The guard column comes into view, lantern light reflecting off mail and weapons as the humans pass out of Elftown through the gate to the rest of their city. The guards move as one and silently, with an unnatural precision that is unsettling but quintessentially human.
The end of the column is a little ragged, Some of the soldiers are carrying bodies. The bodies - four or five of them - are clad in mail and human-sized; guards who were killed in the raid. Behind them are maybe half a score of humans who seem to be wounded and are being helped to walk by their fellow guards. At least someone fought back.
The last of the guards disappear through the gate. The gate chains clank and the gates slam shut with a dull boom. The Elftown is silent once more, but for the rain.
I pull myself away from the opening.
"Well, we better go." I say. Enturi nods in agreement.
"We'd better check in with Jet," he says.
"I agree," I reply. "But I want to stop by the Red Meadow first."
"I need a drink."
* * *
Turns out my thirst isn't going to be quenched at the safe house. The door to the room is broken off its hinges. Everything inside the room is smashed, including my mug, the remnants of my ale splashed on the wall and floor. I hope whatever human thug threw my mug against the wall tasted my ale first. Heh.
If the humans had carried out their raid earlier in the night, Enturi and I might have been here when they broke down the door. Well, if that happened, he and I would probably be standing here wounded in a ring of slain humans. Or dead ourselves. Maybe my quest for vengeance saved our lives. A parting gift from Alvar, or just dumb luck? Who knows?
None of the other doors in the hallway are broken open. None of the other homes or businesses on the block seemed to be disturbed when we approached. Only the Red Meadow. Jet's safe house.
It looks like Jet's fears of reprisal were justified.
"Come on," says Enturi, pushing past me and moving down the hallway. I follow, a drumbeat of foreboding pounding in my chest like a guard patrol beating down a door.
The dark streets are completely empty. Not even a stray drunk swaying his way down the street or a cutthroat lurking in the shadows. The human guards are all gone, but no elf dare step outside.
Our path will take us by the Bouncy Tart on Cross Way, the third busiest street in Elftown, running parallel to Dockside and intersecting the market square. I wonder if the whore I scared ever came back to work. As we approach, I see that Nana Milya's place is completely dark. There are several lumps on the ground outside the doorway. The doors have been smashed in.
Enturi and I exchange glances and creep forward, weapons drawn.
The lumps are bodies. Two of them are Jet's guards, hacked into bloody dolls of rags and meat. The third is the bartender, throat slit, but no other wounds. He must have surrendered and been executed. Damn it. I liked him. A quick glance through the doors reveals that the elves had been slain inside and dragged outside to be left on the street. There is no sign of Nana Milya or any of her girls.
Well, we don't have time to look for them now. The attack here at the Bouncy Tart confirms that it is Jet's organization that was targeted. We move on, continuing toward Jet's.
The entrance to Jet's headquarters is a concealed door in a dark alcove at the confluence of three serpentine alleys. The alleys are designed not only to conceal the entrance to Jet's place, but also to disperse the traffic of Jet's enforcers, guards, messengers, and other minions. One alley comes out on Cross Way. The opposite alley leads to a smaller street on the wall side of Cross Way, which the locals call Pot Way because of the proliferation of small fish stew houses along its length, serving the ever-decaying clusters of tenements that lie between Cross Way and the wall. The third alley leads to a small street running up from Dockside toward the wall til it splinters into a spider web of alleys amongst the tenements.
As we near the Cross Way entrance alley, I pull out my weapons again. I expect that all the human guards have left Elftown, their mission accomplished, but there's no way to be sure. I glance back at Enturi. His fingers are twitching, but whether it is because he is preparing some magical spell or simply nervous, I can't tell. He has not even attempted to conceal his sorcery from me tonight. Seems like my open acknowledgment of his power and request for assistance broke an unspoken barrier between us. This openness has made him significantly more useful to me. I only hope that he does not come to regret his choice to disclose. If he tries to silence me to protect himsef, it will go ill for him.
I don't expect to see signs of an attack on Jet's on Cross Way, or even in the alleys leading to the secret door, which is probably why, alert as I am, it takes me a few moments to process the scene at the alley entrance.
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