Shields

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Chapter Three

Julie watched from the darkest roof as the boy and his friend finally walked away. She waited until they were out of her sight, and then a few moments after, until at last breathing a sigh of relief. She couldn’t believe what had happened tonight. Furthermore, what she’d let happen. She’d promised herself when she first left for Blackwoods that she’d never let anyone see her at her worst. And yet…her first night in and she’d failed.

He’d been so scared. His face had betrayed nothing, and his words even less, but she’d felt it. The moment she’d dug her fist into that Banshee’s heart, she’d felt it. A wave of fear and awe so great, it had taken all of her effort not to run away the moment the creature was dead. She knew the terror she could be; she knew the terror that she was. It frightened her enough. She couldn’t bear the thought that it frightened others as well.

And he was a Warrior, she reminded herself. A strong, brave Warrior, dedicated to fighting the Banshees that were spreading through the world like vermin; teaming with the Witches to see that their race never gained dominance as they so often tried. He faced death on a day to day basis—but she’d scared him. Simply knowing that was the most painful feeling in the world.

Julie sat back on her heels and rubbed her forehead as the sorrow threatened to overwhelm her. There was nothing to be done now about what that boy had seen. The deed was done, but the Banshee was dead. That was all that mattered at the end of the day. That was all that she could let matter.

Rising to her feet, she leapt out of the shadows and down to the floor of the forum. Her heels made no noise in the silent night. She made her way across the length of it to the place where she’d dropped her bags when the Banshee had come up behind her and quickly scanned them to make sure she’d lost or broken nothing. When she was satisfied everything was all right, she turned in the direction she’d been heading before the interruption. With a deep breath, she started for Blackwoods Academy.

She was still asking herself why she’d chosen to accept the job. It would be nothing but a distraction from the task she needed to do, and she was absolutely positive she’d be terrible as a teacher. After all, she’d be teaching kids her age. They’d never listen to her; they wouldn’t want to. And it’s not as though she’d had any luck with teaching before in her life. Just teaching her brother how to ride a bike had ended badly.

She’d be a God awful teacher, and she’d have absolutely no control over the students, she was sure. So what the hell had she been thinking accepting the job of Combat Instructor?

Julie paused halfway down the alley and leaned against the nearest wall. What was the matter with her? She couldn’t possibly be more negative right now if she tried. Of course she could do this. So she wasn’t a typical teacher—in age, appearance, or desire. But there were things the students of Blackwoods needed to learn, and they were things only Julie was capable of teaching. The students would just have to deal with her somewhat eclectic teaching skills.

Although she still had absolutely no idea how to plan for her first class in two days. There was a fountain of information she needed the students to know and understand, concepts well beyond their scope of belief at this point, and she had no idea how to help them get it.

Some things no one should ever have to remember.

Julie closed her eyes and sighed softly. And some things you have to be able to remember to believe.

That was what she had to do. She had to show them. And hope, in showing them, they wouldn’t run away screaming.

Julie squared her shoulders and started walking again. She still had a lot of ground to cover if she hoped to get to the school within the hour.

She didn’t like how quiet the streets were. This was the time when a Banshee’s thirst for blood was at its strongest, and yet the roads were as bare as they would’ve been a century ago, before the creatures were released. Every once in a while, she’d hear a scream, echoing through the darkened streets, but then she’d always hear the silence not long after. And every time, the silence was far, far louder. Because whenever the screaming ended, it meant a creature had died.

That was her first lesson the students of Blackwoods Academy needed to understand. The monsters might be terrible, horrifying, and shamelessly murderous but they were still living beings. They were still soulful bodies. And whenever one of them died, it was still another life taken. Julie would bet anything that was a lesson the students didn’t know—one they’d never been taught. She knew how much easier it was to pretend the Banshees were nothing. To pretend they were soulless, heartless, emotionless beasts. It’s less upsetting that way. There’s no guilt, no remorse, no shock at what you’ve done. Because if it doesn’t have a heart or a soul or feelings, then it isn’t even close to being human. So it isn’t murder.

Except it is. It’s still taking a life into your own hands and deciding its fate yourself. It’s still immoral and unjustifiable and completely heartless. It’s still murder.

Which was why, all those years ago, the Wilas imprisoned the Banshees instead of killing them. They understood the horror of genocide.

And now, Julie was walking toward a school hell bent on eradicating every last one of the Banshees to stop them from slaughtering the world and taking over what remained of it. She would never say that the students didn’t have a reason to slay the demons—they were protecting the world the only way they knew how. But she was absolutely certain they didn’t understand the history behind that reason and all that it entailed. It was the second job on her to-do list, though she was certain it would be a lot harder for the students to grasp than the morality concept.

She paused when a particularly loud scream erupted from somewhere behind her, and waited until she was certain a second wouldn’t follow. When a few minutes had passed and no magic lighted the skies, she continued on her way toward the school. Only a few steps in, the phone in her back pocket buzzed softly.

Julie glanced around before pulling it out and checking the ID. There was only one person she’d accept a call from in the middle of the night; only one person she’d allow to distract her in the dark times when Banshees roamed.

“Hello?”

“Jules, good. I was getting worried.”

She couldn’t help but smile at the sound of Jason’s voice. “You should know better than to worry about me, Jase. And you should know better than to call me in the middle of the night.”

“I hadn’t heard from you in hours. I had to make sure you were all right.“′

Julie sighed, shaking her head at the gentle whine in her brother’s voice. She should’ve realized he’d check in on her if she hadn’t contacted him the moment she got into the city.

“Well, I am. I’m fine.”

“So it sounds. Have you had any run-ins yet?”

“Only one. And it’s bothering me.”

Jason chuckled on the other end of the line. “Of course it is. God forbid there’s a single quiet night in the world nowadays. It’s completely impossible that the Banshees decided to take a night off.”

“Exactly.”

He snorted. “You do realize I was joking, right, Jules?”

“I do. And you do realize that you’re absolutely wrong, don’t you?”

“I do.” Jason took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I wish you’d let me come with you. I don’t like the idea of you wandering around alone in a city you don’t know. If you’re surrounded—”

“Well, let’s not think about that right now, huh?” Julie licked her lips and glanced around again. “What if scenarios are only going to make you worry more, and they’re certainly not going to help me. Stay positive, Jason. I’m nearly to the school anyhow.”

“Let me stay on the phone with you until you get there?”

Julie rolled her eyes. After all this time, her big brother still couldn’t shake his parental side. She supposed she couldn’t blame him after the sudden turn their lives had taken when their parents had died eight years ago. But still, sometimes she wished he’d just let her be. As he’d said, she was in a city she didn’t know. Remaining on the phone was an unnecessary distraction.

But she knew it would make him feel better.

“All right, Jason. You can stay. But if I have to go, I want no arguments. I’m still not entirely convinced I’ll make it to the school without incident.”

“Brother’s honor.”

Julie nodded once, though of course he couldn’t see, and continued on her way. Naturally, now that she’d agreed to let him stick around for the rest of the trip, neither could think of anything to say. She debated telling him about the boy in the forum, but decided against it at the last minute. Jason would worry even more if he knew someone had almost discovered her secret. The last thing she needed was for him to come to Blackwoods after her. He might be her brother, and he might be the eldest, but she refused to let him get involved with the Banshees if she could help it.

“Mom and Dad would laugh, you know.”

Julie jolted back to the present at the sound of Jason’s voice. “What?”

“If they knew you were gonna be a teacher, they’d laugh their asses off.”

She smirked, amused both by what he’d said and how he’d said it. “Of course they would. I’m only seventeen.”

“Not because of your age, dumbo. You can’t teach worth a damn.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“You know what I mean.”

Even in the darkness, she managed a chuckle. “Yeah, I know what you mean. But someone’s got to do it, Jason. I suppose it makes the most sense that I would.”

“I still don’t understand how you got the gig, though. Did this guy just randomly call you up?”

Julie shook her head. No matter how many times she explained it to her brother, he still didn’t seem to be able to grasp exactly who “this guy” was.

“His name is Neirin, Jason. He’s one of the Eternals. I’ve met him a few times in my travels.”

“And an Eternal is...?”

Well, at least he hadn’t asked if Neirin was a vampire this time. “They lived back in the time of the Wilas. They were the court, you could say. They kept the balance between the Wilas and the Banshees from tipping.”

“What happened to them all?”

Julie sighed. “Most of them were killed in the battle that imprisoned the Banshees. Some were caught in the crossfire, others took up arms with the Wilas. But, though they were immortal, their magical protections weren’t nearly as great as those of the Wilas. They were cut down mostly by the screams.”

“And this guy survived.”

“This guy,” she smirked, “and two others. Haimon and Micail. Haimon started another of these academies in Asia and Micail went to America. It’s the only way they can attempt to keep order in a world of humans—to teach the ways of the Wilas to the Witches and Warriors of the world. And honestly, Jason, if these academies hadn’t been started, I can’t be certain the Banshees wouldn’t have won long ago.”

“They wouldn’t have.”

Julie’s brows rose at the conviction in his voice. “You don’t think so?”

“Hell no. We’ve got you.”

She bit her lip. “I can only do so much, Jason.”

“And this job at the school is gonna help you do a little bit more. Don’t get me wrong, Jules—I can’t see you teaching at all. But I couldn’t be more proud that you are.”

Julie threw back her head and laughed. “You definitely know how to keep me going, Jason.”

“Speaking of, how much farther do you think you’ve got?”

Julie lifted her head and looked skyward to where she could see the tip of the school standing on the acropolis in the center of the city. “I’d say about a mile and a half, give or take.”

“Please be take.”

“You don’t have to stay on the phone with me, Jason,” she reminded him. “I know it’s about eight hours past your bedtime.”

“Hey! I do not go to bed that early! And besides, you know I won’t be able to sleep if I know you’re still out wandering.”

“I feel like you should’ve gotten over that by now.”

“You’re my little sister. You can be married, settled, and retired from the fighting business and I’ll still never sleep easy if I know you’re not in your own house.”

Julie smiled. “I love you, Jason.”

“I love you too, Jules.”

She came out of a second alley and started up the stone stairs that separated the lower city from the upper city. Here the establishments were a bit more high class, and the buildings made of stone and rock as opposed to the wood and vinyl of down below. She could see the school more clearly now, and she breathed a small sigh of relief that her journey was coming to an end. Despite the fact that she was disturbed by the lack of monsters out tonight, she’d travelled a long way in a short time. The desire to crawl into a big, comfy bed was growing with every step.

“You still there?” she wondered, when her brother had been silent too long.

“Uh-huh.” He stifled a yawn and, in the background, she heard him turn on his iPod.

“What song is that?”

“Guardian Angel by Abandon All Ships. I just found them. They’re pretty good.”

“Hmm. Might have to borrow it sometime.”

“I’ll burn you a copy.”

“Sounds—”

Julie broke off.

On the other end, she heard her brother’s breath catch. “Jules…what was that?”

She swallowed hard. “It was a scream, Jase. A human scream.”

“Jules—”

“I’ve gotta go. I’ll call you as soon as I can.”

“But—”

“Brother’s Honor, remember?” She didn’t have time to wait for an answer. She dropped her bags where she stood and raced back down the staircase. “I love you, Jase.”

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