His back door was worse than the route I’d taken in another realm with the cliffs. With the owl woman.
That seemed an oddly long time ago.
But this was bad in a different way. It was a tunnel, a tunnel in which even I sweated with the heat. I had a feeling anyone without fire giant blood or some other protection would spontaneously combust within a few paces.
It was that hot. I realized eventually that we were sneaking in through a lava tube, hopefully one that would not become an active lava river at any moment. “This is a place kids play to hide from adults, isn’t it.”
He grinned. “Oh, absolutely. And don’t worry. The river hasn’t flowed in a couple of centuries.”
Which was likely a side effect of the very thing I was worried about. “I wasn’t worried,” I lied.
Flash floods were dangerous regardless of what they were made of, though, and I stayed wary until he hopped out through a hole in the roof.
We were in a dying forest. The trees, no doubt, were a similar species to the fireblooms Surtur had shown me, but now they looked like the apple tree I’d seen under the stars.
Not quite dead, but not truly alive either. I rested my hand on one of them and shuddered. “This place…”
“This place was beautiful, I’m told, before I was born.”
“I…how do I not have your name?”
“Bjorn. Well, it’s Bjorn plus half a dozen syllables.”
I laughed. “Bjorn will do.” He wasn’t that bearlike, I thought. “But yeah. This is the right place.”
The trees were not getting enough fire to live. They were not dying, but sleeping…but if it went on too long they would die.
That understanding came through the touch. So, where had the fire gone? Could I…I closed my eyes and tried to get a sense of it.
I felt only a sense of dryness, of lack. Of cold, even, despite the tremendous heat of this place. Heat I could easily get used to.
Heat I could easily feel at home in. But not that lack. This place was beautiful before I was born.
“This is what Surtur should have shown me in the first place.” We could have worked together. I mourned that, briefly.
“Surtur believes that this is the center and that if he releases a lot of fire here it will…”
“The fire’s still here. It’s just a matter of finding it.”
I could sense it.
But I could not sense it with enough detail to know. What I could do was release a tiny bit of fire. Just let it flow out of me.
I felt the tree respond. I felt it uncurl in hope before returning to its state. “He’s right that this place needs more, though.”
“He’s Surtur. Of course he’s right.”
“About the problem.” I turned to Bjorn. “Not about the solution.”