12. Thirty Feet of Drop

Inglorion frowns, peers around the side of the building at his projected route. Now that he’s looking at the particulars, he realizes it won’t be a walk in the park. The fall from the first-floor ledge, which he’ll free-climb, is 10 feet. If he should happen to slip while rigging the drainpipe, he could fall 20 feet before the attachment point on the south balcony catches him. If there’s too much slack or Lucius loses his footing, Inglorion could hit the ground.

With that comforting thought, Inglorion wedges himself between the wall and a pillar, and begins to squirm upwards. Lucius pays out the rope, and follows his father as he extends a foot and transfers his weight to the ledge. Naturally, though the ledge seems spacious from the ground, it’s uncomfortably narrow even for a very slight half-Drow elf. He walks crab-wise, then, with his face and chest against the wall. He slips around the corner and onto the front of the building, then makes his way to the iron railing of the south balcony. He scrambles over, clips a quick-draw to the topmost rail on the north edge of the balcony, and clips in. He’s roped in, for what it’s worth. Now the farthest he can fall is twice the distance between himself and the first quick-draw.

It’s a long, delicate step from the top of the iron railing to the central, stone balcony.

He balances on the iron railing, and takes a long, delicate step to the central, stone balcony. There’s an elegant set of glass double-doors, an ornate arch, perhaps 10 feet tall, and above that, the owl’s circular niche. Seen from here, he realizes he’s got more like 15 feet of pilaster to scale before he can rig the drainpipe and clip in. So, 30 feet of drop.

“Then don’t fall,” he scolds himself.

“What?” says Lucius.

“Um. Keep me roped as tight as you can without short-roping me — whatever you can do to reduce slack.”

Lucius hugs the wall, takes a foot or two of slack.

Inglorion starts to climb swiftly, focusing on how generous the holds are, and how pleasantly rough and dry the plaster is. It is plaster — he’d better hope the fucking urns are made of something more substantial.

detail of owl's club facade
The owl, the drainpipe, and the pilaster with its ill-placed urn.

He reaches a lip halfway up the pilaster that allows him to stand, though he’s forced to straddle an ill-placed urn. He’s drawn abreast of the owl on his right, but can’t spare any attention for it. He’s focused on the drainpipe to his left, which juts out at thigh level. It’s substantial, but also bent downward and troublingly rusted on top. He wraps a sling around the base, and attaches the second quick-draw. He pulls on the rope to clip in, and has to bark at Lucius for slack.

“Sorry!” says Lucius, paying out rope rapidly.

From here, he works his way up slowly, gripping the south edge of the pilaster and taking mincing steps upward until his nose is level with the top of the pilaster, and the base of the first urn. He’d hoped to rig it from the top, but that’s beyond his skill. To get the nuts placed correctly and check them, he’ll need this angle, which means standing on tiptoe and working one-handed, while his left hand grips the top of the pilaster. His main comfort is that he’s only got six feet of rope to fall on, and his fall will probably be broken by the flamboyant lizard-and-urn arrangement beneath him.

He wedges a nut, holding it by the wire loops and whipping it downward into a crack between the top of the pilaster and the roof edge. After three tries, it catches. He gives it a few downward yanks, both testing it and wedging it further, then clips the third quick-draw to the wire loop.

“Clipping,” he shouts. Lucius pays out rope rapidly as Inglorion whips it up and secures it to the quick-draw. It may not hold if he falls on it, but it will break his speed and momentum.

He tiptoes a few feet to his right, so that he’s standing on the top lip of the owl’s cubby, just beneath a series of moldings that lead to the top of the roofline, and the decorative object on top. From here he can see that it’s not an urn — it’s more like a bulbous spike covered with acanthus leaves. His face is uncomfortably mashed against a pyxis-shaped thing. As he ascends, he finds he’s pushed back just enough so that his center of gravity shifts uncomfortably far from the safety of the wall. This feeling is so loathsome that he gives a quick leap, catches the edge of the roofline, and yanks his entire upper body over the roofline in one motion. He throws a leg over to straddle the façade, which is reassuringly wide. The roof is to his left now, a mere six feet below him. He turns his attention to the head-sized plaster spike that he intends to use as an anchor point.

It looks solid, and when he smacks it with the heel of his hand, it gives a reassuringly dull thud. He tells himself that the acanthus leaves and such are probably affixed to a stone or concrete base. It’s a nice thought, and it may even be true. He rigs the chains around it, attaches two quick draws, and clips the rope through.

He believes it will hold the owl, but he’s not thrilled with the prospect of testing it with his own weight. Rather than rappel down to the owl, then, he laboriously down-climbs, groping blindly for footholds the whole way. He has to yell at Lucius for slack again and again — he’s anxiously keeping his father on an extremely short rope.

His feet touch the lower lip of the niche. “I’m in,” he shouts, “Give me slack.” He swings in, slithers down next to the owl, and spends a moment looking out over the street with one arm wrapped around the owl in a companionable fashion. He’s blind to the landscape — he’s frankly enjoying the sensation of absolute security.

For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.

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