Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(2)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(2)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

2

“I’m from the health inspector’s office,” I told the group of toughs, hoping to escape without a fight.

Usually, I didn’t mind brawls, but my job was to assassinate criminals, not homeless street people. Besides, the young troll I wanted to talk to might flee if there was a fight.

“Did you see the rats back there?” I pointed a thumb over my shoulder. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to report that the business still can’t reopen.”

“Health inspector.” A man snorted and looked me up and down. “Sure.”

I was in my usual work clothes: combat boots, jeans, tank top, magical vest armor, and the apparently desirable duster. I didn’t know what health inspectors wore, but maybe this wasn’t it. My magical weapons weren’t visible to mundane people unless I set them down. That was sometimes a boon, sometimes a curse, and probably the latter this time. These people wouldn’t have harassed me if they’d seen Fezzik. Though Chopper was the weapon more likely to cleave off an ogre’s balls.

“I’m done with my inspection. I’m walking out that door now. You can get in my way or not. If I were you, I’d make the decision based on what you’re actually hoping to accomplish here and how much ibuprofen you have in your stash.” I sheathed Chopper and strode toward the door.

Willard wouldn’t forgive me if I cleaved body parts off normal human citizens, and I didn’t think I would need to. But I did keep a close eye on the men with pistols in their waistbands. Even though they looked more likely to blow off their own balls than kill anyone else.

The woman with the baseball bat and two of the men faded back, on the fence about attacking. The four other men lunged for me as I got close.

I sprang to one side of the group, making sure they couldn’t all attack me at once, before launching a kick that sent one thug sprawling into the others. One man evaded the tangle and jumped at me, slashing with a knife.

To someone used to battling preternaturally fast shapeshifters, the group’s movements were like molasses. I easily evaded the slash and caught the man’s wrist. I slid in and jammed my hip into his gut, then threw him into the tables along the nearest wall. Two more kicks sent two more of my attackers in the opposite direction.

One of the gunmen yanked out his pistol, but I got to him before he could aim it. I grabbed his wrist, slammed a palm strike into his chest, and disarmed him as he tumbled back. The other would-be gunman had been reaching into his waistband, but he ran toward the hallway.

Worried he was being smart and putting distance between us before he turned to shoot, I flipped on the safety on the handgun I’d acquired and threw it at him. It spun like a poorly weighted knife, the butt striking him in the back of the head. The force sent him sprawling, his own handgun flying behind the bar. Hopefully, somewhere he would have trouble finding it.

The rest of the toughs skittered back like rats alarmed by someone turning on a light. They raised their hands. They were done.

But the young troll was gone. Damn it.

I sprinted for the stairs. My senses told me he was still in the alley. Maybe I could catch up to him.

As I ran out, he sprang atop a dumpster, leaped across the alley, and scurried up the side of the three-story building, as fearless as a squirrel. Grumbling, I climbed after him. An adult troll wouldn’t have been light enough or agile enough to climb a building, but this kid hadn’t put on his grown-up mass yet.

But I could climb faster and had almost caught him by the time he reached the flat rooftop. He pulled himself over the edge and ran. I swung up and sprinted after him, feeling like a truant officer.

“I’ll give you twenty dollars if you answer a few questions,” I yelled, not wanting to tackle a kid. I was trying to improve my reputation among the magical community, not make it worse. “That’s all I want.”

He didn’t slow down, but I caught up with him on the opposite side of the rooftop. When I grabbed him by the upper arm, he whirled, trying to throw a punch, but I yanked his arm behind his back in a lock and immobilized him. His head only came up to my chin. Granted, I was six feet tall, but this made me feel like a bully.

His body tense, he tried to jerk away, but he had to be careful. He was by the edge of the building, staring down at a thirty-foot drop into traffic.

“Twenty dollars in cash,” I promised.

“Just kill me if you’re going to,” he said, in an attempt at a snarl, but his voice was too high-pitched to pull it off. “I will die nobly like a warrior.”

“Or you could take the money I’m offering, go get a Slurpee, and be the ten-year-old that you are.”

“I’m only eight!”

“An even better reason to enjoy a sugar high.” I pulled him back from the edge and patted him down for weapons.

He didn’t have any, but he did have a bunch of junk in his pockets, including bottle caps, matchbooks from hotels, and a shard of something like lavender glass in his pocket. It radiated the magic I’d sensed, and it looked like a piece of the orb, but it didn’t ooze any kind of attraction now.

I turned it over in my hand and let go of the boy.

“I’ll give you twenty dollars if you answer my questions and another twenty for this.” I held up the shard. “Do you know Rupert? Is he a relative?”

The kid spat on the puddle-drenched roof and showed me his fangs. They were impressive compared to a human’s canines, but nothing like a vampire’s or shifter’s. And they lacked the fear-inspiring quality of orc tusks.

“What were you doing sneaking down into the bar?” I pulled out the money clip I kept for bribing informants and slid two twenties off the stack.

Someday, Willard would accept that I spent most of the money she paid me on replacing broken equipment, buying ammunition, and bribing people. Maybe then, she would give me a raise.

His stone-gray eyes watched the money. “I left something there when we had to leave. I think those nokgorooks stole it.”

“What was it?”

The rest of the orb? Did he know who had taken it and where?

“My LEGO speeder bike.”

“Ah, yes. I hear those are catnip to homeless people.”

He scowled at me.

“Where do you live now?”

“I’m not telling you.”

“Are you sure?” I pressed the twenties into his hand.

He hesitated, then took them and stuffed them into a pocket. He didn’t ask for the shard back or even react to it. Maybe he believed it a simple piece of junk he’d picked up to add to his collection.

The kid started to open his mouth but then whirled toward the edge of the building. Afraid he would jump, I grabbed him by the collar of his jacket. But he didn’t jump; he stared into the solid gray sky to the north.

“Dragon,” he whispered, awe and fear mingling in his tone.

Zav? I couldn’t see his black form against the clouds, nor could I yet sense him, but a full-blooded troll would have better range for that than I.

“It’s all right.” I assumed Zav was coming to see me. He was also searching for the dark-elf scientists. Maybe he’d found something. “He won’t—”

I halted as my senses picked up the powerful aura in the sky. A dragon was flying this way, but it wasn’t Zav.

3

The dragon grew visible against the gray sky, a shadowy shape at first, the rain making it hard to pick out details. Most of the humans going about their lives in the city below wouldn’t sense it, wouldn’t even see it unless the dragon wished to be seen. But the troll boy and I had no trouble detecting it.

The dragon’s scales were purple. No, lilac. With a start, I recognized the aura. I’d seen this dragon on the rocky slope of a ski mountain in Idaho. Zav’s sister. She had come through a temporary portal with Zav’s mother, and for a time, there had been seven dragons on Earth, six of whom had been determined to take me back to be punished for killing Dobsaurin, even though it had been honorable and in battle. By claiming me as his mate, at least in the eyes of his people, Zav had found a loophole in their laws and kept them from collecting me.

The sister—I’d never gotten her name—had only telepathically spoken a few words that I’d heard. It had been right after he claimed me, and they had been a warning to Zav not to make the same mistake again.

Tendrils of unease slithered through my gut as the lilac dragon flew straight toward us. What if she’d come to kill me or take me to her world while Zav wasn’t around? To make sure he couldn’t repeat the same mistake.

I released the troll and drew Chopper. The kid didn’t hesitate to drop to his belly, slither over the edge, and climb down the side of the building. He sprinted across the street, almost being hit by cars, and disappeared into another alley.

“I guess that won’t work for me.” The dragon would chase me if I fled, and she could fly faster than I could run.

She ignored the troll and arrowed toward me. She pulled in her leathery wings—they were as lilac as her damp scales—and dove toward the rooftop, as if I were a fish she planned to snatch out of a lake to eat.

“Sindari.” I touched his charm and summoned him. “I may need some help.”

While he formed in the silvery mist that appeared, I trotted toward a metal door in a cement stairwell structure, the only access to the building below and the only place I could put my back to. I thought about picking the lock and running into the building, but I doubted I could avoid facing Zav’s sister. None of my charms could keep a dragon from using its magic to hold me in place—as I had found out several times.

Sindari solidified into the great seven-hundred-pound tiger he was, but when my visitor landed on the corner of the rooftop, she made him appear small in comparison. Her eyes were the same color of violet as Zav’s, but they lacked the haughty calmness I usually saw in his. She looked pissed.

I do not think I can give the kind of help you require, Sindari spoke telepathically into my mind as he took in the situation.

I was afraid of that.

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