“I know, because I am the leader of this war.”
There arose another loud murmur, followed by the banging of the staff.
“But my war is not complete,” Kyle yelled over the din. “There remains but one thorn in my side, one person who can ruin everything we’ve achieved, who can ruin this glorious future for our race. She comes from a special lineage, and she has come back in time, likely to escape me. I’ve come back to find her, and to kill her once and for all. Until I do, the future remains uncertain for us all.
“I come before you today to ask permission to kill her, here in your place, and time. I also would like your assistance in finding her.”
Kyle lowered his head again and waited. His heart beat faster, as he awaited their judgment. Of course, it would be in their best interest to help him, and he could see no reason why they wouldn’t.
But then again, these creatures, alive for millions of years, older even than he, were completely unpredictable. He never knew what agenda the twelve of them had, and their rulings always seemed as arbitrary as the wind.
He waited amidst the thick silence.
Finally, there was the clearing of a throat.
“We know of whom you speak, of course,” came the gravelly voice of a judge. “You speak of Caitlin. Of what will be the Pollepel Coven. But who is, really, of a different, and far more powerful coven. Yes, she arrived in our time yesterday. Of course we know this. And if we wanted to kill her ourselves, don’t you think that we would have?”
Kyle knew better than to respond. They needed their little point of pride. He would just let them finish their speech.
“But we do admire your determination, and your future war,” the judge continued. “Yes, we admire it very much.”
There was another moment of thick silence.
“We will let you track her down,” continued the judge, “but if you find her, you will not kill her.
You will capture her alive, and bring her back to us. We would rather enjoy killing her ourselves, and watching her die slowly. She will be a perfect candidate for the Games.”
Kyle felt himself seething with rage. The Games. Of course. That was all that these sick, old vampires ever cared about. He remembered now. They converted the Coliseum into an arena for their sport, pitted vampire against vampire, vampire against human, vampire against beasts, and loved to watch them all tear themselves to pieces. It was cruel, and in his own way, Kyle admired it.
But it was not what he wanted for Caitlin. He wanted her dead. Period. Not that he minded her being tortured. But he didn’t want to waste any time, to leave any room for chance. Of course, no one had ever escaped or survived the Games. But at the same time, one never knew what could happen.
“But, my masters,” Kyle protested, “Caitlin, as you said, hails from a powerful lineage, and she is much more dangerous and elusive than you imagine. I request your permission to kill her instantly.
There is too much at stake.”
“You are still young,” said another judge, “and so we will forgive your guessing our judgment.
Anyone else, we would kill on the spot.”
Kyle lowered his head. He realized he had gone too far. No one ever argued against the judges.
“She is in Assisi. That is where you will go next. Go quickly, and do not delay. Now that you’ve mentioned it, we quite look forward to watching her die before our eyes.”
Kyle turned to go.
“And Kyle,” one of them called.
He spun around.
The lead judge pulled back his hood, revealing the most grotesque face Kyle had ever seen, covered in bumps and lines and warts. He opened his mouth and smiled a hideous smile, showing yellow, sharp teeth, and shining black eyes. He grinned even wider: “Next time you show up unannounced, it will be you who dies slowly.”
Caitlin flew over the idyllic Umbrian countryside, passing over hills and valleys, surveying the lush, green landscape in the early morning light. Spread out below her were small farming communities, small, stone cottages surrounded by hundreds of acres of land, smoke rising from their chimneys.
As she headed north, the landscape changed, shifting to the hills and valleys of Tuscany. As far as she looked, she saw vineyards, planted in the rolling hills, and workers with large straw hats already at work, tending the vines in the early morning. This country was incredibly beautiful, and a part of her wished that she could just descend right here, settle down and make herself at home in one of these small farm cottages.
But she had work to do. She continued on, flying further north, holding Rose tightly, curled up inside her shirt. Caitlin could feel that Venice was approaching, and she felt like a magnet drawn to it. The closer she came, the more she could feel her heart beat in anticipation; she could already sense people there that she once knew. She was still obscured as to who. She still couldn’t sense whether Caleb was there, or whether he was even alive.
Caitlin had always dreamed of going to Venice. She had seen pictures of its canals, of gondolas, and had always imagined herself going there one day, maybe with someone she loved. She had even imagined herself being proposed to on one of those gondolas. But she had never expected to be going like this.
As she flew and flew, getting ever closer, it struck her that the Venice she’d be visiting now, in 1790, might be very different from the Venice she’d seen pictures of in the 21st century. It would probably, she imagined, be smaller, less developed, more rural. She also imagined that it would not be as crowded.
But she soon realized that she couldn’t be more wrong.
As Caitlin finally reached the outskirts of Venice, she was shocked to see, even from this height, that the city beneath her looked startlingly similar to its pictures in modern times. She recognized the historic, famous architecture, recognized all the small bridges, recognized the same twists and turns to the canals. Indeed, she was shocked to realize that the Venice of 1790 was not, at least in outward appearances, all that different from the Venice of the 21st century.
The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Venice’s architecture was not just 100 or 200 years old: it was hundreds and hundreds of years old. She remembered a history class, in one of her many high schools, teaching about Venice, about some of its churches, built in the 12th century.
Now she wished she had listened more carefully. The Venice below her, a sprawling, built-up mass of buildings, was not a brand-new city. It was, even in 1790, already several hundred years old.
Caitlin felt comforted by the fact. She had imagined that the year 1790 would be like a different planet, and she was relieved to know that some things actually hadn’t changed that much. This looked to be essentially the same city she would have visited in the 21st century. The only immediate difference she could see was that its waterways did not contain a single motorized boat, of course.
There were no speedboats, no large ferries, no cruise ships. Instead, the waterways were packed with huge sailing vessels, their masts climbing dozens of feet high.
Caitlin was also surprised by the crowds. She dove lower, now only a hundred feet over the city, and could see that even now, in the early morning, the streets were absolutely packed with people.
And that the waterways were absolutely packed with boat traffic. She was shocked. This city was more congested than Times Square. She had always imagined that going back in history would mean fewer people, smaller crowds. She guessed she was wrong about that, too.
As she flew over it, as she circled it again and again, the thing that surprised her most, though, was that Venice was not just one city, just one island—it was spread out over many islands, dozens of islands stretching in every direction, each holding its own buildings, its own small city. The island on which Venice sat clearly held the most buildings, and was the most built-up. But the dozens of other islands all seemed interconnected, a vital part of the city.
The other thing that surprised her was the color of the water: a glowing, blue aqua. It was so light, so surreal, the kind of water she might have expected to find somewhere in the Caribbean.
As she circled over the islands, again and again, trying to orient herself, to figure out where to land, she regretted never having visited it in the 21st century. Well, at least she’d have a chance now.
Caitlin was also a bit overwhelmed. It seemed such a large, sprawling place. She had no idea where to set down, where to even begin to look for the people she might have once known—if they were even here. She had foolishly imagined Venice to be smaller, more quaint. Even from up here, she could already tell that she could walk this city for days and not go from one end to the other.
She realized that there would be no place to set down inconspicuously on the actual island of Venice. It was too crowded, and there was no way to approach it without being conspicuous. She didn’t want to call that kind of attention to herself. She had no idea what other covens were down there, and how territorial they were; she had no idea if they were kind or malevolent; and she had no idea if the humans here, like those in Assisi, were on the lookout for vampires, and would hunt her down. The last thing she needed was another mob.
Caitlin decided to land on the mainland, far from the island. She noticed huge boats, filled with people, that seemed to be setting out from the mainland, and she figured that would be the best staging off point. At least the boats would take her right into the heart of the city.
Caitlin landed inconspicuously behind a grove of trees, on the mainland, not too far from the boats. She sat Rose down, who immediately ran to the closest bush and relieved herself. When she was done, Rose looked up at Caitlin and whined. Caitlin could see in her eyes that she was hungry.
She empathized: she was, too.
The flying had tired her out, and Caitlin realized that she wasn’t fully recovered yet. She also realized that she had worked up an appetite. She wanted to feed. And not on human food.
She looked around and saw no deer in sight. There wasn’t time to go searching. A loud whistle came from the boat, and she felt it was about to depart. She and Rose would have to wait, and figure it out later.
With a pang, Caitlin felt homesick, missed the safety and comfort of Pollepel, missed being by Caleb’s side, his teaching her how to hunt, his guiding her. By his side, she always felt that everything would be all right. Now, on her own, she wasn’t so sure.
Caitlin walked, Rose by her side, to the closest boat. It was a large, sailing boat with a long rope ramp leading down to the shore, and as she looked up, she saw that it was completely packed with people. The final passengers were heading up the ramp, and Caitlin hurried up, with Rose, hurrying to get on before it was removed.
But she was surprised by a large, beefy hand, which slapped her hard on the chest, reaching out and stopping her.
“Ticket,” came the voice.
Caitlin looked over and saw a big, muscular man scowling down at her. He was uncouth and unshaven, and he smelled even from here.
Caitlin’s anger rose. She was already on edge from not eating, and she resented his hand stopping her.
“I don’t have one,” Caitlin snapped. “Can’t you just let us on?”
The man shook his head firmly and turned away, ignoring her. “No ticket, no ride,” he said.
Her anger rose another notch, and she forced herself to think of Aiden. What would he have told her? Breathe deep. Relax. Use her mind, not your body. He would have reminded her that she was stronger than this human. He would’ve told her to center herself. To focus. To use her inner talents.
She closed her eyes and tried to focus on her breathing. She tried to gather her thoughts, to direct them at this man.
You will let us on the boat, she willed. You will do it without our paying you.
Caitlin opened her eyes and expected him to be standing there, offering her passage. But, to her chagrin, he wasn’t. He was still ignoring her, untying the last of the ropes.
It wasn’t working. Either she had lost her mind control powers, or they hadn’t fully come back yet. Or maybe she was just too frazzled, wasn’t centered enough.
She suddenly remembered something. Her pockets. She quickly searched them, wondering what, if anything, she had brought back from the 21st century. She found something, and was relieved to see it was a $20 bill.
“Here,” she said, handing it to him.
He took it, crumpled it, and held it up, examining it.
“What is this?” he asked. “I don’t know this.”
“It’s a $20 bill,” Caitlin explain, realizing, even as she explained it, how stupid she sounded. Of course. Why would he recognize it? It was American. And it wouldn’t exist for another two hundred years.
With a pang of fear, Caitlin suddenly realize that all of the money she had on her would be useless.
“Garbage,” he said, shoving it back into her hand.
Caitlin looked over and saw with a pang of fear that they were undoing the ropes, that the boat was preparing to depart. She thought quick, reached again into her pockets, and pulled out some change. She looked down, found a quarter, and reached out and handed it to him.
He took it, more interested, and held it up to the light. Still, though, he wasn’t convinced.
He pushed it back into her palm.
“Come back with real money,” he said; he also looked at Rose, and added, “and no dogs.”
Caitlin’s mind turned to Caleb. Maybe he was there, just out of her reach, on the island of Venice, just a boat ride away. She felt furious that this man was keeping her from him. She had the money—just not his money. Plus, the boat barely looked seaworthy, and it held hundreds of people.
Did one more ticket really make such a big difference? It just wasn’t fair.
As he stuck the money into Caitlin’s palm, he suddenly clasped his big, sweaty hand over hers, and grabbed her wrist. He leered down and broke into a big, crooked smile, revealing several missing teeth. She could smell his bad breath.
“If you have no money, you pay me in other ways,” he said, broadening his creepy smile, and as he did, he reached up with his other hand and touched her cheek.
Caitlin’s reflexes kicked in, and she automatically reached up and swatted his hand away, hard, and extracted her wrist from his grasp. She was surprised by her own strength.
He looked back at her, apparently shocked that such a small girl would have such force, and his smile turned to an indignant scowl. He hocked up something from his throat, and then spit right at her feet. Caitlin looked down and saw it land on her shoes, and was revolted.
“You lucky I no cut you up,” he grunted at her, then abruptly turned his back and went back to untying the ropes.
Caitlin felt her cheeks redden, as the rage overcame her. Were men the same everywhere? In every time and age? Was this a preview of what she could expect for the treatment of women in this time and place? She thought of all the other women out there, of everything that they must have had to put up with in this time, and she felt her anger grow. She felt like she needed to stand up for all of them.