Saloondrian Short Stories, by Blake Propach
Boon in the Plague Lands by Michael Kuroda
They fell out of the sky to an empty desert. No spectators watched their desires go up in flames. No crowds witnessed their wealth and pride vaporize upon the ground. Whatever dispute had led to their entanglement up in the air meant nothing to them now.
Before us stood two massive airships, one with its bow smashed straight through the hull of the other. Notably, they were smashed and half buried in the cracked earth of the Plague Lands, not floating far above as they were designed to be. Their sails were deflated, devoid of the magic that propels them. The mana-infused planks that composed the ships were missing their signature blue glow, the spells inactive now that the engines were destroyed. Millions of coin worth of vessels reduced to scraps and waste, forgotten by their owners safe in distant lands.
This would be the fourth haul job I’d worked. By far the largest score. Ships came down all the time, either by storms, attacks from bandits or beasts from below, or simply by flying too low and getting lost in the cursed air too close to the ground. For these lands are cursed, that much is certain. Cursed, untamed, sprawling and vast. And evil, I’ve no doubt of that. Accounts from those who travel by air, those who have seen the world beyond Saloondria, they claim the distance is short. One, two hundred miles at most to fly over the Plague Lands. From a certain height, you may nearly see both sides at once from somewhere in the middle.
But that’s only half of it. No man or woman has ever made it by foot out of Saloondria. Nor by steed, machine, or low flying vessel. By every account, the Plague Lands never end. Five, six, seven hundred miles, never seeing the same landmarks, knowing for certain you aren’t lost but remarkably clueless about where you are, a never-ending nightmare of beasts. This is the contradiction. The paradox. The Saloondrian curse. I’d never been in an airship, not one in the air. One day I’d maybe like to, or perhaps that would serve to ruin me. If the Plague Lands truly are only a hundred miles across, my boots would hardly be happy to learn it.
For our current haul, we’d traveled six days, nearly one hundred fifty miles, with an empty train of thirty wagons. It wouldn’t be enough to take what we wanted, but it would have to serve. No ship had ever been located twice. So we would take what we could, and the rest would belong to the desert.
I much preferred the desert. Sometimes ships would come down in the cursed forests, the swamps, or the volcanic marshes. Many of those we ignored, unless we were desperate for a haul. If a dragon or similar guardian chose to take argument with us while we were trapped in uncertain terrain, the whole caravan would have to be abandoned, and many of our crew would perish. I myself wore a protected hide of demonskin, likely to save me in such a situation. The indentured servants had no such wealth, so no such assurances. We chalked that up to the price of our trade.
Today there were no survivors found among the wreck. This news was brought to us by our initial scouts. Such was to be expected for a crash of this magnitude, what with such a violent origin. Many had probably died before the ships began to lose altitude, and for those who did survive the arial skirmish, the tumble would have been anything but smooth. These were flagships. Owned by merchant lords or princes, these types of ships flew far higher than simple trade vessels. Which incidentally meant they had farther to fall.
I can admire them from afar no longer. The first of our caravan have already reached the closest stern. If we are not quick to act, the best of their plunder will not be saved for us. I and my servants will fill my wagon to the brim, and our pockets and backpacks as well. Lord David will take his share, but the rest will be mine. This is all assuming of course we are not attacked on the long trek back to Barrelmouth, but those worries are for another day. Today is good. Today, we are rich.