As we settled down for the night on the edge of camp, zombie groans lifted around us. They were far away at first, but got louder and closer as time went on. They must have heard the commotion earlier. More joined their chorus. I began to get nervous when it looked like Alvina’s vampires didn’t care. Jin, Gunnor and Alex were alert and aware. They whispered amongst themselves but I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I held my ax tightly in my hands.
Finally, Jin, Gunnor and Alex moved out. They didn’t say anything to us so we stayed where we were, but we were all aware they left. That was when I noticed other vampires start to leave the camp. There was movement all around us just outside the camp where we couldn’t see. Zombie groans were suddenly cut off until there were none left and then the vampires came back to camp.
Alex nodded to us when he came back and the rest of us finally settled down to sleep. Molly stayed close to Arthur. She spread her body half over him while he slept. In the morning when we began to move and stir, she ran to the edge of the camp with a smile on her face and her tail wagging happily. When she realized we weren’t leaving camp, her tail drooped and her smile disappeared. She came back to where we were. She always placed herself between Arthur and Alvina’s vampires. She became alert if any of them got too close to us and would relax only slightly when they went on their way. Every time one of us moved she would run to the edge of camp as if to urge us to leave and when we didn’t, she would come back sadly. It was clear she didn’t like being around Alvina’s vampires.
The humans all around the camp made breakfast. It seemed they were already used to the vampires. Or maybe they were just completely charmed or resigned to their fate. As morning grew later, Alvina stood in the middle of the camp. She drew everyone’s attention even without speaking. When she spoke, her voice was in her normal volume, but it carried across the camp.
“You belong to us now,” she said to the humans. Grant and his father blinked up at her completely enthralled. Monica refused to look at Grant and when he did happen to cross her view, she would step closer to Richard.
“As long as you don’t do anything to anger us,” Alvina went on, “we will keep you safe. We will travel now to the werewolves. We will wait outside their territory while Lily,” her red eyes drifted to me and a chill ran down my spine and along my arms, “will go with the children to convince the werewolf alpha in joining us against the venefici.”
“What?” I blurted out before thinking about it. “That’s ridiculous.”
I didn’t see Alvina move but where moments before she had been in the middle of the camp, now she stood directly in front of me. A little squeak escaped the back of my throat and I stumbled backwards. I would have fallen if Jin wasn’t suddenly there supporting me.
“Do you have a problem with that?” she asked dangerously.
Tanner’s hand slipped into mine. Neither of us had our gloves on so I clearly felt his trembling fingers. I knew mine were trembling too.
I swallowed and managed to find my voice. “I don’t mind going,” I said, surprised that my voice sounded as strong as it did. I had expected it to crack or be shaky. “But why the children? Tanner can go with me or Maria or anyone else.” Not quite anyone else. I didn’t think Hunter and his family could go and Alex had been exiled and they really didn’t like vampires from what I had seen.
“They won’t hurt children,” Alvina said.
“But what if there are zombies?” I asked.
“The werewolves won’t let the children get hurt by zombies,” she said as if it were that easy.
“All the children?” I asked. “What if I just took Arthur?” Arthur had proven himself. I trusted him to handle himself.
“All of the children,” she said and her eyes flicked behind me to where the children had been playing moments before. Arthur, Juan and Marcos had warmed up quickly to the other children. They had all been playing together and giggling. I didn’t hear anything now. “Let’s go,” she said to the rest of the camp, but kept her eyes on me.
People immediately began to scramble and gather their things. Alvina turned away from me and in a flash she was back in the middle of the camp watching over everything.
My group got ready to leave as we stayed at the edge of the activity. It wasn’t long before we were headed out. We moved with everyone else, but just at the edge.
Grant had barely looked in our direction so I was surprised when he approached Monica. “Hi,” he said to her.
Monica rolled her eyes and ignored him. “It’s good to see you,” he tried again. “There is room with me and my dad if you want to join us.”
Monica turned to Richard, cupped his cheeks in her hands and pressed her lips against his. Grant’s eyes widened. I smiled. I wasn’t the only one smiling. All of our group was. Richard wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer as their kiss continued.
A little scoff escaped Grant’s lips before he turned and walked away without another word. Monica and Richard smiled at each other. It wasn’t a smile that they got rid of Grant, but a smile that they finally, truly validated their feelings for each other. As we continued walking, they were now holding hands.
A large group like ours was difficult to keep quiet no matter how much we tried. As we traveled, zombie groans started up around us. A few of the vampires moved out to take care of them. Jin, Gunnor and Alex stayed close to us.
Shadows encircled the trickster named Raven. I stopped in my tracks as I watched the shadows completely envelope him. The shadows dissipated and a raven flew into the air. It flew away from the camp towards the zombie groans. The trickster that had stood there was now gone. Coyote noticed me watching. Shadows enveloped him much the same way and when they dissipated a coyote came sprinting up to us. It went to Molly first. She happily greeted the coyote with a wag of her tail. They rubbed their nuzzles together before the shadows enveloped the coyote and he returned to the shape of a man.
“You have a very brave dog,” he told Arthur as he patted Molly on the top of the head. Then he moved to stand next to me. Those around me – Hunter, Darren, Tanner and Maria – watched him closely, but when it was clear he was just there to talk, they didn’t interfere.
His eyes drifted to Alvina who walked in the middle of the group surrounded by a number of her vampires. I wasn’t even sure she was actually walking. It looked like she was floating. If she was walking, there was no bounce to her step, no weight.
“The best way to kill a vampire,” Coyote said so only I could hear, “is to do it while they are drinking. They get so wrapped up by that, they don’t always notice what else is happening. It’s even better if they’ve become comfortable with your presence. You get close to them, they feed on someone else and you use that ax to chop at the back of the neck.”
When my eyes met his, they were yellow. “What if the ax goes completely through the neck and into the person they were drinking from?”
“Collateral damage,” he said. “Isn’t it better to get rid of the most dangerous vampire here plus one human then continue to let her control everything? You know it’s only a matter of time before she decides she wants your family and friends as her pets too, right?”
I didn’t want to admit it, but I was afraid he was correct. Alvina had all the power. “If she dies,” I whispered, “then won’t one of her brood just take her place? She’s got some powerful vampires with her.” I specifically thought of the two that had reached past Hunter’s lightning like it was nothing. I had heard the stories that Victory’s lightning had fried many zombies when they were running through that tunnel under the mansion. They all said Victory was the strongest, but I didn’t think her lightning was that different from Hunter’s.
“They will fight over who that will be,” he said. “And the two vampires that travel with you are very strong themselves. And there is a reason that vampire/werewolf hybrids are forbidden and not just because they can’t charm their victims. If your friend, Alex, discovers his true powers, he could stand up to any of Alvina’s brood with the exception of Alvina herself.
He looked over at Alvina again before he looked ahead and said, “I think you’re the only one who can take her out. Wait for the appropriate opportunity and try to get close to her in the meantime so she won’t find your presence distracting when the time comes.”
I didn’t really think I could take her out, but I nodded that I understood. He smiled an all knowing smile.
The raven flew back into camp and landed next to Hare. The shadows enveloped it and he returned to the man, Raven. Coyote walked back to join the other tricksters.
“Tricksters got their name for a reason,” Hunter said. I wasn’t sure if he actually heard our conversation or if he just guessed what was said. His eyes turned to me, “Be careful, Lily.”
“I will,” I said. But if somehow a miracle happened and I was in the exact situation I needed to be in to take her out, I would try to kill Alvina even if that meant my death in the process.
After traveling a little more, Alvina was suddenly standing in front of me once again. At least I didn’t squeak this time.
“We’re here,” she said, “right at the werewolf border.” I knew her voice traveled to everyone as every eye was turned to her attentively. “It’s time. Take the children and go.”
“I’m not sure I can find my way to them again,” I said.
“Not to worry,” Alvina said, “the werewolves will find you. Now go.”
I turned to the children. I watched with a sinking stomach as children said goodbye to their mothers, as Juan and Marcos said goodbye to everyone in our group. When Alvina saw Arthur start to say goodbye as well she said, “Not this one. He is capable enough that he stays here.”
None of us argued with her. All of the children linked hands. I took Juan’s and led them further into the woods and away from our group.