Dark Heirloom (An Ema Marx Novel Book 1), page 6
A white flag with a blue Nordic Cross hung over the mantle. More flags hung on brass poles on both sides of the fireplace. They were similar, except for the crosses which were each a different color.
“This place is like a museum.” I glanced at Jesu, who was patiently waiting by the entrance to another hallway. “Whose Coat of Arms is that?” I pointed to the crest mounted on the mantle below the white flag.
Jesu came to my side. “It belongs to the Neo-Draugrians.”
I studied it. A black winged serpent, looking rather like a medieval dragon, coiled around a sword on a background of red. The serpent stared with omniscient eyes, as if it didn’t approve of me staring back.
Jesu inclined his head, gesturing for me to follow. We went down another corridor and emerged into a kitchen. The smallest and simplest room so far, it was still bigger than my apartment in Chicago. Raw lumber made up the cupboards and countertops. A stainless steel island sat in the center. Deep cuts and red stains blemished the top.
The aroma of raw meat and sawdust hung in the air, awakening a lustful desire deep within, as well as knots of nausea. I salivated and choked at the same time.
“Jesu,” my voice was a faint whisper as I gripped the countertop. My chest heaved as the rusty salt and metallic smell of dried blood scraped against my throat. The stench was too overpowering.
Jesu grinned. “Thirsty?”
Is that what this is, thirst? I nodded. He crossed over to the stainless steel refrigerator and opened the door to reveal a mountain of full IV bags. He took one out. My eyes fixated on the red liquid. My pulse sped as adrenaline coursed through my veins.
I crouched low, fingers arched, lips raised to show my fangs, one foot back, ready to launch myself forward. I was prepared to kill Jesu for the bag in his hand, even though there were a hundred more in the fridge.
Jesu was reaching for a glass when he noticed me. He barked out a one-syllable laugh, then closed the cupboard without taking out a cup. Instead, he tossed the bag at me. I caught it in my mouth. As I backed into a corner, a low growl emanated from my throat.
Not taking my eyes off him, lest he try to steal my meal, I clutched my prize and tore the plastic open with my teeth. The crimson liquid spilled out in a rush and I suckled at the hole, drinking the bag dry. Casting the plastic aside as I finished, I lapped up the small pool that had collected on the floor and then licked my fingers.
Even though the salty, syrup flavor wasn’t very pleasing, a euphoric rush shot through my core. Blissful energy tingled through every fiber of my body, ending in orgasmic tremors, and I groaned with delight, wanting more, wanting to glut myself with it. I tackled the bag again, shredded it, and licked the insides.
Jesu whistled. My head jerked up and I glared at him as I hunched over the frayed bits of plastic. He waved a fresh bag of blood in the air. My eyes narrowed. I wanted it now. He tossed it at me and I caught it in my mouth again. I wanted to shred it open, but something made me hesitate. The way he whistled at me, a fast, sharp, three-toned whistle used to call a dog, sobered me out of my frenzy
What am I doing?
I was licking blood off the floor. I dropped the bag from my jaws and caught it in my hands, while choking back vomit. Scarlet stained my fingers and clothes. Forcing myself up, I approached the kitchen island and placed the bag on the counter, then pushed it as far away as possible.
Jesu cocked an eyebrow and flashed his sideways smile. “Done?”
I kept my voice steady despite the tremble of left-over adrenaline. “That was a dirty trick.”
“It was not a trick,” he whispered. “You are what you are.”
“I am not an animal.” As I slammed my fists on the counter, the steel cracked. A tiny fleck broke off and lodged into the flesh of my palm without so much as a prickle of feeling.
Maria startled me as she morphed into the kitchen. “You’re right, darling. You are not an animal, but you are a predator.”
“I’ve had enough.” I wanted to cry. My chest heaved, but no tears surfaced.
Maria took a step toward me, but Jesu stopped her, placing both hands on her shoulders. He whispered to her in Finnish. She hesitated, then nodded and went about her way, disappearing in the direction of the dining room.
I looked Jesu in the eyes. “No more touring, I’ve seen enough. I want to go to my room.”
He nodded once. Gently, he took my small hand between his larger blue ones and pulled the fleck out with one careful pinch. He dropped the metal shard on the counter and cupped my hand in his, allowing his thumbs to glide across my palm. The blue and white color scheme of our skin mixing together was surreal.
“Thanks,” I mumbled and slipped my hand out of his.
“This way,” he whispered.
We walked in silence as he led me down a passageway made of stone. It wound and turned, veering left, right, and left again. As we progressed, the castle aged before my eyes. The walls went from pale gray to navy blue-black, and the width shrank until Jesu and I were forced to walk in single file.
I removed the sunglasses he gave me so I could see. The walls gleamed and smelled of mildew. Water dripped from the ceiling, causing a deafening echo as it hit the ground. The air thickened and stood still. No light made its way in, and we stood surrounded by actual darkness, not just the kind my brain told me was supposed to be present.
I stopped in my tracks, wondering if we’d gone into a basement or cave. Maybe Jesu changed his mind and was now leading me out of the castle via the secret underground passageway.
“Everything all right?” he whispered.
“I can’t see,” I whispered back so my voice wouldn’t echo.
“Then do not use your eyes.”
Is this another trick?
Jesu continued walking. Hesitantly, I followed him, but it wasn’t easy. His scent blended with the mold in the air, and the sound of his footsteps bounced off the walls, coming from all directions at once. When he turned, I felt around with numb hands for the space where the walls gave way to a new direction. My face hit rock.
“It would be nice if you held my hand or something.” I mumbled.
“I did not think you liked being touched,” he snickered.
“I like running into wet walls even less.”
His hand found mine and I was glad I couldn’t feel more than light pressure as his thick, masculine fingers caressed mine.
“I will go easy on you for now, but you will have to learn to take care of yourself.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Jalmari is not the worst person out there. You should learn to defend yourself properly. Our kind can be rather hostile.”
“You don’t say.” My voice dripped with sarcasm. Why Jesu cared about my defensive abilities was a mystery.
He grumbled to himself in Finnish.
“Are you cussing at me in a language I don’t understand?”
He chuckled. “No, I was complaining.”
“You. You are so…”
“So what?” I demanded as he trailed off.
He chuckled. “Yes. I like it though. It’s cute.”
A yellow haze appeared at the end of the tunnel and brightened the thin corridor. Fresh air leaked in with the light. Jesu let go of my hand. The hall gave way to what I assumed was the fourth wing of the castle.
In ruins compared to the rest of the castle, the fourth wing was about the size of a small house made of black stone. To my left, four narrow gothic arched windows lined the top of a two-story wall. Stained glass kept most of sunlight out and I could almost see comfortably.
To my right was a small living room and a kitchen. Faded furniture sat in a square around a stone-aged television set. The kitchen contained bare essentials; a mini-fridge, a bar, and two frayed barstools. Between the kitchen and the living room,
“Here we are. Upstairs is the recreation room, and your room is over here.” He motioned for me to follow as he turned the corner to the left of the kitchen. Down the hallway stood three doors, one on each side, and one at the end.
“That is my room.” Jesu pointed to the end door. “And this one is yours.” He opened the door to the right and cleared his throat. “I mean it when I say ‘your’ room. You can do anything you like to it. Punch holes in the wall, if you wish. The rooms are soundproof, but the rest of the wing is not. However, we are pretty far out. It is usually difficult to hear the others from here and vice versa.”
“Thanks.” I forced a smile while stepping past Jesu into the room. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay so close to him. I wondered briefly if I made a mistake agreeing to switch rooms.
I glanced around and had to laugh. A plain twin bed, a nightstand, and a wardrobe with three feet crouched in the corner below a window the size of my head.
“What is so funny?” Jesu crossed his arms while leaning against the door frame, grinning.
“When you said something more comfortable I was thinking something a little more, um…”
“Fancy?” His smile stretched wide. “No, that is Jalmari’s idea of comfort. I think a space where you can relax and not be afraid to dirty the floor is more suitable.”
I chuckled. Jesu and Anthony could’ve been best friends. I couldn’t stop the frown that followed. Anthony. I miss him.
Jesu bit his lip and ran a hand through his black tresses. “You can go back to the first wing, if you prefer. I know my part of the castle is not really fit for a lady.”
“No.” I shook my head. “This is perfect. Thank you.”
He nodded. “I will give you some space.” He turned to leave.
He paused and faced me. “Yes?”
I tried to find the right words, to make him understand. “You’ve been kind to me, but now I’d like a few answers. Please.”
He nodded and closed the bedroom door. We sat on the twin-sized mattress and he folded his hands in his lap. “What would you like to know?”
Everything, but where to start? I sucked in a deep breath. “Vampires.” That seemed like the best place to attempt to make sense of the situation.
“Vampires,” Jesu repeated.
“How? Just… how?”
Jesu scanned the room for minute, and then he faced me. “How much do you know about evolution?”
I shrugged. “The basics, I guess. I’m a historian, not a scientist.”
Jesu cocked a brow. “So you are familiar with ancient history?”
A small grin tugged at the corners of my lips and I nodded. “Ancient, European, American. I majored in world history. The Baroque art in the dining hall was fascinating to see without the protection of fiber glass. Thank you for that.”
He grinned. “So you know the stories of the Nephilim?”
“The giant sons of Cain?” I shook my head. “I’ve heard of them, but I’m not Jewish, and I don’t study religion or mythology. Historians follow dates, events, and facts, not fantasies.”
“What if I told you the Nephilim were real at one point?”
I narrowed my gaze. “But they weren’t. Giants don’t exist.”
Jesu scoffed. “The Hebrew texts called them giants, fallen angels, and demons, amongst other things, but scientists have a very different view of the Nephilim. They say that when humans evolved, a related species evolved alongside them. The Nephilim had a strict flesh-only diet. Their hunting capabilities surpassed nature’s most ferocious predators. Before they died out, the Nephilim stood at the top of the food chain—higher than their human cousins.”
“You’re telling me there was a species of super humans?”
Jesu pursed his lips. “Mm, no. More like a bunch of animal-humans.”
“What happened to them?”
“They went extinct.”
“Many reasons. Humankind feared and, subsequently, hunted them, but mostly they were too aggressive to develop any form of coexistence, and thus were contributors to their own, doomed fate.”
“Why would such hostile creatures evolve?”
Jesu shrugged. “Why not? Primates are a very hostile group. Nephilim were just the most belligerent of the family.”
“Like a hawk among birds,” I offered.
“Right,” Jesu grinned.
“Okay, but how exactly do vampires fit in?”
“I’m getting to that.” His smile stretched wide. Sliding back, I crossed my legs and shifted my weight until I found a comfortable enough position. Jesu waited for me to settle in before he continued.
“Remember how I said Nephilim and humans were related? The two crossbred. It was very rare. The human was almost always raped, and usually killed and eaten after the mating.”
I scrunched my face. “That’s terrible.”
Jesu nodded. “Even more terrible were the lives of the women who lived to tell the tales. Some of them bore offspring.”
Jesu shook his head. “A mix. Um…”
I raised an eyebrow. “A hybrid?”
“Yes. Nephilim-human hybrids. These hybrid babies were called vampyres.” He pronounced the term as vamp-years, lending an old-world feel to the word.
“As the vampyre offspring grew older and increased in number, they figured out they could also reproduce through bite. Those who are born human and became a vampyre this way are called vampires to distinguish them from the biological hybrids.”
My back straightened and I squared my shoulders. “How does that work? How can a bite transform someone?”
Jesu pointed to my mouth. “It is the venom secreted though our fangs, a feature we inherited from the Nephelim. It works backward; instead of killing the victim, our venom heals them, and turns them into one of us. That is, if we do not kill the person first.”
I cocked my head and narrowed my eyes. “Really?”
“Jesu?” I leaned in.
“That is the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard.”
“It is the truth.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
I stood. “First of all, besides Neanderthals, Humans have been alone on this planet as the only Hominid since the Stone Age.”
“And yet, here we are.” Jesu also stood and faced me.
“Second, different species can’t crossbreed.”
“What about a mule? That is a horse and a donkey. There is also the liger, the zebroid, the donkra…”
“Third,” I interjected, “venom can’t transform someone into something else. It only poisons and kills.”
Jesu began to speak, but closed his mouth.
“Fourth, none of that explains how you guys can fly and walk through walls. And lastly, what does any of that have to do with me being here?”
Jesu opened his lips again, but no words came out. After a few moments of silence, he closed his mouth and paced around the room. “You know what, I have not the faintest idea.”
“About which part,” I grumbled.
“All of it, really. It has been some time since I read my race’s history. But I can assure you, evolutionarily, it is all true.” He pulled a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He shook his head and walked out of the room, disappearing around the corner.
I listened. When I couldn’t hear him anymore, I stepped out of my room and glanced around. The fourth wing was empty. I was alone, and presented with the perfect opportunity to find an escape route.
I decided to explore the wing, starting with the door across from my room. The wooden frame gave way to a bathroom, similar to the one I had in the first wing, except this one harbored a little grime and loose hair.
I ventured into the kitchen and living room next, and used my newly enhanced vision to study e
I went over it a second time, worried my numb skin might have missed something, but I still came up empty. Standing in the center of the living room with my hands on my hips, I scanned the area one last time.
Soft footsteps echoed from the corridor. I crouched, not sure who, or what, it was. The stench of cat fur eased my nerves and I sighed as thin whiskers peaked from behind the corner, followed by a tiny black face and big green eyes.
“Hey little guy,” I cooed at the cat. “How’d you find me way out here?”
“Meow?” Said the cat as it slithered over and rubbed its fur against my leg. I wished I could feel it, it would have been soothing. I bent to pat the animal on its head anyway.
“Do you know where any secret passages are? Want to help me look?” Straightening, I thought more seriously about the matter. If I built a secret passageway in my own castle, where would I put it?
I’d put it in it my bedroom in case I was ever under attack while sleeping.
Okay, a bedroom… Jalmari’s bedroom, to be exact. Would Jalmari need an escape route when he could just fly through the walls? He would if he ever had to escape in the daytime.
Yet I wasn’t about to seek out Jalmari’s room and risk a confrontation. He couldn’t be the only one with a secret escape. As Jalmari’s brother, Jesu was also a prince, and would also need a way out if in danger.
With my mind made up, I dashed down the hall to the door next to my room. I placed a hand on the knob, but hesitated before turning it. The door gave easily and slowly swung inward. Keeping my feet behind the threshold, I leaned into the room and glanced around. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. I wasn’t sure what I expected to see on the other side, but it wasn’t this.
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