Dark Becoming (An Ema Marx Novel Book 3), page 1
Dark Becoming. Copyright © 2015 by J.D. Brown
All rights reserved and preserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission of the author.
Printed in the United States of America.
First Published in the United States of America by NightMare Publishing.
Second Edition, August 2015
Cover Art Design Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Brown
Edited by: CarrieRO and Valerie Haley
Layout and Interior Design by: NightMare Publishing
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, settings, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for the author or third-party content.
NightMare Publishing logo is a trademark ™ of NightMare Publishing USA.
To my niece, Knox,
Your mother didn’t know at the time— I’ve actually been keeping it a secret until this very moment– but I was beginning to research pregnancy for the sole purpose of this book when your grandmother called and gave me the wonderful news that you were on your way to this world. Thanks for the hands-on experience— you have impeccable timing, kiddo. Watching you grow into a young lady will always be our family’s greatest treasure.
The bullet missed my eye by two inches. It flew past my temple, grazed a few strands of hair, and struck Jesu’s Adam’s apple.
Time slowed. I turned to face him and my heart stopped at the sight of blood trickling down his neck. His arms fell away from my waist and he staggered back one, two steps. He lifted a hand to the wound, his emerald gaze widened in shock. He took a third step back—and toppled over the edge of the loft. My breath hitched as I flung my hands into the air to grab him, but I was too late.
Jesu hit the dirt floor of the barn with a heavy thump and I screamed. I dove onto my stomach and scrambled to the ledge. Digging my fingernails into the wooden floorboards, I glanced at the scene below, heart pounding.
Jesu had landed on his back, his arms and legs splayed, his long hair tossed across his face. His eyes were open underneath, but they didn’t move—didn’t blink. He lay so still. Too still. My blood ran cold. Terror erupted from my lungs.
My cry drew a chorus of pops and snaps. Frantic, I glanced around the empty space, not understanding the strange sounds until, from the shadowy corners of the moldy barn, emerged a group of nude Alpan vampires. Several more dropped from the ceiling, shifting from arachnid to humanoid form in mid-air. King Nikolas’ soldiers. They responded to my shouts of distress, inching closer to Jesu with looks of concern.
I need to get to Jesu. My hands trembled as I pushed to my knees and crawled toward the ladder. My nerves shook too much to phase or fly. Where did that shot come from?
My fingers almost reached the first rung when a hand gripped my shoulder and yanked me through the air. I landed on my spine, hitting the rickety loft floor. A cloud of dust rose from the impact, blurring my vision. The silhouette of a man appeared through the haze. He straddled my stomach and used his weight to pin me in place. Pale ring-clad fingers gripped my neck and squeezed. Two blades sliced the skin under his choking grip and a searing pain cut through my flesh. A wet stickiness oozed over my neck and soaked the collar of my shirt. Gasping under the pain, I jabbed my fingers between his and tried with all my might to pry off his hands. Feeling the odd shape of his rings, each one fused to the next, I realized he wore some sort of brass knuckles weapon with a knife fixed to the underside. The man wasn’t just trying to choke me to death… he meant to sever my head. The dust settled and my gaze flew over his black leather attire. His chin-length mass of thick black hair fell over his face, obscuring his identity, but that didn’t matter. I’d recognize him anywhere. His methods were entirely too familiar.
“Jalmari,” I grunted. “You bastard.”
A breeze blew in from the missing portion of the upper barn wall and lifted his hair, confirming what I already knew. His dark green irises shone in the moonlight and he grinned, flashing each one of his razor sharp fangs.
Every ounce of fear from a moment ago transformed into red-hot fury. I lifted my knees and pushed my feet against the floor, rolling us both onto our sides. I willed myself to de-solidify, but Jalmari’s grip kept me firmly in the third dimension. He levitated, still holding me by the neck. The blades cut deep, lodging under my flesh as my toes left the floor and my weight became a disadvantage. Not having any other choice, I used my ability to levitate with him, countering gravity to lessen the death grip around my windpipe. Together, we rose through the collapsed side of the roof, out into the night. I glanced down just in time to see the Alpan soldiers clambering up the ladder. They were very small and blurry in the periphery of my vision.
Jalmari snickered. “They cannot help you, rat.”
I rolled my eyes at the derogatory taunt, but didn’t respond. For one thing, his weapon still carved into my throat and I worried speech would accelerate further damage. Secondly, he was wrong. The Alpans could shape-shift, which meant they could turn into birds and peck Jalmari’s stupid eyes out. I wasn’t going to wait for their help, though. I could be headless by then. My throat swelled as the blades neared my trachea. The edges of my vision darkened to a hazy gray and my lungs burned in protest. I was going to pass out from lack of oxygen before he killed me.
No, this isn’t how it ends.
Adrenaline coursed through my veins, and the monster that lived in my gut stretched an angry clawed hand against my insides, begging for release. I swung my right leg up as hard and fast as possible. My knee connected with the crotch of Jalmari’s pants. His grip lessened, but Jalmari was a real champ. He grimaced, cussed, and curled forward, but he did not let go.
One more push while he’s off his game. I released his wrists, relying on my ability to fly, and shifted my arms into bat wings. I knew from past experimentation that a partial shift would produce wings proportionate to a human body instead of to a tiny bat. That meant giant wings with incredible strength.
Astonishment flickered across Jalmari’s features as my finger bones elongated and my skin stretched into large webbed membranes. My muscles tore apart and then reformed. Leaner. Stronger. I reveled in their power. In one swift move, I brought my wings together in the center and then punched Jalmari square in the stomach. Before he could react, I opened my wings wide, forcing his arms apart.
The blades in his hands tore away from my neck and I gasped in air. My breath caught and I coughed horribly before regaining the ability inhale. Instead of flapping my giant bat wings, I continued to levitate to reduce fatigue. The threat of fainting slowly subsided with each calming breath. Once I regained my bearings, I glanced about in search of that jerk, but Jalmari had disappeared. He must have phased after I punched him. I furrowed my brow and growled.
“Show yourself, coward!”
He might have been invisible, but nothing could mask his scent. Traces of nitrogen sweetened the air and I rose higher to scan the castle grounds. Yet, the commotion inside the barn tugged at my heartstrings. A group had gathered around Jesu and fussed over him. I wanted to be there, by his side. A few large crows sat atop the more solid parts of the barn roof, watching me. Were they Aplan vampires in disguise? If so, what the heck where they waiting for? Several more soldiers could
A slight glimmer rippled in the periphery of my vision, about ten feet away. It was such a small, quick movement, I wasn’t certain I saw it. I narrowed my gaze, hoping to catch sight of it again. Jalmari suddenly appeared where the ripple had been, fangs bared, fists held out in front of him. The brass knuckles were flipped around so the razor-sharp blades lined the outside of his knuckles. He charged, shooting through the air like a bullet.
I flung myself to the side just in time, and hit his back with my wings, shoving him a good distance away. I hoped he would hit a tree or something, but Jalmari had thousands of years of training under his belt. He stopped his trajectory, faced me, and then charged again, swinging his bladed hand in a lethal punch aimed at my face. I ducked out of the way, but not before the knife nicked my cheek. Jalmari doubled back, swinging his left fist. I phased and scattered my essence to fly around either side. Behind him, I drew myself together and solidified. He turned, his brow furrowed tight, his lip curled in a fierce growl, and I decided to use the last trick I had left. I shifted my head into a wolf’s.
Jalmari hesitated as I gave a face to my inner monster. My skull cracked apart and reformed in record speed. My jaw elongated and my ears moved upward. Fur sprouted from my skin. I looked like a nightmare-ish combination of Anubis and Isis. Jalmari gasped in disbelief. The scent of fear rolled off him in waves. I took advantage of his faltering, snapped my jaws around his shoulder, and flung him into the air. He smacked into the outer side wall of the barn and fell to the ground.
The Alpan soldiers flooded the area and circled him. One of the soldiers aimed a taser gun at Jalmari’s thigh and fired. Jalmari convulsed as the current took control of his nervous system. I cringed at the sight, but couldn’t help yipping in excitement over the victory. Took them long enough!
I lowered—shifting my head and arms back into their normal vampyre form—until the soles of my sneakers touched the grass. Then I raised my hands into the air, palms forward, to show I was done fighting and they could gladly take over.
“Th-this… isn’t… over,” Jalmari sputtered. “You will… die… rat.”
The current from the taser finished its round and a second soldier strapped a pair of electronic cuffs to Jalmari’s wrists and ankles. I’ve been on the receiving end of those cuffs before, and I almost felt bad for him.
“I think you’re wrong, leech.”
Jalmari growled, but he couldn’t cause any more harm with a dozen taser guns pointed at him. The adrenaline in my system ebbed, replaced by the burning ache in my neck. But something far more important pushed to the forefront of my mind. Jesu. I broke away from the circle and ran toward the barn doors.
“Warten sie,” someone yelled in German. “Stop!”
I ignored them. More Alpans filled the doorway, headed outside. They also shouted for me to stop, but I phased through them, refusing to listen until I reached the spot where Jesu fell. The space was empty. My lip trembled as I faced the men by the door.
“Where is he?”
They stared back, their expressions somber. The majority of them didn’t speak English, and I couldn’t fault them for that, but frustration and fear sent my judgment to a dark place. I fisted my hands and dug all ten fingernails into the skin of my palms.
“Where is Jesu?”
A man pushed past the line of clueless idiots and approached. “Please come with me, Fräulein Ema.”
“Where is Prince Jesu!”
He paused and pursed his lips in a moment of uncertainty.
Dry tears stung the back of my eyes and a lump welled in my throat, making it difficult to swallow. “Where?” I whispered. “Please.”
The man sighed. “Vee took him inside to—”
I didn’t hear anything after that. My essence dispersed as I raced out of the barn. Despite the warm night air rushing past my molecules, a sickening chill churned my invisible stomach. I considered solidifying just long enough to vomit, but I fought the urge. No time. I have to see Jesu.
I flew over the shallow creek separating most of the countryside from King Nikolas’ back yard, scaled the stone wall surrounding the castle, and passed through the gigantic double doors. Inside the grand foyer, I pulled my essence together and solidified. Judging by the swarm of soldiers dashing around, word of Jalmari’s attack had already reached the Alpan king. People’s shoulders knocked against mine as they rushed from one place to the next. I bit my lip and levitated, looking for a familiar face.
Nikolas appeared from the hallway at the back of the room, standing a full two feet taller than anyone else. His men moved aside, allowing ample space for the breadth of his shoulders as he marched into the foyer. Taking advantage of the opening, I lowered to stand on the marble floor directly in front of him and placed a firm hand on his forearm. Nikolas stopped and wrinkled his strong brow.
“Jesu,” I said. “Where?”
His golden irises lingered longer than they should have. I couldn’t allow myself to discern the meaning behind it, afraid of what I might find. Sorrow? Pity? Nikolas nodded over his shoulder to indicate the main corridor from which he just came. “Take the hall at the end of the ballroom. Make a right at the T.”
“What in the world is going on?” Maria’s voice called from some place above. The stairs, I guessed. I didn’t check. I pushed past Nikolas and hustled through the main corridor, into the ballroom. My disregard didn’t discourage Maria. She caught up and then kept pace as I rounded the hall at the end of the room. It stood hidden behind a partial wall, but I’d been down this section of the castle before. Nikolas’ office was located in the same vestibule, at the opposite end from where we headed. The corridor ended at a plain blue door, and I stopped.
“Ema, what happened?” Maria demanded.
“Jesu was shot.”
She stiffened, her brow pinched in disbelief. “What?”
I didn’t elaborate. My mind raced too much to relay the details. Instead, I sucked in a breath, grasped the knob, and nudged the door open. The room housed a small infirmary with four hospital beds pushed against the walls. Jesu lay on the bed closest to the door. A soldier stood next to him, dabbing a damp cloth along Jesu’s neck and collarbone. The soldier glanced at us, but didn’t speak.
A dry lump scratched my throat as my breath vacated my lungs and did not return. Jesu’s eyelids were closed. He didn’t move. My ribs grew heavy and seemed to shrink, tightening around my swelling heart.
I silently counted the number of pulses in the room. One, two, three… Four! Yes, Jesu’s heart was beating. Its rhythm sounded a little slower than ours, but not by much. It beat, and that was all that mattered.
“He’s breathing,” Maria added with a sigh.
I watched his chest rise and fall, and felt myself smile. Jesu’s alive.
Maria took my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, but when I glanced at her, I noticed the worry lines etching her forehead. The knot welling in my stomach echoed the expression on her face. If Jesu’s okay, then why isn’t he awake? Something wasn’t right.
Maria let go and went to the bedside. “Why isn’t he on an I.V.? This man needs blood.”
The German vampire didn’t say anything. Instead, he picked up a small metal pan from the counter and showed it to Maria. A tiny object rolled along the bottom of the pan and then clinked as it hit the side and came to a stop.
The bullet, I realized. They removed it.
Maria peered inside the pan and her features softened in understanding. “It was a tranquillizer dart. He’s just sleeping.”
A weight lifted from my chest and I sighed in relief. “So he’s going to be all right?”
She looked at Jesu and nodded. “The wound has already healed. He might be a little groggy when he wakes, and I still think we should get some fresh blood into his system.” Maria paused and glanced at me. “We sh
I lifted a hand to my neck and winced at the dull ache. The gashes had already scabbed and would finish healing in a few minutes. “I’ve actually seen hell. This is nothing.”
Maria chuckled and then snatched the damp cloth out of the soldier’s hand and took over cleaning Jesu’s neck. The soldier returned the metal tray to the table and then left. I went to the other side of the bed, opposite Maria, and glanced at the man I’d fallen in love with.
I never saw Jesu sleep before. Vampyres and vampires didn’t require REM. We regenerated fast enough without it. Jesu looked surprisingly peaceful. His long velvet black hair fanned against the pillow, his breath slow and even. I wondered if he dreamed, and would he remember it when he woke up? Jalmari must have packed some powerful sedatives into the dart to keep Jesu unconscious this long. Of course Jalmari drugged Jesu. He didn’t want his little brother in the way when he attacked me. Jesu would have tried to stop him.
I rested my palm against Jesu’s ice-blue cheek and gently traced his mouth with my thumb. His eyelids fluttered, but didn’t open. Though I hated Jalmari, I also loathed coming between brothers. If Jesu’s latest premonition was correct, then I carried Jalmari’s baby. I winced at the thought. Jalmari didn’t know I was pregnant. Would the knowledge have made a difference?
I didn’t deserve Jesu, but my heart was selfish. I bent and pressed my lips to his in a quick kiss. “Hurry back to me. I can’t do this without you.”
The infirmary door swung open. Bridget stepped inside and her gaze landed on Jesu. She blanched, which said something since her skin was normally the color of snow. “I heard he got shot, but I didn’t believe it.”
“Tranquilizer dart,” Maria said. A particular sharpness underscored her tone and she narrowed her gaze.
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