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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9. Destruction

The way back to the Fifth Kingdom felt long and treacherous. Both Red and Pip had trained for a very long time and now their muscles ached with the memories of the hard work they’d put themselves through to make sure they were ready for when the time came to slay the Wolf. It was hard to walk for a very long time; they paused every now and again for short rests to regain their energy. Along with carrying their weapons and all, the load was heavy and almost un-manageable, but they persevered. Winter still gripped the air, leaving the atmosphere cold and remote. Snow began to fall halfway through their journey but it stopped again before starting once more. This happened on/off again for about an hour until they reached the first sign that they were getting near to their next destination.

   Pip spotted the turrets of the Imperial Palace from the distance, but as they grew closer his view became more accurate and more distorted as a result. The Palace was the same as it had always been, if not for a few vines and skeletal branches which curled ominously around the wall. It looked far more gothic than before, with each point punctuated and sharp and every orifice uninviting and inhospitable, rather than the hazy, dream-like quality it had before they left. Surrounding the Palace was nothing more than rubble and squalor.

   The tower where Rapunzel had been imprisoned was half gone, stone and mortar torn from the side of the tall, narrow building. Nettles surrounded the ground below the tower and a few locks of flaxen hair visible amongst the thorns and spikes. He felt sorry for poor Rapunzel. It was clear that she’d tried to escape, but hadn’t quite managed it and would lie forevermore in the grave of prickles. He daren’t think of the fate of the Prince who’d tried to save her. The baker’s shop where the Gingerbread man had been made was decrepit and the chimney which so usually puffed out divine scents of freshly baked bread and patisseries was now chugging out wisps of black smoke that polluted the air.

   Red ran towards the market place. She headed in the direction of the Pail of Water, the pub which harboured the hive of illegal activity which was as close to home to her as she’d ever known. It was nothing more than ruins. She clawed her way through the debris to see if any sign of life remained, but there was nothing. It was as quiet as the grave in there and Red wondered whether that saying had any truth to it. A tear trickled down her face. She knew full well that Jack, the owner, would never have left his home and workplace for the world. “I’ve lived here all my life and I’ll die here when my time comes,” he’d often told her. It might have been that his wish had finally come true. But what of Jill, his wife, or their children? What about Goldilocks and the rest of the criminals who would come regularly this place? They had been as close as family to her, probably even more so. All her friends, all her loved ones, everything she’d held dear… all gone.

   Red ran out of the place before its ghosts could affect her anymore. She didn’t stop for Pip. She just headed straight in the direction of the Imperial Palace. Pip followed.

 

  

“Red! Slow down!” Pip called towards her as she hurtled up the many flights of steps in the lavish Imperial Palace. She did not stop. Instead, she only moved quicker, dashing to and fro all over the clearly very expensive carpets and polished floors of the place. Pip remembered the first time he’d been here; it had been when he had collided with Princess Adelaide’s carriage and had been summoned by the Queen to the Palace, where she told him that he’d have to kill the Big Bad Wolf. He recalled how frightened he had been and the sheer splendour that had surrounded him. The same splendour surrounded him now, but there was something about the decadence that felt hollow and artificial. He supposed that it had probably always felt like this but since the rest of the Fifth Kingdom seemed to have been ravaged and was now a desolate wasteland of nothingness, the fact that royalty lived under such rich conditions angered him. He knew that his feet were dirty but instead of cleaning them as he came in, he trailed mud all over the immaculate flooring. He no longer felt so impressed by this place anymore. In a way, he felt disillusioned by the grandeur and disgusted by the way the Queen lived while her people suffered. It felt like a million years ago since he’d last walked these halls, when in fact it had only been a few days. He’d changed so much in that short time that it startled him. He was no longer the poor boy Pip. He was a new, stronger Pip but the heart that beat beneath his chest was the same one that he had mere days ago.

   Red seemed puzzled. Had she forgotten where the throne room was? In fact, Red was so livid that she could hardly see anything at all, let alone where she was going. How could the Queen have let such a terrible fate befall her own kingdom, the kingdom that she was meant to rule? It was in a treacherous state now. As Red had walked through the place she once called home, she had hardly recognised it. The Fifth Kingdom was a shadow of its former self, so decrepit and frail and nothing but… destruction. Sheer, unmitigated destruction. Yet, the Queen still lived in the lap of luxury. Red’s sense of justice was slightly twisted, her sense of morality unhinged and her perception of right and wrong often blurred into one another without warning but she always did what she thought was fair. And it definitely did not seem fair that royalty should have the pleasure of living in such extravagance while the rest of the Kingdom crumbled. She had to find out why “Her Majesty” had let this happen.

   A servant limped past them, heading towards the opposite direction to them. “Excuse me!” Red called out to him. “I think we may be lost. Could you show us to the throne room, please?” Pip was impressed by Red’s manners. According to the Queen, Red was a murderer, a thief and a peasant but at least she was a murderer, a thief and a peasant with good manners. The servant stopped and turned to face them. Red gasped. His eyes were sunken and bloodshot, his hair coarse and tufting but Red recognised the man she once knew to be Jack, the owner of the Pail of Water, instantly. “Oh my god!” Red breathed. “What happened to you?”

   Jack shrugged. “I answered back.” Red knew this to mean that the ever-spirited Jack had accidentally said something he shouldn’t have and was being punished by the wicked Queen. He was dressed as a servant and was carrying a silver platter complete with a fine cuisine obviously only for “Her Majesty”. He walked with a limp, Red had noticed, and was bent over into what must have been a particularly uncomfortable posture. Jack. The owner of the Pail of Water. One of the wealthiest merchants in the entirety of Grimm after his escapades with the Beanstalk. Her personal friend. He looked broken. And there was nothing in his eyes that implied that Red would be able to mend him.

   “Where’s Jill? Where are the children?” she asked desperately. A tear slid down Jack’s grimy face and he said nothing more. He didn’t have to. Red knew already. Suddenly, she was fuming. “Where’s the throne room, Jack? Her voice contained an icy ferocity that frightened Pip. Jack pointed to a grand door at the end of the room and began to limp away. Before he left fully, however, he grasped Red’s hand and whispered to her. “Red Riding Hood,” he said, “I’ve known you since you were this tall and I know you have a good heart. But your mouth can run off without you sometimes. You be careful in front of the Queen. She’s volatile, far more dangerous than she seems. Look at what she did to me. But you, not you. You’re stronger than I am. You could take her on. But be careful. Remember what your priorities are. Never forget who you are.” He limped off down the corridor with one last small smile. Red was awed by his courage to smile again. In his position, she certainly would not be smiling. But she had her own situation, one as severe as his and almost definitely more dangerous and terrifying in every way. They continued down the hall until they reached the grand door at the end. Pip turned to Red. “Be careful what you do and say in front of her, Red. Don’t let her know how you really feel. Don’t give her the satisfaction.” Red nodded. She pushed the door open and they both stepped inside.

   Pip remembered clearly the first time he’d come into the Queen’s throne room. It had been vast and sumptuous, however now it felt claustrophobic and empty at the same time. Tinder soldiers came towards them with great speed, armed to the teeth with weapons with which they were able to protect their Queen from any harm. Harm now came in the form of Red and Pip. The drab furnishing and coldness in the room sent a shiver all the way through Pip’s body, but he doubted it could have been frostier than the voice of the Queen, who told her soldiers to relent with a sharp command. They backed off reluctantly, disappointment evident on a few of their faces. They would have loved to kill them both, but they were loyal to Her Majesty. The dim light caught the point of one of the soldiers’ spear and Red decided that she was thankful to the Queen for pulling them back. Her gratitude did not last long.

   Red stormed down the middle of the room, finally reaching the throne, which probably cost enough to be able to feed the entirety of Grimm for decades. Upon it the Queen sat, staring at the two. Pip saw that she looked different from the last time he’d seen her. A few days ago, she’d been dressed in finery galore but now her clothes were darker and looked as if they’d been spun by a spider instead of the many elf women she had to make her look her best. Her face was drawn and did not yield any emotion, apart from a cruel twinkle in her eyes that did not shine. Around her neck, she wore a necklace of what appeared to be the bones of many tiny birds and a few ambiguous skulls that were small enough to hang around her neck. Possibly rat skulls. He daren’t consider any other possibilities. On her head, she wore a headdress that looked like a mash of miscellaneous dead things and bugs all attached to create a crown fit for royalty. He did not like how she looked, but he had to admit it was still an improvement from how she used to dress. Her daughter, Adelaide, sat beside her, dressed already in her wedding dress in anticipation of her forthcoming ‘big day’. Her dress was yellowed and moth-eaten and her veil was so threadbare it almost didn’t cover her supposedly beautiful face. Underneath he could tell she looked upset. He wondered why.

   “So, Red Riding Hood. Pip. Back so soon?”

Red spat at her feet. “What happened here?”

The Queen looked around. “A little redecorating. Don’t you like it? And as for the Kingdom, well, let’s just say a lot has changed in the days you’ve been gone. The people thought they were strong enough to form a resistance against me in your absence. How wrong they were. Did you see your friend Jack back there? He got off lightly. He was luckier than some of the others, shall we say.”

As if prompted by her words, a chorus of moans and weeping lifted from below them to their ears. Distinctly, Pip could hear the mooing of a cow and knew it was Gertrude. His best friend, trapped under the claws of the Queen. He felt like spitting too, just so he could get the disgusting taste out of his mouth. Whatever the Queen had been up to, the effects were clear on the strained, distraught voice of the cow.

   “You can hear them, can’t you?” the Queen persisted. “The voices of those who have wronged me, the screams of dead people walking. They suffer because of what they’ve done in both of your names. Is that what you want? The responsibility of countless lives in your hands, stained with their blood. These people are following by your example and before long a war will have been instigated. I know the outcome of this war. The question is, do you? The deaths of every man, woman and child in Grimm, all your fault. Could you handle that, the sheer guilt of it? Well, I know that you could, Red Riding Hood. It’s become apparent to me that you have no conscience, so to speak. And you have no problem watching people suffer. After all, it’s what you do best.”

   Red knew she was referencing the death of Cock Robin, for which she had been blamed. She knew she hadn’t killed him, but the same could not be said of the Witch, the dwarves and who knew how many more? In the Queen’s mind, she was a murderer, a peasant and lying filth. In her mind, she thought of the Queen as being heinous, reprehensible and a right cow, if she was completely honest. They were about even, so far. The Queen continued.

   “These people are revolting because they are afraid. Afraid, mostly, by the Big Bad Wolf. The Wolf you have not yet killed. How are you handling that task, by the way?”

 “It’s going well,” remarked Pip.

“Or at least it was,” added Red. “Before we saw what our home had become.”

The Queen face flickered into a smirk, before reverting back to the cruel expression she did so well. “You needn’t worry. From the ashes, a new Grimm will rise. A better one. As to the matter concerning the beast, I hope you will have managed it before too long. The killing of wolves is a tricky business, I know. But it will be worth it for the end result.”

   Princess Adelaide nodded slowly, as if supporting what her mother had said. Pip recalled when he’d seen her without her veil, only for a split second. The only thing he saw was her eyes. But they had been such big eyes, orange in hue for some unknown reason but intriguing nonetheless. Such sad eyes, for someone so young. It wasn’t just her beauty that had stolen his heart, but the way she had looked in that split second. The frustration. The innocence. The tenderness. The mystery.  He was jealous of the man who would soon be able to call her his wife. So beautiful. So very, very beautiful. But Pip knew that not all was as wonderful as it seemed from her point of view. She had a secret. A black secret that consumed her from the inside. Something she could never disclose to anyone, not even her future husband. Only her mother knew and that was all. But Pip could not possibly glean this from a single glimpse of her face. All he knew for certain was that she was so very, very beautiful.

   “Go now,” came the Queen’s voice, cutting through his thoughts like a razor. “Return soon, but only if you have killed the Wolf. If you do not manage it, do not bother coming back. But, be warned, the prisoners will not be released until I am brought the creature’s heart. Then I will know that it is fully dead and be able to rest. No sooner.” Red and Pip nodded. They were dismissed and could not have gotten out of that room sooner.

   They walked back through the rubble and squalor without saying a word. They didn’t have to. The destruction said enough as it was. They left the Fifth Kingdom with a clear goal in sight but with heavy hearts. It was then that the severity of their quest really sunk in, with the memory of the rubble and the squalor and the destruction fresh in their minds.

 

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