Those who accepted the challenge and strode through the gate did, as promised, escape the misery and decay of the old world.

But that’s not to say that the speaking stones’ offer was a perfect one, or without their own inscrutible motives.

A traveler would awaken in a dark place, gloomy and often damp, but lit with bioluminescence that barely illuminated a ceiling perhaps a hundred yards above. Armed only with what they had carried through the gate, they would find themselves in a twisting maze of ancient stone and wood–one too natural to be manmade but too complex to be natural. A winding stair, visible in the distance but only in the same way that a mountain is, led up through the soaring night and through the cool stone roof of the world.

And above? Another level, much the same yet subtly different, with its own stair. And beyond it the same, and the same, and the same.

But the curious thing was that the stair never seemed to be in the same place. And the curiouser thing was that the levels above never seemed to be the same, either. Maps were useless. Only the level of awakening never seemed to change, and even that was vast enough that some considered it infinite.

Many travelers chose to stay on that first level, in that first maze, to carve out a life in the chinks of stone and wood. Crops would grow, after a fashion, and edible mushrooms could be had. But it was a mean existence, and the lure of valuables above–an answer above–constantly drove people upwards.

The most well-equipped expedition had made it to the twenty-first maze above. Only a single man, more a skeleton than anything, had returned. As far as is known, no one who took the speaking stones at their word and crossed over the threshhold gate ever saw the sun again.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!