WitD3: Chapter 26

*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.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 26

 

Demons are everywhere. They can be in anything. They can take the form of anyone, and most smell like nothing at all. La Llorona’s was the sort of place people needed reservations to get into. Even so, I felt like I was walking into a lion’s den.

Between my tattered hoodie and the holes in my jeans, I stood out like a sore thumb. The other customers waiting in the lobby stopped what they were doing to stare at me. Even the string quartet in the corner stopped playing for a few seconds. An older man pulled out his cell phone, ready to call the cops.

The elegant hostess made her way through the crowd with a smile on her too-perfect face. She had the sort of beauty that didn’t occur in nature. Not without a demonic pact. “Welcome to La Llorona’s,” she said. Her tone was pleasant, like I was any other customer, but her emerald eyes were empty. “Right on time. Your table is ready. Just follow me.”

She didn’t bother to gather a menu or silverware as she led me through the overcrowded restaurant. I tried not to breathe in the layered stench of seared meat, cooking oil, and spices. She showed me to a dark booth in the corner, near the kitchen. She gave me a wink as I sat down then walked away without another word.

I began to wait. And wait. Then, I waited some more.

My left leg shook and my claw nubs tapped an uneven beat against the tabletop. I became hyper-aware of every sound. Diners slurped and smacked up their nauseating dinners. The drone of so many conversations going on at once was like the hum of a beehive. There seemed to be a crazy number of affairs and criminal transactions going down around me. Silverware scraped against plates and pans of grilled meats sizzled. Humans heartbeats crashed like waves against the shore.

Two hours and twenty-seven minutes later, I accepted that I’d been stood up. Muttering curses under my breath as I formulated a Plan B, I slid to the end of the booth. Before I could stand, the kitchen door swung open. A waitress in a puffy blouse and multicolored skirt came out, a tray perched on her shoulder.

“Here you go.” She set a steaming plate of steak, melted cheese, grilled onions, and peppers in front of me. There was also a rice dish smothered in some caustic-smelling red sauce.

“I didn’t order this,” I said, which was code for: I’m not paying for it.

“No, I did.” A tall, well-dressed man slid into the booth across from me. He appeared to be from India, or maybe Pakistan, and had the same cultured accent as Gwen. Dressed in a dark grey suit and tie, his shirt was blood red. Manicured from his beard to his fingernails, his hair was so oily that it looked wet. His eyes glistened like a cobra scales as he smiled at me with perfect teeth. “Sorry to have kept you waiting.”

He didn’t mean it. The man smelled human and clean. His blood type was O positive, and his body heat was normal. His pulse, his breathing, everything about him seemed ordinary. It was the aura of power surrounding him that was inhuman.

“Skin-rider,” I said without thinking.

The man’s smile dimmed. “This is how you greet someone you’ve never met? Charming. Clearly, everything I’ve heard about you is true, Tobias.”

I knew, to the core of my being, this man was my enemy. “I take it you’re Khalid?”

“Ah,” he said as he leaned back in his seat. “So, it was Sweet Gwen that directed you to me. That’s a relief. I would’ve been heartbroken had it been my Karen.”

I knew he’d called her that just to get to me, but damn if it didn’t work.

“So, how can I help your master, Tobias? I assume you’re here to settle Gwen’s debt?”

“What debt? Wait, what master?”

My ignorance amused him. “You entered into a contract with Gwen, did you not? It’s all anyone can talk about lately. You swore to perform unspecified boons in exchange for a reunion with Karen? Gwen upheld her end of the bargain, though I had no idea that was her intent at the time.”

I waved his words out of the air. “First, she’s not my master. Second, Gwen has no debt to you. Karen got paid for her services. So, what’s the problem?”

“The problem, my friend, is that Gwen did not pay Karen. She indebted her. Almost ten thousand dollars, if I am to understand the circumstances of your exorcism.”

Oh, right. That bolt of lace. Fuck.

Khalid’s lip curled in distaste. “Also, the manner in which my Karen had to debase herself to entice that wicked ghost sickens me. Especially considering you were the one foolish enough to become possessed in the first place. Had Gwen been forthright with me, I never would’ve allowed Karen to go there. So, yes, I declare that Gwen is indebted to me. We can take the matter to the Supreme Authority, if she wishes to dispute—”

“No, no, no.” I had no idea what the Supreme Authority was, but it sounded serious. “There’s no need for that. Wait, I was ‘foolish enough to become possessed’? Like I had a choice in the matter? Are you one to talk, demon?”

My gums twitched then three molars dropped onto my tongue. The teeth rattled around my mouth like jagged marbles. Khalid smirked as I spat them into my hand. “I am one to talk, bloodsucker, because the unwilling cannot become possessed. Tell your master that I require Karen’s fee over again, and that she must erase Karen’s debt. If Gwen is amenable, I will consider the matter settled.” Khalid began to slide out of the booth, then he hesitated. “Out of respect for our friendship, I will take it in trade, if Gwen can’t afford to pay me.”

I held out my hand to keep him from leaving. “Wait. I’m not here for Gwen. I’m here because I need to find Karen.”

“Of course, you do, but Karen has no wish to be found.”

“You don’t understand. I need to see her. I need her help. She’s the only…” I looked around then my voice dropped to a whisper, “She’s the only necromancer I know.”

Khalid didn’t follow my example. “She’s the only unlicensed necromancer I know, as well. Not to mention, she’s the most powerful one I’ve ever met. Needless to say, she is my treasure, and I am protective of her. The bloodsuckers haven’t had a chance to capture her and regulate her powers yet. If I have my way, they never will.”

My hands balled into fists, but I struggled to keep my tone even. “I just need to talk to her for five minutes. Karen will want to help once I tell her what’s going on.”

Khalid nodded once. “So, what sort of undead are we dealing with that you feel you can’t handle it without my Karen?”

“Stop calling her ‘your’ Karen. She’s not your property, and she’s not some delicate flower you need to protect from the rest of the world.”

Khalid arched an eyebrow. “Is she not? Had you treated her with greater consideration, she might not have felt the need to erase you from her life. Also, I call her mine because Karen belongs to me. She entered into a contract, willingly. Eagerly. I own her.”

Khalid grinned when he saw how much his words bothered me. “You made her your slave. That never would’ve happened if I’d been around.”

“But you weren’t.” Khalid took a cold tortilla chip from the untouched basket on the table then popped it into his mouth.  “You and I have varying definitions of the word slave. Karen is well-compensated for her time, and she is with me voluntarily. But enough semantics. Tell me what sort of undead we’re dealing with or this meeting is concluded.”

There was no way to soften the truth. “It’s a revenant,” I said with a sigh.

Khalid pursed his lips as he mulled this over. “This meeting is concluded.”

Before he could leave, I said, “Karen will be fine. We may be dealing with a revenant, but a revenant is still just another undead. Karen is the only person in this city that’s safe from Justine. Besides, I’ll be there. I’ll protect Karen until she can subdue her.”

Khalid tapped himself on the skull behind his ear. “Like you protected yourself?”

Asshole. “I underestimated her,” I said, though I hated to admit it. Especially to him. “I guess, deep down…I never thought that she would attack me. I was stupid. I won’t make that mistake again.”

“If that’s the case, then why do you need Karen?”

“Look—” I caught myself before I called him a demon. Maybe I could learn. “Khalid. All I need is for you to tell Karen that I have to talk to her for five minutes. If she isn’t your slave, then she should be allowed to decide for herself whether she wants to see me.”

Khalid waited for me to finish. “What’s in it for me?”

“What’s in it for…how about doing the right thing?”

Khalid scoffed. “The right thing? Who decides right from wrong?”

“You’ll save lives. How is that a grey area?”

“Human lives?” I nodded, because this should’ve been obvious, then watched as Khalid lost interest. “Aren’t you sweet? I understand why Gwen likes you. Birds of a feather, and all that. I’m sure, as a vampire, you rejoice at the explosion of the human population. As a being that predates recorded history, let me assure you that the number of humans on this planet is catastrophic. We are on the brink of a mass extinction the likes of which hasn’t occurred since The Great Dying. Half of humanity could vanish tomorrow and the earth’s resources would still be taxed. Consider the metric tons of carbon these creatures vomit into our atmosphere before you appeal to one such as me on their behalf.”

Oh, right. Infernal. “Fine, what do you want?”

Khalid shook his head in contempt. “Haven’t you learned not to approach my kind with vague offers yet, bloodsucker?” He folded his hands on the table. “Go on, then. Entice me.”

This was a game to him. I hated him more and more with every passing second. “Money?”

“I have money,” he said. “You don’t.”

“I can get some. How much do you need?”

Khalid tilted his head. “Really? Pray tell, how? Will you fail to rob another bank?” His eyes brightened with understanding as his smile turned snide. “No. You plan to approach your grandmother, as though Hlin would help you.”

I frowned. Was he reading my thoughts?

Khalid shook his head. “I don’t need money. Offer me something else.”

What else could he want? Besides money, I knew of one other motivating factor. I hoped I was wrong as I said, “Sex?”

He didn’t even blink. “Are you offering?”

“No,” I said before he’d finished the question.

“Then what about it?”

I closed my eyes. “I don’t know.” I rubbed my face with both hands, then my gut tossed a notion into my brain like a hand grenade. I shrugged as I said, “Gwen?”

Khalid’s arrogance disappeared.

Sensing I’d struck gold, I said, “I can bring you Gwen.”

His face darkened. “You think you have the power to bring me Gwen?”

I nodded. “I know I do. I’ve dealt with de—I’ve dealt with her kind before. I know how to get the upper hand, even with the strong ones. I can bind her in iron, or poison her with salt. It all depends on how you want her, dead or alive.”

Anger flashed in his eyes like lightning. “You overestimate yourself, bloodsucker. Even if you could bring her to me, what good would it do? She belongs to those human larvae, just as she belonged to their parents, and their parents before them. Just as she will belong to their children. Gwen has been lost to me for…a very long time now.” Khalid looked at me at last. “Do you know how she came to be called Gwen?”

I shook my head. “I’ve given it no thought whatsoever.”

“When her slavers brought her to this country, they said her name was Giver when they passed through Ellis Island. Apparently, the clerk that filled out their paperwork had terrible handwriting.” Khalid made a disgusted sound. “She’s been known as Gwen for so long that she’s practically forgotten her True Name. But I never will.”

“So, what do you want?” I said, defeated.

“Tell you what. Settle a bet for me.”

My eyes narrowed. “What bet?”

“You, my bi-species friend, have been the subject of great debate. Specifically, your dietary needs.”

“What about them? And who’s debating?”

“Those that matter.” Translation; other demons. I couldn’t say I appreciated it, but I guess eternity gets boring. “There haven’t been many of your kind born that lived to adulthood. Needless to say, human-vampire mules haven’t been extensively studied. Some contend that you can only survive on blood, given your vampiric heritage. Others contest that you could eventually be weaned to human food, given the proper motivation.”

Distrust tightened every muscle in my body. “What sort of motivation?”

Khalid plucked a small piece of paper from his shirt pocket then slid it across the table. It was a wallet-sized photo of Karen. “Eat,” he said.

“Eat what?”

As I probably should’ve expected, Khalid pointed to the plate of greasy meats and vegetables.

I closed my eyes as I turned away. “I can’t.” I couldn’t even smell the burning spices without gagging.

“You can. You choose not to.”

“I choose not to because I’ll just puke it up.”

“Maybe you won’t,” he said. “Mind over matter.”

Beads of oil sat atop the rubbery melted cheese. The meat fats had congealed into grey lard. “I can’t.”

Khalid replaced Karen’s picture in his shirt pocket. “Oh, well.”

“Fine!” I said, and my shout drew the attention of the neighboring tables. I didn’t break eye contact with Khalid as I stabbed a forkful of meat with enough force to crack the ceramic plate. I shoved the entire thing into my mouth, and the blend of peppers set my tongue on fire. I forced myself to chew, and chew, and chew the leathery beef while Khalid looked on with amusement. I’ll never know how I managed to swallow.

When I did, Khalid nodded toward the plate again.

Do it for Karen, a weak voice shouted over the clammy nausea that snaked through me. Do it for Karen. I took another bite, this time of the maggoty rice. It was just as revolting but softer, so I was able to swallow it whole. Khalid nodded in approval as I breathed hard through my mouth. We stared at each other for several long seconds, then the contents of my stomach surged up my throat. I didn’t make it to the nearby bus tub before I projectile vomited everything I’d eaten that day.

Chaos erupted. My waitress dropped a tray of drinks on the nearest table as she said, “I’m not cleaning that up!” Her protest was almost lost in the shouts of outraged customers demanding a refund.

Khalid chuckled as he got to his feet. He placed several hundred-dollar bills on my table then said, “I guess I was wrong.”

Intestinal cramps doubled me over. I hugged my stomach, panting, as I said, “You’ll tell Karen to contact me, right?” When Khalid didn’t respond, I repeated, louder, “You’ll tell Karen that I need to talk to her, right?”

Khalid gave me a thin smile. So slight that I almost missed it, he shook his head in denial. Furious, I snatched my glass of water off the table. It sloshed over my hand as I threw the contents into his face.

Khalid blinked, stunned, then growled deep in his chest. He picked up an unused napkin to blot his cheeks and nose. “Holy water only works if you have faith, half-breed,” he said before tossing the napkin at my feet. He moved with the graceful silence of a serpent as he turned to walk away.

I pressed the heel of my hand into my stomach and bowed my head, but only to hide my smile. I picked up the napkin, folded it several times, then held it to my nose. Embedded deep in the linen fibers, Khalid’s scent was made stronger by the water. Most importantly, buried under it all, I caught a whiff of jasmine.

I shoved the napkin into the plastic baggy hidden in my back pocket. So far, so good.

<<<Chapter 25

Chapter 27>>>

WitD3: Chapter 25

*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.

<<<Start at the beginning

Your call has been forwarded to an automated voice messaging system. The number you dialed—1-666-555-8629—is not available at this time. At the tone, record your message, or press ‘one’ for more options.

If you are that filthy half-breed, Tobias, you may meet your lord and better at La Llorona’s, on the corner of Jackson Avenue and Main at nine o’clock.

That’s nine o’clock PM, as in the evening, you ignorant bloodsucker.

Beeeeeeep.

<<<Chapter 24

Chapter 26>>>

WitD3: Chapter 24

*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.

<<<Start from the beginning

Chapter 24

I jerked awake when the thud of a shutting door echoed throughout the house. Given my situation and the fresh deadline breathing down my neck, it surprised me that I’d dozed off at all. I didn’t have a minute to spare, but stress will suck the energy out of any man. Plus, stalking tends to get boring fast.

Sunlight stabbed through the wooden slats of the garden lattice. I’d been asleep for a couple hours. Luckily, no one on the sidewalk had noticed me lurking in the braces of Gwen’s awning.

I pulled up to peek through the nursery window. As I’d hoped, Gwen had finally left the room. She’d taken the girl with her, but the boy was asleep in their shared crib. He breathed deep and slow, with a secure contentment I’ve never known.

My cramped legs were slow to respond, numb as they were from having crouched for so many hours. Once I settled on the window ledge, I closed my eyes then took a deep breath through my nose. The world unfolded around me as I opened my other senses.

On the ground floor, Gwen murmured in a comforting tone as floorboards creaked under her feet. She hadn’t been kidding when she’d said teething made little humans fussy. Christ on a cracker, I don’t know how anyone can stand babies. The girl grunted, and I could smell baby powder and drool soured by apple juice.

Time to get this suicide mission underway.

I tapped my knuckle on the glass. The little boy turned over, and the crib squealed beneath him like an army of burning mice. The little shit didn’t wake up, though. I muttered a curse under my breath as I listened for his demon guardian.

Gwen continued to pace, and had begun to sing a soft, haunting melody in a language I didn’t recognize.

I took a deep breath then knocked on the window again, a little bit louder this time. The little boy pushed himself up with a scowl. His blonde curls were a mess and he sucked on a pacifier. He looked around, his eyebrows drawn into a tight knot. I drummed my fingers against the glass to get his attention.

“Hey, kid,” I said with a smile, not that it helped. I could see my reflection. Between my fangs and what remained of my stringy hair, I looked like Gollum.

The baby’s cheeks grew red and his eyes glistened. He started to breathe fast, building up to a tantrum.

“No, no, no, don’t do that,” I said as I pulled the multi-colored stuffed animal out of my waistband. I pressed the toy against the glass for the kid to see, and it dried him right up. “Yeah, you like this? Just what every spoiled brat needs, right? A rainbow panda-monkey-dog…what the fuck is this thing?”

It didn’t matter. I shook it so the tiny bells on its jester hat jingled. The boy grunted in excitement as he used the crib railing to stand.

I shook the toy again. “You want this?”

The baby held out his fat little hand.

“You can have it. All you have to do is invite me in.”

The nursery door opened, and I fell backward on reflex. I missed my claws as I dangled from the window ledge, the toy clenched between my teeth. Inside the nursery, I heard Gwen groan. “Oh, no. I just got you down. What are you doing awake?”

I kicked myself. I’d had one ear on the Gwen downstairs, so I hadn’t bothered to listen for her coming down the hall. How could I have forgotten about her splitting-in-two trick? Justine must’ve lobotomized me when she’d taken that bite out of my head.

Gwen took the boy from the crib then settled into the rocking chair. “I can’t wait until you and your sister learn how to talk. Everything will be so much easier when you can articulate your needs.”

I pulled up a bit to peek through the glass. Gwen sat with her back to me, but the baby in her lap faced the window. The child’s eyes widened when he saw me and he made an excited noise.

Oblivious, Gwen said, “That’s right, my prince. We’ll be able to go anywhere. You can have anything you want. You can do anything you like. All you’d have to say is, ‘Godmother, I have a pain in my gums. Make it go away.’ Then, poof, just like that, your pain will be gone, as though it never existed. Won’t that be wonderful?”

The baby in her arms giggled at her tone as the one downstairs begins to wail.

“Oh, dear,” Gwen said with a sigh. “It seems your sister is the one that needs me. Since a certain little boy is just in the mood to be silly, you play here while I go help.”

I lowered myself again. Gwen placed the child back in his crib, then the nursery door opened. I heard her move down the hall, but counted to fifty in my head before I pulled up.

The coast was clear. The boy abandoned the toy xylophone Gwen had given him the instant he saw me.

My mutilated fingertips ached as I pressed the toy against the window again. “All right, kid. We don’t have all fucking day, here. Do you want this or not?”

The boy stood then stretched his arms toward me.

“That’s right. Come on, kid. Give me something to work with. Come on, come on…”

The baby made eye contact then curled and uncurled his little fingers in a grabbing motion. I felt a shift in the air as the wards dropped, and my face split into a grin.

“Good boy,” I said as I ducked into the room. I handed the stupid brat the toy so he wouldn’t throw a fit, then closed the window. He didn’t even look at me as I tousled his curly hair. “Have fun, kid. Don’t forget to shut the fuck up, okay?”

The hallway was empty, but that didn’t mean there was nothing there. I opened my senses again to find Gwen’s downstairs lullaby had become a duet. I crept toward the stairs, my back to the wall.

The logical voice in my head pointed out that this was beyond stupid. Any vampire that breaks into a demon’s home is begging to get chopped up for spell components. I didn’t have a lot of other options, though. I wouldn’t let Karen stay anyone’s slave, but first I had to know the name of the man I needed to kill. Gwen was my only connection to that man. There had to be a book of contacts, or a Rolodex, or something like that laying around.

I tried to narrow down where I should start looking for such a thing, then a thin shadow appeared in the stairwell. I took a quick step back, ducking into the nearest room. I closed the door almost completely then peeked through the crack. A few moments later, Gwen walked past, so close I could’ve reached out and grabbed her if I had a death wish. She didn’t notice me, focused as she was on the fussy sister. The hallway darkened as the nursery door closed, then I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.

I took in my surroundings. The room was small, as was every room of this house. The walls and floor were bare. The only furniture was a twin bed and a wooden chest covered with elaborate carvings. The bedding was clean, but it didn’t smell as though anyone had slept in it for a long time. This must be Gwen’s room.

Decades of burglary experience kept me from making a sound as I opened the truck. It didn’t contain any surprises. Bottles of petrified lizards. Packets of poisonous herbs that didn’t smell like anything. A few medieval weapons, shit like that. Her closet was empty, since her clothing was just a manifestation of her will. I even checked under her mattress, but found nothing.

The entire search couldn’t have taken longer than a minute or two, but it left me frustrated. I might need to do the same in every single room of the house, and there was no way to know if the Gwens had merged back into one. It could be that her other self was still downstairs warming a bottle.

I forced myself to relax then stretched my senses as far as they could go. The stench of pine cleaner, incense, old wood, and dirty diapers trickled down my throat. Cold air billowed from the vents like hurricane winds. I could hear the grinding crunch of a mouse in the walls. Gwen’s voice boomed like thunder as she wondered aloud which book she should read to the children.

Downstairs, I heard nothing.

Quiet as a ghost, I slipped out of room then down the stairs. The kitchen was empty, and the back door stood open, but an archway to the right led deeper into the house. I turned in that direction, then heard the flutter of light feet barreling down the stairs behind me. My heart seized in my chest as I dove through the nearest door, then found myself in a small, cramped broom closet.

Not a second later, Gwen burst into the kitchen, her expression fierce. The toy I’d given to the little boy dangled from her hand. She looked left then right, then stormed through the archway. A door opened, then closed again after a few seconds as Gwen moved further down the hall.

I could hear curtains rustle and furniture scrape against the floor in the adjacent room. My gut instincts pulled me out into the open. There was a closed door across the hall from the kitchen. This must’ve been the first place Gwen had investigated. I hurried into that room then closed the door just as Gwen stepped out into the hall. The heaviness of her step was surprising as she stormed past me. I heard the broom closet door get thrown open, so hard that it cracked against the wall like a gunshot. That close call settled over me like a blanket of frost. Gwen walked by again to resume her search further down the hall.

It was then that my surroundings finally sank in.

This room was larger than any of the others I’d been in. It contained a Persian rug and a bar stool, with a covered mirror tucked into the corner. What stole the air from my lungs was the pictures. Hundreds of pictures covered every square inch of wall space. Corner to corner, floor to ceiling, the frames overlapped each other. There were line drawings and oil paintings. Sepia photographs evolved into black and white pictures, then grainy color. Hundreds of men and women, though not one of them appeared older than their mid-twenties. The largest frame was a portrait of the brats upstairs.

The atmosphere was heavy, almost tomb-like. Every unblinking eye in every picture was focused on me. It was so unnerving that I almost failed to notice the door opening behind me.

I rose onto the balls of my feet then took a quick step back and to the right, remaining just behind the door. The plane of wood swung toward my face, so close it brushed my cheek. I held still as Gwen walked to the center of the room. Her fiery hair rustled and her lacy red dress fluttered as she inspected the pictures, her hands on her hips. Danger pulsed off of her in waves, causing the picture frames to rattle as every hair on my body stood on end.

At that moment, one of her precious angels began to wail, joined a moment later by its sibling. The air settled to normal as Gwen sighed then turned to leave. I heard her make her way through the kitchen, up the stairs, then the nursery door closed.

I put my hand over my heart as it stumbled back to a normal rhythm. That was too close, and time wasn’t on my side. I stepped out into the hall, which ended at a beaded curtain. Through that tacky veil, I could see the shop where Karen had performed my exorcism. One of the other doors had to lead to an office of some sort. Where there is an office, there is a list of contacts, so maybe…

The unmistakable jingle of a cell phone cracked across my shoulders like a whip. The buzz of its vibration against the glass countertop resounded through the hall.

Gwen’s cell phone was in the shop. Gwen told me that she’d called Karen’s master the night of my exorcism. That’s how she’d hired Karen in the first place. So, Karen’s master’s number had to still be in that phone.

I ran through the clacking beads, knocking over a rack of colorful robes. It toppled into a display of candles, dried herbs, and strange figurines. I snatched the phone off the counter then lunged toward the store entrance. I paused only to unlock the deadbolt before sprinting out onto the sidewalk. I was several blocks away before I stopped running.

It took a few minutes for me to catch my breath, and for my limbs to stop shaking. I pulled myself together, then pressed the home button. Luckily, the phone wasn’t password protected. The wallpaper was of the babies, laying on a pink blanket as they smiled toothless baby grins at the camera. Goddamn, they were ugly.

I was about to open Gwen’s list of contacts when the phone rang in my hand. My first reaction was to press ignore, but then I noticed the caller’s name. I froze, my finger hovering above the screen.

Karen. My Karen. Her junior class picture smiled up at me like the gleam of a thousand diamonds.

I accepted the call, my mouth bone dry. I had to swallow hard before I could speak. “Karen?”

“No,” Gwen said. “I know, that wasn’t nice, but you wouldn’t have answered the phone otherwise.”

I sat down hard on the curb, my heart doing its best to punch its way out of my rib cage. “You knew I was there,” I said. This wasn’t a question.

“Oh, you’re just the worst little hider ever.” At least she didn’t sound mad. “This is my home, Toby. I have dominion here. Nothing happens in this house without me knowing about it.”

I closed my eyes as I pinched the bridge of my nose. “So, you were just fucking with me.”

“Yes, but it was so entertaining. It’s like I told you, Toby, find the revenant and I would consider putting you in touch with Karen. Well, I’ve thought about it, and you’re going to have to talk to Khalid.”

“Who the hell is Khalid?” I said as I put her on speaker then opened her list of contacts. It was a short list, since Khalid’s name and number was the only one on it. Gwen had left the phone on the counter for me to find.

“Khalid is Karen’s master,” Gwen said. “If you want to see Karen again, you’re going to have to go through him. Good luck, though. He’s Infernal.

There was a beep as the call ended.

<<<Chapter 23

Chapter 25>>>

 

WitD3: Chapter 23

*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.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 23

 

The short, skinny Asian woman on Michael’s porch jumped when I threw open his front door. Dressed in pajamas and a long hooded sweater, her hand was raised to knock again. Her almond eyes widening, she held her black doctor’s bag in front of her as she took a step back.

“Father Cooper called and said that he needed my help,” she said. “What are you doing here? I thought you were in jail.”

She’d never been comfortable around me, and I was okay with that. “It took you fucking long enough to get here.”

She blinked at my rudeness. “Dude, the sun just went down.”

“An hour and a half ago.”

“I got here as fast as I could.”

“Did you walk here from Canada?”

“I live on campus, which is over forty-five minutes away. I got Father Cooper’s message as soon as I woke up then I came. What more do you want from me?”

I raised my voice to speak over her, which sent jagged pains through my not-yet-fully-healed skull. “I see you had time to put your makeup on first.”

Her jaw tightened and I think she would’ve blushed, if vampires did that. “Okay, you know what? I don’t have to take this. I’m missing class to be here.”

I stood to the side with a sarcastic bow. “Then, by all means, come in.”

She glared at me as she took a step forward, but rebounded off the invisible wall created by Michael’s wards. Her fangs grew a bit in annoyance. “You know the owner of the house has to be the one to invite me in. Is Father Cooper even here?”

“I’m here,” Michael called from the living room, his voice strained. “Please, Tamryn. You can come in.”

She walked past me with a huff, her eyes narrowed and her nose in the air. The short entryway opened into the living room, and she gasped in overdramatized horror when she saw Michael laid out on the couch.

“Oh, my god, Father Cooper.” She rushed over, dropping to her knees beside him. She laid her head on his bare chest and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “Are you okay? What happened?”

His face grey and drenched with sweat, Michael kissed the top of her head. “Thank you for coming.”

“Of course, I came for you.” There was an emotional crack in her voice. “After everything you’ve done for me, how could I not come?”

Michael finally remembered that I was there. “Tobias, I don’t know if you remember Tamryn Sagasuki. She—”

“I remember her,” I said as I leaned against the wall then crossed my arms. Born American, she’d been studying medicine in China, or maybe Japan, when her progenitor boyfriend had gotten killed. It was some territorial dispute, I think. Anyway, she made her way back to the states, only to be turned away by her human family. The other Disavowed called her Dr. S.

 “He remembers me?” Dr. S said as though she and Michael shared a private joke. “Should I be flattered?” She carefully removed the dishtowel over Michael’s wound, but the makeshift bandage stuck to his raw skin. Her eyes widened when she realized the bite went all the way to the bone. “Holy shit, who did this to you?” Without a trace of subtlety, she jerked her head in my direction then arched an eyebrow.

Michael shook his head with a tight smile. “It was no one you know. My fingers are burning,” he said as he clenched then unclenched his fist.

“That’s because whoever put that bandage on you tied it too tight. It cut off the circulation to the rest of your arm.”

“You’re welcome, by the way,” I said under my breath. I’d also made an ice pack for his swollen shoulder, but she didn’t see fit to mention that.

Dr. S closed her eyes and leaned forward. She took a deep breath through her nose as she sat back on her heels, then released it as a sigh. “Your shoulder is dislocated, and most of the connective tissue is torn. Your blood count is low, and you’re already running a fever.” She gave him a reassuring smile as she began to remove supplies from her doctor bag. “Nothing a little blood-mugging can’t fix.”

I watched her work with a frown. “So, are you really a doctor?”

She gave me a resentful look as she cleaned her hands with alcohol swabs. “I was forth year when Aiko-san turned me. I was all set to resume classes in Beijing before he died, but none of those credits transferred when I came home. It took eighteen months to get into night school, and I have to start completely over, but I remember everything.” She acted like I’d called her an idiot. “Father Cooper, I’ve got to pop that shoulder back in place before we get started, and it’s going to hurt like hell.”

I heard the jingle of a tiny bell, then a white kitten that didn’t look old enough to leave its mother pranced into the room. It trotted over to the couch then climbed it like a tree to reach Michael.

Despite his obvious agony, Michael reached over with his good arm to scratch its tiny head. “Hey, Snowball. Don’t worry, I’m okay.”

The kitten mewled in response, it’s voice a tiny squeak. The feline wrapped its front legs around Michael’s brow, purring as it groomed his eyelid. Dr. S made that sound women make whenever they’re confronted with an adorable baby. I could tell she wanted to cuddle it, but couldn’t risk contaminating her hands.

I, however, was unmoved. “Since when do you have a cat?” I said.

“I found her wandering around the cemetery last week. I think someone dumped her, because she walked right up to me. I gave her a little bit of my turkey sandwich and she’s been following me around ever since.”

Dr. S gingerly picked up Michael’s injured arm. She eased it to a ninety-degree angle from his body then bent his elbow. “Now, I know this hurts, but I need you to try to relax as much as possible.”

“I don’t smell a litter box,” I said, if only to distract him.

“She goes outside.” Michael’s teeth ground together as Dr. S began to pull on his arm. “She goes over to the door and scratches like a dog so…I’m pretty sure she’s a genius.” There was a pop then Michael’s entire body went limp with relief. “Thank you. Thank you, Jesus my god, for ending it quickly.”

“Okay, the worst part is over,” Dr. S said with annoying cheer as she removed her sweater. She rolled up her sleeve then tied a tourniquet around her arm like an expert heroin addict.

Michael placed the purring kitten on his chest, and it immediately curled into a ball of furry contentment. “Toby, we have to find Karen. We can’t take Justine on without her.”

“Karen?” Dr. S said with a frown. She slid an IV needle into the vein on the back of Michael’s hand. “Oh, you mean that little girl his majesty was always hanging around with? Where is she?”

I ignored her. Karen’s necromancy was on a need-to-know basis, but mostly I didn’t appreciate the ‘his majesty’ remark. “That’s a lot easier said than done. I don’t know where she is and I don’t know where to begin looking. Not to mention Karen hates me.”

“Karen doesn’t hate you,” Michael said. “She’s just hurt and angry. She came to help when you needed her, didn’t she?”

I shook my head. “According to the demon that—” A large clump of my hair and the remaining claws on my right hand dropped to the floor. Son of a bitch. “According to the one that’s forcing me to hunt down Justine, Karen didn’t come to help me. She had to be tricked into coming, otherwise she wouldn’t have.”

“You just need to talk to her to work things out, I promise.” Michael sounded sleepy, and I worried he was going into shock. Not a moment too soon, Dr. S. connected the IV tubing that ran from her veins to his. “Besides, if you tell Karen what’s going on, she’ll help regardless of how she feels about you. Karen’s a responsible person. She’ll do the right thing.”

I took a step forward as I said, “I know she would, but that goddamn demon…” There was a popping sensation in my sock, as though I’d stepped on an acorn. Cursing under my breath, I began to slide off my boot. I’d never noticed how often I said that word. “The ‘woman’ I’m working for said she would think about taking a message to Karen, but only after I got rid of the revenant.”

I pulled off my sock, then my big toe rolled out onto the floor. The ball of my foot where it had been attached was raw and tender, but not bleeding. It was as though it had rotted off, but without the decay.

Dr. S stared at me, Michael’s right wrist poised at her lips. “Dude, do you have leprosy?”

“No,” I said with a sigh. “Just a really big mouth.”

“Look, this woman has to see reason,” Michael said. He barely flinched as Dr. S’s fangs sank into his flesh. “We can’t get rid of the revenant without Karen, so she has to tell us how to contact her.”

“She won’t see reason, Michael. They’re the most irrational people…things on the planet. There is no reasoning with her kind.”

It was then that I noticed Michael had a rash. I took a step closer to get a better look, but only succeeded in confirming my worst fear. His skin was warm and pink, and tiny white blisters were beginning to form. The ugly hives crawled up Michael’s arm from the bite wound, and were already beginning to spread across his chest. Just to drive the point home, Michael barked a wet, hacking cough.

Another knock shook me from my thoughts. I looked at Michael, who shrugged, so I braced myself as I answered the door.

One of the teenage vampires from the Sanctuary stood on the porch. He carried a vinyl garment bag, a long envelope, and a card. He blinked in surprise when he saw me. “Oh, you’re here. Cool. Here you go.” He placed the items in my arms then turned away.

I laid the bag over Michael’s easy chair, as though it would explode. I unzipped it just enough to see that it contained a very expensive suit. Annoyance crept over me as I ripped open the card. The note was brief, but looked as though it had been written by a professional calligrapher.

Tobias,

Wear this when you stand trial.

Hlin

I tossed the card onto the seat cushion. The letter turned out to be a notification from my lawyer, informing me that my trial date had been moved up. It would take place that Friday.

Three days. I had three days to find Karen and kill Justine, with no idea how to do either.

I left without a word. I wondered how things could possibly get worse, but didn’t say as much out loud. The universe loves a challenge. I made my way across the grounds, then through the archway into the vampire cemetery.

Once I was relatively sure I was out of earshot, I said, “Gwen, listen to me. I can’t do what you need me to do, not in three days. Bring me Karen, otherwise you’ll have to deal with the revenant by yourself.”

A moment later, there was a flash above my head. I looked up to see a piece of paper floating toward me. Apparently, this was a popular form of communication with demons. I snatched the note out of the air then turned it over.

That’s not an option.

I wadded up the paper then threw it away. It vanished in a puff of blue flames the instant it left my hand.

“Fine, bitch. That’s how you want to play? I can play, too.”

So, I could die fighting an undead much stronger than me, or go to prison with a demon hex eating me alive. Meanwhile, the city would spiral into an episode of the Walking Dead.

I never thought I’d miss the fucking Watchers.

<<<Chapter 22

Chapter 24>>>

WitD3: Chapter 22

*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.

<<<Start from the beginning

Chapter 22

 

I don’t really remember the rest of that day. I have flashes of memory, like high-definition photos, but they are separated by wide gaps of emptiness. Over the years, Michael has tried to fill in those blanks as best he can, but since he still has nightmares, I try not to bring it up.

Flash. I’m in Michael’s office and we’re not alone. I don’t recognize the two vampires that stand in the room with us, but they’re the thick, bodybuilder type. They’re as broad as trees, and loom a head taller than me. I shake hands with the somewhat larger of the men, something I’ve done maybe a handful of times in my entire life. His catcher’s mitt of a palm feels weird, like I’m a small child greeting an adult.

According to Michael, I shook hands with both of them as he made introductions. “Tobias, this is—” Oh, fuck puppets. I can never remember those guys’ names. I guess it doesn’t really matter. “Charlie. And this is Keith. Keith and Charlie came to us about a month ago, while you were still in lockup. They were turned without the permission of Governess Morgan, to be used in illegal gladiatorial matches. Their progenitor was convicted, and his assets were seized by the High Court. Keith and Charlie were found to be innocent of any wrongdoing, but they are effectively disavowed.”

“Nice to meet you, mate.” I have no idea why Charlie has an Australian accent in this story. Michael never led me to believe this was the case, but whatever.

“They had to learn to fight to survive, but these men are both champions. They lasted in those pits for decades. Considering what we’re up against, we need all the help we can get.”

Flash. The four of us are walking down a steep, circular staircase. Michael leads the way, while Keith and Charlie follow behind us. I look back at the vampires, who are as ominous as the echo of dripping water.

I had no idea this place existed, or how we got there, but the conversation that led up to this scene played out like this:

“I’ve found Justine’s den,” I admitted to Michael, with all of the enthusiasm of a confession. “If she’s not already there, we can use it to track her. It’s down in the sewers, though, so we’ll have to wait until nightfall to make our move, if we’re going to bring these two along.” I wasn’t excited to have Keith and Charlie with us, but I seemed to grudgingly accept it.

“That actually won’t be an issue,” Michael said. “There’s a secret entrance to the sewers through the cellars that only I know about. Well, up until now. During prohibition, the monastery was a front for organized crime. They used the tunnels to smuggle alcohol in and out of the city.”

I don’t know if the four of us made small talk on our way down to the cellars, or if we walked in bleak silence. I know at some point, I asked Michael, “Why did you let me back in?”

“Karen called a couple days after you left and explained your condition. I apologize for not recognizing it myself, but I have very limited experience with possession. I never imagined it was possible for someone like you to become possessed.”

Rather than be embarrassed that Michael had thrown my business out there like that, I said, “You talked to Karen? How did she sound? Is she alright?”

“She sounded well, in good health. Much better than the last time I saw her.”

“Did you ask her where she was? Did you tell her she needed to go home?”

“No. She hung up before I got the chance to do either.”

Flash. A heavy door, like the entrance to a bank vault, rolls to the side, and I can hear running water. Beyond the door, lances of sunlight from manhole covers and storm drains cut through the gloom of the sewer. I say, “Follow me.”

Michael never confirmed as much, but I imagine that he began to recite Psalm 91:5. That was his go-to in these situations. I’ve heard him say that prayer so many times that even though I have no conscious memory of it, I can still hear his voice in my head.

“You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”

I know that we must have taken our time as we made our way through the tunnels, so Keith and Charlie could avoid the hazards of light and water.

“You will only look with your eyes and see the punishments of the wicked.”

I know that I must have had deep reservations as we made our way to Justine’s den. I didn’t want anyone else around when I finally confronted her. Why didn’t I say anything, or try to give the others the slip? Why did I lead them straight to her lair?

“Because you have made the lord your refuge, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.”

What a crock of shit.

Flash. We are in an empty chamber. The walls are made of cinder blocks, the ground of concrete, but everything has been scorched black. The acrid smell of smoke is terrible, and I can hear myself insisting, “It was here! I swear to god, Michael, her feeding ground was right here.”

That’s where that memory ends, but Michael told me Keith was annoyed as he said, “Well, there’s nothing here now.” For some reason, I picture him as having a New York accent.

Charlie took a few investigatory sniffs. “No. There was definitely something here. It’s almost buried in the smoke, but I swear I can still smell blood.” He crouched down then began to scratch at the floor with the claw of his index finger.

Michael put his hand on my shoulder. “Tobias, are you sure this was the utility room where you found the bodies? You were disoriented at the time. Is it possible we got turned around, or…that they were never here at all?”

Michael spoke carefully to avoid offending me, but I seemed resigned. “Truth be told, I’m not sure about anything anymore. I might’ve hallucinated the whole thing, but if I did, why would someone go to all the trouble of covering it up like this?”

“Good point,” Michael said. “You know, these tunnels and sewers form a maze under the Sanctuary. One could argue that all of this counts as Justine’s final resting place.”

I nodded, having had the same thought. “Safe money says she’s down here somewhere.”

For some reason, Keith decided to chime in. “We should split up. There are all kinds of secret passages, trap doors, and shit around here.”

Michael frowned at him, suspicious. “Do you come down here often?”

“No,” Keith said with a shrug. “Monks are fucking mysterious, yo.”

“Check this out,” Charlie said, waving us over. “I don’t think you hallucinated anything, your highness.” Most of the vampires at the Sanctuary called me that, but this time I took it in stride. Charlie had gouged through the black soot, deeper, into the porous concrete that had been stained a rusty color.

 “There was blood here,” Keith said, giving voice to what we all were thinking.

Charlie nodded. “A lot of blood, by the looks of it.”

“That confirms it, Tobias,” Michael said with dismal horror. “This was her feeding ground, but someone destroyed the evidence.” Judging by the walls, the fire had been hot enough to turn the rotting corpses to ash, so magic was almost certainly involved.

“You think the revenant did it?” Keith said. “Why? I mean, do those things bother to cover their tracks?”

“Maybe,” Michael said. “If she didn’t want anyone to upset her schemes before she saw them through to their conclusion.”

“What schemes?” Charlie said, and Michael detected a note of anger in his voice. I think the vampires had been under the impression that they would be fighting some sort of sentient ghoul, nothing more. “What sort of plans does a thing like that make?”

Michael said that I had a far away, deeply troubled look on my face. More than likely, I was remembering Gwen’s warnings. “Death,” I said. “Pain. Disease, and to spread as much of it as possible.”

Flash. A long strand of black silk drifts across my line of sight. At first, I take it to be a spider thread, but how could a spider have survived the inferno? Heat still radiated off the stones. I tilt my head back, examining the swirls of scorch marks on the walls and ceiling, unable to pinpoint exactly what is strange about them. That is, until one of the blackened cinder blocks turns to look at me with a pale face and glowing red eyes.

Justine clung to the ceiling as though gravity had no effect on her. Our eyes locked and I knew that she had been lying in wait for us. For me. I realized all of this too late to call out any sort of warning.

That’s where my memory of that day ends. I’m the lucky one. Michael remembers everything.

Justine unleashed a scream so deafening that the vampires clapped their hands over their ears. A second later, she launched herself into me, bearing me to the ground.

 My struggle was short and feeble. I nearly vanished in the folds of her burial dress and the curtain of her hair, which came to life and began to writhe around us. Michael heard a crunch, then a pop, and then my arms fell limp.

Charlie shouted something to Keith, who shouted something in reply, but Michael can’t recall exactly what was said. He was so overwhelmed by the evil of Justine’s presence that it made him sick to his stomach.

Keith shakily leveled a gun at Justine’s hunched back as Charlie yelled, “Aim for her head!”

Justine looked up, blood streaming down her chin. Her face was twisted with hate as she spit at Charlie, then a circular chunk of bone clattered at his feet. A huge piece of my head was missing above my left ear, as though Justine had taken a bite out of an apple. Michael reeled at the sight of my exposed brain as Justine abandoned my body to leap at Charlie.

Michael’s voice still shakes whenever he talks about this, and his hands still tremble. “It happened so fast. So fast, none of us had a chance to fight back.”

Justine passed over Charlie to rebound off the opposite wall, but she took his head with her. His neck fountained a geyser of blood as his limp body crumpled to the ground. Keith screamed and took a wild shot, but Justine didn’t flinch as she drove him into the wall. Michael heard snaps and disgusting squelches as Justine literally ripped Keith apart with her bare hands.

Justine’s head whipped around, and her malevolent glare punched straight through Michael. Her voice roared from the bowels of hell as she screamed, “You should have stayed in your church, Priest!”

Justine turned away from the pile of red mulch that had once been Keith then walked toward Michael without hurry. There was no need to rush. He was doomed.

Michael lifted a hand to hold her at bay, but Justine’s steel fingers locked around his wrist. She yanked with enough force to lift him off the ground, dislocating his shoulder. Blinded by the pain, Michael was helpless to prevent her sharp, frigid teeth from sinking into his forearm.

According to Michael, the prospect of being eaten alive snapped him back to his senses. His training kicked in, and words began to flow out of him. “Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ, save me…” he said through gritted teeth as he tried in vain to shove her face away.

To his eternal surprise, Justine recoiled with a scream of pain and fury, her cheek sizzling. She backed away as she touched the charred, upside-down crucifix burned into her flesh. Instead of attacking him again, she darted out of the chamber, vanishing in the blink of an eye.

I don’t know how many hours passed before I finally came to, but when I did, my head was killing me. Michael cradled it in his lap, pressing the heel of his hand into the most tender spot on my skull. The wound on his forearm oozed into my open mouth, and I swallowed on reflex.

“Thank god,” Michael said when I tried to swat his hand away. Unable to string a coherent thought together, I didn’t realize that Michael was holding the missing part of my skull in place. “Thank god. I thought you were dead, for sure.” Michael was pale and trembling, his face drenched with sweat. His ruined arm dangled at his side. “Toby, there’s no way we can handle her on our own. You have to find Karen.”

<<<Chapter 21

Chapter 23>>>

 

WitD3: Chapter 21

*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.

<<Start from the beginning

Chapter 21

Song’s room smelled of rubbing alcohol, which meant she’d recently bathed. Even her tank top was clean, which was a nice switch from the usual. Styrofoam cups stained with cold blood overflowed the trash can in the corner.

Good. Maybe she’d be reasonable, for a change. I took a deep breath then crouched down next to her.

Song’s brow wrinkled in her sleep as I traced the bridge of her nose with my claw. I leaned so close, my lips brushed her ear as I said, “Hey. Mean Bitch. Wake up.”

Song groaned. “What time is it?” she said without opening her eyes.

I checked her beside clock. “It’s a quarter till one. Keep your voice down. I need to ask you some stuff.”

Song peeked through her thick lashes, then her eyes opened fully as her face hardened. An instant later, a rock hard fist cracked against my cheek. It felt as though my jaw unhinged and my right eye turned to mush. Flat on my back, a light, lean weight straddled my torso as a sharp point gouged into the underside of my chin.

“How did you get in here, you psycho fuck-nut?” When Song was feeling lethal, traces of a Norwegian accent peeked through in her voice. I was glad she’d been starving herself; I don’t think I could’ve taken her if she was at full strength.

“Holy shit.” I was amazed that a woman with only one arm and half a leg could get the drop on me so easily.

“Father Cooper told me what you were going to do to us. As a matter of fact, why am I even talking to—”

I caught her wrist before she could jam the knife into my brain. “Jesus Christ, will you calm down?”

Song’s teeth were bared and her expression was fierce like a panther, but I managed to pry the knife from her grasp. I clapped my hand over her mouth as she took a breath to scream. Maimed though she was, it was like trying to wrestle a greased sea lion.

“Song, goddamn it, I’m not going to hurt you.”

Song’s eyes narrowed as she huffed a sarcastic grunt against the palm of my hand.

“Think about it, thundercunt. If I wanted you dead, I could’ve killed you a dozen times while you were sleeping. Cold blood is making you useless.”

“So, what do you want?” she said, her words muffled but understandable.

“You were a Watcher,” I said. My voice was low and everyone else in the Sanctuary was asleep, but Song stiffened as her eyes darted around. This wasn’t information she wanted made public. “You spent your life hunting vampires, werewolves, demons, shit like that, right?” My right pinky and ring claw popped off as though they were cheap press-on nails. Mentally, I cursed Gwen. “Look, what can you tell me about hunting revenants?”

Song took a sharp breath through her nose as she gave me a long, unblinking stare. I carefully removed my hand from her mouth and she made no effort to scream. “What are you saying to me?” she said.

Judging by her reaction, shit just got incredibly real. “Have you ever had to hunt a revenant?” I said as I placed her back in her bed.

Song immediately pulled the sheet around her waist, covering what was left of her legs. “No. I don’t know of any Watcher that has.” She shook her head in wonder. “The glory would’ve been unimaginable. So, that day, when you and the priest were talking about revenants, there’s an actual, real-life revenant in this city? Are you sure it’s not some other form of undead?”

She was a little too eager. It was creepy. “I’m positive.”

What remained of her body shuddered. “Then humans are getting sick.”

I couldn’t quite make eye contact as I nodded.

Song’s face collapsed in misery as she clutched the stump of her right arm. Self-loathing rolled off of her in waves. “Odin,” she said in a wretched voice.

I snapped my fingers in her face. “Stay with me. I need you to focus. You and your Viking buddies dedicated your life to wiping out the undead.”

Song made a face, as though I had offended her. “We were the protectors of humanity,” she said.

“Whatever. My point is that in order to hunt something, you have to study it. Their habits, their strengths and weaknesses, that sort of thing. Correct me if I’m wrong.” She didn’t correct me. “So, what do I need to know in order to hunt a revenant?”

Song’s lips pursed as she thought this over. When she didn’t have her war face on, she was almost approachable. “Like I said, I don’t know of any Watcher in the history of the order that actually fought one.” She pushed the heavy hair out of her face. “Ask me anything about killing a vampire, and I can tell you. What we know about revenants comes to us through folklore, because until now, that’s all we thought they were. Let’s see…

“Father said that a revenant is sort of a cross between a ghoul and a vampire, with a splash of magic-user thrown in just for the hell of it. Normally, they were powerful witches or warlocks in life that were betrayed, to the point that they refuse the comfort of the grave until they know the satisfaction of revenge. Or, they were heroes in life that were reanimated through black magic to do the bidding of an evil mage.”

Justine fit both those criteria, thanks to me. “So, if they get revenge against the person that killed them, will that stop them? Give them their final rest, or whatever?”

“Dude, I have no idea. Everything I know about reanimation is how to destroy it. So…maybe?”

I was only half-listening. I remembered what Justine said to me through Karen that night in the hospital. Justine could not rest, not while I was still part of this world. I didn’t want to die—wow, really?—but it could be the only way to end Justine’s suffering and save the city. “Can you tell me anything else?”

Song scratched her head then shrugged. “I think I remember hearing that they’re supposed to be extra vulnerable during the day, but you’d have to know where their final resting place is.”

I massaged my brow, but the piles of bodies in my memory refused to budge. “I have a few ideas where to start looking. Anything else?”

“Just that they’re super strong and lightning quick. I think I remember something about them not liking fire, even the sound of crackling flames. I thought it was weird at the time, so that’s why I remember it. That’s not really anything unusual, though, most undead don’t like fire.” She rubbed her dry fingertips together with a frown. “Anyway, if it were me, I’d try to catch it in its final resting place at high noon then purify it with fire.” She shrugged again in apology.

Despite everything, the idea sickened me. “What if…what would you Watchers do if you didn’t want to kill whatever it was you were hunting? What if you just wanted to subdue it, or whatever? You know, stop it without killing it?”

Song looked at me as though I’d suddenly started speaking Khoisan. “That’s literally never happened. If the Watchers became involved in a situation, it was because the creature was already     a proven threat to the humans in the area. Watchers don’t have prisons or holding cells.” I bowed my head, and her tone became almost sympathetic. “Look, Toby…I get it. I do. I’ve seen people, good people, get turned. People I knew. People I liked, reanimated as ghouls or vampires, infected with lycanthropy, or twisted so badly by possession that they couldn’t survive. When stuff like that happens, there’s only one thing you can do to save them. There are far worse things in life than death.”

I didn’t look at her has I stood. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Song reached out to grab my pant leg. “Hey, what you said earlier about my body healing itself? Were you serious or were you just fucking with me?”

I nodded, every muscle in my body tense. “I was serious.”

“How?”

“I don’t know the fucking science behind it. I just know that it will.”

My tone made it clear that I was way past ready to get the hell away from her, but she didn’t care. “How long will it take? How long do I have to stay like this?”

“That’s up to you. The longer as you think you’re too good to feed like a normal vampire, the longer you’re going to have to live without most of your body. Cold blood will keep you alive, nothing else.”

Song’s face soured as she looked away.

“Look, I know you’re scared—”

Her eyes flashed with fury. “I’m not afraid of anything.”

“Bullshit. Every newborn vampire goes through what you’re going through right now, but not every vampire gets swept up in bloodlust. Not every human becomes an alcoholic. It’s all about self-control.”

“I have no money and I can’t hunt. How am I supposed to feed?”

Song raised a valid point but compassion isn’t exactly my strong suit. “Cry me a river. I figured it out when I was five years old, and so can you.”

“Well, thank you ever so much. Dick. So, is there a certain blood type that will help with the healing process?”

“No, but if you’re in that big a hurry, then you need to focus on bone marrow. Crack open some femurs and suck out as much as you can.”

Song’s nose wrinkled. “That’s disgusting.”

“Fucking liar. It’s delicious, and it sounds good to you, too. Don’t deny it.”

“I can’t do that to someone. I’ve lost both of my legs, I can’t take anyone else’s.”

“Fine. Then target children. The younger the better.”

Song hissed but I noticed her fangs extend; from hunger or aggravation, I couldn’t tell. “Vampires are despicable. They deserve to be hunted like the monsters they are.”

We are,” I corrected her, and it felt good.

“When the Watchers rise again—”

“Save it, Miss Priss. Before you get all high-and-mighty, I promise, you’re not going to have a problem finding people that deserve to be your victims.”

I left her with that, stepping out into the hall then closing the door behind me. I did a double-take when I saw Michael standing next to Song’s neighbor’s door. He leaned against the wall, his hands in his pockets, as he watched me with a deadpan expression on his face.

I raised my hands in surrender. “The wards let me through,” I blurted. Wow. Really?  I didn’t say I was sorry? I didn’t try to explain? Maybe one of the times my grandfather tried to drown me as a baby left me with permanent brain damage. It sure would explain a lot.

Thank God Michael was used to me. He turned to walk away as he said, “Karen called while you were gone.  She told me everything. Come on, all of your stuff is in my office.”

<<Chapter 20

Chapter 22>>