I woke up sandwiched between Maria and Mackenzie. I carefully removed Mackenzie’s arm from around me and scooted out from between them before I stood up. Most everyone was still asleep. Gunnor and Jin sat side by side with their backs against the rock wall at the back of the cave. They didn’t say anything, but they both watched me as I got up and stretched my back. Alex slept at the end of our row of sleeping bags next to Hunter. Gunnor had still been taking him away from the rest of us at night to do whatever it was vampires did to make other vampires. His physical appearance hadn’t changed, but there was something different about him. The countenance around him was more similar to that of Jin’s and Gunnor’s than Mason’s and Elsie’s. His eyes hadn’t turned red, but sometimes when Jin or Gunnor drank from one of us, Alex’s nostrils would flare and he would swallow hungrily and look away. He was still eating with the rest of us, but he ate less than he used to.
Tanner and Grace sat together near the front of the cave. They sat just on the edge of the snow drifts. A soft, dull light streamed through the opening of the cave as the sun began to rise. I walked quietly towards them, but stopped when I got close. It didn’t occur to me until then that they might be having a moment and I shouldn’t disturb it. Tanner must have heard me or sensed my presence because he looked back at me. He smiled and patted the spot next to him. I continued those few steps and then sat next to him. He wrapped an arm around my shoulders. I was bundled in my coat because it was cold and we had been sleeping with our coats on underneath the sleeping bags. His arm around my shoulders gave me additional warmth. I was grateful we were in that cave because if we had still been outside the past few days during that snow storm, that would have been awful.
“It stopped snowing,” I said the obvious. I had actually been relieved that it had been snowing. I hadn’t admitted it to anyone yet, but I didn’t want to go face vampires that had tried to kill Jin and the rest of our group including my sister.
“Yeah,” Tanner said.
I heard people begin to stir behind us, but I didn’t look.
We didn’t vocalize what it meant now that it stopped snowing, but we knew. We would have to separate again. I hated being away from my siblings, Maria and the others, but now knowing the venefici used the souls of those turned into zombies for their magic, I couldn’t fully be at ease until I knew my mom’s soul and the others that were stolen were okay. That was probably going to be a long wait. I didn’t know how long or how far I would have to travel to insure that. It might take all my life. I really hadn’t thought this through completely.
Mackenzie sat next to me and hooked her arm through mine. She yawned loudly and placed her head on my shoulder. There was more movement behind us. I heard the crackle of a fire blaze back to life. Packs were rifled through. I heard the metal scraping of the pan and some cans being opened. Molly ran in front of us happily and licked each of our faces. Arthur stood near Mackenzie uncertainly. Mackenzie patted the spot next to her so he sat and stared outside with the rest of us. Victory quickly sat on the other side
We slowly went through our morning routine. When it was time to eat, we all sat around the fire with the exception of Gunnor and Jin who stood around our circle and watched us. When the pot was passed to Alex, he took it, looked at and then passed it on without eating. We all stopped to stare at him. “I’m not hungry,” he said.
“Not hungry in general or hungry for something else?” Maria asked. “Like blood.”
Alex didn’t answer but his eyes darted to Gunnor. Gunnor smiled widely but didn’t say anything. Jin said, “We’re going to have to find more people soon.”
After breakfast, I noticed Hunter slip quietly out of the cave. I followed him. It wasn’t safe for anyone to be alone outside anymore. He walked south from the cave and went several feet before he stopped by a tree. He didn’t do anything other than stare ahead. The snow shifted around my feet as I joined him. The snow reached my shins. At least it wasn’t deeper than that and wasn’t too difficult to walk in.
His eyes turned to me before staring out ahead again. I didn’t say anything as I followed his gaze. I didn’t hear any indication of zombies or vampires. Although, I wasn’t sure if we’d even hear vampires. I doubted it, but I thought Hunter would at least be able to sense them or smell them. I heard someone coming up behind us and then Darren was standing on my other side. He sighed as he looked out to where we were looking.
“I’m kinda scared to meet the vampires,” he admitted.
“Me too,” I said.
“Me too,” Hunter said in a whisper.
I reached out and took both of their gloved hands in mine. I sighed heavily. Darren did too.
“We’ll have to rely on each other more than ever,” Hunter said.
“Yes,” I said. “I trust both of you.”
They both looked at me then. Darren smiled. “I trust both of you too.”
“I don’t really know how much help I can be,” I said. “Darren is going to protect us with his barrier and Hunter with his lightning and I’m just supposed to stand there. I don’t know what use my immunity to magic does here.”
“Your determination is great, Lily,” Hunter said. “If anyone besides Jin can convince them to help us, it would be you.”
I wasn’t sure about that, but I said, “They probably don’t care that humans are being turned into zombies except now they’ll have less food. Except, now werewolves and other beings that are part human can turn into zombies too and if the venefici can do that much, and they want to rule everyone, it’s probably only a matter of time before they figure out how to make vampires into zombies too.”
“See,” Darren said, “You’re already convincing.”
It grew silent between us again. I still held their hands because they gave me strength and in that moment, I needed it. I needed their friendship. The sting of thinking of Hunter as just a friend didn’t hurt as much as it used to. Progress. I hoped both Hunter and Darren were having progress in that area too.
“My mom would be rolling in her grave if she knew I was about to voluntarily walk into a vampire brood,” Hunter said. Then he winced and pinched his eyes close. “Except, she doesn’t even have a grave to roll over in.”
Tears suddenly burned my eyes as I thought about how we had to leave our parents dead like that in that house. We couldn’t bury them or give them a proper headstone or a memorial.
“Lily,” Tanner called from behind us. I quickly blinked my tears away and dropped Hunter’s and Darren’s hands. I turned. Tanner stood at the mouth of the cave looking at us. He waved us back in. The three of us slowly made our way back to the cave. Everyone else was packing so we moved to roll up our sleeping bags and pack as well.
“Gunnor and his group will leave first,” Jin announced. “I think it’s best to give them a head start so if Alvina immediately sends out a search party for him when we arrive, they’ll be safer.”
I nodded. That made sense to me. And I was happy to delay walking into the vampire’s den that Jin and Gunnor seemed afraid of. The morning passed all too soon and I found myself hugging my sister and brother again saying goodbye. And I didn’t want to say goodbye to Maria and Arthur so soon either. Or any of them for that matter. It was going to be strange not to have Molly’s constant presence as she walked with us, warned us of danger and gave us sloppy kisses.
They took all the bikes with them and most of the packs. We stood at the mouth of the cave and watched them until we couldn’t see or hear them anymore. Then we went back inside and sat around the fire. The cave was empty with only the four of us left.
The day wore on and soon it was late afternoon. It was only then that Jin started to stir as if getting ready to leave.
“Maybe we should stay one more night in the cave to give them even more time,” Darren said.
Jin looked at him. “Is that really why you want to wait or is it because you are afraid to meet Alvina?”
“I am afraid to meet Alvina,” Darren said. “Aren’t vampires stronger at night or something?”
“Some are,” Jin said. “But Alvina and her brood are the same whether it is day or night.”
“Oh,” Darren said.
“Just do what I told you about the barrier and lightning and you will be fine,” Jin said. “If by chance, something goes wrong. You three need to run. Run while staying close to each other and keep the barrier and lightning going. I’ll try to hold them off for as long as I can. If they get by me, run to a large group of zombies or that large group of humans in the woods. They might distract the vampires long enough for you to get away. Understand?”
The three of us nodded. “Then let’s go,” Jin said. The three of us stood and followed him out.