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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 6 Pt 1
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 5 Pt 3
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 5 Pt 2
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 5 Pt 1

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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 6 Pt 1

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
En route to Grove City
Tondzaosha, Idaho

Amy filled Rathdrum in as she drove, telling him everything she’d seen, but avoided discussing her suspicions. Rathdrum could draw his own assumptions from her descriptions, she didn’t need to cloud his thinking with what ifs. When she concluded her tale, he sucked in his breath and shook his head.

“So we have a seemingly magical sword that makes anyone who touches it with their bare flesh feel as if they are on fire and has, in at least one case, thrown a person across the room, some sort of anthropomorphic lion who appears out of thin air and subsequently transforms into a human girl, a robed apparition with freaky fire powers who tried to cover up said transformation, and a woman who materializes out of nowhere and warns you that the girl is in danger. Yeah, we’ve definitely walked into a big old shitfest. Goddamn, and I was hoping this one would be an open-and-closed case.”

“Has it occurred to you that this woman might not be on the level? What if she’s in league with our robed friend?” He asked after a brief pause.

Rathdrum didn’t go into specifics, but she could read between the lines. If this woman was lying, she might be leading them into some kind of trap, but what purpose would that serve? Why appear to her at all? She must have known they would be visiting the girl at some point. 

Whether her spectral visitor was trustworthy was immaterial at this point. If the girl was in danger, they couldn’t afford to let the phantom get to her before they did.

Amy turned to her subordinate and perhaps he saw something in her eyes. He released a long breath of air and jerked his head back and forth. “We’re going to be taking a little field trip, aren’t we?”

Amy nodded, lips pressed together in a tight frown.

“And here I was going to suggest we call it quits for the day and pick things up tomorrow,” Rathdrum muttered with a shake of his head.

Amy glanced up at the sky, the sun still blazed overhead, but dusk would soon be upon them. Under ordinary circumstances she would have been all too happy to retire to her hotel room, but all her instincts were screaming at her that something was amiss. If they didn’t get to the girl soon, they might never have the chance to speak to her.

“Get the state mental hospital in Grove City on the horn, notify them we intend to pay the girl a visit.”

“Should I inform Shanderly? He said he would like to be there when we interrogated her,” he glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes.

“Uh, we talked when you were in the hospital,” he added.

Amy neither wanted nor required the deputy’s help, but there was something to be said for cooperating with the locals. At the very least, it might keep Chief Avery off her ass.

“Notify them both, just try to keep the deputy out of the way if you can. From what I read in their reports his last encounter with the girl was less than friendly.”

Moments later, Rathdrum had the mental hospital on the line and Amy pulled their rental onto I-15. Though the agent didn’t show it, she could not escape the sense that somethingwas about to go very wrong and it filled her with dread.

Kruhl lay curled in a ball upon her bed, numb and tired from her ordeals. These people were mad, she had determined as much after her first session with Dr. Harrison. He seemed intent on learning everything about her, but shed doubt on whatever she told him as if he believed her entire life story was a lie, and try as she might she could not understand what was the purpose of the stiff sheets of white parchment with the black stains. Utter nonsense all of it, and yet she sensed there was a motive to the strange man’s actions.

She sat upright, stretching her arms out and glowered at the intruder that had taken up residency in her crotch and shuddered. She felt it again, that simple biological need. It didn’t seem so different, but the very fact she needed to sit down to relieve herself made the act unbareable. She closed her eyes, and cupped her face before at last forcing her eyelids back open, slipped out of bed, and stood before the metal basin attached to the base of the sink.

They called the infernal thing a toilet and she scowled at it, before slipping her pants and panties around her ankles, shuffled around so she was facing away from it and seated herself shivering as her butt cheeks touch the cold metal seat. Another of her tormentors, a tall woman dressed all in white, seemed amused that Kruhl did not know how to use the device and had instructed her with a smile stretched across her long face.

Oh, how she hated the woman in white. If it had been just that one instance she might have been able to put the wretched hag out of mind, but after coming awake in this prison, the doctor, and the loathsome female walked in on her naked, weeping, and exposed. Angered by the intrusion and seeing her chance to escape, she lurched for the door the moment she locked eyes with the man, but she had been unsuccessful. The woman, lightning quick, despite her size lurched forward, slammed all of her body weight into Kruhl and pinned her to the ground.

Escape would have been futile, Kruhl reminded herself. Much of what she’d seen was foreign to her, but she recognized the barred door at the end of the corridor for what it was, a security barrier. They had not permitted her pass through it, instead they led her into another room, forced her into a chair and strapped her in place. That had been the first time she’d encountered the woman, and the others had been no less humiliating.

She put thoughts of the woman in white out of her head and peered down at her privates. She had tried ignoring them, pretending that they were not there, but it seemed counter-productive. This was her lot in life it seemed, to be trapped in this body, tormented by strangers and left to rot away in these walls for the rest of her life.

Urination as a human female wasn’t so different, she experienced the same pressure and released it with the same little push, but there was no way to aim. When she finished up, she wiped her nether regions with a square piece of the cloth the woman in white had called toilet paper and washed her hands in the sink.

When she hunched over to retrieve her pants, she slipped them back up her waist, but paused lips pressed closely in a frown when her eyes locked on her vulva. She dropped them, her heart pounding in her ears as a hand slid down, almost of its own volition, and slipped an index and middle finger inside the cavity between her legs. She shivered at the sensations that arose.

She pulled her finger free, bracing herself against the sink and bit her lip. Cold shivers worked their way down her spine and she stood there panting glancing at the bed, cheeks burning as she considered what she might do with this new found understanding. She never needed to pleasure herself on her own world. Even as a boy on the cusp of manhood there had never been a shortage of willing females, but in this new place she was isolated and often left to her own devices.

She had far too much time to think and wallow in her own self pity. At least this way she might distract herself. She stepped out of the trousers, leaving them in a heap on the ground, and slipped into bed, fingers working their magic. When she clenched her eyes shut a moan slid out of her mouth.

[Kruhl] The voice spoke out of the open air.

Her eyes snapped back open as a black ichor resolved itself in the air before her. It twisted and contorted, shrieks and howls rang through the air and she shrank back pressing herself against the wall. A cowled head resolved itself before her, the inside as black as the deepest pit.

[I’m coming for you] Cold laughter reverberated through her mind and Kruhl clenched her eyes shut, shielding her face with her hands expecting the creature to attack.

When it did not, she risked a quick glance. The apparition had disappeared and she propped her back against the wall a cold chill working its way through her whole body.

She stared into the empty air, shuddering at the prospect of an attack, but if that was its intent no assault came. Kruhl remained there naked from the waist down frozen in terror, all too aware just how vulnerable she was in her new form.#popmake-5560

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 5 Pt 3

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Ammon Park
Tondzaosha, Idaho

A gentle breeze wafted through the air, and moonlight spilled out from the sky casting the world in an unnatural hue. Lights glistened in the distance, but save for a solitary streetlamp on the opposite side, the park was unlit.

Amy ran a slender hand through her mop of long dark hair and inspected her surroundings. Save that the patch of burnt ground was missing, the park was unchanged within the vision’s landscape. The world was awash in amber hues, a side-effect of her ability with which she had no control.

Amy focused all her attention on the spot where the burn mark had been and for several long seconds nothing happened. Then, a burst of color coalesced out of the empty air, beaming its cobalt illumination upon the empty landscape. Expanding and forming into a giant ball which hovered, spun, and pulsated in the open air before lowering to the ground.

Amy froze mesmerized by the light show. She’d seen something like it before, summoned by an ancient machine recovered from the ocean by a naval deep sea diving team. The once-god Chemosh stole the device from the AEGIS research facility, but not before Ashtar appeared from within, transported across the cosmos from God knows where, to combat the other immortal.

This time there was no machine, the ball of illumination had been conjured out of thin air, but just as before a figure materialized from within. The sphere faded away, revealing the massive frame of a being seven feet tall. The creature turned its enormous frame toward her, and Amy stepped back looking into its eyes. It bore the face of a lion, but the body of a man. It didn’t see her, but instead looked past her into the distance, its maned head swinging this way and that.

What she was witnessing was an imprint, an echo of the past. The creature could not see her because she was not viewing live events, but ones which had already occurred.

The lion-man stepped forward clutching at a wound in his side before falling to one knee. He blinked, his head again surveying the landscape and Amelia noticed for the first time, the blood dripping from a second gash in the side of his head. Amy sucked in her breath, the lion-man possessed the same injuries as the girl found with the sword.

Then she spotted the weapon. It lay on the ground at his feet, darkened by his shadow, but she could just make out its outline, it bore the same runic markings as the one in the police evidence lockup.

She released her breath as the implications dawned on her, but before she could give it more thought the creature roared. She glanced up at him in time to see his whole body quiver.

His hair faded away, dissolving into the open air. She glanced at his feet, thinking to spot clumps of it on the ground, but it seemed to have disappeared. The beast moaned as an audible crack sounded from within his gargantuan frame and Amy watched transfixed as his muzzle retracted into his face. Luminous golden eyes, stared into space, wide with terror, as the rest of his countenance reconfigured itself.

Lion’s ears, wiggled atop his scalp, oozed down the side of his head like a slug slinking across the ground, and reshaped themselves into less remarkable human ears albeit ones that seemed too small for his huge skull. A raised patch in the center of his face ballooned and expanded into a slender human nose that was again, much too small for his proportions. Eyelashes, extended out from around his eyes, and his flat lips plumped out even while a shock of blond hair spilled out from atop his head.

Another crack sounded from within his skull, an inhuman screech of pain escaped his lips, his head popping and the flesh beneath molding around it as it shrank to a size to match his smaller facial features. Amy enfolded a hand around her mouth, her suspicions confirmed. The face of a girl in her late teens looked back at her, blood leaking from a gash in the side of her head. It was the same girl who’d shown up with the sword, Amy recognized her from the photos in the report.

He shrieked, falling onto his side, as his neck, shoulders and chest also began to metamorphosize, shrinking and popping to match the face. A soft moan, this one sounding far more human and decidedly feminine escaped his lips. For a moment, the transformee peered out, looking into emptiness, his massive arms hanging uselessly from his slender shoulders. There was a pleading look to his eyes, as if begging the air itself to render aid.

Muscle withered away and his arms jerked, retracting into themselves, massive paw-like hands popped receding into a pair of shrinking palms. A piece of shoulder armor with fur fringe and a set of leather bracers fell away from his arms landing on the ground with a series of soft thumps. Breasts budded out from his chest, exploding out as the rest of his torso dwindled away. Hips realigned, popping and creaking, fat deposited around his hips and posterior as his legs and feet reshaped. A gurgle escaped the soon to be new-girl’s mouth and her eyes grew wide as a pair of slender hands slid inside her kilt. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head just before several loud cracks sounded from her tiny frame and the girl lay still.

Amy approached, swallowing hard as she bent over to examine the new girl, a frown creasing her lips as her mind raced. Blood seeped from a gash in her side similar to the one on her head and Amy licked her lips, wondering how she’d sustained the wounds.

She could infer that someone sent the girl from some other location, perhaps even another world or state of being, but what prompted the transformation? There had been no warning, she just hunched over and started to change.

What the hell was going on here? Her senses were screaming at her that she was missing something very obvious, but try as she might she couldn’t reason what that might be. She bit her lip, catching a movement out of the corner of her eyes.

A tall spectral figure enshrouded in a dark robe materialized out of the darkness, its legless form hovering in the empty air toward them. Amelia backed away to get her best vantage point and waited for it to get closer. It stopped a few feet away from the girl and extended an arm out. No hand or arm was visible from within the sleeve, only darkness. She peered into its hood, but detected no face. The specter didn’t seem to possess a solid form at all, and Amelia bit her lips studying the apparition. How could such an entity exist? Where had it come from?

Fire erupted all around the girl’s slender frame in a perfect circle, burning away bits of armor scattered about her body, before eating away at the harness and kilt, and consuming the massive boots that still enshrouded her feet. No smoke emanated from the flames. Though they looked natural, they did not behave like regular fire. The flames consumed the ground around her and every bit of fabric, metal and leather that had once adorned her flesh, but the sword, a nearby tree, the surrounding playground equipment, and the girl’s flesh remained untouched.

The blaze soon died away, revealing the patch of burnt Earth as it existed in the present. Throwing its other arm out so they were both extended, the spectral figure advanced toward the girl. She sat bolt-upright, breasts wiggling on her chest as she peered about with wide, wild eyes. Blood gushed from her wounds, but somehow she crawled to her feet, knelt to retrieve the sword, and began to stagger forward, the blade of her weapon dragging across the ground behind her.

When Amy’s eyes turned back to regard the apparition it had disappeared…

Amy blinked, and the present world resolved into crystalline clarity around her. Her stomach lurched and for a second she thought another wave of nausea had come upon her, but instead the world around her darkened. She peered up, sensing movement.

A woman with long dark hair approached. The light seemed not to touch her, and Amy could not make out her face. She moved as if fighting against some unknown force and there was a dark murk that surrounded her, which grew more and more visible as she approached.

“He’s coming… you have to get to the girl before it’s too late.” Her voice echoed through the air, disconnected, emanating both from everywhere and nowhere at once.

Before Amy could respond, the woman faded away like ink dispersing in water. She remained there for several long seconds, still grappling with what she’d seen both within the vision and the mysterious woman’s sudden appearance and disappearance.

She caught snatches of conversation in the distance, lifted her hand out of the soil, and rose to her feet. Turning to find Rathdrum and Norham who were speaking a few dozen feet away, Amy studied the pair her arms folded about her chest and her heart racing.

The implications of her vision and the woman’s appearance still fresh in her mind, she swallowed hard and let herself consider the possibilities.

The strange way in which the woman materialized suggested an extra-sensory ability, but who was she and how had she known to appear to the agent? Amy had interacted with only a handful of people since coming to Tondzaosha, and fewer still knew why she came. She must be part of the latter group or perhaps someone connected to one of them. The agent hadn’t recognized her face, but it was shrouded in shadows. In such a situation, she might have trouble recognizing her own mother’s face.
There was the vision to consider. If the sphere was a portal, did it mean the girl had come from another world? Certainly, it would not be of the sort from which Ashtar transported. Before her transformation the girl looked like some sort of barbarian warrior, which suggested she had not traveled from a technologically advanced civilization. The images conjured from the sword would seem to support that, but how then had she come to their world?

Perhaps they were too quick to dismiss the girl’s claims of sorcery. Amy mused a wry grin stretching across her face. Either way, it appeared Rathdrum was wrong, they hadn’t been sent on a wild goose chase after all.
She needed to get to the girl fast and make sense of what she’d seen. Whatever that robed apparition was up to, Amy doubted it had come to spread peace and goodwill.

Amy surged forward both fists clenched at her side, feeling a new sense of urgency. She stopped long enough to grab Rathdrum’s attention and motioned for him to follow, not once acknowledging the other man before continuing on to the car.

She slipped inside, taking the drivers seat while she waited for Rathdrum, a pit forming in her stomach as the seconds ticked by. When Rathdrum opened the passenger side door and seated himself beside her, a frown creased his careworn face.

“Van den Broeke, what’d you see?”

She gritted her teeth turned to regard him and shook her head. “We need to speak to the girl, now.”

New & Improved ‘My Stories’ Page

Just a quick note to make you all aware that I’ve just completed a massive overhaul of the ‘My Stories’ page. I was growing more and more dissatisfied with the cluttered layout and I do believe it should be easier to navigate from now on. I’ve reduced the number of images and toned it down to a more subdued design.

Have a delightfully demented night,

Daniel A. Wolfe

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 5 Pt 2

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
En route to Ammon Park
Tondzaosha, Idaho

“You doin’ all right, Van den Broeke?” Rathdrum asked out of the blue, both hands clasped on the steering wheel.

Amy glanced at him and exhaled a contemplative frown marking her face. “I’ll survive. About what happened in the hospital…” She trailed off peering at him out of the corner of her eyes.

“Is none of my business,” he finished for her. “If you want to tell me about it I’ll listen, but I wouldn’t think any less of you either way.”

Amelia nodded and cast him a grateful smile. She eyed him, trying to get a better read on the agent, but Rathdrum was a hard one to understand. What must he think? He must have noted the resemblance between her and her mother and put two and two together.

“You know, we never talked about what happened in the police station,” she said eager to change the subject.

“No.” He peered at her frowning. “You get thrown across the room like a rag doll by a magic sword and walk away without a single bruise or scratch and we’ve barely even discussed it.”

“Magic sword? Didn’t you say yesterday that this case was someone’s idea of a bad joke?” She asked, almost smirking at the memory.

“Given recent events that particular theory needs some revision.” He winked and cleared his throat. “In all seriousness, did you get a read on the thing? I assume that’s why you touched it.”

Amy bowed her head and massaged her temple. Psychometric retrocognizance, that was the name AEGIS scientists had given her ability, but no one understood it least of all herself. She knew what her powers did, but if there existed a scientific explanation for how it worked she’d yet to hear it. There seemed to be residual energy imprinted on items present during certain events, the stronger the emotions tied to the events the stronger the imprint. She intuited that much herself, but there was no way in which they’d been able to measure or otherwise detect the energy she sensed.

Something triggered her power when she touched the sword, but she had not summoned it and that puzzled her. It could mean one of two things, either there was something strange about the weapon which, judging from the vision, was at least partially true, or her powers were evolving. She shivered at the very prospect. It would not be at all unprecedented. She knew of several cases where an exemplar had grown more powerful for no detectable reason. Was the same thing happening to her? Was that how she’d walked away uninjured?

She nodded, turning to regard him. Rathdrum didn’t need to know of her suspicions just yet. “What I saw didn’t make a lot of sense. It was so distorted, but there were armies clashing, and anthropomorphic lions fighting figures in robes with melee weapons. It looked like something out of some old fantasy movie, but with better special effects.”

“Shit, lion-people? This gets weirder and weirder,” he said. “Maybe you’ll be able to sense something helpful at the park.”

Their conversation died away, and Amy swallowed hard as his last statement sank in. What if she used her ability and was again tossed away like a rag doll? She’d come away unscathed the first time, but there was nothing to say it would be the case if it were to happen again. Could she risk endangering her child a second time?

Until that moment, she had not once given a second consideration to putting herself in dangerous situations. It had been for the greater good, but this time around she wasn’t just putting her life in danger. She bit her lip, sighed and closed her eyes. Why did her life have to be so complicated?

Amy peered about, awash in a flood of memories. She’d walked past Ammon Park almost everyday on her way home from school and in her early years had climbed about the big toy and swung across the jungle gym. Her eyes stopped studying a familiar patch of ground recalling a family picnic. There had only been four of them in those days, though Erica and David weren’t born yet, those were happier times for Amelia. Her father, hadn’t yet taken to beating her and… he was even pleasant… at times.

It took her several moments to spot the burn mark. It rested near the center of the park and while it was in direct line-of-site to where she stood, the shadow of an old shade tree obscured it. Even with the caution tape around the outside it was difficult to spot. She made a beeline for it, not bothering to check if Rathdrum followed.

She stopped outside the outer perimeter, ducked under the tape and knelt down to get a better look. Shanderly’s assessment had been more or less accurate. The grass was scorched in a three and a half foot radius, the old shade tree’s trunk rose from the ground intersecting the circle of burnt grass along the outer perimeter across and to the right from her. A pair of spring-mounted animals, a seahorse and a panda sat within the ring.

Neither the tree trunk, nor the spring riders showed even the slightest bit damage from the fire. She bit her lip and studied the charred ground. The burns formed a near-perfect circle. Whoever set it must have used a chemical accelerant, it was the only way the burns would be so uniform, but the grass was all that was damaged.
“Damned odd.” Rathdrum knelt beside her, his hands sifting through the scorched earth.

“You can say that again,” a voice spoke and both agents turned in tandem to meet the newcomer, an older man wearing worker’s overalls, and a well-worn leather tool belt packed with a spade and other gardening implements.

“Now, why don’t you tell me what in tarnation you think you’re doing?” The old man asked planting both hands on his hips.

Amy rose to her feet, Rathdrum tailing her, and produced her badge. “Special Agent in Charge Amelia van den Broeke with AEGIS, we’re just taking a look around.”

“The hell? Didn’t expect that. Name’s Jerry Norham I work for the city,” He dropped his arms and shook his head. “Ain’t never expect to see AEGIS agents show up in lil’ old Tondzaosha. Might I inquire as to your interest in this here patch of ground?”

“We’re here investigating some strange occurrences here in town, we think what happened in the park may be related,” Amelia answered slipping her badge back into her blazer. “I don’t suppose you can tell us anything about it, can you?”

“Hell.” Jerry scratched the back of his neck. “Not a lot, there was some talk of a fire and some lunatic wanderin’ about in a robe, but I ain’t never seen no fire that could burn grass and leave everythin’ else untouched.”

“Pretty damned odd,” Rathdrum said from beside Amelia. She turned to regard him between pursed lips, but didn’t speak up as he continued. “You mind if we take a sample?”

“I trust you won’t take long. I’m already behind schedule, I don’t need you dillydallying about and wasting my time.”

“Uh, should only take a few minutes.” Rathdrum smiled, glancing over his shoulder.

“In that case knock yourself out.” The old man shrugged and gestured over his shoulder. “I’m just gonna tear it all out anyway. I’ll be fetching some supplies from my truck if you need anythin’.”

Jerry traipsed off, disappearing from behind a copse of trees. A moment later Amy turned to regard Rathdrum with an upraised eyebrow. “Soil samples?”

“It’s easier than trying to explain your powers,” he smirked and shrugged. “Besides.” He produced an evidence bag from within his suit coat. “A soil sample’s not such a bad idea.”

Amy nodded, regarding him for a moment longer, then knelt once again on the outer edge of the circle, slipped a hand into the charred soil, and closed her eyes. The memory of the incident with the sword still vivid in her mind, she hesitated for the barest moment, then opened her senses. Her surroundings faded away and the vision came.

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 5 Pt 1

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Alameda General Hospital
Alameda, Idaho

Amy stopped peering into the mirror, her hands still poised over the second to last button on her blouse. She kept looking at her reflection expecting to see her face covered with bruises and cuts after being thrown across the room. Each time she caught sight of the mirror her blood ran cold. Granted, it was her back that impacted the wall, but she didn’t sustain a single injury. She had received no bruises, cuts, scrapes, breaks, or sprains. Hell, she hadn’t even broken a nail. That should have been cause for celebration, but it made no damn sense. It put Amy on edge.

She felt the force of the impact before she blacked out and it hurt like hell. Unless you possessed healing powers, or a significant other with them—she added a slight smirk touching her lips—you didn’t walk away from something like that without some sort of injury to show for it. She quizzed Rathdrum and Shanderly, upon waking in the hospital, but neither had answers for her.

She touched her belly, biting her lip, and thought of the child. The ER doctor was all too happy to run a pregnancy test and gave her reason to hope. In the early weeks of pregnancy, a uterus was tucked behind the pelvic bone providing more protection to the child than if she were further along. He didn’t seem to think the child had been harmed, but only time would tell. If Sapphira were there, she mused, she would be able to tell if anything were wrong.

A light rap sounded from the door, and she sighed reaching for her blazer. “Come in,” she called out without turning back to the door.

“Andy?” The voice was soft, and though it sounded a fair bit more careworn than she remembered, it was as familiar to her as if she just heard it yesterday. Amy froze, blazer still clenched in her hands, heart hammering in her chest. The moment she feared since first coming to Tondzaosha had at last come and much sooner than she expected.

Amy craned her neck around, peering at the woman who stood in the doorway. Her own emerald green eyes looked back at her, and the agent sucked in her breath eying the newcomer with wide eyes. Serena Margaret van den Broeke, had changed little in the intervening years. Oh sure, there was a fair bit more gray in her hair, and the crows feet at the corners of her eyes were new, but her face appeared far more youthful than the agent would have expected.

Amleia bore more than a passing resemblance to Serena, enough that it was plain for anyone to see they were mother and daughter. It was from her she inherited her olive complexion and dark hair.

A set of simple blue scrubs, an id badge hanging from her breast pocket, and a stethoscope draped about her shoulders identified her as a member of the hospital staff. A nurse? When had that happened? Given her mother’s tendency toward hypochondria, it seemed an odd choice of vocation.

“Maggie.” Amy shifted her body, so she was standing opposite her mother and folded her arms across her chest.

“Actually, it’s Serena now.” She stared into Amy’s eyes, hands clenched about the bottom of her scrub top jerking on the hem. “I needed a change after the divorce.”

Amy stared at her, jaw clenched shut, heart still hammering and mind racing. Her mother had long preferred her middle name over her first, but that seemed a rather insignificant revelation when she let the rest of her mother’s statement sink in. She arched an eyebrow, but still did not speak.

“How’d you find me?” Amy asked, at last, releasing a long sigh.

She shrugged. “A mutual friend pointed me in your direction.”

“Shanderly.” Amy nodded and folded her arms across her chest. The deputy had been in to see her earlier, apologizing for the ‘accident’ as if it were his fault. It appeared he encountered her mother somewhere along the way out.

“I mean, God,” Serena shook her head. “It’s gotta mean something that you’re here now. I don’t even usually work the day shift, if Karen hadn’t called in, I—”

Amy arched an eyebrow, and the other woman fell silent. The agent didn’t put much stock behind that sort of thinking, subscribing coincidences to God was her mother’s province and Amy possessing a more logical mind had ever been the doubter. She made her thoughts on her mother’s beliefs known long ago and if the look on Serena’s face was any sign, she hadn’t forgotten.

“Just look at you.” Serena cleared her throat and cupped a hand over her face. “You’re beautiful, if I didn’t know any better—” She trailed off. “Just finding you after so long looking like this, I don’t have any idea what to say.”

Amy wondered what her mother would think if she were aware that she was pregnant, but chose not to illuminate her on that matter. If Serena learned she possessed the body of a ciswoman, she wasn’t sure how she would react. Would it validate her gender dysphoria or would it make itseem as if she’d been ‘fixed’? It was a question she’d been struggling with since her transformation and she was no closer to uncovering an answer.

“Then don’t say anything,” Amy said slipping on her blazer. “I didn’t come here to make peace. I have a job to do.”

“Right.” Serena nodded. “Shanderly told me a little about that. An AEGIS Agent. I never figured you for the type for law enforcement.”

“As opposed to a nurse?” Amy raised her eyebrows and shook her head.

“Fair point. Andrew, I know this doesn’t mean much, after what your father and I put you through, but I’m so—”

“Don’t,” Amy cut her short, decades of anger and bitterness spilling out like a dam burst. “You don’t get to waltz back into my life after all this time, apologize, and expect me to come running back into your arms. You stood by while that man denigrated me, demeaned me, and beat me half to death. Do you honestly believe a simple apology will cut it?”

Serena stood frozen in place staring at the other woman, fighting back tears. “No, you’re right.”

Her mother didn’t say another word and neither did Amy, at first. The agent regarded her, sighed, then shook her head, a hand coming up to straighten a bit of hair. “It’s Amelia.”

“What?” Serena asked her eyebrows shooting up past her bangs.

“I go by Amelia now,” Amy said her cheeks burning, biting back a scathing rebuke.

“Amelia.” Serena nodded tugging on a stray bit of hair. “I know this is hard for you and I know that you probably want nothing to do with me, but it’s good to see you.”

Amy didn’t say a word. There was a time she wanted nothing more than to confront her parents and give them a piece of her mind. She thought long and hard what she would say if ever given the chance and planned out so many speeches. That had been a long time ago, and throughout most of her adult life, she’d convinced herself that she’d put it all behind her, but the truth was despite all the beatings and the harsh words, she wanted what everyone wanted, a family. She just wasn’t sure she could afford to let her mother back in again.

“David and Erica would love to see you again if nothing else,” Serena said.

Amelia’s head jerked around at the mention of her two younger siblings, but remained silent realizing that she left one out. Brian was only a few years younger than herself and the one whom she’d been closest. She hadn’t heard from, or spoken to him in years, but of all her siblings it was Brian with whom she most regretted losing contact. She wouldn’t mind seeing her two youngest siblings again, but given that David was only five and Erica six when they last saw one another, she doubted they would remember much about her.

“Maybe Brian too. If you can find him. He hasn’t spoken to me in years,” Serena added after a long pause. “I guess, he paints me in the same shade as your father.”

Another knock came from the already open door, and Carter Rathdrum, stepped in sight, freezing in place when his eyes took in the pair of women. “Uh, did I come at a bad time?”

“Rathdrum,” Amy replied. “Just give us a moment would you?”

Silence permeated the room. Rathdrum nodded, regarded the pair one final time and disappeared from sight.

“Look,” the agent said turning back to her mother after several long seconds. “I’m not interested in having a relationship, that ship has sailed. You regret what happened, good, at least you have some remorse for the shit you put me through, but I put this all behind me a long time ago. I don’t want to rehash it just so you can feel better about yourself.”

The words sounded harsh even to Amelia’s ears, but she would not take them back. There was a part of Amelia that wanted to reconnect with her mother, but another part, the larger part, was afraid of being hurt again.

Serena took a step back, flinching as if the younger Van den Broeke had slapped her. “I-I understand.”

Amy took several steps toward the door, then stopped remembering that she would need to question her mother about the girl. “You have a phone number?”

Serena froze furrowing her brows, caught off guard by the abrupt turnabout, but Amy only shook her head.

“You were the one that found the girl with the sword, right? We’ll need to question you about it,” she added by way of explanation.

Serena nodded, slipping a hand into her breast pocket, producing a small notepad and pen.

She scribbled something down, ripped the paper free and held it out to Amy, lips pressed shut and tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Rathdrum, my associate, will contact you,” she said, lips trembling as she tore the slip of paper from her mother’s extended hand, turned her back, and slipped out the doorway.

“Come on agent,” she said, rounding on Carter, who was waiting a few dozen feet down the corridor. “We have work to do.”

He nodded, glanced back at the door, before stepping into sync with his superior. He pressed his lips together in a thin line, but did not speak letting her lead him out of the hospital. Amelia was glad for the silence. A few warm tears splattered her cheeks, but if the other agent noticed he didn’t say a word.

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