Strays is a story concerning Red during her travelling days, not long after Warcry, in which she and a group of youngsters are travelling the world - ultimately Red would take these youngsters to her world to become some of the guards seen in Court Of The Red Queen: however before this an event occured that has been kept hidden from all but those closest to Red - an event that almost ended Red as a character and introduced her to another part of her dark past..
It had only been a few days since the official end of what had become known as the "War Cry" - a vicious battle that almost saw Earth taken over by a force loyal to the Voice, a madman from beyond time or space: yet disturbingly human, a fact the world had taken note of in the aftermath and still caused considerable trouble as people began to realize the inherent evils lurking within themselves.
Yet there were still those who embodied the lighter side of humanity, its ability to survive and its courage in the face of terror - it would so happen a small group of such people were currently wandering around the ruined alleyways of a once proud city, young and in desperate need of food yet helping one another to survive the harsh reality of what may well of been the post-apocalypse.
These "strays" were the orphans of a war they could not understand, many had saw their loved ones gunned down in the streets or obliterated in the merciless bombings - some had tried to escape only to be caught in the crossfire between the Voice's forces and the freedom-fighters who opposed his mad reign.
Yet they were not alone, for standing atop a nearby roof was a cloaked female figure holding a large axe, observing the group as a red hood hid the majority of her features - to her few friends she was known as "Red" but to her enemies she was the "Bloody Red Queen", a dangerous and unpredictable woman: yet she was also a protector of the young and vulnerable, it was her who risked everything to pull the "strays" from the war-zone and take them to shelter: while others fought she stalked the shadows, acting like an angel of vengeance as she went from area to area gathering as many children as she could, saving them from the Voice's troops.
Now she prepared to take them on their greatest journey yet, one that would see them forevermore separated from the world of man - thrown into a world of fantasy and make-believe.. yet this was far from a fairy tale.. in fact, nothing could be further from the truth..
It was early morning before things really began, however, the group of "Strays" had found suitable shelter in what amounted to a collection of cardboard boxes stacked on top of one another beside a large dumpster and began to stir as the figure in red stood over them.
"..I know you're cold.. and hungry.. but we need to keep moving.. we'll be there soon.." the figure said.
"..where's "there"? you never said where we're going!" one of the children asked.
"..home" the figure replied.
"..my home was burnt when those soldiers came.." one of the children responded.
"..the other home, my home.." the figure explained.
"..but.. I don't wanna go!" another child complained.
"..you'd rather stay here and die?" the figure replied.
"I don't want to die!" another child began, the "Strays" breaking down into bickering and crying.
The figure sighed somewhat and put her hood down, revealing long brown hair and green eyes that softened somewhat as she knelt down "..no-one is going to die, look.. I'm sorry.. I know you don't want to go.. but you have to be strong now.. we talked about this.." she began.
"I wish mom was here, she'd know what to do.." one of the children says.
"..your mother is here.. in you.." the figure replied, looking to the group as she continues "..that's why you have to be strong.. all of you.. I promise you.. we'll be safe.. all we have to do is keep moving.. just a little further..".
The children all seemed confused, some sulking while others held one another - comforting each other in their time of need: the figure tried her best to keep herself together as she observed them, though inside her heart was breaking.
(ooc: anyone who wishes to partake can enter at this point - the time-line info is listed above)
Suddenly two figures appeared nearby - one of which was a woman dressed n hi-tech body-armor that is painted yellow on blue with large gloves and boots as well as a utility-belt, carrying an equally hi-tech rifle as she looks to the woman and speaks out:
"..people like you make me sick, you know that? dragging children into this selfish war of ours - I should gun you down where you stand.. yet these kids have already witnessed too much bloodshed..".
The second figure, a man dressed in a black stealth-suit with red strips along the upper arms and legs with an icon of a closed fist on the chest and black army boots and gloves is quick to interupt as he holds the armored-woman back and notes:
"..easy, Phoenix.. she's a good guy.. I can sense it.." - he speaks directly to the cloaked figure "..forgive Liberator, ever since the whole "War-Cry" thing people have been finding it hard to trust one another.. can't say I blame them.. not every day the world is outright massacred like that.. normally we have "heroes" to stop that kind of stuff.. at any rate: the name's Striker.. Freedom-Striker..".
The cloaked figure frowns as she stays motionless for a moment, putting her hood up before she turns to face the new arrivals - deliberately putting herself between the strangers and the children, as if protecting them.
"If your friend seeks to fight I shall give her one, though guns would do her no good.. you'll find bullets do little to slow me down should you threaten me or these children again.." the figure notes, revealing her axe as she looks to the pair.
Liberator looks ready to attack, moving forward - only to stop as Freedom-Striker puts himself between the two women and holds his arms out "..woah! look! stop it.. you guys can kill each other later.. right now, we got a bunch of cold, hungry kids who are probably scared to death.. can we at least *pretend* we're not psychotic for a moment and try to think rationally on this? we're the good guys, remember?".
The cloaked figure keeps her axe ready as she looks ready to pounce forward, only to stop when a young girl tugs a little on her cloak - peering over as she speaks out in a small voice:
"..please.. stop.. I'm scared..".
The figure frowns slightly as she turns, putting her axe away as she lifts the girl up and speaks to the children,
"..come, we're leaving.." - with that she begins guiding the group out of the alley.
Freedom-Striker frowns, looking to Liberator for a moment as he mutters "..just chill out, okay? I'll handle this!" - Liberator glares back at him and spits "..that's what I'm afraid of".
Freedom-Striker gives another glare before he heads after the cloaked figure, Liberator crossing her arms as she follows - Freedom-Striker attempts to reach out to the figure's shoulder in an attempt to turn her around:
"..look, I don't blame you for turning away but you have to believe me.. we want to help.. please..".
The figure suddenly turns around, giving Freedom-Striker a glare as she speaks "..you want to help? then follow me - I'm taking these children to safety.. oh.. and for future reference.. don't touch me.. are we clear?".
Freedom-Striker pulls his hand back and nods a little, "..where are you taking them?" - meanwhile Liberator simply sulks, she obviously doesn't trust this stranger yet she seems to be keeping silent: presumably out of respect for Freedom-Striker's wishes.
The figure turns around yet again and begins walking with the children, speaking as she moves "..to my world - it is a stable world, one where they shall be safe from the pestilence of war.. we have almost arrived at the ley line which will take us there.. you can not enter my world.. however you can help ensure these children arrive there safely.. that is.. if you truly wish to help..".
Freedom-Striker nods a little, he says nothing - which prompts Liberator to step forward and speak in a hushed tone: "..you're not even going to question her on this? these are kids, Striker!".
Freedom-Striker simply responds to Liberator, in an equally hushed tone: "..no, I'm not - what good will it do now? they seem to trust her.. that's good enough for me.. now quit arguing and do your job: you call yourself a "hero", well.. act like it.." - the blunt response shocks Liberator enough for her to cross her arms and frown, yet she seems silenced by Striker's words.. for now at least.
As the figures begin exiting the alley a shadowy figure hovers over a nearby rooftop, apparently sitting on some sort of strange "chair" - most of the figure's features are hidden by shadow save for a single eye that observes the group with interest, the other eye hidden behind what appears to be a patch:
"..so cruel.. to expose children to such adversity.. I would of expected more from you, Red.. no matter.. I shall put a stop to this.. soon enough.." the figure notes, leaning back on the "chair" to observe the scene further..
The cloaked figure leads the children to a nearby park amidst the inner-city, it isn't the most impressive park in the world but it is sizable enough and given the constant sight of ruined buildings and craters left over from war the green grass was a welcome change - most notable of all however was what appears to be a large hedge maze situated not far from the entrance.
Freedom-Striker and Liberator follow the figure into the park, the two not seeming very sure (Liberator still crossing her arms) - upon seeing the maze Freedom-Striker notes: "..let me guess, we're going to enter the maze? look.. I know we're not exactly friends but can we at least know your name?".
The figure stops and sighs slightly, turning around and looking at Freedom-Striker with green eyes that are both youthful yet wild, the eyes of a woman who has fought more than her fair share of wars "..my name is Red, I come from a world within a world.. what you would consider "fairy tales".. I know of this world, as you know of mine.. our worlds have lived side-by-side for as long as we can remember.. through your world are portals that lead to my world.. some as large as mountains, others as small as a teacup.. however it requires one of Royal blood to traverse these portals without succumbing to insanity or worse.. you understand?".
Freedom-Striker and Liberator look confused for a moment, Freedom-Striker's eyes widening ever so slightly as he looks at the red cloak and axe - then seems to come to a realization "..Red? as in little Red Riding Hood?".
Liberator shakes her head as she mutters slightly, "..just great.. as if this wasn't weird enough..".
Red narrows her eyes and grips her axe as she speaks, "..don't call me "little".. those days have long gone.. now.. you have recieved a name and I trust you are satisfied.. the portal lays at the centre of this maze.. try and keep the children from straying too far - it's not safe" - with that she turns and heads into the entrance of the maze, a few children following her while others linger behind.
Liberator finally allows herself a small smile as she nudges Freedom-Striker a little from behind "..you know, even by our standards we are being incredibly reckless - not to mention stupid.. trusting a woman who claims to be from a fairy tale world to take care of a bunch of kids..".
Freedom-Striker frowns as he notes "..you'd rather we killed her and left these kids even more psychologically scarred? I know she's crazy.. as am I for following.. yet if their is even a small chance I can stop the killing.. I'll do it..".
Freedom-Striker looks ready to continue only to stop as Liberator reaches out and takes his hand, unexpectedly - "..I know, Striker.. I'm sorry.. I'm with you.. no matter what.. you know that..".
As Red gets further into the maze she stops, as if sensing something - sure enough it doesn't take long for the sound of faint music to fill the air and she grips her axe: "..get ready.. we have company.." she declares ominously, the music becoming louder as someone (or something) approaches from within the maze.
Freedom-Striker moves forward, stepping in front of any children nearby as Liberator lifts one of her legs, pulling up one of her pant legs to reveal a small pistol strapped to her ankle, which she quickly takes out.
"something tells me this isn't the park warden either.." Freedom-Striker notes.
Sure enough after a few minutes the haunting music stops as a strange figure appears from the maze, dressed in multicolored rags that trail around the ground - having once been fine garments but now dirtied with age and wear.. in one of his gnarled hands there is a silver flute and he tips his head towards the group, his pointed hat hiding most of his jet black hair, which is long and greasy - an equally long and dirt-covered beard is found on his aged face as he smiles widely, revealing rows of rotten black teeth.
Freedom-Striker raises an eyebrow, keeping himself in front of any nearby children as he notes out loud "..okay.. that's pretty disgusting..".
Liberator aims her pistol towards the mysterious figure, "..that is pretty dead, if it doesn't answer our questions and fast.." - she then yells over to the figure "..who are you!? what do you want!?".
The figure licks his cracked lips with a tongue that is a sickly blue color - his eyes flashing dangerously as he simply puts the flute to his mouth and begins playing a twisted tune that drills into the minds of those nearby, the children trying to cover their ears only to start swaying in place, their eyes becoming lifeless.
Red growls and charges towards the figure, only to freeze as several children grab onto her cloak, the disturbing music becoming even more warped and out of tune as the lifeless eyes are replaced by fiery madness - the children seeming to grow more angry and violent.
Liberator wastes little time as she fires the pistol, aiming to blast the flute out of the figure's hand without actually harming him (outside a few missing fingers, should her aim be off) - upon seeing what the music is doing to the children Freedom-Striker leaps forward and attempts to deliver a swift kick at the figure's torso, totally uncaring of bullets currently flying around.
"..you son of a -" Freedom-Striker snarls, moving with surprising speed and determination.
Sure enough Liberator's shot aims true and the figure jumps back slightly, clutching his hand as the flute drops to the ground - as soon as the music stop the children begin to calm - many of them looking around in confusion.
The Piper's eyes dart around madly as he begins to reach over for this flute once more only to be hit by Freedom-Striker's kick - which sends him tumbling back even further, as this occurs Red takes advantage and charges once more at the Piper, now that the children were no longer holding her back.
Freedom-Striker continues to attack the Piper with a series of kicks and punches while Liberator puts her pistol away as she dives over and tries to grab the flute before the Piper can retrieve it, motioning to the children:
"it's alright! everybody stay back! you're going to be okay!".