Waltraud could not know fear in this moment. The smell of blood was on the air, casting a path for her to follow into battle. There were beating hearts drumming, mouths open and gasping, breaths sour with beer and malice, sweat laced across shivering bodies, and their fear, their fear alone, everyone who knew what would happen this night, this was the only fear she recognized.
The princess was forgotten. For above all else there was a wolf and a wolf who also felt no fear. A wolf that had not shown herself but had remained hidden save for smell, a thin waft dragging across the celebration. A wolf who would only reveal herself when Waltraud did, dripping in blood and fear.
She fell upon the musician who had insulted her earlier. He was still outside the hall, unpunished, staggering and boasting of his prestige of insulting a monster. Waltraud leapt out of the shadows and into the firelight, teeth bared and jaws open. She crushed his neck in one bite and tore his head off before he even felt death come upon him. Screams ignited the night as the Beast of the Daughter of the House of Wulfstochter announced her intention to hunt this night with a boisterous howl.
And she was answered. From within the hall she was answered. Tonight there would be a hunt by wolves, rapacious and devouring. Howl with me again, my sister!
They came at her with their spears. The castle guard huffing in their armor and praying with their doomed mouths. She leapt over their heads, letting them stab up at her unprotected belly in futility. Nothing, nothing could stop the fury of the Beast. These poor, pampered fools of the king, they had never hunted a wolf before. They were no match for her, her equal waited inside for her.
"Dead, it was supposed to be dead!" All gathered cried in agony into the night.
She shattered the stained glass of the hall with her charge, avoiding the useless defense of the doors. After all, it was the very reason why she had insisted on saying her wedding vows before the dying sun, with the fading light filling the colored panes with the last gasps of sunlight. She landed where she had kissed her bride, but even that lingering smell of fear didn't stop the Beast.
The godi was the next to die as the hall collapsed into a rushing whirlpool of those who wished to escape and those who were following Waltraud's charge into battle. The old woman was sitting beside a younger woman on a bench, mouth open in amazement. Waltraud bit into her soft belly, tearing away the intestines with one shake of the head. The priestess never even raised her hands up, in full submission to the gods, perhaps her act of penance before ascending into Hel.
And the young woman, who had been hidden away during the wedding, who now sat with her hands in her lap, drenched in the blood of her family's priestess, grinned. She was the same woman who had warned of Ernst's imprisonment. She was the one who had stood naked under the cloak in the sacred grove.
They were both here now; the wolves.
She laughed and laughed. She threw her head back and asked, "And what will you do now, Grimhild?"
And Grimhild turned away and began to race towards the head of the hall. Ludwig was sitting upon his raised seat, still and impassive. Lady Röselein let out her own shriek of laughter, her own shrill battle cry. For the Wulfstochter heiress had laughed at every man she had ever killed. She leapt up onto the table and drew a sword from beneath her voluminous skirt.
"Follow!" she gave the cry to their allies, as she had so many times before. They were few in number, but the austerity of having a divine protector had leaded them to countless victories. The fallen princess raised her sword in belief her Beast was the only true descendant of divinity.
Ludwig however called upon his own guardian as the hall ripped open into a bloodbath as his men were rushed by Lady Röselein's guard.
I have wanted to know that name. And that name came with a torrent of nostalgia that drenched Waltraud to her soul. Images of a pack of mighty sister-wolves came rising to the surface, of a hunt that had no matched grandeur in any mortal world, and of a shared destiny that united them across all the ages of time. They were flickering lights of the past and future, coalescing upon her psyche, much older, and newer, than she had ever before realized.
I am, I am-! She flew over the guards' heads, without even thinking what was driving her towards killing the trembling old man before her.
And she knew it then, as she landed before her prey, before what would inevitably goad her sister into a terrible final battle.
I am a wolf.
Brynhild ascended above the same gambit as Waltraud. Man fought man, leaving the wolves to their own intractable dance. Brynhild bit into Waltraud's shoulder to coat her fangs with her sister's blood. Waltraud screamed, never before knowing such a pain, every nerve was on fire, yet it raced along her fibers with a scintillating pleasure. It urged her on, for her to taste the blood of her long awaited final opponent; to secure the battle by a drive of frenzied bloodlust.
You came all this way. She rolled onto her side as the excruciating bliss overtook her. Brynhild lunged for her throat, and Grimhild caught the underside of her shoulder. She bit down, seeking to crush the bone by wrenching her head back and forth. Brynhild gave her own cry of agony as her blood choked her sister.
You came all this way to kill me. Brynhild made Gimhild's jaws loosen by putting a paw down onto her sister's torn shoulder and pushing. The wolves separated, both dripping the blood of the other from their gasping jaws.
But do I wish to kill you?
The opponent she had always longed for, the complement never found within man's strength or ferocity. Her human enemies had always been crushed between her jaws, unable to compete against a wolf's bloodlust. She had waited all her days to meet someone who would at last give her a true battle, not a mere hunt upon a battlefield. Had this terrible poignant moment, where she must fight every second for her life, is this what she had been waiting for all these forsaken years? Her blood cried out for blood, she had been born to kill, she had always known it, but was this wolf the one she had been waiting to slay?
"Waltraud!" A voice from far away, yet one that would always find her ears.
"Waltraud, don't forget yourself!" Lady Röselein shrieked, lost somewhere amongst the carnage and screams. Waltraud raised her head and saw the cowardly form of the king retreating behind a wall of men. A man who should not even be worthy of her attention, yet she had sworn to slay. With a snarl she pushed herself up, remembering Ernst's desperate cries from that day. Brynhild lunged to protect her patron, but her teeth found only wooden boards as Waltraud rolled beneath her and away from her jaws.
She used bulk alone to push away the men, letting them stab her with their short blades at such a close distance. She was foiled by Brynhild alone as the other wolf clamped onto her rear leg and pulled her back. When a man tried to pierce his spear between her eyes she tore his guts out, her fangs crushing his armor between them. The rest fell back, leaving Waltraud to the grim realization that if she wished to kill the king she had no choice but to kill the wolf first.
With renewed fury she turned around to snap at her sister. Brynhild released her and leapt back only to propel herself forward again with open jaws. Then there was nothing but snapping teeth, snarls, and a bloodlust so fervent Grimhild was barely aware of her torn throat clotting the floor with bright blood. There was nothing but gore and an ecstatic fury she became lost in. Somewhere someone cried out again and again for the human woman known as Waltraud, but the wolf only sought to rip her opponent down to bones and gristle.
Never had she known such joy in battle! It was a delight to trade blows, to feint, counter attack and attack again and again, to see every movement matched by a counter move as graceful, cunning, and vicious. It was a complete immersion in ferocity, the penultimate expression of her true nature. It was a dance no mortal could ever understand or appreciate.
And Brynhild was as happy as she, being here in this last terrible moment with her, until the very end.
Then a body was thrown between them, and a new gush of blood expelled its scent across the battlefield. It was Lady Röselein, ashen faced, side pierced, and shuddering in agony. She turned onto her side with a groan in the puddle of wolven blood. Waltraud paused as her human life fell around her.
"Protect her!" The princess screamed at her. Her wedding dress was torn and blood-stained, and her cheeks blazed on her naked face. Brynhild moved to lunge again and the princess rolled beneath her. She stabbed up at the unprotected belly with her sword and the wolf screamed in pain. As Brynhild tried to wrench back to bite into the princess, Roozbeh appeared to slam into the beast and unbalance her.
Waltraud gathered Lady Röselein as gently as she could between her jaws. The battle was lost, the king was gone, and their forces were overwhelmed. Waltraud looked back only briefly as she began to lope out of the hall. Brynhild was retreating away from Roozbeh's sword. Their eyes met, the other wolf would not be giving chase. Waltraud could not fathom her motivations, but she led the retreating princess and her man out of the hall by sheer weight alone. She plowed over men as she escaped the hall into the night.
The princess' maidens were waiting upon horseback but Waltraud slipped past them. She leapt over the heads of the rear garrison; the princess was left to defeat those who didn't chase after the Beast. She crushed the gatekeeper beneath her feet as they came upon the last great obstacle of the castle. She released Lady Röselein to pull open the doors with her teeth. The woman slumped, but raised her head to watch the distant spectacle of the Parsi attachment battle the castle guards. She laughed weakly at the sight.
"She is letting those girls die for her!" She sighed and shook her head. "Now, we owe her something."
Waltraud chose not to look; their dying screams and the ardent bloom of blood was enough. She instead coaxed Lady Röselein to climb onto her back as the doors swung open. She leapt out of range of the garrison's spears, weaving across the crowd gathered outside the palace. People screamed to see the Beast of Ländle conjured out of the shadows of the night. They clasped their amulets tightly as the Beast rained down blood upon their upraised faces. The wolf climbed up onto the rooftops and like a hellish spirit continued her charge across the night.
"Waltraud. You're leaving a trail." Lady Röselein gasped into her ear at the sight of blood flowing down eaves. "We need to get out of the city, but that little chit is following us. It'll be more prudent to escape on the back of her horses. Turn back into a human."
Waltraud turned her ears back and heard the gallop of the princess' favorite charger. A common green came into view and with one supple leap she landed at its far end. There amongst the frost covered grass, she let her human skin grown back over her lupine body. Encased in mortal flesh she collapsed in agony, burdened by all a human woman could feel. Lady Röselein weakly stood guard as the princess' greatly reduced party arrived.
"Waltraud!" she cried as she dismounted. She was stopped however by Lady Röselein's sword point at her throat.
"Ah. Ah. Now you know the truth about Waltraud." She shook the sword in warning. "What will you do now?"
"Love her, as I did before." The princess glowered and Lady Röselein's eyes widened in disbelief. It was the last thing Waltraud saw as her head fell back and her small, human body fell into unconsciousness. The wolf dreamed however, and guided by the agony she felt, into intricate nightmares of blood and fangs. She dreamt of the past and of the future, visions she would forget when she would awoke, as frail and mortal as before, but the pain would linger on.