A v a r i c e | T w e n t y
T w e n t y
❝An enchanted cloak;
hunted by lycanthropes.❞
THE DEAD MAN WAS NOT A full man. He had legs and a torso and a head, but there were no arms or hands or feet. His skin was darker than what it should have been; he was charred, burnt. His clothes were near nonexistent and the skin had been cauterized where he was missing other limbs. His face was unrecognizable.
My stomach lurched and I quickly turned around, putting a hand to my mouth. Cain backed up slightly, knowing what was to come. Everything I had eaten or drank earlier came out onto the ground in front of me. Cain moved my braided hair to the side so I wouldn’t get sick on that, too.
When I was finished, I looked up at Cain, my eyebrows furrowed and my eyes narrowed. “What...what are those?”
Cain gave me a wry smile. “Those, Cerise, are lycanthropes.”
I stared at him. “I don’t...I don’t understand. Lycanthropes are...are beasts. They’re animals. They’re not humans.” I shook my head and stood up, wiping my face with my sleeve.
Cain tilted his head to the side. “They are. Beasts, I mean. And normally they are in their beast form. But every once in a while on a full moon, they’ll be in their human form once again and throw a sort of...party.”
“But...if they have a human form, why don’t they just stay in it all the time?” I frowned at Cain in confusion. “That doesn’t even make sense.”
Cain shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think they can only stay human for a short period of time.” I nodded, but I still didn’t quite understand. Cain moved quietly in front of me, glancing out behind the tree.
“They’re feasting now.” Cain whispered to me under his breath. I winced at the thought.
Cain turned back around, meeting my eyes. “Why did you want to show me this?” I questioned.
“You said you thought you saw humanity. I’m showing you that this was maybe why. Perhaps you just caught the lycanthrope at a bad time - or, in your case - a good time.” Cain elaborated. Although it was nice of him to show me this, what I was missing, but I knew what I had seen.
I told this to Cain. “Thank you,” I ended, “but this just causes more questions like the ones I had already had. This just adds to the humanity bit.”
Cain closed his eyes and shook his head, seemingly disappointed. I felt bad, kind of. “Cerise,” he sighed, opening his eyes. He reached out and gripped my shoulders in his hands. “Just be careful, alright? Don’t underestimate the lycanthropes, whatever you do. And don’t think you’re anything special. They will kill you.”
I nodded. “I’m sure most of the time they will. But, Cain, think about it. They will die when Marquise-the witch, I mean, is executed. What if they have humanity in them - even just a sliver? That means we’ll be killing six people - maybe even more. Six people with lives, with families, with kids, with jobs. We could save them.” Cain didn’t say anything for a few minutes. He let his hands drop to his sides from my shoulders.
“How do you suppose we do that?” Cain finally asked with a fierce look in his icy eyes. “The only way I know to kill them is by killing the witch.”
I worried my bottom lip in thought. “And they always die when the witch is killed, right?”
“There’s got to be another way.” I finally said, shaking my head. I wouldn’t give up. Lydia wouldn’t have, either. Perhaps the real justice for Lydia’s death wasn’t killing the lycanthropes, but saving them and making the witch powerless.
Perhaps that was the answer.
Cain must’ve seen this in my expression, because he quickly asked, “What is it? Have you an idea?”
I tilted my head. “I might have an idea...but it’s really not well educated. I know hardly anything about witches.”
Cain shrugged. “Any idea is a good idea at this point.”
“Well, what if the witch is powerless?” I suggested, raising an eyebrow. “Then their power wouldn’t be on the lycanthropes, keeping them cursed, right? And they’d be free?”
Cain stared at me for one, two seconds before his face broken into a grin. “You’re a genius, Cerise,” he told me. Warmth spread throughout my stomach and I couldn’t help but smile back at him. Cain chuckled deeply. He reached out - as if to give me a hug - but instead gripped my upper arm. “That just might work.”
I laughed along happily. “Why, thank you-”
"Nix,” Cain hissed suddenly, pulling me close to his side. My heartbeat raced. Something was wrong.
“What is it?” I whispered as quietly as I possibly could.
Cain shook his head silently at me and put his index finger to his lips, motioning for me to keep quiet. I nodded in understanding.
Cain and I listened carefully. Nothing made noise. Everything was completely, dead silent. No more howls or joyous yells or sounds from the lycanthropes below. My skin crawled with fear, my stomach tying up with knots.
I glanced up at Cain, wondering how we were going to get away when there was a crack in the woods. It was loud, distinct, and very near.
Cain rushed into action. “Cerise, run.” He ordered under his breath.
I frowned, shaking my head. “Where? What about you?”
Cain shook his head at me. “I’ll be fine. But you, you go.” Right as Cain pushed me away and reached for something hidden at his side, a lycanthrope - in it’s beast form - jumped out from behind the tree towards Cain.
Cain was ready for it, however. He had gotten out a dagger, and stabbed the lycanthrope in its leg to slow it down some, since he couldn’t kill it.
“Cerise! Run!” he called my attention. More lycanthropes were running up the hill to where we had been standing. I nodded towards Cain and did as I was asked - I got the hell out of there.
I wasn’t fast enough.
Three lycanthropes chased after me, each of them humongous and angry. My heart raced and my body perspired not from the running, but from being frightened. I took as many turns as I possibly could, not really knowing where I was going. I couldn’t see at all in the night and Cain’s lamp had disappeared from my vision.
I was going to get killed. I knew it, and the lycanthropes probably knew it too.
The lycanthropes weren’t truly chasing after me. They hid in the darkness and the trees, playing with me. If they ever wanted, they could easily jump out and clamp their jaws around my throat. But they didn’t.
At least not yet.
Perhaps Cain had been right - not about it all, but that I had caught the lycanthrope in a precarious time. A time of which his humanity had returned. Now, however, I was not so lucky. From the way their eyes glowed red, I was near certain I was done for.
At one point, they had me surrounded. I was in a clearing, the moon shining brightly down on me, and from each side there was a lycanthrope. Slowly they all inched closer and closer to me. They seemed to be communicating somehow with each other, probably asking which one would do the killing.
They decided on one, I discovered.
Because suddenly, the largest, blackest lycanthrope of the pack pounced forward at me, his mouth wide open and a crazy glint in his dark brown eyes.
And he was deflected.
Something around me reflected the lycanthrope, throwing him to the side. His body hit a tree with a crunch and he fell to the ground, clearly injured. I stared in astonishment. What had that been? Why did that happen?
And why hadn’t that happened earlier?
I hadn’t seen Lilith since, so she couldn’t have put a protection spell on me or anything. It hadn’t been me, either. I didn’t feel drained, and I imagine putting up a shield like the one I had would cause some serious energy.
The two other lycanthropes suspiciously looked me up and down. One of them grew closer, but within a few feet he triggered the shield and he was launched backwards. The remaining lycanthrope didn’t even bother trying. He hurriedly scurried away with the other wounded lycanthropes before he could get hurt.
I sighed with relief and slowly let myself drop to the ground. Twice in two days I had been semi-attacked by lycanthropes. And I lived to tell the tale.
I wrapped my arms around my knees and pulled my legs to my chest in a comforting, fetus position. I kept my head up and didn’t dare close my eyes.
This was how Cain found him, not minutes after. “Cerise!” Cain yelled out, running to my side. “Are you alright? Were you hurt?”
I shook my head and looked over at him. Although I couldn’t see very well, the moon gave off just enough light that I could tell he had quite a few scratches and gashes on his face and body. None of them looked peril, though.
Cain helped me up, careful of my left wrist, and walked me back home.
“How did you do it?” Cain asked, glancing back at me in the woods.
I shrugged, shaking my head. “I don’t know. I thought I was done for. They pounced, but something knocked them off.”
Cain frowned, his eyebrows pulling together and his forehead creasing. “Like a shield?”
I nodded. “It was strange. I don’t know what happened, either. The other day when I was attacked that didn’t happen.”
Cain stayed frowning for a few minutes while he processed this. Finally, he said, “What’s different about you today?”
I shrugged. “I’ve a broken wrist today.” I offered up. Cain cracked a smile but shook his head.
“That’s not what I mean. Did you see someone who might’ve cast a spell on you?” he questioned with a raised eyebrow. I shook my head. “Have you recently drank the herbs the doctor gave you? Maybe they repel the beasts or something.” I shook my head.
“No, not very recently.”
Cain sighed. “Maybe it’s what you’re wearing?”
I was about to shake my head “no”, when I remembered that I was wearing the “enchanted” cloak Lilith had given me as a gift. Something clicked in my head and I smiled. Of course. When I took the cloak off yesterday I had been attacked. But today, while wearing it, the lycanthropes were repelled.
Cain looked back at me, probably questioning my silence. He frowned. “What’s the matter?”
I shrugged and shook my head. “Nothing’s the matter.” I told him.
Cain gave me a speculative look, but he let it go.
He walked me all the way back to my home, even after I told him many times that I could make it there on my own. He wouldn’t let me be, though. We silently made it all the way back to my home, in front of my front door.
“Thank you,” I told him.
Cain’s face darkened. “For what? I nearly got you killed.”
I smiled and rolled my eyes at him. “No, you bringing me there helped me discover a lot of things involving the lycanthropes that I needed to know. Even if I nearly got attacked...again. It was worth it.”
Cain sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I’ll see you in two days’ time, then. For the determining of Marquise Trill.”
I nodded. “Farewell until then, Cain.”
Cain nodded and waved, walking away from me.
I turned back to my home and very quietly opened up the door so as not to wake my parents up - only to find my mother waiting for me in her rocking chair.
I cursed under my breath. Perhaps I could leave and she wouldn’t notice-
“Come on in, Cerise. This is your home after all.”
Sighing in defeat, I walked in and closed the door behind me. “What’re you doing up?” I asked carefully.
Mother stopped rocking to look at me. “I got up to check on my daughter, and found that she was gone.”
I blinked at her a few times and glanced longingly down the hallway towards my room. “I see.” I nodded. “I’m sorry about that. I got up and it was hot, so I went outside to get some fresh air-”
“Save it, Cerise. You were with Cain.”
Busted. But not really busted for the actual crime committed.
I winced nonetheless. “I’m sorry, Mother.”
Mother sighed and stood up from her rocking chair. “Cerise, I’ll support you in most everything you do. But...Cain? You wish to be courted by that...that...snake of a man?”
Of course. Everything with my mother had to do with courting and suitors and men. I rolled my eyes. “We’re just friends, Mother. Honestly. I’m going to bed now, I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Don’t think I won’t tell your father about this!” Mother told me while I walked away.
“I wouldn’t put it past you, Mother.” I called back before entering my room.
Usually, I would be beyond annoyed with Mother accusing me of being romantically involved with a boy. But for some reason, I almost felt...happy she had thought that. Perhaps I just wanted to make her mad.
Or maybe it was something else entirely.