An excerpt of the new Daimon Soldier book, Maelcom Daimon Desire
Maelcom made his way down the crowded street trying to avoid bumping into any of the people. Too much random energy made him restless and distracted. Most Daimons enjoyed the cities, the people, and the endless energy. But he was conducting an investigation and needed to locate the author of an intelligence report that mentioned the existence of Daimons. He was here to evaluate the risk that this person posed. Secrecy was key to the protection of the Daimon Realm.
The streets of Stockholm were full of people enjoying the warm evenings of late summer. Stone facades were washed with the orange light of sunset. Another couple stopped to kiss but Maelcom zigzagged around them. Giggling and laughing, a group of women strolled three abreast with arms entwined. Stuck behind them, he slowed his pace while he stared at their long, glossy hair, tight clothes, short skirts, and legs—he could see lots of pale, slender legs.
The man who sold him low-level intel regarding European intelligence efforts had requested a meeting. Maelcom had many such informants and used different ones for different areas of expertise to ensure his information-gathering efforts remained under the radar. He had built a list of potential information sources from when he worked for various intelligence groups, and there was a level of trust extended to him because he was considered an insider.
A man and woman headed right for him while they stared into each other’s eyes. He turned to dodge them and go around the man, but his hand brushed the woman’s forearm. “Excuse me,” he muttered, but he couldn’t resist a tiny sip of energy because he was tired. It was sweet and pure. An energy of love.
He would never feel that. Never stayed long enough with women. They either wanted relationships or more money, and sometimes if he flashed too much money around, they wanted a relationship. He liked women comfortable with their sexuality and having a good time so he could always part ways in an amiable manner. But he’d been alone for a while and the lack of sex made him moody.
When he had business in Stockholm, Maelcom always stayed in the Sodermalm area, one of the larger islands that made up the city, because he preferred the hotels located there. Small, discreet luxury hotels. A blend of students, artists, tradesmen and working professionals made the area interesting and vibrant.
Personally, he preferred Denmark over Sweden—people were calmer and quieter there. He’d served in the Special Forces in Denmark for several years and it was where he’d acclimated to life in the Earth Realm, a safe sort of transition to life here. But really, he missed California, all that space and the ability to hide in his big SUV with black windows while he drove everywhere he needed to go. Most of all, he loved surfing the ocean there, escaping from the buzz of the busy world into the quiet of the water.
He straightened his tailored suit coat and ran his hand down the front of his black designer shirt. His goal was to blend in with the crowd. There were many tall men in the city and he blended despite the fact he didn’t look typically Swedish.
All Daimons had mixed Earth and Daimon heritage—some said pure Daimons had never existed, and the proof was that they could shift between two forms, one human and the other a horned, fierce beast. His darker skin combined with the blue eyes made people assume he was the child of some immigrant who married a Scandinavian, which was more accurate than they could appreciate. His ancestors were ancient Mongols who married Daimons back when Daimons lived in the Earth Realm.
He had agreed to meet his informant at a popular bar. He had picked the bar from a guidebook the hotel left in his room which listed “Top Five Most Expensive Bars in Stockholm.” It was impersonal and busy.
First, he walked past the bar to see the crowd and to view any possible exit routes. He turned back when he came to the end of the block to ensure he wasn’t followed. Old habits.
The bar was all glass and dark wood, like a room from a Daimon palace in the mountains. The hostess, a curvy redhead, smiled up as if she recognized him. “Your friend is at the back table. He told me to look out for a big guy.” She smiled wide.
He scowled down at her which he regretted immediately as she took a step back. A friend jokingly said his scowl made him look like he ate babies. He did not intend to frighten her but he disliked being noticed, and his size was something he could not control.
“Sorry, thank you,” he said, softening his tone so her shoulders relaxed and she happily gestured to the table. He walked to the back of the bar where his contact sat with a drink in front of him. “Nils. Good to see you,” Maelcom said.
Nils was a chubby man with a modest job and a demanding wife, which was why he sold information. The type of intelligence he sold was specific and never mission critical. Always low-level stuff. “Maelcom.” He grinned like he was imagining the money he would be paid at the end of the meeting.
Tucking his chin-length dark hair behind his ears, Maelcom tried to appear relaxed, but his brain buzzed with a strange tension. It might be the crowded city, the hunt, or his general struggle with his life after fighting in the Daimon Wars.
Nils narrowed his eyes at Maelcom. “Every woman in this place stared at you walking in, despite that surly expression on your face.”
“I look appropriate for the city,” Maelcom said confidently. He had put effort into his conservative businessman look but women always stared at him. They liked his body, they liked his money, they loved his hair. He could shave his head to look meaner but he liked his hair long—he liked the phantom tickle when his hair swung over the place his horns emerged when he shifted forms. It reminded him of his other self, but he never transformed with women here in the Earth Realm.
“You look appropriate but you’re too unique-looking to blend in,” Nils said.
Nils annoyed him with his inadvertently accurate assessment. Maelcom spoke softly, letting a hint of annoyance creep into his voice. “I simply need the name of the person who submitted the report.”
Nils rolled his eyes at Maelcom. “Calm down. Price is the usual.”
“No problem,” Maelcom said, and he took out his phone to make the transfer via a third party e-payment system. “Done.”
A folded piece of paper was laid on the table. “Name and current address.” Nils gestured to the waitress for the bill. “You’re paying. I got here early and ate dinner so the amount is correct. Call me anytime.”
“Of course, perhaps we can have dinner again as I need to know what the budget expenditure for Swedish Intelligence for the next two years. No details—just the percentage breakdowns.” Maelcom took a sip of his single malt whisky. Straight up, no ice.
Maelcom was Daimon Lead in the Earth Realm on intelligence issues. His commander needed him to establish current European intelligence priorities while he was taking care of business. Finding out what they spent money on was the easiest way to figure out what they considered important.
Nils grinned and slapped his hands together. “Easy. I’ll message you on GamerChat when I am done. Compensation is the usual rate.” Nils slid out of the booth and stood.
They communicated via the GamerChat app. Everyone talked about crazy things to do with their multiplayer gaming campaigns so their discussions blended with the general conversation if they kept it all phrased in terms of planning a campaign.
Maelcom stood and thumped Nils on his shoulder with the casual bluster of a businessman finishing a meeting. “I’ll see you soon. Good evening.”
Nils left and Maelcom took out his phone. He punched in the address that Nils had given him and found information on who leased the apartment.
His commander, Naberius Vasteras, wanted to find the author of the report on the existence of Daimons so they could evaluate the risk. Maelcom wanted to just locate the man and kill him. The report had been full of half-truths and pure fabrications, as the author assumed Daimons were some biotech-enhanced soldier experiment, but still, risk was risk, and the only way to be sure would be to eliminate it. But Naberius’s mate, Jessalyn, was an ex-US intelligence analyst and she was working to ensure it was disregarded as a crackpot report. Naberius and Jessalyn worried that a mysterious death of an intelligence agent could provoke unwanted attention.
The whole debacle had started with a human soldier skipping out from a challenging training exercise at the Greenland training facility. This lazy soldier had been hiding in an off-limits area and had seen some Daimons shift into their Daimon form and then later, told a low-level intelligence analyst who had written up the sighting in a report. Maelcom was proceeding cautiously: first find the intelligence analyst, then he would move on to dealing with the young soldier.
Maelcom paid the bill and left a generous tip.
The name of the intelligence analyst was Anders Frisson, a pale, plain-looking man with thick glasses or, at least that’s what his government ID picture showed.
The apartment was under his roommate’s name, Agnes Gustafson. She could be a girlfriend or just a roommate, but he would investigate her to ensure she wasn’t involved. He made his way to the street where Anders lived and leaned against a large stone doorway, pretending to check his phone while he did some casual surveillance.
He searched for Agnes Gustafson on social websites and found lots of photos online, her in an art gallery talking to artists and her with groups of people at social events. Thin, with long, wavy blonde hair. In the social photographs, she was called Nessa, which was a diminutive of Agnes. She glowed in the pictures, looking at the camera with a big smile, always laughing. In a short flowery dress, she could pass for an illustration of a fairy from a child’s storybook.
Suddenly, he remembered a book he’d had as a child with pictures of Små folk. It was those pictures he was thinking of. A people that used to live in the Daimon Realm and the Earth Realm. They were thought to have all been exterminated in the Great Killings a thousand years ago.
The door slammed and two people walked out—the same people whose pictures he had just been looking at. They were talking intently about something but he couldn’t get the meaning exactly. Daimon hearing was sharp but not extraordinary. He sniffed their scents. One was acrid and sweaty. The other sweet like summer, like flowers.
He watched while the woman waved her hands around, talking rapidly and at length until Anders put his hands up in a conciliatory gesture, agreeing to whatever she had proposed in her long diatribe. They stopped talking, and Nessa played with her phone. Finally, a third person came running down the street shouting apologies. Nessa screamed “Olaf” and threw her arms around the man. Together, they walked south toward an area that had several taverns and bars, and Maelcom followed.
The woman, Nessa, wore a stretchy dress in blue that almost looked painted on and was completely open in the back. Her bare skin was exposed from her shoulders to just above the dip and swell of her round bottom. Shoulder blades like sharp wings. He could count the knobs on her spine all the way down to her lower back.
He shifted his eyes to the man under investigation, Anders Frisson. A twitchy man with a sharp face and insistent gestures, ordinary, pale brown hair. Nothing noteworthy except the way he jabbed his finger in the air when talking.
The goal was information-gathering and, then, containment of the situation. Maelcom was glad that just killing the man was not the automatic solution even if it was his default option. Maelcom wanted to find, no, he needed to find other ways to solve problems. He was done with being a killer.
Maelcom followed the group of friends down several streets until they came to a neighborhood bar with signs declaring homemade beer and craft cocktails. It reminded him of Gusion’s bar back in the Bay Area. This place was a comfortable neighborhood bar with art on the walls and loud music.
The men went in, but the woman, Nessa, turned to look across the dark street. She was searching for something. He sank back farther into the shadows. Her enormous brown eyes sparkled in the street lights. Her blonde hair was a wild halo—so much hair on such a thin person.
The door opened and the light shone around her. A voice called out, “Nessa. Come on…” The person’s voice got lost in a mumble but she laughed and went inside.
He frowned. She had looked in his direction like she could see him clearly hiding in the dark of the doorway.
She was late. The main group of her friends had already arrived and each new addition was greeted with big hellos and enthusiastic chatter. She kissed everybody’s cheeks, hugged, joked with everyone and sat down at a long wooden table.
The plain wooden chair dug into the vertebrae of her back. Maybe she was too bony to wear the tight backless dress. She needed flowing clothes to hide her thinness and emphasize her modest curves. Someone had given her friend Olaf the dress as payment instead of cash and he’d come dancing into her apartment, saying “Versace” over and over again till she put it on. She straightened up so her spine didn’t hit the back of the chair.
Olaf said she was fat compared to the models with whom he worked in the fashion industry. His performance art career did not pay the rent, particularly now that he had veered into avant-garde cabaret theater with drag queens singing in fabulous outfits. She adored him and attended all his shows.
Tonight was a semi-regular gathering of friends who had known each other since university. She loved hanging out with this varied group of friends, mostly artists of all sorts working in visual art, fashion, theater and cinema. No one was datable because they were either married, gay or simply knew too much about each other to make it viable. It made the whole get-together very relaxing. She probably should have saved the dress for another night but it was new so she’d worn it.
In truth, she had sort of given up on dating—just no luck with men. Her last boyfriend had moved to Thailand without even telling her. They hadn’t been madly in love but it still hurt. He left a letter saying he had to do it this way or she would have talked him into staying even though she didn’t love him. It was discouraging to realize that he was correct, and she hardly missed him at all.
Many of her friends were involved in relationships, moving in with lovers, some even getting married. She felt like the odd man out. She wanted love, to have her hand held, to have kisses every day, a friend, a lover. It was good she had her art or she would have been lost; making art was like a relationship, just not physical.
All the men she met treated her like a little cute girl. Once, a man had actually patted her on the head like a dog or a child. She wanted something different, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on what it was.
She had developed a technique to evaluate men, besides their moronic impress-the-girl chatter. She kissed them as soon as possible on a date, ideally within the first hour. It was enough intimacy to see if they connected—kissing, like sex, was wordless communication. It was certainly a lot less risky than sleeping with people she didn’t know that well. Having them fail the kiss test when she was half-naked was awkward. That had happened once and she promised herself not to let it happen again.
So a kiss as soon as possible seemed like a brilliant idea, but it was possible the idea put unfair pressure on her dates and made her seem—well, odd. The last guy she had kissed in the foyer of her apartment building before going out had asked her if she was drunk. So embarrassing. Maybe guys she passed over were just having a bad day. Maybe kissing wasn’t important in a long-term relationship. But that was inconceivable and it upset her just thinking about it.
Olaf had snickered when she explained her approach and he’d argued that fucking was the best way to get to know someone. For her, sex confused the issue. It was difficult to be discriminating about a relationship when it felt so good. So, she ran around kissing men. Some of them were delighted with her kisses. Some were not.
She eyed the crowd—she knew too much about their love lives, so they were off-limits. So unfair. She should ask the marrieds to bring one new person a month to their meetings to help out the single friends.
Everyone told her to use dating apps, but those terrified her as everyone also told her, sometimes even in the same conversation, horrible stories of people they’d met through those same apps. Her one date with a guy she’d met online was so epically horrific that the events of their date became her go-to funny story at parties to make people laugh. People tended to laugh hard at that story.
The front door opened too fast, banging the doorstop and making her look up quickly at the entrance. A man walked in, and she blinked her eyes repeatedly to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.
Tall, strong wall of—no, not just handsome, something more. His face was like a hero from a comic book, hard slashing lines. An interesting, strong face. A stubble of a beard coming in. Intense blue eyes. Maybe he was a Russian hockey player or maybe a mobster. Probably just a businessman. His long, wavy dark hair was so luxurious that she wanted to run her fingers through it. His black suit jacket hugged his broad shoulders, beautifully cut and tailored to his massive body.
“Olaf, look, look. Yum. Yum,” she said. “I want to order one of those models. Wrap him up for me.”
Olaf sighed. “Yummy and straight. Why do you pretend to talk like a bad girl when you’re not? That man would pat you on the head and you know how that makes you crazy. You always are attracted to big, tall men, which has proven disastrous. Wait—I take that back because I should be supportive. We’ll find you a big, huge man if that’s what you want.” He blew a kiss in her direction.
“It has not been disastrous,” she complained even though it had been. She went back to staring at the man. Olaf talked to her about some plans he was making but it was hard to concentrate.
Olaf poked her. “So what do you think?”
She raised her eyebrows while she tried to think about what he had been saying. “You might take off to Paris because otherwise what are you doing with your life?”
He laughed. “I never said the thing about what I’m doing with my life.”
She smirked. “I added that.”
Her friend Natalie leaned over. “A living god at ten o’clock.”
“Already tracking him. You’re slow,” Olaf said.
Nessa pretended to be shocked. “Natalie! You’re married!”
“Married, not dead.” Natalie leaned against her husband’s shoulder while he earnestly discussed politics with a friend.
Olaf leaned forward and tapped her on the arm. “Nessa, go talk to him. If you don’t, Tatianna will when she gets here. I’ll buy the next round of drinks if you go say hello and ask him his name.”
Natalie nodded. “Tatianna would like him. She fancies them big and muscular, but she is out of town. Anyway, she adores you. She would throw him your way, considering that terrible date you had. She would cheer you on.”
Tatianna was their most beautiful friend and a talented commercial photographer. A sweetheart to her friends but she admitted freely and frankly to have a very strong sexual drive. Her heritage was part-Swedish and something else because Tatianna was vague on her family. Nessa adored her because she was so brave and unapologetic. Why couldn’t she be tall with big breasts and baby-fine straight hair and fearlessly go through men like a reaper in a field of wheat?
Nessa pushed her curly hair over her shoulder with a sigh. She could use a strong drink for some liquid courage to take Olaf up on his dare. “So, Olaf, you’re going to buy a round for the whole table if I go talk to him. Right?”
Olaf nodded. “Just don’t talk too much. You will scare him away.”
Nessa stuck her tongue out at him and turned to the table. “I’ll do it for the greater good of the group. You all owe me one for the drinks Olaf will buy you.” She pointed at them while they all raised their glasses to her.
Natalie smirked. “The hardships our Nessa endures,” she said.
Hesitating, Nessa pretended to check her phone while peeking at the man from the corner of her eyes. His eyes were on her, and she knew it—his glance was warm and she could feel it. But when she looked at him directly, he turned away.
Olaf made meowing noises because she was stalling. She scowled and gritted her teeth. Olaf was right—she pretended to be all bad-girl but really she didn’t like to be intimate with almost-strangers. Apparently she had trust issues still, or so her therapist said.
Leaning up against the bar, the man had ordered a beer and surveyed the room casually. His gaze passed over her and then returned to take a long look at her. The color of his eyes washed over her, a pale ocean-blue.
Feeling bold, she grinned and winked at him. There was a hard line between his eyes as if he was concentrating. So long as he kept looking at her, she didn’t care. When their gaze connected briefly, his mouth flattened as if he was displeased. He pushed his hair behind his ears and turned away.
What was so wrong with a wink? Men were so messed up nowadays. You made the first move, they freaked. You didn’t, and you went home alone. She was determined to liven up her life. It needed to be more than just painting and working at the gallery. She got up and wandered over to where the blue-eyed hunk of sexy leaned against the bar.
“Hello, I’m Nessa. I’m here with my friends over there. You live in the neighborhood?” She worried she sounded dorky and uncool so she gave him her biggest smile. He was a lot bigger up close and she was in boots that had two-inch heels. Her lips were at the top of his chest. Hmm. A broad and muscular chest.
Stop. Be cool, Nessa.
He answered in a beautiful deep voice. “No, I’m just visiting Stockholm.”
His voice was a rich rumble which she could feel in her chest. It was surprisingly warm, with a quiet sincerity to the tone. “What’s your name?” she asked.
He held her gaze with a directness that she liked. He answered her promptly like a soldier would to a commanding officer. But he was not grinning or flirting.
Time to be bold. She stuck her chin out and flipped her hair over her shoulder. Maybe she’d invite him to her table. It would liven up the evening. “You’re Scandinavian but you’re Danish? I can hear it in your Swedish. You want to come over and have a drink with me and my friends? It’s okay—we won’t tease you for being Danish. Can I call you Mal?” She reached out and tugged his arm with a flirty smile to get him to move toward their table.
He froze and tilted his head to eye her with a peculiar intensity. “My name is Maelcom, not Mal. Your name is Nessa. Is it short for something?”
She received a little electric zing through her hand. Strange. “Agnes. Nessa is short for Agnes, Maelcom. I get it, no nicknames. Hey, you gave me a shock by the way. Static electricity. I guess I’m electric. Sorry, I am chattering a lot. Would you like to sit with me and my friends?”
“I don’t know.” He rubbed his neck without meeting her eyes.
“Please, I’ve drinks riding on this,” she blurted out. Great. Now she sounded like she was begging a guy to hang out with her, but she didn’t want to look hopeless in front of her friends.
He narrowed those blue eyes at her. “Yes,” he whispered.
She could barely hear it but she watched his lips shape the word. Beautiful voice was her only thought. “Come on, then.” She jerked her head and he followed her to the table. “Hey, people. Pay attention. This is Maelcom. He’s visiting from Denmark and he collects art. Make him feel welcome and he might buy a painting.”
Her friends smiled and waved. Someone shouted out, “Hooray, Maelcom.”
She turned to him and whispered, “I know you don’t collect art. That’s cool but they’re all artists who’re trying desperately to sell their art so I like to give them hope. You might like a painting as a memento from Stockholm.”
“But I do like art. And I collect art. I didn’t understand how you knew,” he said with a surprised tone.
It was easy to spot a potential art buyer after working in a gallery. You looked for money. His coat was tailored perfectly for him and she knew that a jacket like that ran thousands of euros. Expensive clothes meant money, and people with money bought art. Simple formula.
“I work at a contemporary art gallery so I’m used to trying to get people to buy art. It was just a wild guess. But if you do collect art, these people are all very talented artists and their work is very inexpensive.”
“I buy paintings and drawings of nature. I like landscapes.”
Really, she loved customers who had specific preferences. “All right, try talking to Elena down at the other end of the table. Long black hair. She does watercolors—huge and amazing landscapes, sort of modern realism. Who have you bought? Anyone I might know?”
“Paintings by Sorcha Rosenbloom and some drawings by Tse-Ting Lo.”
“I have heard of Sorcha Rosenbloom. She’s American, right? I saw her work at the Venice Biennale last year.”
“Cool.” She peered up at him. “You know your eyes are amazing.” She had gone up on her toes to peer at them. She was very close to him and could feel the puff of his hot breath on her face.
“So are yours,” he muttered.
“Mine are just boring brown eyes—yours are unique,” she said while still staring at him.
“I should sit down,” he said abruptly.
He took a chair next to Anders and introduced himself to the people sitting around the table. That was disappointing. Why did he sit next to her crazy roommate? The one person who annoyed her. She’d only invited him to be nice to him since she’d asked him to move out of the apartment.
And now Anders would talk endlessly about his obsessions, inevitably blabbering on about aliens from space, conspiracy theories and how the government created monsters in secrets labs. She once tried to convince him that he should write a sci-fi novel about some wild events he assured her were on-going, super top secret and hush-hush. He told her he didn’t appreciate her not believing him and stomped away angry.
Anders used to work in the government as some kind of researcher but he’d quit his job recently. Nessa speculated he had been fired because he seemed depressed and kept leaving the house all dressed up as if he had job interviews.
She had rented out her spare bedroom because she needed extra cash, and a roommate was the easiest way to get some money. That had been the biggest mistake of the year.
Right before they’d left the apartment, Anders tried to tell her about some genetically-modified humans he thought might be aliens, but she just cut him off. Told him she didn’t believe in that stuff so he better back off on the alien conspiracy stories. On the spur of the moment, she decided to inform him that a cousin was coming to live with her and that she needed to consider family first, so he needed to vacate the room. He appeared unhappy, but he agreed to move out before her beloved and imaginary cousin arrived.
She tried to edge nearer to Maelcom. He glanced sideways at her just as she noisily scooted her chair closer. She gave him a little wave and fluttered her eyelashes. Anders was babbling about government conspiracies. Maelcom turned back to Anders. Shit.
Olaf pulled at her arm to get her attention. “Your roommate is the black hole of boring. He just sucked your big hunk of Genghis Khan into crazy talk and now he won’t release him.”
“I know. But he’s not my roommate for long. I gave him his notice tonight. The official story is my cousin is coming to live with me because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. So if he asks, back me up. Her name is Nina. Second cousin.” She whispered it to Olaf so only he could hear but she swore she saw Maelcom’s head jerk as if he could hear her whispers.
“Thank god for Nina, your nonexistent cousin. I was starting to dread coming over to your place because the last time Anders talked about government conspiracies for an hour. A whole goddamned hour. I felt bad because he seemed so lonely, so I listened,” Olaf said.
“Poor Olaf. Imagine what I put up with living with him.” She turned to the people near her. “How about I get some chips for the table?” Several people nodded and gave her the thumbs-up.
Anders and Maelcom were still deep in conversation. Clearly, smiling and flirting had not worked. She loved when people smiled at her, and it made sense that it would be reciprocated.
“Nessa, please order a plate of chips. I’m starving,” Anders whined.
He didn’t offer to pay, of course. “I’m sharing with Olaf and his two friends. I don’t think there’ll be enough. Maybe you two can get your own?” Nessa narrowed her eyes at him but he’d already turned away.
Maelcom gave her a puzzled glance and Anders ignored her. She twirled away and stomped unhappily to the bar, muttering to herself. It was inconceivable that her annoying roommate had monopolized the handsome guy and then expected her to buy him food.
The bar had gotten crowded. Carefully, she squeezed through the people to the bar and into a little space next to a broad-shouldered man.
He turned to face her and smiled. “You can push up beside me anytime,” he said with a grin.
It was a cheesy line and he delivered it with a little bit of embarrassment. The guy looked like a farm boy—young, all healthy and ruddy and slightly chubby.
She smiled back. “Sorry, I’m trying to order some chips from the bartender.”
“I know, it’s very busy. When he comes back, I will make sure he attends to you. Leave it to me. Can I buy you a drink? An apology for being just a country boy, but you are the prettiest girl here. My name is Thorsen. Call me Thor.” He winked at her.
She sent a prayer of thanks to the universe for sending her a nice-looking man. He kept eyeballing her dress, which she found uncomfortable, but hey, beggars couldn’t be choosers and she’d worn the dress to attract attention. She tugged the hem lower. “I’m Nessa. You live in the neighborhood? This is my favorite bar.” Forget men who wouldn’t pay attention to her. She would chat this guy up just to prove to herself that she wasn’t a complete loser.