Aran was staring at her. Nikol wished she had a real answer for him, but she didn’t think he’d like knowing that she’d spared his life on a whim.
She shrugged instead and took a big bite of her own food. “Yeah. I’d had enough. Me, alone, I’m not enough to take them down, but I might not have been the only one to run, either…. what?”
He was staring at her. “You want to… take down… the Mountain?”
“Don’t you?” She took another big bit of her food. “Not like, today or anything. But yes. I would like to destroy the Mountain eventually.”
“Is that why you-” His gesture was unclear, but she had a pretty good idea what he was talking about.
“No.” She shook her head and finished her bite of food. “No. I took you because it was that or kill you, and I was sick of killing.”
“Taking down the Mountain is going to involve some killing,” he pointed out. “Or dying. Maybe both.”
“I know.” She huffed quietly. “I don’t have a plan yet. That’s about … a third of why we’re running.”
“What’s the other two thirds?”
“One,” she pointed at herself, “two,” she pointed at him. “That’s not numbers against what the Mountain can bear down on us.”
“So you want to… what? Gather an army?”
“I do.” She looked him over. “I want to regain my full strength, finish healing you, and stop running. Not here, obviously.”
“Obviously.” Aran looked downwards, as if he could see the slime inching up the stairs, and shuddered.
She stretched her power out to fill the building. “Nothing in here but us and the horses. Well, some rats.”
“Mmm, rat sandwich,” he muttered. “I miss sleeping someplace that didn’t have that as an ‘of course.’”
“Eventually. Two more days and we’ll be far enough away – if nobody has caught up with us.” Nikol resisted the urge to knock on wood. They seemed to be doing fine. On the other hand, the Mountain had seemed like just another employer until she started listening in on officers’ meetings.
“We have to survive this place, first. You’re sure there’s nothing else here?” He looked back over his shoulder like there was something in the wall.
“Look, even the rats are small. We’re going to be safe here for the night, and then we can move on.” She finished her food and wiped the bowl with her fingers, cleaning it out.
“Not going to send me hunting the rats, then?”
“No. If you want to, I’m not going to tell you not to, but we don’t need it and it’s not all that useful.”
“I’m not tired yet.” He shifted uncomfortably. “I mean. Rat fur makes good gloves.”
“Be careful. Not an order, just… a request. And be back before true dark.”
He bowed, his expression settling back into something sardonic. It looked more comfortable on his face. “Yes, ma’am, of course, ma’am.”
She didn’t answer, which let him leave without them getting into it again – which he did quickly.
That left her to – well, what?
She dumped out her pack onto the table and sorted everything out. She oiled her boots and the horses’ tack.
She did a little minor Working on their bed-thing to make it more comfortable. She re-packed her pack, making sure everything was where she could find it.
She searched rooms in a careful spiral out from their chosen hide-out, looking for anything useful, and came back with very little – except one strange pair of shoes, two pairs of pants, and a skirt that, were she not spending her days riding, might actually be nice.
When she got back to their camp, he was still not back. She laid out the pair of pants that might fit him across the bed and played with a cardigan she’d found. It was far too bulky and strangely cut to try to take with them, but it she fiddled with it with a few little Workings, she might be able to make it a decent blanket
She had just come back from grabbing a second cardigan – had every person in this office owned one of these strange things? – when Aran returned, carrying a plastic bowl in one hand and a pile of small pelts in the other.
“Rat stew,” he muttered, dumping the guts into her little cookpan. “Better than nothing. With the right spices, pretty good actually.”
“Let’s see what we’ve got,” she offered, but then he pulled out a series of spice jars from his pocket. He deposited them on the table and sat down with the little rat pelts. Not so little, she noted; some of those had been some pretty big animals.
“Took out a colony,” he muttered, not looking at her. “Two tom cats helped. I gave them all the guts and about a tenth of the rats.”
“Seems like fair pay.” She didn’t quite look at him, either; she rummaged through the spice jars and picked a few. They’d be stale by now, but a quick Working rejuvenated them. The spices, in turn, and a little bit of bourbon rounded out the flavor, hopefully, on the rat meat.
“I like hunting,” he muttered not at her. “I don’t like being told to do things. I mean. Told, sure. Not… I don’t like not having a choice.” He was looking anywhere but at her.
“I was starting to get that feeling.” She stirred the meat and didn’t look at him, either. “What are you going to make out of the pelts?”
“I was thinking gloves. Working with leather is pretty easy. I can probably get two pair out of this lot and have some left over for something else.” He glanced over her way. “You didn’t tell me to go hunting.”
“I didn’t.” She met his gaze levelly. “I did tell you to come back.”