State Hospital South
Grove City, Idaho
“What the hell?” Rathdrum panted, eyes wild as they roved the darkened room. Faint overhead emergency lights provided the only illumination, revealing the forms of the two agents, the doctor, the orderlies and Shanderly in the corner, but little else. Rathdrum, who stood just below one, was the only person whose face was visible.
Carter moved to the doorway, reached for the latch and swung back to Amelia, shaking his head. “It’s locked.”
Amy didn’t answer, she drew her gun keeping both it and her eyes trained on the entrance. Only daring to look away to glance at Shanderly. As she suspected, the deputy was hunched over in his seat, unmoved since the lights went out. She frowned and arched an eyebrow, but didn’t voice her concerns.
Though Shanderly appeared to have taken ill, if she was right, they would soon have much bigger problems.
“Oh for hell sakes, Ms. Felch, get the damn door open.” Harrison said scowling at the two Agents as if they were idiots and waving at the female orderly.
“Carter,” Amy said, wiping a bead of sweat from her brow. “Get the girl, and get her out of those restraints, if we come under attack, she’ll make for an easy target.”
“Now agent, I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but—” Harrison moved to block Rathdrum’s path, shadowed on either side by the pair of orderlies, but froze when shrill, hysterical laughter rang through the room. It was coming from Shanderly.
“Harrison!” Amy exclaimed. “Get away from him, now!”
He did not move, glancing back and forth between Van den Broeke and Shanderly. It was difficult to tell in the gloom, but it looked to Amy like Harrison’s brows were furrowed in confusion. The younger man leveled his gaze on her and Amelia stopped unprepared for what she saw. Shanderly’s eyes were glowing blood-red. At the sight of this, Rathdrum rushed to release Kruhl’s restraints.
He lurched up, lips curling out to reveal a row of razor-sharp teeth, a low wolfish growl rumbling from his throat.
“You should listen to her.” Shanderly smiled, his voice taking on a rough almost wheezy quality.
“Shit,” Felch cursed under her breath, backing away, pulling her younger peer back with her. She attempted to draw the doctor away with her, but Harrison remained planted in place.
Shanderly pounced, clawed hands slashing at the doctor’s throat. Blood splattered all over Rathdrum and the doctor’s lifeless form crumpled, falling to the ground at the agent’s feet. Carter ducked, hands releasing the last of Kruhl’s straps about her ankles. The creature that had once been Shanderly raked his claws down, slicing at the young woman, but she jerked her head sideways before his claws could find purchase. She kicked out, landing a blow between his legs and he howled doubling over both clawed hands cupping his privates.
Kruhl pounced over the side of the chair, landed on all fours like a cat, and rushed toward the relative safety which Amy provided. Rathdrum, did just the opposite, standing and training his gun on Shanderly.
“Hands where I can see them,” the older man said between gritted teeth.
Shanderly froze, blood-red eyes peering up at Rathdrum, features stretched into a horrendous grin. With inhuman speed, he lurched sideways toward the orderlies. Rathdrum peppered the space he’d vacated with bullets, but his opponent was too quick. He slammed into his targets, tossing the man into the steel table where his skull impacted with a sickening crunch and a splash of blood. The deputy spun the woman around and tightened an arm around her throat, shielding himself with her body.
The creature pulled his free hand back, balled it into a fist then slammed it through the woman’s back, and out the front of her chest, spraying her blood and entrails all over. Before either agent could again open fire, he raised her lifeless body and tossed it across the room, straight into Rathdrum.
He rushed toward Amy, but her pistol was ready. Van den Broeke opened fire. The first shot impacted his right shoulder, but he kept on coming, seemingly unaware of the injury. Amy dropped all pretense at aiming and just fired shot after shot until her clip was empty. Each time the bullets hit home, sometimes impacting his torso, but once it struck his cheek. Each time, blood splattered from the wound, but still he came.
Amy dove out of the way just before he reached her, sliding a hand inside her blazer for a spare clip and turned to face him. By then, Rathdrum had untangled himself from the woman’s corpse, and risen to his feet, gun blazing. Shanderly lurched toward the second agent, giving Amy enough time to reload, then she too was firing upon the deputy. At last, he fell to his knees no longer able to shrug off their weapons fire. With one great screech of pain and rage, Shanderly’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed to the floor, dead.
“Fuck,” Rathdrum cursed under his breath, returning his pistol to its holster. “And I thought this shit couldn’t get any weirder.”
Amy did not re-holster her weapon, but instead, moved toward Shanderly, knelt beside him, and checked for a pulse. Unable to detect one, she lowered her head and let out a long sigh.
Though the light was still scarce, she furrowed her brows as she examined the body. She snaked an arm out and lifted one of his hands, his fingers had reverted to the stubby digits he possessed before, but stranger still there was no blood anywhere on either hand. She peered into his mouth, which hung agape, and again spotted nothing unusual. His sharp teeth had disappeared, replaced with garden-variety pearly whites. When she pulled an eyelid open to look into his eyes, they too had regressed. There was no sign that he’d ever transformed, nor did there seem to be any evidence that he slaughtered anyone.
Her mind spun, thinking back to every case she’d worked and the AEGIS case files she’d read. She’d never heard of anything like this.
“Rathdrum, check the other bodies, see if you can’t find a key. Something tells me, Shanderly was only the tip of the iceberg.” Amy said, eyes still peeled on the corpse.
The other agent moved away, and Amelia remained in place. Still thinking.
“He was a skeada,” a soft high-pitched voice spoke up and Amy started, her eyes finding the girl, her tiny form bathed in shadows. Amidst all the tumult she’d forgotten the other had been there at all.
When the other woman did not respond, Kruhl cleared her throat and stepped forward, “A creature changed by dark sorcery, to become an assassin, only revealing their altered form when it is time to kill. Death is the only release from such a fate.”
Amy pressed her lips together green eyes, never leaving the girl as she moved toward her. She was quite pretty, even with the cat eyes. Though small, she possessed curves in all the right places.
Amy wasn’t quite prepared to ascribe Shanderly’s transformation to magic, despite her musings to the contrary. No, this had to be something else. Perhaps Shanderly was the victim of some advanced genetic manipulation for which Kruhl had mistaken for sorcery or, she added another theory occurring to her, Shanderly had possessed some new exemplar ability. Either way it seemed likely they were dealing with a very dangerous enemy.
A loud clang sounded from the door and both agent and mental patient turned to watch Rathdrum swing the door open.
“Well,” Carter said, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about enough of this place.”
Amy nodded, and paused, turning to regard Kruhl, who stood looking at her with wide eyes. She would need the girl’s cooperation, but though she had a better idea who and what she was since her visit to the park, that didn’t mean she could trust her.
“Don’t worry,” Kruhl said with a harsh growl that sounded far too rough to have come out of such a tiny little thing. “You saved my life. That much, at least, has earned you my cooperation until we’ve reached safety.”
The agent hesitated only a moment and nodded. She didn’t like any of it, but like it or not, Kruhl seemed to be at the center point of this whole mess and she couldn’t very well leave her there to get killed.
“All right,” she nodded.
Kruhl stalked forward, hunkering down on her hands and feet, luminescence eyes seeming to glow in the darkness. “I will lead.” She stepped through the doorway and peered back. “I see better in the dark.”
“Perhaps,” Amy replied, her voice flat. “But Rathdrum and I are armed.”
Kruhl’s golden eyes gleamed, as she peered back at the agent, but then she stepped back into the room and gestured for the other to lead the way.
Amy moved forward, slipped through the doorway and jerked back as the sounds of weapon fire resonated through the corridor.
“Oh hell,” Amy cursed, again raising her weapon. “Why can’t these things ever be easy?”