Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(17)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(17)
Author: Lindsay Buroker


“Had sex with and whispered sweet nothings in her ear. I assume that was done. I wasn’t there.”

Lirena worked out the slang and shook her head. “Not married, no, but he would have known he was, as a warrior from a favored family, expected to marry an elven female also from a favored family.”

“Like he knew he’d be king one day and was expected to marry someone suitable to become queen? Not some human chick?”

“He would not have known at that time that his family would become royal, but… that is a long story. Another time, I can tell you more, but I am not yet supposed to expose you too much to our world and ways.”

Lirena had been unfastening one of the trinkets from her bracelet, but she paused, as if reconsidering. I had no idea what the charm did, but now that she’d started to give it to me, I would be disappointed not to get it. Especially if it could help protect against dragons.

The charm looked like a large diamond, though it did not sparkle in the light. There was a matching one dangling on her other wrist—if she had two, then parting with one wouldn’t be a big deal, right?

“I have heard from the magical beings here that you are an assassin,” Lirena admitted.

“Of magical beings who commit crimes, yes.”

“I will refrain from passing judgment until I see what this entails.”

“Gee, thanks.”

It was so nice that I had so many observers these days. I almost suggested that she track Zondia down to get my files so they could peruse them together.

Lirena ignored my sarcasm and held out the diamond charm.

“What does it do?”

“It will make you lucky.” Lirena placed it in my palm.

“That’s it? Lucky?” I curbed an urge to let that word come out laced with sarcasm. Magic emanated from the item, and it was slightly warm against my skin. Maybe it was better than it sounded.

“It is a desirable charm among many species and more valuable than you might guess, but it will have to prove itself to you over time. It will make you less likely to get sick, more likely to evade a deadly blow in battle, and more likely to land on your feet if you are knocked out of a tree.”

“So basically, it keeps me from rolling a one?” I waved toward the D&D books on my shelf. I hadn’t had anyone to play with since I’d gotten out of the army, but I still had my dice and a few old manuals.

“Is a one bad?”

“Yeah. A fumble, critical failure, whatever you want to call it.”

“It may not prevent you from ever rolling a one, but you should notice that it makes you luckier in battle and in life.”

“And in avoiding dragons?”

“I shall hope so for your sake. Nobody wants to deal with dragons.”

“Very true.” I wondered what Zav would think of the charm. That I’d been snookered? It was magical. It had to do something, but this wasn’t the epic dragon-repelling artifact I’d hoped for.

“We will meet again, Val. I will let you know when I finish my observations and am ready to leave your world.” Lirena gave me the same bow mixed with a curtsy that Freysha had offered, then walked to the door. “Do you want me to replace this behind me? It appears somewhat broken.”

“Don’t worry about it. I have a frequent-shopper card at the hardware store.”

She gave me a blank look before she walked out.

I’d been tempted to ask what kind of observing she would be doing, but did it matter when a dragon was already prying into my life? What was one more stalker? Maybe I should publish my autobiography and put it on the coffee table to make things easier on everyone who broke into my apartment.

It was too late to go to the hardware store for wood and new hinges, so I did my best to shove the door back into the broken frame and plopped my heavy change jug down in front of it to keep it from falling inward. After that, I flopped down on my bed and contemplated moving to a new apartment building. I’d done this annually in the past, but it never seemed to make a difference. My enemies could always find me. So, it seemed, could elven spies and overly protective dragon siblings.


The next night, I was driving up the dark winding roads of Woodinville toward Zoltan’s carriage house when I sensed Zav for the first time since someone had called him back to his world.

My day hadn’t turned up anything relevant to the mission, so I hoped he’d found a dark-elf lair or two on his way back from his portal. Doubtful, but the time I’d spent hunting for Rupert and bribing anyone who’d ever gone to his establishment for information had amounted to nothing.

At least I’d gotten my door repaired that morning and another lock installed. On a whim, I’d purchased a scratch lottery ticket to test the luck of my new charm. I’d won a hundred dollars. Maybe Lirena hadn’t been exaggerating the usefulness of the charm.

Even better, Zav’s sister hadn’t returned. That surprised me. I’d kept expecting her. If all Lirena's flute had done was hurt her ears while she’d been in range, why wouldn’t she have returned as soon as the elf left?

I didn’t want to relive the mind-scouring experience, but I didn’t think she’d gotten deep enough to learn all that she needed. I kept worrying that she thought I’d set up a trap with Lirena, that I’d known her and invited her to come attack Zondia while she’d been busy reading my mind. If so, that may be why Zondia was staying away. And she would never believe I had no ill intent toward Zav.

He was flying right over my Jeep now—it was too dark to see him, but I sensed him.

Do you want me to stop so you can get in? I asked.

We were still a couple of miles from Zoltan’s place. Dimitri had called on his behalf right after dark, saying he had some information on the shard.

My passenger-side door opened, startling me. Zav, in his human form, pulled himself inside as a huge gust of wind flung the hem of his robe up. There was something amusing about the fact that these shapeshifters got their human bodies correct all the way down to the wavy dark leg hair. At least his lack of underwear wasn’t apparent this time. I knew from our hot tub interaction that he didn’t wear any.

“Not necessary.” Zav settled in and closed the door.

I reached over and pushed his hem down so his bare knee and shin hair weren’t visible. They weren’t offensive so much as they made me think about Zav nude, and I didn’t need to do that. It was bad enough that his magnetic aura was noticeable when we were this close.

“You must have missed me,” he said. “Already you are fondling my leg. Is this not considered foreplay among humans?”

“If I had foreplay in mind, I’d be uncovering you, not the other way around.”

He took that in stride. “You are going to visit the vampire?”

“Yes. I’ve been scouring Seattle for clues about the dark elves, but I haven’t found much. Zoltan has information about that shard.”

“Excellent. Due to matters at home, I have been unable to further my investigation here. Earlier, my mother ordered me not to leave this world until I finished capturing all of the criminals here, but then she ordered me home to glare menacingly at her political enemies.” He spread a hand, as if this wasn’t surprising.

“She’s the one who called you home? I assumed it was your sister.”

“No. Why would my sister have called me?”

“To get you away from my vile clutches.”

Zav looked over at me. In confusion?

“Because we were about to have sex against the wall of a building in Ballard,” I said. “Also, she was pissed that I fed you.”

“Ah.” He drew out the single syllable, infusing it with understanding. “She spoke to you?”

“We’ve had several conversations now.” I turned down the road that led toward Zoltan’s subdivision.

“I instructed her to leave you alone.”

“Does she usually obey you?”

“No,” he admitted. “My mother’s political enemies are more likely to wilt under my stare than my little sister is.”

“I think that’s typical among most siblings. How’d you make her enemies wilt?”

“Word has gotten out that I defeated Dobsaurin and almost single-handedly defeated Shaygorthian and his two kin as well. There are also rumors that I killed Dobsaurin despite the Justice Court’s official statement to the contrary. I think my sister may have been behind them. Whether she acted of her own accord or was carrying out our mother’s wishes, I do not know, but many dragons now believe me to be unbalanced, unpredictable, extremely dangerous, and capable of killing our own kind.”

I couldn’t tell how he felt about that. Did he sound slightly dazed?

“My mother is using that to her advantage,” he said.

“Will having such a reputation harm you?”

“It’s too soon to tell. Some dragons may fear to battle me because of it. Others will seek me out and challenge me, thus to defeat me and better their own status.”

If that was a typical dragon thing, that might explain why Zondia believed I wanted to kill Zav to improve my own reputation.

“Already, I was forced to engage in one such fight. It is why I did not return earlier. I was injured, but I am healing quickly. If you wish to go to the shapeshifter headquarters tonight, I will accompany you.”

“What do you mean you were injured? Some dumbass dragon challenged you to a duel? And you fought him?” Realizing I’d driven past the house, I turned the Jeep around and headed back.

“I had no choice. But do not worry for me. I was victorious.” His smile was smug as he looked over at me. “You have allowed yourself to be claimed by a powerful dragon. I will protect you, and no other dragon will take you from me.” He was back to wearing his usual slippers. Maybe he’d decided that the flamboyantly colored high-tops were not the footwear of a powerful dragon.

“You’re the only dragon crazy enough to want me, but I’m glad you can handle yourself against others of your kind.” I tried not to think about what would happen if more than one dragon ganged up on him. Despite the rumors his sister had started, he hadn’t been winning that fight against three of them. Not even with my help, though I hadn’t done more than keep one of the dragons distracted for a minute.

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