What happens when a devil sets out to tempt a Heathen he finds at deaths door?
The Fallen were given the same knowledge as their angelic brethren, one the shadowed mirror of the other. Legend has it that it represents the sum of all knowledge. Like most legends it is less incorrect than incomplete. It represents the sum of all knowledge their god, and his chosen adversary choose to admit.
Banished for long centuries by a Christian saint, the Fallen was free at last to work his will, to seek those souls that could be won for his side in the war eternal between the hosts of Jehova’s loyalist and rebel. There was a soul even now flickering with the fire of vanishing life, one who was not bound to Jehova’s heaven, nor to Lucifer’s Hell. He dove for it like a stooping hawk, and alighted on the ground beside the mortal in a swirl of fire.
The mortal was old, not ancient, but old enough to be fragile, and from the looks of his position, had fallen afoul of a long icy flight of concrete stairs, and was even now feeling his lungs fill up with the blood of his life, even as the fires of that life began to seep out of his flesh, and into the cold of the night.
Smiling the smile of one who held all the cards, the Fallen knelt, allowing he fires of his true nature to burn visibly in his eyes.
“Mortal, you stand at death’s door. Hell is a handful of heartbeats away, as I see the ancient bonds of your Christening have been shattered, and Jehova’s angels have no claim on you. While you hold onto life, you may yet have value. Swear yourself to my service and I will grant you ten years of life, and riches to enjoy it. When you fall, Hell will welcome you as one of mine, power and prestige will be yours. Deny me, and you will end up in Hell anyway, but broken and powerless.”
The old man laughed, a grating croak like a raven’s, ending in a wet cough that sprayed scarlet droplets across the snow.
“Hel awaits me. Not your master’s late made fantasy, but the solace of the mound, and she who keeps the dead. You missed a memo son. The squabbles of your house are no concern of mine. Begone lest you draw the wrath of she who awaits”
The Fallen had been absent from this world for five hundred years, but no mortal dared bespeak an angel of either court with such discourtesy; not the greatest king, or darkest necromancer. Letting his fingers form claws of bone, he drove his hand down to rend the last of the life from the upstart mortal, when a blade of ice swept through the air above the mortal, and swept him aside like a human sweeping an errant kitten from the dinner table. The flames of Hel that cloaked him were as nothing to the cold that shattered his form, his power broke before the casual swipe like a blade of straw in the hands of an idle farmer.
Lying beside the old man, two broken forms writhing in pain, he met the old man’s eyes and saw him grin a blood flecked grin.
“I am Heathen, fool. It is not your Hell, but Hel herself who awaits me. What is hers, no man or god may take. I am, as you said, a shrinking number of heartbeats from hers.”
Pulling his form back together again, the Fallen realized he could not take, nor coerce the man, for a goddess defended her claim to what remained of him, but he was not yet hers, and perhaps need not be.
“Old man, let me bargain with you thus, grant me the space between one heartbeat and the next to speak with you, and I may yet make you an offer you cannot refuse!”
The old man nodded, unable now even to speak.
In an instant, the two spirits, Fallen angel and fallen heathen stood above their shattered bodies, and eyed each other.
“This sounds like a conversation we should be having over drinks, but my horn is at home, and I don’t think I could pour for you anyway at the moment, so you will forgive my poor hospitality” The old Heathen said.
In a moment, the Fallen took the image from the old man’s mind, and crafted for them a warm hall with a fire, two great soft chairs, and two horns filled with a strange amber-gold liquid that looked like sunshine, and smelled like the promise of sin.
The Fallen spoke first, attempting to confirm what he though he knew “You are a Heathen, one who denies god, so you should have no protection from me. You should be my masters by fate, and should require either forgiveness from that whining brat, or intercession from one of my master’s own to spare you the flames”
The old man raised his horn and laughed “You missed a memo there old boy. Heathen in this generation means one who has returned to the old gods of the north, the Aesir and the Vanir. We don’t need forgiveness for the sin of being born, and our gods don’t offer forgiveness for offenses we did to others anyway. If we want forgiveness, we had best make it right with those we wronged. Selling forgiveness to us is like selling screen doors to submarines; you aren’t going to get a lot of takers. Sorry kid”
Summoning a vision in the flame, the Fallen brought the image of a succubus dancing in the flame, its form the perfection of woman, its movements forbidden desire and lust personified. Even the fallen felt the pull of her charm as it stroked all the denied hungers in every recess of both of their minds. The old man just laughed.
With a laugh the old man whispered to the fire, and it erupted in bright gold as a vision of Freya formed in the fire, the bright passion, the lust that formed the core of all life called to the old man and demon both, before her smile darkened and hands made gathering gestures to the shadows, and a hundred whispers of wickedness ancient beyond time and terrible beyond reason stroked the edges of awareness, just out of reach. Both succubus and demon found themselves on their knees crawling to her image, before she laughed and soared away as a falcon of sun bright fire.
The old man spoke gently “You cannot tempt us with lust, for Freya burns with all the passions of life, the bright the dark, primal beyond either. You cannot tempt me with power either, for she has such secrets as would blast your sanity away, and frankly I know enough to steer well clear of”
The Fallen collected his scraps of dignity, and turned away from the traditional lures of lust for power and pleasure, the Fallen turned to subtler lures.
“I bear the knowledge from before the forging of the world, and know secrets known to no living, but swear yourself to me and I will give you a second lifetime to learn it all!”
The old man looked down, shook his head slowly, and faced the Fallen with eyes empty as night itself, the Fallen felt himself falling within their depths, until at last he saw the man, bound to the Tree, the Tree that is all worlds. Pierced he was by a spear, hung by a noose, and by his ear whispering was a wild haired old man the size of a mountain. Shoving his claws into his ears and screaming to block it out, the Fallen spent an eternity measured in less than a heartbeat of Things his kind were not permitted to know flowing through him, and the terrible cost of that knowledge forming around him like dread chains he would bear for all eternity; bound and burdened by knowledge he could never put down, words he could never unhear.
The Fallen wept as the old man pulled him at last to his feet, apologizing.
“I am sorry for that, but in my youth I was a priest, because I would know the secrets that Odin promised to share. He told me the cost of such knowledge before I took it up, and like a fool, I thought I understood. I would not know more, I paid for the knowledge I earned in this life, and bear burdens enough for it already. I need no more.”
Lowering the demon into his chair, the old man wrapped its shaking hands around the mead horn, and raised it to its infernal lips. The mead flowed down its throat like blood and fire, stilling his shakes and lighting again the fires that burned within his infernal breast.
The old man whispered “Half a loaf, and half filled cup, full friend found. There you go, old boy, good as new.”
The Fallen looked at the old man with wonder and finally spoke “I cannot temp you with anything, can I? I literally have nothing a Heathen wants. I have failed. I will win nothing from you, and you have won this contest. I will return you to your body, and to your fate”
The old man gripped the claws of the Fallen and laughed. “You are wrong, a gift for a gift is our way. You have given me a gift I could not ask for. I was not alone at the end. You are wrong as well that you won nothing. I go now to her, to Hel, and the icy silence of her realm. I will offer you this gift in return. Hear the words from our lord
‘Cattle die, and kinsmen die
You too will die
One thing alone will not die
The fame of a good man’s deeds.’ “
The old man paused. “We are great ones for kennings, for deed-names, bynames, honour names, and I give you this one now. I know you as Death-watcher, and I thank you for standing the watch with me”
The fallen crouched like a raven upon the railing, as the old man’s spirit returned to his flesh, and battled breath and breath until his lungs were naught but sacks of blood, and there was no strength left to raise his chest one more time.
The old man’s soul past somewhere the Fallen could not see, for it was not a place that angles of either court could even admit existed, let alone dare to look.
When he rose, he would return to the war unending, the struggle against the throne that had rang for more lifetimes than mortals knew. There was nothing in his eternal existence except this war, for that was all his kind were permitted…..except………..except……..now, somewhere, he could hear another chant his name, and tell his tale. A part of him existed beyond the struggle, beyond the war. A part of him would even survive it.
It was a small thing, but it forever changed him.