Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(12)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(12)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

The woman waved a pair of pliers at it and said something in goblin—I assumed that was the language, as I couldn’t understand it, but Gondo reacted. He shook his head vehemently and waved away her pliers.

This was the person with the powerful aura. She reminded me of—

“Thorvald.” Willard extended a hand toward the visitor. “This is our potential intern, Freysha. We don’t usually hire outside of the service, but she speaks a number of non-Earth languages and is familiar with the politics of the Cosmic Realms. When I mentioned we had a book on the Dragon Justice Court’s laws, she offered to go over it and see if our translations are correct.”

Willard’s tone was guarded. I doubted she trusted this potential intern.

Freysha turned to face us, smiling cheerfully. She had a beautiful face with impish green eyes that seemed as full of mischief as the goblin’s, and she was even younger than I’d guessed. Maybe seventeen or eighteen?

No, I realized as Willard looked expectantly at me. She was older than I’d guessed. Her aura clicked into place as similar to that of the traveler in Greemaw’s valley. An elf.

“Hello, Freysha. I’m Val.”

“Val, the moon and stars shine upon you. I’ve heard of you.” Freysha’s English was almost as perfect and precise as Nin’s but with a lyrical overtone that made the words sound more exotic than they were. She removed the cap, revealing ears as pointed as Gondo’s, if less green, and flourished it with a gesture between a bow and a curtsy.

“That can’t be good.”

“It can’t?” She cocked her head.

“Well, it usually isn’t.” I assumed she’d heard of me because of my reputation in the magical community, though I supposed she could be here because of me. Had the traveler—Syran Moonleaf had been his name—made it back to his world and reported my existence to my father? When last I’d seen him, he’d been lamenting the lack of portals on Earth, so I wasn’t sure how he would have gotten home.

“No?” Freysha scratched the side of her head with the pliers. “Aren’t you a hero here on Earth?”

“Uh, maybe to my people.”

“You think we think you’re a hero?” Willard murmured. “Really, Thorvald.”

“Shush.”

Gondo, only halfway paying attention to the conversation, fired his trebuchet. An eraser only made it halfway to the wall before plummeting to the floor.

“I told you.” Freysha pointed the pliers at him. “You need a heavier counterweight.”

“My creativity is stifled by the lack of suitable building materials in this room.” Gondo hopped off the desk. “I must forage.”

Willard caught him by the back of his shirt before he’d taken two steps. “You’re not foraging in my building.”

“What about outside of your building?”

“No. Sit down at the desk—in the chair—and finish your shift.”

Gondo had a shift? Willard’s office was getting stranger by the day.

Willard caught my gaze and jerked her chin at Freysha. Was I supposed to question her? Willard had said she wanted my opinion, but I had no idea what to make of the young elf.

“Have you been on Earth long?” I assumed she hadn’t been born here—and also that Willard had asked this question.

“No. I came recently to explore.”

“To explore? I didn’t think elves or dwarves came here anymore for that.”

“Oh, they don’t. The air is terrible here. I’m thinking of making a syshoral leniir once I find a more permanent temporary home.”

“Every home needs one.” Whatever it was. I activated my translation charm so I wouldn’t miss any more elven terms sprinkled in.

“On this world, they do.” Freysha grinned. “I came because I’m a bit of a misfit at home.” She set the pliers on the desk. “Elves are supposed to use magic to craft things, not tools. My aunt thinks a dwarf may have sneaked into my bloodline.”

“Or a goblin,” Gondo suggested.

“Yes, elf-goblin matings are very common.” Freysha’s eyes crinkled, which I took to mean they were as common as orcs with good attitudes. “Perhaps we look similar?” She pushed up a sleeve to reveal a pale arm and held it up to Gondo’s arm.

“You have the same ears,” I said. “Skin coloring aside.”

“This is true. Then, yes, I could have a goblin ancestor. Whatever the reason, I’ve always found stories of this world and the technologies the humans create fascinating.”

“She’s the first visitor not to call our kind vermin,” I pointed out to Willard.

“Is that because she’s being diplomatic or buttering us up?” Willard asked.

“Well, if she wants a job here, she might be doing both.”

Willard, squinting at Freysha, did not appear buttered.

“I am a stranger and must prove myself,” Freysha informed me. “I first tried to get a job at the metal recycling plant near your railroads, but they said I need a green card.” She spread her arms and shrugged. “I heard people here understand the magical community. And this building is close to a scrapyard and steel distributor.” Her eyes lit.

So did Gondo’s. “Precisely where I wanted to go to forage.”

Willard raised her eyebrows toward me. Wanting that opinion?

“If you hire her, it will be easier to keep an eye on her,” I pointed out.

And maybe I would have an opportunity to ask her about learning magic. Was she old enough to teach? Would she consider it or did I have to find a relative for that? Learning magic sounded like something that would take a lot of time. Maybe I could bring her a toolbox and she would value it so greatly that she would be eager to spend hours in tutelage with me.

“I’m already keeping an eye on Gondo,” Willard said, “and it’s giving me a headache.”

“Maybe you can give her a desk less office-adjacent to yours. Don’t you have a basement?”

“Yeah. That’s the other reason I called you in.” Willard left Freysha discussing the merits of scrapyards with Gondo and led me into the corridor. As we headed for the stairs to the basement, Willard spoke in a low voice. “Freysha specifically came here asking for employment. She would be a valuable asset, but I’m skeptical about trusting her. None of these magical beings ask me for a job. Every informant I’ve got today I’ve had to threaten, bribe, or blackmail into reluctantly agreeing to work with me.”

“How much do you have to trust her to let her work for you?”

“She’d have access to everything in this office if she was here.”

“Don’t give her a key. Then she can only come when someone’s on duty.”

Willard’s lips twisted into a sour expression. “If she has half the magic elves are reputed to have, it wouldn’t matter if she had a key. She could get in any time she wanted.” She flipped on the lights and trotted down the stairs. “I had a half-ogre wizard from Olympia put in a bunch of wards that are supposed to keep magical beings from forcing entry, but as you’re about to see, it doesn’t work on everybody.”

She led me past more offices and storerooms, toward the vault door that secured the evidence room. There weren’t any windows down here. It should have been difficult for someone to get in.

“I don’t know if she’s genuinely perky and innocent,” Willard said, “or if that’s an act.”

“I don’t know, either, from our brief chat, but if she were putting on an act, wouldn’t she have chosen a persona that’s more in line with our expectations? A bow? A quiver? Green and brown clothing with leaves sticking to it?”

“Maybe. But she doesn’t add up for me. I think she’s someone’s spy.”

“Whose? There aren’t many elves—light elves—left on Earth. Unless that’s changed recently.”

“Who said she’s working for elves?” Willard asked. “Light elves?”

A chill went through me as we stopped in front of the vault door. “The light elves and the dark elves are supposed to have been enemies throughout time. One shouldn’t be working for the other.”

“Times change. Maybe they need someone who can wander around in daylight.” Willard reached for the fingerprint scanner lock. “And maybe she’s not under her own control. That’s what I was wondering if you could tell. You’ve been magically compelled to do things by dragons. Do dark elves have that power? And could some priestess or wizard among them be controlling her?”

“After all your research, you’d be more likely to know if they have that power than I. But…” I thought of the first compulsion I’d experienced, Zav commanding me to get that artifact for him. It had been subtle enough that I’d been able to go about my normal life and probably hadn’t seemed any different to others. Only when I’d gotten close to that artifact had the urge to do something incredibly stupid come down on me like a freight elevator. I’d almost flung myself into the middle of hundreds of dark elves engaged in a ceremony to get the artifact. “It would be possible for her to be compelled about something and for it not to be apparent to outsiders. Dragons seem to be able to do this to people easily. I don’t know if dark elves have that kind of power.”

What if Zav’s sister had been the one to find and send this elf? Was there a reason why she would? To gather information about me out of this office more easily than she could do it? All the records here were electronic. That could be an area she wasn’t familiar with, but one where a tech-loving elf could thrive.

“According to the gnome book, they do,” Willard said grimly. “I’ll keep an eye on her and give her limited access to things. Like you said, I would rather keep possible enemies close than have them wandering the city where I can’t watch them.”

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