Thalc pulled his breather mask into place. He took a moment to make sure it fit correctly on his face. The mist was thick near the edge and even after all these years it still made him dizzy. Any more than two deep breaths and he’d have to pull back out of the clouds and he’d need an hour or so to recover enough for another attempt. Some said that fact alone was proof that someone had made these floating lands. The builders being gods, man, or something else depended on who was speaking. He had lost count over the years how many scholars and priests had been lost to the mists trying to find answers. What about the thick mists made the lands float? Why did the lands stay to their gentle migrations? Was there something below the mists? The answer to those questions were variation of people falling to their deaths. Whatever caused the mists held up islands of varying sizes, but didn’t extend to hapless idiots who fell over the edge.
He hooked the latch on his belt to the lead once his mask was secure. The rail extended below the edge of the island. It connected to another sturdy pipe he’d shimmy his feet along. Thalc hated this part of the job. His post was at the edge of the mist and he’d warn people that got too close. Most of the time his daily task was a simple redirection of travelers to one of the raised bridges nearby. Today was not one of those days. No, today he had to inspect the chains.
Years ago, no one knew how long exactly, someone had bound smaller islands together. The links were easily as thick as his chest. They said that a few hundred normal sized chains ran under the lengths of the bridges, but those were built when he was a boy. Somehow the islands stayed in a close enough migration that allowed them to be linked without ever touching. Scholarly types attributed that miracle to the mists too.
Thalc checked his harness as he neared the edge. This was the worst part. He didn’t know why it even had to be done. Someone alone the way had decided the chains needed to be regularly inspected. Toss it to the mists that no one knew how they were built, or how to fix them if something went wrong.
He put his back to the edge of the island as he slipped down flat onto the ground. Slowly he shimmied back into the mist. For an eternity his booted feet hung out into nothingness. This was how his nightmares started. His feet dangling into the mist, the harness pulled taught, and then he’d fall. Luckily, this wasn’t his nightmares. His feet found the jagged edge of the island as the tether pulled taught. He leaned back, gripped the rail, and began his descent into the mist.
After this excursion to the chain he’d have forty days before it had to be repeated. That was unless someone complained. Some cloudborn noble inland would send it down the line that they wanted the chain inspected. The rainy season was the worst of it. A little hard thunder and people who had never even seen the edge thought the chains were shaking.
The tether clinked against the first joint. Thalc latched his secondary line onto the rail, swapped his main down to the new section, and continued his descent. For some reason once he was over the edge he didn’t mind the mist as much. It wasn’t something he wanted to to dwell on. Maybe it was because on the edge he could still see the land while down here it was just the mist. If he fell it wouldn’t be much different than the climb. The mask helped him see through the mist. It gave the world an amber tint and cycled his breath through two chambers.
He feet found the bar at the end of the tether. His hands moved in practiced motions to change the lines over. The progress along the bar was something of a dance. Step, step, pull, latch, and repeat. Tap, tap, brrip, click. Tap, tap, brrip, click. He found the little rhythm had worked into the small moments of his day. Tap, tap, brreng, clank.
Thalc looked down at the line. The lead had pulled away from the island. So much so that it curled back toward him and ended in the mist. He clipped his tether back to the secured section and pulled himself tight against the island. His heart thundered in his chest as he looked for any sign as to what could have done this. There weren’t any claw marks, which meant harpies and cliff birds were out. That was a small blessing. A harpy strong enough to pull the line would have had him for breakfast before he’d be able to scream.
He inched his way closer to get a better look at the ground where the bar had once been. Something big had scrapped along. It had to be a ship. Hopefully one set to drift. A ghost ship in the mists. It happened. Those hit by pirates, bad weather, or fallen to the beasts of the mists were left to drift in the mists until they were smashed to bits or pulled for salvage.
Thalc didn’t want to think about the other option, which of course meant that was where his mind went. He began his slow climb back up to the ledge. Smugglers weren’t uncommon. They’d fly in the thicker parts of the mist to avoid detection. He wasn’t against smugglers. Pirates on the other hand. Some said the mists drove them crazy. They said that their ships would simply appear. Death, pain, and terror was the only thing they traded.
He pulled himself over the edge, unhooked his tethers, and rushed out of the mist. His legs wobbled after a few steps. Thalc made it to his his guard shack. He shut the thick door tight, locked it, and slid down to the floor. Once his heartbeat returned to normal he realized his job was not yet complete. He carefully removed the clutter from around the signal light and tapped out a message. The message was brief. He stuck to the facts.
Inspection incomplete. Rail damaged. Signs point to crash. Thalc.
He looked inland and waited for someone to answer. Hopefully someone on the other side knew what to do.