It is well past the darkest hour when I reach the dead-end street where my tenement slouches like a worn out, boozed-up whore. It's a two-story wooden structure that might well have been built to be a whorehouse. Unlike most tenements, the doors to each room open to the outside. The rooms on the first floor, like mine, open onto the street. On the second floor the rooms are set back a couple cubits from the first floor, leaving room for a narrow walkway. The tenement across the street is of the more traditional sort, with a door at the front and a center hallway inside. As a result, the only traffic in my little street is by the occupants of my tenement.
Only Jet and a few of his messengers know where I live, and my neighbors mind their own business. I should be safe here. If not, I have another place to hide.
I open the door with the rusty iron key I keep secreted in a slot in my belt. Once inside, I lock the door again, a precaution I don't always take, and slide the iron bar across the door as well. It is soot black and there is no way to light my lamp. That's fine, though. I am dock tired and sleep will come soon.
I hang my cloak on a hook next to the door, so it can drip dry while I sleep. I remove my cuirass, boots, and outer clothes in the dark and drop them to the floor beside the bed. I can wash and dry them when I wake. And myself as well.
I am soaked to the skin and shivering in the night cold. Goddess, I hate the never-ending rain in this cursed place. Night after night for a hundred years it rains and rains and rains. I draw my body up into a ball as I slide under the rough blankets to warm myself. For once, I envy those elves who have forged love bonds and have a female to share their bed with, to keep them warm.
The thought reminds me that not only do I not have a mate, I don't actually have any friends either. This is by design. I don't like other elves. They irritate me. I like dwarves and such even less. And I hate the humans, of course. But right now, my self-imposed isolation may be a problem. I swore an oath tonight to find and punish Alvar's murderer and I intend to keep it. But it may be difficult to accomplish on my own. And I am not always the best thinker. I tend toward impulsiveness. And violence. I am fairly self-reliant, but this may prove delicate or complicated. It would be nice to have a little help, some backup. But who?
The only two elves I ever trusted in this dump are dead. Nana Romina died long ago and she was too old to be of any real help when she died anyway. Alvar died earlier today.
The rest of the people I know best are Jet's enforcers. And let's face it, Jet runs a criminal enterprise. It wouldn't be wise to trust any of the people who work for him.
Enturi and I make a successful team, it's true. Our skills complement each other. But we are more rivals than friends. I wouldn't trust him outside of our work together. I suspect that the only reason he has not betrayed me to further his own advancement in Jet's organization is because he considers me obviously beneath him. And then there is his aura. Although I can't explain the sense of wrongness that he exudes, that doesn't diminish its presence. Sometimes it feels like his body may stretch out into a portal to some other plane, spilling out vile creatures to rip apart our world like a moldy grain sack.
There are others in Jet's employ with whom I share mutual respect - Daiën the Cutter, Foriel, Aran Smith. But it is a respect that comes from the appreciation of an able partner in a dangerous endeavor, not from trust or friendship. They might be willing to engage in a risky joint venture if there was a substantial likelihood of a rich haul at the end, and it did not cut into Jet's affairs. Their willingness to help me carry out a personal mission of revenge is about as likely as a human patrician girl and I forming a love bond. Heh.
I could go directly to Jet and explain the situation to him, framing it as a furtherance of his own revenge mission. But given the information we obtained, the proof of additional conspirators is too tenuous. And the risk-laden death of the pat seemed to satisfy his need for vengeance and make him want to drop the entire matter. He might order me to proceed no further with my vow. That would be unacceptable. It's best I don't go to him.
Strangely enough, the two most likely prospects are Bolin and Lynae, even though today was the first time I've worked with them.
Bolin's a solid fighter and healer. He was open and straightforward and distressed by the evil of Jeamo's activities. Unfortunately, he is about as stealthy as a docking trireme oared by drunken slaves.
Lynae, on the other hand, is stealthy and handy with a lockpick. She is quick of mind and blade and might well agree to help me just for the thrill of it. It's the access that would be the problem.
"Hey Jet, I had fun with your girl yesterday! Can I borrow her again for tonight?"
Right. That's gonna work. Well, I guess I'll search a bit on my own. There are answers waiting for me in the olive oil warehouse. I just have to get in there and find them. Tomorrow night, perhaps.
I pull the blankets tighter as I feel sleep coming. Outside, the rain pounds in a steady beat against the wet walls, softer but more implacable than the drumming of the Footstomp tavern, worrying at my consciousness, whispering that I am alone again, that there is no one to help me, no one to trust.
As an enforcer for Jet, a petty elven crime boss, Arq has it better than most in Elftown, the prisoner of war slum of a human city. It's violent work, but it provides him with a little more money than he needs to survive, a little status, and a little free time.
When a prostitute under Jet's protection is brutally murdered, Jet sends Arq and a team of enforcers - including his creepy, ambitious rival; Jet's dangerously alluring girlfriend; and a chatty dwarf-of-all-trades - to find the killer and make an example of him. But when they uncover the dark reason for the murder, the delicate balance of power in Elftown begins to crumble.
To avenge a friend's murder, Arq must contend with betrayal, warring crime bosses, deadly monsters, underworld plots, and forbidden magic that, if discovered by the humans, will send a red tide of death through Elftown. His greatest challenges, though, will be grappling with his own bitter, violent nature, and trying to figure out what it means to be an elf in a place where the humans have taken away everything that makes life worth living for elvenkind.
Author: A. Harris Lanning
Cover Art: Xavier Ward