Damien stared at the face looking back from the mirror. Was that him? Or was it a shadow from the past, come back to haunt him?
He opened his mouth in a menacing grin. Two elongated fangs protruded from behind his canines and reached down almost to his chin when he closed his mouth. There was no more blood oozing from his gums, the teeth have grown to their full size.
I’m Nightborn again, he thought. But not Blaze. I’m Damien.
He pulled the teeth back into his upper jaw with a fleshy sound, as someone entered the bathroom. It was one of the doctors and as he noticed Damien, he chose to go to the toilet stall instead of the urinal. Damien couldn’t blame him. What happened the other day, with Cunnings turning rogue and Rachel’s baby…
I wonder why they haven’t locked us up in an asylum yet.
Probably because Damien threatened every hospital staff that witnessed the events, that he’d have them arrested if they told anyone. Official police business and detective work. One of the great perks that came with the job was keeping people’s mouth shut. But the secret won’t stay hidden for long. Briggs already knew as Damien had no choice but to confide with the man. He risked his life, after all. And Cunnings… A living, breathing man without a heartbeat, lying in a hospital bed, tied up for everyone’s safety.
His soul is lost already. How the hell do I tell his kids that their father is now a mindless servant of some godless evil?
He splashed cold water over his face. It didn’t help clear his mind. Damien wiped his face, corrected his shirt and tie, and left the bathroom. He searched the hospital hallway until he found the room with the correct number.
He took a deep breath and knocked. Nobody answered, so Damien entered slowly.
She was sitting at the edge of her bed, her back facing him, a sliver of skin exposed through the hospital robes tied together at her back. Her head looked down, slightly turned to the left, hands resting in her lap. Damien tightened his jaw, seeing her like that.
“You should be lying down, resting,” he said as he entered the room and closed the door behind him with a soft click.
“I can’t sleep.” Her voice was so tiny and frail that Damien feared he could snuff it out with just the sound of his breathing.
“I know,” he said, sighing. “I can’t either.” He didn’t go home. He stayed at the hospital, despite all his wounds already healed up by the Seed in him. There was no use going to his house, as there was nothing but his own company for him there. Here, at the hospital, at least he wasn’t alone with his nightmares.
“I cannot imagine how you must be feeling right now,” he said. “But I want you to know that you are safe, Rachel. No one will hurt you anymore.”
“I don’t feel anything,” she whispered and he could hear the truth in her words. They felt lifeless. “It doesn’t matter if I’m safe now. If I never see him again, any of them. The damage has been done, detective.”
She turned around and her glassy eyes crawled up to meet with Damien’s. He struggled to hold her gaze as the weight of her dread threatened to pierce his eyes and crush his soul. Even though he knew that it wasn’t his fault - if anything, then he saved Rachel, and should feel proud - but he felt responsible for what happened to her anyway.
I should have finished it five years ago. He should have killed Mortensen and been done with it. How many more will have to pay the price of his failure?
“I started working at that bakery five years ago,” Rachel said, bringing Damien from his ruminations. “It was shortly after I met Dave, my fiance. We talked of having children - the dream we both shared. I got a job, for the extra income.” Her eyes kept still on Damien’s, not even blinking. “Five years he ferried me home, detective. Five years I’ve been in his presence, unaware of the doom that awaited me. Five years I dreamt of my future while he dreamt of his twisted plans. My whole life has been a lie, thinking I was safe, where in reality, I never was.”
She turned around, hugging her knees close to her chest. “And never will be.”
It tore at his heart, listening to her. He opened his mouth but found no words that he could offer her. No words that he felt could make a difference anyway. His throat was dry and he felt a need to smoke.
“We will get him, Rachel,” he said, stepping to the window and gazing out into the night. “If there is one thing I can promise you, then it is that I will get the bastard.” He clenched his fists. “And I’ll make him pay.”
She cocked her head to the other side. “You seem passionate about him, detective. This is not the first time you’ve dealt with that monster.”
“It is not.” He glanced at her and fished the box of cigarettes from his pocket. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
She looked at him, expression dead. “Can I have one too?”
He handed her the box and she took out a cigarette. He took one as well and lit them both, opening the window. In a moment, hot smoke filled his nostrils and scratched him at the back of the throat. Damien closed his eyes as he slowly exhaled, trying to let out all his demons in a puff of smoke.
“I quit smoking when I thought I was going to have a baby,” Rachel said. “Seems no reason not to smoke now. I’m sterile and yet I gave birth to a demon.”
The image of the pale grey fetus that the doctors cut out from her belly flashed in Damien’s mind. He knew how Nightborn got recruited, having participated in it as well, but he had no idea that the Seed could be shared with one that is not Nightborn, like Rachel. In all the affection that Mortensen showed him, the Nightborn did not share all he knew with him.
“What was that, detective?” she asked, broken. “My womb feels like it’s been torn to shreds. What did I bring into this world?”
“A Nightling,” Damien said, without hesitation. He leaned on the window sill and watched the distant lights of a police car in pursuit. “The man who kidnapped you wasn’t human, Rachel.”
She gave no signs of surprise, holding the lit cigarette and letting the smoke climb over her cheek.
“He said he was Nightborn,” she said. “What does that mean?”
“It’s quite literal,” Damien said, surprised at himself how willing he was to share this information. They’ll all find out eventually, anyway. “It’s a name for individuals who were ‘born of the night’. That doesn’t mean they were born when the sun went down, but rather that they were born from the darkness of human emotions, the ones we all hide deep down. They were given the Devil’s Seed, made it germinate in those dark emotions until they were reborn as Nightborn. All the worst of mankind distilled into a black drop of blood.”
He turned to face her. “Millions of men and women suffer each day, out there. And each night. The world is turning to shit. Crime rates are rising, unemployment and wage slavery haven’t been this high in decades, governments are on a rampage of corruption… People can only take so much before they seek a way out. Some turn to drugs, some suicide. And some, they find alternative ways.”
“Alternative ways?” A cylinder of ash broke from Rachel’s burnt cigarette and crumbled on the hospital floor.
“There have always been cults,” Damien said. “Secret societies, as old as civilization itself. Most of them were myths and conspiracy theories, but not all. The Nightborn are one of them. And they possess powers that could bring Nobel prize scientists to shame, should someone study them. Supernatural. Non-human.”
“You know much about them,” she said with a hint of uneasiness. “How?”
Damien allowed himself a long pause.
“I am Nightborn.”
Rachel sat there, perfectly still. Only her eyes seemed to flinch, a flash of terror resurfacing.
“But I am not one of them,” Damien quickly added. “You don’t have to fear me, Rachel. I only have their abilities, I don’t share their beliefs.”
To his surprise, she nodded. “You’re a good man, Damien. You saved me. You care.”
Damien didn’t know if it was the smoke or her words that made his eyes itch. Good man wasn’t exactly the label he’d use to describe himself. Not with the past, he shared with Mortensen. Not with what he’d done.
“You aren’t bothered by this?”
She shrugged. “No.”
He smiled, and though it was a weak smile, it meant a lot. “If only my colleagues would react the same way.”
So far, Briggs was the only one that knew. And now Rachel. But that would soon change. How will humanity respond to the knowledge of Nightborn roaming around? How will they react? The police, the government, the media?
That is if the information would get out. Damien hoped it wouldn’t. Such a thing cannot go public as it would cause mass hysteria. A perfect environment for the Nightborn to thrive.
“How did you become one?”
Damien looked away. “I was young. And stupid.”
Funny. At 33 years old he perceived himself old and weary. Life seems to do that to a man.
Rachel kept looking at him, expecting him to continue.
“I met a man at a party,” Damien said, the words not coming easily this time. “He seemed very charismatic and as we talked I found we shared similar worldviews. I was fresh from the police academy at the time, on my way to becoming a detective, with a head full of romanticized ideals of justice.”
He paused. That young version of himself seemed so far away now, his ideals crushed by the heavy, outdated machinery of the judicious system.
“He found my ideals admirable but said I was wasting my time, going to police school. He introduced me to his friends and we all got drunk. I don’t remember what happened exactly, but I found myself on a farm outside the city with these people. And that man. That is where he showed me who he was and who they all were. Mortensen, and his fellow Nightborn.”
Rachel shivered at the sound of that name.
“I… I was confused at that period of my life. Still searching for myself. And in a moment of weakness, overwhelmed by the supernatural and Mortensen’s enigmatic words, I found myself volunteering to become one of them.”
He never told anybody. Who could he tell? The secret was his to bear and now that it finally came rolling over his tongue, Damien felt like an unseen weight had been lifted off his troubled shoulders.
“I was a fool, Rachel. An ignorant boy, pretending to be a man. I believed in the carefully constructed words of the Nightborn, I believed that their goals and plans were just and that with their help I could bring peace to the world. Only, the kind of peace they’re after is one of death.”
Damien lit another cigarette, drowning the memories in smoke. What he wouldn’t give to rewrite his past. He may have revealed to Rachel who he really was, but he could never tell anyone about the things he did with those powers.
No, those demons were for him only.
“After I came to my senses, I wanted out,” he said, shaking the ash out over the window sill. “They wouldn’t let me leave. He wouldn’t let me go, he said the process of joining was irreversible. ‘Once a Nightborn, always a Nightborn.’ But I did get out. I managed to suppress the Seed in me. I thought it was gone entirely, until I ran into Mortensen again two weeks ago, and realized the Seed was only dormant. Five years of keeping it under control, and it only took a few days for it to grow again.”
“What is this Seed?” Rachel asked.
“It’s the blood of the Devil himself,” Damien said, shaking his head. “Or so Mortensen said. I saw and experienced things that no man ever should. I’m not sure what to believe anymore.”
Rachel snorted and laughed with sarcasm. It was a strange sound, as her face remained expressionless. “So the world really is fucked,” she said. “Hell awaits us all. Though for me, Hell came early, while I’m still alive. If I can even call this life anymore.”
Damien tightened his jaw. No. No, the world is not lost yet. A spark of his ideals still lingered inside, waiting to ignite a fire, much like the Seed waited to grow his teeth back.
“No,” he said, voice firm. “There is hope for the world.” He refused to believe evil was stronger than good.
“With what I’ve been through and what you’ve told me…” Rachel shrugged. “I don’t see how.”
“Nightborn aren’t the only cult out there,” he said.
Rachel looked up at him, searching his face. There was a hint of incredulity in her eyes. And a whole lot of pain and apathy.
“There are others,” Damien continued. “Individuals who possess a different set of powers… and more importantly, a different set of ideals. They are the ones who helped me escape Mortensen’s group of followers.”
“Do you trust these others?”
Damien didn’t expect the question. Did he trust them? He wasn’t sure he did. Aiden helped pull out his teeth and helped keep the Seed at bay. At the very least, Damien trusted him.
“The Nightborn are their enemies,” he said. “Perhaps that is enough to make them our allies.”
“But you’re Nightborn too. Are you their enemy as well?”
“I don’t know,” he said. He hated not knowing. But it was better than believing something false.
“I will arrange for you to be moved into a more secure location, Rachel. My friend Aiden can look after you. He is a good man and he knows best how to treat Nightborn inflicted wounds.”
“I don’t think I want that,” Rachel said. “I want to return to Dave, to my home. Besides, what does it matter, where I go? He will find me. Like he found you.”
Damien sighed. “I understand. But if you return home now, your fiance will be in danger too. If Mortensen fantasized about you for years then I doubt he’d be willing to let go now. That is why we need to make sure he never finds you again. You can stay with Aiden just long enough for me to catch Mortensen.”
Rachel opened her mouth to object, but the door suddenly opened and Briggs came barging in, leaning over his crutch.
“There you are,” he said as he noticed Damien. “Chief Voltaire is on her way here, Cross. She wants to speak with all of us. She can’t keep Cunnings’s family in the dark forever, they’re already pressing on her with lawyers and their rights.” Then he glanced at Rachel. “Please excuse me barging in, miss.”
Damien felt a headache coming on him. He hadn’t had the time to think of what he’s going to say to the police chief. He’ll have to give a report and there was no way to explain Cunnings’s condition without coming out clean. A man can’t be alive if his heart isn’t beating and you can’t explain that with medical babble.
“I’ll talk with her first,” he said. “When is she coming.”
Briggs shook his head. “She’s here already.”
Through the door left open by his colleague, Damien could hear the clicking of heels in the hospital hallway. Damn it, he thought. It seemed like it was a night for explanations.
The footsteps came to the door and a tall blonde woman, wearing grey trousers and a blouse, paused before the room. She was the police chief. The moment that Damien saw her, his whole body began to burn with rage. He could feel his fangs and claws wanting to come out, his eyes forcing to shift yellow and his killer instinct spiking. At first, he thought it was just his stress about having to face the chief in the middle of all that was going on, but that was not what triggered the Nightborn sense to go wild.
I had no idea…
The woman was glowing. Her body radiated with the purest white and yellow light, traces of blue in her eyes, and her hair. She wasn’t just shining, she was made from light, the outlines of her body confining it into a form, preventing it from spilling everywhere.
Briggs and Rachel didn’t share Damien’s reaction, they couldn’t see her light. Only a Nightborn could recognize a LightBlood. And just as he could see her glowing with light, so could she see him emanating darkness.
I couldn’t see it before, because the Seed was suppressed. I am a fool!
“Detective Cross,” she said, measuring him from head to toe, raising one surprised eyebrow. “We need to talk.”