At least I'm not dead, I think to myself when the wracking pains in my head have receded to the level of a pack of stone dwarves using it for an anvil. For a while, that's the only coherent thought I can muster. All I can do is hang my head and suffer through the pounding. But when I hear Enturi emit a faint moan from beside me, I decide I'd better pull myself together.
I crack open my unwilling eyes. I am chained to a wall, feet shackled and arms uncomfortably stretched out to the side, in a dank cell, most likely one of those in the dungeon below the Hall of Law. Beside me, Enturi is similarly chained. It looks like he is just starting to wake up. Lynae's lamp is on the floor, still sputtering, its little flame the only light in the room, though a little light leaks in through the barred window in the door. Out in the hallway, some distance to the right, there must be another lamp. Aside from Enturi's pathetic moaning, the cell and hallway are silent.
I look down, though it makes me feel dizzy and slightly nauseous. My weapons are gone. That's just great. Well, maybe the pretty boy has some magic trick to get us out of these manacles. I wait with growing impatience as he too gradually returns to consciousness. He seems to be moaning more than I remember doing myself. Maybe he has a softer head.
"Ugh," he grunts, wincing, after he has finally opened his eyes and taken the measure of our surroundings. "You all right, Arq?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. For the moment. I wouldn't bet a rubbed out copper on my chances of being alive at dawn, though." I assume it's still nighttime. When I knock people out, they don't take that long to wake up, unless I've hit them too hard, in which case they don't wake up at all.
"Lynae betrayed us. Backstabbed us - well, neck-stabbed us if you wanna be precise - with a blade tipped with egg stalker poison. When we were paralyzed, she knocked us out. And brought us here, for some reason."
"Ugh," I whisper in frustration. "I don't know. What do I look like, a stinkin' mage? You're the sorcerer, you tell me."
Enturi stares at me, face reddening.
"All right," I say. "Maybe you couldn't hear what she was saying. She made it sound as though we stumbled on information her and some friends of hers don't want us to know about. Like maybe there is a secret passage under the Hall of Law and they are using it. Whatever it is, they don't want us running loose."
Enturi purses his lips in thought.
"Why are we still alive, then? Surely that's cause for some hope?"
"Pssssh," I offer dismissively. "I don't know. They want to question us? Maybe Lynae is feeling sentimental?" I laugh humorlessly.
The other elf looks at me quizzically. "Why is that funny? She does seem to like you."
I shake my head.
"She already threw me to the human guards once. I have no doubt she'd do it again, if it suited her purpose or was necessary to save her own hide."
Enturi's face whitens.
"You don't think she's going to hand us over to the humans, do you? That you and I will end up getting cubed alive on one of their altars?"
I don't have an answer for that.
Enturi swallows and takes a deep breath.
"Arq, I'm sorry about getting you involved in this." He looks genuinely regretful. I don't get it.
"Hey, I chose to come today," I reply brusquely. "It's not on you."
He shakes his head. "No, I mean the whole affair. Starting with solving Norien's murder."
"I don't see how you are responsible for that either. Jet ordered us to work together."
Enturi looks away. Guiltily. "That's not exactly how it happened," he confesses. "Jet wanted me." Figures. I've suspected Enturi has been taking all the credit for our work together. "I was the one who asked him to assign you to the investigation as well."
"All right. Why?" I throw out the obvious possibility. "Because you knew that your reputation as an enforcer is built in part on the sharp edges of my blades?"
"Maybe." He smiles his pretty boy smile, a flash of his arrogance returning. "We work well together as enforcers. We complement each other. You are skilled with your blades. Brutal. And fearless to the point of feral." He pauses and the mask of self-confidence slips away again. He looks down for a moment, and then back at me.
"There was another reason," he says, uncharacteristically diffident. He seems . . . vulnerable. It is disconcerting. Normally, the only time I see such vulnerability is in the few moments between overpowering an enemy and killing him. I bite back the sneering retort my mind has formed.
"And what was your other reason?" I ask, neutrally.
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