They slept, not well, but dry and warm, pressed against each other in the tight confines of her little shelter. The rain stopped pounding after a while; she woke at one point to see a half-moon illuminating snowflakes falling.
When the sun rose, the world was wet, branches were broken, and parts of the world were still coated in ice. Deline pulled on an extra tunic and made sure her boots were dry and clean.
“It’s Spring,’” Carrone complained. “Don’t you people here know what spring is?”
“It’s the time when sometimes it snows and rains in the same day, and the temperatures swing from very warm to very cold without stopping to ask anyone’s pardon. There’s a reason – there’s several reasons – we’re the bear Empire.”
“Because only bears can handle this weather?” He dug a tunic out of his own bag, stripped off his outer shirt, and for a moment was shirtless in their little shelter.
“That’s one of them.” He had a very nice chest. She stared without worry or compunction. “Also, our weather at the end of winter is like a bear just woken from slumber.”
“That… yes. I can agree with that.” He looked at her. “Are you regarding my nudity?”
“I am – yes. I am. After all, you were planning on regarding my corpse.”
“I don’t think that naturally follows.” He pulled an undershirt on and then replaced his outer shirt. “So, in this demon weather of yours, are we likely to hit another one of these?”
“Not likely, not, but it will be a good idea to keep a weather eye out, and if we see solid, real shelter, to take it. The shield is nice in a small storm, but it’s still early enough that we might get a proper blizzard.”
“Dekleg doesn’t have to send hunters after you people,” he muttered. “Your weather will do it for them.”
“It’s more likely to kill the bounty hunters. Which, as long as I keep you alive, is a point in our favor.”
“I suppose,” he grunted. “The sun is up.”
“It is.” She pulled the last of her grain-and-honey bars from her pack and split it between them. “Let’s get some distance between us and our campsite – and any surviving bounty hunters – before the weather goes growly again.”
“What a lovely image.” He helped her pack up their bedrolls and then waiting, poking at the shield, until she brought it down, small shards of ice falling on them from where they’d frozen to the outside of their shield. “This is the sort of thing you do with… uh. With magery? And it’s not the same as sorcery?”
“It’s harder, it costs more from the caster, and it takes less off of the environment. That’s the short version. The long version is, ah, longer.” She rolled up her bedroll and finished erasing signs of their stay. “Let’s see.” Moving out of the shelter of the two walls gave her a nice look at the horizon and a face full of snow-carrying wind. “Oof. All right, if we can make a decent pace today, we’ll be in the mountains proper by the evening. From there, we can find or make a shelter. Once we’re well into the mountains, if we find a place we can use, we can fortify it-” A flicker in the air made her drop to the ground, just as an arrow flew past her ear. “Shit. Shit!”
“Stay down,” Carrone hissed. He moved towards the window-hole in the broken wall, just in time to nearly get hit with another arrow. “Damnit. How did anyone track us through that – that storm?”
“They must have been following clues or coming around to cut us off. We need to figure out where they’re shooting from.” She slide to the side of the wall and peeked out very low, almost at the ground.
This time, she managed not to get an arrow to the face. The horizon seemed clear, at least as far as the little hedge-row and wind-break of rocks and a few twisted trees. Could there be – she squinted, but she was too low down.
“I think,” she murmured, as she pulled herself back in, “there’s someone between the tree and the rock pile just to the left of the three bushes with the red wood, using the rocks as cover. Not sure how they found us, but that’s a good place to get a line on us. And there’s nothing between here and the road for cover, dammit.” She shifted position and reached into the side pocket of her bag. “I could- that’s not legal to use on home territory unless it’s an emergency…” Her fingers slid off of the spell-bag.
“You carry things that are illegal?” he hissed. “Why carry them if you won’t use them?”
“They’re not against Empire law to use in Dekleg,” she hissed back. “Right, one of us is going to have to draw their fire, and then the other one can get a line on them and take them out. I’ll draw their fire-”
“Don’t be an idiot. If you die, we both die. If I die, well, it sucks, but that’s still just one of us dead.”
She glared at him, but he was right. “Fine. You draw their fire, carefully, and I’ll move over to the other side and get a shot at them.”
“See? I knew you could see reason if you tried.” He pulled a very floppy hat from his bag. “Ready when you are.”
Next: Prey in the Bear Empire