*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*
The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.
When I came to, I had no idea where I was. I really hate that.
My thoughts had to wind their way through the cottony pain crammed into my skull, but the first thing to strike me was the smell. The combination of perfumed oils, herbs, and incense coated my tongue like fine powder. My eyes felt as though they’d been smeared with cooking oil, but I could make out a nearby shelf lined with jars. Several racks of clothing swam into focus, then some weird potted plants. Silk tapestries hung on the walls, embroidered with colorful patterns, but I couldn’t tell what they were. The only light in the room came from the four tea candles placed at the cardinal points of the summoning circle I was sitting in.
Oh, and I couldn’t move. Like, at all.
My hands were bound at the wrists to the arms of a heavy wooden chair. The ropes were tight enough to restrict movement but not so tight as to cut off circulation. Same token with my feet, which were tied to the chair’s legs. Clearly, someone didn’t want me to get up, but cared enough about my comfort to put a thick cushion under me. Some kidnappers are just more considerate than others.
I had three gaping holes in my chest. One was in my ribs, just below and to the left of my heart. The second pierced through my diaphragm, which made taking a deep breath suck. The third was lower, in my side. I could feel the through-and-through holes in my back, plus one extra.
Talons. Between the bridge and the river, I’d been snatched out of the air by an enormous flying creature. I guess that explained why I wasn’t being digested by river nixies.
The talon marks barely hurt, which meant that they’d been there for a while. They burned more than anything, but they were open and weeping foul clumps of blood. What did that mean? Infection? Vampires didn’t get infections. Had I been poisoned?
Most important of all, why was I bare-chested? Why do the people that take me hostage always remove my shirt? It’s fucked up, is what it is.
I heard a door open then close behind me. Footsteps whispered in my direction, then a slender figure stepped into my line of sight. The demon bitch from the bridge floated past me. She tiptoed around the edge of the circle, all pale skin and rippling red hair.
“Hey,” she said, as though delighted to see me. “You’re finally awake. How are you feeling?”
My arm jerked as my hand clenched into a fist. “Where am I?”
“I brought you back to my home. I hope that’s all right. I needed a comfortable place to work, and the walls are soundproof.”
Fuck you, you festering cunt, my brain snarled, but the filter in my mouth somehow managed to catch it. “Let me go.”
“Sorry again, but I can’t do that.” Her sing-song voice did nothing to soothe my temper. In fact, it had the exact opposite effect. “At least, not quite yet.”
“I’ll rip out your fucking throat, demon.”
She clucked her tongue in sympathy. “Poor thing. I know it hurts. It will all be over soon, I promise.”
So, she was planning to kill me. The back of the chair cracked as I threw my weight against it. My seat began to tip forward, but the demoness waved her hand. I was caught by an unseen force then my chair was set right.
Goddamn it. “Release me! Do you have any idea who I am?”
The demoness tilted her head. “Do you?”
My eyes narrowed as my claws gouged into the arms of the chair. I hoped that its value was destroyed. “Who are you? Why have you brought me here?”
She smiled, and I noticed that she had a bit of an overbite. “Which question do you want me to answer first?”
I flexed with all of my strength but the chair barely creaked. What the hell was this damn thing made of? “Don’t play with me, demon. I haven’t decided exactly how I’m going to kill you, but I promise you’re making it worse for yourself.”
She pressed her hands together, her expression solemn. “First of all, thank you for the warning. It’s very considerate. And secondly, thank you again for giving so much thought to something as serious as my murder. But, to answer your questions, I brought you here to help you. As for who I am, don’t you remember?”
I knew she’d told me her name but it felt like my brain was full of fire ants. Their tiny, venomous jaws were clamped down hard, making it impossible to think. I couldn’t do anything but hate. “I don’t give a shit who you are. What makes you think I want your fucking help?”
“I know you don’t want my help, but I need yours, and you are useless to me in this state. If it makes you feel any better, there are people that care about you. I’m here on their behalf.”
“Fuck them!” The nastiness in my voice startled even me. She was a lying bitch, and even if she wasn’t, I didn’t want people to care about me. I hated everyone and everything. I wanted to scream in rage and laugh maniacally and bawl my eyes out, but I could do none of these things. It was like my rampaging emotions would peak, turn to steam, then vanish.
I was so tired. I wished she’d just let me die. “God, let me go.”
The demoness watched, her head tilted and her hands folded in front of her. No doubt, she was the one soaking up my misery, but she said, “Who are you talking to, Toby?”
I would’ve spit at her if my mouth wasn’t so dry. I barely recognized the voice that spewed out of me as I said, “Fuck you, Vættir whore.” Wait…what did I call her?
The demoness responded with a tolerant smile. “Let me give you some blood, Toby.”
I clamped my teeth together as my stomach heaved. “Don’t be disgusting,” I said around the gorge in my throat. “Vampires can’t feed off demons.”
Her head fell back in a tinkling laugh. “Silly,” she said as she waved her hand again. My chair swiveled to face the opposite direction.
Behind the shop counter, Karen watched me through her eyelashes as she pinched and molded a grey lump of clay. She looked exactly as I remembered, except…more, somehow? Her hair glistened in the candlelight, and she no longer looked like a starving orphan. She appeared rested, and her skin glowed. Wherever she’d been hiding, she was being well taken care of.
My heart thumped once. “Karen?”
“Hi, Toby.” She sounded sad and resigned.
My break from the red hot fury was momentary. The nerve of her, showing her face to me after she’d disappeared without a trace. My resentment rushed back with reinforcements. “Cunt.”
Karen turned her full attention back to the sculpture.
“I take it you two know each other?” the demon bitch said, as though she’d had no idea.
I imagined wrapping my fingers around Karen’s throat then squeezing until her face turned purple. “Where the hell have you been?” I said.
The demoness clapped her hands together. “Save your questions for when you’re back to yourself. Right now, we need to get some fresh blood into you. Karen, are you ready to get started?”
“I guess,” Karen said, unenthused.
Big Red removed a knife and crystal goblet from a locked glass cabinet, then skirted the edge of the circle to approach Karen. Without a word, Karen held out both wrists.
“This will sting a little,” the demoness said as she drew the blade across Karen’s skin. The shallow cuts immediately welled with blood. She set the knife aside then said, “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Even so, Karen’s voice was tight with discomfort.
“Very good.” The demoness waved her long, delicate fingers over Karen’s wounds, and the blood drifted into the air like red smoke. “This is ancient magic, one of the very first spells taught to witches by fairy-kind.”
“Blood-mugging,” I said. “That demon is teaching you how to blood-mug. Thanks for that.”
The girls ignored me. “The spell itself is very versatile. Now, you would say something along the lines of…” The demoness made a show of giving it some thought, “Holy Essence, life’s red flame, from the branches within. Out, to the greater tree, my gift to thee, and by my will, obey.” Karen’s blood curled through the air to the goblet without losing a drop. “Are you ready to give it a try?”
Karen laughed, embarrassed. “I don’t know if I can remember everything you just said.”
The demoness…Gwen! Her name was fucking Gwen! Jesus, that was driving me nuts. Anyway, Gwen favored Karen with a motherly smile. “It doesn’t have to be verbatim. You can say whatever you like, because they’re just words. It’s the will behind the words that counts.”
Karen nodded, because she knew this, then frowned in concentration. “Essence of being, once unseen, behold the vampire’s need. Flow and flow, were I tell you to go. Gift for gift, I bleed.”
Gwen’s smile widened as Karen’s blood continued to fill the goblet. “Good. Very good. You’re very talented.”
“She’s a fucking twat,” I said.
Karen jerked as her mouth dropped open in outrage, then her blood splattered across the countertop. “Damn it!” Karen pressed her lips together as she took a deep breath to steady herself. To Gwen, she said, “I’m sorry.”
Gwen bowed her head in gracious understanding. “It happens. Try again.”
I laughed, which made Karen glare at me. “No,” she said. “I’ve lost it.”
She deserved to lose everything. “What kind of person abandons her mother and little brother to a demon? Are you really such a selfish cunt that you were okay with that?” I couldn’t lash out at her physically, so I had to settle for verbal abuse.
Gwen wiggled her fingers then the beads of blood floated off the countertop without leaving a mark. They drifted into the cup, then she ran her fingertip over Karen’s wounds. The cuts in her flesh zippered closed.
Gwen passed the goblet to Karen. “Remember. He is not himself.”
“I can handle it,” Karen said as she rounded the counter.
I would have backed away as Karen approached, had I been able. “Stay away from me.” I hated her almost as much as I wanted her, and I would have sold my soul to bury myself in that soft warm flesh, all while battering her perfect face to a pulp. Those thoughts chilled me, but I couldn’t stop them from coming. It was a very good thing I was restrained.
Karen thrust the cup under my nose and the warmth of her blood wafted over my lips. “Drink, Toby. If you don’t get some blood into you soon, you’re going to turn feral.”
My hatred focused on Karen like a laser. If I could have killed her through sheer will alone, she would’ve dropped dead a thousand times. “Get that shit away from me.”
Karen waved her hand so the powerful aroma billowed directly into my nostrils. “Tell me you don’t want this.”
I turned my face away. “It’s poisoned.” The scent was so caustic it stripped my throat like steel wool. “You whores are trying to kill me.
Gwen watched with obvious concern. “We aren’t the ones trying to kill you.”
“Toby, I need you to come back to me,” Karen said.
She didn’t mean it. Besides, I wouldn’t do anything for her, ever. She was a fucking hypocrite. “You’re the one that abandoned me,” I said through clenched teeth. “You never came to see me in prison. You never even sent me a fucking letter to let me know you were okay. Just like a fucking woman. Just like all women. Never trust a slut. You’re only good for one thing.”
Gwen waved her hand in dismissal. “I’m already bored with you. Karen, I’m going to let you take the lead. Do you see the…issue I explained to you over the phone?”
Karen and I were in a glaring contest, neither willing to blink. “I see it,” she said.
“Do you think this is something you can help with? Go with your gut.”
Karen handed the goblet back to Gwen. “I’m not sure. I think so. I want to help.” I watched as she gathered an open notebook and a folding metal chair, but of far more interest was the enormous knife she took from behind the counter. Karen placed the chair within the circle directly across from me then sat down with a sigh. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Karen unsheathed the wickedly curved blade, and the candlelight gleamed along its razor-sharp edge. The metal had that filigreed, hand-forged quality, like it was hundreds of years old. The handle was made of wood, or maybe bone, but wrapped in strips of leather to improve the grip. I wanted so badly to feel it in my hand that the need translated into a raging hard-on.
“What are you going to do with that?” My voice was husky.
Karen noticed my interest and the corner of her mouth turned up. “You like this?”
I swallowed hard as I nodded.
She smirked. “This is what eight inches actually looks like.”
I closed my eyes. Fucking bitch. I would’ve given anything to rake her face with my claws until that cunt was unrecognizable.
“Look at me, Toby. Watch.”
Against my better judgement, I looked. Karen drew the flat of the blade up her left arm. My breath caught and my entire body turned to stone as the fine hairs on her forearm drifted to the floor like pollen. She brought the knife up over her bicep, then finally to her jawline. She held the blade there, as though intent on slitting her own throat, and my claws sank deep into my palms.
Do it, my traitorous brain chanted. Do it. Please, god, just do it.
Karen turned the knife over, and the point dug into her flesh, just hard enough to indent the skin without breaking it. She dragged the knife tip down her collarbone, and I could feel it like fingertips along the length of my painful erection. She slid the blade under the strap of her dress, then sliced through the fabric in one quick swipe. The flimsy material fell away to reveal her flawless skin, then something inside my mind snapped.
I bowed my head, shaking with dry sobs. I didn’t care that I had an audience. An avalanche of sorrow, so much more intense than the toxic rage, threatened to bury me alive.
“Karen,” My voice was so wretched that her eyes widened. “What’s happening to me?”
“Toby?” Karen set the knife aside then dropped to her knees in front of me. She reached forward to place her hands on my shoulders as she said, “I’m here. It’s going to be—”
As soon as her fingers got close, the hate-fueled wrath lunged forward. On pure reflex, Karen snatched her hand away just as my teeth snapped closed like a bear trap. The knuckle of her index finger brushed my chin and she fell back on her butt. She stared up at me in stunned disbelief.
My chuckle was so evil that it even gave me chills. “I’ll slice your throat open then fuck your bloody windpipe, you filthy whore.”
Karen turned her back to me, climbing into her chair as though the near-miss had stolen her strength. I could smell the salt of her tears, but the shimmering black curtain of her hair hid them from me.
“Do you need to take a break?” Gwen said. I had almost forgotten she was there. Karen’s little show had left me disoriented.
“No.” Karen’s voice cracked as she wiped at her eyes. “No. I’m okay. I can handle this.” When she looked up again, her expression was merciless. She stood then whipped the dress up over her head, revealing her flat stomach and lacy white lingerie. Her eyes narrowed in challenge as she said, “Do you like what you see?”
Every cell in my body ached for her, but my face twisted into a sneer. “Slut,” I said as though this was the worst insult in my vocabulary.
Karen’s thighs were smooth and strong, her ass perfect as she spun on the balls of her feet in front of me. “Are you saying you don’t want this?”
Cock tease. Dear god, how I hated her. “You’re trash. I wouldn’t fuck you with a stolen dick.”
Karen looked down at me with what could only be described as pity. “Then what’s up with your hand, Toby?”
I didn’t trust her, but my gaze flickered toward my right arm anyway. My hand was twisting against my restraints without any conscious direction from me. The hemp rope was slick with blood, and the ragged, rough abrasion cut to the bone. Upon discovery, the pain washed over my arm as though someone had set it on fire, but my hand never stopped moving.
“Holy shit,” I said, unable to look away. “I’m crazy.”
“Yes.” Karen didn’t sound smug or superior. If anything, she seemed heartbroken. “But I’m here now, and I’m going to help.”
I ground my teeth together in despair. “No one can help me.”
“We’ll see. Hark me now, hear my command, undead creature close at hand. Heed the power inherent in me. Your flesh, your blood, your bones, now freeze. Don’t. Move.”
I held perfectly still, as though every muscle in my body had been seized by an invisible hand. For the first time in my life, I was grateful to be subjugated, though my mind howled in fury. It was a weird contrast.
Gwen handed Karen the clay figurine, which had been manipulated into a crude human shape. Karen nodded once in thanks as she stooped to pick up the notebook. She sat in the chair across from me again, then cleared her throat. Her skin was covered in goosebumps as she brought the notebook in front of her face.
“Under no circumstances are you allowed to move, Toby.” Karen sat up straighter, and her voice hardened as Gwen paced the perimeter of the circle. Reading from the notebook, Karen said, “Intruder, imposter, unclean ghost. Vacate and depart, abandon your host.”
The confusion was completely my own, but the surge of murderous rage I felt was alien.
“Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Lucas Armand, you are expelled.”
We all held our breath, but nothing happened. Another wicked laugh bubbled out of me, and I finally understood what was happening.
It was impossible. Vampires are supposed to be immune to this sort of thing, but my mother’s human blood had betrayed me once again. Prison hadn’t broken me. My grief over Justine hadn’t driven me insane.
I was possessed.
Karen sighed in frustration. “Alright. Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Elias Gomez, you are expelled.”
Subjugation has never had any affect over my ability to speak, and this was no exception. Unfortunately, my voice was no longer my own. I was a passenger in my own body, and a maniac was behind the wheel. “Useless cunt. I’m going to carve you into a thousand pieces, starting with your face.”
Karen dismissed me with a glance. “Sure, sure. Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Antwain Johnson, you are expelled.”
“I’ll peel away your eyelids, so you’ll have to watch as I cut off your tits.” Jesus-fucking-Christ. Worse than the words coming out of my mouth was the sincere intent behind them. Whoever this freak had been in life, they were the poster boy for pure evil. Their energy was so black and negative that it poisoned everything it touched. Unfortunately, that dark presence was burrowed deep inside my brain.
“How many rapist-slash-murderers died in that prison?” Gwen said.
Karen gave her a meaningful look. “Don’t ask. Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Alex Shepherd, you are expelled.”
I was wracked by a violent tremor that shoved my entrails up into my throat. My guts turned to ice as they slid back down into my abdominal cavity. I was still reeling, but the intruder in my head leveled a glare at Karen.
“Whore,” he hissed.
Gwen clapped her hands together. “Ding-ding-ding. I think we have a winner.”
Karen drew her shoulders back, every inch of her ready for battle. “Alex Shepherd. Cancerous soul, I hereby cast you out. Hide no longer, cowardly fiend. Enter the abyss and face your final judgment. Flee now, or face me.”
Shepherd began to spew what could only be insults, but in a guttural language I couldn’t understand.
“Be silent, wicked one.” To Gwen, Karen said, “What is that? Infernal?”
“Close. It’s German.”
Karen shook her head in confusion. “What’s he saying?”
Gwen made a face. “You really don’t want to know.”
Karen turned her attention back to me. “Enough of this. Alex Shepherd, foul spirit. Hark my voice and obey my will. You are unwelcome and unclean, and so I cast you out.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Shepherd’s voice was a throaty growl. “This body is mine.”
“Hark me now, hear my command—”
“Shut your cock-hole, you rancid slut. I am more than what I once was. Your powers may hold this body, but they don’t work on me.”
Karen’s mouth drew into a frustrated line. “My powers work against ghosts. I’ve driven dozens of restless spirits out of people’s homes. I’m more than capable of getting rid of you.”
“No,” Shepherd said. “You’ve never expelled anything.” Karen paled and I felt Shepherd’s satisfaction. “I know all about you, necromancer. This pathetic moron has done nothing but pine for you ever since he got locked up. It was almost too easy to slither inside of him.”
Everything clicked into place. Shepherd had died in prison, but instead of moving on, he had hidden. He’d learned to feed off negative energy of that place, until he’d evolved into Vermin. That same Vermin jumped into me when I fed from Ochoa. Was I truly so messed up over Justine’s death that I’d become the first vampire in recorded history to get possessed. Out of the corner of my eye, Gwen watched the encounter with great interest. It was too much to hope for that no one would ever find out about this.
“Shut the fuck up, Shepherd,” Karen said with utter scorn. “You were so evil in life that you’re about to become a demon. Congratulations, I guess.”
Gwen groaned. “Infernal. Come on, guys.”
Karen raised her hand in apology, though her focus remained on me. “Fine. You’re about to become Infernal. Well, I’m not going to let you gestate in him, you fucking parasite. Get out of his head and go away forever.”
Shepherd hunkered down and dug in. It felt like ice picks in my brain. “He wants me here. I’ve taken his pain away.”
“Because you’ve been feeding off of it. You’re not special, freak. You’re an infestation.”
Shepherd threw me against the ropes again. “You don’t have the authority to banish me. He is mine.”
“Fine! Have it your way, you disgusting worm. I’m sorry, Toby, but I have to pull this thing out of you. It’s going to hurt. A lot.”
Do what you have to do, I thought, but Shepherd said, “When I’m free, I’m going to drain you dry just to watch you come back as a ghoul. The blades are finally in my mouth, bitch, and I have a lot more work to do. Ted Bundy won’t have shit on me.”
“You think so? We’ll see.” Karen closed her eyes as she lifted her arms, her palms turned toward the heavens. “The corners I call, the powers that be, divine forces almighty, work now through me.”
“You’ll have to crack his skull open. Either way, I win. Do your worst, witch. You can’t defeat me.” Shepherd was right. He was buried so deep inside of me, only my death could get him out. When that happened, he would be a full-fledged demon, which had been his intent from the beginning.
Karen glared into my eyes, radiant energy pouring off of her. Despite his big talk, the spirit in my head shivered. Our vampire ears could hear the resonance in her voice as she said, “Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Order, Chaos, come to bear. I compel you now, spirit unclean. Your hold is severed. By my will, it must be.”
My hands and feet began to burn as though they were being held over open flames. My insides writhed and I was hit by the most powerful wave of nausea I’d ever experienced. A fountain of congealed blood and thick green bile shot out of my mouth. The disgusting stream splattered over Karen’s bare stomach, trickling down her thighs to pool at her feet.
Aside from her jaw tightening, Karen didn’t react. “Vile serpent, death beckons you. Your blackened coil, depart. Divine light, burn you to ash, and free this innocent heart.”
Shepherd threw my head back in laughter. “Innocent? If he was innocent, I wouldn’t have gotten so much as a toehold here.”
The powerful energy that flowed through Karen made her tremble. “Holy fire, divine spark, Giver of Life and Mind. Behold, a fugitive from your justice, deep in this vessel entwined.”
A strange sensation began to overtake me, like my body had been hollowed out and I was being filled to bursting with ice water. It was awful, if not exactly painful.
“Cowardly vermin, hide no longer. Your gestation set to flame. My will is law, despicable creature. I cast you out by name.”
Shepherd twisted my face into an ugly glare. “Fuck you, necromancer.”
“Alex Shepherd, I cast you out.”
My head was flung back as an invisible forced rammed through my body. It was like being punched in the face by King Kong.
“Alex Shepherd, your time is at an end.”
My heart thundered, pumping liquid fire and ice though my veins. The scream that tore out of my throat was my own.
Karen was relentless. I know she had to be, but…goddamn. “Gods, behold this living cancer, Alex Shepherd, whose very existence in this world demands excision. Alex Shepherd, as it was when you were alive, so too now do I sentence you to death. Selfish destroyer and corrupter. Alex Shepherd, hideous fiend and pretender to humanity. Gods, grant me, your humble servant, the honor of being the conduit through which you decimate this worthless soul. Alex Shepherd, behold the wrath of the heavens, unleashed upon you at last.”
Karen seized handfuls of my hair, and the power that shot through me was like pure electricity. I screamed, and Shepherd screamed, so loud that I felt as though my throat would rupture. I understood at last why so many people died during exorcisms.
“Alex Shepherd, go to hell, you worthless scum!” Spittle flew from Karen’s bottom lip, but my cry of pain became a laugh. Karen reeled, and I could sense the energy she’d summoned drifting away.
“Idiot bitch,” Shepherd said. “You’re a necromancer. I told you, you don’t have the power to exorcise me. Do you really think the gods would grant you any divine authority? They don’t even hear you when you speak. You’re useless when it comes to anything but death. Divine light flows around you like a river around a stone.”
Karen’s eyes began to shine. Knowing her as I did, Shepherd’s words cut to the bone. Other schools of magic had always been tricky for her. Hell, he’d probably mined my subconscious for the perfect insult, and that one was pure gold.
All at once, I could hear her thoughts, thanks to the unholy presence in my head. He’s right. Oh, my god, he’s right. I’m useless. What can I do? I can’t help him. Toby’s going to die, and I can’t help him.
“Yes,” Shepherd said, stunning her yet again. “I’ll rip your precious half-breed apart from the inside out, Justine 2.0. Then, when I’m finished, I’ll be something greater than you could ever imagine.” To prove his point, Shepherd spit my fangs into her face.
Karen recoiled when the bright enamel bounced off her cheek. She took a step back, staring down at me in intimidated wonder.
My eyes rolled back into my head then I began to spasm. My teeth clacked together and I could feel fluids begin to trickle from my nose and ears.
“No,” Karen said. “No! I will not lose him, not to the likes of you. I may not be able to fight you on your terms, but I can destroy you on mine.” To Gwen, she said, “You. Hand me that. That bolt of lace, right there.”
“This?” Gwen’s musical voice sounded as though it was in another time zone. The seizure was starting to pass, but it took everything with it. I didn’t even have the strength to inhale. The next one would kill me, then Shepherd would hatch. Already, I could feel him summoning his strength.
“Yes, that,” Karen said. “Please, hurry.”
“Well…see, the thing is, this is one of a kind. It’s made of pure Chinese silk, and it was hand-crafted by a Serbian artisan that was a master at her—”
“I get it,” Karen said, impatient. “Whatever it’s worth, I’ll pay you back. I need it to save a man’s life.”
“Well, okay, but it’s worth over eight-thousand dollars.” Gwen placed the bolt in Karen’s hands, thereby setting the contract.
Karen stared at the insanely overpriced lace. She looked at me, then her eyes narrowed in annoyance. “Of course, it does. Thanks a million, Toby.”
Like I’d asked to be possessed, but whatever.
Karen knelt in front of me then began to wind the lace around my legs. I could feel Shepherd’s confused distrust. “What are you doing?” he said.
Karen continued to wrap the bolt around my arms and chest. There was just enough fabric to wrap it once around my head. Karen held the tail-end in one hand, cupping my chin to hold my head back with the other.
There wasn’t a trace of uncertainty in her voice as she said, “Alex Shepherd, behold. I am Death, come for you at last.”
Karen yanked on shroud. It fed through her hand against my face, and there was a great wrenching inside of me. When the horrible feeling passed, I had complete control over my feet.
“Alex Shepherd, hear the raven’s wings and feel the cold tide. Death has come for you.”
Karen pulled the shroud again. The silk passed over my legs and hands, then I had the ability to move both, though not the power.
“Alex Shepherd, your time is at an end. The afterlife has a just fate in store for you.”
She yanked again, and my freed torso burned as though I’d just run a marathon.
“You hid in that prison, so imprisoned you shall remain, until the end of time.”
She yanked again, and I could draw a breath. However, my voice was still not my own. “I’m going to burst every blood vessel in his brain on the way out,” Shepherd vowed.
Karen looped two quick swoops of the fabric around my head then I was completely blind. “You’ll do nothing. You have no power here, Shepherd.” This wasn’t bravado. “Your fate is sealed.”
Karen pulled again and the fabric was resistant, as though snagged. My head felt too full, like my brain had doubled in size and turned to concrete.
“Caught and trapped, locked and snapped, I hear you claw and hiss. One way free, look and see, go back to the abyss!” Karen gave one more mighty yank, and it was like she was trying to pull an entire grapefruit through my nose.
The next few seconds happened in slow motion. The folds of lace rippled as they drifted through the air, but they looked like a human face screaming in impotent rage. Karen turned, the fabric billowing around her as it passed over the clay sculpture. The figurine twisted and threw its head back, then shuddered to a standstill.
Breathing hard, Karen kicked the statuette out of the circle, into Gwen’s waiting hands. The demoness picked it up, muttering something about a kiln being ready, but I barely heard her. Soft hands lifted my head, then brushed the hair out of my eyes.
Karen propped my head against her chest, then held the cup of her blood to my lips. I was beyond weak and every swallow passed through my throat like broken glass, but I couldn’t stop drinking.
“It’s okay,” Karen’s voice flowed into the approaching darkness. “It’s over now. I’m here, and you’re going to be fine.”
That’s the last thing I remember.