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A v a r i c e | S e v e n t e e n

S e v e n t e e n

❝A tricky little witch;

with a horrifying niche.❞

THE STORIES TOLD ME NEARLY NOTHING about the situation at hand. What the seneschal had briefly told me was mostly correct - the princess had defeated the beast and the witch, though not really in the way he had probably meant. The princess had killed the witch (who was actually somehow related to her; I wasn’t certain how. Maybe sister? Mother?) but it took her quite some time and nearly her life. She had also gotten rid of the beast, which was probably the most interesting part of the story.

The beast wasn’t truly a beast. Okay, so he kind of was. The witch had created him. He had been a knight who had no regard for who or how many he killed. It was punishment for killing someone dear to her. He was cursed to be a beast, never feeling emotion and always wanting to kill.

He reminded me of the lycanthropes, but that was where the similarities ended.

The beast deep down inside was still human and still felt emotions, and fell in love with the princess. So, technically the princess killed off the beast and was left with the man she was in love with.

So, the stories didn’t seem to be very useful. But then I recognized a name. It was small, and probably meant nothing, but the witch’s middle name had been Lilith. It was spelled the same as Grandmother Lilith’s, and I knew I had to ask her about it.

So I did.

Lilith looked surprised about the information I had concerning the story. “How’d you find all of this out?” she asked, but then stared at me, really looked deep down into me. “I see. You used compulsion to get what you want.” She tapped her finger against her teacup before sighing. “You’re a smart girl, Cerise.” She then took a drink of tea and got up to pour herself some more, not giving a single hint that she was going to say more.

I blinked. That was all she had to say?

It wasn’t. “We are descendants of the people from your story, indeed. That was the prime of our family. She had been an amazing witch; a sorceress. Sadly, after her demise, our powers were weakened and nearly forgotten but continued to live on, now as the powers of a strong clairvoyant.”

I politely drank some of my tea. It was just as unpleasant as always, but I could never tell Lilith that. It would be rude.

“So we are the children of the witch from the story?” My eyebrows pulled together as I tried wrapping my head around this. As a child, I had always thought of diversions of the story to be a fairytale, something that wasn’t real.

Lilith nodded. “We are. Lucky for her, the beast had only killed a son and left a daughter. No one knew about the daughter, of course. She had been disguised, even from her own mother. When her mother was murdered, she came out from hiding however and trained her powers. Because of her mother’s demise, her powers were weakened, however. She was a clairvoyant. From then the middle name ‘Lilith’ was passed on until it was given to me as a first name.”

I nodded along with the information she was giving me, letting it soak in. “Why were you given ‘Lilith’ as a first name rather than a middle name?”

“My mother thought it to be fitting, since I was the seventh child. She knew I would grow up to be very strong.”

“Ah.” I nodded. “The beast in the story. Is he like the lycanthropes running around?”

Lilith cocked her head to the side and sized me up. “Why the interest in the lycanthropes?” she interrogated.

I shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m curious about them. They were created by a witch, right? Marquise Trill? I was wondering if, like in the story, there was another way to save them?” I hoped that there was, for Marquise Trill’s sake. I still couldn’t believe that she had purposefully created the monsters, even if she protected them. It was hard to see her as someone who could do that.

Lilith nodded and sat down, drink in hand. “The beast was a special case. He was almost like a practice before the real thing: the lycanthropes. So, there was a certain...ambiguity to his curse. No. There is no way to save the lycanthropes. They just aren’t human anymore.”

Hope vanished from my chest and I couldn’t look Lilith in the eyes any longer. I looked out the window in her cabin, at the forest covered in snow and death. “I see,” I said blankly. Through my peripheral vision I could see Lilith giving me a sad, small smile.

She reached out and touched my hand comfortingly.

“Don’t worry. The witch will pay for what she did to those poor humans.” Lilith made me look into her eyes. Her blue eyes were filled with warmth, and I felt gratitude for having her as my mentor and trainer.

“Yes, but I’m not sure if they have the right woman.” I told Lilith, looking away and looking up. “In all the years I had known her, Marquise Trill had never given the slightest hint to being a witch.” Lilith smiled sadly again and grabbed my face, making me look into her eyes once again. She soothingly brushed my hair.

“Yes, well, we’ll know soon enough whether she is a witch or not, won’t we?” Lilith said.

I frowned and pulled my face from her hands. “What do you mean?” How could she have known about that? Immediately I accused her in my mind for being the witch, but I crossed her off just as fast. For one, she was a seer. She had told me so. And for two, she had no real reason to create the lycanthropes. No one knew her in town and therefore they wouldn’t suspect her of anything “witchy”. Marquise Trill, however, was constantly watched. She would need the protection.

“While I was in town the other day I was informed that Marquise Trill would be tested for witchcraft in three days at sunrise in the castle. Our family was invited to see it.” Lilith apparently expected me to know this already. I had known a trial like this would be performed from Edward and Cain, but this just apprised me even more.

“Then I suppose it will be decided then if she is the true witch who did such horrible things.” I announced and stood up from Lilith’s table. “If she is, she will be punished gruesomely. If she is not, she will be set free and forgiven.”

Lilith just looked up at me. “Do you honestly believe that she is not the witch?” she asked. Lilith’s eyes were wide and skin had gone paler than normal. Her aura was no longer in its usual state of waves, but now quivering. She was frightened of the witch, whoever it was. She was more scared than I was, or anyone was it seemed. I wondered why.

I didn’t ask. I didn’t want Lilith to know that I knew.

So, I bid my farewells and marched through the forest.

The next person to visit, to confront, lived in the forest as well.

Cain’s cabin was of course harder to find than my grandmother’s, so it took a while longer than what I would’ve liked. I had begun to get hungry. Hopefully Cain would be home and have food to share with me.

Before I had the chance to knock on Cain’s door, it was opened. “What were you doing, an hour ago? Walking through the woods by yourself? Where were you going?” he questioned, narrowing his eyes and furrowing his eyebrows at me.

I sighed. I suppose it was time to tell Cain about Lilith. Lilith had told me not to tell anyone, but telling Cain might be good. Maybe Cain knew a little something about seers, too. “I’ll tell you, but have you got any food? I’m starving.”

Cain rolled his eyes but nodded. He held the door open further and took a step back to let me inside. Nothing had changed since I had last been in the home, really. It was slightly more cleaned up, but other than that everything was in the same exact places as when I had last seen them.

Cain left into another room to get me a snack. “Would you like an apple?” he called from his kitchen.

“I’d love one!” I called back. Cain came back into the room carrying two beautifully green apples back into his living space. He handed me one and saved the second for himself. He took a large bit out of the apple as he plopped down into his chair across from me.

“So, tell me. Why were you running around without protection, all by yourself, in a lycanthrope-infested forest?” Cain questioned and leaned forward a bit. I felt like I was being interrogated with the way he was looking at me.

I sat up a bit straighter. I was going to tell him about everything and hopefully he would have some insight on seers. I opened my mouth prepared and ready to say, “I’ve been visiting my grandmother Lilith. She’s a seer who has been training me because I’m also a seer.” Instead, what came out was, “I went to pick berries.”

Cain nodded and leaned back again. He was saying something, but I wasn’t listening. I was too busy being shocked over what I had just said. I honestly was going to tell him. I wanted to. I wanted someone to talk to about it, even though Lilith had asked me not to. I didn’t understand why I gave him the lame excuse of picking berries.

“Cerise?” Cain questioned.

I looked back up at him, eyes wide. “What?”

“I asked where the berries are.” He answered, his eyebrows pulling together. He leaned forward again, his eyes searching my face.

I shook my head, my forehead scrunching together. “I didn’t pick berries.” I told him.

“Okay...then what did you do?” Cain raised an eyebrow at me speculatively.

Here it was. I was going to tell him, once again. “I visited Lilith, she’s a seer and my grandmother and she’s training me.” Once again, however, that wasn’t what came out. “I don’t know,” was what I actually told him. I frowned immediately. What the hell was going on? Why couldn’t I tell him what I wanted to?

Both of Cain’s eyebrows went up at what I had told him. “You don’t know?” he repeated incredulously.

I shook my head, but not in answer to him. Did Lilith do this to me? Did she make it so I couldn’t tell someone what the hell we were talking about? How was she doing it? I looked around as if the answer would pop out. I looked at the fruit Cain had gotten me. It obviously wouldn’t be an apple, although the irony wouldn’t have been lost to me.

So what was it?

“Cerise? What’s going on? You look frightened.” Cain stood up, setting his apple down on the table in front of him.

“I...I think I’ve got to go.” I answered, standing up and setting my own apple down. “Thank you for this,” I said. “And thank you for the hospitality but I’ve really got to...get going.” A thought crossed my mind. I would try one more time, to just say her name, “Lilith.” Just as I had figured, instead of her name, my own name was pronounced.

Cain’s frown deepened but I didn’t want to stay any longer than what I had already.

I quickly left the cabin and ran back out into the woods. I was still a good mile or more from home, which would give me time to think. Had Lilith casted a spell on me? No. I would’ve noticed, right? It had to be something she gave me every day, something I always had with me so when asked by people I wouldn’t tell them.

The wind was harsh today and blew my hair across my face suddenly. I reached up, about to tuck it in, when I realized something.

It was the cloak. It had to be.

She had said it was enchanted, after all. Perhaps it wasn’t enchanted in that way, though. I immediately took it off, putting it on the ground. I couldn’t test it here, of course. With the cloak on the ground, I made my way back to Cain’s cabin to try to tell him what I had wanted to earlier.

Someone - or rather something - had a different plan for me. The second I stepped away from the cloak, I could see a terrifyingly large lycanthrope standing only a few feet away from me.

And by the way he growled and leaned down, I knew I was in his sights, too.

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