He’d known it was inevitable.
He’d known the end would come unexpectedly. Every deed had a consequence and this was his. It was a bitter shock that he could evade his elders through death alone. He didn’t want to die.
He still wasn’t quite sure how the change took place. His race was malicious in nature, notorious for their cold heartedness, and feared for their celestial power. Diwel had never been any different.
It felt divine to hate – to destroy. It was the essence of his core.
That made it all the more bewildering why he did what he did. He didn’t understand why the squealing and writhing thing that was once human had bothered him so much. Pain was fun; terror was entertaining. It made no sense why he couldn’t bear to watch it suffer under the claws of his kin. But it had bothered him – to the extent that he’d been compelled to put it out of its misery. A swift death as his foot had come down on its neck, silencing the anguished noise that sounded more animal than human.
It hadn’t been done in a fit of rage or irritation. It had been an act of mercy. Diwel had known it, and so had his elders.
Mercy didn’t belong in his world.
His chest was threatening to implode. Every fibre of his body was burning with savage fire. Wind battered his body and roared in his ears as he fell.
He instinctively tried to spread his wings and cursed in his mind when a sickening wave of pain raged through his back. Had his voice not given in during the torment his elders had inflicted on him, he would have screamed.
Diwel had run from his elders even though he’d known escape was unattainable. They’d trapped him, nailed his body to the blood-drenched soil and tore out his wings – they’d taken elevated pleasure in dragging out the gory procedure.
Sheer terror had given him the strength he’d needed to tear himself from the ground. It had been a burst of adrenaline that had worn off nearly as fast as it had come. He’d somehow managed to evade their hungry claws.
He even made it past Nidhogg which was supposed to be impossible – but he remembered the glossy red eyes following him and the stumped expression on the reptilian face of the dragon as he’d passed within inches of it.
It had been too late for anyone to do anything. Diwel hadn’t realized where exactly he was until the well called Hvergelmir had suddenly loomed up right in front of him. He’d been helpless to stop and it was his momentum that had thrown him over the stone lip.
There was no water.
Diwel didn’t know how long he’d been falling – long enough for him to doubt whether there was an end to the black pit.
When he eventually reached the bottom – or what he thought was the bottom – it wasn’t what he expected. He bounced off something hard and sharp, slammed into something cold and hit the ground face down. The fall knocked the wind out of him and pain blazed through his skull.
He lay immobile for a while. The stinging ache from his wounds was gradually numbed by the cold. All he could feel was the frigid air he was forcing into his lungs. He managed to weakly turn over. There was a blazing stab against his wounded back for an instant.
The darkness around him was solid and stole away his vision. He closed his eyes and waited to die.
Breathing became difficult. His heart was thudding in his ears, and he wondered if anything else in the dark could hear it, too. Diwel felt his senses sharpen at this thought. If there was anything in the shadows he was helpless to defend himself.
Somewhere far below him he could hear water dripping. The slow and heavy drops resonated in his ears. He listened to it for some time. It had a note of haunting beauty to it.
He fought to open his eyes. The darkness was gone.
Two walls of ice rose high into a pale sky. He could see fast swirling clouds of grey before his vision shifted out of focus. The light was sharp and blinding against the white ice.
His eyes pulled to slits as the sky overhead slowly changed from light opal to obsidian black. He knew he wouldn’t survive the night.
Unconsciousness threatened to poison him like a drug making his eyelids unbearably heavy and drawing all clarity from his mind.
This is it, he thought dazedly. Any minute now...
He faded in and out of consciousness until he no longer knew if he was alive or dead.
He wasn’t sure when the voices started.
It began with a quiet whispering and gradually mounted in number. He recognized some of the cruel voices. Others were unfamiliar and frightening. They were hissing one word menacingly in a collective and distorted choir. Diwel... Diiiiiwelllllll...
From the mass of whispers filling his head one voice rose above the rest. It became solid, clear – and real.
There was a sudden flash of red through his closed eyelids. He forced his eyes open and blinked painfully at the floating orb shining into his face. A dark figure loomed behind it.
Finally. Death had come.
The voice was still speaking to him. There was an oddly pleasant lilt in it that resembled smooth crystal bells; a fragile, beautiful sound that chimed sweetly through the dark. He couldn’t distinguish any words.
Diwel was vaguely aware that he was being tied up. He wondered what it was going to do with him. There was no heaven for his kind, and he was no longer welcome in Hel. There was nowhere for him to go, no in-between place. He wondered if this puzzled death as much as it did him.
Hvergelmir was the source of everything; the birth place of all being and the place where all being returned. It posed no question to Diwel that death was capable of following him here. Death had a token – the silver scythe – to move freely between the worlds.
The dark figure turned away from him. He felt a chill in his chest when it started climbing the wall. The sound of its claws chipping into the ice sent a tremor of fear through his numbed body.
He was being lifted. Slowly.
He must have passed out because when he came to, he was being hauled over an edge and set on his feet.
There was a soft grunt in the dark beside him, and then he was staggering across uneven ground as someone supported his weight. He had no control of his legs and he couldn’t feel his feet.
Not far ahead a golden dome was suspended in the stark blindness of a starless night.
Diwel found himself inside it without recalling how he’d gotten there. He collapsed onto his knees beside a lantern. For a moment he watched the small flames inside it lick the glass before his gaze darted to the other occupant.
Funny – death didn’t match the description he’d been given.
Slight in frame, agile in its movements - and female. The light cast a fiery halo over her head, illuminating the copper streaks in the long locks. Her lips were pursed together and tainted a slight blue-white. Sharp azure eyes were staring back at him, studying him intensely.
She was speaking to him again in a monotonous tone; the source of the sweetly chiming voice. She didn’t appear to want to harvest his soul right then and there, if he even had such a thing. At any rate, he couldn’t see a scythe anywhere. Maybe he still had a chance...
“How did you get down there?”
Some part of his mind noted that she’d been asking him the same question repeatedly. There was something disturbingly familiar about the way she spoke. It screamed and tugged at his memory, ordering him to think clearly.
“I... I fell.” Diwel said and cringed at the pathetic weak voice that came forth from his lips.
“Were you alone?”
Diwel blinked, confused. “What do you mean? No one in their right mind would have followed me.”
“Right.” The young woman in front of him sat down and wrung gloved hands together. Her gaze didn’t waver from his.
“The rumours do you no justice, you know.” Diwel said, breaking the thick silence that began to form between them.
No scythe. No robes. No skeletal features. No burning coldness either, except for the howling wind and ice outside. She wore a lime duster jacket and her ivory skin was flushed from the cold.
“Who are you?” Her question changed.
“Diwel.” He answered simply.
“Say again?” She said uncertainly.
“Diwel,” he said again, emphasizing the syllables.
“Diwel.” She tested his name almost cautiously. “I’m Rachel.”
She moved suddenly and Diwel tensed, waiting for the pretty face to melt into a grinning skull and the innocent voice to turn hard and raspy. She reached for something behind her. He anticipated the second she would bring forth the glistening scythe and swing it into his chest...
Instead, she draped a ridiculously thick blanket around his shoulders and crouched down beside him. “Drink this.” She held a flask to him.
He lifted his hand to take it from her, and watched dumbly as the flask slipped from the clumsy lumps of frozen flesh that was his fingers.
“It’s okay, here. I’ll help you.” She said soothingly and held it to his lips.
His tongue was thick and heavy, and his dry mouth welcomed the lukewarm liquid that slipped down his throat like smooth silk. He drank awkwardly, streams of water dribbling down his chin. She took the flask away a moment later.
“Wait...” He croaked and coughed hard to clear his throat. He tasted blood.
“That’s enough for now. I’ll give you more in a little while. You need to take it slowly.” Rachel chided lightly. Her voice sounded distant and faint to his ears.
He was gently laid down on something warm and soft that conformed to his shape. Diwel closed his eyes as a peculiar feeling of well-being fell across him. This time unconsciousness knocked on his door in the form of dreamless sleep.