23 September, 2012

23 September 2012

There was to be no further discussion just then, as Einar scrambled to his feet, took a quick moment to check on Will, who remained sleeping comfortably in Liz’s parka hood, quite oblivious to any disturbance that might be going on around him, and started off up the slope.  Despite his recent shakiness and the difficulty he’d been having so much as keeping his feet beneath him, it was all Liz and Juni could do to match his longer-legged gait, once he got going.  Up through the timber Einar led them, his route winding and wandering in a manner than led Juni to wonder if its chief influence might be his own dizziness and an increasing difficulty maintaining contact with the world around him, but Liz knew better.  Though certain that they’d lost the cabin as a safe dwelling place—Juni’s mere presence in the basin had been enough to do that, her awareness that they were in some way connected with the area—he was still doing all he could to protect it, making certain that their guest would arrive so disoriented at the little plateau as to have difficulty finding the place on her own, in the future.

Unless, of course, she was either willingly or under some form of coercion carrying a tracking device of one sort or another, something which couldn’t be easily detected by the sort of search he’d had Liz perform on their uninvited guest.  Definitely a possibility, and though Einar doubted, based on his observations of her demeanor and actions, that she was knowingly hosting such a device, there remained a distinct chance that she might have received it without her knowledge, especially considering her close and prolonged proximity to the nerve center of the search.  Perhaps she hadn’t been quite so clever as she’d taken herself to be, and they had found her out, discovered her true purpose in the place and allowed her to remain only so they could take advantage of her presence to let slip a few key bits of information while also ensuring that she could be readily tracked when she went out to act on said tidbits.  Would not be unheard of, as a tactic, but aside from disposing of her in one way or another, there seemed little he could do to protect further against the possibility.  Could definitely interrogate her in more depth as to her activities while in Task Force headquarters, try to determine if and when she might have been compromised without her knowledge.

A good activity for a stormy evening, should one come along over the course of the following few days.  If they made it that long, any of them.  Probably wouldn’t if Juni was unwittingly working for the enemy and he…well, he wasn’t entirely sure he’d be seeing the top of the slope, the way things were going.  Heart was decidedly misbehaving itself, leaving him increasingly short of breath, faint, fighting a welling, billowing blackness that threatened to obliterate his world and leave him face down in the snow to miss whatever misadventures were to come at the top, but he mustn’t give in to it, and did not, seeking through tight control of his breathing and an intense focus on the trees ahead some semblance of relief from the growing difficulty.  Managed it, managed to stay on his feet, at least, and as he had wished, he emerged first out into the clearing before the cabin, fighting for breath but clear-headed enough to glance up at Muninn, who had returned some time before the straggling humans, and read in his demeanor an assurance that all was well there on the ground, no intruder present at the cabin and no sign of any such in the area.  Frail reassurance, considering the situation, but better than none at all, and it was with confidence that Einar stepped out into the snow and made his way to the woodshed, leaning heavily against its rough solidness as he waited for Liz, Will and Juni, surprised to find them a good five minutes behind him.  Appeared he could still maintain a pretty good pace, when required.

Juni’s eyes lit up at the sight of the cabin standing there so solid and sheltered against its overhanging cliff, arch of evergreens above providing full cover and the snow piled reassuringly against walls and door as Einar stood there beside it looking quite the wild man in his fur parka and wolverine claws, and she wished very much that Liz hadn’t insisted on confiscating her camera.  Despite her delight at the scene, it did seem quite odd to her that snow should be piled so against the door, as though no one had visited the place in a good while, and for a brief but terrifying moment, she suspected a trap.  Perhaps this was not their home, at all.  And if not, why had they brought here, this wild man and his equally wild and clearly somewhat protective wife…?  Stopping at the edge of the timber, glancing at ground, sky and trees as if half expecting some great force to come sweeping down upon her Juni hesitated and then it struck, a whirl of black feathers and feet and sharp, searching beak descending upon her like a miniature hurricane and knocking her from her feet with its first heavy blow.  Juni came up fighting, lashing out blindly at the silent fury that was doing its best to pummel her into the ground and had already drawn blood on her face and one shoulder, but it was only when Einar let out a strange rasping cry that the assault ended, Muninn sailing obediently over to land with a triumphant flourish on his shoulder.

“Doggone it you big vulture,”  Einar spoke softly to the bird, attempting to calm him,  “I do like your way of thinking.  Yeah, she’s an intruder, but a welcome one of sorts, at least for the moment.  I got a lot of things to ask her, and how am I gonna do that if you tear her all to shreds before she can get in the door?  I appreciate the sentiment and all, but unless you really do know something about her that I don’t and we’re in immediate danger, I’m gonna have to ask you to lay off for a while, Ok?”

Muninn chortled his reluctant assent and Einar, dismissing the bird with a little shove from behind, hurried over to the spot where Liz knelt beside Juni in the snow, doing her best to stem the bleeding from a nasty gash to the forehead.  Getting out of his snowshoes, Einar crouched next to the pair.  “Sorry about that.  He doesn’t see too many strangers around here, and can get a little possessive about his place.  He does consider it to be his, you know, from the meat stored up in the trees to the nice little spot where he perches beside the fire.  You Ok?  Lose any eyes or anything?”

Juni was on her feet, brushing the snow from hair and clothing and dabbing at her wounded forehead with a clump of usnea Liz had pressed into her hand.  “Why, is he in the habit of going for the eyes first?  Nope, I’m fine.  At least it wasn’t a wolverine!  Have you got a pet wolverine stashed around here, too?”

“Maybe.”  And he led the way around back, heading for the tunnel.

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