The voices are getting closer. You dive into the staircase and head up a little way. You hope they don’t follow you all the way up, and after a while the voices begin to fade away, satisfied that you aren’t here, or possibly not even looking for you in the first place.
Maybe you should go back down, now the way is clear. The odd material of the stairs glistens, beckoning you onward, but the small part of you that has lived jn the shard palace all your life and never dealt with anything new before whinges.
As you are trying to decide, a breath of cold touches your face, like the breeze of another person passing, but there is no one there. It’s the weirdest sensation, and it seems to be coming from further up the steps. This hardens your resolve – you start to climb, pressing each foot deliberately into the stone, feeling the roughness of each step through your thick canvas shoes.
The stairs curl, more and more tightly, and the steps become smaller and thinner, until only your tip toes fit on each one. The box lighting, so regularly familiar in the known parts of the Shard Palace, has long gone dark. But somehow, you’re still able to see. Just when you think you will never reach the end of the stairs, a doorway appears, framed in a light bluer and more bright than you have ever seen, so much so it causes spikes of pain in your eyes. Blinking to dispel the darklight patches in your vision, you duck under the arch and emerge in a large, circular room.
It’s freezing in here – colder than it’s ever been anywhere in the palace, to your knowledge. It’s probably because of the huge hole in the ceiling.
The walls are made of glass again, great shards of it, peaking at a central point. Snow presses in around you as usual, but at the top of the peak, more of the blue light spills in through a jagged hole. A lot of snow has obviously fallen through, compacting into a pyramid shaped pile on the floor. Your blood pounds, making your fingers shake. This is the way out.
You clamber awkwardly up the slope of snow, edging closer and closer to the hole. The air has a scent you don’t recognise, sharp and fresh, it reminds you of the water from the fountain in the bowels of the palace. Closer and closer. Cold bites harder at your feet, toes, fingers poking out the ends of your gloves. Closer and closer.
You pause at the top, the jagged gap mere inches above your head. Gentle flakes drift down, landing in your hair, touching your nose. Like they understand the momentousness of the occasion, and want to offer some chilly comfort. Nothing to do but go on, right? You can finally leave the palace, experience firsthand what you’ve been reading about all your life.
You reach your hands up, carefully grabbing the edges of the glass. Before you can pull yourself up, a thought occurs – the hole isn’t going anywhere. This place has never been found before as far as you know; no one has said anything. That means the place at the bottom of the stairs is undiscovered territory too. Doesn’t it make sense to explore all the options before making a decision? Maybe you should go downstairs and explore there first.
Then again, the thought of climbing down the steps you already came up makes your calf muscles ache all over again, and on top of that, you’d be descending even more steps once you reached the landing. Maybe you should just go back and leave the exploring for another day. You could tell some friends about what you discovered, see what they think you should do.