*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.
I almost groaned when Song came into the Sanctuary’s communal bathroom. I couldn’t risk acknowledging her presence, though. I didn’t have the time—or the patience—to deal with her. I kept shaving my head in the sink as though I hadn’t noticed her roll her chair to a stop right behind me.
“Whoever painted that meadow scene over the mirror is going to be pissed when they see how much of it you’ve scraped off.”
“Yeah, well, they can take it up with my dick,” I said as I pulled long strands of hair out of the electric razor. Cheap piece of shit. I would’ve been annoyed if I’d paid for it.
Song didn’t seem bothered as she readjusted herself in her seat. “I’ll never get used to not having a reflection,” she said with a sigh.
I rolled my eyes. I missed the days when she would do nothing but stare into space.
“I’m beginning to forget what I look like. Some days, I get scared that pieces of my face were blown off in the explosion, too, and everyone’s just too polite to tell me. I can’t stop touching my lips and nose to make sure they’re still there.”
I made a noncommittal sound.
“Don’t you ever sleep?” she said.
“Don’t you ever smile?” Truth be told, I was exhausted. My body ached and my eyes burned. I had forty-eight hours of freedom left, though, and too much that I had to do. I’d sleep when I went back to prison.
“Fair enough.” Song frowned as I brushed the stubble from my hairless scalp. “Bald is a weird look for you, but I guess it’s better than mange.” When I didn’t reply, she said, “How did your meeting with that demon go?”
I gave her an incredulous look. “How did you know about that?”
Song scoffed. “Everyone knows everything about everyone else around here. We’re all up in each other’s business, even me. Besides, there’s a pool going to see if you can find that necromancer before you get sent back to prison.”
“What pool?” I said as I flexed my bare fingers. My nail beds were hardening and they were no longer sore, but I would be down a natural weapon for a few days. “Wait, who else knows that Karen is a necromancer?”
Song shrugged. “Aside from you, me, and Father Cooper, I’m not sure. From what I’ve gathered, all the other bloodsuckers assume you guys are fuck buddies.” She made a face, as though something had just occurred to her. “Wait, aren’t you?”
“No.” My answer required no further explanation, but I said, “She’s engaged.”
Karen’s relationship status didn’t interest Song. “So, when is the priest going to show up with the cold blood? I’m starving.”
“You’re still on that crap?” Below my irritation, I felt a flutter of anxiety. I hadn’t seen Michael since before I’d left for Gwen’s place. If he hadn’t been to the Sanctuary in over twenty-four hours, something was very wrong.
“What choice do I have?” Song said as I turned her wheelchair then pushed it out of the bathroom. “My options are kind of limited, don’t you think?”
“No.” I rolled her down the hallway toward the dusty, unused kitchen. It was just after two in the morning, so the Sanctuary was pretty much deserted. “You’re a chick. Chicks don’t need to hunt, especially the hot ones.”
“Yeah, I’m super-hot right now.”
I opened the back door. “Look, if you’re fishing for compliments, fish elsewhere. I don’t have time for your bullshit.”
Song held out her arm to keep the door from closing. “Wait. You’re going to leave me here? Take me with you if you’re going to talk to the priest. He keeps all the cold blood at his place.”
I hesitated for a second, then sighed as I swept her up into my arms. It surprised me how light she was, like a child. “Fine. Don’t get your hopes up, though. Michael might not feel up for a blood run. The last time I saw him, he was…sick.” Fear and dismay settled in my stomach like a brick of ice.
Song looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “Does this have anything to do with the revenant?”
Damn. Bitch was intuitive. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing as I made my way down the steep embankment to Michael’s cottage.
The porch light was off, and all the windows were dark. Yet, the Sanctuary’s battered grey Ford Explorer was parked in the car port. Song and I exchanged looks, and I could tell she shared my concern.
Because my hands were full, Song knocked on the front door for me. “Father Cooper?” I could hear the ghost of the authoritative Watcher she once was in her voice. “Are you okay?”
No one answered, and my anxiety blossomed into full-blown dread. “Michael? Michael, are you in there?”
The house was silent, which could mean anything. Michael might’ve gone to the hospital. Or, he could be lying in bed, too sick and weak to move. He could already be dead…but I didn’t hear a ghoul stumbling around the house. That was a relief. Well, sort of.
Wordless understanding passed between us as I placed Song on the ground. I admit, I set her down with more consideration than I needed to. It was hard to see her as anything but fragile, because I’m dumb like that. I leaned her against a wooden trellis covered in dried, brown ivy as I said, “Stay here.” In hindsight, that was kind of a dick move. Song didn’t seem offended, though, as she nodded in agreement.
Michael’s door was unlocked, which was nothing out of the ordinary. However, all the interior lights were off and there was a sour, ripened stench in the air. “Michael?” I said, and my voice seemed to resonate in the tiny house.
I took a deep breath then braced myself to force my way past the wards. Before I could take the plunge, Dr. S lurched into the entryway. The sight of her stopped me in my tracks. Her skin was ashen and her eyes had sunk deep into her face. She looked at me, made a nauseated sound, then rushed into the tiny kitchen. I winced when I heard her retching into the sink.
“Toby…” Michael’s voice was a rasp, and he leaned against the wall as though it was the only thing holding him up. He flipped on the light switch, then I immediately wished he hadn’t. Michael looked terrible. Sweat plastered his hair to his head. The red rash had spread across his chest, back and arms. The rest of him was fish belly-white, and heat radiated from him like a furnace. Worst of all, his blood had taken on an almost pickled scent.
Michael waved me inside. “Please, come in, Toby. You are always welcome here.” He noticed then that I wasn’t alone. “You can come in, too, Song,” he said, then coughed into his hand.
I tried to keep my expression neutral as I gathered Song into my arms. We followed Michael into the living room, where he dropped down hard on the couch. He breathed as though he’d just finished running a marathon.
“How are you feeling?” I said, because I’m fucking stupid.
“Like microwaved death, thanks for asking. This feels like the worst case of the flu I’ve ever had. My head is splitting, my body aches, and I haven’t been able to keep anything down.” Michael picked up a digital thermometer from the coffee table then stuck it under his tongue.
Dr. S stepped around the corner, hugging her midsection. “He’s getting dehydrated. I have to get some fluids into him.” She put her hand on my arm, then leaned on me for support. “Look, I remember that you have ways of…acquiring things.”
That was a polite way of putting it. If she hadn’t needed something from me, she would’ve called me a thief to my face. Whatever.
“If I give you a list, can you hit County General and bring me some supplies?”
I didn’t have time for this shit. Besides, there was nothing modern medicine could do for Michael. I closed my eyes, then let out a defeated breath as I said, “Sure. Just make it quick.”
The thermometer beeped. “One-oh-two, Tamryn,” Michael said before tossing the device back onto the table.
“Is that bad?” I said, afraid of the answer. I realized I was still carrying Song, which made it awkward. I placed her on the couch next to Michael.
Dr. S didn’t look up from her legal pad. “It’s not great, but I’d be more concerned if he was still running one-oh-four, or one-oh-five.” She handed me a list of what appeared to be gibberish. I could only hope that whatever nurse I ended up shaking down at the hospital was able to read it. “Please hurry,” she said as she sat on opposite side of Michael then placed her head on his shoulder.
“Have you found Karen?” Michael said.
“Not yet but I have a solid lead. Her master is a skinrider, and I managed to get this.” I pulled the plastic baggie containing the napkin out of my back pocket.
Michael and Dr. S gave me blank looks, but Song nodded in understanding. “You’re going to use his scent to track him,” she said.
This made Dr. S giggle. “Like a dog?”
I gave her a cold look. “Yes, I can use his scent to track him.” My tone dared her to say anything else about it.
“Were you not able to follow him back to wherever he came from?” Michael said.
I shook my head, because it hadn’t occurred to me to try. I played it off. “I didn’t need to. Besides, Khalid would’ve noticed if I’d tailed him, then moved Karen just to be safe. If he hasn’t already.” I shoved that thought out of my head, because I had enough to worry about. “It’s all good, though. I can tell a lot from a scent. I can tell what part of town he lives in, what restaurants he eats at, where he shops, all sorts of things. I know exactly where to go to start looking for him, which I’ll do the second I get this shit for Dr.…”
My voice trailed off. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a little slow on the uptake. Being tired and hungry didn’t help. At that moment, though, a realization struck me. It was like sunlight blazing through the cracks in a cement wall. I almost laughed, then I wanted to kick myself for not realizing it sooner.
I took off my hoodie so fast I heard a seam rip. I rolled up my right sleeve as I said, “Do you have one of those…” I made a slashing motion across my wrist. “Scalpel? Do you have a scalpel?”
Dr. S frowned at me. “Yeah. Why?”
I jerked my head toward Michael. “Open one of his veins.”
No one moved to obey me. “Again, why?” Michael said.
“Blood-mug me.” Before anyone could argue, I said, “It’s going to sting like fuck when my spit gets down into your cut, Michael. It would hurt a hell of a lot more if I bit you.”
“Why are we doing this?” Michael said as I kneeled in front of him.
“If I can save fucking Nicholai Santos’s worthless ass then I can knock out the flu, or whatever the hell is wrong with you.”
“We both know what’s wrong with me,” Michael said. “It’s hopeless.”
Pure defiance swelled up to wash away any doubts still clinging to my brain. “Bullshit. Nothing is hopeless. Dr. S blood-mugged you and you’re already doing better.”
“This is doing better?” Michael said with a laugh that triggered another coughing fit.
“Yes,” I said when he finished. “Think about it. Dr. S blood-mugged you, and those white blisters you had last night are already gone. Also, she said that your fever has come down. Even if blood-mugging doesn’t help, what can it hurt?”
Michael pointed at Dr. S. “Look at her. Yes, Tamryn blood-mugged me, and she hasn’t been able to stop throwing up ever since.”
Dr. S made a pouty noise, her eyes closed. “It’s called organic hemorrhagic dialysis.”
“No one fucking cares,” Song said. Damn. I was sort of, a little bit, almost starting to like her.
“She’ll live,” I said. “She needs to get some cold blood into her before she goes feral, but she’ll live. Vampire livers can filter out fucking Ebola.”
Dr. S heaved a dramatic sigh. “It’s not so much ‘filtering it out’ as the vampire liver creates antibodies that—”
“Dr. S will recover,” I said, if only to shut her up. “More importantly, so will you.”
Michael shook his head. Before I could yell at him for being a martyr, he said, “No, Toby, you can’t do this. You only have two days to find Karen. We can’t risk you getting sick, too.”
“Let me do it,” Song said to everyone’s surprise. “Even if it doesn’t work, Toby is right. It’s worth the risk. I guess I owe you that much for letting me stay here.”
Michael stared at her, so moved he was speechless.
Michael’s kitten pranced into the room behind me. I heard the jingle of her collar as she headed toward the front door, which still stood open. No one noticed Justine lurking on the porch until we heard Snowball’s painful squeak. Michael’s eyes widen in alarm as he looked past me, and I began to turn my head.
Breathing hard and fast, her teeth bared, Justine crushed the baby cat’s spine with her bare hand. She threw the limp body against the wall, then unleashed a deafening scream. The inverted black crucifix was still branded into her cheek, a stark contrast to her white skin. The rest of her face twisted into a mask of hatred as she flew toward us.
Before I could react, I felt myself get shoved aside. Just above my head, but too quick for even my eyes to follow, what remained of Song’s fist cracked against Justine’s jaw. The impact sounded like a boulder falling off a high mountain to crash onto another boulder. The power behind the blow catapulted Justine into the wall. She hit hard enough to leave a dent, then fell to the floor. When she lifted her head, Justine’s bottom jaw dangled from the rest of her face. She growled like a wild animal and her eyes began to glow red. Her gaze didn’t waver as she reset her jaw with a stomach-turning crackle.
Adrenalin surged through me. “Get them out of here!” Dr. S, being useless, did nothing but scream as Justine and I collided in the center of the room.
Justine was fast and crazy strong, and she’d retained all her fighting skills in death. Once upon a time, I would’ve been no match for her. Luckily, in the few years before she died, I’d been Justine’s sparring partner. I’ve also tangled with more than my fair share of Pure vampires. I held my own against the revenant, in that I was able to keep her from killing me outright.
Justine’s fingers tore at me like talons, and her limbs were as unbending as iron. She planted her feet then hip tossed me into the coffee table. I braced for impact when I felt myself falling, but held tight to her burial dress. I used it to drag her down on top of me, then the two of us rolled into Michael’s bookshelves. The contents rained down on us as we grappled one another.
“Someone get me a gun!” I heard Song shout at the others.
“I don’t have one,” Michael said, because he’s a fucking moron.
Justine had me pressed against the floor, her forearm crushing my windpipe. I tried to break her hold, but it took every ounce of my strength to keep her snapping teeth away from my throat.
“He’s going to die!” Dr. S shrieked. Again, she made no move to help.
There was a thunk as something heavy bounced off the back of Justine’s skull. A cast iron figure of Jesus dragging his cross landed on the floor behind her. Justine’s eyes glazed for a second, and her grip loosened enough for me to free myself. I brought my arms up to shove her away, then realized I was holding the dagger Gwen had given me.
Time ground to a halt. I couldn’t do it. My heart and my mind refused to let me strike out against Justine, even to save my own life. When I looked at her, I saw past what she had become. I only saw the woman I’d loved. I saw Ellie’s mother. I saw the only person that ever made me feel normal. I saw the woman that gave me a place to stay when the rest of the world left me to rot. She was a monster, yes, but a monster I had created. She didn’t choose this fate. The real Justine—my Justine—had to be in there somewhere.
Luckily, my hand hadn’t gotten the memo, and it shot forward. The long blade jarred against bone as it sank deep into Justine’s chest. I’d missed her heart by a hair, but her flesh spewed white, hissing flames. The heat scorched my fingers, and I let go of Gwen’s knife on reflex. Justine screeched as she leapt away from me, landing on the opposite wall near the ceiling. She clung there like a spider, clutching her chest with an agonized moan that cut right through me.
Somehow, the weapon was back in my hand. Justine realized the same, and what could only be described as grief rippled across her face. She dropped to the ground then darted toward the open door.
“Toby, go after her!” Michael said when I continued to lay on the floor, frozen in place.
“Go!” Song commanded, and it was her voice that jarred me back to my senses.
Of course, by the time I made it outside, Justine was already gone. I spun around, trying to get a glimpse of her, but the Sanctuary grounds were empty. She must’ve taken flight. Besides, the magical blade had disappeared again. I guessed that meant we were safe, at least for the time being.
Thanks to Michael’s open invitation, I was able to reenter the house without triggering any wards. I crunched through broken glass and ceramic to find the living room empty. I found Michael and the girls in his bedroom. Song was perched on the corner of his bed, stoic, while Dr. S clung to him in hysterics.
“How did she get in without being invited?” Dr. S said between high-pitched sobs. Song gave her fellow vampire a look that made it clear she wanted to slap the shit out of her.
“Is everyone okay?” I said.
Michael nodded, even though he looked traumatized. “We’re fine. What about Justine?”
I shook my head, hoping they wouldn’t notice the shame in my eyes. “She’s gone. She’s just too fast. There’s no way I can keep up with her.”
Michael’s limbs shook as he got to his feet. “Then we have no choice. Take me to this demon. I will compel him to tell us where Karen is.”
I placed my hand in the center of his chest to shove him back onto the bed. “Sit down. You can’t compel a fly to land on a pile of cow shit right now.”
“I can’t sit back and do nothing, either,” Michael said, even though he was already out of breath.
“Michael, I have two days to find Karen, and no time to argue with you. You’re useless. Accept it. Dr. S…Hey! Pay attention. Suck it up, then go to the Sanctuary and get one of the other vampires to come here and blood-mug Michael.”
Michael shook his head. “Toby, I don’t want to turn.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. Dr. S can you try very hard to make sure that the vampire you choose isn’t Pure? ‘Kay-thanks-bye.” To Song, I said, “You’re with me.”
Song blinked in surprise. “What?”
“Hurry up and get some decent clothes on. Maybe run a comb through your fucking hair. We leave in twenty minutes.”