Home > Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(9)

Elven Doom (Death Before Dragons #4)(9)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

You fed him! Zondia said, not answering the question.

So? I fed my friends too. He showed up uninvited and demanded meat.

This is the act of a lesser species seeking to win favor with a dragon. Everyone knows that a belly full of food makes a dragon mellow and puts thoughts of mating in his or her mind.

Uh, not everyone.

Giving Zav ribs had made him horny? I’d wondered at the kiss and all that sudden honesty, but how would I have known?

Please. Do not pretend you did not know. You were trying to seduce him. And it was working because he’s too damn noble and thinks everyone else is too. But you won’t take advantage of him. While he is gone, I will find the proof to show him that you cannot be trusted.

I’m not going to betray him. Believe it or not, I like his cocky ass.

Even more now that he’d admitted he’d had feelings for me for weeks.

I do not believe it, Zondia said. Humans are to be trusted even less than elves. If he cannot see that for himself, I will show him. And you will regret your choice to lure him into your web. Have you ever seen my brother angry? I promise you will regret your choice very much.

I looked toward the rainy night sky, expecting to see her lilac form flying overhead, perhaps while cackling maniacally, but I didn’t see anything but the clouds. And I still didn’t sense her.

It was possible she was speaking to me from outside of my one-mile range, but I couldn’t help but imagine her watching me from some rooftop—maybe she’d been watching both of us—masking her aura the way Zav had hidden his from the goblins in Idaho.

Thinking of her spying on me was creepy. What exactly did she plan to do to find the proof she sought? If she didn’t find anything, would she stoop to manufacturing something?

And would Zav choose to believe his own sister over the mongrel Earthling he’d only known a few months?

6

It was still raining when I drove into the empty parking lot of a plumbing fixtures warehouse across from the Northern Pride’s headquarters. The sign on the outside of their brick and corrugated-metal building said it was a welding business. I double-checked the address—Willard had given it to me, along with all the information she had on the Pride, when I’d been researching the now-dead Pardus brothers.

Coming here without Zav might prove to be a mistake, but who knew how long he would be back home, on whatever wild goose chase that his sister had sent him? And who knew how long I had before Zondia gathered all the information out there on me and found some twisted way to act on it?

What if dragons showed up to drag me off to the Dragon Justice Court before I stopped the dark elves from deploying whatever vile plan they meant to put in place? What if I never saw Thad and Amber again?

A twinge of longing went through me as I sat in the driver’s seat and thought of them. Amber had my phone number now. She hadn’t called, but maybe one day she would. I wanted to be here for her if she did.

Maybe I should do my best to avoid Zav after we finished this mission—maybe I could even complete it myself while he was gone. Then Zondia wouldn’t have anything to get uppity about, and Zav and I… wouldn’t make any mistakes. When he wasn’t around, I could think of plenty of reasons why getting involved with a dragon would be foolish. When he was standing next to me, it was a lot harder to remember them.

Lightning flashed in the dark sky, and I focused on the present. Questioning the shifters and figuring out where the dark elves had gone was my starting point. Time to do it.

Rain hammered onto the windshield as I summoned Sindari. Silvery mist brightened the back of the Jeep, and he formed in a crouch, his head bumping the roof.

“Want to help me question some shifters, Sindari?”

Question? Have you not brought me forth to do battle with them?

“That will probably happen, but I’m going to try bribing them first.” I patted the pocket with my much-diminished cash reserves and imagined them chortling at the meager amount. “Are you ready to go? That should be their headquarters across the street.”

I didn’t sense any magical beings inside it, but I might not be close enough. Or they might have some blocking material built into their walls.

It is raining. Sindari eyed the rivulets running down the back windows. He glowed a faint silver in the dim light.

“Yes, it is.”

For future reference, you could wait to summon me until you are inside the enemy headquarters.

“Do you want me to send you back and call you again when I get there?”

Would you?

“No.” I got out and opened the door for him, even though he was capable of opening it himself. “You won’t melt.”

My mother had always said that to me when I’d been a kid. I hoped my use of it didn’t mean I was turning into her.

Sindari’s ears flattened, and he showed me his fangs before he jumped out and galloped across the street, his paws splashing in the deep puddles.

Thinking of gnawing my foot off again? I jogged after him. At night, this industrial part of town was abandoned, so there was no need to worry about traffic.

Not if it’s soggy.

My boots are waterproof.

We reached the front door where a small awning protected the entrance from the rain. Marginally. Some splashed off the pavement to the sides and hit us. The door was locked.

Do you sense anyone inside? I didn’t.

No.

Any magical traps or other dangerous things I should be wary of? I touched a hand to the door and focused on my lock-picking charm.

Aside from my teeth around your foot?

Yes.

I weakly detect a few magical devices inside. I believe an enchantment on the building may be blocking my senses.

That’s what I was afraid of. Be ready for trouble.

At your side? Always.

I grunted. You’d be disappointed if you had a handler who never went into battle.

This is true.

The lock clicked open more easily than I expected. Willard’s research had dug up more than a hundred lion, jaguar, panther, leopard, and other feline shifters affiliated with the organization. Even if the headquarters was mostly a place where they held meetings, I had expected it to be highly secured and guarded around the clock.

The cavernous lobby area was dark, steel beams running across a corrugated ceiling high above. Rain pounded down on the roof, and lightning flashed again outside. I closed the door behind us.

Inside, empty couches and chairs were positioned against walls, and a receptionist’s desk was empty. My nose wrinkled at the underlying smell of the place. It was like walking into the house of a long-time pet owner whose draperies and carpets were full of cat dander.

There were four doors leading away from the lobby, three normal-sized man doors and one roll-up garage door. They were all closed.

Where do you think they keep the boxes? I asked.

Boxes? Sindari’s green eyes turned toward me.

Cats like to play in boxes. A headquarters full of feline shifters must have boxes.

Apex predators are regal creatures. I assure you that mature adult tigers do not play.

I’ve seen the videos on the internet. Tigers in refrigerator boxes. I’ll show you later if you don’t believe me.

Those are not regal tigers from Del’noth.

I’m going to get you a box one day, and we’ll see if you can truly resist the allure. The internet suggests you’ll succumb.

Sindari gave my foot a significant look.

I grinned and rubbed his head, then waved toward the roll-up door. Let’s check it out.

There was a bank of light switches on the wall. I flipped them up, figuring the dark would be more of an advantage to feline shifters than to me. Nothing happened. This reminded me of Rupert’s abandoned bar.

Think they forgot to pay the electric bill? I rested a hand on the door, listening and stretching out with my senses. As Sindari had suggested, some magic lay inside, but I couldn’t detect living beings. The door was locked.

They may have moved their headquarters after they lost some of their officers.

Maybe, but that seems an extreme reaction to me killing a couple of their members. It’s not as if I declared war on their whole pride. Not intentionally anyway. Who knew how the shifters felt about that incident? Witnesses had survived. I’d only been after the Pardus brothers and only because they’d tried to kill me first.

You’re a known entity to them, but Lord Zavryd isn’t. They might have worried he would come after more of them.

He was never there for them, just his dragon nemesis. And me.

The shifters don’t know that.

Using my charm, I unlocked the door and pushed it up, careful not to expose myself to anyone inside. Just because I didn’t sense anyone didn’t mean someone couldn’t be in there wearing a cloaking charm.

With that thought, I activated my own.

No sounds came from the vast open room inside. Sindari and I padded in on soundless feet.

I smell decomposing meat, he remarked.

Maybe someone left behind a bucket of chicken wings.

I don’t think so.

Lead me to it, please. I couldn’t smell it yet, but I trusted his superior nose.

We passed gaming tables, an indoor rifle range, and unmarked crates stacked in piles here and there, making room dividers of a sort. There were also desks with computers and a few bookcases and reading chairs. A streetlight glowed outside high windows on the far side. It was the only light.

Sindari led me toward a refrigerator and counter in a back corner behind a bar and stools. Maybe my guess about food having gone bad wasn’t incorrect, after all.

A dark stain on the floor in front of the bar made me pause. A very large dark stain.

Sindari’s gaze shifted upward. The same steel beams and corrugated ceiling ran above us, but a clump of bodies hung from a chain dangling from one of those beams. Some of them were in human form and some halfway shifted into tigers or lions, as if they’d been caught with their pants down and had died before they could fully prepare.

This no longer reminded me of Rupert’s bar but of the water-treatment plant where Dobsaurin had eviscerated goblins and humans and strung them from the ceiling to die.

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