Briggs sat on the beige plastic chair in the waiting room. His right arm was wrapped in bandages and hung in a support brace around his neck. His left leg throbbed with pain from the collision with the front seat of the car, but the paramedics said it wasn’t broken.
Briggs sighed as a jackhammer worked somewhere deep inside his head, drilling. The hospital lights were far too bright, their illumination adding to the headache. He hit his head hard in the crash, might even have had a concussion, they told him.
What in the bloody hell happened?
He wasn’t sure what to make of it all. They found the girl, surprisingly enough, but they also found a group of psychos. One of them bit Cunnings and stabbed him multiple times. The man was under surgery, his condition critical. Those guys then chased after them in pickups, crashed into the police car, nearly killing everyone. If it wasn’t for Damien…
Damien. The way he saw him fight with that other man… He never saw anything like that. The man’s eyes seemed to glow yellow… Or was he just imagining that, having hit his head too hard?
But no, something wasn’t right here. Damien has been tense for the past week, ever since the incident at the police station - that alone was still unresolved. Now he was in surgery, along with Cunnings, though he wasn’t in a critical condition.
And what about the girl? All covered in blood when they found her, starved, mumbling incoherently? And amidst everything that was going on, she was about to give birth to her child. Briggs couldn't think of a much worse timing than that.
Occasionally he would hear a scream come from the surgery room and he wouldn’t know whose scream was it - both his colleagues were in the same room. Rachel was transferred to the upper floor, where they delivered newborns.
He tapped his good foot nervously. The doctors wouldn’t let him close when he tried entering the surgery room. He didn’t know what good he could possibly do, but he just felt so powerless, waiting.
Waiting was the worst part.
Then, another scream came from the surgery room and something crashed on the floor.
“Christ, what’s happening in there?” Briggs asked out loud. He saw medical staff rushing into the room.
That’s it, he thought. Screw the doctors!
He picked up the crutch, leaned against the chair next to him, and stood up, favoring his good leg. He nearly fainted from nausea. He had to lean on the wall and wait for his vision to clear enough so he could walk.
Not accustomed to walking with a crutch, Briggs limped his way to the surgery room and pushed the door open.
His colleague was on top of Damien on the surgery table, strangling the detective. The medical staff all watched with utter shock. Two nurses lay on the floor, signs of a scuffle evident in the turned over surgery trays and equipment.
“What are you doing?”
Cunnings didn’t seem to hear or notice him, his attention was on Damien’s throat. The detective tried desperately to break the grip, but his face was turning blue.
“Get him off!” Briggs shouted to the doctors, but they just glanced at him, horrified. Then he noticed that one of the nurses who lay on the floor had her gut spilled out.
What in the world…
He waltzed to the surgery table and ignored the severe banging in his head, enforced by the banging of his heart. He balanced himself on one foot, raised the crutch with his good hand, and swung widely at Cunnings, hitting him at the temples.
The hit threw Cunnings off of Damien, falling to the floor onto the scattered surgical equipment. Briggs nearly fell from the momentum of the swing, but he caught himself by putting all the pressure on his hurting leg. He grunted in pain.
“What the fuck?!” Damien’s voice sounded rough, gasping for breath. Cunnings was getting up, his eyes darting wild.
Briggs leaned against the surgery table, easing the pressure off his leg. “Cunnings, what’s gotten into you?”
The other didn’t respond. His eyes… Did they just flash yellow?
Briggs had no time to ponder, as the man jumped suddenly. There was pure rage and savagery on his face. He was about to tackle him when Damien jumped off the table to intercept him. He caught Cunnings in a counter tackle and threw him to the ground, using his weight to pin him down.
“Sedative!” Damien shouted. Cunnings was thrashing all over, trying to break free.
Briggs limped to one of the doctors who stood there, mesmerized by the situation, and shook him. “Sedative, man! Now!”
The doctor blinked and then snapped into action. He took a syringe out of a drawer and - avoiding Cunnings’s kicking feet - crouched next to him and injected the sedative into his neck.
Briggs watched as Cunning’s thrashing became slower until it stopped completely. Only now did he notice that Damien’s body showed little signs of injury, despite his fight with that man. The man should be purple with bruises and lashed with cuts, but there was barely a scratch on his skin.
“Mind telling me what the hell is going on?” Briggs said, wincing from the hammering in his head.
“I was about to ask the same,” Damien said, rubbing his throat. “What happened? Where’s Mortensen?”
“He ran off, seeing the ambulance and police cars approaching. He knocked you out cold.” Then he shook his head. He couldn't get the images of that fight out of his mind. “Cross, what is he? And how are you barely injured? I saw you thrown ten feet up and crashed down on the asphalt, what-”
“I’ll explain later,” Damien said. “First we need to-”
“Excuse me, officers?” It was one of the doctors, the one who gave Cunnings the sedative. Briggs and Damien turned to him. “Your colleague… he shouldn’t have been able to move as he did. Not with his injuries, it’s…” His voice trailed off.
It’s unnatural, Briggs finished in his mind. Damien bore a knowing look on his face as he regarded their sedated colleague.
“Strap him to a bed,” he said. “When he wakes up I want him secured.”
“But...” the doctor said, bemused. “You don’t understand. His injuries… He should be dead.”
Damien seemed to barely flinch at that, but Briggs gawked. A mix of incredulity and panic washed over him.
“What do you mean, dead? He jumped on a friggin’ table!”
The doctor shook his head. “His heart stopped beating at 8:07 AM. That’s four minutes ago. Clinically, he is supposed to be dead.”
Briggs couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Cunnings, his friend, dead? But still, moving? Nothing made sense anymore, the confusion, the pain, and now the loss of a friend was too much. Briggs slumped on the operating table, unable to keep standing.
He could see the medical staff working in the back to help the two nurses. One of them shook his head over the body of the nurse with her gut ripped open. The other nurse seemed to be getting up, with only minor injuries.
Were those claws at the tips of Cunnings’s fingers?
Briggs’s head started to spin. His mind was floating on a cushion of confusion, hammering pain, and painkillers. He couldn't think straight, starting to see things. Blackness encroached from the corners of the room and it engulfed everything until the world was gone and Briggs was out.
They can control those whom they bite.
The thought raced through Damien’s mind. He never believed it when Mortensen told him five years ago, that Nighborn can recruit in more ways than one. Not all need to become Nightborn, to serve Nightborn. Though now, it was we, not they. He was a Nightborn again. Could he control someone by biting them?
But the doctor said his heart stopped beating.
Damien didn’t know what that meant. There was much he didn’t know and he searched desperately through his mind to dig up every painful memory for any clues.
His throat burned like he’d swallow gasoline and set it on fire. Cunnings tried to suffocate him while he was unconscious. The last thing Damien remembered before being woken up by the lack of air, was Mortensen’s clawed fist slamming into his chest. But as he looked down at his chest now - wearing only his pants, the rest removed by the doctors - he could barely find a scratch. He forgot how fast the Seed regenerates one’s body. Claws are not made of silver, luckily.
But Cunnings also has claws. Is he a Nightborn too, then?
It seemed there was much that Mortensen hadn’t told him about the Seed. And it was high time he found out. If the preparations for the Apocalypse were truly underway, then that meant the Master was real as well.
If this is all true, I need to warn Aiden. And tell him it didn’t work.
But first, he needed to see if he could still help his friend. Briggs passed out on the operating table, a nasty bruise on his head, so Damien picked up Cunnings by himself and placed him back on the other surgery table. He instructed the doctors to secure him, using the table’s leather straps. Looking at Cunnings, Damien could see the full extent of the man’s injuries; a bite mark on the neck and shoulder and a gut wound, so horribly slashed and pierced that his insides were pressing out. No one could survive that.
Yet he tried to strangle him.
“Keep him tied down and don’t stand too close. When he wakes up, call for me, understand?”
One of the doctor’s nodded.
“Good. Where can I find Rachel Austen?”
Rachel’s brow was dotted with beads of sweat and her hospital robes were soaked through. Everything hurt, she felt like a knotted ball of nerves, yet she kept straining herself, at the doctor’s orders.
“I still can’t see the head,” one of the nurses said. “But her water broke hours ago. It should come out by now.”
“There appears to be a complication,” the doctor said. She then turned to Rachel, trying to put on a reassuring face. “Miss, you’re doing great. I’m going to ask you to give us one more push, and if that doesn’t work-”
Rachel screamed through her gritted teeth. “Get out from me you bastard!”
She pushed as hard as she could. It was ironic. She wanted to have a baby for so long now, planning it with Dave, but then finding out that her womb was sterile. And now here she was, about to give birth to some unknown monster, who for some reason didn’t want to get out. Like it got stuck.
I told you, mother, that thick voice inside her head said. Not that way. Up. Up and through the mouth!
She felt another wave of sickness overcoming her like vomit rising. She forced it back down with the sheer anger caused by the agony. She never heard of a baby being born through the mouth and the mere thought of it sickened her. The monster was toying with her fragile state, knowing full well that she was on the brink of collapse.
Through the tears in her eyes, Rachel saw the doctor shaking her head. “It’s no use miss, we’ll have to perform a Caesarean section. Otherwise, we risk the health of both you and the baby.”
“I don’t care,” Rachel gasped. “Just get it out of me!”
“Please,” the doctor said and squeezed Rachel’s hand. “Stay strong, just a little more! It will soon be over and you’ll hold your baby in your-”
“I don’t want to hold it!” Rachel screamed, feeling the thing move inside her. “I want to be rid of it!”
The nurses exchanged concerned looks and the doctor nodded. They began preparing for the procedure.
You’re cheating, mother, the voice said. Cutting me out like I’m some tumor. I’m your child, don’t you love me?
“Please,” Rachel sobbed. “Just make it stop. Make it go quiet. I want this nightmare to end!”
“Rachel, it will be alright,” the doctor said. “I will now administer the anesthetic so you won’t feel a thing when we make the incision.”
You could have done that before, Rachel thought but said nothing. The doctor injected the anesthetic into her veins and the two nurses prepared the surgical knives needed. The sight of the blades would once make Rachel uncomfortable, but in this situation, she couldn’t care less. If they don’t hurry up she might grab one and stab the bastard in her belly.
I can hear your thoughts, mother, the voice said. Why do you want me dead?
She tried ignoring it. She couldn’t bear it anymore.
The doctor pinched her skin. “Do you feel this, Rachel?”
She felt knives penetrate her womb constantly, so a mere pinch didn’t even register, anesthesia or not. She shook her head.
“Good,” the doctor said. “I think we can begin.”
Rachel noticed something touch her lower belly, but didn’t feel a thing.
This isn’t the right way, mother, the voice said. You’re not supposed to survive my birth.
The words shocked her and she was surprised that she could still get shocked after everything. But then the shock turned to anger. A hot, searing rage. She had enough of being the victim, enough of everyone, and everything abusing her. She was tired of screaming, tired of hurting, and of constantly being afraid for her life.
I hope you die, she said to her fetus and meant it. The voice didn’t respond. It only gave her another stab, one twice as painful as the others.
“I have it,” one nurse said. “I’m holding- Ow!”
She pulled her hands away in surprise and all three of them jumped back. Rachel forced her neck up to see what was going on and she could see the staff’s bewildered faces and a tiny pale-grey hand, sleek with blood and birth fluid, that reached out from the incision in her belly.
Rachel screamed her lungs out in horror and pain. One of the nurses fainted, the other ran out. The doctor kept retreating backward, face pale. The grey hand groped around and got hold of the green surgery fabric, pulling on it. Another hand came out, and slowly, a head, followed by a body.
It looked like a small monkey or a cat, only its limbs were thicker and longer, making it appear disproportionate. It was a sickly pale-grey color and covered with jaggedy scales. Its head was round and it had two small beads of yellow for eyes. It looked straight into Rachel’s eyes and hissed.
Rachel, on the verge of blacking out, held together only by the fury of her anger. She raised her hands and caught the tiny monster, squeezing it like a wet cloth. The creature thrashed in her grip, hissing, biting, clawing. Its scales were surprisingly hard and they cut into her fingers, as she held it tight.
“Die! Die! Die!” Rachel screamed, words drowned in a wail of rage. The creature screeched, desperately trying to break free. It bit her hand, jabbing teeth bone-deep, causing Rachel to loosen the grip on instinct. It was enough for the monster to break free and fall on her belly, before jumping at her face.
Rachel looked into its yellow eyes, realizing she could never sleep again, and just before the monster landed on her face, the door slammed open. A gunshot echoed in the delivery room and a spray of blood hit Rachel’s face. The monster fell to the floor, out of her sight, and screamed. There was a sizzling sound and a puff of black smoke before everything went quiet.
Rachel wiped the blood from her eyes and noticed a bare-chested man holding a gun. It was the detective and he ran to her.
“Rachel, are you alright?”
She couldn’t answer, her face was in tears.
The man glanced down at the fallen creature somewhere on the floor and fired a couple of more shots. Then she felt his hand in hers.
“You’re safe now,” he said. “It’s over.”
Rachel couldn’t do anything but cry. She wanted to believe him, oh how much she wanted it to be over.
But even if it was over, she feared that the damage had already been done. She could never be rid of the horror she experienced.
He might as well shoot me too and be done with it.
Mortensen wailed outside the hospital, his fellow Nightborn around him.
He felt it. They killed his child. And he didn’t even know if it was a girl or a boy.
He dropped down to one knee and buried his face in his hands. I failed the Master. I let my old emotions get the better of me, focusing on Blaze, instead of securing the girl.
He dropped his hands and clenched them in fists.
I won’t let it happen again.
“Caspian, what do we do?”
He stood up. The rain was weakening, the clouds would soon part and the sun would show out eventually. Daybreak, the ultimate killer of the night, was coming.
He looked up, feeling the very window behind which his child died. He wanted to climb up there and tear them all apart.
Blaze was supposed to bring out the best in him. But now, he just released a real monster.
“We go home.” The others looked at him. “And we focus on our plan.”
I will kill you last, Blaze. You will watch everyone you love burn before your eyes until there is only you and me left alive, and that is when I will send you to Him.
Oh, Blaze, I had such hopes for us...