I’d only seen the full extent of Fenris’s power once before, back when I was first beginning to find about the void and the things in it and all the ways I’d fundamentally failed to grasp how big the world was. That momentary glimpse had been enough to overwhelm my faculties and leave me unconscious, and for weeks afterward even thinking of it had been enough to render me incapable of thinking clearly for several minutes.
And if what he was saying was true, that hadn’t even been the full extent of his power. Not even close. He’d been bound, then, restricted in his actions. Even then, I hadn’t fully grasped what he was capable of.
The notion of opposing that force had still been…laughable, really. The notion of actually fighting it was something so far outside the realm of possibility that it wasn’t even worth considering.
But then, I wasn’t the man I used to be.
He stood and walked away from me, leaving around forty feet between us. I had to appreciate, on an abstract level, how perfect his choice of battlefield had been. There were no obstacles, no unexpected surprises or exploitable features. It was an entirely level ground, metaphorically as well as literally.
He bowed to me. I bowed back, which felt a bit silly, really, but what the hell.
And then, with no sense of transition, Fenris was different. The gaunt human form he’d usually used when interacting with me was gone, replaced by something much more indicative of his true nature.
The wolf was as big as a bus, more or less. Long and lean, he looked like he was on the brink of starvation. A silver ribbon was barely visible around his neck, and a sword was thrust up through his jaw, looking like one more tooth among a mouthful that were about as large. Yellow eyes as large as both my fists together looked at me, and I could see the desperation and hunger there.
Considering the context of the fight, and everything that had just happened, I might reasonably have expected Fenris to go easy on me. I might have expected him to agonize and hesitate, unwilling to really go all out when his heart clearly wasn’t in it.
That expectation would have been wrong. Fenris was fundamentally a creature of violence, and more importantly, of action. He was a weapon, and a weapon doesn’t hesitate. Even when he couldn’t win, and he didn’t want to win, and the concept of winning wasn’t one that could even be said to apply, he wasn’t capable of just giving up on a fight.
Luckily, I understood all of that just fine. It wasn’t hard. All of those facts could describe me as easily as him.
And as such, when he instantly charged me at a speed nothing so large should have been able to equal, I wasn’t surprised or caught off guard. I waited until the last moment and then ducked to the side, slipping around his side. Tyrfing licked out at his face as I did, but I only cut off a bit of fur; getting out of the way was a higher priority, and with the sheer size of Fenris’s current body it took quite a bit of dodging to manage.
Not much in the way of shadow for me to step through here, I noted. The light was very even, and didn’t have a definite source; we weren’t even casting shadows ourselves. Not really much in the way of ice, either. If my current body was destroyed, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make another one.
I’d have to do this the old-fashioned way, then.
As I dodged aside from the teeth and circled around him, I was already analyzing, planning. I felt like I should have been going through some tumultuous feelings, anger and guilt and fear and sorrow. The feelings themselves, though, weren’t there. I felt very cold and very calm, perfectly able to think things through in a reasoned and dispassionate manner, and make plans.
Fenris was stronger than I was, physically. That went without saying. His first charge told me that he was faster, too. But he was, at least in this form, less agile. He was graceful, but he was just too big not to be a bit clumsy, despite his skill. He had less maneuverability, and he was slower to accelerate.
So as I dodged around him, I kept going, running right next to his side. He tried to swat at me with one paw, but wolves just weren’t built for that kind of lateral motion in their limbs. A cat, or a bear, could swat that way, but canines generally used their claws for traction more than violence. I ducked under the paw easily, and he wasn’t able to do a whole lot about it.
I didn’t cut at him as I moved, not yet. This was just to get a feel for things, an idea of how this was going to go.
Fenris turned to follow me, teeth snapping at my back. I imagined it looked something like the world’s largest dog chasing his tail. He had the raw speed to keep up with me, but I had the position and angle to stay just a bit out of reach.
The logical next step would have been to duck under him to his other side, forcing him to reverse the direction of his spin to keep chasing me. I wasn’t quite ready to do that, though. He couldn’t really bite or claw at me when I was underneath of him, but he could just let himself fall on top of me, and somehow I didn’t think that having what had to be a couple tons of wolf land on me was a good idea.
I spun and started running the other way where I was, instead. That put me running straight for his mouth, which might have been a problem if he’d been ready to capitalize on the opportunity.
He wasn’t, though. I couldn’t really blame him. What wolf ever suspects the rabbit to run at him?
Fenris still snapped at me, but it was a few fractions of a second too late, too slow; I evaded to the side again easily. I lashed out with Tyrfing again, this time slashing at his eye. The intention was mostly just to distract him, force him to recoil and prevent him from biting at me again. It worked, too. Even if you’re an ancient wolf-god with an almost inconceivable amount of experience, when someone threatens your eyes, you tend to flinch.
This time, though, the sword connected with his cheek, just under that huge eye. It drew blood, or something that was close enough to make the distinction irrelevant. It looked like blood, smelled like blood, soaked into Tyrfing’s blade without leaving a stain like blood did.
At that point, there was only one way this could end. And I suspected we both knew it, too.
Fenris was bigger, and stronger, and more skilled, and vastly more experienced. He could, and did, go up against monsters from the void and similarly horrific foes and take them down easily.
And none of that mattered a bit.
I was more agile, readily able to avoid his attacks. I was very experienced at fighting things bigger and stronger than I was. I didn’t get tired, or slow, or clumsy. And with Tyrfing, I had a weapon that was capable of actually hurting him.
My existence, my armaments, my training and experiences, it all came down to this. It had always been about this. This was, quite literally, the fight I was born for.
Fenris never had a chance. And he knew it.
I kept running, kept dodging, always just barely out of reach. I was too fast and too unpredictable to catch, too precise to ignore. Occasionally I wrapped darkness over his eyes, or tripped him up with air and ice, but mostly that wasn’t worth the concentration it required. It was easier to keep running, keep moving. Occasionally I cut at him again, and occasionally those cuts connected. They were never serious, never dangerous, but they were irritating and they bled.
Fenris was getting tired. He was losing blood, was getting weak. And he still hadn’t hit me at all.
Now, at least, I could tell that Fenris wasn’t really fighting, that his heart wasn’t in it. Even as it became clear that he was losing, he didn’t do anything different. He had to be capable of it, there was really no doubt of that. He had thousands of years of experience; there was no way that he hadn’t had to deal with something like this before. He had magic, had powers I couldn’t even guess at, not to mention an obviously impressive control over his own body’s shape and size. He had to have some tricks up his metaphorical sleeves.
He didn’t use any of that. He didn’t try anything clever at all, in fact. He just kept going for me in the same ways, as I evaded the teeth and claws by less and less, and I cut at him more and more often.
And then he stumbled.
It was a small thing, a paw placed ever so slightly wrong, a momentary loss of footing. It wasn’t a big thing, wasn’t by any means a disaster. But it was a sign. The fight had been decided before that, but that was the moment where we both knew there was no going back.
As he recovered himself, I darted away, putting a bit of space between us for the first time since the fight started. I stood there, for a moment, and met his eye.
I’d often thought that looking at Fenris was something like looking into a mirror filled with power. In hindsight, that should probably have been a bit of a hint as to what was really going on, there.
It hadn’t gotten to be any less true, though. I looked into his eyes, and I saw a hunger and an overwhelming weariness that were all too familiar.
He’d been right about one thing, at least. Things were ending, now. And not just him, either, though I wasn’t sure whether he’d quite thought things through that far. There wasn’t a lot of reason for him to have done so.
I ran straight at him, and he hesitated, likely thinking that I had some trick I was about to spring.
He was right, if so. I was still a ways away when I jumped for him, pushing off with the unnatural strength that was mine to call on now. The intention was to land on his back and stab him more deeply before he could drop and roll to brush me off.
I realized the flaw in that plan about the same time he stood up on his hind legs and bit at me. It looked a bit like a dog biting at a Frisbee on a hilariously large scale.
I didn’t feel like laughing, though. I twisted in midair, reaching out to the air and pulling on it. A sharp breeze and an increase in air resistance was enough to push me off course at the last moment. It was a bit panicky, but it worked.
The end result was that instead of literally biting me in half, his jaws trapped my right arm just under the shoulder. The angle was just awkward enough that he couldn’t actually bite the arm off, but he came pretty close.
I didn’t–couldn’t–feel any pain. I just snarled, using that trapped arm as a support as I swung myself forward, throwing wind and darkness behind the motion to put more oomph into it. My left hand reached out to catch his ear, holding onto it tightly.
Using that grip for leverage, I shoved my arm deeper into his mouth, calling Tyrfing again as I did. The blade cut deep inside his throat. I could feel the blood spurting up over my hand, over my arm.
I felt the muscles tense under me, and his jaws snapped shut. My arm came off cleanly at the shoulder, and then when he shook his head I lost my grip and fell hard to the ground twenty feet away.
But it was too late, the damage already done. Fenris started to pounce at me where I was lying on the ground, and then he stumbled, and then he fell. Blood trickled out between his lips.
I stood, a bit off balance from the missing arm, and from something else, as well. A sort of weakness, a sapping fatigue.
I stumbled over to him, where he was collapsed and unable to stand. I stopped by his head, and rested my remaining hand on his forehead.
He snapped at me, spraying blood and slaver and broken ice on my face. But it was a feeble gesture. He was already growing weak.
“Shh,” I said gently, stroking his face softly. His fur was coarse under my fingers. “It’s okay. I’m sorry, Fenris. I’m sorry this had to happen to you, sorry about everything that happened. But it’s okay. You can rest now.”
He let out another breath, one that might almost have had a word in it, but one that I couldn’t understand through the blood and the teeth.
Another, gentle, soft breath, just a whisper of air against my skin.
So died the Fenris Wolf.
I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. Tears were for the living.