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A v a r i c e | F o u r

F o u r

❝A young girl rejected her mother’s passion;

she betrayed her mother of whom is ashen.❞

THE CREATURE BEFORE ME WAS NOT a wolf. I wasn’t sure what it was. The beast was larger than any bear or wolf I’d ever seen and had a tremendous amount of fur cushioning its body. Its beady eyes seemed to be glaring at me, daring me to step closer. The lycanthrope had been standing on all four paws before I’d stumbled upon him.

Now, he stood on two and seemed to be as tall as a tree, although I knew he wasn’t.

His front paws were covered with the blood of the being he’d torn apart mercilessly. His beady eyes locked on me, and I couldn’t run. I was frozen under his gaze, unsure what to do even while my instincts screamed at me to run until this monster could no longer be seen. The lycanthrope made no move toward me, either. He just scrutinized me as he licked the dark red blood from his lips.

And then he started to run to me.

“Move, dammit!” Suddenly, I was jerked back to reality as a body collided with mine, knocking me to the ground as the person yelled at me to go. The person above me, a male, quickly took to a stand and held up the bow and arrow he was carrying steadily. With no hesitation, he shot the arrow at the beast just before the lycanthrope got a chance to reach us.

But the lycanthrope didn’t die. The man had shot the lycanthrope in the eye, and yet it was still alive. After stumbling and pawing at his face, the lycanthrope turned and ran from the scene and I was brought back to reality.

I blinked up at my savior.

“Who are you?” I questioned in a shaky voice. I coughed a bit to clear it up and looked up at him expectantly.

The man looked down at me harshly, his gaze threatening. He didn’t even apologize for knocking me on my bottom. “That is nothing that you need to know,” he said, and then walked confidently off towards the forest. Had I not nearly been killed, I might’ve gone after him and called him out on his rudeness.

Sadly, I had nearly been killed and I really didn’t feel up to do any sort of interrogation tasks.

My attention towards the body. Now that my mind was a bit clearer, I recognized the body as not a human, but a horse with decorative clothing on it.

I waited until a group of people returned from wherever they’d run off to before I escaped to the haven that was my home.

Mother was waiting for me.

She must’ve heard the commotion from outside, because the second I walked into the room she dropped what she was knitting and took me into her arms. “Oh, Cerise!” she cried. “Are you well? I heard people yelling from outside.”

I lied. “Oh, really? I hadn’t heard a thing. Probably just men at the bar getting all riled up.” I smiled tightly at her. “I’m fine, Mother.” She looked doubtful, but she nodded and let go of me.

“Well, alright then.” Mother nodded blankly and sat back down in the chair she was always sitting in. Suddenly, her face lit up. “We were invited to dine with the royals three days from now.”

“Oh?” I questioned while I began to remove my cloak. After all, I knew I wasn’t going to leave the house, so I might as well get comfortable. “Why?”

Mother seemed to be very excited by the prospect of simply being around royals. She had always fancied the king, but didn’t most women? “Your father wasn’t specific. Something to do with a meeting about the wretched lycanthropes, I believe.”

Mother rocked in her chair and went back to knitting. “I think having a meeting about the lycanthropes is just silly. Lord knows, none of them know what they’re dealing with.” She said this as if she knew about the lycanthropes, which instantly piqued my interest.

“Do you know something?” I stood in front of her.

“Know something about what?”

“The lycanthropes.” Mother stopped rocking and looked up at me.

“Of course not. Why would you ask such a thing?”

I shrugged with a frown. “I-I don’t know. Lilith mentioned the lycanthropes while I visited her and she seemed to know something, so I just sort of figured you may know something as well.”

Mother stared at me for a moment. It was an uncomfortable stare because she was looking me in the eyes the entire time. “I forbid you to see your grandmother.” She finally said.

I blinked at her demand. “What? Why?”

“She is going to poison your mind with all of her falsehood. I don’t want you to be around her, at least for now.” Mother definitely knew something, but she was adamant on not telling me. Rather than fight with her, I bowed my head in respect and excused myself to my room.

Tomorrow I would visit Lilith again.

Morning was excruciatingly long.

The second I woke up I was put to work by my mother. I didn’t put up a fight with her like how I wanted, I just did the chores she gave me and ran some errands for her. She was obviously still angry about our last conversation.

“I talked to a merchant just a few minutes ago.” Mother appeared while I hung our clothing up to dry.

I looked back at her quizzically. “Oh? And what did he say?”

“He told me that there was a lycanthrope sighting yesterday. You didn’t perhaps see anything, did you?” She narrowed her eyes at me. I wasn’t sure what was up with her, or myself for that matter. Ever since Lydia’s death everything, everyone had changed.

I finished putting up the last wet piece of clothing before turning to look at her. I learned from Lydia that making eye contact while lying always made it more believable. I had to keep a straight face, look her in the eyes, and lie.

“I did not.”

Mother scrutinized me for a minute while I stood unblinking until finally she huffed, turned, and went go back into our home. I hoped she wouldn’t be like this for a while. She was being unbearably inquisitive.

Finally, after all of my chores were completed, I was free to do what I wished. So, I wrapped my black cloak about myself, bid my mother a quick farewell before she could stop me, and exited our home out the back door so I wouldn’t run into anyone on my way to Lilith’s.

I half expected to see one of the lycanthropes while on my way to Lilith’s, but I didn’t.

The forest was just as calm as it ever was, and the only animals I found were squirrels and smaller, insignificant creatures. There was nothing that would insinuate a lycanthrope’s presence. Still, I trudged on carefully despite the evidence. I would rather be safe than dead.

Lilith was outside when I reached her and her cabin.

She was pacing, holding a large book in one arm while the other waved about. She was chanting something, and as I got closer I noticed there was some sort of dried up plant in the hand that punctuated whatever she was saying with wild gesticulations.

“Lilith?” I called out to her.

She stopped and turned abruptly, her eyes as wide as a doe’s. “Cerise!” she gasped. “What are you doing here?” She was quick to drop the dried up plant and stomp it out. I noticed that it had been giving off smoke. She closed her book.

Although I frowned at whatever she was trying to hide from me, I said, “I thought I’d come for a visit. Is that alright?”

Lilith smiled tightly at me. “Certainly, my dear. Follow me inside and I’ll get you some tea.”

I nodded gratefully and did as I was asked. Inside was just as clean as it had been the last time I’d come here. Everything was in the same place. “Let me go put away this old book and then we can talk,” Lilith smiled at me and left into what I assumed was her private quarters.

I sat down in the same place I had sat last time and drummed my fingers against the table while I waited for her, looking around her home. I sat up straighter when she returned into the room. “I always have hot water ready,” she told me offhandedly as she got a kettle from her fireplace. She got out two cups and poured each of us a glass.

“So what would you like to talk about?” Lilith set one of the cups in front of me and sat in the opposite chair at the table. She blew on her tea before taking a small, quick sip of it.

Should I just come out and say it?

Based on how she acted last time, that probably wasn’t the best idea. I would have to slowly ease my way into the conversation for her to willingly give up information about the lycanthropes.

“Family history,” I nodded with confirmation. This was the best and fastest topic I could think to talk about. “I’d love to know more about where I descend from.”

“Oh,” Lilith frowned lightly, played with her tea. “Your mother wouldn’t tell you?” I shook my head. “I see.” Lilith bit her lip and set down her teacup. She took a stand. “Well, your ancestry goes back quite a ways. You come from a long line a women.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Women?”

Lilith nodded. “Yes, of course. It isn’t like men birthed you, now did they?”

I frowned. “Well, of course not. But what did the women have to offer?”

Lilith laughed at that, rolling her eyes. “The women in our family were everything, my dear.”

“Oh, really? What did they do that was so important?” How was I going to switch over into talking about the lycanthropes?

“The women in our family were knowledgeable, powerful.”

Ah. There was something.

“Knowledgeable of what?”

Lilith flicked her hand out as she walked around the table. She was starting to get into the story, the perfect moment for me to bring out what I was actually wondering. “A variety of topics, my dear. They knew everything, and it was all passed down through the generations.”

“So you must be of erudite as well?”

Lilith paused and tilted her head to the side. “I am.”

“And what about mother?”

“She is not.” Lilith shook her head.

“Why is that?” I was now curious in what she was talking about that I had forgotten to start hinting at lycanthropy.

Lilith’s pregnant pause gave me a slight understanding before her lies were spewed while she quickly roamed around the kitchen, doing anything she could with her hands. “Your mother did not want to learn.” She said simply. I highly doubted that this was all, but I decided not to probe.

“Will I learn of it?”

Lilith smiled, her hands settling from shaking so furiously. She turned to face me completely. “If you want to, I will teach you.” She nodded.

“What will these teachings entail? Will I learn of knitting, or something more...foreign. Such as the lycanthropes.”

Lilith bristled slightly at my sudden use of this word, but she recovered almost instantly. “You will. Nothing about knitting, I’m afraid. If you wish to learn that, perhaps you should ask your mother.” Lilith gave me a wary gaze, scrutinizing me from head to toe. “You mustn’t tell anyone of what you learn.”

I nodded. I sensed she was going to cut our conversation short, so I stood up from the table, letting go of my teacup. Lilith held my gaze steady. “I am serious, Cerise. Not a soul is to know of anything that goes on within these woods, not even your mother.”

Lilith was beginning to startle me, but I didn’t let it show. I needed to learn more about the lycanthropes for Lydia’s sake. Just as mother always told me, Grandmother Lilith was a strange soul. I shouldn’t be rattled over anything she had to say. “I understand.” I said with certainty.

“Promise me.” Lilith decided finally. Her gaze was harsher than it normally was. “Promise to the Gods above that you will never share these secrets until you bear a daughter.” Lilith’s hands were shaking again. Feeling brave, I walked around the table and took her hands in my own. I met her gaze and held it for a few seconds. She visibly calmed down.

“I promise.”

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