Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(13)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(13)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

“Good idea. Let me know if you catch her pulling up my records.”

Willard looked sharply at me. “You think this is about you?”

“Do you have anyone else working here who’s as fascinating as I am?”

She snorted. “Corporal Clarke is pretty interesting.”

“More in personality than his duties, I assume.”

“True.” The vault door had unlocked, and Willard pushed it open.

We walked into a metal-walled, windowless room filled with rows and rows of stark metal shelves, cabinets, and freezers. The shelves were packed with boxes, jars, and crates, everything labeled with a scannable code searchable by using software that only Willard and a couple of her trusted researchers had installed on their computers. She took me to a specific shelf and pointed at an empty spot.

“What was there?”

“The alchemy book you took from the dark elves.”

“Oh. How long has it been missing?”

“Someone broke in Friday night. It’s on the cameras, but we didn’t get a face or a fingerprint, not that the dark elves are in the government databases. The person wore gloves and kept a mask and hood up the entire time. It looked like a woman, but it was hard to tell under the cloak. She waved her fingers at the front door of the building and walked in without triggering the alarms. Or the magical wards I paid handsomely to have installed. She paused a few times, like a hound sniffing the air, but eventually came straight down here. Another finger wave, and she walked into the vault and took the book. Nothing else. She walked back out again and disappeared from the view of the external security cameras before she should have.” Willard snapped her fingers. “Gone like that before she was halfway back to the street.”

“You have Zoltan’s translations, at least, right?”

“Yes, though his original was found in ashes in the drawer where I’d put it. Fortunately, I’d scanned it and put it on the computer. The electronic file is still there.”

“I don’t think dark elves know much about our technology, despite having lived under our city for however long.” I thought of how I’d found the vial that had held the substance that poisoned Willard in her garbage disposal. At the time, I’d thought the dark elf had intended to turn on the disposal to destroy it but been distracted. Now, I wondered if she’d even known it was there. She might have believed the vial would simply disappear down the drain.

“I agree. My concern here is that the dark elves have gone to such lengths to get their book back. They broke into your apartment looking for it first, right?”


“I guess coming here wasn’t that dangerous for them, other than having to worry about lights being turned on, but why take the risk unless they’re still using the book and need the recipes?”

“You think they’re making more pleasure orbs? At least two have been destroyed—I don’t know who took out the one in Rupert’s bar, but the shard I found suggests it’s broken now.”

“They could be,” Willard said. “That was only one of many recipes in that book. There were also a bunch of numbers in the back that we never figured out the relevance for.”

“It would be nice to capture and question one of these dark elves.”

“No kidding.” Willard slapped me on the shoulder. “I need you to make that happen.”

I sighed. “I’m working on it.”

“Work harder. It’s just a hunch, but I have a feeling we may not have much time before they enact their plan.”



“Val!” My therapist, Mary Watanabe, met me in the waiting room as I walked in, coming forward to grip my arms, her face more animated than usual. “I’m glad you came. I worried you might be in trouble.”

“I’m always in trouble.”

“I also worried—” Mary lowered her voice and glanced at a couple of people waiting to see other therapists on the floor, “—that you wouldn’t forgive us for the inexcusable loss of your file.”

“No. That was a dragon in human form that came to get it. You couldn’t have kept her from what she wanted. If you’d tried, she might have torched the place.”

Judging by the uncertain wrinkle to Mary’s brow, she didn’t know if I was joking. I wished I were.

“Don’t worry about it.” I waved toward her office, but as I started to follow her, I paused. “Wait, what was actually in my record? Anything that might…” I groped for a way to explain Zav and the sister, but it would be difficult to do so without explaining everything.

Maybe I should. Thus far, Mary had been willing to take my stories about slaying magical criminals at face value, but I wasn’t sure she’d ever met any in person or truly believed everything I said. Maybe she did. If not, she would have been trying to medicate me or put me in a straightjacket, right?

“We can talk about it during your session.” Mary led me inside and waved me toward the chair.

The first day I’d come, she’d placed it with the back toward the door, but each time since then, she’d had it with the back against a wall and facing the door and her desk. I was convinced that was the normal position and that she’d been testing my paranoia during our first meeting.

I surprised myself by telling her everything about my trip to Idaho and what had happened since my return. Maybe my frustrations about the dark elves, Zav’s sister, and dragons in general were bubbling over and I needed more than a magical tiger to vent to. Or maybe I was tired of holding things back and trying to get help based on partial truths. Either way, I spent most of our session blabbing.

If the uncharacteristic outflow surprised Mary, she didn’t show it. I wondered if she would consider this a breakthrough or a breakdown. Either way, she typed notes into her computer instead of scribbling them into a notepad, as had been her previous habit. Zondia had those scribbles now. I wished I’d asked Mary to see them before so I could better guess what kinds of conclusions Zondia was drawing about me. Not that she’d been subtle about sharing them thus far.

“I’m pleased that you’ve spoken to Thad and Amber.” Mary always named them, never referring to them as the ex-husband or my daughter. “And that it went reasonably well, given the circumstances.”

“The circumstances of a dragon trying to kidnap Amber twice? Yes.”

“And you’re now referring to your crafting acquaintances as friends.” Mary smiled. “Have you decided that they’re capable of taking care of themselves and won’t be in too much danger from knowing you?”

I paused. Had I? I hadn’t realized I’d consciously started considering Nin and Dimitri friends. “They’re both kind of… in the biz.”

“The assassination biz?”

“No, the business of dealing with magical beings or at least making magical things. I guess they’re more capable of taking care of themselves than most mundane people.”

Nin was anyway. I smiled, remembering her blowing a hole in Rupert’s ceiling because she’d wanted to protect me.

“Good. I suggest you continue to develop those friendships. Let’s discuss Zav.”

“Uh, all right.” Why did I suddenly feel wary? Because I’d told her about the claiming bit and she might not understand?

“During our first meeting,” Mary said, “you mentioned that you weren’t seeking a romantic relationship.”

“That’s right. I’m still not.”

“No?” Her face remained neutral, but I sensed skepticism in the word.

“I’d have sex with him if the opportunity arose, but it’s not like we’re going to get married. He’s not even from this planet. You know what they say about long-distance relationships.”

I’d hoped for a smile—and her being willing to move to another topic—but she only regarded me gravely, then typed something into her computer.

“Are you going to get judgy about me having casual sex with people I don’t want to get involved with long-term?” I asked.

“No. It does sound like it would be a problematic relationship.”

“Right. We’re working together right now, and even that’s problematic. Even if the sister weren’t around, it wouldn’t be a good idea.”

“Though he would, if everything you’ve told me about dragons is true, be able to take care of himself around your enemies.” Mary smiled slightly.

“It’s his own enemies he has to watch out for.” But I knew what she meant. That was the reason I’d given her for my avoidance of Thad and Amber and my unwillingness to gather new friends. In the past, people had died because they’d gotten close to me and my enemies had found out about it. I’d lost one of my best friends that way, and I was terrified of having that happen again. “But yes, I wouldn’t have to worry about an orc gunning him down in the street. The problem is, the sister aside, I’m not sure he gets that claiming me doesn’t mean he owns me and can control me. Sometimes, I think he gets it, but sometimes, he gets all huffy and dragon on me.” I thought of his threatening words and glares to other men who came close to me. Like a possessive boyfriend. Only Dimitri hadn’t received that, but if Zav could read minds as easily as he said, he knew Dimitri had no attraction toward me, or any other woman, apparently.

“Dragon?” Mary prompted.

“Yeah. Like, in their society, if the dragon claims you, they’re basically taking ownership of you and will have a loyal slave girl, or at least that’s what it sounds like. Or a slave boy. I gather it can go the other way and doesn’t have to do with gender, just with who’s the dragon and who’s the lesser species. Lesser species are supposed to be so enthralled by the dragon that they fall over themselves in their eagerness to please him or her.”

“Hm.” Mary typed a few notes.

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