They walked down another corridor, this one with low, vaulted ceilings.
“Besides, you didn’t do all that bad,” he added. “After all, you knew enough to come here.”
Caitlin remembered spotting the church as she’d sprinted through the field.
“But it just seemed like the logical place to go,” she answered. “It was the first building I saw, and it seemed like a fortress.”
He smiled, shaking his head. “There is no such thing as coincidence in the vampire world,” he said. “Everything is destined. A building that seems secure to you might seem frail to someone else.
No, you chose this spot for a reason. A very specific reason. And you were led to me.”
“But you’re a priest.”
He shook his head slightly. “You’re still very young, and you still have a lot to learn. We have our own religion, our own creed. It is not very different from that of the church. One can be a vampire and still involved in religious life. Especially our type of vampire,” he said. “I even help the humans in their daily spiritual life. After all, I have the benefit and wisdom of thousands of years on this planet—unlike human priests. Luckily, the humans don’t know I am not of their kind. For all they know, I am the town priest, and always have been.”
Caitlin’s mind spun, as she tried to reconcile it all. The image of a vampire priest seemed so paradoxical to her. The notion of a vampire religion, of its working within the church…it all seemed so strange.
As fascinating as all of this was, what she really wanted to know was not about vampires, or churches, or religion. She wanted to know about Caleb. Had he survived the trip? Was he alive?
Where was he?
And she wanted desperately to know about their child. Was she still pregnant? Had the baby survived?
She thought these questions very strongly, and hoped the priest would pick them up, and answer her back.
But he didn’t.
She knew he’d heard her thoughts, and was choosing not to respond. He was forcing her to ask these questions aloud. And, as he probably knew, they were questions she was afraid to ask.
“And what of Caleb?” she finally asked, her voice shaking. She was too nervous to ask about her child.
She looked over at him and saw his smile fade, as the slightest wince crossed his face.
Her heart dropped.
Please, she thought. Please don’t tell me bad news.
“Some things you’re going to have to find out for yourself,” he said slowly. “Some things I am not meant to tell you. It is a journey you must take. You and you alone.”
“But is he here?” she asked hopefully. “Did he make it?”
The priest, walking alongside her, tightened his lips. He let her questions hang in the air, unanswered, for what felt like forever.
Finally, they stopped before another flight of steps, and he turned and looked at her. “I wish I could tell you more,” he said. “I really do.”
He turned, raised his torch, and led the way down another small flight of steps.
They entered a long, vaulted corridor, all the ceilings here gilded and intricately designed. They were entirely covered with frescoes, brightly designed, and in between them were arches, lined with gold. The ceiling shone.
So did the floor. It was a beautiful, pink marble, and looked freshly cleaned. This subterranean level of the church was gorgeous, looked like an ancient treasure chamber.
“Wow,” Caitlin heard herself say out loud. “What is this place?”
“It is a place of miracles. You are in the church of Saint Francis of Assisi. This is also his resting place. It is a very holy place in our religion. People—humans and vampires alike—pilgrimage here, from thousands of miles away, just to be in this spot. Francis was the saint of animals, and he was also the saint of all living creatures outside of the human race—including our kind. It is said that miracles happen here. We are protected here by his energy.
“You did not land here by accident,” he continued. “This place is a portal for you. It is a launching pad for you to begin your journey, your pilgrimage.”
He turned and faced her.
“What you still fail to see,” he said, “is that you are on a journey. And some pilgrimages take years, and many, many miles.”
Caitlin thought. It was all overwhelming to her. She did not want to be on a journey. She wanted to be back home, with Caleb, safe and secure, in the 21st century, this whole nightmare behind her.
She was tired of traveling, of always being on the run, of always searching. She just wanted a normal life again, the life of a teenage girl.
But she stopped herself from that way of thinking. It wasn’t helpful, she knew. Things had changed—permanently—and they would never be the same again. She reminded herself that change was the new normal. She was no longer the same old, average, human Caitlin. She was older now.
Wiser. And whether she liked it or not, she was on a special mission. She just had to accept it.
“But what is my pilgrimage?” Caitlin asked. “What is my destination? Where is it exactly that I’m going?”
He led her to the end of the final corridor, and they stopped before a large, elaborate tomb.
Caitlin could feel the energy coming off of the tomb, and she knew right away that this was the tomb of Saint Francis. She felt recharged just standing near it, felt herself growing stronger, coming back into her own. She wondered again if she had come back as a human or as a vampire. She missed her powers dearly.
“Yes, you are still a vampire,” he said. “Do not worry. It is just taking time for you to come back to your own.”
She was embarrassed that she forgot, again, to guard her thoughts, but she felt comforted by his words.
“You are a very special person, Caitlin,” he said. “You are very much needed to our race.
Without you, I would even go so far as to say, our entire race, and the entire human race, will be on the brink of extinction. We need you. We need your help.”
“But what am I supposed to?” she asked.
“We need you to find the Shield,” he said. “And in order to find the Shield, you will need to find your father. He, and only he, holds it. And in order to find him, you will need to find your coven.
Your true coven.”
“But I have no idea where to begin,” she said. “I don’t even know why I’m in this place and time. Why Italy? Why 1790?”
“The answers to these questions you are going to have to find out for yourself. But I assure you you have very special reasons for being back in this lifetime. Special people to see, actions to fulfill.
And that this place and time will lead you to the Shield.”
“But I have no idea where my father is. I have no idea where to begin.”
He turned to her and smiled. “But you do,” he answered. “That is your problem. You don’t trust your intuition. You need to learn to search deep within yourself. Try it now. Close your eyes, breathe deeply.”
Caitlin did as he said.
“Ask yourself: where do I need to go next?”
Caitlin did so, wracking her brain. Nothing happened.
“Listen to the sound of your breathing. Let your mind still.”
As Caitlin did so, as she really focused and relaxed, images began to flash in her mind. She finally opened her eyes and looked at him.
“I see two places,” she said. “Florence, and Venice.”
“Yes,” he said. “Very good.”
“But I’m confused. Where do I go?”
“There are no wrong choices in a journey. Each path just brings us to a different place. The choice is yours. You have a very strong destiny, but you also have free will. You can choose at any step. Now, for example, you are faced with a pivotal choice. In Florence, you will fulfill your obligations, come closer to the Shield. It is what is needed of you. But in Venice, you will fulfill matters of the heart. You will have to choose between your mission and your heart.”
Caitlin’s heart soared.
Matters of the heart. Did that mean that Caleb was in Venice?
She felt her heart drawn to Venice. Yet, intellectually, she knew that Florence was where she should be in order to do what was expected of her.
She felt torn already.
“You are a grown woman now,” he said. “The choice is yours to make. But if you follow your heart, there will be heartbreak,” he warned. “The road of the heart is never easy. And never expected.”
“I feel so confused,” she said.
“We do our best work in dreams,” he said. “There is a cloisters next door, and you can sleep here for the night, rest, and decide in the morning. By then, you’ll be fully recovered.”
“Thank you,” she said, reaching out and taking his hand.
He turned to go, and as he did, her heart pounded. There was one more question she needed to ask him, the most important one of all. But a part of her was too scared to ask it. She was trembling.
She opened her mouth to speak, but it turned dry.
He was walking down the corridor, about to turn away, when finally, she mustered the courage.
“Wait!” she yelled. Then softer, “Please, I have one more question.”
He stopped in his tracks, but kept his back to her. Oddly enough, he did not turn back around, as if he sensed what she was about to ask.
“My baby,” she said, in a soft, trembling voice. “Is he…she…did it make it? The trip? Am I still pregnant?”
He slowly turned, faced her. Then he lowered his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he finally said, so soft that she wasn’t sure if she heard it. “You’ve come back in time. Children can only move forward. Your child lives, but not in this time. Only in the future.”
“But…” she began, trembling, “I thought vampires can only travel back in time, not forwards.”
“True,” he said. “I am afraid that your child lives in a time and place without you.” He lowered his eyes again. “I am so sorry,” he added.
With those final words, he turned and left.
And Caitlin felt as if a dagger had been plunged into her heart.
Caitlin sat in the stark room of the Franciscan monastery and looked out through the open window, into the night. She had finally stopped crying. It had been hours since she’d left the priest, since she’d heard the news of her lost child. She hadn’t been able to stop the tears, or to stop thinking about the life she would have led. It was all too painful.
But after many hours, she cried herself out, and now all that was left were dried up tears on her cheeks. She looked out the window, trying to distract herself, and breathed deep.
The Umbrian countryside spread out before her, and from this vantage point, high up on a hill, she could the rolling hills of Assisi. There was a full moon out, enough light for her to see that this was a truly beautiful countryside. She saw the small, country cottages dotting the landscape, the smoke rising from the chimneys, and she could already feel that this was a quieter, more relaxed time in history.
Caitlin turned and surveyed her small room, lit only by the moonlight and a small candle burning on a wall sconce. It was made entirely of stone, with only a simple bed in the corner. She marveled at how it seemed to be her fate to always end up in a cloister. This place couldn’t be more different than Pollepel, yet at the same time, the small, medieval room reminded her of the room she’d had there. It was designed for introspection.
Caitlin examined the smooth, stone floor, and saw, near the window, two slight imprints, a few inches apart, in the shape of a knee. She wondered how many nuns had prayed here, had knelt before the window. This room had probably seen hundreds of years of use.
Caitlin went over to the small bed, and laid down. It was just a stone slab, really, with the tiniest bit of straw. She tried to get comfortable, rolling on her side—and then she felt something. She reached over and extracted it, and realized with delight what it was: her journal.
She held it up, so happy to have it by her side. Her old trusted friend, it seemed to be the one thing that had survived the journey back. Holding it, this real, tangible thing, made her realize that this was not all a dream. She was really here. Everything had really happened.
A modern pen slipped out of its pages and landed on her lap. She held it up and examined it, thinking.
Yes, she decided. That was exactly what she needed to do. To write. To process. Everything had happened so fast, she’d hardly had time to catch her breath. She needed to play it through in her mind, to think back, to remember. How had she gotten here? What had happened? Where was she going?
She wasn’t sure if she knew the answers herself anymore. But by writing, she hoped she could remember.
Caitlin turned the brittle pages over until she found an empty page. She sat up and leaned against the wall, curled her knees to her chest and began to write.
How did I end up here? In Assisi? In Italy? In 1790? On the one hand, it doesn’t seem like long ago that I was back in the 21st century, in New York, living a normal teenage life. On the other hand, it seems like forever….How did it all begin?
I remember, first, the hunger pangs. My not understanding what they were. Jonah. Carnegie Hall. My first feeding. My inexplicably turning into a vampire. A half-breed is what they called me. I’d felt like I’d wanted to die.
All I’d ever wanted was to be like everybody else.
Then there was Caleb. His saving me from the evil coven, rescuing me. His coven in the Cloisters. But they cast me out, as human and vampire relationships were forbidden. I was on my own again—that is, until Caleb rescued me again.
My quest for my father, for the mythical sword that could spare the human race from a vampire war, led Caleb and I all over the place, from one historic place to another. We found the sword, and it got taken from us. As always, Kyle was waiting to ruin things.
But not before I had time to realize what I was becoming. And not before Caleb and I had time to find each other. After they stole the sword, after they stabbed me, as I was dying, he turned me, and saved me once again.
But it didn’t turn out like I’d thought. I saw Caleb with his ex-wife, Sera, and I imagined the worst. I was wrong, but it was too late. He fled, far from me, and into danger. On Pollepel island, I recovered, and trained, and made friends—vampires—closer than I’d ever had. Especially Polly. And Blake—so mysterious, so beautiful. He almost stole my heart. But I came to my senses just in time. I learned I was pregnant, and I realized I had to find and save Caleb from the vampire war.
I went to save Caleb, but it was too late. My own brother Sam, deceived us. He betrayed me, made me think he was someone else. It was because of him that I thought Caleb was not really Caleb, and I killed him, my love. With the sword. With my own hands. I still can’t forgive myself.
But I brought Caleb back to Pollepel. I tried to revive him, to bring him back, if there was any possible way. I’d told Aiden that I would do anything, sacrifice anything. I asked him if he could send us back in time.