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“Twilight, thank Celestia you’re here!” Rarity exclaimed. Her vision was blurry and her head was swimming, but she knew Twilight Sparkle and the others had come to help her, and they had arrived not a moment too soon. Windlass was here, with the Heavenstone, ready to strike at any moment! “Girls, we must stop her! There is no time to explain! We have to get that diamond! We must …”
“Be calm, my pony friend.”
Rarity paused mid-sentence, confused. That was not Twilight’s voice. How had Prince Khufu found her here? She had flown so far away from the airship. Without wings, how could the camel have reached her? She tried to look around, but she could not see anything clearly.
Where was Twilight? Where were the others, and Blueblood? Where were Windlass and the Heavenstone? Rarity struggled to sit up, but a wave of nausea forced her down, back onto a plush mattress. She was lying on her back, in bed. This wasn’t right! None of this made sense!
“Calm, please. You are safe inside ship now,” Khufu continued. “Nightmare is over.”
Nightmare? Rarity lay still and focused on the word the camel prince had spoken. Nightmare. After a moment of silent reflection, her rapid breathing slowed and her vision began to clear. She was inside the cabin of the Alicorn, the space dimly lit by lantern light. She was a unicorn, and of course she had no wings. Windlass was not present. A camel royal was gazing at her with his one remaining eye. The smell of him brought her back the rest of the way into the waking world.
What had seemed an utterly lucid experience had been no more than a dream - a nightmare. Rarity lay unmoving for what felt like several minutes, attempting to collect her thoughts.
“It seems I was having a bad dream,” she said at last. “I am so sorry for troubling you, I …” A second attempt to sit upright failed and she fell back onto the bed again. “Oh my, I’m just a little woozy, that’s all. Please, I only need a moment.”
Zinzi appeared next to Khufu and looked down at Rarity. “That was no ordinary nightmare,” she said, her voice full of concern. “You gave us all a terrible scare.”
“More like, she nearly torched the ship and fried us with lightning bolts,” Zips remarked from somewhere in the cabin. Rarity could not see him without moving her head, and she dared not try for fear of the nausea returning with a vengeance.
“What do you mean?” she asked, confused. “I remember seeing Windlass, the mare who tried to kill me, and awful visions besides, but the next thing I remember is waking up here in bed.”
“You … were not in bed all night,” Khufu said with hesitation. “You went for small midnight stroll in middle of storm. We followed you after we heard hatch close.”
“I was sleepwalking?” Rarity asked, surprised. She had never sleepwalked in her life, no matter how vivid her dreams had been. She supposed it was plausible that her mind had been so confused and alarmed by the realism of her nightmare that it convinced her body to get out of bed, but the idea that she managed to climb the stairs, open the hatch, and walk out into a tropical thunderstorm was hard to believe. She touched a hoof to her mane and found that it was dry. If she had been outside, it must have been some time ago that she was brought in, and then somepony had obviously dried her hair and coat. How had she not awoken through all of that?
“You did a lot more than walking,” Zips called out.
“I … what’s that now? Will somepony please tell me what happened?”
“Well,” Buckaroo moved to stand with Khufu and Zinzi, “this is gonna sound a mite hard to believe, iffin you really don’t remember nothin’.” His gaze shifted between Rarity and the others. “Before y’all conked out on us, you was floatin’ in the air about fifteen lengths straight up over top of the ship.”
“It was like nothing I have seen in my long years,” said Khufu. “You were glowing with magic, like star brought down from heavens, and your horn flashed with pulse of storm. Lightning was striking earth all around, and we feared it would ignite ship. It seemed that you were somehow calling down fury of storm right on top of us.”
“How can that be?” Rarity asked, shocked. “I cannot control lightning, and I certainly cannot levitate! That doesn’t make any sense!” A pit formed in her stomach. There was one unicorn pony she knew who held power over storms and lightning. But the whole experience had all been in her imagination, hadn’t it? She concentrated on the vision she had beheld, and tried to remember what Windlass had said. It had something to do with a connection they both shared - a connection to the Heavenstone! The dream had seemed so real …
The implications forced the breath out of her chest. Had Windlass somehow forced her way into Rarity’s mind? Could Windlass have caused her to go outside, and tricked her into casting strange spells that she had never learned, all while causing her to hallucinate? The thought of being invaded, body and mind, was terrifying. Rarity pulled tight the quilted blanket covering her. Her pulse was racing again, and she shivered despite the warmth of the blankets and sheets surrounding her.
“We saw a bright light from the direction whence we came, spearing the night sky with brilliant white flame,” Zinzi added. “Finally Duke Polaris cried out to you and the terror ended. The light vanished and you descended.”
“Blueblood!” Rarity exclaimed, realizing that the unicorn was nowhere to be seen. He had been in her dream, and apparently there in reality as well. Maybe he could explain what had happened. “Where is he?” She pushed down on the bed with her forelegs and forced herself upright, ignoring the discomfort the move caused.
“Duke Polaris sleeps now,” Khufu said. “He watched you for hours as you rested and recovered.”
“I am awake now. Thank you, Prince.” Blueblood stepped close to the side of the bed and looked down at Rarity, his expression a mixture of concern and confusion. “How do you feel?”
“I shall recover,” Rarity replied, unsure whether that was the case.
“You are shaking,” Blueblood pointed out.
“It's nothing,” Rarity said dismissively and too quickly. Her heart was pounding. Could Windlass invade her mind at will? If so, it could happen at any time. How was she to know that the “reality” she now confronted was not merely another projection of the deranged mare’s creation? How could she ever trust her own eyes again?
“It isn’t ‘nothing,’” said Blueblood. “We can all see that as plain as day.”
“Please, do speak candidly with us,” Khufu prompted.
Maybe they could help, Rarity supposed. If there was to be any chance of avoiding another awful experience like this one, she had no choice to but to be truthful. Honesty was the best policy, as Applejack would say. “I …” she half-choked as she tried to speak, before shaking away her doubt and forcing herself to continue. She, however, could not maintain any semblance of stoicism.
“Oh, I am so terrified, and I just don’t know what to do, or even what to believe!” Rarity cried, raising her forehooves in a supplicant gesture before the assembled group. "What happened last night - I think I was attacked.” Everypony around her stiffened at her pronouncement, and Rarity watched as they exchanged glances with one another. Surely they were wondering whether she had lost her mind.
“Who attacked you?” Blueblood asked. “I saw nopony else present.”
“That is because nopony else was present, save for within my mind,” Rarity replied. She leaned forward and massaged both temples with her forehooves before continuing to speak. “It was Windlass. She was inside my head! She has somehow learned that I still live, and she claimed to be using the power of the Heavenstone to invade my thoughts and dreams. She told me that I was connected to the gemstone somehow, and that she was using that connection as a path to get at me. She said she was going to destroy me. I think she was using me in order to destroy us all!”
“She broke into your mind?” Buckaroo asked, sounding incredulous. “How in the hay did she do that? And can she do it again? And how does she know you’re alive? And what is exactly is this Heavenstone y'all have been mentioning? I thought it was just a weapon Karroc was usin’ for callin’ down storms, but now you're sayin' it lets a pony sneak into your skull?”
“She was using you as a conduit for her magic,” Blueblood pronounced. “That is how she was summoning the lightning strikes, through you.”
“Yes! I do not understand how any of that is possible, but I am certain it is what happened!” Rarity exclaimed. She realized that she sounded nearly hysterical, but she felt so panicky and afraid that she could exert no control over the modulation of her voice. “This thing is your family legacy, Blueblood! Please, how is she doing this, and what can I do to stop her?”
Blueblood lowered his gaze. “I believe that I know what she is doing, if nothing else. Everyone here knows that Karroc and the unicorns have a terrible magical weapon, and they intend to use it against Gallopoli. That weapon is the Heavenstone, an ancient relic of ponykind, older than Princess Celestia and Equestria itself. It is older than the eldest dragon and older than even the written word. Since time immemorial it was the birthright of the unicorn royal family - my family. Nopony recorded when or how it was obtained; only that it was always there. Through it, the unicorns of old raised the sun and moon by channeling their collective will into the stone. It focused that magic into a single force that could be controlled by the Heavenstone’s master, the reigning king or queen.”
“It cannot be that you speak of Adamas Firmamentus!” Khufu interjected, sounding truly surprised for the first time since Rarity had met him. “That artifact was lost over millenium ago! It is legend among treasure seekers and historians.” He shook his knobby, elongated head. “To think I did not inquire as to true nature of Karroc’s weapon.”
Blueblood continued. “The same. My family histories explain that that the kings and queens of the old kingdom had such complete mastery over the Heavenstone that they could make use of its power no matter how far afield of the stone they traveled. They could control the sun and moon while leagues away from the castle where the Heavenstone was kept, they could transport the Heavenstone itself on a whim to their location, and I have even read that they could use the stone to channel magic through proxies - ponies who had agreed to serve as agents for the power of the crown. In the very ancient times, before even Princess Platinum and the founding of Equestria, the unicorn king would send agents in his stead to the other tribes, in order to demonstrate unicorn power. The king could channel the power of the Heavenstone through these agents, and thus project the appearance that all unicorns control the heavens, this while the reigning monarch was safely ensconced in his fortified castle.”
“So you’re sayin’ that’s what happened to Miss Rarity?” Buckaroo asked. “She got turned into one of these ‘proxies?’”
Blueblood shook his head. “I do not know. All that I know of the Heavenstone is that its purpose is to embody and focus the collective will of ponydom, and that to do so it channels and stores magic given freely, through ponies who have chosen to connect with it. Nothing I have ever seen has indicated that the Heavenstone could be used to manipulate or channel magic through an unwilling pony, let alone one who has never touched or even seen the stone itself.”
“Is that it?” Rarity asked softly. “She is using that thing to control me? Am I nothing more than a puppet now?” Despair filled her, but she held back her tears. How could she save Equestria - how could she be of any use to anypony - if she could not even control her own mind?
“I truly don’t know,” Blueblood responded candidly. “I do not understand how you could be connected to the stone, nor how she could use it to manipulate you."
“I do have a connection to the Heavenstone, though,” Rarity half-whispered. “I am certain of it. I have felt its pull since I first was in proximity to the stone, during the attack on the regatta, and it has been growing stronger since. I thought it was nothing more than a manifestation of my gem-finding spell, since it is an amazing gemstone by all accounts, but there must be something more. This was not the first time the stone has caused me to experience strange sensations, or even visions.”
“How do you mean?” Khufu asked.
“It happened before when Blueblood was feverish from infection, when we spent the night in the jungle. The griffon warship passed overhead and I knew at once the Heavenstone was onboard. It was almost as if it were calling to me, begging me to find and take it. I remember a flash of light, and then it was as though I was miraculously home in Ponyville. I was excited at first, but it was not a happy occasion; I saw my friends and family as they learned of my apparent death during the regatta.”
Rarity paused as a thought occurred to her. “If Windlass entering my mind was real, then it must be the case that the vision of Ponyville I experienced was real as well. I tried to tell my friends that I needed help. Maybe they understood! Perhaps I was able to unconsciously project my mind to Ponyville in the same way that Windlass was able to project herself in my dream.” She paused a second time. “Oh, but what can I do if she tries to enter my mind again? It could happen at any moment!”
“Most likely not,” Blueblood stated firmly. “No further attack has occurred since I brought you inside. If the vision you experienced in the jungle was real, that means you were able to somehow engage with the Heavenstone from a distance and use its power, without you ever so much as having laid a hoof on it. You must have connected with it again in your dreams, while Windlass was in the process of charging it with magic for her storm spell. That would have allowed her to learn that you still live, and perhaps provided a path for her to get inside your mind."
“Oh, fabulous,” Rarity stated flatly. “I cannot go the rest of my life without sleeping or dreaming! Why, think of the puffiness under the eyes I would have to endure!”
“Well, it looked to me like you pulled yourself outta there right quick once we all came up lookin’ for you and callin’ your name. I wager if she tries it again we’ll all be ready for her. Shoot, maybe y’all can even turn the tables and mess with her mind!” Buckaroo offered.
“Turn the tables? What ever can you mean?” Rarity asked. “Shall I use my ladylike charm to convince her to walk up to Princess Celestia and confess everything?” Her body spasmed once, then twice, causing a jolt of fear to run down her spine, before she realized what was happening. She was laughing. The idea of forcing Windlass to confess! Perhaps she could get to Procyon too, and the griffon conspirators! Bring it on, Windlass, and see what Rarity has in store for you this time! She broke into a full belly laugh. Buckaroo joined in, with apparent trepidation at first, but soon everypony was guffawing.
“Oh my,” Rarity said at last, wiping a tear away with a hoof. “Ha. Well, yes, I suppose it isn't the worst possible thing, is it? The next time Windlass invades my dreams I shall give her what for! At least, with all of you here in case anything like this happens again, I shan’t despair.”
“Soon, we will put a stop to this,” Blueblood said determinedly. “Once the Princesses know what is at stake, and that the Heavenstone is in the hooves of ponies seeking to overthrow the royal government, they will arrest my brother and everypony working with him.”
“Then let me suggest we begin the day, and finish our repairs without delay,” Zinzi suggested. “If we can avoid being shot, we will be heroes in Canterlot.”
“Yes,” Rarity said, swinging her rear legs over the side of the bed, and rolling into a standing position. “She is right. I cannot simply lie in bed quaking under a blanket with the fate of the world at stake. We have so much to do.”
Suddenly, her left front leg gave out from under her as a painful jolt coursed through her body. She was barely able to shift her weight in time to avoid smashing her face into the wooden deck. Blueblood stepped forward and extended a leg for support, but Rarity declined the proffered appendage. She was fine. She needed to work. They all did.
“It is not yet light,” Blueblood said. “I fear that if we attempt to work outside by lanternlight, we will only be advertising our position. Should any griffons spot us by the light of day, we would at least have a fighting chance. Not so during darkness when they have every advantage. I suggest we all rest a spell longer and have some breakfast.”
“Excellent idea!” Khufu said. “Buck will prepare us something to eat, yes?”
“I’m sure I can rustle up somethin’, boss,” the big stallion drawled, before shuffling off toward the Alicorn’s tiny galley. Khufu and Zinzi then turned to each other to have a discussion in a tongue Rarity could not recognize. This left her alone with Blueblood.
“You are not worried about the griffons,” she whispered. “They know we must go through their territory to return home, and so they are not actively searching. If they were, we would have seen some sign of them since we escaped the base. I can only conclude, then, that you are attempting to stall to give me more time to recuperate.”
“Guilty,” Blueblood replied, shrugging slightly. “As a colt I was sent to study magic from the best instructors in Canterlot. Though spellwork was never my talent, I know the signs of magical feedback when I see it. When a unicorn is exposed to spells or magic more powerful than she is prepared to handle, she can experience painful aftershocks for hours, even days. You must have been exposed to a tremendous amount of magic through your connection to the Heavenstone. If you overexert yourself, instead of resting, you will only make matters worse.”
“What does it matter if I am in pain?” Rarity asked. “We all have tasks that must be accomplished. This is no time to lay in bed."
“If you are in agony and unable to use your magic because you refused to rest, then everything is lost. Without a balloon, the Alicorn is just a poorly designed, not very waterproof boat, and we will end up walking again. By the time we return home, if we return home, who can say what havoc the conspirators will have wrought?”
“I appreciate your attempt at kindness," Rarity whispered. "I honestly do. But since we left Canterlot I have come to learn that my limitations are not quite as ... limiting as I once believed. To prepare this ship to fly again, I will push myself as far as I need to push, whatever the personal cost.”
“We will not survive this with you hurt,” Blueblood responded. “But suit yourself. I clearly cannot make you listen to reason.”
“I promise that I will not let anypony down. Now,” Rarity lowered her voice even further, “there is something else we must discuss, something I gathered from what Windlass said in my dream.”
“What is it?” Blueblood asked, raising an eyebrow.
“You said that you did not understand how your brother could be the mastermind behind this conspiracy. I believe you might have been correct. At least, he is not alone.”
“As I was trying to tell you, clearly Fancypants …”
Rarity cut Blueblood short. “No, not Fancypants. Well, he is involved, but not in the way you suspect.”
“What is it, then?”
“I knew shortly after I met Windlass that she was infatuated with Fancypants. Now I know that she is obsessed with him, and that her obsession verges on madness. She told me in my dream that her reason for attempting to kill me was that she considered me an obstacle in her pursuit of his affections.”
Blueblood leaned back, eyes wide. “You were actually with Fancypants?”
“What? No! Focus!” Rarity hissed. “This is about what a jealous madmare believed. While I am certain that part of the conspiracy does involve nullifying the Elements of Harmony, the reasons why I in particular was targeted were entirely personal. I suspect your brother’s efforts to place Windlass in Fancypants’ confidence, and to ensure that she and I ended up on his yacht for the race, were her plan, not his.”
Blueblood looked at her askance. “So Procyon’s girlfriend is secretly in love with Fancypants, and hates you. It is not particularly shocking that my brother has failed to keep a mare’s affections. What does that have to do with the conspiracy? It is still Procyon who seeks to take the throne in Canterlot.”
“Is it?” Rarity asked. “You said yourself that Procyon never displayed this kind of ambition. Windlass, on the other hoof, is pure ambition in pony form. It is she, not Procyon, who wields the power of the Heavenstone, and it is she who is obsessed with Fancypants and his idea for a new Equestria. I am afraid more than ever, now that it seems that both sides of this conspiracy are led by the insane. Karroc wants only carnage and mayhem. Windlass is an unstable fanatic with the power to cast her magic half-way across the world. They will burn Equestria to ash to get what they want.”
”We are already planning to stop them,” Blueblood pointed out. “What else can we do?”
“We are planning to warn Gallopoli, and then request that the Princesses stop them,” Rarity corrected. “But I am worried that it might not be so simple. If Windlass truly has complete mastery over the Heavenstone, as you said, how can we know that even Princess Celestia and Princess Luna can stop her? What if even the Elements of Harmony cannot? Despite it being your family heirloom, you were unaware that the stone could be used to enter another pony’s mind and control her body. What else might she be able to do? You say the Heavenstone was meant to store magic granted by willing ponies. What if Windlass finds a way to take magic from the unwilling?”
“That is not possible,” Blueblood said quickly. “If the Heavenstone could be abused in such a way, it would have happened before, but there are no records of such a thing. Its power is, and always was, to provide amplification and focus for the mutually agreed-upon will of ponykind, not to siphon magic from unwilling ponies.”
“But you said she should not have been able to enter my mind against my will,” Rarity said. “Yet she did.”
“Whatever she is capable of cannot be anything more than the Princesses can handle. Do not worry needlessly. Soon, we will be back safely in Equestria and we can end this before it gets worse than it already is. The Princesses can handle anything, as they have proven time and again over the centuries. If it was not the case, then the old royalty would not have faded so completely into irrelevance.” Blueblood smiled almost imperceptibly.
“I wish I could feel as you do, but what I have seen …” Rarity shuddered. “In my dream I first beheld a mechanical beast with eyes like furnaces and great metal wings broad enough to shroud all of Equestria in darkness. I saw Windlass, but as a terrible, regal alicorn, looking for all the world like a tyrant queen. Whether these were portents, or merely an attempt on her part to show me her power, or even something from the dark depths of my own mind, I cannot say. Still, I fear there may be more to all that is going on than mere politics and war-mongering, and as long as the Heavenstone is in the hooves of an enemy of Equestria, I will harbor a great deal of fear.”
“For now, all we can do is flee,” Blueblood said.
“I suppose,” Rarity conceded.
“It will all turn out alright in the end.”
Rarity blinked. “Wait? Is that optimism creeping into your outlook on life, or merely a half-hearted attempt to make me feel better?”
“Perhaps both. It will be good to be in the air once again. As long as I have that to look forward to, I cannot help feeling a little twinge of excitement. Perhaps one could even call that optimism.”
“Well, then I am proud of you.” Rarity smiled.
“Soup’s on, everypony!” Buckaroo called out, his strong voice reverberating throughout the cramped space, causing Rarity and Blueblood to turn in union. The earth pony stallion continued.“‘Cept of course there ain’t no soup, just applesauce, oatmeal, and coffee. What was left of the butter and cheese was completely spoiled.”
Rarity moved to crowd near the galley space where the others had gathered. The smell of cooking apples and oats, though devoid of the fragrant spices she was used to at home, was enough to overwhelm even Khufu’s odor. She was chagrined when she realized that her mouth was literally watering, and she quickly found a cloth to dab its corners. The bold aroma of brewed coffee joined the smell of food, and Rarity suddenly felt a pang - not of hunger, but of homesickness. The scent transported her to her own cozy kitchen in Ponyville.
Buckaroo stood hunched over the airship’s tiny kerosene stove, and Khufu sat on his haunches next to him with a stack of wooden bowls, the camel’s great height leaving him unable to stand fully upright in the enclosed space. Zinzi and Zips were engaged in a conversation of their own, and though Rarity could not understand their speech, she could read the motherly expression that the zebra mare wore. All she could think was that this band of hard-bitten weapons merchants now looked positively domestic. If she did not know what Khufu’s scarf concealed, and if she could not see Buckaroo’s grim cutie mark, she could imagine them as a normal, albeit very blended, family.
As she waited for Khufu and Buckaroo to serve the plain apples and oats, she wondered for the time who these four who had become her unlikely allies really were, and how they had come to the strange lifestyle they now led. If she was going to rely on them, and especially if they were going to the be ones to help keep her sane in the face of Windlass' attacks, she needed to know more about them. The only way to find out was to ask. At any rate, she needed something to take her mind off of what happened, and as much as she hated to admit it, she really could use a break before getting back to work.
“Thank you,” she said, magically taking hold of a steaming bowl that Khufu held out to her, keeping a grip with his odd, two-toed front feet. A wooden cup filled with delicious-smelling coffee followed immediately thereafter. “You know, it strikes me as odd that we all barely know one another, yet we are about to risk life and limb together,” she declared to the room at large. “I don’t suppose you all would care to chat over breakfast. I promise never to reveal anything incriminating, if you were by some chance to reveal such things.”
“Certainly our work takes us outside of official channels, but there is nothing inherently criminal in procuring goods for fair price,” Khufu said, perhaps pretending to sound a bit hurt.
“Actually I am fairly certain that the sale of military cannons and enormous grappling harpoons, the construction of military compounds, and the building of experimental warships is strictly controlled within Equestria,” said Blueblood, tapping the massive barbed projectile that had still not been removed from the side of the hull.
“Ah, but we operate purely extraterritorially,” Khufu replied, flashing a gold-toothed grin. “Only code that applies to us is one we choose to live by.”
“Convenient,” Blueblood said, before turning to Buckaroo. “What about you?” The big earth pony had just finished dishing out a bowl of oats and apples for himself, and sat down on a chair that was too small for his burly frame. “You claimed that you are a wanted stallion in Equestria. For murder.”
“Yep,” Buckaroo responded between mouthfuls.
“Buck committed no true crime, yet the authorities would sentence him to hard time,” Zinzi said, pulling a seat of her own over near the others. “For what he did he deserves only praise, not to be sent to prison for the rest of his days.”
“Well?” Blueblood prompted. “What did you do?”
“Oh, he killed my dad,” said Zips, moving to stand beside his mother. The half-zebra youth shrugged. “He had it coming.”
“Oh,” said Blueblood, blinking, suddenly seeming to have lost his taste for conversation. Even he could not be so tactless as to pry into a matter so apparently delicate. Rarity, for her part, was shocked at the news. She had not believed Buckaroo was truly capable of killing anypony, despite the fact that his cutie mark appeared to be a hangpony’s noose.
“Well?” Zips spoke up again, looking expectantly at Buckaroo. “I’ll tell them if you won’t, and you tell it so much better.”
The big stallion sighed. “Fine, alright. Yes, I am wanted in Equestria for murder, for causing the deaths of two lowlifes, names of Sixshot Slim-to-None and Prickly Pear.” He paused to try to find a comfortable position on his comparatively tiny chair. “You see, it wasn’t all that long ago that the Wild West was really wild. Before the railroad got finished and towns started spingin’ up everywhere the tracks went, ‘t’used to be the only way to get out into the plains and the desert beyond was to gallop there on your own four hooves. This meant the frontier was filled two kinds of ponies: brave homesteaders lookin’ for a taste of freedom, and desperate ponies lookin’ to put plenty of distance between themselves and the law. Then there was me. Somepony had to maintain a semblance of order, and the homesteaders were willin’ to pay a good price for peace of mind. I scared and chased off all the bandits and lowlifes I could find, but there were always more comin’. Eventually, the troublemakers learned to work together, and they thought that would get me to leave ‘em alone. It didn’t work.”
“What did you do?” Blueblood asked, leaning forward. Rarity had to stifle a laugh at the sight of him, so quickly having become engrossed in Buckaroo’s tale.
“Well, I knew that these two, Prickly Pear and Slim, were a couple of the worst. Not only were they stealin’ from the homesteaders, they were diggin’ for gold and artifacts in buffalo burial grounds. Rumor was they even snuffed out a lawpony from Canterlot who came out west lookin’ for ‘em. I figured, if I could make an example of these two, then surely nopony else would come ‘round makin’ trouble for awhile. After a fair bit of searchin’, I finally found their camp.”
“It was not technically theirs,” Zinzi said, “though I suppose I am splitting hairs.”
“That’s right,” Buckaroo nodded. “I couldn’t believe what I was seein’, but ol’ Prickly and Slim were hiding out in a camp full of zebras, living on the edge of buffalo territory. I didn’t know what was going on, and I ain’t never even seen a zebra before that. Turned out those two lowlifes were sellin’ bones, spices, jewels, rare plants, and any other ill-gotten treasures they could get their hooves on to these zebras.”
“We were researchers, all quite young, and had never been to a place so far-flung,” Zinzi added, a sad expression on her face. “In order to expand our potion lore, we studied what magic Equestrian ingredients had in store. We never suspected that our suppliers were grave robbers, thieves, and liars.”
“I wanted to catch these fellers, so I staked out the path they took through the ponderosa when settin’ out each day, and I set trip ropes and snare traps all over the place, hopin’ to snag ‘em or at least knock ‘em down. I always had a fair bit of skill with a rope, but Slim was a unicorn with a fancy six-barrel piece he stole from some wayward and unlucky soul. I was gonna need every advantage I could get in a confrontation.”
“So that’s your special talent?” Blueblood asked. “Rope tricks and knots? And I had thought it was a noose, haha.”
Buckaroo looked the unicorn stallion directly in the eyes. “I ain’t never killed nopony when I got my mark,” he said. “But cutie marks have a funny way of predictin’ the future sometimes, don’t they?”
Rarity watched with delight as Blueblood winced. “Oh do go on, darling,” she said. “The story is so interesting.”
Buckaroo shrugged. “Anyhow, the plan worked like a charm, to a point. When I crept outta the brush I had both of those stallions danglin’ from the trees, and I made sure to kick ol’ Slim’s pistol into the creek before he could magic it up off the ground. What I didn’t expect was for this crazy zebra mare to come galloping outta nowhere and knock me over. If y’all can believe it, Zinzi here had fallen for one of the gangsters. That Prickly Pear was a smooth sort of stallion, and she was just as pretty back then as she is now, just a lot less worldy-wise. While I was tryin’ to pick myself up, she set to work untyin’ my snares. Fortunately, there was no way to undo my knots with a pony’s full weight on the rope. Less fortunately, Prickly Pear had a knife strapped to his shoulder that I didn’t know about, right where he could reach it with his teeth.”
“When he realized I could not set him free, he pulled me tight and threatened me,” Zinzi affirmed. “Though at the time I already carried his son, he preferred to look out for number one.”
“I wasn’t about to get some poor girl killed just to prove a point, so I was ready to back off and deal with Slim and Prickly another day, but that’s when all Tartarus broke loose. Somehow, the local buffalo tribe had gotten wind of what these two had been up to, and they broke over the crest of the ridge in a wall of sound and fury like the comin’ of the end of days. At the same time, a pony posse hired by a different group of homesteaders showed up. Slim and Prickly had no shortage of enemies, as it turned out. Well, Zinzi here had good reflexes, so she broke free just as soon as Prickly Pear turned to look at the buffalo, and I stepped in and knocked the knife away.”
“My goodness,” Rarity exclaimed, herself now completely enthralled by the tale. “What drama! Whatever did you?”
“Well, I knew what was comin’, and it wasn’t gonna be pretty. I tried to cut both stallions down before the buffalo could reach ‘em, but they kept squirmin’ and fightnin’ me, and before I knew it the whole herd was thundering down on top of us. It was all I could do to get out of there with Zinzi. What happened, I can’t say, but they never found no pieces of either of those two stallions. Of course, the rival posse saw the perfect opportunity to put me outta business, so they claimed I killed Slim and Prickly Pear. Got a royal indictment and everything. Seeing as there were four of them and only one of me, and one zebra who was in Equestria without papers, I’m sure they coulda put me behind bars somewhere if I’d stuck around.”
“So you fled,” Blueblood concluded.
“Yep. Zinzi too, since the other zebras had skedaddled as soon as the buffalo showed up. I suspect that a few of the hardier bulls probably chased those poor zebras most of the way back where they had come. Course, they didn’t know they were doin’ anything wrong grinding pilfered bones and treasures into powders and potions, but the buffalo weren’t likely to see it that way.”
“By then I did not want to return home. I had an entire world in which to roam.”
“So, we took off and didn’t look back until Equestria was long gone. Zinzi sold fireworks, powders, and potions, and I took security work when I could find it. It was a mite tricky taking care of a little foal after Zips was born, but all in all we were a good team, and he grew up into a more than capable young feller. We were way out west in the canyons, where the big donkey settlements are found these days, when Khufu and Zolo flew into town hawking engines and plans for a paddlewheel steamship to replace the punts, rafts, and canoes the donkeys had always used on the big river. Once they had unloaded their cargo and picked up to leave, we three went with ‘em.” Buckaroo took a large sip of hot coffee. “That’s the whole story.”
“In our line of work, I felt that it would not hurt to have added security, nor Zinzi’s incomparable knowledge of firepowder, nor Zips’ youthful athleticism and skill as markspony,” Khufu added. “They became even more valuable, in time, as my good friends.”
“Hmmph, well, it is simply an injustice that you stand accused in Equestria,” Blueblood said indignantly. He had clearly been quite taken with Buckaroo’s story, Rarity realized. Perhaps, she hoped, this marked the end of their rivalry.
“You know, I expect that if we succeed in saving the Gallopolians and alerting Princess Celestia to the existence of this conspiracy before any further harm is done, it shall be only a small matter to procure a royal pardon,” she suggested. “I am on friendly terms with the Princess, after all.”
“Well, thank you kindly miss, but it’s been long enough now that I’m not sure I even want to go back, or that there’s anywhere to go back to,” Buckaroo replied. “‘Sides, I’ve got my own funny little family here now.”
“I think that’s very sweet,” Rarity said. “But you still deserve that pardon, and I am certain it can be arranged.”
Buckaroo nodded without saying any more, and turned his attention back to his breakfast. Blueblood, for his part, was now staring expectantly at Khufu.
“I suppose you would care to hear my story?” the camel posited, looking at the unicorn stallion with his one golden eye. “Surely you already know of fall of the royal family of Camelon, no?”
“I know only as much as any educated pony knows,” Blueblood replied. “But you actually survived the uprising.”
“Well, my pony friend, tell me what you do know, and perhaps I can pick up from there.”
“We are taught that that there was a great conflict with a tribe of desert creatures, and the misery the invaders inflicted was so intense that the camels rose up against the royal family, who could not stop the invasion. Though many perished in the fighting, more died in the ensuing violence - royals, officials, and citizens caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Of course, everypony knows that only the mysterious Exile Prince of Camelon survived, to spend the rest of his days indulging in the generosity of those royal families still left in the world. Nopony ever said you had become a traveling weapons merchant, though. That came as a surprise.”
“Your schooling was sound, young duke,” Khufu replied, smiling sadly. “Yes, was more than fifty years ago now that jackyl tribes, cruel curs all of them, swarmed out of desert, catching all of Camelon completely unprepared. Their spears were sharp, and their armored warbeetles all but impervious. Half of North Kingdom had been sacked, and ten thousand camels lost, before we could even mount half-hearted defense. What books may not mention - it was all my fault.”
“Your fault?” Rarity repeated. “How could you be responsible? It sounds as though it was those monsters, whatever you called them, who should bear the blame! They attacked you without warning”
“No, it is I,” Khufu sighed. “Father had months before appointed me to oversee defense of kingdom, in hopes of instilling responsibility and martial spirit in his crown prince. Instead, I squandered time and money in countless pleasure domes, neglecting to inspect even one garrison. I heeded no warnings about danger brewing in desert. After attack began, I thought only of my own safety, and nothing of our soldiers. I sent waves of good camels to stem tide of jackyl horde, until dunes were stained red and air across kingdom was thick with smoke and cries of widows. My camels were right to blame me, but their ire was shared by my family, and entire government. Even as fighting raged against jackyls, cities far from battle descended into chaos. Even palace guards turned against my family.”
“You were sentenced to execution,” Blueblood stated, gesturing toward the scarf around Khufu’s neck. “Obviously. But somehow you survived.”
“There was no sentence,” Khufu laughed harshly, “only fury of mob. They gouged out my eye, to represent blind eye I turned to their suffering, and hung me from gibbet outside royal palace. They did not drop me so as to break my neck, but instead left me to slowly strangle as rope cut into my flesh. When rope snapped, I had seconds before mob understood what happened, and I raced to safety. Truly it was miracle, but also curse. None else from my family escaped, and Kingdom of Camelon was dead and gone. In decades since, new regimes have come to power and invaders have been expelled, but bitterness persists. I may return home only under pain of death.”
“I am so sorry,” Rarity said with all the sympathy she could pour into her words. “I cannot imagine the pain you must live with each day.”
Khufu sighed. “I became convinced that somehow I could expunge my sins by preventing another one-sided war. No intelligent creatures go to war unless confident odds are in their favor. I have been trading, acquiring, developing, and selling weapons since before any of you were foaled, so that no side could ever gain clear advantage. Since I began, no wars have raged between civilized nations, and no massacres like Camelon have happened. I thought helping Karroc build fighting force was right, to keep ponies from destroying griffons. You are so many, and they so few, after all.”
“Instead, you helped a mad griffon build an armada he plans to use to start a war,” Blueblood wryly observed. “Equestria would never have attacked any of the griffon eyries, but now, if we are unsuccessful in putting a stop to Karroc and my brother, war will be inevitable.”
“I knew ponies would not attack unprovoked,” Khufu said defensively, “but Karroc convinced me that constant pony push north would inevitably result in destruction of griffons as sovereign race. You already mine clouds and mountains of their homelands.”
“Real peace is not achieved by both sides of a dispute aiming a cannon at the other,” Blueblood rejoined.
“It is achieved through friendship, trust, and compromise,” Rarity finished.
“You ponies must learn that not all creatures are reasonable,” Khufu replied darkly. “Sometimes having cannons at ready is only way for peace.”
“When we return to Equestria, you will see,” Rarity maintained. “Cooler heads will prevail and we will reach a mutual understanding with the griffons. I have every confidence in the Princesses, and I know that not all griffons can be like Karroc and his zealots.”
Khufu did not reply. Silence reigned in the cramped cabin, and Rarity could feel doubt and worry reappearing in the back of her mind. She had to believe that the natural order of the universe was harmony, and that Karroc, Windlass, Procyon, Tempest, and the others who sought conflict were aberrations. After they were dealt with, everything would be right with the world again.
Of course, she reminded herself, it was not long ago that Discord had reappeared after more than a thousand years encased in stone, in order to spread chaos and misery across Equestria. Before him, Night Mare Moon had been released from her lunar prison to resume her vendetta against the day. What awful thing would be next? How many more times in her life would she and the girls find themselves staring down some monster, ready to loose the power of the Elements of Harmony? Could the Elements even continue to be Equestria’s salvation forever? Was the true nature of the universe not harmony at all, but rather endless conflict? The thought was almost too depressing to bear.
“For now, it’s probably best we just worry about getting this airship outta the mud,” Buckaroo said, breaking the tension at last.
“Yes,” Rarity agreed quickly.
“Maybe before we do that you can explain how this is all going to go down,” Zips piped up. “You know, the plan. I spent all yesterday making spears and bolas. I want to know when I get to use them.”
“Oh, the plan.” Rarity had anticipated they would want to know the full details of her plan at some point. She had hoped that point would be slightly later in the day, after she had more time to finalize everything in her head. “Of course. I have a plan.”
“We got a repeatin’ cannon, once I get her set up,” Buckaroo said. “Don’t need no more of a plan than that.”
“Oh no. No no no!” Rarity exclaimed. “We cannot simply shoot our way in and hope to escape. An airship is, in the best of scenarios, a rather fragile thing. We would never escape. No, my plan calls for finesse, subterfuge, even skullduggery!”
“Please, my friend, go on,” Khufu prompted, craning his long neck toward her.
It was a good plan, Rarity knew. It should work, if everything went perfectly. Still, she could not help but think it overly audacious, even outlandish. How would the others react? She had to convince them to go along, just as she had convinced them to believe in resurrecting the Alicorn in the first place. It’s all in the presentation, she reminded herself. She had to sell the plan just as she would any of her greatest designs. She had to project the easy confidence of inevitable success.
“Ahem. As you know, the griffons plan to make for Gallopoli on the morrow, and I expect Karroc and his warship will depart before dawn. In order to maximize our chances, we must make our move immediately after he leaves with the bulk of the griffon forces. Then, we will have the best chance of obtaining the lifting gas, escaping unscathed, and catching up to Karroc using the Alicorn’s superior speed.”
“That is all easily understood,” Zinzi remarked. “As you say, ‘so far, so good.’”
"How do we get the gas?" Zips asked.
“As Buckaroo explained to me, the lifting gas is stored in containers inside the airship hangar at the far end of the base. That building is built out over the water so that the airship hulls can be floated and easily moved. There are barges in the area, so if somepony can get inside, it should be possible to float the containers of gas out in the same fashion we originally escaped.”
“Then you do not intend for the Alicorn to actually enter the base,” Blueblood noted.
“Right you are,” Rarity said. “We would only be putting ourselves and the ship in needless danger. The Alicorn shall be resting at anchor in a defensible position, downstream of the base.”
“But the Alicorn has no anchor!”
“Has!” Rarity exclaimed. “Or at least, will have.” She moved across the cabin close to Blueblood and rapped a hoof against the cold metal of the griffon harpoon. “Your soon-to-be new anchor!”
“That … I suppose that could actually work, with a bit of rope,” Blueblood admitted.
“Quite so. And Buckaroo, you will be pleased to learn that I plan to use something with which we absconded on the barge.”
“The ARC cannon! Yeehaw!”
“Nothing so crude, I’m afraid,” Rarity went on, flashing a smile. She really had their interest now. Good, because the next phase of the operation was surely the most unorthodox.
“What in tarnation does that mean? There wasn’t nothin’ else on there.” Buckaroo scratched his chin with the edge of a forehoof.
“Oh, but there was,” Rarity said.
“Fish,” Zips suddenly exclaimed. “There was hundreds of pounds of tinned fish.”
“Precisely!” Rarity confirmed. “Disgusting, horrible, smelly dead fish. Enough fish for a very nice distraction, I should say. There are pilings driven into the river bed as markers near the base. I glimpsed them under the tarp when we made our getaway. We will tow the barge upriver with us, and tie it off on one of the pilings before moving the Alicorn a safe distance away. I will be in position on the barge to open the cans of fish and dump them into the river.”
“And what’ll that accomplish?” Buckaroo asked. “That’ll just get the jagugars all riled up.”
“Indeed. Clever,” Khufu said. “Giant fish will become frenzied, and thrash about. Odor and noise will draw attention of remaining guards at base.”
“That’s it!” Rarity nodded. “Once all of the fish is in the water, I will untie the rope and float the barge back downstream to where the ship is waiting. While the griffons are attempting to discern what is going on and are searching for the source of the commotion, several of you, having previously made your way to shore, will enter the base and make your way to the hangar. Blueblood, Buckaroo, and Zips, retrieving the lifting gas will be your responsibility.”
“I can’t ‘make my way to shore,’” Buckaroo protested. “I can’t swim, and I’m sure as hay not getting in the water with those monster fish.”
“The others will help you, and you needn’t worry about the fish so long as you have this to protect you.” Rarity touched the pink pearl resting against her neck. “It will keep you safe in the water, as it has me. Blueblood has one exactly like mine, and you will be with him.”
“It is true,” Khufu nodded. “The magic of the pearl does not fail. You will not be harmed in the river.”
“Not afraid of getting your coat wet, are you?” Blueblood asked in a slightly mocking tone. “I suppose I would be happy to acquire the gas and take home all the glory myself.”
“My, that would be most impressive,” Rarity said, taking the opportunity to lean nonchalantly against Blueblood’s shoulder. “I suppose you can wait aboard ship, then, Mr. Buckaroo, while Blueblood and Zips retrieve the gas.”
“Now hold on just one pony pickin’ minute,” Buckaroo said with a snort. “Of course I’ll go. Your prissy friend there’ll just muck everything up.”
“Fabulous! You three will infiltrate the base, secure the gas, and float back to the ship. Khufu, Zinzi, and I will be waiting, ready to inflate the balloon and defend the ship if we are spotted. If it appears that you are in trouble, Blueblood can send up a flare of light from his horn and we will move the ship to help. With any luck, the momentary distraction will have the griffons looking in exactly the wrong place, and you will be able to slip in and out right under their beaks.”
“If we are not lucky, I’ll get some target practice,” Zips said. Rarity saw him lean his head forward and pick something up in his teeth. He then turned his body and whipped his head back around at the same time. Blueblood give a high-pitched yelp and she saw him duck for cover. For her part, Rarity barely had time to blink as something whisked past her nose and embedded in the wall of the cabin behind her. She gasped as she realized that it was a short, thin-shafted spear. Turning back to gape at Zips, she saw that he still held some unrecognizable object in his mouth.
“What is wrong with you, child? I did not raise you in the wild!” Zinzi scolded.
Zips spit out the whatever-it-was. “Just making a point.”
“I’ll say!” Rarity exclaimed. “What was that?”
“Spear-thrower,” Zips proudly declared. “My own design. I can throw harder and farther than anything with hooves or claws alone, just using my teeth. I made a ton of these little spears yesterday, and I dare any griffon to come close and see how well I sharpened them.”
“Well, ah, good work then!” Rarity declared. “But you may want to practice outside.” She turned to address the group. “Now that you all know my plan, I invite your questions.”
“Yes, I have one,” Blueblood said, picking himself off of the floor. “Everything seems sound enough, but we rely entirely on Karroc having already departed with most of the griffons. What if he and his ship and crew remain when we arrive? We cannot face that ship and a whole base full of griffons with firesticks, especially if we cannot even fly ourselves.”
“Simple. If they are still present, we wait until they are not.”
“Why must I wait with the ship?” Zinzi asked. “It makes sense that I should go with Zips.”
“The three stallions are going to get the lifting gas simply because Buckaroo is strong, Zips is quick and stealthy, and Blueblood can perform telekinesis. Here, I need somepony who can steer the ship, and that is Khufu, and I need somepony who can operate that ridiculous cannon Buckaroo is going to install, if worse comes to worse. That certainly is not me.”
“Ha! You do need it!” Buckaroo shouted, as animated as Rarity had seen him. “I knew it!”
“I can operate it if must be done, though I believe Buck would have far more fun,” Zinzi said.
“Then I believe we have a plan,” Rarity said, putting as much confidence into her voice as she was able to muster.
Blueblood peered out the hole in the side of the ship and then pulled his head back inside. “The storm has passed, and dawn is breaking. We should get back to work.”
“Yeah, I reckon. The first thing we need to do is pry her outta the mud and get her up on the rollers,” Buckaroo said, rising to all four hooves. “We’ll need everypony’s help.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Rarity asked enthusiastically, springing to her hooves. After her unpleasant awakening, and the revelations concerning Windlass, it felt wonderful to have a hot meal in her belly and the familiar charge of well-made coffee in her veins, and even better to have gotten through explaining her scheme without any serious protests. Now she was ready to work. If this was to be her last day, then it would be a productive day, without a wasted minute.
She climbed the short set of stairs and heaved open the hatch to the upper deck. As promised, the morning sky was quickly clearing of what few clouds remained, and the sun was beginning to peer over the horizon. The post-storm air was thick with the scent of sweet flowers, and it rang with birdsong. The world said to her, “you can do this.” At least, that is what she chose to hear.
As she walked down the fallen tree that had been left for access, Rarity could see that the weather had not undone her hard work of the previous day. The partially reassembled balloon envelope was still where she had secured it, and aside from pools of water that had collected in its folds, it was not any worse for wear. She stepped onto the ground, and felt herself sink into the wet earth. Turning to the ship, she could see the evidence of Buckaroo’s and Blueblood’s work, as fallen logs had been jammed under the hull at short intervals all around. She hoped they would operate as designed in leveraging the Alicorn out of the mud. Something whooshed past, causing her to startle as she wondered if Zips was hurling spears again, before she realized that a rope ladder had been thrown from the upper deck.
“We are going to have to move this log,” Blueblood called down. “It would be a shame if we forgot to provide for some other means of access to the deck.”
“A shame indeed!” she called back. “Hurry down, won’t you? We have much to do!”
Blueblood and the others quickly made their way to stand beside her, each observing the Alicorn, likely contemplating the hard work ahead of them, as Rarity was. She could see the progress that had been made so far, in the various patches to the hull and the sticky translucent film that Zinzi had slathered on every accessible surface. She would only be able to waterproof the bottom of the hull once it was sufficiently raised out of the mud.
“I’ll start buckin’ these posts in deeper,” Buckaroo said. “Duke ...”
“Blueblood is fine.”
“Blueblood then,” Buckaroo continued, “why don’t you start gettin’ the rollers in position and making sure the lines are secured. Then everypony can pull and we’ll see if we get anywhere.”
With nothing to do for the moment, Rarity watched as Buckaroo kicked each narrow log, none more than a couple of hooves wide, down into the ground as far as possible, underneath the Alicorn’s hull. As each was driven down, she knew a corresponding upward force was being exerted on the bottom of the ship, and the ship was wedged just a little bit more up and out of the earth. With dozens - no, hundreds - of these logs forcing the ship up out of the muck, it almost seemed possible that they would succeed in moving it. Of course, they had to succeed.
She looked up at the sound of her name and saw Blueblood standing on the upper deck. “Get the others and catch these mooring lines as I throw them down. Walk them back toward the water as far as you can.”
Once she had gathered Khufu, Zinzi, and Zips at the rear of the airship, Blueblood cast down the thick ropes. She held fast to the end of her rope with her magic, while the others gripped theirs in their teeth, and the quartet stretched the lines out to their full reach. When she could pull no further, Rarity turned around, and guessed she was standing about thirty lengths behind the ship. She could see more of the others’ work from the day before, where they had hauled twelve or fifteen large fallen tree trunks behind the Alicorn and laid them side by side, each separated from the next by no more than two lengths. They would be able to pull the ship up, and then roll it over top of the logs toward the water’s edge, moving new logs into place as the airship progressed.
“She’s up as far as I’m gonna get her,” Buckaroo called out.
“Understood. Rarity, I need you over here!” Blueblood shouted.
She trotted through the mud. “What?”
“You and I are going to maneuver the logs, while the others pull. It will be faster with magic.”
“If I can even lift something so heavy,” Rarity remarked, dubious. She turned at the sound of a reverberating crash, and saw that Buckaroo had kicked away the thick tree trunk that allowed ingress to the ship. He then trotted quickly over to join the other three with the ropes.
“Ready,” Buckaroo called out. “On three. One.”
Rarity was not ready. What was she even supposed to be doing?
“Two. Three.” Buckaroo reached over and bit down on the end of rope. “Grrmmm!” he mumbled. Rarity supposed that meant “go.”
Indeed it did. Buckaroo, Khufu, Zinzi, and Zips pulled their ropes taut, and Rarity could see muscles straining beneath each of their coats. The ship did not budge.
“Ah, you can do it!” she shouted encouragingly, fighting back panic. What if they could not?”
“What are you doing?” Blueblood grunted. “If you really do not need to rest, then help!”
Rarity saw that the stallion was exerting himself, his horn glowing brilliantly and throwing off golden sparks. He meant for her to help lift the ship, but how could she? It was far too enormous and heavy for her limited telekinesis. Still, the ship had to move.
“Right. Here goes.” She closed her eyes and concentrated, casting her magic until she felt it touch the airship’s hull. She let the spell expand, and as it ballooned outward to encompass the Alicorn, she could feel her fine control slipping away. This was a clumsy, oafish spell - the opposite of how she normally employed her magic.
Rarity lifted, knowing full well the exertion would bring back the pain and nausea she had felt earlier. It did, and worse. No matter, the Alicorn had to move. She pushed herself harder, even as fire ran through her horn and down her spine, forcing her to her knees. Move! Why won’t you move? She focused all of her thought, strength, and magic into one last push, and as she gave the spell everything she had left, she felt something. Even as she blacked out, before she hit the ground, she knew what it was. The ship had moved.
When she came around seconds later, Rarity opened her eyes to a beautiful sight. The Alicorn floated, resting atop a line of logs, looking almost as as though it was airborne again. They had done it. Her plan was going to work, Rarity was certain of it. It would be smooth sailing from here on out.
There was a deranged mare waiting to invade her mind. Tomorrow morning, she would actively court death. The best case scenario had her immediately thereafter staring down a warship bristling with cannons and teeming with griffons.
Smooth sailing, Rarity, she told herself. Somewhere, Twilight Sparkle and the others were out there, looking for her. She knew it.
Smooth sailing. Now it was time to finish the work she had started.