I sat at the back of the cave with Juan and Marcos. Sunlight streamed in through the mouth of the cave. Jin sat at the front of the cave. His eyes were closed. He had told us moments before that some of Alvina’s vampires were getting close enough that they might be able to smell us humans. It was not the first time he did this spell that put a barrier over the cave so the searching vampires wouldn’t be able to smell us and find us. He was physically recovered from the attack, but every time he did this barrier spell, it exhausted him and he had to drink from someone to regain his energy.
Marcos started to speak, but both Juan and I hushed him. He frowned at us, but quieted. Victory silently paced the cave. The three adults and Maria sat together near our packs. They all tried to hide it, but they were all getting tired too. Jin said he was drinking too much from them, but there wasn’t another option at the moment. He needed his energy to be able to protect the rest of us.
I didn’t like this new world. I wanted to go back to before Halloween when we still had classes and could hang out with friends, go to the movies, be safe in our homes. A time when my parents were still alive.
At least I hadn’t seen my parents killed in front of me like Juan and Marcos had with their mother and older sister. I missed my sister. And my brother. And Arthur. Jin said they were on their way back. I hoped they would get here soon and we could all figure out a plan together. And get away from Alvina’s vampires. As if zombies weren’t bad enough.
Victory paused in her walking to look at me. I tried to smile at her, but wasn’t sure I succeeded. She walked over to us and sat down next to me.
Jin sighed and opened his eyes as he dropped the barrier. His shoulders sagged and he yawned. It was weird to see a vampire yawn.
Maria stood up from her spot near the adults and walked over to Jin. “Here,” she said and held out her wrists. The adults didn’t even bother to try and stop her anymore. It was Maria’s turn in the rotation, but it was still too soon for it to be healthy for Jin to drink from her again.
Jin looked at her wrist before looking up into her face. “It’s too soon,” he said and gently pushed her wrist away. She crouched in front of him.
“You need energy if they come back,” she said and stuck her wrist out to him again.
Everyone watched them closely. Jin sighed and took her wrist in between his fingers. His canines elongated as he lowered them to her wrist. Red blood began to ooze out as he bit into her flesh. He quickly covered it with his mouth. When he was finished, he licked the wounds and they quickly healed. Maria went back to her spot by Mrs. Smith. She put her head on Mrs. Smith’s shoulder. Darren’s mom smiled kindly at her and wrapped an arm around Maria’s shoulders.
“We can talk now right?” Marcos asked.
“Right,” Mrs. Anderson said.
Marcos jumped to his feet. “Tag your it,” he said as he touched Juan on the arm before running away in a fit of giggles.
“Stay inside the cave,” Dr. Patel called after him as he ran straight to the opening. He veered off at the last minute and ran to the left wall of the cave.
Juan hopped to his feet, took several running steps after his little brother, but paused to look at me and Victory. “Are you two playing,” he asked.
She and I looked at each other. I could see in her eyes that she wanted too and I wanted to as well. We both stood slowly before Victory said, “Yes.” And then we took off in opposite directions.
Marcos’s little giggles filled the cave as we ran and took turns being ‘it’. Marcos wasn’t as fast as us so we gave him some leeway and pretended it was harder to catch him than it actually was. Juan was slower than us too, but he was good at getting one of us trapped to tag us.
We played for a long time before Mrs. Anderson called us over for dinner which consisted of cereal with no milk. Jin sat with us in silence. The sky was darkening outside as night came on, but it wasn’t just the night. Gray clouds filled the sky and there was a chill to the air. We were shielded from most of the chill while we were inside the cave. Which was good since Jin wouldn’t let us light a fire afraid it would let the vampires know where we were. Which was why we were eating cereal instead of something like stew.
We had just finished eating the cereal when Victory’s head swiveled to the mouth of the cave. Then she was on her feet and running towards the mouth of the cave as fast as she could. Jin stood and watched her, but didn’t try to stop her.
“Wait,” Dr. Patel called after her.
“It’s alright,” Jin said.
I only had one thought. That was how Vicky reacted when she was first reunited with her sister. I got up and ran to the mouth of the cave too. Victory was now outside the cave and running to a group of familiar people. Tears sprang to my eyes when I saw my sister and brother. I ran to them as fast as I could. Victory reached her siblings first and the three of them were wrapped up in a hug.
My sister reached me first and wrapped me in her strong arms. And then Tanner was there hugging both of us. I was vaguely aware through my tears that Mrs. Smith rushed out to meet Darren and Mrs. Anderson followed right on her heels to hug Richard. Maria was hugging Monica and the boys were hugging Arthur. Molly ran all around us barking happily. Dr. Patel and Dr. Higgins shook hands. Jin and Gunnor stood side by side watching the rest of us reunite. At some point, Arthur left the boys to join my family hug. We welcomed him. The boys were now hugging Richard’s legs. He picked them both up and hugged them.
“Let’s go inside,” Jin suggested. “We’re too exposed out here.”
“Alvina is still searching for you?” Gunnor asked.
Jin nodded and led the way into the cave. We all followed. I wouldn’t let go of my sister’s hand. She held mine tightly. Tanner followed us holding hands with Grace, but he was always close to me.
“I’ve had to put a barrier over the cave a few times to hide us when the other vampires have gotten close. How’d it go on your end? Were you able to discover anything?” Jin asked.
His eyes landed on another young man trailing slowly behind all of us. I recognized him as one of the people who had given us backpacks so long ago. I didn’t remember if anyone had said his name.
“Alex,” Mrs. Anderson said to the young man.
“Hello, Mrs. Anderson,” he politely greeted.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“He’s one of the werewolves that helped us,” Richard said.
I took a step closer to my sister. He didn’t look scary, but werewolves were scary, right?
“Another reason for Alvina to hate us,” Jin said, but he didn’t seem disturbed by this.
“For working with werewolves?” Maria asked.
“No,” Gunnor said. “For making a vampire/werewolf hybrid.”
No one said anything as we stared at Alex. Of course, those that had been with my sister didn’t seem to think this was a big deal.
“He was bit by a zombie,” Monica finally said. “It’s the only way to stop him from turning into a werewolf zombie.”
Jin had told us that was a thing now. That beings like Victory or werewolves that were part human could now turn into zombies if they were bitten.
“Is it the venefici behind all of this then?” Dr. Patel asked.
We all sat as they relayed their story. Marcos tried to pay attention but he soon got bored. He stood up and started to play tag with Juan. Arthur and Molly joined them. My sister’s group told us that the venefici were the ones that started the zombies. They stopped the electronics and they were stealing human souls to advance their magic. They wanted to dominate everyone including vampires.
“Alvina might listen to us now with this new information,” Jin said.
“She might listen to you,” Gunnor amended. “She wouldn’t listen to me.”
Jin nodded. “She might listen to me and agree to help us stop the venefici. Do you think the werewolves will help us?”
“I don’t know,” Gunnor said, “Erik was pretty upset with me that I let Alex get bit and even more upset that I am making him a vampire/werewolf hybrid. They exiled him from the pack.”
“None of those things were your fault,” Alex said. “My complacency is what got me bit and it was my choice to become a vampire/werewolf hybrid instead of a werewolf zombie. I didn’t want my soul stolen by the venefici to be used in their magic.”
“Then,” Jin said, “first I’ll go to Alvina. I can escape again if she doesn’t agree to it. I think she will though.”
“I think she’ll be more amicable if you had first hand accounts,” Gunnor said. His eyes drifted to where Lily, Darren and Hunter sat.
“No,” I immediately said. “My sister can’t go out again.”
“We’re all going to have to go out at some point,” Lily said like it was no big deal. “We can’t stay in here forever.”
“That doesn’t mean you need to go with them and put yourself in danger,” I pleaded. I couldn’t stop the tears that came to my eyes. I quickly wiped them away and tried to pretend they were never there.
“Maybe we should all go,” Tanner offered as if that was better for me, but it wasn’t. I was terrified when the vampires had chased us down those tunnels. If it hadn’t been for Victory’s magic, we would have all been vampire food. And I didn’t think those vampires were going to be as nice to us as Gunnor and Jin if they caught us.
“No,” Gunnor said. “The fewer the better. If we all go in, you’ll just be sustenance for them. And they’ll kill me and Alex without waiting for an explanation. If it’s just Jin and a handful of others Alvina will at least listen first. Darren is extremely good with his barrier spell. He was able to use two separate barriers over Lily and Tanner and move it along with them. Lily needs to go because of her determination and I think it will be good to show Alvina we have humans on our side that are immune to magic. And I think it would be good to show her we have dragon magic on our side. If Lily and Hunter stay inside Darren’s barrier and Hunter uses his lightning magic to surround the outside of the barrier, the vampires won’t be able to hurt them.”
Jin nodded. “If I can show her these three and she is agreeable to listen, she might be more open to the rest of you and a vampire/werewolf hybrid to fight the venefici.” He looked directly at Gunnor and said, “If I go and leave you here with everyone else, you can’t hide them from other vampires like I can.”
“I know,” Gunnor said. “I don’t think we should stay here. We ran into a large group of humans that were being commanded by tricksters.” Jin raised an eyebrow at this, but didn’t interrupt as Gunnor continued. “The rest of us could move closer to that group so any vampires looking for us will mistake them for us. They’ll attack the larger group first.”
“I don’t want to go back out there,” I hadn’t realized it was me that spoke until everyone was staring at me.
Victory put an arm around my shoulder. Tanner said, “I’ll be with you, Kenzie.”
“I know,” I said. I looked at Lily, “but she won’t. What if something happens to her?” I hated that I was crying again.
Lily moved to me and wrapped me in a tight hug. “I’m going to be okay, Kenzie,” she said. “But if I can help, I have to go. I can’t stand the thought of mom’s soul being trapped and the venefici using it for their magic. What happens to her then? Does she just become nothing? I can’t let that happen. You understand right?” She pulled back to look me in the eyes. And I did understand, but that didn’t mean I liked it. I nodded.
“Then,” Jin said. “We’ll move out in the morning.”
“It’s snowing,” Marcos said and pointed to the mouth of the cave.
“Okay,” Jin said, “maybe not the morning if it is still snowing. We’ll leave when it is clear.”