Empty Horizons

by Goldenwing

XII: The Fall

Anatami wasn’t sure why a thaumagram station would have stone gargoyles carved into its sides. They weren’t any kind of common sight on Fellis Island, but there was a solid half-dozen of the things leering out at the passersby on the street-facing side of the station. A strange choice by the architect, but they did make excellent places to perch and watch whatever went on below.

Lady Rarity and her entourage were just stepping out of the station now, the Countess taking part in an energetic conversation with her aptly-named pink friend. Ana’s ears twitched as she listened in, picking up every word with all the ease of a bat in a cave.

A scream from the refugee camps cut the conversation short. Ana frowned as she allowed herself to be distracted by the commotion for a brief moment before dismissing it as irrelevant. Just as she turned back to her marks, a deep rumble shook through the island, nearly dislodging her from her hiding spot. The stone beneath her hooves lurched exactly like a building shouldn’t, and Ana felt her weight lessening as if she were gliding mid-air. It took her a few seconds to piece these events together.

“Oh, you’ve got to be bucking me,” she cursed. Just my luck!

Ana heaved a heavy sigh as she watched Whitehorn leading Lady Rarity and Pinkie through the streets at a hasty gallop. One-by-one ponies began to run screaming in every direction as their slow minds realized the gravity of the situation. The quick might be lucky enough to secure passage on the vessel of a chivalrous merchant captain or ferry, but the limited space would turn many of those ships into flying riots. No doubt some ponies would lock themselves in homes or shelters to spend their final futile hours praying to long-dead alicorns. She scoffed at their idiocy. The only thing that’s gonna save them is themselves.

The rich would flee to their personal ships, stopping only the few minutes to determine which allies and assets were worth saving before casting off. Ana needed to be on the Sip of Ambrosia when it did so, but she had business to attend to first.

Her leathery wings snapped open as she stepped off her perch, slowing her fall. The fleeing crowd paid her no mind as she alighted in front of the thaumagram station. She was just reaching for the door when it opened of its own accord, revealing a harried Lay Drifts and a pegasus mare struggling to carry a fearsome set of luggage.

A friendly grin stretched across Ana’s face. “Hey there, Lay! Can I call you Lay?”

The stallion’s hoof raised as if to shove her aside. “Are you crazy, lady? Get—” He froze as his mind caught up with his sight. His eyes traced the well-worn path from her featherless wings, to her tufted ears, to the ever-sharp carnivore’s teeth.

Ana didn’t bother waiting for a response. She didn’t have the time to waste on answering the usual questions, so she took the liberty of stepping inside and closing the door behind her. “Great! You’re the operator for this station, right? Y’know, I read about you in the broadsheets!”

Lay nodded dumbly, matching Ana’s steps in a bid to keep his distance.

“Awesome. Here—” Ana slipped a wing into the thin saddlebag she wore, using the stubby claw at its tip to pull out an envelope. “I need you to send this out to a few places. My sister’s expecting mail, but it’s hard to really pin down where she’ll be. Y’know how it is with those wanderer types. And you might want to shut that cute mouth of yours and get started, too, cause if you haven’t noticed this whole island will be swimming soon enough!” She ended the sentence with a snort and a giggle, holding the envelope before her.

A sparkling brown aura pulled the letter out of her grasp. Lay Drifts turned it about before him for several dumbfounded seconds before throwing it back in a sudden burst of life.

“Are you crazy, lady?” he shouted. “Get out of my way! I don’t have time for no damn letter!” He took a half-step forwards as if to remove her by force, only to falter when she didn’t move.

Ana rolled her eyes as she scooped the letter off the floor. “Why not, you plothole? Your ship is locked up all nice and tidy practically across the street!” She tapped a hoof against his chest. “I’m the only one here that’s really gonna miss a few stray minutes! Will this help?”

She fished a drawstring pouch out of her bag and tossed it in her hoof so the jingle of its contents was clear. She lowered her stance as a heavy tremor shook the floor beneath her, accompanied by redoubled screaming outside.

Lay snatched the bag up in his magic and peered inside. “... These are bottlecaps.”

“Oh, hay! Wrong one,” Ana lied. She hid her disappointment with practiced ease as she replaced the pouch with one that actually held a sizable collection of bits. Someone else’s bits.

Lay glared at the bits within as he inspected them, then turned his smoldering gaze on the cocksure thestral. “Look here, miss.” He spoke the word in a tone that made it clear he didn’t think the title quite fit her. “I have customers ahead of you that still haven’t had their correspondence sent out, and you wouldn’t be cutting in line even if the island wasn’t falling.” He paused, his eyes darting to the door behind her. “I’ll be at my summer home in a few days, and I know the owner of another station near there. I’ll send your letter, but I sure as hay ain’t gonna do it until I can trust the ground under my hooves!”

Ana rolled her eyes. “Fine, whatever! Just get it done.” She stepped aside, offering an exaggerated bow.

“A pleasure doing business with you,” Lay growled. He wasted no time in brushing past her, his assistant wobbling along close behind.

With her business handled, Ana stepped after them back into the chaos of the streets. The crowd had thickened in her absence, the ponies within surging towards the small private skyport down the street. The tower had never held more than a few private vessels during Ana’s stay on the island, but already it was almost completely abandoned. A line of hired muscle had formed a cordon around the port’s doors, engaged in a heated shouting match with the desperate crowd. She picked out Lay Drifts and his assistant shoving their way down the street, and wondered if the dam of social etiquette might finally break once they were let through.

Hopefully not. She didn’t want Gava worrying.

Time to blow this joint. Ana turned for the larger public port that the Sip of Ambrosia was docked at. Navigating the crowd-choked bridges of the island and reaching the ship before Lady Rarity would be an impossible feat for any pony, but Ana was of a different breed.

With a few powerful flaps, she took wing.

The splash of the island's impact resounded with all the roaring fury of a bomb going off beneath Rarity’s hooves. The water kicked up by the falling mass cast the island into shadow as they were thrown to the street. Rarity’s vision swam as her head bounced off something hard. She raised a leg to her head and moaned, teeth clenched at the sting of pain.

“Rarity?” The voice seemed distant, hidden beneath the ringing in Rarity’s ears. Pinkie Pie’s face appeared above her wearing a hazy grimace. “On your hooves, Rare-bear! The party’s not done yet!”

The world spun. Rarity shook her head, feeling something warm and fuzzy slip underneath her and a small wave of nausea as she was lifted up. Whitehorn’s voice buzzed into her ear. “I’ve got her, Pinkie. Follow me!”

Motion. Rarity was not a big fan of motion at that moment. Her eyes rolled about and she caught a glimpse of a tower collapsing in the distance as it was struck by a titanic wave. Her vision blurred, refocusing just in time to spot a crowd of ponies being crushed by a chunk of bouncing marble. She shuddered, weak hooves sliding against Whitehorn’s side as she tried to get up and run. Celestia, why was she so dizzy?

Black fog was racing across the sky in scattered clumps. She frowned up at it. So dirty, these skies. Rainbow ought to clean them up some. She felt wetness splashing against her face and tried to wave it off with a hoof. The sky was replaced with darkness, and all Rarity knew was the dull pounding of hooves on stone and the sound of rushing water.

The annoying ringing began to fade. She blinked in surprise as she realized she was being carried on some stallion’s back. A glance down to his flank gave no answers; the stallion was somehow lacking any sign of a cutie mark.

“What’s going on?” Rarity mumbled. There was still some nausea, and it threatened to spike when she spoke.

“I think she’s getting better!” Pinkie said off to one side. “Don’t worry, Rarity! We’ve got you!”

The bouncing motion stopped, and Rarity felt herself being laid up against a wall. The stallion bent down to look into her eyes, and her muddled mind caught up enough to supply his name.

“Are you well, my Lady?” Whitehorn asked. “Can you walk?”

“Ugh, my poor head.” Rarity forced herself to look around and take in her surroundings. They looked to be in the stairwell of an apartment building. Grey light filtered in through a window. “I’m—I think I’m fine now. Where are we?”

Whitehorn grimaced, his eyes darting up to the window. “The streets aren’t safe. This building looked sturdy enough, though we surely can’t stay here for long.”

Pinkie was peering outside as well, her mane drooping. “They’re… this is… we really can’t save them?”

Whitehorn shook his head. “There’s nothing we can do for them, Pinkie.” He was breathing hard, a sheen of sweat coating his fur. “We need to get to the ship. It’s our best bet to get off the island.”

Rarity struggled to her hooves, testing her strength. She gave a slight teeter to one side before recovering. “We already agreed on this, Pinkie. I know it’s hard to watch and do nothing, but we’ll be in a far better position to help once we have our ship.” It hadn't been an easy decision to make, but there was little alternative once they realized the island was truly falling into the ocean. I'll find a way to make up for this. I swear it.

“Let’s go,” Whitehorn said. He stood at the foot of the stairs, looking to Rarity. “Do you need a shoulder?”

Rarity gave a breathless nod, allowing the stallion to support her weight as they started up the stairs. Most of the windows had been shattered by the island-cracking tremors which continued to wrack the city. Their jagged remnants granted her terrible glimpses of the disaster just outside. She saw ponies caught in the street by the surge of water racing in from the new coast. Dark, sinuous shapes raced through the drowned streets, their barbed forms slicing through the water like bullets aimed at anypony struggling to stay afloat. Pieces of architecture and sometimes whole buildings or chunks of earth were bounced between the sturdier buildings by muddied waves, where the lucky and the fast huddled on the roofs and upper levels in a bid for safety. She wanted to help these ponies, but she could barely help herself up the stairs. Her tears saved her from having to see anything more, and she aimed her eyes ahead.

The whipping winds slapped at Rarity’s face as they came out onto the roof of the apartment. The building’s location on one of the taller hills of Fellis had saved it from the worst damage, but it had still developed a dangerous tilt. Its smaller neighbors had been torn away from their foundations, leaving the construct as a lonely island in an ocean of chaos. The path to the leaning tower that held the Sip of Ambrosia had been demolished by the ocean, replaced with frothing white rapids that twisted and smashed against a riverbed formed of broken buildings and piled rubble.

Whitehorn sighed. His voice was low, his eyes locked on the distant tower as the cracks near its base began to thicken and spread. “Well… any ideas?”

Pulling herself out of a howling headwind, Ana shook her head and focused back onto the Sip of Ambrosia. She was nearly there now, but the port tower had begun a dangerous teeter, pulling the lone ship moored to it like a clumsy dance partner. She could see the ship’s propellers straining as the crew struggled to maintain altitude, and the shadows of crewmembers in their frantic rush to cast off the deadly ropes.

A cacophony of shrill shrieks pierced Ana’s ears. Alarm thrilled through her forced calm as she glanced back. A dark, fluttering silhouette the size of a house had leveled onto her tail. Buck me, buck me, buck me, buck me!

Vampire bats were no joke. She’d seen the shriveled corpses of their victims, and had no interest in trying to inspire some weird, batty kinship in them. She traded altitude for speed, angling her body like an arrow as she closed the last dregs of distance in an aerial sprint.

With the thought of the bats on her mind, she missed the telltale fluctuations in air pressure that hinted at upcoming turbulence. A powerful wind slammed into Ana, nearly throwing her to the ground. She wrestled against the hostile sky to keep her place above the calamity below. The world danced around her, her ears deafened by the thunder of the waves and the island itself crumbling to pieces.

She cried out as her body slammed into something heavy. If not for the lance of pain in her sides, she would have missed the wet crack of breaking bones beneath the tinkle of shattering glass and the flapping roar of the wind outside. She curled into a ball, shielding her face as she bounced twice and slid to a stop.

Ana took shallow breaths, testing the damage. Two ribs broken, at least, maybe a wing as well. Multiple cuts on every limb. She opened her eyes and saw the shards of glass and wooden splinters embedded in her barrel.

She raised her head and took in her surroundings. She was in some kind of posh bedroom, stuffed with gold-trimmed furniture a size too large for the squat ceiling. Glass, blood, and shattered wood was sprawled beneath the circular window she had crashed through, staining the thick rug that had broken her tumble.

Ana tried moving a limb to get to her hooves, only to let out a seething hiss as the pain lanced through her. She sighed as she laid her head back onto the comfort of the rug. Of all the possible places to crash land, this one wasn’t so bad.

Well, I’m not going anywhere. Fortune guide your shadow, sis. Wherever she was, Ana’s fate was out of her hooves now. She forced her body to relax, slowing her racing heart. She licked her lips and began to hum a raspy old lullaby.

The blackness crawled into her vision, and Ana wondered if she’d ever wake up again.

“This isn’t really what I’d had in mind.”

Rarity glanced over to where Whitehorn stood. It occurred to her that he looked rather dashing with the wind tugging at his torn shirt sleeves and the tattered remains of his vest. “I was under the impression that you didn’t have anything in mind, darling.”

A corner of his lips curled up into a grim, half-hearted smile, but he otherwise ignored the banter. “I don’t know if I’m willing to trust my life to this little cart.”

“Hey, you take that back!” Pinkie looked away from the vehicle in question, leveling a hoof on the stallion. “He’s a grown wagon!”

Rarity had to admit that the wagon looked to be on its last legs. Last… wheels? Pinkie had spotted it lodged against the apartment building by the waves and had been swift in enlisting Rarity’s assistance hauling it up to the roof through a combination of levitation and Pinkie’s strange talent for effortless climbing. It was now perched on the edge of the roof which leaned out over the water, its front wheels spinning freely off the side. The roof had been shattered to pieces from some previous impact, and the driver’s seat and harness were nowhere to be seen.

Whitehorn didn’t look convinced. “We’ll be smashed to bits.”

“Nuh-uh!” Pinkie was now walked around the wagon, adjusting its position with little nudges and bumps. “I’ve got a pretty good feeling about this!”

“And you trust that?” Whitehorn arched a brow. “Her good feeling?”

“With my life, darling,” Rarity said. She blinked as she caught motion in the shadow of the stairwell, and leaned around the stallion to get a better look. A white-coated unicorn filly was peering out of it. Rarity’s throat tightened. “Sw-Sweetie?”

The filly ducked back into the stairwell. Whitehorn glanced behind him before returning his curious gaze back to Rarity. “Did you see something?”

Rarity ignored the question, nearly tripping as she galloped into the stairwell, her voice echoing down to where water had flooded the bottom levels. “Sweetie? Are you—”

Her voice caught in her throat as her eyes adjusted. The little filly had run to join three other ponies. A battered mare and stallion had pushed her to hide behind their legs, next to a wide-eyed colt.

“Please!” The mare was first to speak, pushing the word out so abruptly that Rarity jerked in alarm. “There’s room for all of us on the roof isn’t there? Just leave us be!”

The stallion was more reserved in his speech. His eyes traveled down to where Rarity’s torn outfit revealed her cutie mark, then to his hooves. “We had no choice, ma’am. Our apartment is flooded. Would you consider letting us up?”

Rarity’s ear flicked, but she registered the words only on the edge of her consciousness. Her gaze was focused on the off-white filly that watched her with wide, pale green eyes. It was only when she took in the solid mulberry of the filly’s curling, single-tone mane that she seemed to wake up. “Y-yes. Of course there’s room. Just… follow me.”

It’s not her. Rarity repeated the phrase in her head as she led the family back up to the roof. She’s gone. Keep your head, Rarity. It’s not her. A lady does not let her past… haunt her.

Whitehorn’s skeptical gaze widened in surprise as the family stepped out into the open air. “What…” His mouth set into a firm line. “Where did they come from?”

“Does it matter?” Rarity countered. She walked over to Pinkie’s side, lowering her voice. “Can we fit a few more, Pinkie?”

“Huh?” Pinkie looked up from the wiggly vibrations going through her knee, then to the shivering family. Her lips split into a beaming smile. “Oh! You found the new friends I was wondering about!”

Whitehorn joined them with a few stiff steps. “You’ve put us in an awkward situation, my Lady,” he whispered.

Rarity frowned. “How’s that?”

“If we had left a little sooner then we wouldn’t have to worry about this, but how do you think they’ll react when we leave them stranded on this rooftop?” he asked.

“We aren’t leaving them, silly filly!” Pinkie cheered. She frowned, cocking her head. “Hmm… is there another word for silly that rhymes with colt? Silly colt? Dolt… colt…?”

Whitehorn scratched a hoof against the floor, nostrils flaring. “It’s bad enough you intend the three of us to ride this thing, Pinkie! You can’t honestly expect it to hold four more ponies!”

Pinkie was still muttering into her hooves, so Rarity opted to speak in her place. “You would have us leave them?”

Whitehorn sighed. “What choice do we have?”

“We take the risk, of course,” Rarity said. She glanced over to the family. The parents were watching the hushed discussion with silent sadness, while the foals had fallen back on their haunches and lapsed into awe-struck terror. Even still, Rarity’s heart ached at the sight of the little filly. “I will not leave these ponies behind to die!”

“And what if it costs us our lives?” Whitehorn hissed. “What if the cart falls apart? Hay, now you’ve got me acting like the cart ever even stood a chance! We need to minimize the risk, my Lady!”

“Is that how you feel, then?” Rarity clenched her jaw to keep from gritting her teeth. “Fine! Why don’t you just go on your own, hrm? Minimize your risk, sir! The rest of us will find our own way!”

She glared into his eyes, straining to impress upon him the fire behind her assertion. He grimaced back at her. Precious seconds ticked past.

“You’re right,” he said at last. “Of course you’re right. We’ll have to take the chance. As if we ever had much of one to begin with…”

“Oki doki loki!” Pinkie popped back into the conversation. She waved a hoof at the family. “C’mon over, ponies! We’re going for a ride!”

“Wh-what?” the mother asked. She looked at Pinkie as if she was crazy.

“Do you see that airship over there, dears?” Rarity pointed a hoof to where the Sip of Ambrosia had finally cut its ties and began to float freely. It dipped and bobbed against the wind as the last vestiges of the airport crumpled into the waves. “That’s the ship we came here aboard. If we can just get there, then we’ll be safe!”

“Safe?” the father bellowed. “On that little cart?”


“Not now, Pinkie!” Rarity snapped. She turned back to the family, hoping her smile could convince them that Pinkie wasn’t merely insane. In truth, it was a fact that Rarity had learned almost purely through experience. “You’ll just have to trust us. Look, we’re Gifted, see? I won’t let anything happen to you. Or to your foals.” She swallowed as she said the last words.

They remained skeptic, but the argument seemed to work on them. After a brief conversation among themselves, they edged closer. Pinkie seemed about ready to burst with excitement as she guided each pony aboard the makeshift craft.

Pinkie stepped on last, positioning herself near the edge which leaned out over the water and shaking her rump like a cat about to pounce. “Are we ready, ponies?”

There was no response. Rarity gulped, fighting to still the shaking in her hooves. Trust in Pinkie. Trust her. She would never do anything she thought was truly dangerous, right? She licked her lips and opened her mouth to answer. “R—”

The word turned into a shriek as the wagon kicked into motion. Pinkie had leaned forwards, giving the last tilt needed to slide the wagon’s weight over the edge. It bumped off a protruding sofa with a heart-stopping crack of wood, skidded over the half-submerged roof of a sunken building, and splashed into the roaring waters.

“Weehee!” Pinkie’s tongue flapped in the wind as the wagon raced across the surface of the water. She leaned side-to-side as if skiing down a snowy mountain face, guiding the wagon around deadly obstructions and pouncing beasts in a series of last-second evasions.

Rarity had pushed herself up to the back of the wagon, joined by everypony else. Her mind had been seized with a combination of terror and exhilaration so potent that she couldn’t manage a single coherent thought. She just screamed, took a breath, and screamed as the airship in the distance grew larger.

“You need to help too, Rares!” Pinkie shouted back. Most of the wagon’s left wall was torn away as they ripped past the top of a submerged bridge. “Hold us together!”

“Hold—what?” Rarity forced herself back from the brink of panic and assessed the situation. She had been too busy screaming to notice earlier, but the wagon had become notably smaller as the rapids chipped away at it. The planks were shaking around her as if they were about to fall apart, and Rarity realized the meaning of Pinkie’s words. “I’m not sure if I can!”

“I believe in you!” Pinkie grinned back at her. “Do you believe in me?”

Rarity took a deep breath, nodding. She had to try, if nothing else. The wagon might not be made from clothing or sewing tools, but the adrenaline racing through her veins didn’t seem to care either way. The blue glow of her horn encased the wagon as she gnashed her teeth and fought to hold it together.

Time passed in a vivid blur of motion. The screams, roaring rapids, crumbling island, and collapsing architecture combined into a single unending volley of chaos. Rarity closed her eyes and focused all her thoughts onto the single task: Hold us together. Failure would most likely mean death not only for her and her friends, but also for the family relying on her. She took strength from the thought. Her own Sweetie Belle might be gone, but Rarity imagined she could give her all to save someone else’s.

“Home stretch, ponies!” Pinkie’s voice called. “Hang on to your horseshoes!”

Rarity cracked an eye open, and immediately regretted it. The land between them and the ruins of the airport had been severed by one of the devastating earthquakes splitting the island into pieces. She had just a split second to see this before the airport seemed to duck out of sight. Her stomach lurched.

Pinkie maintained a precarious balance on the single plank of wood that remained of the wagon’s front half. Her hips wiggled in excitement as she crouched low, her tongue flapping in the wind. She looked back to Rarity and winked. “Just a little longer, Rarity!”

There was a part of Rarity that wanted to ask for clarification, but the rest of her was smart enough to know that asking would probably not help. Either way, she only had to wait a few more seconds to find out.

The nauseating bucking of the wagon as it was tossed on the waves vanished with a startling suddenness. The wind whipped at Rarity’s hair as her heart stopped. The world seemed to slide up and then down before her eyes as the wagon jetted off the raised edge of the chunk of island, hung midair in a brief moment of exhilarating respite, and then raced back down under gravity’s harsh control. Pinkie balanced on one hoof the entire time, screaming her joy at the world.

The wagon bounced against the waves with a bone-shaking splash, leaving behind most of the right side. It landed on something solid and began to skid, losing more and more planks along the way. There was one more moment of thoughtless peril as it began to fall once more, and then it finally shattered to pieces.

Rarity covered her head with her hooves as she tumbled across the rough surface of a building. She came to a stop and found herself incapable of movement as her mind both celebrated its survival and tried to cope with the last few minutes of her life. At last she mustered the focus to tilt her head and look at the five ponies sprawled over the building alongside her, most with the disbelief still plastered over their faces.

We… did we make it? Where’s Whitehorn?

“Whee!” The pink mare bounced to her hooves without hesitation, beaming at Rarity. “Near-death experiences are so much fun when you don’t die!”

Rarity often wondered if Pinkie was truly incapable of grasping the gravity of dreadful situations such as this. Her penchant for treating any particular deadly moment as a carnival ride seemed to indicate otherwise, but it was difficult to accept that alongside the fact that she had clearly just guided a wagon on the brink of falling apart through the vicious rapids of a collapsed city falling to pieces. Perhaps she laughed at death only to help her friends cope. Perhaps she really was just a fearless filly playing in a thunderstorm. Either way, Rarity decided not to comment on the matter just then.

She struggled to her hooves, fighting to remain upright as the world spun around her. “Is everypony well? Where is Whitehorn?”

“Here, my Lady!”

Rarity turned to see Whitehorn clinging tightly to the top of a chunk of grooved marble that had been deposited on the building. He blinked and shook his head as he released his grip and slid down to join them.

“Are we all okay?” Whitehorn asked.

“Are you kidding?” Pinkie asked. “I haven’t had this much fun since the changeling invasion!”

Rarity had neither the will nor energy to roll her eyes. “We can still walk, at least.” She looked around, confirming the validity of the statement as the family picked themselves up and took in their surroundings. They seemed to be stranded on a few floors that had snapped off the collapsed airport tower, held still against the raging currents of water by some unseen obstruction. “For what that’s worth…”

“Oh, oh! Twitchy tail!”

Rarity threw herself to the floor without hesitation. Sweet Celestia, what now?

She winced as something limp and scratchy plopped down onto her muzzle. It took a full second for her strained mind to recognize the object as a thick, knotted rope. Following the trail up, she picked out the shadowed shape of the Sip of Ambrosia fighting to hover above them, a pony waving frantically from the top of the rope ladder.

Whitehorn was first to react. He wrapped the bottom of the ladder around his forelegs, squaring his haunches. “Let’s not waste any time! You four go first!”

The family was quick to obey the order. Each of the foals clung onto a parent with shivering hooves as they raced up the ladder. With a beckon from Whitehorn, Rarity went next. She felt the ladder jerk as Pinkie began to climb beneath her, and then start to swing in the wind as Whitehorn started the ascent.

It was a difficult climb, but Rarity found herself pushed upwards by the relief flooding her heart. Relief not just—or even mostly—for her own safety, but also for the safety of the family that climbed above her. The filly looked down at her from the safety of her mother’s back, expression caught somewhere between relief, terror, and giddy excitement.

Rarity’s mind drifted against her volition to thoughts of her sister. No doubt Sweetie would have had a similar reaction to the situation. A few minutes of silence and aimless wandering, maybe, but the torrent of words would have been impossible to stop once the filly recovered. Rarity was glad that the wagon ride had soaked her coat with salty water that made her eyes red and puffy. She always looked so ugly with tears staining her face.

Her thoughts returned to the present as the pegasus waiting at the top of the ladder helped pull her up onto the deck. Rarity took a few steps away from the edge to join Pinkie, grimacing at her surroundings. The richly upholstered furniture and vivid decor that had once occupied the ship’s front deck had all been either tossed overboard or shattered to pieces. Watery blood stained the wood in places, but there wasn’t a crewpony in sight besides the pegasus that had dropped the ladder.

“Mister Whitehorn, sir,” the pegasus said as he helped the unicorn aboard. “Hay, am I relieved to see you and your guests safe! I’m sure the captain will want to see you—she’s on the bridge now. We’re getting the buck out of this hayhole!”

Whitehorn nodded. “We’re grateful for the help, friend. We’ll be fine for now.”

“Yes, sir.” The pegasus dipped his head, picking up a toolbox with his mouth and galloping inside.

Rarity turned to Whitehorn. “Leaving?”

“Let’s go,” Whitehorn said. “Follow me!”

He broke into a shaky canter, and the two mares followed him inside. They made a quick pace through the ship, passing by harried sailors racing through the halls and errant furniture shoved out of the way.

The bridge was a space of relative order hidden away from the chaos outside. The captain and her crew stood firm at their stations, each pony’s eyes glued to the terminals and controls around them. Blood stained the otherwise gleaming steel of the ship. A pale-toned pony with a nurse’s cap hunched over an equally pale stallion mumbling to himself in a pool of blood in one corner.

The captain’s icy gaze thawed into visible relief as she recognized the three newcomers on the bridge. “Mister Whitehorn! Thank Luna you’re here.”

Whitehorn left Rarity and Pinkie to stride past the captain, looking out at the island below through the observation windows. “Is Elector Grove aboard?” he asked.

The captain grimaced. “I’m sorry, sir. We haven’t seen any sign of him since he left this morning. I had just given the order to cast away, sir. We held out as long as we could, but I was unwilling to risk my crew any further.” She paused, glancing down to her hooves. “If you’d like to stay longer, then I would understand.”

Rarity pursed her lips, watching the exchange in silence. Elector Day Grove was the owner of the Sip of Ambrosia, an elected representative from Heighton, and Whitehorn’s personal friend. Despite the unspoken implication that the captain had been seconds away from stranding her and her friends on the doomed island, Rarity couldn’t help but admire the mare. No doubt it had been a struggle to keep the crew calm right up to the moment that the pier itself fell out from under them.

“No, that’s fine,” Whitehorn said. He shook his head and heaved a heavy sigh. “It’s too dangerous. Grove would understand. Take us out of here, captain.”

Rarity cocked her head, ears twitching. Her mind spend a brief moment parsing what she had just heard. “Whitehorn!”

Whitehorn jerked at her raised voice. He turned, eyes wide. “My Lady?”

Rarity kept her appalled glare locked to his as she stepped up to the captain’s side, nostrils flaring. “What are you doing? We can’t leave! There’s ponies dying down there!”

“Yeah!” Pinkie came up on the captain’s other side, lips twisted into a furious snarl that made a harsh contrast against her usual demeanor. “We saved that family! We can save more!”

Whitehorn’s brow furrowed, his mouth setting into a stern line. “We nearly died out there!” The sharp bang of his hoof against the floor filled the room. “Don’t you understand that? I’m grateful for the captain and her crew for rescuing us, but every second we spend on this island is another chance for everypony aboard this ship to throw their lives away on some futile heroics! I don’t know how we survived that hayride, but we’ve taken enough chances! This isn’t some book, Rarity! This is real life, and we need to make the smart decision!”

Rarity blinked, her rage giving way to confusion. Why was he acting this way? He had always been such a chivalrous stallion, yet now he seemed ready to tuck his tail and run at every chance.

The anger came back, twice as powerful. She marched up to Whitehorn, fighting to keep her body under control. When she spoke, her voice carried the calm weight of a thunderstorm on the horizon. “Is this the type of stallion you are, Whitehorn?” she asked. “A gentlecolt to the last, until it truly matters?”

Seconds passed as they stared into each other’s eyes. The wind howled outside, battering the hull of the ship with debris.

“What would you have me do, my Lady?” Whitehorn growled. “Order the captain to land on the nearest wave and dive after ponies with a rope held in her teeth?”

“Have you replaced yourself with some moronic oaf?” Rarity snapped. She jabbed a hoof into his chest as she spoke. “We came here to help ponies! You certainly seemed to care enough when you first invited me on this trip, but now that we hold the power to save dozens of lives you suddenly seem to have turned a coward!”

Whitehorn looked away for the briefest of moments. “My Lady, it—”

“No!” Rarity yelled. “You don’t get to call me that! You don’t get to act like the chivalrous nobles from my time if you’re going to leave so many to die right under your hooves!”

Whitehorn sighed. He looked down, shaking his head. “You mean it all, don’t you?”

“Of course I do!” Rarity shouted. “Celestia help me, Whitehorn! If you abandon these ponies to their fate then I’ll be leaving the instant we find safe harbor, and you shall never see my face again!”

“I’m sorry, Rarity,” Whitehorn said. He risked a look back up to her. “You’re right. I’ve let my fear get the best of me.” He looked past her, towards the captain. “We can’t leave yet. We’ll stay and rescue as many as we can, first.”

The captain’s voice was quick to respond. She barked orders at the stunned bridge crew, jolting them back into action, but Rarity tuned it all out. She still had her frowning gaze fixed on Whitehorn. To his credit, he at least had the good sense to look ashamed of himself.

“Could you forgive me, Countess?” Whitehorn asked.

Rarity knew that she would. Fear could chill the flame of even the most outspoken pony, and a moment of panic was hardly a thing over which to turn a budding friendship into a smoldering rivalry. A lady did not hold pointless grudges.

Rarity had faced danger and death multiple times, and she sometimes forgot that others went all their lives without such peril. Despite the moment of weakness, Whitehorn was otherwise an unfaltering gentlecolt. But it would take time to get over what Rarity saw as a small betrayal of her own trust.

“We’ll talk later,” Rarity said, turning away. She saw Pinkie watching them, muzzle scrunched up with uncertainty. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be watching for survivors out on the deck.”

Ana groaned as consciousness forced itself back onto her. Hot bucks, I’m still alive?

Her whole body was pounding like the family drums at a zebra reunion. Her tongue was drier than a rat drained of blood. She could feel the tight constraints of bandages around her barrel and limbs and head, a sensation she had learned to recognize over years at Gava’s side. She imagined a little pony in her brain being assaulted by wave after wave of critical damage reports, and wished above all else for the dreamless darkness to return and save her from the onslaught of pain.

It was pretty warm, though. Warm and cozy. So she had that going for her.

Accepting that she would just have to deal with being conscious for now, Ana decided she might as well get a better hold of her situation. She cracked an eye open, waiting patiently for the blurs around her to resolve into something more meaningful. In the meantime she focused on her ears, noticing for the first time the hushed chatter that surrounded her. Whether due to the low volume or the mental retardation granted by whatever head trauma she’d subjected herself to, she found it impossible to make out any words. With a mental sigh she turned to her sense of smell. Ah, now there’s something. The unmistakable scent of baked goods tickled at her nose.

Returning her focus to her sight, Ana found herself tucked beneath a scrawny rag of a blanket. For a moment she was confused as to why she felt so warm beneath the pathetic piece of fabric, and then she realized that what she had taken for fuzzy walls or pillows at her sides were in fact other ponies, each wrapped in their own makeshift coverings.

Ana took a trio of deep breaths, bracing herself for the pain she was about to put herself through. She seethed as she pushed herself into a sitting position, leaning against the wall behind her. The world spun, and she let it do its thing while she took solace in the happy fact that she hadn’t shrieked in pain.

Once her eyes saw fit to focus, Ana realized that she was in a hallway. The material, design, and gentle rocking of the floor implied an airship. The ponies to either side of her drew back at her motion, taking the precious warmth with them. Buck them. She didn’t need them anyways. She was used to being alone when Gava wasn’t around.

The memories came back to her in a rush, but Ana took her time sorting through them. She remembered the Gifted she was stalking, the island crashing down, and her race against time to reach the Sip of Ambrosia. Her face contorted into a sloppy grin as she realized that she had made it. The crew of the Ambrosia must have found her, treated her wounds, and left her somewhere to sleep them off alongside the fresh refugees of the former Fellis Island.

It was a relief, to say the least. She had survived the fall, and even managed to keep on the trail of her prey. Assuming, that is, that the two Gifted had also escaped aboard the Ambrosia.

“Good morning, sleepybat!”

It was only through a wealth of experience that Ana kept the scowl off her face. Her eyes focused in on the offensively pink mare in front of her. She was bent low to bring her eyes down to Ana’s, her rear wiggling like a cat about to pounce. Or a mare dancing to an unheard tune.

“Hmm.” Pinkie Pie cocked her head, face scrunching up in concentration. For whatever reason, the tin of cupcakes balanced on her head remained in place instead of sliding off like any reasonable tin should have in its position. “Have I seen you before? You look kinda familiar, and y’know I never forget a face!”

I sure as hay hope you haven’t. Ana had remained carefully hidden during the original trip to Fellis, and had watched only from a distance once the ship had docked. If Pinkie had seen her, then she’d have to be an idiot to not realize that she was being stalked.

Ana opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a choked rasp. She coughed, wincing at the pain of the motion. Her coughing fit was interrupted by the sudden arrival of a cupcake shoved into her mouth.

“Here, eat this!”

Ana didn’t trust her chances on swallowing hard foods just then. Even if she had, cupcakes hovered around the bottom of her list as far as foods to eat when dying of thirst. But Pinkie gave her no choice except to chew, and once she had done that, she saw little reason not to swallow.

To her amazement, the cupcake actually quenched much of her thirst. Ana blinked in shock, her tongue running over the inside of her mouth. What the hay kind of cupcake was that?

Shaking her head, Ana made a second attempt at speaking. “I’m sure… I would remember… if we had met.”

Pinkie Pie beamed with what Ana saw as an uncomfortable amount of joy. “I guess you’re right! I’d probably remember a pony as cool as you, too!” She giggled, standing up straight with a little bounce. “Rest up, sleepybat! You don’t want to miss out on the boarding party!”

Ana watched the mare bounce down the hall, stopping to speak with a refugee family and deliver her tin of cupcakes. She shook her head and closed her eyes, letting her body relax against the wall. She didn’t quite agree with—or even understand—Pinkie’s reasons, but she knew that rest was a good idea either way.

Maybe if she was lucky the others would lend her their warmth again.

Rarity stood on the rear deck of the Ambrosia, her eyes set on the empty horizon in the distance. She had surrendered her room and her bed to ponies that needed them more, and sacrificed much of her new wardrobe to make blankets and bandages. She would sleep in the halls and spare rooms among the refugees when the time came. For now, however, sleep seemed a distant, impossible dream.

She reviewed the events in her mind. She had spent at least an hour on the deck, dodging swarms of vampire bats, tossing ropes, and hauling those ponies lucky enough to survive until Pinkie spotted them. The earth mare had had an uncanny sense for where to find survivors, and it was only due to her that they had been able to save so many. They had pulled ponies up from rooftops, lowered crew members to pluck them out of the waters, and in a few cases the ship’s armed security had broken into buildings tossed among the waves to pull out ponies trapped inside. Pinkie had found them all, and she had still seemed on the verge of tears when they were finally forced to back away by the terrible storm that had surrounded the island.

Because for all the ponies they had saved, there were so many others they hadn’t. Ponies swept beneath the frothing rapids before a line could be thrown, or knocked from the rope ladder by gusts of wind and debris, or even caught by the ocean beasts and dragged to their deaths as Rarity watched helplessly from above. Rarity wondered if Pinkie had sensed even more. Rarity wondered if Pinkie had been forced to choose between who to try and save.

Whatever the case was, Pinkie had thrown herself fully into caring for those they had reached in time. She hadn’t slept at all, instead distributing food and cheer from her own endless reservoir of laughter for those that had lost everything. She seemed to take some solace in this act. Rarity hoped that Pinkie wouldn’t regress back into the sullen, quiet mare she had been upon first seeing the drowned Equestria.

Rarity couldn’t sleep either, though for a very different reason. The deaths she couldn’t help but feel guilty for hung on her conscience, yes, but as terrible as that guilt was, there was something more that had consumed her waking thoughts.

It was something that she had seen, while scanning the drowning island for any sign of survivors. A flash of light had caught her eye, there for an instant between two buildings and then gone. At first she had thought it to be a stroke of lightning, but something about it had set her watching.

She had kept her eye in that direction as she searched, the strange illumination scratching at the back of her mind. It had returned only once, close enough for her to make out details. She wasn’t sure if anypony else had seen. She wasn’t sure if she even wanted anypony else to have seen. Now that she thought about it, she wasn’t sure if she even wanted to have seen it herself.

It was this second glimpse, this second of clarity, which had haunted her mind ever since. She had stood in the same spot on the rear deck, looking back, unable to bring herself to share it with anypony else. Rarity knew that she could be melodramatic at times. She knew that the world had already ended. And yet, it felt to her as if the world was ending all over again. Or perhaps it was only just now ending for her.

There had been a pony in that light.

She had been tall. Nearly twice as tall as Rarity. A long, twisted horn had adorned her forehead. Two majestic wings had spread above her back, the feathers drooping and flaky. Her patchy, torn coat had once been an immaculate white, but had faded to the dull grey of waterlogged parchment. Her mane and tail were the same beautiful, flowing kaleidoscope of colors Rarity had always admired.

Rarity had met Princess Celestia’s eyes, and she was terrified by what she saw. No trace remained of the warm, loving gaze that had once been so renown across Equestria.

The design of the ship shielded Rarity from the wind, but still she drew her scarf tight and shivered.