A v a r i c e | T h i r t y N i n e
T h i r t y N i n e
❝The witch stalks the day;
and keeps the howls at bay.❞
“HELLO,” WAS IDIOTICALLY THE FIRST THING to come out of my mouth. I smiled nervously at the knights in front of me and quickly shut the door behind me, so it would at least be harder for them to kick me out.
The guards said nothing in reply to me. Instead, they both began to run forward, up the stairs. I debated with myself over what to do. I couldn’t look them in the eyes, so compulsion wasn’t an option. And I didn’t want to hurt them, but how else was I going to keep them from doing something rash?
“Relinquo,” I said, flicking my head at the two. They flew backwards, crashing into the wall of the dungeon. I instantly winced at the noise, but I didn’t have time to worry about them any longer. I needed to get the potion to Marquise Trill, and then compel the guards so they won’t tell anyone about me. That would be bad.
I hurried down the stairs and grabbed one of the guard’s swords. They had gone unconscious from the impact. I would need it for the exchange I was about to make. When I turned around, I was met with a dark hallway. This was where the true prisoners were held, no doubt. It gave me chills to just look.
The hallway was lit up with torches hooked onto the walls. It was still dim, but I was able to see. I held the sword tight to my side and walked forward slowly, glancing all about. Cells came into view, the first few seemingly empty. I glanced into each of them, hoping Marquise Trill would be there, but she was not.
“Whatcha doin’ down here, pretty lady?” A shiver crept down my spine from the voice. It was male, with a slight elderly pitch to it. It obviously hadn’t been used for quite some time, due to the crack. It came from my right, and through my peripheral vision I could see the dirty man, holding the bars of his cell and peeking his head out to look at me.
I wouldn’t let him. I didn’t stop and I didn’t turn. I would not be phased by this man.
There were more people later on. They begged me to set them free, to show them some mercy. Some just wanted to talk. I didn’t do any of it. I had a job to do, to protect my kingdom and the horrible things the witch has done.
Finally, I saw Marquise Trill.
She sat in the corner of her cell on her bed, curled up in a ball. I knew from her hair that it was her. “Marquise?” I whispered, careful not to be loud enough so that the other prisoners could hear. They probably could anyway, though. The dungeon had no sound in it.
Marquise Trill lifted her head up, peering out at me. She must’ve recognized me because she instantly sat up in her bed and took a stand. “Cerise?” she called out. She sounded confused. I didn’t blame her. She had probably been expecting her family. Marquise frowned. “Are they not coming?” she said quietly, her voice low. She was sad. Her cheeks were red and puffy and her eyes were watery.
My eyebrows furrowed in sorrow and I took a step closer to her, grabbing the bar of the cell. “No, no. They are. I just came to visit beforehand. They’ll be down here soon.” I gave her a warm smile to calm her nerves. It seemed to have worked because she immediately relaxed and nodded. She came closer to me, meeting me at the bars.
She opened her mouth, probably to ask how I was or what I was doing here, but I cut her off. “I’m sorry,” I told her, wincing, “But we really don’t have time for pleasantries.” I switched the sword to my left hand and leant down, reaching under the many layers of skirts and grabbing the potion. It looked just the same as when I had made; glowing purple.
Marquise Trill’s eyes widened at the sight of it. “What is that?” she asked, her voice rising. She took a step away from me, obviously frightened.
I sighed, wondering how much longer I had. “Marquise, don’t worry. This will make everything better, I promise. It will help you and our kingdom.” I had come down here ready to put up a fight, and to be angry with her. But I couldn’t. Marquise Trill looked too much like Lydia, was far too innocent. I was having a hard time even believing she was capable of any of this.
Marquise stared at the potion and then looked at me. “I’m not a witch.” She told me.
I hesitated at that. I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to say in answer. Finally, I replied, “Yes, you are.” Marquise shook her head vigorously.
“I’m not, though.” She told me. “Everyone keeps on saying I am, but I’m not. The guards, the king, that woman, and my family.” She shook her head again and stepped closer, gripping the bars. “But I swear to you, Cerise, I am not what they say I am.”
I shook my head. “Marquise, how can you explain your behavior as of late? Why did you protect the lycanthrope?” I questioned. This had been all the things I had wanted to ask her, but was never able to until now. It was far too late, but I still found myself needing to hear the answers.
Marquise Trill’s eyes seemed larger than normal. “Because the woman told me. She told me what the lycanthropes were made from and how there was still hope for them. I can’t idly sit by while knowing that, Cerise. I tried making it known. I tried telling people, but no one would believe me. And then they were going to kill it, a human, and I stepped in.” Marquise was crying now, tears rolling down her cheeks slowly.
“What about Lydia?” I asked. I wanted to wince when my voice cracked, but I held my ground. I wouldn’t let her see how this was effecting me.
Marquise Trill glanced away. “I couldn’t save her. But the cursed men and women could be.”
I sighed and nodded. I could understand that, of course. Marquise Trill was just like me; all she wanted to do was save the people cursed into lycanthropy. What didn’t make sense, however, was that she was the witch. So why would she want to help them?
Something she had said earlier caught my attention now. “What woman?”
Marquise Trill stared at me with hazy eyes and she frowned, shaking her head. “I don’t know.”
“Are you the one who created the lycanthropes?” I questioned. I wanted the truth from her otherwise I would never be able to forgive myself for her execution. She had already tried to persuade me that she wasn’t the witch. But perhaps now that she had come to relax into the conversation she would be more honest with me.
“I was,” Marquise Trill nodded in confirmation.
My stomach dropped instantly, but I had no time to let this sink in thoroughly. So I nodded. “Alright. You say you want to help the lycanthropes, right?” She must feel terrible about what she did. Perhaps it had been an accident. All Marquise Trill could do was nod. “Then, please, take this potion. It will set them free.”
Marquise Trill just nodded again, her eyebrows furrowed together. With the nod of approval given to me, I immediately got to work. I opened up the potion and, using the sword I had borrowed from on the knights, I cut open the inside of my palm and squeezed my blood into the bottle. I handed the potion to Marquise, “Here,” and she didn’t even hesitate before drinking it all.
She was only halfway through it when I heard footsteps gradually getting closer and closer. I waited impatiently for her to be finished before collecting the bottle and bidding her farewell. Marquise stopped me before I could leave. “Cerise,” she called out quietly. “No matter what happens, I love you. You are another daughter to me, and all I want is for you to find the truth and be happy.”
I frowned at that. What did she mind find the truth? “I love you, too,” I told her, and then quickly made my exit.
Luckily, the footsteps I had heard had only been the guards waking up. I set the sword down beside the one I’d taken it from and took both of their helmets off. They blinked in confusion up at me. They didn’t have time to pounce or arrest me. I looked into their eyes, one after another, and said, “Forget me. Never speak about me. Now stand up and do your job.”
They both nodded and stood up a bit wobbly, and I quickly left the dungeon.
I could see the Trill family making their way down the hall and I moved to the wall as if I would somehow blend in. I didn’t, of course, but they new saw me because I was pulled into a doorway last minute.
I nearly gasped, but someone was quick to put a hand over my mouth before I could. I watched as the Trill family and whoever was leading them passed us. The person took their hand from off of my mouth and I turned around to find Cain standing there. “Well?” he asked. In answer, I lifted up the empty potion bottle.
Cain nodded, a smile forming on his face. “The lycanthropes will be saved, then. All because of you.”
My cheeks warmed at that. “It was because of both of us, Cain. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Cain didn’t answer. He just grabbed my hand and led me back out into the hallway. “What now?” I asked curiously, trying to keep up with him.
“Now,” Cain said with a tilt of his head, “we wait. Once the execution goes through, the humans should be free from lycanthropy.”
I nodded, but something didn’t feel right. Ever since I was able to talk to Marquise Trill and she talked about the woman and the lycanthropes and Lydia, I was becoming more and more wary about what was to come. I should’ve asked her more questions, even risked being caught. Because now, now that I couldn’t do anything to prevent her death, I was more doubtful than ever before.
Once we were close enough to the ballroom, we slowed down to a walk. Cain straightened his outer coat and looked over at me. “Are you alright?” he questioned, raising an eyebrow.
I nodded meekly. “Yeah,” I responded. I wasn’t sure how truthful it was.
The second we entered the ballroom, something changed within me. The voices I had heard last time came tumbling in, telling me everything would be alright. Something was very wrong, I knew. I bent over, and Cain grabbed me, pulling me back out of the ballroom, his face scrunched up in concern for my wellbeing.
Die. Die. Die.
My own voice overpowered the others, shutting them out, but it was still frightening. I stood up, letting go of Cain and turned around to catch my breath.
Perhaps my Seer powers were kicking in, telling me that something was wrong. I had a pit in my stomach, making me feel sick. My head pounded from the headache beginning to form, but they were the least of my worries. I was missing something here, I knew. Something important. Something deep down inside me, I already knew.
“Cerise?” Cain questioned, reaching a hand out to my shoulder. I turned around, and he let his hand drop. “Are you alright?”
I shook my head. “Something feels wrong.”
Cain frowned. “Wrong how?”
I sighed in exasperation, glancing around as if someone would overhear our conversation. “Wrong. As in, something isn’t right. I can feel it.”
Cain shook his head. “Everything’s fine. Marquise Trill took the potion, didn’t she?”
I nodded slowly. Cain reached out, gripping my shoulders and forcing me to look him in the eyes. “Then everything’s fine.” He nodded in confirmation. Reluctantly, I nodded as well.
We turned back to go into the ballroom, but were stopped once more. Lilith walked out, holding her arms out to me. She wore a stunning black dress that modestly covered her up to her mid-neck, yet was fascinatingly revealing due to the lace. She smiled when she saw me, and hugged me close to her. “Hello, my dear.” She said soothingly, running a hand down my hair.
My spine crawled.
“Hello, Lilith,” I nodded and pulled away from her embrace. “How are you?”
Lilith smiled. “I’m quite alright, my dear. I was coming over to say hi, but then you seemed to get sick so I thought I’d wait.” Her smiled widened. “I see you’re fine now, though?”
I nodded. “Yes. It’s probably just something I ate. Thank you for your concern.”
Lilith nodded. “Of course.” She said, and smiled at me once more. She then turned to look at Cain, who instantly straightened beside me. “Hello, Cain,” she said, holding a hand out. Cain stiffly bent over and grabbed it, kissing the top of it in respect. “You look dashing.”
Cain just nodded briskly.
“I’m Cerise’s grandmother,” she said. Lilith winked and gave a short laugh. “But I’m sure you already knew that.” Cain didn’t respond to her, and I frowned, giving him a look. He was acting weird, and I wasn’t sure why.
Suddenly, the entire ballroom went silent. On the other side of the room, two doors were opened and the Trill family walked in, each of them looking just as upset as the other. After them, four guards appeared holding chains, which were connected to Marquise Trill, following slowly after all of them with her head bent down.
Lilith, who had been looking at the scene, turned back to us and grinned. “Well. The show’s about to start. Farewell.” She said, and then disappeared into the crowds of people.
Cain turned to me with a stoic expression, and I could instantly tell something was off by the way his jaw tightened. “Your grandmother is Lilith?”
I nodded, frowning. “Yes. Why?”
Cain shook his head and grabbed my wrist, beginning to pull me away. The king began to announce the presence of the witch, however, and I strained to be free from Cain’s grasp. “Cain! We need to watch. What’s the matter?”
Cain’s eyes were blazing now. “Cerise, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Compulsion. A voice told me.
I didn’t second guess it. Looking into Cain’s eyes, I said, “Let go of me, Cain.” And Cain did exactly that, his eyes glazing over. My eyebrows pulled together at the sight of him, but I could not let him miss this last moment.
I made my way to the front of the crowds so Marquise Trill was right in my line of vision. She looked worse somehow than when I had last seen her. Her hair was messy and dirty, her skin oily and her dress torn up. She was not the woman I had always known. The woman that had made me breakfast and given me advice when my own mother couldn’t. And yet, she was. She was Lydia’s mother; my second mother.
And she was about to be killed.
I wanted to look away so terribly. I wanted to shield my eyes from her horrible fate, and I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t even realize I was crying until the tears rolled down my neck, making the air cold. I took in a deep breath, and just like last time I let my power consume me and focused on her energy.
Something was off, however. I blinked, trying again to make sure I was seeing right, but still. There was nothing happening. Unlike before, there was no magic within her. She was powerless. She was human.
But how could that be?
And then I remembered.
Her aura hadn’t been shiny. It had only rippled. She was not a paranormal being.
“Oh, god,” I whispered, and clutched my hand to my mouth.
There was no way of stopping it. The knights pushed Marquise Trill onto her knees with a thud and gripped her hair, pulling her head back. It was just like before, when they forced her to look at the lycanthropes. The king asked her if she had any last words. Marquise Trill closed her eyes in answer, and said, “May you find the real witch behind this.” And with that, the sword that threatened her neck seeped inside.
Only then did I convince myself to look away, but I had to look back. The knight dropped her body to the ground when it was finished, holding her head up as if it was some kind of prize. People around me applauded and cheered. I stared.
Her blood was not black. She was not the witch.
An eerie and familiar laugh crept into my mind, sending shivers down my spine as realization dawned on me.