The air ship was secured from four separate lines that snaked towards stakes in the ground. The sails billowed with a cold wind that curled down from the mountain pass and mixed with the suffocating heat of the Sea of Sands. Ahead, the rolling hills of sand, were presently still. The dunes, reminded Theros of waves frozen in place, cresting for miles around, but never breaking. It was a beautiful landscape, if not dangerous and treacherous. Lonely. With a cold air at their backs, and a sinister sun heating the sands in front of them endlessly to the horizon, the trio loaded their gear and got to know their traveling companions as best they thought wise.
Careful to use the stories they had discussed with Lord Malcolm, they loaded their crates of goods. Then, they made their way to inspect the galley where their bunks were. It wasn’t the best accommodation for a couple of weeks, but it wasn’t the worst. They were simple merchants now, with iron weapon molds in tow. And this crossing was all important. The Madin would barter handsomely for their wares no doubt. They hoped to become rich. A universally held hope among the passengers and crew alike.
The other travelers were made of similar groups. The crew was composed mostly of halves. A hearty group, that seemed as rough skinned and formidable as the sands themselves, and their captain. Minotaurs from the Crown Isles, several faun and a kenku from the outer wilds. Even a tabaxi. The captain was a rough and tumble Orstman named Gor’elch. His first mate, a kenku named Scoot. What an Orstman was doing sailing the sands instead of the waters on the other side of the realm, was beyond anyone else. What wasn’t crew, were merchants, and those that weren’t merchants made sure to be merchants. Theros was the eldest of the trio, and the most knowledgeable of how the citizenry worked. It was obvious to him that some of those on “board” were masquerading as merchants, but he still sensed the same thing from all. Everyone here was seeking fortune. This was real adventuring, out of the realm, into the unknown. It was a big risk, with a big reward for all involved. Simple objects loaded in large cargo bins for trade, would bring back goods that Celns would pay for, three-fold, maybe more. The talk was thick of what would make the travelers rich.
“The Ala-madin have a saying,” said the Captain later when all had mustered for the send off. The Lord Malcolm stood upon the battlements of the fort, there officially in some measure. Wares were loaded, and the dawn approached. Traveling in the sands always was by day. He spoke forcefully and clearly. Everyone knew it was a dangerous journey, either way they traveled. All listened while the wind swirled around them. “Movement is life. I will say it once more. Movement is life. We move, we live. We become stranded, we die.”
“We are traveling by element ship, the same as used by the Ala-madin masters,” said the Captain. He held aloft a canister. “Anyone found near this canister, touching this canister is put to death. Period. This canister is our life on the sands. Without a wind, or too little, too much, we die. We expect to arrive in Almagesh in 10 nights. Once there, as you have all been briefed, you will be on your own. The Madin do not observe our laws, our ways. Their Light is separate from ours. The ship’s schedule will be posted for the return voyage. Should you wish to store goods aboard while we harbor please speak with the First Mate once we are underway. This is my nineteenth journey to Almagesh. I intend to make it another one that is both profitable, and enjoyable. The Sands are deadly, but they are also beautiful. Enjoy your time aboard. Observe what your officers tell you. That is all.”
The officers took their positions. The Captain at the wheel, his first mate Scoot inserted the elemental canister. “All hands, prepare for sail!” Scoot screeched a bit when it happened, and his feathered wings unfurled sending him up into the air. Clearly, this chore was not something he looked forward to. The sails filled immediately, and another screech that came from all around them echoed across the deck. This one though was long and drawn out, as if in the background like a musical instrument during a ballad. It was as if the wind around them had come alive. The ship pulled at it’s mooring and was cut away.
And just like that, the great skiffs began to budge. Little by little they moved until they slid out completely and the ship launched out as if it had come alive. They were off into the sands at last. All stood aboard the top deck and felt the wind, felt the ship move up and down the dunes, as though it were traveling upon the sea. It took only minutes for the coolness of the mountain air to fade away. The heat from the sands was already impressive. Like a furnace that had been opened, it was omnipresent.
“Is is always like this?” asked Gerrell. He was used to heat, but a very different kind than this. His skin he knew would burn in all this light. It wouldn’t take long, and he’d be done for. But it wouldn’t be pleasant. He knew, he’d suffer terribly. Ever since he had arrived at the surface, he felt like a fish out of water. Uncomfortable, unsafe. Now, this feeling grew far worse. It was like being a fish out of water, in the middle of the desert. The great round sphere of heat and sinister light. He was carefully covered head to toe in dark shrouds, like the Madin that were aboard. But it would be a long voyage.
“Just until we arrive back to Lessina, my friend,” said Theros.
The ship sailed on through the day, the crew lively with talk of adventure. As the sun dipped nearer to the horizon, the captain signaled for all hands once more. It was essential to find a safe harbor for the night. And that meant thinking very hard about where the ship would be. The captain was right, movement was life in the sands, but not at night. At night, one hunkered down, and did not draw attention to themselves.
Or else one became lost to the sea, and was never seen again.
Later that night, after the ship was carefully moored, the tents were carefully arranged for officers, and enlisted crew as well. The passengers, most of whom chose to sleep upon the sand set up their tents nearby as well. Magical charms were placed around the perimeter of the ship, illusions and cantrips of a sort that blocked noise, and sound. This allowed the travelers their conversations and a fire. It made all happy, and that was as important as any other ingredient of a successful crossing. Except maybe for water.
And the ship’s canister.