Instead of staying on the road like we originally planned, we stayed hidden in the trees. After the first day of travel, it was clear that the zombies were no longer deterred by Gunnor’s presence. They didn’t attack him, but they would ignore him to try to get to the rest of us. He had taken it upon himself to tear off any zombie’s head that spotted us. He moved so quickly, he usually reached them before they could even groan. It was best to cut off their groans as soon as possible as the groans called more zombies into the area. So far we had managed to avoid any more large groups of zombies.
We also didn’t want to run into people who may or may not be human. At least, not until we met up with the werewolves. It wasn’t because we couldn’t handle them. With a vampire and two part-dragons in our group, I was sure we could handle any group of normal humans. But there were more than just normal humans in the world. Gunnor told us about a few of them each night when we stopped. Doppelgangers were real and went under several different names in several different cultures. And they were a lot more dangerous than they sounded. They could do more than just look like someone else. Humans with magic were real and though there were some who valued magic of nature and magic of balance, there were others that studied dark magic and blood magic. There were other weres than just werewolves. All the weres were predators, but there were werefelines like werelions and werejaguars. There were also werebears and werewolverines. Banshees were real. Many beings spanned many cultures under different names like skinwalkers were similar to werewolves. Then there was the wendigo and an array of other native american mythological creatures. We weren’t too close to any native american reservations, but that didn’t mean their mythological creatures that I now learned were not mythological were not around. Those were the only ones Gunnor, Grace and Hunter had told us of so far. There was so much more to learn.
Gunnor kept in contact with Jin so we knew our families were still safe. Gunnor relayed to Jin that the zombies would no longer keep away just because of their vampire presence. All of the zombies at the house had followed us that first day, but Jin made regular sweeps around the area of the house and killed any zombies he could find before they could become a problem.
While we traveled, Gunnor taught the others magic. There was a part of me that was jealous I couldn’t do what they were doing. Gunnor taught them mostly defensive magic. First was how to ward off charms. Darren already knew, but Monica, Richard, Arthur and Mike all learned quickly. The second was how to put up a barrier to keep out magic. That took longer for them to learn, but they all succeeded. Their barriers wouldn’t keep out non magical items like knives and bullets so they still had to be careful.
Grace and Hunter mostly stayed near me and Tanner while Gunnor taught the others. They had their own magic. Just because Tanner and I were immune to magic didn’t mean magic couldn’t affect us. If a venefici threw a chair at us using their magic, the impact of the chair hitting us would still hurt.
Gunnor told us that even though he was a vampire, he still needed to sleep. Vampires usually were nocturnal, but since most of us couldn’t see well at night, we traveled during the day. He only needed a few hours of sleep so he took a few hours at night with the rest of us to sleep. We all took turns keeping watch. We would take some time before night to practice with the bow and arrow. Arthur was surprisingly good at it for having only just begun to learn. Tanner was terrible at it. It was strange seeing him bad at anything. He was usually so good at sports.
Stars glittered above us through the empty boughs of dead trees and the green pines. Most of the snow had melted away over the past few days. We sat around a small fire waiting for the stew to warm up in the pan. Arthur absently stroked Molly’s head while she sat content beside him.
“We’ll reach the werewolves territory tomorrow,” Grace said. “Hunter and I won’t be allowed on their land.”
“We’ll work it out,” Tanner said. “Maybe some of us can go in and some of us can wait. Whoever goes in just needs to get permission for you two to go in too. I’m sure they’ll agree once they find out why we are there.”
“I hope so,” she said.
“When do you need to eat again or I guess it would be drink?” Darren asked Gunnor. Gunnor stood at the edge of camp looking off into the trees. “Technically not for awhile,” he said, “but if I want to be at my best, I should probably drink once a week.”
I did not miss the way Hunter suddenly swallowed and looked down at his feet. He didn’t like how easily Darren volunteered.
“I guess,” Monica said slowly, “that we should take turns letting him drink from us. With the exception of you guys,” she said to me, Tanner, Grace and Hunter. Tanner and Grace sat side by side holding hands. Hunter sat on the other side of Grace. “And Arthur is too young,” she said.
“Am not,” Arthur frowned at her.
“While some vampires would jump at the opportunity of drinking from a child, I am not one of them,” Gunnor said. “She is correct. You are too young.”
Arthur pouted, but did not argue further. Molly put her head in his lap and looked up at him lovingly with her big brown eyes.
“I’m fine with him just drinking from me,” Darren said. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was completely free from Gunnor’s charm.
“No,” Gunnor said. “Monica is correct. It will be easier on all of you if I drink from more than just one of you. You will deteriorate, Darren, if I drink from just you every week. A rotation of eight people would be ideal, but since there are only four of you that I can drink from, that should be sufficient.”
“What about us?” Grace asked.
Gunnor turned to look at her. “What about you?”
“You can drink from me and Hunter can’t you?”
Gunnor paused for a moment as he stared into her eyes. His expression never changed. Finally he said, “I can, but I didn’t think you wanted to. The experience will be different for you than for the others. I can’t charm you the same way.”
Hunter nodded. “But it will be healthier for the rest of them if we are added into the rotation.”
“Yes,” Gunnor agreed.
“I’ll add myself to the rotation too,” Tanner said.
Grace tugged harshly on his hand. “It will hurt you,” she whispered.
“It will hurt for a moment, I imagine, like getting stuck with a needle and having blood drawn, right?” All of our eyes went to Gunnor. He nodded. “Then I should do it to keep the others as healthy as possible,” Tanner said.
“Then I’ll do it too,” I said. “Then you’ll have the ideal number of eight and we will all stay healthy.”
“Yes,” Gunnor said. “If you four volunteer as well, even though it will be painful for you at first, then that will be ideal.”
“Then it’s settled,” Grace said as Mike opened his mouth. He quickly shut it. I wasn’t sure if he was going to argue with us or not, but that was the impression I got.
Molly’s body went rigid. She stood and stared off into the trees. Her hackles rose and she gave a low growl. The rest of us were instantly on our feet. Gunnor moved closer to us.
“Something’s coming,” he said.
“A zombie?” Mike asked as he readied his bow and arrow. I quickly took out my ax while Tanner readied his bat.
“I’m not sure,” Gunnor said. “It feels different.”
“It almost smells like . . .” But whatever Hunter was about to say was cut off as a zombie stumbled in through the trees. It was missing an eye and part of his eyebrow where it looked like he had been bitten. He stopped and stared at us before a growl escaped him. Not a groan or a moan, but a deep, guttural growl. And then he moved so fast I only saw a blur charging Monica.
Mike and Darren shot their arrows, but the arrows were too slow. Molly barked and jumped in front of Arthur. Right before the blur could reach Monica, a second blur cut off his path. Gunnor stood in front of Monica. He held the zombie by the neck. The zombie growled again, twisted and broke free from Gunnor’s grasp. I had never seen a zombie able to do that before either. It ran to the other end of camp and turned to face Gunnor again.
“What’s happening?” Monica asked as the zombie began to vibrate violently.
“Quick,” Grace called out, “everyone get between me and Hunter now.” I hadn’t noticed that Hunter and Grace had moved apart from each other making a wide space between them. I wasn’t about to question them. I grabbed Arthur’s hand and pulled him between Grace and Hunter. Molly followed us along with everyone else with the exception of Gunnor. He faced the vibrating zombie. The zombie fell to all fours and another growl escaped him as the muscles and bones in his body started to contort.
“What’s happening?” Darren asked.
Lightning crackled in front of Hunter and Grace. The sparks branched out and encircled us in a constant pulse.
“Werewolf zombie,” Gunnor said.
“That’s not possible, is it?” Richard asked. But even as he asked, fur sprouted from the zombie. His face elongated into a snout. Large claws extended from paws. He was still missing that same eye, but now it seemed even more menacing as the wolflike creature growled at Gunnor.
Gunnor tensed ready to spring at the werewolf. It’s fur was dark gray. It’s one eye was yellow. It was larger than any wolf I had seen. Its teeth and claws seemed longer, its muscles more powerful. It was more menacing in appearance than a normal wolf and that wasn’t just because it was a zombie. It moved with such speed that it was just a streak. Gunnor streaked to intercept, but another werewolf leaped out from the trees and cut Gunnor off. This one was tan color with green eyes. The eyes were intelligent, knowing. This one was not a zombie, but it was still stopping Gunnor from attacking the zombie werewolf. The zombie werewolf paused at the new arrival.
“We take care of our own,” a female, guttural voice came from the werewolf.
A third werewolf leaped out from the trees and landed on the back of the zombie werewolf. The zombie werewolf tried to rear back on its hind feet, but the third zombie – also tan with green eyes – bit into the back of the neck of the zombie werewolf and shook violently. There was a loud crack and the zombie werewolf collapsed dead. The werewolf stepped off him. He vibrated and muscles contorted, but it seemed an easier and less painful process than when the zombie werewolf had done it. Soon a young man stood before us fully clothed. The werewolf in front of Gunnor vibrated and changed back into a young woman. A young man and young woman I recognized.
“Hey, lizard boy,” Mason said. “Miss me?”