The cliffs reared up away to the south just before the dusk, true to Nogilian’s word – and mountains behind them, piles upon piles silhouetted against the sunset. Word was, the peaks called the Spine of the World were considerably higher even than the Gidwinn Mountains I’d seen around Ariel. They certainly loomed large enough as we grew near. The rugged nature of the southern continent had had the historical effect of isolating its lands from one another. Custom only possible by sea.
But there did appear a gap wide enough for our purposes, a sheer flat line atop the broadest cliffs that by the time we reached it would extend from horizon to horizon. The Shuni Plateau. The land we were to conquer.
And leading to it, the Shuni Stair, dropping down from the middle of that unnatural plain. I got so daunted looking at it silver ramparts that we were almost upon the sandy spit before I saw it. Frantically, I waved everyone down to half-pace. No use being all chameleonic if our wakes alerted everyone to our presence anyway. I wanted us sleeping on the beach with sentries only, no entrenchments, so as to effect the most surprising approach at dawn.
Which was something we were going to need. The Stairs were an assailing officer’s nightmare. A stack of eighty-one perfectly smooth tiers, each of them three hundred meters across. So every last bit of them capable of mutually supporting enfilade. The tiers themselves fifteen unbroken meters high, a distance that could not be jumped or argued or reasoned with. It needed climbing with quickswords, a slow and precarious process that leaves soldiers exposed along the way and exhausted upon arrival. The only thing that made it potentially accessible was the great ramp, fifty meters wide, that ran right down the middle at a perfect forty-five degrees, the steepest pitch valkyries could negotiate. Naturally, it would vanish or close off at the first sign of assault.
“The control is at the top,” said Nogilian. We had by now all of us reached the soft white sand, spreading out all along the spit.
“Yeah,” I said. I dismounted. I looked around, nodded at my scouts, who were the first to dismount beside us. I gave my orders. Darkness would be their time. They sped away, silent as snakes. They didn’t even kick up sand. I had long suspected that some of mine started out as thieves in Ariel. I wished them well.