MN - 5 - Stairs
Darkgenerallord Mar 31st, 2020 141 Never
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- Art saw that the fighters were walking toward the cliff, and soon enough he saw that what had appeared to be a natural crack in the black stone was really a cunningly-wrought stairway leading upward. Art started toward it and began to go up.
- At first the stairway led back toward the cliff in a majestic curve, the treads easy to climb. But soon the stairs took a sharp twist to the right while the treads grew narrower and steeper.
- The stairway climbed steadily along, hugging the side of the cliff. Art noticed that the individual steps were carved out of the rock of the cliff itself, rather than being cut and assembled from dressed stones.
- I wonder how long it took to carve this, he thought idly as he continued to climb. The stairway made a hairpin turn to the left in a switchback and became even steeper. Art was in superb physical shape, but even he began to feel the burn of the continued physical exertion. It was like being trapped for hours on the stair-stepper machine at a health club, with the setting turned to maximum.
- Art detached his mind and let it float while his body continued its regular motion. He admired the purity of the air, the warmth of the sun on his back, the delicate differences in the color of the natural stone in the stairs and the cliff. From ahead and behind he could hear the echo of footsteps slapping the rock, but the tight switchbacks kept him from looking far enough ahead to see the person who preceded him up the mountain. The stairway had grown so narrow that two could pass only if both turned sideways and slid past one another. No one passed Art as he climbed, but more than once he passed other fighters sitting downcast and gasping.
- Art entered a misty region and knew that he had come to the layer of clouds that surrounded the spike of rock. He supposed that he had climbed about two thousand vertical feet by now. Delicate lichens grew on the cliff here, and the steps were slippery with moss. The stairway didn’t have a railing on the outer side. Art edged closer to the cliff. It would be a pity to slip now after having come so far.
- The rock face here was different. The dark basalt did not appear to be carved, but odd traceries and patters appeared in the wet stone of the cliff, sometimes looking like animals and in other places looking like the faces of men.
- After a while more the mist thinned, and Art could see the tops of the clouds beneath him, blindingly white in the sun. Beyond the clouds he could see the deep blue of the sky ending with a sharp horizon line where it met the deeper blue of the sea. He began to calculate the effects that high altitude would have on fighting in a tournament. Suppose the top of the island was five thousand feet above sea level. That would be the equivalent of a tournament held in Denver or Mexico City.
- Art had fought in both of those places, and knew how to adjust his breathing to the thinner air. He smiled a little; he might have a tiny advantage over those fighters who hadn’t had his experience.
- The stairway grew even steeper. At the point where Art was convinced that he’d have to start using his hands as well as his feet to climb, it ended. He emerged onto the top of the plateau. Art saw the top of a building ahead of him, its roof glistening gold. A shimmering gong sounded from that direction.
- Art turned to follow the sound.
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