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May 14

Sunrise Over Infinity Part 2

Allaina lifted a crate and walked back across the gangplank. She handed the crate to Adrian, who brought it down through a hatch in the deck and into the cargo hold underneath.

Allaina walked back across the gangplank and lifted another crate. She must have doing this for at least an hour now, repeating the same set of motions over and over again. She went to turn around and give the crate to Adrian, but then she saw a speck of red and gold in the distance. She looked more closely and saw a group of soldiers moving through the crowd toward them.

Allaina froze stalk still. They hadn’t seen her yet, but they were getting closer. Worse, it looked like they were headed right for the ship.

Had the old man in the tavern told them about the Le-Pras? Were they coming for her?

“What’s wrong?”

Allaina turned and found Adrian standing behind her, a concerned look on his face.

Allaina thought quickly. She needed an excuse to get down underneath the deck, where the soldiers couldn’t see her.

“I’m feeling a bit lightheaded,” she said. She wiped the back of her hand over her brow, hoping Adrian wouldn’t notice that she wasn’t actually sweating. “I think it’s the heat.”

“You could take a break if you need one. I’m sure Gehard and I can handle this for a while.”

“I think that may be best,” Allaina said. She began towards the ship’s staircase.

“Dammed noble,” she heard Gehard mutter. “Can’t do a days work to save her life.”

Allaina stepped calmly into the stairwell, then hurried the rest of the way down the stairs. She went to her room and pressed her face against the porthole.

The soldiers were still walking towards the ship. One of them pointed towards it and then they all stopped, beside the stack of crates that still waited on the dock.

“What are you looking at?”

Allaina turned and found Adrian standing behind her, a pewter mug in his hand.

“Nothing,” she said quickly. She slowly moved so that she was in between Adrian and the window. “What’s in the mug?”

“It’s water,” he said, offering it to her. “I thought it might help.”

“Thanks.” Allaina took the mug and downed its contents.

“If you’re not feeling well, you should get Maria to take a look.”

“Why Maria?”

“She’s a life mage. She could heal you if something’s wrong.”

This wasn’t good. If Maria was a mage, then she could likely tell that nothing was actually wrong with her.

“No, I think I’m alright,” Allaina said.

“Are you sure?” Adrian asked. “You want to make sure you’re not coming down with something.”

“I’m sure.” She handed him back the mug. “The water helped a lot.”

“Good,” Adrian said. “I’ll be off then.”

Adrian lingered for a moment longer than was necessary, seemingly wanting to say something more.

“Is there something else?” Allaina asked.

Adrian went to say something, but then stopped. “No,” he said finally. “Nothing.” Adrian turned around and left the room without another word.

As soon as he was gone, Allaina returned to the porthole. The soldiers were still there, and now the Captain had joined them. One of them saw speaking, seemingly asking a question. The Captain pointed towards the ship, and one of the guards nodded. He said something to one of his companions, and then the group turned and walked back through the crowd.

She sighed in relief. If they had seen her, it would all be over.

– –

The rest of the day passed uneventfully. After Allaina ‘recovered,’ she helped Adrian and Gehard finish loading crates into the ship. Dinner was served after that, in the spacious room that served as the ship’s galley. The space was lines with portholes and filled with tables of various sizes. It looked like it was made to accommodate many more people than actually lived on the ship. Light from outside mingled with that from the crystal orbs set into the ceiling, rendering the space bright, but cris-crossed with thin shadows.

Dinner was pork, potatoes, grilled leeks and fruit with cream afterwards. Where all the food had come from, and how it had been prepared so expertly while on a ship, were both questions that were left unanswered by the end of the meal.

In the evening, they set sail for the Astral.

A strong wind propelled the ship away from Cail’s port and into the open ocean. Despite its small size, the Le-Pras moved with incredible swiftness, passing by numerous other ships that had set sail before it did.

The crew hurried about the ship, performing their various tasks in preparation for the crossing. Checking rigging. Tying and retying lines. Mopping the deck. Allaina felt out of place among them, lost amid the world of rigging and water. She found a quiet place by the ship’s bow and waited, the crew not needing her inexperienced hands for anything. There was a feel of ordered chaos to it all: that although Allaina didn’t understand what was going on, everyone else did perfectly.

She watched them as they worked. In particular she watched the Captain. He stood at the ship’s helm, watching over his crew. He was the eye of the storm. When she arrived on the ship, Allaina had thought it strange he went only by Captain, but after watching the man for a time, that seemed the least peculiar thing about him.

There was an air about him. Subtle but unmistakable. An authority that needed no assurance. An unnatural ease in the way he moved, as if the entire world belonged to him and it simply didn’t know it yet. The Captain pointed out a new direction to Stark, revealing a glint of the sword hidden beneath his black cloak.

Far above, the sky was lit up with ornate spirals of orange and red. The heavens seemed to be marking their transition with banners of rose fire and ochre ribbons. Strangely, the sky seemed closer than normal, more immediate.

Allaina shivered slightly as a cold breeze caught her. She returned her attention to the sky. This time she was certain it had grown nearer.

She propped herself up on the ship’s railing and watched as it seemed to move closer still.

“Disorienting, isn’t it.”

Allaina turned and found Adrian behind her, his frame a thin shadow against the sky.

“It’s like the sky’s getting closer,” she said.

“That’s because it is.”

“How is that possible?”

“Because the Astral lies beyond the sky, so you have to pass through the sky first to get there.” He met Allaina’s confused stare, “It’ll make sense when you see it.”

She returned her gaze to the sunset and its glistening reflection.

“It’s brilliant.”

“Yes.” He leaned against the railing. “Sunset crossings are always the best.”

“How many times have you done this?”

He shook his head, “Too many to count. I’ve been working for the Captain a long time.”

Allaina was silent as she traced her eyes across the encroaching canvas of colour.

“Adrian.”

“Yes?”

“I’m nervous.”

“About the crossing?”

She nodded.

“I know how that feels. I was terrified my first time. But there’s really nothing to worry about; it’s as natural as walking outside, except with a much better view.”

“Prepare to cross,” The Captain’s voice sounded behind them.

“I have to go,” Adrian said as he slipped away.

Allaina watched the rapidly approaching sky, now a vertical wall rising from the water’s surface. It neared until she thought she could reach out and touch it, when she realized she actually could.

Her fingertips passed effortlessly through it.

The tip of the ship’s bow plunged through the sky. Allaina found herself surrounded on all sides by a blanket of dark fog, so thick she couldn’t make out the deck below.

“Steady,” the Captain called, his voice muted by the oppressive vapor.

It was like passing through a dream, through an impossible world of clouds and shadows, only to emerge on the other side in waking life. To think that only hours ago she was waiting on a dock, and now she was sailing through the sky itself.

Allaina saw the cloud thin ahead and a strange darkness beyond. Without warning the fog cleared, sweeping back along the ship as if pulled by a strong wind. It formed a towering wall behind the ship, curving slightly to match the contours of the sky within.

She turned her gaze to her new surroundings and was struck breathless.

The sky above had been replaced by empty space. Sheer vastness surrounded her: impossible distances that staggered the mind’s eye. Beyond that, there was nothing but darkness. But the dark wasn’t empty. Amid the impossible space were strung brilliant clouds. Their colours made the streets of Cail she had just left seem dull by comparison. Drifts of brilliant sapphire, verdant emerald and burning ruby had replaced the clouds and sun. It was like they were flying through the night sky, only the night sky had never been this awe inspiring.

Allaina went to the edge of the ship and peered down. Her heart nearly stopped beating when she saw the ocean below them had disappeared. She found herself staring down into an empty infinity of blackness. Allaina braced herself for the ship to begin falling, then she realized it wasn’t. The ship was sailing forwards as though nothing had happened.

“How is this possible?” she muttered to herself.

“Because it’s the Astral,” Adrian said from behind her. “Impossible doesn’t mean much out here.”

“But . . . how?” was all she could think to say.

“Anything large enough will float in the Astral. Ships and islands float, people sink, it’s just the way things work.” The Captain called for him and Adrian ran back across the deck, leaving Allaina alone with the impossibility.

She tightened her grip on the railing and stole another glance down below the ship. There was nothing but open space as far as she could see, and darkness beyond that.

But she was there. She had made it to the Astral.

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