“This was not how I expected my week to go,” Anne said as she looked down at the stubby Russian assault rifle strapped to her chest. “Is it bad that I’m now thinking of hunting a serial killer as more peaceful?”

Nein,” Kurt said with a smile, “You would be mad to want to do this.” Kurt was similarly dressed in tactical gear, helmet, AK-74U, sidearm, and plenty of extra ammo. Except Kurt was wearing a large revolver at his side as well. “Unfortunately, some of us are called to do the mad things. At least, you have a strong team to support you.” Kurt gave Anne another of those charming smiles. It helped ease the tension. Contrary to television portrayals, detectives didn’t go charging into houses like SWAT.

“I don’t know why you think you’ve had a bizarre week,” Veronica said, “You only learned about our world, found out both sides wants you, been involved in a fight, and your apartment exploded.”

“And an innocent person died,” Anne said harshly. Veronica’s smile vanished.

“We’re going to deal with the people who did that,” Kurt said.

“I know, but her family will never know,” Anne said.

“Welcome to our world,” Erik said from the front. “Not Avalon. Blackguard. Those of us who fight in the shadows, as the Saint calls us. And yes, it does suck that the people we help will never know, or know what we risk for them.”

“Sorry, Veronica, I didn’t mean to snap at you,” Anne said, turning back to their spell slinger.

“Don’t worry about it,” Veronica said, “We all deal with stress differently. Plus, you’re a cop. You’re supposed to put the victims first.”

“What do you put first?” Anne asked.

“The Empire,” Erik answered solemnly, “Always the Empire.” Anne thought about that. Well, that certainly explained some of Erik’s coldness. Anne was just the objective for the greater of the good of the Empire. You didn’t get overly friendly with people you were just going to turn over to your higher-ups. The van turned onto the street of the bargainers’ warehouse. Samantha slammed on the brakes and pulled the van to the curb.

“We’re not the only ones staking out the warehouse,” Samantha said before anyone could speak. She pointed to two unmarked police cruisers down the street, maybe a half-block from the warehouse.

“Should we abort?” Kurt asked.

“No, they were waiting for us,” Samantha said, “Well, one of them was. The other was waiting for Anne.” At that moment, two plain clothes officers stepped out of the unmarked cars. Anne immediately recognized the closest as Dale Melon, her partner. The other was Jason McMurtry. What the hell were the pair of them doing here of all places? The two detectives casually walked back to the van. Samantha rolled her window down as Jason stepped up.

“I’m assuming Anne’s back there,” he said to Samantha. He looked over Erik, but didn’t seem alarmed in any way about the heavily armed and armored man. “I was hoping you would show up. I really didn’t want to call patrol officers to this party. I didn’t invite him, though.” Jason thumbed back towards Dale.

“Actually, detectives, it might be better for both of you to get back in your cars and go get some coffee,” Erik said. “Come back here in an hour.”

“I’m not letting you drag Anne into this,” Dale said. Anne climbed up and poked her head between Erik and Samantha. Dale looked shocked to see Anne decked out in combat gear.

“Dale, what the hell are you doing here?” Anne asked.

“I thought Jason was going to arrest you, so I figured I follow him and give you a heads up,” Dale said, “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Our killers are in there,” Anne said, motioning to the warehouse, “These guys are going to deal with them, and I have to go with them.”

“Are you insane?” Dale said, barely keeping his voice under control, “If the killers are there, then let’s call out SWAT. If you go in there, you’re going to destroy your career and every case you worked on.”

“Dale, SWAT wouldn’t be able to do anything, but get themselves killed,” Jason said, “You don’t know what we’re dealing with.” Anne blinked in surprise at the other detective’s words. “I’m not here to arrest Anne. I’m here to help her and these other people. You need to get out of here. You don’t need to be any more involved with this.”

“What is this?” Dale demanded. “What the hell is going on? Who the hell exactly are you dealing with Anne?”

“Dale, we’ve been working together for a long time,” Anne said, “You’re going to have to trust me on this. It would take too long to explain what’s happening.” Dale crossed his arms and gave her his obstinate glare. Anne swore under his breath.

“We need to move,” Erik said, “We’ve been stationary too long. Detective McMurtry, if you’re coming with us, you will follow my instructions to the letter or I will shoot you here and call for a medic when we’re done. Detective Melon, you’re about to see things that are not normal. If you freeze up, you will die. If you do not follow my directions, you will die. If you endanger my team, I will take you out. Is that understood?” Dale looked outraged at Erik’s blunt instructions, but Jason just nodded.

“Wait a second, Erik-” Anne started before Kurt yanked her to the floor of the van. Something whistled by her ear before thunking into the bench seat of the van.

“OUT, OUT!” Erik bellowed, kicking his own door open. Kurt slid the side door open and stepped out with the AK in one hand. With the other, he dragged Anne out into the street. Veronica leapt out after her. Anne looked around as she brought up her own AK. The wire stock was hard against her shoulder, just like Kurt had shown her. Where was the attack coming from?

Suddenly, the large golden-eyed wolves from the other night surrounded them. They just seemed to appear out of the air. They growled menacingly, but Anne was sure she’d seen glimmers of delight in their glowing, golden eyes. Anne bit down her terror and let her fury fill her body. These were the bastards who’d killed four people. For what, so their little magic spells would work?

“Well, that was a damned good bit of glamour,” Veronica said, bitterly. “I didn’t even sense it.”

“I’m glad you approve,” a familiar voice said, ringing through the street. Anne looked to where the voice had come from and saw Arem standing next to two of the wolves. “With as little wild magic as there is on this world, it took quite a bit of fancy casting to get it just right.” The dark-haired elf turned to Erik and his face twisted into a snarl. “I think it’s time I finally took care of you.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” Erik said, letting the AK drop on its sling. From the small of his back, Erik drew a long-bladed knife. No, it was more like a short sword. Even in the darkened street, the blade glittered with a life of its own.

“Well, well,” Arem said, sounding impressed, “Not only do I get to kill you tonight, but I get to recapture a lost weapon. This is going to be a good night.” He turned to the largest of the wolves. “Remember not to kill the woman, or you won’t get a damned thing. I don’t care what happens to the others.” Arem drew a long, thin sword.

“Let’s go where we have the space to really be ourselves,” Arem said, and launched into the air. No, he wasn’t flying. He was just leaping sixty feet into the air and landing on an office building. He couldn’t expect Erik to climb all that way up there–. Erik launched himself after Arem before Anne could finish her thought. Before she could even ask how Erik had managed that feat, a dozen howls echoed through the street. Gunfire erupted at the wave of fur and fangs bore down on the small team.