Monday, November 4, 2013

Excerpt from THE DEMON'S CHANGE

I put out a draft of this content last December when I had barely begun the story. Now that I'm 63k words into the book, well let's say that the first chapter has changed a bit.

So here's an updated reissue of the opening chapter. Enjoy. Thanks for your patience this year. I loved all the conferences, but it feels very, very good to be back to writing every day.

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CHAPTER 1

Plagued by urges he didn’t understand, Malachi hadn’t been able to stop himself from checking on her multiple times a day. He had currently tracked his quarry to the Liberator’s meditation room, one of her favorite places to hide. Leaving his host body in his quarters allowed him to spy discreetly. He let his mist form seep around the door edges until all his energy was inside the sacred space.

Near the front, the sniffling Ethosian knelt in the middle of a meditation rug. Her penitent posture always frustrated him. Since Kefira had left the ship, the Ethosian female constantly wandered the halls feeling a despair as great as a linked demon with no host body. Most of the time her spirit’s energy floated above her physical form in the same way most creatures used depressed states to escape their corporeal lives. But in Rena Trax’s case, he could tell she actively sought the disconnection.

Rising higher, he floated all the way to the ceiling, ignoring the symbols there that were meant to ward off all manner of wickedness. Dorian Zade’s energy in the room was strong, but he no longer feared the power of the Siren’s spirituality. If anything, he had developed a great admiration. Zade was a fellow male who had willingly suffered a long-term, unnatural celibate state for the sake of a higher purpose. It was a unhappy fate and one he was currently suffering himself.

Though given tentative permission to indulge his physical urges if it pleased him and some willing female to do so, he hadn’t so far been able to exercise the freedom. Oh, there were enough accommodating females on the ship, if novelty was all he sought. He couldn’t yet imagine how pleasant it would be to enjoy his host body’s reactions to bonding without having to share the pleasure with its original owner.

Satisfying that curiosity did pass through his thoughts now and again, but only long enough to be discarded as not worth the trouble. He was currently abstaining from bonding relationships because he wished to avoid any complications that would cause yet more strife between Liam and Ania.

His master and quite unique female host had enough challenges to handle at the moment. Plus it would not be received well if he took advantage of all those grateful females they rescued from Lotharius, especially when yet another Siren, their newest crew member was practicing celibacy as well and turning them down.

The former Captain Ji Warro, now Lieutenant Warro on the Liberator, used stimulation videos for self-gratification while he dreamed of bonding with the unsuspecting Lieutenant Seta Trax. The Ethosian sibling Warro preferred had, rather remarkably, resumed her ship duties within a day of Kefira merging her completely with the Demon Zorinda. Kefira’s ability to do that even with the emissary’s help was yet another mystery he hadn’t solved.

Unfortunately the Trax sibling he felt compelled to study had survived her physical form’s second brush with death much better than her first one. She seemed to get by quite as well as her military minded dual-birth sibling. The emissary who had initially saved Rena’s body had disappeared from it—or at least that appeared to be the case. She repeatedly refused to let him go inside her physical form to confirm, but his observations led him to believe it was a truth.

The very appealing Ethosian body that still caused desire in his host body was now filled with a subdued, thoroughly uninteresting spirit who indentified herself only as Rena Trax. She called him ‘demon’ in the same manner most beings did. There was fear and loathing in her voice, but morbid fascination in her gaze. She avoided him, and yet he could sense that she looked for him as well. She spent her days, and many of her sleep cycle hours, either in silent meditation in Zade’s sacred space or weeping heart-wrenching tears in any private place she could locate on their tiny ship.

And for reasons he could not fathom, he was compelled to keep a watchful eye on her. Obeying the internal command caused him no issue. He knew its source and in the almost two thousand years of his mist form, he had learned to comply without earning an admonishment. Perhaps his frustration simply stemmed from the fact that his mist form normally allowed him to be virtually omniscient. He simply wasn’t used to not knowing the full truth of any matter. Even Ania had learned a way to keep secrets from him, a trick none of the other hosts before her had managed.

And since his foray inside the mysterious Kefira to do her bidding, a tiny ember of blue light had taken root in the center of his true form. It was if the Creators had used the entity within Kefira to place another, even stronger tracking device in him. He’d been trying really hard to ignore the tiny pulsing with a rhythm like a heartbeat. He had yet to reveal it to Ania or Liam.

Actually, he had no plans to do so at all unless they managed to find out on their own.

Because of it, he was certainly in no hurry to interact with Kefira again. Who knew what she would do him next time?

“Come forth and speak if you must, demon. I feel you behind me,” Rena said.

Drifting down nearer the floor, Malachi shaped his mist into his original physical form, or at least what he considered it to be. After the many years of his existence as demon mist, he wasn’t quite sure his recall of his original physical body was even accurate anymore.

“Why do you weep today?” he demanded, but his insistence was hardly intimidating when the words sounded like a plea.

It irritated him that the clear voice he generated for Rena’s benefit caused his misty form to quiver. With barely a drain on his power, he could destroy and absorb the molecular structures of a battalion of warriors, but creating a resonance of understandable words always drained his energy quickly. He had long ago attributed it to the Creators having a strange sense of humor. In the beginning he had cursed them for it, but they had paid no attention to his complaining then, nor did they now.

He noted she bowed her head at the concern in his question. Though she owed him no explanation, her compassion was engaged, likely because of their shared dilemma.

“If you must know, today I remembered my death. Flashes of insight pierce the fog in my mind. I remember a light inside me that seemed to talk to me. Then I recall watching Seta lift a knife into the air. She coldly killed our Ethosian mate, or whatever you choose to call the male who purchased us from our father.”

“I would call him a male with good taste in females. Do you weep for his death then?” Malachi asked.

“May the Creators forgive me but . . . No.”

Her tone was adamant and she shook her head.

“I weep because the Creators sent my spirit back into this body and all its memories of abuse at his hands. What good comes from forcing me to recall that he traded use of my body for material goods? Seta was traded less, but that was because she always fought and had to be restrained. When the knife came down and ended his life, I felt nothing but profound relief. I found satisfaction in hearing him take his last breath.”

“A reasonable reaction,” Malachi said. “Hating evil does not make you less good.”

Rena frowned as she stared at the gray walls in the room. She could feel the demon’s compassion reaching out to her . . . and his anger over what she and Seta had suffered. It crossed her mind that such a powerful being might be used as instrument to end her new torture. The demon could quite easily obliterate the body that now housed her like a prison. Like the emissaries, he had the power to set her energy form free once more.

“You say you serve the Creators of All. Why would they force me to endure this limited life again?” Rena asked.

Malachi’s form wavered. Her hurt-filled past could not be changed. She was here, whoever she was inside her form. And the males that had hurt her and Seta were out of his reach and beyond his retribution. He too found himself pondering why she was having to go through all the pain of remembering when nothing could be done.

“Joke?” he offered as an answer, perhaps also as a distraction from her distress. The still wet-eyed female turned a tortured gaze from the meditation mat to him.

“I do not find it funny if that is the case,” she said.

“I did not say it was a good joke,” he replied, not missing her brief snort of humorless laughter. Disbelief was often fodder for humor—dark humor—but humor nevertheless.

Rena smiled tightly at the demon’s strange attempt to cheer her. “Why do you pursue me each day? I am not the one you seek.”

“Let me check for sure,” Malachi suggested. “I swear by the Creators that I can help you forget your vile Ethosian mate.”

“Your sympathy for my trials is appreciated, but I bow to the Creator’s higher purpose in my suffering,” Rena answered, lifting her chin.

“We all bow to them, but I see no higher purpose in what you are enduring,” Malachi said.

Rena bowed her head to the mist. They were at least of like minds about that.

“I appreciate your compassion for me, Demon of Synar. For both our sakes, I wish your emissary was still here instead of me. Her energy has left its mark in this body, making me miss my own energy form even more. Yet I am also ashamed of not handling this trial well. I can not find peace with such contradictory feelings.”

“There is no need. Nothing happening is your fault. This is a profound truth,” Malachi declared, streaking out and leaving Rena looking after him, likely wondering what he meant.

Of the two of them, perhaps he was the strange one. He happily embraced Conor’s physical body and the chance to participate in real corporeality instead of just affecting it energetically. Equally odd was the fact that both the emissary and the real Rena Trax hated the exact situation he had come to think of partial redemption.

No sooner was he back in his current host body than the com unit on the wall of his quarters blinked. He rose to press one long finger on it, admiring his masculine arm and hand. He had been working out diligently to increase the muscle dimension of his form. Conor Synar had been a handsome enough male of his kind, but rather on the thin side. He was exceedingly glad Liam had not given in to his grief and destroyed his brother’s empty shell. It was very pleasant to exist alone in the elder Synar sibling’s form.

“Malachi here,” he answered.

Chiang’s animated, irritated voice came booming over the line, the Greggor’s energy sharp and as cutting as any laser knife the healer often used. “Where in Helios have you been? I need you in Medical. Come at once.”

Malachi sneered when Chiang cut the connection before he had even been able to answer back. Rolling his eyes at the Greggor’s dramatics, he followed the action with a laugh about the mannerism nearly every officer on the ship had adopted. It was one favored by their volatile Earthling Commander when she was moved to show her condescension.

He strolled to Medical, deliberately taking his time. He wasn’t about to let the Greggor doctor start demanding his presence every time the least little crisis occurred. That’s what junior medics were for. Walking into Medical humming, Malachi’s mirth ended when he saw Ania strapped to a medical table and unconscious. On tables around her were assorted ensigns, Dorian Zade, and Gwen, all with various wounds. Liam also lay on another table letting a subdued Boca treat him.

Frozen in place, Malachi surveyed the damage, shocked that his master and his host could both have been harmed without his knowledge. His eyes flashed red as he took it all in. “What happened?”

Chiang shook his head, unable to vent in the face of the demon’s stunned disbelief. “Ania and Gwen were sparring. Gwen said there was a bright light in the room and then Ania seemed to lose her mind. Fortunately, Zade and Synar were nearby and heard Gwen yelling. It took all of them to restrain Ania from trying to kill Gwen. Zade had to knock her out.”

Malachi looked at Zade in surprise, clearing his throat of tightness before asking his question. “Lieutenant—do you know what’s wrong with Ania?”

“Her spirit was in so much turmoil I couldn’t tell. That’s why we needed you so urgently,” Dorian said. “Did you not feel anything when she did this?”

“Nothing. I felt nothing,” Malachi replied quietly, still unsure how that could ever have happened. “I was in mist form until moments ago.”

“It doesn’t matter. Find out what happened,” Gwen ordered, wincing as a senior medic tightened her arm bandage. “Ania almost broke my arm. Her eyes went red and then bright blue. She looked at me in shock, and then lost her freaking mind. That’s all I know.”

“Blue? Her eyes went blue?” Malachi repeated in alarm, already lifting from his body to head into Ania. Only he couldn’t get inside. There was a block. He tried all he knew, but something or someone was keeping him out. He had known only one type of being capable of overriding his will . . . but she had gone. Hadn’t she?

Returning to his body, Malachi moved his attention to the other table. “Liam? Can you talk to me?”

Synar opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. “Something is inside her.”

“The emissaries’ energy makes their eyes blaze blue,” Malachi said, not drawing any conclusions yet, but offering what he suspected. “I sincerely regret I wasn’t there to help.”

Synar shook his head, swallowing past the lump in his throat. His mate had tried to kill him. The intent had been in her gaze. Gwen had probably saved him by turning herself into the nearest target.

“I called, but you didn’t answer. Go inside Ania and see what you can find out. She tried to kill me. She tried to kill all of us.”

“I already tried to get insider her, Liam. I can’t get in. There’s an energy blocking my way,” Malachi admitted reluctantly, feeling his jaw harden and his gut clench. He had always hated failing and it rarely happened to him in demon mist form.

“What can we do then?” Synar asked, blinking up into eyes very much like his own. Sometimes—sometimes seeing the concern in the entity bending over him, he could almost pretend the demon truly was a member of his family. At least he knew, Malachi shared his compassion for Ania.

Malachi looked away. Compassion was indeed Liam’s greatest weakness, and his great concern for Ania could incapacitate him. He remembered the support Liam had offered him on Lotharius when he had feared for the emissary’s existence. He tried his best to return that compassion now, even though he didn’t completely understand it. “I think we need to keep Ania’s physical body from being able to act. The entity might leave her when it realizes Ania’s form isn’t able to be used.”

“What about everyone else on the ship?” Synar asked. “Ania’s skills exceed even Dorian’s. I saw that for myself today. I can’t let Ania hurt anyone.”

“No you can’t. But I don’t know what else to do if I can’t get into her to find out what’s going on.” Malachi paused, then got an idea. “Rena Trax once hosted an emissary of the Creators. We can ask her. I also suggest we contact Kefira to see if she left a shiny, self-righteous being behind when she vacated our ship.”

Synar nodded and reached out a hand to let Malachi pull him up to a sitting position. “A part of me never believed Ania’s stories about her past. I definitely met the ruthless warrior in her today. Ania held off all of us. Finally, I surprised her and Dorian was able to subdue her. She screamed in rebellion, but crumpled to the floor anyway. I—I regret not taking her more seriously now.”

“Yes—I discovered what she was like over those two years we were alone together. I dampened that side of her while two years we were alone. Liam, this is bad timing, but there’s something else you don’t know about your very unique mate,” Malachi said, wishing he had confided in Liam when he first felt their stirrings. “I don’t think Ania even knows this yet, but she carries your children. There are two faint life signs within her. They are fairly new. I’ve been watching over them.”

“Children? We created children together?” Synar declared in amazement, his gaze swinging to the female on the table.

Malachi nodded. “Yes. I felt those two other energies within her for a while, but they were faint and just beginning. Since she was not yet ready to deal with the reality, out of loyalty to her, I said nothing to either of you. Perhaps I did wrong in hoping their existence would unfold in a more joyful manner.”

Synar was shaking his head, almost unable to take it in. “No, you were doing the right thing. Ania continues to claim that she is not ready to start a family. I just wish . . . ”

He looked across the tables to see Gwen and Dorian staring at him in sympathy.

With no other recourse, his gaze swung to Chiang. “Would it hurt the gestation process to put Ania in stasis?”

Chiang nodded. “Yes. She would be fine, but it would put the children at risk to halt their growth. I don’t recommend it.”

“Sedation then?” Synar suggested.

“It’s a better option than stasis. Are you thinking simple restraints and sedatives won’t work?” Chiang asked.

“No. I can tell you for certain that simple restraints won’t work,” Dorian said sharply, his gaze jumping between the two concerned males. “Even complicated restraints would not hold her long. Ania can escape anything. She is not just Khalsa . . . she is the highest master of their skills. No one else has her level of training. I didn’t get that far myself.”

“Can she escape the trance state you put her in?” Synar asked.

Dorian nodded sadly. “Yes. She is the only warrior I ever knew who could. Even now, I feel her fighting the hold I have on her. Anger rules her energy at the moment while she fights what is within her. When she remembers to cease her struggles, she will release herself from my hold.”

Synar swallowed hard as he looked at Ania’s restrained form once more. Then he looked again at the best of his crew which his mate had almost defeated without any help. He couldn’t let his compassion for Ania keep him from his greater obligations to protect everyone else. Hopefully, his mate would one day forgive him for yet another time he had to choose the ship’s welfare over hers.

“Call the Paladin, Chiang. They’re still within hailing distance. See if they have some of the sedative her captors gave her on Terris Rein. We know that will keep her under for at least a few days. Maybe we can figure out what the Helios is going on in the meantime.”

“I don’t know what kind of long-term effect the sedative will have on her or the children,” Chiang warned.

“Doesn’t matter. Seems there’s no other choice,” Synar said sadly, sliding off the table to the floor. “Gwen, call Warro. Bring him up to speed and tell him he has the bridge tonight. Then you and Dorian go get some rest. You need to heal quickly. You’ll both be on the bridge for the duration of our trip to pick up the Guardian 13.”

“Maybe the weepy, creepy Trax sister can tell us something about what happened,” Gwen said, flexing her sore arm as she slid from the medical table. It was bad, but the compression bandage helped. “I don’t buy Rena’s story about coming back from the dead. I got a feeling there’s more going on with her than we are seeing. She may just be some whacko mental case.”

“I agree there is much we don’t know about Rena’s situation. That’s exactly why Malachi and I are going to go have a little chat with both Trax siblings as soon as I can arrange it,” Synar said, looking over his shoulder to see Malachi frowning down at Ania’s unconscious form. “Malachi, do whatever you feel you need to. I want this figured out.”

Malachi gaze raised to his master’s. Liam should know better than to give him free rein. “Be careful how much control you offer me, Liam. I would hate for you to have to put me in Zorinda’s amulet after all. Because if the emissaries are doing this, I’ll make sure they suffer for the pain they have caused her. I no longer fear what they will do to me. I saw Ania best one in a contest of wills.”

“I know how you feel, because I feel like that too. Ania attacked Gwen on reflex, which is second nature to her as I have just painfully learned. It’s possible that Ania had no idea what she was doing to Gwen or any of us. It’s also possible that the entity—emissary—or whatever the creature was that went into her, maybe have over-reacted to being in Ania as well. Or I could just be trying to think objectively so I don’t over-react myself,” Synar declared, blowing out a frustrated breath.

Malachi closed his eyes, nodded. “You are right on all those points and that us over-reacting will not help this situation. Calm thinking is required. Let’s begin with interrogating the Trax sisters until we are assured they have told us all they know.”
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