The next morning Sacred Grounds still reeked of the chemical smoke the ghouls deployed to flush out their prey. The place is ransacked, but livable. Sneaking on tip-toes into my bedroom, I give it up as a futile effort, seeing as the mammoth that is usually asleep beside the bed is spread across Sanya’s legs… graciously, Ripley accepts her belly-rubs, tongue lolling out of her mouth. His smile is the brightest thing in the predawn shadowed room.
“I do believe ”/characters/brittany-winters" class=“wiki-content-link”>your horse likes me." He chuckles, it’s like a thunderstorm in baritone rolling up from his stomach. After a second, he winces from the movement and I’m at his side in an instant, pushing Ripley’s considerable mass off of him.
“Get off of him you Cuddle-Slut. Can’t you see he’s hurt?” Sanya grunts as Ripley rolls to her feet and as she tries to negotiate the topography of the occupied bed, she places one of her oversized paws firmly into the area well-meaning animals always manage to find. The air rushes out of Sanya in a grunt and I can’t help but laugh. The Knight of the Cross attempts to fix me with a cold stare as the hound makes her way downstairs to hoover up whatever food she can find, it only serves to make me laugh harder. I move to the bedside, setting lightly on the edge.
“You’re gonna have to get out of here if you ever want to get back into any kind of fighting shape… otherwise my pet monster will kill you with kindness.” I smile and it’s nice to wear a real smile, it seems like it’s been too long.
Smiling he nods, “Da. Also, you will be wanting your bed back.”
Shaking my head, “Oh, that’s ok… it doesn’t get used that much anyways.” I realize how that sounds a second too late and as his eyebrows climb towards his hairline, I start feeling the heat of embarrassment in my cheeks. “I – I mean that I don’t sleep well, most nights.”
Quickly bringing this portion of the conversation to a close, I stand, slapping my hands against my thighs as punctuation. “Well, a healing boy needs breakfast. I’ll be back in a sec… gotta feed the brontosaurus too.”
Heading downstairs, the sun properly making it morning, as I start to fix breakfast I about jump outta my skin at the banging coming from the back door. Moving quickly, spectral ax at the ready, I’m poised to fight as I swing open the door to findJane, Grace and a few other girls who look like they’ve been sleeping in an alley.
Dropping the axe, it fades back into the Nevernever… or where-ever it goes, before it hits the floor. “Ladies… it’s barely morning. What can I do for you?”
Jane steps up, she looks embarrassed… like she’s going to ask where babies come from.
“We…know you help people…we want to work, but…we want to know how to…how to fight, to stand up for ourselves. To many monsters prey on us and we want to make them pay.”
At this a wave of determination sweeps through the assembled girls, fists clenched and faces resolute. They’re going to fight whether I help them or not. With a deep breath, I gather my thoughts.
Nodding to them. “Alright… If that’s what you want, I can help. I know you all know the stakes, but I have to lay it out for you. This isn’t a game, people will get hurt.”
For a second, my breath hitches in my chest, the face of Bobby Chan floating to the surface of my thoughts. Wiping at the corner of my eye, I look back to their faces. “People Die.”
On that somber note, I step back to allow them in, those that will still come. I’m not shocked when they all slide past me into the shop. All of them meeting my gaze, that same determined look. Without a word, they start cleaning up the store, setting the tables and chairs back to right. Jane, showing a bit more initiative starts directing the others as to what goes where and with Ripley’s needs and the cleanup effort in their capable hands, I take Sanya his meal and a change of bandages and clothes.
When he asks who’s making all the noise downstairs I can only shrug and reply…
“That’s my new Barrista Brigade.”