“So that’s all you he said to you?” Erik asked Anne as they pulled up to the safehouse. As soon as she’d climbed into the car, Anne related to Erik about her encounter with Arem at the Brown Hat. He could see why she was a good detective. She remembered everything, including the small details most people missed.

“At that point, Jason pulled me out of the restaurant,” Anne said, “That’s another thing. Do you guys have anything on him?”

“Not that was in the file,” Erik answered, “Why?”

“He seems to know more about what’s going on than he’s letting on,” Anne said, “Nothing concrete. Just a gut feeling from talking to him. Things he said.”

“He could be one of Lady Maritza’s assets, and she’s not bothered to tell us,” Erik said.

“Wait, like a spy?” Anne asked. “You guys have spies? In the city?”

“What exactly do you think Lady Maritza does for the Emperor?” Erik said, with the barest hint of exasperation leaking into his voice. How could someone so sharp also be so naive about the world?

“I thought she managed people like Kurt, not actual turncoat spies!” Anne said. Erik could feel the betrayal and rage burn through Anne.

“We don’t know for sure that he is one of Lady Maritza’s,” Erik cautioned. He needed Anne in the right frame of mind. The raid tonight was going to be chancy enough as is. He did not need one of his shooters distracted.

“If he is, I’m going to kick his ass,” Anne said.

“Anne, I appreciate that the sentiment, but I really need you to focus right now,” Erik said. “We’re going to take down your killers tonight.” Anne’s head snapped over so fast her blonde hair circled her hair like a halo.

“What, how?” she asked. “Veronica found them?” Erik told her about what happened at the lab.

“So, the five of us are going to take them down?” Anne asked, her skepticism rising. “Why not ask Mrs. Holland for more people? She has armed security.”

“Because I do not trust them or her,” Erik said plainly. “I trust my team. I trust you.”

“What is it between the two of you? She’s always so nice to me,” Anne commented.

“It’s not just one thing,” Erik admitted, “Part of it is institutional rivalry, part of it has to do with some things that happened back on Avalon. I’m quite sure she would keep you safe at all costs, but I don’t trust her to protect my team beyond what is ordered.” He fell silent.

“Isn’t all of that unprofessional?” Anne asked.

“The only reason I’m telling you this is because I’m about to ask you to risk your life with my team,” Erik asked. “I wouldn’t even do that, but you do deserve to be in on the strike. That much I understand from my own experience. Also, as much as it pains me to admit it, if things go south tonight, Lady Maritza is the one person in this city you can trust.” Anne looked at him askance. He could feel the confusion in her mind.

“Look, let’s put it like this. Let’s say you and another officer have such animosity between each other that you wouldn’t trust him to back you during a raid, but you know that you could send a victim his way and he’d do his best to help them. It’s kind of like that,” Erik said.

“That is seriously screwed up,” Anne said. “What the hell did you do to her?”

“When we get you to Avalon safely, I’ll tell you,” Erik said, “It’s a long story.”


“I have my own body armor,” Anne complained as Veronica tugged the heavy Kevlar vest tighter. It wasn’t even cut properly and was squashing her chest. Veronica seemed to understand her discomfort and said something that sounded like ‘Adjust’. Except, it didn’t sound right. Instantly, the armor seemed to mold around Anne like a wetsuit.

“Do you want to get your own body armor now?” Veronica asked mischievously. Anne marveled in the mirror. “I had to use that nasty one to get the proper protection. Plus, this one also has some magic protection in it. Just in case a nasty spell gets thrown your way. Not great, but it should keep you alive.”

“Do I just say ‘Adjust’ again to get it off?” Anne asked. Veronica froze and her smiling face went neutral. “What did I say?”

“I didn’t say ‘Adjust’. I said Tai’in,” Veronica said flatly. “Which is the elven casting word for the adjustment spell.” Veronica came close and peered into Anne’s eyes for a long moment. “I don’t know how you can understand elvish, but do not tell anyone outside of the team.”

“Why, is it like being a Parselmouth?” Anne asked. Veronica looked at her blankly. Anne gave a weak smile. “Sorry, Harry Potter reference. Is it something looked down upon?”

“Let’s just say it might confirm some very dark theories about you,” Veronica answered, “Erik was one of the few that argued strenuously against just having you assassinated once we found out about the Dark Towers’ interest in you. He even told Prince Harry that if he ordered the assassination, Erik would make sure he would regret the orders. If others found out about your sudden abilities with elvish, they may take it out of Blackguard’s hands and have Erik killed.”

“What?” Anne asked.

“Don’t worry about it, Anne. Erik will be just fine. So will you, once we get you back to Avalon,” Samantha said coming through the door. The brunette shot an angry glare at Veronica. The smaller woman shrank down further and bolted from the room. Samantha muttered darkly as she approached Anne.

“Is that why Erik is trying to protect me? So he won’t get killed?” Anne asked.

“If that’s a concern of his, it’s way down on the list. He’s never shrunk from doing anything that might get him killed in the line of duty,” Samantha said, with a tinge of bitterness. The Avalonian shook her head and gave Anne a warm, if slightly insincere, smile.

“Right now, you need to focus on tonight,” Samantha said.

“You don’t think I should be going,” Anne said, examining Samantha’s face.

“Just do me a favor and follow Erik’s orders,” Samantha said, sidestepping the comment. “He’s actually very good at this sort of work.” Samantha helped Anne put on the gray fatigues and MOLLE gear.

“Is there something between the two of you?” Anne asked.

“Let’s finish your story before we go delving into mine,” Samantha answered with a smile that the experienced detective couldn’t read.