“Have I made myself perfectly clear?”
The Elder’s words pierced like sun through thick smoke, the smog consisting of her earlier statements. While Shreya had been gone, Shanti had been whisked off to the foxes in her place. All the blame went to her. And try as Shreya might to inhale and blow away the Elder’s reasonings, she was too choked up to do so.
They’re going to kill her.
“I understand,” Shreya said, willing her tongue to move. “Thank you for telling me.”
“Pravaah would be proud of your maturity. You may take your leave now.”
As soon as she was out in the night air, Shreya felt like screaming. But what good would howling do without a concrete plan to follow it? The emotional release would only bring about temporary relief. It wouldn’t change the circumstances, namely that her sister was well on her way to being sacrificed.
Did Danilo and the rest of her friends know about this? Were they coming up with a plan to get her back? They couldn’t just let the Elders take her away. They had to do something… Danilo was still recovering from his injuries, so him helping was questionable. He’d probably insist on coming along, in spite of the healing he still needed to do.
She ran to his home, her surroundings blurring in her rush to see him. If anyone greeted her as she passed them by, she didn’t notice. Her whole focus was on seeing Danilo as soon as possible.
“Danilo,” Shreya called from outside his door.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the one who answered. His mother did, their smiles striking in their similarity. “Shreya…” Her eyes took on a piteous quality. The softness confused Shreya. Was her fragile state showing somehow? “He’s out right now.”
“No, with Adikavi, Chinaza, Oydis, and Firouz. He didn’t take the news well. When he’s older and looks back on this, he’ll understand that what happened to Shanti was necessary,” she said.
Shreya bit her tongue. As much as she disagreed with Danilo’s mother, she didn’t need to get into a fight with her about it. She was only following what the Elders said. The vast majority of wolves in their community were like that. Unity in belief promoted strength. Cracks in the proverbial wall that was their village threatened that stability.
And rather than fix or stand with those problems, they oust them.
Personal feelings that hindered the group at large had no place in their culture.
“Some day,” Shreya said in empty acknowledgement. “Do you know where they might have gone?”
Danilo’s mother rattled off some possibilities. Shreya thanked her, then left for the most likely place, specifically one she hadn’t mentioned. If they were going to come up with any plans, they’d be doing so outside of the community. Shreya knew her hunch was correct as soon as she caught the group’s scent.
They were hanging out near the same lake they’d fished in on the day that led to all of this. Everyone sat around a circle of randomly placed stones. Whatever conversation they were having ended as soon as Shreya stepped closer.
Danilo didn’t look up at her. He kept his head down, while Oydis rubbed his back. Adikavi fixed Shreya with a hard glare. Chinaza shrugged, like she was waiting for Shreya to say something.
Firouz spoke first, his hair and clothes wet like he’d come back from a dip in the lake. “Nice to see you around. I told you she’d show up.”
“Yeah…” Chinaza said listlessly. “You were lucky this time.”
“What are you doing here?” Adikavi asked, maintaining his glare.
“The same thing as you,” Shreya said. “I’m coming up with a plan for how we’re going to rescue Shanti. They couldn’t have gone far. They have…maybe some hours on us, but that’s not impossible for us to make up.”
“We’re supposed to stay out of it,” Danilo mumbled.
“That’s what they’re telling us, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”
Oydis shook her head, her hand resting on Danilo’s shoulder. “We can’t.”
“Shanti would do it for us,” Shreya said.
“Shut up,” Adikavi snapped. “You have no idea what Shanti would do.”
“She’s my sister.”
“If we went after her, we’d just… We’d just create more problems,” Danilo said. “I don’t know where you were, but we talked about this already. This is best for everyone. I know Shanti wouldn’t want any of us getting involved. We’re doing what she would want.”
Defiance surged within Shreya. “You’re wrong. Shanti would expect us to help her. We’re her family. We can’t let them do this to her.”
Where did their warped view of her sister come from? Had any of them been chosen for this, Shanti would’ve rallied everyone for a rescue operation. She wouldn’t have hesitated to come up with a plan. None of them seemed willing to do the same thing in return for her. Shreya wanted to shake them, wake them up from whatever fog they were in.
“Shanti doesn’t want us taking any risks,” Firouz explained. “You should’ve seen the way she’s been lately. She won’t even let us climb trees in case we get a splinter.”
“Shanti’s everyone’s mother,” Oydis said.
“Now she’s no one’s,” Chinaza pointed out.
“Hey,” Shreya growled.
“Sorry, I’m just facing the facts here.” Chinaza’s deadpan apology didn’t sound the least bit sincere.
“So, none of you are willing to save her?” Shreya asked. She glanced from face to face in the circle. “You’re going to let her go.”
“Don’t make it sound like it’s something we like doing,” Adikavi said.
“We’re respecting what she would want. Her life to save everyone else’s,” Firouz said. He twisted his shirt, water dripping out of the soaked fabric.
“It might be hard to understand, but—” Oydis started.
“I’m never going to understand it.” And if Shreya ever did, she wouldn’t trust herself anymore. “I’m not going to let her die.”
Adikavi stood up. He towered her. “Is that what you think we’re doing? Shut up and go away, Shreya.”
“Go easy on her. She’s upset,” Oydis said. If it hadn’t been for her, Shreya would’ve stormed off sooner.
“Doesn’t give her the right to treat us like we’re scum,” Adikavi seethed.
“You’re not scum. You’re…” Shreya struggled to find a nice way to put it. “You’re not making any sense.”
“Listen to Adikavi, please,” Danilo said quietly. “We can talk some other time, okay?”
They’re not going to budge. How was it that she was the one in the wrong? Not a single one of Shanti’s friends leapt to her rescue. Oydis may have been somewhat sympathetic, by virtue of her kindhearted nature, but the rest of them were stone cold. With the way he looked at her, Adikavi seemed like he was daring Shreya to stick around so he’d have an excuse to fight her.
Sadly, miraculously beating him wasn’t going to help. That’d probably get the group to hate her twice as much, and they still wouldn’t be convinced to do anything for Shanti. They were completely broken. Useless.
They were grieving a situation they could easily remedy. It wasn’t like Shanti was dead already. They could do something about it if they tried. But they won’t. I’m wasting my time here.
“Sorry,” Shreya settled on saying. Sorry for them, sorry for the fact they were abandoning Shanti, the girl they supposedly cared so much about. “I’ll go.”
Looking back on it, it would’ve been a nicer exit if she’d walked out with her head held high. Instead, Shreya took off at full speed, refusing to spare them a second glance. She was silent, save for her breathing, but in her heart and head she was screaming. It was there that she could do the mourning (no) that she needed to.
No, no mourning for someone who’s alive, not when I can do something about it.
Shreya skidded to a stop near the edge of the village, right around the corner where she usually made her escape.
If they weren’t going to listen to her, maybe she would. It hurt to get her involved, but what other options did she have? Ellie always acted like she had armies at her disposal. Stockbrunn could obliterate the foxes, and the whole problem would be off of their backs. The Marjani wolves would be safe, and nothing bad would happen to Shanti.
Maybe…maybe she would understand. Or you could be pushing things too far. You’re barely on good terms right now. Oh, hello, Ellie, thank you for accepting me back. Do you mind if we borrow an army to save my sister? Thanks, you’re the best.
Shreya wiped her hands across her eyes. She stared up at the sky.
If only the moon held the answer.
A/N: The moon might not have the answer, but I know you guys do! 🙂
Voting ends October 8th at 11:59 PM EST.
This chapter involved a question from a chapter all the way back in mid-June. 18 voters voted on whether Shreya would keep arguing with Elder Ilkay or just leave. 8 said she should continue to argue, and 11 said she should leave.
Chapter 63 will be out on October 10th. Oh, and if anyone has any horror movie (or TV show) recommendations, they’d be much appreciated. Trying to binge a big amount of horror stuff this month. :O