A gentle breeze wafted through the air, and moonlight spilled out from the sky casting the world in an unnatural hue. Lights glistened in the distance, but save for a solitary streetlamp on the opposite side, the park was unlit.
Amy ran a slender hand through her mop of long dark hair and inspected her surroundings. Save that the patch of burnt ground was missing, the park was unchanged within the vision’s landscape. The world was awash in amber hues, a side-effect of her ability with which she had no control.
Amy focused all her attention on the spot where the burn mark had been and for several long seconds nothing happened. Then, a burst of color coalesced out of the empty air, beaming its cobalt illumination upon the empty landscape. Expanding and forming into a giant ball which hovered, spun, and pulsated in the open air before lowering to the ground.
Amy froze mesmerized by the light show. She’d seen something like it before, summoned by an ancient machine recovered from the ocean by a naval deep sea diving team. The once-god Chemosh stole the device from the AEGIS research facility, but not before Ashtar appeared from within, transported across the cosmos from God knows where, to combat the other immortal.
This time there was no machine, the ball of illumination had been conjured out of thin air, but just as before a figure materialized from within. The sphere faded away, revealing the massive frame of a being seven feet tall. The creature turned its enormous frame toward her, and Amy stepped back looking into its eyes. It bore the face of a lion, but the body of a man. It didn’t see her, but instead looked past her into the distance, its maned head swinging this way and that.
What she was witnessing was an imprint, an echo of the past. The creature could not see her because she was not viewing live events, but ones which had already occurred.
The lion-man stepped forward clutching at a wound in his side before falling to one knee. He blinked, his head again surveying the landscape and Amelia noticed for the first time, the blood dripping from a second gash in the side of his head. Amy sucked in her breath, the lion-man possessed the same injuries as the girl found with the sword.
Then she spotted the weapon. It lay on the ground at his feet, darkened by his shadow, but she could just make out its outline, it bore the same runic markings as the one in the police evidence lockup.
She released her breath as the implications dawned on her, but before she could give it more thought the creature roared. She glanced up at him in time to see his whole body quiver.
His hair faded away, dissolving into the open air. She glanced at his feet, thinking to spot clumps of it on the ground, but it seemed to have disappeared. The beast moaned as an audible crack sounded from within his gargantuan frame and Amy watched transfixed as his muzzle retracted into his face. Luminous golden eyes, stared into space, wide with terror, as the rest of his countenance reconfigured itself.
Lion’s ears, wiggled atop his scalp, oozed down the side of his head like a slug slinking across the ground, and reshaped themselves into less remarkable human ears albeit ones that seemed too small for his huge skull. A raised patch in the center of his face ballooned and expanded into a slender human nose that was again, much too small for his proportions. Eyelashes, extended out from around his eyes, and his flat lips plumped out even while a shock of blond hair spilled out from atop his head.
Another crack sounded from within his skull, an inhuman screech of pain escaped his lips, his head popping and the flesh beneath molding around it as it shrank to a size to match his smaller facial features. Amy enfolded a hand around her mouth, her suspicions confirmed. The face of a girl in her late teens looked back at her, blood leaking from a gash in the side of her head. It was the same girl who’d shown up with the sword, Amy recognized her from the photos in the report.
He shrieked, falling onto his side, as his neck, shoulders and chest also began to metamorphosize, shrinking and popping to match the face. A soft moan, this one sounding far more human and decidedly feminine escaped his lips. For a moment, the transformee peered out, looking into emptiness, his massive arms hanging uselessly from his slender shoulders. There was a pleading look to his eyes, as if begging the air itself to render aid.
Muscle withered away and his arms jerked, retracting into themselves, massive paw-like hands popped receding into a pair of shrinking palms. A piece of shoulder armor with fur fringe and a set of leather bracers fell away from his arms landing on the ground with a series of soft thumps. Breasts budded out from his chest, exploding out as the rest of his torso dwindled away. Hips realigned, popping and creaking, fat deposited around his hips and posterior as his legs and feet reshaped. A gurgle escaped the soon to be new-girl’s mouth and her eyes grew wide as a pair of slender hands slid inside her kilt. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head just before several loud cracks sounded from her tiny frame and the girl lay still.
Amy approached, swallowing hard as she bent over to examine the new girl, a frown creasing her lips as her mind raced. Blood seeped from a gash in her side similar to the one on her head and Amy licked her lips, wondering how she’d sustained the wounds.
She could infer that someone sent the girl from some other location, perhaps even another world or state of being, but what prompted the transformation? There had been no warning, she just hunched over and started to change.
What the hell was going on here? Her senses were screaming at her that she was missing something very obvious, but try as she might she couldn’t reason what that might be. She bit her lip, catching a movement out of the corner of her eyes.
A tall spectral figure enshrouded in a dark robe materialized out of the darkness, its legless form hovering in the empty air toward them. Amelia backed away to get her best vantage point and waited for it to get closer. It stopped a few feet away from the girl and extended an arm out. No hand or arm was visible from within the sleeve, only darkness. She peered into its hood, but detected no face. The specter didn’t seem to possess a solid form at all, and Amelia bit her lips studying the apparition. How could such an entity exist? Where had it come from?
Fire erupted all around the girl’s slender frame in a perfect circle, burning away bits of armor scattered about her body, before eating away at the harness and kilt, and consuming the massive boots that still enshrouded her feet. No smoke emanated from the flames. Though they looked natural, they did not behave like regular fire. The flames consumed the ground around her and every bit of fabric, metal and leather that had once adorned her flesh, but the sword, a nearby tree, the surrounding playground equipment, and the girl’s flesh remained untouched.
The blaze soon died away, revealing the patch of burnt Earth as it existed in the present. Throwing its other arm out so they were both extended, the spectral figure advanced toward the girl. She sat bolt-upright, breasts wiggling on her chest as she peered about with wide, wild eyes. Blood gushed from her wounds, but somehow she crawled to her feet, knelt to retrieve the sword, and began to stagger forward, the blade of her weapon dragging across the ground behind her.
When Amy’s eyes turned back to regard the apparition it had disappeared…
Amy blinked, and the present world resolved into crystalline clarity around her. Her stomach lurched and for a second she thought another wave of nausea had come upon her, but instead the world around her darkened. She peered up, sensing movement.
A woman with long dark hair approached. The light seemed not to touch her, and Amy could not make out her face. She moved as if fighting against some unknown force and there was a dark murk that surrounded her, which grew more and more visible as she approached.
“He’s coming… you have to get to the girl before it’s too late.” Her voice echoed through the air, disconnected, emanating both from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Before Amy could respond, the woman faded away like ink dispersing in water. She remained there for several long seconds, still grappling with what she’d seen both within the vision and the mysterious woman’s sudden appearance and disappearance.
She caught snatches of conversation in the distance, lifted her hand out of the soil, and rose to her feet. Turning to find Rathdrum and Norham who were speaking a few dozen feet away, Amy studied the pair her arms folded about her chest and her heart racing.
The implications of her vision and the woman’s appearance still fresh in her mind, she swallowed hard and let herself consider the possibilities.
The strange way in which the woman materialized suggested an extra-sensory ability, but who was she and how had she known to appear to the agent? Amy had interacted with only a handful of people since coming to Tondzaosha, and fewer still knew why she came. She must be part of the latter group or perhaps someone connected to one of them. The agent hadn’t recognized her face, but it was shrouded in shadows. In such a situation, she might have trouble recognizing her own mother’s face.
There was the vision to consider. If the sphere was a portal, did it mean the girl had come from another world? Certainly, it would not be of the sort from which Ashtar transported. Before her transformation the girl looked like some sort of barbarian warrior, which suggested she had not traveled from a technologically advanced civilization. The images conjured from the sword would seem to support that, but how then had she come to their world?
Perhaps they were too quick to dismiss the girl’s claims of sorcery. Amy mused a wry grin stretching across her face. Either way, it appeared Rathdrum was wrong, they hadn’t been sent on a wild goose chase after all.
She needed to get to the girl fast and make sense of what she’d seen. Whatever that robed apparition was up to, Amy doubted it had come to spread peace and goodwill.
Amy surged forward both fists clenched at her side, feeling a new sense of urgency. She stopped long enough to grab Rathdrum’s attention and motioned for him to follow, not once acknowledging the other man before continuing on to the car.
She slipped inside, taking the drivers seat while she waited for Rathdrum, a pit forming in her stomach as the seconds ticked by. When Rathdrum opened the passenger side door and seated himself beside her, a frown creased his careworn face.
“Van den Broeke, what’d you see?”
She gritted her teeth turned to regard him and shook her head. “We need to speak to the girl, now.”