A POWER ALL ITS OWN
"No. No, that one won't do at all. I don't like that color. What about this one? Do you have this one in black?" Catherine asked the salesperson. She and Edie had been shopping all morning and absolutely nothing had been going right.
Every since Catherine's first assignment in the D.A.'s office, when Edie had called up the file on a 'Catherine Chandler' on her computer, they had been friends.
"Edie? What do you think of this one?" Catherine had never had such a hard time deciding on an outfit. They had been to six stores already. She just couldn't find the right one. She wanted to buy something new…something Vincent hadn't seen before…something really special.
"Girl friend, that's the meanest one yet. If this fella of yours don't appreciate you now…he sure will after he gets an eyeful of you in that thing."
Cathy turned around and around slowly in front of the dressing room mirrors, checking from all angles. No! It still wasn't right.
"Edie, let's get out of here. Let's go have lunch and we'll try a couple of more stores after." Cathy shook her head, "I just can't seem to find one I like!"
"Now don't you go gettin' discouraged, Cath; in a city this size there has got to be a store some place that has an outfit with your name all over it. Maybe like this...," Edie illustrated her words by holding up an oversized blue T-shirt that had the name 'Cathy' written all over it...front and back in red and white letters. Cathy took one look at the shirt, looked at the expression of absolute seriousness on Edie's face and broke out laughing.
"Edie, you are a marvel. You never fail to make me feel better and take my mind off my problems."
Edie broke into an exaggerated grin. She held out one hand, looked at the fingernails, and then polished them on her chest. "Just so you remember that, girl friend. Now, where shall we go for lunch? Oh, by the way...you're buying!"
Cathy had found an outfit, finally. It had taken most of the afternoon, but she found one that suited her plans for the evening. It was flowing and soft and very sheer...Vincent would love it. She'd come home exhausted but in a good mood. The plans she had for the evening would make all the trouble worth while.
She walked into her bedroom, kicked off her shoes and began to undress for a shower. Thirty minutes later, she turned off the water and wrapped a bath towel around herself. She wrapped a smaller towel around her wet head and after toweling dry, slipped into a soft fluffy bathrobe. Standing in front of the vanity mirror, she started to towel dry her hair. All of a sudden she shivered. It wasn't cold in her bathroom because it was still filled with the warmth and steam from her shower. She shook her head as if to clear her thoughts and facing the mirror once more, continued drying her hair. Again a shiver passed through her. Suddenly her reflec≠tion was replaced by the vision of a cave and Vincent's face. "Vincent?" she whispered. She couldn't hear him but she felt him calling her name. The vision faded slowly to be replaced by her own reflection once again.
She was suddenly very worried. Something must be very wrong in the tunnels. She instantly felt a crushing pain that almost sent her to her knees. The only way she stayed on her feet was by grabbing hold of the sides of the sink. The pain faded as quickly as it had come, leaving Cathy breathless and very frightened. She knew for certain that Vincent was either in≠jured or in great danger. She dressed quickly and warmly; her plans for their special evening postponed. She grabbed a jacket from her closet, the keys from her purse, and barely remem≠bered to lock her apartment door as she rushed to the elevator.
It took forever for the elevator to arrive at her floor and as the doors slowly opened she dashed in and pushed the button for the basement. The ride was interminable and seemed to stop at nearly every floor during the descent. Exiting the elevator in the basement, Catherine felt an irresistible urge to hurry. She ran to the entrance of the subbasement, but checked carefully to insure she had not been observed. She moved the boxes from in front of the subbasement entrance and climbed quickly down the ladder.
Father had somehow known she was coming. He met her at the break in the wall that led to the tunnels of the subterranean community.
"Catherine," he sighed. He spoke her name softly as if her presence was the answer to a prayer.
"Father. Where is he? What's happened?" Catherine tried to keep the panic from her voice but did not succeed.
"I wish I knew, Catherine. Vincent left for one of the lower levels three days ago to make some repairs in one of the lower chambers. We didn't expect him back until last night." Though trying to conceal his anxiety, his concern over Vincent's disappearance was evident. "He did not return as expected."
"Father, something is very wrong with Vincent...I can feel it. He told me to expect him to≠night. I was getting ready when I felt a sharp pain. I nearly doubled..."
Her words were cut short when another sharp pain stabbed through her, leaving her breathless once more and clinging to the broken brick wall for support.
"Catherine?" Father was troubled over Catherine's distress. He had always known that Vincent could sense Catherine's emotions and feelings, but he had been unaware that their bond was, at times, two-way; that under certain circumstances and in times of great anguish, Catherine could sense Vincent as well. Father placed an arm around Catherine to lend her support.
"Catherine?" Father could get no response from her. Her breathing was rapid and shallow, her hands cold and clammy, her eyes glazed as if she were seeing something or somewhere else.
"Father, he's hurt. I can see him," her voice sounded hollow. She spoke through clenched teeth, trying desperately to maintain control. She inhaled sharply, her eyes rolled back into her head and just as suddenly as the spasm attacked, it passed leaving Catherine in an unconscious heap at Father's feet.
Father's actions were immediate, ever the physician, he eased himself to the ground and checked her pulse, respiration, and pupil reaction. All were normal, so why the collapse? He could find no immediate reason. Painfully, he pulled himself to his feet and used the crook of his cane to tap a message for aid on the pipes. "Don't worry, Catherine," he whispered to her un≠conscious form. "Pascal will soon send help."
As if in answer to an unspoken prayer, Winslow ducked his massive head through the tunnelway. "Father? The message said you needed..." Winslow stopped as he noticed Catherine's unconscious form lying on the tunnel floor. "Father! What happened?"
"Winslow, there's no time to go into it now. We can't take Catherine back to her apartment in this state. We'll have to take her Below. I don't understand exactly how, but something has happened to Vincent and Catherine is linked to him. Will you be able to carry her all the way to Vincent's chamber? She may be our only hope of finding him."
Without answering, Winslow kneeled down and effortlessly lifted Catherine into his arms. "Let's go, Father." Winslow followed silently behind as Father led the way back to the Home Chambers.
A soft voice spoke into the darkness, "Find me, Catherine!"
...She heard me...she must have heard me. I can feel her presence in the tunnels...
Catherine woke with a splitting headache. The pale golden light flooding the room felt like a dagger stabbing through her brain. She immediately closed her eyes and groaned. She heard footsteps leave the room and realized that someone had been keeping watch over her...wait this didn't feel like her room. She detected the scents of candlewax and leather and the lingering unmistakable scent of Vincent. She recognized the feeling of this room now; she had visited it often enough in the last two years. She was in Vincent's chamber Below and the footsteps she heard leaving had probably belonged to one of the children. Father must have left orders to be informed when she regained consciousness.
(...Vincent! Where are you?...)
Almost as if in answer to her mental question, she heard a faint voice, "Find me, Catherine!"
She started to sit up, but the pain lanced through her head once more, so she slowly laid back down into the welcome cushioning comfort of Vincent's bed. Catherine laid quietly, eyes closed, allowing herself to work through the pain and soon it diminished to a fairly manageable level. Catherine knew instinctively that if she was feeling this much discomfort, then Vincent must be in torment. While Vincent could sense everything Catherine experienced in its entirety Catherine could sense only a fraction of what Vincent experienced.
She soon recognized Father's characteristic footsteps coming down the tunnel and as he neared the entrance he paused momentarily and made an obligatory sound to announce his presence.
"I'm awake, Father," she called. "You can come in."
Father entered and crossing to Vincent's massive bed, sat down beside Catherine and placed a cool hand on her forehead.
"I'm fine now, Father. I've only got one horrendous headache." Catherine carefully opened her eyes. This time the light didn't seem quite so piercingly bright.
"Catherine, why don't you let me be the judge of that." He smiled a crooked smile. "Who's the doctor here, anyway?"
"Yes, Doctor," she said contritely and then chuckled and moaned. "It still hurts," she com≠plained as she placed both hands on either side of her head as if to press it back into shape. The pain made her head feel twice its normal size.
"Take these, Catherine." Father held out two aspirin in the palm of his hand. She took the pills and Father stood, and walked to the bureau to pour a glass of water from a pitcher. Re≠turning to the bed, he sat beside her again and made sure she took the medication.
"These should help alleviate your discomfort," Father said in a typical doctor's bedside manner.
"They had better," Catherine agreed. "I won't be able to find Vincent if I can't get past the pain he's enduring."
Father's attitude immediately sobered. "The sentries all report that he never left the tunnels. I've sent out search parties, Catherine; but they have reported no sign of Vincent. These tunnels run for miles in all directions. We just don't know where to start looking." Father was very disturbed by the failure of the searchers to turn up any trace of Vincent. "Catherine, you may be our only hope of finding my son."
Catherine could tell from the tone of Father's voice that he was very worried. She was worried as well, perhaps more so because she could feel Vincent's pain.
As if in answer to unspoken commands, Catherine sat up sharply; swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood. Her eyes held a vacant gaze as if some unseen force were propelling her body without her consent. She walked stiffly toward the exit of Vincent's chamber. She was conscious of the fact that she was being impelled to move, to leave the safety of Vincent's sur≠roundings. Something or someone wanted her isolated from that safety. Battling silently she was able to regain partial control of her own body as she neared the doorway. Reaching out, she braced herself against the tunnel wall, the solidity of the granite walls lending her the strength she need to fight the compulsion controlling her.
"Father, help me," she pleaded as she held out a hand.
Father hobbled, as quickly as he had hip would allow, to Catherine's side and grasped her hand. His nearness, his concern and his love leant her the strength she needed to throw off completely the unseen control.
Finally free, Catherine grabbed hold of Father with both hands. She placed her arms up around his neck and laying her head against his comforting shoulder, gave him a brief hug by way of thanks for his support.
"Father, this is something we're going to need help with. Somehow, someone was control≠ling me by having control over Vincent. I'm very much afraid that whoever it is, wants me in order to control Vincent completely. I can feel him fighting, that is what is causing my pain."
Father was not convinced by Catherine's explanation. He did not doubt that she was con≠nected by their bond to Vincent... what he could not accept was that there was some kind of mys≠terious entity behind it all. No matter how many years separated him from his past, Father would forever be a research scientist, and a scientist once he had identified a problem must follow it to a logical conclusion. Only sometimes logic is not the answer.
"No, Catherine. I believe Vincent must have been injured somehow, that is what you are sensing," he rationalized. His scientific mind could comprehend no other explanation.
Catherine, however, realized that there are many things beyond human understanding... inexplicable mysteries that may never be solved and despite Father's argument, Catherine knew exactly who to go to for help against something as mysterious as this.
For the rest of the day, Catherine did little more than rest in Vincent's chamber, conserve her strength, and plan her next move. She knew that what she was intending was very danger≠ous, but that didn't matter. Her own safety was of little consequence if Vincent's life was in jeop≠ardy. Also, being surrounded by Vincent's belongings and treasures helped her to focus all of her love and concern for him through their bond. She realized that for the ordeal ahead they each must share strength and love with the other if they hoped to succeed.
At noon, Kipper entered the chamber with a tray laden with food. Seeing so much, Catherine started to complain about the amount, but when Father, Mouse, and Jamie joined her, she realized why William had prepared such a feast. Soon they were joined by Pascal, Mary and William himself. There was to be a council to try to decide how best to proceed.
Mouse, although not a member of the council, was present because of his vast knowledge of the tunnels. Except for Vincent, no one knew the tunnels better than Mouse. Jamie was present because of her stabilizing influence over Mouse and because of her instinctual tactical sense.
Catherine, however, realized that the one person who should be present, was not included. There was really only one person among the inhabitants Below who could aid her in the search for her lost love...Narcissa.
Before everyone had descended upon her for the 'council of war', Catherine had asked Kipper to return later that night after everyone had gone to bed. Kipper, like any young boy who loved mysteries and adventure, had readily agreed to help.
Nothing had been resolved at the council meeting. Catherine tried to rest after the meeting but sleep escaped her. Her mind kept returning to the task she was about to undertake. Finally, after what seemed like hours of mental turmoil, she fell into a fitful sleep brought on by sheer exhaustion.
When everything was asleep and silent in the tunnel world, even the pipes, a small dark fig≠ure crept into Vincent's chamber and quietly tip-toed across to the bed. The small figure gently shook Catherine's shoulder.
"Catherine?" The young boy was nervous about where he was to guide Catherine. He knew the way to the Chamber of the Winds well, all the children did. It was a favorite place to play, but the other place...that scared him. Narcissa was an unknown quantity to many people in the community. She rarely came to the Home Chambers, preferring her solitary existence far below the more inhabited sections of the tunnel world. The children would often overhear snatches of adult conversations that would refer to her as 'that crazy old woman' or 'the strange one', or even 'that witch, Narcissa'. Kipper knew that Vincent liked and respected Narcissa, and he often made mention of her special powers, so, if Catherine needed to see her, he would help. He would do anything to help Vincent.
"Catherine, it's time to go." Kipper again tried to shake her gently awake.
Catherine opened her eyes slowly; she was only half awake, but she was certain she had heard Vincent call her name. "Vincent?" She turned over and through sleep-misted eyes, peered at the person bending over her. Catherine at first did not perceive the person beside her as a small boy. What she did see was Vincent standing beside her.
"Vincent, you're safe!" she exclaimed, a loving smile brightening her face.
"Catherine, you must find me soon," and even as she watched, Vincent's beloved form faded into that of a frightened young boy.
"Kipper!" Catherine exclaimed as she reached out to touch him, to assure herself that at least he was real.
"Catherine, it's a long way to Narcissa's chamber; we have to leave." Kipper wanted to get his trip over quickly.
"Yes, Kipper, I'll be ready in a moment." The vision of Vincent had only increased her re≠solve. She must move quickly, for his sake.
"Which we do we go now, Kipper?"
Catherine and Kipper had arrived at the Chamber of the Winds and standing in its center they were buffeted by its many divergent currents.
Through each opening in the Chamber a blast of air assaulted them, each one pushing in a different direction. Poor Kipper became disoriented.
"I...I don't know, Catherine! I don't know which opening to take."
A sudden gust of wind swirled along the floor and partially uncovered an old mosaic.
"Catherine, look!" Kipper pointed to the picture on the floor. It resembled an old compass drawing he remembered seeing in a history book; like the ones that appeared on ancient maps. The swirl of wind had uncovered an arm of the compass and it pointed toward an opening to their right. Since that seemed as good a direction as any, Catherine followed Kipper into the tunnel.
"In here, children." Catherine and Kipper hesitantly entered into the domain of the commu≠nity's most mysterious inhabitant.
"Young one, you are sleepy; you will enter the next chamber and lie down. This has been an ordeal for you; you must rest now." As she spoke, Narcissa kept her gaze fixed on the young boy, as if her very words would impel him to obey...they did.
Catherine was about to complain at the treatment directed toward her young friend, when Narcissa held up a hand to silence her. After Kipper had left the chamber as instructed, Narcissa explained.
"I knew you would come. What we must attempt now is not for the eyes of the child. You must continue alone."
"Narcissa, Vincent has told me of your powers. Do you know where he is? Can you help me find him?" Catherine was desperate for any conformation that he was still alive.
"Come, child. Look into the water and tell me what you see." As she had once done for Vincent...Narcissa poured pure crystal water into an antique silver bowl. Crossing the chamber, she took a small pouch from a shelf cluttered with small jars and boxes, each one filled with some mysterious potion or powder. Returning to the table she withdrew a few pinches of a noxious powder and sprinkled it onto the surface of the water.
"Look, child!" It was not a request, and Catherine immediately complied.
Gazing into the water, Catherine at first noticed nothing but her own reflection dancing across the gently rippling surface. Then the ripples stilled and the surface seemed to cloud over, as when a cloud passes before the sun. A dark form appeared through the mist and coalesced into a familiar but hated figure...tall and bearded, with piercing eyes; he was dressed all in black, a gold mask covering the left side of his face.
"Paracelsus!" The name was torn from Catherine's throat by the fear and hate she felt at the sight of the evil man.
"Be silent, child, and watch," Narcissa admonished.
Again Catherine gazed upon the clouded vision in the bowl. This time the mist cleared to reveal a vision Catherine had seen before. This was the cave she had seen reflected in her own mirror and as before Vincent's form was superimposed over the image of the unknown cave.
Vincent jerked his head around sharply. He was being watched; he could feel it. He cocked his head this way and that, listening for any sound which might identify his mysterious watcher. Suddenly he felt a surge of love and concern through the bond which connected him to his love; he knew that Catherine was trying to locate him.
"Catherine," He spoke her name with great love and longing.
Catherine, standing transfixed within Narcissa's chamber, could feel the love emanating from Vincent. She knew that Vincent had sensed her. She tried with all her being to communicate to him her concern and love; to lend him strength.
"Catherine." The sound of his voice echoed through her mind as she stood gazing into a bowl of clear water.
"I knew that Paracelsus was behind this. Narcissa, you must help me find him!" Catherine pleaded in desperation. Without Narcissa's help, there would be no hope of rescuing Vincent.
"The 'Evil One' is very powerful," Narcissa warned. "With both you and Vincent in his power, he could force Father to relinquish his position here Below; he would take over. That must never happen."
Narcissa stopped speaking abruptly. Turning her sightless eyes toward the entrance of her chamber, she tilted her head in the characteristic manner that many blind people use when listening intently.
Catherine also turned but could see no one. Almost immediately Catherine felt the tell-tale tickling of the mental compulsion which had manipulated her once before. In this place, how≠ever, Narcissa ruled and with a whispered word of power the force which attempted control of Catherine faded.
"He grows bolder, this would-be sorcerer," Narcissa whispered in outrage. "He now knows that you have come for my aid, child. You must go quickly if you are to save Vincent; before his power grows so strong even I cannot stop him." Narcissa recognized Catherine's need for some sort of protection. She might not succeed without it.
"The 'Evil One' thinks he is very clever, but he is not more clever than Narcissa," she chuckled expressively. "Child, do you still wear the small fragment of the earth's heart which Vincent gave you?"
Catherine nodded silently, confused. What could Narcissa want with her crystal?
"You will get it back, child, but I must borrow it for a time," Narcissa continued.
Catherine reached to the neck of her shirt and withdrew the crystal from where it lay over her heart. She drew the golden chain over her head and placed the precious keepsake in Narcissa's outstretched hand.
Narcissa turned to her work table and placed the crystal carefully in the center. She lit four white candles and placed them at the four cardinal points to protect the crystal from evil influ≠ences until she could begin her ritual. Then, moving to the far corner of the chamber, she opened the lid of an old trunk sitting in the shadows. Muttering to herself she rummaged around in the trunk looking for something.
"Where are you? I know you are here. Come now, stop hiding. Ah-haa! There you are!" the missing item had been located.
Narcissa stood with a groan and returned to her work table. In her hands she carried a small brass box. Placing the box within the protective circle of candles, she began her prepara≠tions. Catherine stood quietly at her side, observing.
"The 'Evil One' will expect you to carry some talisman of power, child; so we will give him one which will satisfy his arrogance. One which he will assume contains your power." She smiled broadly and winked at Catherine. "We will fool him and protect you at the same time." As she explained, Narcissa moved around her chamber collecting this jar of potion and that box or pouch of powder; and then returned the ingredients to her table. Catherine, all the while, stood silently heeding the words of the aged enchantress.
Narcissa removed the stopper from a small leather covered vial and poured a small amount of its contents into an earthenware bowl. From the collection of pouches, boxes, and jars she added a pinch of this, a dash of that, and a dollop of some noxious smelling glop. After mixing it all together with the wing bone of a dove, Narcissa transferred the foul looking concoction to a small crystal jar and sealed it with a silver stopper.
"Now this," and Narcissa indicated the potion she had just mixed, "will contain the real power for your protection. And this," she tapped the top of the brass box with a fingertip, "will be our false talisman." She smiled at Catherine's confused expression and carefully opened the lid of the small brass box.
The brightness of all the lit candles paled as a gold glow illuminated the chamber from the interior of the small box.
"This, too, has power, child, but it is not a power which Paracelsus will expect." Narcissa's eyes sparkled with an evil little gleam and she smiled knowingly. She reached into the box and removed a small object; one of her most prized possessions. It was about the size of a silver dollar and glowed softly. She slowly extended her hand and offered the object to Catherine. It was a piece of ancient amber.
Catherine had heard of such things. She had often seen examples on display in the museum; but she had never been able to actually hold a piece. Narcissa placed the object in Catherine's hand.
"It's warm!" she exclaimed, raising astonished eyes to the wise woman.
"Yes. I told you it carries a power. Many things possess power, child. You carry a very special power, yourself; you just require a little assistance to use it."
Catherine gingerly picked up the piece of amber and held it to the light.
"This is impossible!" she exclaimed, peering into its heart.
Narcissa simply stood silently and smiled.
The object Catherine held in her had was truly extraordinary, logically, what she had seen in its heart should not exist, yet it did, she had seen it. "It's just not possible!" she muttered, shak≠ing her head in disbelief.
Narcissa only smiled and held out her hand. Catherine placed the amber in Narcissa's palm and she set the amber beside the crystal and began the ritual of protection.
Catherine could not comprehend that what she had seen as she gazed through the amber was real. The amber lying on the table did not look any different from pictures she had seen. The only obvious difference was that this particular piece seemed unflawed, there was no ancient insect or prehistoric flower encased within its golden depths. What made this piece so unusual was what Catherine had seen when she held it to the light. Seemingly etched within the heart of the amber was a figure...a face with which Catherine was very familiar...a face beautiful and compelling in its uniqueness. The face belonged to Vincent...and that was impossible.
Narcissa quickly concluded her ritual. Catherine noticed her removing the crystal from the jar of potion and laying it once more within the protective circle of candles. Narcissa then began her instructions for the use of these objects of power.
"Child, here is what you must do...," she began. Narcissa held the crystal, which was now dry, to the light. Where before the crystal had captured beams of light and made them dance, now it seemed to flow with an aura of opalescence. It reminded Catherine of a solar corona she had once noticed on an extremely cold winter's morning. It had looked like a halo around the sun. When Narcissa laid the crystal in Catherine's palm it now felt warm and seemed to pulse with a life of its own. The longer Catherine held her crystal, the more the pulsing resembled a heartbeat. When she clasped it tightly, the sensation she experienced almost caused her to drop it...she could hear Vincent's thoughts.
...Catherine, I pray you are safe...
Somehow the potion Narcissa used on the crystal enhanced the bond between Vincent and Catherine to such an extent that Catherine could actually hear Vincent's thoughts. Would he be able to hear her as well?
"You must wear this around your neck as before. It must hang over your heart and it must touch your skin. Most importantly...it must not be taken from you." Narcissa was most adamant about that point.
"Now, this piece of the plan is most important. If you are captured by Paracelsus, he must not know of the hidden power in the crystal. This, however," she held out the amber, a mysteri≠ous twinkle in her eye, "this you must insure that he takes."
"If this has power that will help Vincent, why should I not keep it?" Catherine was mystified by this aspect of Narcissa's instructions.
"Child, it can help Vincent only when it is in the possession of the 'Evil One'," she stressed. "We must insure that he will notice it." Narcissa smiled and once again opened the small brass box. This time she withdrew a small, soft, leather pouch...a picture of a lion's head painted on one side.
"You must wear this around your neck where he will be certain to notice." Narcissa put the amber in the pouch and placed the thong of the pouch around Catherine's neck.
"Narcissa, this is all well and good, but how do I find Vincent?" Catherine exclaimed. "And once I do find him, how do we get back from wherever he is?" Catherine was beginning to feel that all these preparations were futile.
Narcissa's manner sobered and she grasped Catherine's hands firmly.
"Listen to me," she demanded, as she looked piercingly into Catherine's eyes. "Do you love Vincent?"
Catherine pulled her hands from Narcissa's grasp and instantly became angry. "Of course! How could you even...?"
But Narcissa cut her off abruptly and once again grasped Catherine's hands. "You must never lose hope or belief in that love. The most powerful force in the universe is the power of love. Love is the power which will aid you in your search for Vincent. Love is the power which will help you defeat Paracelsus. And Love is the power which will return you to those who love you both.
"Now, the crystal will aid you in locating Vincent. The closer you come to him the warmer the crystal will become...do not worry it is not a warmth that will burn...and the pulse will become stronger. Do you feel the pulse, Catherine? The crystal pulses in unison with Vincent's heart; in unison with your own heart, for in reality the two are one.
"Come...I will show you the path you must follow." Narcissa led the way from her chamber but rather than return to the Chamber of the Winds, they turned and went deeper into the tunnels. Catherine, though frightened of what lay before her concentrated on the constant beat of the crystal...the guide which would lead her to Vincent.
Narcissa led Catherine down; past the Chamber of the Falls; down below the catacombs. At one point during their journey the natural illumination of the tunnels gradually diminished and Narcissa lit a torch which they found hanging on a tunnel wall.
As they traveled ever downward Catherine detected a gradual warming of the crystal around her neck and was constantly aware of the pulse of her heartbeat as it matched rhythms with the beat of the crystal.
Narcissa traveled deeper into the bowels of the Earth than Catherine had ever been before. Finally, they stopped before the mist filled entrance of a darkened chamber.
"Now you must travel on alone, child," Narcissa said softly.
Catherine looked at the entranceway with trepidation. The pulse of the crystal over her heart beat steadily, drawing her into the unknown.
"Narcissa?" she began.
"Do not fear, child. I have ways of watching over you. I am not so powerful that I can bring Vincent back myself, but our powers combined should be able to rescue him and bring you both back safely." The certainty in Narcissa's voice went a long way toward dampening Catherine's apprehension.
"Narcissa, please let Father and the others know where I am and what I'm trying to do. He will be worried when he cannot find me." Catherine gave Narcissa a quick hug and faced the misty passage, pondering her next move. One step forward would lead her into the unknown... into danger. She reached for the comforting feel of her crystal and withdrew it from inside her blouse. Clasping it firmly in her hand, she closed her eyes and cast through the bond which con≠nected her to Vincent.
(...Vincent? Can you hear me?...)
...Catherine? How is this possible? Are you safe?...
(...Vincent, I'm coming!...)
...No! do not try to rescue me yourself. Send someone else. You must not...
(...Vincent, there is no one else who can do this. Narcissa says I am the only one who can find you and bring you home...)
...Narcissa is assisting you?... He seemed a little startled that Narcissa would intercede in the affairs of the community.
(...Yes...and she has given me something which will aid us. Vincent, where are you?...)
...I am being held in a cave, Catherine. I can make out a few dark shapes but that is all. You must be very careful. Paracelsus is near!...
(...I know. Narcissa showed me...)
...Take great care, Catherine...
The mental conversation had lasted no more than a few heartbeats. Catherine sighed deeply and opened her eyes. Opening her hand she gazed at the sparkling object lying there. As if loathe to relinquish hold of it, she slowly returned the crystal to its place over her heart. She squared her shoulders, turned to glance at Narcissa, and stepped through the curtain of mist which separated her from Vincent.
Narcissa stood silently as Catherine left. "Take care, child. The way is dangerous." She turned away and returned to her chamber. There was another child to care for now.
Father sat dejectedly at his desk. His wire-rimmed reading glasses lay forgotten, tossed aside in frustration. Elbows braced on the desk top, head propped on palms, Father absentmind≠edly ran his fingers through his steel-gray hear. He was very worried about Vincent, and now Catherine was missing as well. The sound of someone running down the tunnel broke through his uneasiness.
"Father! Father!" Mouse entered the upper entrance of the chamber at a dead run.
"Mouse, slow down and take a breath," Father instructed. He gazed up at the excited young man in anticipation. "What did you find out? Has anyone seen her?" Father had discovered Catherine's disappearance when he had gone to invite her to share breakfast with him. Mary had mentioned that Kipper was also missing.
"No sign of Catherine. Not good! Not fine! Worried," said Mouse, his brow furrowed with concern. There weren't many people in the world that Mouse cared for and only a very few that he was close to. Now two of the most important were missing and he was very scared.
Father was about to send Mouse on another errand when he received a very unexpected visitor.
"I believe this young one belongs to you, Father." Narcissa stood in the doorway of Father's study, one hand placed protectively on Kipper's shoulder.
"Narcissa," Father exclaimed. "This is indeed a surprise. What brings you all the way up here?" Before Narcissa had a chance to replay, Father knew the answer...Catherine.
"Where is she, Narcissa?" Father demanded.
"Don't you use that tone with me, Father," she said lightly. "You do like to go on, don't you? What makes you think I would know anything of the woman?" Narcissa's gaze was calm. Father may have been able to bully most people, but Narcissa had known him for a long time and was immune to his intimidation.
"If I know my son, Narcissa...and don't give me that 'innocent' look, I know you...he's proba≠bly told Catherine all about you and your so-called powers," Father fumed. "You always were able to influence him...even when he was young you seemed to wield some power over him with your stories and your 'hocus pocus'." Father made no attempt to hide his disbelief. He had never been able to understand Vincent's fascination with the strange recluse. Narcissa lived a solitary existence...a member of their community, yet not a part of it...by her own choice. Perhaps it was her very status as an outcast which had drawn Vincent to seek her out.
"Father, the woman is the only one who has a power strong enough to bring Vincent home." Narcissa spoke quietly and calmly. She had no need to prove her words...time would do that for her. "I have brought the child back. Now I go." She turned and without a backward glance, returned to her haven deep below.
Being trapped in darkness was not a new experience for Vincent. He had been trapped in a cave-in once before...in the Maze. That time, however, he had not been alone, Father had been trapped with him. He had long ago become used to being alone within himself. But this was a different aloneness. This was a severing of all contact with humanity. Before, his self-imposed separation from people had been voluntary and necessary for his survival and the safety of the community. His present predicament was most decidedly not of his choosing, and if he were to speculate, probably deliberate. Vincent was certain that Paracelsus was the mastermind behind his present predicament. What disturbed him the most was that Catherine had taken it upon herself to attempt a rescue. If anything were to threaten her...he shuddered at the thought...he would be unable to protect her. She would be safe...she must be safe...for he was in no condition to go to her aid this time.
(...Vincent, don't you think it's about time that I rescued you for a change?...) The teasing tone of her mental voice, seemed to bring a bright glow to his mind and he smiled. Catherine had sensed his gloom and was attempting to bolster his spirits.
...You must be very near, Catherine. I hear you very clearly...
(...Can you guide me, Vincent?...)
This time there was no answer to her mental query.
(...Vincent?...) Again, no answer. Somehow, Paracelsus was blocking them mentally. She knew Vincent was safe, the crystal remained comfortingly warm and the pulsebeat was steady and strong. Catherine was more determined than ever to locate and free Vincent; for Paracelsus not only held Vincent captive, he held her heart.
Meanwhile, Paracelsus sat in his deep underground chamber contemplating the final culmi≠nation of all his plans. Vincent was within his power; that meddling woman soon would be; that left Jacob...his one-time friend...the idealistic old fool. Why couldn't Jacob have accepted him as leader, instead of defying him and casting him out. John Pater might have forgiven him in time; Paracelsus would not...no, could not...forgive such an outrage. There was one thing and only one thing on his mind...how to make Jacob Wells pay for all the humiliation he had suffered. He would take from Jacob that which he held most dear...Vincent...and leave him a broken and de≠feated man. Killing him would be too simple and Paracelsus wanted Jacob to suffer for a long, long time. He smiled at the thought of sweet revenge, now almost within his grasp.
Catherine trod silently through the darkened tunnels; ever careful, ever alert. She knew she was getting closer; the pulse of the crystal was gradually getting stronger. She rounded a bend in the tunnel and stopped...there was a noise ahead. She stood motionless, straining to hear any other sound which might indicate a trap. After several minutes with no recurrence of any sound, she continued, slowly. The tunnel continued straight for a distance along which appeared several small side tunnels...all of which seemed to be nothing more than dead end chambers. As she passed the last one, there seemed to be an ever-so-slight lessening in the beat of the crystal. Turning around, Catherine retraced her steps slowly, pausing briefly after every few steps until she again noticed an ever-so-slight difference in the pulse. She turned once more and this time stopped before the entrance to a side tunnel where the pulse seemed most strong. She entered what looked like little more than in indentation in the tunnel wall and placed a hand in the center. Catherine knew instantly, that Vincent was on the other side of that wall. It had to be false, much like the false walls that Mouse constructed for the Home Chambers. The crystal only con≠firmed her suspicions, for when she placed her palm upon the wall, the crystal became increas≠ingly warmer.
Catherine began to examine the wall. There had to be a trigger mechanism somewhere. Something that would open this wall.
Paracelsus stood looking down at the unconscious form of his captive.
"She's here," he sneered. "Should I just let her in, or shall I allow her to find her own way? Hmmm?"
There was no answer...of course, he hadn't really expected one. The drugs had apparently done their job well. He began to laugh maniacally...soon...very soon.
The door began to move aside slowly. Catherine kept it its shadow until it was fully open. She peered cautiously around the corner, but could see very little. There didn't seem to be any≠one there, but she was certain that Vincent was in this chamber. Catherine took two tentative steps into the darkness and without warning was engulfed in light. Vincent's still form could be seen on the floor across the chamber but she was surrounded by Paracelsus' minions. Her arms were grabbed and pinned behind her back; thus subdued, she waited. She didn't struggle, to do so would have been futile as well as dangerous. She was more worried about Vincent's frighten≠ingly still form than she was for her own safety.
"I'm so happy you have decided to visit with me," drawled a deceptively cultured voice. Catherine was whirled around to face her tormentor. There, standing in the shadows, was the figure she had hoped never to see again...Paracelsus.
"What have you done to Vincent?" she demanded. Her hostility surfaced and won out over her fear. She must not let him sense her fear.
"He is sleeping peacefully, isn't he?" he glanced innocently in Vincent's direction, smiling benignly. But when those eyes were turned once more on Catherine, their gaze held such hate that she cringed beneath their scrutiny.
Despite what Paracelsus had said about Vincent only sleeping, Catherine had to convince herself that he was all right.
"Please, let me go to Vincent?" she pleaded, never taking her eyes from the evil man's face. He condescendingly waved her over to Vincent's still form, enjoying the control he held over their lives.
Catherine moved quickly to Vincent's side and kneeled down beside his inert body. The crystal was now very warm and its beat strong. When she placed her hand on his chest to feel his heartbeat, she felt it jump in recognition of her presence...Vincent was not as drugged as Paracelsus had thought...he was groggy, but waiting for the right moment to escape. Now, that Catherine was here and in possible danger...
She leaned forward as if to kiss his cheek but instead whispered softly in his ear, "Wait."
The pouch dangling from around her neck drew Paracelsus' attention as it was meant to do.
"What is that?" he demanded, pointing at the pouch.
"Nothing!" she exclaimed, clutching at the pouch as if to protect it.
Her gesture only increased his interest and confirmed his suspicions of its importance. Striding purposefully across the chamber, Paracelsus bent down and tore the pouch from around Catherine's neck.
"So, you did go to that crazy old woman," he observed. "I thought I sensed her meddling."
Catherine didn't know what to expect when Paracelsus opened that pouch, but she leaned across Vincent and wrapped her arms about him. She squeezed her eyes closed tightly and whispered a quiet prayer.
Paracelsus was not at all interested in Catherine's strange behavior; his curiosity was piqued by the possibility of acquiring additional power. He hefted the bag in one hand testing its weight and then pulled open the drawstrings. There was a bright flash of light and then...
Catherine was afraid to move or open her eyes. Vincent had wrapped his arms protectively around her in an instinctive effort to hold her close and keep her safe. He was rather enjoying the delicious sensation of her body lying atop his and was loathe to change such an enjoyable position but...
"Catherine, you can loosen your grip now, we're safe." Vincent's voice sounded strong despite his ordeal. "Catherine?"
Vincent's mellow voice wove a spell of its own around Catherine as she lay wrapped in his embrace. She lay quite still, hugging him tightly, not wanting to move. She heard every word he said, but the wonderful feelings coursing through her body were too marvelous to forego. She never wanted to move.
"Catherine, I can't breathe. You're squeezing too tightly," he chuckled lightly, glad to be free. He tried to shift his body into a more comfortable position and perhaps take advantage of Catherine's nearness, but as he moved he was suddenly immobilized by a sharp lancing pain. He grit his teeth against the piercing sensation, trying to control it, but Catherine was not so lucky. Still linked completely to Vincent, she was taken unaware and screamed as the hot landing pain coursed through her body.
Vincent immediately dampened his feelings as much as possible for Catherine's benefit and gently caressed her back in an effort to soothe her. She lay shaking in his arms, eyes clamped shut, teeth clenched tightly against the pain, tears flowing freely down her cheeks dampening Vincent's vest. Her tremors gradually subsided as Vincent tenderly kissed away her tears.
"Oh, God, Vincent. What did that maniac do to you? I've never felt anything like that be≠fore," Catherine said, breathlessly, as she slowly opened her eyes only to lose herself in two pools of deep crystal blue.
"Paracelsus did nothing to me, Catherine, but he did nothing for me either. I was injured when the walls of the chamber in which I was working collapsed, partially burying me under rubble and pinning my legs. I am still not certain that it was an accident. Be that as it may, I was unable to free myself because of the size of the rocks which trapped me," Vincent explained.
Catherine, ashamed of herself for not remembering his injuries earlier, became deeply anxious about his condition. She carefully disentangled herself from his embrace and rolled off him very gently. She placed her hand tenderly against his face and caressed his cheek as she turned to examine his leg. Before she was able to remove her hand, Vincent grasped it firmly and gently kissed the palm. She smiled lovingly at this show of affection and then turned once more to her task. She carefully unlaced his boot and gingerly removed it. His pants leg had been torn and she carefully opened the tear to examine his leg. Luckily it did not seem to be broken, although there was a large gash from hip to ankle and his ankle was turning a glorious shade of purpose...obviously a very bad sprain. Even without any aid from Paracelsus, however, the gash in his leg did not seem to need any immediate attention. It had long since ceased bleeding. She wasn't certain if he would need stitches, but Father would see to that as soon as they returned.
"How did this happen, Vincent?"
"When Paracelsus' men found me, they were none to gentle extricating me from the rubble. They just pulled me out from underneath everything. I have to admit, I almost couldn't stand the pain," he confessed rather sheepishly.
"I know, Vincent. I was feeling everything." If the pain she had felt after her shower was when Vincent was initially trapped, then the pain experienced when he was pulled from beneath the fallen debris was when she had collapsed at Father's feet in the tunnel.
Catherine smiled at Vincent, the love and relief she felt for him clearly evident in her gaze. They were both very lucky to be alive. For all their trials they were in fairly good shape. The important thing was that they were alive and they were once again together. "Together," Catherine liked the sound of that word...but that was a thought better pushed aside, for now. Theirs was a relationship which had grown deeper and sweeter in ways neither of them had ever dreamed possible.
When they had first become intimate, the bond which joined them mentally and spiritually, had blossomed into full flower; like a rose bud which spreads its petals to drink in the loving, life-giving rays of the sun. Their bond had expanded to the extent that had made it possible for Catherine to find Vincent and return him to the safety of those who loved him.
Careful not to hurt him further, Catherine returned to her place within his loving embrace savoring the feel and scent of him; relishing the sensations his nearness created within her body and soul.
(...Vincent, I love you, so much...)
Catherine snuggled against the warmth of his neck and kissed him lightly. She couldn't help herself. He felt so good.
...Catherine, you are my life. Without you, there would be no life for me...
"Vincent, I could almost get used to this. Being able to speak to you with my mind would keep you close to me always," Catherine mused.
Vincent smiled and softly kissed Catherine's forehead. "I know, love. Now you can experi≠ence all of the joy as well as all of the pain that I have felt ever since you first came into my life. There is nothing sweeter than knowing that I am linked so completely to another being. Some≠one who can accept me fully in every way. You have brought my wildest dreams to life, Catherine. I am truly blessed."
Catherine smiled and raised her head from Vincent's shoulder to gaze lovingly into the unique face of the man who had brought about such profound changes in her life.
Slowly and very deliberately, fully aware that Vincent knew what she was going to do, she lowered her head once more and lightly kissed the side of his neck sending tiny shivers up his spine. She inched herself closer to him as she began to feather kisses along his jaw, up his cheek, then lightly across his eyes. With the tip of her tongue, she gently lapped at the fine hair along the bridge of his nose, working herself excruciatingly downward until her tongue found that which it was seeking. Gently she traced the sensitive cleft of his upper lip and the outline of his mouth before gently gaining entrance through Vincent's partially parted lips.
As Catherine had begun her ministrations, Vincent had relaxed utterly, giving himself up to the sensations she was evoking. His breath began coming in shorter and shorter gasps as the passion rising within him began to take hold. The flames of desire rose higher within him, but the control he was maintaining over his pain began to crumble and once more they shared pain as well as desire. Catherine gasped as his pain teased at her tender nerves and to the sorrow of them both, she ceased her caresses.
"Catherine, as much as it saddens me to say it, this must wait for another time and place," Vincent said sadly.
"Yes, children. There will be many such moments for you in the years to come and there are many more comfortable places for this than on a cold stone floor. Come child, let us get Vincent to a more hospitable place than this cold, unfriendly tunnel."
Catherine looked up at a figure standing silhouetted in the tunnel doorway. "Narcissa?"
Vincent glanced at Narcissa almost as if he knew she would be there. "Not entirely inhos≠pitable, Narcissa," he said as he gazed at Catherine with a twinkle in his eye.
"The 'Evil One' is gone now, children...for a time at least. All will be safe within these tunnels until he can find his way back."
"Narcissa?" Catherine asked. "How did you find us?"
"It was not difficult, child. You are in my chambers."
"Your chambers? But...," Catherine sputtered.
"No questions now. We must see to Vincent's injuries and then notify Father of your safe return. Are you in much pain, Vincent?"
"Not too bad, Narcissa. I have yet to return completely unscathed from any confrontation with Paracelsus," Vincent answered.
"Do not worry yourself about that one. He will not be causing anymore trouble for a long while." Her eyes twinkled with barely suppressed delight.
"Narcissa?" Catherine asked, her voice full of curiosity as she gestured around the tunnel. "How did we get here?"
"Did not Par-a-cel-sus take the talisman from you, Catherine?"
Catherine met Vincent's eyes in a brief knowing glance as they recalled the events that had so recently transpired. "Yes, Narcissa. He took the talisman," Catherine responded, nodding. "In fact, he tore it from my neck in order to possess it." She returned her attention to the old wise woman.
"With violence, was it? All the better...then that is how you returned here, child," Narcissa observed. "He opened the pouch, did he not?" she asked, knowingly.
Vincent propped himself up on his elbows and then gradually into a sitting position. Catherine felt his distress as he moved, even though he clamped down hard in order to protect her. She stood quickly and aided him into a more comfortable position against the tunnel wall. Finally settled, they sat together, his arm around her shoulders holding her close, her arm around his waist protectively. As she laid her head against his shoulder, she placed her other hand upon his chest over his heart and felt its strong beat, still in harmony with the crystal around her neck. She needed the feel of him to convince herself that he was really and truly safe.
"Narcissa," Catherine pleaded.
"Yes, child. Let us see to Vincent."
With Narcissa and Catherine's assistance, Vincent was able to raise himself from the ground and hobble painfully into the main chamber of Narcissa's home.
Later, after Narcissa had worked her own brand of medical magic, Vincent was comfortably ensconced in a large chair, his injured leg propped on a low stool. Catherine sat on a foot stool on his uninjured side, her arm draped across his lab and her head lying on her arm. A cup of tea sat ignored on the floor beside her. There was an expression of complete contentment on her face.
Vincent held a mug of tea in one hand as his other lovingly stroked Catherine's hair. Such a simple gesture of affection, yet one which in its simplicity was so very intimate.
Vincent looked up as Narcissa returned to the chamber. She had left just long enough to send a message along the pipes to Father.
"Narcissa, will you please explain now? How did this talisman you spoke of allow Catherine and me to return here?" Vincent requested.
"Do you mean this, Vincent?" She held up an object to the light and Catherine gasped in recognition. It was the same piece of amber which Paracelsus had torn from her neck.
"You do not understand, Vincent. It is not this talisman which brought you back, although it did assist. It is the one which your Catherine now wears which accomplished the deed. Show him, child," Narcissa instructed.
Catherine sat up and from its resting place over her heart, she drew forth her crystal pendant.
"You see, children. There is a power in the universe; a power for good; which has a force that no evil can destroy. Everyone has this power to some measure, but to the great sorrow of the work, most people do not use their portion of this gift and those who do not, gradually lose it. You, my children, have this power in great abundance and you share it not only with each other but with all around you, thus increasing its force. The object which Paracelsus endeavored to possess was nothing more than a means by which to turn his own evil power against himself. Ultimately, the power which brought you back, was the power of love...the love of your friends, your family, but most of all...your love for each other. For you see, children, love has a power all it very own.
Catherine looked up into the captivating blue eyes of the man she loved with all her heart and soul, and knew that the words Narcissa spoke were true. There is no greater power than love.
Vincent gathered her into his warm loving embrace and his tender kisses gave promise or many more tomorrows filled with love. They would wait, content to be together, until Father came for them.
Written April 1990. Submitted/published by Dapplewood Press, in "Classic Beauty and the Beast", Vol II, Oct 1991.