"Here they are," says Lynae. "The only two of Jet's elves who survived the purge."
One of the other elves looks at us thoughtfully. I recognize him. Rien, Jet's rival.
"They don't look like much," comments the second one, a tall, gaunt elf with pure white hair and a commanding presence. When he speaks, I recognize the voice as belonging to Raichon, the necromancer. The elf in charge of the escape tunnel underneath the olive oil warehouse. Interesting. Maybe if I am lucky I will get a chance to kill him in furtherance of my vengeance.
"They have skills that might be useful to us," says Lynae coolly, though I swear I see a hint of a half-smile upon her lips as she gazes at us. "Jet had a talent for recruiting interesting and dangerous elves. These were two of his finest."
Raichon continues to gaze at us, cold eyes assessing.
"You were taken," he says to us, "because you were about to stumble upon something that we wish to keep hidden. We brought you here to question you. But you should know that there are only two resolutions to our discussion with you today. If we determine that you might be useful to our cause and are sufficiently trustworthy, you will live and serve us. If not, you will die. Then you will serve us in death." I think of the scuttlers' claws digging into my brain after death and suppress a shudder.
"But who are you?" asks Enturi. "What do you want with us?"
"Our names aren't important," says Raichon. "Our purpose is. We, with a few others, are working to rescue - to free - all the elves here in Elftown. We are almost ready to put our long-developed plans into action. To set in motion the escape and exodus of everyone here. It will happen soon, within several days. We are close." He breathes deeply and I catch a glimpse of the passion buried under his necromantic coldness. "So close. We cannot take the chance that our plan and our work, the effort of many elves living and dead, over many decades, will be leaked to the humans."
"We have already had one leak, which resulted in an attack on our operations. One of our young mages was brutally murdered. When I heard about you two earlier today-" I glare at Lynae. So that's what she was really doing when she snuck out of the hideyhole earlier. Warning her fellow conspirators that Enturi and I had penetrated their defenses around the Hall of Law. "- I wondered whether you might be the vicious killers behind the murder."
He nods toward Lynae.
"But she says you didn't know about the secret passage in the dungeon under the Hall of Law."
"That's true," says Enturi. "We didn't."
"What purpose did bring you to the Hall of Law, Arq?" Lynae asks sweetly. I snarl.
Looks like she's gonna get her answer to that question after all.
"The rune. I came for the blood rune on the wall behind the altar."
Our captors exchange a surprised look.
"What did you want with that old rune?" Raichon asks.
"Arq was part of the group of Jet's enforcers that took out Jeamo," Lynae informs Raichon and Rien. "He saw a blood rune in Jeamo's studio. He was with me when we discovered another blood rune in the apartment of Calmorien the fish sauce merchant and he took that rune, at my request, to Bolin the dwarf, who destroyed it." Her eyes catch mine. "He knows how dangerous such things are. I would guess that he wanted to destroy the rune upstairs as well."
She lifts an eyebrow inquisitively.
"A more interesting question, Arq, is how you knew that rune was there in the first place."
"The answer isn't very interesting, I'm afraid," I say. "Long ago, when I was a child, I tried to sneak into the Hall of Law. Fear stopped me. But I got close enough to see the blood rune through the hole in the wall. Which is why Calmorien's rune looked familiar to me. But it took me awhile to make the connection. Once I remembered, I decided to destroy the old rune as well."
"Why didn't you?" Raichon asks.
"The first time we got into the Hall, I just wanted to see it up close, to see if it could be burned like the other ones. I planned to come back and destroy it later. Then the humans took out Jet and I had other things to think about. Like staying alive."
"Hmmm." Rien considers and then nods his head. Apparently he has decided to believe my account of why I snuck into the Hall of Law. Which is fortuitous, because it's the truth. "Fair enough," he says. He turns back to Lynae.
"What abilities do they have that we could put to use?"
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