May 14

Sunrise Over Infinity Part 1

Through the sky, and onto what lies on the other side.

A man stood at the bow of a ship, breathing deeply.

It was the first breath under a new horizon. A horizon called Tamaril.

The man grinned subtly, then opened a small compass.

“Dead ahead,” he said. “We’ll be there before the next sunrise.”

– –

She leaned in close to hear the man above the din that filled the taproom.

“I don’t know why you’re asking me,” the old man said. “I’m just an old retired sailor.” He had large bushy eyebrows and a beard the colour of straw. His face was worn and creased, but his eyes were sharp and bright.

The woman reached into her pocket. “You can drop the innocent old seafarer act.”

“Act?” the man asked, grinning. “What act would that be?”

“I’ve talked to everyone this side of the palace who knows anything about the docks,” the woman said. “All of them mentioned you.”

The man turned up his palms in a gesture of innocence. “I don’t know why that would be. I’m just a sailor, after all.”

The woman withdrew something from her pocket and placed it underneath her mug. She slid the mug over to the man. “A piece of silver says you’re a whole lot more than that.”

The man lifted up the mug and studied what lay underneath. Then, seemingly satisfied, he replaced the mug and clasped his hands in front of him. “Very well. What is it that you wanted to know.”

“Have you heard of a land called Ascala?” the woman asked.

“Of course. It’s a land that lies across the Astral, beyond the sky and what lies on the other side. The people there build their towers from glass and capture lightning in black threads that they drape across their streets.”

“Good,” the woman said. “Because I need to get there.”

As she spoke, a group of soldiers entered into the bar. One of them looked around and the woman jerked her face away from him. The pulled her hood more tightly around her head.

“There are plenty of ships that could take you there,” the old sailor said. “I know of three leaving in the next week.”

The woman shook her head. “I need to get there a whole lot faster than that.”

The man took a sip of his drink. “How much faster.”

“I need to be there in a fortnight.”

The man spit his drink back out, spraying the table and her. “A fortnight? Journeys in the Astral aren’t some trivial jaunt. Getting to a world as far away as Ascala would take at least a month.”

“And there’s no one you can think of who can get me there sooner.”

The man leaned his head to the side, as though weighing something within his mind.

“There is one man, although I’d scarcely want to mention him.”

She glanced over toward the door. One of the soldiers was making his way toward the bar, while another was already speaking with the bartender.

“What’s his name?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

She was beginning to grow frustrated with the man’s constant evasiveness. “Out with it!”

“You misunderstand me. I cannot tell you his name, because he doesn’t have one. The man is a mystery, an enigma. Some say he’s nothing more than a legend, a tale grown out of all semblance of proportion by too many retellings. Others say that he’s a demon, or an errant god, something entirely beyond mortal ken. The only thing the stories agree about is that he never uses his real name, only referring to himself as the Captain.”

The woman glanced towards the bar again. The bartender was motioning in her general direction. She didn’t have long left.

“Enough cliche nonsense,” the woman said. “Can he take me there or not.”

The man sighed. “It’s not a question of if he can; it’s a question of if he will. He can get anything anywhere, but man does not take on passengers.”

“Where can I find him?”

“Did you not hear me? I said that he does not take on passengers.”

The woman shot him a cold look, silencing him instantly. “Where can I find him,” she repeated.

The man opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. Finally, he spoke. “Normally, I’d say that there’s no way to know. He’s a man of the Astral, not bound to any world or land. But I’ve heard a rumour that he’s been spotted nearby. Word among the Astral Travellers is that he’s heading this way, towards Cail.”

“What’s his ship called?”

“I’m warning you, don’t go getting involved in him. It will only end in disappointment.”

The man went to reach for his drink, but the woman caught his hand in hers. “What is the ship’s name?”

“Don’t go looking for him,” was the man’s only reply. “He’ll never take you on.”

She held onto his arm, her fingers gradually growing warmer. “What is its name?”

The man sighed, deeply. “The Le-Pras.”

Abruptly, she let go of the man’s wrist. “Thank you,” she said. “You’ve been most helpful.”

The woman got up to leave. As she turned, she caught one of the soldier’s eyes. She saw his face light up with recognition, then turn dark.

“There she is!” the man shouted, pointing her out.

Dammit, she thought. She was hoping to be long gone before they realized she’d been there.

The woman threw up her hands and twin gouts of flame erupted from the floor. They burned for only a split-second, but it had the desired effect. The other patrons began to scramble away form her, buying her a precious moment of time.

In it, the woman ran towards a nearby window. They were on the second floor, not that it was going to stop her.

She flicked out with one of her hand and a blast of flame shot towards the window. The fire blew out the glass windowpane and the lead bars that kept it in place.

The woman threw herself through the window and began to plummet. She pushed flame down beneath herself, slowing her descent down. Still, she landed hard on the cobbled street, and it took her a moment to reorient herself.

As soon as she got her senses back to herself, the woman took off running.

Behind her, soldiers were pouring out of the tavern, their red-gold tabards glinting in the white street lamps.

She ran hard and fast, but the soldiers were gaining on her. She glanced back and saw one woman pull an elaborate crystal-studded bow from her back.

The woman ducked down a side street as a bolt of energy shot past where she had been standing. She ran to the end of the street, where it opened up into a small courtyard. Three other side roads lead away into the night.

High above the street were orbs of crystal set on wall sconces. Each one gave off a bright white glow, like concentrated moonlight.

The woman raised her hands and a bolt of flame shot from them. It hit one of the crystal lamps and shattered it, causing a small explosion of light, followed by darkness.

She repeated the motion and blew out all of the square’s remaining lights. The only light came from the twin moons, nestled high above in their perches in the sky, casting their glow down a slice of the square and an adjacent street.

She heard the clinking of armour as the soldiers entered the square. She pressed herself up against one wall as she heard the men fan out and begin to search through the courtyard.

The woman unlatched her cloak and slipped it off, then turned to face the square’s other exit. She would only get one shot at this.

There was a fluttering of motion near the far wall of the alley, and a dark shape passed through the sliver of moonlight.

“She’s going this way,” one of the men shouted. The soldiers followed him out of the square.

The woman remained where she was, on the opposite side of the square. She waited until the soldier’s footsteps were far away, then went to retrieve her cloak. It was still warm from the gust of hot air that had pushed it to its current location. When it was safely wrapped around her shoulders, she closed her eyes and leaned back against the stone, waiting for her heart to slow down.

– –

The ship was docked and moored. Its crew loosed on the sleeping city.

A woman walked along the night-drenched docks, a dark red cloak hung around her shoulders. ‘This one’ she muttered to herself, then continued on her way.

– –

A woman walked the busy dockside streets, blonde hair billowing around her in the sea breeze, a small pack on her back. Around her, venders sold freshly caught fish and small magical trinkets from carts and stands. The bright sun caught the myriad colours of the crowd’s clothing and cast them against the city’s whitewashed walls, making the street seem a technicolour ocean. Far behind and above, a palace reached slender towers into the sky, like silver fingers grasping at the sun.

The woman ignored all of this. Her attention was focussed solely on the ship that lay ahead of her.

The ship wasn’t as large as most of the other vessels that lined the docks, neither was it adorned in gold and carved wood like many of them were. Yet, it possessed a subtle elegance that was only to be found in such simplicity. Its walls and railings were plain wood, but were carved in such a way that they seemed to be grown from a single piece of timber.

A man walked across the ship’s gangplank and lifted a crate from a pile that sat on the shore. His skin was deeply tanned, a shade that might have been natural or the product of long years in the sun. His arms were covered despite the heat, dark sleeves ending in black gloves. The woman approached him tentatively.

“Excuse me?” she said.

The man didn’t respond, only went to carry the crate across the gangplank. She followed the man onto the ship.

“Is the Captain about by any chance?”

The man put down the crate and looked directly at her for the first time. His features were hard and square, as though they might crack if subject to anything resembling a smile. His hair was black and short-cropped.

“Look, miss,” he said, somehow turning the word into an insult. “I’m a little busy right now, so if there’s something you need, I suggest you go find someone else.”

“Now, now Gehard,” a voice said. “That’s hardly necessary.”

The woman glanced in the direction of the voice. There she found a man in a black cloak, a wide black hat on his head. She did not need to ask for the newcomer’s identity. His poise and manner answered that question for her.

It was him. The man without a name.

“You’re the Captain,” she said.

The man nodded. “I am. And what brings you onto my ship?”

“I’m looking for passage to Ascala.”

“And what makes you think that I’m interested in taking you on as a passenger.”

“I can pay you.”

The dark skinned man snickered at that. “She thinks we can be bought so easily.”

The Captain glanced at the man, and he resumed loading boxes without another word.

“Fine then, I can offer you something far more substantial than gold,” she said.

The man raised an eyebrow. “Continue.”

“I’ve heard the stories people tell of you. They say you’re a myth. An legend. That you can get anything anywhere. That you never leave a job unfinished.”

“I wouldn’t believe everything you hear in a sailor’s tales, young woman.”

She continued on, undeterred. “I’m wagering there’s some truth to them. And they all say that the one thing you can’t turn down it a challenge.”

The man raised an eyebrow at that, as though daring her to continue. “And you are offering me a challenge then?”

“Yes. Get me to Ascala in a fortnight.”

“And why do you need to get somewhere so far away so quickly.”

“Family matters,” she said, hoping her tone would make it clear that was the only answer she would provide.

The man seemed to think for a moment. “Five gold pieces,” the man said. “And it won’t be a pleasure voyage. You’ll be expected to work while you’re aboard.”

The woman nodded. “Understood.”

“I’ll send my second in command to find you a task,” the Captain said. “Until then, Adrian will show you to your cabin.” The man turned his face upwards, toward the sun. “Adrian!” he called.

For a moment, she expected someone to come flying towards her out of the blue, like some levitating mage. Then she saw him, a man suspended amid the ship’s rigging, formerly lost amid the sun’s glare. The man swung from one rope to another and then slid down, landing on the deck in front of the Captain.

The man was young, looking barely into his twenties, and had sand coloured hair. His arms and legs seemed to be attached to his body at slightly the wrong angles, making all of his motions seem awkward and inept, yet at the same time, strangely graceful.

“Yes?” Adrian asked.

“Show our new passenger to one of the spare cabins.”

“Passenger?” Adrian echoed. “I thought we weren’t taking on passengers anymore.”

“She has persuaded me otherwise.”

Adrian began towards one of the doors set into the raised back section of the ship. She turned to follow him.

“One last matter,” the Captain said.

She turned back around to face him. “Yes?”

“Your name.”

The woman paused for a moment, as though not expecting the question. “Allaina,” she said. “Of the house Merith.”

The man glanced her over. “You’re a noble?”

“A minor one, yes.”

The man nodded, seemingly satisfied with her response.

Adrian led her down a flight of stairs and through a hallway that lay beneath the ship’s deck. Above them, small orbs of crystal set into the ceiling provided a weak imitation of daylight.

“This will be your cabin,” Adrian said, opening one of the doors that lined the hallway.

Beyond was a cramped space, no larger than two paces across and three long. In it was a thin cot and a small desk, which was currently folded up against one wall.

“It’s rather small,” she said.

Adrian shrugged. “There’s not much space on a ship.”

“Can I have a moment to unpack my things?”

“Certainly.” Adrian turned and left.

Allaina slung her back off her back and onto the desk.

She withdrew a small object from her cloak. It was a small rod of white metal with four blue stones set around its top. She opened her bag and waved the rod over it. The enchanted trinket activated and a circle of glowing runes appeared around its tip.

“So you’re our new passenger.”

Allaina jumped. She turned around swiftly, hiding her hand behind her back.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” the newcomer said. “I’m Maria,” she said, extending her hand. “I’m the first mate.”

Allaina slipped the rod into her back pocket and took Maria’s hand. “A pleasure,” she said cordially.

“The Captain says you’re a noble.”

Allaina nodded.

The woman was tall, nearly taller than the Captain, and had long hair the colour of the darkest night sky. She wore a loose-fitting linen shirt and a vest.

“Well, I hope you’re ready for some hard work,” she said. “We could use some help up top loading crates.”

“Alright.” Allaina fallowed Maria back out into the hall and up to the ship’s deck.

– –

The Captain watched as his new passenger descended below deck. He turned and walked up the stairs to the raised section of hull at the back of the ship, where his helmsman Stark stood by the wheel.

The helmsman was a half-wolf, a race of humanoid canines. His black fur stood out against the white walls of the city behind him, underneath a wide brimmed sailor’s hat.

“I take it you saw that?”

The helmsman nodded.

“Then you know what to do.”

Another nod, and their conversation was over. The Captain went back to watching the crowd around the ship ebb and flow.

A challenge, he thought. Yes, that’s exactly what you are.



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