CHAPTER ONE Naberius: Daimon Soldier

CHAPTER 1

 

Naberius eyed the dark windows of the apartment house as he stood across the street in the shadows of the trees. A sweet scent floated on the evening breeze reminding him of a flower from the Daimon Realm. A flicker disrupted his appearance, a ripple moved across his human form. He breathed deep and stabilized. Looking around, he saw a movement on the other side of the building.

On the second-floor breezeway, a small figure crouched by a window trying to slide it open. Damn, he did not want to deal with some teenager breaking into Bobby’s apartment.

He checked to make sure no one was around and he sprinted up the stairs. Clamping his hand over the thief’s mouth, he yanked him away from the window in one swift move. Naberius tightened his arms hard around the little one but the thief thrashed with muted grunts and the smell of flowers filled his nose. The young man’s face was hidden by a baseball cap.

“You breaking into my friend’s apartment? I think you need to leave now,” Naberius said roughly.

The kid froze in his arms. He could feel the fast inhales of the thief as he held him tightly. Naberius tasted the energy of his captive. It held fear and something else.

Shit. A feminine energy. And curves softly pressed up against him. Surprised, he relaxed his grip. The kid took advantage and spun in the opposite direction, slipping out of his arms.

“Help!” the thief screamed, whipping his head back and forth as he searched for an escape route. Shit. Her head.

It was a girl, all huge eyes and shaking fear. No, a woman. A pale heart-shaped face under the hat. He might have misread the situation, but still, she was breaking into Bobby’s place. Why did she scream for help? She was the criminal.

Standing up straight to his full height, he scowled at her to freeze her into silence. Hard, shallow gasps came from her mouth but she glared at him while she pulled something out of her pocket. Shit. A Taser.

“Step away from me.” Her hand clutching the device shook as she scrambled back from him.

“No. Do not tase me.” He held his hands to show her that he meant no harm.

This wasn’t a surrender—he just hated Tasers. He’d prefer meeting a raging berserker in battle and getting slashed with an ax. The pain of a Taser was inconsequential, like a mosquito bite, but it messed up his energy, draining him and leaving him exhausted. He tased himself once to investigate the effects and regretted it instantly after puking his guts out. It made him feel like some rank recruit before battle, all whimpering and weak.

“This is my friend’s apartment and no one’s home.” He gentled his voice as one does with small angry women who wave Tasers at you. He thought he might know her or perhaps he had met her somewhere. There was something familiar about her face.

Holding up a finger, she shook it at him with each word. “No-he-isn’t-home,” she huffed and frowned at him. “Why would I be going through the window if he were home? I’m his sister.”

This trembling woman appeared to be scolding him. The mad General of the Daimon Armies was being scolded. Wait, sister?

“Bobby’s sister?” he demanded loudly. She jumped back a step. Bobby had talked about a sister—he remembered something about her being older and having an important job. He had tuned out when Bobby talked about family, perhaps from envy.

“Yes, I’m his sister. Who are you? Why’d you grab me?” she said suspiciously like he did something wrong, like he tried to climb in a window of a locked apartment. “Are you some neighborhood watch group person? Stay back.” She waved the Taser at him with an outstretched arm and a wild look in her eye.

Each shake caused him to flinch as the Taser wavered in her hand.

“I thought his sister was older,” he grumbled. Why was he arguing with this woman?

She tilted her head, examining him closely. “Wait a sec. You’re Naberius Vasteras.” She tucked the Taser into her jacket pocket.

She pulled off her baseball cap and her long, curly, dark hair tumbled down. Her face was dominated by large brown eyes, strong eyebrows, and an aquiline nose. She was a small, female version of Bobby.

“You know, I’m only older by four years. Twenty-six is not that much, but to a younger brother, well, it can be.” She narrowed her eyes at him and pursed her lips. “Why are you tackling people randomly?”

Frowning, he waved his hand at her. “I simply mistook you for a thief on account of you trying to climb in the window. Let’s start again. Hello, I’m Naberius Vasteras. Can I help you get into your brother’s apartment?” Let her in and leave seemed like a smart idea.

“I recognized you from Bobby’s description the moment you said you were a friend, but you scared me,” she said, giving quick little nods as if encouraging herself, “and that was unacceptable. But I know about you, Naberius Vasteras.” She stumbled a little on pronouncing his last name.

“Vast-er-ass. It’s a Danish name.”

“Yes, yes. I know. I’m Jessalyn Weiss, but you can call me Jess,” she said politely, as she stretched out her arm. She stood as far away as possible to still be able to shake hands.

“Jessalyn,” he repeated. Pulling off his half-gloves, he shook her warm, little hand. Her energy tickled him like a feather, and the scent of fruit blossoms wafted up. Like the flower from home that he had smelled.

“You know where Bobby is? His phone goes right to voicemail and doesn’t respond to texts. He never appeared at the airport to pick me up, just never showed, so I took a taxi here.”

The idea of her waiting and lost at an airport terminal made him clench his fists. Damn Bobby, he should have told someone his sister was coming.

“Your brother works at a bar owned by a mutual friend, Gusion. I’m a silent owner in the place, so I’m sort of his boss,” he explained. “When he didn’t show up at work, I came to see if he was sick or something. He isn’t answering his phone.”

“Really? Now I’m worried.” Rubbing her arms, she shivered. “I thought we miscommunicated on my arrival time, or he spaced out surfing.”

Reaching into the pocket of his leather jacket, he handed her a set of keys. “Here, these are Bobby’s extra keys. He keeps them at the bar as backup, and Gusion gave them to me so I could check on him. Lemme knock to make sure no one’s home.”

“I already did that.”

He ignored her and knocked loudly on the apartment door. Perhaps Bobby was with a woman. Jessalyn walking in on Bobby in bed with a woman would be a disaster. Putting his ear to the door, he heard the hum of the refrigerator and nothing else. He didn’t smell anyone currently in the apartment. “No one home.”

Warily, she kept some distance between them while she edged around him. Inserting the key, she fumbled with the lock. She pushed the door open. “It isn’t locked correctly— Shit!” she exclaimed as she stepped back into him.

Grabbing her before she tripped on his feet, he released her as she straightened up. He looked over her head and into a trashed apartment. A couch was ripped open, and the cushions tossed around, the coffee table was flipped over. Pictures, papers, and books were flung wildly across the floor, and glass shards glinted in the beige carpet.

He felt a ripple move across his body as his skin briefly glowed, the shimmering start of a transformation from human to Daimon. Sighing, he shook off the urge to shift and stayed in his human form. Luckily, she stood facing the apartment with her mouth open in shock.

“Stand back. Someone might still be in there.” He leaned into the doorway, breathing deeply to scent the air. He picked up men, acrid sweat, and cigarette smoke, but only faint reminders. Nothing recent. He needed to sweep the place to make sure they were safe.

She stood there, frozen, so he tugged her gently back out of the doorway. “Stay here. Let me check it out first,” he commanded.

She leaned around him to take a peek at the room. “Alright, but do you have a gun? No? Do you want my Taser? No, wait. Let me come with you.” Pulling the device out of her pocket, she gripped it hard.

Cute. All that nervous determination. Except she was going tase him accidentally if she wasn’t careful. “Put that away and don’t point it at me. No one is here, I’m fine.”

Stepping around the cushions and broken glass, he shoved the debris aside with his boot and moved swiftly to the half-closed bedroom door. Taking out his knife from a holder strapped under his jacket, he held the blade balanced in his fingers and pushed the door open with the handle. The bed blankets and sheets were ripped off, the pillows tossed on the floor and the louvered shades hung askew. He moved them aside and found the broken lock on the window where someone had entered the apartment.

He inhaled deeply and picked up a sharp scent of the people who had been here. Two men. One of the men wore a cheap and popular men’s deodorant, and the other man smelled like cigarettes. Checking the bathroom for a final all-clear, he slipped quietly back into the living room.

The back of his neck prickled as she watched him intently. He flipped his knife in his hand and tucked it away in his leather jacket. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her sniff the air then frown.

“Jessalyn, come in. They broke the bedroom window lock to enter, but they’re gone. It’s safe.”

She stepped carefully over fragments of ceramic and shards of glass. Broken beer bottles were everywhere as if someone had stood in the kitchen and thrown them against the living room wall. Her shoes made little crunching sounds as she walked across the room.

Standing by the fallen TV, she squinted at the room. “Weird. They randomly broke stuff and didn’t take anything. Like they were angry at him, and this was revenge.” She tilted her head, frowning at the smashed and splintered acoustic guitar with a broken neck still attached by strings. It lay on the floor at her feet with many brightly colored guitar picks scattered among the debris.

He agreed with her assessment. “Someone was angry at him but he was not here.”

Her curls swung around her shoulders as she turned sharply to either side while she examined the room. “So, they were here to hurt him, and when they didn’t find him, they took it out on his stuff. We need to call the police. Immediately.” Her voice cracked on the last word.

“Done.” Pulling out his phone, he tapped the number and talked to the dispatcher briefly. “Come, Jessalyn, we should wait outside till the police arrive.”

As they waited, she twirled her hair on her finger. He wanted to reassure her. “So, he wasn’t here. He’s somewhere else, and he’s safe.”

She was silent for several seconds, then she nodded. “That’s it. Now we need to find him or wait for him to call.” She hunched her shoulders and frowned.

Naberius put his hand on her arm without thinking. She was warm under his fingers, but when he felt a shiver go through her, he wanted to pull her close. Her wild curls brushed his forearm, and breathing in, he inhaled her scent and tasted her energy. Sweet and sparkling. Just a small Daimon sip.

Here, it was easy to take energy. People liked to shake hands and women loved to touch and flirt. He took a pinch of the excess flowing off a body. There was plenty of energy to be had from flirting and socializing. He gave some back out of habit, it was polite.

Over the last several years, his enjoyment in the sweetness and softness of sex had faded as the women made him feel increasingly empty and sad. He absorbed their loneliness which made his homesickness worse, so he stopped sleeping with them. He resorted to taking casual sips of energy in social settings. Just enough to keep him balanced.

He removed his hand from her and she sighed with the weight of trouble in her breath.

The thought of her worried made him uncomfortable. She shouldn’t have to worry. He texted Maelcom. His phone pinged immediately. Maelcom texted back that he was coming.

To make matters worse, an unknown Daimon had followed him twice this week but slipped away. They were observing him, gathering information. It might be an assassin or an Ice Daimon seeking revenge. They weren’t here now, but they would be back and he needed to tell his men. He wanted Jessalyn somewhere safe.

“I texted my investigator. He will come. He’ll help the police and ensure the apartment is closed up properly and the landlord informed.” Wanting to leave quickly, he would let Maelcom deal with the paperwork and manage the police.

“Who’s this person exactly?” she asked with a little wrinkle between her eyebrows.

“He does due diligence and general investigations for my company, NVT.”

“An investigator?” she asked. “He can help the police?”

“Ja, he’s licensed. Maelcom is like my hand?” He hated when he forgot the correct use of an idiom. Not being able to perfectly express himself was infuriating.

One corner of her mouth lifted in a small smile. “You mean your right-hand man. I know about Maelcom. Bobby sent me a picture of them surfing but it was taken from a distance, and I could only see vague shapes of people on boards.”

“Yes, we all surf together.”

Bobby talked about Maelcom to his sister. Naberius felt a ping of disappointment.

She watched everything he did. “Do you know Bobby’s other friends?” she asked.

“Not really. I met several surfers at the beach.”

“I know. He told me that you went surfing with him.” She looked away with her dark eyebrows drawn together.

He liked her lively face. Her eyebrows moved, and her wide mouth twitched in an expressive dance, the meaning of which was unclear to him.

“He’s easygoing, we like him.” Bobby never asked questions about his men’s background and that relaxed attitude had sealed the friendship for him and his men.

She smiled softly. “Yeah. He’s great.”

His eyes snapped to her mouth. Her face changed like the sun came out. She reminded him of a painting he had seen of the Norse goddess, Freya. His people loved the old poetry and made art to celebrate it. The glowing smile, it was the same.

The buzz of her energy was interesting, but she was a little high-strung, an intense energy. Normally, he avoided that type. He preferred relaxed, sexually adventurous women or, at least, he used to. He didn’t know what he liked anymore. This funny woman quivered and trembled, and kept her distance while waving a Taser at him, but she lit up like a shiny object when she smiled, and he couldn’t stop staring.