"Wh-what the hell...!?" he muttered, looking around him.
The area was so vast that it made him feel giddy. It was illuminated by a pale, white light that seemed to be moonlight, but even if he looked up he couldn't actually see the moon. It felt like looking up into a cylindrical world that seemed to stretch on and on forever. Yes - a cylindrical world. The space was surrounded by a mud wall covered by the base of a plant. The distance from wall to wall was so far that it seemed as though an entire city might fit snugly inside.
Cubed levels jutted out from the centre of the cylinder. One side of the cubes appeared slightly shorter than Orlando. Even still, they were large enough. The cubes were stacked ten wide, ten high, irregularly, but basically piled up like steps. Overall, they looked to be about the height of a high-rise building. Orlando himself was apparently standing around midway along the row of cubes.
"What's going on...?"
Cautiously getting down on all fours, he peered down over the edge. The cube stairs continued on and on. The area below was enshrouded in darkness, and he couldn't see a thing. The cubes had no support, and were not suspended from above - it would be impossible to hang something this huge - and weren't attached in any way to the walls, apparently floating in the centre of the huge area. Struck by a breeze blowing up from below, he shivered inside his jacket, drawing back from the edge of the blocks. If he fell, he would die for sure - or maybe he might end up plummeting for eternity. Just thinking about it made him shudder.
"This makes no sense..."
"Hey, you!" called the voice of a man from above. He looked up. The second he saw who the voice belonged to, his jaw dropped. A sheep was on its hands and knees on a cube above, peering over the edge.
"Climb up here, quickly!"
"Is that a... talking sheep...?"
It was no ordinary sheep, either. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen a sheep up close, but it was obviously different from the creature Orlando knew them to be. It was big, for starters, possibly twice the average size. Besides this, its stance and behaviour seemed oddly humanoid. Perhaps it was a person in a sheep costume, though its face and wool did seem strangely realistic...
"This is no time for hanging about! Someone else told me that this block mountain collapses from below! I have no idea what's going on, but I don't feel like falling to my death! I'm off!" the sheep added in a louder voice.
Was he dreaming? To check Orlando looked down at his arms, and was startled to find that he was wearing nothing but his jacket. All that covered his lower half were his boxers. He was practically naked.
"Are you some kinda perv!?"
Maybe he'd got drunk and gone wild, and met a weird man who liked to walk around in a costume.
"Where the hell are we, anyway!?"
He simply couldn't remember. Maybe the man in the suit had brought him here. It didn't look like he had any better idea what was going on than Orlando did, however.
"When you say 'climb up'... This isn't a trap or anything like that, right?"
Until just a little while ago, Orlando had been unconscious. There was no need to catch him in a trap at this stage, surely. The sheep above, appearing satisfied at having drawn Orlando's attention, stood and began to skilfully scale the blocks. Leaping onto the edge above, he pulled himself upwards. He used one leg to grab onto the upper ledge, stretching his body out.
Orlando took a deep breath, then sighed. "So it is a dream. A pretty realistic dream, but... Anyway, this whole thing is too surreal."
He faced the blocks in front of him. Even if it was a dream, he didn't want to fall to his death. If the sheep said it was better to climb, then for now, at least, he would do as he was told. The surface of each block looked different. Some were carved with reliefs of angels and pillars, though he also caught sight of a few engraved with abstract designs and indecipherable characters. They looked to be made out of stone, but he couldn't actually tell whether this was true or not.
Walking forwards, he gripped the top of the cube. Putting his left foot on a bulge in the relief, he swung over his right leg the way he had seen the sheep do it before, gripping onto the corner of the upper surface. Using the strength in his arms and legs, he clambered over.
"This is going surprisingly well..."
The blocks were stable, showing no signs of wobbling yet. He proceeded a few steps, then looked up again. The sheep had made it quite a way up. Like Orlando, his movements were clumsy, but he seemed to be rather used to it. Then he noticed them - more sheep up above. They were all timidly climbing the blocks.
"Hey, how many of you guys are there? Is this some kind of weird cult or somethin'?" Then, he saw a strange scene. "You're kidding, right?"
One of the sheep reached out its arms and began tugging hard on one of the blocks. There's no way in hell those huge things will budge, he thought, but - albeit slowly - the cube began to slide.
"Guess they're not as heavy as they look..."
He looked down at the block by his feet. Suddenly, it didn't look like such a good idea - but he had to climb up.
"It is a dream. For sure. Gotta be."
Stacking the blocks felt like stacking wooden blocks randomly the way kids do. He moved from block to block, climbing upwards. He was soon out of breath.
"Shit. If I'da known this was gonna, happen I woulda exercised more..."
It seemed completely irrational to be expending so much stamina despite it being a dream. Still, as he figured out the tricks to it he began to ascend faster. The sheep who had earlier given Orlando advice was apparently even more out of shape than he was, and he quickly saw him emerge from the darkness.
"Caught you," Orlando said jokingly. "You alright?" The next moment, cracks ran through the cube the sheep was standing on before his eyes. The sheep screamed, Orlando himself reflexively yelling "Hey!" in response. In the blink of an eye, cracks extended across the sides of the cube. The fissures deepened, spreading, and soon the entire block had collapsed. The sheep instantly leapt upwards, somehow managing to dangle from a cube a level above. Looking down at the cloud of dust he quickly looked back up, pulling himself up frantically.
Fragments from the crumbled cube rained down, piling up by Orlando's feet. The pieces seemed quite small. Maybe it had been on the verge of collapse all along. He waited for the dust to settle, then took a look and saw that pieces the size of a person's arm were uniformly scattered around him. However, there were too few fragments for the size of the block - perhaps the inside was hollow.
"...Well, it is a dream." It wouldn't be unthinkable for there to be a few weird things here and there.
Orlando, attempting to move onward himself, was perplexed. Due to the collapse, there was no block left for him to use as steps. Instead, different blocks were stacked in front of him, side by side in pairs, creating a wall. Combined, they were more than three metres tall, and there was no way he could possibly jump and haul himself over the top. He looked around him to either side. There didn't look to be anything he could use as stairs.
"Hey, help me out here!" he shouted upwards, and the sheep before came to a halt.
"You're fine. They move if you pull them!"
"I was told this. It doesn't matter how many are above it. You can push and pull the blocks here!" Leaving him with this, the sheep continued on.
"Dammit. What a nightmare this is."
He faced the wall. Choosing a good spot, he reached out both arms and grabbed onto the block at the bottom on each side. Repeating what he had seen, he heaved the block forwards.
The thing was huge, and normally would have been rather heavy, and yet when he applied force it began to move easily. For whatever reason, the block above it didn't so much as budge. The cube beneath gradually gained momentum, until finally pausing when its edges lined up. It perfectly overlapped the block on which Orlando stood, leaving him with no footing.
He quickly reached upwards, but unfortunately couldn't reach the top of the block. He began to fall. An image of himself being sucked into the depths of the darkness flitted through his head. Uneasy, he wanted to scream. With nothing to cling to, he ran his hand over the side of the block. He was actually falling, but it seemed to him like the relief beneath his hand was steadily moving upwards. The block he had just moved was stuck on the edge of the block below.
"Grab on there...!"
The fingertips on both of his hands curved into hooks. Right away he felt the impact run through him, but he desperately endured it, hanging from the border, supporting his full body weight with only his fingers. His knees made contact with the relief on the face of the block. It hurt so much that he cried out in pain. Then, realising that he could shout as much as he liked, he screamed.
Gritting his teeth, he slid his hand to the left. The face of the cube was rough, leaving white scratches on the skin of his fingertips. Next he swung across his left leg, clambering onto the block to his left. Putting his hands on his knees, he caught his breath. His whole body hurt.
"Huh... Once you sit down for a bit, you don't want to get back up..."
He paused for a while, then steeled himself and took a breath. He looked up, moved right, and put his fingers on the top edge of the block he had pulled out earlier. Swinging his leg up again, he clumsily, awkwardly climbed up. He somehow managed to pull up his torso. Next he threw himself down on the top face of the block, almost collapsing onto it.
"Why does it have to be so goddamn tiring?"
He realised that there were no longer any sheep nearby. While Orlando had been working desperately, they had apparently all steadily gone on ahead. Using the rough sides of the block for support, he stood. Suddenly sensing a presence, he leaned over the edge of the cube and peered downwards. He could see the block he had just climbed. The remnants of the collapsed block were beside it. Further down was a pile of several cubes Orlando had used as steps. On the other side of those, out of the gaping abyss, rose the head of a giant tuna.
The giant tuna drew closer at an impossible speed. It was as though it had risen instantly to the water's surface. Passing by the side of the cubes, it rose to around the same height as Orlando. The tuna's trunk was about three cubes in diameter - that would make it more than four metres. Its full body was easily more than ten metres in length.
The huge tuna suddenly changed direction, seeming to put distance between itself and the cubes for a moment, roughly ten metres away. Its silvery scales glinted, reflecting the moonlight. Its gigantic head turned towards Orlando. It charged at him, its tail waving from side to side.
"Are you fucking kidding me!?"
Suddenly, somehow, Orlando understood. So that's it, huh? This is that "cursed nightmare" thing. Why hadn't he realised it straight away? Memories of the previous night flooded back.