Ayla smiled, but gave Atrocious no answer in response to the declaration of her choice. “Come, we need to find better shelter for the evening,” she said, changing the subject to something of more practical weight.
The trio eventually took refuge in a little inn a few miles away. It was a simple establishment so there were no rooms to be had, just the hearth which provided a limited amount of comfort in the form of animal skins laid on the stone surrounding. Atrocious huddled to the side of the fire by herself, keeping silent and distant from Ayla and Kira. She tried to get some rest, but sleep was not an option. When she gazed into the fire visions of blood and violence danced constantly before her eyes. If she closed her eyes the visions became worse, more gruesome, more realistic. But in spite of her torment sleep would not be denied. As the hour grew later and her fatigue increased she started to nod off, tipping dangerously towards the flames.
“Hey, careful!” Kira took her by the arm and pulled her back from the fire. Startled into full consciousness, Atrocious emitted a small involuntary shriek of distress.
“What’s eating you?” The warrior frowned slightly and let go of her.
“Nothing,” Atrocious lied as she curled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.
“She’s afraid of you,” Ayla surmised. The witch had wrapped herself in her hooded robe and only the very tip of her nose could be seen catching the light of the fire.
“Of me? Why?” Kira’s brow furrowed. “I haven’t done anything to her.”
The witch turned her magnetic gaze on Kira. “You killed a woman in front of her.”
“You killed a man, why wouldn’t she be afraid of you too?”
“Maybe she is.”
“Stop it!” Atrocious piped up. “I’m not afraid!”
That was a lie nobody bought. “It’s okay to be afraid,” Kira said. “Especially if you’ve never seen a man die before. But…” She reached over and took Atrocious’ chin between her thumb and forefinger, holding the young thief’s gaze with her own solemn eyes. “Do not fear me. I acted in your defense.”
Atrocious knew all too well that without Kira and Ayla, both of whom had acted with extreme violence, she would have been at the mercy of the bandits and they had absolutely no mercy at all. Still, the same fingers that now held her face with a gentle tenderness had been used to bring quick and bloody death. That was not something easily overcome.
“Take comfort in the fact that they deserved it,” Kira advised her. “Take comfort in the fact that they will not slaughter any more innocent travelers. Take comfort that they did not suffer at the end – and do not make yourself suffer either.” There was something very heavy and very old in Kira’s voice, a wisdom with the weight of ages behind it.