Dorian had managed to make it undetected to his manor in Woodford. He had run most of the night, stopping only when he heard someone approaching. Each time he was relieved that it was only some passerby and not the monster he feared would be waiting for him in the empty places of the night.
Now he was faced with a dilemma. The grounds of the large country house were crawling with constables. From his vantage point behind a large bush in the southern gardens, he could count eight—no nine uniformed men patrolling the area. A large wall surrounded the east and west sides, leaving only two points of entry. He had already discounted the main entrance, observing the lights and an additional set of men posted at the front door.
It was flattering to see so much of the police force turned out for his murder. It was, however, terribly inconvenient when it came to breaking into his own home.
Dorian had expected to need to rest from his desperate dash through the night. Instead, he found himself breathing regularly and with energy to spare. That was strange. Better to focus on timing the movements of the patrol. He could see the men moved in groups of two in a rotating clockwise pattern. By counting his heartbeats, he guessed they passed by every two minutes. That should give him enough time to make it across the gardens and to the trellis that supported the vines climbing the stone walls of the main house. With luck, it would support his weight as he climbed to the second story.
A pair of constables passed by. One of them was solidly built and nearly two meters tall. The other was shorter and had a much less intimidating figure. As they rounded the corner and out of sight, Dorian sprung into action.
Running hard he sprinted across the soft ground. He covered the distance faster than he had imagined and surprised himself with the height of his jump as he leaped up onto the trellis, grasping wildly for a handhold.
The trellis shuddered as he crashed into it and for a moment he thought it would separate from the stone wall. But the clinging climbers of the plant held fast to porous stone and supported his weight. With a breath of relief, Dorian began his ascent towards the broken window above.
Once he reached the top, he almost pulled himself up and into the room. Fortunately, he paused long enough to look inside and spotted a man in the room. This was a problem. How was he supposed to get the painting now? The painting! It wasn't there. The wall where it had hung now stood barren. How could this be? If the painting wasn't here then there was no telling where it was. How would he ever find it now?
The trellis shifted and his hand slipped. It was all Dorian could do to catch himself and hold on. He clung there for a few moments, hoping the man inside hadn't been alerted to his presence. How many heartbeats had passed since he left the cover of the bushes? Eighty or one hundred? He was running out of time. He began climbing down as fast as he could and jumped the remaining three meters to the ground. He had just risen to his feet when a voice called out from the edge of the garden.
"Halt! You there, stand and identify yourself."
Dorian took one look at the approaching constables and then turned and ran in the opposite direction.
"Halt I say! Mcdonaugh, Stoker there's an intruder heading your way."
Dorian easily outpaced his pursuers but the shorter constable he had seen earlier was planted firmly in his way. Dorian charged the man and dropped his shoulder into the waiting chest of the other man. He skidded to a stop as the other man was flung back several feet and crashed to the ground. That was when the larger constable grabbed him from behind with powerful arms.
Without thinking, Dorian lashed out with his elbow and struck the man in the face as he twisted in his grasp. The constable was momentarily stunned by the blow which allowed Dorian to wrench open the strong arms. The constable recovered and grabbed Dorian's arm while throwing a quick jab with his right hand.
Time seemed to slow as the meaty fist approached his eyes. Before he knew what was happening, Dorian ducked under the punch and punched the constable in the stomach.
"Oof." The man staggered back a few steps and bent over in pain. His face was red and it looked like the wind had been knocked out of him but he wasn't finished yet.
The constable rushed forward and spread his arms and shoulders wide in an attempt to grapple. Dorian responded in kind and grasped the man's hands in his own, pushing him backward. Despite his smaller size, Dorian could feel the constable's muscles giving out as they strained to contain him. He slowly bent the larger arms out and downward. He was winning. Then Dorian paused to look over the man's shoulder as he slowly sunk lower, fighting back for every inch. The other constables had nearly reached them. Of course. This man knew if he could hold him long enough, his fellows would end the contest with sheer numbers.
With a crack, he smashed his forehead into the face of the constable. The man's nose gave way and his grip immediately loosened. Dorian took his opportunity and ran towards the tall hedges on the edge of the estate. He crashed through the shrubbery just as one of the other constables opened fire with a revolver.
"Mcdonaugh are you okay? I've never seen any man outmatch you before."
Constable Mcdonaugh spit blood and put his hands to nose, which was rapidly turning blackish-purple. "I think so, Cunningham. Blazes he was strong."
"Damnation, he'd have to be." Constable Cunningham bent to check on the unconscious man on the ground. Satisfied he was breathing regularly he turned to the others. "Mcdonaugh was a champion brawler in Her Majesty's Royal Sappers. My word, he broke your nose."
Safely away from the sounds of pursuit, Dorian retrieved the steel maul he had stashed nearby in a pile of leaves. As he stood from bending to recover it, he saw with a shock that his shirt and hands were covered in blood. His blood. Dorian crashed to the ground. That was it. He was done. He had been shot and would die alone in the night.
He ripped open his shirt and put his hands to the wound, trying desperately to staunch the flow of blood. Except there was no wound. Nor any pain. His chest was bloody but whole. There was no gaping hole left by a bullet. That was impossible. Then his memory struck home to the last time he had been shot.
It had been a duel between gentlemen over his involvement with a woman. He had felt his shoulder rip open by the lead ball. He had passed out and thought it all some terrible dream. But he had miraculously healed that time as well. To have the same thing happen twice was undeniable. What had given him the endurance to travel such a far distance that night and still fight off the constables? That larger one should have easily bested him. He needed help. But who could he trust to assist him in finding the painting and making sense of these strange manifestations?