Cape as Red as Blood

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Prologue

They called her Red. It wasn’t her real name, but after the seventeen years she’d lived in Northern Ivuera, she’d discovered that you didn’t want people to know your name.

Red was perched in a tree, holding a wooden bow her Grandmother had carved for her. She eyed the bushes at the trunk of the tree, willing some sort of deer or rabbit to appear.

She was hungry, and she didn’t have all day.

Though her Grandmother had apples and blueberries and strawberries, Red couldn’t stand one more night of fruit for dinner. She had left early that morning and trekked into the woods to find them some proper dinner for once.

“Though dinner doesn’t seem to have to same idea.” Red grumbled to herself.

The cold December air made her teeth chatter. She wrapped her hooded cloak tighter around herself, though she stayed alert.

The scarlet-colored fabric was thin, and didn’t do much to warm Red, but it was her mother’s cloak, and she’d never left home without it.

A bush rustled nearby.

Red snapped to attention, loading the bow with an arrow she’d spent hours carving since she didn’t have the money to afford an iron one.

The bush rustled again, and this time Red knew which one it was. She squinted one eye.

A male deer, a buck, jumped out of the bush. Red smiled as she lined up her sights, aiming for the buck’s heart.

“Stop!”

The cry came from behind her. Red made a strangled sound of disbelief as the buck was startled into a run in the other direction. Even if she did shoot, the deer wouldn’t be fatally harmed, and she would loose an arrow.

Red bristled as she turned to find a girl, about her age, standing at the bottom of the tree. She had dark skin, even darker hair, and hazel eyes that shone in the midday sun. The girl looked up at Red and smiled.

Smiled.

Red was fuming as she climbed down the tree. “Why did you do that?”

The girl laughed. “Do what? Save the deer?”

“That was my dinner.” Red hissed. “You scared away my dinner.”

The girl cocked her head curiously. “He is grateful you did not kill him.”

Red snorted. “How would you know?”

“It is my gift.” The girl explained.

Red’s eyes widened. “You’re...you’re Modified?”

“No.” The girl said. “I was born with it. My parents were, though.”

Genetical Modification had been going on for years. Her grandmother could barely recall a time where it wasn’t present in her life, but Red had grown up with it from the moment she was born. It started out small, and was mostly used on models. Slimmer waists, fuller lips, etcetera. But then the government made it more. A few years before Red’s parents were born, the supernatural modifications begun. People were injected with what they called Agent M, and suddenly fire shot from their fingertips. Or they could read your mind. Or they could move at unimaginable speeds. But the government didn’t stop there. They began to create an army, one as powerful as the animals they could shift into—wolves. In the blink of an eye, the soldiers could change into a wolf, each one unique, each one more deadly than you could ever imagine.

Now, Agent M was something you were most likely born with. If there was enough of it, you were born with a mutation. Some sort of supernatural ability.

Red counted herself lucky that Agent M wasn’t passed on to her. Red was power-free, completely human, and she was grateful.

“My name is Piper.” The girl—Piper—spoke, and it drew Red back to the present.

“I’m Red.” She paused, studying Piper. The girl looked young, younger than she most likely was. “What did you say you could do?”

Piper grinned. “I can talk to animals.”

Red nodded. “Right.”

“And you?”

“I’m...” Red searched for a word. “I’m normal.”

Piper did not flinch. “Lucky you.”

“What?”

Piper’s eyes wandered toward the place where the buck had scrambled off only moments ago. “It’s fun, being able to talk to animals. But it’s also a burden. I...I live out here because my own father thought I had gone insane and disowned me.”

Red felt something like pity, then the familiar red-hot anger. She’d despised Agent M all her life. “I’m sorry.” She said, and she meant it for once. “I knew some people didn’t like the modifications, but I didn’t know people reacted like...that.”

Piper nodded. “Would you like to come to my cabin? It’s close, and it’s warm.”

Red’s teeth chattered as a gust of ice-cold wind passed though the clearing. “You had me at warm.”

Piper laughed. “Let’s go, then. I’ll make tea and cookies. We can discuss just how messed up this world is”

Red rolled her eyes, but followed Piper. “It is messed up. But unless you have some sort of dinner for me, I’ll have to refuse.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, Red.” Piper called. “You want the best cookies you’ve ever tasted? Then follow me.“

“Well, if they’re the best cookies ever, then I’ll have to take a look.” Red declared, then looked up and cried out as an owl dove for them, cawing and flapping it’s brown wings.

“Oh, that’s just Hypatia. Don’t mind her.” Piper said calmly, holding out her arm for the owl to land on. It did, gracefully. “She gets cranky when people steal her cookies.”

Hypatia cut a glare at Red and cawed a few times.

“Use that language again and I’ll pluck you, Pat.” Piper said. “Her name is Red, and she’s a guest.”

The owl made a disgusted sound, something that was so human Red would have laughed if she wasn’t so terrified.

And then, the owl began to change. Piper dropped her arm with a sigh. “She’s a shifter.” She explained as a small house came into view. It almost resembled her own house back with grandmother, except Piper’s house was brown, not grey.

Hypatia finished changing, and then there was a girl standing in from of them. Her brown hair was cut to a bob, and her slanted eyes glared at Red.

The thing that sent Red into fits of laughter was the fact that Hypatia couldn’t have been more than five feet tall.

“Do we have to invite her in?” Hypatia asked Piper. “Her face makes me want to throw up.”

Red’s laughter stopped. She was still grinning, but the mad giggling had receded. “Likewise, bird-girl.”

“To answer your question, yes.” Piper said. “It’s cold, and it’s getting dark.” She turned to face Red. “You can use my port-phone to call your grandmother once we get inside.”

Hypatia was already slamming the door behind her.

Red narrowed her eyes. “How do you know about my grandmother?”

Piper grinned. “The deer said you were muttering today yourself. Something about your grandmother and fruit.”

“That sounds about right.”

Piper clapped her hands together and let out a puff of air that was now visible with the dropping temperatures. “Let’s go inside before Hypatia finds the cookies and hides them. She does that sometimes, and it’s nearly impossible to find her in owl form.”

Red chuckled as Piper led her inside.

It was warm, and Red was grateful.

“Tea, cookies, and a warm house.” She mumbled to herself. “What more could a girl want?”

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