“She’s coming around,” Samantha said, “Get the others.” Anne cracked her eyes open and saw the pretty brunette’s smiling face beaming over her. “Easy Anne, you’ve had a rough time of it.” Anne looked around. She was in a hospital bed, but the room around her didn’t look like a hospital room. It looked more like one of those bedrooms you saw in mansions. Next to her, Veronica was in a similar bed. The small, dark woman frowned at Anne.
“Where are we? What happened?” Anne asked as a flood of images rushed through her head. On top of that, Anne ached everywhere.
“You almost killed us is what happened,” Veronica said harshly.
“That will be enough, Ms. Patel,” Lady Maritza said, walking into the room. Erik, Jason, and Kurt followed Lady Maritza into the room. “If Detective Hearst hadn’t acted, she would now be in the hands of the Dark Towers and all of you would be dead.” Lady Maritza turned to Anne. “As to where you are, currently you are in one of my guest homes that we use for friends who are recuperating from surgeries. All the amenities of home and all the functionality of a hospital.”
“How did we get here?” Anne asked, bewildered.
“That big of a magical explosion could be seen for miles by the right people,” Lady Maritza said, “My men were in that hellhole in less than twenty minutes after you set that spell off.”
“Veronica and you were still out from the feedback, so Lady Maritza had the two of you brought here while we cleaned up the site,” Samantha explained. She handed Anne a cup of water. “Here, you’re thirsty.” Anne sipped greedily.
“Cleaned up the site?” Anne asked.
“Made the warehouse conform to the narrative we needed,” Jason said. “Fortunately, the Avalonians are pretty good about doing that.”
“How do you know about the Avalonians? Are you a spy?” Anne asked. Jason laughed.
“Not exactly. Or more to the point, not how you’re thinking,” Jason answered. He handed her a badge. “Agent Jason McMurtry, Homeland Security. I’m part of the federal task force in charge of monitoring the Avalonians and other supernatural forces on Earth. Mainly the Avalonians.”
“You’re a fed?” Anne asked, incredulously.
“Recruited right out of the Army,” he said.
“So you were a spy!” Anne said.
“Well, sort of,” Jason said, “The task force sent me in to find out why the werewolves were in the city. Since homicide usually ends up cleaning their messes, it made sense for me to be ‘undercover’ as a homicide cop. I just couldn’t figure out how you fit into all of this, much less why there was an Avalonian covert team operating.”
“So now you get to go back to being a fed,” Anne said. She could intellectually understand the reasons for Jason being undercover, but Anne still felt betrayed by someone she thought was a friend.
“Actually,” Jason said, and then looked over to Erik.
“Look down at your chest, Anne,” Erik said. Surprised, Anne looked under the hospital gown. A brilliant scar was burned between her breasts. It was just about the size of the knot Arem had placed on her.
“What is that?” Anne said, suddenly scared. What had happened to her?
“You burned that tracking spell into you,” Veronica said, “I don’t even know how to reverse that kind etching.”
“So what does that mean?” Anne asked.
“What it means is that our mission has changed,” Erik said, “We can’t take you to Avalon. The moment you crossed the gate, you’d be transported to the Dark Towers. So, now my team needs to keep you safe on this side of the gate.”
“Which is why they’ve been transferred to my control,” Lady Maritza said, with the tiniest hint of smugness as she looked at Erik. “Your case also has transferred to my responsibility.”
“And since the U.S. government has a vested interest in making sure one of its citizens isn’t pulled into Avalon against her will, I’ve been assigned to your protective detail as well,” Jason said, handing Anne a piece of paper. She recognized it as a departmental memo. “As of now, I’m your new partner. Of course, just like with the Avalonians, you can’t tell anyone else in the precinct about me being Homeland Security.”
“What about Dale? Is he?” Anne asked, hoping against hope she was wrong.
“Detective Dale Melon was unfortunately killed in the line of duty while apprehending the six members of a cult that had murdered three people in rituals and murdered a fourth while trying to murder the lead homicide detective,” Erik said, with a cool detachment. “Or at least, that’s what the rest of the world will know.” Grief, rage, and fear warred inside Anne.
“What bout the werewolves?” Anne said, then turning to Veronica with her rage bubbling up. “And I thought you said there were no werewolves.”
“She didn’t know,” Erik said, “We’ve never encountered them, and had relegated them to myth. All of Avalon thought that they were myths.”
“But Jason knew. He had silver ammunition,” Anne said. “How could he know and you not. Don’t you secret agents talk to each other about monsters?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Erik said, “The Americans thought we knew and didn’t bother to inform us. We never knew the possibility existed, and never asked.”
“So Dale died because of a stupid mistake?” Anne yelled at the others. All except for Erik refused to meet her eyes. His steady gaze met hers.
“Yes,” Erik answered, calmly, “Your friend died because of a simple oversight. It happens. It’s never easy. It’s never a good thing, but it happens. Your friend was not the first to die because of something like this, and he won’t be the last. It’s part of the world we live in. The best we can do is try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Anne wasn’t sure if she wanted to punch Erik, scream at him, or just sink back into grief. He took the choice out of her hands.
“We’ll leave you alone to finish recovering. You’ll be out of here this afternoon,” Erik said, “Dale’s funeral is tomorrow afternoon. We will be escorting you there. We’ve secured some temporary quarters for you until your permanent housing is completed. Samantha will come get you later to escort you.” He motioned everyone out of the room, leaving Veronica and Anne alone in the room.
“There’s something else, Anne,” Veronica said, her voice neutral, “When we get out of here, you and I will start on teaching you magic. I don’t know how you are suddenly able to cast, but you need to learn how to control your ability.”
“Why are you so angry with me?” Anne asked, “I was trying to keep you from being killed.”
“You have no idea what you just did,” Veronica said.
“I almost got us killed,” Anne shot back, “You’ve been saying that since I woke up here. Well, I’m sorry. I did what I could to stop Arem and save us.”
“You don’t understand what happened,” Veronica said, “You opened a magic vortex. You ripped the wild magic right out of those werewolves, leaving only their human part behind. You snapped the very strings of magic. No human has that level of magic power. I don’t know what you are, but it scares me.”
“So why teach me and not just tell Erik to kill me?” Anne asked bitterly.
“I don’t just kill something or someone because I don’t understand it or them,” Veronica said, “You work magic, you deal with a lot of things that scare you. It’s part of the game. What I’m trying to figure out if what you can do is linked to why Arem wants you so badly, and if you’re a threat to my home. In the meantime, I want to make sure you don’t kill my friends or anyone else by accident. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired. Let’s get some sleep before Samantha comes gets us.” With that, Veronica turned over and pretended to sleep. Anne laid down and thought about what Veronica said.