Erica Nidhogg/Two Minutes To Midnight

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must have been the devil who changed my mind
must have been the wind blowing not me crying
half the joy of leaving was the space I left behind
now I'm back, angelheaded holloweyed
placed myself at the eye of the storm
just didn't see the signpost to scorn
the blue sky wrinkled through my tears
then darkness grounded all my fears
I gave him my sugar; he switched it for salt
should have seen him coming that's always my fault.
Laika, Black Cat Bone

Excerpted from a Philadelphia Police Department report dated July 1st, 2005: 1848 30 June 2005, the subject entered Peirce College Medical Center and collapsed. Subject was a caucasian female approximately five feet, three inches tall, 110 pounds, red haired and blue eyed wearing sweat pants, a tank top and sandals. Being incommunicative and without any form of identification, subject was admitted as a JANE DOE. Preliminary tests showed JANE DOE to be in the late stages of Leukemia (apparently untreated) and in a severe fugue state. Holspital records show that at 2059, subject lost consciousness and was put under observation in the intensive care wing of the hospital and found to be developing aggressive cancers within every system of her body. Expert Diagnoses indicated that JANE DOE was unlikely to survive until morning...

11:58 PM, Somewhere Her sense of touch was the first thing that Erica Thialfi awoke to. The chill and spongy resilience of soft earth. A damp breeze that broke around her face. The staccato drip-drip of icy water on her shoulder. Further roused by the scent of wet, black earth and rotting vegetation, she warily pushed herself to a low crouch. Her eyes slowly drew open, widening from narrow slits to blurred boxes, Erica took in her strange environs.

She was in a tunnel. Cave just wasn't the right word for it. A dank and veinous passage seemingly clawed from the earth by some great beast and given over to all manner of strange fungi that shed a weak and sickly green light. Barely enough for human eyes, she took in her surroundings as she stirred more closely to full alertness. The obvious questions jumped to her mind. What was this place? How did I get here? Where am I? She didn't understand. The math of it was all wrong. Though her mind had momentarily lost the ability to connect disparate bits of information, the strangeness of the situation was instantly apparent. She should not be here yet she felt the paradoxic sense that she belonged here. The mossy carpet and gallery of mold and mushrooms that hemmed her in were an oddly comforting presence. Any questions flitting back and forth in her mind were purely analytical. The scene lacked the basic, primal fear that it should have and instead bestowed her with a kind of iron calm. A natural tranquility growing within her heart and radiating out to the rest of her being.

But something was amiss. The wind? Something was all wrong with the the chill breeze that languidly curled around her frame. It came in slow pulses and was entirely too rhythmic to be natural. Erica started. It wasn't the wind at all. There was something else in that passage with her. That something was large and it was breathing. Rubbing at her temples with her forefingers and sliding her glasses back up her nose, she looked into the direction that the gusts had originated from. The tunnel seemed to open into a large chamber. The phosphorescent toadstools that lit the narrow chasm she now crouched in terminated shortly before the passage widened into that immense enclosure. Squinting and straining, she could make out a form in the darkness. Something immense and seemingly alive.

"What visitor from this bold and distant century comes to the secret place between worlds?" A deep voice called. It's timbre like the rattle of wind through dead wood.

For her part, Erica just let out a startled squeak.

"Hush, child. Your presence here is neither unexpected nor unwelcome. Rather, I've been waiting for the oppurtunity to finally meet you. Point of fact, I was aware of you before you were even born."

Rather than respond to this, she decided upon the obvious question. "Am I-I mean-is this a dream."

"Do you think you're dreaming?" The thing in the darkness rattled back.

"I... no I don't. In fact, I'm sure it's not. Everything is just confused."

"You are quite correct, you're not dreaming. To be perfectly blunt, you're more awake than you ever have been in your life."
"Then what's happening? None of this is right. I can't figure out how I got here or why I even should be here."

"Again correct. The skein of your fate has been severed. You're currently lying in a hospital bed, dying."


"An illness now rages through the crude flesh of your body and though time flows more quickly within this place, you have only minutes before you expire and pass fully into the next world so I suggest you listen *very* closely to what I have to say"

Erica was silent for a moment. It was the best answer she could give under the circumstances. After that moment, the shape continued.

"I shall start by telling you of my purpose. What I have been called is unimportant, far less important than what it is that I do."

"Look, I don't know why I believe you but I do. Something deep down tells me that I should but why me? What makes me so special?

A long rumble much like a groan followed. The voice paused, possibly considering it's next words. "Because I sense a rare strength in you. A strength that can nurture as well as it can destroy."

"I still don't understand"

"And you'll go to your grave without understanding if you continue to interrupt me. Poor dear, your physical body is almost beyond repair and your window of oppurtunity draws ever more towards it's close."

Erica rubbed her forehead and repositioned her glasses closer to her brow. She looked into the darkness expectantly and still wondering why she did not feel the tell tale twinge of fear.

"What I am is the fire that rages through a forest to allow new growth and replenish the soil. I am what was first called into this universe when primitive bacteria realized that they could survive by eating their neighbors. I am the end of old things and I exist so that new things may have a beginning."

"I remember that. A story someone told me, it had that phrase in it." She stood, steadying herself against the side of the tunnel. "You're Nidhogg, aren't you?" She attempted to call up the memory but the fog that had settled on her mind had yet to fully clear.

"The child is most perceptive. I am that which destroys so that life may continue and in these daring and distant times, the clamor of man has grown loud. I. Hear. Everything. The world spins further and further off of it's axis. The greedy and self important have pushed the fortunes of Midgard -or Mannheim, or the world of men. Whichever you prefer- too far. This disturbs the balance that suspends the nine worlds in a delicate orbit around each other and I maintain that balance by stripping away that which is decrepit and decayed."

"Talk faster, I'm the one who's dying" There was a hint of steel in her voice and still no note of fear. She had no idea where it had come from, certainly it was quite out of character for her. But far from eliciting anger as she expected it too, a throaty laugh shook the cavern and dislodged a small chunk of mud onto the crown of her head. She shook it off as best she could.

"In spite of a human's natural fear of darkness and enclosure, you show a rare defiance. Wonderful and this is why I offer what I offer... The preservation of your life, though I caution that what is freely given has no value and that I will ask something of you in return."

"I'm fucking dying. Lemme hear it!"

"Yes, and your spirit will soon pass into the world of the inglorious dead. In the interest of brevity, these are my terms: I will weave you a new destiny from the threads of my own. Your old one may have ended but I can restore you to life. You will be stronger and free in all the ways that you were not. However, you shall be forever of my essence and nature and to the world as a vaccine is to a disease." As the voice spoke, it's pitch changed noticeably. Quickly losing the dry, coughing quality it held before. Instead it dropped lower and became heavy and rich, mustering as much pomp and circumstance as could be expected in a fungus-covered hole in the ground.

"Well what do you mean by that? That's just vague. Incredibly so, actually." She nearly growled.

"Those are the terms, your part is to choose life or choose nothing. Accept my offer and that which comes with it and you'll live, reject it and the book of your life draws to an early conclusion. All the things that you wish you had accomplished? Forever closed to you."

A snarl broke Erica's normally even face. A foot slid out, shoulders rolled forward and her fists balled. One hand closed upon an object, dark and cool, that she had no recollection of ever picking up. "Well... You're not going to stop being vague with me but you'll be here forever and soon I'll be gone. As much as I hate being put into this situation, I guess the choice you've left me isn't really much of one."

This brought a chuckle from the darkness. Not the kind of laughter that comes from amusement but one of savage, triumphant joy. The kind of laughter that comes before an ambush.

"Nidhogg, I choose to live."

"And so you shall, look upon the object that you now hold."

She did. It was a long dagger roughly cut from volcanic black glass and with a hilt wrapped in ancient and cracked hide. "The earliest men used that to propitiate me before they had even dreamed of that name that you called me by. Before I had been assigned form or face, they would placate me with their own blood and now I ask the same of you. Shed your blood and the bargain will be sealed."

Erica wrinkled her nose and sniffed. She opened her mouth in protest but closed it just as quickly. Time was a factor, after all. She instead gripped the knife along it's cutting edge and drew the blade across her hand. As it pooled the blood caught fire and filled the passage with a brilliant white light.

The voice spoke one final time. "I shall warn you. This hurts and hurts greatly. Everything worth it in life does, I'm afraid. But hush now, in a few moments, you won't even remember that we had this conversation."

Before it blotted everthing out, glistening, jagged teeth could be seen in the large chamber. They were enormous and far too sharp to be human. Erica screamed as everything went white with a brilliant glow.

The light was taking her to pieces.

Excerpted from a Philadelphia Police Department report dated July 1st, 2005: ...Staff nurses and doctors report that at exactly midnight, JANE DOE began to convulse, apparently in an epileptic seizure. Resident oncologist, DR. ARTHUR KILGANNON ordered Jane Doe to be restrained in order to prevent further injury to herself in the event that she suffered a repeat episode. CYBIL WARREN, head nurse of the intensive care wing reports that at 0005, Jane Doe regained consciousness and began to violently struggle against her restraints. DR. ARTHUR KILGANNON moved to sedate her. In the struggle, he was bitten by JANE DOE, crushing several bones in his hand. At that point, all witnesses state that JANE DOE began to transform, growing to nearly eight feet in height and sprouting wings, horns and a tail. This has been supported by a review of archived security camera footage. JANE DOE, then broke free of her restraints and in the process destroyed her bed and fled the hospital causing injury and severe damage to anyone and anything in her way. DETECTIVE DAVID ISTEN from the metahuman crimes division was first on scene...

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