Chapter 1 .

Lily

“Hunter,” I barely got out as his eyes pleaded for me to understand.  The gray in his eyes swirled slightly like clouds moving in the storm.

“Let’s go inside,” the blonde stranger with the red eyes said.  “The zombies will go away eventually and then you are free to do what you wish.”

Hunter’s gray eyes meet the red eyes.  “Really? You’ll let us go just like that?”

There was a blur in front of me.  The blond man was now in front of Hunter.  I couldn’t process all this new information.  Sure, there were zombies, but I had come to terms with that.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around other weird beings in this world – including dragons if that was what Hunter and Victory were.  I didn’t realize how weak I was until my legs gave out from underneath me and I now sat on the grass. I hadn’t even realized until then that this wasn’t just a break in the trees, but an actual yard.  There wasn’t a fence or anything. There wasn’t even a driveway although there was a jeep near the house. It was just the house – more like a mansion – in the middle of nowhere and the bare yard. There wasn’t any shrubbery or rose bushes or trees.

“Of course,” the blond man said.  “You are free to leave whenever you wish.  We wouldn’t say no if your friends wanted to repay our generosity by letting us drink.”

“No,” Hunter said.  He stood up a little taller as he faced the stranger.

“Let’s not be hasty.”  The other stranger was now between the two, but I wasn’t sure when or how he got between them.  Victory’s body tightened and lightning crackled around her clenched fist. Molly growled low, but she didn’t move from her spot in front of Arthur.  Her hackles were raised as she stared at the strangers.

I stood up.  My intention had been to go stand with the others, but my legs were rooted to that spot as I watched them.

“I will not let you charm any of them,” Hunter said.

The blond one smirked showing his teeth.  His canines seemed extra long and sharp, but maybe that was the dark of the night and the weird atmosphere that influenced my perception.

“Because you have already charmed them?” the blond one asked.

Hunter blinked and he deflated slightly.  His eyes darted to Darren. The stranger noticed.  “Ah, yes,” he said. “That one did say he has seen your gray eyes before.  You already charmed him then?”

“No,” Hunter said, but the word was quiet like it caught in the back of his throat.

The lightning disappeared from Victory’s fist and she looked at Hunter in confusion.  “You influenced him?” her tone was disbelief. “That isn’t allowed, Hunter. That’s why you and Grace weren’t allowed to have friends during puberty because mom was afraid this exact thing was going to happen.”  

“Don’t make it sound like you would have been exempt from that rule too, Vicky,” Hunter said.

“I’m stronger than both of you,” Victory said easily.

“You manipulated me?” Darren asked.  He slowly took a few steps forward. I couldn’t tell if he was bothered by this idea or not.  He seemed more curious than anything.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Hunter pleaded.  “The first time you were going to drive us straight to one of those RU in? places and the second time you had already drank so much of their potion that you were completely charmed by them.  You wouldn’t listen to reason. It was the only way to break their spell. I never did it any other time and never to anyone else. You were there, Lily. You know what he was like. I didn’t have any other choice.”  His eyes pleaded with me to understand as he looked at me.

Spell?  Potion? Charm?  My brain couldn’t comprehend all that at the moment.  It was too surreal. But I did know what Darren had been like.  We had been desperate to get him to go with us. If I had that power, I probably would have used it on Darren then too.  I was glad I didn’t have it though. I didn’t want to have to make those kind of decisions.

“He’s right,” I said.  “Darren wasn’t himself then.”

“What do you mean by spell?” Darren’s mom asked.

“The witches of course,” the blond stranger said.

“They aren’t witches,” Hunter said.  “They aren’t human.”

“Perhaps this is a conversation we should have inside,” the Asian one said.  He indicated the house with his hand.

“Good idea,” Maria said as if she saw nothing wrong whatsoever with this situation.  “Let’s go.” And she immediately started walking to the house. Darren followed her. The others hesitated a moment, but then followed.  Molly zigzagged between them in an effort to slow them down or to stop them, but when she saw Arthur wouldn’t be stopped, she brushed up against his leg and went with him.  Mackenzie was the last to follow the others as her eyes lingered on me.

There was a blur and the Asian one was now back at the door holding it wide open for the others.  I wasn’t about to let my sister enter without me. I had to protect her. I didn’t look at Hunter as I followed the others because I was sure he wouldn’t think this was a good idea.  And it probably wasn’t, but the decision had already been made for us.

I heard his and Victory’s footsteps behind me crunching softly on the grass.  The zombie groans quieted as we entered the large house. The blond one entered last and closed the door behind him.  We were in a foyer. It was dark, but even in the dark I could see the outline of paintings on the walls, small tables with vases against the walls, some chairs against the walls.

“This way,” the one in the lead said.  He led us into a large sitting room with sofas and several chairs.  This room was dark too, but light enough we could see where we were going.  

Darren’s mom was the first to collapse onto the large sofa.  Marcos scooted off her lap and ran around the room. Juan smiled and chased after him.  Their little giggles filled the quiet room as the rest of us found seats. Mackenzie, Victory and Arthur sat on one of the loveseats.  Molly never turned her back on the strangers. She jumped into Arthur’s lap even though she was too big to fit properly. Richard and Monica took the other loveseat.  Darren and Maria sat next to Darren’s mom. I sat in one of the chairs. Hunter remained standing and so did the blond stranger. The Asian one took a seat near me.

“Shall we introduce ourselves,” he said cordially.  “I’m Jin and this,” he waved a hand in the blond one’s direction, “is Gunnor.”

He paused as he waited for us to introduce ourselves.

“I’m Bev,” Darren’s mom said.  She introduced the rest of us down to the youngest, Marcos.  Marcos hid behind the couch when she said his name.

“What are you?” I blurted out before I thought about it.  They clearly weren’t human – now that I knew that was an option.  They moved with a blur. Their eyes were red and the tiny hairs at the back of my neck stood up just from being near them.

Jin and Gunnor smiled.  Their teeth were white and sharp and sent shivers down my spine.

“Vampires,” Jin said.

Tendrils of fear ran along my limbs and my first thought was that I needed to get Mackenzie far away from here.

“Cool,” Maria said.

The smiles on Jin and Gunnor grew wider just as Hunter said, “No.  It’s not cool. They kill humans.”

“We don’t have to kill them,” Gunnor said.  “We just need a drink from them every now and then, but that doesn’t mean we have to kill them.”  His red eyes landed on Darren and scanned him up and down hungrily. Hunter was suddenly in front of Darren blocking Gunnor’s view.

“It’s dark in here,” Bev said.  “Do you have some kind of light we could use?  Like candles or something?”

“I’m sorry,” Jin said politely.  “That was rude of us.” He held out his hand with the palm pointed to the ceiling.  Tendrils of light formed in his hand and whirled together to form a ball of light. It lifted into the air and lingered near the light fixture.

Maria stood up with her eyes fixed on the ball of light.  “That is so cool. I wish I could learn to do something like that.”

I didn’t see Jin move, but he was suddenly next to her with his mouth dipped low near her neck.  “I can arrange that,” he said.

I did not fight all those zombies to protect my family and friends just to see them get bit by vampires.  Hunter, Victory and I were all on our feet and moving to separate them. Jin saw us coming, noted the ax in my hand and took a step away from her.

Maria hadn’t noticed any of that as she turned to face Jin and said.  “Can I really learn how to do that? Is it possible.”

“Not for all humans,” he said.  “But you and Darren seem especially susceptible to magic.  I think both of you could learn.”

“Really?” Darren asked.  He stood up, unable to contain his excitement.  “I want to learn too.” 

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Hunter said.  He took Maria’s arm and pulled her behind him. He maneuvered so he stood in between Maria, Darren and the vampires.  I noted his eyes were still gray which I assumed meant he thought we were all still in danger and he might have to call on his dragon powers again.  Or whatever he was.

“It would be better for them to learn,” Gunnor said.  “Once they know how to use magic, they’ll be less susceptibles to charms and will know how to protect themselves from the witches.”

“They aren’t witches,” Hunter said again.  “They aren’t human. They often disguise themselves as witches or shamans or manyeo as my mom called them or the many other myriad of names you want to call them, but they aren’t human.  They are magical creatures like vampires.”

“And dragons,” Gunnor said with that annoying smirk in his voice.

I felt overwhelmed before with all this knew knowledge.  I was quickly coming to terms with it because what other choice did I have.  But it also was making me realize how inadequate I was. What could I and my ax do against vampires?

“Alvina always called them venefici.  Would you be fine with that term?” Gunnor asked condescendingly.

“Fine,” Hunter said.

“Who is Alvina?” Bev asked.

“The mistress of our brood,” Jin said.  “It’s probably best if we didn’t talk about her.  Gunnor and I didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms.”

“The rest of our brood are all idiots who don’t see the zombies as a problem,” Gunnor said.  “But if all humans turn into zombies, what are we going to drink?”

“Wait,” Richard said and stood up.  “If you’re dragons,” he pointed to Hunter, “and they are vampires,” he pointed to Jin, “then were those people we met in the woods something too?  Because they seemed to really dislike you. You know, the ones with Mason and Alex.”

“They are werewolves,” Hunter said.

“Werewolves?” I breathed out in disbelief.

“Ah, yes, Erik and his pack,” Jin said.  “They are idiots too thinking they can hide this out.”

“The venefici are usually solitary beings,” Gunnor said.  “No one expected them to band together like this and no one expects it to last long.”

“Do you think they are the cause of all this?” Hunter asked.  “We,” he pointed to Victory and himself, “just thought they were setting up the RU in? clubs to take advantage of the situation.”

Jin shrugged.  “We don’t know.  That green light that started all this felt like their magic though.”

“Does it hurt when you drink from humans?” Maria asked.

“Maria!” I scolded.

“What?” she asked.  “It’s just a question.”

“It doesn’t have to,” Jin said as he looked at her with hunger in his eyes.  “It can be quite pleasant for you actually.”

“Except for you,” Gunnor said to me.

“Why am I the exception?” I asked even though I had no intention to let them drink from me.  I’d try to chop their heads off first with my ax.

“Because you are one of those rare humans that magic cannot touch,” Gunnor said.  “You can’t be charmed by magic. Potions will have no effect on you.” I remembered the drink in the Ru in? place and how Darren kept raving about how wonderful it smelled and it’s beautiful colors, but I couldn’t smell or see any of that.

“And since you can’t be charmed,” Gunnor said, “it would hurt if we bit you.  The good news is that you can’t be turned into a zombie either.”

My eyes flicked to Hunter.  “Is that why my dad didn’t turn?  Is that why he just died? Did you know this about me?”

“Yes to all of that,” Hunter said gently.  

“And our mom didn’t turn because she was part dragon,” Victory said sadly.

“Speaking of,” Gunnor said, “how many generations removed are you from the dragon you descended from?  Was it a grandparent? Great grandparent?”

“We don’t know,” Victory said.  “It’s just been passed down from generation to generation that there was a dragon in our lineage, but most of the time those traits don’t show up.  We are the first where it showed up in all of us siblings.”

Juan stood up from behind the couch and tapped Bev’s shoulder.  “Marcos fell asleep,” he whispered, but the room was so quiet now that we could all hear.

“At least spend the night,” Jin offered.  “We have beds for all of you. We promise we won’t drink from any of you tonight and not without any of your permission,” he said pointedly to Hunter.

Hunter looked at Victory, but she just shrugged her shoulders.

Darren yawned.

“Fine,” Hunter said.  “But just for tonight.”

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