Home > Storm Forged (Death Before Dragons #6)(8)

Storm Forged (Death Before Dragons #6)(8)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

“I don’t think Nin wants Zoltan to drink her grandfather’s blood.”

Horror flashed in Nin’s eyes.

I shook my head. “Zoltan has a bunch of alchemy equipment he brought when he moved in. I bet he can analyze blood and find magical substances too.”

“Ah. I’ll catch Walker before he goes and ask.” Willard jogged back inside.

I called Zoltan on my phone. The sun was a few hours from setting, so I didn’t know if he would be awake. Dimitri’s first home-improvement project had been, per Zoltan’s request, completely blocking in the basement windows so his lair was pitch dark around the clock. Providing nobody was rude and opened the door.

Dear robber, a text came in. Why are you calling me during the middle of my night?

Though a phone conversation would have been quicker, I texted back, I have some blood for you.

He replied before I could send a second message more fully explaining.

You’re offering some of your fine half-elven blood that is enhanced by the magical mark of a dragon? I accept. I will even allow you to enter my abode during the day so that I might enjoy this feast.

Gross. I need you to analyze some gnome blood for a magical poison or spell or something that we believe is afflicting him.

I would prefer your blood. It would not be beneficial to my health to consume tainted blood.

Nin will be relieved to know you’re not going to lick the vial. This gnome is her grandfather, and he’s very sick. We need your help.

I will be glad to help. At my usual hourly consulting fee.

“Zav is right. Earthlings are overly concerned with money.” Fine, I texted him back.

“America is a capitalist society,” Nin informed me. “But the opportunities are many. Soon, I will have enough money to buy a house and bring my family to this country.”

“You think so, but that’s only because you haven’t yet seen what Zoltan charges for his help.”

5

I had an appointment with my therapist the first thing in the morning, so I left the house before any news came up from the basement about Zoltan’s blood analysis. A part of me had wanted to reschedule on Mary, since Nin’s grandfather was still passed out in the guest bedroom, and now a nurse I didn’t know was wandering around the house, but I’d already rescheduled on her three times this month. She’d gone out of her way to come in and meet with me on a Sunday, so I couldn’t cancel again.

Nin was at the house. She would keep an eye on things. The evening before, she’d only left long enough to go home and pack an overnight bag. This was the longest she’d been away from her business since I’d known her—she usually thought nothing about working seven days a week and being there from opening to closing—but this was an extenuating circumstance.

The scent of brewing coffee filled the air as I walked into the marble-floored waiting area.

“Good morning, Val.” Mary lifted an empty mug from the beverage station. “Coffee?”

“No, thanks.” Coffee always smelled better than it tasted, so I was happy to give the burbling pot a wide berth and head straight to her office.

Since Mary was the only therapist working this morning, I didn’t have to pass any weirdos waiting for appointments. An inordinate number of clients at the clinic liked to pace and mutter to themselves, occasionally while straightening magazines or chanting rap lyrics. Mary kept promising me that plenty of normal people came in to see therapists, but she lumped me into that category too, so I knew not to believe her.

I sat in my usual chair, the back to the wall and arranged so I could see her desk, the window, and the door. As I preferred it.

Coffee in hand, Mary came in and sat down. “How’s your weekend going so far?”

“A portal opened on my roof, I battled a bunch of orcs, my tiger eviscerated a monster creature on the lawn, and I found out I’m now infamous in other realms.”

“If someone else said that to me, I’d think it was an odd joke.”

“But it’s me, so you know it’s only odd.”

“Yes. Do you want to talk about it?” Mary set down her coffee and pulled a pad of paper into her lap.

“I don’t know. I’m still processing the situation.”

Technically, Zoltan was processing the situation—while tallying up hours to bill me.

“Aside from portals and battles, how have your relaxation exercises been going?”

“Not well.”

She didn’t frown at me, but I felt like she was oozing disappointment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to try to relax and lower my stress levels and hopefully find a way to get off the damn asthma medication I now took morning and night. It was that my life wasn’t cooperating. And the new house…

“I’m not sure I should have moved,” I admitted.

“Oh? When you described moving into a house with other people, I thought it sounded very promising. You need company, people who care about you and who you can talk with when you need to. I’m here for you, of course, but it’s important to have a supportive community around you.”

“Did I mention that one of my new roommates was a vampire?”

Her brow furrowed. “No.”

“Ah. Actually, I’m not having problems with my, uh, community. It’s that the house is old and musty, and it’s been bothering my lungs.” And my sleep. I’d had hours of nightmares the previous night and woken up sweating and disorientated several times. I doubted I had managed to string together two hours of solid sleep.

“Did you speak with your doctor?”

“Yeah, he said not to live in a moldy house.”

Mary gazed blandly at me.

“I bought drywall and a sledgehammer and crowbar. I’m going to start watching HGTV and figure out how to fix it all. In my copious free time.”

“Perhaps your roommates could help.”

“They will. Or at least one of them will. Dimitri already agreed. From what I’ve observed, Zoltan isn’t into physical labor. He can hurl cybernetically enhanced bears across a laboratory if he’s threatened, but if you ask him to help move furniture, he’s always in the middle of an experiment and can’t leave it.”

“Perhaps you can focus on the more helpful roommates.”

“Oh, I do.”

“Have you seen Amber lately?”

“I have. I’m giving her sword-fighting lessons.”

Mary’s eyebrows rose.

“Is that not a typical mother-daughter bonding thing? We also shopped, but that was extremely expensive, and now I’m stuck with dresses I don’t need.”

Mary took a few notes. I wondered if she’d liked it more when I hadn’t opened up to her about my life.

“Are you still seeing Mr. Zavryd?” She insisted on calling him by name, not the dragon. Or your incredibly bizarre boyfriend who claimed you as a mate but hasn’t actually had sex with you. I appreciated that.

“Yes.”

“You said he has magical powers?”

“Incredible magical powers.”

“Perhaps he could assist you with your mold problem.”

“I don’t think dragons mind mold. They sleep in caves. Occasionally on the roof.” Admittedly, Zav hadn’t tried that since I moved into the Victorian house. There were a lot of slanted and pointy bits up there.

“But you mind it. Have you told him?”

“We don’t discuss my vulnerabilities.”

“No? Who do you discuss them with?”

“You.”

“I appreciate that you trust me.”

“It’s more that I’m pretty sure you’d get your license revoked if you gossiped about me to my enemies.”

“Do you believe Mr. Zavryd would do that?”

“No.” I leaned back in the chair. What was she angling for? “But he’s a super powerful dragon, and he thinks I’m a mighty warrior who vexes his enemies.”

“Aren’t you?”

“I’m excellent at vexing. As for the rest, I have my moments. But look, I’m already this half-human mongrel, as he called me so often early on. It took me a while to climb up to a respectable status in his eyes. I don’t want to admit that I have this… what’s becoming this chronic weakness.” I grimaced, hating to admit that it might be chronic. That seemed to imply forever. That I wouldn’t find a solution. So far, I hadn’t wanted to accept that, but at the same time, I hadn’t managed to do many of the things that could help my body relax and maybe stop being so reactive to everything.

I dropped my face in my hand.

“If you were one of my less bristly clients, I would ask if you wanted a hug,” Mary said, “but I’m a little afraid you would punch me.”

“Only if you didn’t warn me first.” I lowered my hand. “I’m just having a moment. Is that what it’s called?”

“We can call it whatever you wish. I will say that I haven’t seen any relationships succeed where either partner withheld crucial personal information from the other.”

“Are you sure? Because I’m positive I’ve heard stories of guys with three wives in different states who didn’t know the others existed.”

“I wouldn’t call any of those successful relationships.”

“You’ve got high standards.” My phone buzzed, and I pulled it out.

A text from Zoltan read: It is well past the hour that I go to sleep, but I believe I’ve found what is ailing your gnome. A bacterial infection that may have been created in a laboratory employing both science and magic. I have isolated the bacteria in a Petri dish and found a couple of chemicals that can kill them, but they are extremely toxic to gnomes, humans, and similar beings. I have researched natural substances that are less deadly and could hypothetically do the job, and I’ve selected a recipe for a promising formula. However, I may need you to acquire the core ingredient. Do return before I slip into the cozy confines of my coffin for a well-deserved sleep, or you’ll have to wait until tonight to speak with me.

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