There was a time before the Psychopomps. Before contract killing became her job. Before she was forced to grow up in a place that shared her name, a cold prison: Hell. Rejected by the rest of her Aesir people because of her lineage, she resented her father. He gave her this face and blood that Odin hated so much. Hel and her brothers had been made to pay for their father’s transgressions against the old Aesir king.
“Why are you doing this,” Hel asked Odin the day he and his men came to her home. She asked but never got an answer. That one-eyed curmudgeon stared her down, silent even as she cried, even as she begged him to tell her why.
“W-we haven’t done anything wrong!” she screamed to the Aesir soldiers who dragged her from her room. “Why won’t you say anything to me? Please, why is this happening?!”
Still, they hadn’t answered her panicked questions. They tied Hel’s hands behind her back and threw her down beside her Jotun mother, Angrboða. Her mother was still. So still that the unmoving sight of her caused an eerie feeling to bloom in the pit of Hel’s stomach. Her mother laid there face down in a puddle of tears, hands bound to her ankles.
“Mum, do you know why they’re doing this?” Hel questioned. “Why? Mum, h-hey, say something...are you okay? Mum!?” More questions went unanswered.
Her eldest brother was thrown into the sea. The other was bound and dragged away like a dog, doomed to the cage. They tossed her into Hell. By then she’d given up asking questions.
That cold, wet, place became her home. Most of her time was spent by an old river where she skipped rocks and watched souls sail by. Sinners came up the river in droves and were sectioned into one of the many circles of hell. Hel had to do her best not to be caught by any of the archdemons that would roam around searching for escapees.
A life of hiding, scavenging and watching persisted until the day a ferry, unlike the others, stopped before her and a woman adorned with white lilies stepped off. Despite her colorless wardrobe, not a speck of dirt stained her outfit even as she trudged over to Hel. There was no doubt in Hel’s mind that there was, in fact, a woman before her. Yet there was something about the way she moved. How silent her footsteps were, and how this realm’s unending acid rain never touched her skin. It was as if she wasn’t there physically but still had a presence.
“What exactly could a girl as young as you have done to end up here?”
The woman’s voice was like a distant star to Hel. Even though she could hear it clearly, something told her everything inside the woman was long dead.
“Come here. Let me get a good look at you.”
Hel wouldn’t let the woman touch her and tried to run away but the woman appeared behind her.
“Good. You won’t open up to a complete stranger. You’re smart. I can find some use for you.”
She made an offer to Hel that day. An offer to take her away from the perpetual cold, the stone that stretched far as she could see, and most importantly, Odin’s watchful eye. Word is that a new reform was coming down throughout the nine realms. A new law had passed that meant the very nature of death was going to change, so someone like Hel was about to become very useful.
She remembered being whisked away to a domain of scattered lilies. Stone architectures crudely formed from the ground overrun by the white flowers. Hel followed the woman into a megalith that sat at the center of the island surrounded by water that was somehow murky and clear at the same time. They walked down several dimly lit corridors, and Hel could hear the structure shifting about with every step they took. The woman in white before her stopped once they reached a dungeon.
Hel looked up at the ivory haired woman. The regal-looking goddess stared into the jail cell across from the two. Her cold violet eyes fixated on a frail figure behind the bars. Hel saw her too, a sickly thing with pale skin and maroon hair. Beneath her was a bed of black feathers. The girl trembled as her eyes flashed between red and blue, and her lips parted as though to ask for help, but she didn’t make a sound.
“Is it really okay? To keep her locked up like that?”
Back then Hel still asked questions, because back then she still cared about the answers.
The woman in white glanced at Hel with the most peculiar of looks. With an elegant flourish of her skeletal hand, she summoned a scythe. It was a terrible weapon, its handle made of bones and a blade decorated with the blood of jobs well done. The woman turned her back on the curious godling, scythe extended in her direction.
In what seemed like the coldest way possible, the goddess answered.
“To succeed in the world of dealing death one must cut all attachment to their former self. Only once one has died can they truly begin to reap.”
While on the job Hel tends to get nostalgic. Some say reminiscing is distracting, but it’s quite the contrary for Hel. The memories of what Odin did to her family keep her focused. They help drown out everything else and help steady her finger on the trigger. Painful memories become like coal, working tirelessly to keep the fire inside her burning, a flame she plans to unleash without mercy one day.
The story has it Odin foresaw big bad things for the children of Loki and took extreme precautions. In a way he was right. Her brothers made a mess of both Asgard and Midgard. Then there’s Hel who brings immortal lives to an end without so much as a bat of an eye. So with all the knowledge of what became of her family, Hel surmised Odin did what he had to do. Doesn’t always make her job easier, but she does try to remember it whenever she pulls the trigger. Hel wasn’t left with many other options and for what it’s worth, she’s grown quite fond of existing.
Every shot she takes leaves another deity dead. Each god killed means more orison for Hel. She hadn’t the slightest idea what she’ll do with all the money. She can’t buy happiness, but maybe there’s something similar for sale at the end of all this.
When thoughts aren’t on Odin, Hel reflects on her times with The Grim Reaper. She likes humoring herself, likes to joke about where she’d be if she hadn’t become a death goddess. Maybe she’d have been happier cutting her bare feet up on the floors of Hell. Would that be better than killing for a living? It’s a joke she never tells out loud so she laughs alone, in her head. It isn’t even that funny of a joke. This is leagues better than rotting away in prison. At least now if someone catches her she’ll be put in Hell with good reason. But she’s good, really good, almost as perfect as The Reaper herself. They’d have to send the highest Archangel down here if they hoped to take Hel, and even then she wouldn’t go quietly. Yeah, she’d give him the fight of his life.
All these thoughts flit by as she stares down the scope of her sniper rifle. It’s large, larger than it should be, but it fits her perfectly. She’s also large, larger than she wanted to be. It’s the Jotun in her. Her father had a thing for big girls.
Her scope glows red when a large figure stumbles past her crosshairs. She’d marked him earlier, so it made catching up to him that much easier. Admittedly, she let targets slip away from her much too often. Some thought her lazy but that was never the case. In actuality, Hel wants a bigger score. If someone knows they’re being hunted, knows a fight is coming, they’ll call for reinforcements, but never in the form of help; always in the form of raw power. They consolidate a nice ripe amount of divinity for the taking. It’s the best way to turn a small score into a huge haul.
Hel’s finger leaves the trigger of her rifle and all at once the gun vanishes, becoming nothing but a few dying flashes of light. This guy isn’t worth a shell. In the spirit of saving on divinity, Hel considers practicing the technique that she’s been learning from The Reaper. Of course, it has its risks considering it can only be performed on targets with less divinity than her. Then there’s the hands-on approach of the technique, especially in comparison to her very effective ranged option. But who better to use as a test dummy than low-ranking game? Besides, it isn’t like she’ll get much practice in the field after this. Every job from here on out is taken with the knowledge that it could be her last. Not because she’s getting rusty, but because divinity is tight these days. So after weighing her options, Hel stands tall and cracks her neck. Time to go to work. Just several long steps and a jump puts her a block behind her prey. No worry in ever keeping up with legs these long.
The target peeks over his shoulder where Hel lurks behind him. Her crisp white hair must look ghoulish up against the night sky. She peers out with one eye from beneath a mask that covers the rest of her countenance, one that gives the illusion of her face being half white and half pure black shadow. He looks at the road ahead and she takes that chance to ‘disappear’.
The large muscular figure attempts to flee in the distance. Every time her target checks back Hel makes sure to fall out of sight. Despite her size, she keeps to the walls and creeps like the expert she is.
Death comes for everyone. There’s no level of preparation to stop death, and at best any effort just prolongs the inevitable. These are the brutal truths that come with teachings from The Grim Reaper herself.
Given his strained breaths, it wouldn’t be long before the target exhausts his options. And there he goes, a desperate b-line into an alley Hel knows is a dead end. It’s as fitting as it is unfortunate. It isn’t until he’s at the end of the alley that Hel reveals herself. She stands up nice and slow, giving her target ample time to take in the intimidating nature of her giant stature. On sight alone he stumbles, almost falls over. Once he regains his footing he pounds his fists together, causing a massive ax to magically appear in his hands. Towering over this man wasn’t enough, he still thinks he can fight; how sad.
“Don’t come any closer,” he warns. “I can feel that my divinity is greater than yours. It’d be suicide for you to fight me!”
Good, so that’s paid off at least. The Reaper emphasized divinity control in her lessons. With the right amount of composure, she could appear much more or less threatening than what might actually be the case.
If he is so much stronger than her then why was he running up until now? Hel doesn’t ask questions anymore, though, because she doesn’t care about the answers. She doesn’t speak, she just steps forward. The man backs away, gripping more tightly at the handle of his ax.
“That’s a warning, woman! Take another step and I’ll swing! ”
Hel takes one more step then drops to a knee. Looming over him hadn’t done her much good, so maybe meeting him eye to eye might help. There is that familiar look in his eyes, one that comes to all her victims at some point. Decision time: fight or flight? He lunges forward and beneath her mask, Hel frowns. He’s chosen fight, and like that the job draws closer to an end.
He swings his ax overhead. Hel doesn’t bother avoiding the attack. On impact, the earth beneath them splits.
Despite his ax connecting with her shoulder, it doesn’t tear Hel’s cloak, let alone reach her skin. She stands with his ax wedged in the crook of her neck, unfazed.
“My attack...it didn’t work?”
Hel looks into the god’s eyes and decides to enlighten her target. While she no longer asks questions, she has no reservations about answering them.
“Votan. War God. Mayan House,” she murmurs. “Your portfolio is being thinned out by request of another war god. My client didn’t want this information disclosed, but I figure it won’t matter as this is the end of your life. Oro of the Oceanic Pantheon has requested your immediate termination.” Her voice is edged and sharp, And Votan trembles before shaking his head as if to deny her words.
“Ha! You fool you’ve admitted who you’re working for! That information is already reaching my Mayan brothers and sisters! They’ve been scrying me the whole time! You’re screw--”
A gentle cupping of Votan’s cheek silences him. She stares into his eyes as she moves her junoesque figure into his arms.
“Overconfidence in the face of death. Is this really the most fitting time to start revealing what cards you have left in hand?” Shaking her head, Hel scoffs. “Your messages were intercepted and your family no longer has a visual of you. Since the moment I touched you you’ve been mine.”
It’s true, as soon as she made physical contact with him her presence began to spread across his skin. Her hand snakes behind his head, where she runs her fingers through his matted hair. He’s shaking.
“Are you finally afraid? You can feel my power now, can’t you? I’m at my full divinity, even outside my own domain. How can this be?” Hel doesn’t care to ask questions, but here she is, quizzing her prey. Well, she still doesn’t care about the answers, and the questions are all rhetorical.
“Now you really feel it, don’t you? You can’t even send what divinity you have left back to your Pantheon. You’re completely trapped.”
Votan lets out a loud scream. Ichor oozes from his eyes, mouth, and nose. Hel forces intense pressure down on his body from every angle, both inside and out. She feels his bones break and muscles tear beneath her. Hel’s hand never leaves him. She holds onto the man until he’s little more than a small black ball. Hel holds him between her fingers and examines his new form.
“Go to Hel.”
She crushes Votan with a simple clench of her fist and absorbs his divinity. After a soft exhale she rolls her shoulders and adjusts to her new strength. A pair of golden coins materialize before her. She lets the orison fall into her hands. A bit of what she got from Votan needs to go to her leader. The Grim Reaper gets a percentage of every job they complete.
There are times Hel wonders if the price is worth paying, but after seeing the result of the technique she just performed she remembers why she wouldn’t dare cross The Reaper.
AsThe Reaper said when someone has complete control of their body they can heal it on impulse alone. So it stands to reason that the same can be done with adverse effects. So the goal of the skill is simple, make the target an extension of her own body, then, kill off that extension. The Reaper makes it sound way more impressive, but also a hell of a lot harder to understand. So for Hel, it’s easiest to just think of it as like a death touch.
Having finished the job sooner than expected, Hel figures she might as well check in on the others.
Hel flicks her wrist and a scythe forms in her hands. It’s her large sniper rifle, though a large curved blade now extends out along the barrel of the gun. A flourished spin with the weapon cuts an opening in reality for Hel to step through. On the other side of the tear, she sees an unending river against a backdrop of infinite blackness. Normally this would be a sight to behold, but this mysterious place is the preferred route of travel for Psychopomps. So to Hel, this is nothing special. She makes sure to trace her scythe back up along the portal, closing it.
Waiting for her, like always, is a gondola. As she steps into the boat her scythe becomes an oar, and she maneuvers the stream expertly, never going against the current and slipping down several diverting paths. It wasn’t the fastest means of travel, but for Psychopomps it was secure and that was of paramount importance.
“There you are,” Hel mutters to herself as she stops rowing. She stands up, causing the gondola to rock. Once again she cuts through reality. This time she steps through to the top of a dilapidated building. Judging from the closeness of the other buildings she was in some small city. There didn’t look like there were any cars or streets to speak of, though, just the remnants of an old bazaar. Perhaps it had once been an island or something.
Hel catches sight of a figure running down the road, the look in his eyes indistinguishable from that of Votan’s moments before she took him.
“Just in time for the show.”
He doesn’t make it far. Run as he may, his feet can’t get him away from that dreaded thing that looms over all. Hel leaps from rooftop to rooftop, quiet as she watches the fleeing target. The terrified god would now find the road ahead of him seemingly stretching out forever, and just then two large slices appear on the horizon as though cutting through fabric.
Two figures step onto the scene. The taller of the two, a man, surveys the area until his eyes fall upon their target. Irises that glint like splashes of freshly spilled blood swims in darkened sockets, studying their mark. The newcomer’s skull-like visage is gaunt, pale, and...
‘Oh, my Divinity.’
He’s wearing the mask again. Hel has to fight the urge to roll her eyes; like, really, really try. Their job requires them to be professionals, but sometimes she thinks this guy takes his title way too seriously.
Hel wears a mask too, but for the purpose of obscuring her identity and shielding her self-esteem. Can’t say the same about Azrael whose shinning skeleton mask makes him stick out like a stray nail. It’s obvious he’s just wearing it to look cool and impress his partner. Speaking of which, her eyes dance away to his impish companion. The shorter of the two killers springs from the portal, twirling out of the void like a ballerina, her voluptuous figure shivering with excitement as maroon bangs bob and bounce in front of a brilliant ruby gaze and ear to ear grin. As she stops twirling she hikes up her black domino mask and lets it hang loosely from one of the two horns parting her bangs. Azrael and Nemain. They glance to one another and then to their game, who takes a frightened step back.
Azrael swats at Nemain’s hand and then tugs the mask back over her eyes, “hiding” her identity. With arms still at his side, Azrael glances at his target.
“End of the line,” he intones sternly.
‘Is that the best he can think of? Wow.’
Hel decides to plop down and watch in comfort, her legs dangling off the side of the building. It wasn’t often that she got to see these two work up close, as she’d normally be perched on a building, miles away watching through her scope.
Speaking of the target, theirs seems to panic and uses some sort of magic to manipulate the ground. Hel isn’t an expert on magic, and can barely tell the difference between an incantation and an invocation so she watches curiously as he stomps and causes stalagmites to shoot up from the Earth. He then kicks the rocks at the two but they never hit their mark and instead become a series of small cubes that fall at Azrael’s feet.
“I hate it when they fight back,” Azrael sighs.
“Oh, I love it when they fight back.” Nemain laughs.
Nemain rushes forward, ducking and dodging around the incoming stalagmites. It doesn’t matter how fast the stones shoot up, it’s like she knows when they’ll come and where they’ll be. She reaches the man in seconds and with a small hop drives her knee into his chest, sending him skidding back. She flips several times in the air, summoning her scythe as she does so. Her scythe is small, like her, and has a shaft made of black feathers. That scythe swings down overhead and splits the earth as the man stumbles back, narrowly avoiding his fate for now.
“That’s it, that’s exactly how I like it!” She laughs, a twisted grin growing on her pink freckled face. “Run from me! Make this fun for both of us!” Her pupils dilate and she takes frantic slashes at the man. It looks like it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to avoid those wild attacks. Hel shakes her head.
The Reaper trains them so they can be efficient. But Nemain always wants to drag fights out. Hel stretches out jobs as well, but at least she has a good reason. Nemain isn’t trying to create a sense of false hope or even dread in her target, she’s just feeding off the pure tension of it all. Working with Nemain is difficult, and she commends Azrael for tolerating her “wild side” like this. Though admittedly, his insistence on taking her with him all the time has only strengthened Nemain’s tendencies. It’s hard watching the girl skip around with her scythe in hand. She looks almost unrecognizable while so at home with killing. It could be the way the red ichor blends with her hair, or how her curvy figure makes a dance out of her maneuvers. Or maybe it’s the tiny splashes of ichor spattered across her face, seamlessly adding new freckles to the ones that already pepper her pale flesh.
Hel knows she’s more useful in active duty but there’s something pleasantly melancholy about watching Nemain’s dance of death. Truth shines through the atmosphere with every swing of the scythe. Not the kind of truth that helps, but the hard facts that hurt. Failed dreams, broken promises, and ultimately a loss of innocence that comes with the knowledge of adulthood. Before Hel are not the attacks of a cold-blooded killer, but the flailings of a tool long since dulled over, trying her damnedest to be useful. What hurts the most is she’s the only one who sees it, the only one who even cares. Everyone else seems to think this withered flower is more beautiful than ever before. So why can’t she?
Nemain gets in three really good cuts, but the target creates a gorge, putting some distance between them. Before Nemain can attempt jumping the ravine, Azrael raises a hand and speaks.
“I’m sorry, but someone has expedited your end.” There’s a pause, no doubt for dramatic effect. “Maybe a similar fate will befall those who have done this to you.”
He clenches his hand into a fist and the target stops moving. There’s an almost inconsequential glint of crimson throughout their surroundings and Hel can swear she hears a slight twang. Nemain jumps high into the air, still intent on finishing the job herself. The target coughs up a hefty amount of ichor before keeling over just as Nemain’s scythe would’ve sliced his head clean off. Nemain committed to the swing though, so when she misses she ends up falling over with an undignified squeak. Hel’s eyes follow the target as he falls, the body bisecting along a single, surgical-like cut made across the torso.
How did he do that? She hadn’t sensed any magic coming off Azrael, so it more than likely isn’t any sort of spell. Unlike most Psychopomps, Azrael rarely ever used his scythe, yet no one would know that looking at the aftermath of his work. Azrael’s stance relaxes almost imperceptibly, shoulders dipping down ever so slightly as if a weight has been lifted from him, as though he’s relieved. The whole thing is odd and Hel feels like she’ll never understand why the fallen angel always seems so tense when he works. It’s not like he has much to worry about from a low ranking target like this. What’s there to be afraid of when he’s as quick and efficient as he is?
“Finally,” Hel says as she picks herself up. That had been going nowhere fast, especially considering both Psychopomps had clearly been holding back.
Azrael strides over to Nemain, placing a hand on her shoulder before wiping a splotch of blood from her cheek with his thumb. Hel’s glance flits back to the girl to see her flushed and breathing heavily. Her pupils are dilated, eyes flashing a scarlet hue and a toothy grin slowly creeping across her face, becoming more manic as it goes. Azrael’s grip on her shoulder seems to tighten, and he uses his free hand to tilt her gaze up to meet his. His mask finally fades away, revealing the man’s unreadable face.
“Raven. Time to land.” His tone is stern, weighed down by authority. After several seconds, Nemain gives a shudder and shakes her head, crimson locks whipping back and forth as her horns recede back into her forehead. The pink of her skin deepens to a much more natural looking peach. The Red of her eyes shifts to blue, her stance relaxes, and her lips purse into a small pout as she blinks rapidly. Azrael continues to stare.
“Welcome back.” Azrael raises Nemain’s chin, and their eyes meet. “Are you alright?” His gentle tone makesHelgag.
“Awww, Azzy, you’re no fun,” Nemain complains, her scythe disappearing into wisps the moment it slips from her fingers. Several feathers linger in the air momentarily before falling to the ground and receding into her shadow. She stands there, glaring up at him briefly before punching Azrael in the stomach to no visible effect. Following a sigh, he leans forward and clutches his stomach.
“Ow, Raven...nngh...that hurt so bad, I can’t take it. I’m going to die,” he deadpans. Nemain crosses her arms and shakes her head.
“You fool, don’t patronize me! You didn’t even feel that!”
Azrael looks down at her. For a brief time, they live in each other’s gaze. Her glare cracks and she begins to laugh. Hel even slips a smile of her own. Nemain’s laughter lingers around all of them, and Hel kind of wants to find a way to make it stay a little while longer.
“What is it? Did I do something funny, Raven?” He stands up tall, towering over her.
“You? No way! You’re like the opposite of funny. A complete bore, in fact! You should go in a hole somewhere and die.” Nemain looks up at Azrael with a cheeky grin and reaches for his hand. Once her fingers graze his she brushes her shoulder against him. It’s a truly sickening display, but it does keep Nemain beaming, so perhaps that’s worth sacrificing a bit of thePsychpomps′ gravity.
“That was sweet of you, though. You let her play with her food the way she likes. Don’t think I don’t notice when you do nice things for us.”
Hel wonders why she’s still watching these two.
“Nonsense,“ Azrael replies placidly as he looks away. “I just wasn’t able to get a good beat on him. Banshee threw him off balance and gave me the opening I needed to end things swiftly and cleanly.”
Her expression softens further, making her look less and less like a Psychopomp.
“Whatever you say, fool,” she sighs. “That guy had, like, no divinity. Either of you could’ve taken him solo. Why is it so hard for you to admit you’re trying to be sweet? Always so macho. Can’t you drop the whole tough Psychopomp act when it’s just us? It’s perfectly acceptable to spoil your girlfriend.” She raises a finger. “In fact, it’s expected. Required even!”
“Girlfriend? When it’s just us?” Azrael tilts his head. “Well, right now we aren’t alone.”
Hel decides to interrupt them at this point. She lands within view and earshot of the two. She speaks quickly before either could get a word in.
“We’re supposed to be emotionally distant. It makes keeping with the code that much easier. We have a way of life, a purpose. A goal. You need to remember that Nemain. Your gung-ho nature is going to get you hurt one of these days.”
“Hel!” Nemain bounces into a spin so that she’s facing Hel. After a tiny wave, she grins and motions to the tiny horns that sit along her temples. “If someone wants me dead I’ll know it’s comin’. Besides, if anyone ever did get the jump on me, I know you and Azzy here have got my back.” She shrugs at the two of them. “I’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“That pride,“ Hel sighs, finding herself tussling Nemain’s hair. “It’s annoying, but dammit if it isn’t one of the one things I look forward to every day. It’s like my own personal obnoxious little sunrise.”Helglances over to Azrael then nods. “I finished my jobs for the day. You guys hungry? I was gonna go scavenging before heading back to base.”
“I’d love to hang out!” Nemain beams in Hel’s direction before looking up at Azrael. “Well, what do you say? Seems like it’ll be fun. Maybe we can find a place to spend the little bit of the orison we got. I could go for something sweet.” Nemain licks her lips. “Nothing is better after a good killing than a delicious treat. Really takes the edge off and alleviates all that guilt.”
Azrael shakes his head.
“Sorry Raven, not today.” He gives Nemain an extra serious look. “We’ve already done more jobs than usual in this short period of time, we mustn’t push our luck any further. The fallout from the apocalypse is being dealt with and I don’t doubt that The Archangels will begin searching for us again.” Azrael looks at Hel. “Using the war as a scapegoat for these murders is over.”
“What was the point then? Don’t you know how much orison we have saved up, Azzy?”
“You’re not spending any orison. Keep it as divinity and consolidate yourself.” Azrael looks down at Nemain with a stony expression. “There are no more humans. What divinity remains in circulation is all there will be from now on. At this point, only the eccentric will value anything else over power.”
Hel notices Nemain’s shoulders dip. Her eyes widen and her lips quiver.
“Doesn’t that mean we could just become obsolete? Who’s gonna wanna spend power knowing they’ll probably never get it back?” Nemain gasps. Her eyes fixate on Azrael’s.
“Azzy,” Nemain whispers. “If I can’t keep being a Psychopomp then doesn’t that mean she’ll find me? The Phantom Queen. Morrigan, she’ll-”
“I won’t let that happen.”
Azrael gently flicks her forehead. She winces and rubs her brow.
“And don’t call me Azzy at work.” Looks like Azrael wants to change the subject then. Well, it’s probably a good thing, seeing as Nemain was starting to frighten herself.
Azrael pulls away. “And use my codename, Raven. We’re working.” Hel catches Azrael’s look when he mentions work. Nemain groans again.
“Okay, whatever you say, Angel of Death, ” she says, causing Azrael’s cheeks to redden. Nemain looks over at Hel. “Well, you heard the Azzhole. Guess we’ll have to chill some other time. Thanks for the offer though. Once this all blows over how’s about you treat me to something sweet?”
“Don’t count on it,” Hel responds, a smirk forming beneath her mask.
“Later, hater,” Nemain replies with a toothy grin.
Azrael nods to Hel and with the flick of his wrist slices open a portal back to Death’s domain. There Nemain goes again. Off with Azrael to learn more harsh truths. Off to wither the flower of her soul even further. To Hel it’s like Nemain’s moved from one cage to another, but who is she to speak up about it? Who is she to ask something like ‘why do you follow him?’ or as outlandish as ’why do you love him?’Hel doesn’t ask questions because she pretends she doesn’t care about the answers. Honestly, she’s just afraid of what she might find out. That’s why there’s plenty she won’t ask herself. It should be enough that even though Nemain’s flower withers her smile still brightens, and by extension, the sun in Hel’s life doesn’t have to set just yet.
As Azrael and Nemain step through their portal, a second one opens to the left of theirs. Thanatos, another Psychopomp, steps out. The winged youth has hair and skin that are black as ash and wears dark colors to match. He looks like a living shadow, sans for the shine of his eyes. Those golden eyes of his peer out from beneath black bangs and seem to seek out her gaze.Hel looks away. The heat on her usually cold cheeks seems unwarranted as much as it is unwanted, unnecessary, and impossibly, satisfyingly inescapable. As a Psychopomp she can’t be compromised by this, she isn’t Nemain or Azrael, but like a target, she can’t fight it. At least not with him.
“I just missed them, huh,” Thanatos asks in a monotone voice as he approaches Hel. “Good thing I made it to you in time.”
Hel tries way too hard to act like Thanatos bothers her. There was a time where she’d sight the competitiveness of their business, but once Thanatos ‘retired’ from killing she needed to invent new reasons to justify her distaste. One such example was how closely he’s kept to The Grim Reaper’s side since his retirement, promotion or whatever it was. It’s like he’s become her pet.
Though if anyone ever bothered to ask she’d probably say it was because he abandoned Nemain. Before Azrael showed up the three of them were inseparable. They were the closest thing people like them could call friends while growing up as godlings of death, but when Azrael came along things changed. He and Nemain grew closer to one another and before too long their relationship became romantic. The two of them were, and are, compromised, at least by Psychopomp standards. Even so, they’ve managed to carve out a little piece of happiness for themselves among all the death and bloodshed that rules their lives.
Thanatos grew distant, so Hel figures he must have loved Nemain at some point. Hel couldn’t blame him. There is a charm to her, she’s ‘alive’. It’s clear in the way her face still readily contorts and gives way to each passing emotion. When Nemain is sad she cries. When Nemain is happy she laughs. When Nemain is scared she hides. All of these are things that set her apart from them, and from Hel especially. Hel is happy sometimes, but she looks and acts no different than when she’s scared or sad. Nemain can show she’s in love. This alone made Nemain different, attractive. Hel can’t do any of that.
Just because Nemain and Azrael ended up together didn’t mean Thanatos could just leave them, but who’s Hel kidding? It isn’t ‘them’ that Thanatos abandoned. It’s been years now and it’s abundantly clear that there’s only one person left alone after all this. While Thanatos goes off to balance books and count orison, Nemain has Azrael, leaving Hel to be the only one to feel the least bit nostalgic about their trio.
Thanatos had gone from acting in the field alongside others to becoming the recluse within an organization of loners. The Reaper set him up with a job as the group’s accountant when he had started to withdraw, making him the only real bridge to her. The more orison their leader collects, the less they see of her, which made sense. If she just walked around with that much power she’d no doubt attract some unwanted attention.
Hel’s exposed eye meets his amber colored ones. Their impassive stares bleed into one another as Thanatos speaks. He’s usually the first to talk, and she doesn’t know why she lets it be that way. Would it be so bad to say ‘Hello Thanatos, how are you doing today’?
“Theorisonfor today’s job?” Thanatos holds out his hand. Hel sighs and flips the golden coins in his direction making sure to miss on purpose. Thanatos crouches down to pick up the coins. As soon as his hands come in contact with them they break down into nothing but lights that dance around his hand before fading into his touch.
“That wasn’t very much. I hope that the cut you’ve kept for yourself will suffice.”
“It’s whatever.”Helshrugs. “You’d have to be an idiot to spend power now. Not like I would be accumulating it any faster if there were actually people praying to me anyway. So I just break it down into divinity and use it towards earning more. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a living.”
“So rather than saving up to buy something expensive, you’re using it to grow stronger. Interesting.” Thanatos tucks his arms beneath his cloak. “Do you have anything planned? How strong are you looking to become? What will you do once you get there?”
“Why are you asking so many questions?”
“Okay,” Thanatos says, turning away from Hel. It isn’t long before he looks back at her. Hel crosses her arms. She’d be leaning against a wall right now if there had been one around.
“Not everything has to be profound, you know? There isn’t always beauty in death. Sometimes it’s just this ugly, unceremonious, inevitable thing.”
“Are you seeking revenge?” Thanatos’ question is blunt. She glares at him, but he continues prodding. “It wouldn’t be shocking. Very soon you will be all that’s left of your family.”
“Thank you for that.” Hel shakes her head and sighs.
Who just comes right out and says something like that? From the searching look in his eyes, Hel assumes Thanatos has no intention of abandoning this train of thought. Like a good little Psychopomp, he sticks to his target until the assassination is complete.
Thanatos presses on. “Despite what they did, you do love your brothers, right?”
Hel doesn’t say anything. To say that she, as a Psychopomp, loves anything about her old life could get her in trouble. Not in a literal sense, of course. But say she starts reminiscing too much one day. Instead of using the memories as coal to stoke the fire inside, her movements would get weighed down by nostalgia. Then again, this is Thanatos. Last time she checked they still consider one another friends. Even if his position in the organization changed, he was still one of the two people she could trust, right?
Thanatos summons a small coin and rolls it between his fingers.
“Much like a coin, a story has multiple sides. So instead of standing here and flipping it over and over again like a jackass, how’s about you just tell me your side of things?”
Hel looks away from Thanatos, exhales softly and shakes her head. Leave it to Thanatos to dig up old stuff Hel thought was not only deeply buried but heavily guarded as well. Her brothers, two criminals of Ragnarok, one dead and the other awaiting execution. She takes on as many jobs as she can as a distraction, or maybe in an attempt to be as far away from them as possible. She herself doesn’t really know. She can’t remember them in that great of detail, and they probably don’t remember her either. Hel crosses her arms, her eyes ease across the horizon. In a way, the Hel that was their sister died a long time ago. So it’s like they’re just finally catching up to her.
“Alright Hel, I won’t press further,” Thanatos says, quickly, quietly, regaining her gaze in the process. “So while managing the accounts today I noticed someone requested a kill. A name isn’t listed in the ledger. Neither the buyer nor the target. They’ve paid an unbelievably high amount for this kill. So much so that Styx personally cleared it.” He pauses, as though to give Hel time to think about his words. All that really stuck out is that he referred to The Grim Reaper by a name. Though there isn’t much to consider beyond that, he’s digging and she hates it.
Helshrugs. “Is it unusual? We’ve always had a clause that allows employers to go unnamed so long as they’re willing to pay double.” Hel summons her scythe. “I guess it’s strange that someone was willing to pay enough so that not only was their name left unarchived, but so was their target. Styx did the job herself, means she didn’t wanna risk anyone below her screwing up.”
Thanatos nods. “Who has so much divinity that they’d be willing to use that much after Ragnarok? Whatever they spend they will surely never see again. An amount like that would no doubt put a huge dent in any of the elite Pantheons.” His golden eyes aim to reach her’s, but Hel, like always, is quick to look away from him. “Perhaps the Christians or the Olympians? They’re the richest after all. But assassination doesn’t seem like the route either high house would ever consider.”
As observant as Thanatos is, he never seems to notice how she feels. She always hoped he’d find something in her she doesn’t know she’s hiding. Hel would play dumb for as long as she could, but he made it so hard sometimes. Especially when he bombards her with questions. He always asks so many questions, and yeah she didn’t care about the answers, but, there is one question she did kind of, in the back of her mind, hope he’d ask. He has to be the one to do it. She would never, she couldn’t. It’d be an admission of defeat on so many levels. But if he did, then maybe there’d be some vindication in her feelings. Maybe it’d be alright if she knows he feels the same way. Maybe they can have something like Azrael and Nemain. Being weak is one thing, but it’s okay if you have someone to share it with. Someone to cover her weak points. Yeah, that’s it. Looking through her scope watching his back for hundreds, thousands of years. It’d be nice to know that he’d watch over her like that too. Ok, now the sappy looks Azrael always gives Nemain are starting to make sense.
Hel cuts an opening through reality. She makes it clear she isn’t going to stick around to talk with Thanatos for much longer. With one leg through the tear, she glances over her shoulder at the stoic accountant.
“You work with numbers Thanatos, that’s all. You’ve got a safe little job within a ring of killers.” Hel pauses. “You mentioned the sides of a coin earlier. As far as stories go Psychopomps are simple. We’re either face up, waiting to be flipped again, or face down, dead in the dirt.” She gives him the briefest of looks, allowing him to stare into her eyes. “So long as you hedge your bets, you can have a say in how your coin falls, unlike the rest of us. So take care of yourself, Thanatos.”
That impassive stare of his brands her. Always does. She remembers his looks, and they haunt her mind as much as they ease her pain. The way he looks at her isn’t any different from anyone else, and it definitely isn’t the way she remembers him looking at Nemain. Somehow, it hurts her worse than any injury she’d taken in her line of duty. Cuts, stabs, bruises, broken bones; nothing hurt like the cold stare of a Psychopomp. His eyes glow for her as they do for his targets; the looks are basically interchangeable. Then again, she wasn’t the kind of person to try to find a deeper meaning in something without hard proof, and he is supposed to be the observant one, after all.
Hel takes her leave. She shakes her head as she does, her cheeks taking the opportunity to heat once she’s sure he can’t see. After all that grim stuff about her family and the intrusive questions, the dolt didn’t even have the decency to tell her goodbye.