“So why did that spell burn my hands?” Anne asked Veronica as the two searched around the hotel room’s desk.

“You didn’t have a circle set to absorb the excess from slinging the spell,” Veronica answered.

“Yeah, but I’ve seen you sling spells without a circle,” Anne said.

“There are formal and informal circles,” Veronica explained, “The formal circles are stronger and can act as barriers as well as protect you from the excess. Informal circles are kind of mental techniques to help divert the excess, but they take longer to learn. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to set a formal circle, much less try to teach you how to form an informal circle.” Veronica stopped searching for a moment and gave Anne a hard look. “That’s why you need to start taking our lessons more seriously. You’re going to need to be able to sling spells on your own. Especially if you have to go up against something like that vampire.”

Okay, Veronica, I get the message,” Anne said, “I’ll make sure to set aside more time for your sessions.”

“Then I guess the burned hand does teach best,” Veronica said, with just the barest hint of humor. Anne gave the small dark woman a flat look.

“If you two are done gossiping, I think we’ve found something,” Jason said. He hoisted a black gym bag onto the bed. Reaching in, he pulled out two laminated cards on yellow lanyards. Anne picked up one of the cards.

“Why do two vampires have crew ID’s for the Mia Gold tour?” Anne asked.

“Stolen?” Veronica suggested.

“Nope. The names on the cards match the names on the ID’s the vampires were using when they checked in,” Jason said, consulting his phone. He tapped the screen a few more times. “They were on the tour’s list of visas when they came into the country. The tour manager is staying upstairs. Maybe we should go talk to him and see when these two were picked up.”

“That sounds like an excellent next step,” Samantha said, “Kurt and Veronica will stay here to continue to search, and then clean up as best they can. The three of us will go up and have a chat with this tour manager.”

“Maybe I should go as well,” Kurt protested. Anne walked over and gave Kurt a quick kiss. He looked down at her as if unsure what to do next. It was actually kind of endearing on his handsome face.

“Relax, I’ll be fine,” Anne said. “We’ll be careful, but I need you to find out where that vampire’s partner is. It might be where they’re holding Erik.” Kurt grimaced but nodded. Anne gave him another quick kiss on the cheek and left the room with Jason and Samantha. Veronica’s magical shields had held up because the trio didn’t have to deal with any curious bystanders as they made their way to the elevators.

“Anne, do you think starting up a relationship with Schneider is a smart idea?” Jason asked quietly.

“Shut up Jason,” Anne snapped.

“What? You’re the one who decided to kiss him in the middle of an operation,” Jason said, defensively.

“Be quiet, the pair of you,” Samantha snapped. Anne and Jason looked over at the Avalonian. “This is neither the time nor place to be holding that particular conversation. After we manage to deal with this particular menace, the pair of you can talk about it until your eyes bleed.” Jason gave Samantha an incredulous look, which she ignored. The trio didn’t speak again until they reached the tour manager’s room. Jason moved to the left of the door, while Anne and Samantha stayed to the right.

I’m not hearing anything, Samantha said, He’s either a vampire or not in his room.

Since I just heard some movement, let’s go with vampire, Jason said, Suppressors on ladies. Each drew out a long thin cylinder and screwed it to the muzzles of their pistols. We go in and shoot anything that moves. Easier to search the room for intelligence than try to capture a vampire for questioning. The two women nodded. Jason inserted the keycard and kicked the door open before storming into the room. Anne and Samantha followed closely. Samantha was wrong. There wasn’t a vampire in the room. There were two vampires in the room. Anne recognized one as the other vampire from the murder scene. The other looked like the picture of the tour manager. There was the barest instant where everyone was frozen in place.

Jason opened fire as the two vampires blurred with motion. The sharp tik-tik-tik of his suppressed pistol was barely louder than the cracking of the glass behind the two vampires. Anne was twisting to bring her pistol to bear on one of the vampires. The tour manager materialized between Anne and Samantha. The vampire kicked Samantha hard enough to launch her into the wall. The telepathic network flickered as Samantha crumpled to the ground. Anne brought up her pistol, but the vampire was already gone.

The other vampire screamed as two of Jason’s bullets landed. Anne instinctively spun to the sound. She realized her mistake an instant too late. She felt the tour manager’s iron grip clamp on her gun hand. Anne yelled out in pain and let go of her Glock. Her arm was wrenched violently behind her back as the tour’s manager wrapped around her chest like a metal band. The tour manager yelled commands at the wounded vampire in some Eastern European language. The wounded vampire flashed through the hotel room’s large window. Jason spun to bring the pistol on the tour manager.

“Let her go,” Jason commanded.

“You must be stupid,” the tour manager said, “Soon, the remaining members of my clan will be here. They will tear you limb from limb, and that little one trying to sneak up on me. Come back into view, or I will break this one.” Anne yelped in pain as the tour manager tightened his grip on her arm.

“We’ll see who gets here first,” Jason said, “Your clan members, or the Homeland Security agents I called in when we dealt with the one downstairs. I’m betting on the feds.” The tour manager laughed.

“You do not have federal agents here,” the tour manager said, “Especially not that can deal with my clan members. I don’t know how you killed Karlo, but he was just one. How will you deal with eight more?”

“Ambush always works well,” Kurt said from the doorway. Anne couldn’t see him, but she knew the look on his face from just the sound of his voice. Emotionless, cold, and fully fixed on the job. “Let her go.”

“So, you’ve me surrounded?” the tour manager asked. Then he whispered into Anne’s ear. “Well, then, might as well find out why your blood is so important to the gazda.” There was pain as the vampire bit into her neck. Then, a flash of heat covered her back, and she heard the vampire scream. Anne felt the vampire’s grip on her vanish. She spun and saw a pile of ash.

“What happened?” Anne asked, holding her hand to her neck. It didn’t feel like it was bleeding too bad. The others were staring at her in shock.

“He went up like flash paper the moment he sunk his fangs into you,” Jason said. “Did you sling a spell?”

“No,” Anne and Veronica chorused. Anne cleared her throat and continued. “I have no idea what the hell just happened. Although, it makes sense now why the vampires would be looking for me. If I can do that when they try to suck my blood…” She let her voice trail off.

“Where did the other one go?” Kurt asked.

“I thought you would know,” Jason said, “I thought you knew a bunch of languages.”

“Not Serbian,” Kurt said. Jason cocked his head and pulled out his phone. He tapped furiously for a few seconds. Kurt came up next to Anne.

“Do you need anything?” Kurt asked in a soft voice.

“That wasn’t the question I was expecting,” Anne said, a nervous chuckle escaping. She felt her cheeks warm in slight embarrassment.

“Asking if you were good would be foolish, with what just happened” Kurt said, “Far more important to find out what you need.”

“I need to find out what the hell is going on, and I need to find Erik,” Anne answered.

“We will do that,” Kurt said. The words were strangely comforting coming from him.

“Sonuvabitch,” Jason growled. Everyone was slightly taken aback. Jason rarely swore. “Eric’s at the Riverside Colosseum. We need to hurry. That pile of ash told the other to gather the others and eliminate the prisoner.”