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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 1
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 1
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 2
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 3
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 4
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 3 Pt 1
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 3 Pt 2
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 3 Pt 3
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 4 Pt 1
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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 4 Pt 2

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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 1

Author's Note

This story is the second one in my Exemplar Universe. It takes place just after the prologue of Psyren’s Redemption. It’s not, strictly speaking, necessary to read the previous story to enjoy the Fall of Kruhl, but it will give you a better grasp of the story and will avoid spoiling the first story

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Corner of Randolph Ln and Fillmore Ave
Tondzaosha, Idaho

Serena yawned, pressing her foot to the brake as she approached the intersection. She glanced at the clock and sighed. It was a few minutes after four in the morning and she’d just gotten off another late shift at the hospital.

“I’m getting too old for this shit,” she said covering her mouth with her fist and emitted another loud yawn.

The light shifted to green, and she accelerated across the roadway, turning the corner three blocks away. She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and slowed to peer back over her shoulder. She wasn’t certain what had prompted her to even look. Though still dark and most of the town had yet to awaken, the street was not empty. There were those, like Serena, who were still getting off late night shifts and returning home, and the early risers. Not to mention the vagrants, drug-addicts and criminals. She’d seen a few of those over the years as a nurse at Alameda General.

A figure staggered around in the distance, its movements were erratic and as she watched it move toward her, she stomped her foot on the brake pedal, transfixed. It was probably another druggie; they weren’t exactly in short supply in Tondzaosha. Yet… something was not right. As the figure drew nearer, a nearby streetlight illuminated its lithe form. Serena’s breath caught in her throat.

She rolled her window down, and put the car into reverse, stopping when she was closer to the figure. “This-this is wrong… sorceress. You did this… you, you change me!” A feminine voice screamed, before Serena had even laid eyes on its owner.

The girl staggered into sight, her bare chest heaving as she struggled forward. Blood streak down the side of her head and chest. She panted and wheezed her naked body glistening with sweat. She dragged something behind her that gleamed in the moonlight, and the scrape of metal on concrete trailed her. Her feet raw and bloodied, she left a trail of red footprints as she moved.

As Serena studied the girl’s figure, she realized that her first assessment had been wrong. It was no girl, but a woman. Her height had thrown her off, though the girl was short, she had the curves of an adult woman. If she were to guess she’d say she was nineteen or twenty.

“Reesha… send me back… I’m the, I’m the King… it’s WRONG!” She screamed out the last word at the top of her lungs. She blinked and looked around, and for a moment her eyes focused and a degree of lucidity returned to her countenance. Before she’d uttered a single word, she descended back into delirium.

“Lost… Yes, they’ll be, they’ll be– lost without me… Do-don’t you see?” She asked and glanced down at the object she’d been dragging. “Waldy, waldy, Waldere… I’ll use its power. Find a way…”

She laughed, stopping with no prompting and teetered on her feet. She fell to one knee. Weakened by blood-loss, she no longer possessed the strength to stay standing. That might have been the end of her, but a dull thud sounded in the near distance and the girl gazed up in time to witness a figure come rushing toward her.

Her head jerked back, and she wobbled around holding her arms out to provide stability, but her efforts only resulted in her falling face first into the pavement.

“I’ll die here.” The words seemed to come from nowhere and she was so forgone that she didn’t realize it had been her who’d spoken them.

Serena called out, but it didn’t even phase her. She shivered, clutching at her bare chest as the last of her strength drained from her. She closed her eyes and a nice numbness swept through her body.

Serena dove to her knees, scraping them against the pavement and grunting as her hands clasps the girl’s ghost-white cheeks.

“Honey, are you okay?” Serena asked slapping her cheek with a light flick of her wrist. The girl’s eyes flew back open. She squinted, straining her eyes, but all she made out was a blur.

“Did someone attack you?!” Serena asked. When the girl opened her mouth to issue a response, her lips moved, but no sound came.

The girl sensed movement and her rescuer’s face was lit up by an odd rectangular glowing box. She lifted it to her mouth and began to speak into it.

She grabbed Serena’s shirt, fighting to find the words, trying to make her understand. Serena had her first good look into the girl’s eyes, and she gasped taken aback by what she saw. Her eyes were gold, and the pupils were two vertical slits, like cat eyes. “Waldere… keep it safe… the sword is…”

She trailed off; her eyelids heavy. The girl closed her eyes, prepared to let the darkness take her away, but the woman spoke. “I need you to stay awake, okay?”

“Keep it… keep it safe,” the girl managed before darkness closed in and Serena sat there, breathless.

“Hello?!” The emergency operator spoke in Serena’s ear. She jumped, fumbling with her phone, nearly dropping it, but finally secured her grip.

She cleared her throat. “Uh, yeah, I have a young girl here, she’s probably in her late teens or early twenties, she’s bleeding from a gash in her side and across the side of her scalp…”

Serena gave as much information as she could and went rushing for her car which was still running and popped the trunk. Retrieving the first aid kit from within, she rushed back to the girl dropping the small duffle at her feet. As a nurse, Serena knew full well the kind of injuries people could incur, and she had put her kit together accordingly. Her youngest had told her on more than one occasion that she had once again taken things to an extreme. If only he could see her now, she thought a dry smile touching her lips for a moment before she returned her attention to her patient.

Outside of the hospital, she could do very little, but she could try to stop the girl from bleeding out and hopefully keep her alive long enough for the paramedics to arrive.

She sank her teeth into her lower lip and retrieved the items she’d need from within the duffle, speaking to the operator as she worked. Serena didn’t see the ambulance until it was almost on top of them so lost was she in her work. A moment later a police squad car pulled up behind it and soon, the paramedics came rushing out of their vehicle. She stepped back allowing them to take over, but also provided them with the information they’d need to treat her.

They paid no mind to the sword laying a few feet away, concentrating on treating their patient. Serena stared at it, transfixed by the ambulance’s lights reflecting off its polished steel surface. There was something strange about that weapon. It seemed almost…

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and spun around to face it. A figure donned in an all-black cloak and hood lingered in the distance, just close enough she could make out its shape, but little more.

“Serena?!” A voice demanded from within the gloom behind her.

Broken from her spell, she whirled about to face the speaker. A slender man in his late twenties who was coming closer. She glanced back where the cloaked figure had been standing, but it had faded into the night, if it had ever been there at all. She stared after it for a moment, her heart hammering in her chest. Unsure whether what she had witnessed had really happened.

The newcomer cleared his throat, and she turned to regard him as he approached. She narrowed her eyes and noted his pinched face and narrow frame. It had been a few months since she’d last seen him, but she knew him on sight.

“Good lord, you scared the hell out of me,” she rounded on Tom Shanderly her hands on her hips. She made no mention of the figure in the distance, convinced now that her mind had been playing tricks on her.

The young deputy was as thin as a rail, but tall. Most times an easy smile marked his face, but on this night his features were gaunt and layered in shadows granting him an almost otherworldly appearance. Tondzaosha wasn’t what you would call a large town, and their police force only consisted of a dozen officers, the sheriff among them.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to give you a fright,” he said. He held a flashlight in his right hand, but kept it pointed at the ground. A smile stretched across his face, but it did little to brighten his countenance.

“Tom,” she said motioning him over and directed his attention to the ground where the sword rested. “What do you think of this?”

He moved over, eying the weapon and turned back to her his brows furrowed. “The hell?”

He knelt down reaching out to touch it, but snatched his hand away after only a second of skin contact. The sword flashed a brilliant bright white forcing Serena to avert her eyes. Tom screamed, howling as if he’d just been shot. His eyes bulging out of his head, he clutched at his hand and stared at it for several long moments. He took a deep breath and turned to regard Serena a wild, almost panicked look in his eyes.

“Jesus,” he said taking several steps back. “It felt like my hand was on fire.”

Serena glanced at the girl who was, by then, being wheeled into the ambulance on a stretcher. She hadn’t been very coherent, but whoever she was, Serena had the feeling her feverish ramblings were important. Why did that thought fill her with such dread?

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 1

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Alameda General Hospital
Alameda, Idaho

The lost girl awoke. Not all at once, it started with the soft chirp of a bird and followed with a whoosh of air. When her eyes cracked open, illumination burned into her pupils, and she clenched them shut taking in short jagged breaths. Her left side and head throbbed, and every movement produced another jolt of pain.
 
“Leoffa,” she said the name, but the voice that spoke it was high-pitched and unfamiliar. Her eyes snapped open, and she gasped for air.
 
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, but when they did, she found herself within a place as strange as it was unfamiliar. A box, just off to her side emitted an odd high-pitched chirp. Wavy lines zigzagged and scrolled across a black surface and unfamiliar characters pulsated on the right side. She tilted her head, furrowing her brows and stared at it unable to fathom what it was she was looking upon.
 
She peered around, the walls of the room were white and flat. Light shined in from a rectangle in the ceiling, and she peered up at it looking for signs of smoke or the flicker of flames. The girl detected neither.
 
She sat up, the movement setting off a strange jiggling on her chest. She glanced down and her stomach lurched. A pair of mounds bulged out from a thin fabric gown. She blinked and brought a hand up to cup one orb but stopped when she spotted her appendage. Five digits extended out from a furless palm. Her fingers were long and slender, like those belonging to a human.
 
She froze, those last two words repeating themselves over and over in her mind.
 
A human.
 
She brought her second hand up, jerking at it. The other hand was a mirror image to the first. When she raised them both up to touch her face, the second seemed to be caught on something. She traced her free hand along her arm and found the source. A transparent tube attached to the inside of her elbow ran to a T-shaped shepherd’s crook from which a clear liquid-filled bag hung. Again, she furrowed her brow. What could be the purpose for such a thing?
 
She reached out, grabbing a length of the tubing and turned it over in her hand. It was as clear as glass and yet soft and smooth. Odder still it bent with ease without snapping or tearing. What sort of material was this? Her fingers found purchase on the tube where it met her elbow and she gave it a tug. A stab of pain shot through her arm. She clenched her teeth and pulled her hand away from the tube.
 
She stared at it, mind racing. Was this a restraint, designed to cause her pain if she attempted to escape? If so, why had her captors only attached it to the one arm, and why did it seem so flimsy? She gritted her teeth again, this time in preparation. Her fingers traced over the tube and found that a thin film covered her skin on the inside of her elbow.
 
The girl threw her head back and howled at the top of her lungs. She extended the fingers on her free hand like claws and tore into the film shredding it in seconds. She yanked the tube away, gasping as it came free with a small spurt of blood. A thin needle covered in her blood hung from the tube. She tossed it away and scowled at the wound. It throbbed and blood dribbled down her arm, but she paid it little mind. She would tend to it in a moment, she’d sustained worse on the battlefield.
 
Both hands free, she reached up and touched her face. She found what she had feared she would. Her snout had receded inward, instead she bore the flat hairless face of a human. She slipped one hand along the back of her head, her fingers finding purchase on long strands of hair. She pulled a fistful in front of her face and eyed it a sinking feeling forming in the pit of her stomach. Her luxurious mane, so well-tended over the years, was gone. Instead, she now sported long sandy blonde locks that fell down past her shoulders.
 
Was this a dream? Some horrid imagining of her mind? She clenched her eyes shut, willing herself to awaken, but when she didn’t, she forced them open again.
 
She glanced down at her chest, at last realizing what had escaped her before. Not only had she transformed into a human, but a female one.
 
“H-how?” She asked aloud, her voice soft and delicate.
 
She looked about as if expecting an answer from the open air, but when there was no reply, she gritted her teeth and emitted a roar… or rather she tried to. It came out as a blood-curdling scream.
 
The girl forced herself to think. She had no idea how she’d gotten to this place or been transformed. Sorcery was at work, of that she had no doubt, but who or what was responsible? Why couldn’t she remember?
 
She clutched her side, remembering the pain she’d experienced when she’d first come awake. It still throbbed, but she’d put it out of her mind when she’d discovered her transformation. Now that her attention was once again focused on her injuries, the pain returned to her with a vengeance. She reached inside her gown, where it hurt the worst and peered down. A bandage was affixed to her side, the like of which she’d never seen. The outside of the cloth was slick and produced a crinkling sound when she touched it. She considered removing the bandage, but she believed that would be a bad idea. She did not know the extent of her injuries and neither did she grasp /how/ it had been affixed.
 
Her fingers slipped away, and she reached out with them to probe the side of her head, a more slight, but just as irritating source of pain. The area of her scalp around the wound was shaved, and the edges of the flesh were joined with thread.
 
A light thud sounded nearby, and another followed. More came in rapid succession. Footsteps, she realized. Dropping her hands, she grunted and lurched over the side of the bed. She almost fell forward but caught herself on the strange metal bed railing. She was uneven on her feet; her human form was unfamiliar and had a different center of gravity.
 
The girl moved forward, meeting resistance from an unexpected source. Something pulled on her chest from inside her gown. She grabbed the collar and pulled it out peaking inside, getting her first good look at her breasts. Though she was no expert on human anatomy, if what she had observed from her hand servants was accurate, she was very well endowed.
 
She bit her lip and peered past the protrusions finding the source of the resistance in moments. Small gray rectangles had been affixed to her skin, each of which had a raised circle on them from which small gray strings protruded. She slipped her unbloodied arm inside the gown, yanking each of them free with a small yelp of pain.
 
The sounded of footsteps grew closer, and she looked up, eyes centered on the empty doorway. A figure appeared inside, and she gritted her teeth, regarding him with wide eyes. A pair of circular glass disks, nestled in a metal frame which sat on his nose and looped back around his ears, covered each of the human’s eyes. He wore a strange white tunic which was open in the front and draped over his neck he wore a shiny black rope with two metal prongs on one end and a disk on the other. He stopped, lips pressed together in a frown and eyes narrowed.
 
“You shouldn’t be out of bed, you’ll tear your stitches,” he said setting a stack of parchment on the counter and moving toward her.
 
The girl stepped back, staring up at him with wide eyes. The man was a giant! She had never seen a human so massive! He was even… She stopped, looking at the decor and realization dawned on her. Though he towered over her, it was unlikely he was as tall as she’d believed, it was far more likely that she was small.
 
She gritted her teeth, anger swelling up within her, as she studied the man. How dare this slave stand before her without even a hint of deference upon his face! Never had she witnessed such impudence! She leveled her gaze on him and grabbed the double shepherd’s crook from the corner, surprised when it wheeled toward her with ease. The bag swung on the hook as she held it before her and she rounded on the man preparing herself for battle.
 
He took a step back, hands held before him.
 
She advanced, her makeshift weapon ready. “This!” she screamed, cupping one of her breasts with her free hand. “This is, Reesha’s work isn’t it? It has been years since she last dared to show her face, but it fits with her twisted sense of humor. Tell me where the sorceress is and what you did with the sword and I will spare your life!”
 
The man backed away, his eyes wide like an owl’s. “Sorceress? I don’t know what—”
 
“Wrong answer!” She screamed lifting the shepherd’s crook and slammed it into his side. Though surprised by how light it was, she didn’t let it stop her from repeating her attack. He grunted, hands swiping out to grab at the contraption, and found purchase around its center. His grip was like iron, and she gasped.
 
The girl did not have the strength to combat him in her new form and all the training in the world would not change that. She relinquished her hold on the weapon and bolted through the door. The man shouted, calling after her, but she did not look back. Whether this was the lair of Reesha or some other sorcerer she must escape this place. She would hide away and seek aid later.
 
A human man with a shaved head and brown skin lurched toward her, she tried to slip past him, but he dove toward her and enfolded her in his arms. She wriggled to break free, scraping and clawing at his exposed flesh, but he held tight. She experienced a prick of pain on the back of her neck, her vision started to blur. The man released his hold, and she collapsed to her knees hand clasped over her neck.
 
The girl cursed at herself, sensing rather than seeing the second figure who had approached while she’d grappled with the other man. As the darkness overtook her, her eyes locked upon a figure in the distance clothed in a black robe. She gasped, clawing and scraping at the ground as if by doing so she might remain conscious, but then the emptiness came and swept her away.

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 2

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Alameda General Hospital
Alameda, Idaho

Serena slipped into a chair and emitted a long sigh. She reached out snatching her mug from the tabletop and cupped it in both hands. She inhaled, taking in the rich scent of the coffee before taking a sip. Glancing sideways at the pair of doctors seated two tables away, she bit her lip.
 
The kitchen was closed after dinner time, and it was a little unusual to see anyone lurking about the cafeteria this late at night. It was one of the main reasons she took her breaks there when she worked nights instead of the employee lounge. Most nights she would have ignored them, but when she heard them speak it piqued her interest and for good reason.
 
“I tell you Phil, the girl is a nutcase. She was rambling on about some sorceress and a sword before attacking me with the IV stand. Thank God that orderly caught her. Who knows what she would have done?”
 
Sorceress? Serena blinked and set her coffee down, the girl with the sword said something about a sorceress.
 
She cleared her throat and leveled her gaze on Dr. Cadby, the one who’d been speaking. “Uh, doctor is that the girl in twenty-two? The Jane Doe?”
 
“Yeah,” Cadby nodded jerking around to regard her with saucer-wide eyes. “That’s the one, she’s a real freak show if you ask me.”
 
Without uttering a single word, Serena rose to her feet and moved away with quick yet furtive steps her coffee forgotten. She hadn’t heard of the girl’s awakening or the incident with the doctor. That surprised her, considering news like that traveled fast. Then again, she’d been in a funk most of the night and aside from interactions with patients she kept more or less to herself.
 
She sighed, moving through the hallway toward room twenty-two. Alameda General was a small hospital, which serviced Alameda, and its neighboring town Tondzaosha. It comprised a single floor and housed over three dozens bed. Yet, somehow when she traversed the corridors, the place seemed massive. Why would that be?
 
When she reached the room in question, Serena stopped outside the doorway, and cracked the door open. The room was cast in shadows and she could detect no signs of movement. The soft beep of the heart monitor coupled with the quiet whirr of the air conditioner were the only sounds her ears picked up. Not surprising, if what Dr. Cadby said had been true they would have sedated her.
 
“Hey!” A voice called out and Serena turned in time to see Aaron Callow, one of the hospital’s security guards, come running up to her.
 
“Step away for one minute,” he said, muttering curses under his breath, snaked his arm out, clasped the doorknob, and slammed the door shut in her face. “How the hell did this door get unlocked?!”
 
Serena pursed her lips and regarded the man arms folded across her chest and arched an eyebrow. She’d never liked Callow, he’d always been a little too terse for her tastes.
 
“The girl’s off limits unless your name is on this list,” he muttered jabbing a finger at a paper affixed to the door.
 
Serena sighed and nodded then turned away making her way toward the nurses station. She might as well return to work, her break would be over in a few minutes, anyway. As she moved, her thoughts turned to her oldest child as they frequently did since finding the girl. She hadn’t seen Andy in years, not since her then husband, Lucas, beat the child half to death.
 
The two bore no physical resemblance to one another and despite the girl’s small stature, she was an adult when Serena found her. It was the girl’s injuries that brought unpleasant memories to the forefront, and it was all she could do to keep herself from weeping when she thought of it.
 
Andy insisted from a very young age that she was a girl and neither parent had any idea what to do with her. Though Serena urged patience at first, Lucas had other ideas. He would not raise a sissy freak. What would the neighbors think? Worse still Andy possessed a strange ability to see into the past.
 
Lucas already threatened by Andy’s powers met her declarations of femininity with open hostility. He convinced Serena, that they need only dole out ‘tough love’ to rid Andy of such ‘ridiculous’ ideas. To her shame she’d gone along with it, and all the yelling and screaming that followed. If Andy said or did anything that Lucas construed as girly, Lucas flew into a rage. When his tough love approach failed, he came up with the bright idea to beat the child, Serena should have stepped in and put an end to it, but by then she had committed herself. Maybe it was for the best she told herself, but doubts began to surface.
 
It wasn’t until that fateful confrontation on the front lawn when Lucas beat Andy to within an inch of her life, Serena admitted the truth to herself, but by then it was too late. Child protective services stepped in and took away their children.
 
It left Serena an empty husk bereft of hope, wallowing in her own self-pity. Her marriage was a facade and had been for a long time. Eventually, she divorced Lucas, and started to pick up the pieces of her broken life. She enrolled in nursing school at the local community college, fought for custody of her children, and managed to get them back save Andy who was by then an adult.
 
Though the whole thing left a hole in her heart, she thought perhaps it was for the best. There were too many hard feelings and she doubted that Andy would ever forgive Serena for her part in that mess.
 
It was funny, she knew her child was living as a woman, but she had no idea what she was calling herself these days. What little she knew she gleaned from the handful of letters sent to her by her sister. After their parents died, a rift formed between the two sisters and when Andy went to live with Laura that rift became a chasm. Laura passed away before she had a chance to reconcile. Had it not been for her two remaining children and the forgiveness they granted her she would be a mess.
 
With a sigh, Serena returned to work, trying and failing to keep thoughts of her past out of mind.

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 3

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Alameda General Hospital
Alameda, Idaho

“It’s all right, now,” the man said holding his hands out in a placating gesture.

The lost girl looked back at him, her chest heaving and her eyes as wide as saucers. He had told her his name when he first entered, but she had not cared enough to commit it to memory. Her only thought was to escape, but no matter how much she strained against the bindings she could not break free.

“You will pay for this.” She leveled her gaze at him, eyes narrowed and teeth gritted. “When my people have discovered what you’ve done to me, they will come for you and you will meet your end at the tip of the sword.”

“Right, well,” the man said pushing his spectacles up his nose with his index finger. “Now that we have that out of the way, why don’t you tell me a little about yourself? Why don’t we start with your name?”

She peered at him, atop her bed between gritted teeth. She didn’t feel very chatty, but she reasoned that if they knew her name, they might think twice at keeping her captive. Her reputation, after all, was a fearsome one. She pulled Waldere the legendary sword of magic free from it’s resting place in the Stone of Vulsung, used it to unite all the tribes of her people, the Assar, scattered across the plains of Eirdon, banished the Sorcerer Odalrik to the nether realm, and became King of all Eirdon. Not even the Angols in the island to the east had dared cross her and theirs was a mighty army indeed.

“I am Kruhl, son of Wurdan, King of Eirdon,” the girl replied glaring at her captor, “and were I free and not trapped within this diminutive vessel, I would slit your throat from end to end.”

“Right, Kruhl, son of Wurdan, King of Eirdon,” the man repeated the strange white cylinder in his hand quivering across the surface of his yellow pad. “Okay, at last a little progress. Are you more comfortable with Kruhl, or should I call you King Kruhl, or perhaps Your Majesty?”

“It makes no difference to me,” Kruhl replied. She had never been much for formalities least of all with someone whom she intended to kill.

She might have supposed that the man mocked her, but he seemed genuinely curious. Still there was something about his tone of voice, that suggested he did not believe what she said. Why would that be?

“Okay, Kruhl it is,” he smiled. “I’ve been looking at your charts, and it looks like you suffered a gash in your side and a concussion. Do you have any idea who might have wished you harm or how you came by these injuries?”

Kruhl stared back at him surprised. Why would he ask such a question? Was it not his people who had done this to her? She clenched her jaw shut, mind racing. She saw no reason he would mislead her, but if his people had not done this to her, who had?

The man studied her, his lips pressed together. He opened his mouth about to speak, but she spoke first.

“I am King, I have made many enemies. It may have been any number of them. I remember nothing after I retired to my sleeping chambers,” she said still trying to get his measure. Reesha seemed the most likely candidate, but she was unsure whether she trusted this man with her suspicions.

The man drew in his breath and leaned back in his seat. “That’s not uncommon with head injuries. Your memories may return to you after you’ve recovered or they may not. It’s hard to say at this point, but it could take time. If you recover your memory, it could be months or even years down the line, even then there could be gaps.”

Kruhl remained silent and clenched her jaw shut. The man was a dupe, she concluded. Her captors brought him in to question her hoping she would give away whatever information they sought. She would not cooperate. Regardless, she intended to kill him if she ever had the chance.

“Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself. Is Eirdon very far away? I’d like to know more about it,” he asked leaning forward once again, white tube poised upon the pad.

She peered at him out of the corner of her eyes, but did not speak. He emitted another sigh and continued. “I’m trying to make this as easy as possible. Believe me, I would like to help you.”

She chortled and then turned to him a sneer spread across her face. “I would sooner impale myself on my own sword than to accept help from the likes of you, knave. Now, begone from here!”

The man studied her for another moment, before slipping the strange little white cylinder inside his tunic and rising to his feet. He opened his mouth, as if to speak, but clamped it shut and disappeared from the room. Kruhl watched him leave with undisguised contempt upon her face, contemplating all the ways she might end his life.
 

 

Dr. Allen Wirthright, paused just outside the hospital room door and shook his head. He’d never let himself be intimidated by a hostile patient, but this one was different. Patients had threatened and even attacked him a time or two, but not once had he ever feared for his life.

This girl, whoever she was, spoke with such hatred, such malice it chilled him to the bone. Whether she had the power to harm him was immaterial, she meant to end his life and he saw no reasoning with her.

It troubled him, this talk of sorceresses and kings. He’d played along with her delusions in hopes he might glean something from them that would tell him who she was and what had happened to her, but he may as well have been talking to the wall. The girl was in a bad state of mind, she seemed convinced that she was the King of Eirdon. While delusions of grandeur were not uncommon among the mentally ill, it did seem strange that she saw herself as a king and not a queen. He considered the possibility that there might be some gender dysphoria at work, but that explanation seemed too convenient. Though he’d never heard it until today the name she’d given him sounded like something straight out of the sword and sorcery novels he’d read as a boy. It was likely the inspiration for delusions.

And those eyes… he paused picturing those luminous golden cat eyes peering back at him filled with the girl’s rage and hated. He knew of a rare genetic condition called cat eye syndrome in humans, but it didn’t affect eye pigment, and it came with a lot of other symptoms. Aside from her injuries the girl was in good health. He pondered what would cause such a condition, but shook his head and sighed. It wasn’t his field of expertise, let someone more qualified puzzle it out. As a psychiatrist his primary concern was for his patient’s mental health. Regardless, he made a mental note to discuss it with her doctor.

He stroked his chin considering the implications of the girls declaration. He knew of incidences of a patient developing mental illness because of a head injury, but given the extent of her delusions, he doubted it was the case here. No, he thought it far more likely it was a preexisting condition. The police had already filed a missing persons report, seeking all information on the girl. If she was an escaped mental patient something would turn up. 

Then there was this talk of a sword. He’d heard reports of how she’d turned up naked, dragging a sword through the street. Why she’d been in possession of such a weapon was beyond him, but it may have provided fuel for her delusions.

She had already attacked Dr. Cadby and she’d threatened to slit Wirthright’s throat. He didn’t think she posed a suicide risk, but she damn well was a danger to others. He glanced back over his shoulder, slipping a hand over the knob to ensure the door was latched and locked, then disappeared down the corridor, unable to shake the feeling that he was missing something very obvious about the girl.

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 4

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Alameda General Hospital
Alameda, Idaho

For a time all Kruhl experienced was the darkness. She floated in the nothingness, aware that she existed but not much else. The experience was akin to sleep, but she did not dream.

The darkness gave way to light in increments, but still she did not respond. She heard a soft grunt, and for several long moments she wondered where it’d come from. Then understanding dawned on her, the sound had originated from her. The light focused, sharpened all around her and a figure emerged from without.

She opened her mouth to speak, but a soft moan escaped instead. She was in motion. Was she being wheeled around on a cart? Her stomach lurched and she felt as if she were falling.

She turned her head, a man and a woman stood on either side of her, and a metal box enclosed the three of them in every direction.

“She’s growing more lucid,” the woman said.

“So?” The man asked. “She’s restrained, what’s she going to do? Glare at us?”

She tried to sit up, but could not. Straps, held her wrists and legs in place and her head would not turn more than a thumb’s length in either direction.

A strange ding sounded and a section of the metal box in front of her parted, revealing the corridor beyond. A dark-robed figure waited without, but the pair were either not aware that the being stood outside the doors or chose to ignore it. Kruhl eyed the figure, the same one which appeared when she lost consciousness a few days earlier. The wraith neither spoke, nor moved toward them. It stood about, cowled head turned to regard them in silence.

The man took up position at her feet and the woman moved around her back and Kruhl lost sight of her. They pushed Kruhl through the opening, and she emitted the loudest most ear-splitting screech she could manage.

“Fuck,” the man cursed. “What the hell was that for?”

The dark-robed figure glided up beside her, keeping pace with them. She could not view its face beneath the cowl and the specter kept both hands enfolded in its sleeves.

“Who are you?!” She demanded of the stranger, but it did not respond.

The cowled head turned toward her and still she saw nothing save for a deep depthless darkness.

[Kruhl] A voice spoke from out of the air, coming from everywhere at once and… nowhere. The voice was unlike anything she’d ever heard. It was distorted, uneven and coarse, but reverberated through her skull with crystal clarity.

“Who are you?!” Kruhl repeated eyes peeled on the specter, but there was no response. Her captors exchanged glances peering past the mysterious figure as if it weren’t even present, but even they did not reply.

They wheeled her down the corridor and out through a set of metal-framed glass doors and out into the sunlit exterior. The apparition floated along with them remaining silent until they came to a stop.

[Where is the sword?] the robed figure asked leaning down, its head mere inches from her face. She squinted trying to get a look at its features, but if it possessed any she could distinguish nothing save for blackness. The depths of the hood were darker than the blackest night even in the daylight.

Was this her enemy? The one who transformed her and brought her to this strange land? Why then didn’t it know about the sword? Several days ago a man, calling himself Deputy Shanderly came by to question her about the sword and herself, but she refused to give him any information. She’d assumed he was a pawn of the one who’d brought her to this strange place, but what if he had been as ignorant as he seemed? Perhaps he had come into possession of the sword before her enemy could get to it.

[Where is Waldere?] It repeated the question and she peered at it with wide eyes. [You cannot keep it from me. Tell me where it is.]

“I will never tell you!” She screamed, clenching her mouth shut. Whoever this creature was and whether it was responsible for her predicament, she couldn’t say, but it was no friend.

“Goddamned fucking loon,” the woman said muttering under her breath.

Her rolling bed, lurched forward moving toward a glossy white box sitting atop two sets of black and gray wheels. Some sort of wagon, perhaps? The specter did not speak, but glided along beside her only stopping when Kruhl did.

Her female captor moved forward slipping a hand into a slender rectangular protrusion and pulled on it. A soft thump resounded from the box and the woman swung a door open, revealing the sparse interior of the carriage. Her mobile prison jerked forward again, and she grunted as her captors propelled her upward and inside. Again, the apparition followed, hunching over to fit into the low ceiling, but it remained silent. Why didn’t it act?

Her male captor climbed inside, closing the doors behind him and stepped forward, passing through the specter as if it weren’t there. The apparition shifted positions moving to stand at her feet and loomed over her in silence. She eyed the creature, her tiny human heart thumping in her chest so hard she thought it might burst free. “Whatever you are going to do, do it, or leave me be, foul creature!”

Again, the phantom did not reply, neither did it take any action. It hung there motionless, peering at her.

The bed lurched sideways and she turned to regard her male captor. He did not make eye contact or speak, instead reaching over her, a strap in hand, and secured it to a notch on the wall. He turned away, for several long moments and turned back to her a long tube on the end of which a fine needle was affixed. By now she had seen this device enough times to understand its purpose. The man would plunge the needle into the tube in her arm and the darkness would come again.

“Stop!” She screamed. “Don’t you see it?!”

The man paused, meeting her gaze with raised eyebrows. “See what?!”

“That thing,” she screamed eyes turned toward the robed figure at her feet.

He followed her gaze, his eyes filled with cold disinterest, looking through the specter, again, oblivious to it. He turned his eyes back to her regarding her with a thoughtful expression.

His features softened and she saw kindness reflected in his eyes, just before he plunged the needle into her arm.

She screamed, her face contorting into a mask of rage as she felt the numbness spread through her body. As her vision faded to dark, the robed figure leaned forward.

[I am coming for you] It spoke, its strange voice ringing through her head, just before the numbness swept her away.
 

 

Trace glanced back at the door one final time, shook his head, sighed, and studied the inert form of the girl strapped into the stretcher. An image of her gold-hued cat’s eyes, so full of fear and anger, burned in his memory.

Still, it was a shame, he thought to himself. The girl was a real looker. It made his heart hurt to think what put her in such a state. He had a daughter who was only a few years younger, and the thought of her screaming at phantoms sent a cold shiver down his spine.

He took one last look at the girl, shuddered, thoughts of those eyes lingering in his mind, and slipped out the back of the van. Closing the doors behind him, he ensured they were latched and locked before slipping around the side and hopping into the passenger side door. Allynn peered at him from the driver’s seat with an arched eyebrow. “Ready?”

He nodded without comment and she started the engine, maneuvering the van out of the parking lot and into the street beyond. Their destination was the state mental hospital about twenty-five miles to the north in Grove City.

Allynn kept silent and Trace stroked his chin, his thoughts turned to the girl again. It seemed odd that they’d be moving her so soon after she’d turned up that night. They had no idea where she’d come from, and no name aside from that ridiculous moniker she’d given them. The amount of paperwork necessary just to get her admitted must have been astronomical and once you submitted that, it’d have to go through all the usual bureaucratic channels. In his experience those sorts of things took weeks, not days. Someone must have expedited the process, but the question was why?

He shrugged and shook his head. They made those sorts of decisions above his pay grade, far be it for him to question the pencil pushers who made them.

He caught movement out of the corner of his eyes and peered back through the window in the security partition which separated the cab from the back compartment. For a second he’d thought he’d seen a dark robe-clad figure moving about, but there was nothing save for the unconscious girl. He supposed it was just his imagination playing tricks on him. The girl must have unnerved him more than he realized.

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 3 Pt 1

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Tondzaosha Regional Airport
Tondzaosha, Idaho

Agent Carter Rathdrum of AEGIS looked out across the horizon and pressed his lips together. He stood at the end of the ramp and shook his head.

“What a shit hole.” He said under his breath.

The clatter and clank of feet on the metal ramp sounded behind him and he shuffled out of the way to allow those still exiting the plane free passage. He peered back, eying the walkway and those descending it. At last, Van den Broeke stepped into view, and he turned to make eye contact, looking into a pair of brilliant emerald-green eyes.

Though Amelia van den Broeke’s name was Dutch, he suspected she may have some Mediterranean ancestry as evidence by her olive skin and shock of raven-black hair. Tall and voluptuous, the special agent in charge was one of the most beautiful women he’d ever met. He might have wondered why someone with her looks worked for AEGIS if he didn’t know a little about her past.

“So,” he said slipping both hands back into his pockets and peering from side to side. “How’s it feel to be home after all this time?”

She regarded him, a faint trace of a frown touching her lips and shook her head. “Tondzaosha hasn’t been home for a long time.”

She slipped past him without another word. Rathdrum sighed. He followed her, his lips creased in a frown, but remained silent. Though not lose to Van den Broeke, he’d known her for a few years and was on good speaking terms with her. He’d never seen her so uncommunicative. He didn’t know what put her into her current mood, but he believed it must have something to do with her homecoming.

Though he knew little of her history before she’d come to AEGIS, she was said to have faced a lot of heat for being both a transwoman and an exemplar. He saw no reason to doubt it, he’d worked in law enforcement for more than a decade both as an officer for the Los Angeles Police Department and with the agency, and saw a lot of hostility directed at both groups.

He studied her face, allowing himself to marvel at how much she’d changed since he’d first become aquainted with her. Not so much her personality, but in the physical sense. He would have been surprised learning, even before the change, that she was a transwoman. Back then she was tall and skinny, but pretty nonetheless. Since that business with Chemosh in New Hebron several months back things changed. She lost a few inches in height, but gained a figure that would make any man do a double-take. Amelia possessed the kind of beauty you only saw on the big screen or in the center-fold of dirty magazines, even if she didn’t quite seem to be aware of that fact.

He couldn’t say what had invoked the change, but he damn well noticed it. As with all things her change had gotten the rumor mill whirling, but he’d taken little stock in the gossip save for one aspect. A few folks had put it forward that because of her change that she was no longer a transwoman and capable of bearing a child. The term being bandied about the office was ciswoman, but he wasn’t sure if it was the right one.

“Rathdrum, you read the report. What do you think?” Van den Broeke asked glancing back at him arching an eyebrow.

Rathdrum moved forward stepping in sync with her and glanced about making sure none of the disembarked passengers were in earshot. “Sounds like a wild goose chase if you ask me. A sword that burns anyone who touches it? Sounds like somebody’s idea of a bad practical joke.”

Amelia pursed her lips. “What about the girl?”

He shrugged. “Probably, another nut job. ”

“Still, it’s a little odd the witness’s name was redacted on the copy of the report sent to AEGIS, don’t you think?” Amy asked her lips pursed.

“Weird, but I don’t see how that changes anything.” He shrugged.

Van den Broeke nodded, but didn’t say a word. She was the Special Agent in Charge of their unit. New to the job, Amelia was the youngest SAC in AEGIS history. He had no idea what had prompted her promotion, but it had something to do with the Chemosh debacle. Whatever she’d done it impressed Director Malcolm enough to elevate her on the spot. She was inexperienced, but already seemed to have a better handle on the job than most in her position would have.

If Rathdrum had been a more ambitious man, he might have resented her advancement, but he’d spent too much time in the field to be doing anything else. Leadership came with too many headaches, and as a Special Agent he already had enough of those with which to contend. Better to let those better suited to the demands of leadership fill that need.

Despite her youth Rathdrum thought Van den Broeke a good fit. She still needed to grow into the position a bit, but he had no doubt she’d be fine. She possessed enough smarts to make use of her underlings knowledge and experience which was more than he could say for some other SACs he’d worked under and… as a bonus was a fair bit easier on the eyes.

It was unusual as it was seeing a SAC out in the field, let alone in a out of the way town like Tondzaosha. Why they’d sent Van den Broeke at all was a question, he was still trying to puzzle out. One thing was certain, she didn’t seem too happy about it.

“Tell me if you spot any of the local PD,” Van den Broeke muttered as they made their way across the tarmac.

Rathdrum nodded. “Little surprised a town like this has an airport, doesn’t seem to be much here.”

Amelia glanced back at him. “The airport is part of an industrial park. It’s used for business for the most part.”

Rathdrum nodded peering about the tarmac one final time. He’d visited a fair number of smaller airports and there wasn’t usually much to them. This one was no exception. It didn’t even seem to possess a jetway.

When they stepped inside the main building, Rathdrum swore he’d stepped back in time. The airport’s interior hadn’t been updated since the seventies. He took one glance at the orange-padded chairs and let out a soft chuckle. Despite their age, they seemed to be in good shape. If nothing else, the place was clean and well maintained. There were large sections of the airport that were unlit, probably to conserve power, and save for the passengers who’d disembarked and the airport staff there didn’t seem to be anyone around.

“Van den Broeke?” A voice asked from out of the darkness, and a slender young deputy stepped out from an unlit portion of the building almost seeming to materialize from nowhere.

He focused all his attention on Rathdrum and the agent bit back a response. Van den Broeke needed to be the one to correct the officer. She did so, glancing at Rathdrum out of the corner of her eyes, then stepped forward and held her hand out. “I am Special Agent In Charge Amelia van den Broeke.”

The officer lurched forward accepting her hand and smiling. “Sorry, ’bout that. The chief only told me your last name. Figured since your friend was a little older that he’d be the one running the show.”

His eyes grew wide and he eyed Rathdrum throwing his hands out. “Not that I think your old or anything, I just—”

Rathdrum laughed and shook his head. Small-town police. “Forget about it. My name’s Special Agent Carter Rathdrum.”

“Right, right nice to meet you both. I’m Deputy Thomas Shanderly at your service,” he said grabbing Rathdrum’s hand and shaking it vigorously. “Kinda surprised you folks flew in from Cali, the Chief said the closest field office is in Salt Lake.”

“We’re part of a specialized unit, dealing with very specific cases,” Amelia offered in explanation. “We operate out of New Hebron, California, but the nature of our work takes us all over the country.”

“What sort of work would that be, agent?” Shanderly asked tilting his head like a dog.

“That’s not something I’m at liberty to discuss,” Van den Broeke answered frowning at the officer. “Suffice it to say, we have very specific expertise that may be beneficial in this case.”

Though Shanderly hid it well, Rathdrum could see his confusion mirrored in his eyes and why wouldn’t he be confused? The Agent would feel the same way if he’d just had that bullshit explanation doled out to him. Specific expertise? For a nut job with a sword? Still, there was no help for it, Van den Broeke hadn’t been lying when she’d said she wasn’t at liberty to discuss their unit’s purpose.

Shanderly didn’t press the matter, but Rathdrum sensed that she hadn’t put the matter to rest. They needed the local PD to cooperate, if they didn’t want to be bumping heads with them everywhere, they went sooner or later she’d have to throw them a bone.

“Right,” Shanderly smiled and threw a thumb over his shoulder. “I got a squad car waiting out front with all the materials you requested, if you want to get underway.”

Van den Broeke frowned, glanced at Rathdrum before letting out a long breath of air and nodded.

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 3 Pt 2

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
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.

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 3 Pt 3

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Tondzaosha Regional Airport
Tondzaosha, Idaho

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…

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 4 Pt 1

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
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.

Poison?

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.

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 4 Pt 2

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Sleepeez Hotel
Tondzaosha, Idaho

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.

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