First: Running in the Bear Empire
A dart flew over her head and thunked into the window. Deline rolled up to her knees and grabbed the knife she’d been holding to Carrone’s throat. She gauged where the dart had come from, rolled up several feet away from where she’d gone down, and found herself facing empty air for a heartbeat.
She turned and ducked down as another dart flew, just catching the edge of her tunic as she listened, this time, were there — of course there weren’t footsteps. A breath, another breath — if they fled, they’d come back again. If she didn’t move, they’d be most likely to flee.
Carrone’s trews were sitting on the floor between them. She gestured quickly to him; he nodded, scooped up the trews, and shifted to the foot of the bed.
She counted down on her fingers: 3, 2,1 — on one, he popped around the side of the bed and threw the trews in the air. The dart went through them as she took the second she needed to spot her target and threw her dagger.
It hit the attacker in the forehead with a solid thunk as Deline grabbed for her spell bag. Red poppy stamen, blue violet roots, the leaves of the hemlock plant — the woman had already moved, dazed but not out yet, as Carrone tossed a shoe at her — just as Deline realized who, exactly, was attacking them. The Eagle Talon from the forest. Deline was going to skin her. Twice.
The shoe hit the Talon in the head nearly as soundly as Deline’s dagger had, which gave her the split second to toss out her concoction in three arcs and chant out her spell.
She held her breath and gestured to Carrone to do the same as she ducked back behind the bed, but would the woman recognize the spell? A Talon might. A Claw definitely would.
She dug in her spell bag for something else, anything else. There wasn’t much left — pebbles. She didn’t have anything else to do a pebble-based spell with, not without shredding her sheets — which she would do if she had to — and bleeding all over the rocks.
But pebbles were pretty good just for throwing. A good Talon wouldn’t fall for the trousers trick again—
She popped up and three one pebble straight at the door. She couldn’t see the Talon. She stood the rest of the way up and exhaled slowly.
The Talon was on the floor, unconscious, flushed and already forming a rash. Deline snorted.
“Eagles,” she muttered. On the off chance that it was a trap, she moved carefully around the bed, only to have Carrone catch her arm.
“One rather than two,” he mouthed. In Haloran. It was a good thing she was very practiced at lip-reading.
She huffed and let him go, taking the moment to pull that spell-rope out of her bag. Not unpacking had been a benefit to her more than once already. Perhaps she just wouldn’t unpack ever.
“She’s out. She’s having trouble breathing — what did you do?”
“It’s not me, it’s — Eagles are more likely to be allergic to blue violet. She’s an Eagle Talon,” she added, usefully.
“Here, pass me that rope. I’m pretty sure nobody can — how does this thing work?”
The woman stirred and grabbed for the dagger, swiping up at Carrone. He batted her back down with the back of his hand as she wheezed.
Deline hopped over the bed and took the rope from Carrone, showing him how it looped and where it joined on itself. The woman gasped and panted and tried to say something, but her throat was clearly already swollen.
Deline rolled her on to side. “Could you strip her of weapons? Careful, she might have poison on her. I don’t want her to die — but I care far more about your safety.”
He searched the woman efficiently, finding seven weapons and two prickly poison traps, which he managed to circumvent. Meanwhile, Deline leaned out the door of her room, hoping to find someone she could send for help.
There was nobody in the hall at all. The place was silent.
Deline felt a chill go through her. She dug into her trunks for her old spell-pouch. It was possible — not likely — but maybe —
She found the things she needed — old, barely any life left in them, but it ought to be enough — at the bottom of two pouches and cast a spell in a fat-bottomed loop like an egg over the Eagle Talon. “There. You should be able to breathe for a bit.”
The woman laughed shakily at her. “You won’t.”Want more?