Chapter 23 .

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Since Lily was directly in front of me, I knew she was alright.  I looked around for Grace.  Panic welled up inside me when I didn’t immediately see her.  When I turned, she was directly behind me.  I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close to me.  Her arms came around me and she gently patted my back.

“It’s alright,” she whispered to me.  “The fight is over.”

It had been hard for me when I first had to kill zombies.  They were once human.  It was more difficult with the venefici.  Even though they weren’t human, they looked human.  I didn’t want to get used to a life where killing human-like beings was normal.  I didn’t like how good my sister was at it.  I was glad Mackenzie wasn’t there.  I was glad she didn’t have to see any of this or be part of it.

The weres shifted back to their human forms.  Blood that wasn’t theirs covered their hands and faces.  Gunnor wiped the blood off his mouth with the back of his hand.  When he had drunk from Jin and Darren, it had been clean.  There hadn’t been any traces of blood left on his mouth.  But this time it had been so brutal.  It had been brutal with those men out in the woods too, but not nearly to this extent.  It was like he went overboard this time to make sure all the venefici were terrified of him and maybe the humans in the back too.

The curtain at the back shifted and there was a little whimper.

“It’s alright,” Darren said.  He crossed carefully over the dead bodies to the back.  Richard and Monica followed them.  Hunter watched them closely, but didn’t follow.

“It’s okay,” Darren said as he opened the curtain to look inside.  “You’re safe now.”

“Safe?” a woman’s hysterical voice cried out.  “Those monsters killed everyone.”  There was a heavy sob.  I pulled Grace tighter to me.  She squeezed me back.  Lily watched us.  I held one arm out to her and she stepped into our hug.  I held them both close to me.  A wave of sadness washed through me as I suddenly missed my parents.  I wished I could have said goodbye or seen them or something.  But at least I had my sisters.  And Grace.

“They saved you,” Darren said.  “Those people weren’t human.  They were venefici.  Evil, supernatural creatures that look human.  They were going to steal your souls and use it for their magic.”

“That’s absurd,” a man’s voice said.

“Is it really though?” Dr. Higgins asked as he, Arthur and Molly arrived at the curtain.  “Zombies exist and you’ve just seen a vampire and werewolves and werefelines.  Is it really that hard to believe after all of that?” Lily pulled away from me and joined the others at the back.  Gunnor and the weres watched from the middle of the building, but did not move closer.  Hunter slowly made his way to join Darren.  Grace pulled away from my embrace, but left an arm circling around my back.  I draped my arm around her shoulders.

“They were protecting us from the zombies,” another woman said.  “Now we have no protection.”

“I don’t recognize any of you,” Darren said.  “Granted, I was charmed when I first came here, but still I think I would recognize some of you if you were here then.  What happened to the others who were here before?  Did the venefici take them somewhere?”

There was a long pause before a man said, “I don’t know.”  His voice was confused, not defiant.

“Sarah?” a woman called out.  “Sarah,” more desperately.  “I don’t see her.  I don’t see my little girl.”

“They took her away yesterday,” a child’s voice said.  “Don’t you remember?  She fell asleep and wouldn’t wake up.  They said they would take her somewhere safe where she could keep sleeping.  They did that with the others too.  Don’t you remember?”

“Did we kill all of the venefici?” Gunnor asked the rest of us quietly.  “I wanted to question one of them.”

“We killed everyone we went up against,” Zoe said.

“Us too,” Elsie said.  Her eyes watched Alex.  His eyes hadn’t gone back to their normal human color when he shifted back to his human form.  They were the pale inhuman blue like they were when he was in his werewolf form.  He stood one step behind Gunnor and made no move to rejoin his fellow werewolves.

“Maybe one of the venefici I hit with the baseball is still alive,” I said.

I started to walk to the last venefici I bashed with my bat, but stopped when Lily said to the people in the back, “I think it might be too late for those they took away.”  A woman started wailing.  “I think we killed most of the zombies on our way here so you should be safe,” Lily continued.  “There is a weapon shop across the street where you can gather supplies just in case.  You need to leave here.  Other venefici might come to see what happened.  It isn’t safe here for any of you.”

“But what about my baby?” the woman asked in between tears.  “What about my Sarah?”

“If the venefici took her away,” Gunnor said loudly enough for those in the back to hear, “then they already stole her soul.  It’s too late.”

“Nooo,” the woman sobbed.  

Grace slipped her hand in mine.

“If I can somehow free the souls before they use up the magic,” Lily said.  “I’ll do it.”  She had said something similar to Arthur.  I knew she meant it, but I didn’t know how feasible it was.  But if they were behind the zombies, and were using the souls of those who once were human, I also didn’t want them to use my mom’s soul like that.  So I would help my sister in any way I could.

“Come on,” Lily said.  “Let’s go across the street and get you some weapons.  We need to get more arrows too.”  Lily reached her hand beyond the curtain.  A moment later, a woman stepped out.  A girl about ten years old was with her.  Others followed them.  Lily led the way to the door.  Gunnor and the weres stepped back allowing the frightened humans their space.

“What if there are more zombies out there?” Arthur asked.  He, Richard and Monica brought up the rear.

“We’ll go with you,” Elsie said.  She tugged on the sleeve of Mason’s shirt and started after them.  

Mason paused and looked at Alex.  “Are you coming?”

Alex looked at Gunnor.  Gunnor didn’t say anything.  He didn’t look at Alex.  Instead he took a step towards me and the venefici I had been walking to.  “I’ll stay here,” Alex said to Mason.

Mason frowned, but followed Elsie and the others out.  The two werefelines stayed.

I made my way to the venefici and put my fingers to his neck.  I waited, but didn’t feel a pulse.  “I can’t feel a pulse,” I said out loud.  “Unless, you can tell a venefici’s heartbeat another way.”  They weren’t human after all.

“No,” Gunnor said.  “It’s the same as humans.”

“Then this one is dead,” I said.  I stood up and made my way to the first venefici I had hit.  I didn’t need to feel for a pulse with her.  I saw her chest rise and fall with her breathing.  “This one is alive.”

Gunnor was by my side in an instant.  “We will take her with us.  Tie her up.”

Alex went out the door.  A few moments later, he came back with rope.  Grace and I helped him tie up the venefici while the werefelines and Gunnor watched.  When we were through, Alex picked up the venefici and slung him over his shoulder.

We followed Gunnor out.  Our bikes and supplies were where we left them.  “I’d like to resupply my arrows too,” Grace said to me.  

“I’ll go with you,” I said.  As I went with her hand in hand to the shop across the street, I listened for any sounds of zombies, groaning or shuffling feet, but there weren’t any.  Maybe we had killed all that were in this town.

“Let us go with you,” one of the strangers said to Hunter as we entered the shop.  Grace immediately pulled me to the section with the bows and arrows.

“That’s not a good idea,” Hunter said.

“Why?” the stranger asked.

“You’ve got children with you,” Lily pointed out.

“So do you,” one of them said.

“Arthur has more than proven himself,” Lily said.  Arthur stood up a little straighter at that.  He patted Molly’s head.  She wagged her tail happily next to him.

“Instead of following us,” Mason said.  A few of the strangers shuffled away from him even though he wasn’t close to them.  I wasn’t sure why they even wanted to come with us when they were so clearly afraid of our werewolf friends, “you should find a safe place in this town to hold up.  We’ve killed all or at least most of the zombies in the area.  Band together and make this a safe place.  It’s possible.  Just don’t do it close to this RU in? place.  Like we said earlier, more venefici might come to find out what happened.  You don’t want to be near it.”

“I’m done,” Grace said to me.  She had stocked up on several more arrows as well as a bow repair kit. 

I nodded.  “We’re heading back out,” I said to Lily.

“We’re ready,” she said.

She and the others followed us.  “Wait,” the strangers followed us out.  “If you ever come back this way, you will be welcomed,” one of them said.

“And if you can find my daughter,” one of the women said.  She took Lily’s gloved hand in hers, “please save her.  Or at least her soul if that is all you can manage.”

“I will try,” Lily said to her.

“Let’s go,” Gunnor said as he walked out of the RU in? cafe.  I hadn’t realized he had gone back in.  Alex and the werefelines waited by our bikes with the prisoner.  As we started our way back down the street there were gasps and yells behind us.  Most of us turned to look.  Gunnor and Alex kept going.  The cafe was on fire.  No one tried to put it out. 

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