We were all in the kitchen eating stew – warmed by the fire in Jin’s hand which was just weird – when Gunnor returned.
“They are safely away,” he announced to us.
I had to trust him. He might have taken them out and killed them, but I had no way of knowing. He could have killed my family and didn’t so I assumed he didn’t kill my friends.
“Have you decided if you are going to stay?” Jin asked us. He sat at the head of the large table as he watched us. Gunnor stood nearby behind him.
“We haven’t really discussed it with everyone,” Lily said.
“Well,” Jin said, “we did have a plan before you showed up. You are welcome to stay, that doesn’t change, but our plan will need to be modified if you do decide to stay. We will tell you our original plan and maybe that will affect your decision.” He turned to glance at Gunnor who nodded at him.
“We left our brood because they weren’t taking the zombie threat seriously. After all, zombies can’t hurt us. They can’t fathom the possibility that all humans might turn into zombies someday and then we will be out of sustenance. Gunnor and I discussed a few possibilities when we left. One of them was to travel north in hopes that the zombies would freeze and the humans would be safe from them. But the temperatures have dropped here. It has snowed and hasn’t slowed the zombies. It is unlikely going north would change anything. We also discussed just rescuing a group of humans and keeping them safe to feed off them and their future children.”
Goosebumps formed on my arms and I looked at my family and then to Grace. I didn’t want our children to be food for vampires even if they did offer safety.
“Your group is not the ideal group for that,” Jin went on, “what with their being part dragon and humans who magic has no effect on them. Although,” his eyes drifted to Maria and Darren, “two of you would be ideal. Especially since we can train you to use magic to defend yourselves. But,” his eyes settled on the group as a whole, “that doesn’t solve the long term dilemma of the zombies. Maybe there isn’t a solution. One of the things we are most unhappy about is the fact that the venefici are luring the remaining humans for their own purposes. And they grow more powerful. Venefici have always been solitary beings and now they have banded together to set up these RU in? places. We don’t know how far it goes, if it is just this region, this country or if it is worldwide. If the venefici have banded worldwide, we are all in trouble. But we don’t have answers and we need answers.”
“You’re going after the venefici?” Hunter asked. “Just the two of you? Even as vampires, you are not going to be able to take a group of venefici.”
“Which is why we thought we would ask the werewolves for help,” Gunnor said.
Grace, Hunter and Victory laughed. The rest of us just looked from them to the vampires and back again. There was so much of the world I was clueless about. I didn’t even have any scope to determine how clueless I was. At least Grace seemed to know some of the answers. I was glad she was my girlfriend.
“Werewolves helping vampires?” Victory asked and laughed again.
“So,” Darren interjected, “how much of the stories about vampires and werewolves are true? Are you mortal enemies? Do you need silver to kill a werewolf? Can we kill vampires with a wooden stake? Do you hate crosses and garlic?”
“I wouldn’t rely too much on what you know from movies and books,” Gunnor said. “Most of it is wrong. It is hard for humans to kill supernatural beings unless they use some type of magic. Or,” he looked to me and Lily, “if magic can’t affect you at all. If, for example, Lily was going to chop off a venefici’s head with her ax and they tried to use magic to stop her, she could just brush off their magic, walk up to them and chop off their heads.”
“That wouldn’t work with a vampire or werewolf though,” Hunter said. “Venefici rely heavily on their magic. Other than that, their reflexes, speed and strength are comparable to a human’s. Werewolves and vampires are much faster and stronger than humans. You couldn’t just walk up to Gunnor and chop off his head.”
Gunnor smirked. “No. She couldn’t.”
“You have to have a weakness though,” Darren said.
There was a pause as we all waited for the vampires or Grace’s family to respond.
Jin leaned forward and stared at us intensely with his red eyes. “Since I think some trust is in order on our part as well as on yours, I will tell you. The best time to kill a vampire is when they are feeding. We tend to get lost in the moment and are unaware of our surroundings. That would be the best time to walk up to us and chop off our heads.”
“So chopping off your head will kill you?” Darren asked. There was no hint that he ever intended to use this information. He was just excited to find out information about supernatural creatures that none of us thought were real. With the exception of Grace’s family of course.
“Chopping off almost anyone’s head will kill them. There are some beings that are an exception.”
“So chopping off the head of a werewolf will kill them too,” Darren said.
Jin nodded in confirmation.
“Werewolves and vampires aren’t exactly known for getting along,” Grace said. “Why are you going to them for help?”
“They are the closest creatures that actually stand a chance against the venefici.”
“They aren’t exactly known for helping others,” Hunter said. “They threatened to kill me when we wandered into their territory and told me if I ever returned, they would kill me. They don’t think of the zombies as a threat.”
“They don’t need to feed from humans like you do,” Victory said. “Why did you think they would help you?”
“The problem is most supernatural beings don’t see the zombies as a threat,” Gunnor said, “but the venefici gathering and stealing the souls of humans to strengthen their magic should be a threat to everyone.”
“Is that what they are doing?” Lily asked aghast.
Jin shrugged. “We don’t know for sure until we go check it out for ourselves, but traditionally, venefici have strengthened their individual magic in this way. So to be clear, our plan before you showed up was to go to the werewolves for help and take down the nearest RU in? venefici setup. We hoped to learn more information, if it is just regional – and we have seen a few of them so we know it isn’t just one – or countrywide or even worldwide. We need to stop them from getting too powerful.”
“And maybe they will know who or what is behind the zombies and how to stop it,” Gunnor added. “I think they created the zombies though.”
“How would your plans change if we stayed here?” Mrs. Smith asked.
“If you decided to stay here,” Jin said, “we would hope the dragons and the magicless humans would help us. One of us could stay here with the rest of you to protect you.”
“Why would you want us exactly?” I asked pointing to myself and Lily.
“Having someone along that the venefici can’t hurt or charm with magic would have a lot of benefits,” Gunnor said.
“I couldn’t go with you,” Hunter said. “The werewolves said they would kill me if I returned.”
“Then you can wait outside their territory while we go in and ask for help,” Jin said. “I’m assuming that threat wasn’t extended to our human friends here.”
“No,” Lily said, “they didn’t threaten to kill us. Just Hunter.”
“And what if your brood comes here to kill you while we are gone?” Hunter asked. “We can’t just leave behind the rest of our group to be food for your brood. You can protect them from zombies and other humans, but not your entire brood.”
“We have a secret way out if our brood comes looking for us,” Jin said. “We will keep them safe. If you agree, Gunnor will go and I will stay. You can leave as many people here as you want and take as many people as you want.”
“I wish there was a way where the two groups could communicate with each other,” Mrs. Smith said.
“There is,” Jin said. Gunnor and Jin exchanged another glance. “If Gunnor and I exchange blood, we can hear each other’s thoughts.”
“It has been a very long time since either of us had sustenance,” Gunnor said, “we would need to drink human blood first.”
The room went very quiet.
“Of course,” Jin said, “you can just go on your way and forget about all of this. Go back out in the winter amid the zombies, venefici, and whatever else is out there that wants to kill you.”
“Will you allow us some privacy to discuss it?” Hunter demanded more than asked.
“Of course,” Jin said. He stood up and left with Gunnor. I didn’t know how far they went, but no one said anything for awhile. Even the three boys sat quietly at the table. Mrs. Smith put the pan with the remaining stew on the floor and Molly lapped it up eagerly.
“So should we leave?” Hunter asked.
“And go where?” Mrs. Smith asked. “At least here the zombies stay away. And how are Arthur, Juan and Marcos going to survive the winter out there with zombies trying to eat them?”
“Don’t want zombies to eat me,” Marcos said sadly.
Hunter sighed and put his forehead on the table. Victory patted his back and Grace stroked his hair. I looked at Lily and Mackenzie.
“I don’t want to go back out there,” Mackenzie said quietly.
“But if we stay here,” Victory said, “they will want to drink from us.”
“I’m okay with that,” Maria said and raised her hand.
“Me too,” Darren said.
Hunter sighed audibly again. His forehead was still on the table.
“Maybe we can wait until spring and leave then,” Mrs. Anderson said.
“If it was my plan,” Grace said, “I wouldn’t wait until spring to take out the venefici. The longer they wait, the more powerful the venefici get.”
“Stopping the venefici can’t be solely up to Jin and Gunnor,” Richard said. “Other people must have thought about it too.”
“Most humans don’t know about the venefici,” Victory said.
“And their brood isn’t taking this seriously and from the sounds of it, neither is the Lunar Eclipse wolfpack,” Grace said. “The venefici haven’t been much of a threat so not a lot of people will take the threat seriously now.”
“What about military, the police, government?” Richard asked. The zombie apocalypse couldn’t have wiped them all out.”
“There isn’t a close military base,” Hunter said as he finally lifted his head.
“And when the green light first flashed in the sky,” Lily said, “and the zombies began, it seemed completely random who turned into a zombie. And a lot of people turned into zombies all at once. The police, government and military would have all been affected by that.”
“But eventually they would have gotten organized,” Richard said.
“Some governments might know about venefici,” Hunter said, “but most of the smaller governments probably don’t. Even if there is a police or military presence who know about the venefici and supernatural beings, they will be focused on the zombies, protecting people and dealing with groups like those men in the woods who wanted the women of our group. And the venefici will get stronger.”
“Okay,” Richard said, “but Gunnor and Jin can’t be the only ones who see the venefici as a threat and want to stop them. What if the venefici aren’t even behind this?”
“They might not be,” Hunter said, “but they are getting more powerful by charming and gleaming magic off the humans that are lured into the RU in? places. There might be others trying to stop them too, but we don’t know that.”
“So you do want to help them,” Richard said.
“No,” Hunter said. “But I do think the venefici need to be stopped. I don’t want any of you to be food for the vampires, but I also don’t really have a right to stop you if you have an understanding and are okay with it. I also agree that some of us,” he looked at the three year old boy, “shouldn’t go out there again.”
“So we’re going to tell them that we’ll help them?” Grace asked.
Silence filled the room. I wasn’t sure if everyone was waiting for Hunter specifically to give his approval or if we were just waiting in general for someone to speak.
“I’ll go with them,” Hunter finally said.
“Me too,” Lily quickly agreed.
“But I don’t want to go back out there,” Mackenzie said and grabbed Lily’s arm.
“You won’t be,” Lily and I said at the same time.
Mackenzie looked at us. “So you’ll stay here with me?” she asked.
Lily and I exchanged a glance and I knew she was determined to go and I wasn’t going to let her go out there without me. I didn’t want my family separated again, but this time, she would be protected in a safe house and we would have a way to communicate with her group so we would know if anything happened.
“I think,” Lily said, “that since both Tanner and I are immune to magic, we both need to go. Victory will stay here with you.”
“But,” Victory started. She stopped when she saw both the looks Grace and Hunter gave her. “Neither of you are going to stay?”
Hunter and Grace looked at each other. “I think we will both go,” Grace said. Part of me was relieved because I didn’t want to be separated from her either, but another part worried for her safety. She was probably the least one I needed to be worried about though with her abilities with the bow and her being part dragon and being able to control the weather. “But one of us with powers should stay here,” she said to Victory. “It might seem like we are making you stay because you are the youngest, but you are actually the strongest of us and if something does happen – like the vampire brood comes – you are the better bet in fighting them and protecting these children.”
“And you don’t want to leave Mackenzie do you?” Hunter asked.
“No,” Victory said. “Fine. I’ll stay.”
“Then, I guess we need to decide who is going and who is staying,” Maria said. “If Jin goes, then I want to go. If he stays, then I’ll stay. He’s teaching me magic.”
“I want to learn magic too,” Darren said, “but I also want to go.”
“I’m staying,” Mrs. Smith said and patted the top of Marcos’s head.
“Me too,” Mrs. Anderson said.
“I’m not sure what I want to do,” Dr. Patel said.
“Me neither,” Dr. Higgins said.
“Let’s tell them our decision,” Hunter said, “and then the rest of you can take the time you need to decide what you want to do.”
“Excellent,” Jin said from the doorframe startling all of us. “Then I will stay here with the children and teach Maria magic and Gunnor can take the rest of you to talk with the werewolves. He can teach you magic too, Darren.”
I wasn’t sure how I felt about all of this, but at least there was a plan and at least it would feel like we were helping in some way.