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The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 2 Pt 1

10/19/2019

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

10/26/2019

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

11/02/2019

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

11/09/2019

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.