Odd scents were the first thing Anne comprehended as she regained consciousness. Sandalwood, pine, and a foul musk made a strange mix. The next was that she was restrained. Strangely, though, she wasn’t in as much pain as she should have been. She tentatively moved her head. Nope, no pain, as well as none of the odd dragging from strong pain killers. She opened her eyes and saw Arem’s smiling face mere inches in front of her.
“Relax, Anne,” Arem whispered, “You’re fine. Well, healed at any rate.” He stood up. “I apologize about the restraints, but we both know you’d do something foolish if you were free.” He looked over to someone standing just outside Anne’s view. “Take her downstairs.” Strong, rough hands lifted her up with a surprising gentleness. Arem led them out of the room and onto a metal catwalk above the warehouse floor. As they descended the main staircase, Anne could see six of the man-wolves (well, four man-wolves and two woman-wolves) standing around an altar similar to the one she’d seen at the Martinez murder scene. This one seemed more powerful for some reason. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Anne could see the Avalonians, Jason, and Dale off to the side. Jason and the Avalonians were bound and awake. Dale was lying on the ground and not moving. No, not Dale. His body. Anne blinked back sudden tears. She’d have time to grieve later. Right now, she needed to keep it together long enough to figure how to keep from being sent to the Dark Towers.
“I am sorry about your friend,” Arem said.
“Go to hell,” Anne shot back, fury filling her. Arem ignored her outburst and directed whatever was carrying her to put her down a few feet from the altar. As soon as it backed away, Anne could see it had been an orc.
“Now, Anne, will you come with me back to the Dark Towers before more people have to die?” Arem asked, gently.
“Don’t bother answering, he’s just going to gate you back whether you want to or not,” Erik said. “Why bother with the false politeness, Arem? Why bother with a ritual with these bargainers?”
“As if you’d do any different!” Arem snapped, “The only reason I’ve left you alive Erik is because I want to grind in your failure!”
“He’s lying,” Samantha said, “He can’t gate her without her consent. Or at least, not without the ritual. And we’re still alive because he needs our energy to make the thing work.”
“Witch mind-reader!” Arem said with a sudden coldness, “I’m going to enjoy ripping your power out of you and watching you die a slow horrible death.”
“He’s telling the truth about that,” Samantha said evenly. Arem glared at Samantha as he spoke under his breath.
“So why did he need the werewolves?” Jason asked.
“I don’t know, he’s blocking me now,” Samantha said, smirking at the elf.
“He needs casters from this world to do the ritual,” Veronica said, and then grunted in pain. “Or at least that’s what it looks like from the ritual set up.” She studied the symbols on the floor and the altar’s construction. “Bloody hell, it is going to be painful when he pulls our energy out. Well, except for Detective McMurtry. I’m pretty sure he will die cleanly since he’s not an Avalonian.”
“You can call me Jason,” he said, “No need for formality at this point.” He gave the small sorceress a charming smile that Anne had never seen on the detective’s face.
“Be quiet,” snarled the leader of the werewolves.
“Ignore them Jonas,” Arem said, regaining his normal confident countenance, “This is how Avalonians always act when facing death. Or at least, the ones from Blackguard. They’re doing it so that we’ll make a mistake.” Arem looked down at Anne. “No, she’s not going to come willingly. You should start the ritual now. At least, I’ll get the satisfaction of seeing that lot die. Especially Jaegar.” A twisted smile spread across the elf’s face.
The werewolves started chanting in words that tickled the back of Anne’s mind. They sounded so familiar. Like when she heard someone speaking Spanish and it brought back some of her old high school Spanish classes. Arem stood in front of the altar and started singing. The music was different from anything Anne had heard before, but tantalizingly familiar. Even more than the words the werewolves were chanting. Then the elf touched the altar. As he pulled back his hands, Anne could suddenly see strings of translucent energy erupting from the altar. Most stuck to the altar, but there were at least a dozen that attached to the werewolves. More shot over her head and latched on to Jason and the Avalonians. Arem walked from the altar and placed a knot of strings on Anne’s chest. It burned. Then, Anne noticed something.
There were words on the strings! Words like the ones she’d seen on the other altar. Elven words. Anne could read the string. Something about binding her to the Towers of the Fallen. As she read, she understood more of how the strings worked. She could reach out with her mind and tug on them. She grabbed one of the strings from the knot that Arem and plucked it like a guitar string. The elf turned back with a quizzical look. Anne saw how the knot on her chest was connected to the knot on the altar. How all of the strings connected. So, what would happen if she unraveled the big knot?
“ANNE! STOP!” screamed both Arem and Veronica. Why was the sorceress telling her to stop? Didn’t she understand that Anne could stop this? As Anne yanked on the strings, the knot on altar unraveled. Anne delighted at the sight of horror on Arem’s face. Except the strings weren’t going back into the altar. Shouldn’t they go back into the altar? No, they were forming a new knot. Something else. As she read the new words, Anne realized it was an uncontrolled gate. A brilliant mirror some fifteen feet in diameter appeared behind Arem. Several of the strings were sucked into the gate. No, the energy was being pulled. What if those strings were attached to someone? Like Kurt?
Anne reached with all of her strength and tugged at the strings connected to the Avalonians and Jason. They held fast for a brief instant and then snapped. Anne ignored the screams of pain as she wrangled the dancing strings of power. They were like holding on to live electric wires. She needed to ground them somehow. More out of instinct than a rational thought, Anne forced the strings onto the werewolves.
Wolf howls intermixed with human screams and filled the warehouse. It looked like the werewolves were being dragged to the gate, then the strings pulsed with silver and gold energy. The werewolves shrank back to human bodies. Before Anne could even question what was going on, the gate pulsed dangerously with the influx of energies. Energy coursed back out as the gate overloaded. Anne screamed as a burst of the energy slapped against the knot on her chest.
“You fool,” Arem said, also in pain, “You have no idea what you just did.” He stepped in front of the gate and sang a new song. The pulsing shifted and the gate exploded in a brilliant white light. The most intense pain Anne had ever felt ripped across her body before everything went mercifully dark.