I wasn’t sure who between Regina and the twins planned for the need, but there were hired drivers and cars for seeing the more inebriated guests, as well as their cars, home. Perhaps the twins were against overnight guests. Regina, Ai, Mai, Emma, and I were cleaning up the mess from the party. Jarod, who half-heartedly offered to help, was sitting in front of the sofa, still playing with his new tablet while Laura slept on the sofa. I couldn’t decide whether Aaliyah was managing to help us clean or not; she sleepily wandered around the apartment with either cake or a glass of punch, which the twins assured me wasn’t alcoholic, in hand while picking up bits of trash. Unfortunately, she seemed to spill some cake or punch every time she picked anything up. I couldn’t decide whether I was somewhat pleased to see that the girl’s poise wasn’t flawless or I was wishing the impeccable grace would return, so I didn’t have to follow her around and make sure nothing got stained. Either way, I wasn’t looking forward to apologizing about the enormous amounts of cake Aaliyah ate to Chad. “Do you think he’ll ever notice?” asked Ai as I was trying to get frosting off the carpet by the window. “Not likely.” responded Mai, shaking her head as I looked up at her.
“First off, you’ve cleaned up after the shrimp at that exact spot six times already; it’s the only place where she spills anything. Secondly, we’ve dropped something there repeatedly for her to have an excuse to stop there. Thirdly, would you please throw out the tunnel vision, focus enough to see magic like you’re supposed to be doing, and look out that window?” said the twins, switching off who was speaking at random points in the short list. I playfully mouthed “traitor” at Aaliyah, who grinned and pointed at her cake, probably her sixth slice. Then I did as the twins requested and looked out the window, seeing nothing there. I lifted my arms questioningly at them, causing Ai to facepalm and Mai to sigh in exasperation. Emma started giggling from behind me, and Regina asked her what was happening. Aaliyah was pointing at the window and then downward from behind the twins, so I took another look. “Oh.” I said, a bit confused at what I was seeing. There was a large amount of residual energy down there in a vaguely humanoid shape, as if someone was trying to artistic with magical energy. “Why would someone shape it like that? Is that some sort of warning, an incomplete spell, or…?” Emma was giggling anew, Regina seemed as confused as I felt, but the twins seemed to be considering my suggestions.
“So… what is it?” I asked, feeling impatient. “Laura! You’re awake!” I had never seen Aaliyah seem so excited about Laura before, but she ran to her and received a pat on the head for it. “What’s what?” Laura inquired. “James can’t decide whether that’s cake or something else in the carpet.” said Ai, sounding somewhat disturbed. Jarod stowed his tablet and told Laura they had better get home. “Thanks again for the wonderful party, everyone!” If things were going to work for them, Jarod would need to tell Laura in what he was involved eventually. That conversation would be made all the worse by each passing day until it took place, but I wouldn’t blame him if he worried about endangering her. Emma had told us that such knowledge was dangerous. Knowing only a little bit about this supernatural world could easily lead someone into deadly situations, such as Jarod and I trying to film wolves and getting attacked by werewolves. Whatever he decided, I hoped things worked out for the best. If Jarod somehow hurt Laura’s feelings, Regina would likely be more than a little irritated. I hoped she would be able to control herself well enough not to accidentally injure him with her ability. Things could escalate all too quickly for my liking when I started considering the immense potential for harm between us all.
After Jarod and Laura left, Mai said, “We hadn’t really even considered being artistic with residual energy before you mentioned it, but that’s probably because we grew up knowing about the potential danger of magic. Imagine if someone was making a flower and accidentally positioned the energy in such a way that it created an explosion when released.” I hadn’t really thought about that yet. Ai then told me “What you’re seeing down there is the result of a therianthrope, such as a lycanthrope ― werewolf if you prefer ― taking a different form. We don’t know why the energy doesn’t stick to them as it does to us when we draw it, but we do know that’s what happens. They draw energy, transform, and leave a silhouette of sorts behind.” I could hardly believe this was a coincidence after being present for the deaths of several werewolves. “How did it find us here?” I asked. “Nathan invited him. That’s Luke.” Regina and I both gasped. Luke always had been a bit isolated at school, but he seemed like a great guy despite that. “Are you certain? Luke. My trackmate, Luke?” Ai and Mai both nodded. I hadn’t noticed Emma moving toward me until she rested her hand on my shoulder. “We started suspecting something after we saw him race with you. No human can run like he can, James. He can outrun you with ease and appear like he just got back from a slow walk.”
“If you’re trying to say I shouldn’t feel bad about not keeping up with him, you’re not helping. I’ve raced with that guy for four years now. We were never real close, but he was my teammate. This is… quite a bit to absorb. You seriously think he’s a werewolf?” Emma gave me and Regina, who had started hugging my back as Emma spoke, a hug as Ai said, “No. He’s a werelion, ailuranthrope, or whatever you want to call a being with human and lion-like bodies to swap between. I bet Luke could knock out a heavyweight boxer with one punch if he wanted. The average werewolf would have a rough time at that, but I would still bet on them due to their agility.” I closed my mouth after realizing it was open. Werelions now? How many fantastic creatures were going to be entering my life? Well, how many were already in my life..? Luke the werelion. “How can you be certain he was the one who changed?” inquired Regina. Mai shook her head and said, “Seriously? Why do you think we were dancing with him?” I was missing something. “Wait. You wanted to dance with a werelion?” I asked. Ai rolled her eyes and told me “We were just trying to arouse him a bit. Therianthropes often have more trouble keeping their form when they feel frustrated. He took off when we started ignoring him. We just wanted to see what type he was. I followed him when he took off, so I could watch him change.”
Emma walked over to stand by the twins. Then she said, “The real question is what are we going to do now that we know. Luke might take off on weekends and hunt wild animals for all we know. He also might kill humans for lunch or sport whenever he’s in the mood.” Aaliyah had started hugging my leg while Emma was talking. I lifted her up and held her as Regina was saying, “I think we should try to find out. Maybe we can figure out a safe way to set a trap. We also need to consider his family. If this is something that can be inherited, at least one of them must be one. If not, he might have bit, scratched, or done whatever else it takes to change them. Does anyone know how it works?” The twins started explaining that all forms of therianthropy are primarily inherited, but they have heard of rare therianthropes that can intentionally transform a human. “Where do you get all of this stuff?” asked Regina. “Our family has passed down such knowledge through more generations than you would easily believe. You could say that studying magic and hunting beings that would harm humanity are family traditions.” I couldn’t imagine what being with a family so involved with the supernatural would be like, and I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to know. I remembered Emma telling me that the twins underwent some trial on their birthday, a trial that could be fatal.
I don’t know how long we stood around discussing different ways we might be able to catch Luke in the act or lure him into trap. I knew Aaliyah fell asleep again when I started feeling drool through my shirt. Though no one was saying the words, I knew this was a discussion about how we might take the life of someone I’ve known for four years. If he truly killed people regularly, someone needed to stop him. Wasn’t the loss of one life to save countless lives considered just? How does a person ever have a right to take another’s life, even if the life taken isn’t entirely human? If I convinced everyone just to forget this whole idea and protect ourselves as needed, how would I live with myself, wondering each time I saw a mysterious death in the papers that the person might have been saved if only I had acted. I couldn’t imagine the authorities ever believing any of this without proof. Exposing Luke outright might lead to open war between humankind and the unknown list of supernatural creatures; a war I wasn’t even sure could be won. I didn’t remember sitting down. I was on the sofa again, gently holding Aaliyah as I thought of one bloody scenario after another. There would be blood. This I knew. Whatever decisions my friends and I would make, I doubted anyone would judge me harsher than I would be judging myself, no matter from whom the blood spilled. With whose blood on my hands could I live?