Shields

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Chapter Four

Sylvia rolled over and sighed. She’d been listening to the muted sounds of Ellie’s sobs for the better part of an hour. She still couldn’t believe the way JP had snapped at her earlier. Even though she and Axel had been in the other room, the walls weren’t exactly thick. The pair of them had heard every word that had passed between the friends…and they’d both winced at the irritation behind them.

Sylvia had always known JP and Ellie to be different. That was partially why they worked so well together. JP was quick to act and very straightforward with his plans; Ellie preferred to take a bit of time to sum up a situation before throwing herself into something. JP’s temper could snap like a whip; Ellie avoided angry words and confrontation at all costs. But they balanced each other out. And balance was just as important to a partnership as anything else. She’d never have expected that balance to become unhinged.

But lately, she’d been noticing things. Little things, for sure, but still, things that hadn’t been there before. JP’s tolerance had definitely taken a hit. Over the past couple weeks, he no longer comforted his partner when she was down about something. In fact, he hadn’t offered her many words of encouragement in a while. But JP used to be Elena’s biggest supporter. He didn’t sit with her in class anymore, choosing instead to sit on the far side of Axel. And in Combat the other day, he’d asked her to be his partner instead, claiming he wanted to see how he’d fare against another Witch. Ellie had taken it in stride but…Sylvia had been a little suspicious. And when Axel had come up to her later and asked her about it, she’d known she wasn’t imagining things.

And then tonight, he’d lectured her. In fact, JP had pretty much insulted Ellie. Stop whining? What did he take her for? A child?

Sylvia bit her lip. What had hurt worse, she wondered. What he’d said, or the frustration behind the words? If Axel had ever spoken to her like that—like he couldn’t tolerate or stand her—she wasn’t sure she’d be able to forgive him. The partnership was everything when it came down to the fights. Without it, a Witch or Warrior stood absolutely no chance against a Banshee. It just wasn’t possible.

She closed her eyes when she heard Ellie hiccup from the other room. She sighed. She might still be aching, but she couldn’t just lie here and listen to her best girl friend cry herself to sleep. Ellie needed to know there was at least one person here for her.

She got out of bed and went into the kitchen, grabbing a couple bottles of water and a bag of chocolate dipped raspberry cookies—Ellie’s favorite. Then she walked into her friend’s room, shut the door, and carefully climbed into bed with her.

“I’m s-sorry,” Ellie sobbed immediately, dragging her arm across her eyes and sitting up a little. “I didn’t mean to bother you.”

“Shush now, hon. You’re not bothering me at all.” Sylvia dropped the bag of cookies in her friend’s lap. “Come on—have some sugar. Just ignore him, Ellie. He’s not worth all these tears.”

“He’s my best friend.”

“Hey! He’s only one of them. And right now, he’s being an ass. You shouldn’t be crying for a guy like that.”

Ellie sucked in a breath and picked up a cookie, staring at it as she shook her head. “He’s right, though. All I do is whine. I mean, look at me now.”

“He hurt your feelings. What else are you supposed to do?”

“Grit my teeth and bare it?”

“Or punch him in the face.” Sylvia shrugged. “Since he’s not here for mine, and you don’t deserve to have to do yours, crying is the best option of the three.”

“I should just quit.”

“Oi!” Sylvia pulled back, staring at her friend in shock. “You are kidding me, right? You’re going to quit because of one bad night?”

“One?” Ellie turned to her. “One, Sylvia? It’s every night. I can’t seem to do anything right. For every inch I gain, I lose ten more. You’re always coming to my rescue—you guys don’t even need me. You’ve got the strength of two Witches!”

“Ellie, you’re not being fair to yourself,” Sylvia chastised, slapping the other girl’s arm in reproach. “I’m descended from a long line of Witches, stretching back six hundred years. The Parson clan dates back to the War of the Roses—Philippa Parson, my great aunt God only knows how many times removed, was the one who cursed Henry VIII into having bad luck with women! That’ll teach a man to make a pass at a Witch,” she added with a wink. Ellie chuckled.

“The point is magic runs much deeper and stronger in my family than it does yours,” Sylvia went on. “I’ve had centuries to evolve and grow, and I have centuries’ worth of ‘how-to’ books all over my family’s house. You can’t compare yourself to me fairly, Ellie. For a Witch with so little magical blood in her line, you’re a lot stronger than you think.”

Elena sighed. “But if I can’t even crack the shield of a Banshee—”

“You’ll learn to. These things take time. We only learned of the shields recently. You can’t expect to have mastered something before you’ve been put up against it, can you? Even I had to learn.”

“It took you, like, two seconds.”

“Ellie…”

Elena took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I know.” She bit into her cookie. “I’m overreacting. But it’s hard, Sylvia. You’re not used to screwing up. You don’t understand.”

Sylvia gazed at her friend sadly. She’d seen Ellie like this before—so completely down on herself that absolutely nothing anyone said could make her feel better. But Sylvia didn’t get how someone with so much potential couldn’t see any of it. From where she’d stood tonight, yes Ellie had made some mistakes. But she’d also almost succeeded. That counted for a lot more than the errors. Didn’t she realize that? Ellie had been so close to cracking the shield. But all she could think about now was that she hadn’t. That wasn’t any way to motivate oneself. In fact, if anything, it would only keep her from success longer. And Sylvia wasn’t sure how to tell her that in a way she’d accept.

“Maybe…” Sylvia trailed off, biting her lip uncertainly.

“What?” Ellie dug into the bag and pulled out another cookie. The crumbs on her chest didn’t seem to bother her at all.

Sylvia pursed her lips. “I don’t know. Maybe you should take a break for a little while.”

She paused with the cookie halfway to her mouth. “Wait, what?”

“Ellie, you won’t let yourself see how far you’ve come with your magic. And you and JP haven’t been seeing eye to eye lately. Maybe…maybe you should just take a break from the battles and the Banshees and the hunts. Take some time to find your center again, and learn to trust in what you can do. Just take some time to destress.”

Ellie’s white blonde brows shot up. “What, and leave you and the boys in the lurch? Leave JP on his own?”

“He wouldn’t be on his own,” Sylvia reminded her gently. “Axel and I wouldn’t let him fight alone. We’d go with him. We’d have his back.”

“I…” Ellie trailed off and the gloom that clouded her face instantly made Sylvia’s heart turn in pain. Oh no.

“Am I really that replaceable?” Ellie murmured, slumping back against her headboard. “You guys really don’t need me that much?”

“What? No! Ellie, that’s not what I said at all!”

“But it’s—”

“It’s not what I meant either. Ellie.” Sylvia took her friend’s hand and looked her in the eyes. “Ellie, you’re upset right now. You’re beating yourself up about tonight and you’re hurt over what JP said to you. But you’ve got to listen. You’re not replaceable and you’re not a screw up. You had a bad night—that’s it. All I’m saying is that maybe you need some time to revive your confidence in your magic. Maybe you need to renew your trust in your power before you face the next demon. And maybe…” She licked her lips. “Maybe you and JP just need a couple days apart. It wouldn’t kill you for sure.”

Sylvia smiled gently and reached out to brush a few strands of hair behind Ellie’s ear. “I don’t want you to go anywhere, Ellie. You’re part of this team. But I do think you need some time to yourself, to remember why you’re important to this team without having to deal with Banshees every two seconds.”

Ellie looked away. “I can get better, Sylvia.”

“I know that. But saying it won’t make you believe it. Right now, that’s the only thing holding you back. Once you start to truly believe in yourself as much as the rest of us do, I know you’ll be able to kick some major ass.”

The laugh slipped out before Ellie could stop herself. Sylvia grinned. “There’s that smile. Now, eat some more cookies and get some sleep. We’ve still got school in a few hours.”

Ellie smiled as Sylvia got up and started to tuck in her in, the same way Axel had a little while before. “Thanks, Sylvia.”

“Don’t mention it. I’m right next door whenever you need, girl.”

“What am I going to tell JP?” She looked up when Sylvia straightened. “How am I going to tell him that I’m…”

“Taking a break?” Sylvia supplied. “We’ll worry about that in the morning. For now…” She trailed off. The back of her ear was burning. Her eyes widened. “Oh no.”

Ellie sat up quickly. “What? What is it?”

Sylvia reached back and felt the top corner of the back of her right ear. She hissed as the heat there scorched her. “It’s Axel,” she said at last, staring at her finger. “He’s in trouble.”

“What? How—”

“A spell I cast when we first became partners.” She started toward the door, her heart pounding a mile a minute as she tried to figure out where Axel might be. What had he been thinking going out on his own? Or, she realized suddenly hurrying into her bedroom and yanking her shoes back on, had he followed JP when he bailed out?

Damn that boy.

“Wait, Sylvia!” Ellie came stumbling into the room. “What’s going on?”

“You know about the earrings Axel and I wear. They’re defenses,” Sylvia explained as she grabbed her jacket and threw it on. “Whenever one of us is in danger, all we have to do is rub it and the other is alerted. Something’s happened. For whatever reason, he went back out and now he needs me. I’ve got to go.” She rushed past Ellie, grabbing a sword from the trunk in the corner and strapping it on her back, just in case Axel had gone out without a weapon. It wasn’t like him to, but if he’d been following JP, she had no idea what he’d had time to grab.

“Hang on! I’m coming with you!”

Sylvia whirled around. “Ellie! What did we just talk about?”

“That can start tomorrow. I’m not letting you go out into the streets all alone. You could get ambushed on the way to Axel.” Ellie ran back into her room.

“Ellie, are you sure—”

“You guys are my best friends.” She came back out, ready, one of the axes JP had bought her during their time together in her hand. “I’m coming. I’d never forgive myself if I let you go out alone and you never came back.”

Sylvia smiled, shaking her head. For all the crap Ellie put herself through, she was truly one of the best. “Come on then. I’m not sure where they are. I’ll know better when we get outside and I can search for his aura.” She yanked open the apartment door and ushered Ellie quickly through it. “I just hope we’re not too late.”

“Dude! Where the hell have you been?”

Axel laughed when JP jolted and looked at him in surprise.

“Axel. When did you get here?”

“’Bout two and a half seconds ago. Man, you can’t just run off like that. Sylvia and Elena would have a cow if they found out—one. And two, you know it’s still prime Banshee hour.”

“I just…I needed to clear my head.”

I’ll say you did. Axel looked his friend up and down, noting the wind swept hair and the absent look in his eyes. This was different from the annoyance he’d seen on JP’s face only an hour or so ago. Something else was bugging him.

“Are you okay?” Axel wondered slowly.

JP nodded. “I think so. I mean, yeah. I just…” He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “It’s been a long night.”

“For all of us. I heard what you said to Elena.”

JP closed his eyes and let his head fall back. “Was she upset?”

“Yeah.”

“Did she cry?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Were you there for her?”

“Of course.”

JP took a deep breath and let his head roll back in place. “Good. At least one of us can be.”

Axel looked his friend up and down again, and decided to just dive in. “Is there something you’d like to share, JP? ’Cause you look like you do.”

JP didn’t answer right away, and Axel could tell he was debating if he wanted to get into whatever it was. JP was clearly as tired as the rest of them, and at the moment, the most conflicted. Axel had a sneaking suspicion something had happened in the fifty-five minutes since he’d walked out of the girls’ apartment and ended up here, but he also knew JP well enough to know he’d only mention it if he thought he had all the facts. Right now, he was trying to figure out if he did.

“Is it about a Banshee?”

Again, there was no response. JP shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at something Axel couldn’t see. Pursing his lips, Axel waved his hand in front of his friend’s eyes.

“Hello? Dude. If there’s something on your mind, you can’t hold back. Was there a Banshee?”

JP blinked and looked at Axel. He opened his mouth, then hesitated. Slowly, he shook his head. “No. There wasn’t.”

Axel lifted a brow suspiciously. “Then what’s bugging you, man?”

A mask of regret fell over his face. “I don’t think I can be Elena’s partner anymore, Axel.”

Axel’s jaw dropped. “Whoa? What? You’re kidding me, right?”

JP shook his head again. “We don’t work anymore. We’re not compatible. We can’t be partners without one or both of us ending up dead in the end.”

“Look, you’ve had a rough night. You’re not making sense. Let’s get you back to the crib and after a few hours of sleep, then we can have this conversation again. We can even do it here. Right here. Wait while I go get tape to mark the spot.” He started to turn away but JP’s hand shot out and took hold of his arm.

“A few hours from now, I’ll feel the same, Axel. I’m sorry. But Elena and I are done.”

Axel could feel every muscle in his face hit the dirt. “JP…come on, man. You-you can’t break up the team. Four Musketeers, baby! Remember?”

“There are only three musketeers.”

Axel gave him a look. “Well can you think of any famous four-person kickass groups?”

“Touché.”

“Seriously, you can’t really be thinking of breaking us up.”

“I’ve already decided.”

“JP—”

“It was my fault tonight, Axel.”

Axel came up short, staring sideways at his friend. “Come again?”

“What happened tonight, with the Banshee and Elena’s magic…it was my fault she wasn’t able to crack the shield. She was starting to; I could tell. And then I shouted at her and she lost it.” JP sighed. “If we were really partners, I wouldn’t have yelled at her; and my yelling wouldn’t have unbalanced her. We’re supposed to be a team, Axel. Not just the four of us, but the pairs too. We’re supposed to balance each other out—ying and yang and all that. We’re supposed to always be on the same page. But Elena and I don’t balance anymore, man. And there’s nothing that can be done to change that.”

Axel gazed at his friend in silence. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Maybe JP was right; maybe it had partially been his fault for shouting at Elena when she’d been trying to concentrate. But he couldn’t just leave the group because of that. He couldn’t just give up and walk away after one night. It was no different than Elena hammering herself for being unsuccessful. And he’d been the one to tell her to stop whining! What was he—

Axel closed his eyes as the realization hit. Stop whining. Those two stupid words seemed to be haunting all of them tonight. When had JP ever talked to Elena like that? When had he ever put her down as coldly as he had an hour ago? He’d always been her biggest fan. And now…

Axel looked back at his friend and saw the resolve in his eyes.

“You’ve really thought about this.”

“It was a long walk.”

“But Elena—”

“I have no idea how I’m gonna tell her. I don’t want to hurt her any more than I already have, Axel. But I know that no matter what I say, she’s gonna blame herself for my leaving. And it’s really not her fault.”

Axel smiled weakly and held up two thumbs-up. “Any chance that guilt’s strong enough to keep you from going?”

JP chuckled. “Not this time, Ax.”

He let his hands fall back to his sides. “I really don’t wanna see you go, man. We’ve had a good system these past couple years. It’s not going to be the same with someone else in your shoes.”

“Hey. You give my shoes to no one.” JP jabbed a finger in his face.

Axel just laughed and slapped the hand aside. “You want me there when you tell her, or you gonna do this solo?”

“Which do you think will hurt less?”

“Are you kidding me?”

JP scratched his head roughly and nodded. “Right. I’ll do it alone. I think she’d prefer it that way. And besides, I owe it to her.”

“She’s a great girl.”

“And a great partner. Whoever she teams up with is luckier than she’ll let him believe.”

“Don’t be surprised, though, if Sylvia starts playing darts with a picture of your face. She loves you to death, and that’s never going to change, but that’s what girls do when a guy makes one of them cry.” Axel shrugged. “It’s standard break-up dogma, according to Sylvia.”

JP smirked. “Thanks for the warning. I’ll try to steer clear of the room for the first couple weeks at least.”

“Probably smart.” Axel stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. For a moment, the pair of them just stood there, mirror images of the other. Axel looked at his best guy friend and couldn’t believe this was their last night fighting the good fight together.

“Well…” He stuck out his hand. “It’s been a pleasure, dude.”

JP gave him a look. “Dude, I live with you!”

“Oh yeah.” Axel grinned sheepishly. “Forgot. On that note then, ready to head back? I wouldn’t put it past Sylvia to wake up in the middle of the night and check to make sure we’re really in our beds.”

“She wouldn’t.” Nonetheless, the pair of them started heading back toward the apartment.

Axel snorted. “The fact that you believe that is just so cute,” he teased, his voice going high at the end. He reached over to pinch JP’s cheek and got a slap for his efforts in return.

Despite all the teasing though, Axel could tell there was still something unspoken on JP’s mind. Usually, he was all for prying. There was nothing more entertaining than watching JP, Elena or Sylvia squirm when they were trying to keep something to themselves. Seriously—a bowl of popcorn and a comfy chair, and he’d be all set! But tonight, he decided against it. Whatever it was that JP was determined to keep to himself was big enough that throughout their whole conversation, it had never once left his eyes. Even through the regret about leaving Elena, the puzzlement Axel had seen at first had remained. Which meant that whatever it was, JP either didn’t understand it or didn’t want to believe.

“You don’t think Sylvia will try to kill me, do you?” JP wondered abruptly, cutting into Axel’s thoughts.

Axel pursed his lips and shrugged. “I don’t know. Guess we’ll find out soon enough, huh?”

The pair of them came up short when an earsplitting scream sliced through the quiet night. The boys looked at each other in alarm.

“Was that—”

“Human.” JP nodded. “God damn it, Axel, that was human.”

“Mother—” Axel broke out into a run, JP less than half a step behind him.

“Contact Sylvia!” JP ordered, bending as he ran to pull the dagger out of his boot.

Axel nodded, already reaching for the blade he kept at his waist. Then he touched the back of his ear and pinched it painfully. He felt a wave of heat for a split second before it faded.

“Now let’s just hope we can hold the Banshee off until she finds us.”

“Way to be positive, JP.”

Julie skidded to a halt as she came upon the source of the deafening scream. Her eyes widened in shock and disbelief at what she saw.

It was a girl. A little girl. Maybe five or six years old. The Banshee held her by the throat and was digging her needle-like nails into the poor child’s arm. The venom from the nails had swarmed through her body by now, and she hung limp in the demon’s grasp. Julie knew there was only minutes to go before the creature screamed and shattered the little girl’s soul.

She couldn’t stand this—she couldn’t bear it. A child. A poor, innocent child. She’d kill herself before she’d let that damned Banshee take the girl’s life.

She felt the rage swelling within her, warm and potent and nearly overwhelming. There were few moments in Julie’s life when she felt nothing short of absolute fury. This, unfortunately for the Banshee, was one of those moments.

She reached behind her and wrenched out the sai dagger she’d kept there, hidden beneath her leather jacket. She spun it once, remembering what Jason had said when he’d given it to her a year and a half ago.

Kill some bitches with that, yeah?

She wasted no time now.

She curled back, aiming directly for the wrist of the hand that held the little girl by the neck. Rather than killing it, she wanted to make it writhe for what it was doing to that child.

But just as she started to release the dagger, she realized she wasn’t the only one with those intentions. Before she could blink, another blade shot through the air and connected soundly with the side of the Banshee’s neck.

Julie almost dropped her weapon. “Wh—”

The Banshee cried out in pain, but Julie hardly heard it. For the second time in only moments, she was stunned beyond comprehension.

Because running directly into the fray, having obviously thrown the dagger, was the same boy who’d witnessed her true form less than a half hour ago.

“You.”

He came up short and caught her gaze. “You.”

The brown haired boy beside him looked between the two of them quickly, and waved a hand. “Me. Done yet? We’ve work to do.” He spun the dagger he held and aimed it for the already wailing demon.

“No!” Julie jolted across the road in a second, wrapping her hand around the second boy’s wrist tightly. “You can’t.”

“Why the hell not?”

Julie looked at him a moment, doing a quick once over to get a feel for him. He seemed much more laid back than the first boy. Aside from the joke, he just looked slack. Long, loose shorts and a t-shirt she was pretty sure had once looked new. Compared to the other boy in jeans and a leather jacket, Julie could tell this kid saw every battle as just another game.

She hoped he was one of her students. That was the one mindset Julie was determined to drum out of every one of them.

Julie looked over her shoulder and saw the Banshee’s attention was now on them, but her claws were still in the girl. The dagger protruded disgustingly from its bleach white skin.

“It still has its hooks in the kid. I’m not about to have you fighting with that little girl so close by. She could get caught in the crossfire; she could get killed.”

“Oi, we’ve done this before you know.”

Julie narrowed her eyes at him. “Then do it right.” She plucked the dagger out of his hand and passed it to the boy she’d met earlier. She glanced over him a moment, silently impressed that—despite the obvious surprise on his face—his eyes were determined.

“What do you suggest then?” he wanted to know, turning to keep an eye on the creature.

“Divide and conquer. Release the girl, vanquish the demon.”

“You make it sound so easy,” the second boy quipped, folding his arms across his chest. “And how do you propose we do that?”

Julie pulled back with her sai dagger and let it fly, exactly as she’d intended it to moments ago. It connected cleanly with the veins of the Banshee’s wrist and as it shrieked, the girl fell from its grasp. The needles slid out of her arm as she sank to the ground, alive but wounded. Julie’s heart twisted when she saw the blood.

She had no remorse when children bled.

She whirled back to the boys. “Get—”

Before she could finish, the blonde boy darted across the road and gathered the girl in his arms, moving her away from the furious, writhing creature.

“JP!” the other shouted.

“No time,” she said wrenching his attention from his friend. “What’s your name?”

“Axel.”

“Right. Well, Axel, you’re a Warrior?”

He nodded without remark.

“Then create a distraction. Death is long overdue for this one.”

Axel’s brows rose briefly, and his eyes flicked over to his friend—JP. An instant later, he was nodding. “All right then.” Grinning, he cracked his knuckles loudly. “’Bout damn time.”

Julie didn’t respond. She spun around, summoning as she did a globe of fire in the palm of her hand. As the demon made to intervene with JP’s rescue of the little girl, she hurled it at the back of its head, unable to help the smirk as it connected and scorched the greenish blonde hair. Another shriek and the Banshee fell backwards.

Behind her, she could hear the sound of Axel rubbing two knives together. If nothing else, she could honestly say the Warriors knew how to be prepared.

She glanced at JP, who’d already hefted the little girl in his arms and was backing away slowly, to ensure he didn’t catch the creature’s attention. When he was a good distance away, he hurried across the road and gently laid her down as far from the creature as possible. Then he pulled a kama from the inside of his jacket and took a stance in front of her.

By now, the Banshee was beyond furious. The needles retracted into its nails and it quickly pulled the two daggers from within its glowing white-green robes. But instead of preparing to use them against their owners, it instead dropped both on the ground and took a few steps toward Julie.

She tilted her head to the side, waiting. It really bothered her how much Banshees had changed over time. Or rather, how little they had changed. Still as primal and primitive as ever. Still predators and hunters and murderers. Still cold and heartless and callous. But once upon a time, they’d at least used words. They’d at least attempted to defend their actions and each individual kill. Now, they were nothing but shells. Shells of merciless beings.

Julie could feel Axel’s anxiousness behind her, poised and ready, waiting for her command. But she refused to act just yet. The little girl would be avenged but Julie was going to make this bastard beg first.

Julie closed her eyes the moment the thought crossed her mind. She was angry but she couldn’t allow that side of her to take over. If she did, she was no better than the Banshees.

The Banshee took another step forward. Julie glanced at the sky and summoned the magic she found there. A long beam of lightning shot from her palm directly at the Banshee’s foot, and knocked the creature back a couple steps.

“What right did you have to harm that girl?” she snarled, unable to resist. “How dare you.”

“You know, Banshees aren’t exactly known for their conversational skills,” Axel murmured in her ear.

Julie grunted. “Not anymore, anyway.”

She shot a look in JP’s direction. When he glanced her way, she nodded ever so slightly. It took him a moment to understand, but then his grip tightened around the kama. He looked over at the demon.

“You’re not gonna waste your time on that chick, are you?” he taunted, jerking his head in Julie’s direction. The Banshee swung around to look at him. He rose from his kneeling position, laying the girl gently on the ground. She was unconscious.

He smirked. “Who do you think tastes better? Miss Oldie over there, or a young little thing like this?” He gestured to the girl.

“JP, what—”

Julie rammed her elbow back into Axel’s stomach. “Shh,” she hissed through her teeth.

“What are you—he’s being—”

"Shush!”

Lucky for them, the Banshee seemed far more intrigued by JP’s words than Axel’s shout. It turned its body toward him and started forward. Julie’s brows rose. She hadn’t quite expected the demon to take the bait so easily. In all her years of battling monsters, she’d never encountered any as gullible as this one seemed to be. She supposed it was a positive at the moment but…for some reason, it unnerved her.

JP clenched his weapon tighter and spun it once in a circle. Behind him, Julie saw the little girl start to stir. Please stay down, she thought silently. It would be better for all of them if she didn’t scream.

“So what? Are we just gonna stand here or—”

Julie held up her hand to silence Axel. She admired his drive but really, he needed to learn strategy. This Banshee might be gullible, but it wasn’t stupid. Any minute now…

She smiled slowly as a silvery golden light poured out of the Banshee’s body and formed a globe around it. Perfect.

“Great. Now it’s defended.”

“Will you shut up?” Julie finally shot him a glare over her shoulder. “It was defended before; we just couldn’t see it. Now, at least we know what to shoot for.”

Axel’s brows rose at her tone, but even he couldn’t argue with her logic. He held up his hands in surrender and nodded once. “Sorry.”

She turned away and back to the Banshee. Just a little bit closer.

The demon stopped a foot away from JP and held up its claws. Its long needles slid from the blackened nails. JP was still grinning as he readied himself. If he was uncomfortable with how close the creature was getting, he hid it well.

“I’m waiting,” he sang.

It let out one loud, battle shriek and then dove at both guy and child.

“Now!” Julie shouted and sprinted across the darkened road. JP threw up his kama at the same moment the demon lunged, and sliced down with his dagger at the nearest set of nails. Julie launched herself up, plucking the scythe from the air and channeling the remaining lightning she’d summoned into its blade. As she landed, she brought it crashing down onto the Banshee’s shield.

“JP!” a voice shouted from somewhere behind them. But neither Julie nor JP had a moment to look.

The lightning reacted with the shield exactly how Julie had intended it to, and with one loud bang, the entire globe exploded, Banshee and all. The force of it threw Julie to the ground, her shoulder digging into the hard gravel, and sent her skidding in the opposite direction. She winced against the pain, closing her eyes as an amalgam of rock and flesh and blood went flying in every direction.

Julie kept her head down until she was sure the danger had passed, and then slowly raised it up and looked across to where the Banshee had been. There was nothing left but a smoking pile of hair.

She looked past and found JP hovering over the still unconscious body of the little girl. As if sensing her gaze, he lifted his head and met her eyes. For a long moment, all she could do was stare at him. Admiration and pride mixed in her stomach and she knew in that moment there was something different about the Warrior. Something that separated him from every other she’d ever met. But what it was, she had no idea.

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.