- June 5, 2022
The Red Wolf War
Eastern Europa, 1073 A.D.
During the Thirteenth coming of the Red Wolf, the Time of Two, the War of the Wolves, the blood flows.
Fireballs fly across the sky, aiming to wreak havoc on the castle of the Red Wolf of the East. The castle stands a dozen stories, with enough towers to be considered a city of stone.
Of course, Astra allowed no one else to live in her castle but her and her constituents. Those consisted of soldiers, servants, prostitutes, and no one else, so nobody with quite an itch to defend it.
From up on high, Astra can see her sister’s army of thousands surround the outer wall of her castle. For a mile in every direction, there is no grass, only their men fighting a bloody battle for supremacy.
The West fights for the honor of their Lady Cassandra, and the East fights out of fear of Lady Astra.
The men swing their swords, spraying blood across the land to mix in with the dirt and mud. The wolves shift on the fly, with arms massive enough to split a man’s head from his body without a moment’s glance. Men and wolves fight on each side. Lords and knights of all kinds, shapes, and sizes, from across the Black Sea to the Sekarran Desert down below. A war of the world is coming to an end at the footstep of Lady Astra, and she holds no qualms about it.
At the front gate, Lady Cassandra’s forces lead a frontal assault. So many have been sacrificed to open combat, but a mere platoon fights to break down the front gate. At the same time, knights and servants of the East stumble and run through the mud, aiming to reinforce the front gate as it beats upon by an ugly ram.
As knights in black and red armor appear to succeed in placing wooden reinforcements over the gate, it is struck again by something greater than a ram. This something smashes the wooden doors, denting them in, and shines a white light before it turns to black.
The poor Easterners don’t know what’s happening before it hits them.
The gate explodes sending dozens flying, several in pieces.
“She’s here,” Lady Astra sings from atop the highest pathway between the highest castle peaks.
Knights, of man and wolf charge the front gate as it fills with black smoke, even as nothing comes through.
A knight with shining silver armor over black chainmail bursts through the smoke. The light of the sun barely shines against the knight’s steel. Blood has sucked much of its shine and color.
Besides the mere red and white sash around the waist, the knight stands a being of rotting steel, with even the helm keeping the light from her eyes.
Alone she runs and fights.
A knight of black is the first to step in the way of her greatsword, which stretches a little longer and heavier than most.
The West Wolf does not swing it as if this is true.
She beheads the knight with a mere swing, and as another comes screaming, she plunges it through his stomach and out the other side. Steel is no defense against red strength.
None of the dozen around her are anything to her red strength.
A wolf breaks onto four legs to charge her. She slides over the knight she stabbed and throws him over her shoulder.
The wolf is too slow to react before the dead knight bashes into his head. The wolf leans back, screeching in pain, and the West Wolf leaps over the mere dog.
As she flips over him, she grabs his mouth in her hand, and when she lands…
… she slams his skull down on her shoulder, bathing her armor in his black blood.
With one hand, the West Wolf swings the corpse like a toy, slapping another knight with it.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Then she throws it against several knights, who are crushed under its weight.
Another knight swings his sword at her, and the West Wolf catches it with her own, sending his sword flying. In the blink of an eye, she plunges her blade into his chest and lets her power flow. The blade becomes black, with white at the edges, freezing the dead knight still as if he were petrified.
As more rush her, her first kill lights up the same way as her sword, and she punches the knight’s breastplate to send him away.
The force and magic of her strike sends the dead knight’s armor flying like shrapnel. A bit of it strikes clean through another’s helmet.
She pumps her fist into the dead knight’s chest again, scrap metal severing another’s head from his body, and she strikes it three times to kill three more men with deadly precision.
“Show off,” Lady Astra complains from on high, still watching.
As a wolf roars and lunges at the West Wolf’s back, it takes only a split second for her to pull out her sword and slash over her head, disemboweling the wolf as it flies over her.
The black tar blood almost gets in her helmet’s eye socket.
No one runs, not yet. They are still more afraid of their Lady on high than the Lady butchering them down below. The West Wolf continues to prove them the error of their choice.
She takes her sword and throws it yards away, between rushing knights, for it to sink into the chest of another.
“I could do that,” Lady Astra huffs, crossing her arms.
The West Wolf rushes to her sword, through the knights who swing their swords at her.
The first blade barely raises…
… before her gauntlet shatters his helmet, and the skull inside.
The next swings to cut her in half, but she backhands his swordhand, sending the sword flying behind her…
… as her other fist caves in his breastplate.
Another hesitates to swing…
… and she backhands him to his ass, spraying blood everywhere as his body spins.
The last knight in her way she grabs by the collar…
… and headbutts, not once…
… not twice…
… but thrice.
“I’ve done it faster,” Lady Astra assures herself.
She reaches the corpse holding her sword before it falls to the ground, and grabs the hilt to let the body slide off, but she sees one more wolf. She sees a knight’s armor stretch and snap as a wolf shifts from inside it, so she bends her sword up to keep the body on it.
The knight shows its true nature to be no man as his skin stretches and tears, letting brown fur claw its way out. It’s own roars fight to overcome the sound of the metal stretching and snapping off him.
Before he can finish his transformation, the West Wolf throws the dead body at her enemy.
This wolf doesn’t fall for the same trick and backhands the corpse to the ground, midair. He takes a step towards her but that’s the only step he takes.
A blur across their vision, she blows past other knights, her speed throwing them to the ground.
They were merely obstacles keeping her from her goal of punching her fist through the wolf’s abdomen.
The wolf’s yellow eyes open wide at the West Wolf’s speed and strength, but is not dead yet. It swings its meaty arm to catch her head, and she ducks to punch out his knee, literally.
Blood sprays as the wolf’s knee cap flies from his body. The wolf tries to counter, but the West Wolf slams her fist into the wolf’s ribs, crushing them inward. She finishes the wolf with an uppercut, shattering half its jaw, and she grabs him by his neck to swing him over her shoulder to its back with a slam.
As he tries to sit up, the West Wolf jumps and spins like a master dancer to the corpse holding her greatsword, and makes an even quicker jump back to the wolf, slashing at the same time. She makes a clean cut across the top of its head, cutting its brain in half.
Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!
Finally, the rest of the West Wolf’s men, her own wolves, knights in white and red, and men on horses burst through the gate. With other men to fight, many of the East begin to flee than fight others of equal worth.
As her general rides to her side, the West Wolf tears off her helmet and look upon the cowards with no obstruction.
Her red hair cut above her shoulders sits above the silver metal, and grows wet as if struck by rain. Her eyes grow into yellow slits for the moment, sniffing the air until they turn back to their human brown.
Her right hand woman asks her, “What now, Lady Cassandra?”
“Now,” the Lady answers, “I wait for that goblin eating bitch to get her ass down here.”
As if she heard, Lady Astra huffs and snarls, “I guess I have to do everything myself.”
She pulls down the hood of her black hunting leathers, letting her short curly hair reach her ears. She stretches her fingers and out come the sharp pointed black wolf claws. Her eyes are yellow slits like her sister’s until they too turn back to brown.
Her knights come to her to inform her of their failure. “The front gate has fallen, milady!”
Without hesitation, she slashes her claws outwards and rips out the man’s throat, even cutting through the steel. Her claws flow white, with the black light at the edges.
As the body falls and its blood seeps between the stones, she asks the remaining men, “Do I look fucking blind to any of you?” as she points to the clearly lost front gate. They shake their heads in unison. “Don’t be stupid like him,” she instructs them with a point of her finger, “because now he’s dead.”
She turns her eyes to the gate and lifts her leg atop the ledging to get a better view. The leather skirt falls way to her thick leather leggings that hold knives right above her knees. Her red cape flows against her, and she must grasp it to keep it still.
As she inspects the situation before her, she makes a come hither gesture to her closest knight. “You clearly want to say something,” she tells him, seeing the way he shakes.
He makes an audible gulp before he can summon the courage to speak, making Lady Astra roll her eyes. “Wha-what, are we, we going to do, mi-milady?”
“We?” she asks back. “There is no we, there’s me going to fight my sister to the death, win, and live happily ever after.” She turns towards her soldier with her finger jabbed towards him, making him flinch. “Who gives a fuck what you do, you’re one of my nameless henchman.”
“Milady, I-” the knight stutters but Lady Astra doesn’t listen.
She steps up to the ledging, ordering her men, “Just shut up and stay out of my way!” before leaping from the highest peak. She laughs to herself on the way down, “You might live longer!”
Lady Astra sinks her claws into the nearest castle tower, sliding down until she leaps to the next ledging. She presses off the next with her foot, spinning and twirling to the next perch she swings off of.
As her sister more or less parkours down over a dozen stories, Lady Cassandra’s right hand man is instructing on the importance of a helmet.
“You really shouldn’t leave yourself unprotected like that,” she recommends.
“Are you the Red Wolf of the West?” she asks her.
She is quite taken aback by the question, left wondering if her predecessor, who died literally the day before, was used to dealing with such snappy comments. “No, my lady, I am not.”
“Then do not tell me what best suits me,” the Lady shuts her right hand down. She stomps away from her, leaving her general a stuttering mess before she starts barking orders to the rest of her troops. “All soldiers, storm around the castle to the northern keeps! Do not enter the castle or you will die before I even get the chance to punish you myself! Have I made myself clear?!”
Her soldiers, her men and wolf knights shout back with a hurrah of swords. Wolves even howl in her honor. “Awhooo!!!!”
It’s music to the West Wolf’s ears.
Until, as like in her childhood, her sister ruins it.
Lady Astra comes down from on high, feet first on one of her sister’s wolves. The heels of her greaves come down on the nape of the wolf’s neck and her claws stab right into its skull. It’s quite unnecessary, at least Cassandra could say she was overly violent because she in the moment. This was merciless for Astra’s enjoyment.
Then, as if to prove Cassandra’s thoughts right, with a tug, and a rip…
… the spine comes out, a grave fatality.
Astra stands tall as her sister’s soldiers point their swords at her, more enraged than frightened at the sight of her spinning their comrade’s spine like a baton or a toy.
“Hi, Cass, I seemed to have made a mess of your pet in my grand entrance,” Astra says as she outstretches her arms and strikes a pose. The soldiers grow quite confused at the sight, especially as the blood of the wolf spine gets onto her face.
Cassandra can only roll her eyes and groan.
The resemblance would be uncanny… if they weren’t twins, so there’s no surprise that they have the same scrunch of the nose, freckles across their faces, and fairly small foreheads. The only difference in their face, outside of where their hair falls, is the placement of their freckles, and the scars.
Three faded lines matching that of claws stand on Cassandra’s cheek. A newer line is cut across Astra’s face, from cheek to cheek, across her nose.
Cassandra presses her fingers to the very scars on her face, and does her best to remember her master’s teachings, the ones she and her sister clearly didn’t listen to since they’re in a brutal war with each other. “Extend your hand before your sword, words that everyone agrees makes sense, and yet always forget before the moment comes.”
Cassandra weighs the death of one wolf against the many more that will follow if she meets Astra on the battlefield here and now.
The Red Wolf of the West extends her hand to her sister of the East. “Astra, listen to me, we don’t have to fight! Even after everything, it can all end now. Who says there can be only one?”
Astra chuckles, rather maniacally, almost tilting her neck all the way back like a true hyena. “Me, brat!” Astra answers her sister’s question, “Because I don’t share!”
Cassandra purses her lips in confusion, even reaching towards the air in annoyance. “Brat? We’re twins, you dimwit!”
“True, but you never shut up!” Astra counters.
“Do you hear yourself?!” Cassandra yells at her, maybe a bit too casually for her soldiers around them. They knew the enemy was their leader’s sister, but they never expected them to sound anything like such.
“The only thing I hear, sister,” Astra growls as she bends her knees and readies herself into a fighting stance, “are the beating hearts of the dead men between you and me.”
With a snap of her wrists, her already sharp nails extended nearly three inches from her actual fingers. To say her nails were as sharp as nails would be a severe understatement. It’s more like having ten smalls knives for hands.
The hearts between them each beat a little faster, and when Cassandra responds by spreading her legs and aiming her sword, many of those hearts realize they should move out of the way.
Her sword shines with the passing of the grey sun overhead, and the blood begins to drip from it as if it could not stick.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time, Cass,” Astra says.
“Then why are you wasting time instead of proving it?” Cassandra challenges her.
Astra smiles, “Hmph,” and then the Red Wolf of the East charges.
Shrash! Kras! Shrash!
Men die like flies under the edges of her claws, leaving her sister infuriated by at sight.
Cassandra’s feet dig into the dirt as Astra pushes her back, the West Wolf’s sword against the claws of the East Wolf.
The West Wolf plants her foot to stop her sister’s push and finds herself standing face to face with the smile on Astra’s face.
With only a sword and claw between them, Astra admits, “I might be enjoying this a bit too much.”
“Remember this, sister, when I draw from you your blood, I offered you peace.”
The smile disappears from Astra’s face. “Peace?” she repeats, “Peace… Aaahhh!!” Astra roars and prompts Cassandra to force her back. The West Wolf shoves with her sword, causing Astra to trip, so Cassandra takes her chance with a swing.
Astra ducks, screaming, “Your peace is an obligation!” and kicks Cassandra in the throat.
Astra kicks up her other leg, catching Cassandra in the jaw, causing the West Wolf to flip as the East Wolf balances on her hand.
Astra’s mocking her with her impossible poses, Cassandra just knows it.
Cassandra presses her hand to the ground, and rolls back without falling on her face.
She tastes the blood in the corner of her lip, wiping it away only to see it on her hand for the first time in a while. The sight of it draws a cackle from Astra as she lays her feet to the ground, positioned like a bloodthirsty wolf on all fours.
Cassandra doesn’t let herself fall to a baser nature, and stands up with her sword before her. With that, she tells Astra, “Being your sister has been an obligation all my life.”
Astra’s fingers dig into the dirt as her eyes focus for the kill. “Then let us relieve you of it,” the East Wolf offers, with nothing enjoyable to be had.
Cassandra has already been reminded that no matter how fast the West is, the East winds come and go as they please. To stand and defend means death, so she must make sacrifices.
The West Wolf leaps to the side as the East Wolf dashes past her, her claws backhanding the other’s silver greaves. The West hits the ground running towards her closest knight that stands frozen in terror.
The West grabs him and moves him behind her…
… for him to take the blow for her.
As the East removes her claw from the knight’s face, she taunts, “I didn’t think you had it you!” Then the West strikes.
“Fuck!” Astra curses as she protects her face, the sword drawing a bit of blood from her.
“Fucking-” Astra curses as she claws for Cassandra’s face, only to catch armor.
Cassandra elbows her sister across the face, and follows up with the other elbow in quick succession. Astra responds with a knee to the guts.
The West Wolf’s hair flies around her face as she stumbles back, right as Astra comes at her.
“Shit!” Cassandra curses. She’s in the exact situation she was avoiding, her soldiers keeping away when Astra is coming after her. With the a flash of yellow in her eyes, Astra knows it too.
The West struggles with the East’s superior speed, suffering finger stabs through her armor. “What’s the matter, Cassie?” Astra taunts as she draws blood, striking at Cassandra as she blocks with her forearm, her shoulder, elbow, and finally deflecting with her sword, “Oh finally stopped one did-”
Cassandra ducks backwards out of Astra’s reach, and swings her sword in an upward cut.
“-ah!” Astra gasps as she dodges, the West barely missing, cutting a small lock of hair from Astra’s head.
The East Wolf wastes no time kicking her sister away from her. Cassandra plunges her sword into the ground as she slides back across the dirt. She looks behind her and sees the stone castle walls mere yards from her, which is nothing to the Red Wolves. Cassandra turns back to her sister, who seethes in rage at a hair curl that runs shorter than the rest on her head.
Astra screams at Cassandra with mad rage, “Look what you did to my hair!”
Cassandra rolls her eyes–her whole head really. “Oh, like it doesn’t grow back- uff!”
The West Wolf’s words are cut short by a shoulder spearing her in the chest, carrying her into the wall in less than a second. Like was said, the distance was nothing.
The stones and bricks collapse around them as Cassandra is carried through the first wall. She feels the air leave her lungs after the second.
After the third wall collapses atop her shoulders, Cassandra is thrown into pitch darkness where Astra drops her and kicks her face with the heel of her boot.
The stones fall behind them, sealing the hole that was their entrance.
Then the moment Cassandra rolls back to her feet…
… she’s crying out from the claw that strikes her back.
“Heheheh,” Astra cackles, the sound of her voice seemingly coming from everywhere and nowhere as Cassandra looks all around her and finds only darkness.
She backs into a wall only to hear the running rush of the Eastern wind. Its claw slashes her arm through the armor.
“Haahhh,” Cassandra gasps with her whole body. The pain and the rage trigger the wolf inside her, prompting her eyes to turn yellow in the dark, but as another strike to her leg reminds her…
… her growls are like her eyes, not as powerful as Astra’s.
“Oh, poor little Cassie can’t see in the dark,” Astra teases her sister. “You owe me a new wall, brat.”
“You’re the one who broke it!” Cassandra snaps back, only to be retorted with another strike at her back. “Aaahhh!”
The sharp pain that comes from her bleeding wounds are not unfamiliar to her. She’s been in this place before, bowing and kowtowing to her sister’s speed, unable to save herself. For a moment she fears she’s going to perish here, and allow Astra to be the Red Wolf.
Cassandra cannot allow that, anymore than she could when she was child.
Cassandra can remember the sound of being knocked down, just as she is now, and the voice of her teacher, guardian, and protector, repeating to her her lessons in combat, after Astra would knock her down.
“There she goes again, you got tell me one of these days, Cassie, how you eat nothing but dirt all day and still gain the weight like a cow.” Astra’s old insults always pierced right through Cassandra’s mind when they were children. “You should leave the fighting to me, I can fight for the two of us by myself.” Of her many insults though, the idea that Astra’s better off without her used to hurt the most.
Cassandra would wince, but she never let Astra see.
When they were children, Cassandra and Astra were taught the ways of sword and claw thousands of stories in the air, in a castle far more grand than anything the two have managed to keep today.
As girls they were pitted against each other, being the other’s only equal in potential. Cassandra hangs onto those memories to lead her out of her dark predicament.
Cassandra remembers hitting the ground on her face, her twelve-year-old hands losing their grip on a sword far too big for her. She remembers how she scrambled to get it, crawling across the metal floor before it reached the edge.
She remembers, gasping, “Huh, huh, huh,” whining even, “no, no, no,” just to grab it.
As the blade’s point slid off into the abyss, little Cassandra leaped for it. She saved it, before it fell thousands of feet to the ground below. This happened many times, where she was dealt a powerful blow and she had to save her sword before it fell from a height above the clouds to the ground.
This time she caught it, as she remembers, and the times where she didn’t she was to walk down the height from atop the clouds, to the bottom to then search and retrieve it as fast as she could… then walk back up. Not only did it motivate her to do her best, when she inevitably failed, she grew in strength.
Most little girls would not see the benefit of this punishment as it happened, but Cassandra did, she never complained to her teacher, more so herself.
This time, when she gasped and felt a sense of relief, her mentor warned her…
“Be careful, pup,” Master Cade said, “losing your sword is a week long endeavor.”
Back then, as a child without many scars and a voice higher in tone, Cassandra stood fast at attention to nod her head to her teacher. “Yes, Master Cade, I will be more careful.” Even back then, she kept her red hair short, and wore leather armor to defend against her sister’s claws when they were much duller.
“Huh, as if that matters,” little Astra teased her sister, not much different as a child from her adult self than her sister. She too had fewer scars and even shorter hair, but she dressed in hunting leathers all the same, wearing the same ego on her face.
She pointed her duller claw at her sister struggling to lift her sword after a long day, and taunted her, “We both know I’m just gonna knock that sword from your hands again, and you’re going to have to pick up all the itty bitty pieces again. It might as well be your wasted life now.”
“Enough,” Master Cade ordered her, stealing Astra’s breath in her throat. With a word both heirs to the Red Wolf bloodline stood at a attention.
On a balcony so high, the freezing winds may have made the girls shake regularly, but they had no effect on him. His body was too cold.
His skin several shades darker than that of his two wards and the caucasian people he towered over, but his skin was ever smoother, devoid of the filth and hair that mar that of other men. Shaven under his black fedora, and long red cape, he stood a pillar against the winds of the world, armored with nothing but a regal black and red tunic.
Both girls always found themselves watching his brown eyes, to see when the veins around them would turn black, the white of them turn red, and everything else darken at their centers.
Master Cade was a colder man when training the Red Wolves in combat than he was teaching them their studies, or putting them to bed. Here, they were to endure the combat of soldiers, with few freedoms.
“Cassandra, Astra,” he officially called them to attention, “do you two know why we train as long and as hard as we do?”
Astra rolled her eyes as her sister often remembered her doing. “Ugh, this speech again.”
Master Cade snapped at her, with his eyes turning into the monstrous color of blood and his incisors growing into sharp short swords in her face. “You will receive this speech, this truth, as many times as you have to until you learn it, runt.”
Whenever he sought to quell her sister’s rebellious nature, Cassandra always felt a sense fear for her. Where Cassandra was punished through rigorous and painful exercise, Astra was punished with humiliation. Cassandra always thought being called a runt was a way masters turn men into soldiers, but Astra doesn’t think herself a soldier as her sister does.
No, Astra thinks herself something else.
“I will say it again and again until you no longer fight to overcome and humiliate each other, but to become strong, because you need to be so,” Master Cade growled, prompting Cassandra to push herself to stand taller with every word, to prove to him that she indeed sought strength for the right reason, the good soldier she was even then.
But Astra, even as a child she rebelled by crossing her arms before her chest the moment Master Cade pulled away. Before she could realize he was still looking at her with his blood eyes at least.
He taught her again, “Strength is not for you to defeat each other, or even embarrass each other, you only embarrass yourself.”
“What is strength for, Master?” little Cassandra asked, so Master Cade would stop glaring her sister into oblivion, for him to remind her once again why she needed to be stronger.
Master Cade looked to his eager, yet weaker student, as he put his hands behind his back. He walked before them as he reminded the two twins as to who they are.
“Who are you, runts?” Master Cade asked them, and they answered.
Cassandra started… “We each are half of the Red Wolf…”
“…an immortal lycan reincarnating through time,” Astra finished.
“Do you know what the word immortal means, runts?” he asked them.
“Beings who live forever, without fear of death by the world,” Cassandra answered.
“Do you know the meaning of reincarnation?” he then asked, as he walked before them.
“To be born again in another body…” Astra answered.
Master Cade stopped before them, his cape blew behind him, a red wall between them and the door inside. “Immortality, reincarnation, these are what describes the line of the Red Wolf, but do you see the problem?” Both girls tense as the answer they’ve heard before eludes them. “If the Red Wolf was immortal, she wouldn’t need to reincarnate, yet she does, that means each one has died. How do you think they died?”
“Weakness,” Cassandra answered.
“I dunno, the plague? That kills a lot of people,” Astra answered with a shrug.
“They met beings stronger than them, beings who want see the Red Wolf dead.” Master Cade’s words spelled it out for them.
“Now you two…” he began to say, “…have the unlucky pleasure of being born two halves of what is usually one reincarnating soul, each of you being born with half the power, half the potential, and half the worth.
“This is why you train, this is why you hone your skills, why you live and stay in this castle and its lands…” and he turned his back to them, walking away to the door that led inside, with its warmth, blankets and food…
And he turned back to them. “… so now you will continue, until you are both stronger than any of your previous predecessors, until there is no being who can kill you, but the other.”
He knew not then, how literally they would act upon his words, he only ordered them, “Again.”
The Red Wolves took their places across the balcony from each other, with Cassandra lifting her sword with less grace than today, and Astra holding her claws closer to the chest, each with a confidence of girls and not the women they have become. It was a time when fighting was for improving, and not to the death.
“I said again!” he ordered, and they went at each other.
Like now, like today, Cassandra was at a disadvantage because unlike her sister, she lacked the ability her ancestry afforded her. Astra was gifted a greater speed and sharper claws than anyone else, and Cassandra had only the natural strength of a wolf.
Schiff! Clang! Scritch! Clang!
Cassandra had been wielding a sword for years, and yet despite her skill, her sister’s wild claw always had her on the defense, always at a disadvantage, always on the run. Whether in the darkness of the cave, or the bright light above the clouds…
Scrash! Kras! Clang! Sith!
… Cassandra needs more power, more than that which anyone else can have. She needs the power her darkness can gift her.
As the threat of failure and defeat threatened her when she was under the guiding hand of her teacher, it threatens her now in the darkness.
Like before, the memory of constant failure, and the rage that rises from it, let her call forth her power. Like it first did atop that tower, Cassandra’s sword now burns with black light.
The West Wolf brings light to the dark cave, and in a second, the East Wolf is revealed.
Cassandra spins around with a sword of black light that bleeds white, and strikes her sister, slashing through her and several walls behind her.
As her blood sprays behind her, and the light leaves it mark in the wall, the Red Wolf of the East curses, “Fuck.”
And the light blows up in her face.
Black smoke covers yards in seconds, and an entire tower begins to collapse atop of them.
Both armies turn their heads as several stories of stone and clay collapse as if struck down by the hound of God, wondering if either of their ladies still live.
They wonder no more when they see two blurs fly from the smoke, climb and leap from castle ledge to flag pole, making their way up to the nearest stable bridge.
Despite her bleeding wounds, Cassandra pulls herself flying over the railing, spinning down to the cobblestone ground with a fist.
She’s been told that such a landing is bad for her knees.
Astra runs up the side of the castle, up and past the bridge before backflipping to the ground. She stands up slowly to turn and face her sister, holding a bleeding gash that starts at her shoulder and runs across her chest to her ribs.
The sight of her own blood is shocking to Astra, she hasn’t seen it come from a wound in a long time. “Hmm, heheheh…”
White light bleeds from her wounds as black light does Cassandra’s, and it makes Astra wonder about how things could have been different if she and Cassandra had followed the light they bleed.
Astra forgoes these thoughts as she reaches to her shoulders and releases the clasps on her red cape, letting it fall to the ground.
“And here I thought you weren’t going to give me a good fight.”
“Fighting is all you ever liked doing, what a fucking waste you are,” the West Wolf snaps at the East…
… but it only makes the East Wolf laugh. “You think I care about little insults like you do? In case you haven’t noticed, I have pretty thick skin,” she says with a thumb gesturing to herself, “unlike you, I don’t let the words of little people hurt me.”
“Oh really?” Cassandra questions as she begins her walk towards her sister. “Do you remember what Master Cade used to say when we lied?”
“When I lied you mean,” Astra corrects as she starts walking to meet her.
“‘You would have me kneel before your throne, unaware that it was born of lies?’ That’s what he would say to the idea of you having thick skin,” Cassandra says before she raises her sword.
Astra bends her knees and aims her claws as she snarls, “You just said that to sound smart you lying bitch!”
To think there was once a time where these two could stand together and eat at the same table. It seems like such a time is long past.
This time when the West Wolf’s steel meets the East Wolf’s arm, the East bleeds.
Cassandra turns the tables, she starts pushing Astra back, and the East Wolf grabs the blade with her other hand to stop it.
Cassandra sees the effort pouring from Astra’s face, and grows a smirk of her own. “You know, I’ve always wondered,” she asks her sister, before bringing her knee up into Astra’s gut…
“…despite always playing with boys…” and headbutting her nose.
“…I always thought it strange that-”
“Shut up!” Astra screams in her face, then smacks Cassandra with nice elbow.
Cassandra feels the sharp but blunt impact in her cheek, and as numb as her face feels after the pain is gone, Cassandra is smirking more than growling.
Cassandra’s smile is followed with a slash that Astra leaps over, dodging a surprise wave of light.
“Whoa,” Astra says before she hits the ground on all fours. She realizes that her sister was trying to end this far before she was ready. She tries to punish her for it by going for Cassandra’s ankle.
“Aahh!” the West Wolf calls out when Astra meets her mark, and raises her sword in rage. Before she swings it…
… Cassandra hears the gnashing of her own teeth, as Astra kicks her chin.
The West Wolf grabs Astra’s ankle and pulls her up off the ground. Too close to swing her sword, Cassandra’s fist smashes Astra in the face.
Astra rolls across the ground, her hands going under her skirt to the knives on her thighs. She powers them with the same white light that flows through her claws, and starts throwing them before she’s even standing back up.
Cassandra finds herself on the defensive, shifting her sword up, then to the left, the right, and across to deflect Astra’s throwing knives.
Clink! Clank! Clunk! Clink!
Cassandra spins under one, hearing strands of her hair be cut as she does. She turns around catches a knife heading for her eye.
“So that’s what you keep under your skirt,” Cassandra mutters to herself.
As she pulls more knives from under the dark cloth, Astra powers them with her white light. “Didn’t you know, Cassie,” Astra asks as she charges and throws, “skirts are for hiding knives!”
As Cassandra dashes to meet her, deflecting two throws, she needs to dodge the third. Time slows as Astra’s throw shoots between Cassandra and her sword, grazing past her cheek. The blood spilled falls when the West Wolf does not have the time to notice.
This time Astra meets Cassandra’s steel with her own, holding her knife against Cassandra’s swprd. As they have a struggle of strength, Cassandra taunts Astra for a change. “And here I thought you opened your skirt to let things in, not take things out.”
Cassandra only knows how to spew insults she’s seen offend the women of their time, but nothing of the like will faze Astra.
In fact, Astra laughs at the attempt. “You speak as if it is an insult that people would enjoy my company,” and she pushes Cassandra back, slashing her knives at Cassandra in a fury, forcing the West Wolf back on the defensive, “probably because they don’t enjoy yours.”
As the East Wolf expected, Cassandra is offended, “People love me,” and swings her sword for Astra’s head.
Astra smirks as she ducks, and slices Cassandra’s armor in retaliation.
“People love you sister,” Astra admits, and stops Cassandra’s incoming elbow, stabbing her knife into her sister’s shoulder, locking her in place. They look almost as if they’re embracing as Astra pulls Cassandra close to whisper into her ear, “but nobody likes you,” all while Cassandra struggles and trembles, “but you won’t live to know the difference!”
Astra grabs and stabs another knife into Cassandra’s shoulder blade, and cuts the West’s screams short by throwing her over her head.
“Let me spare you of that,” the East Wolf calls as the West rolls across the ground.
Cassandra has had to fight this her entire life. Her sister’s putdowns, the doubt Astra tries to insert in her twin’s mind, all in the name of making her quit, to make her give up her powers.
To give up being the Red Wolf of the West.
Cassandra holds her sword in reverse to help her up. Her wounds burn as her body quickly seals her wounds. She does cry out, but from a different pain.
“You’re wrong!” Cassandra declares. “They may have thought me the devil child at first,” she admits as she pushes herself to her feet, “because my power is black like their devil,” and she charges Astra, stabbing her sword forward for the East’s chest. “But I proved myself to them already,” she calls out as Astra dodges the next swing, “to Master Cade,” and the next swing, “to myself,” and even the last, “and to you!”
Astra somersaults away, until she’s flipping backwards in a blur away from Cassandra. Astra is always a blur to Cassandra, moving faster than her, always out of her reach.
The East Wolf stops as she places her last throwing knives back onto her thighs, and reaches for a knife hidden in the blackness of her hunting leathers. The knife is encased with the white light of her power, with the edge fading to black.
“You think you proved yourself to me?” Astra asks. “How, in anyway, did you ever prove to me that you were worthy of being the Red Wolf?”
Astra crosses the distance between them in one lunge before Cassandra can even respond.
Astra’s words paint a picture where her hate and disdain for Cassandra doesn’t come from something Cassandra did or said, it doesn’t come from how other people treat them, and it doesn’t come from any loss that Cassandra caused. Her words say that all this hate is because of the title of the Red Wolf. A title is all that drives Astra’s hate for her own sister.
For that, Cassandra holds only rage, and with that rage, the Red Wolf of the West swings her sword.
The power behind Cassandra’s swing throws Astra back before she can even thrust her knife.
She tries to stab the knife into the ground as her feet slide with no traction.
“That’s it?!” Cassandra screams before Astra even stops moving, before she even picks up her head. “It’s always about being the Red fucking Wolf, who cares? I’m supposed to be your sister!” Astra picks up her head with a confused expression on her face, lacking the understanding of where her sister’s voice comes from. “After everything I’ve done to be worthy, after how hard I’ve worked and trained to stand by you, all you care about is a goddamn name.
“Well, that’s why you don’t have it, that’s why more banners, and more wolves, and more people call me the Red Wolf instead of you. I sacrificed the pull of darkness, and you sacrificed nothing.”
“Nothing, you say,” Astra mutters under her breath as her eyes fall from her sister. “Heh, nothing she says,” Astra laughs to herself as she stands back to her feet, violently pulling her knife from the cobblestone ground.
When Astra’s head picks up, her eyes glow yellow behind the shadow cast over them. Her claws grow longer and sharper as rage consumes her. With her claws thrust to her sides, and in a roar more than words, Astra yells at her sister, “You have no idea all that I have sacrificed to protect you and your darkness, but no more!” and sends a shock through Cassandra.
Astra runs full speed at Cassandra, and the West Wolf readies her sword for a frontal assault. Astra leaps, but when Cassandra presses her sword forward, she realizes that the East Wolf expected her.
Astra flies over Cassandra and kicks the West Wolf right in the jaw.
Astra lands and with her light fueled blade, swings her knife, only for Cassandra to deflect it, letting loose a clang that pierced their eardrums.
Astra’s light doesn’t explode as Cassandra’s does. Her power acts like a force, flowing through the ground, out bottom of the crumbling bridge.
“You speak as if you have been wronged!” Cassandra questions her sister, seeing Astra telegraph her next attack a mile away.
The West Wolf deflects, pushing the knife swing away, sending the raging blast flying through the ledging.
“You don’t think so?” Astra questions as she ducks under Cassandra’s swing. “First, you robbed me of everyone’s approval and love!”
Cassandra leaps over the slash of Astra’s knife, and its blast continues through the ground.
“You think anyone cares about the animal girl with claws after you became a knight?!” Astra’s words pierce Cassandra’s memory, as Astra backflips over her, slashing down at her.
Cassandra cuts Astra’s light attacks instead of dodging, slicing them in half so they vere off and blast through the ground she stands on. Her sister’s shining light reflects off her armor as the attacks fly by.
Astra lands on the other side, and presses Cassandra again, letting their blades clash.
“They deemed you the Red Wolf after that,” Astra growls in her sister’s face, “you robbed me of my throne, my destiny!” Astra dashes back as Cassandra is left to remember… remember how fate seemed to have switched between them at a young age. Cassandra was not always the most beloved.
And Astra never forgot that. As she slashes her blade, sending magical waves at Cassandra’s feet, Astra claims, “But I let you have it! For some time…”
Cassandra spins and flips to dodge as Astra continues yelling.
“… I gave up being the favorite child for you,” words that pull at Cassandra’s memory, “so you could feel a semblance of appreciation and pride,” but she can’t focus, can’t think as Astra attacks her.
“What a mistake I made,” Astra growls.
She forces Cassandra to listen to her as she fails to land a blow on Cassandra, and instead cuts away at the ground the West Wolf stands upon.
Astra admits, “I became as forgotten as you,” and then slows, letting out a few heavy heaves as Cassandra does in turn, “unless I behaved out of turn…” Her finishing words come as both sisters stand tired and exhausted, in more ways than one.
Astra doesn’t expect her words to bear much weight, but Cassandra is good at one thing, Astra never was.
Cassandra listened, and every word sparked more in her memory. She remembers the bad times, when everyone wondered why Cassandra was taking so much longer than Astra to unlock her powers. She remembers when the servants and the banners who came to pay their respects spoke badly of her potential behind her back, thinking the child couldn’t hear them. Cassandra remembers how they had no respect for her, how they held Astra on a pedestal to be the true Red Wolf of legend.
And then her power formed, and it was one of darkness. For the longest time, they thought her more in line with her cold master. With black veins forming around her hands, her nails turning the same color, and her weapon enveloping itself in darkness, she was declared the evil half, and Astra the good that would keep her at bay.
She would be this generation’s great evil for the Red Wolf to conquer.
So Cassandra trained hard, worked harder than Astra to prove herself of valor and worth. She trained in the ways of the greatsword for the honor that lies under the helm of knighthood. She hid the darkness under her shining armor, and with each victory after victory over the enemies of light, the people began to acknowledge Cassandra to be no evil at all.
A color should not control their thoughts on a person.
Cassandra, growing up, never did notice how their newfound respect was not created for her, but taken from her sister. Cassandra can’t even remember what Astra was doing when Cassandra sought out knighthood, and that in itself, tells the West Wolf all she needs to know. “Astra, I, I never meant take anything from you, I never-”
“Noticed?” Astra interrupts her, as the East Wolf kneels to the ground. “What didn’t you notice? That I wasn’t by your side? That no one called me for help? No one called me hero. My name traded places with yours, despite being the one of light for years before I got used to it, but did you notice that?
“No, Cassie, you’ve never been good at noticing things, like the fact that you never chose to share our birthright then, as I don’t now.”
“I wanted to, Astra, I swear,” Cassandra tries to tell her, offering her hand once again. “I wanted it to be us against the world.”
Astra chuckles as she meets her sister’s eyes. “That may be what you wanted, but you’re inability to look at anything past yourself… is why you always find yourself and me standing on fragile ground, figuratively and literally.”
“Wait,” Cassandra mutters, finding the West Wolf’s words strange, until Astra’s knife begins to glow in her hand. Cassandra hears a hum around her and sees the light bleeding from all the cuts made into the ground she stands on.
The West Wolf realizes that the East hasn’t been aiming to hit her, but around her, and the West has done nothing but help.
Cassandra wants to stop, to end this while they still can, so she reaches out her hand. “Astra, we don’t have to do this!”
Astra raises her knife and shakes her head. “I wonder, when you’ll finally realize that I’ve gone too far, you’ve let me walk your path too long.”
“What… what do you mean…” Cassandra questions right before Astra starts raising her blade. “Astra, no!”
Astra stabs her knife into the ground.
The stone and clay that made up the bridge Cassandra stood upon explodes beneath her feet. The shock and impact wreaks havoc upon her before she starts falling. Blood streams from her right side as her organs feel like they’re caving in. Her pain endures pain, but it is dull in the face of what grieves her heart. No matter what she does, no matter what she says, her sister won’t stop fighting her.
They have been fighting each other their whole life, in some way or another.
Astra has fallen completely to this drive, and has seen her smile and pleasure thrive. It is time Cassandra has allowed herself to do the same.
It is time for her let the wolf out of the cage.
She lets her eyes stay closed the moment the darkness begins to flow. Her gauntlet begins to fall apart, showing her pale skin and the darkness that runs through her veins, the same darkness she has tried so hard to hide.
As she falls, her hair glows and gives off a red light, for a moment.
“AAAAHHHH!!” Cassandra screams as a claw slices through her armor, deep into her ribs, and she opens her yellow eyes in a fury.
Astra looks down at Cassandra peculiarly, as they begin to fall slowly together, their rising power dulling the effect of gravity around them.
As both their pupils turn to slits, yellow replaces the white, and even the brown too, Astra finds herself giggling.
To her it’s ridiculous at this point. “It seems I’m going to need way more to kill you, nothing else seems to cut it.”
From now and henceforth, Cassandra fails to find humor in anything as long as Astra draws breath.
“You know, Astra,” Cassandra starts as she grabs her sister’s knife with her other hand.
“What?” Astra asks, doing the same by grabbing Cassandra’s sword.
The power of the Red Wolves grow the longer they stand against each other, so much so that their red hair glows and their power radiates off the others’. The white light pushing against the black darkness.
“It’s always been easier for you to break things than to actually fix them,” Cassandra tells her sister, as their power ignites and blasts towards the sky.
As the winds bend to the will of their combined rage, Astra laughs in her sister’s face. “Hah, you could say that about anyone!”
“That’s why you’re so disappointing,” Cassandra says, wiping the laughter form Astra’s face, “despite all of your training, hardships, and privilege, you’re still like everyone else.”
That does it for Astra.
And Cassandra was already finished.
Cassandra and Astra have the same idea and kick each other in the face in an effort to be free of each other.
Their strength sends the other flying through the nearest castle towers, and into the next one behind them.
“How many fucking towers did she need in this castle?!” Cassandra curses to herself as she pushes away from her impact spot.
She eyes her sister across the large gap as the East Wolf returns the glare. They glower as the magic of the Red Wolf inside them both turns into a visible coat around them.
And no matter how much they seem to hate each other now, they think alike, both seeing what they need. But this is Astra’s home, so Astra points to the best spot.
She points to where she spotted Cassandra before, the bridge between the two highest peaks, where the railing bares metal, and the platform is black steel. It’s as if it were made in the likeness of the same balcony they trained on for years.
They share a nod, and they are off.
Now as the crescent moon hangs behind the towers, Astra climbs with her claws like a fiend, clawing her way to a tower’s peak, and leaping from it to the next, pushing off the next platform with her hands, and using everything on the way to gain momentum. The white light emitting from her burns the stone she touch, and disintegrates loose rock before it can fall to earth.
Cassandra stands and moves like knight turned earthly angel, channeling the darkness to her feet, letting it boost her with every step, letting her soar higher and higher above the world she once swore to protect, but she doesn’t fight for any world now.
They reach the top together. They touch the ground at the same time, one in a stylish flip, and the other with a graceful and slow descent, but they stop together.
As they stand apart from each other, the East against the West, they stand as the mortals who once pressed them.
They should stand as wolves.
“Convention has done us no favors,” Cassandra admits as she raises her sword to Astra one-handed, as if an offering hand.
“You know how much I hate to agree with you…” Astra says, but doesn’t finish, because she hates to agree.
“Then let us forgo man, the convention that drove us to this in the first place,” Cassandra says, as the darkness grow around her.
“I hate to agree…” Astra says as her light grows to match.
Their canines grow, sharp as their old master’s fangs, and their eyes evolve from yellow to red slits of rage. They are as beyond lycan wolves, as the lycan wolves are beyond man.
They do not grow hair, nor change into feral beast. Their power collects above their heads, pooling into avatars of their will, while at the same time their strength grows to match the power of space itself.
The world seems to shake, as two forms take shape over their heads in the sky, seen even from the far away sea.
Their power, their energy, their souls, they form limbs, sprout ears, and grow claws. One black and one white, each with eyes red, and red stripes down their sides.
Their fangs stand sharp enough to pierce the world, they stand large enough as if to chase the sun and moon in the sky. Constellations form over the fur of the black, and flares of the sun bleed from the fur of the white.
The black wolf Hati, and the white wolf Skoll.
For their ladies, they fight.
For their ladies, they growl.
For love and hate, the ladies fight.
And then they cross blades.
The sound of the wolves locking jaws shakes the heavens, and the weight of the East’s claw meeting the West’s sword careen whole nations as the world feels the weight of each blow, and heard the roars of their wolves.
A destiny their master once feared, one he foretold to young Astra, as she slipped from her sister’s grasp.
Despite how hard they fight, despite how hard Astra tries to slash Cassandra’s throat and how hard Skoll bites down on his brother Hati, Astra once thought she could fall in the name of her sister.
She was the first Red Wolf to be born with one.
That used to puzzle her once. How the Red Wolf could be reincarnated as two after being one for so long. Then she wondered how said wolf could fall at all.
So did her master.
She would come upon Master Cade mourning during hours of late, when the mechanical servants had been deactivated and the girls had been put to bed. This was when Astra liked to roam and the castle walls were devoid of anything that could sour that.
Usually when she peaked in his study, she would not enter. Once, and then many times after, when she was alone in her training and Cassandra was out venturing, she went in.
The door to his dark study didn’t squeak, but his ears heard the wind and his skin felt the warmth Astra brought with her into the room. He did not snap at her. He watched her inch into his study lit only by fire, but it let her see enough.
He turned away and young Astra took that as permission. His study was mostly what she had imagined, full of books, but none with titles. They were labeled and detailed by decades and centuries, bound by leather and a strap.
There were many weapons lining the walls, many that she had never seen before in their armory, some that looked of legend and witchcraft.
One was a sword with a blade the shape of a sickle, another a cane that extends into a whip, and a bow long replaced by the crossbows of a siege. She felt as if she was walking through the history of a man she realized she would never entirely know.
The statues and busts of marble interested her. None were men, warriors of yonder, the typical thing that filled the thoughts of artists now and then. They were of women, or a woman. One had a hand to her cheek, another a sword in her hand, and the last she looked upon had nothing but leaves across her skin, with many more fitting that description.
It didn’t dawn on Astra at first that this wasn’t a study until she stood behind the master’s chair that she once saw as a throne. It’s a comfortable stool from which he could look up, and see her.
Many of her, many paintings and drawings framed from different ages. Each face had slight differences from the next and the previous, and many difference from ones long after themselves and or far before. There were more than Astra could count, but they all shared something with her.
Her red hair.
Astra didn’t have to wonder though which one was the original, the first Red Wolf. She had a painting that illustrated her from head to toe. Darker skinned, like Master Cade, her hair still red, but she looked fairly unlike her successors who had migrated from Egyptia to Europa.
She didn’t dress the same, she looked more like a God Queen to Astra, adorned in jewels, painted marks, and a nemes headdress on her head. She held a sickle in one hand and a scepter in the other, both covered in blood. Her arms and legs not covered by cloth, instead showing off strands of her red fur.
If Astra were more of the artistic kind she’d recognize the harrowing detail. The original Red Wolf was too insane to be anything but real.
Seeing this room, and these paintings set up in the way they are, Astra realized that this was an altar to her, one he has hidden in the largest of closets.
“You loved the Red Wolf,” Astra whispered, as if the knowledge changed how she thought of him, “you fell in love with all of them.” She grew nervousas he stared at her, as if there was some different meaning in his eye.
Until he started chuckling.
“No, child, I did not fall in love with each one,” he admitted, both to relieve her of the tension in her mind, but in an attempt to not laugh at her. He could see that it only did so much. He straightened himself out, and spoke to her in a kinder tone than usual. “I loved most of them, but I was only in love with her,” with an eye towards the first, “you really only fall in love once, but you think you’re in love all the time.”
The idea of such a statement left Astra bothered for a completely different reason. To be in love only once, and to live so long. Her fear had been replaced by pity. “That must be really hard, and sad for you,” she told him, “to be with her reincarnations instead of her.”
“Not necessarily,” he admitted, “I told you that the Red Wolf is immortal, and that’s true in more ways than one.”
She looked to him with a curious eye, and an arch of her brow. Here, she thought she knew everything about her own heritage, but there always seemed to be more. There is always more to an important story than what lies on the surface.
“What do you mean?” was a simple way for her to ask her question.
“The original,” he started, and hesitated, knowing how impressionable a child could be, even as a teenager, “my love as you like to call her, her soul can overtake a reincarnation, allowing me to be with her again.”
Astra felt her fear return to her in a whirlwind of emotion. She thought that she would lose herself and her free will, her hands shaking from fear. In another sense, she pitied the closest thing she ever had to a father, because losing herself would mean he wouldn’t have to suffer in his clear loneliness.
“Is… is she going to take me over?” Astra asked.
“Doubtful,” and while her fear was assuaged, her guilt was not. It’s not rare for such strong emotion to leave you unprotected against another. There’s always something to take its place, and Astra was experiencing that. “With you and your sister, her soul is split.”
That’s when Astra realized that her and her sister were the only reincarnations to ever have gotten between Master Cade and his love. “I’m sorry,” she said, and he felt how much she meant it. He didn’t think he had ever heard her apologize before and mean it.
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he told her, but Astra disagreed.
“I’m the reason you can’t be with your one true love.”
“Love…” he repeated her word, the idea that he may once again be with her did not fill him with happiness, for he knew what it meant to see her again. “I will be sad whether I see her again or not.”
Astra was confused by that, staring at him as he stared into the fire. He just told her that people only fall in love once, and as an immortal why would he not ache for the chance to spend eternity with that one love?
His eyes glanced to her with a sort smirk that only deepened the confusion in her brow. His eyes looked back to the fire as he told her, “If I never see her again, well… that’s self explanatory.”
“And if you do?”
“That means I’ve lost you and your sister,” he answered, and she felt her heart warm. He’s fed them, clothed them, and trained them. He’s saved them from the impoverished teat of a lowly wolf pack, but she never felt she could prove what he thought or what he felt. He never said the words, as he did then.
“I train you as hard as I do because I do not wish to lose another Red Wolf,” he told Astra, “I want you to know what it is to be immortal, I want us to see the dawn rise for the final time on this planet.”
“Even if it means never seeing her again?”
Love, to be in love and to love coincide mostly, but no matter how much Master Cade was in love with the Red Wolf, the love for the children outweighs the love for the partner.
The idea that there once stood a woman to capture the heart of Master Cade was astounding to her. She wondered what it was that he found in her, that he believed that Astra and Cassandra could hold. What could they hold that’s better?
“Master Cade, was she strong?” she asked him.
He chuckled at her many questions. Most would think he would be filled with pain, but speaking of the lost and loved is not something he found too painful just yet. He found the girl’s interest in herself much more fulfilling.
He gestured to her, to sit with him by the fire. Astra took the invitation and sat on the ground near his chair. The moment she sits his hand ruffles the hair on her head.
“Hey,” she complained.
“Heheh,” he mostly ignored her complaints. He spent more thought on her question. “Well, I guess it depends on what you consider strong. She certainly had power, of many kinds. She is the progenitor of our clans, little Astra,” an adjective that makes Astra scrunch her nose, and amuse her mentor.
“Really, she created our clans?” she asked.
“Yours and mine, her bite for the wolves, and her blood… for the bats.” There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. “It was her blood, that made me what I am, and I don’t mean that tangentially.”
Astra’s eyes grew wide at that fact. This one being gave birth to two powerful clans. The once kind and now savage wolves, and the immortal, bloodthirsty bats. How could one hold such importance to history? How could one be the sole creator of the most powerful beings to walk the earth.
“How did someone, as big and as powerful her die?” Astra asked herself, the world mostly. It surprised Master Cade, he sensed that the question wasn’t for him, because she grew upset. “People like the Red Wolf don’t die, they’re, they’re… they’re too big.”
To offer her solace and understanding, he told her the truth behind war, and violence. “It doesn’t take power to kill someone, anyone, it just takes will.” When Astra matched his gazed, she hung onto every word as a child does. “With the will, you can kill anyone, but you, Astra, you need a will to survive too.”
“Why me?” she asked him. “I know how they all look at me now, the brat, the monster, I’ve heard the humans talk about how I’m the dark horse that Cassie’s supposed to slay. They used to say it was me…” and she turned away from him for her own hands, even as his hand rests on her head to console her. “It used to be me they loved, I could have gone out and saved some worthless peasants, take some of Cassie’s glory, but she’s always been so sad, I… I didn’t want them to hate her anymore. I didn’t realize that they’d hate me instead.”
Master Cade moved from his chair to kneel down with his ward. He took her chin in his hand to force her to look at him.
“Astra, you have to realize that humans understand very little of how the world really works, how magic and the gods chose those of worth, how the Dark Ones designate their enemies. You can change how they think, Astra, even now, you need only look at your power and you will see that you still have the capacity for it.
Astra was too young for the thoughts she had. She had the capacity to make them, and to fear them, but not to understand and overcome. It led her to ask for help, “What do you mean?” and Master Cade could only help so much.
“Child, between you and Cassandra, which one of your magicks is light, and which is darkness?”
The question reminded Astra of the reason that Cassandra needed to prove herself in the first place. Despite Astra’s more vulgar and animalistic nature, her soul bled with the light of the angels and the angelic power that people begged to save them. Cassandra bore darkness, and dark intent flooded her mind. She had to fight, suffer, and bleed to prove the world that her darkness did not make her a devil.
Because Astra will always be the light at the end of the tunnel, she realized that she always had the ability to take from Cassandra what she desires most.
“Oh,” was the only word Astra could muster, and her Master Cade did not understand the thoughts that passed through Astra’s head. He did not know to stop the path Astra was to set herself down.
That’s why he responded with, “Exactly,” as if he were teaching a child an obvious lesson.
It was too late when he realized he was the one who was wrong. “Then humans are mistaken to follow my sister,” Astra declared as she stood to her feet, “Cassie is marked as the dark horse that threatens us all, and if I…” she did not finish her thought that, “if I prove it, she may become it, I must walk her path.’
Master Cade stood up with her, believing that Astra was deciding to step aside for her sister to rise alongside her. He did not know that Astra thought to become the dark horse for her.
“How very noble of you,” he mistakenly supported her, “take care that you are not corrupted in her place,” but that was indeed the whole point.
That’s why skies tear asunder by the sounds of the two sons of destruction wrecking havoc across the stars, as two sisters wreak havoc across the land.
His mistake in Astra’s youth, Cassandra’s ability to forget her sister, and Astra’s lack of balance for selflessness and selfishness, is why the Red Wolf of the West, and the Red Wolf of the East are at war.
There’s never just one, but many chances from which armageddon can be prevented, and all the best times have now passed. Now the time has come for violence, and for blood.
And the sisters want to see it shed.
With one blow across her face, one sends her sister careening miles across the barren, ravaged land.
With one swing of the claw, she slashes her sister and her strength cuts through the land for miles behind her.
Again and again they come at each other at blinding speeds, the blowback and the aftermath of swapping fists sending their armies running in fear, and some in pieces.
And through it all, they can’t help but fight screaming.
Screaming about all the things they’ve done to hurt each other. All the reason they hate and wish that they never had a sister.
Whether it be something they did during the war…
“And then worst of all, at the battle of Burden Hime, you dressed your whole army in yellow just to piss me off!” Astra screams as her kick sends boulders behind Cassandra skipping across the land.
“I can’t express how happy I was that it pissed you off,” Cassandra roars back having lost her sword, now throwing her fist, “and brought you out,” after fist, “out of the light!” after fist, each missing and creating craters from the wind blasts.
Astra catches Cassandra’s arm, only for the West Wolf to headbutt her in the face.
“I just healed my nose!” Astra screams.
In retaliation, the East Wolf kicks Cassandra in the crotch, sending her flying up into the air.
Astra leaps to meet her, yelling, “Light, is where I belong,” and beating Cassandra’s face as she does, “it is not me who’s power comes from a dark place of pain, it was not my power that scared people!”
Cassandra catches Astra’s fist, “No, it was your whole stinkin’ personality that did that!” and sinks her fist into Astra’s gut. Astra coughs blood in West Wolf’s face before Cassandra takes both hands and whacks Astra with it, sending her straight to the ground.
The impact turns fertile grass into mounds and pits of dirt. The East Wolf leaps after Cassandra, her shoulder spearing her in the stomach carrying her miles away until they crash, as the wolf gods battling over their heads.
They land on Cassandra and Astra starts clawing down at her sister’s armor to hit something vital, yelling at her all the while about their childhood.
“Lets see if you want to wear yellow now, bitch!” as Astra grabs a mound of dirt and throws it in Cassandra’s face, to blind her as she tries to kick her sister off of her.
“That doesn’t even make sense!” Cassandra yells, right before punching Astra in the throat, stunning her. The West Wolf takes the chance to grab Astra’s head and pull her down for another headbutt, one that sends her flying over the remains of the castle.
As Astra holds her bleeding nose, she screams, “What do you have against my nose?!” while the black wolf, Hati, sees her and tries to attack.
She’s a fly compared to his size, so when Skoll sees that, he sinks his jaws into his brother’s neck, causing an explosion that changes Astra’s trajectory. Hati’s ferocious roar of pain is so loud and thunderous Astra can’t hear herself complain, “And what’s with all the damn headbutts?!”
The East Wolf hits the ground as the white wolf, Skoll, lifts his brother over his head. Skoll slams Hati down to the ground, destroying half a small country from the impact and the shockwaves of godly power that are sent forth.
Astra tries to pick herself up after landing outside the feeble remains of her castle. She’s surprised by Cassandra coming down on her at light speed, bringing her fist down into Astra’s stomach.
The ground shatters around them like glass, turning what was once solid ground into mere rubble.
Cassandra attacks only grow more ferocious, bearing down on Astra with a barrage of fists, screaming about Astra’s own hypocrisy.
“As if dressing my men in your least favorite color is as bad as stealing my fucking cat!” Cassandra screams until Astra’s claw shoots up, slicing the side of her neck. “Fuck!” Cassandra curses before Astra’s leg spins around, knocking into Cassandra’s face…
… slicing a line through the perfect circle of the equator.
Cassandra stops herself from flying away by pooling her power into her feet to weigh her down…
… and it helps when Astra moves like the wind to meet her.
Her claw meets Cassandra’s fist. They keep matching blow for blow, and when one lands, the other follows with a counter.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
Each time a claw draws blood through armor, and each time fist smashes bone, the rocks around them float a little higher, twisting apart gravity’s hold.
When Astra catches Cassandra’s fist, and Cassandra catches Astra’s claw, they both reel back their necks and smash their foreheads together.
The radius of their crater grew by several miles, with them at the center, standing head to head, a breath’s distance from each other, their blood dripping down over their nose to the ground.
Astra growls in Cassandra’s face, taunting her sister with the idea that, “Mr. Butters liked me better anyway,” which prompts a furious snarl from Cassandra, “how are you still angry about that, we were twelve!”
Cassandra’s rage causes her power to fluctuate, causing black razor winds to form and cut scars into the land that once surrounded Astra’s castle.
The West Wolf growls, “I… still… want… him… back!”
“Do you now?” Astra questions, and her own power fluctuates to meet her sister’s, and she reels back her head, making Cassandra expect a headbutt.
Instead, she receives a knee to the chin, one that sends her flying up towards the clouds.
As she soars, the West Wolf feels her rage only continue to flow, blindingly so. So much so that she releases a burst of power and a vengeful scream. She flexes her arms and her power explodes from her, stopping her momentum, and acting as a gigantic beacon in the sky for Skoll.
Skoll sees the vulnerable West Wolf, and kicks his brother from off atop of him, throwing Hati into a whole other mountain range.
Skoll full out runs towards her, covering a country’s span in seconds as Cassandra charges her power in a massive explosive to throw down on Astra below. Skoll’s footsteps crack the earth and make new tectonic plates, but Cassandra can’t help but focus her full fury upon her sister.
When Skoll leaps, blowing away clouds for miles, his fangs aim to come down on Cassandra, and engulf her mountain sized blast whole.
Before Skoll can attack Cassandra, Hati floats across the sky like the moon he chases, just to bite Skoll by his tail. He pulls his brother back from Cassandra, and when their humongous shadow is cast over her, the West Wolf looks up in shock as Fenrir’s sons smother her army in their fall.
“Holy shit,” she curses, the magnitude of the battle beside her own slowly dawning on her, but not fast enough.
Astra tackles Cassandra, flying with amazing speed and grasping Cassandra by the throat. “Choke on my hand for ever thinking stealing Mr. Butters was worse than you sending me a donkey as a 16th birthday present!”
Cassandra backhands Astra’s hand and punches her in the gut, but there are no clouds to be pushed by the clap of the blow.
There are no wolf gods to hear Cassandra yell back, “They’re not even on the same level!”
After coughing blood in Cassandra’s face, Astra punches Cassandra in the ribs, several times as she replies, “You know how I feel about them! You promised never to bring it up!”
Cassandra backhands Astra, turning her around so she can get the East Wolf in a headlock. “Yeah, well, you promised you’d learn to share!” Cassandra says into her ear before bringing her knee into her back.
Astra snaps her head back into Cassandra’s nose, claiming, “And I did!” and pushes away, flipping and kicking Cassandra as they now begin to fall thousands of feet back to earth.
Astra spins to kick Cassandra again in the face, down to earth, but Cassandra catches her by the ankle. “Did you now?!” she questions, as she pulls Astra down to kick her in turn. “Is that why you started a war, because you knew how to share?!”
Astra flips away after being kicked, and as they fall and face each other, Astra rubs her jaw.
“So maybe I forgot!” she admits, before her hands shoot forth light like fire to fly at Cassandra. “I gave Mr. Butters back!”
“No you didn’t!” Cassandra growls as she flies at Astra in turn. “Mr. Butters was a black cat, you gave me a tabby cat, you idiot!” and in response Astra makes an embarrassed look of realization that’s replaced by a face of pain as her and Cassandra begin to beat each other the whole way back to Earth.
Not a second flies by where they are not slamming fists against jaws, slashing claws against armor, and banging heads against skulls. Each blow draws blood, each blow brings pain, but the sisters never stop nor falter. They are equals in battle, and in recovery, both falling to exhaustion and pain at the same rate.
Not to forget gravity.
They hit max velocity before they hit the ground, and the dust cloud that forms rises high because of it.
But they still fly from the smoke opposing each other.
They land bleeding profusely from their wounds and nearly every orifice, covered from bloody lips and dripping noses, barely able to see through swollen eyes with popped blood vessels. But it’s all skin deep, none of it fatal, they have yet to deal a mortal wound that the other cannot recover from. For that…
They’ve grown sick of battle.
Astra pulls back her hand, and presses her sharp fingers together to form a sharp point which shines the white light that is her power.
Cassandra, in her desperate frustration, summons forth her sword from across the battlefield. It comes flying from far away, but in its place her power flows freely from her hand. The black light flows from her veins as they turn her hand a gross black color.
Astra is ready before Cassandra, but that doesn’t stop anyone.
Astra leaps forward, flying over the ground, not touching it.
Without her sword, Cassandra makes the same leap, her hand held back, waiting for the weapon to reach her hand, but it never comes.
Instead, as time is measured in units less than seconds, a new sword forms in Cassandra’s hand, just as she stabs forward. Astra’s claw is there to meet it.
“That, that hurt more than I thought it would,” Cassandra admits, trying to keep from spitting out the blood in her mouth, like Astra just did.
The only reason they still stand is because they have the other to hold themselves up, each with their hand.
Astra, being held by the sword that’s sticking out her back.
And Cassandra, by the fingers whose exit just missed her spine.
“Do… you feel it, Cassie?” Astra asks her sister, with a bloody smile on her face, while Cassandra is doing all she can to keep from throwing up.
As she tries to keep her shaking knees from collapsing under her own weight, she somehow replies, “What?”
“This is it, sister,” Astra tells her, as she brings her other hand behind Cassandra’s head, “this is where you bleed out and die, and let me become what I was truly meant to be!”
All Cassandra can think about is how absolutely delusional her sister is. To her, it seems like Astra has forgotten about the sword that’s inside her. “Ahh,” is all Cassandra is able and willing to groan out.
“What’s… the matter?” Astra asks, she’s hit with a wave of pain herself. Lycantrophe adrenaline may work better than normal humans, but not infinitely better.
“Is it the pain,” Astra sputters out, “or the fact that I’m about to beat you.”
“Eh,” Cassandra moans, as she’s bothered by something else Astra said.
“What?” Astra asks.
“Ahh…” Cassandra moans even louder.
“What?!” Astra demands to know.
Cassandra, with the power she has left with Astra’s hand against her stomach, says, “Mr. Butters, did not like you better…”
That one sentence makes Astra forget about the cold steel tickling her intestines. All she can think about is how for some godforsaken reason, her sister is more hung up on a cat than what’s really important.
“Oh my god,” Astra gasps, placing her other hand on Cassandra’s shoulder to push herself partially off her sister’s sword, “shut up about the damn cat!”
Cassandra bends the sword inward, twisting it ever so slightly, enough to shoot a spasm of pain through Astra’s body. The West forces the East to meet her eyes, and with a look of anger greater than Astra can muster at the moment, Cassandra growls, “Then you shut up… about being the goddamn Red Wolf!”
And before Astra can respond, Cassandra plants her hand on Astra’s chest, and brings them both a great deal of pain by pushing her sister off her sword. Astra clutches Cassandra’s shoulders, as they both scream sounds unintelligible, with their bodies churning inside out around their stomachs.
Astra even pulls her hand out of Cassandra’s wound to slide off her sister’s sword faster, screaming, “Fine! Fine, I’ll shut up about it!”
Cassandra stops pushing with her blade pointed up, to ask, “Really?” and Astra nods her head with her eyes squeezed shut. Cassandra then lowers her blade and lets Astra slide off smoothly, and to her back.
The East Wolf clutches her wound and writhes on the ground, and the West Wolf falls to one knee, her sword holding her up as her other hand holds in her insides. As they both feel the greatest of stings, Cassandra asks, “You weren’t lying… were you?”
Astra glares at Cassandra from her fetal position on the ground. “Yes,” Astra responds, “fine, it takes energy away from killing you anyway.”
“Ugh,” Cassandra groans when she tries to chuckle, “as if you could, as if we can even… you know…”
Astra arches her brow at her sister, and tries pushing herself to sit up. “What,” she complains, “is there some new rule about fratricide in the Red…” She stops when Cassandra glares at her. “You know what I mean.”
“I don’t know…”
“You know, it would actually make sense,” Astra admits, as she turns away, looking at the rubble that was her castle.
Cassandra looks at her bewildered, and turns to look the same way. Somehow, they both ignore the god wolves fighting and thrashing about behind them. It’s rather frightening how easily they ignore the earth shaking.
“You want to finish your thought,” Cassandra asks Astra.
“That we can’t kill each other,” Astra says, “I mean… why else aren’t you fucking dead yet?”
“Why aren’t you dead yet?” Cassandra snaps back.
Astra rolls her eyes. “I’m not dead because I still want to fight you!”
“Well, maybe I want to fight you too!” Cassandra yells back.
Astra bends her head back to complain, “Oh, god, I thought this would be over by now, can you just bleed out already?” only to lay flat on her back.
Cassandra leans back with her, shaking her head all the same. “Who would have thought,” Cassandra postulates, “a battle between equals would last this long.”
“Pfft,” Astra snorts, “equals my ass,” and Cassandra rolls her eyes. But despite her groans, they both realize the answer to Cassandra’s rhetorical question.
They look at each other and agree, “Master Cade.”
As they turn away, Astra thinks back to what Master Cade told her when she was in his study. “All you need to kill someone, is the will,” more or less she thinks to herself.
She wonders how literal he was being. “Maybe we just don’t have the will,” Astra whispers.
“What?” Cassandra asks..
“Nothing,” Astra groans, as she turns onto her stomach, and forces herself to stand back up, “just get up and fight.”
Cassandra’s face screams, ‘Still?’ but she doesn’t actually say it. She resigns herself to their fate, to battle forever more.
Astra takes the time to step back from Cassandra, as her twin finds the strength to sit back up.
Both pretty empty of power, so much so that they’re innate healing is working rather slow, if at all. Instead, Astra decides to summon the power from her wolf, Skoll.
Cassandra, upon getting to her feet, sees what Astra is doing. She sighs as she realizes she must do the same, but a part of her can’t help but smirk.
Cassandra calls upon the power of Hati, and finds herself overflowing with strength again like her sister.
Then they ready their weapons, blade and claw.
As they bend at the knees, Astra curls her fingers and threatens Cassandra like she always has. “This is it, sister, our final battle, the final proof of my superiority.”
“You said that the last fourteen times, almost exactly.”
“I mean it, I will be-”
“Oh my god, just shut up you billowy bitch!”
And with those crude words, Cassandra went to slash Astra’s throat with her sword, and Astra used her claws much the same.
They are two wolves dancing of swords, forever and evermore.
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