Betrothed, p.27
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       Betrothed, p.27

         Part #6 of The Vampire Journals series by Morgan Rice

  Caitlin ran. A huge, blood-red sun sat on the horizon, and she ran right for it, through a field of mud. She looked down, and saw that the field was alive, and was completely blanketed with rats.

  Thousands and thousands of rats squealed as she ran through them, and as she did, she saw fleas jumping off of them in every direction. A swarm of fleas hovered in the air, and they climbed up and down her legs, covering her entire body, biting her like crazy. She felt her skin on fire from all the bites; she swatted them, but she couldn't get them off.

  On the horizon she saw her father, silhouetted against the sun. And she knew that if she could only reach him, she would be safe.

  But this time, his face was obscured. And the more she ran, the further away he became.

  She slowly sank into the mud as she went, getting lower with each step. Finally, she couldn't run any further, completely stuck, and completely covered by fleas, and then rats, all biting her in every direction.

  She saw before her two coffins. One was large, and the other the size for a child. Caleb lay in one, and Scarlet in the other. They were both covered with welts, and they were both dead.

  Caitlin reached out, one hand touching one coffin and one the other, as she screamed. She was trying desperately to reach them, to bring them back. But she herself was being sucked into the earth.

  As she flailed, about to be completely swallowed by the mud and rats and fleas, she reached out and grabbed onto one last thing. She looked up, and saw that she was holding a large, golden key. It was attached to a rope, which hung from a tree. She grabbed it with both hands, and slowly pulled herself up.

  Suddenly, her father stood over her, still a silhouette against the sun.

  "The key, Caitlin," he said slowly. "It can save you. Find it on the mount of judgment. Saint Michael's Mount. "

  Caitlin woke with a fright, sitting straight up. She looked around, disoriented, and finally realized that it had all been a dream. She was breathing hard, and covered in sweat. She slowly brushed the damp hair out of her face and looked around, trying to get her bearings.

  It was nighttime now, and she was still in the room with Caleb and Scarlet. She had fallen asleep lying on top of them, draped across their bed.

  She looked up at them, and saw that they were both fast asleep, neither moving, Ruth draped across Scarlet's chest.

  She sensed a presence and suddenly turned.

  There, on the opposite side of the room, stood a lone figure. Still disoriented, for a second she thought it was her father.

  But as she blinked several times, she realized it was not. She was really awake this time. And it was not her father. It was Aiden.

  He studied her, concern etched across his face.

  Caitlin stood and faced him.

  "Please," she pleaded. "Can you help them?" She hurried over and grabbed both his hands.

  "Please. "

  Aiden slowly stepped forward, past her, to the bedside.

  He looked down at them both grimly, as Caitlin crowded behind him.

  First, he went over to Scarlet's side, reached out, and laid a hand on her forehead. He closed his eyes for several seconds.

  Finally, he opened them.

  He looked grimly at Caitlin.

  "It's not good," he said. "As you suspected, the Plague. She is human. She is frail. It can go either way. "

  Caitlin felt her heart sink.

  "Is there anything we can do? Anything at all?"

  Aiden slowly shook his head. "She is human," was all he said.

  Caitlin felt her heart tearing in two. She couldn't bear the thought of Scarlet dying. And she didn't know how she could go on without her.

  Aiden walked over to Caleb's side, and laid a hand on his forehead. After several seconds, Aiden opened his eyes. This time though, he retracted his hand quickly, as if bit by a snake. He turned and looked at Caitlin with a look of shock.

  She had never seen him surprised before.

  "He has been poisoned," he pronounced.

  Caitlin was shocked.

  "Poisoned? By who? What kind of poison? Aren't vampires immune?"

  "It is a very special type of poison. One I haven't seen in a thousand years. One meant for vampires. This was an attack. A murder attempt, definitely. "

  Caitlin fell her heart falling, afraid to ask the next question.

  "Will he live?"

  But she already saw the defeated look on Aiden's face.

  "There is no cure for a poison like this," he finally said, softly. "I'm afraid he hasn't long left. "

  "No," Caitlin wailed, breaking into tears. "I refuse to allow that!"

  Aiden looked back at her, sadly.

  "Do you remember that night, back in Pollepel?" he asked. "When you asked to be sent back? I warned you. I told you that time travel was risky. Dangerous. That anything could happen. You knew this, yet you chose to go back. I'm sorry, but you have to be prepared to let go at some point. "

  "No!" Caitlin screamed. "Not now. We're about to start a life together. We're about to get married! I can't allow it! It can't be!"

  Caitlin sobbed, throwing her head on Caleb's chest.

  She turned and looked up at Aiden, with a new ferocity, and stared into his eyes.

  "Back in Pollepel," she said, "you found a way. So there has to be a way now. There MUST be a way. And if anyone knows it, it's you. Tell me. Please. Think hard. Anything!" Aiden got up and paced. He went to the window, looking out.

  After several moments, he sighed, looking grim.

  "There is one possibility," he said.

  Caitlin's eyes lit up with hope. She ran over to his side, hanging onto his every word.

  He faced her.

  "But it is risky," he continued, "It could very likely kill you in the process, even if it saved him. "

  "Tell me," she said without hesitation. "Whatever it is. Please, tell me. I'll do it. " He stared at her, and his eyes burned right through her.

  "Yes, you would do it, wouldn't you? You would kill yourself for him. You truly love him, don't you?"

  Caitlin cried.

  "Yes, I do. " She wiped away her tears. "Please, tell me. "

  "His maker," Aiden finally said. "The one who turned him. There is an ancient vampire legend that if one vampire is dying, there is one last way to save them: to find the vampire who turned him.

  You would need to extract a vial of the turner's blood, then feed it to the vampire who is sick. Then maybe, just maybe, it could heal him. "

  Caitlin's eyes started to brighten with optimism.

  "Wait," Aiden snapped, pessimistic. "It's not that simple. That is just the first step. Once the sick person is fed the blood, he must then feed on the blood of a healthy vampire - a vampire that truly loves him. You see, the sick vampire is supported by two spirits - the one who turned him, and the one he loves now. Then, and only then, will he have a chance for revival. " Aiden sighed, pacing again.

  "But it brings considerable risk," he added. "The vampire he feeds on, the one he loves, will almost certainly die in the process. She gives up her life for the one she loves. "

  The words went off like a bomb in Caitlin's mind. She would have to find his turner. Violet. She would have to go to her and ask for her help. Then she would have to allow Caleb to feed on her, Caitlin. In the process, Caleb may or may not live. And Caitlin would likely die.

  "I'll do it," she said, deciding on the spot.

  Aiden shook his head.

  "Foolish," he said. "Rash. Impetuous. He will likely die anyway. And you will likely die, too. And then you will both be wasted. "

  "And if I do nothing?" Caitlin asked.

  Aiden looked grim. "Then he will certainly die. "

  Caitlin was resolved.

  "How do I do it?" she asked.

  Aiden looked at her, disapproving.

  "And what of your quest?
" he asked. "Your search? Your father? The shield? The entire vampire and human races? Are you that selfish, to sacrifice all of it for one man?" Caitlin suddenly remembered her dream.

  "I dreamt of him last night. My father. He held a key. And he told me to find him on St.

  Michael's Mount. What does that mean?"

  Aiden's eyes opened wide.

  "The mount of judgment. Of course. Saint Michael was the angel of judgment. Your father is telling you to find the key on St. Michael's Mount. It is an ancient vampire stronghold. It makes perfect sense. Yes, that is exactly where the key must be. "

  He stepped forward and held her shoulders and stared at her intently.

  "You must go there immediately," he said.

  "I can't," she replied. "I have to save Caleb first. I have to find Violet. "

  "Listen to me very carefully: once the location of the key is revealed to you, you must go immediately. If you don't, a great calamity will befall us, in which case Caleb will not live at all. You have no choice. You must get the key first. Afterwards, if you must, you can go to Violet. " Caitlin thought hard, and it felt right to her. "I promise. "

  Suddenly, the door to the room burst open, and in rushed Sam, Polly and Lily.

  Aiden turned and walked out, before Caitlin could say another word.

  "What did he say?" Sam asked.

  Caitlin stood there, shaking inside, knowing what she had to do, but feeling so anxious about leaving them. She knew she had to go, first find the key, and then get the antidote - but she felt so torn over the idea of leaving Caleb and Scarlet alone, especially when they were so sick.

  "There might be a cure," Caitlin said. "I have to find it. But I can't leave them alone. Will you promise - will the three of you promise me - that you'll stay here, that you'll watch them, that you won't leave their bedside? I can't leave unless I know you are here. "

  "But I want to protect you," Sam said. "I want to go with you. That's my mission. "

  "I can't go unless I know you are here," she said. "This is where I need you. Will you promise?" They all looked at each other, then back at her.

  "We promise," they said, as one.

  Caitlin embraced each of them, turned and kissed Caleb and Scarlet, then, determined not to waste another precious second, she took three running steps and leapt right out the open window, flying as fast as she could into the night.

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