Originally published in 1993-96 by Pan Macmillan, Dirk Strasser’s The Books of Ascension went out of print before the final novel was completed. Two decades later, the entire series—including the “lost book”—is availble from Momentum in ebook format! Check out the third and final book, Eclipse, below, and be sure to keep an eye on the site for additional excerpts from the series.
The Mountain is in its death throes as the Nazir send their wraiths to finish what the dusk-rats and grale had begun. Soon there will be no daylight to protect the Maelir and Faemir, and with each twilight there are fewer places to hide.
Will the Mountain finally collapse under its own instability or will Atreu and Verlinden’s descent find the words of salvation in the Lost Book of Ascension?
The Lost Book
Can you see them? The Teller’s words are floating through the air and taking shape above your head. Clouds are whispering into half-forms as you capture the words in a place just beyond your vision. Breathe slowly. You will see them. Inhale. Exhale.
Can you see the story breathing …
You are on a pre-dawn slope, and the snow is crunching under your feet as you walk. With every step, vapour clouds from your lips. Around you are boulders and sharp-toothed rocks, looming out from the white blanket. You twist and turn to avoid them.
As thin, sour tendrils of light snake into the sky, you see the still, dark waters of a giant lake in the crater below. You are about to remember why you are here when you hear a voice.
You stop dead. You had believed you were alone.
You round the next boulder slowly and see a dark, angular figure on a large, flat-topped rock to your left. The man – at least, you fervently hope it is a man – is seated with his head turned towards the paling stars. He is chanting words that sound strangely familiar, yet you cannot find meaning in them. The man’s voice is sad and thin, and carries a rhythm. Its pattern escapes you just as you think you have found it.
You notice that other figures have climbed onto the rock. Again, you hope that the pre-dawn light is playing tricks and that these are also men. As the first rays of the sun pierce the Mountain peak, the chanter’s voice evaporates into the still air, and the other figures break into a frenzied, yet strangely controlled, activity.
The first realisation you have makes you shudder. You can see that the men placed a body on the smooth surface of the rocky platform. You can see that they are taking various instruments out of the sacks they carry with them. You can hear a sawing sound, and your next realisation causes you to tremble to the core: they are cutting up the body. Then the pounding starts, and you know they are crushing the bones and skull to a pulp.
You cannot look away. There is something about the way the men perform their task that draws your eyes and your heart. There is no hate on the rock for the man who has died. The cutting and crushing is done with precision and it is done with reverence.
Moments later, the chanter stands and places his fingers in his mouth. A sharp whistle cuts the Mountainside. You follow the gaze of the men and see dark geyers circling in the sky above. The birds cry and screech as they swoop down on the pulped remains. Like a swarm of wasps, they descend, and then dig into the flesh and pulverised bones with their talons and beaks.
As the clear sky lightens above the surrounding cliff tops, the screeching stops and the geyers ascend again. You follow their ever-increasing circles as they fly into the heavens, and you wonder what it would be like to be buried in the sky.
When your eyes can no longer focus on the tiny black dots above you, you shift your gaze to the lake, which has now taken on a pale glow. For a moment you think you see an inverted snow-capped Mountain reflected in the waters, like an abyss. You blink, and your attention is caught by the movement of shadows on the flat-topped rock.
You turn just in time to see the last of the dark, angular figures climb down and disappear. The final realisation is one you had been keeping from yourself. These were not men.
Whispers always travelled quickly through twilight. The Search has come to Tsurphu. They seek the Ur. The soft words hung like a mist over the village, soaking its inhabitants in a dense fog. The three Tellers have come. They seek the Ur.
A pale-skinned boy with lidless eyes huddled in his mother’s arms, a circle of large boulders their only protection on the wide, flat plains outside Tsurphu. They seek the beginning.
‘They will not have you, Lhycan.’ The mother’s voice was barely louder than a breath.
From where the pair crouched, the whispers appeared as a low-lying cloud, with tendrils snaking out in all directions. The Search has come to Tsurphu.
Lhycan reached out and swatted a tendril that was weaving its way towards his ear.
‘How do we know the whispers are right, Mother?’
Tashil held her son more tightly. ‘I have known since you were born that the Tellers would come for you. It has taken nine years for the Search to reach Tsurphu. As each year has passed, I have given thanks that you were still with me. The Search has almost come to an end – if only I could have kept you hidden until Zenith.’
‘Let us run, Mother,’ said Lhycan.
‘There is nowhere to run to,’ said Tashil.
Lhycan’s shoulders twisted and jerked as the fog thickened around them. ‘They cannot take me against my will.’
‘It is your will to come with us.’ A deep voice shot out at them from the fog, and Lhycan and Tashil froze.
Lhycan strained his lidless eyes through the gloom to see three hooded figures taking form as they passed between the boulders. When they came to a halt, he saw that they each wore a long, thick robe gathered by a clasp on the left shoulder which depicted a shattered sun.
‘The Ur is found,’ said the first Teller.
‘We have been wrong before, Gyalsten,’ said the second Teller, his voice deeper and more resonant.
‘I believe this time the auspices have aligned, Gyalwa. The Ur is found.’
‘No,’ shouted Tashil, the word cutting a swathe through the whisper mist.
Lhycan stood, his mother making no attempt to hold him. ‘How do you know I am the one you seek?’ he asked.
‘The auspices have led us here, to this place, after nine years of searching,’ said Gyalsten.
‘You are marked by your pale skin. A pale light shone on the sacred waters when the Ur was given his sky burial.’
‘There are other signs. You have remained hidden, as was foreseen. You have been found near the Base, an auspice we should have deciphered earlier.’
Tashil stood to face the Tellers. ‘For nine years I have shuddered at the mention of Gyalsten, Gyalwa and Gedhun. Now that I see you, I feel no fear. You want to take my son from me. I despise you for what you will do to him.’
‘We will do nothing,’ said Gyalsten. ‘It is all within him. The Nevronim will only release what he already is.’
‘The Nevronim will not have my son.’
‘Your son was never yours,’ said Gyalsten.
‘He was … and is,’ said Tashil. ‘He will not go with you freely.’
‘If he is the Ur reborn,’ said Gyalwa, ‘then he will come with us of his choosing.’
‘You still doubt he is the one?’ asked Gyalsten.
‘We will only be certain with the Telling.’
‘You speak as if I am not here,’ said Lhycan.
‘You will awaken soon, Ur,’ said Gyalsten.
Lhycan’s shoulders twisted against what he was being told. ‘Am I not myself?’
‘You are who you are,’ said the third Teller, Gedhun, his voice as sonorous as a slow drum beat.
‘You will change him to what you want him to be,’ said Tashil.
‘The change is a seed within him,’ said Gedhun. ‘We will bring it forth from his spirit.’
‘And if I choose not to come with you?’ asked Lhycan.
‘You will come,’ said Gyalsten, giving each word the same emphasis. ‘A spirit is lost and must be found.’
The three Tellers started moving slowly, marking a circle around mother and son. Every third step they would remove a glimmerstone from beneath their robes and place it on the ground. Lhycan and Tashil watched, transfixed. When the circle was complete, the Tellers seated themselves at equal distances along the circumference of the glimmerstones.
Gyalsten was the first to breathe the words. They spilled forth from his mouth and took shape in the twilight beyond his lips. The words turned and folded in on themselves, merging in the air above Lhycan’s head.
The image of the Mountain gradually came into focus. Above it shone a bright sun, and Lhycan felt its rays bore into him until a sharp pain burgeoned in the back of his head. He tried to raise his hands to shield his unprotected eyes but found he had no control over his limbs. He was paralysed as the words pulsed through him.
Then Gyalwa’s deeper voice joined the first Teller’s. The strange words merged with Gyalsten’s, words that twisted like roiling storm clouds. As Lhycan stared at the image before him, the Mountain began burning brightly from within. As the light grew, the sun faded, until finally the Mountain shone like the brightest of glimmerstones, and the sun became as dull and opaque as a piece of granite. Just as the transformation was complete, the third Teller joined the other two voices.
As Gedhun’s resonating words wafted up to merge with the others, the image shimmered through the dusk as if it was under the rippling waters of a lake. Now fine cracks appeared in the stone sun, as if it was an eggshell. As the cracks widened and the pieces fell away, a small, pale figure emerged from the remains. The figure was carrying something under its arm. Lhycan strained to look through the ripples, but could not see what it was.
Then the image began to disintegrate, until it became again a roiling cloud of words. Gradually the words ceased twisting and weaving through each other and separated, floating gently into the star-filled sky.
Tashil leant towards her son and placed her arms around him to ward off what they had just seen. ‘This is what I have feared.’
The three Tellers slowly stood. ‘The Telling is clear,’ said Gyalwa. ‘It is time for us all to prepare for Eclipse.’
‘I … I don’t understand,’ said Lhycan.
‘You will, Ur, you will.’
Gyalwa stepped towards him, and Lhycan could see he was offering a clasp of the shattered sun. It was like the ones the Tellers wore, except the image rippled like disturbed water.
‘Don’t take it, Lhycan.’ Tashil’s eyes were on fire. ‘No good will come of this. They do not know who you are.’
Lhycan looked sadly at Tashil. ‘Have you told me who I am?’
‘You are my son, Lhycan.’
‘And who is my father?’
Tashil’s shoulders slumped and she looked away. ‘That, I cannot tell you.’
‘They have told me who I am,’ said Lhycan, indicating the three Tellers. ‘I am the Ur reborn.’
Tashil fell silent.
‘I will always be the son that you bore,’ said Lhycan.
‘No,’ she said, facing him for a brief moment before turning away. ‘I have lost you.’
‘Come,’ said Gyalsten, ‘the time of Eclipse has begun.’
Lhycan tried to embrace his mother, but she remained unmoved. He took the clasp from Gyalwa, glanced up at the sunless sky, and then followed the Tellers into the whisper-shrouded night.
Eclipse © Dirk Strasser, 2013
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