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Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Publisher: Tor, 2004
Ace Books, 1992
Series: The Quintaglio Ascension: Book 1

1. Far-Seer
2. Fossil Hunter
3. Foreigner

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Alternate/Parallel Universe
Dying Earth
Avg Member Rating:
(20 reads / 8 ratings)


The Face of God is what every young saurian learns to call the immense, glowing object which fills the night sky on the far side of the world. Young Afsan is privileged, called to the distant Capital City to apprentice with Saleed the court astrologer. Buth when the time comes for Afsan to make his coming-of-age pilgrimage, to gaze upon the Face of God, his world is changed forever- for what he sees will test his faith... and may save his world from disaster!


Chapter 1

Afsan often escaped to this place. He remembered the first time he had run up this hillside, half a kiloday ago, after his original encounter with the formidable Tak-Saleed.

Formidable? Afsan clicked his teeth in humor, figuring that the choice of adjective was a sign that he must be getting accustomed to all this. Back then, after his introduction to the master astrologer, the word he’d used was “monstrous.”

That first time he’d run up here his only thought had been to get out of the city, get back to his distant home Pack of Carno, back to the simple life of a country boy. He was sure he’d never get used to this dizzying, terrifying world of apprenticeship, of scowling imperial guards, of hundreds of people—ten or more gathered together in the same place at once! Afsan hadn’t experienced crowds like that before, never felt such a wash of pheromones over him. He couldn’t stand the tension, the constant fear that he was encroaching on another’s territory or otherwise breaching protocol. He had found himself tipping from the waist so often it made his head spin.

But on that day, as on this, Afsan had been calmed by the magnificent view from here, tension slipping from his body, claws retracting so far that Afsan thought he’d never see them again, tail swishing back and forth in leisurely, contented movements.

The sun had set a short time ago. It had swollen to a bloated egg, changing from its normal white to a deep violet, before dropping behind the ragged cones of the Ch’mar volcanoes to the west of the city. A beautiful sunset, Afsan had thought, the wispy clouds a veil across the dimming disk, tinged with purple, with red, with deepest blue. But then Afsan found all sunsets beautiful, and not just because of the play of color across the clouds, although this evening that was indeed spectacular. No, Afsan welcomed sunsets because he preferred the night, craved the stars.

This will be a grand night for observing, he thought. The only clouds were around the volcanoes, and those rarely lifted. Overhead, the vast dome of the sky was immaculate.

Tonight was odd-night. Most adults slept on odd-nights. For that very reason, Afsan did not. He preferred the peace and tranquillity of the hillsides on those nights when—the thought came unbidden—it was as if they were his own territory.

Of course, Afsan owned nothing of value, and, having entered a life of quiet study, his chances of acquiring land were—how did the old joke go?—about as likely as one of the Empress’s eggs being used as a game ball.

But even if he couldn’t own land, he would always have the stars. The sky was darkening quickly, as it always did, and there would only be a short time of real night before even-day broke.

Afsan inhaled deeply. The air was as clear as the waters of spring-fed Lake Doognar back home, the smells of—he flexed his nostrils, wrinkled his muzzle—of wildflowers; the scent of a large animal, perhaps an armorback (although how one of those would get this high up a mountain he didn’t know); urine on those rocks, likely from a much smaller critter; and, underneath it all, faint, but more prominent than when he’d first arrived in Capital City, the sulfurous tinge of volcanic gases.

He had been straddling a boulder, his tail hanging over it, to watch the sun go down. Now it was time to climb higher up the hillside. He did so, the three broad toes on each foot giving him excellent traction. Upon reaching the crest, he clicked his teeth in satisfaction, then continued partway down the other side, placing the bulk of the hill between himself and the torch-lit glow of Capital City. Afsan lowered himself to the ground, and lay on his side to look up at the panorama of the night sky.

As usual, Afsan found it uncomfortable with all his weight on his right shoulder and hip, but what alternative was there? Once he had tried lying on his belly in the sleeping position and had craned his neck to look up instead of forward, but that had given him a stinging crick.

Dekadays ago, he’d asked Tak-Saleed why there was no easy posture for Quintaglios to look at the stars, why their muscular tails made it impossible to lie on their backs. Saleed had stared down at young Afsan and declared that God had wished it that way, that She had made the stars for Her face alone to gaze upon, not for the pinched muzzles of overly curious apprentices.

Afsan slapped his tail sideways against the soil, irritated by the memory. He drew his nictitating membranes over his eyes. The purple glow of the twilight still filtered through, but that was all. Afsan cleared his mind of all thoughts of old Saleed, opened the membranes, and drank in the beauty he had come here to enjoy.

The stars scurried from upriver to downriver as the brief night raced by. Two of the moons were prominent at the start of the evening: Slowpoke and the Big One. The Big One was showing only a crescent sliver of illumination, although the rest of its disk could be seen as a round blackness, obscuring the stars. Afsan held his arm out and found that if he unsheathed his thumbclaw, its sickle silhouette appeared about the same height and shape as the Big One. The Big One’s orange face was always intriguing—there were markings on it, details just a little too small, just a little too dim, to be clearly made out. What it was, Afsan couldn’t say. It seemed rocky, but how could a rock fly through the sky?

He turned his attention to Slowpoke. It had been in one of its recalcitrant moods again these past few nights, fighting its way upriver instead of sailing downriver. Oh, the other moons would do that occasionally, too, but never with the determination of tiny Slowpoke. Slowpoke was Afsan’s favorite.

Someday he would make a study of the moons. He’d read much of what had been written about them, including Saleed’s three-volume Dancing the Night Away. Such a whimsical title! How unlike the Saleed he knew, the Saleed he feared.

Some of the moons moved quickly across the sky, others took several tens of nights to cross from horizon to horizon. All went through phases, waxing and waning between the extremes of showing a fully lit circular shape and appearing as simply a black circle covering the stars. What did it all mean? Afsan exhaled noisily.

He scanned the sky along the ecliptic, that path along which the sun traveled each day. Two planets were visible, bright Kevpel and ruddy Davpel. Planets were similar to the moons, in that they moved against the background stars, but they appeared as tiny pinpoints, revealing no face or details, and their progress against the firmament had to be measured over days or dekadays. A few of the six known planets also showed the strange retrograde motions that some of the moons exhibited, although it took kilodays for them to complete these maneuvers.

Near the zenith now was the constellation of the Prophet. Afsan had seen old hand-copied books that called this constellation the Hunter, after Lubal, largest of the Five Original Hunters, but as worship of them was now all but banned, the official name had been changed to honor Larsk, the first to gaze upon the Face of God.

Lubal or Larsk, the picture was the same: Points of light marked the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, and the tip of the long tail. Two bright stars represented the eyes. It was like a reverse image, Afsan thought—the kind one gets after staring at an object, then looking at a white surface—since the prophet’s eyes and Lubal’s, too, like those of all Quintaglios, must have been obsidian black.

Above the Prophet, glowing faintly across the length of the sky, ran the powdery reflection of the great River that Land sailed on in its never-endiing...

Copyright © 1992 by Robert J. Sawyer


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