A forked tongue whipped out to taste the evening air. The potent scent of infidelity made Nithögg’s head swim—a cloying honeysuckle that almost masked an undertone of rotten meat. An icy breeze chilled her sleek coils, and her heart struggled to pump sluggish blood. The great serpent longed to return to her cozy den, nestled beneath the roots of an ancient, gnarled tree, but the aroma drew her onward. Dried leaves scraped her sensitive underbelly and she lashed her tail but continued down the path, compelled by a gnawing hunger.
Ahead, the trees opened to a small clearing, housing a rustic hut. Nithögg swiveled her arrow-shaped head, hunting for the source of the delectable fragrance. The Betrayer was closed inside the dwelling, windows and doors shuttered.
The serpent surveyed the yard, contemplating how best to stalk her prey. A jag of firewood caught her eye. She grinned, wicked fangs glistening in the dying light. The human would need to stoke the fire as the night grew colder. She slithered onto the woodpile and settled in to wait.
The sky darkened. Ice chips dotted the heavens—celestial pinpricks that cast a dappled light across the clearing. A rime of hoarfrost clung to Nithögg’s scales. Despite the cold, a fire burned in her belly. Famished, she craved the delicious wisp of treachery that seeped from the cabin. The perfume intensified as the door creaked open. Heavy footsteps crossed the yard. As the viper readied herself, she tasted the air and images filled her mind’s eye.
Bodies clashed and writhed, in an illicit dance. Sweat trickled down the warrior’s back. He threw back his head and roared. When it was over, his brother’s tousled wife wrapped her homespun dress around her and slipped into the night.
A flash of silver changed hands from within an inky shadow. Urgent whispers spoke of nefarious deeds. An oath to be broken.
Blond braids fell across the warrior’s face as he washed in the stream. The water ran crimson.
Nithögg drank in the feast of scents. A knife-edged hunger sawed at her, the god-cursed need to gorge on darkness and deceit. The warrior halted his progression. Draped in shadow, the serpent trembled. Patience.
The man stared up at the sky, a look of enchantment on his face as he studied the stars. A flash of irritation stabbed at Nithögg. The grandeur of Asgard was not for philanderers and oath breakers. A cloud swept over the sky and obscured the speckled lights, as if the gods had heard the serpent’s thought and agreed.
The tall warrior shivered and stepped closer to the stack of firewood. In the darkness, he reached out blindly.
With divine grace and demonic speed, Nithögg struck. She launched herself from her perch on a rough-barked log, fangs sinking into the warrior’s neck. Muscular coils wound around the man’s body, crushing his arms to his chest. He struggled, his screams echoing in the night, as Nithögg fed on the darkness in his soul.
When she was finished sucking the sweet vitriol from his life force, nothing remained. Too far gone down the path of evil, no spark of goodness remained to sustain him. Eyes hooded, Nithögg the Devourer let the warrior’s lifeless body slump to the ground. Sated, she wriggled back to her den beneath the World Tree to sleep off her gluttony. If she was lucky, when the cursed hunger drove her to the surface once more, it would be spring.