Teamwork in the Bear Empire

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A movement somewhere outside her window woke her in the middle of the night.

It’s the storm, she told herself, but Carrone had woken, too.  The noise from the storm had settled down to a quiet rainfall. There was very little wind at all, no sounds of sleet – but something had scratched across their wall.

The walls were more secure than they had been, but it wouldn’t stop someone from –

She rolled to one side of the bed and off as Carrone did the same on the other side.  The wrong side, too close to the wall. Just as they rolled, a dart went flying over the bed – it would have hit Carrone in the neck, if he hadn’t moved.

It landed in the nightstand instead and started eating a hole through the wood.  Deline mouthed a couple curse words. Whoever this was, they weren’t messing around.  And her bag was on the other side of the room.

Carrone squeezed under the bed and pushed himself towards her.  They were in near-darkness, nothing but the barest hint of light coming through the window.  Another dart hit the floor where he had been, making a noise like a spark hitting a fuse.

She tapped his shoulder, gestured towards their bags.  Another dart flew through the space under the bed as they moved quickly, slipping across the floor.  Carrone grabbed one back; Deline grabbed the other. Right here in this pocket –

Deline was pressed against the wall when her hand came out with a bag of some sort of powder and not the bag of spell components she’d been grabbing for.  She made a noise despite herself, then rolled to the side as another dart whooshed through.

She landed nearly in Carrone’s lap.  He caught the bag in her hand, pressed something else into her hand, and grabbed the pack she’d been carrying.

Had he -. Deline felt the thing he’d put in her hand.  Yes. That was right. She found three components by touch, reminded herself to wash her hands thoroughly and twice once they survived this, and drew a hasty half-circle around the two of them, both ends meeting the wall.

It just needed a little energy.  A tug, a huff of a breath, and the shield came up around them just as another dart found them, the little missile exploding an arm’s length from her face instead of right between their shoulders.  It was far too hot, far too close. “Sorcery?” she muttered.

There was a pause that she interpreted – perhaps correctly – as Carrone giving her an incredulous look.  “Alchemy,” he muttered. Next was the sound of something flying away from them, and a moment later, a bright light and several sparks lit up the other side of the room.

Not just the side of the room; they went right out the hole their attacker had been shooting through.   A muffled curse word was followed a moment later by a thump.

“Run!”  Carrone’s hiss was followed by a shove that caught Deline as she was already half out of their sheltered shield and on the way to the door – thus, it caught her mostly on the backside.  She took the momentum anyway, pulled the door open, and tumbled out into the hallway with her pack pressed against her chest.

They hit the stairs running and were downstairs and weapons-drawn (barefoot, their packs slung over two layers of linens in Deline’s case) before Deline had a chance to catch her breath.  Carrone’s hand signals were clear to anyone who had worked with Halor or Dekleg, which meant Deline had a broad idea of what he was getting at. Enough that she went around the building widdershins while he circled it sunwise.

It worked out so that he came up on their assailant from the front while the woman was standing up, clearly winded from the fall but just as clearly not going to let that stop her, and Deline came up behind her.

The hunter had a dart gun, probably holding another one of those nasty darts, out in her left hand and a short blade in her right.  Carrone feinted with his – Deline did not laugh, did not laugh, it was a decorative statue of the Fox that had been sitting on the mantle downstairs – holding the woman’s attention even as she tried to get the dart gun to her mouth.  Deline grabbed at the first thing from her bag – a scarf. Lovely. Well, if a statue was working… she dropped the scarf over the woman’s head and pulled it against her windpipe, twisting the cloth together behind the woman’s neck.

The woman went down, almost managing to get in a nice swipe at Carrone’s leg as she did so.  She swung her blade backwards and pricked the side of Deline’s face, barely scratching the surface.

It was enough to get the blood started flowing.  Deline held the scarf tightly while Carrone kicked the blade out of her hand and then the dart gun from her other hand. The woman struggled, trying to get a hand under the scarf.  Carrone grabbed her wrists and held them tightly.

It was over in a minute.  She slumped to the ground.  Deline held the scarf tight for another moment, until she was certain the woman was unconscious.

“So.”  She looked at Carrone.  “If we let her live, chances she’ll carry back the message that we’re not worth bothering with?”

“One hand yes, one hand no.”  He shrugged. “She might keep coming.  She might just run home. On the other hand, hold someone’s life in your hand is pretty sacred.  She might respect that.”

“Let’s give it a try, then.”  She lifted the woman over her shoulder.  “Back up to our room, I suppose.”


Next: Captive in the Bear Empire

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