Samantha and Veronica leapt to their feet as Erik collapsed to the ground with a grunt of pain. Kurt kept Anne restrained in the chair, but loosened his grip. She looked up at the fair-haired German, who just gave her that charming smile. Damn, why were all the pretty ones trouble?

Samantha and Veronica helped Erik into another chair. Veronica was a study in professionalism, with some heavy-duty respect laid on. Samantha, on the other hand, wore an expression of genuine concern. There was something there. Samantha guessed an unrequited affection. She could always smell one of her own. Erik’s long coat was removed. Anne saw the unmistakable black-stained hole from a gunshot in the shirt, but there was no blood. Samantha tore off the shirt to reveal some kind of bulletproof vest. It was slimmer than the one she normally wore, and looked like it was more flexible.

“Samantha, relax,” Erik said, fending off the woman’s attempt to remove the vest. “It didn’t penetrate. The orc did a wonderful job of slowing the bullet down. Veronica?” The Indian woman stood back and looked at Erik’s chest like she could see through the vest.

“Cracked ribs, some organ trauma, and blood leakage,” Veronica said, “Not nearly as bad as it should have been. Hold on a second.” Veronica closed her eyes and murmured unfamiliar words. Anne’s eyes grew wide as Veronica’s hands glowed a warm red. The dark woman placed her hands on Erik’s chest and the man let out a pained yelp. Then, he fell back into the chair, looking exhausted. Veronica examined Erik critically.

“You should be fine tomorrow,” Veronica told Erik, “If you don’t do anything stupid and push yourself. Your body will need a chance to recover.” Erik waved her off and looked at Anne. He gave her a tired smile.

“I think it’s time we explained ourselves to Detective Hearst,” Erik said, “Kurt, you can let her go. She’s too curious to leave without her questions answered.” The German’s arms vanished. Anne shot up from her chair, drew her pistol, and walked back to hall. None of them looked particularly frightened about having a gun pointed at them.

“Who and what are you people?” Anne demanded.

“We are officers of the Avalonian Imperial Security Service,” Samantha answered, “Well, except for Kurt. He’s kind of our local guide. As to what we are, well that needs some background?”

“Avalon? Where the fairies come from?” Anne asked, skeptical.

“That’s where the name comes from, but we haven’t seen any of the Sidhe courts that the stories talk about,” Samantha answered. “Anne, could you please lower your pistol. We will answer your questions, but I’d rather not chance a mistake happening.” Samantha cocked her head as if listening to a radio, and then turned to Kurt.

“Kurt, stand over in the corner and put your weapons on the table. Anne has a healthy fear of what you can do.” What the hell? Those were the thoughts that had just run through Anne’s mind. Kurt walked over the table and deposited a pair of pistols before walking over to the corner like a child being disciplined.

Yes, I can hear your thoughts. Samantha’s voice erupted in Anne’s head, Or at least, your surface thoughts. Please put your gun down. Please, sit.

“What the hell are you?” Anne asked Samantha, as she lowered her Glock.

“Humans, but with a bit of power that this world hasn’t seen in millennia,” Samantha answered, “In our case, Erik and I are psychics, but with different gifts. Veronica is a sorceress.”

“That’s impossible. Those things aren’t real,” Anne said, reflexively. Although, she had to admit to herself that she was no longer sure after what she had just seen.

“They aren’t real on this side of the gate,” Samantha said, “They are very real in Avalon. As are those monsters that you and Erik fought earlier tonight.” Anne took a deep breath. This was beyond bizarre. Damn it, why was she trusting these people? Why did it feel so natural to trust them?

“What is the gate?” Anne asked.

“It’s how we come to your world from ours,” Erik answered, “Do you remember that hole in the air the orcs and Arem appeared out of back at the warehouse?” Anne nodded. “That’s a gate. Ours is at a fixed and stable point so that we can have regular trade and diplomatic relations with the nations of this world. Well, some of them, at least.”

“Your world? Like another planet?” Anne asked. “Are you aliens?”

“We don’t think we inhabit the same universe as this world,” Veronica answered, “The laws of physics are mostly the same, but there are some noticeable differences. Such as a much stronger presence of wild magic.”

“Why don’t we start at the beginning?” Erik suggested.

“Here is what we know,” Samantha started, “On our world, there were four main sentient races. The elves, dwarves, those we call fae, and a race only known as Cairen. The elves and dwarves inhabit another continent across an ocean similar to your Atlantic. Maybe three thousand years ago, a war happened between the fae and Cairen. No one knows if the fae created the Dark Towers and their monsters before the war started or during the war. What we do know is that the fae had nearly conquered the Cairen before that race vanished and erected some kind of mystical barrier around their remaining lands. No one could enter the last of the Cairen lands. At least, not until the first humans starting to show up about five hundred years ago.”

“What do you mean, starting to show up?” Anne asked.

“As in disappearing from this world and appearing in the Cairen lands,” Samantha answered, “Uncontrolled gates appeared on this world and swallowed or sucked humans between the two worlds. Strangely, only certain groups of humans were taken. Particularly, those of Germanic or Nordic ancestry. And no, we don’t know why. We also don’t know why it started with English people.”

“What about her?” Anne asked nodding at Veronica.

“Wherever the British went, they spread their blood. Somewhere back in my line, my family got a splash of British blood,” Veronica answered neutrally. From the look on the woman’s face, it wasn’t something she liked to discuss.

“I’m sorry,” Anne said. Veronica waved it away and gave the detective a warm smile. “So, the people just started appearing. How did you survive against those monsters?”

“They weren’t there when the humans started showing up. Nothing sentient could come through the barrier,” Erik answered, “Most of the humans, when they arrived, started making their way to Avalon City.”

“Why? Were they drawn there?” Anne asked.

“Sort of. It was the biggest thing any of them could see,” Erik said, “Have you been to New York City?” Anne nodded. “Take Manhattan. Then take another island and place it on top about a kilometer up. With giant supports more massive than any skyscraper. Then ring the lower level with a wall of metal some three hundred feet high. And inside, are magical devices that provide light, water, heat, even food. Bizarre food, but still food.”

“So the humans banded together in Avalon City and formed the Avalonian Kingdom. They even sent out patrols to bring any stray humans into the city. By 1632, there was nearly 100,000 people in the kingdom. That was when the first cases of psychics and magic-wielders started showing up among the native-born humans.”

“Which was a good thing, because the barrier came down in 1635 and our war with the Dark Towers started,” Erik said ominously.

That was when front door of the house slammed open and armed men charged in.