Argh. Aarggh! SO sorry for the delay with this one- it's been quite the fortnight at my place, with very little writing time available. But here and now I present to you... the beginning of the end...
Death swirled around him, tickling up his arms with cold fingers. Damp, darkness, silence. The cutting weight of his own body against the chains that bound his wrists to the stone wall above him.
This was his world, now. This was where he'd remain forever.
Enough. Enough self-pity.
Nemo let the spittle drop from his lips, not even attempting to lift his head. They'd been gone for hours, the Fellowship. Something important was taking place. Weakened as he was, it was still the first time they'd left him alone without a guard.
If only he could reach one of the Others... He closed his eyes and concentrated, trying to push outward, feeling through the night for some hint of a friend.
But no. After only a few moments, he dropped back, exhausted. The subterranean lair was too deep, too well protected by the dark magic. He was entirely alone.
Or not entirely.
"Clarissa," he whispered.
There was no reply from the void on his right, but he licked his cracked lips and spoke again regardless, his voice nothing more than the quiet croak of a frog. "You must forgive me, Clarissa. I never intended..."
A cough burst forth from his lungs and took him over, until he was shaking in his chains, hacking and gasping for breath. It went on for minutes, until his beaten body gave in. The darkness rushed inside his head and he knew no more.
His mind took him back, back to his first mistake. The day Peter stole the fragment from Manish, just as Nemo had commanded. The day the evil one nearly had them all, and stole instead their memories.
Then onward in time, to the day he would regret always.
Nemo brushed the lapels of his suit and straightened his cravat, and surveyed the casino floor. All around him, humans of the modern age were engaged in their vices- sitting at the banks of flashing machines, filling them with coin after coin after coin, washing away their inhibitions with drink and drugs. This... Las Vegas- it seemed that all the sin in the world was seething here.
No surprise that Manish had chosen this place for their meeting.
Nemo set off past the machines and the tables, eyes forward. He didn't need to look for Manish- he could feel the malevolent presence everywhere, all around, but strongest of all at the bar. When he entered the dimly lit room, the figure of Manish, seated at the long mahogany bench where they served the drinks, was almost glowing. Nemo wasted no time, but walked up and settled himself on the stool beside him. The barkeep, an older man wearing black and white, went to step forward, but a quick glance from Nemo- leave us- saw him step back and return to wiping glasses with a cloth.
"You doubted my word, Manish?"
The evil one turned his way with a sick smile on his face. "Of course not, Tiberius. The good never lie." He left a long pause. "Do they?"
Nemo's stomach turned over. Letting the Others believe their false memories was not a lie. It was a kindness, compared to what might be if he did not go through with this. "Do you wish to trade barbs, or shall we discuss our business?"
Manish laughed and took a long swig from his glass. "Let us. I have a simple demand." He turned to Nemo, and his eyes glinted red. "I wish you to return that part of me which is missing, or your Others shall never remember."
Nemo tented his fingers on the bar. "You know that is not a possibility, Manish."
He let out another low laugh. "It cannot hurt to ask. Very well- if you cannot fulfill my request, then there is only one other thing I desire. And I believe you know what that is."
"Me," Nemo said, softly.
Nemo nodded. He'd known it would come to this, without a doubt. But to hear it was... terrifying, frankly. To give up his autonomy, to turn himself over to the Fellowship- he was so sure of his own self-control, but who knew what might occur once he was in the clutches of the Master and his cohorts? And furthermore, what might happen to his poor forgetful charges in his absence?
But he had no choice. He lifted his chin and spoke proudly. "Then I am yours."
Manish clapped his hands in delight. "I did not expect you to comply so easily, Nemo! You've lost your spark in your old age."
Nemo snorted. "After a thousand years, perhaps I'm ready for some rest."
"Well, you can expect that where you're going, of course." Manish let the sarcasm flow thickly.
"Naturally." Nemo loosened the cravat with one hand, weary already. "I ask for just one thing in return."
"You already have my soul, and the souls of your people. How presumptive of you to think you deserve anything else!"
Nemo shook his head. "I am afraid, Manish, that I must insist." He pushed back his stool and stood. "I require time, and that is all. Just one day, and I will present myself at your door. I shall create a distraction so that the Others assume I have gone against my will- but of course, that is my business. And then I shall be at your Highgate crypt by this time tomorrow."
Manish raised one fine eyebrow at the revelation that Nemo of his hideout, but the man was clearly not surprised. The real power was held in his person- and at this point, within Peter. No need to worry that the Others would launch some kind of strike against the graveyard. And Nemo had deliberately not shared his knowledge with any of them, lest they endanger themselves needlessly to come to his rescue.
No, it was simpler to leave it at that. And before Manish could say anything further in reply, Nemo clicked his fingers, and in a burst of glitter and smoke, was gone.
He dreamed on.
He remained in the United States for just a few more of his last hours, this time in the state of New York, where their salvation lay.
He sat in a cafe that afternoon, sipping thoughtfully at his second coffee, enjoying the buzz. He normally didn't allow himself such frivolous vices, but he felt he was entitled. When she walked in the door, he sat straighter. Samantha. He would know here anywhere, that energy humming all around her. She went straight to the counter and brushed her long, dark hair over her shoulder as she talked to the server. She had an easy way with people, a ready laugh that rang out frequently as she spoke. And as she took her coffee over to a table on the other side of the room, he saw her juggle her bag to answer her mobile telephone, and from the light in her eyes, he knew who was on the other end.
Tumblety. Frank. Peter.
He'd introduced the two of them, almost two years past, though neither of them would ever remember. He'd disguised himself, of course, drawing down a mask of the flesh to turn his flaming hair to gold. And then as they each stood, one on either side of him, in the line for a taxi outside a throbbing club, he'd stumbled as if drunk, knocking her to the ground, then raced away with her pocketbook.
Good man that he was, and officer of the law to book, Frank had chased him around the corner- where he'd found no suspect, only the abandoned pocketbook. He'd returned it to the grateful Samantha, and in return she'd given him her number.
And here they all were today, with Samantha, their safety net, just where they needed her.
He waited until she was finished with her coffee, watching her stare out the window, thinking to herself. Then she stood and made her way through the crowd, excusing herself here and there as she headed for the exit. He angled himself toward the door and made it out just in time to bump solidly into her as she stepped into the street, dropping his bundle of books and papers as he went.
Samantha, of course, was far too well-raised to walk away from such an incident and let an older man in a tweed suit pick up his own mess. "Oh! I'm so sorry," she said.
"Oh, no bother, no bother, dear." He slid unnecessary spectacles higher up his nose and squatted down to help her. "These things happen."
The books and papers were carefully chosen, with mug-shots and fingerprints in plain view, Sherlock Holmes-style fonts and ancient newspapers. Her natural curiosity was too great to let that slide. "Are you... an historian?"
"I am, I am," he said. "I investigate historic crimes. It's amazing what modern techniques can reveal about unsolved mysteries of the past."
"How fascinating!" She shuffled the last of the papers and stood. "My boyfriend would be intrugued, you know. He's a detective."
"Ah, just so!" He accepted the papers she handed him, then ruffled through them until he came to the carefully prepared brochure. "He might be interested in this- it's a bit more... technological than I usually like; more designed for those computer-types, you know. It might not suit him." He chuckled. "It's a new project building databases of old criminal evidence that might have relevance to current or cold cases. You never know what you might find."
She scanned the flier, her eyes lighting up. "Thank you, that could be really useful."
By the time she looked up to say goodbye, he was already gone.
And that very night, she discovered Tumblety, and just as he'd desired, set the whole process in motion for the Others to recover their minds and exorcise Manish from Peter, as the final step to his destruction.
When he woke again, nothing had changed. Just as before, he was hanging from his chains in the damp darkness of the crypt, listening to silence. Still alone.
"So you see, Clarissa... Perhaps I engineered our downfall, with the very best of intentions." He drew a struggling breath and let it out. "But I also engineered our victory."
Though it would come, he knew now, at a cost far greater than he could bear.
When the floor began to vibrate beneath his feet, he thought at first that it was another hallucination. But the rumbling grew louder, and the rattling grew stronger, and before long he could hear in the far distance the keening wail of time itself being torn from limb to limb.
It has begun.
All of a sudden, the strength he'd been lacking came surging back through his veins, and he steeled himself for a great effort. Pieces of stone were hitting the side of his face like hailstones, and he could barely gain purchase with his feet as he tried to stand, such was the shaking back and forth. For a moment he feared they'd be buried alive before he could do anything. He tightened his shoulders and tugged against the chains, weakly at first, and then with more determination, pulling and wrenching and twisting until it seemed his head might burst.
And just as he was ready to give up, just when it seemed nothing was going to happen, he felt the first slip of the bolts that held his chains to the wall.
He redoubled his efforts, calling out as he tugged with all his might. The roar of the trembling earth all around them was so loud that he couldn't hear a thing, but fraction by fraction the chain gave, and finally the bolts ruptured from the wall and he sprawled forward on the shaking earth.
Almost instantly, the rattling stopped. As the dust subsided, the silence returned, but this time there was something different about his awareness. It took him a few moments of sitting there, blinking and exhausted, to realise what it was.
Light. There was light spilling into the crypt from a gash in the roof, illuminating overturned sarcophagi and piles of dirt. And Clarissa.
"Clarissa," he whispered. He crawled over to where she lay, face down on the floor, and turned her over. Her once-lovely face was still and at peace, at least. He pulled her in and held her. She was cold as the stone, as he knew she would be, but it was the least he could do for her. She'd been his ward since she was only thirteen, and now, just as she was coming into her own as a beautiful and accomplished woman, she'd had her life taken from her.
They'd brought her in not long after he'd arrived at the crypt, kicking and scratching and furious, her face twisted with anger in the torchlight the Fellowship used to light the crypt when they were in residence. It had taken days for them to break her down, first beatings, then torture- he couldn't bear to contemplate what he'd seen, and all for his benefit. The greatest torture he could imagine. And then a couple of days earlier, they'd grown tired of their little games, and they'd killed her.
Just like that, without ceremony.
Manish himself had walked in, gone over to where she was hanging limp in her chains, and had stabbed her in the heart with a wicked hunting knife. Just like that. Nemo had gasped just as Clarissa did with her last breath, one long, drawn out breath that ended with a gurgle.
And she was gone.
He laid her back down, gently. "I'll be back for you, my dear. I'll bring you home. But first..." He pulled himself up against the rock wall, his anger bubbling into strength, growing stronger and stronger as he stepped away from her body and toward the stone door. "First, I shall take care of our unfinished business."
He held out an arm and the door blew out in an instant, flooding him with daylight.
The end was nigh.
So, tell me, dear readers: What happens next? Will you draw it out, or cut to the chase?