Chapter 2

The Girl in the Red Cloak

*Knock, Knock*

"Who, is it?" asked a young girl who yawned, as she lazily woke up in her bedroom.

"It's me, can I come in?" said a woman, from outside the bedroom door.

"Okay…" she yawned again as she attempted to go back to sleep.

The woman opened the door, and entered the bedroom. She had short bright red hair, wore a white apron with faded stains, over a yellow sun dress.

"Good Morning, Scarlet." she smiled.

"Good morning, Mom." she mumbled, with her face in the pillow.

The woman moved toward the window on the left side of the bedroom and opened the curtains. Allowing bright rays of sunlight to enter and illuminate the room.

"It's time to wake up, Scarlet." her mother said, with a delightful morning smile.

"Hmmm…. five more minutes." Scarlet mumbled, with her face still in the pillow.

"Listen Scarlet, breakfast will be ready in an hour. So, I suggest you take a shower and get ready for school."

Scarlet picked her head up from the pillow, and peeked at the clock which sat on top of the night table, positioned to the right side of her bed.

"It's only 8 a.m. Mom, and I told you that I don't have any classes during exam week." Scarlet spoke slowly before letting her face fall back into the soft embrace of the pillow.

Scarlet's mother sat next to her. "I know that, but it's the last day of your finals, and I think it would be best if you were to get some last-minute studying in before you take your exam."

Scarlet rolled onto her back and faced her mother. "Don't worry, I've studied enough."

"Besides," Scarlet yawned. "It won't another written exam this time today." She then sat up straight.

"Oh yes, that's right. It'll be the physical exam you told me about…. with all the weapons, and the punching, and kicking, and—"

"Mom, you're doing it again." Scarlet sighed.

"Oh, sorry sweetheart. It's just…well…."

"I'll be okay mom, I promise." Scarlet, while still half asleep leaned in and hugged her mother.

"I know Scarlet, I know…" She hugged her back, and pecked her forehead.

"Can I go back to sleep now?"

"Yes, you may" She sighed.

"Cool." Scarlet mumbled with her face already planted in her pillow.

"I'll call you when breakfast is ready, but don't make me have to come in here and drag you out of bed."

"Okay," Scarlet waved sluggishly as her mother walked out of her room.

Later, after getting enough sleep, Scarlet wandered over toward her window, and watched the sun rise over the town of Tora'Cai. She smiled gently, and her emerald eyes sparkled, the moment they were touched by rays of sunlight. Proudly wearing a cheerful expression, Scarlet exited her bedroom, looking forward to what the day might have to offer her.

After she completed her morning routine in the bath room, Scarlet returned to her room wearing a bathrobe, and a towel wrapped around her head; feeling refreshed. Scarlet stepped toward the closet on the right side of the room, where she remembered the set of clothing that she had picked out from the night before. Scarlet opened the closet door and found what she was looking for, hanging off the door hook. She began to dress herself in a white blouse, and a black tie that wrapped around its collar, with a red blazer to match her culottes, and a pair of black Velcro boots. Scarlet then went back into her closet and pulled out a bright red cloak, embroidered with a rune that resembled the sun. The cloak flapped in the air as Scarlet threw it on, and then looked toward the mirror that sat on top of her dresser to examine her outfit.

Satisfied with her appearance, Scarlet opened the upper left drawer of her dresser, and picked up a wand, with her last name carved in on the side.

The magical tool was issued to her on her first day of school, at Alcaster academy, an institute which teaches the next generation of witches, wizards, alchemists, and shamans, in any or all fields of magic. All students who enroll are required to choose at least one elemental magic to study, whichever element they choose will determine which dormitory they belong to. The element Scarlet chose to study corresponded with the uniform color she was given.

Before closing the drawer, she also picked up her school ID, and placed it and her wand in the inner pocket of her blazer, then left her room again. As she walked down the hallway, Scarlet briefly glanced at her family portraits, which were ordered in a chronological pattern thanks to her mother. The series of pictures started with her parents' wedding day, the birth of her older sister, her own birthday, the birth of her little brother. And finally, their most recent family portrait, taken eight months ago at her sister's new home in the city of St. Coraline.

When Scarlet entered the kitchen, she was excited by the variety of different aromas coming from the kitchen table, where her father and brother were already sitting. Her father sat at the head of the table, reading a newspaper, and unlike the rest of the family, he had dark blue hair and wore horn-rimmed glasses. Her mother, and to her surprise, her older sister Ruby, were putting the finishing touches on the table. Ruby was taller than her sister, and had raspberry colored hair fixed into a pony tail.

"Ruby?" Scarlet's eyes widened in astonishment.

"What are you doing here?" she said excitedly, while rushing over to her.

"I'm here to see you graduate of course." Ruby giggled, and opened her arms.

The two girls hugged each other tightly while jumping up and down in excitement.

"But you're here early." Scarlet said, holding her sister's hands. "Like really early."

"Yea well, I've been stockpiling vacation days for a while now, and thought that this would be a good time to use them." Ruby smiled.

"I missed you, so much" Scarlet said, embracing her sister once more.

"I missed you too" Ruby said, hugging her back.

The family sat down around the dining table, and began dishing out their own shares of breakfast.

"Aw, I miss your cooking so much, Mom." Ruby said, after munching on a biscuit.

"I almost regret moving out on my own." she giggled. "Working at the hospital for almost twenty hours, doesn't leave me much time to cook a decent meal for myself. I usually end up ordering out."

"You know Ruby, you're always welcome to move back in" her father, Adam said.

"That's tempting, but you know I can't do my job from here."

"Yea Dad, don't encourage her." Scarlet's younger brother, Evan complained. "Let's focus on expanding my room after Scarlet moves out" he laughed.

"There's no way you're taking my room, after I move out." Scarlet scoffed.

"How are you gonna stop me when you're not living here anymore, huh?" He stuck his tongue out at his sister.

"Cut it out Evan, you're not taking anyone's room." Adam said, before taking a sip of his coffee.

"Aww, why not?"

"Because I'm going to turn it into a lab."

*Cough* *Cough* Scarlet almost spit out the orange juice she was drinking, in reaction to what her father said.

"A lab? You're going to turn my room into a lab?" The shock on her face was more than enough to make her brother laugh.

"Yes," Adam nodded. "Although it won't be as big as my lab at work, but…the room should suffice for when I do extra-curricular projects."

"Extra-curricular projects? ...In my room?!... are you serious!?" Scarlet couldn't believe what she heard.

"Oh yea, he's serious." Ruby patted her on the shoulder while wearing a toothy grin. "I felt the same way when mom turned my room into a storage unit for her weird collections."

"By weird, I assume you mean rare and very valuable." Her mother said proudly. "Besides, I left your room untouched until I was sure you had settled down on your own."

"And I'll do the same. So, you have nothing to worry about, Scarlet." Her father said.

Scarlet leaned back in her chair and sighed. "I guess your right…but the thought of you using my room to dissect frogs or cow brains just creeps me out" she cringed when the image came to mind.

"That's not even close to what Alchemy is." Adam chuckled, and his daughter replied with a shrug.

"Anyway, with your graduation about two weeks away, have you made up your mind on what you want to do?" her father asked, changing the subject.

"Of course," Scarlet's face lit up. "I'm going to become an agent of Valor! Next month their guild will be hosting registrations at the Coventos Capital city."

"Wait, you want to join a bounty hunter guild?!"

"Dad, that's not who they are anymore! They actually help people, and have been sanctioned by the Coventos sovereignty."

"Be that as it may, that line of work can be dangerous. You'd probably be hunting groups of bandits and other wanted criminals!"

"That's not all they're known for." Ruby interjected. "Valor provides protection for the supply routes that go to my hospital and many other clinics."

"See! It's not like I'm going off to join a war. I just want to be someone that people can rely on when there's trouble."

"Scarlet there must be safer ways to accomplish that without using any violence." Her mother said.

"It's only as a last resort. That's why I've been training at school, so I can be ready for anything."

"But what if you're not ready?" Her father asked.

"I am."

"How can you be so sure? You've never been in a real fight."

"Neither have you!" She shouted, slamming a fist on the table.

"Scarlet!" Her mother exclaimed, disapproving of her daughter's behavior.

Scarlet glared at her parents for a moment, and then stood up from her chair saying.

"I should get going, my exam is in an hour, may I be excused?"

"…Yes, you may." Her father replied after a long pause.

Scarlet picked up her empty plate and placed it in the kitchen sink before storming out through the front door.

"Damn it…." Adam sighed, taking off his horn-rimmed glasses and resting his face in his hands.

"I'll go talk to her." Charlotte said, standing up from her chair.

"No mom, I've got it." Ruby interjected, and then rushed off after her sister.

Scarlet had reached the end of the street before Ruby had caught up with her.

"Scarlet! Wait!" She shouted.

"What is it?" the fire mage finally stopped and listened.

"I can't speak for Mom and Dad. Maybe they just need more time to adjust, but I want you to know that I believe in you. And you're going to be a great Valor agent someday."

Scarlet then moved in and hugged her sister tightly.

"Thank you."

"Just promise me that you'll be careful, okay?"

"I will."

Scarlet waved her sister goodbye and then continued to walk, and cross several streets and roads for about ten more minutes until she reached the Tora'Cai transit station. From there, she made her way inside and checked the schedule, to see which available bus would take the least amount of time to get to the school. In total there were ten buses that traveled in and out of the town. Out of the ten buses, there were only four that stopped nearby the main entrances of the academy.

According to the schedule Scarlet read. The number one would take her directly to the northern entrance in twenty-five minutes, but that bus had already left. The number two would take her to the western entrance in half an hour, but that bus had left as well. The number three would take her to the eastern entrance in forty-five minutes, unfortunately that bus had left also. The number four would take her to a bus stop nearby the southern backdoor entrance in fifty minutes. Luckily for her, the number four was still at the station awaiting its new passengers.

Steam billowed from the roof of the bus as its engine hissed with anticipation. The driver leaned back behind the wheel, reading a folded newspaper with one hand, while sipping coffee from his thermos in the other. To his left, the engine continued to simmer down and hiss, as if it were whispering like a wisp. The six-wheeled vehicle sported a royal blue paint job, with curved golden stripes wrapped around the edges.

*Knock, Knock* Scarlet tapped the fiberglass window of the door, getting the drivers attention.

He put down his thermos and reached for a lever that would open the door inwardly. Scarlet then approached the driver and pulled out her Alcaster student ID card to show him. After glancing at it, the driver nodded in acknowledgement, and let her onto the bus free of charge. Scarlet walked in and sat near the front row of the bus which contained at least twenty-five seats. About six minutes later, after several other passengers showed their own ID cards –or paid the transportation fee—, the driver began to refuel the engine by scooping out the coal that was inside of a metal bin, which sat bolted to the floor next to his chair.

Once the engine started up with a fiery passion, the driver took his seat, pulled the emergency brake lever, and stepped on the pedal.

*Whistle* the whistle blew as the bus finally began to leave the transit station

As the bus traveled through the town, Scarlet saw the various trade stores, and buildings that made Tora'Cai the town it had been for many generations. Including its very own hospital, which was small in comparison to the one her sister worked at.

After the bus finally made its way outside of the town, it made two more stops before it arrived where Scarlet needed to get off. Even though it did not stop at the academy's front door, it was the closest to the school the bus could take her.

"Thanks," She said to the driver as she got off.

The driver responded in kind, and then blew the whistle as the engine bellowed with fire in its belly. The red-haired teen briefly watched the vehicle push itself onward with a pillar of steam erupting from the roof.

Scarlet started to walk down an old abandoned road through the forest, which of course would lead to her destination. In the past half hour or so, the weather, which was once sunny, had now become cloudy. Scarlet sighed, annoyed by the droplets of rain that were now pelting her. She threw the hood of her cloak over her head and continued, feeling grateful that the rain wasn't heavy.

As she walked deeper down the road, and into the forest, the trees became increasingly larger, until they were big enough to shelter her from the downpour. After a half mile walk down the path, Scarlet noticed something odd. Instead of the hill that led toward the southern entrance of the school, she came across an unfamiliar oak tree in the middle of the road that looked dead, and had been decaying for decades. Scarlet stared at the old tree, not having the slightest idea how it got there, or why the road which she had taken many times before seemed longer than a half a mile. Standing in front of the dead tree, and waiting for an epiphany would have been a waste of time. So Scarlet walked around the obstacle and kept moving, however she still had a bad feeling about it.

Minutes later, Scarlet arrived at the same exact tree in the middle of the road.

"How in the…?" her words trailed off in confusion.

She turned around, and as expected, she couldn't see the place where the bus had dropped her off, let alone another dead oak tree. Scarlet glared at the tree one more time, before walking past it again.

"Third time's the charm…." She whispered, and then started jogging.

Unfortunately, her third trip did not make a difference.

"Damn it…" She removed the hood from over her head, and cursed at the dead tree in the road.

Scarlet turned around again, looking left and right. "There is only one explanation for this…" she thought to herself, and then shouted.

"Whoever you are! I know what you're doing! I don't know why you put me in this infinite loop, but you better undo this illusion before I do!" Scarlet then paused to give the culprit a chance to do what he or she was told.

But there was no response…

"Ugh…I seriously have no time for this!" the frustrated teen pulled out her wand, from within her blazer.

A spark of flame appeared at its tip, and then she waved it in a circular motion, creating four bulbs of fire. One facing north, south, east, and west around her, then she spun them around, closed her eyes to concentrate, held out her hand, and then said:

"Spirit of Fire, hear my call, unleash your power, and make this illusion fall." Scarlet opened her eyes seconds later, and saw the world around her come down like a flaming curtain, revealing the true reality that awaited her return.

The fire mage smiled when she saw the hill leading toward the school entrance, rather than that dreadful oak tree. Before she moved on, Scarlet turned around with both arms folded, and looked up into the trees.

"I don't care who you are! But if you mess with me again! I'll—"

*GROWL* the rumbling noise sent a disturbing chill down Scarlet's spine.

The warm breath she suddenly felt on the back of her neck made her flinch. She turned around quickly and staggered backward, taking a good look at the illusionist.

Standing before her on two legs, was a grey wolf-like animal that towered over her. Scarlet looked up, and saw his big sharp canines before their eyes met. The young witch could tell what the wolf's intentions were just by looking at him; the wolf's eyes had a demonic piercing yellow hue, and an emanating glow that screamed…. DEVOUR!

Slowly, she backed away further from the nine-foot-tall Lycanthrope, with a trembling wand pointed at his furry head. Scarlet looked at how feebly she held her wand, and bared witness to how her fear was beginning to manifest. She then grasped the tool with both hands, but that did not stop the trembling going through her hands, and the rest of her body.

A delighted devilish grin took form on the werewolf's face, once he saw the look of terror in those emerald green eyes. He then decided that it was time to have some fun.

"Are you lost?" he asked in a mockingly sarcastic tone, and the sound of his voice was savage and gruff.

"Wha…what?" Scarlet thought, confused about why he would ask such a thing.

"HEY!" he barked, making the young witch gasp and flinch.

"I asked you… a question!"

Scarlet took a breath and tried to compose herself, then answered. "No!" Her courage began to rebuild itself as she firmly gripped her wand.

The gray wolf merely chuckled. "Wrong answer!" he took a single step forward.

"After I am done…you will be lost…and you will NEVER! Be found!" the beast took another step closer toward his potential victim.

"St-Stay away!" Scarlet panicked, and ignited a ball of fire from thin air, and sent it flying toward the wolf.

Emanating with a bright red aura, his claws deflected the attack, with little to no effort.

"Pathetic…" he snarled, and drew closer.

Scarlet cursed, knowing full well that she could have done better than that. When she saw her hands start to tremble again, it became apparent that her fear began to hinder her ability to concentrate on even the simplest spell. Scarlet fired again, but the flame was knocked away just as easily as the last one.

"I…I can't do this…I have to get out of here…" The young witch thought to herself.

"Get away from me!" the witch shouted as she flicked her wand, igniting a small wave of flames.

Once again, the wolf equipped his claws with the same red aura, and ripped the wave apart. Although the flames managed to singe his fur, along with some grass and a tree or two, but it was not nearly enough to do any significant damage. The werewolf watched as his prey ran toward the closest exit from the forest. But he was not concerned; instead he was excited to continue his twisted game. The gray wolf held his head back, and let out a soft, but ominous howl.

Scarlet knew very little about werewolves, in fact, everything she did know came from rumors that she had heard in school, especially one which claimed that Lycanthropy were incapable of using magic.

The young witch witnessed even more evidence that the rumor was false when trees sprouted from the ground, blocking her path toward the main road. However, Scarlet refused to be fooled by another illusion so she charged into the wall of trees, only to be repelled by them, which caused her to tumble to the ground.

"Ow…" she groaned, before picking herself up.

A heavy hand grabbed the back of her neck and picked her up. "Kyaaa!" Scarlet screamed when she was thrown.

Scarlet looked up from the ground, and saw the wolf approaching her again, but beyond him she saw that the scene had slightly changed. It was no longer the old road she recognized.

"Come on…. get up. I don't want this to end too quickly." growled the gray wolf who had now started to walk on all fours.

At first, Scarlet crawled backward, and then she jumped to her feet and burst into a sprint, with that furry beast in hot pursuit.

"What do I do…What do I do!" Scarlet's mind was racing.

Scarlet started to scream. Even though it was probably pointless, considering how deep in the forest she was. She screamed as loud as she possibly could at the top of her lungs. Hoping that possibly someone would hear her and come to help her out of this dire situation.

Why!? Why the hell does this have to happen to me!? She thought to herself. "I'm supposed to be at school taking my stupid test right now!"

A dark seed of reality began to take root in her mind, and the thought of death closing in, and denying her the right to see her family again, brought her to tears.

"HELP!" she screamed.


The werewolf echoed a howled in the background. Apparently, he was her only audience. Time seemed to fly quickly, and Scarlet had no idea how long she had been running, maybe it was for hours, minutes or even seconds, but the werewolf was still behind her and despite how exhausted she was, Scarlet refused to stop running.

The young witch wondered just how long the gray wolf was going to toy with her. Although, it may have been a good thing, maybe there was still time for her to find a way out, or maybe the inevitable was just being delayed. After about ten more minutes of running. Scarlet could tell that the wolf was finally closing in for the kill.

"Hey! Get away from her!" barked an unknown voice.

"Back off! I saw this one first!" The grey wolf roared back, with eyes focused on his lunch.

Scarlet didn't immediately understand what was going on until….

*SLAM* *THUD* someone had crashed to the ground.

Scarlet slowed down, then hid behind a tree to catch her breath, wondering what in the hell had just happened. Was she just saved? Or was there just another animal competing for her life?

"I'll just take a quick look, and then I'll keep running…" She contemplated, before walking out from behind the tree.

Scarlet couldn't believe what she was seeing. There was a boy with dark disheveled hair, wearing black clothes sitting on top of the werewolf, holding him down, but just barely. Although the monster he was wrestling was twice his size, the werewolf struggled to get back up. The boy looked at her and she looked back at him. She paused when she noticed his wolf-like features and deep brown eyes.

"NOW'S YOUR CHANCE TO RUN, I'LL HOLD HIM…! He yelled at her.

"Thank you! "She shouted while backing away.

Scarlet took a good look at the boy before leaving. She wanted to know who he was, and why he saved her. But right now, her top priority was not wasting the chance he gave her. The young witch broke into a sprint, putting as much distance between herself and the wolves as possible. But moments later, Scarlet stopped running and turned around when she heard someone howl in pain.

Scarlet looked back, where she could hear a battle going on. She then looked elsewhere and realized that it didn't matter where she ran. Regardless of whether she was still in an illusion or not, Scarlet was nowhere near the academy or Tora'Cai for that matter.

"I can do this…" She tried to calm herself before running toward the scene of the battle.

After a few moments, Scarlet finally came back, only to see that the boy who had saved her life, was being pinned to the ground by the grey werewolf, who had his claws plunged into his stomach.

In that moment Scarlet quickly aimed her wand at the gray wolf. With fear no longer clouding her mind, she was free to focus her aura into a single point. In the next second she ignited a large fire ball which flew toward its target at an alarming speed. It made a direct hit and exploded, sending the gray werewolf flying into the woods, and crashing into several trees before he finally landed. The boy on the other hand, still laid there on the ground. Scarlet put her wand away and rushed over to him.

"Oh my god…" she gasped after seeing his body up close, and then knelt beside him

The sight of blood made her hesitated at first, but eventually Scarlet held his head up in her arms and looked into his brown eyes while he looked into hers. His face and body was covered in cuts and bruises. The black T-shirt he wore earlier was now shredded; his grey pants were torn as well and stained with blood. And worst of all he was bleeding out and coughing up more blood. The fire mage had no idea what to do…

"Please don't die!" Scarlet cried.

"Thank you for saving me, I didn't think there would be anyone else out here…"

"…Please say something…. anything." She continued to cry.

The boy writhed in pain, and coughed more blood. It seemed as though he would not last much longer, but he forced his pained expression into a more cheerful one, then he said. "Don't worry about it, you're safe now."