*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.
Nothing existed beyond Michael’s office window except the suffocating wall of white fog. I felt like a bug trapped in a jar, running out of air and on high alert for any threat. I saw nothing; no flicker of movement or flash of black, but that just made me more nervous.
Mateo sat behind Michael’s desk, his hand on his stomach and a pained look on his face. Between his feet, a wastebasket overflowed with empty cups of cold blood. Karen laid on the couch to my left, staring at the ceiling. Tears rolled into her hair whenever she blinked, and every breath caught in her throat. At least she’d stopped bawling.
“Dude, I’m about to throw up,” Mateo said for the tenth time.
“Keep drinking,” I said, also for the tenth time. It was impossible to feel sorry for him. No one had ever handed me fifteen servings of cold blood before.
Mateo took a deep breath then gulped down the rest of the cup in his hand. He crushed the Styrofoam in his fist, swallowed hard, then picked up the next cup in line. “Cold blood is freaking nasty,” he said around the gorge in his throat.
I agreed, but said, “Yeah, but now you won’t go into heart failure when the vamp wears off.” I sensed him eyeing Karen and my hackles rose. The bumps and bruises she’d gotten made it that much easier to smell her blood. It was warm and inviting, free of the stale chemicals that kept cold blood ‘fresh.’ “Whatever you’re thinking, don’t do it. It won’t be worth it. I promise.”
Karen began to shake again as silent sobs wracked her body. I turned my attention back to the mist, because it was the only thing I could do. I’ve never been good at comforting people, never mind piecing the broken back together.
Khalid was right; there was nothing Karen could do against Justine. She couldn’t even come close to her without getting overwhelmed.
Mateo’s phone buzzed. It had been doing that pretty much nonstop since we’d escaped the school. “My family is blowing up my phone,” he said. “What do I tell them?”
“Just tell them you’re alive. That’s all they really care about.”
Mateo shook his head as he began to text. “That won’t be enough for my mom. She’s going to want to come to wherever I am.”
“Then tell her the truth. Tell her you’ve been dosed with vamp, and she won’t be safe until it wears off. She can meet up with you later, at the hospital.”
“Sure, because that won’t freak her out.” Mateo looked at Karen out of the corner of his eye. “Is she going to be okay?”
I didn’t want to say what I was really thinking, not in front of Karen. I had no idea how much of our conversation she could hear. The legend of the Mad Witch Serkani twirled through my brain as I said, “I don’t know.”
“You’re not one to pull punches, are you? My dad would like you.” Mateo took a deep breath through his nose, then let it out as a sigh. “So, that thing at school. You know, the thing that set the whole place on fire. What was that thing?”
Again, I went with the simplest answer. “That was a revenant.”
“A revenant,” Mateo said, as though testing the word out. “I’ve never heard of a revenant. So, just how many weird creatures are there running around with Karen’s face?”
I knew his question hadn’t been a deliberate slight against me, but I wished he’d shut the hell up. “Too many.”
Mateo jerked his head toward the couch. “She’s human, though, right?”
Karen’s hair stuck to her damp forehead. She didn’t seem to notice when I smoothed it out of her face. “Yeah, she’s human.”
Michael returned to the office, carrying four more cups of cold blood. He set them on the desk in front of Mateo as Dr. S followed behind him a few seconds later.
“Sorry it took so long,” Michael said, as though reading my mind. “Traffic is still in gridlock out there. I ended up just walking, but you can’t see five feet in front of you.”
Dr. S perched on the corner of Michael’s desk. “Meteorologists can’t explain it and the sheeple are freaking out. It’s hilarious.” To Mateo, she said, “Keep drinking.”
Mateo groaned. “Are you sure this will save me?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” Dr. S wasn’t used to people questioning her brilliance. “As long as the intake is compatible with the human host’s body, the ABO incompatibility that is typical of vampphetamine withdrawal doesn’t take place.”
Mateo frowned in confusion, then shook his head. “They don’t use this shit for transfusions is the point I’m trying to make. I mean, it’s not like hospitals make a beeline for Starbucks every time there’s a blood shortage.”
“That’s because the preservatives in cold blood are toxic when introduced to the human circulatory system. Your brain thinks you’re a vampire right now. Your liver is filtering out those chemicals before the blood is reintroduced into your body.”
“So what’s going to happen to my liver when the vamp wears off?”
“You’re going to be sick.” Dr. S’s bedside manner needed a lot of work. “You can expect nausea, vomiting, swelling of the liver, diarrhea, and possibly jaundice. But you’re not a long-term vamp addict, so I doubt you’ll develop cirrhosis.” She slapped his knee, as though this was some sort of silver lining. “You’ve been vamped for…what, about three or four hours now? Well, you’ve got at least that much time ahead of you, and you’re burning through that blood as fast as you’re putting it in. So, keep drinking.”
Mateo made a face as he lifted the cup to his lips. “How do you people live?”
Dr. S laughed as though he’d made some sort of joke. “Vampphetamine intoxication has very little in common with what it’s actually like to be a vampire. The bloodlust you’re experiencing has been amplified tenfold. But, to answer your question, you get used to it.” She hopped off the desk then walked over to inspect Karen. “The valium seems to be helping. Have you noticed any adverse effects?”
“Besides the fact that she’s a zombie now?” I said.
“Yes, besides that.” Dr. S turned her attention back to Mateo. “You need to let me know if you start to get a pressurized feeling, or tightness in your chest.”
Mateo looked at her through his eyelashes. “Why? What does that mean?”
“It means that your heart is trying to reestablish a normal, human sinus rhythm. I’d really like to have you hooked up to an EKG when that happens. Hey, do you mind if I write a paper on your progress? It could influence the future treatment of vampphetamine addiction.”
I glowered at Dr. S over my shoulder. “You’re loving this.”
Dr. S stood up straighter, her hands on her hips and her nose in the air. “The chemical composition of vampphetamines alone is a fascinating medical phenomena that we are still trying to understand. Speaking of which, one of the CDC doctors overseeing the quarantine was intrigued by the effects of organic hemorrhagic dialysis on Father Cooper’s illness.”
Mateo looked at me. “What?”
I jerked my head toward Michael. “The priest caught that shit that’s been going around. We blood-mugged him, and now he’s fine.”
Mateo lifted his chin in understanding. “Won’t he just turn into a vampire in three days?”
I shook my head. “Nah. She’s not Pure and I’m only half-vampire.”
“Uh, guys?” As I’d hoped, our side conversation irritated Dr. S. “As I was saying, more research is needed, but the CDC wants to do a blood draw to see how the nosferatulogical antibodies affected the plague pathogens. We need a few more test subjects to prove our theory, but I think if vampires and humans work together, we stand a good chance of getting ahead of this thing.”
“Test subjects aren’t the problem,” I said. “Finding vampires willing to puke their guts out to help a strange human is.”
“Five of the Disavowed have already agreed to come to the hospital with us,” Michael said.
“And it takes two vampires to save every human that’s sick. There are dozens of people that are three hours away from drowning in their own blood.”
Karen let out a heartbreaking wail, then everyone looked at me like I was a dick.
I waved my hand in apology. “The point is, we’re going to need a lot more than five vampires to ‘get ahead’ of this thing.”
Michael took a step forward. “I agree. That’s where you come in, Tobias.”
I frowned. “Where do I come in?” Michael gave me a meaningful look, waiting for me to understand. I did a moment later, then couldn’t help but laugh. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Michael made a helpless gesture. “Can you think of another way? You and I can’t force the vampire community to do what’s right—”
“Especially since, as you put it, doing so will make them violently ill,” Dr. S said, as though Michael needed her help.
“Uh, have we met? What makes you think I can talk Sebastian into anything? Shit, he might command the vampires to not get involved just to spite me.”
Mateo leaned close to Dr. S. “Who is Sebastian?”
Dr. S whispered back. “Baron Sebastian von Brandt is his father.”
Mateo’s eyebrows lunged into his hairline. “No shit? Isn’t that guy like twelve?”
“Guys,” I said, too tired to be offended. “I’m right here.”
Michael scowled at them. “Indeed. Tobias, we’re running out of options. On behalf of everyone that still stands a chance, will you at least call your father? You’ll never know unless you try.”
I didn’t argue, because I knew Michael wouldn’t let it go. I muttered curses under my breath as I kneeled down next to Karen. “You’re going to be okay,” I said.
Karen gave me a fearful look as she clutched my hand. Unable to speak, she shook her head. Don’t leave me…
“Don’t worry. I’ll be right outside.”
“You’re safe, Karen.” Michael’s tone was so soothing that I almost believed him. “No evil can reach you here.”
Karen’s face twisted in misery as she rolled onto her side. She curled into a fetal position, her back to the rest of us.
I walked back out into the mist. I wanted privacy for this conversation. More than that, I needed a goddamn minute to myself. I took a deep breath of the fresh air, hardening my heart as I prepared for the worst.
“Just get it over with,” I said as I took the phone from my pocket.
The clock read three-thirty-seven. It felt as though it should’ve been much, much later. I closed my eyes as I held the phone to my ear, my back pressed against the wall. I was alone and exposed, but too tired to care. If Justine wanted to swoop down and take another chunk out of my head, she was welcome to it.
Justine didn’t spring an attack, and my call didn’t go to voicemail. Nothing ever works out for me.
Sebastian answered on the third ring. “Yes?”
He sounded pissy. His caller ID must’ve told him who it was. “Yeah, it’s, um…Hi.”
Sebastian said nothing.
“I need to talk to you. I need help…Father.” I winced. Awkward didn’t begin to describe how that felt.
“All right,” Sebastian said in a careful tone. I guess it had been weird for him, too. “Did you call that number I gave you?”
“…You gave me a number?”
Sebastian sighed. “What do you need, Tobias?”
I stuffed my free hand into my pocket then rolled my shoulders. They were so tense, they ached. “People are getting sick.”
“People. As in humans?”
“Yes?” I said, because…duh.
I could feel him lose interest. “Of course, they’re getting sick. Humans get sick. It’s what they do.” There was a short pause in which I assumed the conversation was over. “How many?”
I scrambled to think of a number that would get his attention. It couldn’t be so high that he’d look up the truth, though. “I’m not sure, but about a hundred, so far?”
“One hundred is hardly an epidemic, Tobias. I wouldn’t even consider that a proper plague. Is that human disease agency involved? What do the mortals call it? Damn.”
I don’t know why I didn’t hang up. “The CDC.”
“Right. Is the CDC aware of the situation?
“Yes.” Why had I called him in the first place? I could’ve just hung out in the cemetery for ten minutes then told Michael that I’d called. He’d never have known the difference.
“Then let them do their job, Tobias.”
Before he could hang up, I said, “Father, wait.” Nope. It wasn’t getting any easier. “This isn’t a natural sickness. I’m still trying to track down the source, but no one else has to die at all. The vampires can save everyone.”
I could feel him smirk. “Do tell.”
I clenched my teeth to bite back my automatic response. “Blood-mugging. It’s one of those diseases that blood-mugging can filter out of a human’s system. We tried it on a friend of mine, and he’s almost completely back to normal.”
“And how do you know the disease is unnatural?”
“Well, for one thing, the people that die of it reanimate as ghouls.” Everything clicked into place and I stood up straighter. “Wait a minute. There’s no way in hell you haven’t heard about this, Sebastian.”
“I was notified that your area was experiencing an inordinate number of ghoul resurrections,” he said, as though he didn’t want to admit it. Or maybe he was just fucking with me. “I have agents in the area.”
“In that case, let me save everyone some time. The vampires have nothing to do with the ghouls here. Well, at least ninety-nine-percent of the ghouls popping up right now aren’t from vampire attacks. In fact, this time, vampires can stop people from turning into ghouls.”
“So, what is the cause?”
He’d lost me again. “What?”
“You said that you knew for a fact that this is an unnatural illness. How do you know? What’s causing it?”
I hesitated again. I wasn’t worried about blame, so much as whether or not he’d believe me. “It’s a revenant.”
At last, I had my father’s attention. “A revenant? There’s an actual revenant in your city? Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I’ve seen it.” I’d also sort of created it, but he didn’t need to know about that.
“And you think the revenant is what’s causing this plague.”
Something about the way he’d phrased that caught me off guard. “Yeah?”
“Who told you that?”
Ah. There was the automatic doubting of my intelligence I’d come to expect from Sebastian. “A friend, I guess.” I couldn’t think of another way to describe Gwen without bringing up more questions. “She said revenants are the harbingers of plague.”
“I see,” he said, snide again.
Why isn’t it possible to bitch-slap people through the phone? Seriously, figure it out, Science. “Sebastian, are you going to make the vampires help, or what?”
“You seem to be under the impression all common vampires are not but soldiers in my army.”
He wasn’t fooling anyone. “Aren’t we?”
“That sort of authority is tenuous, at best, Tobias. Should I abuse my power, I will find it revoked. But, let’s say I do as you ask, and test the waters of dictatorship. It sets a dangerous precedent, don’t you think? If we use our natural advantages to help the humans, they’ll begin to demand the same every time they get the sniffles. Humans get sick. Humans die. Vampires do not. This is the natural order of things. If you can recruit volunteers at that homeless shelter you call home, then I applaud you.”
Before he could hang up, I said, “Wait. There’s one more thing I need.”
“And what is that?” He sounded exhausted.
“Money. I need money.”
Sebastian was quiet for several seconds. “All right, I’ll bite. How much money do you need?”
“However much money it’ll take to support a family for…ever, I guess. Until they don’t need me anymore. Plus, college tuition.”
“Is that your way of telling me I’m going to be a grandfather?”
“You’re hilarious.” Sebastian knew, being a mule, that I was as sterile as the dead sea.
“I take it then that you need money for that impoverished friend of yours. The necromancer that has failed for almost three years to turn you into a proper vampire. Is that what you’re telling me?”
I wanted to tell him to mind his own fucking business and fork over his checkbook, but that’s not how begging works. “Yes. It’s all for her, all of it. Anything she needs, give it to her, and I will do whatever you ask in return.”
“Really? And if you’re convicted the day after tomorrow and sentenced to spend the next fifty years in prison? What then?” He sounded spiteful, almost like he gave a shit.
“Then I’ll work to repay you when I’m released. Seriously, Sebastian, what is fifty years to us?”
“Nothing. But, to your necromancer friend, fifty years is a lifetime. If she dies before you’re released from prison, what would obligate you to keep your word?”
I had no idea how to explain the concept of honor to a deadbeat dad. It was like trying to describe a rainbow to the blind. “How about you just give me the goddamn money because you fucking owe me.”
Sebastian had no response for that.
“You left me. You left me alone to get hunted, and frozen, and starve. You left me in the sun, and the rain, and the snow. You left me to get beaten and chased, and almost killed. You left a kid, your own fucking kid, to die and I’ve never asked you for anything. I’ve never asked you for a goddamn thing, but you owe me. You know you owe me.”
Sebastian was quiet for so long that my nerves wound into a tight coil. “Is this her condition for turning you?”
“No. No, she’ll never turn me.”
“Never?” There was something dark and dangerous in his tone.
“No. She can’t, she’s lost her powers.” Before he could say anything else, I added, “But that’s okay. I just need to take care of her, and to do that in this world, I need money.”
There were three beeps as the call disconnected. Sebastian had hung up on me. I should’ve expected as much, but fury swelled up from the pit of my stomach like a backdraft. I hurled the expensive phone my father had given me against the stone wall. It exploded in a shower of plastic and glass, then I realized Karen stood behind me.
Never believe things can’t get any worse. Warmth flushed my cheeks. “Hi.”
Karen blinked as she looked away, her face also red. “What are you doing?”
I lifted my shoulders in a helpless shrug. “The same thing I always do, Karen. Try to help and fail. You shouldn’t be out here, though. Justine could come back any second.”
Karen met my gaze. “I don’t care. Let her come.”
This was the most rational she’d been since our escape from the school, so I decided to take the plunge. “What happened back there? Did Justine use some sort of weird revenant-magic on you?”
Karen stepped past me, hugging herself. “Not exactly. It was like in the hospital, when she came back for the first time. Whenever she gets too close, she…overpowers me? I thought it was a one-time thing, because I was so sick. Turns out, I was wrong. I can hear her thoughts and feel everything she feels, but her thoughts and feelings scream so loud that I can’t hear my own. She shows me such horrible things. And I’ve lost the power to fight back.” Her voice cracked as her eyes filled with tears. “I’m so stupid. Justine never would’ve fallen for such an obvious trap.”
“Maybe it’s for the best. Let Khalid keep your powers.”
Karen looked at me as though I’d set fire to an orphanage. “No, I’m not going to let him keep my powers. They’re my powers.”
“It’s not like he can use them, and you don’t need them. Hell, you’re better off without them. You can’t go back to Kingdom Come.”
“I’m going back.” This wasn’t an argument. “I have to. You couldn’t possibly understand.”
“Hell no, I don’t understand. Go back to your family. Take them and get as far away from this as you can.”
“You’re assuming my family is still alive, Toby.”
I assumed nothing. In fact, I hadn’t thought about her family at all until that moment.
“How do we know that fucking demon didn’t start her rampage with my mother and brother?”
We didn’t know. “I’m sure they’re okay.” There was no way I could sound less convincing. “Just get away from here. I’ll find you when this is over.”
Karen gave me another emotional look. “What about you?”
“I’ll be fine. Please, just go. You don’t need him. I promise, you’ll never be so desperate that assholes like Khalid can get their hooks into you ever again. I’ll take care of you.”
Without warning, Karen threw her arms around me. She squeezed my shoulders tight then said, “Why? Why would you do that?”
I wasn’t expecting to be challenged, so I had no easy answer prepared. I only had the raw, vicious truth.
Before I could admit it, she said, “I’m not her, Toby. I can never be Justine for you.”
Her words jarred me. “I know that.” When she shook her head and began to pull away, I held her tighter. “I know that. I do.”
Karen’s lower lip quivered as she squeezed my shoulders. “Or maybe I am. Maybe my entire existence has been nothing but a weak echo of hers. Maybe that’s why, whenever she gets close, I don’t know where she ends and I begin.”
“That thing is not Justine.” The force of my tone surprised me. What surprised me more was that I meant it. “I knew Justine. I knew her better than anyone, and she died over thirty years ago. That thing has her body. It might even remember what it was like to be her, but her spirit is gone.” The words felt like fire in my throat.
Karen’s brow furrowed as she placed her hands on the sides of my face.
“I owe it to Justine to put her body to rest, and I will. But she’s gone forever.” And, maybe, once it was done, I could finally get on with my life.
Karen hesitated, then said, “You’re wrong. I know what she knows. I feel what she feels. The need for revenge and hatred burn in her. It’s what gives her the resolve to feed, to keep herself alive. She has to destroy the ones responsible for her death.”
“So, it doesn’t matter if I want to kill her or not. I have to. It’s her or me.”
Karen shook her head. “Don’t get me wrong, Toby, she hates you. She remembers you were the one that took her life, but the pain is different. It’s here.” She placed her hand above her left breast. “It’s heartache unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. And it hurts so much because she still loves you.”
The piece of my scalp Justine had bitten through gave a hard throb. “I’m not so sure about that.”
“I am. I used to think I knew what love was. I used to think that I understood loss, but I was wrong.” Her voice hardened. “Do you really want to help Justine? You can’t do it from jail. You need to find the man responsible for her death. The man so fucking twisted that the idea of using the love of her life as the weapon that killed her gave him a raging hard-on.”
I nodded in understanding. “She needs to kill Nicholai Santos.”
Karen’s fingernails dug into my skin, as though the sound of his name caused her physical pain. “He’s like the wind, Toby. She can’t find him, and the more time that passes, the more the darkness consumes her. Swear to her that you’ll find him. Find him and tear his throat out, so he can know how it feels before he dies.”
The viciousness of her tone surprised me. “I will. I swear, I will.”
She relaxed as though a terrible burden had been lifted off of her. “Thank you.” Karen rose onto her tiptoes, bringing her mouth very close to mine. She froze the instant before our lips touched then stared at me, as though hurt. “Does that girl mean more to you than I do?”
Her voice sliced through me. I knew that voice. I would know it anywhere. I could still hear it in my dreams. “Justine?” Karen looked miserable as she turned away. “No, I mean… is she close?”
“That’s just it. She’s always close.”
Before I could respond to that, Mateo came through the door behind us. He moved slow, his stomach sloshing with every step.
“Hey. Sorry to interrupt…you know, whatever this is. I just thought you’d want to know.” He handed his phone to Karen. “Trevor wasn’t in school today, but his mom just sent a group text to all his friends. They took him to the hospital last night because he was running a fever. He’s got whatever this thing is that’s going around. They just moved him to the ICU.”
Mateo’s phone dropped from Karen’s hand, and he lunged forward to catch it. She turned without a word then vanished into the fog. I could hear her feet slapping against the cobblestones as she ran for the gate.
I caught up to her on the sidewalk then grabbed her by the elbow. “Karen, you can’t go out there alone. It’s too dangerous.”
My claws gouged into her arm when she ripped it away from me. “No. Let me go. I have to see him. Even if it’s too late, even if there’s nothing I can do, I have to be with him.”
I held up my hands to calm her. “I’m not saying don’t go. I’m saying, let me take you there. I’ll carry you, so we’ll get there faster.”
Karen nodded, stoic resolve taking the place of her mania. “Go to my house first,” she said as she climbed onto my back. “I have an idea.”