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Somewhere deep within the bowels of a dormant volcano, a cavernous room slowly filled with young Vikings dressed in the black and red robes of a HelBound initiate. As they took their places before a statue of Hel, the smells of ash, death, power, and a rich cocktail of pheromones washed over them. They could feel the nervous energy of the various races that had come to this place to take final vows.
Though the volcano’s fury hadn’t been seen since before the coming of the Veilstorms, the room was still too hot for most of the Vikings and many of them were tugging at their robes, visibly uncomfortable in their heavy garments. Once assembled, they waited for what seemed like hours. Some even succumbed to the heat or the noxious fumes, and had to be carried off by senior HelBound. Minutes turned to hours.
Without warning, the room became much colder, and the sulfuric fumes were replaced by the crisp air of the fjords on a fall morning. With that sudden change, some other young initiates also found themselves “kissing earth” and had to be carried off. The assembly, its ranks now shrunken, began to shuffle together for warmth and security, wondering what was going to come next. Slowly, the room’s temperature shifted again, to reach a point of balance between hot and cold, as even the smell of ash and death disappeared. With these changes came the booming of an instrument that was neither drum nor horn, defying all description. A man wearing the robes of the Speaker of Hel emerged from the base of the statue to stand before the depleted gathering.
“Attend me, supplicants of Hel, the true and most kindly Mother of The Nine Worlds,” thundered the deep baritone voice of the Speaker of Hel as the nervous supplicants moved closer to him. “You have chosen to follow the one true path, which is wise. However, if you think this path is an easy one, you are as mistaken as those fools in the Cursed Realms who think they can save our world from destruction. Listen carefully now as I relate our history and what it means to earn the right to be a HelBound.”
“Hel is not a goddess, as the ignorant would like to think, but one of the Greater Powers, beings so transformed by the Veilstorms that they have transcended humanity. The story of her change is too long for recitation here, but rest assured it was both powerful and painful, as the duality in her appearance can attest. Like many of the Greater Powers, it was her inner strength that both protected and transformed her. When her evolution was over, she was a being that simultaneously walked in multiple worlds. Wherever she passed, she could bring both life and death. She fed off of them, growing ever stronger. And one glorious day, she transcended mortality to become that which she is now.”
“Becoming a HelBound brings pain and joy, power and weakness. For we are as our mother, creatures with a dual nature. Once you take this vow you are forever bound to her, and you acknowledge that your existence in this world is temporary. On the day that your existence in this place ends, you will join our mother in her realm and assist her as she watches over the nine worlds. You will be marked by her, so that all who encounter you will know your true allegiance and fate. Wear her mark proudly, for you will be able to call on her gifts to further her purpose in this world.”
“As a HelBound, you can both heal and harm with magic. After you commit to our mother, you will choose the path that leads to your glorious future with Hel. If you choose the path of life, you will learn the runes of magic that heal those around you. If you choose the path of death, you will learn the runes that bring death upon your enemies. For us, blood is what opens the path to the Veil. Through the shedding of your own blood, you can summon and control the magic of your runes.”
“A HelBound is able to tap into the power of the Veil through the intervention of Hel herself. The bond with Hel is continually strengthened as the HelBound use their abilities fighting for our realm, whether with the skills of hands or of runes.”
“You newcomers will first have to go through the ceremony of rebirth, during which Hel will mark you as one of her own, granting you your first HelMark. Afterward, you will choose your path with Hel. This is a very important choice and you must choose wisely, for this choice is not symbolic: it determines the runes that you are given access to by Hel, as well as the way that you will carry Hel with you as you do battle with the enemies of the Realm. Additionally, while you are expected to learn other runes as well, these core runes will dictate the ebb and flow of how your magic functions in battle.”
“Your choice of path will also dictate your initial choice of weapon, and this weapon will be bonded with you. This bond can be transferred to another weapon in the future, but you may only have one bonded weapon at a time. However, you can also choose to use your hands as a weapon. While not as effective as using a crafted weapon, if you choose your hands a permanent rune of power will be etched on them. Over time, Hel will help harden your hands so that they take on the aspect of a weapon in more ways than one.”
“So, my little Helions, how does this all sound to you? Are you ready to take on the challenge of serving our most gracious mother? If you think you are, I have one other thing to show you before you make your decision.” The Speaker then slowly removed the finely etched, two-toned robes of a HelBound.
As he did so, there were gasps of horror from some of the supplicants. For only then did they see the price he paid for his devotion: His body was almost split in two. One side hung with dead flesh, while the other seemed all too alive and writhed with growths and strange organisms. It appeared as though his two separate halves were held together by sheer force of will. “This is the price I gladly pay for serving our lady and I would pay it again. Always remember, your choices matter.”
Standing before the assembled young men and women, the Speaker smiled inwardly, knowing that what he said was only mostly true. There were a few things about the choice that he wished weren’t part of his bargain with Hel. But he had learned a long time ago how much his choices mattered. Especially when dealing with a demigod who used to be his daughter.
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