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An American Survivor in London

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Chapter 1: An Arrival

The first thing he noticed was that he was freezing and wet. His feet were still partially dangling in the water he had been floating in. The second thing was that his entire body was painful and stiff. A sudden icy hand on his throat was the third.

Murky white eyes met his blue. This creature, which almost looked disturbingly human, had pale skin that was laden with what looked like burn marks and pus-filled sacs. A gurgling moan sounded from a mouth that was filled with rotting teeth. Its breath smelled like death. It opened its jaw almost impossibly wide and reared down to bite. Frothy pinkish saliva dripped onto his soaked clothes.

His hand slapped at his side, frantically searching for anything he could use as a weapon. He felt his fingers settle around something solid and he swung it immediately.

Whatever this was, it hadn’t expected it, and it was knocked to the ground almost effortlessly. He heard a squelch as its head hit tarmac. He forced himself to scuttle backwards, causing small splashes as he finally pulled his legs out of the water. He still held the makeshift blunt.

Its hand was still reaching out for his leg or arm. It managed to grab what was left of one of his sodden boots. He smacked its hand harshly, which forced it to recoil. It gnashed its teeth and made one more attempt to lunge it him, but he thrust the sharp end into one of its eye sockets. It finally stilled and dropped to the ground.

He panted heavily, swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat.

“What...” he snapped his mouth shut. Was that his voice? Why was he surprised? Shouldn’t he have known what his own voice sounded like? Come to think of it, he had no idea how he got here either. He felt a chill run down his spine, “What… what… what was that thing?”

Did he always have that stammer? Or had it come about from however he had gotten here? Another gurgling growl registered in his ears, along with another, and then another. More of whatever these things were were coming. He could see at least six of them as he glanced around, all moving towards him and gaining speed with each passing second. The noises must have caught their attention.

“Shit...” he had to get out of here. He wasn’t sure if he could fight a group of them; he didn't even have any kind of decent weapon.

He got up onto his feet. Pain shot through one of them. His legs wobbled but he managed to stay standing. His head pounded and he briefly winced. He felt an extra weight on his arm, and he frowned to see some heavy thick rope, laden with water, wrapped around it. He quickly peeled it off and left it behind.

He checked for an opening between the creatures. He spotted one. He ran, managing to avoid gnarled fingers as they tried to grab at him. One set brushed against the side of his face, causing his heart to skip a beat, but he had already passed it before it could do any worse.

He kept sprinting further away from the water and closer into the city interiors. He had to find somewhere safe. But where was ‘somewhere safe’? Come to think of it, where was he in general?

He had no idea at all.

Chapter Text

He had perched himself on the doorstep of what seemed to be an abandoned building, panting heavily. He had kept running until he simply couldn’t anymore. The doors and windows had been boarded up, as if to prevent anyone from getting in, or perhaps from coming out. What was going on here?

There weren’t any signs that those things were close. It appeared that they were people that had become feral, like rabid beasts that had taken on a human form. He briefly shuddered at the thought. At least he seemed to have gotten away from them for now.

He placed his aching head in his hand. It felt heavy, and the throbbing in it had seemed to have grown worse.

He saw a flickering light in his peripheral vision and jumped back onto his feet immediately, his fists moving up in front of his chest.

He froze.

The man was a few inches taller than him and more than several years older. His eyes were a clear blue, he had reddish-brown hair and a beard. His skin was pale, but he didn’t look like one of the ghoulish creatures he had see earlier. He was holding a lantern in one of his hands.

The stranger had appeared to have been just as startled by his outburst as he had been by his arrival. He lowered his hands and opened them so both his palms were on show.

“I’m, I’m...” he paused, shaking his head, as though that would somehow make his mouth and his brain work better together, “I’m sorry. I… for, for a moment, I, I thought, you, you were, were one of those… those things. You’ve… you’ve seen them, right?”

The lack of surprise on the other man’s face told him that he had.

“I’m afraid they’ve been on these streets for a while now,” was his reply. There was an Irish lilt in his voice, which also sounded soft and kind, “Victims of the Spanish flu. If they don’t die or recover, they become what you’ve seen. However, as sad as it is, it’s fortunate you escaped from them. They can be very dangerous to those they catch off guard.”

Although there was some sadness in his eyes, he could also see that there was something more, something he perhaps couldn’t say, or didn’t want to. Guilt flickered through his own gaze; to think, he had just killed one of them without even hesitating.

“I, I see,” he replied, looking away and then looking back, “You, you, agh…”

It was frustrating. He knew what he wanted to say, but it was difficult to just get it out. Had he always struggled with this?

“Take your time,” the man replied.

“You seem to know… know what’s going on, I mean, I mean, more than I do,” he said, “I’m kinda… kinda out-outta the loop, if, if I’ll be honest.”

“Why don’t you come with me? I’ll see what I'll be able to tell you once we’re somewhere a little bit more favourable,” the man said, “I run a night shelter a couple of roads down from here. If you don’t mind me saying, you do look like you need to warm up, and maybe into some dry clothes.”

His gut reaction was to say ‘no thanks’ but he stopped himself. What choice did he really have? To go with this man and take his chances at somewhere that was possibly safe and had more actual people, or take his chances with what seemed like the walking dead out there? He nodded.

“Sure,” he said, “I’ll come along. Thank you.”

 

They walked in silence for a while. Or at least his saviour walked while he limped beside him. It was comforting to see the areas around them becoming more well-lit. They passed actual people who the older man quietly greeted. The younger only gave them a silent nod.

“I don’t believe I told you my name, I do apologise for that, I suppose I was thinking about what I needed to do in the shelter tonight” the man said, “My name is Sean Hampton.”

“It’s nice to meetcha, Sean...” it really was, considering the circumstances. He still half-expected the guy to pull out a knife and shank him, despite his hopes that maybe he had found an ally.

“What’s yours, if you don’t me asking?” Sean continued.

“It’s...” he stopped. What was his name? “I… I actually don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Sean asked. There was a flicker of what he could only assume was concern in his eyes.

“I… I don’t remember much of anything,” he admitted, “Nothing about myself. Like, I know a few things, like there’s a war happening, and how, how to talk, and things, and… and… you mentioned the Spanish Flu just now, but… it’s, it’s, it’s like, I’m, I’m blank. I don’t even know where I am.”

Sean’s brow furrowed.

“I can tell you that you’re in London,” Sean explained.

“London…” at least he recognised the name. So he had somehow gotten to London.

“I can also tell you that the war has now come to an end. All the souls who survived out there have been gradually returning to their countries from the fronts,” Sean informed him. He paused, and then continued, “Judging by your accent and what’s… left of your clothes, you may have been an American soldier. Does that remind you of anything?"

“American… and a soldier...” maybe he was. He shook his head, “I’m afraid it doesn’t. I’m, I’m sorry about this.”

He gazed down at what he was wearing, or, as Sean said, the ruins of it. It was barely hanging onto him, ripped and tattered to ribbons, and the water that it had absorbed weighed him down. It indeed looked like some kind of uniform. He had to hold onto the pants when he realised they had been about to fall down.

“Please, do not apologise. You have not done any wrongs, and perhaps if you have, then the lord will find forgiveness for you, I already know that I cannot judge you, and I certainly cannot leave a man in need behind, no matter what he might have done,” Sean replied. He was quiet for another moment, but then he seemed to think of something, “I might have some dry clothes for you to wear in my shelter. It wouldn’t be good for you to keep that uniform on. But after that, I think it might be best for you to go to Pembroke Hospital and see if they could help you. It's hard to say just how injured you may have been.”

“Hospital... but I, I, I don’t feel sick, and don’t, don’t wanna be...” he briefly protested. Sean was looking at him again. It was a look that a stern parent or a teacher might give a child, “…well, taking up peoples’ time...”

“You will not be taking up time,” Sean said, “I don’t know how long you were out in the ocean for, and I don’t know what kind of injuries you might have sustained. I would certainly feel better if you were in the right environment and someone with more medical knowledge than I looked at you properly.”

He was silent for a moment. He didn’t really like the idea of going to a hospital and going under that kind of scrutiny. What was he supposed to tell them? Would they even believe him? Then again, Sean seemed like a caring individual, and he found himself not wanting to disappoint him.

“Okay… I’ll go when, when I get those, those clothes...” he said.

“Thank you,” a small smile fell onto Sean’s lips.

 

The night shelter was well-kept. It was plain to see that Sean put a lot of effort and care into looking after it as well as its residents. Like when he was outside, Sean greeted anyone that he passed. His new guest gave anyone who saw him a quick nod or an awkward wave of his hand.

He was eventually led to a small room so he could change. He was given a towel to dry himself off as well. It was scratchy and threadbare in parts, but definitely better than nothing. Sean informed him that he would bring him some clothes once he found some that might fit him.

He peeled off the uniform and set to drying himself off until his skin was only slightly damp instead of soaking. Goose pimples rose along his arms. He noticed a small sink with a mirror above it and walked over, wrapping the towel around his waist. Maybe seeing what he looked like could help jog his memory.

He almost flinched back at first. He felt as though he had been about to walk right into a stranger, even though the mirror said it was him.

The first thing he noticed was that his pale face and body were painted with bruises, each in varying shades of purple and black. His body was skinny, with some rough scar tissue on his chest and stomach. There was some muscle in his arms and legs. He felt them briefly. They ached. It was no wonder Sean had been concerned.

The next was his nose. It was slightly crooked. He tried to think about whether it had always been that way. He attempted to conjure up any images in his mind, but none came. He briefly checked his mouth. He was missing a couple of teeth in the back. Again, he didn’t know how or when it had happened.

His eyes were blue, and slightly ringed underneath. The cheekbone underneath his left was a little bit swollen. He touched it. His fingers flinched back and he gritted his teeth at the pain.

His hair was straw-coloured and partially plastered to his face. It was on the shorter side, most likely for practical reasons. His left hand moved up to brush the bangs away from one of his eyes.

No memories came. He didn’t know what he expected.

 

The door opened and he turned around.

Sean was back. He held some folded clothes in his hands. Russell could see a mix of grey, black, and white. On seeing him, Sean paused and was unable to stop himself from subtly sucking in some air through his teeth.

“Yeah, I uh, I uh, I know it looks bad,” he said.

“I would definitely like you to go to the hospital after you’re dressed. As I said earlier, it’s just to make sure,” Sean said, before he then held out the bundle, “Try these on. See if they fit.”

He complied. Sean picked up his uniform and left as he did.

He needed to roll up the sleeves of the black jacket so he could use his hands. He had do the same with the bottoms of the grey breeches once he had gotten them on so they couldn’t trip him over. Other than that, they were good enough. The white shirt was perfect and the suspenders he had stopped him worrying about having to keep everything pulled up. He certainly felt a lot better to have them on. It no longer seemed that he was going to freeze standing where he was.

 

Sean came back again. He was carrying something in his hand. It was metallic and glinted in the dim light around them.

“These fell out of your uniform,” he said, as he held them out, revealing the said item to be a pair of dented dog tags that were attached to a chain, “It looks like someone tried to scratch over the names.”

He carefully took them. He frowned at the thought. Why would someone do that? Did they want people to not know who he was if they happened to find him?

He had to hold them away from his face. He couldn’t seem to focus so well when they were too close. He squinted. It was difficult to peer through the white lines. He finally made out one word; the other was impossible to discern.

“Russell,” he said, “One, one, one of the names is, is Russell. I can, I can only assume that’s my name if they were in my uniform. Is… is it okay if, if I keep them?”

“Of course, they’re yours, or at least, they seem to be,” Sean said. At that, Russell tucked them into a jacket pocket for the time being. At least he had something people could call him now. It made him feel less like a lost soul in this place.

“Thank you,” Russell said, “I uh, I suppose, I uh, I should get going, huh? Get myself like, looked at.”

“That would be wise,” Sean said, “I would go with you, but I’m afraid I must tend to my fold here. The doctors are very good though, they’ll take care of you, and I’ll be here when you return.”

“Thank you,” Russell said again, as he started to head towards the door, "I uh, I guess I better go... I'll, I'll see you, you later."

“Oh, Russell...” Russell turned back again when Sean quietly called him. His face remained neutral, but it was nice to hear another person say his name, “If you see a Doctor Jonathan Reid at the hospital, please give him my regards. He recently saved my life and it feels like I can never thank him enough.”

“Of course,” Russell said, “Tha-thank you again, Sean.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: The Good Doctor

The hospital wasn’t in the best shape. Then again, with this Spanish flu epidemic and people returning from the war, he could only guess resources and staff were getting stretched.

Despite Sean asking him to come here, he couldn’t help but a little bit guilty for it. Perhaps he could lend a hand in some areas, like moving stuff, or perhaps delivering medicines to those in the harder-to-reach areas in relation to the hospital.

He might have to bring that up with the right people. The nurse he had seen first (a very nice old lady called Gwyneth Branagan) had gotten some details from him written down. After he had to awkwardly explain that he didn’t have a last name to use or many other memories for that matter, she had given him a sympathetic (yet puzzled) look and told him to wait. She warned him it could take a while before anyone saw him, but he simply said he had plenty of time for that. Then she had left him while she attended to other duties.

He must have fallen into a dreamless sleep at some point. He didn’t know how much time had passed when he saw the sun starting to rise. As soon as he had noticed that, he had experienced a gap in memory. It was the only conclusion he could come to.

He was vaguely aware of footsteps coming closer to him, but he was forced back into full wakefulness when he felt a cold hand on his shoulder. He gasped before jumping up onto his feet and instinctively reaching for a weapon he didn’t have. The chair he had been sitting in tipped over and clattered to floor behind him.

He then stopped, remembering what was going on. It was okay. He wasn’t at the docks. It wasn’t one of those things. He looked up. Through the window, he could see that it was nearly dark outside again.

The man who had woken him was a lot taller than he was. His skin was pale, and his jet black hair and beard only seemed to emphasise that. In contrast, his eyes were a warm blue, but there was something piercing about them, like he was looking for something inside Russell’s very soul. It felt like it took more effort than it should have to look away. He was actually rather handsome too. Russell felt a tingle of anxiety ran up his spine. Did he really just think that? That was worrying. He shouldn’t have been having such thoughts.

“I’m… I’m sorry… I… I guess, I guess I was just a bit… startled,” he said, rubbing at the back of his neck.

“That’s perfectly all right, Russell, if you are him,” the man he assumed was one of the doctors replied, “From what I’ve seen of your information, you’ve had a very rough time. I am Doctor Jonathan Reid, and I will be examining you today.”

He knew this was Russell. The accent and the stammer that Nurse Branagan had mentioned made him stand out considerably, and he hadn’t seen any other Americans since he had returned to London.

“Y-yes, I, I am Russell,” Russell said, “I’ll be, be, be honest with you, sir, Doctor Reid, I, I mean. I… I think I’m fine… but Mister Hampton found me and he, he was worried, and so, I, I really just came to, to, to make him feel better… I uh, I uh, didn’t want to disappoint him after he, he helped me.”

He snapped his mouth shut. He felt as though he had been rambling without giving the guy any chance to get a word in. He realised this was the most he had said in one sitting since he had first woken up in London.

“I’ve noticed that he does have that effect on a lot of people,” the doctor smiled warmly, “I’m not surprised that he was concerned for your well-being, from what I’ve been told. Please, come with me.”

Russell took a moment to put the chair back into an upright position before he followed. He wasn’t about to disobey. There was something about the doctor that told him he shouldn’t.

 

Reid looked over the papers again and spared a glance to the vial of blood that he had taken. He would need to test it later. The boy’s handwriting lacked eloquence and was on the messier side, with some of his words spaced too far apart, but it was still legible, and proved he was at least literate. As asked by Branagan, he had written his first name (along with an added note of ‘don’t know my last name’), his age being ‘at least 18’ and the reason for his visit being ‘Bruising, limping, aching head, loss of memory’. He found that last one to be the most notable. He had grabbed a pen so he could write down what he had noticed himself.

Russell sat on a chair nearby, buttoning his shirt back up. He was almost rigid and his hands stayed on his lap after he was done, as though afraid of being admonished for not keeping them to himself.

“Thankfully, you don’t have any broken bones. Your ankle is sprained and while they hurt right now, your bruises should heal. While you took a nasty bump on your head, it should not have any adverse effects. If you do feel anything different, please come back straight away,” Jonathan started to say, as he then put the paper down and looked at him fully again, “Although what I find concerning are the rope burns on your wrists and legs. You said you had washed up on the docks.”

Russell nodded.

“Yes, yes, sir, Doctor… sorry...” he said, “Rope burns… I wasn’t really… look-looking at them to, to be honest.”

He pulled one of his sleeves up. He briefly remembered the rope that had been partially wrapped around his arm while trying to escape more of those ghouls and peeling it off before it could weigh him down. Had it been that one?

There it was. If the mark was anything to go by, he had been tied up so tightly that circulation was being cut off, and he must have been trying to struggle. He still couldn’t remember exactly what had happened. Nothing came up. He let the sleeve come back down again.

If he had been returning to America from the Western Front, had something happened on the ship? Had it been attacked somehow? Had those he had been travelling with met a similar fate?

“Russell,” the doctor’s caught his attention. His voice seemed to wipe out any thoughts or questions that might have been forming in his head, leaving it empty and open for the briefest of moments, “If I am to help you, you must be honest with me. Do you really not remember anything?”

The answer came automatically. He could trust Doctor Reid. He could tell him.

“I really don’t remember anything,” he said, “Nothing about my own life anyways. I, I don’t remember, where, where I lived, or uh, or uh, like what I did in the war… most of what I know is just like… guessing from what little, like, like… what’s, what's the word… ev-ev- something?”

“Evidence?” Jonathan said.

“Yeah, that. Sean pointed out my accent, and my, my, my uniform, and I know you, you, you gotta be at least eighteen to be a Soldier, and I can only guess, that, that Russell is my name from the dog, dog tags we found in my uniform,” Russell said, before he sighed, “I’m… I’m sorry, Doctor Reid. I, I know you’re trying to help me, but I really don’t remember.”

“May I see the dog tags?” Jonathan then asked.

“Yes… of, of course,” Russell reached into his pocket and held them out. Jonathan took them. He examined them for a few silent moments, looking through the scratches and the condition they were in. He then handed them back.

“This is rather strange,” he said, “Has it occurred to you that someone might have wanted you gone?”

“Well, I, uh, I did think of that...” Russell said, “But… I can’t, can’t help but wonder if… if something happened to the boat I was on. Did our ship somehow, get, get, get destroyed? Did we all end up in the ocean, some-somehow? Did, did, did all our dog tags get, get scratched because no, no one wanted us to be, like, like, found out? Where… where is everyone now? Did… did they wash up elsewhere or… are, are they...”

He trailed off, suddenly unable to bring himself to ask that last question. He didn’t even know who his allies or fellow travellers had been, and yet he found themselves afraid for their safety all the same. He shook his head.

“I’m, I’m sorry. I, I should not be pushing all, all of this, onto you...” he said.

“You don’t need to be sorry,” Jonathan said, “I can only imagine how strange and frightening this is for you. Sadly, we still don’t know much about the type of memory loss that you’re experiencing and I’m not sure that we could help you remember what happened, or who you are entirely.”

“That’s… that’s okay… they, they might… they might come back on, on their own,” he needed to figure out a way to contact his ship, if there was such a way and if it was somehow still up and running, “I’m, I’m just glad that there’s… only like, a little bit, bit of, physical da-damage.”

“You are very lucky that it was just that,” Jonathan agreed, “I am going to give you some medicine to take for the pain and I will suggest trying to stay off that foot as much as you can.”

“I’m sure Sean will be relieved,” Russell said, “He, uh, he said to give you his regards. He said you and the doctors here saved his life and he, he, he said, he never thinks he can, can thank you enough.”

“His gratitude is all we need,” Jonathan said, “Please, give him mine when you see him too.”

“I will,” Russell said. He paused. The idea of perhaps offering assistance came back to the front of his mind, “Is… is there anything I can do here? Like, to help, just, like, to lighten the, the, workload for everyone here, if uh, if that makes sense?”

“That is a very kind notion,” Jonathan said, after a short pause, “Perhaps once you are healed fully, you could provide some help in a way that relates to any skills you have. However, that isn’t ultimately up to me. That is up to our administrator, Doctor Swansea.”

“Is… is he in?” Russell asked.

“He is. If you wish, I can direct you to his office,” Jonathan said. He stood up from the chair and picked up the paper again, “I must hand these over to him in any case.”

“That, that would be helpful, thank you, Doctor Reid,” Russell said, “And for, for looking over me as, as well, especially with, with, with all that’s been going on here.”

“It’s my pleasure,” Jonathan replied, before he gestured, “Please follow me. While I would stay with you while talking to Edgar, I must head out to make some house calls. I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” Russell replied. He got up and trailed behind Jonathan. He was honestly starting to feel a little bit better already.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Swan in a Million

Swansea. For some reason, his name seemed to fit his appearance. Just how someone might like at another person and say ‘they seem like a Sean’. Funnily, that had been one of his thoughts when Sean had told him his name. His greyish-brown hair was nearly combed, and his moustache was well-kept. His green eyes peered at both Jonathan and then at Russell from behind a pair of metal-rimmed glasses.

Russell couldn't help note a book on his desk, "Diseases of Memory: An Essay in the Positive Psychology". It was written by someone called Theodule Ribot. He made sure not to stare it for too long. He didn't want anyone assuming he was some kind of sneak.

Jonathan and Swansea’s meeting had been brief. It mainly consisted of Jonathan handed Edgar the paper that he had written Russell’s details on, making a comment about going back to the Turquoise Turtle for ‘a visit’, bidding the administrator farewell and then leaving. He gave Russell the quickest of smiles as he left.

Swansea had bid the doctor a friendly greeting, along with an amiable farewell and a wish for good luck when it was time for him to leave. Russell remained silent while the exchange was going on. He felt it was probably best to only speak when he was spoken to first.

“So, Russell, it's lovely to meet you,” Edgar said, “I’m sure you’ve heard of me already as well. I am Doctor Edgar Swansea. What made you decide to come and see me?”

“Good to meetcha, Doc-Doctor Swansea, Well, to, to… offer any assistance I could give to you, or, or, or any of the other people working, he-he-here at the hos-hospital,” he said, “I, I, I feel while I am, am here, I, I could make myself useful and at least, take, take, take, some work, with all the, the, great work you’re also doing here, to help, help everyone I mean.”

Edgar was quiet. However, something in his face suggested that he was thinking about it.

“Well, I am certainly not going to say ‘no’ to such an offer,” he said, smiling, “I am going to confess right now that your case is interesting. I've only ever heard about patients with a loss of memory such as yours, but never got to meet one in person. This is quite a case you have; unable to recall anything of your life before now. It goes beyond even Ribot's Law. Perhaps if you’d be willing to help me learn more about your condition, I can consider giving you some work when your foot is healed.”

“That, that, that would be wonderful,” Russell said, before he swallowed. His mind conjured up the image of a butterfly pinned to a board, “I uh, I uh, I hate to say this, but… would, this, this, involve um… any…”

“There will not be surgery or anything scary,” Doctor Swansea said, although there was the slightest of amused smiles on his lips, “Just discussions and possible mild experiments, as I said, nothing scary or painful, to see if we can get any results. London is a city of science and discovery, you know.”

“Well, I uh, I know now...” Russell said awkwardly, rubbing at the back of his neck again.

“If we’re successful,” Edgar continued, “We might make a new discovery and you might even get your memory back, if it somehow doesn’t come back on its own.”

“Yes, I… I can see where, where, where you’re coming from,” Russell said.

“I believe I can perhaps think of some tasks for you to do,” Edgar said, “In fact, I’ve got a rather simple one right now. As far as you’re aware at the moment, you don’t know what your last name is. You just need to think of one. Just give me the first name that comes into your head. Try not to think about it. This could be the first step.”

Russell was silent for about ten seconds. His mind was blank, but then a word did come up.

“Tol-Tolbert,” he said, “...that was the first thing that, that, that came up. Just Tolbert.”

“Well done! Definitely better than no name at all,” Edgar said, smiling, “And perhaps there is some significance to it.”

Russell briefly felt the dog tags in his pocket. He remembered looking at the other one. It seemed that the scratches were too long for his surname to be that. But he felt a better connection with that particular name.

“We’ll write that down on your file,” Edgar said. He got a pen from the desk and wrote it down. His was definitely a lot neater, but there were hints of the doctor’s scrawl that most of them seemed to have, “There, now you have a full name to go by. I think it suits you. Looking at you, you do seem like a Tolbert.”

“Tha-thank you, Doctor Swansea, that’s, that’s very kind,” Russell said. He meant that. He still didn’t know why he had thought of that name of all things. But maybe it was just better not to think about too much for now. It was actually nice to have a full name, even if the second name might not have been his for real.

“Now, I think you need to head back, get some rest and when you feel that your foot is getting better, then come back, and we’ll see what kind of work I might have for you,” Edgar said.

“Thank you again, Doctor Swansea,” Russell said, “I uh, I guess I’ll see you in a few days at most.”

“I do look forward to it. Have a good rest of your night, Russell,” Swansea replied.

“You, you too, Doctor Swansea.”

 

Sean honestly looked relieved to see Russell come back through the door. He had practically rushed over to greet him but stopped a short distance away.

“It’s so good to see you. I have to be honest, I was almost afraid that you weren’t coming back and that I had been foolish to send you out there,” he said. He looked over Russell carefully, “Did everything go well at the hospital?”

“Better, than, than, than, agh, than I thought it would,” Russell said, “Jonathan saw me, and, and, and, it seemed I got off very lightly. I uh, I uh, I only had a few bruises here and there, although I’ve been told off to stay off my foot, it, it's sprained, and to, to keep an eye on my head. I told him about you, and, and, he said to give you his regards too.”

“He really is a kind man,” Sean said. Russell couldn’t help but notice that Sean’s face seemed paler since he had last seen him. It was easier to see now that he was standing closer. He also seemed to be developing sores on his skin. Russell couldn’t hide the mix of anxiety and sympathy that crept across his face.

“Are you… are you...” Russell trailed off, unsure of how to continue. Sean didn’t need him to elaborate.

“Oh… I see that you noticed,” Sean said.

“I… I… I was… just...” Russell swallowed, wondering if he should have said anything at all. He was inwardly cursing, “C...concerned.”

“You’re not the only one,” Sean replied, “A lot of others have been worried as well. I can assure you that I feel perfectly fine in myself, but I have been keeping myself quarantined and it's why I’m choosing not to stand too close, just in case. I will be returning to my quarters shortly, but I felt it right for you to see a familiar face when you got back.”

“If… if there’s anything I can do, let, let me know,” Russell said.

“I will,” Sean said, “We saved a meal for when you returned. You’ll find it by the bed that’s been set up for you. I left what’s left of your old jacket there. It was the most intact thing of your clothes. I don’t know what you would like me to with the rest.”

“I’ll, I’ll give it some thought,” Russell said, “Thank you, Sean. I’ll, I’ll hope you have a quick recovery.”

“Thank you, Russell.” Sean said, “I’ll pray too.”

 

A couple days passed. Sean didn’t emerge from the room that was deemed his. Whenever it was reported that he was still alive and responsive, relief seemed to flood through everyone in the shelter.

How long was that going to last though? Would he make it through this? Russell could only hope so.

He had deemed his ankle healed enough. During the day, he had been testing himself by walking, then jogging and then sprinting. He seemed to be a natural at it; speed and agility appeared to be on his side. He could only guess that it was part of the training he had been through when he was first drafted, whenever that was. The lack of pain when he moved was a new bonus as well.

He had decided his old jacket could be used as rags. However, he kept a piece for himself, tearing it away and shaping it into a makeshift bandanna so he could wrap it over his mouth and nose. He didn’t know if those who had gone feral from the flu were still contagious through the blood or other substances, but better safe than sorry.

He had the awful feeling that he was going to run into more of them.

The evening rolled around after his day of checking his skills. He felt that he was ready to head out. It was time to go and see Edgar again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Booked In

Russell couldn’t help but note the red-haired woman as she stepped out of Swansea’s office. There was something about her that radiated authority. It was in the way she walked and the expression she wore on her face.

She spared him the smallest of glances. He gave a quick nod in order to acknowledge her presence. Something about her told him that she wasn’t in the mood to hear anyone talk, especially not when they stammered like he did.

He had been wondering just who she was when Edgar’s voice suddenly called him out of his own mind.

“Russell, is that you? You have perfect timing. Come on in,” he sounded rather pleased about something.

“Thank, thank you, Doctor,” Russell said. He glanced back over his shoulder as he came in. The woman was gone, “Was, was that, your, uh, your wife?”

Edgar was quiet, but then he chuckled.

“I really must tell you that it’s rude to talk about a lady behind her back, I thought you would have known better” he said, although there was in some mirth in his voice, “But no, I am just very fortunate to have known her for a long time. However, she highly values her privacy, so we must move on.”

“Of, of course,” Russell said, “I wanted to say my foot is a lot better now, and, and, and I was, was wondering, if you uh, if you had anything for me to do?”

He thought about mentioning Sean Hampton and how he seemed ill. Sure, he hadn’t seemed to be getting any worse, but he also didn’t appear to be getting better, and that concerned him.

“Something on your mind?” Edgar asked. Russell rubbed at the back of his neck.

“Well, it’s, it’s, it’s about Sean. Sean Hampton,” Russell said, “I, I probably shouldn’t be, be talking about him like this, but he doesn’t seem to, to, to be very well. He’s, he’s been that way for a, a couple of days now.”

“Ah yes, we have heard,” Edgar said, “I’ve sent Doctor Reid to check on him and see if there is anything we can do to help.”

“Oh, that’s, that’s great to hear,” Russell said, “I’ll, I’ll hope there is something he can do.”

“Yes,” Edgar replied, “I hope so too. He has somewhat become a pillar of sorts. But let’s move on. I in fact do have a little job that you could do for me.”

He seemed just a little bit too eager to get away from that topic. Russell told himself not to be silly. He probably just had a lot more to be doing, and less time to be getting it done.

“In fact, I feel if you could get this, we could make a step in retrieving your memory,” Edgar continued. He then slid a small piece of paper towards him, “It's very fortunate that you're able to read. It makes things easier for both of us. On this note, you’ll find an address, and the title of a book I need, along with its author. I sent it there as a request by the man who lives there. I have been meaning to get it back, but I’ve just not had the time. He has left London for greener pastures, pastures that he deemed safer."

It sounded easy enough. Of course, there was the issue of the people who had gone feral. As long as he was careful, he would be okay, right?

He knew he was better prepared than he had been when he first encountered one. Russell looked over at the note and carefully picked it up. He read the address. It was in Whitechapel. He would get there in good time.

He then noted the title

Neurypnology; Or, the Rationale of Nervous Sleep, Considered in Relation with Animal Magnetism

James Braid was its author.

“That’s uh, that’s quite the mouthful,” Russell said, as he then tucked the note into his pocket.

“Perhaps to you, but it could be useful in getting your memory back,” Edgar said, “Depending on of course, whether the knock on the head caused the loss of them, or if what happened to you was so terrible that your mind simply locked them away because it thought it was better to do so.”

“I, I don’t really follow...” Russell said.

“To put it more simply, the memories could still be in your mind, so not really lost. But they would have to be brought up to the surface by certain methods which I am currently researching. If this allows you remember them fully, this could lead to a breakthrough that could help many doctors in the future,” Edgar said, “So once I have that book back, I’ll be able to jog my own memory on the subject.”

“Sounds, sounds good...” Russell said, “So, well, he’s not there, right? So...”

“You have my permission to get in there by any means possible and find it. I will take any blame if my friend comes back and gets cross about the intrusion,” Edgar said. There was something in his voice that suggested that it most likely wasn’t going to happen, “He’ll understand the gravity of the situation. You should find it in his study. It’s on the second storey.”

“Okay, I’ll go, it, it, it doesn’t sound like it’ll be hard,” Russell said, “I’ll, I’ll have that back by, by the end of tonight.”

He hoped he would.

“Wonderful!” Edgar clasped his hands together, “I’ll wish you luck, and I must give you a warning. Please mind the skals. For simplicity’s sake, that’s what we call those who have been… twisted… by the Spanish Flu.”

“Skals...” Russell said, before he nodded, “I’ll, I’ll be careful.”

“Good! I look forward to seeing you back here safely,” Edgar replied.

“Of course, I’ll be glad to get back too,” Russell said.

 

So far. So good.

The growls and the gurgles of the… skals… that was still an odd name to say the least, were a fair distance away. It seemed that there were less people in this area. More windows and doors had been boarded up.

He heard a quiet clank as his boot landed on something metallic. His heart skipped a beat. He hoped they hadn’t heard it. He glanced down.

His eyes widened. It was a crowbar. It was slightly rusted but it still looked useable. It made a better weapon than a flimsy piece of wood in any case. If he found himself needing to get inside one of the boarded up houses for any reason, he had a way to do so.

Perhaps that would be handy at some point.

 

He was about two-thirds of the way. He had stuck to the shadows and made as little noise as possible. He had frozen a few times when he noticed skals. They were either alone or in small groups. He would watch as they tilted their heads up and sniffed the air, like hunting dogs smelling a fox.

Every so often, he found a stone or a stray piece of metal. He would throw it far away from himself. The trick seemed to work well enough. When it landed, it was often with a clatter or a sharp thud, and they immediately turned to go and look for the source of the sound before they had a chance to get a whiff of him on the wind.

No blood had been spilled yet. He reached a hand up to his improvised mask. It was still tied on tightly and didn’t show any signs of falling off. Good.

It wasn’t long before the house was right up in front of him. However, there was also another larger group of the skals. They prowled around it, as though on guard. Did they know he was coming?

He shook his head. They couldn’t. It seemed that all they thought about was food, and how they were going to get it.

It would be foolish to engage in a fight with all of them at once. If he ended up battling one of them, the rest would surely gang up on him in seconds. If he could distract them, it might be easier to sneak past and maybe even pick off a few if it came to that.

He briefly wondered if he should be thinking such things. These skals were once regular people. Their only ‘crime’ was to be a victim of this disease. He shivered as Sean flashed through his mind. If Jonathan couldn’t help him, would he end up like that? Would he still be aware of what had happened to him? Were the skals painfully conscious of their current state or at least of their own minds deteriorating before they went rabid and hungered for flesh? He tried not to think about it.

“If, if I started going feral like, like that, I would hope some-some-someone would put, put me down...” he whispered to himself.

He eyed another larger rock that was by his foot. He picked it up in his left hand (he had noticed that it seemed to be stronger than his right), testing its weight. He then eyed one of the skals that was a farther distance away. He aimed and then lobbed it as hard as he could. His plan was for it to land close by so that the skals would move towards it and away from him. He could easily sprint towards the house and get himself inside before they realised he was there.

His heart sank when the stone smacked it square in the side of its face, causing a dent to appear in its skin. It was knocked off balance and fell to the ground. It didn’t move once it hit the tarmac. Instead of looking towards it, the others looked towards where the stone had come from. They bared their teeth. Nostrils started to flare. They began to move. They had gotten his scent.

“Crap...” he hissed. He stepped back as they came towards the corner he had hidden behind. He had to think fast.

He briefly wished that he had a rifle. Something in his mind told him that he would have known what he was doing with that a lot better. He pushed that notion away. It wasn’t important right now. He could bring that up to Edgar later. Perhaps it was some clue to who he was.

One of the skals made a swing at him. It looked like it had recently been eating. Its mouth and fingers were caked in coagulating blood. He ducked away from its hand just in time. Almost without thinking, he swung the crowbar. It buried itself deep in the side of the skal’s skull. It writhed like a fish out of water before it went still. He shook it and it fell to the ground. Another skal had been coming towards him, but it tripped over the one he had just killed.

He took his chance to rush past it. It gurgled and growled before turned and leaping at him. It narrowly missed and he took the chance to drive the tool into the back of its head. The others were rapidly coming.

He gripped the crowbar tightly. Even with that, he wasn’t going to be able to take on the remaining five at once. At least three was an improvement since the last time. He gazed about. He needed to spot another opening.

He saw one.

He counted in his mind and then darted forward. He had the advantage of his leg being healed this time and so it was a lot easier to manoeuvre around them. He swung the crowbar when he felt that one was getting too close for comfort.

He was almost to the door. His heart sank when he realised that the crowbar was caught inside the eye socket of one of them. It took a few precious seconds to yank it back out. But he finally managed. They were closing in all over again.

He turned to the door and tried the handle first. Much to his shock, it opened. He didn’t have time to question it. He rushed inside and pushed it shut behind him. He leaned against it as they banged on the wood, desperate to follow him.

He noticed a large horizontal plank. It was clearly designed to keep the door locked whenever the resident was in. He grabbed it just a violent slam nearly knocked him off his feet. He pushed it shut again. A pair of fingers were cleanly cut off, falling to the floor next to his boots. He then moved the huge entrance bolt down all the way into its holder. They were barred from entering. It didn’t stop them from trying to get through, but it would buy him some time.

He would have to find that book quickly and then find another way out. He checked the note, reminding himself of the title and the author. Edgar said it would be in the study on the second floor.

He hurried up, trying to ignore the bangs as the skals started to hit the door harder.

 

It was considerably quieter up on the landing. It was almost eerie. He tucked the crowbar under one of his suspender straps. He moved quickly yet silently. Something in his instincts told him that he had to go carefully.

His eyes were adjusting to the darkness and he eventually found a room that was completely illuminated by the moonlight streaming in through a large window. There was a desk, along with a lamp and some candles. There was also a box of matches. He debated lighting one, but feared attracting attention. He was able to see well enough in here.

He spotted some bookshelves and stepped over to one. He frowned.

“Who, who, who doesn’t put their books, in, in, in alphabet order?” he said. He scanned the shelf closely. It wasn’t like he would be able to miss a word like ‘neurypnology’, right?

After about a minute of scanning, he spotted it and reached towards it. But then he froze. He heard a creak across the hallway. He turned his head towards the open door. Was something there? Had one of the skals gotten in? Or was it just the house? Houses made noises sometimes, didn’t they?

He took the crowbar in his hand just in case. He kept watching the corridor as he slowly took the book and held it under his arm.

His eyes widened when he saw a figure in the darkness. They had stepped out of what he assumed was the bedroom. He thought about ducking beneath the desk. Maybe they hadn’t seen him yet.

He blinked and in an instant, they were in front of him. Russell jumped back. He was a man. Taller than him. He still looked relatively human, but he could see the sores and burn-like marks creeping across his face. His pupils had turned from black to a light grey. Was this Edgar's associate, or was this someone who just claimed this vacated home as his nest?

“You smell good,” he said with a small smirk, “I can smell your blood, boy… I can smell it rushing around inside of you. Liquid life… I want it!”

“Don’t...” Russell warned, “Don’t, don’t do this, man…”

If he was still lucid enough to speak, he could be reasoned with, couldn’t he?

“Give it to me! I’ll crack your ribs open and drink the nectar inside! I’ll reduce you to a fucking dried out husk, you piece of filth! I’ll make you wish you could die if you don’t give me your blood!” he said. He lunged forward, teeth gnashing for any part of Russell’s flesh as he stepped closer, “Give it! Give it! Give it! Give it!”

His voice became a buzzing in Russell’s ears; a mantra that was created through madness. Russell quickly got his answer. This guy was too far gone.

Russell swung the crowbar but he grabbed it in his hand before it could hit him. Russell struggled to get it out of his grip, before he then resorted to taking something from the desk as a substitute. It was a paper knife. Hardly a weapon, but it would do.

He rammed it into the man’s ear. He let out a scream and staggered backwards as blood cascaded down his cheek. His hand loosened around the crowbar and Russell took his chance to wrench it back. He then swung it hard, hitting his temple. He swung it again, and a few teeth were knocked out of his mouth and to the ground.

He fell on his knees. Russell raised the crowbar one more time. He was sure this would be the killing blow. But the creature got up and rushed at him, its mouth opening wide. Russell raised the crowbar in front of his face, hoping the creature would mistakenly bite that instead of him. But the skal wasted no time in leaping off the floor and tackling him. As he had hoped, its teeth clenched around the tool and Russell pushed it back, hoping it would lock its jaw in place. However it had gained momentum and couldn't be stopped. Russell was shoved back against the window with hardly any effort.

Then he heard the cracking and shattering of glass as the window behind him smashed. Everything seemed to suddenly pause. The next thing he felt was the lurching sensation in his stomach and the air roaring in his ears as he and his attacker rapidly plummeted to the pavement below.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: A Guard Day’s Night

He must have passed out for a few seconds. His head and back roared with pain. His vision swam, but then his eyes widened on seeing the skal still looming over him. Its mouth still gripped the crowbar, which he had let go of during his brief foray into oblivion.

It then dropped it. It landed on his chest. It reared back. Its jaw hung limply, as though it wasn’t able to shut it anymore. Russell’s arm shook as he retrieved the crowbar. The other one still held the book against his chest. He had to be thankful that he could still move his limbs.

He felt unconsciousness tugging at him, trying to call him back into darkness. He resisted. If he blacked out now, he would surely die.

 

“Leech!” a human voice got his attention.

“It’s got someone!” another one sounded through the air. The creature looked up and jumped onto its feet, forgetting about Russell in an instant, before dashing towards the newcomers, “Yeah, come and get it! Over here!”

“Keep it busy!” a gruffer voice spoke up. That one commanded respect from all who heard it. Russell briefly felt some anxiety. He couldn’t let other people get dragged into this. With great effort, he rolled onto his stomach and pressed his palm against the ground so he could get up.

A pair of strong hands made that unnecessary. They moved under his arms and pulled him onto his feet without any effort at all. He spun around. He wasn’t sure if he could have swung the crowbar even if he wanted to. His body felt like it had been injected with lead. It was probably just as well that he couldn’t.

The man who had lifted him into a standing position was clearly a human. He practically towered over him. He showed no signs of sickness at all as he scrutinised Russell with a pair of icy blue eyes. His left arm had a crossbow attached to it.

He was about to speak when a burst of orange illuminated the area around them. The skal screamed and turned to run, having been set ablaze by the flamethrower one of the other men had been carrying. It hurtled back towards them, having been blinded by its own panic.

Russell raised the crowbar again. But his rescuer casually withdrew a sword in the blink of an eye and decapitated it in one quick sweep. Its body fell to the ground and its head landed a few feet away. The sword was then sheathed again and he briefly ran a hand through his brown hair.

Russell stood, stunned by the display.

“That’s all of them, boss,” the one with the flamethrower walked up. It took Russell a moment to notice that the other skals around were either dead or gone. These guys must have shown up while he was in the house.

“Good,” the so-called boss replied. His voice was deep and rough, but his accent reminded him a little bit of Sean.

“What about him?” he asked then, as he placed his gaze onto Russell.

“Still human,” he said, without even skipping a beat. He then looked over, “You all right there, kid?”

“Yes, yes, thank you,” Russell said, his eyes still slightly wide with awe, “You, you, you all… just took them down, like, like, like it was nothing.”

“We’re the Guard of Priwen,” he replied, “To us, these creatures are nothing.”

“Guard, of, of, of Priwen?” Russell asked.

“You don’t know who we are,” another spoke up, disdain in his tone, “You been living under a rock or something? We’re vampire hunters, kid! Protecting people like you.”

Vampire hunters? His first thought was to say something along the lines of ‘bullshit’. But then again, the skals were disturbingly vampire-like. What he could see of their teeth were sharp, they seemed to come out more at night, and they definitely had a taste for blood. They also seemed to be severely hurt by fire.

He could see where they were coming from.

“Be quiet,” the leader replied, snapping him out of his thoughts, “That arrogance is not what we’re here for.”

“Sorry, Geoffrey...” the other said. He then fell into a silence as he gathered up what look like some traps from the ground.

Geoffrey looked back to Russell and then eyed the book he was holding. Some distaste crept into his face.

“So, you were trying to loot houses and that thing attacked you, huh?” he asked, briefly turning his gaze to the head on the ground, “Let that be a lesson for you...”

“What. No. I, I, I was asked by Doctor Swansea to get, get, get this book. It’s his, and he, he, he said he needed it,” Russell said. He awkwardly trailed off into silence when he saw the frown on Geoffrey’s face deepen further at the mention of Edgar’s name.

“Swansea? Why am I not surprised?” Geoffrey said, although more to himself than to Russell.

“What now, boss?” one of them asked.

“Head to the West End. I’ll meet you there,” Geoffrey instructed, “I’m going to take him back to Pembroke.”

“I… I can…. I can take myself,” Russell awkwardly said. He winced as pain briefly shot through his back, as though right on cue. His limbs still felt awfully shaky. It was like his body had decided that it no longer needed to burst into action.

“And risk you running into something else on the way back? You're wobbling like a new-born foal." Geoffrey replied, “If we just did that with everyone we saved, what would be the point? Besides, I’ve been meaning to see that man for a while.”

“Well, all-all right, if you, if you insist,” Russell said, “Thank you.”

“You don’t need to keep thanking me.”

 

“So… what’s an American doing all the way here in London?” Geoffrey asked, “I would have thought you would all be on the Front or heading back to the United States.”

Russell decided not to question how Geoffrey knew that he had been a soldier. Perhaps it was just that easy to put two and two together. Geoffrey sounded slightly awkward as he spoke, like he wasn’t used to normal conversation but didn’t want to come off as entirely cold and unforgiving.

“I, I uh, I don’t know my-myself,” Russell said, “My… my guess is that, some-something happened to the, the boat I was on… because I washed up, on, on the docks a few days ago.”

“How did you manage that?” Geoffrey asked.

“I dunno, whatever happened, I, I don’t have any memories of it, or well, the rest of my life to be honest,” Russell replied. He looked down at the book he was carrying, “Doc-Doctor Swansea said maybe this could help him find a way to get me to remember.”

Geoffrey took it out of his hand without another word and eyed the title carefully. Russell thought about saying something in protest, but decided not to. Geoffrey seemed to dislike Doctor Swansea enough as it was.

“Huh, Carl taught me about that,” he said, although more to himself than Russell again. He then handed it back, “I’ll tell you something about Doctor Swansea. He seems nice enough to you right now, doesn’t he?”

Russell nodded.

“I mean, I mean, I don’t really know him, all, all that well, but yeah, I, uh I guess,” he replied.

“Let me warn you. He’s being nice to you because you’re a subject. No memory of your life or how you got here, and people back in The States possibly believing you’re dead. That’s gold to him. Your situation is a mystery for him to solve right now,” Geoffrey said, “Once you stop being useful to him, or interesting, he would throw you to the skals to save his own skin. You keep that in mind.”

“Um… okay… I’ll, I’ll try and remember that,” Russell said.

“You will if you know what’s good for you,” Geoffrey said, as he then gazed up. They had managed to make it back to Pembroke without a hitch. He walked up to the doors, “I’m going to go and talk to him first. You sit down here somewhere before you collapse."

“Yes… okay… thank you...”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: Back to Business

“I’m not going to feed on him,” Jonathan’s voice was quiet.

“It would only be a few mouthfuls, Jonathan,” Edgar said, “You probably need to replenish what you gave earlier, his blood results are healthy, and from what I know, feeding does allow you to see at least see some memories.”

“I am not going to feed on him,” Jonathan repeated.

“It would help me greatly if you would,” Edgar said, “It would be just to test if you could somehow see repressed memories, if they even are repressed.”

“It’s too dangerous, Edgar,” Jonathan said, “If I started to feed on him and then lost control...”

He paused as his sharp hearing picked up on footsteps coming down the corridor. He recognised them immediately. The way Geoffrey McCullum walked around in the hospital was unmistakeable.

“What is it?” Edgar asked.

The door opened before he could get an answer. McCullum stood in the entranceway before he strolled up to the desk. He briefly spared Jonathan a disdainful glance before his cold eyes fell onto Edgar.

“McCullum,” Edgar said, “I’m sure you are perfectly capable of knocking. I don’t see why you felt the need to burst in like some kind of uncivilised beast.”

“Is that really the way to greet the man who’s just saved your new errand boy?” McCullum only asked, “I wanted to ask what the bloody hell you were thinking, sending him out there in a city full of leeches.”

“I never told him he had to go tonight,” Edgar said, “He made that decision himself. He is an adult, despite his appearance, and he can make that choice.”

But then the first part of that statement seemed to reach him.

“You saved him?” he asked.

“I did,” McCullum replied, “He fell out of a window fighting a skal who was trying to rip him to pieces. I’m surprised he could walk after that. But he can, and he got that book you wanted, so I suppose it’s not anything to worry about, right? Besides, who’s going to miss a man who’s already assumed to be dead?”

“What are you implying, McCullum? That I don’t think his life is important just because he might not have anyone missing him? Perish the thought,” Edgar said, “I only have that boy’s well-being in mind and the sooner we get to the bottom of what happened, the better.”

“I’m watching you, Swansea, you and the leech in here, the Guard of Priwen know you’re up to something and if I find out you’re using him or anyone else just to further your plans...”

“I am doing nothing of the sort,” Edgar said, before he frowned, “What kind of vile things have you been saying about me to him?”

“Only something that needed to be said,” McCullum replied, before he then turned to leave, “I was only here to give you that warning. There’ll be consequences if you do anything that threatens London and the lives in it.”

He stepped out before Edgar could say anything else. Edgar waited until he was gone before he looked back up to Jonathan.

“Does he really have to give little old me a hard time?” Edgar said, “With the way he’s acting, you’d think he believes we’re the cause of this dreadful epidemic. There is really nothing wrong with solving a little mystery on the side, is there?”

“It’s only because I’m here,” Jonathan said, “He’d probably treat you more amiably if I wasn’t. Perhaps he will see that despite our differences, we have the same goal in the end.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Edgar said. He then stood up, “I better go and check on Russell. If what McCullum said is true, he’ll need looking over. Think about what I said, will you?”

Jonathan didn’t give him an answer.

 

Branagan had taken Russell to a bed. She already seemed to know who Edgar was looking for and pointed him in the right direction.

Russell was asleep. His clothes were folded up and placed at the foot of the bed. He was wearing one of the basic white hospital gowns in their place. It seemed he had already been examined; he would have to ask who had looked over him. He was resting on his stomach. The crowbar was laid by his side. His right hand was stretched out in front of him. It was held over the book, as though he was still determined to protect it while he rested.

Edgar heard a faint noise. It took a moment to realise that it was coming from Russell’s mouth; he was grinding his teeth while he slept. Edgar briefly wondered if he was aware of that problem. He made a move to take the book when he stopped.

Jonathan had mentioned that he seemed to react adversely if he wasn’t aware of someone’s presence before they came close. It was probably best not to get too near while he still had that crowbar in reach.

Why hadn’t anyone taken it or asked him to put it somewhere safe?

“Russell,” he said. He had been about to ask him to wake up but he didn’t need to. Russell’s eyes flew open in an instant and he shot into a sitting position, “It’s all right. Be calm. It’s just me.”

“Oh, Doc-Doctor Swansea...” he said, “Sorry… I uh… I guess I was more tired than I, I thought… I, I brought your book back.”

He picked it up off the bed and held it out. Edgar was careful taking it. It seemed to be in decent condition, which was one thing he could be thankful for.

“Wonderful. This will help me greatly,” he said. The smile returned to his face. He then decided to ask something else, “I heard you met Mister McCullum.”

Russell’s face was blank.

“Geoffrey,” he said.

“Oh. Yes, I uh, I did,” Russell said, “I uh, I didn’t know his last name was that. He… he and his squad saved me from this, this, this real nasty skal earlier. What… what did he talk to you about?”

“Oh, he just wanted to warn me about the increasing number of skals, and how perhaps I should be sending people out during the day instead...” Edgar’s eyes shifted a little as he said that.

“To, to, to be fair, I did kinda choose to get, get the book now,” he said.

“I did tell him that,” Edgar said, “Did he tell you anything about me by any chance? I won’t be angry if you tell me he was insulting me. He and I don’t really see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.”

“Not, not really,” Russell said. Geoffrey’s words made his way to the front of his mind; that Edgar would throw him to the skals if he would stop being useful. He decided that he really couldn’t say that part, “Just that… not, not I believe it, but, well… you uh, you uh, you see me as just a puzzle to solve...”

“Oh, Russell. How typical that he would say such a thing,” Edgar said, “Honestly. He would say anything if it meant people stopped trusting in little old me. Does he really have to drag other people into the middle of our differences?”

“It’s… it’s okay… it, it, it happens,” Russell said.

“I do not see you as a puzzle to solve. I see you as a man who needs help, and I want to give you that help,” Edgar said, as he placed a hand on Russell’s shoulder, “I am very thankful that he saved you. I can only imagine that fighting that skal and then falling out of the window was rather frightful.”

“Oh, well… I’m, I’m okay, Doc-Doctor Ackroyd had a look and said I was very lucky to have just gotten off with pain and bruising,” he said. His cheeks turned a little bit pink then, “Said something about the young and foolish, and well, I mean, it was kinda, kinda silly of me, to, to go and do that at, at this time of night.”

“I think you made the better choice,” Swansea said, “From what I know, the skals hide from the sunlight. You might have run into more than just the one you faced should you have gone during the day, and I don’t like to think what would happened.”

“No… I uh… I guess that’s a good point,” Russell had noticed that himself. He had seen considerably less skals when he had been exploring London and testing his abilities before the sun went down.

The chance they were hiding inside abandoned houses or other places was a lot higher, thinking about it. Despite his injuries, perhaps it had been better to go during the night.

He would just have to be more careful next time, if there was one.

“Before you go back to sleep, I want to check as well,” Swansea said, “If that’s all right with you.”

“Sure...” Russell said. He knew exactly what Swansea wanted and moved so he could look properly. The back of the gown he was wearing was unbuttoned.

His upper back had clearly taken the brunt of the impact. It was practically purple in places. The skin over his shoulder blades was shaded the darkest. His lower back was also considerably marked, and Swansea could only conclude that the way he landed meant that hit the ground second.

“How does it feel?” Swansea asked.

“Just, just a bit sore,” Russell said, “But I don’t feel like, like, I’m gonna, gonna collapse anymore, so I can’t complain.”

“That’s good to hear,” Swansea said, as he buttoned the gown back up, “I’ll let you go back to sleep. Thank you so much for bringing this back for me. We’ll have to see if it can help us get your memories back.”

Russell started to move so he could lay back down. Swansea eyed the crowbar.

“May I suggest putting that somewhere safe?” he asked. He saw a flash of anxiety in Russell’s gaze as he said that, “I promise, no one is going to hurt you here. You won’t need it.”

Russell was silent for a moment.

“All right,” he said, after a pause. He stood so he could slide it under the bed. Swansea was satisfied. Better than him waking up, able to grab it, and trying to hit someone with it because he had been startled.

“That’s a good chap,” he said, “Good night, Russell. I hope you sleep well.”

“Thanks, Doctor. Good, good night.”

 

Swansea eyed the book as he headed down the corridor. Russell had done well to get it and to bring it back. This could be the start of helping him regain his memory, and perhaps open a few more doors to opportunity.

One particular idea had come to mind.

“I wonder if I could do that…” he said.

“Do what?” Jonathan had stopped as he had been walking past. Edgar paused.

“Oh, nothing in particular,” Edgar said. Jonathan was giving him a look; it told him he wasn’t about to fall for that excuse, “All right, it’s in regards to Russell, and his memories.”

“Yes. Go on, Edgar. What were you thinking?” Jonathan’s voice had taken on that echoing quality that seemed to erase any thoughts of resistance or dishonesty.

“Memory implantation,” Edgar said, “Making him remember something that perhaps wouldn’t have happened. With all the gaps, it would be able to accept almost any kind of information, I'm sure. It might be possible, or giving him an idea that he would believe was always his own. It could even have its own benefits for patients that I haven't yet been able to consider.”

Distaste crawled onto Jonathan’s face.

“Is something like that even ethical?” he asked.

“It would be nothing of consequence, Jonathan. It would be something very trivial, like a memory of seeing a shooting star, or even getting rid of the notion of joining the Guard of Priwen before it had a chance to register in his waking mind, and perhaps could be of help to him,” Edgar said, “We really don’t need more people joining McCullum. Honestly, there are a lot of factors to work with here. So many possibilities that could help future doctors too.”

Jonathan was still wearing that look of disapproval.

“I personally believe we should concentrate on bringing his real memories back for the time being,” he said, “I know you say it would be of little consequence, but I can’t help but worry there would be more than just that.”

“You don’t need to worry, Jonathan, I assure you that he is in safe hands. The chances of anything bad happening are practically non-existent.”

 

Russell was gone the next morning. He had dressed up in his normal clothes and taken his crowbar with him. He also left the hospital gown folded at the end of the bed, as well as a note on the pillow. It read:

‘Feeling okay. Went back to the night shelter. Thanks for letting me have a bed here for the night. See you soon.’

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: Born Again

Three days passed. Russell had the assumption that Edgar would need some time to look through his book and get some research together.

He still had no idea what kind of methods he was hoping to try out to retrieve his memory. He took his time to explore London, practice his stealth and improve his crowbar use during the day, before heading back to the shelter as night fell. He needed something to do while he waited.

He had even been lucky enough to find a lighter when taking a very brief venture into the West End. He had chosen to pocket it for himself when it still emitted a small flame. He was almost certain he had never had a taste for cigarettes, but it could be useful in other ways.

Evening had set in and Russell had been scrubbing at the dishes that had been used for dinner when Sean emerged from his quarters. Although he was still a little bit pale and the sores still marked his face, he carried the vibe of feeling better; of being well. His eyes even seemed brighter compared to the last time Russell had seen him.

“Sean, it’s, it’s, it’s really good to see you about,” he said, giving the older man a smile as he came into view, “How, how are you feeling? Did, did, did Doctor Reid, help, help you? Doc-Doctor Swansea said he was going, to come, to come and help you.”

“It’s good to see everyone here too,” Sean said, “Especially you. I heard about what happened. You venturing out into the city at night and getting yourself hurt after that very nasty encounter, I mean. You really need to be more careful out there. As for me, I am feeling a lot better now.”

“I know, Sean,” Russell said, “But it was worth it. I wasn’t seriously hurt, and I got what Doc-Doctor Swansea needed, so I might be able to remember what happened to me, and more about myself, and that’s also great to hear, you look it too.”

“Thank you,” Sean replied. A humble smile crept across his lips, “I have every reason to be grateful for the second chance I’ve been given.”

“You… you… you thought you were, you were going to die?” Russell asked, concern riddling his face. Sean nodded.

“I’m afraid so,” Sean said, “But there’s no need to worry about that anymore. I feel completely better now.”

Russell smiled once more then.

“I’m so, so glad to hear that,” he replied, “I was, I was just getting these all finished up. Oh, there uh, there uh, there’s still some soup left over. We, we, we could get that heated up for you.”

“That is very kind,” Sean said, “But I’m afraid my stomach is still feeling a little bit sensitive after this bout of sickness. I might have to pass on that tonight.”

“Oh, I’m, I’m, sorry to hear that, Sean,” sympathy crossed Russell’s face, “Maybe tomorrow, huh?”

“Yes, maybe,” Sean replied, “Why don’t I do that for just a little bit? It looks like you’ve been working here for a while.”

“Are you sure you’re up for that?” Russell asked, “I’m perfectly happy to keep going.”

“I’m very sure,” Sean replied, “You’ve been a good help, and I appreciate your concern, but it’ll make me feel like I’m stepping back into my normal tasks.”

“Okay, that’s fair enough, thank you, Sean,” Russell said, as he put down the brush he had been using and stood up. He stretched his legs. He had been sitting there for quite a while and although he wouldn’t say it out loud in front of Sean, it was a relief to straighten them out, “I’m gonna, gonna, step out for a bit of, a bit of air, if that’s, that's, that's all right with you?”

“Of course,” Sean replied, “Do be careful though, Russell. Please don’t go too far and don’t stay out there too long. I really don’t want you to end up hurt again so soon, or worse...”

He said that last part quietly, as though afraid to say it.

“I’ll only be stepping out the, the, the door,” Russell said, “And I’ll be five, five, five minutes tops, and if, if I think I’m in, in any danger, I’ll come, come dashing right back in.”

He adjusted his suspenders. It was plain to see that he was making sure that the crowbar wasn’t going anywhere.

Sean hoped he wouldn’t have to use it.

“And if, if I take longer, feel free to give, give, give me the worst scolding of my life,” Russell said.

“Oh, I will, and that’s a promise,” Sean said, although his tone was rather light-hearted.

 

Russell leaned against the wall and stared up at the night sky. He really liked the stars. He wondered if he always had. On nights that he couldn’t sleep, he always found comfort in finding a place that he could watch them.

But then his head turned towards the sound of footsteps. They were quick, but didn’t sound like that of a skal. A lot of them had a distinct gait that made them recognisable; if not for the fact that most of them growled and gurgled as they grew close to prey.

Russell knew that those Wet Boot Boys that he had heard about seemed to leave Sean Hampton and the shelter alone, but he still couldn’t help but feel an inkling of suspicion. There could be other dubious people who didn't follow that rule out there. He slowly removed his crowbar from his suspenders and held it in his hand.

He stepped towards the sound. It was coming from around a nearby corner. All he had to do was check it out and make sure it wasn’t anyone suspicious. He’d be damned if he let anything bad happen to anyone here.

He turned around it, tightening his grip on the crowbar.

He then stopped and breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

“Oh, Doc-Doctor Reid,” he said, managing a smile, “How nice, to, to, to see you. I, I take it you came to check up on Sean.”

“Yes, I came to see how he was,” Jonathan said, “I also wanted to ask if you were available tomorrow night. Edgar reckons that he has possibly found a way to make a start on retrieving your memories and so he wanted to see you then.”

“Oh yes, I’ll, I’ll be available,” Russell said, nodding, “Thank you, Doc-Doc-Doctor Reid. I’ll be there as, as soon as the sun is, is down.”

“That’s good to hear,” Jonathan replied. There was something in his gaze that Russell couldn’t place; unease maybe. Perhaps he just had a lot to think about.

Jonathan stood. His next thought was to move onto Sean and speak to him. But he felt that gnawing inside of his gut; an itching in his fangs that hadn't gone away since he first turned the saint. Russell’s heartbeat seemed to forcibly echo in his ears. What Swansea said days ago entered his mind.

It would be just a few mouthfuls…

He supposed if he just did this now, he could satisfy that hunger that burned through his veins, and hopefully find some kind of answer that Edgar wanted. Then again, regardless of the result, Edgar would most likely stop asking about it. He told himself that he could stop after that small amount. He would have to.

Jonathan didn’t waste time. He rested a hand on Russell’s head. He could already feel his power emitting through his palm. Russell’s eyes briefly widened and he opened his mouth to presumably protest, but then he stopped, as though the thought had been cut off. He knew in an instant that his mind was momentarily wiped clean.

Jonathan leaned forward and whispered in Russell’s ear, his voice sounding deeper and smoother than it normally had already. Russell’s limbs hung by his sides, and eyes glazed over, becoming half-lidded as the command echoed inside his emptied head.

“Come this way... leave the crowbar...”

Russell said nothing. There was only slightest clank as he obeyed, dropping it onto the ground. He then started to walk, Jonathan's guiding hand leading him forward.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: In the Blood

 

He was certain no one would see them here, or hear them for that matter. After he had been walked to a more secluded site, Russell had been gently sat down on a crate. He showed no signs of awakening yet.

His head was limp as it was moved to the side to expose his neck. Jonathan’s hands were gentle, making sure not to cause any possible damage or risk jolting him back into a fully conscious state.

It seemed that just that small action alone caused the smell of blood that gently rushed through his veins to grow stronger. His heartbeat became the only thing he could hear. His entire body had become replaced by a figure of red. He took in the strong scent before he sank his fangs into Russell’s neck.

All it took was some pressure to break through the skin. Blood flowed into Jonathan’s mouth almost instantly. It was warm, and tasted so much better than it smelled. It was an ambrosia crafted from life itself. He had needed this. He could already feel power seeping back into his own body, sharpening his senses and satisfying that unnatural hunger that had settled into his nerves.

It took two mouthfuls before Edgar’s answer came. He never saw any flashes of memories. But he heard a few things here and there inside his mind. The words weren’t completely clear; it was like hearing them through a broken radio, or through a wall. It was almost completely overtaken by the feeling and the taste of Russell’s blood.

He could only guess that these were things that had been said to or about Russell before all of this had occurred. With each mouthful he took after, the memories changed. They were all recent. He somehow already knew that they couldn’t have occurred less than a year ago.

“Seeing as you’re probably going to be sailing to your death. I would go with you, but they said I’m too damn old. But yes, I wanted to tell you something about who your father could have been… I saw him, he was some Frenchman called Jean-Luc Tolbert, if I remember right, I only saw that bastard once, and that was years ago…”

It was an old male’s voice, and it definitely wasn’t the full conversation. It kept ‘cutting’ between words. He heard Russell’s voice say ‘oh don’t be fooling with me’, but he had clearly had some semblance of belief, or he wanted to. That might have explained why he chose the name ‘Tolbert’ as a surname, even if he didn’t remember that. Another swallow.

“Oh my god! He’s alive! Anderson's alive!”

“He’s got Big Red with him! Holy hell! He rescued Big Red!”

“He survived! He fucking survived!”

“Of course he did! Why do you think we call him The Cockroach? Come on, beat feet! Let’s go!”

A group of men. The voices were accompanied by gunshots. This was presumably during a venture into No Man’s Land. There was a mix of awe and fear in those voices. Perhaps Anderson was his real surname. Russell hadn’t been saying anything during that. He was most likely too focussed on getting ‘Big Red’ back to safety. Another swallow. A new voice. Another man this time, although different to the others.

“You know, we’re alone… we’ve only got the sea and the stars for company. Everyone else is asleep, so they can’t say anything about it. We could…”

 

“Russell! Where are you?” Sean’s voice snapped Jonathan back into reality. He pulled his fangs out of Russell’s neck and licked away the droplets that followed. He pressed his tongue to the punctures to make them seal up. He briefly feared what might have happened if he hadn't turned up, “Please tell me you just lost track of time...”

There was no missing the concern in Sean’s voice. Jonathan felt a brief pang of guilt. He could already feel Sean’s presence growing closer. He would have to take better measures not to be caught next time around. He allowed Sean to see what was going on as he rounded the corner. It appeared that he had known where to go almost instinctively. Had his own abilities developed that fast?

“Doctor Reid?” Sean asked. Some worry riddled his face when he saw Russell sitting on the crate and Jonathan standing near him. Jonathan saw that he had picked up the crowbar and was holding it by his side, “Were you feeding on him?”

He didn’t sound disgusted or angry about it. It was a question that he just wanted answered.

“Yes, I was,” Jonathan said, “He will recover from this, and he won’t remember what happened. I was not going to leave him with any lasting damage.”

“I believe you,” Sean said, as he looked over at Russell. He was still staring straight ahead through half-lidded eyes, like he was just tired, “Was it… because of me?”

Jonathan had the awful feeling that he was going to ask that.

“No, Sean. It wasn’t because of you,” he answered, “During my investigations, I have needed to repeatedly take blood. It was just convenient that he happened to be out here while I was visiting you. Doctor Swansea had also wanted me to test a theory. He knows of us, who we are... and our conditions.”

“A theory?” Sean said.

“Yes. You might already know that when a vampire takes the blood of a mortal, we sometimes see their thoughts and memories,” Jonathan explained, “Doctor Swansea wanted me to find out if it was possible to see memories a mortal had forgotten.”

“I see,” Sean said, “I probably should not be asking this, but… did you?”

“Yes,” Jonathan said, “They were faint, barely more than just a few voices each time. They were also short, like extracts from a book, but I have no reason to believe they were made up. That should satisfy Doctor Swansea, and perhaps give him a starting point in the memory retrieval.”

“Do you think he’ll remember now that you’ve…” Sean hesitated, trying to figure how to politely word what he wanted to say “… done that?”

“It’s hard to tell,” Jonathan said, as he gently picked Russell up off the crate and stood him onto his feet, “I think we can take him back now though. He’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

“I’ll believe you,” Sean said again.

 

They were nearly back at the doors again when a question entered Sean’s mind. He turned, opening his mouth to speak.

“When will...” he stopped when he heard Russell let out a small noise. It was croaky and quiet. He shook his head ever so slightly. His eyes had started to open fully, a confused frown forming on his face.

“Doc… Doc… Doctor Reid… Sean… what’s… what’s going...” he didn’t get a chance to finish his sluggish sentence.

“It’s all right, Russell...” Sean reacted without even thinking. He rested his hand on the top of Russell’s head in a mirror image of what Jonathan had done earlier. He felt a crawling sensation on his palm and Russell was silent again.

He looked at his own hand, his eyes wide.

“Did I really just…?” he trailed off as the implication set in.

“I had a feeling this was going to happen,” Jonathan said. He didn’t sound shocked at all, “With my blood, you have also inherited some of my abilities. If you wish, I could possibly try and help you learn how to use them more effectively when we both have some time.”

“I think that would be for the best, Doctor Reid,” Sean said, as he swallowed, “Will there be...”

“No, there won’t be any side effects,” Jonathan said, “However, just to be safe...”

He leaned forward and whispered in Russell’s ear.

“When you next awaken, Russell, this will all have been just a strange dream...”

 

Russell opened his eyes.

He was lying on his bed. The crowbar had been carefully hung close by. He thought about reaching for it, but he reminded himself that it wouldn’t be necessary. It was safe in the night shelter.

“How did… how did I, how did I get back here?” he asked himself. He remembered heading out for some air, and now he was back here again. What had happened?

“Oh, Sean says you fell asleep out there and he brought you back in here,” Lottie Paxton spoke up as she walked past, carrying some folded clothes. She was a nice lady. At least, Russell thought so. She was always helping in the shelter and outside, “You must have been tired to have just fallen asleep like that.”

“Oh, I uh, I uh, I guess that uh, that makes sense,” Russell said, he shook his head, “I uh, I think, I think I was, was, was dreaming, but I uh, I can’t remember what, what it was now.”

“Oh, isn’t that the way?” Lottie said, “Or you wake up right when it’s about go into something wonderful. Perhaps you’ll remember when you least expect it, hopefully with your regular memories.”

“Yes, per-perhaps,” Russell said, “And, uh, yeah, hopefully...”

His voice trailed off. He still felt tired. A heaviness had set in his limbs. He hadn’t even realised his eyes had drifted shut again.

 

His dreams came in snippets; brief flashes of sound and image. The first was that of an old man telling him that the angels were waiting on the front and that kind boys like him were always taken first. A small dribble of blood dripped down the corner of his mouth as he spoke. He never seemed to notice.

The second was a large guy with ginger hair laying in a field. Crimson was running down his face and into his eyes, rendering him blind. He was holding his hand out for help. His mouth was opening and shutting, but all Russell could hear was the cawing of a bird.

Just as Russell grabbed his hand and started to run, he was on a boat. A medal was pinned to the jacket of his uniform. The sky was a swirling void above. A handsome young man stood in front of him. He was smiling. He was saying something, but nothing was coming out. The only sound that surrounded them were the waves of the ocean growing ever more violent. The man came closer, shutting his eyes. Blood started to seep out from underneath the lids.

The dream shifted.

An angry bitter woman with stringy black hair and a cold blue glare loomed down in front of him. In place of fingers, she had blood-soaked knitting needles which hooked him by the front of his shirt. They made a metallic grinding sound as she rubbed them together and told him how she should have stabbed him in his tiny heart and dragged him out of her before he got to take his first breath. Pink frothy spittle sprayed from between her sharp teeth and onto his cheeks.

 

Russell opened his eyes again. His heart pounded in his chest and he had to take some deep breaths in order to keep himself from hyperventilating. The dreams were quickly fading, much to his relief. He knew it wouldn’t be long before that lady was just a long forgotten phantom.

Morning had rolled around again, if the lighter sky was any indication. It was just as well. He wouldn’t have wanted to go back to sleep straight away after having that kind of dream. He stretched and moved into a sitting position. He then stood up, hooked the crowbar into his suspenders and made his way outside.

He would definitely have to keep himself distracted until the time to head back the Pembroke came. He could already feel some anxiety at the thought, even if he didn’t know why.

 

Night seemed to come all too quickly. He bid farewell to Sean, who wished him luck and reminded him to stay safe both on his journey there and back.

Russell reassured him that he would be fine.

However, as he grew closer to Pembroke, he felt that same trepidation return to him. Just what was he going to see? How much would he remember? Would it be everything, or just a little bit for now? Would they be painful? Would he regret wanting his memories back?

He stared up at the doors and then shook his head.

“Even if, if, if it hurts… I, I, I have to, have to remember...” was all that he said.

With that, he went inside.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

“Presumably, your mesmerism might have helped to further open his mind, hopefully making the inductions and retrievals easier,” Edgar said, as he gathered some spare papers and pen to use for the night’s events. He had already guessed that he would have a lot of writing to do, “Along with Mister Hampton’s, of course, I had no idea he would gain abilities similar to yours. This could be of benefit to both of us.”

“I do not wish to bring Sean Hampton into this further than I have already,” Jonathan said, “He was already unnerved when he used his own ability to settle Russell again.”

“I suppose we wouldn’t want to make him afraid of what he can do,” Edgar said, “But I do hope we’d be able to look into his abilities more. Your blood is even more powerful than I had already assumed, seeing as it’s able to give such skills and willpower to a skal.”

Jonathan briefly wondered if what he had said previously had even gotten through to Edgar. He regretted mentioning Sean at this point. He really hoped he hadn’t given Edgar any other unsavoury ideas.

“What are you hoping to do first, Edgar?” Jonathan asked. Perhaps moving the topic onto the coming experiment would be the best way to take it off Sean. The lights had already been dimmed and a candle had been set up on the desk, “Are you hoping to retrieve everything in this particular experiment?”

“Oh, no. I don’t want to overload his mind, especially if the memories are particularly traumatic or upsetting,” Edgar said, “This would be gradual, through a number of sessions. I am glad you decided to see this one. Perhaps you will see that this could have some merit.”

Jonathan decided not to mention that it was because he was still concerned about the prospect of false memories being implanted. He could at least make sure he wouldn’t do that the first time. Still, it didn’t change the fact that he wouldn’t be able to oversee all of them. Perhaps Edgar would decide that delving into such an idea would be foolish, if not immoral.

“This should all ultimately be harmless,” Edgar said, “It will simply involve using what’s called an induction to place him in an altered state of consciousness and create a place of safety within his own mind. From here, in this state, accessing his memories should be easier.”

“And this is safe?” Jonathan asked. From what little he knew of the subject, it was similar to mesmerism, although not on the same level of the supernatural ability that he possessed.

“If that buffoon Freud can perform it safely and effectively, I’m very certain that I can,” Edgar replied. He reached up and adjusted his glasses. He briefly glanced over to the clock behind his desk. It was ticking quietly, “He seems to be taking his time, I hope he hasn’t...”

He didn’t get to finish. There was a knock. It was quiet and slow.

“Come in, Russell, come in, I’m so glad that you came,” Edgar called out.

Russell opened the door and stepped in, shutting it behind him. His hands were tucked into his pockets. His fingers rubbed against the dog tags, which still rested in the left. He couldn’t help but gaze around at the fact that the lamps seemed significantly dimmer compared to when he had last visited. There must have been a reason for that.

“Good, good, good evening, Doc-Doc-Doctor Swansea, and, and you, Doc-Doctor Reid,” he said, forcing a small smile, “I’m, I’m, I’m sorry, I was uh, I was uh, I was late… I uh, I got a bit, bit held up...”

It was probably better not to say that he had found himself hesitant and had been working up his nerve on the way to the office. He had thought about turning back a few times, even with his previous thought that he had to find the truth despite the possibility of it hurting.

“That’s perfectly fine. I suppose when London is a bit overrun at the moment, it can be difficult to make your way here in a punctual manner. But that doesn’t matter. You’re here now, and that’s what’s most important,” Edgar said, “If it’s acceptable to you, Doctor Reid here wishes to see this demonstration for himself.”

“Dem-dem-demon-demonstration?” Russell fidgeted. Did he want other people watching? Even if it was Doctor Reid and he seemed to be trustworthy enough, did he really want that?

“This could be a breakthrough that many in the future could use, and I feel it only appropriate that at least one fellow doctor can witness the results of the first experiment in person,” Edgar said, giving him a smile that he assumed was meant to be reassuring, “Anything said or heard in this room will remain in the strictest confidence.”

Russell was silent. Geoffrey’s warning briefly flashed through his head.

If you stop being useful, he will throw you to the skals.

At least right now, he was still being useful. He tried not to think about when all of his memories might have been returned.

“We won’t be trying to retrieve all your memories today, we don’t want to risk overloading you or making you face what happened on your boat too soon,” Edgar said, as though somehow seeing his thoughts, “It could end up causing more problems than solving them and we want to avoid that.”

“That’s, that’s fair...” Russell said.

“Before we start, you can place that crowbar on my desk,” Edgar said, “You need to be sitting comfortably on this chair here, and I know you won’t be with it pressing against your stomach like that.”

Russell looked down at it. Edgar patted the back of the chair that he meant. Reluctance crept into his face.

“I assure you, you will be safe here. You will not need it. No one will hurt you while you’re under our care,” Edgar said. His voice seemed to be getting slightly lower, taking on a subtle monotonous hue.

Russell stepped over to the desk. He gave the crowbar one more look. He then slowly unhooked it and put it down, as told. He didn’t want to. He had started to feel vulnerable without it, but he had to have some faith in Edgar and Jonathan if he wanted this to work.

Jonathan had stood a short distance away. His face was completely neutral. It was hard to figure out just what he was thinking.

“That’s a good man,” Edgar said, as he lit the candle that was on the desk. It would be in Russell’s direct line of sight, “Now please sit. Make sure you’re comfortable.”

Russell did. He placed his hands on his lap and placed his back purchase to the seat so he was sat fairly straight. He briefly glanced at the crowbar on the desk before he then told himself to look at the candle. That was what Edgar had wanted to him to do. Why else would he have lit it?

“Before we get started,” Edgar asked, “I want to ask if you have perhaps experienced any memories, or any details. It doesn’t matter how trivial or irrelevant they might seem. It could be from anything, a dream, or perhaps something else...”

He spared a small smile at Jonathan. Jonathan’s face didn’t change, but it was clear that he was listening intently.

“Well...” Russell paused, “I uh, I uh… this… this might seem silly but, but, I uh, I had, I had a dream… kind of… it was like, like, not a, not a whole, just a piece, be-be-before shifting into, into something… else...”

“It’s not silly at all,” Edgar said. His voice remained the same, “Tell us. We are here to help you. Try and relax. Deep breaths. You are safe here.”

Russell paused. He inhaled a few times as instructed.

“The, the first is fairly… normal,” he said, “A man. He’s old. Like, real old. I, I think I’ve known him, a, a while. He, he says the angels wait on the fields, and it’s, it’s always the kind boys that they snatch first. I… I think, I think he was talking about me… not to sound… like I’m boasting, or uh, or something.”

“You’re not,” Edgar said, still keeping that gentle tone in his voice. It was almost uncanny that he could speak in such a way, “Please continue.”

Russell kept his eyes on the candle. It was better than looking at the doctors. He would have been looking for their reactions and trying to gauge them.

It was kind of nice too; just something about the way it moved. Its orange glow was gentle as it flickered in front of him.

“Then… it… changes,” he said, “I think I’m on the field. No Man’s Land. There’s, there’s another man. Younger, and with ginger hair. A lot bigger than me. I don’t remember his name anymore, but I uh, know him… he’s injured. There’s, there’s blood running down his face, and he can’t see… I have to rescue him. But when I go to him, it shifts again...”

The third part of the dream came into his mind. He couldn’t say it. He couldn’t tell them what his companion’s intentions were. He couldn’t tell them that he had felt the same want, at least before his eyes started bleeding. What would they think? No. Even if Edgar said he was safe, he wouldn’t be if he told them about that.

They would definitely throw him to the skals, regardless of how useful he could be.

“Russell, remember to breathe slowly, deeply, there’s no need to be frightened,” Edgar said, bringing him out of his own mind and back to reality. Russell did so. He hadn’t even realised his breathing had changed, “Did your dream move onto something distressing?”

“It… kind of did,” Russell replied, “I… I think I dreamed about my mother, or, or a bad, like, her. Look-looking back, it’s stupid… knitting needles in-instead of fingers, who’s scared of that?”

Edgar exchanged a glance with Jonathan. He was certain Russell wouldn’t look at him. This was a new development. Jonathan shook his head. He hadn’t heard or seen anything to do with Russell’s mother, or any hints of her. Had the feeding caused something else to come up in his mind? What they found odd was the omission of the third part of information that Jonathan had heard. Had Russell simply not remembered that? Or was he hiding it? Edgar opted not to make any mention of it right now, lest Russell found it suspicious.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to be afraid while you’re dreaming. Thoughts and images that seem absurd while you’re awake can make perfect sense while you’re asleep,” Edgar said, “I did have a reason for asking you all that though. You see, what we’re going to be doing today is allowing you to enter a state that most consider similar to dreaming. We will refer to it as an altered state. I can already see that the candle and this chat we’ve had is already having a somniferous effect on you.”

“A… a what?” Russell asked.

“You’re feeling relaxed, and drowsy, which is exactly what we want,” Edgar said. He wasn’t wrong actually, now that he drawn Russell’s attention to that fact. His breathing was steady and deep, his heartbeat had slowed considerably. He felt strangely calm, despite the topic of their conversation. It was a foreign feeling, though not unwelcome, “Now it’s time to focus all your attention on the candle, on your breathing, and on me talking to you now.”

Russell obeyed, continuing to inhale and exhale like he was trying to fall asleep. The thoughts running through his mind were slowly silenced as Edgar continued to talk to him. He started to feel loose-limbed and heavy; it was pleasant. His eyes wanted to stay closed every time he blinked. Everything seemed to slow down around him and Edgar slowly seemed to get further away from him as he spoke. He had no idea how long he had been speaking to him for anymore.

“I’m going to blow the candle out,” Edgar said, “When I do, you’re going to close your eyes and slip into that altered state. Your mind open and relaxed.”

Edgar leaned over. Russell was still looking at the candle. It was good to see his movements didn’t take his attention away from it. With only one quick breath, the flame was gone. As he had instructed, Russell’s eyes slipped shut. The last tiny bits of tension left his body, and his head slightly tilted back.

Jonathan’s own eyes had widened slightly. He honestly hadn’t expected this to work so effectively, especially on the first attempt. Perhaps Edgar was onto something after all. He hoped so.

With any luck, he had decided to put the idea of false memories out of his head.

“That’s it, you’re just drifting. Peaceful, calm, and you just feel yourself going down further into that state with each second the passes, let it happen,” Edgar said, he paused, allowing the instructions to sink in, before he continued, “I want you to picture a place. Somewhere that makes you feel safe and happy. It could be real, it could be made up. What matters is that it’s yours.”

 

Russell didn’t say anything. In his mind, he was laying in a field. The long grass was soft against his skin, caressing his hands and the nape of his neck. He could smell dew. The air was cool, but not to the point of being unpleasant. Crickets were chirping around him. He was staring up at the clear night sky, at the stars that dotted the world above. They were so beautiful, so serene…

A small smile ghosted across his lips.

“Are you in that place, Russell?” Edgar asked.

“Yes,” Russell replied. His voice was soft.

“Good,” Edgar said, “From this point on, whenever you hear me say the word ‘Rosebud’, you will slip back into this calm peaceful state of mind, relaxed and open for all that needs to be said.”

It would remain to be seen whether it would work. He would test it later during the conclusion of this first experiment. There were other things that took priority.

“Now, I would like to go back to that memory of the old man you mentioned in your dream. I have reason to believe it was a memory, or connected to it,” Edgar instructed, “You are safe. It is perfectly fine to remember. Tell me what happens as it all comes to you…”

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: A Time to Remember

Old Bill. That was what everyone called him. He wasn’t his father. He wasn’t even related to him by blood. He had been a resident in this neighbourhood for as long as he could remember. His other nickname was the Vampire of Roxbury. Roxbury was a place in Boston, Massachusetts. He remembered that now as well. It was highly likely he was from there.

While he currently re-enacted what he had experienced, he could hear a faint version of his own voice describing everything as it happened.

“So, they’re finally sending you out,” Bill had said, as Russell sat down next to him on the stoop of his house. He was thoughtfully twisting his gnarled fingers through his white beard. He then took a sip out of a glass of strong-smelling whiskey, “Sending you to your death, boy. Honestly, these eighteen years have just been a blur to me. It gets like that when you’re really old. At least they gave you a couple of months of your adult years before tossing you away.”

Russell said nothing at first.

“I bet your Ma is thrilled,” Old Bill continued, “Ain’t she? I don’t understand her. She kept crying about how she wanted just one of her children to live, and then when you came along a bit later and managed to grow enough to start walking and talking, she couldn’t wait to be rid of you. It’s not fair, is it, kid?”

Russell found himself shaking his head. He spoke automatically. He had had this conversation before. He knew that.

“It’s okay… she, she looked after me the, the, the best she could. She just… she just… she just probably wasn’t, wasn’t the same after, after losing everyone else...” he only said.

“Don’t you be justifying what she did,” Old Bill snorted, “Yes, children need discipline sometimes, I know. But locking you outside at night in the cold, beating you black and blue with anything she could lay her little hands on, and saying she should have scraped you out of her with a pair of knitting needles goes beyond the pale, among the other things that old bitch has done. At least you had me and a few others around for you, teaching you better, huh?”

“Yes, I, I am lucky, for uh, for that,” Russell said. He decided not to mention the absurdity of calling his mother old when he had many more years on her.

“The angels are always waiting on those fields,” Old Bill continued, as though he had never said those things about Cassandra. That was her name. Cassandra Anderson, and that was also his last name until he had taken on what was presumably his father’s. He remembered now, “It’s always the kind boys like you that they snatch away first. I suppose they have to add to their ranks somehow.”

He held out the glass of whiskey.

“Here, have a bit of this,” he said, smiling, “Some of the best I’ve ever made. You won’t be having anything like that out on the front.”

Russell sipped at it. It tasted good, and was warm as it travelled down his throat. He then handed it back again.

“I would love to go with you,” Old Bill said then, “I would go with you, but they said I’m too damn old, what a crapper that is, huh?”

“I, I, I wouldn’t want you being in, in danger, Bill,” Russell said.

“Heh, isn’t that sweet? Angels will be finding you first, boy,” Old Bill said. The man always had a strange way of wording things, as well as that odd sense of humour, if it even could be called that.

“Maybe,” Russell replied.

“But yes, seeing as you’re going to be sailing to your death, I just remembered,” Bill said, “I wanted to tell you something about who your father could have been and this might be the best time now. I saw him, he was some Frenchman called Jean-Luc Tolbert, if I remember right, I only saw that fancy pants bastard once, and that was years ago… almost a year after he left, you came along. That little blond bundle of joy that your mother refused to give a name to until six months after. At least I had one for you.”

“Don’t, don’t, don’t, be fooling with, with me, Bill,” Russell said. That was most likely why he had chosen the name. This was the first time someone had actually mentioned a name when speculating who his father was, and he remembered insisting that people refer to his last name as that, despite the name ‘Anderson’ being etched onto his dog tags.

“I’m not,” Bill said, “He’s the most likely man to be your father, but hell if I know where is now… you’re heading out later tonight, right?”

“Yes,” Russell said, “I am. Don’t, don’t, don’t know if I’m, uh, I’m coming back though.”

“It’s unlikely,” Bill said, “As much as I hate to tell you that, it’s unlikely. Make sure to say a proper goodbye to your mother. As much as I hate her, and even she might not want it, she still deserves that at least, considering it might be the last time you see her.”

“I will,” Russell said. Bill patted him on the shoulder.

“Good man,” Bill said, “And you should know something else. We’re proud of you. Me, Freyde, Robert. All we wanted was for you not to grow up like that miserable old mare, and you didn’t, despite everything, so we’re proud.”

“Thank you, Bill...” Russell’s voice was soft as he said that, “Thank you...”

 

“Go back to back to the sanctuary, go back to the first place,” Edgar instructed. The memory faded out in an instant. He was laying back on the field again, staring at the stars. He felt completely peaceful. He briefly wished he could stay here forever, “Very good, Russell. You did very well to see that memory and tell us about it. Old Bill sounds like he was a very dear friend to you. We’re going to see one more today, another one that your dreams took inspiration from.”

As Edgar spoke, he finished writing down all the details that Russell had given him. He wondered if he should try and meet this Old Bill. He was curious to know if he really was a vampire. He had also underlined that Russell possibly had a strained relationship with his mother. Perhaps he could work with that as well.

“Do you think he’s ready for another?” Jonathan’s voice was quiet. He didn’t want to end up inadvertently disrupting the session, “I mean, if that part of the dream unsettled him that much.”

“It’s only to confirm that this woman he saw in his dream was indeed his mother,” Edgar said, “I won’t force him to view anything terrifying. Besides, these gloomier memories might prepare him for what happened on the ship, depending on what actually did happen. I will bring him out of it if he experiences a heavy amount of distress. I promise this is perfectly safe, Jonathan.”

“I have my faith in you,” Jonathan said after a short moment. He still couldn’t help but wonder just what would arise when he wasn’t here.

“I’m glad,” Edgar said, “Because I promise you, Jonathan, If we can do this, this could be the breakthrough of the century, along with curing the skal epidemic. Imagine it. We’d have two massive achievements in one.”

“I suppose,” Jonathan said. Edgar had placed his attention back onto Russell again. Russell showed no signs of awakening, despite the lack of interaction. He wondered if he had fallen asleep for real.

“Are you still in that safe place, Russell?” Edgar asked.

“Yes,” Russell replied.

“Good, go to the memory where you claimed to have seen your mother. You are perfectly safe, stay relaxed,” Edgar instructed.

 

Russell was on the floor. He could see his own hands in front of him. They were smaller. He was smaller. No, not smaller. Younger. That was why she had towered over him in the dream. He was on his hands and knees at first. There were shards of something in front of him. A plate… no… not that. A vase! That’s what it was. He had been sleepwalking again, and he had walked right into it, knocking it over.

He had been trying to gather the pieces up when she had burst into the room. She had grabbed him by his arm and flung him against the wall as hard as she could. He felt the jolt rush through his body, but there was no pain. He slid down it and onto the floor.

“What did you do?! Why do you have to be such a piece of shit?!” she shouted.

“I’m, I’m, I’m sorry… I’m, I’m...”

“Stop it! I can’t stand the way you talk! Why can’t you talk right?”

He could see her clearly now. She didn’t have knitting needles in place of fingers. She was just holding them, but they made that awful noise as she rubbed them together. Her black hair was straggly and she had attempted to put it back into a ponytail, but that left the escaped locks dangling around her sallow cheeks. Her blue eyes were cold. She leaned in close and waved the needles in front of his face.

“Should have used these on you… should have stabbed you in your little tiny heart and scraped you out of me before you got to take your first breath,” she snarled. It was the first time she had ever said that to him; the first of many.

She leaned in and grabbed the front of his shirt with her free hand.

She dragged him outside. He didn’t resist. He had learned not to by now. She pushed him out of the door and slammed it behind her, locking it. It was cold out. He shivered. He looked up.

He took comfort in looking at the stars. No matter how alone he seemed, they were always there. Old Bill once told him that they had been there since before the planet Earth had even come into existence.

He didn’t know how long he had been sitting there, trembling and trying to distract himself before a woman walked towards him. He had known her for a while too. He only knew her as Freyde. She was older as well, but not as old as Bill. No one could be as old as Bill.

She held her hand out, sympathy riddling her face. He took it and stood.

“It’s, it’s, it’s okay, Freyde…” was all that he said, “She uh, she uh, didn’t use, use, use the broom...”

Freyde started to cry as she pulled him into a hug.

 

“Go back to the sanctuary. I feel like we’ve done enough today...” Edgar said, “Go back to the sanctuary and breathe deeply again.”

Edgar had noticed that Russell’s intakes of breath had grown shallower while describing the second incident. His hand was practically a blur as it worked to write down what he felt were the relevant details. He made sure to note that he often shifted between describing events and talking to whoever was in the memory with him.

Jonathan had found himself disturbed by that second account. It reminded him of that poor woman Carol Price and her mother, Carolyn. He knew the injuries she had weren’t just from her being clumsy, despite her mother’s claims.

He told himself to pay them another visit very soon. Carolyn had given him some advice regarding that Aloysius Dawson. He had already made his decision that if she had hurt Carol again, he would…

“How do you feel Russell?” Edgar asked, bringing Jonathan out of his thoughts, as he moved to start brightening the lights again.

“Sad,” Russell said, after a small pause, “But not surprised… I, I can’t be… it, it was just how she was.”

“It’s a truly terrible thing you went through,” Edgar said. There was some sympathy in his own voice, “I’m going to count from one to five, and when I reach five, you will open your eyes, you will be fully conscious, awake, and retain the memories you’ve regained in this state.”

He did so. As he asked, Russell woke up. He had to take a moment to look around and remind himself of where he was.

“That… that was...” Russell reached down and tugged at one of his sleeves, “That was… how did you, did you, did you do that?”

“A simpler term for it is hypnosis,” Edgar explained, “The deeply relaxed and focussed state allows you to access your memories in a safe controlled manner. Your mind is more open and able to reach back into where they might have been hidden. In fact, you were quite fast and forthcoming with your memories. We were here two hours, and that was from the moment you stepped into my office.”

Russell’s eyes widened.

“Two, two, two hours?” he said, “That’s… that’s… I mean, I suppose if, if that’s, that’s considered normal… I...”

“Do you wish to talk about what happened here, Russell?” Jonathan asked, “I can only imagine it was a lot to take in. Everything here will be held in strictest confidence.”

“That’s, that’s very kind, but, but, but, I think I uh, I need, I need some time alone, to uh, to uh, to like...” he moved his hands in a gesture to show that he didn’t know what he was trying to say.

“Process it?” Edgar asked, “Yes, I can understand that after seeing all those details, and especially that rather grim memory. You’ve relearned a lot of things about your life today. I do apologise for what you saw though.”

“It’s, it’s okay...” Russell said, “It’s uh, it’s uh, it’s just how she was… I remember that now. And, and, and, I, I did tell myself that, that even if the truth hurts, it, it was better to, to, to know it, I, I can only thank you for, for helping me so far.”

“Please keep in mind that you’re helping me and probably future doctors as well, Russell,” Edgar said, “I think it’s a fair exchange. Now, I believe we can have our next little meeting in two days. That’ll give you time to think about the session and reflect on what you learned. I think we’ll try and look into the second part of your dream next time, the man with the ginger hair.”

Russell nodded.

“That uh, that uh, that sounds good to me,” Russell said, nodding. He made a move to press a hand against the chair so that he could get up. It seemed that they were done here, “Th-th-thank you, Doc-Doctor Swansea, and, and you Doctor Reid. I, I uh, I guess I better, better head back...”

“Rosebud,” Edgar said. The effect was instantaneous. Russell’s eyes drifted shut, his body became limp. He might have fallen off the seat if Jonathan hadn’t placed his hands on his shoulders and straightened him up, “Good. Just fall back into that state. Wonderful, it works.”

“He nearly fell onto the floor, Edgar,” Jonathan said.

“We’ll just need to be prepared for that for next time,” Edgar said, “Now, Russell, I’m just going to count you up again...”

It was repeated and Russell re-awoke, as Edgar had predicted.

“Did, did you, what, what was that?” Russell said.

“It’s just to help you slip into that state a little faster,” Edgar said, “That’s all there is to it. It’ll only occur if you hear me or Doctor Reid say it, so there is no need to worry about it happening at any other time.”

“Oh, I uh, I uh, I see...” Russell rubbed at the back of his neck, “Well, I uh, I suppose that’s, that’s, that’s not so bad.”

“On the contrary, it’s very good,” Edgar said, “We’ll have all your memories back in no time. Now, I’ve keep you here for quite a while, and I’ve got a lot to think about for the next time.”

“Of, of course… thank you, Doc-Doc-Doctor, I’ll, I’ll come back in two days,” Russell said. He stood up and retrieved the crowbar from the desk. He hooked it back onto his suspenders.

“That’s a good man,” Edgar said, “I look forward to seeing you.”

“Yes, have, have a good, good evening, and you too, Doc-Doctor Reid,” Russell said.

“Good night, Russell. Stay safe,” Jonathan said.

When Russell left, Jonathan looked back to Edgar.

“Why did you tell him that if I said it too, he would enter that state again?” he asked, “You never mentioned that to him before.”

“I just want to see if it would have an effect just because I told him it would in a waking state. He doesn’t consciously remember hearing that particular idea after all, even if he is now aware of it. I can imagine his mind would still be open to such a possibility,” Edgar said, “See if you can say it to him at some point, Jonathan, would you?”

“We’ll see,” Jonathan replied. He couldn’t hide the slight disdain in his voice.

 

Russell heard the chiming of bells as he headed out of the hospital. He counted them. There were nine. He really had been in that office for quite a while. Nine o’clock. That was if the bells were correct of course.

He had a lot to think about. He pulled his makeshift bandanna over his mouth and held his crowbar by his side as he kept walking.

He took alleyways this time. It seemed the later it was at night, the more skals came out. He wasn’t all that surprised. He eyed the various empty bottles of alcohol as he stepped around them. He briefly wondered if there were any mouthfuls left in any of them. He honestly felt like he needed a strong drink right now.

“Ah, there he is...” a smooth voice spoke up. Russell immediately stiffened and glanced around, tightening his grip on the crowbar, “There he is… Swansea’s new little lab rat...”

“Who’s, who’s, who’s there?” Russell said. He saw a figure standing at the end of the alleyway. There was a brief moment of darkness the figure vanished. But then they suddenly stood in front of him, smirking down at him. Russell jumped back. Did he really just dash towards him in an instant?

“Just an interested fan, an interested fan of importance,” he said, “People have you been talking about you, boy. Do you know what they’re calling you. The American Survivor. Ha, an American survivor in London. Sounds like a story, doesn’t it?”

Russell’s eyes widened. Were people really talking about him like that? Then again, people gossiped and speculated. It had only taken a day before he had learnt about the tragedy that had befallen Sean all those years ago.

He had to get back to Sean.

“Look, I uh, I don’t, I don’t have time for, for this,” Russell said, “I, I need to, to go.”

“I’m afraid you can’t go. Imagine the price Swansea will pay to get his little lab rat back from the Ascalon Club, something to sweeten our potential deal with that dear doctor Re...” the man said.

“I’m, I’m, I’m not a, a, a lab rat,” Russell protested.

“No, you’re right. I’d say you’re more like a lap dog,” the man chuckled, “He tells you to sit, and you sit. He tells you lay down, and you lay down, just like a good little puppy. You hear a lot from the right places when you simply tune in and listen.”

“That’s for...” Russell's eyes were wide as he tried to argue his case. How did this guy know about that?

“Memory retrieval, yes, I know,” the man replied, “But let’s not quibble over all those details. I’m afraid you have no choice but to come with me.”

He reached one of his hands towards Russell, but he slapped it away before it could get close to him. Russell took a defensive stance and brandished the crowbar.

“Oh, so you’re still on the feisty side, I like that,” he said, “But if you really think you stand a chance against me with that, you’re wrong. I may be a vampire, but I’m far above those pathetic creatures you’ve seen shuffling around on these streets. Oh, that’s right, boy. We’re real, and we’re much more powerful than any of you mortals could ever comprehend. I can tell you this. I mean, who’s going to believe you even if you do escape?”

He dashed forward again. Russell swung the crowbar, and then he was holding nothing. It had been smacked out of his hand with no effort at all. It sailed and spun through the air before landing a short distance away.

The man grinned. Russell was certain he could see the tips of pointed teeth.

“Oh dear, how clumsy. You dropped it. Now what are you going to do?”

He advanced on Russell, his smile slowly growing wider.

Chapter Text

Chapter 12: Ace of Clubs

The man who claimed to be a vampire had just asked him a very good question. What was he going to do?

“Well?” he asked again, as he continued to near his prey.

To think, he was just hoping to get back to the shelter and to reflect on everything. He couldn’t think about that now. He had to do something. He kept backing away. He needed to buy himself...

He felt his back hit the wall. His assailant was still walking towards him. A sudden tactic flashed through his mind. Had someone given him that advice sometime before? He curled his hand into a fist.

Say you’re gonna do something, then do something else…

“Hit you in the nuts!” he thanked every God he had heard of that he managed to get that out in one try, especially with the speed at which he said it. The vampire seemed to fall for it. His hand was poised to grab Russell’s for when he went to go for the said punch.

Russell dropped to the ground and moved his leg in a sweeping kick. His opponent hadn’t expected it. He tripped and landed heavily on the ground. Russell jumped up and glanced back towards his crowbar. It was too far away. His attacker would get up and grab him before he was even halfway to it. He was faster than him, and most likely stronger as well. This was going to take some wit.

He glanced around for something else he could use. His eyes fell on one of the alcohol bottles. He dived for it. He managed to wrap his fingers along the neck. His thought was to smash it against a wall and use the sharper edges as a blade.

A hand landed on his shoulder, erasing that idea. Before he could turn and swing the bottle, he was flung towards the opposite wall with no effort at all. He slid down it and towards the ground. In a moment, he was briefly back in that old house, with his mother brandishing those needles.

The vampire assumed he had been stunned and stalked towards him. Russell threw the bottle without a second thought. He saw the splatters of a green liquid as it spun through the air, splashing on him, the vampire, and the walls around them. The smell smacked him in the face. Absinthe.

The bottle then hit the guy square in the middle of his forehead. Some of the liquid got into his hair. He staggered back, bringing his hands to his face. For someone who claimed to be a vampire, it didn’t seem like he had done much fighting, or perhaps he just wasn’t used to people fighting back.

Russell crawled over and got another bottle in his hand while his opponent was distracted. He gripped it tightly. This one felt lighter in his hand. He guessed he would only be able to use it once.

It would have to count. A little bit of orange-brown liquid sloshed around in the bottom as he got back onto his feet. Did he still have that lighter in his pocket? If he did, he could…

The vampire pulled his hands away from his face. A purple bruise adorned his forehead. Russell’s eyes widened as he saw a knife appear in his hand from nowhere. It was like the blade had somehow been forged from blood.

Focus…

The vampire darted towards him, swinging the blade. Russell swung the bottle just in time, managing to block it. He struggled against his attacker, but he was rapidly losing that fight. He wasn’t strong enough to hold him off.

He moved the bottle away and the vampire’s momentum caused him to be thrown off balance. Russell took his chance. He aimed for the back of his head as he brought it down. But the vampire had recovered and grabbed him by his hair. He yanked his head back and pressed the knife to his throat. Russell could still smell the absinthe on his skin.

“You’re really testing me, boy...” he warned, “If you won’t let me...”

Russell didn’t let him finish. He stomped down on the kneecap that was closest to him as hard as he could. There was one blessing to being shorter than most of the people around here. He heard a crack and his attacker briefly staggered. The fingers in his hair loosened. Russell wrenched himself away. Blond locks were torn off from his scalp as he did. He felt warm wetness on his crown as he bled.

He swung the bottle, taking his new chance. It smashed instantly against the vampire’s face, as he expected. The smell of whiskey was strong as the liquid coated his assailant’s hair and skin. He was left just holding the neck in his hand. He tossed it away. That was useless.

He realised they had gotten closer to the crowbar during the struggle. If he could get it…

He took one more moment to punch the guy in the side of the jaw as hard as he could. He then took off without looking back. That had been his mistake.

He had just managed to grab the crowbar and turned around. He surely had a better chance now.

“Enough!” the vampire’s voice had become an echoing shout as he locked eyes with Russell. His gaze practically burned with rage. His brought his hand up and held it out towards Russell. He curled his fingers and then yanked it back, as though grabbing someone by their clothes.

Russell suddenly felt all of his muscles tighten and lock up. The crowbar fell out of his hand. He couldn’t move. He felt like his feet were stuck to the tarmac and none of his body obeyed him. No matter how much he tried to escape this new phenomenon, it was useless.

He then felt a pulling sensation in his chest. He couldn’t move his head or shift his eyes to see what what was going on. They couldn’t even widen as he saw particles of red float up in the air in front of him, forming a mist the size of a large rat.

Was this man pulling his blood out through his skin?!

Some of it soaked into his white shirt, causing sticky crimson stains to form on the front, but most of it hovered around. The vampire pulled the fog towards himself and then sucked it into his mouth. Russell saw his throat move as he swallowed it down. That was followed by another red miasma as it was yanked out of him, and then other.

By the time the fourth emerged, Russell felt himself regain control of his limbs. However, instead of moving like he wanted, his legs wobbled and he fell onto the ground. He was able to stop himself from face-planting, but his arms shook, struggling to hold himself up. His vision started to swim.

“Oh really? You’re just going to drop already? Pathetic. How disappointing. I only took a litre, or perhaps a little bit more than that. Awfully bland, I have to say,” the vampire had walked over and cupped Russell’s chin in his hand. A cold sweat had started to run down his face and his skin was cool to the touch. His face had paled considerably. His heart was pounding in his chest and his breathing had quickened.

“You, you, you sick son of, of...” a harsh slap stopped Russell from finishing his insult. He was knocked onto his side by the force of the blow.

“Shhh,” the vampire said, “Now you sleep...”

Russell felt a pair of icy hands on his throat. They squeezed tightly. Russell wanted to try and pry them away, but he couldn’t make his arms move. In only about ten seconds, his eyes shut and he passed out.

He was lifted off the ground with relative ease and hefted over his captor’s shoulder. His limbs dangled heavily. The vampire didn’t say anything more. He strode out of the alleyway, his prize completely out for the count.

 

Russell’s eyes slowly opened. He had no idea how much time had passed. He was dizzy and numb. His neck was sore and his heart was still beating rapidly. It took him a moment to realise that he was staring at the pavement and that he was moving. His hands occasionally brushed against the man’s back as he kept walking.

He didn’t seem to realise that Russell was awake yet. The smell of the whiskey and absinthe hit his nose. Even after god knows how long, would the alcohol still be flammable? There was only one way to find out.

He moved his arm as slowly as he could. It still felt weak, but he managed to get it to work. His fingers tingled as he wiggled them. They were stiff but still useable. He shifted his eyes around. He didn’t recognise his surroundings. He would just have to work out where he was once he got away.

He managed to reach into his pocket without alerting the vampire. But then his kidnapper seemed to realise that only one hand was now bumping against his back. He stopped moving. Russell swiped the lighter out of his coat once he felt it.

He felt shifting, the vampire was about to put him down, presumably to check on him, or to try and knock him out again if he realised he was awake. He wasn’t going to let that happen. He struck the wand of the lighter against the side of the box. It took a couple of tries but he finally to set the wick alight.

The vampire had caught on. Russell felt himself being moved, ready to be thrown onto the ground in front of his assailant. Right before he was, he held the flame to the vampire’s dark hair.

The effect was instantaneous. An orange blaze burst into life, lighting up the walls and the ground around them. The vampire let out an agonised scream and let go of Russell entirely. He was distracted by the searing pain that rushed through the top of his head.

Russell dropped to the ground but managed to land on his feet. The match was still on fire. He ran up and ignited his black coat for good measure. That was soon lit up as well. The vampire turned and blindly swiped at him, but he missed. He could barely see through the bright glowing flames that tried to devour him. Russell pushed the back match inside the box, then turned and ran. He wasn’t about to lose his chance to escape.

His legs were shaky and he almost lost his balance, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. He then froze and let out a small yelp when he saw two men right in front of him. For the briefest of moments, he had been certain that they were his would-be captor’s backup.

He quickly realised they were members of the Guard of Priwen. They must have heard the screaming and come to investigate. One went past to finish off the vampire. The other looked him up and down.

“The American Survivor, huh. Listen, just because that’s your nickname at the moment doesn’t mean you should be hunting those guys by yourself,” he said.

Russell’s eyes were wide for a moment. So the guy hadn’t been exaggerating.

“I… I… I wasn’t,” he said, through his panting. It felt like he wasn’t getting enough air at the moment, “He… he… he was… trying to, to, to take me, me somewhere. I, I was trying to escape.”

“Trying to what?” the Priwen member raised a brow. Russell only gathered that something like that was unusual.

The screams stopped. They were ended by a gurgle, and then silence. The guy was dead. The other man came back. He was holding a bloodied stake in his hand.

“Shit, man. You did a number on him, even before setting him on fire,” he said with a grin, “Pretty impressive.”

“Well, I uh, I uh, I remembered that, that, that they don’t, don’t, don’t like fire,” Russell said.

Then again, neither did humans. Did he really believe that guy was a vampire? Surely he was just a bit stressed out and seeing things. It didn’t change the fact that he did not feel well at all. All he could think about was going back to the night shelter and getting some sleep, memories be damned right now.

“Where… where… where are we?” he finally asked, “I uh, I uh, I’ve not, not been around, around here before, I uh, I don't, I don't think.”

“You’re in the West End, kid,” the hunter replied.

“Shit...” Russell said, “I uh, I uh, I gotta, I gotta get back, back to Sean.”

The thought of going to the hospital briefly crossed his mind. But he had already realised that he wasn’t going to. Edgar and Jonathan were already doing a lot for him.

Besides, how it would look if he needed medical assistance for the third time in a few days? He might be seen as just plain incompetent. What if other people needed the help more than him? He was only taking up time and resources by going there more often than he probably should.

“What's, what's, what's the, the fastest way, to, to get to the East, East, East End?” Russell asked.

 

Russell retrieved the crowbar on the way back. Luckily, no one had claimed it as theirs while he had been preoccupied. He felt it so much better to have it back, even if he was completely exhausted.

“Oh thank God you’re all right,” Sean said when he realised Russell had finally stepped in through the doors. His eyes then widened in alarm when he saw the state of Russell’s clothes, his pale clammy skin, and that his hair had been thinned in some places. The blood in his locks had started to dry, “I mean, are you? What happened, Russell? Do you need someone to take you back to the hospital?”

Russell hesitated. His attacker’s taunt flashed through his mind.

Who’s going to believe you even if you do escape?

“Just, just, just some guy…” he said, “He, he might have, might have been drinking… just, just, decided to attack me I guess. For reasons. I’ll, I’ll be fine… I just, I just, I just… want to go sleep to, to be honest.”

Sean was giving him that look. The one that told him that he didn’t approve. It heavily coincided with the one he gave when he suspected that someone was lying. At least this time, he didn’t seem like he was about to push it. He didn’t want that right now.

“I’ll, I’ll clean my-myself up, get all this set up for, for washing, and then, then, sleep for a bit,” he felt anxious for no apparent reason. He couldn’t help but keep looking over his shoulder. Why? The guy was dead, and even if he wasn’t, he had managed to hold his own, “I’ll, I just, I just need to do that before I talk, about, about anything, is, is that all right?”

“You must have been through some ordeal,” Sean said. It seemed he had sympathy. He always appeared to have that. Of course he did. He wasn’t called the Sad Saint for nothing, “All right. Clean yourself up and get some rest. But please, if you’re not any better by tomorrow, go to the hospital.”

“I will, Sean,” Russell said, “I will.”

 

Russell couldn’t help but keep inspecting his chest, where he was certain he had seen his own blood being pulled out through his skin. He could still see the vampire opening his mouth and sucking it in like cotton candy before swallowing in big gulps every time he closed his eyes.

There had been blood on his shirt and a few stains on his skin, but nothing to indicate that he had been hurt in such a way. In spite of the physical after-effects he felt, he still questioned the events of the evening. Had it really happened? He shook his head as he yanked the thin blanket over himself.

“He was not, not a vampire. He was just, just, just crazy… and, and I was just, just seeing things, or, or dreaming. That’s, that’s what it was. That’s what it was...” he whispered.

 

Sean’s newfound sensitive hearing picked up on that statement as he looked for some suitable clothing that Russell could change into the next morning. A concerned frown fell across his brow.

“I should try and talk to Doctor Reid about this...” was all he said to himself.

Chapter Text

Chapter 13: Doctor’s Orders

Russell slept most of the day. He kept drifting into wakefulness, only to be called back into oblivion soon after. No memories or dreams seemed to come this time.

He started to fully wake up once the sun was beginning to set. He didn’t feel at all better than he did yesterday. He still felt weak and shaky, his skin was still cold and clammy, and his breathing and heart-rate were still abnormal. His only real consolation was that the encounter with that guy was finally starting to become some fading phantom in his memory. He almost passed out again when he stood up quickly.

He was going to have to bite the bullet and go to the hospital.

Some other clothes had been found for him to wear. His dog tags had also been left hanging by the bed. The lighter was on a small night stand close by. He briefly shook it. Slight sloshing. There was still some fluid inside. Good.

The replacement coat was a dark grey and the trousers were black this time. He had to roll the bottoms of those up as well. The new shirt was also white. He made sure everything was held up properly by the suspenders before hooking the crowbar through them.

He then tucked the dog tags and the lighter into his pocket. He knew he probably needed to try and apologise for sleeping so long. He had always tried to make a point of being as helpful as possible while he was here. His limbs still felt heavy as he tried to make them work.

He couldn’t help but glance at the newspaper that Lottie held in her hands. There was a sad look on her face as she went through it. There were two main headlines on the front page that caught his eye. The first was that a sudden fire had managed to gut some of the inside of the Finsbury Theatre and claim the life of the renowned actress Doris Fletcher.

He felt sympathy. What a horrible thing to happen. He could only hope that she was at peace now, despite the awful death she no doubt had faced. He swallowed the sudden anxious lump that had formed in his throat. It hurt to do so.

He had set someone on fire last night. It wasn’t Fletcher, obviously, and it was in self-defence of course, but it was enough to make him think about it, and just how much pain the guy might have been in.

The next headline had also caught his eye. A woman called Carolyn Price had been found dead, leaving her adult daughter Carol behind. He briefly wondered whether she would be all right. He made a mental note to offer his condolences if he happened to meet her.

 

It seemed a lot had been happening in just a day. He then turned when he saw Sean coming in from outside.

“Evening, Sean,” he said, “I’m, I’m real sorry, I uh, I uh, I didn’t mean to uh, to sleep for so, for so long. I uh, I, I should have, should have gotten up, and, and, and helped, with, with things.”

Sean was already looking concerned as he gazed over Russell. The boy’s face was still pallid and his neck was practically black. Sean could hear his rapid pulse from where he stood. His breathing didn’t sound right either. He was still lightly panting.

“I’m not worried about that,” Sean said. He sounded almost astounded that that was Russell’s first notion, “I was worried you weren’t going to wake up at all. Nothing was rousing you. Multiple people tried throughout the day, and you still don’t look well.”

“I… I… I know...” Russell said. He didn’t need to look in a mirror to know that, “I… I am, I am, I am going to go, to go to the hospital. I uh, I know I need to.”

“I’m glad,” Sean said, “Because I asked Doctor Reid to take you.”

“I uh, I suppose it’s, it’s good that I’m, I’m awake. At a guess, I’m, I’m at, I’m at, at least a hundred and fifteen pounds,” Russell said, “Or uh, you know, what the uh, the uh, the British say that as.”

“I’ve carried heavier than just eight stone,” Jonathan had stepped in. He had a small smile on his face, before it was replaced by some concern, “It’s good to see that you’re awake, Russell, but looking at you for myself, I believe Sean is right. You need to come with me.”

There was some kind of echoing quality in that last sentence. It erased any possible thoughts of disagreeing from Russell’s mind before they could possibly form.

Jonathan was fairly certain that he was going to comply, but he wanted to ensure that. It seemed that Russell was able to stand and walk for now, but he knew that that could change.

Sean was right. This was more than likely the work of a vampire. But why hadn’t he tried to kill him?

He only supposed Russell had the answer to that. As Russell went past him to leave, Jonathan looked at Sean and gave him a nod.

Sean returned it.

 

Russell didn’t have his hands in his pockets as he carefully walked this time. They stayed hanging by his sides, presumably so he could catch himself if he staggered.

“How are you feeling, Russell? Medically speaking?” Jonathan asked.

“I, I hate to be, to be a grouser, but well, not, not great...” Russell said, “I, I should, should have, should have come to the hospital last, last, last night, but… all I wanted to do, to do was just, just sleep. I’m still tired now, but...”

Russell trailed off. He didn’t know how to continue that thought.

“That’s not, being a ‘grouser’, as you put it,” Jonathan could only assume that was some kind of American slang, “You were hurt. I asked you to describe how you feel. I won’t lecture you about how you should have come sooner though. You already know. Hopefully you’ll be fine with the right treatment.”

“Thank you, Doc-Doctor Reid,” Russell said, as he ran a shaking hand through his hair. His arm still felt too heavy, “At the moment, I feel like, I feel like I gotta keep, keep looking over my shoulder, and every, every little noise is freaking me out, making me, making me jump, and sometimes I keep, keep losing my thinking. Sorry, I am, I am, I am really being a, uh, a grouser.”

“You’re not,” Jonathan said, “We will take good care of you at the hospital.”

“Yes, I uh, I know. You, you, you have before,” Russell said.

“What happened, Russell?” Jonathan asked, deciding that it was time for that information, “Please tell me what you can remember. I’m already guessing that you were attacked while you were heading back to Sean’s night shelter.”

Who would believe you even if you did escape?

“Yes, it did, and it was, was just, just some guy...” Russell said, unable to shake that thought away, “Maybe been uh, been uh, been drinking, or uh, or something like, like that. Just, just decided to, to attack me for no reason I guess… I uh, I suppose I just, just, just look like, like, an easy, easy target. I… I had to, to fight him off...”

He reached down and fiddled with the hem of one of his sleeves.

“I think he saw you as more than just an easy target,” Jonathan said, “To have injured you to this extent. Did he tell you what he wanted?”

“N-n-no.”

“Did he tell you what he wanted, Russell?” that compelling tone echoed from Jonathan’s mouth again.

“He, he said, he said something about, about, about an Ascalon Club… dunno, what, what that is, or what, what it’s got to do with, to do with… to do with me,” he said, shaking his head, “He said, he said, he said, ‘Imagine the, the, the price Doc-Doctor Swansea will uh, will pay to, to have his, his, his lab rat back’. With-with-without the stam-stammering of, of course.”

His eyes widened. He was surprised at how clearly he had remembered that.

Behind him, Jonathan’s jaw tightened. He could only assume that the thwarted kidnapping would have been arranged by Lord Redgrave to try and persuade him to turn Aloysius Dawson. He could already picture himself coming into Edgar’s office and the administrator practically begging him to bring Russell back safely, no matter the cost.

He knew how determined he was to solve the mystery of the American Survivor, as people had started to call him. He could imagine that Edgar would have immediately agreed to any kind of price.

The thought sickened him. He knew he had done some bad things lately, but he could at least proudly say that he had never used another person in some kind of sick deal.

“He, he was trying to, to make me, to make me go with him,” Russell said, “I, I, I wasn’t going to let him, as, as far as I knew. He tried, tried to grab me. He, he seemed to be, be aiming for my face, for, for some reason, like, in-instead of my, my arm, or, or something, but I uh, I slapped his hand away from, from me.”

Jonathan easily came to the conclusion that the Ekon had been trying to mesmerise Russell into compliance and then resorted to more violent methods when he wasn’t successful.

“That’s, that’s when we started fighting, like, for uh, for real… he uh, he uh, managed to disarm me,” Russell said, “He, he was a lot faster than me… stronger as, as well… I, I had to be smart… but well, I uh, I uh, I still lost obviously.”

“What did he do to you, Russell?” Jonathan asked, “You don’t need to be scared to tell me. Everything is held with strictest confidence at the hospital. You can tell me.”

“It’s… it’s… it’s gonna sound… sound crazy,” Russell said, shaking his head. He had to hold a hand up to his temple when that only made him feel dizzier, “You… you might… you might not even, even believe me. I uh, I uh, I don’t, I don’t even believe it myself...”

Jonathan remained silent, but he already had an already of where it was going.

“For, for, for starters, he uh, he claimed to be, be a vampire,” Russell reluctantly continued.

“Did you believe him?” Jonathan asked.

“No!” Russell’s answer came out faster than he meant it to.

“Did you believe him?” that commanding tone came again, erasing the thought of being dishonest before it could properly form.

“Yes. No. I mean, I, I, I don’t, I don’t know,” Russell said. Fear had crept back into his voice. He found himself itching at one of the rope marks on his wrist, “Am, am I, am I going crazy, Doc-Doctor?”

“No, Russell, I don’t think you’re going crazy,” Jonathan said, “What did he do to you? Did he bite you?”

That was another question of importance. He hadn’t seen any bite marks on Russell’s skin; just the bruising on his neck. Russell shook his head again, almost staggering. Jonathan had to gently grab him by his arm to stop him falling.

“This, this, this is gonna sound even, even more crazy,” Russell protested, “I… I might have just been, been seeing things, but… how I feel now. Everyone’s like, worried… maybe it had, had been real. At one point, I think I musta, musta made him real mad… he...”

Russell paused. That taunt still echoed in his mind. Who would believe him? He couldn’t finish the sentence. It was like he had gotten stuck.

“What did he do?” Jonathan repeated. That caused the mental block to shift.

“He did… something, that’s, that’s the best way I can describe it,” Russell said, “I… I suddenly couldn’t move and I think… I think… it seemed like, like, he was, he was pulling my blood out, through my, my, my skin… pulling it in like, pieces of like, it was like, like, red clouds...”

Russell hands shot to his chest then. He could see the details again now. The red mist, that tugging sensation from behind his ribs. The way it floated towards his attacker and how he sucked it into his mouth. How his throat had bulged as he swallowed it down. The helpless feeling he got as he fell to the ground, unable to hold himself up.

“Russell...” Jonathan said.

It didn’t happen. He was just seeing things. His mind had already taken in a lot of different information that day. He had just been stabbed, or something like that. But why didn’t he have any marks to show for it? Did he just miss them when he was cleaning himself up? Everything had been a blur when he got back. It would have been easy to miss.

“Russell,” Jonathan repeated.

“It, it, it doesn’t make sense,” Russell said, shaking his head, “It, it just doesn’t, make any, any, any sense...”

“Russell!” Jonathan’s voice broke through the fear that had cloaked his mind, “Please. Try to remain calm. You’re suffering from shock, and the anxiety and confusion you’re feeling is a natural symptom of that. What I do want to tell you though is that you are not crazy.”

Russell was silent.

“Vampires exist,” Jonathan said.

“What?!” Russell turned his head towards Jonathan, his eyes wide.

“Vampires exist,” Jonathan repeated, “In fact, just a day ago, I found myself rescuing a woman who had been captured by one. Miss Teasdale can vouch for me there if you happen to meet her. Some also have that ability that you described, to steal blood without touching someone. You are not going crazy, Russell. I will assure you of that now.”

“W-w-well… I uh, I dunno whether to be, to be, to be relieved that I’m, I’m not crazy, or uh, or uh horrified that that people like, like that, do uh, do exist...” Russell said. It seemed he was willing to take Jonathan’s word for it. It was certainly better that someone who apparently had no reason to believe in them did so. “You, uh, you know?”

He seemed to be leaning towards the former, despite his concerns. It felt better knowing that he somehow wasn’t losing his mind.

“I understand,” Jonathan said, “It’s not unreasonable to feel both ways at this stage. Please don’t be afraid though, they come few and far between, and not all of them are hostile in the way your attacker was.”

“He… he could… he could have killed me if he, if he wanted,” Russell said, swallowing, “He, he only didn’t because of, because of, because of Doc-Doctor Swansea and this, this price thing...”

“You are fortunate to have escaped,” Jonathan said, “If you’re afraid he’ll come after you again, I can...”

He trailed off when Russell shook his head.

“He’s, he’s dead...” Russell said, “He, he strangled me until I like, blacked out. I uh, I was lucky to have, to have woken up before he got to, to where he was going… and to, to have a lighter. I… I set him on fire. Then the Guard of Priwen came and, and, and finished him off.”

The headline about Doris Fletcher had come back into his mind while he told that story. He tried not to think about how much it hurt. He tried to tell himself that it was better the vampire than him. If he hadn’t done it, he would have been trapped, or worse. But had there been a better way? He couldn’t think of one.

“It… it doesn’t, it doesn’t feel right to have, have done that,” Russell said, frowning, “But, it, it seemed like the best idea at the, at the, at the time.”

“It was,” Jonathan said. He looked up, relieved to see the doors of the Pembroke Hospital, “I need you to promise me something, Russell.”

“What, what is it?” Russell asked.

“Those who are aware of vampires are in the minority and we don’t want to frighten too many people, so we keep this a secret. I told you because I felt that was better than you fearing that you were losing your sanity,” Jonathan said, “But you need to keep this a secret as well. I will trust you on that.”

Russell nodded.

“I, I will,” Russell said, “Th-th-thank you, Doctor Reid.”

 

“Oh Jonathan, it’s good to see you back safely. I take it Russell’s ready?”

Edgar was getting the equipment he needed for what he had already knew was a blood transfusion. The symptoms Sean had described added up to all of that.

“Yes, he’s a couple of corridors down,” Jonathan said, although he frowned, “But I’m afraid we would have been having a different conversation if the Ekon that had tried to capture him last night had succeeded.”

“What do you mean?” Edgar said.

“Russell said the vampire mentioned the Ascalon Club, and how you would have paid them a price to have him back from them,” Jonathan said, “The vampire must have been listening in from somewhere and found out about the experiments.”

“Oh dear. Perhaps I shouldn’t have left the window open,” Edgar said, “I’ll have to remember that for next time around.”

“Yes, definitely,” Jonathan said. He just had to hope that after he came to his decision regarding Dawson, they would have no need to make another attempt, “The vampire used Coagulation, the ability you listed in your research, in order to steal Russell’s blood and incapacitate him. I’ve told him the truth about vampires existing, just so he wouldn’t fear that he was losing his sanity. I trust that he will keep it secret.”

“Well, I suppose that is better than him believing himself insane, that wouldn’t help in our experiments at all, and I will have to trust him as well,” Edgar said, “But why? Why him?”

“His intention was to kidnap him and hold him for ransom, most likely so I would turn Aloysius Dawson, as Redgrave mentioned to me in passing before. Luckily, Russell managed to wake up and escape by setting him on fire,” Jonathan explained, “A couple of Guards of Priwen then killed him. I don’t think we need to worry about Russell turning, but it’s clear that he’s suffering from shock and needs a transfusion.”

“I suppose those louts are good for something after all,” Edgar said, although more to himself than to Jonathan, “We’ll see that he gets what he needs here. What are you going to be doing?”

“Reporting to Lord Redgrave about Doris Fletcher,” Jonathan said, “And then we’ll have to see what he will have me do. I also need to speak to Lady Ashbury. We now have a chance of possibly containing the epidemic and I think she will need to hear that too.”

“Please give her my regards, Jonathan,” Edgar said. He then seemed satisfied, “There we are. This will set Russell right again in no time. I better go and see him.”

He then placed a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder.

“Please be careful, Jonathan. I worry about your safety in these times as well,” Edgar said.

“I will be, Edgar. Take care of yourself as well,” Jonathan said.

 

Russell was glad he had been given pain killers beforehand. He had a feeling that this would have hurt a lot more without them. His arm still ached, but it was dull and easy to ignore. They also seemed to have a slight tranquilising effect, if the muffled thoughts and pleasant heaviness were anything to go by. He rested prone against the bed, the said limb resting on top of a pillow for easier access. His crowbar had been left under the bed. He briefly wondered if he would need it.

“How are you feeling, Russell?” Edgar asked.

“I’m I’m feeling all, all right, Doc-Doctor Swansea,” Russell said, “I mean, I know I will be after this is over.”

“Of course, you’re in safe hands,” Edgar said, giving Russell a small smile, “I did have a thought that while you’re here, perhaps we could have another peek into your memories. Perhaps the one involving the man with the ginger hair?”

Russell was silent for a moment. He supposed it might be a good way to take his mind off what had happened last night. He also was curious about that memory, and it was certainly better than delving into the other one. The one he had yet to mention.

He would have to face that one eventually. Not now though…

He nodded. He was here. He was in a comfortable position. He might as well. He felt that he kind of owed Edgar in any case.

“All, all right, Doctor. We, we, we can do that,” he said.

“That’s good,” Edgar’s voice was dropping down so it was gentler and more monotonous, just like it had been during the first session. He gently placed a hand on Russell’s shoulder, “Now, just like last time, focus on your breathing and on me talking to you. A little different from last time is that I would like you to also concentrate on my hand on your shoulder here. Can you do that?”

“Yes, Doc-Doctor Swansea,” Russell replied.

“Good,” Edgar replied, “Let’s begin.”

It took less time than it did in the first session, Edgar noted. It wasn’t long before he could visibly see Russell’s eyes wanting to stay shut every time he blinked. His breathing had evened out, and the tension had left his limbs. He just needed one more push.

“Good, Russell. Good. You’re doing so well. Now just close your eyes and let yourself drift into the peaceful altered state… calm and safe… your mind open and relaxed...”

Russell said nothing. He was in deep. It was time to direct him to the next memory.

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Brothers in Arms

Big Red’s real name had been Earnest and he was a massive man. He was not only tall, but broad-shouldered and muscular. He had very neat ginger hair. He was meticulous in keeping it groomed and out of his face. He had apparently been given the nickname ‘Big Red’ after redwood trees.

He didn’t talk much. He never initiated conversation and most people were lucky to get more than a grunt out of him as an answer if they spoke to him. However, it was plain to see that he was always listening. His green eyes seemed to bore into peoples’ souls. That’s what got people to talk to him whenever they had managed to have some kind of conversation. They didn’t want him to feel left out just because he didn’t talk.

Most people who didn’t know him made the unfair assumption that he was stupid. He wasn’t. He knew his way around most guns and his writing was some of the most astute stuff Russell had ever seen. He also had a talent for whittling wood. He always had some project on the go, even if it happened to be just new forks or spoons. It seemed to keep him calm before the inevitable storms that were their ventures into No Man’s Land.

“Shit… my, my, my rifle’s not, not, not been firing prop-properly...” Russell had been saying as he walked through.

“I was wondering why you were so bad today. Ah, you’re The Cockroach, you’ll live,” another man had said with a small grin. Russell remembered his name being Samuel (nicknamed Rickets), and he had rolled his eyes at that statement.

He never liked that name. It had been his mother’s favourite name for him as well, and for the same reason. But it wasn’t like the others knew that. He let them use it because it seemed to make them happy, and he didn’t want to be a grouser. Besides, everyone else in their little group had a nickname; it was only fair he did too.

“Live, live with-with-without a working g-g-gun?” He had frowned and taken it from his back then to inspect it. Big Red had been passing him and snatched it out of his hands without a word. Russell had no idea what he did with it, but he handed it back about a minute later, looking pleased with himself.

Russell took his chance and fired it over the edge of the trench. It worked perfectly. There was a resounding clang as it shot the helmet of an enemy soldier clean off. That was followed by cheers and laughter as Russell lowered himself back down again before anyone could fire back at him.

“Man, you’re good with that,” another buddy of his said, “You should shoot the eye off a fly.”

“I, I uh, I doubt that,” Russell said, but he grinned, “Thanks, Porky. And you, you, you too, Big Red.”

Big Red gave him a thumbs up.

 

There had been seven of them in their small group. Along with him, there had been Earnest, Frank, Walter, Paul, Samuel and Elmer. None of them knew why they had found their friendship in each other. But they had.

Somehow, he felt a different kind of connection with Walter, and that had only seemed to get stronger as the months had passed. Walter had seemed to feel it too, with how they acted around one another, especially when no one else was paying attention.

He felt the briefest feeling of fear. He had been the one of the ship with him, talking to him about being alone with just the sea and stars for company. What happened with them? Was Walter okay now? Had he been hurt? Where was everyone else?

“Focus, Russell...” Edgar’s voice spoke to him gently, “Focus on the memory...”

Elmer had been the one to come with the nicknames. Earnest was Big Red, Frank was Wingman, Walter was Sneak, Paul was Porky, and Samuel was Rickets. Elmer had picked Armpit for himself (heaven knows why) and Cockroach for Russell.

“Why, why, why Cock-Cockroach?” he had asked.

“Because you survive like one. We’ve seen how you do out there,” Elmer had replied.

“Fair, fair, enough, I uh, I guess...” Russell said, “I uh, I won’t ask why you, you, called yourself, Arm-Armpit.”

“I believe you’ve made a slight error, Russell,” Edgar said kindly. His voice seemed to float in the air above. The memory appeared to pause all around him, “His nickname was Anchor, not Armpit. He chose Anchor for himself. Remember?

“What?” Russell said, before that slotted into place. “Yes, of course… Anchor...”

How could he have forgotten that? Why would someone choose a nickname as silly as ‘Armpit’?

“Let’s go forward...” Edgar said kindly, “Let’s go forward to the day you needed to rescue Earnest...”

 

It was like he had been teleported in an instant. There were gunshots all around. They had been yelled at to fall back for now. Frank was gone. His luck had run out a few days ago. Samuel had lost his life a week prior to that. That had hung heavily on the rest of them. He had done as asked when a massive explosion erupted near him.

He was flung to the ground, but he had been lucky enough not to take the brunt. Dust and dirt had been kicked up around them. He could barely see. He started running again. He heard footsteps behind him and turned so he could shoot.

That was when he saw Big Red on the ground. He fired the rifle and the man who had been running at him fell.

Big Red was alive. One of his arms hung limply. The other was reaching out, desperately trying to find a way to push himself from the ground. Blood had run down from a wound on the top of his head. It cascaded over his face and essentially glued his eyelids shut. He was helpless right now.

Russell had to save him.

“Big Red! Hold on!” Russell called out. He dashed over, replacing his gun onto his back. No one was coming yet. He still had time. He held his hand out, “Come on! Big Red! I’m, I’m here! Take, take, take my hand!”

“Russell?” Earnest’s voice was low and guttural as it came out of his mouth. The name was awkward as it tumbled out from between his lips. He was never used to using his voice to make words, “Leave!”

“N-no! I’m, I’m, I’m not leaving you, Earnest! Come on! We, we, we’ve got time!” Russell said. He knew he couldn’t lift Earnest up by himself. Earnest needed to work with him.

“Leave!” Earnest struggled to get that word out again.

“No!” Russell called back, “Earnest! Just, just, just take my hand and, and, and get up! I, I, I either die with, with, with you or you go with, with me! We’ve, we’ve lost Wingman and, and Rickets. We’re, we’re not, we’re not gonna lose, lose, lose you too!”

Everyone else was long gone. Russell hoped they had made it back safely. Eventually, Earnest relented. He felt for Russell’s hand and grasped it tightly.

“This, this, this is gonna hurt,” Russell said. Earnest nodded, “You, you have to trust me.”

Russell yanked as hard as he could. Earnest gritted his teeth and grunted in pain. He almost staggered and fell back to the ground. One of his legs had been badly hurt as well. Russell supported his weight as best as he could, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to for long. He could hear more gunshots and explosions, as well as the shouts of the enemy behind him.

There was a bang, followed by a tingle rushing through his arm. Despite the lack of pain, he let out a scream, but then kept moving in favour of half-carrying, half-dragging Earnest back to where he and the others had been told to meet.

It wasn’t long before he saw his allies ahead of him. They had realised he and Earnest had gone missing. There were a couple of people he didn’t know. Their eyes were wide with awe and their voices were mixed with tones of amazement and fear.

“Oh my god! He’s alive!” one of the strangers practically screamed as they pointed his finger at them.

“He’s got Big Red with him! Holy hell! He rescued Big Red!” Paul’s mouth had dropped open and he was shaking his head in disbelief.

“He survived! He fucking survived!” another stranger who was just as shocked at the first.

“Of course he did! Why do you think we call him The Cockroach? Come on, beat feet! Let’s go!” it was Elmer who spoke up that time.

Paul and Elmer rushed up to help carry Earnest. Russell covered them with the rifle when his hands were freed. They eventually managed to get back to safety. Russell had gotten a bullet in his arm, but that wasn’t anything new. They just had to pull it out, treat it, and he was good to go again. Earnest couldn’t go back out for a while. He was too injured.

However, his eyes were unscathed. Once the blood was washed away from his face, he was able to see again. Russell had never seen that much gratitude in a face in his entire life.

“Is there anything further than that? Let it come to you… let’s see if we can move forward, just a little bit more,” Edgar said. Everything froze again, “You’re doing very well...”

It took a moment, but then he flashed into another memory. It was a week after that incident, and it had been on his birthday, the Ninth of October to be precise. It had been a Wednesday. He remembered that now. He had turned nineteen. He was nineteen. He knew that again.

While there really wasn’t much to celebrate, or a way to on the front, Earnest had whittled what looked like a medal out of wood for Russell to pin to his jacket as a little gift. That was the one he had remembered in his dream, the one where he was on the boat.

His thoughts went back to Walter, who had walked up and gave him an affectionate ruffle of hair in the memory. His cheeks turned a little bit pink at that. There was just something about him… he still couldn’t help but question what had happened to him. What had happened to everyone else? He was going to have to see that memory again soon. It scared him.

 

“I think that’s enough now, Russell. You’ve done very well again. Go back to the sanctuary, as you did before. Go back, breathe deeply, and relax,” Edgar said.

He had made sure to write down all those details. He could amend the file Russell had first written out. He was especially pleased to see that he had essentially changed one of the nicknames in Russell’s memory. That wouldn’t be of consequence. It was a trivial detail that would be useless elsewhere, and no one he knew was around to dispute it.

There could be so much potential in this. One more idea came to mind. It was perfect to put to the test.

“One more little thing, Russell… I want you to consciously forget this instruction. It will still be in your mind, so you don’t need to be concerned with it,” Edgar paused, thinking about what he could suggest. It needed to be inconspicuous enough, “Whenever you are conscious and awake, and hear anyone say the word ‘remember’, you will fiddle with one of your sleeves, just a small tug or an adjustment of its length. That’s all you will do. Store that instruction inside your mind, where you won’t have to think about it.”

He paused once more. The transfusion was done as well. He could take his equipment back. It had been a successful evening as far as he was concerned. With any luck, Russell could go back to the night shelter tomorrow, or the day after.

“I am going to count you up again, from one to five, and when I do, you will open your eyes, you will be fully conscious and retain the memories that I told you to retain,” Edgar said, “One, two, three, four, and five.”

Russell opened his eyes. The memories were still vivid. His friends. Anchor coming up their nicknames, the rescue, the small birthday celebration. Walter…
What had happened to them? What had happened to everyone?

“I… I remember,” Russell said, “That day, that day, the, the rescue, it had been a scary one…”

“You were very brave,” Edgar said. Russell shook his head.

“I, I was, I was terrified, Doc-Doctor Swansea,” Russell said, “The, the whole time, I was, I was scared outta, outta my mind...”

“As the author Mark Twain himself said, Russell, ‘Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.’ You were scared, yes. But you still saved him, and that’s what made you brave at the time,” Edgar said, “I believe when we have our next session, you will be ready for what you face next, we will be taking you back to the night you washed up here. We will solve the mystery of what happened on your ship. You will remember.”

Russell looked down at one of his sleeves and tugged at it without a second thought. Edgar had to stop himself from smiling. That had worked as well.

“Yes, I, I know I, I know I have to, to face it,” Russell said, “I, I said it before, even if, even if it hurts, I’ll have to face it.”

“And that’s also brave,” Edgar said, “Let me get all this put back where it belongs, and I’ll get you something to help you sleep tonight. How does that sound?”

“S-sure, thank you, Doc-Doctor Swansea.”

 

Edgar stopped on his way back to the room when he heard a familiar voice. Gruff and deep. A frown adorned his face. What was McCullum doing here?

He hurried to where Russell had been left.

Russell had taken to sitting on the bed. It seemed he had wanted to be polite to his visitor and not keep laying down.

Edgar didn’t make his presence known at first.

“So, from what my lads told me, you were nearly kidnapped by a vampire last night but you managed to thrash him,” McCullum said, “You want to talk about that?”

“There’s uh, there’s not much to say,” Russell said, “To, to be honest.”

“Not many vampires kidnap a man, kid,” McCullum said, “Most of them will just kill or turn them into their spawn. Let me guess, he wanted Swansea to do something for him...”

“He uh, he did mention Doc-Doctor Swansea, yes, I uh, I guess Swansea knows them, or something. I uh, I didn’t wanna like, pry into it...” Russell said, “Yeah, the vampire, he uh, he said something about, about the Ascalon Club.”

“You could say that,” McCullum replied. Edgar tightened his jaw. Jonathan hadn’t told Russell of his true nature, and he wasn’t about to let McCullum just spill it, “Oh those bastards, huh? Of course they would want something with the lab rat, something to hold over Swansea’s head to get him to do what they want.”

“I’m, I’m not a lab rat,” Russell said.

“No, you’re not,” McCullum said, “And from what my lads told me, you handled yourself pretty well against that vampire, despite being alone and at a disadvantage.”

“He, he beat me,” Russell said, “He, he, he could have, could have killed me if, if he wanted. He, he only didn’t because he, he wanted me alive for, for this club.”

“You were still determined to fight back,” McCullum said, “After being strangled, if the state of your neck is anything to go by and having your blood stolen, you still had enough will to kick his arse and set him on fire. The Guard of Priwen is always looking for people like you. I wasn’t so sure when I first saw you, but you’ve definitely proven you have some prowess. We could teach you more once Swansea decides he’s done with you.”

Russell’s eyes widened at that thought. Edgar stepped into the room then. He had heard enough and he wanted that idea dispelled immediately.

“McCullum, as nice as it is to see you taking time to visit the sick, I must politely ask you to leave. He’s had a medical procedure done and another breakthrough with his memories,” Edgar said, “I imagine it’s a lot to take in right now. I was just bringing him something to help him sleep.”

“Oh, don’t worry, Swansea, I was just leaving,” McCullum said, “I wanted to make him an offer for when the mystery is finally solved.”

“You say that like I’ll just stop caring,” Edgar said, “I’m hurt, McCullum.”

“We’ll see,” McCullum stood up from the chair Edgar had been sitting on previously, “Remember what I said, kid. That offer is standing.”

Russell reached down and played with his sleeve again.

“Off you go, McCullum,” Edgar said.

“See you, see you, see you later, Mister McCullum,” Russell said. McCullum didn’t reply to either of them as he walked away, “I uh, I have to admit, it, it is a tempting offer.”

“To join those thugs?” Edgar sounded appalled, “Really, Russell?”

“M-maybe...” Russell replied, sheepishly looking away and then looking back again.

Edgar could see in his face that was he seriously considering. He debated sending him back into the altered state right then and there to see if he could erase that notion entirely, or at least make it seem ridiculous.

He opted not to. He didn’t want to push his luck with the successes he had already.

“I suppose we’ll have to see,” Edgar said then. He held out the glass of water and a couple of tablets, “Take these and before you know it, morning will be here. I will have someone check on you and see if you’re well enough to go back to the night shelter then.”

Russell did as he was told. He swallowed the pills and went to lay back down on the bed.

“Thank you, Doc-Doc-Doctor Swansea. For, for all the help,” Russell said.

“Of course, Russell, good night,” Edgar said.

“Good night,” Russell echoed.

 

Edgar didn’t get a chance to do much else. Soon after he had returned his research notes to the inside of his desk, he heard a knocking on the door.

“Come,” he called. It didn’t sound like Jonathan’s knock, and neither did it sound like any of the staff. It couldn’t have been Russell’s, he was hesitant and those sleeping pills would have kicked in quickly.

No one walked in. He frowned and stepped over. He opened the door, already planning to admonish whoever was apparently wasting his time.

He never got to open his mouth. He was suddenly smacked in the side of the head with a heavy revolver. All went black as he crumpled to the floor.

Chapter Text

Chapter 15: Turnabout

He had awoken in the remains of Finsbury Theatre to demands for answers and accusations of being the cause of the epidemic. They wouldn’t hear a word of what he had to say.

He was exhausted. He was in so much pain. His arms ached from being forced to him up for so long, tied to a railing above him.

He couldn’t move. He could barely think. McCullum had gone almost straight away, saying something about ‘taking on the leech’, but he had clearly left who he felt were his best men for the interrogation.

His chest ached. He could hardly breathe anymore. He could feel himself dying. He knew he was. He could barely hold his held up when he heard shouts outside the door. His torturers had gone to investigate. They never returned. His eyes shut and he could feel himself starting to drift away.

“Edgar! Edgar, can you hear me?” Jonathan’s voice met his ears, pulling him up into consciousness. A pair of cold hands lifted his head up so that he could meet Jonathan’s eyes. It was like an angel had arrived from Heaven.

“Jonathan, is it really you?” Edgar managed to speak. He heard the swing of a blade. His hands came lose and he fell to the floor.

“Easy, easy, save your strength,” Jonathan lifted him up. He then pulled an old chair over and walked Edgar to it so he could sit him down at first, “I’ll get you out of here.”

He had so many questions, courtesy of the fight with McCullum he had just had. Would Edgar be able to answer them?

“Don’t try to spare me,” Edgar said, “As a physician, I know all too well when it’s too late.”

He had to pause when he felt some pain pulse through his chest. He continued.

“Punctured lung. Broken ribs. Internal bleeding. An accurate diagnosis, wouldn’t you say?” he managed to ask.

“Edgar. What happened?” Jonathan’s face had some sympathy. Edgar’s eyes briefly shut again. It was like he had forgotten how to open them. He forced himself to focus.

“They wanted me to confess... Beat me black and blue...” he explained.

“Geoffrey McCullum ambushed me at the Pembroke Hospital,” Jonathan said, “He was convinced you and I were responsible for the Skal epidemic.”

Edgar’s eyes widened. Was that why McCullum had visited the hospital? Had he only been pretending to want to recruit Russell so that he could scope out the place and distract him? He shouldn’t have been surprised, but he still found that he was.

“I never imagined that self-righteous fanatic would dare attack us in the open. What became of him?” Edgar couldn’t help but ask. Jonathan paused. But then he continued.

“I put him in a somewhat delicate position when I made him an immortal,” Jonathan said. A cold tone entered his voice when he spoke. Edgar’s eyes briefly widened.

“Really? Are you that was the wisest cause of action?” Edgar asked.

“Time will tell,” Jonathan’s answer there was brief, “The most intriguing part of his accusation was that you and I were the pawns of some ancient vampire.”

Edgar knew immediately who he was talking about.

“William Marshal? Yes. They tortured me to make me confess the same nonsense...” his voice was strained as he struggled to get that out.

“I trust you, Edgar,” Jonathan said, “But the Guard of Priwen is onto something.”

“What do you mean?” Edgar asked.

“William Marshal, for example. You speak of him as if you know him,” Jonathan replied. He fixed his gaze on Edgar’s, “How is that?”

“Jonathan. I cannot say I’m ready for another round of questions,” Edgar protested weakly.

“While investigating the epidemic, I read some of McCullum’s findings. I think you have some explaining to do,” Jonathan said.

“I have nothing to hide, Jonathan,” Edgar said, forcing himself to look back up when he realised his head was dropping to the side, “Nothing at all.”

“Doris Fletcher visited her mother at the Pembroke hospital,” Jonathan explained, “That’s how she first got infected.”

Edgar couldn’t see the relevance.

“I know nothing about that. Miss Fletcher once came to visit the sick,” Edgar replied, “That’s all I know.”

“No Edgar,” Jonathan said. His tone was firm, “There is more. Doris Fletcher was Harriet Jones’ daughter. They exhibited the same symptoms: blind hate and strong physical mutation.”

“What does this sad story have to do with us?” Edgar asked.

“Doris and Harriet showed more than a hidden family bond. They were the embodiment of epidemic and are linked to the Pembroke Hospital,” Jonathan’s voice became sharper, as though hoping to cut through some of the murkiness that had settled in Edgar’s mind, “Come on, Edgar! This no coincidence!”

“But I swear I’m at a complete loss. All I did as administer vampire blood to cure old Harriet. There was no evil plan… no diabolical plot,” Edgar said.

“You did what?!” Jonathan straightened up on hearing that, disgust in his gaze.

“I tested the regenerative and healing properties of vampire blood on Harriet Jones. My only intention was to find the cure for influenza, I swear!” he tried to protest.

That was all he had wanted. Any other results would have been just been a bonus. Hopefully Jonathan would realise that.

He didn’t get a chance to continue.

“Whose blood did you use?” Jonathan demanded, “William Marshal’s? Mine?”

Edgar felt his heart sink. He was in too deep. He had to tell the truth.

“Lady Ashbury’s,” he said, “While transfusing her with human blood, humanely appeasing her hunger, I… I also kept samples of her blood for my research.”

“You used her blood on Harriet Jones? My God, Edgar, that’s unethical! You betrayed two of your patients at the same time!” Jonathan barked back.

“Right! I admit it. I boldly ventured into experimental realms. But I’ve killed no one to appease my thirst for knowledge, Jonathan,” Edgar protested, “I’m no murderer!”

“I never asked to become what I am, Edgar!” Jonathan retorted, as he stepped back towards the chair and leaned down to Edgar, watching him closely, “You chose to conduct your rogue experiments!”

“You have worked beside me. You saw what I’m doing at Pembroke Hospital,” Edgar said, “Jonathan, you know I’m not an evil soul. Just another victim of this tragedy.”

His eyes were shutting again. His body was growing weaker. It was getting harder to talk. Regret was seeping into his systems. He thought he had been doing the right thing, but he had been hasty and not thinking ahead. He hadn’t thought about the consequences.

He really had caused this epidemic. McCullum had been right the whole time.

Jonathan was silent for what felt like a long time. Despite this epidemic, despite his odd ideas regarding Sean, himself, and that American soldier, despite all of the ethics he had broken, despite everything that had happened, he knew none of this was what Edgar had wanted. It had been a foray into folly, motivated by a want for knowledge.

He had been the first true ally he had had after he was first turned and still a lost new-born; someone who knew what he was and hadn’t tried to murder him for it. He had given him a place at Pembroke to work and to hide. He was certain that Pembroke Hospital still needed him too.

Maybe this could be his chance of redemption for the things he had done. It would give him a true chance to reflect and regret. He might not feel any remorse straight away (if he didn’t now), but Jonathan was almost sure that he would. Even if it took centuries, Edgar could atone. That was what he hoped.

“No, Edgar,” he said, “You are not going to die. Unless you want to.”

“What do you mean?” Edgar asked.

“I can save you, Edgar,” he added, “I can turn your broken body into one like mine.”

He was silent so he could let that sink in. Edgar’s eyes widened and his voice wavered.

“You… truly would? After all I’ve done? After all that’s been said, you would offer me this gift?” he asked.

“I have no way of knowing which punishment would be worse, Edgar,” Jonathan said, “But it is not for me to decide. So?”

“Oh please Jonathan, please. I beg you. This is what I have always wanted,” Edgar said. His heart pounded in his chest as he looked up at the vampire, “This what I have always searched for.”

“Very well then,” Jonathan said. He reached up and bit into his arm. The blood pooled around the wounds he made. He then held it out to Edgar, “Prepare to die and be reborn. To face an eternity of guilt.”

“I’m ready. Oh indeed. I’m ready,” Edgar said. He took Jonathan’s arm in his hands. He placed his mouth to the wound and started to slurp down his blood without hesitance.

Jonathan couldn’t help but note the contrast between him and Sean. Sean had been reluctant, afraid even. But he had been unable to resist his own skal instincts to obey the Ekon’s command to kneel and drink from him.

He hadn’t even needed to tell Edgar, who eagerly swallowed down as much as he could in the few seconds that he had had.

“Enough!” he snatched his arm back. Edgar stared into space, his eyes glassy and his lips stained red. His heart was slowing down and his breathing was coming to a stop. His head then drooped, falling against his chest. Jonathan inspected him carefully.

Just like McCullum, he had died. Unlike most, it would only be a matter of time before he came back to consciousness, but not as the mortal he was.

Jonathan hoped he had made the right choice.

 

When Edgar awoke again, Jonathan was gone. However, a sample of blood in a vial had been left behind, along with a note.

“Drink it. It will sustain you enough to return to the hospital.”

Edgar wasn’t about to question whose it was. He could feel his mouth watering and his new fangs itching as soon as he looked at the crimson liquid. He briefly reached up and poked at one of them. So it had all really happened.

So much for the Guard of Priwen not killing humans…

He removed the lid from the vial. The smell was strong and cloying. There was a gnawing in his gut that he couldn’t ignore. He brought the glass to his lips and let the blood run down his throat. It was what he had needed. He could feel energy fill his body in an instant. When he stood, voices flooded his mind. They were neither his thoughts nor Jonathan’s words.

 

“Haven’t you done enough?” the voice was filled with a mix of anger and fear. It was an attempt to persuade them not to try what they were going to do next, “Besides, you can’t kill him! He’s the Cockroach! You’ve seen how he survives anything!”

“Elmer. P-P-Please. Don’t, don’t, don’t get, uh, in-in-involved,” Russell’s voice was shaking, as though he was cold or afraid.

A laugh followed. It was followed by more from different people.

“Heh, we have. But even a cockroach has to die sometime! Now shut it, Armpit! Unless you want to go the same way!”

 

It must have been a sample of Russell’s blood. He was amazed to see that the memories had lasted inside it for even this long, especially without being in a body or a mind to connect it to. Had Jonathan been aware of this? He doubted so. Who would have thought about the possibility? He had gained another piece of the puzzle.

Maybe...

He shook his head.

“No,” he said then, “No more experiments. Not right now… I’ll have to work out an alternative method, perhaps with Jonathan, but this is a new development...”

 

The sun had started to rise by the time he made it back to the Pembroke Hospital. Feeding from those two Guards of Priwen he met on the way had taken some of his time. There was no sign of Jonathan. He found himself amazed when he looked over at some of the sleeping patients. He could see the condition they were in. It was the same with any of the staff. It was remarkable. He couldn’t help but be fascinated.

He peeked into Russell’s room. He was still sound asleep. He didn’t even stir as Edgar approached. From what he had seen before, the slightest sound would have had him waking and reaching for his crowbar. It would be the result of those pills.

Edgar deduced that he would be well enough to return to the night shelter when he awakened. He turned and left again.

 

Russell awoke the next morning. He stretched and ran a hand through his hair. He reached up to remove the gown from his body and to get dressed in his own clothes. He felt better. Not a hundred percent, but a lot better than he was.

As soon as he was dressed, he knelt down to get his crowbar from beneath the bed. He paused, raising a brow.

“Huh?” he eyed the wooden stake that had been left beside it. Had Geoffrey put it there for him? He placed it in of the pockets of his trousers before moving his coat over it in order to hide it from view. He didn’t know why he felt a need to, but he still did. He then hooked the crowbar into his suspenders.

He started to head down the corridor.

 

“Oh, Mister Tolbert, are you going home? Are you feeling better?” Gwyneth Branagan stopped him. Russell nodded.

“Yes. I’m, I’m feeling better, Nurse, Nurse Branagan, th-thank you,” he said, “So, I uh, I uh, I thought it best to, to head back.”

“That’s good to hear,” Gwyneth replied, “You honestly look a lot better as well. Please do take care of yourself though. I know how young lads can feel like they’re invincible but...”

“I, I, I will take better care of, of myself,” Russell said, managing to smile, “You, you, you have, my, my word.”

The sun was shining as he went outside. The feeling of warmth against his face was more than welcome.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: Call Back

“So that’s what you remember so far?” Sean asked as he sat next to him, folding some laundry. His face had become knitted with sorrow when he heard what Russell had told him about his mother.

Russell briefly played with his sleeve. He hoped Sean wouldn’t cry. He had heard that the Sad Saint had a tendency to weep over the injustices in the world, but he didn’t want to be a direct cause of that. The thought made him feel guilty.

“I can only thank the Lord you had Old Bill and your other neighbours looking after you. I would hate to imagine you alone in that situation," Sean continued. He knew all too well what it was like to be betrayed by someone you should have been able to trust.

“Thank you, Sean, I uh, I appreciate that. But yes, these… experiments have been odd, but, but helpful, to say the least, it’s uh, it’s uh, it’s, it’s kinda, kinda nice to like, like, talk about it in a non-non like… formal setting, I uh, I think, I think that’s the, the best way to say it,” Russell said, “But, but yes, that’s, that’s it so far...”

Russell didn’t remember how he had learned to sew yet. He could only assume that perhaps Freyde or Old Bill had taught him sometime before he had gone out to fight, before he had ended up here.

“Have you perhaps considered where you might go if you do decide to go back?” Sean asked. The question was cautious, as though he was afraid that it was crossing the line.

“I was thinking about officially changing my surname to Tolbert and then moving to another state, and starting over. Maybe Washington,” Russell said, “I could write you if, if, if I do go...”

He wasn’t sure if he would anymore. Even if he got all his memories back, the idea of trying to cross the ocean now just made him feel sick for some reason; sick and afraid.

“I would like that,” Sean said, with a small smile.

Russell held up the dress that he had been repairing. He examined it carefully. It looked like it never been torn in the first place. Hopefully Lottie would be happy about that. She had brought in another newspaper and put it on a nearby table so she could bring something else in. Russell briefly glanced at it after she went out.

The main headline mentioned that The West End had been doing a lot better since the death of Aloysius Dawson, due to the man kindly distributing his wealth throughout the district before he died. Maybe things were looking up after all.

Everything had seemed to have calmed down lately. There appeared to be less Skals appearing as the last week or so had passed. There wasn’t as much as dread and fear in the air as there had been either.

He took a shirt next, along with the button that had been put with it, so he could reattach it.

“Do you think you’ll be asked back for another session soon?” Sean asked. He looked uneasy for some reason, like there was something he knew but couldn’t tell anybody.

“Well, there’s, there’s, there’s the problem,” Russell said, rubbing at the back of his neck before he threaded the needle he was holding, “For uh, for uh, for personal re-reasons, Doc-Doctor Swansea said he uh, he didn’t, didn’t see himself fit to continue.”

“So you’re just stuck in limbo, so to speak?” Sean asked. Sympathy came across his face.

“At, at least until he, he worked, worked something else out,” Russell said, as he started to sew the button onto the shirt. His face was riddled with concentration, “It, it might give me a proper chance to…”

He paused. Would Sean approve of him doing that? He was certain he would worry about him.

“To what, Russell?” Sean asked. He eyed the shirt Russell was fixing. He was doing a good job. He had definitely done this before, even he didn’t remember.

“Con-consider joining the, the, the Guard of, Guard of Priwen,” Russell said, “Mister McCullum asked me to uh, to uh, consider joining, for uh, for how well I put up a fight against that, that, that vampire that tried to, tried to capture me. I mean, he said, he said, once I uh, I had my memories back and the, the mystery was solved. The uh, the question of how, how I got here in the first place, I, I mean...”

“Personally, I wouldn’t,” Sean said, “It’s dangerous, Russell. You’re still young, and fortunate enough to have gotten out of the war with your life. They have good intentions, I won’t deny that. But don’t you think you’ve done enough fighting?”

Russell was silent for a moment. He knew that would have been Sean’s answer.

“I… I guess that is uh, is a good, good point,” Russell said. Oddly, it didn’t feel like he had done enough fighting. He wanted a purpose here in London, just in case he never managed to return to The States. That was why he had made that offer to Swansea in the first place. Swansea might have been done with him now, which was why he had to think.

“I won’t stop you if you decide that is the path you want to take,” Sean said, “But there are safer and more peaceful roads to go down. I’ll gladly help you try and find one of those roads. Please remember that.”

Sean took great care to watch his tone. He didn’t want to risk accidentally causing Russell to become swayed to a particular choice because he wasn’t keeping an eye on himself and mesmerised him by mistake. He couldn’t help but notice Russell pausing to fiddle with his sleeve again. There was something odd about it. He knew he had done that sometimes before, but never as often as this.

“I’ll, I’ll, I’ll try and keep that, that in mind. Th-thank you, Sean,” Russell said, smiling once more.

“That’s perfectly all right,” Sean said. Russell held the shirt up in front of himself to inspect his handiwork, “I think you’ve done well with that.”

“Thanks,” Russell said, as he then folded that and placed it down. A pair of trousers came from the pile next. The hems were frayed. That was also an easy fix.

It was odd how he knew what to do without having any memory of how he was taught. He picked up some black thread.

“You clearly have skills and knowledge outside of fighting,” Sean said, “You could perhaps offer something with those skills to others.”

“Yes, per-perhaps,” Russell said, “Thank, thank you, Sean.”

 

“As I mentioned to you earlier, Jonathan, no more experiments on mortals, and that includes him now, despite our previous discoveries,” Edgar said, “I was hoping you would take my place in retrieving the memory of the night he washed up here.”

“And if I hadn’t returned, Edgar?” Jonathan asked, “What would you have done then?”

“I perhaps might have gone and grovelled to Geoffrey McCullum, for his forgiveness and for his assistance,” Edgar admitted, “Or maybe Mister Hampton. Russell knows him better and has more reason to trust him, and Mister Hampton would be less likely to try and kill me on sight. We’ve seen that he’s displayed mesmerism abilities as well, or at least, you have, Jonathan. Even without prior knowledge to the hypnosis mortals use, I’m sure I could have given him a script of sorts to refer to.”

“Yes, I have seen him use it,” Jonathan agreed. Perhaps Edgar was turning over a new leaf, despite seeming a little too enthusiastic about becoming an immortal at first. Of course, it had only been a week or so since he was turned. Things could change, “However, I don’t believe it would have been right to pull Sean into all of this, despite Russell essentially being in his care. I’m glad you didn’t.”

“So you will take my place, Jonathan? Even after everything?” Edgar asked. Some gratitude formed on his face.

“Yes, Edgar,” Jonathan said, “I believe he at least deserves to know what happened to him.”

“I should be honest with you, Jonathan,” Edgar said, “I was unable to resist my own curiosity, and I betrayed his trust as well.”

The flicker of ire in Jonathan’s eyes drove a flash of fear through his nerves.

“What did you do?” Jonathan asked. Despite the look Jonathan was giving him, his voice remained calm.

“I promise it’s nothing deadly or as dangerous as the epidemic,” Edgar quickly answered, “Nothing even physical. But it would most likely for the best if those effects were reversed as soon as possible. Give him a clean slate, as it were.”

“What did you do?” Jonathan asked again.

“Along with the phrase to take him back into the altered state, I played with one of his memories and essentially changed it,” Edgar said, “There was a man called Elmer who gave everyone nicknames in the last retrieval. I changed his. He originally called himself Armpit, Heaven knows why, but I had Russell recall that he was called Anchor instead. I believed it would have been of little consequence.”

Jonathan was silent. The look on his face suggested that he knew Edgar had done more and was waiting for him to say it.

“I added another phrase for him to respond to when he’s conscious,” Edgar admitted, “It was another test that I believed inconsequential. Whenever he hears anyone say the word ‘remember’, he simply fidgets with one of his sleeves. Again, nothing of consequence, it was just a test, which would have eventually gone into more extensive experiments if I had decided to continue.”

Jonathan let out a quiet sigh.

“Anything else?” he asked.

“No,” Edgar said, “I did toy with a few ideas, such as convincing him not to join the Guard of Priwen when Geoffrey showed up to offer him a position, and perhaps even inserting one of us into an older memory, to get him to think he already knew me, or maybe you, but had forgotten… but I never got around to that.”

Jonathan could see that he was telling the truth. He could only be relieved that it hadn’t gotten that far in the first place.

“And as I told you earlier, since my death and my rebirth into this life, I have done some reflecting and I will not be carrying this experiment on any further,” Edgar said, “You have my word, Jonathan. No more experiments on mortals.”

“It’s good to see that you are perhaps finally starting to see some error of your ways,” Jonathan said. He would have to make sure that stayed the case, “I will ask him if he’s perhaps ready to see this memory. If he is, then I will bring him back here.”

“I will hope he says yes. With what I heard from the blood sample, I can tell we’re getting so much closer to seeing what happened,” Edgar said, “If there was foul play, which is looking very likely, perhaps we could even bring those responsible to justice.”

“We’ll see,” Jonathan replied, “I will return soon. Please get a candle ready, just in case I do return with him.”

“Of course, Jonathan,” Edgar replied, “Are you going to tell him what Usher Talltree told you about... well… before the week is up...”

He trailed off, as though unsure of how to finish that question. Jonathan was quiet for a moment, as he pondered over what the card of The Fighter had told the Primate.

A wastrel still lost even to himself. The rabbit who throws himself to the wolves so that the others may escape. A dwindling flame whose final fate will soon be decided.

It had taken some persuasion to convince Talltree to tell him how long it would be before this happened. He eventually managed to get ‘before the week ends’ out of him. He wondered if there was a way to stop it.

But then he shook his head, pulling himself out of his own thoughts.

“No, and right now, I can’t say for certain if I will,” he said. He then turned to leave, “Make preparations, Edgar.”

“Gladly,” Edgar replied.

 

Edgar’s sharp hearing picked up on two sets up footsteps. So Russell had accepted. He briefly wandered what Jonathan had told Russell on their way here. Had he told him about the experiments or his other ideas? Had he told him why Edgar had chosen to stop doing the sessions?

He supposed he would know soon enough.

The door opened and Jonathan quietly ushered Russell inside. Like the first time he had come here, Russell looked hesitant and his hands were tucked into his pockets. His heart was beating faster. Despite wearing a poker face, there was no hiding his anxiety.

“Russell, it’s good to see you, please sit down,” Edgar said, “I’m going to guess Jonathan’s told you that he will be inducing you, and I will be just overseeing things this evening.”

Russell nodded, forcing a small smile.

“Yes, Doc-Doctor Swansea...” Russell said. He swallowed, “I’m, I’m sorry. I’m, I am a bit, a bit, a bit nervous… about, about, what I might, uh, might see...”

“That’s perfectly understandable. This is the event that might have caused your memory loss in the first place,” Edgar said, “But as you know already, just like when you rescued Earnest, it can’t hurt you the second time.”

Russell resisted the urge to say that it could certainly scare him out of his mind the second time. He nodded instead.

“Y-yes, of, uh, of course,” Russell said. He looked down at the crowbar and unhooked it from his suspenders, “I’ll just, just uh, put, put this on the desk...”

“That’s a good man, Russell,” Edgar said, as Russell did so. It made a small clank as he let it rest there. He then went to sit down, just like he had done last time.

It seemed he really wanted to get this over with. He was already trying to take some deep breaths. He got himself sat down and looked at the candle as Edgar lit it up.

“It seems like you remember the routine,” Edgar said. Russell played with his sleeve. Jonathan didn’t fail to notice and gave Edgar a look. Edgar fiddled with his tie and looked away before making himself look back again, “That’s good, that should make things run a lot more smoothly. Jonathan, if you’d like to begin?”

“Of course, Edgar,” Jonathan said. His own voice was dropping into a smooth monotone, “Russell, I would like you to concentrate the candle, on your breathing, and on me talking to you now…”

It took a little longer than during the blood transfusion. Edgar could tell Jonathan was employing some mesmerism while he spoke to him and directed him back. It was plain to see that Russell might not have gotten into the state between wakefulness and trance as easily, even when he had been following those instructions otherwise. He was scared and they would soon find out why.

It wasn’t long before Russell’s eyelids had started to struggle to stay open and the tension slowly left his limbs. His breathing and pulse had begun to even out. He was ready.

“Good, Russell, you’re doing very well. Rosebud... just close your eyes and let yourself slip into that altered state for me...” Jonathan said.

The result was just what they had wanted. Russell fell entirely limp. Jonathan carefully adjusted Russell’s head so it could sit comfortably where it was. It seemed that because Russell had believed Edgar when he told him the phrase would work if Jonathan said it, he had expected it to work as such. He decided it best not to think about it.

“That’s it, relaxed, calm, and safe, where your memories can easily be found again,” Jonathan opted to remove Edgar’s previous suggestions after this retrieval, pausing to allow Russell some time in the envisioned sanctuary. He then continued, “I want you go back to the day you ended up in the ocean, the day you washed up here in London. Allow it to come to you in your own time...”

Russell was quiet for a moment, and then he began to speak.

“The sun was starting to set...”

Chapter Text

Chapter 17: Moonlit Trial

“It’s, it’s Tolbert! Not An-An-Anderson!” Russell had said in response to yet another person calling him by the wrong surname.

“It’s on your dog tags!”

“I don’t care! As far, as far, as far as you’re, you’re concerned, it’s Tolbert!” Russell said.

“Ah, forget about him,” Walter had called from the edge of the boat, “Come here with us for a bit.”

Russell did so, and looked over, so he could admire the sunset. It turned the sky a stunning mix of reds, oranges, and pinks.

“Beautiful, ain’t it?” Walter said, as he stood next to Russell. Russell was doing all he could not to look at the water.

He always found the ocean rather daunting. At least the sky was there.

“Yeah…” Russell said.

“You know what they say, fellas,” Elmer said, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Shame Big Red couldn’t be on the same boat as us. I hope he’s holding up okay.”

“Ah, he’ll be fine,” Walter said, “I’m more worried about everyone else if he ends up getting seasick again.”

“Don’t re-re-remind me,” Russell said, shivering, “It’s a, it’s a shame about Paul though...”

“Yeah,” Elmer agreed, sympathy knitting across his face, “Hey, he’s probably with us in spirit somewhere. Or he’s already been born again as something else. He probably would go down that road if he could, and become some kind of bird. What would you be if you could come back as something else?”

“I think I’d be a cat. Everyone likes to be a cat,” Walter said.

Russell shrugged.

“I, uh, I dunno,” he only said, “Maybe, a uh, a uh… eh, I really don’t know...”

“You could be a giraffe,” Walter said.

“Wh-what? A, uh, a gir-gir-giraffe?” Russell had replied.

“He has a point. You are short, and it would give a you chance to be taller than everything else for a change,” Elmer said, with a grin, “Ah, we’re just joking. Honestly though, it feels good to be going back now, doesn’t it?”

“Sure does,” Walter replied. He dropped his voice so that only Russell could hear, “Especially with you...”

Russell fidgeted as a small smile crept across his lips. But he then felt some anxiety. Walter had been getting bolder lately. He was certain that the few bottles of rum that Elmer had somehow smuggled onto the boat hadn’t been helping matters in that regard.

Jonathan gently suggested to move on forward after the mention of Walter getting bold. Russell was instantly taken to the next stage.

 

He was laying on what passed as a place to sleep. He couldn’t. The boat was rocking around too much. He has chosen to get up and move to the edge. He could look at the stars. He always liked looking at the night sky. It was clear tonight. So many of them were in view, and the light from the full moon bathed everything in a soothing glow.

He couldn’t help but smile as he gazed up. He wondered if humans would ever be able to go up there one day.

“Can’t sleep either, huh?” there was a slight slur in Walter’s voice as he came up to join him. Russell could smell the rum every time he opened his mouth. Russell couldn’t judge. He had a little bit himself. He could still feel the warmth in his stomach, “Yeah, I know how that is...”

Russell chuckled.

“As soon, as soon as we, as we get, get, get home, the uh, the better,” Russell said.

“I hear you,” Walter said, “We’ll go somewhere, start fresh, take my niece with us, forget about that bitch you call a mother, and that insufferable woman who used to be my fiancée.”

He paused as he gazed over the water and the night sky. He then looked back at Russell, a small smile creeping across his lips.

“You know, we’re alone… we’ve only got the sea and the stars for company. Everyone else is asleep, so they can’t say anything about it. We could…”

I know it’s wrong… I know it’s a crime… I know it’s bad… but yet…

He could hear his voice faintly describing what was happening as it unfolded in front of him. He remembered it now.

Walter trailed off, letting the implication hang in the air.

“We, we can’t,” Russell whispered.

“No one will know...” Walter said, “We’ve wanted this for so long.”

He wasn’t wrong. They had been waiting for a moment like this all these months. Walter was right. Everyone was asleep. They wouldn’t get caught. Surely not.

“The Horsemen...” he started to say, but Walter pressed a finger against his lips.

“They’re out for a count,” Walter whispered, “They won’t catch us.”

That had been my mistake… I should have said ‘no’… I should have told him it was the rum talking… I should have told him not to be foolish… I shouldn’t have been dragging him down with me like this… I should have ignored the feelings we had.

The memory wavered in front of him. Jonathan said something he couldn’t properly hear and it came back into focus. He knew what was coming. He had no choice but to re-enact it. Walter’s eyes closed, as did Russell’s. He felt their lips meet.

There was a gap in his memory. Only what seemed like a second later, he felt his arm being grabbed and he was thrown down to the floor of the boat. Walter’s eyes were wide with fear. Russell realised that four of their shipmates caught them. Four very particular shipmates.

Arthur, Lawrence, Chester, and Floyd stood over them. The Four Horsemen. They were known to be very brutal to enemies and allies alike, hence the collective name Elmer had given them. He had come up with that name in an attempt to shame them into having a better attitude for those they had to work with. It had had the opposite effect.

I hate to call anyone evil, but they were evil. They didn’t care at all about how bad their actions were. I know what I was doing was wrong and I deserved some of what I got. But they would have found another reason to hurt me or anyone else even if I hadn’t been doing what I had been doing, just like they did when we were out on The Front. They threatened to blind Elmer if he dared look at them funny again, and Arthur nearly cut out my tongue for my stammering once. They had been getting restless since we got on the water. It was perfect for them.

They were the last people Russell would have wanted to get caught by. Why had his luck come out like this? He wished Big Red was here. He was the only one the Four Horsemen didn’t bother themselves with. Probably because he would break their faces if they dared tried. He wouldn’t have let this happen.

“Huh, who’d have thunk it?” Arthur said. He was Conquest of the group, “We seem to have a couple of perverts out for an evening fondle under the full moon.”

“It’s not what it looks like,” Walter protested, “It’s...”

“Really? Because it looked like to me that a pair of degenerates were about to fuck each other out in the open,” Arthur replied, “Do we need to start sleeping with our asses against the wall now? How did you slip past us?”

I couldn’t let them hurt Walter…

“It… it was… it was my, my idea! I…. I convinced him...” Russell forced out of his mouth, “I… I just… I just thought...”

I let them make their own conclusion. I had to get their attention off of Walter.

“A predator and a pervert, are you? Never thought you the type, Anderson,” Chester, also known as Famine due to eating more than his fair share of provisions, grabbed Russell by his hair and pulled him onto his feet with no effort at all, “Get up, you piece of shit! Walter, look in his eyes! Look in those big blue eyes that hide that dark side of his. And tell us the truth! Did he force you?”

Russell was silent. He already knew what the answer was.

“Yes,” Walter eventually said, “He did. He said he would throw me off the boat if I didn’t… do what he wanted...”

It hurt but I was glad he went along with the story. They would go easy on him. Hopefully. He had a niece to get home to.

Lawrence was War. He stalked up and ripped the wooden medal Earnest had made for Russell off his jacket. It left a large tear in the front. He then threw it over the edge of the boat.

Behind him, Floyd, also known as Death, had removed his rifle from his back without any finesse or thought. More strips of his uniform came off with it as he tore it away. He then held it to Russell’s head.

“What in tarnation is going on here?” Elmer’s voice had spoken up, “What the Hell do you four think you’re doing?!”

“Don’t, don’t, don’t get in-in-involved,” Russell begged, “Pl-please, Elmer. You, you, you got a daughter waiting for, for you.”

He knew if Elmer pushed them too far, daughter or not, they wouldn’t hesitate to kill him either. They had beaten others to the point of serious injury for less, and now they had gotten that taste for power again.

“Just found out your boy here is nothing but a filthy pervert,” Arthur said, “And before you accuse me of being a shit-stirrer, he admitted it himself. Tell him what you told us, Cockroach.”

“Walter? What happened?” Elmer said.

“You’re asking him, not the Sneak,” Arthur said.

“We, we, we… kissed each, each other,” Russell said, “And, and they saw it… but, but it was my idea. I, I, I con-convinced him, Elmer. It’s, it’s, it’s not his, his fault.”

“And we never got to show anyone what we do to nasty little predators,” Chester said, smiling, “I mean, it’s probably better than dying of The Syph anyway, to be quite honest. This sick little piece of shit. Hidden it right under our noses.”

“This ain’t right,” Elmer said, “Only God can judge someone if they’re…”

Russell’s rifle was pointed at his face, forcing him into silence.

“Better,” Floyd said, “We won’t force you to watch any of this. But you know, it might be good to teach anyone who might be getting the wrong ideas.”

“Everyone on your feet and here! Now!” Arthur called out.

 

They beat him first. It was where all the bruises had come from. Not to the point of near-death or serious injury. They wanted it to have more of an emotional impact. It was why they had destroyed his uniform as well. They were trying to degrade him, to make him feel like he was nothing more than dirt. They made Walter watch, making sure to force Russell to look up at his face as often as possible.

That was the scariest thing about the Horsemen to Russell. Aside from physical torture, they knew how to get inside a person’s mind and mess them up that way as well.

Russell saw the looks of the other shipmates. He saw mixed expressions of horror, disgust, and pity. They were revolted by this, even if they didn’t say a word. They didn’t want to be targeted next. Russell couldn’t blame them.

Walter didn’t break. No matter how much he saw, he never broke. He stuck by the story every time they asked. I can only hope they left him alone after what they did to me. They were trying to break me too, make me blame him. I wouldn’t let them. I was so scared, but I couldn’t hurt Walter.

Russell had found himself resting on the floor of the ship again. Both of his nostrils streamed blood, and his body ached. A puddle of bloody vomit had pooled next to his mouth. One of his molars could be seen half-submerged in the crimson.

“Up you get,” Floyd had said, “We have a little thing we want you to do for us. We might just let you off the hook.”

Russell got up. His body wobbled, but he stayed on his feet. How many times had they smacked him in the head? He could hardly think straight.

Arthur’s hand shot up and snatched Russell’s dog tags, pulling them over his head. He made sure to whip Russell in the face with the chain. He then took out a large pocket knife from his own uniform and held it out.

“You’re going to scratch out your names for us,” Arthur said.

“You’re, you’re, you’re going to kill, to kill me,” Russell said, “You don’t, you don’t, you don’t want whoever finds me know-knowing who I, I am.”

“Scratch them out,” Floyd said, as he pushed the end of the gun into Russell’s cheek, forcing the skin to bunch up beneath his eye, “Or this boat’s getting painted with your brains… and I’m sure Walter wouldn’t want to see that, and neither would Old Bill, would he? I doubt he would want to know that he raised you into this… and we won’t tell him if you do this for us.”

Russell obeyed. The grinding noise was hell on his ears, but the meaning behind it was worse. It was a death toll. He worked as quickly as he could. If he was going to die, it would be better to get it out of the way.

“Why the long face?” Chester asked, “I thought you didn’t want to be remembered as Anderson.”

“Fuck you,” Russell said, “Fuck all of you!”

That earned his head being grabbed and his face slammed against the nearby metal railing. There was no pain this time, but he still felt the jolt, followed by dizziness.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Lawrence said. He grabbed the tags. He seemed to be satisfied. He threw them against a nearby corner, “You won’t be needing those. Now then...”

 

They had found some rope next. They tied his legs together and his arms behind his back. His hands went numb as the circulation was cut off. They then left him to discuss what they wanted to do next.

He must have fallen asleep or passed out at one point. Elmer had sneaked over to him. He worked at the ropes. He didn’t untie them, but he loosened them. He also slid something back into the only pocket he had left. That was how his dog tags had stayed with him.

He knew he couldn’t save me directly, not when he was outnumbered by those four, but he knew he could try and give me a chance. He… he was brave that night. They could have killed him anytime. They didn’t care about the consequences. They were too far gone for any of that.

Soon after Elmer did that, the Horsemen came back. They forced Russell onto his feet and stood him on the very top of the railing. They made him look down at the waves that awaited him below. Many of the other shipmates had retreated. They refused to witness this.

“Shame Walter won’t be seeing the send off,” Arthur said, “To think, he killed quite the alarming number of people in the Front and yet he can’t even see this.”

“Haven’t you done enough?” Elmer protested. He had to try one last-ditch attempt to make them change their minds, “Besides, you can’t kill him! He’s the Cockroach! You’ve seen how he survives anything!”

“Elmer. P-P-Please. Don’t, don’t, don’t get, uh, in-in-involved,” Russell’s voice was shaking. He could no longer hide his fear. He never liked the ocean. He swallowed thickly, the coppery taste of blood lingering in the back of his throat, “You have, a, a daughter, and, and a wife...”

Arthur laughed. He was quickly joined by the other Horsemen.

“Heh, we have. But even a cockroach has to die sometime! Now shut it, Armpit! Unless you want to go the same way,” Arthur said.

Wait… Armpit? I thought his nickname was…

“His nickname was Armpit, Russell… you can remember that now,” Jonathan said. Anchor was erased from that thought before it could form, “You remembered correctly the first time.”

The memory resumed.

“We’ve decided we’re not going to waste a bullet on you. It’s too good of a death anyway,” Floyd said, “Although we still decided to put your rifle to good use.”

Russell felt a jolt on the back of his head as the barrel was smacked into it. He fell forward towards the sea. Everything went black. He was almost certain he heard Walter screaming his name, but perhaps it was just an illusion.

 

He awoke unable to breathe. His face was under the water. With great effort and flailing, he managed to turn himself over so his head was above the surface. He was so cold and his body was tingling all over in place of the pain he had no doubt felt. There was no sign of the boat. How long had he been out here? He felt fatigued, but he was going to have to swim.

But where? Where could he even go? He struggled to force himself to move. The ropes on his arms were eventually shucked off. A remnant remained stuck there, knotted around the limb. He would have to work out how to get it off later. He moved his legs apart repeatedly. They eventually came free as well.

His clothes were weighing him down and his muscles didn’t want to work, but he had managed to escape that particular prison.

I don’t know why I didn’t give up. I don’t know why I was trying to survive. I still don’t know now.

He eventually found some kind of large ring that was bobbing in the water. A kisby ring? Was what they were called? It must have come from another ship. It was able to hold his weight when he grabbed onto it. He just had to hope he wouldn’t let go when he inevitably passed out again. He looped the rope that was still knotted onto his arm around it, just to be safe. He had no idea where he was going as he used it to help himself swim.

It’s funny… I ended up thinking that I hoped no one would need it more than I did… Oh God. I hope they didn't... what if someone else drowned because they needed it and I took that away from them...?

Jonathan gave him another careful reminder to concentrate and those thoughts were quick to fade again.

He kept experiencing gaps in his memory. He could only assume that they were lapses in consciousness. When he woke up for what was the last time on that journey, the first thing he noticed was that he was freezing and wet. His feet were still partially dangling in the water he had been floating in. The second thing was that his entire body was painful and stiff. A sudden icy hand on his throat was the third.

The memory seemed to pause just as those murky white eyes of that thing, that skal, came up to meet his blue.

He remembered now. So that was how he had gotten here. Sheer dumb luck after a failed murder attempt.

“Go back to the sanctuary. You’ve seen enough,” Jonathan’s voice was gentle and kindly as he guided Russell back to the field, “Go back. You’re safe there. It’s peaceful and your mind is calm. The memory can’t hurt you anymore.”

 

Jonathan slowly looked up at Edgar. Edgar's mouth had dropped open sometime during the anecdote. His eyes were wide. Wet streaks adorned Russell’s cheeks. They shimmered from the light of the candle.

“By the sacred stole...” was all that Edgar said before he cleared his throat, “It’s no wonder he forgot. I think anyone would have wanted to. I suppose the mystery is solved but… I can’t say I feel happy about it. To think, I had been so eager to find out what happened.”

Jonathan couldn’t help but think of Seymour Fishburn. Before he had met his own fate, he had exactly the same kind of mindset as these Horsemen. They knew what they were doing was wrong, but they simply didn’t care. They enjoyed it far too much. Having an excuse just made it all the better.

It was unlikely they would face prosecution for it either if the truth became known. There was a high chance they knew that. It had been perfect for them, just as Russell had said.

“Russell, listen to me carefully,” Jonathan said, “You did not deserve any of what had happened to you. You did not deserve the treatment the Horsemen gave you. This type of trauma and what you have been told about… what you are... takes time to overcome… but there is no judgement here...”

“It’ll take time he might not have...” Edgar said, more to himself than to Jonathan. Jonathan gave him a brief look. It told him to be quiet for now.

“...but I want you to keep in your mind that you did not deserve this,” Jonathan continued, as he rested one of his hands on top of Russell’s head again, “I want you to remember that every time you start thinking that you did. What they did to you was wrong. There is no justification for their behaviour, even if they or others might believe it.”

Russell was quiet.

“I also want you to know that the word ‘rosebud’ will no longer have an effect on you, whether said by myself or Doctor Swansea,” Jonathan said, “The same goes for when you hear the word ‘remember’. However, I do want you to try not to blame yourself for any of what happened. Do you understand, Russell?”

“Yes...” Russell said.

“Good,” Jonathan said, “Now I’m going to gently count you up into an awakened state…”

 

Russell opened his eyes on the last number. The first thing he realised was that he had been crying, much to his embarrassment. The second was the feeling of horror that crawled into him when he remembered that he had revealed he had loved another man. Despite Jonathan’s reassurance that there was no judgement here, he still felt dread creep around in his veins. He sat forward and pressed his face into his hands.

“Oh, oh God...” he only said, “Oh God… I… I… I know I had, had to face, face the truth, but… just…”

He paused, shaking his head.

“Even after, after, after all of, all of this… I… I can’t help, can’t help but, but worry about Walter… did, did they, did they kill him too?” Russell said.

“You’d think if he really loved you that much, he would have defended you,” Edgar said. Russell shook his head.

“No. I, I, I couldn’t let them hurt him,” Russell said, “Be-be-besides, better, better one, one of us dead, than, than all of us… and, and, better, better me than, than them...”

It didn’t change the fact that they could be dead as well. The fear of that bubbled inside of his chest. His heart pounded faster again. He slowly started to stand up. His hands shook as he pulled them away from his face. There was a haunted look in his blue eyes.

“I… I think, I think I, I just need some time… some time to… to think about all of this,” Russell said, “Thank, thank you for the, the help, but, I just, just need some time and, I should, I should, I should probably head back… please, have, have a, have a nice evening.”

“Do you want someone to go back with you?” Jonathan asked. He briefly wondered if he should have insisted on the matter. Surely, someone wouldn’t try to assault or kidnap him again, right?

“I… I… I’ll, I’ll be fine,” Russell said, “Thank you, Doc-Doctor Reid.”

“Please remember what I said,” Jonathan said, “You didn’t deserve any of what happened.”

“I’ll, I’ll try… thank you, Doc-Doctor, Reid, and you too, Doc-Doctor Swansea...” he said, “I’ll, I’ll see you later...”

He hurried out then, a little faster than what might have been considered normal.

“Should we have let him go then?” Edgar asked, after a brief silence.

“It’s hard to say,” Jonathan replied.

 

The next night, Sean showed up at the hospital. He didn’t hesitate as he made his way to Jonathan’s office. Jonathan briefly looked surprised to see him.

“Good evening, Sean,” he said, “It’s a pleasure to see you doing well. What can I do for you?”

“As with you, Doctor Reid,” he said, before he then decided to ask, “Did Russell stay with you here at the hospital?”

“No, Sean,” Jonathan said. He could already see concern riddling Sean’s face, “He left soon after we concluded the night’s retrieval.”

“Oh no,” Sean said, “I was hoping that maybe he had.”

He paused, as though trying to word what he wanted to say, and then he fixed Jonathan with his worry-riddled golden gaze. Jonathan's heart sank. He had the awful feeling of what Sean was going to say before he even said it.

“He never came back last night.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 18: Ill-Met by Starlight

Jonathan was silent for a long time, debating what to tell Sean. He then gestured for Sean to come in and closed the door behind him when he did.

If Russell wasn’t in any danger, a thought came to mind to why he hadn’t gone back to the night shelter. Would it be right to share that detail?

“He had another memory retrieval, as you know,” Jonathan said, “However, the memory we had him recall was of how he washed up here in London and it was definitely the most traumatic of the three sessions he had. Perhaps he felt that he needed time to process it and reflect on what he saw.”

“Wouldn’t he have come back though?” Sean said, concern still riddling his face, “He has said before that he needed some time to think and most have respected that whenever he’s asked.”

He frowned then. His golden eyes seemed to stare into Jonathan’s soul.

“Doctor Reid. Please be honest with me,” Sean said. Jonathan felt a guilty fluttering in his stomach at the earnest tone of his voice.

“Sean, you must hold this in the strictest of confidence,” Jonathan said then, “This is in regards to a patient and it is a breach of the Hippocratic Oath to tell you.”

“I will never tell another soul,” Sean said. Jonathan could plainly see he was telling the truth. He paused, and then spoke once more.

“Russell was on a ship home from the Front, as he’s probably already told you,” Jonathan explained, “However, he became the target of four particularly brutal soldiers. One of his friends had even nicknamed them The Four Horsemen, Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. They were said to be ferocious towards allies and enemies, just because they enjoyed it.”

“That doesn’t surprise me, with a name like that,” Sean said, before he then shook his head. Some sorrow was already crawling onto his face, “Please, carry on.”

“I will spare you the details, but they were enough to have affected Russell to the point where he lost his memories, both from the physical injuries to his head and the psychological trauma,” Jonathan said, “They eventually knocked him unconscious and threw him into the sea, hoping he would drown. He was lucky to have survived. As I said before, he probably needed some time by himself.”

“Doctor Reid. Is there something you’re not telling me?” Sean said, “I won’t hold you to any blame. It’s those four people that attacked him that have to be judged by God.”

“I’m afraid there is, Sean,” Jonathan replied, “But even after giving you this information with regards to how he got here, I don’t think it would be right for me to tell you why it happened. It will be up to him in the end.”

Despite his calm tone, he was still concerned. Sean could tell. Although they didn’t voice it, they were both already starting to wonder if something else had happened. Had he been attacked on the way back to the shelter again, or had retrieving the memory caused him to…

Jonathan could see that the same kind of thoughts were running through Sean’s head.

“We will find him,” Jonathan said, “I promise, Sean. Edgar was right, I shouldn’t have let him go so soon, but I felt that it would have distressed him further to make him stay here.”

“I don’t have any blame for you, Doctor Reid,” Sean said, “Anyone can make make mistakes. We’re only human...”

He awkwardly trailed off, that last word dying on his tongue before he could really finish it.

“I mean... I believe you know what I mean,” he said.

“Of course, Sean,” despite the situation at hand, Jonathan still managed to smile about that, “But I must take this as my responsibility. I will find out where he is and...”

 

The door opened.

The slightest hint of fear crossed into Sean’s eyes as he watched Geoffrey McCullum walk in. Geoffrey had been opening his mouth to say something, but then his gaze fell on Sean. He paused and then huffed.

“Fucking hell, Reid, you turned the Sad Saint too? That’s low,” McCullum said, "Lower than you turning me."

“It was much better than the alternative, Geoffrey,” Jonathan said, “I have my reasons to believe that if I hadn’t, the Docks area would be in a much sorrier state.”

Sean nodded. Jonathan was glad to see that Sean had definitely realised that now, despite the initial experience being an unpleasant one on the skal’s part.

“However, I don’t believe that’s why you’re here, Geoffrey. So may I ask why you’ve come to visit?” Jonathan asked.

“I wanted to ask if you had solved that boy’s mystery, finished frying his brain yet,” he asked, “I would have gone to ask Swansea but I think I would try to stake him as soon as I saw him. You should be thankful that I’m practising some restraint.”

“I suppose I should be,” Jonathan said. He had a feeling that Geoffrey meant that, “We did find out how he ended up in London and yes, we’re finished with the retrievals, or at least, I believe so.”

“You believe so?” Geoffrey asked, raising a brow.

“The last memory he recalled was particularly traumatic, both physically and mentally, and his mind might have been affected, more than I previously considered,” Jonathan explained, “He’s been missing since last night, which is obviously a cause for concern.”

“Is that why I heard you in my head last night, hearing ‘you didn’t deserve any of what happened to you’?” Geoffrey asked. Sean’s eyes widened on hearing that, “At first I thought you were trying to tell me that. It took me a moment to realise you were trying to convince him that he wasn’t at fault.”

“I… I must confess, I heard the same thing,” Sean admitted.

“As you know, that is common between a maker and his progenies,” Jonathan said, “I haven’t yet found out how to stop it from happening. Edgar informed me of the same, that he sometimes hears my voice in his head. But yes, Russell partially blamed himself for what he went through, and I was trying to convince him otherwise. There was no justifying what his attackers did. But I apologise that you heard it too.”

“So now his head’s been scrambled and he’s gone missing,” Geoffrey said, “You sure he’s not somewhere barking like a damn dog or maybe trying to murder someone because Swansea told him to?”

“He wouldn’t have done that,” Jonathan said.

“He created the epidemic, Reid!” Geoffrey scoffed.

“The stuff you’re thinking of is for parties and mystery novels, Geoffrey,” Jonathan said, “As Edgar mentioned to me during his research, a hypnotised subject will not do anything they wouldn’t be inclined to do while conscious, and I highly doubt he would kill someone just because he was asked. He felt guilty for setting the vampire that tried to capture him on fire.”

“I hope that was before he found out the leech really was a leech,” Geoffrey said, “And of course, I know that. Way back, before everything went to shit, Carl Eldritch taught me it. He and I used to use it on humans who had been forced to forget a leech encounter. You’re correct of course, a hypnotised subject will not do something they’re not willing to do normally.”

“I can hardly imagine you in such a role, Geoffrey,” Jonathan said, “As gruff as you are...”

“Then you need a better imagination, Reid,” Geoffrey said.

“Where are you going with this Mister McCullum, may I ask?” Sean asked. His voice was quiet and polite.

“A hypnotised subject won’t do something that goes against their morals, that is true. But what about a mesmerised subject? That goes beyond what a human can do,” McCullum asked.

“I highly doubt Edgar has done anything like that,” Jonathan said.

“Like he’s not done anything reckless or immoral before,” Geoffrey said, rolling his eyes.

“I still think this would be too much even for him,” Jonathan said, “And he did not mean to create the epidemic.”

“Mean it or not...” Geoffrey paused and turned his eyes towards the entrance.

“Mister McCullum...” Sean started to speak, but Geoffrey answered the question before he could finish it.

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” Geoffrey said.

 

“Can you blame me? I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in Pembroke could hear you,” Edgar said, as he stalked into the office, “All this talk of me mesmerising that boy and turning him into some kind of assassin… what do you take me for?”

“I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just saying I wouldn’t be shocked if you did,” Geoffrey said.

“Let’s not argue,” Sean spoke up. His voice was still quiet, but it had become firm, “Arguing isn’t going to get us anywhere and Russell could need us. He could be hurt.”

“He’s right,” Jonathan said, “We need to think about where he might have gone and...”

 

Another two sets of footsteps. Jonathan briefly thought about asking what had happened to knocking as a pair of Priwen members stepped into the room.

“Boss, I think we spotted him, we spotted the Survivor,” one of them said, as they pulled down their red bandanna in order to talk, “In the West End.”

They either didn’t realise that McCullum had been turned into an immortal, or they knew and just didn’t care.

“What, and you two didn’t think to come sooner?” Geoffrey asked.

“We were trying to keep an eye on what he was doing,” the other one said, “And well, it’s not looking good. He’s completely tripped out.”

“Stargazing,” the first one added.

“Well, he does like the stars,” Sean said. The tone in his voice suggested that he had little hope that that was really the case.

“It’s an expression, Saint,” Geoffrey said, confirming his fears. There was little malice in his tone, but there was a firmness that suggested that he found this serious, “We use it to refer to someone who’s been mesmerised and made to do something.”

The worry never left Sean’s face. In fact, it only seemed to crawl over his entire body. Geoffrey then turned back to his men.

“Did neither of you think to try to net him and bring him back here? He’s only what, eight stone? We’ve had to drag heavier,” Geoffrey said.

“A few skals came by and we got side-tracked fighting them off,” one of them said, “By the time we looked back, he was gone again.”

“But we did notice something else before they came,” the other added, “He had a gun in his pocket, and he muttered something about a tall tree...”

“A tall tree?” Sean raised a brow.

“Not a tall tree,” Jonathan said. The conclusion came almost too quickly, “Usher Talltree. The Primate of the Brotherhood of Saint Paul's Stole. From the few pieces of evidence we have, it seems that he’s been sent to kill him.”

Immediately, almost everyone’s eyes turned onto Edgar. His own widened at the silent accusation.

"Please, gentleman, let's, let's not jump to conclusions..." he started to protest.

“I had no idea he was a leech too...” one of the members of Priwen said.

“Well, he is,” Geoffrey said, “Why else did you think he survived? Dumb luck? Those fucking idiots going too damn far… this wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

“This is preposterous,” Edgar said, “Jonathan, I have not done anything of the sort. I spent the evening here at the Pembroke Hospital last night. You know I did, and Russell’s been staying with Mister Hampton for the past week, he would have known if I was there.”

“I suppose I would have,” Sean said. No one seemed convinced.

“We’ll discuss this later, Edgar,” Jonathan said, “I’m going to go and find him. I can only hope we’re not too late.”

“You two, guard Swansea, make sure he doesn’t go anywhere,” Geoffrey instructed.

“Got it,” one of his allies said.

“Saint, stay here, you’ll be safe,” Geoffrey said.

“If you’re sure,” Sean said. There was something in his tone that suggested he was reluctant to stick to that command.

“I am,” Geoffrey replied, “Reid, I’m going with you.”

“He’s my responsibility right now, Geoffrey,” Jonathan said.

“And he might become a member of the Guard yet,” Geoffrey replied, “Besides, you don’t know what else might be out there.”

“You may have a point,” Jonathan replied.

“Jonathan...” Edgar started to protest as they turned to leave.

“We’ll discuss this later,” Jonathan only repeated. He and Geoffrey were gone before Edgar could say anything else.

Edgar was silent for a long time, staring out into the corridor they had gone down.

“I… believe you, Doctor Swansea,” Sean said, “I think I do in any case.”

“At least that’s one person...” Edgar replied, “Thank you, Mister Hampton.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 19: One Card Short

His mind had been emptied until nothing but his new objective remained. His face was blank as he made his way towards his destination. Not even the growls or moans of the stray skals caused him to flinch. He simply took out them with his crowbar if any of them dared get too close. He dismissed any civilians who tried to speak to him with a simple ‘I can’t talk right now. Sorry.’

Six bullets. More than enough to kill anything that moves.

A handgun was safely tucked in the large pocket of his coat. It wasn’t about to fall out. One of his instructions was that he had to use it on his target. He was not to waste any of the bullets inside on something like a skal.

You are to find a tunnel beneath Temple Church. Approach from behind the building and you will see it. Enter it. There, you will find a man called Usher Talltree and you will kill him. You must not let anyone stop you. You will not let anyone stop you.

The instructions had been planted so intensely that they overshadowed anything else. Nothing was going to stand in his way. He peered out the alleyway he had been walking through and headed down a street.

He didn’t have far to go now.

 

“I’m assuming we’re on the same page, but just to be sure, Reid, what’s the plan?” Geoffrey asked. He ran at an even pace alongside Jonathan.

“We head straight to Temple Church,” Jonathan answered, “If he’s not gotten there by now, we can ambush him.”

“Good to know we are on the same page,” Geoffrey said, “Because that’s exactly what I was thinking.”

“I can only assume you know where the tunnel is, considering you had some of your thugs steal his notebook,” Jonathan said.

“Of course I do, and that was just in case,” Geoffrey argued, “I know for a fact he’s not human.”

“Maybe not,” Jonathan replied, “Which gives me some hope that even if Russell gets there before us, he’ll have some way to defend himself, or at least, he’ll know that he’s coming and prepare somehow.”

“He just might,” Geoffrey replied, “Do you really think Swansea put him up to it?”

“I want to believe that he didn’t,” Jonathan said.

“If I was a betting man, I’d be putting all my money on him,” Geoffrey said, “So I suppose it’s a good thing I’m not.”

Jonathan opened his mouth to speak but that was interrupted by a blood spear suddenly coming his way. He managed to dodge in a shadowy sidestep before it could hit him.

“Of course we still got some leeches lurking,” Geoffrey said, as the two Ekons came into view. He aimed his crossbow as they approached, “At the worst possible time…”

The two Ekons didn’t say anything. One of them formed a blood barrier around him. Geoffrey’s nose twitched at the strong scent of it. The other was getting ready to fire another spear. Geoffrey didn’t hesitate. He fired the crossbow, causing one of the bolts to shoot right into the eye of the one who was adept in using the spears. He let out a small cry and staggered.

“I’ll handle the leeches,” he said to Jonathan, “Go find him.”

 

Usher Talltree nonchalantly looked back down at the cards that he had placed in front of him. There were two of importance on this night. One portrayed a wooden doll with white cords attached to its arms and the top of its head. The strings went up into the hand of an unseen puppeteer.

The other portrayed a king, sitting on a glass throne that had started to crack. The crown on his head had become rusted, or perhaps stained with blood. A skeletal hand was hanging off of it. There was hate in the man’s eyes as he stared up from the image.

“He never could do his own work,” was all Usher said to himself, “Even now, he sends a puppet in his place.”

He heard footsteps approaching then. They were cautious yet quick and determined. An unflinching walk. It had been a while since he had heard something like that.

“You came a little later than I was expecting,” he calmly called out when he saw the feet on the steps, “But I suppose better late than never. You might as well come forward and present yourself.”

There was no response. He hadn’t been expecting one. Mesmerism seemed to turn most people mute or only willing to say very little. He watched as the young man continued his descent. He didn’t stop at all, approaching without a single word. The look on his utterly blank face was unmistakeable.

Russell didn’t hesitate. He removed the gun from his pocket and aimed. Usher didn’t make any moves. He simply fixed his brown eyes onto Russell’s vacant blue.

“Drop the gun,” he said, no hint of fear in his voice. If the person who mesmerised him truly was who he suspected, then it should be easy to break him out of it, “I know you don’t want to shoot me.”

Russell didn’t drop the gun, but he hesitated. Usher noticed Russell’s fingers twitch, as though he wanted to let go, but simply couldn’t. It was the tiniest movement, but still perceivable to anyone who was watching carefully.

“Drop the gun,” he repeated. Russell’s brow seemed to furrow, like he was trying to wake up from a bad dream that just wouldn’t let him go. His arm started to slacken. Usher opened his mouth again.

But before he could repeat the command, the blank look returned. Russell’s arm came back up and he pulled the trigger. A bang erupted through the tunnel. He then did it again, unleashing another bullet out into the open. He did it once more, not planning to give the Primate any chance of escape.

 

Jonathan kept running through the streets. Geoffrey was careful to keep up, covering him from any Ekons or Skals who got too close.

A few of Geoffrey’s men had arrived as well and offered their assistance in battling the vampires that tried to get in their way. They hadn’t spotted Russell anywhere. Jonathan was starting to get more and more concerned that Russell had made it to Temple Church first.

It seemed that these vampires wanted to keep him and Geoffrey from getting there for as long as possible.

“They should have netted him and brought him back,” Geoffrey said, “I can’t believe they just let him go.”

“We can’t concern ourselves with that right now,” Jonathan said. They were almost to the crypt where Usher could be found, “We need to…”

He cut himself short when the bang met his ears, shortly followed by another and then another. His blood ran cold. Was he too late? Was Usher hurt, or worse perhaps?

The whole world around him seemed to become a blur as he closed that last gap between himself and the entrance to the tunnel. He didn’t waste time in running down the steps.

He feared what he would find.

 

Russell stared straight ahead of him. The recoil had pushed him back a few steps each time he had fired the gun, but he otherwise didn’t react to the assault that he had initiated. The barrel of the revolver smoked slightly, but Usher had vanished.

The three bullets harmlessly bounced off the wall that had been behind him before falling to the floor with quiet clinks. It took Russell a moment to realise that he hadn’t blown the Primate’s brains out.

Where had he gone?

He stood still, like a mouse under the gaze of a snake. Where was he? His blank eyes shifted around in their sockets.

Usher suddenly emerged from beneath the desk. In a surprising display of strength, he lifted the chair he had been sitting on and threw it. Russell had no time to react and he was knocked to the ground. He still aimed the gun and squeezed the trigger back. Another bang. The fourth bullet was fired right as the gun smacked out of his hand. It hit the ceiling and then fell down again, its momentum stopped.

Russell pushed the chair off of him, then made a move to get up and run after it, but a blow to the side of his head stopped him. He swayed and fell on one of his knees.

“Perhaps now you’ll listen,” Usher’s voice said from above him.

 

“Russell! Are you down here?” Jonathan called. Usher paused and briefly turned his head in reflex. That was enough of an opportunity. Russell took his chance to push the chair farther away and run to where the gun had landed.

Jonathan came hurrying down the stairs. His first thought was relief that Usher didn’t seem to be hurt at all, despite what he had just heard. The fourth bang had made his heart leap into his throat. His next was that Russell still wasn’t done.

He saw Russell get back onto his feet and run up to where the gun had fallen, stooping so he could retrieve it. Usher must have knocked it out his hands. He rushed past Usher and grabbed Russell’s wrist, pulling him up straight before he could grab it.

His fingers uselessly made grabbing motions, as though still hoping to take the gun despite it no longer being in his reach.

“Enough, Russell,” Jonathan commanded, “You need to stop.”

You will not let anyone stop you.

Russell struggled to wrench his arm away. He grabbed the crowbar from his suspenders and swung it as hard as he could, hitting Jonathan in his cheek.

It surprised Jonathan more than hurt him. But that was all Russell had needed. Jonathan’s fingers came loose. He pried them open while he had his chance. He dropped back to the ground and wrapped his fingers around the gun. He turned, searching for Usher. Usher had once again vanished. He had taken his chance to move while Russell and Jonathan were distracted.

The gun was suddenly kicked away from his hand before he could fully grasp it. He was then grabbed back up onto his feet again.

“You really are off in space, aren’t you, lad?” Geoffrey said from behind him. A pair of arms wrapped around him, pinning his own to his sides and his back to Geoffrey’s chest, “You see, Reid. You can learn something from me. You need to pin both of them down. Stops them using the other one.”

Jonathan rolled his eyes. Of course Geoffrey wouldn’t have been able to resist making a jab at him for that brief mishap.

“Jonathan Reid and Geoffrey McCullum. I never thought I’d see the day where the head of the Guard of Priwen would willingly work with a vampire,” Usher said, “But I suppose in a situation like yours, McCullum...”

“Save it,” Geoffrey growled back, still holding onto the squirming boy as tightly as he could, “It’s like you don’t realise I’m holding onto the person who’s trying to murder you right now.”

“As you wish,” Usher replied, “I admit, it’s not a common greeting, having a gun pointed at your face. But I suppose it makes things a little more interesting.”

“Yeah, you can thank your colleague for that later,” Geoffrey said, “Right, Reid, hurry up and bring him out of it while I’ve got him.”

“I would, if it had been Edgar Swansea who sent him,” Usher replied.

“What?” Geoffrey raised a brow, “If it wasn’t him, then who...”

Russell raised a foot and kicked him in the groin, driving the sole of his boot in. Just like with Jonathan being hit with the crowbar, it was more surprising than painful. Russell managed to slide out from the grapple and back to the floor.

His eyes shifted for the gun. He spotted it and ducked before Geoffrey could grab him again. He then hurried towards it.

“If he wasn’t stargazing, I’d be pissed about that,” Geoffrey said. Jonathan was the next to try and pursue him.

Russell pointed the gun forward once he had it back in his hands. He pulled the trigger back without hesitating as he moved away. Another bang echoed through the tunnel. But he missed in his haste to step backwards while firing.

There was only one bullet left. He couldn’t waste it. Jonathan fixed his gaze Russell’s blank blue. Russell stared back.

“Russell. Drop the gun,” Jonathan suddenly ordered. This time, Russell’s arm slackened more than it had been before, as though it was too heavy to hold up. He struggled to defy that command however and lifted it back. His hand shook, as though it took every bit of effort just to do so. He aimed again at Usher, determined to make the last shot count. Despite this, Usher didn't move.

If you fail, you must return…

“Usher! You need to...” Jonathan sped up in his movements, determined to catch Russell before he could cause any serious harm or escape. But he stopped on seeing a new arrival.

A pair of gentle hands settled on Russell’s temples, briefly freezing him in his tracks. His instinct was to turn around and hit whoever it was with the crowbar, but that notion was wiped away as soon as they spoke, before he even got the chance.

“Please, Russell, listen to Primate Talltree,” a kind voice with an Irish lilt said in his ear, “Listen to Primate Talltree. All he wants is for this to end peacefully. Listen to him.”

Usher nodded approvingly at Sean as he approached, who had manifested in a black fog behind the young man and thought quickly to talk him down. He didn't seem at all surprised by Sean's sudden appearance.

“Drop the gun,” he repeated that command. Russell did this time. It landed on the floor with a metallic clank, “Good. Now the crowbar.”

Russell hesitated. His grip on the tool briefly tightened.

“Listen to him,” Sean repeated. His voice remained soft. He rubbed Russell’s temples in soothing circles.

He obeyed. The crowbar followed, also dropping to the ground with a quiet clink.

“Well, that saves me from having to throw this,” Geoffrey eyed a knife he had gotten out of his pocket and replaced it.

“That’s good, that’s very good,” Sean said.

“It is. Jonathan, I will trust you to take it from here. Russell, listen to Doctor Reid now,” Talltree said. He was certain Russell had taken that instruction in, "If you can keep him like that for a moment longer, Mister Hampton..."

"Of course," Sean said quietly.

Jonathan and placed his hands over Sean's. Sean felt Russell wanting to pull back from the firm yet painless grasp. He whispered a quiet reassurance in his ear and Russell relaxed again.

"What am I saying to him, exactly?" Jonathan asked.

"Tell him that he's free from the enslavement that's been forced upon him, and that no longer has to be obey the one that did this to him. I also suggest telling him to sleep," Usher said, "Putting a subject to sleep for a while allows their mind to let go of the previous instructions entirely. I suppose it's because dreams are said to be the mind organising what it's learned."

Jonathan did as was suggested. He trusted Usher's judgement on the matter.

"Do you understand, Russell?" Jonathan asked softly, once he was certain he had said that he needed to.

“Yes,” Russell said after a long pause. His voice still sounded rather distant and it was hoarse, as though his throat was dry.

“Impressive,” Geoffrey said.

“Good. Sleep for now. Rest,” Jonathan instructed, “You will wake up as yourself. Your real self.”

"That should definitely get rid of the last remnants of the mesmerism he suffered," Usher said. He sounded confident about that.

Russell’s eyes drifted shut and his body became limp. Jonathan and Sean gently guided him into a sitting position so he didn’t collapse and risk hurting himself. Usher didn’t seem at all shaken by the experience.

“That’s remarkable,” Jonathan said, his eyes wide with some awe, "That you knew what to have me tell him."

"It just comes with the role, Jonathan," Usher replied.

“Honestly, that guy's not human...” Geoffrey said to himself, before he then approached, “Well, at least all’s well that ends well.”

He then glanced over to Talltree.

“So… if Swansea didn’t send him, who did?” he remembered the question he had been asking before Russell kicked him, “Because I was certain that it was him.”

“I can see why you would make the assumption. It’s no secret that he would like my position someday, and with the dubious experiments he has performed,” Usher said. He pulled a card from his pocket and held it up so Jonathan, Geoffrey and Sean could see it. It was the same one of the monarch sitting on the glass throne.

“That doesn’t mean anything to me,” Geoffrey said.

“The King,” Usher explained, “His entire domain built on lies. His throne cracks beneath him and his reign is coming to an end. This was one last act of defiance before his execution.”

“Lord Redgrave,” Jonathan said. There was no one else he could think of who fit that description.

“The Lord Redgrave, of the Ascalon Club?” Geoffrey then said, "That old bastard?"

“That’s exactly it,” Jonathan said.

“But why? Why do all of this?” Sean said, as he looked down at Russell’s prone form.

“Presumably to frame Edgar Swansea and sow the seeds of distrust between us all. However, he severely underestimated me," Usher replied. He still spoke as though this was normal to him, “A desperate act of revenge before his life is ultimately taken.”

“So is that our cue to go and kill him?” Geoffrey asked, as he let a smirk creep across his lips, “I won’t say ‘no’ to that.”

“I’m afraid it isn’t,” Usher replied, “Although I admire your tenacity, McCullum, fate has already decided who his killer will be, and I’m afraid it won’t be you...”

“The hell it won’t,” Geoffrey said. He then reached down to pick up the gun, pocketing it for himself.

“I am impressed that a skal was able to break through his control in the end,” Usher then added, “I suppose that’s because of the strong blood of your new maker.”

Sean looked up, his eyes wide with surprise.

“Yes, I know all about that. I appreciate the assistance from all of you,” Usher said, “Now, gentlemen, I must attend to my duties, as interesting as this meeting was.”

Jonathan reached over to gently pick Russell up. It seemed he wasn’t going to come around just yet.

“Of course, we’re sorry that this happened,” Jonathan said, “What should we tell him when he awakens?”

“Perhaps telling him he didn’t kill me would be the best way to start,” Usher replied. There was the slightest hint of humour in that sentence.

“I just hope he’ll be all right,” Sean said.

“He will be, Saint,” Usher said, "You have my word."

“What are you, Talltree?” Geoffrey said, frowning as he spared the Primate one more glance. His voice took on that echoing quality that Jonathan knew all too well, “Really? What are you?”

“All you need to know,” Usher said, as he started to head back to his desk, “Is that some secrets are not meant to be revealed, even to immortals.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 20: Safe Returns

“Well, I know what me and my lads are doing for the next few days,” Geoffrey said, “We’re going to be hunting that fucker down until he has nowhere else to hide.”

“He said you weren’t going to be his killer, Geoffrey,” Jonathan said. Russell was a dead weight as he rested over his shoulders, “His predictions are rarely inaccurate, if ever.”

“Even if it isn’t me, that doesn’t mean it’s not one of my lads,” Geoffrey said with a grin, “The bastard can’t hide from us forever, and if he’s panicking, it’ll make him careless.”

“If you say so,” Jonathan said, “Thank you for helping me with Russell tonight.”

“To be honest, I didn’t really get to do much,” Geoffrey replied with a shrug, “Just killed a few leeches and got myself kicked in the dick. But I suppose it could have been a lot worse. As I said, he could be part of Priwen one day, and we look after our men as best as we can.”

“Yes, I suppose you do,” Jonathan agreed. Sean walked alongside him in silence, carrying Russell’s crowbar in his hand, “So, that’s your plan? Hunt Redgrave down?”

“Fighting those leeches got me motivated for it,” Geoffrey said, “At least I’m not trying to target you or Swansea. I’m just going to grab Mark and David and then we’ll be on our way.”

“If you insist, I won’t stop you,” Jonathan said.

“Please stay safe, Mister McCullum,” Sean said. He knew there would be no way to convince Geoffrey not to go on this hunt, so he went for the next best thing.

“Isn’t that kind, Saint? At least being turned didn’t take away that, I guess,” Geoffrey said, “I can’t promise that, but I’ll try. Is that good enough?”

“It suppose it is,” Sean said.

“He stinks of bloodshed,” Geoffrey said, as he placed his eyes on Russell for a moment, “Yet he doesn’t seem to be bleeding.”

“We’re nearly the hospital. We’ll check him then,” Jonathan said, “I didn’t fail to notice it either.”

Sean pressed his hands together in a silent prayer.

 

Edgar felt himself flooded with relief when he saw Jonathan return, but then he felt the anxiety come back. Was Usher Talltree unharmed? Would he believe that it was him that had sent Russell to kill him, like Geoffrey and Jonathan had seemed to?

He wanted to move towards Jonathan, but he was concerned with what the two guards who stood either side of him would do. They had let Sean go when the other had suddenly expressed a need to leave; presumably because they hadn’t been told to keep an eye on him as well.

“He’s off the hook, lads,” Geoffrey said, “He didn’t do it and Talltree is unscathed. However, we have a new leech to hunt down for his shit. We’re going to find Lord Redgrave.”

“It was Lord Redgrave?” Edgar said. It was his turn to look surprised.

“That’s what Usher Talltree told us,” Jonathan said, as he carefully deposited Russell onto the bed nearest to him, “And we can’t deny that he’s not often wrong, if ever.”

“So he knew...” Edgar said, “Of course he would have known.”

“Let’s go, lads. We’re not going to leave a single stone unturned,” Geoffrey said, before he glanced back to Swansea, “I still don’t trust you, Swansea but I can at least put my hands up and say I was wrong for suspecting you this time.”

“I… I appreciate it, McCullum,” Edgar replied. He sounded unsure of what he was saying.

“We’re watching you though,” Geoffrey warned. He then gestured, “Come on, we’re going. I guess we’ll see you later too, Reid.”

It seemed inevitable at this point.

“I’m sure you will,” Jonathan replied, “Goodbye, Geoffrey.”

Edgar was silent until Geoffrey had left with Mark and David. He then looked back to Jonathan.

“Why though? Why did Lord Redgrave do this?” he asked.

“Usher Talltree said it was an attempt to make a final act of defiance before he died, to frame you and make us all distrust each other. Redgrave took advantage of the fact that you want to take up the position of Primate one day, and the experiments,” Jonathan said, “That’s just made Geoffrey more determined to make that prediction of his nearing death come true. To think, I almost fell for it myself. I’m sorry, Edgar.”

“There’s no need to apologise. I’m just glad it managed to end relatively well,” Edgar said, before he looked at Sean, “I appreciate you believing me from the beginning, Mister Hampton.”

“I just thought something wasn’t adding up,” Sean replied, “I’m glad to know that I wasn’t wrong in the end, and that I was able to talk him down and allow Primate Talltree to stop it.”

“You were brilliant, Sean,” Jonathan said, “You honestly were.”

Sean smiled modestly at that. Edgar sniffed and then turned his head towards Russell.

“He smells of blood, and yet...” he paused as he walked towards the sleeping man. He then carefully shifted him so he could remove his jacket. He raised a brow when he saw the stake in Russell’s trouser pocket but then he refocussed.

Everyone’s eyes widened as he took it off completely. The white shirt he was wearing had bloodstains all over it. Edgar swallowed as he carefully moved the suspenders off Russell’s shoulders, unbuttoned the shirt and opened it up. He could feel his fangs itching, but he ignored it for now. The hunger wasn’t unbearable like it had been when he had first turned.

Russell’s chest and stomach were covered in long cuts. From the state of them, along with the smeared blood around them, Jonathan deduced that he managed to open some of them again while moving around. Edgar then rolled up one of Russell’s sleeves. Jonathan moved the other up. They had met the same fate, although they weren’t as bad as his stomach. They then started to take that off so they could take a better look at the damage done.

“Why did they do that?” Sean said, his voice laced with sadness.

“Presumably for amusement, or to make his will easier to break,” Jonathan said, “Lord Redgrave claims to have a strong bloodline, the bloodline of a powerful ancient vampire. He was able to get away with this because there are hardly any left around to dispute the fact. But that’s a lie, he’s of a weak heritage, one where his abilities aren’t close to any of ours. So he needed to make his own job easier.”

“Would we have played a part in that?” Sean asked. His tone was uneasy, “With… with what we did before?”

“He could have used that to his advantage as well,” Jonathan said, “Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be major damage. What is concerning are the traces of sedatives in his blood...”

Russell opened his eyes. There were glassy and unfocussed. He shot up into a sitting position, opening up one of the fresher wounds. Blood slowly ran down his skin. Jonathan placed a hand on his shoulder to try and stop him from standing.

“I will not give in… I will not give in… I will not give in...” Russell’s mantra was a hoarse whisper. He then winced in pain and looked down at his abdomen. It seemed that with his will returned to him, the ability to feel pain and fatigue had also come back. His eyes widened and horror crept into face, “Oh no. No! No! No, no no! I… I gave in… I… I… killed that, killed that man...”

“Russell,” Jonathan’s voice snapped him out of his panicking rambles. Edgar placed a hand on Russell’s other shoulder to help prevent him from getting up. Both of them briefly eyed the bleeding cut on his stomach. Russell stopped moving and looked up, confusion knitting across his face.

"Doc-Doc-Doctor Reid? Doc-Doctor Swansea? S-Sean? I, I uh..." he tried to talk, but fear wouldn't let his mouth work.

“Please calm yourself. You're at Pembroke. You didn’t kill him. You didn’t kill Usher Talltree," Jonathan said.

“You were stopped in time,” Edgar continued, “Doctor Reid and Mister Hampton here managed to stop you, along with McCullum. Usher Talltree was left unharmed.”

Russell panted heavily. He gazed around. He was back in the hospital. There was a huge gap in his memory. He could only assume a few hours had passed. The last thing he remembered was being in that manor, with that vampire, trying to stop himself from falling…

“You, you, you stopped me?” Russell swallowed, “Oh, thank, thank God. For a moment, I uh, I uh, I thought… he… he said, he said, he said I would, would come back again when I, when I killed him. Red...Redgrave. That… that, that was his name. It’s… it’s a bit, a bit fuzzy.”

“That definitely confirms it,” Edgar said.

“What matters is that we stopped you and you’re safe now,” Sean said, gently taking one of Russell’s hands, “You didn’t hurt anybody.”

“He said, he said, he said he would, would kill you as well, Sean...” Russell said, swallowing, “And he, he said, he said everyone would, would blame you, Doc-Doc-Doctor Swansea, for Usher Talltree, dy-dying. He, he said, he said you’re a, you’re a...”

“A vampire as well,” Edgar said, finishing the thought for him, “And he was not lying about that. In addition of the experiments we had earlier, with your memory retrievals, I can see how he got the idea.”

Russell’s eyes widened at that news. Was that why he had seemed reluctant about Russell joining the Guard of Priwen? He realised that neither Jonathan or Sean seemed at all surprised. Had they known this whole time?

“Wait… you’re a… you’re a… you’re a...” he started, “I uh, I had a feeling you, you just knew, knew some. Was, was that, was that why it was, it was so easy to get my memories? He said, he said something about, about mesmerism...”

He decided not to leave it at that for the moment. It was probably best not to ask too many personal questions to the people that were providing him with medical help.

“Yes, also yes in regards to your memories, and I also do know some, you are correct, but neither me nor any of the ones I know are going to hurt you like Redgrave tried to,” Edgar replied, deciding to use Russell's guess about the memories as a cover story, “But that aside for now, seeing as you’re still injured and we need to focus on that, I’m more relieved that Usher Talltree himself knows the truth, that I am not to blame for this, and neither are you. It's that horrible Redgrave who caused all of this nonsense.”

“Redgrave’s still, still, still out there,” Russell said. Jonathan noticed the marks on his back as well. They were the same as his chest, inflicted by a knife or another type of blade, “He, he, he could, he could try again, or, or, or maybe worse.”

“He won’t get a chance to do any of that,” Jonathan said, “The Guard of Priwen have gone to hunt him down for the crimes he’s committed. They’ve promised that they won’t stop until he’s dead. He won’t do anything like this again, Russell.”

“And he certainly won’t get you here,” Edgar said, “Believe me, he won’t try anything in my hospital.”

He was confident in that. Redgrave was too much of a coward to go after Jonathan himself after all, apparently folding like a cheap suit as soon as Jonathan had turned up for the blood of William Marshal. This assassination attempt on Talltree was more than enough to confirm that.

“I’m, I’m, I’m worried about you, you Sean,” Russell said, “I, I, I don’t want him to hurt you.”

“He won’t,” Sean replied. His voice was serious, “I promise. He won’t do anything to me.”

“He’s right,” Jonathan said, “He won’t, and he won't do anything to me either.”

"Nor me," Edgar concluded.

 

Sean had decided to take his leave. He had needed to attend to his duties at the shelter. Edgar and Jonathan let him go. Russell couldn’t help but feel a lingering fear that they shouldn’t have. He had to pray he would see him when he went back as well.

He had been carefully treated for the cuts and warned not to make too sudden movements, lest he risked ripping open the stitches that had been applied on the deeper ones. He was willing to take that advice, even if he wasn’t sure if he could follow it. Russell had found it almost disturbing how Edgar hadn't even appeared at all tempted by the bloody cuts on his body. Perhaps he had just gotten used to it.

He had been advised to stay at the hospital for observation, just to make sure he wouldn’t get sick from the various wounds.

Both Jonathan and Edgar decided not to tell him that it was also because they were still concerned that Redgrave’s influence was possibly still lurking inside of his mind; something that Talltree might not have been able to erase.

They doubted that was truly the case, but better safe than sorry.

“If you’re comfortable talking about it, Russell, what do you remember?” Jonathan asked, as Russell gulped down the water he had been given in only seconds. He had clearly needed it, “Any information you have could be helpful in locating where Lord Redgrave might have gone, or might still be. I can only guess he would have fled from his home by now, on realising this act of defiance didn't go as planned.”

The way Russell had reacted when he first woke up indicated that he had some memory of what had happened, and perhaps he would have some kind of clue.

“It would be held in strictest confidence,” Edgar said, “Of course, anything that might be relevant to his possible whereabouts would be shared with the Guard of Priwen but...”

“I don’t, I don’t mind that…” Russell said, “But, what I, what I do remember… it’s… it’s pretty f-fucked up, ex-excuse my, my language there. Not, not as, as, as messed up as the Horsemen, but, still, still pretty bad.”

He took a deep breath.

“Okay… on, on, on the way back to, to Sean’s shelter, I had, I had, I had stopped at the Turtle...”

Chapter Text

Chapter 21: A Lord’s Prayer

You two already know about… about me … and you don’t seem to be judging me for it, which I am very appreciative of. I felt that I owed it to Sean to tell him, after the support he’s given me…

Russell stepped inside the Turquoise Turtle. Tom Watts had seemed to recognise his accent almost instantly, and so didn’t question his age when he put the money on the counter and asked for a glass of whiskey. Looting the skals he had killed eventually paid off in this instance.

I know some people of faith don’t approve. I doubt Sean would have reacted harshly, but I still got anxious. I thought having a drink on the way back would have steadied my nerves. Just a glass or two. That was all I was going to have.

He sipped at the whiskey. It wasn’t the same as Old Bill’s homemade brew, but in this situation, it was good. It had the same burn that he found himself liking as the years had went by. He made sure to savour it. He knew he had enough coin for another one. But he liked to make it last.

It was a good place here. Tom Watts was a kind man and Sabrina was nice enough when she was up for talking. Maybe he could come and help out here too sometimes, if they would have him.

Some guy walked in. Not Redgrave. Tall. Black hair. Pale. I didn’t really pay much attention to him at first. He didn’t seem to be from around the East End, just like the guy who tried to kidnap me the first time. Judging by Tom and Sabrina’s reactions to him, they didn’t know him.

He sat so a stool was still between the two of them. Russell finished the glass he had gotten and ordered another. He had made his decision to stick with two. He didn’t want to be completely hammered by the time he went back to the shelter. He also knew better than to be more than just a little buzzed at this time at night, with some the questionable people around. Tom Watts put it down and then headed to one of the upstairs rooms when Russell heard an expletive behind him.

“Shit!” Sabrina had almost slipped on a puddle of what was most likely a spilled drink that she hadn’t seen. Russell had immediately run to her aid, catching her before she could fall.

“You, you, you all right?” he asked.

“I will be. I’ve slipped on worse, this is nothing compared to piss or vomit,” she said cynically, although she gave him a quick smile, “Thanks, kid.”

“No, no problem,” he replied. He then headed back to the counter where he had been sitting. Russell sipped at the whiskey again. It didn’t take long before he had finished it. His eyelids felt heavy and when he stood up, his legs seemed to wobble.

I first thought that maybe my tolerance had dropped. The last time I had alcohol was that shot of rum on the ship. And that was just a shot, a cap full. Or that maybe I just hadn’t been sleeping well.

“Feeling a little bit tired, are you?” the stranger asked.

“Eh, a uh, a little bit. It’s, uh, it’s late,” Russell had replied. He didn’t really feel like chatting, but he didn’t want to be completely rude either, “Just, just gonna, gonna head back.”

The other man watched him leave. He waited for about a minute and then he followed.

I was falling asleep. I knew I was. Something was wrong.

Russell found himself collapsing against a nearby wall and then sliding down it to the ground. He forced himself to get back up. He had to try and run. His legs shook as he forced himself to move. Russell heard the man laugh quietly behind him.

He did something to my drink. He must have done it while I was making sure Sabrina was okay.

“A valiant effort. But no one can hold off the call of a strong barbiturate for long,” he called out, knowing Russell would hear. He had already rounded the corner by the time Russell had managed to look back, “Regardless, you can’t refuse an invitation from the Ascalon Club.”

Russell had the awful feeling that this wasn’t a bluff. If he couldn’t run, then he could definitely try to fight. He shook his head as more of that grey crept around his vision. He reached for the crowbar as the man seemed to the teleport towards him. But then he collapsed, unconscious before he even hit the ground.

I started waking up in the West End. Not enough to do anything though. I hardly know the area, but I knew it was the West End. The man had put me down and was supporting me like a friend would. I guess it was so anyone who saw him would just think he was helping his drunk buddy home.

“Let… let go!” Russell immediately squirmed to get away. His voice slurred out of his mouth. His head felt like it had been stuffed with wool, “Let go!”

This one was stronger than the last one that had tried to take him, or maybe it was because he had been dosed up on tranquillisers. He had no idea which. All he really knew was that he wasn’t about to get away just by struggling alone.

He had become slower and more predictable in his movements. His captor appeared to know exactly what he was going to do and when. He was easily able to stop Russell from escaping. Before he could do much else, he had been pushed through a door, which was then shut and locked behind him.

“Welcome to the Ascalon Club,” was all his abductor said, “Lord Redgrave has been waiting for you.”

He blanked out again.

He woke up in a standing position, his arms tied above his head. His shirt and jacket were gone, leaving his upper body exposed. His stomach throbbed. He managed to glance down to see that two wounds had been made already. The stake had been left in his trouser pocket, probably just to taunt him and remind him that he couldn’t use it.

An older man with dark grey hair, pale skin, and pink-shaded eyes stood in front of him, licking the nib of what looked like a large quill pen. He then looked over, as though only just noticing that Russell had woken. This must have been Redgrave. Russell's face knitted in disgust when he realised just what the man was doing.

My blood was on that thing, and he was licking it like it was fucking ice cream. If I hadn’t known vampires existed, I would have been screaming, asking what the hell he thought he was doing.

Redgrave opened his mouth to say something, but Russell got there first.

“Is… is this… is this torture… or are, or are, are you just, just killing me slowly?” he managed to ask. He could barely raise his voice above a slurred murmur as Redgrave walked closer towards him, “Some, some kinda...”

He hissed through his teeth when the sharp edge of the pen slashed him across the stomach, stopping him from finishing his sentence. It was surprisingly painful, or maybe it was just because of how sudden it was.

“I believe you know why you’re here, Mister Tolbert,” Lord Redgrave said.

They must have known I wasn’t in the best mindset to handle what they wanted to do to me. I hate to think how they might have known.

“Can’t, can’t say I, I do,” Russell replied. His head felt heavy. It drooped downwards, prompting Redgrave to lift his chin so he could look him in the face, “Look, Doc-Doctor Swansea has, has, has no reason to, to, to look for me… he, he knows how I...”

Another slash, this time across his chest. He tried to struggle, to get himself out of those ropes. He couldn’t.

“Yes. I remember that clearly. We were hoping to strike up a deal. Your safe return in exchange for Aloysius Dawson receiving the gift of immortality,” Redgrave said.

Russell’s eyes widened. That was the man who had died recently, the one who had given his wealth away. He had been hoping to become a vampire?

“We didn’t count on you killing Lord Devon and escaping from us, spoiling that idea,” Redgrave continued.

“Well, you, you, you have me here, here now,” Russell said, “And, and, I can, I can only guess that if, if you wanted me dead, you would, you would have killed me already… or, uh, or your friend who, who, who brought me here.”

“Arthur Pembleton, a dear loyal follower of mine. One of the few I have left now, and you are correct, I would have,” Redgrave replied, as he let go of his chin and walked behind him as though to inspect him. Russell couldn’t turn around, “It’s all being taken from me. My title. This legacy. Even the blood of William Marshal. Am I really deserving of such a fate?”

“And that’s, that’s, that’s my fault, is, is it?” Russell asked. That had been a mistake. He felt his back blossom with pain as he was cut again.

“Partially,” was Redgrave’s answer, “I know this reign of mine is coming to a close, through unforeseen consequences. But I’ve come to the decision that if it is to fall, then those who helped cause its destruction must fall too. You have your part to play in all of this.”

“I’m, I’m, I’m, not doing shit for, for you,” Russell said. Redgrave left another three cuts on his back before stepping into his line of sight, “Tor-tor-turing me is, is not, gonna, gonna make me.”

I was convinced of that. At first, I honestly thought he was trying to force me to agree to what he wanted to do just so he would stop. I thought I could handle it. I was certain anything he did to me couldn’t be worse than what the Horsemen did.

“You will not use that language in our lord’s presence,” Arthur had stepped into the room, carrying something in his hand. It took Russell a moment to realise it was his shirt.

“You are going to kill someone for me. You will kill a man called Usher Talltree, and you will have no choice. Aloysius Dawson and Lord Devon's lives in exchange for his, considering you directly murdered one of them,” Redgrave replied. He sounded so sure. Russell opened his mouth to say he wouldn’t do something like that, but he carried on, “Do you know what mesmerism is, Mister Tolbert?”

“Is, is, is that another name for what Doc-Doctor Swansea did with me?” Russell asked, wondering why that was relevant, “For, for my memories.”

“It’s different to that mortal ability to change a subject’s mental state,” Redgrave said, “It is a skill that vampires like myself and Doctor Swansea possess. We are able to force a mortal to obey us, or perhaps rewrite memories as we please. However, it’s more delicate than most would believe. An Ekon has to know what they’re doing, and the more you try to resist, the higher the risk of your psyche simply shattering.”

An Ekon? He had never heard that term before. Was it meant to be used in comparison to a Skal, to distinguish themselves from the Spanish Flu victims?

“We don’t want that to happen before you’ve finished your goal,” Arthur said, “I’m afraid being in a catatonic stupor wouldn’t allow you to achieve very much.”

“To lessen that possibility, I’m going to make it more difficult for you to want to resist, and this is just part of it,” Redgrave replied. A chilling smile fell across his lips, “Do you know who they’ll believe made you do this? Doctor Swansea. With Usher Talltree being his… superior, and with the experiments he’s had with you, they’ll assume it was him. His little domain will fall with mine. Mister Hampton’s will follow. That disgusting vermin should not have been allowed to live for this long.”

He was so confident that this plot of his would succeed that he was just telling it all to me.

“They, they they won’t believe that!” Russell protested, “And, I, I won’t let you, you, you hurt Sean!”

“They will. You know they will.” Redgrave said, “Arthur. I’m growing tired of hearing him. If you would...”

Arthur stalked over and stuffed the shirt into Russell’s mouth. His jaw started to ache almost instantly with the angle it was forced in. He tried to struggle again, or to shake his head, but it was to no avail. Whatever they had drugged him with was strong. He felt the brief surge of strength in his limbs drain away again in just a few seconds.

“While you’re not completely silent,” Redgrave said over Russell’s muffled protests, “This is much more acceptable.”

He could only assume he could been kept there for the whole day. He had no way to tell how much time had passed. Despite the strong medicine that they kept injecting into him (apparently Aloysius Dawson’s old sedatives that had been carefully dissolved and mixed with something else), he wasn’t allowed to fall unconscious. His upper body was cut repeatedly. Not enough to be deadly, but enough to sting, enough to bleed, and enough for him to dread the next one once it happened enough times.

It became a whole lot worse when Arthur got the idea to start holding his head in a bucket of freezing water at random intervals. When it wasn’t being used, it was left where he could see it, so he could anticipate when it would happen next time.

He didn’t know how much of this was to make it harder for him to resist, and how much of it was just for their sick amusement. He didn’t want to know.

It seemed like days before it all seemed to stop. He could barely think. He could hardly move. The shirt was removed from his mouth, but he couldn’t find the will to talk. He was eventually let down and settled onto a nearby chair. It felt like absolute bliss compared to what he had endured. His arms had gone numb and his legs felt like concrete. The sores ached.

His head hung down and he panted heavily. He had to try and get up. But neither his limbs nor his mind would cooperate. He was so weary. His eyes kept shutting. He then felt his chin being lifted again, so he was forced to meet Redgrave’s gaze.

Redgrave placed his hands on Russell’s temples. Russell tried to lift one of his own up to try and pry them away. Despite how heavy his arm felt, he managed to curl his fingers around Redgrave’s wrist.

“Let… let go...” Russell’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“This nightmare of yours is coming to an end,” Redgrave said. His voice had seemed to have taken an echoing quality that battled with his thoughts, “All you need to do is give in, and everything will just stop.”

“No… stop it… please...”

“You can’t resist. You're exhausted. You can feel your own defences crumbling,” Redgrave’s voice was disgustingly smooth and soothing, “You want this to end. You want to give in.”

He wasn’t wrong, but Russell knew he couldn’t.

I tried to fight it. I really did.

“No...”

“Give in,” Redgrave said, “Give in to me, Russell...”

He hated how he used his first name like that, like he was his friend.

“No… I will not give in… I will not give in… I will not give in...” Russell didn’t know if he was saying the mantra or just thinking it. Either way, it didn’t matter. His body was relaxing, his hand was coming loose from Redgrave’s arm, “I will… not give… not...”

 

“That’s when, that’s when it faded, I was, I was gone, I, I guess,” Russell said, frowning and running a hand through his hair. He took another large gulp of the water, “I’ve, I’ve got no uh, no memory between, between that and, and uh, and coming to the hospital, and, and, and I’m, I’m not really sure I want to remember… not… not yet...”

“That’s absolutely terrible, what they did, completely barbaric,” Edgar said, “And if you don’t want to remember yet, then we won’t make you. Not this time.”

“I tried, I tried to resist… God knows that I, that I tried,” Russell said, shaking his head, “Just, just not hard enough I guess.”

“This is not your fault,” Jonathan said, “None of it was and Redgrave will face the consequences.”

“It’s a common effect of a barbiturate,” Edgar said, “In addition to being commonly used in most sedatives, some scientists are looking into its effects for slowing the ability to think and lowering inhibitions. Jonathan is right, it’s honestly not your fault. However, we did find that there are traces of it still in your system, and we would just like to keep you here until we’re sure they’ve worn off entirely.”

“That’s, that’s, that’s fair,” Russell said, “I’m, I’m sorry, Doc-Doc-Doctor Swansea, and I’m, I’m sorry, Doc-Doctor Reid, for, for, for all of this.”

“It’s not your fault. You were not in control of your actions,” Jonathan said, “And there was no long-term harm done in the end.”

“Exactly,” Edgar said, “I think what you need to do now is try and get some rest. One of us can check on you in the morning. I would bring you something to help you sleep, but I don’t think that’s the best idea.”

“Of, of course,” Russell said, “I’ll, I’ll try to. Thank you. Have a good, a good night.”

“You as well, Russell,” Edgar replied. He headed out then. Russell waited until he was gone before he looked at Jonathan.

“Doc-Doc-Doctor Reid...” Russell said, “I uh… I hate to sound blunt and this might, might, might not be uh, be the best question to, to ask, but… are you… are you a vampire too?”

Jonathan’s eyes briefly widened. He was quiet for a few moments, and then he nodded.

“Yes, Russell. I am,” he said, “If I may ask, what made you suspicious?”

“Since that, that night you visited Sean… when I was, when I was, when I was getting that book, with that miracle recovery he uh, he seemed to have after, because you know, he, he, he was sick,” Russell said, “I, uh, I noticed that he was only, only coming out at night, and he uh, he wasn’t eating anything, any-anymore. Then you told me that, that vampires ex-exist. It’s just, it’s just not, not something you ask though, is it? I mean, well, not, not when people can hear. Of course, I uh, I had my doubts, thought I was, thought I was crazy, but...”

Russell shrugged. Jonathan couldn’t help but smile.

“So you put the pieces together,” he said, “And yet you’re not afraid of any of us? You trust us?”

“Like I, like I said, like I said to Redgrave, if you, if you wanted me dead, I would be by now,” Russell said, stifling a yawn with his hand, "And you all, you all, you all seem to be good people in any case. I remember being, being told, being to, to judge by actions, not who, who someone is, and you've all, you've all been helping me since, we, we met."

“I suppose that’s an interesting way to look at it,” Jonathan said, as he noticed the yawn, “Try and get some sleep. You’ll be safe here, and Sean is going to be safe as well.”

“Okay, I’ll, I’ll try...” Russell said, “Good night, Doc-Doctor Reid.”

“Good night, Russell.”

 

Jonathan had stepped outside a good few hours later. He had felt like taking a small walk in the grounds and enjoying the cool night air while it was relatively peaceful.

He was almost startled when Geoffrey suddenly appeared in a black fog out of seemingly nowhere.

“Geoffrey, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Jonathan said.

“Just wanted to give you a warning,” Geoffrey said, “A fair one. I’ve got my lads everywhere at the moment, hunting for Lord Redgrave. Just wanted to let you know so you didn’t go accidentally provoking any by mistake.”

“I suppose that is a fair warning. Thank you,” Jonathan said, “Any luck in your hunt so far?”

“Not in regards to The King, as Talltree called him. The sun will be coming up soon, so I can only assume he’ll try and hide,” Geoffrey said, “But we’ll get him. He’s the only member of the Ascalon Club left around here. We got his doorman Arthur Pembleton just now and let’s just say his death was well-deserved.”

“I suppose that it is, all things considered,” Jonathan replied, “Where are you most focussed on?”

“Whitechapel and the East End,” Geoffrey said, “I doubt he’d be stupid enough to come here or stay in the West End. Of course, I’ve got men there too and combing around here, just in case. We’ll flush him out.”

“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” Jonathan said.

“Is Russell back to himself yet?” Geoffrey asked.

“He is,” Jonathan said, “I’ve told him to get some sleep though. He also told me that Arthur Pembleton was the one who took him to Redgrave, and I'm suspecting that Redgrave is hiding somewhere in the East End. Although Russell might not be so willing to join the Guard of Priwen anymore.”

“How appropriate that we killed him just now then,” Geoffrey said, before he then frowned, "What did you tell him, Reid? Don't tell me you mesmerised him into not joining?"

“I didn't do that, Geoffrey, I wouldn't. But he figured out for himself that Sean and I are vampires,” Jonathan said, “I only confirmed it. Edgar told him outright, because Redgrave already had.”

“As long as he knows you and the Saint are off-limits as long as you behave, he might still join us yet,” Geoffrey said, “Maybe he would even be well enough to try and hunt Redgrave with us tomorrow. He’s got more than enough of a reason to.”

“I doubt that, Geoffrey,” Jonathan said, “He had to have stitches and I would rather he didn’t tear them open again so soon. Redgrave tortured him to make mesmerising him easier.”

“God damn it, that absolute piece of scum,” Geoffrey said, frowning.

“I failed to ask. Do any of your men know?” Jonathan said, “Of your condition.”

“Only the few I trust the most,” Geoffrey replied, “David and Mark are two of them. I haven’t yet decided what I plan to do yet, with what you did. But I’ve still got time to think about it. Strange though, I expected to become a monster, and yet...”

He trailed off, shaking his head.

“Nah, no need to get into that shit right now,” Geoffrey said, “But I’ll tell you something, before this week is over, Redgrave’s head will be on a pike.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Jonathan replied, “Good luck on your hunt, Geoffrey.”

“Like I’ll need it,” Geoffrey replied, “But thank you, I guess.”

And then he was gone again in a swish of black smoke. Jonathan couldn’t sense where he went. He briefly checked the watch he carried and then headed back towards the hospital.

It wouldn’t be long before the sun rose again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 22: Bad Moon Rising

“Drop the gun. I know you don't want to shoot me.”

“You really are off in space, aren’t you, lad?”

“Please, Russell, listen to Primate Talltree...”

“You will wake up as yourself. Your real self.”

Russell awoke. He could see the sunlight streaming through the window, phantom voices from his dreams still lurking inside of his mind. He could only remember a few faint images, like putting his shirt and jacket back on, a gun being handed to him and a tall man with a red turban, an authoritative presence, and a piercing brown gaze. He had been pointing the gun at him. But he didn’t seem afraid at all.

He recognised Geoffrey’s, Jonathan’s, and Sean’s voices. He could only assume that the other man was Usher Talltree. They must have been memories of when he was mesmerised, even if he still didn’t remember it all directly.

He noticed a piece of paper by the bed and picked it up. Jonathan had written a note down for him to read.

“The sedatives have fully worn off and you won’t suffer any after-effects. If you wish to return to Sean, you may. However, I must ask that you please be careful with your stitches and to stay safe.”

Russell breathed a sigh of relief. He had been almost afraid that there would have been side-effects from Redgrave’s influence, or from what he had been given. He had almost forgotten about the stitches as well. He ran a hand along them, able to feel the thread through the thin hospital gown.

The shirt he had been wearing last night was gone, but a clean one had been left in its place. He got dressed, took his crowbar and the stake from under the bed, and left a small note of his own, thanking Jonathan and Edgar again for their help. He was glad the stake hadn’t been taken. Perhaps they trusted him with it.

 

Sean emerged just about half an hour after the sun had set. It had been surprisingly easy to adapt to this new routine. It was now second nature. No one seemed to be questioning that he had become a night owl, much to his relief.

He was a bit concerned when he didn’t find Russell anywhere inside. He couldn’t help but wonder if he had run into trouble again. Lord Redgrave still being out there somewhere made him think about that possibility.

At least he hadn’t come to the night shelter. He didn’t know what he would do if he did. Thankfully, Lottie confirmed that Russell had returned safely that morning and had been helping out with anything that had needed doing.

He had stepped outside. Giselle was making sure to stay a lot closer to the shelter than she usually did. She mentioned that there seemed to be a lot more members of the Guard of Priwen hanging around since yesterday. He understood her fear after that robbery. He mentioned that they would probably move on soon enough.

She made a rude remark about needing their stakes shoved where the sun didn’t shine. He managed to move the subject onto Russell, asking if she had seen him.

“Said he wanted to go for a walk. I wasn’t going to stop him. He’s a big boy, Sean, I mean, not in height obviously,” Giselle said.

“Yes, I suppose,” Sean said, “I was just concerned with him going missing the night before.”

“Oh, come on,” she replied, with a hint of cynicism, “He’s a young man. Young men like him think they’re invincible. They’ll do anything for a thrill, and he came back, didn’t he?”

If only she knew the truth. However, she did relent and point him in the direction that Russell had gone. He thanked her and walked onward.

It didn’t take long before he smelled Russell’s blood in the air and heard his pulse in his ears. Everyone had different scents. They were similar, but there was always one thing that made them stand out. He gazed around. His eyes widened when he shifted his gaze upwards.

What was Russell doing on a roof?!

 

Russell sat with his knees to his chest. He had a smile on his face as he looked up at the stars that had started to come into view. He never got tired of seeing them.

He then sighed.

“Been, been here a while… I should, I should get back...” he made a move to stand up and headed to one of the edges of the roof of the abandoned building so he could make his climb down. The boards and windows on this particular wall made it surprisingly easy.

A black mist suddenly manifested in front of him, followed by Sean.

“Russell! What are you doing?!” his voice came out harsher than he intended. Russell let out a yelp and jumped back, brandishing the crowbar. He then seemed to realise just who was in front of him and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Damn, Sean, you, you, you scared me, man,” he said. So he was right. Sean was a vampire. He hoped Sean wouldn’t be too concerned about his lack of a reaction to the super speed.

“What are you doing up here? You weren’t thinking of jumping, were you?” Sean asked, concern riddling his face. It seemed he hadn’t even realised what he had just done, “I know what happened last night was awful, but it wasn’t your…”

He trailed off when Russell shook his head.

“No, no, Sean. I uh, I uh, I wasn’t gonna, gonna do that, don’t, don’t worry,” he said, “I was, I was gonna climb down. I uh, I’ve relearned that I seem to be, be good, be good at climbing, and well, to uh, to be honest, doing, doing myself in, would, would be a kick, in the, in the, in the teeth for Elmer saving my, my life that night.”

He paused, running a hand through his hair.

“I guess, I guess I just wanted to be somewhere high up. I just, just saw this building, and I just, I just wanted to come up here, silly as, silly as it, it sounds,” he said, chuckling awkwardly, “Besides, it’s, it’s pretty interesting, seeing how it all looks from here… and the stars too.”

“Thank God,” Sean said, “I must apologise. After all that’s happened to you in the last couple of days. The memory retrieval of how you ended up here, and then being forced to try and kill Primate Talltree, I got worried.”

“It’s, it’s okay, Sean,” Russell said, “I, I probably would have, would have been worried too.”

Sean then seemed to remember that he dashed up here in that shadowy mist like he had done when he had to stop Russell from firing that gun. Russell had seen it and yet…

“You know,” it was more of a statement than a question. Russell nodded.

“I uh, I do know…well, I uh, I had, I had my suspicions at first, but, but that was, that was all it was,” Russell said, “But, but, I’m, I’m not scared. As I uh, as I said to, to Doc-Doctor Reid, and Lord Red-Redgrave, if you, if you were gonna hurt me, you would, you would have, would have done it by now. And all, all you’ve done is keep helping me.”

Sean couldn’t help but think just what might have happened if Jonathan hadn’t convinced him to drink his blood that night. As time had gone on, he had gotten the awful feeling that he would have turned out like William Bishop. It picked at the inside of him, haunting his mind since the return of his briefly-lost sanity. What might he have done if not for Jonathan turning him into what he was now?

“I’m glad you don’t see me as a monster, Russell,” Sean said, “I suppose hurting someone was never in my nature, and even being turned into a vampire couldn’t change that.”

“Some things just, just, just don’t change,” Russell said, before he then gestured with his head towards the set of chimneys had been sitting against, “Why, why don’t you come sit for a bit… the, the Pleiades are uh, are looking fantastic tonight. See, see them? Those, those real bright ones.”

He pointed upwards towards the gleaming six stars that Sean instantly noticed. Russell wasn’t wrong. They were beautiful.

“I suppose I’ve got some time to spare,” Sean said.

“There’s… there’s something I uh, I need to tell you, tell you, tell you as well,” Russell replied.

 

"How are you feeling, Russell?" Sean asked, as he sat down next to him.

"A bit, a bit sore. Red-Redgrave cut me pretty, pretty good. I uh, I got uh, got stitches on my stomach," Russell replied, "Probably shouldn't have uh, shouldn't have climbed here, but, well, can't, uh, can't change that now," he said, with another awkward chuckle, "I uh, I remember, I remember, some, some faint details from, from last night. You... I remember you, you saying 'Listen to Primate Talltree' and well, I most likely, did, didn't I?"

"You did," Sean replied, "I honestly didn't know if I would get through to you. It's a relief that I did. It was scary, that night, but I know it wasn't your fault."

"I'm, I'm glad I listened to, to you," Russell said, "Then again, I uh, I uh, I often listen to, to, to you when I'm uh, I'm uh, I'm normal."

He was delaying. He knew he was.

"I uh, I wanted to tell you this, this the other, the other night, about what happened... what happened, on the, on the ship, and, and why, but of, of course, I uh, I never got the chance to..." Russell said.

"I'm listening, Russell," Sean said, "Take your time."

Russell paused again, deciding on what to say. He then continued.

“I, I won’t say, say all the details, they’re, they’re pretty awful,” Russell started off, “But four, four very nasty men, the, the Horsemen we called them, decided to, to, to try and kill me. They had me scratch out, my own, my own, my dog tags, and then they tied me up, and, and threw me in the ocean. My, my friend Elmer, the, the one who, who gave everyone their nicknames. He loosened the ropes before they, they did, so I had a chance to, to survive...”

Russell paused, fidgeting. Sean felt himself riddled with sorrow for the man, but he remained silent. Russell swallowed and Sean could already see a nervous sweat forming on his forehead. He was certain that he was coming to what Jonathan had mentioned; the thing that only Russell could tell him in the end.

“They, they looked for any excuse to hurt someone… one of them nearly, nearly, nearly cut out, my my tongue, for, for the stammering one, one time...” he said, “Said, said, why have a tongue, if I uh, I uh, I can’t use it right? But… they uh, they were restless on that, that ship, they were out to, to really hurt, hurt someone… and well, that night… it was perfect for them. They… they… they found out I was in love with a man, Sean...”

He was silent for a moment, wringing his hands together.

“And, and that’s, that’s, why they tried to, tried to, tried to kill me,” Russell said, “And I just felt like, felt like, felt like I uh, I uh, I owed it to you, to, to tell, to tell you, because, because you’ve given me so much, since, since I first came here. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll understand if you… you… you… would like me to, to, to...”

He struggled to finish the sentence, trembling. He was stuck, unable to make himself say the word ‘leave’. He fell into silence when Sean placed a gentle hand onto his shaking shoulder. Sean's face was riddled with a mix of sympathy and sorrow.

“I would never cast anyone out for anything like that,” Sean said, “Despite what others may say or think, regardless if they agree with me or not, my belief is that we are all children of God, made in his image, and he loves us. He makes us all differently, and it’s part of what makes the human experience the amazing thing that it is. I believe in knowing a person by their actions, not who they are. All I can say is that I’m sorry that you’ve been led to believe these horrible things.”

He could see in Russell’s eyes that he still felt guilt for having the feelings that he had. Society needed to change. When it acted in such a way, it just caused more people to hurt.

“Sean, you, you… there, there needs to be people like, like you, in this, in this world,” Russell said, a soft smile forming on his face, “You, you really, really are a Saint...”

“Oh, Russell, I’m not,” Sean returned the smile. He couldn’t help but think back to Jonathan saying the exact same thing, “As I said to Doctor Reid himself, I just know that with tenacity and good will, we can all make this world a better place. But if I’ll be honest, I also do understand how you...”

Sean trailed off. There was another smell in the air. Their blood was easily distinguishable from that of a human. An Ekon. Not Jonathan, Geoffrey, or Edgar. That could only mean...

He opened his mouth to say a warning as fear pushed into his senses, but a calm voice spoke up first.

“So this is how it all starts to come to an end,” Redgrave only said. It was plain to see that he was holding back a swirling tsunami of rage. He stepped towards them, "With you two."

Russell stood and got in front of Sean. His heart pounded as he felt his own anger flood through his body. He then rushed at Redgrave without a second thought, raising the crowbar.

“Russell, wait!” Sean called out as he also got up. Russell didn’t seem to hear him.

He was not going to lose to Redgrave again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 23: Unfounded Revenge

Redgrave had been prepared for this. He was almost sure that he wouldn’t have needed to have been an Ekon to have seen it coming. He sprouted a set of claws from the tips of his fingers and swiped them at his assailant.

What he hadn’t been ready for was Russell ducking before they could strike his face or his neck. He then jumped up again and swung the crowbar. The sharp taloned end dug into Redgrave’s cheek, threatening to tear it open as Russell refused to stop digging it in.

Redgrave managed to grab it and pull it out before any true damage could be done. A few flaps of his skin hung onto the rusted metal. Blood dripped out from the wounds. Russell struggled to get the tool out of Redgrave’s grip, but he held it tightly.

Russell let go of it. It would be useless to try and grapple with him. That was his first mistake. Redgrave wasted no time in smacking him in the side of the head with it. He briefly saw stars. It wasn’t enough to make him fall. But it made him stagger.

Redgrave dropped the crowbar and grabbed him. He then wrenched his head to the side with one of his hands, the other dug into his shoulder. He opened his mouth, rearing up to bite down. Russell writhed before aiming a punch at Redgrave’s face, and then another.

There was a satisfying crack as the first blow hit the side of his neck, and then a louder one as he presumably managed to break part of his nose.

Sean watched, unable to stop himself wincing in sympathy despite Redgrave being their aggressor. He debated with himself. Should he try and call for Jonathan? Would Jonathan be able to hear him if he did that? Did the connection go both ways? Should he try and find help? What would happen if he left? What if Redgrave gained an upper hand and killed Russell while he was gone? Should he try and fight as well? What if Russell got caught in the crossfire and Sean accidentally hurt him, or worse? He knew he couldn't just stand there, asking himself what to do. He had to do something. But what?

Redgrave staggered back, bringing a hand to his nose. One of his nostrils had started to stream with blood. His other hand loosened, and Russell took his chance. He slapped it away and dropped to the ground. He had done this trick with Lord Devon. Would it work this time?

He spun and swept his foot, kicking it into Redgrave’s heels. It worked. Redgrave lost his footing and fell heavily onto his back. Russell took the chance to retrieve his crowbar, jumping up and grabbing it from the ground. Redgrave grabbed his ankle and yanked him, causing him to fall onto his face, bashing his knee as he did. He rolled onto his back.

The vampire lunged up, like that skal had done the first time he had washed up here, ready to try and bite him again. Russell swung the crowbar. The clawed end of it, by some sheer strange stroke of luck, ended up catching one of his fangs. Russell pulled, like it was an old nail in wood. Redgrave couldn’t get away from it. It was well and truly stuck.

Sean had to cover his eyes and turn away. He couldn’t watch that. The tooth came out after two strong yanks, cracking and squeaking as it did. Part of it was left behind, stuck in Redgrave’s gum, but that didn’t stop blood dribbling from Redgrave’s mouth as he finally escaped from its hold.

Sean tried to concentrate. He decided to call for Jonathan first. Then he could try and fight.

Doctor Reid. Help us. Please. Redgrave’s come to attack us.

“I should have had you killed from the start!” Redgrave barked. He wrapped his hands around Russell’s neck. They were tight. He then stood, lifting Russell from the ground without any effort at all. Russell uselessly kicked his legs. He wanted to swing the crowbar, but it meant all his weight would be hanging from his throat, “Now just give in and die...”

A blinding light suddenly erupted in his vision. He couldn’t help but drop Russell and shield his face in an instant. Russell rubbed at his neck as he quickly sat himself up. He couldn’t help but look on in bemusement when he saw the adverse reaction Redgrave seemed to be having to apparently nothing. He looked around, and found his eyes falling on Sean.

Sean was holding the cross that he usually wore around his neck. He held it towards Redgrave. To Russell, it simply looked like an ordinary crucifix. To Redgrave, it was painful, feeling as though it was piercing through his skin.

“Kneel, Skal!” Redgrave commanded. Sean didn’t. He simply kept walking towards him.

“He’s no, no skal! You’re more, more skal than, than, than he is!” Russell said. It seemed he assumed that it was meant to be some kind of insult.

“How dare you?!” Redgrave raised his hand in what Russell could only assume was going to be another blow. Russell brought up his own to block or retaliate, but then Redgrave briefly paused when Sean spoke up again.

“We can still end this peacefully, Lord Redgrave,” Sean said, “I’d rather not have to fight you, but you’re leaving me with no choice.”

“I said kneel!” Redgrave managed to force himself to dart towards Sean, looming over him as he closed the gap between them, seemingly forgetting about Russell. Sean felt no need to obey, not like when Jonathan had ordered him to do so.

“I only kneel to God,” Sean said. There was no hint of fear in his voice. He had to fight back, and he was ready.

“Leave him alone!” Russell shouted. He jumped back onto his feet and ran at Redgrave again. Redgrave glanced back to Russell before he could bring in a decent hit. He grabbed the crowbar from Russell’s hand, painfully wrenching it from his fingers.

Sean noticed the red stains forming on the white shirt Russell was wearing. He must have ripped his stitches open sometime during the fight. He would have to try and end this quickly, in order to lessen the risk of permanent damage. Russell either didn’t realise he had done that to himself, or he just didn’t care.

"Russell, stop!" Sean called out. But the younger man didn't seem to hear him.

Russell curled his hands into fists, ready to swing some more punches at Redgrave’s face. But Redgrave brought the crowbar down on top of his head in one harsh swoop. That was enough to send him crumpling to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut. His eyes were shut and a deep purple bruise could already be seen forming underneath his hair.

“Russell!” Sean felt his blood turn to ice when Russell didn’t so much as twitch in response to his voice. Redgrave only smirked as he looked down at Russell and then the crowbar. Seeing that smug smile made ire bubble through Sean's veins. Not many things drove Sean to such anger, but he could feel it brewing in the pit of his stomach.

“I hate to admit it, but perhaps such a crude thing can have its uses,” Redgrave said. He then turned to look back up, his bloodshot eyes meeting with Sean's gold, “I can make this quick for you.”

Redgrave raised the crowbar and tried to swing it. Sean jumped back in a shadowy mist that allowed him to dodge.

It was almost as though his own powers, his anger, decided to take control. Powers he hadn’t taken much time to practice or think about. He felt a set of claws of his own form over his fingers. As Redgrave caught up, he swung them, managing to rake them across his face. They left long gashes in his flesh. Redgrave let out a scream that was more in anger than in pain as he covered the marks with palms. Jonathan's voice suddenly entered his mind.

I'm coming Sean. I'll be there as quick as I can.

Sean jumped back again. He felt a stirring inside of his chest. He brought his hands upwards. He saw a shadowy fog form a short distance away from him, before it exploded into a set of smoky spikes. Redgrave was knocked off of his feet and to the ground, much to Sean's surprise. It swept the anger away.

Sean’s eyes widened. He had to do something. But what? What could he do? Could he take the crowbar and use that to defend himself and Russell? Redgrave was laying on the stone, seemingly stunned by the sudden attack. He got back into his feet as Sean approached. Anyone could see them standing on the edge.

“Leech! On that roof!”

“It’s him! It’s Redgrave!”

“We gotta get up there!”

“Someone get Geoffrey!”

Voices. Presumably those of the Priwen Guard. Redgrave seemed to be spurred back into action on hearing them, as though he knew his time to kill his targets was running short. He swung the crowbar. It didn’t hurt Sean too much, but he had no time to try to counter. The sheer speed and force behind the blows was enough to knock him onto his knees. The last caused him to fall onto his side.

He started to press his hand down so he could quickly get up, but a shoe settled onto his neck. It pushed against his throat as Redgrave smirked down at him.

“You first… and then that boy,” Redgrave said, not even turning to look at Russell. Sean couldn’t crane his neck to see him. It was completely restricted. He got ready to throw Redgrave off of him, determined not to let it end like this, “He’ll wake up knowing he failed to save you. The last thought he’ll ever...”

A loud battle cry erupted from the side. Russell rushed at Redgrave, the stake McCullum had given him gripped tightly in his hand. That had been enough to startle and distract him from Sean. Russell then leapt off the ground and tackled Redgrave. Sean only had enough time to see both of them topple over the edge of the roof.

 

Just like when getting that book for Swansea, he must have momentarily blacked out while falling. His entire body screamed in agony as he awoke. Redgrave was laying underneath him. He seemed to be unconscious. Russell hadn’t managed to stab him with the stake. Redgrave had blocked him with his crowbar in time. But now he had a chance.

He raised it as the few Priwen guards around them came closer. McCullum was looking at him as he stepped towards them, as though waiting for him to make that blow. He would make him proud.

But Redgrave suddenly jumped up, grabbing Russell by his throat and pinning him to a nearby wall without a single word. Geoffrey stalked over to try and stop him. But Redgrave wasted no time in shoving the crowbar into Russell’s chest until just the clawed end could be seen protruding from his flesh. His entire upper body blossomed with pain. Redgrave then twisted it as far as he could. Blood dripped out from around the rusty metal. Russell could only let out a wheezing agonised moan. It was suddenly very hard to breathe.

Time appeared to freeze and all his strength seemed to leave him at once. His legs threatened to buckle, but he pressed his feet against the wall. Despite his injuries, he somehow managed to find just one more burst of energy. He swung the stake and drove it into the side of Redgrave’s head. He managed to bury it in halfway.

Redgrave’s mouth hung open and his eyes went wide. His own hand came loose and he stumbled backwards. Russell yanked the stake out. Blood and brain matter followed it. Geoffrey placed a hand on Redgrave's shoulder and raised a stake of his own, presumably to finish the job, but Russell thrust his forward again and drove it into Redgrave’s heart, where it stuck fast.

Redgrave froze, let out a guttural gurgle, and then dropped to the ground in an undignified heap. He wasn’t going to get back up. Russell slid down the wall.

“Oh shit… that’s bad,” one of the Priwen members said, as Geoffrey knelt down to take a better look at him. Even he couldn't stop himself from cringing when he got a closer glimpse of what Redgrave had done, “Oh God, look at him. Look what that fucker did.”

“I… I got… I got him,” Russell’s voice was barely above a hoarse whisper, “I got him… I, I got that piece, piece of shit...”

“Aye, you sure did,” Geoffrey agreed, “Stop talking now. Save your strength.”

Geoffrey could already see that he was experiencing internal bleeding. It was most likely started by the fall and only made worse by Redgrave ramming the crowbar into him. One of his lungs had been stabbed. His heart had been partially nicked as well. Both had started to bleed inside of him.

Sean came down in that shadowy mist. A look of horror riddled his face, able to see what Geoffrey was looking at. He desperately sent another thought to Jonathan. His eyes were already welling up with tears.

“Russell… Russell, oh God no...” he could only say. He knelt down. Russell’s eyes opened slowly.

“Give him space! And someone get Reid!” Geoffrey ordered his guards, “Get him quickly! Now! Leech probably got himself in trouble on his way here!”

“It’s… it’s okay, Sean...” Russell said. He forced himself to smile, despite that being the last thing he wanted to do. His hand felt heavy. It shook as he reached up and thumbed Sean’s tears away from his cheeks. He retched and red sticky vomit dripped out from between his lips. His mouth felt so dry. He briefly winced before he continued, “Even, even a cockroach, even a cockroach, has to, has to die… sometime… fuck… it… it… it hurts… so, so, so much...”

Sean shushed him, moving Russell’s hair away from his clammy face.

“Don’t call yourself that,” Sean said. He took one of Russell’s hands in his. He felt Russell hold it tightly, “Just squeeze my hand. Stay with us… please...”

“And stop talking. Save your strength, kid,” Geoffrey reminded him, “Where the Hell is Reid?! Am I going to have to pick him up and take him?”

The other guards were leaving quickly, presumably to form some kind of search party, leaving just him and Sean behind. Russell’s vision was swimming. It sounded like everything was underwater. He opened his mouth, presumably to say something else, but he only coughed more bloody particles into the air. His hand was slowly coming loose from Sean’s.

The last thing he heard was Sean desperately begging him to stay awake as his eyes slipped shut and everything seemed to fade.

Chapter Text

Chapter 24: In the Hands of Fate

It was like the entire universe had conspired to hold up Jonathan as much as possible. A Sewer Beast had decided to make itself known outside of Pembroke just as he had left to answer Sean’s faint call for help. Oswald Thatcher would have been hurt (or potentially worse) trying to protect Newton Blight from it if Jonathan hadn’t stepped in.

The two of them had tried to stop him and thank him until he said there was a possible medical emergency that he urgently needed to answer.

Two Ekons had attacked him next. They claimed that it was for Lord Redgrave’s honour. He didn’t know if that was really true, and he didn’t care to know. What he did know was there was no outrunning another Ekon, let alone two. He had had no choice but to defeat them as well. It hadn’t been difficult, but it had been long due to the vampires' talents for casting blood barriers. He was forced to rely more on biting his foes constantly until they dropped.

Three stray skals had caught him out as he finally got into the East East Docks area. Blinkers, as Edgar called them. They weren’t hard to fight, just like with the Ekons, but their constant dodging and speedy movements made the battle last much longer than it should have.

Two members of the Guard of Priwen had stopped him after coming and helping to deal with the skals. Fearing that they had come to try and fight him too (some of them had a habit of trying to ignore Geoffrey's orders), he had been about to command them to move because he needed to get a possible patient. They had confirmed that they actually come to find him and that Geoffrey had ordered them to.

He immediately followed them back. They ran as fast as they could, reporting to Geoffrey that Jonathan was here. Jonathan almost did a double-take at the crowbar’s taloned end sticking out of Russell’s chest.

“Where the Hell were you?” Geoffrey asked. Sean was quietly sobbing over Russell, who rested on his side, his back still pressed against the wall. Russell’s eyes were closed and his chest wasn’t moving at all.

“Where were your guards?” Jonathan only asked in response, “A Sewer Beast, two Rogue Ekons, and three skals. They slowed me down, McCullum. I would have been able to get here in time if not for them.”

“Damn it!” Geoffrey only said in response, before shaking his head, “All in the wrong areas...”

Sean reluctantly moved so that Jonathan could take a better look at Russell. Jonathan examined Russell carefully, despite knowing there was no actual hope of helping him. He was already gone. He then slowly looked up.

“I’m sorry,” he said, confirming what Sean and Geoffrey already knew as he stood, “I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do for him now.”

Was this what Usher Talltree’s prediction had meant in the end? Sean continued to quietly weep on hearing that news.

“It’s pretty karmic, isn’t it? When you think about it,” Geoffrey said, as he glanced back to Redgrave’s corpse, “Bastard was bested by a mortal and a skal, a powerful skal but still a skal, two things he hated the most. He was too fast though. He put that crowbar through the poor kid in seconds. But Russell got him. He got him good. Double staked him.”

“He was so young,” Sean said, his voice filled with grief. Jonathan placed a hand on his shoulder in an attempt to comfort him, “He was finally finding his place here.”

“He’s with God now, Saint,” Geoffrey said, “You can at least know that.”

 

He was buried a few plots down from Carl Eldritch. Geoffrey had insisted that he deserved better than a mass grave. The crowbar was carefully removed and placed in his arms. Sean prayed that he would be welcomed into God’s domain while the hole was filled in.

A makeshift wooden cross had been used to form a marker. Jonathan couldn’t help but think of his sister.

Was she at peace? Jonathan tried to remind himself of what he had told Aloysius Dawson; that death was only painful for those who were left behind, not for those who had passed. The sadness from this night would also eventually be nothing more than a faded phantom.

As the sun had started to rise, everyone headed to their respective places. There was only the sound of a gentle breeze washing over the world.

 

The next night rolled around. Geoffrey had been planning to write a notice of leave. He had already chosen his replacement. Percival Swinton was a confident yet reasonable man, and knew when to draw the line on several occasions. David and Mark would agree that he was the best man for the job. He could hunt on his own.

He was patrolling while he compiled it in his head. But then he heard his men a few streets down, screaming about a leech. He had to follow.

It wasn’t long before he saw the man they had surrounded. He looked to be in his thirties. His hair was ginger, as was the beard he possessed, and his skin was pale. He didn’t seem at all worried by the weapons that were pointed at him.

Geoffrey already knew he wasn’t a human. It was that aura he possessed, along with his bloodshot eyes. His irises were an unnatural shade of grey, and his pupils seemed to be slightly slit. That white skin that was crisscrossed with blue veins was also a giveaway to those who could see through the glamour. As soon as they head him coming, his men turned to look at him.

In an instant, the man was standing out of the circle they had made around him. Geoffrey’s eyes widened.

“How did you do that, leech?” he asked.

“Like a cat, you can eventually learn to shadow jump through the smaller spaces,” the man replied, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. There was a familiar twang in his voice. He was American, or had at least lived there for a long time. That made Geoffrey send a quick thought to Jonathan. He hoped he would get here quickly this time, “Look, as much as I love the enthusiasm of a good hunter, I’m not here for fights, my friend. Nothing like that. I’m looking for somebody who might be here.”

Geoffrey looked at his group.

“Stand down,” he said. He nodded in approval as his group put their weapons away, “For now at least. But we’re watching you, leech.”

“That’s smart, you should always be watching,” he replied, “Now that we’ve got that funny little welcome out of the way, you might be able to give me a hand.”

“We don’t help leeches,” Geoffrey said.

“All you need to do is tell me if you’ve seen a man, well, he’s more of a boy than a man compared to us, called Russell or not,” he said. Geoffrey had been about to tell him to be quiet, but the name made him stop. The stranger then reached into his pocket. Everyone watched him carefully, but then he pulled out a newspaper clipping. Geoffrey walked over so he could take a closer look. It wasn’t a front page story, but when Geoffrey saw the headline, it all came into place.

“American Soldier Washed Up on London Docks.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but then a familiar person arrived. Jonathan had come in good time. Much to Geoffrey’s dismay, Edgar had followed.

“Ah, more of you, always good to meet fellow kinsmen,” the newcomer said, smiling.

“Old Bill,” Jonathan knew who it was without the man needing to say anything. He certainly didn’t look old though.

“Yep, that’s me,” Old Bill replied, “Although I don’t think I can be called that anymore at the moment. Blood does wonders for your youth. But yes, that tells me something. It does. Russell survived those Horsemen, and he’s here. What a kick in the teeth for them, well, it would be if they were still alive.”

“It’s so good to meet you, sir,” Edgar said. Well, the question had been answered. It seemed the man really was some kind of vampire, “Russell’s told us quite a bit.”

“Yes, and you too, I suppose,” Old Bill said, a wide smile on his face, “So I don’t know who any of you are, but you know who I am, which is great to hear, that he has. So, as much as it’s always good to meet fellow kinsmen, I’d really like to see him. So could one of you perhaps bring him to me or tell him I’m about?”

“Should I tell him?” Geoffrey said. Old Bill’s smile faded, “Or do you want to do it?”

“Tell me what?” Bill asked.

“We’re very sorry to have to tell you this, but I’m afraid he’s dead, Bill,” Jonathan said, “He was killed in a violent fight last night.”

Old Bill’s face became riddled with sadness when he heard that.

“Ain’t that a crapper...” was all that he said.

 

Sean had been summoned to Jonathan’s office in Pembroke. Geoffrey had chosen to stay as well, so he could share some of the stuff he had seen. It seemed that Sean and Jonathan knew the most while telling it. They told the whole story of the past month or so’s events; Russell washing up on the docks, his amnesia, the hypnotherapy sessions to retrieve his memories, Redgrave's plots, Sean taking care of him, Geoffrey hoping to recruit him, the assassination attempt, and then his mutual death with Lord Redgrave, although they chose to omit the more dubious experiments Edgar had done.

Old Bill had listened, even looking impressed at the fact that Russell had managed to kill the elite vampire before succumbing to his wounds, and then he told his own in turn. After the ship he was supposed to be on had returned, he had been dismayed that Russell hadn’t been on it. However, he had realised there was something suspicious, despite everyone claiming that Russell had simply fallen overboard and had ended up lost.

He had gotten what he needed to know out of Elmer. It seemed that threatening to reduce him to a brain-dead husk by clawing inside of his mind and yanking the truth out of it was more than enough to scare the man into telling him what had really happened. He had mercy on Elmer afterwards. His circumstances at the time had been difficult and to his credit, he had tried to give Russell a better chance of survival.

Walter had been left alive as well; the Horsemen had decided that it would have been so much more traumatic for him to have to live with Russell’s supposed demise. He clearly felt guilty about all of it. Bill had also taken pity on him, charming him into trying to move on from that night and allow Russell to live on through him.

He had then gone on his own personal hunt for the Horsemen, slaughtering them all like cattle and draining them of their blood one by one as he encountered them. He saw everything in their memories. Then he had seen that small article in one of the newspapers he had picked up.

“I just had to come here,” Bill said, “I had to see if it was him. I didn’t care about him being, what he was. Heck, I even had a few different lovers myself in my younger years. As I said to him those months ago, I was just happy he didn’t turn like that miserable old mare of a mother he had. Hell, I would have stayed with him here if he wanted to stay here.”

“He was finding a place here,” Sean said quietly. Unhappiness riddled his features, “A purpose, and then it just got snatched away. I’m just wondering if he could been saved somehow...”

“The cosmos have a funny old way of seeing things through,” Bill said, “But as I said to Walter, he can live on through you, don’t forget that, my friend. I can only thank you for looking after him the way you did, Father Hampton. You made his last few weeks in this world better than they could have been. You, Doctor Reid, and you Doctor Swansea, thank you for helping him with his memories, and for whenever he happened to hurt himself. He was always surprisingly durable, much to his mother’s dismay.”

“I’m just sorry I couldn’t save him this time,” Jonathan said.

“It was very unfortunate circumstances,” Edgar said, “Sometimes life just betrays one that way.”

Bill nodded.

“I suppose so,” he said, before he looked towards Geoffrey, “Thank you as well, Mister McCullum. Had he lived, he might have been happy under your wing, or even just knowing you.”

“Perhaps,” Geoffrey only replied. Old Bill then slowly stood.

“It’s been good to meet all of you, I always like meeting a fellow kinsman and his progeny. I never had any of my own,” Old Bill said, “But I believe I should be going. Perhaps we will all see each other again. We’re all immortals after all.”

“Where will you go?” Sean asked. Bill shrugged.

“I never know to be honest, not until I get there. But that just makes it more interesting for me, maybe I'll raise another unfortunate little soul, or adopt thirty dogs, or become a chicken farmer, I never know until I'm doing it,” Bill replied, before he chuckled, “Stay kind, Saint. The world needs more people like you in. Stay good as well, Doctor Reid. The Horned Man clearly chose you because he knew there was something special about you.”

He pretended not to notice the flicker of surprise in Jonathan's eyes. He then looked at Edgar.

“I can see something brewing in your blood, Doctor Swansea. I can smell it too, like freshly smelted copper. Reminds me of me when I was your age,” he said “Don’t let it consume you. You’ll quickly realise that there’s no fun in being on the more unethical side.”

Edgar awkwardly looked away. Geoffrey was next. He was already eyeing Bill with suspicion.

“You are clearly still getting used to being an immortal, my friend,” he said, “You expected to become a monster, and you’re surprised that you didn’t. You’re still worried that you will.”

Geoffrey opened his mouth to presumably protest, but Bill continued.

“I don’t think you will. I can see it in you. I think you’re going to be just fine,” he said. He turned as though to leave, but then he raised a finger, as though remembering something, “Ah yes, of course. Please, give my regards to Primate Talltree, will you? I really must catch up and have a proper chat with him sometime. Now then, I must be off.”

He went to the window and then vanished out of a shadowy jump. No one could sense where he had gone.

“Where did he go?” Sean said.

“I can't say I know.” Edgar sounded astounded.

“If I have to hunt him, he's going to be sorry,” was all Geoffrey said.

Chapter Text

Chapter 25: Through the Sea of Time

A lot changed over the course of a hundred years. Medicine improved, as did technology, communication, knowledge, and general attitudes to human differences. There seemed to be a lot more acceptance.

There was still a long way to go yet in regards to that last one of course, but they had come far as well. They couldn’t deny that.

Geoffrey moved on from the Guard of Priwen, just like he had planned. He had chosen to start hunting independently, travelling around to do so. He was still doing it now, making his way to different countries in order to slay any evil vampires that lurked in the shadows.

Jonathan kept Edgar and Sean close, although the latter seemed content with going with Jonathan wherever he went. Edgar needed a tight leash. He had started showing remorse more often since his turning, but he still had his moments where he was tempted to bite into the throat of an innocent person or perform an experiment where he wasn’t the subject, no matter how harmless it might have seemed. He was often kept away from mortals unless Jonathan or Sean were around to watch him closely.

Jonathan still wondered if he had made the right call, even if Edgar had made some useful discoveries regarding vampire limitations. He could take some consolation that Edgar had seemed to have calmed down at least a little bit and appeared to be sorry for what he had done, even if he had seemed to have developed a disturbing enjoyment to pain from his own experiments.

It was probably just as well Jonathan's ability to know where his progenies were and what they were doing at any given time had gotten so much stronger. A powerful projection inside a mind was usually enough to stop anyone doing anything unsavoury.

He and Sean had grown closer towards each other, much to his surprise. He had honestly believed after Sean’s turning and what he had done to force him into it, it never would have happened. But it seemed that Sean had long-since forgiven him, and something of a relationship had developed between them.

Sean had entrusted his shelter to Lottie and Giselle before leaving London. He had kept himself busy over the years. He preferred to always be doing something. He volunteered for various places and he was always trying to teach himself something new. He had recently learned American Sign Language to go with the French, German, Mandarin, and British Sign Language he now knew. He had since moved onto Japanese. The most recent charity organisation he had set up, St George’s Guidance, had taken off rather well.

Elisabeth Ashbury and Jonathan's efforts had finally paid off around the year of 1988. A total cure to the blood of hate was found and she had been the first to have it. She still chose to remain in her castle, although she travelled from time to time, meeting Jonathan, Sean, Edgar, and even Geoffrey on some of the places they went. When she and Edgar met each other in person again, she made sure to teach Edgar a lesson everyone was certain he would not forget for at least the next millennium. Edgar would certainly not let it leave his memory anytime soon.

Usher Talltree’s age had finally started to show. Although his longevity definitely confirmed he wasn't human, no one knew what he was, and he never told them. Whenever the turban came off (rarely), his hair could be seen greying at the temples. His beard was starting to show flecks of grey as well. A few wrinkles could be seen on his face. However, he still carried that aura of authority, had still stuck with his role of Primate, and (much to Edgar’s disappointment) had apparently chosen a replacement for ‘when the time came’ when the doctor had broached the subject during a conversation on that computer messaging programme called Strype.

Jonathan was almost certain he saw the Primate subtly smirking when Edgar stepped out for a moment to answer the phone after he had given him that news.

The arrival of the Internet had proven very useful to keeping in contact with those they couldn’t see in person as often anymore. Especially since Talltree had made the suggestion that they leave London before anyone got too suspicious about their true natures. That had been during the year of nineteen-forty-eight.

Sean had tried to convince Old Bridget to come with them, but she refused. She stated that her place was in London. The last time he had heard from her, she had taken in yet another abandoned skal. It seemed they knew where to find her and that she would care for them.

Feeding without killing had become significantly easier over the years as well. It had become a lot less difficult to just take a few mouthfuls and leave a person none the wiser.

They had spent twenty years in Scotland after leaving London, before moving down to the county of Cornwall for another ten. Another twenty were spent in France, and nearly another full twenty in Holland. Anywhere they went, there was always need for a doctor. It was nearing the end of 2018 when Bill suggested coming to the United States.

“There’s a nice big empty house in Endlebridge, up in Washington State that’s up for grabs, it would happily take the three of you, and perhaps good old Mister McCullum or Lady Ashbury if they ever fancy coming and staying for a spell,” he had said on Strype. He looked the same as he did when they first met him, even after all this time, “I could grab it and hold onto it for you until you get here. And there are a couple of physician positions open at their local hospital. Working nights. I just moved into a nice little house on the Suburbs there myself. Good place in my opinion. What do you say?”

They went. If only because they had been preparing to move on again and hadn’t entirely made up their minds on where to go.

 

Endlebridge was a nice place. They had all come to that agreement after living there for about a month. They could definitely stay for the next ten years at least.

Jonathan had gotten a night off from the hospital. Edgar had been the one to suggest watching a band play in this club named The Falling Star, where Bill worked as a bartender, just to try something different. The band was called Midnight Swarm and they seemed to specialise in a genre called Electro Swing.

They had agreed to meet there. Sean had just finished up with helping out at the local library. The sun had already sank below the horizon. This time of year, when days were shorter, was always more favourable.

He had found himself unsure of which way to go, so he decided to ask for directions in a nearby cafe. Consoles n’ Cups. Sean heard about this place. Bill apparently loved it. He had gotten heavily into computer games and even set up a video channel online where he played them. Sean hadn’t really gotten into them himself, but he had to admit that that cheerful plumber character was rather endearing.

According to Bill, the staff were also very friendly and helpful. So he was rather confident as he stepped inside. Judging by the aesthetic of the place, and all the different machines, this was definitely a gamer’s (as Bill called himself) haven. There were a lot of customers in here. The place must stay open late, he had assumed. Someone was bent over behind the counter. Perfect.

“Excuse me. I was just wondering if you could possibly point me in the direction of The Falling...” he was forced to trail off briefly as the man straightened up on hearing him, “Star...”

It was like he was staring at a replica. A doppelgänger who had crossed time itself.

His hair was a little longer, he was a little bit taller, and he was definitely a few years older than the soldier Sean had met a century ago. But the colour of his eyes, the tone of his skin, the shape of his face, and even his general frame were practically the same.

“The uh, The Falling Star,” his voice even sounded identical as he asked, “S-sure, I can, I can take you there if you like, I’m heading there myself to uh, to be honest.”

He even had a stammer. It wasn’t as profound as it had been all those years ago, but it was definitely there. Sean was silent.

“Uh, are you, ehehe, are you okay there, man? You, you look like you’ve seen a ghost… my uh, my face isn’t that ugly, is it?” he said, as he then smiled. He was clearly hoping that sounded funny.

“Oh, no. Not at all,” Sean said. He couldn’t help but notice the awkward chuckle. That was new as well, if this was even possible, “I just thought you were someone else for a moment. You looked very familiar.”

“Ah, it, it happens,” he said, “I’m uh, I’m one of those uh, one of those blonde guys that, ehehe, looks familiar to everybody. But yeah, I can lead you there.”

“Yes, if it’s not a problem, that would be very helpful,” Sean said.

“No problem at all,” the stranger replied, “I’ll uh, I’ll go put my apron away real quick, and then I’ll be right with you. Hopefully, ehe, Trevor will be ready to man the counter.”

He stepped over to a door that had ‘staff only’ written on the front. He disappeared inside.

 

“Imagine my shock when I saw him too,” Bill suddenly said from right next to him. Sean almost jumped.

“Oh Bill. Where did you come from?” Sean said.

“Places,” Bill replied, “You noticed it, didn’t you?”

“I did,” Sean said, making sure to keep his voice quiet, “He looks… so much like him. He’s living here in Washington. He had talked about living in Washington before. He even sounds like him and there's the scent of his blood... But that shouldn’t be possible, should it?”

“I like to think if I ever died too young, I’d take a chance to give life another shot if I got one, just like their friend Porky might have done,” Bill said, smiling.

"You didn't think to tell anyone about this, Bill?" Sean asked.

"I thought the surprise would be more of a thrill. I certainly wasn't going to tell you in front of Edgar anyway, he's still got a bit of a Doctor Frankenstein vibe if you ask me, or perhaps Frank-N-Furter" Bill replied, chuckling, “I’ll see if I can convince him to show you that birthmark on his chest at some point... oh he’s coming back.”

Sean had been about to ask what he meant but Bill disappeared in a shadowy jump again. The barista stepped out of the staff room. He had swapped his apron for a hoodie and a scarf. He had a messenger bag hooked over his shoulder. Another young man, clearly in his late teens, hurried out after him and stepped behind the counter. That must have been Trevor. The familiar stranger then walked up to Sean.

“I’m uh, I’m ready if you are,” he said, offering him another smile.

“Yes, I am, thank you,” Sean replied.

 

They were both quiet as they walked. It was plain to see that the young man wanted to strike up some kind of conversation, but wasn’t sure of how to break the ice. Sean decided to make it easier.

“I’m Sean Hampton by the way,” he said, “I only moved here about a month ago and so I’m still learning where everything is.”

“Oh, really?” the young man said, “It’s, it’s nice to meetcha, Sean. I uh, I hope you like it here. I’ve been here a few, a few years myself, and I don’t regret coming.”

“I think I will like it here, it seems like a good place so far," Sean replied, smiling softly, “What’s your name, if I may ask?”

He almost felt like he was back in London, leading that lost soul to his shelter. He half-expected him to say he didn’t know, just like last time. But he didn’t.

“My name’s Russell,” he answered, “Russell Tolbert.”

Chapter Text

Alternative Scene: Turning Point

“Where the Hell were you?” Geoffrey asked, as Jonathan walked over, lead by a pair of Priwen Guards. Sean was quietly sobbing over Russell, who rested on his side, his back still pressed against the wall. Russell’s eyes were closed, but he was still breathing. However, that was stopping and his heart was slowing down.

“Where were your guards?” Jonathan only asked in response, as he approached, “A Sewer Beast, a Rogue Ekon, and three skals. They slowed me down, McCullum. I would have been able to get here in time if not for them.”

“Damn it!” Geoffrey only said in response, before shaking his head, “All in the wrong areas...”

Sean reluctantly moved so that Jonathan could take a better look at Russell. He still had time left, but that was rapidly running out. He wouldn't be able to get him to the hospital. He would die before they got even a fraction of the way there.

“There’s only one way to save him now,” Jonathan said, as he then looked up at Geoffrey and then at Sean, “And I believe you already know what that is.”

Was this what Usher Talltree’s prediction had meant in the end?

A hopeful look had formed in Sean’s eyes. Geoffrey was already frowning in disapproval.

“If it was me in that position...” Geoffrey only said, before he then turned to look away, “Do what you will. I swear to God though, Reid. I’ll put him down twice as fast as Redgrave did if he starts becoming a monster.”

“If you and Sean didn’t, then perhaps he has a chance,” Jonathan replied. He reached down to carefully pull Russell into a sitting position, before tilting his head up. Russell was once again a dead weight, “Russell. Russell, can you hear me? You need to wake up.”

He wasn’t sure if he would. He started to think he had slipped too deeply into oblivion.

But then he saw Russell’s eyelids fluttering, before they opened a sliver. He saw that Russell had some recognition in his gaze. He tried to talk. More of that crimson dribbled from between his lips.

“D...Doc...”

Sean shushed him again.

“Don’t talk,” he said, “Just listen to Doctor Reid.”

Jonathan didn’t hesitate any longer. He bit into his arm. He held out the wound towards Russell, still keeping his head held up.

“Drink, Russell,” Jonathan said, “You will die, but then you will live again.”

He wasn’t sure if Russell heard. But then he felt Russell’s mouth on the bite. It took him a lot of effort to swallow each mouthful, but he didn’t throw anything back up, like Jonathan feared. He eventually took his arm away. Russell didn’t protest. When Jonathan let go, his head hung down and his heartbeat came to a stop.

He slowly removed the crowbar from Russell’s chest, letting it drop to the ground beside him. The wound seemed to be closing up already.

“Is he...” Sean paused, as though afraid to ask.

“If all goes as it should, he will reawaken later,” Jonathan said, “It’ll be better if he’s not alone when he does. We’ll take him to the hospital.”

 

Russell’s chest ached. He briefly put a hand to his head. It hurt. He felt a burning hunger inside of his gut and an itching in his teeth. His throat was so dry.

The first thought he had was that he was in Hell. He remembered Redgrave shoving his crowbar through his chest, and he had staked him in return. He felt that pain, the fatigue and then everything fading out as Sean begged him to stay awake. He then thought that ending up in Hell was a small price to pay if it ensured Sean’s safety and that piece of shit Redgrave going down once and for all.

“It, it, it was, it was worth it...” his voice was a hoarse murmur and it felt like it was scratching at the inside of his mouth.

“What was worth it?” that was Sean’s voice. He couldn’t be dead then. No one like Sean would have ended up in Hell with him.

Russell’s eyes sprung open and he shot into a sitting position. That only made his vision swim, making it hard to tell where he was at first. He was too aware of that newfound thirst again.

“Easy, easy...” Sean said kindly, placing a hand on his shoulder “You’ve been through a lot. How are you feeling?”

He gazed around. He was back at the hospital. It looked like Jonathan’s office, where he had woken up after he had been stopped from killing Usher Talltree. He put a hand on his chest. It still hurt, but it didn’t seem like there was any wound.

Had he just been badly hurt? Was it just some messed up dream that came from all the pain and emotions that had reared themselves up during that fight? He had been so angry. He swallowed.

“I hate, hate to, hate to sound like a, like a grouser but...” Russell said, “Sore, I uh, I guess, and, and real, real thirsty… I think I need, I need some water...”

“I’m afraid water isn’t going to do anything for you anymore,” Edgar said, smiling brightly, “You took six hours to wake up in the end. A little bit longer than I did, but I suppose you were closer to death to be fair.”

“Edgar. Please. We need to let him take it in slowly,” Jonathan said.

“He’s the youngest person so far who has survived a transformation in the history of the Brotherhood’s research,” Edgar hadn’t seemed to have heard him, “This is a big thing...”

“Please… please… I would… I would really like something to, to drink...” Russell said. He made a move to get up, presumably to find something for himself, but Sean kept his hand on his shoulder.

“Of course,” Jonathan said. He then opened the door and softly called out into the hallway, “Doctor Strickland. Could you please come in here for a moment?”

Strickland did, Jonathan placed a hand on top of his head and whispered something in his ear. His face became blank and his eyes grew glassy. He seemed to be looking through them, rather than at them.

“Of course, Doctor Reid,” he spoke as though he was sleep-talking. He stepped closer, guided by Jonathan’s hand on his back.

“Our patient here needs to take your arm for a minute. If you could please let him,” Jonathan said.

“Oh, of course,” Strickland acted as though it was a perfectly reasonable request, “Here you are, young man.”

“Let your instincts guide you,” Jonathan said.

Strickland held his arm out. It was like a switch was suddenly flipped inside Russell’s mind. Russell took the doctor’s wrist in his hands and pushed his new fangs into the vein. Blood instantly flowed into his mouth.

He should have been disgusted. He should have been horrified. But he wasn’t. He was caught up in the warm ambrosia that seemed to give him more life with each mouthful that he took. He felt better with each swallow. He was almost lost in the feeling, and the taste.

“Enough now,” Jonathan said. It seemed like he had told him that too soon. Russell kept going, taking some more, “That’s enough...”

Just a little bit more… just a little…

“Enough!” the tone of Jonathan’s voice convinced Russell to stop. He pulled his fangs out of his Strickland’s wrist. He licked the droplets that followed and then pressed his tongue to the wounds. It looked like his arm had never been bitten at all, “Thank you, Doctor Strickland. Please attend to your other duties, and remember nothing of what has just occurred in here.”

“Of course, Doctor Reid,” Strickland replied. He headed out then. Russell watched him leave, but he didn’t move to go after him. The realisation came to him. He really had just drank the man’s blood like it was the most normal thing in the world.

So he had died yesterday, or come very close. It was obvious what had happened now. He had been turned into a vampire as well, most likely to save him.

“You know what they say, Jonathan. A healthy appetite is a good sign,” Edgar said, “And I’m sure you feel better for it, don’t you, Russell?”

He wasn’t wrong. The pain he felt was rapidly fading. He felt stronger. His head no longer throbbed and that thirst had abated for now. There was still a gnawing in his gut, but it wasn’t as unbearable as it had been.

“Yes… I, I do… thank you, for uh, for saving my life, but… I uh, this will, this will take a little, a little, a little getting used to...” Russell admitted, “Not that I’m, I’m ungrateful, but you know, you know, you know, right?”

Not the most eloquent way of trying to say it, but he hoped that it got the point across.

“Yes, Russell, I do know,” Jonathan said kindly, “We all do. It took all of us some time to get used to immortality.”

“But you’ll find that it has many benefits,” Edgar said, smiling, “Honestly, in just a day or so, maybe even less, you’ll wonder why you never tried to become immortal sooner. You’re just like us now.”

“Yes, I, I suppose I uh, I am,” Russell said.

 

Before they slept for the day, Russell had asked many questions. He was even allowed to see what kind of abilities he displayed in the controlled environment. Edgar was clearly eager to observe. Just like Jonathan and the rest of his progeny, he displayed the ability to move in a black shadowy blur and to compel others by his voice.

Concern was written all over his face when he successfully mesmerised someone, even though he had been supervised and he had been assured that Doctor Ackroyd would not suffer any permanent damage. He had fallen into that trance-like state, as instructed, and was brought out when he was told to awaken. Russell looked at the palm of his hand with surprise in his gaze.

It was a perfect mirror image of what Sean had done when he had first mesmerised Russell just through instinct. Jonathan couldn’t help but smile at the Saint, who sheepishly looked away. Despite that, there was no missing the small smile he had been wearing as well.

Sean returned to the night shelter when they felt that the sun was soon going to rise. Russell had been asked to remain at the hospital for the time being, just to make sure that he would be fine and so he could be stopped if his thirst for blood got the better of him. Thankfully, it didn't that time.

 

The next night rolled around. Geoffrey had been planning to write a notice of leave. He had already chosen his replacement. Percival Swinton was a confident yet reasonable man, and knew when to draw the line on several occasions. David and Mark would agree that he was the best man for the job. He could hunt on his own.

He was patrolling while he compiled it in his head. But then he heard his men a few streets down, screaming about a leech. He had to follow.

It wasn’t long before he saw the man they had surrounded. He looked to be in his thirties. His hair was ginger, as was the beard he possessed, and his skin was pale. He didn’t seem at all worried by the weapons that were pointed at him.

Geoffrey already knew he wasn’t a human. It was that aura he possessed, along with his bloodshot eyes. His irises were an unnatural shade of grey, and his pupils seemed to be slightly slit. That white skin that was crisscrossed with blue veins was also a giveaway to those who could see through the glamour. As soon as they head him coming, his men turned to look at him.

In an instant, the man was standing out of the circle they had made around him. Geoffrey’s eyes widened.

“How did you do that, leech?” he asked.

“Like a cat, you can eventually learn to shadow jump through the smaller spaces,” the man replied, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. There was a familiar twang in his voice. He was American. That made Geoffrey send a quick thought to Jonathan. He hoped he would get here quickly this time, “Look, as much as I love the enthusiasm of a good hunter, I’m not here for fights, my friend. Nothing like that. I’m looking for somebody who might be here.”

Geoffrey looked at his group.

“Stand down,” he said. He nodded in approval as his group put their weapons away, “For now at least. But we’re watching you, leech.”

“That’s smart, you should always be watching,” he replied, “Now that we’ve got that funny little welcome out of the way, you might be able to give me a hand.”

“We don’t help leeches,” Geoffrey said.

“All you need to do is tell me if you’ve seen a man, well, he’s more of a boy than a man compared to us, called Russell or not,” he said. Geoffrey had been about to tell him to be quiet, but the name made him stop. The stranger then reached into his pocket. Everyone watched him carefully, but then he pulled out a newspaper clipping. Geoffrey walked over so he could take a closer look. It wasn’t a front page story, but when Geoffrey saw the headline, it all came into place.

“American Soldier Washed Up on London Docks.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but then a familiar person arrived. Jonathan had come in good time. Much to Geoffrey’s dismay, Edgar had followed. Russell had too. It seemed that Jonathan was making sure to keep an eye on him for these first days.

“Old Bill,” Jonathan knew who it was without the man needing to say anything. He certainly didn’t look old though.

“It’s so good to meet you, sir,” Edgar said. Well, the question had been answered. It seemed the man really was some kind of vampire as well, “Russell’s told us quite a bit. I'm Doctor Swansea.”

“Bill?” Russell’s voice spoke up first. Ah, his ability to know who someone was just by their blood had shown its existence. His eyes were wide and a smile crept across his lips, “Bill? Is it, is it, is it really you?”

“Yep, it’s me, it’s Old Bill,” Old Bill replied, as a smile crept onto his face, “Although I don’t think I can be called that anymore at the moment. Blood does wonders for your youth. Russell, it’s so good to see you, and you’re a kinsman now. Not the path I imagined you would be taking. Although definitely still better than you turning out like that miserable old mare.”

“It was to save him, sir,” Jonathan explained, “I’m afraid he would have died otherwise. He got in a very violent fight last night.”

“No, no! I’m not criticising. This is certainly nicer than me coming all the way here and then finding out he’s died,” Bill said quickly.

“It definitely is,” Edgar replied, sounding happy once more, “He’s just like us now, just like Jonathan here.”

“Personally, if I was in his shoes...” Geoffrey repeated his sentiment from the night before.

“Yes, but we all have to wear our own, my friend,” Old Bill replied, chuckling, “So… not to be rude, but why won’t we find somewhere a bit quieter and have a chat about what’s been going on? It seems like I’ve got quite the story to hear.”

“I uh, I think so, think so too,” Russell said.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Geoffrey only replied. That caused Bill to laugh.

"Oh, I'm definitely looking forward to hearing all of this now," he said, "Lead the way, my good men."

Chapter Text

Bonus Chapter: Old Bill’s Endeavour

He had been waiting for the ship to make its return. He could only be glad it was during the night time. Most people knew him to be nocturnal, often blaming his old age for his messed up sleep cycle. If only they knew the truth.

Russell had sent him a letter, the last of the many he had sent while on the front, saying that he would be on his way home. He had been surprised but delighted to know that Russell had managed to prove his original prediction wrong. He had been debating to himself whether to share the news about his mother just yet. Of course, he knew what had really happened; he had decided her life was forfeit and drained her off her blood soon after Russell left, but he had figured out the cover story. He briefly wondered if Russell would end up noticing the years that were shaved off his appearance since then.

He had ultimately decided not to tell him. He would most likely want to take some time to relax after all the travelling and not be thinking about it if he had told him in a letter.

Bill’s heart sank as he watched everyone leave the ship and saw no sign of Russell anywhere on it. His eyes met with one particular individual. He was a man in his late twenties. His brown hair was closely shaved and his blue eyes were filled with anxiety as he approached. Another man was behind him. His own black hair was a little bit longer, his face was riddled with sorrow, and he kept his brown gaze over Bill’s shoulder.

“You must be Bill,” the first said, “Russell’s told us a lot about you, Sir. Me and Walter here. My name’s Elmer.”

He gestured to the younger man behind him before offering his hand to shake.

“Ah, nice to meet you both,” Bill replied. He accepted the gesture, “He’s told me a lot you both as well in his letters, along with everyone else in your little group, Lord rest their souls and Lord give Earnest a safe rest of his journey. I hate to sound rude to you nice young men, but where is Russell? He said he was coming back.”

He could smell the lie as soon as it came out. It was like concentrated ammonia.

“He fell off the ship, I’m afraid,” Elmer said, “And we couldn’t find him when he landed in the water. I can only assume that he just sank like a stone. The weather had been really bad that night, an awful storm.”

Bill couldn’t help but notice that Walter was constantly looking back over his shoulder to four particular men. He could smell a familiar scent in their blood; very similar to decay despite them being alive. A lot of humans he had met in his time carried that smell.

Did they have something to do with Russell’s disappearance?

“You don’t want to bother yourself with those guys any,” Elmer said, noticing that he was looking at them, “They’re not very nice people. I call them the Horsemen. Russell probably told you. We’re really sorry that we had to give you this news, sir. I can only assume that God’s given him a warm welcome now.”

Russell had indeed told him about the Horsemen in some of his letters. One of them had tried to cut out of his tongue. Earnest had stopped that from happening though. He had to give the big man some credit for that.

“Perhaps,” Old Bill replied. He did his best to show a calm demeanour, despite the rage that bubbled in the pit of his stomach, “Don’t be sorry, my friend. The cosmos have a funny old way of seeing things through.”

 

As it went later into night-time, he told Freyde and Robert that he had a pilgrimage to go on.

“I probably won’t be coming back,” he had said, “I’ve got places to go, and things to do. You both have been absolutely wonderful neighbours to me, and stand-in parents to Russell when I couldn’t be, and I felt I owed it to you to say goodbye. Please tell anyone who comes around that my house is free to anyone who just needs it.”

“What will we tell them about you, Bill?” Freyde asked. Her cheeks were still running with tears from the news of Russell's death.

“Just tell them I died suddenly in my sleep, like Cassandra did, and you buried me. I even wrote a will to use. You’ll find it under my bed,” Bill said, “They’ll believe that. I’m old.”

“I can’t believe you’re leaving,” Robert said, “Can you at least tell us why?”

“As I said, I got some things I need to do,” Bill said, “And I know for a fact I won’t be able to come back once I’ve done them.”

“Bill Goodwin. Always the secret-keeper,” Robert said, “Aren’t you, Vampire?”

“That I am,” Bill replied, “Hunter.”

 

Elmer was staying in a tavern for the rest of the night. He wanted to get some rest before he started making his way back to Texas. All he could think about was seeing Dorothy and Rose again. He could already picture Dorothy running into his arms with a happy cry. He imagined Rose’s smile and his arms wrapped around her.

He then briefly thought to Russell. If he hadn’t told him to stand down against the Horsemen, he might not have lived to be able to see them again. His heart sank. He knew what Russell and Walter had been doing was a crime, and a sin against God, but they were still his friends, and that didn’t make what the Horsemen did right.

He pressed his hands together in a prayer.

“Dear Lord, please forgive Russell for his mistake. He’s only human. And humans make mistakes, don’t they? Even if he and Walter shouldn’t have been doing that, they’ve done a lot of good, and Russell doesn’t deserve damnation for it, or at least what the Horsemen did…”

He paused when there was a knock on the door. He was certain he hadn’t locked it. He shrugged. Maybe it was someone who had been on the ship with them and they wanted to talk.

“Come in,” he casually called out, as he moved to sit. His eyes widened when Old Bill opened the door and stepped inside, shutting it behind him.

“Good evening, Elmer,” Old Bill only said. In what seemed like an instant, he was suddenly standing next to the bed. Elmer almost jumped onto his feet but Bill placed a hand on his shoulder and pushed him back down, “I think you and I need to have a little chat, if we may. What really happened to Russell? And don’t lie. I can smell lies, like when someone rips ass in a train carriage.”

“I told you, sir...” Elmer said, swallowing. How did Bill get here? “He fell off the ship.”

“Wrong!” Bill snapped. Both his hands were suddenly placed on either side of Elmer’s head. He drummed his fingers along Elmer’s scalp, as though to emphasise his point, “You will tell me the truth, my friend. You will tell me the truth, or I will reach into your head and claw it out myself. You’ll return to Texas as nothing more than a mindless husk, and then what will become of your wife and daughter?”

Elmer was paralysed with fear. Bill’s eyes had changed from that warm grey to a pale shade and had sunken into their sockets. The sclerae were bloodshot, and the pupils had become slit, like that of a cat’s. His veiny skin had taken on a deathly bluish tone. His canine teeth had grown significantly sharper and longer.

Elmer couldn’t help but think back to the stories his grandpa had told him in order to scare him into going to bed. He would talk of how corpses would rise from their graves as vampires to steal the blood of the living, especially if they had been bad.

“You see it now, don’t you?” Bill said, smirking, “You can see what I really am. Not just some harmless old man sitting on his stoop anymore, am I? So… are you going to tell me the truth?”

“Yes!” Elmer said, “I will! I’ll tell you the truth! Please, don’t hurt me!”

“I won’t hurt you, unless you give me a reason,” Bill said.

Elmer told him almost everything; like how Russell had become a scapegoat to defend Walter and himself after an accusation of some kind of perceived crime, the torture that had been inflicted on him, and then the murder. He even included the states the Horsemen were planning to go back to; New York, Maine, Delaware, and Ohio after some prompting. There was one detail he refused to divulge; why they had attacked Russell. All he really knew was that it had something to do with Walter. Despite Bill most likely hearing his prayer, they both knew that he didn’t hear what Russell’s ‘mistake’ had been.

“It’s all a mess, ain’t it, Bill? I shouldn’t told you all those details, they’re just terrible,” Elmer said.

“I suppose they are,” Bill replied, “But I’m not too shocked. When you get to live as long as I have, you see many terrible things. Good things too of course, but a lot of terrible things.”

He sighed. His anger practically radiated from every pore in his body, despite his voice sounding calm and his face being like stone

“Typical. He threw himself to the dogs so you and Walter would be safe,” Bill continued, “But why? I know you said they look for an excuse, so what was theirs?”

“I’m sorry,” Elmer’s voice wavered with fear as he spoke, “I can’t tell you, Bill. It would be disrespectful to Russell. He was keeping it a secret himself.”

Bill held onto Elmer’s face for just a little while longer. He then slowly released his grip and brought his hands to his sides.

“All right. I suppose that’s fair...” he only said, “And I must give you some merit. You did try and help his chances of surviving, even if you couldn’t save him directly. Of course he would tell you to think of your wife and daughter first.”

“He was a kind man like that,” Elmer said.

“Yes, yes he was,” Bill agreed, “Well, I think I’ve heard enough. I think I’m going to have a little talk with Walter next.”

“Don’t hurt him,” Elmer said, “He was in a difficult situation as well, they were both really good friends.”

“I’m not going to hurt him. I’m just going to have a talk with him, tell me where he is, or do I need to reduce your brains to cheese?” Bill asked, as he made a motion to grab Elmer’s face again.

“No! No! He’s… he’s staying at a tavern on the other side of Boston, called The Swan,” Elmer yelped.

“That’s a good man,” Bill said, smiling, “See, isn’t it much better when you’re just honest? I never got that whole ‘say something but mean something else’ you mortals are into.”

Elmer was silent. Bill made a move as though to straighten up. But then he stopped.

“Oh, well. Of course, I can’t have you telling anyone about me...” Bill said. The fear came crawling back onto Elmer’s face. He tried to jump back. In an instant, his head had been taken in Bill’s hands again. Bill could already see his resistance draining as he focussed on forcing the commands to wrap around Elmer’s mind, “Now, listen to me very closely. You are going to forget that I was ever here. When I let go of you, you are simply going to fall asleep. As far as you’re concerned, that’s all you did in this room tonight. Now sleep.”

He released his hold. Elmer’s eyes slid shut and his entire body relaxed. Bill chuckled.

“Just like riding a velocipede, you never forget how to erase a few memories once you learn,” he said. He straightened Elmer so he was laying down and pulled the blanket over him. He then turned the lamp off, “Rest well, Armpit. Enjoy the rest of your life.”

 

Walter was sitting on the bed that he had gotten for the night. An empty bottle of scotch rested by it. He held his head in his hands, sobbing quietly.

“I should have just said the truth,” he said to himself, “We could have at least died together. We could have been together, wherever we were going, and I just threw him away. I should have confessed. He shouldn’t have gone through that for my...”

There was a knock on the door.

“Go away!” he called out, “I said no one was to bother me until tomorrow.”

The knock only repeated.

“I said piss off!” he snarled. It continued. He hissed in a breath through his teeth and staggered to the door. He yanked it open and got ready to give this intruder a piece of his mind.

“Walter, I must ask that you let me in,” Old Bill simply said. The instruction was simple and it seemed to wipe away the hostility that had previously been brewing inside of Walter’s head.

“Fine, Bill...” he only said. It seemed like he wasn’t about to question what he was even doing here in the first place, “Just for a short while though. I want to be alone.”

“Of course,” Old Bill replied. He stepped inside of the room. It seemed that Walter had been hit a lot harder by the ordeal on the boat, “I had a feeling you would be like this. Elmer told me everything.”

“Of course he did. Can you honestly blame me in that case?” Walter said, “Those fuckers murdered him and I should have gone with him too! Yet I didn’t. They said I’m going to have to live with that now, and they’re right. I’m just a coward who watched him die. I’m, I’m gonna do it, you know. I’m gonna go and follow him.”

“No you won’t,” Old Bill said, “That’ll just be a kick in the teeth for him, after saving your life, and you have a niece to go home to. Why make his sacrifice meaningless?”

“Life is meaningless without him in it,” Walter replied.

“Then you have to find another meaning to your life,” Old Bill replied.

“You say it like it’s easy,” Walter said.

“It’s not,” Old Bill said, “I’ve lived so long now that I’ve had to constantly find new purposes, new reasons to live. It isn’t easy, but it’s possible.”

He had been planning to find out more details about what had happened and perhaps get some more knowledge about the Horsemen, but he had gotten a clue from this display. He wasn’t going to push the young man any further.

“I would like to be alone now,” Walter said.

“Fair enough,” Bill replied, “Although I want to make the new road a little easier for you to find.”

He didn’t hesitate. He placed his hands on the sides of Walter’s head, like he had done with Elmer. Walter was drunk and that made his mind a little bit less resistant. He didn’t even bother to try and move away from him.

“Walter. You must listen to me closely,” Old Bill said, “Hold onto this for the rest of your life if you have to. You must live. You must move on from this. It’ll always hurt, yes it will. But that pain will lessen over time. If you live though, Russell will get to live on through you. You understand, my friend?”

Walter only nodded.

“Good. Now, go to your bed, and get some sleep. I was never here,” Old Bill waited until Walter was laying down before he quietly headed out of the door again.

The hunt was on.

 

Chester, also known as Famine, was relatively easy to find. He was still in Boston, possibly to enjoy it a little longer before heading back to his home. It seemed that none of the Horsemen had any interest in each other now that they had returned to the states. He would track down the other three later. He was certain he would get an idea of their whereabouts once he had drained the blood of the first.

Bill found Chester drinking in a bar a couple of nights after he left The Swan. He was bragging about how much blood he had shed while on the front. Typical. Despite the bartender politely listening, it was plain to see that he was trying to figure out how to escape the conversation. That was where he could come in.

He took the glass of whiskey he had bought and stood up, approaching them. He pretended to slip and stumble, letting the drink spill over Chester’s back.

Chester immediately spun around and grabbed him by the front of his shirt.

“Please, forgive me,” Bill feigned fear, “It was just an accident, my friend.”

“Yeah, and now, ‘by accident’, I’m gonna fuck you up, who do you think you are, swaggering around like some kind of idiot?” Chester said. The bartender turned and pretended that he had no idea what was going on. It seemed he was afraid of invoking the Horseman’s wrath on himself, “I can just tell them you crept up on me, a war veteran, and I acted accordingly.”

Bill let himself be dragged outside. He put on a show of struggling and begging for mercy, which Chester only seemed to enjoy. No one tried to stop Chester. Bill didn’t actually blame them.

Bill was slammed against a nearby wall once Chester had deemed them both far away from the bar. Chester got a large knife from the inside of his coat. But in an instant, Bill was suddenly gone. Chester’s eyes widened. Wasn’t he just...

A hand was suddenly clamped over his mouth and set of sharp teeth sank into his neck. He dropped the knife as a searing pain shot through the wounds. As much as Bill thought about drawing out Chester’s death or being creative, he knew it wouldn’t be wise in this area. He wasn’t too torn up about that. There were three others he could have a better time with.

Chester uselessly struggled and his screams were muffled as his blood was pulled of him and swallowed down at a rapid pace.

Eventually, his screams were silenced and he grew limp. Bill tore his teeth out and let Chester drop to the ground. His head was flooded with memories that weren’t his own. He gritted his teeth. But then his eyes widened with shock at some of the visions he saw. Chester had hung back with Lawrence and Floyd as Arthur stalked over to Walter and Russell without a sound.

They didn’t notice him; they were too lost in that kiss they were sharing. Bill’s heart sank as he heard the taunts, saying how Old Bill wouldn’t want to know that he had raised Russell ‘into this’, as Floyd described it. He saw Russell scratching out his names while his own gun was pressed to his cheek. He then heard Elmer’s protests. His heart ached as the Horsemen laughed at him and Russell before knocking him into the ocean to drown.

“So… that’s why Elmer didn’t tell me,” he only said, “Oh, Russell… I can’t hate you for something like that.”

He paused when he heard Chester’s final thoughts in his brain.

Well played I suppose. I guess it’s easy to get away with something like that when you look like a harmless old man. Won’t change what I did though, will it?

“No, it won’t, but you won’t hurt anyone else this way,” Bill replied. He ran a hand along one of his cheeks. It felt smoother. He then took Chester’s knife from the ground and shoved it into the Horseman’s neck.

He then hurried off into the night. He could already hear the footsteps of someone who had most likely heard Chester’s screams.

 

He found War a few days later.

Lawrence was on a train, making the journey back to Ohio. He was just a third of the way through Pennsylvania now. He preferred travelling by night. Less people to deal with; less people to annoy him. Killing people wasn’t considered as ‘acceptable’ in this setting compared to the front. He knew that all too well. He reminded himself to get out at the next stop so he could transfer. That would be an hour yet.

He smirked, chuckling a little bit. It had been almost way too much fun dealing with the Cockroach. He hadn’t had that much of a thrill in ages. It was a shame it had been over so fast. He wished he could have gotten a picture of the heartbreak that flooded his face when that wooden medal was thrown over the edge of the boat. Or the tears in his eyes as he stared down at the ocean. The fear that crept into him as the knowledge of his fate slowly sank in was amazing.

It had been useful to remember that the younger man was afraid of the ocean. He had no idea they had been listening in while he had admitted that to his friends. It was certainly more satisfying than Arthur’s original plan to cut out his tongue. He found himself rather thankful that that big lug of a mute had stopped that from happening.

He let his eyes shut. He could nap for a little bit.

But then they sprung open and he found himself letting out a shocked yell when the violent screeching of metal and metal rang around him. The train came to a juddering stop.

“Oh for shit’s sake, really?” he muttered. Something must have gotten on the tracks. He huffed. Must have been an animal or something. He took his lighter out of his pocket and flipped it on. It was so stupidly dark in here, “Must be in a tunnel.”

“That was my thought as well,” a new voice said. Great. Of course someone took their chance to talk to him. Confusion about a situation did that, “Perhaps someone ought to go and investigate?”

It was too dark to make out any discernible features. He could only tell that a man was talking to him.

“Well, you go do it then,” Lawrence retorted, although an idea had come to mind. He had been restless since had gotten back. And no one was going to miss this old codger, right? Sure, he wouldn’t be as fun as Russell had been, but it was better than nothing.

“Actually, I was thinking…” the man was standing in front of him. He rested a hand on top of Lawrence’s head and whispered in his ear. His tone became smooth and echoed inside his suddenly-emptied mind, “You could come with me.”

 

Lawrence awoke somewhere far away from the tracks. There was nothing but trees and dirt surrounding him. It took him a moment to realise that he was on the ground, and that his own long coat had been removed and used to tie his arms and legs together behind his back.

He had no idea how he got here. One moment, he was talking to that old man, and then…

He heard whistling. He turned his gaze upwards as the said man stepped into view. He was clearer under the light of the moon. His skin was very pale, almost blue, and his red hair was faded in colour, as was his beard. In fact, some of both was starting to go white.

He turned his eyes towards him, and Lawrence felt his breath catch in his throat when they saw that his irises were a light shade of grey, with completely bloodshot sclerae. The pupils didn’t look right either. They were animalistic; slightly slit like that of a snake or a fox.

“Does that remind you of anything?” Bill only asked, “Being tied up, helpless, and forced to look death in the face?”

“Can’t say it does,” Lawrence replied, shrugging, before he smirked, “Oh… I think I know who you are.”

“Do you?” Bill replied.

“Yeah, you’re Bill! You’re Old Bill! And now you’re mad because the guy you raised as a son is dead. And you know I had something to do with it. So, who squealed? Because I’ll need to go and gut him like a pig once I’m out of here,” Lawrence said, as he started to struggle, “I’ll get out of this and you’ll regret messing with me.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be going anywhere,” Bill replied, “But I do suggest being careful about struggling there. You could...”

He trailed off and then smirked as Lawrence suddenly yelled in pain.

“Break a bone,” he then continued, “Oh dear, I suppose I should have told you that straight away.”

“You absolute fucker. You old piece of shit!” Lawrence cried, “People will come looking for me! They’ll know!”

“I’ll be long gone before they find you, and there’s no one around to hear you for miles, the train left a few hours ago,” Bill replied, as he took a glance at his nails, “Although if you really have to scream more at any point, try not to do it too loudly. I have sensitive hearing.”

“Fine! I promised him I wouldn’t tell you this if he did what we said, but he was a queer! You raised a queer!” Lawrence said.

“Does it look like I care if he was that or not?” Old Bill replied, “Besides, I already knew. I got that out of Famine. He’s dead now. And soon you will be too.”

“You really wanted someone like him running around in this world?” Lawrence asked. Although his voice and face showed defiance, the smell of his fear was thick in the air, “A disgusting pervert like him?”

“Better him than people like you running around in this world, but we’re not here to talk about who deserves to live or who doesn’t,” Old Bill said. He then approached. He grinned, showing the tips of his fangs, “I just want to ask you a little question, my friend. It’s relevant to your situation. In or out?”

“What?” Lawrence asked.

“In or out?” Bill repeated.

“In or out?” Lawrence asked.

“Your bowels,” Bill said again, as long claws suddenly unsheathed themselves from the tips of his gnarled fingers, “Would you like your bowels in or your bowels out?”

 

They came out, even though Lawrence had said he wanted them in. Bill smirked as he tore into Lawrence’s abdomen and ripped out his intestines. Bill took his time in making it as slow and as painful as possible. Lawrence had managed to dislocate his own shoulders when his movements became desperate, leaving him utterly helpless.

Bill looped them around Lawrence’s neck and throttled him with them until his lips turned blue and his struggles weakened. He then stopped when he thought the man was about to pass out and let them hang loosely around his shoulders like a warped shawl.

“Animals and birds will have a nice meal from you,” he said. Lawrence weakly coughed, a dribble of blood escaping from past his lips. He was still alive and conscious, but at this point, he was going to welcome death, “Oh dear. Does it hurt? Are you afraid now? Imagine how my boy felt when you killed him!”

“Just, kill me,” Lawrence said, he strained to talk and his voice was quiet, sore and hoarse from all the screaming he had done, “I’m sorry...”

“You’re only sorry because I caught you and made you pay,” Bill said, “But seeing as you’re going to die soon, and I really want some of that blood for myself, my pleasure!”

He clamped his mouth onto Lawrence’s neck and bit into the vein as hard as he could. Lawrence flopped around weakly like a fish that had washed onto shore, but then he went limp as the last of his blood was taken. Bill saw those memories again. He winced. He was going to have to go through them twice more, wasn’t he? He growled.

It hurts. It hurts so much. You’re right though. I’m not sorry about him. Maybe I’ll see him in Hell and we can do it all again.

“I doubt that, I doubt that very much,” Bill replied, before he shook his head, “Huh, that was oddly quick… perhaps I’m getting soft in my old age.”

He decided to use the man’s entrails to hang him from a tree branch by his neck. He eventually found a small stream to wash his hands and his mouth of the blood that coated them. He did so quickly. He then moved on, not bothering to take a proper look at himself. He had to find a place to rest before the sun came up.

 

It took another few days before he made it to New York. He could travel for miles on end, but he always had to hide from the sun. People made it difficult too, if they needed help or wanted to have a conversation.

That had ended up happening more times than he had cared for. However, he couldn’t deny that the people he met on the way were fairly decent.

He eventually made it though. Better late than never. With any luck, he’d make it to Maine in good time after he found and killed Death here.

When he managed to catch up to him, he could see that Floyd still lived up to the name even now. It had been coming to midnight. He was on high alert and his nose had picked up the trail of fresh blood.

Something had told him to follow it, and so he had.

It was way too late to have saved Floyd’s victim. The poor man’s head was practically nothing more than a red puddle of slush. His heart had stopped beating long ago, hopefully before he ended up in this state. Floyd no longer carried Russell’s rifle in his hands like in those memories, but he was using a heavy piece of pipe to beat the man’s corpse.

Bill moved an empty bottle with his foot. The scraping of glass on tarmac was enough. Floyd suddenly snapped his head up. He realised he was being watched. Their eyes met.

Floyd wasted no time. He rushed at him with the pipe in his hand without a single word. But then Floyd stopped when Bill suddenly seemed to disappear. He gazed around. He started to wonder if that middle-aged man had really been there.

He then felt a rumbling beneath his feet. He gazed down to see what looked like a circle made of pure darkness. Before he could step back, tendrils burst out of it. One set grabbed his upper body, and the other grabbed him by his thighs, lifting him high off the ground. An additional one stuffed itself into his mouth to muffle any screams.

It took about ten seconds of straining. Floyd squealed as the pain seemed to radiate through the rest of him. Bill concentrated, placing all his focus on his new task. He was finally rewarded by a satisfying snap of bone as Floyd’s spine was broken. He was then dropped to the ground in a heap. He couldn’t move his legs. His face had practically turned grey as he looked up at Bill. He felt as though his entire body was made from pure agony.

But then he gritted his teeth and spat on Bill’s shoes as he approached. Bill rolled him over with his foot before placing it onto his chest. He could feel some of his ribs bulging through his skin and threatening to burst through. He pressed down, causing Floyd to scream again.

“A pity. I was saving that one for Conquest, and I am trying to mix things up for all of you,” Bill said. He glanced around. No one was approaching yet. Good, “But I suppose I need to act quickly for someone as aggressive as Death himself.”

“What?!” Floyd was unable to stop himself from gasping and panting from the pain he was in.

“How does it feel?” Bill added, “To be on the receiving end of the pain you and your fellow riders commonly dealt to others? How does it feel to know that your life is over?”

He didn’t give Floyd a chance to answer. He grabbed him up from the ground and bit into his throat. He let the Horseman scream freely into the night before ripping his fangs out when he felt that he was empty. He endured the flood of memories, both distant and recent. There were those same images of the ship; just from a different point of view. As painful as they were, it was getting easier to go through them. He wiped his mouth with his hand.

It feels so cold. It feels so empty. You just swooped in and stole my life away like it was nothing, and you act like I’m a monster?

He didn’t dignify that with a response. He hurried off. There was going to be uproar when his body was found.

 

For the first time in his life, Arthur was afraid. A week had passed since Floyd had been reported dead. He had seen all the newspapers. First Chester back in Boston, then Lawrence on his way back to Ohio, and then Floyd in New York.

Most people hadn’t made the connection. He was certain that some people knew. But did any of them really have the guts to attack them? He couldn’t put it past them now that they had separated.

What he knew was that whoever this was had specifically targeted the other Horsemen, and they had also drained them of their blood. Chester’s death had been a breeze compared to the other two. It seemed the murderer was getting more creative with each one. What were they going to do to him?

Maybe if he told the killer that he had a mute cousin and a sickly mother to look after, he could avoid such a fate. Sure, his uncle was still around since his father died and she became ill five years ago (how could a sickness last this long?), bringing in the money for them, and Earnest brought in extra with those wood sculptures he was always doing, but his assailant wouldn’t know that, right?

He almost chuckled. Earnest would hate being used as a pawn. They had kept that secret well-hidden. Earnest was ashamed to be related to him, and he didn’t readily tell his little group of friends that he had made on the front about their family connection.

He had done the same with the Horsemen; he didn’t want them thinking different of him. They weren’t close at all, but it was easy to gain sympathy from other people when he told them about his ‘poor handicapped cousin’. He had debated killing Earnest after the big man had broken his jaw in order to stop him cutting out the Cockroach’s tongue. Was it really his fault that that stammer was so damn annoying?

Perhaps he had let him live for this very purpose. That’s what he tried to tell himself. He didn’t want to admit that it was because Earnest would have easily snapped his neck before he even got the chance. Arthur was surprised he didn’t do it when he realised Russell hadn’t come back on the ship with them.

However, he had suspected foul play and hadn’t been afraid to say it. When they had arrived home after a train journey filled with silence, he retrieved the piece of slate he had attached to his clothes, along with a piece of chalk, and simply wrote:

“There are thousands of words in the English language and yet there’s no such way to combine them to describe what an absolute cunt you are. Despite everything else, I never thought you’d actually stoop that low.”

He then walked off, heading to the shed that he always did his whittling in. He had almost thought about taking one of his uncle’s guns and shooting him in the back. Maybe he would have if his mother hadn’t come to greet him.

 

He remembered that night vividly even now. Arthur wondered if he would tell their family members would have happened, if he hadn’t already. Would they believe him? What would his mother think? What about his uncle? That was what worried him the most.

He shook his head. He had to think about the murderer. He felt anger briefly steam through his nerves when he remembered what Earnest had written down in response to hearing about the other Horsemen:

“In the words of Kin Hubbard, ‘Men are not punished for their sins, but by them’.”

“Do you not care that I could be next?” Arthur had asked. Earnest only shrugged in response, “Do you not care that this killer could be after me? I’m the only one of the Horsemen left, you piece of shit. You’re my family. You should care.”

“I could write something meaningful down, but then I’d just have to explain it to you,” was what Earnest had written next.

Arthur gritted his teeth and rubbed at his temples, as though that would somehow stop the memories from distracting him. Night had fallen over the house and its gardens. He couldn’t relax though. He kept staring out of the window. It was coming to midnight. His mother was asleep. His uncle would be working late into the night with his paperwork, as usual.

Earnest was in his shed, whittling something new. Arthur could see the light of the oil lamp that he used whenever he chose to work late. He briefly pondered going down there and seeing if he could somehow implore Earnest into protecting him.

He shook his head. Earnest was just going to let this happen, if it was going to. Arthur had decided to get prepared. He crept through the halls of the house, arming himself with a carving knife, one of his uncle’s old muskets, a revolver, and a ball-bat that Earnest had made before the war.

 

Bill’s face was completely expressionless as he knocked on the door to the large house. He knew better than to press the doorbell. That would attract the attention of everyone. If he knocked, he would only cause Arthur’s uncle to come to the door. Arthur’s room was too far away for him to hear of his arrival.

He briefly wondered if he needed to go and check on whoever was on in the shed. He decided not to. He would handle them if they came in to investigate or try and stop him.

He was more surprised about the lack of security. Arthur’s uncle seemed to be a confident man, especially living in such an isolated area where no one was close enough to give them immediate help. He felt a smirk of his own creep across his lips at that thought.

He then let it fall away as he heard the door being unlocked from the inside. He had to seem like he was serious.

Arthur’s Uncle Thomas seemed to be a very formal man. He had a curious frown on his face as he opened the door. He was already looking suspicious to see a stranger at this time of night. He opened his mouth to speak, but Bill got there first.

“I’m afraid you need to let me in, Sir. It’s about Arthur. I believe he’s your nephew,” Bill said. It had the effect he needed.

“Oh no, what has he done now?” Thomas replied. He then gestured with his hand, “I suppose you better come in. Honestly, only been back a couple of weeks and he’s already causing trouble…Alice deserves better than this.”

He shut the door and locked it behind them when Bill entered. He then went to his study without another word, beckoning for Bill to follow.

Once he was in the neat and tidy little room, he sat at his desk, indicating for Bill to do the same with the chair on the other side of it. Once Bill did, he opened his mouth, most likely to ask for details about Arthur’s apparent crime. Bill jumped up and placed his hands of both sides of his head.

“Sleep, Thomas. Sleep, and do not awaken until tomorrow,” Bill said. It was so much easier when they were caught off guard. Thomas slumped back in his chair as the commands wrapped around the inside of his mind, “Good man.”

Alice. Yes. He had smelled a woman who was unwell. Presumably Arthur’s mother. From the memories he had seen, Arthur lived with his uncle, his cousin, and his mother, who was Thomas’s sister by blood. His cousin must be the one in the shed. Their butler didn’t seem to be too near, but he was around. He would most likely run into him at some point.

He thought about paying a visit to Alice’s quarters as well, just to make sure she wouldn’t see or hear anything that he didn’t need her to.

He quietly stepped out of the study, closing the door behind him.

 

He was blessed not to need lights to get around. He was also fortunate that his movements hardly made hardly a sound.

But then his eyes widened when he realised someone was behind him. He glanced back.

A woman had stepped into the corridor. This must have been Alice. She was the same age that he appeared to mortals, but she looked frail, like a breeze could blow her off of her feet. Her brown hair was patchy in places. A faint rash that was shaped like a butterfly had spread over her cheeks. She was using a crutch to help herself walk. Her gait was stiff. Sympathy riddled his face. He could already see that she wasn’t even going to make it to fifty.

“Alastair,” she called out softly, “Is that you? Why are you creeping around?”

He could only guess that Alastair was their butler. Now he had a name to use. It would be easier to address him and hopefully sway him if they ran into each other.

“Alastair?” she called out again. There was a hint of fear in her voice.

He could see that she was experiencing a severe headache. That was probably why she wasn’t asleep. He could fix that. It wasn’t the same as the actual treatment she was having to make her illness easier to manage, but it would do for the time being. It was only for one night.

She blinked and he took his chance to approach. Her eyes widened in alarm when he was suddenly right in front of her. She wanted to move back, but she knew she would fall if she did.

“Who are you? Get...”

“Be silent,” his voice was firm but not threatening, as he rested his hands on either side of her head. To his relief, he managed to stop her from revoking the invitation that her brother had given him. She found that she couldn’t speak at all anymore, “I am not going to hurt you. I promise.”

She tried to make her mouth work, but it only opened and closed repeatedly.

“Listen to me, Alice, listen to me carefully,” he said. He could see that her eyes were already growing glassy as she stared into his. Her fatigue made this easier, “You are going to back to your bedroom, and you will sleep. The pain will not plague you tonight. You will slumber peacefully until tomorrow.”

He released his grip and let his hands hang by his side. He watched as she turned and headed away. She then went back into the room she had emerged from.

“Back to work...” he told himself. He then moved on. Arthur’s scent was growing closer. The Horseman was scared. Good.

 

Arthur was gazing out of the window, as though that would somehow keep him alert. He was so tired. He had been too afraid to sleep properly since hearing about Floyd. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t thought to arm himself sooner against the coming threat.

“It’s just a man… just a man… there is no man out there that can withstand a bullet,” he said to himself. It did little to make him feel better, “None of the others had a gun on them. I have a musket and a revolver. This fucker is not getting me.”

He swallowed then. He couldn’t help but wonder if this was how the others he had hurt felt. He then shook his head.

“They were weak. I’m not weak. Not like they were,” he told himself. But then he felt his blood turn to ice as he noticed the knob on his door turning. Why hadn’t Thomas allowed him to put a lock on it?

The door opened and he ran to his assailant with a scream. He raised the ball-bat and brought it down onto his head.

The man crumpled to the ground in a heap. Arthur grinned, but then it fell off his face and his eyes widened in alarm.

“Oh shit! Alastair! I… I didn’t realise it was you! Come on! Say something!” Arthur said. He knelt down to the butler, shaking his shoulder He showed no sign of waking up. Arthur checked his pulse. Much to his relief, he was still alive, “Alastair! Wake up!”

A low whistle caught his attention. He snapped his head up.

“Impressive. A pretty good smack if I do say so myself,” Bill commented, as he walked down the corridor towards him. He was clapping a little bit, “I suppose it was me you were hoping to catch out with that, so I have to take away points for hitting the wrong target.”

Arthur didn’t waste any time. He dropped the bat and rushed back into his bedroom to grab the musket. He never remembered seeing this man on the front or on the ship. But he knew that he had to come to kill him, just like with the other Horsemen.

As soon as he saw the red-headed stranger come into view again, he pulled the trigger back. The gun went off with a massive bang and he felt himself pushed back by the recoil. The bullet left a hole in the wall behind where Bill had been standing. He was nowhere to be seen.

“Where the f...” a hand was suddenly clamped around Arthur’s throat as Bill appeared in a shadowy mist. He was pinned to the wall, dropping the musket. He found himself staring into a pair of bloodshot grey eyes with slit pupils. Bill's face was white, and blue veins danced along his pale skin.

“Oh dear. Am I too fast for you?” Bill said. He grinned, showing off his sharp canine teeth. Arthur uselessly squirmed.

“Don’t kill me! I have a sick mother,” he started to protest, “And a handicapped cousin. They need me!”

“I believe your uncle Thomas is doing a good job looking after them himself,” Bill replied, “And I’m sure he can keep taking care of them. Your mother isn’t long for this world in any case, sadly.”

“What did you do my mother?!” Arthur felt his voice rise to a shout when he heard that statement.

“Nothing. But that sickness of hers will be her end. It’s a miracle she’s even lived this long. I suppose when she’s had you to deal with...” Bill said. He decided to trail off and let the implication of that statement hang in the air.

“Why? Why are you doing this?” Arthur protested. He struggled uselessly against Bill’s hand.

“You killed my boy,” Bill said. His voice was calm, but a rage burned behind his grey gaze, “You tortured and murdered the boy I helped to raise since he was born. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so upset about a boy who’s not even of my blood, but I am. I really am.”

“Bill?! The Cockroach’s Bill?! I… I...I didn’t do anything!” Arthur said. The stink of the lie made Bill grit his teeth. A mix of disbelief and fear sank into Arthur’s eyes. This man couldn’t be Bill. He only looked the same age as his own mother. “The other Horsemen were all in it. I was just along for the ride.”

“You pulled them apart, you said those things about them, you told everyone to watch as you and the other Horsemen tortured him and called it a lesson. You laughed at his pain and as you tied him up,” Bill said, “You threatened a father with the same fate and then you threw him into the ocean to drown, and then you came up with the idea to make Walter live with the trauma. I saw it all! You were the ringleader!”

Arthur shook his head.

“You got it all...”

“I saw it all when I drained them of their blood, and I’ll have to see it all again when I drain you t...” it was Bill’s turn to stop talking when he felt a sudden pain in his abdomen. Arthur had retrieved the butcher knife from his coat and stabbed Bill in the stomach with it. His hand loosened, and Arthur took his chance to pry it off of him.

He then took off running, leaving the musket behind. He jumped over Alastair’s prone body. The poor butler showed no sign of waking up.

“When will they learn? You have to aim for the heart, or the head...” Bill said. He casually removed the knife from his abdomen. The damage would resolve itself soon enough, “Shame about my shirt though, I liked that one...”

He then followed.

 

“Thomas! Please! Wake up! Wake up!” Arthur begged as he shook his uncle’s shoulder. Thomas showed no sign of stirring at all, “Thomas! We’ve got a murderer in here! Did you just invite him in or something?! Wake the fuck up!”

“I’m afraid he’s in too deep to be doing any of that. To be honest, it looked like he needed a good night’s sleep for a change,” Bill said, “And he did invite me. I’m quite the charmer, you see. All I had to do was tell him it was about you. Seems you’ve been quite the naughty boy for him to have believed me.”

He darted forward in a shadowy leap. Arthur screamed in pain when he felt the knife being stabbed into his shoulder. Bill then twisted it hard. Arthur’s arm hung uselessly by his side. He found that he couldn’t move it even when Bill took his hand away.

“Oh dear, nerve damage,” Bill said, “Well, I suppose that takes care of your weapon arm, doesn’t it?”

He felt something hard pressed against the side of his head.

“I have two arms, you piece of shit!” Arthur barked out at him. Bill seemed to disappear again just as he pulled the trigger of the handgun back. Thomas didn’t so much as twitch as the bang erupted through the room. A glass ornament on one of the bookshelves shattered into pieces.

Arthur’s eyes widened when he realised that he had somehow missed, just like with the musket. It was like Bill had vanished. He fled the room, firing behind him as he did.

Once he was gone, Bill peered out from behind the desk. He shook his head.

“And to think, he was so cocksure when he was being the aggressor,” he said to himself.

 

Arthur ran through the corridor. He occasionally kept looking back and firing the revolver behind him. He tried to be sparing with the ammo, but he didn’t want to give that man any chance of catching up.

He found himself crashing into Alastair, who had finally seemed to have awoken from the violent attack. The side of his head was bruised and he seemed to have no idea of what had occurred. He let out a yelp of his own when Arthur came running into him in the dark.

“Master Brennan, what are you doing?” Alastair asked, “I wake up after some kind of fall and I hear you running around screaming and shouting.”

Arthur fired the gun behind him again.

“What is the meaning of this? Is that Master Kingston’s revolver?” Alastair’s voice sounded indignant, “Master Brennan, what has gotten into you? What happened to your arm?!”

“Someone’s come to kill me, Alastair,” Arthur’s tone was desperate as he spoke, “Someone’s come to kill me, just like he did with the others.”

“What others?” Alastair asked, although some alarm had crossed onto his face at the idea that someone had to kill one of the family members he served, “We should call for help.”

“You really think help is going to get here in time?” Arthur said, as he then frantically pointed towards his room, “Grab Thomas’s musket from my bedroom and then we can...”

The knife was suddenly yanked out of his arm, slicing through muscle and flesh as it was removed without any finesse. Blood dripped over himself, his clothes, and the floor. The limb was left hanging on by just a few threads of skin. Arthur screamed in pain as Bill casually licked the blood off of the blade.

“And to think, I was planning to keep the mess to a minimum,” he said. Arthur managed to stagger past Alastair, “Just as well you have wood floors. You can cover it up with a good rug.”

“Who are you?!” Alastair’s voice was filled with shock.

“Alastair, don’t let him kill me!” Arthur begged. He came to the awful realisation that he wouldn’t be able to hold the heavier gun. He would have to rely on the revolver, “Grab the musket.”

Alastair turned to follow Arthur. That had been his mistake. He was grabbed before he could do anything. One arm pinned both of his down and his back to the stranger’s chest.

“Arthur!” he called out desperately, struggling against Bill’s grip. The young man raised the revolver, but he found himself hesitating. Bill was using him as a shield. Alastair struggled, but he couldn’t break free. He tried to kick at Bill, but it didn’t seem to have much use.

“Alastair?” Arthur couldn’t hide the fear in his voice, “For fuck’s sake, man!”

“If you want any chance to stop me, you’re going to have to risk shooting him. A man who’s looked after your family. Are you that much of a monster?” Bill said.

Arthur frowned. Alastair hadn’t helped to protect him at all during this entire night. He should have been ready to jump in and guard him with his life.

“He’s useless,” he raised the gun.

“Arthur...” Alastair was unable to hide the hurt in his voice.

Arthur fired the very last bullet. Bill moved in that same smoky fog before it had any hope of hitting either of them. Arthur heard shattering as it smashed yet another house decoration.

“No! No! How did I miss?!” he screamed.

“Because I'm amazing,” Bill said from behind him. Alastair still wore that mix of fear and betrayal on his face. He also looked dizzy, as though moving like that had given him vertigo. Arthur turned and threw the gun, which he batted away with the knife. It clattered to the ground. He whispered something else into Alastair’s ear as he briefly placed his hand over his forehead. The butler’s eyes drifted shut and his body grew limp. Bill put him down, “There we go. No more witnesses. No one to remember what happened.”

“Alastair?! What did you do to him? My cousin’s a witness. He’ll tell everyone!” Arthur said. He was backing away again. He had no way to fight this man. No, not a man. He was a monster, “He may be handicapped, but he’ll know! He needs me! He’ll be broken if I die!”

“Just a little trick I learned a good several hundred years ago now. Mastered it even. And if that is the case, I’ll just have to make sure he won’t tell, won’t I? Just like with everyone else here,” Bill said. He didn’t sound concerned at all, “And something tells me that he’ll be just fine...”

He seemed to vanish again. Arthur stiffened, gazing around. He then felt an intense pain in the back of his legs. He screamed out loud and he dropped to the ground. He managed to force himself to stand, but he realised he couldn’t move more than a few agonising steps. He staggered and found himself leaning against a nearby wall. Blood soaked into his trousers and ran down his skin.

“You can always rely on a straight cut to the Achilles tendons. As much as I enjoy a good game of cat and mouse, this is starting to go on a little bit long, don’t you think?” Bill asked, “I still need to go and find somewhere to rest before the sun comes up. Honestly, when you’re as old as me, all it takes is one experience in the sunlight to make you never want it again.”

“Please, please don’t kill me,” Arthur said, as Bill walked over to stand in front of him, “I’ll do anything.”

“Anything, huh? Can you bring back my boy Russell?” Bill asked. Sorrow crept into his face and his voice when he asked that question, before his tone grew cold again, “Can you take back the things you did and said to him? Can you somehow turn back the clock and change it all? Can you?”

Arthur was silent. He then cried out when he felt the knife being stabbed into his abdomen. It was removed and thrust in again, and then again. Bill then let go and left the blade in his stomach.

“You’re not sorry about what you did to him. You’re just sorry that you got caught, and by the worst person to catch you,” Bill said, “I know doing this won’t bring him back either, but it certainly makes me feel a hell of a lot better.”

He grabbed Arthur and sank his teeth into his neck, pinning his arms to the nearby wall. Arthur squirmed, trying to get out of the vampire’s grip. It was useless. Bill drank every last drop of blood that he could. When he tore his fangs out, Arthur was still and silent. He dropped to the ground, his heart no longer beating.

Perhaps it’s a fair trade, my life for his. I’m still not sorry about him though. I enjoyed it too much. My only true regret is that my mother will have to live with this.

Just like with Death, Bill didn’t give that last thought any response. He instead felt a laugh burst out of his mouth. He threw his head back and let it echo through the corridors. He then stopped as suddenly as he started.

“Hmm, crazed laughter suits me a lot less than I thought it would,” he said to himself, “No matter. It’s time to go.”

He couldn’t help but notice himself in a mirror when he entered a nearby bathroom to wash his hands and his mouth, just like he had done in that stream back in Pennsylvania. He let out a low whistle and grinned, running a hand down one of his smooth pale cheeks, through his ginger beard, and combed his fingers in his hair. It was certainly an improvement compared to the walking corpse that he used to see. He gave his reflection a wink.

“Now, what’s a handsome gentleman like you doing in a place like this?” he said, as he took a few moments to admire his new look. He appeared to look like he did when he was first reborn, and he found it rather becoming on him, “I’ll have admirers chasing me for miles. I think I’ll keep up appearances this time… at least for a while.”

 

He opened the door to the whittling shed. Earnest didn't look at all surprised to see him. He and Bill stared at each other for a few moments. Earnest stood. Russell was right. He was a big man. He was easily a good six feet and a half, and looked like he could punch his way through a brick wall. Bill wondered if he was going to try and to fight him. He got his answer when Earnest got his piece of slate and wrote down:

“Old Bill?”

Bill was quiet for a moment, but then he nodded.

“Yes, that’s me, even if the ‘old’ part doesn’t really fit anymore. You’re definitely smarter than your cousin gives you credit for,” Bill said, “And you’re Earnest. Big Red. I saw it. Russell saved your life, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” Earnest wrote. He didn’t even seem shocked to hear that. It was like he expected Bill to have known, “I’m sorry I couldn’t save his. I’m sure if I was on the ship with them, things could have been different.”

“Yes, I suppose they could have been,” Bill agreed, “But I said this to Elmer, that the cosmos have a funny old way of seeing things through. So you knew this was going to happen?”

Earnest nodded.

“It seemed the most logical outcome, with what happened to the other Horsemen,” he wrote, “He is my family of course, and I feel sad for him, but I think he would have done a lot worse had he lived. Sometimes you have to think of the majority.”

“Heh, despite what he said about you, you’re more than capable of thinking for yourself,” Bill said, smirking, “And you’re not scared despite seeing what I am now and what I’m capable of. Impressive. Maybe I really am getting a bit too soft in my old age.”

“If you wanted to kill me, you would have already done it. I may be a big man, but that’s all I am, just a man,” Earnest replied. He erased the message he wrote and then added, “Are you going to?”

“No. Only Arthur was my target. His life for my boy’s. Your father, aunt, and butler are all sound asleep, although poor Alastair will have a bit of a headache in the morning,” Bill said, “Arthur thought he was me and hit him with a ball-bat.”

Earnest huffed.

“I was wondering where that had gone,” he wrote, “So what now? You’ve done what you set out to do. You’ve taken care of all the Horsemen.”

“Who can tell?” Bill replied, “I think I’m going to head to a different state and think about what I want to do next. Look after your aunt for her last bit of time here, okay? She’s going to need it.”

Earnest nodded.

“To alleviate suspicion, I’ll do to you what I did to the others; make you sleep until tomorrow, just so you can’t be considered a suspect... but I’ll allow you to remember. I think I can trust you not to tell anyone?” Bill said.

“Yes, sir,” Earnest wrote, “I’ll take this to my grave.”

“I appreciate it,” Bill replied, allowing Earnest to rub away the words first so it didn’t seem like he had been ‘talking’ to anyone, “Now, just allow me...”

 

A few days later, he decided to stop in Maryland. He had gone in a small shop to buy a newspaper and a packet of cigarettes first. He leant against a wall outside so he could smoke one. He flipped through the articles, letting his eyes run across them. Nothing was really going in.

He then smirked when he saw the article that told its readers of Arthur Brennan’s death. Luckily, none of the other family members came under suspicion. It was concluded that they had simply been drugged by the murderer, so they couldn’t get in his way. He chuckled when those who had gone to investigate the murder said they had no leads.

However, they had come to the other conclusion that the four recent murders were coincidental, and four different people were the perpetrators; they wrote that there was no way one killer could have travelled to each particular area so fast. Bill chuckled.

“I suppose not,” he joked to himself. He then turned a few other pages. He froze. His eyes widened and the cigarette dropped out of his mouth. One particular headline had caught his eye:

“American Soldier Washed Up on London Docks.”

He was still and quiet for the longest time as he read the article over and over. According to it, about three weeks ago, an American soldier had been washed up on London’s docks. There was no name and the circumstances of his arrival seemed to be a mystery even to those who had written it. Not even the soldier had seemed able to confirm.

“No wonder,” Bill said, shaking his head, “With all the times they smacked his head around… if it really is him?”

He pondered. Could it be Russell? Had he somehow survived the assault and managed to make it all the way to London? What were the odds? If it really was him, was he all right? Was he safe? Bill knew he wouldn’t get the answer to those questions just standing here. He looked up at the stars in the night sky.

“Russell. If it really is you, hang in there. I’m coming.”