“Just for a minute,” I said, trying to nonchalantly slide by him. I grabbed my stomach and hunched over a bit, trying to casual y weather another contraction.
Ryan touched Jared’s arm. “Jared, we got through an entire city of shel s. If she wants to breathe some fresh air after nearly sixty days in a cave, I say let her.”
“You don’t have a say, so shut up,” Jared said through his teeth.
“I don’t either?” I said. I hobbled toward the entrance slowly, but Jared matched every step.
“Of course you do,” he said. “Just...just let me think for a minute.”
I closed my eyes tight. They twitched every time the drops of water slid from the rock wal to the ground. “That’s the problem. I can’t think in here. I can’t breathe. I can’t sleep. I feel like I’m dying!”
“Jared,” Ryan began.
“Shut the hel up!”
“Maybe we all need some fresh air,” Bex said.
With wide eyes, both Jared and Claire craned their necks at their little brother.
Jared’s jaws worked under his skin, and he struggled to relax enough to speak to me in a calm voice. “Nina, for all we know the devil is up there.
They wil stop at nothing now.”
Ryan shrugged. “Sometimes you gotta dance with the devil to get out of Hel .”
The further we got to the entrance, the darker it became. Bex had set up twin-head industrial light stands around the perimeter, so bright that at first, when they were all lit, it felt like day. Now the shadows they cast were just another reminder of our prison.
I moved quickly to the doorway, and Claire grabbed my wrist. “Maybe we should sedate her?”
I yanked my arm back, easily shouldering past her. “You’re not keeping me here against my wil ! I know I sound crazy! I feel crazy! This place is making me crazy! I don’t want to leave forever. I just...I just want a couple of minutes of sunshine. Just a moment to feel alive again.”
Ryan appeared in front of me, holding up his hands. “Whoa, buddy. You’re getting yourself all worked up,” he said. He spoke through nervous laughter, trying to lighten the mood. “You need to take a minute to think about this. No one is making you stay, but maybe if you think about this a little more, you’l reconsider.”
Jared looked to me with hope in his eyes.
“I thought you were on my side,” I said.
“I am, Nigh. I’ve always been on your side.”
“No one’s on my side. No one hears me.”
Ryan relaxed a bit. “Just try to clear your head and think about it. You’re not a prisoner here. You’re here to keep the baby safe until it’s born.”
I nodded. “Okay, I’ve thought about it. I can’t stand it anymore. Who wants to have their baby in a tomb? Not me. This was a bad idea. I just need to go. I have to go.”
I made my way to the entrance that led to the stairs, but Jared stood in my way, his fingers digging into my shoulders. “I can’t let you go, sweetheart. If you go upstairs, they’l kill you.”
“But, we...you...you need to get me out of here, okay? I don’t want to be here any more.”
Jared nodded, his voice low and calm. “I understand. As soon as the baby comes, We’ll leave. I promise.”
I shook my head, the tears cascading down my cheeks. I took a step back. “No. No, I don’t want to have the baby here. I can’t stay here another night. Not another second.”
“That’s a prize-winning freakout, right there,” Kim said without emotion.
Jared grimaced. “You’re not helping, Kim. Listen,” he said, returning his attention to me.
My body shook. I was in control of nothing. Not my body, not where I slept. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom alone or take a walk. It was too much. Too much.
“You can’t make me stay here. I can leave when I want.”
“You’re right. You can leave when you want, but...I want you to stay. The second you’re aboveground, Nina, you’l regret your choice. Just...trust me? Please? Just a little bit longer. Can you stay with me a little bit longer?”
Tiny twin rivers dripped from my jaw onto my dirty shirt. I closed my eyes, but all I could hear was the dripping. The damn dripping. It wouldn’t stop.
“No,” I whispered. I ran for the door, and Claire and Jared grabbed my arms. With my ful strength, I took one step after another, slowly but surely making my way to the doorway.
Claire grunted against my strength. “Nina, stop!”
Bex joined his siblings, grabbing both of my ankles and wrapping his feet around them. I could have broken free, but I didn’t want to hurt him. I didn’t want to hurt any of them, I just needed to be aboveground, to breathe fresh air and feel the sun on my skin. To hear my voice—just one time— without an echo behind it.
“Nina, look at me! Look at me!” Jared said, positioning his face in front of mine. “You have to stop. You’re going to get yourself kill ed, and the baby wil die. Do you hear me? We’ll all die! ”
I stopped struggling, and my body went limp as I sobbed on the ground against my husband. My focus on survival, irrational or not, had become a monster.
Claire and Bex took a step back with labored breath. I’d given all three of them a run for their money.
Jared stood and pul ed me with him. “Okay?”
I nodded, watching him walk into the tomb. “I’m sorry.”
I bolted for the top of the stairs, shoving the altar out of the way. I crawled out of the hole, squinting against the bright sun filtering in through the rotunda.
I took a deep breath, letting the warm, fresh air fil my lungs. I bathed in it, taking in every bit before Jared dragged me back underground. After a few seconds, the warm air went away, and the cold, dark feeling of the tomb surrounded me. Jared had barely let me take an entire breath before he’d forced me to return.
I opened my eyes and realized I was stil in the Sepulchre. The room was ful of shel s, poised to pounce. I could hear Jared crawling up the stairs, yel ing my name, but immediately I was attacked. I fought off one, and then two and three at a time. By the time Jared reached the top, I had already taken out half the shel s in a fury of moves I didn’t even have to think about. A smal woman threw herself at me, her arms flailing about. Jared incapacitated her with a single blow. Claire and Ryan reached the top, quickly fol owed by Bex, and the mob inside the Sepulchre quickly thinned.
More filed in, though, and we were running out of room.
“Back up!” Jared commanded. “Back downstairs!”
The wal s shook, and two large, dark forms squeezed their misshapen bodies into the entrance of the Sepulchre. They weren’t shel s, but demons, large demons with gray skin and mouths ful of teeth under moist snouts.
The one on the right grabbed Jared while the other took my shirt in one hand, and slammed my back against the opposite wal .
“Hey!” Kim yel ed from the mouth of the stairway. “Get the hel out of here!” Even though the monsters stood two heads tal er than her, she didn’t seem nervous in the slightest. The demons wailed at her, shielding themselves with their shoulders, but they didn’t retreat.
The demon that Jared fought barked at the black-eyed minions filing into the room, and before anyone could react, a half-dozen of the shel s dove at Kim, pushing her down the stairway. Her scream faded as she rol ed further underground.
Bex leapt in after her, and Claire and Ryan went to work on Jared’s demon.
I tried to rip my shirt to escape the grip of the brute, but his hands were gigantic, and I couldn’t break free. A shel in military fatigues slipped into the room, walked to me without hesitation, and held a pistol to my temple.
The demon holding me signaled his partner, capturing Jared, Claire and Ryan’s attention as wel . In a move so fast I could barely fol ow, Jared pul ed his sidearm from his belt and held it on the shel . The entire room froze.
“Don’t. Move,” Jared said.
I nodded. I was sure he was furious with me. His eyes glossed over, and his teeth clenched.
The shel spoke. “We’re taking her out of this place. Do not fol ow, or We’ll cut the child from her in the street.”
Jared held his gun on the shel , his entire body shaking with rage. Final y he lowered his weapon a little. “I love you,” he said, immediately tensing his arms again.
I smiled. “It’s okay. You’l just save me like you always do, right?”
“Right. Just wait for me.”
“I’ll wait for you,” I said.
Hesitant, and clearly conflicted, Jared lowered his weapon. In the next moment, I was dragged backward with such force I felt I was flying. The rooms of the Sepulchre flew past, and then I was in the sunlight. The streets blurred as the demon raced me through the old city. A few minuts later, I was dragged into an old building.
The fiend tossed me, and I skidded to the middle of a room. At first glance, the room was a filthy mess, and then I realized the pile of sheets was a provisional bed. No medical supplies or baby blankets.
“What wil you do to him?” I asked, hesitant to make eye contact with the rotting pile of flesh standing at the door.
“He waits to devour him.”
I groaned. Pain seared through my body, and I knew I would have to calm down if I were to slow down the contractions. The more time I gave Jared to reach us, the better chance we had. I climbed onto the tufts of sheets, and leaned back on the heels of my hands.
A shel , a large woman, was all owed entry. I braced myself to be attacked, but she grabbed a fistful of my sweat-drenched hair, lifted me to my feet, and then ripped off my clothes with her free hand. She pul ed an oversized nightgown over my head, pushing me to the floor. I raised my hands to defend myself, but she only grabbed my wrists and tied them with cloth restraints attached to wires. Those thick wires were fastened to the cement floor with bolts. Once she completed her task, the woman left me alone with the demon.
Dirty windows lined the wal to my left. The outlines of dozens of shel s cast shadows against the muddy glass. I wondered if I could take the giant standing guard at the door, but I knew that Jared and Claire had trouble with him, and I hadn’t exactly trained how to ignore labor pains while on the offensive. I subtly tested the bolts. They seemed fairly secure, but I was sure I could break free when the time came. The one exit would pose a problem; I didn’t know what else waited on the other side. I could probably break through the window, but once again, the contractions… I tensed, trying to breath through the pain. “Oh...my God!” I grunted. Deep breaths turned into panting. Sweat dripped from my hairline into my eyes. Just when I thought I might break in half, the contraction subsided. I let my body relax against an old cushion propped against the wal .
“Can I have some water?” I asked.
The demon’s beady eyes shifted toward me. He snarled, and then looked ahead.
The cramping grew more intense with the next few contractions, and then I felt a warm gush between my legs. When I looked down at the clear liquid that had drenched the sheets, I realized my water had broke. A short relief of pressure came, quickly fol owed by a spasm so intense that I nearly passed out.
I wailed, and moved back against the wal . Nothing I did escaped the agony. “Please,” I whimpered between breaths, “help me.” Another wave washed over me; my blood-curdling screams echoed throughout the building. The panting didn’t help, nothing helped. My hands bal ed into fists, shaking and white-knuckled.
When the agony paused for a minute or two, I would let my body fal limp against the cushion. Already exhausted, I knew unless Jared saved us, my abilities would be worthless.
The intensity of the next contraction took me by surprise, and I sat up straight, my knees bent and widely spread, I straining against my restraints.
Unsure of what I was even saying, my mouth formed every obscenity I’d ever heard in my life. When it was over, I col apsed against the cushion, bawling, whimpering for my husband. Pressure between my thighs provoked me to reach down. Something soft and wet, covered in hair was barely peeking out from inside me. The baby was beginning to crown. I looked to the demon. He didn’t even seem to be on alert. Jared wasn’t even close.
I closed my eyes, making a concentrated effort to relax all of my muscles. Even when the pain came again, I refused to give into it. I refused to push. When the agony became too much, I held my screams inside. Any tensing on my part could push out the baby, and that was something I refused to do until I saw my husband. The waved crashed into me, and I lowered my chin to my chest, bit my lip, and stared intently at the wal across the room. I would. Not. Push.
My body shook uncontrol ably. Just as the pain subsided, movement outside the windows caught my attention. The guard at the door made a noise and shifted. He was nervous. Jared was here.
The shadows of the shel s weaved back and forth. There was a large explosion, then a blotch of crimson sprayed against the mud on the glass, highlighted by a bal of fire. The glass broke, and my husband pushed through, his eyes wild but focused. He immediately attacked the guard at the door, fil ing the creature’s head with an entire clip of bul ets. Once he fel to the ground, Kim ran into the glass opening. She made her way to the door, and closed it, holding her palms flat against the metal.
“I got it!” she said. She was covered in blood, and noticeably injured.
“Are you okay?” I cal ed to her.
She smiled. “Never been better. You just worry about delivering that ba—”
Before she could finish her sentence, a shel burst through the broken glass and pointed his gun at Kim. She turned, her eyes wide.
“No!” I screamed.
Jared charged the shel , but was too late. The bul et burst through Kim’s chest, blowing her back against the door.
“Kim!” I cried, watching her limp body slide down the door to the ground. Her eyes were open, but she was dead before she hit the floor. “Kim!”