*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.
Khalid’s wide desk stood between us as he leaned back in his chair and pretended I didn’t exist. His demon enforcers stood on either side of me, arms crossed but ready to attack. My pre-battle adrenaline rush faded, so I passed the time by taking in my surroundings.
Khalid’s office was a monument to all the nice stuff the sex industry can buy. The furniture was modern and high-end, but the artwork appeared to come from medieval times. Every painting depicted human beings entangled with demons; some sexually, while others were being tortured and eaten. The collection would be worth millions to the right psychopathic collector. I filed that tidbit of information away for later.
An obsidian statue loomed in the recess behind Khalid’s desk. It had to be at least eight feet tall, and polished to a mirror finish. I could make out every strand in the angelic female’s long, flowing hair. She loomed above a demonic male, their hands, bodies, and lips not quite touching. Close, but forever out of reach.
I sucked my front teeth in absolute boredom. “Nice place,” I said.
Khalid didn’t look up from his phone.
“You turned an old church into a whorehouse. That’s pretty funny. It must’ve been worth some irony points, at least.”
Khalid heaved an impatient sigh.
“So, are you going to keep playing Candy Crush for the rest of the night, or what?”
“If you would, kindly shut the fuck up.” Khalid’s tone was flat and disinterested.
I nodded, my arms crossed, then counted to ten in my head. “So, you’re a pimp?”
Khalid closed his eyes as he massaged his brow.
“Don’t get me wrong, that sounds like a pretty sweet gig. You keep the money while your whores do all the work. How do you talk these women into going along with something like that?”
Khalid looked at me at last. “You know, vampire tongue is a delicacy, half-breed.”
“Really? Cool. So, why haven’t I heard of this place?”
Khalid made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat. “I take offense at the notion that a homeless vermin such as yourself believes he would hear about my establishment. Our social circles do not overlap, Tobias. They orbit in completely different galaxies.”
I’m used to people talking down to me, and under normal circumstances I don’t care. “You know I’m royalty, right?” I’ve never played that particular card before, and I don’t think I ever will again. It felt…very wrong.
Khalid wasn’t impressed. “Perhaps, but you are also Disavowed.”
Prick. “So, are you going to kill me, or what?”
“Oh, yes,” Khalid said with a nod, which made his underlings smile with sadistic joy. “First, I must assess any damage your presence might have caused here tonight.”
Before I could respond, Khalid’s office door opened, then a blonde woman walked into the room. She looked and smelled human, but it was obvious she worked there. Her long hair hung loose on her shoulders, having just enough natural curl to be unmanageable. Her cheeks were round and her blue eyes were too small for her face. A corset cinched her boobs and waist into an hourglass shape, but did nothing for her flat ass. I could tell right away she was a skinrider, like Khalid. Unlike Khalid, her inner-demon was weak and inferior. The aura she threw off was repellant rather than intimidating. Translation: I hated the bitch at first sight.
A cat-sized shadow perched on the whore’s forearm. It flitted across the room the second it saw Khalid, the imp’s wings silent as it swooped past my head. The creature didn’t ruffle a single paper when it landed on Khalid’s desk. It handed him a pearlescent black stone, then crouched down to wait.
“Thank you, Linus,” Khalid said as he crushed the rock between his bare hands. He gave a pinch of the fine black powder to the imp, then brushed the remainder onto his desktop.
“We’ve finished sweeping the building, Captain,” the whore said. “Your staff and their clients appear to be wholly unaware of the intruder’s presence. Your other…assets haven’t been interfered with.” Her gaze shifted to me and I felt my skin crawl. “May we have him, Captain?”
“Patience, Aliese,” Khalid said, in the same tone I’ve heard people use with their dogs.
I’m not a complete idiot. Aliese the Whore’s thick southern accent made her sound like a dipshit, but I could read between the lines. A vein of white-hot fury pulsed through my calm. “Then Karen is here,” I said. “You’re a dead man, skinrider.”
Khalid arranged the powder into thin lines. “She is, for the moment, though not in the capacity that you assume.” He took a moment to snort what I assumed was concentrated human suffering through a silver straw. “Your master has abandoned you, half-breed.”
“My what?” I knew who he was talking about.
“I believe he is referring to me, Tobias,” a soothing, patient female voice said behind me. I turned my head to look at the full-length mirror that hung on the wall. Instead, I found myself gazing into Gwen’s creepy picture room. She sat on the center bar stool, a tranquil smile on her face. “Khalid, my darling. Already, it feels like eternity since we’ve last spoken.”
A warm flash of excitement at the sound of her voice salted Khalid’s blood. It only lasted for a moment before his scent began to burn with resentment. He got to his feet then rounded the desk to approach the mirror. “I’m afraid I must dispense with the formal pleasantries, my Dearest Heart. Your minion was found trespassing in my domain. It is only out of respect for your line that I approach you now, to resolve this matter informally.”
Gwen didn’t waver as she said, “Your benevolence and generosity know no bounds, Your Grace.” There was no way to take her tone as anything but sarcastic.
Khalid’s voice sharpened as he said, “We searched him, of course, but found he didn’t carry the fee of which you owe me.”
Gwen tilted her head. “Fee?”
“You engaged the services of my necromancer under false pretenses.”
“I made myself quite plain when I informed you that I needed your necromancer’s help in exorcising a ghost from my servant. How is that false pretenses?”
“You didn’t tell me that your servant was someone with whom my necromancer shared such a bitter and painful history.”
I’d been enjoying the show until that point. “Excuse me?” I said.
Gwen waved her hand. “I didn’t see how that was relevant.”
“It was relevant because, had I known this filthy half-vampire was the recipient of your ritual, I wouldn’t have allowed my Karen to take part in it.”
“Then it was fortuitous for Toby that I never mentioned it.” Before Khalid could argue, Gwen said, “I can’t afford your fee a second time, Khalid. Well, not unless your necromancer pays what she owes me. If you take issue with that, I urge you to bring the matter before the Supreme Authority.”
Khalid clasped his hands in front of him as his entire being turned to stone. “Am I to understand then that you didn’t send your servant here?”
“I did not. He tracked you down all on his own.” Gwen’s smile lit up her face. “Well done, Toby.”
I made the sign of the devil horns. “Thanks, Mom.” They weren’t paying attention to me, anyway.
“Then it appears as though I have underestimated him,” Khalid said.
Gwen shrugged. “It’s an easy mistake to make.”
“A mistake I don’t intend to repeat.” Khalid nodded at his enforcers, who seized me. Aliese the Whore giggled, jumping up and down as she clapped her hands in delight.
Gwen stood, as cool as an autumn morning, then approached the mirror. She moved with such grace that she appeared to be floating. “It could be, Khalid, that you aren’t as clever as you believe yourself to be. Unhand him.”
I felt the demons’ grip on me loosen, but Khalid raised a hand to stay them. Interesting.
With a hint of outrage, Khalid said, “If he isn’t here as your agent, then he is an intruder and his life is forfeit. The Supreme Authority will agree, Your Highness. They will not side with you on the behalf of a bloodsucker.”
Gwen’s smile wilted then the mirror’s surface began to ripple. Khalid took a step as Gwen passed through the portal. Despite his outward appearance of calm, I heard his heart begin to race.
“My dearest Khalid,” Gwen said. “How I wish we could have settled this matter with civility. You know how distasteful I find this place to be, as well as the company you keep.” Gwen gave Aliese the Whore just a flicker of a glance. “As for my servant, it is common knowledge that Toby owes me unspecified boons for saving his life. Half-vampire or not, you have no right to interfere with my contracts.”
“Nor can I have him sneaking around Kingdom Come, threatening my livelihood.”
Gwen placed her hands on her hips as she looked past Khalid, at me. “Tobias, did you threaten his livelihood?”
“Hell no,” I said, offended. “I came here to get laid.” I jerked my arm out of the right demon’s grasp, then removed the wad of cash from my pocket.
Khalid sneered. “I assure you, vagrant, there is no service here that you can afford.”
“Really? I can’t even get one of the ugly ones to suck me off?” I jerked my chin toward Aliese the Whore. “Come on, you know you want it. It’s all you’re good for, right?”
Gwen turned in a full circle then nodded in approval. “I must say, Khalid, this is not what I’d expected. It’s much…classier than I would have pictured, given the circumstances.” She gazed at the statue of the lovers, her head tilted in consideration.
Khalid stepped behind her, and I saw him lift his hand to touch her hair. His fingers passed through the thick red waves as though Gwen was made of light and air. His jaw tightened and his hand balled into a fist as he let his arm drop to his side. “Your servant came here to interfere with my servant, despite what he claims,” he said.
“Is she not allowed to ‘interfere’ with anyone she likes?” Gwen ran her fingertips over the statue, then rubbed them together. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen your work so closely. It’s beautiful. You should sell it.”
Khalid smirked. “Karen is at a critical juncture in her training. Tobias will only distract her with heartache. Upon returning from his exorcism, she couldn’t stop crying for hours.”
I hate to admit it, but Khalid’s remark landed like a mule kick to my gut.
Gwen made a neutral sound as she examined the gruesome paintings. “I’ll wager you and your inferiors truly enjoyed that, Khalid.” She tapped her left nostril with a wink. One of the demon enforcers growled as Gwen drifted by, a guttural combination of lust and loathing.
Khalid whirled on him, a ferocious look on his face. “Avert your eyes, wyrm!” His fellow demons, except for Gwen, dropped their gazes immediately. Hell, his tone carried so much authority that even I looked down for a second. Satisfied that everyone was properly cowered, Khalid said, “You should not be here, Your Highness.”
“No one should be here, Khalid, yet here we are. I demand that you release my servant from this place, so that he might continue his sacred quest unimpeded.” Gwen spoke like someone used to getting her way.
“Begging your forgiveness, Highness, but if I release him, he will only return to interfere with my business. I will be forced to relocate, which is… an extreme inconvenience. I’d prefer you permit me to feed him to my servants now and be done with it.”
“If I were to do that, Toby’s boons would transfer to them. And seeing as how the worthy ones can’t manifest outside of this unholy place, their boon will transfer to their master. You. It will become your duty to root out and destroy the source of this plague. If you think you can handle that, then by all means, kill him.”
“Hey!” I said, though I wasn’t really surprised or offended.
“I disagree with your assessment of the situation,” Khalid said.
The corner of Gwen’s mouth turned up. “Finvarra would not.”
I have no idea whose name Gwen dropped, but it had a strong effect on Khalid. His face and tone became icy as he said, “Because your uncle is renowned for his fairness and impartiality to those he deems Infernal. I’m surprised you would bring His Majesty into this, given the manner in which he wronged the two of us.”
“He decreed that I should answer for my mistakes and honor my commitments, nothing more.”
Khalid stared deep into her eyes. “Not the ones that mattered.”
Gwen met his gaze. “Release him,” she said in a way that made it clear she wouldn’t ask again.
“I will,” he said. “But only if he can fight his way free.”
Gwen’s face smoothed with displeasure as the demons forced me to my knees. “You’ll want to rethink that, Khalid. I’ve bound the Dagger of Danu to him.”
Just like that, Gwen’s dagger was in my hand. I summoned all of my strength then ripped my arm away from the demon on my right. I used the same momentum to ram the weapon into the other demon’s diaphragm. The creature howled as the blade slid under his ribcage to pierce his heart. Knowing to expect them, I didn’t let go of the hilt when white flames spewed out of the wound. The demon screamed as he dissolved into a puddle of bubbling black ash.
The other demon appeared to be caught off guard. I was supposed to have been an easy kill, an easy meal. That moment of uncertainty was all I needed. I turned the blade then buried it to the hilt in the other demon’s throat. The knife tip barked against his spine as it burst though the nape of his neck. This demon vanished in a puff of choking yellow mist.
Her eyes wide with terror, Aliese the Whore backed away. For a moment, I considered killing her next, if only to free the world of her presence. Luckily for her, I had bigger fish to fry.
Khalid and Gwen didn’t look at me as they lifted their hands in my direction. They made an identical finger motion, then I felt as though I’d been seized by an invisible hand. Their next gesture brought me to my knees. They stood face to face, neither affected by the violence that just happened. They stared at one another as though only the other person existed.
“I wish that you had come in the flesh,” Khalid said, his voice husky.
Gwen’s smile was coy. “No good has ever come of that.”
Khalid’s eyes smoldered as he said, “I disagree.” He turned toward me, all business as he said, “Bloodsucker, you are free to go.”
In the meantime, their telekinesis had worn off. Breathing hard, I looked around for the dagger, but it had vanished once again.
Khalid sat at his desk with a heavy sigh. “However, allow me to offer a friendly piece of advice before you take your leave. Remember that it was my kind that gave humanity the wards and spells they needed to protect themselves from your filthy race. We can tailor them to suit our needs. For example, we can reverse them. Your kind can enter this place freely, but they cannot leave without my permission. This will be the last time you receive it. Should you ever return, you will be put to work.”
I knew Khalid wasn’t making an empty threat. I looked at Gwen, who nodded at me once before she stepped back through the mirror.
Khalid’s tone dripped with bitterness as he said, “Get out.” He waved his hand, then his office window opened by itself.
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing as I jumped. I dropped two stories to the sidewalk below, then looked back up. Already, the window was closed, and impossible to tell apart from the dozens that surrounded it.
Fuck. Fuck, fuckity, double fuck. Karen was in that place. Or, at least she was, and might still be. They could be in the middle of moving her while I stood there with my thumb up my ass. Hell, they might’ve moved her while I was trapped in Khalid’s office. There was no way to know.
My brain scrambled to figure out what to do next. I couldn’t go back in, but maybe I could knock on some of the windows? Yeah right, then say what? “Hello. Yes, Miss Prostitute, if you could stop sucking that married guy’s cock for a second, I need to ask you something. I’m looking for a pretty girl, about seventeen? No, no, not like that. Her name is Karen, have you seen her? No? Oh, well, I’ll let you get back to your three-way.”
I rolled my eyes. I’m a fucking idiot. Maybe I could stakeout the exits? Shit, I didn’t know. Where’s a fucking hellhound when you need one?
I turned to walk toward the street, then discovered that my body was no longer under my control. My head ducked itself, then my hands pulled up my hood before they dove into my pockets. My body turned on my heels, then my legs propelled me toward the rear corner of the building. I drifted closer to the wall, where the second-story ledge would hide me from sight.
My heart was pounding by the time I reached a concrete stairwell that led down a basement entrance. My body vaulted over the railing, landing just outside an ornamental security gate. The twisted iron protected a heavy door no one could get through without a passcode or a battering ram. Luckily, I didn’t need either, because the door opened to reveal an unlit storage area.
Control returned to me as a female figure in a grey, hooded cloak stepped out of the shadows. The thick furs were so long and loose-fitting that her face and body were a mystery beneath them. Every rustle of movement sent a puff of thick, heady perfume wafting from the material. It was as though decaying poppy flowers had been sewn into the lining. My heart began to pound as she removed the veil that covered the lower half of her face. She was wearing so much makeup that only her closest friends would’ve recognize her. I recognized her. When she stripped off the golden wig to reveal her dark hair, I threw myself against the gate.
The bars were too close together to allow her to wrap her arms around me. Instead, Karen’s hands closed over mine, soft and warm as she said, “Toby, you shouldn’t have come here.”