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It's a Long Way Down · Original Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Caelum Incognita

It was eight bells of the dog watch when we fell off the edge of the world. I remember it because the watchman had to practically bellow over the roar of the roar of the water. The waves had been rough ever since we’d entered the stormwall, but the tempest outside was reaching a new level, and I stumbled out of my hammock in a daze, cursing as I barked my shin on a crate. My cabin was hardly in a fit state after my porter had fled to join the simpering islanders at the last archipelago.

The ship lurched again. These seas were undoubtedly rougher now that we had passed the last of the known islands and into the shrouding mist that marked truly uncharted waters. At least my charged attractors were still keeping the lighting strikes at bay, as evinced that we still floated. I stepped over the bottle rolling back and forth on the floor and pulled the door open, letting in a slightly fresher curl of air into my small cabin.

The watchman was louder now, but his voice had risen in pitch, and I could no longer make out his words. I shrugged into my anorak, swept my journal into one of the pockets, and prepared to set the matter to rest.

That was when the ship gave a titanic heave and titled to the side, throwing me back into my hammock. The floor kept tilting and tilting and the sound outside grew into an all-encompassing roar. A cry escaped my lips as the wall became the floor as the ship leaned beyond all imagining and my heart was hammering in my chest as the lurch turned into a slide and then the room twisted to the side like we were a leaf in a gale. I felt lightheaded as a sickening acceleration gripped us and my stomach turned somersaults while the contents of my room began battering themselves to pieces around me.

I roared my defiance at the storm while at the same time gripping my hammock tightly, bracing myself for an impact. None came. The sickening sensation of plummeting remained, but the tumbling of the ship slowed and then stopped.

After an interminable delay, I wrestled my way out of my hammock and steadied myself against the wall, trying to accustom myself to the feeling. My stomach keened and it was like I was made of cloth and balsa instead of meat and bone. From the reset of the ship I could hear pandemonium, and I gritted my teeth and ventured a step.

The lightness of my stomach was matched by the lightness in my limbs as I lurched across the room. The grasp of the earth feeling a third, a quarter of what it should have been. In careful motions I made my way to the corridor. Doors hung askew and debris piled in the corners, but I didn't see any crewmen as I made my way to the upper deck. As I approached the hatch, a new noise grew above the confused shouts of the crew, a howling roar, like we were being consumed by a tornado.

I tied the storm line off to my jacket and braced myself on the railing before finally swinging the hatch open. The noise redoubled the instant I did, and though there were no tornadoes, the frenzy of frothing air and water around us seemed like a close cousin.

Fallen masts and tangled lines littered the decks, but it was just a small fraction of the damage to the rigging. The bulk of it hung in the air like a giant’s kite - broken spars suspended by taut fabric but stilled tied to the ship by lines that thrummed in the uprushing tempest.

This was no sea gale, however. Instead of below, the sea was around us, suspended in braided, frothing rivulets that crept down just past our stern, while on all other sides the clouds streaked up from the shadowed depths faster than the swiftest greyhound.

On deck the crew scurried like an upturned anthill, at least those that weren't frozen in shock. Captain Grayson bellowed orders, his voice cutting through even the howling wind, though I couldn't help but wonder what he hoped to accomplish by it.

I picked my way over to the poop deck where the captain regarded me steadily, the only hint of any emotion in the tightness of his jaw.

"Master Davis. It seems that your experiment has killed us all after all."

Never one to mince words, him. "We're not dead yet."

"Oh? Is your plan for getting us out of this mess less madcap than the one that got us into it?"

I took a swift look around the mess of the deck. Most of the crew was involved in various tasks, but a few looked at us, expectantly. "Well, there has been some talk in the Academy lately of flying machines."

"Has there? And what would they say to do in a case such as ours?"

"Well, lighter than air flight is quite promising, if you have an envelope. We have the sails, but they're not big enough, and you'd need a prodigious source of heat. Heavier than air flight requires fewer materials, but is still barely making steps outside of the laboratory."

"Well, we may not have a laboratory, but I don't think you'll ever find a more motivated set of workers."

I did my best to guide them, passing along my half-remembered pieces of treatises on birds wings. They had a hard time following the idea until I worked with the carpenter to rough together a smaller scale model as an example. Minutes ticked by and the forms took shape. Even to the uninformed, they looked hideous - half-broken spars lashed together with webbing and wrapped in sailcloth.

"Captain. This isn't likely to work, you know," I spoke as quietly as possible while still being audible above the incessant wind.

"What of it? I was already a dead man before the voyage. Who else would venture into the stormwall? At least this will be interesting. And the work keeps the crew focused."

I nodded as the last wrappings were tied off and Captain Grayson gave the order to extend them. A dozen men on each heaved on the timbers, and I watched the ropes strain to hold them in place against the tempest. One man misjudged his motions in the lightened state and stumbled over the rail, and I watched in horror as his lines gave way and he tumbled over the edge.

He fell away into the mist below, the clouds swallowing him with unnatural slowness, and I watched, mesmerized until he last vanished, his cries ripped away by the wind. Only then did I look back at the wing where the remaining crewmembers had somehow managed to stabilize it.

The fabric strained against our crude skeleton, but the carpenter knew his work and it held. I swayed as I felt my own weight pressing more heavily upon me. The wings creaked and groaned as the spars bent under the strain, and the ship tilted forward to where the wind was at an angle - not only blowing from below, but now also from the bow. Still mostly below, as we continued to plunge through the perpetual clouds.

The captain watched the trim of the ship with a wary eye, bellowing orders for the crew shift cargo from side to side to level out the roll.

When at last he seemed satisfied, he turned and addressed me in a quieter tone of voice. "Master Davis, have you any other schemes to keep us aloft?"

I grimaced. "Not with the materials at hand. We're still descending quite rapidly."

"Falling like a whore's breeches, you mean. We'll smash into splinters at the bottom."

"Assuming there is one," I said glancing out at the rail. The clouds still raced by madly, but something seemed different about them, though I couldn't quite put my finger on it. "Which I suppose we will be the ones to find out."

"Aye." The captain peered out over the expanse of decking. "At least those wings are pulling us away from the falling water. The roil at the bottom of the waterfall is the most dangerous part. This much falling water, and you'd never see daylight after it pulled you under."

I nodded, deciding not to detail some of the Academy's experiments regarding the elasticity of water at speed. "Though I wonder that anyone down here even sees daylight, after all that cloud. Though, now that you mention it..."

I trailed off, looking around. It did seem lighter, and the light seemed to have a more ruddy character. I moved to the railing and looked down.

Captain Davis did as well. "God's tempest, it's like we're falling into the fire."

I don't know if I would have said it in those terms, but it was certainly brighter down there. My hands gripped the rail until the knuckles were white as the clouds around us brightened until they were almost painful to look at before abruptly vanishing.

I let out an involuntary gasp at the sudden panorama. Ahead of us lay the sun, but it was low, absurdly low - about fifteen degrees below even our downward-pointed bow. It was a rusty amber color and seemed diminished, as if the fires within had been banked. It was still warm and painful to look at, though, with its rays reaching out and playing out over the clouds above us, making them almost look like plumes of fire. The sky around it was neither the blue of day nor the fires of sunset, but instead the coruscating tapestry of night. I took in the sight agog, trying to work out the mechanics of the situation. It wouldn’t make sense for it to be dimmer, but perhaps it was now closer to us as we approached the inward-curving bottom of the celestial sphere. Or perhaps the colors were a result of the upper hemisphere of crystal responding differently to the sun’s rays.

My hands clenched into fists. It was maddening to have such a momentous insight with no way to test or share it, and I turned my gaze off to the side. I could see further here, where fingers of rock leaned out above the stars at obscene angles as they reached up the invisible, crystalline curve. They spires of rock glowed red in the hues of the dying sun, but were lit from below as well.

"Is that lava?" Captain Davis mused.

"At the foot of the mountains? It sure looks like it."

We weren’t the only ones to notice, as a cry of "We're falling into hell!" went up among some of the crew.

"None of that now!" the Captain barked, turning from the rail and moving to address the crew. "We've all cheated death before. We'll just be doing things more personally, this time."

I couldn't help but laugh at the quip and left him to deal with the crew as I looked at the land below with a more hopeful eye. There wasn’t just a pool of lava down there. A crescent strip of darkness lay between the curtain of falling water and the ocean of glowing rock. Water, I presumed - the deluge had to go somewhere, and the gouts of steam that rose up at the edge of the lava were a strong clue. Already the air was beginning to feel thicker and warmer. I regarded the unknown inky strip with narrowed eyes - even if we survived the landing, being caught in a flood that ends in a sea of lava was hardly ideal. We’d have to either make it to the mountains at the far edge of the lava or pray that we could somehow find patches of land in the shadows below.

A glance behind us offered no solutions. We’d put enough distance between ourselves and the falling sea that the frothing stream looked more like a curtain of molten bronze. The likeness was strengthened by patches that glowed redder than others, and through some gaps in the stream, I saw glowing fissures that bled yet more gouts of crimson lava.

The crew seemed to have calmed somewhat by the time I finished appraising the situation, and Captain Davis looked askance at me as I pulled him aside. “We need to get to the far side of that lava sea, but we’re falling too quickly.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “You have some better idea than before, then?”

I grimaced. “It’s not new so much as taking what we’ve already done more seriously. We need more wings - bigger wings if possible. Use any scraps of wood or fabric we can get our hands on.” An idea struck me. “And lighten the ship as much as we can.”

Captain Davis turned and began bellowing orders. The crew hopped to obey, and soon a second set of frames began to take shape as debris rained overboard. I winced, but bit my tongue as I spotted some of my own experiments and apparatus among them. Elsewhere tarping, spare sails, and even the Captain’s bedlinens were being repurposed as a cover. But while the crew still seemed to bustling about, something felt off - like there was a new edge to their mood, now that they could see the world around us. A few had doffed their shirts and cans of paint were being used to daub signs on their body instead of being tossed overboard.

I pointed them out to the captain, and he looked at them sourly, but shook his head. “Traditional island superstitions. Leave them be.”

I shrugged and turned back to helping guide the construction of the next set of wings. Although the materials were worse, the crew had learned from building the first set, and I was cautiously optimistic as they were lashed into place. Again I felt the Earth increase her grip, and the wind from the bow strengthened. I stared out ahead at the rock spires at the far edge of the lava. Would we make it? The boat was performing better than before, but I was still far from certain.

"Above!" someone cried, and I turned to scan the heavens as the the crew suddenly erupted into noise and motion. Figures winged towards us from behind, the amber light making them look like gilded statues come to life. But as they approached and circled the ship, it was clear that these were no angels. The captain was speaking in loud tones, but I tuned him out to stare up at the curious beings.

Their wings were stooped to keep up with us, and their resemblance to birds didn’t end there. Though they had human arms, their feet ended in talons and their features were of a more avian cast. They didn’t have beaks, but as they came closer, I could hear them squawk to each other in harsh, birdlike tones.

I glanced back at the ship and almost did a double take to see the majority of the crew now shirtless and slathering on the paint. I moved to inquire further, but a pair of scowling crewmen barred my way. I looked past them to where Captain Davis stared back, looking like he’d aged years in the last few minutes. “They won’t let you join,” he said.

I opened my mouth to inquire what he meant, but that was quickly obvious as a pair of the birdmen reached down and grabbed one of the painted crewmen, bearing him up and away as I stared, stunned.

“You’re the one that got us into this voyage,” he continued. “They say you’re forbidden, and I haven’t been able to convince them otherwise.” He bit his lip. “I’ll tell your family if I can.”

With those words one of the crewmen pulled him back into the throng, and a few minutes later I saw him plucked from the deck. One by one the rest of the crew followed, until the last one pointedly threw the bucket of paint overboard before being lifted away.

Then the birdmen descended one last time. I thought they might be granting me reprieve, but instead they turned upon the wings, gouging and tearing with their talons until the fabric ripped away in long streamers. The ship began to twist and plunge faster as the wind finished the job and soon we were plummeting almost as quickly as we first had .

My hands clenched into fists as I stared up at the figures dwindling behind us, being borne away with powerful wingbeats towards a cleft in the torrent of water and presumably the central spire of earth beyond.

I wondered briefly if they’d ever somehow make it up to the surface again, but shook my head and turned away, my heart beating a mile a minute as I searched for anything that might yet help me. My eyes fell upon the models we’d used to build the wings off of, and I felt a sudden surge of energy. With a little work I soon had them lashed to the remnants of my pack, as well as fashioning a rudimentary tail and lashing it to my legs.

It might not work, but what better choice did I have? Heart in my throat, I leapt overboard.

Miraculously, the wings caught the air and my fall turned into a dive, the ship quickly dwindling beneath me. I soon found I could alter my flight by shifting my weight side to side, and made a small circle. I quickly spotted my former crewmates, but there was no way to follow them without being able to gain altitude, and the last thing I wanted was for those birdmen to savage my wings again.

I turned back towards the rim mountains. If nothing else, I wouldn’t be landing in the water, and even better, I’d be able to get a look at the celestial spheres up close. Then, in the valley directly beneath the sun, I saw a glint of light. Civilization? There was no way to tell, but I figured that I might as well find out.

I risked a glance behind me to try and catch a glimpse of the ship. There was a flash like the streak of a meteor before it vanished as it passed into shadow. I didn’t see it land, but minutes later, I heard a tremendous bang, like the muffled retort of a distant cannon.

The rim mountains beckoned and I adjusted my balance so that my course was steady. I saw another glint of light and a smile grew on my face. One way or another, I was finally getting somewhere, and I found the experience of actually flying instead of crashing to be much more agreeable. Though crude, my wings responded to the motions i made, and though the wind buffeted my face it was much more pleasant than the shrieking the entire ship had made. The air around me was getting warmer and warmer, but it also seemed to be buoying me up.

Ahead the sun sank balefully towards the same cleft and my eyes watered as I tried to make out detail. It was still bright but it seemed closer, which was impossible, as it seemed smaller as well. Of course the sun could not possibly go out, so some other phenomenon must be at work. With luck, I would find some clue when I landed.

I was approaching the shore of the lava, so I began to look for somewhere to set down. The expanse of stone rose quickly - black rock, bare of any vegetation, and the back of my mind worried what I might do for food and drink without the ship’s supplies. That wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t survive the landing, though.

Scanning the ground for the source of the glow I’d seen earlier, my eyes widened as I made out regular, rectangular shapes at the top of the mountain saddle. Had I finally found civilization?

It was hard to tell. The sun was lower than ever, seeming to hover just above the roofs of the houses. Yet the orb before us was now only eye-squintingly bright, and its hue had approached the embers of a dying campfire, making the buildings and the black stone of the mountains around it appear bathed in blood.

I strained my eyes and began to make out details as I closed the distance. Most of the buildings were unremarkable, but at the far end of the village was a raised, circular dais that looked to be about as big as the ship. And there, between the mountain and the edge of the village was a patch of ground that seemed relatively flat.

I’d only get one chance at this, so I angled towards it carefully before leaning back at the last minute, to pull up the way I remembered birds doing. I hit the ground - hard, which immediately turned into a tumble as I slewed sideways among the snapping of wood and ripping of fabric until, after a couple dozen feet, I finally came to rest. Stars flashed before my eyes as I lay there, trying to catalog my various bodily insults. I had a half dozen superficial cuts and several of what I was sure would be deep bruises, but no broken bones, so far as I could tell. I lay there in the stillness for long moments, listening for any response, but there was no cry of alarm.

Finally I sat up. My head swam for a moment, but steadied, and I gained my feet. The nearest building was only a few yards away, and I made my way in a shambling stumble. There were windows, but no glass, and a glance inside reminded me nothing so much as a peasant's cottage. The next building over was much the same, except the inhabitant looked like a weaver. Both seemed deserted. My mind went to the one unique point of interest I’d seen, and I began to make my way towards the dais.

Several buildings down, I peered around the edge of a building to see, as I suspected, all the villages clustered around it, staring up at the descending sun.

I frowned as I saw that they were more of the birdmen, but did my best to keep my temper in check. They might have been from a different tribe, as the markings on their wings looked different. The plumage had a wide variety of color as well. While some birdmen were dusky grey with blue streaks, others were tan, yellow, or even red. I needed more context to hope to make any sort of sense of it. My gaze followed theirs up to the sun and my breath went short at the same time as my veins filled with fire.

From here it was clearly foreshortened - a disc, rather than the hypothesized sphere. This threw all of our scientific theories in complete disarray, and I watched aghast as it continued to approach, passing through the celestial wall as if it didn’t exist and drifting close enough that it seemed like the tips would brush up against the mountainsides above.

Even as it closed on us, however, its fire seemed to dim, and in a matter of moments I could start to see details that made my hair stand on end. There was a 'petal' nature to it, as the face of the disk branching into giant strands of seeming fire that luffed back and forth gently as the whole thing approached the ground. As I watched the giant, sweeping, plumes of flame seemed to gutter out, their ephemeral fire fading to reveal a birdman, but one who floated in the air, his wings held motionless to his sides, the feathers all splayed out and displaying his brilliant ruby plumage.

Without further ceremony the sun-birdman dropped the last few feet to land at the very center of the dias, and the villagers all bowed as one. I noticed something then - while most of the birdmen’s feathers were variations of earth or normal bird tones, there were a few other birdmen with the same crimson tones to their feathers as the sun-birdman.

One such red plumed birdman was the first to rise and made his way to the newly landed sun-birdman. I wondered if the greeter was perhaps the village elder, as his posture was stooped and he moved gingerly. He squawked briefly before bowing to the sun-birdman and touching foreheads, before stepping back.

Now another group of birdmen approached, though I had a moment's pause as I beheld their burden. Perhaps they were not exactly bird men, as each of the four bore an egg cradled in their arms. They stood before the former sun, who looked back and forth between them and spent long moments touching each egg, even laying an ear to some. Finally at some unknown sign he chose one, laying his forehead against it.

The three not chosen backed away as the rest of the villagers moved forward to cluster tightly around the sun-birdman, his wings splayed widely once more. At some unseen signal they all moved backward and the sun-birdman gave an earsplitting scream as they each took with them one of his crimson primaries, leaving his wings ragged and bare.

The villagers turned solemnly and planted the plumes around the edge of the circle, where they continued to give off a gentle red glow. Those broken or tattered were cast aside, making a small pile. The other red-plumed birdmen plucked a few of their own feathers to fill the gaps, their glow was no dimmer. While this was all going on, the egg had been set at the center of the dias, and with all the plumes in place it now almost seemed to shine with an inner light. Even from here I could feel a gentle warmth on my face.

With that it seemed like the ceremony had ended. A knot of villagers followed the sun-birdman out, with the rest soon trickling out - the one who had held the egg last of all. Without the sun, the village was wreathed in darkness and seemed dead. They didn't even bother to set sentries that I could see.

I cautiously moved towards the dais, stopping first at the pile where the broken plumes lay. Hovering my hand over the pile for just a moment, I had to snatch it away as it felt like I’d thrust it into a bonfire. One had worked loose, however, and on impulse my fingers darted out to nudge it, a shiver running down my back at the thought that I was touching a part of the sun itself - or at least today’s sun.

I got more than a shiver when my finger made contact - it was like the one time I’d had my hand on the lightning attractor cable when a bolt struck it, though confined to one finger. Sucking on my wounded digit, I wondered just how long the heat would last.

With still no reaction from the village, I crept onto the dais and began making my way to the center. The heat was strong and grew with every step, and it didn’t just come from the feathers ringing the edge. By the time I was a dozen steps from it I was sweating heavily, but my scientific drive compelled me onward. There, in the center was the egg, seeming almost translucent. And within its the shell was an incandescent pinpoint that seemed to pulse and move with its own vitality.

I took several steps back from the edge, relishing in a cool breeze that was beginning to roll down the side of the mountains. I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out my journal. I’d seen so much of such importance these last few hours. Things that the world had to know, and here was a prodigious heat source. Enough to lift a man, perhaps. And hadn’t I seen several bolts of fabric back in one of the huts?

I took a deep breath. There had been four eggs - couldn't they choose another? And it’d only be fitting after what the birdmen had done to the wings of the ship - the way they left me to die.

My face twisted into a frown. But then, these didn’t seem to be the same tribe as the ones that my crew had abandoned me with. And whatever was in the egg certainly couldn’t be held responsible for whatever had happened. There was that pile of broken feathers - if the heat held, it might be enough to loft something light, perhaps. But who would believe such a tale?

I looked back and forth between the journal and the egg, my heart heavy.
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#1 · 3
· · >>Fenton
Gonna start my reviewing by going off-slate to the story without any feedback.

This is, on the whole, an engaging fantasy travelogue. The first scene did an excellent job of setting the hook, with vivid descriptions and a very showy approach to the immediate plot dilemma of the sailing-off-the-edge-of-the-world thing. The story as a whole felt vivid and descriptive, which was a major strength, although I feel like that there were sections later on which didn't quite cohere as I tried to imagine them.

The main weakness here was … a sort of sensation, I guess, that it was being made up as it went along, which progressively shook my suspension of disbelief. I'm willing to spot it the impromptu invention of winged flight, especially with the hints of a steampunk-esque background that we get, but other parts made no sense in the context of the existing story. I'm thinking especially of the flock of birds who swoop down to save the crew — the fact that they paint themselves to signal the birds means that they know the birds exist, and yet instead of mentioning them as a potential solution for "we're all gonna die", everyone blindly panics right until they appear and then calmly bails. If the sailors have some sort of pre-existing pact with these birds that allows them to get home (as the captain calmly implies), then how come more isn't known of the world over the edge? Why doesn't someone just ride the damn birds down to figure out what's out there?

Similarly, what's the actual cosmology here? The birds who live in the "hell" village send a single bird to swoop around "the world" once per day, and that explains the sun, but now you have the lava world underneath "the world" onto which all of "the world's" oceans fall. What's under the lava world? Where does its liquids go when they reach the edge? Why does gravity pull that way? You don't necessarily have to answer all those questions, especially in a magical-realism sort of story, but I'm getting uncomfortable because this is starting to feel like a literal turtles-all-the-way-down scenario.

I'm really not a fan of the ending, unfortunately. Part of the problem is that, in a story explicitly told in first-person past-tense narration, the implication all along is that we are reading a journal, or at least a retrospective — and so it kind of deflates the question of whether he chose the journal or the egg. And part of the problem is that it feels Writeoff-hasty ("Deadline's here, I need an ending"). But mostly it doesn't feel like it reflects the overall theme of the piece and the earlier implications about the narrator. We're being handed a moral dilemma with very little setup, and no earlier indication that the narrator even feels strongly enough about the question to make it a dilemma. (This dovetails with my earlier grumping about the birds that save the sailors: why is he so adamant that these are important world-changing discoveries if people who have been over the edge are demonstrably already headed home?)

I think there's a lot of potential here, but it's so ambitious that it feels like it's colliding with itself in trying to meet all its goals. The good news is that the core idea engaged me like it needed to. Editing will definitely smooth this out, especially if you focus on resolving the story's internal contradictions.

Tier: Almost There
#2 ·
Why? Why do I have so many complex fics in my slate? Can't you just write about silly, common and plain things?

So, in order to not just say "I agree with horizon, here, review done," I'll try to address as many points as I can that he didn't address.

The beginning is engaging and vivid. I got caught by the story and followed with a bit of confusion (and I think it was on purpose) what was happening to the protagonist. About that, I got the feeling that there were many places where a comma would have been required. Example:
A cry escaped my lips as the wall became the floor as the ship leaned beyond all imagining and my heart was hammering in my chest as the lurch turned into a slide and then the room twisted to the side like we were a leaf in a gale.

I suppose you did this on purpose to add to the confusion and the chaos happening, but know that for a not trained reader, it was a bit hard to follow. Maybe a native could clear that and show how stupid this point is.

So that's it, for the rest, see >>horizon's comment.

I sill would like to say that I quite liked it.
#3 · 1
· · >>horizon
horizon is the hero my brain needs. See all of that. Yes.

I wasn't quite as engaged by this one as the other commenters, mostly due to personal skepticism regarding the "turtles all the way down" feel horizon described. The story felt a little aimless from the beginning, and that feeling only increased the further I read. It seems more like consecutive chapters from a long book, the selection beginning and ending at arbitrary points, rather than a curated, self-contained story. First it's about a sea voyage, then about a fall, then some betrayal and birdmen, and then everything after the landing feels like a completely different piece entirely...

But the most damning point was this:

Captain Grayson bellowed orders, his voice cutting through even the howling wind ... "Master Davis. It seems that your experiment has killed us all after all."

I nodded as the last wrappings were tied off and Captain Grayson gave the order to extend them.

Captain Davis did as well. "God's tempest, it's like we're falling into the fire."

The crew seemed to have calmed somewhat by the time I finished appraising the situation, and Captain Davis looked askance at me as I pulled him aside. “We need to get to the far side of that lava sea, but we’re falling too quickly.”

There are only two named characters, and they swap names halfway through! That's... I don't know what to say. In the one sense it's a minor error. But in another sense, it takes my suspicions of "the author didn't think this through and doesn't have a plan for the piece as a whole" and raises them to a certainty.

So, to turn this into a more effective story, pick a section and some themes to focus on and flesh them out. One possibility that leaps out at me would be to start around "Master Davis, your experiment has killed us after all," end around the successful landing, and maybe cut the sailor's connection to the birdmen and have them join in constructing personal wings for themselves. Something like that.

As is, I can't lend this much credit beyond some proficiency at in-the-moment active engagement. But it does have potential. Try starting from a framework with a single, focused narrative next time! Thanks for writing!
#4 ·
Holy smokes. I didn't even catch the Grayson/Davis thing.
#5 ·
We're off to a good start, with all the usual strengths: Clear introduction to a place and an interesting situation. No lectures or infodumps – the clarity of the events suffices, and adds a few hints about the larger setting.

Tiny nitpick: “but I didn't see any crewmen as I made my way to the upper deck. As I approached the hatch, a new noise grew above the confused shouts of the crew, a howling roar, like we were being consumed by a tornado.” Having the narrator see no crewmen comes with a slight implication of everything being deserted. Then, suddenly, we're hit with the observation that crewmen above are shouting, and have been for some time. I'd either couple these together, or put the sound of crewmen shouting first (since it's in evidence first.)

There seems to be another lurch in the action when, at Davis' behest, the crew start working on a flying machine. The structure of the text here makes it feel like this suddenly happens while the captain is still giving orders. A sentence or two to clear this up would fix the problem.

I love the cosmology here – and Davis' speculations. On the other hand, it's not clear where these “spires of rock” are, or what mountains he's talking about. (This is fixed a couple of paragraphs later, but it should have been clear from the moment they're mentioned.)

Huh. Those harpy/gardua things really came out of nowhere.

And then Davis is off the ship in the space of a single paragraph. We're losing the feeling of place that I liked in the beginning, and the progression of events is starting to feel a little rushed.

At the end, this just sort of putters out. Two big things bug me. First, after all the wonders of antiquarian cosmology, it feels kind of a let-down to end up with village of magic birdfolk. Second, with retrospect, the whole structure has a meandering, uncertain feel. To start, we've got cosmology. Then a tribe of birdfolk related to superstitions that are never mentioned and never come up again come and save everyone else. Then a separate tribe of birdfolk (though how this is decided, I don't know). Then a lacklustre gesture at a sort of moral quandary. Nothing at the end really calls back to earlier parts in a significant way. The dimming sun, perhaps, and the wing model. But that's it.

As for characterisation, there's little to offer. Davis is a scientist, and continues being a scientist all the way through. It's a good start, but he never rises above being an archetype. The style is better. Some of the phrasing here did seem to come from the age of sail, and I liked hisoccasional comment that implied he didn't know as much about the world as he thought he did.

I'll second horizon on the matter of cosmology, but my problem is slightly different. What you set up at first is a sort of primum mobile/celestial sphere system. That would just make the lava a warmer version of the cosmic ocean. But then we have the birdfolk flying around the world – which directly contradicts this idea (if the lava is resting on the celestial sphere, there's no way around but to go through it).

You've got plenty of good elements here, but they don't quite cohere.
#6 ·
Am I a moron? I mean, is there an end? Or does the story just stop?

This smacks very much like a Poe/Lovecraft/Dunsany epic novel. I would say Poe, because Poe liked to intermix elements of science in his novels (in The Gold Bug, for example, we get cryptography, but there are other examples here and there). To be honest, it remind me very much of MS. Found in a Bottle.

But I’m sorry to say, it’s far too long for my tastes. I got bored. Starting about half of it I skimmed over it until the end. Too little happens, at least not enough to justify so many words. I like the idea, but the execution definitely drags too much for me. Redact it, cut it in half, and we shall shake hands.