Born in DarknessJ. Kenner
Born In Darkness
The Redemption Chronicles, Book 1
About Born In Darkness
Lost In Shadows: Chapter One
J. Kenner Series In KU
Also by J. Kenner
About the Author
About Born In Darkness
The Redemption Chronicles, Book 1
Fight and redeem myself … refuse and suffer an eternity of torment.
I intended to kill him—to avenge my sister by destroying the vile human who’d tortured and broken her. My plan was simple. Foolproof.
Except somehow I ended up dead.
Now the joke’s on me, because I’ve been resurrected as an assassin and given a choice: Fight the forces of darkness and redeem myself … or refuse and suffer an eternity of torment.
The choice seems clear. But I’m unprepared for the depth of the evil I must face. And I’m unsettled by my attraction to the darkly sensual man whose words seduce me, but who is hiding secrets of his own.
All I know is what I’m told. I’m afraid I’m a pawn in a much larger game where I can’t tell my enemies from my allies. I just hope it’s a game I can win.
The Redemption Chronicles:
Born in Darkness
Lost in Shadows
Surrender to Dawn
Originally published as Tainted, Torn, and Turned, this trilogy has been lightly edited for this re-release.
Born in Darkness
The Redemption Chronicles, Book 1
Copyright © 2009, 2013, 2018 Julie Kenner
Originally published as Tainted in mass market format by The Penguin Group
Cover design by Michele Catalano, Catalano Creative
Cover image by: acidgrey/Bigstockphoto.com
ISBN Digital: 978-1-940673-92-9
ISBN Print: 978-1-940673-93-6
Published by Martini & Olive
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or establishments is solely coincidental.
. . . And by her hand that which would be open may be closed . . .
—The Prophecy of the Orb
Can I just say that dying sucks? All that bullshit about seeing the light and having this final moment of inner peace, blah, blah, blah. It’s crap.
Dying is messy and terrifying and it hurts like hell.
I ought to know. After all, I was the one on that basement floor in a puddle of my own blood and bile. And there was no peace, no light, no anything. Nothing except the ice-cold knowledge that the sins I’d racked up in the last twelve or so hours were more than sufficient to push me through the gates of hell.
Forget everything else I’d done in my twenty-six years on this earth, good and bad. You go out planning to kill a man—even a man as vile as Lucas Johnson—and your fate is pretty much sealed.
From a practical standpoint, the moment of death is a little bit late to start getting all profound and reflective. As they say, what’s done is done. But that doesn’t matter, because even if you’re the least introspective person on the planet, you still go through the whole Psych 101 rigmarole. You tell yourself that maybe you should have said your bedtime prayers once in a while. You wonder if all those torture-porn horror movies you watched while your boyfriend copped a feel weren’t actually a sneak peek into what hell had to offer.
In other words, you get scared.
When you’re living, you might tell God to take a flying leap for putting your mother six feet under when you were only fourteen. For leaving you with a stepfather who decided to cuddle up with Jack Daniel’s because he no longer had a loving wife in his bed. For leaving you in charge of a pigtailed little half-sister who thought you hung the moon.
And for making you arrogant enough to swear that you’d protect that precious kid no matter what, even though that wasn’t a promise you could keep. Not when there are monsters like Lucas Johnson trolling the earth. Monsters who suck the life from little girls.
For all those reasons, you might turn your back on God, and think you’re oh-so-righteous for doing it. But you’d be wrong.
Trust me. I know.
I know, because even as my life faded, the fires of hell nipped at my toes.
In the end, I got lucky. But then again, luck is all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
I woke in total darkness, so out of sorts that I was convinced I’d pulled on the wrong skin along with my blue jeans. Couple that with the fact that anvils were about to split my head wide open, and I think it’s fair to say that I wasn’t having a good time. I tried to roll over and get my bearings, but even the tiniest movement kicked the hammers in my head to triple-time, and I abandoned the effort before I even got started.
“Fucking A,” I said, and immediately wished I hadn’t. I’m no American Idol contestant, but my voice doesn’t usually inflict extreme pain. Today, it did.
Today? Like I even knew what day it was. Or where I was. Or, for that matter, why I was.
I’d died, after all.
My mind filled with high-def, NC-17 images of a long, thin blade and a twisted expression of cruel delight. My body wrenched with remembered pain and the lingering, metallic scent of blood. My blood.
It had seeped out, soaking my clothes. Staining the already puke-brown carpeting. Draining me to a husk as life ebbed away.
And yet here I was, living and breathing. And I intended to stay that way.
Disoriented but determined, I lurched up—only to be halted before I’d barely moved. My pulse kicked into overdrive, my heart pounding so hard against my ribcage that each beat seemed to reverberate through my body. I tried to move again, but it was futile. My wrists and ankles were firmly tied down.
I drew a shaky breath and I told myself I wasn’t afraid. A big hairy lie, but it was worth a try. I mean, I lied to myself all the time, right? Sometimes I even believed my own shit.
Not this time. I might have dropped out of high school, but I know when to be scared, and tied up in the dark is definitely one of those times. Because this had to be about revenge. Payback for what I’d tried to do.
And now I was going to die at the ha
nd of the man I’d gone out to kill.
No, no, no.
I was not going to die. No way was I leaving my little sister to the mercy of the son of a bitch who’d raped and brutalized her. Who’d sent her black roses and mailed erotic postcards. All anonymous. All scary as hell. She would see him in stores, lurking around corners, and by the time she screamed for help, he was gone.
The cops had nailed his sorry ass, but after the system had tossed him on a technicality, I watched Rose come close to losing it every single day. That monster was free when he should have been in a cage, locked away so he couldn’t hurt any more little girls. So he couldn’t hurt Rose.
Maybe the system wouldn’t protect her, but I damn sure would.
So I’d stolen the gun. I’d tracked him down. And God help me, I’d fired.
I thought I’d hit him square in the chest. But I must have missed, because I could remember Johnson rushing me. After that, things were blurrier. Gray had descended, and I’d known I was dying. As the blackness descended, a warm flood of hope washed over me. But I had no clue what had happened between warm, fuzzy hope and the cold, hard slab that made up my current reality.
I peered into the darkness again, and this time the velvet curtain seemed to be lifting. The room wasn’t completely black. Instead, there was a single candle against the far wall, its small flame gathering strength.
I stared, puzzled. Had there been a candle earlier?
I frowned at the dancing flame, the increasing light slowly revealing a line of angular symbols painted above the candlestick.
Something was off, and I was overwhelmed by the frantic, urgent fear that the monster I knew was nowhere nearby and that when I saw what I was really up against, I’d desperately wish it were Johnson’s sorry ass that was after me.
A cold chill raced up my spine. I wanted the hell out of there.
I was about to start thrashing again—in the desperate hope that the ties would miraculously loosen—when I heard the metallic screech of a creaking hinge. I froze, my breathing shallow, my muscles tense.
The creak intensified and a shaft of anorexic light swept wide across the room as the door arced open. A huge shadow filled the gap. A dark, monstrous form was silhouetted in the doorway, emitting a scent that made me almost vomit.
A monster. And not of the Lucas Johnson variety.
No, Lucas Johnson was a Boy Scout compared to the putrid creature that lumbered forward, bending so that it could fit through the door frame. It lurched toward me, muscles rolling under an elephant-like hide. The creature wore no clothing, and even in the dark, I could see the parasites living in slime inside the folds of skin. Could hear them scurry for safety when the beast moved toward me.
The fetid smell that preceded it made me gag, and I struggled to sink into the stone slab as the beast peered down at me, a string of snot hanging precariously from the orifice that served as a nose.
The creature’s mouth twisted, dry skin cracking as the muscles underneath moved, thin lines of blood and pus oozing out from the newly formed fissures. It swaggered to the candle, then leaned over and breathed on the flame. As if its breath were gas, fire leaped into the air, painting the wall with flame and making the symbols glow.
I cried out in alarm and pain, my body suddenly burning from within—the sensation passing as quickly as it had come.
The beast turned to sneer at me. “You,” it croaked. Black piggy eyes lit with fury as it brandished a short, bloodied dagger. “Now we finish this business.”
A piercing shriek split the dark, and I realized the sound was coming from me. Fire shot through my limbs, and I jerked upright with a fresh burst of determination. To my surprise and relief, I managed to rip my arms free, the ties flapping from my wrists like useless wings.
The creature paused, drawing itself up to its full height. It took a step backward, then dropped to its knees and held its clawed hands high. With the dagger, it sliced its palm, then let the thick, black liquid that flowed from the wound drip into its open mouth. “I serve the Dark Lord, my Master,” it said, the words as rough as tires on gravel. “For my sacrifice, I will be rewarded.”
The “sacrifice” thing totally freaked me out, but I took advantage of this quaint little monster ritual to reach down and tear at the ties that still bound my ankles. As I did, I noticed that I was wearing a silky white gown, most definitely not the jeans and T-shirt I’d left the house in.
Not that I had time to mull over such fascinating fashion tidbits. Instead, I focused on the business at hand: getting the hell out of there.
About the time I finished ripping, the creature finished praying. It barreled toward me, dagger outstretched. I rolled over, hiking up the skirt as I kicked up and off the slab to land upright beside it. There’s probably a name for a move like that, but I didn’t know it. Hell, I didn’t even know that my body would move like that.
I didn’t waste time savoring my new acrobatic persona; instead, I raced for the door. Or, at least, I started to. The sight of the Hell Beast looming there turned me off that plan. Which left me with no choice but to whip around and try to find another exit.
Naturally, there wasn’t one.
No, no, no. So far, I had survived the most screwed-up, freaky day of my life, and I wasn’t giving up now. And if that meant I fought the disgusting Hell Beast, then dammit, that was just what I was going to do.
The beast must have had the same idea, because as soon as I turned back toward the door, it lashed out, catching me across the face with the back of its massive, clawed hand. The blow sent me hurtling, and I crashed against the huge brass candlestick, causing it to tumble down hard on my rib cage.
Hot wax burned into my chest, but I had no time to reflect on the pain. The beast was on top of me. I did the only thing I could. I grabbed the stick and thrust it upward. The beast weighed a ton, but I must have had decent leverage, because I managed to catch him under the chin with the stick, knocking his head back and eliciting a howl that almost burst my eardrums.
Not being an idiot, I didn’t wait around for him to recover. The candlestick was too heavy to carry as a weapon, so I dropped it and ran like hell toward the door, hoping the beast was alone.
I stumbled over the threshold, never so happy to be in a dark, dank hallway. The only light came from medieval-looking candleholders lining the walls every eight or so feet, but as I wasn’t sightseeing, the lack of light didn’t bother me much. All I wanted was out of there. So I raced on, down musty corridors and around tight corners until finally—finally—I slammed into the push bar of a fire door. An alarm screamed into the night as the thick metal door burst open, and I slid out, my nose crinkling as I caught the nasty smell of rotting food, carried on the cool autumn air. I was in an alley, and as my eyes adjusted, I turned to the right and raced toward the street and the safety of the world.
It wasn’t until I reached the intersection of the alley and an unfamiliar street that I paused to turn back. The alley was silent. No monsters. No creatures. No boogeymen out to get me.
The street was silent as well. No people or traffic. The streetlights blinking. Late, I thought. And my next thought was to run some more. I would have, too, if I hadn’t looked down and noticed my feet in the yellow glow of the street-lamps.
I blinked, confused. Because those didn’t look like my feet. And now that I thought about it, my hands and legs seemed all wrong, too. And the bloom of red I now saw on the breast of the white gown completely freaked me out. Which, when you considered the overall circumstances, was saying a lot. Because on the whole, this experience was way, way, way trippy, and the only thing I could figure was that someone had drugged me and I was in the middle of one monster of a hallucination.
Then again, maybe the simplest explanation was the right one: I was losing my mind.
I spun around and found myself looking down on a squat little man in a green overcoat and a battered brown fedora.
At least a head shorter than me, he was looking up at me with eyes that would have been serious were they not so amphibian.
“You’re not losing it,” the frog-man clarified, which suggested to me that I was. Losing it, I mean. After all, the strange little man had just read my mind.
He snorted. “That doesn’t make you crazy. Just human.”
“Who the devil are you?” I asked, surprised to find that my voice worked, though it sounded somewhat off. I glanced up and down the street, calculating my odds of getting away. Surely I could run faster than this—
“No need to run,” he said. Then he stepped off the sidewalk and into the street. As if it had been waiting for his cue, a sleek black limousine pulled to the curb. Frog-man opened the rear door and nodded. “Hop in.”
I took a step backward. “Get lost, dickwad.”
“Come on, kid. We need to talk. And I know you must be tired. You’ve had a hell of a day.” He nodded down the alley. “You did good in there. But next time remember that you’re supposed to kill them. Not give ’em a headache. Capisce?”
I most definitely did not capisce. “Next time?” I pointed back down the alley. “You had something to do with that? No way,” I said, taking another step backward. “No freaking way.”