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I gasped. Looming over us was the most hideous creature I’d ever seen in my life. His body was tall and wide, and his skin was a muddy brown, rough like leather. Two small tusks grew out of his bottom jaw. His nose was squashed and small like a button, and his bulging eyes were a bright mustard yellow.

“What the—?”

“Brett,” the creature grunted, its face splitting into a clumsy grin as it held out a fat hand.

It took me a few moments to realize that it had just informed me of its name. Brett? This thing must be male.

I shook his hand gingerly, afraid that he might crush my bones, but he was surprisingly gentle with me. Though he left my palm sticky with grease. I discreetly wiped my hand against the back of my jeans.

“Brett’s an ogre,” Helina explained, patting the monster on the arm.

Brett shook Ben’s hand too. I noticed my brother also reaching for his jeans after the ogre had released him.

“And I’m Saira.” A deep, gravely voice came from our right. Ben and I turned to see a werewolf approaching. She had a shaggy brown mane and beady grey eyes. “Matteo and I are the original founders of this crew.”

Crew, huh? She makes them sound like pirates.

I looked around at the other members of Saira and Matteo’s “crew”. Brett was the only ogre among them. “Where have you all come from?” I couldn’t help but ask.

“From the supernatural realm,” Matteo said.

“How did this… crew come about?” I asked.

“We’re an odd bunch, aren’t we?” Matteo said, smiling. “We are all outcasts there. Pirates. We banded together to form a group over the years.”

“Where do you actually live?” Ben asked.

“We did have an island of our own, but, well… that’s a long story. We were forced to leave. Right now, we have no home. Though that will change soon. Once we return, Mona will help us secure a new island. We don’t intend to stay here long.”

Pirates? Outcasts? Outcast from where?

His answers had raised a dozen more questions in my mind, but his last sentence distracted me from them. Mona. A sinking feeling filled the pit of my stomach on hearing that they weren’t planning to stay long. We needed that witch here desperately, whether we trusted her or not.

Just as I was thinking about Mona, she reappeared in the clearing, Corrine at her side. Corrine’s face was pale.

“I’ve secured the island,” Mona said, looking around at everyone. She approached us and, looking around at the crowd, fixed her eyes on Erik. “Where’s Kiev?”

“He went to, uh, cool off,” Erik replied. “I’ll go find him. He won’t have gone far.” He sped off.

The witch was about to follow after him when Ben gripped her arm.

“Wait,” he said, looking from her to Corrine. “What will you do now that you’ve secured the island? Our parents—”

Mona raised a hand for Ben’s silence and nodded. “Corrine already requested this of us. I’m going to discuss it now with Kiev. Our original plan was to drop off Anna here and perhaps stay here a few days since some of our people are injured from our struggle to get here. But I’ll talk to him.”

Ben let go of her and she vanished. Our eyes fell on Corrine.

“So she’s definitely secured this island?” Ben asked.

Corrine nodded.

“And she can leave this island without it being affected?”

“So she claims,” Corrine said.

We all knew how powerful Annora was by now. To believe that Mona was powerful enough to put a force field around this place that would stand against her even in Mona’s absence was definitely a stretch of faith.

* * *

Mona returned with Erik and Kiev about half an hour later. We watched as they emerged from the bushes across the clearing. It unnerved me to think about this vampire roaming so freely around our island.

Kiev stepped forward in front of Mona and his brother, and stopped a few feet away from Ben and I. He glared at Ben. This vampire seemed to be so unpredictable, I wasn’t sure what he was about to do. I found myself holding my breath.

But then he nodded curtly. “We’ll help you, boy.”

Ben breathed out and nodded back.

Then Kiev’s eyes settled on me. His gaze was so intense, it was hard to hold. It reminded me of my father’s.

It was eerie to feel those eyes on me. Those eyes that had once looked upon the destruction of our family. Eyes that we were now looking to for help.

Something stirred in me as I forced myself to look back at him. I thought I would see evil. But I didn’t. More than anything, I saw need. Hunger. Pain.

I wondered then if he might be doing all this more for himself, to help relieve the burden of guilt he had carried upon his shoulders all these years, rather than out of the goodness of his heart.

In any case, it didn’t matter.

It felt like a heavy weight had just been lifted off my chest. I could see how powerful Mona was now. And although I didn’t know what had been happening to our parents all this time, it felt like, finally, we were in safe hands.

Even though Corrine looked nervous that they should be leaving us now, just at the dawn of an attack from Annora, I also saw behind the fear that she too had faith in Mona.

Corrine glanced at us as Mona and Kiev gathered together a group of uninjured vampires and werewolves to form a large circle in the clearing.

“Don’t even think about it,” Corrine snapped, hurrying over and snatching both Ben’s and my wrists. She gripped us so tightly it felt like she was cutting of the blood flow to our hands. We stood by her side as Mona stepped into the center of the circle they had formed and vanished them all into thin air.

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