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Every step Logantook on the path eased his tension. Up here he didn’t have to deal with his sisters; he didn’t have to guard himself against a city full of humans and the press of their energy against his mind’s protective barrier; and since his brother wasn’t here, he didn’t have to worry about Kel either.
There was still his job. Logan touched the cell phone at his waist. No troubleshooter could be out of touch without getting it cleared by the council, and because he wasn’t sure what kind of service he’d have as he hiked up this mountain trail, he’d warned them. If they couldn’t reach him normally, they’d use telepathy, but he was hoping for a quiet day.
Nature was cooperating. It was a perfect June afternoon. The sun was shining, the temperature hovered in the mid-seventies, and the most dangerous thing he’d run into was a grouse. Logan figured the bears and cougars should give him a wide berth, and if they didn’t, he’d use his magic to transport them somewhere else.
If only it were that easy to get rid of the people out here with him. He’d passed a few groups earlier and the fact that they were behind him kept him from completely relaxing.
Sometimes Logan wondered if wariness of humans was hardwired into the Gineal. It wasn’t as if he didn’t understand that there were good and bad people, and he’d never had any kind of run- in that would account for his distrust, but it was there anyway.
The narrow trail took him up the slope, past wildflowers and fallen trees bleached ash gray by the sun. Logan breathed deeply, soaking in the clean air, but he didn’t stop walking—not until he rounded the bend. Through a break in the pines, he could see mountains tumbling off into the distance beneath an electric blue sky.
Reaching for his water, he absorbed the beauty of the panorama laid out before him. This trail was rated as difficult, but coming here had been worth it. He uncapped the bottle and drank. Even after he stowed it away again, he didn’t move, not immediately.
Muscles that had been tight for months slackened and a soul- deep peace spread through him. With a last glance, Logan continued on. From everything he’d read, there were better views farther up the track and he wanted to reach the summit before the humans caught up with him.
The path was clogged with vegetation and trees again, but as he hit another switchback, the incline leveled out. He picked up his speed, eager to reach the top where he could look out and see forever—or at least into Canada.
An arm went around his neck from behind, taking him by surprise.
He’d relaxed too much, damn it.
Logan forced his fingers between his throat and his attacker’s arm, broke free from the hold, and turned, expecting to take on a human who thought he’d found an easy mark.
One glance had him scrambling to adjust his mindset.
Bouda. Not a demon, but nearly as dangerous. Adrenaline surged as Logan sized up the creature—well over seven feet tall, heavily muscled steel- blue skin covered with thick scales, and razor- sharp talons at the ends of long fingers. Its mouth was deep and large, filled with teeth that were designed not only to hold its prey, but also to tear chunks of flesh from the victim. The clothing it wore—brown leather trousers, knee-high boots, and a sleeveless leather jerkin—were intended to shield it from injury during an attack.
Logan blocked the first strike, and began to silently intone spells. The first was to protect himself, the second to keep humans away from the area, and the third to get rid of the pack he had on. He couldn’t afford to be weighed down.
His brain raced through the facts he had about the monster—fast, strong, and with incredible stamina. It also had a guard against magic that was as solid as the physical defense it had around its body. The usual strategies weren’t going to cut it.
He stopped the second blow with his forearm. Pain shot to his shoulder and he grunted.
Shifting out of the way of another swing, Logan ran through potential weapons and tactics. There weren’t a lot of options. The bouda’s scales were bulletproof, resistant to everything including armor- piercing ammunition. A memory from his training surfaced—it would take magic wielded simultaneously with a physical weapon to win.
But why the hell was it attacking him? They weren’t stupid creatures and going after a Gineal troubleshooter was a bad bet. Logan ducked to avoid a hammer fist to his head.
He backed away, buying a few seconds, and it dawned on him that the bouda probably didn’t know he was Gineal. It didn’t have the ability to scan energy like demons could. This type of dark- force being liked to eat attractive humans and it believed that it had found its next meal. His lips curved. Fat chance.
One strike. That’s all he’d get before the creature discovered he wasn’t human. Logan needed to make it count.
He jumped away from a swipe, stumbled over a rock, and lurched to regain his balance. Two- inch talons narrowly missed ripping open his left biceps.
Putting his hands behind his back, Logan called forward a pair of double- bladed katars. If the weapon could puncture the armor of medieval knights, it might pierce the bouda’s scales. The double- edged blades were positioned over his knuckles, allowing him to punch his strikes.
The monster snarled at him, its lips drawn back.
Logan tightened his fingers around the hand grips, gathered his magic, and charged.
At point- blank range, he hurled a lightning ball into the bouda’s belly. The katar blades followed a split second behind. The knives slid across the scales without penetrating.
He leaped out of range of the claws, but not quite fast enough. The talons ripped into his shirt and the creature clenched them into a fist, dragging Logan closer. Its eyes had no iris, no color, and as he stared, the black seemed endless, eternal.
It was the smell of fetid breath that freed Logan from his trance. Fighting the need to gag, he struggled against the hold, but it took magic to break loose.
The bouda roared in displeasure and a gale force wind burst from its maw. The turbulence slammed into Logan, almost knocking him over.
He leapt above the air stream and levitated until it died down. Drawing a deep breath, Logan girded himself for a protracted battle. Going in low, he shot another bolt of lightning and positioned the katars to strike. But before he could get within range, the bouda reached out with its long arms and grabbed him.
Instead of pulling him closer, it threw him, sending Logan sailing down the side of the mountain.
He hit the slope hard enough to drive the air from his lungs and he slid. Rocks, brush, branches, and plants tore at his clothes, at his flesh. Logan couldn’t stop, not until he intoned a short spell.
For an instant, he didn’t move, taking stock of his condition. He felt abraded, his cuts stinging, but his protection spell had prevented any real injury.
Looking up, he measured the distance to the trail. He’d fallen a long way. Slowly, Logan pushed to his feet and began the climb. He didn’t get far before the bouda appeared above him and tossed a boulder over the side.
Quick reflexes and a stand of evergreens protected Logan.
There was an endless supply of ammunition and he was a sitting duck down here. Opening a transit, he crossed from the mountainside to the path behind his adversary.
Without hesitation, Logan rushed forward, throwing a rope of fire as he tried to drive the katars into his enemy’s back.
He still couldn’t ram the knives home, damn it.
The monster whirled and hit Logan with a backhand that sent him flying up the mountain slope. This landing was harder and the shield around him gave, the impact driving the air from his lungs. His eyes watered, his chest hurt, but he staggered to his feet.
Logan knew he didn’t have time to catch his breath; the bouda would be coming for him. He raised the wind, making it strong enough to push the creature over, then he rasped in oxygen while he had the chance.
The minute he was able to breathe, he barreled back toward the trail. If he could get to the creature while it was down. . . .
His adversary stood before Logan made it halfway, and throwing back its head, the bouda roared. Great, all he’d done was piss it off. Grimacing, Logan reinforced his protection spell. He was running through his magic fast. Too fast.
A cracking noise made him whirl and he barely managed to spin out of the way of a falling pine. He had his back to the bouda, but before Logan could turn, he took a blow at the knee.
He landed in the dirt. Immediately, he sprang to his feet and found his enemy brandishing a tree trunk.
Clutching the katars tightly, he cast a spell to increase his velocity and dove toward the creature.
Logan crashed into the bouda, going in low to avoid the tree it held. Grabbing it around the calves, he brought it to the ground. They both grunted from the impact, but he didn’t hesitate. He pinned the monster with his weight as well as his magic, and slashed at the exposed scales, hoping to slice away a patch and drive the knife home.
Something that sounded like sizzling bacon made Logan stop and turn his head. Rock slide. It picked up intensity, swelling from sizzle to thunder in a heartbeat.
Small stones pelted him and the bouda took advantage of his distraction. Its teeth sank in deeply.
The protection spell saved him from having a chunk of flesh ripped out of his biceps, but it still hurt like hell. Logan stabbed the katars against the creature’s head over and over. It didn’t cause any damage, but it did get the bouda to release him.
Larger rocks were striking him now and Logan abandoned his position. Casting another levitation spell, he hovered above the stones and boulders rolling down the mountainside.
The bouda seemed untroubled by the hits it took, opening its arms as if welcoming the strikes.
How the hell was he going to beat this thing?
From the air, he shot a rope of flame at the top of its head, but the monster was shielded there, too. Logan dodged hard left, barely avoiding the burst of wind directed at him. Just the edge of it was enough to send him sailing back about ten feet.
The instant the rockslide slowed, Logan landed. Before he could attack, though, the bouda raised its hand to the sky and a medieval battle- axe appeared. Damn. Fighting against a bladed extension weapon was one of his least favorite things.
His opponent whooshed the axe through the air in intricate patterns, displaying just how adept it was at handling the thing. The demonstration was purely meant to intimidate and Logan wished he could pull a gun like Indiana Jones and just shoot it.
The quick spell he chanted to get rid of the weapon didn’t work. Next he tried to heat the metal axe head enough to melt it. That didn’t do a thing.
It had to mean the bouda’s magic was stronger than he’d realized.
Keeping a wary eye on the show the creature was still putting on, Logan debated trading in his knives for a sword. He couldn’t match the bouda weapon for weapon since he’d never learned to wield an axe—clearly an oversight in enforcer training—but the sword was another bladed extension weapon.
Except a sword might break if it took a hit from the axe.
He decided to stay with the knives. His protection spell should hold for a while longer, and if he could get inside the reach of the axe, he’d have more maneuverability.
Two-pronged attack. He’d been trying to fire magic and hit with the weapon at the same time. What if he focused on magic and worked to weaken the bouda’s shield first? Logan jettisoned the katar on his left hand and let loose with a barrage of fire.
The monster walked through it like it wasn’t even there.
Logan jumped, avoiding the first swing of the axe, and backed away. He called up a sandstorm, surrounding his enemy with the fine grains. They might be small enough to penetrate the minuscule gaps between scales and maybe widen them slightly. At the very least, it could cause the bouda some discomfort.
As he worked to keep the intensity of the sand strong, Logan cast an incantation to protect his ears, and then he began intoning another proclamation. In his left hand, he formed a ball of pressurized air, ramping up the magnitude as high as he could. When the creature fought its way free of the sand, Logan closed the spell and threw the orb.
Despite putting a buffer on his hearing, Logan heard the roar as the sphere exploded. The bouda dropped the axe and grabbed its head.
In the blink of an eye, Logan was on it. He released blast after blast of fire and lightning as he punched the katar against the area he was magically striking. The monster tried to push him away, but it was weakened and reeling from the explosion.
He was still unable to breach the scales, damn it. Logan chanted another spell, one that would form ice over the bouda’s body.
Its growl sounded confused.
Logan’s lips curved and he backed farther away. When he reached a safe distance, he brought down a cloud of steam.
The ice on his adversary went from freezing to blistering in a heartbeat and the bouda cried out. It tried to escape the vapor, but it staggered and fell. Logan released the incantation and launched himself across the distance.
This time the lightning bolt affected the monster. Its body spasmed and the black eyes rolled back into its head.
With a shout of satisfaction, Logan drove the remaining katar into the creature’s belly. It sank in.
As soon as it penetrated to the hilt, he activated the mechanism that scissored the blades. His opponent screamed as the knife opened, tearing through its abdomen.
With pleading eyes, the bouda gazed up at him.
"No mercy," Logan snarled. He pulled the knife out, not bothering to close it until he had it free, then he drove it into the bouda’s heart and opened the blades again.
The creature’s last noise was unintelligible.
Logan stopped opening and shutting the knife and released the weapon. Panting, he rolled to the side, and closing his eyes, he laid there, sucking in oxygen.
He hurt. With adrenaline ebbing, he felt each bruise, each cut. They were nothing except nuisance injuries, but he wouldn’t be able to heal himself for awhile, not as low on magic as he was. The thought of summoning a healer when he got home made him grimace, but he wasn’t willing to spend hours feeling like this when it could be avoided.
Logan forced himself to sit up and take a look around. He had some more work to do before he could lift the spell that kept humans away. First on the list was getting rid of the bouda’s body. Resting a hand on the corpse, he quietly chanted the incantation that transformed it into energy and returned it to the universe.
The area was a mess and it took more spells to get rid of the blood, return the rocks to where they belonged, and erase all traces that a battle had taken place.
Cleaning up lowered his power level further than he liked and Logan scowled. He’d been in fights that had lasted a lot longer than this one, but the shields surrounding the bouda had required he put more magic than usual into each strike. This was damn inconvenient, and when he reported to the council, he’d have to let them know just how bad off he was. A healer could repair him physically, but he’d need time to recharge his powers.
The sound of voices drifted up the trail, reminding him that he couldn’t sit here all morning. Logan whispered the spell to open a transit and pushed slowly to his feet. Blood rushed away from his head and he swayed before catching his balance.
What the hell?
He took a step forward, but as he looked into the mirrorlike glow of the gate, it began to spin. Images kaleidoscoped by at light speed. Logan staggered closer, his vision narrowing with each step.
Lift the spell.
Yeah, he had to open the area to humans again. It took two tries before he felt the incantation disappear.
Instead of walking across the transit, he fell through it. Shaking his head, he looked around, realized he was in his living room, and relaxed. That was a mistake. Pain seared through his body, dancing along the nerves until he couldn’t contain a groan.
Transit. Had to shut the transit.
His attention splintered, shattering into a million pieces and exploding outward. Logan gritted his teeth against the pain, against the split- second flashes of images that he couldn’t quite grasp. Humans couldn’t be allowed to see the transit. He fought hard for one instant during which he could focus. When he had it, he didn’t hesitate. With a wave of his fingers, the portal closed.
That small movement taxed the last of his resources and his hand thumped to the floor. Sweat ran into his eyes, but he couldn’t move, couldn’t wipe it away.
Tremors coursed through him, and no matter how hard he tried, Logan couldn’t stop them. It scared him. Not just the spasms, but the loss of control. He always had his self-command. Always.
The shaking became more violent, frustrating him even as it made his stomach twist. What had the bouda done to him?
His thoughts started to feel fuzzy and Logan fought harder. Bright lights spun across his vision, blinding him to his location. They started out white, turned to yellow, and then he had a rainbow of colors swirling faster than a tilt-a-whirl. Nausea welled. Reaction to the lights or another symptom?
Images returned. Place upon place upon place, all superimposed over each other until he didn’t know what anything was, didn’t know if he’d ever been to these locations. Until he didn’t know what was real and what was imaginary. Logan closed his eyes, trying to make it stop. Wishing it would stop.
He attempted to push himself onto his hands and knees, but his shaking was too violent now. His awareness dimmed further, his thoughts as sluggish as wading through sludge.
That’s when he felt it. Them. Him. One presence or many, he couldn’t tell. Logan tried to shake his head, to back away.
Fetid. Repulsive. Evil.
The tilt-a-whirl picked up speed. Impressions came and went, and no matter how hard he worked to see them, hear them, sense them, he couldn’t sort anything out. Couldn’t slow anything down. His brain hurt as badly as if someone were stabbing him with a pitchfork.
Pain seared through his body even more intensely.
Excerpted from Edge of Dawn by Patti O’Shea.
Copyright 2009 by Patti J. Olszowka.
Published in July 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.