The thought of playing dead crossed her mind. She imagined the look of horror on everybody’s faces when they finally opened the trunk to discover she’d ran out of oxygen. That was why on the journey over to the woods, she didn’t fuss or kick against the trunk. Elspeth played as a silent, although seemingly willing, passenger.
There were ample opportunities in which she could’ve screamed to be let out. For whatever reason, Zinnia and Sunflower had cut a path through the town. Elspeth had to listen to the going-ons of the passerbys on the street. None of them had any awareness of their errors being kidnapped. The whole thing was comical, really, and she would’ve laughed if she didn’t care about being discovered.
And she would’ve fallen right to sleep if it weren’t for the bumps in the road. At some point, Marietta joined them. It perplexed Elspeth as to why Zinnia would enlist in the pig’s help. It seemed as if they were spending more time together lately, the complete slap in the face to Zinnia’s normal attitude. Something must’ve been wrong with her.
Of course there was. She was literally kidnapping someone. Her desperation baffled her as much as Elspeth’s compliance did. Although Zinnia had explained her reasons for doing so, they struck Elspeth as silly. Silly and misinformed and wholly naïve. But, Elspeth decided to go along with it so that this solution would at least be wiped off of the table. Once this was finished, she would no longer have Zinnia constantly prodding her for her reunion with…
Animals having names wasn’t a foreign concept. Sunflower had one. Marietta had one, and even had the gall to claim the Trotters’ last name as her own. And yet when it came to that wolf having a name, Elspeth found herself unable to say it. Whenever she did, her stomach somersaulted. It was a name only reserved for dreams and nightmares.
Now that she thought about it more, she was glad that she couldn’t get to sleep. She would’ve preferred not to have her thoughts rattling around her head with every jostle the trunk made, but she dealt with it. It was better that than seeing a girl who only existed in dreamscape.
When Zinnia and the others brought Elspeth to the cabin, the wolf didn’t sound particularly happy about it. Their voices were muffled, the four walls of the trunk preventing Elspeth from fully hearing their conversation. She could hear enough of their tones to know that the plot rested squarely on Zinnia’s shoulders. The wolf girl had nothing to do with it besides being Elspeth’s recipient.
It wasn’t until their talking died down and the door slammed shut that the latches to the trunk were undone. The lid was shoved open. Elspeth stared up at her, a series of barbs working their way up her throat. She planned on letting her have it, big time. She’d let her know everything that she’d been storing up for this moment.
“I did not ask her to do this,” the wolf said. She’d backed up as soon as the lid went up. “I thought she would bring you normal, normally.” She stumbled over the pronunciation of the word.
Elspeth sat up. Her words were stuck with her, as rigid as her once-cramped arms.
The wolf was wearing her usual attire. The hat. The deerskin cape. A belt with a holstered knife. Everything about her wolfishness was hidden from view. How had Elspeth missed it before? It was obvious. Nothing about her came off as human. She’d done a decent job of tricking her but now that the truth was known, Elspeth picked up on all the details that read as wrong.
“I am sorry for this,” the wolf said. “I know you do not want to be here. I did not think Zinnia would force you to be here.”
Elspeth climbed out of the trunk. She smoothed her skirt, making sure it was modestly straight.
Everything she’d wanted to say faltered in the face of its target. Seeing Shreya—no, seeing the wolf—robbed her of her speech forming capabilities. Her tongue was more than tied. It was anviled, pinned in place by an incomprehensible weight.
“It is okay not to talk…” The wolf’s arms hung loose at her sides. She looked at the floor. Elspeth wondered if her ears were pinned her head, like a dog in deference.
Elspeth wished the cabin had a mirror so she could see what she looked like. Was she glaring the way she hoped she was or had her dumbfoundedness worked its way onto her face? Going into this, she’d been the embodiment of fury. Now she was just the embodiment of slack-jawed nothingness.
“This is fine. We do not have to say anything. I wanted to see you before I leave.”
“Where are you going?” Finally, Elspeth was able to say something. It wasn’t what she planned to say, but it was a start.
“I have to answer for the rabbits. The Fox King is threatening us. He said that we give him food to make up for what we did or his foxes will attack. I am stepping forward to avoid that.”
“What does that mean? Are you sacrificing yourself or something?”
“My sister warned me not to do it, but I had to speak to the Elders about it. I took the blame for everything.”
“You’re not making any sense,” Elspeth said. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I had to tell them so they could make the best decision on what to do.”
“What in Casterne did you tell them? That rabbit thing wasn’t your idea. Your sister and her friends forced you to go. You’re not the one to blame at all. Why would you do a silly thing like take the fall for everything?”
“For my people’s safety.”
“That’s beyond the pale of idiocy,” Elspeth said. “What about your safety? What are the Elders going to do with you?”
“They are making their decision soon. That is why I told Zinnia that if we were to see each other, it would have to be now. I do not think I will be here for much longer. I doubt things will turn out in my favor.”
Elspeth gritted her teeth. “You’re not throwing yourself to the foxes because of me, are you? You weren’t this stupid before.”
“You weren’t like this, either,” the wolf returned. “Your friends are worried about you. Zinnia told me you are having problems.”
“Yeah? Did she remember to mention that they’re all your fault? Everything was perfectly fine before you went and, and… We’re just going to circle the same argument over and over again. I should’ve busted out that trunk earlier.”
“And yet, you did not. Since this is the last time we will see each other, I am not going to coddle you.”
“Nice vocabulary word there. Did you do some reading before this?” She liked picturing Shreya preparing herself for this conversation. It sounded like they both had to psych themselves up for this.
“I have thought a lot about the last time we saw each other. I have gone over it hundreds of times. It is obvious that your problem is your denial. You hate wolves, I get it. I understand that. But you know that you do not hate me, and that is what is causing you the most problems.”
“Shut up,” Elspeth said. “You’re not me. You have no idea what I’m thinking. I do hate you.”
“Then why are you here? Why did you get upset when I told you that I have to leave? If you hated me, you would be happy.”
“Because it’s stupid! Undo it. Tell them that you’re lying.”
“You wish to death for all wolves and here you are, trying to save one. Is this the behavior of someone that hates me?”
“You’re completely twisting what I’m saying.”
“Am I?” Shreya took a step towards her. “Your feelings do not make you a traitor to your people. I had to deal with feeling that way, too. My sister told me that I was cursed, but I got over that. Remember when you said that everyone on the outside did not matter? All that matters is us.”
“Don’t come any closer to me.”
“Think about everything that you ever said to me. You need to realize that I am not the only liar in this room. You are in denial.”
“Don’t talk to me about being in denial when you’re still wearing that hat.”
“Then, I will take it off.” Shreya pulled it off of her head and dropped it to the ground. She swiped her hands through her hair, her ears twitching every time she touched them.
They’re kind of cute.
The thought horrified Elspeth as soon as her mind uttered it.
Where did that come from?
“I do not expect any miracles today,” Shreya said. “You are not going to change today. You might not change tomorrow or the next week or the next year after that, but eventually, you will. You will look back on this and remember.”
“Yeah, I’ll remember how I was lied to.”
“You will remember how you lied to yourself.”
“You know what? I don’t need to keep hearing this nonsense,” Elspeth said. “You should go. Go back to your little wolves’ den and get out of my face. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
“I thought you were different. I really did. You have disappointed me more than I disappointed you, I can tell you that. Shanti was right about you. She said I should not have trusted you, but I guess I was blinded by my feelings.”
“Look, if you’re trying to get me to pity you, it’s not working.”
“I do not want your pity. If anyone is pathetic here and deserving of pity, it is you. I pity you for your bigotry. I pity you for being unable to see me as anything other than my blood. I pity you for being so insistent that you feel nothing.”
“Just shut up and get out of here.” Elspeth was tired of hearing her talk.
“You may be beautiful on the outside, but that’s where your beauty ends. You are terrible, despicable person. You are the rotten beast here, not me.”
“You shut up right now. Get out before I throw you out.”
“What did you and Freesia do to your town, anyway? You will never see me again after this so you might as well tell me.”
“That’s it. Now you’re just trying to get under my skin.”
“You keep calling me a monster when we both know who the real monster is.”
Elspeth surged forward, arms outstretched. Shreya didn’t move to get out of the way. She allowed Elspeth to grab her by the front of her shirt. Elspeth twisted her hand around the fabric. She walked, pushing her back until Shreya hit the wall.
The knife… She could easily reach for it. Elspeth could yank it free from its holster, press it against Shreya’s throat, and force her to take back everything she was saying.
Shreya’s blue-eyed gaze didn’t waver from Elspeth’s. Her chest moved with every deep breaths she took in. “If you plan on hurting me, Ellie, you have already done that. But if you want to prove my point, you can do it. Do whatever you want to do. It is our last time, after all.”
“Stop saying that.” Elspeth didn’t like the way her voice broke when she said that. “And I don’t go by Ellie anymore. It’s Elspeth.”
“Is that so? Nice to meet you, Elspeth.”
She noticed that her hand was trembling. She tightened her grip on the front of Shreya’s shirt to hide it.
“You’re infuriating,” Elspeth said. “Since you keep saying that it’s our last time at all, you might as well hear some choice words from me, too. I hate you, Shreya. I hate you more than I’ve hated anyone else in my life. Get that loud and clear.”
“Yes, you hate me.” The sarcasm dripped from Shreya’s words. “You like going by Elspeth and you hate me, yes. That is you.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Why would I believe anything that you say anymore?” Shreya asked.
“Then, I’ll prove it to you.” Elspeth leaned in.
Shreya closed her eyes.
A/N: Here’s what we got to see in this chapter…
Whose POV do you want to see first when Ellie and Shreya meet up again? 26 votes on that. 17 votes for Ellie. 9 for Shreya.
Did Shreya talk to the Elders and take blame for the rabbit incident? 28 voters. 16 said yes. 12 said no.
What plan will Zinnia/Marietta use to get Ellie into the woods? We had 10 votes for kidnapping her, 6 for them saying Zinnia’s in danger, and 8 votes for Zinnia asking Ellie to search for Freesia with her. TBH, I threw kidnapping in there as a joke, haha.
Voting for this chapter will end Sunday, May 21st. New chapter on Tuesday, May 23rd.
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