saki101: (SH - Penumbra fire)
[personal profile] saki101
Penumbra Addenda SH smoke by the door for B&C background shaded darker

Title: Penumbra (Addenda: Baskerville & Chapalu)
Author: [livejournal.com profile] saki101
Characters/Pairings: John Watson/Sherlock Holmes, Mrs Hudson, Greg Lestrade, Molly Hooper, OCs
Rating: NC-17 (for the series)
Genre: slash
Word Count: ~16K (Addenda: Baskerville & Chapalu - posted on LJ in two parts due to length)
Disclaimer: Neither Sherlock nor Dark Shadows is mine and no money is being made.
Preview: John is no longer sequestered. Boundaries are crossed and creatures encountered.
A/N: A gothic AU of the Sherlock universe inspired by the universe of Dark Shadows (the television series), presented in four episodes, and written for the Miniseries March Challenge at Fall TV Season Sherlock. This chapter is set before the final scene in Beyond the Palings.

Also posted on AO3 (all chapters).
Chapter One: Meet Me at Moonrise may be read on LJ here.
Chapter Two: Sequestration may be read on LJ here.
Chapter Three: Transfusions may be read on LJ here.
Chapter Four: Beyond the Palings may be read on LJ here.

Excerpt: I stared for a moment at him and his beautiful proportions. He looked back at me, standing still as a statue with the water sluicing over him, except that statues do not grow red and purple bruises across their perfect skin.



Penumbra


Addenda: Baskerville & Chapalu





A half moon hung among the clouds over Baker Street. I hoped they would keep in the rain until we returned, we being Baskerville and I.

He tugged me up the road by the lead that nominally indicated that I was taking him to the park for a run. I believe he viewed it as taking me for an outing. I cannot guess what the man whose face I saw pressed against an upper deck window on the night bus that whooshed past us made of our sortie. More grist for the Manor legends mill, I suppose.

It was gone one in the morning and I had spent more than twelve hours in the library when Baskerville had nudged my hand with his lead in his mouth. Sherlock had not lifted his eyes from his microscope when I asked him if I should take the dog’s hint, but merely waved a hand at me, said Baskerville would show me where he preferred to exercise and that the key to the house worked for the gates to the park. All of them.

And so we set out.

Mrs Hudson had left us to rendezvous in Bath with her sister, Lily, and her neice, Flora, for a holiday of sight-seeing for the younger generation and reminiscing for the older. Mrs Hudson had begun rehearsing her tales with me and by the time she departed I felt I knew more about her family than I did about my own. In her absence, Mrs Turner had served us one sumptuous meal after another, but Baskerville had had to remind whoever he could find that he needed his nightly constitutional. I was rather chuffed that after only four days, he had come to me. I chose to ignore the fact I had gleaned about Wiggins having been sent out of town.

At the park fence, Baskerville stood with his front paws on the cross bars, wagging his tail while I pulled the chain as quietly as possible through the uprights of the two halves of the gates to get at the padlock that held it closed. I angled it to the light of a streetlamp and did not think the house key was a match at all, but when I touched the shaft of the key to the lock, it slipped in easily and turned equally so. The heavy lock dropped and one end of the chain fell to the ground. I looked anxiously from side to side, but the footpath remained empty as I pushed one side of the gate inwards. Baskerville jumped through the opening, dragging me by the lead I had looped about my wrist. I whistled and heard the gate clang shut as Baskerville galloped northwest along the lake and I ran behind him, waiting for an irate park constable to hove into view with each step. None did.

We rounded the children’s pond and sped over the Hanover Bridges, my breath coming more noisily with each stride, the lead slipping across my sweaty palm. I was thinking I should not have bothered with my jacket when Baskerville slowed to a trot and then a walk. We were in the open fields near the Hub and far from the gates, which I thought just as well. Finally, Baskerville stopped and sat and I caught up to him.

“Good dog,” I gasped, bending over and resting my hands on my knees to catch my breath. “How on earth does Mrs Hudson keep up with you?” I gulped down some more air. “Or do you not take her on such a run?”

Tail thumping against the turf, Baskerville turned to look at me, mouth open, almost as though he were laughing.

“She doesn’t keep you on a lead, does she?” I ventured to guess, straightening up enough to pat him on the back.

He woofed gently and tossed his head.

I looked across the huge stretch of moonlit grass. “If I take the lead off, will you come back to me when I whistle?” I asked, fervently wishing I had learned some tune to summon animals to my side.

He snuffled against my hand and licked it.

I unhooked the lead. “I hope that was a yes," I said and patted him on the head. "Have fun!"

He bounded out from beneath my hand towards the mound, circled around the quiet restaurant at the top and sped back to me.

“If that was a demonstration, I’m afraid I’m not up to the game,” I said, feeling a bit foolish for not having brought a ball or something that he might fetch. I had not thought to ask anyone, but I was beginning to think that despite his size, Baskerville was a rather young dog. I cast about for an alternative. The fragrant, newly-mown grass was free of windblown debris, but away to the left there was a small stand of trees and I hoped a dead branch might be found beneath them.

Baskerville looked in the same direction and ran ahead and round the clump of trees a couple times before I reached it. Searching in the shade beneath the branches was a slow process and Baskerville had galloped off again before I found what I wanted. I turned, waving the stick above my head for Baskerville to see.

He was up on the knoll, running around the restaurant’s patio and leaping periodically into the air. If he was chasing something, it was too small for me to see, but my gesticulating caught his eye and he came barrelling down the hill towards me. I was feeling pleased with myself for being able to afford the animal this simple pleasure when a shadow detached itself from a distant group of trees and loped across the ground on an intercept course with Baskerville.

I stared, arm still above my head.

The shadow creature was too big to be any sort of dog or even wolf. It drew closer, running so fast its feet barely touched the ground.

Baskerville appeared unaware, his attention fixed on me and the branch in my hand. On impulse, I had brought my gun, but hoped not to have to kill an animal that most likely had escaped from the zoo. However, I did not want it to eat Baskerville either. As frightening an apparition as he had been when I first saw him, I was in no doubt that he would be the loser in any contest with the creature heading towards us.

I threw the stick in the direction opposite to the unknown animal and Baskerville swerved to follow it. Unfortunately, the other animal changed course as well.

I pulled my gun from my waistband. The animal leapt into the air as I was sighting, landed on Baskerville and the two rolled across the grass, a mass of indistinguishable black fur.

I stood by, helpless, then the creature broke away, trotting back towards the trees from whence it had sprung with the branch in its mouth.

My eyebrows went up and my gun went down. I called urgently to Baskerville with an orderly retreat from this inexplicable scene in mind.

His response was to charge after the creature and leap upon its back.

“Where is your self-preservation?” I muttered, running towards them. Low growls and an occasional yip filled the air, but neither animal seemed to have injured the other enough to warrant a yowl of pain.

Suddenly, Baskerville jumped away from the beast with the stick clamped between his teeth.

Great idea, the stick.

Christ, I was hoping you were asleep or something.

For an instant, the moon cast the other animal in silhouette before it streaked across the ground after Baskerville.

A lioness.

I took aim. Perhaps I could wound her.

Wounded wild animal, Watson. Not a good idea.

She opened her jaws. Her fangs gleamed in the moonlight. She closed them on the edge of the branch and shook her head from side to side.

I heard the wood snap.

Both animals came to a halt, facing one another, with half a branch apiece in their mouths. They appeared to be at an impasse.

Baskerville lowered his head and prowled to the left.

The lioness turned her head, growling low around her stick.

A tranquiliser gun would be a nice thing to have right now.

Yeah, it would.

If it would work. Is it now?

The restaurant’s a modern building.

So the hypothetical tranquiliser gun would work.

Ho ho.

The animals continued to circle.

Call Holmes.

I patted my pockets. No mobile.

Gun, but no mobile. What might that say about you?

That I was already sleepy when I set out on this expedition and forgot I had put it to charge.

Baskerville rammed into the side of the lioness.

She rolled over, branch clamped in her jaws, limbs clamped around Baskerville.

Baskerville rubbed his head against the underside of her jaw and dropped his stick.

The lioness loosened her grip on the dog.

He bounded a few metres away and turned, tail wagging.

The lioness rolled back onto her feet, shook her head and let the branch in her mouth fly. Baskerville hurtled after it and brought it back, laying it at the lioness's feet. She tossed it again.

Are they playing?

“Maybe?” I murmured, clicking the safety into place and lowering my gun.

Escapee from the zoo or the Manor’s outdoor cat?

I shook my head and wished I had not forgotten my mobile.

Baskerville had brought what was left of the branch back several times when the lioness stretched out on the ground. Baskerville dropped the stick by her head and nudged her shoulder with his nose.

A mighty paw came down on his back.

Baskerville lay down and the lioness licked his head and his face. Baskerville’s tail started to thump the ground.

My money’s on Cat of the Manor.

Yeah, mine, too.

I sat down on the grass and watched the lioness groom the dog. It was strange seeing Baskerville look…like a puppy.

Couldn’t be.

Animals adopt orphans sometimes.

Maybe Sherlock should have mentioned Mama might be out in the park.

Perhaps she isn’t usually here.

Defending him?

“Always,” I whispered, “from danger and the jagged edge of doubt.”

Where did that come from?

I don’t know.

But I felt it with an intensity that startled me.

I watched the improbable animals snuggling a few metres from me and the heat of my declaration dissipated, but not the anxiety that my doubt could pose a threat to Sherlock.

A shadow glided through the moonlight. I glanced up into a whirl of feathers.

Siròc landed on my shoe and dropped my phone between my legs. She fixed an eye on me from her perch then fluttered towards Baskerville.

The screen lit up.

Come home. Lestrade’s waiting for us. There’s been another one. Near the Tower this time. SH


I checked on Baskerville. Siròc was walking along the lioness’s back, half opening and closing her wings. Perhaps it was a signal of hers. Sherlock had never answered my question about how he communicated with her and I had forgotten to ask again.

You do that often.

Rather a lot going on.

Baskerville met up with a lioness friend. Not from the zoo, I’m guessing.


The answer was almost immediate.

Definitely not and Chapalu is closer to a tiger than a lion.


Siròc launched herself into the air. The tigress and Baskerville got to their feet, gave me a look and started walking towards the bridges.

We’re on our way.


I made no attempt to catch up to them and put on the lead. It would have been more than ridiculous as they were leading the way and I sensed that Chapalu might object. Baskerville was walking half a step behind her, bumping into her side every now and again.

I whistled at the gate when we drew near. As it swung open, chain hanging down and dragging along the asphalt, I noticed the padlock on the ground. It had not occurred to me that my spell did not include locking and unlocking, merely opening and closing.

Novice.

Yup.

I locked the gate properly and I hoped no one had taken advantage of its being unlocked for nearly an hour.

Meanwhile, my guides had already crossed the road and were rounding the corner.

The moon was sinking behind the rooftops as we paraded down Baker Street. There was no one else on the footpath and only two taxis passed us with their lights off. I hoped their passengers were too occupied to stare out the window and that the cabbies had had their eyes on the road.

Much hoping tonight.

Not much else I can do, is there?

We were nearly home when I realised it would have been a good time to whistle the obscuring tune. I tried it while I was unlocking the door. It may have been worth the effort as another night bus rumbled by.

The door opened on the gloom of the foyer. Against my thigh, I felt the rippling muscles of a powerful shoulder as Chapalu slipped past me. She veered sharply right. Baskerville whined at the mirror into which she had disappeared. I stared at the mighty trunks of trees between which she weaved until a low-lying mist had obscured her form and only the reflection of my wondering face and Baskerville’s mournful one remained.

***

With gentle tugs on his collar and promises of food and water, I lured Baskerville to the kitchens.

Shortly after becoming a permanent resident of the Manor, I had discovered that there was more than one kitchen. There was a cool one for whipping cream, decorating cakes and making salads, a hot one for roasting meats and baking pies and a temperate one for preparing vegetables and arranging the food to be served. My introduction to them was accompanied by Mrs Hudson's stories of the lavish entertainments Sherlock's parents had hosted before they had chosen to spend most of their time travelling once the children were grown. There had been a sudden intake of breath at her use of the plural, but she had offered no further explanation and I had pretended not to have heard, emphasising instead my interest in a silver urn that was being polished at the kitchen table and which bore a remarkable likeness to the tree fountain complete with amorous figures about its base. Mrs Hudson had not explained it either, except to say that it was for serving wine.

At a bacchanal, I had thought and had followed her as she hurried off to the pantries and larders that branched off the kitchens and on into vaults of china and crystal, embroidered linens and lace tablecloths, and more silver tableware. Beneath this labyrinth, she showed me deeper and deeper cellars for roots and apples, preserves, ciders, wines and firewood, although she bustled past a stout, closed door with a wave and the single word, apothecary. Altogether, the rooms she showed me formed quite their own kingdom.

I washed Baskerville's trough and filled it with kibble. The sounds of the preparations seemed to have distracted him from his melancholy and he addressed the food with gusto as I refreshed his water. It was a routine I had witnessed often enough in the kitchens.

The frequency of my visits had not been motivated solely by the strong likelihood that someone would be present who was eager to feed me, but because the company to be found there was a solace during those hours when Sherlock withdrew to his room to finally sleep or was too engrossed in a problem to be troubled with eating. I was accustomed to the companionship of others; a lonely meal was an experience being invalided out of the army had revealed to me, but the rooms upstairs, when Sherlock was not awake in them had given me a new understanding of what feeling alone could mean.

Also, it was in the kitchens, I had met the elusive others who dwelt in the Manor, consistently or occasionally, and who were, therefore, my patients. Billy and his nephew, Archie, who made the gardens grow, were often to be found there and eager to tell tales of their leafy domain, or in Archie's case, the latest botany or biology exam for which he was studying. Wiggins and members of the Irregulars would flit in and out between their errands and information gathering all over the city and sometimes beyond. They were less likely to share a story, obviously accustomed to silence and invisibility. Discretion was clearly their watchword and I was new. I would patch them up or prescribe a medicine or ointment if necessary when I encountered them, but they did not seek me out. Thus, day by day, the roster of my patients had grown. As well as sharing a meal and conducting an impromptu surgery, there was always history to be learned in the kitchens and they had many doors. I was still learning where they were and where they all went.

I dried my hands, left Baskerville in the kitchen with the door to the courtyard open and headed upstairs.

Sherlock met me half way. “We have a few things to collect on the way down,” he said and hurried past.

I executed an about face and trailed after him. “The li…tigress took her leave through the mirror in the foyer,” I said, conversationally, as Sherlock opened the door under the staircase.

“She prefers to hunt then,” he said, sliding the ornate brass gate aside. “Bigger game, fewer humans in the way.”

I stepped into the cage of the old lift. I had ridden in it once before when Mrs Hudson had shown me the various cellars. Sherlock and I had taken the stairs around it to the firing range.

Sherlock slid the door shut and pulled a lever.

The cage descended through the spiral of stone steps.

“She brings Mrs Turner a deer or an elk, now and then,” Sherlock continued.

“The antlers in the library?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “From long before I was born.”

The cage slid past panelled walls then brick. “They looks pre-historic,” I said.

Sherlock adjusted the lever. “Could be. Their bearers won't bother you, if you give them a wide berth during mating season.”

“Baskerville couldn’t follow her there,” I said.

“No,” Sherlock said, shaking his head.

“It distressed him,” I remarked.

The walls outside the cage had given way to pale, dressed stone.

“It was worse when he was a puppy. He would sit by the glass for hours. Used to upset Mrs Hudson terribly. She’d bring him special tidbits of food to entice him to come away, when he was old enough to eat them. He was a neonate, underweight and blind when I brought him home, so for a couple months we could just scoop him up and put him wherever we wanted him.” Sherlock said.

“From Baskerville?” I ventured.

Sherlock nodded. “His littermates had been stillborn. The whole lot deemed a disappointment to the team in charge of the breeding experiment. They were going to put him down.” He looked at the floor. “He was shivering on the long, metal table. I put him in my coat pocket.”

“Someone must have objected to that,” I said.

“Yes, but I had just solved a rather big problem for them and I said I wanted to dissect him. They did not want to deny me such a small thing,” Sherlock said, pushing the lever up. “They offered me another from the litter since their bodies had been frozen, but I said I preferred a fresh sample. They seemed satisfied with that.”

The lift came to a halt.

Sherlock opened the door onto a corridor of grey, rough-hewn stone lit by iron sconces that had been fitted with frosted glass and electrified. “I took a jug of milk with me from the canteen for the ride home and let him lick it off my fingers, wrapped up in my scarf on my lap.”

“Long ride,” I commented.

“You've been?” he asked, glancing at me before he turned down a fork in the hallway.

“No, but I know where it is,” I said.

There had been talk of my being stationed there after my injury, but in the end a surgeon with an intermittent tremor had not been worth a staff position.

He stopped by a large oak door and turned narrowed eyes upon me.

I wondered if he could read all that from my expression or whether he had already accessed every shred of my military history.

“When I reached Baker Street, I left him on the rug by the fire, swaddled in my scarf and sleeping. Chapalu came up from the kitchen with Mrs Hudson, sniffed him out and they both adopted him there and then,” Sherlock said, unlocking the door with a huge, black key.

“Did she have cubs then? Could she feed him?” I asked.

“No,” Sherlock said. “As far as I know, her last litter was when Mrs Hudson’s grandparents were children. Mrs Hudson handled most of the feedings and Chapalu took charge of homeostasis and grooming and when Baskerville got older, she taught him to hunt. I think she considers him to still be in training.”

I noticed the small, brass key that Sherlock tucked into his pocket.

“I hand a hunch that might be their relationship when I watched them in the park, after I got past the fear that she was going to have Baskerville for supper," I said as the door swung open along a deep groove in the stone floor. “So why doesn't she want Baskerville to go to her hunting grounds with her?”

Sherlock's brows furrowed as he gazed at me. “Most creatures not born there cannot step through,” he explained.

“But I’ve been, well not through that mirror, but through other places,” I said.

Sherlock’s stare intensified then he smiled. “Yes,” he said, “and you didn’t put that on your resume either.”

“The Manor isn’t on the other side,” I said, thinking aloud.

Speedy’s wouldn’t do much business if it were.

“Some parts are,” Sherlock said, flicking his fingers at the bundle of bark and twigs in the iron holder by the door. “I think you already knew that, John.” He lifted the flaming torch from the brackets.

Doesn’t explain the courtyard.

“Are some places here and there?” I asked.

He gave me a half smile and stepped over the threshold, raising the torch as he went.

The dim interior gleamed with a thousand small reflections.

Sherlock shut the door behind us and the torchlight grew brighter.

The vaulted ceilings felt as though they were pressing down upon me, although they were well above my head even where they joined the columns bristling with spears and pikes that supported them. I was not sure I could see the far wall, but along the nearer sections of the side walls I saw all manner of armaments suspended from metal brackets embedded in the stone. The dimensions of the room reminded me of where we fenced, although it would be a much more complicated matter to duel about so many pillars. “Are we beneath the ballroom?” I asked, following as Sherlock moved further into the room.

He stopped. “Well-spotted,” he said. “Its footprint is dedicated to movement, all the way up and all the way down.” His fingers fanned out towards the ceiling and the floor then he wedged the torch between two spears round the nearest column and stretched up for something mounted high on the wall. He turned back to me with it in his hands.

My hands reached out for it without a thought. They itched to mould themselves around its tiller, feel its weight-in-hand. I hefted it. It was for me. I sighted along the bolt channel. I had seen modern cross-bows used, but never shot one myself, and yet my hands knew this elegant ancestor of theirs.

“Guns may not work tonight,” Sherlock said. He unhooked a quiver from the wall. “These should.”

I took the quiver from him, my arm dropping with the weight of it. I drew out a bolt, slid the vane into the channel and glanced about the room.

“Use the door as a target,” Sherlock said from farther behind me than he had been.

I was about to say that I could barely see the door from where I stood when the oil lamps either side of the door ignited.

“Better?” he asked.

He was at my shoulder.

There was firelight in his eyes when I looked.

By its locket, he held up a sword in its scabbard. “And this,” he said.

My eyes flicked to the sword and back to him. “I’ve barely scratched the surface,” I murmured.

There was that small upturn at one corner of his mouth. “Would you like to go deeper?” he asked.

My hand tightened on the crossbow and I leaned towards him. “God, yes,” I said.

His eyes dropped to my mouth.

I felt the tip of my tongue run over my lips.

“Show me how good your aim is.” His glance returned to my eyes. “With the bow,” he added softly, his eyes saying something more.

The cool room grew warm.

Is he alluding to your boast in the dream?

I could not look away. I wanted to show him, here in this deep, silent place.

The room brightened and a nutty smell rode on the glowing air.

I looked past Sherlock’s shoulder then behind me. All the lamps along the walls were burning. They cast wavering shadows on the stone floor and made the swords glitter from a dozen angles.

Sherlock had looked away when I glanced back at him.

“You have enough light now, John,” he said. “Show me.”

Can you impress him with that thing, Watson?

I can bloody well try.

I detached the hook dangling from the strap of the quiver and spanned the bowstring.

“What are we hunting?” I asked, raising the crossbow.

“I don’t know yet. As with the others, the victims had been in the water for a while, the photos Lestrade sent were from a distance and taken in poor light by the night watchman who noticed the remains. Not very helpful. What was left of the bodies were found washed up on the foreshore of the river, so it may be something that swims or it could be the river was simply used to dispose of the bodies,” Sherlock replied. His voice grew fainter, he was moving away.

I did not look back to see where, focussing instead on the centre of the door where the iron hinges did not reach. I wished to show him, give him further proof that he had not erred in retaining me, that it would not be a mistake to give me more. My arm was steady as I sighted between the feathers.

The dark wood rippled like water. A shark-like creature skimmed below its surface, soundless and huge. I felt the thud of its impact shiver through our boat. Water sluiced from the hump of its silvery back as it turned to ram us again. I saw its empty eye. I aimed low.

The grating sound of the bolt wedging itself between the stones of the floor startled me. A dark stain oozed up around its feathers, flowing along the cracks between the flags. I lowered the crossbow.

Sherlock’s hand was on my shoulder. “What did you see?” he asked.

“Just below the water,” I said, staring at the bolt. The stones either side of it were pulling away from the mortar, tilting upwards at the seam. “A dead…a deadly eye. I hit it there.” I shivered. “The wind is cold along the river.”

Sherlock pulled me round to face him, his hands sliding from my shoulders to either side of my face. “Anything else?” he asked, turning with me in a circle.

I closed my eyes. My lip curled, my nose wrinkled. “Stagnant water.”

He stopped turning. “Lift your arms,” he said.

I did, opening my eyes. Sherlock was on one knee before me, buckling something about my hips. I looked down, avoiding staring directly at the rich darkness of his curls as he bent to his task. I checked what was bumping against my thigh. It was the scabbard and sword he had shown me earlier.

“There,” he said, rising to his full height once more and grabbing my elbow to swing me around. “Quickly now. I want to arrive before Lestrade does.”

I checked the floor as he steered me towards the door. The flags lay unstained and even, the bolt sticking out from the bottommost portion of the door.

I leaned towards it.

“Leave it,” he said then stopped short. “No, return it to your quiver.”

He left me to it and I hummed at the place where the bolt had pierced the oak. The wood parted. When I stood, sliding the bolt into the quiver, he dropped a cloak over my shoulders. “Since it’s cold on the river,” he said, pivoting towards the column with the torch. He reclaimed it with one hand and grabbed a hooked spear from the assortment near it with the other.

Behind us, the lamps went out.

***

Sherlock raced before me, a streak of flame in the darkness.

I chased the afterimage. To do otherwise would be to be left in the dark.

He paused and I caught up with him at the top of a flight of stairs. He plunged downwards, I proceeded with care. The torchlight had provided a glimpse of steps with furrows worn smooth in the centre, their surface glistening with moisture. The temperature sank as we descended, the damp air surprisingly fresh.

When I reached the bottom, Sherlock already had one foot in the skiff bobbing at its moorings there. He continued as though he were simply walking along the stones and, once he was aboard, swayed gracefully in time with the water slapping at the stone landing. He held the torch higher then to light my way.

I gathered up my cloak with one hand, gripped the domed top of the nearer of two bollards for balance and stepped cautiously after him. Even so, I landed more heavily on the wooden seat than I would have wished, the scabbard scraping the bottom of the boat and the crossbow and quiver thumping against my back. The skiff dipped and rebounded with my clumsiness.

You're a soldier, not a sailor.

Quite right.

Sherlock thrust the torch at me and turned away, his cloak flaring about him.

Gold light obscured how we got underway, but I heard the thump of rope landing in the bottom of the skiff and felt it rock as Sherlock shoved us away from the landing. I held the torch aside, staring away from it and opening my eyes wide until they adjusted to the gloom.

To the accompaniment of a rhythmic, metallic ting and the occasional splash, we glided forward. "Are there fish in here?" I asked.

"Among other things," Sherlock replied.

I decided against dipping my hand in the water to test its temperature. We were floating beneath a pale stone arch when our surroundings came into focus. Sherlock was pulling us forward by means of the hook upon his spear and brass rings upon the walls. Their stones shone darkly in the torchlight. "Flint?" I asked.

"Yes," Sherlock replied. He had remained standing and was plying the spear hook with balletic grace on one side of the boat and then the other.

I peered over the side. We appeared to be moving against a current.

Another feature of the tales proving to be true?

"Is it a river?" I asked.

"A spur of the Tyburn," Sherlock answered. "We can take it west sometime. There's bound to be mischief in that direction at some point."

"I thought that had been turned into a sewer," I said and it seemed a pity that that had been the fate of almost all of London's rivers.

"This is older," he said, "before there were too many people along its banks."

I let that settle into my mind.

"That's why it suits our journey tonight, rather than a taxi ride," he continued.

"Have we..." I began.

"Hold the torch flat out to the side and duck down," he interrupted, "low arch ahead."

I did what he directed, saw him crouch and hook the spear on something above our heads in an arch wrought of bricks. We slipped under and emerged on the other side into the night air.

It was very dark. The moon had set and between the clouds, I could see stars. I coughed.

"When are we?" I asked, holding the torch upright again.

You feel clever asking that, don't you?

I do and a bit thrilled, to be frank.

Sherlock stood and caught his spear on a hook embedded in a stone flight of steps next to the water. "Hold this," he said, passing me the shaft of the spear.

I grasped it tightly, feeling the pull of the current on the boat.

Sherlock sat and unshipped a pair of oars.

"I could help with that," I said.

He shook his head. "Just hold this," he directed, pushing one of the oars towards me and grasping the spear.

I grabbed the oar before it could swing away and Sherlock unhooked the spear and pushed us away from the bank. We started to drift back towards the arch.

Sherlock dropped the spear into the boat and seized the oar I had been holding. He skimmed both oars through the water and we shot forward.

"Somewhere else perhaps," he said, leaning forward. Another powerful stroke broke us to the centre of canal.

Sherlock propelled the boat through the water with an economy of motion that was thrilling to behold.

Our torch was burning low. I adjusted my hold on it and lost my night vision again.

"I'll find us some moonlight," he said.

"The moon was setting when I came back from the park," I said. We were passing below the zoo as I spoke. Not a glimmer of light showed from our vantage and other than the hoot of an owl, no other animal called. I peered into the darkness. "I would have thought the towpath would have had some lights to mark the way," I said.

"There should be lanterns on the bridges," he said. "for a while anyway." He lifted one oar out of the water and we turned slightly.

"How..."

"Shh. I need to listen," he interrupted.

I closed my mouth and realised that he was navigating without looking in the direction we were travelling.

Can he possibly know the watercourse that well?

Little he can do surprises me.

"Douse the torch," he whispered.

The water hissed around the burnt wood. I pushed it deep so that no embers would remain to set the boat alight. I placed what was left of the torch on the bottom of the boat and lowered my boot onto it to prevent it from rolling.

A drop of rain hit my face then another. I checked the sky; could not see a thing. Even Sherlock, half a metre away from me was hidden by the darkness. The rain began to patter on the wood of the boat. There was a faint ripple as Sherlock dipped the oars. Ahead of us, an orange light hung in the dark.

"Who goes there?" a gruff voice called.

Sherlock did not answer. We glided beneath the bridge. There was no further challenge. When I looked back, the light was gone.

The rain stopped. I could distinguish Sherlock's face, pale in the gloom when he leaned away, clearer when he bent closer. His eyes were in shadow, but his skin glowed. I looked up again. The stars blazed across the sky. I nearly exclaimed aloud, but pressed my hand against my mouth at the last instant. I glanced to either side. There were branches in full leaf arching over the water. We skimmed beneath them. I reached out and caught at one, ripped off the tip of a branch. The stars were bright enough for me to discern the shape of a willow leaf by their light. I scanned the heavens, looking for constellations I knew. I could barely restrain myself from whistling at the glory of it. When I glanced at Sherlock, I could see that his eyes were closed. Before us, there was fog floating above the water.

The light grew brighter still. I gazed upwards again and found a full moon beaming upon us.

"How?" I murmured and clapped my hand to my mouth.

"Duck," Sherlock whispered and the light disappeared.

The faint splashing of the oars echoed. I kept my head down. Sherlock's forehead almost touched mine as he leaned forward. As effortless as he made our journey seem, the fragrance of lavender was growing with each backstroke.

The moonlight seemed as bright as day when we emerged from the tunnel.

Around us, leaves rustled. I could not see any sign that we were still on a canal.

Sherlock altered our direction.

The moon beamed on my left, the water reflecting back its light and as far as I could see I found no trace of buildings or roads, just a shimmering basin of water.

I contemplated Sherlock's face. His head was tilted slightly to the side as though he were indeed listening.

An oar scraped lightly against a rough surface. We turned into a narrow channel. A ruddy glow revealed the outlines of a small wooden building by the water. We sped past it.

The moon cast my shadow over Sherlock. His silhouette seemed somewhat lower than mine. The boat rocked. I grabbed the gunwales and barely managed to keep my seat. Around us, the water opened up, a vast reach of silver and black. The oars splashed as we turned once more, moving fast. The tide was coming in and I no longer faced the direction in which we were going.

I saw nothing familiar behind us or to our sides. The water was rough and I did not care to risk losing my grip by twisting about to see where we were headed, but I suspected that we had reached the Thames.

The moonlight lit half of Sherlock's face. His expression was intent, his eyes open. He seemed to be steering the boat, more than propelling it with the oars. I wished I could assist, but I estimated that my silence was the most I could contribute.

We rounded a spur of land. I could see that Sherlock's strokes were guiding us away from the shore that the tide sought to beach us upon. Dark shapes dotted the banks, throwing wavering shadows across the water. Whether they were natural or artificial features, I could not tell.

Sherlock leaned far forward, the crown of his head nearly touching my knees.

I felt a bump and heard a scrape along the left side of the boat behind me. I pulled my hand into my lap.

In one fluid movement, Sherlock landed the oars inside the skiff to either side of me and threw a loop of rope above my head and out over the water. Hand over hand, he drew most of the rope back in and the boat thumped along what I guessed was a pier. I twisted round to look at it. Our mooring line was holding us close to one in a double row of tree trunks extending back to the shore and up the bank.

"We have arrived in good time, I believe," he said and his voice betrayed only the slightest breathlessness. The skiff thus braced, he balanced an instant on the gunwale before stepping up onto the top of the mooring post. "Come, John," he said, "while we still have the moonlight."

I watched him stride from post to post as though they were so many stones in a brook and then jump down to the shore. He turned and waved me on before setting off at a run.

There was nothing for it, I found a stump of a branch on the tree trunk and using it as a foothold, achieved the top of the post. The water swirled below it. From my new position, I could see that the next post was not as far away as it had looked from the boat and the tree trunks wider, so I launched myself at the next one and kept going until there were pebbles beneath me instead of water. I hissed an expletive when I jumped down and the scabbard thwacked me soundly on the leg, the crossbow banging against my spine. I caught my breath, wished that we might have landed after construction of the pier had been completed and set off after Sherlock.

I had nearly reached him when he began to softly sing a tune I knew well and faded into a patch of shadow. Past where he had been I could see further along the bank to where a stout stone tower rose from the corner of a stone platform. Firelight illuminated the base of the tower. I whistled as quietly as I could and hoped that I, too, could no longer be seen because two figures with torches rounded the tower and sauntered to the edge of the platform to scan the shoreline. The sound of the water made it difficult to be certain, but I thought they might be conversing.

I tilted my head to listen for the crunch of Sherlock's footsteps and when I heard them, followed as quietly as I could.

He halted abruptly. "Here," he whispered as I bumped into his back.

I looked ahead and saw a one-legged torso upon the gravel. Half an arm was missing as well. I could hear Sherlock murmuring, but not catch his words.

The man's shirt was long and shredded, an old scar ran halfway down the inside of his bare leg, another marked his forearm.

Although the cases had not yet been many, my having accompanied Sherlock when he had helped Lestrade with other special matters, as they referred to them, was paying off as was my keeping detailed notes of everything I had observed and everything Sherlock had observed and the deductions to which they had led him. The gap between what I saw and what he did was large, but I felt it was diminishing with each new case.

The body's remaining hand was clutched tight and I thought there was something clasped in it.

Sherlock peered closely, lifted the shirt gently. He appeared to be waiting for Lestrade to arrive before making a more intrusive examination of the corpse, although perhaps he had seen enough to form a plan.

In the distance, the torchlight wavered when the figures turned their backs in our direction. Their receding lights showed a wall extending eastwards from the tower and a suggestion that there might be the foundations of another tower at further along the wall. Their progress was leisurely; it appeared they had not heard our small noises nor noticed the body on the shingle.

I walked to where Sherlock crouched a few paces from the headless corpse. There was an arm and a lower leg bearing obvious bite marks along their length and the white of bone at their ragged ends.

"The rest of that poor bloke," I whispered, hoping that the dismemberment had been post-mortem.

"No," Sherlock said and stood.

Blue lights flashed, banding the black water and colouring one of the feet of the deceased. Sherlock pulled me higher on the foreshore. Lights glowed along the southern shore and the growl of a bus brought my eyes to the familiar, floodlit bridge that spanned the river to the east.

I heard voices.

"Down here with that. Get the body out of here before the tide takes it back," Lestrade ordered.

He was descending a ladder, slid over the last few rungs and hurried along the gravel to the torso. He stared for an instant and took out his phone. "Shit," he muttered, "answer me."

"Certainly, Detective Inspector," Sherlock said, humming and gathering form as he walked forward.

Lestrade's head whipped around. "How'd you get here so fast?" he said.

I whistled the same tune and followed directly behind Sherlock.

He gaped. "You are becoming a good assistant," he said to me. "You might have told me you were already in the area," he said to Sherlock.

"I was at home when you texted," Sherlock said and glanced at the forensics team crunching across the gravel from the river stairs.

Lestrade held up a hand towards them. "Go wait by the steps," he said and waved them away.

They turned and crunched more slowly back.

"You couldn't have got here before me..." Lestrade narrowed his eyes. "...unless you...?"

"Yes, we came by water," Sherlock said, "it seemed the right medium for tonight."

Lestrade appeared to understand the significance of that.

"And so?" Lestrade coaxed.

"The reason you haven't been able to identify any of the bodies, much less apprehend their executioners, is that the victims did not die here," Sherlock said, walking about the leg and arm.

"Throwing bodies, or parts of them, into the river, is certainly an old trick, but we've had hands and teeth and not a single match of fingerprints or dental records," Lestrade said, leaning over the leg. "Or do you mean they were murdered at sea or not British?"

"No, their lives ended quite locally," Sherlock said, "but not now. That's why no record of them has survived, regardless of nationality, just like the others."

Lestrade looked up at Sherlock. "Even if someone had them frozen for decades, we should have found some record of at least one of them."

Sherlock shook his head. "Take a close look at that shirt, Lestrade, use my loupe, if you like."

Lestrade took the magnifier, walked to the headless torso, knelt by it and took a torch from his pocket. "Handwoven," he said. "Some people like that, very green."

"Look more closely," Sherlock said. "It's hand spun as well. Note the pock marks on the chest. He's survived small pox and those small wounds near his groin are from a recent application of leeches."

Lestrade snapped the loupe back into its case and stood. "How far back did it take you?"

"They were building this," Sherlock said with a wave at the Tower. He nodded at the body. This one was beheaded and river did the rest, the limbs over there are from someone who was drawn and quartered before he was thrown in."

"Ah," Lestrade said, handing back the lens. "Even so, they should have been buried."

"Someone got lazy and dumped them in the river instead or someplace that empties into the river. They weren't caught and so kept doing it," Sherlock explained.

Lestrade walked over to the limbs and winced at the exposed shoulder joint. "All eight of them, then?"

"Redo the forensics, DNA testing, evidence of eradicated diseases, certain vitamin deficiencies, to be sure of course," Sherlock said.

Lestrade looked up and nodded. "Not murders, but executions?"

"The evidence points in that direction," Sherlock replied. "The shirt was a helpful clue."

"So, why are they washing up now?" Lestrade asked.

"That puzzle is yet to be solved," Sherlock said, "and there may be another."

Lestrade raised an eyebrow.

"You see the lacerations on the limbs..." Sherlock asked.

"Yeah."

"Not man-made," Sherlock pointed out.

"You know what damage the wildlife inflicts," Lestrade said.

"What river creatures have teeth like that?" Sherlock asked, gesturing towards the leg.

Lestrade's gaze shifted to Sherlock. "Some ocean fish trying the hunting upstream? A shark, maybe?" Lestrade asked.

"Who only likes the flavour of ancient Londoners?" Sherlock scoffed.

"You think something's followed them here?" Lestrade said. "But even a thousand years ago, there weren't sharks living in the Thames."

"Exactly."

"Something older?" Lestrade asked.

"Something that shouldn't be on this side at all," Sherlock said.

Lestrade raised his eyebrows and nodded thoughtfully.

There was a thrashing in the water and we all turned riverward.

"You can have them take the bodies away," Sherlock said, peering out over the water. "We need to go hunting, John," he announced and took off at a run towards where our boat had been.

I glanced at Lestrade before running after Sherlock.

He was already seated in the skiff, which bobbed in a few centimetres of water next to a stub of a post protruding from the shingle before the bricked-up arch of Traitor's Gate.

I was relieved I would not need to hop along a line of posts to board, remembering gratefully as I clambered in how the river had narrowed over the centuries. Behind me, I could hear Lestrade directing his team.

Sherlock dropped the rope back in the boat and shoved off from the post with the blunt side of the hook on the spear. The tide bumped us back against the wood. Sherlock twirled the spear about and thrust the pole into the gravel. The skiff skimmed over the water in defiance of the tide, catching a current rushing towards the opposite shore. With a small sound of satisfaction, Sherlock dropped the spear in the boat and grabbed the oars.

His strokes were long and powerful and he kept us in the centre of the river, turning the boat when the incoming tide carried us too far west. He was keeping us abreast of the Tower, the boat rocking with his manoeuvres. I clutched the gunwales to hold myself in place. I cast a glance at the roiling waters; they had gained a rusty hue.

I looked to the shore. Bathed in red light, Lestrade's team was hurrying towards the steps further along the shore with a stretcher between them. Lestrade was halfway up the ladder near where the bodies had lain when huge shadows began marching across the encrimsoned Tower walls. He turned towards the river, hand over his brow.

Something cold slithered past my hand. It was on the hilt of my sword in an instant, sliding the blade from its sheath. An inky shadow reached into the boat, narrow and questing; its tip tilted upwards as though to scent the air. It curled towards Sherlock's leg. My sword hit the edge of the boat's side. Something heavy fell into the bottom of the boat; the water by its side foamed, redder now.

Sherlock shipped the oars and seized the spear. My stomach sank when I saw him stand, stance wide for balance in the rocking boat.

Two thick tentacles sprang from the water. One coiled about his spear, the thicker about his waist. I swung forward. The amputation was swift. The severed end hung limply from Sherlock's hips, the other end persisted in clinging to him while the whole tentacle continued to wrestle for the spear. I slashed at it, but only succeeded in knocking the spear from Sherlock's hand. The tentacle brandished the captured weapon in the air before aiming it downwards.

Sherlock's sword swung upwards, slicing the limb from the body of whatever creature wielded it. With a thud, the limb and the spear dropped into the boat.

I dropped my sword against the seat, flung off my cloak and pulled the crossbow from my back.

There was a loud thump and an ominous crack. The hilt of my sword struck my foot as it fell. The boat shuddered, rising on a wave before splashing back into the water. It soaked all but my chest where I had pulled the quiver and crossbow close to me.

We rocked on the swells and the air grew brighter. I snapped my head from side to side. Both banks were lost in darkness, but over our heads a full moon shone amidst a sky full of stars.

I drew in a breath and loaded a bolt by their light.

Sherlock stood, spear poised over the side that had been the south bank when last I could see the land.

I swivelled on my seat until I had a leg either side of the bench and watched the northern side.

The moon lit a ring of froth a couple metres from the skiff.

I watched it until Sherlock blocked my view of its progress then again as it appeared on the other side of him. It was swimming slowly and I hoped the loss of blood was incapacitating it down. As if it heard my thoughts, the foamy circle formed more quickly, but further from the boat on its second lap. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sherlock turn to look over his shoulder at it.

The air grew icy. I shivered, feeling every centimetre of my sodden clothes and holding the bow more tightly.

The bubbles stopped mid-circuit.

I sighted along the bolt channel towards the spot where they had ceased. I felt the skiff rock very slightly as Sherlock turned to face in the same direction as me.

The impact lifted my side of the boat. I gripped with my knees, leaned up and over the gunwhale and saw that empty, deadly eye below me. I released the bolt.

The opposite side of the boat rocked up.

I saw Sherlock fall towards the water, spear poised.

He landed across the gunwale with a crack that I feared were his ribs. He drove the spear deep into whatever was beneath the water. It pulled him forward as he twisted and turned the harpoon, his legs clamped about the seat.

I loaded another bolt and shot a metre beyond where Sherlock had impaled the creature.

A gout of something dark spurted above the waves.

The boat shuddered with a series of thumps.

I shot another bolt close to the last.

The thumps grew weaker. The boat began to tip in the opposite direction. Dark shadows were sliding over the gunwale behind Sherlock.

I slid along the bench towards that side, pulled my dagger from my belt and severed the nearest two. Two more curled about my forearm. Twisting about, I grabbed the knife with my other hand and pinned one to the wood. The other released my arm, rearing towards the hilt of the dagger. I switched hands and sliced it open as it waved. It slipped back into the water. I peered cautiously over the side to check whether anything else was slithering up the hull.

"John."

"Yes," I replied, not seeing any evidence of our adversary above the water.

"Do you think you could row?" Sherlock asked.

I felt a great relief that he would not insist on rowing with what I feared were broken ribs, although I was not completely confident about how well I would manage the currents.

"I believe so," I said.

"Then help me shift to your bench."

I slid to the middle of my seat, retrieved the crossbow from the bilge on the bottom boards, slung it over my shoulder and reached under Sherlock's cloak to grab hold of his jacket.

He edged along the gunwale, retaining his grip on the harpoon with both hands. I could hear some portion of the beast sliding along the underside of the boat with him.

I tugged on his jacket to help him along.

"I'm going to shift my legs now," he said.

One by one, I changed the places where my clutching hands held the fabric of his jacket and slid along the bench towards the other side of the skiff. The boat creaked as he shifted his weight.

A long leg stretched towards my seat. When the ankle was hooked over the far side, he pushed the rest of his lower body after it.

I only sustained a kick in the shin before he was settled on my bench, legs hooked beneath it. I released my grip on his coat and swung my leg over his back. No longer athwart the seat, I lowered myself into a crouch and eased myself onto the rowing bench. I let out a great sigh when I was firmly seated in the middle of it.

As carefully as I had shifted my weight, the boat rocked more with my movements than it had with Sherlock's.

He grunted, his shoulders twisting as he held firmly to the spear.

I slipped a bolt from my quiver into place, aimed to the side of where the harpoon pierced the creature and released the string.

Whatever part of the beast hit the bottom of the skiff then, it made the boat boom like a drum. The next impact was not as strong, but was followed by a scrabbling sound on the hull.

I stared over the opposite gunwale, dagger in hand. Several tentacles groped for purchase above the waterline, but failed to find it. One by one, they fell back into the water.

"Row," Sherlock said.

I turned at the strain in his voice to find his shoulders hanging further over the gunwale.

"It's sinking," he added, angling the spear to keep the great fish hooked.

I found the mooring rope, shook off the oozing bits of sea creature hanging over it and tied Sherlock to his bench, before turning myself around on mine and taking up the oars. Sherlock may have been able to navigate without looking in the direction he was going, but I was not. I swung us towards what I calculated was the north bank without hitting Sherlock in the head and found the current that wanted to throw us up onto the foreshore.

The river seemed very wide and the breeze over it very cold. The moon was setting to my left when I spied a flickering light swinging well above the water line.

Sherlock had been so quiet for so long, I had wondered whether he had fainted. Several times I had looked over my shoulder to check that he was indeed still there, despite the stoutness of the mooring rope and my faith in my skill at tying knots. Little but his hands around the harpoon had shown at first in the moonlight, but the third time I checked, he had turned his face towards me and opened his eyes as I looked. I had nodded at him and applied myself to the interminable rowing with renewed vigour.

The light grew brighter, which encouraged me further. The notion that it might be held by some hostile hand had crossed my mind until it had begun blinking the name Lestrade at me in Morse code.

"Stop," Sherlock said.

I jumped at the sound of his voice.

"We're dragging it along the bottom," he said.

"Sherlock," Lestrade called, "John. Up here."

I squinted into the dark and thought I could see wooden posts.

"Is that a pier?" I asked.

"It would seem so," Sherlock replied. "Lestrade, have you a rope? Ours is fulfilling another purpose currently."

"Yeah," Lestrade said. "I've already nicked a lantern, may as well pinch a rope."

"Public necessity," Sherlock said.

"Private at least," Lestrade answered, throwing down a rope. "Not sure what jurisdiction we're under at the minute. How badly injured are you?"

"I'm not, I'm holding onto whatever we harpooned out in the river," Sherlock said.

"He may have some broken ribs," I said, catching the line and knotting it around the closer end of the rope securing Sherlock to the bench. "Guards at the Tower let the lights go out?"

"Tower's not there right now," Lestrade replied, pulling the boat closer by the line. "How's your Latin?"

"You're not joking?" I asked as I untied Sherlock.

"No, but the time has changed repeatedly since you rowed off. What were you doing out there?" Lestrade asked.

"Secure the harpoon to our rope before I move, John," Sherlock directed and I set to.

"The short answer is that we were killing the creature that attacked us, at least I think it's dead," Sherlock said, "and I think it is what has been chewing up the corpses floating onto our shores of late. When I get a good look at what I'm hanging onto, I may have some theories as to how this has been happening."

"And the long answer?" Lestrade asked.

"I don't wish to theorise too far ahead of the facts, but when we are once again in the land of internet databases, I suggest we check on the locations of recent excavations for large buildings or underground infrastructure or their repair and compare them with the locations of ancient water sources both here and there," Sherlock explained.

"All right," Lestrade said. "There are cross pieces nailed into the posts. If you'd like to climb up that is, rather than waiting for high tide down there."

"Secure," I said, letting go of the last knot I had tied.

Sherlock sat up with a grimace and began massaging his hands and his arms.

"We need to pull this beast ashore," he said. "One harpoon won't hold it for long against the currents."

"There's not much of the shore left," Lestrade remarked.

Sherlock glanced down the pier, tapping his lips. "We need other transport," he said and attempted to stand. He sat back down rather heavily.

"Circulation," I murmured.

"Yes," he grumbled. "Do either of you have any pennies or tuppence?" He rubbed his thighs vigorously for a minute before trying to stand again, with better effect.

There was a jingling sound from above us. "I've got two two-pence coins and three pence," Lestrade said.

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at me as he stepped over my bench.

"Oh, right," I said and half stood to see what I might have. "Three tuppence and four pennies," I announced.

Sherlock held out his hand and I dropped them in.

"Do you want any of the silver?" I asked.

"If it was, I would. As it is, no. I'll take the two-pound coin just in case though," he said.

I handed it over.

He dropped the coins into his jacket pocket, stepped onto the gunwale and scaled the makeshift ladder to the dock.

"Two two-pound coins and the coppers," Lestrade said. There was more jingling. "Where are you going?"

"To find the dock-master," Sherlock said. "We need a couple longshoremen and a cart."

I clambered up the ladder and looked down the dock to where Sherlock was already dissolving into the darkness.

"Take this," Lestrade said, holding the lantern out to me.

I took it and ran after Sherlock.

***

Due to length, the conclusion of this chapter is posted here.
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