Caitlin Paine awoke to blackness.
The air was heavy, and she struggled to breathe as she tried to move. She was lying on her back, on a hard surface. It was cool and damp, and a tiny sliver of light came in at her as she looked up.
Her shoulders were squeezed together, but with an effort she just managed to reach up. She stretched out her palms and felt the surface above. Stone. She ran her hands along it, felt the dimensions, and realized she was boxed in. In a coffin.
Caitlin’s heart started to pound. She hated tight spaces, and she started breathing harder. She wondered if she were dreaming, stuck in some sort of horrible limbo, or if she had truly awakened in some other time, and some other place.
She reached up again, with both hands, and with al her might, pushed. It moved a fraction of an inch, just enough for her to slide a finger into the crack. She pushed again, with al her might, and the heavy stone lid moved further, with the sound of stone scraping against stone.
She squeezed more fingers into the widening crack, and with al her might, shoved. This time, the lid came off.
Caitlin sat up, breathing hard, looking al around. Her lungs gasped in the fresh air, and she braced herself at the light, raising her hands to her eyes. How long had she been in such darkness?
As she sat there, Shielding her eyes, she listened, bracing herself for any noise, for any movement. She remembered how rough her graveyard awakening had been in Italy, and this time, she didn’t want to leave anything to chance. She was prepared for anything, ready to defend herself against whatever vil agers, or vampires—or whatever else—might be nearby.
But this time, al was silence. She slowly pried open her eyes, and saw that she was, indeed, alone. As her eyes adjusted, she realized it wasn’t, actual y, that bright in here.
She was in a cavernous, stone room, with low, arched ceilings. It looked like the vault of a church. The room was lit only by the occasional burning candle. It must be night, she realized.
Now that her eyes adjusted, she looked around careful y.
She had been right: she’d been lying in a stone sarcophagus, in the corner of a stone room, in what appeared to be the crypt of a church.
The room was empty, except for a few stone statues, and several other sarcophagi.
Caitlin stepped out the sarcophagus. She stretched, testing al of her muscles. It felt good to stand again. She was grateful that she hadn’t awakened this time to a battle. At least she had a few quiet moments to col ect herself.
But she was stil so disoriented. Her mind felt heavy, like she had awoken from a thousand year sleep. She also, immediately, felt a hunger pang.
Where was she? she wondered again. What year was it?
And more importantly, where was Caleb?
She was crestfal en that he was not at her side.
Caitlin surveyed the room, looking for a sign of him anywhere. But there was nothing. The other sarcophagi were al open and empty, and there was nowhere else he could be hiding.
“Hel o?” she cal ed out. “Caleb?”
She took a few tentative steps into the room, and saw a low, arched doorway, the only way in or out. She went to it and tried the knob. Unlocked, the door swung open easily.
Before she left the room, she turned and surveyed her surroundings, making sure she hadn’t left anything she needed. She reached down and felt her necklace, stil around her neck; she reached into her pockets, and was reassured to feel her journal, and the one, large key. It was al that she had left in the world, and it was al that she needed.
As Caitlin exited, she proceeded down a long, arched stone hal way. She could think only of finding Caleb. Surely, he had gone back with her this time. Hadn’t he?
And if he had, would he remember her this time? She could not possibly imagine having to go through al that again, having to search for him, and then having him not remember. No. She prayed that this time would be different. He was alive, she assured herself, and they had gone back together.
They must have.
But as she hurried down the corridor, and up a smal flight of stone steps, she felt her pace increasing, and felt that familiar sinking feeling in her chest that he had not come back with her.
After al , he had not awakened at her side, holding her hand, he was not there to reassure her. Did that mean he had not made the trip back? The pit in her stomach grew bigger.
And what about Sam? He had been there, too. Why wasn’t there any sign of him?
Caitlin final y reached the top of the staircase, opened another door, and stood there, amazed at the sight. She was standing in the main chapel of an extraordinary church.
She had never seen such high ceilings, so much stained-glass, such an enormous, elaborate altar. The rows of pews stretched forever, and it looked like this place could hold thousands of people.
Luckily, it was empty. Candles burned everywhere, but clearly, it was late. She was grateful for that: the last thing she wanted was to walk out into a crowd of thousands of people staring right at her.
Caitlin walked slowly, right down the center of the isle, heading towards the exit. She was on the lookout for Caleb, for Sam, or maybe even for a priest. Someone like that priest in Assisi, who might welcome her, explain things to her. Who might tel her where she was, and when, and why.
But there was no one. Caitlin seemed to be completely, utterly alone.
Caitlin reached the huge, double doors, and braced herself to face whatever might be outside.
to face whatever might be outside.
As she opened them, she gasped. The night was lit up by street torches everywhere, and before her was a large crowd of people. They weren’t waiting to enter the church, but rather were mil ing around, in a large, open plaza. It was a busy, festive night scene, and as Caitlin felt the heat, she knew that it was summer. She was shocked by the sight of al these people, by their antiquated wardrobe, by their formality. Luckily, no one seemed to notice her. But she couldn’t take her eyes off of them.
There were hundreds of people, most dressed formal y, al clearly from another century. Among them were horses, carriages, street peddlers, artists, singers. It was a crowded, summer night scene, and it was overwhelming.
She wondered what year it could be, and what place she could have possibly landed in. More importantly, as she scanned al the strange and foreign faces, she wondered if Caleb could be waiting among them.
She scanned the crowd desperately, hoping, trying to convince herself that Caleb, or maybe Sam, could be among them. She looked every which way, but after several minutes, she realized they simply were not here.