"Oh my, Arq," Lynae's voice is sad with gentle reproach although her eyes, when she catches mine, shine with mirth. "Did you not tell this man how we know Calmorien is dead?"
"No, boss," I reply. I can see where she's going, and I don't like it. Not at all. But I'm committed now.
She fixes her eyes on the guard's.
"Because," she says, gesturing toward me, "My blade here sliced off Calmorien's head with his sickle."
The elf looks at me, backing away slightly. I pull out my sickle and lick the flat of the blade, grinning, just for good measure. The guard spasms in revulsion.
"And when he was done having his fun, I retrieved the key from one of Calmorien's bloody pockets," Lynae continues, as I move closer to the guard.
"Now," she says, all business. "We are inspecting Calmorien's place. You may come with us to make sure we do not steal anything or cause any other mischief. Or you may die here. Your choice."
The guard stares wide-eyed. I don't blame him. I'm not so happy with the choices either. I didn't really want to kill this poor elf, who is just doing his job. On the other hand, I absolutely do intend to take something of Calmorien's and Lynae just put that goal in jeopardy. And she is way too free with my name for my liking.
"What's it going to be, friend?" I ask, waving my sickle back and forth like a wand. The guard's eyes follow the blade with dread. Definitely more scabbard than sword, this one.
"Come on up," he says harshly, resentfully. He turns and enters the Hawk. Lynae and I share a grin, and I follow the elf through the door and up the stairs, my boss's beautiful girlfriend a few steps behind. Two floors up, the stairs end in a narrow hallway which extends several paces in each direction. There are two doors on each side of the hallway and a door at each end. Six apartments. There are a few low sounds of occupancy, but I cannot tell from which places they emanate.
The guard leads us to the left, to the door at the end of the hallway.
"Here you go," he says. "Calmorien's rooms."
I look back to see what Lynae wants, and she tosses me the key. I turn and insert it into the lock. As I twist the key, I hear a thud behind me. I whirl around, fearing guard treachery, but need not have worried. The guard is crumpled on the floor. Above him, Lynae is already slipping a dagger into a fold in her dress. He has no visible wounds. She must have dropped him with a knockout blow, much like we used on Calmorien's warehouse guards yesterday.
"Hurry," she says. "Open that door and let's get him inside."
Damn, she's starting to get as bossy as Enturi. I twist the key a little further and the lock clicks. I open the door and glance quickly inside to make sure Calmorien hadn't left any guards at home. All clear. I hand the key back to Lynae and grab the unconscious guard by the wrists, pulling him into the room. Lynae follows, closing the door behind her.
I kneel down by the unlucky guard. His breathing is shallow. He won't be waking up any time soon. I rise to see Lynae studying me.
"So," she says casually. "What brings angry Arquë out when he is supposed to be laying low? Decide it was a good time to loot the rooms of our poor dead friend Calmorien?"
I could ask her the same thing. But I won't because first, it's none of my business, and second, she could destroy my relationship with Jet, if she had a mind to. I like being an enforcer.
"I'm only here for one thing," I reply.
"And what would that be?"
I sigh. "A painting."
"A painting?" One delicate eyebrow arches high in curiosity. She waits expectantly for me to tell her more.
How am I going to explain this? I want to keep my quest for vengeance to myself. I don't think Jet would approve. I remember the dead elf's final words of contempt.
"Remember what Calmorien said before he died? That Jeamo paints with blood and pain?"
She nods. It's not something you forget.
"Well, I thought he was speaking metaphorically. But maybe Calmorien meant it literally as well. I was out to get some supplies so I could lie low for a couple of days and I heard some interesting stuff being kicked around. Calmorien's death made a splash, it seems. And one of the things I heard was that he had a painting in here. One that he made, painted in blood."
"That elf-" Lynae shakes her head in disgust. She glances around the room. There is no painting. She looks back at me. "So, you heard there was a painting. And you came to get it."
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