It is said that following the creation of the universe, and before primitive man first walked upright upon the earth, the great monolith appeared floating in the sky. Towering thousands of feet high, its three enormous interlocking structures, similar to the links of a chain, were pale in colour and etched with intricate carvings. From as far as the eye could see, it dominated the heavens.
As civilisations developed, paintings, adorning the walls of caves, depicted the monolith as an all powerful God. Indeed, monolith symbolism was prevalent in all creative works and belief systems throughout the histories of early mankind. It was heralded as both embodiment of peace and unity, and a harbinger of doom. Ancient civilisations developed complex rituals surrounding the worship of the monolith. Following periods of drought or famine, the Cult of the Sacred Path were known to sacrifice one in every ten firstborn children to appease the wrath of the monolith, in the belief that the rains would fall upon the land and the crops would prosper once again.
With the development of more sophisticated philosophical and architectural systems, entire cities were built in the likeness of the monolith. Study of ancient maps show how areas, streets and adobes followed the contours of the monolith.
Archeological excavations reveal how temples and places of worship, furnishings, printed fabrics, coinage, cobblestones and even earthenware, all echoed the monolith’s structural from, like the repeating patterns of a fractal.
Scholars agree that the monolith’s complete permeation into the fabric of society was the source of the legend that has been the subject of debate for centuries. The legend says that one morning, on the eve of the Festival of Moon Shadow, an opening appeared in the monolith. A staircase descended some five thousand metres from the opening to the ground.
For two days and nights crowds, numbering in their thousands, gathered at the foot of the staircase. A soft glow illuminated the entrance high above. Rumours that a mighty race of beings was about to descend upon the earth circulated. News of this mysterious event spread throughout the land and was met with both fear and awe in equal measures. Then, on the morning of the third day, the entrance closed and the staircase vanished. Very slowly, almost imperceptibly, the monolith began a slow rotation on its horizontal axis.
Through observation it was calculated, at the current rate of rotation, that the monolith would take exactly ten years to complete a single revolution. During this time, priests and rulers alike gathered to debate and wrestle with the meaning of the strange appearance and disappearance of the staircase. With weighty words they discussed the subsequent outcome, if any, following the conclusion of the monolith’s decade long cycle. Would it continue? Would it stop? Perhaps all activity would cease tomorrow as abruptly as it began.
Precisely ten years to the day, the predicted cycle concluded and the staircase appeared again. As before, a light emanated from a doorway set into the monolith’s face. Rumours that a giant cyclops had previously descended the staircase, breathing fire and scorching the land, had escalated amongst the people and the crowds now greeted its return with a sense of foreboding. A battalion of a thousand soldiers was stationed at the foot of the staircase, spears kissed with sunlight and tipped with poison. Ominously they waited in silence for an emerging foe. From high towers, the priests watched the crowds with interest until, on the third morning, the staircase vanished once again and the monolith began to turn.
After the second appearance of the staircase, the high priest, following a vision, announced that an age old prophecy was about to reach fulfilment. It was, he said, our destiny to ascend and journey into the monolith and partake in the blessings of its holy secrets. Games would be held, on a scale never before seen, to find the chosen one, deemed worthy to enter the monolith and complete the journey from this life to the next.
Over a period of eight years the games took place until, after many thousands were defeated in the arena, a young man, named Örus, well versed in scripture and skilled in the art of combat, stood alone as victor. A complex purification process followed and Örus spent the remaining two years in isolation under a vow of silence.
At the foretold time, when the moon was perfectly aligned with Saturn, the monolith completed its slow revolution and the staircase once again appeared. The crowds no longer feared its presence, instead they gathered in prayer and read verses from the holy books. On the eve of the ascension, Örus’ body was anointed with oils and he was clothed in the finest garments. He was to take no food or water with him; faith in the divine purpose was to be he only sustenance. He was to ascend the staircase barefoot and offer his life as a sacrifice at the entrance to the monolith. If he was truly worthy, it was believed that he would pass through the doorway unhindered.
As the sun set on the evening of the first day, a ceremony was held at a newly erected altar at the foot of the staircase. Örus was blessed by each of the priests of the city in turn and he emerged from a sea of candlelight, held aloft by the crowd, to begin his arduous ascent as the full moon rose in the eastern sky.
Long after Örus had vanished from sight, the candles continued to flicker into the night as the crowds, led by the priests, chanted and sang hymns. People approached the altar and offered silent prayers to the monolith, Örus or the Gods themselves. For many hours, only the faint glow of the open doorway, high above, at the top of the staircase, was visible from below. Then, as dawn broke, the light from the doorway suddenly ceased to shine.
It started with a few low murmurs and grew to a almighty roar as the crowds observed the happenings at the top of the staircase. The doorway appeared to be closed and a figure, no larger than a speck from this distance, was slowly descending. The priests appealed for order, but the shouts and jeers became all the more deafening. Örus, it would seem, had failed to gain entrance and was still alive. People mocked the wisdom of the priests and threw rocks at them until they were forced to take cover within the altar.
The sun was high in the sky before the figure on the staircase could be clearly seen. The voices fell silent, until descending footsteps were all that could be heard. The figure was not Örus, but a girl of about sixteen years old. As she set her feet upon the earth, the staircase behind her disappeared. The priests fell down on their knees in worship of her, but the girl didn’t seem to understand. Her clothing was strange. She was carrying a bag on her back and was clutching some kind of book. She appeared to be shaken and her eyes darted to a fro as they scanned the surrounding land.
The legend says that the girl spoke in a foreign language which baffled even the most skilled linguists. Had they been able to understand her, it was unlikely that they would have made sense of her as she was clearly insane. Whether she was of sound mind before she descended the staircase, no one could say.
Following these events, the monolith did not begin another cycle. It remains fixed in the sky to this day. However, there are many who believe that one day the monolith will begin to turn again.
As for the items the girl was carrying, all that remains is the book, tattered and aged. It is kept in a museum. It is a curious object that contains maps of an unknown land and pictures that depict a quaint landscape with rolling hills and lush green fields. On the whole it seems a rather unremarkable place. From the work of numerous scholars over the centuries, we have been able to ascertain that the title on its cover roughly translates to the following:
The Woodlands and Country Lanes of Wiltshire, England: A Rambler’s Guide.
As for the fate of Örus, following his ascent of the staircase, the legend makes no further reference.