Originally published on September 19th, 2013 on Kickstarter and CamelotUnchained.com
Somewhere below a long dormant volcano, a steady stream of Vikings filed into a cavernous room deep within the volcano’s bowels. Clothed in the customary two-toned robes of HelBound initiates, all the races of this Realm were represented here. As they took their places standing before a statue of Hel, the initiates were greeted with a rich and pungent cocktail of odors; ash, death, power and sweat emanating from the nervous bodies of those who had journeyed to this forsaken place to take their final vows. Though this volcano’s fury had not been felt since before the coming of the Veilstorms, the room was still far too hot for most Vikings and many of them began tugging at their heavy woolen robes, visibly uncomfortable in the sweltering haze. Once assembled, they waited for what seemed like hours and some succumbed to the combination of blistering heat and noxious fumes and had to be carried away by senior HelBound. Minutes turned to hours and then, without warning, the room turned much colder, the unwholesome fumes were replaced by that of the fjords on a crisp fall morning. As the temperature plunged, more initiates found themselves “kissing earth,” and they too were carried off and dumped unceremoniously at the mouth of the cavern, the robes stripped from their trembling forms. The congregation, its ranks now thinned, began to huddle together both for warmth and security not knowing what was to come next. Slowly the room’s temperature shifted again and it reached a point of balance between hot and cold. Even the room’s odor was indiscernible; it was neither pleasant nor offensive. Balance achieved, the cavern was then filled by the booming of an instrument that could be best described as the dysfunctional marriage of drum and horn. At the final “boom” a man wearing the robes of the Speaker of Hel emerged from the base of the statue to stand before the depleted gathering. Wearing his Death Helm, which like all true HelBound helms covered only one half of his face, the Speaker channeled the rune of “Ear” and began his oration.
“Attend me supplicants of Hel, the true and most benevolent mother of the nine worlds,” intoned the Speaker of Hel as the now obviously shaken supplicants drew closer to him. “You have chosen to follow the one true path, which is most wise. However, if you think this path is an easy one, you are as mistaken as those fools in the Cursed Realms who believe they can save our world from destruction. Listen carefully now as I relate our history and what it means to earn the right to become HelBound.
“Hel is not a goddess, as the ignorant may believe. As you have learned, she is one of the Greater Powers, beings so transformed by the Veilstorms that they have become transcendent humans. From your initial studies, you doubtless understand her evolution was both powerful and painful, as the duality in her appearance testifies. Like many of the Greater Powers, it was her inner strength that both protected and transformed her through the power of the Veilstorms. When her metamorphosis was complete she was left a being that simultaneously walked in multiple worlds. Wherever she passed, she brought both life and death and she fed off of this, growing ever stronger. Until one glorious day, she transcended both life and death to become what she is now.
“Becoming a HelBound means pain and pleasure, power and weakness for we are as our mother, creatures of a dual nature. Once you take this vow you are forever bound to her and you acknowledge that your existence in this world is transitory. She will mark you so that all who encounter you will know your true allegiance and fate. Wear her mark proudly for so long as you do, you will be able to call upon her gifts to further her purpose in this world. On the glorious day that your existence in this world ends, you will join our mother in her realm and serve her as she watches over the nine worlds.
“Newcomers will go through the ceremony of rebirth after which you will receive your first HelMark”, continued the Speaker in icy tones. “HelBound may walk different paths in the service of our beloved mother and you must choose wisely. Do not mistake this choice for mere illusion, nothing could be further from the truth, this choice determines the runes that are gifted you by Hel herself. While you are expected to learn other runes in your journey, these core runes embody what Hel can expect from your service.
“If you choose the path of life, you will learn the runes of magic that are attuned to the healing arts. If you choose the path of death, you will learn the runes that will bring death upon your enemies. For us, blood is what opens the path to the Veil and through the shedding of blood, you summon and control the magic of your runes through your connection with and devotion to Hel. Each time a HelBound casts a spell, their bond with Hel grows stronger. This bond is continually strengthened as you serve and sacrifice for our Realm.
“Upon choosing a path a weapon will be given you, and this weapon will bond to your very soul. This bond can be transferred to another weapon in the future, but you may only have one weapon so bonded to you at a time. Alternately, you can choose to use your own hands as a weapon. While not as effective as a crafted tool, choosing your hands as a weapon will cause a permanent rune of power to be etched upon them. Over time, Hel will harden your hands so that they take on the aspects of a crafted weapon.
“So my little Helions,” the Speaker said almost kindly, “what say you? Are you ready to take on the challenges and rewards that come with serving our most gracious mother? If so, I have one final thing to show you before you make your decision.” The Speaker then slowly removed the finely etched, two-toned robes and as he did, there were gasps of horror from a few of the supplicants. Only then did they behold the true price he had paid for his devotion. His body seemed liked two entirely distinct halves, held together by sheer force of will. One side was lifeless, covered in thick cords of necrotic flesh, while the other half seemed all too alive and was covered in a writhing mass of foreign organisms. “This is the price I pay for serving our Lady and I would gladly do so again. It is up to you but always remember, choice matters.”
Standing before the assembled men and women, the Speaker smiled inwardly knowing that what he said was mostly true. There were a few things about his chosen path that he wished weren’t part of the bargain with Hel. He had learned all too well just how much choices matter, especially when dealing with a demi-god who used to be your daughter.