Tondzaosha Police Station
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.