1328 Maryzell Ln
Ashley leaned forward, cupping both her palms over her face, blowing a long weary sigh of air out her mouth. It was well past two in the morning and she was finding it hard to keep awake. She shook her head and rested it against the the wall, closing her eyes.
It hadn’t even been twelve hours since Sapphira collapsed, and no one could tell them why. She peered up at the exemplars inert form atop the hospital bed, studying her face, and frowned. Her friend looked as if she were asleep, but Ashley knew better. The doctors said that her beta wave patterns were consistent with someone who was awake and alert. As far as the doctors were concerned, there didn’t seem to be any reason for her to be unconscious.
She brushed several long strands of auburn hair out of her eye and sighed, contemplating, not for the first time, chopping it all off. She was a natural blonde, but since she now possessed the body of a college co-ed, part of the condition that she remain in New Hebron was that she disguise herself. The colored contacts and hair dye were a part of it, but every morning she woke up and caked her face in several layers of makeup to conceal that she was wearing the face of a dead girl.
She never realized all the trouble women went through to maintain their looks until she’d actually become one. Even as the affirmed ‘tomboy’ of the group she still spent a jaw-dropping amount of time every morning prettying herself up and… though she would never admit it to any of the others, it was all worth it.
The girl’s cheeks warmed just speculating over it, but she liked the way her body made her feel, especially when alone with her boyfriend. A cold shiver shot down her spine just thinking about it.
Ashley stopped herself, remembering what brought her there, and bit her lip. Where were Hailey and Jenn? They left some time ago to get something to eat at Ashley’s insistence and had yet to return. She eyed the door as if willing them to come through, but they did not.
Still her eyes did not leave the door, and a few seconds later a soft rap sounded from its hardwood surface. She jumped, placing an open palm on her chest, and called out for the person on the other side to enter.
When the door swung open, a tall figure stood in the doorway. Ashley started watching him as he glided into the room. As usual Director Brian Malcolm of AEGIS was immaculately attired, resplendent in a custom tailored suit that cost more than most people made in a month. He slipped his left hand over his right wrist, adjusting a gold cufflink, and peered down at her.
“Ashley Harris,” he nodded, glancing back over his shoulder at Sapphira before turning back to her, steel-gray eyes seeming to look right through her, a deep frown creasing his lips. “Let’s talk.”
“All this time I’ve been fighting that godforsaken thing without knowing what it was, or even if it had a name.” Teressa began biting her lip, Amelia and Kruhl leaning in close. It was the morning after the attack, and the three women had gathered to share their experiences and try to make sense of what happened.
They sat within a large family room in the house’s basement in which they’d taken up sanctuary. They were careful to keep the lights out and spoke in hushed tones to avoid drawing attention from the neighbors. According to Teressa, the owners of the home were away on a trip outside the country and wouldn’t be home for several more weeks.
“Odalrik.” Kruhl bit her lips. “His name is Odalrik.”
Teressa nodded. “Yeah, I put that much together from what you’ve told me.”
Teressa was the last of the trio to share her story, Kruhl’s had been the most illuminating, providing answers for questions the other two had been trying to wrap their heads around. Neither sister questioned what the strange little woman told them, Amelia because of what she saw in her visions and Teressa because she’d witnessed so many strange things.
She regarded them both, pausing only a second before continuing. “I was living in Grove City when he first came for me…”
Shadows bathed the room. A low trickle of light from the rising sun peaking through the blinds provided the only source of illumination. Teressa sat up, retrieving her phone from the nightstand and glanced at the time. It wasn’t yet six. She felt alert, more so than usual, but didn’t think much of it, until a black form floated toward her materializing from within the darkness of the far side of the room.
It seemed to be a substanceless creature, only given form by the cloak it wore. She looked within its hood, but saw nothing save for a darkness. When it extended an arm out, even the sleeve was empty.
[Teressa] It spoke her name, it’s voice full of malice.
Teressa lurched away, crawling backward, but never took her eyes away from the apparition. It hovered toward her, the bottom half of its form passing through the bed, and continued onward. It backed her into the corner and she lay there back against the wall, trembling in terror.
[You will be mine] It spoke, its voice rumbling as a high-pitched cackle filled the air.
The specter brought its second arm up, holding them both before it, brilliant red light bursting from its extended appendages. Teressa shielded her eyes, the light growing so intense that tears streamed down her face. What its intentions were, were anyone’s guess, but when her attacker emitted a howl of rage, she sensed that it failed. She dove out of the bed, rolling through the specter’s dark form, cold needles prickling her skin for the brief second they occupied the same space.
Making for the doorway, she clasped one hand on her neck and threw the other up behind her. Inky dark haze exuding from her fingertips, she fled from the apartment. Her life, as she knew it, was changed forever…
“Odalrik came to me twice more, each time, was pretty much a repeat of the last. I don’t know what it is he was trying to do, but—”
“He was attempting to subvert you,” Kruhl said out of the blue, a scowl on her face.
“It is difficult magic, even for one as powerful as he, but judging from what we’ve seen so far, it seems he has become quite adept at it. For whatever reason, he was intent on gaining control over you, but ultimately failed. You possess some power of your own, it’s possible it helped you resist him.”
The warrior king pursed her lips, glancing at the pair of women. This is how low she’d sunk. She gritted her teeth, allying herself with a pair of humans. True, their abilities seemed quite formidable in their own respect, but before she could call on the might of all the Assar tribes of Eirdon.
Kruhl had more than once entertained the notion of striking out on her own, but it was a foolish idea. The once-king knew nothing of this realm, or its people. She would be a fish out of water.
“Shit,” Amelia answered, then turned her attention to Kruhl, who was doing her best not to make eye contact. “What about these skaeda, could it be he wanted to make her into one?”
“The magics for creating a skaeda and subverting someone are… related, but to make such a creature as a skaeda requires acts best left to the imagination. Subversion is simpler, but it is not as effective, you don’t gain complete control over the victim, they are very suggestive to your will and the control can be broken. A skaeda remains loyal until the end.”
Amelia sighed and leaned back in her armchair. “How many more of these skaeda do you think he has under his thumb?”
Lips pressed together in a tight frown, she released a slow breath of air, but still refused to look her in the eyes. “It is hard to say. As you might imagine, it would be difficult to find a willing subject to create a skaeda. In most cases, a sorcerer would need to break them into complete submission first. That alone requires a level of magical energy few practitioners of the dark arts can match. Odalrik is a powerful sorcerer, but I doubt even he could subvert more than a handful of individuals enough to create such creatures.”
“Bottom line is, Odalrik’s been amassing power, he’s already gained control of the Tondzaosha, Alameda, and Grove City police forces and may have at least partial control of each town’s city council, maybe even their mayors,” Teressa leaned forward clasping her hands over her knees.
Kruhl froze, finding herself staring at her exposed cleavage, and swallowed. Her heart pounded in her ears, and she glanced down at her chest where her nipples showed through the fabric of her blouse. She licked her lips, regarding first Teressa, then Amelia. If either woman noticed, they’d chosen to ignore it. The two long-lost siblings barely even acknowledged her.
The former warrior king folded her arms over her breasts and tried with little success to dispel thoughts of bedding the other woman. She never had the need nor desire to curb her sexual appetites and now that she was contending with a new and very different libido she could find no means of tempering it.
Worse, she found these humans attractive. If her father knew of her predicament, he would hang his head in shame.
She turned her golden eyes on the elder Van den Broeke and fought back similar thoughts. While both sisters were attractive, the agent possessed a much more interesting figure, and the thought of bedding them together… She swallowed again, this time harder, and looked away.
“All that is bad enough,” Amelia replied. “But if he sends even one more skaeda after us, we could be in big trouble.”
“If he does pray that is all he sends after us,” Kruhl said shaking her head.
A cold chill racked Kruhl’s spine, and any thoughts of sex were dispelled by her imaginings of the perverse acts Odalrik once committed. Though she never witnessed them being practiced, she’d heard accounts of the sorcerer’s many appetites. Such retellings were not for the faint of heart. Though the siblings were quite tough for human females, Kruhl did not see the need to inflict them with the information. When she’d first heard the tales as a child, she’d been haunted by nightmares for weeks afterward.
She had learned much since they’d begun their ‘little chitchat’. Each woman had shared a piece of the puzzle, but as yet so much had gone unexplained. One question haunted her more than the rest. If the people under Odalrik’s thrall already had possession of Waldere, why had the shade demanded she tell him the location of the sword?