<h2>SHADOW PLAY</h2> <p><strong><span class="dropcap">A</span> FIVE-HEADED</strong> demon with the body of a giant earwig bears down on me. I leap high into the air and unleash a paralyzing spell. The demon stiffens, quivers wildly, then collapses. Its brittle legs shatter beneath the weight of its oversized body. Beranabus and Kernel move in on the helpless bug. I follow halfheartedly, stifling a yawn. Just another dull day at the office.</p> <p>One of the demon’s heads looks like a crow, another a vulture, while the rest look like nothing on Earth. It opens its birdlike beak and squirts a thick green liquid. Beranabus ducks swiftly, but the spit catches Kernel’s right arm. His flesh bubbles away to the bone. Cursing with more irritation than pain, he uses magic to cleanse his flesh and repair the damage.</p> <p>“We could do with a bit of help here,” Kernel growls as I stroll after them.</p> <p>“I doubt it,” I grunt, but break into a jog, just in case the demon’s tougher than we anticipated. Wouldn’t want to let the team down.</p> <p>The earwig unleashes another ball of spit at Beranabus. The elderly magician flicks a hand at the liquid, which rebounds over the demon’s heads. It screams with shock and then agony. Kernel, back to full health, freezes the acidic spit before it fries the creature’s brains. We want this ugly baby alive.</p> <p>I leap onto the demon’s back. Its shell is slimy beneath my bare feet. Stinks worse than a thousand sweaty armpits. But in this universe that doesn’t even begin to approach the boundaries of disgusting. I confronted a demon made of vomit a few months ago. The only way to subdue it was to suck on the strands of puke and sap it of its strength. Yum!</p> <p>This wasn’t a career move. I didn’t read a prospectus and go, “Hmm, drinking demon puke… I could do that!” Life just led me here. I’m a magician, and if you’re born with a power like mine, you tend to get drawn into the war with the Demonata hordes. I fought my destiny for a long time, but now I grudgingly accept it and get on with the job at hand.</p> <p>The earwig shudders, overcoming my paralyzing spell. It tries to buck me off, but I dig my toes in and drive a fist through the shell. I let magical warmth flood from my fingers. An electric shock crackles through the demon. It squeals, then collapses limply beneath me.</p> <p>Beranabus and Kernel face the demon’s vulture-like head and interrogate it. I stay perched on its back, hand immersed in its gooey flesh, green blood staining my forearm, nose crinkled against the stench.</p> <p>“What is it?” Beranabus shouts, punching the twisted head, then grabbing the beak. “What’s its real name? Where’s it from? How powerful is it? What are its plans?” He releases his hold and waits for an answer.</p> <p>The demon only moans in response. There are thousands of demon languages. I can’t speak any, but there are spells you can cast to understand them. I generally don’t bother. I’m sure this demon knows no more about the mysterious Shadow than any of the hundreds we’ve tormented over the last however many months that we’ve been on this wild goose chase.</p> <p>The Shadow is the name we’ve given to a demon of immense power. It’s a massive, pitch-black beast, seemingly stitched together out of patches of shadow, with hundreds of snake-like tentacles. Beranabus thinks it’s the greatest threat we’ve ever faced. Lord Loss—an old foe of mine—said the Shadow was going to destroy the world. When a demon master makes a prediction like that, only a fool doesn’t take note.</p> <p>We’ve been searching for the monster ever since we first encountered it in a cave, on a night when I lost my brother, but saved the world. We’ve been trying to find out more about it by torturing creatures like this giant earwig. We know the Shadow has assembled an army of demons, promising them the destruction of mankind and even the end of death itself. But we don’t know who it is, where it comes from, exactly how powerful it is.</p> <p>“This is your last chance,” Beranabus growls, taking a step back from the earwig. “Tell us what you know or we’ll kill you.”</p> <p>The demon makes a series of spluttering noises. Beranabus and Kernel listen attentively while I scratch my neck and yawn again.</p> <p>“The same old rubbish,” Kernel murmurs when the demon finishes.</p> <p>“Unless it’s lying,” Beranabus says without any real hope.</p> <p>The earwig babbles rapidly, panicked.</p> <p>“Spare you?” Beranabus muses, as if it’s a novel idea. “Why should we?”</p> <p>More squeaks and splutters.</p> <p>“Very well,” Beranabus says after a short pause. “But if you discover something and don’t tell us…” There’s no need for him to finish. The magician is feared in this universe of horrors. The earwig knows the many kinds of hell we could put it through.</p> <p>I withdraw my hand from the hole in the earwig’s shell and jump to the ground. We’re in a gloomy realm, no sun in the dark purple sky. The land around us is like a desert. I make my hand hard and jab it into the dry earth, over and over, cleaning the green blood from my skin. Kernel opens a window while I’m doing that. When I’m ready, we step through into the next zone, in search of more demons to pump for information about the elusive, ominous Shadow.</p> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>The Demonata #8: Wolf Island</b> by <b>Shan, Darren</b> Copyright © 2009 by Shan, Darren. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.