Deline froze. The voice in the cabin didn’t sound like the Talon, but she couldn’t be sure. They were both female voices, that was certain, and how, otherwise, had she gotten past the wards.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Fine. Settle in, here, have a drink, and we can wait for whatever you’re waiting for. But you can move that knife any time now.”
“What, so you can attack me?”
The accent was different. It was probably – probably – not the Talon.
“I’m not going to attack you. You attacked me first, remember? And we’re both Halorans.”
“Yeah, so what are you doing way out here in the middle of the Bear-Empire Mountains?”
“I could ask you the same thing. We’re in the same cabin together, after all.”
“I’m the one holding the knife.”
“I’m a bounty hunter. Tracking a bounty. What do you think I’m doing in the middle of the mountains? And you are going to ruin everything.”
Deline raised her eyebrows at the door, as if Carrone could see her. Was he always this good at lying or was he bringing it out special for –
Don’t be stupid, she told herself firmly. He’s a bounty hunter. He’s at good as lying as you are. And he’d told her something important – he had a knife held to him.
“Ruin what? You were sitting on your ass when you got here.”
“You have obviously never tracked prey before. Nine-tenths of it is sitting on your ass. The other tenth is fighting or throwing weapons or hoping you don’t get killed.”
“No, of course I haven’t done something like that. I’m not a degenerate who tracks down people for a living. And you’re here looking for a bounty?”
“I am. Deklegion got really angry at this Imperial Spy and sent me after her. So here I am, waiting for her.”
Deline was impressed. Almost everything he said was true. He might actually make a good spy – worry about that later. She snuck around to the side door fo the cabin, losing track of the conversation.
There, she spun out a quiet spell that made her movements inaudible, dusted her feet with the last remaining of her sage leaf for the wisest steps, and slowly – there was no point in relying on a spell when you could also just not be an idiot – eased the door open.
“-do you expect to keep me here like this? It’s not like I’m a useful hostage.”
“Until I know that Talon is gone. She’s been hunting me for weeks. It’s getting obnoxious. I just want to get out of here and get back home with my intel. Can’t do that if I’m dead.”
Deline snuck closer. The woman was black-haired and sharp-looking, a wicked blade casually held near Carrone’s throat. She had relaxed a bit; there was blood trickling down towards Carrone’s chest but she had two fingers-widths between the blade and his skin now.
“So you’re hiding out in an Imperial cabin so that an Imperial Talon doesn’t find you? That doesn’t seem like a good idea.” Carrone scoffed quietly.
“It is not!” The woman glared at him. “There’s lots of hunting cabins around here; this one looks just like the others.”
“Mmm. Check upstairs. You’re not going to think that if you see the bed. It’s bigger than some of those hunting cabins.”
“Are you an idiot? Lots of Bears have really big beds. I mean, they have these big marriages, lots more than they do in Halor, and so then they have the big beds.” She gestured with both hands, glaring at Carrone. “I knew one family that had seven small beds all down a hall instead, just big enough for two people. Maybe three if they squished. But-“
The missile hit her in the throat. In the time it took her to start coughing and flailing, Deline crossed the room. But by then, Carrone had pinned the woman to the ground.
“Spell-rope?” he asked.
“In my pack. Can you hold her that long?”
“Of course I can.” He kicked the woman’s knife away, then seemed to think better of that. “Can you-“
Deline handed him one of her blades and hurried over to her pack. The spell-rope usually spent entire missions sitting at the bottom of her bag, only coming out between missions for maintenance. This mission, she’d had it out three times now since she got home to the Empire.
She pulled it out in seconds. Carrone was still pinning the woman down, although she was spitting at him and fighting back as if her life depended on it — which, of course, it might.
Deline got the spell-rope on her with three quick knots; the woman didn’t so much relax as shift the way she was fighting. “You can’t hold me! I’m a Haloran citizen!”
“You’re in the Imperial Bedroom. I can hold you any way I want.”
She stilled, glaring at Carrone. “You know her?”
“I do. She’s my bounty.” He smirked down at the woman. “It didn’t turn out quite like I’d intended, but I’m getting used to it. I’d stop fighting; they only get tighter the more you wriggle.”
She stilled. “Sorcery.”
“Something like that,” he agreed, quietly. “But this is the Empire.” He glanced up at Deline. “What are you going to do with her?”
“There’s a Talon out there hunting her. I’m going to leave her tied to a tree where the Talon can find her and hope she leaves us alone.” She looked around the cabin and sighed. “I was really getting of like this place.”
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