Chapter three

The Depths

There is love in me the likes of which you've never seen. There is rage in me the likes of which should never escape. If I am not satisfied in the one, I will indulge the other.


Run.  Run and go and climb and drop and drop again, and leap.  Swing.  Jump.  Jump harder, and farther.  Make the ledge.  Miss, and break your neck.  Climb down.  Down.  Down, away from the soft lights and the cool rooms.  Down to heat.  Down to Hell.  A ragged skeleton marked his progress; Vincent no longer remembered who the man had once been.  It didn’t matter.  Nothing did.



Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth.

Vincent was furious, and while part of him knew why, part of him didn't.  He wanted something to hit.  He wanted something to kill.  He wanted Erlik back again, the two of them going at it the way they had in his twenties, when John had made them fight for food, or for water, or bedding.  Wanted a way to exhaust himself with effort.  Wanted to screw, or at least to masturbate.  Wanted to sharpen his claws down a stone wall and use them to eviscerate something.  Wanted...

Wanted to learn how to play chess.  Because people like her knew how, and it suddenly seemed important.

The world was to me a secret which I desired to divine.

To hell with Jacob, and to hell with all of them.  He was smarter than he had been a month ago.  He could just go scavenge for a book about chess, if he wanted to learn that badly.

He was getting soft.  That was the problem.  Getting used to drinking from a cup and eating with utensils.  Getting used to the soft bed Jacob had provided for him, when his studies went very late and he didn't feel like making the trip back down.

He saw two of Paracelsus’ creations humping in a corner as he went down the narrow path, and resisted the urge to tear their heads off.  They were sentries, of a sort.  This was the edge of his domain.

The female bent low on all fours as the male labored.  For spite, Vincent tore the male away, and snarled a warning as he stood in his place.  The female bent her head low, in submission, as the male scrambled, spitting angrily, but knowing better than to issue a challenge.

Vincent's hand moved to adjust his pants, but looked in disgust at the creature before him.  It was an empty threat.  Filthy.  Stupid.  Sterile.  They all were.  Vincent pushed her aside and stalked past the pair.  The male had enough sense to cower.  He'd better.

The King was home.  Long live the King.

John had come "home" in moods like this one, and even Vincent had known enough to hide.  He hadn't known what Topside reality had thwarted his master, but he knew enough to fear.

Now it all belonged to Vincent.

Vincent screamed his rage at the injustice of it.

Satan has his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and detested.

There were low fires in stone braziers, mostly for light, but it added to the heat of the place.  His “subjects” scattered before him, and they'd should. He was in no mood for their stupidity.

Wherever Tamara was, she was not near.  Gone.  Gone since before he’d found Catherine.  And good riddance.  She'd been in love with John, in her way.  Fool.  They all were.  The huge chair Vincent couldn’t envision as anything but a throne dominated the big chamber.  He’d sit on the ground before he sat in it.

Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad tales of the death of kings...

 Shakespeare flitted through his brain as he stalked through the room.  He shoved the Bard as far away as he could throw him.  Henry the Something.   Something Jacob had read to him, or he had read to Jacob, weeks ago.  Where was Mary Shelley?  He did not want Shakespeare.

Vincent returned to the narrow alcove he used as a sleeping chamber.  It was small, easily defensible, near water, and had just enough room for a wide pallet and a pile of the only other clothes he wore.  A ragged copy of Frankenstein sat near the bedding.  A decent spear leaned against the wall.

Illustration by Theodor von Holst from the frontispiece of the 1831 edition of Frankenstein


It requires more philosophy than I possess to bear this injustice with patience.

He had other places like this scattered around, some of them secret from John, or at least he thought they had been.  Some with more weapons than this.  Some with food, or rudimentary medicine.  A cache of supplies for "just in case."  He'd used them from time to time, as he'd needed to.  Outliving Erlik had required cunning as well as brawn.

He looked at the squalor of it and for the first time, wanted to retch.

"I never regretted what I am... until now."

They were words he'd said when he'd been near Catherine. 

And he felt them sharply, here.


He hated what he was, and knew he had to be better.  Hated what she was, and wished she were somehow more like him, so he could have her.

No.  That was not what he wished.

He knew the poison that envy was, and how futile it was, for him.

He knew what he wished.  That he was more like her, not the other way around.

No, that wasn't it, either.

He wished she could fall in love with him.  As he was.  No matter what that was.  There, that was it.

And nothing seemed more impossible.

He sat on the pallet and screamed with rage, holding Frankenstein to his chest, the lesson of it a brutal cruelty to his hopes and wishes. The monster had wanted a mate.  Had been willing to do anything to please Victor, if it could just happen.

So of course it hadn’t, and couldn’t.

Vincent could relate.  Far, far too much.

For as much as he and John had sparred, as much as they'd jockeyed, Vincent knew that Paracelsus' mind was the superior one when it came to science.  John had made him, just as he'd made most of the creatures that inhabited this hole, and if Vincent pleased him, one day John might make him a mate.  Someone like him.  Someone fierce and proud and fearless.

Someone not like Catherine.

Except that that described someone very much like her.

Shall each man find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone?

Of all the lines that had been ringing in his head, all the laments of the monster or the man, that was the sorrow.  The sorrow he knew owned his soul.  He could not picture her accepting him that way, as either a love or a lover, either emotionally or physically.

He would give the world to be able to.  Even just to be able to imagine it, just to hold it as a plausible wish, would be enough.

The words Jacob had been feeding him hadn't helped his sense of yearning.  Indeed, they'd sharpened it.  Jacob had sought to supplant his image of Frankenstein's Monster with images of Lancelot, and flights of utter fantasy.

Words hammered in Vincent's brain.  Too many of them.  He'd been reading night and day.  And feeling Catherine.  Often, now.  He could "turn her down" if he needed to.  He was learning.

The noise in his head played havoc with his equilibrium, and it wasn't just Catherine.

Mary was concerned for the children and their runny noses.  A man named Kanin was in love with a woman named Olivia.  Jacob's hip was bothering him more than usual.  Other things.  Things he'd never sensed when he'd lived among the mentally and emotionally deficient.

All the various relationships which bind one human being to another in mutual bonds

Bond.  That word stayed with him.  He felt a certain empathic link with many of Jacob’s people, but he saved the word “bond” for Catherine.

He was discovering his gift for empathy as his mind opened to the literature, and to the people.  And it was overwhelming him.

Always quick in discerning the sensations of others…

Vincent shouldered his way out of the squat room, disgusted.  He wanted the huge bed with the sunrise window.  He wanted a brazier against the cold.  He loosened his vest.  He wasn't as far down yet as he could go, and he was already sweating.

There was yet a place down here he had to go.  A place he’d almost never entered.  He made his way there, now.

John's room.  The holiest of unholy holies, and the only threshold he never crossed, uninvited.  Forbidden.  Off limits.  As a youth, his curiosity had gotten the better of him that way, and John had branded the bottom of his foot.  Hard lesson.  Vincent had limped for a month, and Erlik had taken most of his food.  Starve or heal in time to save yourself.  John was pitiless.

Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even YOU turned from me in disgust?

No one came in here, either before John’s death or since.  Not ever.  Not Erlik, not Tamara, certainly not the skittering creatures who would all die out in a few years thanks to their short lifespans, and certainly not him.

He'd seen the room from the doorway, the drape pulled back, as it usually was.  John did not believe in privacy overmuch, and did not need it for himself.  He was usually in his lab, several chambers down the hallway.  The bed was just a place to sleep.  But it was John's bed, and no one else was allowed in.

Vincent entered the dusty chamber, the difficult sensation of wanting to turn around and run being batted down, inside.

If it was possible to be both Spartan and opulent at the same time, the room was.

It was a bed, a chest, a wardrobe and a rug.  A place to sleep and a place for clothes, nothing more.  No desk or table for writing.  John had slept in here.  He had not worked in here.

But the rug was Persian, a castoff whose damage had been cut away.  The wardrobe was a scratched oak piece with a mother of pearl inlay.  The chest was adorned with brass figures on the handles, and massive rivets at the corners.  The bed was darkly carved teak, with a fine mattress Erlik had lugged down.  Heavy quilts.  Even in the heat, John dressed warmly.  He was a cold man.  In every definition of that word.

Vincent pawed through the clothes, finding nothing of interest.  He had no idea what he was looking for.  He simply knew he was looking.  Tunics that buttoned to the neck.  Dark slacks.  A pocket watch John had used for mesmerism, if not for time.  The cane that held the knife.  The wrist blade contraption that had killed creatures beyond counting, both human and not.

In a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick. I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends the antelope. But my heart sank within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained.

Had he been so desperate to end his aloneness that he would endure any indignity?  Vincent realized he probably had been.

Other items, in a bottom drawer.  A book of chemistry.  A fine shirt.  An empty photo album, one that had once had pictures in it, before they’d been torn away.

A woman's shawl, wrapped in lavender paper.  Nothing else.  No picture of her, no likeness anywhere.  Anna's?  Probably.

Beneath the shawl, something else.  A blanket.  Old.  As old as the shawl.  Crocheted.  The sturdy yarn had a tight weave against cold drafts.  Blue.  His?  His.  Somehow, Vincent knew.

Vincent pulled it from the bottom of the drawer, running his fingers across the stitching.

He couldn't live with Jacob.  Even as he contemplated it, his mind railed against the idea.    No power in the universe was going to make him be a subject in that kingdom, be just another one of Father's followers...

The yarn was soft as his fingers played along the stitching.  Almost indescribably soft.  It had been a lifetime since something like this was next to his skin...

He shouldn't be able to remember being covered by it.  But he did.

He stood, not understanding the feeling of a breaking heart, and hating it, all the same.  He should not be wishing for a life he barely remembered and never really knew.  He should not be wishing for the approval of an old man whom he could simply kill, if he wished, and a young woman he had nothing to offer.

There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.

Mary Shelley’s line lingered, and was confusing him.

There is something at work in my soul, which I do not understand.

He scrambled for better understanding.

If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear…

There, that was the line he wanted.  Rage, and the will to dominate, coupled with the ability to force change.  It was what John had wanted.  What John had always wanted.

Was it what he wanted?

If he wanted a soft bed, well, here was one.  All he had to do was move his meager belongings in here and... begin.  Be Paracelsus, or whatever it was that came after that.  Be Vincent in Hell.  Reign in Hell.

Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.  He remembered John quoting the words often enough.  It was, wasn't it?  Blue eyes continued to scan the room.  Would it become his?

While I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires.

Somehow, he knew he could not “become John” any more than he could “become Jacob.”

He flipped the lid on the chest that had been a rich man’s steamer trunk in its day.  It was full of notebooks Vincent recognized.  John's chicken-scratching, most of it in a code of some sort.  Scientific formulas.  Observations written in a foreign language.  Was it Latin?  French?  Vincent had no idea.  He'd been working hard just to master English on the written page, much less anything else. The only mentor he remembered had been a brilliant, haunted, difficult, evil, and thoroughly focused man.

It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn.

John had little appetite for food, and none for sex that Vincent could divine.  But when it came to knowledge, John was tireless.  He would tinker in his lab on this or that thing, until either the results satisfied him, or the frustration grew too great.

When that happened, he had a taste for cruelty.

Vincent piled the books into a bag, not sure why.  Perhaps Jacob would want them.  Perhaps he'd throw them into the abyss.  Perhaps he'd learn the language (another book would be required for that - Joy.) and decipher them.  He wasn't sure.  He wasn't sure of anything, yet.

He turned his back on the bedroom and made his way to the lab.

John sold the poisons from here to make money, a thing Vincent had no use for, but John did.  The lab equipment was expensive.  Tables grew mushrooms, and a strange root that glowed with organic phosphorescence.

Vincent knew what drugs were.  Hated their effect, but understood that others used them.  John never used what he proffered.  Paracelsus and Vincent were alike that way.  John loved "control" far too much to ever give himself over to the questionable pleasures of the narcotics he sold.  They were a tool.  A means to an end.  Nothing more.

So had Vincent been, to John.  So had they all been.

Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant, but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endued with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?

It was time to find out.  Time to find out the answers to the few questions he thought were long settled in his mind.

Vincent destroyed the lab, taking no small pleasure in upending the tables and smashing the glass beakers.  A decent microscope Jacob would have given his right arm for went flying, and broke into pieces against the wall.    I, who irretrievably destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst.  Alas!  He is cold, he cannot answer me.

Some of John’s pets watched Vincent’s rage, well back from the doorway.  They were not sure what was happening, but they were positive it wasn’t good.  Most had the good sense to make themselves scarce.  They had been fending for themselves on mushrooms and whatever grew in the lowest reaches since long before John’s death.  Vincent snarled a warning at them, and sent them running.  Stepping over broken glass and mayhem, he bagged what little he wanted from here.

More journals, to go into the sack.  Notebooks.  Volumes on the failure that had been John's creatures.  Pages which outlined their strengths, their weaknesses, and their short life spans.  The failure that had been Erlik.  The failure that had been him.  Pages full of tests Vincent remembered taking.  Endurance.  Of heat, of cold, of weight, of pain.  How fast he could run.  How high he could jump.

When John was pleased, he’d eaten well.  When John was pleased.

Then he'd grown large enough to fend for himself against all comers, and it hadn’t mattered.  For a long time, Erlik had been there to spur him and thwart him, and then, no.  That had ended, too.

Vincent wasn't sure if John was pleased or furious the day Vincent had dumped Erlik's dead body into the Abyss.  Vincent had been whipped hard for that, and starved for a few days in a steel cell.  But John had also smiled the day he'd been let out.  An almost secret smile, one of pleasure.  Vincent remembered it as he stuffed the last book into the bag.

I walked up and down my room hastily and perturbed, while my imagination conjured up a thousand images to torment and sting me.

Then, the thing he feared, and knew too well.  His only companion, for years.  John’s voice, in the last words he’d ever spoken, as a whole man.

Vincent tried to shut his ears against the ragings of the madman who had goaded Vincent into killing him.

"Can you see your enemies?  They knew!  They all knew!  Like fire and copper, on your tongue!"

No guilt, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine.

Vincent had always thought that one day, if he killed John, it would be because John had administered one whipping too many, or worse, that John had lost all interest in tinkering with inhuman DNA.  As long as Paracelsus worked, Vincent had secret hopes that one day, his aloneness would end.

In the end, however (John’s, that was), he was astonished to find it was words, simple words, that had pushed their relationship to the breaking point.

As he went on I felt as if my soul were grappling with a palpable enemy…

And that smile.  That odd, almost wistful smile John gave, as he lay bleeding to death on the lab table.

“At last, you are my son.”

Vincent screamed against remembered pain, and wrestled the dark demon inside him into cowering.

He wanted to see her.  No.  He needed to see her.  Catherine.  Sweet Catherine.  Please, dear god, save me from this wretched, this loveless, this lightless existence.

I was dependent on none and related to none. The path of my departure was free, and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination?

He would have to return to the higher Tunnels, for a start.

Vincent had no idea what excuse he could make for it.

But he wanted to see Catherine, wanted to sit near her, wanted her to lean into the strength of his arm and read to him.  Five minutes.  Five minutes of peace, to quell the rage in his heart.

Disgusted with everyone and everything, and himself more than any of the rest, Vincent grabbed the bag of John's journals and a few belongings and began the trek back up to Jacob's world, and from there, Catherine's.

Something inside him knew he would never come here again, no matter what happened.

If he were vanquished, I should be a free man. Alas! What freedom? Such as the peasant enjoys when his family have been massacred before his eyes, his cottage burnt, his lands laid waste, and he is turned adrift, homeless, penniless, and alone, but free. Such would be my liberty.

He wasn't sure if this was moving toward love.  But it was at least moving away from hate.



to chapter 4


to Once Beautiful and Brave