They floated gently between the mountain peaks, the balloon filling with fire.

Cloth-wrapped bundles dropped to the earth as they glided along. Inside, rice seed and books cradled against each other. Rice seed for planting in the earth, books for planting in the mind.

He let another bundle drop, a miniature balloon tied to its top to slow its fall. The children would steal away the balloons and cherish them until the next drop, crying when they deflated or popped against their ears.

This was the world now, he thought. This is the world at its end. Or its beginning.