The Polk National Forest at night had scared a six-year-old Anne when her father brought her up for an overnight camping trip. Anne had thought she left that fear behind her as she grew up. Creeping about the forest hunting for the Servitors of the Nameless God brought back all of that fear. If anything, the nightvision goggles she was wearing enhanced her anxiety. The forest left too many dark shadows in the green-scale field. Her anxiety wasn’t helped by the fact that she was being escorted by Agent Privas, the feds’ chief sorceress, and Arem. Her normal partner, Jason, rounded out their quartet.
The federal task force spread out its forty tactical agents in four-person fireteams. The Avalonian contingent of Erik, Kurt, Samantha, and Lady Maritza’s two main gunslingers, John and Nigel were slightly behind the agents. The feds weren’t too happy with having Anne and the Avalonians (wouldn’t that make an interesting band name) on scene, but Lady Maritza quietly pointed out that the Americans were going to need the extra firepower based on what had happened in Hope Park. Unless, of course, the U.S. government was willing to have an “accident” with one of their big bunker-buster bombs. Anne had thought the Avalonians were being overly bloodthirsty. Then she was briefed in on exactly who she had kidnapped Veronica.
Once the Americans, the Avalonians, and Arem had combined their intelligence, the group had learned a few things. The cult, the Servitors of the Nameless God, was far bigger than any of them had suspected. Instead of being a small core group that went from city to city, the Servitors were an international organization hidden behind one of the innumerable non-government organizations, or NGOs. A lot of that information had been handed over to the State Department, DOJ, and the IRS. If they succeeded tonight, it was hoped the federal government could break the public face of the Servitors. They needed to succeed tonight, because if they didn’t the Servitors were going to summon their nameless god. From the descriptions from Arem and Samantha, those humans who weren’t killed or driven insane would be enslaved by the Outsider god.
“What the hell was that?” Agent Privas said as Anne felt a strong pull on the streams of wild magic. The streams around Anne fell to a bare trickle of what they’d been just a few seconds ago. “Did the Servitors do the ritual?”
“No,” Arem answered. “The fools are completing the preparations for their ritual.” The elf paused for a moment and cocked his head. “They might be drawing enough to prevent me from bringing reinforcements.”
“What did they do?” Privas demanded in a low whisper.
“They bound the wild magic into some sort of framework,” Anne answered, surprising even herself. Anne didn’t know how she knew what had happened, but it was like she could “see” down the streams of wild magic to where the Servitors had bound them. A flash of pain burst through Anne’s head. At first, she thought it was something from the Servitors, but then Anne realized she’d slammed into her mental block again. From what Veronica and Samantha had deduced, the block had been put into her mind when she was a baby. They suspected the block was designed to keep Anne from killing herself by handling too much wild magic at once. Bundled in there were some memories hidden under that block. Anne’d had a glimpse a few months ago when they were fighting the vampires. Those memories had been enough for Anne to suspect that Arem, or his mistress Meliandre, was somehow responsible for the block, which brought up all sorts of questions that Anne didn’t want to poke at while she was sneaking up on a cult trying to summon their alien god.
Arem gave her an appraising stare, which was even more disturbing in the odd green view of the nightvision. Elven eyes didn’t sparkle in nightvision like human eyes, which made Arem look a little bit like those gray aliens that pop up on any UFO-hunter program. Anne quickly turned away and focused on the barely broken trail their quartet was following into the forest.
Much to the Americans’ unease, Erik had made sure to pack grenades this time. More to the point, Kurt installed the “surplus” FN 40mm on Erik’s Galil ACE. If Erik had to go up against monsters like last time he’d fought the Servitors, he wanted lots of firepower. Especially if the bastards managed to cut him off from his power again. Kurt was wrangling a cut-down light machine gun. Both men carried lots of ammunition and additional weapons. Far’ling was sheathed at Erik’s side, but the magic sword was a last-resort weapon. It may end up being a very last resort weapon if things went downhill fast. Erik understood the Americans’ reluctance to use nuclear weapons on their own soil. Even the Avalonians rarely used the devices, as Erik knew only far too well. Still, they had those humongous bombs that were so large only the Americans’ cargo planes could lift them. What were they called? MOABs? Erik’s thoughts were cut off as one of the American agents reported.
“Eyes on target,” one of the scouts said, “Didn’t Park Service say they cleared out the forest?” There was consternation in the man’s voice.
“Yes. Why?” asked SAC Belushi. Much to Erik’s surprise the man in charge of the American agents was also creeping around the forest in body armor and carrying one of their little popguns. Granted, he was supposed to be towards the rear of their little group, but he was still out with his agents.
“There’s got to be four or five hundred people on scene,” the scout answered. “Most of them look like civilians just camping out.” Swearing broke out on the radio net as the Americans contemplated how to get the extra people out of the way. Erik waited for a lull to explain, but he didn’t need to.
“Those aren’t civilians!” Anne growled over the radio net. “Those are the black-eyes we told you about.”
“Hearst, these people look nothing like what you described,” the scout replied, “They look just like people enjoying the weekend.”
“As soon as you show yourselves, they will look exactly like what Anne described,” Erik said. “Give us a minute to properly set up the machine gun, and we’ll clear them out.” The radio net went dead silent. Erik waited for the tirade against his comment to commence. Before any of the Americans said anything, a new voice echoed through the radio.
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” the male voice said.
“Who was that?” Belushi demanded. As if in answer to the SAC’s question, a wave of Outsider magic pounded the group. Much to the Americans credit, they didn’t hesitate. They charged into the clearing. Erik and his team followed slightly behind, both because they were a bit more heavily loaded and because they didn’t feel like running into an Outsider ambush. Their caution was rewarded by the throaty screams.