“Good,” Gunnor said to me. “Your barrier is strong enough to keep me and the werewolves out. It should be sufficient to keep the venefici out.”
“What about some offensive spells now?” I asked. I had tried to create fire in the palm of my hand several times, but was yet to be successful.
“I told you before I think you should stick with defensive spells for now,” Gunnor said. Mike and Arthur had been practicing their barrier spells together while Richard and Monica had been practicing their own barrier spells. Grace and Hunter were trying to teach Lily and Tanner how to use the bow and arrow just in case they needed it. Lily wasn’t bad, but Tanner was terrible. The werewolves were cooking dinner over a fire while the werecats just stared at them.
“But,” I said, “if I can make a fireball and throw it at the venefici . . .”
“They’ll counter it and you’ll have wasted your energy,” Gunnor interrupted.
I sighed heavily and sat on the forest floor. “I want to help in the fight against them,” I said. “I don’t just want to stand there with a barrier around me while everyone else fights.”
A few heads turned our way as our conversation continued. Molly ran up to me and licked my face. I patted the top of her head.
“You are the best out of all of them with the barrier spells,” Gunnor said.
I rolled my eyes and said, “You’re just saying that to try and placate me, but it’s not working.”
“I’m not just saying that to placate you,” Gunnor said. “I don’t really care how you feel about it. I care about finding out what the venefici are up to and stopping it. It’s in all of our best interest not to let them get too powerful. I say that because Tanner and Lily are defenseless. Just because magic doesn’t affect them doesn’t mean that the venefici can’t use their magic to hurt them. Your barrier can now keep out anything including things like solid objects that might be hurled at you.”
Now every eye was watching us. “What does my barrier have to do with Lily and Tanner?” I asked.
“I think you are strong enough in defensive magic that you can make three barriers simultaneously. One around you and one each around Tanner and Lily.”
If I could protect Lily that would be greater than me fighting with offensive spells. “But magic doesn’t work on them,” I said. The hope I had felt moments before deflated. I wanted to help her, but it didn’t seem possible.
“Your barrier doesn’t have to be connected to them,” Gunnor said. “This is going to be difficult and I think you’re the only one who can do it right now. You’re going to have to maintain your own barrier while keeping a barrier around each of them. Around them, not touching them. When they move, you are going to have to move the barrier with them. They can’t do that on their own and you can’t center the barrier around them and then forget about it because unlike the rest of us, they can easily move in and out of the barriers. They can move out of it without realizing it and put themselves in danger.”
“Maybe they shouldn’t even come in with us then,” Mike said.
“I wanted them to specifically come with us,” Gunnor said. “They are our greatest asset against the venefici. The venefici can use real objects to hurt them, but the venefici won’t know that at first. They will try to hurt them with their magic and the magic won’t hurt them. Out of all of us, they have the best chance to get close to the venefici and kill them.”
“Then what’s the point of Darren putting a barrier spell around them?” Richard asked.
“I was actually thinking,” Gunnor said, “that Tanner and Lily would be our secret weapon. Darren doesn’t need to put a barrier around them at the beginning of the fight, only as the venefici figure out their magic doesn’t work on them. They can do a lot of damage in those minutes when the venefici haven’t figured it out.”
Molly left my side and went to Arthur. Arthur sat quietly next to Mike and watched the exchange.
“Can you kill them?” Mason asked Lily.
She looked at him, but didn’t answer.
“Because,” Mason went on, “it isn’t the same as killing zombies. They look human. They act human.”
“I could have killed those men in the woods to protect Mackenzie,” Lily said.
“But Mackenzie is supposedly safe with Jin,” Mason pressed. “She isn’t in direct danger from the venefici now.”
“They charmed Darren,” Lily said.
I wished people would stop bringing that up. It was embarrassing. And part of me was ashamed I hadn’t seen through it.
“If what Gunnor tells us is true, then they would have used him up for their magic. They’ve killed who knows how many for this purpose. I won’t hesitate,” Lily said and my heart swelled. She was awesome.
“I hope so,” Mason said skeptically. But if Lily said she could do it, then I believed her. She had proven herself countless times since Halloween night. That felt so long ago, but it really wasn’t. The world had changed so quickly.
“What about you guys?” Monica asked.
Mason pointed to himself and said, “What about us?”
“Don’t you guys want barriers too?” Monica asked.
“Naw,” Mason said. “They’d just get in the way. We can move faster than humans and venefici, we’re stronger and we heal faster. We’ll be okay.”
“I can’t imagine you’ve gotten into too many fights with venefici,” Richard said.
“No we haven’t,” Elsie said, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re doing.”
“The weres can handle themselves,” Gunnor said. “Just as I can. They aren’t the concern. Humans are fragile, soft, slow, often stupid and yet they are vital to the world.”
“Thanks?” Monica said uncertainly.
“So,” Mike said, “Gunnor and the weres will attack the venefici and so will Hunter, Grace, Tanner and Lily. Are the rest of us just supposed to put up our barriers and not do anything? Seems kind of pointless for us to even go then,” Mike said. “With the exception of Darren who can protect Tanner and Lily.”
“You’re not pointless,” Gunnor said. “The venefici aren’t used to fighting humans and the humans they do fight use magic. You’ll come in, they’ll see your barriers and they’ll expect you to be human witches. They will protect themselves against magic. Their magic will brush off your barriers as you rush up to them and stab them. You could even shoot them as long as you are sure you don’t shoot any of the rest of us. They won’t expect it.”
“I imagine all the commotion we’ll cause will attract zombies,” Mike pointed out.
“Doesn’t matter,” Gunnor said. “As long as the venefici’s ward is up around the building, it will keep the zombies out. The ward will have to be dropped by a venefici and if we kill them all, there won’t be a venefici left to drop the ward.”
“So we could set up there and be safe from the zombies forever?” Mike asked.
Gunnor shook his head. “The ward will eventually wear off without a venefici there to keep it up, but it should stay up long enough for us to hopefully slip out without the zombies noticing.”
“Or,” Elsie said, “we could just stand at the door and shoot all the zombies from afar.”
“That too,” Gunnor said. “So, now that we have that established, where is the closest RU in? place?”
“You didn’t have one in mind?” Hunter asked.
Gunnor shook his head. “You have passed some on your way. Just tell me where they are.”
“The one we passed is further up the freeway,” Tanner said. “We’d have to travel days to get to it.”
Lily, Hunter and I exchanged glances, but none of us wanted to say. I didn’t want to go back to the place where I had been so foolishly and completely charmed.
“Tell me,” Gunnor demanded of me. His red eyes bore into mine. It wasn’t a charm or magic, but it was commanding. I didn’t have to tell him, but I did anyway.
“There is a place in Freemont,” I said. “We could get there tomorrow. But I don’t want to go back there. It’s where I was charmed.”
“Freemont it is then,” Gunnor said. He stood as if that settled that.
Hunter stood and faced him. “He said he doesn’t want to go.”
Gunnor ignored him and turned to look at me. “I understand your hesitation,” he said, “but what better way to prove to yourself and everyone else how far you’ve come. And the venefici will be less wary. They already know they charmed you once. They’ll think they can do it again.”
“You don’t have to,” Hunter said to me.
I stood up. “It’s okay,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
“Then for the rest of the evening you should practice putting the barrier around you and Tanner and Lily,” Gunnor said.
“We should come up with a name for our group,” Mason said.
“Like what?” Elsie asked him.
“Like that we’re against ghastly aggression,” Mason said. “No wait, aggressors. Against Ghastly Aggressors. A.G.A. That’s it. It’s perfect. What do you think, Alex?”
“Whatever you want,” Alex said as he watched the cooking stew.
“Elsie?” Mason asked.
“I like it,” Elsie said.
“Everyone else good with it?” Mason asked as he looked around the group.
No one said anything at first and then Monica braved a, “Sure.”
“Yes,” Mason said enthusiastically. “I knew you would all love it. That’s what we are now. The A.G.A. We should come up with a secret handshake too.”
“Don’t push it,” Alex said in a monotone voice.
“Got it,” Mason said and sat down next to Alex.
For the rest of the night, I practiced keeping a barrier around myself and Tanner and Lily while they moved around. It wasn’t easy. I failed several times at first, but eventually I got the hang of it.