February 18, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“I’ll show him a river.”
The moons were slivers in the sky and the towers were dim. There was almost no light at all; that had all been part of Tairiekie’s plan. They were less likely to get caught on a dim night.
The low flicker of the doorway lights burned all night. That was more than enough; she had climbed a mountain by less light than that, by touch and grapples.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Saydrie’s whisper was barely a hiss. “How are you going to get up there?”
“I scouted it out this afternoon.” Truth be told, she’d been scouting it out since she got here, although she hadn’t known what she’d do until Instructor Pelnyen had pushed her. “The stones are widely enough spaced and the lintels of the windows are close enough together. I can do this. Just be waiting when I get up there, okay?”
“This is still mad, you know.” Enrie handed her the coil of rope. “This is the sort of prank sixth-year students boast about being able to pull off.”
“The climbing the tower is nothing.” Tairiekie shrugged. “I started on temple towers, back home. This one isn’t even that tall.” She flexed her toes in their thin-soled boots. “All right. Don’t watch if you’re nervous.” She checked her load again, made sure she was well-balanced, and glanced back at her friends one more time.
The clock began to toll its four-in-the-morning bell, and Tairiekie grabbed an easy handhold and swung herself onto the wall.
The architecture here helped her; the buildings sloped slowly inward, making them easier to climb than a straight face. The stones were big and rough-dressed rather than the perfectly smooth faces of some more recent buildings – like the classroom Halls, for instance – and the window lintels were so broad as to almost be steps.
It wasn’t as easy as she’d made it sound, of course. She’d done a lot of climbing at home, but very little of it had been free-climbing like this and she’d usually had a spotter, even if that had been her father. The stones had gaps, sure, but sometimes it was like holding on by a hair to a sheer face, scrabbling along like some sort of lizard just hoping that the lintel would be soon enough, soon enough.
Her fingers started to ache, and her feet felt as if they were one solid cramp. She kept climbing. She slipped, and took all her weight and all the weight of her pack on one arm for a moment. Her shoulder felt as if it would rip out of its socket. She swung herself back onto the wall and kept climbing. She tore off a finger nail on a rock spur; she kept climbing. She slipped on some bird guano; she wiped her hand on her pants and kept climbing.
She was passing the fourth-story windows when the room inside suddenly lit up. She slid to one side as quickly as she could – this was not the time to be seen, and her silhouette would light up clearly if they looked out the window – but the Stonemasons who had worked on this part of the wall had been disgustingly thorough.
Her fingers scrabbled, searching for holds. She had one foot still on the lintel, but she couldn’t balance on three toes forever. She swung her foot, sweeping, reaching for any place to hold her foot at all.
She knew she made noise. She hoped that the grunted sound of panic that slipped through her teeth wasn’t enough to catch the attention of someone inside – or to be heard by her teammates below.
Her foot found something. She didn’t know what, but it was big enough to support her weight. Her fingers found the slightest hold, just enough to support her.
Why couldn’t the builders of the Academy have been interested in gargoyles and aether-fetishes, the way the designers of some of the oldest buildings in Lanamer had been? Why couldn’t they have built in full domes, instead of six-story towers? Why couldn’t they be…
…if they were any of those things, they wouldn’t be nearly as impressive to climb. She clenched her jaw and swung her leg up to another foothold.
Another, another. The light went out in the window as she reached the lintel, and no more lights came on. The world looked too dark with the brightness still leaving spots in front of her eyes, so she relied on touch. A handhold, another. A lintel – the windows on the fifth and sixth floor were closer together, but smaller. Her foot slipped as she went from windowsill to lintel, and she had to grab for the lintel and the edge of the roof. Her foot thudded against the window like she was beating a drum.
There was no time to stop; she scrambled for the lintel and hauled herself up onto the roof.
“Hurry!” She hissed it down and hoped they could hear her all the way on the ground. “Hurry!” She set up her pulley mechanism in a smoke-free chimney – it was good it was still early in the year – and unshipped the long coil of rope from over her shoulder. She fed the end of it through the pulley mechanism and passed the other end down to the ground, hand over hand so it didn’t make too loud a thump.
She waited. She adjusted her pulleys and checked all of the fastenings. She paced the roof, checking all of the dome’s surface. She slipped, once, and saved herself on the decorative ribbing.
The long-dead builders of the Towers may not have been interested in gargoyles or aether-fetishes, but they certainly had made up for it in roof-ribbing. In the cold season she imagined it kept the snow from dropping in large chunks down onto students in the courtyard; right now they were keeping her from doing the same.
She had time to sit down and actually think about that. She’d slipped so many times. If she’d fallen, there would not have been enough of her to scrape off the pavers below. And then what would people have said of her?
That was Tairiekie. She was a Mechanics and Engineering Pupil who couldn’t make it, so she jumped off the Philosophy tower. Nobody would remember the goat. Nobody would remember her parents. She’d just be that crazy girl who couldn’t handle it.
And that would have proven Pelnyen right.
A tug on the rope brought her out of her introspective moping. They’d gotten the goat hooked up. Tairiekie scrambled back to the top of the roof – thanking the long-dead designers one more time for the ribbed design – and began pulling on her end of the rope.
It was a five-pulley system; she’d needed the extra pulleys to make sure she could actually get the thing to the top of the roof. It weighed more than she did, after all; solid brass and copper, but it would do what it had to do.
She pulled, and pulled. The moons were getting low in the sky. She had to get this done before the sun was up, or she’d get caught. Of all the things she wanted, getting caught before the goat was in place was not one of them. She pulled, and pulled, till it felt as if her arms are going to fall off, and she pulled and pulled some more.
When she finally got the thing to the roof, she nearly burst out laughing. It was here. It was really here. She’d really done it.
The rope slipped, and her near-laugh turned into a muffled curse. No, no, she was not dropping the blasted thing any more than she was dropping herself. She hauled again. Her arms felt like noodles and she still had to get down. Maybe this was a bad idea.
Too late now. She hauled again, and got the thing on its feet.
It was a matter of just a few minutes, then, to get everything set up. The hard parts – well, most of the hard parts – were done. The ribs of the roof made excellent fastening attachments – old tool marks and a few old drilled holes showed where someone else had used the same ribs for, likely, a similar idea. Maybe even her parents.
But not this. She’d have heard of it if they’d done this.
She checked all her connections one more time. She didn’t have a welder up here, but she had a wrench, and that worked well enough. The thing was powered with a small aetheric engine, standard first-year stuff; she made sure it had enough fire aether to keep it going and then checked everything a third time.
The moons were nearly down when she thought to check the sky again. She lost herself in mechanisms as it was and she hadn’t slept since the night before. She peered down at the ground below.
People were starting to stir. She could see figures in the courtyard, figures that weren’t Saydrie and Enrie. “Blast it.” She kept it a whisper; she couldn’t afford to be loud, not now.
She didn’t want to leave the pulley up here. She didn’t have time to climb all the way down, not and not be caught on the way.
Instructor Pelyen would assume who had done it, of course. But assuming and catching her on the roof were two different things.
“Taikie!” She could barely hear the hiss, but it was definitely Enrie. Damnit, it wouldn’t just be her that got caught. It would be all three of them. She had to get down.
She paced the roof one last time. It looked beautiful out there. Windows were lighting up on the towers, the sky was beginning to light out. And…
She had to get down to the ground.