*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.
Thick clumps of blood shot into my lungs. I crawled forward, blind and choking, as I listened to Karen run down the stairs.
An invisible force lifted me then set me back on my feet. I flinched away from the cool, slender fingers that touched my cheeks, but the pain vanished. My vision cleared, and I saw the look of determination on Gwen’s face.
“I grow so tired of his games,” she said as she pulled the veil out of her hair. She let it drop to the floor, her dress brightening from black to fiery red. “After him.”
I didn’t need to be told to go after Karen. We ran toward the spiral staircase as I said, “Are you telling me this was part of Khalid’s plan?”
Close on my heels, Gwen fluttered like a flock of birds. “Perhaps not this exactly, but trust me. With Khalid, there is always a Plan B.”
The dirt on the floor was so thick that Karen may as well have been walking in the snow. Her footprints turned away from the broken window, toward the maze of metal racks. Gwen and I followed her into the shadows, my senses opening as the desperate need to catch up to her faded. There was no way in hell this wasn’t a trap.
As expected, Gwen and I reached a dead end, where the tracks stopped. I didn’t see so much as a scuff in the dirt in any direction. The cardboard boxes crammed onto the shelves left no place to hide. Yet, I stood in a cloud of musky jasmine. Had Khalid turned Karen invisible, or…
A disturbing thought occurred to me. “If he’s inside Karen, can he use her powers?” I said in a low voice.
Before Gwen could reply, my body locked. My jaw clamped shut, my joints and muscles seized, and I wondered to myself why I was such an idiot.
I heard laughter above, then a whoosh. Fire, bright and blinding in the darkness, swept across the boxes. Scorching heat raked down my throat as my skin bubbled. The vampire in me thrashed and screamed, but I couldn’t even blink as I roasted alive.
Without a word, Gwen exploded into a column of thick mist, gushing outward like a tidal wave. Karen’s influence faded as the wave sucked back in, solidifying into Gwen once again. I flexed my healed fingers, and the blackened cardboard wasn’t even smoking.
Gwen scowled upward, her hands fisted at her sides. I followed the path of her gaze, to find Karen standing on a steel rafter above us. “Your magic is stronger than mine, but my magic will always be stronger than hers,” Gwen said. “Enough of your theatrics, Khalid. Release the girl.”
Khalid glared at us through Karen’s eyes, then turned to sprint along the beam. She leapt onto one of the empty racks like a parkour master, then jumped again to the ground. In the blink of an eye, Karen vanished into the maze.
I shrugged off the last tugs of Karen’s domination as I started after her. “You have to get him out of her,” I said.
“If I could do that, I would’ve already.”
“You know, I’m beginning to think having a fairy godmother is a fucking scam.”
An unseen force yanked me into the air. The tips of my shoes scraped along the ground as the nothingness dragged me forward. Almost too late, I saw the pile of broken concrete and rebar. Pushed face-first toward the jagged spikes, I somehow managed to catch myself. I could sense Khalid’s irritation as the force holding me doubled in strength. The muscles in my arms screamed as my elbows began to shake.
Gwen passed her hand in front of the steel bars, and they curled inward like burning hair. I dropped to the ground then heard, “Why do you protect him?” There was nothing more offensive to me than hearing Khalid speak with Karen’s voice.
“Thwarting you is the only motivation I will ever need,” Gwen said.
“Everything I have done—everything I have ever done—has been for you.”
Gwen laughed. “Selflessness is as foreign to your nature as is compassion, Khalid.”
The metal shelves made a deafening racket as they scraped toward us. Gwen pushed her arms out, then the racks toppled like dominoes. When the echoes of their crash faded, Khalid said, “So you shield a vampire just to spite me?” Clearly, this was the pettiest thing he’d ever heard. “You will never be free as long as he lives. My love, let me end this.”
“I have never been free, Khalid. Never once in my entire life. Since the day of my birth, I have existed only to serve others. My one true freedom has been to choose my master, and even this mule-blooded, half-breed vampire spawn is better than you.”
I wasn’t sure how to take that. “Thanks?”
Karen stepped out of the shadows. Khalid’s cruelty made her eyes hard and alien. When I took a step in her direction, Karen held up her hand. My body dropped to my knees, then bowed my head.
“I will not allow you to kill my master, Khalid,” Gwen said. “Before you argue, remember that you are the one that put me in this position.”
Khalid groaned, as though tired of having the same conversation. “A means to an end, dearest, nothing more. When he is dead, all will be as it was. Besides, do you believe your family will allow you to remain in thrall to a vampire?”
“You underestimate how much Xi hates you.”
I couldn’t move, but I could speak. “It’s too late anyway, demon.” The word felt awkward on my tongue. “You gave me her name, and now it’s mine. You can kill me, Khalid, but I’ve already made sure her name will pass on to my grandmother when I’m gone. I know Hlin will be able to think of a thousand uses for a fairy slave.”
I hoped Gwen sensed my bluff as she lifted her chin then drew her shoulders back.
Khalid glared, then Karen’s face went pale. Tears filled her eyes as she screamed, “Toby, just get out of here!”
Her terror and pain cut me to the core, as it always did. “Karen?”
“Please,” she said, sobbing. “He’ll kill you if you stay.”
Gwen laid her hand between my shoulders. “He won’t. Not again. I promise.”
My claws dug into my palms. “I won’t leave here without you.”
Karen cried out as her arm was wrenched behind her back. I heard the snap of straining tendons as she dropped to her knees. Karen’s free hand reached out to snatch up a shard of broken glass. Her head yanked back, then she pressed the makeshift weapon to her throat.
Khalid’s intense hatred returned to Karen’s face and voice. “Finish the ritual.”
Gwen held out her hand before I could respond. “Tobias, you don’t have to.”
The glass gouged into Karen’s soft skin. I watched as a rivulet of blood ran along the sharp edge to her hand. “I beg to differ,” Khalid said. “I have waited too long and have sacrificed too much for it all to have been in vain. I have given up everything to have your freedom, and I will have it. Now, half-breed, do this or I swear to every god in the multiverse that I will personally kill this incarnation, and every incarnation that is to follow. In their infancy, until the end of time. Slowly. Painfully, and I will make sure that this soul knows every time she dies that you are the reason why.”
I held up my hands in surrender. “Okay. Okay, you win. We’ll do this, but after it’s done, you have to swear to me that you will leave Karen alone forever.”
“Agreed.” Karen got to her feet, her arm still twisted between her shoulder blades. The glass remained at her throat as Khalid said, “Now march your worthless hide into that circle, and don’t you dare say a fucking word until it’s over.”
I kept my hands up. “Fine. I’ll do whatever you want. Just…don’t hurt her. Please.”
Khalid turned Karen’s body then marched it forward. Gwen and I fell into step behind them. The racks and debris moved aside, clearing a path for us.
I looked at Gwen out of the corner of my eye. Her head was bowed in sorrow. “I’m sorry,” I said. I don’t think I’ve ever meant an apology more than this one. “I’m so, so sorry. For everything.”
Gwen nodded, her dress darkening in despair. “I understand, Tobias. I forgive you.”
“He’ll never let you go. Not ever.”
“It appears not,” Gwen said with a sigh.
“If I could save you both, I would,” I said as we reached the spiral staircase.
We climbed, then Gwen looked at me at last. “Is that truly your wish?”
“Yes,” I said with a nod. “I’d give anything.”
Gwen rolled her eyes. “Finally.”
We stepped into the ritual area just in time to see Justine climbing through the hole in the roof. She looked back at us, cold and aloof, the chalice flashing in her hand.
Khalid stepped forward, rage breaking Karen’s voice as he screamed, “No!”
In that same instant, Gwen make a sweeping motion with her arms. The last thing I heard before time ground to a halt was Gwen’s voice. “Don’t waste this.”
Then…what I heard, what I saw…it’s very hard to describe. It was like I stood in the center of a photograph. I couldn’t move, but I could take in every detail. Every frozen flicker of the candleflames. Every ripple in Gwen’s dress. Every spark of light on the hovering dust, and the constant hum of Khalid’s fury.
The logical part of my brain reminded me that we were on a mission, damn it. “Karen?” I said. Well, sort of. I said it in my mind, but the voice in my head was so loud that it was like I’d spoken the words. “Karen, can you hear me?”
“Toby?” Karen’s voice came from the back of her head. Was this honest-to god-telepathy?
Again, I didn’t have time to marvel. “Thank the dear, sweet baby Jesus. Are you okay?” What the fuck, really? Of course, she wasn’t okay. “Where’s Khalid?
I sensed rather than heard Karen struggle. It was kind of like the rattle of chains without the clinking sound. “He’s still here. He still has me locked up inside myself, but it’s like… he’s stone? Toby, this hurts so much. He’s burning me from the inside out.”
I knew exactly what she meant. I’d been there. “I know it hurts. That’s why we have to get him out of you.”
“I can’t. He’s too strong.”
I ‘spoke’ louder to be heard above her rippling panic. “You’re strong. Yes, you can.”
“He’s in too deep. I won’t be able to get rid of him without turning myself inside out.”
“I know how you feel, Karen. Exorcism sucks, but we have to do everything we can.”
“He’ll just slip back in. When I’m weak, or when I’m asleep. Fuck, I’m so stupid!”
“Enough!” This was a dangerous spiral, one that would strip her of her power. “Use the exorcism incantation to put him into that statue.”
Karen was incredulous. “That won’t work.”
“You’ve done it before.”
“Against a pathetic, weak little piece of nothing. Khalid is… Besides, I can’t remember the incantation.”
“Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Khalid, you are expelled.” I got the feeling I’d surprised her. “Yeah, I remember. I remember everything you’ve ever said to me. You saved me, Karen. You’ve done nothing but save me since the day we met. Now, I need you to save yourself.” I heard a weird, jingling-grinding noise as the world began to speed back up. “I’m with you. Let’s do this.”
Time snapped back like elastic, then Gwen collapsed in a heap. Khalid turned Karen’s head to look back, then her eyes widened. He released the arm twisted behind her back as he lowered the blade of glass.
I lunged forward, tackling Karen around the waist. I push-carried her across the room, wincing when I slammed her against the black statue. I held her hands behind her back, my forearm pressed across her shoulders. Her lips peeled back as I forced her cheek against the hard obsidian.
With Khalid preoccupied, Karen managed to fire off an incantation. “Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell! My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Khalid, you are expelled.”
Even as she spoke, Karen struggled in my grasp. “Keep going, Karen,” I said above Khalid’s furious growls. “Come on, together! Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Khalid, you are expelled.”
Khalid clenched Karen’s jaw, but she managed to force out about half the words. “I will stop her heart, half-breed,” he said with a snarl.
I didn’t know why he hadn’t already, so I had to act fast. My lips brushed Karen’s ear as I said, “Gwen never loved you.”
Khalid’s rage caught in his throat, then Karen blurted, “Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Khalid, you are expelled.” She cried out in pain when Khalid jerked within her.
I guess I’d struck a nerve, so I decided to dig my claws in. “Her family gave her to a grunt soldier like she didn’t even matter. Yeah, she’s sweet enough to try to make the best of a bad situation, but she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life under your thumb. Think about it. What has she done since she met you, except run away?”
The words began to come easier. “Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Khalid, you are expelled.”
As she chanted, I said, “Gwen knew that you would bring her nothing but misery. She would rather be a slave than your wife. Hell, she prefers me to you.”
Karen became heavier in my arms, as though her legs were giving out. Even so, her voice grew stronger. “Wicked invader. Unwelcome presence. Hark and heed my spell. My will, indomitable. By your name, I call you. Khalid, you are expelled.”
“Let Gwen go,” I said. “If you really love her, you’ll give her the only thing she obviously wants.”
Karen dragged in the breath to speak another incantation, but Khalid cut her off. “Enough.” His voice was sharp as Karen’s eyes turned toward Gwen.
Gwen laid where she had fallen. Her dress had faded to the same pale white as her skin. Wisps of her true form curled into the air.
A grim look swept over Karen’s face. “Tell her—” Khalid said, then Karen’s eyes squeezed shut. She twitched in my arms as oily black smoke began to billow out of her mouth and nose. The foul essence flowed into the statue, tiny cracks forming in the polished surface.
I eased Karen to the ground, patting her back as she coughed up the last of Khalid’s presence. Gwen began to stir, but I couldn’t go to her. My body was too weak with relief to leave Karen’s side.
Gwen’s green eyes cracked open, but took a moment to focus on us. “Is it done?” she said, her voice a whisper.
I hugged Karen close, then she wrapped her arms around my chest. Her face pressed into my neck, and I could smell tears. “Yes,” I said, without a trace of satisfaction. For some reason, this didn’t feel like victory.
Gwen breathed a heavy sigh as yet more mist drifted from her body. It was like she was evaporating. Was she dying? “I am glad that your friend is safe.”
“Thank you.” My voice thickened. “Thank you, so much. I couldn’t have done this without you.”
The corner of Gwen’s mouth turned up. “No. Not at all.” After a moment, she said, “Where is Khalid?”
I opened my mouth to tell her, but hesitated. “He imprisoned himself in the statue he made for you.”
Gwen’s eyes began to shine. Her body took on a soft glow that pulsed like a heartbeat. “Good. He would like that. I guess…I am yours now?”
I shook my head as I pulled Karen closer. “There’s nothing you can give me that I don’t already have. I don’t want you, Gwen. You’re free.”
Gwen’s tears sparkled like diamonds as they rolled into her hair. “To go where? And do what?”
“Anything. Anything you want.”
Gwen stared at me for a long moment. At last, she said, “Very well.”
I watched as Gwen dissolved. Her shimmering mist floated past us, soaking into the angel side of the statue. The cracks fused with a pale gleam then I heard a rumble. The stone shifted as the angel’s cold, hard lips pressed against those of the demon.