This is my first posting to TtH. I had dropped this story but after the death of Nan Dibble I decided to try to finish it for her. She was always helpful and supportive my my attempts at storytelling.
Rest in Peace Nan.
"Kasey, where are you going?" Kassandra heard Jacob as she ran down the Long Serpentine stairs into the cold darkness of the tunnels. His voice echoing above the constant wind that blew out of the abyss. The slippery stairs were no problem for her to navigate, even in the darkness, as she left the light of the torches far behind her.
The stairs were literally carved out of the walls, winding down into the blackness. Darkness was all around her as she ran.
Kassandra didn’t stop. She kept running down the stairs away from Jacob, away from the stares of the children, away from Cullen. Of course she had heard him--she had heard him because she was freak of nature. Ever since her mother had been attacked by those knife-wielding nuts, she had been living Below. Ever since her life was torn from her.
Kassandra had heard the whispers from the other tunnel dwellers about her being so strong, about the way she could sense people. . . things that hadn’t been obvious or important to her mom, were to these people. She had been living peacefully anonymous above—just one of millions living in New York City—as long as she didn’t make noise, no one noticed her.
“Kasey, please slow down. It’s too dangerous to run up the stairs, you’ll fall like Cullen!” She heard the exasperation in Jacob’s voice even as it echoed down to her. And that was another mark on the freak scale—for the past year she could see in all but the darkest tunnels. That was how she was able to save Cullen from tumbling over the edge; she saw the stair give way under him, she saw him, like he he was in slow motion, as he lost his balance, his arms pin wheeled as he reached for something to save himself. . . She had reacted without thinking, jumping over Jacob and the children to land on the stair below Cullen. Still, she had nearly been too late as he disappeared over the ledge. . . she had grabbed his hand in her own and pulled him back from the abyss.
She had saved him—a girl barely 16 years old and 95 pounds soaking wet—she had saved him, a man over six feet tall and two hundred pounds. She had seen the stair give way in the darkness, jumped twenty feet to lightly land on the stair below him, then used one hand to catch him and pull him to safety.
She was a freak.
Kassandra continued her mad dash down the stairs, away from the shocked and frightened emotions of Cullen and the children. She had to get out of their range, she had to run. Jacob would be able to find her, he would understand he always did, ever since they were little. He was her brother in every way but name.
Then again, he seemed to be all the children’s brother. Jacob was Vincent’s only son, born out of the truest and most tragic of love stories. The story of Jacob’s parents was the most honored tale of her childhood and was told every Christmas in the Big Hall by Old William.
As she ran, her thoughts turned to the past year, which always lead to the ‘attack’-- as the tunnel dwellers called it in whispers. Her mother had killed seven of the attackers before her gun jammed; then she had delayed them long enough for Vincent to kill the rest. The bile rose in her throat as she remembered the terror of that cold night. The freaks dressed in robes ran out of the alley, long ritual knives held over their heads. Her mother had grabbed Kass' hand and pulled her into a mad dash to escape. The freaks chased them down the icy, deserted streets, finally they trapping them, backing Kassandra and her mother into the doorway of an empty warehouse . . . Kass could hear police sirens screaming, trying to reach them in time. It wasn't until later that Uncle Joe told her about her mom's cell phone and how all she had to do was press one number and help would come . . . too late.
The fight had been short and brutal, her mother mowing them down with "heart shots," until her gun gave out— then taking them on with her bare hands, only to die in front of Kass just as Vincent found them—she still saw the sightless eyes each night in her dreams.
She knew she should be thankful that Vincent had rescued her on that dark snowy street--she knew she should be grateful--yet she wasn't. All she could see was her mother's mutilated, lifeless, body staring up at her. She never understood why Vincent left her when the police arrived, maybe because he couldn't take her and disappear, maybe because he was upset over her mother dying, all she did know was that Uncle Joe had picked her up and carried her out of the police station and straight to the Central Park entrance to father, to the tunnels, to live.
Every so often Uncle Joe would make the trip into the Tunnels to let her know that her mother’s murder was still unsolved. He would fidget, shifting from one foot to the other as he painfully asked how Kass was doing, or if she needed anything. Sometimes he would stay for supper in the Great Hall and she would catch him staring at her. Mary told her it was because she looked so much like her mother and no man could resist her regal beauty. Kass just thought Uncle Joe felt guilty because he had promised her father he would protect her mother and didn't.
Kass never knew her father. The only reason she knew that Uncle Joe had failed was because she overheard him talking to Vincent.
Kass stopped running when she reached the Falls. It had been a long run in near darkness, as she avoided the inhabited tunnels and chambers. She took a deep breath to smell the fresh scent of the spray as it rose up from the river far below her. When she was little she used to imagine the sunlight streaming through the cracks in the rocks above as the highway to heaven.
She sat on the rough-sewn rock bench, next to the edge of the cliff. She let the feeling of life that water always gave her flow through her and wash away the pain. As her emotions settled she felt a mild buzz coming from the entrance behind her. The buzz wasn’t unpleasant it was just . . . different from what she normally felt from the people of the tunnels. She got the buzz from only two people, Vincent and Jacob.
She smiled as she shifted on the bench to turn around; Jacob was always able to find her for some reason. “You can . . . ” the greeting trailed off as Narcissa stepped into the chamber. The blind Vodoun Priestess rarely made her way from the lower reaches.
“Girl, the danger has passed, the great evil was defeated.” Narcissa walked up to her. Kassandra could never understand how the woman could be blind and yet, she never walked into things.
Narcissa reached a gnarled, arthritic hand out to Kass, softly touching her hair. “You look so much like your father . . . but like your mother you are a hunter,” the seer continued, holding Kass’ hair up as if Narcissa could see the red-gold locks in the darkness of the tunnel.
Then Kassandra’s mind caught up with what Narcissa said. “You knew my father?” The young girl shouted as she jumped up and stared at the woman. Acid rose in her throat and sweat broke out on her lower lip. Her mother never once mentioned her father. When she was little it didn't matter because she would stay in the tunnels for long stretches of time, and many of the children in the Tunnels didn't have parents. But, when she went to school above, the other children would ask her where her father was . . . and when she couldn't answer them . . . children could be so cruel.
“Do you know where my father is? Is he still alive? Do you know anything about him?” Tears start pooled in her eyes. Since her mother was gone, she had a fantasy that her father would swoop into her life like one of the fairy tales Vincent read to them when they were little.
“Who is he?” she demanded. Kass was a tiny child, but Narcissa was shorter still, so when she grabbed the seer’s shoulders in her hands she towered over the Priestess.
“The great evil has been defeated; it is time for you to fulfill your destiny,” Narcissa said calmly, as if she didn’t hear the young girl’s pleas. “She is coming to take you and your brother away to prepare . . .” Kass’ patience was used up and she shook the tiny black woman to make her stop, or start, she didn’t know which.
“Who is my father?” Kassandra commanded, adding another shake for emphasis, rattling the old woman’s teeth.
“Kassandra! Enough!” Vincent’s voice thundered, echoing in the chamber. Kassandra jumped away from the old woman, ashamed.
“But she said she knew . . .” Kass protested.
“I said enough,” Vincent cut her off, his steel blue eyes focused on her. Kass didn’t need to be an empath to know that Vincent was furious with her for putting her hands on Narcissa. No one in the tunnels ever fought, it was taboo and to break the rule could mean banishment.
Kass felt the heat from humiliation burn her face. She couldn’t face Vincent so she turned to look out over the falls once again.
“The child meant me no harm,” she heard Narcissa’s musical voice.
“Narcissa, do not excuse Kassandra’s bad behavior . . .” Vincent’s deep baritone answered the old seer. Kassandra could almost see Vincent’s stiff posture, his hands clasped behind his back, the cape he always wore flaring out around his feet. None of the tunnel inhabitants would talk back to him when he stood like that, his leonine face forming a slight grimace that showed just a hint of fang. . Vincent was the final word, the law, the judge, the executioner of the tunnel world.
“I do not excuse her behavior, nor do I excuse yours for hiding the truth all these years,” Narcissa’s musical voice deepened and Kass glanced over her shoulder at the woman. “You make the same mistakes that Jacob did with Devon . . .”
“Silence!” Vincent thundered again, and took a full stride forward so that he appeared to be gigantic next to the Priestess. He was glaring down at her with both fangs showing, the aggressiveness in his stance something that Kass had never witnessed before. She knew she was staring, and that too, was taboo in the tunnel world. With the inhabitants packed so closely together and very few having doors on their chambers; it was beyond rude to stare.
“As you wish,” Narcissa nodded to him. “It be unimportant for her destiny is above and even you will not be able to stop it.” And with that the Priestess left them.
Kassandra held her breath waiting for Vincent to say something. The idea that the mystery of her father might actually be explained was almost too much for her to bear.
“Kassandra, go report to William in the kitchen.” Vincent told her with no emotion in his voice and the disappointment crashed through her.
“No,” the word flew out of her mouth before she realized it. Fear and excitement coursed through her. She was sure that Vincent’s shocked expression match her own.
“Very well, then you will go to bed tonight without dinner,” he told her, his voice cold was as ice. With a flare that only the protector of the tunnels could pull off Vincent turned on his heels and left her alone before she could protest.