Running in the Bear Empire 36: Guests

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She watched the pebble flow true and thunk hard against a forehead before she had time to process who was standing there.  No weapons out, no Imperial insignia, not someone she knew — they looked startled and took three steps back.

She dropped her slingshot in a pouch and grabbed her longknife.  “Hello.” If they had darts, they’d be going for a pouch; a wrist-dagger, they’d be shifting their wrist, a sword or blade, reaching for their back or thigh.  Sher shifted her weight to her back leg and got ready to block with a wrist or an elbow if she had to.

The woman had her hand halfway to her neck when the “Hello” seemed to make her pause.  With her hand still hanging in the air over her shoulder, she cleared her throat. “Hello.”

“Are you here to kill me?”  The woman had the same blonde Bear-family hair as Deline, the same blue eyes and broad shoulders. Probably not a Deklegion bounty hunter, but it didn’t do to take stupid risks.

“Depends.”  The woman rubbed her forehead where the rock had hit her.  “Who are you?”

Deline let herself relax fractionally. “Who are you here to kill?” she countered.

Of course, she could be lying.  But Deline couldn’t treat everyone like they were here to kill her.

“Haloran spy.”

Deline tensed.

“That’s not me.”  Halorans didn’t tend to have the Bear look to them.  Most of them… looked like Carrone, or narrower and a little darker.

“Didn’t think it was.  supposed to be a short woman, which you aren’t, a black-haired woman, which you aren’t, and a killer —”

“Mmm?”  Deline raised her eyebrows in challenge.

“…which you could’ve been if that had been a sharper missile aimed lower. You hit right where you meant to hit.”

“I did.”  Deline relaxed a little more.  “Who you hunting her for?”

“Governor.”  She tugged the talon necklace out from her shirt neline.

Deline was not carrying her claws, not on an undercover mission. But there was more than one way to identify yourself to another Claw – or in this case, Talon.  She considered several of them and then nodded instead. “Good hunting, sister. If I come across this spy, I’ll tie her to a tree for you.”

The Eagle Talon rubbed her forehead.  “I think you will. I’ll stay out of your hunting range, then.”  Her eyes dropped to the brace of rabbits hung from Deline’s belt.  “Good hunting yourself.”

The tension didn’t truly leave Deline’s shoulders and back until the Talon was far out of sight and even a spell, whispered to the air and flung to the breeze, couldn’t detect her presence.

Then, making sure to leave no backtrail, Deline headed back to the cabin.  She could trust a Talon. She knew she could. But she had been tracked, even accidentally, and it put the hairs on the back of her neck standing up and made her want to snarl and hit people.

She came around a tree towards their camp, thinking of rabbit stew and forcibly trying to stop her teeth from grinding.  If the Talon had known who she had – but no. That was a stupid risk, right now. It was not a good idea to take stupid risks when she needed, they needed to get back to the capital with all of her information, to find out who, if anyone had b-

There were bootprints in the ground that were not hers or Carrone’s.

She slowed, stopped.  If that Talon had come back here – tracking her?  Looking for her prey here – just looking for a place to rest and thinking Deline was the interloper – it could get messy quickly.

She tracked the boots slowly through the dirt and mud until they reached Carrone’s, and then followed as the two sets of prints moved together towards the cabin.

She readied a spell slowly, barely breathing the words, and readied two of her knives as well.  The second shot would not be a pebble. She’d already warned the woman.

The door to the cabin was open.  She could hear low conversation.

“I’m definitely not who you’re looking for.”  Carrone’s voice was conversational, light-hearted.  “I mean, I think you knew that already.”

“I’m not looking for anyone.”

“Then you wouldn’t mind leaving before this gets awkward.”

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