Aiden had warned me that it might not work. And that if it did, we might not be together. But I’d insisted. I had to.
And now, here I am. Alone. In a foreign place and time. My child gone. And maybe even Caleb gone, too.
Did I make a mistake to come back?
I know I need to find my father, to find the shield. But without Caleb by my side, I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to go on.
I feel so confused. I don’t know what to do next.
Please, God, help me….
As the sun rose in a huge ball over the horizon, Caitlin ran through the streets of New York. It was the apocalypse. Cars were turned over, bodies lay about, and there was devastation everywhere. She ran and ran, down avenues which never seemed to end.
As she ran, the world seemed to turn on its axis; as it did, the buildings seemed to disappear. The landscape changed, with the avenues turning into dirt paths, the concrete turning into rolling hills. She felt herself running back in time, from a modern age to another century. She felt that if she just ran faster, she could find her father, her true father, somewhere on the horizon.
She ran through small country villages, and then these, too, faded away.
Soon all that was left was a field of white flowers. As she ran through them, she was delighted to see that he was there, on the horizon, waiting. Her father.
As always, he was silhouetted against the sun, but this time, he felt closer than usual. This time, she could see his face, his expression. He was smiling, waiting for her, arms extended for a hug.
She reached him. She embraced him, and he hugged her tight, his muscled torso holding her.
“Caitlin,” he said, his voice exuding such love. “Do you know how close you are? Do you know how much I love you?”
Before she could respond, she spotted something to the side, and saw that, standing on the other side of the field, was Caleb. He held out a hand towards her.
She took several steps towards him, then stopped and faced her father.
He, too, held out a hand.
“Find me in Florence,” her father said.
She turned to Caleb.
“Find me in Venice,” Caleb said.
She looked back and forth between the two, torn over which way to go.
Caitlin woke with a jolt, and sat upright in bed.
She looked around her small room, disoriented.
Finally, she realized it was a dream.
The sun was rising, and she went over to the window, and looked. Assisi in the early morning light was so still, so beautiful. Everyone was still indoors, and smoke rose from the occasional chimney. An early morning mist hung over the fields like a cloud, refracting the light.
Caitlin suddenly wheeled as she heard a creaking noise, and braced herself as she saw her door starting to pry open. She bunched her fists, preparing herself for an unwanted visitor.
But as the door opened wider, she looked down, and her eyes opened wide in delight.
It was Rose, pushing the door open with her nose.
“Rose!” she screamed.
Rose pushed the door open all the way, ran in and leapt up into Caitlin’s arms. She licked her face all over, as Caitlin cried in joy.
Caitlin pulled her back and looked her over. She had filled out, grown bigger.
“How did you find me?” Caitlin asked.
Rose licked her back, whining.
Caitlin sat on the edge of the bed, petting her, and thought hard, trying to clear her mind. If Rose had made it back, perhaps Caleb had, too. She felt encouraged.
Intellectually, she knew she needed to go to Florence. To continue the search. She knew that the key to finding her father, the shield, lay there.
But her heart pulled her to Venice.
If there was even a remote chance that Caleb could be there, she had to find out. She just had to.
She decided. She picked up Rose tightly in her arms, took a running start, and leapt out the window.
She knew that she was recovered now, that her wings would sprout.
Sure enough, they did.
And in moments, Caitlin was flying through the early morning air, over the hills of Umbria, and heading north, on the way to Venice.
Kyle walked down the narrow streets of the ancient district of Rome. All around him people were closing shops, retiring for the day. Sunset had always been his favorite time of day, the time he began to feel the strongest. He felt his blood pulsing quicker, felt himself growing stronger with each step. He was so happy to be back in the crowded streets of Rome, especially in this century. These pathetic humans were still hundreds of years away from any type of technology, any type of surveillance. He could tear this place apart with a relaxed and easy heart, and not have to worry about being detected.
Kyle turned down Via Del Seminario, and within moments, it opened up, and he found himself in a large, ancient square, The Piazza Della Rotonda.
And there it stood. Kyle stood there, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply. It felt so good to be back. Directly across from him was a place he’d called home for centuries, one of the most important vampire headquarters in the world: the Pantheon.
The Pantheon stood, Kyle was happy to see, as it always had, a massive, ancient stone building, the rear of it jutting out in a circular shape, and its front heralded by huge, imposing stone columns.
By day, it was still open to tourists, even during this century. It hosted unseemly mobs of human beings.
But at night, after they closed the doors to the public, the real owners, the real occupants of this building, came out in force: the Grand Vampire Council.
Vampires from covens large and small, from all corners of the world, flocked to it, to attend every session every, all night long. The council ruled in all matters, gave permission, or took it away.
Nothing happened in the vampire world without their knowing about it, and in most cases, without their approving.
It all fit so perfectly. This building had originally been built as a temple to the pagan gods. It had always been a place of worship, of gathering, for the dark vampire forces. For anyone with eyes to see, it was obvious: there were odes to pagan gods, frescoes, paintings, statues everywhere. Any human sightseer who took the time to read the mission of this place, could only realize what its true purpose was.
And if that were not enough, there were also all the great vampires buried there. It was a living mausoleum, the perfect place for Kyle and his kind to call home.
As Kyle ascended the steps, it felt like a homecoming. He walked right up to the enormous iron double front doors, slammed the metal knocker four times—the vampire signal—and waited.
Moments later, the heavy doors slid open just a few inches, and Kyle saw an unfamiliar face. The door opened wider, just enough to let Kyle in, and then was slammed quickly behind him.
The massive guard, even larger than Kyle, looked down.
“They are expecting you?” he asked warily.
Kyle, ignoring the guard, took several steps towards the chamber, when suddenly, he felt a cold, icy grip on his arm and stopped. Kyle fumed, burning with rage.
The vampire guard stared down at him with equal rage.
“No one enters without an appointment,” he snapped. “You’re going to have to leave and come back another time.”
“I enter anywhere I choose,” Kyle seethed back. “And if you don’t remove your hand from my wrist, you’re going to suffer greatly.”
The guard stared back, and they were in a deadlock.
“I see that some things never change,” came a voice. “It’s okay, you can let him go.”
Kyle felt the grip release, and turned and saw a familiar face: it was Lore, one of the chief advisers to the Council. He stood there, staring at Kyle, smiling, slowly shaking his head.
“Kyle,” he said, “I never thought I’d see you again.”
Kyle, still fuming from the guard, straightened his jacket and slowly nodded. “I have business with the Council,” he said. “It can’t wait.”
“I’m sorry, old friend,” Lore continued, “it’s a full agenda for today. Some of them have been waiting for months. Pressing vampire business in every corner of the world, it seems. But if you come back next week, I think I might be able to accommodate—”
Kyle stepped forward. “You don’t understand,” he said tensely, “I didn’t come from this time. I came from the future. Two hundred years into the future. From a vastly different world. The final judgment has arrived. We are on the brink of victory—total victory. And if I don’t see them right away, there will be grave consequences for us all.”
As Lore stared back, his smile dropped, as he realized the seriousness; finally, after several tense moments, he cleared his throat. “Follow me.”
He turned and strode off, and Kyle followed closely on his heels.
Kyle passed down a long, wide corridor, and within moments, he entered the huge, open chamber. It was immense, wide open, with a soaring, circular ceiling and a marble, shining floor. The room was shaped in a circle, and its periphery was filled with ornate columns and statues looking down on the room, mounted on pedestals.
Standing along the periphery of the room were hundreds of vampires, of every possible race and creed. Kyle knew that these were mostly mercenaries, all as evil as he. They all watched patiently as the Grand Council, on the far side of the room, sat behind their bench and doled out judgment. He felt the electricity in the room.
Kyle walked in, taking it all in. Going to the Council was the right thing to do. He could have tried to ignore them, could have just hunted Caitlin down on his own, but the Council would have intelligence, be able to guide him to her more quickly. More importantly, he needed their official sanction. Finding Caitlin was not just a personal matter, but a matter of the utmost importance to the vampire race. If the Council endorsed him, and he felt sure that they would, he would not only have their sanction, but their resources. He could kill her quicker, and be home faster, ready to finish out his war.
Without their sanction, he would be just another rogue, mercenary vampire. Kyle had no issue with that, but he didn’t want to spend his time watching his back: if he acted without their sanction, they might send vampires out to kill him. He felt confident he could handle himself, but he didn’t want to have to waste his time and energy that way.
But if they rejected his demands, he was fully prepared to do whatever he had to to hunt her down.
It was ultimately just one more formality in an endless stream of vampire formalities. This etiquette was the glue that held them all together—but it also annoyed him to no end.
As Kyle walked deeper into the chamber, he looked at the Council. They were just as he remembered them. On the far side of the chamber, the 12 judges of the grand Council sat on a raised dais. They were dressed in stark, black robes, all wearing black hoods which covered their faces. Kyle nonetheless knew what these men were. He had faced them many times over the centuries. Once, and only once, had they pulled back their hoods, and had he actually seen their grotesque, aged faces, faces that had walked the planet for millions of years. He flinched at the memory. They were hideous creatures of the night.
Yet they were the Grand Council of his time, and they had always resided here, ever since the Pantheon was built. It was really a part of them, this building, and no one of his kind, not even Kyle, dared cross their judgment. Their powers were just too intense, and the resources at their fingertips too vast. Kyle could maybe get away with killing one or two of them, but the armies they could summon, from every corner of the world, would eventually hunt him down.
The hundreds of vampires in the room came to witness the Council’s judgments, and to await their audience. They always lined up neatly along the sides, stood at attention, in a huge circle, on the outskirts, leaving the center of the room entirely open. Save for one person. That was always the person who needed to stand before them in judgment.
Right now, it was some poor soul, standing by himself, trembling in fear as he stood across from them, staring at their inscrutable hoods, waiting for their judgment. Kyle had been in that spot before. It was not pleasant. If they did not like the matter with which you approached them, they might, on a whim, kill you on the spot. You never went before them lightly—it was always a matter of life and death.
“Wait here,” Lore whispered to Kyle, as he headed off into the crowd. Kyle stood on the periphery, watching.
As Kyle watched, a judge nodded, ever so slightly, and two vampire soldiers appeared from either side. Each grabbed one arm of the person facing the Council.
“No! NO!” he screamed.
But it didn’t do him any good. They dragged him away, as he screamed and struggled, knowing that he was being carried off to death, and knowing that nothing he said or did would do any good.
He must have asked them for something they had not approved of, Kyle realized, as the vampire’s screams echoed throughout the chamber. Finally, a door opened, he was led outside, and the door slammed behind him. The room fell silent again.
Kyle could feel the tension in the air, as the other vampires looked at each other, dreading the moment of audience.
Kyle saw Lore approach an attendant, close to the Council, and whisper in his ear. The attendant, in turn, walked up to a judge, knelt down, and whispered in his ear.
The judge turned his head ever so slightly, and the man pointed, right to Kyle. Even from this great distance, Kyle could feel the judge’s eyes bore into him, hidden in his hood. Despite himself, Kyle felt a shiver. Finally, he was in the presence of true evil.
The attendant nodded, and that was Kyle’s cue.
Kyle pushed his way through the crowd, and walked right out to the center of the empty floor.
He stood in the small circle in the center of the room—the spot. He knew that if he looked up, directly above his head would be the hole in the ceiling, the oculus, open to the sky. In the daytime, it allowed in a shaft of sunlight; now, at sunset, the light was filtered, and very weak. The room was lit mostly by torches.
Kyle knelt and bowed, waiting for them to address him, as was proper vampire etiquette.
“Kyle of the Blacktide Coven,” a judge announced slowly. “You are bold to approach us unannounced. If your request does not meet our approval, you know that you risk the death penalty.”
It was not a question; it was a statement. Kyle knew the consequences. But he didn’t fear the outcome.
“I am aware, my master,” Kyle said simply, and waited.
Finally, after a slight rustling, there came another pronouncement: “Then speak. What do you request of us?”
“I’ve come from another time. Two hundred years in the future.”
A loud murmur rose throughout the room. An attendant banged on the floor with his staff three times, and screamed, “Silence!”
Finally, the room quieted down.
Kyle continued. “I do not time travel lightly, as none of us do. There was an urgency. In the future, in the time that I live, there will be a war—a glorious vampire war. It will begin in New York and spread from there. It is the vampire Apocalypse we have dreamed of. Our kind will finally be victorious. We will wipe out the entire human race and enslave them. We will also wipe out the benevolent vampire covens, anyone who stands in our way.