Chapter 26 .

Darren

There wasn’t one of us that didn’t have blood and gore over us.  My stomach rolled and lurched as I looked around at my companions.  Gunnor and the weres were unfazed, but the others all looked horrified as they looked at themselves and the rest of us.

Monica desperately tried to rub it off her coat, but she only spread it around more.  “I can’t get it off,” she said with a frantic edge to her voice.

“It’s alright,” Richard said.  He gently took her hand when her movements to get the blood off became even more urgent.  “Maybe there’s a stream nearby that we can wash off in.”

“There’s not,” Liam said.

Liam shifted into new, clean clothes.  The other weres followed his lead.

“What are we supposed to do?” Monica asked.  “We can’t just use magic to clean our clothes or change them like you can.”

“And it got on Molly too,” Arthur said.

“Why are you freaking out so much?” Mason asked.  “You’ve gotten zombie blood on you before.”

“A few splatters of zombie blood is a lot different than a girl that just exploded all over on us,” Monica said.

“There are working showers back at my house,” Gunnor said.

“It will take days to get back there,” Lily pointed out.

“I guess we can use our water to wash it off,” Richard said.  He started to pull out his canteen.

“No,” Grace said.  “That’s our drinking water.  Hunter and I will make it rain.”

“Good idea,” Lily said.  “Monica, you have soap we can use.”

“Right,” Monica said.  She slung her backpack off her shoulder and dug out a bar of soap.

Grace and Hunter stepped next to each other.  The color of their eyes changed to the color of storm clouds.  The sky was clear, but clouds started to form above us.  They were light and fluffy at first, but began to change to darker grey and hung lower in the sky.  The rest of us congregated around them.  The clouds broke and rain began to fall.  It wasn’t light gentle drops, but fast heavy drops.  It didn’t take long for all of us to be soaked.  The soap was passed around as we each took a turn scrubbing the blood off us.  We helped each other get blood out of each other’s hair and the back of our clothes that we couldn’t see.

When we were through, the clouds faded away and the sky was clear again.  “Thank you,” Monica said to Grace and Hunter.  The Sangs nodded to the acknowledgement.  

I looked at Lily.  She ran her hands through the tangles of her wet hair.  “Wait,” I said, “I thought magic doesn’t work on Lily and Tanner.”

“The lightning we used on the venefici wouldn’t have worked on them,” Hunter said, “but this magic was only used to form the storm clouds we wanted and then dispersed them.  The rain was real.  Like when Victory and I created the hail when we were running from all those zombies.  It was magic to create the type of weather we wanted, but then the hail was real.  Like the venefici couldn’t have hurt Lily with their magic, but they could have used their magic to hurl real inanimate objects at them and those objects would have hurt them.”

“I see,” I said.  I kinda understood, but I assumed the more I learned about magic and the different types of magic, the  more I would understand it.

“Alex,” Liam said, “you need to make a decision and you need to make it soon.  You cannot drink the vampire’s blood again until you decide and I can smell the zombie slowly taking over.  So, you can remain part of the pack until you die – I promise I will make a quick end of it once you turn into a zombie – or you can take this vampire up on his offer and become a hybrid and be cut off from the pack and your family and friends.  I will give you some time to think about it.”  Liam crossed to the other side of the camp.  He sat with his back against the trunk of a tree and closed his eyes.

“Come on, Alex,” Elsie said.  She gently tugged on Alex’s wrist.  “Let’s talk about this in private.”  Mason went with them as they went into the treeline.

“Well, the stew is ruined,” Dr. Higgins said.

“Molly will eat it,” Arthur said.

Dr. Higgins smiled at him.  “Then we’ll let her eat all of it and we’ll figure something out for the rest of us.  Maybe jerky or I do have a box of cereal we could just eat it dry.”

Arthur frowned.  “But it’s one of those healthy cereals with fruit in it.”

Dr. Higgins laughed and patted him on the head.  “It will give you energy.”

The fire had gone out with the rain.  Rain had made the stew more like a soup than stew.  Dr. Higgins pulled the pot over the dead fire and placed it on the ground in front of Molly.  She eagerly began to lap it up.  Her tail wagged happily.

“We need to start a new fire,” Monica said.

“Let’s go look for firewood,” Richard said.  She nodded and the two of them went off together to look for firewood. 

“You shouldn’t go alone,” Zoe called out.  She and Callie trailed after them.  Gunnor went to the opposite side of the camp from Liam.  He also sat with his back against the trunk of a tree, but he kept his eyes open and watchful on Liam.

Grace and Tanner went to Dr. Higgins and Arthur.  Hunter was with them.  My eyes followed Lily as she went to the side of camp that no one was at.  She sat on a rock and stared out into the trees.  I went and sat next to her on the wet dirt.  Dirt on the clothes was okay.  Blood wasn’t.

“Are you okay,” I asked her quietly.  We were far enough away from everyone else that they wouldn’t hear us if we spoke quietly.

“Yeah,” she said.  “Are you?”

“Yeah,” I said, but I wasn’t sure if I was.  Killing zombies was one thing, watching someone that looked human explode was something completely different.  “She tried to charm me,” I said.

“But you didn’t fall for it this time,” she said.

“I almost did,” I said.  “I didn’t recognize what she was doing at first.”

She put a comforting hand on my shoulder.  “But you did recognize it and pushed the charm away.  It was a good experience to help you recognize when someone is trying to charm you with magic.”

Her green eyes meant it and so I had no choice but to believe it as I stared into them.  I became distinctly aware of her hand on my shoulder.  Her wet gloves were on the ground in front of her.

“Thank you,” I said. 

She smiled and patted my shoulder before removing her hand.

“Can I kiss you?” I asked.  Her eyes widened and her lips turned down.  It was then that I realized how that sounded.  “Not like that,” I said.  “Just a peck on the cheek to show I’m grateful.  Nevermind,” I said and looked into my lap.  “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

She sighed.  “If I let you even if it were just as friends, it would hurt Hunter, so unless you’re going to give him a kiss on the cheek too, then I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

I looked over my shoulder to where Hunter was staring at us.  His eyes were back to their normal brown.  I turned back to Lily.  “He might get the wrong impression,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said in a tone that made me realize she was in that same position.

“Yeah,” I said and resolved myself to not bring up the subject again.

“I’ve been wishing I brought my makeup with me,” she said.  “Maybe if we looked like zombies we could walk among them without them attacking us.”

I looked out into the trees for any sign of movement as I thought about that.

“Then again,” she said, “I wouldn’t want to risk anyone’s life by trying that possibility.  If we ever spoke or sneezed they would know.  And maybe they’d know anyway.  Maybe it isn’t just sight and sound that makes them recognize us.  Maybe it’s our smell.  Or magic.  They are made from magic so maybe they recognize us through magic – or lack of it in mine and Tanner’s case – and if that’s the case, I don’t think there is any way we can disguise ourselves.”

“Maybe if we knew some really powerful human witches,” I said.

“Maybe,” she said.

“I wonder how that all works,” I said.  “Gunnor and Jin can teach us some magic, but wouldn’t it be better if we had actual witches or wiccans or shamans or any other humans that knew what they were doing to teach us?”

“Probably,” she said.  

There was shuffling in the camp behind us.  The weres and Richard and Monica had returned.  We stood up and went to join them.  Gunnor and Liam had gone to the middle of the camp, but it wasn’t Liam that Alex went to.  “If you turn me into a vampire/werewolf hybrid,” Alex asked Gunnor, “would you abandon me?”

“No,” Gunnor said.  “You can stay with me and Jin for as long as you want.  You wouldn’t be a prisoner or compelled to stay with us.  You’d be free to leave if you ever wished to.”

Alex nodded.  He turned to face Liam.  “I won’t allow myself to turn into a zombie and lose my soul,” he said.

Tears slowly trickled from Elsie’s eyes.  Mason swallowed hard and looked at the ground, but neither of them protested.

“Then say your final farewell to the pack,” Liam said.

Alex’s face twisted into sorrow for one brief moment before he nodded.  He knelt on the ground and closed his eyes.  The other werewolves did the same.  Several long minutes passed.  Mason and Elsie let out a mournful howl.  Liam’s eyes opened.  His eyes were the pale yellow of his wolf’s.  He stood and approached Alex.  His fingers came to either side of Alex’s head.  Alex’s eyes opened and were the pale blue of his wolf’s.

“Alexander Todd Winsome,” Liam said with the same command in his voice that had made the venefici speak, “as beta of the Lunar Eclipse Wolf pack I command that you are exiled.  Your bond is broken.  You are no longer pack.”

A shudder went throughout Alex’s entire body.  He collapsed onto his back when Liam stepped away from him.  His pale blue eyes stared blankly at the night sky.  Liam turned to Gunnor and said, “Do what you need to with him, whether that is kill him or turn him into an abomination is your choice now.”  He turned to the other weres and said, “Let’s go.”

“But they were sent to help us,” Dr. Higgins said.

“And they did,” Liam said with finality.  “Now they will return to the pack.”  Mason and Elsie immediately stood and retrieved their backpacks.  Zoe and Callie already had theirs over their shoulders.

“At least give Mason and Elsie a chance to stay goodbye,” Lily said.  

“They just did with the rest of the pack,” Liam said.

Alex stood with us as we watched the other weres retreating.

Gunnor went rigid.  His eyes glowed red similar to when he was killing people, but his face reflected pure terror.  In a blur he left the camp and into the trees.  A moment later he was back.  The weres stopped in their tracks to stare at him.

“What is it?” Hunter asked.

“Alvina found the house,” Gunnor said.

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