First: Running in the Bear Empire
Deline shifted, not quite meeting Carrone’s gaze. “How do you think you know anything about this?” she snarled, the first thing that came to mind. What was she doing, anyway?
“I’m a hunter, Deline, I think I know about being hunted just a little bit. For starters, let’s get back to the – the place before we finish this argument, shall we? In case our friend gets loose or someone else is looking for you.”
Deline set her jaw and nodded. “Back,” she agreed. She stalked towards the cabin, barely minding things like cleaning up her trail. What did it matter, when the Haloran spy was probably going to tell the Talon exactly where she’d been, anyway? And then the Talon would put two and two together and-
Carrone, she noticed, was checking and cleaning their back trail. The spike of guilt made her snarl again. What did he know? This invader who’d tried to kill her and then spent the whole trip complaining, whining, carrying on, and hating everything that had to do with her nation?
She caught up with her own train of thought and snorted. Her nation, hrmm? And she was the one that kept saying she wasn’t all Imperial.
She huffed as she checked their back trail – pristine, of course; he’d know what to look for, wouldn’t he?
“We don’t know – I don’t know – if I have a spy or a leak.”
It was a sobering thought.
“So talk me through why you think you have one.”
Carrone being calm and reasonable was almost more sobering.
“All right.” She placed one foot in front of the other and focused on their path to pull her thoughts together. “Three things: one. Someone in Dekleg knew, if not who I was, what I was. Two. That assassin in Ghomau. The one in the carriage I could say, maybe, was almost as good as you-“
“Thank you, but why almost? We both got caught.”
“Maybe I like you better.” She smirked. “Maybe it’s just because he gave himself away before attacking, when I wasn’t expecting an attack and neither were you, while you were tricked because I knew someone was following me.”
“I’ll accept that. So, maybe he managed to track you that far. But the woman in the inn-?”
“I think she had to have an inside source. We were doing everything right. We weren’t being obvious – there is nothing that strange about a Bear woman and a southern-looking man travelling alone on the road – and we weren’t leaving a trail, at least not an easily-readable one. There was no reason to assume that we’d do anything but keep going directly to the capitol.”
“The problem with that: and I’m just looking at both sides of the paper,” Carrone warned her, “is that we didn’t tell anyone, either. We spoke to a few people, but there was nobody who knew what we were doing.”
Deline slumped. “That’s true. We just changed paths. Which would mean that if there was a spy, it would be one of us, which I think is -” It hit her like a fist between the eyes. If there was a spy.
“Well, I doubt it’s you.” He shifted a little. “It’s not me. You can make me tell you that, you know. Maybe you ought to.” He took a step backwards.
She took his hand and started moving more quickly towards the cabin. The spy didn’t have to be a person. The spy could be a thing.
“Hey.” He tugged backwards on her grip. “What’s going on?”
“I’m an idiot is what’s going on.” She couldn’t do it with magery, so she’d ignored the whole concept. She’d forgotten her teaching; she’d forgotten what you could do with sorcery and a determined mind.
And enough sacrifice.
“It’s really not me. I meant it, you can order me to tell you the truth. I’d rather you did, actually. Deline? What are you-”
“How did you find my trail?”
“I – I tracked you. I followed the stories of the woman I was looking for, and there were a couple false leads – blonde women are not that uncommon around here – but I just, well, kept looking.”
“So you did it the old-fashioned way.” She nodded and kept walking. “Come on, I want to get back to the cabin.”
He growled and moved with her tug. “What other way is there? Old fashioned? I didn’t bribe that many people and I didn’t use someone else to look. I didn’t use sorcery. Is that what you’re asking?”
“No, no. That’s – well, I can’t imagine you using sorcery,” she admitted. She picked up the pace, tugging him along with her. “I thought you were good. I thought you were really good. The question is – there can’t be that many really amazing bounty hunters in the land. I mean – there could, I suppose, but I find it unlikely.”
She felt the edges of the wards and let out a breath. “I think I know what happened.”
“You- could you share?”
She hurried into the cabin and un the stairs. She dumped her bag on the bed and began pulling everything apart. Tunics, unfolded. Socks, unrolled. Sweater, shaken out. Soap box opened.
“What are you-” Carrone stared at her. “What are you doing?”
“I’m looking for something that doesn’t belong. Go on, you should do the same too, so I don’t have to. Something that isn’t part of your luggage. Even a pebble, though it’s probably bigger than that.”
“Have you gone mad?”Want more?