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The town of Vérité-et-Soin crowded the cliff face overlooking the froth of 'le sous-ciel'—that impossible expanse of roiling cloud formations, rising like mountain ranges into the pale blue heavens; the waterless immensity bathed in shades of pink, purple, and orange, extending as far as the eye could discern until it became a haze of complex, subtly-shifting nebulae, at which the mind utterly failed. And then, of course, there was the mossy and forested coastline of Chartry, stubbornly jutting forth from the fantastical vision. It was like a world in which the positions of sea and sky had swapped—the latter cloudy, drenched in the light of dusk—but no one had bothered to inform the landscape of the change. Stupidly, Nigel leaned out over the airship railing and focused on the darker billows of cloudscape below. He could swear that great monstrous silhouettes glided in the deep, shadowing A Fool's Errand, preparing to launch themselves up through the thinner wisps and scuttle the airship right before the harbor.

All of it gave Nigel an intense kind of inverted vertigo. He had a childhood recollection of being back in the Datum in Hyde Park, lying on his back and grabbing at the grass with his fingers to prevent himself from falling away from the world. He reeled back from the railing and fought the urge to vomit, much to Simon's delight. "It's just the lower heavens, Earth boy," said he, matter-of-factly.

"It's been a week..." Nigel breathed, "I should be used to it by now."

"For what it's worth, I've never gotten used to oceans myself. I'd sooner accompany a balloonist on an impromptu drift through the Dregs than go on a leisure cruise across your Atlantic."

Vérité-et-Soin was an awkward cluster of squat buildings fanning up and out from the elevated cement-mounted receptacles of the port. A stream of meltwater ran outside the cluster, slivery and clear, cascading and vanishing off the precipice into a mist mingling with the billowing clouds. Young people gathered and dispersed to glimpse the UN-chartered airship coasting into the harbor. Streams of purple sparked from open workshops, and high above all the little terraced houses rose the enormous mast of a wireless tower, the tip flashing a dull red warning light.

In the shadow of A Fool's Errand's frame, Nigel asked, "Why do people even live here?"

Simon feigned injury as he replied, "Well, why do people live anywhere?" Then, sweepingly, Simon directed Nigel's vision to a broad stretch of the slopping cliff side extending out from the township dominated by regular, furrowed growths. He continued, "In seriousness, they grow grapes here, and..." Simon's eyes surveyed the coast, then, shifting his index higher, added, "If I'm not mistaken, that little stream of smoke beyond is a forge or mill. Probably public property, through the local community council."

Nigel groaned, "Ugh, damn Bookchinites," as he touched off a fresh cigarette; his eyes averted upward and traced the lines of A Fool's Errand's frame.

In another language, Simon sputtered, seemingly cursing gutterally, before saying, "Frankly, I'm offended you'd lump us in with their lot! The 'libertines' make a mockery of municipal principles—they treat their communities like they've been incorporated."

Changing topic, Nigel blew a cloud of smoke. "So, if we find this Yousef, say the locals have taken a liking to him, yeah. How do we keep them from feeding us to the atmospheric beasts?"

Simon drew his sidearm from his coat and inspected the frame before stowing it. "Ahh... a few 'choice words' is the best I've got so far."


Another little worlda, this one from April 30, 2022! An homage to an excellent map :icondain-siegfried: released half a decade ago, please go and have a gander! It's still a personal favorite:
The Firmament by Dain-Siegfried
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Dain-Siegfried's avatar

'half a decade ago', way to make me feel old! This is lovely.