I’m over here, just giving it away.

witd b&n cover

Hey, there. I am here to let everyone know that I’m currently having a free promotion for the first book in my vampire series. The premise is pretty straightforward; humans and vampires have always lived side by side in a modern World of Darkness-type setting. It centers around Toby, a half-vampire outcast, and his best friend Karen, who is a closeted necromancer.

 

Here’s the link!

 

I am currently working on book 4, though I try to tackle a new monster in every book. Book one dealt with other vampires. Book 2, witches and voodoo. Book 3, demons. In book 4, I’m taking on werewolves.

 

I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone that the kindle app is free, so you can download it straight to your phone/computer/tablet, etc. It would mean the world to me if you would all go check it out.

 

Witd3; Chapter 42, pt. 3

*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.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 42, Part 3

Biker Fairy jerked hard on Aliese the Whore’s chain. She tripped, falling to her hands and knees at the base of the Elders’ thrones.

“Speak, ifrit,” Elder Two said. “Tell us of your relationship with Lord Khalid.”

Aliese the Whore got to her feet with difficulty. “I have served my lord faithfully, and in all ways, since before humankind harnessed the power of fire.” Her voice slurred, because it’s hard to speak with a broken jaw. “I have been loyal to him as no other woman has. Yet, here I am.”

Khalid didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed.

“Did you bear witness to the crime of which your lord stands accused?” Elder Three said.

Aliese the Whore shook her head at the unfairness of it all. “I did.”

Elder One, at least, seemed sympathetic. “Tell us, then, of what transpired, and spare no detail.”

Aliese the Whore’s breath wheezed through her crooked nose as she fought tears. “My lord commanded that I should come along to collect his necromancer from that bloodsucker. He worried the Princess of the Mists would collect herself and rightly seek revenge. He wanted his property secured before that happened.”

“This seems a simple enough task,” Elder Two said with a frown. “Did you not question why your master would require your presence on such a menial errand?”

“I don’t make a habit of questioning my lord’s orders. Besides…” Aliese the Whore bowed her head. “I know now why he wanted me there.”

“And why is that?” Xi said with smug satisfaction. I could tell that he already knew the answer, but wanted it stated for the record.

Aliese the Whore closed her eyes. “Because the only other witness was the bloodsucker.”

I laughed once in the back of my throat. People wonder why vampires hate demons.

Xi began to circle Aliese the Whore. Even hobbled, she turned to keep him in her line of sight. “Therefore, do you believe it was his intent to reveal my sister’s True Name in your presence all along, regardless of what that meant for you?”

Tears glistened in her eyes. “I do.”

“And did your master reveal my sister’s True Name in your presence?”

“He did.”

“Were there any other witnesses to the crime, beside the vampire?” Elder Three said.

Aliese the Whore lifted her shoulders with a tired sigh. “There was the necromancer and a revenant.”

The Elders considered one another. “Should we bring them here?” Elder One said.

Elder Two shook its head. “Revenants are dangerous and unpredictable. It would be folly to bring such an abomination to this place.”

Elder Three stroked its chin.  “I know of this revenant. She was a respected witch, in her time. That which reanimates her now is her burning need for revenge. It will not occur to her to use her knowledge of the Princess of the Mists’ True Name to exploit her powers.”

Elder One nodded in agreement. “Once her bloodlust has been sated, she will pass from this world.”

“Then it is agreed,” Elder Two said. “The problem will resolve itself.”

“But the necromancer may speak the princess’s True Name,” Elder Three said. “She should be here.”

I felt a stab of panic. “No!” I wasn’t supposed to speak, but it burst out of me. “No, Karen didn’t hear anything. She was unconscious.” Nik held out his arm when I took a step toward Khalid. “Tell them you had Karen knocked out, and that she couldn’t have heard you say Gwen’s True Name. Tell them!”

Khalid’s lips curled, but he said, “It’s true. I’d placed Karen in a deep slumber to ease her extraction from this bloodsucker’s custody. She heard nothing. I swear it on the sand.”

This pacified the fairies for some reason. They’re so fucking weird.

The Elders turned their attention back to Aliese the Whore. “Continue,” Elder Three said.

Aliese the Whore seemed reluctant, but said, “The vampire was unwilling to let my lord leave with his rightful property. Of course, he was powerless against my lord’s might. In true vampire fashion, he threatened to take his revenge against one that my lord held dear.”

Xi interrupted again. “So, it is your testimony that your lord not only revealed my sister’s True Name. He did so to a vampire that had explicitly threatened her life?”

Aliese the Whore bit her bottom lip. “Yes.”

This sparked another titter of outrage from the fairies.

“And now, the proof,” Elder One said. “Alga, the All-knowing, step forward.”

An ancient, hunched creature shuffled out of the crowd. She had stringy grey hair that looked as though it had never been washed. Her face was a mass of wrinkles and folds, but she had no mouth, nose, or eyes. What she had were giant ears that took up both sides of her head. Her earlobes dragged along the ground as she leaned on her walking stick.

Elder Two spoke. “Ifrit, in the softest whisper you can manage, speak the Princess of the Mist’s True Name.”

Aliese the Whore cast a worried look at Khalid, but he gave her a nod. She closed her eyes, pained, then leaned forward to whisper into Alga’s ear. Alga covered her face with her knotted hands, then her shoulders began to shake. Two more weirdos stepped out of the crowd. They allowed her to lean on them for support as they practically carried her away.

Elder Three shook its head. “And so it has been proven. Lord Khalid of the Shaytan Djinn, do you have anything to say in your own defense?”

“No. However, I would like to know when Gwen and I are to be married. I’d prefer the wedding take place as soon as possible.”

This was met with dead silence. The sheer massiveness of Khalid’s balls shocked everyone.

“I will never marry you!” Gwen screeched. “Ever! I hate you. I hate everything about you. I hate the sight of you. I hate the sound of your voice. The thought of you touching me makes me want to vomit. If I knew your True Name, I would broadcast it to the whole of China, in the hopes they would command your festering spirit into a rabid dog to be eaten alive by maggots until the end of time.”

This was an impressive level of hate, but Khalid took it in stride. “You have the right to your anger, and your grief, my love,” he said without a trace of irony. “I know that you believe I have committed a heinous crime against you. That the damage is irreparable and unforgivable.”

Xi looked at Khalid as though questioning his sanity. “And how do you deem the crime you have committed against her?”

“As a brutal necessity to free my beloved from bondage. I was successful in doing what needed to be done when her cowardly, sanctimonious siblings fought to do the exact opposite. She has been a slave for so long that she has forgotten what it is to be free. In time, she will forgive me.”

Gwen spat at him. “Never.”

Khalid’s tone grew more solemn, more determined. “You will love me again. I swear it.”

Gwen shook her head in disgust as she looked away.

“You speak as though we would allow you to occupy the same hemisphere as our sister ever again,” Xi said.

Khalid’s eyes began to burn. “Allow? Her hand was promised to me by your father, a contract he has never revoked. The Elders’ decreed that Gwen be punished, but that punishment has reached its natural end.”

Quick Brother laughed in disbelief. “Murder is natural, Infernal one?”

Khalid didn’t blink. “Prince Elrich, there is nothing in the universe more natural than murder.”

Biker Fairy snorted. “You’re daft if you think our father would uphold any contract with you after what you’ve done.”

“Perhaps you don’t know your father as well as you would like to believe.”

The goblin brother—the smart one?—reeled. “And now you have the brazen audacity to imply that you know our father better than we do?”

“History has demonstrated that I have far more in common with your father than any of you ever have. Do you think he will side with you after you took his wife away from him a piece at a time? If you are so sure that he wouldn’t uphold his contract with me, then perhaps we should wake him and have him weigh in on these proceedings.”

No one seemed to like that idea, not even Xi and his siblings.

“Lord Khalid,” Elder One said in a soothing tone, “the legitimacy of your claims are not without merit, but that is a matter for another day. Regardless of your motives, there is no justification for what you have done. Our course is clear.”

“The Seven demand his head,” Xi said without hesitation.

Khalid didn’t flinch. “And I would gladly give it, as husband to your precious sister, and brother-in-law to the rest of you.”

“We’d prefer it on a spike,” Quick Brother said.

Nik nodded. “To roast in the sun.”

Khalid raised his hands. “Brothers-to-be, no one understands the need for immediate, visceral revenge more than I do, but I fear you are being shortsighted. My contract is with your father, and not any of you. Prince Xivinaxus, you speak for your siblings, but not for Vesuvius. To make such a decision without his counsel, you risk incurring his wrath.”

“Agreed,” all three Elders said in unison.

Xi’s jaw bulged as he glared at Khalid, then he spun to face the Elders. “So be it. If I can’t have his life, then I will have his livelihood. Everything that he has of value must be stripped from him. His property, his wealth, his servants, his slaves, his title, and his rank in the Shaytan Djinn army. I will take the very skin from his back, forfeited to my sister in the first of many tributes he will make to her in amends.”

Khalid tilted his head. “That seems a bit extreme.”

“Djinn, I have only just begun to make your life unbearable,” Xi said.

“But…how will I give your sister countless hours of physical pleasure without a body?”

“Goddamn!” I said. Again, I couldn’t help myself. That was the most magnificent burn I’d ever heard.

“Well?” Xi said, his hands fisted at his sides. “How do the Elders decree?”

The Elders looked at one another for a few seconds, then Elder Two spoke. “The law is clear. For the crime of revealing the Princess’s True Name to a mortal—a vampire, no less—Lord Khalid’s life as he has known it is forfeit. Circumstances being what they are, execution is not an option, therefore Prince Xivinaxus’ alternative is acceptable. All of Lord Khalid’s wealth and property is hereby transferred to the youngest of the Seven.”

Xi smirked. “And so you have nothing, djinn. My sister’s engagement was to a general. You are now lower than the slaves that muck your stables. Do you think my father will still give her to you?”

Khalid made an indifferent gesture. He must be awesome at poker. “There is nothing I have lost that cannot be regained. Armies can be raised, fortresses built, fortunes accrued. Any price I have to pay is small, if my beloved’s freedom is the reward.”

Xi had nothing to say to that. The Elders nodded once, then Biker Fairy began to undo Aliese the Whore’s shackles.

Aliese the Whore stared at Khalid with obvious betrayal. “Did you ever truly love me?”

Khalid looked her straight in the eye. “There were times when I almost believed that I might. I always came to my senses quickly.”

Aliese the Whore’s chains fell. I had just enough time to think that she had a lot of healing to do before she could be pimped out again, then Xi burst out of his suit. The crowd surged back to make room for the colossal snake he had become. In the blink of an eye, he swallowed Aliese whole. The bulge slid down Xi’s throat, stretching his body as it twitched in pathetic struggle. There was a sickening crackle, then the lump disappeared.

I knew nothing about fairies or their anatomy, yet I understood what had happened. What little power Aliese the Whore had would be digested and absorbed, the rest shat out and forgotten. She had never mattered to anyone. She may as well have never existed. The worst she could do to Xi was give him syphilis.

I didn’t have time to catch my breath before Xi swung his enormous head toward me.

<<<Chapter 42, pt. 2

Chapter 42, pt. 4>>>

WitD3: Chapter 42, pt. 2

*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.

<<<Start at the beginning

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.

Khalid shrugged.

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.”

<<<Chapter 42, pt. 1

Chapter 42, pt. 3>>>

WitD3: Chapter 35, Part 3

*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.

<<<Start at the beginning

Chapter 35: Part 3

 

Nothing could have prepared us for what we found. The hallway was post-apocalyptic. Scattered papers, pools of blood, and a staggering number of dead bodies covered the floor. Broken florescent lights filled the hall with the stink of burning electronics. The fixtures that remained flickered like strobe lights. Torn student council banners hung over the stained glass windows.

A few feet away, two ghouls hunched over the corpse of a nun. They lifted their gore-stained faces when they sensed fresh meat, but continued to chew. Meat and blood gurgled in their throats as their vacant eyes turned toward Karen.

Karen stepped forward as she lifted her gun. She fired twice in as many seconds, delivering perfect shots to each ghouls’ forehead. Brain tissue exploded from the backs of their skulls, then the twice-dead teenagers collapsed.

I knew then why Khalid had given Karen that weapon. I knew why he’d set up the target range in the basement of his whorehouse. All the better to terrorize the vampires that worked for him. I could’ve pointed all of this out to Karen. Maybe I should have. Instead, I nodded toward the dead ghouls and said, “Did you know them?”

Karen pointed her hand cannon at the ground, but kept her finger close to the trigger. “Probably. I’m not going to get a closer look, though. Come on. Trevor’s class is on the next floor.”

We made our way down the hall, our backs to the rows of lockers. We rounded the corner to find three more ghouls lounging under the stairwell. One feasted on a severed arm. All three had stomachs so distended they looked pregnant. The rest of the bodies on the stairs were crumpled in pools of their own blood and guts.

I held out my hand when Karen lifted her gun again. “Let me. My goddamn ears are still ringing.”

Karen nodded, then looked away as I finished off her classmates. She put her hand on my arm in silent thanks as we climbed the stairs.

On the fifth floor, we hit a wall of stench that stopped us in our tracks. Karen leaned against the handrail as though she would pass out, her eyes shut tight. Being human, she couldn’t just stop breathing, like I did. She turned her face into her elbow and took shallow breaths, but started to retch. If there’d been anything in her stomach, she would’ve vomited.

So many bodies littered the floor that there was no clear path through them. The tile was so red and sticky that it was impossible to tell its original color.

“Let me carry you.” I didn’t say what I was really thinking, though Karen had to have had the same thought. There was a better than average chance that one of those bodies belonged to Trevor.

“No,” Karen said. She swallowed hard then began to pick her way through the corpses. “This way. Trevor’s class is down this way.”

Karen wouldn’t look down, so I did it for her. It was then that I realized there was something strange about these bodies. The ones that had turned, either as vamps or ghouls, all seemed to have a single wound in common. Somewhere on their skull, a wide gash split the bone to expose gooey brain matter.

“Karen, wait,” I said.

She stopped then turned next to a classroom crisscrossed by heavy steel flagpoles. The ends of the poles stabbed through metal lockers, effectively blocking the door. The door handle shook, but it was bound to the place where the poles intersected. Karen frowned as she took a step closer to the darkened window, then a white arm smashed through the glass. Reflex alone saved Karen as a clawed hand took a swipe at her face. She tripped over the body lying face-down behind her, then sprawled on the ground.

A cheerleader glared down at Karen. Her fangs were long, and her washed-out blue eyes were ferocious. Dried blood stained the ends of her long, blond ponytails, as well as the lower half of her face. “You’re dead, bitch!” The girl’s voice boomed through the halls. “When I get out of here, you’re dead!”

“Debbie McAllister?” Karen said as I pulled her to her feet. Congealed blood soaked her hands and designer jeans.

The girl screamed again as she slammed her fists against the door. The bloodlust had her so focused on Karen that I was able to creep closer without her seeming to notice. Beyond Blondie, I saw a tall, black kid pacing near the covered windows. Three girls held each other and cried next to the chalkboard. Two more vampires sat at lab tables, their heads in their hands. One boy mumbled into his cell phone, I assumed to leave some sort of message for his mother.

At last, my scent registered with the cheerleader. Her eyes swept over me as her new instincts let her know that I was a rival on her territory. The look on her face grew even more hostile. “Kill her!” The command caught me off guard. When I didn’t move to obey, the girl took a swipe at me. “Why are you just standing there? Do it!”

“What happened here?” I said.

My sense of calm wasn’t contagious. The cheerleader turned her attention back to Karen. “You’re dead, Harris. Do you hear me? When I get out of here, you’re dead!” Blondie stormed away, then upended the teacher’s desk.

I turned to find Karen staring into a large common room. Shards of plate glass covered the floor like a layer of ice. “Friend of yours?” I said when I joined her.

Karen made a face. “Who, Debbie? No way. She was an enormous thunder-cunt before somebody dosed her with vamp.” Karen nodded toward the open area. “Just when you think things can’t get any worse.”

She was right. I assumed this room served as some sort of student lounge. I saw wooden benches, tables, and walls papered with motivational posters. That day, blood-splattered medical screens bearing the initials CDC covered the vending machines. The dead bodies were mostly adults wearing medical scrubs and yellow isolation gowns. Bite marks covered their necks and arms.

Karen crunched through the glass, to a long folding table covered in manila folders. I crouched down to inspect one of the few bodies on the floor wearing a school uniform. The boy’s eyes were yellow, like mine, and rusty fangs peeked below his lips. The same gash that killed those in the hall split his forehead.

Bright, bold red letters were stamped across the folder in Karen’s hand: QUARANTINE. She began to read aloud, “Do you have, or have you experienced in the past twenty-four hours, any of the following symptoms: fever in excess of one-hundred-and-one degrees. A red, burning, or itching rash, with or without white pustules. Headache. Chills. Swelling, painful or otherwise, in your neck, stomach, armpits, or groin area. Stomach pain. Nausea. Vomiting…Thor’s beard, whoever filled out this questionnaire checked off everything.” Karen scanned the paper then looked dejected. “Margret Nguyen. The note on the bottom says ‘immediate transfer to quarantine at Methodist General.’” Karen let the folder drop to the floor. “My mom works there.”

Dozens of identical folders covered the table. The plague had swept over Karen’s school like a tsunami. “Did you know her?”

“I had chemistry with Margret Nguyen. She let me copy off her sometimes. We weren’t friends-friends, but she was nice and everything.” Karen caught herself. “Is nice. Margret is nice. This plague is spreading too fast. If we take care of Justine, will that stop it? Will it cure everyone that’s sick?”

There was no point in lying to her. “I don’t know, but I doubt it.”

Karen’s face fell. “But, it should stop it from spreading any further, right?”

“I hope so.”

Karen’s energy left her in the form of a sigh. “Then we have to try.”

I was on the verge of warning Karen that we needed to leave. Whoever locked up those vamped kids and killed the others would make their way back to us. So, naturally, I heard footsteps right behind me. Karen’s gaze shifted to something over my shoulder then her eyes widened. I ducked and rolled to the right just as an axe blade whizzed past my ear.

I turned to face a line-backer. I’m bigger than average and I don’t intimidate easily, but this kid was a beast. Most of his black hair had escaped his ponytail to hang around his face in damp curls. Blood and chunks of brain splattered his school uniform. His fangs pierced his bottom lip and his yellow eyes were demented as he swung at me again. His newfound vampire strength and speed made him very hard to dodge.

Karen stared at the boy in amazement. “Mateo?”

The boy looked at Karen, then his face twisted with the same rage that had possessed Debbie McAllister. He turned his axe toward Karen, but I caught the handle on the downswing. Mateo growled as he tried to tear the weapon away from me. It felt as though he would dislocate my shoulders, but I held on. He roared as he turned on his heels, and the momentum lifted me off my feet.

Okay, this wasn’t working. Bigger, stronger opponents need different tactics, so I leaned back. Mateo held the weapon tight as he staggered forward. I rolled onto my back, planting my foot in the boy’s stomach. Mateo flipped over me, then landed on his back hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. Mateo blinked, stunned, then seemed surprised to find himself pinned. I pressed the axe handle across his chest, hoping my raw strength and body weight would be enough to keep him down. It was, but just barely.

“Toby, don’t hurt him!”

I looked at Karen out of the corner of my eye. Seriously?

It didn’t matter that I was the more immediate threat. Mateo continued to focus his murderous rage on Karen. “I’m going to kill you, you fucking whore!”

Finally—finally!—Karen remembered that she was a goddamn necromancer. “Hark me now, here my command, undead creature close at hand. Heed the power inherent in me. Your flesh, your bones, your blood, now freeze.”

To my surprise, Mateo continued to struggle beneath me. People strung out on vamp aren’t truly undead, but necromancy still has an effect on them. Karen’s domination should’ve taken the edge off, at least. To my greater surprise, her incantation hadn’t influenced me, either. It was as though she hadn’t spoken.

Karen stammered for a second, then said, “Hark me now, here my command, undead creature close at hand. Heed the power inherent in me. Your flesh, your bones, your blood, now freeze.”

Speaking slower didn’t help. Enunciating every letter didn’t help. Karen had lost her powers.

At that moment, everything clicked into place. Mateo was vamped, yes, but he had no blood on his hands, face, or breath. He’d somehow managed to not only resist the bloodlust, he’d locked away as many of the others as he could. Who knew how many lives he’d saved that day? This was a kid with a will of iron. A good kid. A hero.

And he hated Karen.

Oh, fuck me. “Hey!” I shouted to get Mateo’s attention. “Look at me, not her!”

Mateo’s eyes locked with mine, as though noticing me for the first time. “Why are you defending her?” he said through clenched teeth. “Were you a part of this?”

We heard the click of a gun hammer being drawn back then froze. Karen leveled her weapon at Mateo’s head, tears in her eyes. “Please, Mat, don’t make me do this. I’m begging you. You’re my friend.”

“Friend?” The word exploded out of Mateo. “Fucking ‘friend’? That didn’t stop you from poisoning us, did it, friend? You might as well pull that trigger, Karen, because you’ve already killed me.”

My heart sank into my stomach.

“You think I did this?” Karen said. “You think I gave you vamp?”

“I don’t think, bitch, I know you gave us vamp. You looked me straight in the eye with a smile on your face, then you fed me that fucking brownie. You waited until I swallowed it, then gave me another one. What the fuck is the matter with you? You had to have known how many people would die today. You better go ahead and kill me, because I have every intention of killing you. But first, I want to know why.”

Karen’s hands began to shake. “I didn’t,” she said with a helpless shrug.

“You’re not going to die if we can get you to a hospital in time,” I said. “You haven’t fed, so as long as we get a few pints of O-neg into you before the vamp wears off, you’ll…probably be okay.” Mateo’s face hardened as he looked at me. “I mean, you’re going to need a few weeks of dialysis and you’re in for some nightmare withdrawal symptoms, but then you’re golden.”

Mateo shook his head as he pointed to the body of one of his classmates. “That won’t bring her back.” He pointed to a doctor covered in bite marks. “Or him. Or them. Goddamn it, shoot me, Karen. I don’t want to be the only one that makes it out of here.”

“You won’t be,” I said. “You fought, and you helped as many people as you could.”

“Not all them.” Mateo’s rage broke and he began to sob, but his body was too dry to shed tears. I knew he’d never recover from what he’d been forced to do. “I couldn’t stop all them. I barely saved anyone.” His hatred of Karen swelled up again. “Because of you. Ever since you got out of the hospital, you’ve been a total psycho slut-bunny. I know you gave me those vamp brownies because I wouldn’t fuck you.”

It was hard to tell which accusation offended Karen more. “Excuse me?”

 “Don’t act all innocent,” Mateo said with unfiltered contempt. “You’ve been sleeping around behind Trevor’s back for weeks. I know it, you know it. Everyone knows it. Hell, everyone except Trevor.”

Karen lowered her gun. “Mateo, I would never cheat on Trevor. You and I have been friends since middle school. You know me.”

“I know you were all over my jock like a bee on honey at Nicole Spencer’s party last Friday. Maybe you got brain damage when you got sick, or something. Or maybe Trevor isn’t man enough for you, anymore.”

I was really, really starting to like this kid. “I am so sorry about this,” I said.

Before Mateo could ask what I was apologizing for, my fist slammed into his temple. My index finger snapped against his hard skull, but his eyes rolled back.

Karen started to breathe fast, surely in the throes of a panic attack, but I couldn’t go to her. I propped Mateo’s dead weight in a chair then removed the zip-ties from the belt of a security guard. Within seconds, Mateo was bound tight.

Karen paced behind me, her hands in her hair. “Bad Karen did this. Oh, my god, I bought her here, and she did this. Why?”

There was only one reason I could think of, but Karen wasn’t ready to hear it. “She’s…Infernal,” I said. “They’re addicted to suffering. Someone must’ve warned her that the jig was up and that you were on your way.”

“It was probably that whore, Aliese.” Karen’s voice dripped in hatred. “Jealous, meddling bitch, always sticking her ugly nose in where it doesn’t belong.”

“The timing doesn’t make sense, though.” I hoped that if I led Karen toward the truth, she would see it for herself. “We left Kingdom Come, what? About half an hour ago? Something else must’ve set Bad Karen off.”

Karen stared at her hands. “Lord Ahriman took my powers. That’s what that kiss had been about. Why would he do that to me?”

Before I could answer, Mateo groaned. I tried to be as imposing as possible as I stood over him, axe in hand. When his eyes focused on me, I said, “Don’t move. You have no idea how much I don’t want to kill you.”

Mateo glared but obeyed.

“I’m going to ask you some questions,” I said. “First, how long ago did this start?”

Mateo thought it over then shrugged. “I don’t know. They took my class down to get swabbed around eleven, I guess? Most of us were bitching because we were afraid we’d miss lunch. I wasn’t showing any symptoms, though, so I was in and out in ten minutes. But she,” he gave Karen a nasty look, “was waiting outside for us. About fifteen minutes later, I vamped out in the middle of the cafeteria, along with a bunch of others. Cherise Charles, and Andrew Stone…they started killing everyone around them. It was all I could do to not join in, especially after that smell hit me.”

I looked at the smashed clock on the wall, which was still running. “So, shit hit the fan about two hours ago? Karen, you were still asleep then. That rules out Aliese warning Bad Karen. Can you think of anything else that might have set her off?” Come on, Karen. Figure it out already.

It was Mateo that answered. “I figured it was because Trevor finally dumped her ass.”

Karen and I looked at him, shocked. “What?” we said in unison.

“Yeah, and not a moment too soon. I’ve been telling him for weeks that he needed to get rid of her, but you know how he is. If the Olympics had a pussy-whipped competition, Trevor would take home the gold every year. Anyway, bitch was being all weepy and dramatic yesterday, like her slut heart was broken.”

Mateo’s taunts didn’t faze Karen. “Okay,” she said, “this is going to sound weird, but did you see where I went after I gave you the vamp brownies?”

Mateo looked at her as though she’d lost her mind.

I sighed. “Just answer the question.”

Mateo blew a stray lock of hair out of his eyes. “I have no idea. What do you have fifth period?”

Karen turned on her heels. “World History with Coach Brackens. It’s on the first floor.”

I bent to slice through Mateo’s bonds as Karen stormed into the hall. A ghoul, the lower half of its body missing, dragged itself in her direction. Karen sidestepped its clumsy grab, then brought her foot down hard on the back of its head. Its skull flattened as what looked like raspberry jelly spurted from its ears.

Mateo blinked as Karen continued on her way. “What the fuck?” he said.

I started after her and Mateo followed. “It’ll take too much time to explain. Just do me a favor, and don’t try to hurt her again.”

Mateo frowned at my fangs and ragged clothes. “Who the hell are you?”

“I’m…a friend.”

Mateo wasn’t stupid. “You’re not my friend. I’ve never seen you before in my life. So, you must be Karen’s friend. Question is, are you the sort of friend her boyfriend knows about?”

I was not that sort of friend, but I shrugged. “Does it matter now?”

Mateo and I passed another barred classroom. A young kid, obviously human, had his face pressed against the window. Mateo raised his hand when he saw him, as though to say, Stay there. Everything will be okay. The boy nodded in understanding then backed away from the glass.

By the time we reached the stairs, Karen was already a flight and a half below us. We hurried to catch up. “That wasn’t Karen that dosed the brownies, was it?” Mateo said. “Karen hasn’t been to school in weeks.”

I shook my head. “No. No, she hasn’t.”

This confused him more. “Then what the hell is going on?”

Karen waited for us on the ground floor, gun in hand. Between the covered windows and broken lights, the hallway was pitch black. A strange rattling sound echoed through the halls, coupled with a whoosh and symphony of squeaks.

Karen frowned at me, her eyes useless in the darkness. “What is that?” she said.

Before I could tell her, a swarm of mice and rats rushed over our feet. Karen screamed as she jumped into my arms, and even Mateo swore out loud. The vermin ranged in color, from brown, to black, to pure white, which meant they hadn’t come up from the sewers. Also, they were running for their lives.

“Those are the rodents from the genetics project they’re doing in honors science,” Mateo said. “Who the hell let them out?”

Karen stiffened in my arms, as though hit by a jolt of electricity. Her mouth dropped open, then her face collapsed in despair. She drew in a deep breath of the toxic air then unleashed a scream I’d only heard once before. It was the wail of a mother whose toddler had just wandered into oncoming traffic. The sound jarred me to the bone as Mateo clapped his hands over his ears.

 Karen shoved me away, not bothering to catch herself as she fell. The mass of rodents crawled over her arms and into her hair, but Karen continued to howl.

“What’s the matter with her?” Mateo had to shout to be heard.

Orange light flickered from the far end of the hall, and I looked up to see Justine walking toward us. Her black eyes locked with mine as fire blossomed in her wake.

Karen’s head jerked back as though someone had snatched a handful of her hair. Only the whites of her eyes showed, and I didn’t recognize the voice that tore out of her throat. “Die!”

Justine raised her arms and a huge blast of superheated air slammed into us. I threw Karen over my shoulder then grabbed Mateo by his blazer. “Come on!”

I sprinted toward the opposite end of the hall, Mateo on my heels. We reached the covered windows then cannonballed through the glass.

<<<Chapter 35: Part 2

Chapter 36>>>