Shreya slipped into the realm of sleep without realizing it. Everything that happened had taken its toll on her, robbing her of her wakefulness. It was back again, though, in full force. The presence of the stranger put her on high alert. Whoever she was, she demanded answers. Telling her the wrong thing at the wrong moment would be dangerous.
The woman spoke with a self-assured air, her demeanor serious and commanding. She looked down on Shreya, and Shreya had the feeling that even if their heights were equal, this woman would still be looking down on her. When she first awoke and was gathering her wits, Shreya confused her for the woman that had been accompanying Ellie during the crossbow incident. If that had been true, the woman would’ve said something about it.
Marietta never struck her as some kind of celebrity. It was strange that someone would show up at her home. Marietta never had visitors aside from Ellie and her friends, even when Shreya stayed there for a long period of time. For some stranger to cost her like this… It didn’t make much sense. Then, there was the pestering about her connection to Ellie.
Shreya had hoped that pretending not to understand her would get her off of the hook. Ignore me, I’m just a wayward foreigner, she tried to come off as. If anything, Shreya’s acting deepened the stern look on the woman’s face. She scrutinized her, like a bird considering a bug it could peck to death and eat. Was it worth the effort to kill, chew, and swallow?
Going back to Stockbrunn with her was out of the question. The blade the woman carried didn’t give her many options. It wasn’t like she was some random person. She looked like someone that could fight, and not only that, but win the fight, too.
Shreya didn’t need to go over the multitude of reasons why she couldn’t step foot on Stockbrunn’s soil.
The woman openly dropped her gaze to Shreya’s dagger.
I could give it a try. Maybe it would get her to back off a bit. Flexing some of her strength may make the other woman wary—or it could get her killed. It didn’t seem like name dropping Ellie did much to save Shreya. Maybe, it stop the woman from out right killing her. Ellie had warned her that her town wasn’t open to strangers. That sentiment showed itself in this woman, loud and clear.
Shreya noticed that the woman wore a belt buckle like Ellie’s. Her rising sense of panic kept her from King into anything else about this woman. Whenever she looked at her face, she saw was the possibility of death or capture. And capture was just an inevitable death, because once they took off her hat, she’d have to say goodbye to everyone.
“I won’t harm you if I don’t have to,” the woman said.
Brown eyes locked on hers. Shreya sensed a challenge in them.
She rose to it, springing to her feet with the flexibility afforded to her by blood. Shreya bolted into a full speed run. She aimed for the tree line. She was quick enough, she could escape into the woods. There, she could wait for Ellie’s return.
Two pairs of feet raced after her. A glance over her shoulder confirmed one of them to belong to Sunflower, who didn’t know what was going on. Shreya wish she’d built a stronger loyalty in her. She had, maybe she’d be able to take down whoever this woman was. Instead, she was gleefully running after the two.
Shreya took a sharp turn towards the part of the woods that held her home. They were quite a ways away from there, but Shreya could use her familiarity to her advantage. All she had to do was make it to the grove of forked trees. Escaping into their branches was just the thing she needed.
She screamed, a sudden heavy weight taking her down. It eased up enough to allow her to roll over onto her back. Then, the weight returned, pinning her to the ground. The woman had her trapped.
“Do you want to try that again?” she asked. “I considered going light on you but now that I know that you’re a flight risk…”
“Leave me! Ellie will be angry,” Shreya tried.
Sunflower cheered at the sound of her owner’s name.
“I could’ve taken you right to her,” said the woman. Her face being this close to Shreya is only made her more frightening. It didn’t help that it looked like she was ready to break Shreya’s wrists.
“She will be here. You will be sorry.” She wasn’t sure if she was talking too much, but her tongue was willing to try anything to get this woman to go. “Stockbrunn has prisons. She will put you in one.”
For whatever reason, saying that was enough to get the woman to release her (and to also get her to loudly sigh, oddly enough). She stood up and offered Shreya a hand.
“Consider this your second chance,” the woman said, nothing light about her tone.
Shreya hesitated to take her hand.
“Nothing bad will happen to you as long as you comply,” she continued.
There was nothing trustworthy about this stranger. What had just happened didn’t exactly inspire any confidence. The woman could just as easily use her hand to flip and throw her to the ground. Ellie had done something like that before—a grapple move transitioning into a fast turn-over.
Why trick her twice in a row like that? It was just more proof that she could break her down. Shanti often did things like that. And it was because of her, that Shreya took her second attempt to flee. She shot off of the ground.
This time, all the woman had to do was grab her by the back of her shirt to stop her. Her next move was to wrap her arm around Shreya’s neck, bringing her into headlock.
“You’re just as hardheaded as Ellie,” the woman said. She kept her hold loose, but tight enough for Shreya to know that she couldn’t get away.
Shreya twisted in her grasp, her efforts in vain. “Why you doing this? Who are you?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out with you,” she answered. “You’re making this difficult.”
The woman readjusted her hold. Shreya realized that, to her horror, her hat was starting to skew. All of her twisting and turning was beginning to make her lose it. If it fell, with this woman hesitate to draw her blade? Shreya thought about going for her knife, just to get the jump on her, but the position she was in made her doubt that would end well.
Nothing she had tried did, so why would that? Had her mind been in a more rational place, she would have been trying anything this much. Everything in her head was so frazzled. It didn’t help that her entrapment made it worse. She was losing it, everything she could hold onto unraveling like a string.
“Please let go,” Shreya said in desperation. “The heiress, she… Bad things to you. Lots of them.”
“Why are you so insistent on that?” she asked. “What makes you that special that Ellie would be willing to do all those things for you?” The woman squeezed her arm.
The increased pressure choked Shreya. “Together! We are together,” she managed to say.
“This bracelet… She wears the same one.” Ellie never cut hers off. It was that fact that allowed her to hope that they weren’t completely over. “Violet. Black. White.” She especially emphasized the first word.
At that, the woman abruptly let her go.
Shreya answered her earlier question, “Truly. This is the truth.” She rubbed her throat. “I am not leaving here. You get close to me and I will run.” She hoped the woman would forgive the minor contradiction in her phrasing.
“How long has it been? Months?” The woman folded her arms behind her back, as if to show she wouldn’t do anything. Shreya doubted that very much, but it appeared that they had reached a deadlock of sorts.
“When she gets here, you will know.”
Sunflower laid in the grass, busying herself with the straps that held up her shorts.
They didn’t over their gazes from one another until the person they were waiting for appeared. Ellie was sounding something, entirely out of breath. Her appearance supported her frantic voice. Red cheeks, a heaving chest, and her hair blown wildly out of place, she hurried over to Shreya and the woman.
As soon as she was close enough, the woman grabbed Ellie’s arm. She forced her sleeve down, revealing her matching bracelet.
“Hey!” Ellie cried.
Shreya went for her knife, her fingers grasping the hilt and then loosening at Ellie’s next words:
“What the hell, Mom?” She pulled away from her.
The woman that got in Shreya’s face turned out to be Ellie’s mother, the Chieftess of Stockbrunn. Shreya’s mind became stuck on that point as Ellie and her mother talked. She couldn’t believe she missed their similarities before. Now that they were right next to each other, she could see the resemblance.
“Is this your girlfriend?” the Chieftess asked.
“No!” Ellie blurted out. She brushed her hands through her hair. “I have no idea who this is. Maybe she’s lost and needs some help. Hello, stranger! Where are you from? The woods? Interesting place to be from. Interesting, indeed.”
“She knows Marietta by name. And Sunflower is friendly with her.”
“Ah, she’s probably Marietta’s friend, then. Sunflower hangs out here sometimes. As for me, I’ve never seen this girl in my life. Howdy doo, stranger. Lovely morning we’re having, isn’t it?”
“Ellie, you’re wearing the same bracelet.”
“Seriously? That’s a wild coincidence. What are the odds? I guess some of our fashion trends overlap. Well, stranger, you best be running along now. Maybe we’ll meet again some time soon, maybe not,” Ellie said. “Who’s to know in this game we call life?”
“The exact same one,” her mother repeated.
Ellie sighed, a full body upheaval of the poor acting job she was trying to hold onto. “Okay, I can explain. The answer is obvious. Marietta made the both of us friendship bracelets. We just happen to have a best friend in common, that’s all. If you knew Marietta, then you’d know that she has the same one.”
“I just came from talking to her. You and I both know that isn’t true. You’re about to be in big trouble. Be honest with me. I’ll give you five seconds.”
“She’s just—a, um…she might be my—a-actually, does it matter? Do you really want to get into this right now? And Catalina is dealing with a lot of paperwork back at the station. She could use your help.”
Shreya attempted to tiptoe out of the scene.
The Chieftess snapped at her. “You’re not going anywhere!”
“Okay,” she said, not wanting to get into another headlock or anything else like that. Apparently, Ellie’s protection didn’t count for much when it came to defending her from her mother.
“Is she the reason for your behavior lately?” The Chieftess full-on pointed to Shreya.
Ellie shook her head. She smiled like a terrified animal. “Can we just save this for home? You’re embarassing me.”
“Are you trying to get back at me, is that it?”
“It’s not like that. Please, can we not do this in front of her?”
“I have half a mind to take you home with me right now,” the Chieftess said.
“How about later tonight? We’re dealing with a bit of an emergency,” Ellie said. “Um…girl problems, if you have to know. I’ll tell you everything later tonight, I promise.”
How long would their impending argument take? If Ellie got dragged away, Shreya doubted she could stick around for very long. As it was, she was meeting major delay after delay. The hours were dwindling. The odds of finding and rescuing her sister in one piece were slimming with every minute.
“I’m sure she can deal with that just fine without you,” the Chieftess replied.
“If I have to,” Shreya added.
“Zinnia and Marietta should be here soon,” Ellie said, “but Mom, you have to understand that I’m an integral piece in this group. You can’t just whisk me off.”
Except, she very well could.
A/N: Sorry for any dictation errors. Definitely rushed this towards the end…no time to go through and pick out the errors. I realized that I left a big one in the last chapter…a sentence said “the sheer friend” instead of “a mere friend,” lmao, what?
12 voters last chapter. 7 votes for “Shreya attempts to flee and winds up mentioning her relationship with Ellie when she is subdued. Ellie shows up after.” 5 votes for the other choice, meaning that we didn’t get to see Hildegarde hold her at saber point and for Ellie to bear witness to that awkwardness.
Every chapter we get closer to our rescue operation. So close, yet so far away! Voting will end Sunday at 11:59 PM EST. Next chapter Tuesday, the 21st.