Today's challenge - The City - gave me opportunity to dip into with a fantasy world that's been swimming around my brain for many years. Perhaps, one day, I'll get around to writing the novel that this world is a part of...
It is said that, at the heart of this wasteland, there lies a city.
At the edge of the wastelands, where those who are unlucky enough to find themselves here but who are lucky enough to survive gather, they pass stories around the campfire. Sometimes they tell tales of the places they came from and drink in the bitter sweet memories of the storyteller to add to their own. Other times, they tell stories of how they came to be here and the things that they did to survive on their journey, for there is a brutal honesty among all who make it this far. And, when they want to gift each other with what passes for hope in this desolate place, they talk of The City.
Some tell of a city that is bedecked in whitest marble, with tall spires that reach up into the sky and which is surrounded by luscious gardens that stem the advance of the wasteland that surrounds it. In this version of the story, The City is an oasis, a heart of purity in this cancerous landscape. In other versions of the story, The City is hewn from pure diamond and rises as a single tower, up and up before it vanishes in the blood dark clouds that fill the livid skies; not an oasis, not a respite, this city is a means of escape from this nightmare. But, no matter which version of the story is told and no matter which way The City is described, all the storytellers agree that The City is the one place that offers even a paucity of hope.
The man who sits down beside the fire to talk tonight is known only as Jared; he is dishevelled, as they all are, and wears a black eye patch across his left eye. His one good eye is a brilliant blue and it sits uncomfortably within the mass of scar tissue that covers the right hand side of his face; his hair is almost entirely gone, save for a few clumps here and there, and so that brilliant blue eye remains as the one thing that reminds of the man he once was. He has listened to the stories of others, nodded in silence as they told stories of the places they once lived and which now seem as incorporeal as dreams, but he has yet to tell his own story in any detail. The memories are still too raw and so, instead, he tells them what he was told about The City.
The story he tells them he heard himself from a traveller that he met in the wastelands and who was not fortunate enough to make it this far; the traveller, in turn, had heard it from another and he from another who had, if the story was to be believed, headed deeper into the madness of the wastelands in search of The City that this version of the story promised.
The City is not a beacon of light that exists in the heart of darkness, nor is it an easy way out of this wasteland. Instead, he tells them, The City is a prison cell; The City is a prison cell that stands in the very centre of these wastelands that form the ultimate prison. It is a prison cell that was constructed to contain a power whose scale is nearly unimaginable; a power that, if released, could rewrite this world as easily as man draws breath. That, he believes, is why they are here; though their manner of arrival differs in a myriad ways, he believes they are have all been brought here merely as tools with which something may eventually fashion an escape. And, in that, he tells them there is hope; for it means that this is not hell, that this is not some eternal purgatory which they must suffer. They are keys and, if they can find The City and the lock to which they are bound then they can complete their purpose and this world will cease to be.
Most stay silent when he has finished the telling, although some scoff and defend the version of The City that they hold dear to, before one by one wandering away. But one man stares thoughtfully into the fire long after all the others save for Jared have departed to the crude shelters that they call home.
“Tell me, “ says the man, whose name is Damien Stark, finally “Tell me everything that you know about The City.”