*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 45, Part 1
I have no idea how Michael kept going. By day three with less than an hour’s sleep, his skin looked like bread dough. His hair stuck up at weird angles, and he jumped at every loud noise. His eyes were so bloodshot, he looked stoned. Or maybe feral.
I tried to help him as best I could, but I’m not a caregiver. “Suck it up” wouldn’t keep the others from puking and shitting themselves feral. The best I could do was donate my room and stay out of Michael’s way. I didn’t mind. I had my own stuff to deal with. Any day, I expected a visit from Sebastian about respecting territory. Hell, if I didn’t have a warrant out, it’d be a miracle.
It wouldn’t have killed the High Council to send someone to help. They gave the Sanctuary enough cold blood to keep the others sane, but that’s it. I wished I had the authority to make the established vampires do the right thing. Maybe, after I was Pure…I don’t know.
My hand drifted to the leather bag Khalid had given me. It was still there, still tied shut. It still held my change of clothes, which was still wrapped around the chalice. The strap never left my shoulders, even when I slept. Not that I slept much.
I’d fed. I’d packed. I’d settled my affairs, such as they were. There was nothing left to do but kill time, and it wasn’t going down easy.
I sat in one of the folding chairs in the common room, bent over my sketchbook. My hand flew across the paper so fast that the card table shook. Michael sat across from me, staring straight ahead without blinking.
“Are you sure it’s going to happen tonight?” It surprised me that he’d spoken. I didn’t think he was awake.
“It’s the new moon,” I said without looking up from my drawing. It had started as a self-portrait, but my hand had other ideas.
“Did that unholy spirit…Khalid. Did Khalid tell you the ritual would take place on this particular new moon? Did Karen?”
What the hell, did he think I wasn’t anxious enough? “Not in so many words, no.”
Michael winced when one of the vampires on the couch began to throw up into a plastic bucket. After what felt like forever, the horrible retching stopped. “It could be that Karen needs more time to prepare her side of the ritual.”
I felt my eyebrows draw into a tight knot. “Maybe,” I said, concentrating on shading. Turns out, the drawing was of Michael, exactly as he looked in that moment.
“What’s one more year to someone like him? What’s one more year to you?”
I shrugged. “That’s cool. Until Khalid upholds his side of the bargain, Gwen is mine. I can think of a hundred uses for a fairy slave. Today.”
Michael shook his head as his scowl deepened. “There are some forces that shouldn’t be tampered with, Toby. Infernals and fairies top that list. Don’t you remember the fairy tales you heard as a kid?”
I gave him a deadpan look.
“Oh. Right. Sorry. Anyway, trying to manipulate a fairy always backfires. They are the personification of chaos. There is no gain without sacrifice. That is the first law of nature. Those creatures are nature, terrible and beautiful, all at the same time.”
“I’ll take my chances. There are things that I’ll need when I’m Pure. I should get it all while I still have that twink under my thumb.”
“What sort of things?” Michael said, as though he didn’t know.
“Territory. A herd. Money. A home. Unless you want me to live here forever.”
“You are always welcome here.”
I rolled my eyes. “Could you sound more like a robot when you say that?”
“I’m just tired. My point is, do you think using fairy magic to get that stuff will come with no strings attached? Especially when said fairy hates you?”
“She can just deal,” I said, too loud. “She belongs to me until I’m turned, so I’m going to get all my ducks in a row now. As a matter of fact, I hope they don’t do the ritual tonight.”
Michael stared at me, as though wondering who I was. “Are you okay?”
I met his gaze for several seconds, then his eyes widened with understanding. We both knew, wherever Khalid was, he was listening. If not him, then some other fairy was keeping tabs. I wanted to remind everyone what was at stake here.
“So,” Michael said, after an awkward silence. “Have you told your family yet?”
My face screwed up in confusion. “My what? Oh, you mean Hlin and Sebastian? No.” Honestly, it hadn’t even occurred to me.
“Don’t you think they’ll want to know?”
“I dunno. Probably. I’ll give them a heads up when it’s over.” I pushed the drawing across the table then leaned back in my chair. I wasn’t crazy about how his face had turned out, but I was kind of proud of the folds in his clothes.
Michael seemed impressed as he picked up the notebook. After a moment, he said, “Shit, do I really look like that?”
“Sorry, dude. You know, I’ve given Gwen long enough to get over the babies. It’s time to go back to work. I think I’ll shrink her down to about the size of a parrot. She can sit on my shoulder and grant my wishes all day long.” I waited, but nothing happened. “Naked.”
“Toby…” Karen’s voice was so clear, it was as though she stood right next to me. Michael raised an eyebrow at the smile that spread across my face. “It’s time. Come to me.”
I got up without a word, turned, then walked out of the room. Behind me, Michael said, “Okay. Bye, I guess.”
The instant I stepped outside, the night wind twisted my hair into knots. I could smell rain in the distance, wet earth, traffic, and, as always, piss. There wasn’t a trace of jasmine.
I jogged down the cobblestone pathway to the sidewalk. There, I turned right for no other reason than I knew this was the way I needed to go. At the corner, the urge to climb onto the roof of the warehouse across the street swept over me.
“Just a little further.” Karen’s voice was a spur in my side, and I broke into a dead sprint.
‘Just a little further’ turned out to be over a mile. It bothered me to find out Karen could compel me from that far. Even so, I could no more turn around than I could pluck off my own legs. When I finally dropped into an empty alleyway, every nerve in my body was on fire.
I turned in a complete circle, but there was nowhere Karen could’ve been hiding. “Karen?” I sounded angrier than I felt, because even my voice has resting bitch face. “Where are you?”
“Behind you.” I spun around to find nothing but a wall of clouded glass. “You can come in, Toby.”
I smashed out a large panel with my bare fist, then crawled in through the gap. Like Kingdom Come, nothing of value remained in the wide, open space. I saw a maze of rusted metal racks and gritty cardboard boxes. Dust mote clouds floated in the shafts of light from the street. The air reeked of mold and rotting garbage, but still no jasmine.
“Karen?” The ache in my chest began to burn. “Karen, where are you?”
I turned around, then let out a huge breath. A spiral staircase near the smashed window led to a second story landing. Above, I saw the flickering light of several candles. Karen stood on the bottom step, looking gorgeous in plain jeans and a vee-neck tee shirt. Her hair hung loose on her shoulders. Her big doe eyes were wide and a little worried. She opened her mouth, as though to speak, then closed it again. Anxiety sparkled in her blood.
I closed the distance between us in two strides then pulled her into a tight hug. I buried my face in her neck, and her hair was like silk against my cheek. Before she could say a word, my mouth was over hers.
For a second or two, Karen was too shocked to react. Hell, I’d surprised myself. I guess I thought, if I never got another opportunity…who am I kidding? I just wanted to kiss her. I’d missed her like a bird with a broken wing misses the sky.
Karen’s arms tightened around my shoulders as her mouth moved against mine. She might’ve had the softest lips in the world. I know she had the sweetest breath. Her body fit against mine as though she’d been made for me. My heart slammed against my ribcage, and I could feel hers beating just as hard. The tip of my tongue darted out to sneak a taste of her, and she sucked in a sharp breath. My stomach dropped as my mind cracked open to let in all the light of the universe. I’d never had a kiss feel like that before, not even with Justine. At the same time, it was like I’d kissed Karen a hundred times; very safe and familiar.
I wanted to stay there, right there in that perfect moment, for the rest of my life. I wanted to forget the world and all the bullshit hassle that went along with it. I wanted to deepen the kiss and see where it led.
But that was impossible. Trevor, and Justine, stood between us like a canyon. One was dead, and the other would die if we dared to cross that gap. Karen wouldn’t be able to live with that, so this was as close as we’d ever get.
Karen pulled away first. “Are you okay?” she said, an emotional crack in her voice.
I let out a short laugh as I set her back on her feet. “That’s what I should be asking you. I’ve been dying. Where have you been?”
Karen gave a nervous shrug. “I’ve been around.”
“Where? Have you been safe? Is Khalid taking care of you?”
Karen blinked, as though caught off guard. “Yes, of course. How did…?” She stopped then shook her head. “I would’ve reached out, but I thought you’d still be pissed about your arraignment.”
I made a face. “My arraignment?” My arraignment felt as though it had happened in another life. “No, I’m way over that.” I began to understand just how much of Karen’s memory Khalid had wiped.
Karen took a step back. “Lord Ahriman said that your case got dismissed. Look, I know you thought you needed to be punished, but you already spent thirty years in the ground. That was enough punishment over something you couldn’t control. I couldn’t let you go to jail, too.”
The truth hit me like a sledgehammer to the face. “It was you. It was you all along. Hlin had nothing to do with my case getting thrown out. Your deal with Khalid was never about the money. You gave thirty years so I wouldn’t have to.” The look on Karen’s face confirmed it. “You really, really, really shouldn’t have done that.”
“I had to. You would’ve died in there.”
“Better me than you.”
Karen took my hands in hers. “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” She looked at me at last then forced a smile. “So, are we ready to do this?”
With that, our moment was over. Reality had been waiting, right around the corner, ready to pounce and drag us down. Defeat took away my ability to speak, so I just nodded.
Karen took a deep breath as she started to tremble. “Do you have it with you?” she said, then winced. “Shit, what am I saying, of course you have it with you. I’m sorry. That was so dumb.”
I waved away her embarrassment as I dug the chalice out of the pouch. I placed it in her hands, then Karen’s eyes widened.
“Are you fucking kidding me with this? The Impaler spared no expense, did he?” Karen bowed her head then swallowed hard. “Okay. Let’s do this. Everything is almost ready.”
Karen turned, then I followed her up the steep metal stairs. I hate spiral staircases. I always feel like I’m going to hit my head. Halfway up, I just stopped. It was like there was a wall of thick gel I couldn’t push through. I fought the urge to turn around, but couldn’t make myself go any further.
Karen turned with a frown when she realized I was no longer behind her. Her eyes widened and her mouth formed a pretty O as she understood. “Are you sure you want to be a vampire?” she said. “I can make you human. You know, if you want. You never know, you might be better off. You won’t have to worry about the sun or getting wet. You won’t have to hunt for blood anymore, or worry about whose territory you’re on. You can finally have a normal life. Please, Toby. Please?”
It was easier to let go of my lifelong dream than I ever would’ve thought possible. “Okay.” Karen’s eyes filled with tears as she took a shuddering breath. “Let’s do it. Make me human.”
Karen blinked, then she turned to walk up the stairs. “Fine,” she said, her voice growing empty. “Pure vampire, it is.”
I felt as though I’d been hit by a taser. “What? Wait, no. I said to make me human.” I rushed to catch up with her. “Karen, can you hear me?”
Khalid waited for us on the second floor, his hands folded in front of him. This level was cleaner than the one below, having been emptied of shelves and garbage. A magic circle drawn in white chalk dominated the center of the room. Black candles burned in the four cardinal directions. In the shadows, I saw something tall covered in a cheap tarp. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what it was.
“That wasn’t part of the deal, half-breed,” Khalid said as he gave Karen a consoling hug. “The terms of our agreement were that Karen would turn you into a Pure vampire, upon which you would relinquish all control over Gwen. You’re not backing out now, not when we’re all so close.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “Karen, you don’t have to do what this asshole says. He made you help him kill hundreds of people. You don’t owe him anything, and he only has as much power over you as you give him. Goddamn it, Karen, answer me!”
“She cannot hear you speak ill, and she cannot hear you ask to become anything except a Pure vampire.” Khalid sounded annoyed at having to explain it.
“What the hell does that mean, ‘she cannot hear me speak ill’?” I decided to test that theory. “Hey, Karen. Your tits are popping out of that shirt.”
Karen lifted her head from Khalid’s chest then gave me a long, hard look. “Punch yourself in the face,” she said.
My hard fist shattered the cartilage in my nose and a white flash of pain brought me to my knees.
Khalid couldn’t hide his amusement. “Perhaps I should have clarified; she cannot hear you speak ill against me. Dreadfully sorry.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet,” I said through bloodied fingers. I breathed through my mouth as Karen walked to the ritual circle. I braced myself then yanked down hard on my broken nose before it could heal at a weird angle. I bit back a growl of agony as the bones ground back into place.
“As I was saying, that was the letter of our agreement reached in the presence of the Elder council. They will allow nothing else, therefore neither will I.”
“Well, then, I have no reason to be here,” I said as I got to my feet.
I turned to walk down the stairs, then Khalid’s voice became merciless. “If you take Gwen from me, then Karen’s life is forfeit.”