Chapter 22

Darren

“Don’t use magic on these two,” the woman who had first charmed me yelled.  “They are immune.”  I felt sick to my stomach being back in that place.  I was ashamed at how easily I had fallen for their charms and deceptions.

“Darren,” Gunnor called out.

“Got it,” I replied.  It was time for me to protect Lily and her brother.  I wouldn’t let anyone hurt them.

I formed barriers around each of them just as I had practiced the night before.  I stayed where I was and managed to maintain the barrier around myself.  Richard and Arthur both eyed me closely, I assumed to make sure I was ok.  I was at the moment, but I didn’t know how long I could maintain all three barriers.  Especially if there were a lot of attacks Lily’s and Tanner’s way.

Mason and Elsie regrouped by darting behind Richard’s and Monica’s barriers.  A rush of fire almost singed them, but hit the barriers instead.  The werecats were attacking one of the venefici’s barriers with relentless attacks.  When he would try to attack one of them with fire or electricity, they would jump lightly out of the way while the other one attacked the barrier.

My focus went back to Lily and Tanner as they each moved.  It wasn’t easy keeping my concentration on their barriers as they went in different directions, but it was also something we had practiced the night before so it was possible.

Lily headed towards the leader of the venefici, but she was cut off by another one.  The young woman Lily now faced was the same one who had kept refilling my cup.  The venefici pulled out a knife.

But it wasn’t just Lily I needed to pay attention to.  I also needed to protect Tanner.  I moved the barrier with him as he shifted away from Lily towards another venefici.  This venefici also pulled out a knife.

Both venefici moved not quite in sync, but close enough.  They stabbed at my friends.  I felt the contact with my barriers.  My barriers jiggled slightly, although I was the only one who knew that.  They didn’t break and successfully repelled the knives.

“What?” the venefici in front of Lily managed to get out before I dropped the barrier around Lily’s ax only.  The ax easily entered the venefici’s barrier as Lily chopped the woman’s neck.  I quickly looked away, but wasn’t fast enough.  I still processed the half severed neck.

The venefici in front of Tanner was quicker to process the fact that his attack failed than the venefici in front of Lily had been.  He quickly retracted his knife and tried to stab again in the same place.  Maybe he thought he could make a hole in my barrier.  My barrier held up with no problems.  The venefici retracted his knife, angled it to a different area to attack, but before he could Tanner stepped fully into his barrier.  I had thought my barrier would clash with the venefici’s and that I might actually lose my barrier when they stepped into the venefici’s.  I had warned both Lily and Tanner last night not to step into their barriers.  But what I feared would happen didn’t.  My barrier simply slipped into the other barrier as I made it follow Tanner.  I wasn’t sure if it was my magic or the fact that magic didn’t affect Lily and Tanner, or if the venefici’s barrier was lacking.  Or maybe a combination of all of them.  As Tanner stepped through, he bashed his bat into the venefici’s knee.  The venefici cried out in pain and dropped to the floor as his knee gave out on him.  Tanner didn’t hesitate as he lifted the bat and bashed it into the back of the venefici’s head.

I moved the barrier around Lily as she stepped towards the leader again and the barrier around Tanner as he stepped over the venefici he just killed.  The leader of the venefici stayed where she was.  Her lips turned up into a smirk as she watched Lily approach.  She didn’t even care that Gunnor and Alex just killed another of her companions or that the werecats got through the barrier of another venefici or that Mason and Elsie were also very close to getting through another barrier.  Another venefici stepped in front of Lily and blocked her path.

The leader’s eyes turned to me.  A tingle went down my back as her smile disappeared and her eyes narrowed.  Her hand shot out in my direction.  There was a glint of metal.  Something coming right at me.  I didn’t lose my focus on Lily and Tanner.

Right before it could hit my barrier, a brush of wind went past me and sent the object hurling to the left where it skittered across the floor.  It had been a knife.  Hunter stood in front of me.  His eyes were gray.  Little red scales had formed around his eyes.  And for the first time that I had seen, red scales lined his fingers.  His fingernails were slightly elongated and sharpened.  Not to the same extent as Gunnor’s, but I had never seen Hunter like that.

“Concentrate on Lily and Tanner,” he said.

“Got it,” I said.

“I’ll protect you,” he said.  He turned to face the leader and crouched low almost coming to all fours like the weres.  Luckily neither Lily nor Tanner had moved much in those few moments so my barriers were still mostly around them.  Tanner had begun to step beyond his, but I quickly shifted it to move along with him.  Grace was now directly beside Tanner.  Her eyes were the same stormy gray as her brother’s, but the little scales around her eyes and fingers were teal.  The colors of their scales matched the streaks in their hair.

Hunter rushed forward, but I had to trust he could take care of himself because the venefici in front of  Lily was trying to stab her in the neck.  The knife hit my barrier.

“Stop, monsters,” someone shouted from the back.

“Leave them alone,” another person shouted.  From beyond Lily and the others, the humans were coming out from the behind the curtain.  They threw cups and unlit candles at Gunnor and the weres.

“Stop it,” Dr. Higgins called out from his spot near Arthur.  “We’re trying to help you.”  Molly barked as if trying to agree with Dr. Higgins.

Neither Lily nor Tanner looked at the humans.  All their attention was on the venefici in front of them.  From the corner of my eye, I saw Hunter rushing the leader.  Lightning crackled from his hand to zigzag it’s way to her.  A force of power rushed out from her scattering the lightning and hitting Hunter.  The force pushed him along the floor back to me.

“Are you alright?” I asked him.  I was aware that he was at my feet, but did not look away from Lily.  She tried to swing her ax into this venefici’s neck, but the venefici grabbed the handle and held it at bay.  Her face strained as it was now a battle of strength.  She was strong, but I wasn’t sure she could win that standoff.  

“I’m fine,” Hunter said.  He scrambled back to his feet.

“I think Lily needs help,” I said.  I moved the barrier with Tanner as he stepped into another venefici’s barrier.  Grace was near him hitting that venefici’s barrier with an onslaught of wind.

More humans came out from the back.  They threw whatever was handy at Gunnor and the weres including bean bags which did little more than annoy those they hit.

“On it,” Hunter said and he dashed towards Lily.

“Stop killing them,” another human shouted as Tanner bashed in the head of the venefici in front of him, as Mason and Elsie got through a barrier and let their claws tear the venefici inside apart.

Hunter was directly behind Lily now.  Instead of trying to bring the ax down on the venefici, she suddenly pulled backwards.  The venefici lost his balance and fell forward.  She immediately brought the ax into his back.

The leader’s smug smile disappeared as she realized there was only a handful of them left.

The humans charged with no real weapons.  Gunnor turned to them and hissed.  He bared his fangs, his eyes glowed red.  Venefici blood dripped off him in several places.  He held a severed venefici head.  “Go back and hide and we won’t hurt you.”  There was almost a feral tone to his voice.  The humans froze.  “Keep moving forward,” Gunnor said, “and we’ll tear you apart.”  He lifted the head for emphasis.  The humans screamed and ran into the back.

Something hit me with such force that I fell onto my back.  I couldn’t breathe.  I blinked up at the ceiling unable to focus on anything.

“Darren,” both Monica and Richard yelled.  And then Arthur’s child form was standing protectively over me and a dog’s tongue was licking my face.  I took in a breath.  

“Lily,” I muttered and glanced her way.  All my barriers were down.  I managed to get Lily’s and Tanner’s up just as Tanner stepped into another venefici’s barrier and Lily finally stood in front of the leader.  Hunter was right beside her.

“Are you ok?” Arthur asked me.  He didn’t look down at me.  I sat up and scooted next to his legs so I was in his barrier.  Molly continued to lick my face.

“I think so,” I said.  I still wasn’t sure what hit me, but I couldn’t look down and see if I was injured, I had to keep my concentration on Lily and Tanner.  I no longer bothered with a barrier of my own.  I was aware that Dr. Higgins, Richard and Monica had all moved closer to me.  They were now in a tight line instead of spread out.

Lily stepped into the leader’s barrier, but immediately hopped back as the leader swiped a knife at her stomach.  Lily stepped through again and tried to bring the ax down on the hand that was wielding the knife.  I wasn’t as uninjured as I hoped because a wave of dizziness came over me and in that moment when my concentration broke, the leader grabbed Lily’s hair and pulled her backwards and off balance.  She tried to bring the knife up to slice Lily’s neck, but rage like I’d never seen before fell over Lily’s face when her hair got pulled.  She got her ax up to block the knife.  Lily stomped her foot over the leaders and the leader let go of Lily as she stepped away.

Hunter was just outside the leader’s barrier.  His lightning arched all over it trying to snake it’s way in.  Lily tried to bring her ax down into the leader’s shoulder, but the leader quickly stepped to the side and tried to stab Lily’s arm.  She would have succeeded, but I had my barrier up around Lily once again and it slid against my barrier.

And then Tanner stepped through the leader’s barrier.  It was only then that I realized she was the only venefici left and Gunnor, the weres and Grace and Hunter circled her barrier looking for a moment they could step in.

The leader also realized this and realized she now had to face both Lily and Tanner.  Her form started to fade away.

“Don’t let her get away,” Hunter called out.  

Instead of trying to use their larger weapons when their siblings were so close, both Tanner and Lily hugged the leader using the fact that their bodies negated magic to negate the leader’s in that moment.  Lily hugged her from the front and Tanner from behind.  The venefici reappeared solid and screaming in frustration.  Her barrier was still up so the others couldn’t help.

“The knife, Lily,” I called out.  The venefici still held her knife in her hand, but her arms were pinned by both Lily and Tanner so she couldn’t use it.  I was afraid if either Tanner or Lily let go though that would give the opportunity to the leader to use that knife.

One of Lily’s hands slid down the venefici’s arm.  She got to the wrist.  She dug her fingernails into the flesh.  The venefici cried out in pain as blood began to ooze out.  She closed her eyes and tried to hold on, but Lily only dug in deeper.  The knife began to slip as the leader’s fingers began to weaken.  Lily’s hand quickly slid down into the leader’s.  For a moment it looked like they were holding hands.  Lily grabbed the hilt of the knife and tore it free of the venefici’s grasp.  In the next movement, Lily stabbed the venefici’s leg.  Lily let go of the venefici completely as the leader cried out in pain.  Lily took a short step back and swiped the knife across the venefici’s stomach.  When Tanner let go, Lily cut the venefici’s neck in one deep line.  The leader fell dead.  There were no venefici left standing.  We did it.

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