I see things. It’s what I do.
In another age, when the world was young, I gave up my eye for a greater sight. I hung from the tree for nine days and nine nights, a sacrifice of myself to myself, and fell into the screaming void, and from this I took the eighteen charms that belong to me.
These things are metaphor and allegory. They are a simple way of expressing a complex truth.
I did not give up my eye. The notion does not apply; how would a god, a being that only flirts with materiality, lose an eye?
But I am the god of sacrifice. I am the god of wisdom won at the price of pain and madness. I am the god of the hanged.
I am the god who knows that for all things, there is a price.
I see things. It’s what I am.
He stopped when I told him to. I felt a touch of relief at that. My brother’s tool was…unpredictable. Even to me, he was unpredictable. Push a man to the edge, and push him further, and who knows what might happen? Even a rat bites when cornered.
It’s the nature of all life to struggle against the inevitable.
But he admitted defeat, in the end. He let the spirits go. A mercy. Otherwise, they would suffer further. More to the point, it would introduce difficulty. For our interests to be quite so immediately contradictory would drive another wedge between us. It would bring a challenge to the contracts we all agreed to, long ago.
I caught the hound’s spirit as it fled. The wolf’s slipped past, on its path to heaven or hell or oblivion, whatever it might find after death. I had come as close to that boundary as anyone could return from, had danced on the line of the ending, but that was the edge of my knowledge. Even to me, what lay beyond that dark curtain was a mystery.
I felt no curiosity at the thought. I was due for my own meeting with that mystery. My knowledge extended that far.
In any case, the spirit of that long-dead wolf finally went to find the answers. It had no debts, no burdens to hold it back.
The same could not be said of the hound.
I quieted the spirit, rendered it quiescent, and waited to watch the world unfold.
My brother’s weapon and the new Queen of the fae did not notice my presence. There was nothing to notice. Oh, if they stayed in that place long enough, they might feel something odd. They might begin to sense the shape of it in the shadows and the destruction, might catch a glimpse of something at the edge between what was broken and where everything was whole. But even if they saw, would they understand? Unlikely. They had the potential to, certainly, but they were young still.
I seldom manifested myself openly, as my peers usually preferred to. I preferred to remain implicit, a potential rather than a reality. It was a piece of the concept which I had chosen to identify myself with.
They picked at the fabric of that world, unweaving it, and then left.
I felt a mild annoyance at that. Such children. They had no notion of what they meddled with. What they opened the door to.
Measures were in place, and would undoubtedly catch such a simple breach. Were it so easy to rupture our creation, it would not have lasted nearly this long. Still, it was a point of weakness in a system which afforded none. It could not be tolerated.
I reached out, still not manifesting, and bound that world in wards as it was consumed by the void. I removed myself to the next level of abstraction, and saw it as a self-contained unity. It was wrapped in runic structures, orderly and precise to contain the entropic nature of the void within.
The knowledge of that containment procedure had been a bitter one, dearly bought. But it worked.
Having done the immediate work of containing the breach, I found the location identifiers for the domain and altered the listed values. As I did so, I altered my own position, shifting my manifestation to a locus adjacent to the one I had just moved the domain to.
Here, in the void, the domain I had been occupying didn’t stand out as much. It was a drop of chaos adrift in a sea of it, distinguishable only by the web of definition and structure my power wove around it.
That structure, those runes, began decaying rapidly once they were fully immersed in the chaos. It took more than that to hold back the full force of the void. It took much more than that. It had taken all of us together to build those bulwarks, the layers of protections and magics which kept the chaos out of our creation. It had taken all of us to build the Otherside network.
I had changed since then, had grown in wisdom and power. But for a casual working to withstand that force was still far beyond me.
When the ward failed, it did so suddenly. A single piece of the definition snapped, eroded by the raw potentiality of the environment. The rest collapsed in an instant, lacking the ability to stand without it. The chaos within became one with the chaos without.
In reality, it always had been. That was why any trace of the void within the Otherside was unacceptable.
Satisfied that the problem had been dealt with, I shifted my location slightly, and focused in again. The higher level of abstraction was useful at times, but it was limited. Even for me, perception on that level was of necessity a matter of translation. We had imposed limits on our experience of reality in the process of our initial manifestation, and in order to operate on that level it was necessary to transcend those limits.
It is the nature of wisdom to know its limits, and to struggle against them. Having defined myself in part with that concept, I had made it a part of my limits as well.
Having returned to the level of the material, I manifested myself more completely. I wore the shape I most often did, the grey man with the walking stick and the broad hat, face left in shadow. One eye was hard and cold, the other empty.
I was standing, now, at the edge of the world, quite literally. The farthest reach of the Otherside, the last defined domain before the void. It had no name, or infinite names, or both. This place, by its very nature, is one where the distinction and the precision which our worlds function by begin to break down. Call it Vígríðr. It’s as good a name as any.
Behind me, the plain stretched out forever, dry dirt and grey skies and the openings of countless Ways and permanent portals. In front of me that continued for a long space, perhaps a hundred kilometers; the precise boundary point was inconstant and immeasurable. Further out, things began to break. The consistent rules, the fixed logic, began to fail. The environment became inhospitable to us, and all of our creations. Continue far enough, and one could conceivably find oneself in the void.
In between there was war. Constant, endless, and eternal war.
I brought forth the spirit of the hound again. She created a body for herself to replace the one she had lost, or the world created one for her. It was difficult to tell here, to the extent that either notion mattered. More accurate to say that her existence implied a body, and the world obliged. Vígríðr was as much idea as place, and ideas found material reality here.
That was rather the point.
She was confused. I could have explained, but my time was limited. There was work to do. There was always work to do.
“You made a deal,” I said instead. “You owe me a favor. That debt is due.”
“What?” she said. “Where? I…what happened?”
“You are dead,” I said. “You cannot return. You lack the structure to sustain yourself outside of this place. You will finish your existence here, paying your debts.”
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“You will,” I replied. “You see the enemy. You have seen them before. You’ll learn to fight them with time. They are forced into a partially material form here. They can be beaten. The rest you can learn from those who are here.”
I turned, and walked away, ceasing to manifest myself after a few steps. She would fight, or not. I thought the former; violence was in her nature. Ultimately it mattered little.
I’d lied to her. The same simple, basic lie we told them all. They needed to fight, and it’s hard to fight a hopeless war.
We can’t beat them. Oh, today or tomorrow, yes. But not indefinitely. They can’t die; they don’t subscribe to a notion of time which allows for endings. They can’t be dissuaded; we chose to limit the void as they did not, and they will never, can never, forgive that.
We can force them to attack on our terms. We can force them to assume a material form which is locked and defined in space and time. We can force them into a form which can be beaten.
But they will return. Again and again and again, forever.
The war is hopeless. The war was always hopeless. We fight out of spite, and because it is the nature of all life to struggle against the inevitable, and because even a rabbit will bite.
I see that. It’s what I do. It’s what I am.