Old friends are the best friends, aren’t they?
Atrocious looked from one woman to the other, caught up in helpless misery. “I… want to be free.”
“Eh, freedom is overrated,” Kira winked.
Ayla did not reply, she just rolled her eyes and shook her head. She stood with her arms folded under her bosom, an elegant long finger tapping an impatient tattoo on her arm.
“I don’t think so,” Atrocious argued bravely. “I don’t see what claim either of you have to me.”
“You’re getting a chance to have a say in your destiny,” Ayla cut in abruptly. “Don’t talk your way out of it.”
Atrocious didn’t know whether to cry or beg or yell. The situation she found herself in was so untenable, so unfair she could barely stand it. Neither of the two women seemed to be a particularly good choice, Ayla was an oversexed witch with control issues and Kira, well Atrocious was pretty sure Kira’s charm would soon fade.
“Tick tock, little girl,” Kira said, glancing over Atrocious’ head out the window. Her eyes narrowed slightly, as if she saw something she didn’t like at all.
“Fine,” Atrocious glowered. “I choose …”
“Shhhh!” Kira’s hiss cut Atrocious’ announcement short. The warrior held a finger up to her lips and pointed out the window. Ayla followed her line of sight, but Atrocious was unable to see what was going on at all.
“Soldiers,” Ayla noted in icy tones. “Friends of yours Kira?”
“Not mine,” Kira whispered. “Those are Imperials.”
“Imperials?” The word squeaked out of Atrocious, drawing malevolent looks from both Ayla and Kira.
“Of course this has something to do with you,” Ayla sighed before closing her eyes and muttering words far too fast and foreign for Atrocious to understand. The air in the cottage seemed to shimmer for a second, then cleared as Ayla opened her eyes once more. “We have two minutes, maybe less if they have a mage with them.”
“Imperials don’t use mages,” Kira said, still glowering at Atrocious. “What do they want you for?”
“Nothing,” Atrocious lied.
Kira moved fast. One moment she was standing several feet away, the next she had Atrocious grabbed up by the front of her tunic as she hauled her off the ground. “Don’t lie to me,” she ground out, her dark eyes boring into Atrocious. “Not over this.”
Caught up like a kitten, Atrocious whimpered. “I didn’t do anything. I promise.”
“You’re lying,” Kira growled. “You’re going to regret that.”
“Kira. Stop. We don’t have time to deal with her.” Ayla was moving about the room, packing items into a small brown satchel. Still caught in Kira’s grip, Atrocious watched with wonder as Ayla put scrolls, potions, even a pan into a bag no bigger than a man’s head. No matter how much Ayla stuffed inside the receptacle, the sides never bulged and it never became full.
Kira released Atrocious, letting her fall the few inches she’d dragged her up back to the floor. “Get up,” she ordered in harsh, clipped tones. The easy going façade had fallen away entirely and in its place was the demeanour of someone who expected to be obeyed immediately and without question.
Atrocious heeded the warning and scrambled to her feet. Without another word being spoken the trio made their way out the back door at a quick run. They were still within earshot of the cottage when the soldiers began shouting and demanding entry to the now empty cottage. The angry voices spurred all three of the women on as they made good their escape, quickly distancing themselves from Ayla’s forest home.
Atrocious quickly realized that an opportunity for escape was upon her too. Ayla and Kira were far more spooked by the soldiers than she was, maybe they wouldn’t care if she made a break for it. At the next fork in the forest trail she darted down the opposite path from Ayla and Kira. It didn’t work out. The moment she deviated from the path, Kira’s hand grabbed the back of her tunic and hauled her back none too gently, making her feet skim across the dirt.
It was one word, one little word and yet there was so much menace in it. Atrocious swallowed, nodded and didn’t make the smallest sound of complaint when Kira pushed her ahead, making her run in the middle of the group.