Claiming The Fire

It was easy to get to the foot of the Tree. Above me, the canopy blotted out the stars as it held heavens upon heavens in its boughs. Below me, the roots spread far and wide before descending into the rich earth. I spied little holes here and there. Some were the dens of animals. Some were the entrances to other worlds.

Nearby was one of the pools. I looked at it with a twinge of regret. It was there the Norns had explained my thread to me. In doing so, my past was made clear. For this, I am thankful. But they also showed the trend my thread is being spun around. For this pain, I am also thankful. It will be hard to overcome it, if I choose to try and change it. But that is for another writing.

I started to walk forward. There was a place I wanted to be. A place I had been advised to find. But I wasn’t sure where I was going to find it. There are nine worlds here. Some worlds were easy to scratch off my search list. Helheim? No, not going to find any place cozy there, not while I’m still living anyways. Alfheim? Somehow, I think my association with the svartalf will make me persona non grata there as well.

I’ll start my search in Midgard. To my sight, it overlays the Waking world in places, so I’ll be able to find landmarks to help me along my way. As I continued stepping away from the Tree, I realize I’m beginning my search headed South-East. I stumble a bit, and realize I’m dressed for my personal magic. While trendy and chic, heeled boots are not good for walking on tree roots and rough ground. I call to mind the thurse form that Bastard helped make for me. A blink, and I’m taller, thinner, and dressed in leathers appropriate for the chilly climate.

I’m now quite a bit away from the Tree. It looms large in the background despite the distance. A fog has begun to roll in from the west. As there was no path to follow, I have been meandering my way along. The fog removes me from all distant landmarks. I know I’m in danger of walking in circles.

I come to a lake. Because of the fog, I can’t tell if it’s a oversize pond, or a large bay. The air smells of water and the humidity thickens. Despite my augmented thurse sight, I can’t see more than twenty feet around me. Everything is still, as if early morning.

I pause at the water’s edge. It’s peaceful in this moment. I start to walk away when the water’s surface disrupts into small ripples. I feel a movement in the surrounding fog. Something is here. I have a small dagger in my leathers, and the power of the runes in a bag. I prepare for the worst.

The fog suddenly coalesces into an amorphous mass over the water. My thurse form is predisposed to shadows, not water, so I must be wary of being pulled under the surface. I hear the sharp neigh of a horse, and the cloudy mass bursts into the form of a horse.

I know this horse. He was my steed on other occasions. A descendant of Sleipnir, he was asked to help me as I stumble through the Nine Worlds. More thurse than horse, he is made of mist. If anyone tries to mount him without his consent, they will find themselves drenched to the bone and face down in the dirt. To those he has declined, he is only mist. To those he has consented, he is a lightly damp horse.

Stormhoof loudly calls to me. Standing on the surface of the lake, he prances about a bit in greeting. I smile and wave to him. I look into the water and see the bottom drops off sharply. Where he is prancing about, is already deeper than I am tall.

“You know I can’t walk on water!” He whinnies in response. “Hey, Stormhoof! Feel like helping me find a place?” He stops dancing on the water and looks at me intently. “I need to find a place to set up camp. And there is one place I’d like to try first. But I didn’t get there on my own before. Feel like another adventure?”

Stormhoof trots off the lake surface and comes to me, roughly nudging me as he passes. Now prancing on solid ground, I note his hoofs still make a squishy sound. He’s more mist than solid. He looks at me, as if to say, “Now what are you getting yourself into?”

“Do you remember where I was given this form?” He nods. “I need to go there, but I never went there on foot. I only know it is in the forest where the light never pierces the canopy, but I don’t know if that was here in Midgard or elsewhere.” He backs away slightly. “Just point me in the right direction, and I’ll be on my way.”

Stormhoof walks around me once, then stops facing north. He juts his head north a few times then looks back at me. I give him a kiss on his muzzle, wetting my face in the process. I thank him, then start away from the lake, in the direction he pointed.

When I am far enough for the fog to hide him from my sight, I hear him sharply neigh, as if annoyed. I feel another movement in the fog around me, and Stormhoof materializes in front of me. He stands crossways to me, blocking my path. He looks at me, shakes himself, and stomps a hoof impatiently.

“Are you sure, my friend? I don’t know what I’m getting into.” He snorts, and stomps his hoof again. I reach out and touch him, his form solid under my hand. And a little bit damp. Stormhoof stands perfectly still for me, as I mount the horse bareback. He would be uncomfortably large if I were in my human form. But as a thurse, we are well matched to each other.

I hold onto his neck and mane, only enough to keep my balance. Stormhoof has no bridal gear, no reins will ever lead him. He waits for me to settle myself, then starts trotting at a fast gait. “I trust you, my friend.” I whisper in his ear. He snorts, then turns around and heads south at a faster pace.

I held on tightly as Stormhoof ran onto the lake I had just left. His body solid beneath me, I look down to see his hooves are water. Water runs on water as he turns slightly to the left, following the narrow lake’s shape. Measuring our progress against the trees along the shore, I note that he runs on water many times faster than he runs on land. The lake begins where a river ends, and it is onto that river that Stormhoof now runs. I do not ask him to go faster, nor to go slower. He will carry me at the pace he wants to carry me. But I will say this about him, he likes Fast.

The river begins at the foot of a waterfall. Before I could look around for a land-based path, Stormhoof whinnies loudly. I clench to him tighter in response, and before I could ask why, he starts to run up the waterfall. At first, he’s leaping from splash to splash as the lower part of the waterfall is broken up by gravity and surface tension. As we ascend, the water’s movement becomes more cohesive and he is able to make faster progress.

Finally, we are at the top of the waterfall. He strides forward a few steps then stops. Standing on the surface of a raging river, he turns and looks at me with a large blue eye. And winks. “You, show off!” I’m laughing as he nods vigorously at my words. We both look upriver. My jaw drops a bit, when I realize the river, and the series of waterfalls it cascaded over, was actually flowing between worlds. Far to the west, I see the Great Tree. The spit of land that holds the segment of river we are stopped on, is held by one of the Tree’s lower branches. In the distance, I see a way to ascend the branches on foot. Stormhoof sees it, and nods towards it in askance.

“My friend, when I said I trust you, that means I trust you completely. If you want to take that way, then do so. If I am tiring you, let me off on the ground. If you want to play and show off some more, have at it! Already, you have saved me much travel, and for this, I am thankful.” Stormhoof nodded slowly, then started for the shore. Still walking on the raging river as if walking on lumpy soil. Just before his hoof touched ground, he paused. Looked over his shoulder at me, and winked.

When he paused, I knew to tighten my grip. I know the only thing he loves more than running, is running on water. He raced upriver towards the next waterfall, and launched himself upward against gravity. His delight was infectious, and by the time we reached the next world, I was laughing and cheering alongside his whinnying and neighing.

The cliff face looked familiar. I’ve been here. Stormhoof leaves the river and turns east. As we continue forward, more and more of the scenery is echoed in my memory. I see where the thurse had challenged me when crossing a bridge. Further on, I see where I had taken shelter in an unexpected storm. More and more, I recognize features, until at last, I know which world I’m in. Jotunheim. And still, Stormhoof ran.

The forest suddenly turned dark. The tree tops spreading so wide and thick, the branches interwove with each other until the sky was blotted out. Even in brightest day, this forest was pitch black. This was the Forest of Shadows, where the Dark Things are. Here mortal men was not to travel without light, lest their fears be given form and the hapless man devoured down, even to bone and nail.

But the form I had been given was of a thurse of darkness. I had almost no pigment, as if I was albino. My appearance was of one whose generations of ancestors had never stepped outside of a cave. I could see in absolute darkness. The Forest of Shadows held no harm to me. Well, the forest itself, that is. The denizens, were a different matter. I would have to face them, eventually.

Stormhoof picks and trots his way through the forest. I notice the path twisting and shifting under his hooves. If I were to try and walk without a guide, I would be hopelessly lost in moments. Up ahead, a glimmer. The path widens, and we arrive at a campfire. The fire burns merrily in the middle of the small clearing. Three logs lay around the fire, like three sides of an unfinished square. There are wood shavings in the dirt. A forgotten bowl. I hear the echoes of all that has happened here, like my memories are shared by the trees that stand over us.

I dismount, and pat Stormhoof in thanks. To my surprise, he remains. I know the wood shavings are from an elm tree. From me. Discarded pieces, I wonder why they haven’t decomposed into the soil. I gather a handful and toss it into the fire. The fire devours them greedily, flaring for a moment. Then I realize, the fire isn’t burning on anything. There is no fuel, no wood. I study the flame, and somehow know it to be the work from Laufeyson. An ever burning fire. I look around the campfire, finally sitting on one of the logs. It’s been a while since I was here.

Stormhoof comes over to me, keeping me between him and the fire. He rests his muzzle on my shoulder, and I reach up and rub his grey head. “I’m where I need to be, my friend. I won’t be searching further. Much has happened to me here, I know this place. I’ll be able to come here from the Waking now, without forcing you to exert yourself so hard.” He pushes my head at my teasing. “Thank you, dear Stormhoof.” He snorts in my hair in teasing response, turns, and leaves the campfire without incident.

Sitting alone at the campfire, I recall the events that have occurred here in the past several years. Here is where I was told I would learn the runes, “or else”. Here is where each rune was carved into my flesh, one by one, as I learned the basics of them. Here is where an Aesir and a Vanir conspired to give me a form more suitable for traveling the Nine Worlds. Here is where I was taught how to deal with being drunk off my ass. So much happened here, at this campfire.

The longer I sat, acquainting myself with each little nuance, the more comfortable I felt. I intended to make this place a “gate” for me, so that when I jump from the Waking to the Dreaming, I could come directly here. But it wasn’t a gate for me just yet. I had to change something here, make it completely mine. I sat, staring at the fire, realizing I could feel the flame deep in my soul. Loki had placed it here, but he did not make it subservient to him. Feeling the Kenaz rune burning in my right hand, I started to reach out with that same hand towards the flame.

A movement. I paused, closing my right hand into a fist, but keeping the Kenaz rune at the ready. A shuffle on the other side of the fire. My thurse eyes saw something large and humanoid in shape, waiting just beyond the edge of the fire’s light.

“If peace you bring, then peace I share with you. There are many places to sit, pick one!” I yell out to the hidden form. The form jumps as if startled, then slowly shuffled into the fire’s light. My thurse form is almost seven feet tall. What came from behind the fire was several feet taller than that. Large and lumpy, the manure colored creature shambled beside the fire and sat next to me on the log. It looked like a large heap of manure had become animated. And it smelled far worse. It scratched its side, and crumbly bits of dirt fell off. Or flesh. I couldn’t tell. They were the same color and texture.

“Ahh. Thank you. Sometimes I get too cold and this fire is the only one that stays burning here.” Its voice was the tumbling of dirt, deep and full of base. A thought strikes me, and I dig out of my bag my skin of water. I open it, squeeze some into my mouth, and offer the skin to my new companion. I do not know how I could recognize facial features (I do not know how I could recognize its face!), but I knew it was surprised at my gesture. It took the skin, thanked me, and squeezed water over its head. As it handed the skin back, a rumbly sigh of relief shook my bones. “Ohhh. That made me feel much better. Most humans that come here, the ones that survived as long as you have, would have run away crying the moment I stepped forward. But now I have warmth, water, and someone to talk to. Ahh.” In its relief, it lost the humanoid shape, so that it looked like a heaping pile of manure.

I wanted to ask questions, but felt this wasn’t the time for it. So we sat side by side, and enjoyed the fire’s dance for a while. The heap reformed into a humanoid shape. “When are your companions coming by? I’ve never seen you here alone. It’s always with Mead-thief or Fárbauti’s Son.”

“Today, I have business to take care of alone. I don’t expect them to come by today.” As I spoke, I wondered if I had said too much. Another thought struck me. “I must ask. How do you see me?”

The heap turned its “head” and faced me squarely. “You appear just like a Darklover. You even smell of Dark. You’re wondering how I know you are human? I was watching when Mead-thief and Fárbauti’s Son changed you. I saw your human flesh before they gave you this Dark flesh. They did well. If I did not know before that you are human, I would think you another Dark wandering too far from her cave.” It collapsed back into a heap and settled down.

“Oh. Okay, then.”, was my only spoken answer. I drank more from my skin and offered the rest to the thurse. It declined but thanked me for the offer. We sat in silence for a few moments more.

“I have a question for you.” It grunted and leaned over to me in response. “I intend to make this campfire, my gate between my human world and Jotunheim. None would use it, but me and those I send on my behalf. Mead-Thief and Fárbauti’s Son have their own ways of getting around. Would this be a problem, or is there something I should do before I claim it?”

I could feel the thurse studying me. “This is a good question to ask, Elm. It is good that you asked it, before starting off like most humans do. You look like a Dark, but even Darks can come to harm.” I nodded in agreement. “This question, you must ask of the others here. I can not speak for them all.” The thurse makes a rumbling noise, like the rumble of a landslide. The sound echoes off the dreary grey trees into the depths of the forest.

It is answered with the sounds of tons of moving earth. I force myself to remain visibly calm and serene as large heaps shuffle forward out of the surrounding darkness. In moments, I am encompassed by thurse and other denizens of the Forest of Shadows. But all of them remain an arm’s reach away from me, except for the one I welcomed to the fire. It rumbles more sound, that I know to be the speech of their kind. I feel the gaze of dozens of sentient creatures studying me, not all in academic detachment. Then silence.

“If we allow this, how do we know you will not attack us?” Its voice was like rocks being ground. Heaps move away from the speaker, and I find myself looking at a large stone thurse.

“You have my word. I’ll return peace for peace, and hurt for hurt. I am the one at the disadvantage here. The least of yours could probably overpower me.” I did not feel this was the time for bluffing. How many others here know I’m really human, I wondered.

“Once a human touches a thing, he claims it and forbids all others from touching it. You ask to touch the fire, that many others enjoy. Will you bar others as well?” Well, I guess they all know I’m human. Question answered.

“The fire does as the fire pleases. And it pleases the fire to dance right here, and no other place. Why would I hoard what is not mine to begin with? I am not like my brethren. Or at least, I try not to be. I ask to use the fire, and this immediate area, as a way from my world to this one. If I am not here, enjoy yourselves! If I am here, there are many places to sit! But I will understand if I am refused. I’m not here to start trouble.”

There is silence all around me. Then the thurse that shared my water spoke up. It said something in its gravelly tongue and reached out an appendage. I sat perfectly still as the smelly, filthy, oily gnarled arm rested on my shoulder. The skin texture felt like a hundred leeches were crawling on my skin, seeking the perfect place to attach themselves to. I didn’t flinch, instead, I smiled, and leaned into the touch a little.

Many thurse came forward. Examining my hair, my skin, my hands, and my face. All areas exposed by the leather clothing. Even though the smell was curdling, I did not withdraw from any of them. One found my now empty water skin and left quickly with it. Their examination over, they left me. To my surprise, no dirt was left behind. There was a faint smell, but it wasn’t decomposition, it was the gentle smell of fresh dirt.

My water skin was returned to me. Full. I pulled the stopper out and smelled it. To my surprise, I detected a faint scent of charcoal. “If you drink it as a Dark, no harm will come to you. But humans are more delicate. Woodchar will keep the water sweet for when you are human.” I give my thanks, and shift to human form. As my normal human self, I drank from the skin. The water had a bit of smokey taste, but was also sweet.

At the sight of me drinking, the tension fled from the air. The stone thurse leaned forward to examine me closer. “I know you, now. You’re the human that challenged my brother on the bridge.” I did not deny the charge. “He still remains there. He challenged an Aesir, and this is his punishment. He is still angry that you did not destroy him and release him from his torment.” He stands and laughs. “But that is between you and him! Let us settle what is between you and me.”

“Here are my demands for what you seek. Tell us a story. Tell us of how you gained the Dark woman’s form. If you tell us truthfully and completely, this fire, and the logs around it, will be known as yours.” The stone thurse sat on the log beside me. Around the fire, the various thurse settled into comfortable positions. My human eyes were hard pressed to see them. I shivered a bit in the now chilly air. The thurse that shared my water shifted, so that it sat behind me. It reflected the fire’s warmth, and I stopped shivering.

I thanked the thurse for warming me, and pointed out how quickly humans can succumb to the environment. I pointed out my skin color and touched briefly on my ancestral history. That my forebearers were not from cold climes. I personally had experienced frostbite on my hands, and nerve damage in hands and feet from exposure. I was weak to the cold. But because of my debt to Loki, I had to learn the runes, have them carved into me. Which meant traveling the Nine Worlds. Loki had appealed to Odin to help me. And for some reason, he agreed. So began the story of how Keri became the Thrice Carved Elm.

As I spoke, I looked down at my hands. As I spoke, my words became fibers that fell out of my mouth. The fibers had fallen into my hands, where I, unknowingly, had meshed the fibers into three little threads with the palms of my hands, while my fingers braided the three little threads into one moderate sized yarn. My hands did this smoothly, as if from muscle memory, as if I had done this my entire life. Despite my astonishment, I continued to speak the story, leaving nothing out of the rendition. It was as fresh to me as if it had happened that morning.

My audience was quiet, such that a person stumbling in would think I was talking to myself. I knew they were listening to every word, however. When I finished with, “And now you know how I became the Thrice Carved Elm.”, the last word fell into my hands as a sticky clump. My hands, working on forgotten memory, palmed the clump into the end of the braided thread, where it fused and sealed the end of the thread.

I looked at my feet where the story thread had coiled. I was surprised, that I wasn’t surprised to see several loops sitting there. I picked up the yarn, eyeballing the size of the loops, it appeared that my words had formed about twelve feet of thread. The beginning of the story thread was also sealed together the same way the end was. I peered for the stone thurse, but my human eyes couldn’t see that well. A large stone hand appeared in front of me, palm up and open. I placed the loops of story thread in the waiting hand. As the hand withdrew, I shifted back into the Dark thurse form.

I could see him now clearly. He was examining the story thread from start to finish. Pinching it between his fingers, testing the strength of the braiding, he was checking my words. Everyone waited for him to finish. He wrapped the story thread into a tight coil, and tucked it away, keeping it. He looked around, waiting to see if he had everyone’s attention. He pointed to the fire. “I have decided.” His voice, rough and gravelly, bounced off the trees and the motionless heaps. “Tell those that did not come, this fire and campsite is Weaver’s fire and campsite. She is welcome here and is not to be harmed. As she brings peace, so shall we give her peace. If any confront her, she is free to defend herself.” Most of the thurse around us nodded and made sounds of agreement. A few did not, but they accepted the stone thurse’s decision.

He raised a hand for silence. “In return, Weaver.” I knew he was addressing me now. “When we ask for a story, you shall tell us one. If you do not know the story we ask for, you shall tell us one that you do. And the words you speak shall become a thread, just as this did, and the thread you will give to the one that asked for the story. This is how you shall pay for what you have asked for. Will you abide by this?”

All attention focused on me. “I will abide, Stoneman. I also will not begrudge any space at the fire. Let those that wish warmth, come and sit. If I am working on a project, and need room, I will take those around me in consideration.” The stone thurse seemed pleased with my words.

“Very well, Weaver. You are welcome here.” The heaps stretched arms and legs and they all stood. Hollow trunks were turned into drums, and an impromptu party broke out at the fire. Water was passed around. The stone thurse sipped a little, the shambling heaps poured it on each other’s heads. I sipped from each bowl that came my way, and passed it on. I tried my hand at dancing at the fire, and quickly gave space to those that could. Eventually, I found my way to one of the drums, and found my place in the party there.

Over time, the thurses moved on. One by one, until I was alone with the first thurse that sat beside me, and the stone thurse. We sat, the three of us together, and watched the fuelless fire. The stone thurse spoke first. “How will you put your mark on this place, Weaver?”

I lifted my right hand. Even though gloved and covered, the power of the Kenaz rune was palpable. “Fárbauti’s Son left his mark on me.” The stone thurse just nodded. I ungloved my hand, feeling the fire simmer just under the skin. I stepped forward, and raised my hand to the fire, my palm facing the flame. I called on the Kenaz rune and using its power, claimed the masterless fire as my own. The fire flamed into a towering column, but I did not back down. I called the flame, telling it to burn as Loki had made it, but that I was now its lord. I plunged my bare hand into the flame, letting it lick between my fingers. The flame acknowledged me as its master and did not burn me.

The flame still burned as it did before. There was no visible difference to the campfire. The logs were the same. The elm shavings were ever more sparse. The forgotten bowl was remembered, placed on an impromptu tree trunk drum, and filled with charcoal. But there was a presence now. A palpable feeling. This is Weaver’s fire. If you bring peace, you will have peace.

As I returned to the log, the stone thurse stood. He still gripped my story thread in his hand. “This will not be used against you, Weaver. But it is mine to keep.” I called to mind the story and found I could repeat it again if I wanted. Realizing I didn’t bind myself, I sighed in relief and nodded. He turned and strode into the darkness.

The heap shambled into humanoid form. “I must be off now. I am warm from without and within. We will talk more another time, Weaver. Or maybe, just sit together. This is a good thing, too.” The thurse shuffles off into the darkness, leaving me alone at the fire.

Exhausted from the celebration and the storytelling, I slump off the log onto the bare dirt. Still in Dark thurse form, I lean against the log and close my eyes. After some time, I feel someone new approaching the fire. The presence stops at the fire’s edge.

“If you bring peace, you will have peace.” My words ring into the surrounding forest.

“That’s good to hear, Softskin.” At the sound of the svartalf’s voice, my eyes snap open and I jump to my feet. As he walks forward to greet me, he adds, “but you didn’t have to say it. The fire told me as I approached.” My height as a Dark thurse has me towering over him. To give him the warm hug I wanted to, I had to drop to one knee.

“That was fast, my friend. How did you know where to find me?” We sat on the log, side by side.

“There are many that find your treatment of the bridge blocker amusing. Someone came to me, asking if I knew the Thrice Carved Elm, if the human claiming this name was truly the one that put that thurse in his place. I told him what to ask for. It would seem, you provided the right answer.” He paused a moment. “You still have the keystone.” It wasn’t a statement, but a question in surprise.

“Why wouldn’t I? I can’t barge through your chambers every time I enter the Nine Worlds, you know. That might be rude of me.” I laugh, but I note he is eying me warily. “Okay, seriously. I’m going to be going along this path for a while. I do need other ways to enter. And I think you know why.” The svartalf looked away for a moment. Then jumped off the log.

“Come, Softskin. I have something to show you. It’s not far.” He starts to walk away, into the darkness.

“Weaver.” He stops and looks at me in askance. “My name, svartalf. It’s Weaver.”

He squints his eyes at me. “You did not name yourself this.”

“No, I didn’t. But it is the name this place has given me, and I think it’s better than ‘Human’.”

He nods. “Very well then, Weaver. Come, I have something to show you.” I leave the log and follow him away from the fire. Twenty feet away, he comes to a stop. I note that a human would not be able to see here. As a Dark thurse, it is only somewhat dim. The svartalf is waiting for me next to a very large boulder. It is mostly round, but with one side nearly flat. It looks weathered, but I know this stone has been worked. In the distance, I can see the eroded face of a sheer mountain wall. At the base of the cliff, is a cave. The svartalf follows my gaze.

“No, Weaver. You do not want to go there. True Darks are there, and they may not take kindly to you taking on their form.” He looks at me, and asks, “Do you have your keystone?” I reach in my bag and retrieve the dream version of the keystone. Holding it to the large boulder, the nearly flat face darkens and disappears. I see the boulder has become a passageway.

“I know you are trying to find means, other than the chamber I made for you, to enter the Nine Worlds. But I do not want to leave you without means of escape if this place holds harm for you, Weaver. You can get from the chamber to here, and from here to the chamber.” The svartalf places a hand on the boulder. “You haven’t asked, Weaver.”

“When you want to give me a name, you’ll do so. Until then, I have no right to demand one. But I do tire of saying ‘svartalf’ all the time.” I pat him on the shoulder. “Thank you, my friend. You aren’t exposing yourself too much, are you?”

“You aren’t going to give away the keystone are you?” Before I can answer, he steps into the rock. The boulder solidifies behind him.

I make my way back to the campfire with ease. As I approach, the fire tells me there is someone there. I am pleased to see the fire connected to me, and wary to find I was attracting more visitors. But I must abide by my own command. If peace to be had, peace must be brought.

I come to the logs, and find the stranger sitting directly across the fire from me. As I come around, speaking my greeting, I am frozen as I recognize the appearance.

The stranger had a handful of elm shavings in his hand. He was throwing them idly into the fire, one by one. The stranger was dressed in traveling leathers, with a long bluegrey cloak draped over him. His staff was leaning on his shoulder, and his wide brimmed floppy hat covered most of his face. But not so much, that I didn’t see the eye patch over his right eye. While I did not see them, I could feel the stares of two ravens, before one launched into the darkness of the canopy and flew away noisily.

I dropped to one knee, and greeted the stranger with as much formality as I could muster. His head turned slightly towards me, and he stopped throwing shavings into the fire. “You’ve returned.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“You have unfinished business.” His voice was low and even. He was not in a joking mood.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Do you even remember?” At his question, the things he referred to come swiftly to mind. One task, is now in the process of continuing. The second, languishes in stasis, all progress stalled by other shiny things in my life.

The sudden resurgence of memory knocks the wind out of me. “I remember.” My voice was quiet, almost ashamed.

“One day, Weaver, you will rise above the Nine Worlds. But that day is not yet here. Finish what you have been tasked with.” He throws the rest of the shavings into the fire, and reaches into his bag. He retrieves the story-thread I had surrendered to the stone thurse, and holds it out to me. I come quickly to his side, kneel, and take it. The loops fall around my hand in a particular, and familiar way.

“Weaver. Finish it. Pass it on. Even though you feel you do not have the right to do so, you have the mandate to do so.” He stands and grips his staff, but I remain kneeling. “The runes will fade unless used. Each time you call them, you deepen the score in your being. If they fade too much, I will have to recarve them anew. If I must do that, I will be sure you will never forget them again.” I only bow my head in answer.

He places his hand on my head. I feel an intense heat deep within my being. “No, I don’t need to carve them again. I just need to remove what has hidden them.” The heat intensifies, building in my heart and spreading outward. He calls the runes, one by one. With each intoned name, I feel the heat consuming me from within. He finishes calling them, and removes his hand from my head. I fall forward onto the dirt. The heat is unbearable and has me curling up into a fetal ball.

“Speak them. Speak life into them.” His command is emotionless. Gasping, I obey. As each rune is named, the heat dissipates a little at a time. At the end, I am left gasping on the ground. He stands over me, impaling me with his sight. “Do not forget this. Do not forget what has happened here, Weaver. Make a new thread, in the manner of your world, and weave the account of all that happened here. Hide what you have, no longer.”

He lifts his head, and his staff. The heat returns in the depths of my being. I can’t bear the heat any longer, and it drives me from the Nine Worlds back into the Waking world. I sit up in my bed, drenched in sweat despite the 61°F of my room. It takes a few minutes of deep breathing for the internal flame to go away.

I was bidden to record what happened, and so I have.

Make of it, what you may.

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