Excerpt – Guard the Dawn

Chapter 1

I stood in a moonlit meadow, but not the one I expected. It took me a moment to recognize the field beside the converted barn that would soon be my new home. This new dreamscape filled me with excitement. It was a location Xol knew well. Could this be his dream?

As Xol had explained it, everyone had the ability to touch the spirit world while dreaming. It was a time when the soul flew freeor part of itand ventured into the spirit realm. Those with shamanistic abilities could take it a step further and control the journey.

I had that ability, but I was still learning how to use it. Xol had been working with me, but our magics were quite different. Things didnt always go as planned.

Eyeing my surroundings, I looked for some clue that would tell me whether this was my dream or Xols. The fact that I had shifted into my spirit animal upon arriving suggested that this dream wasnt my own. I could test it by shifting back, but if it wasnt my dream, I would leave it entirely.

With a huff that sounded more like a soft snarl, I walked toward the barn. When a dreamscape was this close to reality, it was hard to tell who had created it.

The large sliding doors on the front of the building were closed, but the recently added pedestrian door stood open. That was fortunate since I wouldnt be opening any doors as a Jack Russell terrier. Had Xol left the door open for me?

I stepped into the barn at the same moment I became aware of the music and murmur of many voices.

The sight before me wasnt the training floor of my newly opened Queen City Canine Academy, I stood in what appeared to be a nightclub. With its flashing neon lights and cramped dance floor, it looked a lot like the place Kat and I had visited last monthjust before Xol had returned to my life.

The room was packed, but when I tried to focus on the people around me, the images were oddly indistinct. It was almost as if the dreamer hadnt bothered to focus on the details, or perhaps the dreamers focus was elsewhere.

Working my way across the roomno one seemed to notice the dog in their midstI looked for someone familiar and finally spotted Kat. She sat at the bar, a martini in hand while she chatted with the bartender.

I blinked. The bartender was Boand he wasnt wearing a shirt.

Oh my God. Was this Kats dream? Could I visit the dreams of a mundane person?

This seemed really elaborate if it was a trick Xol had orchestrated. More than that, how would he be able to re-create a nightclub Kat and I visited before he arrived in town?

I moved closer to the bar, hoping to get Kats attention, but she wasnt looking in my direction. She was focused on Bo who leaned on the bar across from her.

Those sutures were perfect, Bo said to Kat. Neat and tight. It wasnt the conversation one expected to hear from a bartender, but when he smiled, I got the impression that there was a lot more to this conversation then what was going on on the surface.

Not wanting to witness such a private moment, I barked.

Kat turned on her stool and her eyes widened when she saw me.

Isnt that Tegan? Bo asked. If shes hurt, I dont think I can see whats wrong. My magic only works on animals.

Tegan? Kat slid down from her stool to face me. What are you doing here?

Do you question the sun? a male voice asked from above me.

Kat looked up with a gasp and the world whirled around me. Colors bled as they flashed past, and the thumping background music vanished so abruptly that my ears popped. Had I been in the waking world, the intense surge of vertigo would have made me sick, but with no true physical form, I couldnt be sick. Instead, I closed my eyes in an effort to keep my equilibrium.

You can open your eyes, Morning Star.

I almost jumped back to the waking world, but reminded myself that I wasnt powerless here. Besides, I had been expecting this visit.

Opening my eyes I rose to my feet, human now, and faced Tezcatlipoca. I had been expecting him since he showed up in my spirit walk a week ago. Had he been waiting until Xol wasnt around?

To my surprise, we stood in his modernized room atop his pyramid. A location he seemed to favor whenever we met in the spirit world.

So much power and yet the most basic things elude you. He smiled as he spoke, but finished with a bemused shake of the head.

What do you want? I demanded.

And thats another thing you should already know.

If youre pissed that I broke your mirror, youve got no one to blame but yourself. Did you think I would sit idly by while you gave my body and Xols to your pets?

I have nothing but respect for you, both your power and your spunk.

I gritted my teeth, and he grinned. He knew I hated that description.

But Im in need of your help, he continued before I could speak.

Why would I ever help you?

You want a reason? Then I shall give you one.

I glimpsed that Cheshire Cat smile, then the world dissolved again in another crazy swirl of light and color.

When I opened my eyes, I stood on an arid plain. Alone.

I sat up in bed, heart pounding. Light shown from beneath the closed door to my bedroom. Or rather, the guest room at Kats house. I frowned at it a moment, trying to gather my scattered wits. The hall light was on.

Athena, my Jack Russell terrier, looked up at me with sleepy eyes. She knew it wasnt our usual time to get up.

I rubbed her ears. Go back to sleep, Thena. It was just a nightmare.

How I wished I could believe that.

The floor creaked in the hall and a shadow darkened the light beneath my door.

I hope thats you, Kat, I called out.

The knob rattled and a moment later, the door swung open to reveal Kat, her dark-red hair hanging around her pajama clad shoulders.

Its me. She stepped into my room, but stopped just inside the door. I had no trouble making out her worried expression in the light from the hall. Whats wrong?

Nothing. I took a gamble and plunged on. Nothing that Bo could diagnose anyway.

Kat stood straighter. It was you.

I hurried from the bed and closed the distance between us. Im sorry. It wasnt intentional. I was looking for Xol and found you.

She stared at me. You were in my dream?

I didnt know I could do that with someone who wasnt a shaman, but Xol says that everyone has the ability to touch the spirit world in their dreams. I didnt mean to—”

Tegan. Kat held up her hands, palms toward me. Calm down. Its okay.

Are you sure? I took a breath, but couldnt leave it at that. It wont happen again.”

She took my hands and gave them a squeeze. Its fine. Youre forgiven.

I released the breath Id been holding.

But you werent the only one who invaded my dream, were you? There was a guy, dressed in some kind of feathered costume.

Tezcatlipoca, I gave her his name. He likes to wear the ceremonial outfits reserved for his gods.

Kat stared at me, clearly frightened, though she tried to hide it. I thought you kicked his butt.

Apparently, I didnt kick it hard enough.

She smiled faintly, but sobered as she continued. What was he doing in my dream?

He didnt go into detail. I think he wanted to prove that I hadnt defeated him. I shrugged, trying to make light of it. Maybe hell go away now that Im sufficiently awed.

Kat frowned, not buying that. Does he appear in dreams often?

He was following me. He has no reason to bother youas long as I leave you alone. Im sure youll never see him again.

I wasnt referring to tonight. Does he follow you often?

This was the first Ive seen him in a week. Maybe hes been waiting to catch me alone. I didnt think he was avoiding Xol. Tezcatlipoca was phenomenally talented. Perhaps he felt Id be more intimidated if Xol wasnt with me.

Kat studied me. Do you spend every night with Xol?

Yes. While our bodies sleep, our soulsplay. I felt a little silly describing it that way, but it was accurate. Running with Xol in the spirit world was such an innocent pleasure.


What? I asked when it didnt seem she would elaborate.

I know this will make you mad, but have you considered that the novelty of this connection is the source of your infatuation?

Infatuation? I infused the word with all the indignation I could muster. Im not a teenager with her first crush.

Wasnt Xol your first crush?

I huffed. Thats not pertinent. I dont understand why you dont like him.

He put you at risk as a teen, and when he returned to your life ten years later, he put you in danger again. Not to mention, he betrayed you and lost you your dream.

The TV show would have been a sham. You know that.

Kat sighed. Im not going to argue with you. Ill just keep hoping that youll wise up and realize hes bad for you.

Hes my soul mate.

Because your souls play together. Kat shook her head. Good night, Tegan.

I bit my tongue and watched her walk away.


I spotted Xols mud-splattered Jeep in the freshly paved lot outside my new training academy when I walked over the next morning. He was parked beside Donovans big green SUV and attached utility trailer, but their vehicles werent the only ones in the lot. Three unfamiliar cars were parked close to the glass pedestrian door that served as the buildings main entrance. All had out-of-state tags. Though it was still ten minutes to the hour, I chided myself for not walking over sooner.

The cars were empty, the drivers gathered near the bumper of the one closest to me and chatting about something. I recognized the two men and one woman who were members of our regional agility board and organizers of the Midwest Regional Agility Championships, the trial I would be hosting. We had scheduled this meeting months ago to finalize the details, though now, I suspected its purpose was to see my new facility more than anything else.

Good morning, I greeted them. Sorry to keep you waiting.

I believe were a little early, Derek Cardiff said with a smile. He was the newest member of the board, but he had been a friendly face at various agility trials for a few years. I liked him, but suspected his interest in me might extend beyond our joint passion for agility, but the fact that he lived near Chicago, several hours away, kept the relationship professional.

Looks like youve been busy, Robert Newman commented, nodding at the barn.

Its been a challenge, I admitted with a tentative smile. Even after all these years and with the success Id had, Robert still intimidated me. Hed been competingand later judging agility since the sport began.

This barn must have been in better shape than your last email indicated, Janice Appleton said, studying the building with a critical eye. I felt certain this was a mistake. Im shocked that were not scrambling for a venue at the last moment.

I give all the credit to my contractor, I answered, trying not to let my annoyance with the woman show. Janice hadnt been pleased when the Queen City Canine Academy had gotten the nod for this years trial, especially after I took the championship from her at Nationals last year.

Let me show you around, I suggested, trying to recapture my enthusiasm. This trial was something Id been working toward for years, and planning for months. I refused to let one sore loser take that from me.

Leading them inside, I gave them a tour, silently praising Donovan as we went. He had finished the training floor so quickly that not only had I been able to use it to hold classes this past week, Id had time to decorate before this inspection. I intentionally concluded the tour in front of my shelves of ribbons, trophies, and other awards.

Dependent on the weather, the barn doors can be pushed open, I said, gesturing toward the oversized doors that were more than aesthetic. Itll cut down on congestion and allow easier access to the warm-up ring and vendorswho will be set up between this building and the clinic next door.

I really like that theres a vet next door, Derek said.

I doubt itll be open on the weekend. Janice pulled her frown from my trophy wall to focus it on him.

The owner is my best friend, I said. Shes not scheduling appointments that morning so we can use her parking lot, but shell be here, and the clinic will be available if theres an emergency.

Thats excellent, Derek added, enthusiastically. Youve really outdone yourself.

Janice cast him another frown before turning back to my wall of trophies. So youre keeping the name, even after Velmas murder?

The question surprised me. I thought it a nice way to honor her memory.

Youre not afraid of it making you a target?

I frowned. Why would it?

I heard she was murdered by some of those magical freaks.

She now had my full attention. Where did you hear that?

It was my understanding that the PIA was part of the investigation. Nobody calls the Paranormal Investigation Agency unless the magical are involved.

I couldnt help but notice how closely Robert and Derek were listening.

What wasnt clear was whether the victim or the perpetrators were the magical ones.”

Clearly, you didnt spend much time around Velma, I said. Her dislike of the magical was legendary.

That had to be tough, especially here in Cincinnati, Robert said. I would assume some of your clientele are magical.

I wouldnt know, I answered. Most people tend to be tight-lipped about that. Now if—”

Though it would be shocking to learn that Velma was magical, Janice added with a speculative look on her face.

She was simply a talented dog trainer, I said, struggling to keep my tone light. If youd like to join me in my office, we can go over the schedule. Ive lined up several hotels and a couple of food trucks.

Things went smoothly from that point, but I was pleased when, an hour later, I walked them out to their cars. It was probably just my imagination, but I felt Janices comments a little too leading. Had she heard something? I couldnt imagine whatunless shed somehow gotten word about my involvement with the PIA recently.

And I forgot to ask, Derek said, stopping by his car. When does your TV show start?

Im afraid that fell through, I answered.

Thats terrible. What happened?

A difference of philosophy. I shrugged, aware of Janice listening. I think its for the best. I thanked them for coming, and with a promise to follow up with some of the outstanding items on our agenda, I watched them pull away.

Glad that was over, I took the stairs up to the deck on the back of the building. Unlike my old apartment, this deck was much larger and provided more than a landing outside my apartment door. Here, there was space for a grill and some deck furniture. But those were purchases to be made at some future date. Currently, Donovan was working hard to get the kitchen cabinets installed before the flooring company arrived later this week, but I wasnt certain what Xol was doing. He knew about my meeting this morning, and I figured that was why hed stayed out of the way.

The prospect of finishing my apartment should fill me with excitement, but between my conflict with Kat, the visit from Tezcatlipoca, and the stress of getting the agility-trial logistics settled, I wasnt feeling all that perky this morning.

I found Donovan and Xol hard at work in my big open kitchena feature I dearly loved after my previous cramped cooking spaceunboxing the cabinets that had been delivered yesterday.

Good morning, Donovan greeted me, smiling through his beard. Your friend made the mistake of admitting that he had installed cabinets before. He waved a hand at Xol.

With a hint of a smile, Xol offered an indifferent shrug.

No crew this morning? I asked Donovan.

Era took on a new project. Theyre gutting the place this morning.

Besides, Xol set aside his utility knife and walked over to me, he doesnt need a crew. Earlier this morning, I watched your new refrigerator carry itself upstairs and shove its plug into the wall outlet.

I forced a smile, glad that Janice had missed that. I tried to distance my professional life from the magical, but it seemed my personal life was filled with them.

Donovan chuckled. A mild exaggeration. As an Earth Element, he possessed a matter-specific form of telekinesis. He could manipulate any solid object. But if your guests are gone, Ill go fetch the dishwasher.

Need a hand? Xol offered.

Nope. Donovan winked.

When I first learned that Donovan was an Elementone of the four leaders of Cincinnatis New Magic communityId been more than a little unsettled. I had been certain that Donovan would insist I register my magic, but he had respected my privacy. He never even mentioned my magical talents. That, at least, was one less thing to worry about.

Are you okay? Xol asked now that we were alone. Everything on track for the agility trial?

Yeah. Everythings fine.

He didnt look convinced.

What? I asked.

I was worried that youve been pushing too hard. He reached up and touched my cheek. I figured thats why you missed our dream walk last night. You fell into a deep sleep and forgot.

I did dream walk, but it wasnt your dream I wandered into.

Xol raised his dark eyebrows.

I visited Kats dream, I admitted.

His eyebrows rose even more. Are you serious?

Why do you look so surprised? You told me that everyone touches the spirit world in sleep.

Thats true, but their touch is often too brief to support a dream walk.

Do you think Kat is more adept than most?

That is possible, but the more likely possibility is that it is you. Partly your unique ability and partly your close relationship with her.

None of that explains what happened next.

Xol gave me a questioning look.

Tezcatlipoca showed up.

Xol curled his lip. Why is he showing up now? Its been weeks since we watched his ass disappear into the trees, chased by the souls he damned.

I hadnt told Xol that Tezcatlipoca had visited me in a dream only a week ago. I had been hoping that would be the last Id see of him. Apparently, I was wrong.

And he shows up in a mundanes dream? Xol demanded.

He told me he needed my help.

Oh really? Did you tell him to go piss up a rope?

I smiled at the expression. No, not in so many words.

Xol didnt smile. Maybe I need to hunt his dreams and—”

No. I gripped his forearm.

Why not? Do you think so little of my talent?

This has nothing to do with your skills. Dont let your ego goad you into a bad decision. Tezcatlipoca is a talented shaman with five hundred years of experience. Hell, this whole thing might be a ruse to lure you into a trap.

Xol frowned, and I could tell my words hadnt soothed his bruised ego.

A thump carried through the open door, like something heavy had been dropped on the deck outside. Before I could comment, Donovans voice carried to us. Well, hello there.

I exchanged a puzzled look with Xol, then we both headed for the door. Had someone stopped by? Maybe one of the board members had returned, though Donovans tone made it sound like he was talking to a child. Maybe he was just surprised to be caught using his magic. That might not bode wellfor him or me.

I found the source of the thump. My new dishwasherstill wrapped in cardboardsat just outside my door, but Donovan was nowhere in sight.

Stepping over to the top of the stairs, I spied Donovan at the bottom. He must have stayed below while sending the dishwasher up on its own, but he was no longer paying attention to that task. Instead, he was speaking to a dog that had stopped near the edge of the parking lot a few feet away.

I looked closer. That wasnt a dog. It was a coyote. Shocked to see a wild animal approach so close, I hurried down the steps, Xol right behind me.

Careful, Donovan whispered as I stopped beside him. Hes probably hurt or sick. He wouldnt come this close if he was healthy.

The coyote looked up, his golden eyes meeting mine before moving on to Xol. It had been a brief glance, but it was enough to make me catch my breath.

What is it? Donovan whispered. His question came as a surprise since I didnt think Id reacted that noticeably.

Thats not a coyote, Xol answered for me. He stepped past us, raising his voice to address the coyotein Nahuatl.

The coyote stared at Xol, his body language expressing uncertainty. He took a step back and his rear leg seemed to give out, sending him to the ground with a soft yelp.

He is hurt, Donovan muttered.

Leaving Donovan at the base of the stairs, I stepped around Xol, and hurried over to the coyote. I dropped to a knee and laid a hand on his bony shoulder, noting the rough condition of his coat and how painfully thin he was. Hey there, I said to him, my tone friendly and welcoming.

He tried to get up, but it was clearly a struggle.

No. Stay still. It wasnt hard to hold him in place. Just relax, I continued, pitching my voice as I would with a frightened dog I was training. Were not going to hurt you.

He relaxed as I continued my words of calm and reassurance. His ragged breathing smoothed out and his eyes closed. I had a talent with dogs. A magical talentas much as I hated to admit that. But it did make me an excellent dog trainer.

Xol squatted beside me, a concerned look on his face.

Hes nothing but skin and bones, I said, keeping my voice soft so as not to upset the coyote.

I suspect hes been in this form a long time, Xol answered in the same soft tone.

Is that a bad thing?

Depends on how good you are at surviving as an animal.

I carefully lifted his lip to expose his pale gums. Hes badly dehydrated.

The wound looks infected. Xol pointed at the scabbed-over gash in the coyotes rear leg. The fur around it was matted where it was seeping.

I dont need to know anything about animals to know he needs help. Now. I rose to my feet. Lets take him next door. I waved a hand toward the animal clinic.

Donovans large hand settled on my shoulder, and I jumped, unaware that hed walked over. He could move quietly for such a big guy. Then too, Id been distracted.

If thats not a coyote, what exactly is he? Donovan asked.

My heart raced as I looked up at the big Earth Element. I regretted not telling Donovan what Xol was, but Id always heard that Old Magic and New Magic didnt get along. Worse, Xol was a different flavor of Old Magic than what currently lived in Cincinnati.

Tegan? Donovan prompted.

I took a breath to answer, but Xol spoke first.

Hes a nagual. Xol rose to his feet and faced Donovan. Like me.


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