Wuff, the small creature at his ankles said.
“Oh, you’re still here, huh?” he replied, reaching down to scratch its ears. Its tail wagged happily. “Come on then. Let’s see what this is.”
Ahead of them was the first clear water they had come across in weeks. It was dotted with lily pads and a soft croaking let the pair know they weren’t exactly alone.
A series of stepping stones allowed them a route across the water. The man tested one with a stick. When it didn’t budge, he and his companion hopped lightly across to the stone stairway on the other side of the water which, itself, led to a large, stone temple.
Wuff, the thing said again.
“Oh absolutely let’s go in.”
The temple was abandoned, at least as far as he could tell. Most of its intricately carved facade was covered in moss, and cobwebs filled the areas that weren’t in direct sunlight. Their inhabitants didn’t seem to be home which made the man feel a little bit better.
The temple itself was broken into two halves, just as the stories had said. On each side of the gap between the halves, a large spire rose. If he had to guess, he would say they were nearly 30 stories high. The sides of the spires facing the gap between the two halves were dead straight, running parallel all the way up, but the faces on the far side tapered as they rose, almost to a point at the top. At the very top, the two spires were connected by a bridge, of sorts. A platform where something shiny sat, glittering in the nearly noon sun.
As the sun rose towards its noon height, the carvings on the faces of the spires seemed to move of their own accord.
“Just as the stories said,” he whispered to himself.
He, along with his little companion, stepped into the gap between the spires and stared up at the walls. He noticed little hooks here and there which he assumed were for torches to light the way. He didn’t need anything like that just yet, as the sun was shining almost directly down through the gap.
Wuff, the creature said standing at a doorway a few meters away.
“What is it, fella?”
Wuff, it repeated, stepping through the door.
“And here I thought I was in charge.”
Stepping through the door, he found himself a top a giant cliff. Immediately in front of him was a deep ravine. A dull glow rose through the clouds an unknowable distance below him. He took a step back partly out of instinct and partly because he thought the door that brought him and his companion here was still there. However, the door had vanished for miles behind him there was nothing but an empty, dead plain.
He looked around and took in the view. Across the ravine, some several hundred meters away, a forest blanketed the opposite cliff. Several rivers flowed between the trees and cascaded off the edge of the cliff in magnificent waterfalls, interrupted on their journey to the unknown below by a series of mini cliffs all the way down.
His little friend, who had been with him the last few days had disappeared again. He was kind of sad to have him just be gone like that, but he knew that this is where the creature had been going all along, and he was happy to just be along for the ride.
Further along the cliff face where he was standing, a series of stairs led down the rock to the glowing clouds. Since he had nowhere else to go and the door back to the temple still hadn’t reappeared, he started the trek down the cliff.
The hike wasn’t difficult, but it was obviously going to take awhile. Every so often the path would take a small detour into the cliff face itself, where he saw more of the torch mounts from the temple, these ones with burning torches in them. He smiled.
After three days of hiking down the stairs, camping out in the tunnels and caves that dotted the cliff face, he came to the glowing clouds. The stairs continued into the cloud and he could hear vague noises coming from within.
As he stepped through the clouds, a flock of birds erupted from below and screeched as they flew to the cliff tops high above. This must have been some sort of alert system as, when the birds took off, the vague noises he could hear before suddenly cut out.
Out of nowhere, the clouds ended and he stepped into what appeared to appeared to be midday sun. He looked up and saw the same glowing clouds he had from above.
“Well,” he shrugged. “Not the strangest thing I’ve seen today.”
“Perhaps you could tell us all about the strange things you’ve seen from your new cell,” a voice said from behind him.
“Huh, wha?” he spun and found himself face to face with a group of armed people, some with spears, others with guns pointed at him. “Oh, hello. Uh, I come in peace?”
“We'll see. March.”
“Yes, Sir!” he made a faux salute and continued down the cliff.
The town was carved into the cliffs, on both sides of the ravine. Every few hundred meters, bridges spanned the gap. People came out of the buildings to see the young man marching through the streets. “I assume,” he said turning and walking backwards so he could face his guards. “We’re heading towards that,” he pointed to the largest building, at the far end of the town. A building that was identical to the temple he had found in the wetlands with his animal companion. Each half of the temple was carved into the walls, one on each side of the ravine leaving the taller spires in the gap between.
Unlike the one earlier, this one actually had a gap between the two spires, only a couple of meters, but the implication was obvious – miss your footing and it was a long way down.
“Just keep walking. Once we get to the church, the clerics will decide what to do with you.”
The clerics, or at least the people he assumed were clerics were waiting for them at the entry to the temple. They did not seem pleased to see him.
“Why have you come here?”
“I explore places. I was exploring a temple in another place and wham, suddenly here I am, in this place. Call it a mistake. If you don’t want me here, I’ll leave.”
“And tell your people of us?”
He shrugged. “No one believes my stories. No one will believe I found an abandoned temple on a supposedly dead world. Least of all that it brought me here, wherever here is.”
“And we're supposed to just take your word for it?”
“You can live here, in the cliffs. Become part of our society.”
“And be allowed to travel above the clouds?”
“Then I’ll pass. Whats the next option?”
“Well, can’t say I like the sound of that.”
“The choice is yours.”
“Unless you can convince us you pose no threat.”
Wuff, a voice said.