Max and I stood a good distance from the fence that ran miles through the wood. Akua informed us inside was a good four square miles, possibly five. Deep in the woods between Moonlight Falls and Midnight Hollow. Close to where Goose had died. Close, Akua told us, to where that object of power stood. The one that had stood for a hundred to two hundred years, according to the vampires, that could destroy magic if anyone harnessed it.
Realizing how close I stood to these things caused my stomach to twist itself in knots. No. I needed to focus solely on rescuing Royce. Whatever else might happen didn’t matter; right now we were there to rescue Royce.
“All right, you three will stay here,” I said to the vampires and Simba who Max asked to come along. More people were involved than I figured would be. Akua, Emilian, Simba, Max, and I were there in the woods. Lumie was staying with Grams as the communicator: if Max and I ran into trouble I’d tell Lumie, she’d tell Grams, and Grams would tell the vampires through a phone call.
Max and I pulled the vials of potion from our pockets. Upon drinking these, the cameras would only pick us up as natural shadows on the camera as long as we kept close to the trees, where shadows naturally were–though to the human eye, not looking through anything, we would look… well, bright. Max would also use magic to make it harder to detect our presence. We had weapons with us, of course; daggers for me, a sword for him, and a dagger for Royce as well.
Please let everything go well, I prayed silently, thinking of Noah, Reeny, Arty, and my future baby. Noah and I had joked about this whole operation before I left. He kept calling me double-oh-Zaid and teasing me about being James Bond-age. But despite the jokes his eyes were unable to be as mirthful as his words and when we kissed… Everything will go well, I thought and Lumie reassured me that nothing bad would happen.
“Ready?” I asked and Max nodded. I drank the potion, gagging a bit at the taste. My body soon felt different… almost floaty. It felt like when I moved the world took a split-second to shift into proper view. Urgh, it kinda made me sick to my stomach as if my nerves making me sick wasn’t bad enough.
We went to the fence, climbing a nearby tree and going over via branches. I felt like any second I might fall off from the weird shift my vision now had. Don’t vomit, don’t vomit, I commanded myself as I shimmied out on the branch after Max. He dropped down on the other side of the fence, landing absolutely silently. When I jumped he helped catch me so I wouldn’t just crash into the bushes.
Max held onto me after I landed then hugged me tightly. “Thank you,” he whispered.
I pat his back and then we began moving, since I didn’t trust my own whisper to be quiet enough. We tiptoed through the trees, my legs very tense as we went. All the years of sim fu helped me with muscle control so I was able to do this fairly well albeit no where near as silent as Max. I could see the cameras nestled in the trees. Some had faint lights glowing, some moved, but I knew all of them were on.
We went in the direction that Akua suggested, working our way to the center. Soon we saw a building… no. Two buildings. One that looked almost like a house and the other that looked like a cement shed or something. Max’s nose crinkled up and he pointed at the cement building; I saw his mouth move in the moonlight. ‘Werewolves’. Then he rubbed his nose and looked around, looking concerned. I tugged at his sleeve and he shook his head, not mouthing anything. I shrugged and followed him to the shed. Soon I could smell the scent of raw meat and dogs.
Max went to pick the lock but when he did the door just swung open. We went in, both of us getting daggers out. UGH! The raw meat smell grew very strong and I really wanted to throw up now. Blood. Dog. And something else… something… decaying.
Max and I both froze as a loud groan emitted from somewhere in the building. Someone else told the moaner to shut up. Then another groan, this one deep and disconcerting. Even in the near pitch darkness I could tell Max’s hair floofed up. I held onto his arm as he went through the building. I trusted his sense of smell to guide us to Royce. Or hoped he could among all these other disgusting smells.
The doors all had bars on them and glinted just barely. It wasn’t until I inspected them close that I realized all the doors and bars and walls were made of silver. Oh Watcher. Being close to silver could make a werewolf feel ill so I couldn’t imagine how bad these werewolves were doing. How bad Royce might be.
That unsettling groan again and the smell of decay seemed worse. I wanted to cover my nose but didn’t want to let go of either my dagger or Max’s arm. Thankfully we stopped before the smell got even stronger. Max pointed at a door and began picking the lock. I looked around, heart pounding. If there were alarms rigged to these doors… but if they were all in cells of silver I doubted there’d be alarms. Sure enough the door swung open without any sound–at least, any sound here.
Max and I slid inside and shut the door behind him. Now I could smell human waste. Urine and feces, along with the raw meat and blood… something else too, that I identified as straw by the sight of the matter on the floor. A body was curled up in the straw. Royce.
Max knelt down. “Royce? Baby?” Royce jerked awake with a yelp. Max covered his mouth quickly. “Shhh! It’s us. It’s me. Roycie, it’s me.”
Max lowered his hand. “We’re getting you out of here. It’s me and Zaid. We’re here to rescue you… … … Roycie?”
“Max?” Royce croaked out then he flung his arms around him. “Max! Oh Watcher, how did you find me?!”
“A lot of help,” Max said, hugging Royce tightly. “I’m sorry for what I said. I love you, I’ll always love you–no matter what. I love you.”
“I love you too Maxie,” Royce sniffled, his voice definitely sounding more normal than it did on the phone. “I’m sorry. You were right, it was stupid to come here. I–“
“You’re not stupid, baby, you’re not–you just had hope. I love you, even if you were mortal I’d still love you and be with you–“
“I know how hard it was for you to love me, and I just threw it aside for my own selfish reasons without even thinking about you, Maxie, I’m sorry–“
“Look, I’m sorry to break up this important conversation but we should be going,” I said and both of them swiveled their heads towards me. “Please? You can continue this later.”
Royce got up and we left the cell, him shuddering as we passed through the silver doorway. “What about the other werewolves?” he whispered but Max just covered his mouth. I looked at the rows of silver doors as we left the shed, wishing I could rescue all of them. Would they be all right until we could stage some sort of big rescue?
Royce drank the third vial we brought and then began creeping back into the woods. We got closer and closer to the fence and just when I thought we had gotten away with it…
“Zaid Danevbie.” A cool voice crackled over some speakers. Max, Royce, and I all froze. “I expected you to come but honestly I did not expect it to be in this manner. Why don’t you come over to the main house so we can talk?”
“Addison,” Royce whimpered, his body shaking in fear just by the sound of her voice.
“Yes, Royce. It’s Ms. Addison. I must say I am highly disappointed in you.” There was a shuffling sound then a sigh. “You had been taking to the adjustment therapy so well.” Royce began shaking even more at those words. “However, I have more important… fish to fry, so to speak. You and your shapeshifting whore friend may go. Zaid, please come to the house immediately.”
“WHORE?!” Max yowled, jumping at the nearest camera.
“Of course. You’re well over five hundred years old and screwing a twenty-two year old? Tsk, tsk. You should be ashamed of yourself.” Max hissed and ripped the camera out of the tree, jumping up and down on it. Royce grabbed his arm, pulling him back into the shadows. Colette Addison chuckled. “Temper, temper! In any case, you both may go as I have no need of either of you. Zaid, if you do not come to the house within five minutes I am afraid I must resort to… harsher means.”
“Let’s go,” I said and the three of us began running through the dark.
“I see,” Addison’s voice followed us. “Very well. I believe the time has come anyway, so even if you go home you will not be safe. If I have to burn your house down with that… husband of yours and those disgusting brats you call children–“
I whirled around, brandishing my daggers. Lightning would have shot from my eyes if it could. “SAY THAT TO MY FACE YOU BITCH!” I screamed. “YOU GET NEAR THEM I WILL RIP YOUR SKIN OFF YOUR BODY AND MAKE YOU EAT IT!”
Addison laughed. “There’s the Zaid I expected. Oh, such language! If you desire to see me face-to-face then please come to the main building. If not… well, the outer perimeters have been raised so you can’t really leave the woods, not properly. Your vampire friends and that lion have been caught as well. You cannot hide from me, Zaid. If you leave these woods I will burn down your house, your family, your life.” Max grabbed my arm as Royce began dragging him through the woods. “No use hiding, no use leaving. I will get what I want, and what I want is you!”
We reached the fence and just climbed over it, not bothering to stay hidden. Personally I’d prefer to go to her house and slice her to pieces but Max kept hold of me as we went. After a moment three figures emerged from some shadows. “We cannot leave,” Akua said. “She has locked us in this area.”
“How?” Max asked.
“Its seems the chain link fence was merely an inside fence,” Emilian said rather darkly. “There is a secondary fence about a quarter of a mile that way, that is much higher and made with with electric magic. There was no indication of its existence before she activated it. If we touch it, we will be fried. Well. Akua, this werewolf, Maximilian, and I would be able to recover…”
We went towards the outer fence and I could hear the humming before I saw it. As far as I could see either way there was a fence that looked to be made out of, well, electricity. I picked up a stick and tossed it. ZZZZAP! Oh yes. Dangerous. Simba and I would be dead in an instance. I craned my neck back, looking up at the height of the fence which was at leas three stories tall. Shit.
>Zaid, Grams has contacted her circle and they will figure out a way to get you out of there,< Lumie said, trying to stay calm. Her head seemed as buzzy and freaked out as mine did. >You guys need to find a place to hide. She said Max should be able to keep you hidden long enough.<
“We need a place to hide,” I said.
“I know where to go,” Akua said simply and she began running fast. Well, running slow for her but fast for the non-vampires. Royce stumbled along until Emilian picked him up, carrying him on his back. Addison kept talking during all of this… promising us we’d never be able to hide. We couldn’t escape. I’d be hers. “Max, begin your hiding magic now. Make it as strong as you possibly can,” Akua commanded.
Max stood in place for a moment, muttering something under his breath. Then he pulled a small vial out of his pockets and threw it down. Light yellow smoke rose up and he told us each to walk through it. Once we did he threw a few more vials down sending really creepy looking purple smoke to curl off to the sides. It kept unfurling though the smoke… the fog never seemed to diminish. He promised that we were hidden so Akua started walking again until we came across a cave. She pulled some branches aside to let us in and then she and Emilian shifted rocks and branches around until most the entrance was hidden. They left enough space so when they started a fire the smoke could escape.
“How long do we have?” I asked, feeling as if we were in a dream.
Max sat down, pulling Royce into his lap. “As long as six hours. They might know we’re here but they shouldn’t be able to get too close–that’s what the smoke did, immunize us against the other stuff. Roycie, baby, I’m sorry.”
Royce curled up against him. “I didn’t really want to come. I didn’t. But when I talked on the phone with her… I think she did something to me. Magically, I guess. I felt like I had to come. I knew there wouldn’t be a cure but for some reason I felt so completely positive there would be one!” Royce looked up at Max, rubbing his cheek. “Once here they locked me up and pumped me full of potions about once every two weeks so I could call you guys on the phone. I couldn’t tell the truth. They locked us up in there! They said…” Now he faced me, face illuminated by the firelight. “We were told we’d be taking over the world, killing off the mortals so we’d be able to run free. Addison’s voice told us daily the same thing, that soon we’d have complete freedom, we’d be who we were, and she’d rule the world. Those who agreed with her got to stay in the house, those that disagreed… well… into the silver cells.”
Max clutched him as his voice broke then Royce pressed fully into Max’s chest. Max nuzzled him, kissing at the top of his head.
>The other witches are here, they’re talking about what to do,< Lumie informed me.
I got up, going close to the entrance. I could hear Addison’s voice over the speakers. It just kept repeating over and over that she knew we were still in the area and that we’d be found. Six hours. An army of… “How many werewolves?” I asked.
“About two dozen,” Royce said. “And I saw two vampires.” Akua and Emilian gave tiny hisses at that. “And about four faeries, and like a dozen ghosts, and I don’t know how many magic-users and–and–and–” He stopped as his voice grew hysterical.
“And?” I turned around, waiting impatiently for him to answer.
Royce’s fingers dug into Max’s clothes. “The dead. They’re dead. I think they’re zombies. Someone was bringing back the dead.”
The groans and smell of decay from that shed. My stomach churned and I covered my mouth to stop the bile from coming out.
“A necromancer?” Emilian asked, sounding absolutely furious. “We must kill them. We cannot allow a necromancer to walk this planet.”
“Says the walking dead,” Max muttered.
“No fighting,” I snapped. “Look I have a thought. This woman might try to hurt my family. She’s responsible for Goose’s death, and all the stuff that has happened to me during my life. I know she is. So I’m thinking… I should fight her.”
“You can’t fight her,” Simba said, glancing up from the fire. “You heard the kid. Two dozen werewolves and other magic-users as well as possibly… zombies? Nuh-uh, you’re as good as dead.”
“Unless we help,” Max said slowly. “Not us. I mean us but not just us. Zaid, tell Lumie to remind Gretchen about…” He hesitated then dropped his voice, “Plan F.”
“Plan F. You are certain that is what he said,” Gretchen asked.
Lumie nodded, her face wet from all the tears she had shed from crying from worry. “What does that mean, Grams?”
Gretchen looked at her witch sisters then at Malik. “It means, dear one, that we’re at war. Plan F is Plan Fight. There’s two options in these cases. Fight or Flight. We’ve been at flight and Max thinks we should fight.”
She turned to face the room. “My sisters, you know what has happened. You know what will happen. We have talked about this for decades. It seems Zaid has found the person responsible. I do not know how involved she is with everything but it seems as though she wants Zaid for something.” Gretchen stepped forward and tried to give her voice as much confidence as she mustered. “We all know about that thing in the woods that has been collecting power for two centuries, thanks to my friends Akua and Emilian. It holds more power than anything or anyone else in this world and it is within the electrified fence, if my area math is correct.”
“Anyone who harnesses that magic will literally be shred into pieces of nothing,” one of the witches said. “There is nothing to fear.”
“There is something else,” Gretchen said and she flicked a glance at Lumie before focusing on her sisters again. “Zaid is not… What I tell you next is going to change things. Illuminata, could you please leave the room? I do not think it would benefit Zaid’s current anxiety level to find any of this out.”
Lumie stared at her grandmother then nodded, getting up to leave the room, wishing she knew what was being said. She sat out in the hall for several minutes and then the doors to the meeting room opened. Lumie hopped up and watched as almost every single witch left the house. Gretchen looked sad but smiled when she saw Lumie.
“What happened?” Lumie asked.
“I told them that if they wished to fight they could come with me but if they did not wish to fight they were free to go.” Gretchen looked at the woman who remained in the room, as well as Malik. “It seems as though just the three of us will be fighting.”
“Four. I’m going too,” Lumie said, shutting Zaid out of her head so he wouldn’t scream at her. “Grams, if he’s in trouble I am going to go and none of you can stop me.” She put her hands on her hips and got the stubbornest look she could muster, daring her grandma to stop her.
Gretchen swallowed. “You are an adult, unfortunately. I cannot stop you. However I have one condition. You tell your dads.” Lumie’s stubborn look dissipated. “I am not going to take you into a life or death situation without them knowing. They should know anyway, because of Zaid. We have about five and half hours before the hiding magic wears off. I’d prefer closer to five hours. It will take us about an hour to get there. You tell your fathers and I…” She looked over towards her phone. “There are a few people I think I should tell about this fight to see if they want to help and… I know someone else who should probably know there might be a battle.”
Vilkas stared at the dozens of faces before him. All of them were blank, showing no emotion whatsoever as they processed what he had just told them. About Zaid, about who his brother truly was, about the concentration of power and the woman who intended to use it which he had all just found out when Grams phoned him asking for aid. When he called for his entire clan to meet, some members of his council were outraged–demanding a private council meeting first to know about what he wanted to say. But he didn’t have time for that. They were about four hours away and they only had five hours to get there.
“I am not ordering anyone to go,” Vilkas said as he found his voice again. Being the Alpha, the leader of a clan had taken a lot of getting used to and even now he wasn’t sure if he could do it. But in this moment he needed to be the Alpha. “I do not expect everyone to go. All I can do is hope that I will not be going alone. If you are going, please come forward now so we can prepare to go.”
“Go to war,” said one of the clan. “For a mortal.”
“For all of us,” Vilkas corrected gently. “If this woman manages to… somehow harness this power, she could control almost everything. Magic itself. Manipulate it in ways unimaginable to all of us. We could all be in danger if–“
“We should not go, this is not our fight.” A council member had interrupted him but it didn’t surprise Vilkas. Brett Wiarton looked at his Alpha. “I am sorry, but it is not our fight. You cannot ask us to possibly die for this cause.”
Vilkas opened his mouth but someone else spoke up. “Of course we do not expect us to die for this cause.” Lune Loupe-Garou stepped up onto the throne platform. “We expect us to win. To triumph over this… pathetic weakling to dares try to rule us. Nobody rules the Niveus clan except our Alpha. Especially not some snot-nosed mortal who intends to kill off half the world.”
“Maybe the world would be better off with most of them dead,” said regular clan member.
Lune gave one of her withering kill-one-in-their-spot looks that made Vilkas want to hide in a volcano somewhere. “If you believe we should trade our lives for theirs then you are utterly wretched in ways I cannot fathom. Even if she kills those who wish us dead, what is to stop her from killing us? We do not have time. If you are going, then stand now.” With that Lune squared her shoulders as if challenging anyone to say she wouldn’t be going.
Vilkas looked around the room as a few people came forward. Not many, but hopefully enough. “I cannot assure that we will survive, as confident as Ms. Loup-Garou seems.” The people remained where they stood and Vilkas nodded. “We will leave within half an hour. Say your goodbyes, gather your weapons, and meet me outside.”
He went right to his room and nearly collapsed, panting heavily. Claire came in, grasping her husband’s hands. “I’m going too,” she said.
“No. You need to stay in case something happens to me. Help raise… the next Alpha,” Vilkas said, looking into his wife’s eyes.”I love you, Claire. I…”
She put a finger to his lips then kissed him. “I love you too, Villy. You better come back to me in one piece or I might not speak to you again.”
Vilkas smiled and kissed his wife one more time before going to say goodbye to his kids.
“NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! YOU ARE NOT GOING! SHE IS NOT GOING! NOBODY IS GOING EXCEPT TO GET ZAID BACK HERE!”
Chance stood in between Specter and the door, arms folded, trying to stand as tall as he could even though he was a full foot shorter than his husband.
Specter ignored him as he continued getting dressed, ignoring the pain shooting through his body as he moved his limbs. “You heard what Lumie told us. What Gretchen said.”
“She’s lying,” Chance said, tears forming in his eyes. “She has to be lying. My baby–our baby–Zaid isn’t–this isn’t…”
Specter zipped up his suit and went over, hands on Chance’s shoulders. “Gretchen says the other side has ghosts.”
“Ghosts can’t do a damn thing!” Chance cried out, stomping his foot. “I would know! I WAS ONE!”
Specter tried not to smile. “Love, listen to me. Ghosts can interact with the living world and can… kill if their intent is there and they are in a place of strong magic–like they will be. None of them have any way to stop ghosts. Magic won’t even properly stop ghosts. Only one thing can stop ghosts.” He held up the old gun that hadn’t seen the light of day in over twenty years. He had been charging it and the others he had locked up in storage and felt sure they’d give him enough zaps to last through two or three dozen ghosts. To send them to the Nether. “They’ll be fighting in an area with a lot of magic which you know perfectly well amplifies ghosts and their abilities.”
“You’re not going,” Chance cried. “Lumie’s not going. Zaid’s going to c-come back here and–and be safe–“
Specter hugged Chance tightly. “I’ll bring him back, all right?”
Specter kissed Chance gently. “I promise,” he said after their lips parted.
“You’re sixty-four, you’re too old for this,” Chance said, wiping his eyes.
“I am never too old to protect my children,” Specter said and Chance hiccuped. “If there weren’t ghosts I wouldn’t go but… ghosts are stubborn little bastards and if they’re gonna be fighting then Zaid’ll need protection against them.” He patted the gun at his hip then made sure the goggles and ear-buds were in his pockets. They were very old but still worked well. “When I get back you can yell at me.”
Chance hugged Specter tightly and Specter kissed him again, their lips lingering together for quite some time. “B-b-be safe and make s-sure our k-kids aren’t h-h-h-hurt.”
Specter cupped Chance’s face and ran his thumb along the smaller man’s cheek. “I will.” Another kiss and then he went to the door. “Try not to worry too much. This might very well turn out to be nothing at all.”
“I l-l-love you.”
“And I love you, Chance.”
Colette Addison stood in her office, staring out the window, a smile on her lips as those who were attempting to defy her approached her woods. “If it’s a fight you want,” she whispered, pulling a tube of lipstick out to carefully reapply the color using her window’s refection as a guide, “then it’s a fight you’ll get.”