First: Running in the Bear Empire
Deline skidded around a corner that was far too slick, looked down at the ground and realized that she was slipping on blood. Her stomach turned. There were two Claws on the ground, people she knew, and another one she didn’t know. One of them was still breathing.
“I’ll see what can done. Go.”
They finished the sprint to the nursery to find the doors barricaded, a spiky curtain-rod and two swords poking out at them from between pieces of furniture. On the ground, another stranger was down.
“Well done,” Deline breathed. “Lerthin?”
“Lady Dedenarrion? Lady, is it—”
“Are the children safe?”
“I am not a child,” Aucheria’s youngest informed her. He was on the other end of that sword, it looked like.
“No. Are the children safe?”
“Yeah. Scared, angry, want their own swords — they’re safe. We’re all safe.”
“Lerthin, Mother Bear blessss you.” She blinked. “Father Snake blessss you.” There was still the shadow of the Snake in her. “The emperor and Aucheria are safe. I’m safe, as far as I can tell. We did what we could in the governors’ rooms. I’ve got to— Oh, blessings of the guardians.”
She slumped against the wall as Pakkon, her Fang of the Snake lieutenant came around the corner with seven other Claws.
“It’s a single-claw coup attempt,” she told him, just as he tugged out the necklace from his shirt and gestured at those with him. Every single one of them had at least two claws or fangs or talons or horns.
“Aucheria told me. Gacherre went up-compound, Floren went down compound. We’ve lost some good Claws.”
“And some tainted ones. I need four people to go get the prisoners in the governors’ compound. Has anyone found —” She met her lieutenant’s eyes. If he knew about the two-claws, if he’d spoken to Aucheria, he’d spoken to Mesaruxenne.
“The Emperor and Aucheria are going with a guard after her themselves. He is — reasonably — personally offended. Dedenarrion— Chief among us Deline, you need to verify all of our loyalties. You know you do. Aucheria has the potion ready to go.”
She hissed. “Every Claw.” She knew it, but that didn’t mean she had to agree with it or to like it. Not with that potion. “Every person serving in the Compound.”
“Every Governors’ staff,” Carrone put in. “It’s going to be years of housecleaning.” He looked, she thought, interested. “And tracking people down.”
“And here you thought you’d be bored,” she teased. “Come on, then. Let’s get started with the clean-up.”Want more?