Interlude 9 .

Interlude 9

The underling wrung his hands together nervously as he stood next to the Mistress.  She stood tall, calm and with an expressionless face, but the underling had come to recognize the tense anger in her eyes as she looked through the scrying waters.

“How many of these large groups are gathering and do they know about each other?” she asked.  No one would know her anger from her tone.  Only her eyes showed it.

“There are at least five groups around the world that have more than 50 people.  There are several more that are almost 50 in number.  All of these groups have a mix of humans and supernatural beings.  All have some sort of magic.”  The underling shifted slightly away from her as he relayed this information.

“All of our places have already begun to converge into bigger places, right?”

“Yes,” the underling said.

“And we’ve begun gathering the zombies as well?”

“Yes, all is in order.”

She smiled, but the intensity didn’t leave her eyes.  “Good,” she said.  “We should be able to move to the third and final stage soon.”

Chapter 9 .

Lily

We camped on the freeway.  Everyone except the vampires were tense, waiting for any sign or sound of zombies, but it was quiet.  We got up early the next morning and set out. We paused as we passed our cars that we had abandoned on the first night.  It was more of a reminder of what our previous lives were like.  A big part of me did not want to go back into our home city.  It would remind me even more of lives we no longer had and family we had lost. 

Even though Mason and Elsie still approached and spoke with Alex, the other werewolves didn’t.  And Alex didn’t try to approach them.  He stayed near Gunnor and Jin.

We came to the first exit and the closest one to the high school.  Our large group squeezed together closer as we walked down the off ramp.  The streets were void of any people or zombies.  There were cars that had just been abandoned in the streets.  We came upon a few crashes but there weren’t any zombies or signs of people.  

The air began to warm up a little as the day grew on.  The snow on the roads had mostly melted, but there was still snow on the grass and sidewalks.  Maria moved up in the group so she walked next to me.

“It’s weird that our large group isn’t drawing the attention of any zombies,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said.  Our group had discussed that very thing the previous night, but it was more and more concerning as we walked through the empty city.  Some of the buildings around us looked empty and undisturbed, but other buildings had broken windows and doors hanging open with no one in sight.

“Maybe someone killed all the zombies,” Mackenzie offered hopefully.  I hadn’t realized she had joined us.  I wondered if she was cold.  I wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her in closer to me.

“Then where are the people that killed them and the bodies of the zombies?” Maria asked.  “This is just weird.”

“Maybe the military came in and cleared the place out and took everyone remaining to a safe place,” Arthur said.  Molly walked happily beside him.  She didn’t seem to think anything was strange.

“We haven’t seen any signs of military or police or anything in all our travels,” I said.  “But maybe it’s possible.”

“Then what of the RU in? place?” Maria asked.  “Would they have pretended to be human to go with the military or try to rebuff the military?”

We all looked at Hunter who was the nearest non human.  “I don’t know,” he shrugged.  “I know as much as you do.”

We came upon a police station.  Windows were broken.  The door was wide open.  We could see the dried blood just inside the door but there wasn’t a body.  Our little group stopped to listen as the bigger group kept going.  

“Should we go in and check it out?” Tanner asked.  “Maybe we can find some more weapons.”

“Usually the weapons would all be locked up,” Grace said, “but who knows.  Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

“It’s not just up to us anymore though,” Hunter said.  I followed the path of his gaze to see he was staring at Alvina.  She had stopped and was staring at us.  As she stopped, the bigger group also stopped.  The vampire who was her second in command – the same one that had charmed Grant – stood near her.  He said something to her, but we were too far away.

“I found out his name is Elwin,” Maria said.  “Jin told me.”

“He seems the second strongest after Alvina,” Hunter said.

“I think he is,” Maria said.

Elwin said something to Grant and even though Grant still looked at him with charmed eyes, he still seemed hesitant.  Finally, Grant approached us with a few other men.

“We’re supposed to go in and check it out,” Grant said as he arrived.  His gaze strayed to Monica.  Monica didn’t even look in his direction as she smiled at Richard.

“Let’s check it out then,” Tanner said.  Not all of our group went in.  Tanner, Grace, Hunter, Maria, Darren and myself went in.  

It was dark inside except for whatever sunlight streamed through the windows and open doors.  We found a few dead zombies that had been shot through the head.  It had been so silent for the past few days that I welcomed it when I heard a zombie groan.  It was only one zombie and it didn’t get closer.  All of the doors inside the station were open.  When we came to the weapons locker, it was open and completely empty.  We didn’t find any weapons or bullets as we went through the station.  We didn’t find any riot gear or kevlar vests.  The station had already been looted.  

The zombie groans grew more desperate as we walked through the halls, but it never got closer.  Finally, we found the source.  A zombie was in one of the few cells the station had.  He reached his arms through the bars towards us.  He snapped his teeth.  The cell’s door next to him was open, but his door was not open.

“It doesn’t look like he was ever injured or bitten,” Darren said.

My eyes scanned the zombie as Darren said this.  It was true.  He didn’t have any wounds on him nor was there any blood in the cell.

“He must have been one of the first initial ones to change on Halloween,” Hunter said.

“He was probably already in this cell when he changed,” Tanner said.

“This was a waste of time,” one of the men with Grant said.

“We should kill this one just so it doesn’t have any chance to bite and change anyone else,” Hunter said.

“Grant should do it,” Maria said with a challenge in her tone.

Grant looked at Maria and then to the men with him.  “I can do that,” he said as if it would be easy, but he swallowed hard as he took out his knife and approached the zombie.  He hesitated when he reached the bars.  The zombie tried to grab him, but Grant easily stayed out of reach.  He avoided looking back at the men that he had brought with him, but he did look at us.  He took in a deep breath and quickly stabbed the zombie in the forehead.  He shivered as the zombie dropped to the cell floor still with his knife buried in his skull.  He quickly composed himself before he turned to the men.  “Let’s go,” he said as if that hadn’t been hard for him, as if he hadn’t been frightened almost of his wits.

We all moved to make our way back out of the station, but instead of going back to his group, Grant walked with us.  Maria and I exchanged glances not sure what he was doing.  None of us liked him.  Tanner and Grace hadn’t been with us originally, but they had heard our stories about him.  They didn’t like him as much as we didn’t.

“So how long has Monica and Richard been a thing?” Grant asked.

“Really?” Maria asked.

“What?” he asked.  “I have a right to know.  She was my girlfriend.”

“You let your dad throw her to the zombies,” Maria said.

“I couldn’t control what my dad did,” he said.

Maria rolled her eyes and sped up so she wouldn’t have to walk near him anymore.

“What?” Grant asked again.  Hunter shook his head and sped up to be alongside Maria.

“Monica is happy,” Darren said.  “Leave her alone.”

“She’s just putting on a show to get back at me,” Grant said.

“No, she isn’t,” Darren said.  “She truly likes Richard.”

“Please,” Grant said.  “Look at me and then look at Richard.  How could she possibly like him more than me?  You just can’t see it because he is your friend.”

Darren sighed in frustration and sped up completely done with Grant.

“Looks aren’t everything,” Grace said.  “And there is nothing with Richard’s looks.  It’s quite reasonable that some women would find him more attractive than you.”

Grant scoffed.  “In what universe?”

Tanner shook his head.  “You’re unbelievable.”  He took Grace’s hand in his and sped up.

“I’m going to give you some advice even though I don’t like you,” I said to Grant.  “Leave Monica alone.  You showed her your true colors and she isn’t going to come back to you in any universe.  Also, be wary of your dad.  There is a good chance he will throw you to the zombies to save himself just like he did with your mom and your ex girlfriend.”

“He didn’t throw my mom to the zombies,” he said adamantly.  “And Monica . . .,” his voice trailed off.  It was obvious he couldn’t think of an excuse as to why his dad would throw Monica to the zombies.

I shrugged.  “I’m just warning you.  Take it or leave it.”  And then I sped up to rejoin the rest of my group.

Chapter 8 .

Mackenzie

I woke up with the same chill and horror running down my spine since I had when I first saw Alvina.  I barely lifted my head off the sleeping to the middle of the camp.  Alvina wasn’t watching me.  She wasn’t turned in my direction.  She spoke with the vampire that seemed to be her second in command.  The same one who had charmed Grant.  Part of me wanted to tell myself it was all in my head.  That I was just being a big scaredy cat.  But another part of me could not ignore that familiar chill.  I had never caught Alvina looking at me, but I was sure she had been.  I set my head back down and placed my forehead against Tanner’s back.  As if she knew I needed some comfort, Victory’s arm came loosely around my waist from the other side.  When I turned to look at her, she still had her eyes closed so she must have still been asleep.

People began to move and get up.  I pretended I was still asleep until the moment that Tanner got up.  Then I stretched my arms over my head as if I was just waking up and got up.  It was freezing cold as I got out of my sleeping bag and slipped on my boots.  I had slept with my coat on, but I also put on my gloves.  I quickly rolled up my sleeping bag and then made my way to the fire our little group had made.  I sat next to Tanner, but he didn’t notice me right away as he was talking to Grace who sat on the other side of him.

I looked in the direction Lily had gone the other day.  I half expected her to walk out of the woods with all the children and everything would be great again, but she didn’t.  I didn’t like it when we were separated.

I linked my arm through Tanner’s and put my cheek on his upper arm.  “Are you alright, Kenzie?” Tanner asked.

I nodded, but didn’t vocalize an answer.  Arthur woke up before Victory.  He rolled up his sleeping bag and then quickly sat on the other side of me.  He pulled his coat closer around him even though his hood was up and his coat was already zipped up.  He stretched out the soles of his boots towards the fire.  I did the same.  He moved his feet from side to side.  I mimicked his movements.  We looked at each other and then laughed softly.  Molly put her head on Arthur’s lap and wagged her tail happily.  Arthur patted the top of her head affectionately.

“I’m glad she is with us,” I said, indicating Molly.

“Me too,” Arthur said.  Then more quietly he said, “She is the only thing I have left of my family.”

“You can be part of our family,” I said.

“Really?” he asked me with hopeful eyes.  I nodded.  Victory chose that time to get up and sit on the other side of Arthur.  She was scowling but I wasn’t sure if she was upset about something or if she was just still tired.

I felt that horrible chill along my spine again.  I looked again at Alvina.  She had that terrifying smile on her lips, but she wasn’t watching me.  She looked at nothing.  I shivered.

“Are you alright?” Tanner asked me.  He unlinked our arms to put his arm around my shoulders.  He must have thought I was shivering because I was cold.  Victory and Arthur watched me concerned.

“I’m alright,” I said.

A howl extremely nearby startled me.  Alex smiled and stood from where he sat near the fire.  He threw his head back and howled in return.  Mason and Elsie sprang from the trees and rushed Alex.  The three of them hugged each other tightly.

Tanner and I stood and watched the treeline.  More people came into our camp.  I couldn’t contain myself when I saw Lily.  I rushed to her side and hugged her.  She held me tightly in return.  And then Tanner was there holding us both.

“Where are the children?” one of the women who was with us asked.  Now all of the women were speaking and looking into the trees.

“It is not safe out here for children,” one of the werewolves said.  “They are safe in our homes where we can protect them.”

“Liam,” Alvina’s silky voice said from behind me.  I stiffened, but no one seemed to notice.  They were all preoccupied with the tension between the vampire leader and this werewolf.  “I’m surprised Erik sent someone as high as you in the ranks.”

“No you’re not,” Liam said easily.  He didn’t seem afraid of Alvina.  The other werewolves around him at least seemed wary of her.  I wasn’t sure if he was just bluffing or not.  Alvina was terrifying.

“Take us to our children,” one of the women said.  “We won’t be separated from them.  If they are staying somewhere.  We will stay too.”

“You’re welcome to stay with them if Alvina allows you to leave,” Liam said.  All eyes turned to the vampire leader.  I reached out to hold Lily’s gloved hand when the vampire smiled.

“Alex is using them for sustenance,” Alvina said.  “Alex,” she turned to him.  He stiffened under her gaze, “are you willing to give them up and go hungry?”

Alex didn’t say anything as his eyes met Gunnor’s.  Gunnor was as silent as Alex was.  

“Alex,” Elsie said.  Her tone was both scolding and pleading.

Alex met her eyes and said, “Alvina isn’t going to let them go anyway.”

Alvina’s smile widened.  “True,” she said.  “Let’s break camp and move out.”

“But our children . . .” one of the women started to say, but she went silent as Alvina’s deadly eyes turned to her.  No one said anything.

“Great,” Alvina said and her smile returned.  “Then let’s move out.”

I didn’t realize I was shaking until after Alvina left.  I quickly let go of Lily’s hand.  If she had noticed my frightened state, she didn’t say anything about it.  I quickly gathered my pack and sleeping bag as everyone else gathered up their belongings.  The fires were put out and we headed out.  Alvina indicated that our group go first.  I wasn’t sure if it was because we knew the way since it was our home town we were heading to, or if it was because she wanted to keep an eye on us.  

I counted twenty new werewolves that had joined us.  Not including Elsie and Mason.  They stuck mostly with our group if they weren’t scouting ahead or behind.  I breathed easier with them around us.

We walked all that day.  We followed the freeway, but didn’t travel along it.  At night, we set up camp.  I slept easier now that Lily was back.  I made sure to get a spot directly next to her as we slept.  She must have sensed I needed her because she wrapped an arm around me and gently patted my back until I fell asleep. 

The next day, we set out early and continued on our way.  Alvina decided we could travel on the freeway so we moved along it, through the cars and over the asphalt.  I felt pretty safe surrounded by vampires and werewolves that zombies wouldn’t get us.  I expected to see some on the freeway, but we didn’t.  I assumed they had moved on.  Maybe the commotion near the diner all those days ago had called them all there leaving this way open.

Lily, Hunter and Darren whispered to each other as the day grew late, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying from this distance.  Tanner and Grace joined them.  I didn’t want to be left out again.  Victory and I exchanged a glance and then we moved to join our siblings.  Arthur noted our movements and joined us.

“It’s weird,” Hunter said just as we arrived.

“What is?” Victory asked.

“That we haven’t seen any zombies,” Hunter said.  “I don’t like it.  We should have seen some.  We’ve always seen some along the freeway.”

“Maybe they are afraid of us because of the vampires and werewolves,” Arthur offered.

“That didn’t stop them before,” Tanner said.  His eyes scanned the treeline beyond the freeway.  “I don’t like this.”

“Me neither,” Lily said.

If they didn’t like it, I trusted that it was bad.  We continued on, but never ran into any zombies.  We didn’t even hear any zombie groans.

“Let’s stop for the night,” Alvina called out.  And then she was right in the middle of our group.  A squeak escaped my throat as I hadn’t even seen her move.  I was getting better at not screaming though.  “We will get there tomorrow?” she asked Lily.

“Yes,” Lily said.

“Good.”  Then Alvina turned and met my eyes directly.  That cold, horrible shiver ran through my entire body.  I looked away and when I looked back, she had already moved back to her vampires.  She was no longer looking at me, but I couldn’t forget the frightening hunger in her eyes as she had looked at me.

Chapter 7 .

Darren

I sat a little ways away from the others.  I faced towards the middle of the main camp.  It was still difficult to process everything that had happened since Halloween night.  My friends and I had decided to go to a big Halloween party.  Normally we just stayed on our own, but since we were in high school, we had decided to be adventurous.  I wasn’t sure if that had been a mistake or not.  Richard and I had survived but everyone else had died.  But if I had been home alone, there was a good chance I never would have run into Lily and Hunter.  I wouldn’t have been able to go to that parent party to be reunited with my mom.  I wouldn’t be with Richard now.  I’d probably still be back in that city surrounded by zombies.  I doubted I could have survived on my own.  And I now knew there was magic in the world.  I could even use it a little bit myself.  I also wouldn’t have known there were werewolves or vampires.

My neck ached where the vampire had bit me the day before.  He had reached in through my barrier, past Hunter’s lightning like they were nothing and plucked me from where I thought I was relatively safe.  And now as I stared at Alvina and the vampires around her, I was reminded even more that there were greater dangers than zombies.  The snow crunched behind me as someone approached.  I looked over my shoulder to see Hunter.  He sat next to me.  He didn’t say anything, just stared into the middle of the camp much like I was doing.

Finally, I said, “I thought Lily would be back by now.”

“Yeah,” he said.  “It’s going to be dark soon.”

“Do you think the werewolves will help?”

“I have no idea,” he said.  “I hope so.”

I caught Grant scowling at something beyond me.  I turned to look over my shoulder.  Richard and Monica sat close together, smiling holding hands as they talked with each other.  I looked back at Grant, but the vampire that had bit him – the same one that had bit me – now had his attention again.  When Grant looked at him, his eyes were glazed over.  His face was relaxed, dazed and enthralled.

“I’m glad I learned about charms and how to ward them off,” I said.  “Even though I don’t think I quite warded off Alvina.”

Hunter’s gaze followed mine.  “Yeah,” he said.  “Alvina is different from the others.  She is their leader for a reason.  I don’t like teaming up with them or the idea of going back to our high school to rout out any venefici that might be in the building.”

“Me neither,” I said.  

“It is the next step though if we want to reclaim some semblance of our world,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

We let the conversation drop as we watched the charmed humans follow vampires around like little lost puppies or tilt their necks back to let the vampires drink from them.  It left me feeling slightly sick to my stomach.

“I think I’m getting over you,” he said without looking at me.

“I never understood what you saw in me in the first place,” I said.  “You have weird taste.”

He smiled slightly.  “I guess so,” he said.  “I think Lily is getting over me.”

I tried to bury the excitement that rose up inside me at that, but I couldn’t help it.  Maybe if she was getting over him, I might have a chance.

“That just leaves you,” he said. 

I looked at him confused.  I wasn’t sure what he meant by that.  His eyes met mine briefly before he looked back over the vampires and the men that had been with the tricksters.  “You need to get over her too,” he said.  “She looks at you like she looks at her brother.  Like how I look at my sisters.”  His eyes met mine again.  “That isn’t going to change no matter how much you want it to.”

He put a comforting hand on my shoulder and then got up and walked back to his sisters.  I sighed and pulled my knees up to my chest.  The hope that I had felt moments before was completely gone.  Hunter was right.  Lily saw me as a brother and I couldn’t force her to change her mind.  Fine, instead of  holding out hope, I would accept it and try to change my thought process.  It wasn’t going to be easy.  I got up and joined our group by a fire.  I sat next to my mom.

I wasn’t the only one to look in the direction Lily had left in.  Her siblings looked often.  Arthur looked a lot too.  Molly sat by his feet with her head resting on his knees.  He absently patted the top of her head.  Hunter and Maria also often looked in that direction.  The sky darkened and still she had not returned.

Alvina didn’t seem worried nor did she seem in a hurry to leave if Lily didn’t come back.  But I knew Lily would come back.  She would never stay away from her family by choice.  But maybe something had happened to her in the woods.  It had been indicated several times by several different people that the werewolves knew what was happening in their woods.  I didn’t think they would let anything happen to Lily.  Unless they were the ones to hurt her.  But why would they do that?

The sky turned to night.  Stars twinkled in the clear heavens.  The air was crisp and cold and we all drew closer to the fire except for the vampires.  I didn’t think Alex needed the fire either, but he drew closer too.

“She’s okay,” Alex announced.

“How do you know,” Mackenzie asked.  “Did you hear something?”

He shook his head.  “I can’t contact the pack anymore, but I know they won’t hurt her or allow anything else to hurt her.  Especially since the children were with her.  It’s more likely, they want her to stay the night with them.  Take that as a good sign though.  That probably means Erik gave permission and it is giving the werewolves that are joining us time to pack.”

Mackenzie nodded and seemed satisfied with that.  I decided to be as well.  What Alex said made sense and it meant Lily was safe for the night.  The women who were waiting nearby for their children relaxed slightly at Alex’s words as well.

“Are you alright?” my mom asked me quietly as she wrapped an arm around my shoulders.  

“Yeah,” I said.

“It’s going to be weird going back to that city,” she said still quietly.  Our friends around us were engaged in their own small groups of conversation.  No one was paying attention to us.  “I miss your step dad,” she said sadly.

“Me too,” I said.  I missed a lot of things.  Most of all I missed living a blissful, ignorant life without zombies, venefici, vampires and werewolves.  I just wanted to go back to worrying about not catching the school bully’s attention, what college I was going to get into, my grades and my friends.  

“Do you think if we can manage to somehow defeat the venefici that things can go back to how they used to be?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  She patted my shoulder.  “It’s nice to think that’s a possibility, but even if we can so many people will already be dead.  We can’t just forget that magic exists or that there are creatures in this world that can easily destroy us.  I don’t think it can go back to being the same.  I think we need to prepare ourselves for a new reality.  A better one than we are living now, but we are going to have to readjust to the truths we now know.”

I nodded.  That was true.  Life couldn’t just go back to normal even if we didn’t have to contend with zombies.  The sooner I accepted that the better.  Just like the sooner I accepted Lily couldn’t love me back the way I wanted her to, the better.

Chapter 6 .

Lily

The children huddled around me as we walked through the woods.  We all held hands.  They looked up at me for guidance, but I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing.  I smiled at them reassuringly and faked my confidence.  We walked for a while before I felt like we were being watched.  I didn’t see anyone or hear anything.

“I need to speak with Erik,” I called out into the silence.  “Please,” I added.  The children looked at me confused as I suddenly stopped in the woods and called out to no one.

I waited, but there wasn’t an answer.  Juan squeezed my hand.  I couldn’t help but wonder if I was leading them into the woods only to get lost.  What if the werewolves had completely cut themselves off from us despite the fact that children were with me.  I smiled at Juan and started to make our way through the woods once again.

“About what?” Elsie’s voice rang out from somewhere in the trees.

“I know he doesn’t want anymore werewolves to get hurt,” I said, “but you heard what that venefici said.  And you already know werewolves can turn into zombies.  Staying fenced in isn’t going to help any of you in the long run.”  I paused and waited, but Elsie didn’t say anymore.  “Was it you howling last night?  Was that your way of greeting Alex even though he is exiled from your pack?”  There wasn’t a response.

I sighed and looked down at Juan as if the seven year old would magically have an answer for me.  He shrugged his shoulders.

“You keep strange company these days,” Elsie’s voice called out.

I wasn’t sure if she meant the kids with me now or maybe Alvina and her vampires or maybe the tricksters or that large group of men, or maybe all of them.

I decided to start with Alvina.  “Alvina and her brood have agreed to help us defeat the venefici.  We’re starting with the ones that have holed up in the high school.”  I paused to allow Elsie a response to that, but she didn’t say anything.  “The tricksters have agreed to help too.”  I assumed they knew about the tricksters or at least they would know what tricksters were.

“Why do you have a bunch of kids with you?” Elsie asked.  

“Alvina made me bring them,” I said.  “She said werewolves wouldn’t let children be hurt.”

There was another long pause and then Elsie stepped out from behind the trees in front of me.  “He’ll meet with you,” she said.  Her eyes softened as they scanned over the children.  “Come along.”

She turned and walked in the direction I had originally been heading.  I took that to mean I had been miraculously headed in the correct direction.

We walked several minutes in silence before I said, “Are you and Mason alright?”

“Fine,” she said.

“Alex is doing well,” I ventured.

“Hmm,” was all she said.

I didn’t try again as we walked.  I didn’t hear or see anyone else, but I knew there were others out there.  I could still feel eyes on us.  As the iron gate came into view, the other werewolves finally stepped out including Mason.  He didn’t acknowledge my presence in any way so I decided to ignore his too, but I assumed it was him and Elsie that had howled last night and that Alex had responded.  The three of them had always been together at school.  It must have been hard for them to lose each other.

One of the werewolves opened the gate and Elsie led us in.  She led us to the same house we had been in before, but this time she took us to a different room.  It was a large room.  Toys littered the room.  There were small tables and chairs that were obviously meant for children.  A group of children sat at one of the tables playing with Halloween makeup.  My heart lifted slightly at the sight.  Finally something I was familiar with.

“Wait here,” Elsie said and then I was left alone with the children.  The children around me immediately broke apart to go to the various toys.  Marcos went to the table with the Halloween makeup.  Juan followed him.  I looked around at all the children and then approached the table.

“Me too,” Marcos said to the kids at the table.

“What’s your name?” one of the girls asked him.

“Marcos,” he said.

The girl held up a brush slathered with the white costume makeup and said, “What do you want to look like?”

“Victory when she had the white scales on her face,” Marcos said definitively.

“I don’t know what that means,” the girl said.

“May I?” I asked her and held out a hand for the brush.

She gave it to me and scooted her chair back a little to give me room.  I wasn’t sure if Marcos meant Halloween night when I had put makeup on Victory to make her a “lizard girl” or if he meant when she had destroyed those vampires with her lightning and scales had formed on her face.  I hadn’t been there for that so I wasn’t sure what that had looked like.

I wiped off a little bit of the white makeup from the brush so it wasn’t just a big glob and then brought the brush to Marcos’s face.  I used a little bit of gray to outline the scales.  When I was finished, the girl said, “That’s awesome.  You did a great job.  Do me next.”

“What do you want to be?” I asked as I turned to her. 

“Werewolf,” she said and held up her hands like claws and growled.

“Alright,” I said.  “What color do you want to be?”

“Red like cinnamon like my mom’s fur when she is in wolf form,” the girl said.

I had no idea who her mom was or what she looked like in wolf form, but I said, “Alright.” And mixed the colors I thought would make the best combination.  I used a darker shade of the same color to help distinguish the strands of fur.  I used black around her nose and to give her whiskers.

She picked up a mirror I hadn’t realized was on the table and stared at herself.  “This is great,” she said.  And then I was surrounded by a bunch of kids – both from the werewolves and from the group I had brought – each wanting me to make them into some type of animal.

This was my element.  I hadn’t been this relaxed since Halloween before the first green light in the sky.  I patiently painted each child’s face as they wanted and forgot about everything else.

Almost all the makeup was gone by the time I finished with the last child.  And with the last few children I had to convince them they wanted a different color other than one I had already ran out of, but they all seemed happy when I finished.

When the last child got off the seat in front of me and pranced away to play with the other children, I noticed Erik sitting on the floor with his back up against the wall watching me.  I quickly looked around the room for any other adult, but he was the only one there.  He motioned for me to go to him.

I got up slowly and crossed the room.  I sat in front of him cross legged.

“You’re good at that,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said.

“You can’t take the children from here now that you brought them,” he said.

“But they have mom’s and family out there.”  Actually, I hadn’t spoken much with them to know if the women with them were their mom’s.  I had just assumed they were.

“Their family can join them here,” he said calmly.  “If Alvina will let them.  You know it isn’t safe out there for children.”

That was true, but my heart dropped at the possibility of having to go back to Alvina without the children and ask her to let the women go.

“You want me to send my werewolves back out there,” he stated.  “To help you defeat the venefici again.  You are gathering quite the army.”

I hadn’t looked at it that way before.

“You’ve aligned yourself with evil,” he said.

“Temporarily,” I said, “to defeat the venefici.  The venefici have destroyed the world.  I’m sure you’ve been told what the venefici have done.  What they are doing.”

He leaned forward and said, “You can’t destroy all of them in every part of the world.”

“No,” I said.  “But we can start with the ones around us and maybe find out where their main leaders are and take them out.  I’m sure we’re not the only ones in the world who have figured it out and are trying to stop the venefici.”

“How can you be sure?” he asked.

“It’s pretty obvious they were up to something with all the RU in? places that suddenly sprang up everywhere.  You don’t think we’re the only ones doing something do you?”

“I know you’re not,” he said.

“You can’t hide in here forever,” I said.  “Not now that weres can also turn into zombies.  If you stay in here, the venefici win and they will eventually come after you.  They want to rule everyone.  You don’t want them to rule your werewolves do you?”

A low growl escaped him that sent shivers down my arms.  All of the kids froze.  He took a breath and held up a hand to the children.  The ones that I had brought with me didn’t know what that meant, but when they saw the other children go back to playing, they joined them again.

“And what about you?” he asked me calmly.

“What about me?”

“More and more supernatural creatures like me and Alvina are revealing themselves for what they truly are,” he said.  “We kept hidden because humans outnumbered us.  We are no longer outnumbered.  What do you think Alvina is going to do if you defeat the venefici?  Do you think she is going to say ‘Great.  We won.  Now go your own way.’?  She isn’t.  She is going to want to rule over all of you.”

I opened my mouth to say I could kill her even though I wasn’t sure that was possible, but he didn’t give me time to talk before he went on.

“Even if Alvina is dead,” he said as if reading my thoughts, “the vampires have revealed themselves.  They are not going to go back into hiding.  I’ve been told they’ve already gathered human ‘pets’.  They aren’t going to stop now.  Life is never going to be the same even if all the venefici are destroyed.  Even if the magic that is causing the zombies is stopped.  Even if the electricity comes on and electronics work once again.  The supernatural beings are not going to go back into hiding.”

I hadn’t really thought about what came after, but I was afraid he was right.  “Could we stay with you?” I asked.

He laughed, but it wasn’t a mean laugh and for the first time I saw why his werewolves might love him so much as a leader.  “Yes,” he said.  “As long as you follow the rules.”

“What kind of rules?”

“Rules to keep everyone safe,” he said.  “Better than being a pet to the vampires or constantly being pranked and eventually abandoned by the tricksters.”

“Are there other supernatural beings nearby other than what I’ve met so far?”

“Yes,” he said.  “But I doubt many will make themselves known yet.  Especially with Alvina and her brood running around.”  He sighed and looked down at the floor.  “The more werewolves I send with you, the less I have to defend our homes if something happens.”  His eyes looked back at me.  “But I do think the venefici need to be stopped.  Stay here tonight and tomorrow morning I will send werewolves with you.”

He stood up to leave.  “Thank you, Erik,” I said.  He simply nodded before he left.

Chapter 5 .

Chapter 5

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.

Chapter 4 .

Lily

The three men in front of Alvina just looked like men.  They had been called tricksters, something other than human.  It was obvious with the vampires that they were something different.  Werewolves were less obvious when they were in their human form, but there were times when it was obvious with them.  Their wolf forms were obviously not human, but there were other subtleties like when just their eyes changed color.  It was because I watched these three so carefully amid the chaos around as vampires took down human men and incapacitated them that I noticed the strange shadows that moved across the tricksters’ cheeks.  It was night.  It was dark.  There were fires around the camp, but these shadows on the tricksters’ faces moved against the movements of the light.  They moved when there was no light.  The next change was not so subtle.  Their eyes changed from brown to a glowing yellow that flashed in the darkness.

Jin led Alex away from us.  They went into the chaos towards the women and children across the camp that were still tied up.

“If those are our only options,” the leader of the tricksters said in a tone that completely belied the command quality he had when ordering the men.  Instead of the commanding tone there was amusement, “then we’ll choose to live and fight the venefici with you.  If you don’t mind me asking, what have the venefici done to incur your wrath?”

“I’ve been told,” Alvina said as her eyes flashed to me.  I went rigid under not only her eyes but the three tricksters as they looked to me.  Darren and Maria both took my gloved hands in theirs to give me strength, “that the venefici are the cause of the zombies.”  Her eyes turned back to the tricksters.  The tricksters’ eyes lingered on me before focusing on Alvina.  “Not only are they stealing human souls, they’ve grown powerful enough to steal the souls of those that are only partly human like the weres.”

The leader trickster raised an eyebrow at this and the shadows shifted over his face again.  My eyes began to wander over the chaos as men tried to run and vampires quickly overpowered them and bit into necks.  It didn’t seem like the vampires were killing anyone, just drinking from them.  Jin and Alex were untying the women and children.  I could tell they were trying to calm them, but I wasn’t sure they were succeeding.

Grant had gone limp as the vampire that had bitten Darren not that long ago now bit into Grant’s neck.  Grant’s dad turned to run away, but the vampire that had originally bitten Hunter easily caught up to him.  She held him close to her and bit into his neck.  The vampire that bit Grant let him go.  Grant slid to the ground.  His eyes were closed and he didn’t move, but he was breathing and the wounds on his neck already healed.

“That is troubling,” the trickster said, bringing my focus back to them.  “Venefici aren’t known for working together though.  At least not for long.  This will be the same.”

“Do you really think all the venefici across the world agreed to work together, turn humans into zombies, get enough power to increase that reach to partially human beings to only let that all go?” Alvina asked.  “No.  They want to rule all of us and they are on their way to succeeding.”

“I see,” the trickster said.  “And do you think we can take them all on by ourselves?”  The amusement was still in his voice.  The corner of his mouth turned up into a smirk.

“Of course not,” Alvina said.  “The werewolves are going to join us.  And I’m sure we are not the only ones in the world to figure it out.  There have to be uprisings already throughout the world.  We’ll start with the nearest venefici.”  She turned to me.  “Where is that?”

It took my terrified mind a moment to process what she said.  Darren’s and Maria’s hands were still in mine.  That gave me the strength I needed.  “We already took care of the one closest to us,” I said.  “But we did see one setup at the high school in our hometown as we were leaving.” 

Alvina turned her attention back to the tricksters.  “See, we shall go there after the werewolves join us.”

“The Lunar Eclipse Wolf Pack won’t let you get close to their territory,” the trickster.

“True,” Alvina said.  “But we have these humans and they have already been to the wolf pack.  And this one,” she said as her eyes turned back to me.  I suppressed a shudder, “can be rather convincing.”

“Alright,” the trickster said.  “We are with you.”

“Good, then what shall we call you?”

“George,” the leader trickster said.

“Bob.”

“Joe.”  The other two tricksters said.

Alvina frowned.

The leader trickster sighed.  “Fine.”  He waved at the other two.

“Raven,” the one who had introduced himself as Bob said.

“Hare,” the one who had introduced himself as Joe said.

“And I am Coyote,” the trickster said.

Alvina raised an eyebrow at this.  

“Not THE Coyote,” Coyote said.  “Just Coyote.”

“I see,” Alvina said.  “I am Alvina, which I assume you already know.”  Coyote nodded his head at this.  “My brood will use your humans as sustenance.  I assume you don’t have a problem with this.”

“Of course not,” Coyote said.  “You can have them.  We were bored and just using them for entertainment anyway.”

The chaos around us had mostly died down.  All of the humans had been subdued or fed upon.  Alvina’s brood relaxed content all around us.  I noticed the rest of our group had joined Jin and Alex with the women and children they had just freed.  Hunter was now awake and standing on his own though he still seemed weak.  I wondered how long he had been awake.

“Then we have an alliance,” Alvina said.  “We’ll stay here tonight and move out in the morning.”  She moved past them and headed towards where Jin and the others were.  Her back was turned so she didn’t see the way the tricksters’ expressions changed.  Their expressions were dark.  Their yellow glowing eyes focused with menace on the back of her head.  The shadows suddenly moved quickly over their faces before they slowed.  

Coyote turned his eyes to me.  A slow smile crept to his lips and a shiver ran down my spine.  I never thought it would be easier out there amongst the zombies, but now being surrounded by these vampires and these mysterious tricksters I wished my little group was out there just surviving the zombies again.

“You are going to be chaos,” Coyote said to me.  “This is going to be fun.”  Then he turned and walked away from us.  The other two tricksters followed him.

I looked at Darren and then Maria, but neither of them had answers for me.  “We should go join the others,” Maria said.  Darren and I nodded and together the three of us made our way across the camp to where Alvina spoke to Jin and Gunnor.

“Now is the time,” Alvina said to Jin as we came up.  “Let him have his first taste of blood as a vampire/werewolf hybrid.”  It didn’t sound like a suggestion.  It was a command.

Jin frowned, but turned away from all of us as he faced the group of women they had untied.  

“Are you guys alright?” Hunter whispered as he came to stand next to us.

I nodded.  “Are you?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “I should probably eat something though.” 

I knew he hadn’t said that for me to feed him, but I pulled out a bag of trail mix from my bag and handed it to him anyway.  He gave me a weak smile and took the trail mix. 

Jin didn’t say anything as he focused on one of the women.  Her eyes that held terror moments before went calm.  The tightness in her body eased away.  Jin waved Alex over.  There was only the slightest bit of hesitation before Alex went to stand beside him. 

“When will I know to stop?” Alex asked.  

I didn’t see Gunnor move, but he was now standing next to them.  “We will tell you,” he said.

“What are you doing?” one of the women asked.  “Leave her alone.”

“It’s alright,” Jin said and held up a hand to the rest of the women and children.  They immediately relaxed as his charm swept through them.  No one protested as Alex lifted the woman’s hand and brushed back the sleeve of her coat.  His eyes turned red and his canines elongated.  He bit into her wrist.  Gunnor watched him closely – and so did Alvina – while Jin kept the women and children under his influence.

“Now,” Gunnor said and tapped Alex on the shoulder.  Alex immediately released the woman’s wrist.  Two punctures on her wrist oozed blood.  The woman didn’t react in any way other than to stare at Jin in a strange, pleasant daze.  Gunnor lifted her wrist and licked her wounds.  The puncture wounds immediately began to close.

“Good,” Jin said.  Those he charmed blinked as they came out of their daze, but still none of them protested what had just been done.  Then he turned to face Alvina.

Alvina merely smiled before she left us and walked back to join her brood.  As soon as she was gone, Mackenzie and Tanner immediately wrapped me in a hug. 

“Are you alright?” Mackenzie asked.

“Yes,” I said and ran my hand along the top of her head before I pulled the hood of her coat up over her.  “Are you guys alright?”

“Yes,” Tanner said.

We startled as a wolf howl rang in the distance.  It was joined by a second one.  Alex immediately shifted to his wolf form.  His eyes were now the light blue of his wolf.  He lifted his head towards the night sky and howled in return.  I didn’t know what it meant, but there were no more wolf howls that night and Alex seemed strangely content.

Chapter 3 .

Lily

I had closed my eyes because we were moving too fast and it was making me dizzy.  I wondered briefly why I had even agreed to let the smaller Alvina carry me.  Then I remembered it hadn’t been my decision.  We stopped just as quickly as we began.

“Lily,” Mackenzie’s voice called out to me.

My eyes flashed open.  Our group stood in front of a campfire protected by a rocky outcropping.  Snow covered the ground making the night a little brighter than it normally would have been.  It was still dark though with the trees and clouds covering the stars and moon.

“Darren,” Mrs. Smith cried out.  She tried to move forward, but Dr. Patel held her back.  I looked to my side to where the vampire that had initially bit Darren now held him.  Darren’s eyes were open, but he remained frozen, unmoving in the arms of the vampire.

Tanner and Mackenzie held each other in front of our group next to Grace and Victory, but none of them approached us.  I tried to get down, but Alvina held me tight just for a moment to remind me she was much stronger than me and had all the control.  I stopped squirming.  She calmly set me down.  I rushed to my siblings and wrapped them both in a hug.  I saw Maria behind them in a hug with Monica and Richard.  I reached out for her and she rushed to join us in our hug.

The vampire who held Darren set him down on his feet and Darren immediately ran to his mother.  She wrapped him up in a tight hug.  Richard quickly joined them and Mrs. Anderson wrapped her arms around all of them.

Jin slowly moved from the other vampires to set the still unconscious Hunter next to the fire.  Grace and Victory immediately went to them.

The rest of our group carefully watched the vampires.  Most had their hands on their weapons even if their weapons weren’t fully drawn.  Even little Marcos held his knife.  Gunnor stood in front of all of us with Alex behind him and slightly to the side.  He was the only thing standing between us and the other vampires and I knew he didn’t stand a chance against them.  There were dozens of vampires out there.  Alvina had brought all of her brood.

“What happened to him?” Grace asked Jin.

I pulled away from my siblings and best friend to face Alvina.  Now that we were here, I didn’t trust her and she could easily overwhelm all of us if she wanted to.

“He had too much blood taken from him,” Jin said.  “He will be okay.”

“They drank his blood?” Tanner asked.  “Did they drink yours, Lily?” he asked.  There was a hint of rage behind his voice, but I couldn’t let him get angry.  We were helpless before these vampires.  I reached out and took his hand in mine, but didn’t turn away from Alvina.

“Yes, but I’m alright.”

“You too, Darren?” Mrs. Smith asked.

He didn’t answer right away.  I looked at him to see him nodding and staring at the vampire that had bit him.  Mrs. Smith pulled Darren behind her as she glared at the vampire.  The vampire smirked, showed his elongated canines and licked his lips taunting that he wanted to drink more of Darren’s blood.  Darren shuddered and so did I as a chill ran down my arms at the memory of Alvina biting my neck.  Tanner saw and pulled me behind me to shield me from these vampires that there was no protection from.

Alvina’s eyes shifted to Alex.  Neither Gunnor nor Alex showed any sign of fear except the slight tightening of their fists.

In a flash, Alvina had moved.  She grabbed Alex before even Gunnor could stop her and pulled him in close to her.  She forced him to bend slightly so he was eye level to her.  “Vampire/werewolf hybrid,” she stated.

The vampires behind her shifted in their stilted terrifying movements, but I didn’t know what it meant.  “You haven’t feasted on the blood yet,” she stated.

Alex swallowed.  His eyes changed colors but instead of their usual pale blue that came when he was a werewolf, they were bright red.  Gray fur began to spring from his cheeks and chin.  His canine’s elongated.  His fingernails elongated but they were more vampire-like than claw-like.

“You know you can’t charm, right?” she asked.  “The closest thing werewolves come close to charming is the alphas and betas powers.  And alphas and betas that are that powerful cannot be turned into vampire hybrids.  This process would not have worked on your former alpha and beta.  Even your former alpha’s wife is strong enough this wouldn’t have worked on her. When you feast, you will hurt your prey and you won’t have the same control and knowledge of when to stop like a normal vampire.  Did Gunnor tell you this before the process was started?”

Gunnor’s fists were clenched tight as he watched the exchange.  Blood dripped from his closed hands.  I assumed his fingernails were digging into his flesh.

Alex simply nodded in response to Alvina.

Jin stood from where he had been crouched next to Hunter.  He stepped forward to stand next to Gunnor.  “We can charm the humans for him,” Jin said.  “It doesn’t have to hurt.”

Alvina’s eyes narrowed slightly as she turned her gaze from Alex to Jin.  A slow smile came to red lips that sent shivers of terror down my spine.  I remembered the pain of her canines as they pierced my flesh.  The complete helplessness.  My hand automatically went to cover my neck even though the wounds were gone.

“And what if I kill the both of you and just take your hybrid and human pets for myself?” Alvina questioned in her languid voice.

Neither Jin nor Gunnor answered.  They were powerless against her just as we were.  She pushed Alex back towards Gunnor.  Gunnor steadied Alex so he wouldn’t trip with the force of her push.

Alvina smiled again.  “You can keep your pets for now,” she said.  “This one,” she pointed to me, “said there were other humans nearby we can keep for our own pets.”

“You are going to help us then against the venefici?” Victory asked.  Grace shushed her, but it was too late.  They both sat on either side of Hunter.  Grace cradled Hunter’s head in her lap.

“As long as the stipulations this one,” she pointed to me again, “agreed on are kept.”

“What stipulations?” Dr. Patel asked.  He and Dr. Higgins were with the three boys.  Molly had placed herself in front of Arthur.  Her hackles were up and she was visibly shaking, but she didn’t leave Arthur.

“That the werewolf alpha will join us,” Alvina said easily.

Everyone’s eyes turned to me except for Darren, Jin and Gunnor.  It hadn’t exactly happened like that or as easily but I wasn’t about to argue with her.

“So let’s go get the humans that are going to be our pets,” she said again.

“I said some of them were going to join our group to be Alex’s,” I said.  Now all eyes did turn to me even though Jin and Darren had been there when I said it.

“I’ll choose who he gets,” Alvina said.

“No,” I said even though I was shaking with fear.  “We will.”

She tilted her head as she studied me.  I was still behind Tanner, but I had a clear few of Alvina over his shoulder.  He reached a hand out behind him and I took it.  Mackenzie stepped back beside me and took my other hand.

“Fine,” Alvina said, “but no complaining about how we treat our human pets.”

“Fine,” I said, having no problem with knowing what type of men were in that group.

“Three tricksters lead that group of humans,” Gunnor said.

Alvina lazily turned her gaze to him.  “Then they can help us against the venefici too,” she said.  She shrugged her shoulders.  “Or die.  I’ll give them the choice.  So let’s go.”

“Right now?” Grace asked.  “My brother isn’t in any condition to travel.”

Alvina rolled her eyes impatiently.  “Yes now.  I’m hungry.”  Her red eyes found mine and the sharp pain hit my neck again.  I let go of Tanner’s hand to quickly grab my neck at the phantom pain.  Alvina smirked.  Her eyes went back to Grace.  “Gunnor can carry him.”  She waved a hand indicating for Gunnor to go pick up Hunter.  Gunnor didn’t hesitate as he left Jin and Alex’s side.  Grace and Victory stood aside to let him pick up their brother.

“You,” she said to Alex, “can lead us.”

“Not alone he isn’t,” Gunnor said.

Alvina scowled at him, but she said, “Fine.  Jin and Alex can lead us.  You can stay at the back with your human pets.”  Her eyes found mine.  “She will be up front with me.”  I swallowed the fear down.  It took everything in me not to shake my head.

“Not alone she won’t,” Darren said.  He took a step forward even though his mom tried to hold him back.

“I’ll be with you too,” Tanner said to me.

“No,” I said.  “Stay in the back with Mackenzie.  Protect her please,” I whispered the last bit.

Mackenzie’s eyes were filled with fearful tears as they pleaded with Tanner.

“I’ll stay in the front with Darren and Lily,” Maria offered.  Her hand slid into mine.

Tanner hesitated, but he finally nodded at her.  He moved to stand by Mackenzie.  “It’ll be alright,” I whispered to my little sister.  She nodded.  Tanner pulled her back to the camp where everyone were gathering their things.  My pack was still on my back.  Darren moved to my side.  Maria quickly gathered her things and stood on my other side.

We moved out with Alex and Jin leading the way.  I stumbled in the dark a few times.  It was dark, but I could see those nearest to me to follow.  I glanced back to see if I could find my family, but all I saw were multitudes of glowing red eyes that sent shivers down my spine.  I turned my eyes back to the front.

We heard the other group of humans before we saw them.  There was a low murmur of general talk from those who were still awake.  Those walking the perimeter saw us and called out a warning to the others.

Alvina walked right into their camp without a care and so the rest of us followed.

Grant saw us, grabbed onto his dad and pointed.  “I told you,” his voice was loud and had a hysterical edge to it.  “I told you there were such things as monsters and they’ve come to eat us.”

His dad raised his gun at us and a bunch of other men did as well.

“Stop,” one of the men shouted at us.

But then the man that I took to be their leader held up his hand and said, “Don’t shoot.”  Two other men quickly went to his side.  These three men did not raise their weapons as Alvina approached them.  

Grant didn’t listen to them as he raised his gun and pointed it directly at Alex.  Before he could fire, the vampire that had bitten Darren flashed across the distance and held Grant from behind.  He tilted Grant’s head to the side so his neck was exposed.  Grant dropped his gun as the terror took him.  “This one is mine,” the vampire side.  Gunshots rang out, but then there were blurs all around us as the vampires overpowered those with guns.  The tricksters never took their eyes off Alvina as she stared calmly at them.

Men screamed as vampires bit into them.  “Not those tied up,” I shouted.  “Those are for Alex.”  

I hoped the vampires listened and kept their part of the bargain and I hoped the women and children we had seen before were still tied up.

“Make a choice, tricksters,” Alvina said to the three men in front of her.  “Join us to kill the venefici or die.”

Chapter 2 .

Tanner

We had managed to make a fire mainly due to Maria’s magic.  The fire wasn’t lightning with just matches and the lighter didn’t work either.  There was a pot over the fire and canned stew was cooking.  All of us huddled together around the fire except for Gunnor and Alex.  Neither of them seemed to get cold.  Alex stood at one end of the camp facing out watching for any signs of danger and Gunnor sat on a large rock on the other side of camp after having brushed the snow off it.

The woods around us were quiet as the sky began to darken.  We were quiet as we waited for the stew.  Molly was quiet as she slept across Arthur’s feet.  Occasionally her eyes would open to look at the pot over the fire.  She’d lick her lips and then go back to sleep.

Gunnor suddenly stood up.  His body was rigid.  His face was filled with concern as he looked through the trees.  Alex immediately tensed.  His fingernails began to elongate more vampire-like than werewolf.  He watched Gunnor intently, but didn’t move.

“What’s wrong?” Grace asked.  She stood up next to me and reached for her bow.  We all stood and reached for our weapons.  Even little Marcos brought out his knife.

“Jin,” Gunnor muttered.  My first thought went to my sister.  My heart dropped.  I reached out and squeezed Mackenzie’s gloved hand while my other hand tightened around my bat.

“What’s wrong?” Grace asked again.  She took a step towards Gunnor.  Victory quickly stepped in beside her.

“Alvina,” Gunnor muttered.  His fingernails elongated.  When he turned to us, his red eyes glowed against the darkening sky.  His canines had elongated like when he drank.

“What is happening, Gunnor?” I asked.  “What about my sister?  Is she alright?”

“And my brother?” Victory asked.

“And my Darren,” Mrs. Smith added.

Gunnor looked away from us and into the woods.  His hands tightened into fists.  Blood slowly dripped from his closed fists as his elongated fingernails dug into his flesh.  “My connection with Jin is broken,” Gunnor said calmly belaying the fact that his body was anything but calm.  “The last I saw was Alvina biting into his neck.”

My hands shook as I held onto my youngest sister in one hand and my bat in the other.  There was silence as all of us waited for him to say more, but he was quiet as he stood there rigid.

Finally, Alex asked quietly.  “Is he dead?”

If Jin was dead, what did that mean for my sister, Hunter and Darren?  I turned to Grace.  Silent tears streaked down her cheeks.

I swallowed the hard lump that formed in my throat before I said, “We’ll go get them.”

“No,” Mackenzie said and tugged on my hand.  I looked at my sister.  She sniffed as tears flowed down her cheeks.  She let go of my hand to wrap both of her arms around my arm.  She buried her head in my arm.  “Don’t leave me,” she cried.  “Don’t go.”

I pulled her into a hug and held her close to me.  I patted the back of her coat.

“I don’t know if he is dead,” Gunnor said.  His voice was not as calm as it had been.  “I don’t know if your family members are dead.  But I do know if Alvina chose to kill them, we don’t stand any chance of helping them.”  He turned to face us.  “It’s not just her.  She has an entire brood of vampires.  Even with me and Alex helping you, she’d easily kill all of us if we tried to help them.  If she chose to kill them, they are dead.”

Mackenzie collapsed to the snow covered ground as wracking sobs over took her.  I knelt next to her and held her close to me.  Victory and Grace held each other as they cried.  Mrs. Anderson held Mrs. Smith who had collapsed in tears by the fire.

Tears streamed down Richard’s face.  He tried to hide them, but he couldn’t stop them.  Monica hugged him and then he didn’t even bother to hide his tears.  All three boys were crying.  Dr. Patel and Dr. Higgins tried to console them.  My sister’s best friend, Maria, was crying too, but no one was beside her to console her.  I was too busy holding my little sister to be able to help her. 

Alex moved to stand next to Gunnor.  Monica finally noticed Maria.  She waved her over.  Maria rushed over to Richard and Monica and the three of them hugged each other.  Molly stayed close to Arthur.  He hugged her and she tried to lick the tears from his cheeks.

“Is there no chance they are still alive?” Alex asked Gunnor.

Gunnor didn’t answer right away.  He unclenched his fists.  The wounds in the palms of his hands quickly healed.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “Alvina bit Jin before he could explain.  She drained him quickly enough to make me lose my connection with him.  I don’t think he is conscious now even if he is alive.  He did have a plan for your family members to get away if something went wrong, but some of the vampires in Alvina’s brood are really powerful and I don’t know if it’s possible for them to get away.”

“We should have never sent them there,” Mrs. Smith wailed.  “This was a big mistake.  I can’t lose my baby.  I can’t.  He is all I have left.”  Mrs. Anderson held her tighter.

There was a groan off to the distance.  We all froze.  The groan lifted again in the silence.

“Go check it out,” Gunnor told Alex.  “If it is only one zombie, take it out.  Don’t get bitten again.  I think the process of becoming a vampire/werewolf hybrid is complete, but don’t take chances.”

Alex nodded.  His form was just a blur as he moved towards where the groan had come from.

“I don’t think they are dead,” Victory said through her sniffles.  “At least not Hunter.  I think we would feel it if he was dead,” but she didn’t sound too sure.

“So what do we do now?” Dr. Patel asked.  “Do we just wait?”

“There is nothing else we can do,” Gunnor said.  “Your stew is boiling.”

Mrs. Anderson automatically broke away from Mrs. Smith to remove the pot from over the fire.  One by one we went back to sit around the fire.  The stew was passed around.  Mackenzie refused to eat anything when the pot came to her.  I forced myself to take a few bites before I passed it on to Grace.  Alex returned.

“There was only one zombie,” he told Gunnor.  “I took care of it.”  Gunnor’s simple nod was the only acknowledgement.  Alex joined us around the fire and ate the stew.  Molly happily finished up the rest of the stew before she went and put her head on Arthur’s legs as if to comfort him.  He absently patted the top of her head as he stared at nothing.  

The longer Gunnor remained silent, the more I worried about my sister.  Victory was the only one who spoke.  She kept reassuring us that Hunter was alive.  Grace didn’t dispute her words, but she also didn’t show any comfort from those words.  And I began to think it might be more dangerous for my sister to be alive and in the hands of vampires than to be dead.  They would drink from her and she couldn’t be charmed so it would hurt every time.  And there could be worse things they were doing to her.  I didn’t realize my leg was shaking until Grace put her hand firmly on my knee and squeezed it.

Night had completely come on.  Clouds covered the moon and stars.  I tried to occupy my mind with things other than Lily so I wouldn’t go crazy, but no matter what I tried to think of, no matter what my eyes looked at, it always came back to Lily.

I startled when Gunnor and Alex suddenly moved to stand in front of the rest of us.  Alex at first stood by Gunnor’s side, but Gunnor subtly pushed him behind him.  Alex obeyed.  Then Grace and Victory were on their feet.  Victory smiled.  “Hunter,” she said and started forward, but Grace wrapped her arms around Victory’s waist and held her back.  “What?” Victory asked and struggled to be free, but Grace wouldn’t let her go.  “Hunter is getting closer,” Victory protested as she tried to get free of her sister’s arms.

And then there were several blurs in front of us before everything went still.  Jin was there.  He held an unconscious Hunter.  He wasn’t alone, however.  There were dozens of vampires  in the woods in front of us.  There was a male vampire next to Jin who held Darren.  Darren’s eyes were closed.  

In the forefront of all of them was a female vampire whose aura sent dreaded chills down my spine and froze my limbs.  In her arms she held my unmoving sister.

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.