The next day, Atrocious and Ayla set off for Clitera City. They rode in a little horse drawn trap which Ayla drove. Atrocious was content to sit next to the half-elf witch, wrapped in a blanket and making the occasional disparaging remark about potatoes.
“Remember,” Ayla said. “Rogette lives in Clitera City now. We are going to stay with her in her tavern.”
“Fancy fancy, Rogette and her tavern,” Atrocious said, glowering at the passing wildflowers. “Is there not somewhere else we can park ourselves?”
“You will be comfortable there,” Ayla replied. “She is eager to receive us. She sent word by carrier pigeon this morning.”
“Oh I bet she’s eager to receive something,” Atrocious muttered. “Did you pack your best carrot dildo for her?”
Ayla’s cheeks dimpled with a smile. “You are never going to let that go, are you?”
“You harvested her potato that day,” Atrocious said. “Her filthy potato juice.”
“Please,” Ayla said patiently. “It was necessary.”
“Was it? What did you ever do with that potion?”
“Look! A rainbow!” Ayla changed the subject.
Atrocious narrowed her wrinkled eyes at the witch beside her. “I don’t want to stay with Rogette. I don’t want to watch you two rutting.”
“Rogette is more than a hundred years old,” Ayla said. “I think she is beyond rutting.”
“Hmph.” Atrocious’ suspicious look did not abate in the slightest. She wrapped her blanket more tightly around her thin shoulders, veins visible in her bony hands as she clutched at the fabric.
“We will all be together again,” Ayla said. “Besides Kira, of course. Poor Kira.”
“Poor Kira,” Atrocious echoed. “I never thought she’d let a giant eat her.”
“That wasn’t what happened,” Ayla replied. “It was a pack of shifter she-wolves.”
“They ate her?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Ayla said. “I heard she was found dead from exhaustion under a pile of nubile young ladies, having made love to them all.”
“No, that can’t be right.” Atrocious scowled as she searched her memory. “Didn’t Kira go to Iskendar?”
“Oh, perhaps she did.” Ayla agreed. “But I heard she had returned…”
“I heard she became Queen of the Amazons,” Atrocious said. “Which is strange, because I don’t know who the Amazons are.”
“A jungle tribe,” Ayla replied. “But were there not reports that Kira became the head of the Imperial Army?”
“Whatever happened, poor Kira,” Atrocious said, shaking her head.
“Poor Kira,” Ayla echoed in agreement.
“Poor Kira,” Ariadne agreed, making Atrocious and Ayla startle. The high witch turned out to be hitching a ride on the back bar. She certainly hadn’t been there when they departed, but she was there now, face a’swirling, eyes a’burning.
“Listen,” she said. “This is all very well, but you’re going to need to hurry this journey along. You can portal yourself to Clitera City, Ayla. I will take Atrocious the rest of the way.”
“It can’t be that much of an emergency, surely.”
Ariadne snapped her fingers. In an instant, Ayla and Ariadne were standing on the high wall of Clitera City’s cliff border, looking down at the nigh unconscious figure of a woman. She was damp, soaked to the bone by rough weather which she’d obviously made no attempt to escape.
Ayla looked down into the pale, bedraggled face and saucer wide eyes which stared but did not see. The summoner’s chest was rising and falling shallowly, indicating life, but little else.
“This cannot be her.” Ayla refused to believe her senses even as she crouched down and touched cold skin. The summoner’s fingertips and lips had taken on an unhealthy blue shade. She was likely not an hour from death.
“But it is. This is what happens when you show up ten years too late,” Ariadne said. “This is what happens when you abandon your responsibilities.”
“But the summoner, she has power,” Ayla said. She removed her cloak and placed it over the prone woman, then reached into her robe for a salve. She began dabbing it on the summoner’s lips. “This one has discovered hers, you said. Surely someone who has remade the world a half dozen times can work out how to get in out of the rain?”
“She has talent. Talent is nothing. The world is full of talented people dying in ditches,” the high witch replied. “Now. Do your job. I will do mine.”