*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.
Chapter 42, part 2
Nik and Xi took me by the elbows to drag me deeper into the chamber. The mob parted to reveal wooden thrones growing out of the ground like gnarled trees. Seated upon them were three creatures I couldn’t begin to name. Their bright blue eyes bulged from their grey, alien faces. When they moved, even to blink or turn their heads, it was slow and deliberate. White hair and sheer robes floated around them like smoke. They wore silver crowns I realized after a moment were actually metallic horns.
Xi’s lips twisted into another unpleasant smile as he took a step toward them. “Elders, thank you for assembling this tribunal, and so quickly. The Children of Vesuvius are honored by your time and attention.”
As one, the creatures on the thrones nodded. The Elder to the left spoke first. “As the eldest of the Seven, do you speak on behalf of your siblings, clever Xivinaxus?” Its voice was like the wind through a narrow canyon.
“As always, wise Elder.”
“Speak your charges, then,” the middle one said. I wondered if these things were separate, or one being.
Xi turned to face the horde with more theatrics than ten drama majors. When he spoke, it was as though he addressed each individual freak. “Elders, kinsmen, I come before you today to charge one of our own, Lord Khalid of the Shaytan Djinn, of the most unthinkable, the most reprehensible, the most atrocious crime of which any of us could stand accused.”
The Elder on the right scowled. “You don’t mean…”
“Yes,” Xi said. “Lord Khalid has given my youngest sister’s True Name to a mortal.” There was a general murmur of shock through the crowd. “And not just any mortal. He has given her name to a vampire.”
The fairies erupted. I couldn’t understand most of what being shouted, so I craned my neck to find Gwen. She sat on the floor, as though she didn’t have the strength to stand. Quick Brother and Hot Sister kneeled beside her, cradling her in their arms as they stroked her hair. Gwen’s head was bowed, her shoulders hunched under the weight of her grief. Curls of her true form drifted into the air like steam.
Elder One had to shout to be heard above the rabble. “These are grievous charges, Prince Xivinaxus, and not to be made lightly.”
“Or without proof,” Elder Two said.
“I assure my Elders, we have the proof you need. The Seven demand justice.”
It was Elder Three’s turn to speak. “We know the Children bear no love for Lord Khalid. Given the mandatory punishment for such a crime, tell us you have more evidence than…” The Elders looked me over. “That.”
I rolled my eyes. “You won’t need more than me,” I said. “Gwen’s True Name is—”
The rest of my sentence was drowned out by the panicked outcry of the mob. I saw the flash of more than one weapon being drawn. I folded my hands in front of me, satisfied my point was made.
I heard the wood creak when Elder One gripped the arms of its throne with spindly fingers. “Prince Xivinaxus, you would do well to instruct your witness to hold his vile tongue.”
Xi bowed. “Of course, my Elder,” he said before whirling on me. “Speak again and I will weld a leaded mask over your head, so that you might live out the rest of your days as my feral dog. Do you doubt me?”
No. No, I did not. I shrugged as I said, “Damn, dude. Chill.”
Elder Two looked down its nose at me. “Aside from the fact that he is a vampire, this creature despises Lord Khalid. He would say anything to hurt him, and therefore cannot be trusted.”
Xi nodded. “True, which is why I shall provide a second witness, one that loves him.”
As though on cue, Biker Fairy stepped through the portal behind us. He carried a thick iron chain in his gloved hand. The heavy links sparked as they dragged along the ground. Biker Fairy jerked, then Aliese the Whore stumbled through the portal. She wore a spiked collar attached to thick metal cuffs around her wrists and ankles. She sported two black eyes and her nose dripped blood. Golden runes burned in her shackles, I assumed to keep the demon within from jumping ship.
Xi’s lips curled into a sneer. “This…woman, I suppose we shall call her, is inhabited by a lesser ifrit. She sustains her physical and metaphysical existence by whoring herself in Lord Khalid’s brothel. She goes by the name Aliese and her loyalty to that djinn is beyond contestation.”
The Elders looked over Aliese the Whore. “Is this true?” Elder Three said. “Speak, ifrit.”
Aliese the Whore looked like a baby goat in a den of lions. Before she could begin to beg for her life, Khalid stepped through the portal. “Greetings, Kinsmen,” he said with obscene cheer. “How strange it was to awaken to find my home invaded, my subordinates arrested, and to discover that I am on trial. Stranger still to have not been invited to the proceedings.” Despite his claim of having just woken up, Khalid wore a black suit and tie. His hair was perfect, his beard was smooth, and he had recently bathed. He lifted his chin toward Xi, as though noticing him for the first time. “Xivinaxus. Always a pleasure. My highest regards to your father.”
Elder One made a sour face at Khalid. I guess even his own kind didn’t care for him. “Lord Khalid, this is merely the accusation phase of the proceedings. Should it be determined that sufficient evidence exists to place you on trial, you would’ve been summoned.”
“And yet, here I am,” Khalid said. “Let Xivinaxus make his charges, then present his evidence. Afterwards, I see no reason not to move at once to my criminal trial.”
Gwen lifted her head as the line of her body hardened. I could feel hatred roll off her as she refused to look at Khalid.
“So, you admit that a crime has taken place?” Xi said.
Elder Two gave Khalid a suspicious look. “Justice should not be rushed, Lord Khalid. We do not suffer the human lifespan.” The various pyxies, gnomes, and ogres chuckled. “By all means, explain your urgency.”
Khalid sobered. “My urgency stems from the fact that this atrocity has been allowed to continue for far too long already.”
The Elders looked at one another, then Elder Three nodded toward Xi. “Prince Xivinaxus.”
Xi stared at Khalid as though trying to figure him out. After a few seconds, he said, “First thing’s first.” He began to pace around the circle again, and I noticed that his footsteps didn’t make a sound. “It is difficult to convey the profound heartache and rage suffered by the Seven at this moment. Everyone gathered here knows our story. They know our royal parents. The legend of their love, and the sacrifices they made, have become the standard by which all love is measured amongst our kind.
“We all know my father, of his reputation and his awe-inspiring power. We know of the savage army he unleashed upon this world to bring it to heel. He is the embodiment of war and ruthless brutality. At least, he was. That changed the very instant he first laid eyes upon my mother.
“She had been offered to him, effectively sacrificed, in the faint hope of peace. There was not a soul in the universe that expected her to crack the icy shell of his heart, comparatively humble as she was. Moreover, no one believed that she would genuinely love him in kind…or even survive her wedding night.” The fairies laughed again. “Yet the world rejoiced at the birth of their first son.”
I snuck a glance at Khalid. He was checking his phone.
“I was soon joined by my brothers, Kailen and Nik. It was then that the toll on my mother’s health became apparent. Her first child was bright and clever, yet her own wit had dimmed. Her second son was strapping and powerful, yet she herself could no longer dazzle the court with feats of strength. Her third son proved invulnerable to everything, from physical attacks to the deadliest toxins, yet our mother had grown weak and sickly.
“Everyone begged her to stop, to grace our father with no more offspring. Her love for him and her family was such that any part of herself was worth sacrificing to see more of her children into the world. His love for her was so great that he could deny her nothing.
“Her fourth son, Elrich, took her grace and fleetness of foot. Her first daughter, my sister Rhiannon, took her immense beauty.” Holy shit, did she ever. “My youngest brother, Durin, took her vast intellect. By this time, my mother could do little except lay in bed and whisper, and yet…” Xi closed his eyes as he pressed his hand against his heart. “Even those faint whispers could soothe the most wounded soul. Because, more than anything else, love defined my mother. It was all she was, all she had to give.
“And so, when my youngest sister came, the pain of my mother’s passing was mitigated by the knowledge that she had delivered unto this world another person defined by her capacity for love. There is no other being in existence that can love as completely and as deeply as our Gwen, and therefore she is the most beloved of us all.”
Xi’s tone darkened. “My siblings and I did not approve when our honorable father arranged her marriage to this…desert upstart—”
“A fact made plain from the beginning,” Khalid said without looking up. “I could hardly begrudge you your animosity, my prince, considering how thoroughly I’ve always defeated you on the field of battle.”
Xi’s jaw tightened. “We were aware that our sister loved him at once, because of course she loved him. That was what Gwen did. That was who she was. Sweet Gwen loved all things, everyone, without hesitation or reservation, no matter how unworthy they were of that love. While it could be argued that the feeling was mutual—”
“Because it was,” Khalid said.
Xi spoke louder. “We, her siblings, saw the disaster looming on the horizon. We knew that, left unchecked, Lord Khalid would destroy her.” Xi shoved more sarcasm into that word than I would’ve though possible.
“You fools knew nothing,” Khalid said under his breath.
“We knew that you would twist her spirit and break her gentle heart,” Biker Fairy said.
“Gwen never would’ve been enslaved by that boy, had she not attempted the come-hither to impress you,” Hot Sister said.
Khalid arched an eyebrow. “Beautiful Rhiannon. Did you hurt yourself on that stretch?”
Xi went back to pacing around the circle. “This is why, when the wise Elders—” Khalid made a contemptuous sound, “—decreed that Gwen should remain the boy’s slave until the end of his line, they did so with our full support. That support stemmed not from agreement with their verdict, necessarily, but because this was the only way we could delay Gwen’s union to one so far beneath her.”
Khalid said nothing. He didn’t need to. The look on his face said it all.
“This is also why we took it upon ourselves to protect the child, and his child, and his child’s child, on and on, against that djinn’s relentless campaign of extermination. We were not always successful, as Khalid layered curse upon curse against their bloodline, as well as any poor fool who dared to breed with them. Not one of the decedents lived to experience old age, but we kept the line going for over one hundred generations. Over the centuries, we came to love them, as Gwen did.
“Now, that line has ended with the one-hundred-sixteenth descendants, because we’ve failed them. We’ve failed Gwen. We do not simply mourn those two children, taken far too young. We swear vengeance in their honor.”
Rhiannon and Quick Brother hugged Gwen as she began to weep again. Biker Brother placed his enormous hand on top of her head.
Xi spoke with genuine sorrow, so I guess his speech wasn’t all for show. “We surrender their bodies to the flames, so that their ancestors might welcome them with open arms.” Xi lifted his gaze, then I saw a bright flicker dart across his eyes. “Go now into the next world, knowing that justice will be carried out.”
Except for Khalid, who might as well have been in traffic court, the horde seemed moved. After a few moments of respectful silence, Elder One said, “Let us proceed.”