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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8. Ways to Skin a Wolf

The apple dangled from the tree, juicy and ripe in the light of day. Red Riding Hood fixed her eyes on it, adjusting her arrow deftly. It hung from amongst the leaves, the branch barely able to support its weight. The dying rays of sun caught it, dappled by the greenery that surrounded it, an apple as red as blood. She took a deep breath and counted to three. This was how she prepared before hunting and this was no different. It ought to have been easy, an inanimate object compared to the larger, lithe game she was used to. However, she’d been slightly distracted as of late.

   Her fingers curled around the bow and she tried to clear her mind. It had been awfully cluttered recently, with the pressure of her task pressing and the complications of what she’d have to do racing through her head. But she’d never had any trouble with her shooting before. That was the one constant that she’d never failed at. Whenever she held her bow in her hands, she remembered the first time she’d shot an arrow and the rush of adrenaline that had surged through her. The sense of power that she’d felt, the way that with a slight of the finger she could take a life or sustain it. It was maddening, but filled her with a sense of purpose.

   In a second the arrow flew through the air and pierced the core of the apple. It fell from the branch to the ground in a swift movement. She exhaled. It still felt good. Even with fruit the rush of shooting was there. Piercing a heart made her feel electric. The voice from behind gave her a start; she’d been so pre-occupied with her thoughts that she’d forgotten about the man who was watching her. “Bravo, Miss Riding Hood! Very impressive!” he cried. She tacked on a fake smile and turned to him.

   The trainer must have been around his late forties and his sprouts of hair were streaked with silver, but there was cunning in his eyes, still. He shook her hand firmly and congratulated her superb hit. She thanked him back, but her eyes wandered over to where Pip stood awkwardly, handling a bow as if he’d never held one before- which, in all fairness, he probably hadn’t. Red meandered over, away from the trainer, who had gone to pick up the apple she’d speared.

   Pip gripped the weapon like a vice, afraid that he was going to drop it but equally worried that he’d be exposed as not knowing how to use it. Moments ago, Red had managed to hit a tiny apple from a distance and he couldn’t even load the bow properly. His hand grazed the curve of the instrument, hoping that somehow that would help his poor accuracy. It did not. The arrow flew through the air, went past the bulls-eye that he’d been aiming for and lodged wanly into the ground. Pathetic. They were in the Fourth Kingdom for training on how to kill the Big Bad Wolf and he couldn’t even hit the target. He had no idea what he was doing wrong.

   “Try shooting with your right arm,” Red offered from behind him. He followed her advice by pulling on the string with his right arm and clutching the bow with his left.

“Now, relax,” Red’s guidance continued steadily, “count to three, then release.” He breathed deeply. He counted to three slowly. 1…2…3! The arrow soared through the wind and lodged into the target, millimetres from the bulls-eye. Pip beamed proudly. Red placed her hand on his shoulder as a sign that he’d done well.

   “Thanks for the help,” he stammered. “I was having a little trouble…”

“I know. I could see.”

“Can I ask you a question, Red? How did you get to be so good?”

“At what?”

“Shooting.”

Red Riding Hood shrugged. “I don’t know. Practice. You learn to protect yourself when there’s no-one there to do it for you.”

Pip paused. “You never talk about your family, usually.”

“What’s there to say? They died when I was young. End of story.”

Red flicked back her hair. She wasn’t the sort of girl to fiddle with her hair or her nails or anything like that; even though she often had her hood up, Pip had picked up on some traits that were tell-tale signs of how she was feeling. She was doing several of them now. Pip knew that her family had died when Red was only young at the hands of the Big Bad Wolf, which is why she had such a vendetta against the creature. But he didn’t know the details because Red wouldn’t give any. Naturally, she was a secretive person but he’d hoped that she’d offer him some personal information at least.

  But she’d begun to pull away from him when it was most vital that they stick together. They were making their way through the Kingdoms at quite a good pace, except that on a number of occasions she’d very much surprised him and not always in a good way. In the First Kingdom, she’d murdered the Child-Eating Witch because it had done the same to little Prince Tristan. In the Second, she’d abandoned him and fled with all the weapons- a gross betrayal in his eyes, but one which he’d forgiven. And most recently in the Third, she’d shown such compassion for the King and had seemed so heartbroken upon his death. It was strange to see so many duelling aspects of her personality.

   However, he worried about her very much. She’d hunted solo for too long, in his opinion, and it had begun to take a toll on her mind. Red wasn’t quite crazy but there was something behind her eyes, something unclear and indefinite which frightened him. He always slept with one eye open when she was near just in case she pulled one of the tricks she had done back in the Second Kingdom, robbed him of everything that he had and abandoned him in the wilderness. Maybe even slit his throat for good measure.

   But despite how untrustworthy she could be, Pip still liked her for some reason. It hadn’t been a real worry that she might cause him any harm; she was too maternal, in a way. She liked pretending she was a ruthless and remorseless assassin, which she might have been, but she liked tending to Pip’s wounds and making sure he was alright. But then she’d realise what she was doing and go off and hunt/ brood for a good hour or so. Red was complex, a puzzle to be worked out. Another problem of Red’s was whether she killed Cock Robin.

   He’d seen the posters all over the Kingdom and had heard the chatter in the market. Red Riding Hood was a murderer. She had killed Cock Robin. Everything thought it was her. Pip had to admit that he believed she might have done it himself, but now he knew her, it didn’t quite ring true for some reason. He’d seen her kill before, game and witches (he also suspected that the bodies of the dwarves had something to do with her) but for almost all of them she’d had a reason. Food. Necessity. Survival. Rage. Protection. However, he couldn’t really understand why she would kill Cock Robin. Cock Robin had been part of the seedy underworld of Grimm, to which Red had been no stranger, but that wasn’t to say they hadn’t been friends, maybe. Why would she kill him?

   “Aren’t you going to shoot another arrow?” Red asked. Pip jumped. He’d forgotten she was there with him; he had been lost in his own thoughts. He stood with both legs apart, parallel to the side as he’d been taught. He pulled back the string. Then he released it, and the arrow flew to hit the target, managing only to reach the grass again. He hadn’t been concentrating. He’d do better next time, he told himself.

   But in Red’s mind, there wouldn’t be very many next times. Time was running out at an alarming speed and her companion couldn’t even hit the target properly. She was putting so much effort in this task and he didn’t even seem to care. It didn’t really matter to him in the same way as it did to Red. He probably wanted to see the Wolf dead, but it wasn’t going to be him to fire the killing shot, even if he could. Every time Red thought of the Wolf, her blood boiled. Her insides contracted. Her whole self seemed to contort into someone else, a different Red who wanted nothing more than to feel the filth of his blood wash over her hands. To look into those lupine eyes and watch all the pain and anguish and terror flash by the same way he’d done to so many. Red wanted to see the Wolf dead. And if she had any say in the matter, she would be the one to kill it, regardless of Pip.

   She could shoot arrows since she was young. Recently, she’d learnt lots of new techniques on how to kill the god-forsaken creature. Ways to skin a Wolf, she thought, remembering the old adage. She could rip out his eyes with her fingernails. She could strangle him with his own intestines. She could make him drown in his own dirty blood. It didn’t matter how she killed him. She just wanted to see him dead.

   The one thing Red really couldn’t do was get her companion up to the same standard. Pip hadn’t any of her viciousness, any of her incentive to kill or at least severely maim. Which, in a way, was rather a good thing. He could walk away if everything went awry. He might be able to forget about the whole business. She could not. She had seen too much. The hunger in the eyes of the people of Grimm. The threat of the Queen. Her words… Murderer. Thief. Peasant. Filth. The worst thing was Red Riding Hood thought she might have been all of these things and more. The terror at the idea of being hanged. The tears in the Queen of the First Kingdom’s eyes as she spoke of her son. His bones scattered all over the Witch’s floor. The Witch’s face melting and the pleasure Red got from it. The look on Pip’s face when she abandoned him. The dwarf corpses leaking blood. The King of the Third Kingdom’s heart visibly breaking and the moment he died. Everything.

   She wanted to scream and cry and kick and throw herself across the floor. Just something to quell the fire that was ablaze in her head, the one which threatened to consume her. Red doubted that Pip would be able to last five minutes in her head, with her conscience and the memory of every kill, every pain, every happiness, and every misery all vying for dominance. So, when Pip asked her whether they were ready to take on the Wolf just yet, she replied “No. Not by a long way.”

   This was not the answer he was hoping for. She saw a flash of passion in his eyes for a second. He loaded the bow with an arrow. He stopped for a moment, took a deep breath and counted to three. 1…2…3! The arrow flew and hit the bulls-eye square on. Pip turned to her. Red added, “But we are getting there.”

 

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