It was another hour before they cleaned up the dishes from their dinner, packed up everything in their packs, and lay down together on a bed that was surprisingly comfortable. Nikol made a soft noise as she settled in. This was – well this was good.
Aran laughed. “You can’t be surprised that it’s nice. You were just telling me about putting curtains on your tent, right? You’re good at making a place feel like home.”
“Even with a giant slug somewhere outside.” She wriggled a little bit, getting close enough that Aran could touch her. The thing about the keeping bond was, it was reinforced by touch, but it also reinforced wanting touch.
And he was cranky enough without giving him the thing that the back of his brain was insisting he wanted, even if he didn’t know it.
“Even with a giant slug out there, yeah. At least I dealt with the rat problem.” He rolled onto his side, seeming unaware of the way his feet were pressing against her legs. It wasn’t much touch, no, but it wasn’t like they were lovers. They were barely travel companions.
“You did. They made a pretty decent stew, too.” Her stomach was pleasantly full. The bed was comfortable, the companion in the bed was warm, and there was a solid roof over her head. All she was lacking was a shower.
She’d figure that one out when they got out of the city. For now, she needed sleep. She focused on her breathing until it settled down, sent her senses out to fill the building, and drifted off to sleep.
Her senses noticed the cats coming up to them before she did; somewhere in her sleeping mind, she recognized them as friendlies and didn’t object when they leapt onto the bed. They were big, heavy cats, and one pinned down her legs while the other took a spot between her and Aran. They made the bed that much warmer.
They woke before she did, too, when something started pushing at the outside of the building they were in. She could feel it through her power, shoving at a doorway, forcing its way in. She could feel it in the world, too, the way that the building was shaking. She couldn’t tell that it was the slug, but she had a pretty good guess. How had it tracked them?
More importantly at the moment, what was it going to do? Was it trying to knock down the building or to get to them?
Aran was already awake and tense. “Horses,” he grunted. “Which way-?”
“Front entrance. So we take the back.” Their explorations had told them that much. “I don’t know if it can get up, but-”
The building shook again, punctuating her comment.
“But it might be able to bring us down. Right.” He hopped out of bed. “We packed?”
“By the time you get the horses geared, we will be.” She was already moving, shoving her feet into her boots and pushing her supplies into her bags. It would be a mess when they made camp again, but that was better than the alternatives.
He had the horses geared at the same minute. They guided the skittish, unhappy horses towards the back stairs while the cats ran ahead of them, headed back, and repeated themselves, as if urging them to hurry up.
“They really like-” Nikol was interrupted by a tremor of the building that got the horses whinnying in protest and the cats diving for the ground outside. “Shit. Okay, okay. Rocks, you’re good with rocks, there’s rocks here, right?”
“Got it.” He gritted his teeth and started – through those tense teeth – doing a Working that, although mumbled, sounded like he was shaping them a ramp.
It was almost too late. They coaxed the horses down the ramp – a rough wedge, it didn’t look like he was having much luck with the rock – while the building started to crumble behind them. They threw themselves on the horse’s backs almost in unison and started riding, the cats running alongside. Aran did some sort of clucking call and both cats jumped up, landing one on each saddle behind the person sitting there.
Then there was a giant green slug in front of them and they were wheeling their horses, galloping through the city, leaping over what was probably supposed to be a barricade, and pounding pell-mell through someone’s camp.
Someone got off a shot at them, and then another one. “Slug,” Nikol screamed at them, “following us!”
That led to three more of them shooting her, but by then Aran had gotten a chance to spit out a couple surreptitious Workings and the bullets just seemed to keep missing them. The slug didn’t go all that fast, but it didn’t seem to stop. And that whole camp was in the way of it now.
“This city is a cesspit,” she muttered. “And that thing is going to keep following us…. wait.” They were out of the camp and moving down what had probably been a pretty nice area, back before the End Times. There were still a couple statues standing, and the remains of what looked like it had been a very nice park.
She closed her eyes and let her horse do the navigating. First, they needed to get out of the city. Second, they needed to know what the slug was following. Or just… “Salt.” She opened her eyes. “I don’t know what it’s following but I bet if you fill a good half-mile of our backtrail with salt it’s going to lose the trail. That gives us time to figure out what, exactly, it’s trailing us with.
“Salt,” Aran grumbled. Behind them, they could hear more gunshots. “You think it’s going to survive that?”
“I think we’d better not bet on it not.”
“Salt it is, mistress ma’am. Gonna have to make a new saying: the road outta hell is paved in salt.”
“Yeah, well.” She looked back the way they’d come. “Let’s just hope we’re going out.”