Guardian of the Stone Door
The sun was just beginning to strike the rooftops of the city of Ellora, miles away over the rolling hills and low-growing clutches of rubber trees, but the high cliff of grey stone still cast the road into shadow as Oliver climbed out of the rented Jeep and surveyed the rocky face of the hill. According to the maps that had been gathered into Jeanne’s battered old research journal over the course of three centuries, the entrance to the temple lay hidden among these rocks. He leaned back into the Jeep and pulled a daypack from behind the passenger seat, then turned to survey the stones of the cliff face. About thirty feet away, barely visible as a jagged slash of shadow cutting down the face of the cliff, Oliver saw the entrance to the shallow canyon that concealed the temple.
He pulled his phone out of his pocket and tapped to load his chat app, then sent the same message to both Amber and Hank: Going to try accessing a temple with Jeanne. Here’s our location. He attached a screenshot of his GPS app.
“Do they ever get sick of hearing from you?” Jeanne said, coming up beside him.
“Hank, no. He lives an intentionally dull life, but thrives on vicariously experiencing the world through his friends. Amber… well, she likes to hear from me, but her husband is cooling to the notion. I might have put them in danger a few months back.”
Jeanne didn’t say anything as Oliver tucked his phone into a pocket of his vest and shrugged to adjust the straps of his backpack over his leather jacket. He glanced at her face, paused, then reached out a hand to lay it on her shoulder. She jumped a little at his touch, looking up at him with a fierce expression, which melted a bit as their eyes met. “You’ll find someone to share your adventures with, Jeanne.”
She blinked, the brushed his hand away and pulled the straps tight on her own backpack. “I’m doing just fine without people looking over my shoulder.”
With that she strode away, angling up the incline towards the rock face as she strode through the half light of dawn towards the cave entrance. After several steps, she paused and took a sharp, deep breath, then let it out slowly through tight lips. Trust him, she thought.
Oliver caught up with Jeanne and together they hiked up to the cliff face, then along it until they reached the jagged break in the stone wall that opened to the cave where the temple entrance was hidden. He paused outside the cave and glanced around, searching the road and landscape for any sign that they were being observed or followed, but he saw no signs of pursuit. A few cars crawled along the road, and one tourist bus was already creeping ponderously over the crest of a hill, but the view was pleasingly free of obvious threats.