“Are your kind behind the zombies?” Gunnor calmly asked the venefici.
She scowled at him and looked away. We had left the city and found a spot in the woods. We had waited for her to wake up. It didn’t take long after we had stopped. Her hands were tied behind her back. Her ankles were tied together so she couldn’t run away.
“What is the purpose of all these RU in? places?” Dr. Higgins asked.
The venefici turned to him and blinked lazily. She didn’t answer. She hadn’t said one word since she woke up.
Elsie snarled wolf-like, closed the distance to the prisoner in one short breath and grabbed her by the throat. Elsie lifted the venefici clear off the ground. She pulled the venefici’s face close to her own and growled, “Answer the questions or I will bite your face off. I will dig my claws into the soft flesh of your stomach and string out your entrails. My fellow weres and I will feast on your flesh.” Elsie’s eyes changed to the color of her wolf’s. Her teeth began to lengthen and sharpen. The venefici merely smiled. Elsie let out a howl and threw the venefici. The venefici landed hard on her back. She didn’t move as her eyes blinked at the tree canopy. I didn’t think Elsie hurt her and I didn’t think it was Elsie’s intention to hurt her. If she had really meant to hurt her with that throw, she would have thrown her into a tree or higher or further than she did. The venefici eventually sat up and stared at the rest of us as if she didn’t have a care in the world.
“She obviously is not intimidated by your werewolf tactics,” Gunnor said. “Let me try something.” Something around him shifted. I wasn’t sure if it was his aura or the air or what, but whatever it was, it brushed over me with no effect. The venefici however now watched Gunnor with rapt attention. And she wasn’t the only one. Dr. Higgins and Darren were the quickest to push off the effects of his charm. Richard and Monica were slower and it didn’t seem like Arthur had pushed off the effects at all. Molly brushed up against his leg and he absently patted her, but his eyes would not move from Gunnor. The weres and Hunter and Grace did not seem to be affected.
Gunnor slowly approached the venefici. He crouched low in front of her so he was eye level. He smiled and it was both kind and terrifying. “Are your kind behind the zombies?” he asked with a tone that oozed trust and charm. “Have you all banded together or only a few of you?”
“We are all under the same leadership now,” she said in a daze.
Gunnor’s smile grew wider. “And the zombies?”
Her eyes closed tightly. She shook her head and a shudder went through her body. Her eyes opened and they cleared where moments before they had been dazed. ‘Your charm won’t work on me,” she said.
He frowned and whatever it was that had shifted around him shifted back. Arthur blinked and turned his focus away from Gunnor. Gunnor turned away from the venefici and walked back to his original position.
“You’re all going about this the wrong way,” Richard said. He approached the venefici, but didn’t get too close. “What’s your name?” he kindly asked.
She didn’t answer him.
“Look,” he said, “you’re going to make it easier on yourself by answering their questions. We’ll let you go afterwards.”
“We will,” Richard gave Zoe a stern look. Zoe shrugged.
“Even if you let me go,” the venefici said, “one of your companions will find me in the woods and kill me. And even if by chance they don’t. My kind won’t let me live if I say anything.”
“Then join us,” Richard said as if it were that easy. “We’re a mishmash of beings anyway. Join us and help us stop the zombie apocalypse.”
She laughed. “Why would I want that? I don’t want that. You’re better off to kill me now.”
Richard said, “I was trying to help you. What happens to you if you keep being uncooperative isn’t up to me.”
“It wasn’t up to you anyway,” the venefici said.
“Did the venefici make weres vulnerable to being zombies?” Alex asked the venefici.
She looked at him. Her eyes scanned him up and down. A slow smile crept onto her lips. That smile sent chills down my back. Her arms tensed and her body moved slightly forward as if she were trying to reach for him. She frowned as the rope bit into her wrists. She stopped moving.
“Where are the souls you stole for your magic?” I asked. “How do we free them? What are you using them for? Where is your leader?”
“Lily,” Tanner said. He grabbed my wrist. I didn’t realize my voice had gotten louder until then. But I couldn’t let our mom’s soul be used up for magic. I didn’t know if there was a heaven or hell or people were reincarnated or what, but souls were real so there was some sort of existence after we died. What happened to my mother then? And Arthur’s family? And Hunter’s dad? And the daughter of the woman we had just left? The venefici had taken her away. What happened to the people they took away? I had too many questions. We finally had a venefici in front of us, but she wasn’t talking.
“I’m fine,” I said and tore my wrist away from Tanner’s grasp.
My eyes found Hunter’s. He watched me without judgement, perhaps even in solidarity. And then I realized Darren was staring at me too. His look was one of concern. But I was fine. I wasn’t losing it or anything. I was just desperate. He should understand. He lost people too. His step-father and most of his friends and who knew how many more.
“Your alpha is one of the strongest in the country,” Gunnor said to Mason. “How strong is your beta?”
“He’d be an alpha of any other pack,” Mason said.
Gunnor nodded. “That’s good then.”
“I don’t see how,” Mason said. “When he arrives, he is going to banish Alex and sever his ties with the pack. And he’ll possibly try to kill you.”
The venefici smirked at this. She studied Alex closely once again. She sniffed in his direction and her smile grew wider.
“I think she knows,” I said quietly to Tanner.
“He won’t try to kill me,” Gunnor said.
“Knows what?” Tanner said equally quietly.
“That Alex was bitten and turning into a zombie,” I whispered.
“He might try to kill you,” Mason said. “The entire pack can feel Erik’s anger towards you.”
“Even we can feel it and we’re not technically pack,” Zoe said.
“It’s not his fault,” Alex said.
“Wait,” Hunter said to everyone. He had been watching Tanner and me closely. I assumed he had overheard us even though we were speaking quietly. The weres and Gunnor probably would have too if they hadn’t been so focused on their own conversation. “Maybe we shouldn’t be discussing this so freely in front of her.” He nodded his chin towards the venefici. She frowned at him.
“Yes,” Gunnor said, “we should leave out the details on why your beta is coming. How far away is he?”
“If we don’t move, he’ll catch up to us by nightfall,” Mason said.
Gunnor nodded. “My charms don’t work on this venefici and she isn’t cowed by your werewolf threats. If your beta has strong leadership pack magic, which it sounds like he does, he might be able to use that magic to get her to speak.”
For the first time, the venefici seemed concerned. She squirmed and her eyes scanned all around her as if looking for an escape.
“Yeah,” Mason said. “That could work.”
Gunnor went to the venefici. He grabbed her by the back of the shirt and pulled her across the forest floor so she was once again in the middle of us.
“Then let’s setup camp here,” Gunnor said. “And hope when your beta arrives, he will listen to reason before he blindly attacks me.”
Mason nodded. “I’ll give him a heads up,” he said. His eyes glazed over as he communicated through their pack magic. The rest of us began to move to set up camp and make a fire. The venefici’s worried eyes scanned over all of us again. She wasn’t going to escape. None of us were going to give her the opportunity.