The Tree at World's End

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2.13

Fjiorn opened his eyes.

The soft light reached even here, deep down amongst the roots of the great tree. Faint birdsong also penetrated this far and the trio soon resumed their search.

Somehow the exhaustion and the hunger of the previous evening were now completely lifted, and even the stranger, who had seemed particularly worried and taciturn, had brightened after their enforced rest.

They walked in silence because language did not belong here amongst the Yggdrasil’s hallowed roots.

A score of times their progress led to a dead end, yet they did not tire or fret needlessly, but simply backtracked and attempted the next passage along, and then the next, and so on, one after the other.

They lost track of time.

They had just emerged from yet another dead end when a ruckus erupted overhead.

They looked up to see a flock of birds burst from the foliage. The birds were pure white with a red tuft of plumage adorning the top of their heads. Their shrill cries sounded like complaints as they made directly towards the three humans, parting only at the last possible moment to fly off in different directions.

Fjiorn came to a complete stop as he watched the large birds cartwheel and then quickly regroup, to vanish amongst the roots further along.

Without speaking, Fjiorn abandoned the direction he had been heading and followed the birds.

As they had disappeared some distance ahead, he could not be certain of the precise direction they had taken, but as the trio approached the general area, a dark, silent swarm of fast-moving shapes erupted from a specific parting between the roots.

Without hesitation Fjiorn headed in that direction.

They followed the snaking fissure until they reached the place where the roots joined. Yet, unlike all the preceding explorations, the passage did not end here, for a triangular passage now led them directly into the earth just beneath the place where the two great roots met.

They stepped in gingerly, bracing themselves for darkness. Instead, they found themselves descending into a world that was bathed in its own faint blue glow, one that barely displaced the darkness within the earth, but still made the way visible and progress possible.

The passage must have been carved by sentient beings, for it was uniform and smooth, with a consistently gentle gradient that continued ever downwards.

They crossed countless side passages, which revealed that they were moving through an intricate warren.

Twice their narrow passage expanded into a vast chamber where the three sensed – but never actually saw – other presences.

The passage eventually led them to the shores of an underground lake. The sound of flowing water dominated this chamber, interspersed by the trickles and droplets that cascaded from an invisible ceiling. These set the surface rippling with myriad expanding circles that spread and intersected, forming hypnotic patterns.

Åsa sighed with contentment as she sat on the shore and beheld the magical spectacle before them. Einar too sank into the soft black sand and gazed at the fluid patterns.

Fjiorn knelt at the water’s edge.

The sounds echoed and created auditory ripples of their own, shaping a mysterious symphony that drew his complete attention.

He noticed fine, translucent stalks, ending in tiny purple leaves growing out of the water. Here, in the perpetual twilight, flowers grew, sending slender seeking fingers up through the dark, perhaps seeking the source of the blue glow.

It was as though all three were waiting for someone or something to reveal itself.

But nothing happened and no one came.

At last, the three humans simultaneously cupped their hands and drew the water from Mímir’s Well up to their waiting lips.

Fjiorn drank handful after handful of the precious liquid, oblivious to all else. He felt the fluid trickle down his throat and pool in his stomach, creating there a small lake of its own. He felt the coolness spreading outwards from there and when it touched his heart, he felt it quicken and surge in strong waves to the entire periphery of his being.

His fingertips and feet glowed and brimmed with invisible power, and his eyes blazed with the tree’s knowing.

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