Shreya held hands with her bruises, her fingers slotting over the empty spaces between them. Her arms had been grabbed harder than she realized. A warning, perhaps, for what would happen to her if she told anyone about what she and the others had done to those rabbits.
The marked skin tinted an unsightly shade. It burned to the touch, the pain radiating outwards and inwards.
“You know, if you’re going to hide, you should’ve picked a better spot than the place I saw you last,” her sister said as she approached. No one else had joined her, leaving her and Shreya alone with the overly taxed training dummy.
“I’m not hiding. I wanted to practice.” Shreya wet the end of the bow string to make it easier to tie. Earlier, it had snapped free of the bow. The tension needed to be fixed.
“I get it, I get it. We talked about that already. There’s something else we need to chat about…that announcement from the Fox King. What’s going through your head right now?”
Nausea writhed deep in the caverns of her stomach.
She rolled down her sleeves, covering up the stark reminders.
Shreya dragged in a deep breath. Her lungs filled with the air of Stockbrunn’s forest. She’d ran away that morning, back to well-trodden comforts. At this point, she’d been to the cabin so many times she could’ve ventured there with her eyes and ears closed. A simple journey; an easy trip without reward.
Did solace count as one? If so, then she settled for that. She rested in its peace. No one around to shake her up, no one walking around suffering because of her. Shreya was responsible for setting everything in motion. The foxes demanded retribution because of her. If she’d been the one stabbed…
Honesty was risky. Dangerous. Shreya knew what Shanti was capable of. A smarter wolf would’ve kept her mouth shut in the face of Shanti’s mock concern.
“The Elders need to know everything that happened,” Shreya said. “They’re being tricked. What if they make the wrong decision because of that?”
“No one’s going to tell them anything,” Shanti said, leaving no room for questions.
“If I come forward, maybe I’ll be the only one they punish.”
“You’re not going to do that.”
“It’s either me alone or the whole village. We won’t survive a raid. Too many of our hunters are gone. I need to say something. I won’t mention anyone else. I’ll take the blame for it all.”
Shreya blotted the split in her bottom lip. She should’ve seen the slap coming. Her sister called her a name reserved for mindless ghouls. And, normally, Shreya would’ve stepped down and bowed her head after something like that, but—
The hit reverberated up Shreya’s arm. Her hand tingled.
Shanti rubbed the side of her face.
“I-I’m sorry.” She retracted her hand. Stronger, Shreya said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t let you push me around anymore. The Elders have to know.”
“Shreya, Shreya, you’re about to be real sorry, yes. I’ll knock your sense back into you, don’t you worry. Obviously, you’re not thinking clearly.”
Shreya halted along the path leading to the cabin door. Three familiar scents stood out to her, but none belonged to who she hoped she’d see. Maybe some day she’d give them a clean break. Whose idea was it to make saying goodbye this difficult?
Were her friends hanging aroundd to make things worse? Shreya gripped her bracelet, the grooves in the weaving pressing into her. She was going to head back, escaping off to elsewhere, when the door opened up.
Sunflower stepped out first. She had a rope tied to her waist, the long end of it held in Marietta’s hand. Marietta waved at her. Shreya didn’t wave back. Zinnia hung behind the others, looking like she was struggling to come up with something to say.
Shreya still disguised herself as she always did. It had become a habit. “Hello.”
“Is it alright with you if we talk for a moment?” Zinnia asked.
They filed inside, then shut the door. Zinnia pulled out a chair for her. Shreya took it, remembering how Ellie used to do the same thing. Stockbrunnian culture was alive and well, it seemed.
“This place is dreary,” Shreya said, her pronunciation lulled. “I do not know why I did not notice that before. Do you ever think of the family who was once here?”
“Not deeply, no.” Zinnia sat on the other side of the table, next to Marietta. Sunflower roamed around, not particularly interested in any one thing. “I’m sorry if this is rude for us to do. This isn’t an interrogation or anything like that. We’re just here because of Ellie.”
Shreya was keenly aware of Marietta tracking her movements. She must’ve been looking for something, maybe an opening that she could exploit. “Did she tell you to come here?”
“No. She doesn’t know anything about us being here.”
“Did Ellie tell you what happened?”
“Ellie’s keeping everyone in the dark,” Marietta said. “Apparently, she’s been throwing wild parties to get over you.”
“One party,” Zinnia corrected.
“Can you explain that?” Shreya asked. “What do you mean?”
“Ellie’s not in a good place right now. She’s pretending to be fine, but I know she isn’t. She doesn’t want to talk about it. No matter how hard I try, she stays silent about what happened with you two,” Zinnia said. “We need your help. She’s going to explode at this rate… Can you believe she’s starting to go by Elspeth now?”
Shreya took a moment to process what Zinnia was saying. “My help? What will my help do?”
“This is destroying her. She’s close to having a breakdown.”
“And I’m not? She hurt me, too! You think she is the only one who is suffering?” Shreya gripped the edge of the table. “She left me. If you want to help someone, then help me.”
“You just had to tell her, didn’t you?” Marietta leaned back in her seat.
“She told me about her father. I thought the timing was right… You told me if she spoke about him, then I would be safe to tell her my secret.”
“I don’t think I ever said it would be safe.This is Ellie that we’re talking about. She’s not stable. Look, she dumped her dog off on me and yelled at me about the whole thing.”
“You broke up because of your secret? What did you do?” Zinnia asked. “I’m only asking because I can help Ellie come to terms with it.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” Marietta talked over her. “It’s your secret for a reason. Keep it.”
“Right.” Shreya realized that her and Ellie’s diary wasn’t where she last left it. Someone had moved it to the counter. “As I was saying, I do not think I can help. If she wants to see me, she knows how to find me.”
“So, you’re willing to talk to her. That’s good,” Zinnia said. “If I set up a meeting with her here, you would come, right?”
“Why do you care? We have nothing to do with you.”
“I know how Ellie gets. She denies things and lets them pile on and on. It’s not healthy. It’s soul crushing, actually. I know I’m overstepping boundaries quite a bit here, but I’m scared for her. I’m hoping that if you guys talk it out, something might change.”
“What if it gets worse? You do not know anything.”
“Don’t get snippy with Zinnia. If she left this alone, you’d never see Ellie again,” Marietta said. “We’re going to bring her to you. You’re going to have another chance to talk. If it turns out to be a disaster, then that’s that. You both move on.”
“Do you still like Ellie?” Zinnia asked.
“She still likes you. She’s just conflicted about it. She has to confront her feelings, good or bad.”
Shreya couldn’t ignore the fact that she wanted to see her, but this had “bad idea” written all over it. How were they going to convince Ellie to show up? Ellie had made it clear that she never wanted to see Shreya again. And yet, somehow, Ellie still liked her. Shreya had a feeling the spark she held for her wouldn’t burn out that easily.
But… Zinnia could’ve been saying that to be nice. That could have been her way of convincing Shreya to play her part in this and show up to the cabin when she wanted her to.
“How will you get her here?” Shreya asked.
“Don’t you worry about that,” Marietta said. “We have that covered.”
“Alright. I’m here every day around this time.” She cringed at herself inwardly for letting that detail slip. “Oh, but there are some things happening at home… If Ellie does not come here tomorrow or the next day, I am not sure when I will be back.”
“Why are you fighting me? You know I’m right.” Shanti stood over her. Scratch marks raked her cheek. “You’re going to make bigger problems for everyone.”
Shreya turned over to clear her mouth of spit. Her body ached. She’d fallen over during the scuffle and hadn’t been able to get back up.
Shanti leaned down and continued, “why would you give yourself up?”
“Because…because none of this would’ve happened if it wasn’t for me.” Her words were dull, slurred. “The Fox King… The Elders have to know.”
“No. You want to deal with your guilt? This isn’t the way to do it.” Shanti slammed her foot onto Shreya’s hand.
“They’ll do worse than this to you! They’ll sacrifice you to the foxes. Is that what you want, Shreya? Do you want to die?”
No. She wanted to right her wrong.
And if Zinnia and Marietta could bring Ellie to the cabin in time, she’d be able to right that wrong, too.
1. Did Shreya talk to the Elders and take blame for the rabbit incident?
2. Whose POV do you want to see first when Shreya and Ellie meet again?
A/N: Alright, we had two votes show up in this chapter. “Where is Ellie and Shreya’s shared diary right now?” 15 votes for the house in the woods and 13 votes for Ellie’s room.
“What’s going to happen with Shreya?” was the Chapter 52 vote. 15 votes for Zinnia convincing Shreya to meet with Ellie and 11 votes for Zinnia being unable to convince her so she has to resort to saying that Ellie’s in danger.
This vote will go on until Sunday, the 30th at 11:59 PM EST!
Please throw us a vote on Topwebfiction. It’ll only take less than 5 seconds of your time.