Chapter 14:

Avril Stalwart

A Moribund Hero

Leon couldn't really call the small kitchen a mess hall. It was a simple white-painted limestone room covered with hanging dried ingredients in various corners. A roaring hearth was the back wall. It was fitted with a stove oven and hotplate. Savory smells were rich in the air.Bookmark here

One side of the room held hanging racks and shelves holding cooking and eating equipment. On the other side was an open pantry of stocked cans and packaged foods and a fridge in the corner. At the center was a rectangular wooden table to fit eight plain dining chairs.Bookmark here

A far cry from the stark-white and stainless metal mess halls he grew up in. He wasn't sure of the words to describe what he was feeling, except it made him feel at ease.Bookmark here

Lucy loaded a bowl with vegetables and beans Avril had been heating in a pot. She placed it on the table and had him sit down before it. Her way of an apology.Bookmark here

"Is your stomach and nogger ok?"Bookmark here

He nodded. "I'm running a health scan, and so far, my interior hasn't returned errors. But I'll recheck the event log later and let you know."Bookmark here

"Pfft. Mr. Droid. Well, fine. If you need to see Butcher, we'll do that."Bookmark here

Avril entered and calmly sat down next to Leon. She handed him a small data chip.Bookmark here

"Copy your cadet data to this."Bookmark here

He rose to remove his hat and overcoat to hang them on a wall hook behind him. He loosened his shirt collar, so he had access to the tattooed barcode on his nape; swiped the pattern side of the chip across the barcode, which momentarily glowed red like it was swelling. The chip made a clicking noise. He handed it back to her.Bookmark here

"And, sorry about before. Can you take painkillers?"Bookmark here

He reassured her that he was inbuilt with an auxiliary painkiller system. He would be fine.Bookmark here

She rose and stood before Lucy, and patted her shoulder a few times, almost like she was checking if she was really there.Bookmark here

Lucy sighed with understanding.Bookmark here

"About my outburst. Wolf told me you nearly died." Avril left her explanation at that.Bookmark here

"Leon, Wolf, will show you to your bed. Make sure you get a good rest. I'll call Butcher to check on you tomorrow anyway."Bookmark here

Leon was in the midst of saluting her when she caught his hand. She explained that they may be the People Army, but that just meant they were people trained for fighting mages as an army.Bookmark here

"In La Capilla, we're people, not machines. So, no saluting or bowing. I'm Avril Stalwart. You can call me Avril, but if that's too much for you, Ma'am is fine."Bookmark here

He stood confused. His mind madly analyzed her orders, but he had no proper responses. A person of senior authority told him not to salute them. He wasn't sure which way to go.Bookmark here

She faced Rabbit. "You're staying this time?"Bookmark here

Rabbit nodded.Bookmark here

Avril left the kitchen.Bookmark here

A short while later, Leon gathered his things and followed Wolf out of the chapel's back door. Guided by torch, they strolled a short path through yam patches to two hardwood cabins on stilts. His internal scans detected a land mass behind the cabins; a canyon cliff face. A framework that outlined a docking area was nearby.Bookmark here

"Cabin B for Boys is us. The girls in the right one."Bookmark here

Leon climbed the steps and paused on the cabin threshold, again confused. So far, he concluded the barrack wasn't a barrack. The sleeping quarters weren't for soldiers.Bookmark here

He stared at four single beds with wood partitions in-between to grant privacy. Each bed had more than a sheet and looked spongy. The pillows were fluffy. Next to each bed was a side table, chair, and shelf.Bookmark here

"Still with us?" Wolf noticed Leon was stationary.Bookmark here

"This is for soldiers?" He blinked.Bookmark here

Wolf smiled and nodded. He led Leon to a bed section next to his one at the far end. "Did yah forget what Avril said? Yah a man here. Men sleep on beds when they have it."Bookmark here

Leon nodded. Bookmark here

Wolf rummaged through a closet in the corner and returned to Leon, who blinked at the set of sleepwear placed on the bed.Bookmark here

"It's easier to sleep in."Bookmark here

Leon acknowledged the gesture and waited for Wolf to go to his side of the partition. He placed the sleepwear tenderly on the side table; removed his boots, coat, guns, and hat to the chair, then laid on top of the bed. He slept with his back against the wall.Bookmark here

In the heart of night, a soothing voice woke him. He felt his amulet swell with a warm and gentle heat against his chest. His eyes fluttered open and saw a motherly spirit in a white gown sitting at his bedside. She looked like the nurse who had saved him.Bookmark here

"You've done well, Leon, to survive this far. Even found a shelter to help you move around. But your first trial comes." Her eyes lowered to the glowing amulet beneath his shirt. "The lost sheep are near. Keep strong. Our Mother watches over you, my child."Bookmark here

Leon's eyes opened. He glanced around the dark room. There were no spirits. Wolf was snoring loudly from the other side of the partition.Bookmark here

"A ghost image," he whispered to himself.Bookmark here

Believing it was so, closed his eyes to return to his downtime.Bookmark here

Hungry Sheep
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