The Red Rider D.A. Randall
I gripped my crossbow as I approached the tavern, ready to fight whatever wolves I found inside. This had become my life.
I had approached La Maison de Touraine on horseback a few minutes earlier, clomping across the cobblestone streets, my red hooded cloak wafting behind me in the chill wind. I could hear the revelry inside La Maison, beyond the two men loitering on the front stoop. I recognized them both from the first night I had entered the tavern two months ago. One of them was squat and chubby, the other one tall with a thick moustache. Both had looked surly and itching to fight.
Their eyes now bulged at the sight of me, a dark hooded figure in trousers and boots atop a fiery red horse, as I pulled Crimson to a halt. They recognized me as well. They also remembered that, beneath the imposing hood, I was a mere sixteen-year old girl with blonde hair and a scarred face. Nevertheless, they parted for me like the Red Sea, stepping back with weak smiles. The shorter man half-bowed as if I were the Queen. “Evening, Mademoiselle,” he said, keeping his head down.
“Evening,” I answered dully, striding past him. We weren’t friends. He seemed content not to be my enemy.
I didn’t tie up Crimson, but left him standing at the hitching post. He would wait for me. And one fiery snort from him rattled the men enough to ensure they wouldn’t harass him.
I pushed open the oak double doors, entering the offensive smoke and din of La Maison. A din that diminished to near silence as the revelers saw me. My boots clomped across the floorboards as I strode to the bar. Everyone gradually returned to their table conversations, though in quieter tones. Behind the counter, the tavern keeper, Gerard Touraine, busied himself polishing a mug. He barely glanced up at me. As I approached, the three men seated on stools before him slid off their seats and moved away to other tables.
Touraine kept staring down at the mug he was cleaning as he said, “Order a drink.”
I spread my cloak behind me and sat on the barstool. “A quart of your finest ale, Monsieur.”
Touraine soured at my attempt at humor. “Or perhaps some water, until you’re much older,” he said. He grabbed a separate pitcher beneath the counter to fill a mug for me. “Don’t look yet, but there’s a big man in the corner who seems to be one of them. He’s been talking about the recent wolf attacks all night with his cronies there. I assume they’re part of it, too, but he must be one, don’t you think?”
Touraine turned his back to me to scrub the rear counter. I turned slowly to survey the room, taking my time to “discover” the large man he had noticed. Before my eyes fell on him, I spied the man in question from the corner of my eye.
But I wasn’t backing down anymore.
I let my gaze settle on him as he stared back at me. I studied him another few seconds, long enough for several others to see me watching him. To think I had spotted him myself out of the crowd without Touraine’s assistance.
The man stopped talking and grinned at me.
I strode toward his table. His friends jerked upright in their chairs, but the man himself simply leaned on one elbow to watch me approach. I drew closer, amazed at how his size dwarfed those around him. Could he actually be nearly seven feet tall?
I stood before the silent table in my flowing cloak. He stared at me from beneath a clump of black hair that fell across his eyes like dead leaves. A jagged scar ran down the left side of his face, like someone had tried to cut straight into his skull.
“Enjoying yourself?” I said at last.
“Immensely,” he said, his voice thick as granite. “And you?”
“I will be, by night’s end,” I said.
“Now that sounds promising.” He leaned forward, as if hoping to attract me. “Though I must say, you’re not much of a prize with that face. You look as though you were attacked by some animal, like a large wolf. Did we do that?”
My nerves flared. I could almost feel the triple scars burning across my face. This man had no shame and no fear. His associates gasped and fidgeted in their seats, but he made no effort to hide that he was one of the men who could transform himself into an oversized wolf.
That he belonged to the sinister wolf cult called the Lycanthru.
“I see you’ve got your own scar,” I said evenly, masking my fear and rage.
He ran his meaty palm down the side of his jaw, tracing the single jagged line. “Small disagreement with a man. He decided to settle it by scraping a broken glass across my face. That was shortly before I acquired real power. After that, I settled the affair with him permanently. Of course, my scar doesn’t run as deep as yours. Still, some women find it attractive.”
“Some women are stupid,” I said.
“Doesn’t matter,” jibed the man sitting beside him, suddenly sitting taller and flashing a vicious smile. “He’s only interested in one woman, eh, Grenault?”
Several of the men laughed in a way I didn’t like.
The leader – Grenault – folded his hands on the table, still smiling. “You must be the one they call ‘The Red Rider’.”
“I must be.”
“I like the color of your cloak. The color of blood. If anything bad happened to you, it would be difficult to sort out the cloak from the girl, shrouded in all that bloody mess.”
I clenched my jaw. “You’ll have no trouble finding the mess,” I said. “You’ll be swimming in it.”
“Fierce, isn’t she?” he said to the others as he kept his eyes on me. “I am Luc Grenault. Soon to become the new Prime.”
I inhaled slowly. He was far more ambitious than most Lycanthru. Making him far more dangerous. “Does the current Prime know you plan to replace him?”
“The Lycanthru have grown timid,” he said, his eyes blazing. “When our order becomes frightened of a little scarfaced girl, it’s time for a change in leadership.”
“How fortunate for them that you’ve volunteered to take over. If you live long enough.”
“No need to fret about my welfare, Mademoiselle. And the Lycanthru will be all too eager to follow me and my friends in the new order, once I deliver you to them, dead or barely alive.”
I shrugged. “We all have goals.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “However, we don’t all have claws and fangs.”
“We don’t all need them,” I said, pushing my cloak away from the repeating crossbow hanging from my hip.
The other men recoiled. They knew that each of my bolts had been tipped with silver. And that even a trace of silver would kill them – in human or wolf form – within seconds.
Grenault didn’t flinch, but fixed his eyes on me like a hungry crocodile. “Well. Aren’t you intimidating?”
“I can be. When properly motivated.”
“Forgive me,” he said jovially, leaning back. “I’m being rude, aren’t I? Let me introduce you to my associates. This is Gregor Verona and Thayer Gillette. Thayer is a police deputy so ask him any questions you have about the law. Gregor is an apprentice to Doctor Renoire so he can let you know what will happen to each of your extremities if you lose too much blood.” The two black-haired men at the end of the table flashed charming smiles that chilled my spine.
"The rest of us work in the coal mine, mostly, and share a house together. Robillet Neuville and Tumier Baguette …” He extended his arm toward the other end of the table, where a smooth-skinned man gave a less frightening smile, while the man beside him grinned like a child pulling the wings off a fly.
“And finally, my closest friends, Devereaux Charlet, always spoiling for a fight …”
The tall man on his left narrowed his eyes at me, looking ready to leap across the table and tear me apart.
“… and Jareau La Rue. I’ve taught him everything I know, which I’m sure he’s eager to demonstrate to you. Eh, Jareau?”
The blond man frowned at me, jutting his chin. “More than eager, Grenault.” He leaned over the table, like a panther ready to strike. “I’m hungry for it.”
I clenched my fists to mask my fear. I had not felt this unsettled in weeks, when I first confronted the Lycanthru. As I approached this table tonight, Grenault showed no fear of me, but the others did. However, they were now following his lead. Arrogant. Defiant. Malicious. They knew I could kill them, but no longer gave in to their fear. Eating away at my main advantage.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I can end all of your cravings, permanently.” I glanced around the table to meet each vicious gaze. Not one man averted his eyes. Each one was ready to fight, and they had me grossly outnumbered. If they attacked now, in close quarters, I couldn’t stop them. Thank God they wouldn’t expose their true nature in front of witnesses.
“Don’t be so sure,” Grenault said, looking me up and down. “My cravings grow stronger every day.”
“Yeah,” Devereaux chimed in again. “For Lisette.”
My blood chilled. “Who?”
Grenault paused, narrowing his eyes on me a moment. “A handsome woman I’ve seen about town. Nothing to concern you, Mademoiselle.”
I felt my cheek twinge. My skin bristling. “You stay away from her.”
He lifted his chin, looking amused. “Is she important to you, Mademoiselle? That would make her taste even sweeter.”
I fought to keep my breathing steady. To keep my fists from trembling. “You stay away from everyone in La Rue Sauvage!”
He continued to study me with a look of delight. “Unlike the rest of the Lycanthru, I don’t take orders from a little girl. This is a new order, Mademoiselle. You’re dealing with me now.”
I clenched my teeth. “Unfortunately for you, you’re dealing with me.”
I held his gaze a moment longer before turning to march out the double doors. They would follow me, with Grenault leading the way. Trusting they could tear me to shreds before I fired off a shot. Which they could.
I didn’t have much time.
Little Red Riding Hood isn’t little anymore.
My name is Helena Basque. I’m sixteen years old. As a child, I was attacked by a savage wolf that killed my Grand’Mere and left me with triple scars across my face. That wolf belonged to the Lycanthru, a secret cult of men who transform into wolves to attack the innocent here in La Rue Sauvage. No one will stand up to them, so I now hunt the wolves myself with weapons that destroy them, wearing my red hood and cloak that the wolves have come to fear.
Except for one, a new Lycanthru named Grenault. Bigger, stronger, more cunning than the other wolves, and not the least bit afraid of me. I need to stop him fast, before he takes over the Lycanthru to kill me and everyone I love.
But he’s too smart and too strong, He sees me for the little girl I am, scared and defenseless without my special weapons.
And I have no idea how to stop him.
Get ready to battle the beast.
D. A. Randall writes fantasy and action thrillers that read like blockbuster movies with action-packed fun and inspiring heroes who square off against diabolical villains while facing their own moral dilemmas. He also writes action-adventure and suspense thrillers under his given name, Randall Allen Dunn.
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