The domain on the other side of the portal was possibly the most monotonous I’d ever seen.
In three directions, there was just about literally nothing. A flat grey plain stretched out under a flat grey sky for as far as the eye could see. And that was very literal, too. The plain was absolutely flat, not so much as a bump in the ground to distinguish any spot from any other. It was a uniform grey, too, some material like linoleum.
That was three directions.
In the fourth, it was about the same. But just at the edge of my visual range, what had to be miles and miles away, I could make out something else. It looked like a wall. For me to see it at this distance, it had to be incredibly tall, a hundred feet at least. It stretched off across the plain, out of sight in both directions.
I couldn’t see movement on it, from so far away. I couldn’t tell whether there were people gathered on and around the wall.
But if I had to guess, I’d say it was pretty likely.
“What is this place?” I asked, sounding about as dumbfounded as I felt.
“This is the end,” Fenris said simply. He gestured to my left, away from the wall. “That’s your world,” he said. “Everything you know. Earth, the Otherside, all of it.” He gestured the other way. “That’s the void.”
“Wait,” I said. “You mean…the actual void? You can just walk out there and find it? I thought it was less…physical than that.”
“It’s hard to put this in terms that you would understand,” Fenris said. “Or even terms that I would understand. This place is an enormously complex working.” He paused. “An analogy, then,” he said. “Picture reality as an ice cube solidified from the less ordered state of the water. The ice cube has to be in contact with the water, there has to be a place where the two meet.” He gestured at the wall again. “This is that boundary,” he said. “This is where the chaos of the void meets the ordered rules of the universe.”
“The wall,” I said, understanding. “It’s there to keep out the void.”
“And the things that dwell out there. Yes.”
“Why’d you bring me here?”
Fenris was slow to answer that one. “This is a good place for endings,” he said at last. “And I think that however this goes, things are ending today. It’s a safe place, as well, with nothing to be damaged or destroyed. And it’s a familiar place for me.”
“You come here a lot, then?” I asked.
He smiled sadly. “This is where I spend most of my time,” he said. “My behavior here is…less constrained than it is elsewhere. This place is why I exist.”
“Is Loki really your father?” I asked. “That story’s always seemed a bit…off to me.”
“That’s a hard question,” Fenris said.
“If it’s a sensitive subject, fell free to tell me to screw off.”
“It is,” he said. “But that’s not why it’s difficult. It’s just a question that doesn’t have a simple answer. ‘Father’ is a biological concept, you see. I’m an imitation of a biological creature, enough of one that fatherhood is something that can apply to me. Loki is not such an imitation.” He paused. “He made me,” he said. “Personally. He created me and instructed me. So yes, I suppose he is my father, to the extent that the term can apply to him.”
“It feels so strange to finally be getting answers,” I said, more or less just thinking out loud.
Fenris smiled slightly. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t answer all your questions before,” he said. “My behavior was constrained.”
“And now it isn’t?”
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” he said. He twisted space, and suddenly he was holding a small silver flask. “Here,” he said, holding it out to me.
I took it. “It’s empty,” I said.
He shook his head. “There’s a taste left,” he said. “No more, but it’s not empty quite yet.”
“Why don’t you just refill it?”
His lips twitched. “There is no more,” he said. “The mead of poetry is not something that can be replaced.”
I almost dropped the flask. “The mead of poetry,” I said. “You mean the actual mead of poetry? The stuff that Odin drank?”
“One and the same,” Fenris confirmed.
“I thought that was a metaphor.”
He shrugged. “You’ll find that the line between reality and metaphor isn’t so clear as it seems,” he said. “Even if the mead is just a symbol of the abstract concept of wisdom, it’s a symbol with power.”
“This is priceless, then,” I said, rolling the flask around in my fingers. “Literally priceless, I mean, And irreplaceable.”
“I’ve carried that bit around for longer than you’d believe,” he sighed. “I’m done with it. And there’s nobody I’d rather give it to than you.”
I nodded. I opened the flask, very carefully, and drank. He hadn’t been exaggerating when he said that there was just a taste left; it was barely enough to wet my tongue.
To say that the taste was beyond words would be obvious. It was almost by definition true.
It took me a few seconds to get my bearings again, and then I handed the flask back to Fenris. He took it, silently, and made it disappear.
“Makes me think of another time,” I said. “When Carraig tacked me to that cross, and you came to keep me company.”
He nodded. “It’s been a while,” he said.
I laughed, though it sounded like a sharp, bitter laugh even to me. “It has,” I said. “So much has changed.”
“Things are always changing,” Fenris agreed. “But I’ve seldom seen things change as fast as the past few years.”
“Why did you do it?” I asked. “Why do you want things to end?”
Fenris was silent for so long that I almost didn’t think he’d answer at all.
“I was made to be a weapon,” he said at last. “That was my purpose, my reason for being. I was created for this place, to fight the things that dwell in the void. There’s always a war, on the wall. Always….” He shook his head. “I was given the power to destroy,” he said. “Made to be a force of death and destruction, so that I could do what had to be done. And I was bound.”
“Because they were afraid of you?” I guessed.
“Because some of the ancient gods were concerned about the possibility that I might upset their plans,” he said. “And Loki didn’t care enough to fight for my freedom.” He was silent again for a few moments. “The funny thing is that mostly I don’t mind the rules,” he said. “Most of the time it’s the thing I’d have done anyway, the right thing to do. But I’d have liked to have the choice.”
“Just because you were made to be a force of destruction doesn’t mean that you have to end everything,” I said.
He shook his head. “That’s not it,” he said. “That’s not it at all.” He looked at me, and I looked away before I’d even thought. “I’ve lived my life at the end of a leash, Winter,” he said, very quietly. “I’ve spent my life fighting in their wars. And I’m done with it. I can’t win this game, but I can refuse to play.”
“And the people that get hurt?” I said. “The people that die? I mean, you’re planning on killing everyone, as far as I can tell.”
“They deserve it,” Fenris said, and now I heard his true voice, the wolves snarling under the surface of the tones. “We all deserve it. Best to just wipe the slate clean on this universe.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” I said.
“Not going to try and talk me out of it?” he asked, sounding vaguely curious.
I shrugged. “Not seeing much point,” I said. “You sound like you’ve made up your mind already. You’ve had a few thousand years to reconsider, I’m guessing; if it were going to happen, it would have already happened. And it’s not like I’ve ever been much good at talking people down.” My lips twitched in something that had only the most passing of resemblances to a smile. “Besides,” I said. “If you were going to turn back, would I exist?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t suppose you would.”
“How the hell did things end up this way?” I asked, sitting down and then laying on my back. The not-ground had just a bit of give to it, almost like rubber. “I didn’t…I never meant for this to happen. For things to go like this. I look back on the road I took to get here and I don’t know what I did wrong.”
“This was never up to me or you,” Fenris said sadly, sitting down next to me. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter what anyone wants. Things just are the way they are.”
“That,” I said, closing my eyes, “is one hell of an unsatisfying answer.”
“Heh. What else is new?”
I nodded. “So what happens now?” I asked.
“I expect that in a few minutes we’ll start trying to kill each other,” he said. “Because I am what I am, and you are what you are, and in the end nothing either of us can do will change that.”
I sighed, a long, low sigh that dragged out for far longer than human lungs could have supported. “I’m sorry,” I said, opening my eyes. “For a lot of things, I guess.” I stood up, calling Tyrfing. The cursed sword was heavy in my grasp. “If this is how it has to be,” I said, “I guess there’s no use putting it off any longer.”
“No,” Fenris said , also standing. “Are you ready, then? If not, I understand. I’m…not ready either, really.”
I shook my head. “I’m ready,” I said. “As I’ll get, anyway. Let’s just get this over with.”