BY: JULIA JOSEPH

Born into a family of Guardians—extraordinarily gifted humans who protect mortal souls—seventeen-year-old Rose Kazin shows no signs of being blessed with the supernatural talents her family has used for generations to fight demons. When she and her father figure, an age old celestial Warrior, are horribly wounded in a demonic ambush, Rose awakens to find a younger Warrior, Ouriel, has volunteered to stand in as her protector. She rails against his presence—and her own heart—but Ouriel seems interested in only one thing: teaching Rose how to protect herself from the demons she was never supposed to fight.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Broken by Julia Joseph, Rosa Kazin is like the ugly duckling. In a family of fierce Guardians, fighting for good against evil demons, Rosa is the no-talent, strictly human little sister. Or at least that is what she has been led to believe. When her protector, the ancient Warrior Ishmael, is badly injured, trying to protector from demons, Rosa is assigned a new protector, Ouriel, a much younger, more dashing Warrior. Whereas Ishmael was like a father to Rosa, Ouriel is something of a hunk and Rosa is smitten. But Ouriel is only interested in training Rosa to protect herself. Or is he?

I must say that for a debut novel, The Broken is an excellent effort. The book is very well written, the characters well-developed and charming, and the plot is strong. The Broken is one you will want to keep on your shelf to read over and over again.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Broken by Julia Joseph is a rather-sophisticated YA novel about angels and demons and the war between good and evil. That seems to be a fairly common theme for YA authors these days. But I liked The Broken. The story is more down-to-earth, gritty, and real than most YA authors dare to write. The story is also a romance, or at least a lot more of a romance than most YA authors are comfortable writing. While there is no sex, of course, there is a satisfying amount of sexual tension.

Joseph’s characters are three-dimensional and well-developed. I liked the fact that Rosa seemed to be the one flawed member of an otherwise awesome Guardian family. But unlike most of us, who would be complaining that we didn’t get the same Gifts as the rest of the family, Rosa is okay with this. She doesn’t really want to fight world-changing battles with dark forces. She just wants to live in peace. Unfortunately, Rosa’s hopes are shattered when it turns out that she isn’t quite the no-talent wimp she thought she was. For a first-time author, I think Joseph has a real winner here. I, for one, am hungrily looking forward to the next one in the series.

Prologue

No soy la clase de idiota que se deja convencer, pero digo la verdad.
(I’m not the kind of idiot who is easily persuaded, but I speak the truth.)
— Shakira

Demons were all around us. Most people just didn’t know because they disguised themselves well.

I was born into a family of Guardians–humans gifted with extraordinary powers by the Creator Himself–so I had always known that ours was a world at war. Not the “wars” you’d see on the news or in papers, but a never-ending, vicious struggle between the few who could See and the demons who would devour us all…

***

As it had for the last thirteen years of my life, the nightmare plagued me yet again, and I couldn’t hide from the ugly scene that played out in my mind. Heavily outnumbered, my parents fought a bloody and ferocious battle for their souls.

No one heard my scream as I watched my mother and father fall into the bloody pool from which they could never return.

Chapter 1

The tension is here, between who you are and who you could be.
Between how it is and how it should be
— Switchfoot

I woke up Friday morning, sweating and panicked after a night spent reliving my parents’ deaths. It had been years since I’d last had to suffer the torment of that particular nightmare and, of course, the sheer exhaustion of the ordeal caused me to oversleep. I fought the overwhelming urge to roll over, bury myself under the covers, and ignore the demands of my life. I could hear from their movements that my sisters were already up and about, so I knew I had to move too, whether I felt like it or not. I really hated getting up on mornings like these. I was just so tired. Tired of trying, every day, to be someone I wasn’t and do what was expected of me–living in one world but belonging to another.

“Hurry up, Rose! You’re going to be late. Again. Ishmael will be here any minute,” Miriam, my oldest sister, called from the kitchen.

I fought the urge to stay in bed just to spite her. She’d always been so “with it,” so organized. It was really disgusting. I stifled a snort, thinking about how she’d smack me for that insult if I’d said it where she could hear me. Groaning, I decided to get up. If I didn’t, Ishmael would be disappointed in me, and I really hated that.

I dragged myself into the bathroom and shoved my exhausted body into the shower. I tried not to sink back into a stupor, but the warm water nearly lulled me into a coma.

“Ishmael’s here!” Genevieve, my other sister, chimed as she cracked the bathroom door open. Her voice was like cold water, splashing me back into the present with a jolt. “And he doesn’t look very happy.”

“Get out!” I hissed back and rifled a bar of soap at her. She ducked neatly and closed the door as the soap slammed against the doorjamb just beyond where her face had been. I may be Sightless, but I’ve got great aim! I thought to myself. Unfortunately, that didn’t sound so impressive if you happened to know that, in my world, being Sightless had nothing whatsoever to do with how well your eyes worked.

Still, I was pleased with my small demonstration of skill and sailed through the rest of my routine. I slapped my soaking-wet, blonde hair up into a ponytail and didn’t stop to camouflage my unabashedly Middle Eastern features with makeup. Why draw attention to eyes that were the weirdest shade of blue ever to exist in the natural world, anyway? I had no one to impress.

Rather than spare my reflection a second glance, I dashed out of the bathroom, grabbed my backpack from the kitchen table at full speed–and ran smack into Ishmael. He didn’t budge, but I fell flat on my back. I found myself suddenly eyeing a work boot and the pant leg of a custodian’s set of overalls.

“You really are something, my darling Rousa,” Ishmael chuckled as he picked me up with one hand and set me on my feet. His piercing green eyes scanned me for injuries, and his already wrinkled face cracked into a huge grin when he was satisfied that I remained unharmed. “My dear, I simply cannot keep creating excuses for why we are so often late. This is the second time this week, and school has only recently resumed.”

“I’m sorry, Ishmael. I was up late last night studying,” I fibbed easily.

“Rousa!” Ishmael chastised, using, as he always did, the original Arabic form of my name. “You know very well that some Warriors can sense lies. You also know that I am one of them. However, I do not need that ability now to know that you are not telling the truth. You never study.” He chuckled again.

“I had to try, didn’t I?” I attempted to look guilty. I knew that I couldn’t get a fib past Ishmael, but I had a good reason to try. I needed to keep up a lighthearted appearance because I didn’t want him to find out what I’d really been doing. He didn’t need to know the nightmare had returned after all this time. He’d only worry about me more.

Sometimes, I truly hated the super sensory skills of Warriors.

One of my few natural talents was lying, but it never served me well with Ishmael. “You know, Ish, the way you talk, a person would think you’re my father, not my protector,” I grumbled.

Ishmael ignored my attempt to goad him into a mood as surly as mine. “I swore an oath the day your parents died that I would protect you for the rest of your earthly life. Coming to feel as though I am your father has been a surprisingly sweet benefit. Come now, into my arms, and I will Jump us to school, seeing as we will not arrive in time by human means.”

I didn’t bother to hide my sudden excitement. I loved being Jumped from one place to another by Ishmael. He rarely did it, for fear of being caught by the Sightless, and I often tarried in the mornings to make it necessary. It had become our routine during the first three years I had been forced to attend a Sightless school. In fact, the only thing I cherished about my trips to and from school was the opportunity to be with Ishmael.

And, despite my silly complaints, I was very thankful that Ish had become a father figure to me in the years since my mother and father had been ripped so brutally from my sisters and me. A shiver slid through my body. Any fleeting thought of my parents caused me excruciating pain and, instinctively fleeing the agony, I ran into Ishmael’s waiting arms. Denying the suffering which always seemed to be waiting, just a step behind to devour me, had become my default way of dealing with life. I pressed my face into the amber colored skin of Ish’s neck, and his scent comforted me–just as I’d known it would.

I forced my thoughts back into the present and steeled myself for the coming Jump. No matter how often I traveled this way, I had never grown accustomed to it. I remembered to scream, “Bye Miri! Bye Gen! Love you!” just before I felt my body melt into nothingness. Before I could gasp for more air, Ish and I solidified again about two miles from my house behind a shed in someone’s backyard.

He checked briefly to make sure we hadn’t been seen, and I took a desperate breath. “Are you ready for the next one?” he asked.

I nodded and we dissolved again. This time, we re-formed in the janitor’s closet at school–Ishmael’s “office,” as he liked to call it. He’d worked for the last three years as a custodian at my high school in order to be near me. The job provided him with a cover and me with a discounted tuition rate. Thankfully, only my senior year kept him from his real retirement, and it had already begun. I wasn’t sure how he felt about it, but I was going to be glad to be done with the whole charade in a few months.

“I wish you weren’t such a good Jumper,” I puffed as we landed. “Shouldn’t it take most Warriors at least four Jumps to make it this far?”

“Yes, my dear. Most of them. It is unfortunate that not everyone can be as efficient as I.”

I giggled at his boast, kissed him on the cheek, and ruffled his shock of white hair before I straightened my blue-plaid, uniform skirt and white sailor top. Leaving Ishmael to prepare for his morning, I waltzed out of the room like I’d been in there doing last minute homework.

Kids were already filling the halls with early morning chatter, so I made for my locker. It didn’t take long to get there, as it was a small co-ed Catholic high school of about 250 students. We had two floors with about six classrooms each and only one indoor stairwell. From the front office, we had a great view of the fence surrounding the El Paso Zoo. On windy days–which most were in this big dusty city–we had the added benefit of being directly downwind of the elephants’ enclosure. The taste of dirt and elephant dung made a lovely contribution to much of my time at school.

If I had been of a Sightless family, Father Yermo would have been a good place to get an education. For me, however, the place felt like a jail. I wanted to scream myself free of such unnecessary Sightless customs. Unfortunately for me, I was Sightless, and I needed to come to terms with that little detail. I would never be a full Guardian like my sisters. Nothing would ever change the fact that I couldn’t See. I would never have the kind of gifts my sisters and other Guardians used to battle evil. As Gen always said, it was better to make peace with what I was than to fight it.

Sighing, I opened my locker and got out the books I needed for class. I only carried my backpack for show when I went home. There was never anything of substance in it.

I made it to first period just in time and gritted my teeth through the tedious morning announcements. When those were finished, Mrs. Palmer immediately went to work enumerating the many faults of Andrew Jackson and his Indian Removal policy, and I felt my mind slide into semi-consciousness. It’s not that she wasn’t a great teacher. She was my favorite, but I’d pretty much achieved the Guardian equivalent of a high school diploma by the age of twelve. Most of my school days felt like a review of what I’d already learned years earlier.

It had been Miriam’s idea that I join the Sightless world when my lack of the Gift became too evident to ignore. She said I needed “to adjust to a ‘regular’ life, and what better way to do that than attend high school?” I kicked and screamed for weeks in protest, but I’d never really had a choice. Doing what was expected of me, no matter the personal cost, ran in my Guardian blood, whether I could See or not. And so there I was, dutifully stuck in a place I really didn’t want to be.

Lunchtime came quickly, and I kept to myself in the cafeteria–as always. I thought for a moment about sneaking off to eat with Ishmael, but I changed my mind. Everybody at Father Yermo High School believed he was my father, and teenage girls weren’t supposed to like hanging out with their dads. I supposed they felt I should have been embarrassed to admit my father was the school custodian in the first place, much less that he was also my best friend. After the night I’d had, I wasn’t in the mood to listen to any of their thinly veiled insults about my lack of interest in being social. As if I had a real choice in the matter, considering my unorthodox home life.

Instead of seeking refuge with Ishmael, I gulped down my lunch and ran off to the library to read for the last twenty minutes before afternoon classes. I rejoiced in the quiet solitude and hated to get up when the bell rang. Luckily for me though, the rest of the day passed in a blur, and I was heading back to Ishmael’s “office” before I knew it.

After the final bell, I usually hung out for an hour or so while Ish puttered around pretending to be working hard at getting the school clean. It always amazed the faculty and staff that he finished his work so quickly and efficiently. He never missed a thing–his school was spotless. None of them ever guessed that there was something supernatural about his amazing competence.

Ish winked at me as he went by, with jingling keys, for his last pass of the dust mop in the hallway. I smiled to myself and shook my head at the things the Warrior was willing to do to in the name of keeping me safe. Not that I would be, or had ever been, in any actual danger. But I’d never been taught to defend myself, so Ishmael insisted on always being around when I left the safety of my house. Why a being so powerful would consent to leading the life he did, just to be near me, I didn’t really understand, but I was grateful, if only for his companionship. I led a very lonely life that included few people. Realizing that Ishmael was almost ready to leave, I forced myself to focus on what little homework I had left. I finished it quickly and stowed my things in my locker.

“I am now ready, Rousa.” Ishmael walked up as I slammed the metal door shut. “We will return home in the truck. I retrieved it earlier today, so it is already in the lot.”

I groaned. I hated that thing. The truck was a loud, rumbling, burnt orange 1972 GMC that had belonged to my grandfather. It was, in my mind, a serious embarrassment to any female forced to ride in it. I hid my grimace and headed for the door, waiting only for Ish to lock up behind us.

As we meandered across the parking lot, I noticed how out of place Ishmael looked, walking next to me. It seemed outrageous that most humans didn’t recognize the preternatural beauty that shone from within him. How could anyone not know what he was? It also became clear to me what he must have sacrificed over the years in order to stand as my protector. The magnitude of the act nearly overwhelmed me.

Rather than embarrass Ishmael with a sappy comment of some sort, I opted for sarcasm. “You know, Ish, this really is a crappy way to spend your retirement–hanging out with humans and cleaning up after a bunch of thankless teenagers.”

“It is not as bad as it may seem. Besides, Warrior retirement can last decades, sometimes centuries.” He paused to smirk at me. “And although it pains me to admit it more than once daily, I must say that becoming a part of your life has made it somewhat worthwhile.”

I picked up on my cue to begin a new round of our continual sarcastic banter with some sort of sassy retort, but a strange sensation burning its way down the back of my neck shocked me into silence. I tried to brush the feeling off with my hand, but it spread up my scalp and down my spine. Feeling slightly panicky, I turned to Ishmael for reassurance. Our eyes met. In his was a blazing green inferno.

I had only seen his eyes rage like that one time before.

The night my parents died.

Ishmael began to glow and, even the bright sunlight, I could see green flames licking their way along the skin of his arms and hands. I knew we were in extreme danger. Ishmael grabbed me from behind, attempting to Jump with me. Before he could, demons Jumped in all around us. He tried to shield me from them with his body, but I could still see their horrible faces, each twisted with its own brand of evil.

I hadn’t seen many demons in my sheltered lifetime, but these looked especially vicious. Only one had wings, so I knew that she had to be the leader. The others still looked almost human, except for the sickly tinge of their skin and their sharp nails and teeth.

I felt like vomiting.

“What do you want, demoness?” Ishmael demanded, his furious power clearly evident in his voice.

“Don’t worry, Warrior. It is not you we have come for. We want the human,” the winged female replied, brushing matted, bloody hair back from her face.

“You will not have her. She is useless to you anyway. She is Sightless.”

The demoness licked her lips with menace. “She is of Guardian blood. We must have her.”

I tried not to allow my mind to melt into fear. When I looked directly at her, it seemed as if the demon’s face shifted–like she took on some of my features. I closed my eyes in an attempt to banish the image before it burned itself into my brain.

When I opened them again, I saw Ishmael searching out and rejecting our alternate routes of escape. I couldn’t see any way out. There were at least five demons, and without me to hinder him, Ishmael could have dealt with them easily. He couldn’t leave me unguarded long enough to fight off all of them. My useless damsel-in-distress self was the mother of all distractions in a brawl.

The demons closed in on us, inhaling our scent. Their stench was vile–like rotting flesh. My body frozen, I fought to retain control of my mind. I wanted to scream out to Ishmael, “Just let them have me! Save yourself!” But I knew he would die rather than let them take me. And that thought finally spurred me into action.

I pretended to faint. I dropped like a rock, surprising Ishmael into loosening his grip on me. As soon as I felt him release me, I sprang away from my protector and threw myself at the female leader. I tackled her and, not knowing what else to do, tried to rip the hair off her head.

I heard the fight break out behind me as the other demons rushed at Ishmael. All I could think was, I can’t lose him too. I can’t…and I fought ever harder against my demon. I knew I couldn’t win, but I continued kicking and scratching. I let out a scream as she landed a well-placed blow on my temple. It took all I had to remain conscious.

Dazed, I clawed at her eyes with my nails. I felt her putrid flesh tearing under my attack, but she clamped her arms in a vice around my chest, crushing the air out of my lungs. We both felt the fight leaving my body as she tried to take flight and Jump away with me. I knew I was lost, but I felt only relief. At least Ish would be safe.

Something seemed to go wrong with the demoness’s attempt at flight. I must have injured her wings at some point because she couldn’t seem to gain enough clearance for the Jump. Her arms loosened around me, allowing hot, dry desert air to burn its way down my throat and into my suffocating lungs. The return of oxygen to my body cleared my vision in time to witness Warriors and Guardians Jumping in everywhere before I blacked out.

***

“Ishmael!” was the first thought that came to my mind as I awoke. I didn’t realize I had screamed his name aloud until I heard Miriam’s reply.

“He’s alive. He was hurt pretty badly trying to fight his way to you, but he’ll be fine. Warriors heal quickly. Rest now.”

I felt the darkness reclaim me, but my mind continued to yearn for Ishmael…

***

I was in a dark room. The only light came from a pool glowing blood red in the center of the floor. I tried hard not to look at it too closely. I had seen this room many times before in my nightmares, but this time it was different. I was actually in the room, not just observing from afar. It all felt much too realistic. Still, I knew the routine well. My parents were coming.

Wake up! Wake up! I thought frantically but I knew, once the nightmare had started, I would be forced to watch it all over again. In horrific detail. I knew the demon was lying in wait for my parents.

“Where is she?” It seemed my father appeared out of nowhere. He was carrying his sword, looking as young and handsome as the last time I had seen him. But I was confused. This wasn’t how it usually happened in my dreams. Before, their voices had been muted, and I could only see the action and try to guess at their words.

This time, I heard a silky voice reply, “Who?”

“Where is our daughter, demon?” My mother’s voice was not soft and sweet now, as it was when she sang me to sleep. It sounded flinty and commanding. “We know you have her, Ausen.”

“You are mistaken. It seems you have made this trip in vain. As you can see, I do not have your daughter in my possession.” Ausen stepped into the eerie red glow of the pool. I shivered, as I always did, when I saw him. He was humanoid in form but grotesquely misshapen. He had the characteristic demonic green tint to his skin. His teeth were viciously sharp and his gums black.

His bald head and greenish-gold eyes reminded me of a rattlesnake. Dim memories of my Guardian education told me that he was a somewhat high-ranking demon. He hadn’t yet earned talons for his feet, but he did have bat-like wings.

My mother nocked an arrow in her bow.

“There is no need to be so aggressive, Najla, dear girl. Put down your weapon.” Ausen’s voice sounded more patronizing than conciliatory.

“I will ask one more time,” my father cut in. “Where is our daughter, Ausen?”

“As I said before, I do not have her. However, I am willing to negotiate a price for her. Allow me to show you.” With a nod of Ausen’s head, more demons slithered out of the shadows around the room. They outnumbered my parents ten to one. “You see, the daughter you believed lost has just been located and is now in the custody of a single Warrior. If you agree to have her brought to me, I will allow you to live.”

“You honestly believe we will give up without a fight?” my father boomed.

My mother threw back, “We would never trade her for our lives! Only a monster would consider that possible.”

“Then you will die, and I will have her anyway.” Ausen flew up into the air and his minions attacked. The last image in my mind, as I clawed my way into consciousness, was my parents falling–falling into the pool of blood.

***

My mind returned to consciousness slowly, and I struggled to retain snatches of the whispered conversations taking place at my bedside. “She’s been reliving that nightmare…” How did they know that? “…what to do for her…” Those few words urged me to struggle harder to keep my mind from floating back into the darkness. “…the same one from right after our parents died.” Finally, I recognized Miriam’s voice.

Unfortunately, the one voice I wanted to hear more than any other remained absent. My fear for Ishmael did what I alone couldn’t. I quickly regained consciousness, only to have a bolt of guilt shoot through me for any damage he had suffered because of me. It must have been serious because nothing else would have kept him from my bedside.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who can help her, sweetheart,” the voice of Miriam’s husband, Shadrach, came in clearly now.

“But I’ve seen that nightmare of hers in my dreams. I don’t know how she lives with it. If she–” Miriam broke off.

Another voice, unfamiliar but oddly comforting, cut in, “She is awake. It is best you stop.”

All three beings in the room looked at me. Miriam, with her reddish brown curls, was perfection as always, but her sea blue eyes were clouded with worry. Shad’s dark brow furrowed with frustration, and his brown eyes still shone fiercely from the earlier fight. The other man was beyond description. I guessed that he was a Warrior because his telltale amber skin glowed with a soft incandescence in my darkened bedroom.

I didn’t know how old he was. He appeared very young, nineteen or twenty, but it was impossible to tell a Warrior’s true age. And, like other Warriors, he was marvelous in appearance, with long auburn hair that laid flat against his back. Two braids parted it from the center and were neatly tucked behind his ears.

The Warrior’s eyes blazed a dark blue with a kind of fire simmering in them. Oh goodness, I thought, he is just…beyond words. I tried to smack myself out of my silent stare, but I couldn’t seem to drag my eyes away from him.

My reaction to the Warrior unsettled me. I tried, and failed spectacularly, to cover my momentary loss for words. In an attempt to calm down, I told myself that the unknown Warrior’s effect on me was a natural one, considering I’d seen very few of them, especially young ones, in my lifetime. Despite that, I still wasn’t able to speak, and I decided that I lacked the social skills necessary to deal with a stranger in my current mental condition.

I hope that stupid demon didn’t damage my brain permanently. Holy crap. I can’t even gather my thoughts enough to ask his name.

Probably sensing my question, he stepped forward. “If I may,” he murmured with a slight bow. “I am Ouriel. I have fought alongside your sisters and Shadrach since they were of age. I hope my presence here does not disturb you.”

Of course his presence disturbed me! How could it not? Flushing, I forced out a few words. “N–No. It’s, um, it’s f–fine. Really. Do you happen know anything about Ishmael?”

“No, I am sorry.” Ouriel’s face tightened, and he swept from the room, leaving me gawking after him from my bed.

“Um–who exactly was that?” I asked Miriam when my tongue could move again.

“Shad, maybe you should let me explain. I want Rose to understand. Do you think…” Miriam let her question drift off midsentence and allowed Shad to fish it out of her mind. I really hated when they did that. It was annoying to listen to only half of a conversation.

“Believe me, I would rather not be in here for this,” he replied, wincing. “Just remember what Ouriel said.” Shad kissed Miriam and slipped out the door, closing it with a hushed click.

“What was all that about? What’s going on? How is Ishmael? Why were those demons after us?” I couldn’t seem to stem my flood of questions until Miriam finally answered.

“I don’t know what I should tell you, exactly,” she began, “but it does seem that you are going to need more protection after today. Our intelligence tells us there’s been some kind of turbulence among the demon hierarchy. It doesn’t bode well. And Ishmael is going to be out of commission for a while.”

“What? Is he okay? How long will he be gone? And who’s going to take his place? You or Genevieve?”

“Um–well…the healers say he will be okay but his recovery is going to be difficult and take some time. And Genevieve and I can’t protect you as well as a Warrior.” Miriam looked like she dreaded what she had to say next. What didn’t she want to tell me? “So–Ouriel has volunteered to stand in and stay as long as he’s needed.”

“Ouriel? That Warrior who was just in here?”

“Yes. He’s going to enroll at school with you and pretend to be a new student there.”

“Miriam, there’s no way! People will figure it out. Seriously, have you looked at the guy? Does he know what he’s going to be in for, hanging around all those Sightless teenage girls?” I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want some strange Warrior protecting me. I was not good with new people. Besides, how would we explain away some gorgeous male specimen following me around school all the time?

“Ouriel is a top-ranking Warrior. You can’t have better protection than that. And he knows what he’s doing.”

“Still! Do I really need him? Couldn’t you or Shad just take me to school?” I tried to keep the petulance out of my voice, but I’d suddenly turned into a disgustingly sulky teenager. And my independent nature balked at the idea of Ouriel tailing me. I wanted Ishmael. “Miriam, I don’t need a new protector! You guys are overreacting. We can make do until Ish is better. And I seriously think those demons must have confused me with someone else. There is no way it could have been me they were really interested in.”

“For some reason we don’t know, Rose, those demons were after you today. If I hadn’t been so tired that I had to take a quick nap this afternoon, I don’t know what would have happened…” Miriam’s voice trailed off and a strange expression clouded her face. She looked a little guilty, and I thought I knew why.

“You dreamed it didn’t you? I wondered how all those Guardians and Warriors showed up so fast.”

She nodded. “I was so scared. I didn’t know if I was Seeing what had already happened or if it was just then happening.”

“Speaking of which, did any Sightless see what happened? Did you have to send in a clean-up crew?” I tried to contain a shiver. Most battles in the Endless War remained unseen, as both sides had a vested interest in remaining undetected. Sometimes, though, when an errant human wandered into something they shouldn’t, clean up teams were called in. They consisted of people skilled in the art of manipulating people’s memories–an art most Guardians found unnerving but necessary.

“Thankfully, no. You left so late, the parking lot and street were already deserted–” Miriam stopped short. “I thought I was going to lose you. When I got there and saw that demoness trying to take off with you–well–I went a little crazy. I can’t believe you went after her like that! Why didn’t you let Ishmael handle her?”

“I’m sorry, Miri. But I just couldn’t let Ishmael die protecting me. I had to at least try–”

“No!” Miriam shouted. “It wouldn’t have been your fault! We all go into battle willingly and would just as willingly die to keep each other safe. You cannot allow guilt to give a demon the advantage. Do you understand me?”

I had never seen her so angry. “I’m sorry, Miriam. Really. Don’t be mad at me. Please.” She didn’t look satisfied with my apology, but, now that I knew that Ishmael was going to live, something else clamored for attention in my mind. “Listen, there’s something else I want to talk to you about. I don’t know what to think about it, but…” I didn’t know how to explain the new developments in my nightmare.

“What is it?”

“Well, I know you have Seen my nightmare with Mom and Dad before in your dreams. And just now, while I was unconscious, I had the stupid thing again. Only, this time, it changed. It was different.”

“It was different? How?”

“Well, instead of watching the scene from far away, I was actually there, but that’s not all. Before, I could never hear what they were saying, but, tonight, I heard everything…” I trailed off when I saw that Miriam’s face had become guarded.

She leaned toward me. “What did you hear?”

“Well, Mom and Dad kept asking this demon–this Ausen–for their daughter. For one of us, I guess. They never said which one. I just figure it was you because you were the only one of age at the time–” I stopped short, starting to feel stupid. Why would any of this matter? It wasn’t like my dreams meant anything. I had never Seen anything and these nightmares, as Miriam had told me time and again, were just my mind trying to make sense of what had happened to my parents. I knew they had been killed in a battle with a powerful demon, but there was no way to know anything else. Their bodies had never been found, and it was rumored the demon had died along with them. “I’m sorry I brought it up, Miri. It’s dumb.”

“No, honey, it’s not. That night haunts me, too. I had just come of age remember? I’d looked forward to fighting alongside them for so long–” Miriam’s eyes glazed over. She shuddered and seemed to shake something off. “We still don’t know much about that night. I’m sure that these new developments in your nightmare are just your way of dealing with what happened tonight. What we need to do is forget the past and try to figure out why someone would want to hurt you now.”

I didn’t want to tell her that I believed her worrying was useless. I was of next to no importance to anyone besides her, Genevieve, and Ish. The attempted kidnapping could never have been meant for me. Instead, I pretended to look exhausted. Thankfully, that wasn’t very hard.

“Okay. But, before you go, Miriam, tell me more about Ishmael. Please. Is he really going to be okay?”

“As far as we know right now, Rose, he is going to live. I don’t know how severe his injuries are just yet because I’ve been so worried about you, but I will try to find out for you.”

“Thanks, Miri. I love you.” I almost couldn’t get the words out. My heart broke with anxiety for Ishmael, and silent tears snaked their way down my face and onto my pillowcase.

“Love you too, baby.”

Miriam knelt at my bedside and hugged me fiercely, leaving me to return the embrace with more than a twinge of guilt because I yearned only for Ishmael’s touch.

© 2014 by Julia Joseph