by Jeff Gunhus
In the last book of the Jack Templar series, Jack and his friends race to stop Ren Lucre before he launches this Creach army against humankind. But the Lord of the Lesser Creach and the Lord of the Zombies hold the last two Jerusalem Stones Jack needs to have any chance of success. To make matters worse, the Oracle predicts that one of their group will die in the upcoming fight, and Jack discovers betrayal among those he trusts most. Even so, Jack must find the courage to lead his friends into battle. Either they collect the Stones in time to defeat Ren Lucre or die trying. It’s "Do your duty, come what may" no matter the cost. The fate of the world hangs in the balance.
Before the witch could move, a shadow crashed through the hole in the collapsed roof, snarling and growling. Simultaneously, the cottage door flew open, nearly ripping from its hinges, and something ran into the room moving faster than I could track it. A second later, a person flew in from a side window, landing on the floor with a grunt, rolling and then popping up into a fighting stance.
This last addition was Will, sword pulled, ready for a fight. The other two took me a second because my mind still wasn’t used to their appearance. Daniel had dropped in from the roof, but he was in his werewolf form. Up on his hind legs, he clawed the air in front of him, lines of saliva dripping from his long snout. The shadow that had rushed in from the door was Eva. She stood near the fire, but even in the glow of the flames, her skin appeared pure white, almost translucent. Her posture was perfect, her back slightly arched. Chin out, she stared down the witch as if challenging her to one-on-one combat.
“What took you guys so long?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. You sneaking out without telling anyone. And then trying to cover your tracks,” Will said. “You’re a real bonehead. You know that, right?”
“He knows,” Eva said. “Everyone knows.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I kind of liked it better when it was just me and Bella.”
“Really, looked to me like she was about to let you have it. If you want, we could just leave and –”
“Enough,” the witch yelled, sending the flames higher in the fireplace. “This changes nothing. You think you are any match for me?”
“I don’t know,” Eva said. “You’re looking pretty beat up to me. I feel like I might be able to get a little payback for last time.”
Daniel snarled, chomping the air with his teeth in agreement. The last time we’d had a run-in with Bella of the Woods, she’d easily mopped the floor with Eva and Daniel. I wondered if her ragged appearance meant she was less powerful now – or just more desperate and dangerous.
“We don’t have to do this,” I said. “We all want the same thing.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Templar,” the witch said. “You want to save your friends. Save your father. Save the world by stopping Ren Lucre’s mad plan to start an open war against humans all over the world. All I want is to have my son back.”
I lowered my sword, hoping to buy more time. “You can’t get him back,” I said softly. “I think you must know that by now, even if you don’t want to admit it. Look at all of your attempts,” I said, pointing to the stack of Talib heads against the wall. They all stared, wide-eyed, their mouths opening and closing like fish out of water gasping for air. “That’s not your son. Not really. And you know it never will be.”
The witch hunched over slowly as if each word I said made her chest ache more. I decided to make my final appeal.
“I said this to you last time I was here. If you can’t bring your son back, at least let me take my best shot at avenging his death. Let me have the Jerusalem Stone back so I can continue my quest to defeat Ren Lucre once and for all.”
The witch’s head twitched to the side as if she heard a new noise. Her lips curled into a cruel grin. “Sorry, Jack. That’s not what I had in mind.”
With a high-pitched scream, she pointed her hands at Eva and Daniel. The two of them blew backward as if a battering ram had run into them. That instant, Will was on the move. He was in the air as the witch turned to him, but he’d been just fast enough. He landed both feet on the witch’s chest, kicking her backward.
The dozens of Talib heads opened their mouths, and their screams joined the witch’s. I lunged forward, ducking as she spun around, the hand with the Jerusalem Stone stretched out toward me. I felt a surge of energy pass over my head like a solid thing. No doubt, if I hadn’t ducked, it would have taken my head clean off my shoulders.
I rolled onto the ground and used my momentum to crash into the witch’s legs. It wasn’t the most graceful move, but it worked. The witch tumbled over, her hand with the Jerusalem Stone smashing into the stone hearth. The Stone rolled out of her hand and into the fireplace.
“Bella, don’t!” I yelled.
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