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Authors: Rain Oxford

The Demon's Game

BOOK: The Demon's Game
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The Demon’s Game

 

By Rain Oxford

The
Demon’s Game © 2015 Rain Oxford

All
Rights Reserved

 

The
Guardian Series Book 4

Chapter 1

I knew three things; it was
raining something thick and warm, it was pitch-black, and something very large
was right behind me. Trying to face my opponent, I turned, only to trip over a
root and fall hard on my back. My breath was knocked from my lungs, but before
I could try to inhale, I got a mouth full of blood. It was raining blood.

I had enough time to spit the iron-rich fluid out of
my mouth before a creature pinned me to the ground with a single furry paw that
spanned the entire width of my chest. I closed my eyes against the foul
downpour and put up my arms to defend myself. Heavy, hot breath was my only
warning before huge, sharp fangs sank into my right arm, effectively snapping
my bone in two places. Heat burned all the way up my shoulder, but I didn’t
scream. I had enough brain power left to decide I would rather be eaten alive
than die by drowning in blood.

As the beast began dragging me over thick roots and
sharp rocks, the pain of his bite spread with each beat of my heart until my
entire body was paralyzed with agony. As if he knew I couldn’t escape, the
beast abruptly dropped me. Blind and in so much pain I couldn’t breathe, I
rolled onto my back. It wasn’t a heavy rain, but the blood was sticky.

Cramps struck my legs and abdomen, painful enough
that I managed to feel them over the fire in my blood, before bones throughout
my body started breaking with sickening cracks. My knees popped painfully. Skin
and muscles stretched as my limbs reformed, tearing my clothes easily. My head
throbbed with the worst migraine I had ever felt. The heat was unbearable, but
the energy that ran through my blood was like lightning.

Even over my anguish, I sensed the beast run.

A sort of haze fell over me as the pain grew more
severe and the change in my body grew stranger. By the time the torment faded,
I felt very bizarre. I felt light and… quick. The blood rain no longer bothered
me; I could breathe just fine. I climbed unsteadily to my feet, but it was on
four legs instead of two. A quick glance down revealed that I was correct.
Instead of arms and hands, I had front legs and paws. I wasn’t small, but I was
shorter than my human form.

The ability to see despite the fact that it was still
dark was not as important as examining my new legs, which were covered in sleek
black fur that was being saturated with blood.
That isn’t good; I want my
fur clean.
Even more frustrating, however, was the shiny object on my right
ankle. I had just enough awareness to recognize the thick metal cuff.

 

*          *          *

 

A furious hiss dug into the core of my instincts and
tore me from my sleep, for this was not a warning I could ignore. I woke and
sat up too fast, eliciting another expression of wrath from Shinobu. The
hissing naowen at the foot on my bed with her claws outstretched and her teeth
displayed had been my faithful, gentle pet for thirteen years, so her animosity
confused me.

“Get off!” Divina yelled sharply enough to startle
both of us.

Shinobu leapt from the bed to the bookshelf, then out
the window. Only then did I realize my heart was beating too fast. My brain
tried to rationalize her behavior by suggesting that it wasn’t her or that she
was playing, but I knew better.

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked Divina.

She leaned her head on my shoulder, still half
asleep, and I stroked my fingers through her black hair on reflex. “I don’t
know.” Her voice was quiet but deep with drowsiness. “She’s a wild animal, and
a very dangerous one at that. Maybe she’s getting old and senile.”

“Do you think she’ll come back?”

She sighed. “It’s better if she doesn’t. We’re not
going to be back here for years. It’s much better for her to be free. What were
you dreaming about?”

I shook my head. “I don’t remember.” Every time
something was about to go down, I had a dream that I couldn’t remember. I could
feel that it was important, but it was gone as soon as I woke.

 

*          *          *

 

“You win.”

Silence fell over the cabin. After a long moment in
which each person questioned their hearing, everyone at once surrounded the
table. Edward laid his cards out on the worn wooden surface and I followed
suit. He gaped at my hand with disbelief.

“You have nothing. Had you used any other card, I
could have won the game. How did you know?”

“I didn’t. I told you I was playing on instinct. I
chose that card because it was red,” I said. The red hourglass was just way too
ominous between the green dragon card and the tea card, so I wanted to get rid
of it.

Mordon laughed while Divina and Edward stared in
shock. To our knowledge, nobody in all of history had ever beaten Edward at a
game of cards.

I was a little bit pleased that it was with Divina
here that I won, since Divina and Edward were ridiculously competitive with
each other. Ron and Hail were flabbergasted for all of half a minute before
they returned to reading their books.

“Did you do use math?”
Mordon asked.

“Edward doesn’t use a normal deck, so I don’t know
how many of what faces there are. There’s no way somebody can cheat without
magic using his cards, and if someone did use magic, he would know.”
I held
out my wrist to Ron. “Please take this off, sweetheart.”

Ron easily took the metal bracelet off my wrist. At
only about half an inch wide and an adjustable eight inches long, the silver
bracelet with ancient symbols etched into its thin metal was deceptively
powerful. I slipped the bracelet back into my bag with its twin.

The magic-neutralizing tool we retained from Vretial
was often used for silly tricks and games in our family. Mordon and I used them
to compete with each other, but we had to stop because they prevented Mordon
from shifting. Vretial made it so that only Ron and Hail were able to take the
bracelets off a person, so our games left us pretty much defenseless without the
boys.

 “Do we
have
to go to school tomorrow?” Ron
asked, his bottom lip wobbling.

Ron was about the cutest nine-year-old imaginable
with disheveled chocolate-brown hair and moss green eyes. He was also an expert
on begging, sweet-talking, and manipulation, like his mother. The difference
between my adorable son and my lovely wife was that his eyes were very
expressive. His lip wobbled, but his eyes weren’t sad.

I leaned down to be at eye level with him. “If not
you, then who? I guess I could go to school instead, but then you’d have to go
to work at the hospital.”

“I could do that!” he declared with excitement. Then
he frowned. “But what would Hail do?”

“Well, Hell would have to go to school.”

Samhail had a thing about renaming everyone. Of
course, I insisted on calling Kiro Edward, since it was his cover name when he
introduced himself to me, so I was the pot calling the kettle black. In loving
regards to his hellish rambunctiousness as a child, I called him Hell instead
of Hail.

Ron looked horrified. “Hail can’t go without me! He
needs me! What if he has a vision?! If he’s going to school, so am I!”

“If you insist, sweetheart,” I said, resigned. I
loved my sons so much. Sometimes Ron acted his age, but he was growing up too
fast and the rare moments where he acted like a little boy were occurring fewer
and fewer. “When are you going to Mokii?” I asked Edward.

“I have about half an hour before I need to leave if
I want to make the ship.”

“It would be much faster to flash there,” I offered.

He shook his head. “I’ve got to do things the mortal
way. That’s how I get the information I need to solve cases. I make contacts
with other everyday men.”

My relationship with Edward had always been a little
strained and confusing. It wasn’t because he treated me badly; quite the
opposite. From the moment Edward took me as an apprentice, he was more like a
father to me, and since he was the only father figure I ever had, it meant a
lot to me. The problem I had was that men in my life were never worth looking
up to until him.

When I learned how to use my Iadnah energy, I tried
to be more helpful to him. All I accomplished was putting distance between us.
I thought we worked well together, and we did to a point. After a while I
realized what was wrong; Edward needed a son he could be proud of, not a
partner. It occurred to me that the reason Edward and Ronez could last for so
many years without killing each other was that they lived on different planets.

I just didn’t want to ruin our relationship.

Divina ran her fingers through my hair, which was her
way of giving me support without actually agreeing with me.

“He’ll be fine. He’s been at this for more than
two thousand years,”
Mordon said.

I nodded. “If you’re going soon, I guess we’ll be
off, too,” I said, standing. “The boys need a good night of rest. Will you be
over when you’re done at Mokii?” I asked.

“Of course. I have no idea how you manage with all
that technology, but I know you’re doing good.” He hugged me. “If you need me,
you know how to find me.”

 

*          *          *

 

When the gates to the void started opening, I
realized what I really wanted to do in life. I was a Guardian, which meant that
I would defend my world against any threat, but my world wasn’t threatened
every day.

I was on Dios when they temporarily lost magic and
had a major earthquake. When the underground civilization of magic users found
themselves confused, injured and powerless, I did what I could to help them. It
occurred to me then that there could come a time when I had no magic to help
someone.

I wanted to go through the training to be a doctor,
but since my wife was a goddess, she offered me a faster method. Gods had a way
of sharing knowledge directly that was far faster and more practical than
speech. When I told her I wanted to be an emergency medicine doctor, she found
three who were supposedly the best in the world and offered to copy their
medical knowledge to me.

I was very hesitant at first, because I thought it
was immoral and… just really creepy. However, she explained it as the
equivalent of reading every medical book they had every read and attending
every class or seminar they had ever attended, in just a matter of seconds.
Still, I wasn’t convinced this was a good idea.

Divina sent me to Earth and let me trail these
doctors for a few days. I wasn’t invisible so much as unnoticeable. It was a
very interesting spell in which everyone could actually see me, but they
wouldn’t realize I was there or look in my direction. Fortunately, it let me
observe what they did every day.

When the first doctor saved a life, I lost all hope
and was certain I couldn’t do it. I thought I was better off leaving it to
them. Then I saw the second doctor save lives, and I thought I could really
learn from them. When I saw the third doctor lose one out of two dozen hopeless
patients, I understood what Divina was trying to do. No one could save every
single person, but out of the hundred people I saw these doctors help, I
couldn’t have done a thing for them without magic.

A few weeks later, I started working at a small
hospital on Earth. Divina had given me the knowledge I needed and forged
reasonable records… but I felt like a fish out of water my first day. I was
afraid to go near a patient let alone help anyone.

That changed the moment they rushed in a baby girl who
wasn’t breathing. I didn’t even consider using my magic. Years of experience
that wasn’t mine snapped into place and the only thing that was important was
that I could help the baby. She came out fine.

It took a month to get things ready to move to Earth
after I decided to stay at the hospital. As a native of the world, it shouldn’t
have been nearly that difficult to return. Getting the job at the hospital
really was the easy bit. I also had to get records for Divina, Mordon, and the
kids, then get the boys into school. I couldn’t homeschool them and work at the
same time. Honestly, I wanted them to have the socialization and public school
experience… I just hoped they took mercy on the little mortal children, for my
boys could be a handful.

Mordon wanted to get a job, too, but there wasn’t
much for him to do. He was a prince on Mokii and a wizard on Shomodii, so it
wasn’t like he had many useful job skills. In fact, he had very few social
skills, because humans and sago were fairly different. I only tried to teach
him to drive once and it took a hundred years off my life. He could handle
technology, but he had no clue how to use a computer and he still couldn’t read
English. Although I promised to find something for him to do, I could tell he
was frustrated.

Divina was suspiciously okay with whatever. She never
complained or voiced an opinion, which just made me feel worse that I was
uprooting our family. She said she was flexible, but I wanted her to be happy,
and I knew she liked our life on Duran. I liked it, too, for that matter; I
just wanted a little change of pace for a few years. The boys needed variety
and I wanted to spend some time being a real doctor instead of just a healer. I
also wanted Mordon to experience my home world.

 

*          *          *

 

My alarm woke me way too early… the sun hadn’t yet
risen to chase away the morning chill. I smacked the alarm, more out of reflex
than anything— one left over from my days in college. Unfortunately, I
remembered that it was a stupid reflex as my alarm dropped to the floor and
rolled away, still chirping. Now I had to get out of bed to shut the damn thing
off. The wood floor was cold as I chased my wayward alarm. When it rolled under
the bed, I contemplated fishing for it for about a second before I just
unplugged it and dived back in the bed.

BOOK: The Demon's Game
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