Chapter 28

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Plumes of smoke turned the once clear blue sky into a sooty grey smear. The sirens of dozens of firetrucks echoed from every direction, fighting at best a stalemate against the conflagration consuming the city. Even several kilometers away from the city limits, the sun was little more than a flickering speck behind a wall of black. Alex closed the window curtains. Opening them only made the white hospital room even dimmer and paler than it already was.

"Can you believe the nerve of these doctors? They wouldn't even let me have one cigarette, not a single one, my entire time here regrowing my arms," Sophia said. She shoved her head back into her pillow and blew a puff of air into her unkempt red hair.

"Those things slow down your regeneration factor you know. They just want you out of here faster," Charlotte retorted.

"By what? An extra half hour? We're Black Knights, not nuns. You'd think they'd pity a woman who got both her arms chopped off keeping the city safe." Sophia raised the stumps her arms in defiance. Steam was coming off of them as flesh slowly accumulated under the thick layers of gauze. "I mean, it's already bad enough when it's just a bone fracture. Growing bone, muscle, skin, and nails all back in one afternoon takes a lot out of you."

"If they hadn't fed you eight meals in the past three hours, it would have taken a lot longer than that." Charlotte, looking very unimpressed, strode over to Sophia's hospital bed and held a small red pill in front of her mouth.

The red haired woman's eyes went wide. "Oh no... oh hell no. Make me give birth to an elephant without anaesthetic, let me break every bone in my pelvis, but whatever you do... I am not going through that again."

"You're going to be stuck here at least another day if you don't."

"Yeah, a day I won't have to scream my head off while fifty something bones explode onto my stump like a fucking jackhammer from the inside out."

Charlotte, with her free hand, pulled a box of unopened cigarettes and waved them in front of her friend, much as she would have to a dog.

"I fucking hate you..." Sophia muttered.

Alex was no stranger to screams of pain. He'd heard plenty during his own military training. None of those experiences could have prepared him for the banshee cries that erupted from Sophia's throat as her hands grew back. Plugging his ears did almost nothing to abate the sound.

In a span of seconds, the once placid, steaming lumps that were Sophia's stumps erupted into a boiling ooze of activity. Bare white bones shot out from the gooey red muck, followed by undulating worms of pink muscle and white sinew crawling along the pale growth. Though the woman's screams drowned most of it out, Alex could faintly hear the crack and crunch from the mess as cartilage crystallized around her newly reformed fingers. Finally, once the connective tissue had finished squirming into place, a thin film of glistening pink skin emerged to cover the exposed hands. It was paper thin, and the slightest bump seemed liable to bruise or peel it, but it was a merciful covering for the mushy contents underneath. With its final spread, Sophia's cries abated, and, with tears running down her cheek and sweat falling down her brow, she collapsed onto her bed, seemingly unconscious.

She woke up in less than a minute, but her dour glare made it obvious she would rather have been dead. Panting heavily, she reached one of her freshly grown hands out toward the cigarette box Charlotte was holding.

"I think I might just let you catch your breath first. These things aren't good for your lungs either," she said, suppressing a laugh.

"Oh fuck you..."

That made Charlotte burst into cackles. She ripped open the box and tossed a thin white cigarette in Sophia's direction.

She hissed in mild pain as the object landed in her tender hands, but she shrugged it off and stuck it in her mouth.

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