In that moment, the forest went still.
Ellie traced the path the bolt took with her eyes. She could see the woods through the hole it bore through Shreya’s cape. That was an easier spot for her to focus on than the blood running down Shreya’s arm, or the look on her face.
“O-oh,” Ellie stammered. She lost her grip on the crossbow. As soon as it dropped, Shreya was off, running faster than she’d ever seen anyone run before. “Wait!” Ellie screamed after her.
Before she could move, her aunt grabbed her. “Don’t go.”
“Why? She’s hurt!” Ellie struggled to break free. Catalina didn’t let her go until Shreya’s strides were well out of earshot. She’d never be able to catch up to her.
“We’re going home,” Catalina said. “You need to go back to the basics: aiming, firing, loading. You’re nowhere close to being fit enough for hunting. It’s like you went backwards.”
Ellie couldn’t focus on what she was saying, not over the crushing feeling coming down over her head. It was like a ceiling crashing down on her over and over again. That feeling drained the strength out of her. Robbed of her voice, she could only numbly nod at what her aunt was saying.
“—you’re a walking hazard,” Catalina went on. “You could’ve killed that girl. Thank the stars that you’re a horrible shot.” She picked up the fallen crossbow. “You better thank every star in the night sky for that.”
~ * ~ * ~
“I shot Shreya.”
They stood across from one another in a tight alleyway, each girl with her back to the wall. Ellie had waited for Zinnia outside of Gaurin’s class, and pulled her away for conversation without giving her room to argue. She hadn’t bothered saying anything to Henrik. He didn’t deserve anything more than a polite nod after what he’d said to her that morning.
“When did you have the chance to do that?” Mindful that they were still in semi-public, Zinnia spoke at a whisper. She gripped the shoulder strap of her bag.
“I went hunting with my aunt Catalina today. I saw Shreya and I…panicked,” Ellie said, trying to be as direct and forward with her words as she possibly could. Dressing the situation up wouldn’t help anything. Zinnia just needed the plain facts behind the situation. “I fired a warning shot to make her go away and I messed up. She’s not dead or badly hurt or anything… I didn’t want my aunt to know I know her, so I shot at her. Can you imagine how bad my aunt knowing about her would be?”
“Would it have been worse than you shooting her?”
“We would’ve never been able to see each other again.” Ellie closed her eyes, picturing it all: her aunt capturing Shreya for questioning, her mother going ahead and assigning a guard to her, something bad happening to Shreya during said questioning. They’d want to know about everything Ellie ever told her, and they weren’t above using dubious means to get the information they wanted. They would’ve ruined Shreya over nothing.
It was possible that no one would’ve seen Shreya again, not even just Ellie.
Ellie kept talking, “a lot of bad things could’ve happened, and they all rushed into my head at once and I pulled the trigger. She ran away after that.”
“Where did you hit her?” Zinnia asked. “Are we talking about an arrow or something else?”
“A crossbow bolt. Right here.” Ellie streaked her finger across where the bolt had scraped Shreya. “It grazed her, but there was a lot of blood. It wasn’t terribly bad, but it wasn’t good, either.”
“And you’re hoping you can get past all of this? You’ve got your work cut out for you.”
“We have to get past this. We have to. We can’t end before we start.” What they were starting, Ellie couldn’t articulate. She made an attempt. “Have you ever met someone that makes you want to keep meeting them again? Someone who you have a conversation with that you’re like…I wish this wasn’t our last? That’s how it is with me and Shreya. I have to fix it, and I don’t care if it’s selfish of me to want to do that. I need to keep seeing her.”
Zinnia pulled her bag’s strap higher on her shoulder, fixing its placement. She stopped leaning against the wall. “You won’t be able to if Intendant Navarrete tells the Chieftess about this. You won’t have a chance to fix anything.”
She hadn’t considered that possibility. “I’ll have to do something fast, then. I’ll comb the whole damn forest to find Shreya if I have to. I’m going to set this right.” That look on Shreya’s face after she’d shot at her…Ellie couldn’t let that be her final expression towards her. There was something beyond physical pain in that look.
“Your dedication’s admirable,” Zinnia said. “It almost reminds me of the old you.”
“Shove it,” Ellie replied with a small smile. It turned back into a frown as she asked her, “what the hell do you think I should do? You’re smart. You’re good with people. You should know.”
“First of all, you shouldn’t go wandering through the woods for her. That’s not going to work. I think Shreya’s the kind of girl who, if she doesn’t want to be found, won’t be found. You’re going to have to wait for her to come to you.”
“You think she’d show up here?”
Zinnia laughed. “She’s not coming to Stockbrunn. She’s too smart for that. What you need to do is leave a message for her, and then wait. Let everything happen on her terms,” she said. “You can’t force her to accept your apology. If she doesn’t want to see you after this, then you’ll have to come to grips with that. Sometimes when people are gone, they’re just gone, no matter how badly you want to see them. We move on with our lives.”
Ellie put her hands behind her, against the wall, to keep herself steady. She felt like she’d lose her footing if it weren’t for the wall being there. “Do you know where I can find that Cavalier book?”
~ * ~ * ~
Ellie and Zinnia stood in the middle of a maze of book shelves. Rows and rows of shelves surrounded them. Ellie’s eyes glazed over. Whose idea was it to organize the library this way? How was anyone supposed to find anything without begging the librarians for help? She followed Zinnia along like a lost child, putting her faith in Zinnia’s seek-and-find skills.
“Do they shelf books by the author or the title?” Ellie asked. “I think the CAV section was that way…or was it that way?”
“They file the books by genre and the first three letters of the author’s last name. Is this your first time you’ve been to a library?”
“Um, of course not,” Ellie lied. Libraries annoyed her. The strict silence rule got on her nerves. What were they worried about, someone startling someone into accidentally ripping out a book page? A little noise wasn’t going to end the world.
Ellie peeked around the corner, trying to find some more letters to orient herself by. She saw two familiar girls and a red haired guy sitting together at a table. Theres Diallo, a blacksmith’s daughter, and one of Ellie’s biggest non-fans; and Inger Agnitse, a baker’s daughter, and another former friend of hers who hated her guts a smidgen less than Theres did.
“There’s Theres,” Ellie whispered to Zinnia. Zinnia pulled her backwards, further into the aisle and away from the trio’s view. “What? Aren’t you talking to her?”
“Yeah, we’re friends,” Zinnia said. She scuffed her shoe into the flat carpet. “I don’t want to meet him.”
Ellie scanned her over. “Is she going out with that guy?”
“If the way they’re sitting is any indication, sure. I’m not going to ask,” Zinnia said. “I’m not in the mood to deal with that or with refereeing a fight between you two today. Let’s deal with you and Shreya, okay?”
“Are you sure? I can beat him up for you.” Ellie sucked in her lip to keep from laughing and giving them away.
“No. The book’s this way.” She grabbed Ellie’s wrist to keep her away from them.
~ * ~ * ~
Book in hand, Ellie stood with Zinnia outside of the library. They were lucky to have found it. It was the last copy that they had in stock.
“Good luck,” Zinnia said. “If anyone could convince someone who they shot to talk to them again, I think it’d be you.”
“Wait, you’re leaving me? Aren’t we going to write this apology thing together?”
“You know what you need to say. Take everything you told me before and put it onto the page.”
Ellie scratched the back of her neck. “Can you remind me what I said? I forgot.”
Zinnia sighed. “Just be honest and straightforward. As long as you do that, you can’t go wrong with your apology.”
“Yeah…I guess I can do that.” Maybe.
“I’ll help you deliver it in the morning,” Zinnia said. “Ianes’ Wall will be the best place to put it. It’s sort of like your meeting point, isn’t it?”
Ellie nodded. “I’ll bring Sunflower with us, for added safety. She should be okay by tomorrow,” she said. “Seriously, though, thank you. I was worried you didn’t like Shreya. You seemed kind of on edge with her at first.”
“I suppose she grew on me. She’s not bad,” Zinnia said. “Make sure you don’t mess up on that letter.”
“I’ll try not to! See you tomorrow.”
Ellie headed home, her mind brimming with things to write.
A/N: This poll will end Monday at 11:59 PM EST.
Last week’s poll was 4 for Shreya getting hit in a non-vital spot, and 8 for the bolt grazing her.
Don’t forget you can subscribe to get updates in your mailbox.
Vote for us on Topwebfiction to help us get on and stay on the charts. Every vote counts!
Comments are encouraged and appreciated. 🙂