Theodore tried to stay on his feet. The wind howled around him, whipping his face with hot sand. He couldn’t see anything through the roar of the sandstorm. It was all he could do to cover his face and move forward.
His head felt like a doll with its stuffing ripped out. He knew he needed to go somewhere, to do something. Something terrible would happen if he didn’t. It hurt to think and to hold onto the thought. He doubled his effort to push through the storm.
The dust cleared. Theodore looked down and jumped back. He was one step away from walking off the edge of a rooftop. The tiles under his feet gave ever so slightly. He realized, as his vision cleared, that the building he stood on was made of sand. It was the same in the streets below and beyond. A whole city stretched ahead of him, the shape of its skyline and building familiar but made again with fine grit and dust. It was Laien, home, and yet not. At the center was a structure he did not recognize: an impossible tower made of steel that pierced the sky.
Vertigo hit Theodore. It was a long fall to the ground and the roof he walked on was crumbling with each step. He needed to get to somewhere safe. Stepping lightly, he searched for a regulation fire escape to climb down to ground level. Preferably one that wasn’t also made of sand. The wind kicked up again before he could locate one. Theodore turned to look where the storm was coming from. That’s when he saw it.
A face hung in the red sky like a constellation. He knew it. Curling horns and a notched goat ear. The name was on the tip of his tongue. Zither. That was right. A faun that he had wanted to help. What was he doing? His mouth was open, lips pursed as he sucked up air and dust until his cheeks were full. Then, holding it all for just a moment, he blew it out again. A great squall tore through the buildings, scattering them to nothing.
Theodore’s heart jumped in panic. He needed to get down before it reached him. Bounding forward, he looked for anywhere he could jump down to safety. The roof was too weak. His leg punched through, trapping him. Twisting around, he saw the gust ripping towards him. He tried to pull himself free, but it was no use. There was no choice. He slammed his fist into the tile under him and the rooftop crumbled. He fell, slamming into one interior floor after another, each one slowing his fall with a rough grainy slap, until he hit the ground. The storm rushed over his head, burying him in dust.
Theodore had the foresight to hold his breath. He lurched, trying to free himself from the heavy piles of sand he was trapped under. As soon as he wormed his way to the surface, he gasped for air. The storm had subsided.
He got up and took in the path of destruction Zither had created. A line straight through the city to the tower was toppled, but the tower stood the blast. The giant faced glared in the distance. It hovered across the sky at glacial pace and looked for another angle of attack.
Theodore brushed himself off and wracked his brain trying to remember what was going on. This was all wrong. Zither shouldn’t be doing this. Why was the city like this?
He remembered something despite the headache. He needed Oboe’s toy soldier. It was important, like a bright beacon in his mind, but why? Somehow knowing he needed it was enough. He knew where to find it. The toyshop.
There was no point in going to the trolley station. If it was made of sand it wouldn’t be operational. So, Theodore steered himself to try and find the streets he had explored with Oboe. His boots slipped on the even ground as he marched across the loose sand. He stopped to take refuge when he heard Zither readying another windstorm and kept clear of the attack.
When he reached the toyshop he grabbed the doorknob, only for it to fall apart in his hand. Feeling stupid, Theodore kicked an opening through the door and stooped to climb inside.
He remembered Oboe’s excitement over the toy store. All of the model trains and toy puzzles were mirrored here, sculpted in fragile grains. Only one object in the whole shop was made of something else. Theodore picked the little wooden knight off the shelf and everything come back to him in a rush. Zither had betrayed them. This was the duke’s dream. He was trapped inside with him, needing to save him before the news got out of what had happened. Theodore needed to find the duke and make him confront the dream.
Another wind blast shook the city. Theodore ran out of the toy store before it collapsed on top of him. After the sand settled, Theodore looked and saw the iron tower was still standing in the distance. The duke could be anywhere, but that seemed the obvious place to start looking.
Theodore got moving, but almost tripped. There was something clamped tight around his wrist. A shackle, with a taut chain trailing off it. Turning around, Theodore saw there was something on the other end holding his chain.
“Where do you think you’re going, son?”