Part The Second, A Door Followed
Where are we? Somewhere dark. Stepping and stepping, and stepping, on stones as they descend.
"No! We're going up." The professor yells the correction to my muttering. Again.
"We're going up. I can feel it! Can't you feel the tilt?
He pauses. We slow, then stop. Our arteries pulse, a maddening noise magnified by the surrounding pitch.
There's no way to know for sure. Even before our torches failed, shadows and flickering light and sloping stone confounded our senses. A discovery that filled us with excitement. Realization came too late, of course. So we chose an upward path, we thought, hoping our tunnel would end in light.
Before long, we shuffled. Our hands scraped along the cold walls, balancing our plod.
"Just find the edges, the steps, with your toes, and we'll be there, my boy," the professor had said. We smiled at the dark. A challenge it soon accepted.
The steps grew shorter, then taller, then in between, and slanted once, then obviously down, then up, then slant ways once more, and on and on, until we lost track. And stopped.
"What if," I started.
The professor's once-confident voice gave way to admonition. And doubt it seemed. We sipped the air, careful not to disturb the silence.
"We must keep moving, boy."
So we did. Then the rambling began.
"His exaltedness, the venerable Mishwam M'ntaka first discovered the four cardinal directions ... I say discover, but really he just wrote them down, I mean it's hard not to notice up and down, huh boy?"
I coughed, kept one hand on the wall, another in front to guard against unseen barriers.
"In this case, in this place ... granted, I'm not so sure that's as easy, but you can't argue that, logically, we have but two choices before us."
We had tried retracing our steps, of course. Every time we started back, the steps ahead felt unfamiliar in pattern.
Patterns, the professor said, are mankinds' key to symmetry. "We, above all creatures, perceive them in sharp manner. That is to say, we must trust ourselves to root out the asymmetrical to find the balance in nature. And we will... We will."
We'd also tried lying down, crawling, allowing the "keener sense of our longitudinal selves" to find our balance. That ended in panic when first one, then the other of us, felt as if the steps, or floor, or whatever it was, would tilt us to our doom, often in opposite directions from one another.
It was then I began muttering.
Our minds now choose up and down. It feels right each way, and we often correct each other as our hearts skip with fear. And loathing. And other, darker emotions.
I take another step. My hand again drags the stone wall, a cold steady presence that's at once gladdening, and horrifying.
We start to speak. Stop. Our blood pulses. I know. I know. The professor knows.
"Don't you?" he whispers.
We know. We know. Our discovery, our excitement. Our adventure, beyond the door?
All pitch black in a lock-less prison.
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