Instead of having different websites for each of my webserials, I’ve decided to put them all on one website. So updates from now on will go on novagirl93author.wordpress.com. I am currently getting this new website updated with all the ruinsaga chapters. Until that is done, there won’t be new updates. Keep an eye on that new website and my twitter for when updates start again.
Not a lot of people were awake when I woke up. The vampires were all awake. I didn’t think they actually slept and Alex was awake. Some of the werewolves were awake, but others were asleep. The tricksters were asleep near the group of men with Grant.
I immediately looked for my mom. The absence of people in our little group was obvious and I remembered my mom was dead. The sorrow built up like a geyser until it was almost too overwhelming. Tears welled up in my eyes and a hard lump formed in the back of my throat. I blinked the tears away and swallowed.
Even though there was plenty of room in the cafeteria, it was stifling, the air was heavy. It was difficult to breathe. I stood up careful not to disturb Richard beside me. Monica was on the other side of him holding onto his arm while they slept. Molly lifted her head and watched me as I carefully maneuvered away from my sleeping group and towards the door. I needed air. When Molly saw me heading towards the door, she stood up and came along with me.
I led her through the halls and out the back door. Cold air immediately hit my cheeks. I took in a deep breath of the refreshing air and felt like I could breathe again. The werewolves and vampires took turns patrolling the perimeter of the high school so I felt relatively safe. Molly walked out a little further and peed before coming back to me.
Now that I could breathe again, I looked around. There was a tan werewolf a little further out behind the school. I wondered if it was Elsie. It looked like her, but I wasn’t sure at this distance.
I didn’t want to go back inside yet. It was stifling in there. Instead, I sat on the cement sidewalk and leaned back against the brick wall of the school. Molly snuggled up next to me. My hand started to run over her fur almost as if it had a mind of its own.
Elsie watched me a moment before she turned her eyes outward and began patrolling the back once again.
The back door opened. I glanced up. Richard came and sat next to me. Molly sat between us. He reached out and began to pet her as well. Neither of us said anything for a while. Finally, Richard said, “Are you alright?”
“Not really,” I said. I thought of my mom, my step father and my friends now dead. If things ever settled down again and I was still alive, I didn’t want to live in this city. There would be too many reminders of who wasn’t there.
“Me neither,” he said. “Being back at this school is weird. I keep thinking I need to go to class or that we’ll run into our old friends, but there is none of that anymore is there?”
“No,” I said. I felt the same as Richard, but to add onto that sometimes I would remember sneaking glances at Lily when she was at her locker or walking down the hallway to go to classes. None of that was real anymore. I realized at that moment that my crush on her wasn’t as intense as it used to be. Maybe because now I knew she would never reciprocate. Hunter was right. I needed to get over her. Maybe that process was already happening.
“Do you think we can do this?” Richard asked after more silence.
“Do what?” I asked.
“Defeat the venefici.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “When Lily talks about it, I believe it, but when I think about it myself and the reality of it I doubt it. Especially after . . .” my voice broke as I thought of my mother.
“Yeah,” Richard said. He had known exactly what I was thinking and saved me from actually having to voice it. Maybe he didn’t want me to voice it. Maybe it would remind him of his own mother.
“I hope we can,” I said. “I hope anyone else around the world with the same goal can do it too. I’m not going to stop trying to defeat the venefici,” I said. “Because we can’t sustain ourselves in a world like this forever.”
Richard sighed. “Yeah,” he said.
We sat in silence as the morning sunlight streamed down all around us. The air was crisp and cold. Molly had fallen asleep with her head on my thigh.
“Well,” Richard said after a long while, “I’m going to go back inside. Are you coming?”
“Not yet,” I said.
He stood up. When he did, Molly woke up and stood up. She followed him back into the school leaving me alone. The cold air hit me harder now that the dog was no longer beside me.
Elsie in her werewolf form met my eyes from across the schoolyard. She slowly approached me almost as if she were afraid she would scare me away. Her werewolf eyes were a brilliant green. When she reached me, she settled down next to me in the position Molly had previously been in. She rested her large wolf head on my thigh.
Like I had done with Molly, I began to run my fingers through her fur from the top of her head down along her back. I did this several times before I realized there was a big difference between Molly and Elsie. Elsie wasn’t a wolf. She was a werewolf and had a human side. I wondered if werewolves thought it degrading if a human petted them. I immediately lifted my hand.
“Is this alright?” I asked her. “I can stop if it’s degrading or you don’t like it.”
She lifted her head and looked into my eyes, then she put her head directly underneath my hand. I took that as a sign to keep petting her. She settled her head back on my thigh as my hand continued to run along her fur. Her fur was thicker, longer and softer than Molly’s.
We sat in silence as the sun slowly rose higher in the sky. There was something comforting in petting her. More so than talking would have been.
“Stop flirting with my sister,” Mason said.
I jumped startled. I hadn’t realized he was there. The door hadn’t opened so he must have been patrolling the grounds like Elsie had been.
I immediately lifted my hand away from Elsie. “I wasn’t,” I stuttered.
Mason smiled and patted my head as he walked past us towards the door. “Just kidding,” he said. “I don’t care if she doesn’t. You can keep flirting with her. Hunter’s gotta be awake by now, right?”
“I wasn’t flirting,” I said again, but Mason was already in the door. “I wasn’t trying to flirt,” I said to Elsie. I was a little surprised when she shifted back to her human form. Funny how she was the same person, but I was a little more comfortable with her werewolf form. Maybe because her human form reminded me of how clumsy I was with other humans. Especially in our past life as high school students.
“It’s alright,” she said with a smile. “I don’t mind if you flirt with me. Let’s go inside and get something to eat.”
“I wasn’t trying to flirt,” I said quietly, awkwardly.
If she heard me, she didn’t indicate it. She stood up and held out a hand to help me up. I took it and stood. I followed her into the high school. I wasn’t sure if the siblings were teasing me about flirting, but I found as I followed her back to the cafeteria that I didn’t mind the idea of flirting with her.
We sat all in the cafeteria, but in separate groups. It was silent in the large room. I wasn’t sure about the others, but I could only think about the people that had died and the incredible loss we had just suffered while trying to take down the venefici. None of us had thought we were going to lose and lose so badly. The werewolves weren’t saying anything, but they were looking at each other, occasionally nodding or shaking their heads and I was sure they were still communicating with each other through their pack connection. They were probably communicating with Erik too. The three tricksters moved from group to group quietly whispering things to them that I didn’t hear.
An hour passed and then another one before Alvina stood up. “We need stronger magic than what we currently have,” she said. “Human magic.” I took that to mean the vampires weren’t giving up in taking down the venefici. The longer time had passed without anyone saying anything, I had worried they would abandon us. I still worried about that with the werewolves.
“There is a witch coven northeast of here,” Hare said.
“Their magic isn’t strong enough,” Jin said without looking at anyone.
Silence filled the large room again until Liam finally said, “There is a witch coven to the southwest, but they deal in darker magic. The pack has used them a few times, but mostly we avoid each other.”
“Would the zombie thing affect them too?” Victory asked. “If they can turn into zombies too, there might not be any of them left.”
“The venefici magic problem affects them too so that they can turn into zombies,” Liam said, “but they are powerful and I imagine they quickly took care of any zombies that might have appeared among them.”
“So we’ll go tell them to join us,” Alvina said as if it were that simple.
“It will be faster if Erik sends someone from home to ask and lead them back to us,” Liam said.
“Will he do that?” Gunnor asked. “He’s already sent out more of the werewolves than he initially wanted.”
“He’s fully aware of the danger we are all in,” Liam said. “He will do anything to save the pack including putting a few werewolves in possible danger to save everyone else. But I will ask him if he is willing to do that.” Liam paused and got that far away look in his eyes as he communicated with his pack leader. It only took a few moments before his eyes focused once again and he said, “He is sending some werewolves out to the coven.”
“What do we do in the meantime?” Coyote asked with that all knowing gleam in his eyes.
“We’ll wait here,” Alvina said. Her eyes trailed to my sister. Mackenzie shuttered and tried to hide behind my brother. He sat up a little straighter making himself bigger to hide her.
“But it’s going to take days, possibly a week for them to get here,” one of the human men in Grant’s group said. “What if the venefici and those zombies come back here for us?”
“I don’t think they will,” Alvina said. “They were going somewhere else and hiding their tracks along the way. It was only because we have two humans that are immune to magic that we were able to follow their trail. But even if they do decide to come back and try to fight us, I think it’s better for us to hold out here. We have some fortification here while out there we are exposed. In here, we can fight together while out there, they’ll have a higher chance of splitting us away from each other and taking us out one by one. So we will wait here.”
“Maybe we should send someone to follow them so we don’t lose their trail,” Raven suggested.
“They fooled us with magic once,” Jin said, “they can do it again.”
“Then whoever we send out there to follow them can just come back,” Raven said. “I’ll volunteer to be one of the ones to go out. I can fly in the sky as a raven. They’ll think I’m a regular bird and won’t take any notice of me.”
“I can send out two of our werewolves,” Liam said. “We can communicate through the pack so if something does happen, we’ll know immediately.” He didn’t give a chance for Alvina to put her thoughts in before he was commanding two werewolves to go back outside and follow the trail. “Be careful,” he told them. “Don’t take any risks. If you think there is any chance you might be found out, come back here immediately, understand?”
The two werewolves nodded. Raven followed them when they left. The room was silent for several long minutes afterwards, but eventually the individual groups started speaking again and the hum of talking buzzed throughout the room. I didn’t like any of the men in Grant’s group, but at least a few of them were sitting around him and talking with him now.
I didn’t see Alvina move, but she was suddenly standing in front of Mackenzie. A little squeak escaped the back of Mackenzie’s throat. Jin, Gunnor and Alex were immediately on their feet. Two of Alvina’s vampires were now by her side. No one moved as Alvina stared down at Mackenzie.
“I’m hungry,” Alvina said in her smooth, liquid tone. “Would you mind letting me drink just a little bit of your blood?”
My sister’s face went slack as she stared up at Alvina. Her eyes became mesmerized. “Okay,” she said in a stupor. Alvina had charmed her.
I was on my feet as Alvina reached a hand out towards Mackenzie, but Tanner was faster. He stepped in between them just as Mackenzie was reaching out for Alvina.
“No,” Tanner said. “I won’t allow it.”
Alvina’s expression changed from pleasant and calm to angry and deadly in the split of a second. Her hand flashed up and her fingers wrapped around my brother’s neck. He tried to gasp for air. He grasped desperately at her arm, but she did not relent.
“You won’t allow it?” Alvina asked in a quiet, low tone that promised death.
“He didn’t mean it,” Grace said now on the other side of Tanner. I rushed to the opposite side to help Grace plead with Alvina. “Please let him go,” Grace said as tears spilled from her eyes.
“We’ll step aside,” I said as I joined my brother in trying to get Alvina’s fingers off his neck. “You can drink from her, just don’t kill my brother, please.”
Alvina let go off Tanner’s neck. He fell to his knees and took in a huge breath as he clasped at his neck.
“Come dear,” Alvina calmly said. She held her hand out towards Mackenzie. Mackenzie took it and walked away with the vampire leader.
Tanner looked at me as if I were crazy, as if I had just betrayed him and Mackenzie. I hugged him and whispered. “I’ll find some way to kill her. I promise. For now, play along, please. You’ll do no good to Mackenzie if you are dead.”
Grace dropped to her knees on the other side of Tanner and hugged him. “Don’t do that again,” she said. Tears still fell to her cheeks. “She’s not going to kill Mackenzie but she will kill you. Please don’t leave me.”
Tanner wrapped one arm around Grace and the other around me. “I’m trusting you on this one, Lily,” he said.
Now that the moment was over and I felt like I could breathe, I looked around. Victory was close by and lightning crackled around one of her hands. I knew then that she was about to try and kill Alvina if Grace and I hadn’t stepped in. Victory was powerful. She had proven that, but she wasn’t powerful enough to kill Alvina. Alvina would have killed her first. I shook my head at her. Victory swallowed hard and let the lightning around her hand fade away. Arthur watched our exchange closely. He was standing and Molly was standing next to him. He had an arrow in his hand, but not his bow. When he saw our exchange, he put the arrow away. I got the impression he had just been about to try and kill Alvina too. That could have ended devastatingly for our little group.
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.
Chills ran down my arms and spine as well as a desire to run away as quickly as I could. Instead, I stood there frozen afraid if I made any movement, the apex zombies would hear me. I wasn’t the only one in the group who froze. Everyone did, listening, waiting.
Finally in the silence and stillness that followed the zombie groans, Liam turned to two of his werewolves and simply nodded at them. The two immediately shifted into their werewolf forms and bounded silently through the woods ahead of us. The rest of us waited.
Alex watched the werewolves carefully and I was reminded of how he was once part of their pack, but now cutoff. The only sounds that drifted through the air were the sounds of the various zombies. They weren’t getting closer, but they weren’t getting further away either.
Then all the werewolves stiffened as one. Their eyes widened with their shock. Several opened their mouths and tilted their head to the sky as if to howl, but there was no sound. Not until Liam said, “Run.” He didn’t yell the word or call it out, but it carried to all of us and with it came his urgency. His eyes were the pale yellow of his wolf. “Run!” This time he did yell just as there was movement in the woods in front of us and the two werewolves he had sent came crashing back. There was blood on their fur and their pupils held that eerie green. They were zombies. That fast and they were gone from us and charging at us.
Lightning instantly arched from Grace, Hunter and Victory towards the zombie werewolves, but the zombie werewolves easily out maneuvered the lightning heading their way.
“Grace,” my brother called out. He grabbed her forearm and tried to pull her back. I had already grabbed Mackenzie and started to pull her with me. Liam had said to run and that was what I intended to do.
I was aware when Darren’s barrier went up around me. Just as our group and the other humans were turning to run back in the direction we had come from, the woods opened up and vampire zombies and vampire weres of all types appeared. They were too fast. There was no way we could outrun them.
The Sangs kept up their lightning. This time they succeeded in hitting a few of the zombies, but there were too many for them to get them all.
“Maria!” I yelled as she rushed past me towards the front of the line with magic fire in her hands.
“Get them out of here!” she yelled at me as she threw the fire into the midst of the zombies. Human zombies now burst into the woods after the initial rush of supernatural zombies.
A group of zombies appeared right where Grant, his dad and a few of the other human men stood. Grant’s dad grabbed Grant by the shoulders and threw him at the zombies as he turned and ran. Grant could only look horrified as the zombies grabbed him and pulled him towards them. Before any of them could bite, Elwin was there ripping the human zombies off Grant. He picked up Grant and leaped high in the air and over the heads of several others to get Grant more in the range of safety. Then he picked up Grant’s dad, lifted him and hurled him high into the air. The vampire that had been drinking the blood of Grant’s dad screamed in protest, but it was too late as he landed right in the middle of a group of were zombies. They quickly tore into him and I looked away to find where my own group was.
An arrow shot past me and Mackenzie. Arthur was shooting the human zombies that were trying to get to Grace, Hunter, Victory and Maria. And my brother was still there standing by Grace trying to convince her to leave even as he bashed his bat into a human zombie’s head. Molly ran around Arthur’s feet with her hackles up and barking furiously. Multiple gunshots went off from all around the group.
One of Liam’s werewolves near them was taken down. He immediately rose as a were zombie. He lunged at my brother, but Jin was suddenly there. He pushed the were zombie away from my brother.
“Run!” he yelled at my group.
“Run,” I said to Mackenzie as I pushed her towards Arthur.
“But,” she called out to me as I turned back to get the others.
The human zombies were now beginning to avoid the lightning and fire of the Sangs, Jin joined Maria with the fire magic. My breath caught in my throat as a vampire zombie rushed in a blur towards Hunter. The vampire zombie grabbed Hunter, but before he could bite down, Gunnor was there ripping off the vampire zombie’s head. Gunnor lifted Hunter and my brother off their feet and rushed towards me in a blur. He set them on their feet beside me. “Get out of here,” he said.
The zombies kept coming. More werewolves and vampires on our side fell as they tried to save the humans. They immediately turned into zombies themselves. We were quickly being overrun. We had no choice but to run.
“Run!” both Darren’s and Richard’s moms said as they ran past us to get Victory, Grace and Maria. “We’ll try to distract them to give you time,” Darren’s mom said.
“Mom!” Richard called out to Mrs. Anderson. He, Monica and Darren had been heading out, but with Richard’s call, they started to run back. Dr. Patel and Dr. Higgins stopped them.
“We’ll get them,” Dr. Patel said, “keep running away.”
Dr. Patel and Dr. Higgins ran after the mothers.
More zombies appeared. But with this new group were zombies I had never seen before. Not weres, not vampires, not humans. There was a strange goat like – human like creature, a giant bear much too big to be a normal bear. Maybe that was a were. Maybe a werebear if there was such a thing. But there were werewolves and werefelines so it seemed a good possibility of there being a werebear. There were several gnome like creatures with sharp teeth and green pupils
“Get them out of here!” Liam yelled with such power in his voice that his werewolves immediately stopped attacking the zombies and turned to get the remaining humans out of there. Not only the werewolves obeyed, but the vampires obeyed his command. Even Alvina hesitated as she watched Liam command her vampires. The power ran over my skin like a breeze, but it held no control over me.
Werewolves all around us were now picking up humans and running back in the direction we had come from. I ran back towards Maria, Grace and Victory just as Mason appeared to where I had been and picked up Hunter and my brother.
“Lily!” Tanner yelled even as he got further away from me.
Zombies came between me and Maria, Grace and Victory. They quickly overtook Mrs. Anderson, Mrs. Smith, Dr. Patel and Dr. Higgins. I watched in horror as they went down.
“Maria!” I cried out in sorrow knowing there was no way I could get to her now.
Jin and Gunnor were still near them. Grace collapsed overcome with exhaustion of having kept up her magic so long and with such intensity. Gunnor scooped her up in his arms and just avoided a vampire zombie himself. The zombie was now between Gunnor and Victory. The vampire zombie turned on Victory. Victory turned to him as he moved to her in a blur. Her eyes were the grey of storm clouds. Her white hair stood on end as if electrified itself. White scales coated her entire face and her hands. She screamed as lightning arched from her entire body and hit the vampire zombie with full force frying him instantly.
“Run!” I screamed at her and Maria.
Victory’s eyes met Gunnor’s. She dropped her lightning and he scooped her up and ran.
“Let’s go, Maria,” Jin said. He went to grab her but right before he could, she cried out in pain. She looked down at her feet. None of us had noticed those small gnome like creatures had surrounded her. Several of them were biting her legs.
Jin looked helplessly as Maria looked at him with sorrow. She knew she was dead. Jin reached out for her, but she shook her head. She screamed with her head tilted back to the sky and her entire body went up in flames. She took out the little gnome zombies around her as well as herself.
As her flames continued to consume her, they spread out reaching for the other zombies around her.
I couldn’t look away from the flames of my best friend. I couldn’t move. My axe was loose in my hands as I could only watch. Then Jin was standing in front of me. Blocking my view. “You can’t do anything for her now,” he said. He picked me up and we sped after everyone else.
I tried to gauge how many of us survived, but everything was chaos even though we now all ran from the zombies. It was difficult to determine which humans were still alive as all humans were being carried by a werewolf or a vampire. We out ran the human zombies and the gnome like zombies, but the were zombies and vampire zombies kept pace with us. Jin and I had been one of the last to leave so we were at the back of the group.
I saw Alex hand off Darren to Elsie who was also carrying Monica. He trailed behind until he was the last one. Jin and Gunnor – who was still carrying Grace and Victory – slowed down with him.
“What are you doing?” Gunnor asked. There wasn’t a lot of leeway to slow down. The vampire and werewolf zombies were almost on our heels.
Alex’s eyes turned the light blue of his werewolf. His teeth elongated like the vampires. A pale, silver aurora began to spread up around from his feet to his head. He stopped, turned towards the zombies chasing us, lifted his head to the sky and howled. The silver aurora shot up into the sky and then as if a beam of moonlight was summoned by him, a wall of moonlight cut between him and the approaching zombies. The zombies crashed into it as if it were a cement wall.
Alex turned to Jin and Gunnor and said, “That won’t hold them for long.”
Jin and Gunnor were the only ones that had stopped with Alex. Everyone else had kept running. A slow, proud smile came to Gunnor’s lips. Alex was back to looking completely human and also looking completely exhausted.
“Let’s go,” Jin said. The three of them – still carrying me, Victory who had fallen asleep and Grace – ran off to catch up to the others while the zombies behind us kept crashing into the wall over and over.
The next morning, we woke up sheltered in the high school cafeteria. Mackenzie was near me. She was always near me these days. I didn’t mind. I knew she was afraid of Alvina. It was hard to miss. She jumped and clinged onto me whenever Alvina was near. And I didn’t miss how Alvina would occasionally, subtly turn her eyes to my youngest sister.
Grace came and sat next to me. She placed her head on my shoulder and looped an arm around mine. Victory and Arthur sat with Mackenzie nearby and of course Molly was with them. Alex, Gunnor and one of the women stepped out into the hall. I wasn’t sure why. We all knew that Alex had to drink blood now. He didn’t have to do it as often as the other vampires and he still ate regular food. When they came back into the cafeteria, several of the werewolves looked at him disapprovingly and then I understood why Alex didn’t want to drink in front of everyone. The werewolves obviously knew what he was doing, but knowing and seeing were two different things.
After we ate, we headed out the back. The sun was bright overhead, the snow crunched under our feet. The footprints from the day before were beginning to disappear as the snow slowly began to melt.
Our little group was towards the back of the main group again. Everyone followed the footprints we had followed out through the schoolyard the day before, but I saw something I didn’t see the day before. It made me pause. Maybe it was because it was almost sunset yesterday or maybe because it was the excitement of following the footprints to find the venefici that had been hold up in the high school, but there were more footprints that veered away from the larger group and went to the left.
“Grace,” I called out. She turned from where she had been walking with Victory and Mackenzie and made her way to me. When Mackenzie and Victory saw, they came with her. Arthur and Molly trailed after them.
“What is it?” Grace asked when she arrived.
“What do you make of these tracks?” I asked.
I pointed to the ground “These footprints. They lead off this way. She looked at me slightly worried.
“I don’t see any footprints,” she said. “Just snow.”
“I don’t see any either,” Mackenzie said when I turned to her.
“Me either,” Victory and Arthur said at the same time. Molly however was carefully sniffing the ground over the prints.
“Lily,” I called out. She was walking a little ahead with Maria. When I called for her she turned around. I waved for her to come over so she did. Now the rest of our little group was also paying attention. All of them started to make their way over.
“Do you see these footprints?” I asked Lily when she arrived.
“Yes,” she said as if it was obvious.
“I don’t see any,” Maria said.
“Me neither,” Darren said.
Jin and Gunnor exchanged a glance. “Do you see the footprints?” I asked them. They shook their heads.
“Clever venefici,” Coyote said suddenly standing next to Lily. I hadn’t seen him approach us. It wasn’t the first time Coyote had taken the time to signal out my sister and speak with her. I didn’t know much about tricksters, but just from their name alone, they were deceivers. I didn’t want him to trick my sister. “Covering their tracks with magic,” Coyote went on, “while sending the zombies off in a different direction to fool us.”
“Then,” Lily said, “they must know that we are coming after them and that we’re a bigger group. A group with beings that can hurt them.”
“You two,” Alvina said now suddenly standing next to Coyote. Mackenzie gave a little squeal and buried her head in my arm while she clung to me. Alvina indicated me and Lily. “Lead us on this trail. We will now follow you.”
Lily and I looked at each other. That meant the venefici magic fooled the leader of the vampires too. It seemed that Lily and I were the only ones that could see the tracks. The werewolves sniffed in the air around to where I had pointed out the tracks, but it seemed like the venefici not only covered their footprints with magic, but their smell as well. That meant they knew we had werewolves with us.
Lily and I led the way along the new set of tracks.
“It is beneficial to have humans that are immune to magic along with us,” Alvina said.
We traveled until the sun was setting. Alvina wanted to continue on, but Elwin reminded her that Lily and I were the only ones who could see the tracks and we were humans. We could not see well in the dark and might lose the trail. We made camp for the night. It was a cold night even with the fires we had made. We all huddled together. The cold didn’t bother the vampires or the werewolves and it didn’t seem to bother the tricksters either. More than once Alvina’s eyes trailed to Mackenzie. I hadn’t seen Alvina drink blood from anyone. She was obviously powerful and probably really old. I didn’t know if vampires like that even had to drink, but if they did, she was probably hungry. There was no way I could stop her if she decided to drink from Mackenzie. There was no way any of us could. Except, I couldn’t exactly just hand my sister over to her either. I would try to stop the vampire if she tried. And that most likely meant my death. But if that was the only way to save my sister, so be it.
“Don’t,” Grace said. She curled her arm around mine and put her head on my shoulder.
“Don’t what?” I asked.
She lifted her head so it was close to my ear as she said quietly, “If Alvina wants to drink from one of us, there is no stopping her. If you die trying to stop her, she’ll still drink from Mackenzie once you are dead.” So I wasn’t the only one who noticed. “Please,” she said and her arm tightened around mine. “You have to live. For Mackenzie and Lily. And for me. Please. If Alvina decides she wants to drink from Mackenzie, we have to let her as much as we hate. But that doesn’t mean, we can’t look for a way to kill the vampire leader in the meantime.”
I nodded and turned my head to look at her. She smiled gently seeing that she got through to me. I kissed her chastely, aware of everyone around us.
The next morning, after we had eaten and broke down camp, Lily and I led the way following the footsteps. We were still the only ones who could see them so the venefici still had magic on the trail.
It was midafternoon when we heard a howl in the distance. Goosebumps ran down my spine. All of us – including the vampires and werewolves – froze. And then zombie groans joined the howls. I knew without anyone saying anything, but Mason said it anyway. “Werewolf zombies.”
And then a high pitched screeching arched across the sky. I had never heard anything like it. I didn’t know what it meant, but Gunnor and Jin were clearly unsettled. “Vampire zombies,” Gunnor whispered.
We were towards the back of the group as we moved out to follow the trail in the snow out the back of the school yard. There was an uneasiness that had settled in my chest, but I didn’t know why. The vampires and werewolves were calm as if vampires now being able to turn into zombies too wasn’t a big deal.
It was late afternoon. The sun would be going down in an hour or so. We had argued that we should rest in the high school for the night and head out in the morning, but the vampires and the werewolves were unbothered by the prospect of night and they wanted to get to the venefici before they could get too far away.
The pace was quick. Us humans were practically jogging through the snow. The vampires and werewolves of course were unfazed. I looked around for the tricksters. They often separated and blended in with the other humans. It was difficult to spot them sometimes. I saw Hare first. He was traveling among the human men near Grant’s dad. Raven was on the other side of the group. I never did see Coyote, but I assumed he was there somewhere.
The tracks led back to town. They spanned the entire road as they headed in the direction that would lead them out of town. I was happy to see it was the opposite direction of the wolfpack and where we had sent that family to. The women that had to leave their children behind with the werewolves were not happy that we hadn’t snuck them out along with the family. But Alvina hadn’t paid much attention to the family. She didn’t mind their absence. She would have noted the absence of the women.
We traveled for a few hours. The break we had taken in the high school hadn’t been that long. Streaks of reds and oranges crossed the sky as the sun began to set.
Groans began to lift on the wind. A multitude of groans all in chorus. It reminded me of when we had first approached that diner. That seemed like so long ago. We hadn’t even been reunited with Tanner and Grace then. We didn’t know Hunter and Grace were part dragon. We didn’t know that vampires and werewolves existed let alone tricksters.
I immediately brought out my axe. I felt better with the handle in my hands. Tanner had his bat in his hands. It had been several days since we had to use our weapons.
The groans grew louder. Smiles began to form on the vampires’ faces. With some signal I missed, the vampires moved out and ahead of us with speeds my eyes couldn’t follow. I would get glimpses of streaks here and there but that was it. Jin and Gunnor at least stayed with us. The men that the vampires had claimed as their sustenance chased after the vampires at a much slower pace.
All of the werewolves looked at Liam. “We’re not going to let the vampires get all the credit are we?” One of the werewolves asked him.
Liam gave a half smile and transformed into his werewolf form. The other werewolves quickly followed. As one, they hollowed into the sky and then they two were leaping and chasing, easily surpassing the humans as they ran after the zombies. Alex stepped back and forth anxiously clearly wanting to follow the werewolves that were once his pack. He immediately stilled when Gunnor reached out and held his wrist. Once Gunnor saw that he was calm, he released him.
My little group was left behind. We looked at each other waiting for someone to say what we should do. I didn’t want to run into a group of zombies, especially with my little sister with us, but I also worried that Alvina would retaliate in some way if she didn’t think we were at least trying.
With that thought, I ran after the group of human men with my axe leading the way. The others in my group quickly followed. Jin, Gunnor and Alex could have easily left us behind, but they formed a protective triangle around us as they stayed with us. Darren and the others put up their protective barriers. Similarly as to when we had gone in and killed those other venefici, Darren put up a barrier around me and Tanner.
By the time we could see the advancing, groaning zombies, body parts were flying in the air, zombies lay lifeless on the streets and the vampires and werewolves easily destroyed them as if it was nothing. My group joined the group of human men, but there were no more zombies to kill. The vampires and werewolves had destroyed all of them. There weren’t just a few zombies either. Not even just dozens. There were around a hundred zombies that were once humans that the vampires and werewolves completely decimated.
Raven was suddenly there at the nearest group of men. I had completely forgotten about the tricksters in the excitement of the vampires and werewolves advancement.
“Well done,” he complimented the humans even though they had arrived too late to do anything. “See,” Raven said, “that is our power as a group. Nothing can stand in our way.”
The men around him cheered and congratulated themselves.
I looked around for the other two tricksters. I didn’t see them right away, but Alvina and Elwin were now at the back of the group near us. Grant moved to Elwin as if under a spell as soon as he saw him. Elwin for his part, didn’t acknowledge Grant in any way as Grant came to stand next to him.
A moment later, Liam was also near the back of the group – now I thought of it as the front of the group – but he kept his distance from Alvina and Elwin. Soon the other werewolves joined him.
“Well done,” Alvina said in her normal voice, but it traveled all around us. “We will now claim the high school as ours. Let any venefici know that their magic no longer works there. We will go back and let the humans rest.” With those words, she immediately headed back the way we came to the high school. We all followed her.
I looked again for the tricksters. Hare was still near the group of men he had been speaking to. Raven was now near the back of the group talking to another group of men. I didn’t see Coyote.
The sun had set by the time we got back to the school grounds and there was a cold wind in the air. We eagerly went back inside the building to be sheltered from the wind and any other harsh weather.
We all ended up back in the cafeteria. Food was brought out and prepared for dinner. Molly sprawled out at Arthur’s feet, but she would open her eyes whenever she heard the crinkle of a package.
“You should be proud,” he wasn’t speaking to me, but I tuned in when I heard Coyote’s voice. I found him finally speaking with Maria, Darren, Richard and Monica. “We fought and won that large group of zombies tonight,” he went on.
I glanced at Hunter to see if he was paying attention to Coyote’s words, but he was engrossed in a conversation with his sisters. None of them were paying any attention to the trickster. I glanced at Tanner to see if he was listening, but he was talking with Mackenzie and Arthur.
“There’s nothing we can’t do if we stand together,” Coyote went on. All four of my friends were nodding as they listened to him. Dr. Patel and Dr. Higgins were beginning to listen to him too as if enthralled. Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Anderson were engaged with their own conversation and didn’t seem to notice.
I looked to Jin, Gunnor and Alex to see if they were paying any attention, but Gunnor and Alex weren’t around. Jin was looking away from our group to the other vampires. I followed his gaze. Elwin was staring back at Jin. Their looks were not harsh or mean or distrustful of each other. It almost seemed like they were silently conspiring with each other. And then at the same time, they looked away from each other.
“Great job tonight,” Coyote said as he came and sat next to me. There was a grand smile on his lips.
“You don’t think it was too easy?” I asked. “All of the zombies that I saw were once human, not weres or vampires. I expected a variety of zombies. And I didn’t see any venefici at all. I thought they were leading the zombies out of town. Where did they go? Why didn’t they use their magic?”
His smile slowly disappeared as he blinked at me. “I momentarily forgot you are immune to magic,” he said. He stood up and walked away to join Raven and Hare.
He had been trying to use magic on me? Is that what the tricksters were doing as they went around to the humans telling them ‘good job’? But why?
“So where do we go from here?” Coyote asked. He was suddenly standing in front of Alvina but I hadn’t seen him there before. Now that I thought about it, I couldn’t remember seeing him or the other two tricksters in the school. But they must have gone through it with us. “Do we follow where these tracks lead us in hopes of finding the venefici or do you want to stop, think and regroup since vampires can now be turned into zombies as well?”
Alvina’s crimson eyes slowly left Coyote to look out over the snow where the multitude of footprints led.
“Perhaps,” Elwin – the vampire who drank from Grant – said, “we should at least pause to give the human’s time to rest and eat. We can then discuss a better formation to move in than the one we have now.”
Alvina’s eyes scanned the humans. Mackenzie slid closer to me as Alvina’s eyes landed on us briefly before moving on.
“Fine,” Alvina said. “We will go back into the school to rest.”
Those in the back led the way back into the school. No one said anything as we moved through the empty halls, but we ended up back into the cafeteria without any discussion. The discarded candles were lit, the leftover bean bags were gathered and we broke out food from our stores to eat.
Alex joined our group and ate with us. Mason and Elsie also joined us to eat. Liam glanced over at them, but didn’t protest as he ate with the other werewolves. Grant and his dad ate with the men from the tricksters’ group. He would glance at us every once in a while. His eyes would linger forlornly at Monica as she sat next to Richard. Monica and Richard didn’t seem to notice him. I got the impression Grant wished he was still with our group instead of those other men and not just because of Monica. We were his age and at least he had known us from high school even if we hadn’t really been friends. I didn’t miss him though and I didn’t think anyone else in our group did either. From that first Halloween night, he had only proven himself as a hindrance and a liability. His father made it so much more dangerous. If Grant could be brave and fight alongside us against the zombies and abandon his father who had pushed Monica to the zombies, maybe we would have taken him back. But Grant wasn’t going to change that easily and he wasn’t going to abandon his father no matter who his father threw to the zombies along the way. I feared one day, he would even throw Grant to the zombies and none of us would be there to protect him because he had chosen his father over us.
Coyote caught my eye as he stood in a corner of the room with Raven and Hare. His eyes darted to Alvina before going back to me. I turned my gaze to the vampire leader. She was staring at Mackenzie. When I looked at my little sister, she was purposely avoiding Alvina’s eyes. She was right up against Tanner as if she could meld into him so Alvina couldn’t look at her anymore.
The implications of Alvina watching my sister so closely was worse than anything I had to face yet and I instantly regretted getting the vampires involved in all of this.
I turned my gaze back to Coyote. He didn’t say anything, but he was reminding me of our conversation anyway. The one where he informed me how to kill vampires and in particular, Alvina. I swallowed hard as a sudden wave of dread and sickness hit me. I wasn’t going to have to let Alvina drink from my sister in order to kill the vampire leader was I? No. I couldn’t allow that. I couldn’t stand by and let Alvina freely drink from my sister. Then again, if that was what Alvina chose to do, I couldn’t stop her as much as I wanted to. She would kill me if I tried to stop her, or she would ignore me and do what she wanted anyway.
Maybe I was overthinking all of this. When I looked at Alvina again, her eyes were turned away from my sister. Maybe I had been imagining all of that. But when I met Coyote’s gaze again, it was clear he was thinking the same as I was. Only where I was sick by the notion of Alvina drinking from my little sister, he was thinking of it as an opportunity.
I couldn’t eat anymore and I gave the rest of my food to Molly who happily lapped it up.
“I know you came out of your house thinking you would be safer with a large group,” Hunter said to the new family that had joined us. “But, we are planning on going directly to the venefici to kill them. We are expecting a fight. I think you would be safer in your home.”
“You probably should go back,” Grace said. “It seems like the zombies have left with the venefici. At least that is what I’m hoping. You could restock your supplies and then go back home.”
“There is no guarantee we are safe there,” the dad said. “What if we go to get supplies thinking we are safe and there are zombies shut in the store that we don’t know about?”
That was a good possibility. But I didn’t think coming with us was a good idea. There was only so long the vampires would hold back before deciding they needed to drink from them too. Our group had been relatively safe only because Jin, Gunnor and now Alex were already drinking from us. While Alex only seemed to need to drink blood every few days and he was drinking from the women we freed, Jin and Gunnor still took turns drinking from the rest of us. And we were more than ready to let them. It made them stronger and they were the only thing standing between us and the other vampires. Well, the werewolves too, but Jin and Gunnor were with our group while the werewolves mostly stayed to themselves.
“They could go to our pack,” Elsie said.
“Your pack doesn’t seem very welcoming,” Hunter muttered.
“Not to you, lizard boy,” Mason said, “but Erik has already opened the doors to the children and said their families are welcome to join them. We can ask him to be sure, but I’m sure he’d let this family stay too.”
“He knows the world has changed from what it once was,” Elsie added.
“But they’d still have to travel there,” Grace said, “and who knows what trouble they could run into. I don’t think Alvina will let anyone here leave the group to accompany them.”
“She has no say over what the werewolves do,” Elsie said with an angry undercurrent in her tone.
“But we won’t leave Liam and the rest of the pack that came to fight,” Mason said. “There weren’t any signs of zombies as we traveled here. It seems like the venefici gathered them all. Whether that is to guard them because they somehow knew we were coming or for some other nefarious reason, we don’t know. But I think this family would be safe to travel to Erik.”
We waited for the family to say something. When they didn’t say anything right away, Mackenzie whispered, “Will Alvina even let them go though? She didn’t let those other women rejoin their kids.”
“These people weren’t part of our bargain with them like the other people were,” Dr. Patel said.
“Yeah,” Dr. Higgins said. “If you’re going to go, you should go now before Alvina and her vampires really take note of you.”
“Is it alright if we go to your pack?” the mom asked Mason and Elsie. “How will they know we aren’t enemies?”
“We’ll tell them you are coming,” Elsie said.
“How?” the mom asked. “It’s not like telephones are working.”
“The perks of being a werewolf in a pack,” Mason said. He got that far away look that he got when he was communicating with Erik. After several moments of silence, he blinked and his eyes focused on the family. “Erik said it was alright for you to go to them,” he said. “They’ll be watching for you.”
We each gave them some of our supplies while Mason and Elsie gave them directions on where to go. We all stood up when they went to slip out to hopefully make it less noticeable to Alvina and the other vampires.
When I glanced at Alvina, she watched us with a too knowing smile, but she didn’t say anything and she didn’t tell the vampires to go after the family. The family sneaked out the door and out of sight. They were on their own now, but since the zombies weren’t around anymore, it seemed like they had a better chance than they would have on Halloween night.
“The words don’t have the same pull they used to,” Darren said.
“They don’t affect you anymore?” I asked. “Is it because you know what they are now?”
“No,” he said, “they still have some pull, but the magic isn’t as strong.”
“Maybe the venefici left already,” Elsie offered.
“That would be a disappointment,” Alvina said as she suddenly appeared beside us. “I want to kill venefici. I want to taste their blood on my tongue. I want the thrill of hearing their screams. Well, shall we go in and see?” She disappeared and reappeared towards the front of the group. She waved for us to take the lead. I wasn’t sure if she was using magic to get around so quickly or if she could just move so fast that it appeared like she was disappearing.
Everyone waited as our group moved to stand in the front next to Alvina. The vampire who was her second in command and the same one that had claimed Grant stood next to her. Grant was by his side.
Tanner and Grace entered the building first. When I stepped in, there was an eerie feeling of familiarity and unfamiliarity at the same time. I had traveled through these halls many times. But then they had been filled with students talking and laughing, hurrying from one class to another. Now it was empty and silent.
“This is weird,” Darren said quietly.
“It really is,” Richard said. He and Monica held hands as they stood beside us. Maria’s shoulder bumped into mine. When I looked at her, it was clear she was feeling the same as the rest of us.
“Where do you think the venefici would be?” Elsie asked.
“Cafeteria maybe,” Monica offered.
“Or maybe the auditorium,” Hunter said.
“Let’s start with the cafeteria,” Grace said. She held my brother’s hand as they led the way. Victoria, Mackenzie and Arthur walked directly behind us. Molly walked close to Arthur’s side. The older adults walked behind them.
“Do you think we’ll ever go to school here?” Mackenzie whispered to Victoria and Arthur, but since they were directly behind me, I heard them. I pretended I didn’t. It felt like it was supposed to be their conversation alone.
“I don’t know,” Victoria said.
“Things will go back to normal someday,” Arthur said hopefully. But even if things did go back to some normalcy, that normalcy would be a lot different from what normal used to be. For one thing, Arthur’s family was dead. My parents were dead. So many people were dead. I wondered how many students and teachers were left. Probably not many. We now knew that other creatures other than humans lived in this world. Would school in the future now incorporate their history as well? Would we be taught about them?
“I hope so,” Mackenzie said.
I paused as we passed my locker. It was strange to be here, to find the halls empty, to be here for something other than school, to pass by my locker and not have Maria and Anna chatting my ear off, asking what we were going to dress up for as Halloween, asking if we had finished our homework assignments, meeting each other for lunch. And Anna’s death and my parents hit hard in that moment. I couldn’t stop the tears that leaked onto my cheeks and then I couldn’t contain my audible sobs. My legs went weak. I crouched low to the ground or I would have collapsed. Maria, Monica and Mackenzie were immediately by my side holding me.
“It’s okay, Lily,” Mackenzie said and having my little sister comfort me when I should have been the one to comfort her set me off more. And now I wasn’t the only one crying. Maria and Monica both started to cry with me.
“Keep moving little humans,” Alvina’s voice rang cold over me. My tears stopped as the terror her presence brought shivered through me.
I quickly wiped the tears off my cheeks and stood up straight. I tugged on Maria’s and Monica’s coat sleeves and they followed suit wiping their tears away. Mackenzie grabbed onto my arm tightly as her eyes darted behind us to Alvina. I patted her hand and followed Tanner and Grace as they made their way to the cafeteria.
The words ‘RU in?’ were spray painted on the closed doors to the cafeteria. Tanner and Grace opened the doors and led the way in. There were bean bags and cushions spread all along the cafeteria floor. The tables and chairs that were normally in the cafeteria were nowhere to be seen. Sunlight streamed in through the cafeteria windows at the back of the room. Candles were set up all along the floor, but they were unlit. The wax had partially melted on all of the candles so they had been lit at some point. There were no signs of venefici or humans. It was empty.
“They aren’t here,” Alvina said in a voice that was disappointed and also dangerous. With as much effort as it had taken to get her involved in the first place, I was surprised by how much she now wanted to kill venefici.
“The scent of humans still lingers,” Alex said.
“Maybe they moved to the auditorium,” Monica offered, but none of us really thought that was the case. The school was too silent, too empty.
“Lead the way,” Alvina said in a tone that was now bored.
We made our way through the school to the auditorium. The doors to the auditorium were free and clear of the spray painted words unlike the words on the cafeteria doors. We went inside anyway. The auditorium was dark, but there was nothing unusual inside and no sign of venefici or humans.
“What do we do now?” Mason asked.
“Is it possible they somehow knew we were coming and left?” Darren asked.
“Maybe,” Jin said. “Let’s look out back. Maybe there are some clues as to where they went.”
We led them through the school to the back. It was bright outside after being in the darker school. There were footprints in the snow. A lot of footprints. They lead through the school’s yard towards the woods that were beyond the fenced in school yard.
“We follow them,” Alvina said. This time she and her vampires took the lead. My group slowly retreated to the back again.
We reached the back fence when the sky flashed green again. The vampires didn’t seem too concerned with this other than Gunnor and Jin, but the werewolves and the rest of us paused as we looked up at the sky. Whenever the sky flashed green, something bad happened.
Two of the vampires in Alvina’s brood began to convulse. Now the other vampires took note. The two vampires were not near each other. One was near the right side of the group and the other towards the left front of the group. They fell to the ground almost at the same time and reminded me of Halloween night when all of this first began. The vampires that fell, went still and quiet. The rest of the vampires stared at them not knowing what was happening, but my group started to slowly back away as one. Liam gave a signal to the werewolves and they tensed ready to spring into action.
The two vampires that had fallen suddenly sprang up. Their pupils were green. Their irises were still red. Green surrounded by red. They groaned low and moved in a flash to the nearest humans. Both managed to grab and bite a human. The werewolves began to converge on the two vampire zombies, but the other vampires were faster. The vampires reached the two vampire zombies and ripped their heads off and then did the same to the humans that had just been bitten.
Mackenzie squealed and buried her head against my arm.
“Well,” Alvina said in a dangerous, low voice. “The venefici have just directly moved against the vampires. If we weren’t in it before, we are now.”
As we walked along the empty streets, I couldn’t help but notice the group of women that stayed mostly near Gunnor and Alex. We still didn’t know much about werewolf/vampire hybrids but so far Alex still ate regular food and hadn’t drank blood for a few nights so I wasn’t sure how often he would need to drink blood.
The women didn’t say anymore about leaving their children behind, but I was pretty certain I heard a few of them crying last. I had pretended I hadn’t heard and I didn’t ask anyone else if they heard them.
Even though we moved as silently as we could without talking, a group as big as ours couldn’t stay quiet. Our booted feet shuffled along the asphalt. Our coats rustled as we moved. At least us humans did. The vampires and werewolves were silent. But there weren’t any zombie groans or any signs of zombies.
At one point as we walked through a residential area and drawing ever closer to the highschool, I was sure I saw a curtain shift in one of the houses. I stopped and stared at it wondering if it was just my imagination or not. Maybe there was a zombie inside that had happened to walk past the window. Or perhaps there were survivors inside. Or maybe even venefici. But I didn’t see any more movement.
“What’s wrong?” Mackenzie whispered.
“Nothing,” I replied equally quietly, “I just thought I saw movement in that house.” Now more people stopped around us. Mackenzie stood on one side of me and Tanner on the other. We all stared at the house, but I didn’t see any more movement. “Guess I was wrong,” I said.
I started moving on and those around me moved with me. When we had stopped, the bigger group had gone on. We now trailed at the back. We had passed a few houses before we heard someone behind us call out, “Wait!”
The entire group stopped to look. A family stood behind us. A mother, father, a teenage girl who I had seen at school but she was a few grades younger than me, and two younger boys about ages ten and eight. They were bundled for winter and each had a backpack with them. The mother and father also carried camping gear. They must have been in the house. I had been right. There had been movement and they had seen us.
“Wait,” the father called out again. “Can we come with you?”
“Have you been here the entire time?” Mrs. Smith asked. “How did you survive?”
“We mostly stayed in our basement only coming up occasionally to peek outside,” the father said. “We had food stored down there and all of our camping gear so we have been alright.”
“It has been frightening,” the mother said, “not knowing if there were other people out there. Only hearing the groans of zombies and the occasional screams. None of our electronics work so we haven’t been able to get info from the radio, television or internet.”
“What happened to all the zombies?” Jin asked. “Where are they?”
“They started gathering in large groups a few days ago,” the father said, “not just wandering about randomly.”
“And we saw some people out with them,” the mother said. “Humans. It almost seemed like they were controlling the zombies, but that’s impossible, right? Except they were walking out front and the zombies were following them, but not attacking them and not making that awful groaning noise.”
I exchanged a glance with Darren and Hunter and noticed others of our group doing the same.
The younger son tugged on his mom’s coat. When she looked down at him, he whispered loud enough for us to hear, “Why are some of their eyes red?”
Now the mom and dad looked more closely at us. Their eyes found Gunnor’s and Jin’s and the parents grabbed their children closer to them. Their expressions changed and their heads turned back to the house they had just left.
“Not all of us are human,” Hunter said. “There are other beings in this world besides humans and zombies. Like the venefici you saw that were controlling the zombies.”
“So we’re just going to tell everyone we meet the entire truth now?” Grace asked.
“I don’t see why not,” Hunter said. “Zombies now exist in the world. Why shouldn’t they be warned about the other dangers?”
“Venefici?” the father asked.
“Then what are they?” the mom asked and tilted her chin towards Jin and Gunnor.
“Vampires,” Mason said. “And some of us are werewolves. But don’t worry, I can’t speak for the vampires, but at least us werewolves won’t hurt you.”
“As long as you don’t stray uninvited onto our territory,” Elsie added.
“Venefici created the zombies in the first place,” Hunter said.
“Where are you guys going?” the teenage girl asked.
“Why do you only have one kid with you?” the mother asked.
“So many questions,” Alvina said. I didn’t know when she had come up next to us. A little squeak escaped Mackenzie and she shuffled closer to Tanner.
The family must have felt how dangerous she was because none of them said anything and they all took a collective step backwards.
“Come with us or not,” Alvina said, “but we are moving on.” And then she was back in her spot in the middle and her vampires were ushering the human men forward. We stepped in behind them. Grace and Tanner both waved for the family to follow. They quickly rushed to catch up to us.
“The kids that were traveling with us are all safe with the rest of the werewolves,” Elsie said. “It’s the safest place for them.”
“And we are going to the high school to kill the venefici there,” Mason said. “If you stay close to us, you should be fine.”
“What made you approach us anyway?” I asked. “If you’ve been safe in your house all this time, why would you leave?”
“We’re almost out of food,” the mom said. “And the zombies all gathered and went away with those people who were controlling them, but we didn’t know where they went. They could have been waiting at the store for all we know. You haven’t seen any zombies when going through the city?”
“We haven’t seen any for a while,” Hunter said. “It’s honestly making me nervous.”
“Me too,” I said. And I especially didn’t like the fact that the venefici had been gathering them. What if we got to the high school and it was surrounded with zombies? If it had just been our original small group, we wouldn’t stand a chance. But we had vampires and werewolves with us now. I didn’t think zombies and venefici could stand up to them no matter how many zombies they had.
“What if the venefici have humans locked up in the high school,” Darren asked. “Like how they once had me?”
I didn’t have an answer to that and no one else answered either. Could we just let any humans inside get caught in the crossfire? We had attacked one of their cafe’s before and had gotten lucky to not kill the humans inside. They had been frightened of us, but at least there hadn’t been any casualties among them.
Finally Grace said, “We will do what we can to save them, but our priority is getting rid of the venefici. If we don’t, they’ll just be able to create more zombies and hurt and kill more humans.”
“And still more human souls for their magic,” Darren said quietly.
We continued along the empty streets. We didn’t run into any more humans or zombies. When the high school came into view, the blaring letters of ‘RU in?’ I didn’t feel as wary of the letters as I had before. I glanced at the new company we were with, but none of them seemed affected by the letters like Darren had been originally.
“There isn’t power anymore in those letters,” Darren said as if he could read my mind.
Unlike my fears, the outside of the building was completely bare and silent. There wasn’t a zombie or venefici in sight. I thought I would prefer that, but it made it scarier.