The youths directed us to a mountain. It would be a good half day on foot – riding was not going to be helpful once we hit the base. A mule or mountain goat might have been able to do it. Our horses would be struggling and probably happier to be left behind. They were intelligent and could be trusted to look after themselves.
The mountains rose up quite sharply, low foothills and then steep slopes, and there was a game trail. Fortunately it was a fire giant scale game trail, and we had no difficulty with it. The horses might even have managed if it had not been for the vertical cliff that blocked it, one we had to scramble up with the help of a somewhat rusty chain.
No doubt the chain was there for hunters who might come this way. And there was game, although we disturbed it. I saw a deer run down into the trees, and birds alarmed as we passed.
There was no war here yet.
But the sky above was still not the sky of Muspelheim. Open to the void.
Unborn gods. Perhaps some of them would fall to alien worlds to become what they were going to become.
Did love between gods call them? Probably. It was a point of cosmology I would ask about if this did not end with my permanent death.
Or with the destruction of everything. Except that it would not reach them.
Were they also real stars?
Did worlds die to birth gods? I shook my head, and kept climbing. The height increased rapidly and no doubt the air was a little thinner, although not enough yet to affect my stamina.
Not enough yet, but it might be before we reached the peak by the dead tree, and I knew this place.
I had never been here before, but I knew this place.
It was where things would move to the next stage. “I’m starting to get a feeling this is actually going to work.” I helped Jorun up. The dwarves did not do well with climbing, and I remembered the bear den.
“Why?” she asked.
“I know this place. I know this mountain.”
“Have you been here before?”
Thruor was assisting Ebba. Mike was bringing up the rear, and he practically was a mountain goat. Had he done mountain climbing as a kid or something? He’d never mentioned anything like that to me.
Then again, I had never asked. But I would have thought if he was an enthusiast he would have tried to drag us to an indoor wall at the least.
Maybe he had lost it somewhere along the line. But he climbed easily. “You’re good at this,” I called to him.
“Funny how rusty skills come back.”
Maybe it had taken dying to get it back. “You never took us climbing.”
He fell silent and did not answer. I realized it might not have been the best question to ask.
Another one, perhaps, for later.