Dark Red Riding Hood (Novel)

ONCE upon a time, there was a little village girl, the prettiest that had ever been seen. Her mother doted on her. Her grandmother was even fonder, and made her a little red hood, which became her so well that everywhere she went by the name of Little Red Riding Hood

One day her mother, who had just baked some cakes, said to her: “Go and see how your grandmother is, for I have been told that she is ill. Take her a cake and this little pot of butter.”

Red Riding Hood set off at once for the house of her grandmother, who lived in another village.

On her way through a wood she met old Father Wolf. He would have very much liked to eat her, but dared not to on account of some wood-cutters who were in the forest. He asked her where she was going. The poor child, not knowing that it was dangerous to stop and listen to a wolf, said: “I am going to see my grandmother, and I am taking her a cake and a pot of butter which my mother has sent to her.”

“Does she live far away?” asked the Wolf.

“Oh yes,” replied Little Red Riding Hood; “it is yonder by the mill which you can see right below there, and it is the first house in the village.”

“Well now,” said the Wolf, “I think I shall go and see her too. I will go by this path, and you by that path, and we will see who gets there first.”

The Wolf set off running with all his might by the shorter road, and the little girl continued on her way by the longer road. As she went she amused herself by gathering nuts, running after the butterflies, and making nosegays of the wild flowers she found.”

The Wolf was not long in reaching the grandmother’s house.

He knocked. Toc. Toc.

“Who is there?”

“It is your granddaughter, Red Riding Hood,” said the Wolf, disguising his voice, “and I bring you a cake and a little pot of butter as a present from my mother.”

The worthy grandmother was in bed, not being very well, and cried out to him: “Pull out the peg and the latch will fall.”

The Wolf drew the peg and the door flew open. Then he sprang upon the poor old lady and ate her up in less than no time, for he had been more than three days without food.

After that he shut the door, lay down in grandmother’s bed, and waited for Little Red Riding Hood.

Presently she came and knocked. Toc. Toc.

“Who is there?”

Now Little Red Riding Hood on hearing the Wolf’s gruff voice was at first frightened, but thinking that her grandmother had a bad cold, she replied:

“It is your granddaughter, Red Riding Hood, and I bring you a cake and a little pot of butter from my mother.”

Softening his voice, the Wolf called out to her: “Pull out the peg and the latch will fall.”

Little Red Riding Hood drew out the peg and the door flew open.

When he saw her enter, the Wolf hid himself in the bed beneath the counterpane.

“Put the cake and the little pot of butter on the bin,” he said, “and come up on the bed with me.”

Little Red Riding Hood took off her cloak, but when she climbed up on the bed she was astonished to see how her grandmother looked in her nightgown.

“Grandmother dear!” she exclaimed, “what big arms you have!”

“The better to embrace you, my child.”

“Grandmother dear, what big legs you have!”

“The better to run with, my child.”

“Grandmother dear, what big ears you have!”

“The better to hear with, my child.”

“Grandmother dear, what big eyes you have!”

“The better to see with, my child.”

“Grandmother dear, what big teeth you have!”

“The better to eat you with!”

With these words, the wicked Wolf leapt upon Little Red Riding Hood and gobbled her up.

–         Little Red Riding Hood, Charles Perrault, 1697

Chapter 1: Grim Beginnings

I woke up to concrete brick walls and a single window blocked with iron bars. I rolled over in my cot; it was as hard as rocks. I sat up and pulled my knees against my chest. The room around me was bare; whitewashed walls, a porcelain sink, and a porcelain toilet. There was only one door, a large, green metal door, that was heavily locked from the outside. There was a little, square glass window in the door that allowed the doctors and guards to peer inside my cell. It wasn’t the first time I woken up in the asylum, but with any luck, it would the last.

I get out of my cot, slipped my feet in my pale green slippers, and started to stretch my arms and legs in my pale green jumpsuit. From outside my door, I heard the echoes of footsteps. Soon afterwards, the sound of a baton striking the metal door. “Wake up!” A female guard yelled through the door. A face appeared in the window of the door. It was the face of a dark-skinned woman, her black hair tied into a bun and brown eyes gazing at me through the glass. She scowled and then the sound of several locks being unlocked rang out.

The female guard stepped inside my cell. She was dressed in a blue uniform that had white strips around the wrists her sleeves and around the bottom of her shirt. A brown belt that held up her pants and she wore a pair of black shoes. “Against the wall.” She ordered in a firm tone of voice.

I stepped towards the far and spend my arms and legs out against it. She patted down my legs and arms, checking for anytime that can be used as a weapon. Lucky for me, I wasn’t that crazy.

The female guard scoffed and yelled out: “Clear!” She forcedly pulled me away from the wall and motioned for me to walk forward. I stepped out of my cell and into the eerie, blue-walled hallway. “Move it!” Yelled the female guard as she shoved me in the shoulder. I start to walk down the hall.

Lockwood Asylum. According to the doctors and higher-ups, it was a happy place; a safe haven for those who suffering from antisocial behavior disorders. The façade of a happy and peaceful environment for patients is just that, a façade. Lockwood Asylum was, and will always be, heck. The place was stained with the blood and tears of their patients. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of beatings, riots, and other acts of violence that happened in this place.

Cobwebs decorated the cracked and crumbling walls; they really don’t take good enough care of the building. As I walked down the hallway, I passed the cell doors of the other patients; I tried to ignore the frantic screams, wails, and cries as I walked. I looked up towards one of the windows and for a moment I envisioned that I could fly out the window, but then I remember that they were barred with thick iron bars like the rest of the windows in this accursed place.

“Keep moving!” Yelled the female guard. She shoved me in the shoulder as she shouted, causing me to almost tumble forward onto the floor. Luckily, I was able to catch myself in time. “Walk!” She ordered again. I kept walking down the winding hallway. We passed orderlies in grey uniforms and other patients in jumpsuits and slippers. As hard as they tried to soften their whispers about me, I would still hear them.

“Is that her?” A male orderly asked.

“Yeah, that’s her.” Another male orderly said.

I stared forward, not bothering to look at the gossipers. I’ve been to Lockwood before; more times that I can count. For better or for worse, I was very well-known among the staff and doctors. Yet, in all my time in Lockwood, I never tried to befriend anyone; not the doctors, not the orderlies, not even the other patients. That was the way I liked it.

We arrived at a set of double doors. Standing beside them was a pair of two male guards dressed in the same uniform as the female guard. The guard on the left was sickly pale, bald, and has pale blue eyes that looked like they could stare into my soul; he looked to have several years’ experience in this place. The guard on the right has dark hair to his shoulder, gentle brown eyes, and looked as though he spent an hour under a sunbed; he might had been the youngest guard there.

The older guard sneered the moment he saw me. I shot draggers at him with my eyes. “This one’s transferring I presume?” He asked.

“Release.” Answered the female guard.

The older guard tried and failed to silence a laugh. The female guard laughed along with him. Meanwhile, the younger guard was flashing me a smile, but I could tell that he was torn. Over what, I didn’t know at the time.

After that exchange, the two guards opened the double doors and let us though. Next thing I knew, we were in a large room with white walls and leather chairs around a wooden coffee table with an elegant vase filled with bright yellow sunflowers. There was a painting of a beautiful, mountainous landscape with autumn trees placed on the far wall of the room. I guessed it was waiting room as it was in clear contrast to the rest of the complex. On the left side of the room was a large glass rectangular window. Behind it was a dark blue desk, and sitting beside the desk was a middle-aged man in a grey uniform, typing away on a computer.

“Face the window.” The female guard ordered me.

I came to face the clear window and waited for the man to notice my presence. The female guard came to stand behind me. Eventually, the man took note of me, and he grimaced. He turned back to his computer and started typing. “Rosebud Gingerroot Hood.” He said in a gruffly voice. “Age. Eighteen. Eye color. Brown. Hair color. Red. Height. Five feet and one inch. Weight. 91 pounds.” He shot me a sideway glance and snorted in laughter. I clenched my fists and gritted my teeth so hard that it hurt. Yeah, I was small. What of it?

His eye shifted back to his computer. “Due to release under the conditions that she takes her medication, finds a suitable job, and does not get arrested. Now,” He turned back to me. “If it was up to me, well…” He paused. We shot cold looks at one another. “Just be glad that it isn’t up to me.” He turned back to his computer. “All your belongings, included her usual attire, will be brought out shortly.”

Sure enough, another orderly carrying a carboard box came out of a set of double doors that were adjacent to the glass window. He placed the box on the coffee table, his eyes never meeting mine. I approached the box and pick it up. Inside were all my stuff: my gray coin bag, my flower-patterned parasol, the same brown and beige backpack that I had since my nursery school time, the same pair of blue jeans, black top tank, and wore bronze-colored high tops I wore when I was committed to this place, and finally, my treasured red velvet cape with the hood. “Go on and get changed.” Said the man behind the window. “Then you can finally leave.”

The female guard escorted me to a nearby bathroom, where I changed into my regular clothing. I removed my jumpsuit and slippers and pulled my top tank over my head, then pulled my jeans onto my legs. When I was dressed, I looked at herself in the bathroom’s mirror. Eventhough I haven’t brushed in days, my cheek-length crimson hair still looked well-groomed. My doe eyes were as dark as dark chocolate, my lips were as pink as a pink pearl, and my skin was a pale as the moon. Finally, as a final touch, I wrapped my cape around my shoulders. My cape was long enough to cover my shoulders and arms, but not too long, as it stopped just shy of my waist. I loved that cape more than life itself.

There were a series of loud and rapid bangs on the bathroom door. “You done in there, rat?” Yelled the female guard. I stepped out the bathroom and was greeted by the guard quickly gasping my arm and pushing me toward the asylum’s front doors. The doors automated opened before us and I could at last see the outside world.

The bushes along the path to the asylum were neatly trimmed and cut into a variety of shapes. The tall and blacken cast iron gates that surrounded the complex, meant to separate the asylum from the rest of the world, lay beyond the path. The sun was shining, birds were singing, the flowers near the building were in full bloom, and the air felt fresher. Everything felt serene. I was just about to take a step, when the guard behind gasped my shoulder, and whispered into my ear: “By the way, the Woodsman said ‘hey’.” Then she shoved me outside. I looked back to see the doors closing behind me.

Chapter 2: Brother and Sister

I walked down the path toward the iron gate. Just beyond it was Gemstone. Gemstone was the capital city and pearl of the sovereignty of Fairyland, and my home for the last seven years. Fairyland, a country where science and magic coexist and intermix. Many of the devices and gadgets in Fairyland were invented by combining technology with arcane magic. Mystical creatures were kept as pets or livestock. Magic users and spell-casters lived among the general population. Magic was a common tool in Fairyland, granted most types of magic were outlawed.

Gemstone was a lovely city. The sun gleamed off the polished chrome of the geometrically-shaped skyscrapers, making them shine like real gemstones. Maybe that was why it was called ‘the brightest place in Fairytale’. Inside, though the clear blue windows, I could see the higher-class living their lives, surrounded by luxuries that only the middle-class could dream about having. Tall, sturdy oak trees stood alongside the manmade structures; their leaves a light shade of orange, a telltale sign of the coming of autumn.

I approached the gate and it open automatically. I stepped forward into the real world. I watched as the gates closed behind me with a loud metallic clank. Before me was a gravel road, which would lead me to the paved streets, which would lead me back to the city. I couldn’t tell you how happy I was to be out of that place. The first thing I wanted to do was go home, take a real bath, sleep in my own bed, and find my old friends. Yes, that was what I wanted to do. However, I knew in the back of my mind that there was something that I needed to do first.

“Little Red Riding Hood.”

I snapped my head to the left. There, leaning against the iron bars with his back, was a brown-haired boy with hazel eyes. He was much taller than me, but was as thin and pale as I was. His short chocolate hair came to stop behind his ears and his fringe sat coolly on his forehead. His hands were in the pocket of his grey hoodie, which was sewed onto the lower portion of the hoodie. His blue jeans ripped at the knees, probably due to the style, but then again, he could had ripped them himself. His white sneakers were torn and ragged, as though he didn’t take good care of them.

Instinctually, I stepped back and shouted: “Who the heck are you?!” It came out much less venomous than I wanted it to be due to my soft voice. He started walking toward me. He came to stand in front of me, towering over me. He looked me square in the eyes, a smile on his lips. He pulled his left hand out of his pocket and extended toward me. “The name’s Ivan. Ivan Nikolaeva.”

I didn’t shake his hand. Instead I stared at his hand for a while, before I shifted my gaze to him. I placed both of my hands on my hips and gave him the best skeptical look I could produce. “‘Ivan Nikolaeva’?” I scoffed. “Are you serious?”

Awkwardly, he retracted his hand and combed his hair with it. His smile faltered a small bit before coming back in full force. “Yes.” He said. “Why?”

I laughed vivaciously; it was the most I ever laughed in months. Judging by the dumbfounded expression on his face, the guy in front of me was surely taken aback, so I explained. “‘Ivan Nikolaeva’.” I repeated. “You can’t be Ivan Nikolaeva. If you were Ivan Nikolaeva, then you could be related to Aly Nikolaeva.”

“I am related to Aly Nikolaeva.” He said.

“Yeah, right! Then where’s-”

He interrupted me by pulling up the hem of his hoodie, revealing his well-toned abs. He pulled the hem of the hoodie so far up that he revealed his muscular pecs. My eyes went wide when I saw the brownish hoof mark of a fully-grown deer on the right side of his chest. “See?” He said as he chuckled softly.

I hurriedly ripped my stare away from his chest. My hands went to rub at my unbelieving eyes. I still couldn’t believe what I was seeing; I couldn’t believe that the boy in front of me was both a member of the most infamous group of mercenaries in the country, also known as the royal army, and the brother of one of my best friends in the entire world. I stopped massaging my temple and looked his in the eye again. “Did Aly sent you?” I asked.

He lowered the hem of his hoodie, covering his chest once again. His hands returned to the inside of his hoodie pocket. “Yeah, my sis sent me. She wants to see you.”

Believe me when I say that I would like nothing more than to catch up with Aly. She and her family might have been mercenaries, but she also was the friendliest person I met since moving to the city. She was like an older sister to me for so long and I really looked up to her. However, like I said before, there was something I needed to do first. “I would love to see her. But I can’t.” I told him. “I’ll contract you as soon as I’m free.”

“Ok.” Said Ivan. “I’ll let my sis know that you love to meet up.”

“Alright then.” I said as I turned away from him, ready to leave. A cool breeze blew pass us and I pulled the hood of my cape over my head. I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for laughing at Ivan. No, wait, it wasn’t guilt, it was fear. In my line of work, anything you say or do can, and will, be used against you in the future. I turned back to face Ivan. “Sorry for not believing you earlier, and for laughing in your face.” I said.

He chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. I know my sis doesn’t like to talk about our family.”

“Not hard to believe.”

I started walking down the beaten gravel path toward the road. I was halfway gone when he stopped me. “Hey!” He shouted. “If you want I can drive you to the Woodsman’s hideout.”

I turned back to him and called out: “No thanks. I prefer to walk.” I turned away and continued down the path. The path before was covered with fallen leaves and randomly scattered twigs. The crunching sound of gravel and leaves rung in my ears, accompanied by the musical songs of the birds in the trees. The cool air rushed over me, making me shiver slightly. It was still better than being locked in an insane asylum.

Chapter 3: The Woodsman

The sparkly streets of Gemstone were as busy as ever. It was morning when I got out, so the stores were just beginning to open and people were going to work. Men in black suits and briefcases were rushing down sidewalks while talking on their cellphones. Joggers and powerwalkers wearing brightly colored sporting gear were getting their daily exercise. Mothers and their children were tranquilly strolling together, tiny hands gripping the hands of their caretakers. People were walking their pets as well; dogs and wingless dragons were attached to leashes, which were attached to collars around their necks. Automobile drivers were driving their vehicles down the paved streets. I smiled as I walk, happy in knowing that there were other people in the city whose lives were much less complicated than mine.

I had to weave my way through the crowds before turning a corner into an alleyway. The alleyway was so long that felt like it went on for miles. Trash and scraps of metal littered the ground. I had to hop over the large potholes filled with muddy water. At the end of the alleyway was a grimy brick wall. I always hated knocking on that wall because it always dirtied my knuckles. There were literally tens of other secret entrances I could have used, but this one was the closest to the asylum.

I looked behind me to see if anyone was watching. Luckily for me, no one was. I firmly knocked on the wall with my knuckles exactly three times, took a few steps back, and waited. One by one the dark, grimy bricks of the wall slowly disintegrated into dust. Eventually, a black metal door appeared in place of the wall. I grabbed the handle and pushed the door open. In front of me was a poorly lit corridor. I let the door fall closed as I stepped into the corridor.

The corridor was built using black bricks, the cheap, magical orbs of white light flowing above my head were flickering on and off, and the floorboards beneath my feet were creaking as if they would fall apart. After what felt like an hour of walking, I made it to another black metal door. Two men carrying submachine guns were leaning against the walls adjacent to the door, chatting with each other. The moment they saw me they stopped their chitchat and stood in attention, their guns against their chest. “Rosebud Hood.” I told them. “Here to see the Woodsman.” They nodded in response. The guard on the left gripped the handle of the door and opened it for me.

“Thank you.” I said before walking through the open door.

“Is that her?” I heard one of the guards say as the door close behind me.

“Yeah, I think so.” The other guard said as the door shut close.

I walked down yet another dark corridor lit by flickering orbs of lights for about an hour until I came to yet another black metal door. I knocked on the door with my knuckles exactly three times and wait. A small rectangular slot built into the door slid open and a pair of greyish, dead-looking eyes appeared in the rectangle-shape hole. The eyes scanned me, and then they go wide, as if in disbelief. It really had been a while since they seem me.

After a minute of staring at each other, the man behind the door, in a low and rough voice, asked me: “Black sheep, have you any wool?”

I answer back: “Yes sir, three bags full.” The slot slid closed. With a click, the door slowly opened and a tall and bald man bowed to me, welcoming me inside the Woodsman’s hideout.

Being that it was once a storm drain for the city, the hideout must had been like an urban explorer’s paradise. The cement floors were covered with traps of different colors and brands. Magical orbs of flowing blue lights illuminated the dark area, revealing scaffolding that led to other massive tunnels. Halfpipes and other skate ramps were everywhere. Thin pipes were hanging from the ceiling and ran along the curved walls. People, mostly young boys, were hanging out and chatting, either on the skate ramps or on the scaffolding.

As soon as I walked into the room, all eyes were immediately on me. I paid them little heed and made my way across the room. There, on the other side of the side, was an arched doorway that was covered by an assortment of colorful hanging beads. I reached the doorway and pulled back the beads, making them jingle and rattle. Beyond the vein of colorful beads, was a large room.

The walls of the room were covered in light black drapes. A large, circular black shag rug was in the center of the room, and on top of the rug was a coffee table made of glass, which had a sender black vase filled with red roses on it. Beside the coffee table was a long black sofa with black throw pillows on it. Bookcases lined the walls, filled with books that were so old that their pages were falling out. A desk made from black wood sat on the other end of the room. Atop the desk was a pipe of papers and an inkwell with a quill pen inside of it. Behind the desk was a black, comfy-looking chair that was facing the wall behind it. Another orb of flowing white light illuminated the room.

“Woodsman, are you there?” I asked as I set foot into the room.

“Rosebud.” Said a masculine voice.

That was when I noticed the large man in the corner of the room, where the light of the flowing orb of light didn’t reached, yet despite the lack of illumination, I could still make out his features. He was bald, but had a short, red beard. He had alabaster skin and his body was well-toned and muscular. He was wearing a green flannel shirt and a pair of brownish pants held up by a black belt. He was leaning against the wall, his beefy arms folded across his chest. He hung his head as she spoke. “Last I check, you are in asylum.” He said. He looked up at me; his eyes were a dark and foreboding brown. “What are you doing here?” His voice was low, deep, and serious.

“Because you sent for me.” I answered.

“I didn’t send for you.” He said.

“Oh, yeah?!” I shouted, not caring if the boys in the other room could hear me. “Then why did you tell that guard at Lockwood to tell me ‘hey’?”

“I just-” He began to say, but then stopped. He placed a hand to his forehead. He half-sighed half-groaned as he removed his back from the wall and took a step toward me. “I just ordered that guard to keep an eye on you.” He explained. “For safety.”

I pulled back my hood, revealing my crimson hair. “I don’t need your protection.” I snapped.

“After what you done to get yourself committed to Lockwood,” He said as he took another step toward me. “I say you did need my protection.” His voice grew louder slightly. “Don’t you know it was only because of me you got out of that place, girl?”

“I-” I stopped myself before I could say something I would regret. I didn’t have to anger my boss, especially if that boss was the leader of the nation’s largest and most influential crime syndicate. I took in a deep breath before continuing. “I’m grateful to you, Woodsman. Really I am.”

“If you were really grateful then you would understand that you need to rest before you do anything else.” He said.

I couldn’t help but feel a little offended at what he was suggesting. “I didn’t become the number one huntress-thief of the largest crime syndicate in the nation by taking it easy, Woodsman!”  I protected, my voice growing loud and angry.

My boss groaned a long, loud, and angry groan. “You want to get back in the field so badly?” He stomped his way to the desk. He pulled opened one of the top drawers and reached inside. He pulled out two items: a cylinder that looked to be made from pure jade with gilded lids and a large rusted key. He tossed both items onto the desk. “Your assignment is in the container.” He said. “Use the key and you’ll find your stuff.”

I approached the desk and took the cylinder in my left hand and the key in my right, my eyes never looking up at my boss. I turned around and started walking toward the exit. I was in front of the doorway, about to pull back the hanging beads, when I head the Woodsman say: “You know that you don’t have to do this, right? You don’t own me anything.”

“Wrong.” I said. “I own you my identity.”

Chapter 4: The Huntress

Little Red Riding Hood. Notorious huntress-thief for the feared crime boss, Woody Lumberjack, also known as the Woodsman. Never in my young life did I think that would be my identity. In fact, when I was a little girl, I wanted to be an adventurer; traveling to far and exotic places. My grandfather used to be an adventurer before meeting my grandmother. I doubt they would be proud of me, seeing what their precious granddaughter have become. I didn’t blame them if they’re disappointed in me; I was disappointed in me.

Allow me to explain what my job was as a huntress-thief. You see, “huntress”, or “hunter”, were just another word for assassin. We hunt down persons and then eliminate them, hence why we are called “hunters” or “huntresses”. There were different kinds of hunters and huntresses; those whose jobs where more than just assassinating. For example, hunter-runners or huntress-runners were assassins who worked in the drug smuggling business. Hunter-eyes or huntress-eyes were assassins who doubled as detectives. There were the royal hunters and huntresses who worked for the sovereignty. Then there were the hunter-thieves and huntress-thieves like me. Our jobs were to not only eliminate targets, but to also steal from targets. Just last year, I was ordered to steal a prized piece of artwork from the home of a wealthy art dealer.

I had just exited the Woodsman’s hideout and was making my way through the busy streets of Gemstone. The sun was high in the sky and the gentle breeze flew through what leaves where left on the sturdy oak trees that lined the streets of the city. As I walked, I noticed the sidewalks glimmering with a blue sparkle; it was as if the sidewalks were made from real sapphires, and not artificial gems that looked like real ones.

I passed by clothing stores, delis, flower shops, and other small family-owned businesses. I walked pass one of the city’s public libraries, it’s marble columns glistening in the sunlight. The many apartment buildings towered over me, their glass windows reflecting the sun’s light. I had to look away by the time I reached the elementary school; the sight of happy children playing reminded me too much of my own childhood. I turned a corner and walked into a dark alley. At the end of the alley, was my destination: the abandoned train station on the outskirts of the city.

The station was built about seven hundred years ago, I think. It was built near the base of the gray, snowy-topped mountains that stood towering over the city of Gemstone. It was a modest, two-story building that was the length of a modern house. It’s once brilliant and vivid blue painted exterior was now a moldy, dark green. It’s brown, tilted roof was so worn that holes began to appear. Its windows were shattered, their shutters broken in halves. The benches that sat on the front porch were all broken in the center, which made sitting on them nigh impossible. The door that led to the inside was just barely attached to the doorframe; it was hanging on its side, freely swinging. Not too far away from the door, attached to the overhanging roof, was a sign that still displayed the train schedule. In front of the station was the train rail that was abandoned along with the station; it was now covered in tall grass and wildflowers.

I stepped onto the porch, which creaked and groaned under my feet. Carefully, I opened the door and entered the dilapidated train station. The wallpapered interior was just as worn-down as the exterior. Four long wooden benches, all of which were coated in dust, sat in the center of the small station. A small window was built into the wall opposite me. The glass of the window was cracked and looked as if it was about to fall out of the frame. The room behind the creaked window used to be the ticket office, but now, it was mostly a home for field mice, raccoons, or some other wild animal. I made my way to the back of the station, where a narrow hallway led to the back of the station, where the lockers were. I was surprised, but somewhat grateful, to find the door to the back porch still attached to the doorframe and still in one piece.

I pushed opened the door and stepped out onto the back porch. There was a lone bench that faced a meadow filled with flowers of many species. In the distant, I could make out a shape hidden among the grass and flowers. The shape lifted its head and I saw that it was a unicorn. Seeing a unicorn in the wild wasn’t uncommon, that was, if you lived in the countryside. Creatures like unicorns made it a point to steer away from largely populated areas. I briefly wondered why I hadn’t recognized the animal the second I saw it. Then I saw that, unlike most unicorns, that were pure white, this unicorn was gray. It’s coat, mane, tail, and even horn was gray, making it blend in well with the surrounding area. For a moment, I envied the beautiful creature and wished I could just blend in, not stick out, be like everyone else. I snapped myself out of my trance and tore my eyes away from the animal. By the time I looked back, the unicorn was gone.

I turned my attention to the lockers, which sat beside the lone bench. The metal of the lockers was rusted due to years of being left in the rain and snow. The lockers were rectangular containers, stacked on top of each other, forming a six-by-two grid. Each locker had a lock, which could only be open with you had the right key. Lucky for me, I was given the right key. I approached the locker that was on the lowermost-right of the grid, kneeled before it, and inserted the key into the lock. The moment I turned the key, the heavy lock became undone. I removed it from the door and placed it, along with the key, gently on the wooden floor.

Slowly, I opened the rusted door of the locker and peered inside. The locker held three items. One was a leather holster. The other was a thick, black, and cylindrical object that looked to be about a foot in length. Finally, there was a small green and black box made from cardboard. I pulled all three items out of the locker with the upmost care. With one hand, I held the holster and cylindrical object while keeping the small box squeezed between my arm and my side. With the other hand, I closed the door of the locker and placed the lock back on it. I knew that no one came to this station anymore, but I still didn’t want someone or something to know that I was there.

As I stood, I examined the holster and cylindrical object in my hands. The holster was small enough to fit around my waist. There were two pockets, one of which was designed to hold a large gun, the other was designed to hold a sickle with a particularly long handle. Along the belt of the holster, were seven small loops to fit up to seven bullets. It was designed to be lightweight, so not to be a hindrance to the wearer. I wrapped the holster around me and fastened it with the clasp. Once it was secured around my waist, I patted the leather of the belt a few times and, suddenly, it vanished. I patted the area where the belt should be and it reappeared. The holster was enchanted to turn invisible when the wearer pat it. Anything in the pockets or loops of the holster also turned invisible. The perfect way to conceal weapons while walking in public. The Woodsman had this thing made for me around the same time joined his gang, that was about seven years ago. I was mildly surprised that it still fit me.

After putting on the holster, I took the small box from under my arm and opened it. Inside, were seven large brass bullets that were wrapped in purple shell castings. The brass slugs shimmered like gold in the sunlight. I could tell that they were expertly polished; I could even see my reflection in them. I could tell that these weren’t the rounds that I usually use. These were bullets that the Woodsman had his friend made. This friend was a gunsmith who also made specialty bullets. The guns and bullets he made normally came at a high price, but as he was an associate of the Woodsman, he gave them to my boss at the low, low price of free. I wanted to get angry. I wanted to go back to the Woodsman’s hideout and demand that he gives me my usual ammunition, but as I took each bullet and placed them inside the loops of my holster, I reminded myself that I had already made my boss angry when I leave and that I didn’t want to have a falling out with him. I collapsed the small box and put it in the pocket of my jeans.

With the holster around my waist and the bullets in their place, I turned my attention to the black cylindrical object in my left hand. It felt cold, hard, and somewhat heavy in my hand. I twirled it a few times in my hand, tossing it from one hand to the other, before having it toward the sky. The metal of the object shone in the light. There was an engraving on the object that read, “ROSEBUD G. HOOD”, in bright red, cursive letters. I held the object toward the light for a moment, before swinging it down with all my might.

With that one swift and abrupt movement, a red rod, a similar shade of red as that of my hair, protruded from the black cylinder. The red rod extended in length, becoming longer than one foot; as it extended, it also became skinnier than the black cylinder. The moment it stopped extending, a large, long, curved blade appeared from the top of the rod; as the blade emerged from the rod, it made a sound like that of a sword being removed from its sheath. A shorter, but equally sharp, blade appeared from behind the longer one. In a matter of seconds, the black cylinder transformed into a scythe with a black grip, a long red snath, and two steel blades that could slice the toughest of skin.

It was impressive, how an innocent and slightly useless object can turn into a menacing weapon. And it didn’t end there. I threw the scythe in the air and I watched it transform again. The blades retracted within the rod, then the bronze rod retracted until all that remained was the black cylinder. I watched it land into my outstretched hand. As it did so, something popped out from underneath it: it was a red trigger surrounded by a red trigger guard. I watched as a single red bronze barrel protruded from the black cylinder. At the same time, the cylinder bent itself to create the handle. The scythe had changed back into its previous state, and from there it transformed into a single-barrel sawed-off shotgun. This type of shotgun was break-action, meaning I didn’t had to pump anything; I could just break it and load the shell inside. This kind of shotgun was also easier for me to use; I was still considered a novice when it came to guns.

I looked down at the gun. The engraving never left the handle of the weapon; both the scythe and the shotgun has my name etched into it. I cracked a smile. I had this thing for almost seven years; I never did a job without it. It was a birthday gift from my late grandfather; it was on that same birthday where my grandmother gave me my signature red hood. My grandfather, bless him soul, taught me how to hunt, how to fish, and how to survive. He had this made for me and showed me how to use it properly. He told me that the weapon was made with a mixture of technology and magic and that the creator, a craftsman from some major metropolis in Fairytale, was a friend of his. Next to my hood, it was my most treasured possession. As much as I got angry with the Woodsman, even I had to admit that he respected the sentimental value of objects.

I placed the gun in one of the pockets of the holster. I looked down at the floor and saw that the rusted key was still there. I picked it up and stuffed it in the pocket of my jeans; I intended to bring it back to my boss when I got the chance. I had my weapon, ammunition, my holster, and the name of my target was in the jade cylinder, which was in my backpack. Now, I was ready to get back to work.

To be continued in the next update.

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