Content Warning: References to past child grooming, manipulation, and physical abuse.
"Alvar paints," the girl says. "And he's not the only one."
"Oh, really?" This is interesting. "Who else paints?"
She looks down at the ground and purses her lips. "No one." She is lying again. I advance, thrusting the tip of my blade toward her throat. She freezes, eyes widening.
"Calmorien," she whispers. A dirty tear slides down her cheek.
"What?" I'm surprised. But pleased. Now we're getting somewhere. "How do you know Calmorien?"
She wipes her cheek and smiles proudly. "He's my love bond. We are to be joined."
"What?" I repeat, disbelieving. "You are a child."
Calmorien was a nasty bit of goods, but as a successful merchant, he was on top of the dungpile in Elftown. Even though he lusted after the whore Norien, he still held her in contempt as beneath him. I am fairly sure he aimed higher than this stunted bud.
"I am not a child!" she screams, anger overcoming fear for a moment. "Calmorien is going to make me bloom. He loves me. We will be together always, just the two of us, once we escape from here."
"He's a rich merchant and you're nothing. Why would he want you?"
"He loves me!" she insists. "And I am a help to him. I am! I got Alvar and Ciana and Landor and the others to help him. And I can get more kids to spy for him. We are the best spies, because we are small and fast and get into places full grown elves can't and people don't notice us. We will save all the elves in Elftown one day. We're heroes."
I lower my blade. So that is how Alvar and the others were enticed. This desperate lovesick child was the instrument of Calmorien's recruitment, weaving tales of spying missions and freedom fighting. Giving dreams to the dreamless and hopes to the hopeless. And then Calmorien drugged them and Jeamo cut them into pieces while they lay paralyzed, drawing on the eldritch power of their blood and fading lives to work his divinations.
"Are Calmorien's paintings like this?" I ask.
"No," she says, flinching. "He only has one painting. It isn't like this. It is . . . different."
"Different - how?"
"It's scary. And he paints with -"
"Blood?" I ask gently.
"Yes. It hurts."
"Hurts? Did he paint with your blood?"
She holds out her wrists and then turns them over. From the palms of her hands to her elbows, her arms are covered in scars like stripes on a fishmarket bass. I look at her in disbelief. More than ever, I wish Lynae had held back and I had the time to kill Calmorien slowly.
"He had to paint our love bond with it," she says slowly, unwilling to meet my judgmental gaze. "That is how I proved my love to him. That is how he knew we were meant to be together, even more than when we swore our love to each other. It is how he learned what he must do to save us."
"Where is this painting?" I raise my sword to her throat again.
"At his apartment. In the Hawk. But he won't show it to you. It is in his sleeping chamber. Only I am allowed to see the painting, because I gave him the blood to paint it."
Time to end this interrogation. And this warped girl. To Calmorien, she was like the street sparrow, soft and easy to ensnare with a bit of food and affection. To Alvar, she was an agent of the underground, as dangerous as the sirens of the shore cliffs with her seductive song of heroism and danger. But all I see is a broken pot, shattered beyond repair, of no purpose to anyone, but whose shards can still cut deep into the skin of the unwary.
She did not kill Alvar, I am fairly sure, but she led him to his death. For that, she falls within the reach of my vengeance and she must die in her turn. She will die by my blades, but she is as much a victim of the horrors of our existence here as anyone.
Damn the humans. And damn the elves who abandoned us to this.
"Calmorien? Nice old elf. Quiet chap. He minded his own business, never caused a fuss. Upstanding citizen. And too kind for Elftown. I even saw him buy a roll and give it to one of those damn street rats once."
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