That night, they camped under the dubious shelter of a quick lean-to in the middle of a dense stand of pine trees. The weather cooperated in precipitation, if not in temperature, and Deline woke to find herself pressed against Carrone for warmth.
They were quiet as they walked, working out all of the kinks and sore spots from sleeping on the ground, and when a trader passed them, he left them well alone. Deline imagined they must look like they were in a horribly foul mood, dangerous people you didn’t want to get too close to.
The gendarme who came upon them several hours later clearly wasn’t worried about that. He glowered at them and asked them questions about a recent robbery nearby and several other issues – thankfully, none of which they’d been involved in.
Part of the gruffness, Deline was fairly certain, was that Carrone looked outlander, and she, well, she looked like she belonged to the Bear Empire, which she did. When the gendarme would not drop the issue, she showed him her badge of Imperial authority, the one that had gotten her into Dekleg and back out of it, and that was, although grudgingly on the gendarme’s part, that.
“You have a free pass?” Carrone muttered, when the gendarme was well on his way. “Then why are we sleeping in the woods instead of requisitioning someone’s house?”
“Because,” Deline answered, with the careful slow patience of one ready to snap or shout, “that would leave a very obvious trail. ALso, while I could make a case for being on Imperial business —”
“Coming home from an imperial mission and all.”
“Ahem. Yes. We don’t do that here. Not more than we have to, at least.”
“You just use sorcery instead.”
“Magery.” She looked ahead at the clouds rolling in. “Speaking of magery…”
“What, are you going to cover my tracks again? Make me dance?”
“I was thinking of possibly covering our heads from the rain.”
“What, a cloak-hood isn’t good enough for you?”
“Well, it’s a nice start.” She pulled up her hood. “The last house we passed was, what, an hour ago? We’re not going to make it before this weather comes through.”
“It’s rain. We can get wet.” He started walking with longer strides, stomping.
“You,” she commented dryly, “are clearly from a southern nation.” She didn’t have to rush to keep up with him, but she did indulge in the thought of using the bracelet or some magery to slow him down — or to speed her up.
“What gave it away? The hair? The accent?” He ran his hand over his hair.
“Well, those don’t help. But people from the Bear Empire do not say just rain.” As if it would explain her point, she gestured again at the clouds, growing darker and closer by the moment.
“I didn’t say just,” he protested. “I said it was rain.”
“It’s a storm and it’s still coming in to spring. You couldn’t try to kill me in the summer?”
“You wouldn’t piss off the Deklegion in the summer or late spring? I didn’t start this, lady.”
“No.” She skip-stepped a couple steps to keep up. “Look for some sort of shelter.”
“Because there’s rain coming. Can you tell me what’s so bad about this rain?”
“Storm, not rain. Storm. See that? It’s going to come down cold, and it might come down solid. It can rip through tents. It can rip through hoods sometimes. And if it comes down bad enough, if can freeze you in place or rip through your skin.”
“That’s not rain — that’s like straight from the third Hell.” He stopped and turned to stare at her. “That’s not a real. Some sort of sorcery storm? Some attack?”
“No. No. That’s the Bear. She’s not sorcery or magery, she’s the core of the Empire. She’s just… temperamental.” And the storm looked like it was going to be a big one. “Nothing for shelter?”
“You know, I physically can’t not look when you order me to, it’s the whole thing with this piece of crap sorcery you locked on to me.” He waved his arm at her.
She didn’t bother correcting him this time. She was too busy watching the sky — and the side of the road, where there was not even a stand of trees to pretend to be shelter, nothing but field and more field. “I know. It’s not like I didn’t lock it on you.”
“Then why ask when you know I’d — is that something?” He pointed ahead. “Shit, that’s a fallen wall, I think.”
“Better than nothing. Come on. If we run we can make it.”
The next four minutes would remain among the least favorites in Deline’s memory. Halfway to the crumpled pile of stone, the storm reached them. Water that started as rain and changed halfway to frozen splats of ice-water and slush started hitting them, not like it was simply falling, but like someone was throwing it at them.
They were nearly drenched by the time they skidded in to the dubious shelter of two windward half-walls and three ceiling joists, and the rain was getting worse, both harder and colder.
“This isn’t going to protect us from anything,” Caroone shouted over the wind. “And a tent won’t stay up, even if this demon rain of yours wouldn’t cut through it.”
“Just hold your cloak over this area for about… a count of a hundred. I should be able to do something in that time.”
“More sorcery. Shit.” He sheltered both of them and a smallish area with his cloak while Deline scrambled with powders and a stick. A line, a splash, quick as she could, another line straight up each of the would-be walls. “There. Sit down, quick, against the wall.”
He did so with a thump. She waved her hand, incanted five words as loudly as she could, and thumped down practically on top of him as the walls of light and force and heat came up and around them.