*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.
Finding blood in the pea-soup fog was more like takeout than actual hunting. I started with an appetizer of strung-out looter, followed by a big helping of Thai mugger. For dessert, I topped my meal off with a few chugs of Mexican coke dealer. By the time I finished, my stomach felt like an overinflated water balloon. I knew I’d catch shit later, but I had more important things to worry about than territory. I had to be at full strength before I took on that fucking fairy.
When my ears quit ringing and I stopped seeing double, I looked myself over. My claws were blunt but hard as steel. My gums were sore where the new molars were growing in, but I still had my fangs. Shiny stumps covered the rest of the body parts I’d lost. My hair had grown, but only enough to get into my eyes. Luckily, the coke dealer had a skull cap he didn’t need anymore.
I made it back to Gwen’s place just before sunrise. I found her shop without trouble, despite the fog, which surprised me. Until then, I’d always thought that ‘I can’t see my hand in front of my face’ was just a figure of speech. I knew, though, that I hadn’t caught Gwen on the one day she’d failed to refresh the magic protecting her home. She’d been expecting me. Even so, I couldn’t risk being seen coming or going through her front door.
Gwen’s place was dark, and too quiet. I took a few exploratory sniffs, but they told me nothing. The fog must’ve blended with the morning mist rolling off the ocean. On top of the lack of visibility, a strange saltiness, almost like saline, hung in the air. The scent turned to cold acid in my sinuses then trickled down the back of my throat.
There are few things in life that irritate me more than nose-blindness.
I circled to the back alley then jumped over Gwen’s privacy fence. I landed in a crouch as I said, “Mata Diablo.”
I’d lost track of how many times I’d called the weapon since naming it. Even so, Mata Diablo always appeared. The problem was, I had to use the knife, or at least hold it tight, to keep it from disappearing again. It was like the instant I stopped thinking about it, Mata Diablo went away. It was annoying, but not a big deal. The issue was that Gwen had been the one to give me the dagger. It stood to reason that she could take it away. It was the most effective weapon I had against Gwen, but I couldn’t count on Mata Diablo during the fight.
So, that was it then? I’d committed to beating Gwen to death with my bare hands? Never mind that she’d only every helped me, all hexes aside. Never mind that she was one of the few Immortals in town trying to stop the plague. Never mind the fact she had two small children—
Ah, fuck me, I’d forgotten about her kids.
Who the hell was I kidding? I wasn’t going to kill Gwen to get to Khalid. I’d be just like him if I pulled shit like that. I couldn’t get Karen away from him by myself, though. Sure, Gwen was a fairy and I was a vampire. Not to mention Gwen had hired me to kill Karen, but I didn’t think that was anything personal. Maybe, if we worked together…I don’t know. I had to try.
Gwen’s back door stood open, and apparently, it had been for a while. Fog filled the house, so thick that it was hard to see the counter from the kitchen table. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I reached inside to knock on the door. I noticed at once that I didn’t feel any sort of resistance. What had happened to Gwen’s wards? I took a deep breath then stepped over the threshold into the kitchen, half-expecting to burst into flames. I didn’t feel so much as a twinge of pain or nausea.
My lips barely moved as I said, “Mata Diablo.” The dagger appeared then I gripped the handle tight. Something was very, very wrong. I knew Gwen wouldn’t have abandoned the place. Not if she held Domain. No, something evil had happened there. It was still nearby; I could feel it. Gwen’s home’s energy had been as bright and airy as a field of sunflowers. In less than a day, that same energy had grown darker, heavier, and colder than the deepest part of the ocean.
I moved closer to the wall, on high-alert for any threat, then my hip jarred the kitchen table. A vase full of dead flowers tipped over, crashing onto a plate of moldy food and silverware. It sounded like a redwood log rolling down a mountain of cymbals. I mouthed curses as I waited for some sort of fallout, but nothing happened. Far from reassured, I closed my eyes to open my other senses.
Aside from rustling in the nursery above, I heard nothing. I moved with extra care as I crept toward the staircase. I was so focused on stealth that I almost tripped over the warm body curled next to the stove.
Even though it lay at my feet, the figure was a dark blob in the mist. Only the curve of the hip let me know the victim was a woman. She lay on her side, facing away from me, but I could tell at once that it wasn’t Gwen. She wasn’t scrawny enough. Dark, wet hair covered the woman’s face. She wore jeans and a simple black tee shirt, not the fancy dresses Gwen seemed to prefer. I didn’t hear any heartbeat, nor did she take a breath.
Who was this, I wondered as I crouched down. More importantly, why hadn’t I smelled a dead body? I touched the woman’s shoulder to move her onto her back, then her pale face rolled into view. I snatched my hand away, as though bitten.
Justine’s mouth hung open, her lips white. Blood trickled from the gaping holes in her neck. Her eyes were open and unblinking, but her empty stare punched right through me. My heart began to pound as the breath in my lungs turned to fire.
Justine’s corpse lay between me and the stairs. To find Gwen, and therefore save Karen, I’d have to step over Justine’s dead body.
Nice. Subtle much?
I took a deep breath, steeling my resolve. “You’re not really there,” I said. “This is just a trick.” I forced myself to stand. As I did, rage twisted Justine’s features. Her hand shot out to seize my pant leg, almost yanking me off balance. We froze, our gazes locked, as the Infernal red glow pushed the chocolate brown from Justine’s eyes.
“I loved you.” Her voice was so clear, I almost forgot she was an illusion designed to torment me. “I know you were feral, but why me? Why did you kill me? You could’ve picked any of my neighbors.” She stared at me, as though silently pleading for an explanation. When I failed to provide one, a tear slid down her cheek. “Did you ever love me at all?”
I kicked her hand away, then stepped over her. I saw the hurt and betrayal in Justine’s eyes as she laid on the floor again in defeat. I didn’t look back as I entered the darkened stairwell.
Elaina—rather, eight-year-old Ellie—waited for me on the landing. She whimpered as she rocked back and forth, clutching her ruined leg. She tried to staunch the flow of blood with her tiny fingers, but her shattered femur jutted from her thigh. The jagged, splintered ends were pink, the bone itself having been sucked hollow.
A wave of dizzying nausea made me lean against the wall. I’d never had any real memory of this attack. For thirty years, I’d been spared that horror. That time was over. “You’re a sick bitch, Gwen,” I said as hot bile rose into my throat.
Ellie looked up at me in terror. “Help me. It hurts.”
I ground my teeth together as I walked past her. “You’re not really there,” I said with a cold distance I didn’t feel.
Ellie began to cry when she realized I was leaving her behind. “Please, Daddy. I can’t walk. I’ll never walk again.”
Every word was a fresh knife in my heart. “I’m not your father.”
“I love you, Daddy. Why did you hurt me and Mommy? Please, help us. Daddy!”
I turned to scream at her to go away, only to find she was already gone. A powerful tremble began in my limbs as I forced myself to continue up the stairs.
“Keep it together, asshole,” I said under my breath.
The stairwell had narrowed since the last time I’d been there. Just like in Gwen’s portrait room, overlapping frames covered the walls. The people in the pictures were strangers to me. At least…I thought they were strangers.
I realized their eyes were literally following me. A middle-aged white dude in a business suit glared as I passed. “Murderer,” he said, his voice a growl.
His face clicked. When it did, I recognized everyone else. “Go fuck yourself,” I said through clenched teeth.
I locked eyes with the portrait of a black man, surrounded by his wife and six children. “You killed us,” he said. “All of us.”
I remembered him. He was one of the first miserable pricks I’d feasted on after my curse lifted. “I didn’t kill you.”
Lighting began to arc from wall to wall, popping like firecrackers. The next portrait sneered. “You drained us then broke our necks. What do you think would happen to us?”
“I didn’t care what happened to you,” I said as I began to take the stairs two at a time.
The portraits laughed, a fiendish chorus of disdain. “You care. We wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care.”
“You deserved what happened to you. You all deserved it.” Who was I trying to convince? Them, or myself?
“Who were you to judge us?” I couldn’t tell which one of the pictures spoke, but I guess it didn’t matter. “You’re the biggest monster of us all.”
I couldn’t deny it. “Go back to hell.”
The mass of pictures hissed as I breached the top of the stairs. A whisper on the wind said, “We’ll be waiting for you.”
I didn’t have time to catch my breath before I was confronted with Gwen’s next illusion. Duct-taped to dining chairs and placed side-by-side to block my way, my grandparents and young aunt glared at me. Their milky ghoul eyes radiated hunger as they fought against their restraints.
Filtered by childhood, I remembered them as being huge. As a man, that changed. One look told me everything I needed to know about my grandmother. Her bleached blonde hair had been brushed to gleaming perfection. She wore satin pajamas, and even a little makeup. However, her youthful appearance was a mask to cover her haggardness. Even as a ghoul, her posture was weak and submissive.
My mother’s younger sister, though…How old had she been? Seven? Eight? Smaller than Ellie when I’d attacked her. I’m sure my mother had her motives, but seeing that tiny neck covered in bite marks rendered them void.
My grandfather looked just as I remembered him. The first memory I had was of that man holding me underwater, screaming at me to drown. Hatred swelled up from the pit of my stomach, ugly and very familiar. I kicked him hard in his chest, putting enough power behind the blow to flip his chair twice.
The fog dropped around my aunt and grandmother like a curtain. I guess Gwen figured out that she’d plucked the wrong heartstring.
The nursery was the first room on the right. I mustered my nerve then stepped forward, already knowing which ghost from my past Gwen had waiting for me. I wasn’t disappointed. The glamour crouched next to the door, but nothing could’ve prepared me to face it.
The young woman wore a long dress that covered her from her neck to toe. The sleeves stretched past her fingertips. Her long hair was dark, like mine, but sleek and glossy with a natural wave. She was beautiful. I’d almost forgotten that. The sight of her twisted around my heart like strangling vines. I backed away as she took a step toward me, her hand outstretched.
My mother smiled in disbelief, tears streaming down her face. “Tobias? Is that really you? You’ve grown…” Her voice was breathy and weak, as though afraid to talk.
I said nothing. Her cold hand cupped my cheek, and I could feel every bone in her fingers.
She covered her mouth to muffle her sobs. I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t crying. “Please, baby, don’t make any noise. He’ll hear you, and know I came up here.”
Jesus Christ, Sebastian. How old was this girl when you took a run at her? Fourteen? Even though I knew she was an illusion, I said, “Your father is dead, Olivia. He can’t hurt you ever again.”
My mother wiped her tears away, and blood smeared her cheeks. Her sleeves dipped back to expose dozens of crescent-shaped bite marks. Some were faded scars, some poorly-healed welts. The rest were raw and weeping. “Please don’t cry,” she said, even though I wasn’t crying. “I know you’re hungry, but I can’t. I just can’t. Not again.”
What if…what if this wasn’t an illusion? What if this really was my mother’s ghost, dragged from her eternal torment just to fuck with me? “You don’t have to feed me ever again, Olivia.”
My mother clutched my shirt with both hands. “I shouldn’t have made you come into this world.”
A deep chill settled over me. I’d forgotten that she used to say this to me all the time. Being a child, I’d had no idea what those words meant.
“I was so afraid someone would see me at the clinic and tell my father.”
“Stop,” I said, my mouth dry.
Her voice grew urgent, as though desperate to apologize. “I didn’t know what else to do. Then it was too late. Besides…you were my baby.”
Her fingers were so cold, they burned. “Stop.”
Olivia sobbed. “He said he loved me. He said he’d make me like him, but he never came back.”
I shoved down the violent urge to murder the hell out of Sebastian. “Enough!”
I realized an instant too late that Olivia held a matchbook. Her expression made her the poster child for psychopaths everywhere. Her gaze never wavered from mine as she struck a match, then the air ignited. The fireball whooshed like a tidal wave, peeling the flesh from my bones. It burned away my eyelids, so that flames were all that I saw.
Hell…My mother had dragged me with her, back to hell. I opened my mouth to scream, but the fire rushed down my throat.
Then, it was over. I found myself kneeling by the nursery door, surrounded by cool fog. My legs felt like jelly as I got to my feet and looked around to make sure I was alone. I saw no one, but that didn’t mean anything.
“Mata Diablo,” I said, my voice thick as I turned the door handle. It was unlocked.
The crib mattress creaked as I entered the room, and one of the babies gurgled. I took a step closer to the sound, only to be hit in the face by the smell of roadkill in a rotten diaper. The boy sat with his back to me as he played with a long string. He made small, animalistic grunts in the back of his throat.
Then, the reality of what I was seeing settled over me. The little boy’s skin was covered with the black flu rash. His chubby hands and cheeks were smeared with dried blood, his eyes white and unseeing. His sister…rather, what is left of her…was sprawled in the crib next to him.
Not much gets to me, but I had to close my eyes tight as I turned away. “This isn’t real.” I said in a desperate prayer. “This is another illusion.”
“If only that were true.’” I turned to find Gwen sitting in the rocking chair. She hugged her knees to her chest as she stared at the waking nightmare in the crib. The lines of her body were fuzzy, and I could see right through her.
Just then, I understood. The strange mist that had blanketed the city for almost twenty-four hours…this was Gwen’s true form. Grief had torn her apart.
Gwen’s face rippled like water, and her empty voice seemed to come from everywhere at once. “He had a fever, but that was nothing new. He ran a fever every time he cut a new tooth. I gave him some Tylenol to keep him comfortable, then we all laid down for a nap. Three hours later, I woke to his sister screaming.” Gwen closed her eyes in agony as more lightning arced through the air. “It was already too late to save her.”
I lifted my hand to rub my fingertips together. The mist that filled the air…I was covered head to toe in Gwen’s tears.
Rage surged through me. “Khalid. Khalid did this.”
Gwen let her head fall back, as though heartbroken to the point of exhaustion. “Khalid has been trying to kill my children since the beginning. He insisted that it was the only way to save me.” Her face hardened as she looked at me. “Now, with your help, he has finally succeeded.”
This knocked me for a loop. “The fuck? You’re blaming me?”
Gwen held out her hand, then opened her palm to reveal a dead butterfly. I recognized it at once as one of the golems Karen had made in her room at Kingdom Come. That one must’ve hitched a ride in my hoodie. “I have wards in place all around my home to protect myself and my children. I know Khalid. I know what he is capable of. I loved him, but only a fool would trust him.” Her voice took on a wicked resonance. “When you tricked my son into inviting you into our house, you brought this little bastard with you.” There was a hiss, then the butterfly’s delicate body disintegrated.
I couldn’t deny responsibility, not when it stared me in the face. “Then help me. Help me make him pay for what he’s done.”
Gwen stood as her hair transformed into a crown of flames. “You care nothing for my vengeance. You want only to protect the necromancer that murdered my children.”
Well, that settled that. “Mata Dia—”
Gwen’s scream drowned me out, then I was swept up in a tide of irresistible force. The invisible surge dragged me down the hall, banging me against walls and the ceiling. Before I could think to grab ahold of anything, I was slammed into the claw-footed bathtub. Saltwater flooded into my mouth and nose. Through the churning surface, I could see Gwen’s furious expression.
“You failed me, bloodsucker!” Her voice was like an earthquake and a volcanic eruption, all rolled up into one big ball of crazy. “Now you’ll pay the price!”
I had just enough time to wonder if she intended to drown me in her tears, or hold me under till I dissolved, when the water began to boil. The pain was immediate and beyond words. Panicked, I kicked and punched. I connected with nothing except the sides of the tub.
The second I accepted that this was the end, Gwen yanked me up. Her teeth scraped my ear as she said, “This is nothing compared to the suffering I will unleash upon your necromancer.” She shoved me under again, having become the sort of Infernal that can feed her kind for centuries.
I couldn’t call, but I was in definite need. Mata Diablo…
Even through the agony, I felt the weapon in my hand. I took a blind swing, then thanked the blessed universe when the blade jarred against bone.
Gwen shrieked as the force holding me under the roiling water went away. I sat up, scalding tears cascaded down my face.
“Tenanye!” I said, coughing. I barely managed to squeeze the word through my swollen throat, but it was clear as a bell.
The enormous press of evil disappeared. “What did you call me?” she said, her voice small.
Somehow, I pulled myself over the edge of the tub then fell to the floor. I didn’t have to see my skin to know it was hanging from my flesh in ribbons. “Tenanye. Tenanye…I command you.”
There was another heartbeat of silence, then Gwen wailed.
“Heal me!” I had to shout to be heard above her wretched misery. “Tenanye, fucking heal me!”
Her scream turned into one of fury and absolute hatred. Regardless, in that same instant, my pain was gone. I could see, I could hear, and I could move freely. I pushed myself onto my hands and knees, to find all my missing body part had regrown. I had all my fingers and toes, and not a single blister on my skin.
The fog was gone. Gwen lay on her side next to me, sobbing in pure despair. Her cries were so pitiful that, despite everything, I felt a pang of guilt.
The bathroom door banged open, then a tall man walked into the room. He was flanked on either side by two more men, all three grim and angry. They appeared to be in their late-twenties and were dressed in fine silks. It was as though they’d stepped out of another century. Their faces were human, but, like Gwen, there was something off about all of them.
“Tell me, bloodsucker.” The leader shared Gwen’s strange accent. “How did you come to learn our sister’s true name?”
As always, thanks to all of you for following the story. I hope all of you enjoy what you’ve read so far, because, without you, there would be little point in writing it. If you like what you’ve read and want to help spread the word, please click the buttons below to like and share. You’d be doing more to help an independent author than you can possibly know. As always, stay blessed.