Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

1

Condemned by order of the health inspector. Do not enter.

I stared at the sign on the door to Rupert’s bar for longer than it took to read it. Cars honked at the nearby intersection, and tourists and locals hurried down the sidewalks with their collars turned up against the rain pelting down from above. But this alley was empty of life, as if nobody knew it was here.

My phone buzzed. Thinking it was my boss, Colonel Willard, I pulled it out, but when I saw the identity of the caller, I grimaced and stuck it back in my pocket. My therapist’s office. No doubt it was the perky receptionist reminding me of my next appointment. She could leave a message. Work got priority over my niggling health issues.

I rested a hand on the cold metal door and willed one of the magical trinkets on the leather thong around my neck to open the lock. Nothing happened. I tried the handle. The door creaked open. Silly me, thinking the troll owner would have locked up his establishment before abandoning it.

My half-elven senses told me there wasn’t anyone with magical blood inside. That was vastly different from when I’d visited only two weeks earlier. Then, shapeshifters, orcs, goblins, and other magical beings had been dancing and drinking as they enjoyed the only bar in Seattle dedicated to serving their kind—while doing its best to make sure the rest of the world didn’t know it existed.

As I stepped inside, a faint rustling drifted up the dim cement stairway that led down to the basement establishment, barely detectable over the street noise outside. I left Fezzik, my custom-made submachine pistol with magical bullets, in its thigh holster and drew Chopper, my dwarven-made longsword, from its scabbard on my back.

The rustling stopped. Darkness descended as the door closed behind me, and I walked down the stairs, wrinkling my nose at the lingering scents of spilled beer and sludge—an orc drink made from fermented moss. A hint of mildew underlaid the other odors.

At the bottom, I found and flipped a light switch near the wooden doorframe that numerous knives had been thrown into over the years. One had almost found my head the last time I’d come.

The lights didn’t come on. I activated another of my charms, one that gave me night vision. With a word, I could have made Chopper glow brightly enough to illuminate the room, but my ears told me I wasn’t alone down here, and I didn’t want to make myself more of a target.

As the charm turned the room from black to green, the details muted and sometimes fuzzy, I picked out blankets and clothing under some of the tables. Homeless people? A couple of pairs of eyes were turned toward me, but more people remained hunkered in their damp piles, ignoring my entrance.

If I didn’t find what I’d come for, I would bribe a couple of the squatters and see if they had any information. Most likely, they had come after the place had been shut down and knew little.

I headed down the hallway in the back, passing mostly empty rooms to the sides. A few of the couches, previously meeting spots for orcs, gnolls, and trolls who’d been chatting or necking, were occupied by sleeping humans. Someone had pushed their shopping cart full of belongings down the stairs and into one of the rooms.

The bank-vault-style door at the end of the hall was closed, and my hopes rose. Maybe Rupert, the troll owner, had left the dark-elf artifact inside when he closed down his place. If so, I could, as Willard had asked, bring it to her office for study.

This door was locked. I hesitated before using my charm on it, remembering the power the orb had to pull people to it with promises of pleasurable experiences. Someone had been dead on the floor the night I’d come and, according to Willard’s reports, others had died from long-term use here and in other locations that had housed the so-called pleasure orbs. Once the door was open, its power would flow out, and all those homeless people might be drawn back to their eventual deaths.

No, if it was inside, I was taking it with me. One way or another.

My charm worked, and the heavy lock thunked. I pulled open the door to an empty storeroom.

The orb was gone. A faint hint of lingering power remained in the air, like the scent of an animal after its passing, but it was nothing like the magic that had filled the room when the artifact had hung suspended in the middle.

My phone buzzed again. The therapist’s office. Why didn’t she leave a message?

I stepped into the storeroom, turned off the night-vision charm, and whispered, “Eravekt” to activate Chopper. There might be clues in here that only light would reveal.

Such as the chalk outlines on the floor. I stared at them as a rat skittered under a shelving unit. Six outlines had been drawn around the room. Did that mean the police had taken the orb? Or had the dark-elf scientists, specifically the pair Willard had me hunting down, returned to retrieve it?

On the third call, I answered the phone with an exasperated, “What?”

“Val?” It was Mary, my therapist, not her receptionist.

“No, it’s the goblin work leader I hired to screen calls for me.” I walked between the chalk outlines, examining the floor, the ceiling, the shelves… anything that might give me a clue.

“Someone was here asking for your record.”

I froze. “Who?”

Someone from Willard’s office? Willard knew I’d seen a doctor about my newly developed asthma and a few other concerns, and that I’d been directed to speak to a therapist to learn how to lower the stress in my life—hah. The military didn’t have any reason to snoop.

“She didn’t give a name to my receptionist, Gina, just demanded the reports on the half-elf. We wouldn’t have known that was you except…” Mary cleared her throat delicately. “Your file is gone.”

“It’s gone? Gina gave it to this person?”

“She says she didn’t, but she also says her memory got fuzzy after this young lady made her demand. She remembers unlocking the door to my office and going in but nothing after that until she was back at her desk and the next client came in.”

Ugh, that sounded like someone being directed by a magical compulsion. I thought of my new enemy, Shaygorthian, a silver dragon inquisitor from the Dragon Justice Court. He’d stalked me all over northern Idaho, trying to read my mind to see if I’d been responsible for his son’s death, and, as I knew from personal experience, dragons could place magical compulsions on even those with strong minds.

“I’m very sorry about this, Val. It is not our policy to share a patient’s records. We take privacy very seriously. I must apologize deeply about this.”

“You said it was a woman? Is Gina sure about that?”

Dragons could shape-shift into numerous forms, but I’d never seen one change sexes before.

“Yes,” Mary said. “I gather this woman was distinct. Young with purple hair, black leather clothing, and nose piercings.”

“That’s not the usual style for a government agent.” The only person I knew who came close was Nin, but only because she’d dyed her hair purple before. She didn’t have any piercings or black leather that I’d seen in the years I’d known her.

“Not even an undercover one?”

“When they go undercover, they try not to stick out. Look, thanks for letting me know, but I’m in the middle of something.” Actually, I was at a dead end. I hoped Zav, my dragon ally and provisional partner, was having better luck hunting down the dark-elf scientists.

“Will you still come for your appointment tomorrow? I apologize again for this unforgivable transgression and hope you’ll continue to see me.”

If someone with magical power had diddled the receptionist’s mind, it was forgivable. It wasn’t like she could have stopped it.

“Unless something comes up, I’ll be there. I had some new developments while I was in Idaho that would probably be good to talk about.” Reluctantly. I hated opening up, but I’d finally spoken to my daughter and ex-husband after almost ten years of avoiding them. And I’d been claimed by a dragon as his mate. These seemed like important life events to discuss with someone.

“Good. I look forward to listening. I’ll make sure going forward that your records are only electronically stored and behind a password nobody except for me knows.”

That just meant the magical intruder would diddle her mind next time. I didn’t point this out.

“That’s fine. Thanks.”

As I left the storeroom, unlocking the owner’s office and checking the hidden viewing room I’d been in before, I tried to think of who, with the power to magically coerce people, might be researching me this week. Dragons weren’t the only ones who could do that trick.

More rustling noises and a few muttered words from the main room reminded me to stay alert. I almost called Sindari, my magical tiger companion, but if someone powerful was looking for me, I had better save him. The time he could spend on Earth each day was limited.

Back in the main room, someone had lit a dented camp lantern. The unnatural white light revealed six men and a tattooed woman standing between me and the stairs leading out. Two of the men had pistols stuffed in their jeans waistbands, a couple had knives, and the woman had a baseball bat with fang marks chomped in the end.

“This is our place,” the woman said. “You can’t come down here uninvited. And you can’t leave with that jacket.”

I snorted. If the lighting were better, she could see how often my leather duster had been patched after being stabbed, shot, and scorched by enemies. It wouldn’t fetch a high price at a consignment shop.

But she was serious. They all were. I sighed, as a fight seemed inevitable.

A shadow stirred in the stairwell, and for the first time, I sensed someone with magical blood. More than that, the person was carrying something magical, something with a signature that reminded me of the dark-elven artifact.

I could barely make out a young, blue-skinned troll crouching on the steps, peering toward the group. Was this someone who knew Rupert? And where he’d gone? If so, I wanted to question him, not deal with these idiots.

But the woman slapped the baseball bat into her palm. This group wasn’t going to let me out.

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