Algid, violent gale tears through the dark stone tower. The whipping of heavy robes and cloth decorum in the wind punctuate the otherwise white noise of the incoming storm. Adani had only left the interior of the tower minutes before, but already she was frozen to her core. The incredible, icy cold of the bronze rungs of the ladder bit like razor-sharp teeth through her fingers, a new pain every time despite the numbness that pervades her. What’s worse–this was only the halfway point.
Adani ventured a glance upwards. Of course, most of her view was blocked by the girl above her–another trainee, Nebagh–and the gray-white of the snowstorm. She could barely hear her instructor at the top of the procession shouting words of determination. Definitely meant to be encouraging, the strain to hear with clarity the words on the wind over the sounds of the gale, the flapping garments, and the pain of the ice, rendered the speech annoying more than anything.
The dive tower was a remorseless experience. Adani’s muscles ached, and rung after tired rung sapped at her stamina and stung at her ice-cold hands.
Nebagh slipped, and gasped; a sheet of ice cascaded down onto Adani. The girl ducked her head to endure the shower of ice chips that had been knocked loose from the stone while Nebagh reclaimed her footing. A simple, near-unrecognizable apology was shouted down, before they continued.
Rung after painful rung, the procession lifted itself higher and higher into the sky’s expanse. Adani could no longer hear her instructor over the wind. It was up to her to make it to the top. For a moment, the initiate wished she could be in her instructor’s shoes: nimble, strong, and experienced. Never-Night Sanna had made this journey dozens of times.
Then, of course, Adani recognized that, to be as skilled as her instructor, she’d have to complete this trial ad nauseum. Judging from the ice which formed at her knuckles, the plumes of fog which burst from her lungs, it would be something to which she would grow accustomed. Or so she hoped.
Several times Adani found herself stopped by the girls above–resting to conserve and restore what strength they could. She found no bother with it. It gave her time to rest as well, and bundle as tightly as she could in her heavy, ceremonially-adorned robes.
Eventually, an aching eternity later, Adani reached the summit. The storm was in full force, and Adani could only see so far in front of her. The girls before her all huddled around spartan, icicle-bound iron posts driven into the four meter-wide platforms at the apex of the dive tower: the only areas on which one could feasibly stand, and narrow enough that even one person per platform would be cramped.
Adani felt the tower swaying in the wind under her feet as she grasped the biting-cold metal with her raw, red hands, securing herself somewhat on a platform with another girl, Selics. She willed herself not to look down, before realizing that it wouldn’t do much harm, considering she couldn’t see more than five feet in any direction. Selics shifted, then, scraping against the ice-piled stone platform. The two shared a look of fright, and then one of determination, as the instructor called over the gale.
“We have to move quickly!”
Try as she might, Adani could not discern any silhouette of her instructor, or any other girl for that matter.
“You’ll notice you can’t seem to catch your breath,” Never-Night Sanna continued, struggling to be heard over the roaring maelstrom. “There’s not enough air up here... to maintain consciousness for very long... Hold yourselves out over the edge, and when you feel yourself slipping, let go!”
A very pregnant pause. Adani kicked some ice from the tower to keep better footing.
“We’ll try for an order for now. Nebagh, you’re up first!”
A bated minute passed, while Selics and Adani looked to one another, both of them gasping and panting in the hypoxic altitude. Selics occasionally chances a grab at her throat, as if massaging the cold, dry passageway would help in any regard.
Adani, on the other hand, found herself growing giddy. Excited, even. Never-Night Sanna told them they would respond to suffocation in different ways, and mentioned euphoria. Adani smiled even wider at the recognition of this fact, as the wind whipped through her hair and blew snow into her eyes and face.
“Chara just fell!” a voice called, panicked.
“Don’t worry. If you’re alone on your platform, go to the far corner and clear your head!”
How anybody’s head could be clear in this insanity, Adani knew not. As Selics’s eyes rolled into the back of her head and her limp body was carried on the wind to plummet, Adani began to cackle.
“Adani!” Never-Night Sanna scolded, before returning her attention to her duty. “Who else is with me?”
No answers met her in the storm, and Adani began to laugh uproariously, nay, maniacally. She began gasping for breath more to laugh with than to breathe, and could only hear a droning of Sanna’s words as the buzzing in her head grew to a crescendo, as did the storm.
With a final chuckle to herself, Adani’s tired hands and empty mind slipped free from the iron bar, and fell into the storm.