In an Inky Well
The Well that feeds Yggdrasil is deep and black. Tendrils of golden light twine upward from its depths and into the twinkling roots.
Except that it’s nothing like that at all, because that’s only a metaphor, because finite minds have trouble with the truth.
What mages see—true mages, with the innate ability to bend reality—is very different from what others see.
Her sister sees the Well, and has described it in great detail.
She sees a hole in the very fabric of the universe. What pours from the hole is not golden light, but Time. This thing is the origin of all things, guarded by a petty people who are all but extinct now.
Long ago, three Aesir women took up station around the hole, gazing within for knowledge. They have since become something other, something like what used to guard the hole. Time-reading face-changers. They can see all that was, is, and may someday be, though they often disagree about what they look upon. The price of asking their counsel is the madness of their conversation and the esoteric nature of their replies.
Loki whispers a spell, and she is there. A ruined, dead world that may have once been beautiful. Orange sky and gold-brown dirt and red grass. Three women in golden robes crouch before a door in the air—a rounded ring holding the edges of a tear in existence.
“The green-eyed pilgrim, again she comes,” says Urd.
“Again and again and again and again,” says Verdandi.
“To ask, and to not ask, and to listen,” finishes Skuld.
Loki looks at the Well-that-is-not-a-well. To her irritation, her eyes slide away of their own accord. She still is not meant to gaze in, it would seem.
“They used to worship this place,” says Urd. “Before the coming of hatred, and the Storm that Ends Worlds.”
“Take heed,” adds Skuld. “What became of them could become of Asgard.”
“Their children would each come to look upon it, to better understand their nature and the nature of all things…but they did not dare look long, for many went mad from the sight.”
“Mad as you?” Loki asks impertinently.
The Norns laugh at her.
“We saw you when you were born, storyteller. We saw what you would do. And then you didn’t. Yet in some other time and place, you did. Yes, it was maddening, as it always is. We see what will be, and then find that it was only one path.”
“Logically, if there are two possible outcomes, they must both happen,” says Loki. “Causality at its most basic. It is our limited perception that tells us only one of those two outcomes took place.”
“Oh, and hail the wise little princess!” laughs Verdandi.
“There is no spoon,” chortles Urd, and Loki frowns at the nonsense of the utterance.
“Come, come, Odinsdottir, you sought us out,” says Skuld. “Ask, if you would dare.”
Loki clears her throat and begins. “Heimdall tells of something strange happening on Midgard—something he cannot fully understand. The words he gives make little sense, but it sounds to me as if the humans have found a way to dive into the Well.”
The Norns answer together.
“No.” “Yes.” “Of course.”
“Is it like what happened here?”
“Exactly.” “Not at all.” “Yes.”
Frowning, Loki pauses to think. “The people here died out.”
Asking why they died out has never yet yielded a united, comprehensible answer. It’s never yielded the same answer twice. “Why?” Loki asks, because she always asks.
“Because of a memory,” says Urd.
“Because of heartsbreak,” says Verdandi.
“Because of a dream of all they could have been,” says Skuld.
“No, no,” says Urd waving a hand. “No, that’s why they didn’t die.”
“Ah, yes,” agrees Verdandi. “Here and now, they are dead because they continued. Because the Storm did not come to cleanse them, and so Nidhogg consumed them.”
“They are dead because of themselves,” says Skuld. “And we are not dead because they are. Because War can be a curious and total thing, when hatred overcomes all.”
Loki again tries and fails to look into the Well.
“See there, a thread,” murmurs Verdandi.
“From Midgard, our home is the tip of a ram’s horn.”
“And Jotunheim is a fish’s fin.”
She knows all that. Impatiently, she frowns again. “Should I go and stop those silly humans from splashing around in the waters of Time? Or do you think they’re truly ready?”
“Time knows what she does,” chides Verdandi. “To continue the scroll onward to the future. Some elsewhen will someday soon or past need outside intervention to keep time from stilling. The waters cannot stagnate. Already, she has put in place the tumbling pebble which seeks and breaks down dams.”
Skuld abruptly stands and turns, pointing a finger at Loki. “You will go and watch. And when the time is right, you will know. Time will call to you, green pilgrim, girl who could have become a World-Ender herself. And at Time’s bidding, you will shape the eddies of the stream.”
Loki leaves for Midgard.
And the humans make a great crystalline sphere, and when they hide it in darkness, she can peer into it and see the inky well of Time.
Without preamble, she appears to them, and the sphere tells them that she is the one they’ve awaited—she is to become a Keeper of Fate.