Cherry Springs Nature Trail
A halo of light surrounded Kruhl, swirling out in all directions before settling on his massive frame. It shone so brightly that it forced even Ashley to look away. When the luminescence faded, the once-king, again wearing her human skin, was crouched over Leoffa’s corpse.
She held her former lover’s dismembered head against her forehead. Tears pattered down her cheeks and her entire body shook.
Amy turned, regarding Ashley with a frown, but the dark-haired turned most of her attention to the crystal still clenched in her companion’s armored hand. “Keep that thing hidden until I can figure out what we should do with it.”
Ashley nodded, and a series of mechanical whirs sounded from the suit. Plates retracted from her chest, abdomen, legs and arms, revealing the young woman within. She crawled out, and the armor, moving of its own accord, slipped the crystal inside the opening and closed back up.
Amy regarded Ashley for a moment, arched an eyebrow and moved toward Alexandra. The little woman set Leoffa’s head down, and rested one hand on the corpse’s shoulders, straightening the arms and positioning the body, which lay sprawled out on its side, so that its back was resting on the ground. The legs she pulled straight out and the arms she folded over the chest. She returned Leoffa’s head, positioning it over her shoulders and closed the eyes with her open palm, a sob escaping her lips.
“Go dígo mbealfymid le shéila arues. Bea’altene Dohan d’ynem a thraurú go sábhylt chaeig an soel aile.” Though Van den Broeke didn’t understand the words, she guessed from the reverence with which the other woman spoke, it was some sort of invocation for the dead.
Amy put a palm on Alexandra’s shoulder and the Assar warrior looked back at the agent through tear-soaked eyes. She buried her head in Amelia’s shoulder and her entire body wracked with sobs.
“You did the right thing,” Amy said, tears burning her eyes. “She would have never come around.”
The pair held one another for several moments and would have for longer had it not been for a flurry of movement nearby. Fredericks, Harris and the AEGIS task force, minus Grimes and a nameless agent, whose absence Amy only noted by counting heads.
It seemed the sorceress’s barrier had fallen with her death.
Amy put her hands on Alexandra’s shoulders, met the once-king’s gaze and nodded toward the newcomers. The former Assar seemed to understand. She nodded and pulled away, allowing the other to slip free.
Amy rose and turned to meet Fredericks, who approached, gun held ready. “Van den Broeke?”
“We have resolved the situation here,” she muttered with a long breath of air and glanced back over her shoulder. “Grimes?”
“He’s getting medical care now. He’ll live,” Fredericks replied peering around the clearing and settled his gaze on Leoffa’s staff.
Amy bent down to retrieve it and turned it around in her hands, regarding the gemstone which had turned black once again. “Fredericks, we need to focus on damage control. This town’s police force was decimated. I have reason to believe that the police forces, several local elected officials and who knows how many towns people may still be compromised.”
Van den Broeke flattened her lips, mind racing as she considered the possibility that someone within AEGIS had also had their minds twisted. Her gut sank at the prospect, but she knew she couldn’t just let her suspicions sit. Unfortunately, that meant that there were very few people within the agency she would be able to trust.
Fredericks nodded. “I’ll get a containment crew brought in.”
“You good to oversee things?” She asked Fredericks while peering back at Alexandra.
“Yeah, of course,” he replied, eyebrows shooting up.
“I… have some personal business to attend to.” She returned her gaze to him, jaw set as if expecting him to challenge her, but he just nodded again.
“You’ve had a rough time of it. I’m sure you’re tired.”
Amy did not respond, but gave him a brief smile and turned away. She gazed at Alexandra, realizing with a start that Waldere was missing.
With quick, yet furtive steps she moved back, crouching down beside the once-king and studied her features. The other woman did not take notice of her, and Amy did nothing to draw her attention. Then Amelia noted a glint of steel on the warrior’s arm and sucked breath in through her teeth.
An arm ring in the shape of a sword was coiled around Alexandra’s arm, it bore the same hilt design as Waldere. Amy understood the implications at once, but she wasn’t sure what to do about it. The former king had proven herself, and for the time being she deserved some time to rest and mourn.
“Fredericks, I’m taking Alexandra with me. You can debrief her tomorrow.”
Again Fredericks eyebrows arched, but he only nodded. Amy took a moment to help the once-king to her feet, allowing the tiny blond to lean against her, then guided her back to the car.
They say time mends all wounds, but the agent knew better. The loss Alexandra was experiencing would stick with her for the rest of her life. In time, she would think of it less and less, but there would always be an empty place in her heart.
Amy stepped out of the car and peered down at the cheap burner phone she’d purchased at a local drugstore as a temporary replacement for the one she’d discarded while on the lam to find yet another text from Sapphira.
Amy smiled and slipped the phone back into her pocket without responding. She’d spent hours speaking to her lover over the phone that very morning. As near as the agent could determine, the other woman had come awake at almost the exact moment Leoffa had met her end, dispelling any doubts that the sorceress was behind the other exemplar’s mysterious ailment.
As much as she loved and adored Liv, she couldn’t put off the task ahead of her any longer. She stepped onto the curb and approached the storefront of Phil’s her lips pressed together in a frown. Although she’d never stepped inside, she was familiar enough with the establishment to hesitate before entering.
It wasn’t so much that the place had an unsavory reputation. As bars went, it was the sort of place frequented by middle-aged men just looking for a drink and catch a game or two after work. Nor was it particularly rowdy, but there was one defining feature that gave her pause.
It had been and apparently still was her father’s favorite watering hole. She’d heard all about the ‘boys at Phil’s’ from her own father’s mouth and though it had been years, she doubted the regulars had changed much since then. It was the kind of place that resisted change.
She pushed the door open and stepped inside. Sure enough, Lucas van den Broeke sat at the counter. He looked more or less like she expected, and the years had not been kind to him. Her father was fifty-six and looked more like he was approaching his seventies. The Van den Broeke patriarch slid his fingers through a shock of gray hair and rested his palm over his bulging belly.
Amy sat down next to him and stared straight forward, her lips trembling as her insides twisted into knots. She pressed her lips together and waved the bartender down. She ordered a Shirley Temple and shifted to regard her father as Phil prepared her drink.
Lucas glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes, and at last, her elder blinked. He sipped his beer, which judging from the way the foam had settled had been sitting for some time and set it down with a careless clatter.
The bartender turned to give him a warning glance, and Amy cocked her head and returned her father’s gaze with as neutral of an expression as she could muster.
Lucas cracked a smile and slipped a hand on her knee. Amy nearly lurched out of her seat, but forced herself to remain in place. The taste of bile rose in her throat and she resisted the urge to swing at him.
“Honey, are you lost?” Lucas laughed, and cast a glance over his shoulder at the barkeep who was watching the encounter between pursed lips. “Maybe, I can help you find your way. Of course, there might be a detour along the way, but I’m sure you’ll appreciate the company.”
“No,” Amy said, a surge of anger in her voice, and she slapped his hand away. “I’m not here for that, Dad.”
The elder Van den Broeke jerked back, eyes growing wide as he peered at his eldest child, understanding beginning to dawn on his face.
“Oh, God… Andy?”
“Amelia,” the agent corrected, staring back at him, her face getting redder and her expression contorting into a glower.
“The fuck, you want?” He asked, any evidence of joviality gone from his face.
“Closure,” Amy answered.
Lucas balled a fist and pulled it back. Amy was ready for the attack. She reached out with her mind and with a flick of her wrist forced his hand into the countertop. She put barely any force into it, and at worst his hand might throb for a few moments. He deserved far worse, but she would not lower herself to his level.
“Assaulting a federal office, is a serious offense, Dad. I’d hate to arrest you.”
If her use of telekinesis surprised Lucas, he didn’t show it. He continued to scowl at her, face growing redder by the moment. Amy regarded him, her features calm and collected. She snaked a hand inside her jacket and showed him her badge.
“I just need to say something and then I’ll leave. You made my life hell and I’ve spent the last decade and a half trying to forget you even existed, but I didn’t realize I was still carrying around so much baggage.”
Lucas didn’t speak, but glanced down at his fist and attempted to leverage himself against the bar to gain his freedom. He cursed, regarding her between gritted teeth.
“You’re still a man, you know that? I don’t care how pretty of a package you wrap yourself in, your DNA doesn’t lie.”
Amy smirked, almost laughing at the pronouncement, but held back her mirth. She might have mentioned that the brain structure of a trans woman was identical to that of a cis woman, or a dozen other arguments that sprang to mind, but held her tongue. Lucas van den Broeke was a hardliner and staunch conservative. He would never be swayed, even if he knew she was pregnant.
“I’m through letting your shadow cast a pall over my life. You are nothing to me, nothing.” She regarded the bartender as he approached with her glass and produced a bill out of her breast pocket before turning back to look Lucas in the eyes.
She stood, took a sip from her drink and grimaced. The agent didn’t speak another word, but set the glass back down, turned away and strode out of the bar.
She stopped outside, her heart hammering in her chest, and swallowed… hard. To some that might have seemed like a vain ego stroke, but for the agent it was her way of, at last, letting go of all the pain that had plagued her for so many years.
With a smile, she strode back into the car, slipped her phone back out of her pocket and climbed inside.
Brian van den Broeke turned the crystal in his hands, transfixed. He couldn’t say why, but the bit of Amethyst called to him in a way he didn’t understand. He should do something with it, he sensed, it would let him unleash power…
There was a knock on the bedroom door and he blinked, shaking his head. He frowned at the stone, then slipped it into his pocket and called to whoever it was to come in.
The door creaked open and Amelia stood in the doorway, arms folded across her chest. He sat up, paying no mind to his surroundings, and regarded her thoughtfully.
Before they were separated, they’d both been teenagers, and Amy had been a gangly kid struggling with her gender identity. Now she looked every bit the woman he’d always known she was. He smiled, and ran a hand through his mop of dark hair, and looked his eldest sibling in the eyes.
Amy exuded an air of confidence that he found so at odds with the troubled youth he’d known. He was happy she’d found herself, but he knew it must have been one hell of a journey to get there.
“I guess you’ll be leaving soon,” he offered, a frown creasing his features.
“No, Amy replied, dropping both of her hands.
“In light of everything, my boss is letting me take some time off. I figured I’d spend some of it reconnecting with my family.” Amy stumbled over the last word, but Brian paid it no mind.
“I mean, if you don’t mind me sticking around for a wee—”
Brian lurched to his feet, threw his arms out and embraced his sister. “I’d love that,” he said after they pulled away.
“There is one thing… though,” Amy added. “I want you to consider coming back to California with me.”
Brian furrowed his brows, but his older sibling held her hands up before he could speak. “I just want to make sure there’s no lasting effect from what that woman did to you. AEGIS has state-of-the-art medical facilities, if anyone can find something it will be our doctors.”
Brian nodded and felt a lump form in his throat. Recollections of Leoffa’s intrusion played out in his mind. He remembered very little of it, but what he recalled produced a shiver that tickled its way down his spine. It hadn’t even occurred to him that she may have messed with something while rattling around in his brain. He cupped a hand over the stone in his front pocket, but didn’t say a word.
“Y-yeah,” he nodded, his voice quivering. “That’s… probably a good idea.”
“Great.” Amy cupped his face in her palms. “Now come on, Serena said dinner’s about ready.”
Brian followed his older sister out of the room, down the stairs and into the kitchen where their mother Serena, their younger siblings Erica and David, and that odd little blond woman with the cat’s eyes waited. The second eldest Van den Broeke sibling had his own issues with his mother, but he had to admit it was nice being a family again.