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What do you do when the Earth is under assault from monstrous creatures by alternate dimensions and you're the only person who can wield the weapon that can destroy them? That's the situation facing Richard Oort, hero of Melinda Snodgrass' Edge of Dawn.
Lonely and overwhelmed after a series of terrifying, catastrophic global and personal events, Richard is still determined to save the world from the horrific "old ones". He goes undercover in a Christian fundamentalist compound, playing house with an attractive FBI agent. At first this serves only to increase his loneliness, as he misses his real family. But against all odds, he discovers another unique human who can use the paladin's weapon, one who might be able to join him and lighten the burden of responsibility. There's only one problem - Mosi is a nine-year-old Navajo girl.
Their enemies are trying to kill both Richard and Mosi - and have already killed Mosi's family. To keep her safe, Richard becomes her guardian. But an error in judgment leads to disaster and betrayal, and now the odd pair will need to summon all their strength to survive the coming battle. From the American Southwest to a secret society in Turkey, the paladin and his ward try to stay in front of their enemies. But the world is at stake - and time is running short.
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The Edge of Dawn
By Melinda Snodgrass
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Melinda Snodgrass
All rights reserved.
Mosi Tsosie was scared.
The family had moved their flock of sheep to BIA land near the edge of Chaco Canyon and built a hogan. Grandfather was very traditional and refused to let them use a prefab building. They did carry the logs in the bed of the pickup because trees were scarce to nonexistent out by the canyon, but the sod was cut from the earth, and the logs were chinked with that same soil, and it had five sides and a door facing east as was proper.
Mother had selected that site for summer grazing because there had been a lot of rain in western New Mexico and the grass was high. Grandfather, being traditional, had wanted to do a ceremony in the canyon near the pueblo of Wijiji. And her father, who was an excellent potter and silversmith, knew he could make a lot of money selling to the sunburned tourists who would be filling the campground.
That was all normal. What wasn't normal was her brother, Abel.
Abel was smart, really smart. He wanted to become a doctor after he finished high school. A lot of people laughed at him because Abel wouldn't even start high school until the fall, but Mosi knew he would do what he said. Abel was that kind of person.
At the end of the summer session at the boarding school at Sheep Springs, Abel had been given a computer along with everyone else at the school. The computers were fun, with colored cases instead of the usual white or black or silver. Abel's was a deep purple like a sunset after a rainstorm.
Dad was proud of Abel, so he had bought a wind-powered generator so Abel would have electricity even while they were following the flock and doing ceremonies and selling pottery and bracelets. Abel spent all his time on the computer.
But Mosi had seen the grotesque, twisted faces in the screen. Not normal people-faces of friends on Facebook, or LiveJournal. They had Internet only when they were in Gallup or Farmington, but these faces kept appearing on the screen even way out here among the canyons and the mesas. At first Mosi thought Abel might be stealing the Internet from the rangers at Chaco Canyon, but she'd snuck over to the computer and checked, and there was no signal. Which meant the faces weren't part of the white man's technology; they were spirits or witches.
They whispered to Abel late in the night when everyone else was asleep. Mosi would lie in her sleeping bag watching the shadows jump on the walls of the hogan as the fire in the potbellied stove died to embers, listening to the guttural voices and shivering.
Mother and Father were tired at night, slumbering so deeply they didn't hear the voices. When Mosi tried to tell them, they ruffled her hair and gave her a kiss and talked about what an imagination she had. Now Mosi wished she had never started telling stories. Then they might have believed her.
Mosi went with Grandfather on the morning he performed the ceremony. She had helped him gather crow feathers and tie them with yarn left over from Grandmother's weaving. Grandmother had died over the winter. Mosi suspected the ceremony was for Grandmother because Grandfather had loved her very much, but he wouldn't say. He just let Mosi help while never explaining.
They had placed the fetish in an adobe tower halfway up the cliff above the ruins of Wijiji. Navajos had built the adobe tower against the back of a large red boulder where white people wouldn't find it. Partly because they were lazy and partly because they were told by the rangers not to leave the trails, and most of them obeyed the rules.
Grandfather used his stick to help him descend the cliff. Mosi bounded ahead of him. At one point the scree shifted beneath her feet, and it was like skiing on rocks. She reached the canyon bottom, dumped pebbles out of her tennis shoes, and tried to figure out how to tell Grandfather about the faces.
The side canyon that held Wijiji faced west, and the sun was setting. Fingers of light flowed between the rocks, turning them to gold and rose. High overhead a crow rode the thermals, turning in lazy circles, the shadow of his wings sweeping across the sand and sage. The broken walls of the pueblo scratched at the indigo sky, and the stacked stone gleamed as if a fire had been lit inside the sandstone.
They began walking down the road in the center of the canyon. Dust puffed up around their feet like blown dandelion fluff. They passed a tourist in shorts, tank top, and hiking boots, thrusting two ski poles into the dirt to propel her along. Her blond braid bounced on her back, and her nose was red.
For some reason, the sight of the silly girl burning in the desert sun gave Mosi the courage to speak to Grandfather. She smoothed the sleeve of her long-sleeved shirt, averted her eyes, and said in a rush, "I think there's a skinwalker or a witch in Abel's computer. Maybe a lot of them."
Grandfather grunted and spat out a glob of phlegm into the dirt.
"Skinwalkers don't use modern toys. Nor witches, for that matter."
"But I've see —"
"It's not possible."
And that ended the discussion. Sometimes being traditional wasn't such a good thing, Mosi decided.
That night the faces were whispering most intently to Abel. Mosi wondered if they knew she had tried to tell. She decided that tomorrow, when Abel went out to their latrine trench, she would take the computer, run into the desert, and throw it away.
Thinking of the latrine, Mosi realized she needed to pee. She slipped out of her sleeping bag, slid her feet into her tennis shoes, and pulled aside the blanket that covered the hogan's door. The night air brushed against her bare arms and legs and crept through the thin material of her nightgown, raising goose bumps. In just a few hours the sun would rise, and heat would once again dance above the rocks, but right now it was night in the desert and it was cold.
She went to the latrine and listened to the patter as warm pee splashed down into the trench. She wiped with a tissue and buried the paper in the dirt. Back at the hogan, she pulled aside the blanket and froze as a new scent hit her nose. The smell of woodsmoke, beans, chili, and sweat had been replaced by a sweet cloying aroma. She had smelled it often enough before. Whenever Mother butchered a lamb or a sickly sheep, or when father and Abel brought home rabbits they had trapped.
But there were no lambs or rabbits in the hogan. Just people. The moon was rising late this night. The silver light entered the hogan and glittered in her brother's eyes. He was holding the big butcher knife their mother used to shank leg bones. It dripped blood. Mosi had only a moment to react to the sight of her grandfather, head thrown back, throat cut, before Abel lunged at her.
Mosi screamed, stumbled back, and ran. Abel was older and taller, but Mosi was quicksilver fast, and she had spent every day playing outside around the hogan and she knew the ground. Abel had spent his days in conversation with the witches and didn't.
There was a thud, the crackle of broken brush, and a string of curses from Abel. Mosi clenched her fists and ran harder until she reached the barbed-wire fence that separated the national park from the BIA land. She slipped through the wires, felt her nightgown catch on a barb and tear, along with a bit of her skin. It stung, and she felt a tiny trickle of blood.
She heard Abel's harsh breaths behind her, but not too close. She ran until the stitch in her side felt like a knife and her throat burned. Past the visitors' center. On toward the small cabins where the rangers lived. She didn't like to turn to the government men and women. They often tried to drive her father away so they could sell their own souvenirs, but it was another mile to the campground, and she wasn't sure the tourists, many cocooned in their giant RVs, would be of much help.
And the rangers had guns.CHAPTER 2
Sweat ran in rivulets down his sides, trickling beneath the ceramic-insert body armor to pool at his waistband. The biting, throat-choking smell of an Old One overwhelmed even the cloying scent of rotting vegetation from the jungle that surrounded the Aztec ruin. Dark clouds roiled overhead, promising a drenching rain to come. Up until now, Richard Oort's experience with Mexico had been the dry Sonoran Desert south of his home in New Mexico. He had never experienced the jungles of southern Mexico. And right now he wished he wasn't there, as the high-powered bullets pinged against the body of the jeep behind which he had taken cover.
The guttural music of machine gun fire punctuated Richard's words as he spoke aloud, "There are too many damn guns in this country." Which he then amended to, "Maybe there are just too many damn guns in the whole damn world."
Not for the first time, he cursed Kenntnis for not updating his own weapon while it was still possible. If the sword had become an Uzi that could spew magic-destroying bullets, Richard would be a whole lot happier. But Kenntnis was now mindless, and the opportunity had passed.
Richard's own Lumina troops were all around him, using abandoned trucks and jeeps and fallen stones for cover as they tried to push forward through the dying jungle that enshrouded the Aztec pyramid. They were augmented with gunmen provided by Teo Santiago, the man who had brought them to this stretch of jungle south and east of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, a place where there was a tear in the fabric of reality, where something alien, hostile, and evil had entered the world. The only thing that could defeat it was the ancient weapon, currently carried by Richard. Unfortunately, Richard had to get close enough to the creature to touch it with the blade of the sword so it could be destroyed.
The sound of gunfire also meant that the Old One was not nearby, since modern technology didn't do well in the warped reality of a tear. The absence was good. If the creature had retreated into its own multiverse, all they had to do was fight their way to the opening, and the sword would close it, keeping the Old One from returning.
One of Uncle Teo's paramilitary men rolled into cover with Richard. His dark-skinned face was shiny with sweat, and he hugged his rifle like a kid with a teddy bear as he spat out a barrage of Spanish. Richard found the colloquial Spanish a bit hard to follow, but he could understand, and even make himself understood, in his more formal Spanish. Now the man was telling him that there was a trench seven hundred yards to the west dug by archaeologists a few years ago. It ran all the way to the temple and offered some protection from the guns of the fanatics who had spent the past two years worshiping the Old One and increasing its power with their sacrifices.
Damon Weber came racing across the open plaza, bullets whining at his heels. One must have hit his Kevlar armor, for he staggered before catching his balance. Richard's heart squeezed down tight with fear and anxiety, then Weber dove, sliding in beside him.
"Motherfucker! I'm gonna have a bruise from that one." Weber was a tall man in his late forties with faint acne scars around his eyes and jawline. His brown hair was tinged with gray at the temples, his skin tanned and leathery. "The things you get me into."
"Hey, at least this time somebody took it seriously, and gave us actual ... oh ... help."
"Yeah, and let's not talk about the irony of that."
Richard understood because the men fighting at the side of the Lumina security forces were the elite bodyguards and enforcers for Uncle Teo's massive drug cartel. Once upon a time Weber and Richard had worked together as police officers in Albuquerque, and tried to stop drug cartels.
Richard wondered if the Old One had any idea what had brought down this shit storm on its stronghold and its followers. Not that it could have changed the situation even if it did understand. Old Ones warped and disrupted the natural order. Wherever they held sway, magic worked, people went mad, and plants perished. Uncle Teo's pot fields had started to croak from the encroaching power of the Old One, so Uncle Teo had gone looking for help and come across the Lumina Web site which, in addition to listing its various business interests, made no bones about the other services the company offered. We have the means to close rents in the fabric of the universe and destroy any creatures that may enter through those tears.
A few years before, they wouldn't have been so forthcoming. Partly because until Richard stumbled into this secret war, Lumina didn't have a paladin who could use the sword, and because the world at large didn't know about this age-old battle between magic, religion, and superstition, and science, reason, and rationality. Now the world knew, and Lumina didn't need to hide. Of course, what the Web site didn't mention was that that power rested in a young man of very modest height, with a rather shy demeanor, armed with a sword.
Richard had taken the call from Mexico, listened to the situation, called Weber, who was then in Africa, and ordered the security chief to gather a strike team and meet him in Mexico. They had been met with armored limos at the airport and driven to the drug lord's palatial hacienda, where on the sweeping stone steps at the entrance they had been made welcome by the stoop-shouldered, gray-haired man.
Once Richard and Weber were settled with chilled glasses of horchata and beer, respectively, provided by Teo's gorgeous wife who was at least thirty years younger than himself, the old man said with absolutely no irony, "Those government pendejos in Mexico City won't do shit for an honest businessman."
He'd also been willing to help, augmenting the Lumina troops with fifty of his own men. Now, looking at that round, sweat-drenched face of the gunman, Richard wondered how many drug rivals, policemen, and maybe innocent citizens the man had killed. Don't think about it. Do what we came to do. Get out.
Richard brought Weber up to speed. The older man popped up for a quick look, and ducked back down when a hail of gunfire hit the jeep. "Well, first we have to get you into the trench. Looks like a feint from the other direction is in order."
"You'll lead that?" Richard asked.
"No, I'm going to be with you."
"Don't leave it to Uncle Teo's thugs."
But Weber was already on his throat mike calling his second in command. "Wangai, we need a distraction on the left."
"How big you want it, bwana?" The woman's voice was a husky alto with a lilting accent of her native Kenya.
"Right ho. Give me five to get things arranged."
"And take care of Richard."
"I'm right here, Wangai," Richard said, disgruntled by the unspoken implication.
"I know you are, jumbe. You do what Weber tells you."
Richard broke the connection. "Why does she call you bwana and me jumbe?"
"'Cause you rate. Bwana just means boss. Jumbe is chief."
"So why do I still feel like you're both treating me like I'm six years old?"
Weber just grinned at him and checked his watch. They waited, sweltering, as seconds ticked into minutes. The radio crackled back to life.
"One of Teo's madmen has a rocket launcher," Wangai said. "When you give us the word, we'll light up that pyramid."
"Archaeologists around the world are going to love us for this," Richard said.
Weber shrugged. "We'll blame the drug lord. Ready?"
"Yeah." They duck-walked to the front end of the jeep. Richard touched the hilt of the sword where it rested in a holster at the small of his back. He then hugged his assault rifle against his chest.
A wave of sound, physical in its intensity, swept past them, and the darkening landscape was lit as the dead and dying trees caught fire. Richard and Weber sprinted for the test trench as Weber panted, "You have got to get us some of those!"
Richard tucked and rolled into the trench, and grunted when his hip hit a piece of masonry in the bottom, followed by a squelch as he rolled into the mud. "Yuck."
"Yeah, heaven forfend that you end up dirty while fighting in a military action," Weber grunted.
They rushed down the trench. A shadow overhead was his only warning. Richard flung himself forward and twisted around to bring his rifle to bear. A man in ragged, mud-stained clothes was on the edge of the trench above him. Richard held down the trigger. A sharp short burst of lethal lead, and the man collapsed.
Excerpted from The Edge of Dawn by Melinda Snodgrass. Copyright © 2015 Melinda Snodgrass. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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