Scaling the Great Tower

I took in the vista slowly on my final ascent from the canyon holding the river that over the last grueling days(and the end of three week’s journey by foot and inflatable boat) had taken me through the mountain passes.

The canyons snaking through the terrain look like wrinkles on the ancient face of element-scoured earth. At first it looked like a thriving desert landscape, but upon closer viewing it became apparent that most of what had seemed to my eyes at first as vegetation was in fact ruins almost completely ground down by what must have been thousands of years of erosion.

Myths related to me spoke of a great city that once laid here, in a time before The Horrors, ancient events that are taboo to speak of amongst my people. Taboos that also prohibit the exploration of this plateau.

I had little use for taboos in those days. They bored me. I thought myself above such superstitions. Now, as I’m older and wiser, I can see the wisdom in them. I speak to you now of these taboos because you will need to know these things soon enough. Be careful about whom you pass this knowledge to any further, for you may be met with incredulity or even hostility for doing so.

A harsh dusty wind blew on my face as I turned it about to face a thing that I would never have expected.

From a large hill upon the earth, an immense tower of stone rose at least a mile above the surface. It looked nothing like any building I had ever encountered before, nor like any natural thing. Trees and shrub were growing from cracks in the rock, the monolith seemingly indifferent to such minor aesthetic impurities. At the top, at the very edge of my vision, a glint of light. A window?

As I gazed slack-jawed at the view, I noticed going towards the foot of the tower a group of bipedal creatures. They walked with the gait of great apes and were covered in thick beige fur. As they reached the foot of the tower they immediately started climbing the great column. Their ascent bore little resemblance to how humans would climb. Seemingly bearing little regard for their own lives, they would leap and weave upwards on the stone, confident that they would find grip, and scrabbling for hand-holds as little stones would rain down from their effort.

I knew in my heart that this citadel held the object of my quest. I would have to enter it to have it relinquish its secrets. Though I did not know why. Would I have to climb onto the backs of these brutes to get to the top? Or was there another way in?

Looking about the base of the tower, there seemed to be an opening. A door, perhaps?

I began my approach, and after an hour of walking and then half an hour climbing the hill, I got closer. I decided that avoiding the apes would be prudent, and snuck past some of their shelters at the base of the tower.

But when making my way around a large square stone, I came face to face with one. I froze. She had a large flat mouth on a big round head. Her beneath her fur, under short protruding horns her eyes looked big and black and without intelligence. Our eyes lock for a moment. And then she carries on building a makeshift shelter. Or nest. I pass on and come closer to the opening. It is wide and tall, big enough to hold this house that the chieftain before my had built. There are bigger houses in other tribes, though you have not yet seen them. And I assure you that this opening would hold all of them at once.

I passed the threshold and made my way deep into the tower. I marveled at this place. Surely this was not a monument built by nature, but no human power I can conceive of could possibly match it. Though I rarely thought of the gods those days, at that moment they were close. Surely this place was wrought by the gods. What naiveté.

As great as my marvel was at the great corridor leading to the center, it was easily eclipsed by what awaited me at the center. In the gloomy (but existent?) light, I beheld the base of a great spiral staircase, large enough for twenty people to stand abreast on a step, and worn smooth by heavy traffic millenia ago.

I began my ascent to the top.

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His bearing is what caught her attention, ever so briefly. How confident his stride was as he walked towards her and her tower, back straight, chin lofty–yet as they locked eyes, there was the slightest pause of hesitation. The newness of the light in his eyes made her own eyes seem dull in comparison, and she looked away.

Did he yet know? The way the tower consumed its climbers. The elements would grow harsher the higher he climbed. As the air grew thinner, his mouth would stretch and gape to suck in increasingly desperate breaths. To buffer against the howling, tearing wind, his hide would grow tough, and against the cold, thick turfs of hair would sprout. Thick callouses would appear first on his fingertips, the pads beneath his knuckles, the heels of his palms, until all of his hands were gloved in hardened hide. His arms would lengthen with each desperate reach of a new hand hold, a higher height. There would be no more space for hesitation, only blind determination, as he ascended inch by torturous inch. And then, inevitably, a stone would crumble or the tower would shudder, and–he would fall.

She remembered the first time she’d fallen from the tower, the plummet that had ripped the breath from her lungs, great crunch of her body against the yellow-gold sand. By then her hair had been a helmet of tangled hair so thick that it had protected her head from cracking like an egg. She lay in the sand, too broken to even whimper her devastation, until a fellow fallen had dragged her into a nearby shelter. It took her long weeks to heal. The shock of standing tall and straight so overwhelming after weeks of climbing that instinctively she curled back into herself, her longer limbs dangling in front of her to resemble primates of the past.

By her–fifth fall? Tenth? Eightieth? It was impossible to tell, with how the tower blocked the sun and stole time away. It didn’t matter anyway, what number it took for her spirit to break. And it didn’t matter anyway, that her spirit broke, for the tower still sang to her and chained her to its base with the murmur of power, the whispers of paradise. She would stay at its feet, building shelters and tending to fallen climbers, until one day its peak was conquered and its promises of glory fulfilled.

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With these thoughts in her mind she constructed her shelter, and when it was complete it had the look of the tower, something of that grand structure stained in her work, the way old lovers manifest in sculpted faces. Then she returned to the child’s den and one by one she carried them from that filthy hole to the new nursery, their dark wet eyes squinting as she transported them through the sunlight.

Bright as the man’s their eyes were, and their hair remained smooth and flowing, and they had bodies perfect as dolls, not yet disfigured by decades of climbing. Their skin was soft and their teeth were white, and humanity lived within them.

One boy she brought began to climb her makeshift tower, apparently detecting echoes of the attraction of the real thing. She hissed at him, and ushered him inside, into the shadows where his eyes could open wide. These children, she thought, were diminished, mental invalids, who hadn’t inherited language or logic from their wild, broken parents; and yet, they still felt the call to ascend. Idiocy could not protect them.

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I made camp at the bottom of the stairs, gathering my strength for the coming day. I assessed it would take a full day to climb to the top on the stairs in a steady pace.

You might ask why I went to all these efforts. And that would be a valid question. I’m still not today quite sure what kept stoking the fire. But it was burning. Hot enough that I was compelled to travel into the forbidden lands. Hot enough that when I beheld the tower, I became utterly, zealously convinced that I must make it to the top of it.

Because towers hold secrets. Secrets of great power. Don’t ask me what reasonable explanations I have for how I knew this tower would hold anything in particular. I just knew, and the knowledge drove me to pursue my destination with such passion that nothing would stop me.

I wonder if that same passion burned in the apes who seemed equally determined to climb, climb, climb. And I wondered why they would not simply take the stairs.

And I drifted off to a fitful sleep, the sort that is wrought from physical exhaustion but mental busyness.

I awoke the next morning, my lantern having gone out long before. And I realized, I might not need light for my climb. Green and blue spots on the walls cast a gloom on the stairs. Also, just at the edge of perception, I saw slight twinkles in the air, tiny sparks of light, so dim I doubted that I had even seen them.

I climb. After a dozen rotations around the great stairwell, an opening by the stairs appears. Above, on the keystone, a symbol:

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I consider for a moment going in, then decide I have no time to squander, and continue on…

I climb and I climb and I climb some more. I’ve lost count of how many rotations around the gyre of stairs I’ve done. The glow emanating from the fungal growths on the walls has become brighter. Or perhaps my eyes have grown more accustomed to them. I notice my pace is slowing down.

I’m short of breath.

The sparkles

Must keep going.

Going higher.

Where is time going?

The voice seems to come from everywhere. It sounds so sad.

I keep climbing. Until all of a sudden my foot goes up and there is no step. My vision rotates as I painfully impact my shoulder when I tumble down three steps and come to a skin-scraping stop on the concrete. I grunt with pain. I’m dizzy.

Another voice chimes in, mirthful and mocking.

Anger rises in my chest.

“Who are you!?!”

Another voice, young and chipper.

“Leave me alone!”

Silence. For a moment. I look at the hole in the stairs. Why would there be a hole in the stairs?

Suddenly it is as if the gravity of this tower changes, it moves towards the middle.

If gravity is longing then the whole space has been warped towards the center, is this love? I feel my skin stretching as everything falls inwards, the words echoing, my thoughts, the borders of my body blurs and mergers with the walls of the tower. What is me and what is the tower now? I realize these holes in the stairs are a misspelling, they are actually stars, all different planets in constellations beyond the patterns of greek gods. They have new names now, i know them without knowing how i got this knowledge, but i know. If they are named they are lost forever, this i know too.

What is my name? I forgot why I’m here. I start to try to cling to an individuality. I think I have an inch of an I left.

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The symbol fills the mind, speaks a language long forgotten, now remembered. Though is the one who remembers the one who forgot it in the first place?

It takes each step further up the helix in peace. Without any clinging to self, there is a deep peace behind it all.

The borders grow thinner, and without those mountainous barriers between worlds, the voices grow louder, yammering in all the tongues of humanity.

There is walking upwards, and as there is walking upwards, there is another walking downwards the other way. Walking backwards.

There is a residue but it doesn’t rest there long. A thing that crawls, skitters, slithers, eats the snakeskins of residue. It mumbles to itself,

There is disgust but the disgust itselfs turns to pity, and pity turns to compassion.

And there is hope that the wretched thing does not hurt the backwards thing. Is there anything to be done now?

It must be dealt with later, or perhaps it is already dealt with. And now there is just more climbing.

And there is me again. I am. And the deep peace scatters like shadows pierced by bright painful light. The soft comfortable darkness of oneness, selflessness, dies.

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I pass this one. I am exhausted. The stairs care not. They just wind up and around and up forever. Reason screams at me, the cries of a voice that has ceased to have any bearing on my ascent.

“Surely at this point you should be at the top? There’s no way that you could have climbed for this long without reaching it? It can’t keep on forever… Can it?”

It changes, attempts to bark orders at me. Its voice is almost inhuman. But I am beyond it. The words fade and are replaced with dreamlike visions. An orchid grows from an egg, only to be smashed by a hammer. The metaphor is lost on me.

I pass another opening.
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Through the door, I see piles of broken bookcases, their contents decaying into humus. The thought occurs that this was a university long ago. My vision blurs, and the staircase fills voices arguing over abstract matters, a [quote=“ctrlcreep, post:1, topic:844”]
highway between uncountable (yet meticulously labeled) floors, which thousands, perhaps millions, of students ascended and descended every period, creating traffic jams which took hours to disperse.
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But I am not here for idle musings on abstract metaphorical objects. I am here for the darkness of the tower to yield its most precious secrets, to hear it whisper into my ears ways to commune with the things in this world possessing vast inhuman intelligence. I am here to bring back those secrets from this wretched place, so I may bring them to my people and help them thrive, even if it costs me my own humanity.