My heart dropped and tripled its beating as the mansion came into view. Forms moved around it, blurs that would still for a moment into a human form and then blur again as they moved. The sun was beginning to set, but it was still bright enough outside to easily see everything.
“Barrier up, Darren,” Jin said from his position in front of us.
Hunter and I both stepped closer to Darren. I couldn’t tell when his barrier went up, but it must have gone up because Jin seemed satisfied.
“Be ready to put your lightning around the barrier if needed,” Jin said.
Hunter nodded, but Jin wasn’t looking at him. His eyes never left the mansion.
“Alright,” Jin said. “Let’s go.” He started to make his way to the mansion at a slow pace. We followed closely.
Several of the blurs rushed towards us. We were surrounded in a moment. Jin stopped moving as a male vampire came into focus in front of him. A female vampire stopped by my side. Her hungry smile sent terrified shivers down my arms. Her blood red eyes stared at me as if she could devour me just by looking at me. I stepped closer to Darren and bumped into his arm. His gloved hand wrapped around mine. I saw him reach out to Hunter who stood on the other side of him and grab his wrist. Hunter stepped closer to Darren. Another vampire stood to the side of Hunter and a fourth one stood behind us. The vampires all wore normal modern clothes, but on them the clothes looked wrong and made the vampires even more frightening. Maybe the fact that they wore short sleeves in the snow had something to do with it.
Elongated sharpened fingernails reached out for us on all sides, but stopped in midair. The smile on the vampire next to me widened. Her canines grew longer as I watched. The vampires moved constantly in some way. Small movements, small swaying that wasn’t human.
“Have you brought presents to make up for your insolence?” the male vampire in front of Jin asked him. The vampire’s eyes darted to the three of us behind Jin.
“No,” Jin said. He seemed at ease even though Darren, Hunter and myself were basically all cowering together behind him.
The vampire by Hunter’s side reached out for him. There was a slight shimmer in the air when his fingers met the barrier. Then his fingers were pushing through the barrier. Lightning immediately zigged from Hunter’s hand and snaked around the exterior of the barrier. The vampire pulled his hand back in a blur hissing in pain and in the next moment all the vampires except for Jin were hissing at us. Their eyes glowed red, their faces contorted in terrifying anger, their canines barred and the three around the barrier got closer without actually touching the barrier. The presence around them darkened and I found myself shaking as I pressed myself against Darren’s trembling arm. I fumbled with my ax but managed to bring it out between me and the vampire next to me. I was careful to keep it close to me so it wouldn’t pass through the barrier. I knew logically that I wouldn’t be able to wield it fast enough against the vampire, but it made me feel slightly better. My shaking stopped to a low tremble.
“If you’ve come to usurp the mistress, you’re going to need a lot more than these creatures,” the vampire in front of Jin said.
“I haven’t come to usurp anyone,” Jin said camly. He completely ignored what was going on behind him, but I didn’t think that meant he didn’t care about us. I got the impression it was because he was trying to look like he had complete control of the situation. He had told us beforehand what to do and we were doing it. “I need to speak with her.”
“She said if she sees you again she will kill you. Do you still want to see her?” the vampire in front of Jin asked.
“I have new information she needs to know,” Jin said.
The vampires slowly backed off moving in that unnatural way. I hadn’t realized how different Jin and Gunnor were until that moment. Thinking back to the first moment we met Jin and Gunnor, they had moved with this same creepiness, but as soon as we had gone inside their mansion that had changed. It was then that I knew they had purposely changed the way they moved to make us feel comfortable. I doubted the vampires around us now would give us the same courtesies.
Jin and the vampire in front of him stared at him for several slow moments while the vampires around the rest of us continued to taunt us with their hungry, angry expressions.
“Stay here,” the vampire finally said. “I’ll tell Alvina you are here.” He smiled a smile that sent chills down my spine. “Don’t be surprised when she orders us to kill you and to take in your creatures as our new meals.”
There was a blur all around us as the four vampires left and went back to the mansion. Darren, Hunter and I let out audible sighs of relief at the same time. Hunter let the lightning drop. I trusted that Darren kept the barrier up even though I couldn’t see it.
“Are you guys alright?” Jin asked us without turning to us or even moving.
I couldn’t find my voice to answer him, but Hunter said, “Yes.”
“Remember to run if you have to,” he said. “Even if that means leaving me behind. Keep the barrier up and the lightning around it, stick together and run until you find Gunnor.”
“It won’t come to that, right?” Darren asked in a shaky voice.
“I don’t know,” Jin said.
The blurs rushed out of the mansion and surrounded us again. “She’ll see you,” the same vampire who had spoken before said. “But you must go to her.”
There was a slight pause that felt like forever before Jin said, “Fine.”
The vampire turned and started walking slowly back to the mansion. Jin followed him. The other vampires pressed around us, but were careful not to touch Darren’s barrier again. We had no choice but to follow Jin.
The inside of the mansion felt a lot different than it had when we stayed here. It might have been because of all the vampires that moved inside. They moved in jerky movements, slow and then a blur and then a stop. It might have been because some of the vampires floated in the air and others crawled along the walls and ceilings like a spider, but the house itself seemed darker. Almost like the walls were pulsing and pressing in on us, like the ceiling could fall on us at any moment, like the furniture might suddenly grow teeth and take a bite.
We were led up the stairs. And up another flight of stairs. And a third flight of stairs. I hadn’t fully explored the mansion while we were here before, but I really didn’t think it had this many stairs as we kept going up.
The top floor was a large room with only one large chair set in the middle. Pillows were scattered around the room along the floor. There were at least a dozen vampires in this room. Most of them were strewn along the floor resting on the pillows. Some stood along the walls or even clung to the walls like lizards. Red curtains covered the windows. As the sunlight streamed through them it cascaded a weird red light all throughout the room. Like the room was dancing in blood.
I stepped closer to Darren. He was still in between me and Hunter. He hooked a shaking arm through mine. I still held my ax out between me and the vampires even though I knew it wouldn’t do any good against them. Well, the ax itself could if it had the right wielder, but I was way too slow to be able to behead a vampire with it. It made me feel better to hold it though. It was like a life preserver keeping me afloat. Some of the vampires began to gather around us with that same terrifying hunger in their eyes. I had fought zombies and venefici and I had never been this terrified. I began to doubt we would get out of this.
And even though vampires surrounded us and were scattered throughout the room, the most terrifying of them all sat in the only chair. She had long, black hair that flowed freely over her shoulders. It was almost imperceptible, but her hair moved like it had been exposed to too much static electricity. Her red eyes glowed and shined like rubies lit up by an inner light. Her skin was deathly pale. A dark shadow surrounded her red eyes. Her too red lips were closed in a thin line. She alone was not dressed in modern clothes. They weren’t historical clothes either. At least not any that I knew of. She wore a black lace dress that cut off above the knees. The skirt of the dress had several flowing lawyers and like her hair, they seemed to move. The dress had long sleeves that were pure lace and draped long over her hands. She wore black leggings that left nothing exposed. Her boots were black and came up to almost her knees.
She blinked at Jin with no expression on her face. She shifted. Her movements were slow. Almost too slow as she crossed one leg over the other, put one arm along the arm of the chair, bent that arm at the elbow so her cheek rested in her hand. A finger tapped very slowly against her cheek as she blinked again at Jin.
For the first time ever, Jin looked nervous. He bowed slightly to the woman on the chair. “Mistress,” he said.
Alvina didn’t reply.
“The venefici are behind the zombies,” Jin said.
The vampires moved slowly around us. It was obvious they were circling their prey. Darren, Hunter and I drew even closer to each other. Hunter’s hand crackled with lightning, but he didn’t release it yet. The only thought I had was if this didn’t go according to plan, we were in more trouble than we had ever been in. Despite the plan that Jin came up for us to run, now surrounded by these vampires, I wasn’t sure that was even possible.
Alvina blinked and tapped her cheek with a fingernail that I noted was now longer than it had been moments before.
“Their power has grown,” Jin said, “so now they can turn weres and other partly human beings into zombies.”
I blinked and the chair was empty. A little squeak left the back of my throat as Jin was no longer in front of us. The vampires around us stopped moving, but there was a blur in front of the chair and Jin and Alvina rematerialized. Jin faced us with a horrified expression on his face as Alvina had wrapped herself around him from behind him. Her legs wrapped around his legs keeping him from moving. Her arms pinned his to his body. The only thing he could do was stand there.
“Run,” he called out to us right as Alvina bit into his neck.