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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14. Swan Song

Through the clearing they traipsed, the forest behind them no more than shadows in the dwindling half-light. Night was upon them indefinitely, with the moon a large beacon of silver that cast upon the rippling waters of the lake and upon the face of Red Riding Hood. They’d travelled a long way in a few hours and Pip was gasping for rest, but they didn’t. They carried onwards, through the trees and the snow to the place they’d once known as home; the Fifth Kingdom shone in the moonlight, but with an eerie quality, as if it wasn’t quite there. And finally, the Imperial Palace stood before them. Red could feel the evil pulsing through the ground. She wanted to turn around and stop, but they didn’t. She wanted to turn around and vomit amongst the bushes, but she didn’t. She kept her head level and her mind clear although it swam with so much useless rubbish that it was easier said than done. She had to focus on what they were there for. They were going to kill the Queen.

   Red knelt by the shimmering lake, like fragments of glass reflected by the moonlight. They’d managed to get around a secret way to the Palace, to the lake that ran in the Queen’s private garden, due to a discreet knife in the guard’s back. Pip wasn’t too pleased about the random murder, but would have protested more if they weren’t in a life/death situation. They’d gotten this far, it would be stupid to throw it all away because of his morals, or Red’s lack of them. In truth, Red was not overly happy about killing the man, but desperate times called for desperate measures. She was going to burn in Hell anyway; why not add a few more bodies to her tally? What difference would they make?  She cupped her hands and let the cool water wash over her face, but she didn’t quite feel clean. Despite her best efforts, she would never really feel clean.

   Pip was over in the corner, staring at the mangled bodies that stood on spikes in the garden and pondered how many he recognised. It saddened him that he could name at least a third of the dead. He wondered if he and Red were destined to be next and if the Queen was watching them right at that very moment. Red said that it was probable, but didn’t seem to care either way. Red seemed beyond caring. Pip supposed that if she was watching them that she’d send her guards down to get rid of them, but she probably would have done that already if she’d wanted to. Pip didn’t doubt that the Queen had been waiting for them all along, only waiting for the right moment to pounce. She was just lurking in the shadows until the time was right. The thing was, Red Riding Hood was intent that that time was upon them, as she hopped from toe to toe impatiently, waiting for the chance to slit ‘Her Majesty’s throat. Pip had never seen her like this before, so bloodthirsty and savage, and he found himself wondering whether he really knew who Red was. He still didn’t know if she’d killed Cock Robin, or whether she’d done all the terrible things everyone told him she had. He’d refused to believe it, basing his judgement on their discussion in the Sixth Kingdom and the times when she actually opened up to him, rather than the times when she’d snapped necks and spilt blood before asking any questions. He wondered which one was the real one. He wondered if even Red knew which one was the real one.

   She was staring at her reflection in the lake and Pip wondered what it was she thought about when no-one was listening. Did she see the faces of the people she’d killed, tormenting her? Did she sleep soundly in her bed at night? Did she…? Pip’s own thoughts were stopped by Red Riding Hood leaping from where she knelt, her bow and arrow in her arms in order to ward off whatever foe came their way. Pip heard a splash and saw a ripple in the lake, realising that this was the reason for Red’s abrupt change in demeanour. He too was now alert. Surely the Queen’s guards couldn’t have made their way towards the pair so stealthily with all their clinking armour, and why would they find it necessary to take a dip in the water if they had somehow done so? There was silence for a moment, every bated breath they took swirling around in the frosty winter’s air. They stayed like this for a while, before Pip could no longer bear it and sneezed loudly. Red elbowed him harshly in the stomach, while raising her finger to her lips in the universal gesture for quiet. She was annoyed with him for revealing their hiding place to anyone who cared enough to go looking for them. Their was no point keeping up the pretence any longer, she thought, as she heard gentle splashes of a possible predator. With her bow poised, she jumped out and prepared to shoot- but stopped. And sighed. It hadn’t been what she was expecting at all and Pip crept out to see why she seemed so relieved. He too gasped.

   In the lake, amongst the rippling waters that glistened in the moonlight, was a swan. Its elongated neck and beautiful wings were above water level, whereas the feet beneath it propelled it along, cutting a trail through the depths. It shone in the pale glow and Pip couldn’t quite fathom how incandescently stunning it looked, the tips of its wings tinted with hues of blue and purple that seemed to blend into one another like streaks of the sky on a warm summer’s night. It had an orange beak that rested on its sloped head and a stark black like coal that contrasted the ivory white of its plumage. The wings stretched to their full extent, revealing detailing and the soft pallor of moonlight dappling them, before folding gracefully back in. The creature swam across the lake towards Red and Pip, bathing in the ethereal glow of midnight and basking in the presence of onlookers. It swayed and rocked back and forth elegantly, its silhouette mimicking its every fluid movement. Pip studied it closely and saw, to his surprise, a pair of beguiling orange eyes gazing back at him. He knew these eyes from somewhere, but couldn’t quite put a finger on who they belonged to. The swan’s dance gathered momentum, becoming even more striking with every disconcerting bob and twist, spinning with poise and beauty. Pip’s eyes were strained just soaking in the romantic image, as the poetry weaved by the swan’s iridescence filled the atmosphere, intoxicating everyone who beheld it. It continued to move and dance, before stopping in the middle of a particularly enthralling sequence with a harsh shriek, like nails on a chalkboard. The swan began to curl up and Red could now clearly see the blood that seeped out of its chest as it tried in vain to reach dry land once again.

   Red spun to see from where the spear which had plunged into the creature’s body had been thrown, and by whom. She saw one of the Queen’s guards standing a few feet away and immediately sent an arrow through his chest, also. He doubled over and breathed heavily and all those who had followed him recoiled back towards the Palace. Pip did not, for once, feel any pity for the fallen. They had tried to kill the swan and he felt begrudged against them for doing so. He could have watched the creature dance all day long, however it slowly but surely was bleeding out on dry land and would not survive for very long. Red dashed towards it, nursing it in her arms. She stroked its sloped neck and beautiful orange beak and ivory plumage tinted with blue and purple and it seemed to Pip as if the beguiling eyes he’d recognised where weeping. He wasn’t aware that swans could even do such a thing, but his doubts became all together new as the swan began to change. The beak faded back into its skull, leaving only a nose that was faintly human. The feathers began to fall off at an alarming rate, revealing only bare flesh. The elongated neck shrunk to what one would consider to be normal size. But the eyes remained the same. No longer was there a dying swan in Red’s arms, but a girl clad in a blood-soaked wedding dress, who was dying nonetheless.

   Princess Adelaide. Pip knew who she was instantly, recalling his first sight of her in her carriage on the day of her birthday parade and his trip to the Imperial Palace. He remembered how, on his way out, he’d accidentally glimpsed her without her veil. “A pair of striking orange eyes glowing, mysterious and beguiling, twinkling in every corner of his mind with their aching beauty…” They looked even lovelier now, as the last remainders of life ebbed out of them. Her face, too, was as beautiful as they’d said. She brushed his face delicately with her long, slender fingers and he knew that she remembered also. Red’s memory of seeing her played back in her head, of the time when she too had been recruited by the Queen to kill the Wolf. Although she hadn’t said anything, Red knew she’d been there. And again, when they’d returned to the Fifth Kingdom not too long ago. The look on Princess Adelaide’s face, although covered by her veil, had been clear. The disgust, the horror at what Grimm had become… Red sympathized with the girl in that moment and the memory came flooding back. She knew that she ought to hate the Princess and all of her pampered, spoilt being but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Adelaide was not like her mother. Her ideals were different, as was her sense of right and wrong. Red found herself respecting the Princess in spite of her best intentions not to.

   The Princess lay backwards and Red carefully shut her eyes on her behalf. That way, she thought, Adelaide could truly rest in peace. As she deserved. Pip couldn’t suppress a slight catch in his throat, but Red scolded him. Her death needn’t be mawkish, or over-dramatic. Just the two of them was enough, even though neither of them knew her too well. The one thing Red Riding Hood would allow, however, was a minute of silence out of respect for the girl, whose wedding dress was now soaked in blood and tattered. Both of their mouths closed and they bowed their heads- for once, no words were really needed. The silence engulfed them both, the ripple of the lake still lapping upon the land and half of the Princess’ dress, which made the waters turn slightly reddish in colour. It was peaceful, and as still as the grave in the literal sense. Suddenly, Princess Adelaide’s eyes flickered open. As did her mouth, and from it came the most haunting song that ever graced the ears of man. There were no words to accompany it, merely a soft melody that rang through the night, dispelling the darkness. Pip liked to think that the stars all craned their necks to hear the sweet voice that emerged from the girl. It was aching and pleasing to the ear, as if every note rang out through the land and beyond for all to hear. Even the dead bodies on the spikes nearby seemed to sway to it. It was pure and soothing, but soon it died down and Adelaide’s eyes flickered shut of her own accord. Pip turned to Red.

   “What was that?”

Red laughed slightly. “It was her swan song.” She began to cry, although she tried to stop herself. She’d promised that Adelaide’s death would not be too sentimental, but here she was bawling her eyes out and lamenting the death of a girl she hardly knew. But she’d have liked to have known Adelaide. She stood and headed towards the Palace, only for Pip to follow. The body of the Princess drifted off into the lake, swallowed by the waters as Red and Pip made their way to the Queen’s tower. Red vowed to kill the Queen before, and stayed true to her word. In fact, her word had only been strengthened by Adelaide’s death. Now, she wanted to see the Queen dead more than ever, to put an end to the suffering she’d caused. Meanwhile, Adelaide’s swan song still rang in her ears.

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