*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.
Sunlight peeked through the clouds, but the rain had covered everything in a slick film. It was pure terror that kept me surefooted as I leapt from rooftop, to fire escape, to busy sidewalk. Even taking the most direct route to Kingdom Come, I couldn’t seem to move fast enough. Not only that, it felt like the distance had tripled.
I had no hope of arriving in time.
Finding Karen’s window on the massive cathedral turned out to be easy. Even from the sidewalk, a neon waterfall of jasmine flowed from the broken glass. I leapt onto the second story ledge, then climbed the rest of the way. Soon, I was sitting in the exact same spot Justine had occupied not fifteen minutes earlier.
I expected to find Karen’s body, and maybe Justine still feeding from it. What I saw was Khalid sprawled out on Karen’s bed, with Karen draped over him like a blanket. Dressed in a pair of silky black pajama bottoms and nothing else, he ran his fingers through her hair. I wanted to punch the look of contentment off his face.
But…Karen was alive. Relief turned my limbs to jelly, right before my mouth went on autopilot. “What the Infernal fuck?”
Karen jumped, startled, then turned her face into Khalid’s chest. Khalid had no shame whatsoever as he said, “Here to break more of my windows? I expect compensation for that.”
The sight of them together was like tiny spiders on the back of my neck. Who knows what I would’ve walked into if I’d been even five minutes later. Worse, there was no way in hell Khalid could’ve boiled himself in holy water and bleach since fucking Aliese the Whore. I watched, helpless, as the taint of that woman soaked into Karen’s skin.
When I could speak without throwing up in my mouth, I said, “Karen, are you okay?”
Karen slid off of Khalid to lay on the bed next to him. “I’m fine, Toby. What are you doing here?”
Khalid sat up. “Welcome back, Tobias. By all means, come in out of the rain.”
I gave him a deadpan look. He didn’t need to know I’d almost accepted his invitation out of habit. “You’re hilarious. Where’s Justine?”
“I honestly can’t say. Silly us, we assumed you were here to see Karen.” What the hell was that supposed to mean? “If there’s nothing else, we’re kind of the middle of something.”
“I can see that. Karen, come on. We need to go.”
Karen didn’t move. Her voice was soft, and she couldn’t look me in the eye as she said, “I’m not going with you, Toby.”
“Ever,” Khalid finished. “She’s not going with you, ever. You need to go away and leave her alone.”
I jerked my chin toward Karen. “Let me hear that from her.”
“You need to go, Toby,” Karen said. I know I didn’t imagine the waver in her voice. “I can’t help you. There’s nothing I can do against a revenant.”
I mulled over her words. “Is that so? Neat trick. How did you get your voice to come out of her mouth like that? Is that an Infernal thing, or can you possess more than one person at a time?”
Karen rolled out of the bed then took a few steps in my direction. The look on her face was heartbreaking, but she was smart enough to stay out of arm’s reach. “Toby, that’s enough. Lord Ahriman is right. The primal energies needed to form a revenant are like the ones that cause tornadoes in the middle of hurricanes. What am I supposed to do against something like that? How do I know she won’t try to take back my soul if I get too close to her?”
Khalid put his hands on Karen’s shoulders; therefore, she didn’t see the smug look on his face. “Are you kidding?” I said. “The real question here is who else can do anything? No one. Only you stand a chance against Justine.”
Karen’s expression was pained. “Toby—”
“People are dying. More people are going to die if we don’t do something. Don’t you care about that?”
Khalid took a step forward to stand between us. “Don’t let him back into your head, my dearest. Do not take on this burden, just because he insists you must. Has he not caused you enough pain?”
“Why the fuck do you keep saying shit like that? Besides, the one she needs to keep out of her head is you, you pussy-peddling, syphilis-farmer.”
Karen let my words hang in the air for a moment. “Toby, that’s enough. Just leave. Please.”
“I’m not leaving here without you. You promised you’d help!”
Her voice rose to match mine. “Well, I can’t!”
“Why? Because that pimp-donkey-cock convinced you that you’re helpless?” I was getting the hang of this curse. “You, the most powerful necromancer anywhere can’t do anything against an undead? I can’t even begin to take that seriously.”
Khalid must have sensed that my words were having an impact. “Karen, listen to me. Don’t let him confuse you all over again.”
“I’m confusing her? Karen, don’t tell me you’re buying into his Infernal bullshit.”
Karen closed her eyes then pressed her fingertips to her temples.
“Remember,” Khalid said, and I could hear the hypnotic resonance in his voice. “Remember what he’s done to you. How he’s made you feel. Remember what he did to Justine.”
Karen shook her head as she took a step back. “That’s not fair. Toby had no control over himself when Justine died. He was feral when that happened.”
Khalid nodded in agreement. “Yes, he had no control over himself. He was feral. Because he’s a vampire.”
I raised my finger. “Actually, I’m only half.”
Khalid gave me a scathing look. “And that was more than enough. If you’re starving, if you’re injured, you could easily turn feral again because it is biologically encoded into you. It is always the humans closest to vampires that suffer the most. Next time, it could be my sweet Karen that has her throat torn open. Remember…” Khalid stroked Karen’s brow with the tip of his finger, and her eyes glazed over. “Remember how it felt when his fangs sank in.”
I knew he was trying to goad me into the room, but damn if that shit wasn’t about to work. “Karen, no,” I said. “Don’t let him put that memory back in your head. That happened to Justine, not you.”
Karen gave me a sideways look. “Except that it did happen to me, remember?”
Oh, shit. That’s right. The night we met. Well, fuck. “Okay, fine. I’ve attacked you. I killed Justine. I can’t change any of that, just like I can’t change what she became. I do have the chance to make things right, but I can’t do it alone. Please, Karen, help me.”
Khalid sneered. “Don’t trust him, Karen. Gwen has bound the Dagger of Danu to him.” Karen shook her head, not understanding. “It’s a powerful weapon, as Toby learned the last time he battled that revenant. He doesn’t need you. He only wants to keep you close so he can regain control.”
My mind reeled. “Hypocritical much?” How was Karen not seeing this? “Is it only okay when you do it? Shove it up your ass, whoremonger.”
“You are completely unworthy of her. You look at Karen and all you see is the necromancer that can turn you into a Pure vampire. Oh, and she just so happens to be a dead ringer for the woman you love.”
Okay, both of those things were technically true, but… “Dude, fuck you.”
Khalid turned his full attention to Karen then drew his shoulders back. “I look at her, and I see so much more. Immense power untapped. Behold.” Khalid took Karen’s hands in his. He nodded once, then they began to speak in unison. “Light in the darkness, beyond all we perceive. Primal gods, heed and harken. As I will, it must be.”
The lights started to flicker as all the energy was pulled to the center of the room. Being human, Karen didn’t see Khalid’s true form detach from his human host. It began to flow around her, circling like a shark. His vessel stood rigid, eyes rolled back as though having a seizure. Khalid himself was thick, rolling smoke. His eyes blazed like the mouth of a volcano, and lightning flashed deep in the core of his being. If he had a scent, it would be brimstone and sulfur. When he spoke, it was in some guttural perversion of Arabic, I think.
Karen echoed what I assumed was the translation. “Font of eternity…primordial stew…building blocks of life…lend your power…work through me…push through death’s ward and render creation.”
I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but Khalid’s voice grew even more inhuman. The air above Karen’s hands began to pop and sparkle. It was like witnessing the birth and death of a thousand microscopic galaxies.
“Essence of macrocosm…clay in my hands…Flow through this vessel and bend to my will. I command it to be so. Coalesce. Solidify. Become!”
A flock of white butterflies erupted from Karen’s open palms. Hundreds, then thousands filled the air, fluttering around the room as Karen laughed in delight.
Khalid settled back into his skin, then smiled with genuine affection. “Butterflies again?” he said.
Karen cooed at the bugs still perched on her fingers. “Yeah. The bigger stuff always wipes me out.”
Khalid waved away her concerns. “No, by all means. Whatever you see fit to create. They are lovely.”
The swarm turned then began to pour through the window, moving more like birds than insects. I caught one as it flitted past my face. The body was scarlet, like an artery, and pink vessels pulsed through its delicate wings. When I squeezed it between my fingers, bright red juice splattered my claws. One sniff confirmed it was human blood.
Karen spun around, drunk on herself. “That’s the most I’ve ever made at one time. They’re so beautiful.” She looked at me, eager, and I knew she wanted me to share her excitement. I should’ve been in awe, or at least impressed. Trouble was, this was the kind of shit they burned witches for in the middle ages. “Toby, I can’t leave,” she said, determined at last. “I’m more than just a necromancer here. I can deal with more than just death. I can create life.”
I held out my hand. “Karen, I need you to come with me. Now.”
Khalid made an aggravated noise. “Forget him, Karen. Such wonders are lost on his kind. He will never recognize your true potential, as I do. He will never see your worth.”
“Bullshit, buddy. People need her help, and you’ve got her here making butterflies.”
Khalid turned his back on me. “Enough of this. Between you and the incessant demands of her family, this poor girl will never know a moment’s peace. Karen, my love, if you wish, I can make you blind and deaf to this fool.”
Khalid didn’t know it, but he’d just handed me the answer to my problems. In fact, I felt like an idiot for not playing this card sooner. “Awesome trick,” I said, “Before that, though, her fiancée is being raped to death by the doppelgänger you hired.”
And, bingo. Karen stared at me, her eyes wide. “Wait, she…what?”
Before Khalid could react, Karen crossed the room then threw open the door of her walk-in closet. Khalid glared at me as we listened to her tear clothes from hangers, but I responded with a smile. A smile, and a single-digit salute. Karen came out, snatched underwear from her dresser, then stormed into the adjoining bathroom.
His hands balled into fists, Khalid said, “Well played, bloodsucker, but tell me something. Why do you insist upon Karen’s help with this endeavor of yours?”
“Eat a dick, Infernal. You know why.”
Khalid took my vulgarity in stride. “How is it you haven’t managed to track this revenant down on your own? It should require almost no effort on your part. How has such a monstrous creature managed to evade you? Not only that, how has she consistently gotten the drop on you? Could it be that you don’t want to find her?”
“I haven’t found her because this is a big city, and Justine is clever.”
Khalid nodded. “Indeed. As is my Karen. As were all her incarnations, all the way back to Serkani. A quick wit seems to come part and parcel with that soul, along with a trusting nature that borders on self-destructive.”
“So, you knew Serkani now?” I said.
“I did, as I have known every incarnation of her that has come since.” He gave me a wink.
I wasn’t falling for his mind games, but my remaining claws dug into my hands. “Justine never would’ve fall for your shit. Ugly truth, remember?”
Khalid nodded once. “Justine was found, recognized, and taken in by her first husband at a very young age. You may not be aware of this, having known only two of Serkani’s reincarnations, but every time she is reborn, she adopts a new scent. Her essence remains the same, but she chooses an aroma with which she must surround herself. For Serkani, it was the lotus blossom. Sometimes the only way she could quiet the voices in her head was to fill a hot bath with the flowers. One could smell her from another room. For Karen, it is jasmine, as with Charlotte it was wild verbena. For Justine, it was the rose, was it not?”
The band of muscles along my brow tightened. “Your point?”
“When Justine’s ghoul rested in her crypt after you so brutally took her life, the smell of roses grew even stronger. That was what tricked the sheeple into believing she was a saint. So, I ask again, seeing as how she has attacked you twice, why have you failed to track that olfactory cloud back to wherever she makes her den?”
I didn’t answer, because Khalid wasn’t asking. He was trying to make a point.
“Could it be that your beloved no longer bears a scent?”
“She’s not one of you,” I said.
Khalid cocked his head. “Djinn? No, of course not. Immortal, yes. Infernal, absolutely.”
Nothing I had called him, or even Aliese the Whore, was half as offensive. “Justine was a flesh and blood human.”
Khalid smirked at my stupidity. “Humanity is not but the larval form of something greater. Do you have any idea how many of my kind began their existence as humans?”
“Justine is a revenant. Revenants are undead.” Why was I still talking to this asshole?
“Revenants are rare. Being rare, they are unstudied. Who’s to say what they are?”
“Just…shut the fuck up. I’m so sick of the sound of your voice. Oh, and there’s no way in hell I’m letting Karen come back here.”
“You say that as though you have the power to stop her.”
Karen came out of the bathroom before I could respond. She was dressed in a pair of designer jeans, leather boots, and a flowing lace top; clothes I knew she’d always admired but could never afford. When she snatched her purse from the dresser, I caught a peek of the black tattoo on her forearm.
Khalid took her in his arms. “Karen, my love, I am exceedingly sorry.”
Karen was stiff but returned his embrace. “I don’t blame you, Lord Ahriman, but this wasn’t part of the deal. Toby’s right; Trevor’s been raped, and it’s all my fault.”
“It’s not your fault,” Khalid said with clear-cut sorrow, though, for the record, I hadn’t blamed Karen, either.
“I brought that thing into his life. Trevor never would’ve been with her if he’d known that wasn’t me. I have to go make it right.”
“I understand completely. What she’s done is unconscionable and, frankly, unprofessional. She was hired to be your placeholder, nothing more. Her actions make all of us look bad. If you would, bring her back to me.” Khalid placed a small statuette he’d pulled out of thin air into Karen’s hands. “Do you remember the incantation you used to exorcise your dimwitted friend over there?”
Karen shoved the statue into her purse as she said, “Caught and trapped, locked and snapped—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Khalid said with a chuckle. “Careful, my love. You barely said a word, and I already have goosebumps.”
Karen’s cheeks turned bright pink. “I’m sorry.”
Khalid traced the line of her jaw. I began to wonder if they remembered I was still there. “Return to me soon?”
“I’ll be back before sundown, I promise.”
Karen turned to leave but Khalid held her elbow. “If I may, what to you plan on telling your family?”
Karen took a deep breath, then let it out as a sigh. “The truth. That I’m not coming back.”
“Are you sure that you’re ready for that?”
“Yes. It needs to be done. I should’ve listened to you from the start.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “What, when he wanted you to let everyone think you were dead?”
Khalid gave me a narrow look as he turned Karen’s face up to his. To her, he said, “You are young. Wisdom comes with time.” I looked away as he pressed his lips to hers, but it was too late. That image was branded in my memory for eternity.
Karen walked out of the room, then Khalid gave me a look that promised a painful death. “Later,” I said as I dropped to the sidewalk.