We decided we would travel along the back of the RU in? cafe instead of walking straight up to the front. We didn’t encounter any more zombies on our way, but it was clearer and clearer that the zombie bite was affecting Alex. Sweat dripped down his temples. He was pallid. The rim underneath his eyes had grown dark and hollow. Mason and Elsie kept looking at him with concern. The two werecats looked at him as if they might have to kill him at any moment. Gunnor seemed unconcerned. The rest of us stayed close to each other just in case.
Alex stopped and turned to look at Gunnor who had been walking behind him. We had all been keeping an eye on him so we all noticed when he stopped. Molly was extra close to Arthur since Alex got bitten. She stood so close to him now that she rubbed up against him. He patted her head gently.
“I’m not going to make it through the fight like this,” Alex said. “If I drink some of your blood, will that stave off the zombie effect?”
“Possibly,” Gunnor said. “Probably. Your alpha isn’t going to like it though.”
“It isn’t his decision,” Alex said.
Mason and Elsie exchanged a glance.
“I don’t think he is going to like that either,” Gunnor said. One of his fingernails elongated and he slid it over his wrist. Crimson blood oozed out. He held his wrist out towards Alex, but Mason grabbed Gunnor’s wrist and held it away from Alex.
“Erik will know,” he said. “And he won’t be happy.”
“A little bit of my blood now won’t make him a vampire werewolf hybrid,” Gunnor said. “The process takes a lot more blood and a lot more time than that. And there is a bit of vampire magic involved.”
“Will drinking a little bit of the vampire’s blood break his bond with his alpha?” Zoe asked.
“Possibly temporarily,” Gunnor replied. “It will bond him to me while my blood is in his system. It’s possible he will be bonded to both of us.” The cut on Gunnor’s wrist was beginning to seal. “I haven’t tried this before.”
“Erik will know,” Mason repeated.
“He already knows I’m turning into a werewolf zombie,” Alex said. “He’s been trying to talk to me, but I refuse to answer.”
Mason and Elsie exchanged another concerned glance.
Elsie’s hand wrapped around Alex’s tricep and she said, “You can’t drink his blood, Alex. You can’t break your bond with Erik and align it with a vampire.”
Alex ripped his arm away from Elsie and a rare display of emotion crossed his face as his brows knitted together in anger and frustration and his lips tightened. “Better than turning into a zombie,” he said. He grabbed Gunnor’s now healed wrist away from Mason and bit into it.
Gunnor didn’t flinch, didn’t seem surprised. A slow smile spread across his lips as he watched Alex drink his blood. His red eyes glowed. Mason and Elsie stood by helplessly. When Alex pulled away, he licked the blood on his lips. The glow in Gunnor’s eyes dimmed.
Mason and Elsie both cried out at the same time. They clasped their heads as if they hurt and dropped to their knees. Alex didn’t react at all except to look at Gunnor who blinked at him calmly.
“Their alpha is angry,” Zoe simply said.
I started to take a step to Elsie to see if she was alright, but just as quickly as they dropped to the ground, Elsie and her brother stood back up no longer in pain.
“Erik is sending Liam,” Mason said. His voice was strained.
“Who is Liam?” Tanner asked. “I mean, I know who he is. He and Erik were seniors when Grace and I were freshmen, but who is he in context of the werewolf pack? Why is he sending him?”
“He’s the beta,” Grace said. “If he is sending him, it is serious.”
“Alex,” Elsie started.
Alex stepped past her and continued on along the back of the buildings. He stopped when Monica tentatively asked, “Is his bond broken with the alpha?”
“No,” Mason said. “But it’s faint. Erik knows what happened.” He looked at Gunnor. “He blames you. Nothing was supposed to happen to us.”
“Alex could have gotten bit at any time by a zombie whether he was with us or not,” Gunnor said easily. “He said it himself that it was because of his own inattentiveness.”
“Erik won’t see it that way,” Mason said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Alex said. He had been facing away from all of us during this conversation, but he now finally turned to face us. “I’d rather be a vampire werewolf hybrid than lose my soul as a zombie.”
“Wait,” I said. Flashes of my mother as a zombie washed through my vision. “Is that what happens to the zombies? All of them? My mother? What happened to their souls?” I didn’t know if there was a heaven or not, but if what all these supernatural beings told me about souls was true, then there had to be somewhere souls went to after they died.
“My dad,” Richard said.
“And my family,” Monica said.
“And my family,” Arthur said sadly. Monica and Richard both looked down at Arthur who stood near them. Richard patted him on the top of his head. It seemed like Darren was about to chime in too, but at Arthur’s words he couldn’t.
“We don’t know that is what happens,” Hunter was quick to jump in.
“It is if the venefici are behind it all,” Alex said. “They will use the souls to fuel their magic. I will not be used by them.”
“Wait,” I said. The panic built up from the depths of my chest and seeped through the rest of me. “What happens to my mom’s soul then? To everyone’s soul?”
“Can we discuss this after we take out this cafe?” Alex asked. “We don’t know that the venefici are behind this. Your families’ souls might be fine. I’d rather get this taken care of before Gunnor’s blood wears off because if we are in the middle of a fight and I turn into a werewolf zombie, you’re all in trouble. I’d rather that not happen.”
Tanner took my hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. He gave me a comforting nod, but I could see the panic in his eyes too.
“Fine,” I said. But I was not going to forget. I needed to know what happened to my mom’s soul and if it was truly safe or not. I assumed my dad’s was not affected since Tanner and I took after him and magic could not affect him. He had died. He hadn’t turned into a zombie. Although, that simple fact made me lean more to the idea that the venefici were behind it. At least magic was.
I led the way along the back of the buildings. Hunter and Darren quickly stepped up to walk beside me.
“This is it,” Hunter stopped at the back of one of the smaller buildings.
“Where’s the backdoor?” Darren asked.
Unlike the other nearby buildings, there wasn’t a back door or even a small window. There was an indention in the outline of a door, but instead of a door, it was a solid wall.
“I really wish one of you humans was an experienced magic user,” he sighed. “You could have just quietly morphed their magic to create a door and let us in.” I noticed that Alex now stood close to Gunnor. Mason and Elsie kept giving him strange looks that I couldn’t decipher.
“Only the greatest of magic users could morph the venefici magic without informing them of our presence,” Grace said. “Even a group of normal wiccans would have a hard time doing it.”
“That’s why I said ‘an experienced magic user’,” Gunnor easily said. “We’re going to have to go back around and go to the front.
The werecats were the furthest back. They turned around and now led the way. Arthur left his spot in the middle of the group where he had been next to Dr. Higgins. Molly followed him as he came and stood between me and Hunter. Arthur looked up at me and then back at the ground as we continued on our way.
“My family,” Arthur whispered before his voice caught in the back of his throat.
I stopped walking and put my hands on Arthur’s shoulders so he would also stop walking and face me. I crouched a little so I could look him directly in the eyes.
“Arthur,” I said. Darren and Hunter stopped with us, but didn’t interfere. Tanner and Grace stopped when they saw we had stopped. It took the others a little longer to realize we had stopped, but when they did, they stopped.
“I promise,” I said, “if the venefici have our families’ souls, I’ll find a way to free them. I don’t know how. If I have to destroy all the RU in? cafes along the way, I’ll do it. Even if it takes years. Even if I have to travel across the ocean. I’ll find a way to do it.”
Arthur’s face set with resolve at my words. His shoulders straightened. He nodded. “I will too,” he said with none of the sadness or fear that had been in his voice moments before.
“That’s quite an ambitious promise,” Gunnor said. “One you might not be able to keep.”
“You’re going to help us,” I said. It wasn’t a question.
He raised a blond eyebrow at me as his red eyes studied me. Slowly a smile crept to his crimson lips. “Yes,” he simply said and then continued on his way. Alex was quick to follow.
“The venfici are going to see us coming,” Hunter said as the rest of us moved forward.
“Maybe I should just go alone at first,” Darren said, “like last time. They’ll think I’ve just been enchanted again. I can distract them so they don’t notice the rest of you until it’s too late.”
“No,” Hunter immediately said.
“Why not?” Darren asked. “I can ward off their charms, but pretend I’m charmed.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Hunter said.
“I agree with the dragon,” Gunnor said. “You are too central to our plan. If something happens to you, no one else can put barriers around Lily and Tanner.”
Darren’s eyes met mine. He blinked at me through his glasses. “Fine,” he said. “We’ll stick together.”
“Yes,” Grace said. “They’ll know we’re coming, but at least we’ll be together and not divided.”