Home > Sinister Magic (Death Before Dragons #1)(9)

Sinister Magic (Death Before Dragons #1)(9)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

“His work? I’ve never heard of a dragon here on Earth, not since ancient times. They used to consider this a purgatory of a sort, at least for themselves. My understanding from the data I’ve gathered from the various magical informants and witnesses we’ve worked with is that dragons are why so many of them came here to start with, to avoid the so-called justice of the Dragon Justice Court.”

“Yes.” I looked up from the scan—the angry blobs on it did not look good, but I couldn’t sense anything magical from a picture itself. “That’s exactly what he called it. He said he was a Lord Zavryd-something-unpronounceable.”

“Lord? Not an arbiter?”

“I didn’t catch everything he said before I got my translation charm turned on, but it sounded like he was basically a cop, there to drag criminals back for punishment and rehabilitation—that’s what he called it. The wyvern was quaking in her scales.”

“Whatever he is, I’m sure he’s more than a beat cop. All of the dragons consider themselves a sort of nobility. Everyone is either a king or a queen or prince or princess, though females are born less frequently than the males. They’re often more powerful, and they’re usually the rulers—the males fight each other, often to the death, for the right to present themselves as mates to one of the females. I guess since they kill each other off, it doesn’t matter that the numbers are skewed.”

“We didn’t get into all that.” I was more concerned about whether I would run into Zav the Self-Righteous again, not if he had the grit to find a dragon mate. “I asked him if he was going back to his realm, and he said no. He had more work to do here. That’s when he warned me to stay out of his way.”

Willard leaned back into her pillows, looking tired, as if the speaking wore her out. Should I leave? Maybe the coffee would revive her, though she hadn’t taken much more than that first long swallow.

“If for some reason the dragons have decided to police the problems they’ve inadvertently caused for us, then that could be a good thing, but this is, if not unprecedented, something that hasn’t happened for a thousand years. Magical beings have come here, fleeing the reach of the Dragon Justice Court since humans were smacking flint together in caves to make fire.” Her eyes narrowed. “We have been wondering why so many more magical beings have appeared in our world lately. Wyverns didn’t used to swoop down and eat children in broad daylight. Or at all. We had more than twenty years after the elves and dwarves left when there weren’t any sightings of the magical at all.”

“Yes, my blissful childhood.”

She glanced at me. “I always forget you’re older than you look.”

“It’s the elven blood.”

“Must be nice.” Willard flicked a few fingers. “If you see the dragon again, you better stay out of his path. If he’s dragging off the beings that have committed crimes here, then there’s no point in killing them. Though from what I’ve heard from talking to some of the snitches, that punishment and rehabilitation is not pleasant. There’s a reason they flee to Earth and the Wild Worlds to avoid it. You may have been granting mercy in killing that wyvern before the dragon took her.”

After what those wyverns had done, mercy hadn’t been in my mind. “Well, if the dragon is going to handle all the criminals—admittedly, it sounded like the wyvern had committed crimes in their realm, not that he was here because of the children on Earth that were killed—then I guess I can retire.”

Willard snorted. “And do what?”

Good question. A few years earlier, I’d finished my bachelor’s degree in aviation, mostly so I could get a raise, but it had been almost twenty years since I’d flown anything. When the army had discovered I healed quickly and had a few other preternatural abilities, they’d hustled me off into a special program to learn to be a good killer.

“I’m pretty agile. I could probably get a gig with Cirque du Soleil.”

She snorted again. Which was the closest I’d ever gotten to a laugh from her.

I set down the folder since my aviation training couldn’t tell me anything about the scan, other than that the blobs vaguely resembled cumulus clouds, but my gaze drifted toward her abdomen again. There was definitely something there. And it seemed to be in the area of the tumors. Was it possible this wasn’t a natural cancer? What if it wasn’t cancer at all? Could some magic mimic the disease? Or cause it to start up and develop far more rapidly than usual? And if magic had caused it, could magic cure it?

“You seem pensive,” Willard said. “Is it because I look that bad? Or are you imagining yourself whirling through the air, thrown by hunky male circus performers?”

I debated whether or not to tell her what I sensed. I didn’t want to give her false hope about a cure, especially since I didn’t know any alchemists or magical healers who might be able to suss out what was wrong and come up with a way to fix her. Maybe it was foolish to even think such a thing could be possible. But she was the only one who would know if she’d rubbed someone in the magical community the wrong way or had been attacked outright.

“I’ve told you about my run-in with a dragon. Have you had any run-ins with magical beings? Especially in the weeks leading up to this… this.” I waved at the hospital and her in bed.

Her brows rose.

“Unless you’re wearing a magical belly-button ring or lying on some charm or artifact, there’s something magical about you.” I pointed to the spot.

Alarm flashed in her eyes. Willard pushed the blanket aside, slid out of bed, and patted the mattress through the sheets. Then she lifted up the mattress and looked under it.

“No, I—”

The door opened, and a nurse walked in with a dinner tray. Then halted and stared. Willard, not having found anything under the sheets or mattress, lowered her bed to the proper position.

“Colonel Willard, you’re not performing unauthorized exercises again, are you?”

“No, ma’am.”

The nurse frowned suspiciously at me. I lifted my hands in innocence, even if I had been responsible.

“I’ll set this here. If you need to adjust your bed, please use the remote.” The nurse deposited the food tray and pointed to the device cabled to the bed frame before leaving.

“I’m a troublemaker.” Willard sighed and climbed back into bed.

“I knew that already. The magic moved with you. It’s definitely in there.” I pointed toward her abdomen.

“Shit.”

“Have you made any enemies lately? Accepted candy from strangers? Scratch that. Accepted a salad or grass-fed hamburger patty from a stranger?”

She gave me a flat look. “You’re the one who makes the enemies. I just sit in my office and collate data.”

“Did any magical beings visit you in that office in the last month?”

“A couple of snitches have been by—it would have been nice if someone had given me a heads-up on the dragon before I sent you out—but the usual guys. The fae coffee shop owner and the female orc who had cosmetic surgery and started one of those axe-throwing businesses. But they’ve been coming in for years. They especially like to rat out anyone who’s competition, magical or otherwise.”

I’d met them both and made a note to look them up. “Anyone come by your apartment?”

“My neighbor Dan came to get my cat and take care of her, but that was after all this started.”

“The demon cat? Do you like Dan or hate him?” I’d met Maggie the one time I’d visited earlier that year. She’d complained a lot about my presence. Actually, it had been Sindari that she’d objected most to.

“Funny. Maggie is chatty, not demonic. And a sweetheart in bed at night. But no, nobody came by the apartment that I remember, at least not that I know of. You know I’m not there much except to sleep.” Her eyes widened. “Wait, there was one day that I came home and the door wasn’t locked. I always lock up, so I thought it was strange, but nothing was missing. I assumed I’d been distracted when I left that morning and had forgotten.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Just a few days before I started having pain.” She rested her hand on her abdomen.

“Mind if I go check it out?”

“No. Dan has a key. He can let you in.”

I tapped a key-shaped charm on my necklace. “I can unlock most doors.”

“Protection from UV radiation and lock-picking? Is there anything your necklace can’t do?”

Cure cancer, magical or otherwise, I thought glumly. “I’ve been collecting charms for almost twenty years. Some of these have saved my life numerous times.” My finger strayed to the cat figurine. Sindari had saved my life dozens of times all by himself.

Willard’s nose wrinkled. “Just don’t let your oversized cat out in my apartment again, please. The scent he leaves makes Maggie crazy.”

“Sindari doesn’t smell like a real cat. He’s magical.”

“He smells like something. Maggie wouldn’t come out from under the bed for a week that time you stopped by to drop off evidence.”

“I’ll keep your request in mind.” And ignore it. Since Sindari had a cat’s nose, I couldn’t imagine not bringing him out to help with an investigation. “You better enjoy your dinner.”

“Enjoy, right.”

I wasn’t sure if Willard’s scoff was because of the quality of the food or if she just wasn’t interested in eating because of her treatments. Thinking of all the masses on that scan, I realized I might not have much time to get to the bottom of this. Even if I found out that someone magical had poisoned her or hexed her or something, would there be a cure?

The idea of losing her was bad enough, but I couldn’t also help but think of Lieutenant Snotty and what my life would be like if I had to report to an accountant for missions in the future. Would there even be missions? It sounded like he wanted to close down the department, not oversee it. If he did, what then? The citizens of the Pacific Northwest had to hope that a snooty dragon who had called humans a verminous infestation kept the murdering magical criminals in check?

   
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