BETWEEN THE LINES
A GREATER TRUTH
Catherine had been coming Below several times a week over the last few weeks. Ever since Vincent had invited her to the last recital, she had been receiving invitations from different people for all kinds of happenings in the world Below. Very rarely did she have to decline, and she always showed up with a smile on her face.
Father’s latest school assignment was that each child do some type of reading in front of the community. They could pick whatever topic they wanted, but they had to make their speech and then answer questions.
Catherine and Vincent walked in just as the first child was beginning to speak.
April, who was only four years old, looked up from her paper, then let it to drop to the floor as she excitedly greeted her favorite helper. “Catherine!”
All eyes turned to them as Catherine blushed before she smiled down at the little girl. “April, I’m so sorry I’m late. I didn’t mean to disturb your speech.”
April looked at her with a very serious expression. “Thas ‘kay. Peas sit qwietly and follow the no poking rules!”
Catherine hid her smile a she looked down solemnly. “I promise. Go ahead. You can start.”
Vincent and Catherine found seats while April bent to retrieve her paper, then held it to her chest.
Catherine leaned over and whispered innocently to Vincent. “Will we be breaking the poking rules if we hold hands?”
Vincent blushed and smiled as he looked down, then reached for her hand.
April looked over at Father who smiled and nodded his approval for her to begin.
She looked down at her paper, then took a deep breath. “I chose my story, and it is named Jack and Jill...” She recited the familiar nursery rhyme and then looked out at the crowd. “Any kestions?”
Father cleared his throat and April looked over at him. “April, I think you mean questions.”
April nodded and turned back to the audience and enunciated. “Any qu..est...tions?”
Mary raised her hand, and April, hoping she would get away with not being asked anything, sighed. “Yes, Mary.”
Mary’s face was a mask of seriousness. “First, I want to say that I thought you did just wonderfully...”
“Thank you very much.”
“Well...I also had a question. I was wondering about the part when Jack fell down and broke his crown...was he a king? Is that the kind of crown he broke?”
“No.” April shook her head earnestly. “Vincent told me his crown meant his head.” She frowned for a second, cast a quick look at Vincent, then looked again at Mary. She leaned forward and put her hand to her mouth like she was telling a secret. “Do you think he could be wrong?”
Mary pretended to think for a second. “Now that you mention it, I had heard that sometimes a head is referred to as a crown. I think Vincent is probably right.”
April looked relieved. “Oh, good!”
Father stood and walked forward. “You may sit down now April.”
April ran to sit by Catherine.
Catherine lifted her easily and sat her on her lap. “You did very well, April.”
April looked at Vincent worriedly. “You’re not mad ‘cause I didn’t believe you, are you?”
Vincent leaned forward. “April, it’s good to question the things that you’re told. It’s how we learn what’s right and what’s wrong.”
April smiled and reached out her arms to Vincent. He gathered her close as she threw her arms around his neck. She kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, Vincent.”
Vincent smiled at her. “I love you too, April.”
April released him and ran to sit by Mary. Catherine smiled at Vincent and secretly thought about following April’s lead. She wondered what he would do if she jumped on his lap, threw her arms around his neck, kissed him, and told him she loved him. With a sigh, she turned at Father’s voice.
Father had raised his arms to silence the room. “Everyone, Tommy and Timmy have come down with fevers and each will give his speech next week during dinner hour. We will move on to the middle school kids. I believe it is going to be a joint effort by Kipper, Eric, and Geoffrey.”
The three boys came forward and stood apart on the stage. Each held a book in their hand. Kipper, Eric, and Geoffrey brought to life the characters of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and Jim. They received thunderous applause, and each of them correctly answered questions from Father, Vincent, Winslow, and Catherine.
Ellie, Jessica, Kelly, and Samantha read parts as Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy from Little Women. Again, members from the community asked questions which the children answered correctly.
Father stood and introduced the last set of kids. Zach was first and did a reading from Hamlet. Debbie did a reading from Macbeth. Amanda did a reading from King Lear. Thomas read from Othello, and Brook and Michael did a scene from Romeo and Juliet.
Catherine was amazed that the children had all done so well. She thought of how successful they would be as students in the world Above.
Vincent sat back and marveled that Catherine was able to find joy in what he considered simple things. On this particular night, he could feel the rollercoaster of emotions she experienced as the children gave their oral presentations. He felt great pride in his students as he recognized her feelings of happiness and amazement and wonder.
It wasn’t long before everything was over and people mingled around talking. Catherine was a popular person with whom everyone wanted to speak. She heartily praised all the kids for their exceptional work.
Soon enough, the kids headed off to bed. Catherine tried to stifle a yawn and Vincent came to her from across the room.
“Would you like me to walk you home, Catherine?”
Her eyes were watering from her huge yawn. “It is late, isn’t it?” She said her goodbyes to everyone as Vincent guided her out the door to head toward the threshold.
Catherine smiled him ruefully. “The work week seems to take forever to go by but my time down here always seems to fly by.”
Vincent nodded. “Time does seem to pass too quickly when you’re here.”
“I wish I could see you more often. Sometimes I hate the work hours I have to keep.”
Vincent sympathized with her, but wanted to support her decisions. “The work you do Above is important. You have helped many people through impossible times.”
Catherine sighed. “I know, but I’m going to be really busy this next week. I might not get a chance to see you.”
“I’ll be busy for a few days as well. We’re working on expanding chambers in the lower tunnels. We have a great need right now with so many of the older children opting to stay here.”
“It’s a good place to live.”
They reached her threshold and Catherine turned to him. “I had a wonderful time tonight.”
Vincent nodded. “Everyone seemed to enjoy your company. The kids even told me they liked the fact that you asked them tough questions.”
Catherine laughed. “I could tell they knew the answers. I wanted to give them a chance to show off.”
Vincent chuckled. “They did...show off, didn’t they?”
“They were well prepared.”
Catherine came forward and looked into his eyes, hoping he would bend to kiss her. He didn’t take the hint, so she lowered her head and rested it against his shoulder. He wrapped her in his arms and she hugged him back.
She pulled away with a smile. “Soon?”
Vincent nodded shyly.
Catherine turned and headed up the ladder.
Unknown to both of them, they had been silently followed. A blond woman had observed their exchange, then slipped back into the shadows and quickly made her escape.
She made the long walk Below and came into the chamber and looked at her partner.
He scowled and reached for the mask that covered half of his scarred face. He turned to the woman as she walked up to his table.
“The Beast is fine.”
“I thought as much. Did you find out if he hurt anyone while he was under the influence of my drug?”
“Only one person, but when you find out who it was, it will bring you great joy!” The woman cackled and sat down next to him.
“Stop being coy. Who was it?”
She had stressed ‘father’ and the man smiled. “You’re right. Revenge tastes quite sweet! How bad is he? Will he live?”
“Yes.” The woman sat back in her chair. “They chased the Beast away before he was able to deliver a lethal blow.”
“Damn! Why didn’t he hurt anyone else?”
The woman shook her head in confusion. “For some reason he ran from them. He went down to the old catacombs and hid himself in a cave.”
The man stood and began to pace. “So he was able to think and hide himself away until the side effects passed.”
“Not quite.” She waited until he turned and looked at her. “The rumors we’ve been told are true. There is someone. A woman. She went into the catacombs after him. Erlich heard the beast’s roars and saw the woman enter one of the chambers, then … nothing. The woman gets the credit for his recovery. It is she who brought him back from his insanity.”
The man sat again, the light from the candle glinting off his mask. “That’s an intriguing piece of information, Tamara. You did well. I wonder how much this woman means to him.”
“The stories I’ve heard indicate he loves her. He’s killed to protect her.”
The man’s face bore an evil grin. “Leave me, I have some ideas, but I need to carefully plan them out. Treat yourself to some of the jewels. Buy yourself some more supplies.”
Tamara cocked her head. “Thank you, Paracelsus. Should I come back later? Would you like some company?”
His grin never faded as he looked over at her. At his lack of an answer, she stepped fearfully away from him until she was able to leave the room. She ran down the tunnel as his hysterical laughter followed her.
A week later, Paracelsus stood outside Catherine’s apartment building with a giant of a man.
The giant watched Catherine carefully and nodded at Paracelsus.
Paracelsus grabbed his arm and walked him around to the side of the building and pointed out Catherine’s balcony. “In two days, you will get the woman and you will bring her to me unharmed, or you will be punished. Do you understand?”
The giant nodded and smiled, showing his decaying, rotting teeth. If he performed this deed to his master’s desire, he would be rewarded nicely.
They went back Below, and two days later, he left his master and made the long trek from the bowels of the Earth to the world Above.
Catherine was finishing up her daily run later than usual. She normally wouldn’t jog this late at night, but she missed her exercise routine the day before and hated to go another day without doing something physical. She smiled as she entered her apartment. Maybe she would take a shower and go see Vincent for a little while.
Just then, she heard a familiar sound outside on the balcony. Her heart soared at the prospect of seeing him, as she walked through the doors. Seeing a complete stranger, her face fell and fear flooded through her at the sight of the giant man standing before her.
Within seconds, he approached her and threw a sack over her, then rapped her on the side of her head. He slung her unconscious form over his shoulder. Her weight was insignificant to a man of his size and strength, and it did not interfere with his long trek back Below.
Vincent was sitting Below in his chamber reading quietly. He had felt Catherine’s subdued happiness all night. He sat up as he felt the burst of elation she normally felt when she knew he was near. He wasn’t worried, as he assumed an old friend or maybe her father had stopped by for a visit. Then he felt the flood of fear race through her and over the bond.
He hit the floor running and raced full speed through the tunnels. He made short work of the journey to her apartment and was up on her balcony just as quickly.
When Vincent got there, the balcony doors stood open. He peered inside but couldn’t see her. He called out to her, but she never came.
Worriedly, he moved to the edge of the balcony, thoughts racing through his head. She’s not here! I know I wasn’t mistaken about the fear she felt. Why are her doors open? She never leaves her doors wide open! Where is she?
He glanced down and saw a shiny object on the floor. He bent to pick it up and saw that it was a disfigured gold coin.
His thoughts turned to Paracelsus, to the time when he came to the world Above to poison people with his homemade drugs. Vincent had wrestled with him and ended up being stabbed by a hidden weapon. Paracelsus was distraught over the inferno created by their fight and ran through the flames to try to save his gold coins.
Vincent had believed the fire had taken his life; now he knew he was mistaken. A feeling of cold dread settled over him. He couldn’t feel Catherine anymore, but he knew Paracelsus was responsible for her not being here.
He closed her doors against the winter winds, left her balcony, and went Below.
As he walked through the tunnels, his thoughts were racing once again. Is Catherine all right? Who took her? Where did they take her? Why can’t I feel her?
Vincent knew if Paracelsus or anyone involved with him hurt her, he would make them pay dearly. He quickly ran to see Father, to get his advice and help.
Father looked up worriedly as Vincent walked in. He knew from a report by the sentries that Vincent had left earlier in an unusual rush. “Vincent, what is it? What’s happened?”
“I felt Catherine’s elation earlier, then a deep fear swept through her. I ran to her but she wasn’t there. The balcony doors were wide open and all her lights were on, but she wasn’t there.”
“Perhaps she had an emergency and had to run out…”
“No, I found a half melted gold coin on the floor of her balcony. I have reason to believe Paracelsus has taken her.”
“Paracelsus alive? But how? I thought you said...”
“He’s alive, Father...” Vincent tossed the coin across the table to Father for proof. “And he’s taken Catherine.”
Father was surprised. “Catherine! Do you know where?”
Vincent shrugged. “No. Our connection has been broken somehow.”
Father knew that Vincent was thinking that the bond was broken because Paracelsus had killed her.
He rushed to reassure his son. “I know Paracelsus. As twisted as his mind may be, it’s still very complex, full of designs and structures. No, Vincent, I assure you, if he intended to kill Catherine he would have done so already. He’s luring you, calling you away from this place of safety.”
“I have no choice but to try to find her.” Vincent looked at his father with resolve, leaving no doubt that the matter would not be discussed.
“I know,” Father agreed. He knew they would have to find Catherine, help her, and rescue her from the clutches of this madman.
Vincent tried to understand why Paracelsus wanted to hurt him. “Why’s he doing this Father?”
“Why? Because in his mind you are the one person who prevents his return to this world, a world which he still considers to be his own. Know that the consequences of this action may stretch far beyond Catherine. The whole future of what we built here is in balance. Vincent, you must be careful, expect anything. Remember Paracelsus misled you before.”
Vincent remembered what Paracelsus had said the last time they met. “I haven’t forgotten.”
“Whatever he tells you remember this...there is a truth beyond knowledge.”
“I’ll remember Father... I must prepare to leave immediately.”
“Where will you go?”
Vincent shrugged. “I...I’m not sure...” He spun on his foot, then headed to his chamber.
Father sent a message over the pipes to the whole community telling of Catherine’s absence and asking everyone to be on the lookout for any signs of her.
Meanwhile, Pascal was racing around in the Pipe Chamber. He stopped and looked at a pipe, then raced past it and tapped another message. He was making his way back again when he stopped once again in front of the same pipe.
Winslow came in and noticed his strange behavior. “What’s wrong?”
Pascal shook his head distractedly. “I thought...”
He stopped and looked at the pipe again, then put his ear up to it. He took a stethoscope from below his shirt and put it up to the pipe. He excitedly looked at Winslow. “I did hear something!”
Winslow rolled his eyes. “Well, goody for you. I need to send a message to...”
Pascal ran from him and screamed loudly. “Zach!”
Zach peeked out from around the corner. “Yeah!”
“Zach, take over for a while. I need to figure out this message.”
Winslow was beside himself. “Pascal, what’s the big deal about one message?”
Pascal ignored him and took off, and Winslow’s curiosity prompted him to follow. Pascal noticed and called out over his shoulder. “This pipe has never had a message on it before. I’m curious as to what it says.”
Winslow was confused. “Well, why the hell don’t you stand still and listen to it?”
“It’s too faint. With all of the other messages in there I can barely here the signal.”
It didn’t take Pascal long to figure out that the message repeated one word: Vincent.
He sent a message to Vincent. Vincent, assuming the message was from Catherine, raced to retrieve it.
Pascal shook his head. “No. Like a machine.”
Vincent put his ear to the pipe.
“Is it Catherine?” Pascal wondered. Although he didn’t believe it was, he still held out hope.
Vincent shrugged; he just didn’t know. “Tell me, Pascal, where does this pipe lead to.”
“Down...below the Chamber of the Winds. After that...” He shrugged. “It’s been silent ever since I can remember.”
Vincent kept firing questions. “How far away is the tapping?”
“Hard to tell. These old pipes twist and turn in the bedrock, but judging by the faintness, I’d say three days travel. Two at least.”
“Archaic, one of the very first my father taught me. A Morse derivative. You remember, Vincent, before we shortened the system.”
“So Paracelsus would know of the code?”
Pascal looked over at a silent Winslow, then back at Vincent. “He probably invented it.”
“Pascal, do you think you could take me there?”
“I don’t know...I could try.”
Pascal smiled at his friend. “Of course.”
“Prepare your things. We’ll leave at once.”
Vincent started to walk away, then turned at Winslow’s voice. “Vincent, I’m going too.”
Vincent shook his head, honored at his friend’s desire to help, but needing to decline his offer. “Winslow...Thank you, but the danger is already too great.”
“If Paracelsus has Catherine then we’re all in danger,” Winslow countered.
Vincent shrugged. “Yes, but we should try to limit...”
Winslow interrupted him and then continued when he sensed Vincent was going to respond with another argument. “Vincent, I have my reasons! Besides, Pascal says the journey could take many days. You have to sleep sometime. Somebody has to stand watch and three shifts are safer than two...”
Vincent saw the wisdom in Winslow’s words and walked over to them. “You’re my friends. I accept your help, but the way is uncertain. You must both promise me you will turn back at the first sign of trouble.”
Winslow replied first, quickly followed by Pascal. “We promise.”
Vincent was grateful for their help. “Then we go...the three of us...together.”
Winslow and Pascal followed him back to the home tunnels.
Vincent turned to his friends. “I’m going to tell Father what’s happening. I’ll also make arrangements with William for meals.”
Pascal nodded. “Give us an hour?”
Winslow nodded his agreement with Pascal’s time frame.
Vincent sighed. “I hope Father will be that easy to convince.” He turned and left the other men and headed towards the kitchen.
Vincent walked in and spotted William standing over a pot on the stove. “William, Paracelsus has taken Catherine.”
William shook his head, clearly distressed. “Oh, no!”
“Pascal thinks he may be as far away as a three days journey. Winslow and Pascal have offered to accompany me on my search.”
“Give me half an hour, Vincent. I’ll have enough food for all three of you.”
“Thank you, William. I’ll be back soon,” Vincent said, as he gripped the shoulder of his friend, then turned and made his way to the library.
Father looked at his son’s grim expression. “Tell me.”
“A message, my name continuously tapped out on the pipes. Pascal says it’s at least three days journey.”
“Winslow and Pascal have offered to go with me.”
Father looked at Vincent, unsure of the answer. “I hope you’ve taken them up on their offer?”
Vincent sighed as he looked down, then slowly nodded. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea but I have accepted their help.”
“Good…William has been told?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, he’s promised to pack enough food for the three of us.”
Father shook his head. “That’s too much for you to carry. In two days, I will send a team of men to the rest station. They will bring your food supply and fresh lanterns and more oil for your journey home.”
Vincent calculated the distance to the rest station. It was about a day and a half journey from the home tunnels. He knew if they could get there on the return trip they would be safe. He nodded and looked at his father.
“Remember, I’ll have Catherine with me, so send enough supplies for four.”
“Of course, Vincent.”
The three men gathered their supplies quickly. News of their journey spread through the community, and everyone gathered to send the trio off with well wishes for a safe passage.
Jamie begged them to allow her to go with them. Pascal looked at her with deep respect, but Winslow said no immediately. Vincent, seeing his wisdom, gently declined her offer, and the three friends set out alone on their journey.
Father had put his arm around Jamie’s shoulders to offer his comfort. “Jamie, that was very brave of you to offer to go with them.”
Jamie looked at him angrily. “Pascal was going to let me go. If it wasn’t for Winslow, I’d be with them!”
Father knew Vincent would never have allowed her to go with them, not because of her inability to handle herself, but because of the impulsiveness she often showed.
With a sigh, he turned to address the community. “Three key people from our world are going to be absent for at least a week. We must all shoulder their responsibilities and cover their duties in their absence. I want every person to be extra vigilant. Paracelsus will know that our world is vulnerable. We must do everything in our power to protect it.”
Everyone nodded in agreement and left knowing that Father would post a new work detail. They were prepared to do whatever was necessary.
Father noticed Mary still standing there watching the empty tunnel the men had just left through. He smiled, knowing Mary’s concern was for Vincent; he of all the children raised Below was most like a son to Mary.
“He’ll be okay, Mary.”
“Yes, I know, still....” Mary’s voice trailed off.
Father smiled at her, touching her arm in comfort. “Still you’ll worry anyway.”
She looked at him with tears in her eyes.
Father chuckled. “I know...I know you don’t have to tell me. It’s a mother’s prerogative, right?”
She nodded her assent and smiled, knowing he was just as worried. “It’s a Father’s prerogative too.”
Far Below, Erlik, the giant, placed Catherine on the floor of the tunnel. He had been carrying her for over six hours. He worried that he had killed her with the slight tap to her head. He finally began to pinch her legs and was relieved when she moaned and started to return to consciousness.
He stopped in a chamber to prepare a quick meal. He knew that by this time the beast had probably figured out what happened and would be on his way after them. He scowled when he thought about the master sending the code too early. He knew it was to rush him into delivering the woman. He looked over at her and leered at her form. He wondered if the master would be able to tell if he touched her.
He shuddered as he remembered the punishment his cousin received from the master, and he scooted further away from the woman. He grunted as he finished the last of his meal, then went off in a corner to relieve himself. He came back and drank more water, then turned to the woman. He sat her up and tried to offer her water, but it dribbled out of her mouth and down her shirt.
He got up, put her hood back over her head, then flung her over his shoulder again. He knew he couldn’t rest if he hoped to stay ahead of the Beast.
Hours later, he sat down heavily on the floor. He was exhausted and needed to rest. He tied the woman’s hands behind her back, then tied her legs together, then ran a rope to his own hand, so that if she moved he would awaken.
He removed her hood and then leaned back against a rock and fell asleep.
Catherine woke briefly and looked at her precarious situation. She tried to remove the rope from her hands, but only succeeded in tightening them. Erlik stirred, and she stopped and pretended to be asleep. Eventually she fell back asleep.
A rat crawling over his leg woke Erlik. He spied the rodent and reached out quickly grabbed him and twisted his neck, killing him instantly. He grunted and laughed and got up to prepare a fire.
Catherine woke and watched as Erlik roasted the rat on a stick over the fire. It was done, and the man came over to her and offered her a piece. Catherine’s stomach lurched and she turned her head and vomited.
Erlik grinned and tore strips of meat off and began to eat. Catherine shuddered as he quickly devoured his meal. He went to a stream nearby and brought her back a cup of water. Catherine looked at the cup, but didn’t dare wonder how dirty it was. She took it and drank the cool water.
Erlik untied her, then put the hood back over her head. Catherine gasped as she hung upside down over his shoulder. Her ribs and stomach hurt from the pressure of his shoulder, and within a half hour she passed out from the blood flow to her head.
Erlik walked the entire day until she finally woke up. He dropped her to her feet. Catherine blinked at him when he took her hood off. Her head was swimming from being unconscious and carried upside down. The intense heat was getting to her, and she was delirious as well.
Erlik dragged her, and she got to her feet following lethargically behind him. Catherine was afraid, but concentrated her efforts on blocking the bond. She figured out last night that she was kidnapped as a way to lure Vincent. She just couldn’t figure out why.
Erlik dragged her into a huge chamber where she came face to face with Paracelsus. She fought to keep the surprise of seeing him from flooding through the bond.
Paracelsus turned to the giant. “You’ve done well.”
He flipped Erlik a key. The man knew it would unlock the gate where food was kept. He was starving; he was tired of eating rats and mice.
Paracelsus offered Catherine water, but she wouldn’t drink it. “Drink or you’ll dehydrate...Drink. You’re certainly no use to me dead.”
Catherine looked up defiantly, then realized the truth in his words and drank heartily. She turned with a question in her eyes. “Why...Why have you brought me here?”
“Must there be a reason?”
“I was exiled from my home, from the world I created by the man you call Father. Even then he wouldn’t allow me to live in peace.”
“I know your story. Fifty people died because of you.”
Paracelsus knew she referred to his drug selling. He shrugged in indifference. “I killed no one; they died because they were fools!”
Catherine looked at him angrily. “They were weak. There’s a difference!”
“Ah, but you’re not weak are you, Catherine? You’re strong, intrepid...”
“What do you want with me?”
“Once a person had been visited by violence, everything changes. Isn’t that so? Nietzsche said, ‘That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.’ Well, I am stronger now...”
“You still haven’t answered my question.”
“Vincent is the answer to your question. He’s all that stands between Father and me in more ways than one, and this...” He pulled off his mask, showing his scarred face. “...is why I must destroy him.”
She stared him down “I am not afraid.”
“You will be. You see...Vincent is also coming here to watch you die...” He turned to the giant, who had returned. “Go Erlik. Make certain that Vincent continues his journey alone.”
Catherine sat quietly, her thoughts for Vincent. I will not allow him to feel my fear. I can’t draw him to me.
She knew Paracelsus wouldn’t kill her until Vincent came for her. She had to do everything she could to see that he didn’t find them. She would die before she would allow him to be brought into Paracelsus’ hands.
She looked over at Paracelsus. He was an extremely intelligent man, well versed, educated, and utterly insane. Somewhere in his life, the darker parts of his mind took over and turned him into a truly evil person, incapable of any thoughts other than revenge. Revenge against a man and a community who he thought stole from him the life he was meant to live.
Paracelsus came over and offered her food. She took and ate it. It wasn’t particularly good, but she knew she had to keep up her strength. She had thoughts of escape, but knew she would have no idea how to get back Above. If she was lost, she knew Vincent would find her, but if Erlik found her first, who knew what would happen. She sat and bided her time, waiting on Paracelsus to make the next move. Eventually, she fell into a troubled sleep.
Vincent, Winslow, and Pascal continued their long journey following the tapping on the pipe. When the message stopped being relayed, they simply followed the pipe.
With surprise, they came upon Narcissa in a part of the tunnels she normally didn’t frequent.
She welcomed Vincent and his friends, then inquired why they were so far from home. Vincent told her they were searching for Catherine. He believed Paracelsus had taken her, and they were following a message on the pipes.
Narcissa startled at his words, then sank to the floor performing her magic. She warned Vincent to turn around; the journey was too dangerous.
Vincent gently explained. “She is my life...I am bound by my heart to go on.”
Narcissa was worried. “There is death. I see it.”
“I must continue.”
Narcissa warned Vincent that Paracelsus was aided by followers she called the Simple Ones. Vincent thanked Narcissa for her warnings, and the group left her, weighed down with the knowledge that the way was dangerous.
They were extra vigilant as they walked.
They walked the entire day and had to make camp to rest for the night. They heated their meal over the campfire and talked.
Pascal decided to take the last watch and went off to sleep, leaving Vincent and Winslow to talk. Vincent sat quietly holding the rose Catherine had given to him. Winslow observed him and decided to ask the question he had in his mind all day.
“So what’s on your mind. You’ve been awful quiet since you left this morning?”
“I’m just thinking, wondering.”
Vincent was confused. “If she’s really in danger, why can’t I feel her?”
“We’ll get her back. Don’t worry.”
Winslow related stories about when he was young and what he remembered Paracelsus to be like back then. How in the beginning he tried to take over the tunnel community, and about how Father saved them all and their world. He told him Father was never the same after that, he supposed because he and Paracelsus had once been friends.
Vincent thought about the past and then looked over at Winslow and told him to get some rest.
Winslow got up then stopped and turned back to Vincent. “Vincent, I want you to know that I’m not just doing this because of Paracelsus. It’s for Catherine, too; she’s a good woman. I’ve always said that. What’s between you two is something I’ve never felt myself, but seeing it, I know it’s real. I believe in it.”
Vincent hung on his every word, amazed that people believed he and Catherine has a right to be together,\ and grateful that they supported them in their quest for a relationship.
Vincent knew he would not sleep, or, rather, that he could not sleep. His mind was flooded with thoughts of Catherine. If he sat quietly and concentrated deeply, he thought he felt a flicker from her, a gentle stirring through the bond. It was so faint, though, he didn’t know if it was real or if he had imagined it in his desire to reconnect with her.
Early the next morning, Vincent prepared breakfast, and the aroma woke his friends.
Pascal shot to his feet. “Hey, why didn’t you guys wake me? I may be short, but I can certainly take a turn keeping watch!”
Winslow yawned and addressed Pascal as he looked at Vincent angrily. “I wasn’t woken for my shift either!”
Vincent shrugged and looked at the fire. “I couldn’t sleep.”
Pascal frowned and reached over and touched Vincent’s shoulder. “Did you feel anything from her last night?”
Vincent shook his head dejectedly. “Yes, no... I don’t know. Every once in a while I would get a sense of her, but it would disappear immediately.”
“We’ll find her, Vincent. I promise you!”
Vincent looked up at his childhood friend and blinked from the unshed tears in his eyes. “Thank you, Pascal.”
The friends ate heartily, then broke camp early and continued their walk.
Vincent couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to happen soon.
They came upon the end of the pipe, looked around, and saw nothing unusual. Pascal bent to investigate the pipe, and Erlik rose up out of the fog and attacked, throwing Pascal through the air to land at Vincent’s feet.
Vincent dropped to his knees to see if Pascal was all right, and Erlik advanced on Winslow.
Vincent attacked Erlik, who quickly tossed him across the room like a rag doll. Erlik turned on Winslow again and pushed him backwards. Winslow slammed into the wall with surprise, then shut his eyes and never got up.
Vincent attacked again, and Erlik picked him up over his head and slammed him to the ground. He quickly turned on Pascal who had run to Winslow’s side. Erlik advanced slowly and was suddenly shot from behind with an arrow from Jamie’s crossbow. The young girl had followed them, keeping close enough to be safe and far enough away so as not to be discovered. She loaded another arrow and shot Erlik as he came towards her.
Vincent staggered to his feet, and Erlik, seeing he was in danger, stepped into the fog and disappeared.
Vincent and Jamie walked to Pascal’s side. He announced to Vincent and Jamie that Winslow was dead. As near as they could guess, Winslow snapped his neck when he hit the bedrock; he must have died on impact.
Vincent fell to his knees in disbelief. His friend had died helping him. He felt responsible for Winslow’s death. They all stood there in shock as the death of their friend slowly sank in.
Pascal was the first to come to his senses and placed his hand on Vincent’s shoulder. “Vincent, we have to bury him here. We’ll never get him up to the catacombs.”
Vincent still couldn’t speak; he only nodded in reply.
Jamie nodded and through her sniffles spoke next. “I’ll start gathering rocks.”
Pascal helped Jamie gather rocks while Vincent prepared a shallow grave. He shifted Winslow’s body into it and placed him in a more comfortable resting position. He kissed his friend’s forehead goodbye, and the three of them started to cover Winslow with the rocks they had found. It wasn’t long before his body was encased in a makeshift tomb.
In memorial of Winslow’s life, Pascal related stories of memories he had of growing up with Winslow. Jamie knelt on the ground quietly crying, while Vincent honored Winslow with words regaling his accomplishments. After he finished, he knelt down gently and held Jamie while she cried out her grief.
She stoically pulled herself together and wanted to continue with the journey. Vincent was unwilling to place anyone else in danger and refused their help, then sent her and Pascal back. He told them to inform everyone about what happened.
Catherine slept fitfully through the night. She knew Vincent was coming for her. She felt his emotions and wished she could allow herself to send to him a feeling of well being so he would know she was all right.
Several times throughout the night, lonely and vulnerable, she reached to him through the bond. She would wake up and shut her feelings down so he would not be able to search for her.
The next morning, Paracelsus woke her early. She sat up with eyes full of fatigue.
Paracelsus shoved a plate at her. “Eat!”
Catherine looked down at the same food that had been given to her last night. Her stomach rolled, but she grabbed the bread and cool water and ate what she could. She pushed at the cheeses and decided she would chance it and took small bites from the slices.
Paracelsus watched her eat, then ordered Erlik to come forward.
Paracelsus looked at Catherine. “Give him your coat!”
Catherine wondered why, but shrugged out of it and handed it to Erlik. Paracelsus’ eyes caught the gleam of her necklace. “The necklace too!”
Catherine looked at the necklace Vincent had given her. She balked and looked at him angrily. “No!”
“Either you take it off and hand it to Erlik, or I will have him rip it off of your neck.”
Catherine didn’t move as she looked defiantly at Paracelsus. He cocked his head in question, then nodded to Erlik, who advanced on her. Catherine’s saw the look of lust in Erlik’s eyes and her hands flew to her neck to remove the necklace.
With tears in her eyes, she sighed and handed it to him. Her thoughts turned to Vincent. She hated giving away the special gift he had given her. She thought back to their anniversary and of him offering it to her. She had marveled at its beauty and felt its warmth as he placed it around her neck.
Paracelsus turned to Erlik. “He’ll be near. Do it quickly.”
Jamie and Pascal had left Vincent to make the journey home. They decided by mutual agreement not to rest, but to push through and get back to tell the others. They traveled quickly now that they knew the way.
When they got close, Pascal sent a message for everyone to meet in the library; he had grave news to deliver.
The community flocked into the library, begging Father to tell them details.
Father raised his hands to quiet the group, worry for all those concerned evident in his voice. “Everyone please listen...I don’t know anything more than you. We all heard the same message. We’ll just have to wait to hear the news.”
The group quieted, then erupted once again when Pascal and Jamie walked in. Questions were thrown at them until an overwhelmed Jamie broke down in tears. Mary rushed to her side.
“Quiet down everyone, Please!” Father demanded. Silence filled the room at his request. “Pascal, please…you have our attention.”
Pascal nodded. “We walked about two days before we came to the end of the pipe the message was transmitted on. Along the way, we encountered Narcissa and she told us of the followers that Paracelsus’ has. The Simple Ones she calls them.”
“They’re not so simple!” Jamie gasped through her tears.
Pascal frowned and nodded his head in agreement. “We encountered one of them when we came to the end of the pipe. He was bigger and stronger than Vincent and he threw him across the room like a rag doll. Vincent kept coming back for more but….finally Jamie here saved us. She shot the guy with arrows from her crossbow. I guess he must’ve felt cornered, because he just left, vanished into the mist.”
Father smiled with relief. “Thank God no one was hurt!”
Jamie sobbed loudly and buried her face in Mary’s shoulder again.
“Dear God!” Father’s face fell as he thought about Winslow. He looked at Jamie and then back at Pascal. “Pascal! What happened?!”
Pascal’s head hung down with remorse. “We discovered that sometime during the scuffle the guy must have thrown Winslow against a solid rock wall. I think he snapped his neck on impact. He’s dead, Father.”
Father sat down heavily in his chair. He couldn’t believe the boy he saw grow into a man was dead. The room stayed silent, each person mourning for Winslow in their own way.
Mouse stepped next to Jamie. “Where Vincent?”
Father looked up timidly as Mary began to shake, each afraid to hear the answer.
Jamie sniffled, wiping her nose with a tissue Mary had produced. “He said it was too dangerous and went on alone...he refused our help!”
“He’s okay, then…” Mary asked.
Pascal nodded. “Yes.”
Father nodded, then felt the sadness wash back over him again as thoughts of Winslow’s death intruded once more. “Winslow’s body?”
Pascal sniffled. “We buried him. It was too far and too treacherous. It would have been impossible to bring him home.”
Mary blew her nose before she hugged Jamie. “You two must be exhausted.”
Father nodded. “Yes, William, please send trays to them in their chambers. Pascal, Jamie, you must clean up and eat something and then try to get some sleep...please!”
Mouse walked with Pascal to his chamber, and Rebecca and Mary followed Jamie to hers.
The library cleared out slowly, leaving Father sitting alone. “Come home safely Vincent, you and Catherine both.”
Vincent spent another half day walking. He knew he was getting close when he rounded a corner and suddenly slammed to a stop. A skeleton was propped against a wall dressed in Catherine’s shirt and the crystal pendant he had given to her. He removed the necklace and put it into the front pocket of his jeans.
Erlik knew the beast was getting close. He followed his orders and quickly tied Catherine to a wall, then placed brush around her feet. He lit a torch and stood watch over her.
Vincent finally walked into the open chamber.
“Better to reign in hell then serve in heaven, eh, Vincent?”
“Milton, actually,” Paracelsus responded sarcastically as he came into Vincent’s view.
The two stood, measuring each other up.
Vincent broke the silence. “Where’s Catherine?”
“Oh she’s...uh...well and alive....for now.”
“I’m warning you.”
Vincent spoke with so much conviction Paracelsus actually got angry. “Your threats, Vincent, hold no power here. This is my place. It is I who brought you here to where you’re standing.”
“Twice we have been lenient with you, and twice you have taken advantage.”
Paracelsus knew Vincent was referring to his exile. “What would you know of that?”
“I know you have killed.”
“And who are you of all people to judge?”
“I speak for many.” Vincent set down his lantern.
Paracelsus saw Vincent’s movement as a threat. “Come any closer and the woman is dead!”
Vincent tried to hide his fear for Catherine.
Paracelsus looked at Vincent. “Now it’s your turn to listen, to know my pain, my grief, at seeing the only things I ever loved torn away. But it wasn’t just me. There were others. You...you were betrayed too, Vincent. You call him Father, but it was I who found you wrapped in rags, starving. It was I who named you Vincent, and it was I who cared for you all those months. Even Father didn’t think you’d live. Don’t you see, Vincent? He wouldn’t let me take you when I was exiled. He made me leave you behind. I loved you. You were mine. You don’t believe me”
Vincent listened to what Paracelsus said and squirreled it away for future thoughts. He looked over at him. “What would you have me believe? That you loved and are now capable of this?”
Paracelsus ignored him. “Now is the time for retribution!”
“Then you never really knew love. Where’s Catherine?” Vincent demanded.
“Directly below you.”
Vincent glanced down, then jumped the distance to the floor beneath him. Erlik started the brush surrounding Catherine on fire, then went after Vincent.
They battled furiously. Not wanting to distract Vincent, Catherine kept silent. Erlik was quickly gaining the upper hand on an exhausted Vincent. Although Vincent had slashed him with his claws several times, Erlik’s strength was greater, and he threw Vincent to the floor, then dragged him back into the open and had him in a full body lock, squeezing him like a boa constrictor, hoping to kill him.
Catherine finally screamed in panic as the flames grew closer to her. Hearing the desperation in her voice was all the incentive Vincent needed. He dug his claws into Erlik’s side until he was released. Vincent lashed out again and caught him across the neck, killing him.
Catherine screamed again and Vincent jumped over the fire, untied her, then carried her through the flames to safety.
He laid her gently on the floor as she gasped for breath. “Breathe...Breathe deeply.”
Catherine gasped for breath. “Paracelsus.”
Vincent stood up but Paracelsus had slipped away. He fell back to his knees and enveloped Catherine in his arms.
Catherine’s breathing returned to normal and she rested her head back against his chest, relishing the feeling of his closeness. He finally pulled away to look down at her. She smiled up at him, and he knew, in that instant, that she was okay.
“Take me home, Vincent.”
He nodded and helped her to her feet. Noticing her state of undress he removed his cloak and handed it to her.
She looked at him, a question in her eyes. It’s so hot in here. How could he believe I’m cold? she wondered.
When she saw him averting his eyes, she realized he wouldn’t look at her because she only wore a thin pink crop top. She smiled to herself at his reaction, took his cloak, and wrapped it around her shoulders. “Let’s go.”
He turned to face her, the relief in his eyes evident. They left and started walking.
Like it had been for Pascal and Jamie, the way was easier because Vincent knew how to get home, but it was still going to be a three-day walk.
“Catherine, if you can make it, there’s a...safe spot about a day’s journey away. There’s food and a place to rest there.”
She nodded. “I’ll make it. Don’t worry about me.”
They’d walked for an hour when they came upon the skeleton adorned with Catherine’s jacket. Vincent took it off and shook it roughly in the air, then offered it to her. She took off his cloak and he turned away as she slipped her jacket back on.
Vincent carried his cloak until they got to the cooler part of the tunnels. He could sense Catherine’s discomfort and placed the cloak around her shoulders as she smiled at him gratefully. Vincent realized he was attuned to her feelings once again and stared at her with puzzlement.
They walked in silence and soon came to the water’s edge. Vincent made sure Catherine was safely settled in the raft before he pushed off from shore. The journey was long, and Catherine sat in the raft, looking around for any unwanted visitors.
Vincent let the current of the river pull them through the water as he reached into his front pocket and pulled out her necklace. It dangled in the air as he offered it to her.
“I found this on my way to you.”
Catherine looked up, grasped it gratefully in her hands, and smiled. “I thought it was gone forever.”
Finally he asked her the question that had been plaguing him for days. “Catherine, on the journey, I felt for the first time as if somehow you were lost to me. I knew you were in danger and yet I could sense no fear.”
“I was afraid, Vincent, but I couldn’t allow myself to feel the fear.”
The reason for the silence of the bond finally became clear to him. “You didn’t want to draw me.” .
She nodded her head. “I couldn’t.”
He looked at her wondrously. “You would sacrifice so much?”
“I would sacrifice everything for you!” He hung his head shyly, and, sensing he was uncomfortable, she continued. “What Paracelsus said...about your past?’
Vincent looked up and shrugged. “Before I left Father told me something I am just now beginning to understand. He said that there is a truth beyond knowledge, beyond everything you could ever hope to know...”
“...And that truth...is love.”
Catherine nodded at Father’s wisdom. She looked out at the front of the boat, then up again at Vincent. “Father does love you, Vincent.”
“I know. He’s done everything for me. My entire life, he has been there for me. Sacrificed the chance at a happier life, all for me...”
Catherine looked up at him in disagreement. “No, Vincent. To be with you is not a sacrifice; it’s a choice. Father chose to raise you as his own son because he loves you.”
Vincent hung his head. For the first time, Catherine realized how unworthy of love Vincent felt he was. She realized she would have a hard time convincing him he was truly special.
They reached the other side and walked for a half a day more until they came upon Winslow’s grave. Vincent stopped and placed his hand upon the rocks. As he bowed his head, tears sprang to his eyes.
Worried and confused over the change that had come over him, Catherine went to his side. She caressed his back with her hand, trying to offer him her comfort. “Vincent, what is it?”
It took a few minutes, but Vincent finally took a shuddering breath and with a sigh turned to look at Catherine. He took her hands in his. “Catherine, I didn’t start my journey to you alone.”
That explains Paracelsus’ comment, she thought, but only nodded to Vincent for him to continue.
“Winslow and Pascal accompanied me. This is the place where we first encountered Erlik. He...attacked us... There was a fight. Winslow was... He....” Vincent stopped, shaking his head, tears falling from his eyes. He couldn’t go on.
Catherine gasped, guessing correctly that this was Winslow’s grave. “Vincent, no! It can’t be.”
Vincent nodded, confirming without words that her suspicion was correct. She dropped to her knees, tears flowing freely from her eyes. She sat down next to the grave, touching the stones, trying to offer her respect to this man who had given his life for her.
Vincent sat next to her and held her. He relayed to her the words that Winslow had spoken that night at the campfire. Catherine found comfort in the knowledge that Winslow believed in them, in their love. They sat and mourned, then reminisced about the times they shared with Winslow.
They said their final goodbyes to him and continued on their journey. They finally wandered into the safe spot in the middle of the night.
Vincent started a fire and went to retrieve water while Catherine rustled through packs and found cans of soup for dinner. They finished their meal in silence; both were exhausted and just wanted to rest.
Catherine watched as Vincent laid bedrolls on the ground near the fire. He looked to her remorsefully. “I’m sorry. This is all we have to sleep on tonight. You can take this one. It’s closest to the fire.”
Catherine waved her hand dismissively. “I don’t care where I sleep. Besides, it looks soft and warm.” She stood and walked over to the roll he had indicated. “You won’t get much heat from the fire lying behind me. Why don’t you move your bedroll over to the other side?” She bent over and reached to untie her laces, but Vincent stopped her and answered her question.
“Catherine, you should keep your shoes on, I’m not sure if Paracelsus has any more followers nearby.”
Catherine hadn’t thought about that, and she looked uncertainly back into the tunnels behind them. “It’s been quiet all day. I guess I didn’t think about us still not being safe.”
Vincent cocked his head shyly. “While I’m here, I promise you, you’re safe. Get some rest. We still have a long walk ahead of us.”
Catherine nodded and scooted down on the bedroll. She put her hands under her head and turned towards the fire. “Goodnight, Vincent.”
He watched her eyes slowly close. “Goodnight, Catherine.”
Vincent stayed awake for another hour to see if anyone unexpected would show up. He threw a few more logs on the fire, then went to lie down next to the already-sleeping Catherine. He lay on his bedroll and started to drift asleep when he heard Catherine whimpering. He scooted up on his elbow and looked down at her and realized she was having a nightmare. He reached a hand out to gently rub her shoulder.
A relieved sigh came from Catherine as she fell back asleep. Vincent lay back down and eventually drifted off to a light sleep as well. He woke every half-hour to check the fire, to assess the safety of their area as well. After a few hours, he sat up to read as he waited for Catherine to wake to begin the next day’s journey.
Three hours later, Catherine sat up suddenly.
She turned with relief at the sound of her name. “Vincent.” She stretched her arms into the air. “How long have I been sleeping?”
Vincent shrugged. “6...maybe 7 hours.”
Catherine groaned. “It feels like 3 or 4.”
“You should rest more then.”
Catherine got to her feet. “No, the others will be worried. Father must be frantic by now.”
Vincent smiled as he stood as well. “You know him well. Pascal and Jamie will have returned by now with the news of Winslow’s death.”
He lowered his head in sadness. Catherine touched his arm with her hand. “All the more reason to get back and let him know we’re okay.”
He took her comfort gratefully. “Yes.” Glancing at the duffel bags, he reached over to see what he could find. “We should eat something. It’s a long walk until the next station.”
She chuckled. “I usually don’t eat in the morning, but I guess it would be too much to expect William to be an hour’s walk ahead waiting with a bacon and cheese omelet.”
Vincent smiled at her attempt to lighten the mood. “I don’t think we’ll meet up with him any time soon. I could make a fire in an hour or so if you would rather eat later.”
Catherine knew it would be a hassle and wouldn’t dream of making him do more than he already had. “No, I’ll eat now with you. What have we got?”
Vincent brought out a jar of preserves and a knife. “We have some thick slabs of bread and strawberry jelly. There’s more soup as well.”
Catherine’s nose wrinkled at the thought of clam chowder for breakfast. “Jelly and bread sounds good.”
She took it from him and began to spread the jelly with the knife he handed her. Vincent took a quick look around their area for any signs that they were being watched. Satisfied no one was around, he grabbed a jug of water and filled it from a hidden spring, then headed back to Catherine’s side.
She giggled when he sat down. “Honey, breakfast is ready.”
Vincent’s brow shot up at the strange endearment, but he saw the look of amusement on her face and realized she was teasing and joined in with her jovial mood. “It looks good. I hope you didn’t tire yourself preparing it.”
Catherine snorted as she took a bite from her bread. “Mmmm...this is wonderful jelly.”
“William makes it himself. He always makes extra and preserves it for trips like this.”
Catherine cocked her head quizzically. “How many trips do you take like this one?”
Vincent chuckled. “None. But we do have way stations spread out in different areas. We stock them with nonperishables and limited comforts in case we’re ever forced to flee our home. We’ll be staying in one of those shelters tonight.”
Catherine groaned. “How far from home are we?”
Vincent lowered his head. “At least a day and a half. By tonight I’ll have access to the pipes, and we’ll be able to send a message.”
She sighed. “I wish you could send a message to Joe. I’m going to have a hard time coming up with an explanation for missing work.”
Vincent felt responsible for the trouble she was in. If Paracelsus hadn’t tried to alienate him from the others, she would never have been taken hostage. “I’m sorry.”
Catherine shrugged. “Joe will just have to understand.”
They quickly ate their meager breakfast and packed the loose items. Within twenty minutes, they began to walk again.
To pass the time, they told each other stories about things that happened in their childhoods. After an hour or so, the way grew steep, and they lapsed into silence. Several times throughout the journey, Vincent had to leave Catherine behind as he climbed up to a higher level. He would then throw down a rope and pull her up the side of the wall to the level he was on.
Holding on to small crevices, Catherine did her best to help him by climbing up as much of the wall as she could, but more often than not he lifted her full weight.
In the late afternoon, on one particular climb, Catherine could hear Vincent grunting as he struggled to lift her. She grimaced as she thought about the box of cookies she ate for dinner a week ago.
Vincent pulled her over the edge, then sat back against a wall. Catherine stood up as he tried to catch his breath. For the first time she noticed the lines of fatigue etched in his face.
“Vincent, you look exhausted.”
“It’s been a long four days.”
“Didn’t you sleep well last night?”
He shrugged. “Off and on. I needed to keep watch for Erlik or any other followers.”
Catherine frowned at the realization that she should have thought about sentry duty herself. “I’m sorry. We should have taken turns. I could’ve kept watch while you slept.” Vincent made no comment, so Catherine continued. “I bet you wished Pascal and Jamie were with us.They would have thought to make a schedule so everyone would have a turn.”
Vincent lowered his head. “I wouldn’t ask my friends or you to give up their well needed sleep for sentry duty. It’s my fault we’re in this predicament. I’ll handle the shifts.”
Catherine tried to look into his eyes. “Vincent, do you mean to tell me that you haven’t slept in four days?”
He ignored her question, then sighed and pushed away from the wall. “We should start up again.”
He grabbed the duffel bags, then turned and walked away. Catherine shook her head worriedly and followed behind him.
A few hours later, they came upon the way station.
They walked in and Catherine looked around the room. It had sparse furnishings which included a small table next to the area clearly designated for a fire. A large steel cabinet was against the back wall, and the only other item was a large bed frame made from rough wood nailed together. She closed her eyes as she thought of all the times he refused to enter her apartment. She sighed aloud as she prepared for the argument she was sure was coming regarding the sleeping arrangements.
Vincent picked up on her mood. “What is it, Catherine?”
“There’s only one bed?”
Misinterpreting her, Vincent decided immediately that she didn’t want to be near him. “Yes, you can use it. I can rest over there.” He indicated a small cot that had a sleeping bag rolled up on it.
Catherine shuddered at the thought. It didn’t look strong enough to support her weight, let alone his. “Vincent, you won’t rest well on that tiny cot, and you’re more tired than I am!” She held up her hand to stop his protest. “So this is the deal...either you and I share this big bed and get a good night’s sleep, or I will sleep on that small cot!”
Catherine knew he wouldn’t allow her to sacrifice her comfort and was not surprised when he began to argue. “I’m not tired, and Catherine...I can’t...”
She shook her head. “Those are the options. Now choose, please...I’m tired. I just want to lie down.”
At his non-answer, she shrugged and moved towards the cot.
Vincent was horrified and nervously looked down. “Catherine, no...” He sighed and looked at her tentatively. “We...will share the bed.”
Her shoulders sagged in relief. While she used the extra water to wash her face, Vincent walked over to a big storage chest and brought out a mattress from a rollaway bed. It was tied in a huge roll. He split the rope and it popped open on the bed. He grabbed their bedrolls and opened them fully up to cover the mattress.
Catherine grabbed the blankets and spread them out to use as a cover. She removed his cloak from around her shoulders and lay that on the bed as well. Tonight she decided to remove her shoes as she hopped under the covers.
Vincent stood still in the center of the room, uncertain what to do.
Never opening her eyes, she pleaded with him. “Vincent?”
He sighed aloud, then walked over to the bed. He took off his boots as well and lay down on the top of the covers.
“Vincent, you’re going to freeze. Come under the covers.”
“I’m fine here, Catherine.”
“Well, I’m not...I’m cold, and your warmth will help. Please.”
As she knew he would, he relented, not wanting her to be any more uncomfortable than she already was. He stood, and she flipped back the covers so he could crawl under them. She turned over on her side facing away from him, trying to give him the space he needed to relax and sleep.
Catherine was soon fast asleep. Vincent had been fighting sleep, but the fact that he hadn’t rested in over four days finally took its toll and he fell into a deep slumber.
Sometime during the night, seeking his warmth, Catherine moved over to him. She plastered herself against the length of his body. His body instinctively reacted, and he slid his arm protectively around her, pulling her closer, enveloping her with his love. She snuggled down and sighed, then fell into a deeper sleep.
Catherine finally stirred. She smiled as she slowly opened her eyes and looked upon his relaxed features as he slept. He looks so peaceful, she thought. What a wonderful night this was. Too bad we were too tired to enjoy it. She settled her head on his chest and fell back asleep.
Vincent slowly woke. His hands automatically began unconsciously caressing the bare skin of Catherine’s back. In his sedated sleep, he frowned as he tried to remember the dream he’d been having. After a few minutes, he realized it wasn’t a dream, and his eyes snapped open as he recoiled in horror. He drew back, afraid Catherine would be disgusted if she woke to find him pawing her.
Mindful about waking her, he carefully slid from the bed. He threw on his shoes and headed into the tunnel way. When he was safely away from her, he fell back against the rock wall and expelled the breath he’d been holding. He looked down at his hands and gasped in wonder that moments ago they had been touching Catherine intimately. He grimaced when he looked again at his fingernails and realized that he could have hurt her. He felt through the bond and knew she was still sleeping comfortably, so he assumed she was okay. With a sigh, he headed back inside to start a fire. Once that was accomplished, he grabbed the bucket and left to get some more water.
At that same moment, Catherine had been having a lovely dream, but it was quickly turning into a nightmare. She and Vincent were asleep at the way station when Erlik suddenly burst into the room. He knocked Vincent unconcious and soon had Catherine pinned to the bed. He hovered over her as she screamed loudly and fought back with little effect against his size and strength. She felt his mouth clamp down on hers, and she screamed again.
Vincent felt her terror as he ran back to the station. He could hear her screams echo through the tunnels. He ran into the room ready to do battle when he saw her thrashing on the bed. He quickly walked over and sat down next to her as he grabbed her arms. “Catherine!” He blinked in surprise at the strength she was using to fight back, and he gently shook her awake. “Catherine, you’re safe.”
In her dreams, Catherine was still fighting Erlik when Vincent’s voice carried to her. She opened her eyes slowly and looked at him, then collapsed against his chest. As she cried, Vincent could feel her body quaking through the thinness of her shirt. He reached for the blanket and drew it up around her and held her closer to his chest.
Catherine felt her heartbeat return to normal, and she pulled away and smiled ruefully at him. “Good morning, Vincent.”
“Good morning, Catherine. I guess I shouldn’t ask if you slept well?”
She giggled and shook her head. “I did sleep well, better than in my own bed.” He cocked his head and looked at her curiously as she rolled her eyes and continued. “Well I slept well up until the nightmare a few minutes ago. How about you? Did you sleep well?”
Vincent thought about waking to find her in his arms, and he looked down with embarrassment. “I...yes...”
Catherine frowned then looked over at the fire. “Are we cooking breakfast?”
He nodded. “Yes, I thought we could get an early start. I know you’ll be happy to get home.”
Catherine nonchalantly answered, “I’m pretty happy right here,” then sighed. “I guess you’re right though. We should get moving.” She sat on the edge of the bed and put her shoes on.
How can she act so normally? Vincent wondered, as her tried to still his pounding heart.
They cooked a light breakfast, then cleaned up the chamber leaving it as they found it.
They began the day’s journey home. Catherine was rested and managed to keep up with Vincent’s pace most of the morning. As they started to walk uphill, she felt her legs cramping up. Vincent had been so absorbed in his thoughts, he’d barely said two words to her.
She kept her head down and plodded behind him. The pain in her legs increased and tears formed in her eyes, but she wouldn’t complain. He had just risked his life to save her, and she would be damned if she complained about a little muscle ache.
In the middle of the hill, Vincent suddenly looked up and then spun around to look at Catherine. He opened the bond and grimaced at his thoughtlessness. After the intimacy of the night before, he’d needed to distance himself from Catherine. Since he couldn’t do it physically, he’d done it mentally, and it had caused her suffering.
She looked up at him with tear-filled eyes and realized he knew she was in pain. He came down, lifted her easily, and carried her up the rest of the hill.
He walked over to a nearby rock shelf that was smooth and flat, then set her down on it. He untied her shoes and gently started caressing her feet and up her legs. Catherine leaned back, closed her eyes, and moaned at the feel of his hands kneading the soreness from her muscles. Vincent kept at it until he felt the pain leave her body. Catherine had fallen asleep, and he covered her with his cloak and began to make them lunch.
She started to stir, and he came to her side and gently touched her arm. “Catherine, wake up. We need to eat, then continue our journey.”
Catherine slowly woke and the first thing she saw had her screaming. “Don’t!” She hit Vincent’s hand away and scrambled to her feet.
Vincent recoiled in horror. She hadn’t shrunk way from him since she thought he might have been the subway slasher. He believed they were beyond all of that. He realized he was mistaken, when she, still half asleep, pushed his offending hand from her shoulder.
“Catherine, I’m sorry. I only...”
Catherine had been staring at his arm. She looked up into his face and realized what he must be thinking. “Vincent, no! It’s not what you think!”
Vincent turned away and shook his head. “Catherine, you don’t have to...”
Catherine quickly interrupted him. “Vincent! You have a spider on your sleeve!”
He looked down and saw a harmless spider crawling around his elbow area. He whisked it away and Catherine screeched. He turned to her in surprise as she pointed at it. Amused. he walked over and stepped on it. He looked over at her and watched as Catherine’s shoulders sagged in relief.
She smiled at him timidly. “My hero.”
He chuckled. “I don’t think saving you from a tiny spider would get me honored as a hero.”
“Tiny! That thing was huge! Did you see how black and hairy it was?”
She shivered and Vincent came over and took her hand. “You’re not afraid of Paracelsus and Erlik, but a spider no bigger than a nickel had you screaming?”
“Ha! A nickel, my foot! It was bigger than a silver dollar!”
Vincent conceded with a smile. “Perhaps. Well, I’ve managed to dispense of the enemy. Would you like to get something to eat?”
Catherine nodded and followed him to the area he had set up their lunch. She noticed the small amount of food they had, so she was careful about taking a smaller portion. After their big breakfast, she still wasn’t very hungry and was content with her meal.
Vincent admonished lightly. “Catherine, you should eat more.”
“I’m okay, Vincent. You go ahead and eat it.”
Catherine shook her head as she chewed her last mouthful. He sighed and ate her portion as well. Catherine helped him clean up, and they got back to their trek.
Vincent slowed the pace. The trail eventually widened and they were able to walk side by side again. Catherine reached over and took his hand. She could tell he was surprised by her gesture.
She wondered why he was surprised. They always held hands when they walked. She furrowed her brow in confusion as she thought about the spider incident. “Vincent, when I woke up from my nap and hit your hand away, you backed away from me. Why?”
Vincent sighed and looked down at the ground as he walked. Catherine squeezed his hand with gentle reassurance. He looked over at her. “Catherine, when you screamed...I...thought back to the time when we first met...when you threw a headlight cover at my head.”
Catherine nodded sheepishly. “I still feel bad about that.” She shrugged as she tried to explain. “You have to remember I had just seen my face for the first time and was pretty horrified. A second later, you appeared behind me. I know I reacted poorly, but I was still in shock. I’ve never apologized for that, have I?”
Vincent shrugged, but didn’t say any more.
Catherine thought of the one other time when she showed her fear. “Then, of course, there was the time I jumped to conclusions and thought you were the subway slasher. What an idiot I am sometimes! I guess, in my desire to solve the case and end the killings, I...”
Catherine trailed off. She really had no excuse other than her imagination had taken over.
Vincent nodded in understanding. “It’s not like I hadn’t given you reason to believe otherwise. We both know the things that I’ve done.”
He looked down in shame and she stopped dead in her tracks and grabbed his arm. “Yes, things you did to protect me! I owe you my life, Vincent! Even now, we’re walking back home because, once again, you came to save me!”
He shook his head in denial. “When you brushed my hand away, I assumed in your half-awake state that I offended you and you were...disgusted by my touch.”
Catherine softened. “Vincent, let me just say one thing. There will never be another time when I will shrink away from you. I have no fear of you. You could never hurt me, and I will never not welcome your touch.”
Vincent looked up at her hopefully, although he was still vulnerable and unsure of himself.
She smiled to lighten the mood. “Unless you have another spider crawling on you.”
He chuckled, and Catherine threw her arms around his neck. He enclosed his arms around her waist and they embraced warmly. Several seconds later, she patted his back. “Come on. Let’s get home.”
They walked the entire day. When they were a few hours away, they came upon a set of pipes.
Vincent turned to Catherine. “It’s late and we still have a few hours of walking. Would you like to set up camp and rest for the night, or push on with it and go to the home tunnels?”
Catherine thought for a second. “Is there a way station nearby?”
Vincent grimaced. “No, we would have to sleep on the ground. I’m sorry.”
Catherine thought about telling him she would sleep next to him on a bed of spiders, but she knew he wouldn’t believe her. “What do you think we should do?”
Vincent sighed. “We have no food, and we only have my cloak for warmth...”
Catherine knew he wanted to continue, but would leave it up to her. She took his hand again. “Then let’s get home.”
Vincent sent word over the pipes, announcing their expected return in a few hours.
Father received word and, because he knew it would be very late, he had a guest chamber prepared for Catherine. He also asked William to prepare a meal that could be kept waiting for them until they arrived.
He insisted that the community go about their regular schedule. He knew the couple would be exhausted when they came back. He would not allow them to be overwhelmed with well-wishers. Tomorrow was soon enough.
Several hours later, Vincent, knowing Father would be awake, led Catherine into the library. Father and Mary were sitting there waiting for them when the weary travelers dragged themselves in.
Father smiled and walked over. “Oh, thank, God!”
“Welcome home!” Mary added.
Vincent nodded. “It’s good to be home, Mary.”
Mary ran up and hugged Vincent, then released him and turned to Catherine and hugged her. “Oh, you poor dear. You look exhausted. What Paracelsus put you through...Well, never mind. I have a guest chamber made up for you with fresh clothes to change into after a nice long soak in the hot springs.”
Father walked up to hug Vincent warmly. “Mary, please.”
He turned to Catherine and held her face in his hands. With the practiced eye of a doctor, he assessed her condition, then smiled. “My dear, you are a sight for these old eyes. Welcome home, Cathy.”
Catherine moved closer to Father and hugged him then back away and smiled weakly. “Thank you, Father. It’s good to be back.”
Father nodded. “William will send a tray for the two of you as soon as you wish.”
Catherine reached for her shirt, then wrinkled her nose as she smelled. “Augh! Father, could I bathe first?”
Mary came over to her. “Of course, dear. Let me take you there right now.”
Catherine looked at Vincent. She squeezed his hand, then followed Mary to the bathing chamber.
Vincent turned to Father. “I’m heading for the bath, too.”
Father nodded. “I’ll have William send a tray, in, say, half an hour?”
Vincent nodded and left.
Within twenty minutes, Catherine and Mary were back. Catherine was looking much better. Her hair was still slightly damp as they came into the library and sat down.
Father looked at Catherine intently. “I’m glad you’re okay. Paracelsus...”
Catherine interrupted him. “Is a menace who needs to be dealt with before he hurts Vincent further.”
“What do you mean?”
“He told Vincent that you took him away from him. That you wouldn’t let him raise his own son.”
Father sputtered angrily, but Vincent walked into the room, and Father’s attitude changed. “Vincent, come sit for a while. Get something to eat.”
Mary agreed. “Then off to bed!”
Catherine took Father’s hint and changed the subject. She looked at Vincent and smiled. “That sounds wonderful.”
Vincent nodded and together they sat and ate heartily of the hot stew and bread, fruit and snacks that William had provided. While they ate, they filled Father and Mary in on all that had happened.
Catherine began. “Paracelsus sent a huge man to my apartment. I think he knocked me out...I woke up somewhere far Below. There was...intense heat and the guy, Erlik, dragged me to where Paracelsus was.”
Mary gasped and Father shook his head in disgust.
Catherine ignored them and continued. “Paracelsus did give me food and water. He said he was keeping me safe so Vincent could watch me die.” Catherine looked up pointedly at Father. “He said he wants to reclaim this world and take back what is rightfully his.”
Father sighed and Vincent leaned forward to reassure him. “That’ll never happen as long as I have breath in my body.”
Father smiled weakly. “What else did Paracelsus say?”
Vincent shrugged off the questions. “Just more lies. I did discover that the truth beyond knowledge that you spoke of Father...is love. Love guided me through this entire journey.”
Catherine smiled and reached over to squeeze his hand, then sighed as she sat back, embarrassed she had eaten so much. “I’m stuffed.”
Mary stood up. “Come, dear. I’ll show you where to sleep.”
Vincent stood up. “I’ll take her, Mary.”
Mary nodded. “Okay. She’ll be in the guest chamber next to mine.”
Vincent squeezed Mary’s arm. “Thank you.”
Catherine smiled at her and Father, then turned and left.
Father looked critically at Vincent. “Vincent?”
Vincent sighed, then yawned. “Father, can this please wait until tomorrow? I, too, wish to rest.”
“Of course, Vincent. I really just wanted to know how you are…”
“I’m tired but well. Goodnight.”
He kissed his father’s forehead and walked out the door to meet with Catherine.
Vincent led Catherine to the guest chamber. She stood inside looking at the beautiful furniture and inviting bed. She placed her soiled clothes onto a nearby chair.
“Feeling better now that you’ve bathed and eaten?”
Catherine smiled. “Yes. I can’t believe how good a simple bath could feel.”
“I know. You should rest. I just wanted a chance to say goodnight.”
She took his hands in her own. “Vincent, I never thanked you for coming for me.”
He looked down shyly. “My heart led me to you, Catherine. I would come for you no matter where you were.”
“Well, it was definitely not something I want to go through again, but last night in the way station made it all worth it. It was the best night of my entire life.”
He hung his head in embarrassment, then nodded slowly. “It was the best in mine as well.”
She moved into his arms, and he enfolded her into his embrace.
He backed up abruptly. “Goodnight, Catherine.”
Vincent all but ran from the room. Catherine wondered what that was all about, then shrugged and headed to the bed. She snuggled down under the covers and imagined Vincent’s arms around her like the night before. She was soon fast asleep.
Vincent lay on his back in his chamber staring up at the ceiling. He was frustrated that he couldn’t get the image of Catherine lying next to him in bed out of his mind. He knew he could never allow her that close again. He could hurt her in the same way that he hurt another, years ago. He would have to try harder to keep her at a distance.
Catherine and Vincent both slept late into the next morning. Vincent woke first and headed for the dining hall. It was Sunday and he knew most of the community would still be lingering over their breakfast.
He walked in and was bombarded with questions.
Father raised his hands to quite everyone down. “Please, everyone, let Vincent come in and sit.”
Vincent came to the table by his Father and poured a cup of tea. He sipped it and looked out at his family. “I brought Catherine home last night extremely late. She is well and resting in one of the guest chambers.”
Pascal came forward. “Then our mission was a success.”
Vincent looked at his friend and smiled as tears sprang to both of their eyes. They each knew the other was thinking of Winslow’s sacrifice.
Jamie came forward as well. Vincent looked at her and opened his arms to her. She ran in and he hugged her warmly.
“You were very brave, Jamie. Pascal and I owe you much.”
Pascal smiled. “I told her that all the way home.”
Jamie sighed and backed away from Vincent. “If I was only a little faster, I could have saved Winslow.”
She began to cry, and Catherine, who had slipped into the room unnoticed, came forward with tears falling from her eyes as well. “Jamie, if anyone is to blame it’s me. I allowed myself to be captured in the first place...”
Father sputtered angrily. “The only person to blame is Paracelsus! He is solely responsible for sending someone to kidnap you and to stop Vincent from having help along his journey. I will not hear another word of blame cast on anyone!”
Jamie nodded as Father looked at her severely. Father smiled and placed his arm around her and gave her a gentle hug.
Vincent walked over and stood behind Catherine. He placed his hand on her shoulder, offering his quiet strength.
Father showed Catherine a seat at his table, and she joined him and Mary as well as Vincent and Pascal.
After breakfast, Catherine announced she must head home. She knew she would have some explaining to do as to her whereabouts on Friday. She said her goodbyes, and Vincent walked her to her threshold.
She turned to him while they walked. “I wish I could spend the day Below.”
Vincent looked at her doubtfully. He wondered why she wasn’t anxious to get back up the life she had Above.
Catherine sighed as they neared her threshold. “Almost there. I guess it will be time to say goodbye.”
Vincent looked thoughtful for a minute. “Perhaps next Sunday you would like to spend the day Below. I know everyone would like to see you.”
Catherine smiled. “That would be wonderful. Can I bring something?”
Vincent shook his head. “Just yourself.”
Catherine thought about going to Stan’s and asking him to provide the dessert for dinner next Sunday.
They reached her threshold and she turned to Vincent. He opened his arms and she walked into them. They hugged for a long time. Catherine finally stepped back.
Vincent smiled and nodded as she turned to head up the ladder.