At first the islands only appeared as a haze of grey in an endless blue sky. Seth Nash had already hallucinated islands twice, and he did not believe these, same as he had not believed the ones before. He knew this wind current would take him to the islands eventually, knew they should be close, but he couldn't allow himself to believe. If he did, and somehow he was mistaken, it might be the end of him. He would sit down, and go back to drifting. He would let the winds take him where they would, waiting for death to claim him. It seemed foolish. After working so long to stay alive, fighting tooth and nail as his crew-mates had slowly turned into animals as the supplies of water and food had dwindled, now that he had found food and water and a way to get home, now that he was, perhaps, only a few minutes away from the land he called home, he was giving up. Their navigator had miscalculated the winds. And in a world of floating islands trapped in a seemingly limitless sky, tiny miscalculations would be the death of you. The chances that a ship would drift to an island, or that setting a random heading would cause you to run into one, were so small that they shouldn't exist. After all, it took three years of drifting for him to pass by one island. It was so small that it could hardly contain any resources, but it had enough for one person. That was all that was left by that point. At first the crew had remained loyal to the captain, taking in the harsh cuts to food and water that the quartermaster had issued. Until someone realized that the captain and quartermaster were working together to horde food. Then there was mutiny. The captain had been the first victim, followed by his second-in-command only a few moments later. The fight had been vicious, and more than one person who had only wanted to hide had been caught in the crossfire. Some of those who had survived rounded up the dead bodies, and set them up over a fire made from the crates that had once held supplies. The grey haze was starting to resolve itself, and was undoubtedly getting larger. Seth could almost believe he could make out the grey spoke, streaming from a factory, or one of the blimps that carried supplies drifting through the air with its bright colored cloth. He dared to hope, and pulled himself up on the wheel. "We are almost to my home," he murmured to the ship. "I'm lucky you are so easy to fly, or I never would have made it this far alone." That one tiny island had saved his life. He had crashed the ship into it, did his best to jump off. The ship was almost as big as the island, but significantly more solid. He had made it off, and watched the smoldering ruin of the cargo ship drift away on a wind. It took the corpses with it. Almost everyone was buried that way, now. There was no room for proper graveyards, so they were set alight and cast out. The ashes would drift all over the world, and the spirit would be free. Seth had never taken much stock in such religion, but he still offered a silent prayer to the departing pyre. Someone had lived on that island at some point. Whoever it was had been a genius. He had dug into the Vitae, the energy of the world, in a way that almost none of the welders and miners of today would dare. It had driven him insane, there was no doubt of that, but his home was a wonder. Of course, at the time, all Seth had really cared about was the food and water. He had lived in a semi-comatose state for three days, before his body was able to fight off the shock and illness lurking in his system. It wouldn't have been a bad place to live forever, had there been no way off. the place was fully provided for, and created its own food and water. There was enough information in the man's library to keep him entertained for years. And, for a while, he had left himself to just that. He had taken the luxury of recovering slowly, and worked his way through the former owner's notes. It was there that he found the pièce de résistance of the man's work. It was a ship, a ship unlike any that the world had ever seen. Sleek and streamlined, driven by Vitae engines, rather than left to the mercies of the wind, fast and maneuverable, far more than any of the balloon-like ships that were so commonly seen. The man had spent years designing it, even more years competing it. He intended to fly it away as soon as it was complete, to find a place where he could live out the rest of his years with a little bit of company. He had died three days before her maiden voyage. But she was complete. Or, at least, she had been, fifty years ago, upon the man's death. She had sat there since then, taking the weather and sun full force. But he could call her nothing but beautiful. And he did so, repeatedly, as he wandered his way through her, lightly running his fingers along the smooth, metallic lines of her body. He hadn't known at the time that the ship could hear him. And, after several days of his fruitless searching for a way in, punctuated by frequent compliments, she had let him in. And they had worked together to get her ready for flight again. There was no doubting that those islands were real now. He could make out details, and was almost confident enough to call them home. The island that he grew up on had been a part of a large group, chained together long ago to become a nation. They connected outwards in a massive sphere, the whole thing run from the central island, where those rich enough lived. He had not been so lucky. His was a factory island, cluttered with smoke and machinery. His parents had worked twelve hour days just to keep enough food on the table, and his brothers and sisters had been pressed into service before they were ten years old. The only reason Seth had escaped that same fate was because a ship captain had taken an interest in him, and bought him from his parents at the tender age of twelve. A part of him didn't know why he was returning to these islands. They had no safety for him, and the only work waiting for him was another factory job. He may be able to make some money off of the man's research, but there was no telling how long that would last him. Truthfully, he dreamed of returning to the open air. The winds had nearly driven him mad those first few days sailing aboard his new ship. Takeoff had been easy enough, he had simply navigated to the edge of the island and pushed her off. Even loaded with supplies and as much of the man's research as he could find, she had taken to the air naturally and soared away easily. The problem was, he had no idea where he was, or where the winds would take him. There was a chance he was committing himself to the same fate he had only just escaped. That was, of course, until the first gust of wind had hit him squarely in the face. He must have screamed, but at the time he couldn't remember. It was overwhelming, the constant buffeting, and everything that had gone along with it. The winds held no secrets from him, and dumped everything into his mind. Where they had come from, where they were going, how long it would take to get there, what other winds they had intersected or would soon intersect. He had left himself to to their tender mercies for days, while he tried to find a way to deal with the information. At first it had only been when the wind had been touching him, but soon even looking at a gust was enough for it to unload its information on him. It took him a long time to figure out how to manage the information, what was relevant right at that moment, and what could be ignored. To the ship it wasn't much time at all. She didn't seem to have even registered his absence when he finally stumbled his way back to the helm. There was no doubt that she cared about him, as soon as his hands locked around the wheel he felt an answering burst of speed, and a small hum filled the room, but her personality was only partial. He had caught a wind that was heading to the islands that had once been his home at random, and had set his course before he even consciously acknowledged that he planned on going home. It was almost miraculous that he hadn't gotten sidetracked on the way there. He was going home. Of course, it wasn't until he felt the ship begin to respond to the pull of the chained islands that he realized he had no way to land her. It took a crew of at least five to fully work her, at least ten for optimized response. He was one man. There was no way for him to pull off a successful landing. All he could try and do was pick a good place to crash. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." It was the only litany he had as the ship was pulled in, and he fought the wheel to try and control her decent. It was the very outer rings of the islands, at least, so the chances that he could find somewhere deserted to crash were probable. The ship didn't seem to know her destiny, any more than she had known his absence. She recognized his worry, tried to calm him with soft noises, and he did his best to accommodate her. There were tears streaming down his face as he plunged towards the solid rock. He would rather have drifted forever than sacrifice her to find a way home. And then, a sudden impact, flinging him backwards. His head crashed into something, and he heard the ship scream around him as she crumpled. And then, nothing.