“You might thank me for saving your life along with my own.”
Carrone snorted and bowed in his seat. “Thank you kindly. but what makes you so important that the Deklegion would want to risk the wrath of the bounty guild?”
She smiled enigmatically. “You’ll see eventually. The thing is… as far as they know, right now, I’m an agent of the Empire. And that much is true.”
“And that’s all I know, too,” he muttered. “Why the secrecy?”
“Because I don’t want a war, either, and while you’re the only one that caught up with me so far, I’m not stupid enough to assume that you’ll be the only one. That means not spreading things around.”
“Except bragging about how you’re so important,” he pointed out dryly.
“…Ouch. Yeah, point to you.” She wrinkled her nose. “That was childish. So. Why’d you take the bounty?”
“Because it was good money and it took me out of Dekleg.” He answered easily. She was pretty sure he was telling the truth.
“You like leaving the country?”
“I like coming to the Empire. I don’t like travelling in Dekleg, but they have the best bounties. The Empire’s more comfortable…” he snorted. “Normally. And normally Empire bounties are easy.”
“Easy?” She raised her eyebrows at him.
He was unfazed. “They don’t fight back. They don’t expect someone to be coming after them. Never occurs to them someone might be trying to kill them. You – you lost me three times and then, well You know what happened at the end.”
““I’m not your typical Empire bounty,” she allowed. “And after what I did, I was pretty sure they’d be sending someone. It was the sort of mission where they had to, or lose face.”
“So they’re going to lose face. Or someone is going to try to-” He pushed her to the side suddenly, throwing his bag forward towards the driver
“What in the nine billion names of the Lady-” she didn’t actually get the entire curse out. She got as far as what in before the dart hit a finger’s-width from her shoulder. “Aurochs bollocks!” She scooped up her own bag and used it as a shield. “Are you hit?”
“Ng. No. Back up, he can’t reach you from over here.” He gestured, his hands saying something completely different than his words. Move forward and to the right. Check. She nodded her understanding sharply and slid down into the place between the seat and the front of the carriage while Carrone grabbed forward, just as another dart hit where she would have been, had she been following Carrone’s spoken suggestion.
There was the snap of bone breaking and then another snap that sounded worse, and something that sounded like a sigh that ended suddenly.
“It’s safe.” Carrone wiped his hands on the seat. “Damnit, I didn’t even think to check the driver. Red stars and blood suns, I’m off my game.”
“That’s two of us.” She leaned forward cautiously and checked out the front seat. “Let’s dispose of this guy and get moving. I can drive a carriage, but I wouldn’t mind you sitting up there to watch out for the next one.”
“The next one.” He snorted. “How many do you think there’ll be?”
“You tell me. After all, you’re the one who has a contact with the bounty hunters.” She shifted up to the front of the wagon, peering in both directions, and stripped the driver’s corpse of everything useful. He was carrying several more of those darts, along with a small pouch of gold and some more mundane weapons. “Well?”
Carrone wedged himself through the narrow doorway between the front and back and lifted up the corpse. “Devin. Pity. Good man, but he was always too slipshod with things and he never expected the target to fight back. Maybe he thought we’d work together on this, but he didn’t even bother to signal me.” He tossed the corpse to the side of the road.
“I’ll have to tell the patrol about that at the next stop, or they’ll be looking for a murderer.” Deline sighed. “I don’t actually like killing people.”
“I was beginning to get that impression. Lucky for you – or, I guess, clever for you, since you’re the one that trapped me – I don’t mind at all.”
“I was beginning to get that impression,” she echoed back at him. “I suppose you’re going to be useful in more than one way.” She clucked to the horses and got the carriage moving again. “So that’s two, you and him. I know I lost a couple but they might have caught up with me… Tch. I knew this was going to be a dangerous run, but this is exceeding expectations.”
“The Deklegion do not like being messed with, and it sounds like you messed with them pretty intently. Why would you do that?”
“Because I do my job, like you do your job. And my job involved sticking a thorn in the Deklegion’s paw to get them moving in a particular direction. I admit, the fact that that particular direction involved being very aggressive towards me was not… well, okay, i knew they’d be irritated. I did not quite estimate the sort of bounty that has several hunters eager to come after me.”
“It’s been a bit of a dry spell in the area?” Carrone shifted. “I mean. It’s a good bounty, but it’s not the best I’ve ever seen. Uh. No offense intended.”
“None taken. That explains a lot, thank you. So if people are hurting for something to do to earn money, then a decent bounty would seem like a good idea. I’m going to have to find a way to warn people off, or I’m going to end up with too many corpses in my wake – or both of us dead on the side of the road.” She frowned. “What would you do, if you were me?”
“Let me go and hurry home without any dead weight?” He smiled brightly at her, like he wasn’t really expecting that to fly.
She smirked tiredly back at him. “Okay, call that plan… J? K, maybe. We need a plan A and B.”
“Don’t go where you’re going.” The words seems half pulled out of him. “If they’re expecting you to go to the capital – and I was – go somewhere else. Now they’re expecting you on this route, so the best option is to leave this wagon somewhere that it’ll be found by the right people and then go somewhere completely different. I mean, you’re going to have to leave a pretty sparse trail for that to work with the better hunters, but you’ve probably already lost half of them with the tricks you pulled three towns back.” He sat back against the hard bench seat, looking wrung out and rubbing his wrists.
“That’s a good plan,” she admitted slowly. “I can do that, although that’s going to at least treble the amount of time it takes to get home.” She made a face. “Well, I’d rather arrive home late and alive than in a funeral procession and on time.”
“And missing hands and head or something else,” Carrone pointed out helpfully. “That probably makes for a pretty bad funeral.”
“Generally, in the Empire, we perform the funeral rites on only the bones. I suppose they could do something to fake the right ones…” She wrinkled her nose. “No. Let’s get us both home alive, and not leave our bones to mingle in the dirt in a ditch somewhere.”