The ache in her arm and ribs left Chelsea with few choices. One was the hospital, which meant lying about the giant-rock-monster-induced injuries and costing her a small hit to her trust fund.
The other was David, the local hedge doctor. The very reason she was hurt in the first place.
She leaned her head on her dog’s shaggy neck. “This is bullshit, Bentley. Fuck those assholes for not telling me about that thing could move through rock.”
The big mutt whined, licked her cheek, and pressed his pointy ear against her head.
“You’re right, though. I need some kind of medical attention.” Sighing, she reprogrammed her GPS and headed for David’s house.
The rambling, one-story ranch brought a burning to her throat. She banged on the door, ignoring of Bentley’s whine. She heard the man before his long, gray hair shadowed the door.
“Chelsea!” He tugged her, gently but insistently, into the house, leaving the front door open. “Sara, get the door and some borage. Flowers and leaves.”
David eased her out of her coat, ignoring her question. “James called, said you hurt your arm.”
She nodded. “The Guardian threw me into him, and it snapped. My ribs hurt too.”
He frowned at her arm, gently touching the growing bruise in the swelled flesh. “Lucky, it was a clean break. I’ve seen worse when running with…” He trailed off. “With them. Lift your shirt, please.”
“Should I even bother asking you to explain that?”
The hedge doctor prodded her ribs with soft fingers. “We chose you because you proved yourself trustworthy. Not asking questions or seeking answers was part of this mission.”
“Mission?” She scraped out a laugh. “I thought this was a hunt.”
David sighed before turning to a cabinet with smooth wooden lathes.
Anger bubbled up in her. “So, the secret world of monster hunters has secrets from monster hunters?”
He avoided her eyes as he fit the laches to her arm. “Do you tell people why you started hunting?”
Chelsea’s lips met and thinned.
“So why do we owe you our secrets?”
The firm place to stand gave her strength. “Because you asked me to risk my life for those secrets.”
David straightened, turning a table laden with jars of herbs and some other tools. “You were asked to hunt. You should have been given more details about what to expect, and how to fight alongside the others. But giving you those details would not have revealed any secrets.”
A fresh wave of pain left her unable to think of a response. David’s daughter coming with the herbs stopped her from needing one.
In the silence that followed, David ground the fresh herbs with some of the dried ones in the jars. Then he heated the mixture into a tea. “This is a pain-killer, mild, shouldn’t render you too sleepy. We don’t have to set your arm, but you’re hurting and that’s only going to get worse for a little bit. This will bring down the swelling too.”
Chelsea nodded. The ache in her chest wasn’t too bad, but her throbbing arm was making thinking difficult.
“I’ve added a little honey and lavender. It’ll take off some of the bite.” A smile, small and troubled peeked out. “Drink it fast. Then we can get your splint on.”
As he walked away, Bentley crept into the small room. He eased his paws onto the high table and licked at her face.
She scratched his ears. “I’m okay, Bent. Or at least, I will be in a few days.” The honey and lavender did nothing to hide the bitterness, but she chugged half the mug, anyway.
Throat burning and eye watering, Chelsea leaned back, resting her head against the wall. She had nearly fallen asleep when the front door banged open.
She sat up, tense and ready for a fight, but Bentley gave a happy yip and his tail beat against her legs. She relaxed until James walked around the corner.
Chelsea sipped at her nasty tea and shot her dog a glare. “You’re supposed to be a better judge of character than me.”
Yvonne gave a giggle as she ducked around James to wrap Bentley in a hug. “So, you’re still pissed?”
“You think?” She sipped her tea. “I have a broken arm.”
Yvonne shrugged. “And if he hadn’t caught you, it would have been your neck.”
“And if you had told me—”
The third member of their team, Marena, interrupted. “This is my fault.” Older than any of the hunters in the room, her pale blue eye nearly glowed. “While James was given the role of leader, I was supposed to oversee him. I should have spoken up, made sure you were aware of the dangers and the plan for an attack. I didn’t do my job, and now you’ve been injured. You have my most useless, but honest apology.” She turned to David, who was pushing past James and Yvonne with a dark scowl. “Whatever debt Chelsea owes you for care, it’s ours.”
David glared at the two younger hunters until they retreated down the hall, then he turned back to Marena. “Whatever debt? She owes us nothing. You, on the other hand, have amassed quite a tab.”
She raised a tattooed hand to her lip. “Agreed.”
The hedge doctor smiled at Chelsea. “Please finish your tea. And Bentley can stay with you.”
The big mutt scooched under the table, tail thumping.
Marena stared at the dog. “Does he understand us?”
Chelsea shrugged her left and unbroken arm. “As far as I can tell… yes.”
“It’s unfortunate that things ended like this.” Marena smiled, and it was just as warm and insincere as James. “You’re a good hunter. We can always use good hunters.”
“As learning experiences for your people? No, thanks. Fuck off. And I mean right now.”
Marena opened her mouth, but David waved a hand. “You heard my patient.”
Mouth snapping shut, the older woman stepped out of the room. David flashed Chelsea a nearly savage grin as he waved towards her cup.
She brought the dregs to her lips. “But you still won’t tell me who they are, will you?”
He sighed and began clearing up his table of herbs. “I can want my allies to be better without betraying their trust. They aren’t bad people. They do need to feel a little more and think a little less.”
Chelsea grinned over the man’s head. She had little doubt his words were for the three people listening in the hall as much as herself.
But she’d been talked down to, ignored, and left uninformed. These people had broken every rule of monster hunting as she knew it. And she had one more card to play.
She fished a pendant out of her shirt, a wooden leaf, inlaid with some silvery metal. “How many of these are you people gonna owe me?”
David looked over his shoulder. “That’s a marker for a free healing, but that’s all. I can give you another if you want. The gods know it’s the least I can do.”
She settled back against the wall, disappointed but not surprised. “Sounds good to me.” She closed her eyes. The pain had gone from throbbing to merely aching. But any lessening was a blessing. “Way I’m going, I’ll need it.”
David’s calloused fingers moved her arm. “This will hurt I’m afraid, but it’ll feel better soon.
A tear slid out. “That’s what everybody says.”
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