Skip rounded the corner into the nave. A knot of figures disappeared into the staircase to the catacombs. By the time he got there, the gate was locked and deserted with no response to his banging or yelling. “Shit,” he muttered, heading towards the main doors of the Cathedral. There, beneath the North Tower, he found the other gate to the underworld swinging loosely upon its hinges. Digging a small flashlight from a vest pocket, down the stairs he went.
With no power, the catacombs were pitch black. Yet they were anything but silent. Along with echoes of the tumult above, Skip sensed he was not alone. Other lights flickered behind rock formations, and eerie scrapes and whispers surrounded him.
He did not get far, just to the entrance to the Danse. Lights blinded him, and someone seized him from behind. A man whistled. “Hey, don’t hit him, Davey. He’s got the medal!”
“Skip?” Native David said. The light dropped and the drummer embraced him. “Skip! Come looking for us have you? Well, you’re in luck, old man. We just arrived.”
Skip squinted. “Wait, what are you doing here, man? I thought you were going to Maureven after the performance.”
“We did,” Davey said, patting him upon the back. “But she did not want to miss the show. Come, the Mistress will be mighty glad to see you.”
They walked along the wall. Davey pushed a high outcrop and a hidden door swung open. They crossed the empty ride, stepping into the wide-open, motionless Hellmouth. In the large meeting room, Cindi discussed options with followers in the midst of a candle-lit circle. Seeing Skip, she silenced the others with an imperious wave of her hand.
“I see you just couldn’t stay away,” Skip said, once greetings were done. “I’m not really surprised. But how’d you get in?”
“Through the entrance by the old Roman Baths,” she said. “My people own these tunnels.” Her eye flashed. “Look, I wouldn’t reject the first offer for dialog we’ve ever received, but if you think we would miss a chance to see the Vision, you’re crazy. We came back after our rosary just in time, too, no thanks to you. And we weren’t about to deny anyone else the opportunity.” Around the circle came a buzz of defiant agreement.
“You let that rampaging mob in?” Skip said, shaking his head. “How altruistic. Too bad they all don’t share your high ideals. But the Count is on his way to Horrig’s Chapel now with my sister. I trailed them to the stairway by the pulpit. Luckily they missed you.”
“Doubtless, Roland used one of the other exits to avoid the chaos up there.” Cindi said. “But it’s already too late.”
“Sorry about your sister,” David added. “We weren’t able to get all out in time, either.” “What?” Skip said. “The Count can’t already have reached Maureven.”
“Somebody has. We received a garbled call that ended with gunshots,” Cindi said.
“With respect, Mistress, that’s in God’s hands now,” said David. “Here we are, where we’re supposed to be. Where it’s safe.”
“What, hide here while the Cathedral is torn apart overhead?” Skip said. “Have you seen what it’s like out there, Davey? What all those people you let in are doing?”
“You’re right,” Cindi said. “It’s not just our fault but our opportunity. Six hundred years we’ve hidden here, and they’ve been afraid of us all the while. Now’s our chance to show them why – and save the day, too.” She smiled grimly, her single eye glittering. “Davey, we need hardware – no firearms, but real weapons, not what we usually employ in our rites. Everybody, find clothes you can fight in. Tonight, for once others will feel our lashes.”
“All clear behind us,” Sundog said, levering himself down upon the floor before the Birdcage. Several tired cops sat with him. “We have the door pretty well blocked with the lift. Nobody can come at us from outside without warning.”
Allie peered over the tables they had positioned as barriers. “Nothing this way, either.”
“Good,” Anton said. “Now we wait.” He pulled himself up against the iron and looked around. A half-dozen able-bodied men, four women, sheltered with himself and the Cardinal, both injured around the Tomb. Beyond their barricades, an indistinct mass of unruly revelers and looters, rowdy young males and many of whom were drunk occupied the sanctuary.
Marcel groaned as he slid downward. He dug his backup 9mm pistol from its holster, offering it to Allie. “Miss MacLantis, can you use one of these?”
Allie’s accepted it without hesitation. “Smaller than I’m used to.” She popped the clip out, looked, and smoothly slid it back in. Chambering a round, she thumbed the safety off and smiled sweetly at him. “Call me Allie. I’m from the Wild West. What do you think?”
“I should not like to make my last stand where the Templars did,” Marcel replied with a slight grin. “For them, it turned out rather badly. But they did not have you at their side.”
Out of the darkened nave came a sudden, awful fracas. An angry group charged the sanctuary. Shouting, “For the Virgin and the Holy Tub!” they flailed about madly, dispersing the mob. Yet new voices from the North Transept screamed “Destroy the idols!” along with phrases in Arabic.
For several long minutes a violent, confused struggle in the dark ensued, lit by occasional flashes of gunfire. Lashes cracked, fists thudded, and clubs thumped amid the howls and screams. The losers finally fled, cursing in pain. The winners gathered themselves, then turned towards the South Transept. Along with the others, Allie steeled herself to fire.
“Who goes there?” Galliard demanded, fear cracking his voice.
“Hold, don’t shoot,” came Skip’s voice from the dark. Allie breathed a silent sigh.
“In the name of God, identify yourselves and tell us what you want,” the bishop yelled.
“Just us heretics,” Cindi replied. She stepped dramatically into the moonlight, clad snugly in a shining silver catsuit, coiling a bullwhip. “Come to save your sorry asses.”