With the new year rapidly approaching I thought I’d hop on and wish everyone a delightfully demented New Years! Do remember not to drink and drive.
With the new year rapidly approaching I thought I’d hop on and wish everyone a delightfully demented New Years! Do remember not to drink and drive.
Well, because of Christmas and because I spent what little free time I’ve had this week finishing and editing Santa Babe 2, I’ve been unable to finish the final edits for this week’s part of The Fall of Kruhl. Do expect a regular update next week.
Hope your holiday was awesome and please do have a delightfully demented New Year,
Daniel A. Wolfe
A slow smile found its way onto my lips, and I licked them winking at Arcadius Noel who kept sneaking furtive glances at my chest. I couldn’t say I blamed him, I wasn’t wearing much. A candy-stripe bra, matching leggings, black stiletto heels, an elf-green mini-dress, and a matching stocking cap were all that adorned my frame and a girl with my proportions was a rare sight in the North Pole. Elf women were flat-chested and possessed hips almost as narrow as their male counterparts. Transformed by the Aphrodite Potion, I was the epitome of feminine beauty. Was it any wonder the old elf couldn’t keep his eyes off me?
“Samson Twinklebottom!” Greogira Glittertoes screamed out at the head of the table.
I turned, clenching my jaw at her use of my former male name, and regarded her with cool eyes. Even before my change I had not cared for the elder, though the youngest of the council, she was the most conservative and the most steeped in tradition. She would, of course, be the one most threatened by my transformation.
I stood before the council of elders, the governing body of the Elves of the North Pole. One seat, remained empty, a padded, human-sized affair that belonged to Saint Nicholas, but given that our employer was the subject of this gathering, and her transformation from rotund sad sack to busty babe, it seemed doubtful she would be in attendance.
“I will not tolerate distractions!” Greogira added rising to her feet and peering across the table at me.
Though, I now towered over her because of my transformation, I shrank back unprepared by the intensity of her gaze.
She might have been pretty if a scowl didn’t crease her ageless face, which was unmarred by wrinkles or age spots. Elves did not age in the way of humans. The only sign of the passage of time, was the gradual graying and eventual whitening of the hair, and among males, the ability to grow facial hair. All who sat on the council sported a shock of snow-white hair, and all save the councilwoman possessed a matching beard.
“Now, now, Greogira,” Bernaldo Mugginbubbles rose to his feet, a chiding tone in his deep baritone voice. “Do remember that young Samson, is under the influence of a powerful magic.”
Greogira glowered at him, but only regarded him for a second before returning her attention back to me, her scowl deepening tenfold. “You have failed to carry out your duties as a helper elf. We tasked you to watch over the Santa Claus, ensuring only that he completed his gift-giving role and not get into any mischief. You have allowed both yourself and our exalted leader to be transformed into some kind of sex-crazed bimbos by that insidious concoction and have jeopardized everything toward which elfkind has worked for these countless centuries. Do you not understand the seriousness of this situation?”
I gritted my teeth, my anger simmering just below the surface. Though Santa was quick to jump in bed and delighted in her new appearance, she was far from a bimbo and was not intellectually deficient. The potion did not diminish intelligence or change an individual’s overall personality. Yes, Santa possessed the same body and sex-drive as a centerfold in a dirty magazine, but every attribute that made her the Claus was still there. She was just wrapped in a prettier package.
Until her transformation, Santa had been a drunken shell of her former self, but walking in on your wife of countless centuries boinking Jack Frost would do that to a fellow. The new Santa was most definitely an improvement. Something about her transformation had brought that glimmer of child-like joy back into her eyes. She had been just doing the motions for so long, I’d almost forgotten what the old Santa had been like.
Hands caressed my shoulders, and I shivered as lips brushed my neck. I turned, a smile creasing my lips as I met Santa’s gaze. She wore the same white-trimmed red-velvet minidress and knee-length boot she’d been sporting while delivering gifts and a shiver worked its way down my spine at the sight of her.
Just a day ago, the mere thought of Santa transforming into this leggy brunette with wide-hips and large breasts would have seemed laughable, but now that the change had come about I couldn’t imagine her any other way.
“They won’t know what hit them,” I whispered, kissing her on the lips. I closed my eyes, letting myself be swept away by the sensations. When she pulled away, I didn’t want it to stop, but I bit back my disappointment and watched her saunter toward the council of elders.
“Nicholas,” Greogira nodded at Santa, her expression blank, but fire still smoldering in her eyes. “I was just—”
“Greogira,” Santa said her otherwise plump lips pressed into thin lines. “There’s no need for a recap, I heard everything.”
Greogira flinched as if Santa dealt her a physical blow, her whole body trembling. In living memory no elf had crossed Santa. Even for her to say as much as she already had bordered on scandalous. Even now, facing Santa in her new feminine form she could not bring herself to speak against the old gift-giver.
There was a scuffle and a clatter behind the old elf, and Greogira turned revealing the slender form of Eros Butterbee, with a tray of drinks and pastries. “Um, mistress I thought you might be hungry.”
Butterbee was the shortest elf I’d ever met, a mere eighteen inches tall, he was more than a century older than me. He worked in the kitchens, a thankless job that kept him busy throughout the seasons feeding the army of hungry elves, but one which he seemed to enjoy.
“Thank you, Butterbee.” Greogira eyed the diminutive elf before waving him off with a disdainful flick of her wrists. “Begone.”
The kitchen elf, glanced toward Santa and me and set the tray on the table, a strange mix of wonder and confusion in his eyes, before he scurried away and disappeared from sight. Santa furrowed her brows, peering at me, but if she knew what I had planned she didn’t say a word.
Elves love sweets so much, we eat almost nothing else. As magical creatures we aren’t susceptible to human failings like diabetes or tooth decay and given that we had a sweet tooth that surpassed even that of the most voracious of human children, we indulge whenever possible. Even a sourpuss like Greogira would not let the opportunity to treat herself to a pastry or a piece of candy slip by.
Greogira selected a tall goblet, no doubt filled with some fruity sugar-coma-inducing concoction, and a danish, before passing the tray along to Wilbur Jellyfluff, the only member of the council who had yet to speak up. Jellyfluff made his own selections before passing his tray onward, nibbling on a cherry tart as he rose to his feet.
I eyed the tall elf, my heart skipping a beat watching him nibble and waited on bated breath to see what would happen. My head jerked sideways and I regarded Santa, but she did not turn to meet my gaze. We separated the moment we’d returned to the North Pole and I had just enough time to nab some potion and enlist Eros Butterbee’s aid before the council had summoned me. I’d thought to inform Santa of my plans before then, but the opportunity had not presented itself. In any case, she would discover the truth soon enough.
At almost four feet tall, Wilbur Jellyfluff cut an imposing figure for an elf, and he was the most well loved among the council members, but he too was a traditionalist albeit one with a kinder disposition than Greogira.
“Nicholas,” a gentle smile stretched across his face. “What are we to do with you?”
“Exactly what we’ve always done, Wil,” Santa answered back massaging her neck and emitting a soft moan. “You make the toys and I deliver them, but please won’t you call me Nikki?”
“This won’t do, I’m afraid. Greogira despite her lack of tact is right. Imagine the scandal it will generate amongst the mortals. Santa Claus become a sex-object? We’ll never hear the end of it from the social justice warriors or the Christian fanatics. Allow us to examine you, perhaps with some time we might undo the effects of the Aphrodite formula and return you to your proper form.”
Santa narrowed her eyes, and clenched her fists at her side, regarding the council of elders between gritted teeth. “For over a decade you have let me drink myself into a stupor, not once attempting to render the aid and compassion I needed. Now, that I have been reborn, and found a new measure of happiness, you wish to take it away from me? No, Wilbur, I won’t allow it.”
“Then we—.” Jellyfluff groaned and hunched over clutching at his stomach. He collapsed atop the table before him, tart dropping from his hand, its cherry filling splattering all over the ground.
Greogira and Bernaldo were on their feet and moving toward the other council member, but the former soon hunched over, disappearing from view on the other side of the table shrieks of pain reverberating through the chamber. The latter fell to his knees, the skin on his face rippled and contorted and a soft and far too feminine moan escaped his lips.
Only Arcadius Noel remained seated, throwing out both hands and howled in agony as he too underwent the first stages of his transformation.
Wilbur shrieked and I turned back in time to watch him jerk back to his feet. His arms flailing about and grappling with the front of his tunic. He pulled it free just in time, for a budding set of breasts to materialize upon his flat hairless Elven chest. His bones cracked and popped as his torso extended, and he fell chest first, atop the tabletop. Hips exploded outward, fat appearing as if from nowhere his stockings ripping open unable to accommodate his burgeoning human-sized and very feminine proportions.
Greogira raised her head then, sporting a head of chestnut-brown hair, and threw a set of human-length arms across the table to balance her tiny Elven frame. She moaned, her frame shooting up as her legs and torso extended outward, just moments before her breasts and hips swelled to match her enlarged frame. She groaned and collapsed atop the table her transformation, less severe and thus complete.
Wilbur howled once more, bearded face contorting as hair began to fall from it in clumps, revealing his flat unremarkable features. A loud crunch sounded and his face bubbled out, growing to match his already human-sized form, but also becoming softer and rounder. His large flat nose, reshaped and remolded itself, worry-lines smoothed out and as his snow-white hair disappeared altogether, honey blonde hair spilled out in ringlets, cascading past his shoulders and down his back. Thin lips plumped out and a low and still very masculine moan escaped his lips. Then his voice, cracked and his prominent Adam’s apple receded into his throat disappearing altogether. He jerked, a loud pop reverberating through his spine, and he leaned forward, emitting a much more suitable feminine groan as his spine curved and his posterior ballooned out.
A scream sounded from the end of the table and Arcadius Noel lurched forward falling across the table and over the side, rolling onto his back. I knelt down beside him, surprised to find that there was only the barest hint that potion had begun its work on him. I don’t know if there was something he’d consumed that might have slowed down the progress or if perhaps something about his physiology had caused it, but whatever it was, it didn’t last much longer.
Bones snapped and popped and I reached out cupping both hands around one of his, smiling down at him in reassurance. I’d undergone a very similar transformation, and I understood all too well how painful it could be. That beings said, I would not take back what had happened to me for all the world.
For whatever reason, the order in which someone transformed varied from person to person. I soon found his hand, ballooning out within my own, but neither of his arms nor his other hand followed instead, his face rearranged itself. His flowing white beard, maintained over so many centuries fluttered away, seeming to disappear into the open air. His rugged, sharp-edge features dissolved, and his long comically over-sized nose shrunk down even as the rest of his face expanded outward. Fire-red hair spilled out from atop his head stopping at his shoulders. Lips parted, but no sound escaped instead they plumped out, and a crack resounded inside his neck as it reshaped itself.
Arcadius’ left hip swelled out, stretching his tights until they tore open, but the right side did not follow, at least, not yet. One side of his chest, expanded and I slid my hands out, cutting opened the front of his tunic with a work knife procured from within my left boot, to make room for his contorting proportions. The right side of his chest ballooned out, a single breast occupying his otherwise flat chest. His arm came next, at last stretching out to the proper proportions for his hand. The second arm followed, but this time the changes stopped when they reached his wrist.
A waistline, previously untouched, expanded outward, narrow by human standards, but much wider than any elf alive possessed. At last, his other boob swelled out to the same size as the first and granted his form a degree of symmetry. His torso extended outward and first one leg then the other stretched out to match it, before her last hand creaked and popped coming to match the first.
Arcadius screamed, a high-pitched wail so loud, it forced me to cover my ears. He grappled at his privates and I watched unable to keep myself from shivering in anticipation as I realized how close he was to completing his transformation. Soon, he emitted a long breath of air and his attention shifted from the space between his legs to his remaining hip which had swollen outward. My attention, however remained on his privates where the outline of a lovely camel toe showed beneath his hosiery. Soon, Arcadius had completed his transformation, his spine realigned to more feminine proportions and his feet, swollen to a size more befitting his taller frame. I beamed down at him and held a hand out.
He hesitated and then grasped my outstretched hand, his or rather her, bare chest jiggling like a bowl full of jelly as she rose to her feet. A hand, again, touched my shoulder and I turned to regard Santa swallowing hard. Her eyes were wide, shock reflected at me.
Nikki turned, and my eyes followed her gaze. Greogira, Wilbur, and another young woman, sporting a shock of long raven-black hair that fell well past her knees, I assumed was Bernaldo, approached. Though each had grown to more human proportions, a side-effect of using a potion intended for humans, Bernaldo was the shortest of the three coming in at just under four and a half feet tall. Greogira stood only a few inches taller, and Bernaldo towered over the pair of them almost six feet tall. They looked human for the most part, save for their ears which kept their telltale pointy tip.
A familiar scowl marked Greogira’s face, but it did not mar her features as it did before. Still recognizable, her features had nonetheless softened and there was no doubt that she was beautiful, even with her teeth clenched. It did however, make her seem less the wrathful elder and more a petulant child. Wilbur approached with a frown one hand kneading an exposed breast. Bernaldo followed not even looking up one arm folded across her chest, the other clasped over her vulva offering only a modicum of modesty and her cheeks turned such a bright shade of red it was a close match to tattered remnants of her scarlet tunic.
“This only proves our point!” Greogira said jabbing a finger into Santa’s chest. Whatever reservations she had about confronting Nikki had evaporated away with her transformation. “The Aphrodite Potion has clearly affected your judgement. Nicholas would have never drugged one of his elves let alone four of us.”
“That was my doing.” I smiled stepping between Nikki and Greogira.
“Regardless, even you Samson would not stoop so low,” Greogira countered this time rounding on me.
“I-I don’t know,” Wilbur said slipping a hand between her legs as a dreamy smile stretched across her lips. “It feels pretty good.”
Greogira snapped her head around, both hands on her hips as she stared at her peer with wide eyes. “Get a grip on yourself Wilbur, the potion is messing with your mind.”
Wilbur smiled a soft moan escaping her lips as two fingers caressing the insides of her lady parts. Greogira rounded on her, latching both hands around the other elder’s arms and shook her so hard the other’s head snapped back. Wilbur, stared at her wide-eyed and I thought for a second she might have reached her, but then the dreamy smile returned and Wilbur leaned in to kiss the other woman.
Greogira stiffened like a plank, even her lips remained frozen in place, but her resistance soon melted away against the other woman’s continued efforts. As they broke for air, a soft moan escaped her lips. “I never imagined.” She shivered, biting her lip and took several steps back.
I folded both arms across my chest and smiled, regarding Greogira and each of the new women my eyes lingering on Bernaldo who still refused to make eye contact with any of them. “You’ve each received a small dose of the Aphrodite formula. In a few hours, or a few days, depending on how much you consumed you should revert to your original forms.” I slipped a hand inside my bra, producing four small vials of a familiar pink fluid. “Should you wish to make the change permanent, I do believe we can come to some sort of arrangement.”
Arcadius who had remained off to the side throughout the confrontation, peering down at her hands and shook her head. “I can sense them, the sensations, the desires swelling within me. It terrifies me, but…” She lurched forward, and whipped a hand out, sliding one of the vials from my outstretched hand, pulled the stopper free and downed it in one gulp. “I never want to go back. It feels too good.”
We all peered at her with wide eyes. For Arcadius to make such a quick snap-judgement seemed so unlike the brooding, taciturn man we all knew. She licked her lips and peered at me with an arched eyebrow a suggestive smile creeping its way onto her face. “There isn’t a male version of the Aphrodite formula sitting about is there? I would dearly love to spend some alone time with a nice big hunk of a man, if you catch my drift.”
“No, but with your support, I’d like to resume production of the Aphrodite formula. If we bring the original creators onboard, I’m sure they can… come up with something that will whet your appetite.” Santa cleared her throat, answering before I even had a chance, her ruby red lips stretching into a smile.
At this pronouncement, Bernaldo’s head jerked up, and she peered about glancing at all of us. She didn’t speak a word. Instead, she took several steps back, spun around on the balls of her feet and took off running her long locks trailing after her. The look on her face telling me all I needed to know.
I watched her depart, then paused long enough to slip all but one of the remaining vials into Santa’s hands and took off after her. I knew all too well what she must be going through and could guess why she’d fled. That being said, if she reverted to her old form, she could rally the rest of the denizens of the North Pole against us and ruin everything. That I could not allow.
As you might imagine, running in stilettos is damn near impossible, a fact I came to realize as I burst out of the council chambers and face-planted onto the hardwood floor. The resulting flash of agony from my chest left me breathless for several long minutes. I groaned, rolled onto my back, hugged my knees against the chest, gritted my teeth against the resulting burst of pain, unclasped the straps holding the shoes in place and tossed them aside. I lurched back to my feet prepared to resume my pursuit, but the corridors were silent and I could detect no sign of the elder elf’s passing.
I sank my teeth into my lower lip, again ignoring the resulting flash of pain, my mind racing as I tried to put myself into Bernaldo’s mind. She might have gone for help, but I knew precious little about her. The elves did not possess any policing agencies, lawlessness was not a predilection toward which we were inclined. So, she would flee to the home of a friend or family member or… I stopped a smile creeping across my lips as realization dawned on me. She wasn’t running with any plan in mind; she was fleeing out of fear. No, it seemed far more likely she would return home and since I knew she never married, it seemed unlikely there would be anyone waiting for her when she reached her destination.
I took off running barefooted and better able to keep my balance, but unprepared for how much my bounteous chest would bounce while I moved. I could measure my time spent in my female form in hours, not days or months. The Aphrodite formula granted me a fair bit of confidence and understanding of how to move in my new form, but familiarity was not something I’d developed just yet.
I burst out of the exit, shivering against the cold, bare feet pounding against the frost-covered peppermint-striped pavement, bouncing breasts aching with each new movement. Still, I kept running my feet raw and scuffed and heart hammering in my chest. Soon enough, I caught site of footprints in the snow, toward Bernaldo’s cottage and I veered off catching my second wind as I went tearing thorough the winter landscape.
No elf had feet that large. In her eagerness to get home, Bernaldo had elected to take a more direct path and had given herself away. I guessed right in assuming she would flee to her cottage instead of seeking aid.
I reached the house a few moments later and stepped onto the porch, hesitating as I reached for the doorknob. This felt wrong, Bernaldo had done nothing to harm me and I doubted she would seek aid once she’d sequestered herself within her cottage. Maybe, I was approaching this from the wrong angle, I mused, hand turning the doorknob. The potion transformed her, in the same way it changed me just a short time ago. She needed my help, and here I’d been chasing after her as if she were a convicted felon.
I slipped inside the door with no issue. As I said earlier, crime did not exist within the North Pole and we respected each other’s privacy… mostly. I closed the door behind me, and paused just inside listening for sounds of movement, my keen Elven ears picked something up within seconds and I crept deeper inside, eyes scanning the interior.
Bernaldo’s cottage was small, and I made my way to the back, stopping just outside a door, through the cracks of which light poured through. I put my ear to its hardwood surface, and a muffled sob spilled through. Waiting no longer, I turned the knob and stepped inside. The other elf was slumped on the ground, still wearing the tattered remains of her tunic and tights. She lurched to her feet ready to bolt for the door when she caught sight of me.
I held my hands up and out, taking careful steps before swinging the door shut with the back of my elbow. “Look, I know you’re afraid, and confused as hell, but I can help you. I went through it myself last night,” I said realizing that it was now well into the early morning hours as I spoke. “I don’t want to—”
“Fuck me,” she yelled, screaming out at the top of her lungs, eyes wide and looking for all the world like an animal confronting a predator. “I can’t contain it anymore, just help me release it.”
The Aphrodite formula had that affect. Santa had gone through her own metamorphosis while delivering presents to a widower and his young children. It had taken her less than a minute to seduce him, and moments later when I underwent my change it had taken little for me to join in. Over the course of the night, Santa and I had seduced a lingerie model, a college freshman, and a set of identical twins. Not to mention the number of times we’d fucked or made out inside the sleigh between stops.
Bernaldo straightened and the terror that marked her face before, faded away. She smiled and sauntered toward me, her lips finding purchase around mine. When she broke for air, she pushed me down atop her bed, in the back of my mind it occurred to me that it was much too small for our human-sized frames, but she was already unclasping my bra. Her lips, were soon kissing my breasts, and when she plunged her fingers inside my clit the pleasure that followed was indescribable.
I sat up, a soft groan escaping my lips as I fought to come awake. Hair covered my face and I reached out collecting it with my hands before slipping it behind my ears. That seemed odd, but I was pretty much dead in the water so I couldn’t quite grasp why. I peered down at my chest, sucking in my breath as I looked down at a pair of bare breasts protruding from my chest.
It all came back to me then, and a slow smile crept onto my face as I recalled my transformation and all the fun I’d had since taking on my new form. I cupped my melons and craned my neck about eyes scanning the room for my discarded clothing and Bernaldo. Neither were in evidence, nor was the vial of Aphrodite formula.
There were blankets and pillows strewn about the place and I didn’t care to dig through them to retrieve the discarded articles of clothing. Modesty didn’t have the same hold on me as it had before my change and so I shrugged and slipped out of bed, peering about the room one final time before sauntering through the doorway.
I found Bernaldo in the living room seated atop an old couch, a vial of pink fluid clutched in her hands. She’d yet to revert to her male form, and she looked out of place perched atop the elf-sized sofa. The other elf looked up at me as I approached, and I seated myself beside her and smiled.
“This isn’t me,” she said motioning down at herself tears rolling down her cheeks. “But I want it to be too much. It terrifies me, that if I take this I’ll lose myself, that I’ll give myself over to the desires and urges of this body. Like I did last night.”
“So?” I asked peering back at her. “What’s wrong with having a little fun? You’re still you, you’re just in a prettier wrapper. Last night, I saw Santa returned, the drunken bitter jackass I’ve had to contend with the last ten years gone, and the Jolly gift-giver of old returned. She is the Clause, just as I am that moldy old stick in the mud Samson, I happen to be a fair bit easier on the eyes and will fuck almost anything that walks on two legs. My appearance and sex drive doesn’t change who I am… it makes things more interesting.”
Bernaldo bowed her head, but didn’t speak again. I reached over, sliding the vial from her hands and held it in front of her face. “Look, if you don’t want it, that’s fine. Give Santa your full support and—”
Bernaldo sobbed and I froze watching her shake her head. “I’ve been alone so long I forgot what it felt like to hold another in my arms.”
She reached for the vial and I let her have it. Again, she held it before her and she tightened her grip pulled her arm back and I tensed expecting her to throw it across the room. She peered at me, sighed, and uncorked the bottle, downing the contents in one gulp. She looked back at me, eyes wide and her hands shaking. The vial clattered to the ground shattering at her feet.
“You won’t regret it,” I smirked, pecked her on the cheek and glanced back over my shoulder toward the bedroom door. Perhaps a little celebration was in order, but before I could voice this thought a series of dull thumps sounded from the exterior door.
I kissed her again, this time on the lips and rose to my feet. Bernaldo was still in something of a fragile state and I don’t believe she was quite ready to entertain. “You stay there, I’ll get it.”
I swung the door open and found myself peering down at a minuscule little morsel. An elf who’d undergone the transformative effects of the Aphrodite formula, but one who was a fair bit shorter than any of the others at a mere three feet. She froze staring up at my bare chest, and I bit my lip only then realizing that I was still naked.
“Sammie!” She beamed up at me, gazing at my figure with an appreciative expression. “It’s me, Eros! I’m going by Daisy now!”
I bit my lips waving her inside the cottage. Eros or rather Daisy Butterbee had been far more eager to help me than I expected and when she named her price I’d been more than a little flabbergasted. She wanted a full dose of the potion for herself, something I’d not expected of her, but when she confided in me she had long been fostering a secret yearning to be female, I was more than happy to accommodate her.
“Is it done?” I asked slamming the door shut behind her and shivered against the cold.
Butterbee nodded, eyes locking on Bernaldo on the couch. “How about you, any luck?”
“Yeah,” I replied arms folded across my chest smirking back at Bernaldo.
“Great!” Butterbee beamed, pulled her top over her head and tossed it aside with a flick of her wrists. “I’ve been itching to give this new body a whirl.”
Bernaldo regarded her a moment before dashing to her feet, scooped the diminutive elfup, and carried her into the bedroom without a word. I stared after them, my smirk stretching into a grin as Bernaldo’s moans sounded through the doorway. I sauntered into the room, eager to join in and soon she wasn’t the only elf screaming out in pleasure.
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Tondzaosha Police Station
The name belonged to Serena van den Broeke, her mother.
Amy knew it was her even before the chief finished speaking. She’d only met a handful of Serenas in her life, and her mother had been the only one the entire time she lived in Tondzaosha. True, she went by her middle name in those days, but aside from a few cousins and an uncle there were no other Van den Broekes in town. Her mind raced at the revelation, and she bit her lip. Someone blacked out her mother’s name on that police report and she very much wanted to understand why.
As she muddled the mystery over a name came to mind, and if she was right, she might even have an explanation. Director Malcolm, the head of AEGIS, took a personal interest in her almost from the day they met, and he was the one who ordered her, however indirectly, to come to Tondzaosha. If it was him, he must have presumed she would do anything to avoid speaking with her mother again, and he would have been right. She could have passed the case on to a subordinate claiming a conflict of interest. No one would have given it a second thought. The question was, why would the Director commit a federal crime by altering an official police report to ensure she came to Tondzaosha? Why would it be so important that she be there? Malcolm was a hard man to understand, considering he wasn’t even human.
But what if it wasn’t the Director? When the thought occurred to her out of the blue, brought another cold shiver. Perhaps someone in the police force had blacked out the name. Any of them might have had the opportunity, even Daisy or Chief Avery, despite the latter’s assertion otherwise, but for what reason? More perplexing, how did they know AEGIS would send her?
She thanked the chief and slipped out of the room. Rathdrum nodded at the woman and followed suit.
“Serena Van den Broeke. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that she’s a relative of yours,” he said glancing about the room. It seemed like a casual gesture, but Amy doubted that there was anything that Rathdrum did which was casual. He was probably checking to make sure no one would overhear him speak.
“My mother.” Amy peered back at him with a guarded expression.
He did not press her for details regarding her before glancing toward the north wall. Amy’s eyes soon followed his gaze at the sound of footsteps approaching, never so glad for the distraction. Deputy Shanderly had several paper sacks, and a coffee cup carrier in hand as he approached, giving the agents a good idea just what sort of errand he’d been on.
“Agents!” He beamed, then looked about the empty room, save for the agents and himself. “Uh, let me just drop off Chief Avery’s breakfast and we can get underway.”
He set all but one bag down and pulled a coffee cup free from the holder before disappearing into the chief’s office. Amy watched him go, her arms folded across her chest and head tilted. She’d thought little about Shanderly asking her about her name the previous night, but the more she ruminated over the idea the more likely it seemed he’d been fishing for information. Shanderly wrote the original report, he must have made a connection. Could he have been the one who blacked out her mother’s name?
The deputy returned snatching a coffee from the cupholder and turned to regard them with wide eyes. “You want anything? I’m sure the others won’t mind.”
Amy shook her head still experiencing nausea from her morning sickness and Rathdrum declined. Shanderly took a long sip from the cup and sighed. “The best part of wakin’ up,” he grinned and turned back to them. “Chief says you wanted a look at the sword, we can pop into the evidence locker. Should only take a few minutes.”
Amy regarded Shanderly for a moment longer, still uncertain of him, but agreed. She had nothing but her suspicion at this point and until she puzzled out who was responsible, she couldn’t act. Just what she needed, she emitted a long breath of air, another damned mystery to unravel.
The deputy led them to the heavy steel door and unlocked it with a set of keys retrieved from his pocket. He swung the door open and ushered them inside. “It’s not much,” he said placing both hands on his hips. “But it serves our needs.”
He wasn’t kidding. Amelia peered at the cage at the back of the room and the shelves along the walls. AEGIS had bigger broom closets. The entire building would fit inside the AEGIS evidence lockup back home. That being said, their facility in New Hebron housed a fair number of dangerous artifacts confiscated as a matter of course, or handed over to them by other agencies.
At first, Amy didn’t spot the sword as her eyes scanned the room with casual disinterest. The shelves housed boxes, which she knew from experience would contain case files. The cages were for more dangerous or illicit items, weapons, drugs and whatever other odds and ends they’d come upon. It was there that she spotted the weapon, the bottom obscured behind an AR-15 and a baseball bat.
Amy drew closer, eying it her lips pressed together in a thin line. She knew next to nothing about melee weapons, save for the butterfly knives and switchblades used in street fights. Though she’d seen one or two swords, they were movie prop replicas. This looked more substantial. It was huge, close to five-feet long and gleamed with an almost silverish sheen.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Shanderly said slipping in front of her. He produced a pair of leather gloves from inside his pockets and opened the locker with a second key. A moment later he turned about sword handle clenched in both hands. “It’s the darnedest thing, try to touch the thing with your bare hands they feel like they’re on fire.”
“You had anyone look at it?” Rathdrum asked kneeling down beside the sword.
Shanderly tilted his head up and down. “Yeah, a gaggle of egghead professors and undergrads from the university up North. They ran all sorts of tests, even ran a Geiger counter over the thing and nothing. One of them, an archaeologist, I think, said the script,” he indicated an array of symbols engraved vertically across its surface. “Is from some old European runic alphabet, but that it was inconsistent with the style of the sword. By the time they started making great swords, like this,” he said turning it in his hand revealing the opposite side of the rune-engraved blade. “Most of Europe was using some variant of the Latin alphabet like we do today.”
Rathdrum and Van den Broeke exchanged glances, but neither understood the implications of the statement. “So, what does that mean?” Rathdrum asked his hand hovering inches from the blade.
“Uh, well. I asked the same question he said it’s probably fake, or at least someone added the runes after the fact. He seemed to think it was hand-forged, and suggested that running a metallurgical analysis would give us a clue when it was made. The materials and methods used apparently vary throughout—”
Amy held a hand up, and Shanderly stopped eyes glued on her. She didn’t care about the particulars of the blade’s make-up or history save how it pertained to the case. What mattered to her was finding out how and why it worked and how the girl came into possession of it.
Amy approached the sword, kneeling down beside Rathdrum. She did not touch it, instead studying the features of the weapon with a critical eye.
Amy was entranced. There was something about the blade, it radiated an energy the like of which she’d never experienced. Every object had a certain ambiance, but this one emanated such power it was palatable. Without thinking about it, she drew her hand out, her slender fingers touching a rune that resembled an uppercase ‘M’. The pain was instantaneous and she gritted her teeth sweat dripping down her forehead. It felt as if she’d touched a searing hot brand. She closed her eyes, attempting to steady her breath, but her chest heaved and she panted still trying to fight it off. All at once, everything faded away.
Images flashed before her taking on a familiar amber tinge. A figure stood in a torch-lit corridor, its features bent and contorted, its face resembled a lion, but its body looked human. The figure dove forward, the sword clenched in its hands rounding on a second figure. She tried to distinguish its features, but it became lost in a flash of light. She saw armies waged in battles, humans fighting more of the lion-men and a figure gripping a slender black staff in the distance hurling energy blasts in their midst. More images came and dissolved away, another lion-man or person or perhaps the one she’d seen at the beginning, she couldn’t be sure, pulling the sword free from a sheath. Another flash, a lion-man, a lion-woman, and a human woman dressed in flowing gray robes confronting a figure in all-black. The images increased in frequency, coming so fast that she could only distinguish them as flashes of light and color.
She screamed, but it was too late. There was another burst of illumination, and she caught a brief peek of the evidence room, just in time, for a explosion of energy to surge out from the sword and send her slamming into the opposite wall. The entire backside of her body erupted in fiery-hot agony and the darkness came to sweep her into the abyss.
Tondzaosha Police Station
“Van den Broeke?” Rathdrum asked, turning to regard his superior with an arched eyebrow a moment after the car came to a stop. “You sure you’re okay?”
She didn’t answer at once, instead studying the interior of the Durant Santa Monica, the rental which AEGIS provided them. It wasn’t much to look at, the all-black interior was as basic as they came. The only premium feature it seemed to possess was the in-dash GPS, but it would suit their purposes just fine.
Rathdrum walked almost a mile to retrieve it, as the hotel didn’t have any kind of shuttle service, but he was a fit guy and from what she remembered of the area the walk wouldn’t have been a difficult one.
“Amelia?!” He asked, this time a little more forceful.
Amy sighed, glancing down at her belly where her hand had been resting throughout the car ride and turned back to regard him with wide eyes. She’d been debating whether to tell him the truth for most of the morning. An agent was duty bound to report a pregnancy to her superior as it was a condition that could affect the performance of her duties, but while Amy possessed all the verification she needed, AEGIS required confirmation by a medical professional and she’d yet to make an appointment. Though he was not her superior, he might get suspicious if she kept running off to the bathroom.
She swallowed hard and turned to meet his gaze with her emerald eyes. “Carter, there’s something I should tell you.”
He switched off the ignition and the car shuddered to a stop. His eyes, mirrored his concern, but otherwise his face showed nothing of what he was thinking. For the longest time the pair peered at one another neither speaking.
“I-I’m pregnant,” she said finally managing a response.
Rathdrum blinked, and gripped the steering wheel so tight, his knuckles turned white. “Pregnant?! How far along are you?”
“A few weeks. I-I haven’t even reported it yet, I only just puzzled it out before we left and—” She met Rathdrum’s gaze and froze. There was something in those eyes she didn’t expect, relief.
“For a second there, I thought you were going to tell me you were terminally ill,” he said with a shake of his head a soft chuckle escaping his lips.
“So morning sickness?” He asked nodding toward her peppermint tea, nestled in the cupholder.
Amy nodded, snaking a hand out to retrieve her beverage. “Some days are worse than others. This morning was one of the bad ones.”
“I suppose that means the rumors are true about what happened that day.” He peered at her out of the corner of his eyes.
She took a sip and shook her head. She knew, without being told, of which incident he spoke. “A lot of strange things happened that day.”
He pressed his lips together, but didn’t say a word. Amelia was being taciturn for good reason. Rathdrum took part in the Battle of the Downing Building, fighting alongside other AEGIS personnel outside while Agent Van den Broeke and a small group of exemplars fought within. Though he was part of the team that stormed the building in the aftermath, he knew precious little of what transpired when Amelia and Psyren confronted the entity known as Chemosh.
Director Malcolm ordered that all material concerning Chemosh and the incident be classified as top secret and only be shared on a need to know basis. Amy was being tight-lipped because she had no choice. Though Rathdrum took part in those events, he had no reason to be apprised of the specifics and so they left him in the dark.
“Let’s get this over with Rathdrum. The sooner we can figure this thing out the sooner we can get the hell out of Tondzaosha.” She popped the door open and slipped out of the car, moving toward the police station without glancing back.
Rathdrum, followed lurching out of the vehicle with only a second delay and sprinted to catch up. Van den Broeke was really pounding the pavement. Though much older, Rathdrum kept in shape and the effort didn’t wind him much even after his morning jaunt.
Their destination was a nondescript red-brick building with a glass facade. Dull orange embossed lettering on the glass above the entrance identified the structure as the “City of Tondzaosha Police Department”. It was once a small locally-owned grocery store, Amy recalled. She used to pass it on the way home from school and often stopped in to purchase Hee-Haw bars. After the shop closed, the building had been vacant for many years and remained that way for at least as long as she lived in town. Why the city chose to change the location, least of all into an old market, was beyond her.
Amy reached the door first, only pausing long enough to hold it open for Carter before slipping inside. The interior was much different from what she remembered, the checkout stands and the beverage refrigerators near the front were gone, and save for a reception desk and a door in the back corner of the room, the remaining portion of the building was walled off. Instead of tiles, a dull gray carpet now covered the floors.
“Hello!” A wide-eyed young woman seated at the desk greeted them rising to her feet and planting both hands atop the desktop. “Can I help you?”
Amy reached inside her blazer, producing her badge, flipped it open, and held it in front of her. “I’m Amelia Van den Broeke with AEGIS, and this,” she paused holding a hand out to her companion, “is Agent Carter Rathdrum my subordinate.”
“Oh, oh!” The girl lurched sideways, navigating around the desk and jerked toward them extending both hands and rounding on Amelia. “Tom’s told me all about you I can’t believe we have real live AEGIS agents in town. That is soooo cool.”
Rathdrum fought and failed to hide the grin that found its way onto his face and shook his head. Amelia took the young woman’s hand allowing her to shake it, a bit too vigorously, and then withdrew it looking back at her with wide eyes. Amy cleared her throat smiling. “Might we speak with Shanderly?”
“Uh, well,” the young woman scratched the back of her neck. “He went out on an errand, but the chief said she wanted to speak with you.”
“Well, please lead the way.” Amy replied holding a hand out.
The girl glanced down at Amy’s outstretched hand, nodded and waved them toward a door at the back of the room.
“By the way” Rathdrum said as the girl was about to open the door. “I didn’t catch your name.”
“Oh,” she paused holding her lips in an ‘o’-shape. “The name’s Daisy, Daisy Fischer.”
Amy’s stopped, shaking her head. She’d gone to school with a David Fischer, the girl could be a relative. The other two eyed her, but didn’t say a word as she stepped back into sync with them.
The area beyond the front desk was larger than Amy would have guessed, but not by much. They came out of a door on the north wall, a row of desks stood before them and along the opposite wall. An illuminated office, with the shades drawn took up about a quarter of the east wall, along with a row of seats, and a heavy steel door which Amy guessed housed the evidence locker. The west wall housed a men’s and a women’s bathroom and an unmarked set of steel doors. She doubted there were the usual locker rooms or break rooms Tondzaosha wasn’t big enough to justify the expense.
Daisy led them to the office, where she invited them to sit and disappeared inside. When the door closed behind her Rathdrum sighed, leaned back and shook his head. “Cute kid. I have a daughter about her age.”
Amy nodded, turning to regard the man with a single raised eyebrow. Rathdrum didn’t talk much about his family least of all with her, but then again they weren’t what you call close friends. “I have a younger brother who’d be about the same age. Sometimes I wonder if he even remembers me. He wasn’t even four when I left.”
“Must be hard,” he replied. “I grew up in a big Mormon family can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like if we’d all been split up.”
“You’re Mormon?” Amy blinked, surprised by the admission. Tondzaosha’s LDS population was large and she grew up with more than a few of their faith, but had only met a handful since moving to California.
“Nah.” He waved it off. “Stopped going when I was about sixteen. Have an older sister who’s gay, didn’t much like the way they treated her. The wife’s Episcopalian, once in a while she drags me along to church with her, but truth be told I’m not much of a churchgoer.”
“Uh, Agents?” Daisy peered out the door at them her big blue eyes as wide as saucers. “The chief’s ready for you.”
After some shuffling about, she ushered Amelia and Rathdrum into the office and Daisy closed the door behind them presumably returning to her post at the front door.
Upon entering Amelia regarded the woman behind the desk recognition mirrored in her eyes. She was quite attractive in her youth, Amy recalled, but it had long since faded away. Her cold steel-blue eyes regarded the pair without a hint of emotion displayed on her face.
Gwyneth Avery, was a deputy when Amy first met her and back then, she’d already developed a reputation as a bit of a hard ass. Slender and slight of build, she somehow intimidated any who crossed her even men twice her size.
The night Amy’s father beat her half to death, it was Officer Avery who tackled the man, somehow wrangling him to the ground though he had almost a hundred pounds on her. Afterward, when Amy thanked her, she shrugged and said she was “just doing her job.” She hadn’t said a single word to her after or since, but Amy would never forget the role she played in saving her from that hellhole. She did not indicate that she recognized the Agent, but she hadn’t yet transitioned when last they met, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise.
“Van den Broeke, and Rathdrum, I take it?” She asked watching each of them a frown creasing her lips and held a hand out to a pair of chairs opposite her. “Sit down.”
The agents exchanged glances, but did as instructed. “I admit, I don’t much like the thought of you two nosing about town, but the mayor’s is all up in my ass to figure this thing out. The last time, we had a case this strange, someone blew the goddamned police station to shit and we still don’t know what the hell happened.”
Well, that explained why they relocated the police station, Amy thought ruefully.
“Someone blew the police station up?” Rathdrum asked, surprised mirrored on his features.
She shrugged. “It was maybe thirteen years ago. We had some reports of a weirdo walking around with a staff which wouldn’t have been so noteworthy if there weren’t a trail of bodies everywhere he went. Never found any evidence that he murdered anyone, and the coroner couldn’t even determine a cause of death. The last time we heard anything on him, we got a tip he was wandering around in Ammon Park, the chief at the time sent me and another officer out to talk with him, but it was a wild goose chase. When we returned, the station had been blown to smithereens and everyone inside was dead. Damned odd considering they didn’t find any explosive devices or evidence of gas leaks. After that, staff-boy disappeared into thin air and so did any leads we had on him. ”
“And now you have a girl turn up all these years later, dragging a sword around and babbling on about sorceresses and kings?” Amy added, emerald eyes trained on the Sheriff. “I could see why that’d make some people nervous.”
“I am curious why, this wasn’t included in any of the reports Shanderly gave us. He didn’t even mention anything about it when we asked him about similar occurrences.” Amy leaned forward, surprised at such an obvious omission. She’d had time to browse the files while Rathdrum was retrieving their rental.
“Because everything we had on the man with the staff, including the detective working the case, was destroyed along with the old police station. Shanderly’s family moved to town, several years after it was over, I doubt he knows anything about it.”
Amy sighed, shaking her head in frustration. She had no idea whether the two events were related, but it sounded like a good lead. Too bad it was a dead-end.
“Right, well if there’s nothing else—” Amy started, but Avery pounded her fist down on the desk.
“I just want to make one thing clear. I don’t care for secretive government agencies, least of all one that’s nosing around in my town. Tom filled me in on the details of your conversation last night and I don’t much like the sounds of it. I’m willing to play ball for now, but if you hold back anything regarding this case that puts Shanderly or any of my people in danger, you’ll find out just how uncooperative we can be, you understand?”
“Of course.” Amelia nodded putting on her best reassuring smile. “AEGIS’s primary concern has always been preserving lives.”
Avery frowned again and leaned back in her chair. “Riiight, well I suppose you’ll be wanting to look at the sword. Shanderly can get you into the evidence locker when he gets back in a few minutes.”
Amelia rose to her feet, but paused her hand still poised over the back of the chair, remembering a mystery from the night before. “On the report of the incident with the girl, the witness’s name had been blacked out. Any reason why?”
“What? No, I know nothing about that. Must have been on your end,” she looked up at Amy, eyebrows shooting up past her bangs. “We wouldn’t have any reason to hold something like that back.”
Amy eyed the chief of police, furrowing her brows. She didn’t believe the chief was lying, but what reason would anyone with AEGIS have to keep that information secret? Then a thought occurred to Amy and a cold chill worked its way down her spine. “You wouldn’t know the witnesses name off the top of your head, would you?”
When the Chief spoke the name, Amy gasped.
The soft melody of bird song carried on the open air. Light flittered in through the blinds, and Amy lay upon the bed undisturbed. A child’s wail sounded from the corridor outside the room, and a car’s horn blared without the hotel. Amelia moaned, and her eyelids fluttered open. A hand shot up, shielding her eyes from the illumination that filtered in through the blinds and she lay there for several long moments in a daze.
She grumbled and sat up, slipping her hand over her back kneading her hand into her flesh. She bowed her head and most of her hair cascaded over the front of her face, obscuring her view of the hotel room. Sliding a hand up around her bangs, she collected the strands of hair, pulled them away from her face, and collected them behind her ears.
She pressed her lips together, and thought of Sapphira. She must have fallen asleep in her lap, and when their connection broke, Amy remained in the same position, hanging halfway off the bed. She rubbed her back again and shook her head. No wonder she was so sore.
Amy slipped her phone out of her pocket, unlocking it long enough to get the time and slipped it back inside, brushing her arm against her stomach. That was all it took, her insides churned and she sprang to her feet lurching into the bathroom. Bile rose in her throat. She fell to her knees, flipped the toilet seat open and hurled her guts out.
She panted, dry heaving, her arms resting on the seat for several long moments. Finally, she swallowed, and leaned back falling onto her rump. She inclined her head against the wall, closed her eyes and just sat there hand over her belly waiting for her roiling stomach to calm.
Morning sickness had become the bane of her existence these last few weeks. “You wanted this, Amy,” she reminded herself and opened her eyes a wry smile spreading across her face.
She peered down at her hand, still resting on her belly and fought off another wave of nausea. It would have been bad enough if just contending with it in the mornings. Sometimes it would happen in the middle of the day or in the evening after she’d come home from work. Nothing helped, no pill or medicines and since she’d become pregnant, she had to be careful what she took.
Amelia leveraged herself against the wall, and rose to her feet her brilliant green eyes peering back at her through the mirror. Amelia was beautiful, though as Rathdrum had surmised she was quite oblivious to the fact. She was the first to point out her flaws, as if by doing so she might deny what was clear to all who met her.
Raven black-hair spilled out of her head in ringlets which cascaded past her shoulders and framed her long oval face. Even without makeup, her skin was smooth and flawless and though she had just stepped out of bed, and thrown up, she would still turn heads if she stepped out into the hallway.
Generous lips, and a slender nose, were among her better features, but it was her eyes that stood out. Sapphira would often say that she could stare into Amy’s ’emerald peepers’ and peer into her soul. She would remark that the passion and intelligence mirrored in them showed she was as beautiful in the inside as she was on the outside. As much as Amelia enjoyed hearing those words, she would never quite bring herself to believe them. Sapphira saw Amelia in a different light than most and it colored her judgement.
Amy washed her hands returning to the room to retrieve some things from her bags before she slipped into the shower, but before she’d made half a dozen steps, a soft knock sounded from the door. That would be Rathdrum, she sighed and bowed her head, moving toward the door, first checking the peephole to confirm her suspicions and swung the door open to reveal Carter Rathdrum’s careworn face.
“Sorry, I know it’s early, but I thought I would slip out to pick up our rental and maybe grab some coffee and a little breakfast, you want me to get anything while I’m out?” He asked throwing a thumb over his shoulder. His nose crinkled and he pressed his lips together as he studied her features.
Had he smelled the vomit on her or was it something else?
“You all right Van den Broeke?” He asked. “You’re looking a little pale. Not that you don’t—”
She waved him off. Rathdrum was too polite to mention the odor, but that wasn’t to say he couldn’t dig himself into a hole. It was best she stopped him before that happened. It was a pity, he was a nice guy, but after all those years of marriage he still did not understand how to talk to a woman.
She shook her head and folded her arms across her chest. “I was feeling a little nauseous, but I’ll be fine. If you’re going out, there’s a little coffee shop on Main Street would you see if they still sell peppermint tea? If I remember correctly, they sold some breakfast items as well you could get something to eat there too.”
Rathdrum frowned, but didn’t press the matter. “Yeah, sure, I’ll see you in a bit.”
He disappeared down the corridor and Amy, watched him go before closing the door. She paused, her back to the door, and emitted a long sigh. Something told her it would be a very long day. She shook her head, grabbed her toiletries and a change of clothes out from her bag and retreated into the bathroom. The sooner she got the day over with, the better.
State Hospital South
Grove City, Idaho
Kruhl peered around, wide-eyed taking in her surroundings. She was in a room, much like the one in that place they called a hospital, but the walls were narrower, the decor more sparse, and fewer strange contraptions layed about. When she cupped her mouth with both hands, sweat dripped down her face and into her eyes.
She remembered now being brought to this world and a cold shiver worked its way down her spine at the revelation. The Nether Realm, a place said to exist both below and apart from the true world, a place of eternal torture and darkness. Somehow that didn’t seem right. Yes, this was a place of madness, but nothing about it fit what she’d been taught since childhood, but now that her memory returned to her, she believed that this must be another realm.
When they first formed their alliance, Reesha told Kruhl that amongst the aether there were many realms, some more like their own and some more like the Nether Realm. Could this be one such realm? Had Reesha sent her to the wrong world?
Perhaps, Odalrik was here too and that robed specter had been some strange incarnation of him, but why would it be so intent on finding the sword? Waldere was a powerful talisman, but it was not the weapon of a sorcerer. It’s magic was fickle only allowing those who possessed certain qualities to make use of its power and even then sometimes it would be of limited use. It had not saved him from Reesha or her sorcery. The sorceress was lucky to have caught Kruhl off guard and had the warrior king been given the opportunity to summon the energies of the blade the outcome would have been much different.
Kruhl brought her hands away from her mouth, realizing for the first time they’d removed her bindings from her arms. She peered down, discovering that the straps around her legs were also gone. She lurched to her feet, rushing toward the door, but if a means to open it existed, she did not find one. Neither did she have hopes of breaking it down. Its construction was as solid as the gates of Wurdanhom.
She turned away emitting a soft growl under her breath, fists clenched at her side. This place was another prison.
She glanced down at herself realizing that she no longer wore a gown, but a pair of sky-blue trousers and a strange white short-sleeve tunic that only extended two thumbs past her waist. Her breasts bulged out from the front of the garment, and the outline of her nipples were visible through the thin fabric. She cupped them and felt her cheeks grow warm. Startled she slid her hands up her face, confused to discover that they seemed hot.
She peered around, eyes searching for something through which she might see her reflection and found it across the room.
She’d seen a similar contraption called a sink in the hospital and moved toward it. This sink sat atop a steel pedestal from the lower front portion of which a basin full of water protruded. Such a strange contrivance, she mused, she’d seen the denizens of the hospital make use of the sink and knew it could be filled from the spout at its top, why then did it have this second source of water? She put a hand around the lip of the basin, peering inside. The smell from within was harsh, and reminiscent of lemons, but burned her nostrils.
She returned her attention to the sink, lifting the lever on the faucet and watching the liquid spill out. The aroma was absent, and she frowned unable to fathom the reason for the scent or the second basin affixed to the bottom of the pedestal. It was a mystery she supposed she would not yet be able to unravel.
She recalled again why she was there in the first place, her cheeks burning anew. Peering into the gleaming steel surface she frowned. The human face that looked back at her was younger than she’d expected, she bore the face of a woman a year or two out of girlhood, and she added… her cheeks looked a little red.
She’d once had a slave whose face would turn scarlet anytime she disrobed in front of her and now she believed she understood why. Kruhl bit her lip, eyes focused on the girl’s distorted face peering back at her. Attractive by human standards, her blonde hair spilled out of her head in a tangled mess framing a round face. Generous lips parted to reveal a row of perfect white pearls, a rare trait among his human slaves. A pair of luminous gold eyes peered back at him. That final trait was the only remaining one unique to the Assar and not humans.
It gave her a small measure of comfort to realize that something of her old self survived her transformation. Though the how or why puzzled her.
She peered at the reflection a moment longer and glanced down at her chest, realizing for the first time she’d yet to see herself naked in her human form. Though her stomach lurched at the very idea, she only hesitated a moment before she disrobed.
Kruhl pulled the tunic over her head, grunting and pulling harder when her breasts resisted the effort. When it came away, they bounced about on her chest, but she gritted her teeth choosing to ignore the uncomfortable sensation before turning her attention the trousers. She pulled on the waist band, discovered as she did so it stretched around her hips and shrank back when she pushed them down.
She reached down to get a better look at the trousers when her eyes caught sight of her new privates. Never having seen a human naked, it surprised her that her nether region would have hair, and when she slipped her hands between her legs, she found that it was coarse and bushy. She had bedded many Assar females in her day and had seen every nook and cranny of the female body. Aside from the lack of a fur coat and the obvious differences in the face shape and body size, they didn’t seem all that different. Of course, beholding female proportions was a fair bit different from having them.
Everything about her new body was foreign to her, the breasts being the most obvious, but as she peered down at her body, she felt bile rise in her throat. She held one hand up, flexing her long delicate fingers in front of her face and let a sob escape her lips. She trained her whole life, sculpting the body of a warrior, even in her forties she was among the strongest, and the most ferocious warriors. Now, she doubted she even possessed the strength to lift Waldere. How could she continue knowing what she had fought so hard to achieve was for naught?
All the confusion and frustration of the last few days came bursting out of her like a dam and the first time in as long as she could remember the girl who’d once been the warrior king known as Kruhl, fell to her knees, curled up into a ball and wept.
I’d just like to take a moment to wish everyone a happy belated Thanksgiving. I hope it was a good one. In the spirit of Thanksgiving I would like to thank everyone for reading, commenting and assisting me over the years. Most especially, the late Holly Happy Heart, Morpheus, The Rev. Anam Chara, Zapper, Enemyoffun, Loki, Maggie Finson, Beyogi, Djkauf and so many countless others. Many of these people provided valuable feedback and much needed grammatical corrections throughout the years (or allowed a fledgling TG writer to play in their backyard) and without their help it’s likely many of my stories would never have seen the light of day.
Thank you all.
On a related note, I will not be posting a serial part this week. I’ve yet to finish final edits for the most recent part due to the holiday and I won’t be able to complete them before next week. Rest assured you can count on reading your regularly scheduled dose of the Fall of Kruhl next Saturday.
Thank you and have a delightfully demented holiday weekend,
Daniel A. Wolfe
All that being said,
Tondzaosha Regional Airport
Amelia van den Broeke shuddered and peered about her eyes roving the parking lot outside of the airport her face a mask of casual disinterest. On the inside, however, a tide of emotions washed over her. Her stomach was roiling, and in her mind she’d reverted to that young child who’d fought so hard to come to terms with her gender identity. She was angry and more than a little frightened and wanted nothing more than to turn right back around and take the next flight out of town. She had a job to do, however, and she would not back away.
It was this very airport she’d flown out of when she’d first left Tondzaosha and it had changed little in the intervening years. She felt much the same as she had then, but her current apprehension was of a different sort. Before she had worried over the prospect of going to live with an aunt she barely knew, but now it was over the possibility of running into people who had known her before her transition, most prominent among them her parents, that dominated her thinking.
Shanderly led them to a squad car parked along the outermost edge of the parking lot away from any of the other vehicles. “She’s a beaut, ain’t she?” He asked grinning from ear to ear and patted the roof. “The city finally started replacing some of the older cars. Since mine was the oldest, they swapped mine out first.”
Amelia eyed the vehicle without a word, and aside from the city logo on the side she’d seen dozens just like it and wasn’t impressed. Rathdrum, on the other hand, moved past his superior and leaned in to get a better look. “I drove an old Sovereign Rosalia when I was with the LAPD, the thing was a clunker, but somehow it kept chugging along. I tell you if I’d been cruising around in one of these, I’d have given some serious thought to staying on the force.”
Amelia sighed and rolled her eyes. Boys and their toys. Even before her transition she’d never understood the male fascination with cars, but since she worked in such a male-dominated profession, she’d become accustomed to it. Rathdrum, having either sensed her discomfort, or he’d heard her sigh, glanced back at Amy and cleared his throat. “I’d love to talk cars but, um… that’s not why we’re here. We’ve had a long flight and Van den Broeke and I have a long day ahead of us tomorrow—”
“Say no more.” Shanderly waved his hands back and forth in front of his chest. “Jet lag’s a real killer. Hop in and we can get underway,” he said swinging the rear driver’s side door open and moving around back to pop the trunk. He retrieved their luggage and tossed it inside.
Rathdrum moved forward, into the open door and closed it behind him. Amelia sighed and slipped around the car. As the subordinate agent, Carter had taken the back seat, as expected of him, but she wished it was she who’d taken up residency in the back. Other agents might have opened the passenger side door for her, but Rathdrum knew better. Shanderly attempted to step in to do just that, but Amelia waved him off.
When they were all seated inside the squad car, Shanderly retrieved a stack of file folders stuffed between the seats and passed them over to Van den Broeke. “This is everything on the case, and those other files you requested.”
Amelia accepted them, muttered a quick thanks and set them in her lap. She would take time to look over them after when she was a little more clear headed.
“I know a few Van den Broekes,” Shanderly said, glancing at her before turning the ignition. “You have any relatives in these parts?”
And there it was… Amy bowed her head and clenched her eyes shut. She considered lying, but discarded the idea. Though she’d long distanced herself from her past, she would not hide from it. “A few,” she answered, turning to regard him with a set of brilliant green eyes. “But I haven’t spoken to them in years.”
The deputy made eye contact with her, pressed his lips together then returned his attention to the road. Amy didn’t know if he’d seen something in her face or if he’d picked up on some cue from her tone of voice, but he didn’t bring it up again.
“So…” Rathdrum said speaking up from the back seat. “What’s the plan for tomorrow?”
“I’d like to see that sword, then speak with the girl and the witness mentioned in the report and see where that leads us,” Amelia craned her neck back and nodded at her subordinate grateful for the change in subject. The question and her answer was more for Shanderly’s benefit, they’d already discussed their plans at length.
She paused wondering if she should ask the deputy about the inked-out name, but pressed her lips. She had the strangest feeling that she didn’t want to know who the woman was who’d found the girl, but why would that be?
“Well the chief has put me at your disposal,” Shanderly added oblivious to Amelia’s ruminations. “I’m here to assist you in whatever way I can.”
Amy peered at him, swallowed, and let the matter drop. Tomorrow she’d inquire about it. There would be time enough to get to the bottom of it then. It wasn’t like her to procrastinate and it disturbed her more than she’d let on.
“Have there been any unusual occurrences in town since the girl first appeared?” Rathdrum peered forward leaning close to the barrier separating the front seat from the back. Snapped out of her reverie, Amy craned her neck back and glanced at him.
“Nothing, that we’ve been able to connect to the girl or the sword.” The young deputy frowned and sighed as the light ahead turned red.
That raised Amy’s eyebrows and she peered back at the young man. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned while working for AEGIS, is that when you investigate strange happenings, events that might seem unrelated have a way of connecting. If there is anything unusual, it may be worth investigating.”
The car came to a stop and Shanderly eyed her, before nodding and turning his attention back to the road. “The night the girl turned up, we received a tip about a fire in Ammon Park. There were reports of some weird flashes of light and a cloaked figure lurking about. We investigated it, but didn’t turn up anything. All that being said, I gotta admit it looked a little strange.”
“What do you mean?” Rathdrum asked from the back seat.
“Well…” He trailed off glancing at each of them before continuing. “The scorch marks on the ground formed an almost perfect circle, about seven-feet around. The weird thing is, there was no damage to any of the trees or playground equipment in the circle, just the grass.”
“Did you run any grass or soil samples through the lab? Maybe there was a—” Van den Broeke started, but the deputy waved her off.
“You guys probably do things differently in the big city, but here in a small town like Tondzaosha we don’t make a big fuss over what so far has been an isolated incident. The damage to the park was minimal and the cost of investigating is just a /tad/ more than the price of a little sod. It was probably the work of some dumb teenagers in any case.”
Amelia nodded, and bit the inside of her cheek. What Shanderly said made a fair bit of sense, but if there was any connection with either the girl or the sword to what had happened in the park, they would have missed an important clue. Regardless of the deputies thoughts on the matter she would take a visit to Ammon Park soon.
They spent the rest of the car ride trading inane chatter, and the deputy soon dropped them off at their hotel. They traded phone numbers, and Shanderly sped away his squad car disappearing down the roadway in seconds.
Amelia watch him depart, her green eyes lingering long after he’d departed. She experienced a a vague sense of uneasiness. She kept telling herself it was because she’d returned to the hell of her early childhood, but that wasn’t it at all. Her instinct told her that something was very wrong. Only time would tell what that might be.
Amelia sighed, closing the hotel room door behind her and slipped her blazer off, tossing it on the dresser beside the case files. Slipping her shoes off, she dropped onto the bed, spread eagle and closed her eyes emitting a contented breath of air. She began to slip into the dark realm of slumber, but she forced her eyes open. Slowly, lazily they complied and she found herself looking up at the ceiling. She would have liked to get some sleep, but it was not a luxury she could afford to indulge in just yet. The agent had a promise to keep.
She reached out with her mind, a familiar presence touching her consciousness. “Liv,” she whispered her pet name for Sapphira out loud. For a brief time Sapphira Olivia Scott and Amy had shared an empathic bond. Though it had faded away after their short-lived joining of body and mind, a connection lingered. All it took was for one of them to reach out and their minds would again connect. When that happened the bond was stronger than it ever had been before. They could share more than emotions, but thoughts and impressions. They could even project images into each other’s minds.
“Amy,” the other’s voice rang through her mind and the agent lurched to her feet so she could stand face to face with the phantom of her life partner.
Sapphira was tall and dark, a beautiful woman by any standard, but the one feature which Amelia found most mesmerizing were her sapphire-blue eyes which stood out in stark contrast to her chocolate brown skin. She hadn’t always looked that way, when they’d first met she had been an old man, living in the past and angry at the world. The power which she inherited from a being known as Ashtar transformed her into the woman whose image stood before her and helped her overcome her hatreds and create a new life for herself.
Sapphira was infatuated with Amelia from the start, but the agent, knowing who she was and the prejudices she held, was repulsed. It had been quite the shock to Sapphira when she learned Amy was a transwoman, and it had seemed, for a time, that the agent would no longer have to fend off the other’s unwanted advances.
Eventually they joined forces to overcome Chemosh, an ancient and powerful alien entity, merging into a single form and gaining an insight into one another’s minds they could have never achieved before. When they split back to their individual forms, Amy was transformed and the pair, as a result of the connection, fell in love.
Upon seeing Sapphira, Amy sprang forward embracing the other and locked lips with her. Though she was hundreds of miles away and the form that stood before her was an illusion, the kiss and her illusory body seemed as real as if she were flesh and blood. She swore she could even taste the raspberry lip gloss her lover wore.
“How’s it going?” Sapphira asked placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Fine,” she lied, resting her head on Sapphira’s shoulder, surprised that it supported her weight, but glad that it did. She closed her eyes letting out a contented sigh.
“You’re lying,” her partner said and Amy’s eyes snapped back open.
A gentle smile touched the corner of Sapphira’s lips, as she slid her arms out to cup the other’s face in her hands. Amy pulled away, sprawling back first onto the bed.
“I hate being back here, Liv,” she said, propping herself up with her shoulder peering back up at her. “I’ve spent the last fifteen years trying to put my life here behind me, and now I feel like I’m fifteen again, still trying to come to grips with my gender identity.”
Sapphira slipped beside Amelia, wrapped her arm around the other woman and sighed. “They should have never asked you to go back.”
Amy almost laughed, but when she turned to look in her lover’s eyes and saw the concern mirrored in them she stopped herself.
“Just hold me.” She slipped her head into Sapphira’s lap and closed her eyes, just letting herself drift away…
State Hospital South
Grove City, Idaho
Reesha. The name came to Kruhl from out of the darkness resounding through her mind with such intensity that she shivered. She still wafted through the blankness, numb and with almost no awareness of her surroundings. Then the name repeated itself and the darkness receded…
Pale torchlight splashed against the wall, bathing the stonework with splotches of angry reds and oranges. Kruhl King of Eirdon, paced the corridors his massive hands balled into fists.
He stopped, placing an open palm on a section of the wall. Less than a year ago, his workers at last completed Wurdanhom for which his father first laid the groundwork. The wall belonged to an older part of the keep constructed before he’d been born. It was his father Wurdan, who united the Canti, the Andeli, and the Gelba tribes under his banner and begun construction of the keep and castle walls, but he’d died before it was completed. Kruhl walked in the shadow of his father. Though his accomplishments surpassed those of Wurdan’s, he stood upon his predecessors shoulders and all he achieved was a mirror of what his father accomplished.
Kruhl united the remaining tribes against the growing threat of the Sorcerer Odalrik’s armies. Victory came at a steep price, less than a third of his forces survived, and Leoffa his bride to be was among the fallen.
He peered down at his open palm and clenched it shut. Her blood was on his hands. The Sorcerer Odalrik was most skilled in the art of illusion, making others see that which was not there. Waldere, though a powerful magic artifact proved useless against such power.
Though Kruhl trained himself against Odalrik’s trickery, on the night of her death he had not seen past the magic. He impaled Leoffa on his sword believing her to be the Sorcerer, and by the time he realized the truth it was too late. Tears stung his eyes, though it had been over five years, he still remembered the look of betrayal in her eyes.
Were it not for Reesha, Odalrik’s former apprentice, they might have all died. Years before she betrayed her master and allied herself with Kruhl. On that fateful night, she alone saw past the illusions, and struck at the Sorcerer dispelling the mirages and by doing so allowed Kruhl to regain his senses. United they overcame the last of his guards, and when they at last cornered Odalrik, Reesha summoned the spell of banishment to cast him into the Nether Realm.
The spell was a powerful one and had it not been for the protections of Resha’s magics they too would have been pulled into the maelstrom of converging energies. Even Leoffa’s fallen form disappeared into the portal.
Perhaps it would have been different if the Sorceress remained allied with him. There was unrest amongst the human slaves, and as yet Kruhl could not quell their dissent. After her former master’s death, Reesha betrayed Kruhl attempting to seize Odalrik’s domain for her own, but Kruhl defeated her, sparing her life because she’d been so instrumenta’ in stopping their enemy. His decision haunted him to that day as Reesha, though he’d not seen her in years, had been a thorn in his side ever since.
A group of rebellious slaves, discontent under Odalrik’s rein and doubly so under Kruhl’s propped Reesha up as their would-be champion. Despite her long absence, he did not doubt she was behind their movement. She preferred to work in the shadows, never revealing herself until certain she could come out on the winning side. With the dissent growing, he believed it only a matter of time before she showed herself again.
He roared and pounded a fist into the wall. The blow would have been powerful enough to down a human, but nowhere near his full strength. He brought his hand away, his knuckles throbbing in pain and flexed his hand. He hadn’t broken his fingers, but his hand would, no doubt, be sore for several days.
“Troubled, milord?” A feminine voice asked, and a weight pressed into his side.
It was Gylda, his bride to be, the lioness who would one day bear his children. He did not turn to face her, instead he lowered his eyes and shook his head. She rarely spoke to him these days. Not unless she wanted something from him.
“The uprisings grow more frequent,” he replied, unable to keep the anger from his voice.
“These humans are mercurial creatures, milord, when winter settles in they will forget all about their silly little uprisings,” she said pressing her breasts against his chest.
Again, Kruhl did not respond. Gylda, though full grown, was young and inexperienced and until becoming his betrothed spent little time around humans. She’d been raised in Angol where the Assar, their people, outnumbered humans by more than ten to one.
There in the isle of Eirdon humans were three times more populous than the Assar. His people were overlords just like in Angol, but there was cause for concern. Though he did not doubt his people’s physical superiority he was no fool, his warriors were too few to quelch a full-blown rebellion.
He glanced at his betrothed then. Her coat was an almost perfect snow white, and he studied her features breath caught in his throat. She was highborn like himself, but where he had been more or less raised upon the battlefield, her upbringing had been within a palace. Every need and want she’d ever had or imagined was tended to by servants and courtiers alike. An only daughter, of a powerful king, her father doted on her shamelessly. She was as willful as she was arrogant, and when she had come to live in Eirdon it had been a harsh adjustment. Though he was King, he saw no need for servants or sycophants. She developed a measure of self-reliance as a result, but it had been hard won and she resented him for it.
They came from very different worlds, and most of the time she barely hid her contempt for his unrefined barbarian ways. Yet, there was an attraction. Her soft curves would turn the head of any Assar male, and though he was well into his fourth decade his battle-honed body would catch the eye of many a female. Though often drawn to each other’s beds, they would never love one another, nor did he believe they would ever come to respect each other. Their upbringings would never allow for it.
“Come, milord,” she said purring as her fingers slid down his crotch, a smile stretching across her muzzled face.
She pulled on his arm, and he let her guide him down the corridor toward his bedchambers. Though his heart yearned for Leoffa, and likely would until the day he died, he could not resist his betrothed’s beauty.
That proved his undoing.
Once, inside the chambers, he caught a flash of steel, just before Gylda surged forward. Her weapon thrust at his chest. She moved quick and caught him off-guard, and he barely deflected the blow. His arm swept down, and she dived out of the way, coming around again, with the weapon, this time plunging it into his side. He roared as a stabbing-hot pain erupted, almost blinding him, he swiped out striking her across the chest and sent his bride to be sprawling into the opposite wall.
The warrior king reached for Waldere strapped across his back, but his hand froze in place. Kruhl grunted and heaved, his fingers grasping at the open air, but they remained suspended in place.
Pale green light flared across the room illuminating a slender form. She bore a long gnarled staff, atop which a jagged emerald luminesced. She wore no hood, and Kruhl felt his breath catch in his chest as his eyes took in her beautiful countenance. Though, he did not experience sexual attraction toward humans, he could appreciate their beauty in the same way he might that of a majestic buck, or a bright-plumed songbird. In the time he’d known her she fended off many would be suitors, but she’d shown no interest in their attempts to court her.
“Reesha,” he spoke the name, his blood running cold. Her face had not changed, as if she’d remained untouched by the ravages of time.
Gylda rose to her feet, a low moan escaping her muzzle. Reesha moved forward, and his betrothed shuffled behind her as if shielding herself from the other Assar. It was an odd display considering that Gylda towered over the diminutive sorceress, but Kruhl was no fool. Reesha possessed more power in her tiny human frame than any Assar could ever hope to conjure.
“Well,” Reesha spoke a sneer curling across her lips. “I step away for a few years, and look at the mess you make for yourself, Kruhl.”
Kruhl did not speak, instead, concentrating his energy on breaking through Reesha’s spell. Magic though powerful, was not without its weaknesses. Given enough time, one could overcome its effects.
She must have sensed what he was doing, the sorceress turned her head and called over her shoulder. Six humans, five male and one female emerged from the shadows, each equipped with a different weapon.
“You need not speak, Kruhl,” she paused after saying his name and scowled. “I will keep this short and simple. You have been a thoughtless and cruel overlord. Your human slaves are no longer content to live under your shadow. They have selected me to take your place and rule as a more benevolent queen. Your reign is over, Kruhl son of Wurdan.”
Broken free from her hold Kruhl roared, unsheathed Waldere and struck at the nearest of the warriors downing two with a single swing of the great sword. The warrior king rounded on the other three, but their weapons were ready, the two men surged forward, one with a curved sword of a type he did not recognize and the other bearing a spiked cudgel. He tossed the first aside without even glancing at him and drove his blade into the chest of the second. By the time he rounded on the woman, she struck, her long slender sword slicing open a gash in the side of his head, a strike which would have carved open his chest had he remained where he stood.
“Enough!” Reesha screamed out, the light from her staff flaring so brightly that Kruhl was blinded.
When his vision cleared, Reesha thrust her staff out sending him careening into the stone wall behind him. “There will be no escape!”
Again, he fought to break free so that he might summon the power of the sword against the sorceress, but she was too fast for him.
Reesha, held the staff out before her, her free hand weaving patterns in the open air. “Kruhl son of Wurdan, King of Eirdon, for your crimes you’ve committed against these my people I banish you from this realm and into the Nether Realm from which there is no return.”
Reesha’s staff flared one final time, the barbarian king’s stomach lurched and… a sweat drenched Kruhl awoke sitting bolt upright hands cupped over her soft human face.