Ch 02

1
Psyren’s Redemption | Ch 2 Pt 1
2
Psyren’s Redemption | Ch 2 Pt 2
3
Psyren’s Redemption | Ch 2 Pt 3
4
Psyren’s Redemption | Ch 2 Pt 4
5
The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 2
6
The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 4

Psyren’s Redemption | Ch 2 Pt 1


Official Report
County General Hospital
New Hebron, California

The scent of Antiseptics wafted through the air, which no doubt masked the smells of death and disease that would have otherwise permeated the air. Amelia folded her arms and let out a long breath of air as she shifted position in the chair. A part of her, an almost forgotten remnant from the distant past, experienced a tinge of fear she might catch some imagined illness, but she shook her head and forced the thought away. That had been her mother’s weakness not her own.

She thrummed her fingers against the chair’s arm and sighed listening to the sounds of nurses, doctor’s and orderlies rushed through the hallway. She leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes and slid them open again when a voice speak her name.

“M-miss Van den Broeke?”

The nurse tugged at the ends of her scrub top, a flowered affair that to Amelia looked like something regurgitated by a houseplant, and eyed the Agent with a scowl she hadn’t quite masked. Amelia shook her head and grimaced at the nurse. She was used to those sorts of looks. It might have been because Amy worked for AEGIS or it might have something to do with information, she had no doubt, spied in her charts. While AEGIS wasn’t the most beloved of government agencies, something told the agent it was the latter rather than the former.

“Yes?” Amelia met the nurse’s gaze daring the other woman to say something. If she picked up on her unspoken challenge, she gave no sign.

“The doctor is just finishing up with another patient. He should be in to discuss the results of your MRI in a few moments. You can get dressed now.”

Amelia’s face stretched into an approximation of a smile and mumbled a thanks. In response, the nurses lips curled into a sneer and she looked Amelia up and down before swinging the door open hard enough for it to make a loud thud as the knob impacted the wall, and disappeared into the hallway without even bothering to wait for the door to latch as it swung closed again.

“Well, that was pleasant,” Amelia sighed and walked across the room to close the door, but when her hand touched the hardwood, she stopped straining her ears.

A long mournful wail permeated the corridor. She shivered and listened for it again. It had sounded so inhuman, so full of rage and pain she wondered what sort of creature might have made it.

“GALLU.”

What had been the source of those high-pitched squeals? The first and second had been so faint she almost convinced herself she’d imagined them. When a third and louder wail pierced the air, she identified it as a scream, Amelia knew it hadn’t been her imagination.

“God, is this night every going to end?” She asked the open air while letting out a single frustrated sigh.

She left the door open and scrambled across the room, snatching her gun from her bag of belongings before dashing into the chaos of the corridor without.

Psyren’s Redemption | Ch 2 Pt 2


Official Report
County General Hospital
New Hebron, California

Everett heard a voice, it was deep, reverberating through his skull which throbbed as the speaker pronounced each new syllable. He couldn’t quite make out the words, but as he grew more aware of the world around him, the man’s voice became much clearer.

“–ime of night it is, Agent Hansen. Dr. Hassebroek,” expertise is needed. I don’t care how much he whines about it. Get him to County General and do it ASAP.”

The old man’s eyes snapped open, but he only saw a blur. Everett suffered from failing eyesight, so it came as a surprise that when his vision adjusted to the dim light of the room, he saw with such crystal clarity. He blinked, and rubbed his eyes, as the fog lifted from his mind.

“Mr. Howard?” the owner of the voice, who had woken him from his slumber, stepped into sight and Everett grimaced, taking in his tailored suit and ebony skin.

“Yeah, who the hell are you?” Everett groaned letting his head fall back into his pillow and as he messaged the crest of his nose.

“Special Agent in Charge Phillip Matthews with AEGIS. Do you know where you are, Mr. Howard?”

Everett let his eyes dart around the room before returning his attention to the much younger man. “Looks like the damn hospital.”

“Earlier this evening there was an attack on the city, by an individual or individuals with what can only be described as extraordinary abilities. We found you unconscious on site. Can you tell me anything about what happened?”

Everett shook his head and glanced at Matthews. “Can I see a badge?”

Matthews nodded, reaching into his suit jacket and produced it as requested, then flipped it shut and slipped it back into his breast pocket. “Now, Mr. Howard if you would help me understand what had happened it would be of great assistance to our investigation.”

Everett sat up, surprised at how limber he felt. He flexed his hand, which was always throbbing with pain and frozen up because of arthritis and shook his head staring up at the other man with a scowl on his face as Matthews reached out to help steady him.

“Don’t touch me! You—” Everett stopped mid-sentence, stopping himself before a slur escaped his lips. He gritted his teeth before shaking his head and sliding away from Matthews as far as the tube in his arm would allow.

“You want to know what happened?” He sighed cupping his face in his hand and messaged his forehead. He looked up at the other man and shook his head. “I’m not sure you would believe me if I told you. We all know about exemplar freaks and the things they can do, but this… it was something different, something else. There was a man, he hovered around in the air. He said his name was Kamash, I think.”

“Chemosh… we’ve had run-ins with that individual before.” Matthews stopped, staring at the wall and with slow careful movements slipped a hand inside his suit jacket.

“Mr. Harris, I need you to get down.”

He spoke in a soft tone that was only distinguishable from his previous timbre save it had the barest hint of steel, but it wasn’t until Matthews produced a pistol that Everett complied, dropping flat into the bed quicker than the Agent could blink. When the other man fired his weapon, and he heard a high-pitched shriek, a shiver trickled down his spine.

He turned his head to watch as something the size of a cocker spaniel slid down the wall, staining it with a trail of putrid green fluid which must have been blood. Everett didn’t get a look at the creature, other than a flash of fangs and a pair of pale yellow orbs that might have been eyes, but he was sure it wasn’t a damn dog. Another creature slunk through the wall leaving nothing but a dark orange stain on its unmarred surface as it appeared inside the room.

“GALLU!” It screamed, turning toward both men, its jaw hanging open revealing three rows of razor-sharp teeth. It stood hunched over on two legs, vaguely man-shaped, but not human. Matthews opened fire again, peppering the beast with bullets, but it slunk forward and the projectiles passed right through it blowing tiny holes in the floor.

“GALLU!” It repeated its horrendous screech and leapt atop the bed, leaving a trail of orange slime in its wake.

Everett rolled from the bed, taking the creature down with him and tearing the IV needle free from his arm. He howled in pain and clutched at his appendage. He scrambled to his feet, marveling at how spry he felt even as he dodged about. He avoided the creatures lunges with an ease he couldn’t even have achieved in his prime.

He leapt and jumped, ran and dodged, but each time the creature kept until it had him cornered. Matthews opened fire again, but the beast shifted to the side letting the bullets pass through it and into the floor again.

Pain radiated across Everett’s body and he fell to his knees, his insides shifted and turn as the creature came soaring through the air toward him. He held his hands up to block it, even as ribbons of pain shot from head to foot and his eyes widened in disbelief when the creature froze in the middle of the air.

Sweat cascaded down his body in beads and all he watched in horror as the little monster scratched, bit, and clawed at the empty air between them. A convulsion wracked Everett’s body, and he clutched one hand over his stomach as the fat there twisted and turned under his skin. The creature let out another screech and Everett threw his hand out sending the thing soaring across the room.

Matthews raised his weapon to open fire, but someone beat him to the chase. The creature let out one last misery-filled screech and collapsed dead its blood splattering against the floor and nearest wall. A woman wearing a hospital gown, came tearing into the room a handgun clutched in her hands.

Everett let out a sigh of relief, but soon realized that it was premature as a high-pitched wail sounded from the hallway and he doubled over in pain feeling his insides burn as the creatures’ onslaught continued.

Psyren’s Redemption | Ch 2 Pt 3


Official Report
County General Hospital
New Hebron, California

“Sir, I don’t know what the hell those things are, but they’re all over the hospital,” she said looking around the room with wide eyes. “I killed three on my way here.”

“That makes five.” Matthews nodded, unfazed by the entire thing. He eyed, the woman and glanced back toward the door, as a slender hand reached up to adjust his tie. “Agent Van den Broeke, given your current… attire, I believe it best if you remain out of sight. You stay and keep any eye on Mr. Howard and I will get a handle on the situation outside the room.”

“Yes, sir.” She replied, wiping sweat from her forehead as her superior moved through the room toward the exit.

“And agent.” He paused at the door, tugging at ends of his suit coat sleeve. “Fair warning, our friend here has exhibited telekinetic abilities.”

“Understood.”

Matthews departed the room and Amelia, closed the door behind him. “My name’s Amelia van den Broeke, with A—”

“AEGIS, I know.” Everett cut her short his hand trembling as he stared at her with wide eyes. “I’m Everett How—”

“Howard, I know,” she smiled casting a furtive glance at the door before glancing back at him. “I was there at the crime scene where you were found unconscious.”

Everett doubled over, letting out an ear-splitting scream as another creature appeared, this time oozing through the window before lurching toward Amelia. Forced to defend herself against the minuscule threat, Amelia could do nothing to help the old man whose cries of pain grew louder with each passing moment.

Everett knew of the threat from the beast, but with each subsequent burst of pain, his awareness to anything but the changes to his body were so diminished as to be almost non-existent. He heard sounds, grunts from the agent, growls from the creature, and the sound of gunfire, but he wasn’t even capable of understanding what those noises meant. The only threat his mind registered was the one that was quite literally consuming his body.

While, the pain radiated across his entire body, the transformation didn’t happen in one place at once, focusing in one area before shifting to the next. It started in his stomach, fat rolled up his chest and down his side, in globs no large than plums, but in many sizes, collecting around his hips and chest. Bones, popped and cracked shifting in size and position, first in his back, forming a curvature that was decidedly feminine, his hips, pelvis and thorax all shifted at once, generating another burst of pain so much stronger than the previous ones that Everett almost lost consciousness, but as black creeped along the edges of his vision he gritted his teeth and hung on for dear life.

The darkness receded, but he remained conscious. It would have been a greater mercy had he fainted. His legs changed next, starting with his knees which popped out of joint as they shrunk and only reconnected once the surrounding bones and muscles had shrunk to fit his new joints. Next the changes shifted up, moving up his rib cage, his shoulders, arms and hands until it reached his head. As his face contorted he screamed, but gasped for air when his throat shut off. When it opened again, he screamed, but this time it came out as a high-pitched wail which was unmistakably female.

Had Everett been functioning on more than a primal level, he would have put together the clues long before that moment, but it was only then that the more rational part of his mind kicked back in and he recognized what was happening to him. Unfortunately, a rational understanding was not enough to help him stop or even accept the transformation.

As his face continued to shift and change, he brought his hands up to touch it. His wrinkles and sagging skin remained the same, instead it was the structure of his face that was being metamorphosed. Starting with his square chin and jaw, both of which softened, then moving on to his nose which had been broken more than once in his seventy-two years. There was a loud crunching sound before it inward about the same time there was a burning sensation in his eyes and was forced to close them.

The pain sub-sided to a large extent, and Everett’s awareness of the surrounding room returned with a suddenness that left him breathless. Agent Van den Broeke was fighting for her life, doing an admirable job combating three of the creatures at once. If the half a dozen or so corpses she’d left in her wake was any indication she’d had one hell of her fight on her hands while Everett had been in the throws of his transformation. He stood on his feet, more than a little aware of the changes that were still taking place within his body, but also aware that that danger presented by the creatures was too great to ignore.

When he tapped into his abilities, again, he had no idea what he was doing. Before, when he accessed them it was for the first time and he hadn’t even realized he had them. He didn’t take time to speculate on where the abilities had come from and the how or why they might be tied to his transformation, but instead threw his hands out and sent the remaining three creatures soaring away from the agent.

The creatures’ ability to phase through objects seemed to only work when they were moving. Using his own new ability Everett kept them in place allowing the agent to take them out with ease.

Amelia, was drenched in sweat and more than a little blood from the creatures, stopped dead in her tracks when she got her first good look at Everett. He was certain he was an odd site, given he was only part way into his transformation, but there was no judgement or revulsion in her gaze as he would have expected, just surprise.

Neither had time to speak before Everett doubled over as his crotch and stomach, flaring with renewed pain. ‘This is it,’ he thought at the exact moment something long, soft, and slender slid down his left pant leg followed by something more irregular shaped. Bile rose in the back of his throat and he kicked out sending both his penis and scrotum flying across the room and into the opposite wall.

He lost all control, losing the entire content of his stomach in a long stream of vomit. He staggered back, only able to keep his balance by leaning against the wall as more even vomit spewed from his mouth. This time it wasn’t the contents of his stomach, but something much stranger, yellow chunks of god knew what, blood and what must have been his own flesh. His body was discarding it had left over from the transformation process and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

“GALLU!”

A long drawn out shriek pierced the room and another creature wormed its way through the door and lurched toward Everett with reckless abandon. Agent Van den Broeke opened fire, but the creature kept moving, shifting between its solid and semi-solid form as a trail of bullets followed in its wake. Each one of them either missing it or passing through it. Everett threw his hand out to send the beast rocketing away, but nothing happened.

He threw his hand out again and again, but nothing came… and the creature came closer.

Psyren’s Redemption | Ch 2 Pt 4


Official Report
County General Hospital
New Hebron, California

As the beast lurched closer Everett’s transformation entered its final stage, his skin marred by wrinkles and more than its fair share of sagging, tightened and in a moment decades of wear disappeared from his face and body. His skin became as soft and unblemished as that of a newborn.

The creature jumped forward letting out another shriek and this time neither the agent nor Everett could do anything to stop it. Everett dove out of the way before it reached him, but it’s slime dribbled on his chest. He landed atop his new breasts with a grunt before rolling onto his back to face the creature. It hadn’t wasted time dropping to the ground beside him and he was certain he was witnessing his last moment.

Time slowed to a crawl as an awareness expanded inside his mind. He could sense the creature and others like it, their minds were alien, so cold, so full of malice, but there was a surprising amount of intelligence which only sent cold shivers down his spine. They teetered upon the cusp of sapience, not quite able to think and reason on a human level, but close.

There was a unity to their thoughts that would have never been possible in humans. Each of them functioned as separate individuals, but there was no dissent among them. It was almost as if dozens of humans, all with the same passions, the same goals had their minds fused to each other, but could still operate independent of each other. There was a malignancy to these creatures, a cancerous hatred that would have consumed a human, but was for these creatures a simple matter of who and what they were.

The creature nearest to him pounced ready to make its killing thrust, but Everett reached out to the group consciousness and focused hard. The result was unlike anything he could have predicted, the creature stopped in the mid-air and let out a high-pitched scream so intense, so powerful that even covering his ears did little to block it out.

He strained his senses, tightening his focus on the creatures as the one nearest to him writhed and shrieked against his continued onslaught. He kept at it, not letting its continued cries weaken his resolve, until there was a release of pressure, resulting in not only a break in the link between Everett and the beings who were attacking the hospital, but a literal explosion of blood and gore from the one who had been about to attack him.

“I-I think it’s over.”

Everett shook his head as he looked down at his hands with wide eyes. One last change had taken place while the creatures had occupied him, his pale and pasty skin had taken on a much darker hue. He stared at his long and slender hands flexing them over and over turning them this way and a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“What the hell is this?” He asked look across the room at the agent. “What did you people do to me?”

Van den Broeke shook her head staring back at the new woman with wide eyes. “It wasn’t us. I think you’re innate exemplar abilities have awakened. I’ve never heard of it happening with someone…”

She trailed off shaking her head before locking gazes with Everett, again. “So old, but it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

Everett reached up to cup his breasts, filling his cheeks burn. “You mean, I’m stuck like this. I look like some ghetto hooker.”

Van den Broeke blinked, looking like she’d just been slapped in the face. “Ghetto hooker?”

She clasped her hand around the door and swung it open with a lot more force than was necessary.

“Agent?” Matthews, who was standing on the other side of the doorway when Amelia opened it, stepped through glancing across the room at the transformed Everett before returning his attention to his underling. “The threat seems to have passed. All the creatures appear to have erupted. Can’t say what caused it, but from the looks of it the same thing happened here.”

He glanced at Everett again, pursed his lips. “Something tells me your experience was more… Interesting than mine.”

Amelia nodded following Matthews gaze and lowered her weapon. “Sir, that’s Mr. Howard.”

“Yes, I surmised as much since she is wearing the same gown as the old man, Agent. Something tells me there’s a lot more going on here than either of us have guessed. We’ve stumbled onto something big and it looks like… Ms. Howard may be the key.”

“Ms. Howard? I might look like some…” He paused between gritted teeth looking back and forth between the Agents and shook his head. “Some girl to you, but I’m sure as hell not. As it is, I don’t have any damn idea what the hell is happening!”

“Well then, Mr. Howard, we have best get to bottom of it. If this attack is any indicator, your life could very well depend on it.”

“Goddamnit.”

A single cold shiver trickled down Everett’s spine as he looked the man in the eyes. It hadn’t even occurred to him until just then, but there must have been a connection between the events earlier in the night and the attack on the hospital. If that were true there was only one thing, or person, both had in common. Everett.

Those creatures had been after him, and if they had come once they might come again. His new abilities were impressive, but he didn’t seem to have much control over them, if they attacked him again he wasn’t sure he could fend them off. For the time being at least he’d have to play ball with these damn AEGIS spooks. What other choice did he have?

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 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.

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