Is this actually happening?
Ellie didn’t know whether to blame it on fright or shock, but something ejected her out of her body. Numbness overtook her, acting like a preservation to pad her heart. Being removed from the scene, even momentarily, gave her a chance to catch her stuttering breaths in Shreya’s absence.
Although only a broken fence separated them, it felt like they were much further away than that. At any time, a wolf could round the corner, spot Ellie, and snatch her. Shreya told her to run. When she heard that, she wanted to laugh-cry. How was she supposed to outrace a wolf?
Her ankle pulsed angrily. Kicking the slats agitated her injury. As if she needed anything else against her favor. Ellie untucked her shirt to let it graze her belt buckle. She didn’t want to risk the chance of any wolves recognizing Stockbrunn’s emblem. There’d be no talking them out of killing her if they saw it.
Yeah, this can’t be happening.
She covered her heart like that would smother its quickening beats.
Hold it together.
A guttural scream reminsicent of wind made that impossible. Ellie’s shriek got caught in her mouth, coming out as a squeak instead. A second voice joined in on the wailing. She covered her ears to block the sound. You’ll be okay. Just wait for her.
All she had to do was wait…wait and ignore the screams among the chaos. She couldn’t discern what was happening in there beyond that last word. Chaos. Chaos of all kinds. Animals fighting, animals falling, animals begging for their lives. She didn’t have to know their language to know that that was what the foxes were doing.
The wolves would skin the foxes alive. That must’ve been what was happening on the other side of the fence, and Ellie was a listening witness to it all. Her hands shook, her imagination replacing the foxes with her people. Stockbrunn could be torn to shreds in the same way.
The preview—the possible glimpse into their future—had her reeling. She bent, gripping her knees to keep her stability.
“Ellie,” Shreya called. Part of Shanti’s bundled form stuck through the hole they’d made. “Pull.”
Having a clear focus re-grounded Ellie. She shelved her fear, stepping back into her usual role. Brave face. She needs you.
Ellie gripped the edge of the blanket. The foxes bound Shanti within it. Ropes criss-crossed her covered body. It took some wiggling to drag her into safety. Throughout their struggling, Shanti didn’t stir. She looked peaceful, her head the only visible part of her. Peaceful… Ellie’s stomach dropped.
She dared to ask, “Is she okay?”
Shreya pressed two fingers to Shanti’s neck. “Alive. Wake up, Shanti. We are here for you.”
No response, not even a fluttering of her eyelids.
“We must carry her,” Shreya decided. “We have to take her away from here.”
“She’s dead weight.”
“She is not dead. Touch her neck if you do not believe me. No. No time for that. Grab her feet and hurry.”
“No, I mean that she’s going to be too heavy. We have to go fast. Grip the blanket along the sides and drag her.”
Ellie wished they had time to assess Shanti for any injuries. Her being out cold wasn’t a good sign. Hopefully the blanket wasn’t hiding any other serious problems. Moving her would worsen that if it was true.
“Okay.” Shreya followed Ellie’s suggestion. Grunting from the effort, she dragged Shanti along. Shanti’s head lulled, her upper body held up from the way Shreya moved her.
“Good. You’re making progress.” Not a ton, but at least they were moving. “The hill slopes down that way. We get her to safety, we splash water on her face, then—”
A shrill whistle in the distance cut her off. Shreya was unfazed, concentrating on getting Shanti far away from the fox village. Ellie retrieved her spear.
“What was that? Are more wolves coming?” she asked.
“No. …Maybe? I do not think so.” Shreya took in a deep breath. She didn’t stop in her efforts. Shanti remained passed out, despite everything.
“Where’d it come from?” Ellie gripped her weapon.
“Far. Fields. Talking difficult.”
“Where Zinnia and everybody is? Not over there, right?” Cold panic seeped into her spine. Ellie hadn’t thought about them.
What if the wolves found them on their way to the fox village? A human, a pig, and a dog; three easy snacks without much to defend themselves with. Sure, Zinnia had a knife and the whole group had Sunflower, but what good was that against the might of fully grown wolves?
“Do not think so,” Shreya said.
“Do not think or you know? This is serious.” Ellie whipped around, checking all directions for creeping animals. “They could be in trouble. That whistle could be a sign for help. Dammit.”
Realization struck her. There wasn’t anything she could do to save them. Leaving Shreya wouldn’t be smart. She could run into a wolf or a surviving fox. Shreya wasn’t going to abandon her sister, especially not now. Until Shanti was safe, there was no doing anything for Zinnia, Marietta, and Sunflower.
“Might not be them,” Shreya said between breaths.
She has a point. Ellie swung around again. “I’ll take over once we get to the hill. We’ll switch off so you don’t burn out.”
And it’ll help keep me from screaming.
A/N: Raging headache. Please excuse the lack of editing. Whomp. Last chapter had 12 voters. “Will someone find Ellie while she’s alone?” 3 votes for yes. 9 votes for no.
This poll will last until Sunday, February 11th at 11:59 PM EST. New chapter Tuesday, February 13th.