Betrothed, p.29
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       Betrothed, p.29

         Part #6 of The Vampire Journals series by Morgan Rice

  Caitlin flew through the night, flying faster than she ever had, using her wings to try to gain maximum speed, as she flew alone in the darkness. The night sky was filled with stars, and the rural landscape of England lay far beneath her.

  She felt so alone. After having flown so much recently with large groups of people - Caleb, Scarlet, Ruth, Sam, Polly, Lily and Aiden's coven members - now, she felt the loneliness. She felt as if she were traveling a path meant only for only her to travel, deep into the universe.

  She reflected back on all of the places she'd seen, the times she'd lived, and she remembered what she'd learned, time and again: that the path of the warrior was always one that had to be traveled alone. When she was truly alone, carving out new territory, that was when she knew that she was leading, not following. That was when she was becoming a warrior. That was what Aiden had taught her. And now, it felt more true than ever.

  Every bone in her body wanted to race to get the antidote for Caleb, and, hopefully, Scarlet, too.

  Although he had only said it works for vampires, she hoped, prayed, that she could also find some way to revive Scarlet, too. But Aiden had been firm on the point that she had to visit St. Michael's Mount and get the key first, or else endanger them all. She had never seen him so firm on anything, and given his particularly dire warning that if she didn't, then Caleb would not live, she felt that she had to heed his advice.

  As she continued to fly, heading, as instructed, to the farthest southwestern point of England, to the very tip of the entire island, slowly, dawn began to break. The soft sky lit up with thousands of muted shades of yellow and orange, as the stars slowly melted away. The rural landscape, the soft rolling hills, the occasional farmhouse, the smoke rising from chimneys, all slowly became visible beneath her again.

  As Caitlin flew, her heart began to beat faster with the anticipation of possibly seeing her father.

  Could it be that he might be here? On the Mount of Judgment? Waiting for her? Her dream had seemed so real. If not, could this be the place where she would find the third key, get that much closer to finding him? She was excited to have finally decoded the riddle, and excited that her father had given her the answer in her dream. She felt he was with her more than ever, and she felt determined to find the key - especially if that was the first step in saving Caleb and Scarlet.

  Caitlin brushed back her tears as she flew, trying to push her sadness to the back of her mind.

  The thought of losing Caleb and Scarlet was too much to bear, and she couldn't allow herself to go there right now. She had to be tough, for them all.

  She finally rounded a bend, and the most incredible sight unfolded before her. She had never seen anything like it in her life, in any place on the planet: there, on the horizon, was a small island, sticking out into the ocean. The mainland of England finally ended, meeting the ocean, waves crashing all around it, and there, out in the ocean, maybe five hundred yards from the mainland, sat a small island. The island had its own small mountain, and on top of that mountain, sat a huge, fortified castle.

  It was magnificent, the most dark and dramatic thing she had ever seen. It rose up out of the ocean like some primordial creation, as if the castle had been built out of the rock itself. It looked ancient, powerful, the stuff of dreams and legends.

  As if all that were not enough, as she dove lower, circling the island, taking it all in, she noticed a narrow cobblestone walkway connecting the island to the mainland. The walkway stretched for hundreds of yards, and as the tides rolled in and out, she could see that the stones were just barely submerged in the water. She could see from the ebb and flow that at certain tides, at certain times of day, the island would be completely inaccessible, reachable only by boat. At other times of day, when the tide receded, one could walk there from the mainland. It was a positively magical pathway, a disappearing walkway heading right into the sea, leading to a mystical island, with a huge mountain and castle on top.

  This must definitely be the place, she thought.

  As Caitlin dove lower, taking it in from every angle, she could feel the energy coming off it.

  Clearly, this was a powerful place. And she felt certain that it either held her father, or the key to getting to him.

  Caitlin debated where to land. She could have just flown right down and landed inside the castle itself. But somehow that didn't feel right to her. She felt certain that her father's coven would require formality and respect, that they would appreciate her formal entrance through their main entryway.

  Caitlin also felt she needed to walk towards the castle, to truly grasp its approach and the secrets it might hold.

  Caitlin circled around, and landed on the mainland of England, on the sandy beach, right before the entrance to the walkway. At this time of day, in early dawn, there was not a human in sight. The only company she had was the occasional seagull and sandpiper walking along the beach, squawking at her, and the crashing of the waves.

  Caitlin took off her shoes, barefoot on the sand, and walked onto the cobblestone path. It was already covered in a few inches of water, and the cold water relaxed her, as did the feel of the smooth stones beneath her bare feet.

  As she walked, heading slowly out into the ocean, she had the surreal experience of feeling as if she were walking on water, the waves coming and going on either side of her, gently rolling along the walkway, ebbing and flowing. The walkway was covered in an inch or two of water, and occasionally the water rose up to her shins, then receded again.

  As she approached the island, she looked up and saw the mountain looming large before her.

  Atop that, the castle loomed even larger, with parapets in every direction. The water was already climbing higher, now reaching her shins, and she realized that by the time she reached the island, the walkway would probably be impassible. She appreciated being a vampire: luckily for her, she could fly.

  She finally reached the island, stepping on its rocky shore, and began her ascent up the mountain, towards the castle.

  After a rough, steep incline, she reached a massive gate, built out of the stone, with huge iron bars. She stood before it, examining it, wondering if someone would come out to greet her.

  As she stood there, the gate suddenly, mystically, opened, parting just a little bit, enough for her to walk through. Someone, she realized, must have been observing her from somewhere, possibly expecting her.

  Caitlin entered through the gates and continued on, all the way to the top of the mountain.

  When she reached the top, there was a broad plateau, and a wide courtyard with a magnificent, arched castle gate.

  She walked towards it, and before that gate stood a single vampire, dressed in an all-white robe, a white hood covering his face, so she could not get a good look at him. She approached slowly, and as she did, the vampire pulled back its hood, and looked at her. It was a woman, with long blonde hair and glowing blue eyes. She smiled back at Caitlin.

  "Sister," she said. "We have been expecting you. "

  Before Caitlin could respond, the vampire turned, and opened the gate. She walked right through the huge, arched entrance, and as Caitlin followed, the gate closed behind them.

  Caitlin walked a few steps behind this vampire, who didn't offer any more conversation, and as she did, she felt as if she were being led to a very important place.

  Soon, the long walkway opened up into an inner courtyard, lit up by the soft red glow of the early morning. There, to Caitlin's surprise, were at least a hundred vampires, all standing at quiet attention along the sides of the courtyard, lined up in a perfect row, all dressed in white robes and white hoods.

  In the center of the courtyard stood a single, lone figure, a tall vampire, dressed as the others, his hood pulled back, with large amber eyes. He was expressionless.

  Caitlin stepped forward, heading right to him. Caitlin felt self-conscious as she stood there, facing this man
, just feet away, hundreds of vampires watching. But she also felt comfortable, reassured in his presence.

  "We are very proud of you, Caitlin," he said, "and your father is, too. You have come far in your journey, and are closer than you realize to finding him, and delivering us all from a terrible evil. We are all counting on you. "

  He reached into his robe and extracted a small, silver chest, covered in jewels, sparkling.

  "Your key," he said.

  Caitlin looked back at him, momentarily puzzled. But then he saw her looking at her neck, and realized. Her necklace.

  Caitlin gingerly removed her necklace, holding up the small, antique cross. She inserted it into the chest, turned the lock, and it opened with a soft click.

  There, before her, nestled in a red, velvet lining, was a single, shining key. It looked just like the others.

  The third key. Caleb could hardly believe it.

  He nodded back, and she lifted it slowly, almost afraid to touch it. She held it in her hands. It was heavier than it looked.

  "The third key," he said. "Just one more, and you will be with your father. You have done what no other vampire has been able to do. Now, we all look to you to finish the job. " He took a deep breath.

  "The fourth and final key waits for you back in time. You must go back now. Without delay.

  Your father waits for you, and the matter is urgent. "

  As he finished speaking, he reached out and held up a golden goblet, overflowing with a white liquid.

  "Drink," he said, "and we will send you back. "

  Caitlin was caught off guard. She hadn't expected this. She certainly didn't want to let anyone down, but she couldn't do it.

  She slowly shook her head.

  "I'm sorry," she said. "But I can't go back now. Caleb and Scarlet - my loved ones - they are very ill. They need me. I must help them. I could never go back without them. " He shook his head gravely.

  "You must not delay," he said. "You may not delay once you have the key. If you do, it could jeopardize the mission for all of us. And for yourself. "

  "I'm sorry," Caitlin said, adamant, "but I cannot go back without them. "

  "Don't you realize? There is great danger ahead of you in this time and place. To stay here now is to risk your life. Permanently. And you may not be able to save them. You risk it all for the slightest possibility. Would you really risk losing it all over this?" Caitlin stood there, torn. She certainly didn't want to upset her father, or his coven, or endanger anyone. But she felt deep down that there was just no way she could go back without them.

  "I'm sorry," Caitlin said. "My mind is made up. " He sighed.

  "Would you like the key back?" Caitlin asked.

  He slowly shook his head, looking gravely concerned.

  "No. They key is yours now. I only pray that you live long enough to use it. "

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