Shreya stopped abruptly, her fist held up beside her head. Ever eager to get their target, Shanti crashed into her sister’s back. Her bow fell out of her hands.
“Why’d you go and do that for?” Shanti scooped it back up.
“Ahead,” Shreya said.
Shanti hated it when her sister got like this, all full of false bravado and faux stoicism. She knew that Shreya’s heart had to be pounding as much as hers. The way she kept swaying gave that away.
Their mother had tasked them with being a hunting party of two. This hunt was their proving ground, their way of showing their potential for following in their mother’s footsteps. It was expected that they’d bring something back by nightfall, in time for the communal meal.
When Shanti agreed to this, she’d thought it’d be no sweat. Take a knife, a bow, and a bunch of arrows. Journey into the woods and use your awesome sense of smell to sniff out some prey. Shoot something and drag it home where everyone will congratulate you on how amazing you are (and yeah, they’ll say something about your sister, too, because she’s okay and deserves a little credit).
She’d forgotten that hunting was more boredom than excitement. It was a whole lotta waiting around in bushes, hoping for something to wander by. Shanti had never known a torture so harsh as having to be frozen in the same position for hours. She’d nearly screamed for joy when Shreya had given them away, causing the rabbits they’d been waiting for to prance away. It didn’t matter that their waiting had been all for naught—what mattered was that she could move her damn arms again.
“What is it?” Her view blocked by her sister, Shanti relied on her smell to tell her. “A deer?”
“Shhh,” Shreya shushed her. “It’s a doe.”
She just had to go and be ultra-correct all the time. “Does are deer.”
“We have to be more specific than that. You know what Mama says—”
“No unknowns? Let all knowns be known? The unit should be one mind, one body?” Shanti filled in.
“Close enough. Do you want to get it, or should I?” Shreya side-stepped. Shanti moved forward, staying soft on her heels. The doe’s attention was on something else, too distracted to notice the wolves peeking out of the brush. Shanti pulled out an arrow from her quiver, a smirk playing on her lips. She had this.
Shanti nocked the arrow. Easy does it. She drew it back alongside the bow string. “You’re mine,” she whispered. She could taste the doe on her tongue, smell its crackling flesh over the fire, and feel its fur as a pelt.
She went to release the arrow
just as Shreya shoved her. The shot went wild, off into a tree. Alerted, the doe ran off. A smaller one Shanti’d failed to notice skipped off after it.
Shanti threw her bow to the ground. She would’ve snapped it if her mother hadn’t made it for her. “What’s your problem?!”
“She had a baby.”
“We have babies! Back in the village!” Shanti shouted. Her body burned, sweat coming down her forehead. “What about them? What are they going to eat?”
“We’re not the only ones hunting,” Shreya said. “The others will have better luck.”
“But Mama trusted us to do this. We’re supposed to come back with something.”
Shreya wasn’t moved. “It wouldn’t be right.”
“What’s gotten into you? Nothing’s right. Our whole situation’s not right.” Every time she blinked, she saw another face, begging for food. She saw the sick wolves back at the village, the ones too weak to even chew their food. Had her sister forgotten about them? Had she forgotten about their sister? There were times when Shanti went to visit her that she didn’t know if she was dead or sleeping.
They needed those deer. They all did.
“I know, but…but this wouldn’t have been right.” Shreya didn’t have a better answer than that.
Shanti had to stop herself from shaking some sense into her. “You’re putting a bunch of ferals’ lives before ours? Is that what you’re saying?”
“It’s not like that. It’s respect.”
“Screw respect! Your hang-ups are gonna get us killed, Shreya. Food is food, food is,” Shanti couldn’t get the rest of the sentence out. Coughing took over her words. Wet and hollow. She doubled over, unable to catch her breath she was coughing so hard.
Shreya dropped down to her side. Her whole body shook, her serious facade broken. She’d seen this before.
This was what happened to Sharmila.
The coughing sickness.
Once the coughing subsided, Shanti wiped the blood from her mouth. She stared at her hand.
“W-we have to go home,” Shreya said.
“Me, too, huh?” Shanti had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing.
“We’re not going anywhere. We’re bringing something home. A rabbit. A bird. A handful of worms. I don’t care.”
“We’re finishing the mission.” This could be her last hunt. She refused to let it end in failure.
Shreya helped her up. She turned her head away, not letting Shanti see her face. “Okay…let’s go.”
A/N: The polls for the interlude chapter had been very close: 3 for Shanti, 2 for Shreya, 2 for Hildegarde, 1 for Vicente, 1 for Ellie, and 1 for Henrik. Thanks for voting! See you on Thursday for the real Chapter 12.
Also, you don’t know how hard it was to not mix up Shanti and Shreya’s names in this post. If you see any mistakes, let me know, haha.
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