Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(11)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(11)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

Likely not.

“Are there any of your buddies left who would tell me? I’m still willing to pay. Or help you find the dark elves that did that.” I pulled Chopper away from his neck and pointed it at the bundle of the dead.

“Screw you.” His voice was weaker now, the puddle of blood on the floor larger. “And screw those idiots… for working with those evil bastards…. Saw this coming. Why didn’t they?”

I was debating if I should hunt for a first-aid kit and call an ambulance when he drew his last shuddering breath. I sighed, cleaned and sheathed Chopper, and wiped my face. My fingers came away damp with blood, and as my body cooled, I grew aware of the injuries I’d received.

“Guess I don’t need to show up at Willard’s office until 8:30,” I muttered.

8

It was 8:07 when I arrived at the unassuming brick three-story government building in South Seattle where Willard and ten full-time soldiers worked. Another dozen part-time specialists came and went, as Willard needed their expertise. There was no mention of the army on any of the signage, and I wondered if anyone ever thought it odd that uniformed soldiers strolled in and out of the building. The sign did mention an IRS office, which probably kept random people from wandering up to explore.

It had been several months since I’d been inside the building, and a few things had changed. Someone had painted the interior walls from white to beige, and a goblin was sitting on top of the secretary’s desk in Willard’s outer office. The last time I’d come, a lieutenant had been working there. Now…

“Willard, there’s a goblin out here disassembling your stapler.”

Her door was open, so I assumed she was inside.

“I know,” her Southern drawl floated out.

“You know?”

Willard walked out, frowning at this unorthodox assistant. “I know about the goblin.” She plucked the stapler from his grip. “This was news.”

“Work Leader Willard,” he protested, looking up. His face was familiar. Where had I seen him before? “I was repairing it.”

“It was jammed?” Willard asked.

“No.” His forehead crinkled, and he tilted his head. Two pointed green ears stuck out from his short mussy white hair. “It only dispensed one staple at a time.”

“That’s how it’s supposed to work.”

“That seems a poor design. What if you wish to fasten papers more earnestly and permanently? Or use this as a weapon to deter large enemies who are threatening your small but pleasing-to-you life?” He squinted at me.

“We have guns for that.” Willard took the stapler from his hand and shoved it in a drawer.

“Gondo?” I asked, his face clicking for me.

The last time I’d seen him, he’d had longer hair. And he’d been squished under Sindari’s paw.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him but looked to Willard for an explanation.

She sighed. “We have enough goblin communities in the area now that I thought it would be good to have a liaison. Preferably one that has moderately fond feelings for us.”

“Are you sure Gondo qualifies? Sindari kept him pinned to the ground for an hour while I was negotiating with his boss.”

“I hold no ill will.” Gondo picked a drawing compass out of a cup full of pens. “You are the Goblin Speaker now.”

“How’d you get that title?” I asked Willard. “Does it come with a plaque? Fringe benefits? Is there a clubhouse? A secret handshake?”

“If I’m understanding things correctly, that’s your title.” Willard smiled tightly. “You’ll have to get the rest of the details from Gondo.”

“Yes.” He nodded toward me. “You kept the sheriff from arresting us and you helped us find a new home.” He thrust the compass into the air as if it were a rapier.

All I’d done was throw the goblins into a U-Haul and tote them across the state.

“I spoke to the other work camps in the area. You also saved goblins from hunters. And you are the mate of a dragon. They saw this too!” His eyes gleamed. “Your status is extraordinary. Superb. Resplendent!”

“If that were true, a bunch of cat shifters wouldn’t have tried to kick my ass last night. We need to talk, Willard.”

“Oh? I kind of wanted to hear about how so many goblins witnessed you mating with your dragon.”

“There hasn’t been any mating.”

“I did see you in the water box. You were entwined.” Gondo stood on the desk and pantomimed embracing and kissing.

“That’s not the same as mating. Willard, your office?” I pointed past her, not tickled by the gleam in her eye.

“I thought you just kissed,” she said.

“We did.”

“Vigorously. Ardently.” Gondo thrust the compass up again. “Fervently.”

“I told him I’d pay him more if he could fill out paperwork,” Willard said. “He’s been reading our dictionary to prepare for the task.”

“The dictionary or the thesaurus?” I made a shooing motion, determined to get her into her office, with the door closed, before Gondo could pantomime anything else.

This time, she allowed herself to be guided inside, but not before pointing at the compass. “Don’t disassemble that.”

“I believe the implements on this desk could be turned into a trebuchet,” Gondo said.

“That’s not necessary.” Willard closed the door after we were inside. “Nine out of ten times, I choose well when I select an informant.”

“Is this not one of those times? Is he actually supposed to be an informant?”

“He doesn’t know that he is. I noticed, when I talked to the new group from Idaho, that Gondo knew all the gossip for every goblin there as well as others in pockets in the wilderness I didn’t know existed. I’ve already put together an extensive network of their outposts.”

“Is it important to know where goblins live?”

“It’s important to know where everybody lives. And people know their neighbors. If something goes on in those forests and the goblins can tell us about it, all the better.”

A twang-thump came from the other room.

Willard groaned. “He can’t have built it already, can he?”

“Goblins are hard workers. Did you get the pictures I sent from the Pride’s headquarters last night?”

“Yeah.” Willard went to a large tome open on her desk, the handwriting nothing I recognized. Sheets of translations were stuck between the pages. “This is a book on the various races’ religious rituals, as recorded by the largely atheist gnomes, apparently out of scientific curiosity. We’ve referenced it before. There’s a lot of good stuff in here.”

“Stuff about slitted tongues and missing hearts?”

“The tongues and the eyes specifically. The hearts may have been removed to ensure the dead couldn’t be raised.”

“That’s what Sindari said.” I didn’t know why hearts would matter. You would think removing the heads or even the tongues would be what would keep the dead from speaking, not that I’d ever been present for such a ceremony. “What species can raise the dead?”

“Dark elves. Occasionally vampires and those with enough power and a desire to learn from the dead will also master the ritual.” Willard touched the page her book was open to. “This describes a dark-elf ritual of sacrificing those who have betrayed them to their bone goddess to receive favor and more power.”

“Those who have betrayed them? Why would that include an entire warehouse of shifters?”

“They have rituals for all occasions.” Willard selected a large clump of pages around the open one. “This entire chapter is on dark-elf rituals that involve enemies, betrayers, traitors, and lovers who weren’t satisfying enough in bed.”

“There’s an actual ritual for them?”

“Apparently so. But gnomes have a sense of humor, so it’s possible there’s hyperbole in this resource.”

I thought of the bodies hanging from the beam. “And it’s possible there’s not?”

“Yes.”

“Could the dark elves be angry with the shifters because I destroyed their orb?” If they would sacrifice lovers to their goddess, shifters started to sound reasonable.

“That’s what I’m thinking. There aren’t too many species in the area that would take on that many shifters, especially on their own turf. They’re dangerous.”

“Tell me about it.” I touched my sore shoulder and glanced toward the door. A magical being, someone with an aura much stronger than Gondo’s, had joined him in the outer office. Some new informant?

“The shifters may have also known some of their plans or where they’re staying now,” Willard added.

“That’s why I wanted to talk to them.”

“I may have made a mistake in sending you to Idaho instead of putting you on this sooner.”

Another thump-twang reverberated from the outer office.

“If you hadn’t sent me, you wouldn’t have a new assistant.”

“Darn.”

A light blinked on the phone on Willard’s desk. “Work Leader? Your potential intern has returned.” Gondo’s voice took on an excited tone. “She’s interested in my trebuchet project!”

“That’s surprising,” Willard murmured. “I want your opinion on this person, Thorvald.”

“Opinions are free. I only charge for assassinations.”

“You’re a reasonable businesswoman.” Willard opened the door.

A young blonde woman in an oversized blue button-down shirt, grease-stained overalls, and a gray beanie cap leaned over the desk Gondo was still sitting on. He was pointing and commenting on what was turning into a siege engine made from a tape dispenser and other office supplies, the compass now in place as the throwing arm.

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