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Heinrich grunted the grunt of being grudgingly impressed. I said… - The Book of the Gear [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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[Jan. 17th, 2006|09:16 am]
Heinrich grunted the grunt of being grudgingly impressed. I said “Whoa.”

The room was basically square, with a very high ceiling, and a large alcove on the far wall. Set partially within this alcove was an enormous spiral staircase that reached up into darkness.

The staircase was amazing. It appeared to be made of a single, solid piece of ivory, although where anyone could find a tusk that three men could walk abreast on boggles the naturalist’s mind. That by itself would be impressive enough, but every inch of the staircase, the railings and the steps and the central pillar, was carved and ornamented in elaborate organic designs, crosshatches and swirls and a repeating design of lozenge shapes along the outside sides of the railing that resembled the “eye” on the feathers of peacocks. Set into each lozenge was a cabochon ruby, framed in tortoiseshell, forming a spiral of gemstones up the sides of the stair. Further tortoiseshell embellishments, in the form of inset rosettes and broken lines, drifted across the steps and in winding veins up the central pillar.

It was a stairway fit for an emperor, sitting in a small concrete room at the end of a dirt path underground.

We approached closer. I ran my hands over the ivory, and took a rubbing of one of the lozenge designs.

I was working the chalk into the lines when Heinrich cleared his throat, turned, and carefully lifted me bodily away from the staircase.


He pointed.

Around the back of the staircase, directly in front of the first step, there was a smooth stone, and on it, a familiar metal plaque.

We regret to inform the traveler that this staircase
is in fact a predatory organism known as a stepweight
Scalaepensum snodgrassi. It is a carnivore. We suspect
from the size that this specimen is several hundred years
old. The apparent stair does not access any rooms above
but is anchored to the ceiling. We have provided a ladder
if you wish to examine this for yourself, but we strongly
suggest that you do not walk upon the stepweight, as this
will trigger its swallowing reflex. We have decided not
to close this room as we believe the stepweight lives
primarily on small birds and we do not wish to harm it,
and thus we can only hope that you will heed this

The Monks of Perdition.

There was another small plaque underneath, which said discreetly “In Memory of Brother Snodgrass.”

Heinrich and I looked at each other. We looked at the plaque. We looked at the staircase. We looked at the rather rickety metal ladder bolted to the wall that was evidently what the monks had provided.

“I’ll go,” I said, once it became obvious that Heinrich wasn’t going to.

The ladder groaned alarmingly, but the bolts held. I had a brief notion about halfway up that if I were, in fact, an exceedingly clever predatory organism that looked like a rusted ladder, I would leave a note saying that the safe path was a predator, and the ladder that no one in their right mind would climb was safe—but I dismissed this as pure paranoia. Giant predatory staircases were one thing, but giant predatory staircases that wrote in crisply engraved sans serif was just crazy talk.

And indeed, in a matter of moments, I reached the top. There was no other room above it. The staircase ran directly up to the ceiling and then fanned out into broad ivory trunks sunk into the stone, like roots of a tooth anchored in a concrete jaw. Near the top, the regular patterns became more distorted, more organic, and looked more and more like the markings of a living creature than the carvings of an artist.

I went back down and told Heinrich that the Monks of Perdition appeared to be two for two.

He nodded, rummaged in Mirabelle’s pack, and came up with the large meat pasty that had been planned for our lunch. I retreated to a safe distance, and he tossed it, underhand, onto the third stair up.

The whole staircase gave a great accordion wiggle, and the step that our lunch had landed on cracked open longways, revealing the briefest flash of a pink gullet. Ivory lips closed over the lump of dough and meat, and yanked it inside the step. The stepweight heaved again, and subsided, and except for the slight lump in the third stair, looked normal.

Almost. As we watched, one of the cabochons winked, then the next, and then the next, the whole spiral of gems, that were perhaps not gems at all, blinking in a wave that ran from the floor up into darkness. I had apparently been making a rubbing of one of the stepweight’s eyes.

“You know, I think that’ll do it for me for today,” I said.

“And we don’t have lunch now,” said Heinrich, who has always had a very practical mind.

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[User Picture]From: ash1977law
2006-01-17 02:00 pm (UTC)
Heinrich... a stomach surrounded by a bear
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[User Picture]From: timtylor
2006-01-17 03:19 pm (UTC)
Eland - something's dinner on hooves.
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[User Picture]From: penprickle
2006-01-17 02:01 pm (UTC)
Creeeeeeepy. Now I know there's a reason to be wary of stairs, instead of just suspecting it.
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[User Picture]From: cameoflage
2011-07-31 06:01 am (UTC)
And to think, this comment predates the creation of Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff. (warning for many swears and a meme that is growing stale by 2011)
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From: ex_eridan
2006-01-17 02:03 pm (UTC)
yyyyyyyyeah, considering i never liked spiral staircases to begin with?

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[User Picture]From: siege
2006-01-17 08:02 pm (UTC)
And I suspect the character in that userpic is gonna bite the head off that doll...
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[User Picture]From: fatfred
2006-01-17 02:25 pm (UTC)
I'm gonna be leery of spiral stairs from now on!
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[User Picture]From: itrasbiel
2006-01-17 02:29 pm (UTC)
I... um.

oh my.
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[User Picture]From: cougarfang
2006-01-17 02:31 pm (UTC)
What I wouldn't give to see the staircase contract a case of the hiccups...
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[User Picture]From: elemnar
2006-01-17 07:03 pm (UTC)
I think if I could see that, I would give a lot to be somewhere else...
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From: borntofr4g
2006-01-17 03:12 pm (UTC)
Is there a mutant species that's evolved to look like wheelchair ramps?
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[User Picture]From: timtylor
2006-01-17 03:14 pm (UTC)
I can't help wondering about its lifecycle. How do its young disperse? Are they mobile, as with the larvae of barnacles and sea-squirts, and if so, what do they look like? Or are they dispersed passively? Maybe they take the form of common items that travellers absent-mindedly pick up and lose again, as with ball-point pens.

In a way, this is the inverse of the iron reeds - life imitating the artificial.
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[User Picture]From: kit_whiskers
2006-01-18 08:56 am (UTC)
I was wondering many of the same things...
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[User Picture]From: birdytori
2006-01-17 03:18 pm (UTC)
Holy crap, carnivorous staircases. o_o Only you would...

I hope they get to meet one of the Monks of Perdition eventually.
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[User Picture]From: kalquessa
2006-01-17 05:42 pm (UTC)
Your icon is sheer genius, do you know if it's available for stealing?
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[User Picture]From: amethyst42
2006-01-17 03:18 pm (UTC)
Yeap, I'm creeped out. Ursula, you've done it again. Thank goodness all the staircases in my house are straight!

Librarian Vo - Regarding this sentence: "I would leave a note saying that the safe path was a predator, and the ladder that no one in their right might would climb was safe—" ... perhaps Eland meant mind? This could be the mistake of another about-to-be-beaten accolyte. Or just a turn of phrase I'm not used to.

Respectfully, Amethyst.
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[User Picture]From: ash1977law
2006-01-17 03:32 pm (UTC)
Pedantry is the last refuge of the accedemic
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[User Picture]From: void_wings
2006-01-17 03:31 pm (UTC)
You're a genious.

I think in your last post, someone commented about how your writing is similar to that of Douglas Adams, and it's entries like these that make this as true as it really is. To create such vast, detailed worlds based on the absurdly improbable, and to treat it as if it were completely normal...

This settles it. You must, someday, collect and publish The Book of Gear. There's just no way around it.
Pending (or purhaps in spite of) the success of Black Dogs, I desperately want to see this stuff in real books someday... The literary world won't know what hit it!
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[User Picture]From: ash1977law
2006-01-17 03:33 pm (UTC)
I too wish to add my voice to the "please publish" horde.
I would buy it!
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[User Picture]From: eveforward
2006-01-17 03:46 pm (UTC)
Clearly, the staircase is an interior-dwelling relative of the Gazebo.
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[User Picture]From: elemnar
2006-01-17 09:14 pm (UTC)
That gazebo story made me laugh :D
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[User Picture]From: arthane
2006-01-17 04:11 pm (UTC)
Ursula, this is my absolute favorite entry. :)
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[User Picture]From: ursulav
2006-01-17 04:22 pm (UTC)
Great. Now Twitchy will never be able go up a staircase again...
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[User Picture]From: hellmutt
2006-01-17 04:33 pm (UTC)
Snodgrassi. Hee. <3

Loved the train of thought beginning "if I were, in fact, an exceedingly clever predatory organism that looked like a rusted ladder..."
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-01-17 04:55 pm (UTC)

giant spiral stairs

I have climbed a 100 foot tall spiral staircase, underground. I've been up it twice, but down it only once... I was told it was the world's tallest structure made entirely of rust and duct tape.

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[User Picture]From: cameoflage
2009-10-01 05:32 am (UTC)

Re: giant spiral stairs

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[User Picture]From: padparadscha
2006-01-17 05:53 pm (UTC)
*pleasurable shudder*

Awesome. But now you realize I have to work out a biology for stepweights.

Because that's the sort of person I am.
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[User Picture]From: birdytori
2006-01-17 06:50 pm (UTC)
Yer not the only one...
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[User Picture]From: iisaw
2006-01-17 08:53 pm (UTC)
I can't help wondering... where (and what) does it excrete?
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[User Picture]From: matthew
2006-01-17 09:05 pm (UTC)
One of my favorites so far :)
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[User Picture]From: thursdayhaiku
2006-01-17 09:57 pm (UTC)

Let's have a moment of silence please!

In Memory of Brother Snodgrass.
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[User Picture]From: sofish_sasha
2006-01-17 10:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Let's have a moment of silence please!

*is quiet*
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[User Picture]From: stableglynn
2006-01-17 10:17 pm (UTC)
Enquiry for the attention of Librarian Vo:

What does it mean for someone to appear to be "two for two"?

That they say there is two when there is and thus are truthful, or that there was a second monk in addition to Snodgrass who met his end at the top of the ladder or some other meaning?
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[User Picture]From: cacopheny
2006-01-17 11:31 pm (UTC)
I think it's like "two correct warnings out of two situations". My guess would be these monks left a warning earlier and were correct then, as well (I'm new to gearworld, so I haven't backread yet, but this is my guess ^^ ), and now they're right again. Thus, they are "two for two".
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[User Picture]From: eluneth
2006-01-18 12:24 am (UTC)
giant predatory staircases that wrote in crisply engraved sans serif was just crazy talk.

Eland never fails to make my day.
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From: eyod
2006-01-18 03:23 am (UTC)
That is excellent, the whole way through I was hoping they'd feed something to staircase and the image of the eyes blinking was nifty.
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[User Picture]From: tumorhead
2006-01-18 04:41 am (UTC)
By far one of the snazziest concept *ever*. Bravo! :D

I would so be in a perpetual state of paranoia after living in the maze as much as they have!
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[User Picture]From: cuprohastes
2006-01-18 04:10 pm (UTC)
Gearworld RPG! We need one!
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[User Picture]From: shadow_exe
2006-01-18 10:26 pm (UTC)
Then write it: there's enough sourcebook material, and then some.
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[User Picture]From: tuftears
2006-01-19 11:34 pm (UTC)
Well, Heinrich, if you had wanted lunch, maybe you shouldn't have thrown it... But curiousity might be a hunger of its own!

I actually wonder if, since the step itself was a mouth, the Stepweight might not actually be a colonial organism of some kind, that is to say, a lot of individual Stepweights gathered to form the overall stairs...
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