It was a shame, Marietta mused, that things were turning out this way. Based on what she’d gleaned from Zinnia’s recent investigation session, Shreya had confessed and Ellie hadn’t taken it well. Now they were at a standstill, a bunch of pieces on the opposite ends of the board.
If she’d been able to get her hands on Shreya before she opened her mouth, she would’ve prepared her for the fallout. Marietta wished she’d seen it. Had Ellie collapsed to the ground, fainting from the shock of it all? Did Shreya push big wolf tears out of her eyes? Broken. Broken. They both had to be so broken.
Someone has to fix that.
Marietta hadn’t been lying to Zinnia when she told her it’d take something huge to bring them back together. A common enemy? Locking them up in the same place? A cage for the two of them? Getting them to face each other again was the first hurdle. It’d take…a trick, perhaps, or some coaxing over.
It didn’t seem like Zinnia was getting anywhere on the Ellie front. Ellie was in a decidedly anti-animal mood, so Marietta couldn’t do anything about her, either. She was messed up. Shreya had to be worse, what with her bleeding heart and all. So sensitive.
“Huuuuh,” breathed out the dog she’d been stuck with. Sunflower laid in the grass, watching Marietta think about the current situation. “Huh.”
“I know Ellie taught you how to say ‘hello’ better than that.”
“Huh…lo. Heh. Hello!” Her excitement showed through her wagging tail. She sat up, her hair looking like it’d seen better days. No matter what Marietta did to help her, Sunflower always managed to ruin it. She needed something better to do than rolling in the grass all the time.
“Yes, that’s the word,” Marietta confirmed. “What’s your name?”
“My. Keep it short. My. My. My.”
“My nim is Sunflow—…er.”
“Good. You’re getting there. Ellie’s going to be in for a shock when she gets you back.”
“I love Ellie.” Sunflower’s pronunciation indicated she’d gotten plenty of practice saying that. At the mention of Ellie’s name, she patted her hands against the dirt.
“Sorry to break it to you, but Ellie hates you right now. She’s mad at you because you didn’t let her in on a key detail about Shreya. It’s not like she should’ve expected you to do that, though. She stunted you.”
Sunflower tilted her head, her tongue peeking out at the corner of her mouth.
Marietta sighed. “You didn’t understand that. Some day you will.”
Initially, she’d started teaching Sunflower because if she was going to be stuck with her, she might as well be stuck with a better version of her. Having a matted, listless dog hanging around her home was no good. It reflected poorly on Marietta, and it dragged down her environment.
It may have been for that, or for pity, or for “look what I can do that no human could” reasons, but whatever the reason, Marietta was doing it. She was rebuilding the dog that couldn’t do farm work, protective detail, or anything else Stockbrunn deemed purposeful. In exchange, Sunflower did a decent job of fetching food from the town for them.
Misfortune brought them to this point, but they were making it work. They were outcasts, dumped out by the people that made them that way. Eventually, when Sunflower would learn the words for it, she might share in that sentiment.
Marietta cringed. That was dramatic sounding, even for me. She didn’t need someone to commiserate with. She just needed someone else on her side, another piece on the board. Having so many people, animals and human alike, at her disposal would prove to be a good thing when the time came.
Sunflower stood up. Marietta groaned at how dirty her knees were. Where there was Sunflower, there was filth ready to make its mark. Scrubbing her wasn’t enough. She needed a constant team of people looking after her.
“Looks like we have company,” Marietta said.
She’d been waiting for her to show up again, but it surprised Marietta to see her so soon. Zinnia approached, a brown bag clutched in her hand. Her current outfit was a far cry from the fancy get-up she’d been wearing the night before. Her clothes reminded her of what Ellie wore whenever she made her excursions into the woods—something all covered up and ready for a trek ahead.
Sunflower’s eyes didn’t leave the bag.
“So, you want my advice, after all.” Marietta rubbed her hands together. “That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?”
“Hello!” Sunflower shouted.
Zinnia thrusted the food bag at Marietta. “I’m not interested in your advice.”
“You might not be interested, and you might not want it, but you know you need it. You couldn’t make it in the woods without us.”
“That’s different from advice,” Zinnia said. “Take the bag or I’m going to drop it.”
“How’d your night end? You’re going to have to let me in or there’s nothing I can do for you.” Marietta took the bag. Sunflower leaned over her shoulder to see what was inside. Slices of cooked bird, a mish-mash of fruit slices, and clumps of various greens. “You couldn’t have heated it up?”
“You’ll live.” She gathered her hair in her hand, then tied it into…that funny name Ellie called the style. A ponytail. “Last night could’ve been and should’ve been better. We’ve got to find Shreya. I want to try their house first.”
“Wouldn’t that be the saddest thing if she was there, waiting for Ellie to show up?”
“Sad or not, it would make our job easier. I don’t know where else to try.”
Marietta could think of one, but following her nose to get there would be walking all of them into their graves. “Agreed. We’ll leave after we finish our meal. Do you know what you’re going to do once we find her? She might be as quiet about things as Ellie.”
“To be honest with you, I have no idea. I’m trying to get a handle on things.” Zinnia fiddled with the ribbon in her hair.
“The end goal is to get them to talk to each other again. We need them in the same area. Either we bring Shreya here, or we bring Ellie over there.”
“Ellie’s not going. We’d have to work on Shreya. I don’t even know if they should get back together… I’m worried about Ellie and want to know what’s going on so I can help her. Am I out of line? I might be. But I’m hoping that Shreya will know what to do about Ellie. I’m not getting any hints here, and Ellie’s declining. She’s on a downward slope and—and I’ve told you entirely too much.”
“If Ellie won’t go willfully, then we could take her unwillfully,” Marietta said.
“Willingly. What are you talking about? We’re not kidnapping her.”
“If we did, it would guarantee Shreya would show up where we need her. It doesn’t have to be real. We could make up that Ellie’s in danger, and for Ellie, we could make up that you’re in danger. Either one would get them to move.”
Zinnia shook her head. “Ellie would call in Stockbrunn.”
“Not if it came with a threat, something about knowing the truth about her and/or Shreya. We could play on her paranoia, make ourselves scarce, and wait for her over at the house. We’d have to make the message clear that she has to come to the woods alone or else.”
“That’s not right.”
“Or for Shreya, we tell her that Ellie needs her help. She comes here. You make Ellie show up and stay. It’s one or the other.”
Zinnia hesitated. “…There is a way to get Ellie to go back to the woods. I’d hate to do it, but there’s a way.”
“Ah, how could I have forgotten Freesia? Interesting that you’d use your sister as bait like that. You’re going to ask her to find her with you, and then instead of Freesia, you’ll show up with Shreya. That’s a very, very interesting idea.”
“I’d rather do that than kidnap her.”
“We dropped the kidnapping idea. It would be a blackmailing idea, and it’s a definite guarantee that she would go. Now, as for Shreya, we play off of her protective instinct. Ellie in danger.”
“Or I convince her that she and Ellie need to talk,” Zinnia said. “She might show up too meet Ellie if we ask.”
“And if she doesn’t, we’ll think about our other methods.” Marietta wanted to see how they might turn out. She had to admit that they were risky and liable to blow up in her and Zinnia’s faces, but that was part of the fun.
“First, we’ll find her. We should get going. You can eat on the way there.”
“Hello,” Sunflower said. “My nim is Sunfloweeer.” She stared at the food bag expectantly.
“I didn’t know Ellie taught her to say that,” Zinnia said.
“Who would’ve thought that Sunflower’s full of surprises?” Marietta asked. She’d take credit for Sunflower’s training later, when Sunflower would be further along in her lessons. She reached into the bag and plucked out a slice of meat for the dog.
Sunflower practically inhaled it, she ate it so fast.
“Let’s move our hooves, then,” Marietta said. “Time to catch a woodsdweller.”
1. What plan will they use on Ellie?
- Zinnia convinces her to come to the woods and search for Freesia with her.
- The “Zinnia is in danger and you must go to the woods alone” plot.
- Kidnap her.
2. Where is Ellie and Shreya’s shared diary right now?
- Ellie’s room.
- The house in the woods.
A/N: Sorry…this was going to be an Interlude at first, then it morphed into this.
I’ll probably hold the voting polls open the whole weekend. So… Sunday, the 23rd at 11:59 PM EST is your voting deadline. Make sure you vote on both!
We got to see the result for “should Zinnia try and find Shreya?” 30 voters total! 28 said yes and 2 said no.
New chapter on Tuesday, the 25th, unless I’m feeling bleh. Thanks for reading.