First: Running in the Bear Empire
You should be able to breathe for a bit.
Deline tensed, but there was no poison in the air — nothing of the sort would’ve survived the spells on the room, explaining why the Talon was awake already. It was the room of an Emperor’s wife, after all. You couldn’t risk someone just walking in and poisoning a wife – or the Emperor himself. “Strange threats from a woman tied up on the floor.”
“Do you really think I was working alone?” The talon coughed again and then hissed. “You saved my life. You miserable-” she ended in a hiss as Carrone grabbed her hair and yanked, shoved a handkerchief between her teeth and tied another one over her mouth.
“I know she’s having trouble breathing,” he muttered, “but she was going to have more trouble if she kept that up. Here’s your trews. Who are we going for?”
“Put her in my trunk, if you would? There should be room right now, but put down the duvet first. We -” she wasn’t going to argue the we so instead she took a moment to pull on her trews. “We’re going to find the Emperor. And, mmm. There’s more, but we start there.” She pulled her weapons out of her trunk as Carrone grabbed the duvet, belted them on – and her spare spell-belt – as he put the Talon in the chest – and handed him her spare blades. “This is going to be bad,” she murmured. “They’re in the Imperial Complex.” She hissed out something that wasn’t quite a word, more of a shudder voiced. “And they’re in the Claws.”
“Do you think they’re targeting -” He closed the lid and made a small noise as the spell-locks sealed themselves “-damn sorc- magery – targeting you, the Imperial Household, the Claws, or trying to start a war?”
“I don’t know,” she murmured. If they were targeting the Claws, then her lieutenants would be the first target. If the Household, then then Junior Wife or the First Wife would probably be next. “I don’t know,” she repeated, a little louder. Where she went could save lives or lose them and it was all on her shoulders.
“Hey.” Carrone took her shoulders and pulled her towards him. “Hey, look at me. Deline. ‘Line. You have managed to be cool and collected through how many near-death experiences? Come on. Who do we talk to first?”
She squared her shoulder. “First, the Emperor. We send a runner to get my lieutenants. And we – we go from there.” She wiped the blood from Carrone’s throat with her thumb. “Thank you.”
She slipped on shoes; he did the same. She checked herself very briefly in the mirror and checked her weapons more thoroughly, nodded at Carrone; then they left.
The halls were still empty and silent. They moved as if they were at war, checking each intersection carefully, ears peels for any footsteps.
It wasn’t that far from Deline’s rooms to the Emperor’s, but at this time of day, he should be in his office, and that was far enough to offer a buffer of space. She checked his room anyway – empty, silent – and on the way checked the Senior Wife’s room.
Empty, silent. That was not all that surprising. Aucheria spent most of her time out in the capital town or meeting with people in the guise of social lunches and friendly teas, light parties and walks in the park. She would be out somewhere in the town right now; her second husband Gacharre was cut from much the same cloth and was probably, this time of day, sitting in with a bunch of musicians on the edge of the Magpie Quarter.
She murmured this in short lines to Carrone, who nodded; the people who lived here not being here right now, that made sense. But the sheer silence-
“Someone made a point of clearing the area.” He frowned. “Pethiarrie? She doesn’t seem to like you all that much.”
“Someone could have bribed the staff,” Deline agreed slowly. The next intersection was clear again. “This place, there’s always someone. People everywhere, you know?” Normally, she hated it. Normally, it felt stifling and crowded.
Right now, she wanted the movement of staff and the noises they always seemed to leave even when they weren’t there.
“That’s a lot of bribing, if last night is anything to go by-” he put up a hand and slipped into the next intersection ahead of her. She heard a Haloran curse and then a squeaked sound like a stifled scream.
“Safe,” he called. She stepped around the corned – carefully, just in case – to find he had a man up against the wall – probably Imperial staff from the tunic, not a Claw and not someone Deline recognized.
He recognized her, though; he squeaked through the arm Carrone had on his throat and lifted an arm towards her; Carrone snarled in warning and he fell quickly quiet.
“Let him speak, please.”
Carrone eyed her in question but released the man, who knelt quickly. “Lady De. There is – there is something going on. I can’t find anyone, and nobody is doing the work they should be doing.”
“Ararin. I’m a clerk in the Black Tower.”
“Ah. Thank you, Ararin. Carrone, he is safe to release. Ararain, go to the Tower and tell the Chief what you’ve told us, and anything else you think the Chief should know. We are going to see the Emperor.” She hesitated. “If you see any of my lieutenants on the way, send them there, and if you see either of the Emperor’s other wives, the same. Thank you.”
He stood, bowed, and left at speed. Carrone watched him dash off.
“Runs fast for a clerk.”
“That’s because the Black Tower clerks are – interesting. Not quite the way my Claws are interesting, but interesting anyway.”
“I have a feeling I’m missing some nuance of the way you’re using the language. This way?”
“This way,” she agreed. She stepped forward into a doorway just in time to see something fly at her.Want more?