… Fear and longing….
… And pain; unbearable, excruciating pain made his body writhe in agony. Jormungandr was floating – not dreaming, not dying. Not yet. He was floating in an in-between state of consciousness. Granite ledges and obsidian protrusions surrounded him like the walls of a prison. And a blue-black, fast-flowing river enclosed it all and caged him in.
A sooty-red corpse-eater flew across the large, misty hall, crowing as no eagle should. The hall's walls were woven from snake spines, heads facing inward, showering the expansive floor with their caustic venom. There the Serpent lay, thankful of the streams that missed him; rueful of those that did not. Curious, the winged raptor landed on the reptile's back; not attacking, nor harassing, only sitting, one final call escaped its cruel beak as it folded its wings.
Valhalla and Midgard burned in the aftermath of Ragnarok. All the gods were dead together with the Einherjar and the whole of mankind. The Seers had predicted that some beings would survive in the Nine Realms throughout all ages. One of those beings was Dark Mother; the one goddess who made a pact with Death itself.
The Serpent bristled, scaring the bird off. "Why… sister?" he howled.
Hela, the Goddess of the Underworld, descended from the cold, shadow-veiled stalactites, and sat on her granite throne. "Because you have failed me," her voice echoed wrathfully throughout a realm swallowed by eternal darkness. Hel and Niffleheim shook in tremors. "You are useless! I should have tossed you to Surtur as sustenance!" Pure malice suffused with bitterness permeated her words. The snakes made of stone looked so alive suddenly. One after another moved its head toward Hela's brother. Light-green venom shot out from their toothed mouths, flooding the floor, searing everything in their path.
Jormungandr opened his mouth in a threatening manner, hissed and cringed away from Hela. The mordant venom bit into his body and began to eat away his flesh. He burned in a flameless fire, his scales were shedding. In terrible convulsions, insane with pain, the trembling heap cried out: "Mer-mercy!" The cry was blurred with splatters of blood, but the sole word sounded almost human, hurt and miserable.
Nonchalantly, the Goddess of the Underworld waved a hand and the snakes' gobs stopped spitting their venom. Their mouths shut tight, but their heads remained pointed at her brother. Hela spoke then, satisfied with the reaction she'd garnered from him through torture. "I will take your name out of the Book of Hel and you shall be burdened with a glorious purpose." Hela's voice was only a little bit tight and annoyed as she watched the slit pupils of her coiled up, delirious brother, go wide. "I will return your spirit to the world of the living in a new fleshen form. The Nine Realms will be restored with the onset of a new cycle, and thus will you. With the help of Odin's Tesseract the barriers of time and space will be weakened. You will be reborn when the fate of no one's king is claimed by the Son of Borr."
Anger was apt to rankle and fester within Jormungandr, and he gave a guttural snort. "What if the Gatekeeper learns of our deed, sister?" he inquired.
"Do not let your beautiful mind be troubled with fears, Jormungandr. The both of us know that the Bifrost is not the only passage connecting our realms. That despicable amber-eyed buffoon can turn his inquisitive gaze upon you throughout the entire cosmos as long as he wants to, but he will neither see you nor hear you." She approached her brother until she stood bare inches away from his mouthful of razor sharp teeth, and chanted affectionately: "I will conceal you, my darling brother. Together we shall crush the divine pantheons of old!" She reached out and touched Jormungandr with her hand carrying the taint which marbled a good half of her body, and spread it momentarily.
Inch by inch, Hela's brother's skin was necrotized by the blackness that splayed from her hand. Jormungandr replied with an undignified growl, while his rotting flesh dissolved into dust and withered into the marrow-clenching coldness.
"Worth your time, Jormungandr." Hela took in the moment a bit. "Long have I surveyed the Aesir, gauged their strengths and weaknesses from a distance," she muttered, looking grim and definite. Nothing but the surrounding caves had been her listeners; meek witnesses of changing times, charred by a fire that went out a long time ago, filled with the stench of decay. "I have grown weary beneath the ashes. The time has come for me to rule them all."
To be continued…