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Through the course of my twenty-two years on this world, I have built a reputation for myself. A reputation known by people across the world. I am the Woman of the Red Hood. After my grandmother was killed in front of my eyes by a troll, I began a life of killing. The physicians of this world would tell you that I began this life as a way to gain justice for my grandmother’s death, but that is not entirely true. I wanted revenge.
Sure the Troll who killed her died by my hands, but that isn’t enough. Every troll must pay because he killed not only my grandmother, but my entire family as well. My hunt for these brutes, and other jobs, has taken me around the globe. A year ago was different. I returned home to my village where the massacre happened.
I returned to the place of my birth and upbringing for sixteen years. Nothing had changed. The same homes stood empty and abandoned. Blood still smears each and every wall. No living creature, save the scavengers, had set foot in this village for six years. The silence was oppressive. It smothered the land like a thick wool blanket.
My long sword strapped securely to my back and my supply pack in place over it, I pulled my grandmother’s wolf lined hood closer about me. I still don’t know if it was from the cold from the uncharacteristic winter rain, or for the comfort the hood provided through that gruesome scene. I can handle any physical or psychological threat thrown at me, but this sent unnatural chills down my spine. I think it has to do with the memories here.
“I wondered when you would return,” a deep voice said behind me.
‘What who’s that?’ I asked. Not turning to face this stranger.
“You shouldn’t have returned. This village is not safe for you, especially after what happened that night,” he replied. As he said I released the catch to the dagger I kept strapped to my forearm, and left it slide into my palm.
“What do you mean?” I demanded.
“Ever since you killed that troll this village has not been a place for any human, especially you, after that night.”
The only thought that coursed through my mind was who this strange voice was. I spun around preparing to throw the dagger in my hand at the voice behind me, but there was nobody there.
“Show yourself!” I yelled at the empty air around me. “And tell me who you are, or by the Creator I will send you to Hell!”
“Temper, temper,” the voice scolded me. It sounded like it was beginning to circle me now. “Is that any way to talk to family?”
What the Hell was this thing talking about? All of my family was killed that night, six years ago. There was no way that thing could have any relation to me.
“You can’t be family,” I replied scanning the shadows of the buildings and trees, attempting to locate this stranger.
“You may not believe it, but I am in fact your brother Red.”
As the voice said this, a wolf with charcoal fur stepped from the shadow of the building I was raised in. His eyes were liquid gold. They reminded me so much of my mother’s.
“There is no way you could be my brother!” I laughed. The thought of a wolf being my brother was weird, even for my strange life.
The wolf growled and bared its teeth. That wasn’t shocking, wolves seem to growl at anything that annoys them, but I will never forget what happened next.
The wolf began to talk to me.
“I am your brother Red. Whether you believe me or not is of no importance to me, but I will repeat my warning. You should not have come back.”
I don’t know what was more shocking. A wolf was talking, and he was warning me. In my travels I have seen bears dance and even elephants trumpet a tune, but this was something else entirely. No matter how shocked I was I still managed to keep hold of my reason and realize that this was serious. I wasn’t imagining things.
“What do you mean it’s not safe here?” I asked. “The only things that appear to be living here right now are the scavengers. “
“That is true, but the creatures of this forest have been watching and waiting for your return.”
“The Trolls?” I ask with a roll of my eyes.
“Yes the Trolls,” he replied. “However, they are not the only one who wish to see your blood spilt.”
“Oh, really, and who else would that be?”
“Us,” hissed a new comer.
“Damn it,” the wolf swore. He then addressed an apparent assemblage behind me. “Listen, you Minotaurs. You have no business here.”
“But we do, little wolf.” The Minotaur slavered. “Her. We wish to see her blood spilled in these streets just as the Trolls do.”
“I will not let you,” the wolf said, placing himself between me and the horde.
“Oh really?” the Minotaur mocked.
“Yes,” the wolf replied. He turned his head to me and whispered as whispered as best he could. “Be prepared to run.”
I was about to protest, but as I opened my mouth, he raised his muzzle to the sky and unleashed a powerful howl. Form the trees bound dozens of wolves. They outnumbered the Minotaurs three to one. They leapt at the throats and Achilles tendons of the Minotaurs. The struck with such precision and speed no one could tell who would fall next. As I stood transfixed at the scene before me I felt a hairy shoulder nudge my leg. When I looked down, it was the wolf.
“Go!” he shouted.
The pleading look in his eyes made me turn without thought, and I ran. I ran to the only other place I could think of, my grandmother’s cottage. I ran as fast as I could. The dagger still gripped firmly in my hand. Branches scratched and tore at my face and clothing, while roots impeded my feet. However, six years in my line of work allowed me to remain upright.
I noticed as I stumbled once that the wolf was running next to me. His legs extended and his ears flattened. This was his home and I knew at that moment that he was someone I could depend on.
After several minutes, I reach the steps of my grandmother’s old cottage. Nothing had changed. The flowers were still vibrantly colored, and somehow free of weeds. The exterior appeared to have been recently whitewashed, and the porch was free of debris.
“What?” I panted. “How is that possible? No one is here to take care of this place.”
“I took care of it,” the wolf replied. “She was my grandmother too. It was the least I could do.”
“Ok, you have some explaining to do,” I told the wolf.
“You’re right. I do. How should I begin?” he conceded.
“Well, start with your name, age, and how the Hell you can be related to me.”
“Very well, but please do not interrupt me until I finish. This is a long story and I don’t know how long my pack can hold off those Minotaurs.”
“Very well,” I agreed. “Please begin.”
I sat on the bottom step and made myself as comfortable as the situation would allow.
“My name is Tanakan, and in human terms I would be… twenty-five years old. Yes I’m extremely old for a wolf. Most of us don’t live past eleven or twelve. By my reckoning I would be three years older than you. Now the way this happened is that our grandmother had a lover, a wolf. You know the power of the cloak you now wear. She had a wolf lover, but when your- our- mother was born she was in her human form, so the child was human, a human with wolf attributes.
“Grandmother raised that child the best she could and the child grew into a strong healthy woman. She married a man who could provide her with a decent life, and had three children before she was killed. I was the first. The Grandmother told me what happened was that our father and mother didn’t care that I was born a wolf, they knew about Grandmother’s life, but the village elder delivered them an ultimatum. They could either be tried as creatures of the dark forest, or throw me into the woods to die.
“Grandmother took me instead and stood up to the elder and he banished her on that day. She took me with her and we lived in that cabin. Of course wolves reach their maturity within a couple of years so I left the cottage to find my own way in life. I did visit her regularly, and I saw you on a couple of occasions… Now I know what you’re thinking. If I was truly your brother why didn’t I say anything or why didn't Grandmother? The truth is she was afraid that if you knew the truth you either would think less of your family or if the elder found out, he would banish you as well.
“I believe that the only reason you can understand me is because we share blood. You could understand some of what the other wolves were saying today couldn’t you?” I nodded as it seemed appropriate because as I thought about it, I remember some of the wolves taunting the Minotaurs and giving orders to each other. “And at night when you hear a wolf howl you can guess what it is they are saying.” Again I nodded.
“No other human could possibly understand what we are saying, except Mother and Grandmother. Mother because of her blood, and Grandmother because of her cloak. The reverse is true as well. I can understand you perfectly, and mostly understand other humans because of my blood, but none of the others can even remotely guess what it is you say.
“Your gift from the creator is not just simply a gift it is an inheritance. You have the instincts of a wolf and the cunning and ingenuity of a human. By relying on the wolf’s instincts you can do things you would never have thought possible and with the cunning of a human you can accomplish things no wolf could ever dream of. Once you find the proper balance between the two, you will be the most efficient hunter in the world.
“Red I only have one request to make of you, now that my story is at an end,” he sighed. “Let me travel with you. I want to avenge Grandmother just as much as you do, and I did nothing to help her that night. I didn’t even know something was wrong until two or three of your human weeks later.”
Hanging his head as though he had done the worst sin of all he continued, “I feel like I did nothing to help her in her time of need. We don’t even have to begin as brother and sister but simply as friends… I… I… Just want to do something.”
When he finally looked at me again after several long breaths later, he looked as if he were going to cry, assuming that wolves cry. I reached out cradled his head in my hands, and gazed deeply into those liquid eyes.
“Tanakan, I would be honored to travel this world with you, seeking justice for our grandmother, together. And I can think of no one in this vast world I would rather call Brother then you. I must admit though that story makes some parts of my life make more sense.”
Suddenly from the trees burst the Minotaur horde. They charged at us weapons swinging overhead and hooves trampling the earth beneath them. Their breath clouding in the setting sunlight, as its scent and there musk oozed across the rapidly narrowing space between us. As they drew near, I drew my long sword in a giant sweeping arc, and braced for the assault. Tanaka crouched low to the ground and released an unearthly growl.
I have found my family again. No Minotaur, Troll, or other Hell spawn creatures will ever take that away from me again. I am the Woman of the Red Hood, and
I have returned home.