27 Days — & Counting Down to “The Gathering of the Lost”
Only 27 days left now to release day for The Gathering of the Lost, The Wall of Night Book Two.
To mark the countdown, I am posting a series of excerpts from the book. On Monday 27, I featured the USA/Canada back cover text for the story, with the UK/AUS/NZ introduction yesterday, on Wednesday 29.
As of today, I am beginning extracts from The Gathering of the Lost story itself, and since the beginning is traditionally regarded as the very best place to start, I shall commence by re-posting the extract from the Prologue that was first featured as part of the UK cover reveal on January 12. But whether it is a first time read for you or a re-read, I hope you will enjoy—and there will be more to come, very soon!
But now, without further ado:
from “The Gathering of the Lost”
(c) Helen Lowe
Malian’s dream was darkness: blackness without stars, water without light, a tower without a shadow that she remembered climbing—but that too fell away as she plummeted, diving head first through the dream. She kept her eyes open, remembering the crow in the shadow tower, the one that had told her this was something she would need to learn how to do.
The crow had been right, Malian thought, not that it helped when the universe of her dream was devoid of light.
“It is not the eyes.” The voice of Nhenir, the legendary helm that had once belonged to Yorindesarinen, the greatest of all Derai heroes, was a mixture of light and dark, speaking into Malian’s mind. “Your inner awareness must be open: you must learn to eat the dark lest it eat you.”
Malian did not answer as she plunged deeper, and then deeper again into the well of her dream. Mind, heart and soul, she felt as if she were made of darkness—but was that not fitting since her name was Night?
She was far, far down in the dream before she saw light, a single star drowned at the bottom of the well. She turned toward it and the light grew, finally becoming a torch that gleamed white in a crystal bracket. Malian caught at it with her mind and stepped forward—into the center of an enormous cave that was ringed with more torches.
The cave was so vast that both its roof and the light were lost in the darkness overhead. But the space surrounding Malian was not empty: thousands of warriors lay all around her on stone biers. All were armed, but their helms and weapons, like their companion beasts—horses, hounds, and even the occasional hawk—were disposed around them. They looked exactly, Malian thought, like the depictions of legendary heroes in ancient sepulchres. Yet these warriors were alive: she could see the steady rise and fall of their breath.
“Asleep,” Malian whispered, “they’re all asleep.”
Slowly, she paced their silent rows—and saw young faces and those that were older, keen faces and grim, worn faces and sad. Every face looked resolute, as though some grave purpose had brought them to this one place, and a great many, Malian noticed, were beautiful, the men and the women alike.
The crystal torches were spaced evenly around the cavern, with a gonfalon hanging beside each light. Malian did not know either the runes or the heraldic devices depicted, but saw that every pennant was colorful and finely wrought. Far down the length of rows, in the very heart of the cavern, three great standards rose on staves of yellow, white, and bright red-gold. The banners were worked in the colors of fire and their brilliance both dazzled Malian and drew her close.
The central banner and the highest of the three was vermilion silk with a pattern of silver and gold flames at its center. Living fire, Malian realized, when she finally stood below it, and with some kind of creature, a serpent or perhaps a lizard, coiled at the heart of the conflagration. The eyes of the lizard, too, were burning coals.
It’s just a banner, Malian told herself, only a device.
She would never say now: It’s just a dream. For her kind, there was no such thing. She looked away with an effort, turning her eyes to the banners on either side. The one on her left was orange and gold and fiery rose, all three colors shifting and weaving together with a bird of fire device extending its full length. The bird’s wings were like knives, its tail a fall of shooting stars. The banner to Malian’s right bore a bird device as well, partially concealed by folds in a fabric that was both intensely white and indigo-blue as the hottest flame. The brilliance hurt Malian’s eyes, so she looked down at the biers instead, one beneath each of the blazing banners.
All three were draped with rich cloth that matched the standard overhead—but for the first time in all that vast hall, two of the three biers stood empty. Armor and weapons alone were laid out on the central plinth and the one immediately to its right. Malian considered them, her brows drawn together, before turning to the bier beneath the white-hot banner. The warrior who lay there was armed like all his companions, but a coif of silver mail covered his head and chin, and a naked sword was set upon his breast. His gloved hands curved around the hilt and his expression was full of grief and weariness, the folded lips stern.
The mail of the coif was cunningly wrought, a master smith’s work, but the sword was plain, with a simple guard and straight blade that was dull as pewter. Clearly though, the man was a leader, despite the plainness of the sword. The runes worked into the cloth on which he lay, as well as his position beneath the standard, led to that inevitable conclusion. Although perhaps, Malian decided—with a quick glance at the bier’s empty companions—he had not always been the only leader.
Her eyes returned to the sword, because there was something about it despite the unadorned simplicity—something that drew the eye and asked to be grasped, held aloft and wielded against one’s foes. Malian half extended her hand, even though she knew that grasping the sword might trigger some warding spell.
“It is not yet time.” The voice spoke out of the flames on the central banner and Malian snatched her hand back. Her eyes flew to the creature in the fire’s heart and saw that the watching eyes were no longer fiery coals, but had grown dull.
“Time for what?” Malian’s dream voice echoed in the vastness of the chamber.
“The Awakening. But it is not yet time and you are not the one appointed. So who are you then, that steps so boldly into my ages-old dream?”
Malian knew that it was dangerous to reveal her name—but could be even more dangerous not to, caught in so deep a dream. Her heart was racing, but she raised her chin. “Malian of Night is my name and I, too, dream.”
Silence fell all around her and the fire in the torches lengthened, growing brighter. When the voice spoke again, it held a note of wonder: “Malian. Who named you, child?”
What an odd question, Malian thought, astonished. “I don’t know,” she said finally.
“It is not,” the voice reflected, “a name that belongs to Night.”
Malian could not recall ever having thought about her name before, but it certainly wasn’t a common Night form. “No,” she agreed. “Does it matter?”
“I would be interested to learn who it was that gave it to you,” the voice replied. “When you find out, you must return and tell me.” Malian heard a note beneath the unhurried, reflective voice that she could not quite identify, although she thought it might have been excitement.
“I may not be able to find you again,” she said.
“I think you know that you will,” the voice replied. “You are very strong, for all your youth. Besides, it will be easier if I wish to be found.”
Did you wish to be found this time? Malian wondered. She decided to be bold. “Who are you? And who are they, all these warriors? What are they doing here?”
“They are sleeping,” the other replied, “until the hour and the time appointed, which is not now. Your name would mean something to them, too, though—as would the name of the one who gave it to you. It could be . . . a very great gift.”
Malian shook her head. “You talk in riddles,” she said. “But one gift deserves another: you still have not told me your name.”
Humor tinged the voice’s reply. “You still have not told me who named you. So: a riddle for a riddle, an answer for an answer, a gift for a gift. You know my name already for it is also your name—although you might not recognize it as such.”
Malian ran a hand over her hair. “I’m not sure that you play fair,” she said ruefully. “Is that a prerogative of age?”
“My dear,” said the voice, “it is not that I am old. I am dead. I died a long time ago, so that they might live.”