The rains are coming down hard, just like every other goddess-forsaken night, by the time we get to the olive oil warehouse. The world is dark and wet. Good weather for escaping. Rien’s ward seems strangely quiet as we approach the warehouse. Not deserted – there are still a few of his enforcers accompanying elves, some willing, some not, to the warehouse. Then I realize what’s different. The Bootstomp is quiet. The goblinish racket of stomping boots that has shaken this part of Elftown every night for as long as I can remember has ceased. I wonder if that’s wise; maybe Rien should have kept it going a little longer. I wonder if humans are above us now, on the sea wall, looking down, trying to see through the rain what has changed.
Then we’re at the warehouse and I can get out of this stinking rain for a bit. Damn it if one of the first elves I see when I enter is the elfgirl whose wrist I broke earlier today, standing there with the rest of the girls from the Bouncy Tart, arm in a sling. Looks like Rien got the part of Jet’s territory with the whorehouse in it. I have to walk right past her. She is none too happy to see me.
“Bastard!” She whispers through gritted teeth. “At least now I know how you survived the massacre of Jet’s men. You were a mole for Rien. You sold them all out, you treacherous rat.”
I turn to her, arm raised to strike, but hold back when I hear a worried clicking of the tongue from Enturi.
“You don’t know shit,” I reply.
“You’re a stinking traitor, a backstabbing coward,” she continues. She spares a contemptuous glance for Enturi. “I hope you and your creepy-eyed pretty boy rot in a human dungeon so deep the drow won’t even go there.”
My fingers twitch. This is rich. The whore who was helping Jet’s girlfriend hook up with a human is accusing me of betraying Jet? I want to grab her by the neck and throw her across the wooden floor so hard she’ll be picking the slivers out of her ass all the way to the homeland. I’d love to tell her what a stupid stinking waste of elven flesh she is. I feel the room slowing down around me. Ahead, Rien and his enforcers are starting to turn around, hearing her angry words. I sense Enturi preparing to move behind me. But they’re not reacting fast enough. I can send her flying before anyone could stop me.
I restrain myself with an effort. I retain enough self-awareness to understand that violence here, now, could ruin everything. I breathe in and exhale slowly.
“You’re wrong,” I tell her flatly. “Enturi and I were Jet’s most trusted enforcers. We didn’t betray him and he knew that. The humans used a mage, a mystic who divined information about Jet’s operation from the blood of sacrificial elves like Norien in an evil ritual. That’s how they knew so much about Jet. It was magic. Not treason. Jet was not betrayed from within.”
“I get why you’re angry,” I add, nodding to her broken wrist. “You didn’t deserve that. I’m sorry. If I was a healer, I’d fix it. But I can’t. Just be careful with it and we’ll get you some help when we can.”
I turn away suddenly and begin to move forward through the crowd. Rien nods in approval before turning and leading us to a wooden platform in the back of the hall. Behind me, I hear the girl call out angrily “I don’t want your help, asshole!” The crowd mutters in disapproval of her. Funny. Now she’s being tagged by the elves around her as the unreasonable one. Which isn’t really fair to her, all things considered. But there’s only so many things I can fix at a time.
I hear a wake of murmurs following me. “Do you see his bow?” “It’s a living plant.” “Is he an outsider?”
The warehouse is packed with elves. Most of the pots of oil are gone now, and in their place are elven families, skinny and frightened looking, haggard mothers holding wide-eyed elfings, young male elves clustered in groups, rough-looking dockworkers, wary street rats lurking in the back munching on bits of the bread they were enticed in with, even here and there amongst the crowd an older elf, whitehaired and wrinkled. Not many elves here live long enough to be called anu or nana, grandfather or grandmother. Most of the elves have bags of food and belongings tied to their back. Some few have weapons. Some, like the homeless street urchins, have nothing.
As we climb the stairs up to the platform, a larger wave of muttering passes through the interior of the warehouse and then the elves go silent, watching expectantly.