Home > Storm Forged (Death Before Dragons #6)

Storm Forged (Death Before Dragons #6)
Author: Lindsay Buroker


“I believe this one summons a djinn.”

“Did your books tell you that, or are you guessing because it’s shaped like an Arabic genie lamp?” I picked up the bronze charm, one of a dozen that I’d taken from bracelets around my previous employer’s wrists.

His wrists, as well as the rest of his body, had been charred and smoking at the time. I was a little conflicted about claiming the charms, since I’d been on the payroll as his bodyguard when he’d died, but as an assassin who regularly battled magical bad guys, I needed all of the advantages I could get.

“Arabic genie?” Freysha’s elegant elven eyebrows rose. “I am familiar with the cultures of the denizens of the Cosmic Realms—” she waved at books stacked on the kitchen table around us, most of the tomes written in goblin, elven, or dwarvish, “—but I am only now learning about the cultures of this planet. Earth is considered one of the wild worlds and, until recently, was of little interest to anyone in the rest of the realms.”

“So I’ve heard.” I set the trinket down with the rest of the eclectic collection. “I appreciate you helping me research all of these, but my priority is to figure out which one let Weber resist the compulsions of dragons. I not only need that one badly for my own charm necklace, but I might even push Sindari—” I tapped the feline figurine at the center of my leather thong, “—off to the side to give it a more prominent position.”

I heard that, sounded Sindari’s voice in my mind.

I thought you were outside getting your ears rubbed.

I looked through the open back door to the back yard of the rickety old Victorian house I’d recently moved into with Freysha and my other new roommate Dimitri. Zoltan, the vampire alchemist, was also technically a roommate, but he lived in the basement, didn’t come out during the daylight hours—and only rarely during nighttime hours—and didn’t pay rent, so I was more inclined to think of him as a feature of the house.

It took me a moment to spot Sindari, since more than the usual number of people were in the back yard.

Dimitri was hosting a barbecue get-together. He stood in front of his newly purchased gas grill, tending to hot dogs and hamburgers, while Corporal Clarke and a couple of guys Dimitri knew from the Seattle club scene chatted amiably and played a game involving tossing hoops onto the pointed ears of a gargoyle. Dimitri had constructed the gargoyle out of recycled bicycle parts and plumbing fixtures, and it was supposed to zap anyone who climbed over the back fence and into our yard. It didn’t react to the hoops assailing it.

Nin, whom Dimitri had lured over to his shindig by promising they would discuss plans for the coffee shop we all owned together, kept trying to turn the conversation to profit-and-loss statements and the need to closely monitor inventory. Sindari, my huge silver tiger from the distant realm of Del’noth sat beside her, his tail swishing on the patio pavers.

I was allowing Nin and Dimitri to stroke my head in a respectful manner, but then one of his dubious acquaintances came over and rubbed the fur on my back the wrong way. It was all I could do to refrain from biting his hand off.

That wasn’t Corporal Clarke, was it?

No. He knows he’s not permitted to pet me. I roared at him.

I hope that wasn’t the roar that makes your enemies wet themselves, because we just got the back yard looking respectable. Pee stains on the patio aren’t cool.

“It hasn’t been a simple matter to determine which charm does that.” Freysha moved the genie lamp aside and picked up three other trinkets from the collection. Unlike the elegant bronze, silver, gold, and ivory charms, these were a mishmash of tiny pieces of warped metal and rocks that looked to have been smashed together into lopsided balls by pliers and then glued into place with resin or pitch. They were as attractive as gum stuck to the bottom of one’s shoe. “It may be one of these.”

“Don’t even suggest that. There’s no way I’m moving Sindari’s charm aside to put one of those around my neck.”

“I know what the elven ones do without even researching them.” Freysha pointed to two silver charms she’d already set aside. “I’m familiar with the magic of my people. And I believe those two dwarven trinkets are designed to help you become a better crafter.”

“Guess I’ll give those to Dimitri and Nin. I already make wicked friendship bracelets out of thread. No need for magical enhancement.”

Freysha’s eyebrows drifted north again, and I reminded myself that she hadn’t been on Earth for long and didn’t have a frame of reference for my jokes. I should save my sarcasm for those who could appreciate it. Though I wasn’t entirely positive anyone appreciated it. Zav only liked it when I turned my sharp tongue on his enemies.

“I will keep studying these,” Freysha said.

“Thanks. I really do appreciate your help. And your help with the magic lessons too.”

I waved toward the sunroom—Dimitri insisted on calling it a conservatory, but that was a lofty name for a drafty greenhouse full of cracked glass—where we’d been having our morning practice sessions. Each lesson started with me sticking my fingers into dirt and helping Freysha pot plants, but as surprising as it seemed, I was learning how to use the magic that had been flowing through my veins unbeknownst to me my whole life. I couldn’t do anything cool yet, like levitate or hurl fireballs, but I was getting better at speaking telepathically to others and keeping intruders out of my mind.

If I could learn to magically make my lungs work better, that would be fantastic. As I’d feared when we signed the lease papers, the old house had a mold smell in a couple of the bathrooms, including the one next to my bedroom, and I’d woken up from nightmares more than once and the need to reach for my inhaler. Maybe I should confess my problem to Freysha—I hated admitting my health weaknesses to anyone and hadn’t even told Zav—to see if she had any ideas for fixing them. But as far as I could tell, she wasn’t a healer. Her specialty was forest magic, whatever that was.

Freysha lifted her head and looked toward the living room, or maybe beyond. Her eyes were distant and unfocused. “Your mate comes.”

“Zav?” I hadn’t seen him for a few days and wasn’t sure if he had gone back to his world or had been chasing a criminal on a distant part of Earth. “Maybe he’ll know which charm can keep dragons out of your head.”

Freysha gripped her chin and picked up one of the junky resin balls. “If it is one of these, I will be surprised. They were made with goblin magic, and their shamans don’t usually have the power to create anything strong enough to resist dragons.”

“Trinkets pieced together from beer cans and paper clips aren’t effective weapons against dragons? Who would have thought?”

Zav flew within range of my modest senses. He was alone this time, not with his sister, Zondia, and that was a relief. She still hated me and made snide comments if Zav and I kissed or looked at each other with ludicrous mushy eyes—that was her term for it.

“I do not know what those items are, but I assume you refer to the goblin knack for reusing and recycling the detritus of other races. They are quite resourceful.” Freysha smiled fondly. “Few of the other lesser species give goblins much credit.”

Zav landed on the lawn out front but did not take his human form and come into the house. That disappointed me, because it probably meant he wasn’t staying. Now that I was learning to protect myself better from the powerful magical beings who liked to use me against him, I thought he might want to take our relationship to the next level. Maybe not during Dimitri’s barbecue… but my evenings were open this week.

Are your lessons progressing? Zav asked telepathically.

Yeah. If you come in, I’ll show you how I can punt Freysha out of my mind while rubbing my fingers in the dirt under a fern. I hoped to quickly get past the stage where I needed the peace of the soil, as Freysha called it, as a focal point.

I would like to come see this— it didn’t sound like Zav found dirt rubbing odd, —but I must return to my world to assist my mother for a time.

Is something wrong?

Zav hesitated. He hadn’t filled me in on all of the details of the dragon political situation, but I’d gotten the gist that, though his family was in power and had been for some time, they were losing their hold, and the Silverclaw Clan—and who knew how many others—wanted to take over. My uncle Ston’tareknor has gone missing. It is possible he’s dead.

Due to foul play from dragons?

That is a possibility, but he was sick before he disappeared. This has happened before with other dragons in our family.

Sick? My lungs tightened in sympathy, and I walked outside, both to see him and for fresh air. I wouldn’t have guessed dragons could get sick.

It is rare. When it comes to the few viruses that have the potential to affect us, our scientists have mostly found ways to combat them with magic, but a dragon still occasionally falls ill and flies to the stars.

Flies to the stars? Is that a saying? I found Zav still in his dragon form, taking up the entire lawn with his tail spilling down to the road. People were pushing strollers along the sidewalks and riding bicycles down the street toward Green Lake, but none of them noticed him, either because they lacked magical blood or because he was using his power to keep them from seeing him. Thanks to a road construction crew working with a jackhammer down on Green Lake Way, he probably could have roared, and it too would have gone unnoticed.

Zav lowered his head to the level of the covered front porch and gazed at me with his violet eyes. Usually, when he was in his dragon form, it was hard to read emotion on his face, but his gaze seemed uncharacteristically glum today. A saying, and also reality. When a dragon believes he is dying, he will often disappear—fly off somewhere never to be seen again—to die in solitude rather than showing others his weaknesses.

I almost said that was nuts, but then I remembered my ongoing reluctance to let anyone but my doctor and my therapist know that I’d been having health problems this last year. In my business, the last thing I wanted was for anyone to know I had an Achilles heel they could take advantage of.

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