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A v a r i c e | T h r e e

T h r e e

❝A four-legged beast stalks alone

the early-risen will fetch the bone.❞

CRISP WIND PINCHED MY ARMS AND face as I trudged through town. Today I had needed a coat and I wrapped it tightly about me. The temperature was steadily getting colder with each day that passed. Mother had estimated snowfall by eight days from now.

I hoped that it wasn’t true.

Snow meant death, and this kingdom had had far too much of that as of late.

I was on my way to Lydia’s family’s home, two days after her death. Nothing had changed much. I hadn’t heard about the Irishman or any new Lycanthrope hunters, but this might only be because of my lack of involvement. I had stayed inside for much of the last couple of days, scarcely seeing anyone other than my mother. Lydia’s death was finally registering and I had been too upset to do anything.

I’d missed her burial, but Mother had gone and she told me that it had been lovely. Today I had felt a lot better, so I figured I would go pay my respects to Lydia’s family, the Trills.

The Trills were popular among the kingdom, just as my family was. Although the Trills may be more popular, what with the mother being a sibling to the king. She wasn’t exactly royalty, she was only a fourth cousin twice removed, but it was enough to be well-known. Robert Trill, Lydia’s father, had the same job as my own father, so he worked closely with the king as well. That was how Lydia and I had met, through our fathers and older siblings.

Lydia had five older siblings and so did I. Lydia had two older brothers, two older sisters, and one younger brother. I had five older brothers. Lydia and I, as we would often proclaim, were kind of related. Two of her older sisters married two of my older brothers. Lydia would’ve been engaged to one of my older brothers as well, but Oliver Ackerman’s family had a greater appeal to Lydia’s mother, and therefore he was the man for Lydia.

I stopped abruptly at the familiar gray house and stared up at it. Half of my childhood had been spent here and it was weird to think that I would never have such a simple reason for visiting this home ever again. Lydia was gone, after all, and it felt weird to be with her family by myself. I wasn’t nearly as close with them as Lydia had been with my family, but it wasn’t like they were total strangers.

I knew every creak in this home, every broken floorboard and twist and turn and door. I had to say goodbye to this home, just as I had to say farewell to Lydia.

I built up my courage enough to finally knock on the wooden door. No one came at first, which was a bit of a relief, but then Lydia’s younger brother Edward opened up the door and looked expectantly up at me. His cheeks were red and puffy, his eyes were glazed over, and his frame wasn’t his usual chipper one. All of my previous thoughts vanished, and all I wanted to do was cry again.

I wasn’t sure what had come over me, but I forced myself to swallow back my tears and regain my composure. I couldn’t cry in front of Lydia’s younger brother. That was wrong of me.

“Hello, Eddie,” I gave him a fake smile. “Are your parents around?”

Edward shook his head. “Father’s working and Mother’s at the pub.” I raised an eyebrow at that last one, but I didn’t comment on it. People were known to do out-of-the-ordinary things when loved ones die.

I nodded. “Are any of your siblings around?” I knew his older sisters weren’t here. They lived in a far away village and hadn’t been able to come for Lydia’s burial. They, along with my brothers, would be travelling here soon, however.

Edward shook his head once again. “No. I’m the only one home.”

I bit my lip. Edward was sixteen years old and was going to be starting his apprenticeship soon. He was still so young and already he had been forced to go through something so tragic. It broke my heart to see him like this and I couldn’t help but look at him in pity.

“You can come in,” Edward offered, and held open the door for me. I smiled in thanks and stepped inside the familiar home. Everything was just as how it had been only a few days before; the hanger was near the same orange painting on the wall, the living room was as clean as ever, and all the knickknacks Lydia’s mother loved stood in their rightful places. But it didn’t feel the same. Lydia was not here.

“My deepest sincer-”

“Stop,” Edward cut me off, waving his hand in dismissal. He’d obviously heard the expression far too many times. “You’re like a sister, Cerise. I don’t need to hear that from you.”

I nodded in understanding. “How are you?” I asked him instead. Edward sighed and ran a hand down his face, a motion he’d picked up from his father. Edward looked like he’d aged over the last couple of days. He seemed more mature and more aware of everything around him.

“Not well.” Edward dropped his hand to his side again. “Neither is Mother. She’s been at the bar since we heard Lydia had died.”

I frowned. “Have you talked to her?”

Edward shook his head. “No. I wouldn’t want to anyways.” Edward’s face contorted and squeezed to form a nasty snarl. “She deserves to rot in hell.”

I jumped from the harshness of his words and blinked a few times, slowly. “I-I don’t-I’m not sure I understand why you are angry at your mother.”

Edward’s eyes looked a shade darker than their normal brown and glared not at me, but at my face. “Why don’t you talk to her? Father told us all about what she’s been yammering about and doesn’t want me to be around her. I hope someone shuts her up.” Edward had never been a mean or vicious child, so hearing him say things like this really brought me to reality. Everyone had changed over a short period of time, and it wasn’t for the better.

“Did the king come to the burial?” I changed the subject.

Edward’s eyes softened. “Yes,” he nodded. “He visited and told us that he was working his hardest to get rid of those damned wolves.”

“Lycanthropes.” I automatically corrected him on impulse.

Edward didn’t seem to mind and nodded with finality. “Right. Lycanthropes.” His forehead wrinkled then. “What exactly are lycanthropes?” I shrugged my shoulders. I wanted to know that same thing and had planned a visit to Lilith’s cabin later today, but after visiting with Edward I wasn’t sure if I could handle seeing Lilith.

“I’m not certain. But they are beasts.”

Edward’s eyes widened slightly. “You don’t think they’re the beast?”

I rolled my eyes at his preposterousness. “Of course not. That beast isn’t even real.”

Edward narrowed his eyes playfully at me. “That’s not what my tutors tell me. They say la bête was real and was around about a couple hundred or so years ago in France. Maybe the lycanthropes are like him; marked for death.”

I shook my head. “No, they’re beasts, not human. The beast you’re talking about is a fairytale from the Grimms. Don’t believe everything you hear.” Edward frowned but nodded, letting it go. He sighed softly.

“Thank you for visiting, Cerise. You cheered me up.” He gave me a hesitant smile that I returned. “When everyone arrives I’ll receive you,” he offered.

I nodded. “Thank you, Edward. Give your siblings and your father my regards, okay?” Edward nodded in agreement and showed me to the door. I smiled at him. “Farewell, Edward.” I left Lydia’s home, possibly for the last time, and trekked my way back to my own home.

What had Edward meant when he was talking about his mother? Had she become estranged after Lydia’s death? Why was she always at the bar? All of these thoughts wandered to my mind. I tried to come up with the answers to them, but I couldn’t. Lydia’s mother had been nothing but nice to me through all of the times I’d seen and talked to her. I couldn’t imagine her as anything other than nice. But Edward had seemed adamant on the fact that she was no longer a good person.

I had to see her, I decided.

The bar was on the way back to my house, so when I came upon it, I would stop in to see if I could possibly catch a glimpse of Mrs. Trill. If I saw her, I would speak with her and learn why Edward disliked her so passionately. If I didn’t see her, I would simply be on my way home.

My stop didn’t go as I had so thoroughly planned it out in my head.

“Cerise!” a drunk Oliver Ackerman stumbled his way through the crowd of people at the bar in order to stand before me. He frowned and wobbled languidly when he finally stood in front of me. “You weren’t at the funeral.”

Instant regret pooled into my stomach. “I know.” I told him sincerely, “I’m very sorry. I couldn’t bring myself to go.”

Oliver nodded. “What are you doing here?” Oliver was suddenly uninterested in my lack of appearance at his fiancé’s funeral.

“I was looking for Mrs. Trill. Have you seen her?” I might as well use the resources I had to find her.

Oliver shook his head, a deep frown on his face. “Why is everyone asking me that today?” he mused to himself. “Just before, some guy came in asking about her too.” He was getting off-track. I snapped my fingers to gain his attention. Oliver blinked a few times. “Right, sorry.” He nodded. “No, Mrs. Trill isn’t here. She left early this morning.”

“What do you mean ‘left’?”

“I mean, she wasn’t at the bar when I came to the bar, which was in the morning. She hasn’t been here at all today. Did you want me to give her a message?” Oliver raised an eyebrow in a helpful manner.

“I sincerely doubt you’d be able to remember my message for her,” I told him with a sigh.

Oliver was too out of it to realize that this was an insult. “Oh, well, I’ll see you later, Cerise.” He smiled and waved as he walked back to wherever he came from.

Despite what Oliver had told me, I looked around the bar for Mrs. Trill. As Oliver had said, she wasn’t currently residing at the tavern. So, I turned and left, deciding I would come back in a few days to try and look for her.

Oliver Ackerman did not seem to be in a healthy state, and I felt terribly sorry for him. I wanted to offer him comfort, but I didn’t know him well enough to do that. If Lydia and I had traded places, she’d be able to console him no matter if he was a stranger. She was like that, but I wasn’t.

I sighed.

I needed to stop comparing everything to Lydia. She was gone now and there was no point in doing so. I needed to somehow let her go.

Someone screamed.

I stopped in my tracks, just seconds from reaching my door and glanced around to find an onslaught of people running towards me. Well, not necessarily towards me but in my direction. Not good. I quickly dashed to the side of my house and watched as about twenty people ran down through town. It wasn’t a playful game run, either.

They were frightened of something.

Despite everything telling me not to, I left the protection of the side of my home and walked forward to see where all of the pandemonium had originated.

And there it was:

Another dead body had been discovered, and a lycanthrope was still attached to it.

He was not happy to see me.

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