Home > Tangled Truths (Death Before Dragons #3)(3)

Tangled Truths (Death Before Dragons #3)(3)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

I’m fine, I assured him.

You took two steps toward that door.

Rupert wants us to investigate it.

Let me go in alone. It has some magical allure for humans. Your face got blank there. Any enemy could have stabbed you in the back.

Not with you protecting me. But I took his point. It had been ridiculously hard to resist the allure of the first orb, and this one was just as strong, if not stronger. I drew Chopper, willing the blade to help me push the invading presence out of my mind. It’s not just humans. The shifters under the house were really into this thing.

Moans drifted out of the room.

Yes, but they’re human too. From what I’m seeing, the other races here are curious but not as drawn. Sindari glanced back down the hall. A human woman wandered out of a side room and walked past us and through the open door, but the goblins, orcs, and other beings had returned to what they’d been doing.

That’s interesting. But shifters aren’t really human, are they? They’re from—Asgash…something. What’s the name of their world?


Right. Flows right off the tongue. They’re not originally from Earth. They’ve come as refugees, the same as the others.

It is true they came back recently as refugees, but their ancestors were originally taken from Earth.

Before I could ask for clarification, Rupert pointed into the room. “Go investigate my problem. That sword will not help you.”

Actually, it would. Chopper didn’t make me immune to mental compulsion or attacks, but it lent some protection from them.

“Swords are handy. You never know when you’ll need to scratch between your shoulder blades.” Watch my back, please, Sindari.


Rupert gestured me to go in instead of leading me in himself. I imagined him locking the door, chortling, and running off, but I sensed many other people—his patrons, presumably—inside.

I stepped across the threshold and squinted, willing my eyes to adjust so I could pick out details. The room smelled even more strongly of mold. What a lovely place to install a magical pleasure orb.

A lavender sphere identical to the one I’d destroyed in Bothell floated in the air in the center of a large storage room filled with people. As Sindari had suggested, they were all humans and shifters, not any other species, and they didn’t glance my way. They were transfixed by the orb, which pulsed like a beating heart, darker purple veins running along its glassy lavender surface.

I could barely see those veins because so many humans and shifters had their chests and faces plastered to the artifact, arms spread to embrace it, not seeming to notice that they were hip to hip and face to face with each other. Other people were barely touching the orb, instead pressed against the backs of those who were closer to it, with only their hands touching the pulsing surface. Some of the mesmerized souls stood still while others writhed and groaned against the orb. Still more people lay on the cement floor where it appeared they’d passed out after sating themselves on the pleasure-inducing mental magic.

A faint hint of semen and urine mingled with the mold, and my gut clenched. Weren’t these people even leaving to pee?

“What’s the problem?” I asked—Rupert was watching me intently from the hallway, and I had a feeling he hoped I’d plaster myself against the orb too. “Other than that your clients don’t know when to leave to use a toilet?”

His stone-gray eyes narrowed, his blocky face twisting in disappointment. By my lack of a reaction?

Oh, I was reacting—I felt the pull keenly—but I’d resisted the other orb, and I would resist this one.

“That’s part of the problem,” Rupert growled. “The other is this.” He stepped inside and used one of his size-twenty boots to nudge a woman sleeping on the floor.

No, not sleeping, I realized. Even though magic bombarded my senses and muddled everything, she was close enough that I could tell she no longer had an aura. She was dead.

“Some people have their fun and leave,” Rupert said, “but some aren’t smart enough to. They fall down and die from sensory overload or something.” He shrugged. He didn’t know the science.

I couldn’t guess at it either. Someone on Willard’s forensics team should be sent to study this, but if all humans were affected…

Sindari, what do you mean shifters came from Earth? And am I not completely pulled in because I’m half elven? Would elves be affected by this, or do you think it was designed to target humans specifically?

I thought about the dark-elf alchemist’s notebook that I’d recovered from their lair. Willard had it locked in a vault in her office now, but I’d seen the translation. It was a recipe book on how to make “poisonous pleasure orbs.” The Pardus brothers had said they’d been given their orb because it was a prototype with a few problems. Maybe the dark elves had refined the recipe and were distributing more of these around the city, to lure in humans and cause this result. People dying. How many could they create? How many had they already created?

That would be my guess as to why you can resist it, yes, Sindari replied.

I thought it was Chopper and my superior willpower.

Sindari didn’t comment on that. As far as the shifters, some thirty thousand of your years ago, humans were taken from this world and deposited on Osgashandril, a world full of unstable magic. Plants and animals there warp and shift with the tidal fluctuations from its three moons. Dragons of the time wanted to know if the world would be safe for colonization, so they dropped off humans and animals from Earth to see what would happen to them. They adapted to Osgashandril but were altered by it, gaining the ability to shift forms.

A large meaty hand landed on my shoulder. Rupert.

I tensed, thinking it an attack, and almost whipped my sword up to drive him back. But Rupert gazed down at me with hooded eyes.

“If you are not drawn to the orb, perhaps we can go to my office,” he murmured in a low rumble, “and discuss the repair of my ceiling.”

I glanced at Sindari. Is this troll making a pass at me?

I believe so, but I am not an expert in this area. I thought you were flirting with Lord Zavryd when you assured me you were not.

Ugh. Trolls didn’t fall for humans as a general rule. Rupie here must be affected at least somewhat by the orb too.


“Let’s go to your office, yes.” I assumed Rupert’s ardor would fade once we shut that door, and my lungs were growing tight from exposure to the damn mold. The idea of me losing my mind and then dying in this chamber because I wasn’t aware of my body’s need for medicine made me shudder.

Rupert didn’t close the door as he walked out, so I did. Firmly. I felt guilty leaving people to possibly die in there, but if I drove them away, wouldn’t they simply come back? Assuming they budged in the first place if I swatted them on their butts with my sword.

By the time we reached Rupert’s office, his sexual interest had faded—thankfully. The idea of pushing away the advances of an eight-foot troll was alarming.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked. “Destroy it?”

Nin’s magical grenades—or maybe the ceiling collapsing—had destroyed the last one, so I knew it was possible. But I couldn’t collapse the ceiling under an eight-story building full of restaurants, retail shops, and apartments.

“I can’t destroy it,” Rupert said. “I’m being paid to have it here.”

“By whom?”

“A dark elf. Yemeli-lor.”

I froze. That was one of the two dark elves Zav had been sent to retrieve for “punishment and rehabilitation” from the Dragon Justice Court. I’d never seen either of them when I’d been in the dark-elf lair—or if I had, I hadn’t known it—and Zav was, as far as I knew, still looking for them.

“Her mate, Baklinor-ten, comes sometimes and watches and makes notes,” Rupert said.

“Watches? From where? The doorway?”

“No.” Rupert opened a hidden door in the cement wall between two stacks of kegs and led me into a narrow, dark tunnel.

We came to a small room with a window that overlooked the orb chamber, a window that hadn’t been visible from the other side. The wall insulated us from the magic, but I once again felt some of the orb’s pull. Proximity made it stronger. With the bank vault door closed, the people inside were more vigorous, and a threesome had paired up—threed up—and was having sex under the orb itself.

“Why do you have a two-way mirror in your pub?” I couldn’t keep from sneering in disapproval and looking away from the scene.

Rupert didn’t seem that interested in watching the display either. “The dark elves put it in for scientific observation, they said.” He pointed to a table and chair. “Baklinor-ten sits there and takes notes.”

Sindari padded into the room, sniffing around the area and lowering his head to peer under the table.

“I was told those two dark elves were a high priestess and a warrior, not scientists.” I was fairly certain that was how Zav had described them.

Rupert shrugged. “They are both. Their society values academics, and most of them study some branch of science.”

“They must be paying you well if you let them alter your establishment.”

“They paid well, but…” Rupert eyed me. “I didn’t know people would be killed by this thing. I’ve carted out several bodies now. But dark elves are dangerous. It wasn’t just about the money. I worried there would be repercussions if I refused to do business with them.”

It dawned on me that he was confessing, laying the groundwork for being more victim than perpetrator. Maybe his original plan had been for me to grow so enraptured that he or someone else could stick a dagger between my shoulder blades, but since that hadn’t happened, he was now worried I’d report this to my boss. And be sent to assassinate him because he was facilitating the deaths of shifters and humans. Not everybody in that room had been magical.

“I get it,” I said. “They’re not fun to deal with.”

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