Once upon a time there was a little girl named Gwyneth. She lived in a big stone keep, built on a hill overlooking a river valley surrounded by forested mountains. Gwyneth loved to explore, and she spent hours of every day wandering the woods and the valley with her DirePuppy Malcolm.
On this day Gwyneth was wandering in a direction she hadn’t gone before, and on top of a new hill she found a very old stone wall. As she walked around it, and Malcolm sniffed it, she realized that it wasn’t just old, it used to be a part of a building. As she explored the ruins she could see where the great hall had been, and the stables, and all the things that made a keep a home. And then she found a set of stairs, set into a rounded wall. This must have been the tower! Malcolm tested the stairs for her (for he was heavier than she was), and found that they were strong and safe. And so they climbed.
They climbed and climbed, and they came to the top of the old wall. Gwyneth looked out over the edge of the ruined tower wall, and could see for miles and miles. She could see the tower of her home, off to her left, and the smoke rising from the chimneys as her people kept the stones warm during the cool damp days of spring. Off to the right, she followed the path of the river, and she could see Winterborn Keep’s tower and walls, as well. That was where her friend William lived, and maybe next time she came here she’d bring him with her, him and his DireKitty Chipmunk. She looked and looked, locating all of her favorite places — the little waterfall in the river, the cave where Malcolm said a bear lived, the clearing in the woods where she found all the butterflies last summer, the climbing tree on the curve of the river where Mama liked to swim.
And then she looked at the stairs. She’d been careful not to get too close to the edge, so she wouldn’t fall, but she wanted to see how far down it was, from up here. When she looked, she saw that the stairs continued on up… but they weren’t made of stone. They were made of some sort of shimmery light. She sat carefully on the stone part, and tapped the light stairs with her hand. They felt solid. She pushed. Still solid. Malcolm put on paw on them… solid. So Malcolm grabbed the back of Gwyn’s tunic in his teeth so he could catch her if she fell, and she put her weight on one foot on the light step. Solid.
And so the two of them climbed, because explorers should never pass up the chance to see something new.
They climbed and they climbed, and as they did, the ground grew smaller and farther away, and the clouds began to gather around them, misty and cool and bright. And then with a few last steps, they reached a platform at the top of the stairs, and they were above the clouds! And above the clouds they found what looked like a landscape — rivers and valleys and mountains — but all made of fluffy white clouds. Gwyneth stood and just looked, amazed at what she saw.
And then she saw something else. Perched on a ridge of cloud was a giant bird. A hawk! A real DireHawk, not the smaller kind of DireBeast like Malcolm, who lived on the ground, but the biggest and best of them all. The Hawk turned its head, and looked at Gwyn with its sharp, black eyes. And then it nodded its head just once, and spread its beautiful wings, so big and so fast and suddenly so close that Gwyn and Malcolm both instinctively closed their eyes and covered their heads with their arms (and paws).
When they opened their eyes, the Hawk was gone. Gwyn and Malcolm looked at each other, and decided it was definitely time to go home. They started climbing down and down and down and down until they reached the stone steps. Gwyn could see that the sun was still high in the sky, but not quite so high as before — if they went home now, they’d get back just in time for a bit of a snack before supper. Maybe today they’d have honeyed bread, if they asked nicely.
And maybe tomorrow they’d bring William and Chipmunk back to see the Hawk.