The alley is narrow and twisting, making it impossible to see more than a dozen paces ahead. I bet this place is an ambusher's dream at night. But no one is in here during the day, especially now, a little more than halfway through the morning and afternoon shift. The midday mists are burning off, but no sun penetrates down to the ground in the narrow gap between the walls of the weathered wooden buildings. The mud of the alley floor is wet with offal and the contents of emptied chamber pots. Now and then we have to step around piles of refuse soaked in inedible fish bits. Just another pleasant afternoon walk in Elftown.
The guards' house is easy enough to find, even in this labyrinthine alley. We enter undetected and complete the mission successfully in a precision dance of interrogation and bloodletting. Within twenty minutes, four elven guards are dead. I let Tav and Falas kill them. They could use the practice. Ending a life may not be hard to accomplish here, but it comes with an emotional cost, even in this dump. It's an act you have to get used to.
The only problem is, the guards don't have any useful information. According to them, I was the last person to enter the smelter and visit Bolin. I know that's not true. I didn't shove that sickle up through the underside of his chin. Which means that the killer came over the wall like I did when I returned to kill him myself.
Or that the guards are lying. Which would make sense if they are Lainath's men. If that's the case, though, they are trained fairly well, because they don't fold under the threat of death. And I've never seen someone lie once Enturi gets them to talk.
Or that Bolin's murder was an inside job. Lainath could have a sleeper among the workers that even the guards don't know about. Someone who disappeared from the job for a few moments, grabbed a secreted weapon and slipped into the workshop to put an end to Bolin.
Trouble is, there's not enough information to narrow it down to one of these possibilities. Four elves killed and we have more questions than we started with. We still don't even know for sure if Lainath is behind the dwarf's killing. It seems a bit of a waste. The smelter guards were decent enough folk actually - less thuggish than most enforcers. Less monstrous than me, certainly. I understand why Jet's being careful. But the killing in some of our jobs is starting to seem gratuitous.
I don't like the way Enturi is watching me out of the corner of his eye. Maybe he thinks I actually killed Bolin. I was pretty rude to the dwarf during our little mission of vengeance. Still, I'm rude to everyone. I was going to kill Bolin, but Enturi doesn't know that. Unless he has some creepy intuitive sense I don't know about. It's a disturbing thought.
Falas is looking at me expectantly.
"Well," I say. "That's that."
I raise an eyebrow at Enturi. "Back to Jet's?"
"Back to Jet's."
* * *
"Well," Jet says, "Without more definitive information connecting Lainath to Bolin's murder, I am not going to execute a full-scale assault on his organization. I'll bide my time for now."
He seems less disappointed by the lack of a definitive answer to the question of who killed Bolin than I thought he'd be, largely because of his excitement that the information we obtained from Jeamo about Lainath's operation proved accurate.
"I think it's time I have a talk with the smelter bosses, though," he smirks. "Security seems to be very lax there. A dwarf murdered right in his workshop, the guards who are supposed to be keeping the place safe letting killers come and go and then getting murdered themselves. I don't think Lainath is up to the challenge. I can provide better security for less."
I can see Jet forming a plan to increase his reach and control, using the information from Jeamo piecemeal to destabilize his rivals and cut chunks out of their operations. Clever. And dangerous. He'll have to be careful to avoid turning all the other bosses against him. It'll take time. If he's successful, he could be left as the sole elven power in Elftown. Unless Raichon's and Rien's little escape scheme works. Then there'll be no one left in Elftown for Jet to boss around.
The circumstances make me vaguely uneasy. Elftown has been relatively stable for a long time. Stable enough for me to find a niche and live a better life than most, even if it can't compare to living free outside. Change brings instability. Mortality increases when things are unsettled - more elven deaths, caused by humans, by elves killing each other, by starvation and by disease. Productivity decreases. And everyone suffers.
Goddess, I hate this place. Just when you get a little comfortable, it empties a chamberpot full of shit and piss on your head. The despair feels worse now that freedom could be close. I don't dare let myself hope that I will escape. But I am certainly not telling Jet about his rival Rien's little project.
"You two," Jet says to Enturi and me, Tav and Falas having been left in the other room again, "Take a day off. I'll have another job like this for you the day after tomorrow. Rest up. And don't cause trouble."
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