The room was filled with a heavy silence. The werecats watched us carefully. Gunnor didn’t seem to care. Molly kept her distance from them. She was on edge as she paced back and forth in front of Arthur. Arthur was between me and Darren as we sat squished together in a loveseat next to Gunnor’s chair.
“What kind of business does a vampire have with a werewolf,” one of the women in the group finally asked. “I can’t imagine it’s to join the pack.”
Gunnor smirked. “No. It’s not. I guess if Erik is going to meet with us all together, then you’ll find out soon enough.”
The woman frowned, not satisfied with his answer. She turned her attention back to the children.
“I won,” the smallest of the children said.
“Not really,” one of the other children said, “but we’ll say you did.” They set up the board for another round, but before they actually started, that same child asked Arthur, “Do you want to play with us?”
Arthur looked from Darren to me. I shrugged. He slowly slid off the couch and sat on the floor next to the other children. Molly whined at this, but slowly crept forward. She settled on the floor next to him with her side pressed into his back.
The children played the game two more times while the rest of us sat in silence and watched them. The children had no issues getting along with each other. The four of them laughed together not aware of the glances the adult werecats were giving Gunnor – wary and tense.
They were just setting up for the third game when the door opened. Erik and Salene strode in followed by two other people. The room was filled and that wasn’t just because it was crowded with people. Erik’s presence alone filled the room. I could feel it like little tendrils that branched out from him until it occupied all the spaces including the space I was currently in. Everyone in the room was standing except for me and Gunnor. Gunnor watched those standing with a smirk on his face. The werecat children hid behind their parents. Arthur came back to stand between me and Darren. Molly ran up to Erik wagging her tail fiercely. Erik smiled down at her and patted the top of her head. She then happily ran to Salene who did the same. It was only then that Molly returned to Arthur’s side.
Erik grabbed a chair and moved it so it was almost in the center of the room. He was in a position where he could easily see all of us. When he sat, the werecats, Darren and Arthur sat. The three werewolves who came in with Erik, including Salene, stood behind him.
“We’ve discussed your request,” he said to the werecats. He didn’t indicate the people behind him, but Salene and the other two men stood a little taller and I assumed they had been part of the discussion.
“We won’t make you part of the pack,” he said. “We can’t know what affect your werefeline magic will have on the pack magic, but my pack is my first responsibility and I can’t risk that. Werefelines and werewolves were not meant to get along.”
The adult werecats visibly deflated. Their shoulders drooped. Their eyes fell to the floor. Their oldest child reacted in a similar manner knowing what that meant.
“You can join us,” Gunnor easily offered the werecats. “I can tell you how to get to our house where my counterpart currently is along with the rest of the children and adults of their group.” He indicated me and Darren.
“I wasn’t finished speaking,” Erik said to Gunnor. It was low and deep. It didn’t sound angry, but his energy changed. I felt it over my skin. Little bumps lifted on my arms and a pulse went down my spine.
I surmised there must have been some magic to it because Darren and Arthur held onto each other and seemed to blend in with the couch. Molly cowered on the floor. The werecats took a collective step back and shrank into each other. The three werewolves behind Erik tensed. Their reactions were more extreme than mine had been. Gunnor just blinked lazily at Erik. He sat on his chair completely at ease, unlike the rest of us. That made me wonder if Gunnor was more powerful than we first realized. Him and Jin. Vampire or not, the way Erik’s magic was affecting the others, it should have affected Gunnor in some way too. It didn’t. And I knew next to nothing about vampire broods, but maybe it wasn’t easy to leave a brood. Maybe the fact that Gunnor and Jin could leave theirs meant they had power too.
Gunnor casually waved an arm for Erik to continue. Erik’s jaw clenched and unclenched. He took a deep, steadying breath and the energy changed again. Everyone with the exception of me and Gunnor took a collective breath.
“We can’t let you into the pack,” Erik said, “but you are welcome to stay here until this whole thing blows over.”
Erik paused. Everyone else with the exception of me and Gunnor tensed. Erik took a moment before he continued. “We can provide you with shelter, food and safety,” he said to the werecats.
“Guess you have a lot to think over,” Gunnor said to the werecats. “You have two offers of where you can stay. But,” he turned his attention to Erik, “this isn’t going to ‘blow over’. Which leads to why I am here. Have you heard of the RU in? cafes?”
“We saw someone spray paint the words RU in? on the school building when we left the Halloween party,” Erik said. “It was imbued with magic, but we didn’t pay it much attention. My people have told me a little about the RU in? cafes. We are self sufficient here. There is no reason for us to worry over a few magical setups in human towns.”
“You have noticed the green flashes of light in the sky,” Gunnor said. “You are without electricity and electronics. And you noticed with the last green flash, werewolves can now turn into zombies.”
Erik frowned at this, but didn’t dispute it.
“The venefici have set up these RU in? cafes in every town that I’ve passed through,” Gunnor said. “Darren and Lily here had a personal run in with them.” He paused and I realized he expected us to talk.
“It’s true,” I said. “I’ve seen two of them in two different towns and my brother had a run in with one on his way to meet us. Darren was enthralled with the place. He ended up going inside before Hunter and I could stop him and by the time we did find him, he was already drinking some strange liquid and refusing to leave. And it had only been about five minutes.”
“Darren,” Gunnor said. Darren’s eyes flashed to him. He and Arthur still clung to each other. “Werewolves can’t charm,” Gunnor said, “but their leaders do possess a magic that makes you obey them or cower in front of them or swear absolute fealty to them. You are not a werewolf. You are not in his pack. You can brush off this effect like you do with charms. Just let it slide off you.”
Darren nodded. He sat up a little straighter and took a deep breath. His eyes were clearer. He still held onto Arthur, but now it was in a protective, comforting manner.
Erik raised an eyebrow. “It seems like you’ve learned a lot since the short time I’ve seen you last.”
“This new world forces you to learn quickly,” I said. “To survive.”
Erik nodded. “And why do you come to me with this information?”
“Because,” Gunnor said, “the venefici are using these cafes to steal humans’ souls and grow in power. While the rest of the world is focused on the zombies, they grow more powerful. They have always been solitary and suddenly just as the zombies appear, they all stand together unnoticed.” Erik opened his mouth to respond, but Gunnor went on before he could speak. “If you think it can’t affect you and your pack, you’re wrong. It already has.”
Erik thought about this for a moment and then said, “So why have you come here?”
“I’m going to destroy one of these cafes,” Gunnor said, “and hopefully learn more. Are these cafes local? Worldwide? Are they the cause of the zombies in the first place? What is their end goal and how do we stop it? I can’t do this alone. I was hoping you would send some of your people to help. If they are the reason werewolves can now turn into zombies, don’t you want to stop it?”
Erik looked back over his shoulder to Salene. She gave no outward response other than a softening in her cheeks, but now that I knew werewolves could communicate telepathically, I suspected there was much more going on between them.
“I will discuss it with my council and get back to you,” Erik said. “And you,” he said to the werecats, “have a decision to make too. I’ll leave you to discuss it.”
He got up, moved the chair back into place and walked out. The other three werewolves quickly followed.