The witch at the bottom of the pit, the monster-thing that was maybe not a monster at all, looked up at them uncertainly.
“Why would you care?” she repeated. “Why would anyone care?”
“Why care?” Fiery echoed, her bound hands going to smooth her own ragged hair uncertainly. “Families don’t.”
The witch nodded in agreement. “What she said. The people who knew me threw me out. The people who knew that one threw her out. Why would your people be any different?”
Karida sat down on the edge of the pit and dropped her Mask. Her extra-large feet and long, thick tail dangled over the edge. “We just fought you with Workings and magic. What made you think we weren’t the same as you?”
The woman blinked at her, the question obviously taking her completely by surprise. “How… What…?”
“How?” Fiery repeated. “HOW?” she demanded, urgently.
“We will teach you,” Amalie soothed the girl. “We will…” She hummed quietly, and then continued, “bring you, teach you, wash you, show you, sing you, reach you, wash you know you. Teach you, reach you, show you, know you; bring you, sing you, Bring you home too.”
The girl nodded uncertainly; Karida couldn’t blame her. That had been one of Amalie’s sillier ditties.
Down below her feet, the witch keened. “And me?” she groaned. “Would you leave me here, ignorant?”
“You know something,” Karida pointed out. “You could help Fiery’s people.”
“Not like you do. Not like,” she gestured at the stairs. “That sort of thing.”
“So suddenly scrounger trash has something you want?” Dor was, to put it mildly, cranky. Karida couldn’t really bring herself to blame him. “After you attacked us?”
“Humans have been using and hunting me for decades. They’ll do the same to your little captive there. It’s what they do, when their blood turns sour.”
“But you knew we weren’t from your village, if you knew we were ‘trash scroungers,” Dor grumbled.
“And? You with your girl there in ropes, do you think others of your kind haven’t done the same? Slavers, people-takers, food-stealers all of you. I don’t want to be stolen.”
“But you want to be rescued and taught?” Karida asked, caught up in the narrative.
“I don’t want to be left in a pit! If you’ll teach her, why not teach me, too?”
Amalie was frowning now, humming her tune slowly, as if she couldn’t quite get it to go properly. “Viper in the nest,” she murmured, “kitten at the breast, Wildfire in the hearth, candle burning bright thenceforth.”
Karida took that all in. “So she’ll either be fiercely loyal or betray us utterly.” She looked down at the witch. “That is a harsh chance to ask us to take, with our whole company at stake.”
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