Shields

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Chapter Two

He knew he’d made her cry. He hadn’t meant to make her cry, but he also hadn’t been able to stop himself. He was tired. He was so, so tired.

JP walked out of the elevator when it hit the bottom floor and stepped out into the lobby. It was as empty as it’d been three minutes ago which made his leaving that much easier. No one to explain to. He walked outside, staring up at the cloudless night sky, wondering as he did where all the stars had gone. He’d noticed their absence earlier, right after the final Banshee had died. The sky was empty. A blank slate. No stars, no planets, no moon. It worried him almost as much as the Banshees did. Almost as much as Elena did.

JP sucked in a deep breath and ran his hand through his hair. He knew he shouldn’t have snapped at her like that, but he just didn’t know what to do anymore. Elena was his partner. She was his friend and his fighting companion. She was the Witch to his Warrior, just as Sylvia was to Axel. He couldn’t fight without her, nor she without him. And if she kept telling herself she was worthless, they’d never be able to fight again.

When JP had come to Blackwoods two years ago, he’d been ready. Having grown up in and around the streets, JP knew what it took to deal with the things that lived in the dark. He’d never met a Banshee, never fought one, but he’d understood the basic principal behind the predator and the prey game. And he’d always been the predator. Finding out that he was a Warrior by blood had just made his life that much sweeter.

And then he’d been told he couldn’t fight alone. That Banshees—being a combination of evil Witch blood and dark Warrior blood—had defenses Warriors couldn’t combat alone. He’d been told that he needed a Witch—someone to pull back any shields, counteract any attacks, and distract the fury of the beasts while the Warrior dove in and destroyed. He hadn’t liked the idea of working with someone else initially, but when he’d realized he didn’t have a choice, he’d accepted it and moved on. Unfortunately for him, his first and closest friend was a Warrior as well, so no luck there. But Axel had already had his Witch picked out. And Sylvia had had a friend.

Honestly, at first, JP had thought working with Elena would be great. She was pretty, blonde, and seemingly strong. She didn’t consider herself above him for having magical powers as some Witches were prone to do, and she had never criticized his work ethic—even when it had been questionable. Plus, their best friends were partners. It had seemed like the perfect pairing.

Overtime, though, JP had gotten to know Elena a lot better—almost completely. From working with her and being around her all the time, he’d learned her habits, her thought processes, and could even finish her sentences if he had a mind to try. She’d without a doubt become one of his best friends.

But she’d also become his biggest hindrance.

Elena had no faith in herself, no confidence. She wanted to believe she could be as powerful as Sylvia, but every time she saw her friend accomplish something bigger and better, she let it eat away at her until she truly thought she was worthless. That was why he’d decided so abruptly that they were done for the night. Elena’s ego had taken so many hits—and he and the others had been hit so many times on account of it—that he knew if he didn’t get her off the streets soon, she’d break down at the feet of a bloodthirsty Banshee. And he wasn’t about to risk her safety.

And then he’d gone and yelled at her and caused the very tears he’d been hoping to avoid. Good job, JP. Way to be a friend.

He groaned again and fell down on the steps of the nearest bar. The lights were off and the music had long since died out. He felt like a hoodlum living on the streets all over again.

What had he said to her? Stop whining. Yeah, that was it. God, could he be any more high and mighty? It wasn’t her fault she hadn’t learned how to crack a Banshee’s shield. Until lately, no Banshee they’d met in their lives had ever had shields. It wasn’t her fault Mrs. Marks had been slacking in her area of expertise. And she’d tried. She’d really tried. He’d seen it, as he’d held back one of the Banshee’s arms. There’d been a tiny crack just starting to form in the upper corner, over the head of the shield. A tiny, miniscule crack that had closed the moment he’d shouted at her to hurry up.

And that’s when he’d realized it. That their era had ended. JP and Elena couldn’t be partners anymore. They just didn’t work.

JP dropped his head in his hands and scrubbed his face. Damn it, how the hell was he gonna tell Elena that?

His whole body suddenly froze as a scream echoed through the lifeless streets. JP’s head whipped up quickly and he stared, open mouthed.

Over the roofs of the city businesses, JP could see it clearly: a light show of colors—blue, silver, gold, and green; a battle of magicks between two powerful creatures. He knew it could only be one thing. A Witch versus a Banshee.

But where was the Warrior?

Warriors exuded a presence of their own—just as Witches and Banshees were visible via their magic, Warriors were visible via their weapons. It was a precaution started years ago so any onlookers would know if a Witch were without a Warrior or vice versa. And tonight, JP definitely saw no weapon essence in the air.

He was on in his feet in an instant. Please, oh please don’t let it be Elena trying to prove a point, he begged of the gods, before breaking out into a run. He could see it now: Elena caught up in a storm of elements, both attempting to break the shield of the Banshee and hold it back at the same time. Wanting to prove she could not only fight as well as Sylvia, but slay as well as a Warrior. The worst part of that scenario was that JP knew who she wanted to prove it to—and who it was wouldn’t let her stop until she succeeded.

He jerked out of his thoughts as another scream rang through the city. Looking skyward, he saw another color enter into the fray high above—a dark purplish, crimson, a tint he didn’t recognize as an element or incantation. It swirled around the warring shades until it formed a sheer globe around the group of them and, as he watched, slowly started to compress the shades together. Not soon after, a second scream echoed.

JP quickened his pace. This couldn’t be Elena, he realized as he overshot the entrance to an alley and skidded to stop himself. He raced down it. Elena only knew what she’d learned, and none of them had learned any weird, dark, mixed elements. Nor had any of them learned how to use one to control and contain all. It was magic that might even be beyond Sylvia—at least at this stage of the game. Whoever was battling the Banshee knew what he or she was doing. But that still didn’t change the fact he couldn’t do it alone.

JP whipped around one final turn and stopped short. He could see them now…kind of. At the end of a long alley, he could see the colors, the elements. He could see the globe. His eyes widened as he understood. The Banshee was encased in the crimson globe, not just its magic. It was screaming to be freed.

He couldn’t see who was controlling the light show, though, and that was what worried him. Was the Witch already dead? Had the Banshee managed to take him or her out before the globe had sealed it off completely? Had the Witch possibly fled for help?

“Only one way to find out,” he muttered under his breath, and started forward again, running directly for the fancy show.

When he came out on the far side of the alley, he looked around quickly. He was in the forum right outside City Hall, but he still saw no sign of a Witch. Squinting, he looked head on at the Banshee, searching its face for any signs of glee.

All he saw was agony.

The emotion made JP pause. He’d killed a lot of Banshees in his life; he’d seen their pain and their rage as they’d fallen; he’d seen their vengeance as they screamed one last time. But he’d never seen this before. An anguish so great that, for a split second, it almost seemed human. It almost…it almost had emotions.

“Terrible, isn’t it?”

JP spun around at the sound of a voice behind him. He came up short when he was met with two ice blue eyes filled with sorrow. The regret in them was almost as great as the pain in the Banshee’s. He let his pupils expand then, to take in the rest of the eyes’ owner.

It was a girl. Close to his age, with a wave of dark brown hair tied back into a ponytail. She wore a navy leather jacket, and black pants with boots, and looked every inch like a kick ass Warrior.

Except her fingers were crackling with purplish, crimson magic.

“You should get out of here,” she said softly, drawing his gaze back to her face. There was a hint of a smile playing on her lips. “Death is never easy, even when it’s to save so many more. This…” She nodded to the Banshee that remained shrieking in its cage behind him. “You don’t want to see this,” she whispered.

JP glanced over his shoulder again, slowly shaking his head even as he stared into the Banshee’s eyes. “You need a Warrior.”

“You need to go home.”

He turned back.

She was nodding her head. “Go home, Warrior. Please. As a favor to me.”

“What favor do I owe you?”

“None. But now, I’ll owe you.”

JP licked his lips, both intrigued by this girl and confused. She couldn’t have been more than a year older than him—if she was older at all—but she spoke well beyond her years. As if she’d seen the world and knew its secrets; as if she’d lived forever unraveling them. His gut told him she—of all people—knew what she was doing.

But the Warrior within him refused to obey.

“I can’t leave you alone.”

“The Banshee will die. That’s all you need to know.”

“You might too.”

Now, she chuckled. It was a chuckle so small, but just amused enough that it turned the curious dial up another notch. “I can promise you, Warrior, I won’t.”

JP could only stare at her. She was arguing with him. The fact that she didn’t seem to mind wasting the time to argue with him told him one thing: there was no doubt in her mind the fate of this Banshee. Which meant whatever she was planning to do on her own, she’d done it before. And undoubtedly succeeded. Slowly, JP’s lips curved.

“Let me stay.”

“What?”

“I refuse to leave a Witch alone in the presence of a Banshee,” he said, speaking his dutiful answer first. “But if you refuse to let me help, then the least you can do is let me stay and watch. Have your back, so to speak.”

A dark brow lifted. “Have my back?”

“Just in case.”

The idea truly seemed to stun her. JP, on the other hand, quite liked the path he’d chosen because it was a win-win for him. Protect the Witch; witness what she didn’t want him to see. He made out like a bandit with this deal. Plus, he wasn’t ready to go back to the apartment yet. This situation bought him a little bit of time.

“You…you don’t…” she trailed off, obviously at a loss for words.

“Time’s wasting,” he said softly, jerking his head in the direction of the Banshee.

She turned quickly, as if she’d actually forgotten it was there, and slowly shook her head. “You’re a fool,” she murmured, eyes never leaving the howling creature.

“Right back at you.”

She looked at him a moment, then sighed. “Stand back at least,” she ordered him quietly. “And whatever you do, don’t intervene.”

JP held up his hands in surrender, then took a few steps back away from the globe of crimson magic. The girl watched him a couple moments longer, her surprise that he was actually sticking around written all over her face. But then another shout from the Banshee caught her attention, and she turned away, slowly rounding the globe to the far side.

JP tried to squint through the light to see where she’d gone. The sphere was sheer but with the light, he couldn’t so much as see her shadow. But then he saw something—a quick, bright flash of purple, completely different from the electrical magic—and then he saw her.

She’d changed. Every single aspect of her had changed.

Her bound back brown hair was gone, replaced with loose, wild blonde locks; her leather jacket and kickass boots were history, traded instead for savage, skin made garments and fur boots; and her eyes…oh, her eyes were what caught his attention the most. Outfit and hair changes were possible for any Witch if they were frivolous enough. But her eyes…where once had been icy pools there now lay glowing, green globes.

JP straightened as he watched her intently, ignoring the light that threatened to blind his own eyes. There was no weapon in her hands, no crackling of magical energy. But she stepped through her carved crimson cage as calmly as if she was walking into the supermarket. He started forward, reaching, then stopped abruptly when he realized there was nothing he could do. She was inside the cage now; he’d need her to get in himself if she needed saving.

Eyes wide, all JP could do was watch.

The Banshee didn’t move as the unnamed girl entered its prison. It continued to scream and howl, and, in its own way, beg for some sort of mercy. The girl, however, offered it none. She walked around to the front of the creature and, though shorter than it, stared into its anguished eyes.

What happened next, JP couldn’t be sure of. The girl opened her mouth, and he was certain she said something or chanted something, but for the life of him he couldn’t make out what it was. Whatever it was, though, it made the Banshees shouts twice as unbearable. And then—

His jaw dropped as he watched the girl punch her fist through the chest of the Banshee.

With one last final shriek, the creature finally fell silent. The girl showed no emotion as she pulled her arm free and let the Banshee crumple to the ground at her feet. The moment it fell, the crimson cage disintegrated and the warring lights faded away. The alley was at last still.

JP gaped at the girl looming over the corpse of the Banshee in silence. His gaze flicked to her right arm, covered almost from shoulder to fingertips in the blue blood of the beast. She held it over the Banshee, palm down, and curled her fingers at the creature. The next instant, it had turned to ash.

“I told you to go.”

He started suddenly at the sound of her voice, quiet and lifeless in the night. She lifted her head slowly and turned to face him. Her eyes were grieving.

“There are some things no one should have to remember.”

JP just stared. “But what—” He broke off as the same purple light flashed over her again, restoring her former clothes to her body. Instinctively, his gaze flicked back to her arm. It was clean.

She followed his gaze and let out a quiet chuckle. “One less thing to deal with, I guess. I wouldn’t quite call it a perk though.”

“What are you?” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.

She looked back and shrugged. “I’m a lot of things. I suppose tonight you could call me a friend.”

“Whose?”

She just shook her head. “Go home, Warrior. Save your strength. You’ll be needed again before long.” She started to walk away.

“Wait—hang on! Who—”

“There you are, man!”

JP spun around just as Axel’s hand descended on his shoulder. The taller boy was shaking his head. “Dude, I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Don’t wander out like that; Warrior or not, it’s dangerous out here.”

JP ignored him and shook his hand off, turning back to where the girl had just been. His breath caught. She was gone. But how—

He scanned the width of the forum, taking note of the alleys that circled it. The only place she could’ve gone was down one of them. And if she had, he’d be able to see her still. Or he’d hear her running. But she was just gone.

Witch? he wondered. But no; she was so much more powerful than Elena and Sylvia combined. Then what? There was definitely some magic within her, and he didn’t doubt she’d used it to make her escape when Axel had presented her with the opportunity. But where had she gone? Or where was she going?

He knew it was cliché, but he looked to the sky, searching for any sign of flight or broomsticks.

“Dude, are you okay? What are you looking for?” Beside him, Axel tried to follow his gaze.

“I…” He broke off and shook his head. “Nothing.” He sighed. “Never mind.”

“Well, all right then. Come on; let’s head back. I heard screams not too long ago. Sylvia and Elena will flip if they find out we got too close to a Banshee without them.”

JP didn’t like it, but he allowed Axel to steer him away from the forum. He cast one last glance over his shoulder, searching the night for any trace of the mysterious girl. The screams might’ve stopped for Axel, but he knew for the rest of his life, he’d never get them out of his head.

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