Founded exactly 329 years ago by abbess Narbelia of Auster, the Abbey overlooks the Great Northern Delta from the mountains. The Splinter Pass, which allows access to the area from the South, leads down to the road to Eskir the Westerly.
The Abbey’s position is ideal, because an entire wall of its austere architecture opens directly onto the chasm. The other side sits against the face of a now-extinct volcano, whose ash-filled soil makes for excellent farmland. The complex was also the first major project headed by Urbanist Sirvain of Chargui, famous for his methodical development work on the Great Delta. The creation of vast, deep Auster Valley, named after the abbess herself, has turned an ancient, monotonous highland into a dynamic, prosperous region.
The most celebrated building is probably the Cathedral of the Peak, which provides an incomparable vista over the windy region of Auster. Although it draws many visitors, many surrounding buildings are still unknown to the greater public and escape the eyes of tourists. Pilgrims are thus more likely to find shelter in the peace and quiet of nearby establishments rather than the Cathedral itself.
Indeed, the Abbey is not just a tourist destination, though there are specially-designed pathways to guide the flow of travellers while preserving the privacy of its guests. For some unknown reason, Auster has always been a place of pilgrimage for any who lose a loved one. Some monks are in perpetual grief: the Weeping Ones, crying in memory of the fallen. They inflict punishment on themselves for humanity’s sorrows, so that others may be spared the same pain. The Weeping Ones’ duty is to look after the great glass bells of the Abbey’s towers. Twice a day, with the help of young novices armed with buckets, they let water run over the smooth surface before slowly wiping it dry. The ritual, which symbolizes a farewell to the dead, produces a characteristic vibration of the bells, reminiscent of a wailing cry.
At the start of each autumn, the Abbey is home to another ritual that is famous across the World All Around: the celebration of the day of wisps draws a bigger crowd with every passing year. For the occasion, the monks burn tons of cinnabar wood, whose sap has a pungent smell and produces wisps of thick, white smoke. From dawn to dusk, the Abbey is shrouded in a coat of smoke that rises up to the mouth of the volcano. During the festivals, merchants peddle pouches of cinnabar ash, bitter citrus and sulphur water for their healing powers. The glass bells ring constantly, and the atmosphere makes it easy to slip into a trance which poets and novelists have described in heartwrenching terms.
Another local curiosity keeps drawing in explorers for the rest of the year. These are the famous light-veins running across the stone of the Cathedral’s buried foundation. They may only be accessed through the crypt, and only with the Abbot’s permission. Many works, such as those of Jezebel of Eskir, have dealt with this natural oddity. The stone is crackled with milky-blue veins, which start glowing as night sets in. The phenomenon reveals points of incandescence in the heart of the stone, which geologists call “nebulae”. At a glance, one could mistake the glowing of the veins for a star-filled sky.
The process seems to follow a complex system of temperature and vibrations, but the pilgrims pass around many stories that explain the existence of the light-stones. In some legends, they are tied to the tragic death of an ancient king that once ruled over the volcano.
The discerning traveller will find Auster to be a quiet stop (as long as they avoid the first days of summer, where monsoon winds cause extremely dangerous, spectacular thunderstorms. By waiting for the clouds to roam South towards Eskir, one knows that Auster Valley has clear skies again), and appreciate the simple, honest hospitality of its inhabitants. They can seize the chance to discover the monks’ herbalistic traditions and sample the local cheese, or even try to climb up the volcano if they find the prospect of an exceptional vista alluring enough to be worth four hours of breathing in ash-filled vapor. Walking through the mountain pastures will also allow them to observe the flocks of cumulus sheep, whose thin, soft wool is the pride of the Abbey. But be careful: the herds are always surrounded by gusts of strong wind and being close to them often means bracing for a sudden storm.
Excerpt from the Guide to major windy destinations, written by Güs vun Austru and Mirabilis the White. Aeolian Editions