Up above the barn was a loft stacked with rotting hay. On an overturned bucket in front of a dimly lit window, 11 sat with 12 by his side and another girl on his lap. She had yellow yarn hair tied up in a pink ribbon, a white canvas body, and another pink ribbon used to tie the blue vest around her torso. 13 stood beside 17, who hunched over to clutch her tattered knee shut.
"What were you thinking? You could have led the beast right to us. You could have gotten us all killed!"
"I'm sorry," 17 muttered. She fumbled with her broken claws and looked at 11's shadow on the ground. Her shoulders hunched every time 11 raised his voice.
"Ooooh, you're in trouble now," said the ragdoll on 11's lap.
17 glared at the yarn-haired girl.
"Quiet, 16," 11 growled at the girl.
"Sorry sir," she said.
11 looked at 17 again.
"And then to have those outsiders into our home. They could rob us in our sleep, or even kill us."
9 climbed up the old ladder of the loft and peeked over the wooden floorboards. 1 followed and they both stood to the side of 11's line of sight.
"I'm sorry," 17 winced again.
"It's not her fault," said 13 rather defensively. "It was my idea. I led them here."
"And what made you think that was a good idea?" said 11.
"They turned out trustworthy."
"But you should have asked me before bringing strangers to our home. You must be punished for your disobedience and wandering too far from home. You both must scrub the floors for a week."
"A week?" 13 whined.
17 looked up, but said nothing.
"Consider yourselves lucky," said 11. "Now get going."
"With all due respect," 9 said, appearing suddenly in front of 11, "17's been badly injured. She can't manage to hold anything."
11 looked down at 17. She lowered her head and lifted her broken and cracked hands.
"Hmm," 11 mused. "Or perhaps she'll scrub anyway, and the next time she wants to disobey me, she'll think otherwise."
1 walked in to watch the fight.
"You're not being fair," 13 scowled.
"Life's not fair. Now get going."
"I don't know," 1 intervened. "17's claws are pretty damaged. I doubt he"
"She," said 13.
1 cocked an eyebrow at 13, "what was that?"
"17 is a girl."
1 looked at 13 wide eyed for a few seconds. "Really?" he asked quietly. Then he shook his head and waved his hand, as though trying to erase the thought. "Look, point being 17 can't work with those broken hands."
"The point isn't the work, it's the punishment," said 11. "She needs to learn to obey the rules if she is to live under my roof."
"Trust me on this," said 1. "If you continue to be harsh, they'll only try to defy you. Right, 9?" 1's glance drifted over to 9, who laughed lightly.
"Hmm," said 11. "You make a good point, my old friend. Very well, 17's punishment will be postponed until she is healed. 13, get to work."
13 bowed and headed to find the cleaning supplies.
11, 1, and 2 sat in the loft and talked about the "good old days." 12 and 16 sat by 11's side. 3 and 4 went around every nook and cranny, trying to catalog everything. 5 found small treasures in which he could later turn into weapons or other useful items, partly for 17's hands and feet. 7 and 9 sat just outside the barn doors, watching the stars and talking. 13 swept up the hay and dirt from the bottom of the barn with an old paintbrush then scrubbed with soap and a toothbrush.
17 rested in her designated stall, decorated with colorful clippings of comic book characters. She lied on an old roller skate, one foot dangling, and watched 13 work. Once in a while, she'd toss to another position, and then do it again a minute later.
"Bored?" 13 called out to her.
"Yeah," 17 sighed.
"I'm sorry to say, but I can't play with you right now."
"I know," 17 sighed again. She rolled off the skate and walked to the edge of her stall. Sitting in another stall was 6, hunched over and drawing. After a while, he crumpled up the paper and tossed it aside. Then he sat on his feet and sighed.
"Go talk to him," 13 said to 17.
17 looked at 13, then at 6. She took a deep breath and made her way to where 6 was working. He didn't even seem to notice her presence and continued to doodle.
"Hi," she said.
6 stopped what he was doing looked up at her. He flashed her a friendly smile. "Hi."
17 froze. The corners of her mouth stretched into a nervous frown.
"W-whatcha doin'?" she stammered.
"Nothing," said 6. He looked at the blank sheet of paper before him.
"Shouldn't you be drawing?"
"Can't. Doesn't come out right."
17 looked at him, then around the barn. "You could draw what you see."
6 looked at her again, his shutters clicked with each blink.
17 rubbed her chin, and then smiled. "Wait here."
She dashed off and returned quickly with a clipping from a comic book depicting a super hero dressed in red and blue. Marking on his suit resembled that of a spider's web.
"Can you draw him?" she said, lifting up the clipping. "He's my favOW!" 17 dropped the clip and it landed right in front of 6. "Sorry, my hands still hurt."
6 dipped his fingers in ink. He started to work, lifting his head up once in a while to look at the clipping. Within minutes, he had replicated the drawing, though in his own style of haphazard lines.
"Oh, wow!" 17 gasped. "You're really awesome. Mind if I keep this?"
6 nodded, his shoulders hunched in a shy manner.
17 wrapped her arms around him and squeezed.
"Thank you, 6. You're the best!"
With that, she walked off with her new drawing to put it on her walls.
6 watched her leave. After a minute, he smiled.
"She is encouragement."
In the middle of the night, 16 made her way to 11's secret chambers, just out of earshot from everyone in the barn.
"Can we talk?" she asked.
"Yes, what is it?"
"It's about the newcomers. They weren't supposed to come here. This changes everything."
"This changes nothing! If anything, this makes it better."
16 stared blankly at her leader. 11 took her hands and looked deep into her eyes.
"Don't worry, my queen. I'll take care of everything."
The next day, as promised, 2 and 5 completed 17's new hands and talons. They wasted no time replacing her broken ones.
"You said it wouldn't hurt," 17 said, half-screaming as 5 and 13 held her down on an old sponge.
"I said 'if we do it right,'" said 5. "We can't do it if you keep squirming like that.
"Come on," said 13 soothingly, stroking 17's head. "These nice men worked hard to make your claws. The least you could do is be nice and still while they attach them."
17 whined, but nodded. 2 started taking off her broken ones. She let her arms and legs go limp, but the rest of her body trembled. She shut her eyes and strained her neck to avert her head as far away from her hands as possible.
For a while, all that was heard was 2 and 5's tinkering with 17's occasional quiet moan.
"Almost done," 2 announced.
"O-okay," 17 stammered.
In a few minutes, 2 spoke again. "Done. You can open your eyes now."
17 relaxed her whole body and looked at her hands. The wooden claws had been replaced with copper ones. She examined them.
"You said you wanted copper, right? So they look similar to your mahogany ones?" said 5.
"Now you don't have to worry about them getting chipped again," said 13 as she patted 17's head.
"T-thank you," said 17. "Thank you so much. I can't wait to test them out."
2 rubbed his hands on an old rag. "It was our pleasure, little one."
"I'm gonna show 6," said 17 as she dashed off.
2 chuckled. "Cute little thing."
"With those claws, she just might be a great warrior," said 5. "That is, if she learns to use them right."
"Lookit, lookit, lookit!" 17 came dashing into 6's drawing corner and showed him her new claws. "2 and 5 made them for me, aren't they awesome?"
6 held her fingers and examined them.
17 stopped and looked at him. Her optics widened and her mouth hung open slightly. She started tripping over her words. "T-t-2 and f-f-f-5 are gr-great-t. Aren't they? I meanthey're great at making stuff. They're cool, aren't they? I meanthe claws are. I meanso are 2 and 5."
17 yanked her fingers away from his grip. He looked at her and tapped his fingers together, making soft clicking sounds as he did. 17 placed her fingers over her mouth.
"Just wanted to show you," she said with more volume than necessary. With that, she dashed off into an empty stall. She trembled against the wall, catching her breath. She stared at the floor, frowning.
After a few seconds of silent thought, she pounded her fists against her head. "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"