Mortensen walked the streets late at night, hands in the pockets of his coat, pondering his life choices. The black fedora shielded him from the yellow glow of the streetlamps and gave him privacy from the prying moon above. Tonight the skies were clear for the first time in weeks. It made him feel naked and exposed.
Damien’s betrayal hurt like a fresh wound. How could the detective turn his back on him? On the Nightborn? After Mortensen shared his heart with him, during the time they were together, how could the man abandon him now?
The bastard shot my child.
Mortensen’s world was shaking. It was all going so well…
He crossed the street, not even looking for passing cars. He didn’t have a destination in mind, he just walked. Walk somewhere, anywhere, hopefully, get lost and never be found by his troubles again.
Master is all I have left now, he thought. That comforted him. No matter what was going on in the world around him, he could always find solace in the Master. He could always ground himself in His plans. Whenever he was unsure of what to do, he could always follow His will.
Mortensen smiled. His eyes flickered yellow, as he noticed a group of teenagers walking towards him down the street. Yes, he thought, as long as I’m serving my master, nothing else matters.
He kept his head low and pace slow as the group approached.
“...should come to my place,” one of the kids said. There were five of them, three guys, two girls. “My folks are loaded with shit!”
“Your folks will kill you if they see you this drunk!”
The girls laughed. “Nah, it’s cool!” the boy continued. “I can sneak in, take the stuff and we can go to the park!”
The group snickered and talked gibberish as they passed Mortensen. They didn’t so much as look at him. And as he smelled their young blood, their enthusiastic beating hearts, his fangs came out. The thrill of the night hunt surfaced…
...and was cut down by the image of Damien, looking down at him from the hospital window. The cry of his newborn child pierced Mortensen’s mind and the pain of loss pierced his heart.
No, I can’t…
His teeth retracted, his eyes lost their yellow shimmer. The teenagers walked on, chatting lively, the scent of alcohol and cigarette smoke trailing behind them.
Mortensen leaned on the front glass of a store and grimaced in pain. Blasting hell, but he loved Damien. Not so much in a romantic way, as in the way they shared their connection during the feeding rituals for the Master.
He betrayed me, took Rachel away from me, and killed my child. He should die.
The thought shocked him. For the last few days, he was toying with it, entertaining it on the edge of his mind, but pushed it away every time it would come to the center of his attention. Now, it popped clear in his mind. To kill Damien. Could he do it, though?
He probably could.
But did he want to?
The answer terrified him.
Lost in his thoughts, Mortensen didn’t hear tires screeching as a black SUV with shaded windows stopped by the store. Mortensen turned around just as two big men in grey suits stepped out of the car and with quick steps surrounded him.
“Who are you?” Mortensen asked, raising an eyebrow
“Come with us,” one of them said. “You know what you’ve done. He’d like to speak with you.”
Mortensen frowned. “Who? Master?”
What did the regional Lord want to do with him?
“Why? The ritual was not long ago-”
The two men grabbed him by the arms and pulled him towards the SUV. Mortensen released his teeth and claws, tensing his body for a fight. As the men saw this, their grip tightened with unnatural strength, threatening to crush Mortensen’s bones. Their eyes shone yellow, muscles bulging under their suits, expanding the fabric to tearing point.
Don’t be a fool, he thought. They’re Hulks.
Mortensen eased and retracted his claws and teeth. “Fine,” he said. “Take me to him.”
The two of them lifted Mortensen from the ground like he was a bag of potatoes. They threw him in the back seat and sat with him so that he was squeezed in between them. Two more men sat upfront, one being the driver. Azazel really wanted to talk to him, apparently, and judging by the escort he sent it was urgent.
I wonder if this is about the girl. Did he know I was planning on having a Nightling?
Nightlings were forbidden. At least until the Nightborn were still few in numbers. But eventually, of course, Nightlings would have to be seeded so that they could greet the Master as he comes to this world. Mortensen was just being a good servant, preparing early.
The car drove off and nobody said a word for the entire duration of the drive. Mortensen felt very uncomfortable in his seat, squeezed between two hulks of muscle, so he nudged both of them with his elbows. That evoked growls.
The SUV soon turned off the tarmac and onto gravel roads. Mortensen recognized the farms as they passed by and he mulled over in his mind how he would justify his Nightling to Azazel. The man was a very good Lord and Mortensen respected him. He envied the man’s connection with the Master and he didn’t want to get a bad word across.
But the thought of Damien kept the central stage in his mind. He couldn’t focus on fabricating a reasonable justification.
The car stopped and the men stepped out. Mortensen followed. They had arrived at the farm where the rituals took place last week. Azazel’s headquarters, the position that Mortensen envied greatly. The men led him inside, but he knew the way. They left him at a double-winged door and Mortensen pushed them open.
Inside, Azazel sat in an armchair, studying a book in the darkness. A glass of deep red wine rested on a table next to him - though that could as well be blood.
“Ah, Caspian,” the slender man with hair as white as bone said. He closed the book and placed it on the table. “Come, sit.” He gestured to the armchair opposite him.
“Azazel,” Mortensen said and bowed his head. His heart thumped as he walked over to the chair and sank into the soft pillows. “You wished to speak with me?”
“Yes.” Azazel’s voice was always so calm. It unnerved Mortensen. “Please forgive me for the escort, but I wanted you here immediately.”
Mortensen kept wisely quiet.
“Caspian, you are my best Pack Leader. Your conversion rates are the highest of all other Pack Leaders in this region. The Nightborn that you lead are fine examples of what we stand for and what the Master wishes to see in His followers. Put frankly, Ebenezer, you’re a true Nightborn. A servant every master can be proud of, and I am proud of you.”
“Thank you, my Lord,” Mortensen said. “I only do what the Master wills.”
Azazel smiled. “Yes, that you do. But in all your admirable servitude, you too often forget that you have more than one master.”
Mortensen tried to keep his voice from sounding insulting. “With all due respect, my Lord, there is only one true Master. The one that we all serve.”
“You know what I meant, Caspian. Don’t patronize me with that humility bullshit.”
Azazel’s eyes flickered as a black shadow passed them as if something was swimming in his retina. The Seed grows ever stronger in him.
“Are you… afraid, Caspian?”
Mortensen didn’t answer.
“No need to be afraid of me,” Azazel said and smiled. “I’m only looking out for you. Wouldn’t want you to stray off the path of glory. That is why I summoned you here. Your obsession with that Nightborn needs to stop, Caspian. You’re giving too much attention to him and neglecting your true mission.”
“That Nightborn could be a valuable asset to our-”
“Blaze is lost, Caspian!” Azazel slammed a fist on the table, a drop of red liquid spilling on the book. “The Seed is within him, yes, but his heart and mind are not with the Master. He is in cahoots with the Lightblood. He betrayed not only you but all Nightborn.”
Mortensen felt cold sweat gathering on his neck. So this isn’t about the Nightling at all.
“How can you be sure?”
“I can sense my followers, Caspian,” Azazel said. “And I can’ sense Blaze anymore. His connection ceased five years ago. It spiked all of a sudden a few days ago, but then it was gone again.”
“The Lightblood would never accept one of us amidst their ranks!”
“Why not? What better way to learn of our endeavors than to recruit a former Nightborn? An inside man.”
Mortensen didn’t want to believe it. Damien was no longer Blaze? But once a Nightborn always a Nightborn…
“He sought out the Lightblood as soon as he left your pack, Caspian,” Azazel said, softly. “I know this because I have sensed it. His connection to me was severed by light.”
Mortensen had no idea. All this time he thought that Damien was simply lost and confused, that eventually, he would find his way back to him.
But he had found his way back to me, his teeth had regrown…
“You must stop this, Caspian!” Azazel’s eyes turned black. “Stop ruminating upon the lost sheep, lest you want to be pulled into their fire as well! And I assure you, their fire is a cold and unforgiving one. Unlike the warmth and acceptance of our Master.”
Mortensen's eyes flashed yellow and he gazed into Azazel’s depths. He could almost see the Master himself inside the deep blackness. He tensed up, gripping the armrests and feeling his insides burn with emotion.
Azazel was purifying him. His Seed was burning out the emotions Mortensen had towards Damien.
Soon, all the love would be gone…
Mortensen jumped up, fangs out, fists clenched. “No, do not take him away from me!”
“You defy me, Nightborn?” Azazel growled. “You defy your Lord? Your Master?”
What am I doing? What has gotten into me?
He fell to his knees, bowing his head. “Please, forgive my lapse. I don’t know what overcame me…”
“Your Seed has weakened,” Azazel said, almost spiteful. Did he not compliment him on his good work a moment ago?
“Sit up,” he said, waving a hand. “We’ll have to strengthen it. I need you for an important task and I cannot afford your will wavering.”
Mortensen sat in the chair. He felt the heat of emotion burning inside, but also the heat of humiliation. He lapsed before the man whom he needed to impress. Before Master himself.
“I should be punished.”
“Your emotions are torment enough. I shall burn them out from you and you will endure the pain. But first, let me ease your mind by sharing with you your new orders.”
Mortensen forced himself to look into Azazel’s eyes, which were pale again.
“New orders, my Lord?”
Azazel nodded. “Our presence grows. The Lightblood had noticed it. They know something big is underway, but they do not know what exactly - though I’m sure they suspect it. The Apocalypse, Caspian. They fear we have begun it. Of course, their fears are completely justified.” He laughed.
“I want you to take your Nightborn and find where the Lightblood are hiding. I want you to destroy their head of operations before they have a chance to spread. We must not allow them to grow.”
Mortensen nodded. “I was wondering what your plans were regarding them. I’m honored that you have selected me for this task.”
“Your beloved detective is perhaps your best lead to find them,” Azazel said. “Their presence remains hidden from my senses. I suspect they are aided by our Master's rival, for there is no other way they could evade my powers.”
Mortensen’s eyes widened. “The Revealer?”
Azazel nodded. “She must not come to this world before our Master. That must not happen and we must do everything in our power to see she doesn’t. Everything, Caspian.”
Mortensen took a deep breath. The situation was more serious than he had imagined - Azazel hadn’t shared everything he knew during the ritual. It was a sign of high respect that he decided to share it now. And more than that, it was a sign that the Master needed him. That He has noticed Mortensen’s servitude and deemed it worthy.
His feelings for Damien, his fantasy with Rachel, and the desire for seeding a Nightling… what were they, when compared to the ultimate dream, which was to stand by Master’s side in his coming paradise? Everything paled in comparison to that.
“I can see that you understand,” Azazel said, inspecting his eyes. “Good. I want you to know I am very pleased with that.”
“I have wavered off the path,” admitted Mortensen. “But you helped remind me what truly matters, my Lord. I am eternally grateful for that. And for the trust, you place into me.”
Azazel smiled. “You’re capable of great things, Caspian. We must only nudge you in the right direction.”
He would have to let go of everything. The Master was all that should occupy his mind from thereon. The turmoil surrounding Damien would have to stop.
“I am ready.”
“So be it.”
Blackness washed over Azazel’s eyes once again, and Mortensen felt his insides erupting with fire. He could feel a force enter him, taking over and inspecting parts of him, evaluating, judging.
Then it took the parts that it found unfavorable and ripped them out from Mortensen’s being.
He screamed in pain, his body arching, feeling like flames were shredding his insides. He feared that the feeling wasn’t far from the truth.
Azazel kept his grip on him without needing to touch him physically and Mortensen noticed his feelings towards Damien - both the love and the hate - resurfaced together in one big pool… and then burst, like a blister.
A part of him died.
And a new part rose from the ashes. A stronger, clearer, more determined part. The Seed thrummed with life inside him and Mortensen felt like he was back from a long voyage across a foggy sea. Why did he chase after ghastly shapes in the mist, thinking they were the shore? Why did he care so much for Damien, when Master was the only one that mattered?
When the pain in his heart subsided, Mortensen smiled. His smile grew into laughter that echoed in Azazel’s study room.
Oh, but it feels good to know who you are!
“Born of the night, spawned from the unknown, the mysterious and the secretive. I am the substance of shadows, the black luster of suppressed desire! I live life fully and I love to death! I am Nightborn!”
He jumped up on the armchair, shouting at the ceiling. His body was brimming with newfound power, more than he ever felt before. It was begging him to come out, to be released, to be rejoiced in. And who was he to deny it?
“Yes,” Azazel said and smiled, rising from his chair and taking a step back. “Yes, be all of it, Caspian. Claim your power.”
Mortensen’s form began to change. His body morphing, bones cracking and repositioning, muscles tearing, and regrowing. The clothes ripped off as they could not contain his power within. His legs twisted and his arms stretched, his back arching and neck elongating. Strength, agility, fortitude.
Mortensen’s laughter grew into a deep guttural roar. His size could now put even those four Hulks to shame. Standing on his new legs, he touched the ceiling with the tip of his head. The armchair crumbled under his weight and the glass windows trembled with his booming voice.
And the heat. He always felt the Seed’s fire burning within, but never did it burn so fiercely as it did now. He could just-
The room flashed with fiery orange. Mortensen’s form ignited, the heat expressing itself on the outside. The study room, with shelves full of books and heavy wool curtains, began taking on his flames. He felt like he could incinerate it all, burn the whole world to a cinder!
“This, Caspian,” Azazel shouted through the roaring fires, “this is but a preview of what the Master will bring! This is a gift he bestows upon you! Feel His gratitude for your services and envision how much more you can serve Him!”
Mortensen felt he could fill the entire room with his fire. Azazel, his Lord and the most powerful Nightborn he had ever met, looked small and frail now. There was so much power in him…
“Go now, Caspian,” Azazel shouted. “Go, and get acquainted with your restored purpose! Remember the task I have given you. Find the Lightblood and destroy them!”
“With pleasure, my Lord,” Mortensen said, looking at his inhumanly giant hand, all ablaze. He willed himself to shrink down to his normal form, still burning. His clothes were gone, but his hair and eyebrows remained, as if inflammable. He met Azazel’s proud gaze and smiled.
“With so much pleasure.”
He snuffed out his flames and turned, walking out of the house completely naked. All feelings he once had for Damien now seemed like distant dreams; not real then, and gone now. He would use the detective for his purpose and kill him when his uses ran out.
I am the torchbearer, he thought as he sat in the SUV, the four Hulks looking at him with surprise. They did not try to stop him, though.
I shall bring forth your paradise, Master. I will use your gift to prepare this world for your coming.
He started the car and slammed on the gas.
For thy glory, we burn, oh Enchanter!