Deline found that she was staring at Carrone; rather, she realized that she was staring at him when he shifted uncomfortably.
“So,” she spoke carefully. “You want a life, a life that isn’t being a bounty hunter any more. You want someone to go home to at night, or someones, a marriage or a joining. You want people you can look at as partners, as equals; you don’t mind being the junior in a marriage, though, as long as you have a place. But you were planning on settling down and then you went after the wrong rabbit. Am I close?”
“That’s – that’s it, yeah.” He huffed and lay down on the floor, staring through the glass at the fire. “That’s it. So you see why you – you being the wife of the Emperor, that means that you’re in line for the throne when he dies, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t – you probably shouldn’t make it sound like it’s an imminent thing,” she protested. Continue reading →
By the time they reached the cabin, Deline was thinking that maybe she should have let Carrone carry her after all – except he was not in any better shape than she was.
She stopped him when they could see the stone roof of the building and walked widdershins twice around the place until she could find the wards and their key, and then used her personal token as Claw to unlock those wards – in this case by taking her necklace and, with a quiet incantation in a language that had been, if her sources were correct, already old when the bear made this land, sticking the necklace into the hollow of an ancient tree.
“Now we can go in.” She gestured him forward.
“What would have happened if you hadn’t done that little dance?”
“The house might have eaten us in our sleep – or possibly, nothing at all might have happened. This way, it will keep other people a decent distance away.”
“Your magery is a strange, strange thing.” He shuddered. “I don’t know how it isn’t sorcery.”Continue reading →
One drop of blood slid down Carrone’s neck. Deline watched it. He hardly breathed.
He could stop her. He didn’t have – she didn’t think he had orders against stopping her. Perhaps she should have written down everything she’d ordered him to do.
“Why?” she asked. She was proud of herself that her voice sounded mostly casual. She didn’t feel in the least bit calm, casual, or laid-back about the matter. She was actually a little bit fond of him. “Why would you want that?” Continue reading →
Deline had started it because he wouldn’t stop about the “wife of the emperor” business, no more than some courtier trying to curry favor or some spy trying to dig up information. She’d finished the question because she found herself curious, even though she was aware it wasn’t exactly a nice question.
Carrone cleared his throat. He looked at the next hill before them, looked back at her, and started walking.
Deline followed, setting a pace that wouldn’t leave her looking at the back of him the entire trip.
At a very narrow flat spot, just barely big enough for the two of them, he paused. “Obviously you think I’m good enough for that,” he pointed out, his eyebrows raised as if challenging her to deny it. “How many nights have we spent together already? Continue reading →
The dream ended the first time at about the first scene below, after the viewpoint character was Undergoing A Complicated Challenge In the Nether Realms, but she was definitely the daughter of (someone important in hell) and (someone female important some other way). The story has been tiddling around in my head since.
“That’s a nice collar.” Her fingers brushed the air near it. “Would you like to wear mine instead?”
“Dey…” Chris’s words were a warning. “You just saw her…”
“I saw her climb out of the Nether Realms like she owned the place.” Dey was a little impressed. He was also more than a little turned on. “And now she wants to put her collar on me?” Continue reading →
Dark Hermione, complicit Harry, post-books and ignoring the Epilogue.
This is mad magiscience, with most of the actual results being offscreen, but it still involves attempting to reproduce the effects of the Imperius Curse without using an Unforgivable, and it does involve human (wizard) experimentation.
Stupid Bears… Deline found her hands clenching into fists. “Don’t,” she warned Carrone. “Don’t. Don’t say that. Not the Bear, not the Fox, not the Lynx. Don’t.”
His head jerked up and his lips curled back in something that might have been meant to be a smile. “Is there anything else my lady would like to demand of me?”
“It’s not a demand, you bull-headed git. It’s advice. It might be – there are living bears and foxes, living lynx and elk, and sometimes those make us very angry. Or kill us,” she added more quietly. “But we don’t insult them. We don’t insult them because this is the county of the Bear, and because The Bear, The Fox, The Lynx, The Elk, all of them, they are here, and they listen.” Continue reading →
“I suggest,” Deline murmured, her voice as low and her body as still as she could manage,” that you try to stay relatively still until I move. Also, if you are prone to praying, now would be a good time for it.” Behind him, she move her hand very slowly towards the biggest cluster of berries. “And when I move – hold your breath. It would be a good idea to close your eyes, too.”
He grunted in the affirmative. She watched the bear, hungry and ponderous, shifting towards them as it sensed that they were actually prey. She could hear Carrone’s heartbeat, his breath that he was struggling to keep even. She got her hand as far as it would move under the cover of Carrone’s back.
Please, Mother Bear, she prayed again, and in one quick movement, she grabbed the berries, crushed them in her hand, and threw them at the bear’s eyes.
With her other hand she grabbed Carrone and hauled him backwards. They tumbled back together, running before they got turned around, and dove into the cave. Continue reading →
Deline spent a few minutes focusing on her breakfast. The bread was actually quite good; she’d have to remember to mention the place to other Claws who happened to be in this corner of the Empire. Assuming, of course, that the man didn’t sell them out to the bounty hunters.
Carrone was hung up on false pretenses and she wasn’t about to kill someone just to prove to him that she was, as a matter of fact, willing to kill. So there was no point in arguing that with him.
The cheese was good, too, and the sausage was actually very nice. She sipped water from her canteen and considered him.
“I don’t expect you to like it,” she said, when her mouth was empty. “That’s never been a requirement. I don’t think you’d like being dead, either, or being actually enslaved.”
“What do you call this?” He shook his cuffed wrist at her. “Seriously? I can’t go against your orders!”
“I call it being bound into the Bear. Being tied to the totem. Being my unwilling companion. If you were my slave, you’d be wearing a collar and shackles and be doing a lot more work,” she added dryly. “So far, mostly you’ve just had to walk a lot.”
Carrone squirmed under her regard for a few moments before looking away. “I can’t talk about that,” he muttered. “I really shouldn’t have said that much. But the Empire – the Empire acts like they’re the only ones with the spirits on their side.”
“Considering how you complain about sorcery and magery-“
“That’s different! I mean…” He dropped his voice down. “I mean. Well. Sorcery has nothing to do with the spirits. That’s why it’s evil. That’s why it’s the sort of thing that you just don’t do. But this. I don’t know. Your ‘magery’….” He shrugged. “We should get some sleep. I don’t know where we’re going, but we can probably make good time if we sleep solidly and warm. Besides, last night…”
“…Last night was not exactly solid sleep,” she agreed. She considered all of the juicy morsels of conversation they’d left lying around. They would, she decided, have plenty of time to get back to those conversations while hiding from Carrone’s compatriots in the bounty-hunter business. She settled back into her bedroll, glad once again of her magery, whether it was heresy or evil or not.
She woke in the morning to Carrone’s breath on her face, his arm flopped over her shoulder, and the sound of his breathing far too close to her ear. Deline trapped against the back of the cave, she had nowhere to move, and his arm was heavy on her shoulder.
She considered him. He was sleeping heavily, pressed against her. His breathing was steady, if a little loud, and his whole posture was relaxed. Continue reading →