The vampires had left us to give us more time to think about who would be going back out into the zombie infested world. But I knew what I was going to do. It frightened me when I looked back on it, how willing I was to stay at the RU in? place. At the time, I thought it would be best to bring everyone there, but I hadn’t been willing to leave to go collect them. I would have stayed there by myself if no one else had been willing to come. I would have left my mom and Richard and everyone else who needed me. If I was going to go back out there with the specific intent to going back to the RU in? place, I needed to be able to protect myself from that effect. I needed Gunnor to teach me.
I wandered the main floor looking for him, but I didn’t see him.
“I did it!” Maria exclaimed as I passed the living room. She sat on the couch next to Jin. Marcus and Juan had been running around the couches, but paused to look at Maria. There was a small, warbled ball of light in her hand.
“Very good,” Jin said with a smile.
Maria was now already doing magic and I had yet to even try. Gunnor was not on the main floor. I looked up the stairs. I probably shouldn’t go up them, but they hadn’t told us we couldn’t. Gunnor was most likely up there.
I started to walk up quietly and slowly. I winced when the stairs creaked. I paused mid step and looked up to the top of the stairs. I waited for any kind of sound or any kind of warning that I shouldn’t be doing this, but there was only silence. I continued onto the next step.
“What are you doing?”
Hunter’s voice caused me to jump, my heart raced and tingles spread through my limbs. I turned slightly to see Hunter behind me at the bottom of the stairs.
“You startled me,” I said.
“What are you doing?” he asked again.
“Looking for Gunnor.”
Hunter frowned at this.
“He’s supposed to teach me how to ward off charms,” I said.
Hunter didn’t reply. I waited, but at his continued silence, I continued up the stairs.
“You don’t have to,” he said much closer to me. I hadn’t heard him move, but he had and was now directly behind me. “I can teach you.”
“Really?” Gunnor said from the top of the stairs. I wasn’t sure when he got there. “Your magic is the result of your dragon ancestry. It isn’t the same as human magic.”
“It’s the same concept,” Hunter said.
“Not really,” Gunnor said with a smile that showed off his elongated canines.
“You’re not human either,” I said mainly because I didn’t want Hunter to feel bad.
“I was once,” he said. He took a step back as I reached the top of the stairs.
“There are other people who can teach you,” Hunter said as he came up beside me.
“Who?” I asked because no one in our group knew magic except for him and his sisters and Gunnor already said their magic was different.
Hunter hesitated. “He just wants to use you for sustenance.”
“I won’t deny that,” Gunnor said easily. “But I do also want to help you. Despite the evil reputation vampires have, I’m not the bad guy.”
“You are not going to use him for food,” Hunter said. “I can teach him magic. I’m sure we can work through it.”
“Why ‘work through it’ and make mistakes along the way when I can easily teach him?”
As the conversation grew more intense, I didn’t know how to interject myself. I didn’t want them to fight. It was a simple solution really because I wanted Gunnor to teach me. That was probably best for everyone. I wanted Hunter to be my friend, but nothing more than that. He already had a crush on me. Working together one on one would only enhance that and neither of us needed that. He needed to be getting over me.
“You have to charm him to feed off him or else it will hurt,” Hunter said. “I won’t risk the charm being permanent.”
“You have already charmed him and it had no lasting effects. He is fine.”
“You and I are different.”
“The charm won’t be permanent. There won’t be lasting effects. I’ll teach him how to ward off charms first. Then it will be his choice to let me charm him if he allows me to drink from him.”
“No,” Hunter said. He moved to stand between me and Gunnor.
“He does not belong to you,” Gunnor said. His tone was now dangerous.
Hunter’s shoulders deflated. He turned slightly to look at me. “No, he doesn’t,” he said quieter.
“So it’s his decision,” Gunnor said. Then he leaned in closer to Hunter and whispered, “Even if you love him, he won’t love you back.” Gunnor stood straight.
Hunter stood in front of me in silence. I wasn’t sure if Gunnor meant for me to hear it or not. It was whispered so quietly that I could barely hear it. I pretended I hadn’t.
“I need to learn how to ward off charms anyway,” I said. I placed a hand on Hunter’s arm and gently pushed him to the side. He complied and moved out of the way, but he didn’t leave me alone with Gunnor.
“Let’s go into the sitting room so we’re not standing out in the hall,” Gunnor said. He led us to an open door to the right. It was a smaller room than the sitting room downstairs and it didn’t have as many sofas and chairs. It was elegant, more so than the one downstairs. Sunlight streamed in through the windows. Unlike the tales, vampires obviously weren’t bothered by sunlight. Or if they were, I hadn’t seen any signs of it.
We didn’t sit. Gunnor stood in front of me in the middle of the room. Hunter stood slightly behind me and to the side, but close.
My focus was completely on Gunnor as he moved in closer. He smiled. His eyes bore into mine. It was safe in that space. Safe and warm like nothing could ever hurt me. The room lost its focus so that I only saw Gunnor. He seemed to light up almost as if he stood under the full moon’s silver light. His red eyes were inviting and comforting. There was nothing to be afraid of.
Gunnor’s hand reached out and touched my cheek. His hand was cold, but it wasn’t a cold that repelled. It was refreshingly cool like ice cold lemonade on a hot day.
“Do you know you are being charmed, Darren?” Hunter asked me. “Can you feel it?”
Gunnor’s fingers traced my eyebrow. My brows relaxed underneath his touch. I could just let him take care of everything. I didn’t have anything to worry about. I could not look away from his eyes as he stared into mine.
Hunter’s words didn’t register at first. When they did, I could feel it. It was warm and safe just like how I felt in the RU in? cafe. Like I wanted to stay there forever and let Gunnor take care of everything.
“Yes,” I said.
“Push away his charm,” Hunter said.
But I didn’t want to. Why would I want to go back to the cold, the uncertainty, to a world where my family and friends could easily die. Except in this state, I also couldn’t protect them. The RU in? cafe taught me that.
I didn’t want to but I did it. The safety and warmth slid off me like a snake shedding its skin. Gunnor’s hand dropped back to his side as his smile grew wider.
“See? It’s different than when Hunter charmed you isn’t it?” Gunnor asked.
It was, but I wasn’t sure if that was just because Hunter was commanding me to come out of my already charmed state. But if he had a crush on me, if he loved me, and hadn’t ever tried to charm me into liking him back, then he either had good self control or he didn’t have that ability in the first place. I wasn’t sure if I had the ability to charm Lily that I wouldn’t use it to make her love me. I hoped I wouldn’t. I was 99% sure I wouldn’t, but it would be a temptation. When Hunter had used it as a command to break the charm of the RU in? cafe, it hadn’t felt warm and safe and all inviting like it had with them or Gunnor just now. It had seemed like a friend was talking to me and making me realize I was making a terrible mistake.
Hunter sat heavily on one of the sofas. “You should keep practicing,” he said. “So you aren’t ever in danger of being charmed by the venefici again.”
“And maybe I can learn some offensive spells,” I said. “Like a fire ball or something.”
“I’m not sure a fire ball would be the best solution,” Gunnor said. “There is a chance of it spreading to targets you don’t want it spread to.”
“Vampires and werewolves don’t like fire,” Hunter said.
“Why? Can it kill you?”
“It takes more of it than it would to kill a human, but yes, if we continue to burn, it will eventually kills us. There are more effective spells. I will think on what is best. You should really concentrate on defensive spells though. Offensive spells from a novice aren’t going to do a lot to the venefici. You might have better luck using a barrier spell to protect yourself and then stabbing them to death.”
I nodded. “Whatever you think is best.”
Hunter frowned at this, but did not protest. Gunnor and I continued to practice and it got easier and easier to brush off the charm. Hunter watched us silently as we practiced.