The inner turmoil whirling around in Ellie’s eyes was twice as painful for Shreya to see, knowing she was responsible for it. The push and shove of their circumstance forced her to do it. She had to make her threats, and she had to bare all so Ellie would understand that she couldn’t accept a “no.”
It was “help me or don’t help me, but I’m leaving, anyway”—all shuffling around and acting like she was going to close Marietta’s door on her. It was (as loathe as she was to admit it) petulant and bordering on a tantrum, but what else was Shreya supposed to do in the face of the one person she thought wouldn’t hesitate to help her?
That was different, Ellie said. Shreya had keyed in on Ellie’s words, her backpeddling attempt to make it seem like things hadn’t changed. Reassurances played out in hugs and smiles amounted to nothing when, in truth, their gulf still existed. That expanse was never more clear than now.
You’re torturing her to give you what you want.
Maybe, she was. Worse than that, she was probably spitting on the remains of their fragile relationship. But, she’d give that up and have Ellie hate her a million times if it meant Shanti’s safety and freedom.
“What we’ll do about Shanti…” Ellie’s echoing of Shreya came out weak, like she was still turning the idea of it around in her head. She cleared her throat to renew her voice. “We’re going to save her. You and me, and an army of our friends. Pulling anyone else into this would be too risky.”
“It is full of risks, yes.” Perhaps moreso without Stockbrunn’s backing.
“That’s okay. We’re not going to let that stop us. We have to try. When Freesia disappeared, that’s all I wanted people to do. I needed them to actually try, so…here I am, trying for you. We’ll bring her home.”
She should’ve hugged her and more for that. Instead, Shreya stood, her undeserving arms empty.
“Thank you. We must hurry.”
“Just hold on right here, okay? Let me find Marietta and get a few things, and we can go. I’ll be as fast as I can. Sunflower, you stay. Stay put. See you soon.” Ellie placed a kiss on Shreya’s cheek before rushing away.
She left Shreya behind with a dog and a bag of food the dog kept inching towards. Without her owner around, Sunflower had free reign to get into what she wanted. Shreya, on the other hand, wasn’t feeling very hungry. She was just exhausted.
Shreya sat down in the grass, waiting for Ellie’s return.
“As soon as Ellie gets here, you’re all going to get it!” Marietta yelled at the door.
Being brought to the station hadn’t ended her indignity. The rudeness continued. She was forced into a dirty cell, where she was trapped all night long. When she was finally allowed out, she was shoved into a cramped room that could’ve had more space if it wasn’t for the table it was housing. Seriously, whose idea was it to decorate a room with a table and two chairs on either end?
No wonder Zinnia was so clueless when it came to building houses. If this was typical Stockbrunnian interior design, then someone needed to schedule an intervention for every last citizen.
“I am losing my patience here,” she said loudly. How dare they shut her in a room and ignore her like this.
At last, the door opened. “I deeply apologize for the delay. We had an incident in the town, otherwise I would’ve retrieved you sooner.”
“My goodness, you look so much like Ellie.” She wasn’t an exact replica of her by any means, but the similarities surprised Marietta. Some day that spud of a girl could sprout into someone like the woman at the door. That astounded her.
The Chieftess smiled. “I think you mean that she looks like me.” She shut the door closed to give them some privacy. “Do you mind taking a seat for a moment so that we can talk?”
It had been a long time since she had seen this woman and even so, their prior meetings had been rather brief. She’d forgotten how imposing she was, not just in physical height but in aura. Something under that smile was stern, and although her question was spoken kindly Marietta knew it to be a command.
The temptation to challenge her rose. What was the worst the Chieftess could do to her, all things considered? If she wanted to get rid of Marietta, she would’ve done it by now.
…which means Ellie’s got you under her thumb, and that makes me indivisible here! Let’s see how you react when you don’t get your way.
“Heh, I cooooooould,” she said, stringing out the word. “We can talk once you get Ellie to me.”
“Is there a reason why you were wandering the town last night? We have an agreement.”
“I didn’t sign any agreements.”
“Because you can’t read or write,” the Chieftess said. She took a seat in the chair closest to her. “Please, sit.”
“No, thank you. I’m just here to see Ellie.”
“What couldn’t wait until the next day?”
“Urgent business that doesn’t concern you.” Marietta narrowed her eyes.
“Anything that concerns my daughter concerns me,” she said.
“That’s interesting, since Freesia didn’t seem to concern you all that much.”
If that affected the Chieftess in any way, she didn’t show it. “You would think that, wouldn’t you?”
“You put her in that cage.”
“Her actions did that,” the Chieftess rightly said. “The cage was in response to her crimes against the town. I wish things hadn’t ended the way they did. I do regret that.”
Marietta searched the Chieftess’ eyes for some semblance of truth. “Alright.” She stayed on guard.
“Come with me. Ellie’s probably still at home. We’ll walk there together.”
“Nah.” Marietta crossed her arms. “You go home and bring her to me. I’m not going to trot all over the place like I’m your dog. Besides, knowing Ellie, she’s probably at my house wondering where I am.”
“Then, I’ll go there.” The Chieftess got up to leave.
“Hold on!” Marietta raised her hand. “On second thought, I’ll go with you.”
She didn’t need the Chieftess meeting Shreya. No one did.
“No, it’s fine. You don’t have to exert yourself,” she replied. “Give me half an hour. I’ll be back by the time the longest hand on this clock reaches this point, okay?”
“I’m going with you.”
The Chieftess was out of the door before Marietta could reach her, the grin on her face very reminsicent of Ellie’s. Curse you, Navarettes! The door knob wouldn’t turn, no matter how much force Marietta applied.
“What a mess…” she sighed. Hopefully, Shreya would be smart and high-tail it out of there.
[A/N: answer the above poll first. Then, after you get the “thank you” message, come back and answer the poll below.]
A/N: Yeah, sorry for this mess of a chapter. It’s here courtesy of a mixture of sickness and self-loathing. Nothing like work to kick you where it hurts. </3
10 people voted on last week’s chapter. 0 voted for Ellie convincing Shreya not to go, 1 voted for Ellie getting Stockbrunn’s help, and 9 voted for Ellie to rescue Shanti with her small band of friends. I’m scared!
We also got to see the results of the “will Marietta talk to Hildegarde or Catalina” vote. 12 people voted on that. 6 voted for Hildegarde and 6 voted for Catalina. A coin flip determined Hildegarde would be the one.
Next chapter on the 31st. SPOOKY. Voting for this chapter will end on the 29th.