First: Running in the Bear Empire
Previous: Waiting in the Bear Empire
“This is why Halor hates the Empire. You know that, don’t you? It’s probably why Dekleg hates the Empire, too.” Carrone wasn’t looking at Deline. She didn’t blame him.
“Probably,” she agreed. She walked alongside him, pacing him. As long as she kept walking, he would probably keep walking too. “It’s also why the Empire has issues with Halor and Dekleg – and a few others I could name. It’s mutual.” She smirked tiredly. She’d heard those arguments more times than she cared to remember.
“You used… what’s the difference, anyway?”
“Sorcery uses spirits and, ah, spirit-like beings to get done what it must. Magery uses a combination of the natural forces of the world and scholarly understanding. Sorcery requires moving around living things – souls, spirits, sometimes creatures. Magery usually only requires natural elements – usually stones and sands, sometimes plants.”
“What’s this, then?” He rubbed the Bear-stone bracelet on his arm. “It’s moving around a living being. Me.”
“It’s magery.” That was only mostly true, but there were secrets she wasn’t ready to tell him. “Everything that agents of the Empire do that looks magical is Magery. Sorcery – we don’t like it any more than Halor does. We just understand the difference.”
“Is it really understanding the difference if you draw an arbitrary line and don’t tell anyone else? That’s like saying that books with blue covers are acceptable, but not books with red covers.”
“It isn’t at all!” She shouldn’t get annoyed. She’d had this argument before. She took a couple steadying breaths. “We should start looking for a camp for the night.”
“What qualifies as a camp, for you? I can sleep under the stars with no problem.”
She pointed, exasperated and with no real point, at the cloud formation in the south. “That might be headed this way.”
“Okay, so a roof would be better.”
“I have a tent in my pack. Don’t you?”
“Well, yes, but it holds one. Wait, if you have a tent, why did you- you know what, it’s going to end up being like that magery thing, isn’t it? Something that doesn’t make any sense to anyone but you.”
“I am not the only one who sees a distinction between magery and sorcery. There are entire schools of philosophy to that end.”
“Well, Madame Philosopher, not all of us have time for such things. Some of us have to-” He fell quiet. He gestured up ahead, and then continued, in a much more conversational tone, “Do we want to be noticed being casual or do we want to risk being noticed being sneaky?”
He was walking much more slowly now. She followed his gesture; there on the path ahead of them, not really paying any attention at all, was a couple, seemingly engrossed in their own thing. “Let’s be noticed being casual,” she murmured back, and started in – halfway through – on a story about her cousin’s husband’s sister.
He put in the appropriate noises of disbelief, confusion, and so on, sounding for all the world like someone who was use to this sort of gossip and knew who the people she was talking about were.
They were into a proposed wedding that she, in her persona as a horrible gossip, definitely disapproved of by the time they walked past the couple. the couple, in turn, was talking about – well, it might have been a wedding of their own from some of the looks they were giving Deline.
She didn’t relax or stop feeling the target on the center of her back until they were well past the couple. Then she broke into giggles, at first very softly, and then, as Carrone shot her a strange look, in earnest.
“They’re just… Oh, it was just… they’re just…” She shook her head and finally managed to make some sense of her own words. “Life goes on. No matter how strange things get in my life, no matter how outlandish the politics get, any of it. Life just… goes on. People get married and they have kids and they get in fights, all of it.”
He was not looking like she was making sense; if anything, he was looking more and more doubtful. “Life does that, yes. People live and die. It’s not like it stops when you’re not looking.”
“I know, I know.” She put up both hands, and then chuckled again. “Oh, by the greatest bear, now I’m being lectured on life and death by a bounty hunter.”
“Did you… did you drink some bad water? Or some bad berries, I don’t know? Have you been sneaking something while I wasn’t looking, poison or something?” He looked both lost and a little angry. “Yeah. Life happens. Since when is this funny?”
“Since I went from high intrigue and spying, sneaking around a nation and being chased by bounty hunters to sneaking around in the back woods of my own nation, gossiping about fictional weddings.”
He raised his eyebrows at her. “This is – heh. I suppose it’s a bit of a come-down for you, isn’t it?”
And as quick as her giggles had started, they stopped. “You know…” She looked at him, considering him, their surroundings, and the way she’d just laughed like she couldn’t remember laughing in years. “I don’t know.”
Next: Rainclouds in the Bear Empire