Chapter 8: Like a Crystal Burning 
Someone must have called Mary, Vincent realized a few eternal minutes later when he saw her rush into the room. She took one look at him and her lips narrowed into a thin line. “It’s Father, isn’t it?” she stated. “Somebody talk to me, and I mean now.”
Kanin and Cullen exchanged surprised glances and Vincent found a wave of mirth threatening to erupt from somewhere. He had long known that Mary’s gentle nature concealed a whole host of steel, but it was likely the first time either of the men had witnessed it. The altercation with the feral invaders so many months before had changed her; made her stronger. “I was a damned fool,” she’d said to him sometime afterwards. “I wanted to believe they were safe people. And I didn’t listen to my instincts.”
“You weren’t the only one,” Vincent had said gently, recalling that Father and a good percentage of the council had allowed themselves to be persuaded that there was no danger. Only he had known, smelling the danger as a foul miasma that stalked his every move. I knew, he mused, and no one listened. I knew. He banished the thoughts; it was all long ago and far away and both he and Mary were no longer the same. He allowed himself to be guided to a chair and watched as Mary removed a stethoscope from around her neck and placed it against his chest. “Don’t talk,” she ordered and listened for a few moments. “You seem…more or less all right,” she announced, removing the earpieces from her ears. “Your heart rate is fine, but I’d sit there and rest for a bit because your color’s off.” She folded her arms and gazed down at him, far more intently than was her usual. “It was bad… wasn’t it? What’s happened? Did…those people hurt him?”
There seemed little point in denying it. “Yes,” Vincent said, finding his breathing coming easier now that the momentary torment had ceased. “How did you know?”
Mary reached up to repin a wayward lock of silver hair and favored him with a dry smile. “Come now, Vincent. I may not be Sherlock Holmes but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if Father’s gone to the outer community and nothing’s been heard since, and you’ve nearly passed out, it’s nothing good.” She bit her lip. “I warned him about returning there.”
“You….you what?” Angus asked, and a good thing too, Vincent mused, since it saved him from asking.
“Remember a few years back, when they asked us to come because one of their women was having a difficult delivery?”
Vincent nodded. Angus merely shrugged. “Well,” Mary went on, “she…didn’t make it. Neither did her baby. I told her husband she should have been in a hospital but he said he took his orders from…”
“Lucas?” Vincent asked.
“No, somebody else,” Mary said. “I was never able to figure out who, but her husband was very scared—too terrified to risk defying his orders.”
“That…doesn’t sound like Lucas,” Vincent said. “He sent for help when it was his own child in danger.”
“I’m sure it wasn’t,” Mary replied. “Lucas is a common thief and his moral compass is mostly lacking, but he’s not the kind to inspire that level of fear.”
“You didn’t want Father to go back there,” Kanin said. “Why?”
Mary gazed at all of them in turn and there was something about her that was very far removed from the quiet tunnel midwife they’d all known for so long. “Have you ever watched someone die and known they could have been saved? I begged them to take her to the hospital, even just to drop her off at the ER and leave, but they refused for fear of what this nameless man might do. That’s who Father is dealing with—people who would sacrifice their own, merely to save themselves.” She clenched her fists. “He should never have gone, and now, something has happened.”
An uncomfortable suspicion began to form in Vincent’s mind. The allegiances of the outer community, as he had once told Catherine, had always been murky at best and it was likely that at least a few people there had owed allegiance to Paracelsus. Had he been the nameless puppet-master back then?
And what about now?
“It occurs to me,” Marisol said softly, in deference to the sleeping Benjamin, “that if I were setting a trap, I could think of no better bait than Father. They have to know you would come, Vincent. Rhys and Quinn were merely an added bonus.”
The others stared at her, but Vincent nodded. “You are speaking of plots within plots. Something which also does not seem to be Lucas’s style.”
“No,” Mary agreed, “at least, not from my knowledge of him. He’s not that subtle. If this is some part of a larger plot, it’s not his idea.” She walked over to the table, piled high with scribbled notes and ideas. “So, what’s the plan?”
Catherine glanced at her watch, calculating when she could slip out of the office with the least amount of comment. Since Joe’s unwilling promotion, her caseload had more than doubled and it was no longer as easy as it had once been to leave. She breathed in once, twice, forcing calm; Vincent’s emotions had ricocheted through her while she had been in court, but the savage echoes in their bond had subsided, supplanted once again by the feeling of his usual steady warmth. He had recovered, though she could sense he was still deeply worried—and small wonder, with Father and the others still missing. A delicate cough alerted her to Rita’s presence. “Thinking of going home early?” she asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
Catherine smiled, forcing her worries and her fears aside. “I was, as a matter of fact. You?”
“Oh, yeah,” Rita replied. “My calendar is clear, and it’s too pretty a day to be stuck in here.”
It was gorgeous outside, a clear sunny day, the perfect day for a picnic. She could almost hear the birds chirping outside. “It is,” Catherine agreed. “Have you finished reviewing Graham Sparks’s motion?”
“Yeah,” Rita said. “The usual. The jury pool has been tainted, his client stands no chance of a fair trial, we’re awful meanie poo-poo heads who clearly have a vendetta against his client.”
Catherine chuckled. “He didn’t actually say we were poo-poo heads, did he?”
Rita smiled in return. “No. But that was the gist of it.” She grew serious. “Can we try this case in Albany?”
Catherine leaned back in her chair. “We can try it anywhere---” and she smiled faintly, remembering, and wondering what Devin would have made of all of this—“south of Oz and north of Shangri-La. I just hope we won’t have to.”
Father regained his footing and the air in his lungs at almost the same moment. Lucas and the others made no move to help him, not that he’d really expected them to. “A wounded doctor is rarely of use,” he said quietly. “If this is your manner of persuasion, I find it lacking.”
Lucas spread his hands. “Merely a taste of what might continue if you don’t agree. We don’t want them---” he gestured towards Rhys and Quinn— “so they can leave. We’ll escort them to our perimeter and they won’t be harmed.” He glanced at Quinn, trying to shake off the beefy arms of the man who held her in place, and Rhys, who was—to Father’s eyes—one short second from losing his temper. “Of course, if you need more persuasion…well, like you said, we can’t keep hurting you.”
The abused tendons of his leg twisted and jumped; Father kept his voice even with a will. When we get back home, I’m not leaving the heated bathing pool until next Winterfest. The pool had been John’s discovery, he remembered with the kind of peculiar mental meanderings which burst forth in moments of stress, and dismissed the recollection almost instantly. Memories of a dead psychopath would hardly be helpful now. “That would be most…unwise,” he said at length, something tickling at the back of his mind. They knew Vincent would be coming, eventually—and yet, they seemed totally unconcerned. Why? “Who planned all this?”
By the startled jerk of Lucas’s head, his hunch had struck a nerve. Lucas’s mouth opened and closed several times before he spoke. He obviously doesn’t play poker much, Father thought. “I…no one. We need a doctor.”
“You do. And badly. But that’s not why you decided to kidnap us. Or at least, that’s not entirely why.”
Lucas and Gordon exchanged glances. “You’re some smart,” Gordon finally drawled. “Smarter than she said.”
She? Father wondered. Who is really in charge here? It’s not Lucas.
“Enough of that,” Lucas snarled. “Doc, you’ve got a choice to make. Gordon will take you and the others back and you’ll have until tomorrow morning to make your choice.”
Father shifted his balance, reaching for the phantom comfort of his missing cane. “My answer won’t change.”
Gordon gave him a twisted parody of a smile. “We’ll see about that.”
Cullen leaned back in his chair, shifting Leah to his other shoulder. “All right. So, you think this is where Father and the others are being held?”
“One of the places,” Mary corrected him, arching a bit to stretch her back. They had been pouring over maps and Mary’s remembrances of her trips to the outer community for what felt like an eternity, and Vincent’s own eyes were becoming tired and gritty. “Most of their chambers, like most of ours, don’t have doors. You’d hardly put three people in a room without one.”
Marisol had long since left to attend to a fretful Benjamin and it was Valerie who spoke next. “No, you wouldn’t, but…they could have made changes since you were here last.”
“I doubt it,” Mary asserted. “They haven’t the resources to change very much; they can manage basic security measures, I’m sure, but I don’t believe for a second they could marshal the kind of work crew that you and Kanin and Angus can, Cullen. It’s…a very transient community, untrusting of most of its people.” She tapped the map. “If they’re anywhere, it’s in one of these three chambers.”
At the other side of the table, Vincent fought the urge to stand and pace in his frustration. So much of this plan hinged on a series of ifs—if Father and the others were still healthy enough to leave, if the ways to the outer community hadn’t been changed in the intervening years, if there was not something far more sinister than just kidnapping going on. If. If. If. And there was the demanding constant presence of the Other, rattling the bars of his mental cage in his fury and need to do something. It was, at the moment, an impulse Vincent was very much in agreement with but he checked his impulses; now more than ever, he needed to remain calm. Fake it until you make it, he heard Catherine say in her wry way, and felt some of his inner turmoil subside. She would be here soon, he sensed, balm to all his worries and fears.
She cannot come with us, the dry whisper of the Other’s voice skittered across his consciousness. Vincent hid a start; rarely was the voice of his sometime-nemesis so clear. We must protect her. He barely stopped himself from nodding (surely the others would look askance at that) in agreement. When it came to Catherine and her safety, they had always been in agreement.
“They have guns too, right?” Angus’s voice said, breaking Vincent out of his musings. “How we gonna dodge that?”
“Turn off the lights,” Mary said simply.
Cullen inhaled sharply. “They’re bleeding electricity from the city power lines? Jesus, how damned stupid are they?”
“We do it,” Vincent said a touch sharply.
“Yeah, but not all the time, and not in such large amounts as would make anybody suspicious,” Cullen retorted. “Emergencies only.”
“And for the coffee pot,” Valerie put in.
“You mean that’s not an emergency?” Cullen quipped and everyone laughed, the break of tension welcome.
Mary took a sip of her own coffee and smiled. “I’d certainly call it a necessity.” She returned her attention to the scrawled maps. “So the plan is…?”
“Go in, get them, and return safely,” Vincent said, keeping the growl (rage! fight! protect!) out of his words, but only barely. He could feel the timbre of it, rumbling through his chest, demanding to emerge.
Mary touched his hand and squeezed it as if to say, I know. I understand. “We’ll find them. We must. And tomorrow, they’ll be back home.”
Catherine had asked that the cab stop near the Central Park entrance, ignoring the driver’s flustered protests that she couldn’t be thinking of walking alone there. It hadn’t even crossed her mind to go to their brownstone first; with Father and the others still missing, Vincent wouldn’t have come to their home. He’d be Below, waiting for news and—she sensed through the currents of their bond—planning a rescue.
To her surprise, Valerie met her at the tunnel entrance. “Where’s Vincent?” Catherine asked without preamble. He can’t be injured. I would have known. I would.
Valerie eyed her carefully. “Catherine, Vincent and the others—Angus and Mary—they’ve left already.”
Through the tumult of her feelings, Catherine heard the other woman’s words. Vincent hadn’t gone alone this time; he had taken people he trusted, people he knew. And of course, he wouldn’t have taken her with him, but… “I…see.”
“Do you?” Valerie challenged gently. “They had to leave as soon as possible—they can’t take the straightforward way to the outer community, not and evade Lucas’s sentries, and that will take hours. They’ll arrive during the middle of the night, which further lessens the risk that anyone will be…injured.”
Catherine heard all that Valerie carefully wasn’t saying: Vincent was going to rescue Father and Quinn and Rhys, but he didn’t want to kill anyone in the process unless it couldn’t be prevented. “All right,” she said. “Why don’t you tell me what’s been going on today?”
Father found he could not sleep, options and possibilities and questions turning over in his mind like the tumbled stones in a creek. Finally, he dared voice his thoughts. “I could stay,” he said into the utter stillness of the room. “I could stay and they’d let you both go and you could lead the others back here---”
A hand—Quinn’s, he thought, though of course there was no light to tell—grasped his shoulder and shook it slightly. “No, Father. They’re lying. They don’t want witnesses. They don’t want us traveling back home and bringing Vincent here. As soon as we were out of your sight, they’d kill us both. Then there’d be some message that you were hurt or killed and…that would be it. Or so they’d think.”
“She’s right,” Rhys said. “We go together or not at all.”
There was silence for a time, then Quinn spoke again. “Father, who do you think is really running this show?”
“Not Lucas,” Rhys said. “He said ‘she.’ ”
“ ‘She’?” Quinn echoed. “Not Angela, I don’t think, not after you saved her son’s life. Who else could it be?”
Father folded his hands, thinking. “Paracelsus was allied with a number of different people when he…died. One of them was a woman named Tamara. We have had no further sightings of her since his death.”
“Tamara? The mask-maker?” Quinn asked. “The…scouting party didn’t find any trace of her. Why would she come back here?”
Scouting party, Father thought. A very delicate euphemism for the angry, intent mob determined to chase the last of Parcelsus’s closest followers from these tunnels. Too preoccupied with his worries over Vincent’s health in the days immediately following Paracelsus’s death, Father had not ordered or sanctioned such a thing, but he’d known it was happening and then, as now, had a hard time mustering more than the faintest wave of guilt about it. “Nevertheless,” Father said, “I believe she may still be alive. And still living Below.”
He heard the faint intake of breath off to his left—Rhys, most likely, wanting to speak. There was a knock at the door and the minute, hesitant creak of the door’s opening. Angela slipped into the room, her children trailing silent behind her. “We need to talk.”
 “Oh Day of Fire and Sun,” by Sarah Teasdale
Click here for Chapter Nine...
Click here for Chapter Nine...