“Were you upset that Enturi and I escaped your attempt to murder us once again?” I ask Lynae. “Was that why you were crying? I imagine it was frustrating for you.”
“Drop dead, mudcrawler,” she swears angrily. “Those tears were genuine. You have no idea what it’s been like, working on this mission for years and years, the stress, the setbacks, the impossible choices. I hated what I had to do to Jet, to Bolin.”
“But you did it.”
“Yeah, you twice-damned demon-souled tree-slayer, I did it.”
“You swear like a sailor,” I reply, matter-of-factly. “Of course, that’s probably because you are one. You and your Captain have likely been smuggling up and down the west coast of Rur for years, maybe even decades. Made you a good choice for the Elven Council. Who would believe that you, a common pirate, had been sent by them?”
Lynae leans back wearily against the tower wall. Blood is beginning to seep through her cloak, where she has wrapped it around her thighs.
“Fine,” she says. “I get it. You would have chosen otherwise. You think what I did was wrong. But you can’t deny that the result of our choices has been a great good. Elftown is destroyed, and our brothers and sisters freed. This is a great day for all of us.”
She fixes those damned alluring copper-colored eyes on mine.
“But you weren’t with us when we were making these tough choices. We did the best we could. You’ve got a problem with it, let the Elven Council decide. I’ll submit my acts to their judgment. We’re outside now, Arq. There is no need for the rough and violent sort of primitive justice you dispensed in Elftown. We do better out here. We have a code and a process, developed over centuries to bring true justice. It’s time for you start living like a real elf, not some gutter goblin.”
She lifts her hand from her side and reaches out to me. “Help me up, and let’s get out of here. Raichon is dead, his magic is unraveling, and the humans will guess the truth at any moment. Come on, before it’s too late.”
“A compelling speech,” I say slowly. “It would have been effective, but for one thing. Alvar.”
“Alvar? What is Alvar?” She looks bewildered.
“Not what,” I correct her. “Who. Alvar was a child, an elf-child. A street rat, homeless and starving. He brought me my bread in the morning and in return, I let him keep a good chunk of it. Enough to keep him alive, even if he had nothing else to eat. Alvar was an artist. It was his painting you saw on the wall of my old hidey-hole. He brought my bread every morning, until Calmorien drugged him.”
I slide my sickle back into my belt.
“Calmorien lured Alvar and his friends with promises that they would be helping the elves of Elftown to escape. Then he drugged them with the twilight sleep and tossed them in barrels to take to Jeamo, so he could slice them up and bleed them to death while they watched their own dismemberment in paralyzed horror.”
I pull my yew bow off my back. I feel the spirit of the tortured young girl, Ireth, pulsing along the bow’s grip and limbs. She knows what’s coming.
“I thought we’d saved Alvar and his friends when we killed Calmorien. We laid them on the floor, thinking the warehouse a safe place for them to rest until the twilight sleep wore off. Bolin, in a moment of gentleness, laid his cloak over them to keep them warm.”
“But,” I say, “while I was outside the warehouse putting Calmorien’s head on a stick and Enturi and Bolin were preparing the cart for our trip to Jeamo’s studio, you slipped back into the room, and you pushed your rapier into their little throats as they lay helpless, watching you do it.”
Tears form in Lynae’s eyes.
“You couldn’t risk them recovering. They knew too much. So you had to kill them. And you did.”
Lynae is crying now.
“Mercy,” she sobs. “It is the worst thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t want to, but I had to. It has haunted me ever since. Please, forgive me.”
“Oh, I agree,” I say. “It is the worst thing you’ve ever done, although hard on its heels has to be your decision a few hours later to have Raichon send over his scuttlers, his necromantic crabs, to turn the bodies of the elf-children you had just murdered into skeletal slaves for the cause. I wouldn’t doubt that they are haunting you,” I say, voice rising, “since you denied them a proper elven pyre, trapping their spirits in the agony of their deaths.”
Lynae has no answer to this.
She’s right about one thing, though. I'm just as bad as she is. I have done what she has. I killed Raichon’s apprentice to keep my investigation secret. That was a mistake. So was ripping out the back-alley thug’s throat with my teeth earlier today to save my own hide. I could have come up with other, less murderous solutions.
But killing Lynae is not about who is the better elf.
“Whether I forgive you is pointless,” I tell her, pulling an arrow from the dead elf’s quiver on my back. “I made a vengeant vow to the Goddess, on penalty of banishment of my cursed soul, that I would find out who killed Alvar and that I would kill his murderer.”
Lynae sees that further talk is useless. Her wrist flicks and another small blade flashes toward me. I’ve been expecting this. I dodge easily, though my neck wound hurts like hell from the sudden movement. Another wave of vertigo washes over me. The blade flies past, hitting the stone wall of the tower and bouncing off to land a few paces away, chipped. It is Norien’s dagger; the one Lynae recovered from behind her bed when we first started this mess. Looks like it hasn’t saved Lynae either.
Lynae makes a desperate effort to raise herself from the floor, but she falls back down. Her legs won’t hold her up. She begins pulling herself by her arms toward the stairs down to the first floor of the tower. Slowly. Torturously.
I take aim.
“Come on, girl,” I whisper, not to Lynae but to Ireth, pulsing within the bow as I pull back the string. My left arm is screaming with pain running down from my neck wound, but I hold the weapon steady. “Here is our shot at redemption. Make it true.”
I let the arrow loose.
It flies true.