“Now, my vojnici, we will obtain what it has taken these long years to find,” the gazda said to the gathered vampires, in heavily accented English. “Our clan will be one step closer to the Mandate of Heaven.” The eight other vampires in the basement roared their approval. The gazda took a step closer to Anne. He was short, barely making five and a half feet. Like Nao, his hair was platinum blond, but where her eyes glowed a sapphire blue, the gazda‘s eyes glowed an angry, ruby red. The grazda firmly gripped Anne’s chin and forced her eyes to meet his. She could feel his overwhelming presence thrust itself into her mind with all the smoothness of a sledgehammer. His low laughs were drowned out by her screams. He was just as quickly gone from her mind. Anne just hung from the chains binding her to the iron pipe.

Anne looked over to Kurt and the others. Kurt looked incensed, but the other Avalonians looked almost bored. Even those two traitors that Lady Maritza had sent along didn’t seem interested in what was happening as they covered her friends with their submachine guns. Samantha had managed to let Anne know what was going on when the vampires freed her from the chair long enough to install and chain her to the iron pole in the center of the basement. Anne couldn’t believe that Nigel and John were working for the vampires. She was still having a hard time believing her rival on the city’s police force, Detective Harvey Welks, had been on the vampires’ payroll.

“David, are you ready to harvest the blood?” the grazda asked, pronouncing his minion’s name “Dah-veed.” The human nodded, smiling beatifically up at the grazda. “Then do so. We will complete this before the dawn.” The human occultist put on a pair of blue nitrile gloves and walked up to Anne.

“Going to slit my throat?” Anne taunted defiantly. He ignored her and freed her left arm. His grip was much stronger than Anne expected. “So, are you going to cut my wrists and make it look like a suicide?”

“Interesting thought, but no,” David answered, tying a tourniquet around her upper arm. She felt the tiniest prick as David carefully inserted the a needle into her arm. Satisfied, he produced three glass vials and filled each of them with her blood. As each filled, David stoppered the vial and placed it into his jacket pocket. Then he withdrew the needle and put a bandage on her arm.

“That’s it?” Anne asked, shocked.

“That’s all the blood we need for the ritual,” David answered, “We were going to kill you. Especially considering how deadly your unpurified blood is to the vampire. Nao made a strong argument for keeping you alive so that we could keep using your blood against our rivals. It’s quite elegant when you think about it.” Anne hung her head, trying to look resigned to her fate. It wouldn’t do for David to see her smiling.

David walked back to where Nao and the grazda were standing. Set up next to them was a small card table with four unlit candles, what looked like a small spice rack, a stand with a collection of cooking utensils, and a stainless steel mixing bowl. If Anne didn’t know better, she would have sworn David was about to give a cooking lesson instead of performing a magical ritual. He poured the three vials of Anne’s blood and added something from one of the bottles on the spice rack. The basement filled with the rotten egg smell of sulphur. David concentrated, and Anne could feel the flows of wild magic bend to his will. The four candles sparked to life. The flows were dancing around David as he tied them to the candles. Something about the knots he used on the flows made them pulse stronger. Veronica had said practitioners on this side of the gate used candles during rituals as amplifiers. Now, Anne understood what she’d meant.

Grazda, now we need the death blood of a vampire,” David said. The grazda looked among his vampires. They all seemed to swell, as if begging to be asked to do this for him.

“It should be one of your scions,” Nao said, “The closer the better.” The grazda nodded his head and pointed to one of the vampires. As the other vampires shrunk back with disappointed looks on their faces, the black-haired vampire grinned viciously and strode to the card table.

“Pyotr, you have always been the strongest of my children,” the grazda said, “You have always made me proud. Now, I ask you to make the ultimate sacrifice so that the clan can continue on the holy path. Do you have any reservations, my child?”

Nema, moj otac,” Pyotr said in a booming voice. The grazda‘s face broke into a wide smile. Pyotr bent over the mixing bowl and bared his throat. The grazda plucked a long, thin-bladed knife off of the table. Moving faster than Anne could see, the grazda grabbed Pyotr’s hair and instant before slashing Pytor’s throat. The grazda held the vampire steady as a stream of dark blood poured into the bowl. As the two bloods mixed, a cloud of noxious smoke filled the basement. It took everything Anne could muster to focus on the flows of wild magic around the table and not retch.

David uttered phrases that sounded like mangled elven as he added the contents of two more bottles to the concoction in the bowl. The flows of wild magic danced around the candles and then into the bowl. A braided flow water, earth, and heat leapt out of the bowl and lanced into Anne’s mind. The basement disappeared and Anne was suddenly lying on a cold, hard table.

“Which of the infants have you chosen, great lady?” boomed an achingly familiar male voice. A woman’s face came into view above Anne. Except the face was huge. It was like looking up into the face of a giant. The woman’s eyebrow cocked up in surprise.

“I see the choice has been made for us,” she said, in a soothing, if loud voice. “What let you come back and see this I wonder?”

“Meliandre, our time is running short,” the familiar voice said. Anne couldn’t see who was talking, but she’d met that man before. Where was she? A baby started crying in loud screams of discomfort. Anne tried to get up, but she didn’t have the strength.

The baby’s screams cut off suddenly and Anne could taste the salty iron of blood.

Anne was jarred back into the basement. Her eyes focused on the flow from the table to her. She could see even smaller flows dancing around the basement. How could she have missed those before? There was enough raw wild magic in the basement to destroy all of them. Anne started pulling those small flows of wild magic into the braided flow between her and the table.

Then all hell broke loose.