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A v a r i c e | T w e n t y F i v e

T w e n t y F i v e

❝A carriage has fallen;

a warrior has risen.❞

CAIN HADN’T JUST WANTED TO TALK to me. He spoke to all of us about the predicament. “There’s been a lycanthrope attack.” He told us carefully, meeting our eyes. “We aren’t sure who it was exactly, but it was a carriage. We think the lycanthropes got...angry that we had one of them in custody.”

Gen turned to Michael, burying his face in his chest while Sam looked forlorn. I stared at them and then looked back at Cain. “I don’t understand.” I shook my head. “Why does this have anything to do with us.”

Cain gave me a small, sad smile. “I first came to make sure you made it home on time, as you did.” Cain gave a little tilt of his head, his expression pained. “Where are you parents, however? And your brother and his wife?”

I blinked at him as realization dawned on me. No, that couldn’t be. They couldn’t have been the ones to...to be killed. They left before you, Cerise. And their still not home, the voice of reason said to me calmly. I shook my head, looking at Cain. “No, I don’t understand. It wasn’t them. It can’t be.” My family couldn’t be dead. They just couldn’t. My father was a warrior and Zachariah wasn’t a wimp, either. Even if it were them...they’d make it.

“Cerise...“Cain murmured. He didn’t reach out to me, to comfort me as I thought he might. I was happy he didn’t. I didn’t need comforting when it was clear to me that it hadn’t been them.

Gen’s sobs said otherwise. Michael’s eyes were shut, but his cheeks were puffy and red. Samuel had fallen to his knees. He wasn’t cry. He looked like someone had stabbed him, had hurt him in some way. His hands and arms were limp at his sides as he stared up at the sky.

I shook my head. “No. It wasn’t them,” I kept repeating to myself, over and over again. They were my family. I would know it if they had died, wouldn’t I? I would feel it, in my heart in my gut. I would know it. But during that carriage ride, while I selfishly bashed my mother and her conformed ways, their carriage had been attacked.

It couldn’t be true.

“No. No. No. No,” I shook my head, pushing my way past Cain and Gen and Michael and Samuel. “No. They’re alive. They have to be.” Cain stopped me, grabbing my forearm to pull me back. I was in front of him, so close I could see all of his imperfections and flecks of gray in his eyes. “They’re alive,” I told him, but my voice was wavering.

“Cerise,” Cain sighed. “Why do you believe that?”

I blinked at him, shaking my head. “I would’ve felt it if they had died.”

Cain smiled wryly. “Cerise,” he began, but I shook my head.

“No. I wouldn’t felt it.” I tugged my arm from his grasp and stumbled away from them. I needed to be alone, to think alone.

I didn’t make it very far. I went to the side of my house, and leaned against the wood to try and steady myself, to get my bearings. I wouldn’t break down. They were not dead. They were not dead. I closed my eyes and tried to remember what they looked like, to remember all the things we had been through.

Mother just this morning had asked me if I had wanted to go. Perhaps if I hadn’t, if I hadn’t have fainted, they would’ve left sooner and nothing bad would’ve happened. I knew it was ludicrous, that I was grasping at nothing, but I couldn’t just say that they had died. Perhaps Cain had gotten it wrong. Other people left around the same time, didn’t they? It didn’t have to be my family. It couldn’t be my family.

Mother had been so kind, so considerate this morning. I took her for granted. I knew she only wanted what was best for me. And although some things seemed hurtful, that was always what it came down to. She just didn’t think sometimes.

But she couldn’t be dead.

I needed to stop sulking, to stop pouting. They were not dead, and for that I needed to be certain. “Get it together, Cerise,” I murmured to myself, closing my eyes. The lycanthropes took Lydia, they took Marquise, and they had taken a hell of a lot other people, but they could not - would not - take my family.

I stepped from beside the house, nearly running into Cain. He had been spying on me, no doubt. He straightened when he saw me, taking in my appearance. “Cerise?” he questioned, raising his eyebrow.

I shook my head. I didn’t want him to comfort me, to console me. “Where did you see the carriage?” I questioned, careful to have my voice stay steady.

Cain stared at me, unblinking without answer. I turned to face him, meeting my eyes. I didn’t look away. My voice was unwavering and unapologetic, “I said, where did you see the carriage?” I didn’t even feel bad for using compulsion on him. Cain’s posture straightened, his eyes with no emotion. He no longer looked at me, but through me. It was as if he wasn’t aware of anything.

“I didn’t see it personally. A few knights saw it a mile back in the woods. Something dragged them in there.” Cain told me.

“Were there any bodies found?” I asked.

Cain shook his head. “No bodies, but there was a trail of blood.” I closed my eyes upon hearing that. Someone was hurt enough that they were bleeding profusely. It could be my mother, my father, Zachariah or Sarah. Either way, it was my family and I would rather die than to do nothing and mope while they could still be alive.

So, I used compulsion one last time on Cain. I needed to save my family, no matter what. “Cain,” I said, Cain’s eyes met mine, “I need you to show me where they were last seen.”

It was strange to see Cain so powerless, so predictable. He treaded ahead of me, stealthy and quite just like a true knight. His back was to me, yet he continued to follow what I had told him ten minutes ago. Perhaps my power was growing, or he had succumbed to the fact I wasn’t going to give up. I was betting the former, however.

Cain wouldn’t agree so easily to a “suicide mission”, as he would put it.

“We’re nearly there,” Cain murmured to me, looking back at me. I nodded.

As he had said, we soon came upon a carriage. It was definitely the carriage that my family had left in. It had the same embroidery, the same dark brown color, the same everything. My gut clenched and my stomach did a flip-flop.

Please, God. Don’t let us be too late.

The blood trail Cain had mentioned was just as he had described. From the carriage and further into the forest, there was a thin trail of blood. It was spotty, but it was noticeable enough in the inch of snow that had fallen a few days ago.

Cain, the good knight that he was, pulled out his sword when he saw the blood and looked back at me worriedly. “Stay close behind me, Cerise. Don’t leave my side.” I nodded in understanding. It was lucky that the sun was still out. It had to be early evening. I couldn’t be sure how long I was out exactly.

“Is that the only weapon you have?” I asked Cain with a frown, staring at the sword he held. It was a beautiful sword and frighteningly sharp. I wouldn’t be surprised if he spent hours a day, every morning, sharpening his sword. Cain seemed like the kind of person who took pride in such things like that.

Cain stopped abruptly and raised an eyebrow at me. “Are you doubting my fighting skills?”

Did the seneschal have such a mind of his own while under my spell? Perhaps that was a side effect of getting stronger. Sure, it lasted longer, but with Cain’s mouth I knew I would regret it soon enough. Perhaps there was another spell to shut him up.

What was I even thinking?

I shook my head to clear my mind. “No, no, of course not.” I answered Cain. “I was just wondering if you had any extra weapons, just in case.” I had learned a few spells from Lilith, and had read up on a few by my lonesome, so I could mostly take care of myself. I didn’t want Cain to get hurt, though, not after I forced him to take me here. I was risking his life, and for that, I was sorry, but I needed to get to my family.

“I’ve a few other weapons.” Cain nodded. “The blood is becoming spottier. I think the trail is going to end soon,” Cain told me. I nodded. Soon enough, just as he had predicted, the trail did end. The blood didn’t just fade out, however. It completely stopped, abruptly.

Cain must’ve caught onto this, because he immediately looked up in the trees. I looked up to. Everything was normal. It was winter, so there weren’t any leaves or color to hide bodies. Everything was dead, lifeless.

Cain leant down beside the end of the trail and looked up at me. “Stay back,” he ordered. I nodded, and stood a few feet back, watching him. Cain carefully padded around the end, looking for a trap. When he found nothing, he stood up. “The lycanthrope must’ve saw the trail and picked whoever it was up, or something,” Cain said. He wasn’t really talking to me, I knew. He was thinking out loud.

Cain turned to me. “Let’s keep moving. They’ve got to be somewhere around here. Look for any signs of them, anything.”

I nodded and followed as Cain moved on. The only interesting thing we came upon was a bottle. I picked it up, much to Cain’s confusion, and we kept on walking. In my heart, I knew what this bottle would be used for, but I didn’t want to admit it.

There was a growl to my side. Cain instantly got in position. He pushed my behind him, an arm wrapped securely around my waist while the other was out, sword in hand as he looked around for the beast.

The lycanthrope growled once more. My heart began to race and I willed myself to calm down. My hands shook in protest. There wasn’t any sign of my family, but if there was a protective lycanthrope here, they had to be somewhere close. I thought about shouting for them, letting them know we were here, but I thought better of it. Perhaps the other lycanthropes weren’t around. If I shouted, they would come.

And they would kill us all.

I couldn’t be certain my family was dead yet or not, but something inside of my told me that they weren’t. Lilith had once told me to trust my gut. My gut, no matter how crazy it seemed, would be right when it came to my loved ones. I needed to trust myself, believe in myself, and perhaps I would make it through this without getting killed or getting Cain killed.

The lycanthrope stepped out from behind the trees, shaking and menacing. He expected us to cower at the sight of him, but we didn’t. We held our spots and stared right back at him. He growled and stepped forward.

Cain held his sword higher, letting go of me to get a good grip.

I closed my eyes, shaking my head. I couldn’t believe what I was about to do. It was stupid, so stupid. And yet I knew I had to do it.

I lifted up my bottle and caught sight of the lycanthrope. The lycanthrope looked at me now, pawing at the ground as if he was going to pounce. He could see the bottle, and he was telling me he was not afraid of it.

Fortunately, this bottle wasn’t for him.

With a deep breath, I whispered, “Sorry, Cain,” and smashed the bottle against his head.

Cain fell at my feet, unconscious. Shakily, I reached down and grabbed the sword from his grip. I looked up again, no longer shaking and no longer scared. I looked the lycanthrope in his eyes, just as intimidating as he was.

“This is our fight.”

And then I pounced.

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