are the primary mode of conveyance through the Sora
for the majority of individuals. Owing much to the sailing vessels and volurants
used by the realmbound ancestors of most races, soraships have a relatively simple facade that belies the complicated techniques and magic that goes into their construction. Soraships have been independently developed by numerous societies over the centuries, each with their own styles and shapes. Propulsion is accomplished by a variety of means as well, with early soraships often propelled via mechanical means and more advanced designs utilizing lightweight sorasails.
Every society develops soraships in different ways, driven by different needs with different creators. Some develop it through directed, concentrated research, others via mad geniuses or single-minded inventors. However, they typically follow similar broad trajectories in advancement.
The first soraships tend to be evolutions of volurants, skycraft driven by propellers and held aloft by buoyant balloons and propellers. As these skycraft reached greater heights, they eventually reach the border of their air envelope with the Sora, but find themselves unable to progress any further into the elemental chaos. Some enterprising souls attempt it, but without the proper protections find their volurants damaged or even destroyed. Eventually, however, it's discovered that a proper weave of spells can protect a vessel as it travels within the Sora.
The initial soracraft are often simply volurants treated with these spells, termed "propellercraft". They tend to be very expensive and difficult to make, at first, as the spells required to protect them are complex and the elemental engines
powering them are costly. Over time, the costs lower as natural alternatives to the spells are discovered. These treatments include combinations of varnishes, sealants, insulation, and other coatings which protect the ship from direct exposure to raw Sora. These bring the costs of propellercraft down as they replace the more expensive magics that require specialist mages to produce.
In practical use, propellercraft are inferior to other styles of soraship in virtually all respects. They utilize screw propellers as their method of locomotion, which is slow, with a maximum speed of around 280 miles per second. They are also prone to damage in the Sora, as even minor strikes from hard elements like earth or metal can significantly damage the propellers, while the balloon which lifts it through the air pocket around a realm is merely a hindrance. Maneuvering is slow and difficult, as the ships must utilize rudders to make long, sweeping turns. Further developments often lead to strengthening the propellers, improving the propeller blades for efficiency, or allowing the balloon to collapse or retract while within the Sora.
The first major development for most sorafaring civilizations is the development of force engines. These engines are driven by powerful magic, pushing a ship forward against the Sora itself. The magic requires a combination of several arcane schools, including evocation, transmutation, and enchantment, often requiring several different mages to create. Thus, creating force engines is extremely difficult and time consuming, typically only achievable by powerful conglomerates of wizardry.
However, despite the cost, force engines are superior in all other ways to earlier propellercraft. They are much faster, often up to ten times as fast, as earlier ships. Additionally, they have superior maneuverability, able to rotate in place, permitting quick turns and sudden adjustments in heading. Finally, they have no external components, meaning they are much less prone to mechanical failure than propellers.
The major disadvantage of force engines, aside from the cost, is the necessity for a mage to control it. One or more magic users must work to propel the craft, pushing it along through the Sora with their arcane power. This process is mentally exhausting to the pilots, costing them some ability to cast spells for the day. Less powerful mages need to work in tandem to power the force engine, while those with greater arcane ability can fly it under their own volition. Because the mages must concentrate on the force engine to use it, they usually are unable to rely on scrying magic to navigate and thus rely on helmspeople to direct them where to go.
Advancement of the force engine tends to be marginal, often being decreasing the size of the device and increasing the efficiency by a small degree. Because of the nature of the force engine, mechanical and non-magical processes cannot replicate it. Thus, the engine rarely gains widespread usage, mainly being restricted to powerful individuals able to retain the services of one or more mages to power it.
The next major advancement in soraship technology is the sorasail. These lightweight, thin sails reach back to early seafaring ships for their inspiration. Much as traditional sails utilize the force of wind against them to propel a ship, sorasails utilize the natural flow of elements in the Sora to propel their soraship. These sails are constructed of a specialized alloy of metals, including gold amalgam, aluminum, mithril, and blackmetal. This alloy is hammered into thin foil sheets, which are then folded and placed between two struts in a manner that resembles a folding fan. These sails are then placed on the outside of the soraship, in a variety of configurations.
When placed in the Sora, the natural pressure of the eddies pushes against the sails, propelling the ship forward. The angling of the sails directs the ship in the proper direction, allowing even pressures that run perpendicular to the sails to work. Early on, these sails only work in the Sora and typically do not provide propulsion as great as force engines. The great difference, however, is that the sails require no magic to work. This makes sorasails much more accessible to individuals than force engines, meaning they slowly gain traction even when slower and less maneuverable than force engines.
The sails are manipulated by large cranks inside the ship, which typically require several people to operate. They allow the sails to be slowly adjusted to catch the best eddies and change the direction the ship is traveling in. The ship tends to be navigated by a pilot who calls out adjustments from a bridge to the sail crew. This means sorasail ships need a fairly large crew compared to force engine and propeller ships.
Initially, ships fitted with sorasails still need small force engines to allow them to be lifted from a realm into the Sora. However, this can typically be achieved by even novice mages, greatly lowering the expense of them. Most soraports have a contingent of mages who will lift ships into the Sora, then depart on a small landing craft to return realmside. Eventually sorasail technology advances enough that it becomes sensitive enough to be lifted by the natural elemental pressure that exists throughout existence. At this point, most force engines and propeller ships are replaced entirely.
The main downside of early sorasails is their inferior maneuverability compared to force engines. Sorasails must be adjusted fairly slowly and have fairly sluggish turn rates as a result. Those who can afford to employ powerful mages often keep hybrid ships as a result, using the sorasails for speed and force engines for maneuvering.
The final and most important advancement in soraship technology is the invention of the elemental commands. Elemental commands allow a pilot to control a soraship through willpower alone, propelling it through the Sora much more safely and quickly than most other methods. The invention of the elemental command is predicated on two other discoveries first.
The first is the methods to become elementally sensitive. While this sensitivity provides little advantage under normal circumstances, when magically enhanced it allows them to feel the eddies in the Sora, almost like a sixth sense. With training they can sense even the slightest variations in the eddies, allowing them to easily locate currents and discern which are the most powerful.
The second is the command module. This magical device allows a person to mentally control the angling of a ship's sorasails. It usually takes the shape of a chair or harness, though it can be designed in a variety of ways to accommodate different anatomies or preferences. This maneuvering of the sails requires intense concentration and mental effort, especially for small corrections to the sails.
Individually these inventions are useful, but only provide marginal gains. When combined into an elemental command, they allow one individual to act as pilot and navigator for a soraship. These sorapilots become the most important crew member of a soraship, as with proper training they can frequently adjust the sorasails of their ships in response to the fluctuations in the eddies of the Sora. This allows the ship to move much faster than all but the most powerful force engines (topping out at speeds around 2500 miles per second), quickly respond to any potential dangers, and make agile maneuvers.
Basic training to become a sorapilot is not difficult assuming the trainee possesses the natural elemental affinity necessary. This means pilots are much more widespread than the mages necessary to utilize force engines. Thus most modern soraships make use of elemental commands to control them with sorasails as a source of propulsion.