At full speed, the gurney slammed through the green double doors, bursting them open from the seam in the middle. The medics wheeled it to a stop in the middle of the sterile, hexagonal shaped sick bay. They talked animatedly amongst themselves, relaying information at a rapid rate. One checked the drip that was attached the Brogan’s arm, while another checked his spiking vitals.
Brogan strained at the bindings at his wrists and ankles, his spine arching unnaturally as if they were the only things keeping him down. The bindings were tight, but the leather creaked as if they threatened to break at any moment. His eyes were wide, wild and unseeing, his mouth moving as he yelled. From her position at one of the far walls, away from the milling throng of medical personnel, Monika could hear his words clearly, though she wished she could not.
“So cold, cold, let me off, cold… running, and running, and running… running, through the trees, howling… the moon, howling at the moon, howling in freedom, freedom, let me free, let me free, running free… so cold, cold, cold.”
Monika wrapped her arms around her stomach and shivered. There had been so much blood when she and the others had finally caught up with Brogan. Claw marks littered his shredded flesh, and he had already been muttering and shaking. But he had been alive.
The medical staff moved as a practiced unit, lifting Brogan from the gurney and placing him onto the operating table despite his trashing. More equipment was wheeled next to the table, and connected to his body.
“Let me out,” he screamed, his voice raw.
Zeke fidgeted nervously in his place next to Monika, scratching at his jowl. His ears pricked up a second later, and his head swung to the opposite wall, where there was a smaller door to the medical bay. Monika glanced over too, just as Director Caine strode through, Doc Frasier at his side. Frasier was amongst one of the few members of M.I.16’s staff who did not have a background in military or intelligence, and it showed in the soft curves of his aged face, and the plumpness of his belly, but he had a hardness to his eyes that spoke of experience. He lifted his glasses from where they hung on a chain around his neck, propping them on his nose. He gave one last glance at Director Caine, his expression one of frustration, before heading to join his team.
“Agent Wells,” Director Caine said as he joined her and her team. “You have a report?”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, tearing her eyes from Brogan’s thrashing form with difficulty. “We found the ‘wolf, but… but Brogan chased after it alone. We think it must have cornered him. Zeke managed to drive the thing off, but Brogan had already been attacked.”
Director Caine’s eye widened. Monika knew the director well enough that that small reaction on another man would have been a shout of surprise. “He’s infected?” Caine demanded.
Brogan let out a scream; a long, blood curling cry that went on far too long, and cut off as a high pitched howl.
“It seems so,” Monika admitted.
Caine shook his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He gave one last long look at Monika, then crossed the room to stand at Doc Frasier’s side.
“What have you got for me?” he said.
“He’s a mess,” he said, not looking up from where he was busy checking Brogan’s wounds. “He looks like he’s been put through a shredder. I’d say I’m surprised he’s still alive, but given what happened to him, I can’t. A lot of the smaller wounds look like they’re already starting to heal, but the one of his chest is deep. Looks like it cut right to the bone.” He shook his head, before barking a command to one of the medical staff. Only then did he glance up at Caine. “We can save his body, Weston, but his mind…” He trailed off with an apologetic shrug.
“Just do what you can, Doc. Leave the rest to me.”
“I don’t think you understand,” Frasier insisted. “He’s fighting a losing battle against the infection. At rough estimate, I’d say he’s eighty percent gone already. There’s no cure. And you know what has to be done better than any of us.”
Caine met the other man’s eyes coolly. “And I said leave the rest to me. Do you job, Doc.”
Without another word, he turned and strode away from the medical staff, leaving Doc Frasier shaking his head. Caine gestured to one of his ever present aides. “Get me Leila.” He held up a hand quickly to forestall the man’s words. “Yes, yes, I know she’s in the Call Centre; you go in and get her, and bring her to medical on the double. And don’t let her dally. Tell her now means now.”
As the aide scurried from the room – they always seemed to scurry – Caine glanced back over at the straining form of Brogan. The man was muttering again. “Feast, feast, feast on flesh, flay the flesh, sip the blood, drink the blood, bathe in the blood.” Monika blocked the words from her mind, concentrating on the instructions coming from Doc Frasier instead.
After what must have been an eternity the door opened again, and Leila Paris hustled in. She wore the long white robes of the rest of the Call Centre, the fabric almost trailing on the floor behind her. The young woman’s eyes were wide with confusion as she made her way to Director Caine’s side. The man stood watching the medics work, and did not appear to notice she had entered. As always, Leila chose to stand there waiting patiently rather than speaking up, staring at her hands clamped before her. Eventually, Caine’s head turned, and he nodded upon seeing her.
“Leila, good,” he said. “We have a problem.” He gestured to the table. Leila made that small O with her mouth, as if seeing the milling medical staff for the first time. Monika would not have been surprised if it wasn’t the first time either. “Tell me what you can do,” Director Caine continued.
“What’s the…” she began, then swallowed. “What’s the matter with him?”
“Lycanthrope Curse,” Caine said simply. Leila took a small half step backwards.
“B-b-b-but why are… Is it a good idea to be trying to heal him?”
Director Caine crossed his arms over his chest, not responding right away. With a touch less his usual commanding demeanour, he said, “Look, Leila, I know there is no cure once the curse takes full hold. But it hasn’t yet. So tell me, what can you do?”
Leila flicked another glance at the thrashing Brogan. The medical staff had removed most of his clothing now, to work on his wounds, and sweat glistened on his skin. He cried out again in defiance, muscles screaming in protest at their incarceration. Leila gave a small, barely perceptible, shake of her head before lowering her gaze.
“Really?” Caine said. “Leila, you spend all your free time reading spell books. You know the contents of our Library cover to cover, which I’m pretty sure would take most people several lifetimes to get through. And you’re telling me in all that time you have never come across one mention of anything that could help?”
Leila swallowed again, shuffling her feet. “No, I…” she began, cheeks reddening. Her lips quivered, working as if she had continue speaking. Then she glanced over at Brogan again, before quickly averting her eyes. “T-t-there might be… that is, I don’t know if, if it w-w-would work, sir.”
“Leila.” The commanding tone was back in the director’s voice.
“I don’t know,” she reiterated. “I don’t know if a-anyone actually managed to get it to work. It was j-just a… a partial shred of text. It m-might be too late already. There’s no guarantee.”
“What do you need?” Caine said.
“Nothing. There’s… it’s just a spell. But I need space.”
“Get started then.” The order was clear in his tone, and began clearing Doc and his staff out of the way. Frasier argued the point with him, but Caine just rolled right over his protests.
Leila stepped close to the straining body of Brogan. His screaming and muttered had grown silent now, though he still strained arms and legs against their bonds. He glared at Leila, eyes feral, teeth bared. A dangerous growl rose from his throat.
“We should just put him down,” Chase muttered, arms folded roughly across his chest. He stood with his back to the rest of the room, but was watching over his shoulder. His face was calm, but his eyes burned with hate. Monika could not blame him. “Rules are rules,” he continued.
“Director makes the calls,” Monika replied, watching as Leila walked around the operating table once, twice, three times, murmuring softly to herself. Brogan’s head swivelled to follow her.
“Rules are rules,” Chase said again. “You know what a ‘wolf can do. Should be put down before he gets loose and…”
“Outside,” Monika said, cutting the man off. He blinked at her in confusion.
“Outside Chase. Now.”
He glared at her now, but she met it evenly, refusing to back down. After a moment, he huffed in anger and annoyance, before storming from the room, making sure he slammed the door loudly behind him.
Only when Monika waited until she was sure he’d left the medical area completely did she return her attention to Leila. Now the young woman stood at the head of the table, a pace away from Brogan’s head. He still strained to reach her, thick muscles in his neck standing out, but she did not appear to notice, her gaze turned inwards. The she closed her eyes and let out a long breathe, before raising her arms before her. A golden shimmer began to dance on the tips of her outstretched fingers, swaying to a soft breeze Monika could not feel. The shimmer pulsed out, like a heartbeat, each throb increasing its distance from Leila’s hands, reaching out in a circle from her. The circle rose, arching into a dome, until it covered Leila and the operating table completely, like a golden bubble, just transparent enough to make everything inside blurry and the sounds echo as if coming from underwater.
Then Leila’s eyes flashed open, pure white now, clear of iris and pupil. Her face was a mask of strain, sweat beading her forehead, and her breathing came laboured and rough. Colours began to dance through the golden bubble, like the shimmer of rainbows across glass. They swirled, twisting around each other. Faster then spun, faster and faster and faster, spreading out across the golden dome. The colours flashed, gaining in strength, distorting the image further. They pulsed like a heartbeat.
Brogan’s thrashing increased as the colours gained in strength. Then suddenly his spine arched, and his mouth opened wide. A black smoky tendril emerged from between his parted lips, like some demonic breath. Slowly it crept further and further from his body, growing in intensity as it did, until the smoke coalesced into something thicker, more solid. The black trail merged with the swirling colours, fighting them. The colours faded slightly, growing weaker, even as the black tentacle grew stronger, solidifying its dominance.
Suddenly Leila flung her arms wide again, and a white bar of purest energy burst from her eyes, right towards the heart of the blackness. It struck that darkness, and there was a great blinding flash of light and the deep booming of thunder.
Afterimages scorched themselves across Monika’s vision as she blinked away heavily watering eyes, scrubbing at them with her fists. When her vision slowly returned to normal, she saw that the bubble surrounding the operating table had gone. As too was the tendril of evil. Leila stood as she had before, swaying gently. Then her legs buckled beneath her. Monika was already moving, catching the other woman before she could hit the cold floor. She knelt by the operating table, cradling the mage’s head and shoulders across her lap.
“Leila,” she said, pushing her hair from her face. The young woman’s eyes were closed, and she was panting heavily. “Leila, are you okay?”
Slowly, Leila’s lids flickered open. Monika repeated her question, and Leila gave a small nod. Then she swallowed. “We…,” she began, before licking suddenly dry lips. “We need to f-find something that can contain that.” She raised one weakened arm, trembling visibly. Monika followed her pointed finger, looking above the operating table.
A small orb hung there, roughly the size of a tennis ball; an orb of swirling black liquid.