This post contains some violence of the fighting brigands kind. If you do not like violence, you should maybe not read it, although that might pose a challenge in following the story.
Kira was off Atrocious in an instant and Atrocious could only watch wide-eyed as the warrior drew the short sword at her side and crouched down in the dark shadow of a nearby tree. The brigands were close enough to be heard, their stolen armor clanking as they rushed towards the three women.
“You picked a bad night to get lost in the woods!” The brigand leader snarled as he burst through the undergrowth, already prepared for attack.
Paralyzed with fear, Atrocious gasped. He was a fearsome man, large and broad, his a bare chest covered with hair so dark it could almost have been called a pelt. He was wielding a war axe, the blade already stained with dull blood. Ayla was the most obvious target standing tall and pale in the moonlight, her beautiful face impassive and he made for her with an awful cry, a brutal barbaric sound that made Atrocious shiver where she still lay.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The curved blade swung down towards Ayla’s head, propelled by thick burly arms. It seemed as though the blade would surely split her skull, but the witch raised her hand towards the brigand and something sparked into life in her palm. It quickly grew into a ball of fire, rolling and boiling against her palm. The brigand saw the flame, but it was too late, he had committed to the attack and his momentum carried him into the path of the fireball. It burst against his chest, hurling him backwards into the air. His cry of pain was as short lived as he was. A moment later he landed heavily in the scrub and lay unmoving as the hair on his chest blackened and burned.
Three other brigands still remained, one woman and two men. They did not seem perturbed by their leader’s demise. “Die spellcaster,” the female shrieked, rushing Ayla with a large curved knife. She was wild with rage, foaming spittle at the corners of her mouth as she waved the blade in a repetitive stabbing motion.
Ayla did not have to defend herself, for Kira was on the woman before she got into range. Her blade sliced through the air, catching the woman’s shoulder and cutting down towards her midsection. Atrocious shut her eyes and covered her ears, trying to drown out the screams as the brigand died at Kira’s hand. It was all so quick, so bloody, so utterly brutal and inhumane.
Seeing the fate that had befallen their comrades and realizing that they were now outnumbered, the two remaining brigands turned tail and fled into the depths of the forest. Atrocious missed their retreat because she was curled over on her side, vomiting into the bushes and shivering in shock.
She’d never seen anything like it before. Her sheltered life in the village had kept her safe from the sight of violence which Kira and Ayla seemed to be able to take part in almost casually. Neither of them had so much as flinched during the attack, they’d certainly not shown the slightest sign of fear. They killed without thought, without mercy, and she’d crossed them both!
When there was nothing left in her tummy, Atrocious emerged from the bushes to find the witch and the warrior deep in muttered conversation. They turned as one when she drew within earshot. “Will you be leaving now, then?” Ayla asked the question with a hint of a dry smile.
There was no way Atrocious was heading into the forest on her own. If she’d been caught alone with those brigands she would have been diced and sliced in less than a minute. She thought she’d known fear before, but the fear she now felt was an entirely different beast, a real one that lived and breathed and wanted to kill her for no reason at all. “I might stick around,” she said, shrugging offhandedly as if she weren’t making a massive concession.
“Then you’re going to have to tell us why the Imperials want you,” Kira said sternly.
Atrocious looked at her quickly, then looked away again. She’d been giving Kira a lot of attitude, but having seen her cut someone down made her feel much less like mouthing off. “It was nothing,” she mumbled towards the foliage. “I stole a horse from one of their soldiers.”
“But you were caught? How did you escape?”
“On the horse,” Atrocious admitted. “When I went to Ayla’s place I was looking for a saddle blanket or something.”
“Is that all?”
Kira made a low warning growl. “You’re lying.”
“I’m not!” Atrocious’ voice rose high in a shivery wail.
“They would not send soldiers after a horse thief,” Kira insisted. “Certainly they would not bother to track a horse thief down. There’s something you’re not telling us.”
“There’s not! I promise!”
“She could be telling the truth,” Ayla cut into the conversation. Atrocious smiled at her in relief. Ayla really was so nice, and so beautiful too. In all the tumult of battle she had remained entirely untouched, not so much as a hair had come out of place.
“What are the odds of a thief telling the truth,” Kira sneered.
Atrocious bit her tongue. She very much wanted to tell Kira to go boil her head, but the image of the brigand being sliced in two was still fresh in her mind. “I choose Ayla,” she said.
Kira snorted. “What are you talking about?”
“For my mistress,” Atrocious looked at Ayla with new-found respect and awe. “I choose Ayla.”