destined darkness excerpt
NEPHILIM’S DESTINY: BOOK 1
I recognized the freeze in the air the moment I opened the pharmacy’s door. Fear. A fear so cold that, if the chill got any stronger my weird next-to-useless empathic magic would manifest it in full and I’d see my breath — while no one else would see theirs.
I fought a shiver and swore under my breath. I hadn’t even gotten to the precinct to start my shift, but it looked like my patrol was starting right now. This kind of fear could only mean the pharmacy was being robbed.
The cashier, Pam, a middle-aged woman who’d been happy to see me from the moment I’d moved into the neighborhood two years ago, flashed me a smile. It lit up her heart-shaped face and crinkled around her eyes like it always did. She was completely oblivious, which meant whatever was happening had to be at the back of the store.
“Essie, the usual?” she asked, reaching for the box of nicotine patches on the shelf behind her.
“Yeah, but I need to get something from Abe first.” Maybe the pharmacist was worried about something else, or maybe he was angry. Sometimes a person’s rage manifested to me as cold. But it was stupid to try to convince myself that the cold biting my cheeks was anything but fear. Sometimes I had no idea what the change in temperature meant, but this was perfectly clear.
Except I couldn’t just tell Pam to leave the building and call 911. Not without having to explain how I knew about the robbery. And no way in hell was that going to happen. Which meant I had to call it in where Pam couldn’t see me, and keep control of the situation to ensure she, Abe, and anyone else in the pharmacy were safe until backup arrived.
“I’m glad you quit,” she said, “but maybe you should consider weaning yourself off of these, too?”
“I’ll ask Abe about that,” I said as I hurried to the farthest aisle, so she wouldn’t see me pull out my phone to call for backup.
“Two years is a long time,” she called after me.
And it would be if I’d actually been using the patches to quit smoking, but I wasn’t. They were the only thing that seemed to partially ease the constant, painful buzz in my body that had manifested two and a half years ago. It was like I was always in contact with a low voltage electric fence or something. Weaning myself off the patches wasn’t even close to being an option. I’d go crazy within the week. Hell, probably a few days.
When the buzz had first started, I’d been terrified it meant I was developing another magical ability, something I wouldn’t be able to hide. But when nothing had appeared — thank God — and the hum had lasted more than two weeks, making it impossible to concentrate, or sleep, or do my job, or have a normal conversation with anyone, I’d started looking for a cure, anything to make it stop.
I’d tried everything legal and illegal — not going insane was worth jeopardizing my job with the Union City police department — but nicotine was the only thing that helped, and thank God I’d stumbled across it.
I also had no idea why it had started and couldn’t just search the internet for answers since I was a nephilim, half angel and half human, and even if I was supposed to exist, there was little to no information on my type of supernatural being. And I didn’t want to start poking around and raise suspicion. I didn’t know what the agents of the Joined Parliament would do with me if they found me. Probably lock me up or execute me as a war criminal for a war that had happened twenty-three years ago that I hadn’t even been involved in. Hell, I’d barely been seven twenty-three years ago. Or worse, they’d lock me in a laboratory and test me like a lab rat because I wasn’t like the other nephilim.
Twenty-three years ago, Michael and Rafael had freed Lucifer and led an uprising of angels to cleanse the earth of the human parasite and — unbeknownst to humans — all non-angel supernatural beings as well. They had found a dark magic that ensured the unnatural conception and rapid maturation of thousands of nephilim, and had grown their army within months. Because of the magic creating them, these nephilim were ferocious, mindless soldiers, more beast than human or angel.
The fact that I wasn’t a mindless beast had to prove that I wasn’t made during the war, that I was somehow conceived naturally even if the angelic powers-that-be claimed it was impossible. Except I wasn’t sure that little detail would be enough to protect me, and I wasn’t planning on revealing myself just to find out.
The nephilim had slaughtered thousands of humans and angels before Gabriel, the leader of the Angelic Defense, decided to make a deal with the supers to join the fight. No more living in the shadows, representation in government, and, as along as they abided by the laws they helped create, they’d be left to live in peace.
So now everyone knew about supernatural beings.
And nephilim were the new monster-in–the-dark to be hated and feared.
Leaving me to live my life as a normal nothing-to-see-here human who only wanted to serve and protect.
Just, jeez, did it have to be before I’d had my first coffee and replaced my nicotine patch?
I pulled my phone from my purse and eased up to the end of the aisle near the back of the store. I wasn’t carrying my off-duty sidearm — my neighborhood was pretty safe so I usually didn’t — but that didn’t mean I couldn’t monitor the situation or talk to the robber and buy time for backup to arrive.
In the convex overhead mirror, my aisle and the store’s two others stretched toward the front. The pharmacy counter sat forty-five degrees to the aisles, recessed to my left with its narrow shelves, and a door to the stockroom leading to the only other exit in the store. A rake-thin man with pale grayish skin, ripped jeans, and a dark blue hoodie — the hood down revealing greasy brown hair — pointed a revolver at Abe, Pam’s middle-aged, balding husband.
My empathic cold billowed, making my teeth chatter, and the buzz in my body grew stronger, now tiny nips under my skin indicating it wouldn’t be long before I really needed a new patch.
“Come on, come on,” the guy said. He jerked a step closer to the counter, his movements twitchy, his breath fast, and a sheen of sweat on his forehead catching the glare of the fluorescent light. It was either nerves or he was coming down from some kind of high. Probably both.
Great. Served me right for thinking whatever trouble I found myself in while off duty wouldn’t require a weapon.
I inched back from the edge of the aisle, hoping a few feet would make a difference and he wouldn’t be able to hear me, and called in the armed robbery. Then I shoved my phone into my pocket, set my purse on the floor, and slunk back into position.
“The Divifend, too.” The guy raked a hand through his messy locks and glanced over his shoulder — thankfully not thinking to look up at the mirror. “I don’t see Divifend.”
Shit. If his high of choice was zip, a concoction of the magical immune enhancing drug Divifend combined with an amphetamine, the situation just got more dangerous. The mixture of upper and magic gave the user an incredible high heightened with the exhilaration of spurts of magically enhanced strength, speed, and vitality. But the low, if it didn’t kill you, came with aggressive mania and sometimes violent hallucinations.
“We didn’t receive our order yesterday,” Abe said, shoving a plastic bag over the counter toward the robber. It was likely true. Divifend wasn’t easy to make and with a slew of recent robberies in town, it likely meant the supplier was working double-time to make up for the lost dosages. And that still meant some cancer patients right now were going without and that pissed me off as much as this idiot pointing a gun at Abe.
“This is all we have,” Abe added.
“No, you’re lying.” The guy waved his gun, his breath coming faster, his movements jerkier.
“I’m not. We didn’t get it.” Abe’s fear deepened, so cold now it felt like my skin was burning.
“Where is it?” The guy slammed a hand on the counter, his voice screeching and desperate. “Where’s the Divifend?”
He was going to lose it and no way in hell was I going to let him shoot Abe.
“Hey.” I rounded the corner and raised my hands. It was one of the stupidest things I could have done, given that I was unarmed, but all I needed was to buy time. Less than seven minutes.
The guy wrenched to face me, pointing the revolver in my direction, but his hand was shaking too much for him to keep his aim. His eyes were bloodshot and wild, his face sunken and pockmarked. Definitely zip. And definitely coming down.
“He has to have it,” the guy said.
“How about you put the gun down and we talk about that.”
“Talk about that?” The guy’s breaths were now short, desperate gasps, and he slapped his head with his free hand. “I’m not going to talk about that.” His gaze whipped back to Abe. “He’s hiding it.”
The guy leaped over the counter, faster than humanly possible, grabbed Abe around the neck, and shoved the gun’s muzzle against Abe’s temple. “Tell him to tell me where it is.”
Frost formed on the backs of my hands, Abe’s fear so strong the emotion was manifesting on my body. I forced myself to stay put. I didn’t have a gun and jumping in to tackle the guy risked Abe getting shot. Seven minutes was all I needed. Hell, probably six minutes now.
“How about you let the pharmacist go,” I said. “I can get you help.”
“I don’t want help. I want Divifend.” The guy’s grip around Abe’s neck tightened.
The pharmacist gasped, fighting to breathe, his wide eyes locked on me, begging me to save him.
“I want the drug now or I swear—”
“I’ll get it for you,” I said, telling him what he wanted to hear and praying it would calm him down.
“You better,” he snarled.
“But you have to put the gun down.”
“Do you think I’m stupid?”
A girl could hope — even if it was ridiculous to think that without a weapon I could convince him to put his down. But I still needed to get the gun off of Abe, so I did another stupid thing in the “don’t be an idiot cop” book. I took a step forward and said, “Point your gun at me, then. You can only keep it pointed at one of us and I know where Abe’s shipment is.”
Abe’s fear grew, frosting over my wrists, and I ground my teeth, fighting to keep my expression even. This guy could mistake any twitch as an attack and lose his shit, and I didn’t want a chance of that happening until I had him in the alley behind the store. Six minutes? Probably more like five and a half. Of course, more cops showing up might set the guy off, so the faster I got him into the alley, the better.
“I saw the delivery guys drop it out back just before I arrived,” I said.
The guy dug his gun’s muzzle into Abe’s temple. “I knew you were a liar. I should shoot—”
“Abe doesn’t know about it,” I said as fast as I could to stop him from shooting. “He was in here with you when it arrived. I can show you.” Oh, please work. Just get away from Abe. I took another step toward him. “Point your gun at me and I’ll show you.”
“You better.” He shoved Abe, slamming him against the narrow shelves with a force that made the pharmacist cry out in pain before sagging to the floor gasping. “Show me.”
The gun jerked back to me and the buzz in my body crackled stronger, stinging under Abe’s frost, now up to my elbows.
“It’s out the back.” I eased through the half-door at the end of the counter while the guy glared at me, his body trembling. I drew open the door to a small, packed stockroom. “Through here to the back door.”
“Come on. Come on.” The guy jerked forward, his magical speed snapping him a step then stalling out, making him stagger the final two. “Stop moving so fucking slow.”
He shoved me into the stockroom, the force knocking me off my feet and crashing me to the concrete floor.
“I said move faster.” He clawed at his scalp and the gun dipped away from me.
I scrambled to my feet. If I jumped now, I might be able to disarm him. There was still at least five minutes before help could arrive and I’d hoped to stall him here in the stockroom, since once we were out in the alley he’d know I’d lied about the delivery.
But another burst of speed hit him before I could lunge at him and he shoved me again. I struggled to keep my balance, slamming into the back door and managing at the last minute to hit the crash bar. I stumbled into the alley, smacking against the concrete wall opposite the door, with the robber close at my heels, and a blast of cold hit me so hard the frost swept over my face and neck, defying the early morning sunlight and late-spring warmth.
I wrenched around and my thoughts stuttered, unable to fully comprehend what I was looking at. Swirling, viscous smoke roughly in the shape of a man churned a few feet away, and a body crushed almost beyond recognition lay on the ground before it. Blood pooled around the corpse and painted the alley walls. A sickening sense of power and darkness swept over me, making my stomach want to instantly reject this morning’s cereal, and the buzz in my body ignited into an inferno.
The robber screamed, his eyes wild, and he fired three shots at the—
I had no idea what it was. It didn’t look like any supernatural being I’d ever come across. Best guess was that it was a demon, but it didn’t have the tell-tale heat, which meant casting a divine light strike might not work. And from its size and emanating power, if this was a demon, it should have been radiating heat like a furnace.
The guy’s shots went wide, his panic making him shake, and the monster lashed out a smoky tentacle. It snapped around his neck, slammed him against the pharmacy’s wall, and smashed his skull with a sickening crack. The gun dropped from the guy’s hand, clattering to the asphalt at the edge of the blood pool. For a ridiculous split-second, I actually considered going for the weapon. If it had been fully loaded before the guy had fired, then there’d be three rounds remaining. But I didn’t even know if normal ammunition would hurt this thing, since I doubted the robber’s was enspelled. Hell, I had no idea if an enspelled bullet would hurt it.
I turned to run, but a whip of darkness snapped for me. I twisted out of the way, somehow managing to avoid a pile of rotting boxes and not trip, and forced myself to run faster. Another whip flew toward me. I twisted again, lost my balance, and careened into the alley wall. The creature howled, the sense of nausea deepening, making me gag, and three whips shot toward me.
I dodged one, but two more seized my leg. I hit the asphalt, managing to protect my face with my hands, and was tossed back down the alley toward the monster’s two victims. Half of my back and right shoulder slammed into the alley wall and searing pain screamed through my chest and neck. My knees hit the ground and I fought to stand and run. Hell, I fought to just breathe past the agony.
The monster swept toward me, and I scrambled back, unable to get up on my feet, and instead falling onto my butt. My hand slapped into something warm and sticky. The blood from the crushed victim. Bile burned my throat, but now I was within grabbing distance of the gun.
Two more tendrils swiped at me. I threw myself to the side and snatched the weapon as the tendrils seized me around the chest. The monster jerked me up and agony screamed through me, threatening my consciousness. I gasped for air. The buzzing in my body joined the screaming pain and I felt like I was going to light on fire.
The monster jerked me closer, its writhing mass licking against my body, curling around my neck, and sliding over my face. I gasped out the spell that summoned a divine light strike. My very human level of power warmed the palm of my free hand and I slapped it against the tentacle around my chest.
White light snapped from my hand.
The monster hissed, the blast not even strong enough to make it cry out, and it slammed me against the alley wall, shooting agony through my chest, then jerked me close again. Its sense of power and darkness grew, and so did the buzz within me.
I fought to breathe, to think past the pain, but I couldn’t break free. What little divine power I possessed wasn’t strong enough. The only thing I had left was the gun. At least I was at point blank range. Please, God, let a normal bullet kill it or something, anything.
The darkness screamed and more smoke swept around me, pouring into my mouth, suffocating me. I fired again and again and again, pulling the trigger even though I knew I was out of ammo, but the thing kept pouring into me, choking, engulfing, and making me want to scream and vomit. Except I couldn’t get enough breath for either.
Far away, someone yelled.
A gunshot roared.
The monster screamed and jerked.
Three more shots, louder and closer, and the monster howled.
The darkness surged out of me, dropping me to the ground, face-first into the viscous puddle of blood, and flew away.
My stomach churned, the creature’s nausea and darkness clinging to me, and the alley around me spun.
Two sets of feet pounded toward me, but I couldn’t raise my head high enough to see who’d come to my rescue.
“Shit, Shaw.” That sounded like Brant Keels, an officer in my precinct. “I couldn’t see you behind it. If I’d known you were there, I wouldn’t have fired.”
Brant’s partner, a rookie whose name I couldn’t remember, knelt beside me and called for EMTs on his radio. His pale eyes were wide. He reached to touch me, his hand shaking, but stopped as if he was afraid to. “What was that?”
“I have no idea,” I gasped. And I had no idea why it hadn’t bashed my brains out like it had with the robber. Which scared the shit out of me.