Anne Hearst glared at Erik as he removed his hand from the butt of his pistol. Damn it all to hell, Arem had been just about to tell her about her sister’s murder. Anne wasn’t sure how the elf knew anything about it, but she was sure that Arem was telling her the truth. Erik stepped into the alcove and took a seat across from Anne as if nothing had happened. Veronica was right behind him. The small Indian woman looked almost disappointed.

“Arem told you how we were the invaders into his peoples’ lands, and that we are responsible for conducting a war of genocide,” Erik said as he took a sip from the glass of juice in front of him.

“Something like that,” Anne said, keeping her voice tight.

“I assume you know the old adage that a good lie is at least three-quarters truth?” Erik asked. Anne nodded. “The truth is that we humans did show up on lands that the Dark Towers claimed. We didn’t invade. Something brought us to those lands. That’s something we still don’t understand.”

“And the genocidal war?” Anne asked.

“Neither side has a particularly good track record on that,” Erik answered, “As soon as the fighting began between the Avalonian Empire and the Dark Towers, it became savage. That said, at the end of the day, the Avalonian Empire must prevail in our war. If we don’t, those monsters will invade this world, and they will continue their slaughter here.” Anne sat back in her chair. She’d expected Erik to claim the Avalonians were innocent and that they were only defending themselves against the evil hordes.

“When you get to Avalon, you’ll understand,” Veronica chimed in. Anne could tell by her tone that Veronica was trying to be helpful. From the look Erik shot Veronica, he knew that Anne didn’t want to go to Avalon. Well, maybe if Kurt came with her it wouldn’t be too bad. Almost as if she’d summoned him, Kurt strode into the alcove. His eyes seemed to glow with a fierceness Anne didn’t know he was capable of. Kurt noticeably calmed as he saw that Anne was safe.

“May I sit here?” Kurt asked, pulling out the chair next to Anne.

“Um, sure,” Anne answered. If any of the other guys in her life were that protective of her, she’d have smacked them. She’d proven that she could take care of herself enough times. Kurt’s protectiveness, on the other hand, just made her feel– Anne shook her head. This wasn’t the time to be thinking about that. At that time, Samantha walked into the alcove. She was far more composed than Kurt. The brunette gave Anne a warm smile before sitting down next to Erik.

“Okay, here’s what we have on the three murders,” Anne said, pulling out three thick manilla folders from her briefcase. Erik and Samantha opened the folders. The initial crime scene photos were on top. “Sorry. Some of these are pretty graphic.”

“Very,” Erik answered with a clinical detachment. “I’ve never seen a murder like this done solely by human hands.”

“I keep them on top to help push me,” Anne explained.

“We do something similar,” Samantha said, “Because we don’t want to forget the horror of what we’re fighting.” Anne felt a wave of relief from Samantha’s tone. Her frustration with these Avalonians was pushed back as Anne went into full homicide detective mode.

“What’s bothering me is that there is no discernible pattern to them,” Anne said, “Other than the pure savagery and the end result, nothing is the same. No similarities between the victims, the weapons used were different, the method of killing was different. My partner and I are stumped.”

“Can I see all three photographs of the murders?” Veronica asked, her cheerfulness replaced by a somewhat disturbing solemness. Samantha handed her the pictures. Veronica studied them intently as Erik and Samantha went through the scanty forensic evidence. Kurt just sipped a cup of coffee.

“Is there anything you’d like to see?” Anne asked.

“Of the case, no,” Kurt said, “I am not an investigator. I am more of the muscle of this team.” He gave her a mischievous smile. “There are other things I would like to see.” Anne felt her cheeks warm. She covered it by taking a long sip from her own coffee.

“Do you have a map of these locations?” Veronica asked, setting down the pictures.

“Here,” Samantha produced a tablet and brought up a map of the city and its suburbs. With a few touches, the three murders were highlighted. Veronica studied the map.

“Well, these aren’t random, and there is one major similarity among your victims,” Veronica said. She picked up a stylus and drew a half-dozen lines across the map. All three murders were where at least two of the lines intersected.

“Your murders were rituals to ignite the lines of wild magic,” Veronica said, “I think they are called ley lines on this world.”

“Dammit,” Anne swore. She’d been hoping this was just simply a human psycho and not somehow connected to the Avalonians or the Dark Towers.

“Summoner or bargainer?” Erik asked.

“What’s the difference?” Anne asked.

“A summoner uses magic to bring something from another world into this one,” Veronica explained, “Usually one of the Dark Towers’ lesser minions. Those can be controlled by the summoner as long as they remain on this side of the gate. Bargainers create a hole between the two worlds to make a bargain with the Dark Towers. Usually for magic power or knowledge of magic.” Veronica turned to Erik. “I can’t tell which these were from the pics. I think that was part of the reason the victims were torn apart. I’ll need to get to one of the murder sites and try to recreate it.”

“What? Try to recreate the murder?” Anne asked.

“No, recreate the spell,” Veronica said, “Anytime magic is used, it will create what we in the magic community call a ‘ghost’. I can use my own magic to see the ghost and determine what kind of spell was done.”

“We can get you to the warehouse pretty quickly,” Erik said.

“That won’t work. Arem was throwing around too much magic from what you told me,” Veronica said, “I’d never be able to find the ghost in all that noise.”

“It will have to be the second one then,” Anne said, “The first was in a home, and there’s a new family that’s living in there now.”

“Great! When can we go?” Veronica asked.

“We can go tonight,” Anne said.

“Why not now?” Erik asked. It wasn’t an accusation. Just a simple query for knowledge.

“Technically, I’m not supposed to be working the case,” Anne answered. “So, I’d kind of like not to be parading around a crime scene in broad daylight when I’m not supposed to be.”

“Perfectly understandable,” Erik said, “In light of that, this is our current plan. After we finish eating, Kurt will go with Sam and Veronica back to the safe house. I will take Anne back to her apartment and take over guard duty until sunset. At that point, the three of you will come pick us up and we will proceed to the crime scene.”

“Why not Kurt?” Anne blurted out before she could stop herself.

“Because he’s been going for almost two days, and I’d like to get him rested before we head out again,” Erik answered. Anne looked over at the blond German, who just shrugged in response.

“Anne is not supposed to be driving,” Samantha reminded Erik, “Are you going to remember which side of the road you’re supposed to be on?”

“Is that going to be a problem?” Anne asked. Instead of answering, Erik just scowled. Anne was forced to hide a smile. So, the consummate spy had a weakness after all. That made him slightly less annoying.

“Just try not to distract him too much,” Samantha answered, “It would be a silly way to blow an operation.”