Chapter 1 .

Lily

“Run,” Jin called out to us as Alvina bit into his neck.  Hunter immediately released his lightning.  It arched and snaked around Darren’s barrier.  Vampires surrounded us.  They slowly closed in.  Most seemed wary of the lightning, but a few did not.  Those few closed in around us while the others circled behind them.  Our exit was completely cut off.  We could no longer see Jin or Alvina through the throngs of vampires.

We took a step towards the stairs.  The vampire directly in front of us in that direction did not move, but the vampires behind him took a small step back to avoid the lightning.

“Hunter,” Darren said, “shoot your lightning directly out in front of us or something.”

“I can’t,” Hunter said.  “I’m not Victory.  I’m not that strong.”

I glanced at him.  Beads of sweat dripped from his temples and wet his hair.  He was having a difficult time as it was keeping the lightning circling protectively around us.  He wouldn’t be able to do anything else and he wouldn’t be able to keep it up for long.  We couldn’t outlast the vampires.

“Alvina,” I called out and walked in the direction I last saw her.

Hunter and Darren both reached out for me, grabbed me and held me back before I could step out of the barrier.  But I needed to be heard.  There was no way out of this unless Alvina let us out.

“It’s only a matter of time before the venefici turn all the humans into zombies for their magic,” I called out as Darren and Hunter held me back.  “Then what will you eat?  Weres and other part human creatures will eventually all be under them too.  You can easily fight off human zombies, but what about a pack of were zombies?  And it’s only a matter of time before the venefici figure out how to turn vampires into zombies and use them for their magic.  Do you think they can’t?” 

For a moment I lost my voice as the vampires circled in closer.  Their red glowing eyes stared at me hungrily.  Their fangs were long and sharp.  Their fingernails were knife-like.  But it was more than that.  More than them licking their lips hungrily.  There was a darkness around all of them.  A menace, a threat.  Promised death.  Unlike the zombies and the venefici, there was no hope of escape.  And I couldn’t be charmed or magicked so I knew this darkness was not enhanced by magic to make me more afraid.  This was what they were at their core.  Jin and Gunnor were the anomalies.  These vampires were the norm.

I realized I was shaking.  I wasn’t the only one.  Darren and Hunter held me back, but they were both shaking too.  I had to find my voice for them, for my sister and brother and those we left behind.

I opened my mouth to say more, but the vampire that had blocked our exit reached in through the barrier and through Hunter’s lightning easily.  Quicker than we could react, he grabbed Darren and pulled him to him.  The barrier didn’t affect me, but I felt it when it dropped.  I hadn’t realized I could even feel it until it wasn’t there when we needed it most.  

A female vampire to the right of us grabbed Hunter and pulled him to her.  Hunter’s lightning dropped.  It happened so quickly we didn’t have time to respond or try to defend ourselves.

Darren screamed as the vampire bit into the vein in his neck.  Hunter struggled as the vampire who held him bit into his neck, but they were both helpless.

I knew there was no way I could help them without one of the many other vampires killing me.  “The venefici want to rule over everything,” I yelled out.  And then Alvina was standing in front of me.  I was filled with so much fear that my legs gave out.  I would have dropped to my knees, but she grabbed me and held me up.  She was shorter than me, but that didn’t stop her from lifting me off my feet.  My shaking hands grabbed her wrist, but that was all I could manage as my ax clattered to the floor.

She smiled wickedly and I knew I was dead.  We failed.  At least Tanner, Mackenzie and the others were safe.  Faster than I could process, she brought me back down and bit into my neck.  I only realized what happened after I felt the stinging pain like two needles jabbing into my delicate flesh.

“Please,” I whispered with the last ounce of will I had, “don’t let the venefici win.  Together, we can beat them.  The werewolf alpha, Erik, already agreed to help.”  That wasn’t a lie.  I just didn’t add that the agreement had been rescinded after what happened with Alex.

The pain stopped.  For a moment, I thought she had drank from me beyond the point of pain, but then I saw her red glowing eyes in front of me.  She still had a hand on the back of my neck, but she was no longer drinking my blood.

“Erik agreed to stop the venefici?  He sees them as a threat?”  Her voice was silky and languid.  

I swallowed.  I was suddenly exhausted.  I just wanted to curl up and sleep.  Maybe from the loss of blood or just from the terror or the events of the day or a combination of all of them.

“Yes,” I said.  

“Stop,” she said to the two vampires drinking from Hunter and Darren.  The vampires immediately stopped and dropped my friends.  Hunter and Darren both collapsed to the ground.  They each had two puncture holes in their neck.  Blood oozed from their wounds.  

I finally saw Jin.  He was sprawled out on the ground in front of Alvina’s seat.  His eyes were closed.  He wasn’t breathing.  It took me a moment to remember that didn’t mean he was dead.  I had never seen Jin nor Gunnor actually breathe.  He was very still.  Not even a finger twitched.

“Explain,” Alvina said to me.

“Erik sent werewolves with us and we destroyed a group of venefici with their help.”

“The werewolves, you, these two and Jin?” she asked but from her tone she knew there was more to it.

“The werewolves, us three, but not Jin,” I said.  I was on my feet, but I would have collapsed to the floor if she wasn’t holding me up.  “Gunnor went with us and more of our human companions.  Gunnor and Jin were teaching the humans magic.  The zombies used to keep their distance from us when Gunnor and Jin were around, but after the last green flash that stopped.  That green flash is also when the weres started turning into zombies.  We went into a venefici RU in? place and killed all the venefici except for one.  She is the one that told us what they have done and what they plan to do.  They plan to rule the world, not just humans, not just weres or other beings that are part human, but every single being on earth.  We can stop them if we work together.  We have to at least try.  There is no hope not only for us but also for you if we fail.”

Her face tightened into a scowl.  

“I know you’re powerful,” I quickly said.  I didn’t know how powerful, but both Gunnor and Jin seemed afraid of her and I was terrified so she had to be.  “But all of the venefici across the world are working together.  Not even you and your brood can stop all of them.  We have to work together.  We have to find others to work with us.  Only then can we stop them.”

Her face got closer to mine and I couldn’t breathe as the terror took over me again.  “And Erik has agreed to help,” she said again.

“Yes,” I breathed out.

She tilted her head as her eyes studied me.  “Why does that feel like a lie and not a lie?”  I didn’t say anything, because what could I say?  A small smile touched the corner of her lips.  A smile that sent cold chills down my arms and made me want to squirm away from her.  “You are immune to magic.  I can’t compel you.”

She let me go.  I couldn’t even try to stay on my feet.  I completely collapsed to the floor.  I propped myself up slightly and watched her as she went to a cowering Darren.  She lifted him up so they were eye level.  He was limp under her grip.  “Why does that sound like a lie and not a lie?” she asked him.

I saw it when his eyes glazed over, as the terror left him and he completely relaxed.  He had practiced and trained not to be charmed and she did it so simply and completely.

“Erik did agree to help us,” Darren said in a voice similar to when he had first drank the venefici’s brew.  “But then he called back his werewolves after Alex got bitten by a zombie.  He blamed Gunnor for letting it happen even though it wasn’t Gunnor’s fault.”

I hadn’t realized how close I had fallen to Jin until his eyes flashed open.  They were frenzied as he stared at my neck.  I quickly covered the wounds on my neck with the palm of my hand.  The frenzied look in his eyes did not diminish.  He did not know me.  He did not recognize me. 

“Alex?” Alvina asked.  I didn’t look at Darren.  I could only stare at Jin as he slowly, jerkily started to crawl to me with his eyes fixed only on my neck.

“He is a werewolf,” Darren said in his daze, “but he was turning into a zombie.  Erik gave him a choice.  He could become a zombie but be a pack member until the end or be exiled from the pack and let Gunnor turn him into a werewolf/vampire hybrid.”

“And Gunnor was okay with this?” Alvina’s silky voice sounded surprised.

“He was the one who suggested it,” Darren said.

“Hmm,” she said.

I started to slowly scoot away from Jin.  A hand closed on my ankle.  I startled and started to curl up to protect myself.  I relaxed when I saw it was Hunter.  He crawled past me towards Jin.

I froze when Alvina’s eyes turned back to me.  “So Erik is no longer working with you.  Why should I?’

“He will,” I said.  “Once he finds out you are working with us.”

“Will he?” Alvina said, turning her eyes back to Darren.  I could breathe again.  

Jin’s eyes had now turned from me to Hunter.  Hunter reached Jin.  His frightened eyes met mine.  He swallowed hard, but tilted his neck to the side so his puncture wounds were more exposed.  Jin grabbed him with no recognition in his eyes that he knew who Hunter was.  His fangs extended as he bit into his neck over the puncture wounds that were already there.

“Lily can convince him,” Darren said.  For a moment, I had forgotten that conversation was still ongoing.

“Lily?” Alvina’s liquid voice was directed at me.

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Hmm,” she said.  She pulled Darren close to her and licked his puncture wounds.  When she pulled away, his wounds were quickly healing.

“And we can lead you to a large group of humans you can drink from,” I said.  “Keep them for your sustenance.  Except a few that we will need for Alex.”

“Jin, stop,” she demanded.

Jin immediately pulled away from Hunter’s neck.  Hunter collapsed to the floor.  His eyes were closed.  His breath ragged, but he was breathing.  Jin’s eyes remained frenzied for several long moments before he blinked and recognition came as he looked at me.

Alvina went over to Hunter’s still form.  She picked him up.  He was limp in her arms as she licked his neck and the wounds began to heal.  She turned to me.  She indicated for me to stand up.  It wasn’t easy with how weak my legs were, but I managed to stand.  She delicately put her hands on my neck.  She slowly brought her head in.  I shuddered with fear as she licked the wounds on my neck.  New pain shot through me as the wounds closed.

“Then,” Alvina said as she pulled away, “for the moment, I’ll agree to help you.  But I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.”

I nodded, but knew that she had all the control.  We had no way to stop her if she changed her mind and I got the impression it wouldn’t go well for us if she did.

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