“Anne, would you please explain how you can read elvish?” Veronica asked warily.

“I don’t know,” Anne answered, dumbfounded. “I just looked and it just became understandable. Like I was remembering it.” Samantha peered into Anne’s eyes. Anne could feel the woman’s psychic touch in her mind. Odd memories came flooding up. Her fifth birthday party with that scary clown. Her prom date opening a limo door for her. Her father watching baseball on a hot summer afternoon. Ambushing the local bully with snowballs when she was ten. Then they stopped just as suddenly.

“Read the words again, please,” Samantha requested. Anne looked down at the white words on the small table. As she read them aloud, Samantha’s face scrunched in pain. When Anne said the last word, Samantha let out an anguished cry and fell to the floor. Veronica and Anne were at her side.

“Well, that didn’t go as well as planned,” Samantha said weakly as the other two helped her to her feet.

“What just happened?” Erik asked over the radio. “Is everyone alright?”

“We’re fine. Go back to your work,” Samantha answered. Then she turned to Anne. “I very much doubt you’ll be able to tell us why you can read elvish. There’s a part of your mind that is blocked from me. When you were reading, I followed the thoughts to that part, and then it slapped back my probes a bit harder than I expected.”

“Is it a magical or a psychic block?” Veronica asked.

“I’m not sure,” Samantha answered. “It isn’t recent though. That block has been in place before you hit puberty.”

“You can tell that?” Anne asked, astonished.

“I can,” Samantha answered. Her tone told Anne that it wasn’t a common ability among Avalonian telepaths. Samantha looked over at Veronica. “Let’s get this done.” Veronica nodded and went into the kitchen. She came back with a box of salt and proceeded to pour a circle around the table. Anne needed to spend some time with Veronica to figure out how this magic of hers worked. The small Indian woman murmured and the salt glowed with a warm white light that brightened up the living room. The table shook and wisps of what looked like brightly colored smoke floated out of the wood. Veronica stared intently at the wisps.

“They’ve done some magic since the killing. A communication spell, but not like one I’ve seen before. I think they were calling–” Veronica was cut off by a flash of light in the corner of the room. By reflex, Anne turned her flashlight on the source of the sudden light. A male voice cursed in a melodic language. She recognized that voice. Arem. Anne brought her submachine gun up towards Arem. She was thrown back as an invisible force smacked her in the chest. Pain flashed through her body as she hit the floor. Her body protested the continued abuse as Anne worked to get to her feet.

SKAYLA!” Veronica shouted and a beam of brilliant blue shot from her hand. Arem, now clearly visible, waved his hand and the beam sparkled across an unseen shield. He turned his intense brown eyes on Anne, and her resolve melted away. Her arms lowered the weapon. No, she didn’t have to fight him. He could take away the pain. Then Samantha punched the elf in the face.

Anne felt her resolve snap back into place alongside a burning rage. What the hell had that damned elf done to her? Anne snapped up the submachine gun and fired a short burst at Arem. Small red holes appeared on the elf’s brown tunic. The elf spun and glared at her. Anne felt her resolve slipping, but her anger helped bolster her defenses. Anne lined up the floating red hologram on Arem’s face and pulled the trigger. His head snapped back as the nine millimeter bullets struck. The elf dropped to the ground and didn’t move. Anne kept the elf covered as she checked on Samantha.

“Are you okay?” Anne yelled at Samantha. Firing a gun indoors tended to deafen everyone in the room. The psychic nodded, but grimaced in pain as she cradled her right hand. Anne then moved to Arem. Except, as she neared, Anne could see that it wasn’t Arem. The resemblance was striking, but this elf was shorter by an inch or two. The hair was slightly different as well. Cautiously, Anne turned over the unmoving body. The unseeing face confirmed that it wasn’t Arem.

Anne spun as the door slammed open. Erik and Kurt stood in the doorway with MP9’s up and ready. Erik coolly observed the scene, but Kurt almost leapt to Anne’s side. The German’s submachine gun dangled on its sling while he enveloped Anne in a warm embrace. She wanted to revel in Kurt’s warmth and scent, but instead she pushed him away. The hurt or annoyance she expected to see in Kurt’s face never materialized. Instead, the concern went to a professional neutrality. There wasn’t even the subtle mocking in his posture. Why the hell did she have to find the one man that seemed to understand professional boundaries right before she was taken to another world?

“Do you have what you need?” Erik asked Veronica, satisfied that the area was secure. The sorceress nodded as she scrambled to her feet. “Sam, are you okay?”

“Yeah, I just forgot how much it hurts to punch someone,” Samantha answered.

“Extract and burn. Salt the earth,” Erik ordered. Kurt and Samantha walked to the door as Veronica started drawing symbols on the walls of the house.

“What do you mean ‘burn’ and ‘salt the earth’?” she asked.

“Burn this area with enough magic to destroy the ground’s link to wild magic,” Erik answered. “Keeps it from being used as a gate or to communicate with the Dark Towers.”

“What about him?” Anne asked, pointing to the dead elf.

“He’ll be gone in a few minutes,” Samantha answered. “No connection to this world anymore.”

“What about the neighbors?” Anne asked. “Shouldn’t we get them out as well?”

“We’ll call it in when we’re outside,” Samantha explained. “This won’t be any different from any house fire. You’re confusing magical intensity for physical.”

“We need to leave now,” Erik said with a strained patience, “I don’t know if your gunshot was protected by Veronica’s spell slinging tonight. I’d rather not deal with the local authorities again. They might actually start figuring things out that they shouldn’t.” Anne held her tongue as she followed the others out to the waiting van. Samantha used a burner phone to call in the fire as Veronica whispered an elvish word. Flame immediately engulfed the house like it was made of flash paper. Anne felt a pang of guilt as her murder scene was incinerated.

“Did we accomplish anything tonight?” Anne asked herself.

“More than you realize,” Samantha’s voice echoed in her head, “We found out who was responsible for your murders. Now, we just have to figure out who they are and deal with them before they can help Arem steal you.”