The norn drink when they party.
They drink to celebrate, they drink to boast, they drink to mourn.
Fiel, however, was drinking to forget.
Nothing to celebrate. Nothing to bury. Every day, the young norn stumbled into the human monastery at the edge of the swamp, the one where they brew more than they pray, and spends every single coin he earned working in the Beetletun farmlands to buy casks of ale, beer, and any other kind of liquor. Anything to help him sleep at night. He came day after day, the dirt and the mud of his labor still clinging to his skin and clothes. And the dirt of the day prior. And of the days before that.
Fiel always came at sundown, tired and sweaty, clutching a handful of coins, and was always shooed away the next morning, hungover, bleary-eyed and empty handed.
They didn’t need Kormir’s true sight to guess something was plaguing the boy. They couldn’t help pity him, this boy… barely a man, and already so much pain. But they didn’t dare say anything. At least, not at first.
They did try talking to him. Gently. Offering an amicable hand and a compassionate ear to his sorrows. He blew them all off. Then, they tried being more stern. “You will only kill yourself if you keep drinking like that.” Fiel only responded with bitter laughter. “Is that a challenge?”, he would say. Things nearly got physical when the priests decided they wouldn’t sell him any more alcohol. Eventually they finally had enough, and permanently kicked him out.
Fiel left that night with a final string of insults and obscene insinuations about their mothers’ virtues.
The sky was dark then. Moonless. Empty and cold. Even the stars had run away, deserting the bleak marsh, hiding behind the thick bone-colored fog. Fiel was, as usual, hopelessly drunk. He felt sick, nauseous, numb and disoriented, like every night. And like every night, he let his feet decide where he needed to go.
Except that night they didn’t steer him right, the altercation with the priests leaving him a bit more perturbed than usual, and a few wobbly wrong turns later, he was ankle-deep in murky water.
The swamp. The Godslost Swamp.
He didn’t care.
What if he wanted to be lost?
Wisps of light were dancing between the reeds. Fireflies, or maybe the reflections of some beast’s hungry eyes.
But he didn’t care.
The silence was crushing in this place. No frog was croaking, no night bird was calling, no cricket was chirping.
Still, he didn’t care.
The sound of his wet, careless steps was echoing between the trees. He had lost the boardwalk long ago. He barely felt the cold seeping through his feet and up his entire body.
He couldn’t care. Couldn’t. He had forgotten how. He had managed that at least.
How long was he wandering among the mossy trees? He didn’t know. Minutes. Hours, maybe. Suddenly the side of a cliff appeared in front of him, emerging from the fog like the prow of a giant muddy ship cutting through oceanic mist, a high wall that caged him in.
Fiel was a dirty toad, boxed in a giant, smelly terrarium.
The slope was steep. There was probably a smoother incline somewhere further on either side that he could climb to reach the top, and pull himself out of the swamp. But Fiel was drunk. So stupidly drunk. In his absolute wisdom, he saw no other solution: he dug his fingers into the dirt, and began to climb.
He slipped often, each time covering himself with a fresher layer of muck. Yet he persisted. He was too stubborn, and too inebriated to accept defeat. This was the only way to get out of there.
One more slip, so very close to the top of the cliff. One last slip.
The norn fell, like a brick, like a corpse.
There was a hot, searing flash of pain. Everything turned red for a moment. Red, like blood, then black. Everything, black. Dark. Cold.
He didn’t know when he awoke. How he awoke.
He was standing. Or at least, he thought he was standing. He was elevated, standing tall. Too tall. He was floating a few feet higher than usual.
He looked around, and the world around him was strangely devoid of colors. It was not due to the moonless night. It was as if everything around him had bled, and all that remained were cold, empty shells of things. Shadows of their former selves, like his body at his feet.
It was empty. The shell that used to be his, was empty.
Fiel was dead. He was a ghost, floating above the body of a dirty, wide eyed, drunken fool, whose blood seeping from the back of his head was staining the moss with the color of pitch.
Everything after that was a blur.
He remembered screaming. Maybe. Did he even uttered a word? Trees were flying around him. Spinning. Everything was fog, and moss, and drooping branches. Everything around him was bleeding shadows.
In this blurred landscape everything that ought to be moving was still, and everything that ought to be still was trembling. The wet stones around him rippled. The murky water was a dark glass panel. From the reeds and the canopy, whispers. They rose from the leaves like smoke, dissolving in the air like ink. Voices were dripping from everywhere around him, pursuing him.
He didn’t remember how he ended up in front of the shack. It seemed instantaneous. It took centuries. One moment, he was running from… something, the next, he was in front of shabby-looking wooden door.
It looked bleak, like the rest of the place. Yet he felt a pull, as if the mossy cabin had called to him, and was now anchoring him there, preventing him from whirling away into the still chaos of before. A rock amidst the storm.
How long did he stand there, staring at the details of the planks with unnatural clarity and focus? Time didn’t exist there.
“Are you gonna come in or what?”
A voice. Unlike the dark whispers taunting him from the shadows. He felt it more than heard it. Like a warm breeze. He craved that warmth.
Fiel must have moved, because suddenly he was inside. There was a beacon, bright and warm, sitting in there. It had a shape, this flame… that of a person.