She fell before Shreya could catch her. Shreya chased Ellie to the ground, and leaned over her crumpled form. Uncertainty lagged her movements, but she pushed through it and rolled Ellie onto her back.
Shreya patted Ellie’s cheek. “Ellie?”
Although the girl was unresponsive, the rise and fall of her chest indicated she was still breathing. Shreya smoothed her hair away to check her forehead for heat. Sunflower joined her, nudging Ellie’s leg for feedback she didn’t receive.
“I think your dearie broke,” Shanti said, her language more comfortable in theirs. “Fragile girl. Humans shatter at the littlest of things. Does this happen a lot?”
“No. Something is wrong with her.” Shreya pulled her hand away, thankful to discover Ellie didn’t have a fever. “Ellie? Ellie, you need to wake up.”
“Maybe she’s dying. Wouldn’t that be convenient?” Shanti ripped another berry from the branch.
“She’s not dying!” Shreya snarled.
Shanti scraped the skin from the fruit. “It would make things easier for you if she was. You wouldn’t have to suffer. This—whatever this is—would be finished and over with. I don’t see anything special about this girl that is worth your pain.”
“You barely had a chance to get to know her. She’s sick.”
“Ellie,” Sunflower whined. She laid her head on Ellie, near her heart. Her tail drooped, her whines becoming pitiful whimpers in the back of her throat.
“She needs healing, then. What are you going to do?” Shanti asked. “Tell me, how are you going to save her? You can’t bring her home.”
“I’ll take her to her friend’s house. Stockbrunn has healers.” She scooped her arms under Ellie. Sunflower moved out of the way for Shreya’s attempt to lift Ellie. She struggled, her muscles tensing from the effort.
“You know how to get to Stockbrunn? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Shreya failed, unable to get out of her squat. She lowered Ellie back down. “I don’t,” she said, even though she had an idea of it. “Her friend lives nearby,” and I don’t think you should know more than that much.
“Doesn’t look like you can carry her.”
“I’ll drag her.” She eased Ellie up into a seated position and looped her arms under hers from behind. Keeping her body leaned against hers, Shreya stepped backwards to test her hold. “She’ll get help no matter how I have to do it.”
“You’ll never make it like that,” Shanti said. “Drop her.”
Shreya stood up as much as she could, not losing her grip. “No.”
“I’ll help you carry her.” Shanti tossed the last of the berry branch away. “Let me get her legs.”
Sunflower growled. She barred Shanti from getting any closer, her fangs bared and hands raised to fight. Rather than showing any outward signs of intimidation, Shanti merely smirked. She made a beckoning motion, daring Sunflower to try something.
“Never mind. Looks like Doggy’s upset. Man, is that thing pathetic or what? That’s what we could’ve been, all brain-dead and docile, but we come from smarter blood. Smarter; stronger. I could snap her neck without breaking a sweat.”
“Leave her alone. She’s Ellie’s. She loves her,” Shreya said.
“Her dog has no shoes and is practically wearing a potato sack! Can she even speak or can she only communicate by grunting?” Shanti shook her head. “If this is how Ellie loves her animals, then make sure she never loves you, Shreya. This is bad. I know Sunflower’s a dog, but sheesh, this is some shitty treatment and you know it.”
“You’re reaching. Dogs have their place.”
“Under the boots of humans, and that’s where they want us to be, too. I don’t know what it is about Ellie that makes you forget that. She’s not that special. She couldn’t get down from a tree without hurting herself.”
“And if I told you Danilo wasn’t that special?” That was Shreya’s anger talking.
“At least he’s a wolf! That makes him a million times more special than her.”
“Would you love him if he wasn’t?”
“How could I?” Shanti asked. “I wouldn’t expect him to love me, either. We’re not like you. We’re normal. What are the odds that this girl’s the same as you? Spare yourself the heartbreak and lose her.”
“I don’t know why I agreed to letting you meet her. I never should’ve bothered. You’ll never accept her, no matter what she does. She could’ve been perfect and you still would’ve hated her.” Shreya walked backwards, dragging Ellie’s lower body.
“There you go, being as dramatic as usual. Life’s not beating you up, Shreya. You’re doing it to yourself.” Keeping her distance from Sunflower, Shanti followed along. “She’s what you’ve been crying yourself to sleep over? There’s an easy solution here. You don’t have to keep living with your problem.”
“You do anything to hurt her, and I swear…” Shreya was acutely aware of the knives holstered on her hips. She was wearing both of theirs as a precaution, something that she was surprised Shanti allowed her to do. If Shanti wanted her weapon, though, she could easily overpower Shreya to get it back.
Shanti smiled at the warning. “Won’t hurt a hair on her head. I’m pointing out the obvious. No girl, no problem.”
“Go home. You can yell at me later. You met her like you wanted so there’s no point in you staying here.”
“You should try splashing water on her face. It might do a better job of waking her up than your little taps.” Shanti unhooked one of the gourds and held it out for her to take. “Or do you want me to do the honors since your hands are full? I’ll be gentle.”
She tugged the cork free. “What’s the worst I can do? I’m all the way over here.” Her grin grew.
“Stop. Just pass it to me,” Shreya said.
Shanti’s idea of passing the gourd was thrusting it forwards hard enough for its contents to splash all over Ellie. Ellie spluttered, springing out of Shreya’s arms. Sunflower dove down to her level and hugged her.
“Shanti!” Shreya snapped.
“Woke her up, didn’t it? You’re welcome.” Shanti capped the now-empty gourd.
Ellie wiped the water from her face. She’d gotten drenched. “What—why…what happened?”
“You speaked funny and sleeped,” Shanti explained in Casternian.
“You are sick,” Shreya said to her, also in Casternian. “We are taking you to Marietta’s. You need help.”
“No!” Ellie pulled out of Sunflower’s hug. She looked up at Shreya. Softer, she said, “let’s just go to the house. We don’t need to go to Mari—” She suddenly doubled over, heaving dry gag onto the grass. “Don’t look, don’t look, ugh…”
Shreya had the decency not to. The same couldn’t be said about Shanti, who she heard snickering. “You need to,” she stopped in the middle of her sentence to wait for Ellie to fully throw up. She had to bite back her sympathetic urge. “You need to see a healer.”
Once she’d composed herself, Ellie replied, “I just need to sleep this off. Wake me up every now and then, and I’ll be fine. I’m friends with a doctor-ish healer person. That’s what he did for me.”
“And if I cannot wake you?” Shreya asked. She didn’t possess the abilities and knowledge base that the healers did. If anything went wrong… Shreya gripped her arms to ward off the thought.
“Water,” Shanti said.
“Yeah, see, do the water thing.” Ellie hiccuped. “Oh, great, I think I’m going to be sick again. I-I’ll meet you guys there.”
“It is okay. We are here for you. Shanti, can you give me the gourd?”
“Okay, false alarm. I think it passed.” Ellie pulled the hood of her cape over her head. “I just need to get out of the sun. I’ll be okay, I’m telling you.”
“I do not see you okay. Drink water,” Shanti said.
Shanti handed the second gourd to Shreya. Shreya passed it down to Ellie, careful not to look at her pile of sick. The smell was nauseating enough on its own. She wondered how Sunflower managed to stay near her for so long.
Ellie guzzled down a good amount of it, then swished a mouthful and spit it out. “Thanks.”
“Someone once told me being a pretty girl does not make that any better,” Shreya teased.
“Gargling. That was about gargling and that’s ’cause it sounds nasty when you do it. It’s like you’re drowning in phlegm,” Ellie said.
“What is that?” Shreya asked.
“This is gross, but it’s that mucus in your throat. If you don’t know mucus, maybe you know snot? It’s like that thick stuff you hock up when you spit.”
“Oh. How do you feel?”
“You didn’t catch a single word I said, did you?”
“I am worried about you…”
In their native tongue, Shanti said, “she can’t travel like this. You’re going to have to take her to wherever this house is and we’ll watch her there. She’s shaking. I’ve seen this happen to a child at the crèche. This vomiting and shaking’s not good.”
Shreya answered her in the same language. “She is shivering from the cold. You poured water all over her.”
“This isn’t a cold shiver. Look at her hands. She’s trembling. You need to get her inside and out of the sun.”
“What’s wrong with the sun?” Shreya untied her cape to free it from her neck and shoulders.
“It’s making her sick.”
“Really? Are you sure you’ve seen this before?”
“Yes. Which one of us works at the crèche? I’ve seen this more than once, actually. The sun’s hurting her eyes and that’s why she’s got her hood up,” Shanti said.
Shreya switched back to Casternian. “Ellie, are you wearing that because of your eyes?”
“This?” Ellie tugged on her hood. “Yeah, I’m kind of dizzy.” She stood up, Sunflower supporting her.
“Put this on. It will keep you warm while your clothes dry. Sorry, by the way,” Shreya said.
“Your cape? You never take that off! What’s next, your hat?”
“No, never. Do not get ahead of yourself.” Shreya passed her cape over. She helped Ellie secure it, making sure to tighten the knots so it wouldn’t fall off. “Is it comfortable?”
“Mmhm,” Ellie confirmed. “And I know that you guys did what you had to. Do whatever you need to to keep me from sleeping for too long. Just a short nap and I’ll be back in action.”
“If you say so.”
A/N: This vote will be open until December 4th at 11:59 PM EST. The next chapter will be on December 11th.
We had an amazing voter turn-out last week. I don’t know where everyone came from, but thank you! We had 30 voters. 29 voted for Shreya and Shanti having to take care of Ellie overnight, while 1 voted for Shreya and Shanti bringing Ellie to Marietta’s house.