“They call themselves the Wolfbrood,” Tromar said quietly. The Scum – Anastasia included – were gathered in the otherwise-empty common room of the Protection Racket, sitting around a trio of pushed-together tables with solemn expressions. Aisling perched on her throne, her feet on the rungs of the stool, walking a gold coin over her knuckles with decidedly irritated motions.
“They’re a cult, of sorts,” Sir Tromar continued. “They venerate four…beings, let us call them. The Fenris Wolf, who is the son of Loki, and will slay Odin; Garm Fenrison, Lord of Hellhounds, who is destined to slay Tyr at the Twilight of the Gods; and Hati and Skoll, the wolves who hunt the sun and moon across the skies, who will swallow them at Ragnarok and plunge all the realms into twilight before the worlds burn.”
“Are they gods?” Margrave asked softly; the pirate looked around the table in surprise when Anastasia, Tromar, and Asiling answered ‘no’ at the same time.
“In a sense, the Wolves aren’t anything,” Aisling explained. “They are not gods or mortals, not demons or fey. They have the blood of divinity, though, which isn’t for nothing. Cults to the Wolves form all the time, some of them nicer than others. The faithful of the Aesir will pray to them in times of unjust imprisonment or confinement, or when they seek revenge that will destroy them in turn. And then you get the insane fucks who worship them for being destined to annihilate everything and murder gods, which is just…” the Scarlet Princess made a frustrated noise.
“Just so,” Tromar agreed. “Clearly they’ve chosen to send a message here. I can have my paladins -”
Aisling slammed her fist against the table hard enough to crack it. “You can have your paladins go fuck themselves, Glasshammer,” the Princess said in a low tone. “We have a deal. You’ll honor it or I’ll have you dragged out of my city behind a half-dozen horses with haste spells on them. We fuckin’ clear?”
Sir Tromar didn’t get the chance to answer; his squire stood from her chair, her cheeks red with rage. “You can’t talk to -”
“Shut it!” Aisling roared, standing from her barstool. “You of all people don’t get to tell me what I can or can’t do! I’ve put up with a lot of shit from you, Anastasia Luxan. The disrespect, questioning me, digging into my fuckin’ business behind my back, defying me in front of my subjects. I’ve humored you and played your way and frankly I’ve been really fucking lenient when by rights I ought to have dragged you into the square and ripped some of the gods-damned skin off of your bones to teach you some fuckin’ respect.”
Anastasia blinked in shock, her face pale and eyes wide.
“If you’ve got such a problem with how I run things here,” Aisling continued, riding the wave of her fury, “maybe you and your precious Order should have been here when these people fucking needed you. Where were you ten years ago when I started taking over? Where were you forty years ago when the famine hit? Where were you when the people cried out to be saved? Killing goblins in some fucking hole?”
Aisling threw her mug against the wall; it shattered on impact. “Spare me your fucking lectures. I saved these people. I drove out their oppressors. I united the city, I lifted them from fear, put food in their bellies, defended them, protected them, and if you don’t like how I did that then you can fuck off and die, you got me? You weren’t there. You didn’t give a flying fuck as long as Shatterdown’s problems stayed in Shatterdown, and now you’ve got the gall to tell me how to run my town? This meeting’s over. We’ll take care of our own issues, and if I see a paladin other than Ana outside of the monthly visit I will beat them within an inch of their rainbow-shitting life and toss ’em out the front gates. You got me, Glasshammer?”
Silence reigned for a long moment. Then: “We will honor our agreement, Aisling of Shatterdown.”
“Good,” the Scarlet Princess snarled, before storming towards the door. “Be out of Shatterdown by noon. Been nice having you here.”
Aisling slammed the door behind herself, leaving Tromar and the rest of the Scum to sit in stunned quiet.
“…Well, at least we know she likes you,” Contessa finally said, to Anastasia’s amazement. The teen looked at Ana’s bewildered expression and shrugged. “Look, the last time I saw her that mad, she killed eighteen people in one go. She didn’t even hit you.”
Anastasia sighed in frustration, picked up her coat from the back of her chair, and headed for the door.
* * * *
Anastasia caught up to Aisling in a narrow alley that ran between the market district and the docks. She called out the Scarlet Princess’s name, and the blonde woman turned around with narrowed eyes; Aisling shoved against Anastasia’s chest with both hands.
“The fuck do you want, paladin? You gonna yell at me for disrespecting your Master like he’s not a god damn adult that can solve his own problems? Lookin’ for a fuckin’ fight? I’m right here. Take a goddamn swing, see what – hey!”
Anastasia interrupted Aisling’s tirade with a tight embrace, leaving the Scarlet Princess to sputter in confusion once she realized that she wasn’t being wrestled with. After a long moment she awkwardly returned the hug, caught between confusion, fury, and an odd sense of warmth. Eventually, Anastasia pulled away, though she kept a hand on Aisling’s shoulder. The paladin looked contrite.
“…I’m not ungrateful, Aisling,” Ana said softly. “You’ve been more patient with me than you would have been with others. You’ve made Shatterdown into a city where people seem…happy. Everything here has been strange for me, and I’ve let myself take that out on you.”
“Yeah, well, I make that easy,” Aisling granted with a scowl. “Especially with the bit where I fucked off for a month after you showed up. That wasn’t personal.”
“I didn’t think it was,” Anastasia said. “…We should have been here.”
Aisling deflated and scowled at the alley wall. “You should have been lots of places. There’s only so many paladins to go around and lots of evil. I wasn’t being fair either. Maybe…I dunno, maybe we should spend an hour or three and try out the whole getting-to-know-each-other-as-people idea before we keep up with everything else. Talk personal stuff.”
Anastasia bit her lip in hesitation, and then asked, “Personal like your ears?”
Aisling stiffened. “Yeah. Personal like that. Look, can I – can I ask something weird?”
“I can’t promise an answer you want.”
“…Can we still have a fight? I was all geared up for one and, I mean, I kinda think it’ll help me feel better.”
Anastasia laughed and grinned. “Sure.”
Aisling stepped back and cracked her knuckles. “If Sybil asks, I said some shit about your mother.”