Home > Storm Forged (Death Before Dragons #6)(14)

Storm Forged (Death Before Dragons #6)(14)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

As I ended the call, Zav guided me around a clump of bushes, incinerating a branch that would have been in my way.

“If you ever retire from working for your family,” I told him, “you could make a decent hiking guide.”

“Decent?” His brows lifted. “Dragons are superior, not decent. In all things.”

“All things?”


“So, if I asked you to knit an afghan for my couch, it would be a superior afghan?”


“Do you know what an afghan is?”

Zav squinted suspiciously at me. “Your dictionary says a native or inhabitant of the region of Afghanistan, or a person of Afghan descent.”

“There should also be a definition that includes a blanket. Though I’m intrigued that you think you can knit a person.”

“I am a dragon. I am gifted.”

And so humble. “I guess that’s why the ladies love you.”

I meant it as a joke, but he frowned and glanced skyward again.

“Some ladies, as you call them, only seek me out for political reasons. Lesser species may flock to a dragon simply because of his power and magnetism, but other dragons are not impressed by such things. They mate for personal and clan gain.”

“Always? Don’t your people have a concept of love?”

“We are not as driven by emotion as the lesser species. Occasionally, two dragons will find harmony together for apolitical reasons of camaraderie and resource gathering.”


“We have songs about this.”

“I wonder if that’s what that Starsinger dragon was crooning to me.”

That earned me another squint. “If he was, I shall tear off his tail in a duel.”

A tingle of magic washed over me, distracting me from whatever appropriately snarky response that deserved. We’d reached the barrier hiding the sanctuary, and the world around me wavered as we passed through.

Inside, the types of trees, and the temperature and humidity of the air, weren’t as drastically different from their surroundings as they had been in drier Idaho, but a soft mist curled through the undergrowth, and the sun filtering down through the canopy was muted.

The last time I’d been here, it had been wild and overgrown, the paths obscured by foliage. That had been less than two months ago, but the sanctuary was starkly different now. The landscape hadn’t changed a lot, but the paths had been cleared, and buildings of three and four stories rose from the earth. They appeared structurally sound, as if professional home builders had created them, but they were made from recycled junk instead of lumber or brick or anything else humans used to build dwellings. A few No Trespassing and Private Property signs that had been liberated from their original locations were incorporated in the sides. Some of the other components were more difficult to identify, but I spotted mattress coils, a swimming pool diving board, and a china hutch in the walls of the closest building.

“They’ve redecorated,” I observed.

Zav sniffed. “Goblins are not superior.”

“What? You don’t like the style? Don’t dragons sleep in caves?”

“Caves are natural and sublime.”

“And dank and mildewy and littered with bat guano.”

“It is a simple matter to incinerate guano.”

I was about to ask if it was a simple matter to incinerate mold and mildew when dozens of goblins flowed out of the buildings toward us. They weren’t armed, and I recognized a few faces, but by habit, my hand strayed toward Fezzik before I caught myself.

Freysha was in the back of the group, covered with grease stains that hadn’t been there before. What had she been doing? Working on a car? I’d expected her to go straight into the woods to search for the plants.

Work Leader Nogna was in the middle of the crowd and waved forward two goblins carrying silver trays covered with matching cloches. What junkyard had they visited to find those? Or was a distraught butler somewhere even now searching for them?

“The Ruin Bringer is here!” one goblin hollered back into the village with more enthusiasm than had ever accompanied my sobriquet.

Several of the goblins sketched wrenches in the air with their forefingers—a traditional goblin greeting—and others simply gathered and came forward. The group looked like it would swarm around us—Zav also tensed, probably more because he didn’t want grubby green hands touching him than he worried about them being a threat—but the goblins stopped several feet away and fanned out in a semi-circle around us.

“Her mate is also here,” one whispered, looking at Zav with wide eyes.

“We knew they would come,” Nogna said. “Bring forth the water box.”

Whispers went through the crowd, and a few goblins in the back darted off into a structure akin to a pole barn.

“Uhm, what’s going on?” I met Freysha’s gaze, figuring she would be more likely than the goblins to give me a straight answer.

Gondo was in the group, but he was busy passing around the thermos—how had he gotten ahold of it?—with his buddies.

“They are pleased that you’ve returned and wish to help,” Freysha said over the excited murmurs of the crowd.

“The only help I need is to find the roots of some of those plants.”

“I told them about that.” The corners of her eyes crinkled with amusement. “They think you need more.”

The barn doors were pushed open and squeaking noises came from inside.

Goblins are ridiculously theatrical, Zav told me telepathically.

Do you know what’s coming? I knew he could read their minds, but I didn’t know if he would bother.

Yes. He lifted his gaze heavenward. This time, it seemed like more of an eye roll than a check for the female dragon.

The squeaking grew more pronounced as a circular wooden tank was wheeled out on a large, flat cart with wobbly wheels. Water sloshed over the sides, but it took me a moment to realize this was a hot tub. One of the original hot tubs. A cedar-sided circle, it looked like the bottom half of a whiskey barrel, though it was large enough for a couple of people to sit in. Or several goblins. Or… a half-elf and a dragon?

I smirked at Zav. “It seems they remember the first time they met us.”

The crowd spread, opening a path between us and the tub on the cart. In case we wanted to hop in?

“The water is not hot,” he informed me.

“We can build a fire underneath,” one of the goblins said. “The cart is metal. It will heat up quickly and warm the water.”

“We appreciate that you were thinking of us and had this prepared…” And they truly would have had to have it prepared, wouldn’t they? It wasn’t as if they could have made the tub and filled it in the twenty minutes they had known I was on the way. “But we came because we’re looking for a plant.”

“Yes, yes. The elf informed us. Rowul.” Nogna clapped her hands, her bicycle-chain bracelets rattling. “Show them.”

One of the goblins holding a silver tray knelt and lifted it toward me. Was I supposed to remove the cloche?

Freysha smiled and nodded from the back. A little wary, I stepped forward and took off the lid. Stringy roots of a plant lay on the tray, the stems and a few leaves attached, along with one jumble of bell-shaped flowers. They were wilted and past their prime, but this was unmistakably a match for the plant in Zoltan’s book.

“Huh.” I took it and stuck it in a collection bag I’d brought for the purpose. “Thank you.”

The other goblin with a tray knelt beside the first and lifted his in a similar fashion. Another plant?

I lifted the cloche, but this tray held a baked good, not a plant. Vaguely Bundt-cake shaped, it was brown with a darker brown frosting. It appeared very homemade. Did these guys have ovens?

“For you to take with you on your journey,” Nogna said. “Gondo informed us that humans love coffee, so we concocted a recipe and invented an original and delicious cake. We call it coffee cake.” She spread her arms to the sky in triumph.

I decided not to mention that humans had invented coffee cake a long time ago. This looked a little different from the crumble-coated versions I was familiar with.

“You may share it with your mate,” she added.

“Thank you. Zav loves sweets.” I didn’t have to look back to know he was glaring at me. I’ll buy you some ribs later, I told him silently.

Unfortunately, Velilah’nav will swoop down and object if I let you feed me.

Was that her name? I hadn’t expected anything pronounceable, and I was right. Though the implication that she might be spying on us indefinitely bothered me, I ignored that for now and kept my response light. Then I’ll drive through the fast-food place and get you some chicken strips. You can feed yourself.

This is acceptable.

“Take the cake, please, Ruin Bringer,” the goblin holding the tray said. “We are thankful that you found this home for us and kept our people from being destroyed. We will have offerings for you each time you visit us.”

“Thank you,” I made myself say, though I was a little concerned. Who knew what kinds of offerings goblin ingenuity could come up with?

As I attempted to pick up the crumbling coffee cake with its sticky frosting, I grew even less certain that this was a boon. I hadn’t brought a bag capable of containing this. At least it smelled good wafting up to my nostrils. It was an interesting mix of earthy and sweet with the coffee undertones staying subtle, and when I licked my finger, a hint of salt and maple syrup teased my taste buds.

A whir and clacking noises echoed from under the cart. A goblin had laid tinder and kindling and was spinning a contraption for making sparks.

“We don’t have time to use the hot tub right now.” I held up a hand. “I appreciate the gifts—especially the plant. Maybe next time, I’ll bring a swimming suit.”

“Swimming suit?” Nogna asked.

“For getting in the hot tub.”

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