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A v a r i c e | S e v e n

S e v e n

❝A woman knits a fine cloak;

she waits for one young folk.❞

IAN WAS NOT A DIFFICULT MAN to find. In fact, I knew who he was even before we left the castle by overhearing a conversation between Oliver Ackerman, Marquis Trill, and Father. The meeting had been over, but they were still talking about it when Mother and I went to pick up Father to leave. We had waited patiently beside them, pretending that we weren’t listening to their conversation. I was certain even Mother was listening.

Ian was the Irishman, the lycanthrope hunter, who spoke at Lydia’s death site.

That much was clear.

However, I still wasn’t sure where he lived, much less how to get there.

Remembering his speech, I knew he had said he lived in a cabin rather than a house, so I could instantly judge out the place where I lived and anywhere near the castle. He had to live more on the outskirts, or in the forest.

I was betting on the latter.

So, early in the morning - after eating breakfast, of course - I left my house to visit a place I was sure to run into someone who knew where Ian lived: the tavern.

Even during the sunrise the bar was alive with people wandering through town and drunkards. The bar almost never shut down. It never lost customers. Today was no exception to that. I walked into the tavern and looked around for someone who looked semi-approachable. Oliver Ackerman, unfortunately - or, perhaps, fortunately in his case - was nowhere to be seen.

Neither was Marquise Trill, I duly noted.

“May I get you anything to drink, milady?” The man behind the bar asked. He looked like a savage, a pirate. He was even missing a couple teeth.

I shook my head. “I am alright, thank you,” I smiled tightly at him. “I need directions, actually.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? To where?”

“I am looking for the cabin of which Ian lives.” I figured he would know Ian by just the first name. Well, I hoped. I didn’t know about a title or last name.

A few people around us stopped talking and looked over. My cheeks heated up and I refused to look back at them out of pride. The man behind the bar’s eyebrow raised even higher than before. He leaned over the counter and whispered slowly, “And what does a pretty lady like you want with a man like him?”

I raised my chin high. “I wish to have a talk. Will you please give me the directions?”

He pulled back, staring at me in an intimidating manner. Normally I would fidget under this gaze, but I knew if I did he wouldn’t provide me with what I needed. I stared right back at him. Finally, my tactic worked and he broke and gave me the directions to Ian’s cabin. Just as I had thought, he lived in the woods, but not too far in.

Certainly not as far as what I had been imagining.

Following the man’s guidance, I found myself in front of an old cabin that almost, but not quite, looked gray. It wasn’t nearly as nice as Grandmother Lilith’s, but Lilith seemed like someone who enjoyed tidying up their living space, so this wasn’t surprising.

Calmly - even though my insides were trembling - I walked up to the door of the cottage and knocked. No one came at first, so I knocked again. And again. And again. And a-

The door opened.

The Irishman squinted down at me. Up close he was so much taller, more than a foot above me I was certain. “What do you want?”

He said this in a way that made me believe he somehow knew me. Lydia would ask him straight out. Lydia had no inhibitions, or perhaps she just didn’t think before she spoke. But I did. So, I held my tongue and looked up at him while mustering up a large dose of courage.

I needed it.

“I wanted to speak with you about the lycanthropes.”

His eyebrows rose up the same way the man at the bar’s had earlier. “What does a little lady like you want with lycanthropes?” Why was everyone so...sexist around here? A woman couldn’t be curious?

“I don’t want anything to do with the lycanthropes,” I clarified, although it was kind of a lie. If I had the chance, and the right equipment, and I suppose learned how to use said equipment, I would kill one. I really needed to learn. “I simply want to learn about them.”

After a while, Ian laughed heartily. “Me, too. All I know is what you know.”

“I doubt that.”

Ian stopped laughing. His gaze hardened. “Listen, girl, I’m a hunter. It’s what I do. I can kill ’em, but I need some help. So unless you’ve got a few brothers you want to bring over, I’ve got nothing for you.” The look on my face must’ve told him that I didn’t have any brothers - none that would be willing to help out, that was - and so he began to shut the door on me.

I blocked it with my foot. “Wait.” I pleaded. He sighed and stopped. “Is...is Cain here?”

I wasn’t sure what had given me this great idea to go asking about Cain, but I cursed it. I knew now who Ian was at least, and that was good enough for now. So why had I opened my mouth and asked that?

“How do you know Cain?”

I’d become Lydia. I was no longer speaking while thinking, just speaking. “He saved me from a lycanthrope a few days ago, and I met him at dinner yesterday.”

“Dinner with the king?” Ian seemed surprised by this.

“Yes.” I nodded in confirmation.

“What’s your title?”

“My father is Marquis.” I answered proudly. Ian whistled and nodded. This had his attention at least and he opened his door to me. “Might as well come in, but I can’t promise you a whole lot of information. I just know what I’ve seen.”

“I’ll take anything I can get.”

I followed him inside his home. He led me past a small kitchen and dining area into a living space that held seating arrangements around a burning fire. It was nice and toasty in his home, so I escaped out of my coat and draped it over my arm before taking a seat.

Ian took the seat in a different chair and looked at me. “What’s your name, milady?”

“Cerise Victoire.”

“Lady Cerise, then, isn’t it?” Ian raised an eyebrow. “I’m not so good with titles. Don’t see the point of them, really.” Neither did I, but that specific conversation was meant for a different time.

“It is.” I sat up straighter. “What do you know about the lycanthropes?” I was enthusiastic to finally gain some information on these monstrous creatures.

Ian sighed. “They’re not a force to be reckoned with, I know that.”

This set me aback. “Then why are you hunting them?”

“Because they need to be stopped, and someone’s gotta do that. So why not it be me?” He shrugged. “Lycanthropes are tricky things. I’ve only come across them a few times in my life, this being the worst. What I’ve learned is that they ain’t some normal animal. They’re supernatural.”

“Supernatural,” I repeated slowly, questioningly.

“Yeah. Paranormal, supernatural, not normal. They’re smart creatures and know how to hunt a lot better than we do. They can kill a man without a sound. No one will know until they make it known.” Ian indulged.

“How many are there?” He was making it sound like there was a lot more than what villagers had been told, and chills crept up my spine with dread.

“My guess? Six. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s enough to wipe us out unless we do something to get rid of them.”

“So you’re working with Cain?” I wasn’t sure how he and Cain met, and I was curious to find out.

Ian tilted his head to the side. “You could say that. Cain’s a smart one. He knows a lot more about ’em then I do. But his pride’s big, and he sometimes lets that get in the way of his hunting.” Ian was a bit of a gossip, it seemed. I wouldn’t expect this from a guy that looked like him. I suppose my prejudice was a habit that I needed to be rid of.

“What else do you know about the lycanthropes?”

“I know they’re not easily killed.” Ian said after a moment’s hesitation. “Any animal will go down with a head or heart shot, but lycanthropes...they don’t die. I haven’t killed one and neither’s Cain. And we haven’t got the slightest hint on how to go about killing ’em. We’ve just gotta keep shooting and hoping that they’ll go out.”

I nodded slowly. My stomach was tight, my skin was prickled and I no longer felt at ease about roaming the woods. But I didn’t have a choice in the matter if I wanted to avenge Lydia’s death. Someone had to do it. Lydia deserved a long life filled with happiness and love, and she never got it because of some stupid animal.

“Cain will be back in a little bit if you want to stay and ask him about what he knows,” Ian offered. I shook my head and took a stand. I wrapped my coat about myself.

“No, that’s fine. I’ve gotta go somewhere anyhow. But, uh, I’ll be back. Have you gotten anymore lycanthrope hunters besides you two?”

Ian shook his head. “Nah. My guess is everyone’s too scared to come out here.”

I nodded. Ian led me to the door and opened it for me. I thanked him and stepped out. “Thank you, Ian, for the help.”

“I’m not sure what all I did to help, but you’re welcome.” He gave me a crooked smile.

He shut the door after farewells and I walked deeper into the forest, finding my grandmother’s trail. I might as well visit her now that this new information was fresh in my mind. What did Ian mean by supernatural, though? I knew that the lycanthropes were smart, smarter than what they should be, but was that really all that was “supernatural” about them? Or was there more?

I needed to find out.

I arrived at Grandmother Lilith’s house only ten minutes after leaving Ian’s and knocked on the door. I was expecting to wait, so I let myself slouch a bit. Grandmother Lilith went against what she usually did, however, and opened the door immediately. “Hello, darling,” she said in a rich, soothing tone. I hadn’t ever heard her talk like that.

I straightened up immediately. I gave her a smile. “Hello, Lilith. How are you?”

Lilith shrugged. “I am alright. And how are you? It’s been, what? A week since Lydia’s tragic accident, right?”

“Yeah,” thinking about Lydia only worsened the mood that I was in. I needed to be sharp, so I forced myself to push her out of my mind. “I am alright as well. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to visit you sooner; Mother, Father, and I were invited to dinner by the Imperial family.”

Lilith’s eyes widened. “What a delight.” She nodded, and then stepped back, opening her door for me. “Well, that’s quite fine. It gave me some time to work on your present.” She smiled graciously. “Please, come in.”

She was acting strange, though I should’ve expected that from someone like her.

Her house was different. It was clean before, but now there wasn’t a single speck of dust. Candles were lit about the house and on the table there was that big book she’d been holding in the beginning of our last visit.

Something was off.

Lilith closed the door behind me. “Take a seat at the table, dear, and I’ll get us some tea.” I nodded and thanked her and sat at my usual spot. The chair had a cushion on it. It hadn’t before.

“So,” I began, “a present?” Knowing Grandmother Lilith it’d be something ridiculous, like a rabbit’s foot or some weird root that was supposed to bring me happiness. Or perhaps she’d knitted something. She had made me quite a few things before, and my heart started beating faster at the thought of a new dress. I wasn’t materialistic, but new clothes were always something to look forward to.

Lilith smiled wide, setting a cup of tea in front of me. “Yes, dear. Oh! You’re going to love it!” She practically was screeching with her excitement. “Now, it’s not completely finished, but I’m sure that by tomorrow if you come over it will be.” She told me as she left into one of the doors towards the back of the cabin. I figured it led into her bedroom.

She kept on talking about the present, though not giving what it was away, but I wasn’t really listening. I was more entranced by the book on the table. It was opened up to a random page, and the word “lycanthrope” had caught my eye. I tried to read on, but Lilith came back out of her room before I could.

“Here it is, dear,” she smiled wickedly at me. “Your very own enchanted cloak.”

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