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Duff had grown so fond of their sunkissed romps, he'd forgotten what end they served.

He'd worked up a resistance to the altitude sickness, and Celeste and Ruan both could lift twice the weight that they had been able to a month ago, but Duff was more proud of the mental conditioning he'd managed to pull off: Ruan had smiled more than once this past week, and Baye seemed to take the mission a little bit more seriously.

Gods, he'd miss the air, but he would get to the steadfast, or die in the attempt; either way, he would never breathe again.

From the airship's bridge, Duff could see the entire range. A sorry stream emerged from the mountainside, for the fish to swim in, the beasts to drink, the poxes to spread in. Convinced of its purpose, it grew into a mighty river, absorbing several creeks of snowmelt along the way. It cut through the earth, carrying away loose rock, hydrophytes, and even the occasional unlucky climber, as it all came tumbling down the cliff.

TODO: Detail their training regimen

"See that, Ruan?" he asked, pointing to the largest spire.

"Mm?"

"Skull's Peak is right there. I feel like it's calling to us, you know?"

"I mean. We see the same peak every morning. Today isn't that different."

"You need to have a bit more imagination!" Duff laughed. "We've taken on all of his little cousins, and now we're going to take down the big one. You know, with his huge fluffy white hat."

"The big daddy," Baye echoed.

Ruan pushed his index fingers together. "Well, he is pretty."

stuff

A pity that herding around those four lovable fools wasn't good practice for the challenges of ruling.

Beginning of the climb

Celeste and Duff's pasts

The melting snow

Baye and Celeste hunting

Celeste's introspection

The failing bridge

Not half an hour later, they arrived at First Camp: a plateau equipped with huts charmed to keep out the elements. The first First Camp had been built by the first expeditioners, in the Year of Death 126. It was destroyed four decades later, buried in an avalanche along with the twenty-ninth expedition. The current First Camp had been built up over time between the thirtieth and thirty-ninth expeditions, between the Ys.D. 167 and 184, and so well-maintained as to not face another avalanche. A typical expedition would spend about a week hauling provisions -- mainly food and oxygen -- from the airship landing to the First Camp, then another week hauling supplies two days higher, to Second Camp, where the snow would grow ever thicker and the air would grow thinner still. Few expeditions would make it past Second Camp, so there would be no maps, huts, or trails from that point onward, but assuming no catastrophes, it was thought to be a climb of three days from Second Camp to the summit, and the sacrifice of the steadfast.

the first night - Ruan and Viola

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