The Mount of Stars culminates in an unsettling place, set in the middle of the mountain’s sprawling ice fields.
It can only be reached on foot, after three days of climbing along the glacier’s ridge, and only by those who are well-loved by spirits. Here, where the buffeting gales only stop for a few days each year, it is said that those who are kissed by Sunlight while climbing up the Mount are blessed.
My guide’s name is M’wok. He’s as quiet as the white landscape, which we cross without saying a word. His strange mountaineer’s cloak is decorated with white, opalescent pearls that make him glow against the ice. He bluntly explains that it’s meant to blend into the landscape. He’s certainly right. More than once I have lost sight of him, as pale and iridescent as the snow. I asked him whether the pattern of the pearls means anything in particular, but he didn’t deign to look back at me, let alone answering the question.
The climb along the eastern wall, the only viable one according to the locals, became very difficult after the thirty-hour mark. Cocooned in rope, we relied on the strength of our arms and on the tips of our feet to crawl up a vertical rock-face encrusted with ice. If our cleats were to break, we would have no hope of return. There are free-swinging ropes dangling next to ours. Did they carry our predecessors to safety? How can we know? They entangle messily and trap the chill around the mountain, making it resemble a great jellyfish who chose the sky as its ocean.
I caught myself wondering what it would be like to die there, 4789 feet above the ground, dangling from a thread in the absolute purity of a sacred, dangerous place. I envied the snowflakes that spend their fragile existence floating around the Mount, without ever fearing their end. It’s so cold. Some of them may have been here since the dawn of the world.
The last hour of the path felt like a long dream. We skittered like crabs across an icy crag, with snow up to our knees, the translucid walls as high as our elbows. There was no sound. Not a whisper. All I could hear was the distant creaking of the ice in the heart of the glacier. Every step we took seemed to thunder across the ravine, and then echo deeper still.
During our last pause, I lost myself in contemplation of the ice. Its blue is almost unreal. I am at a loss of words. Our language is incapable of transcribing certain feelings. Sea and sky fused before my eyes, as if all the water in the universe came from this single spring.
M’wok roused me from that train of thought without any softness. At the end of the crag, we came out into the transparent, painfully pure air to stand on a small cliff. The sky lorded over us with its immense blue. And at my feet, in the absolute quiet of the Mount of Stars, I saw the hundred pools of the Terrace of Endless Horizons.
Legend has it that ownership of this place was the root cause of the War of the Star-Mount. People here don’t talk about it, but they don’t deny the rumor either. Understandable.
They say that here, at the threshold of the vertical world, each of the pools holds someone’s future. Those who find their pool amidst all the others before the moon reaches its zenith will see the expanse of time laid out before them in the ice-cold water.
Even more than the altitude, it is this knowledge that fills my heart with vertigo. Can the mountain really trap the destiny of the chosen in this myriad immaculate pools? I stop breathing, for fear of soiling this natural sanctuary forever and somehow corrupting its magic. I look down at my hands, covered in cuts from the cold and the sorry state of our equipment. My eyes fear landing anywhere but on human imperfection.
M’wok grunts. My rapture makes him uneasy. I’m not from here. I can’t understand what this place really means. The emotion I carry is almost blasphemous. But I care little about my guide’s opinion of me.
Which of these snow-pools is mine? Ever since I arrived here, the legend goes, my future has been resting in the depths of the water. How do I recognize the mirror meant for me? I try to question M’wok, but he pretends not to understand my stilted dialect. He pierces me with his uncouth silver eyes.
My attention jumps from pool to pool. I look for a sign, a mark, a symbol. Anything that could point me towards the right answer. Is it this one, whose relief draws delicate lines? Or this one, with its pearl-grey hues?
I cannot leave the cliff until I choose where the guide should uncoil the rope to let me down. It would be sacrilege.
Already the sky is tinted with fleeting pink.
At last, night shrouds the sky, at an unexpected speed. The glacier’s blue fades into the purple tones of darkness. I still haven’t chosen, and picking a pool at random is blasphemy.
The tranquil night-sky is a wonder to behold. Were I not a mythologist, I would have wanted to be an astronomer. In a certain way, the two disciplines are based on the same intuition. The same reaching towards infinity. Towards the supreme poetry of infinity.
And suddenly the hundred pools are filled with stars, as if night itself poured into the water. The constellations are barely disturbed by the ripples from the breeze that silently drafts down towards the world of men.
This is Koi and her twin stars. That is Mirabilis, the brightest of constellations. I wake up M’wok, who had fallen asleep against the cliff-wall. I point towards where I want him to uncoil his stair of fortunes.
I can’t know whether I’ve chosen well. Maybe I’m wasting my only shot. But the pool I sighted, in the magic of the twilight, is calling to me like a beacon.
The Terrace of Endless Horizons. Account of a climb up the Mount of Stars, by the alchemist-mythologist Aymrik of the Amber Coast.