The ragged edge

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There was a port on the western coast of Safast which remained a popular destination for inhabitants of the Headland who wanted to get away and spend a week or two somewhere exotic and lush and warm. The town catered for a visitor's every need, the people were kind, the food was cheap and the average Headlander could live like a king or queen for a few days.

It had never seemed exotic to Tranton. All he saw were underfed and underpaid locals, with the tribal leaders siphoning all the foreign money away to the foothills. He'd passed through on the shipping voyage south and had stayed just long enough to observe the visitors enjoying their frivolity, wilfully oblivious to the local economy, shamelessly disrespectful of their customs and religions. He'd observed and moved on, because that sort of thing had never bothered him. It was another destination on the long and winding merchant route across the Windfast Gap that connected the two continents. Regional politics only bothered him if they were going to slow down his passage.

He stood on the edge of the floating city of Aviar, ruminating on the similarities.

This was the outermost part of the western edge of the main island, where the road stopped abruptly, breaking into a cracked, disintegrated surface that drooped then vanished entirely over the abyss. Snapped steel and crumbled rock protruded jagged teeth out into space. Tranton leaned out and felt his stomach swirl at the drop, the ground obscured by the writhing mists.

"Used to be a whole island," said a tired voice from behind him.

Tranton turned to discover a man with weatherbeaten, rugged and deep-lined skin. His eyes seemed kindly.

"Wouldn't recommend standing on the edge there," the man continued. "The ground round here is liable to change its mind about where the edge ought to be."

Taking a few steps back, Tranton extended a hand. "My name is Tranton Seldon," he said.

"Oh, I know who you are, boy," the main said, grinning and accepting the hand. "You've been all over the news. Yeah, I think everybody round here knows your face."

He'd seen some of the displays as he'd walked the city's streets: uncanny, glowing patterns held in large, vertical, portrait-sized boxes that sometimes reformed into different shapes, not unlike a child drawing grooves into sand. Like so much here, Tranton found it hard to define what he was seeing right before his eyes.

"I'm Obin," the man said. "You've come a long way to be here, Tranton Seldon."

"Seemed like a good idea at the time," Tranton said, lying.

The man gestured at the empty air beyond the edge of the road. "Used to be a whole other island out there," he said wistfully. "Was all gardens and fountains."

"What happened?"

"It fell." The man shrugged and perched himself on a rocky outcropping. "Keeps happening, nobody knows why."

"Parts of Aviar are falling away?" Tranton stamped his foot a few times, then felt idiotic for doing so. "Are you worried about the city?"

The man shrugged again. "It's because the line of inheritance has been stretched too far. That's the theory on the streets. We haven't had a suitable heir in decades, so it's all getting a bit tight."

Tranton had stayed in his room for days, plotting revenge via various imagined escapades, before soothing his ego and considering his situation with some sense. Discovering that Akila had been true to her word and hadn't locked him in, he'd ventured out from his rooms into the city. The area around the spire, where they'd been housed, was sterile and overly perfect, populated by too-eager people who possessed a surety that unnerved him. He'd immediately set to walking the breadth of the island, discovering that he had clearance to go almost anywhere he wished - a luxury not afforded to every Avian, as it turned out.

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