Hitting the midway point. This week we are featuring Goblin Precinct by Keith R.A. DeCandido, book three in the Dragon Precinct Series. Currently there are five novels and one short story collection, but more of each are planned. This has been described as “Dungeons and Dragnet” by one reviewer and “JAG meets Lord of the Rings” by another. In either case, you get the idea. These are fantasy police procedural fun.
Oddly, given how miserable he’d been the past few years, Elthor lothSerra was happier than he’d ever been in his century-plus of life when he died.
Once, many years ago, Elthor was a member of the Elf Queen’s court. He had a charming wife, a beautiful mistress, dozens of servants, hundreds of slaves, all the food he could consume (and then some), and enough gold to drown himself in.
Elthor’s wealth was inherited, but he also invested wisely, and one of his concerns was in swordmaking—a boom business during war, and the Elf Queen was always at war with someone.
Then, of course, came the biggest war of all, as the Elf Queen tried to extend her grasp to all the dwarven and human lands. And she would have succeeded, too, had it not been for the betrayal of her nephew, Olthar lothSirhans.
Elthor had always considered Olthar to be a dear friend and comrade. His betrayal had stung at the time.
Said betrayal was the beginning of the end for the Elf Queen, which meant it was also the end for Elthor. His fortunes were tied entirely to his being a favorite of the Elf Queen, and when things took a turn for the worse, his own lifespan—once guaranteed to last a couple of centuries—was now measured in hours.
Unless, of course, he got out. He had sufficient cash reserves, and barely enough people who thought highly of him, to get out of the elven lands. When the Elf Queen was brought down by human soldiers led by the legendary Gan Brightblade, Elthor was long gone.
Olthar, for all that he and Brightblade had become comrades, was not among those who brought the Elf Queen down. Indeed, he never set foot in elven lands again after his betrayal. Up until his own hasty departure, Elthor had thought that to be cowardly.
But how could he go home after leaving in ignominy? For decades, he had traveled in lavish coaches drawn by the finest horses. When he left home, for what turned out to be the last time, it was hiding in a merchant’s carriage drawn by one slow, elderly horse. He was surrounded by assorted badly packed dry goods and the ride east nearly destroyed his back.
Finding somewhere to go proved more problematic than he had first thought. In the past, all he’d had to do was say he was a member of the Elf Queen’s court and he could stay in the best accommodations with serving staff at his beck and call. Now, the very mention of a connection to the Elf Queen would like as not put him on the wrong end of a sword. With his luck, it would be a blade made by one of his own swordmasters.
Eventually, he found himself in the city-state of Cliff’s End. A nominally human metropolis—it was run by Lord Albin and Lady Meerka, who served the human king and queen—it was, in fact, an incredibly diverse place where elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings mingled with humans with little difficulty or revulsion.
Elthor had been pretty disgusted when he arrived, but given his current station in life, he wasn’t in a position to be fussy. And the ease of blending in proved useful.
He had come to the port city with the thought of hiring a boat to one of the islands on the Garamin Sea where they didn’t ask questions, but by the time he arrived, he’d gone through all his cash reserves, with poor lodgings eating through his remaining coin in a week’s time.
Only a year after escaping his home with his life, Elthor lothSerra found himself reduced to begging on Haven’s Lane. It was his only option, as being a nobleman for a great empire left one without very many marketable skills. His attempts at securing employment proved pathetic and short-lived.
So he begged. And grew more and more unhappy.
As the years passed—Elthor honestly had no idea how many, as his sense of time had atrophied from lack of caring—he got progressively better at begging and proportionately more unhappy.
One of the other beggars he occasionally shared space with on Haven’s Way was a gnome whose name Elthor had never bothered to learn. On one occasion, the gnome asked Elthor, “Why aint’cha happy?”
Elthor just stared at him. “Are you mad? What could I possibly be happy about?”
“What ain’t there t’be happy about?” The gnome shook his head. “This is the life, innit? You sit around all day and people just throw coins at you for lookin’ pathetic. Shit, all’s you have to be doin’ is lookin’ like your usual self, and it’s good for a couple gold a day. What could be better?”
The gnome laughed and shook his head. “You gotcherself entirely the wrong attitude, you do. Know whatcha need?”
“A boat to take me away from this cesspit of a city?”
“Naw, you’re needed somethin’ for cheer. An’ I know someone’s got just the thing.”
Elthor had ignored the gnome for the rest of the day, but on the next, he offered Elthor a pill.
“What is this?” Elthor asked, pointedly not taking the proffered item.
“It’s called ‘Bliss.’ It’ll put the smile back on your face, it will. Just costs a copper.”
At first, Elthor was going to reject the gnome’s offer out of hand. After all, he was truly endeavoring to save up to hire that boat.
But how realistic a notion was that? He’d been begging for years now, and—once he’d spent what he needed for food, drink, and the occasional awful accommodation, usually during winter—he’d only scraped together a few gold. While he’d attempted to keep his personal spending down, it still wasn’t enough. He’d been absolutely ruthless in paring his spending down. Indeed, the only time he’d indulged himself was to buy a celebratory drink when he heard the news that Olthar lothSirhans had been killed.
He was decades away from even considering the possibility of hiring a boat, and he was fairly sure that he’d go completely mad long before then.
There was also the stark realization that the only day he’d been truly happy since coming to this city-state was the day he learned that Olthar had been murdered. On that day, his only sadness was that he had not been the one to wield the weapon that killed the betrayer.
So, at once both reluctant and eager, Elthor took the pill that the gnome offered in exchange for a copper recently dropped in his hat by one of his regulars.
At first, nothing changed, and Elthor was about to demand his copper back—then suddenly he was utterly suffused with joy! The sun, formerly an unwelcome intrusion of light, was now bright and lovely! The stinks of Haven’s Way became pleasurable, the drab colors of Goblin Precinct’s buildings became bright and vivid, and the sussurus of the downtrodden voices of the Cliff’s End poor became a symphony of noise!
For the first time since Olthar’s betrayal, Elthor truly felt joy!
The day passed by quickly, and Elthor got many fewer coins than usual—after all, who would give money to so happy a beggar?—but he found that he didn’t care.
At least until roughly sundown, when it all just stopped. The scents became odors once more, the noise became oppressive, the sights dull. As miserable as he’d been before taking Bliss, it was as nothing compared to how he felt now, with the knowledge that such transcendent happiness had been his just minutes ago.
His sleep was troubled, his dreams filled with images of people he hadn’t seen in years, but the most prominent was Olthar lothSirhans, laughing at him.
The next morning, he sought out the gnome and bought a dozen of the Bliss pills, figuring they would keep him going for a week or so.
But the second pill only lasted a few hours, and the third only two. With each pill, the high was of a shorter duration, the crash harder and nastier. It got to the point where Elthor was taking a pill every quarter-hour, desperate to maintain the joy and stave off the doom.
One morning, the gnome, whose name was Chobral, wandered into Haven’s Way to inquire as to whether or not Elthor wanted more pills, only to find that he lay dead in the alley.
With a sigh at losing a paying customer—Chobral got twenty percent of the take from any direct sales he made, and Elthor had the makings of a good regular—the gnome went to find a member of the Cliff’s End Castle Guard to report the dead body.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is a white male in his late forties, approximately two hundred pounds. He was last seen in the wilds of the Bronx, New York City, though he is often sighted in other locales. Usually he is armed with a laptop computer, which some have classified as a deadly weapon. Through use of this laptop, he has inflicted more than fifty novels, as well as an indeterminate number of comic books, nonfiction, novellas, and works of short fiction on an unsuspecting reading public. Many of these are set in the milieus of television shows, games, movies, and comic books, among them Star Trek, Alien, Cars, Summoners War, Doctor Who, Supernatural, World of Warcraft, Marvel Comics, and many more.
We have received information confirming that more stories involving Danthres, Torin, and the city-state of Cliff’s End can be found in the novels Dragon Precinct, Unicorn Precinct, Goblin Precinct, Gryphon Precinct, and the forthcoming Phoenix Precinct and Manticore Precinct, as well as the short-story collections Tales from Dragon Precinct and the forthcoming More Tales from Dragon Precinct. His other recent crimes against humanity include A Furnace Sealed, the debut of a new urban fantasy series taking place in DeCandido’s native Bronx; the Alien novel Isolation; the Marvel’s Tales of Asgard trilogy of prose novels starring Marvel’s versions of Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three; short stories in the anthologies Aliens: Bug Hunt, Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, TV Gods: Summer Programming, X-Files: Trust No One, Nights of the Living Dead, the award-winning Planned Parenthood benefit anthology Mine!, the two Baker Street Irregulars anthologies, and Release the Virgins!; and articles about pop culture for Tor.com and on his own Patreon.
If you see DeCandido, do not approach him, but call for backup immediately. He is often seen in the company of a suspicious-looking woman who goes by the street name of “Wrenn,” as well as several as-yet-unidentified cats. A full dossier can be found at DeCandido.net