In the early afternoon, 10, 13, and 17 scrubbed the floors of the barn using old toothbrushes for their punishment. When no one was within earshot, 10 crept closer to 13.
"Can I talk to you?" he said.
"Of course," she said.
"It's about 11. I wasn't sure at first, but now it's getting hard to ignore."
13 tilted her head.
10 took a deep breath and stopped scrubbing, "I've been thinking 14 and 15 wouldn't just start using the bodies of our brothers, unless if they were receiving orders." He looked at the ground. "I think 11's the culprit."
13 jerked back and stopped scrubbing as well, "How can you say such a thing? 11 may be strict, but that's no reason to betray him like that."
"You've disobeyed him. Many times," he said, cocking an eyebrow.
"Yeah, but I would never betray him like that. He's kept us safe from the cat beast."
10 folded his arms across his chest. "I'm starting to think that was his doing, too."
"Listen to you," she scolded. "You've never liked him, but now you're talking about treason. Have those months of isolation made you paranoid?"
"You don't believe me?" he took her arm gently, but she pulled it away.
"You've changed," she got up and continued to clean far away from 10.
17 walked over to 10.
"I believe you," she said.
10 smiled sadly, "at least somebody does."
As night approached, 10, 13, and 17 decided to call it a day and put away their cleaning tool.
17 made her way to 6's stall. He had fallen asleep on one of his drawings on his stomach. He snored slightly with his arms above his head.
17 shook him gently awake. 6 shot up and looked around.
"Huh? Wha?" He looked at 17 and smiled brightly. "Hi."
17 managed a sleepy smile back, but it melted off her face again.
6 blinked at her, the smile gone from his face.
"Remember when you first came here and you said 11 was a betrayer?" 17 spoke softly.
"What did you mean 'betrayer'?"
"Just that," he said, scratching his head. "He's the betrayer."
"How do you know?"
"Visions," he pointed to his head with his ink-stained finger.
17 got on all fours and leaned in to listen, "Tell me the vision about 11."
6 closed his optics. 17 stared at him in silence.
"I see the face of the betrayer, but not the body. His body is made of metal. His eyes are red." 6 started to shake, but he kept his optics closed. "He destroys everything that gets in his way." He finally looked at her, fear reflected in his optics.
17 mirrored his concern. "Do you know when he'll strike?"
6 shook his head. "I saw the betrayer of my visions months before the one in life." He tucked his knees in his chest and wrapped his arms around.
She looked at him for a few seconds before wrapping her arms around 6's hunched figure, "I won't let him touch you. You have my word."
In the next stall, 16 pressed herself up against the wall, listening to every word. She smirked maliciously and snuck away.
The next day, 17 was still sleeping in her stall, trying to recover from the long night with the beast and long day cleaning.
7 came over and tapped her lightly with her foot.
17 opened her optics and looked at her.
"Get up, sleepyhead," 7 cooed. "We've got training."
"Just five more minutes," 17 mumbled.
"No. Get up," said 7 as she tapped her skull-met down with her spear. "After that encounter with the beast, you could use all the training you need. I know you want to fight, but you need to learn to protect yourself."
17 sighed heavily and got up.
"Don't be so afraid," 7 said, clashing her spear with 17's. "Fight me!"
"I don't want to hurt you," 17 began before 7 swing her spear to 17's feet, causing her to trip. She landed on her back with an, "oof!"
7 pointed her spear at 17's neck.
"You're too soft," she said. "Your enemies will not be soft."
7 leaned over to help 17 up.
"Try again. This time, aim to kill."
7 lunged at 17, who blocked the attack, but almost fell over.
"Fight me!" 7 demanded.
17 leaned forward and swung her spear at 7. Their blades clanged together again and again before 17 stepped forward and hit 7 in the head with the other end.
7 was jarred, but she regained herself quickly and gave an approving nod to 17.
"Very good. You're starting to get it," 7 panted. "Let's take a break."
They found a good rock to sit on, catching their breath. After a minute, 7 spoke again.
"You have great potential. Your friends will appreciate your protection."
"Protection?" said 17.
"Yes," 7 nodded, but grew quickly solumn. Now listen carefully, I want you to remember this rule."
17 leaned in closer, optics wide with anticipation.
"A warrior never abandons those in need," said 7.
17 blinked once.
"Why would I abandon someone in need?"
7 leaned back with her arms holding her up behind her. She looked up at the brown sky.
"I just think about all the times I saw my companions fall. I sometimes blame myself, telling myself I needed to be stronger."
17 pressed her shoulders closer together, clasping her hands between her inner-thighs.
"Did you ever abandon your friends?"
7 sighed, "Sometimes I think I did. Like when I ran away from the cathedral because I couldn't stand 1's rules."
She leaned forward again and shook her head.
"But that's all in the past. Feeling better now?"
"Good, then let's get back to training."
7 and 17 returned just as the sun went down. After a long afternoon of running, jumping, sparring, and hand-to-hand combat, 17 barely made it to her stall before falling asleep. She entered into the corner with a stack of books and pages torn and pinned to the walls. She placed her spear next to an old towel bunched in the rotting hay, her bed. She fell face-first and fell asleep in that instant.
7 started yawning. She made her way to where she and the original 9 slept in their corner of the barn.
"Hello," she chimed as she entered their quarters.
9 fumbled with his hands. "Hey, where were you all day?"
"Training 17. I promised her I would." She put her skull-met and spear beside her bed of old rags.
"Where were you?"
7 crossed her arms. "You're not a very good liar."
9 smiled innocently. "What? I was out scouting with 5."
7 rolled her eyes, "I'm too tired to argue." She rested on top of her bed. "Tell me in the morning."
"But the night's still young. You like staying up" 9 stopped when he realized 7 was asleep. "Must have been rough training."
He watched her sleep for a minute before he walked over to her and placed a hand on her face. She sighed and rubbed her face against the old rag. He stroked the side of her cheek.
"I've got to find that talisman."
In the silence of night, a foot tapped 17 awake.
"Not agaaaaaiiin," 17 moaned, her voice heavy with sleep. "No more training. Can't we wait until morning, 7?"
"I'm not 7."
17 opened her optics to see a yellow yarn-haired girl standing over her.
"16, what are you?"
"No time to explain. 10 needs your help outside."
"He does?" 17 shot out of bed.
"He's fighting a ferocious, uhh
monster outside. But he can't do it alone."
"I'll go help him!"
17 grabbed her spear and ran out the door. She looked around in the darkness until she saw two figures in the field between the barn and the house. She ran up to them, they were already more than halfway to the house. Against the pale light of the moon, she made out the figures of 6 and 10.
"6, what are you doing here?" she said.
"16 told me you were out here," he said. "She told me you were in danger."
17 shook her head, one eyebrow cocked. "I'm in no danger."
"He's right, though," said 10. "You need to go back in the barn. It's too dangerous out here."
"But 16 said you needed help," she protested.
"No," 10 said sternly. "You can't fight, and that's final."
10 walked toward the house. 17 frowned and gripped her spear so tight, her hands shook.
"Please, let's go back," 6 begged. He touched her arm, but she ran off to the house. 6 ran off after her, crying out for her to come back.
10 looked over his shoulder as he ran. "Listen to your friend," he called out. "This is not for children."
"I'm not a child!" she protested. She suddenly stopped and screeched to a halt. Her mouth gaped open. 6 stopped next to her, his shutters the size of pinpricks. 10 turned around and stopped. His mouth gaped open in horror.
A monstrous form burst out of the front door. Its eyes glowed red and it was surrounded by four electrical cords, each one shooting out sparks of electricity. It walked on four long metal spider legs made of long metal needles, attached to the head of a ragdoll, whose body hung above the ground. The eyes of the rag doll were empty and soulless. The number 19 was written on its chest.