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Next: 24 – the Bear
Carrone squirmed under her regard for a few moments before looking away. “I can’t talk about that,” he muttered. “I really shouldn’t have said that much. But the Empire – the Empire acts like they’re the only ones with the spirits on their side.”
“Considering how you complain about sorcery and magery-“
“That’s different! I mean…” He dropped his voice down. “I mean. Well. Sorcery has nothing to do with the spirits. That’s why it’s evil. That’s why it’s the sort of thing that you just don’t do. But this. I don’t know. Your ‘magery’….” He shrugged. “We should get some sleep. I don’t know where we’re going, but we can probably make good time if we sleep solidly and warm. Besides, last night…”
“…Last night was not exactly solid sleep,” she agreed. She considered all of the juicy morsels of conversation they’d left lying around. They would, she decided, have plenty of time to get back to those conversations while hiding from Carrone’s compatriots in the bounty-hunter business. She settled back into her bedroll, glad once again of her magery, whether it was heresy or evil or not.
She woke in the morning to Carrone’s breath on her face, his arm flopped over her shoulder, and the sound of his breathing far too close to her ear. Deline trapped against the back of the cave, she had nowhere to move, and his arm was heavy on her shoulder.
She considered him. He was sleeping heavily, pressed against her. His breathing was steady, if a little loud, and his whole posture was relaxed.
She couldn’t let him stay like this for long, but for a moment – maybe two moments, maybe three – she could let him sleep in.
What did he dream of? She’d been dreaming of home, of the apartment she had deep in the Imperial complex, of wandering around endlessly in the Complex looking for her Emperor, looking to give him her report.
She’d finally given the report to a stranger in the robes of the Emperor – not a dream that needed much close analysis, but also not one she was planning on sharing with anyone – and had been questioned thoroughly, in the dream, about allowing herself to die.
She’d explained that she hadn’t died, that she had been very much alive the last time she checked, and the Emperor-who-wasn’t had waved a stack of papers at her and insisted “That’s not what it says in the report.”
Deline winced. She wished Carrone better dreams than that, the sort of dreams that didn’t leave one twitching and miserable or, at the very least, the sort that were easy to shake off. She could still see the stranger in Imperial fur insisting that’s not what my report says. According to this report, you’re dead.
There shouldn’t be any report like that, right? There should only be the report that she arrived in-country, sent through secure means.
Had that… no. The report had been sent before she’d changed her travel plans. It, at least, could not have been how the bounty hunters tracked her down.
She swore in mutters under her breath. She needed to get back to the capitol. She needed to make her actual report.
She hadn’t seen her sister-wives, or the capitol, in over a year. She hadn’t seen her husband in Emperor in longer than that. There was always another mission. There was always another problem for the Claws – for the Claw – to handle.
She wanted to be home, damnit. Not hiding in a cave in the middle of Fox territory wondering if an assassin was going to slice her throat in the night. Not lying next to a stranger who had tried to kill her. Not eating her own cooking. Eating her own cooking. She’d rather sleep on a cave floor for months.
Carrone shifted and blinked at him. “Mmrr?”
“Yeah,” she agreed, having no idea what he was asking. “Exactly that.”
“Mrrg. Already?” He peeked out to the edge of the cave. “How? Urgh. Sun’s hardly up.” He peered back at her. “You’re awake though. Did you even sleep?”
“I – well, until dawn.” She looked at her pack ruefully. “I think we have enough of that bread from the last town to break our fast. Then we can head out.”
“Mmm. Or we could sleep for another few hours.”
“We can sleep when we find a place to camp that has actual walls, actual roof, and a place to light a fire.”
“You… are a task-master.” He glared at her through an expression that still looked half-asleep.
“Yes… Yes, I am.” She saw no reason to deny it. She dug through her bag instead, found the mentioned bread and a bit of soft cheese, and made up a slab for each of them. Much to her surprise, he offered a stick of sausage, so she cut off several thin slices of that and added them to the top of the bread.
“I miss hot tea,” she murmured. “Or, when I was down in Dekleg, the black bitter-bean drink they distill from these strange contraptions.”
“I miss beer,” he muttered. “And, though I never thought I’d say this, porridge. Eggs. Eggs on toast.”
“A hot meal someone else cooked. My own bed.” She stretched, but her arms just ran into the top of the cave. “My own room.”
He glared at her over his bread, although the expression lost something in his yawn. “Making my own decisions for myself. Knowing that after the job, I was going home to <i>my</i> own bed.”
“Not having people trying to kill me,” she countered. “Not being on the run for my life.”
“Not being on the run for my life with an Imperial Claw who pissed off the Deklegion so much they sent the whole cadre of bounty hunters after her.” He had put his bread down now and was putting all his attention into glaring at her.
“Not trying to manage a run precipitated by bounty hunters while having as my sole companion a bounty-hunter who can’t tell the difference between magery and sorcery and screams to the skies every time some trivial magery is used – until he wants to sleep comfortably,” she countered with some exasperation. “Someone who gets bossy and pushy and angry when he doesn’t know things that no Claw in her right mind would tell him.”
“Not-” He caught himself and looked down at their very comfortably cave bed. “Not being- all right.” He huffed out a little laugh.
Deline tensed. If he laughed at her, here and now, she was going to, she was going to-
“All right,” he repeated, with a snort. “All right. You’ve got me there. I’m stupid about your ‘magery.’ It was stupid to ask you to use it last night. I don’t know anything about it. I thought I was pretty damn good about your country, but I’ve never ever heard of magery. You got me.” He held up both hands, although his expression was still not friendly. “But I don’t have to like being dragged across a nation and enslaved under false pretenses.”
Next: 24 – the BearWant more?
Oh, like you were going to like being enslaved under honest pretenses.