Molly ran up happily to Mason and ran all around his legs. He gave her a small pat on the head before she bounded back to sit by Arthur’s feet.
“I’m assuming since you have a vampire with you, the humans now know there are evil beasty creatures in this world,” Mason said easily. “We no longer have to hide that we are werewolves.” He indicated his sister and himself.
“Since when do werewolves turn into zombies?” Hunter asked unfazed.
Mason and Elsie looked down at the dead werewolf at their feet.
“Since that last green flash,” Elsie said in a serious tone.
“The lone wolves have decided it’s not so bad to be part of a pack,” Mason said. “Erik has welcomed them. Even the few werecats around have asked if they can be part of the pack.”
“I’ve never heard of that before,” Gunnor said. “They must be desperate.”
“Werecats are usually solitary or in pairs,” Elsie said. “They don’t want to be out here alone now that they know they can turn into zombies too. Werecats and werewolves don’t usually get along, but Erik has come to realize how dire the situation is. It’s better to have werecats in our pack than to have them fighting us as zombie werecats.”
“Speaking of weird creatures being in places they don’t belong,” Mason said, “why are you with this bat man and why does it look like you are heading back to our territory? And by bat man I don’t mean Batman. I mean a vampire that can turn into a bat. I remember Erik expressly telling you, if you returned, he would kill you.”
“You can turn into a bat?” Darren asked Gunnor excitedly.
“No,” Gunnor said. “While it is true some of us can shapeshift not all of us can. I can’t. And certainly not into a bat.”
“Things are a little different now,” Hunter said to Mason, “or haven’t the zombie werewolves been clue enough?”
“Where are your sisters and the rest of you?” Elsie asked.
“They are safe,” Gunnor said.
“We found the vampires in a house,” Monica said. “The zombies stayed away from the house. We thought they were safe there with the other vampire.”
Mason and Elsie scoffed. “Safe with vampires?” Mason asked. “And you agreed to this?” He directed this to Hunter.
“They are safe enough with us,” Gunnor said.
“Victory is with them,” Hunter said.
Mason’s and Elsie’s eyes flickered from Hunter to Gunnor and back again.
“If you say so,” Mason finally said. “I wouldn’t leave my sister with a vampire though.”
And I was concerned with my little sister’s safety all over again. I had never met a vampire before Gunnor and Jin. They indicated they were different, but was the other half of our group really safe with Jin? They did say their brood might come looking to kill them.
“So what are you doing here?” Elsie asked.
“I want to ask for the alpha’s help in eradicating the nearest venefici setup,” Gunnor said.
“Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Mason said.
“They are luring the humans and stealing their souls for their magic,” Grace said.
Mason sat near the cooking stew. “I’m all for stopping that,” Mason said. He stirred the stew. The smell reminded me that I was hungry. Molly went next to Mason and sniffed the stew. He patted her absently with his free hand. “Convincing Erik is a completely different story.”
“It’s unprecedented that the venefici would gather and work together like this,” Hunter said. “Their magic grows stronger and stronger while everyone just focuses on the zombies.”
“Like I said,” Mason said, “I’m not the one you need to convince.”
Elsie didn’t come nearer to the rest of us. She looked over her shoulder back to the trees. “We should take Randall’s body back,” she said to her brother.
Mason sighed and stood up. “Stay here,” he told us. “We’ll go back and tell Erik you want to meet with him.”
“You probably won’t hear from us until tomorrow,” Elsie said. “We’ve scouted the area and Randall was the only close zombie.”
“Keep a watchful eye, though,” Mason said. “Just because there aren’t zombies here now doesn’t mean that more can’t wander in.”
Elsie picked up the body of the zombie werewolf and easily slung it over her shoulder with one hand. Molly started after them, but Mason bent down to pat her again. “You did a great job guarding your owner,” he told her. “Your job isn’t finished yet though. Stay with him.”
Molly wagged her tail happily as she ran back to Arthur. Arthur scratched her behind the ear. We all stood there and watched as Mason and Elsie retreated back into the woods.
“My sister and the others are alright, right?” I asked Gunnor.
“Jin hasn’t notified me that anything is wrong,” Gunnor said.
“Can we even trust that you are really in communication with him?” I asked.
“It is a common trait vampires have,” Hunter said. He sat in the spot by the stew Mason just left. “And we did see him and Jin drink from each other before they left. They would have that connection now.”
“And I think we would somehow feel if Victory was really in trouble,” Grace said. “Or at the very least, we would know if she traveled from where she is now.”
That eased my mind. I sat next to Hunter. When the stew was done, we ate it, gave the last bit to Molly and then figured out the watches. Tanner and I would take the last watch. I crawled in my sleeping bag between Tanner and Monica and quickly fell asleep.
Darren woke me with a light shake on my shoulders and a blush on his cheeks. He smiled at me before he turned to go to his own sleeping bag. Richard was waking up my brother. Gunnor stood at the edge of camp staring out into the trees. Grace and Monica naturally shifted closer to each other to fill the gap my brother and I left.
I left my ax loose at my side in case I needed it. Tanner had his baseball bat. It was still dark in the early morning. The cold air stung my cheeks and I wished I was tucked safely back in my sleeping bag. A little fog of white mist appeared every time I breathed out. I pulled the hood of my coat up around my face.
The sky was just beginning to lighten when Gunnor left his spot to stand closer to those of us still sleeping. Molly sprang to her feet and ran happily to the trees just as Mason, his sister and Mason’s best friend Alex.
There was rustling behind me and I looked to see Grace and Hunter crawling out of their sleeping bags.
“No need to get up on our account,” Mason said. “You can sleep some more, lizard boy.”
“Stop calling me that,” Hunter frowned, but that just made Mason smile.
“But dragon boy doesn’t have the same ring to it,” he said.
The others were now getting up.
“What did your alpha say?” Gunnor asked.
“Elsie will take you in and anyone else who wants to join you,” Mason said. “Except Hunter and Grace have to stay here.” He looked apologetically to Hunter. Hunter just shrugged as if he expected it. He rummaged through a pack and took out a couple cans of soup to start breakfast.
“Mason and Alex will stay with you,” Elsie said as if she were offering it to be friendly instead of being ordered to by Erik, but I was sure we all knew the truth.
“He can only handle so many animals in his territory,” Mason said. “There are already cats. Now he’s welcoming bat boy here. I guess he just couldn’t handle the addition of lizards.”
“I’ll go with you too,” Darren offered.
“Me too,” Arthur said. Molly wagged her tail as she went from Mason to Elsie to Alex. They each patted her affectionately.
“I’m going to stay here,” Tanner said. He took Grace’s hand in his.
“I think the less the better,” Mason said, “but,” he looked at me, “I do think he might listen to you more if you had one of your humans that was immune to magic go.”
“I’ll go,” I said.
“Excellent,” Mason said. He sat next to Hunter who was pouring the soup into the pan. “What kind of soup are we having?” He sniffed the contents in the pan. Hunter just sighed. Alex sat next to Mason, but didn’t say anything.
“Then, shall we go?” Elsie asked. She headed back to the trees. Gunnor quickly followed her along with Arthur and Molly.
“Be careful,” Tanner said to me. He took my hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“I will,” I said.
“And you be careful too,” Richard said to Darren. “Remember what you learned about warding off charms and putting up a magical barrier.”
Darren nodded. “I will.”
“Werewolves can’t charm,” Alex said absently as he too sniffed at the soup. Then he pulled out a piece of jerky and began to gnaw on it.
“Still remember,” Richard said.
“Got it,” Darren said.
Monica stood close to Richard as they all watched us leave.
We didn’t say anything as we made our way through the trees. I didn’t see a path, but Elsie clearly knew right where she was going. It wasn’t a short walk. Two hours later, the sun was up and we were finally passing through iron gates. It was strange after hiding and sneaking through towns to see people going about their daily lives among their neighborhoods as if there wasn’t a zombie apocalypse happening. Some children around Arthur’s age stopped to stare at us.
Elsie led us to an enormous wooden mansion. People stared at us as we went inside, but no one stopped us. The inside was just as busy with people moving about as the neighborhoods had been. She led us to a closed door. She opened it and indicated we should go inside. We filed in with Gunnor coming in last.
We weren’t the only ones in the room. There were ten other people in the room. Three were children. The rest were adults. The children had been sitting on the floor playing a board game, but they stopped when we came in. The adults had been sitting on the couches and chairs, but they stood up when they saw us. Molly stood in front of Arthur to guard him. She didn’t growl, but she was wary.
“What is this?” a woman asked. “We were told we could meet with the alpha today. Not a vampire.”
“He’s going to meet with you all at once. Kill two birds with one stone. Play nice.” As soon as Elsie was finished speaking she left us alone with the new group of people.
“Werefelines,” Gunnor said easily and sat comfortably in one of the chairs while the rest of us were left staring at each other.