Please note: The Tree at World's End is a collection of short stories and 2 novellas. Some of the individual stories have appeared individually on Inkitt. The first Novella you're about to read has not been posted before.
Fjiorn looked up as thunder rumbled across the sky.
A gust of wind blew straight into his face and he squinted at the clouds rolling in from the west like angry giants flashing with fury.
He watched for a few moments, long enough to know that turning towards home now would be pointless – he had no chance of outrunning this storm.
He clicked his tongue and the goats raised their heads as one, staring at him with their alien eyes.
He led them down the flank of the hill as the skies loomed darker. His best bet was to head for Halijkon’s pool, the only place he could think of with a modicum of shelter. The nearby cliff faced east and should therefore screen him and his flock from the approaching downpour.
He made it just as the first fat drops began to slam into the ground around him. After a hasty harvest of kindling and fallen timber, he retreated under the partial protection of the rocky overhang to light a spluttering fire, and there he waited for the gods to pass him by.
But the gods were in no hurry this day.
They moved slowly and relentlessly across the land, like hunters closing in for the kill. The air grew chill and the world brooded with shadows. The goats - who hated the rain – crowded together miserably in the cramped space between the fire and the cliff face.
Fjiorn huddled with them, tending to the vulnerable flames that danced mere feet from where the deluge seemed bent on drowning the world.
He resigned himself to a long and uncomfortable night, pulled an old blanket out of the sack, spread it over himself and closed his eyes.
A sharp retort made Fjiorn sit bolt upright.
He was met by silence and darkness.
Far in the distance, lightning flashed across the horizon. Closer at hand, between him and the intermittent flares, he thought he saw the form of a man materialise briefly, only to vanish again with the return of darkness.
The fire had gone out.
Fjiorn had no weapon on him other than his eating knife, which in truth he did not have the stomach to use, even if he could remember where he had put it.
“Who’s there?” he asked ever so softly, as if the simple act of speaking aloud would lend substance to this apparition.
“What do you want?”
Another flash, followed by a distant rumble.
Fjiorn was on his feet now, ready to bolt, but there was no one there. Had he imagined the man? Was it a trick conjured by the storm and the dark, and an overactive imagination?
The rain had finally ceased, and the darkness was absolute.
The world was preternaturally still.
Fjiorn risked stepping out into the night, taking a few tentative steps at a time. Where did he think he could escape to, anyway? In this pitch dark,
he was much more likely to meet his end in a ditch with a broken neck, than at the hands of an imaginary foe who could only be as blind as he.
Then, just ahead, a distinctive rustle.
Fjiorn held his breath anew. His senses strained as he tried to peel back the darkness with the power of his will.
Suddenly and shockingly the darkness was banished.
Later, Fjiorn would recall seeing two hands appear out of thin air a few feet in front of him, to tear the surrounding night aside. The hands themselves were luminous, and rent the darkness as if it was no more than an illusion painted on canvas. And the world that was revealed to him through the rift was one of blinding light.
An instant later, a searing heat ruptured through the length of his entire body, and he was enveloped in fire.
The sensation did not last, but faded even as he collapsed. Fjiorn lost consciousness before his body hit the ground.