Luxor, Egypt – October 1897
Five months and nothing. He was out of time and money and he had nothing to show for it but a couple of clay pots and a few scraps of papyrus.
Sweaty and covered in dust, he returned to the tent, also considered the command center, and poured a stream of water straight from the canteen into his parched mouth. He savored it, as his desert-dried tongue seemed to plump up as it absorbed the liquid sustenance. No matter how much he drank though, it never seemed to be enough in this heat.
He looked down at his survey map. He was sure that this site held one of the ancient tombs. Yet, they’d turned up next to nothing. If some great pharaoh was buried here, the tomb had either been buried deep in the ever-shifting desert sands, or he had been removed long, long ago.
Now, with his funds as dry as the desert sand, he had no choice but to tuck his tail between his legs and head for home. The museum had expected him to bring home a boatload of precious artifacts, and he would reluctantly inform them that their money had been wasted on a foolish crusade.
He glanced at the letter he’d received from Turin two days before, addressed simply to Professore Rossetti—his orders to return home immediately and cease his activities.
“Ubaid,” he called for his servant—a wiry boy who barely stood four feet tall.
The boy ran to him, eager to please, knowing if he did a good job there would be a reward. Rossetti didn’t have the heart to tell the boy he hadn’t any more trinkets to give him either. Ubaid smiled up at him with his dried, cracked lips and crooked teeth, “Yessir.” He always spoke as if the phrase were one word.
He handed the boy the canteen. “Please fill this for me. And make sure you drink some.”
“Yessir!” the boy excitedly exited the tent, the canteen swinging behind him as he held the strap.
Rossetti smiled. As far as he knew, Ubaid had no one here. When he left, Rossetti had half a mind to take the boy back to Italy with him. He couldn’t leave him to fend for himself. He would be eaten alive by the jackals who roamed the streets of Cairo—though, he had to admit that Rome probably wasn’t much better. At least there, the boy would have guidance and he would ensure he had proper schooling.
Of course, that would also mean that he had the money to send him to one. Unless he found something soon, he would be ruined—disgraced.
While contemplating how much longer he could have these men dig before they grew wise to his situation, Ubaid rushed back into the tent. The boy panted frantically, and the front of his shirt was wet. He was also missing the canteen.
He was about to tell the boy to calm down, that he didn’t care he had spilled the water, but then noticed he was pointing down toward the dig site. “Signor Rossetti!” the boy burst with excitement. “They’ve found it!”
Rossetti rushed past the boy, into the hot sun once again, his thirst forgotten. He saw the men down in the large rectangular pit they’d dug out over the last several months, crowded around one spot. All work had ceased.
He stood for a moment watching the men, both relieved and apprehensive. He couldn’t believe that after all this time they’d finally discovered something, but wondered if whatever they’d uncovered would be worthy of exhibition.
“Ubaid, fetch my lantern,” he called, then began descending the ladder into the pit.
In the shadow of the nearly straight pit walls, Rossetti felt relief from the hot sun. The further he went, the cooler it seemed to get. He reached the bottom and strolled over to the gathered workers. He pushed through them to the front, to see the sight they all stared at.
An arch had been unearthed—only the top meter or so, but enough that the entrance of a cavern was now visible. He knelt, wiping his hand along the arch. Sand fell from where he touched, revealing several symbols.
Rossetti had studied ancient Egypt for years. The symbols he was looking at weren’t typical Egyptian hieroglyphics. These were different, carved straight from the stone and appearing to be weapons. As he uncovered more of the symbols, the head of a god became visible.
One of the men behind him gasped and backed away, yelling about something. He’d only caught a couple of words, but only one that mattered.
He was familiar with the ancient myths. Set was the god of chaos and disorder—the god of violence. While his men were wary of what they’d uncovered, it only made Rossetti wonder who in their right mind would invoke the power of this god on a tomb. Normally, tombs were “protected” by Anubis, or sometimes Ra. To have Set was highly unusual. He could only recall one such tomb to have pictures of Set inside-the tomb of Thutmose III, only uncovered recently. It made him wonder if this might be connected to that place.
However, that would be for someone else to scratch their head over. All he was concerned with at that moment was finding something of value so that the museum would be satisfied that this dig wasn’t a waste of time.
Ubaid tapped him on the shoulder. He grabbed the lantern from the boy and lifted the glass. Striking a match, he lit the wick and stuck the lantern a few inches into the dark hole beneath the arch.
He wouldn’t see much, but he could tell that it was mostly empty on the inside. There was just enough room beneath the arch for him to slide down and search around inside.
“I’ll need a couple of volunteers,” he announced.
Not one of his workers stepped further.
If anything, the front row of men took a step away. Superstitious fools.
He turned to the boy, still standing next to him, though a little stiffer than usual. “How about you, Ubaid? Feel like exploring a tomb?”
He nodded a little too quickly. “Yessir.”
Rossetti shook his head. “You don’t have to if you’re too afraid.”
This time, Ubaid shook his head. “No. I go with you.”
Rossetti smiled, “Great, kid. Hold the lantern and hand it down to me after I slide inside.”
He handed the thin boy the lantern and then swung his legs under the archway. He hesitated a moment, gazing for a second at the image of Set, then slid down the sandy slope into the darkness below.
He fell three meters before he landed on more sand. As he stood, the sand spilling off his pants, he held up the lantern, lighting up the cavern-like space.
The first thing Rossetti noticed was the entrance lacked a door, or a protective stone. At first glance, there was no evidence one had ever been there. Either it had been removed a long time ago, which would mean that this place had been raided of its treasures millennia ago or more, or they had never bothered to protect this place from such raiders, in which case that would mean there was nothing here worth protecting.
With a grunt, Ubaid slid into his leg from behind. He ignored the boy’s apologies and stepped further into the chamber. There had to be something more here, other than an empty archway.
The lantern’s glow caught the columns on either side of them. If they hadn’t just been uncovered after months of digging, he would swear that they were newly constructed. When this place had been buried in the sand, it seemed that it had been perfectly preserved.
As he trod further into the space, he found how true his assumptions were. The hieroglyphics on the chamber walls were clear and easy to read. He would have to have a team come through to translate them.
Deeper he went, his sphere of light shifting along the room, causing each shadow to eerily move along the walls. A chill filled his body. He hadn’t realized how cool it was inside this chamber.
Rossetti stopped as the lantern shone on an opening at the end of the chamber and what could only be descending steps. This hadn’t been totally unexpected, there was usually an antechamber before one reached the real prizes.
Turning, he checked on Ubaid, who was standing about a meter behind him, looking nervously at the stairs. He was shaking, and at first Rossetti thought it might be the cold air, but then he saw the small puddle forming in the sand at the boy’s feet.
Setting the lantern down, Rossetti knelt, and put a hand on his arm. The boy’s skin felt like ice.
He felt sorry for him, and didn’t want to cause anymore terror. The boy had been brave enough to venture in, but he wasn’t going to force him to go any further. “Go back out,” he ordered.
The boy didn’t move. He stared blankly ahead, as if not seeing or hearing Rossetti at all. He continued to shake, but didn’t make a sound.
He glanced over his shoulder before facing the boy again. “I have to go in and look around. I will not think less of you if you were to leave. Do you understand?”
The boy gave only the slightest nod, but made no other movement. He was frozen to the spot—paralyzed by fear, Rossetti assumed.
He cared for the boy, but he wasn’t going to let his fear stop him now. He stood and picked up his lantern, descending the stairs.
Rossetti had expected the staircase to go down deep into the Earth, and was surprised when it ended after only three meters. The staircase opened into a much larger chamber, one with a high ceiling and long rows of columns.
Sweeping the lantern back and forth, he peered around the dark space. As the light passed over a statue, he froze. Its golden surface reflected the dim lamplight, despite being covered by a thin sheen of dust. The statue had to be at least six meters tall, reaching to just centimeters from the ceiling. Its face stared down at Rossetti as if it knew he was an intruder.
Rossetti stared up at the golden deity in awe as he whispered, “This is no tomb.”
It couldn’t have been a tomb as he’d originally surmised. The statue that big was meant for worship. Checking the rest of the room, he saw an altar as well as scrolls that were very likely religious texts. No, this wasn’t a tomb.
“It’s a temple,” he said, awestruck.
A shriek pierced his eardrums, causing Rossetti to drop his lantern. The flame went out, plunging the room into darkness.
Panicked, he knelt and felt around the floor for the dropped lantern, all the while the scream grew louder. His fingers swept back and forth across the sandstone floor until it gripped a metal handle.
He scooped it up and felt for the door. He opened it, then reached into his pocket for a match. Striking it, he lit the lantern and the faint orange glow flickered to life, lighting the chamber in a dim light.
He turned swung the lantern around toward the source of the shriek. Standing a few meters away was Ubaid, staring at the ground, screaming.
He ran to the boy. “Ubaid, why did you follow me in here?”
The boy didn’t look at him, but continued to wail at the ground.
“What’s the matter, boy?” Then he followed Ubaid’s gaze. A mummified corpse lay on the ground at the boy’s feet, one arm extended as if reaching for him. Its empty eye sockets stared at him with a cold, dark fury, making it look almost alive.
“It… it moved,” Ubaid whimpered.
“Just your imagination,” assured Rossetti.
Nonetheless, Rossetti pulled Ubaid away from the corpse, hiding the boy behind himself. Then he raised the lantern and gazed beyond the corpse. There was a sunken pit, only a few steps deep, and it was filled with bodies—all of them dried husks of the humans they had once been, picked clean by time.
Each of them wore similar clothing, old and tattered, but still recognizable as the robes of priests. And all dead, lying atop one another each and scattered on the floor were the curved blades of khopesh, which suggested one thing to Rossetti—this had been the site of a mass suicide.
He was wrong again it seemed. This was a tomb.
The bodies needed to be examined to determine the wounds were self-inflicted, and his theory would be proven true.
He scooped up the boy, barely paying attention to the wetness continuing to dribble down his legs, and he exited the chamber. He had an urgent message to send.
He was going to tell the Turin museum that he had found the first Temple of Set.
Something watched Rossetti carry the boy out. It was alive after all these years. It could feel the life returning to its body with the fluids the boy had provided. It had lurched unexpectedly upon feeling the life blood—but, too soon, the life blood wasn’t enough. It had startled the boy, and had the other one not grabbed him, it would have been enough.
Now, it would have to wait. Soon there would be others with more liquids to fully bring it to life. Then it would awaken the Pharaoh.
Turin, Italy – March 1898
The sun would be up in an hour and he’d finally be able to get some sleep. The clock read three minutes to five, at least that’s what it looked like—a thick fog had settled onto the streets making it tough to see anything.
Yawning, the officer continued his patrol. He’d only had another three nights of this before his punishment was complete. So, he’d been caught sleeping when he was supposed to be on duty. Was that any reason to give him two months of the midnight shift?
At least the nights were quiet in this part of the city. The patrol route was far from most of the taverns, so the rowdy crowd usually stayed away. No, the working-class people lived in this neighborhood, and they enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
Something he wished he was getting right about then.
His parade continued through the empty cobblestone streets, his footsteps echoing off the walls. It was a lonely existence this shift, and with nothing happening, time slowed to a crawl making six hours feel like twenty.
He stopped in the middle of the street, craning his neck. He swore he heard something. He stood, motionless, not even breathing, to see if he would hear it again. Nothing. No sound other than a slight breeze. His imagination must have been playing tricks on him.
Continuing on his way, a chill ran through him, causing all the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. He stopped and swung around, sure there was someone behind him, but all he saw was a fog shrouded street.
Maybe it was a cat, prowling the night. Maybe it was a pigeon that hadn’t gotten the message that it too should be asleep. Or maybe it just was his imagination. He was tired, and his mind had been wandering often the last few nights.
Deciding it was nothing, he shrugged and began to turn and march away again, but then a moan broke the silence, sending the officer scrambling backward, nearly tripping over his own feet.
As he composed himself, he grabbed his nightstick, but held it at his side. There was no need to believe that this was anything other than a person in distress.
“Hello?” he called into the fog. Cautiously, he took a step towards the noise.
The noise came much louder and was much closer this time. The moan definitely came from a man, and it sounded like he was in pain.
“Signor? Do you need assistance?”
He waited, his hand gripping his nightstick more tightly. That uneasy feeling began to fill him again. He could just walk away, but if someone was hurt and he didn’t investigate it, he could find himself on punishment for a year—if he even still had a job.
He took several carefully placed steps back toward the source of the moan. “Signor, if you can hear me, I am here to help you. Let me know where you are.”
He stopped again. He couldn’t see anything through the fog. There was no telling if the person who’d been moaning was still there. He’d call out once more and if he didn’t get a response, he would make his way back to the station and file a report. He’d be glad to get off this street anyway.
A hand came down on his shoulder and he spun around on his assailant, nightstick already in mid-swing.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Lorenzo, it’s just me!”
His arm stopped only inches from the man’s face. Breathing a sigh of relief, he stammered, “Jesus, Matteo, you nearly put me in the grave.”
Matteo wore a uniform identical to his own. It was only his recognizing that uniform that had stopped Lorenzo from clubbing him with the nightstick. He stared at the man, breathing heavily.
“What’s got you so jumpy, buddy?”
Lorenzo grunted. As if he didn’t know. Matteo would be telling the story for weeks at the station of how he’d managed to scare the wits out of him. But he wasn’t going to going to give him the satisfaction of saying he’d been frightened.
Instead, Lorenzo stuck his nightstick back into his belt and began walking his rounds again. “Just go. I have a patrol to finish.”
Matteo wasn’t going to be deterred though. He kept pace with the angry officer. “Chief sent me out to bring you in. He wants to brief us on something.”
Lorenzo kept walking, ignoring the man.
A hand fell on his shoulder again, stopping him. “It sounds like something big. This might be your way off the night shift.”
“And if I leave my post because of some practical joke, I could end up having this duty permanently. No thank you. If the chief really wants to see me…”
Another moan came from behind them, sending a chill up their spines. They both stopped, frozen to the spot.
“Lorenzo, what was that?” Matteo asked.
It took a moment to dawn on him that Matteo hadn’t made the noise. It hadn’t been a joke. There was someone out there in the fog. And he no longer sounded hurt. Now he sounded angry. The other thing that was different this time was that he could smell the rotten stink of an unclean mouth.
His hand instinctively reached for his nightstick as he slowly turned toward the sound, he didn’t know if he felt comforted or fearful that Matteo was doing the same.
A shadow loomed in the fog, towering over them. He still couldn’t see it clearly, but he was sure the man—if it even was a man—was at least seven feet tall.
“Signor,” he said in a voice he was sure was too meek to be commanding, “please back away or we will have to use force.”
The figure didn’t move, but let out a low guttural growl that sounded like a wild animal.
Matteo was the first to move, he swung his nightstick at the man. He moved so fast, neither of them had seen anything. Two large hands shot out of the fog and gripped them both around their necks. Both Lorenzo and Matteo were lifted off the ground, their legs dangling uselessly as they tried to break free.
Lorenzo couldn’t breathe. His hands gripped the monstrous fingers wrapped around his throat. But the fingers wouldn’t budge.
He was lifted further into the air and he finally saw the man’s face. It was grotesque, looking more like rotting pieces of flesh. Was this giant also a leper? It snarled at him and then shouted something unintelligible with breath that stank of death.
Blackness filled in the edges of his vision as he desperately struggled for air. Then he felt the fingers tighten their grip. With several pops, the vertebrae in his neck snapped. Lorenzo’s body went limp and suddenly he was flying through air.
This must have been what it felt like when a soul left a body. It must have felt like floating on air. That’s what he thought until his limp body came crashing down onto the cobblestones. The monster-sized man had simply tossed him aside and was now thrashing Matteo.
The last thing he saw before the life left his body was one big foot crashing down on the stone next to his head.
Three Nights Later
Before the carriage stopped, he’d hopped out the side door. The journey had taken longer than he’d anticipated and now he only had an hour until sunset. His cargo must be secured before then. He couldn’t take any chances.
Scratching the stubble on his unshaven face, he pulled the ropes clear of crate, throwing them on the ground for his valet to handle. He grabbed the crate himself. No one else could would touch it—he trusted no one else with its contents.
The lodge he had chosen was nothing special. Just a two-story building near the center of the city that would allow him easy access to wherever he would need to go.
Seeing him struggle with the crate, a young attendant, no more than a young teenager, ran from within the small hotel. “Let me help you with that.”
He snarled. “Touch this box only if you want to lose that hand!”
Cowed, the young attendant backed away, lip trembling. He pushed passed him and headed inside, not caring about any feelings he might have hurt. He had a job to do, and if he had to step on a few toes, he would do it.
“Give me a room,” he announced, setting the crate down near the bar.
The few faces in the room eyed him suspiciously. He couldn’t blame them. He knew what he looked like. He’d been on the move for several days now, and he hadn’t had the chance to clean himself up since the incident. He appeared as monstrous as the contents of his crate. He wouldn’t trust someone who wasn’t wary of him now.
“I’m going to need a deposit,” the bartender said, leaning on the bar and looking him up and down.
He pulled a wad of lire out of his pocket and slammed down 100,000 onto the bar. “That should cover about a month’s rent. Now if you don’t mind, I’m in a rush.”
The bartender eyed him again, this time more out of frustration at his rudeness than anything else. Staring at the lire a moment longer, he swept it off the bar and into his pocket. “Valerio, would you show this gentleman to a room?
He turned to find the nervous boy from outside standing behind him. “C-can I take your b-box, Sir?” he stammered.
Picking up the box himself, he loomed over the boy. “No one touches this box. Is that understood?”
The boy nodded feebly.
Maybe he was being too hard on the boy. It was his job to help the residents of the lodge. It wasn’t the boy’s fault he needed to be protective of the crate. If only the boy knew what it held inside, he would probably faint from fright.
He softened and attempted a weak smile. “After you show me to my room, you can return to my coach and grab the rest of my effects.” Seeing that the boy’s expression hadn’t changed, he added. “If you can do this quickly, I will give you a big tip.”
The boy brightened considerably. The two went up the stairs to the corner room on the second floor. The boy unlocked the door and bowed.
There was little more than a bed and a sink in the room with a small writing desk tucked in the corner. It was small, but it would do. He’d certainly stayed in worse places. At least it was clean. The amount of time he would be staying in the room wasn’t going to be much anyway.
“Thank you, Valerio,” he said, using the name he’d heard the bartender use. “Now go fetch the rest of my bags.
“Yes, sir.” The boy sped off, dashing down the stairs so quickly the man feared he might stumble down them.
He shook his head. Then he placed the box down in front of the window, just where he was sure the sun would shine come morning. This cargo wasn’t something to be trifled with. And he knew he wouldn’t rest easy until it was safely disposed of.
Pulling his satchel off over his head, he emptied it onto the bed. He grabbed two items from the scattered contents, a cross and a silver dagger, and placed them both atop the crate. Then he stepped back and stared at it.
His heart beat in his chest as beads of sweat formed on his forehead. Its presence was still here. He had to dispose of this thing as quickly as possible, and if he hadn’t been called to Turin, he would already be on his way to do just that.
Staring at the crate, he thought he saw the lid move. It was just the slightest motion, but he was sure he had seen it. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to rub the image from them, then opened them again. The lid was still in position.
Between travelling for several days, a lack of sleep, and skipping meals, his mind was starting to play tricks on him. The creature was dead, and barring any outside influence, it was going to stay that way. He had to put it out of his mind.
But he couldn’t. He was sure this wasn’t over. He was sure he hadn’t seen the last of that creature. No, he must dispose of it as soon as humanly possible.
“Where would you like your bags, sir?”
He jumped at the voice, but quickly recovered. He looked at the boy, pathetically trying to balance himself with the three large suitcases in his arms. He had said he wanted it done quickly. The boy had listened.
“Next to the bed will be fine.”
The boy put them down as he fished another 1,000 lire out of his pocket. “Thank you.” He said as he handed it to the boy.
Delighted, the boy took the note and exited the room, closing the door behind him.
At last he’d be able to get a fresh set of clothes and a shave. He’d feel better once he was cleaned up and could rest in an actual bed.
Groaning, he lifted one of the heavy cases. How that boy had managed to carry all three of them at the same time was beyond his imaginings. Opening it, he began to pull out a fresh shirt and pants, but paused as he heard a scuffling outside the door.
It must have been the boy again, he thought, and charged toward the door to tell him to go away. Flinging the door open, he spat out, “The tip I gave you wasn’t…?” and stopped.
Instead of an adolescent boy, he was greeted by two full grown men, suited as to their station. It took him only a second to recover from his small snafu. “Gentlemen,” he stated.
One man nodded his head in greeting. “Buona Sera, Senior Van Helsing.”
“Our employer would like to speak with you. He awaits in the carriage downstairs. He wishes me to assure you that the conversation will be brief.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Van Helsing told the gentlemen. “I have had a long journey, and I wish to rest. If you wish to speak with me, you can see me in the morning.”
Van Helsing’s attempt to close the door was stopped by the first gentleman’s rather large foot. “I’m afraid my employer is most insistent, Signor Van Helsing.”
Furious, he practically spat his words at the man. “And just who is your employer, might I ask?”
The man cocked his head, as if the answer to the question was obvious. “The curator at the Turin Museum, of course.”
Van Helsing, unable to conceal his emotions, instantly glanced toward the crate.
He’d only been in town a few minutes, and already the vultures were circling. The one question he wanted answered was, how did anyone even know he was here, or what he was carrying? For them to be here already, the museum would have needed to know he would be here.
Putting his hand to his head, he sighed. He’d been a fool. “There haven’t been any attacks in this city, have there?”
The gentleman smiled. “Attacks happen here every day, Signor Van Helsing.” The tone of his voice suggested that he knew exactly what kinds of attacks Van Helsing was referring to and told him that the types of attacks hadn’t come from anything ungodly.
So, these men weren’t just lackeys either. They knew what he held and what was going on. Knowing this, Van Helsing had no reason to beat around the bush.
“I am not going to leave my cargo unattended,” he explained. “Tell your boss that if he wishes to speak with me, he can come here to do so.”
The gentleman nodded politely, tilting his hat. “I am sure he will be honored to receive your invitation.” Then the two men turned and walked calmly away.
They would be back shortly, especially if it was true their employer was only waiting downstairs. He would tell the man what he should have already said. The contents of the crate were not for sale and they could go on their way.
He didn’t even bother closing the door. Instead, he leaned against the doorjamb and awaited the men’s return. As he suspected, it didn’t take very long before they appeared at his door. This time the two men flanked an older gentleman—not much older than Van Helsing himself—whom Van Helsing assumed was the curator at the museum. He wore clothes befitting that of a highly-educated gentleman.
The older man smiled widely and extended his hand in greeting. “Signor Van Helsing, I trust your trip was a pleasant one. My name is Giuseppi Zorello.”
Van Helsing merely stared at the hand, but made no move to shake it. “You have gotten me here. For that, you have my congratulations. It takes a lot to fool me. But you can leave now. The item is not for sale.”
The smile slowly faded as Zorello lowered his hand. “I see.” He didn’t look angry or disappointed, just determined. The man wasn’t going to give up easily. “May I come in just the same?”
Van Helsing shook his head and stepped aside, allowing Zorello to enter. The man’s gaze lingered on the crate, taking in the cross laid atop it before he sat down at the small table.
Van Helsing blocked the two other gentlemen from entering as they attempted to cross the threshold. The younger one glared, but he wasn’t going to be outnumbered in his own room in case they wanted to attempt to take the crate by force.
“It’s fine, Allonso,” Zorello told the man. “This is a matter best discussed privately. Wait at the coach for my return.”
Accepting their boss’ wishes, the men backed away from the door. Van Helsing immediately closed and locked it as he glanced at Zorello. With his apparent eagerness to obtain the item, Van Helsing thought it might be prudent to be safe. Part of that was also keeping his distance from the man. He wouldn’t allow himself to be taken by surprise.
Sensing Van Helsing’s feelings, Zorello explained, “I haven’t gotten where I am through force and intimidation, Signor Van Helsing. I am a simple businessman.”
“It wasn’t beyond you to create false reports of women being drained of their bodily fluids through puncture holes on their necks,” retorted Van Helsing. “That alone tells me that I can’t trust you.”
The man sighed and leaned on the small table, tiredly. “I apologize for that, but it was the only way I could get you here.”
“And it was a waste of your time and mine. I won’t part with the contents of that crate.”
For someone who’d already been told “no” twice, Zorello didn’t look the least bit perturbed. “Signor Van Helsing, when I heard of your vanquishing of Cou—”
“Don’t say its name,” Van Helsing hissed, looking back at the crate to be sure it hadn’t moved. “Don’t even think it. I will not risk having it wake up.”
Again, even after being yelled at, Zorello wasn’t at all bothered. He continued as if Van Helsing had said nothing. “Very well. When I heard of your vanquishing of…the creature…I knew I had to procure its body for the museum.”
“Why?” The word was out of his mouth before he even knew he’d spoken it. “Why do you want it if you know what it is?”
Zorello paused as if considering the answer to the question. He looked Van Helsing right in the eye, steepling his fingers in front of his mouth. “How did you feel when you first discovered this creature?”
“This is not about—”
“How did you feel?”
“Frightened that such a thing could actually exist.”
“And amazed as well, I would imagine.”
Van Helsing didn’t respond. He simply stared at the man sitting calmly before him. The idea of a creature that could and would do what he’d witnessed both disgusted him and filled him with wonder. But he wouldn’t ever admit that to anyone.
“Can you imagine what would happen if we were to display such a creature to the public? Can you imagine the curiosity that would surround it? Can you conceive the creativity it could spark in our younger generation? Think about the discoveries that could be made from it. Consider the stories that could be written!”
Blood boiled in his ears and threatened to burst a vein in his head. “Stories? You think I’m interested in stories?” He wanted to physically pick the man up and throw him out of the room. “Do you know what that thing is capable of? Do you even know what it’s done?”