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How am I supposed to find a demon among all these Santa elves and Christmas decorations?
Evalle Kincaid rubbed her gritty eyes and repositioned her sunglasses. She kept moving through throngs of locals from Atlanta’s suburbs, all enjoying the first weekend in November at Memorial Hall in Stone Mountain Park. She’d been here for four hours and it was only nine-thirty. A half hour yet until closing.
The park was decorated to celebrate the start of the holidays, and every tree was lit up. She’d never seen so many bright lights and happy freaking people.
Shoot, every surface glowed or sparkled. She wore dark sunglasses to protect her oversensitive eyes and to protect the locals from seeing those same green eyes glow.
Humans didn’t know about the strange beings that existed in their world. Like her. She was a Belador, one of an ancient line of warriors living secretly in the world today. But most Beladors looked human. Her weird eyes and deathly aversion to the sun came from her mixed blood.
Not her favorite topic to think about.
She squinted to avoid looking right into the hottest lights, because they kept messing with her vision.
If someone viewed the historic park from above, Memorial Hall must be glowing like a glittering jewel against the dark night.
She’d be hearing Jingle Bells in her sleep tonight.
But even that would be better than the nightmares she’d had for the past week.
“Are you the Secret Service, babe?” a mouthy young guy wearing a dark pullover and dress pants asked Evalle.
“No.” She smiled and tried to pass.
“A Hell’s Angel?”
“No.” Without the smile this time.
He finally went on his way.
Okay, so she had on jeans, boots, a black jacket and dark glasses after sunset. She didn’t get the memo on wearing perky holiday colors, but that wouldn’t have changed her choice in clothes anyway, since this was her standard fare.
She blinked when she caught sight of her potential demon again.
Or maybe between the lights screwing with her eyes, lack of sleep and wanting to go home, her brain was trying to help by convincing her that some poor suburban schmuck might be a demon in glamour.
Wearing khaki pants and a fleece hoodie, said schmuck looked like every other middle-aged, hair thinning, slightly overweight man she’d seen tonight, but she could swear the face on this one had flickered for a second.
All of VIPER had been up in arms for the past week. Something had been killing trolls in Atlanta, and the most recent kill had been found butchered near the Chattahoochee River on the north side of the metro area. Thankfully, this was not summertime when a human out rafting or kayaking might have happened on the body.
Humans didn’t know about the trolls—or the demons—because Evalle and other VIPER agents like her stood in the gap. VIPER was a secret coalition of powerful beings who protected humans from nonhuman predators.
Sometimes they had to protect the nonhumans, too.
That’s why Storm was gone.
With the blood of a Navajo shaman and an Ashaninka witch doctor, along with the ability to shift into a black jaguar, Storm was the best tracker on the southeastern VIPER teams. He could identify a majik scent and track it as easily as he could a human or animal one, and he could handle whatever had taken down a troll.
That didn’t stop her from worrying about the man she loved.
She gave her watch another glance. Twelve hours and six minutes until he would be back in Atlanta. Nine in the morning couldn’t come soon enough. The last six days had been the longest of her life.
And the most conflicted.
She missed him. But she’d also spent every day since he left stressed about his return. This whole relationship thing was still new and left her off-kilter some days.
She hated that. Hated to feel clueless about things most twenty-three-year-old women took in stride. She could kill a demon six different ways, but she had no skills to cope with the changes that living with a man had brought about.
Storm had moved in with her just hours before he’d been asked to leave and track the troll killer.
Less than one day of living together, and it had been a major fail.
On her part.
Giggles erupted nearby. Evalle turned to find three little girls laughing and talking to one of Santa’s elves. Without a preternatural loose in here, all the families visiting tonight would normally be perfectly safe with Stone Mountain’s top-notch security staff.
Evalle gave the elf a once-over and got nary a ping on her internal radar. She smiled at the girls, who were obviously having a great time. I’ll keep you safe, too.
What would it have been like to grow up as a normal girl? One who hadn’t spent her first eighteen years locked in a basement?
Khaki Guy stepped into view again and pulled Evalle’s gaze from the girls. Finally, he was where she could get a really good look at him.
Not quite six feet, average-looking male with brown hair. He stood on the edge of all the activity as he eyed the bustling crowd entering and leaving Memorial Hall, where Santa was holding court.
His appearance fit right in with the suburbanites, but no one else out here stood that still or watched with predatory intensity.
Monsters came in all types, human and nonhuman.
Evalle had faced both.
This guy’s gaze latched onto the three little girls and tracked their forward movement.
He wore a blank expression.
Energy buzzed in the air for a moment, then disappeared so fast she couldn’t pinpoint where it originated.
In the next second, the man’s face blurred.
“You’ll have to wait your turn for Santa, lady,” a female voice said from close behind.
Evalle wheeled around, blowing out a breath that fogged in the chilly air. “Don’t do that.”
Adrianna Lafontaine’s lips angled up on one side with her signature half smile. “What? Catch you zoning out?”
“Don’t sneak up on me,” Evalle scowled and turned back quickly to look for Khaki Guy, but she immediately regretted admitting that the Sterling witch had managed to do just that—sneak up on her. “I was not zoning out. I was watching a potential perp ... Crud!”
The space where he’d been standing was vacant, and the little girls were gone, too.
“What?” Adrianna asked, stretching her head forward.
“This ... guy was watching three little girls.” Evalle caught herself before saying demon out loud.
Adrianna kept her voice down. “Are you sure he wasn’t human?”
But Adrianna must have caught Evalle’s hesitation. “If he is human, that’s for the park security, not us.”
Adrianna was right, but Evalle didn’t care. Human or not, that creep was not going to hurt those little girls on Evalle’s watch. And his face had blurred. She was tired, but not that tired ...
“He was not a human,” Evalle said with more conviction and started forward.
Adrianna’s boot heels clicked behind her as she took quick steps to keep up with Evalle’s much longer stride. “Where are you going?”
Evalle tossed an answer over her shoulder. “To find him and make sure he isn’t around those kids. Any kids.”
Adrianna groused, “I hadn’t planned on running through Stone-freaking-Mountain tonight.”
Either give me patience or something to kill. Evalle kept her gaze on the crowd, searching for her guy, but slowed a little until Adrianna came up beside her and she caught an eyeful of the witch.
Surprisingly, the petite fashionista had donned jeans, boots and a leather jacket that might just be custom made for her perfect five-foot-three body.
In spite of dressing in the same clothing items as Evalle, Adrianna’s jeans were black where Evalle’s were blue denim with worn spots earned honestly. Bright blond hair swooped around the shoulders of Adrianna’s red, leather jacket that sported a white, faux-fur collar. Her matching red boots had been designed for runway effect as opposed to running ability.
They were now in the middle of the throng heading toward Santa, so moving fast was impossible. Pausing to stand on tiptoes, Evalle swept a long look over the tops of heads, still not seeing Khaki Guy’s balding globe. She huffed out a breath, muttering, “Excuse me,” over and over while she weaved through the excited park visitors. “Trudging through the Okeefenokee swamp waist-deep in muck has to be easier than moving through this crowd.”
Adrianna warned, “Stop scowling. You’re scaring the natives.” She scooted ahead, spearing her way politely through middle-school kids who probably thought the witch was one of them until they got a look at her body.
“They’re not looking at me,” Evalle said, passing Adrianna and taking the lead again. “They’re trying to figure out if you’re Santa’s biker babe. Did you get a red Harley broom to go with that outfit?”
“You’re a bucket of laughs tonight. Don’t tempt me to put a spell on that mouth of yours,” Adrianna snipped, but without malice, and followed close behind. “And don’t be a hater just because my clothes don’t look like I’ve been dragged through a field.”
Evalle’s black Gortex motorcycle jacket had seen its share of battles and her scuffed boots concealed sharp blades for fighting.
Adrianna asked, “Have you heard anything from Rowan or Nicole?”
“No. Should I have? Is something up?” Evalle swatted away hairs that had slipped loose from her ponytail. She ignored the three guys she passed whose jaws dropped in Adrianna’s direction.
“Maybe.” Adrianna paused and must have realized no one was listening to them or that only Evalle could hear her over the kids squealing in delight. She continued, “The white covens across the country are forming councils in major areas now that the Medb have dumped warlocks and witches into Atlanta. The fighting between Beladors and the Medb faction is spilling over into the witch population. Until now, no witch has ever had to declare if he or she was dark or white.”
Evalle stopped again and turned slowly, scanning the crowd. With the same happy faces and winter clothing, they were starting to blend together. What was Adrianna saying? Something about the Medb?
The Medb were the oldest and deadliest enemies of the Belador race, and even though Evalle had recently found out she was half Medb, she held no sympathies for that coven. Didn’t matter. The witches would have to work out their own issues, because VIPER had bigger problems.
As one of six agents covering the park tonight, Evalle had to determine if she’d actually seen a demon, and whether it was the same one that’d been sighted an hour ago in the town of Stone Mountain.
When Adrianna didn’t say anything else, Evalle ran back over the conversation. She’d been only half listening about the witches. “So? What’s the problem?”
“If the witches form a council here, which they will because Rowan is pushing for one, then VIPER will recognize the council, which means VIPER will expect me to tell them where my loyalty lies.”
Evalle lifted her hands. “Just declare that you’re a Sterling and be done with it.”
“It’s not that simple. Never mind,” Adrianna murmured, then looked around as she switched topics. “Think the Medb coven is behind this demon tonight?”
Evalle growled in frustration. “Who knows? VIPER should never have welcomed the Medb into the coalition. The Medb spend a few days acting like good Samaritans, killing demons that they created, and VIPER conveniently forgets how many years of blood has spilled between the Beladors and the Medb. Apparently they’ve also forgotten that dark witches are dangerous and untrustworthy as a rule.”
Adrianna lifted a sharp eyebrow at that slam.
Evalle rolled her eyes at the Sterling witch, who had used her dark powers to help Evalle—and VIPER—more than once. She amended her statement. “Present company excepted.”
Having once been the bane of Evalle’s existence, Adrianna was now … a friend, though Evalle still had to work at the trust part. Wind swatted more loose hairs around her face. When Evalle stretched her neck, she looked up past Memorial Hall to where spotlights illuminated the carving of three Confederate soldiers on one side of the bald mountain.
Power snapped around Evalle again and she jerked her head around, searching and rubbing her arms. “Did you feel that?”
“Yes. Like some kind of energy.”
Adrianna shrugged. “Probably a ghoul in the area.”
“I don’t think so.” Evalle moved through the crowd, ignoring the stares at her dark glasses.
They’d stare even more if she took them off.
Adrianna tagged along. “When will Storm be back?”
“By nine in the morning, last I heard.”
“Good, because I’ve waited as long as I can, but I—”
Evalle’s phone chimed with a text, but the default tune that played meant it was not Storm. She lifted the phone and gave Adrianna an index finger signal to hold her thought. Then she read the text: Your week is up.
“You look like you just heard from the Grim Reaper,” Adrianna quipped.
“Worse. Isak.” Evalle pushed the off button and put the phone back in her pocket.
“You haven’t gone to dinner with him yet?”
“Why not? You told him you’d get in touch within a week after he helped us contain that witch doctor.”
“I know that,” Evalle groused back at her and returned to her surveillance. She rubbed her eyes again. “I didn’t get a chance to talk to Storm before he had to leave town and I’m not about to have him come home to hear that I was having dinner with another man while he was gone.”
“With a hot warrior no less,” Adrianna teased. “You’re afraid to tell Storm.”
Evalle didn’t have the energy to argue.
Isak would not wait long. The last time she’d ignored him, he’d sent his black ops team to snatch her off the street.
Then he’d served her a mouth-watering Italian meal.
A profiler would have a field day with the men in her life, but the only one who mattered was Storm.
Evalle widened her stance and said, “I’m dealing with the Isak situation as soon as Storm is back.” Sounded perfect. Confident. Decisive.
A total lie.
Adrianna snapped her fingers. “Anyhow, as I was saying, I need to meet with you and Storm about our deal.”
There went Evalle’s fantasy about the down time VIPER had promised her this week. But Adrianna had helped Evalle and Storm several different times. They both owed her major debts. Plus Adrianna had yet to say what she wanted, and Evalle smelled a secret. “I’ll check with Storm. If he’s good to go, I am.”
“I don’t have much time—”
The suspicious guy stepped back into Evalle’s line of vision once more, stared in her direction, then turned to walk away from her and Memorial Hall.
Evalle lifted her hand. “Wait a minute.”
Adrianna huffed, “What now?”
Evalle kept her eyes on Mr. Khaki Pants as she told Adrianna, “There he is. I’ll be right back.”
Adrianna leaned to look in the same direction Evalle had been watching. “I’m supposed to be your backup.”
“Look, this may be nothing more than my eyes playing tricks on me because of all these damn lights,” Evalle explained, “But that’s the guy. I saw something odd happen to his face earlier.”
“What kind of odd?”
“It was just a blur. I can’t call in a blurred face or I’ll never hear the end of it at headquarters. Just stay here and keep an eye on the crowd. If I’m not back in fifteen minutes, call in the cavalry.”
“Fine, but I’m not going to deal with Tzader going off on me if you get hurt.”
“He won’t.” Tzader Burke was Maistir of the North American Beladors, and one of Evalle’s two best friends. “He’ll go off on me,” Evalle assured her and hurried forward, weaving her way through miniature Santa stalkers.
If she could just catch one more flicker of change in that guy’s outward appearance, she’d know for sure what she’d seen before hadn’t been an optical illusion created by all the mash of lights around her.
Her special sunglasses shielded her eyes from normal city lights at night, but this place was uber-bright. Give her pitch dark anytime, where she could see without eye protection.
Taking off her glasses would reveal unnatural neon-green eyes, but more critical, it would leave her blind and vulnerable. As dead tired as she was, the glare from the screaming-white strings of Christmas decorations in this park might be tricking her eyes.
Wind whistled through nearby bony branches, jangling leaves that hadn’t fallen and offering an eerie background to the jolly event as Evalle moved away from the crowd noise.
She curled her chilled fingers, working out the stiffness in case she had to use the spelled dagger hidden inside her jacket.
Khaki Guy hadn’t acted like any demon she’d ever gone after.
There’d been no demon sightings in the Atlanta area for five whole days—until this evening here in Stone Mountain.
Everyone had thought the recent infestation had been put to bed. VIPER was adamant about getting this corner of the country back under control before the trolls made good on their threat and informed the humans that monsters lived among them.
That would be pandemonium.
The man she trailed slowed to watch a family walking toward Memorial Hall, then he kept moving.
If the potential demon-in-khaki-slacks wasn’t raising hairs on the neck of anyone in this crowd, then either this guy was just another park visitor or this group didn’t have a lick of spidey sense. As long as the coalition did its job, these people would continue to go on about their lives, content in their ignorance of anything unnatural in their world.
Keeping pace with her target but far back enough to be unobtrusive, Evalle searched ahead. The only obvious destination in his direct path was the park’s Summit Skyride, where high-speed cable cars zoomed visitors from ground level to the top of the mountain and back.
Thankfully, that attraction had been shut down for the night.
She’d heard VIPER agents rave about the view, but she’d pass. She got nauseated fifteen feet off the ground.
Strangely, she had no fear of heights when she shifted into her gryphon form and flew, but she wasn’t allowed to do that in the human world, even if no humans were around.
The guy slowed when he encountered one of the park’s uniformed personnel near the entrance to the skyride structure.
Evalle held up. The minute that security guard sent her suspect back toward the festivities, she’d return, too.
But that didn’t happen.
Khaki Guy said something to the guard, then continued walking until he stepped up on the platform that led to the parked cable cars.
Evalle picked up her pace, sliding from shadow to shadow so no one would see her using unnatural speed. When she reached the security guard, he stood perfectly still, staring straight ahead. She waved a hand in front of his face. He was breathing, but locked in time like a living statue.
She had all the confirmation she needed that Khaki Man was not what he seemed.
She sent a text to Adrianna that she definitely followed something nonhuman, but she had yet to determine what it was exactly, so stand by for an update.
Evalle shoved the phone in her back pocket and closed the distance.
Demon, troll or other, he was not disappearing again.
When Evalle reached the platform, Khaki Guy was trying to open the doors on the parked cable car. They were probably powered by hydraulics.
No human could break those apart.
Khaki Guy held his hands back-to-back and pushed his palms out, inching the doors open. The mechanism controlling the gears cried in protest.
Now she’d have to call in Sen, the VIPER liaison and a roaring pain in her backside, to fix that before she left. Sen could thaw out the security guard and purge the man’s memory while he was at it.
She called out, “You can’t ride without a ticket.”
Ignoring her, the guy leaned forward, growled in strain, and shoved the doors open with a bang before he turned around. He still looked just like Joe Suburbia, but then he opened his mouth.
Guttural demon voice came out. “Who are you?”
She respected any being’s strength, but she had to clue this creature in before he decided to go toe-to-toe with her. Sometimes clearing up any misconception saved getting her favorite clothes bloody. “My name’s Evalle. If you’ll come quietly with me, I won’t hurt you.”
“I don’t have to do what you say.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. She pulled off her dark sunglasses so he could experience the full effect of her glowing green Alterant eyes, a mark of being half Belador and half Medb. Don’t even get her started on that issue. The fact that she was an Alterant had played havoc with her life for as long as she could remember. “I’m with VIPER and I have authorization to take you in.”
He stared at her, or more like through her, not blinking, which was creepy on a human face. Then he asked, “We’ll go together?”
Did he think she worked on the honor system?
Sure, I’ll give you an address for the hidden VIPER headquarters in the North Georgia Mountains and you’ll turn yourself in while I go home and take a long hot bath.
If only. “Yes, we’ll go together.”
He nodded and turned back to the cable car.
“Hold it. This way, buddy,” she called over to him.
The words flew right past him as he climbed inside.
Just once she’d like a demon, or whatever he was, to cooperate. Evalle pulled out her dagger just to be prepared and walked over calmly, standing in front of the door. “Come on out and let’s go.”
The seats in the car lined the walls, wrapping around the inside. He sat on the far side near the front with his body leaning against the window.
Was he demented?
She’d dealt with a Cresyl demon once that had acted confused, but the Cresyl had been under a spell. A Medb spell come to think of it, from what Evalle had put together since then.
She considered using her kinetic power to lift him off the seat and float him out, but he was acting docile at the moment, which was way better than the alternative.
Agitating unknown beings often turned out badly.
Stepping inside the spacious car, she walked over until she could see his face. He lay hunched over against the window, eyes shut and breathing softly.
At least now she could use her kinetics to get him out of here, but that would be simpler with both hands free. She slid her dagger into the sheath inside her jacket and raised both arms shoulder high with her hands stretched toward Mr. Khaki Pants.
She powered up her kinetics, expecting him to be a lightweight, but she strained to lift him two feet off the floor, then turned to walk him toward the door. If she could get this guy away from the cable car structure and into the woods close by, she could pin him to the ground while they both waited for Sen in a spot where no one would see them.
Once she had Khaki Guy contained, she’d call Tzader telepathically and give him the location. Sen hated Evalle and would dismiss any request from her unless he thought there was a chance she’d committed a crime where he could lock her up in VIPER prison.
She’d almost reached the opening with her captive when power burst all around her in a blast of lightning bolts, knocking Evalle backwards off her feet.
She dropped her guy, who hit hard.
He bounced once and landed on his feet as he came alive with eyes glowing bright yellow. The bottom of his face warped down and sideways, growing twice as big as it had been before. Jaws opened to reveal two rows of barracuda-sharp teeth when he roared an ungodly sound.
Now that was more like the demons she knew and loved.
He dove at her.
Evalle shoved up a kinetic wall in an attempt to block the demon diving at her. He slammed against it and visible cracks splintered across the invisible shield.
What the ...
She had no way out except past that snarling jaw full of teeth and those inch-long claws. She rolled fast, toward the front of the car before he crashed through her invisible barrier and pinned her. She locked her hands in a fist and swung both arms, batting a kinetic blast at the demon.
He flew backwards and landed on the floor. Finally. She kept her kinetic wall in place just in case ...
The demon sat up.
Are you kidding me?
And ... now she could see black ears. A Réisc Dubh demon?
She’d read about them, but had never seen one because there hadn’t been any around for something like eighty years.
Sparks crackled and zigzagged back and forth through the air, buzzing close enough to singe the skin on her face and hands.
Where was that power coming from?
A spell maybe, and one that didn’t play nice with her Belador powers, because it was corrupting her kinetics. She’d pull out her dagger, but killing him had to be her last choice.
If her memory was right, Réisc Dubh demons had been created as servants or slaves, and didn’t have a lot of power.
Someone had super-juiced this one.
If she handed this demon over to Tzader alive, then the Beladors had a chance to find out if the Medb had a hand in this. There may not be a telltale burnt lime scent, but she had a strong feeling this might be another game move by the Medb.
The beast that lived inside her body surged to break out, but shifting into a gryphon would bring the wrath of VIPER down on Evalle’s head. They still had not given Alterants permission to shift while in the human realm, even though they knew she and the others were fully in control of their gryphon forms.
Nothing would change until the petition passed to recognize Alterants as a race with rights.
Shifting wouldn’t help right now anyway, because her gryphon form had a wingspan to fit a ten-foot tall shape. This car was too small to allow her to move in that form. She could, however, shift into battle form, just enough to allow her more strength.
Her arms, neck and legs thickened, straining seams on her jeans and stretching her jacket. She wrenched the jacket off and slung it aside as the demon stood and turned to face her.
The khaki pants still fit his lower, human-shaped body, but he’d ripped out of the fleece hoodie. Veins stuck out thick as fingers all over a gray-tinged chest that belonged on someone who bench-pressed three hundred pounds.
Was this really a Réisc Dubh? The black ears were the giveaway, but what was he doing so bulked up?
She’d worry about his actual identity once she had him under control.
That might have been a sound plan if the car hadn’t jerked forward right then, tossing her off balance and slamming her into the demon, who clamped down on her shoulder with sharp teeth.
She slammed an elbow into his middle and heard a bone crack before he went flying against the window. Her shoulder throbbed and the smell of fresh blood hit the air.
Cold wind slapped her in the face.
Sparks still shot around her like out-of-control electric charges.
Evalle spun around to the open door.
The night sky moved past her, and lights from Memorial Hall were shrinking. The cable car sped up. She sidestepped and grabbed the doorframe. Her stomach lurched at the distance growing between her and the ground. Stars danced through her vision.
Bad time to get light headed.
The headlines would read Deadly Demon Killer Succumbs to Acrophobia, Plunges to Her Death.
Her stomach did another spin cycle.
Her attacker screeched behind her.
Killing him was back on the front burner.
She turned fast, but kept a death grip on the doorframe. He held his head, shaking it back and forth. What was wrong with him? One minute asleep, the next trying to kill her, and now he acted as if he had a migraine.
He started yelling, “Your fault. Your fault.”
She had nowhere to go and didn’t want to see the world growing smaller outside the car so she stayed put.
His shouting hadn’t been so bad, but then he changed it to, “You die. You die.” His body arched and twisted, lifting inches off the floor and hanging there a moment.
This had to be the strangest demon she’d ever met.
He landed hard, as if whatever held him just let go. His chin dipped to his chest and his body moved sluggishly.
Finally, she might get the upper hand.
She risked a quick look forward. They were over halfway to the mountaintop and had a front-row view of the carving straight ahead, which was better than looking down.
Evalle eased toward the front to get away from the open door. Her palms were slick with sweat.
She’d taken two steps when darting bolts of energy burst through the air again. What the hell?
She ducked to avoid one coming at her face. Then an explosion of lights burst inside the car so bright she blinked against it.
When she could see again, the demon was on her.
A boot caught her in the chest, knocking her backwards. She hit the floor and slid sideways out the opening, clawing for anything to grab. Her fingers caught a vertical seat support at the last second, yanking her body hard as she swung into the buffeting wind. If she hadn’t changed into battle form, she doubted her arm could have held against the wind dragging her weight.
Don’t look down now or it’s all over.
The demon kept making crazy sounds she couldn’t interpret as actual words, but if she had to guess she’d say he was engaged in a one-sided argument with someone.
Forcing her free arm against the wind, she struggled to reach for a second handhold.
His head snapped up and those yellow demon eyes stared at her.
He moved forward and lifted a foot above the wrist to her only handhold.
She threw a kinetic hit with her free hand that felt as if she’d slugged a steel beam.
He stumbled back, then dropped down to all fours. Not what she’d hoped for, but in another minute they’d reach the mountaintop platform where she’d be able to stand on firm ground.
Her fingers slipped where they were clamped around the chair leg.
So much for wishful thinking. She gripped it tighter.
He snarled and crawled toward her.
The platform came into view, but Stone Mountain was a volcanic burp that had resulted in a rounded shape. She had to let go before smashing into the structure that would break every bone in her lower half, but not until the top area leveled out. Drop down too soon and she’d miss the fence circling the crest of the mountain and slide off the side with nothing to push her kinetics against to break her fall.
And this creature would escape.
Protecting humans came before delivering evidence of who created this thing.
Evalle dropped her free hand out of sight and called her dagger to that hand, clamping her fingers around the grip when it touched her palm.
The demon opened his jaws, saliva streaming down in long drips.
Yellow eyes on fire.
Her handhold slipped again and her heart tried to climb into her throat.
Getting back inside the car was out of the question. She had to time her jump so she landed safely and on her feet. The last gigantic cable support tower at the top of the mountain came into view. The ground would level off on the other side.
Thirty more seconds and ...
The demon lunged faster than he’d moved the whole time and chomped down on her injured shoulder again. Pain burned through her muscles.
She swung hard and stabbed him between the eyes, ordering her dagger, “Stay!”
He screamed and jumped back, grabbing at the dagger and yanking. A futile effort. That dagger would only come out when she ordered it to do so.
Her grip slipped to a three-finger hold. She looked down in a panic.
Stone Mountain curved away.
What were those spikes shooting up from the base of the cable tower? The front of the car reached the tower and bounced, causing the car to jerk and sway.
A whip of wind slammed her sideways and snatched her loose.
No, no, no.
She shoved her kinetics at the tower and pushed away from the spikes just in time ... flying backwards. Her back struck the top of the chain-link fence that would have stopped her from falling if she’d come down inside it.
She hit, bounced and landed, rolling.
Swinging her arms out, her good one whacked a pine tree with a trunk an inch thick. Enough to grab and flip over to her stomach.
The tree snapped and she was back to scrambling for a handhold anywhere. She bumped over craters in what was otherwise a relatively smooth surface compared to most mountains.
Her shirt bunched and rock raked her exposed stomach. She dragged her hands, fingers digging for any purchase in the unyielding stone.
Lightning strikes had pockmarked the mountain’s face with the sporadic craters, and rough edges raked her clothes and tore her skin.
She slapped at any imperfection in the smooth surface for a handhold. Four fingers snagged another pine tree, this one with a thicker trunk but still only six feet tall.
Good news? It was her uninjured shoulder. She wheezed and panted, dragging deep breaths in and out.
She’d noticed this tiny line of trees beneath the cable lines earlier, when she’d looked up at the mountain from below, and thought it amazing that anything could grow on this slick rock.
Chugging in another gulp of air, she thanked her lucky stars something had grown here.
The damn tree trunk creaked, threatening to give way.