It shouldn’t have been that hard to find a pig wandering around Stockbrunn. For one, it was a rare sight, and for two, people would’ve been up in arms about it. After all, it wasn’t every day that an ordinarily penned-up creature roamed the streets. Marietta’s presence should have been like a beacon in the darkness, her appearance pulling in people’s attention from far and wide.
“You haven’t seen a lost pig, either?” Ellie asked with a sigh.
“I’m sorry, Heiress Navarrete,” the storekeeper said. She leaned her broom beside the door to her shop. “Have you tried the farms?”
“I suppose I could. Thank you for your time.”
That must’ve been the tenth shop Ellie visited, in the hopes that someone might have seen Marietta. No one knew or heard anything about a pig. Ellie suspected that the curfew was to blame. Everyone being forced indoors after the arsony nonsense meant Marietta went around unnoticed.
She’d already double-checked her home and the streets leading to it. Investigating the nearest neighborhood didn’t yield any answers. So far the shopping district seemed just as empty of clues as the other areas.
Ellie crunched her boot over a shard of glass. Its colorful remnants suggested it fell from someone’s cart earlier in the morning. Merchants were peddling their wares in the square; store owners were welcoming customers into their shop. Everything in Stockbrunn was as it should be, almost like the fiery incident hadn’t happened.
Business doesn’t stop for danger, she thought as she surveyed the going-ons. Her poor luck thus far told her that it was pointless talking to any of the merchants about Marietta. Ellie needed to escalate the situation. Pulling her aunt into the mix would do the trick…but the results could be less than ideal.
She pictured Catalina teasing and heckling her the whole time. You’re up in arms over a pig? she’d say, with a taunting grin on her face. But Marietta wasn’t “a pig,” not like that. Catalina could, and would, cover everything up with a joke, but Ellie knew she’d be just as worried about finding her. Marietta had a history with their town.
It was for that reason that she doubted anyone would’ve brought her to the farms. Moreover, she doubted that Marietta would want to set her hooves near there. She got away, so why would she want to go back? Marietta had to be holed up somewhere. Maybe, detained.
If Ellie had been walking, she would’ve stopped in her tracks. The thought made sense. For Marietta’s safety, someone probably took her to the police station. Even if Ellie was way off the mark with her assumption, maybe she could go ahead and enlist her aunt’s help. Having a notice out for Marietta’s whereabouts would be good. Then, Ellie could hurry up and get back to Shreya.
At that, she broke out into a run.
Zinnia Trotter’s morning was of the usual fare. Wake up, get dressed and ready, lament over the classes she’d been too stressed to attend, make breakfast for her siblings, check on her mother, and then go tend to the pigs. Things at the farm took longer than she’d liked.
Somehow, she messed up on the feed measurements and had to start all over again. It wasn’t an issue of there not being enough food. It was an issue of equality. The last thing she needed to do was give them any reasons to get into spats over their differences in food piles. Once they started arguing over who was superior over who, it’d be a headache to get them to stop.
So, to prevent that, Zinnia had to take extra time at the farm to fix her mistakes. Meanwhile, her father busied himself with fixing a strange hole in the fence. It hadn’t been wide enough for any of the pigs to fit through, but the fact that it was there bothered Zinnia something awful.
A curt goodbye to her father, and Zinnia left for the town. Her coveralls had a fresh smear of pig slop on them, courtesy of a poorly done bucket tilt. Changing and washing them was of top priority. Along with… Along with doing something about Noemi’s recent demands. Hours later, and they still didn’t set well with Zinnia.
No matter how much thinking she did about it, she couldn’t figure out what Noemi planned on doing with Ellie. The sinister tone beneath their exchange made it seem like they weren’t going to have a light-hearted chat. At the same time, though, Zinnia knew that Noemi wasn’t foolish enough to threaten Ellie with any harm. Logic made her well aware of that, but it provided little comfort to the anxiety writhing in her stomach.
Intendant Navarrete would take care of the situation. She’d make it so that neither of them would have a single thing to worry about. It wasn’t like Zinnia needed Noemi anymore, as far as finances were concerned. Her new job as Ellie’s secret caretaker covered what she needed…or at least it would once Zinnia built up the courage to request her paycheck.
Maybe I should ask if there’s a signing bonus. She shook her head at how ridiculous that was. A person walking by thought she was shaking her head at him—he appeared to fluff up at her rudeness, and she apologized for the misunderstanding.
“Yeah, right. Save it,” he snapped before carrying off in the direction he was headed.
Walking through Stockbrunn unsettled Zinnia. It was like everyone in the shopping district was on edge. Zinnia took notice of their strained interactions. An apple fallen off of a cart? The woman running the fruit stand screamed at the boy who caused it to fall. People arguing, practically spitting in each other’s faces over prices that were once fair yesterday and now unfair today.
The fire dragged the gunk of the city to the surface.
What’s new? Soon enough, the arsonist accusations would fly. If the Chieftess and Intendant Navarrete didn’t do their jobs correctly, they’d all have a witch hunt on their hands. A prize for identifying the arsonists would ignite something the town didn’t need.
…Like their heiress running at full speed, her face red and her hair blowing out of place. That certainly was unneeded and altogether bizzare.
“Ellie?” Zinnia called.
Ellie near-stumbled to a stop. She struggled to catch her breath. “What?” she coughed.
“What in Casterne are you doing?”
“I need—Marietta’s gone, and I’ve got to—” Ellie turned away to cough again. “Got to find Marietta. And you! I need you to help me. I know this is short notice and that this sounds all kinds of wild, but I really need your help.”
“What’s going on? What do you mean Marietta’s gone?” Zinnia wished they were in a more private place. Conversations were difficult when people passed by to get a peek at their heiress in disarray. “We should talk somewhere else.”
“She went out to find me last night and got lost or something,” Ellie said, her normal color returning. “You didn’t see her at your farm, did you?”
“She’d never go back there. Not to mine or anybody else’s,” Zinnia said.
“Thought so. Some shopkeeper made the suggestion so I thought I’d ask. I was just on my way to the police station to check if someone brought her there.”
“Did you try a veterinarian’s office?”
Ellie lit up. “Good idea! Ooh, but okay, as soon as we get Marietta, I’m gonna need both of you to come back with me. There’s a serious emergency going on that only you guys can know about.” She dropped her voice to a whisper, “you’ve got to promise to help me.”
“Tell me what’s going on,” Zinnia urged.
“Shreya’s sister’s been kidnapped and we’ve got to go find her. A bunch of foxes took her.”
Zinnia tensed up. She hadn’t forgotten her last run-in with that girl. “What would foxes want with her?”
“It’s, um…I don’t know. Maybe they’re going to do a ritual or something. I don’t know. But you’ve got to come with us. Shreya doesn’t have anyone to help her except for us.”
“We should tell Intendant Navarrete about this.”
“No!” Ellie cried. “This is staying in our group. You’re not allowed to tell anyone and you’re especially not allowed to tell anyone about anything you might see.”
“Why? Why’s everything such a secret?” It would be unorthodox for Stockbrunn to get involved with people in the forest, but Zinnia could see Intendant Navarrete taking the mission into her own hands with a small squad. All Ellie would have to do is sufficiently explain the situation, and then Shreya’s sister would be rescued.
A team of herself, Ellie, Marietta, Shreya, and Sunflower didn’t sound very smart. Shreya seemed capable, okay, and Ellie had some training (which she used to complain all the time about, so hopefully she paid attention), but Zinnia was a farmer. She didn’t know the first thing about rescue operations.
“It’s a secret because…um…something that has to do with Shreya. If I tell you, you’re going to have to promise to help. It kind of has to do with why we broke up. I’ll only tell you if it’ll get you to help without question.”
That piqued Zinnia’s interest more than she cared to admit. “What is it?”
“I don’t really want to tell you. I’m still processing it, to be honest.”
“Then, don’t tell me. Her secret’s not some kind of bargaining chip. It’s probably better if I don’t know. It’s not my business,” Zinnia said. “Anyway…let’s tell your aunt about this. She’ll know what to do.”
“Zinnia, listen…” Ellie grabbed her arm. “I really need your help here. The more people, the better, and you’re one of the only people I can trust.”
If I went along, I could take her out of the situation if anything got bad.
Or better yet, I could just refuse and tell the Intendant about what she’s doing. That’s what my job would require me to do.
A/N: Happy Halloween!!! Did you have a spooky time? By the way, Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday, November 5th at 2 AM. The clock will go back 1 hour at that time. Yes, I borrowed that text from the clock on my laptop.
Voting for this week’s chapter will end Sunday, November 5th at 11:59 PM. Next chapter on Tuesday, November 7th.
This week we got to see the results for ***our lowest voter turn out ever.*** We’ve never had an amount this small, even for Chapter 1. Whomp, whomp. Looks like I’ve got some more advertising to do. 6 people voted (and 7 voted on the other poll – so maybe some errors happened). 5 voted for Ellie asking Zinnia to help rescue Shanti, and 1 voted for Ellie not to ask her.
We’ll see if we can get our numbers up again. I believe in the heart of the cards, so we’ll see. 🙂