject stable... pupils, sluggish but okay. Will?"

Dr Will Zimmerman, entirely human, was laid on the bed. He stared blankly at the ceiling, focused on the infirmary lights which leered at him with neon claws. Helen hovered, carefully monitoring his vitals. He could sense her now... distinguish her from the others. She had a name and fragments of memories. Helen Magnus, yes, he remembered her now. Remembered her hitting him with a damn car.

"Will, can you hear me?"

Slowly, his head tilted to the side. Will nodded at her in recognition, blinking slowly as if to say something. His wrists strained against the leather restraints causing their buckles to creak.

"For a while there, we thought we lost you," she added quietly, laying her hand on his arm in soft assurance.

Nine hours later he was sitting up, flicking through Sunday's paper in his own room. His skin itched but aside from a few nasty scratches and bruises, he was unharmed from his adventures as a sand creature.

"Quite the trail of destruction, eh?" Henry said.

Henry was perched on the end of Will's bed, playing with one of his half-built experiments. Beams of sunlight fell over the Gothic room, warming it as the afternoon started to fade. Tesla's stolen research towered in several looming piles of paper, some arching alarmingly toward the edge of the bedside table.

"It's not exactly a badge of honour," Will sighed, setting the newspaper down.

"Yeah, but you go to be a vampire," Henry insisted.

"Can you try to be less excited by this?" Will managed a grin though, nudging Henry with his foot. "Besides, I was even less of a vampire than Tesla."

"Don't let him hear you say that, he takes his vamp-ness very seriously. He's having a hard enough time now that we've got a full blood in the basement."

"A what?" Will's eyes went wide.

"Picked up a vamp in South America. They're real ugly," Henry added. "Trust me, Tesla's the plushie version."

"That must have hurt his feelings..."

"Yeah, he's sulking in my lab," Henry looked down at the gadget in his hands. "Made you this, though. It's a hand-light – better than a torch. Long as you're holding it, it'll keep shining."

Will took it and laid it in his palm. A few minutes later the silver ball started to glow. "That's quite cool. I'll put it in my 'tomb raiding' kit for the next time Helen decides to go on holiday."

"You know what else we picked up in South America... A Magoi – fully grown pain in the ass."

Will's face fell, a deep frown folding across his forehead. "Man, I hate those things. It's not still here..."

"Turned the SHU into a comfy nest," Henry cut in. "Full house. Seriously dude, we need to start having words with the boss about the type of creature she brings home. Vampires are okay but I draw the line at creepy telepathic ice creatures."

"Me too."

Will scratched his arm until it hurt.





Nikola had grown bored of picking through Henry's lab. Truthfully, there were only so many items he could break or sabotage before he got bored or felt guilty – which wasn't a familiar. Empathy – urgh, that was for humans not semi-immortal geniuses.

He wasn't allowed near either the vampire or the Magoi so he sulked his way back through the lofty corridors of the Sanctuary and inevitably ended up in Helen's office. He retired to her desk, strutting around to sit in her leather chair with a glass of scotch nested in one hand.

Sometimes he regretted signing this house over to Helen to settle a few bills. He was sure that he knew its secrets better than her – even down to the compartment hidden in the wall behind the desk. Nikola had his most treasured possessions five feet from Helen and yet she'd never even noticed.

"What were you doing in Old City?"

Nikola jumped at Helen's voice, spilling his scotch. "I – what?" She may not have adopted the claws or fangs, but Helen could sneak like the best of them.

Helen sat on her desk, eyeing Nkola suspiciously. "The night the sand creature attacked you in the subway... You said you didn't organise this situation but why were you in town? Last I heard you were in Moscow digging around in some old Cabal base. Strange co-incidence that you should be found lurking at my back door the very night a sand creature appears. Were you following me?"

Nikola set the scotch down. "No. I was following Ashley."

"Nikola!"

"Though you may not believe me, it was for her own good. When I heard where she was going I knew she was in trouble."

Helen's eyes were nearly as black as a vampire. She leaned forwards, curling her hands over Nikola's side of the desk, furious. "You knew that there were vampires sleeping in the desert?"

"One vampire and a den of diseased humans. Yes. I knew."

"And you didn't wake them? After all your crazy plots to revive your precious species..."

"Are you crazy? If you had spent even a moment on your history Helen, you would know the tale of the brothers."

"...Brothers?" she whispered, pulling back a fraction.

"Both destined to be Pharaoh, one conspired with humanity to take over the throne by dealing in Abnormals. The other led the last of the vampires out of Egypt towards the untamed North but he never made it. The vampires were slaughtered and he was entombed by his own brother for thousands of years. If released, his anger would set a rage upon the world. I want to rule the earth Helen – not tear it apart despite what you may think."

"How very noble of you."

"Whatever my intentions were," Nikola ignored the slight. "You've got a pissed off ancient vampire on the loose. I'd bet your entire wine cellar that he's headed here."

"Here?" Helen whispered.

"You have his brother and I for one don't want to be around when this ancient shit hits the fan."

Helen hung her head, her beautiful long hair falling over her face. "Bloody hell..." she whispered.

"Have you been following the reports out of the African Sanctuaries? There's something out there, in the desert. The locals call it, 'voices on the wind'. The vampire has hundreds of sand creatures. He's smart, arrogant and has nothing to lose. It's only a matter of time until he finds us."

"Dammit, Nikola... You saw how hard it was to take on the other vampire – and he was starving and weak."

"His brother will be feeding on every human he comes across. He'll be stronger than you can imagine."

Nikola stood suddenly, placing his hands gently over hers. Without warning he kissed her – only for a moment but it was soft and loving. His head tilting a fraction to push her gently backwards.

"N-Nikola..." Helen stammered, looking up at him from under thick lashes when he pulled back. He'd tasted of scotch and wine, with something of the storm in his lips.

"Don't say anything," he insisted, lingering for another moment – letting his cool lips tease hers. Then he walked away, leaving her in possession of the office.





"...no, no more reports since Thursday. The locals say the voices are gone and the sands have stilled. I'd bet they've made it as far as Europe by now..."

"Thank you," Helen replied, and set the phone down.

She brought up a map of Africa and marked the vampire's progress on the screen. If her reports were accurate, they were covering ground fast. It would only be so long before the ancient king worked out how to drive and fly. Helen rested her fingers over her lips. Her eyes closed.

"'Sup boss?" Henry wove through the piles of books and paper littering Helen's office, extending his electronic tablet to her. "Fresh off the wire, one of the Parisian Sanctuary scouts has returned. It's not good news..." he added, seeing her face fall as she started to read. "They've stumbled across a blood-bath in one of the illegal factories. Early reports indicate at least eighty workers with their throats torn out."

"God..." Helen trembled, handing it back to Henry. "Nikola was right about the bloodshed."

"We need to wake our vampire up."

"You honestly think he'll help us? We kidnapped him, if you remember. Vampires didn't rule the world because they had long fangs and a decent set of claws. They're smart, Henry."

"I don't think we have a choice. We just want to talk to him. If you think everything's going south, we'll knock him out again."

Helen shifted uncomfortably.





"This is the worst idea you've ever had..." Henry muttered to Helen.

They were both sitting above the interview room, hidden behind heavily tinted, one-way glass. The ancient vampire was tied to a chair with yards of silver chain that clinked softly every time he breathed.

The creature shifted uncomfortably against his restraints, looking at his chains with dark eyes. A few minutes later he glanced up and Henry's stomach turned with realisation that it already knew how to break free.

Nikola sat on the opposite side of the narrow table looking tense. He'd dreamed of questioning an ancient vampire for so long, asking it the secretes of the world – this was not what he had in mind. His eyes flicked to the silver chains. They looked little better than a rope around a tiger's neck.

"Welcome to the the 21ist century," Nikola purred, in an Ancient dialect of Egyptian. "Apologies for the chains."

The vampire took another strained breath. His frail physique was more obvious under the harsh light. Bone protruded from his skin, cutting dark shadows over his angular form. Ivory fangs rested against his jaw, one of them chipped badly at the edge. His complexion wasn't quite so ashen now Helen had been drip feeding him for several days. "There is no need, I speak your language fluently. You are not skilled in mine."

Nikola flinched.

"Helen..." Henry whispered warily.

"He'll be all right," Helen replied quickly. She hoped.

"Very well," Nikola answered evenly. "We know your history and your past relationship with humanity," he continued. "Your work establishing a sanctuary for abnormal and human creatures was noble."

"It did not end well..." the vampire cut in darkly.

"That was not your fault. Magoi are very powerful creatures, more ancient than you. Causing the destruction of others is how they exist. Your sanctuary died because you were unlucky enough to stumble across one."

That tempered the ancient vampire somewhat. "Am I to understand that you intend to let me go?"

"I would like to," Nikola replied, honestly. "We have our own Sanctuary networks indeed, this building is one of them. Your thousands of years of experience dealing with abnormals would be invaluable to us."

"You would have me a consort," the vampire eyed his distant descendent. "In return I presume I am not to feed from the residents."

"About that," Nikola set a crystal glass on the table and then started to pour silken, red wine into it. He nudged it toward the vampire – who was still chained and unable to accept the gift. "You have something to thank the humans for, they invented wine. I find it quite useful in curbing other cravings."

Above them, Helen rested her hand over her chest. It was tight and painful, the heartbeats in her head crashing against each other. She'd been taking light muscle relaxants to calm herself down but it wasn't enough.

The vampire was smiling.

"Why don't you ask me what you really want to know Nikola..."

Nikola sat back, alarmed by the red pits burning in the heart of the vampire's eyes. "I..."

"There's an army of half-lings on their way here with my brother at their bow."

"Can you stop them?"

The vampire shook his head. "No – but I can teach you how to find them."
On the Edge of the Abyss by ellymelly
18

ON THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS

KASHMIR, PENSI LA MOUNTAIN PASS

Blue rock, weathered and cracked, jutted out from under the ice. Nikola slipped, landing with a muffled thud in another drift of snow curled around a wandering boulder. Their immense, cockled forms dotted the ice like sentries keeping a watch over the frozen world.

"God dammit..." Tesla muttered, arms sinking into the freezing wet as he tried to push himself up. Helen backtracked, grabbed hold of his arm and tugged him free.

The hum of their helicopter faded as its tiny dot picked its way between a forest of mountain peaks, returning to base leaving them stranded on the narrow pass. Above, the skies were clear blue, arching in a perfect dome. Nikola tilted his gaze, watching the black dot move beyond his range.

Ahead, the full-blood vampire swept over the snow. He was tall, close to seven feet and slender. The creature barely made a dent in the rough terrain as he headed up the icy slope toward towering facades of cliff with their narrow pass nestled in the middle.

"This isn't what I had in mind, Helen," Nikola lingered for a moment, letting the vampire gain ground so they could talk privately.

"What else could I do? At least if he's out here, his murderous brother won't be drawn to my Sanctuary."

"True but if he is right, his brother and accompanying vampire fanboys have already reached these mountains – we could be walking into an army of invisible sand rats."

"He's closer," Helen agreed. "I can feel him. Nikola, I'm not sure how much longer I can go on like this – before I kill a vampire."

"...and I'd rather that wasn't me," he said quickly. "I know you've shot me several times, stabbed me once or twice but Helen – you've never truly wanted me dead. Not really..."

"That's what you think..." Their eyes locked. Nikola's lashes were full of snow and half his face hidden under a scarf. Helen's cheeks were wind-burned, flushing pink.

They were disturbed by Kavanaugh, who slid on the same icy patch as Nikola, stumbled and landed on Helen.

"Sorry," he mumbled, regaining his feet. "Chopper's clear, they didn't see anything on the ground. That's not saying much. Those creatures are probably camouflaged."

"No, in these conditions even sand creatures will need to be clothed. They're probably working their way through the fissures in the glacier," she replied.

Joe frowned at Helen, then glanced nervously at his feet. The thought of sand creatures crawling underfoot made his stomach lurch. "Yeah, that doesn't make me feel any better."

"We should catch up," Nikola nodded, the vampire was getting too far ahead of them again.

The Drang Drung glacier coiled behind them. They were heading away from it into deeper snow toward the next bank of cliffs. Half the time they fell to their hands and knees, skidding down steep slopes only to climb to the other side with ice picks – except for the vampire, who used his claws.

Nikola struggled the most with the cold, shivering so hard he lost grip on his ice pick several times before hauling himself onto the flat of a particularly sharp rise.

"You okay?" Joe asked, dusting snow off Nikola's ski gear.

"It's just the cold," he replied, sitting up and flexing his gloved hands. They were numb and sluggish.

"As the officially least genetically blessed member of this expedition, I'm the only one allowed to pass out in the snow," Joe insisted lightly, even managing to break a smile from the mongrel vampire. "Come on, your Magnus is looking this way."

"She's not my anything," he mumbled back, letting the detective haul him to his feet. "Please tell me it's not looking up at that cliff with intention of climbing it."

Joe kept in step with Nikola. The ancient vampire was eyeing the rock face with interest, pacing around in front of it – kneeling down and digging with his claws where its black rock vanished into the snow.

"Think he left his keys under the door?" Nikola quipped.

He wasn't far off. The vampire soon found what he was looking for. There was a flicker of brass against the black rock beneath the vampire's hand. He dug deeper, revealing an intricate spiral of inlaid metal that resembled a Pharaoh's seal.

"We're not idly wandering in search of your brother, are we?" Helen narrowed her eyes, using the same tone often used to scorn Nikola – except it didn't work on this vampire. He was focused on inserting his claws into a series of tiny holes, sinking them in until he heard a soft click. "What are you doing?" she insisted.

"The mines run deep in these mountains," the vampire's silken voice replied. He stood back, motioning for the rest of the group to do the same as a large section of the cliff started to shift. "They've not been opened for many aeons but if my brother is making passage, it will be through here."

"God, what is it with vampires and caves?" Helen hung her head. Just when she thought she'd seen the last of tunnels...

Nikola didn't look too pleased either, gawking at the vast oblivion where the rock had opened. It was only a crack six feet wide but the fissure ran nearly eighty above their heads.

Joe clicked on his helmet light. "What are we waiting for?" he asked. "Let's go caving."

The cave door crashed shut behind them. Joe's headlight revealed the way ahead to be a rough-cut supply route with dangerous cleaves of rock hanging from the roof, looming above them like Damocles' swords.

Nikola and Helen clicked on their torches, shedding more light on the uninviting terrain of cracked, ice-damaged pavers placed there by the vampires. There were chariot markings in the stone but it was impassable except on foot.

"Where do these lead?" Nikola asked.

The vampire turned, his long fangs glinting in the torchlight. His eyes were blacker, his bony frame suddenly imposing. "Manly places – the ground beneath your feet is hollow. There are thousands of networks like this and only some of them are vampire in origin." The next part was in an ancient vampire language which only Nikola seemed to understand.

"You think this is how your brother is passing through the modern world undetected?" Helen whispered, when it was clear Nikola would not offer a translation.

"It is his natural way to travel. All young princes lean the trade route – he will not have forgotten."

It was just as cold down here and after several hours delving deeper into the caves, the group had to stop for a rest. They were in a severely damaged area with the track broken by large pieces of rock and ice that had bled down through fissures above and frozen into eerie claws of blue ice.

Joe staked out the vampire, hovering around him asking questions despite his ever-increasing probability of ending up a snack. Helen and Nikola sat opposite each other, sipping water.

"Helen, seriously – what are our chances of actually pulling this off – if and I stress if – we are able to find this vampire?"

She threw her backpack at him. It landed against his chest, making Nikola groan and frown, rustling through it for the blood-packs Helen kept in there. He took two before handing everything back to her.

"Bit worried, Ms Magnus?"

"Nikola... your complexion has been competing with the snow for some time now. You have to eat."

"It's the cold," he replied softly, flexing his fingers inside the gloves. "It doesn't agree with me at all."

"It used to. You have a beautiful home in the snow-covered mountains."

"Had..." a long time ago. He pulled his knees up to his chest, fending off the cold air. "Maybe I'm finally getting old."

She whacked him. "And what does that make me?"

"Ancient..."

Helen glared at him but her eyes were shining. "Have a thing for older women, do you?" she teased in her very best English accent.

Nikola laughed softly – a slight curl of his lip into a smile as he lowered his gaze, dragging his over Helen. She was only four years older than him. "Next time you bring home a dangerous pet, Helen – can you try to make it something from a tropical island?"

"If this is part of your long standing plot to see me in a bikini..."

"Always, my dear – Detective Kavanaugh... Still alive?"

The detective wandered over to them, kneeling down onto the rock. "I don't think this vampire's on the level," he warned. The three of them all glanced over, watching the vampire rest against a boulder on the far side of the passage. "What did you promise him?"

"A life in the modern world, work as an advisor to the sanctuary network and the ability to continue his work studying abnormal species."

"Not enough," Nikola purred.

Joe observed them. "Any intention of letting me into whatever this plan of yours is? No... Well, give me a heads up, will ya if my head's in danger."

"Maybe," Nikola grinned. He paused and turned suddenly, looking down into the depths of the passage, listening intently. The other vampire was doing the same, rigid and focused. Helen put her hand on her chest, feeling her heart stop for a moment – then start with a rush.

"He's here..." Helen whispered.

John Druitt lowered his large frame into the chair. Opposite, his daughter lingered by the window, keeping guard over her mother's sanctuary. Her blond hair was dirty, pulled back into a half-arsed pony tail. This was the other side of Ashley Magnus – the business side which was slowly starting to emerge.

"You wanted to see me," he announced his presence when she did not acknowledge it.

Ashley walked towards him, carrying a small, leather journal in her hand that had once belonged to her grandfather. It was laid on the desk with a soft, accusing thud. John's gaze settled on it and he knew why he'd been called.

"My grandfather died more than a hundred years ago – but for me, it was a month ago... I found this." Ashley showed him a slender oak box. She opened it to reveal the pistol which had killed her grandfather. "Mum kept it."

He didn't say anything.

"Why did you take me there?" she hissed darkly, all the pain and darkness in her eyes. "I ruined mum's life and for what – this journal? Tesla knew where the Sanctuary of the Moon was anyway. I didn't need this!"

"It wasn't - about - you," John replied. "It was about your mother. She needed to be set free."

"You're even more twisted than she described," Ashley spat, sitting back against her chair, eyeing the person she shared half her DNA with. "What's in it for you?"

"Do not attempt to understand me," he replied, soft and slow. "I thought you had a Magoi to babysit?"

"It's secure, although I was thinking perhaps I should have left you in the SHU."

He chuckled. "My second home."

"Tempt me – and I might just tell mum what happened."

"Tell her," he replied, unafraid. "You won't... because you know she'll look at you as she looks at me. It's our little secret."

Henry stood in front of the large tank in the creature enclosure. It was an enormous wall of glass that towered three stories to the roof. It had pebbles at the bottom and twisted clusters of seaweed nearly as long as the tank was high.

"Afternoon precious," Henry whispered, placing his hand on the glass as the silvery form of the mermaid shimmered closer. "Miss me, eh? Knew you had a soft heart underneath all that cold scale."

She didn't seem offended, tilting her head curiously at him as she always did. The mermaid cast her eyes down to the floor, indicating the Magoi locked up several floors beneath. She was a telepathic creature and its presence, even sleeping, was of grave concern.

"Yeah, I know – not much I can do about that."

The mermaid swam down further so that she was level with Henry. She twisted some of the seaweed in her bony fingers, clearly upset.

"I'm sorry," he insisted, as she grew more distressed. "I'll go check on it soon – promise. Hey," he looked at her more brightly, "I should change that water filter for you. Fancy a swim?"

"How many?" Joe breathed.

Tesla listened again. "Many..." he whispered. "I can hear them scratching over the rock but they're a lot deeper."

"Several levels beneath."

"Jesus!" Joe jumped, when the ancient vampire appeared behind his shoulder without a sound.

"Come on," it continued, beckoning them with a sharp claw. "Let's go welcome them to the new age."

They reached a vertical shaft. Like a well it ran deep into the mountain allowing air in to all the levels. Looking up, they could see the tiny prick of light where it was open to the world at the uppermost point of the peak. Tiny flurries of snow drifted through the air, falling away into the abyss.

Even Joe's human ears could hear the sound of claws in the darkness.

They didn't speak, taking the side track through treacherous black ice and loose rock less than a foot wide. Joe and Helen kept their hands on the wall, clinging onto jagged outcrops when their feet failed to find solid ground. The vampires fared better with even Nikola resorting to claws.

Louder... The scratching had its own echo now.

There was a soft, white glow coming off the rocks where a fluorescent moss followed fresh water fissures. It was enough that they could turn off their torches for a while.

A wave of the vampire's hand brought everyone to a stop. Something moved in the corridor ahead, shuffling out of sight around a corner. The vampire went first, undetectable as he crept up to a large boulder blocking the way. Helen, Nikola and Joe were not far behind, each with a gun loaded and drawn in wait.

They didn't need them.

The vampire returned with a small cave mouse, dangling by its tale. It squeaked angrily until it was dropped and allowed to scurry off.

Deeper again... but soon they were far enough inside the caves that neither ice nor life bothered to linger. It was just cold rock and they were forced to turn their torches on.

"They'll see us coming a mile off," Joe whispered to Helen.
Throat of Thoth by ellymelly
19

THROAT OF THOTH

Helen slipped.

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.
Dead Walking by ellymelly
20

DEAD WALKING

The three figures were positively tiny against the arching throat of the granite tunnel. From above, the floor of the cavernous expanse had appeared smooth but now they were properly acquainted with the a deluge of rubble collected in its throat over the millennia.

Boulders, sand and carpets of deep, thousand year old moss made the passage difficult to scale. The challenging terrain was interrupted by sheets of melted iron which sliced into the bedrock like growths of coral. If the vampire's brother and his legion of sand creatures were down here, they would have a hell of a time picking them out from the forest of rock.

Tesla eyed the chunks of iron warily. He knew what they were – fragments of a large meteor either naturally laid to rest or more likely dragged into the depths of a mountain for a reason. Forget treasure, the unassuming lumps of metal were worth a fortune on their own. Helen saw that look on his face and rolled her eyes. Ever the vampire.

Nobody spoke. Their torches were off, guided instead by their hands and feet scrambling for purchase on the rock. Helen struggled with her injured hand while her heart thrashed against her chest inducing a nerve-crunching headache. Three vampires – it was too much for a solitary Immortal to bear.

"Breathe..." Nikola murmured cautiously, climbing beside her.

She nodded but her mind was a writhing mess. At least one vampire had to die and soon. In the past hour she'd twice found her hand on the Browning in her belt. Its cold shaft could easily pick off one of the vampires next to her.

Nikola kept searching the walls and tunnel ahead for movement. A hundred or more sand creatures were somewhere nearby. He could smell their filthy, diseased bodies. The other vampire had his nose tilted to the air as well. They were close.

Tesla stared at the next rise of flat-topped boulders. The dim glow of the moss was unbroken over the polished surface. He shook his frozen hands, trying to get them to work properly. Where the hell were they?

To Nikola's left, the full-blood stopped. He was half a metre above, clutching at a particularly gnarled slab of meteorite, peering ahead. Something had caused him to hesitate. Nikola climbed up, perching on a smaller outcrop of rock.

"Well shit!" Nikola barely whispered, instinctively curling his claws into the rock for a firmer grip.

The ground flattened out ahead into a bed of river stones. Several hundred metres along this expanse was a figure silhouetted in the faint light. It was the vampire. There was no mistaking its towering form held so rigid it could have been part of the rock. Its arms were out at its sides, claws extended like sets of carving knives. The vampire's head fall back, tilting up at ceiling in prayer. A faint glimmer reflected off his two sets of fangs.

This vampire was not slender like the rescued vampire beside Nikola. He was a warrior. His broad shoulders were made for swinging swords and riding chariots. He'd found his old armour too – Nikola could see smooth, scale-like segments woven together over his shoulders with heavy links of metal.

A small stream of dust and pebbles rained down on Helen as she joined the two vampires. No – three, she realised, seeing the figure looming ahead. Her eyes dilated into large, black pits. This was her prey – her purpose. Instinct demanded she kill the strongest of the vampires to restore the balance and by a long way, this creature was it.

"What's it doing?" Nikola asked.

"Waiting," the vampire replied, calmly.

The brother in the distance lifted its head and slowly turned. Nikola could hear the rustle of its cloak and the thud of the leather boots against stone. It faced them, a pair of blood-red eyes glowing in the dark.

The Magoi screeched. Above, the mermaid thrashed in her tank, beating her firsts against the glass as the sound tore through her delicate telepathic link. She couldn't take it. Desperately, she clawed at her body ripping bloody lines down her arms and face.

Alarms blared. Heavy, automatic fire doors started to descend over the enclosures. One by one they vanished behind impenetrable grey walls. Will rolled out from underneath one moments before it crunched into the concrete.

"What the hell is going on?" he coughed the dust out of his lungs.

Henry was by the mermaid's tank, hurriedly feeding a sedative into the water. It took on a purple tinge, the mermaid jolting a few more times before her eyes closed and she drifted into sleep, sinking to the bottom of the tank. "Buggered if I know. The whole place is shutting down. Where's Biggie?"

"Feeding the birds, last I saw."

The pterodactyls whooped about the enclosure, gnashing their teeth at the emergency lights flashing along the ceiling. Cloned during one of Helen's more en-vogue phases, they flapped wildly over the sasquatch. He batted them away with a furry paw, making his way to the door. He closed the iron gates just as one of the creatures landed, curling its talons around the bars inches from his face.

"Told you 'id be troubl', didn' I?" Bigfoot grumbled, when the other two caught up to him.

"You don't think it's the Magoi – surely?" Will asked.

"Aw man that is not going to go down well with Ash," Henry added, shaking his head. "She wanted to shoot that thing moment we found it."

They all made their way through the sanctuary, clearing one security gate at a time.

"Where is she, anyway?"

"Probably down there with the damn Magoi," Henry replied to Will. "It'll take more than some fancy mind tricks to stop her putting a bullet through its camouflaged ass this time."

But Ashley wasn't down with the Magoi. She wasn't anywhere to be found and Druitt was not help. He'd been broadening his knowledge of the library all afternoon. Or so he claimed.

"Shut it up for Christ's sakes!" Will had his arms over his ears, staring at the glass enclosure with the shrieking creature.

"Screaming at the tech is not helping!" Henry spat back, both simultaneously trying to shield his ears and poke buttons on the computer board. The sirens abated first and then finally a thick smoke filled the Magoi's glass cage. Eventually the screaming stopped followed by a thud as it hit the floor, mercifully unconscious. Henry wiped his brow. "Blood-y-hell!"

They assembled in front of the cage, waiting for the smoke to clear.

"I wonder what that was all about..." Will said.

Bigfoot huffed. "Nothin' good."

There was no point hiding in the shadows. All three of them picked their way over the river stones, inching closer to the waiting vampire general. He was shrouded in darkness, an outline accentuated by glistening claws and two red points where his eyes should be. Nikola's eyes had never been red so either it was a 'full-blood' thing or a sign of a well fed vampire. Either way, it wasn't good.

Their vampire took the lead, striding up towards his brother. The two had not met since before the great killings. It was almost yesterday for one – aeons for the other.

As they grew closer, Nikola was awed by how young the larger brother, General Apries looked. No more than thirty, even with silver scars running across his bare arms, crossing bulging veins swollen by fresh blood.

'Brother... you look – well,' Apries sneered at his elder looking sibling. He spoke the ancient tongue of which Nikola only understood a little. 'I knew you collected things but this -' his red eyes wandered over the woman, '-is a jewel in that crown of thorns you call a home.'

It was a frosty reception but so far free of blood.

"What's he saying?" Helen leaned close to Nikola, not liking the way the vampire gazed at her.

He shook his head. "Nothing good – something about a crown and collecting things. I presume he means us."

"Not quite what we'd agreed."

"Indeed," he purred, flexing his fingers as if preparing to shift.

There was a drawn out silence until Apries continued. 'When I heard you in my head, I admit I was surprised.'

'These people have a creature,' the vampire explained. 'Its powers amplify our telepathy, to what end, I am unsure.'

Helen whacked Nikola in the side but he shook his head. "I don't know what's going on!"

The brother's considered each other, Apries speaking again. 'Immortals are still in the world, I guess that was to be expected. Do you know how many?'

'This is the only one I've seen.'

'She must know the key to Hollow Earth. An Immortal can always move between the worlds.' His sharp claws dripped with the moisture in the cave. More flurries of dust rained down as though the whole tunnel were unsteady.

Nikola stiffened, glancing at Helen. "I think they're talking about you."

"We should really run," she took a step backward but the ancient vampire snapped out of reality in a crack of thunder. A purple glow lit the cave, flaring again as Apries appeared, arm outstretched, claws inches from Helen's throat. She startled, stumbling over the river stones.

The vampire could smell her glorious blood – feel it pounding around her body, thumping faster and faster. Such torment. Such bliss. His claws uncurled toward her throat wantonly before he withdrew his hand. She was poison. A rose amongst a bed of thorns.

She was also young, too young to kill him.

The corner of the vampire's lip curled up when he heard the half-ling growl protectively.

"Curious," Apries spoke, this time in heavily accented English. He had not the centuries of practice of his brother. "Is it like this for you too? How can you stand it..."

Nikola did not answer him.

Amasis, still standing beside Tesla, raised his hand. "Careful brother."

Apries hesitated, red eyes locked on him. It happened so fast. He reached forward, wrapping his hand around Helen's throat and yanking her away from Tesla. Apries held her close, claws biting into her skin. Helen raised her gun but it was knocked easily from her gloved hands.

"Let her go!" Nikola fumbled for his gun, levelling it at the General. He looked over his shoulder to the other vampire but hit was impossible to tell which side he was playing. "I said put her down!" Nikola repeated, inching closer.

The vampire drew away from him. "By all means, continue if you want her throat ripped out."

Nikola stopped.

Another column of dust fell between them. Helen's frightened gaze flicked between Nikola and the vampire they'd brought along. Would he honour their bargain?

"Amasis, you bastard, come on!" Nikola hissed at the vampire beside him.

"Swear on her life, Mongrel..." Amasis replied, dark eyes darting to Nikola.

"I swear, I fucking swear!"

The general's confidence faltered. Was he betrayed twice by his brother? The answer was 'yes' he realised, as Amasis lunged toward him. Apries tossed the immortal to the side, ducking out of his brother's clawed swipe. He rolled and cut a blow upwards, landing it in the vampire's chest. Then another, harder this time. "If you want me this time, you'll have to do the work yourself!" growled Apries.

Nikola dragged Helen as far as he could, helping her sit. "Come on Helen, shake it off," he begged. He could hear the vampires trading blows behind them and it was already clear that Apries had the upper hand. Which didn't bode particularly well for them.

Helen shoved Nikola and grabbed the Browning, slipping the safety off. "We have to keep them busy," she hissed, using a nearby boulder to help her stand. "There's still an army down here."

"That's what's troubling me," Nikola replied, peering at the dark tunnel. It was too immense to pick anything but the largest features out. He clicked on his torch, shining it up toward the roof but it couldn't penetrate fifty feet. "Shit!"

Ahead, General Apries thrust his clawed hand into his brother's side, clothes tearing and growls erupting from Amasis who pushed him off angrily and followed with a crack of lightning arcing off his cloak. The General dodged it, hissing and brandishing his fangs.

'Two thousand years and you still want me dead? Wasn't my suffering enough!' Amasis stumbled back to avoid his brother's knife-like claws. Apries kept coming, hatred burning through his red eyes. 'You turned on your own kind – sided with the Cabal...'

Amasis shook his head, holding his bloodied arm as it healed. The vestiges of youth were draining from his face as he tried to heal. 'They were never meant to win,' he insisted.

'You were playing the humans and you lost.' Apries stopped for a moment, his claws held up in a moment of peace. 'It is not too late to turn the tide against them. Join me. I'm going to rebuild our father's empire.'

Amasis turned to look at the half-ling and Immortal scrambling back toward them, their tiny, fragile figures paling in comparison to the mighty, vampire built tunnel around them. Vampires were empire builders, preservers of the world's knowledge. Imagine what they could do if they had another chance. 'I want to – but...' He looked nervously at the darkness.

'What – Amasis?' the general demanded.

'Kill the half-breed – I'll find you again, I swear.' Amasis had just enough strength left in him to leave the world in an almighty crack of purple lightning. The sound boomed around the cavern, shifting a rain of dust from above. He was gone, leaving Apries hissing in shock.

"Bloody hell..." Helen gasped, finding herself and Nikola the focus of the General's attention.

The General didn't come for her. In a shadow of claw and fang, it wrapped its hand around Tesla and threw him through the tunnel. He bounced like a rag doll over the stones, his gun flying off into the darkness.

"Nikola!" Helen shrieked, firing off three rounds into the vampire. They clinked harmlessly off his armour.

Nikola rolled onto his back, gasping as his lungs fought for air. He titled his head away from a column of dust. He could have sworn he saw something move against the darkness above. There wasn't time to find out what as the general threw a large rock at him. The iron hit Nikola in the chest, breaking one of his rips.

He rolled over, spitting blood onto the stones. Nikola rolled out of the way in time to avoid another rock, smashing into the ground where he had been. He heard a shot from Helen's gun and a whistle of air as it sailed passed the vampire and missed his shoulder by inches. "Careful!"

Nikola stumbled to his feet then ducked, claws slicing the air above his head. Instinct lunged him forward, his firsts laying two heavy hits into the general's stomach between the armour plates. A casual swat from the ancient vampire's arm sent Nikola flying off toward the wall. Instead of hitting the unforgiving rock, Tesla landed in a mass of bony limbs that writhed beneath him.

"Oh god..." he whispered, as he found himself amidst a mass of sand creatures who sank back into the tunnel like a wave receding from the shore. There were thousands of them, waiting patiently to be called by their master.

His stomach turned in terror but it was too late, Apries had hold of his ankle, dragging him back into the centre of the tunnel.

"Now tell me, half-ling," Apries growled against the side of Nikola's face, his fangs cutting deeply into Nikola's neck and shoulder. "Why've you got the Immortal, hmm?"

Nikola stumbled, unable to hold his own weight on his broken ankle. It burned painfully as the vampire held up steady. "She's a hell of a looker..." he managed, blood running down the edge of his lip.

The vampire shook Tesla roughly, another crack of bone coming from his leg. "Can she open the door?!" he demanded violently.

"The – what are you talking about?" Nikola replied, in genuine confusion.

Apries dropped him onto the sharp rock then yanked him back to his feet and started dragging him down the tunnel. Tesla struggled, leaving a smear of blood over the stones.

Helen followed, picking her way along in the darkness. She could hear the sand creatures now, clawing over the walls and ceiling, dislodging dust as they moved. They didn't seem interested in her, creeping after their master instead.
Rivers in the Snow by ellymelly
Author's Notes:
I don't know if any of your guys are still reading this - the Sanctuary fandom is very quiet of late - but I still love pretending that the sanctuary crew are off having adventures.
21

RIVERS IN THE SNOW

Blood tumbled in rivers over the snow, freezing before the bodies at their source could die. One man blinked away a stray snowflake, its crystal form catching in his eyelashes. His fingers twitched against the ground, leather rasping against the snow and then went still. The black cliffs hung behind him, a demonic curtain of rock and ice framing the horror with a stark blue sky beyond.

Ashley pushed herself off the snow, groaning as pain ebbed from her bloodied arm. She inspected the trio of claw marks torn through her hiking gear, the force of which had sent her flying down into the soft snow behind some stray boulders. Her blood was still smeared on the nearest one where she'd clipped it with her head.

Staggering through a knee-deep drift, Ashley surveyed the remains of her rescue team. Even from this distance she could tell that all sixteen were dead, strewn over the area in various states of dismemberment with smears of carnage between them. Bullet casing littered the ground, gleaming like a bed of stars under the harsh sun.

The vampire had appeared from nowhere in a crack of purple light, electricity spewing forth in angry shrieks of thunder triggering micro avalanches. The rest was a haze but Ashley remembered seeing him feed from several of the team, stooping over their dying bodies with claws and fangs dripping red. The bloodshed was confirmed as she reached the top of the glacier and the bodies of her friends.

"Oh god... Williams," Ashley whispered, kneeling beside a middle-aged man. She'd been on many missions with him, including her first through the swamps of Eastern Europe when she was still a child. "You were right – I'm sorry. Mum's gonna be so mad but I couldn't let her go into the mountains with two vampires and a cop as cover, no chance in hell..." Her gloved hand brushed his eyes closed.

She peeled open one of the first aid kits, wrapping the cuts on her arm. Frostbite could start fast and she was no good to anyone if she let it cripple her. Ashley sighed, holding her bandaged arm for a moment then picked up one of the radios and tapped it. Nothing. A gargle of static. She swore and delved deeper into the bag. There was a locator beacon inside which she slipped into her jacket. There was already enough weaponry concealed in her combat clothes to take on a small army to which she added a flare and stun grenade.

"Right, vampires – here we go," she whispered, boots crunching against the snow. "Just like old times."

Her dead friend seemed to smile at her as she trekked toward the cliffs.

As the minutes passed, Nikola could feel his body healing. Bones were knitting together, blood welling up and drying on his skin – torn muscles numbing. The ancient vampire sneered, taking care to shove Nikola roughly against the rock wall every now and then, breaking something new.

Tesla groaned softly as a fresh stream of blood ran down the side of his head. He was a scientist, not a warrior. Though it pained his ego to admit, he knew very well that he didn't stand a chance against Apries.

"No-" he protested weakly, covering his face just before he was thrust into the rock again. It cut through his hands and arms, shredding what was left of his sleeve and adding a bloody tear along his forearm.

There was water under their feet. Nikola could feel it biting at his ankles. There was something else too – snow – it was wafting through the air, gently colliding with his cheeks. How could it be snowing?

He didn't know how long they walked for but eventually the General came to a stop. Nikola opened his eyes. The first thing he saw were two beacons of fire erupting from the floor, burning in spirals of flame and wind. The base of its jets electric blue where it was feeding off natural gas locked in the rock. The heat from the enormous pillars of fire banished any hint of ice from the rock around them, scorched off the moss and left a sooty residue over the enormous door looming beyond as though it were the passage to hell itself.

Between the two flames lay the famous granite door built to a monstrous scale. Houses could have skimmed through its breadth with room to spare. Deep grooves and a large flat landing suggested that it was designed to open towards them but nothing had shifted its weight in tens of thousands of years.

It was not ornate. Instead, simple inscriptions were scored into the gleaming black surface read, 'Immortal Lands' in a language few could still read.

The door.

"I don't understand," Nikola whispered, when Apries held him close, pressing one of his sharp claws to Nikola's fragile neck. He reached up, weakly gripping the General's arm. "I know nothing of this – I swear." Nikola was still taking in the shocking find. It was beyond anything he'd ever imagined finding buried under the earth. Its gleaming symbols meant nothing to him.

"I believe you," Apries hissed. His army of sand creatures shivered against the walls and ceiling, waiting, hungry. "The woman you're with -"

"Helen?"

"Yes... She knows how to open the door and if she wants you back in one piece, she's going to open it for me. Isn't that right?" He lifted his voice, addressing the tunnel.

Helen's response was another bullet, sheering off a nearby rock making the vampire laugh. The vampire curled the edge of his lip. "Immortals – always so testy."

Nikola tried to pick her out against the rock. He could feel her – that rapid patter of her heart and the sound of her breath catching. She was there. "Don't listen to him," he managed. If this vampire desperately wanted what was behind this door then opening it was a very bad idea. "You hear me? Guh..." He gasped for air as the vampire thrust three of his claws through Nikola's back and out his chest. There was a gurgle from Nikola's mouth as blood welled up his throat and dripped from his lips.

"Stop it!" A very angry, British voice bellowed from the cave. Helen Magnus strolled out of the shadows, gun in hand. Her eyes were like steel, fixed on Apries. "Leave him alone."

"Do you know what happens when you bleed a vampire dry?" Apries dragged his claws a few inches through Nikola drawing out a gargled screech from him. Helen could hear his blood dripping down onto the rock – his heart starting to fail. "It's a very slow death," he continued. "Losing your mind, drip by drip until insatiable hunger takes hold."

Helen watched as Nikola's head lulled back into unconsciousness.

"I know that you have to kill a vampire today – all of that, 'restoring the balance' shit that you Immortals have been peddling since the sun first rose but it doesn't have to be me." Apries withdrew his claws and let Nikola fall to the ground in a damaged heap against one of the boulders. "Or him, as I see you are quite fond of the mongrel."

"Then who – Amasis?" she sneered. "He is long gone," Helen did not lower her gun but she was running out of shots. She doubted the silver tipped rounds were enough to kill him.

"I can bring you my brother," Apries walked past Nikola's body without so much as a glance. "I'll even do it for you, for old time's sake. I had a age to think things over in my tomb. Genetic memory is a powerful thing, Immortal," he reached out to brush his claws over the stone door. "I searched mine, for hundreds of years until it started to unlock... The things I saw – glimpses of what lays beyond this door."

Helen frowned, risking a cautious step closer. She resisted the urge to look at the sea of sand creatures churning around the walls and ceiling. They made their presence known by a constant rain of dust. "You weren't coming for my Sanctuary?"

The vampire laughed, turning. He lounged back against the cold, rock of the door. "Did you really think that my first port of call after thousands of years imprisonment would be revenge?"

Helen was silent.

He shook his head. "Disappointing... There are much grander prizes than retribution." Apries tapped his claws against the granite. "Can you read it?"

Helen lifted her gaze to the symbols cut into the door. She'd never seen the language before but her mind instantly translated. The flicker or recognition in her eyes was enough for Apries.

"Good. Now, if you'd be so kind – how do I open it?"

Helen shook her head. "I have no idea."

Slowly, the vampire stalked over to Nikola's body, stepping on his neck – pressing down with his sandle until another moan escaped Nikola. "Answer carefully, Magnus."

"Werewolves in a hole – what happened to you?" Ashley sat down beside Detective Joe Kavanaugh. "You look like you got bit by a vampire."

Joe, deathly pale, rested against the tunnel wall, gulping down half a bottle of water before he replied. "I did. Your mother forgot to mention I was a walking snack."

Ashley flinched. "Sorry. Mum does things like that."

"Clearly," he pointed at the angry fang marks on his neck.

She rested her hand on his shoulder. Ashley didn't know Joe particularly well but he seemed like a nice enough guy and so far he'd handled the onslaught of the Abnormal world much better than any of the other institutional forces she'd come across. Maybe he might consider working for them one day. "When was the last time you saw them?"

"Half a day ago?" he guessed. "That bloody ancient pain in the neck looks a lot younger now he's freshly fed."

"Yeah," she agreed. "He tore through our guys up top no trouble. No wonder mum won't let Tesla feed."

"Something's gone wrong. Amasis was on our side far as I could tell." Joe had a terrible feeling that they'd find Magnus and Tesla's bodies deeper in the caves.

A veil of dust fell over Helen, the sand creatures above shifting restlessly.

"Stop it... or I won't tell you shit, Apries," she scowled. "Thank you," Helen watched Apries back away from Tesla. There was just one gaping problem in Helen's plan – she didn't have the faintest clue how to open the door. She surveyed the enormous slab of rock, shining her torch up its facade. The surface of the stone was unnaturally smooth, certainly polished by hand and then set into place. The slab beneath Apries and Tesla was equally worked, almost like parts of a machine. Hell – what she really needed was Nikola. He was the engineer.

Apries narrowed his blue eyes at her. "What?"

"The secret of the door was lost long ago," she lied casually. "Yes, I can read the language but I need Tesla," her hand waved at the vampire, "to help open it."

Those blue eyes went black. "The mongrel?" he spat. She nodded. Apries snarled something untoward.

Helen nodded, her eyes betraying nothing this time. "Didn't you wonder why an Immortal would allow a vampire to live?" she let the revelation hang in the air until it stuck. "Now you know. You're not the only one trying to open this door, vampire."

Apries picked Tesla up by the back of his jacket like a kitten. He glowered at the barely conscious half-breed. "That true?"

Nikola had just enough presence of mind to nod weakly.

"Still nothing," Joe slipped the radio back into his pocket. "We're not officially missing for another two days."

"I'm not missing for three – I was supposed to be your backup."

"Well, thanks, I guess."

Ashley lofted her eyebrow at him. "I heard about your dad, by the way. Now I know why you were always hanging around the gates while I was growing up." They were nearly the same age – Joe three years her senior.

"It's why I became a detective in the first place. There is some seriously weird shit going down in Old City but most of the Force keeps their eyes closed. They don't want to know what's really going on. Or they've been told not to look. I'm not sure which."

The corner of her lip curled up in a smile. "You know, if we both manage to live through this perhaps we could help each other out a bit. You drop me a few hints – I reel in the abnormals. Lower body count all round."

"Let's live through this first," he managed a proper smile, a bit of colour returning to his skin now. "Now, if you really are my back up, you better give me a hand."

Nikola was sitting against one of the polished rocks in front of the door indulging his obsessive compulsive behaviour. He was using a shred torn from his jacket to wipe away as much dried blood from his face as possible but the rag was filthy, merely spreading charcoal across his flesh. Most of his bones were mended even if the pain hadn't subsided. Still, he was in a black mood, scowling at the other vampire.

It was still snowing, tiny crystals wafting through the Throat of Thoth. He realised now that it was the constant stream of snow which caused the water to collected in the tunnel's floor.

"All right Nikola, enough now," Helen whispered, standing a few feet from him. Her gun was back in its holster and Apries paced around the door, lost in thought with his army of sand creatures hissing in the cave behind.

"This is not going well," Tesla pointed out, tossing the rag away.

"Like all of your evil plans go smoothly," she automatically snapped back.

"Usually they do – until you drop by and start unravelling them."

"Really Nikola, can we focus on the task at hand?"

He surveyed the door, polished stones and breadth of the tunnel behind. Despite his reservations, Nikola couldn't stop his mind from attempting the puzzle at hand. "I'm not sure it's something I should be setting my mind to."

"It's that or he kills us," Helen whispered.

"He's going to do that anyway. Come on Helen, you know how this goes. We help the bad guys get what they want – they return their gratitude with a few well placed bullets, or in this case fang marks. Ow!"

She'd swatted him over the head, messing up his hair. "Focus!"

"Focussing..." he sighed, using the rock to help him to his feet. Several of his bones cracked back into place. He dusted off his tattered clothes and strutted up to the door. Apries narrowed his eyes at the mongrel. Such half-bred creatures were forbidden under his father's rule.

Nikola had spent his whole adult life trying to meet a full blood vampire but the reality was rather underwhelming. "It's not vampire in origin," Nikola started, touching the cold stone. There was a faint current of electricity almost like a pulse coursing through the veins of imperfection. "Nor is it from Hollow Earth."

Nikola looked over his shoulder at Helen. For the first time he saw her for the creature that she was. An Immortal. A different race entirely. A race with a past lost beneath the world – all but erased from it.

Helen shifted uncomfortably under his gaze. "What?"

He smirked. "Nothing, Ms Magnus..." His smile was stolen when he saw some of the sand creatures' eyes peering out from the darkness at him. Nikola cleared his throat. Focus, he reminded himself before Helen could hit him again.

Whatever the answer was, it wasn't on the door itself, so Nikola walked away – right away, down the steps and back into the tunnel of river stones.

"Where the hell is it going?" Apries growled.

"Patience," Helen insisted. "Let him go. This is what he does."
Immortal by ellymelly
22

IMMORTAL

The ground shook. Ashley and Joe stumbled, lunging for the rough wall opposite as rock and dust consumed them from above. The stones beneath their feet bounced like popcorn, wildly smashing against their ankles. Joe yelped, boot rolling – pitching him sharply to one side.

"Quick!" Ashley grabbed Joe by the sleeve of his jacket, pulling him into a cramped alcove several feet above the floor. They sandwiched themselves into it, staying above most of the debris.

Cracks tore through the volcanic bedrock with a thunderous boom. Water gushed out through the fresh fissures and froze into jagged outcrops of ice. The daggers sheered off instantly joining the rubble on the floor.

"The whole place is coming down!" Joe squeezed himself deeper into the alcove to avoid a freezing spray of glacier water.

Nikola held his hands up innocently.

"It wasn't me!" he insisted, despite the dubious glares from both Helen and Apries.

The earthquake may have subsided but the passageway was not left unscathed. The Throat of Thoth continued to rumble overhead, boulders the size of cars slamming into the floor making Helen glance warily up the the ceiling. Eventually they stopped falling and she resumed her glare.

"At least not on purpose," Nikola amended, shifting under Helen's sharp gaze. That woman terrified him far more than the brooding vampire.

"Idiot!" the vampire raged. "You nearly brought the entire mountain down on our heads," Apries looked flustered, his claws covered in an unappealing film of dust. His sand creatures were crawling around in a daze on the floor, licking their wounds or dragging themselves out form the rubble. Some had been swatted like flies beneath falling boulders, their innards dragged over the stone. Agonised screeches suggested some were still alive.

"Hey it was a guess," Nikola's ego out-stripped his instinctual fear of the general. "And a darn sight better than anything you've come up with so far. It was a result, perhaps not a particularly desirable one but..."

"If you're going to tell me this is like your earthquake machine," Helen joined into the chorus of disapproval, "I'm going to shoot you in the leg just like New York!"

"Aw come on... that was only one iddy-bitty city block. They barely noticed!"

"So help me Nikola!" Helen glowered, hair full of bits of cave.

When he first entered the tunnel, Nikola had noticed that the smooth boulders positioned in a semi-circle in front of the door were not granite. Despite the dull gleam of their polished surfaces, they were carved out of meteorite which in its own right was an incredible technical feat by the ancient builders. Nikola was beginning to hatch a theory that all the meteorite fragments passed on the way in were also deliberately placed – even if they hadn't been tidied up to look pretty.

There was something special about this outer space corpse. Nikola didn't claim to be a professor of geology but the magnetic and electric fields on the surface were odd. On closer inspection of the giant door he discovered the imperfections running through the granite to be the remains of the asteroid. It was probably melted together and fused by half-hearted mountain building geology. It still carried an electric charge after thousands of years. Tens of thousands... The important question was why?

Nikola had a theory about that too.

"How much do you know about these 'beings before time'?" Nikola asked Apries. "The Egyptian vampires portrayed them as gods. Were they a particularly advanced race for the ancient world or was it all just a bit of wishful myth-building?"

Apries frowned. "You should ask the Immortal. They are her ancestors, not mine."

Helen shrugged. "Don't look at me, Nikola. Your Egyptian mythology was always better than mine. I was too busy chasing werewolves."

Which was totally true. Nikola sighed and carefully looked around the cave again. The only way any of them were getting through that door was if he worked how to open it. Ancient race – how hard could it be? They probably didn't even have a refined version of the wheel...

Refusing to be outsmarted, Nikola clambered up onto a fresh outcrop caused by the earthquake. He nudged a few dazed sand creatures away as he emerged on the flat top of granite. He had a perfect view of the door and the fragments of meteorite curving around it like a series of crescent moons. They instantly reminded him of a bar magnet hungrily sucking in a storm of iron filings. The fragments of meteor where more densely clustered towards the edges of the door and every single one of them had a slight tilt to their left. No doubt they were only half the picture with a mirror image on the other side of the door.

"This tunnel is a lock," he said, standing on his large, makeshift platform. He pointed out the main rock markers for the two below. "And it has a primitive power source drawn directly from the meteorite fragments. They're scattered all the way through." He pointed them out.

"It doesn't look very electric," Helen shouted up at him.

He rolled his eyes in her direction. "The circuit is open. We have to find out where it's been broken then fix it."

"And the door will open?" Apries stepped forward.

"Well – I presume so. They wouldn't be a very clever ancient people if their doors don't work."

"Hey – hey, no one's meant to be takin' the trucks 'til they're cleaned and – hey!"

One of the security guards that Helen had left in charge of their temporary base thumped his hand on the solid window of the SUV. The driver ignored him, the young man hunting for keys.

"I'm talkin' to you!" he continued, moving his hand down to open the door. It was locked. The guard swore and lifted the but of his automatic rifle. He slammed it against the side of the car with an almighty clang. "You hear me in there, kiddo?!"

Amasis had left his vow of human abstinence in tatters. The moment that glorious blood touched his lips he'd felt life returning to his tortured limbs. It welled through his body, reversing the thousands of years of decay that had taken root in his bones. Now he looked more like a young prince.

The vampire turned at the banging and snarled, a full row of jagged fangs shining back at the security guard.

"What the f-" the security guard started to say, lifting his gun and fumbling for his radio. The car door opened, hitting him before he could make the call. The guard flew backwards into a fire extinguisher with a dull thud. The brackets connecting it to the wall collapsed. It and the guard met the floor together before the red cylinder rolled away.

Amasis stepped carefully over it. He considered the human, one of his fangs dripping sticky venom. "I am a future king. Will you serve me?"

The guard lifted his head up in equal measures pain and amusement. "You're 'ff your 'ead, mate," he replied. "Off your bleedin'-"

Two silenced gunshots thwapped into the guard's chest. The vampire reached forward, taking the unused weapon from the guard's hands while he desperately tried to gargle out his last words. They never came.

Amasis steered the truck out of its metal cage and launched it onto the snow-covered road. He'd driven plenty of chariots and horses in his time but the car wiggled under his hold, slipping along the treacherous mountain road.

He was heading for the village nestled in the valley. Precious more than a litter of farms and houses, Amasis was interested in its airstrip and the plane that Magnus had brought them on. It was crucial that he return to her Sanctuary. While ever the Magoi lived, he could not outpace his brother. It had to be killed. Only then would he stand any chance of disappearing into the shadows.

The earthquake left the once rushing glacier torrent dividing the cave's tunnel a ruin of rock. Ashley and Joe inspected the freshly collapsed section of ceiling to their right, blocking the river's path entirely. The ice wall plugged its source, for the moment. At its thinnest, it was a sheet of blue-green sitting in stark contrast to its overall imposing presence of blue, white and black. It creaked eerily, tons of water quickly backing up behind the crude ice-plug leaking through only a few tiny crevices.

"That's not going to hold long," whispered Joe, starting over the rock-filled chasm. Their surfaces were extremely slippery, both of them fumbling for grip. Joe lost his, slid down the face of a curved boulder and landed on a fresh mound of ice. "Is this a bad time to mention my claustrophobia?"

Ashley vaulted over the rocks beside him. "Trust me, you're not. Found myself on a mission with a claustrophobic guy once – nightmare!" she drawled lightly, picking the detective off the floor on her way past. "Mind you, can't say I'm a fan of our lovely ice-dam," she shone her torch over it. Even the beam of light seemed to make it more unsteady.

"Let's just hope that if it breaks, it'll follow it's old path and not chase us down the tunnel."

"Least resistance..." A cursory glance between the river's two options didn't fill either of them with much confidence so they both returned to silence – until they heard it.

Ashley stopped, gun rising beneath her torch. She narrowed her eyes at the darkness in front, slowly tracking the halo of her torch across its breadth. Nothing.

"What?" Joe whispered, then frowned as he heard the rustle of claws against stone. "Oh shit! I've heard that before."

"So've I..."

The vampire lazily chucked another pebble into the depths of the tunnel, missing the mongrel by a foot or two. He and the Immortal were sat against the door, boredly watching Tesla hunt around another outcrop of meteorite. The initial flurry of excitement was over.

"If he's stalling for time, I'm going to turn him into an orderve," Apries hissed.

"I've never met a vampire that bored," Helen replied, letting her head rest against the stone. Now that it was clear their lives weren't in any immediate danger, she was starting to wonder what was behind this damn door that made so many ancient creatures hunt for it. "How long have you known about this place?"

Apries glanced at her but never for too long, his crystal eyes fixed on the half-breed. He didn't trust Tesla. "Since my imprisonment," he replied, his voice sounded as young as he looked, something which Helen found quite disconcerting. "There were vague references to it buried in the temple archives but very few gave it any credence in my father's reign."

"But before that?"

"There was a time when hunting the lost world of the Immortals was the favourite pastime of young Pharaohs."

"Bit like the Grand Tour then," Helen managed a smirk. She was watching Nikola too. He was laying his hands on various fragments of rock, no doubt trying to feel the electric current. He didn't look as though he was having any luck. Not yet. "And your brother?"

Apries risked returning his gaze to her. It wasn't just that he wanted to keep an eye on Tesla. It was that Magnus was enticing. She was genetically tailored to appeal to him and he was determined not to slip into that trap.

"You are keen to kill him," he pointed out, not revealing any emotion either way. "There is nowhere in this world that he can run where I won't find him. Don't worry, Immortal, you will have your vampire bounty before long."

"Good," she nodded, drawing her knees up. "I have this insatiable urge to kill something coming on again."

Both of them craned their heads and Tesla ducked down behind a particularly large hunk of meteorite almost centred to the door. It was roughly egg-shaped though little attempt had been made to polish it up. This particular rock had the faintest spider webs of gold tangled through it.

"There are stories that survive today," Helen continued, "of an ancient, advanced race – the Atlantians -" she was about to continue when Apries broke into a shrill laugh. "What?"

"Those Greek whores?" he seemed genuinely amused. "Vampires were well acquainted with them, some even unwisely married into their royal family. Believe me, they are not a particularly memorable part of this planet's history. The whole thing ended in tears and a bang."

"Serves them right for building their empire on a volcano..." Helen had to admit.

"Humans always think that nothing will happen to them, that the movements of the world and space are irrelevant but I have always supposed that is due to their tiny lifespans. They cannot see the world like you or I. It breathes."Magnus was staring at him. "You believe that I am a simple warrior? I am the son of the Pharaoh, raised to rule," he purred, eyes shifting back to their natural black for a moment.

She was momentarily caught by them. For a moment she saw a flicker of who he truly was, an emperor of the ancient world and she was way out of her depth. "You cannot rule over humans any more – those days are dead."

"You're wrong," Apries made her shiver. "Humanity is born to be ruled. They cannot exist without hierarchy. I may never sit on a throne but I sure as hell will rule them."

Helen sighed. We were vampires so god damn preoccupied with ruling the Earth?

"Jesus motherfukin' christ!" Joe leapt back in terror as the sand creature fell form the roof and landed in a heap at his feet. It was alive, barely, writhing in agony. It flickered between visible and invisible, desperately clutching a bloody stump where its foreleg was missing.

Ashley lowered her gun.

"Jeeze..." she whispered, considering the creature. "Must have been hit by a rock during the earthquake."

It was whining, huddling against the wall only partially aware of the humans in front of it. Somehow in its pain the deeply buried seeds of its humanity crept through. Once that had been a person, just like Will.

Ashley lifted her gun to kill it but found Joe's hand on her arm. "Why not?" she asked.

"If that were me, would you still shoot?"

The fact that she didn't answer straight away made Joe frown and turn his attention back to the cave in front of them. Every now and then the earth shook again, the belly of the mountain clearly suffering indigestion from the people disturbing its slumber. "Leave it alone," Joe repeated softly, as the creature's wails grew softer. "We need to get to your mother. Whatever those vampires are after, they're not going to keep her alive once they have it."

Every tunnel was in a worse state than the next. Rubble, ice and running water obstructed their path and more than once the pair of them had to shift boulders the size of tables to get through. "I think we're getting closer to the source of the quake..."

Joe raised his eyebrow but said nothing.

Finally, the narrow passageway ended – albeit in a sheer drop into a vast cavern. The walls and ceiling constantly shifted with the camouflaged bodies of sand creatures, their scarlet bodies picking up the firelight from below. Two jets of flame framed a giant door and in front of it were three people in the midst of a heated discussion.

"I'm not wrong, Helen..." Nikola pleaded, gesturing back at the rock behind him. "I know I've had my fair share of daft ideas but most of them are right even if they're not in the best interests of humanity."

"Why do I get the feeling that this is one of those times?" she hissed. "Well come on, you better show us what you mean."

Nikola led them over to the back of the meteorite chunk. He'd been digging away at the rubble around its base, going down several feet. "These things are a lot bigger than I thought. The tunnel has filled up with debris over the years – a lot, actually. It's a bit damaged but I don't think that matters."

He'd uncovered a trio of indents in the rock, egg shaped depressions with metal clasps set into their bases. Very unusual, especially as they showed no sign of deterioration.

"I never thought I'd say it, Nikola – but you might actually be right for once..." Helen whispered.

Nikola tried not to look put out as the vampire knelt down, taking a closer look. "Keystones," he said, brushing his claws over the indents. "So much for the myths. Those ancient quacks were right all along."

"You know what these are?"

Apries nodded at Helen. "I even know where one of them is provided the tomb hasn't been raided. What...?" he lowered his voice when the Immortal shifted uncomfortably.

"Most Egyptian tombs have been ransacked," she admitted. "If you hadn't built such huge monuments to your egos more of your civilisation might have survived."

He was put out but not put off. "Surely humans kept some of the treasures they stole?"

"The British Museum," Nikola interrupted. "It was a long time ago but I swear I saw a strange smooth stone with indecipherable markings on it."

Apries looked at the door, then to the room full of sand creatures. "You'd help me open this door?"

Nikola and Helen looked at each other. "You know what, I think we might on the proviso you stop snacking on humans for the time being."

Apries was about to agree to the irritating terms when he heard crack in the distance, then a small landslide of rocks followed by a surprised yelp that certainly didn't belong to a sand creature.

"You are not here alone?"

"We brought another man with us, a snack for your brother. He must have woken up and come looking for us." Helen looked nervously up to the dark end of the tunnel where they'd emerged.

Ashley dragged Joe frantically back from the edge when the ground had given way under his weight. They froze, eyes locked on the trio beneath them who'd stop talking and turned to face them. So much for sneaking to the rescue.

"Wait – what's that?" Ashley whispered, her arms still around Joe's waist.

There was a fourth figure in the cave now. At first she thought it was just a shadow against the wall but it had crept closer to the door. It was tall, slender and nearly inhumane in the way it moved. "MUM!" Ashley yelled, instantly giving away her position.

Helen was startled, flashing her torch toward the end of the cave but unable to see anything. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"There's something else down here!" she continued, as the shadow ducked out of view.

"What's it doing?" Will collapsed into the couch with a beer and tray of hot chips. It was nearly nightfall and he was drained from cleaning up the Sanctuary. Bigfoot was baby sitting the Magoi while Henry got all the security systems back to full strength. Druitt – well, he was doing bugger all as usual.

"Nothing..." came Bigfoot's reply over the radio.

Will leaned forward, turning on the monitor to confirm it. Nothing. Hours and hours of nothing since they'd knocked it out with gas.

"Nothing is what I like to hear. Come on up, have some dinner. It's not going anywhere."

The lack of reply suggested that Biggie agreed.

Will tapped on the keyboard lazily, switching to another screen. He logged into the archives, trailing through folders until he came to one marked, 'Tesla'. Curious, he clicked only to be confronted by a password prompt. None of his worked.

"Typical," he muttered. Magnus trusted him but obviously not completely. Not when it came to her past or anything to do with the true history of vampires. He made a mental note to berate her about that when she came back. Speaking of which, she was supposed to check in around now.

Henry strolled into the room. "Hey dude," he said, not looking up from his ipad.

"Has Magnus checked in yet?"

"Nope. Helicopter returned to base on schedule and she left a few text messages before going into the mountains. Nothing since then but that's hardly surprising considering she ended up in the mountain. Ashley checked in though."

"Where the hell is she?"

"Where do you think?" Henry sighed, turning the ipad around so that Will could see the snow-laden world of the Pensi La Mountain Pass.

"Great. Magnus is going to kill us either way now."

"Nah," Henry assured. "You need to stop worrying about Ashley. She can take care of herself. I'd worry about Helen before Ashley. Hate to say it but that girl has more than a share of her father's stubbornness speaking of-"

"In his room, sharpening his knives."

Henry shifted uncomfortably. "Really?"

Will shrugged.

"Creepy. Well, I'm off for a nap – don't let the place fall down around us, eh?" Henry slinked out. It was full moon tonight, maybe he'd go for a bit of a howl.

Apries was okay with a few more stray humans but not uninvited guests.

"Not me..." Helen whispered to both Nikola and the general. "Maybe someone else followed you here?" she asked the vampire, but he shook his head as well. "Everyone back to the door. Can I have my gun now?"

Apries rolled his eyes and handed her the weapon. It wasn't much good against him anyway. He flexed his claws, narrowing his eyes at the tunnel. "I didn't hear anything – it's not Amasis."

Nikola, armed with only his half-sized claws, looked especially uncomfortable, raising his torch defensibly. "Can't you sic your sand creatures on them or something?"

"I already have," he replied smoothly.

It would do them no good. The creature hunting them could make itself undetectable to anything with vampire DNA. The Immortal professor rested against a large boulder, watching the tunnel with black eyes. One vampire had to go.

"Can you see it?" Joe craned his head.

"Nah," she whispered back. "If it ain't one of ours then it's bad news." There was a nasty creak behind them. They turned, listening for a sudden rush of water but it didn't come. "I don't like this. Not one bit."
Ice Cliffs by ellymelly
23

ICE CLIFFS

Nikola worked it out. His stomach sank, fear spreading through his ancient blood as he realised what Helen had done – what she'd been planning all along. He should have known that she had some insane scheme, pursuing the General deep into unknown mountains. She'd made a serious miscalculation.

He tried to catch her eye without Apries noticing. Helen was edging forward into the belly of the cave under the guise of hunting out the intruder, firelight flickering over the barrel of her gun. The intruder she'd bloody well gone and invited along, thought Tesla crossly. If he made it out of here alive and in this case he really meant if, he was going to give her a right piece of his mind and possibly make a snack of her protege.

General Apries was none the wiser, black eyes darting at shadows in the tunnel. His ears pricked up at the sound of bodies hitting rock. Sand creatures – falling one by one from the roof to the floor of the tunnel. Dead.

"What the hell is going on?" he demanded, as something shredded his army into a rippling carpet of bone.

"Buggered if I know," Helen lied, incredibly well, Nikola realised.

"Something's killing your army," Nikola filled in.

The sand creatures were falling faster, several hitting the ground at a time, necks snapped. Some tried to slip away into the corners of the room but they were pursued to bloody ends. The last one put up a fight, screeching and hurling rocks until it was snatched into the darkness. An eerie silence followed.

Nikola never thought that he'd miss the sound of sand creatures scratching about but he did. He looked around, not at the tunnel but the door behind. Its stone was unyielding, offering no glimpse of its secrets or chance of escape. He was going not going to make it out of here alive. If Apries was anything like his brother then he could teleport his arse to safety. Nikola had no such luxury.

Everyone's eyes were drawn instantly to movement.

Pacing through the centre of the tunnel was Nikola's old Professor from University. The world's last true Immortal and keeper of the balance between two dangerous species. His long coats swept over the stones with a soft hiss. Tall, slender and surreal, the firelight licked around him as though greeting an old friend.

"Priest..." General Apries tensed, claws flexing slightly as he caught sight of the Immortal. It was not their first meeting. He tilted his head, eyes blacker than the tunnel. His amour glinted. "Well, well, well..."

Nikola's Professor arched a narrow eyebrow.

600 BCE, MEMPHIS, EGYPT

Limestone pillars reached up toward the heavens, shining in the morning sun like rays of the immortal god himself. Most of the temple was buried by seas of mist, lost in the rising surge that left the walls – several hundred metres long – gleaming with moisture. They were capped with decorative carvings doubling in purpose both to scare and impress the thousands of pilgrims that traversed the known world to visit the library within. Its guests were met by eight statues guarding the gates, towering half the height of the wall. They held spears with flags flapping against the wind, empty eyes gazing at the festering city. Lines of sphinxes sat either side of the walkway, lounging like lions on the savannah.

Hut-Ka-Ptah, birthplace of the empire's name – 'The White Walls', enduring and beautiful were crumbling into the sands. Its glory was lost but not its heart. The empire may have moved to Thebes and Memphis later captured by the Assyrians but the grand temple survived by the grace of local Egyptian Princes who still made the journey to pray at its alters and peruse its secret documents, too fragile to be moved.

Two of these young princes, eight and twelve, raced through the granite hallway with torches nearly blown out by the speed of their bare feet against the stone. They skidded around each corner, laughter echoing through the complex until they scampered into the depths of the main library.

The Head Priest turned slowly, lowering his patient gaze to the boys as they assembled in front of him. To them, he was so tall that the boys called him, 'statue'.

"Amasis... Apries..." he drawled each of their names so that they knew they were in trouble. Prince Amasis, by far the most curious, set his torch in a holder and scurried over to the shelves, running his sticky hands over the papyrus until he found the scroll that they had been reading yesterday. Apries was less enthusiastic, seating himself at the table, boredly flicking the edge of his quill. He was the future King but like most young Princes, he much preferred to be outside learning the art of war rather than locked in a cellar with dusty parchments.

The recent wars had lowered their numbers but there were still many Immortals left in the world, thousands even and just as many vampires. It was important to keep a close eye on the vampires, shaping the young ones and thus the next generation. The Immortals had taken up roles in the temples and nurseries, rearing baby princes and princesses.

These two though, the Priest had to admit, were a real pair. It was never a good idea to have polar opposites for heirs. It usually ended in war unless he could manage to knock a bit of sense into them – even out the balance, so to speak.

Apries stabbed the table with the sharp nib of his quill. The Priest sighed softly. This was going to be harder than he thought.

"I might have guessed," Apries shifted at the sight of his former Priest. There was not a day of the thousands of years on his face and he couldn't help but wonder how Immortals ended up looking old. Unless they were immensely old. "If you've come to give me a lesson I think you'll find your precious libraries burned down long ago. Humanity... what can you do?"

The Professor flinched. Apries was quite right. Humanity had destroyed the troves of knowledge carefully collected by Immortals and Vampires alike. "You know why I have come."

Nikola was doing his absolute best to become invisible against the door. A vampire was going to die and he was determined that it wouldn't be him.

"I might have gone after Amasis – even Tesla," the Professor glanced briefly to the scientist, "if you hadn't come here. You know this is a forbidden world – forbidden for all of us. Now I have no choice. Tesla -if you know what's good for you, you'll leave this place and never return,"he added, directed at the scientist.

"Y-yes..." he stuttered, backing away from the door. Helen took him by the arm and tugged him out into the tunnel away from the two ancient creatures. "You could have bloody told me what you were up to!" he hissed at Helen, stepping over the corpses of slaughtered sand creatures.

"Nikola, you can't keep a secret to save your life."

True.

"Don't suppose you gave any thought to what'll happen when Apries teleports out of here and I'm the only vampire within claw's reach?"

"Oh Nikola – the Professor is not going to kill you. You're only half-vampire, remember?"

It was the one and only time Nikola didn't snap at her for pointing that out.

"I wasn't even sure he would come. It's not like he has a phone or anything. We need to get to Ashley – and Joe."

"Yeah, he's probably left your fan club after you fed him to Amasis..." Nikola pointed out.

"He'll forgive me," she hoped rather than knew. "I can't believe it, he's killed every sand creature. I was banking on saving a few."

Ashley and Joe were far above in the mouth of the small passage however the land bridge that had allowed Helen and Tesla into the tunnel was gone, destroyed by the earthquake.

"Mum?" Ashley called cautiously, waving.

"For the record, you're grounded," Helen muttered at her daughter. "Did you bring rope?" Her question was answered when Ashley threw down the end of a nylon rope.

"Are we coming down or are you guys coming up?" she asked, not sure which was safer.

"It's snowing in here," Nikola whispered to Helen, pointing up at the soft flecks wafting around them. "There must be an exit nearby. It'll take days to get back to the pass and I doubt we've got that long."

He had a point. Helen waved down Joe and her daughter.

Amasis held the terrified pilot at gunpoint, watching the mountain peaks fade away until they were indistinguishable from the puffs of white cloud. The bodies of the co-pilot and crew littered the plane, stains of blood flourishing the walls with a grisly reminder of the terror a few hours before.

Apries and the Professor were still talking as the group snuck down, winding their way through the Throat of Thoth toward a speck of daylight at the end of the tunnel. Nikola was right, it was snowing in the tunnel and the snow was getting heavier as they traversed the rubble.

"What are they doing?" Ashley asked, glancing back over at the two figures slowly circling each other.

"Preparing to fight," Helen whispered back. "It is no light thing for two immortal creatures to duel."

Another soft quake shook the tunnel. All of them stumbled falling amongst the rocks as more fragments of roof caved in and crashed down around them. A rock the size of a car landed next to Joe, shattering into a dozen pieces next to his head, falling away from him into the cave. He was too shocked to move.

"I don't know what you did, Nikola – but this place is unstable."

"Seriously, I just shifted one rock." He was about to continue his defence when he heard it. Another rockfall, far in the distance. Water pushing past it. Ice snapping. "Oh shiiiiiit..." he hissed, hustling back to his feet. "Run, now!"

They barely made it fifty metres when the first surge of glacier water poured through the hole into their tunnel. It slammed into the ground, shifting boulders out of its way. The freezing water frothed, forced out of the tiny hole in a roar.

Everyone paused to watch. There was silence then a cold wind rushing over them, blowing away the snow.

Apries and the Immortal were hit first, the torrent knocking them down like bowling pins. They thrashed against the water as it threw them into rocks along with the bodies of the sand creatures, swirling around them like shrivelled Autumn leaves.

The others ran, cold spray on their backs and the first trickles of water rising underfoot as they bolted toward the end of the tunnel. The light in front grew bigger. The mouth of the tunnel opened out with a jagged edge gaping at the world. They could see the beginnings of mountains. A smear of blue sky. Nikola looked over his shoulder – and screamed.

Dr Will Zimmerman was asleep. Bits of chip were sprinkled over his shirt, ground into the couch as he rolled onto his stomach. The TV was on but the original program had finished hours ago. Something obscure was playing now – the kind of thing that the networks pretended they didn't buy then sort to hide in the wee hours of the morning when only very drunk people were awake.

Druitt had been prepared to render the irritating protege unconscious but there was no need. He stepped silently through the office toward the monitors. John bent over, knocking the mouse to wake it up. A few clicks and he was scrolling through the Sanctuary's files, hunting until he found it.

The screen prompted him for a password.

John hesitated, clearly changing his mind after a moment's thought. The folder unlocked though he seemed slightly disappointed.

"That hurts..." he whispered to Helen.

He inserted a USB drive into the computer and started copying. A snore from the couch told him he was in no danger.

The water hit Nikola like a wall, dislocating vertebrae as it churned against him, pushing him through the cave. He was helpless as the others sank into the water. He reached for Helen just before she went under, their fingertips brushing. Then she was gone.

Nikola had no time to think. Suddenly the world became impossibly bright. He was outside, the glare giving way to a perfect vista of the ice locked valley. He was still going forwards, flying through the air – then dropping sharply. Nikola looked down and saw nothing but white beneath. They'd been thrown clear of the tunnel and entered free-fall over the mountains.

He yelped, flailing uselessly at the water.

Boulders started dropping out of the wave, snatched from the torrent by gravity. They seemed to fall for an age before smashing into the snow below, rolling down the mountainside until they looked like fluffy white snowballs.

Nikola fell faster. The water around him was losing all its strength. Other bodies were falling, sand creatures raining down. Amongst them was a flare of dark brown hair.

"Helen!" he screamed, trying to move toward her.

She was groggy, blood running from her forehead. It took her a moment to realise what was happening. "Nikola!"

They all smashed to the ground together – a brand new waterfall forming at the mouth of the cave above. It tickled down in a serene curtain, giving now indication of the violence of its birth.

Joe was amazed to find his eyes open. Daylight. Snow – god lots of snow. He tried to turned his head but the perfectly Joe-shaped hole in the snow was a snug fit and deep, at least ten feet. Nothing seemed to hurt but it was impossible to tell if that was because he was unscathed or more likely, very cold.

A shadow passed over his hole – then a rope dangled in. Surprised that his hands worked, Joe took hold, wrapping the nylon around his wrists. The slack vanished, a sharp tightening of the rope into his gloves – then he was pulled free.

Ashley found Tesla knelt over her mother's body, his hands cupping her face tenderly. She stepped back, not sure what to do as Tesla leaned down, whispering something against Helen's ear. Helen awoke a moment later, reaching up to hold Tesla's wrist, squeezing it softly, dare she believe it – affectionately.

"Where are the others?" Joe rasped, kneeling down to pick a broken vampire claw out of the snow. He held the curved, sharp object up to the light, then cringed. "Ew..."

"Apries is alive," Helen replied, kneeling now. "And I don't have any increased desire to kill Nikola, so I guess our Immortal is too."

"Gee thanks, Helen... What about -" Nikola pointed up toward the cave and its fresh waterfall dribbling into an ice lake.

"There's no point going back until we have those stones."

"Then we are going back," he replied carefully.
To Kill A Vampire by ellymelly
24

TO KILL A VAMPIRE

"What the bloody hell are you doing, Nikola?"

Helen had a proper British scowl in her voice, standing over Nikola, hands on her hips with her torn jacket caught open exposing her generous chest. His head tilted a fraction in appreciation before her shadow loomed over his face. It was a cool relief from the endless sunlight that had been burning his flesh all day.

"Sitting," came his calm reply. Frankly he was tired as hell and wanted nothing more than to curl up to a nearby boulder and nap. He was even considering snacking on one of their pet humans.

"I'm in no mood for another night in the snow. We need to keep moving if we're going to reach our encampment by nightfall." She looked ahead to Ashley and Joe, chatting animatedly as they walked ahead. "If the humans can manage it, so can we." Helen offered her hand.

"They're young," he complained, letting her drag him up from the snow.

"Don't be bitter, Nikola. You're going to get a lot older."

After two solid days trekking their radio remained silent. No helicopter to hover to their rescue and no supplies – which was fine for Nikola but Ashley and Joe were starting to look peachy. Nikola wasn't sure if prolonged starvation could kill Helen but it certainly made her snappier than a Dionaea Muscipula.

With a huff, Nikola dusted another shower of snow off what remained of his clothes. Cheerful, fluffy clouds kept passing over head, angering to black and dumping sleet as they reared up over the mountains.

"They're dead. You know that, right?" Nikola added quietly, as they descended through the final gorge. The others were ahead, stumbling along the glacier which had started to flatten out as it reached the end of the valley.

"They might have gone home, or this radio might be more broken that we thought." Helen knew that she was clutching at ever shortening straws.

"I'm good with radios." Nikola leered. He'd invented them. "Trust me, it works just fine."

"Amasis?"

"That'd be my guess. He knew where we were camped. It would have been his first point of call after-" Nikola stopped, not wanting to discuss the massacre they'd found on the snow. "I know he might be an ancient vampire but he's been awake through all of human history. Even if he lived in a cave, he still seems to have a reasonable grasp of our technology and he learns fast. We shouldn't have let him read all those books at the Sanctuary. I get the feeling he was preparing for this."

"He was meant to be preparing for his role as an ambassador in our Sanctuary network," Helen muttered.

"I think you can let that dream go, Helen," Nikola lofted his eyebrow at her. "The only vampire you're going to have wandering around is me."

"Half vampire..."

This time it was Nikola that shoved her lightly. "Cheeky bugger."

Where Apries and the Immortal were remained a mystery. They'd not seen either of them since the destruction of the cave. Nikola was fine with that. While ever they were busy trying to kill each other, he could search for the lost keystones. Well, only one of them was really lost. First things first – get out of the mountains.

It was just on the cusp of nightfall when they dragged their exhausted bodies into the compound. As they'd expected, it was quiet – too quiet. The lookout stations were abandoned and vehicles parked oddly around the cluster of frozen buildings. Ashley lifted her torch, the halo falling over the glassy eyes of a soldier laying outside his Land Cruiser. There was another on the ground beside it and three more scattered around the door to the main building.

"How can one vampire leave such a trail of destruction?" Joe whispered, limping along beside Ashley.

"Have you met Dr Tesla?" Helen gestured at the half-breed beside her.

"Utility companies don't count, honey," Tesla replied. Not amused.

"He took my Jeep, son of a..." Helen shook her head at the empty car space then pushed her way into the buildings. Without power, the door had nearly frozen closed, screeching barely a foot. They all squeezed through finding themselves in darkness again. "Nikola?"

"Yeah, yeah..." he vanished, hunting out the electric panel. Ten minutes later the lights and heating buzzed into life. The TV flickered on, the fridge beeped happily, the oven demanded someone set its clock, computer screens lit up with welcome screens and most importantly, the radios hissed.

Ashley and Joe went straight for the heaters, pressing their hands against the metal waiting for it to heat up. They were nearly blue from the cold, shivering together in a huddle, carrying on their conversation from the mountains. Nikola checked the radio switchboard. It seemed undamaged from whatever cut the power. There were a few sprays of bullet holes through the walls but by the placement of the furniture, Nikola guessed those were from older disagreements.

"Where is everyone?" Nikola asked, sitting beside Helen as she got ready to make a call to the nearest Sanctuary.

"Outside, I imagine," she replied, flicking dozens of vintage switches. This whole place was a relic.

"I'm going to go have a look," Tesla stood, slipping on his jacket.

Helen glared at him, holding a set of lime green headphones in her hand. "Do you have to? I could really use your help."

"Yes, I think I should," he strutted out of the main room. The others watched him go. They were too busy trying to defrost themselves to help. Nikola had a feeling that there was more to it. Amasis could have taken a truck and done a runner but he'd gone to the trouble to kill everyone inside the building. Why? Rule number one of civilisation: Never trust a vampire. Especially a really really old one with nothing left to lord over.

Nikola started inside, moving through the corridor which was lined with men's quarters and a few living areas. All of it looked as though it had been abandoned in a hurry – chairs kicked over and food left out. He opened each door, peering into the empty rooms, one after the next until he came to a door that refused to open. It was the in the rear of the building, nestled between the kitchen and the laundry. If memory served it was the private quarters of the permanent base staff. Nikola knocked. There was no answer.

He frowned, testing the door with his weight. Unlike most of the doors here, this one was only made of wood. Nikola backed up, taking a moment to judge the distance then rushed forward and it with all his force. The door creaked and gave way, sending Nikola flying into the room, smashing awkwardly onto the ground as the door remained attached to the frame by one, stubborn hinge.

Tesla groaned in surprise. He'd landed on something – something soft. Something cold and -

Nikola recoiled when he saw the bodies beneath him. Six men, all dead, faint blue skin and eyes open in death. All of them were shot point blank in the forehead except for the figure slumped over the desk. Nikola scrambled to his feet, wincing as he stepped through the bodies. He wove through the chaos of paper, clothes and broken glass on the floor.

The desk, military style and simple, took up nearly the whole width of the room. It was piled high with files on one side with the remains of a tea service balanced on the other. The cup was still full but the tea had frozen into a sad, brown lake in the well of the cup.

Nikola recognised the man as a liaison from the Parisian Sanctuary. He was a specialist in pre-human ruins, or 'supposed pre-human'. Nikola always thought that he was a bit of a nutter with oversized spectacles and grey hair defiantly dyed brown, swept from one side of his head to another. He'd known him since he was a young college graduate that Helen had poached from Cambridge when he started going on about wild theories of ancient vampire cultures... Nikola had thoroughly enjoyed teasing him for decades while never admitting to being a vampire. Drove the poor old sod mad.

Helen didn't feel the same way. She'd appointed him one of her chief researches, first in London then Paris after she'd acquired an old library. He spent most of his time in the Parisian Sanctuary's enviable library building up Helen's extensive database of Abnormals throughout history.

The entire left side of his head was missing – half his brain and fragments of scull showered over the desk, now frozen. Nikola averted his eyes from the dead man. It was awkward to see a bookworm at the scene of such brutality.

He'd been held at gunpoint while his friends were shot, one by one. Everyone was dead so his secrets had died with him. That took courage and for that Nikola cave the corpse a soft nod.

What had Amasis been after? Judging by the glaring error messages on the screen he'd had a good go at the system.

Nikola carefully moved the dead man's hands from the keyboard. He nudged the computer into life and quickly hacked through the entry level security protocols. He'd been the architect of Helen's computer grids and this was one of the low end offshoots. It seemed odd that -

He flicked back up the page, scrolling to an entry.

Magoi.

Nikola tilted his head and followed a few more links, bringing up a map with various locations marked with notes. This was one of them. He clicked on the note, broke through a few more password walls and stared at the final picture.

"Helen – can I have a word?" Nikola stood in the doorway of the main room, arms folded across his chest. She was making tea for the humans, the radio transmitter giving off a comforting crackle. "Now!" he added, when she didn't reply.

She followed him crossly down the corridor. "What's this about, Nikola?" Helen stopped she looked upon the sea of frozen bodies. Many of them people she knew well. "Professor..." she gasped, seeing the old man folded over the desk. Nikola tried to stop her from lifting his head but Helen was too quick and saw the grisly sight of what was left of his head. "He just – killed them all!"

"Amasis was looking for something and your old friend didn't give it to them."

"Looking for what?"

"Magoi," he replied, showing her the screen. Helen shot him a sharp look for hacking into her database again, but soon turned her attention to the screen. "He must really want those things dead after what it did to his Sanctuary."

"Revenge doesn't strike me as his style."

"Why else?"

Nikola showed her the map with known colonies of Magoi clustered around. "I think our tame vampire is terrified of his big brother. Considering Apries is a General and severely pissed at being locked in a coffin for a few thousand years, I think Amasis is smart to try and hide."

"He wants to sever all telepathic links and the Magoi acts like a sounding board to their low level telepathy."

"Hell, even I develop a little bit of telepathy when I'm near that thing."

Helen eyed him disbelievingly. "What am I thinking now?"

He rolled his eyes. "Obviously it doesn't work without a nearby Magoi! But I can tell you what I'd like you to be thinking."

Helen swatted him sharply. "We're in a room full of dead bodies! Show some reserve."

He shrugged. One day she'd give into him, even if he had to wait ten thousand years. "The point is, we very much want Apries to find his brother and preferably kill him. My chances of survival are greatly increased if we keep those two at odds for each other. Three vampires, two immortals, that's not a very difficult equation, Helen."

She shifted uncomfortably. "I'm not going to kill you, Nikola, if that's what you're worried about."

"No offence, my dear, but I'm more worried about the other Immortal." He had absolutely zero chance of surviving against him. "Are our pet humans going to survive?"

"They're fine, nothing that a bit of tea can't fix. Our ride is swinging by first thing in the morning. We should be home by tomorrow afternoon if everything goes smoothly. I checked with the Sanctuary, it's still quiet."

"Shall we turn in then?" Nikola held her gaze. He'd shifted a fraction of an inch closer to her. Last night they'd been snuggled together in a great huddle of human, vampire and immortal warmth in the snow but it wasn't quite the same when the children were around. There were plenty of rooms in this compound though. Privacy and -

"Best if we all sleep in the lounge room. It's the only place we've been able to heat up."

The disappointment was clear on his face as he trailed her back down the hallway.

Amasis switched his plane for a taxi as soon as he touched land. Old City was a sprawl but its roads and buildings all followed a uniform pattern, rolling down toward the grey-watered bay. It was easy to remember and with Magnus's Sanctuary the tallest thing for miles, he had no trouble directing the car.

He couldn't pay but a quick swipe with his claw to the cab driver's throat settled the bill. The taxi was left in a dark alley several blocks away with only a few splatters of blood on the windscreen. Amasis swept through the streets, no one noticing his unassuming figure draw closer and closer to the Gothic monstrosity of granite and sandstone. It didn't resemble a Sanctuary so much as a tomb.

Amasis took a left, following the iron wall around beneath a line of oaks, bowing under the weight of their leaves. There was another gate, a smaller one where a tall figure waited, hidden among the trees.

At first, John didn't recognise the young man stalking closer. He was barely ten feet away when he realised that Amasis had snipped a few centuries off his age. He was jealous...

"You are late," John drawled, not yet unlocking the gate.

"I did what I could. It's not easy sourcing a plane in the middle of nowhere. I'm afraid I left your woman without a lift."

"She'll live," John hissed. "She always does."

Amasis gestured at the gate and the fact that it was still locked. "I brought what you asked."

The wrinkles on John's forehead lifted in either amusement or suspicion, it was impossible to read him. "And where would it be?"

Amasis touched his forehead. "In here."

"Typical vampire, then."

The vampire lounged against the wall. It wasn't just his looks that had changed but his entire demeanour. He was literally a young man – impatient with the world again. "Well are you going to invite me in or leave me standing in the street until your ex-wife gets home?"

The gate unlocked, opening with an ancient creak.

"Follow me..." John drawled.

John's quarters were below ground level. He'd opted for a hollowed out cellar, the ghosts of windows set into the wall with sandstone arches bricked in. Instead of glass and daylight they held twisted, ironwork lights. The candles had been replaced by electric bulbs nearly a century ago and never upgraded since then. John wouldn't be surprised if those were the original light globes from Edison's lab – just to piss Tesla off.

There was a bed on the far side that looked as though it had never been slept in; a table by the wall with a laptop, desk lamp, pile of unopened letters and a silver letter opener that looked more like a weapon for staking vampires; a fireplace with glowing coals providing a thermal of heat, rug and two leather chairs facing it. John gestured for the vampire to sit in one of the chairs.

"And it's still here?" Amasis asked.

John nodded. "They're keeping it upstairs under lock and key. There's no way that I can get to it without the puppy noticing."

"How long have you known about their blood, Mr Druitt?" The vampire asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

"Since I paused to read the hieroglyphs in that lovely tomb you built for it." John sat down, lording over the chair rather than simply sitting. "Funny... Tesla and Helen are always so proud of being 'the explorers' but they're too busy hunting after treasure to read the fine print. The Magoi is treasure. Mind you, I was a bit worried when Tesla started snooping around the Magoi silk but apart from some super-strength space suit material, he has no idea what the Magoi is worth."

"Their blood is useless to vampires," Amasis snapped. "I spent more than a century trying to replicate the effects. It turns humans into – into gods," he looked toward the dying coals with a dark streak of jealously. "And we get nothing."

"And it destroyed your entire Sanctuary in revenge."

Amasis glared at Druitt, his black eyes deeply upset. "Yes. That was – regrettable."

"So, do we have a deal then?"

The vampire started at Druitt for a very long time. He'd done his research on this one. A famous murder – one of the most feared and grisly of his age and yet he didn't hold a candle to the warlords of the past. Still, Amasis didn't trust him. He didn't know what Druitt was loyal to and if you didn't know a man's loyalties then you had no protection.

"For now, yes, we have a deal."

"Well," John cracked his knuckles then withdrew a long, sharp, curved knife from his belt. "Let's get to it, shall we?"
A Sanctuary in Ruins by ellymelly
25

A SANCTUARY IN RUINS

"Oh my god.." There was no need to open the front door of Helen's Sanctuary – it was lying on its side, broken clean in half. The beautiful, crafted wood that had seen a city rise out of the low lying hills, dragging itself from an industrial smear to bustling hub, was now tinder for the fire places. Its copper knocker, a huge fashioned head of a roaring lion, was lying on its side, thrown against the marble floor with the force of whatever had torn its way through.

Helen, Ashley, Joe and Nikola were shocked out of exhaustion. They fumbled for their weapons, setting them at the house lit only by whatever sunlight inched through the torn curtains.

"It's fresh," Joe whispered, nodding over at the shattered vase and the puddle of water dotted with roses. They were still alive with fresh bruises blushing in their petals. "Maybe an hour?"

"How did he get here so bloody fast?" Helen hissed, carefully stepping over the rug that was crinkled from something skidding to a stop. There were used cartridges scattered over the floor and accompanying bullet holes on the wall leading into the sitting room utterly trashing the recent plaster job.

Ashley walked over to them, running her finger along a deep scratch in the stone courtesy of a sharp knife. "I have a really bad feeling about this, mum." The only person who took a knife to a gun fight was her father.

"Nikola," Helen spoke without looking at him, "straight downstairs to Henry's lab. Make sure the security network is up. And Nikola," she added, as he went to leave. "Put the EM shield online too."

Nikola nodded, taking the full meaning to heart. Druitt was a suspect and she didn't want him going anywhere – or coming back.

"Ashley," she continued. "Go check on our guest. Make sure it's still sedated. The last thing we want is a Magoi on the loose in the middle of a densely populated area."

"Yes mum – what about Joe?"

"You right to come with me?"

"Yeah – let's catch us a vampire, eh?" Joe nodded, clicking the safety off his gun.

"Shit..." Ashley regarded the grisly scene inside the Magoi's cell.

They didn't have to worry about it escaping any more. The ancient creature had been reduced to a husk. It was drained dry, bled out from every reasonable vein yet hardly any blood wasted on the cell floor. Scattered, broken containers littered the ground around it. Harvested, she realised, feeling sick. Amasis didn't just kill it, he'd stripped it for parts. God knows why but it couldn't possibly be a good thing.

"Yuck!" she padded over to the security camera, hoping to review the security feed but the thing had been torn from the wall and smashed against the floor, reduced to wire and bits of plastic casing. A trail of smoke lazily wafted out of its battery.

"All secure down here, mum," she said into her radio. "Magoi is down for the count, though."

There was a crackle over the radio, then her mother's voice. "See if you can find Will."

"There's not much left of your security network," came Tesla's irritated voice over the radio. Something electronic crackled behind him – then exploded. Nikola swore again, fumbling with the radio. He batted at the thick smoke with it.

Helen pressed her body against the wall, whispering her reply. "Do what you can. I want the external system back up to full power and the Red Zone secure."

"Just the world and a few moons on the side then!" he snapped back, chucking a bit of broken lab into the room.

"Just do it, Nikola!"

Joe nodded toward something shuffling around on the other side of the living room. The entire place had been turned into a wreck; its curtains were shredded, draped over the couch with hideous tears, the magazine rack was thrown into the wall, gouging out a sizable dent before falling in a heap beside the TV – which had also fallen and smashed to pieces on the floor. Her brand new flat screen. Helen scowled at the scene.

Another rustle from the corner drew her attention to an upturned lounge chair amid the broken glass. They fanned out, Joe taking the opposite side as her cover, Helen inching through the centre of the room. Based on the snuffling sound, it was some form of Abnormal set loose during the chaos. She peered over the chair – and lowered her weapon.

"It's okay, Joe," she waved him over. "Come meet Snuffles," Helen bent down and scooped up the five-legged animal which closely resembled a furry anteater. It looked up at them with its beady, frightened eyes just begging to be taken somewhere safe and warm.

Joe was about to give the adorable creature a cuddle when the sirens went off. The building started to shriek, lights flashing, security doors falling closed. Snuffles leapt out of Joe's arms and scrambled away in terror to hide.

"LOOKS LIKE TESLA GOT THE SECURITY SYSTEM UP!" Helen screamed, holding her hands against her ears.

"WISH HE'D BREAK IT AGAIN," Joe replied, pain beating through his head.

"Oh shut up," Nikola hissed at the computer, snapping at the keys with his claws. All the systems were coming online but for some reason the werewolf had decided to tie in the alarms to the basic functionality and Nikola simply couldn't get them to hush.

"Bloody hell..." Helen and Joe entered the room – or tried to enter.

Henry's lab was trashed beyond repair. Most of the cabling had been slashed with a sharp set of claws. It had also played host to a full scale fire fight with no less than three conventional guns and one of Henry's rip-off versions of Nikola's stun guns laying abandoned on the floor. The stun weapon had exploded and blown a hole through the main switchboard leaving the rack and most of the servers a crackling, smoking wreck.

When silence fell, it was like heaven had fallen to earth.

"How are you making that work?" Helen asked, not quite able to see Nikola over the deluge of ruined computers.

He stood up – Sony tablet in hand, keyboard in the other. "You're damn lucky I hack into your network and keep backups on a regular basis."

"Don't make me slap you."

He wasn't in any mood to spar with her. "Okay, you have your outer shield up, the SHU is secure and the worst of the worst are all still stalking around in their cages. You lost a few of the minor ones – their enclosures were opened and it looks like they are physically broken. I can't make the gates come back down from here so you'll have to do that with a crowbar."

"You did well, Nikola."

For once, he didn't even hear the praise. "You've got much bigger problems. The security is off-line completely in the Magoi pen."

"It's dead."

Nikola set the tablet down. "What?"

"Amasis got to it already."

He seemed to take a moment to digest that. Nikola had plans for that creature and its incredible ability to produce industrial grade silk. It had been one of the new projects keeping his mind active the whole time they were off trekking through the snow and now – now it was just gone. Snuffed out. Such a waste of a resource. "There's something else – Henry and the Protege aren't here. Either they're..." he stopped short of saying, 'dead', "or he's taken them with him."

"And John?"

Nikola shrugged. "He may not have even been here when things took a turn. You know what he's like. He probably fucked off at the first sign of trouble."

"Really Nikola," she snapped.

"When has he ever been around when you actually need his murdering skills? Come to think of it, what is his use?"

Helen frowned at Nikola. "What's gotten into you all of a sudden?"

"Have you noticed a pattern yet?" Nikola shifted his pose, one hand on his hip as he set the tablet down in frustration. "He's always gone when you need him most. Even back when we were in Oxford. He was a useless son of a bitch then and he's still one, two hundred years later."

"Hey..." Joe interrupted carefully, feeling like an awkward teenager watching his parents fight. "Maybe you guys should do this later?"

"It's okay, Joe – I know what this is," Helen didn't take her eyes off the very pale Nikola. "Run down to the infirmary and bring me back half a dozen blood bags marked with a black 'V'. Quickly now." Joe vanished. "Nikola, why don't you sit?"

"M-maybe I should," he admitted. "I'm starting to think your neck looks rather inviting and that is not a good sign," he added with a cheeky smirk, even though his head was starting to spin alarmingly.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to come any closer. You haven't had wine or blood for nearly a week."

"I have a headache," he complained.

"Just close your eyes and try to stay calm. You're hungry, that's all."

For a moment Nikola looked serene – then his hand tightened around the edge of the table, knuckles going white. "Can't we – sit down on the couch. I promise I won't bite," he whispered.

Helen exhaled softly, looking between Nikola and the couch. They'd been here before more times than she could count and despite every natural instinct, he'd never tried to bite her. "Oh all right then," she relented.

She sat down on the small, leather sofa, rearranging the pillows before he sank down beside her. Helen put one of the large, flat pillows on her lap and let him rest his head there. It wasn't long before he either fell asleep or passed out, purring. She ran her fingertips through his short, soft hair.

"You always were more of a kitten than a lion," she smirked. Nikola had a very distinct air of vulnerability that, despite all his annoying, world conquering, arrogant and dangerous behaviour, made her want to rescue him.

Joe didn't know whether to knock, so he stood in the door, weighed down by bags of bright red blood. "Doc?"

"Come on, he's perfectly safe," she assured the young cop.

Joe cleared a space on the table with his elbow then set all the bags down. "Is he going to be all right? Even by his standards, he looks kinda pale."

Nikola instinctively curled closer to Helen in his sleep. Helen nodded. He was going to be just fine.

"Dude this is not cool," Henry struggled against his restraints but John was no fool, he'd used a lovely steel and silver alloy that was more than sufficient keeping a werewolf pup in check.

"Oh stop your fussing!" John sighed, lingering against the far wall of the container – the kind used for shipping cargo around the world. The metal box was huge and devoid of anything except Will, Henry and John strutting around sharpening his knife on the wall. "It's only a spot of sailing."

Will uselessly struggled against his restraints, making John laugh. "Magnus is going to be so pissed at you," he taunted. He was kneeling beside Henry, their hands tied behind their backs and feet bound with the same chain. About all they could do was perch on the floor and hope they didn't topple over.

"Trust me, I've done a lot worse than this in my time," John answered quite seriously. "So long as you don't cause trouble, I fully intend to return you to your precious Sanctuary. At the moment, think of yourselves as currency. Henry, you're worth a little more," he winked.

Henry growled. "You know, when I expressed an interest in a pay rise, this was totally not what I had in mind."

Will could feel the slosh of the waves beneath the enormous ship. They'd reached open ocean, rocking ever so slightly, bobbing in the swell. "No movie and dinner service?" Will snapped at his boss's ex.

"Use your imagination, Mr Zimmerman. Is that not what Helen hired you for?"

With that, John left. The light vanished with him, plunging them into an abyss of night.

"Bastard..." Henry grunted, his irritated hiss echoing off every wall. "Now what do we do?"

"Wait to be rescued."

Henry stopped himself from laughing with a fake cough. "Yeah, that's very likely. The only way we're getting out of here is if we do it ourselves."

Will heard a strange shuffling sound beside him in the darkness – then a thud as something heavy hit the deck against its will. "Did you just fall over?"

Henry lay painfully on his side, cheek flush against the steel floor. "...no."

Worst. Hangover. Ever...

A bleary-eyed, mongrel vampire opened his blue eyes to an offending amount of afternoon sunlight. Nikola grimaced, covered his face with a paw full of claws and rolled away into the beautiful darkness of his pillow.

Thunk!

"Oh bloody hell!" he growled, finding himself unexpectedly on the ground with a throw and several cushions on top of him. He'd not been in a bed at all but Henry's rubbish little couch.

"Steady on, Nikola," Helen warned him, wandering over to her old friend who was a misshapen form of limbs under the silk throw. "You've been out for a while."

He must have been, because the lab was nearly empty – its salvaged bits of computer set back onto the dented desk along with a rescued screen. The chair was replaced with a stool and the charred floor craftily covered with a rug stolen from library.

"Helen?" he muttered, pawing his way back onto the couch. He held his head between his hands, running his fingertips through his messy crop of hair. He had a five-o-clock shadow where a beard and moustache were attempting to grow. It itched.

A glass of wine sloshed into view.

"Lighten up Nikola, or people will think you have a drinking problem."

He took the glass, taking a deep sip to calm his nerves. "Perhaps, but drinking problem with what?" he managed a toothy grin. "Now I remember why I don't travel."

"Introvert," she accused, seating herself behind the computer. "Henry, Will and John are missing. They didn't leave via any of the doors so... well it looks like John transported them out, one way or another."

Nikola cradled his half empty glass lovingly. "Son of -" he stopped himself, seeing Helen's look, "he's working with Amasis. He must be. God, don't ever let me go that long without drinking," he rubbed a pulsing vein on the side of his head.

"I'm not your keeper," she chided. "You need to perk up though, we have to get Henry and Will back. Whatever Amasis has planned for them, it won't be a picnic. What?" Nikola was shaking his head at her.

"No way, you've got two helpers. Take Ashley and the cop with you."

"And leave you lording over the manor? I think not..."

He rolled his eyes. "As relaxing as bringing this mess back into order sounds, I have better things to do."

The penny dropped for Helen, dark hair falling around her suspicious frown. "You're going after the keystones."

"We've got two vampires on the loose, my dear and Apries is going after that door. If we don't split up, one of them is going to get the upper hand. You chase Amasis, leave Apries and his shiny ancient door to me."

"I don't like the thought of letting you off leash..."

Nikola grinned. "I work better alone, you know that."

"Yeah," she sighed dramatically, "right up until the moment you need rescuing."
Bleak House by ellymelly
26

BLEAK HOUSE

OXFORD, ENGLAND - GRIFFIN MANOR

Nikola swept around the ancient mausoleum, his trench coat rippling under the moonlight. He circled the stone structure rising up out of the lawn where Nigel's father was laid to rest. Roses and jasmine tangled over its ionic columns and hefty ironwork door, clutching at them with supple vines ending in spawns of colour.

His fingertips brushed over the sprays of white, inhaling their strong perfume which lingered in the thick mists washing around the lawn, gates and huge manor house in front. It looked like a silent sea caught in time. Terrifying, beautiful - mournful...

In the sliver of new moonlight, the manor's blonde sandstone was a dull grey, banks of Victorian windows black eyes peering out at the night. It loomed at the top of the hill as if it were a ridge of granite peaking from desert dunes. Rows of columns bearing the weight of the mansion dug into cold English soil like talons strangling a mouse.

"Hello, old friend," he whispered, to the house as much as Nigel. Like Nikola, it hadn't aged a day save for a few fresh knocks about the edges.

Taking care not to set off the security lights, Nikola tracked across the lawn, navigating an elaborate sprinkler system then leaping a line of hedges. The manor was under ownership of the Griffin family but with Nigel, his daughter and grand daughter all dead, it had fallen into the hands of a distant cousin who had no knowledge of Vampire blood play in the late nineteen hundreds. Instead he sensibly lived in town, this building abandoned to the care of its butler, groundsman and cleaners.

All quiet.

Nikola checked his watch then bounded a wall. He crossed the paved courtyard and crept to the cellar door. Nigel had been good enough to give Nikola a proper tour of his house for occasions such as this. With very little trouble, he pushed the old jumble of wood open.

Three flights of stairs down found Nikola in the belly of the house, passing cellars full of wine, linen, Greek statues and – to Nikola's relief, a huge pile of crates from the second world war. Luckily for Nikola, the current owners saw the contents as inconvenient trash and hadn't laid so much as a middle class paw on it.

"Well well well – long time no see..." he hissed. Last time he'd laid eyes on this lot, Helen had made him drag them from a burning building. Good times.

Nikola flicked open a pen knife and knelt down, tugging away a dusty cloth covering. He rubbed his sleeve over the copper plates on the front of each chest. They were numbered; 3341-E, 21-399Q … 940-3B. Nikola paused. That was it, the crate from a Nazi occupied castle on the outskirts of Paris.

With brute force, Nikola tugged it from the pile and slid the blade along the cracks in the hardwood. It creaked and then, with a bit of shuffling, groaned open. Paper documents filled more than half of the enormous box. They were brown and dry, curled up around the ribbons tied to keep them in neat piles. Alongside were classified letters from the war years, stolen archaeological research and yes, there it was.

Nikola excavated the foot-long wood and leather box. It was heavy but its contents undisturbed.

Crack.

Nikola's head snapped around. Someone was at the door – no, sneaking down the first flight of stairs.

Hurriedly, he threw the sheet back over the chests and slipped into the narrow, stone corridors linking the subterranean rooms. The footsteps were quicker, advancing directly toward Nikola. The vampire let his eyes turn black, the minuscule amount of light now enough to navigate the labyrinth beneath the house.

Left, through a room and then left again into a smaller cellar. Nikola looked up at the trap door in the ceiling. In a single leap Nikola hooked his fingers on the metal hoop and tugged the trap door open. Another jump and he was clambering onto the floor of the room above. Shit – three more sets of feet. The house was crawling with goons.

He was still beneath the ground, no way out but up. Nikola glanced around the cellar; shelves that used to hold cheese, preservers and not a lot else. Only one door this time. With no choice, he opened it and peaked out. He sank straight back into the room as a figure all in black strolled past, sworn off shotgun dragging in one hand, carving knife strapped in his belt made of silver.

Nikola shivered. This was no random house invasion – they were after him. He waited a few more seconds then silently tracked after the goon. Nikola shadowed him, gaining ground until he was hardly a foot out of step. The man in front sensed something – a primal part of his brain flailing in alarm. Too late, Nikola cracked the antique box over his head and the man fell soundlessly. Nikola dragged him into a room, divested him of the gun and knife and set out – armed.

He could not escape at the ground floor. As he peaked from the servant's door he found a dozen men assembled in the marble foyer, muddy boots leaving tracks all over Nigel's beautiful Pagan floor.

"What the devil is going on down here!" an old, white haired man in striped pyjamas holding a torch meandered down the curved staircase. He was flabbergasted to find the house full of people – at this hour of the morning no less! "The bloody hell do you all think you're doing? This is private property and I -" The man stopped when his nose came worryingly close to the barrel of a rifle. "I-"

The man holding the weapon tilted his head to the side like a vulture. His eyes were narrow and dark, his head covered by a bandanna tied over his short, blonde hair. "Hope we're not bothering you..." he drawled.

Londoner, Nikola realised at once. This was a local crew, probably a scavenged group of independent mercenaries.

The man in pyjamas was too frightened to nod.

"Sit yourself down ol' man. We're just going to take a bit of a look around if you don' mind. Bit of a fan of ol' houses like these and the secrets they keep."

"S-secrets?" the man stuttered, looking even more surprised as he sat down on the stairs. "There is nothing in this place that escapes my notice."

"Really..." the mercenary drawled, considering the deteriorated creature and his almost comical appearance. Whatever his thoughts were, they were interrupted by the crackle of his radio. "Did you find it?"

"Negative. Brown's down though. You were right, there's someone else down here."

Nikola self consciously sank deeper into the darkness, black eyes focussed on the slit of light peaking through the door.

"Find him!" the man snapped.

Snap.

Another man in black fell, his eyes rolling back in his head – the last thing he saw being a row of Nikola's claws scraping against the wall out of sight.

Nikola was on the third floor of the manor, chased and cornered like an Oxford rat. They'd been at this for hours and his patience was wearing thin. Beyond the windows he could see the first blush of dawn stealing the night away from the stars and with it his cover. They'd find him in no time as soon as the sun rose.

Nikola set the box down on a table, sitting in the dusty chair beside. The study yawned around him, inches of dust coating everything except the fragile nets of spiders. He tapped his claws over the box, then took a breath and opened it.

There, exactly as he recalled. Set inside the faded velvet was an ugly, misshapen egg of stone. A keystone made of meteorite. It was smooth and cold as he laid it in his open palm but there was something else – a whisper of electricity humming through its soul. He narrowed his black eyes at it. Nikola loved energy, it ran in his veins and through his heart but this technology set him ill at ease.

He regarded the stone suspiciously before slipping it into his breast pocket and discarded the cumbersome box in the disused fireplace.

"Oh Nigel," Nikola whispered, wandering around the sad room. "You were the only one of us that actually managed a legacy and you're not here to enjoy it. I'm – I'm sorry about your daughter – and grand daughter," he added softly, lingering by the window. "Don't suppose you can give an old friend a hand out of this bloody big building of yours?"

Beneath this side of the house was not the perfect lawn and garden but Nigel's first passion – his green house which stretched nearly two hundred metres capped with layers of special netting to protect the geographically confused garden of Eden beneath. Glossy rainforest leaves brushed eagerly against it, sniffing out the fresh air beyond that was far too cold for them to endure. Death in freedom, Nikola was well acquainted with that yearning.

"Aw mate, I'm sorry..." Nikola muttered, unlatching the window. The poor thing squealed having never been opened. Awkwardly, he clambered onto the narrow ridge of stonework running along the outside of the windows which, to his horror, discovered was purely ornamental and structurally dreadful. He shuffled along the ledge, freezing air whipping at his face.

The window beside him shattered in a waterfall of glass showering out at the night. It fractured over the ground beneath, glinting in the growing dawn. From the hole emerged the blonde man with his rifle.

"Vampire, eh?" it was an accusation rather than a question. He shook his gun menacingly. "Brought a little something just for you."

"Oh fu-"

The gun cracked as Nikola flung himself into the air.

He flew like a bat, jacket billowing behind him like wings with his arms spread wide. He headed inevitably down toward the greenhouse... A bullet clipped his shoulder. It tore through his skin. Nikola screeched, blood splattering onto the netting before he hit it. For a moment he sank onto the taught netting as though it were an enormous, green trampoline. It stretched under his weight, straining against its steel pillars and then tore on one side. He entered an out of control slide, tumbling into the mess of foliage inside.

The mercenary watched from the window. "Get down there," he hissed at the others. "And bring me that stone!"

Nikola batted a leaf off his face. He was laying on his back, staring up at the ghostly form of the manor and ruined roof of the green house bowing toward him.

"Ow..." he groaned, looking at the torn flesh on his shoulder. It wasn't healing yet which meant that the bastard upstairs with bad hair was using silver.

"Young Mr Tesla!" a whisper hissed at him from under a ruined plant.

A pair of hands fished him off the ground, dragging him back to his feet then started dusting him down and nudging him sharply. "...you're still alive?" Nikola replied, when he recognised the old man.

"Nice way to greet a man. Manners never were your strength – youth, perhaps. Old Mr Griffin was right. He knew you'd be back one of these days but God – look what you've gone and bloody done to his green house."

"Ow!" Nikola hissed, as the old man slapped him across the back of the head. "Why is everyone hitting me?"

"Karma, young son. All that new age witchcraft and such!"

It took Nikola a moment to get over 'Karma' being lobbed in as something 'new'. "I need a way out of here." Nikola whispered, stopping the old man from fussing over his bleeding arm. "Do you have a car I can borrow?"

"This is not what I had in mind..." Nikola stood, hand on hips with a stern, unimpressed glare burrowing deep into his pale features. "Oh bloody hell," he sighed, in his best Magnus voice.

"'Twas Mr Griffin's back when he was a boy – or so my father used to say," the grounds keeper patted him gently on the back in encouragement. "This house has many secrets yet, I'm sure you'll be back for a few more before my life is done. Go on now, those walkin' twats will be around here any minute and I don' think I can keep 'em busy long for long."

Nikola lifted his leg uneasily over the Crocker. He'd ridden one of these – once – in the war and... oh fuckity bugger, it was this exact bike. A bike that crashed into a ditch, if he remembered correctly. What was it with Nigel and his pension for rescuing damaged goods? He must have learned that from Helen.

"Get a move on, lad!" the man whacked Nikola across the arse with his walking stick.

Nikola revved the bike. It almost choked on its own fuel but then its tarnished wheels and cracked leather pulled together, spluttering forth into the first hint of morning. A line of bullets thwapped into the ground beside his bike. He looked over his shoulder, seeing a gunman on the roof click a fresh cartridge in and shift his weapon back onto his shoulder.

He was leaving a messy track in the lawn which turned into a screech of gravel when he hit the foot path, swerved and floored it toward the front gates. There was another roar behind him – well, more like a dull purr of Land Rover sneaking out of the tree line. It lumbered through a hedge and pointed its nose directly at Nikola's tail. Blimey.

"I really miss the good old days," Nikola shook his head, riding the bike faster though he doubted it could put out much more, its feeble tread slipping worryingly. Something shook itself free and clanked away over the gravel.

The Land Rover loomed. Its windows slid open to reveal a nimble mercenary who leaned out with a gun balanced against his shoulder. He took a shot at Nikola, hitting the handlebar next to his hand.

"YOU MISSED ME!" Nikola shouted angrily over his shoulder.

Perhaps but he wasn't about to miss again, shuffling the weapon and lifting it again. Nikola took a sharp turn, ducking off to the right just before the mercenary pulled the trigger. Either they really wanted a vampire hanging on their trophy wall or they were after the stone. The only people who knew about the stone were Apries, the Immortal and possibly Amasis. He didn't like the sound of any of those people hunting him.

The Crocker wobbled beneath him, the back wheel deflating rapidly with a fresh bullet hole. Nikola yelped as steel hit gravel. The bike veered to the left and tossed Nikola casually over a sandstone wall. He landed with a splash, his heavy coat dragging him down into a beautiful pool that was absolutely freezing.

The water stung Nikola's eyes. Bullets rained into the water around him, hot shells sizzling as they sank, not quite reaching him but if he tried to surface he'd find himself with more than a few holes in his hide. Panicked, he looked through the water. The smooth sides of the pool curved up toward the glaring garden lights. Useless pool filters flapped at him and a stray leaf spun about, kicked up by his thrashing.

He could do with some rescuing.

The bullets stopped. His lungs burned but Nikola dared not surface. One by one, the glaring orbs of light went out. Then darkness.

Nikola swam toward the surface, breaking free with a desperate gasp of sweet night air. His cloak floated in the water around him like a black halo. The only source of light was the tiny arc of moon falling toward the tree line and haze of pink where the sun threatened to rise. The Land Rover was parked against the sandstone wall – doors open with bullet holes through the windscreen. There was no one about.

He dragged himself out of the water. Mist rose off him as he let himself out of the pool gate and eyed the surrounding gardens. There were bodies on the lawn – mounds of black with accompanying pools of dark blood.

Nikola whispered something untoward in Serbian, dripping his way toward the front gates. There was a silver car at the front, a beaten up first run Camery with a woman in the driver's seat, tapping her gloved fingers against the wheel. Helen – no, Nikola tilted his head, moving closer. Ashley.

"Aren't you meant to be fishing with your mother?" Nikola asked, still partially vamped up as he collapsed into the passenger seat and slammed the door.

Ashley Magnus wore tight leather and dark sunglasses even at this hour. Her neatly cut fringe was only slightly tussled from her brief morning exercise – namely making chaos of the front lawn. "Aren't you meant to be in Paris?"

"Brief detour..." he shrugged, checking that all his claws were intact.

"Yeah," she pulled out of the driveway and headed back to the main road. "Mum said you were a pathological liar who enjoyed making new friends."

"If you're referring to the new lawn ornaments-"

"I'm just going to pretend you said, 'thanks'," she rolled her eyes. "Now, I trust we're still going to Paris?"
City of Love by ellymelly
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.
Blood and Bullets by ellymelly
28

BLOOD AND BULLETS

PARIS, SAINTE CHAPELLE

"Mum was so right about you!" Ashley yelped, ducking behind the antique bookshelf. A silenced bullet thudded into the hardwood too close to her head, not quite making it all the way through the ancient plank. Angry splinters flayed out around the silver tip. She eyed it as a puff of sawdust fell in her hair. "You do have a magnetic allure – for bullets."

His half-formed grin dissolved. Nikola slipped his last cartridge into his handgun, snapping it into place. He risked a glance around the corner of the bookshelf and quickly sank back from a blast of semi-automatic fire ripping at the air. "Can you see Nathaniel?"

"He's out for the count," Ashley replied. She'd seen a 'Nathaniel-shaped' mound of robes on the floor earlier. "Think they clipped him over the head with something when he came down to get your stone."

At least he wasn't dead, thought Nikola. Although if he ever had to return to this place he was sure to cop an earful over the bullet holes in the antique cornices. "Right, there are six hired guns plus our manicured friend from Oxford."

"Your friend. Smoke grenade?" she fished one out of her leather jacket and held it up for his inspection.

Nikola eyed her disapprovingly. "You were carrying that around," he asked dubiously, "just in case?"

"Just in case," she nodded, with eyes that matched her mother's. Ashley tossed the egg-shaped grenade in the air to test its weight. "And on three..."

Ashley snapped its trigger and chucked the heavy canister down through the valley of shelves. It oozed thick, purple gas, killing the range of torchlight to nothing as it bounced off the shelves. The goons were illuminated in a fuzzy, purple aura of confusion. Ashley and Nikola moved. Keeping low, they snuck around the other side of the longest shelf then raced forward, pausing only to take careful shots through gaps in the books.

One. Two. Half down and the others dispersing, clicking their torches off in a futile attempt to hide. This hiss of the grenade disguised everyone's movement but the bad guys were given away by their rasping coughs. In close quarters, Nikola didn't need his gun. He thrust his claws straight through a man's bullet proof vest as though it were soft butter then into the warm human flesh beyond. Blood ran down his wrist as the body fell lifelessly to the floor. He resisted the primal urge to lick his lips.

When the smoke cleared, there was just one body missing from the count.

"Shit! We'd he go?" Ashley strutted through the bodies, eye-balling each one but none of them had the sickening bleached hair of their leader.

"Oh perfect!" Nikola snapped a display case closed too hard, shattering its glass panel. "He's got the stone."

"Urgh..." one of the bodies stirred. It was Nathaniel. He willed open a swollen eye, coughing at the last gasps of smoke. "My library..."

Nikola looked around at the trail of destruction visible in the torchlight. "It was due for a refit."

"B-bastard vampire..." Nathaniel murmured.

The ship's engines whirred to a stop. With a sudden heave of water against the bow, it gradually began to slow. It would be an hour before it brought itself to a stop, adrift in the middle of the water. John Druitt strode out onto its deck, breathing in the fresh, sea air. The sky above was an unblemished blue with a harsh orb of light glowing directly above him.

Amasis stood beside him, claws wrapped around the steel railing leaving scratches. "How do you feel now?" he asked, turning his black eyes upon the murderer.

John shrugged, his leather coat uncomfortably hot on his skin. "Not much yet. Mind you I think I'm still seeing things – and unless the sky has suddenly decided to turn purple on Sundays, my colour range is out."

"Magoi blood is a powerful hallucinogen. There was a substantial black market trade for it several thousand years ago popular with barbarians and priests."

"Are its effects permanent?"

"Not the useful ones," Amasis lamented.

John was a little disturbed. "What about the wolf? Won't it be a waste to try it on -"

Amasis stopped him with a raised claw and low hiss. "I want to see what happens to that worthless pup. You think vampires are bad? You should have been there when the wolves ruled the northern wastelands. It was a frozen hell of strewn with decayed corpses. Human, vampire it didn't matter – they killed everything they touched. The human," Amasis added, when John asked, "is your backup. Soon you'll be ready to kill the immortals and end this foolish balancing act and if you fail, that little protege of hers is next."

John tilted his head back to the sky, blinking at the expanse of purple. It was like living in a stained glass window. He had a bloody headache already. "We should get ready for the next treatment."

"Darn-it!" Nikola picked at the car's leather interior with his claws.

"You're voiding my insurance policy," Ashley snapped, driving the car back to the quaint hotel in the centre of Paris which they'd be sharing. "Look on the bright side, it might be the vamp that's got the stone."

"If it's Helen's buddy Immortal, he will have destroyed it already to stop us getting inside the door."

Another bridge – black water running soundlessly beneath them with pricks of light dotted like stars over its surface. "There must be something dangerous behind those doors," Ashley said quietly.

"The legends say treasure."

"You don't go to this much trouble for treasure," Ashley replied, glancing at the vamp. "That Immortal was willing to kill to keep it safe and he doesn't even know what's really in there. He wouldn't care so much if he actually thought it was gold."

"There's something not right about the whole thing," Tesla agreed. "That place was tens of thousands of years old. Even with unlimited resources, I don't know of a culture on earth that could build the tunnel, let alone the doors."

"Maybe something happened to them – I'm sure I read about pre-civilisation empires more advanced that Egypt at its height."

"Oh, I'm sure you did," he drawled sarcastically, reclining his seat and hoisting his feet onto the dash. "In a B-grade novel, I imagine."

"Dude, my whole life is a B-grade move," she replied – then realised she was talking to a vampire.

"Helen?" Joe knocked briefly then rushed into her office, handing her a tablet. "The London Sanctuary reports a break in at the old Griffin manor. You think it might be Tesla?"

She scrolled through the screens, her frown deepening. "Not just Tesla. He's better at discretion and he wouldn't lay a claw on Griffin's greenhouse. Someone's after him."

"You think he got the stone?"

"Probably – Nikola's pretty go-" She was interrupted by her mobile wailing on the desk beside her. "Magnus speaking." She was met by a tirade loud enough for Joe to hear. "N-Nathaniel... please, this is very important-" Helen tried to get a word in between repeated bouts of swearing, "did these men take anything?"

Helen set the phone down and looked at Joe.

"We're in trouble, aren't we?" Joe said.

"It's one all, I'm afraid. Someone else got the stone. There's only one left in play. Nikola will be coming back here as soon as he can."

"You think Tesla can open the door with just two stones?"

"He's gonna bloody have to."

"I do have a bit of good news – a lead on Zimmerman and Mr Foss," Joe handed her a police file. "I swiped it from the office. There was a vessel reported stolen yesterday morning from its mooring. Could by our old friend."

Their hotel was narrow and old, their double room reflecting this sentiment. They'd requested and were granted two beds but with only the smallest side table known to man between them, they may as well have gone for the king and been done with it. A solitary lamp sat on it, glowing softly.

Nikola walked over her bed to get to his as there wasn't enough room to squeeze around it.

"Gee – thanks," she muttered at the boot prints on her quilt.

Nikola sat cross legged on his, the keystone in front of him. Ashley sat on her bed, facing him. "So Dr Horrible, where's the last stone?"

His eyes were black when he looked up at her. He was hungry and there was no wine. Helen was cheap to a fault. "With any luck, where I left it."

She frowned at him, far too tired for his games.

"Home..." he relented, "But I don't know what good it'll do. I need all three."

"Guess I'm done here for today then," she replied, standing up and shuffling out of some of her clothes. Nikola went an interesting shades of porcelain. "Oh my gawd, you are the most introverted person – ever!" Ashley flopped back onto the hard bed in a very respectable singlet top and shorts. "You're probably going to sleep in your damn bat cloak."

He did.

"Where's it now?"

"About eight-hundred kilometres North-West of Old City, it's hugging the coast, moving toward Prince Rupert."

"Odd..." Helen mused, staring at the screen. "Can we get a helicopter up there?"

The man shook his head. "Not that far. It's a stretch for the light air craft. Your best bet is to take a commercial flight to Prince Rupert and meet them there – charter a 'copter up there and you might have a chance of getting aboard. Mind you – they have to stop for fuel. The company that reported it stolen insist that it only had three quarters of a tank. It'll be out soon."

"Thank you, you've been very helpful."

"Oh, one last thing," the officer said, "the owners are keen to get their property back in one piece."

"Don't sink it?" Helen winked.

"If it's not too much trouble, Dr Magnus. We owe you favours but everyone's cheque books have a limit."

"Just once, can we go somewhere warm like Morocco or Australia..." Joe tugged his Arctic jacket around his shaking bones.

Helen smirked at him, her wild hair whipping about as they crossed the air field. "You said you wanted to do something more interesting with your life."

"How does that translate to 'cold'?" Joe narrowed his eyes at her, then frowned at the rickety four-seater air craft. "Really? All the stories I've heard said you were rich as hell but lately all I've seen are run down pieces of junk held together with duct tape. Even your sanctuary could do with a thick coat of paint."

"Well, Nikola's always saying that I'm cheap – maybe you should listen to him instead."

Joe shook his head in dismay, climbing into the plane. He nudged a broken seal around the window with his finger – horrified to see it cracking further. "At least you're not flying."

Nikola laid on the bed with the stone under his hand. He found it's electro-magnetic field oddly comforting now that he was used to it. It was pulsing very subtlety, like music without a score flailing wildly before dying down into a steady heart beat. Then it repeated.

His mind wandered as it often did when sleep evaded him. It flitted around his memories until settling on Helen. He'd always thought of his mind as a homing pigeon and unfortunately for him, she was his home; his fantasy and his escape. He could spend ours reliving a brush of her fingers or inventing adventures that they never went on. Sometimes he wondered how much of their relationship was actually real rather than a construct of his lonely mind. Probably more than he'd like to admit... Nikola really didn't understand why he was so different – repulsive? Helen made no secret of her lovers – her conquests and affairs. He'd trade every patent, every secret of the universe for a night with her.

Nikola curled up closer to himself, his hands against his own arms the only embrace he'd known. Every night he wished to stop loving her but like all fatal conditions, it was bleeding him dry.

He was bleeding.

It was morning. Harsh light bit at his skin, warming his flesh beyond a comfortable level.

"Steady there, vampy," Ashley pressed him back down to the bed. Tesla was naked to the waist, laying on his stomach with something tight pulling at the skin on his shoulder. "That was quite a night you had there."

"...the hell are you doing?" he complained into the bedding.

"Don't snip at me," she huffed, letting the silver bullet fall onto the bedspread beside his head. "I thought you were joking when you said vampires were allergic to silver."

"I was – in relation to silver chains," he eyed the blood-stained metal that had been literally burning a hole in his shoulder. "It's when when it gets into our blood that we have problems."

"Yeah well," she hopped off him, nurse duties complete, "maybe you want to put that on a card in your wallet, or something."

Nikola gingerly sat up and took in the deep stains of blood on the bedding and wall. He'd obviously been tossing and turning and … oh, by the looks of it he'd tried to run to the bathroom too, his bloody prints on the wall. "We should really get out of here before someone sees that."

"Agreed, mum has us on an early flight. Breakfast?"

"In Paris?" Nikola perked up, "I thought you'd never ask."

"Yeah, that's going to need some work..." Nikola stepped over the remains of the front door rather than through it.

The Sanctuary was a noisy clash of security and Abnormal keepers brought in from other sanctuaries to deal with the destruction. A worrying volume of low-threat creatures still had free run of the house. Two-tailed cats, Dodo hatchlings and a giant, Beige-Baked-Hawk Turtle all meandered past him without so much as a second look.

"Declan!" Ashley shrieked, with absolute glee when she saw the James Watson's protege lingering by the entrance of the main living room.

He was holding a sleepy Nubbin in a vice-like grip having spent the last hour catching the damn thing. Declan turned at Ashley's voice and nodded back in greeting – his eyebrow lofting slightly at the accompanying vampire. You could never tell when those things would show up.

"Wanna hold?" Declan thrust the Nubbin in Tesla's direction.

Tesla hissed at it. "Want to die?" he replied, eyes going black for a moment.

"Ignore him," Ashley waved the vampire off and hugged Declan anyway – then petted her little Nubbin Damien.

"It's a good thing these were cold and sleepy or we'd never have caught them. Damien's the last one." Declan put the Nubbin into a waiting cage which was swept away by one of the members of staff. "I hope to have this place back in shape by the time your mother comes back."

"I thought uncle James was meant to be here?" she replied.

Declan paused. "He couldn't make it, Ash," he replied.

"Darn, I was in London – I should have stopped by and said hi."

"I'm sure James understands besides, from what I hear you've been keeping an eye on our resident vamp. Did you find what you were looking for?"

"Mostly..." Nikola replied. "Was my lab damaged in the attack?"

Declan shook his head. "Henry's place was levelled but no one's touched your quarters. Most of the equipment in Helen's lab is in pieces so you'll have to scavenge or mend anything you want to borrow."

"Saves me dismantling it," Tesla shrugged. He turned tail and left, hunting up to the first floor to his rooms which, as promised, were unmarred. Nikola changed out of his bloody clothes into a fresh, crisp suit and swept a few rooms down the corridor into Helen's office. It was also exactly as they'd left it except for piles of paperwork leaning perilously toward the edges of desks, side tables and window sills.

Tesla flopped into her leather chair, spinning it round to face the wall behind him. He ran his fingertips over the false board covering the safe he'd left embedded in the wall. If Helen knew about it, she certainly didn't touch it. Nikola caught the tip of his claw in the nearly invisible edge and levered the panel out of the wall.

He observed the contents of the safe reverently. Tesla had never been much of a hoarder but the few items he preserved were of great emotional value to him. A small pocket watch, a lady's mirror, a leather bound book of hand drawn sketches, velvet pouch, a parchment scroll, a silver key, one bottle of wine and an innocuous lump of meteor.

Nikola took the stone and closed the safe. He set it down on the desk and put the other stone from Paris beside it. Separate, they looked identical but laying side by side their faint markings were clearly very different. He doubted they were purely ornamental. Their magnetic fields were opposing and if he set them too close together, the stones were sucked into each other, slamming together with a cold thud. Then the magnetic field grew stronger.

Helen's desk light flickered, the long cord with a metal capped tip leaning toward the stones.

"Curious..." he purred at them, tapping the stones with his claws. A puzzle indeed.
Adrift in the North by ellymelly
29

ADRIFT IN THE NORTH

Alarms wailed.

The lamps flickered off, replaced by a dull hue emanating from the emergency lights. They glowed reluctantly in a sea of weak, red orbs embedded across the ceiling. Nikola stirred, driven from the warm nest in the crook of his arm. He'd been asleep, flayed over Helen's desk for most of the night with two empty bottles of wine leering over him like sentries.

He cringed at the assault on his ears, then stretched his chipped claws, inspecting them in dismay. After this little treasure hunting mission was over, Nikola was going to skulk back to the shadows of Rome for some serenity. Once a century gallivanting about in Helen's world was more than enough for an old vampire like himself. He wanted to work on his projects – nurture a few world domination plans and maybe work his way through Apulia sipping wine and flirting his way to obscurity.

The vino would have to wait.

Nikola prodded his laptop with a claw, fishing through security logs. The rear perimeter wall had crumbled into the courtyard leaving a trail of sandstone rubble smeared over Helen's lawn toward the loading dock. It's door was wedged open with a brick – insultingly crude. He watched personal shifting about in the live security feed, scratching their useless heads.

"Humans..." he sighed. "Guess I better -"

He was disturbed by Bigfoot, who padded up to the door, sticking his great big furry head into Helen's office.

"Tesla!" he growled, long, knotted hair full of bits of fish. He had been feeding the Abnormal bats – better known as Pterodactyls. Four leathery forms darted around their cage, slamming into anyone brave enough to wave fish and meat in their direction. They were getting too big to keep. Helen would have to surrender them to the Pacific Sanctuary sooner or later despite her attachment to the ugly things. "Downstairs, now! You've got a guest."

"...I've got a what?" Nikola lofted his eyebrows. He wasn't officially alive let alone entertaining guests.

"Place's becomin' a bloody vampire airport!" Bigfoot stormed off, muttering, "Backpacker lodge for the undead..."

Nikola closed the laptop with a defeated clunk and stowed his keystones out of sight. He levelled a disapproving glare at the grand towers of paperwork littering Helen's office. It was a grand city of paper interspersed with abandoned tea settings. Thick curtains were drawn in an endless, velvet night, encapsulating the room as though he were inside a jewellery box.

It was a familiar sense of chaos. He remembered it well from Oxford, late 1980's, when Gregory Magnus's house had served as their makeshift lair. Nikola didn't like it all – this was a sign that their control was slipping; events unfurling... The last time this happened, five foolish young people changed the world. Nikola wasn't sure that he was ready to walk that path again.

The fire had simmered away into ruin providing only a hint of warmth as Nikola paced by, swiping an unfinished glass of wine from a table which he sipped on his way to the foyer.

He deposited upon entering he marbled room, eyes turning black.

Nikola's first instinct was to punch the son of a bitch in the face but Ashley got there first, the furious blonde sending Apries staggering into an unfriendly wall. The vampire clutched his perfect, Egyptian-prince nose, surprised by the sudden rush of blood.

"The hell do you call what happened in Paris?!" she yelled, at the dashing vampire. Pain shot through her knuckles. She shook her hand with a scowl. "What do vampires have, bones of steel?"

Nose bloodied, Apries shook off the insult and carefully flicked hair out of his face. It fell in soft waves, bouncing whenever he turned his head. Apries was aroused by Ashley's ferocity, gazing at her with amusement. He wasn't sure if it was passion or hunger driving him to run his tongue over his lips, catching a smear of blood. He wondered how she'd taste on his lips...

"I think you mean thank you," Apries replied dryly, sharp blue eyes flicking between the young girl, Tesla and the intimidating Sasquatch. "Where'd they drag you out from?" he added, unwisely at Bigfoot. The creature simply grunted in disapproval.

"Oh yes, thank you so much," Tesla snapped, stalking closer, "for beating the crap out of us – twice. Yes, I quite enjoyed that – always makes travelling that much more interesting. I particularly enjoyed plummeting out of a window into my late friend's greenhouse."

"Perhaps you should take more care with windows?" Apries hid his diversion poorly. "Sadly, I cannot take credit. I do not make a habit of playing with my food lest it run away."

A vein on Nikola's forehead twitched as he found himself referred to as 'food'.

"Then you didn't take the stone from Paris either?" Ashley's eyes tightened with suspicion.

"No," Apries insisted. "I was in Rome, locked in a cell. Our lovely Immortal friend stole your stone. He seemed rather eager to get his paws on all three. His intention is to destroy the key to my door. I managed to salvage this..." Apries reached into his coat and pulled out the remaining stone from Paris. It was more beautiful than the other two, slightly larger and almost reddish in colour. Nikola reached for it but Apries withdrew his hand possessively, vanishing it back into his robes.

"Where's the Immortal now?" Nikola asked warily.

"Pissed. He took exception at my escape."

The alarms died. Bigfoot closed the newly fitted front door with a grunt. The lights returned. Ashley shifted, fingertips brushing the cold handle of her handgun. "I should throw you in the SHU," she whispered, uncomfortable under his constant, lecherous gaze.

"If it pleases you... I'm a very patient vampire."

She shivered, repulsed. Ashley turned tail, heading down toward the gym leaving Tesla to deal with his guest. Apries watched her go, titling his head ever so slightly. All the charm of an Immortal without the bitter after taste.

Not only did Apries look young, his skin was flushing with a healthy hint of crimson making him eerily human. Nikola could smell the fresh blood. He was a vampire – a predator that saw nothing wrong with picking his way through the population. Cities were fast food outlets, children snacks. Yes, Apries was very comfy here in the depths of Old City.

Nikola was having a hard time deciding which vampire he wanted to keep alive for eternity; Apries or Amasis? It was that – or he killed the Immortal. Neither prospect had much hope without Helen beside him. For the moment he decided to play along, learn what he could from Apries. Besides, he could use some help with the stones. Evil they may be but vampires were still smart.

"Alone at last," Tesla nodded at his ancestor. "Shall we?"

"I knocked his Immortal hide around a little. He did not bother to follow me, no need. He knows that we intend to return to the cave now that we have all three stones in our possession – he won't let that pass. The Immortal is prepared to kill us all, including himself, to protect whatever is behind that door."

Nikola sat opposite the vampire. They were in his lab, seated on stools between Nikola's many, varied experiments some of which looked like towers of wire, others blinking with arrays of coloured lights. The one next to Apries hummed like an insect poised to pounce.

Apries eyed it warily. He found himself in a world of things he didn't understand – most of which had their birth in Tesla's mind. It was a strange thing, vampires may not rule the world any more but they certainly had a hand in shaping it.

Nikola was staring into nowhere, trying to reconcile the memory of his professor and the true Immortal that he was. "Do you think he knows what's buried in the mountain?"

"The only thing I know for sure, half-breed, is that the Immortal's knowledge outstrips ours." Apries casually sipped his wine. "This is not bad, actually. Is this really how you stay off your food?"

Nikola topped up the vampire's glass. "I'm not sure it'll work for you but if you get peckish during your stay, I suggest you alleviate yourself of the blood bank downstairs. That furry thing you met earlier will take offence if you gnaw on any of his precious pets."

"I had a good feed earlier," he assured Tesla. "To business, I'd like to see those stones of yours."

Nikola bent down, pulling out the drawer in the desk.

"Stay away from that Immortal," Apries added, swirling his wine around in the glass.

"Believe me, trying to," Nikola muttered, pulling out the stones. They were wrapped in layers of velvet and warm, their electric fields creating friction in the atomic structure of the rock. It reminded Nikola of a heart, steadily pulsing. "I don't fancy being balanced out of an equat-"

"No," Apries cut him short. "The woman."

Nikola looked up, his eyes dangerous. He was a very private creature and Helen inhabited the most secret part of his soul.

"She's designed to appeal to you. That's the point – the snare of an Immortal but the minute you have them..." Apries finished his sentence by clicking his bony fingers as though a moth had met its flame.

"I think you have the wrong idea about us," Nikola replied brusquely. "Helen and I are old friends."

The vampire's lip curled revealing the sharp tips of his fangs. His mouth was full of them, all neatly arranged in a row of tiny daggers. "I have seen many vampires fall. It is a patient curse, a disease and you, my mongrel friend, are sick with it. You reside in her house, do her bidding – how long until you try for her bed? How long until that perfect neck of hers lingers too close to your fangs – pitiful as they are?"

Nikola took a measured breath. This creature knew nothing of friendship, of the binds that held together people throughout centuries. "Can we focus?"

The vampire shrugged. In his own way he was genuinely trying to be of assistance even if he'd severely miscalculated Tesla's heart. "Between you and me, if a vampire is going to die shortly, I'd rather it be my brother."

"I suppose being entombed alive would sour your relationship," Nikola agreed.

Apries shrugged. "That was the least of it. He was notorious schemer, spreading whispers through the palace and the ranks of father's army. He is – destruction – poison; like the ancient gods of mischief. His hunger for the spoils of war killed our people. Even if I could forgive him his trespass against my person, I will never forgive him the slaughter on the dunes. The children-" Apries stopped as the vision appeared in his mind, raw as the desert sun baking the lifeless bodies. His infant son reached up, tiny hand -

"Has there ever been a crossing of the blood-lines? Immortals and Vampires..."

Apries tensed, snapping the stem of the wine glass in his hand without meaning to. Dark, vampire blood dripped onto the table. It was cold, turning black against the wood. He watched the skin on his palm knit effortlessly back together. "Once," he breathed in reply.

Nikola leaned closer, blue eyes meeting black. "And?"

"It ended with blood – blood sinking through the sand... The child was slaughtered with the rest and our ships, meant to carry us to a new home, fled as my brother's army bore down on myself and the few survivors. One of them was my wife."

Apries faltered slightly, playing with the bits of broken glass. "She had red hair and eyes like Firestones. I still remember the evening that we first met in the desert. I followed her into a hidden spring. Her plan was to kill me – exact a little balance for the world and rid it of another vampire."

She was an Immortal, Nikola realised, heart flickering with hope. "Instead you had a child."

The vampire nodded. "Is something wrong?"

Nikola was staring off into the distance. He had seen this story play out before. It's vision had haunted him since Oxford. Sand. Blood. Ships sails vanishing along a ribbon of blue, never to return. Blood memory.

"Minqar Abd an Nabi..." Nikola whispered.

Apries felt violated but kept his tone steady. "Ah, so the blood does live on. You have seen those sands. How does it make you feel? Are you human, holding the sword and thrusting it into their flesh? Or are you amongst the vampires rotting on the ground? What is it like to inhabit both worlds – both pains and victories?"

Nikola's brow furrowed. "Confusing."

"Creatures like you are not meant to exist," Apries whispered.

"I've been telling myself the same thing since 1888."

"You are an accident."

Tesla shrugged. "The universe banks on accidents."

"What the hell is this?" Henry protested, yanking against the chains on his hands and ankles as he was pulled along the hallways like a dog. "Uh ha – no way!" he growled, snarling as he was shoved into a small room with a steel table with leather restraints. "What kind of mad scientist lair is this? Get your claws off me, vamp!"

Amasis flicked his hand, calling forth his assistants who lifted the wolf onto the table and strapped him down. Henry kept struggling, trying to change into his animal form but the drugs they'd given him earlier were drowning his system. Every time he tried, searing pain burned through his body, rushing fire and ice through his veins. It was a trick of the nervous system; the pain was not causing physical actual harm but Henry simply couldn't fight through it.

"Tighter," Amasis hissed, as the scientists heaved on the straps until their subject wailed. They all sank back into the shadows of the room, Amasis drawing down the spotlight so that it near-blinded Henry in its angy light.

"You're mental!" Henry grunted, struggling. "What happened to the whole, 'protecting abnormals' gig you had going in South America?"

"I never harboured wolves, Mr Foss. Your kind are dirt."

Now Henry thought about it, that cave had flung him back out into the wilderness. He should have known then that he was unwelcome. Bloody vampires. "Aw come on, like vampires are much better hey – HEY that hurts!" Henry complained, as one of the scientists stabbed a needle into his arm, jamming down the plunger.

John lurked around the edge of the room, pacing silently.

"Druitt! I know you're there!" Henry cried out. "You can't let him do this – you won't!" He was pleading with a serial killer for help against a vampire. His chances of survival were pretty slim.

"Amasis!" Will screamed at the walls until he was hoarse. He fell against the cold metal, banging his head into it in anger. "God-bloody-darn-it!" every word was accompanied by a loud bang.

He'd watched helplessly as the scientists dragged Henry away. They were going to do something terrible to him, he knew it. Their body language was sickeningly easier to read. There was nothing he could do to stop them – no way out of this container. With no light, he couldn't even see the cold wall against his skull.

"Not Henry..." he whispered, sliding down the metal in defeat. As much as he liked Foss as a colleague, he knew that Henry was like a son to his boss. It would kill Magnus to lose him.

He continued bashing his head against the wall, preferring the pain to the sound of Henry's distant screams. Then he heard it – the sharp screech of his door opening, chains hitting the ground and a bright crack of light violating the abyss. They'd come for him.

"Will!" a woman's voice hissed, a torch striking through the darkness onto his face. "God! Will!" A figure, out of focus without his glasses, raced towards him. They kneeled to the ground, soft hands cupping his face. Their flesh was warm.

"...Magnus?" Will murmured, blinking back the alien light. Another figure lingered by the door, nervously keeping watch.

"You could sound a touch more enthused," her very British voice drawled in reply. Helen broke his chains and helped her protege to his feet. He seemed unsteady but not hurt. "Will – where's Henry?"

"I think it's too late," Will replied, leaning heavily against her. "Amasis took him upstairs an hour ago – the last thing I heard was – was screaming..."

Bigfoot set down the sixth bottle of wine for the evening in front of the vampires. They didn't even notice his presence any more. That was vampires for you. They were born to bask in the service of slaves. Presently, the fanged pair were engrossed in the unassuming trio of stones; re-arranging, analysing and documenting every nano-metre of their melted patterns.

"Fascinating, this appears to be a language," Apries whispered, examining an enlarged photo of their surfaces. Each was covered in complex arrays of hairline scratches.

"One based in mathematics," Nikola added, tapping it with a long claw. "It follows natural progressions, a pattern repeating itself as it flows across the stone. Beautiful..."

"The language of the gods, perhaps," Apries mused. "No one has ever seen it but the ancient songs made reference to such a thing. They called it, 'music'."

"Music is mathematics," Nikola agreed. "Though without a reference – a Rosetta Stone of sorts, we have no hope of translating this inside a useful time frame. Let's just hope this door of yours is essentially plug and play."

"The Immortal will be waiting for us, we know that. He doesn't need to hunt us out from the corners of the world. Have you ever seen the true form of an Immortal?" Apries asked Tesla.

Tesla set his photographs down with a confused look.

"Nor have I," Apries admitted. "All I know is that if we're the monsters of this world, then the Immortals are the gatekeepers of hell itself."

"The only hell, Apries, is the world you see around you," Nikola replied bluntly. "Take a good look."

The prince easily passed for a man in his thirties, wild and dramatic with dark hair and piercing eyes. Nikola idly wondered if that was a hunting adaptation, playing off what human females found attractive to draw them in before the slaughter like a carnivorous flower or violent insect. Deadly beauty. Serenity in the slaughter.

"If we're going back to that cave, we need to have a plan and my brother. The Immortal will come after us if we go for the door. If Magnus brings him back..."

"Speaking of," Nikola leaned closer. "This little trick the pair of you can do – short range teleporting... We're going to need to stop your brother from doing that. Can I borrow you briefly."

"To determine an effective restraint?" Apries looked moderately uncomfortable.

"Listen, we're trusting you – you have to trust us. Besides, there's nothing like a little bondage to lighten the mood."

Henry was drowsy, the drugs sending his limbs into a dead sleep. He sagged against the table and its leather restraints. His yellow eyes stared unblinking at the light above. It consumed him, became his world and his focus. There was nothing but that light and the emptiness it promised.

A shadow leered over him.

Amasis sank an eyedropper into a small vial of Magoi blood and brandished it over the werewolf. This was an indulgent pleasure – a wolf at his mercy, how he'd longed for such a day. He'd prayed to the old gods to bring a wolf to his sanctuary but never, not in all the long centuries, had one been brazen enough to sniff its way into the caves.

"Stupid mutt," he whispered, pressing his cold, bony fingers against Henry's eye socket, holding his lids apart.

Amasis was thrown violently backwards long before he heard the boom of Helen's shotgun. The force of the exploding shrapnel pinned him to the wall in a spray of blood. He let out a hiss, gasping for air as his body started to repair itself. He dropped the vial – Magoi blood splattering over the floor. "Magnus!" he hissed.

"Yeah," she replied, cocking her gun. "Nice ship. I wouldn't..." she cautioned the scientists, some of which were shifting toward weapons. "In the corner, all of you. What are these, Amasis – left over Cabal?"

Amasis sank to the floor in a pool of his blood, wounded but not fatally so. His black eyes were searching for Druitt but he couldn't see the murderer anywhere. "Some of them," he admitted, holding up his bloodied hand. "So – what – are you going to kill me?" he hissed.

Magnus glared at him. "Don't tempt me," she hissed. "I have that urge to free the world of one vampire. It's a deep, primal desire – easily given into if you test my patience."

"I don't see why you'd leave me alive – a vampire wouldn't..."

"Well then it's your lucky, bloody day because I'm not a vampire. Joe."

Joe stepped forward, lifting his rifle. He shot Amasis with several rounds of tranquilliser, tiny colourful feathers sticking out of his chest. Amasis groaned, staring down at the darts before slumping to the ground.

"What about John?" Joe knelt down to check that the vampire was out.

"He's around here somewhere, he must be. CCT footage showed him step onto the boat."

Helen walked over to Henry, undoing his restraints. "You all right?" she whispered.

"Yeah doc, good..." Henry whispered, sitting up, rubbing his sore wrists. "John's gone. Saw a flash of light just before you arrived. Will -" he remembered. "He's down in the – oh, hi!"

Will waved from the door. The bruises on his face looked raw and angry.

"Let's box the vampire up and go home," Helen said, before turning her glare on the scientists. "And hand these over to your boys," she nodded to Joe. "I'm sure they'd love to process them for various crimes against humanity."

"Be a pleasure, Magnus," Joe grinned.

Helen stalked down the ship's corridors, casing the darkness – checking room after room. It was a ghost ship, only a fraction of it used by Amasis and his crew. Abandoned without power, it creaked and moaned like a giant skeleton. She could hear water lapping against the hull, the distant beating of a helicopter's blades and her breath; short and wary on the air.

There were no more prisoners in the cargo hold where Will and Henry were kept. The original cargo was untouched, looming in containers the size of small apartments. She angled her torchlight up their ribbed surfaces, pausing to admire the scale.

Cold steel on her neck.

Helen froze, a blade pressing against her pulsing vein.

"...John?"
Crown of the Universe by ellymelly
30

CROWN OF THE UNIVERSE

"Just like old times, my dear..." a sickening voice purred through the air. The blade shifted, sharp steel digging into Helen's delicate throat.

"You and I remember the 'old times' very differently," Helen replied slowly, wincing as the blade pressed harder. Her throat had felt his blade many times; firm, trembling, teasing on the deadly edge of threat but it never dove into murder with her flesh. It wouldn't dare. "What are you doing here, John? Last time I checked, vampires were at the bottom of your charity list."

"This is not charity."

"Amasis promised you something?" Helen turned her head a fraction, catching a glimpse of John's eyes. Their warm brown was ringed with crimson as though the demons that clung to his soul were bleeding through into reality. "What have you done?"

"Do you remember James's favourite saying, 'better the devil you know?' Well Helen, I'm your devil –"

"Sometimes I wonder if I know you at all," Helen interrupted. John sighed – she was right.

"Oh but how hard you've tried. How many months did I submit myself to your careful study, doctor Magnus?" John withdrew his knife from her skin, stalking around in front of her. In the dark, he brandished the knife, enjoying the way the fragments of light played off its polished sides. "The Great Sherlock Holmes and his puppy Watson couldn't unravel me – I guess you never stood a chance."

She lifted her gun, toying with the image of his lifeless body on the floor. Helen Magnus didn't need to understand John to control him. That was truth which Sherlock and James never appreciated. Nikola understood; he was well versed in the nature of mysteries. "You've been experimenting."

"As I said, like old times."

"This is not vampire blood," Helen edged closer, also lifting her torch. She shone it at his eyes. John didn't even flinch. "Magoi?" she hazarded a guess and knew at once that she was right. "It's a narcotic, I should have guessed as much. It explains the spread of their species along human trade routes despite the climate being all wrong for their survival."

"Fascinating," he mocked.

"It is – though what it's done to you is perhaps more so."

"Pandora never had a finer box. Enjoy your vampire captives," he bowed low to her – the knife still in his outstretched hand. "Three's a crowd, Helen. They'll be at each other's throats before you reach that cave. I hope you know what you're doing because Tesla sure as hell doesn't. It's Wardenclyffe all over again. I hope you're ready for the fall because he's going to take everyone with him on the way down."

A sharp crack tore the air. Helen shielded her eyes from the purple glow as reality stitched itself back together.

Helen deflated. "I guess you don't intend to be of any help..." she muttered sharply at the dark. "Just like old times."

"Yeah – all right – very funny. You can release me now, half-ling brat." Apries swatted at the cell bars keeping him captive in one of the Sanctuary's holding cells. He knew that damn part-vampire was on the other side, enjoying himself. He almost wished that the vampires had been wiped out so that he'd be spared the tenacity of their inbred litters. "Hey! Tesla! I know you can hear me..."

Tesla couldn't. Dr Nikola Tesla was two floors down perusing the wine cellar, trailed by Helen's pet sasquatch. "Excellent year – 1965, plenty of hot days, freezing nights. This particular vintage survived one of Helen's famous parties. Oh, you should have seen this house back then – room after room of well," he stopped when the fury creatures growled. "It would be a shame to empty it without occasion." He put the crimson bottle back in the dusty rack, fingers lingering on it a moment.

"I thought you didn' see Magnus for fifty years?" Bigfoot grunted, fielding the vampire away from an expensive collection of whites. "You're sayin' she lied?"

A private smile curled his lips. "She didn't lie – and yet she's not correct."

It was one thing to fool her proteges and pets but Nikola riddled out her secret. The moment she strolled through his door in New York he knew that Helen Magnus was playing the universe twice.

Bigfoot tried a different line of question. "So, how's it feel to find out that you're actually a virus?"

Nikola glared. "Been reading Helen's notes again?" he replied. "Technically you can make an argument that humanity is a virus but yes, all right," he was forced to conceded. "Actually, it doesn't bother me too much. Virus's are a very successful life form on this world. They are smart and hard to kill – I take that as a compliment. There's something of the artist about them, sneaking into other creature's DNA – re-writing bits of it to suit their needs."

"Like a parasite?"

Tesla slipped another bottle of wine into his arms. "Totally different."

"I don' know Tesla, them sand creatures seemed parasitical, living off whatever they could sink their fangs into."

Tesla paused, hovering beside one of the ancient wine barrels. A dozen empty barrels were piled up along the walls as decoration, adding to the general charm of the cellars. He was considering making a rudimentary desk out of one of them. Few knew that Helen's Sanctuary was an old vineyard. Nikola bought as the city threatened at its boundaries nearly a hundred years ago. He used it as a lab and hideaway during the second world war until Helen took it off his hands – something about drawing too much attention to himself when he was meant to be dead. Since then the city had encircled it with concrete. The sprawling, soft hills were dug away and the vines left to rot in the ground. Too bad, the wine was good.

"Think of them as a secondary infection. Sand creatures are a reversible state, as you saw with young Mr Zimmerman. We're not quite sure how but the vampire virus has diluted over the aeons. It's littered throughout humanity's genome – recessive, like blonde hair and blue eyes, it'll die out eventually. Gregory never had the chance to work out how it arose in the first place. An accident, no doubt – an initial mutation that spread through a small population."

"An incestuous disease – rings a bell with Egyptians..." Bigfoot paused, horror ruffling his fur. "I know what you're after, Tesla." Bigfoot shifted, looming taller over the slender half-breed.

"So... you did read my notes. You're not just all big paws and fur."

"You shouldn' leave sensitive information on your desk."

"Locked in my drawer. No, clearly not."

"Amasis found somethin' in the City of Stars," Bigfoot continued to guess. He had been trying to work out Tesla's game for quite some – ever since he had appeared on Helen's doorstep. There were no co-incidences with him. Every move was calculated, every play to his advantage. "There's a story about the origin of vampires in one of his records."

Nikola smirked. This creature was wasted on Helen's staff. "The City of Stars is the oldest store of knowledge in the world. I may not have seen the story with my own eyes but I know enough to guess that Amasis thinks the origin of the vampire species is buried in the mountain range behind those damn doors. It's my history – the truth about one of the greatest species that this world has given birth too. Apries may or may not know."

"And the Immortal doesn' want you to find it."

"He's terrified of it." Knowledge is treasure. "No pure blood vampires are ever going to born again – we ran out of queens..."

"You bastard." Bigfoot snapped, as all the penny's fell at once. "You're going to re-populate the world with vampires!"

"Same old story, fur ball." Nikola backtracked to the exit, slamming the door and locking the cellar with Bigfoot trapped inside. He could hear Bigfoot pound against the door with his fists but through the solid oak door, it was little more than muffled thuds that no one would hear. "Sorry Fuzzy, I'll leave a note for someone to come let you out after we're gone. Hey – you should try the 1992 Yale Valley red – I find it very calming."

Nikola Tesla strolled off casually as Bigfoot cursed at the locked door.

KASHMIR, PENSI LA MOUNTAIN PASS

It was frozen hell – a wall of shattered ice, trapped in its terrifying plunge from the black cliffs. At the mouth of the cave, the waterfall of ice was frothed and soft, like storm clouds swelling in a volcanic bloom tinted steel-grey and blue. Beneath, the ice bled into ropes and daggers, reaching toward the valley – most not quite touching the snow. They swayed, snowflakes bouncing off with soft clinks.

The vampires and Helen stood at the base, gazing up at the carnage. Some unfortunate sand creatures were trapped in the ice. Their horrified faces were preserved, bits of their limbs protruding from the ice. More littered the ground below but they were buried under several weeks worth of snow.

"There's no way we can get up there with climbing equipment," Helen said, dropping her useless backpack to the snow. There was no point carting it any further. As she'd feared, they would have to relay on the vampires to take them into the cavern.

"What if the whole place has frozen through? We'll never be able to break through a tunnel of solid ice."

Helen turned to Nikola. He was framed by a ring of snow-dusted fur from his ski jacket. "You better hope that's not the case, Nikola. Have you brought the stones?"

"Have I brought the stones..."

"Just checking!" she backed off, taking another wary glance at the caves. There was a break in the chilling blue – a dark void running along under an overhang of rock. "Apries, interested in doing a spot of scouting?"

"If you'd be so good as to untie me," he nodded, thrusting his wrists forward. Both vampires had been fitted with Tesla's latest invention prohibiting the use of their teleporting gift. Strictly, it didn't stop them from actually teleporting but it sufficiently scrambled the magnetic fields around them, destroying their ability to navigate. Nobody wanted to end up half-embedded in a wall.

Helen typed a pass-code into the wrist bands, whose lights flickered from purple to blue, indicating standby mode. Apries eyed them warily before stalking ahead of the group, carefully eyeing the top of the waterfall. "There's not much space up there. Let me borrow a torch." Nikola threw one at him before the vampire vanished in a flare of purple light leaving the base of the waterfall trembling.

They saw another flicker of purple high up on the ice. Apries vanished for a moment, hopefully finding enough cave for them to climb into.

Nikola stared at the sight before him. This was the birthplace, the heart of his race. Beneath that ice was a world order waiting to rise and bring order to the chaos. The planet had lost its way, tied down with tribal warfare, no direction and insular goals. There was a universe waiting to be explored and Nikola was damned if he'd sit around for eternity, cooling his heels in this backwater.

He'd always heard that the claim to the throne of the universe rested with the most vulnerable and frail of creatures – well, Nikola Tesla was having none of Montaigne and his Renaissance prattle. It was time for the vampires and a new age of peace.
Born of Violence by ellymelly
Author's Notes:
Author's note: is there still a sanctuary audience out there? :*(
31

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.
The Gryphon and his Gold by ellymelly
Author's Notes:
AUTHOR'S NOTE: if you have read Love in the Time of Science you will notice that this is what happened behind the scenes. It is the answer as to how Helen Magnus became immortal and the initial fall of the Sanctuary of the Moon.
32

THE GRYPHON AND HIS GOLD

OXFORD UNIVERSITY, 1864

"My research has merit!" Doctor Gregory Magnus insisted, passionately striding around the oval table which took pride at the centre of the library. He was nervous, beads of sweat congregating around his receding brow. Gregory wiped them away with his frayed sleeve, trying to focus on anything but the rising fear in his chest.

It was late.

Oxford University lay in slumber alight with candles and dying oil lamps. Their fragrant smoke lingered in the air as another Autumn gust crashed a wave of leaves over the windows. They swirled, crunching against the ancient stone then fell away into the mist which had come to settle on the lawn. Scaffolding clawed at one end where the partially constructed shell of the university's new wing was silhouetted against the evening sky looking eerily like a corpse.

The Gothic wing of the library was locked. Its aging room had taken on a hint of ire, walled in by dusty manuscripts and gargoyles which were sunken against the shelves as festered wounds. Perhaps the library had seen too much – or not enough.

The world was changing again and Oxford lurked at the heart, tailoring a fresh generation of monsters.

Gregory lifted his gaze to the shelves. He heard them creak under their hoard and yet offered him no solace. History was an observer to the world, nothing more.

Half a dozen dispassionate gazes awaited him. The gentleman were sat around the opposite end of the table, flanking Samuel Griffin like a storm front. Griffin – Director of the University's Medical Advisory Board, chairman of Specialist Adaptations Advisory, founder of Oxford's Cabal branch and Gregory's oldest friend from college – was the only one to offer a smile as Gregory collected himself. Their youthful years had died and Samuel Griffin had suffered each one of them. His frail figure used a series of props for support – cup in one hand, pile of books beneath the other to disguise a tremor. A year shy of forty and he already looked old.

"Gregory," Griffin continued, letting his gaze wander over the board members. They stared back like statues, alien to his friend's distress. "You know how it is. The world is not as our dreams demand. To wager the funds of this board you must also offer a return of profit."

"That is not our code," Gregory glared at the well-dressed men with their cotton waistcoats and silk cravats. He resented their wealth but not as much as he despised their talentless success. His shirt sleeves scuffed over the table leaving trails of sweat as he leaned close, both hands on the wood. "Please, to throw me out will end my research. It will ruin me. We had the same dream, Sam."

Samuel Griffin flinched at the informal use of his name.

"My work has meaning," Gregory all but whispered. "If we don't save these creatures we will never understand why they exist or by extension, the diversity of our own species. Abnormality is a gift to science. It's -" he fished for the words, lifting a hand to the forest of books, "the smoking gun of evolution. Nature's experiments. One day I will have enough evidence to publish and the world will know the truth – that we are part of a vast -" he was cut short.

"Gregory," Griffin's voice shifted, softer. "I do not want to banish you from our organisation. Your heart is in the right place – it always has been and heaven knows we need that in this modern age. Not only that, I have heard that your wife is finally with child."

"That is correct," Gregory admitted. A miracle. "It's a delicate time – financially."

"Let us meet you halfway. We have word from the new continent," word from Percy Fawcett, who shifted beside Griffin, "of a valuable abnormal hiding in the mountains, buried in the new world. An old friend of ours..."

Gregory's eyes darkened. "The vampire. I thought you and I decided not to pursue that line of-"

"I have changed my mind," Gregory was cut off again, Griffin clasping at a nearby quill. He penned his signature on a few pages, passing them to his left.

"May I at least wait until my wife has our child?"

Griffin nodded, setting it back in the ink well. "It will take months to organise an expedition. You can wait. In the meantime we will continue your allowance as before. We expect you to submit your findings and offer any further notes you have regarding the study of the vampire species. You are right, old friend. Hunting monsters is your speciality and I would rather have you with us in some capacity, even if it is only in an advisory position."

"Thank you..." Gregory nodded.

"Fawcett will gather a team and lead the expedition at the start of Spring. Now if you would leave us, I have matters to discuss with the other board members."

Gregory made his farewells and left, flitting back out into Oxford's night. The house he and his wife shared was tucked away down a side alley where a faint glow came from the gas-lights strung out like deep-sea pearls along the main street. The roads themselves were filthy, partially dirt and gravel rather than stone. The day's rain had made them smell of horse manure and rat.

He opened the door and smiled at the warmth of his house. It smelled of leather, ash and dried rose petals. His wife was seated in front of a fireplace surrounded by piles of journals. She was diligently writing up his notes, no doubt improving on them as she went. His wife, his partner – she was a scientist in her own right and beautiful.

"Did you bend them to your will, my dear?" Mrs Magnus asked, eyes alive with mischief. Her stomach had a gentle curve to it where their child grew.

Gregory nodded. "By some grace, we're still afloat in this sinking world."

"I've decided that we are having a girl," his wife whispered, as Gregory sank to his knees in front of her and the fire. He set his head on her lap and let her run cool fingers through his thinning hair.

"Indeed – and what shall we call this child?"

"Helen," she replied, the word firm on her lips. "After your mother; a scientist and adventurer – the best of us both."

"Helen Magnus..." he closed his eyes. "Yes, that suits her very well."

"Are you sure that you're all right?" his wife nudged him gently. "They must have demanded some kind of trade for your employment. Is it...?"

He nodded, then frowned, sinking deeper against her. "A long time ago, I wanted to find this creature more than anything else. Now I'd rather leave it sleeping."

Mrs Magnus cupped her husband's head in her hands, tilting his head up so that he had no choice but to look upon her. "My dear... we need the money."

It was her eyes that stilled Gregory's heart. "Well, Fawcett's the only one mad enough to hunt it out. I guess I should be grateful that he's not making me go."

Percy Fawcett had established himself on the seat to Griffin's left. He was young, roguish and hard; a creature who had weathered the sharpest edges of the world, expertly navigating its treacherous terrain with a mad grin. His cheerfully curved moustache softened his pale blue eyes, a combination which drew quite a bit of attention from Oxford's females. Too much. Against his better judgement Percy had taken a wife.

Every few months, Fawcett strolled into Oxford to present his conquests which boasted creatures from the far reaches of the earth and storehouses of treasure, either real gold or imagined. Today's offering was a rare compound ripped out of mines in the Middle East and sold to the Cabal. It was not as colourful as Magnus's mythical throw-backs but dirt paid well.

"We have been led to believe that you brought another souvenir from your last expedition." Griffin tilted his head in a predatory gaze.

Fawcett, who had been about to fold his six-foot figure back into his chair, hesitated. There was something of the tide about him. He was a strange man with eyes made from faded clouds after a storm. "I have what you asked of me," he relented, reaching into his case. He pulled out a vial of silver liquid and held it close to one of the candles so that they others could see the slight glimmer in the mysterious substance. "Drawn fresh this night."

"And your proof that it is real?"

"You know where to find me if you have any complaints. You won't. I believe firmly in the sanctity of business."

Thirty-nine year old Samuel Butler sat to Griffin's right. He was dashing with thick eyebrows, softly kinked hair and firm limbs from working his father's farm. His dark gaze focussed on Fawcett. There was a time when he'd believed the world to be the creation of a god, of theatrical 'snap' of a deity's fingers. Since then he had seen things that had shaken his soul, creatures that could only be the work of a world unchecked. Monsters at war with each other. One of them sat opposite, well hidden under the guise of humanity. Mr Fawcett was not what he appeared. Butler couldn't help but be dawn to him all the same. Power and fear, they were as fascinating as they were deadly.

"The blood of an Immortal is not easy to happen by..." Butler purred dangerously. The others were not aware of Fawcettt's true nature – except for Griffin. Griffin had a habit of knowing everything about his creatures.

"And for your trouble, you will be paid in full," Griffin was quick to insist, casting a sharp glare at Butler.

"From the Cabal's bank accounts – or the University's?" Butler continued, his lip twisted into a smirk. "I'm no accountant but even to the untrained eye the cash is flowing in a rather steady direction – downhill, towards the cotton mills."

Fawcett was a guest not a member and his allegiances were anybody's guess. Mostly he wanted financial backing for his own projects and couldn't care less as to the source of the funds. "I am certain this is an enterprise to the benefit of both organisations."

"Indeed..." Butler replied. "Tell me, Colonel Fawcett, are you searching for our Vampire – or is it the City of Gold that has your eye? I seem to remember something about the Smithsonian declining your request for an expedition last month."

"Happily for all involved, these two goals are not mutually exclusive." Fawcett gathered up his things and went to leave. He stopped at the last row of shelves, turning back to the table and its disquieted members. "Magnus's loyalty will fail you but his research won't. A cornered lion is many things, honest is not one of them."

"It's not right Griffin," Butler was the last member remaining at the table. The others had skulked off into the evening, leaving them alone with the small vial of Immortal blood. "You have a child on the way, why not test it on your wife instead if you're convinced this is so safe?"

"My wife is only weeks away from the birth, it is too late to attempt any such experiment on her."

"Convenient."

"I'm confident both mother and child will live – and who better qualified to watch over proceedings in the years to come than Magnus? We may not be able to breed new Immortals but if we can alter our own biology – tweak it toward longevity... It is safer than vampire blood, you have to at least admit that."

Butler sighed, idly playing with the last candle. "Yet you're still soliciting a sample of that as well."

"That's – a personal matter. I have no intention of using vampire blood on anyone else."

"And what do you hope to get out of this, hmm?" Butler was deeply disturbed by the direction Griffin had taken their board in of late. It was one thing to push the boundaries of science, another completely to run dangerous experiments on humans without their consent. "Some kind of half-breed Immortal that you and your friends at the Cabal can study?"

"Think what we can learn... Immortals are too dangerous and aloof to study first hand but Magnus's daughter – she'd be ours from the start."

"Your own city of gold, biologically speaking."

There was a long pause between the men. It was Griffin that broke it. "Are you still intent on resignation?"

Butler shook his head. He was going to stay. "Someone has to keep an eye on you. Griffin, if Magnus finds out, he'll never forgive you. Your oldest friend..."

"Despite what you may think, Butler, he is my friend – always."

"Then I trust you never extend me the courtesy of friendship." Butler slowly arched his eyebrow and leaned closer to the aging Griffin. The man looked like the beginnings of a skeleton, as though death had started its feast early. "Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat – right up until they are slain."

He walked away, leaving a distinct chill in the air.

Mrs Magnus had forgotten the time. Most of her morning was spent hidden away at the back of a book store, picking around the shelves. She could afford one book a month and this time she was determined to buy a children's story book, a gift for her unborn daughter. She was about to pry, 'A Journey to the Centre of the Earth' from the shelf when something else caught her eye. It was an old, leather-bound book with a single embossed word over the cover.

Panchatantra

She smiled warmly, holding the book in her elegant hands. Mrs Magnus had a sneaking feeling that her husband would appreciate this more than her child.

Clutching the book to her chest, she stepped back out into the street. As businesses closed, people swarmed over the street, a ball of muted gowns with tattered edges, spinning around each other as they bustled their way from door to door.

Mrs Magnus decided on a calmer side street, running her gloved-hand along the granite wall towering beside her. The passage was too small for a cart but she liked the walls and their glistening facades. It reminded her of the caves her husband had taken her to in Greece, chasing down a living fossil.

She turned slightly at the crunch of boots behind her. A wandering vendor perhaps, hoping to sell her trinkets? A swift glance revealed nothing in his arms. Politely, she moved to the side so that he could slip by her – but he didn't. The man pulled even with her and then took her by the arm.

Mrs Magnus reeled in fright. "Excuse me sir, can I help you?"

The man said nothing. He covered her face with a foul smelling rag, holding it there until the light faded from the world and she collapsed to the ground.

When she woke, she found herself in the alley – uninjured much to her relief. The man had taken liberties with her purse, thieving the meagre coinage. As far as muggings went, she had been lucky.

As she picked herself back off the ground, she failed to notice the tiny pinprick in her arm where pure sample of Immortal blood had been injected. Already the silken liquid pulsed around her body, feeding into her womb where it began altering her unborn child.

1867, IQUITOS, SOUTH AMERICA

Percy Fawcett narrowed his eyes. Ahead, the flooded river churned. Mud washed up onto the bow of his canoe and splashed against his face. It was hot – steam rising off the dense tropical forest around them. The world was caught in a sick cycle. It would rain, evaporate and rain again with twice the stench of rotting corpses and bat faeces. Even now he could see dozens of the creatures, their black bodies swinging from the dead branches high above, waiting for night to fall.

It would come too quickly. They had just entered dust and the Indian village was nowhere to be seen.

"We've taken a wrong turn," his navigator muttered, furiously thumbing through the crumpled, damp maps laid over several crates in the next canoe.

"I don't think so," Fawcett replied. "They could have left – or been destroyed. The jungle reclaims civilisation quickly. I've seen whole cities reduced to a tangle of vines. One of their settlements would vanish in weeks is something befell them."

"Then what do we do? Stay on the river through the night?"

Fawcett ducked under the corpse of a fallen tree, laid over the water with ghostly branches twisted in its endless struggle for sunlight. "If that map of yours is accurate, there's a canyon up ahead. We're safer out in the open. How travels our cargo?"

The navigator turned around, shifting awkwardly in the canoe which kilted worryingly. Behind them, amidst the other dozen canoes, was a raft. It was saddled with a sizable crate strapped to it with yards of thick leather, sealed and printed with warnings in numerous languages. "No change," he eventually replied. "We did as you asked. No one goes near it save lashing it to the raft."

"Good – keep it that way," Fawcett replied, turning back to the river and its formidable jungle.

The party of canoes pulled into the canyon an hour shy of nightfall. It was a harsh chasm, cut out of the basalt hills by a torrent of ancient water. As long as it didn't pour they'd be safe nestled against the cliffs.

Fawcett took personal responsibility of their cargo, insisting the crate be dragged up over the stones to the edge of his tent. It was deeply unsettling. He knew very well that there was a creature inside it and yet it never made a sound. It was too quiet. Sometimes the men reported that the crate weighed nothing and then without warning, it became too heavy to drag. They heard screams come from it during the night and many swore to have watched it canter dangerously from side to side. Fawcett saw nothing; heard nothing. True Immortals were immune to the powers of Magoi.

Sometimes he wished that he could speak with the creature. He guessed it to be nearly four thousand years old, pulled from it's home in Tibet where it had made nests of ice in the fissures of glaciers. It was a prize too dangerous to keep but Fawcett intended to put it to good use.

A bird screamed. The panicked thing scrambled off the cliff and fell into the air, shedding long, red feathers over the water. Fawcett kept one hand on his rifle, dare anything stir in the night.

When the first light touched the water, Fawcett moved through the tents and picked five of his weakest men. He instructed them to drag the crate back onto its raft and paddle it up stream with him keeping alongside in another canoe.

The water was calm and starting to clear. He could see hints of the carnivorous fish swirling about beneath the currents. Fawcett had to throw a few back into the river when they eagerly leaped into his boat.

"Here, to the left," he pointed his oar at a tributary. Fawcett could not have picked a more ominous mouth of water, half strangled by lashings of reed.

"Sir – I don't think we can make it up there."

"We can," he insisted. "We must -" Screams from down river interrupted him. A wild tribe from deep in the jungle was laying siege to his encampment. Scattered gunfire met with a storm of arrows and rocks thrown from the cliff tops. The gunfire petered out. A colony of bats screeched into the air like a swarm of locusts.

"God almighty," one of the men whispered, turning to see a plume of smoke rise up from the forest. They sky behind it was aflame with the sunrise.

"Keep paddling..."

They went deeper. Their oars pushed against the bank, forcing their canoes forward until the water opened out into a black lake banked on all sides by cliffs. Mist, trapped by the cliffs, wafted ten feet above the water as though they'd entered the spirit world.

"Are we dead?" whispered one of the frightened men, turning to see the archway of rock through which they'd entered. Fragments of forest clung where it could, vines sweeping over the rock erupting in white flowers. Eerie white carvings glowed around them; lines of unreadable text.

"See that?" Fawcett ignored them. "Take the raft over to the gash in the rock. There is a tunnel into the mountains. Latch the crate against the rock and use the wax to seal it there."

"Sir – I mean, are you sure?"

Fawcett levelled his steel eyes on the men – who cowered and did as they were bid. With the crate in place, Fawcett pulled the hatch, opening the side embedded against the tunnel, releasing the Magoi into the depths of the Sanctuary of the Moon.

"Thank you – all," Fawcett whispered, "you've been brave and dutiful. I am sure you are all ready to return home."

"What about the City of Gold?" one of them frowned.

"There is nothing so pitiful as a fool," Fawcett purred, something very slight changing in his countenance.

LONDON, 1868, THE BRITISH MUSEUM

"Where is my specimen? Fawcett, this is not the arrangement that we made!" Griffin coughed into his hand and lowered his voice, moving through to another exhibit. They were surrounded by remnants of the Byzantine, one of Griffin's favourites. He was in too ill a mood to grace the Egyptian section. "Where is the blood?"

"Brewing," Fawcett replied. "He had a sizeable lair buried in the mountains. It takes time to sniff out a creature of the dark. Trust me, my kind have been doing this for a long time."

"Not all of us have time to waste," Griffin snapped, his body more fragile. He used a walking stick to lean on as they strolled over the marble floors. "You're going back to South America and this time, you're going to bring me what I ask – or your funds will dry up. This time, I expect you to bring back your expedition with you."

"I hear your other experiment is going quite well. The little girl fell from a window, did she not?"

"She did."

"And?"

"And nothing. The child lives. So far that is all we know."

"Believe me, you have your gold, Professor Griffin. Now if you would be so gracious as to grant me mine, I have a vampire to visit."
City of Silver by ellymelly
33

CITY OF SILVER

PRESENT DAY, KASHMIR, PENSI LA MOUNTAIN PASS

A holographic display erupted out of the ice-laden ground, unfurling across the ancient door, setting it alight with a blue and white. It glowed out of the darkness like a gateway to another universe – or an underworld.

Nikola fell back in surprise, gasping at the sight. The hologram was interlaced with the door's surface, allowing the ancient thing to bleed through like a ghost. Nikola stuttered at the creation of light, unable to coax a suitable litany of awe from his throat.

"Is – that?" Helen began in a whisper.

Nikola nodded slowly. "Remind you of something? It's just like the interface for Hollow Earth," he replied, staggering to his feet. "Remarkably so."

"I don't understand – what is this trickery?" Apries hissed, pointing a claw at the display. His polished extension slipped right through finding nothing but the solid stone door behind. "It is witchery!"

"Calm, brother. I have seen this before but never on quite such an impressive scale," Amasis tugged his brother away.

Nikola and Helen shared a worried look.

"I think it's a map," Helen added, staying close to Nikola as they edged forward together.

Nikola tilted his head, lifting his hand to the vision without quite touching it. The holographic projection wasn't just using the doors as a screen, it was made to fit against its contours. The innocuous lacerations in the stone now formed part of the holographic pattern. Everything was deliberate, purposely designed to remain hidden over the millennia but to what end, or for whom?

"A map – and a lock," Tesla frowned. "Your friends in Hollow Earth appear to have stolen this technology. This is beautiful, more complex – clearly the parent."

"I'm not sure I like, 'complex'," she whispered. "Can you open it?"

"If I was not looking at it with my own eyes, I would not believe in its existence. It's – it's miles ahead of our current technology. There's a reason we don't have true holographics, Helen. Projecting light onto turbulent air is a nightmare – interacting the the projections, harder still. I mean, the people who built this door are pre-civilisation. Fire should be a challenge to them. I don't know what to make of this. Give me a moment..."

"I warned you the ancient ones were gods." Having escaped his brother, Apries leaned against the door, lounging in the middle of the projection. He was a bit like a cat trying to smother the unknown technology with his presence if only to dominate it.

"Do you mind?" Nikola waved the vampire off. "I need to think. If these gods of yours have the same pension for traps as the Pharaohs, the wrong move could bring the entire cave network down on top of us."

"Suspicious little creature, aren't you?" Helen elbowed him playfully.

"Did you or did you not find yourself sealed in a tomb?"

Helen rolled her eyes. "That was once and it was your fault!"

"I got you out..."

"I had the car keys!"

Nikola shrugged. "Yeah but – I would have missed you."

"Whoa – the hell you doin' in here, Biggie?" Henry stepped back as an unhappy Sasquatch stormed out of the wine cellar. After a moment of surprise, Henry gave chase, following the furry man up out of the cellar and straight into the command room. He watched him fiddle with the satellite feed, trying in vain to call Magnus. "Nah mate – they've been out of range for ages. They went into the caves with the vamps. We won't be hearin' anything for a while."

"That bastard vampire!" Bigfoot whacked his paw down on the table making everything electronic jump.

"...uh, which one?" Henry pried carefully, nudging the keyboard back from the edge.

Bigfoot turned, his golden eyes practically on fire. "Tesla..." he growled.

Henry wasn't sure why but the utter ire that Tesla could create in fellow creatures was definitely a talent. "Let me guess, Tesla locked you in the cellar when you wouldn't let him steal your wine?"

"He locked me in the cellar to stop me warnin' Magnus. He's gonna create another bloody vampire race!"

Henry's mouth fell open dramatically.

"Dude – you gotta give the half-breed credit, that's some serious ambition. And – that was my keyboard..." Henry sighed in dismay, as Bigfoot pounded the innocent plastic board until all the keys leapt out and scattered over the floor.

"Computer's broken," Bigfoot muttered, nodding at the shattered carcass of Henry's keyboard.

"Are you sure – I mean – vampire empire – it sounds like a bad teen novel..." Declan folded his arms, the black T-shirt barely large enough to support the added bulk he'd put in during the months spent fighting the Cabal. He led an elite special unit now, not just a pack of kids fumbling blindly through forests and cities in search of dangerous abnormals.

"I thought you said you'd read Tesla's file?" Henry held up his electronic clipboard.

"'said he was some kinda old, vampire, genius scientist," Declan shrugged. "Rather run of the mill when you've fought off a dragon and half the Cabal underworld."

"Try genius mental case," Henry tapped the screen. "Dude's a half-breed vampire thinks he's de-facto king of the world."

"Nah really, Mr Foss," Declan waited for a real answer but Mr Foss's head just started to shake slowly. The wolf wasn't kidding. "Come on, 'king of the world'? It's a tad Disney, yeah?"

"Totally, Disney with lots of wine and blood sucking – oh no wait," he pointed his clipboard theatrically at Declan, "that's HBO. Lots of things die on that network, I don't want to be a smear on someone's TV screen."

"Well," Declan turned more serious, a few frown lines deepening in his well-worn face. "How viable is Tesla's plan?"

"Yeah, that's where the 'genius' part kicks in. The dude built the modern world, ruling it is his pet project. We gotta go send re-enforcements for Magnus. She's up there all alone with three vampires and an immortal. Secretly I bet they're all set on tearing each other apart over what's buried in that mountain."

"I'll put a team together," Declan agreed. "But you're on it, Mr Foss. Zimmerman can keep watch over the Sanctuary."

"Great, just because I got bitten once you're going to leave me house sitting for the rest of time," Will rolled his eyes and fought the urge to scratch his ankle. It didn't matter how how much time passed, there was still a bit of sand creature venom stuck under his skin. Officially the last time he'd follow Helen Magnus into a tomb.

"Yeah, that's how this works," Declan eyed the protege. "If anything happens to Magnus, you're the only one even partially trained to keep this place running."

"Fine, fine!" Will backed toward the corridor. "Just, heads up yeah, if you unleash a vampire plague on the world."

"I'm coming too," Ashley announced, lurking by the door on the far side of the room. She leaned against the wooden frame, disguising the pain she still felt in her leg from the sand creature's bite when this whole mess had started. Her grandfather had done his best to patch her up but there were angry purple scars all over her skin. She'd never forget that world – the smell of rose oil in the air and London's smog swollen against the sandstone buildings.

"Not a chance," Declan replied sternly. "You're injured."

"And yet I'm still your best. That's my mum, Declan. I'm going."

"No no no no... don't touch it. Claws off!" Nikola fussed, shooing away the two vampires. They were growing restless, circling Helen and Nikola. Maybe they were hungry, beady eyes cast down on Helen. She was a delicacy – a deadly one but that didn't make her any less alluring.

"And I thought you had a lecherous eye," she murmured against Nikola's ear.

Her soft hair tickled Nikola's cheek, making him smile a little. "It was adoration," he insisted. "But I catch your point. They've been feeding on too much fresh blood. It's an addiction. Hey – if we wait here long enough they might even consider me a snack."

"Nikola, stop enjoying this. You have a puzzle to solve."

He rolled his eyes. "Helen, I can't even read the interface." They both looked up at the towering wall of lights. It was beautiful, glowing letters rippling around a maze-like design, at its centre the two door handles. "You're thinking it too – aren't you?" he purred.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Thinking what, precisely?"

He waved his hand at the mirage. "This can't be our ancient past. You know it – I know it. What's more probable, Helen – that this world has lost an entire, advanced civilisation from the face to the earth – one that has influenced nothing or, or this is something else? An isolated occurrence. Ow! What the-"

Helen slapped Nikola hard over the back of the head. "If you start that bloody 'I can hear men from Jupiter talking' thing again I swear I'll kick your arse out of his cave. It was cute back in the twenties, not when I'm freezing to death!"

"For the record, I was right – it was the radio signature of the planet Ju-"

"I DON'T CARE!"

"I can read this..." a voice slithered onto the air several hours later. It was Amasis, prowling around the cavern on the opposite side to the door.

"What are you doing over there?" Nikola called out, turning around. He couldn't see Amasis but he sensed him, like he sensed Apries brooding over to their left, perched on a boulder. Archaeology wasn't his strong suit. He was much better at warmongering and empire building.

"Come, young half-ling and find out," Amasis purred back.

Helen gave Nikola a distinct, 'be careful' look as Nikola extracted himself from the floor and picked his way over the frozen innards of the tunnel. Amasis was high up the pile of rubble, his black, beady eyes watching the holographic display intently. A pair of long, pearl fangs picked up the light from the hologram, their sharp edges glowing.

"Do you see it?" he asked, extending a claw forwards.

It took Nikola's eyes a moment to adjust. He was sure his mouth fell open, "But that's..."

The constant stream of illegible data, impossible to decode, was purely decorative. Just like the notes in music, it was the sound that they'd been missing – the big picture which in this case was a glowing set of ancient hieroglyphs.

"They don't say anything," Amasis frowned.

"Oh yes they do!" Nikola all but bounced. "You can't see the forest for the trees..."

"Pardon?"

"Nevermind..." Nikola muttered. "Read them out – letter by letter..." Amasis scowled but did so, the letters forming a single world.

"This is a tomb."

Nikola leapt off the rocky outcrop and scampered over the tunnel. He stopped short of the door, hovering his hand over the last collection of symbols. At their heart was a star and around that, a nest of brightly burning points of light.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Helen asked cautiously. "And what does the damn door say?"

"Helen, do you trust me?" he purred. Nikola reached out and prodded the points of light. Unlike the rest of the map, they moved, allowing Nikola to rearrange them into the correct positions of the planets orbiting the sun. Twenty-five in all. When he was finished, Nikola pressed against the fifth planet from the star, which if you allowed for a few dwarf planets to be counted, it nudged Earth back to fifth position. It turned blue and then the hologram vanished replacing the entire door with a Trefoil knot, seething with energy. "Get back!" Nikola shouted, quickly retreating into the cave as the great door began to unlock. The Trefoil knot sank into the doors as they started to move.

"It was a test," Nikola growled, tugging Helen back behind one of the rocks. "There are things about our solar system that you can only know if you've left the planet. Whoever built this tomb wants to be found but only by suitably advanced civilisations."

"I thought there were only nine planets in the solar system," she frowned.

"There were only six last time I checked," Apries shrugged.

"So clearly I'm the only suitably advanced life form here." Nikola had to duck out of reach as Helen went to slap him again. "Visitor..." Nikola whispered. "It's a tomb of the visitor."

The door screeched, split down the middle, its two sides bowing open. Granite ground against basalt leaving charred gouges in the ground. They all stood back, huddled behind a large boulder for protection as debris rained down from the roof. The entire cavern shook as if it had been mortally wounded.

Finally it stopped, the two slabs of rock sitting flush against the walls over the cavern. In their wake was a void, half-hidden in the veil of falling dust and rock.

"This place is unstable now," Amasis whispered. "Feel it?"

"It's trembling," his brother agreed. Apries placed his palm against the floor of the cavern. "I'm not sure if it'll hold."

"Maybe it's not meant to hold," Nikola agreed with a worried look. "If the lock was a test, this could be a time tr-" he was interrupted by the air next to them cracking apart in a flare of violent purple. The debris falling from the ceiling glowed in sympathy, like dying embers of a fire or the remnants of a dying star.

The Immortal Professor appeared, dressed in gowns of charcoal silk. All his efforts to camouflage with the modern world were discarded. Instead, he stood at his full height of six-foot-nine, long limbs and bony form padded out by his ornately embroidered cloak. His eyes were violet, piercing through the three vampires and Immortal woman in front of him. In this light, Helen's eyes had a flicker of violet in them too. It almost made him smile.

"You should not have opened that door," he said, voice like silk. Slowly, he climbed the steps to the block of marble in front of the open door. The pillars of flame either side burned fiercely.

"Where is John?" Helen was the first to speak, stepping out toward the Immortal. She was his kin – sort of – the last part of his race.

The Immortal scowled. "I do not know the whereabouts of your pet murderer," he replied. "I tried to warn you away from here. For thousands of years I've chased off vampires too curious for their own good and misguided humans – usually Romans," he had to admit, "from finding this place. Now we have no choice. Come..."

"Wait," Nikola stood beside Helen. "You're not going to kill us?"

A sickening laugh echoed off the walls. "We are all dead now, Dr Tesla."

"Oh man, I hope you're right about this."

The helicopter swayed in the stiff currents of air wrapping themselves around the pass. The mountains were tall and their edges sheer. Gales rippled along them, knocking sheets of ice free, sending them crashing into the valley below.

Henry gripped the railing above him and peered down as the helicopter swooped low. He was met with a face full of snow, blowing through dusting everyone inside.

"Still nothing from Magnus," Declan shouted into his microphone. "A nearby Geology station has picked up some small quakes in the area. They're telling us to watch for avalanches."

"Like that one?" Henry pointed at the cliffs ahead, where a huge crack had snapped across a snow-drift. As they approached, an enormous swathe of the mountain slipped away. "Man that's brutal." Ashley tapped him on the shoulder. "Wha?"

"Up ahead," she pointed to another bank of peaks, twice as tall as the ones they were flying through. They were blacker, steeper and consequently had less snow to obscure their dark skin.

They were swallowed by the doors. Three vampires and two immortals entered as a front, walking shoulder to shoulder into the passage.

"I've seen that symbol before," Helen said. "The knot on the door."

"That would not surprise me," Nikola replied, shaking his torch when its light flickered. "The Trefoil Knot is scattered throughout human civilisation. Norse, Egyptian, Indian – mathematically it is a symbol for Immortality – two identical but opposite strings joined in a union that cannot be untied." As if to prove his point he shined his light onto the Immortal's cloak. There was a very faint design of the knot etched into the billowing surface.

"It's been staring us in the face all this time, littered through humanity."

"We're really in trouble now," Nikola whispered. They were only a few minutes into the tunnel when the surface beneath their feet changed from rock to metal. Nikols scraped his boot into it, scuffing away thousands of years of dirt to reveal the dull sheen of silver beneath. It didn't just look like silver, it was silver. He lifted his gaze to Helen. "Naturally occurring?"

She shook her head.

Apries brushed his arm against the wall – it too was silver. He shied away from it. Fear of the metal was in his blood.

"There's an electric current running through it. This whole thing is like a circuit board – or a computer..." Nikola whispered.

"This isn't my first tomb raid," Helen started, shining her torch at the wall. "Aren't they meant to have writing along the walls, detailing the life of whoever is entombed? There's nothing here. Not even a scratch. Are you sure this is a tomb, Amasis?"

"Vault – technically."

Another holographic wall erupted in front of them, blocking their path. Everyone stopped, eyeing the veil of light with suspicion. It was the Immortal that stepped through it first. It shimmered around him, a soft electronic note reverberating in the air – then the whole display went blue, as if in approval before waiting for its next guest.

"Blood marker?" Helen whispered to Nikola.

"Probably... let's just hope it likes vampire as much as immortal – or it'll just be you and the prof."

"The Half-ling should go next," Amasis insisted. "It might not have such a violent reaction."

Nikola steeled himself, gazing at the wall of light. He passed through with only a soft flicker in the light and another reassuring tinge of blue. "Hey... finally, something not prejudiced against vampires."

"I'm not sure it's a good sign, Nikola," Helen had to admit, as the other vampires came through. "Don't you think this is creepy? This whole place – it feels like we're walking into a lair."

"Aren't you the least bit curious though? This is the answer – to what we are, to who we are," Nikola closed his eyes for a moment, letting the faint currents beneath his feet and in the air run over his senses. "This is the heart of our blood, Helen."

The air chimed again and again as the vampires slipped through. Far behind them, he cave was beginning to collapse. Boulders slipped out of the roof and crashed into the tunnel. They barely heard the steady destruction as they pressed deeper into the silver tunnel.

John fell back into the forest, vanishing amongst the succulent leaves and marsh beneath his feet. A thick world of mist swirled up to his waist. If he ducked down, he could escape entirely beneath its cold swirls of moisture.

There wasn't any great need to hide. His prey was slicing fearlessly through the forest ahead, swinging a bloodied machete at the undergrowth. In the three weeks that he'd been following Colonel Percy Fawcett, he'd seen him cut down creature, plant and human alike. In polite society he was an explorer – a gentleman. In the wild he was an Immortal with all the violence that came with it. Sometimes John wondered if he was more like these creatures than the vampires. If, somehow the two races were connected and he'd ended up with this pure form of violence.

Fawcett stopped ahead and John lingered out of sight, watching through the mist. The Colonel was standing in front of a sheer wall of black cliffs that had been torn from the earth. Etched into the wall were tiny symbols that glowed faintly like jewels set against the brutal rock. The Immortal lingered, as though reading them – then smiled, vanishing into the caves like a dark spirit.
The Creature by ellymelly
34

THE CREATURE

Rubble piled up at the entrance of the tomb. The mountain trembled, sending snow drifts cruising off the cliffs and into the valley like soft, white waves. Ashley, Declan and Henry landed the helicopter on a rocky outcrop. The chopper canted oddly to one side on the uneven ground, its blades batting at the frigid air.

"Something's not right!" Henry clambered out onto the mountain peak. He peered over the edge but couldn't see the gap in the rocks where the entrance to the tunnel lurked.

Declan was barking orders over the radio. Ashley crawled over him, joining Henry in the snow. "Most of the ice has broken off and fallen into the valley. The tremors must be getting stronger."

"They're localised here in this valley," Henry tapped his tablet. It was leaking battery in the cold. "Something in this mountain must be causing them. I really hope Magnus isn't down there."

"You know mum..." Ashley sighed, tugging up her fur hood. "I'm going to grab the climbing gear and take a look. Coming?"

Henry went paler than usual. "Uh, no I – should keep an eye on these quakes and-" his Ipad died. Henry frowned, shaking the tablet in frustration. "Guess I could help you lay a few ropes – but that's all!"

The darkness trembled as they edged deeper; Immortals, Vampires and the Half-ling herding together. They found themselves encased by polished silver. It covered the curved ceiling, bled over the walls and carpeted the floor which sloped ever downward, snaking toward the gaping void ahead. Their footsteps echoed soullessly, hushing them all into an awkward silence.

Helen remembered the Egyptian tombs she'd spent decades crawling through with a more troublesome version of Tesla thieving bits of cursed treasure. She reached out to the interlocked slabs of silver beside them. These perfect passageways were eerily similar. Everything had a purpose in an ancient tomb. Each tunnel, every random side room – nothing was functionless and Helen got the feeling that this place shared a harsh purpose in its architecture.

It unnerved her how it guided them in, stretching out its silver tongue. Her feet slipped on the floor, her hand pressing against the wall to keep her standing. She knew it would be impossible to run.

She had to admit that Nikola was right. There was something of another world about the dull reflection of their torchlight on the walls. If any creature had stumbled in here twenty thousand years ago, it would have been easy to mistake the elaborate holographic displays for magic. Could this truly be it? Had they found the source of humanity's fascination with the underworld and the gods that played there?

Gods they were potentially about to meet.

"Nikola!" Helen tugged gently on his sleeve, pulling him back from the others. His eyes were dark, swollen orbs, stark against his pale skin.

Nikola dropped back a fraction, falling in step beside her. "Calm yourself, Helen. We're meant to be here, I can feel it in my claws." He flexed them playfully for her. Sometimes she couldn't tell if he was trying to cheer her up or just naturally in possession of an irresponsible nature.

"I am not a blushing debutante," she scolded.

He was about to rebuff with, 'I remember when you were', when she cut him short.

"You recall that old quip about curiosity and a kitten?" Helen eyed the hallway ahead warily. "Pretty sure we're the hapless feline in this story."

"Re-lax..." he drawled. "There's nothing alive down here. No life form in the world is that immortal. If there ever was a nasty little critter lording over the underworld, it has starved to death by now. Gods, even evil ones, are fodder for our children."

Helen levelled a suspicious gaze at him. He didn't have any children that she was aware of. "I doubt very much that you believe that."

"Can't you unravel my mind by now?"

She smirked, though it grieved her to admit that she couldn't. "Uncharted chaos is by its nature impossible to predict."

He enjoyed that, lingering a touch too close to her, fangs peaking under his lips. "Improbable, not impossible," he purred at her.

The Immortal leading their pack stopped, raising his hand to halt the others. They all skidded uneasily into a line behind him. Even Nikola looked up, tilting his head at the corridor which had ended abruptly in a doorway whose absent door lay about their feet in pieces. Beyond was an unlit room whose depth they could feel but not see.

"Do you hear that?" Helen whispered. There was a faint beating on the air – a steady but soft thud that felt like another heart pressing against hers. It wasn't another vampire, she could hear Apries, Amasis and Nikola all too brazenly. This was something fragile.

The Immortal professor nodded. "Strange, I did not hear it before. Something is still alive down here."

The raw violence overwhelmed his senses. It surged with warmth inside him. He inhaled it – revelled in it – basked at the cascade of bodies strewn over the city. There was a mad beauty in the annihilation. John knew that as he gazed at the hundreds of corpses, that he was a novice in the art of murder.

There was a flicker of movement along the edge of the city. Something scrambled over the roof of a crumbling building before diving into the rat-nest of rock. The Magoi, John presumed.

"Nooooo!" a voice shrieked in agony. The cry cut through the caves, circling the enormous dome of rock above. A dark figure appeared at the city doors, his shredded robes billowing from the flame-fuelled winds. Even the tall, ancient vampire was dwarfed by their gilded exteriors. Blood dripped down the ornate carvings and onto the sand, drying in pools beside Amasis. His dream of peace had torn itself apart. Limbs littered the ground, creatures gasped in the final throws of life. He could hear their heartbeats drag to a stop. "No..." he murmured, falling to his knees at the peak of the city. "I don't understand."

An Immortal lingered by the pool of water at the foot of the city. Colonel Percy Fawcett outstretched his arms like a great eagle spreading its wings. His eyes were violet, almost iridescent in the filtered moonlight peaking through the cracks in the cave's ceiling which gave his skin a silver gleam. "You are not an easy creature to lure from its den," Percy's voice echoed up the city streets – now silent.

Tears littered Amasis's grey hair. Long and fine, it fell to his shoulders, wasted by the years he refused to feed. Now there was blood all around him. He could smell it, burning at the side of his nostrils. He hated the way his stomach growled and claws flexed. How he wanted to feed, to fall to his knees and lick the walls clean.

"What are you?" Amasis hissed, creeping down the city street toward the figure. Whatever it was, he had it pinned against the great Moon Pool with nowhere to run.

"I'm the darkness you tried to hide," Percy replied, eyeing the dead city. It was only in these distant worlds that the violence of the past could truly manifest. He stopped to admire his work. Who could have known that one Magoi let loose could prove so effective? Maybe he'd keep the creature after all and let it have free run of London.

"You killed them!" Amasis snarled, stumbling forward. He reached for one of the buildings, leaning his weary body against it. There was a corpse at his feet. The wretched, vacant eyes he'd known well over the years. "All of them! They were mine."

And there it was - a vampire and his empire, always. Sick and twisted. This vampire had found a way to rule, keeping his prisoners under the guise of safety. "You would have killed them one day, vampire," Percy shifted, revealing an assortment of silver knives strapped to his body. "It is in your nature, just as this is in mine."

Percy pulled out one of the small throwing knives. He spun, hurling it at the unsuspecting vampire. Amasis growled as the silver spike embedded itself in his arm. His limb burned, heavy with the toxic blade.

"I thought about leaving you to your torment, alone in this cave with their corpses for company. Sadly I am on a bit of a schedule. The modern world, it doesn't have the patience of the past."

Amasis shivered, flashes of his brother filling his mind. He'd left his own family in the dark, wasting away through the aeons. Was his brother still alive? He straightened and stared the Immortal down. His eyes were clear and blue even though his claws scraped against the stone leaving scratch marks and a fine rain of dust. For a moment he looked almost human. "Do it, then. I am finished with this world."

"You are one hell of a prize – pay my to whatever continent I want with your blood," Percy withdrew a long, silver edged knife. Even the curve of its ornate blade was evil. "Do not despair, I have put plenty of your friends in the world beyond. You will meet them soon."

An arrow head burrowed its way straight through Percy's skull, protruding from his forward with a gasp of skin. His eyes turned inwards, staring blankly at the shimmer of bloodied metal.

"What-" he started to say but his mind went dark. All thought left him. The rage that drove Percy's lust died as his limbs crumbled. The Immortal adventurer fell, landing in the dirt beside the water's edge. His unseeing eyes gazed toward the crumbling city, flames dancing in their pits.

John stood behind, lowering the bow he'd found. He didn't say anything to the vampire. Instead, he walked up to the corpse, grabbing Percy roughly by his collar and then dragged him backwards into the water – down under the doors as though he were a spirit of the underworld claiming his prey.

Amasis clutched his heart.

John emerged on the other side of the door. Flecks of gold that had been drifting in the water caught in his hair, making him shimmer in the stray beams of light pouring in through holes in the cave that would eventually be filled with dirt and trees.

He stepped out of the water, dragging Percy over the pebbles until he was a safe distance from the doors. John looked down at his prize. He decided that all Immortals looked the same in death – smug. They died with their secrets and even to the last breath it seemed as though they didn't believe the end could come. They were victims of their propaganda. Immortal – John laughed at the thought. The universe and all its creatures were mortal.

John made an artwork of Percy. The head he separated and placed on a pyramid of stones, meticulously arranged by the banks of the underground river. His limbs were left circling it – though no one would ever appreciate his gory fascination for style. The water washed away everything but the skull.

Nikola childishly kicked the remnants of the door. "Now what?"

"Turn off your torches," Helen whispered. Reluctantly they did, one after the other until only hers pierced the darkness. Helen knelt down, slowly lifting her light. The white circle roamed over an empty wall, lingering on the featureless expanse until -

Helen flicked it sharply away – her breath catching.

"What was that?" Nikola hissed. They'd all seen something.

The Immortal's mouth fell agape. He turned his torch on and aimed it straight at the creature.

Six limbs of equal length were folded up against its translucent body. Its tissue-paper skin, pale and silver, barely concealed bulging veins and white bones clustered in bizarre arrangements. Its chest was a cage, visibly throbbing with what they could only assume to be its heart. The face was where the nightmares began. Its mouth was a nest of long, sharp fangs, tapered nearly a foot in length – black, not pearl. Above its mouth was a bat-like nose with multiple holes, only some of which moved in breath. Its eyes were open, set too far apart to be human. They were huge black orbs, ringed by a scarlet edge. They didn't blink.

"Is it – awake?" Apries whispered, horrified. It was a creature of his darkest nightmares.

Helen could feel the foreign heartbeat, pounding steadily.

"I don't think so," she whispered, too terrified to move. Helen swallowed hard. This creature existed – she couldn't deny it. Although some of its features alluded to creatures that she recognised it was purely co-incidental. There was nothing earth-bound about this monster. It looked awkward, surviving rather than thriving down here in the depths of the mountain.

Nikola shone his torch first at the Immortal, then at Apries – who was in full vampire mode. "Fuck..." he whispered, his torch also falling on the creature. "Sometimes I really hate it when I'm right."

"Nikola?" Helen didn't like his tone.

"It's us," he whispered. "Your father had a point when he said that Vampires and Immortals could not have arisen by chance. He never bough Griffin's theory about arising out of Africa in parallel with humanity. He never found a shred of evidence older than the dawn of modern humans."

"You said you didn't read his paper!"

Nikola shrugged. He read everything. "We're not an accident or two halves of a faulty gene. We're this. I don't know how but that monster is our origin, Helen. The perfect, immortal violence and we've wandered into its lair."
Waiting by ellymelly
35

WAITING

OXFORD, 1869

"What do you mean, 'missing'?" Samuel Griffin snarled.

It was an absurd vista, the frail, middle-aged man standing by the window gazing over Oxford just as another dusting of snow fell. He was cradling his two year old son against his chest. The little boy, Nigel, seemed quite content to lift his chubby hand up and rest it on his father's cravat. He was a very quiet child, happy to remain in invisible to the world. Griffin kissed the top of his head.

"The Colonel has been officially missing for over six months," Butler replied, lingering at the edge of Griffin's office. "He is dead, sir. They are to announce it tomorrow afternoon at the conclusion of the conference."

Griffin was silent, watching a skeletal tree arch toward the concrete wall, kissing it with dried limbs.

"Perhaps we can all get back to work – call this business finished as it should be," Butler continued, resting his hand against the doorway. He was surprised it didn't give him splinters this whole place was so hostile to his very presence.

"No," Griffin replied firmly, "we still have Gregory. This isn't over, Butler."

Behind the sandstone spires of churches and houses was a pillar of black smoke billowing out of a new cotton mill. There was an empire clawing its way up from the city and Griffin had curled up in its heart like a parasitic worm, feeding.

"Might I remind you that the university has expelled Gregory. He's dallying in an unlicensed medical practice, scraping a living off god knows what. Rumour has it he's smuggling rare creatures out of the country, breeding them and selling them off to foreign zoos." Though even Butler doubted the truth in that.

"Have one of your hospitals hire him on an advisory position -"

"He's a terrible doctor-" Butler interjected.

"Then don't use him on anything living. We need to keep him in town. A respectable job will put him back in standing with the university. Confine him to research, keep him close. We'll go after our vampire again. That's the good thing about Immortal creatures – they're not going anywhere."

Nigel wiggled in Griffin's arms, reaching for the window.

"Do it now, Butler."

PRESENT DAY, KASHMIR, PENSI LA MOUNTAIN PASS

"Kill it..." Apries inched half a step toward the monster.

"For once I agree with you," Amasis nodded. "As soon as it realises we're here, it is going to tear us apart. I had no idea that all those stories were true. It's been here all this time, hiding in the mountains. I wonder how old it is?"

"Old enough to think it has a claim to our empire," Apries murmured to his brother.

"Think it through," Nikola stopped the others, stepping in front of the other vampires who were leering in a most violent manner towards the creature. "Why go to so much trouble to get us in here if we're just food? A hatch in the ceiling would have suffice. It wants us for something and I doubt very much that it's dinner."

"Actually," the Immortal purred. "You're the only one that should be in here, Tesla. You opened the door, not us. If there is a higher purpose behind this it centres on you."

"What – alone?" Nikola twitched, black eyes scanning the others. He was surprised to see fear.

"Alone."

Nikola reached for Helen's hand, clutching it gently. It was a silent plea not to leave, one that she answered with a gentle squeeze. "Then go," he finally replied.

The two vampires and Immortal sank back into the corridor, leaving Helen and Nikola to face the creature on their own.

"Cowards," Helen hissed.

"You expected something else? For all their fangs and hissing they've been alive too long to risk death. I'm starting to think Immortality is a curse – the longer you live, the more you fear living. They're probably outside bickering about who's had the most birthday parties and therefore entitled to a bigger piece of sand dune."

"I thought you liked vampires? You were always the one chasing them around like a child that lost a parent."

"Well, every vampire I've met has tried to kill me or worse, treated me like an infant so yeah, perhaps I've lost my taste for the ancient ones. They can go blunt their fangs on the human population for a while."

Helen looked at him oddly. "Nikola -"

"It's awake," Nikola tensed, realising that the creature was watching them. "I think it's been watching us."

Helen risked lifting her torch slightly higher. The creature was breathing more visibly, its insectile form moving against the chair. "I don't understand – why hasn't it tried to communicate with us?"

"Probably because we're speaking English," Nikola replied, risking a step closer. The creature gave no indication that it was in any state to leap out at him. Hell, after all this time Nikola wasn't sure if it could even move. Imagine it, thousands of years sitting in the dark. Was that enough to send it mad? Or was it seeded with revenge like Apries, ready to tear apart the world? "Who are you?" Nikola asked it in the oldest dialect of Egyptian that he could summon. He wasn't sure about his pronunciation. He actually wished he'd made the vampires stick around to translate.

The creature blinked, strange coverings of skin slipping over its dome-shaped eyes. It was the quintessential abnormal – the root of his and Helen's gifts.

"When is this?" it replied in a low hiss, barely forming the human words in its orifices. It was more like releasing steam from a Victorian train.

Nikola hunted for a unit of measurement that would make sense to an ancient creature.

Helen nudged Nikola gently. "Tell it how long it's been since this cave system was formed."

"Fifteen-thousand years since this place was formed," Nikola replied, in what he hoped was moderately fluent dialogue. The last thing he needed was to mistranslates something and set the creature off on a murderous rampage – something it seemed designed to do from birth. Every feature on its body looked as though it had been dragged from the depths of hell and assembled by Gollum.

"You are the engineer?" it replied, tapping some of its long claws against the silver floor.

"Nikola, what did it say?" Helen prompted him when he didn't translate.

"I uh -" Nikola seemed very confused, staring at the creature. "It thinks I'm an engineer."

Helen rolled her eyes out of habit. "You are an engineer – or so you keep reminding me."

"No, the engineer. It put extra emphasis on the singular. Oh shit, shit shit shit shit fuck..." Nikola turned to Helen, his blue eyes clear with sheer horror. "I know what this is."

"Talk to me," she placed a hand on his shoulder but Nikola couldn't stop staring at the demon sitting on the chair at the other end of the room. "Nikola Tesla open your mouth and speak."

He waved his hands at the silver room. "It's a ship of some kind and I'd wager my life – which I probably am – that it's busted. Some wise-arse ancient alien has crashed his sodding ship on a backwater planet and not bothered to bring a spare tire. What would you do if you were immortal and one engineer short of having one?"

"I'd -" Helen looked puzzled, frowning at Nikola. "I guess I'd hunt for a manual and try to fix my ship."

"That's the human answer, Helen. That's an answer from a creature that has a concept of urgency."

The creature in the corner was listening but either didn't understand the hurried words of the humans or was content to let them talk. Patience was one of its talents. It might appear like something resurrected from a tomb but it was vastly intelligent and very, very old.

"It's created and engineer. I'm like the freaking pizza delivery boy." And suddenly all his grand imaginings of a golden vampire era were smashed into an insignificant pile of rubble piled up in the corner. "Bloody hell. Urgh..." he wanted to reach into his body and tear his DNA right out of his cells. Puppet on a string was a kind description of him and his lineage of fanged friends.

Ashley and Henry knelt down to the snow as another rumble shook the earth. From the peak of the mountain you could see the whole black range – a forest of horrifying rock and carpets of ice.

"Are you worried?" Henry asked, peering over the edge as far as he dared. The white abyss made his skin crawl. It was beckoning him to fall – willing him closer to the edge.

"Nah – we've seen worse. Yeah?"

"Really?" Henry looked up at the woman who was practically his sister. "She didn't invite us, Ash. Since when has she ever left us behind? Not since we were little and you wanted to go catch mermaids."

"There were actual mermaids, you know."

"I know."

"It's a vampire thing," Ashley gave up and sat on the snow. "She's dragged us all over the world hunting the most dangerous things a child could dream up to it but when it comes to vampires it's like we don't even exist. We're better at hunting than she is. This is all to do with Oxford – grandfather was hiding something."

Henry lifted his gaze to her.

Ashley's breath caught in her throat. "Only that – mum said -"

"Ash, what's going on? What's really going on?"

She couldn't lie to him and so Ashley told him everything – from her father kidnapping her to the promise she'd made her grandfather, right before she killed him.

Henry was holding her hands, their snow mittens clutched together tightly. "Does mum know?" he asked, more worried than ever. She shook her her head slowly.

"Then let John wear it. It's his fault you were there in the first place. He's a murderer, Ash."

Ashley looked out at the know, her tears freezing against her cheeks into tiny jewels of ice. "So am I."

The creature could move. What Nikola had assumed to be an awkward assembly of limbs proved as nimble as a spider. It unfurled them, moving over the floor faster than Helen could follow with her torch.

"Damn it!" Nikola muttered, trying to navigate Helen behind him as they turned, keeping the creature in front of them at all times.

"What's it doing?" Helen breathed over his shoulder.

They were both startled by a wall of light erupting in front of them. It was the mother of all holographic interfaces – half a foot deep in multiple levels of information spiralling madly, barely any of which Nikola could read. "Holy shit... I don't understand what it's trying to do."

"It's teaching us," Helen pointed cautiously at the screen. "Teaching you."

OXFORD, 1875

Gregory gazed up at the sandstone walls with an air of suspicion.

A long time ago this University had been his home, now he was certain that it had mutated into an elaborate, beautiful cell complete with ornate bars and gilded ceilings.

A place where he could be watched.

His life had been manipulated to its front gates like a rat wandering about a maze with the walls closing in.

He tilted his head.

Someone was standing at the library window, watching him.
Balance by ellymelly
36

BALANCE

The silver room was aglow, pulsating with coloured light as though it were a creature from the depths of the ocean, beckoning its prey toward a violent end.

Nikola was seated cross-legged on the floor like a schoolboy taking lessons. His black eyes, twice their normal size, were transfixed on the holographic display churning out petabytes of information. A fierce headache pounded across his skull; he'd had about as much as his brain could take.

Nearly six hours had passed under the constant duress of gentle earthquakes. Six hours in which the alien creature had tried its best to bring its captured engineer up to speed with millions of years of its species' knowledge. Above all things, it did not wish to spend its remaining time burrowed in a mountain.

Tesla shook his head as the holographic projection blurred in and out of focus – not a fault with the display but rather his eyes giving out. His brain had exceeded all its information buffers and no matter how many times he ran his hands through his tussled hair, no more was going into his mind until he'd slept and fed (not necessarily in that order).

"How are you going?" Helen whispered, kneeling down beside him with a bottle of water. He was wavering in and out of a trance, something she had not seen since the those twilight days of New York and the wars that followed.

Normally he's snarl at her offering but he accepted it with a nod.

"My ancient Egyptian is getting better," he joked softly. "Though I now know how a computer feels when it runs out of disk space." He sighed, scratching his head leaving his hair sticking out oddly on one side. "I've learned their number system – much easier that trying to count in bloody birds."

"Ibises..."

"Whatever. If we make it out of here alive I'm going to earn a killing in the aerospace industry."

He perked up when Helen shot him a scornful look. "Nikola, I am sure you are well aware that it would be irresponsible to saturate the world in advanced knowledge."

"I've been doing it my whole life," Nikola protested. He took a reluctant sip of water and instantly wished she'd acquiesced his request for wine. "From what I've experienced, the more information you feed into the world the better it becomes. None of that 'bleeding hearts' mumbo jumbo about knowledge tearing the earth to shreds. You know what destroys the world? Turf wars based on ancient fiction."

"Evidently you're forgetting the part where several secret organisations fought each other for the right to hunt you down during the wars and it wasn't because of your fangs."

"I disagree. Besides, there's a vast chasm between deliberately creating methods of destruction and hastening our collective intelligence."

Helen still didn't think leaking alien intelligence was a good idea but short of killing Nikola there wasn't much she could do about it. She turned to check that the creature was still in the corner. It was, watching them. The creature barely moved save to tap some of its extensions on the ground, shifting the holographic screens for Nikola.

"Damn... Do you have any idea how close we were to faster than light travel? Maxwell would love this! If it wasn't for Einstein and a whole generation of terrified physicists we might have actually got there. I told him he was a near-sighted idiot – you were there, you remember?"

Oh, she remembered...

"Focus, Nikola. We're stuck in a mountain with an alien that'll eventually lose patience."

"About that-" Nikola prodded the screen. He'd learned how to manipulate its interface, flicking to the schematics of the ship they were sitting in. "When the ship ploughed through the mountain, the rock tore through the hull and dislodged its navigation system. At some point, it looks like three thousand years ago, the creature convinced a group of early humans to repair the outer hull. There was nothing it could do about the internal systems..."

"Until now."

"It's not just the difficulty of fixing them – it's the size of the entry points. A creature that large would not be able to reach the sub-level shafts. You're meant to access them through panels on the outside of the ship but as it's buried in the rock-"

"-it can't reach them without moving the entire ship – which it can't do," Helen finished. "And so all this time it's been waiting. It didn't want a primitive ape with a club anywhere near the delicate electronics so it idly bio-engineered something better, as you do. Did you learn anything about what species it is?"

Nikola shook his head. "No. I'm pretty sure that's deliberate. I have access to specific knowledge. The only thing I know is that it prefers to communicate through thought. The metal lining of the ship has a faint current running through it that picks up on the electrical disturbances emitted from its body and these are translated to the ship computer through a basic binary code. Ancient vampires picked up a whisper of this gift but mostly it morphed into vivid nightmares. Not a very useful mutation. It made them paranoid and strong believers in mysticism."

Helen touched the floor, her palm against the cool metal. She could feel it buzz softly against her skin but the information it transmitted was beyond anything she could translate. "Speaking of, I hope those vampires and immortal are playing nicely with each other."

"They've probably run off by now." Nikola went back to the screens and brought up the ship's schematics. "I don't like the look of that shaft," he prodded its image with a claw.

"Ugh!" Ashley's elbow hit the ice cliff, dislodging a glittering hail of crystals. She was spinning on the line, coming back in to hit the ice again. This time she lodged her pick into the ice, bringing herself to a stop. Her radio buzzed at once, Henry's frantic voice on the line. "Re-lax..." she grumbled at him, digging her feet into the wall as well. "This is why I never take you anywhere. You panic at the slightest thing."

'You nearly fell off a cliff!'

"Safety rope, moron!" Poor Henry. "Give me a bit more rope, I think I can see the edge of the cave."

Two hours later, Nikola crawled over to the side of the room where Helen was meant to be keeping watch. Instead she'd dozed off, her head lulled to one side. He settled himself beside her, tapping her gently with no regard for her need to rest. "All right. I can fix this ship." He paused whilst she roused slowly, then continued, "The question is, should I?"

Helen yawned and leaned closer to Nikola, her breath warm against his neck. "I don't fancy being a snack."

He turned his head a fraction.

"No I'm being serious," he insisted. "Look at it, Helen. Really look at it. As far as the rest of its race is concerned it had an unfortunate accident and never returned. If we fix his ship then they'll know all about us – know that we're capable of learning."

"And if we kill it – then one day they're going to find out. How friendly are they going to be then? Whether we help this creature or not, these things can come and go as they please. Trying to help an injured person and failing is very different to killing them and hiding the body, Nikola. I really don't want to be responsible for an intergalactic war. Seriously – it is not on my bucket list."

Nikola's sounded almost disappointed. "Have you finally gone soft then? A hundred years ago you might have killed it if only to lay it out on your father's dissecting table to see what it's made of."

"You're confusing me with John. I never tried a vivisection on you."

"I blind-sighted you with my charm and good looks. Ow..." she'd prodded him again. He usually deserved that. At least she wasn't shooting at him any more – he must have done something right. "I know you're all into 'saving the world' these days but I don't trust this thing. You've met full blood vampires and immortals – this creature is at the heart of them both, it's not exactly a picture of chocolate and roses."

"This lifeform is the balance of the two. Who knows, perhaps two wildly violent species equals something docile?"

The terrifying creature in question lifted its heavy body. Its limbs scratched against the floor as it peered down at the tiny biological experiments. To a lesser species, they would be as meaningful as lab rats but this creature had a strong sense of regard for life.

"I understand your reservations, engineer," it purred out in a strained, half-electronic tone as though some other device was assisting it to speak. "You are born of a violent world, whose life will be brief and end in fire. I have calculated that the probability of your extinction in the next ten million years. If you survive it will be in a shadow of your current form, pushed under the earth to the caves from which your mammalian ancestors arose. Should I be, as you calculate, malevolent and choose to return to this world for the purpose of corruption, you will be long dead before I can make the journey. We will pick over the carcass of your civilisation."

Nikola wasn't sure if that was meant to freak him out or calm him. He was translating for Helen in a hushed whisper and when he was finished, Helen lofted her eyebrow at him. Nikola just shrugged.

"However," it continued, taking a step closer, "we are explorers. It is our charge to watch life rise and fall – it is our study."

"That's why..." Nikola realised, lifting his hand briefly to his lips. "It left a fail safe in our genetic code so that when he – it – finally left this planet our ecosystem wouldn't be corrupted. Immortals – Vampires, we kill each other off until there is only one left and then humans do the rest. In the grand scheme of things, genetically speaking, the interference is minimal."

"Help me and I will leave you with a glimmer of hope – a taste of deeper breadth of life than you could possibly unearth here."

"I knew it didn't make sense," Helen whispered. "My father spent his life studying the origin of the vampire and immortal. The trail always went cold around the same time. Human legend turned into genuine myth as the written texts ran out. I tried tracking the ancestry through genetic markers in ancient remains. I thought perhaps that they were a single, fluke mutation in an individual that had been passed on but there was never a soul point. One day a cluster of two distinct abnormal species simply appeared as if they'd materialised out of thin air."

"The gene is recessive unless two of the same species breed. I studied human custom and thought it unlikely that this would occur – I was wrong. The vampires made a point of inter-breeding with their kin thus sustaining their species for longer than I had anticipated. Humanity is – unpredictable."

"I think I understand Egyptian royalty now," Nikola's mouth was hanging slightly open. There was method in their incest and all their obsession regarding pure bloodlines had some basis in fact.

Tesla was folded awkwardly into a hexagonal shaft and he was not happy about it.

"Go on – get your butt in there!" Helen muttered, giving him a little push.

Nikola peered down the silver-lined tunnel. It stretched onward until its surfaces converged, heading deeper into the mountain. It was a tight fit but Nikola was tall, not wide and with a bit of shuffling he managed to start sliding.

"Are you sure you don't want to crawl down it?" Helen called after him as he started to vanish.

"And slide out of control, face first towards the navigation systems? Pass..."

"Oh for christsake just get down there and fix the damn thing, Nikola!" she huffed, not entirely happy with being left along with an alien creature she couldn't converse with. Well, that wasn't strictly true. She could read ancient Egyptian, she just couldn't speak it. Hell, the only reason Nikola could was because he spent half a century fantasising about meeting living vampires.

"I'm fixing it – I'm fixing it..." he groaned, feeling his pants and feet slip against the silver. He put the torch between his teeth, holding out both hands to steady himself. That worked for half a second before the tilt of the tunnel overcame the fragile traction he had with it.

He started sliding, picking up speed as panel after panel raced by his face. It was the only way he could tell how fast he was moving in the otherwise featureless tunnel. The it was getting colder, a layer of dense – dust-laden air churning toward him. He could smell a faint trace of electrical smoke which, despite his abject terror of falling, made him grin. There was something comforting about the fallibility of a highly advanced spaceship. They weren't perfect – just a couple of rungs ahead on the evolutionary ladder.

"Oh shit!"

Thump.

The tunnel ended without warning in the ceiling (stupid, idiotic design!) of a room. Nikola was on his back like an insect flipped the wrong way. He groaned, sitting up – torch still between his lips.

The navigation room was mangled and blackened from a raging electrical fire several thousand years ago. Molten silver had congealed on the floor, taking with it pieces of quartz that formed part of the main system. Nikola had to hunch over in the confined space, ducking under part of the ceiling which had been pushed in by the rock on the outside.

"What a mess," he whispered. It was worse in person. He felt a flutter of panic in his gut. Maybe he couldn't fix it after all.
Fresh Tombs by ellymelly
37

FRESH TOMBS

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals... we patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err.. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves within the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the Earth."

Henry Beston

Helen clutched her chest.

One of the heartbeats was gone. Her world shifted off balance, broken by the loss. She faltered, reaching for the wall, dragging her sweaty palm over the silver. Her torch slipped and clattered to the ground where it rolled toward the creature who barely moved as it touched its insectile leg.

"NIKOLA!" Helen shouted frantically down the shaft. Long minutes passed until his weak torchlight shone up at her. The beam cut through a steady waft of acrid smoke and dust churning in the cold.

"What?" he hissed, unhappy about being dragged from his work.

She let out a sigh of relief, steadying herself. That damn vampire. "Nothing..."

Nikola muttered something in Serbian, vanishing back into the remains of the navigation room.

Helen turned around, hand on her chest. A vampire was dead – she could feel it in her soul. Two vampires, two immortals; the scales were even. Her panic was followed by a wash of harmony. It was a peace that she had never experienced in her long life – a lull as though the universe had fallen in step. This was the balance her father had spoken of locked away in Tesla's house with snow tapping softly at the window. It had not been felt since ancient times when the world was awash with their twin species.

The creature twitched, dragging its sharp pincers against the silver. It was watching her with more interest than normal, blinking multiple sets of eyes one at a time. Helen was its pet science project. It was directly responsible for the eternity she found herself in, for the hundreds of years of bloodshed, torment and loss. The truth made her skin crawl.

"How do you do it?" she whispered, inching closer to it. "Am I to walk eternity like you, hiding in the darkness? Do you have any idea the havoc you wreaked on this world?"

It did not answer her.

THE SANCTUARY, OLD CITY

Dr Will Zimmerman dangled from a wire suspended high above the chasm. He peered at the concrete pit below, littered with half-dead vines and tangles of tree roots. It was difficult to tell where the building ended and the bedrock began as it was all a sickly conglomerate of shale and pebbles.

"Oh, I don't like abseiling. Last time I tried this there was sand – and death – and bullets..." Will complained, kicking off the rock. He swung over to an outcrop of wood that may have once been a ladder. It crumbled in his hands, dissolving into a cloud of dust which wafted steadily toward the ground. Will looked appalled as he thumped back against the wall, boots kicking another puff of dirt free. So much for that plan.

"Lighten up," Bigfoot zipped town the wall effortlessly. "We're not in Egypt."

"No. We're in Magnus's vault, buried under the Sanctuary. Just another one of those things she failed to mention in our briefings. I mean, who the hell keeps a sink hole under their house?"

Bigfoot made a sound that could pass for laughing if you were really drunk or related to a fury species of mountain abnormals. "Don' be so dramatic," he replied, landing on a ledge that considered buckling under his weight. "It's a quarry not a tomb. They used some of the rock to build the Sanctuary after it closed – the rest is littered 'round the tall buildings in th' city."

"Well, forgive me if I find its existence a wee-bit disconcerting," Will replied, stumbling onto the ledge next to Bigfoot. He peered off at the next drop. It was infinitely worse than the paltry wall he'd scaled. "How far down did you say the electrical disturbance was?"

"All th' way at th' bottom," Bigfoot replied, securing the ropes.

"And no one thought, 'oh perhaps stairs might work?' No?" he sighed. Will looked back up to where they'd spent the last few hours scouting a route through the half-collapsed ex-mine. "Aw hell, are you sure there's something down here?"

"The shield's don' extend this far un'er the Sanctuary. Anythin' tapping onto an' EM transport could get in."

"You mean like John-the-sodding-local-serial-killer?"

"Or one of them pesky vampires. I don' know about you but I'd rather find out now then wait for 'em to crawl up into the Sanctuary."

Will flinched. A hungry vampire hovering over his bed while he was asleep was not a pleasant fantasy.

Zimmerman knew there was a problem as soon as his boots hit the ground. There wasn't a vampire down here – there was part of a vampire. He held his hand over his mouth, fighting the urge to hurl at the gruesome sight. An arm and half the lower torso – legs attached – was strewn over the rubble.

"Amasis?" Will whispered, unclipping himself from the rope. He wasn't sure why he whispered it in question. The corpse could not reply.

"What's left of him," Bigfoot knelt down beside the mess.

"Kavanaugh, you seeing this?" Will said into his radio. There was a small camera mounted to his shirt with the feed leading back into the lab where Joe Kavanaugh had set aside his lunch and rolled closer to the screen.

"Holy hell – that's a nasty bit of vampire arse."

Will nudged Amasis' remains with his foot. "I wonder where the rest of him went. Could be a transporting accident."

"No – look at the blood patterns."

"There's hardly any," Will replied, moving so that Kavanaugh could get a better look.

"Exactly. If this was an accident and he landed in two bits there would be blood all over this place."

"Creepy but who on Earth would deposit half a corpse in the heart of the Sanctua-oh..."

"Druitt..." they all said, at exactly the same time. "All right," Will continued. "Let's bag it. Magnus will want to see this when she gets back."

KASHMIR, PENSI LA MOUNTAIN PASS

Ashley stared into the clogged throat of the tunnel.

"Holy shiiiiiiit," she breathed, securing her guide rope to the ice. "We sure as hell trashed this place," Ashley hissed into her radio. "There's a bit of an opening up ahead, I think I can get to it. There's a mess of ice in the way."

"Be careful Ash," Henry insisted.

"Do me a favour and don't lose the chopper, eh?" she replied, with a side of sass.

"Yeah, one helicopter. Check." Henry sighed and sat back on the snow.

The helicopter was perched a safe distance from the edge with the team huddled around a makeshift fire, indulging in lunch. Declan was strutting around trying to find a signal for his satellite phone but everything electronic refused to work.

What the hell was under this damn mountain?

Nikola snapped his hand away from the navigation panel as it sparked at him.

"Aw, don't be like that!" he frowned.

Despite being the world's foremost genius, Nikola spent most of his time fixing other people's half-assed attempt at technology. This was no different. Sure, it was an ancient alien spaceship capable of inter-galactic travel but the fact remained that it had crashed. To Nikola it was just another bird with a broken wing. He sighed, running his hand over the warped panel. The entire edge had melted onto the floor in what must have been a hell of a fire.

Finally, the room hummed. It lit up with holographic panels flashing on and off as the ship started calculating where it'd parked. He heaved the navigation crystal back into place and surveyed the final task.

There was another, much smaller hatch on the floor. Nikola knelt beside it, dug his claws under its edges and hauled it open. A noxious cloud of trapped smoke funnelled out leaving a light dusting of soot through his hair. Tesla scowled.

"Why do I always get the dirty jobs? I mean, isn't there a contract or something I can put this in?" Nikola glanced over his shoulder and found that there was no one to rant at.

Nikola sat on the edge and shone his torch down. Jutting out halfway down the shaft was a growth of angry, black mountain biting into the spaceship. With no choice, he lowered himself into the narrow gap, propping his spindly frame up with his back and feet. Carefully, Tesla descended, awkwardly clambering around the rock which rudely left a sharp mess of silver to navigate. He cut himself several times, recoiling at the metal's sting.

When he thought he was at the bottom, the shaft took a sharp turn, heading horizontal along the outer shell of the ship. He laid flat on his stomach, torch between his teeth as he hauled himself through. His shoulders ground against the walls, trying with every movement to trap him in the metal shell.

Purely to test his patience, the end of the shaft was covered by a grill. Nikola snarled at it, beating the flimsy sheet of metal with his torch until it buckled and fell noisily into the room behind.

"Ancient ship 0, Tesla 1..." he purred, clambering head first after it. "Yikes..." he added, when the first thing to catch his torchlight was a pair of empty eye sockets. A row of desiccated corpses grinned at him, sagging against the wall with demonic grins of rotten teeth and upturned lips.

Nikola startled, backing away from the grisly sight. His ancient history concerning the rest of the world was a bit hazy but there was something overwhelmingly Asian about the twisted tails of their moustaches touching the floor.

Assured that they were dead, Nikola dutifully snapped a photo on his phone for Helen's archives.

"Where'd you lot come from?" It took him only moments to spy the repaired panel on the ship's wall. The workers had welded it from the inside, trapping themselves forever. As ambivalent as the creature upstairs claimed to be, it clearly didn't mind wasting a few human lives here and there. He doubted it would be any more careful with his and Helen's. He wished that she'd see that. Survival turned the nature of every creature – Nikola didn't care if it was from this world or another.

"Excuse me," he said, shifting one of the worker's arms off the final control panel. Nikola was momentarily horrified as the appendage tore off and thumped onto the floor. "S-sorry..."

Ashley hacked the thin layer of ice from the cave's mouth. The delicate sheet shattered, covering her in crystals that melted against her face. A foul stench flew at her. She turned her head and coughed the wretched air out of her lungs.

Fresh tomb...

Her stomach turned but she had no choice, crawling into through the crevice. Ashley rolled down the ice on the other side, running her hands over it for purchase. She found nothing, bouncing onto the rock floor with a groan. The blackened innards of the tunnel were as violent as she remembered; brutal surges of rock, unstable columns of ice and the limbs of sand creatures, frozen in their eternity.

A flare of purple in the depths of the tunnel caught her eye. Ashley frowned, rolling onto her side. There it was again, darting about in the distance like a drunk fairy.

She stood, hurrying to the edge of the tunnel. Ashley clung to it, sidestepping the ice and rubble without her light. Invisible, Ashley crept closer to the strange light.

"Amasis?" she whispered, seeing the vampire slumped against a boulder not far ahead. He looked oddly peaceful, gazing toward the enormous doors and their eternal flames.

Amasis' black eyes were open, reflecting the firelight. His soft, dark hair was fanned against the rock, parts of it frozen thick with blood. He had been very handsome – a Prince and a philosopher. He'd seen civilisation born out of the sand and watched one world bleed into the next amid a storm of swords. In his hand was a stone – a perfect sphere of milk quartz with a heart of lapis lazuli. The Sanctuary of the Moon, a dream that had died with him.

Ashley fell to her knees when she rounded the rock and saw pool of blood. A vampire's death was akin to the senseless felling of an ancient tree. She lowered her head in respect and bid him farewell.

"Nikola – you there?" Helen whispered into her radio. Static. Always static. Dammit. He'd been down there a long time and she couldn't rouse him any more by calling down the shaft. He must have gone deeper into the ship.

The creature tapped the air with one of its limbs, moving a holographic display to the side. It flashed a few times causing the creature to make a low, hissing sound.

The ship was waking up.
Humanity in a Grain of Sand by ellymelly
38

HUMANITY IN A GRAIN OF SAND

The mountain purred, humming underfoot and rattling the makeshift table where the rescue team huddled all wrapped up in ski jackets and army-issue sun glasses. Their firearms were beside them in the snow, sticking out like burned matchsticks. Declan stood, stretching his considerable frame before looking toward Henry with his trademark, 'I don't like the sound of that' expression used far too often in the presence of Magnus.

Eyes locked on Declan, Henry picked up his radio nervously. "Ash – Ash come in."

"Still here but Henry – we lost a vamp. Amasis is missing his better half. No sign of mum yet."

"I'm comin' down there!" he moved towards the spare rope coiled on the ice. His feet struggled for purchase on the icy surface and inevitably he slipped and hit the ground with a definite thump. "Nah – I'm okay."

"No you're bloody not!" Ashly hissed as loud as she dared. "There's somethin' else in this cave. Henry," she paused, the crackle of the radio scratching at the air, "I think it might be dad."

Fucking Druitt the psycho, Henry thought to himself, clutching the radio in his fist. Declan wandered closer as another gust kicked up a fine haze of ice. It hit Henry square in the face..

"Foss, I have some news from the Sanctuary that you're not going to like but it."

"Half a vampire?" Henry offered warily.

Declan's face fell. "How'd you...?"

The mountain rumbled again, thick sheets of ice cleaving away from the rock. They fell silently, sinking through a persistent layer of mist that hid the valley. Henry was tempted to transform and let his layers of downy fur keep him warm. He couldn't say he was sorry that a vampire was dead – it was simply against his nature but he worried about Ash. Nobody knew what Druitt was capable of, not even Helen. The odds were split between him throwing in the towel amidst a storm of blood and having a tea party with the corpses of his kin.

"Oh yeah – that worked. Ship fixed." Nikola didn't sound too happy about it either. The great beast was shaking from within. Its huge engines had started to churn for the first time in thousands of years, vibrating against the rock with a surge of magnetism that make Nikola's skin tingle. They sounded like they needed a good dousing of grease but there was no chance in hell that he was going to delve any deeper into the innards of the ship.

Tesla glanced back at the shaft. The cold silver didn't look particularly inviting but there weren't a lot of ways out of this place.

"Nikola! What took you so long?" Helen grabbed the thin man under his arms and hauled him out of the shaft. "You've looked better..." she added, running her hands through his dust and grease laden hair.

Nikola batted her hand away and gestured at the creature. "What's it doing?" he whispered.

"I have no idea. As soon as the ship came alive its been in its chair, playing with the displays like a drug addled teenager with the new Grand Theft Auto."

The creature had dozens of layered screens hovering in the air in front of it – all of them alight, changing rapidly as it tapped its claws at the virtual images.

"Presumably it's doing a system check in preparation for take off," Nikola took Helen by the arm. "Which means that we really need to leave unless you're planing on an inter-stellar space flight. I don't know about you but I doubt we'll find the in-flight service particularly thrilling." They were probably the pack lunch.

"This time, I agree with you. That damn thing gives me the creeps even if I am distantly related to it." Helen whispered. She eyed the door. "Shall we?"

"Ay..." he grinned, carefully stepping around the screens in the middle of the room until they reached the passageway. The creature made no attempt to stop them, transfixed by the waking spaceship. There was a moment's hesitation when Nikola felt his heart skip, his rubber boot screeching against the sloped surface of the corridor but the creature didn't flinch. "No farewell then – can't say I'm not a little hurt and-"

"Nikola, get up that bloody hallway!" Helen chided, nudging him sharply. The ground shifted underneath them, throwing them against the wall. "Quickly."

Apries perched high on a surge of rock. His leather belt was studded with small throwing knives tearing at their holdings as he shifted. The three-foot sheaths strapped to his hips were empty – their engraved swords already heavy in Apries' hands, aloft against the darkness. His dark eyes grew wider, pupils eating away his blue iris until there was nothing but a scarlet rim. He was hunting something.

Purple light curled around his waist.

Apries rolled, throwing himself from the rock to safety. John appeared, his boots crunching straight through the ice. He laughed sardonically, gazing over the edge where the vampire lunged for his swords which were scattered in the rubble. The creature was on its back, fear stinking the air.

"You're faster than your brother," John complimented it, twisting the edge of his curved blade into his fingertip. Blood welled up at the point. John was momentarily transfixed by it, smearing it along the metal before catching is reflection. Another vampire had given him the scar that ran from lips to his ear. "Mind you, he was always more of a scribe than a prince. Still..." he tilted his head again, quite content to let the vampire re-arm himself, "it's been a very long time since you've seen a fight. I wonder if your skill survived your imprisonment?"

"Why are you doing this?" Apries hissed. "I have never sought you out. Though, if I had known your mind was entangled with darkness I might have. Your humanity corrupts you." He turned sharply, certain he'd felt something behind him but there nothing but a cold abyss. "I've met creatures like you – experiments between races. You are a fragment of us. A shadow."

A voice purred behind Apries. The Immortal was hidden in the darkness, pressed up against the cave wall.

Apries bowed at John, then sank into the black, letting the Immortal lead him around the edge of the cavern behind the boulders and ice where they'd be safe for a moment. There was another purple flicker in the room as Druitt tried to find them but it was unstable, the light crackling.

"He is Death," the Immortal hissed, as though his voice were part of the ice.

"Where have you been?" Apries crouched down behind a boulder.

"Oxford," the Immortal replied. "I returned to the university, in particular, their library. I recognise him, not from Oxford but before that. Long before. While you were sleeping in your tomb, Druitt was slipping through time, wiping out my race to force us to hunt yours."

Apries thought of all the death that his species had endured. Every night he was back in the desert, standing on the crest of a dying dune watching the sands turn red. Was this man there? Did he walk the streets of the ancient world, killing?

Apries raised his weapon, peering around the boulder where he'd heard a noise. It was a woman, kneeling behind a pillar of ice. He nodded to the Immortal and then threw a small stone at her. Ashley startled, spinning with her weapon raised. Apries drew his finger to his lips – then pointed at the flames by the door. Druitt was strutting between them, waiting for his prey to emerge.

"John?! What an unpleasant surprise..." Nikola frowned as he and Helen emerged from the tunnel. "What are you still doing here? The place is collapsing!"

Helen took a step away from Nikola, scanning her torch around the cavern. Bits of the roof were constantly shaken free, falling onto the icy floor. It looked as though it were snowing inside but it was just blown in from the holes in the wall. Helen eyed John. There was blood barely dried on his leather coat and a few, fine splatters over the side of his face.

"We have to leave," Helen added carefully. He was killing again – if not whores than something else. "There's a ship about to lift out of this mountain. It'll destroy everything."

"Ship? Well – I knew you and Tesla were up to something but Helen..."

"It's a long story which I'm happy to share wit you over tea," she kept her voice calm and soft. There was something wrong with John. He was twitching, sweating and those eyes – they were not entirely his. "Come on."

The blade cut through the air, resting a hair shy of Tesla's thrhoat. He startled but did not move, glaring. "Did I offend you?"

"Your existence offends me..." John replied, tilting his head like a mad raven.

"John, put it down. I don't have time for your ancient grudges. We can pick it up back at the Sanctuary." Helen moved but Tesla did not.

"Ow... careful with the blade, Johnny," Tesla swallowed when he felt it cut through the first layer of skin. A line of blood trickled down, joining the dirt and grease already staining his skin. "Seriously, knock it off."

John twisted the blade slightly. "This is familiar," he purred. "When was it – 1889?"

"Something like that." Tesla remembered every detail of the day he'd been left on the floor of the poor girl's house with her in pieces beside him, a stunning ruin to humanity. The monster that leered over him that day was identical to Old Johnny Boy, leering at him from the other side of the blade.

"John, please-"

The ground shook violently, knocking Helen off her feet and into one of the marble pillars. Her torch smashed on the ground and was then obliterated by a falling rock. "Urgh," she leaned forward, holding her head, blood running through her hands.

"Helen!" Nikola leaned toward her but John's blade was sharp. Tesla growled, claws unfurling and those blue eyes of his turning black. "I'm not going to ask again, John."

Crack.

Both men veered sharply as a bullet exploded from John's shoulder, splattering bits of him over Tesla's shirt. John touched his wound curiously. It didn't hurt. The drug Amasis injected him with had made him a god.

Nikola spied Helen's daughter standing in the half-light on the other side of the cavern. Her gun was cocked and ready for another shot, aimed at her father. Nikola went for John's knife, lunging at him with claws and -

They both vanished in a swirl of purple. Nikola screamed but in the nothingness between time and space there was nowhere for the sound to go. The purple glow that drowned out everything. John had the vampire by the chest, dragging him along. As quickly as it began, it ended. Nikola was released and fell onto a stone floor with a puff of dust.

"Stay!" John commanded – then vanished, leaving Tesla stranded.

"Mother fucker..." Tesla muttered, alone in the dark – god knows where.

"Oh Zimmerman..." Kavanaugh sang his radio, shaking the plastic thing when it crackled. "I've got something you're going to want to see."

"What now? Another rock out of place – scorch mark in the stone?" came Will's reply. The only thing worse than being hyper-observant was dealing with a detective who thought they were hyper-observant. So far, every interruption from the detective prowling around the old quarry under the Sanctuary was something Will had already noticed. Irritably, he flicked through the report. He was on the floor in Magnus's office trying to get his head around a slew of ancient texts relating to the Kashmir mountains.

"Give me the fucking radio!" Tesla growled, invading Kavanaugh's personal space with raised claws.

The detective calmly nudged him back with a hand on his chest and instantly regretted the sticky blood smeared over the vampire. "Nah. This is more of a walking cliché that could use a shower."

Will's head fell with a sigh. That could only mean one thing. "You better bring him here..."

"The hell happened there?" Nikola pointed a claw at the bloody mess on the rock not far from where they were standing.

"Gift from your old college buddy," Joe replied. "You should be thankful he only dropped you off. Amasis wasn't so lucky. Poor bastard, we think he was still alive."

"What happened to my promised shower?" Tesla wasn't allowed to sit on any of the furniture in Helen's office. He was left towering over Zimmerman, claws on hips and not a glass of wine in sight.

"You can shower after you've been debriefed," Will replied calmly. The bite on his leg itched constantly and he'd heard nothing but fragments from the rescue team in the mountains. "All I know so far is that there's a fight going on over some ancient tomb in a mountain that's about to break apart."

Joe handed Tesla a glass of scotch. Tesla held it up to the light, inspecting it for a few minutes as though he had all the time in the world.

"Telsa!"

"The mountain is not breaking apart," he drawled, sipping his drink.

"What's it doing then? Localised quakes – avalanches every few minutes. Let me guess, some huge-ass vampire tomb. Buried pyramid? City made of actual gold... You gotta give me something." Tesla refused to answer any direct questions regardless of how ludicrous. "Why are you being deliberately evasive?" Will sighed, throwing down a parchment scroll. "You and Magnus – even Watson when he's in town. Every time we come back to vampires it's the same locked files and closed doors. Seriously, it's not that big a secret. You all got trashed in college and decided to shoot vamp blood. How am I supposed to help if I don't know what the hell is going on?"

"Calm down junior," Tesla roamed over to the fire to begin defrosting. "All you need to do is get ready to mobilise that rescue team because Helen's going to need it. Johnny boy's gone mad trying to kill everyone. My guess is it's something to do with that drug Amasis was experimenting with. I could have told him that John's a useless lab rat. He should have used you instead."

Will blinked slowly at the vampire. "Go have your shower," he hissed. The vamp wasn't going to be any help until he was ready.

"So... what do you think?" Joe asked, closing the door after Tesla left.

"That I wish there were no more bloody vampires in this world. Why isn't he helping? I know he's an arrogant prick but his consistently redeeming quality is his dedication to Magnus."

"Revealing the truth of what's going on down there is unlikely to help Magnus. He told you what to do to help her, in his eyes, that's being useful."

"You're keen to defend him. He's not especially nice to you."

Joe shrugged. "I profile the criminally insane – Tesla fascinates me. He walks a fine line. I think he wants to rule the world to save it and that cannot be said of many psychopaths."

"Yeah well I wish he'd leave the ruling of the world to the democratically elected governments of the world but that's just me."

Tesla didn't shower. He rolled up his sleeves and forced the lock on Henry's lab – half falling into the room.

"You!"

He was surprised by the roar that came from behind Henry's desk. A mound of fur glared at him, lifting a paw and jabbing it angrily in his direction.

"Morning," Tesla replied innocently, strutting into the room.

Bigfoot was far from pleased to see the meddlesome vampire. "LOCKED ME IN THE WINE CELLAR!" he bellowed. To be fair, that was true.

"Only briefly," he shrugged, pulling up a chair. "Most civilised beings would thank me. Ah, you've saved me the trouble of hacking the puppy's systems. I need to send a message to the rescue team in the mountains."

Bigfoot's enormous eyes narrowed. "What sort of a message?"

"Say again?!" Declan gaped at his radio. "Bloody hell. Oy!" he turned to his crew. "Tesla says we gotta move this bird!"

"Tesla?" Henry was still guarding Ashley's ropes. "Isn't he in the mountain?"

"Don't ask, Foss – just do."

"What about Ash?"

"If Tesla's right, she's not going to be needing those ropes. Come on!"

The ship beneath the mountain was burrowing its way free. The engines roared – its incredible thrust cracking the basalt and quartz. Huge sections at the base of the mountain were sliding away leaving angry, black scars in the ice caps. The other mountains rang in sympathy, shedding their sheets of ice in avalanches that washed through the valleys.

"Get us out of here!" Ashley shrieked at Apries and the Immortal. They were standing there being completely useless. "Mum..."

"I'm all right," Helen replied, wiping the blood from her face. The gash in her forehead had already healed although the constant shaking of the ground did nothing to curb her nausea. "We have to leave. This whole mountain is going to collapse any minute now." The ground was cracking up underneath them, fissures spewing gas and dust.

"We cannot," the Immortal shouted over the roar of rock and ice. "There is a magnetic storm beneath our feet. If we try we could end up anywhere – or in pieces. If Druitt and Tesla made it they will not be coming back."

"The old fashioned way, then," Helen held onto one of the marble pillars. "Just like old times?"

Ashley rolled her eyes as they set out into the crumbling tunnel.

"The place is really going to hell!" Declan yelled from the chopper. It had taken flight, hovering near he top of the mountain where the small opening in the ice was growing.

"How long can we stay here?" Henry peered through the open door.

"Not long, Foss. Don't think that's going to be a problem. This place isn't exactly taking its time."

John landed in the snow – on the wrong peak. He frowned. Ahead a helicopter hovered in front of a dissolving mountain, whisked about in the wind. He could already see a metal sheen poking out from beneath the ice. The ship was taking form, shaking off it's rock prison.

A moment later, the helicopter was filled with a glaring burst of purple light.
Civillisation of Light by ellymelly
39

CIVILISATION OF LIGHT

A blur of Kevlar tumbled out the side of the chopper, spiralling helplessly toward a roaring avalanche below, churning and spewing out ice and rock as it growled down toward the cluster of sleepy villages off in the distance. The body was swept beneath the white ocean, stolen from the world.

The helicopter veered sharply, its metal blades slicing at the air inches from the rock cliffs before it was pulled back on course with a sharp tug at the controls. The pilot collected himself, focussed on keeping everyone in the air. He felt like a ship tossed about in a storm as all hell reared up around them. "Steady baby," he whispered at the bird. "You got this."

Henry Foss found himself on the floor, trapped beneath a pile of cargo boxes which dug dangerously into his chest. He kicked his legs frantically, beating his fists against the crates but they persisted in being a dead weight pinning him to the chopper. Declan was kneeling in the back seat, tangled in his head piece as he fought against the swift strikes of John's blade.

Foss coughed in alarm as a stream of warm blood splattered over his mouth. It belonged to another one of the men, caught by surprise trying to sneak up on Druitt. There was now a blade protruding from his throat, gleaming like the spaceship breaking free of the mountain behind them. John curled his hand around the handle of the knife and cut through the man's throat, sending another wash of blood over the upholstery of the cabin before returning his attention to Declan.

The junior office fell beside Henry, clawing at his severed skin before falling lifelessly to the ground. The chopper swerved to avoid another rush of snow. The body slid over the floor and then out into the abyss. The movement dislodged the crates which tumbled out after the corpse. Henry heaved the last one off and crawled to the far side of the cabin next to the pilot.

"Can you land?" Henry shouted.

The pilot shook his head. "Not a chance in this mess!" the whole mountain range was disintegrating around them. "It's the end of the god damn world out there."

Henry freed the pilot's handgun and aimed it square to John's back. As he went to pull the trigger, Declan momentarily gained the upper hand, pushing both men onto the floor where they continued. Henry couldn't get a clean shot. "Dammit!" he growled. "Druitt what the hell?" he shouted. "Let him go!"

John caught Declan's wrist – wrapping his long, gloved fingers around it then snapped it backwards. Declan shrieked in agony, dropping his weapon. Two more well placed fists to the chin and Declan passed out. That only left Henry, the pilot and history's most notorious serial killer.

"Mr Foss, what a pleasure to see you again..." John would have bowed but there simply wasn't the head-room in the chopper. "Need to borrow your bird. You know how it is – trouble with the magnetic fields."

"Really rather not let you do that," Henry replied, still holding his gun up. It trembled in his hand, drawn by an invisible force toward the collapsing mountain. "Oh – holy – mother of – " Henry was distracted as the entire base of the mountain fell away revealing the smooth underside of the alien ship hovering above the ground. The remainder of the mountain was now supported only by the space ship. Now Henry was a science fiction geek through and through but the last thing he wanted to see right now was – well, that.

"It's closing!" Ashley screamed.

The Immortal, Apries, Magnus and Ashley struggled through the violence, clawing up the shifting ramp of stones that fell away from their feet like a sand dune. A sharp crack of white light shone from the dying opening, beckoning them to freedom but it was getting fainter every second, obscured by the hail raining down from the roof. The mountain groaned and cried, its ancient form on the edge of destruction.

Apries and the Immortal scrambled ahead, then turned to help the humans onto the final shelf of rock. They stood on the slither of cliff, buffeted by a raging wind kicked up by a helicopter.

"Something's wrong!" Ashley shouted, watching the helicopter struggle, teetering from side to side like a drunk mosquito. "Oh..." She saw the unmistakable silhouette of her father standing in the middle of the open door. He had a gun to the pilot and a free hand hanging onto the metal structure. There were bodies on the ground around him but they were impossible to make out. Henry...

"He wants us to jump," Helen eyed the scene warily. "We don't have much choice."

"Mum..."

"That's our only way out, Ash. Those two might be able to survive the fall but we'd all be buried under the snow drift. I've done the whole, 'freezing to death' thing."

The helicopter swooped as close as it dared, chunks of ice slashed into powder by its blades.

"Helen!" John beckoned her.

He threw a heavy rope out. Apries caught it and hauled it toward the others. They took turns, wrapping their limbs around the rope. "This is such a bad idea," Ashley whispered, as the rope cut into her gloves.

The tug from the helicopter was sudden and brutal, yanking all of them off the cliff and into the air. They screamed as the mountain broke apart behind them, the last vestiges of rock falling from the spaceship with a roar.

The helicopter fled, stealing off into the horizon. Above it, an enormous silver ship gracefully drifted up. Ice rained off its curved shell like crystal waterfalls. For a while it hovered over the wasteland of ice, humming as its underside spun. Lightning forked from its hull, hitting some of the mountain tops with angry cracks and then it vanished, seeping into a different dimension of space.

WEATHER OBSERVATION OUTPOST, KASHMIR MOUNTAIN BASE

John lay in the snow; a fallen angel with his wings freshly seared from hell. In the cold, his scars were dark pink gashes cut through his skin as though he were some ancient map that led to mayhem and death. Helen knelt over him, prying apart his eyelids to shine a small torch at them. His enlarged pupils did not react at all but his breath was steady. He was alive.

"Whatever Amasis gave him, it's sent him into a coma. What happened?" Helen asked the pilot.

"He just collapsed in the back when we were over the village. I thought he was going to fall out when we landed."

Henry was sitting with Ashley inside the dilapidated weather base. It wasn't much to look at but after the frozen nightmare of the mountain it was paradise.

"Tesla will be so bummed that he missed the ship leave," Ashley sipped her cheap mug of tea.

"Seriously though – a spaceship, buried in a mountain. That's so hardcore scifi," Henry marvelled. He was holding an icepack to his forehead. "Please tell me they're sending a plane this time. I think I've over helicopters. And boats. And tombs..."

Ashley rolled her eyes. "I was the one dangling from it for half-a-bloody hour. Hi mum!"

Helen slipped inside, shaking off a light dusting of snow. "John's out cold. We're packing him up for transport now."

"What – back to the Sanctuary? Seriously, you think that's a good idea?" Henry gaped.

"Amasis gave him a potent drug rumoured to alter his sense of reality. Apries thinks he might be able to help us come up with an antidote besides, what do you expect me to do, leave him on the mountains so that he can wake up and continue terrorising the world? In the meantime, we should all get some rest. It's a long flight home."

Helen turned and took a final look at the mountains. There was a fresh gash of black where the snow had been knocked from the peaks and the skyline was a mountain short. Aside from that, the damage to the world was small.

THE SANCTUARY, OLD CITY

"Tell me truthfully, is my wine cellar going to survive this period of mourning you've set yourself into?" Helen lounged on the sofa, her feet up on an expensive silk cushion, glass of white in her hand (as Tesla'd already worked his way through all the reds worth drinking). He was on the rug by the fire, splayed over it trying to straighten out his back. His bottle of wine was kept in easy reach.

In the weeks they had been back, Tesla had invested his time re-writing the history of humanity. He doubted anyone would ever read it but historical truth meant something to him, even if it didn't reveal him as the heir to the world's throne.

"There were five conscious people who watched that ship take off and none of you can give me even a vaguely accurate description of what happened. It's like giving Shakespeare's lost works to someone who can't read – burning a Rembrandt in front of a blind man."

"Oh Nikola, honestly, we were busy trying not to fall to our deaths," she replied, in that ever-patient tone.

He curled his lip up in a snarl, baring a fang.

"Besides," she continued, "you got a good look at some of its computers, learned an entirely new mathematical language and, I have no doubt, stolen a few secrets about the universe for future profit." His reply was a shrug. "Thought so – now cheer up."

He was quiet for a while, content to lay there in silence watching the flames dance about. They were too warm this close but he was transfixed by them. The fire reminded him of stars; their molten surfaces and churning magnetic storms. Whenever action was born from force, though it be infinitesimal, the cosmic balance was upset and universal motion its result. The mass of the earth was dependent on a supergravitational force from all the stars in the universe. Nothing was separate. There is no gap between, no break in continuity, no special and distinguishing vital agent. The same law governed all matter, all the universe was alive. Wherever there was heat and light, life followed. Electricity was the heart and thus, the secret of life.

"What are you thinking about?" Helen sat up, glass cupped in her hands. "Are you contemplating some great problem?"

Tesla turned his head, his pale blue eyes settling on her. He missed her endless rings of blood hair.

"So it turns out that we're nothing more than the result of an experiment," he lamented. "All that history – dynasties and empires – doomed to fail from the start. I don't mind being the result of mindless chaos, in fact, there is a certain beauty in life's blind luck. I do, however, take mild offence at being an insect's escape plan."

She smirked into her glass then set it on the table. Helen moved from the couch to the floor, crawling over to him. "Oh Nikola... You were an experiment anyway," she reminded him.

"Your experiment," he corrected her.

"And I don't mind," she couldn't resist running her fingers through his scruffy hair. He looked so young and innocent when he was in a bad mood. "Besides, weren't you always the one rambling on about wanting to see the stars? At least now you know it's possible – that there is something out there worth finding."

His pout softened. "I think I could do without running into another one of – whatever that was."

"I'm sure we'll run into a lot of things but nothing so troublesome as a vampire."

"Cheeky... I'm not sure I'd survive another one of your adventures. This one nearly did me in." He paused, a frown on his lips. "When were you going to tell me about James? I'm not a fool, Helen."

"You know James..." she whispered. "He had no wish to trouble anyone. I didn't realise he was so ill until Declan called. You helped him cheat death for a long time but not even your inventions could keep him alive forever."

"He should have let me test the retrovirus on him," Tesla muttered, his usual ego tainted with sadness. "I could have saved him."

"You might have saved him," Helen replied, placing her hand on his arm. "But I think he was ready to leave us. Not everyone wants to be immortal, Nikola." Helen had the good grace not to draw attention to the wet sheen in Nikola's eyes as he picked up his bottle of wine and made a silent toast to the fire and his old friend. "When were you going to tell me about Ashley?" she added softly.

Nikola set the bottle down. "What about Ashley?" he replied carefully.

"We've known each other too long to bandy about. It took me most of my life to work it out. It was a puzzle, you see – one of James's favourites. Of all the people that John killed over the years the death of my father never fit into his neat profile. It was a crime of passion, the very opposite of John's sadistic kills. His were ruthless acts to fill a void."

Nikola would have used stronger language to describe the atrocities of that man.

"I think I knew the moment Ashley was taken back into the past," Helen continued. "She was there that night, standing in the attic. For nearly a week my father had been tending a mysterious patient, a young girl. It was her... I don't know why she killed her grandfather but I have a sneaking suspicion that you do."

"You should be talking to Ashley about this," Nikola replied.

"Please Nikola, what happened that night? I need to know why my father died."

"The truth?" he whispered.

She nodded. He was the only person that she'd believe it from.

"An accident. John was trying to steal your father's journal, Ashley was after the source blood to save Zimmerman. She was startled by a door slamming in the storm."

An accident. Helen wasn't sure if that was worse. Her father died for nothing. "Then where did he go, Nikola? His body went missing before we could bury him and I was left with an empty casket. What kind of monster steals a body before he can be set to rest? Someone or something took him for a reason."

"Maybe there is some truth in your visions."

"You actually think that my father could be alive? Will disagrees with you. He believes that I am projecting a fantasy to deal with the present."

"We disagree on many things," Nikola assured her. "Still..." he scooted closer, leaning against some stray cushions next to her, turning up his charm. "Save the world, get the girl, make off with the treasure." He waved his wine about theatrically. "This is what we do."

Her head tilted, dark hair falling over her eyes. "The girl...?"

"Well, sorta..." Nikola leaned in hopefully.

"Nikola..."

"Aw come on," he purred. "I totally abandoned all my carefully laid evil plans to spring to your rescue – again."

"Are you ever going to stop doing that? It's exhausting keeping you from ruling the Earth."

"When Alexandra saw the breadth of his domain he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer – ow!" the wine cork bounced off his forehead.

John's world blurred out of the shadows. At first a hint of light spread through depths like a stain of sunlight, spiralling toward a galactic heart. Brighter and brighter, the orb split into three. Lights. Electric ones – globes that were eerily similar to Helen's infirmary.

John fisted his hands, struggling against the leather restraints.

"Hey – easy," Dr Zimmerman frowned. "You're under observation."

Ashley sat in the back of the room, flicking through an old journal. "I'll keep an eye on him."

"You sure, Ash?"

She nodded. "Yeah. We have a few things to talk about."

5 MONTHS LATER

"Dude, is that -"

"Eyes down, Wolfgang," Nikola muttered, tilting the electric tablet away from Foss's prying eyes.

"You can't not share an entirely new discipline of mathematics," Henry complained, trailing the half-vampire like a puppy.

"Mr Foss, as a legally dead citizen of a different country offering my services for free, I am entitled to do anything I wish. Now shoo – you are meant to be part of that entourage for Apries."

Henry visible huffed. "I really don't want to go to Egypt."

Nikola paused in the hallway, smirking maliciously. "Just think, there will be pyramids – and sand..."

Henry rolled his eyes and eventually wandered off to pack. Nikola resumed his journey along the innards of Helen's Sanctuary. Often he imagined the building as a beast, sleeping at the heart of the city. It didn't help that Helen went through a crimson phase a hundred years ago resulting in all of its innards carpeted and painted varying shades of red. Its baroque beams and snarling doors formed a skeleton to which the metaphoric rotting flesh fell clung. He tilted his head as he casually passed an arch of bullet holes, torn into the plaster.

Hours later, Nikola found himself pacing Helen's office with a superior air, wiping his hands calmly on a lace handkerchief. He was intrigued by the invitation but not trusting enough to believe that she could have anything but ulterior motives in calling him at this late hour. No doubt there was some missing piece of research she needed or a set of sharp claws at her disposal.

"And what service shall it be this evening?" he asked, seating himself in Helen's chair. It was beneath him to approach any of the other seats in the room, besides, she seemed content to pace about her office, pausing at the fireplace to stoke it into action.

There were unopened letters scattered over the desk, several of which Nikola let his eyes linger on. They were all from Watson. Of course they were. The old man had never acquainted himself with modern technology. Indeed, it would not be a stretch to presume that they were written with a quill dipped into a stained inkwell better suited to a museum.

He wasn't aware that they comprised his last will and testimony.

A sharp 'crack' broke the silence as Whitechapel materialised in front of them. Oh, but this was going to be an interesting night after all.

"Gentlemen," she nodded at them both and closed the door.
Sanctuary of the Moon by ellymelly
40

SANCTUARY OF THE MOON

"Believe it or not, occasionally I think the best of people – though I almost always regret it."

Helen was relegated to perching on her own desk, leaning toward the man she'd known as both a friend and nuisance for the better part of two centuries. At the present he was casually wandering the line between both, admittedly veering toward the former for most of the evening. She didn't know exactly what had turned Nikola's mood but he'd been off ever since the reading of James's will, casting those famous pouts of his at the room.

His mood soured sharply. The vampire dug his claws into the wood, chipping bits of it away.

"Nikola, stop that..." Helen slapped his hand away.

Aside from the artificial glow of her desk-lamp, this could have been 1888. John was by the fire seeking refuge and trying not to take offence at James's last wishes while Tesla, who had expected nothing, was struggling to deal with the reality that people had faith in him. She'd expected him to be elated – a good stroking to his ego usually did the vampire good. He was not. Tesla was lost.

"Almost?" Helen's prompted carefully.

Tesla's eyes replied. They were levelled at her, blue as ice in the sad depths of a forgotten glacier. It unnerved her to see both his natures riddled into one; human eyes – vampire claws.

"I think the best of you," he replied, "despite everything."

John nearly choked on his scotch. "I have better things to do than listen to another symphony of, 'Tesla, my life is woe'." He leaned over and snatched the bottle of scotch, tucking it under his arm. Its contents sloshed as he paced toward the window, taking in the vista of stars and sky. The city winked back at him. Thousands of streets – abandoned lane-ways with barely enough light to see the walls. Another beautiful night to wander through. "I'll see you in London next week as arranged. Adieu..." The curtains kicked up as he vanished to polish off the bottle in privacy.

Tesla reclined in Helen's chair. The leather creaked. It was old and, judging by how easily fresh cracks appeared in its veneer, unloved. "Do you ever realise that I am completely alone in the world? You and John have Ashley, until he-" Nikola stopped himself short of putting James's passing into words, "well James had his work and a wide range of associates and Nigel faired the best of us."

"Haven't you got a distant great-grand-nephew-"

He stopped her with an elegant wave of his hand. "No, let me finish Helen. I used to think I could bear the loneliness. Why do you think I never took the care to write? Sixty years... Walking away from you the first time was hard enough but to do it every year? Once a week? Or am I to stay here under your roof and persist with this rouse of ours? I don't know how to break a soul but this must come close."

"Walk away from what, Nikola?" she shook her head in confusion. His moods were as changeable as the electric currents he loved, pulling back and forth against the world.

"Do you remember the storm?" he whispered. "What you did that night was, unforgivable."

"O-of course I remember," she stammered softly, reaching for his hand. She laid hers gently on his. He stared at the comforting touch suspiciously. Nikola was jaded, more so than she'd ever taken the care to realise. For all his bravado and theatrics, flirting and romantic gestures, he was broken and she was the cause. Her heart sank to realise that the stories of his solitary life were true. All those women he flaunted in front of her were just that, lights and nonsense for her benefit. "Nikola – I was young and -"

He snatched his hand away. "I'm done with this... this insanity." He stood up, dragging his hands through his wild hair. "I'm not angry," he amended steadily, "just tired. You are my drug and over the centuries I have been a hapless addict. This is my only chance to break free and make some kind of life for myself. What else can I do? Stalk around your Sanctuary at your beck and call in the off chance that you will take pity on me one night when you have had too much to drink? There is nothing more insulting to Love. I have gone as far as I can with you, Ms Magnus."

Helen slipped off the desk and swept around the corner, cutting him off. "Nikola, this is madness!" He'd always left but never with the intent of not returning. When he tried to shift past her, she placed her hands on his chest as she had done that night, pushing him back against the desk, leaning him over it only this time there was no storm at his back.

"Goodbye, Helen," he whispered. "Think of me sometimes. I will think of you always."

She started shaking her head, her hands digging into his jacket as she kept him pinned to her desk. "Not a chance, you moody vampire!" she hissed. "We have unfinished business," Helen added, "and I believe we left off here..."

Helen leaned in close, exactly as she had done over a century ago. Nikola tried to resist her, terrified that if he did this the last pieces of his soul would be hers and he'd be forever chasing shadows. Before he could think, her perfume was making his eyes drift close. Her hand was running up the back of his neck, holding him steady as a pair of soft, teasing lips pressed against his.

"Volim te..." Helen murmured, nudging him gently with her cheek before draping her arms on his shoulders.

Tesla was startled. "I think you mean, 'Dobro jutro...'"

They both laughed softly, holding each other until Nikola turned his head to the side and eyed one of James's letters trembling in the light breeze coming through the window.

"What am I meant to do with a Sanctuary?" he asked. James had left him the London Sanctuary, all its wealth and inhabitants. He had never had a responsibility of such magnitude – something to tie him to the world. If he did this, he was agreeing to more than just James's wishes. Nikola Tesla would become part of the world again.

"Take care of it," Helen replied, laying her head on his shoulder. "It's what he always wanted."

Sand. There was just so god damn much of it. Henry kicked it with his boot, certain that the nearby desert would swallow this oasis village before noon, rearing up in a ferocious snarl against the scattering of mud-brick homes and lonely palms. He checked his watch. Five minutes to.

"Seriously, are you sure?" Henry nudged Apries. "I mean dude there has to be a better lost temple-turned-sanctuary for you to lord over." Sure, it was a beautiful building in that old, 'ruin-of-humanity' way but getting any kind of modern convenience into there would have to be a bitch. Henry would be utterly shocked if it had running water let alone a stable internet connection.

"This is my home, young wolf," Apries strode through the court yard, glancing fondly at the broken tiles. "Perhaps not this exact village or building but I belong here, in Egypt – at least for the moment. I have a lot of history to catch up on before I can proceed in the world. Besides, are there not as many Abnormal creatures here for me to care for?"

Henry shrugged. "Plenty I reckon. Hell you could start with those home grown sand creatures that have been at us for the last year."

"If I can find any more," Apries inspected an orange tree trying to make a life out of the dust. "I suspect the suffering of the People of the Sand is at an end. My ancestors told stories of creatures that lived in the sky, gods that flew with the eagles neither man nor beast. Amasis, like most of his scholarly peers believed this to be creative response to reality, forged by primitive people to explain the inexplicable. None of us ever imagined that those stores would have a basis in fact. A creature from another world playing with our lives as though we were grains of sand, waiting the tide? I doubt even your modern world is prepared for that."

"Every abnormal has a story," Henry offered, sinking into the shade to escape the overbearing heat. This place was a breathing furnace and they the microbes eking out a living in the shade.

"Do werewolves, Mr Foss?" Apries asked curiously.

Henry shrugged. "No one knows much about us. Why do you ask?"

"Tesla has been catching me up on the current understanding of the world and it seems a curious evolution."

"Yeah well, as I said. We don't know much about it." Henry kicked the wall this time. "Do me a favour – don't start with werewolves."

Apries even managed a smile, albeit one with fangs. "As you wish, Mr Foss. Ah, here we are."

The doors to the Sanctuary screamed open, swinging on ancient brass hinges. Apries and Henry slipped into the sanctity of shade, sucking in the cold air which smelled of stone. The entrance foyer was enormous and barren. Columns of granite towered up above their heads, barely lit by scatterings of candles set up directly on the stone floors. There were occasional dips in the ground, only five inches deep and filled with water. Frescos, nearly eroded away, lingered on the walls more like ghosts than decorations.

"Talk about your fix-her-uppa..." Henry whistled, his voice echoing around the room.

Apries led Henry up first a grand arched staircase, then a series of smaller, winding vertical towers until they reached the top of a lonely turret whose side had been torn away in an old war. The view beyond stretched until the horizon died against a sweltering mirage.

"This is the edge of the world," Apries whispered. "Magnus wanted a backup plan – a Sanctuary set off the map to keep her secrets. There will be no networks here, no technology of any kind. It is entirely untraceable and I will keep it that way."

"A bit too altruistic for a vampire."

"Mr Foss, I regret to say that you do not know very much about the nature of vampires."

Apries brought a small box out of his jacket. He opened it and tipped it over, scattering his brother's ashes into the desert wind.

SANCTUARY OF THE MOON

The late Amasis's Sanctuary of the Moon was a good deal less intimidating basking under the orbs of artificial light set up by a swarm of archaeologists. What was once been a terrifying hell had become a sad, silent tomb. Most of the corpses were covered in white sheets or removed, taken back for analysis. They had already discovered dozens of new species and many more sub-species. It was a treasure trove of lost species – sadly none of which had lived to tell their secrets. Everyone broke for lunch, assembling in the best preserved building at the top of the underground hill where their permanent camp seemed out of place. Two figures remained down the opposite end, digging in the dirt near a partially collapsed structure.

"New boss, eh?" Ashley glanced up from her excavation. Declan had set aside his weapons in favour of jeans and a ruined T-shirt with the name of an obscure band scrawled over it. This had never been his thing but he was taking to it, enjoying the simple pleasure of digging something up instead of putting it in the ground.

"I think Tesla prefers us to call him, 'Lord Tesla'," he half-joked. "No," Declan amended. "I hate to admit it but the vamp's taking the whole thing rather seriously – in his own way. Hey, is it true about him and Magnus? Rumour mill's gone into overdrive since his last visit."

Ashley shrugged. "Dude, I know less about it than anyone else. I'm the child, remember?"

"True," Declan grinned. "Neither of them are big on sharing. Am I doing this right?" he eyed his progress with an air of suspicion. His hole was deeper than Ashley's but he was worried he was clawing through all the archaeology.

"You're fine," Ashley assured him. "Though I'm not sure why the Great and Powerful Tesla sent you here to babysit me. Everything here is long dead."

"Well, you know. Same old Tesla. He's convinced that your father's journal is correct – that the City of Gold is around here somewhere. The Sanctuary of the Moon could be a distraction, a false entrance."

"Definitely same old vampire," Ashley muttered, but at least he wasn't trying to steal it out from under her mother's nose this time. That showed a level of improvement. "I hate to disappoint but everyone knows that's all a lie to fool the Spanish. There never was a -" her eye was drawn to the pool of water beside the city. It had a faint glow around its edge, almost like glitter. Then she remembered. "Oy, over here," she dragged Declan across to the water. "Look at this." She dipped her trowel in then drew it out slowly, reveal a couple of tiny flecks of gold. "It's in the water."

"Son of a bitch..." Declan dipped his hand in. "Where does the water go? The pool finishes here."

Ashley was shaking her head. "It's not where it's going, it's where it came from." She turned her head to the great, ornate doors that were closed. She remembered the tunnel beyond but they'd never dared to follow it. "Fancy a swim?" she tossed him a torch out of her bag.

There was a shine in Declan's eyes. "I'm supposed to be excavating the ruins for your mother."

"And what would your boss want you to do?"

Declan laughed. "Follow the trail of gold, obviously."

Hours later, the Operations Manager strolled through the hollow city, keeping well back from the crumbling walls. He paused, frowning when he saw Magnus and Macrea's dig site abandoned. "Where the devil did they get to?" Joe muttered, hands resting on is hips. Dammit, he was a homicide detective, not a missing person specialist. "Bloody hell... not again!"

THE END

"I did not tell half of what I saw, for I knew I would not be believed."

-Marco Polo
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