A.I.R. Shattered Soul

By: Amanda Booloodian
Chapter 1

Stalking a troll required quiet finesse. Logan, my mentor and partner, moved silently ahead. For all the noise he made, he could have been walking on carpet. Maybe elves learned that with age. Logan was over one hundred and fifty years old. You can learn a lot in that time. Then you have me. If there was a twig or leaf on the ground, you could bet I would break it.

Logan pushed his sandy blond hair behind his ear. The ear looked misshapen, too thick on top. Then it twitched. Flesh rolled outward and upward. Within seconds, the expanded ear led up to a point, until it was more than twice the original length. The late morning sun showed that the newly exposed pale skin was thin, almost to the point of transparency.

I loved my job. What other humans had the chance to work with elves, much less see them unfurl their ears?

Our quarry was a small cave troll, one of the Lost, an Inter-dimensional creature that didn’t originate in our world. It was Logan’s and my job to find him and relocate him. Intel said he would be stocky and around four feet tall.

Being a foot and a half taller than the troll should have made me feel as if I had the advantage. The tranquilizer gun in my hand should have given me some sense of security. However, neither did. My mouth was dry and my insides coiled like a spring.

The Agency for Interdimensional Regulation, AIR, hired me less than a year ago. I had only been in the field for six months. Very few people knew that mythological creatures sometimes enter our world through portals connecting dimensions. We can create portals to familiar worlds, but most are naturally occurring. The Lost slip through to find themselves in our world. Three years out of college and I worked to keep that secret. It was overwhelming and amazing at the same time. For this relocation, I knew that cave trolls were simple-minded, non-verbal, and strong. That was the extent of my knowledge, and I had learned it from a case file.

Logan put a finger to his lips. I stopped moving, anticipating a sound but hearing nothing. He gave the signal to take cover. My steps were noisy but quick. Reaching a tree, I flattened myself against the trunk, keeping a low profile. I scanned the forest floor while watching for more instructions from Logan. Logan crouched behind another tree and considered the terrain.

Mentally walking through where my hands should be placed, I gripped my tranq gun. Finger above the trigger, never on the trigger. Safety off. Pointed at the ground.

A twig broke to the right. I gripped my gun tighter. Turning, I brought it up, ready to shoot. Two squirrels froze for a moment and then zipped away. I pointed my gun back to the ground and let out a steadying breath.

I rolled my eyes and looked at Logan. He was hunched over in a silent laugh. Rubbing my head, I frowned at him. He waved me over.

“Thought you were going to tranq the squirrels.” The silent laughter continued and Logan braced himself against the tree.

“That only happened once, and it was a deer.” I punched Logan in the arm. I couldn’t keep my smile in any longer. Frankly, I was just as surprised that I didn’t tranq the squirrels.

My death tight grip on my gun loosened as the mood lightened. “How far away?”

“He’s by the creek. The sound of the water makes things difficult to hear. Let’s use that talent of yours and see if we can narrow down the search.”

My shoulders pulled back and I grinned. How does it happen that a human accountant with no investigative skills is hired to help keep the Lost safe and secret from the world? Obviously, that human must have special skills.

I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. The smell of warm wood surrounded us. Concentrating on the fringes of my knowledge of our world took a short meditation. In moments, something in my mind stretched tight and popped back into place. I opened my eyes and tried to keep a smug smile from my face.

The world around me had taken on a new look and feel. A shimmer, much like rippling water, pressed itself against everything. Almost everything in the world leaves traces. From the Path, I could read movements, emotions, and interactions of the past and present. Once or twice, I had even caught glimpses of things yet to come.

I am a Reader. The shimmers and colors of the Path tell a story that few can see. There are parts of that story missing.

Also By Amanda Booloodian

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