Despite my initial impression, the castle was not deserted. Scholars lived in and maintained the building. My arrival was met with surprise when I began exploring, deciding to take on mortal form lest the Aevum be unable to see me as a Valkyrie. After apologizing for my intrusion and explaining my reason for being there, I was allowed to explore so long as I had an escort at all times. I raised an eyebrow at the stipulation but let it be. It would do me no good to fight with them. When I asked about the Aevum, I was told not to get my hopes up.
From the scholars, it sounded as though these elusive magi did appear now and again, but not as often as other visitors would like. I was adamant about staying until they arrived, and so they gave me room and board. They seemed more exasperated by my presence than gracious hosts. I began to wonder just how long I would need to wait and what to do with all the information I had gathered on my trip thus far when the solution presented itself.
I woke one morning to find the castle surrounded by pitched tents. I felt something like alarm spread through my body, followed by that calm before combat. It was the scholars’ reactions that kept me from doing something rash. They were excited to see the pitched tents and seemed to recognize the colors that were being flown above some of the larger ones.
The tents were a square shape, and all that I could see were open toward the rising sun. To allow natural light in to the tent without having to waste precious oil or candle wax, I would imagine. Many were neutral colored – meant to blend in with the landscape, with little design on the fabrics – and only a few others stood out in the colors of faded black or red. From what I could see of the inside, the floor of the tent was made from ornate rugs and cushions. What looked to me to be curtains created partitions in the bigger tents. I saw flashes of metal now and again, but could hardly tell what they were. Mechanical devices? Plates? Cups? It was difficult to tell. For all I knew, they were weapons.
I was encouraged by the scholars to join them in greeting their visitors and I was rather curious as to who these people were. Had the Aevum finally arrived or was this some other lost civilization that my strange journey had led me to? As we left the castle, I saw a small group of people gathering among the tents and begin walking toward us. To my mind, they could only be a diplomatic or delegation party. A group meant to exchange greetings to prevent hostilities. As we met them, I noticed their clothing.
None in the party wore the same clothes. One was in a suit that I had seen on a world long ago, others were dressed in tunics and trousers, others in the flowing robes of a people from a desert I had seen once. At least one other wore a dress of intricate design that appeared to me to be overly complex and required entirely too much fabric. I made a guess that they were all from different worlds and had come together to form their own group or culture based on similar ideas.
In front of them was a woman dressed in flowing clothes that had seen better days. Her robes – for I know not what else to call them – were bone white, the hems edged in dirt. Bordering the cowl of the hood and all along the hemline was a faded blue trim with intricate designs I had never seen before. About her waist was a belt, with various pouches hanging from it. Her hair was copper colored with slight greying at one temple. Her eyes were pale blue and she looked at each of us and said words that I assumed were a greeting.
The scholars seemed to understand them and talked with the people at length. I was completely lost in the conversation and instead concentrated on our visitors’ body language. Until I realized that all eyes were on me.
I reacted as I would to any situation: I lifted my chin and pretended as though I knew exactly what was going on. The conversation continued, but looks were constantly thrown my way. I found myself frowning more and more until finally someone from the visiting party approached me.
“You are far from home, death maiden.”
I glowered. I didn’t particularly care for that name, but didn’t bother to voice my opinion of it. I said nothing about the name used, as it was the woman dressed in robes, and as she was in front of everyone I assumed she was the leader. She had olive skin and almond shaped blue eyes. Her hair was bronze colored with a streak of silver in it. Instead, I said, “I’ve been searching for the Aevum.” I tried my best not to let my irritation be heard and resisted the impulse to cross my arms.
“So the scholars tell us. I assure you, death maiden, you have found them.” She gestured to the group behind her. “You would honor me if you dined with us tonight.”
I hated formal dinners, but I saw this as my opening to ask the questions I wanted – nay, needed – answered. “Thank you for the invitation. What time should I arrive?”
“Dusk will be fine,” was the reply. She glanced over her shoulder, then back to me. “We have business with the scholars. Until tonight.”
The woman returned to her group and I had the odd sensation of having breached some etiquette without realizing it, feeling the desire to bow or curtsy to the woman. Pushing the feeling aside, I returned to the castle and waited until dusk.
The woman that I met greeted me as I neared the tents, introducing herself as Diahnee. I found her to be rather reserved, but not without humor. Beside her was someone new, another woman much taller than my hostess. She was pale with red hair and green eyes, at odds with the majority of Aevum who were olive skinned and usually dark haired. It was difficult to ignore her, as if her presence alone commanded your attention.
I was ushered into a large tent with red ornate floor rugs and plush cushions in a variety of colors. In the middle of the cushions was a metal tray set with tea and glass cups, along with some bread, cheese, and meats. The group that I saw earlier were already seated on the plush cushions and a few sat around a contraption with tubes attached, inhaling the smoke from these tubes and then exhaling it. The smell was surprisingly pleasant.
Diahnee and her friend seated themselves around the metal tray and gestured for me to seat myself. I sat down on the nearest cushion and was surprised by the material and how far I sunk into it. The material was soft, far softer than I was used to. I had to force myself to stop running my fingers along the cloth when I realized that Diahnee and the other were watching me.
“The mortals I understand seeking us out; but you, little raven, confuse me,” the red head said. Her voice was low for a woman, but not graveled. She had an odd lilt to her voice, and I wondered if she was originally from elsewhere. Perhaps the Aevum had taken her in. “What do one of the many messengers of the gods want with us?”
I was a bit taken aback by the woman’s abrupt manner, but I appreciated it. “There are strange occurrences across the Realms,” I began. “Things aren’t right, though we are unable to determine why.” I was about to launch into the experiences that I and my battle sisters experienced but I was cut off.
“We are aware of these disturbances.”
“Is it you causing them?” The accusing question was out before I could stop myself, but as it was already said I refused to take the words back.
The woman looked at me — really looked at me — and I felt myself go still. She put down the plate she had picked up and leaned forward. “No.”
“Do you know who or what is?” My voice sounded hushed, and I felt myself trembling as I looked into her eyes.
Eternity stretched out before me, with a million blinking lights in a vast sea of darkness. The eddies of this ocean pulled at me–
I inhaled sharply when the woman looked away, and I saw that Diahnee had put a restraining hand on her arm. What was that I had just experienced? I was fine physically, but something felt different. I felt different, as if something within me had shifted somehow. There was no way to know if this change was good or bad until examined later.
“We have theories,” Diahnee replied, and it seemed to me in an evasive manner.
“Theories?” I echoed dumbly. It took me a moment to realize the import of her words. “You don’t know?” Surprise and anger warred within me. How could they not know? “You’re one of the Aevum!” I cried.
“And that makes us omniscient, does it?” The woman leaned back into her cushion, watching intently.
“Yes!” I replied. “All of our records say the Aevum were the wisest of all the civilizations that came before in the Realm of Man. They — you — amassed more knowledge than we could ever hope to. You traveled to the stars in ships and built the Blue Heaven Road. You have a deeper understanding of magic, mana, and ether than any of the races of Man. How can you not know?”
Neither of them answered, and the group off to the side stopped in their activities to watch. The woman’s face was impassive, and she opened her mouth to speak but Diahnee beat her to it.
“You think our people to be from the desert, yes?”
“Our scholars, as well as many others, believe so, given that all of the Aevum ruins that have been found have been in the desert,” I answered carefully.
“Those ruins are in a desert because we drained the earth of all of its natural magic. We ruined those lands with our knowledge and magic.” She searched my face for understanding. “We withdrew from most of the Realms because of how destructive our knowledge and magic could be in the wrong hands.”
She leaned forward slightly, looking directly at me. “We only have theories because we are not certain. We need more information, but we also need more time.” Her mask slipped for a moment. “There never seems to be enough of it, and events are happening much faster this time than they have before.”
I wondered at her choice of words, but they were mysterious in their meaning and Diahnee or the woman didn’t look to be clarifying their meaning any time soon. I asked hesitantly, “You said that there was a theory?”
The mask was back in place: Diahnee was as confident and reserved as when I first met her. “Yes. We think that the disturbances are being caused by a change in the timeline.” She paused, as if waiting for questions. None came and she continued. “If our theory is confirmed, we may be able to develop a method of stopping it. But for the moment, our theory is not confirmed and we have no idea what or who is causing these changes.”
I looked down at my lap. I received an answer of sorts, but now what? Ölrún — and the Norns through her — said that I could change things because of my unique nature. How? The only thing I could think to do was to return to Ásgarðr and report my findings to Brynhildr. But what of when the Aevum find the true reason for the disturbances? I would need to find them again and that could take years.
“What are you thinking about, little raven?” the red haired woman asked quietly.
“Brynhildr needs to know. She was the one who sent me out in the first place,” I explained. I continued by telling her the rest of my thoughts. She nodded thoughtfully, looking elsewhere as her brows knitted together. “We could find you, but I don’t know how long that will be. Years? Centuries? I do not know,” she admitted. “You could stay here. A message would be sent to Ásgarðr and delivered only to Brynhildr.”
“How?” I asked. “You don’t-”
I was waved off. “We know the way there and we have worked with Brynhildr before.” She either didn’t hear my question to elaborate or chose to ignore it. “You can leave when we know exactly what is going on and deliver the news yourself,” she said. “Would that be acceptable?”
Thinking it over, I nodded. “I believe that would be the best course of action.”
“Staying could mean lost time for you,” Diahnee cautioned. “We exist outside the stream of time. When we have an answer, any amount of time may have passed, forward or back in time. Things may not be as you remember them.” She paused. “We don’t have as much control as one may think when our Realm overlaps or touches another.”
“A chance I shall have to take,” I said. “I will help you in any way I can.”