Anne admitted to herself that the meditation room was pretty cool. The soundproofed walls were a warm pink. Anne could detect the faint scents of flowers. She sat cross-legged in one of the circles drawn into the thick beige carpet. Veronica was in another circle across from her. Between them on a small table were a quartet of lit candles arranged in a diamond. Those helped amplify the weak streams of wild stream that managed to make it into the meditation room.
“Do you think you can try to sling the spell?” Veronica asked.
“I think so,” Anne answered, focusing on the simulcrum that Veronica had summoned for the exercise. Anne looked at the streams of wild magic. There was barely enough earth and dark streams in the room for the complicated binding. Anne reached out with her mind and started to pull the streams together. Her head throbbed as she made one binding and then another. She could feel the block in her mind pressing against her. It was the same anytime she did complicated magic. A spike of pain lanced through her head just as she was trying to finish the last binding. She lost concentration and the spell fell apart. The simulcrum danced at the colorful sparkles as the streams of wild magic went back to their natural positions.
“What happened?” Veronica asked patiently.
“The damned block is what happened,” Anne answered. She stood up and started pacing back and forth. “I should have been able to do that. I should have been able to unravel it when Arem cast it on me.”
“Cast, probably,” Veronica said, “Unravel, I’m not so sure. Especially when you’d never seen it before.”
“You did,” Anne said.
“I also knew of that kind of spell as well as having a significantly better understanding of the basic elements of magic,” Veronica said, primly, “Would you expect an officer just out of the academy, even a gifted one, to know how to properly run a murder investigation?” Anne stopped pacing and grimaced.
“No,” Anne answered, sitting back down in her circle, “It’s just I know that there’s more power and ability behind that block. I just can’t figure out how to unravel it. I wish Samantha could just rip it apart.”
“The mind’s a dangerous place to do that kind of thing,” Veronica reminded her.
“I know. I do. It’s just frustrating,” Anne said, “Samantha can’t even figure out what’s causing it.” A soft knock at the door interrupted them. Almost as if she’d been summoned, Samantha stuck her head into the room. Veronica and Anne traded an amused glance.
“Jason’s finally here, and Erik wants to talk with all of us,” Samantha said.
“Well, we shouldn’t keep him waiting,” Anne said, standing up. Veronica nodded, but looked slightly put out. Well, she never thought Anne had enough practice. Anne followed Samantha down the hall to what had been dubbed the “Crisis Lounge,” much to Erik’s annoyance.
Anne picked up one of the tablets scattered about the room. It read her fingerprints and immediately configured to her preferences. Six big plasma monitors hung around the room were showing feeds from around the city. Anne sat down next to Kurt on one of the two couches. Kurt handed her a mug of coffee, which she rewarded him with a quick peck on the cheek. Jason was ensconced on one of the overstuffed chairs with a bottle of beer in one hand as he looked at the tablet in the other. Samantha poured herself a tumbler of scotch from the bar while Veronica availed herself to a soda. They sat down on the other couch before picking up tablets. Erik was standing next to one of the plasmas.
Erik pushed something from his tablet onto the screen. The picture looked like some of the medieval manuscripts Anne had seen at the art museum. If you discounted the fact that everyone in the picture had pointed ears and that they were fighting a creature unlike any she’d seen before. Just looking at it made her head throb a bit. From the looks on everyone’s faces, they were feeling the same discomfort.
“Erik, why are we looking at the Tableau of Seran?” Veronica asked.
“Because it’s the one surviving account of the last time the elves had to battle the Outsiders. From all accounts, it took the combined efforts of every sentient species on Avalon to stop the Outsiders, and even then the losses were horrendous,” Erik answered. He focused on Anne, Jason, and Kurt. “That headache you feel is extreme cognitive dissonance as you look at something that shouldn’t exist. At least, not in our universe. The story is that the artist went insane after finishing the painting.” He wiped the screen and threw up Reginald Browne’s obituary from the paper.
“Thank you for taking down that picture, but what does these Outsiders have to do with Reginald Browne’s death?” Jason asked.
“Arem and his mistress are convinced that Browne’s death was caused by the Outsiders, or their minions,” Erik answered.
“That’s nice, but one, how can we trust anything Arem says, and two, what does that have to with us?” Jason asked.
“Arem, at the very least, believes he’s telling the truth,” Erik answered, “He’s not immune to my empathic senses.”
“Moreover, no elf, not even a dark elf, would ever joke or mislead using the Outsiders. It just isn’t done. The event was just too terrible,” Veronica said.
“Okay, fine. Give me everything you have on these Outsiders, and I’ll turn it over to the task force,” Jason said. “I’m sure they’ll appreciate the help.”
“Jason, these Outsiders aren’t something that the American government can handle on its own,” Erik said, “You are going to need our help.”
“That will have to be decided on by higher level decision makers,” Jason said, “For the time being, they are the concern of the task force. Your efforts should be focused on making sure that Arem doesn’t use this as an opportunity to snatch Anne.” Erik started to fire back a reply, but he caught the look on Sam’s face.
“Everything we have on the Outsiders is on the network,” Erik said. “It’s not much. You should be able to download it to your flash drive.” Jason nodded and started the download from his tablet. “With Arem back, we’re going to need to tighten your security circle, Anne.” As expected, she grimaced. Erik let Kurt and Sam take over that part of the conversation.
As the others talked about Anne’s security arrangements, Erik tapped a quick message to Lady Maritza.
“Jason refuses to push for our involvement in the Outsiders,” Erik sent to Lady Maritza.
“I told you that would happen,” Lady Maritza replied, “The Americans do not understand the gravity of the situation. What are your plans now?“
“The less you know, the more you can deny,” Erik tapped out.
“Be very careful of how you handle this,” Lady Maritza answered, “Not even the Saint can protect you if the American government decides to expel you. Or just kill you.“