“Don’t stop running!” the woman panted, dragging her son with her. The boy was scared and crying. He didn’t understand why his sister and father were not running with them. They ran for the hidden cave in the side of the mountain.
“It’s a little further, son,” his mother said as she tried to reassure him even as her chest was tight with fear, rage, and grief.
They made it to the river and she paused long enough to pick the small child up and leap over. She landed gracefully, set the child down and they continued to run.
She finally saw the barely visible cave. The child slid in first, followed by his mother. Following the path that she had taken many times, she found the room that was often used as a hideaway when things went wrong.
An hour had gone by and the woman started to relax. The child had cried himself to sleep a while ago; repeatedly asking for his father and sister. The mother started to cry now too. She would never see her daughter or husband again. The hunter had seen to that. With a mixture of grief and exhaustion, she fell asleep as well.
“Wake up beast!”
The woman jumped and grabbed for her son, but he was gone.
“Where is my son?” the woman screamed. She stepped towards the red-cloaked figured.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” a man standing in the entryway said. He was holding her son.
“Why are you doing this?” she cried.
The red-cloaked figure closest to her slid the hood back, exposing her long red hair.
The woman gasped, “No! What have we done to deserve this? Why have they sent you to kill us? We have lived peacefully in that village for years. We’ve never harmed anyone.”
She was crying now because she knew all was lost. There would be no saving her son.
“Because you’re a monster,” the redheaded woman hissed, drawing her sword.
“No, mommy!” the child screamed.
“It’s okay, baby. We are going to be okay,” she said, as she tried to soothe her child.
She began to shift into her true form and growled at the redhead. “No Little Red, you have it wrong. You’re the monster here.”
She jumped at the hooded woman, but it was no use. With her silver sword already in hand, the woman stabbed the werewolf through the heart. The wolf howled as it fell to the floor, and with the next blow, she took its head.
The child started screaming; the screams turned into howls of pain.
As she cleaned the blood off her sword she said, “Klaus, kill the child before he bites you.”
Bishop Lucius was standing in front of the window in his study. His study was above the sanctuary of the oldest church in Sweet Creek village. It had been built by the first settlers three generations ago.
“S-s-sir, th-they’re back and Cordelia is ri-right outside waiting to s-s-see you,” the Deacon said in his normally soft stuttering voice.
“Well, bring her in John. I’m sure she is tired and would like to get clean and eat,” the Bishop said, walking towards the door to greet her.
Deacon John scurried out the door and told Cordelia to go inside. The woman was obviously tired and in desperate need of a bath and her bed. She was still wearing her red, blood-stained traveling cloak.
“Cordelia, I’m glad to see you made it back alive. Were there any casualties?”
Cordelia pulled her hood back and knelt in front of the bishop, placing her head against his ring.
“Thank you, sir. I am sad to report we lost Will, Thomas, Edward, and Luke.” Looking up at the bishop she added, “We were successful in destroying the monsters we were sent to destroy, and on the way home we even stumbled upon a lair of six. Of course, they are no longer among the living.”
Beaming with pride, he pulled her to her feet. “Oh Cordelia, it was a wonderful blessing the day the Lord seemed fit to send you to us.”
The Bishop released her and walked back to his desk. “I assume you have destroyed the bodies of the four you lost.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes sir. We brought back a few of their belongings to give to their families. The men are all downstairs waiting for me to return. Cade will deliver the news and the items to their families.”
“Good, good. Tell Cade we will have a service for those brave souls tomorrow. Now, go tell the men to collect their pay from Deacon John and then go celebrate their return with their families,” the Bishop said, dismissing her.
“Yes sir,” she bowed her head and turned to leave.
She turned back to the Bishop. “Yes, sir?”
“Remind the men to leave Deacon John alone. He is such a nervous little man. It took him weeks to recover from your last return.” His voice was stern but there was a smile in his eyes.
She tried her best to cover the grin. “Yes sir,” she said and left to get the men paid.
Cordelia was the head of a special army designed by the church in the small village of Sweet Creek. It was their job to eliminate werewolves. She was not the only woman on the team, but she was the smallest; 5’6 with a slender build. 5’6 is not that short, but when you are standing next to men that range from 6’3 to 6’5 and other women that are at least 6’0, it makes you look little.
They all wore red cloaks as a symbol of the blood they were willing to shed to save themselves and their families from evil. The red cloak and her small size were how she had managed to earn the nickname, Little Red Riding Hood.
By the time Cordelia made it back to the sanctuary, the men were already harassing John. They weren’t physically touching him; they would never do that. There were other ways to harass a man as skittish as Deacon John. They told him tales of their adventures.
That was worse for the Deacon then actually touching him. Most of them had grown up with John so it was all in fun. He was always so small and timid; a very sickly child that wasn’t able to learn a trade. Joining the church had been his only logical choice.
“Alright, that’s enough!” Cordelia snapped as she stepped off the bottom step. “Leave the Deacon alone, he doesn’t want to hear any of your stories. Do you John?” she asked, putting her arm around him. He was a few inches smaller than her and had never quite filled out like the rest of the men.
He shook his head rapidly and he allowed her to lead him away from the group. “N-n-no Cordi.”
They were all laughing. The excitement in that room at being home was touchable.
“John, if you would be so kind as to pay this lot, we will be out of your hair.”
She walked over to Cade to pass along the message from the Bishop. Cade was Cordelia’s second in command and very loyal. He was also huge. Cade was the tallest in the group with strong broad shoulders and very long muscular legs.
He was an extremely handsome man and if she was ready to settle down, Cordelia would have definitely gone after him. Their timing never seemed to match up, but he understood better than anyone else the way of their life.
His blondish red hair was matted with blood and other things you didn’t want to know about. It was impossible to kill as many werewolves as they had without getting bits all over.
Cade sat in a pew waiting for his turn to get his money. He grinned at Cordelia when she sat down beside him. “Cordelia you have a bit of fur on your ear,” he said, reaching up and taking it off.
He held it up and laughed, “Maybe I’ll give it to John when it’s my turn.”
Cordelia laughed, “Don’t do it, he’d probably pass out.” Becoming serious again she said, “Look, the Bishop wants you to tell the families that services will be held tomorrow.”
He suddenly looked solemn and older than his twenty-four years. “I hate this part of the hunt.”
“Do you want me to do it?” she asked, hoping this time he wouldn’t say yes.
Cade sighed loudly and shook his head. “You ask me this every time and every time I tell you no. Besides, you know just as well as I do, everyone already knows we are here and who made it home. They are just looking for confirmation and their loved one’s items.” He rose slowly, looking tired. “Come on; let’s go get our money so we can get cleaned.”
After guaranteeing that everyone was paid and sorted, Cordelia walked through the church and out the back to her home. She lived in a cabin at the edge of the woods on the church’s property. She would have to go into the village to get food and supplies because she had been gone so long there wouldn’t be anything there for her to eat, but she couldn’t face anyone at the moment.
As she unlocked the door, she caught the smell of something so delicious it made her stomach tighten. Sitting on her kitchen table was a pot and a note,
I saw you guys return and I took it upon myself to bring you some of my famous chicken soup. I also drew you a warm bath on your back porch so hurry up and get in there girl, before it gets cold.
Cordelia smiled fondly at her neighbor’s note. Helen always seemed to know everything, and at that moment she couldn’t have been more grateful for her elderly, nosy neighbor.
She washed her hair in a separate bucket and it took her three washes before it was finally clean. It wouldn’t take so long if she would just cut it short, but she liked having her hair long. She always had to be tough, and she was surrounded by so much death and violence that her long hair was the one thing that kept her feeling feminine.
Finally, she was able to climb in the tub. It was nice to soak in silence and not have to worry about being picked on or seen by the boys. Traveling with that many guys and only four other women, being naked wasn’t an issue. No one could afford to be shy.
Cordelia made it a personal rule never to mess around with the men under her command. Hell, she made it a rule not to mess with anyone. There were plenty of them in the village that would take her up on an offer if she made one, but she never made one. To be fair none of the men under her command would even think about her that way because of Cade. She knew that Cade would marry her; hell everyone knew that Cade would marry her, but she wasn’t ready.
The water barely covered her small round breasts and she ran her hand over them; pinching them, thinking of Cade. A soft sigh slipped through her lips, and her eyes closed. It had been a long hard trip and Cordelia needed the release. It didn’t take long for her to feel her body tighten and with a deep shuddering breath, she slid under the water.
The water was quite cold by the time Cordelia finally decided to get out, but the soup was still warm and she made a large bowl. Their food supply had run low because it had taken a little longer than they thought it would. She hadn’t eaten the last couple of nights to guarantee there would be enough.
It felt wonderful to be at home. As she crawled into her cold bed, she began thinking about how she got to be where she was now. The story she had been told was that her mother had come running into the church carrying her and she was covered in blood.
Cordelia’s family had been attacked just outside the city by a werewolf. Apparently, her father and grandmother were both killed in the woods. She was two at the time of the attack, so she wasn’t sure of the details. Her mother had also been attacked but managed to kill the wolf and get to the city. She died later that night from her wounds.
“God was looking out for you Cordelia. It was His hand that brought your family to us. And out of tragedy comes great opportunities,” Bishop Lucius would say to her.
Cordelia was raised in the church with the help of her neighbor, Helen. She grew up with a strict routine. The Bishop was conditioning her to be the best hunter they had ever seen. Even as a small child, she would wake up early and start her day with drills, and then it was off to school followed with more drills.
She was expected to help prepare dinner and clean up afterward. Nights usually ended with a bath, followed by nightly prayers, then bed. Whenever she tried to avoid something, she would hear the Bishop saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground, Cordelia. Remember that, or you might be tricked into believing the devil’s lies.”
That was something she always believed in. She worked hard, and by the time she was fifteen she was able to take down most of the other recruits. Most, but not Cade, he was the only one she could never bring down. She made it her mission to bring him down.
Five years later they had their last round of competitions so the Bishop could make his decision on who moved up into the special army. It came down to Cordelia and Cade. They were best friends and had trained together daily. They were equally matched in everything except strength and speed. Of course, he had the strength, and she had the speed.
“Remember keep it clean!” Bishop Lucius called from his seat high above the field they were sparring on. Leaders from other villages and older guards that were retiring or already retired were there on the sidelines to heckle them.
“Are you ready Cord?” Cade asked as he crouched down and started to circle her.
She smiled a wicked little smile, “Absolutely.”
Thankful for her speed and her size, she used them both to avoid getting caught by Cade. He was all strength and she would be finished if he got his hands on her. This was not to say he wasn’t fast because he was. He was a lot faster than most guys his size.
After a few missed swings Cade backed up and looked at her. She had a moment to brace herself. She planted her feet apart and crouched down low. Cordelia knew he was planning the best way to grab her and she was not going to let that happen.
She couldn’t just sit there and let him attack her on his terms, so she decided to taunt him. “What are you waiting for Cade? Not scared are you?”
People in the crowd cheered and yelled teasing insults at him.
“I’m just a small little girl, and you can’t even beat me?”
Cordelia saw his muscles tighten seconds before he charged and was ready for it; jumping to the left and rolled out of the way. She swung her sparring stick as he plowed past her, and it caught him on his thighs. It was immediately followed by another hit just below the back of his head. By the time he spun around to face her, she was back on her feet ready for him when his stick came at her.
She jumped, and Cade pulled his stick high catching her right calf. It stung, knocking her to the ground and throwing her off balance. Cordelia’s stick was already in motion, trying to hit his stomach, but instead, it caught him in the throat.
Cade grabbed his throat; for a brief moment he was truly angry, and he charged her again. In a split-second decision, she charged him too. Cade reached for her but missed as she dropped down and slid between his legs, bringing her stick up catching him on his spine.
Cordelia spun around and watched as he dropped to his knees. She used that opportunity to kick him in the back. The blow had knocked the wind out of him and his face hit the dirt.
Cordelia jumped on top of him and pulled his head up by his hair so she was able to place the stick across his neck. Cade had not had time to catch his breath before she cut his airway off. Her legs were on either side of him hooked around his arms, pinning them down. With her grip slipping, she began to change her position, that’s when she felt him no longer fighting her. She loosened her grip and his head hit the dirt.
There was silence throughout the crowd and then they erupted with clapping and cheering. Catching her breath Cordelia looked up, and as she slid off Cade, she noticed that even the Bishop was standing and clapping.
Joe, one of the older retired guards, came over to them and threw a bucket of water in Cade’s face. “Get up you big lug.”
Cade slowly lifted his head, spitting water and dirt out of his mouth.
Cordelia brushed his hair out of his face and wiped some of the dirt and water off. “Are you okay?” she asked. “I didn’t mean to get you in the throat. Honest.” It was very red and would be bruised in the morning.
His voice was raspy when he spoke, “I think I will be if I get up slowly.” He sat up slowly and shook his head as if he was trying to shake away the fog.
“How the hell did you do that?” he asked, rubbing his throat.
She smiled at him, “Luck.” Was all she got out before the Bishop started to speak.
“Well, it seems we have our new leader!” he said loudly quieting the crowd.
“Go get your well-earned promotion,” Cade whispered, smiling at her and she knew they were okay.
Cordelia smiled back at him and stood up as the Bishop walked towards her.
Bishop Lucius held his hand out and she bowed, placing her forehead on his ring, waiting for him to speak.
“Rise Cordelia, and take your place alongside the other Leaders. You have two days to choose your team, and until tomorrow night to choose your second in command. Choose wisely Cordelia, they will be the people you will have to trust with your life.”
He was silent for a moment and then placed his hands on her head. “Rise now and welcome to the League of the Red Hoods. Serve us with grace and honor. Most importantly never forget you serve the Lord and the work you do here on earth is all in His name.”
Cordelia stood and the applause was deafening. She couldn’t hide her smile as she went to join the other leaders that came from different villages to meet the new captain. The larger villages had their own teams. As the teams got older or died off, they were replaced with new members. Boys and girls were always training with hopes of becoming a Red Hood one day.
That had been three years ago and of course, no one had been surprised when she named Cade as her second. She believed that she got lucky that day and if she had not caught Cade in the throat, he would have won. She had mentioned that to him on several occasions. He always just smiled and said, “Cordelia, you were born to be the leader. Besides you are way more ruthless than I am.”
Cordelia was the youngest leader ever of the Red Hoods. Along the way, she had also received the reputation as being the most dangerous. Three years in, and she had already racked up the highest kill rate.
The Bishop had done his job of raising her to be a vicious warrior. Werewolves were monsters and had no place in their world. Whenever Bishop Lucius received word that werewolves have been discovered, he never worried that she would fail. Failure was not acceptable to him, or to her.