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In the world of Altearth

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Ongoing 1361 Words

Chapter 10

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I stumbled into the thick growth of plant life. Vines tangled around my ankles, and I nearly went face-first into a huge trunk that arched up nearly 10 feet, then back down into the ground. The ropey fibers of the limb and the papery bark left gritty scrapes on my hands when I caught myself.

A huge tree loomed several yards away. It was as good a place to go as any.

I carefully picked my way through smaller roots arching up in bows. It would have been easier if I had found a patch of dirt to walk in, but everything seemed to be wood that was just a little too smooth to walk on, covered with damp moss that scraped away to form a lubricating mush.

Staggering through the mist and boughs, I wondered where the bifrost was. The branches overhead were too thick to let me see very far. My hope was that I would have some idea of where to go once I reached the big tree. Maybe I could climb the tree, or there would be a break in the canopy. Sighing, I kept up the crawling pace, working hard not to break any astral bones.

The first change I noticed was a tickling prickle on the back of my neck. Immediately, I felt eyes on me.

I stopped scrambling over a particularly large root and whipped my head around. Scanning the foliage behind me, I strained to hear any sign of what might be there. Fear curled in my belly, and telling myself that there was nothing there didn’t help.

After a moment, I moved on, slipping and struggling over a nasty tangle that was only a little easier going then the rest of my surroundings. I tried to dismiss the feeling and concentrate on placing my feet securely.


The call was soft and creepy, drifting toward me from the tangle of roots and trunks and vines. I froze.


The soft voice was closer. I was pretty sure it was masculine, so it wasn't Mercy or another Valkyrie looking for me. My eyes darted around, seeking the source of the voice.


I panicked, turning and rolling my whole body over the huge root in front of me. I slipped and caught myself, took several steps, and slipped again. This time, my knee slammed into a root.

Pain shot up my leg, but I pulled myself up. The giant trunk must only be about two yards away. For some reason, I latched on to the idea that reaching the trunk would mean safety.


The voice spurred me on and I used my hands and arms as much as my legs and feet to get around the tangles of limbs. The huge trunk loomed in front of me, almost within reach. Every time I thought only a few steps would bring me to it, I found there was still a yard or more of tangled roots to cross.

My foot slipped into a space between two roots and wedged itself. I pulled it frantically, but it wouldn't slip out the way it got in. All I got was bruised ankle bones for my trouble.

I reached down and tried pulling on the roots, but they were too tight and thick to move. Finally, I leaned back and kicked at the roots with my other foot, trying to hold myself up with my arms. I kicked my own leg several times before landing enough blows on the root to crack it.

Then someone was kneeling beside me. Delicate but worn hands reached out from under the dark gray cloak. The fingers traced the cracked root, and it shifted, releasing my foot. I pulled it out quickly. When I began to stutter my thanks, the hand gestured for silence.

The hand disappeared into the folds of wool, only to reappear with a small, corked jug. The hands pulled the stopper out and drizzled water onto the root. I stared in shock as the crack sealed up. Within seconds, it looked like it had never been damaged.

The form stood and turned to face me. The questions died in my throat. I knew that face. Perhaps not specifically, but I knew what the lack of discernable age meant when paired with slightly unfocused eyes and aesthetically neutral features.

The woman smiled at me, showing sharp teeth between pale lips. Dust gray hair showed under the hood of her cloak.

"You know what I am, quest-hero," she said in a voice like wind sighing through dead branches.

I nodded and forced out a single word. "Norn."

The creature led me along a path that seemed to form just for her to walk easily. We rounded the massive trunk, which must have been at least 50 feet wide.

There was a large pool of water with a little spout bubbling up to break the surface, indicating a spring. More woman-like creatures moved around the wellspring, watering various roots, packing mud on the trunk from the edge of the pool, or staring into smaller puddles scattered between the giant roots.

Several of them turned their sightless gazes on me, and I shivered with fear. Each pair of eyes was like a cold, clammy hand on the back of my neck.

"I am just trying to get back to the bifrost-" I began.

The creature leading me met my eyes with hers. Or nearly did. Lifeless eyes the color of road tar focused midway between my eyes and the back of my skull.

"You will meet with Skuld. She will tell you your fate."

The Norn's voice fell on my ears like old paint flecks.

"I thought you guys didn't tell people their fates until it was already locked in..." I swallowed hard as the woman watched me without blinking. Somehow, I just knew she'd been waiting for me to have that realization.

"Come. Skuld awaits."

I hurried to stay close to her, partially because it was easier to walk if I stayed in the wake of the path the roots made for her, but also because she was the scary thing I kind of knew. I was surrounded by scary things I didn't know at all. I concentrated on not meeting anyone's eyes.

I found myself staring into the pool of water. Despite the various activity in and around the wellspring, the surface was smooth and clear as glass.

I watched a Norn dip a small jug into the water to collect it. The ripples spread out from the jug for the space of a handsbreadth, then simply disappeared as if swallowed by the water. A hand landed on my chest, and I looked up into those cold, gray-rimmed black eyes.

"Do not touch the water, mortal."

I blinked and looked back at the water. I was standing at the edge of where the wellspring had muddied the dirt around it. I glanced over the several feet to where we had been walking a moment before.


Something that might have been a distant relative to sympathy crossed her face. "The water draws you in. You must resist. You are not ready to have the knowledge of the Norns."

My hand reached up to touch the Fourteenth Runespell, the one that gave me the knowledge of all gods and god-creatures.

The Norn's eyes flicked down to the pendant, then back to my face. "The knowledge is different. More. You are not ready."

I frowned. "Are you saying I will be someday?"

"Perhaps," she said. "You have many paths you could follow. Many choices to make. That is one. Now, come. Skuld awaits."

I took a step after her, then looked back at the water. Knowledge was a temptation. I shook my head and hurried after the creature. Knowledge was also pain more often than not. I wondered if hesitation over that pain was what made me not ready for the knowledge.

"That is one way to look at it."

I bit back a gasp as I found myself face to face with one of the Norns who had visited me years before.

"You lied to me," I blurted out.

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