I was aware of when we all filed back into the highschool cafeteria. I was set down next to Tanner. The image of Maria setting herself ablaze kept replaying in my mind. She was gone just like that. Tears trickled from my eyes and ran down my cheeks. My best friend was gone. My parents were gone. Any of us could be gone just like that.
I wasn’t the only one who had lost someone that day. Darren’s and Richard’s moms were gone. So were Dr. Higgins and Dr. Patel. I didn’t know who else made it or not. I wiped my tears away, sat up straighter and looked around.
Tanner was next to me. He didn’t look hurt. Mackenzie was on the other side of him. He held her as she sobbed. Tanner and I exchanged a grim look. Our little sister had seen too much. We had seen and lost too much.
Across from us sat Hunter, Victory and Grace. Victory was trying to hold back her tears. Grace and Hunter were in a daze similar to what I felt. Richard and Monica were nearby. Tears wet Richard’s cheeks. Monica held him close to her. Richard had seen his father as a zombie. Then his mom had been killed by zombies. She would be a zombie by now too.
Darren sat near them but apart from them. Tears streamed down his cheeks. He had lost the last of his family too. He didn’t have anyone to comfort him. Richard was too wrapped up in his own loss. I almost stood and went to him, but Hunter beat me to it.
Hunter sat next to him without saying a word. Darren didn’t look at him or say anything to him. He just dropped his forehead to Hunter’s shoulder as his tears continued.
I continued my scan of the group. Arthur sat nearby, but also alone other than Molly who sat and whined quietly at his feet. Arthur was so capable with his bow and fitting in with the rest of us, that I tended to forget he was still a little boy. Now, with big tears in his eyes and a pout on his lips, he looked like the little boy he was. I held out my arm towards him. That he was the only invitation he needed before he rushed to my side. Molly was right at his heels. His arms wrapped around me as he buried his head in my shoulder and let out a sob. I held him close to me and let my own tears come again.
While I held him, while I cried, I continued my scan of the cafeteria. I didn’t see any of the women who Alex had been drinking from. Were all of them really dead? I thought of the children we had left behind with the werewolves – including Juan and Marcos. I didn’t want to be the one to tell all of them that their mothers were dead and they were alone in the world. Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Anderson had treated Juan and Marcos like they were their own and now they were gone too. This was all that was left of our group. This group was now my family.
Grant sat across the room with the rest of the men that survived. There was less than half their group remaining. Grant was even more in a daze than the rest of us. I kinda felt bad for him. We had warned him about his father, but it must have been hard to have your own father throw you to the zombies in an attempt to get away. I wondered if he had seen his father torn apart by those very same zombies. That had to have been dramatic too even if his father had just betrayed him. He was alone. Really alone. He didn’t have a group to support him like we did. Those men around him couldn’t care less about him. Elwin had saved him, but now Elwin was with the other vampires. I wasn’t sure if Elwin even talked to Grant or just charmed him into submission to drink from him whenever he wanted. I wondered if Elwin saved him because he held any kindness towards him or just because he was his food source.
The vampires and werewolves were reduced in numbers too. They kept to themselves, the werewolves on one side and the vampires on the other. The werewolves were clearly feeling their losses more than the vampires. The werewolf pack was connected in ways the vampires weren’t.
Lastly, I found Gunnor, Jin and Alex all together alone at the back of the room. Alex sat on the ground, eyes drooping heavily, unmoving as if even lifting a finger would exert too much energy. Jin and Gunnor stood on either side of him guarding him. I didn’t know what they were guarding him from at first. I had thought the group of vampires were just doing their own thing after their losses, but now I noticed several vampires looking at Alex’s way as if they wanted to rip his head off. But he had saved them with his strange barrier. He had saved all of us. The vampire and werewolf zombies would have caught up with us eventually if it hadn’t been for him.
I looked back at the werewolves to see how they were reacting. Many of them also looked at Alex with distrustful gazes, but not as extreme as wanting to kill him like the vampires. I didn’t understand. Although, it had seemed like a big deal when Gunnor had turned Alex into a werewolf/vampire hybrid so there was probably more going on than I realized.
Then I saw three animals also on their own. A coyote, hare and raven. As I watched, shadows surrounded them and the tricksters morphed back into their human forms. In all the commotion, I had forgotten about the tricksters again. I wondered if they were doing something to make us forget about their presence. Except magic didn’t work on me. Maybe it wasn’t magic. Maybe it was something more natural that gave them the ability to blend in and remain unnoticed. When Liam gave commands as a beta, it clearly had an effect on the werewolves and the last one even had an effect on the vampires. I had felt the power of the command even if it’s magic hadn’t forced me to obey.
I looked again at Gunnor, Jin and Alex. Jin had left Gunnor and Alex and was walking towards me.
“Sorry, Arthur,” Jin said when he arrived, “but I need to borrow, Lily.”
Arthur pulled away from our hug. I stood up to follow Jin. My brother still held Mackenzie with one arm, but he held out his other hand towards Arthur. Arthur scooted next to him and Tanner wrapped his arm around Arthur’s shoulders. Tanner’s eyes never left me as I followed Jin back to where Gunnor and Alex were.
“Why do the vampires look like they want to kill Alex?” I asked on the way.
“Because they are afraid of the power he displayed,” Jin said.
“The barrier?” I asked as we arrived. “But Darren can create a barrier too.”
“Not like that,” Gunnor said. Alex didn’t move, didn’t open his eyes, didn’t acknowledge in any way that he knew I was there or heard our conversation.
“None of us can do that,” Jin said. “Not vampires or werewolves. It was something only a vampire/werewolf hybrid can do. And as he grows more powerful and discovers more about his powers, he’ll be able to do even more.”
“Enough to scare any vampire that isn’t on his side,” Gunnor said.
“Or any werewolf not on his side for that matter,” Jin said. “His old pack cast him out, but they know him and know he won’t turn his powers against them.”
“What else will he be able to do?” I asked.
Jin shrugged and looked at Alex. “Little is known about these hybrids except that they are very powerful and dangerous and hence forbidden.”
“So, why did you bring me over here?” I asked.
“That left him weak,” Gunnor said. “He hasn’t grown fully into his powers yet. It left him vulnerable.” His eyes drifted towards the group of vampires.
“He needs to drink,” Jin said, “and you are next on the rotation.”
I understood. With all of those women gone, Alex was going to have to drink from us. But with Gunnor and Jin also drinking from us – although they had backed off so it wasn’t as often – that left us even more vulnerable.
I sat down in front of Alex and held out my wrist. He didn’t move. I looked up at Jin and Gunnor. Gunnor knelt next to us and took my wrist. He brought it carefully up to his mouth. There was a brief, sharp pain as he bit into my vein, then he held my arm out towards Alex. Alex’s eyes flashed open. They were blood red, not the light blue of his werewolf form. He took my wrist and greedily drank from it. He was so desperate for the blood, I was worried he wouldn’t know when to stop. But all it took was a simple tap on the shoulder from Gunnor and Alex immediately backed off. Gunnor took my wrist and brought it back up to his lips. His tongue darted out to lick my wounds. There was hot pain as the two puncture wounds closed. Whatever was in their spit that caused the wounds to close, it obviously wasn’t magic. Maybe doctors could use whatever it was as a medical tool. Maybe the vampires didn’t want to be used and that was one of the reasons they had remained hidden until now.
Alex’s eyes returned to their normal color. He smiled at me gratefully. He had lost his pack, but he had gained Gunnor and Jin. Not only Gunnor and Jin. These three were part of our group just as much as any of the rest of us were and I was grateful they were on our side.