we do not birth stones all things born must bend like stubborn weeds through concrete young sapling hearts pliable and tender dancing bending bowing fragile and resilient but charcoal was once a tree whose dancing was burned away we must not forget that hardened hearts are manufactured that the flames they spread started not with them nor will they be their end but charcoal when not alight can also soften into an artist's pen there is no hardness stronger than our ability to bend
Once more the venomous refrain comes to plague my weary brain: I am nothing. I am nothing. I am nothing. But I have found within each poison note lies concealed the antidote: I am I am I am So if upon your ears alight her onerous whispers in the night: You are nothing. You are nothing. You are nothing. Find the truth within the lie and perchance upon your lullaby: You are You are You are @amnotpoetry
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A Random List of Confessions
A random list of confessions:
-I read books out loud when I’m alone. And by read, I mean “act out emphatically.”
-Sometimes I tell my kids “no” when they ask for a cookie, and then eat one when they aren’t looking. It’s kind of a power trip.
-I struggle to read fiction about violence lately. And cheating. And prejudice. And death.
-I struggle to read or watch anything lately.
-In grade 9 I had a crush on my stage manager. Until now, I’ve only ever told one person about her.
-I think superheroes are the problem, not the solution.
-I’m pretty sure you don’t like me. You think I’m an annoying flake. Not you as in anyone specific, just specifically you.
-I think you’re right.
-I’m still sore about not beating my ex-boyfriend at Mortal Kombat after he assumed I hadn’t seen the movies because I’m a girl. “You wouldn’t get it,” he said.
-I didn’t read most of the books in university and still managed a decent grade. Most of the books were about war and rape.
-I’m very sensitive. Half of me thinks that makes me a better person, half thinks I’m just weak.
-I think you think I’m weak.
-I know you think I’m a disappointment because I decided to graduate without my honours. “A waste of potential.”
-I think it was the right decision.
-I want to succeed as a writer so you think it was the right decision.
-I think it was the right decision.
-I don’t trust my own opinion on anything.
-In grade 3, I brought a snow globe I loved for show and tell. I put it in my pocket and it broke during recess. On the bus home everyone thought I peed myself and laughed, but I refused to tell them the truth because I was so ashamed.
-I talk about myself so much not because I’m full of myself, but because I’m so empty and I think your validation will fill me. Probably there’s a hole somewhere I should fix.
-I’m not sure if this is a poem about me or you.
-I’m not sure this is a poem.
-I think raisin cookies are better than chocolate chip ones.
Before and After
Before the pandemic I attended community potlucks. I folded my anxiety into a handkerchief, something to fiddle with in my pocket, as I planted the seeds of friendship. After the pandemic the potlucks were cancelled. Some members came out anti-science and my seeds have all failed to yield anything more than broken confidence. Before the pandemic I made my first ever parent friends. We met at the park most mornings, shared meals once a week, and took turns filling oxygen tanks. After the pandemic the housing market got so hot they left the country to cool down. Parks and tanks are left empty now and my lungs are learning to adapt. Before the pandemic we had library and market days. Familiar places, friendly faces, comforting routine and connection. A safety net of welcome and belonging. After the pandemic we found desks, stalls, and smiles vacant. I stretch my anxiety around my neck, a scarf to protect against the chill, and let my husband do the talking. Before the pandemic I didn't have many friends to talk to, but I called my Granny every day. After the pandemic I watched her get sick. Her number doesn't reach her anymore. Before the pandemic panic attacked once or twice a year. After the pandemic it has learned to hunt in packs. Before the pandemic nausea, dizziness and pain meant I was coming down with something. After the pandemic they mean that I am awake. Before the pandemic my husband and I talked about growing old together. After the pandemic he wonders if I'll make it through the week. Before the pandemic I believed in a future. After the pandemic. After the pandemic. When is After the pandemic? Before the pandemic there was no Before or After. Before the pandemic I didn't need to wait for an ending to begin. Before the pandemic is gone. And all we have to work with is now. At least that much hasn't changed.
If you want to check out the visual version of this poem and a lot of other poems that haven’t made it on the blog yet, make sure to check out my Instagram account @amnotpoetry.
Mid-autumn shrinking of days:
waves of midnight blue
lapping an island of grey cloud.
I watch their constant approach
and retreat, and think of how
my Granny used to call them the
longest days of the year.
To wake in the time-shrouding
darkness and not to know
whether you’ve slept early or late,
to pass the hours in a smothering
dimness that seems to seep
into the tiniest crack and expand
so that every interaction,
every experience, is muffled and flat.
I pretend this embrace is a comfort,
isolation an inspiration, but it is not.
I want to make beautiful things,
to weave words into brightness
that can outshine the fog,
cleave the day in two the way
my Granny’s phone calls used to.
Yet here I am complaining
about the weather because
the days are just too short.
Or maybe they’re too long.
Or maybe my Granny was wrong
and the days aren’t longer or shorter,
but heavier, so that even though
we carry them the same distance,
we are consumed in the effort.
And her calls made them so much
lighter because, for a while,
I didn’t have to carry them alone.
Content warning: violence, mention of murder and abuse, ableism
The Governor tilted his head in confusion. “You said your mother was a doctor.”
“She is. But my birth mother was murdered by you.”
“You survived?” He said, his brows rising beneath the untidy salt-and-pepper of his curls.
“A woman this town called a Witch found me and raised me as her own, feeding me scraps of scavenged meat and bread bought with the little money she made providing medical care to those who needed it more than they feared her.”
“Hattie?” he said, “She died.”
“No. You sent men to kill her. They hacked off her arm in front of me and then I killed them and took her far away.”
“Impossible,” he said, shaking his head and sneering at her, “She’d have bled to death.”
“She was well-trained. And a good teacher.”
“You would have still been a child… you couldn’t.” He stood now, his eyes narrowing as he inspected her.
“Are you waiting for something, Monsieur?” Genevieve asked, taking another bite of the food.
He said nothing, but continued watching her eat in confusion and anger. His hand trembled and his foot began to tap against the floor.
Genevieve lifted the fork, a piece of darkly seared meat speared on its tines. She inspected it as she spoke, “You know, we almost starved many times. Maman fed me whatever she could find… only eating scraps of bread and roots herself. I needed the nutrients, she told me later. I was growing, after all. Children need nourishment, and meat was hardest of all to come by. Sometimes she caught squirrels. Or stole scraps from the market. She even killed our beloved pet. But one day… one lucky day she came across an entire carcass in the woods behind our shack. Your woods. It was thrown over a massive fire. No one was around. So she pulled what she could from the flames and cut some of the flesh with her herb knife, filling her skirts with wild, greasy meat.”
“You…” the Governor began, but his mouth didn’t seem to want to move the way he commanded.
“I didn’t change right away, like many do. I think I was too starved, too weak. But there were… signs… that something was happening inside of me. I grew stronger. Much stronger. And hungrier. And my body… once injured… was healed.”
“You found the Hunter in the woods that day, didn’t you?” she asked, and the tense silence was answer enough, “You took him away, for trespassing or some petty thing at first, and left his kill unattended. Then, once you realized who he was and he told you his secrets, you had your men cook the body. The precious meat.”
She popped the morsel into her mouth and watched him as she chewed. This would be the moment of truth for them both.
“You hoped I’d be injured and stupid enough to take your offer of a dinner today so you could turn me, manipulate me through my disorientation and fear,” she told him, feeling the phantom ache of her legs but none of the trembling or restlessness that once followed it, “I would be useful: a subordinate in the College. But I’m afraid you’re much too late for that. It seems I partook of the same meal you did more than twenty years ago. In fact, it was likely I was turned even before you were.”
Her provocation was working; Governor L’Amie seethed with injured pride and a frightened hatred for this weak creature – his own bastard – besting his stratagem. If the Beast within her were older, then it was possible that he might be the subordinate. If he survived.
Genevieve watched him closely, frowning at the way his foot tapped faster and faster, and the way he shifted his neck as if it ailed him. She took another bite of food to distract his attention from her left hand, already gripping a revolver. She hoped she could still fire it with her injuries.
“So then…” he mumbled, staring down to his feet, “This has all been a game.”
In one breathless moment, Genevieve found herself flying across the room, her chair crashing in a useless heap while she continued on to collide with the far wall. Governor L’Amie stood where she had recently been seated, fully transformed with the tips of his dark, twisted horns touching the ceiling. Unlike other Beasts Genevieve had seen, he had three sets of horns – the largest curling like a rams, while another set sprouted like jagged teeth just behind them. The final pair sat furthest forward on his head – two velvety nubs not unlike those of a juvenile deer.
She had been correct when she had said his age made him unpredictable; his speed, his size, his entire appearance were unlike anything Genevieve had ever seen aside from in the oldest texts in the College’s archives.
“STAND UP!” he roared at her, “No more of these petty games!”
Genevieve fished her hand into her silk pockets and retrieved a revolver– she didn’t even spare a thought to which she held – and fired off all six shots as fast as she could manage. He didn’t move, hardly reacted to the impact, and when her seventh shot was nothing more than an empty click, he laughed so hard that Genevieve cringed, her skull bursting with pain.
The bullets emerged from his chest and fell to the threadbare rug in six muted thuds. She couldn’t see the wounds knitting themselves shut from where she lay, but Genevieve could tell he was already healing from the lack of blood matting his silver-grey fur.
Not sparing a thought to this or how her legs lay at impossible angles before her, she discarded the first gun and shuffled for her second – the smaller one, she noticed this time – and emptied both remaining rounds into him.
When the capsules fell to the floor they were shattered into pieces, their contents deposited but seemingly ineffective against such an aged Beast. And here she had worried about giving him an overdose and accidentally killing him. Not that real bullets had fared any better.
She saw his leg twitch and then she felt herself hurtling through the air once more, landing with a bone-shattering crash onto the solid wood table. Her shoulder exploded with pain and she screamed out.
I’m going to die here, she realized. Maman will be so sad… after I promised. After I refused to take more Hunters. And I was going to retire like she wanted…
She clenched her eyes shut against the tears, but forced them open once more to stare her death in the face. The monster who would kill her. The creature who murdered her birth mother without even knowing her name.
He approached her from across the room, stepping onto the table. He stumbled, a little, his leg not quite reaching as high as he’d expected. He growled and continued his approach, hunched under the ceiling.
“Why won’t you fight me?” he snarled, “No Beast has so much control. Not even your pet experiment.”
His voice had lost its unearthly timbre, and one of his eyes had gone dark – refusing to reflect the flickering light of the single candle that had not been extinguished during his attack. Genevieve needed to buy more time.
“I’ve been cured,” she told him, hoping his curiosity would prevent him from simply biting her head off.
“Cured?” he asked, tilting his head to the side. Genevieve wondered that he couldn’t feel the way his smaller horns wiggled like loose teeth, threatening to fall out with the slightest tug.
“It was a College doctor that saved my mother’s life, and when they threatened to kill me for what I was, she exchanged her medical knowledge for my protection. Their researchers were developing a serum that, once consumed or injected, would reverse the disease and prevent any future contamination.”
“Disease,” he snarled, leaning his toothy face down so that his breath burned in her nostrils, “It is a gift.”
That’s what makes you a monster, she thought, but didn’t dare say aloud. What she did say was: “We had many volunteers to test the efficacy of the serum. Myself included.”
He lifted his head and laughed, some of his fur shedding from his body in the process. “You!? Why? Why choose this useless, broken body over near-immortality?”
“Your lackeys were hardly immortal,” she pointed out.
“Because they were young. And stupid,” he growled, “If they’d been stronger and smarter they could have lived forever.”
“Like your son?” she asked, regretting the question the moment it escaped her lips. His face was over hers again and his mouth open so large she thought for sure it was the end.
Instead of biting her head off he shouted:
“If he’d only been loyal…”
“Then he would have been weak like the rest,” Genevieve pressed, trying to distract him from the way his horns toppled to the table.
His eyes – tiny dull grey orbs in his massive head – stared down at her intently. “And you? You have a cure, and yet you still slaughter Beasts. What right have you to criticize me?”
“By the time we’re done I will have freed at least five innocents of your crimes. From what I’ve heard, there are more, though they’ve flown and it will take us time to find them. Those we killed were Beasts long before you ever offered them meat from the bodies of those that disappointed and frightened you.”
“So a bastard like you is the arbiter of justice for the College? The great divider of Beast and man?” he laughed and swatted her to the floor like a cat might play with the corpse of a mouse.
It stung. Not only the landing, but her own doubts. She made her judgements based on the words of the outcasts, the men and women abandoned and abused, beaten and raped for not being more like their betters – the same people driving them into the dirt. The Maman Tees of the world. But surely she’d made mistakes. Only Beasts never doubted their actions.
He smiled to see the conflict and pain in her face, but then grimaced at a great crack that exploded from nearby. He looked around for its source but then howled in pain as his bones continued to snap and break, collapsing down to their usual size. “What have you done!?” he screamed at her, trying to drag his uncooperative body toward her.
His hand, still partially claw and fur, almost reached her face before she felt herself being dragged backwards, strong hands gripping her waist. Genevieve tilted her head just enough to recognize Darnell’s concerned face behind her.
“You missed the party,” she scolded him.
“I’m sorry. There were far more captives down there than I anticipated. It took some time to get them all safe.”
Genevieve nodded her approval, though to Darnell it may have just appeared that her head was bouncing off her chest as he carried her toward the door and then set her gently on the ground.
Governor L’Amie was still flailing and howling on the other side of the room, his body mostly pink and naked now, the floor littered with teeth and horns.
“I told you it would work,” she told Darnell as he checked over her wounds. “Sit me up.”
“Your ankle is severely twisted and your right leg is broken. Your ribs are bruised, possibly broken, and…”
“Sit me up,” she commanded once more, and this time Darnell acquiesced, though not without a deliberate sigh. He leaned her carefully against the wall by the door and very gently removed his hand from her back so that he could see to her injuries
By the time he finished, Governor L’Amie was a diminished heap on the floor and for a moment Genevieve wondered if he might be dead. Finally, he lifted his head and said in a voice that grated from his raw throat, “You cured me. Why? Why not kill me?”
“I don’t think anyone could ever cure a monster like you, Monsieur,” Genevieve told him, noting the footsteps hurrying through the hallway behind her, “But I have taken away your teeth, yes.”
“Why didn’t you kill me?” he repeated, dropping his forehead to rest against the carpet.
“A man who eats a Beast to become a Beast, knowing what will happen and what he will become; a man who kills and lies to maintain an illusion of pride and control; a man who slaughters his own children for power, does not fear death. He only fears the loss of that power,” Genevieve said as several men and women burst into the room, along with the Mayor, “That is the only punishment to fit such a Beast.”
Some of the men in the room said something about arrest, while others screamed and cried and fell upon the Governor with wailing fists. Others pulled the most violent away while the Mayor led them all out again, Governor L’Amie dragged behind them by his arms. He gave no resistance, his head lolling toward the floor as he passed through the doorway.
“Retiring?” Darnell asked, pushing her along the bumpy road toward Annette’s shack. She hated relying on him to get around, but her left arm would be out of commission for a number of weeks yet, according to the local surgeon. She was determined to get a second opinion from the College doctors as soon as she was home.
“Yes, I’m afraid. It’s not so young, for a Hunter, and Maman’s health isn’t getting any better. Besides, I’d like to help her with her research. An inoculation would prove much more effective than a bunch of idiots running around with whips and guns.” She winced as they went over a rather large stone protruding from the ground. At least she was in her own chair and not that experimental piece of garbage.
“You’re not an idiot,” Darnell said without a hint of humour.
“I know that, you fool. I just mean that brawn is never a long term solution,” she wished she could comfortably turn around to see his expression, instead she resorted to asking, “What will you do? Find another Hunter?”
“I suppose that would be the most prudent course of action, given my condition.”
“Oh prudent my behind, Darnell — you can do whatever you want. If you want to continue the Hunt then I’m sure I can attach you to someone else, but if there’s something else… well, the College doesn’t expect eternal servitude for a bit of medicine every now and then. You’ve more than served us by participating in the experiment in the first place.”
He was silent for so long that she forced her neck around as far as she could but could only make out his broad chest and his rough hands on the chair behind her.
“Stop that,” he told her, and she was so surprised by his commanding tone that she actually listened. That and her neck ached like hell. “I haven’t thought about it. You only just told me today, after all.”
It was true, perhaps she was being unreasonable, expecting him to have an answer so quickly.
“Fine,” she told him, “But I want you to consult with me first. Sometimes you’re just so stubborn…”
“But you won’t be my direct supervisor any longer, so I’ll have every right to disagree.” he pointed out, and Genevieve had the strangest inclination that he was smiling.
“No, but I sure as hell make better decisions. Look at the plan with the Governor… and you didn’t think it would work.”
There was a breath of chuckle behind her, and Genevieve grinned until they went over another large bump that she wasn’t entirely sure was an accident.
Annette was waiting for them at her door when they arrived.
“I’m here to report that your mission has been completed as requested and that we will be departing tomorrow at sunrise. A contingent of College agents will be here to treat any remaining injuries and see that everything is in order.”
Annette squinted, “Shouldn’t you be telling the Mayor that?”
“We did already,” Genevieve said, “But from what I’ve been told, you made the request?”
Annette smirked, “Then why did you see the Mayor first?”
Genevieve grinned, “Thank you, for all of your help. I’m sure my mother will be pleased to hear you’re well.”
She signalled for Darnell to take her back to the inn – with all her injuries she wasn’t supposed to be in her chair for more than an hour at a time – and the day had been a long one of letter writing and information gathering.
“Wait,” Annette said, making them pause in their departure, “The matter of payment?”
“The Mayor has already provided us with a hefty dividend, despite his reluctance to send for us. You’re off the hook,” Genevieve told her. Annette shook her head, smiling.
“I told you the pay wasn’t money.”
Genevieve frowned, unsure of what other agreement her mother might have come to with this woman.
“Someone like me hears a lot of things… meets a lot of people,” Annette said, taking a step toward her, “It pays to remember everyone.”
“What are you…” Genevieve began, but she interrupted.
Genevieve’s heart stuttered, and she swallowed a lump in her throat that made her eyes water. She nodded her thanks, not trusting herself to speak.
Annette smiled. “Thank you, Hunters.”
Once the inn was in sight, Genevieve told Darnell, hoping he wouldn’t notice the catch in her voice: “Get the carriage ready. We’re leaving tonight.”
“Are you sure?” Darnell asked, and Genevieve rolled her eyes.
“Do you always question everything I say?”
“Only when it’s against the College’s orders, and the doctor’s as well,” he answered.
“I want to go home, Darnell,” she whispered, “The Hunt is over.”
He came around the chair and bent down, their eyes meeting and an unspoken understanding passing between them.
“I’ll get the bags, Mademoiselle,” he told her, his hand resting for a moment on hers before he stood to take his place behind her once more.
Thank you so much for reading The Beast of Ste Ygrette! I hope you enjoyed the story, and don’t forget to leave a like or comment below or share with your friends. I will be catching up on audio over the next few weeks (unfortunately I’ve had some delays due to noisy apartment and children. Working on that.) If you like this story, you can check out my other work by exploring the menu above… or follow me on Instagram for poetry and writing news. Thanks again for reading, and have a happy Halloween!
Content warning: descriptions of murder and violence against a child, children in peril
When they reached the Governor’s manse, Genevieve considered it skeptically. The smell of smoke still billowed around it and much of the eastern-most wing had been entirely consumed by the blaze. Roofs caved inward and broken windows were patched with rotting boards.
“Are you certain the entire thing won’t just cave in on us?” Darnell asked, his chin also lifted to survey the dilapidated wreck that had likely once been palatial in its enormity.
“Maybe that’s his plan,” Genevieve replied. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair, a significantly smaller model than her usual and uncomfortable for any length of time. In truth, she hated the thing – its experimental metalwork frame constantly jabbing through the thin cushions beneath her bottom and behind her back, constantly threatening to tip over from the slightest turn or jolt – but it was a necessary evil. Even Darnell could never heft her other chair over so many steps – Genevieve counted sixteen just to the doorway – and it did have a nasty habit of getting stuck in doorways and causing property damage with its bulk. Considering the destruction, Genevieve worried the floorboards might no longer support her usual chair’s exceptional weight.
As it was, Darnell lifted the light frame with ease and Genevieve grasped its metal arm rests to maintain her balance as they ascended the stairs. The heft of the revolvers, tucked into the secret folds of her dress, gave Genevieve confidence, though she did miss the reassuring presence of her whip. Darnell set her down before the soot-stained double doors where she wheeled forward and rapped several times.
To both of their surprise it was a young woman who answered the door – familiar to Genevieve though it took her a full minute to place her as the mother she had met upon her arrival. The woman’s face was pale and drenched in sweat, and her hand was clenched at her skirt.
“Insurance?” Genevieve asked Darnell, and he nodded in turn. “Bastard.”
“M-my master is waiting in the Great Hall, Mademoiselle. This way,” she indicated with a trembling hand before turning down a passage to their right.
“Has he given you anything to eat?” Genevieve asked, and the woman shook her head.
“My daughter,” the woman whispered, “the eldest.”
“Is she here?” Darnell asked.
The woman nodded. “They all are. But she’s… if she changes…”
Genevieve stopped and slipped a hand into the folds of her skirts to retrieve the smaller of her revolvers. She opened the barrel and carefully removed three capsules, handing them to Darnell. He looked down at her hand but made no move to take them.
“We’ll find them together, after we deal with L’Amie.”
“There may not be time for that,” Genevieve thrust her hand forward again, “You can come for me after.”
Darnell still hesitated. “What if you don’t have enough?”
“Then three more would never have made the difference. Take them. Please.”
Darnell’s shoulders fell with a sigh, but he took the capsules nonetheless. The woman watched this exchange with red-rimmed eyes but said nothing, only leading them on once more when they were finished.
“In here.” She bowed and opened the door onto a long room that was likely once very grand but now showed the signs of neglect and disuse. A grand fireplace lined the left wall, a layer of dust and soot like dirty snow across the mantle, and a cavernous darkness where once a bright fire might have burned. The air was cold and musty, and there was little light save what was provided by the handful of candles gracing a once-elegant table that stretched from one end of the room to the other. The candles and a few small plates of food were all crowded at the far end in front of a solitary figure.
He rose when they entered, bowing his head. Governor L’Amie was not a tall man, and side-by-side he might have only come up to Darnell’s shoulder. He was what they called barrel-chested, the white of his pressed shirt threatening to burst free of his snugly tailored black jacket, and yet this still did not account for the immensity of his presence for, though he was one small man in an abandoned room, Genevieve had the impression that he was staring down at her, his face mere inches from her own. She shook her head and steadied herself for his introductions.
“Welcome Mademoiselle Gregoire. Monsieur Furst,” he motioned toward the table, “Everything has been prepared for us. If you would be so kind as to join me, I would be honoured by your presence. There is much we wish to discuss with one another, I’m sure.”
Like a woman’s costume jewels, Governor L’Amie’s hospitality was gaudy and put-on; Genevieve had no intention of participating in such a rouse.
“I’m afraid my assistant will not be joining us. He will be leaving with this woman and her children. I assume that won’t be a problem, Monsieur?”
A smile flickered across the Governor’s face before he forced it into a look of disappointment as unconvincing as his tone, “If he must. I suppose I will have to resign myself to enjoying your company in private, Mademoiselle.”
“So it seems,” she said in reply, turning to give Darnell a stern look until he finally nodded and backed out of the room to follow the woman to whatever place the monster had locked up her children.
Genevieve returned her attention to the Governor and to the empty space at his right hand where a chair had been removed to make room for her. Her right hand itched beneath its silk glove, ready to release the wheel of her chair and seize her revolver at any sudden movement.
Thankfully the Governor did nothing more than sit, pour her a glass of red wine, and serve some roast and boiled potatoes onto a dainty little plate. Genevieve smiled to see him pour himself his own glass as well.
“You really intend to dine with me tonight?” She prompted, moving her food around with a tarnished silver fork, “I rather thought you might be more inclined to gobble me up instead.”
Governor L’Amie took a sip of his wine and grinned. “I considered it. But I thought I might have you answer some questions first. Though I thought you might be inclined to sick your pet on me the moment you arrived.”
“It crossed my mind,” she admitted, taking a bite of the roast on her plate and rolling it around in her mouth. It was dry, and it had a familiar bitter flavour she recalled from childhood. “But to be honest, I have some questions for you too.”
“Oh?” he inquired, eating a morsel from his own plate.
“Mm,” she said, taking a small sip of wine. Too much and it might make her ill.
“Well, we shall take turns then, shall we? Ladies first?”
“Twenty-three years ago a Hunter came through here, following his quarry. He never returned to the College. What happened to him?” She knew the answer already, but it would be a good way to gauge his honesty.
“I had him hung for assault and robbery.” His grey eyes – a shade darker than Genevieve’s own, crinkled with their own private humour.
“And was he guilty?”
“Of course not. I tortured him until he told me all about these creatures you call Beasts and how such a condition spreads. It wouldn’t have been… strategic to let him return to the College.” The humour spread to his lips now, the deep wrinkles there creasing at the effort.
“Of course not.”
“Aren’t you going to ask me why?” he asked, running a hand over his stubbled chin, cleft like Genevieve’s own, though the skin there was several shades lighter.
“Strength. Influence. Perhaps health. You are hardly the first to have taken on the change by choice.” Genevieve shrugged, watching him pour himself another glass of wine and topping off her own. She took another sip for good measure. “It’s your turn to ask a question.”
“I didn’t know the College allowed Beasts among its ranks. Are companions like yours common?”
“Not at all. Darnell’s mother forced him to undergo the change as a child to cure an illness which should have taken his life years ago. He volunteered with the College on the condition that we aid him to maintain better control over his transformations. Our research has yielded a formula which inhibits the change to a certain degree, though it renders the process much more exhausting to him than to typical Beasts.” Genevieve smiled into her wine at the widening of the Governor’s eyes upon hearing this. Good, she thought, he’s been too busy to pay enough attention to us. He has no idea what we’re capable of.
“I thought the College’s policy would be to kill him on the spot,” he admitted.
“That would hardly be humane. Besides, what use is he to us dead?”
“Ah,” the Governor said, “Very shrewd. Your turn.”
“How long do you really think you can maintain your control here? Your kingdom is falling apart,” Genevieve reached out an arm to indicate the cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, and the broken arm of the chair next to her.
“As long as I want to,” he spit, taking another sip of wine to cover up his irritation. Genevieve would have to tread carefully. “My turn. Tell me a little about yourself, Mademoiselle. How did one such as you end up with the College? And a Hunter at that? Were your legs injured by a Beast?”
Idiot, she thought. “There’s nothing wrong with my legs, Monsieur, but I’m afraid I was dropped as a child and my spine was injured in the fall. My mother is an important doctor within the College, so I came to it naturally you might say.”
“Naturally,” he repeated, his eyes devouring her from head to toe. He smirked.
“My turn,” she said, feeling that his patience was drawing to a close. “What was the name of the woman who you threw from the cliffs behind this mansion twenty-seven years ago?”
His heavy dark brows hung over his eyes like storm clouds. “What was that?”
“Oh, perhaps you had someone do it for you? That is your usual method, isn’t it? And you would have been a simple human back in those days, isn’t that right?” Genevieve felt the anger rising within her, the ghost of an ache shooting through the long abandoned nerves of her legs.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, laughing as if she had just told the most outrageous of jokes.
“A prostitute. She had a baby. You threw them from the cliffs.”
“Ah. Yes. I do recall the incident though not the name. If I recall the baby had no name, and she had returned to have me bless it with one. As if I had any intention of breeding some bastard child with a creature like that.” He eyed her suspiciously now, a mischievous smile playing around his lips at the sight of her clenched jaw and fist. “What do you care? It had nothing to do with the College.”
“She was my mother.”
<— Back to VI: What Must Be Done
VI: What Must Be Done
Content warning: violence, some blood
Maman had started jumping at noises. The shuffling of an animal through the trees behind the house, or even a sudden movement from the child could make her eyes bulge from her skull while her hand clasped at her chest.
The child thought it might have something to do with the Bad Things. Maman scolded her when she snuck out of doors, though that was hardly novel, but now she did so with a tremor in her hand and a catch in her voice that made the little girl heed the advice no matter how her legs ached for use. There were also the whispers from customers – blood, death, murder. A monster. And then there were no more customers. That was when Maman had started jumping and shaking at every noise.
For a while the child thought maybe the Bad Things were her fault; Maman never did like many people to see her, and whenever anyone did they stared at her with an expression the child still couldn’t name, even after all of the books Maman had brought her. Some asked whose she was, which she didn’t understand. She was Maman Tee’s, just like Maman Tee told them in the same voice she used to scold the child when she ran about the house too quickly. Perhaps the customers no longer came because of her.
But then Maman started coming home with cuts and bruises again, and she realized the Bad Things were outside. Maman Tee was afraid that someone – or something—outside was coming for her, and that made the child sad and frightened. And angry. Sometimes so angry that she shook and began pacing more than usual. But then Maman would sing to her and settle her and teach her from one of the books so that the rage subsided.
Until the day the men came. They knocked on the door in broad daylight, but Maman did not answer the door. She stood like a wild animal, wide eyes deer-like in their terror. Another knock and she motioned to the child to hide amongst the rags they called a bed. She grabbed a dull meat knife from the counter.
The child hid as best she could, but her legs trembled and ached like never before, and she was certain that they would give her away. She watched through a gap in the blankets and straw.
The door burst open with a slam and the men fell on Maman like wolves. The child smelled the blood before she saw it, and without meaning to she rose to her feet. The room spun, and her legs exploded with pain that made her scream. The room looked strange, as though she were viewing it from Maman Tee’s shoulders. The men looked up at her and their eyes widened the same way Maman’s had at their knock. They backed away and the child could see the axe, and Maman’s arm on the floor.
She screamed again, and then it was the men who screamed.
Genevieve’s mouth tasted like blood. Her tongue stung where she had bitten it while Darnell popped her left shoulder back into place. The arm hung now, uselessly, while the other was heavily bandaged. At least she had use of her right hand which she used now to write a list of instructions for the Mayor. She paused to roll her neck and stretch her stiff fingers.
Yes, if she survived this mission she would most certainly make it her last.
Darnell knocked and then entered with a tray of warm pastries and a pot of tea.
“Oh, thank God,” Genevieve said, snatching for the food and then wincing in pain. “Damn it.”
Darnell brought the tray closer so she could reach. She stuffed the food into her mouth, thankful that only Darnell was there to see her.
“You were right,” he told her, “The Governor has invited you to dinner tonight. Seven o’clock.”
“Of course he has,” Genevieve said, carefully pouring a cup of tea and spilling only a little on the silver tray in the effort. “He’s a coward, but a proud one. Now he can say he faced a formidable opponent – we slaughtered his entire collection of followers after all – but he’ll carefully omit the fact he did so only after we were half-murdered by those same lackeys.”
“Admirable,” Darnell sneered, sitting down on the edge of the bed beside her chair. His hair was unusually tousled and there were dark circles under his eyes. He had the odd bruise and bandage, but for him the night had taken its toll in other ways.
“Oh, he’s done worse things, believe me.” Genevieve took another bite of pastry, grappling with the impropriety of asking Darnell if he was going to eat anything so that she might have his as well. She judged the pallid colour of his face and decided her share would have to be enough.
“Forgive me for saying this but… I’m still not convinced this plan is the wisest course of action,” he admitted finally; Genevieve had been waiting for his protest all morning.
“You think we should just kill him and have it over with?” Genevieve pretended to consider the possibility, as though she hadn’t determined her course of action the second the College had assigned the mission to her. “He might be harder to kill than you think. The College hasn’t seen a Beast his age since well before the Outbreak.”
Darnell opened his mouth to riposte.
“Besides,” Genevieve continued, “I’d hardly call that justice.”
Darnell’s mouth closed and his brows deepened in concern. Before he could recover there was another knock at the door and the Mayor entered.
“Perfect timing, Monsieur Mayor,” Genevieve said, discretely brushing away any stray crumbs from her skirts, “The list I mentioned is here.”
The Mayor approached, his eyes lingering on the sling and bandages as he took the proffered letter. When he finally forced them down onto the sheet of paper he nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, yes I believe this will all be quite manageable. Although…”
“Yes?” Genevieve asked, half-expecting another protest about her health and the immense risk of the task at hand.
“I have been informed that the Governor has also made… certain arrangements regarding the contents of your meal,” the Mayor glanced over the paper once more and frowned, “I would like to avoid those arrangements, but if you fail… the butcher and the baker may find themselves in a precarious situation.”
“Of course,” she said, smiling with child-like glee at the way the pieces were all falling together. “Inform them they are to go ahead with their arrangements. It would be best for Monsieur L’Amie to feel he has the upper hand.”
For the briefest moment it looked as if the Mayor were about to say, “He doesn’t?” but instead he gave a humble nod and turned to leave.
“How is your daughter, by the way?” Genevieve asked.
The Mayor turned back to her, his head lowered in awkward humility. “Much better, Mademoiselle. Her energy is returning and she spends much time in the gardens, though she misses Jacques’ company.”
“I apologize. It was my carelessness…” Darnell began, but the Mayor waved him off.
“No. I cannot regret any action taken in pursuit of my daughter’s freedom.”
Genevieve grimaced as she recalled the previous night’s events; a question had been aching in the pit of her stomach since she had awoken that morning. “Monsieur Mayor, I wonder if you might know the fate of the child I saw last night? Etienne, I believe was his name. I’m afraid my shot was not as true as I’d hoped.”
The Mayor dropped his head once more and Genevieve cursed herself. Blast that Beast that knocked me over, and blast my poor aim.
“He lives,” the Mayor answered, and Genevieve had to cover a sigh of relieve with a polite cough into the back of her gloved hand. “Though the surgeon had to remove his eye to retrieve the capsule lodged within.”
“Damn,” Genevieve swore, paying no heed to the Mayor’s surprised smile.
“Again, a worthy price. His mother may fuss about the eye, and perhaps the hair and teeth, but she is grateful to you. I made a personal visit this morning to check on the boy and she couldn’t seem to decide whether she was elated or furious.”
“You can assure her that the hair will grow back. The boy is young, so some of his adult teeth may still yet come in on their own, but I cannot promise. We are working on serums that may aid to regenerate…”
“Thank you, Hunter Gregoire,” Mayor Valis interrupted. She nodded, noting the pity in his smile, “I wish you luck tonight.”
He departed, and for a moment there hung a heavy silence between the two Hunters. Genevieve let the quiet envelop her, willing it to be a comfort rather than an omen. She took one more sip of tea and requested they review the details of the plan one final time, her pain fading with her growing determination and certainty that there was no room for failure.
Content warning: violence (including against a child), blood, death
The child read a book, huddled in a corner of the house. Her legs ached to be stretched and her feet bounced with an overabundance of childish energy, but she squinted and continued to read the words on the yellowed pages.
A knock came at the door. The child ignored it, too busy picking at the knot of an unfamiliar word, trying to tease its meaning from the rest of the sentence.
The knock came again. Urgent this time – two quick raps followed by three slow bangs.
Though her legs rejoiced at being used, her hands were reluctant to relinquish hold of the book, and so she carried it with her as she peeked through the gap between the door and the uneven frame. A woman stood without, wrapped in a threadbare shawl, tapping her foot impatiently on the compacted dirt. Maman Tee knew this woman, had sold many things to her. Money meant food and, perhaps more importantly, new books.
The child opened the door.
“Finally,” the woman complained in a familiar husky voice. She pushed the child inside and shut the door behind them, “Where’s your mother?”
“Appointment,” the child said, shrugging and returning to her corner.
“When will she be back?”
Another shrug. Then an idea. The child thrust the book out in one hand, pointing with the other: “Do you know this word?”
The woman leaned over to peer down at the text. The child watched her lips twist and her nose wrinkle, clumping the sprinkling of freckles across it into one brown mass.
“I don’t know,” she said.
The child’s eyes flew to the book and back to the woman’s. She pointed again: “This one.”
“I… I can’t read it.” The woman stood straighter, looking down through her dark ringlets at the child with something akin to anger, but closer to fear. There was a shift suddenly – the lifting of a thick dark brow – that softened the look and changed it to something the child might one day recognize as pity.
The door opened and Maman Tee bustled in. There was blood on her hands. The child could smell it.
When she noticed the woman standing inside the door she jumped and put her hand to her chest. “You frightened me! I didn’t expect you…”
“I’m sorry, Hattie,” the woman said, and the child wondered at the strange inflection in her voice, the way it strained as she rasped: “I need your help.”
“Another infection?” Hattie asked, walking to the corner where the child sat before shooing her away. The child crawled a few feet over, leaning against the wall as she watched Maman Tee lift a loose floorboard and shuffle through the bottles and packages concealed beneath.
“No,” the woman answered, the corners of her rouged lips plunging into a deep frown.
Maman Tee looked up then and seemed the read the expression as easily as she had taught the child to read the words on pages.
“A month. No more than two,” the woman said, and the child marvelled at the way her tears reflected what little sunlight slipped through the rags over the window.
Maman Tee sighed. “Maybe… maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. Just one, even a bastard… otherwise they might start to wonder…”
The woman’s eyes widened, and her hands clutched together before her, “You don’t think they’d suspect you, do you? If it would put you at risk I…”
Maman Tee shook her head, “No. No, no. It’s you that I worry about.”
“Hattie, I couldn’t…”
The woman turned to the child then, as if her eyes held the answer to her conundrum. The child met her gaze with confusion, unable to parse the complicated expression the way Maman Tee could. There was sadness in it, and pity once more.
“No,” she answered firmly, her eyes never leaving the child’s face. “I need your help, Hattie. Please.”
Maman Tee sighed once more but nodded and pulled a small pouch from amongst the bric-a-brac under the floorboards. “Three times a day for a week. You’ll know when it works. If it takes longer, come see me again.”
The woman clutched the pouch tightly to her chest and as the child watched she noticed something against the woman’s skin – a blemish across her bosom, almost the colour of blood. It peeked out just above the flattering collar of her dress, still partially concealed by the lace lining it. No sooner had she noticed this than the woman disappeared through the door again, still thanking Maman Tee as she departed down the road.
Maman Tee closed the door behind her before dropping down onto the floor next to the child. They sat in silence for several minutes before Maman Tee reached a hand to the child’s knee.
“How are your legs today?”
“They want to move,” she answered.
“Do they still hurt?” Maman asked.
“Not so much,” the child answered, looking down at her lean legs, covered loosely in boy’s trousers.
Maman Tee shook her head, but she seemed relieved rather than worried.
“They want to move,” the child repeated, already anticipating the answer.
“I know, my love, but at least wait until summer. When the trees are green and no one will see us if we go for a walk in the woods.”
There were questions, as restless as the child’s legs, but she asked none of them. She knew she would still not understand the answers. Instead, she returned to her book, lifting it to her mother.
“What does this word say?” she asked, “I can’t read it.”
Maman Tee squinted in the dim light, “Metamorphosis. It means to change into something else.”
“You mean like me?”
Maman’s brows drew closer together. Her gaze shifted from the book to the child’s legs bouncing eagerly against the floor. “Yes, baby. Like you.”
Some towns had fountains at their hearts, some had ornate cathedrals or mayor’s manses, while others had sprawling green lawns for festivals and gatherings. Sainte Ygrette’s had an uneven cobbled square with a hangman’s scaffold. In the case of gatherings and civic announcements that were not executions, it doubled as an orator’s platform, or so Genevieve had heard.
It wasn’t the most strategic position she could hope for, but the square at least offered her a clear view of the surrounding area. Besides, its dark expanse made her look vulnerable and alone —
“You’re confident this will work?”
— aside from Darnell of course. He was seated with his long legs dangling from the platform above her and was being annoyingly critical of her plans.
“For the last time, yes,” she told him, straining her ears for any hint of approach. Not that Darnell wouldn’t warn her long before anyone was close enough for her to detect. Old habits, she supposed.
“And what if some of them flee? What if they don’t come for us?”
“Then we find them after we conclude our business here,” she said, carefully checking the ammunition in both the polished pepperbox she’d drawn at the Mayor’s house, and a larger six-barrel revolver. “We have Annette’s list – it might not be perfect but we can check it against anyone found missing tomorrow morning.”
“And if the Governor decides to join us?”
Genevieve reached up and put a hand on his leg which was almost vibrating against the platform.
“He won’t,” she assured him, “What’s the point of leading a pack if you have to do all the dirty work yourself? It’s likely he doesn’t even consider us worthy of his notice. Yet.”
“And if you’re wrong?” Darnell persisted.
“I’m not. I’ve done my research for this job, Darnell, so if you could stop mothering –“
“They’re here,” he interrupted, and Genevieve squinted into the flickering illumination of the gas lamps; she was grateful that the Mayor had rushed to prepare the lines. Apparently darkness didn’t sit well with the people of Sainte Ygrette’s – at least, most of them.
They came all at once. There were seven – eight if you counted the child struggling against the grasp of what had once been a woman, judging by the shreds of silk and the jewels jutting out from the thick fur around her neck. He was already half-transformed, tiny horn-stubs emerging from his sooty black hair and claws growing swiftly from his fingertips so that he might gain purchase against the hairy arm of his captor. Some were still human, though they trembled with pent up energy and their sweat glinted in the lamplight, the effort to hold back the adrenaline near-overwhelming. It was an intimidation tactic Genevieve had seen countless times; resisting the transformation was difficult – impossible for many – and it was an effective way of boasting one’s strength.
They clearly intended to use the boy as a distraction, hoping to win a moment’s hesitation on Genevieve’s part. She smiled at this naiveté and fired off her first shot. The Beast holding the boy fell to the ground, blood trickling through the gaps in the cobbles as her body continued to twitch.
Marie Touille – she gets the Governor what he wants, Annette had told them, or more often who he wants.
For a moment the night was still once more, but the grind and click of the gun’s chamber sliding into place was enough to send the attackers into an instinct-fuelled frenzy. There were no humans left amongst them, and every Beast charged toward her from a different direction.
A second shot and another body thudded to the ground. Pierre Lavigne – he cleans up the messes. And the witnesses.
Darnell swatted away a third with a clawed hand larger than any of their own. Reddish-brown fur stretched up to his elbow and his eyes glistened silver, but he was otherwise unchanged. Another of the Governor’s underlings paused in confusion, looking from Darnell’s arm up to his human face and Genevieve used the opening to reduce their number once more.
An ear-piercing screech tore Genevieve’s attention to where a tiny silver streak was racing towards her.
Etienne Larocque, Annette had hesitated to mention his name, her rasping voice softening as she spoke, he’s only seven. Can’t even control the change. Many knows what he is, but the Governor fancies his mother so they turn a blind eye. Probably why the bastard brought him over in the first place.
Just like the Mayor’s daughter, Genevieve thought, aiming the smaller revolver in her left hand at the boy’s sprinting form. Foam trailed from his mouth, and she could see the hunger in his golden eyes as he approached. He was a difficult target, small as he was and crouched on all fours – she had to make the shot quickly, but it would require a deft hand for it to fly true. If she wasn’t careful…
She squeezed the trigger as another mass collided into her chair, tipping her dangerously to the right. The shot rang out, and she threw her body to the left to regain equilibrium. Darnell’s claws were already embedded in the dripping throat of whatever Beast had attacked her, and she spared only a fraction of a heartbeat to note that twisting horns were growing from his curls and that fur had extended from his arm up to his neck, before lifting her revolver in search of her previous mark.
There was a heap, in the darkness – a crumpled mass on the blood-slicked cobbles. She could make out a glisten of sweat against pink skin, which meant her shot had gone home, but still Genevieve clucked and shook her head. There was too much blood around his head and in his matted hair; it seemed she had struck him in the head, rather than his shoulder as intended.
Well, she thought, if he dies, at least it will be as a human.
The thought brought her little solace, but a snarl from behind her recalled her to more pressing matters. She could see Darnell struggling with one of the largest of the troupe a few feet away and knew he would not reach her in time, so she began to swivel, lifting her head to the platform above her. A towering hulk of roan fur had scrambled onto the wooden planks and was looking down at her, its sharp teeth peeking over its leathery black lips.
Genevieve shot over her shoulder with the revolver in her right hand as she used her left to turn the chair, but the Beast dropped to all fours and pivoted away. It bolted forward towards her.
Another shot, grazing the Beast’s cheek – enough to make it retreat a few feet, but not entirely. The next only chipped the tip of the creature’s horn. She fired again, but the gun only clicked in complaint of its empty chambers. The creature stood to its full height, enough sense left in the den of instinct and desire it called a brain to understand that she was defenceless. Its muscular legs compressed for a heartbeat before uncoiling like a spring to propel it forward off of the platform and into the air above Genevieve, who was reaching for the back support of her chair.
She pulled at a handle there, an ornamental embellishment rising from its wooden back, and lifted with all her strength. A whip released and flew, as she swung forward, to wrap around the scaffolding on the platform. With two hands she heaved with all her might, pitching her chair to the left and narrowly avoiding being torn to shreds by inch long claws. The chair, sturdy as it was, tipped in the process, upending Genevieve onto the hard stone beneath her. Her shoulder collided with a sickening pop that made her scream out in pain.
The Beast was bewildered for a moment, but soon reoriented itself and fell upon her, claws rending the skin of Genevieve’s right arm, tearing through it as easily as the silk and lace that gilded it. Genevieve bit down a second scream and, with a painful protest from her shoulder, lifted the smaller of the two guns into the face of the creature whose reeking breath was nearly suffocating her. It hesitated for a moment, just long enough for Genevieve’s right hand to reach into her skirts and retrieve a four inch dagger. She drove it into the chin of the Beast, twisting back into its throat. The wound wasn’t deep and might not have been lethal, but the poison on the blade which seeped into the creature’s blood most certainly was.
She noted the scraps of carefully embroidered suit still clinging to its fur. Jean Varon – some distant relative of nobility. I could tell you stories, Annette had said, but even Hunters must have nightmares.
As its last whines and twitches ebbed, Genevieve surveyed the square as best she could from her perspective on the ground and behind the upturned bulk of her wheelchair. Several masses lay strewn across the cobbles, but she could not see well enough for a precise count. An eerie silence had fallen and seemed to do so with such suddenness that she wondered if perhaps she had somehow damaged her hearing in the fall. The snarls, whines, and growls had faded into the night, and the absence they left seemed to Genevieve a gaping wound.
And then there was breathing – a heavy, rasping sound that no human could produce – and Genevieve’s tired body struggled to produce enough adrenaline to tear it from the crumbling precipice that was exhaustion. She grabbed a revolver from the ground, unsure and uncaring whether it was loaded, and swung it around in desperation against the invisible foe. Then her chair moved, shifting left and right before tilting upright. The hand that moved it was massive and clawed. She lifted the revolver, but let it clatter to the ground as she recognized Darnell’s features – even in their altered state.
She reached out with her right hand and pulled herself up to his arm, laying her head against the bulk of it. She closed her eyes as he gently lifted her from the blood-soaked ground.
<— Back to IV: An Unlikely Client
IV: An Unlikely Client
Content warning: mentions of violence and murder
The old woman’s house was little more than a hut cobbled together from broken boards with a rusty tin chimney peeking out from the roof. A haze of cheap perfume, so thick Genevieve was certain she could almost see it, enveloped the entire premises; she pressed her face into her sleeve, breathing deeply of her own familiar scent, as she reached forward to knock on the door.
There was a clattering of footsteps and a hesitant pause before the door swung open. Standing behind it was a woman of only forty or fifty years, hardly the hag evoked by the Mayor’s tirade. Her hair was greying but still had thick streaks of chestnut throughout, and though her cheek and breast were puckered with burn scars and her forehead was lined with care, her eyes were as clear and bright as a summer’s afternoon.
“I was told I could find a woman named Annette here?” Genevieve inquired. The woman nodded her head but did not relinquish her silence. “I am Hunter Gregoire, and this is my assistant Hunter Furst. The Mayor sent to the College for us. Might we have a word?”
The woman snorted and choked; it took Genevieve a moment to realize that this was the way that Annette laughed.
“Mayor Valis send for you?” Her voice whined and rasped all at once, like steel against stone, “He would never send for a Hunter.”
“And yet we are here,” Genevieve pointed out.
Another burst of sickening laughter. “Only because I sent for you.”
“You?” Genevieve asked, grasping for the confidence that had suddenly abandoned her, “Surely you couldn’t afford… the College answers to local government… why would you…”
“Because no one else was doing anything,” Annette replied, as if the answer were obvious even to a child. “And I happened to know someone in the College.”
Genevieve closed her eyes and inhaled, doing her best not to choke on the perfume-ladened air.
“Of course,” she said through a forced smile. The Mayor had welcomed them and acknowledged their presence as if he had invited them himself, but once they had arrived what other option was open to him? Any other response would have only drawn their suspicion. It irked Genevieve that she hadn’t realized this on her own.
“As for payment,” Annette continued, leaning against the bent door frame and crossing her arms, “I have something much more valuable than Francs.”
This drew Genevieve out of her self-absorbed reverie, curiosity hard at the reins. It wasn’t that the College was greedy, but they valued the coin to pursue their research and expand their reach. This woman either had very lofty connections, or a very valuable payment. Or both. Genevieve had an inkling as to Annette’s mysterious connection, but what this poor lady had to offer she hadn’t the faintest. “What is the payment?”
“To be delivered on completion of your mission,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Speaking of which,” Genevieve said, wrenching the conversation back into familiar territory, “We could use your insight.”
Genevieve held her face taut, forcing herself not to cringe at the laugh.
“Never had anyone want to use me for that before,” Annette said, “Welcome change. I’d invite you in for tea but I don’t think you’d fit.”
It was true, the girth of Genevieve’s chair was much too wide for the narrow doorway. Rather than dwell on the matter, Annette plumped herself onto the floor and stretched her legs out into the chilly Autumn air.
“What do you need?”
“Names,” Genevieve said, “Suspicions even. We’d rather not miss anyone.”
“And what if I’m wrong? Got enough on my conscience without innocent lives weighing it down too.”
“We’ll know.” It was Darnell who spoke, and Annette’s attention snapped to him as if she were only now aware of his presence. Her gaze slid from his carefully combed hair down to the sharp angles of his jaw, down to his narrow shoulders, down, down, until she reached his well-polished shoes. She raised an eyebrow before continuing to ignore him once more.
“There’s usually a system of power,” Genevieve explained, as she had countless times before to men and women not so different from Annette. Outsiders – overlooked and ostracized – tended to see the workings of society that everyone else had blinded themselves to. She continued, “A hierarchy, with someone calling the shots and choosing who gets to join the ranks of the Beasts. Membership is often seen as a reward, but it can also be used as extortion. Anything you have to tell us about corruption, crime, abuse… it all helps.”
“Yeah,” Annette said, kicking at a loose rock with her shabby boot, “Still humans after all, aren’t they?”
“Some,” Genevieve said, causing Annette to look at her with something akin to contemplation, or even respect.
“Yes. I know them all, or close at least. They don’t worry about me; half the town thinks I’m one of them, or something worse… they can’t kill me or they won’t have anyone to pester anymore and then someone might find out who’s really been killing their children,” she sighed, “Old whore like me, I know everything that happens. That’s why they hate me. Single woman at my age, no children, to them I’m less natural than the Beasts.”
“Well, I suppose we have that in common,” Genevieve smiled, leaning down to meet the woman’s eyes, staring at the cracked end of her boot.
Annette smiled too. “It’s the Governor that’s leading them. Though that should come as no surprise to you.”
“No,” Genevieve answered, her smile fading with the last of the sunlight, “But I had to be sure.”
“Couple followers – I can give you their names. Mostly he just lets them run wild, unless some other young lad or lass catches his fancy, then he kills one to turn them. They’re afraid of him you see. Ever since his wife left and he killed his son for trying to usurp him… he’s gotten reckless. People turn a blind eye in case their children go missing, or worse, end up like Mayor Valis’ daughter.”
“So, you know about her already?” The older woman seemed mildly impressed.
“Like Darnell said, we have ways.” Genevieve thought back to what the Mayor had said once his daughter had been taken care of, “According to Mayor Valis, Governor L’Amie changed his daughter when he suspected that the town might turn against him. He would let her live, teach her to control her changes, only if the Mayor behaved accordingly.”
“Bastard,” Annette spit, “She’s not the only one either.”
“Names,” Genevieve said, “As many as you can give.”
Annette recited a list, providing any detail she thought might aid them in their endeavour.
Darnell recorded them while Genevieve considered the best way to approach the situation. If Annette’s information was accurate, the Governor’s underlings would be young and easily handled; since his son’s betrayal it was rare for him to trust anyone for too long. It was Governor L’Amie himself she worried about; he had undergone the change over two decades ago. Rumour suggested he had grown reckless, but even with Darnell at her side she feared he would be a considerable opponent.
It would be best to isolate him, if possible. And, as much as it betrayed her own sensibilities, it would be wisest to avoid having to fight him at all. Was that even possible, with a Beast of his age?
“Annette?” Genevieve asked suddenly, “Have you ever seen him?”
“Who? Marcus Dupont?” The woman answered, crinkling her already well-lined forehead in confusion.
“The grocer. L’Amie brought him over some time last month, far as I can tell. Guaranteeing his food supply I suppose, given that no one wants to stay and cook…”
Genevieve realized that the conversation in her head did not align with the names and gossip her companions had been reviewing.
“No, no — Governor L’Amie. Have you ever seen him when he’s a Beast?”
Annette’s lips quivered, her eyes distant, as if reliving some blood-tinged memory. She shook her head. “No. No not him. I’ve seen others, though not up close. The woods are just behind my house and at night sometimes… well sometimes I see the silhouettes in the distance. Glimpses of fur and claws and horns through the trees.”
She wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing them as though just finally recalling the lateness of the season.
“Have to guess at the amount then,” Genevieve muttered.
“You have a plan,” Darnell stated.
Genevieve nodded. “It’s a risk though. If he’s smaller than I’m expecting, it’s possible I could kill him.”
“Isn’t that the point?” Annette asked.
Genevieve smiled at her, then looked to Darnell for his opinion.
“A few extra dead bodies might convince the College to approve that sabbatical you keep talking about,” he mused.
“Maybe I should up the dosage on purpose then,” she said, enjoying the rare smile with which she was rewarded. She hoped Darnell would not take it too hard when she resigned after the mission.
The sun was hardly over the horizon now, its light dancing through the scant foliage of the trees stretching away in the distance behind Annette’s shack. They should prepare, Genevieve thought. It wouldn’t be long before they were attacked, and the last thing she wanted was to drag Annette into the fray.
“Thank you for all of your assistance,” she said to Annette, whose mouth was still twisted in confusion over their brief exchange. “Stay indoors tonight, and don’t open to anyone.”
“As if I would,” the woman scoffed, pushing herself back to her feet. As she leaned over, Genevieve accidentally glimpsed an expanse of skin previously concealed beneath her bodice – a deep purple stain leaking out from the wrinkled scars above it.
“Would it be completely inappropriate of me to inquire about your scars?” She asked so suddenly that even Darnell looked at her in surprise.
To her relief, Annette smiled kindly, though the resignation in her voice weighed heavily on Genevieve’s conscience. “Used to be that the people of Ste Ygrette had a local Witch.”
“A Witch?” Darnell asked with incredulity. Like any good College member, he knew the difference between science and folklore.
“Just an outsider woman. Her father was a doctor and he taught her his trade when the schools wouldn’t have her. She travelled about, teaching other girls like herself and helping women have their babies. Settled here by herself,” Annette squinted at Genevieve, “You know this story.”
Genevieve nodded; she knew it by heart, and countless others like it.
“When she settled here, people were happy at first. Until there came a sickness. People grew ill and then they died, and of course who else was there to blame? Clearly she was a Witch – see the way she lives alone with no want of a husband? See how she spreads lies to the women and tries to corrupt them? See how her skin is of a different shade? Her very existence condemned her.”
“What happened?” Darnell asked, and Genevieve watched the curious twinkle in his eye with a wave of nostalgia.
“They hurt her. Burned her house. Ostracized her. Starved her. She lived out here, in this hut, scarred, hungry, and alone.” Annette stroked the warped doorframe, smiling faintly as if to an old friend. “Eventually people started going missing. Beggars and prostitutes at first. Easy to turn a blind eye to. Then others. Victims torn to shreds — poor and wealthy alike. The people looked to the Mayor at that time for help, and he looked to Governor L’Amie. The Governor sent two men to deal with the obvious source of the bloodshed…”
There was a pause, and Genevieve watched Darnell’s face – the deepening furrow of his brow, the click of his jaw as he bit down in frustration or perhaps despair.
“All anyone found afterward was a shack dripping with blood, the poor woman’s arm, and scraps of flesh and cloth. No one knew what had happened, but they did learn one thing: the killings didn’t stop. There’d be days, weeks, even months where it seemed as though the terror had ceased, but it would always continue again. Word started to come from other towns and villages about the Beasts and the College that Hunted them. But help never came for Sainte Ygrette.”
“They called it a curse,” she continued, “The Witch had cursed them for falsely accusing her, and so the most logical thing was to do it all over again. They found a woman, an old prostitute with no family and an ugly birthmark and said it was her. Here, see the mark of blood upon her chest, they cried, and they burned it from her flesh.”
“And yet the killings continue.” Genevieve shook her head.
Annette smirked, “It seems we are cursed.”
“So’s the whole damned world,” Genevieve said, turning to leave.
“Good luck, Hunter,” Annette called out, her laugh grating against Genevieve’s bones as it chased her over the uneven path back to the main thoroughfare.
<— III: The Inconvenience of Hunger
Return to The Beast of Ste Ygrette
Audio will be up in a day or two. There’s been a few… toddler-sized bumps in the road with regards to my recording schedule. Episodes will release as usual, but audio may occasionally lag a little behind. Thanks for checking out the series, and I hope you’re enjoying it so far! Don’t forget to leave a like or comment to let me know what you think. ❤