The crowd went crazy. It jumped to its feet, roaring and roaring.
“She has won clemency!” the crowd members screamed. “Let her free. Let her free!”
A huge chorus of approval ripped through the stadium.
But the judge did not give in. Instead, he looked at Kyle, who nodded back, and then he stood.
The crowd quieted.
“Bring in our last warrior!” he yelled.
Caitlin was so tired, so out of breath, so disoriented. She couldn’t imagine what else they had to throw at her. She felt confident that, whatever it was, she would not have the energy left to face it.
The doors opened, and out came a single warrior, a man about her size, about her height, looking a lot like her. He wore dark, fitted armor, and held a gleaming sword and shield.
His helmet up, she could clearly see his face.
It was the one warrior she knew she could never kill.
Facing her, was her brother Sam.
Caitlin’s heart whirled with emotions.
Sam. Her little brother. Here. Back in time. In Rome. In the Coliseum of all places. On the one hand, she was thrilled to see him.
On the other, he stood there, in battle gear, facing her down, a weapon in hand. And with a look on his face meant to kill. How could this be?
How had it come to this? What had they done to him?
She could sense, even from this great distance, that he was a vampire. She tried to sense his feelings towards her, but it was obscured. As if he were deliberately blocking them.
More than anything, she felt sad. Betrayed. Confused. Was it not enough that he’d had to ruin things for her in the 21st century? Had he had to come back now, and still make things hard for her?
And after all that she had done for him. All through his life, she had always looked out for him, always been the one he could turn to. She’d always tried to help him, to save him.
Had it really come to this? Did he really hate his own sister enough to kill her? Or was he just still dazed? Under the influence of this evil coven’s spell?
“Sam!” she yelled out. “It’s me! Caitlin. Your sister!”
She hoped that by vocalizing it, he would come to himself, would recognize her, snap out of it, lay down his weapons.
“I don’t want to fight you!” she yelled. “I don’t want to hurt you!”
The crowd booed.
Sam walked out towards the center, closer and closer to her. But instead of dropping his weapons, as she’d hoped, he lowered his face mask with a definitive clang, and raised his sword and shield.
The crowd roared in approval. Even Kyle smiled down.
Caitlin’s heart pounded. She really didn’t want to hurt her little brother.
Before she could think, before she could decide what to do, she found herself being charged by Sam.
He swung his sword down at her with a ferocious speed, and Caitlin barely managed to duck out of the way.
The crowd roared.
“Sam!” she cried, desperate, and afraid. She was afraid he would hurt her—but even more, afraid she might be forced to hurt him. “Listen to me! Please!”
But he swung at her again, and she leaned back and barely missed the below. He was faster than she had thought, and extremely powerful.
As he came at her with a flurry of blows, she raised her shield. She blocked them, but she felt herself getting pushed back, further and further. She couldn’t bring herself to swing back. But his blows were so unexpected, so strong, they threw her completely off balance.
She stumbled and fell to the ground, and the crowd roared, on its feet, tasting blood.
“KILL HER!” the crowd roared, on its feet.
“Bring me the spear!” Sam yelled.
Caitlin was shocked at her little brother’s voice. It was so deep, so dark. It was the voice of a man.
Kyle, high up, nodded down to an attendant, and he came running out and handed Sam a huge, golden spear.
Caitlin used the time to scurry back to her feet, to backup, to consider all her options.
What could she possibly do? Kill her own brother?
No. She could not. She was tired of fighting. And if even her own brother wanted to kill her, then what was the point in living anymore?
She stared at him, hoping one last time that he would come to, that he would see it was his sister.
And then she dropped her sword. And her shield. And closed her eyes.
She stood there, defenseless, wide open, an easy target.
Sam faced her, and slowly lifted the heavy, golden spear.
“KILL HER! KILL HER!” chanted the crowd.
Caitlin opened her eyes.
In that moment, she felt the whole world in slow motion. She saw every last detail, heard every little sound, as the rest of the world was slowly muted out. She felt the breeze on her skin, noticed the brilliance of the sun. She felt strongly that this would be her last moment on Earth.
And she looked forward to it, to finally seeing her father. What a fitting way to see him, she thought. Sent by his own son’s hand.
Sam took a step forward, reached back, and suddenly, he hurled the spear.
As Caitlin opened her eyes, she was shocked by what she saw.
At the last second, Sam had turned on his heel, and hurled the spear not at her—but rather, had aimed it up, at the bleachers.
Directly at Kyle.
It all happened so fast, was so unexpected, that Kyle had no time to react.
Before he could get out of the way, the spear went through his arm, and kept going, through the judge’s heart. The two of them shrieked, stuck together.
The entire crowd jumped to its feet, in shock and outrage.
“Kill them!” Kyle screamed.
But before anyone could react, the sky suddenly turned black.
Flying over the Coliseum, there suddenly descended hundreds of vampires.
Caitlin didn’t need to look up to know who it was.
There, up in the sky, leading them, was Caleb. By his side was Samuel, Aiden, Polly, and hundreds of others.
Caleb wasted no time. He dove right for Kyle, grabbing him by the throat, wrestling him down to the bleachers.
The hundreds of other vampires descended, too, prepared for battle against the thousands. It was all-out war, hand to hand.
Sam came running over to Caitlin, tearing off his helmet.
“I hope you understand,” he said. “I had to trick them. To catch them off guard. I never meant to hurt you. It was the only way,” he said. “I’m here, I’m back in time, because I love you. And because I’m sorry.”
But they had no time to waste. Thousands of vampires were pouring out of the bleachers, charging for them.
Sam turned to her. “Can you still fly?”
She nodded, and they both took off into the air, flying, rising high above the din of vampires sprinting for them.
As they flew over the bleachers, they passed Kyle, wrestling with Caleb.
Caleb had the upper hand, but for a moment, he slipped; Kyle took advantage, grabbed his sword, and reached back to stab Caleb.
Sam and Caitlin dove low. Just in time, she kicked the sword out of Kyle’s hand; Sam, right behind her, then kicked Kyle hard in the face, sending him flying head over heels over the balcony.
Caitlin reached down and grabbed Caleb.
“Are you okay?”
He looked at her.
“Caitlin,” he said, his eyes brimming over. “I know now. I know who you are. I remember everything,” he hugged her tight. “And I’m so sorry.”
She felt her whole world warm up inside her, as she hugged him back.
She pulled him back and looked at him with intensity.
“I know where it is,” she said quickly to Caleb. “The Shield.”
Sam and Caleb both crowded close, anxious to hear, their eyes opened wide.
“Follow me,” she said.
Caitlin, Caleb, and Sam flew over Rome, racing to bridge the short distance from the Coliseum to the Vatican. Caitlin had never been to the Vatican before, and she followed Caleb’s lead. She’d been worried for a moment that Caleb wouldn’t come at all. Back there, in the Coliseum, he didn’t want to leave; he’d been set on diving down and finding Kyle in the crowd, on exacting revenge for Jade. But Caitlin had begged to him let it go for another time. She argued that he would endanger them all by getting bogged down in a fight with those thousands of vampires, and that they’d never accomplish what was more important for the race: finding the Shield. Finally, reluctantly, he’d conceded.
As they rounded a bend, Vatican City came into view, and Caitlin was shocked. She had somehow expected the Vatican to be a single building, and was surprised to see that it was in fact an entire city. From this bird’s eye view, she could see building after building, dominated by the huge, dome of St. Peter’s Chapel. She was breathless at its magnitude.
“We’ll have to land at the main entrance,” Caleb said. “The Vatican is heavily guarded by our kind. There’s no way in or out without permission. It’s the oldest and most powerful vampire coven there is. No one has ever tried to attack them, not even Kyle’s people, and no one probably ever will. They stand guard over vampire relics and secrets unlike any the world has ever known.
“They also have weapons unlike any the world has ever seen. If we arrive at their doors, and they don’t grant us permission, they may very well kill us on the spot. Knocking on their door is not something one does lightly. The only way they’ll let us in is if they perceive you to be one of their own, one of their coven. That will depend on who your father was. Let’s hope.”
Caitlin sensed a presence behind her, and as she turned, saw, on the horizon, a swarm of black.
Hundreds of vampires of the Grand Council were following them. Caitlin saw Kyle at their head, arm bleeding, and scowling with fury.
“Looks like we have company,” she said.
Caleb and Sam turned, and frowned.
“No time to waste,” Caleb said.
The three of them took a sharp dive, right down to the entrance of the Vatican.
They ran up to its huge, main doors, and they suddenly opened. Out came a short, old man, wearing a white cloak and hood.
He pulled back his hood to reveal glowing, light green eyes. He stared at the three of them, then took a step towards Caitlin.
“You’ve arrived,” he said to her.
It was clear that he had been expecting her. The three of them exchanged a look of relief.
He turned and they followed him inside, and he shut the door behind them.
Seconds later, they heard a loud crashing at the door, as the hundreds of other vampires tried to get in.
Caitlin, Caleb and Sam wheeled, ready to fight.
“Do not worry,” the man said calmly. “Regular vampires are defenseless against this building.”
Caitlin looked up, and saw other vampires trying to fly over the wall, to dive down. But as they did, they bounced back, as if hitting an invisible shield.
“It is protected. Only the holy can enter.”
They walked quickly down the corridor, passing a beautiful open grass courtyard, with a fountain in its center. It felt very much like a cloister inside, as they passed rows and rows of arched stone walls.
They followed the man into another building, and down an endlessly long corridor. The ceiling was high and arched, covered in brightly painted frescoes.
They walked and walked, at a fast pace. It felt like they were walking forever, until finally they turned down yet another corridor, climbed a set of stairs, and entered the most magnificent room Caitlin had ever seen.
She looked up, awestruck.
“The Sistine Chapel,” Caleb whispered.
The three of them entered the huge room, and she could not look away from Michelangelo’s ceiling. Every inch of it, spanning hundreds of feet, was covered in brightly-painted scenes. It was so vibrant, so life-like, it felt like a living thing.
Caitlin heard a shuffling, and looked over and saw hundreds of vampires in the room, all dressed in white, wearing white hoods, and lined up patiently along the walls.
In the center of the room, on a raised dais, stood an altar, and before that stood three more vampires. Their dress was more elaborate than the others, in white robes with gold trim.
The vampire that led them in gestured for the three of them to approach the altar.
Caitlin walked slowly up the dais and before the three vampires, accompanied by Caleb and Sam.
Her heart was pounding. Was her father among these men? What was this coven, exactly? She felt closer to her father than she’d ever had. Felt as if he were in this very room with her.
The vampire in the center slowly pulled back his hood and stared at her with his huge, glowing, light blue eyes. His eyes were so large, so translucent, it felt as if he were not of this Earth.
“We are members of the most holy and most ancient and most powerful vampire coven ever known to man. We have lived thousands of years longer than anyone else, and we guard secrets that no one else is fit to protect. It is thanks to us that the human and vampire races have managed to survive. Few know of our existence—and even fewer are members. Your father is one of us. Which means that you, too, are one of us.”
Caitlin’s heart pounded in her chest. The implications of it seemed overwhelming. These were her father’s people. Here, in the Vatican. She felt so proud of him, and felt special herself. Yet she also burned with questions.
He suddenly held out a small, jewel-encrusted box.
“Your key, please,” he said.
Caitlin looked back at him, puzzled.
She didn’t have a key. Had they mistaken her for someone else?
He looked down and pointed at her necklace.
Caitlin reached down and felt it, forgetting it was even there. Her necklace.
She removed it, stepped forward, and slowly inserted it into the small keyhole.
She turned, and to her surprise, it opened softly.
Inside it, was another key, large and gold.
“Take it,” he said. “It belongs to you.”
Caitlin reached in and took the key, her mind racing. It was heavy, smooth. She could feel an incredible power coming off of it.
“It is one of the four keys,” the man said. “Only you can find the other three. When you have all four, you will meet your father. And he will give you the Shield.
“You are on a very sacred mission,” he added. “You must find him. For all of us.”
“But where is he?” she asked.
“He does not live in this time,” he answered. “You will have to go back, further.”
Caitlin’s mind spun. Go back in time? Again?
The vampire nodded, and the hundreds of vampires in the room came forward and crowded around them, in a tight circle.
The three vampires stepped forward, and each held out a jewel-encrusted chalice, filled with a white liquid.
“White blood,” he said. “The holiest of bloods. You must each take three sips.”
Caitlin, Caleb, and Sam each took a chalice.
Caitlin drank, taking three sips, wondering what would happen. She was surprised by how sweet it was.
More and more vampires crowded around them, closer and closer. They all lowered their heads, as if in prayer, and began to chant.
“…to resurrect another day,” they finished chanting, “in God’s ultimate grace.”
No, Caitlin thought.
She began to feel light-headed. This can’t be happening. Not so soon. There was so many questions she had left to ask. Who were these people? How long had they lived? How had they know her father? What was he like? What was the next step on her mission? What time and place where they sending her to?