Ch 04 Kruhl

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

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.

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 4 Pt 3

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Tondzaosha Police Station
Tondzaosha, Idaho

“Van den Broeke?” Rathdrum asked, turning to regard his superior with an arched eyebrow a moment after the car came to a stop. “You sure you’re okay?”

She didn’t answer at once, instead studying the interior of the Durant Santa Monica, the rental which AEGIS provided them. It wasn’t much to look at, the all-black interior was as basic as they came. The only premium feature it seemed to possess was the in-dash GPS, but it would suit their purposes just fine.

Rathdrum walked almost a mile to retrieve it, as the hotel didn’t have any kind of shuttle service, but he was a fit guy and from what she remembered of the area the walk wouldn’t have been a difficult one.

“Amelia?!” He asked, this time a little more forceful.

Amy sighed, glancing down at her belly where her hand had been resting throughout the car ride and turned back to regard him with wide eyes. She’d been debating whether to tell him the truth for most of the morning. An agent was duty bound to report a pregnancy to her superior as it was a condition that could affect the performance of her duties, but while Amy possessed all the verification she needed, AEGIS required confirmation by a medical professional and she’d yet to make an appointment. Though he was not her superior, he might get suspicious if she kept running off to the bathroom.

She swallowed hard and turned to meet his gaze with her emerald eyes. “Carter, there’s something I should tell you.”

He switched off the ignition and the car shuddered to a stop. His eyes, mirrored his concern, but otherwise his face showed nothing of what he was thinking. For the longest time the pair peered at one another neither speaking.

“I-I’m pregnant,” she said finally managing a response.

Rathdrum blinked, and gripped the steering wheel so tight, his knuckles turned white. “Pregnant?! How far along are you?”

“A few weeks. I-I haven’t even reported it yet, I only just puzzled it out before we left and—” She met Rathdrum’s gaze and froze. There was something in those eyes she didn’t expect, relief.

“For a second there, I thought you were going to tell me you were terminally ill,” he said with a shake of his head a soft chuckle escaping his lips.

“So morning sickness?” He asked nodding toward her peppermint tea, nestled in the cupholder.

Amy nodded, snaking a hand out to retrieve her beverage. “Some days are worse than others. This morning was one of the bad ones.”

“I suppose that means the rumors are true about what happened that day.” He peered at her out of the corner of his eyes.

She took a sip and shook her head. She knew, without being told, of which incident he spoke. “A lot of strange things happened that day.”

He pressed his lips together, but didn’t say a word. Amelia was being taciturn for good reason. Rathdrum took part in the Battle of the Downing Building, fighting alongside other AEGIS personnel outside while Agent Van den Broeke and a small group of exemplars fought within. Though he was part of the team that stormed the building in the aftermath, he knew precious little of what transpired when Amelia and Psyren confronted the entity known as Chemosh.

Director Malcolm ordered that all material concerning Chemosh and the incident be classified as top secret and only be shared on a need to know basis. Amy was being tight-lipped because she had no choice. Though Rathdrum took part in those events, he had no reason to be apprised of the specifics and so they left him in the dark.

“Let’s get this over with Rathdrum. The sooner we can figure this thing out the sooner we can get the hell out of Tondzaosha.” She popped the door open and slipped out of the car, moving toward the police station without glancing back.

Rathdrum, followed lurching out of the vehicle with only a second delay and sprinted to catch up. Van den Broeke was really pounding the pavement. Though much older, Rathdrum kept in shape and the effort didn’t wind him much even after his morning jaunt.

Their destination was a nondescript red-brick building with a glass facade. Dull orange embossed lettering on the glass above the entrance identified the structure as the “City of Tondzaosha Police Department”. It was once a small locally-owned grocery store, Amy recalled. She used to pass it on the way home from school and often stopped in to purchase Hee-Haw bars. After the shop closed, the building had been vacant for many years and remained that way for at least as long as she lived in town. Why the city chose to change the location, least of all into an old market, was beyond her.

Amy reached the door first, only pausing long enough to hold it open for Carter before slipping inside. The interior was much different from what she remembered, the checkout stands and the beverage refrigerators near the front were gone, and save for a reception desk and a door in the back corner of the room, the remaining portion of the building was walled off. Instead of tiles, a dull gray carpet now covered the floors.

“Hello!” A wide-eyed young woman seated at the desk greeted them rising to her feet and planting both hands atop the desktop. “Can I help you?”

Amy reached inside her blazer, producing her badge, flipped it open, and held it in front of her. “I’m Amelia Van den Broeke with AEGIS, and this,” she paused holding a hand out to her companion, “is Agent Carter Rathdrum my subordinate.”

“Oh, oh!” The girl lurched sideways, navigating around the desk and jerked toward them extending both hands and rounding on Amelia. “Tom’s told me all about you I can’t believe we have real live AEGIS agents in town. That is soooo cool.”

Rathdrum fought and failed to hide the grin that found its way onto his face and shook his head. Amelia took the young woman’s hand allowing her to shake it, a bit too vigorously, and then withdrew it looking back at her with wide eyes. Amy cleared her throat smiling. “Might we speak with Shanderly?”

“Uh, well,” the young woman scratched the back of her neck. “He went out on an errand, but the chief said she wanted to speak with you.”

“Well, please lead the way.” Amy replied holding a hand out.

The girl glanced down at Amy’s outstretched hand, nodded and waved them toward a door at the back of the room.

“By the way” Rathdrum said as the girl was about to open the door. “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Oh,” she paused holding her lips in an ‘o’-shape. “The name’s Daisy, Daisy Fischer.”

Amy’s stopped, shaking her head. She’d gone to school with a David Fischer, the girl could be a relative. The other two eyed her, but didn’t say a word as she stepped back into sync with them.

The area beyond the front desk was larger than Amy would have guessed, but not by much. They came out of a door on the north wall, a row of desks stood before them and along the opposite wall. An illuminated office, with the shades drawn took up about a quarter of the east wall, along with a row of seats, and a heavy steel door which Amy guessed housed the evidence locker. The west wall housed a men’s and a women’s bathroom and an unmarked set of steel doors. She doubted there were the usual locker rooms or break rooms Tondzaosha wasn’t big enough to justify the expense.

Daisy led them to the office, where she invited them to sit and disappeared inside. When the door closed behind her Rathdrum sighed, leaned back and shook his head. “Cute kid. I have a daughter about her age.”

Amy nodded, turning to regard the man with a single raised eyebrow. Rathdrum didn’t talk much about his family least of all with her, but then again they weren’t what you call close friends. “I have a younger brother who’d be about the same age. Sometimes I wonder if he even remembers me. He wasn’t even four when I left.”

“Must be hard,” he replied. “I grew up in a big Mormon family can’t imagine what my life would’ve been like if we’d all been split up.”

“You’re Mormon?” Amy blinked, surprised by the admission. Tondzaosha’s LDS population was large and she grew up with more than a few of their faith, but had only met a handful since moving to California.

“Nah.” He waved it off. “Stopped going when I was about sixteen. Have an older sister who’s gay, didn’t much like the way they treated her. The wife’s Episcopalian, once in a while she drags me along to church with her, but truth be told I’m not much of a churchgoer.”

“Uh, Agents?” Daisy peered out the door at them her big blue eyes as wide as saucers. “The chief’s ready for you.”

After some shuffling about, she ushered Amelia and Rathdrum into the office and Daisy closed the door behind them presumably returning to her post at the front door.

Upon entering Amelia regarded the woman behind the desk recognition mirrored in her eyes. She was quite attractive in her youth, Amy recalled, but it had long since faded away. Her cold steel-blue eyes regarded the pair without a hint of emotion displayed on her face.

Gwyneth Avery, was a deputy when Amy first met her and back then, she’d already developed a reputation as a bit of a hard ass. Slender and slight of build, she somehow intimidated any who crossed her even men twice her size.

The night Amy’s father beat her half to death, it was Officer Avery who tackled the man, somehow wrangling him to the ground though he had almost a hundred pounds on her. Afterward, when Amy thanked her, she shrugged and said she was “just doing her job.” She hadn’t said a single word to her after or since, but Amy would never forget the role she played in saving her from that hellhole. She did not indicate that she recognized the Agent, but she hadn’t yet transitioned when last they met, so it didn’t come as much of a surprise.

“Van den Broeke, and Rathdrum, I take it?” She asked watching each of them a frown creasing her lips and held a hand out to a pair of chairs opposite her. “Sit down.”

The agents exchanged glances, but did as instructed. “I admit, I don’t much like the thought of you two nosing about town, but the mayor’s is all up in my ass to figure this thing out. The last time, we had a case this strange, someone blew the goddamned police station to shit and we still don’t know what the hell happened.”

Well, that explained why they relocated the police station, Amy thought ruefully.

“Someone blew the police station up?” Rathdrum asked, surprised mirrored on his features.

She shrugged. “It was maybe thirteen years ago. We had some reports of a weirdo walking around with a staff which wouldn’t have been so noteworthy if there weren’t a trail of bodies everywhere he went. Never found any evidence that he murdered anyone, and the coroner couldn’t even determine a cause of death. The last time we heard anything on him, we got a tip he was wandering around in Ammon Park, the chief at the time sent me and another officer out to talk with him, but it was a wild goose chase. When we returned, the station had been blown to smithereens and everyone inside was dead. Damned odd considering they didn’t find any explosive devices or evidence of gas leaks. After that, staff-boy disappeared into thin air and so did any leads we had on him. ”

“And now you have a girl turn up all these years later, dragging a sword around and babbling on about sorceresses and kings?” Amy added, emerald eyes trained on the Sheriff. “I could see why that’d make some people nervous.”

“I am curious why, this wasn’t included in any of the reports Shanderly gave us. He didn’t even mention anything about it when we asked him about similar occurrences.” Amy leaned forward, surprised at such an obvious omission. She’d had time to browse the files while Rathdrum was retrieving their rental.

“Because everything we had on the man with the staff, including the detective working the case, was destroyed along with the old police station. Shanderly’s family moved to town, several years after it was over, I doubt he knows anything about it.”

Amy sighed, shaking her head in frustration. She had no idea whether the two events were related, but it sounded like a good lead. Too bad it was a dead-end.

“Right, well if there’s nothing else—” Amy started, but Avery pounded her fist down on the desk.

“I just want to make one thing clear. I don’t care for secretive government agencies, least of all one that’s nosing around in my town. Tom filled me in on the details of your conversation last night and I don’t much like the sounds of it. I’m willing to play ball for now, but if you hold back anything regarding this case that puts Shanderly or any of my people in danger, you’ll find out just how uncooperative we can be, you understand?”

“Of course.” Amelia nodded putting on her best reassuring smile. “AEGIS’s primary concern has always been preserving lives.”

Avery frowned again and leaned back in her chair. “Riiight, well I suppose you’ll be wanting to look at the sword. Shanderly can get you into the evidence locker when he gets back in a few minutes.”

Amelia rose to her feet, but paused her hand still poised over the back of the chair, remembering a mystery from the night before. “On the report of the incident with the girl, the witness’s name had been blacked out. Any reason why?”

“What? No, I know nothing about that. Must have been on your end,” she looked up at Amy, eyebrows shooting up past her bangs. “We wouldn’t have any reason to hold something like that back.”

Amy eyed the chief of police, furrowing her brows. She didn’t believe the chief was lying, but what reason would anyone with AEGIS have to keep that information secret? Then a thought occurred to Amy and a cold chill worked its way down her spine. “You wouldn’t know the witnesses name off the top of your head, would you?”

When the Chief spoke the name, Amy gasped.

 

The Fall of Kruhl | Ch 4 Pt 4

AEGIS Seal

Official Report
Tondzaosha Police Station
Tondzaosha, Idaho

The name belonged to Serena van den Broeke, her mother.

Amy knew it was her even before the chief finished speaking. She’d only met a handful of Serenas in her life, and her mother had been the only one the entire time she lived in Tondzaosha. True, she went by her middle name in those days, but aside from a few cousins and an uncle there were no other Van den Broekes in town. 

Her mind raced at the revelation, and she bit her lip. Someone blacked out her mother’s name on that police report and she very much wanted to understand why.

As she muddled the mystery over a name came to mind, and if she was right, she might even have an explanation. Director Malcolm, the head of AEGIS, took a personal interest in her almost from the day they met, and he was the one who ordered her, however indirectly, to come to Tondzaosha. If it was him, he must have presumed she would do anything to avoid speaking with her mother again, and he would have been right. She could have passed the case on to a subordinate claiming a conflict of interest. No one would have given it a second thought. 

The question was, why would the Director commit a federal crime by altering an official police report to ensure she came to Tondzaosha? Why would it be so important that she be there? Malcolm was a hard man to understand, considering he wasn’t even human.

But what if it wasn’t the Director? When the thought occurred to her out of the blue, brought another cold shiver. Perhaps someone in the police force had blacked out the name. Any of them might have had the opportunity, even Daisy or Chief Avery, despite the latter’s assertion otherwise, but for what reason? More perplexing, how did they know AEGIS would send her?

She thanked the chief and slipped out of the room. Rathdrum nodded at the woman and followed suit.

“Serena Van den Broeke. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that she’s a relative of yours,” he said glancing about the room. It seemed like a casual gesture, but Amy doubted that there was anything that Rathdrum did which was casual. He was probably checking to make sure no one would overhear him speak.

“My mother.” Amy peered back at him with a guarded expression.

He did not press her for details regarding her before glancing toward the north wall. Amy’s eyes soon followed his gaze at the sound of footsteps approaching, never so glad for the distraction. Deputy Shanderly had several paper sacks, and a coffee cup carrier in hand as he approached, giving the agents a good idea just what sort of errand he’d been on.

“Agents!” He beamed, then looked about the empty room, save for the agents and himself. “Uh, let me just drop off Chief Avery’s breakfast and we can get underway.”

He set all but one bag down and pulled a coffee cup free from the holder before disappearing into the chief’s office. Amy watched him go, her arms folded across her chest and head tilted. She’d thought little about Shanderly asking her about her name the previous night, but the more she ruminated over the idea the more likely it seemed he’d been fishing for information. Shanderly wrote the original report, he must have made a connection. Could he have been the one who blacked out her mother’s name?

The deputy returned snatching a coffee from the cupholder and turned to regard them with wide eyes. “You want anything? I’m sure the others won’t mind.”

Amy shook her head still experiencing nausea from her morning sickness and Rathdrum declined. Shanderly took a long sip from the cup and sighed. “The best part of wakin’ up,” he grinned and turned back to them. “Chief says you wanted a look at the sword, we can pop into the evidence locker. Should only take a few minutes.”

Amy regarded Shanderly for a moment longer, still uncertain of him, but agreed. She had nothing but her suspicion at this point and until she puzzled out who was responsible, she couldn’t act. Just what she needed, she emitted a long breath of air, another damned mystery to unravel.

The deputy led them to the heavy steel door and unlocked it with a set of keys retrieved from his pocket. He swung the door open and ushered them inside. “It’s not much,” he said placing both hands on his hips. “But it serves our needs.”

He wasn’t kidding. Amelia peered at the cage at the back of the room and the shelves along the walls. AEGIS had bigger broom closets. The entire building would fit inside the AEGIS evidence lockup back home. That being said, their facility in New Hebron housed a fair number of dangerous artifacts confiscated as a matter of course, or handed over to them by other agencies.

At first, Amy didn’t spot the sword as her eyes scanned the room with casual disinterest. The shelves housed boxes, which she knew from experience would contain case files. The cages were for more dangerous or illicit items, weapons, drugs and whatever other odds and ends they’d come upon. It was there that she spotted the weapon, the bottom obscured behind an AR-15 and a baseball bat.

Amy drew closer, eying it her lips pressed together in a thin line. She knew next to nothing about melee weapons, save for the butterfly knives and switchblades used in street fights. Though she’d seen one or two swords, they were movie prop replicas. This looked more substantial. It was huge, close to five-feet long and gleamed with an almost silverish sheen.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Shanderly said slipping in front of her. He produced a pair of leather gloves from inside his pockets and opened the locker with a second key. A moment later he turned about sword handle clenched in both hands. “It’s the darnedest thing, try to touch the thing with your bare hands they feel like they’re on fire.”

“You had anyone look at it?” Rathdrum asked kneeling down beside the sword.

Shanderly tilted his head up and down. “Yeah, a gaggle of egghead professors and undergrads from the university up North. They ran all sorts of tests, even ran a Geiger counter over the thing and nothing. One of them, an archaeologist, I think, said the script,” he indicated an array of symbols engraved vertically across its surface. “Is from some old European runic alphabet, but that it was inconsistent with the style of the sword. By the time they started making great swords, like this,” he said turning it in his hand revealing the opposite side of the rune-engraved blade. “Most of Europe was using some variant of the Latin alphabet like we do today.”

Rathdrum and Van den Broeke exchanged glances, but neither understood the implications of the statement. “So, what does that mean?” Rathdrum asked his hand hovering inches from the blade.

“Uh, well. I asked the same question he said it’s probably fake, or at least someone added the runes after the fact. He seemed to think it was hand-forged, and suggested that running a metallurgical analysis would give us a clue when it was made. The materials and methods used apparently vary throughout—”

Amy held a hand up, and Shanderly stopped eyes glued on her. She didn’t care about the particulars of the blade’s make-up or history save how it pertained to the case. What mattered to her was finding out how and why it worked and how the girl came into possession of it.

Amy approached the sword, kneeling down beside Rathdrum. She did not touch it, instead studying the features of the weapon with a critical eye.

Amy was entranced. There was something about the blade, it radiated an energy the like of which she’d never experienced. Every object had a certain ambiance, but this one emanated such power it was palatable. Without thinking about it, she drew her hand out, her slender fingers touching a rune that resembled an uppercase ‘M’. The pain was instantaneous and she gritted her teeth sweat dripping down her forehead. It felt as if she’d touched a searing hot brand. She closed her eyes, attempting to steady her breath, but her chest heaved and she panted still trying to fight it off. All at once, everything faded away.

Images flashed before her taking on a familiar amber tinge. A figure stood in a torch-lit corridor, its features bent and contorted, its face resembled a lion, but its body looked human. The figure dove forward, the sword clenched in its hands rounding on a second figure. She tried to distinguish its features, but it became lost in a flash of light. She saw armies waged in battles, humans fighting more of the lion-men and a figure gripping a slender black staff in the distance hurling energy blasts in their midst. More images came and dissolved away, another lion-man or person or perhaps the one she’d seen at the beginning, she couldn’t be sure, pulling the sword free from a sheath. Another flash, a lion-man, a lion-woman, and a human woman dressed in flowing gray robes confronting a figure in all-black. The images increased in frequency, coming so fast that she could only distinguish them as flashes of light and color.

She screamed, but it was too late. There was another burst of illumination, and she caught a brief peek of the evidence room, just in time, for a explosion of energy to surge out from the sword and send her slamming into the opposite wall. The entire backside of her body erupted in fiery-hot agony and the darkness came to sweep her into the abyss.

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