The shop had all kinds of things. Toys, tools, jugs and mugs. Masks from far away, colourful clothes, gadgets of all sorts.
There, behind a basket full of cones and torches, something caught Ild’s attention. Two strange sticks with a little ball on the end of each one. The little balls emitted a green light.
The shop keeper looked at him with interest him as he walked closer.
-I see they have chosen you,
He had only one eye and a big scar across his face. He lacked several teeth as well, probably for other reasons. He grinned, but it was no friendly grin.
-They’ve found you.
-Wouldn’t that be rather I’ve found them?
-Whatever you say, the shop keeper said. -They’re yours, no charge.
He didn’t look like the kind of man who would give away things for free.
-What are they for? Ild sent him a sceptical glare.
-They summon things, finds things. Leads the way.
There was a long silence. Ild was about to speak to break the tension, when the man continued in a sudden, fierce tone.
-Take them! Get out of here!
Ild grabbed the sticks, looking confused at the man behind the desk. This was all very strange, but he was intrigued by the two sticks, the strange words, even the way the shop keeper acted.
-Er… Thank you.
The shop keeper laughed when he walked out of the alley. He could hear his laughter stronger and stronger as he walked down the road, as if it was following him.
He got home, looking at his new, glowing sticks. He liked them a lot. He waved them around a bit in the semi darkness, making lines and circles.
A greenish cloud appeared, shining, like northern lights, like stars. There was a face, first diffuse, unclear. Then solid, still floating.
-Come with me.
-To the lost city of balloons and wonders.To the city of Tor’ar.
They walked. They walked for a long time, up in the mountains, between high walls. They walked on paths no one had walked in a long time, paths long forgotten.
Balloons could be seen in the skies. A valley appeared, deep like an abyss, rocky, infertile.
-Here we are.
The other side was far away, the abyss was deep and wide. Ild sat down to rest. The hologram kept staring at the other side, waiting. Ild fell asleep.
He woke up by the sound of metal hitting rock. An anchor had touched the ground in front of him.
-Hop on! We don’t have all day!
A balloon was waiting for them. The driver had a vest on, and short pants. His one eye was sparkling a glow Ild knew from before. A scar across his face.
-You made it! The shop keeper laughed.
They floated over the rocks far below, and the city came closer. The buildings were old and worn, huge cracks could be seen in the walls.
-What are we doing here?
-You’ll soon see, the shop keeper answered. -This is the centre of the world, my friend. This is where it all starts.
They got off on a port, and walked into the narrow streets between the tall buildings carved out in the rock. People walked by, looking out in the air with empty eyes, ignoring them, looking through them.
There was a market place in what seemed to be the centre of town. People walked around, as if they were shopping, but the stands had no food, no products. Some artists were standing still on a scenery, still, looking out on a crowd that was not there.
They walked down narrow staircases, through tunnels, under a bridge and over another.
They came to a gate, deep in the lower parts of town. The daylight barely hit the street here, and they could see the sky far, far above in a little crack between the rooftops.
-Come in! The shop keeper kept the door open. -Come on, where else would you go?
The entrance hall was dark, with a light further down past a corner. The shop keeper led the way through narrow basement hallways.
A room was lit up by torches on the walls. Five figures were standing in a circle with their heads bowed. Ild was unsure if they were real or carved in stone until one lifted his head and spoke.
-You have finally come.
-I… What.. me?
-Thank you, Dar’han. Your job is done.
-Thank you, my lords, The shop keeper backed out of the room. Ild wanted to follow him, but the figure held a hand up. The others raised their heads.
-You are the chosen one. Our city is dying. Our world could soon be gone.
-But… I’m just… What can I do? Ild looked from one figure to the other, at the door.
-The sticks of guidance chose you. Give them to me.
Ild held the sticks out. He wished he had left them there in the shop.
-The time has come.
The figures turned around, went back to their initial positions. The one who had spoken lifted the sticks. The hologram appeared in the circle.
The head was bigger now. The room grew with it, the walls, the ceiling. It turned towards Ild.
-Come. It’s voice was dark and resounding, as if it was coming from somewhere deeper, rawer.
Ild was standing in the circle. He felt his body fill up with the green smoke, stretch towards the head above. They merged, the head became his, he became the head.
He floated out, became one with the walls, one with the figures, one with the streets and the buildings. He became one with the people in the markets, the dogs, the rats in the sewers, with the city itself.
The central market was full of life, the stands bulged with all kinds of fruit and exotic foods, beautiful artefacts and quality tools. Some jugglers were having a show on the scenery, a show of fire and magic. The public laughed and applauded.
The city of Tor’ar once again had a soul.