*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.
Dawn came and went. Traffic grew congested and the buses began to vomit dead-eyed business drones. The morning rush hour passed and Kingdom Come’s double doors never opened. By ten-thirty, I’d passively collected thirty-seven dollars from people who’d mistaken me for a bum.
Karen wasn’t coming. I knew she wouldn’t have broken her promise to me, not if she could help it. Therefore, she couldn’t come. Khalid wouldn’t allow her to leave.
I screamed in frustration as I slammed my fist into a nearby tree. The trunk split, scaring a flock of small, white birds into flight. I had no reason to believe Khalid could hear me, but I jabbed a finger toward the cathedral. “This isn’t over. I’m coming back, and I’m going to leave with her.”
A calm voice on the wind said, “Tick-tock, bloodsucker.”
If I clenched my teeth any harder, they would grind down to sandpaper. Khalid knew about my trial getting moved up. That didn’t surprise me; I mean, it wasn’t a secret, or anything. I just wasn’t worried about it until that moment. Okay, yes, I’d planned to plead guilty when the time came. Unfortunately, Khalid had everything to gain if I got prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In that instant, I knew Karen would die of old age before I saw daylight again.
The incredible pressure of time coiled around my chest as I sprinted back to the Sanctuary. Halfway there, it began to rain, because of course it did.
Thanks to Michael’s open invitation, I was able to burst into his house without knocking. Rainwater cascaded over the carpet as I shouted, “Michael! Michael, I need your help!”
Michael came out of the bedroom, his hair a mess but his skin color a thousand times better. The rash had faded to patches of pink. His scent still held traces of infection, but his fever was almost gone. “Is everything okay?” he said. “Did you find Karen?”
I stripped off my soaking wet hoodie and tee shirt. “I found her but I couldn’t get to her. That’s where you come in.”
Michael frowned in confusion. “Me? What’s going on?”
I grabbed a handful of paper towels to pat myself dry. The outer layer of my skin looked, and tore, like wet tissue paper. “Karen’s entered into a contract with a goddamn demon.” My left ear dropped from my skull like a petal from a flower. “Fuck!”
Michael couldn’t hide his disgust. “Dude, are you going to clean this up?”
No, I was not. “Michael, I am so over all these fucking…” I couldn’t think of a better word to describe Gwen, Khalid, the hellhound, or Aliese the Whore. Instead, I yelled at the top of my lungs as I drove my fist through the wall.
Michael held up his hands. “Deep breaths, Toby. I understand that you’re under a lot of pressure, but no good can come from getting sucked into a rage spiral. All right, Karen has entered into a contract with a demon. What’s the nature of that contract? Was it verbal, like yours?”
“I wish. She signed it in her own blood.”
Michael reacted as I expected him to. “Are you freaking kidding me? Who in the hell does that?”
“Someone desperate.” Try as I might, I couldn’t get mad at Karen. I saved all that blame and anger for myself. “I’ve got to go in there and get her, but there are these fucking wards I can’t get past. That’s why I need you.”
“Because you’re good at wards, Michael. You made those wards for the Sanctuary that only activate when a vampire is about to lose their shit.”
“They react to negative energy that will turn violent, as you are well aware.” Yes, I was. I’d been taken down by those wards plenty of times. “Also, I didn’t create those wards. They were developed within the church by Pope Bartholomew the Eternal. With them in place, the Turned faithful can still attend midnight mass without endangering the rest of the congregation. It took me months to learn that ritual, and three full days to perform it.”
I was beyond pissed. “You went to school for like ten years to learn this shit. You have to have at least some understanding of how all this works. That Infernal cocksucker has wards that let a vampire enter his domain, but they can’t leave unless he allows it.”
“Well, then, if I were you, I wouldn’t go back in there.”
“Don’t you know of any way to undo that type of magic? What the fuck did they teach you in seminary?”
“Not how to craft wards from scratch, Toby. The church protects humanity from evil magic. We don’t dabble in it.”
“Then what the hell am I supposed to do now?”
Michael ran his hand through his hair. “We’ll have to make Karen come out on her own. Where is this place? I’ll go in there and get her myself.”
I shook my head with a sigh. “No way. There are more than just vampires in there. The grounds have been so defiled that Infernals can manifest outside of the Abyss. Even if you weren’t sick, you’d get eaten alive.”
“If that’s true, why hasn’t Karen picked up on that energy? At the very least, she should be a target for possession. How is she even remotely safe in a place like that?”
“Khalid must be protecting her. He is totally in control there. If he says they can’t, the other Infernals wouldn’t dare go near her, and the vampires are no match for her. As for why she stays, I think maybe he has her Enthralled, or…” There wasn’t a force in the universe that could make me finish that sentence.
Michael finished it for me. “She’s fallen in love with him.” It was like someone sliced open my stomach, pulled out my guts, then filled the cavity with sand. “If that’s the case, we might not be able to convince her to come back willingly.”
“So we don’t give her that choice. I won’t let Khalid have Karen. I can’t. I’ll free her, even if it’s the last thing I ever do.”
“Your trial starts the day after tomorrow, Toby. Have you given any thought as to what you’ll do if you’re convicted?”
I didn’t have to think about it. “They’ll have to catch me first, Michael. I’m not going anywhere until Karen is freed and Justine has been laid to rest.”
“Toby, if this entity is anything like you say, you won’t have that luxury. You can’t hide if this Khalid guy uses his powers to make sure you’re found. The very ground beneath your feet could open up and swallow you. If this demon wants Karen’s powers, then you’re a wild card he has to eliminate.”
“Karen isn’t the only one under contract. Gwen won’t let me go to prison, not as long as Justine is on the loose.” I realized I was still standing there, half-naked. “Dude, do you have some dry clothes I can borrow?”
Michael gestured for me to follow as he turned toward his bedroom. “Right this way.”
Dr. S. was unconscious on the bed, her skin like clay and her cheeks drawn. A half-empty cup of cold blood sat on Michael’s nightstand. A second vampire lay next to her, moaning as he hugged his stomach. I couldn’t remember his name or anything about him, but a bucket of puke sat on the floor next to him.
I caught the faded tee shirt Michael tossed over his shoulder. “Looks like I was right about blood-mugging.”
“It seems so, but I don’t like how much they’re suffering on my behalf.”
“They’ll live.” I was extra careful as I peeled off my wet jeans, but nothing could save my skin. “They just need to drink extra cold blood to flush the tainted blood from their system.” Michael winced at my legs as he handed me a pair of loose-fitting running pants. His shirt was tight across my shoulders, and the pant legs hovered an inch above my ankles. Also, I was going commando.
Michael raised his hand with a tight smile. “By all means, keep them.”
“Much obliged. As I was saying, Gwen isn’t about to let me out of my contract. She’s got enough power that she can stand up to Lord Ahriman, if it comes to that. So, I have time.” The truth of my words sank in, then my sense of urgency vanished. It was replaced by a tidal wave of exhaustion. “I’ve got time.”
Michael followed me back to the living room. “I don’t know, it seems too…wait, did you say Lord Ahriman?”
I dropped down hard on the couch then sank deep into the cushions. “Yeah, so?”
“That’s really what he calls himself?”
I closed my eyes. “That’s what Karen calls him. Gwen calls him Khalid.”
Michael laughed under his breath as he sat next to me. “He’s not even trying to be subtle, is he?”
I wasn’t in on Michael’s private joke, so I couldn’t pretend to care. “I guess?”
Too late. Michael was in lecture-mode. “Ahriman, more commonly known as Angra Mainyu, is very basically the Zoroastrian name for the devil. The embodiment of the spirit of destruction.”
“And why in the hell would I know that?” Being tired always made me an asshole. Well, a bigger asshole.
“Uh…sorry? Anyway, I don’t remember a lot about that section of my Middle Eastern Religious Studies course. We didn’t cover much beyond the basic philosophy and the myth about the Princess of the Mists.”
I made a vague sound, hoping Michael would get the hint.
He didn’t. “It’s not a well-known legend these days, but they made a big deal about it in seminary. It perfectly encapsulates the importance Immortals place on contracts and blood oaths.”
“Keep talking. I haven’t slept in days and your sermons always do the trick.”
“Funny. God forbid you actually learn something.”
“God forbid.” I was so tired that even the itchy tightening of my raw skin didn’t stop me from drifting off.
“So, apparently, once upon a time, there was this powerful entity. The church speculates that he was worshipped as some sort of fire deity, hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Our records place his cult somewhere within the Mediterranean, but there’s no trace of him within the Greco-Roman pantheon. From that, we were able to infer that he was some sort of titan. His name doesn’t matter; the story isn’t about him.”
I let out a long exhale. “What is it about blood-mugging that affects mortals like fucking Adderall?”
“Don’t know. Anyway, this titan ruled the world with an army of his kind, which scholars associate with the ring of fire. The Great General married a highborn water nymph, and she birthed to him seven children. She was incredibly powerful in her own right, but he was so much stronger that every time she gave birth, she had to sacrifice a piece of herself.”
In my head, I pictured a torso surrounded by screaming freak babies, but said nothing.
“Her first son took her cleverness. Her first daughter took her beauty. Her second son took her intelligence, and so on and so forth. Her last child took her kind and loving nature, which was what made the Great General fall in love with her in the first place. His wife’s final breath was their daughter’s first. After one last explosion of temper, the Great General abdicated his title. Every Immortal in the world rose up to fill the power vacuum he left behind. The wars that followed lasted for hundreds of years.
“Eventually, a new power arose in Persia. Some say this entity was a djinn. Some say he was the ghost of a bloodthirsty and brutal warlord. Again, it doesn’t matter. He spread across the land like a wave of blood, conquering as he went. Soon, his army controlled a huge portion of Europe and Asia.
“Not wanting to be conquered and enslaved, the Immortals turned to the Great General for help. The General had given up his warlike ways, but his reputation was still fierce enough that the Warlord agreed to a sit-down. The General offered the young Warlord lands and influence, as well as a seat on the High Council. Rather, the Seelie Court, or whatever the ruling body of the fairykin call themselves these days.”
The Supreme Authority. Again, I said nothing.
“To seal the deal, the General offered an arranged marriage to his youngest and favorite child, the Princess of the Mists. There were many that advised against the match. She was said to be the kindest, most gentle soul in the entire world. What no one expected was that the Warlord and the Princess would fall in love at first sight.”
I hugged a plump, soft pillow to my chest. “Yeah, they sound like the perfect couple.”
“The heart wants what the heart wants, Toby. Anyway, arrangements were made, peace accords were drawn up, and the lovers began to meet in secret. On one such meeting, they agreed to exchange gifts on their wedding day. The Warlord carved an obsidian statue of the two of them. He wanted to prove to the Princess that beauty and artistry did exist within him. The Princess, on the other hand, wanted to prove that she could be as strong and brutal as her future husband. To do that, she decided to kidnap a human child.”
“How is it possible to be too tired to sleep?”
“Dunno. Anyway, fairy tales are eaten up with stories of fairies, trolls, and ogres kidnapping human children for one reason or another. Usually, it’s to eat them, but they keep them as pets, too. It’s a status thing. A human child is one of the greatest gifts one Immortal can bestow upon another, but that’s neither here nor there.
“The Princess of the Mists found a small child foraging in the forest, after having been abandoned by his parents. He was starving and sickly, so she whisked him back to her father’s fortress in secret. She kept the boy hidden and told no one of her plans as she nursed him back to health. The problem was—”
I could see where this was going. “She ended up falling in love with the kid herself.”
“Worse. She did what is considered unthinkable in Immortal circles. She told the child her true name.”
I laughed once in the back of my throat. “Dipshit.”
“Yeah. The kid was young and alone in the world, but clever. He used that information to compel her to become his servant. Long story short—”
“Yeah, that ship sailed, Michael.”
“See? Why do I bother? Anyway, her royal relatives, who were against the match to begin with, decided she had to suffer the consequences. This pissed her fiancée right the hell off, but the Princess of the Mists appealed to her siblings to keep the child safe. They agreed. The Warlord cursed the boy and his descendants with short life, but the marriage fell through. The known world has been doomed to endless war ever since.”
I stared at the ceiling, and wished that I was stupider. I set the pillow aside with a sigh then braced myself to go back out into the rain. I hoped against hope that Gwen was home.
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