*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 didn’t believe I could save her. Even if I could wrestle Karen away from the hellhound, they were too far away. I couldn’t fall fast enough. That didn’t stop me from going over the edge after them. I didn’t think twice about it, but that’s nothing new. I never think twice.
It turns out, though, that five seconds is plenty of time to weigh this option: feet-first and live, or headfirst and die?
The look of terror on Karen’s face scalded my sanity. She stared at me, as though to say, “Can this really be happening?” I watched as the gravity of her situation hit her, then I shared her despair. She drew in the breath to scream as the fog swallowed them whole.
Then, silence. A deep, endless silence that stripped away every last shred of hope. Sorrow hit me like a spear to the chest, but it was brief. A numb sense of calm washed everything else away.
Okay, then. Headfirst.
It was the most peaceful decision I’ve ever made. I turned my body in the air, closed my eyes, then waited for the inevitable.
Then again…what if she was alive?
Call it foolish hope, but once the possibility entered my mind, I couldn’t dismiss it. People have survived falling out of airplanes. Besides, maybe that hellhound had cushioned Karen’s fall, or something. Maybe—just maybe—Karen was only broken and unconscious on the pavement below. Even if she was hanging on by a thread, I could still save her. Hell, we were right next to the fucking hospital.
On the other hand, if Karen was dead…I’d have to see her body. That image would take the place of every other memory I had of her. It had happened before. The only thing I really remember about my mother was killing her family for her. To my fucked-up brain, having ripped open Justine’s throat defined our relationship. I didn’t want to carry the image of Karen’s dead body in my head for the rest of my life. Sure, that would only be for another thirty seconds, or so, but still.
But, didn’t I owe Karen that much? A chance for survival, no matter how small. No matter what it cost me.
Whatever. The fog closed over my head as I twisted my body to land on my feet. In almost the same instant, I stopped falling.
Let me make this clear; I didn’t hit the ground. There was no sudden stop, no jarring impact, no pain. My momentum ground to a halt, then I hung in the air. Thanks to the blinding fog, I had no idea how far I had fallen. I had no idea how far I still needed to go. I flailed my arms and legs, but it made no difference.
It was then that I became aware of a low hum. The sound existed just below the general noise of the city, so I’d always tuned it out. There was no wind rustling through the trees, no traffic. No one shouted inside of the hospital. There was only that low, steady vibration of sound.
The fog rolled away, sucked back to form a bubble of clear space. I discovered that I wasn’t far from the ground. Had I continued to fall, I would’ve smashed into a garden thick with flowers, narrowly missing a stone fountain. Except…
The drops of water hung in the air, catching the light of dusk like neon rubies. Withered petals hovered on the still breeze, as motionless as a painting.
In a universe of wonders, there are some things that make you question everything you think you know. Time had frozen. I couldn’t even begin to wrap my mind around it.
The hellhound floated nearby, just out of reach, whimpering as it twisted its body in the air. Karen lay below, on her side with her back to me. Her hair pooled around her head in a puddle of black silk. The realization that I didn’t smell blood or any ruptured organs squashed my panic. I could even hear her slow, steady breathing, but my relief was very short-lived.
Khalid stood over her, his hands in the pockets of his long, trench coat. His expression was unforgiving as he looked up at me, his pupils glowing red. Aliese the Whore stood behind him. Her black hooker dress left nothing to the imagination. She smirked at me as though she shared his victory, her hands on her hips with her shoulders pulled back.
“It’s sundown, half-breed,” Khalid said, his voice as stern as the grave. “Your time is up.”
Khalid crouched down to turn Karen onto her back, then I broke. “No…No! Don’t you dare fucking touch her!” I clawed and kicked at the empty air, as though I could somehow gain traction.
Khalid chuckled under his breath as he brushed the hair from Karen’s face. “Don’t touch her? She belongs to me.”
“Karen!” My voice threatening to rip apart my vocal cords. “Come on, Karen, you have to wake up!”
Khalid ran the tip of his finger down her brow, then along the bridge of her nose. “No. No, not yet.” He glared at me again. “This is the last time I let you borrow my things, half-breed. You promised she wouldn’t come to harm, but look at her. Her poor mind is positively awash with sorrow and anguish.”
My hatred of him was a force unto itself. “Because of you. Because of what you made her a part of.”
“Exactly,” he said without a trace of remorse. “She never needed to know. She is still young and innocent. What right did you have to take that away from her?”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Demons and their fucking demon logic. “If you ever let me down, I will tear that host body off your true form, one bloody chunk at a time.”
Khalid shook his head. “I don’t expect you to understand, vampire. There are precious few in this world with the wisdom and foresight to recognize the magnificence of this endeavor.” He gave Karen a sad look. “She might have come to understand, given time and a proper education. You’ve ruined that for me.”
“You’ve failed, Khalid. Accept it. We’ve already found the cure.”
Khalid’s smile took up his entire face. “Implement it, half-breed. I beg you. Inform as many mortals as you can that vampires hold the cure to their salvation. I shall watch with a heart full of joy, as the rift between your species becomes insurmountable. Especially after the vampires refuse to help. Then, when the humans are hunting you to harvest your livers, the tenuous peace will be forever shattered.”
There is some evil that boggles the mind. The realization that this had been Khalid’s intent all along made the cut. We hadn’t accidentally stumbled upon the black flu’s weakness. Khalid had tailored the plague to the cure.
“You sick fuck,” I said. Not creative, I know, but this was some next-level supervillain shit.
He looked back down at Karen as though he’d lost interest in me. “The world is sick, mule. I aim to cure it.”
“Let her go. She’s of no use to you now. Karen will never willingly help you again.”
Khalid nodded once. “I agree, but the word you’re looking for is ‘knowingly. If only I had the power to ease her mind and make her forget the horrors you’ve made her face today. Wait a minute.” Khalid looked as though he’d just had the world’s smuggest epiphany. “I can do that.”
I watched as Khalid passed his hand over Karen’s face, muttering in his Infernal gutter-language. The energy in his palm glowed against her skin like sunlight.
I wanted to tear myself apart in helpless frustration. “Karen, please, you have to wake up! Fight him!”
Khalid’s voice was soothing and hypnotic. “Hear no one but me. See nothing but me. Karen, my love, awaken and be at peace.”
Karen’s eyelashes fluttered, as though being pulled against her will from a very deep sleep. Her brow furrowed as she stared at Khalid. “Lord Ahriman?”
Khalid looked down at Karen as though she was the glittering center of the universe. “You were moaning, my dearest one. Are you all right?”
Karen blinked in confusion, then two fat tears rolled into her hair. “I…had a bad dream?”
I wished I had something, anything, on me that I could throw at her to get her attention. My stolen scrubs didn’t even have pockets. “It wasn’t a dream! Karen! Look at me!”
Khalid and Karen behaved as though I hadn’t spoken, but Aliese the Whore laughed in delight. “What did you dream about?” Khalid said.
Karen frowned as she struggled to remember. “I don’t know. I think…Toby?”
Khalid placed his hand on her forehead with a sympathetic smile. “You don’t need to be afraid of him anymore.”
My back teeth ground together as every muscle in my body locked with rage. “That’s bullshit! She never needed to be afraid of me!”
“Toby is in prison where he belongs,” Khalid went on as though I hadn’t screamed my lungs out.
Karen’s bottom lip quivered. “He doesn’t belong there.”
Those were the sweetest words I’d ever heard. Khalid had almost complete control over Karen’s body and mind, but he couldn’t touch the bond between us. That meant I still had power.
I heard the shadow of irritation enter Khalid’s voice as he said, “I understand your pain. I know you want to see only the best in him, but he is where he needs to be. Even he knows it.”
“Karen, don’t listen to him. I’m here. I’m still here!”
Khalid lifted Karen off the ground, bridal-style. She wrapped her arms around his neck as he stared unblinking into her eyes. “He can’t be trusted. He’s dangerous. He is a threat to you and to everyone you hold dear. Justine learned that lesson the hard way.”
Karen’s eyes rolled back as her voice emptied. “Yes, Lord Ahriman…”
Khalid smiled in satisfaction then kissed her on the forehead. “That’s a good girl. Go back to sleep, my love.”
Khalid turned to carry her away, then I literally saw red. “This isn’t over! I’ll make you pay if it’s the last thing ever I do!”
“I’m quaking in the purest terror, let me assure you.”
“I’ll get her back, and I’ll make you regret ever taking her. I’m going to start with your fairy-godmother, ex-fiancée.”
Khalid arched an eyebrow as he looked back over his shoulder.
“I still have the dagger, Khalid. I’m going to make her sorry she ever gave it to me.”
Khalid knew this wasn’t an empty threat. “Do tell? In that case, you should know that her true name is Tenanye.”
Aliese the Whore flinched as though he’d slapped her across the face. Her eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open as she looked back and forth between us. In the fog, just out of sight, there was a hiss. It was followed by the dry scratch of something large sliding across the concrete. Realizing we weren’t alone, Aliese the Whore took a frightened step closer to Khalid.
Khalid didn’t seem concerned. “Might I suggest, it might be wiser to start with threats closer to home.” He winked at the squirming hellhound. “Don’t you agree?”
The hellhound bared its teeth as its fur grew then fused together to become the material of a long, black dress. The veil of ebony hair parted, revealing a pale face with burning red eyes. Justine hissed at Khalid like a feral cat as flames began to flicker around her.
“Now, now, none of that,” Khalid said. He waved his hand in our direction, then Justine and I were catapulted backward. My bowels dropped into my feet as the mist closed around me. Before I could react, even to scream Karen’s name, I smashed headfirst into the hospital’s stone wall.