Heir to the Sky - Amanda Sun

ONE

THE ROCK BRIDGE is the most dangerous part of the climb, and so I lower myself to my hands and knees to crawl along it. On either side of the sparse grass, the layers of slippery rock spread out like frail wings of stone. They look like they will support my weight, but I know a single step on them and they’ll crumble, tumbling toward the earth far below Ashra, falling endlessly until they disappear from sight.

I used to throw flower petals over the edge of this floating continent to see how long I could track them, to see how far the fall really was, down to the mossy green and blue blurs of the world below. The blossoms would float on the wind, tumbling round and sometimes blowing back onto the outcrop, clinging to the silvery stone as if they, too, were afraid of falling.

I take another step, cursing these slippery red shoes on my feet. There’s no fence out here like there is around the village of Ulan. There’s no reason for one. No one ever comes out this far, past the borders of Ulan and the farmlands, past the citadel and the landing pitch and the great white statue of the Phoenix, May She Rise Anew. This part of Ashra is too rocky to develop or inhabit, too sheer and dangerous to trespass like much of the continent to the northwest and the east. And so it is its own lonely wall, one that keeps out the masses and invites solitude.

The soft sole of my right shoe scrapes against the bare grass that clings to the edge of the outcrop, and I stumble forward, my fingertips clinging to the jagged rocks. The wind tangles in my hair as I look up. A bird is soaring alongside the edge of rock; some kind of gull, I think. His white wings are outstretched as he easily rides the current, dipping and diving gently as his head tilts, and his beady eye stares at me.

“Don’t worry.” I laugh at him. “I can make it.” I pull myself onto the outcrop one arm after another. My shoe finds traction again, and I heave myself up onto the soft, rich grass, the danger of the rock bridge finally past.

I take a breath and stand, brushing the gray dust from my scarlet robe, the golden tassels of my rope belt swaying in the wind.

A clearing of emerald green spreads out to the edge of the continent, a flowery field bursting with rich and vibrant color clinging so close to the edge. The fireweed blazes purple and red, the poppies burn with searing blue and fiery orange pistils. It’s why I climb up here, why I risk everything to be here. It’s a floating luminous realm for one.

The gull caws into the gust of wind as I step toward the edge. If I reach out, I could touch his outspread wing. Instead I look down past the tips of my shoes, past the sheer edge of Ashra. The view down to the earth is dizzying. It looks like a world of mottled green and blue, what little I can see of it. The clouds blot out most of the view as always, leaving the earth a mystery.

It’s hard to believe we ever lived down there, trolling the dregs of that land like the bottom of a dark ocean. But the annals say we did, those dusty leather-bound tomes in the citadel library that almost no one reads but me. No one wants to remember; it’s too painful to think of what we’ve lost.

Oceans are another piece of earth knowledge left over in the annals. We have a deep, cold lake on Ashra—Lake Agur—that during the season of rains spills over the edge of our floating island in a thin waterfall of azure and foam tumbling toward the earth. The current is dangerous, and the citizens of Ulan are forbidden from swimming in it, but we all do anyway, in the southern swell where the current is weak and the waterfall is far away. Streams flow into the river like veins into a heart from all across the continent.

Ashra is a small island, compared to the earth stretching below that doesn’t seem to have an edge to it. Our home in the sky is maybe three days’ walk from edge to edge, longer than it is wide, but no one bothers to go past the farmlands, and the farthest I’ve been allowed is to camp in