The Tree at World's End

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Thirty Two

The loud blast of a horn, followed by a marked quickening of the drums, drew their attention.

“What is happening?” Åsa asked, eyes wide with fear.

Fjiorn remained silent, gazing past her instead, enthralled by the dancers. Their movement had sped up to keep pace with the quickening rhythm of the drums. A freezing wind blew through the hall, accompanied by flurries of snow. And over the rustle of the dancing shadows and the howl of wind, they heard a male voice.

The cyclic and repetitive quality of his song singled it out as a chant.

Fjiorn could not understand a single word, but he knew beyond reason that he was hearing an incantation of power, and it made his skin crawl with foreboding.

The voice grew gradually louder, stronger, more commanding, and the dancers responded to it with increasingly urgent movements, becoming uncoordinated and jerky, losing fluidity, and soon resembling more the movements of battle than of dance.

Transformed into warriors, the shadows no longer paired off into harmonious duets, but sparred against one another with murderous intent.

Fjiorn drew Åsa away from them, towards the relative protection of the nearby wall. Weapons materialised in the hands of the dancers and so the slaughter of the shadows began.

The blood that oozed from their wounds was black, with the consistency of mud, and it soon covered the hall’s pavers.

The bodies of the slain began to pile high into grotesque mounds that the survivors had to climb in order to continue fighting each other.

But the combatants rapidly diminished in number until the entire hall lay in stillness.

“This is the second vision of death that I’ve had since being struck,” Fjiorn said to Åsa.

His wife made no reply, but held fast to Fjiorn’s hand, driven - not by any need for comfort - but rather by a determination to remain by his side. She was not going to lose him again.

The drumming and the chanting began to recede while simultaneously a sombre mist started to exude from the ground and from the bodies of the slain. This gradually spread to shroud everything in an impenetrable veil.

“I don’t like this,” Åsa whispered.

The entire hall was being swallowed up by the rising mist, erasing all forms, and rendering their eyes useless. Were they not still able to feel the cold touch of stone against their backs, they might have believed that they had been cast into a void.

But the wall, as well as the clasp of the other’s hand, anchored and reassured them.

They did not move until the mist began to thin. When it dissolved completely, they found themselves in an empty hall.

Gone the slain shadows, gone the mire of phantom blood underfoot. And without the distraction of the dancers, they now beheld the true dimensions of the enormous hall.

It stretched in all directions as far as their eyes could see. Left and right, the wall at their back stretched likewise, until it vanished into the distance.

“It was huge from outside, but it is even bigger in here,” Åsa said in a small voice.

Fjiorn also felt an insignificance underscored by the vastness that surrounded them.

Then Åsa raised a hand, pointing.

“Look! Isn’t that something … it looks like another wall … way over there?”

Fjiorn strained towards where she pointed.

“There was nothing there just a few moments ago…” he mused.

“Can you see it now?” Åsa asked.

“Something … yes,” he replied. “I’m not sure what, but let’s go and find out.”

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