The Killing of Wolves

Thief and (suspected) murderer Red Riding Hood joins with poor boy Pip on an unexpected journey to kill the Big Bad Wolf. Along the way, they run into a host of fairytale characters and dangerous challenges that they must overcome so Red can have her revenge on the wolf and Pip can go back to the life he used to live. But they uncover more than they thought they would, scandalous secrets straight from the heart of the Royal Family. All of a sudden, they realise the Wolf is not all it seems. Nothing will ever be the same again. Not once the truth is revealed, once and for all...

It's just a draft, so any tips or critisicm would be appreciated. Also, thanks to the Fuzz for making the amazing cover.

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11. Among the Clouds

Recuperation is an important part in the process of any warrior, this Red knew. Therefore, she allowed a day for their wounds to heal and for a much-needed rest before commencing on the next leg of their journey. She could only spare 24 hours given that time was running out and they had to visit the Seventh Kingdom, although she had no clue what it was they would do then. Where did the Wolf lurk? She still did not know. There was so much she did not yet know, but the scarcity of time pushed her onwards regardless of her reservations. Amongst their weapons, they had found an ointment that could (apparently) cure any malady known to man. Red did not know how reliable it was, but before she could make her doubts heard Pip was smearing it on his cut and bruises generously. It scared her how much he’d been hurt under her protection, despite his protests that he could handle himself. She still hadn’t quite forgiven herself for leaving him alone in the Sixth Kingdom. He could have died. But, then again, she had always been aware of that possibility, however much she tried to avoid it. The truth was that Red Riding Hood feared death. The absoluteness of it. The way one moment you could be breathing and the next your heart could stop beating. She had caused many deaths, but dreaded her own and dreaded Pip’s even more. He was only a child, after all. She didn’t know what she would do if he died. Instead, she tucked away the thought into the little drawer within her brain filled with things she longed to forget, or chose to simply ignore.

   Red was still peeved that Pip hadn’t called her sooner and that, unwittingly, he had destroyed the Sixth Kingdom all by himself. It was impressive; she’d grant him that, but not the most helpful thing by a long way. She had tended to his charred flesh carefully, while lecturing him on the importance of staying nearby even though it was she who had left him. She was quite maternal in that sense- she’d had no brothers or sisters, so it was nice to have someone to mother and look after. Then she’d go and slit a rabbit’s throat, just to even the balance. However, she wanted to know as much as she could find out about the huntsman from him. It was strange that he’d known exactly where Red and Pip had been, at the moment she’d left, had been carrying large weapons and had tried to kill her companion with them. He must have been watching them for a very long time to glean all this information, but why bother? Why wait until Red had left to target Pip? And what would the huntsman have gained from Pip’s death? These questions swam around her head, until it was time for them to make their move towards the Seventh Kingdom.

   Everything was packed up and they headed on foot, day and night, to their next destination. Or at least, where their next destination should have been. When they arrived, they noticed nothing but a vast stretch of flat land without a kingdom in sight for miles. They wondered how on earth they were meant to reach their next destination now, when there was no next destination to reach, it seemed. Pip rifled through the bags while Red scouted the area, taking great care to stay in the perimeter and not wander off, lest Pip get attacked by another shady stranger. She didn’t find very much at all and neither did he, until he found something that triggered an old memory. He clenched the fistful of beans he’d pulled out from the bottom of the bags and remembered the story Ma had told him before he went to bed as a very small child. She had told him of a plucky young boy, a gigantic beanstalk, a booming giant… and a handful of magic beans. He had no idea whether his plan would work, but it felt good, for once, being the person who had thought of the plan. He dropped to his hands and knees and began to claw at the soil, creating a miniature pile by the corner of the dirt he’d dug up. He prayed to an unspecified god that this would work.

   A small hole had been dug by the time Red returned and she watched Pip place five green beans into it with great care. Then, he cupped his hands and piled the dirt back on it, until it appeared as if the ground hadn’t even been replaced at all. He hurried back over to the bags and grabbed the flask, sprinkling droplets of water of the patch, much to Red’s disdain. She considered it precious water that should not be used for such ridiculous purposes and she was in the process of scolding him when a tiny sprout appeared from out of the patch, with miniature leaves hanging off the sides. He added a touch more water (if Red hadn’t been so fascinated by the process, she’d have been livid), and it grew a touch more. It looked as if to grow the beanstalk it would take far more water than they had to spare, so Pip hung his head in disappointment. He really had thought that it might have worked.

   As he turned away, the tiny sprout shot up with terrific speed, widening and cracking the ground while constantly grasping towards the heavens and the snow-filled clouds that were associated with winter. A huge gust of wind blew in both their faces as the vines continued to grow and an even bigger blast of air threw them backwards as the beanstalk, tall and majestic, stood solid at last. Both Red and Pip craned their necks to see how high the beanstalk had reached and neither could see a definite stop to how far the plant would reach through the air, but for a large palace that stood amongst the clouds a few feet away. They began their ascent towards it, but were stopped by a huge voice that boomed down at them. “Fee Fi Fo Fum, what treacherous trespasser this way comes?”

   This call was followed shortly after by a massive face leering down upon them, its rank breath making them splutter and choke. A mass of straggling black hair grew all over his face, forming messy hair and a beard and tufts sticking out in various other places as well. His teeth were like splintered, yellowing tombstones that grew in a jumble in his mouth, not quite fitting all together and an enormous nose with nostrils the size of potholes flared and angry. But his eyes were blank, not really settling on anything in particular. Pip suddenly realised that the giant was blind and immediately felt sorry for him. Well, if it hadn’t been trying to kill them he might have. His goliath palm stretched out and closed around them both and despite their best efforts to be set free (biting, kicking, punching, screaming, stabbing, yelling, lashing etc.), nothing they did could penetrate the steely grasp the giant had on them. Red loaded her bow and sent a horde of arrows at him, all of which were useless against a creature that possessed as much strength, size and resilience as he did. Although he couldn’t see, he knew what he was doing, and a sick smile broke across his face, revealing the disgraceful oral hygiene and neglected mouth they’d noticed before. But now it was up close, and was getting nearer and nearer until the giant’s mouth stretched as wide as it could to show a dark tunnel through his mouth and down into his throat and god knows where else, a tunnel which began to close around Red and Pip. Just as he was about to swallow them both whole, a rasping cry from the distance stopped him.

   Light was visible again and never before had Pip been so thankful for it until now. He and Red had both genuinely thought that they would be eaten by this monster and he felt unendingly grateful towards the voice that had commanded that he’d wait before devouring them both. As their feet touched ground, they saw a dazzling palace that glittered and glowed as if it were made entirely of diamonds. It glinted in the feeble sunlight, and they were both so awed by it that it took a prompting from the giant to usher them through the large, golden gates. It was even more spectacular from within, everything glowing with an ethereal quality, as if without realising they’d been submerged beneath the water and what they were seeing was hauntingly beautiful wreckage, although fully intact and as far away from ruin as it was possible to be. It trumped the Imperial Palace by a long way, which was no mean feat. Pip was mesmerised by it all, so much so that Red had to almost drag him along the place and up the spiral marble staircase that led to where the rasping voice was. Towards their saviour. Towards possibly some answers, at last.

   They trod along the narrow corridor, until reaching the room at the end. The door was vast and varnished, with a brass lion’s head door knocker that’s eyes bore into their souls, daring them to step closer and enter the chamber. Carefully, Red pushed the door open with an outstretched hand; it emitted a painful squeak that seemed to echo solemnly through the hollow space. They stepped into the unknown, only to be rather surprised by what they found. It was a big space although only the middle was being used properly with the rest of the walls drab and lifeless, as if watching the activity in the centre, or thereby lack of it. There was not much movement or stirring in the hub of the room, which was a bed that stood centrally with everything else fitting in or revolving around it. On the bed, Pip saw, was a wizened old man whose haggard face was creased and wrinkled more than anyone he’d ever seen before. He coughed and spluttered and without him uttering a word, they both knew that he was the owner of the rasping voice that had saved their lives. His hands rested on his chest as it rose and fell slowly and deeply. Around the bed were a few candles that flickered and waned in the dark place, a few flowers that were brown and slightly wilted but not much else. It struck Red how alone the man looked. And she wanted to know why.

   They both approached the bed and the man clearly heard their footsteps. He smiled wanly and held out his hand, which Red dutifully took. Pip noticed that on his head, on top of the thin, snowy white hair, rested a crown. So this was the King of the Seventh Kingdom. How pitiful he looked, wrapped up in blankets and bed sheets as every breath left his body with slow repetitiveness. It was clear he was in a bad way and without asking Red knew that in a few minutes he would die. She had seen the same face on too many people, just before their last breath left their body and they would be at peace. There was quiet for a moment, before the same rasping voice cut through it like a wavering blade. “I knew you’d come,” he croaked, with an acknowledging smile. “I knew you’d come. I just didn’t know when. I’ve waited years for this moment and, as you can see, it seems it will be one of my last.”

   Pip faltered. “We’re very sorry, Your Highness. We didn’t mean to keep you waiting.”

The dying king chuckled softly. “It is alright, my child. I’m glad you came at all. And I’m glad that Gabriel didn’t dispose of you in the way he usually does.”

“So are we,” Red muttered. “Why are we here?”

The King nodded. “I thought you might ask me that. It’s a long story, but it’s clear to see that I have no time to tell long stories. But I’ll tell you this: Beware the Queen of the Fifth Kingdom. She is more dangerous than you could possibly fathom- a force you shouldn’t reckon with. Go, now. Protect your Kingdom while you still can. Lord knows I wasn’t able to. Goodbye to both of you. Go. Goodbye.” The last words were no more than hoarse whispers, but Red and Pip understood their meaning. As the King’s last breath left his body, they left. They walked past Gabriel the blind giant. They hurried down the beanstalk, and as their feet finally touched solid ground once more, they continued walking. They were walking home, for what would most probably be the last time. And they did not look back, as the beanstalk withered and the palace amongst the clouds vanished without a trace. They did not look back. They just looked forward.

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