The Character of Aslaug is Copyright Â? Joan Jacobsen
The Characters of Tigermark and TL are Â? Tigermark
The Character of Aramis Dagaz is Â? Aramis Dagaz
The Characters of Joe Latrans and Annie Latrans are Â? The Silver Coyote
All other characters appearing are Copyright Â? Joan Jacobsen
Characters are not to be used without prior written permission of their authors.
No part of this story may be reproduced or placed on any website without the written permission of the author.
This story is copyright Â? Aslaug, 2008
It had been months since Aslaug had come back from Anatolia and her harrowing experience of losing her fur. She often thought about it. It had been the start of a new role in life for her. She saw less of the amigos now than she did before, although it wasn’t for the reason she had suspected. Naturally they had wanted to know why she had killed an angel. She had explained. They had believed her without further ado. None of them blamed her. None of them were even angry with her. But still, she saw them less often than she used to. It didn’t surprise her, really. They still had their occasional missions although she could see that Joe in particular was getting tired of it. He wanted some stability in life again. The way she saw it, he’d probably stop gallivanting around reality quite soon, and settle down for good with Annie.
If so, it was richly deserved. Tigermark and Aramis had solo-missions now as well, she knew that much. Quite obviously, the one who excelled at it was Aramis. Tigermark did it because it was duty, but he too would probably like to finally settle down with his family.
Her own existence had changed quite dramatically. She had actually gone to Asgaard twice since that mission to Anatolia. Not because anyone picked her up, but because she chose to go there. She had gone to Folkvangâ??talked to some of her old friends thereâ??and finally she had understood the wisdom of the Gods.
She wasn’t supposed to be there yet. Eventually, certainly, but not yet. She felt welcome there. She liked it there, no question about itâ??but it wasn’t ‘home’. When she went, she felt like she was missing something. Like she had left something undone or incomplete. It didn’t take long to realize what it was she needed to do, and she had gone back to her apartment. In both cases, she felt like she’d been gone for weeks, even monthsâ??and only a few hours had gone by when she returned. If that long.
Grabbing a carrot from the fridge, she bit down on it and headed to the window, looking out. It wouldn’t be long before she needed to start looking for a new place to live. A year. Two at most.
She’d need to leave California completely. She’d probably need to dye her fur, much as it displeased her. She’d need to find another job, somewhere. Something different. Maybe she’d try her paw as a lumberjack. She knew how to use an axe, at least, but the problem was that in this day and age, lumberjacks used chainsaws. She couldn’t help feeling like she’d be cheating by using that. Where was the contest? The durability, the thickness, the strength of the treeâ??as opposed to hers. Probably not that, then. She wasn’t quite sure what she’d do instead.
She might have to stage her own ‘death’, too. She wouldn’t have any trouble being convincing about it, at least. She’d deal with that as the time approached. Perhaps that bit was avoidable.
Maybe she’d go abroad. She had thought about Scandinavia, butâ??the more she thought about it, the less she thought she could bear to see it. Nothing would be as she remembered it. The furs there would be just like those around her now, except they’d speak a different language. But they’d be modern, too. She might be able to recognize certain landmarks in certain areas, but everything else would be gone.
She’d be a stranger in her own country. She wasn’t quite sure she could bear that. Better to keep the memories intact. Maybe she’d go north, though. To Canada. Or Alaska. She wasn’t sure. Had she grown too used to the heat of California? Maybe. Again, it was something for her to deal with later.
These were all considerations she needed to deal with, but not necessarily right now. She didn’t approve of postponing for tomorrow what she could do today, but in this case, she made an exception. Thinking of movingâ??two years down the lineâ??wasn’t exactly comfortable.
What was home, now? What place could she truly ever consider her home again, if she had to move with a few years interval? She knew the Svendsens had made a deal to have their age show. She could do so, butâ??it wasn’t her style. Better to move. Better to look for a new pasture.
This world no longer confused her as it had when she arrived. She’d be able to make a new home in a new place. Tigermark, Aramis and Joe had all helped her to an understanding of this world.
And how had she repaid them? By cutting the wings off an angel, before decapitating him.
Sighing, she shook her head. She still woke up at night, seeing that expression on Zacharial’s face as he realized he was going to die.
Relief. And pain.
Not physical pain but agony beyond agony, at having fallen from Graceâ??
She had been the method for his destruction, and she had made powerful enemies in the process. She had no doubt she would face Anane again in the future. Next time, she promised herself, she would be ready. Next time, she wouldn’t be a mere agent. She’d be Anane’s equalâ??and she’d enjoy skewering the demon. Slowly.
She’d inflict such pain on the fallen angel as to send a message from Hell to Heaven itself, never again to use her.
She was done being a ping-pong ball for beings so much greater than herself that she could never truly comprehend their wishes and plans anyway. She still couldn’t, even after her elevation. But she was no longer simply a tool. Valued, useful perhapsâ??but ultimately expendable. Not anymore.
She finished chewing on her carrot. It was a cold day outside. Bitterly cold. Snow covered the landscape. She smiled to herself. Snow was friendly. She liked snowâ??and the cold.
Looking over her shoulder, it was almost as if her spear sang. As if her axe was shivering, asking her to pick it up and go out thereâ??just for a momentâ??just for a brief moment, to feel like she was back where she came from. Daring the Ottonian Christians to do their worst.
Bellowing her warcryâ??her defianceâ??and taking on the entire world, on her own if needs be.
Smiling, she looked back out the window, ignoring the impulse. It was a different life. A different world, in more ways than one. She had changed so much since then. She’d never come to agree with many of the teachings of the Christians and she would die before bowing her knee before Whitechrist, but she could respect individual Christians. That was how she got through it.
The religion she did not care forâ??but Tigermarkâ??or Aramisâ??or Joeâ??
Or so many others that she had met. Yes, those she could respect.
Running a paw through her mane, she looked at a snowflake that landed on her window. It was just one of hundreds, if not thousands of snowflakes, but she followed it downwards, downwardsâ??
Watching it slowly meltâ??change shapeâ??become something else.
A part of a whole.
That snowflake was quite like herself.
She turned around and walked back through her living room. She turned on her stereo and let the music stream through her. Hammering her insides with the heavy, thundering rhythms. The elaborate choruses.
The sheer power of sound, rushing through her every fibre.
It was one of her greatest pleasures and she closed her eyes. The female chorus rose in crescendo, and she smiled, letting her arms spread to the sides. She did not understand a word of the languageâ??but she didn’t have to. It was beautiful. It was a hymn to courageâ??to sacrificeâ??to endurance.
To what she considered prime virtues.
It was only then, through the music that she became dimly aware that something was changing. That the scent in the air had changed subtly.
But when she opened her eyes, nothing had changed.
“What happened? I thought you had it right this time, you idiot!” the scarred feline said. He was dressed in black leathers. Around him, fires burned. Behind him, at least thirty other furs were waiting. All dressed much like himself. Many were holding torches. All of them had looks of utter seriousness on their faces. Snow was piled up around the large circle, almost forming a small bowl, in which flames outlined another circle.
The fur the leather-clad feline had spoken to turned around. His face was weary but collected. He looked at the feline and adjusted his robes around himself. A canid of probably forty years, he was by far the eldest of those present. The rest were all young males. Most of themâ??if not all of themâ??were armed.
“I’m growing impatient,” the feline said, narrowing his eyes. “You promised results, old male. Now I want you to deliver.”
The canid nodded. “You will have what you require. I need your damned cronies to shut up while I complete this, or it ruins the sequenâ??”
“Everyoneâ??SHUT UP! A word out of any of you, and I’ll have your tongue,” the feline roared, before raising a finger towards the older male again. “No more excuses. Now I want what you promised me.”
“And it will be yours,” the older male said, smiling grimly. “This is the dawn of a new era. Your most glorious father will finally be rewarded as he deserves.”
The feline nodded and looked at his black clad cohort who by now had started raising banner-poles all around the circle. Some were working on laying out something on the ground too. “Oh indeed he will. Now get to work! One more time, from the top.”
Aslaug opened her door. The icy cold slammed into her face and she smiled. She was wearing her armor, her breeches and her boots, but she had left her helmet on the rack. She wanted to feel the air. She had a long cape, made from plain, dark brown wool wrapped around her shoulders to warm her up, but that was all. Training in snow was something she rarely had the chance to do, and training without wearing her armor defeated the purpose. She needed to feel its weight on her shoulders with every move.
Besides, hardly a soul would go out in weather like this. The streets were largely empty. The few cars that were driving around no doubt did so out of damnable necessity, and they drove with something like fifteen or twenty miles an hour. The roads were smooth as glass.
As she walked across the snowed-over football field towards the woods behind it, she smiled to herself again. So what if she had changed? She’d seen wonders that she’d never dreamt possible in her old world. Something as simple as turning the faucet on in the kitchen and getting hot and cold water. Even getting running water at all. The simplest modern things were amazing, almost miraculous, compared to the life in a 9th century army encampment.
She swung her axe a few times to test its weight and it hummed through the air with a pleasing sound. It was a part of her. An extension of her armsâ??of her bodyâ??of her will.
It was a deadly thing. A lethal weapon. An item created from ashen wood and steel to kill living creatures.
The greatest of warriors knew when not to use it. By definition, the least of warriors would always resort to it. Sadly, Aslaug found herself using it more than she liked. Taking a life should never be a thing done callously. Easily. It should be something done only with no other recourse open to her.
And so often, no other recourse was left open.
The trees closed ranks behind her. She could train in peace, and she knew of just the small clearing where she would be safe from prying eyes. It was only a couple of minutes walk under normal circumstances, but with the snow covering everything, she moved far more slowly and carefully.
Nonetheless, she reached the clearing without incident and looked at the pristine snow. Kneedeep, even despite the trees catching most of it. She would get a thorough workout training in these conditions.
“By the will of the Allfather,” she whispered and smiled as she closed her eyes. She started to move. Letting her body take her through long rehearsed motions that were second nature to her now.
She swung lowâ??spun around herself, carving through ice and snow and sending it flying. She laughed. Like a child playing with snowballs. At peace and at ease with herself and the world. It was so rare for her to feel this way these days. There was always something serious going on.
So little time to play. To laugh. To enjoy life.
Thormod always enjoyed life. Always cracked jokes. She missed the big bull. He was the closest thing she’d ever been to an earthly love, and yet, he had only been her best friend. A best friend centuries in his grave. But he was in Valhalla now. She had seen him there.
Just once. But she had seen him. It did not surprise her. He would be there, if any warrior ever went to Valhalla.
She’d seen him clobber another Einherjar with a roast side of pork. A moment later, he’d been buried under a small horde of his peers, all joining in the good-natured fistfight.
The air was crisp. Crisp and sweetâ??andâ??she could smell smoke?
What was this? A fire? Surely the woods could not burn in weather like this? This was the coldest winter in seventy years in California. No fire would take!
Noâ??natural fire that was.
For a moment, she stiffened, wondering if Surt had once again sent minions to pester her, but the scent vanished again.
Aslaug crouched. Her fingers flexed around the bar of her long axe. The weapon whispered to her of sweet destructionâ??the cutting and rending of flesh and bone. Every time the wind passed over its edge, it whispered.
“SHOW YOURSELF!” the valkyrie roared. “FACE ME!”
No one was forthcoming. She was not afraid. Not of Surt. Not of his minions. Not of destruction. She knew her place in the greater scheme of things now, and she could face down the endless minions of Muspelheim with a smile and a warcry if she had to.
“Coward,” she growled and narrowed her eyes. Steam billowed from her nostrils. She reached up and slung her long braid around her neckâ??onceâ??twice around, getting it out of the way for the coming battle.
Above, the moon was shining brightly, illuminating the long evening. Aslaug was alert. Her sharp senses searching for any trace of the scent of fire again. But the woods were quietâ??and the air was clean.
There was nothing there.
The robed canid was sweating profusely. The heavy cloth was clinging to his form and he was singing in a hoarse voice. Singing as if his life depended on it. The song was atonal, and the rhythm was strange, but there was strength and power in every word uttered.
He stood up straight, spreading his arms wide.
Cars arrived in the background. Several of them looked very expensive. Furs dressed in expensive suits stepped out. Some of them looked distinctly like bodyguards. Tall, clad in black suits, with sunglasses despite the darkness. If not for their terribly intimidating manner, they would have looked slightly ridiculous.
They guarded an older feline, gray around the nose, dressed in a pin-striped suit. He took out a cane with a silver-knob, twisting it a few times between his fingers, before walking towards the burning circle.
The group of furs was now up to more than fifty. The leather-clad ones, generally younger than the newcomers, turned around, as if acknowledging the arrival of the older feline.
Then as one, they hammered their heels together. The scarred feline stepped out in front of the group.
Then he extended his right armâ??slightly to the right and in a forty five degree angle, upwards. Every fur behind him did the same.
An angry expression crossed his face.
“For our F??hrerâ??Siegâ??HEIL!”
And as oneâ??his cohort repeated the hail.
Aslaug shook her head to clear it. Something was definitely out of place. The scent came and went but she was certain there was nothing out there. She would have heard by now. And Surt’s minions, mindless brutes that they tended to be, did not skulk about, unwilling to fight her.
This was not right. Could it be that one or more houses in town had caught fire? Maybe so, but this did not smell that way. The scent was that of oil being burnt. That sickening, rancid stench of a chemical fire.
She blinked and shook her head yet again. It was as if something was tearing at her insides now. Could this be some new trick of the Lord of Destruction? Would she be consumed from within, without a chance to land a good blow on her enemy?
What kind of death was that?
She roared in defiance and angerâ??and more than a little pain.
“SHOW YOURSELF, FIEND!”
But there was no answer.
She gripped her axe tighter and looked towards the moon. Again, steam billowed from her nostrils in long ropes. She snarled. Whatever was doing this to her, she would face it standing and armed.
Always the warrior.
Never a moment of peace.
“Face meâ??cowardâ??” she growled, low in her throat.
Just as her world exploded.
The two felines stood side by side, watching as the incantations of the old canid reached a crescendo. The family resemblance was obvious as they stood there. Father and son.
“I will restore this country,” the older one said, matter-of-factly. His voice was clinical, as if he had no emotions to show. “It has fallen to corruption and Judeo-Christian insanity. I will see the glory of the United States restored, and it begins tonight.”
“Yes Father,” the younger one said. “Once tonight is completed successfullyâ??I will make sure that every cell around the country is informed. We will strike hardâ??fastâ??and without mercy.”
The older feline simply nodded. Not even a smile showed whether he approved of his son’s words or not. Instead he nodded towards the canid. “Will he survive?”
“Possibly. It is not important.”
“You have a hard soul, Frank. I approve.”
“Thank you, Father.”
The canid coughedâ??and nearly collapsed as his song came to an end. But there was something else there in front of him. Something blurred and intangible for the moment, but slowly growing more and more solid.
“Is that it?” a voice asked from the ranks behind the two felines. It sounded slightly disappointed.
A moment later, a dull thud and the sound of something hitting the ground ended the questioning.
The younger feline turned around, smiling grimly as he looked at the still-standing members of his entourage, as well as the older forms.
“LISTEN UP, BROTHERS!” he roared. His voice was powerful. Even manic, to match the look in his eyes.
Every fur stood tall and listened. The one who had been knocked down picked himself up, off the ground, shaking his head to clear the pain. He too listened. As Frank stood there, with the fire and the rituals in the background, he had an outright demonic quality to him. He knew it and he used it.
“In 1934, the SSâ??our forebearersâ??began building a religious headquarter at Wewelsburg in the Fatherland. This glorious work was never completed, because of the red beasts and the treachery of the western allies, who should have assisted Der F??hrer instead of working against his glorious plans!” the feline said. He didn’t need to shout. No one else was saying a word.
In the background, the shimmering shape was taking on more and more solid form, and the canid was close to stumbling from exhaustion. A paw flexed its fingers in the seething, intangible mass.
“Tonight, we resurrect the spirit of Wewelsburg, and we take it further than our forebearers ever did! We have knowledge they did not. Because, my brothers, WEâ??can summon the Valkyries and the Einherjar to our aid. We canâ??and WE WILL! And with this host of invincible, immortal warriors at our front, the armies of the world will crumble. What good are tanks and nuclear weapons, if you cannot kill your enemies? Tonightâ??TONIGHT, MY BROTHERSâ??we start afresh. From this field, the conquest shall spread. This place is sanctified by our faith and our actions, and here, we shall spill the first blood of our enemies! From this point on, the world is OURS!”
The roar sounded almost impossibly loud for the few furs present.
Frank turned around and nodded to his father. The older feline simply kept looking at the center of the circle.
The canid in the robes had fallen.
He wasn’t moving.
It felt like her fur was being yanked out of her body again, one hair at a time. Aslaug bit down hard and clenched her eyes shut, refusing to scream out in pain, despite the agonizing experience. When would the pain stop? She was sick and tired of pain. It never seemed to leave her alone for long at a time. She could deal with it. She knew how to ignore it for longer than most but that didn’t mean she liked it.
It was dark all around her. Dark and extremely cold. This clearly wasn’t Surt’s work. Nothing he touched remained cold.
“Showâ??yourselfâ??” she wheezed and felt like someone repeatedly hit her in the back with a mallet. She arched, realizing she had no contact with the ground beneath her hooves. She was suspending inâ??wellâ??probably in the air. It felt like electricity was running over her body in jerks. She didn’t open her eyes to see. She couldn’t. Her eyelids did not obey her commands.
It was dreadful.
All she wanted from life these days was to have a bit of peace and quiet, and to do what her sister Valkyrie Oddkatla had instructed her to do. Guide a few souls along.
Why did pain keep coming for her? Why did it come looking for her like this? What in the name of the Gods had she done to deserve this much of it?
Shaking her head, she bit her tongue and reminded herself to ask one of them next time she got to Valhalla. It wouldn’t do speculating. But she could damned well bust down the door under Yggdrasil and demand some answers from the Norns about how many knots they had tied on her string at birth!
Laughing bitterly at the thought, she jerked again as another shock blasted through her from head to hoof.
It didn’t make her stop laughing. The mere thought of her, walking in on the fates, demanding answersâ??
If nothing else, it was funny. As if that’d ever work. Not even the Allfather himself burst in on them to demand answers.
The laughter was a relief. A bright spot amidst the feeling that she was being turned inside out by someone using a dull knife. It gave her strength. Enough strength to open her eyes.
She could barely believe what she saw.
Frank turned around and looked at the form that rose in front of him. He was a fit fur. He was tall too, but he felt momentarily dwarfed by the figure on the platform in front of him, at the center of the circle. He didn’t like being dwarfed by anyone, least of all a female, but he would suffer it in this case. After all, this was no ordinary femme. This was a divine being, in fact.
He looked around. The Tiwaz-rune could be seen all around him. On banners, chiseled into rocks or even burning on the ground where peat had carefully been laid down to form the right shape, before being lit. Here and there, the Sowilo-rune had been painted onto a banner too, though it was underrepresented in comparison.
Everything looked just right, in fact. Behind him, the Swastika proudly displayed on the largest of all the banners, showed his allegiance to the Gods.
It was a good setting. He was proud of this rite, and so was his father.
“Welcome,” he said in as firm a voice as he could muster in the face of the creature in front of him.
Aslaug stood up straight, glaring directly at the feline in front of her. Steam was coming off her and she was in the foulest possible mood. The trip here had been extremely uncomfortable.
“Where am I?” she asked, grinding her teeth. Her vision was coming into full focus, and what she initially thought she had seen had turned out to be correct. All around her there was fire. A fur lay dead on the ground before her, wearing strange robes. There were runes everywhere. Used carelessly or without proper understanding from what she could gather.
Runes were powerful symbols and not to be used lightly!
“You’re in Midgaard,” the feline answered.
“That’s an extremely broad answer. From the sound of your English, my guess is I am somewhere in the Midwestern United States,” Aslaug growled.
Her mood wasn’t improving. This feline sounded entirely too pompous for her liking. Many of the furs standing around were armed and she knew only too well how the swastika symbol, so prominently displayed, had been defiled. No modern fur with decent intentions would use that symbol these days.
“You’re correct. We are in Idaho, to be precise. What is your name, Valkyrie?”
“I’ll tell my name only once I know my purpose here, and who you are, mortal.”
Frank smiled and nodded. This female was fierce. A true warrior, just as he had hoped. If they were all this angry, conquering the world would be a piece of cake. He raised his arm in salute, slamming his heels together.
“I salute you, Valkyrie, but I am no one. My father is the real leader here. You should speak to him for your answers,” he said.
Aslaug rolled her head on her shoulders. “I am getting mighty sick of this already. Give me answers and make sure I like them,” she said, looking around the assembled group of furs.
An older feline, stepped forward. He was using a cane, though clearly more for show than out of need. Behind him, everyone fell quiet. Aslaug felt pretty sure he was the ‘leader’ the younger feline had spoken of.
“Explain!” she demanded.
The feline nodded and raised a paw disarmingly. “Of course, of course. We are all servants of the Gods here,” he said.
Aslaug felt her skin crawl already but she tried to force herself to concentrate on the situation she had landed in the middle of. This whole setup was deeply wrong on every level imaginable.
“Are we?” she asked, matter-of-factly. “Why am I here?”
The older feline walked up to her. His steps were firm, making it clear that the cane was there for show only. He nodded, politely enough, sizing the valkyrie up from head to hoof. He seemed pleased enough by what he saw.
Aslaug felt like a slab of meat being appraised at the butcher’s shop and she had a good mind to ram the cane down the feline’s throat, but not until she knew what was going on. And why these creatures used a symbol she knew to be defiled.
“You are here because we wish to place the Gods in prominence. We wish to eradicate the Judeo-Christian filth from the planet and replace it by that which is pure and strong. By the virtues and values of the true Gods and Goddesses,” the older feline said.
Aslaug had to admit, he spoke with all the conviction of someone who firmly believed his cause to be just and right. Sadly, she had heard that kind of conviction many times before, and while conviction could be a good thing, it held one major flaw.
A flaw she once suffered from, herself.
To her great shame and eternal dismay, too.
A lack of doubt.
“You are strong, Valkyrie! What is your name?” the older feline said. He was smiling. It wasn’t ingratiating or sibilant, but it was a cold expression.
Aslaug looked around the group and flexed her fingers around the grip of her long-axe. Steamy exhalation formed from her nostrils as she gritted her teeth. “As I already informed your son, it is customary for the hosts to start the introductions. Who are you, and who are these furs? Tell me this and I will give you my name.”
The feline nodded and leaned slightly against his cane. He clearly wasn’t used to being spoken to in this tone of voice, but he seemed to bite back his pride.
“This is my son, Frank Adolf Silvestris. I am Hanz-Ulrich Silvestris. The rest of the furs here call me F??hrer, as will the rest of the world once we are in power. I intend to bring the old symbols back to their rightful place, starting right here in the United States.”
Aslaug nodded. “Finally we are getting somewhere,” she grumbled. “An introduction at last. I am Aslaug, a servant of Freja.”
“Frejaâ???” Frank asked, as if momentarily confused. His father looked outright disgusted with him.
“Hers are half the Einherjar. An entire wing of the battle formation belongs to her, you idiot!” Hanz-Ulrich hissed, his tone of voice making it clear he wanted no further utterances from his son.
Nonetheless Frank couldn’t stay quiet. “I knew that. I am simply surprised, Fatherâ??since the old fur over there was supposed to summon one of Tyr’sâ??”
The look he got from his father silenced him at last. Aslaug simply raised an eyebrow.
“If I’m not fierce enough for you,” she said, in an acidic tone of voice, “I’ll be more than happy to leave and let you find someone more to your taste! Any way, if I am here, I assume I am to start this conquest of yours for you.”
“That’s the idea,” Hanz-Ulrich replied. “But naturally, I would like to explain to you what it is I intend to do.”
Aslaug nodded and put her axe across her shoulders like a yoke, resting her arms over it. “Go ahead. I’m all ears,” she said and demonstratively perked them up. This was already starting to feel like a mixture of bad comedy and a really ugly day at the office.
Hanz-Ulrich nodded and cleared his throat, waving most of his henchfurs away. “Very well, Valkyrieâ??” he began.
Aslaug didn’t speak, though her facial expression made it clear she was already getting tired of waiting.
“The United States of America has become decadent. A corrupt, slovenly place of intolerable tolerance, overrun by immigrants, unbelievers and queers. Jews rule behind the curtains, their Christian puppets dancing willingly to their tune as long as they get paid. There is no virtue in this country anymore. Or in the rest of the world. There is no pride. No valour. No glory. Sure, you can find plenty of Americans who claim to have pride, and you can find a pathetic excuse for weapon’s honor within the army, but even that has become completely corrupt. The United States has the strongest military in the world, but the military takes orders from civilians. From furs who never lifted a weapon themselves, let alone used one…”
“Did you?” Aslaug broke in. “Lift a weapon. Use one.”
Hanz-Ulrich looked momentarily offended, before he remembered who he was talking to. Then he mellowed somewhat. “Of course I have,” he answered, sounding only mildly annoyed at the question. “I served my country in two wars. Only it wasn’t really my country. I fought in Vietnam. I have the scars to prove it. And I commanded furs in Iraq during Desert Storm. I am not a hypocriteâ??”
Aslaug changed her stance a little to shift the weight from one leg to the other. She didn’t say anything more for the moment. Instead she simply nodded for the feline to get back to what he was saying before.
“Anywayâ??” the older feline went on, his words coming more easily now as he was working himself into a sort of frenzy. “The army is a joke. They have the means and the power, but they refuse to use it. Criminals are allowed to run free in the streets while the army sits around in bases all over the United States, doing nothing but train and get paid. They should be out there, killing those creeps to restore order and virtue to the land.”
“What do you classify as a criminal then?” the valkyrie asked, matter-of-factly.
“Many things,” Hanz-Ulrich admitted. “Those who are halfbreeds, of course. Mixed-species furs would have to be killed off from a side on. That kind of pollution of the blood cannot be allowed to go on. Furs of mixed-species marriages would have to be forced to divorce. Possibly after prison-sentences. Drug-users should be punished like drug-dealers, and there should be only one possible sentence for such self-pollution and that’s a bullet through the head! I would protect the sanctity and purity of the flesh, Valkyrie, on my honor I would!”
Again, Aslaug nodded, listening intently. “Fascinating, fascinatingâ??” she went on. “Anyone else?”
“Well obviously! Rapists, pedophiles and the likes. They should all be executed summarily. As should the queers. That kind of perversion is completely unacceptable. The Gods do not tolerate that kind of behavior!” Hanz-Ulrich growled. He was starting to foam a little at the edges of his mouth.
“Don’t they?” Aslaug simply asked. “Anything else you wish to add?”
Hanz-Ulrich shrugged. “Many things but this is hardly the time or the place. Suffice to say I expect a lot of bloodshed. I roughly estimate that one in five Americans who survive the coming conflict will be executed and about half of those who do survive will be forcibly castrated on grounds of breed and purity. There are no alternatives. Thâ??”
He didn’t get to finish before Aslaug had extended a paw and carefully put it on his right shoulder. “You’ve made a very strong case. I expect you take yourâ??political guidanceâ??from what happened in Germany some decades ago, yes?”
She was smiling. Warmly. Hanz-Ulrich relaxed slightly and nodded, straightening his back as if pleased with himself. His cohorts and henchfurs were mumbling consent amongst themselves. Aslaug could distinctly make out several hateful slogans.
“I do,” the older feline said. “Hitler’s Reich was the greatest thing to happen to this world, and only the incompetence of the western leaders, and the machinations of the vile and wretched international bolschevik Jewry and their capitalist double-dealings meant that his great dream didn’t come to fruition. A pure world. A pure world of racially perfect furs, living full, healthy, orderly lives without perversion or vice. I wish to see his dream fulfilled, and to do so I’ll summon the armies of Asgaard. Even the capitalist Jews can’t stop you!”
Aslaug smiled even wider. “Noâ??no they can’t. You’re completely right there. You just forget a couple of details but I’ll be happy to fill them out for you before we continueâ??”
Frank, who had been quiet for a while, looked slightly surprised that anyone dared suggest that his father had forgotten anything. But he did look interested and stood closer. Hanz-Ulrich looked slightly taken aback but nodded, despite himself. Normally he’d have anyone talking to him in that tone of voice put down, but this was a demigoddess. He wasn’t in any particular hurry to argue with her.
“You see,” Aslaug began, looking thoughtful. “The Gods are not one august body, as I believe the saying goes. There is All-father Odinâ??and Thorâ??and Frejaâ??and Frejâ??and Tyr, Skade, Njord, Ull, Frigg, Eyr, Heimdall, Balder, Siff, Hodr andâ??Gods help me, even Loke, whom I’d better mention lest he pour something intolerable into my mead for forgetting him. And there is Hermod and Brage, Idun, Forseti, Nanna, Sunna, Skuld, Verdande and Urd. And let’s not forget Kvaser, Vale, Modi, Gefjon, Buri, Dag and Natâ??and of course Hel, who I wouldn’t be caught dead forgetting if you catch my meaning. I could go on, but I’m sure you are catching on to my meaning by nowâ??”
Frank looked dumbstruck. Clearly, the list included names he’d never heard before. Aslaug tried to make her stomach stop playing elevator. Not all the deities were equally well known. There were even those who were all but forgotten in these modern times, but these damned furs had tried to make themselves sound like the protectors of the old ways.
She would show them a thing or twoâ??
Hanz-Ulrich at least managed to remain unfazed by this, Aslaug had to grudgingly admit. Clearly he’d looked further into the lore than his son.
“An impressive list butâ??” he began, but Aslaug cut him off.
“Odin and his sons are the Aesir. So’s Frigg, Brage and several of the others. Still with me?” she asked.
Hanz-Ulrich simply nodded, though his patience was obviously wearing thinner. “I am,” he said, grumbling to himself. This Valkyrie was turning out to be much too chatty.
Aslaug completely ignored the grumbling and smiled as she led Hanz-Ulrich back towards the dais where she had been summoned. “Freja and Frej, however, are Vanirâ??and so’s their father, Njord. Njord himself married one of the Jotunn, Skadeâ??and gods help you if you tick her off. She’s gotâ??a frosty disposition towards those she takes a dislike to. Oh, and of course, Thor himself married Siff, who’s also one of the Vanir. I’m not going to ask if you’re still with me, because you’re obviously an intelligent furâ??so I assume that you areâ??”
Hanz-Ulrich nodded, following the Valkyrie towards the altar. It wasn’t really as if he had much choice. Her grip on his shoulder was very nearly painful. It was also clear that if she wished, she could increase the pressure of her fingers considerably and he wasn’t sure if his shoulder-joint would survive it. Something at the back of his mind was telling him this wasn’t going according to plan but he had no way of being sure yet.
Aslaug stopped, in front of the dais where she prodded the fallen canid in the robes with her hoof. He was quite dead. She shrugged and looked at Hanz-Ulrich again. “Soâ??you seeâ??the Gods themselves are the ultimate evidence that such nonsense as ‘purity’ is simply a bad excuse to hate. Thor, strongest of all the gods, has married an immigrant. His sons and his daughter are half-breeds by your definition. Would you kill Courage, Strength and Truth because they are impure half-breeds?”
“That’s difâ??” Hanz-Ulrich began.
“Different?” Aslaug said and once again smiled that warm, wide smile of hers. “Yes of course it’s different. They are, after all, Gods. Why should they live by the same rules we mortals live by?”
Hanz-Ulrich grasped for the straw as a drowning fur grasped for a life-vest. “Precisely my pointâ??”
Aslaug’s face went stony and hard instantly. The corners of her lips twirled upwards just a little to show shiny, white teeth. “Who are you calling mortal, you hypocriteâ??” she sneered.
She let go of the older feline who finally realized what he had started was completely out of his control. He watched helplessly as the Valkyrie reached down to her belt and calmly pulled out a long-handled, curve-headed throwing-axe. He watched as she pulled her left arm back and let it snap forward. He howled in horror as the head of the weapon split his son’s ribcage in two and Frank fell to his knees with a befuddled facial expression, blood already coming past his lips in short spurts.
As Frank fell on his face, Aslaug backfisted the older feline so hard he spun in the air and fell flat on his face.
“You would desecrate the holy symbols,” she hissed.
Another scream told the dazed Hanz-Ulrich that the other of the two throwing axes had found a mark.
He tried to stagger upwards, but his legs felt like they’d been filled with whipped cream instead of bone and muscle. He slumped again, spitting out three teeth.
“You would use the defiled hooked cross, which no decent fur of morals would dare to use. You model yourself on a fur so vile that no self respecting he?°ni would suffer comparisons with him without demanding recompense and satisfaction of their honorâ??”
Again he tried to rise, but the older feline realized there was nothing he could do. It was a clean knock-out punch. He turned his head to watch, and quickly regretted it.
It was an ugly sight. His henchfurs had been surprised for a few moments. Now some of the cowards were trying to run away. Others had leveled their weapon against the Valkyrie. They were letting rip with everything they had. The crackling of gunfire sounded loudly. It was a brave display, but Hanz-Ulrich already knew it was doomed. The Valkyrie couldn’t be killed by that kind of weapon. She seemed to be hit, at least. He could see her jerk as she got hit by bulletsâ??but she did not fall. Instead, she advanced on his fallen son, yanking her throwing axe out of his corpse and crashing the back of the weapon into his skull with a sickening crunch. Hanz-Ulrich clenched his eyes shut, trying to shout out to her to stop.
It didn’t matter. Frank was dead. His henchfurs were dying. He was looking at the most dreadful display of killing power he had ever witnessed. Those who ranâ??they might make it out of there, but somehow he doubted they’d get far. There was an almost blinding glow flowing from the equine’s nostrils and eyes.
“Today, I’ll do Vale’s workâ??” she hissed and picked one of the shooters off the ground with one paw around his throat, before smashing him into the ground. The crack of his neck was audible to everyone.
The shooting wavered in places. More furs ran. Hanz-Ulrich could hear screams in the distance. Horrified, terrified screams.
“Wâ??what will yâ??” he croaked.
The look on the Valkyrie’s face shut him up and he passed out at last.
“You could have left some for us,” Oddkatla complained. The blonde wolf was leaning against her spear, looking at the carnage with some indifference. She didn’t exactly look like she was in a hurry to collect anyone.
Aslaug shrugged. “There’s one still alive, but he’s all mine. Besides, you got all the runners,” she pointed out.
“True,” the other Valkyrie said. “Not that there was all that much fight in them. More like “Oh no, please spare meaaargh!” when you get down to it.”
“Especially the ‘aaargh’ part.”
“Especially that, yes.”
Aslaug smiled grimly and picked up her last francisca, wiping the blood off with her braid. Oddkatla looked curiously at the equine for a moment, before shrugging.
“You have some bloody habits, Angelbreakerâ??” she said and changed footing. “So what are we going to do with this place?”
“We’re going to wait.”
“Yeahâ??wait,” Aslaug said and looked around. “At least I am. I’m not keeping you here. If Gunn wants to go home and snooze, you should take her. She’s young. How many times did she actually see this amount of butchered flesh before?”
“What a way with words you haveâ??” Oddkatla chuckled. “Butchered flesh, even?”
“I won’t sink so deep as to call these remains ‘dead furs’. That’d be doing them too much justice,” Aslaug said and got a good grip on her axe.
“Why so much hatred, Aslaug? Were you so different once? Didn’t you have the same kind of anger? Didn’t the he?°ni share many of these beliefs where you came from?”
Aslaug turned and looked at the wolf, very calmly. “You are my sister, Oddkatlaâ??so I will not get angry with you for that. But I will explain why you’re wrong. Where I came from, the he?°ni did not spread their beliefs by fire and sword. We never purposefully set out on a campaign of religious conquest. Furthermore, while we were proud of our strength and our ability, we respected any fur who could match us in battle. We respected other cultures, other ways of life. We traded. We brought home impressions, goods and stories from far and wide. And yes, we conquered as well.
Everyone did. If we had not shown strength, others would have conquered us. It was an ‘eat or be eaten’ kind of time and world. But most importantly, Oddkatlaâ??most importantly of allâ??we could change with the times. The gods are not unchanging, faceless images. They are real. Real and alive. They make mistakes, they love, they laugh, they evolveâ??and so should we. So should mortal furs. The world that the Gods gave to mortals changes all the time, and living according to religious rules set down thousands of years ago isn’t evidence of piety, it’s evidence of stupidity and unwillingness to face the world we actually live in. You can’t turn back time. You can live in the time you do live in, to the best and fullest of your ability. It is about choosing, Sisterâ??it is about actively choosing to do the right thing. You know that as well as me!”
Oddkatla smiled and nodded, reaching out to give Aslaug a firm, sisterly hug. “I know. But I don’t think it’s wrong to remind ourselves of that. Often. All the time, in fact. It’s what sets us apart from theseâ??piles of deceased fleshâ??”
Aslaug nodded. She looked towards another Valkyrie walking around the edge of the circle. She sighed and smiled crookedly. “Seriouslyâ??go take Gunn home. I don’t want her to see what I’m about to do with this last one. It’s going to be very, very uglyâ??”
“Oh good Gods Aslaugâ??you’re not going toâ??”
“I bloody well amâ??”
Oddkatla nodded. “Okay, that does it. I’m getting out of here. I get sick to my stomach just from being in her company.”
Smiling, Aslaug shrugged and headed towards Hanz-Ulrich. “She’s not so badâ??trust me on that. Not so bad at all.”
Oddkatla just shuddered and waved dismissively at Aslaug as if to tell her she wasn’t going to argue the point. Then she headed off to get the rest of her sisters and go home.
Aslaug waited a moment, watching the rest of them leave before she walked over to the bound and helpless form of Hanz-Ulrich. She reached down and yanked his head back, before pouring some water over his face to wake him up.
“Wake up. I want you to see this,” she said, sharply.
The feline groaned and opened his eyes only reluctantly. His cheek bulged where the teeth had been knocked out.
“Allâ??deadâ??” he groaned. He could barely speak.
Aslaug nodded. “That’s correct. Every last one of them.”
Hanz-Ulrich grinned feebly. “Valhalla awaits themâ??”
“No. Valhalla is a reward. It’s not a place you go to just because you die violently. It depends on who you wereâ??deep down.”
“We are the serâ??”
“If you finish that sentenceâ??I promise you the amount of pain you will feel before I send you to the next level of existence is going to be quite enough to make you piss yourself in horror and beg like a child for mercy. Am I making myself perfectly understood to you?”
The feline simply sighed and hung his head. He was very tired. Surely, he wasn’t going to get killed. He’d been kept alive for some reason. “What happensâ??now?” he asked.
“Now, I find a length of ash-wood. Fifteen feet long or so. Twelve will do if I can’t find a piece long enough. In fact, one of those poles you’ve had your banners hanging on will do just fine.”
“â??then I carve runes into the length of it, while you watch.”
Hanz-Ulrich looked confused. He wasn’t quite sure what this was all about. “Whatâ??for?”
“Because I need them to summon Hel, dumbassâ??what do you think?” Aslaug said, rolling her eyes. “Don’t you know anything? I’m carving a Ni?°stang.”
The feline’s eyes shot open and he looked horrified. “Noâ??no not thatâ??” he croaked. “Please have merâ??”
“Like a child, and I haven’t even started hurting you yet,” Aslaug said and shook her head as she walked to get one of the banner poles. “Mercy you say? Yeah sure I’ll show you mercy since you askâ??”
For a brief moment, Hanz-Ulrich looked relieved. Just for a split second, until he saw Aslaug sit down next to him with a short little curvy whittling-knife in her left paw. She began carving runes into the wood with a crooked smile on her lips.
“The same kind of mercy you’d have shown my friend Tigermark’s children. The same kind of mercy you’d have shown that limp-wristed lapine who works as a hairdresser near where I live, but who always says hello and who dutifully comes to every Varsity football game, no matter how rotten the weather is. The same kind of mercy you’d have shown Mr. and Mrs. Rosen, who lost their father and mother in some camp in Poland, where monsters like you enjoyed killing them, just because they’d been born,” she said, whittling a band around the top of the pole, before starting to make simple incisions of runes along the length of it.
Hans-Ulrich’s eyes blazed with anger for a moment. Just for a moment, until Aslaug’s left paw crashed into his already ruined jaw again. She didn’t even look up from her work as she did so.
“Wipe that look off your face,” she said, without even raising her voice or sounding angry. “You haven’t the right. Only the Norns weave fates. It is about choosing to do good. Taking the life of someone who has never done anything to hurt you, but who simply offends your twisted sensibilities, means you are taking away a God-given gift. It means you put yourselves above the Gods you claim to serve. Oh and last but not leastâ??by forcing me to call on my sisters, and later on Helâ??a powerful, full blooded goddessâ??you are forcing me to go and talk to WhiteChrist, to explain why later on. Possibly even toâ??urghâ??make a formal and polite apology for barging in on his and his Father’s reality like that. And that reallyâ??reallyâ??really ruins my day. So for that reason, if for no otherâ??”
Aslaug stopped whittling and got up. She hefted her axe again and without further ceremony or words, she took Hanz-Ulrich’s head off at the shoulders. As she picked up the head and closed the now lifeless eyes, she sighed and shook her head.
“Pathetic. I don’t even know if this will work. I’m supposed to use a horse’s head, but dammit, that’s a little too close for comfort for me. You’ll just have to do,” she said and spat on the ground before she rammed the head down on the end of the pole. Then she placed the pole in the ground, between a few rocks. It wasn’t erect. It was more of a 35-degree angle over the ground.
Then she sat down amongst the mess and waited for a while. She would’ve had some lunch if she had anything to eat, but she hadn’t brought anything. In fact she wasn’t quite sure how she was going to get home to California in an inconspicuous way. Normally she’d go via Asgaard, but with all the comings and goings from that place, she wasn’t sure if it’d be smart to press her luck.
She picked up some snow and balled it up, starting to take potshots at Hanz-Ulrich’s head. It was different than throwing the franciscas. She was use to their weight but she quickly adapted. Soon, she was planting snowballs on the dead feline’s head from a distance of almost thirty yards. Then that too got boring.
Still no one was arriving and Aslaug was starting to worry that she’d have to go find a horse’s skull for the pole anyway.
Then she could smell it. The slight scent of rot and decay.
“Greetings, Helâ??” she said and turned around. “I am grateful that you took the time to come.”
“Those are powerful runes you carved, Angelbreaker,” the goddess said, gesticulating at the pole in the background. “I could’ve ignored it but it seemedâ??rudeâ??after you went to all that trouble. So these are all mine?”
“Actually, I don’t think you want them but I was hoping you could deposit them in Niflheim. I meanâ??these guys would really stink up the place otherwise.”
“That’s saying a lot,” the goddess chuckled. “I’m not exactly known for my perfumeâ??”
Aslaug shrugged. “And these were defilers and ni?°inge, the lot of them. I’m sure they’ll enjoy Niflheimâ??”
“Ahhhâ??why be so simple about it?” Hel said with a smile that Aslaug could well have done without. “I think I can squeeze them in between the scales of Nidhogg. That way this broken flesh of theirs gets to suffer with the rest of them.”
Despite herself, Aslaug actually felt a slight shudder run down her spine. “Brrrâ??you can be chilly when you want to be, you know that?”
“And that from the Valkyrie who so generously expedited these ne’er-do-wells to the hereafter with such astonishing alacrity?”
“You killed them in a hurryâ??.”
Aslaug shrugged. “They were running away. Should I have let them escape?” she asked.
“Some would have,” Hel said, her smile vanishing and a serious look coming onto her face.
Aslaug shook her head. “This is what they deserve. This is a defiler’s due! For what they wanted to visit onto so many innocent fursâ??this is exactly what they deserved. Richly so.”
Hel smiled and nodded. A flick of her wrist saw the dead flesh vanish. Even Hanz-Ulrich’s head was gone from the end of the pole. “There,” she said. “Maybe I’ll fashion myself a new drinking cup from his skull. I was thinking of making one called ‘Thirst’â??”
Aslaug eyeballed the Goddess. “That’s predictable. Even from you.”
“I aim to please.”
“And I aim to get back to Californiaâ??”
And with thatâ??Aslaug found herself alone in the snowy field again.
She started walking. Getting home might end up being an adventure in itselfâ??