The ship fell past the stars. The boat vibrated as the wind hurtled past it. The sails, long since furled, remained whole. Water fell in cascades around the vessel. Stars twinkled in the expanse all around them, lighting the boat with a gentle glow.
The captain’s cabin was a different matter. Oil had a hard time burning well in the free-fall. The candle had been glued to the table with melted wax, but even that seemed to flicker more than normal. Three adventurers and the captain tried to balance around the table.
The captain rubbed her eyes. “You adventurers promised you had a plan for our return.”
Matt nodded. “Aye. And we do. If we ever find bottom.”
The captain didn’t bother looking up. “Three days. We’ve fallen for three days. We think. By the turnings of the glass, it’s been three days. But the glass isn’t exactly keeping good time now, is it?” The map began floating off the table again. The captain stabbed it with a dagger to keep it down.
Talon floated in a cross-legged position. “At least the boat righted itself. Remember the first few hours when we were falling upside-down? I’ve never seen so many sailors sick at the same time.”
“Pray the sick doesn’t catch up with us if we ever slow down,” Matt muttered.
“You took us past the edge of creation!” the captain roared, her eyes dark. “My crew have been praying to every god they can think of, but we’re beyond their reach! There’s nothing left! Nothing but falling until we run out of water! Do you know what it is for a sailor to die at sea but not have a way to be buried?”
Alathea sighed as she unfolded from the corner in which she’d braced herself. “Captain, we’re not beyond my God’s reach. He goes beyond creation. When we catch up to those who have gone before, we’ll find what we need. And everyone will get home.”
The captain’s stony gaze didn’t waver. “Your God led us here.”
“Actually, no. Put the blame where it needs to be. That was all me. A plan to get back what was stolen. I wasn’t ‘called’ or any foolishness like that.” Alathea shrugged. “You took the money we paid you. You knew it was risky.”
“I didn’t expect three days of this madness.”
Alathea’s grin lit the room. “Isn’t it marvelous, to be surprised at this wonder?”
A cry came from outside the cabin. The captain shot to the door. “What’ve you seen?” she shouted across the deck.
A sailor leaned back in from the rail. “Something’s down there! We’re coming up on it fast!”
The captain and the three adventurers floated across the deck to the rail and leaned over the edge. Below a dark mass blotted out the stars. It grew larger. And larger.
“We need to slow down,” the captain hissed.
Talon pointed to the sails.
“If that worked, it’d just tear the masts out of the deck,” the captain answered.
The mass grew. Matt shouted, “Look! It’s a ring!” And indeed it was.
Alathea nodded. “Everything that’s ever fallen off the edge, in a great ring just beyond the edge of the world. Every ship that fell. Every animal. Every person. And every artifact. We’ll find it there.”
Talon cracked his knuckles. “Good. I’ll finally be useful.”
“You won’t loot those ships for anything but what we’re looking for,” Alathea warned.
Alathea eyed him. “This is the graveyard at the bottom of the world. Don’t disturb what we’re about to find.”
Talon smirked. “Course, you’re assuming we won’t all die when we crash into it.”
She shrugged. “Fair point.”
The boat shifted in the air. It slowed. The air seemed to thicken. The crew settled onto the deck. Talon lifted his arms. “Everything’s heavy!”
“Three days being light as air will do that,” Matt grumbled. He took a sword from the scabbards on his back and twirled it with some effort. “Hm. Remind me not to do that again.”
Alathea nodded. “Don’t do that again.”
She smirked. “Well, once we’ve landed on the graveyard… let’s go exploring. We have wonders to see!”
Another fifteen minutes of writing, but this time purposefully returning to Alathea, the hero of The Cheerful Paladin. I think we’ll return at least once more…
Thus continues The Graveyard at the Bottom of the World.