Empty Horizons

by Goldenwing

XVII: The Ruin

Twilight yawned as she levitated the little box out of the cupboard. She set it down onto the kitchenette counter and opened the top. She spent a few seconds eyeing the emptiness inside, as if willing her eyes to be wrong.

We’re out of tea. The ticking of the ship’s mechanisms seemed to laugh at her.

She had been up for twenty hours the last time she checked the clock, hours ago, but it was only then that she began to feel tired.

Hoofsteps walked into the galley behind her. “Hey, Twilight,” Trails said. “Another late night?”

Twilight turned to face the other mare. “We’re out of tea.”

Trails shrugged as she walked up to Twilight’s side and pulled the tin of ground coffee sitting on the counter closer to her. “Want some coffee?”

“I don’t really like coffee.”

Trails smirked as she scooped several tablespoons of coffee into the percolator. “Want some sleep?”

Twilight pouted, looking away. “Not right now.”

“Coffee it is, then.”

Twilight watched as Trails set the percolator onto one of the ship’s small burners. There was a soft fwoosh as the fire flickered into being, and Trails turned to face her.

It was late. Twilight didn’t know what time it was exactly, but she knew that. Or maybe it was early, instead? She didn’t usually see her up at this time, whatever it was. Sabre must have begun posting watches.

“How’s your work going?” Trails asked.

Twilight blinked, not expecting the question. “You’re not going to try and get me to go to sleep?”

Trails shrugged again. “Would you do it?”

Twilight shook her head. She wrinkled her nose at the scent of the coffee brewing. “Not for a few more hours, at least.” She had been reviewing some magical fundamental texts, comparing them with the two anatomy books she had brought with her from Heighton. She didn’t have any records of anything but the most basic diagnostic spells, but with her strong knowledge of fundamentals she thought she might be able to figure something out for Rainbow.

“No point in trying, then,” Trails said. She smiled as the percolator went quiet, and grabbed a couple mugs that had been drying next to the sink. “How do you like your coffee?”

“I don’t,” Twilight said. “Some honey will help, though.”

“Heh. That might be the first joke I’ve heard out of you.” The rhythmic impact of the spoon against the mug filled the room as Trails mixed sugar and cream into the drinks. “You’ll probably want to be awake a few more hours, anyways. We’re almost at Fellis.”

“What!?” Twilight flinched at the volume of her own voice. Trails chuckled under her breath. “Sorry, sorry, I just—I didn’t think we were even close, yet. Didn’t we have a couple more days to go?”

“Time flies when you don’t sleep.” Trails held one of the coffees out to Twilight, who nodded her thanks and grabbed it in her magic. “I was about to start waking ponies. Want to come up front and watch the islandrise?”

Twilight gave a few rapid nods as she took deep gulps from the mug. The unexpected passage of days had helped rouse her, but the sweet, warm liquid settled her jittery alertness into something more solid.

“Let’s go, then,” Trails said. She led the way out of the galley, and Twilight fell in besides her.

A thought occurred to her. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something, Trails. Other things kept popping up, but this seems like a good time.”


“When we were down in the Everfree, fighting against that sea serpent,” Twilight began, “I was teetering on the brink of total panic the whole time. I know my friends were, too, and Flint was even saying that we should turn back.” Her pulse picked up as she remembered the feeling of being tossed around in the tiny sub, knowing that something far larger was trying to break into it. “You were scared, too, right?”

Trails shot her an odd glance. There was a hiss of steam as they waited for a door to open. “I think we all were, Twi. Hay, even Sabre had about given up at the end there.”

“But you didn’t want to turn back.”

“Huh?” Trails cocked a brow. “What are you getting at?”

“Flint wanted to turn back,” Twilight said. Pale light trickled in through the portholes as they approached the bridge. “He didn’t want to keep going.” She paused, meeting the other mare’s confused gaze. “I was surprised you didn’t agree with him.”

“Oh. I get it, I think.” Trails turned away from her. They walked in silence for a few seconds. “I ever tell you about my cutie mark?”

“I admit that I have been curious,” Twilight said, looking out a window. The ocean seemed so peaceful at this height. “But we’re always so busy,  and I didn’t know if it would be rude to ask, or—”

“Pfft.” Trails cut her off with a snort. “It’s no big deal. Here, check it out.”

The two mares came to a stop next to a window just a few steps away from the door to the bridge. Star Trails sat back on her haunches, set her coffee down on the ground, and pulled the hem of her drab tunic up so Twilight could get a clear look at her flank.

A swirling path of white sparkles curved across Trails’ pastel blue flank. Thin white lines connected them, giving the impression of a constellation of stars reflected in a calm sea

“Fascinating. Is that an actual constellation?” Twilight turned to the window to look at the sky, but the pale dawn light was already starting to wash out the stars. “I don’t recognize it, and I loved practicing astronomy in my time.”

“You too, huh?” Trails let out a thoughtful hum as she smoothed her uniform back down. “If it’s a constellation, I haven’t found it yet.”

“What does it mean?”

“I have trouble getting lost,” Trails said. She nodded towards the window and the few stars left visible through it. “As long as I can see the stars, I know where I am. I’ve got a good sense of direction otherwise, too, but it’s the stellar navigation that ponies are always willing to pay for.”

She stepped up to Twilight’s side, and the two of them watched the sun rise. “I’ve probably spent more time than anypony alive looking at the stars, Twilight, guiding merchant ships all over Equestria. It never really satisfied, though, y’know?”

“Is that why you started diving?” Twilight asked.

Trails grinned. “It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Yeah, Sabre approached me a couple years ago. Crazy had given her some crazy budget to put a team and ship together, and she wanted me as a navigator. About a month later she was looking for a scout to take down on dives, and I convinced her to bring me instead.” She tapped a hoof against her horn. “This thing was pretty helpful for that.”

“That still doesn’t answer my question, though,” Twilight said, frowning. “Flint was a soldier, and he’s been with Sabre longer, but he wanted to turn back. You didn’t.”

Trails shrugged. She picked her mug up off the floor and turned towards the bridge. “I guess I’ve just got that explorer’s spirit. Flint talks a lot about how he’s in it for the money, but I think it’s more cause he and Sabre have been through a lot. They stick together.” She sipped at her coffee. A satisfied ‘aah’ escaped her as she pulled the mug from her lips. “Or maybe I just spend too much time looking at stars. Following Princess Luna seemed… worth it.”

Twilight wasn’t quite sure what to say about that. She had always seen Trails as a joker, as a pony fundamentally separated from her by hundreds of years of cultural distance. Now for the first time she was seeing something different. Trails might not be a scholar, but she had that same drive to observe the unknown as Twilight did. In the face of imminent death, she had pressed on.

Twilight thought back to how Trails had looked at Princess Luna sleeping. She had visited the cargo hold more often than the rest of the crew, but Twilight had always dismissed it as Sabre just sending the most sociable member of her crew to check in on her. Maybe she just wanted to see the Princess?

“Wow, what the hay is in this coffee, huh?” Trails chuckled, shaking her head. The joker slid back into place. “Getting me all philosophical. C’mon, let’s check out this island and then we can wake everypony else.”

Displaced air ruffled Twilight’s mane as the steam-powered door to the bridge pulled itself open. She followed Trails inside, eyes already aimed towards the thick glass at the far end of the room. “How much longer?”

“Huh.” Twilight turned to Trails. The other mare had a puzzled frown on her face. “We should be able to see it already.”

“It’s probably just some error in our course,” Twilight said. She walked up to the wide table where she often saw Trails and Sunfeather working with the charts. A little booklet on the edge contained a list of maneuvers, each one checked off. She grimaced as she tried to parse the thick script. “Who wrote this?”

“Yeah, Sunny’s weird like that,” Trails said, pulling the booklet closer to her. “You see a pegasus so you think, hey, she must have some great script, right? Writing with a pen tucked in your feathers gives a lot more precision than a mouth or hooves. But nope, she’s got this ugly scrawl that’s even worse than Flint’s.”

Trails sipped at her coffee as she looked over the notes. “I’m just shocked because it’s been so long since I’ve been on a ship that went off course. Sabre didn’t just grab us for nothing, you know? I’m the best navigator she could find, and Sunfeather was the best pilot. I don’t think we’ve ever gone off course before.”

A chill raced down Twilight’s spine. She turned back to the window. “Oh, buck.”

“Whoa,” Trails said. “I think that’s the closest I’ve ever heard you get to cursing.”

“No, no, no, no!” Twilight leapt down the stairs to the bridge’s lower level, scrambling over to the vacant control dais. “How do I speed this up? We have to go faster!”

“Chill, Twi.” Trails followed at a steady pace. Each slow step sent a spike of irritation through Twilight’s thoughts. “What’s got you all worked up?”

“Hasn’t there been some strange natural disasters happening lately?” Twilight asked. She squinted at the controls, trying to figure them out. “I know I read about it somewhere. Islands falling out of the sky. Well if you and Sunfeather aren’t wrong, then what other possibility is there?”

Trails blinked. She looked through the glass behind Twilight, and her face went pale. “Oh, fuck.”

Twilight’s heart sank. She didn’t want to turn around. With limbs like lead she twisted in place to look at the horizon. Fellis Island was nowhere to be seen in the sky, but the cracked peak of its tallest mountain could be seen resting beneath the cloud of wooden scrap bobbing on the waves.

The hot coffee burnt her coat as the mug fell from her magical grasp, and she barely felt it.

In the end, Ana decided, everything had gone more or less as planned.

She was in her cabin aboard the Lucky Coin. Well, not really my cabin, she reflected, eyeing the preposterous pinkness of the place. Pinkie might have had one day, at most, to settle into this cabin. Where did she even find the time?

Captain Mercante had put up some resistance at the idea of taking on a passenger so last-minute, but the Countess hadn’t backed down. She’d placated the surly stallion with promises of compensation and consideration, assuring him that it would be no trouble on his part. After all, she had said, all he had to do was accept payment for another passenger and let Rarity buy some extra provisions. No trouble at all, right?

Ana had seen the look on his face, though. He didn’t want her aboard because she was a thestral, not because she was unexpected. Most ponies had never seen a thestral in their lives, but all of them could agree on one thing: they couldn’t be trusted. Ana took a certain pleasure in proving the suspicious bastards right. Even when they were looking, they couldn’t see what she didn’t want them to.

Flicking her tail at the offensive pink assaulting her eyes, Ana let herself plop down onto the cabin’s single bed. It was almost as comfortable as the one she had back on the Roc’s Screech, but lacked that touch of home. Still, it was the nicest place she’d laid her head since she’d split up with Gava.

Her mind drifted as the last dregs of sunset filtering through her window faded away. She wondered how her adopted sister was faring. No doubt the other four Gifted were just as dangerous as the two she’d attached herself to. Gava was exactly the sort to rush in and try something without thinking. That was where Ana usually came in to hold her back until a proper plan was in place.

At the same time, Gava was the sort to fight her way out of the trouble she got herself into. There had been a few times where Gava had stopped a bounty from escaping with her headstrong aggression, and then kept them both alive throughout the consequences. Maybe Gava was already following the trail Ana had left, bounties in tow. Maybe Gava would have already captured Pinkie and the Countess if their places were swapped. Probably, even.

One of Ana’s wings ached, perhaps remembering an old wound. She rolled onto her side and came muzzle-to-muzzle with Pinkie Pie.

“Hi there!”

“Agh!” Ana’s wings popped open, throwing her back against the wall. “What are you doing!?”

Pinkie giggled, straightening up. “I just wanted to get a few special things from my room before you got all settled in, silly!”

Ana watched with wide eyes as the mare pranced over to a padlocked pink pantry set against the wall. She knocked her head against it, and the padlock promptly popped to pieces. She reached in and grabbed a cloud of balloons.

“How do you like the room?” Pinkie asked, turning for the door. “I didn’t really have time to pack, so I hope you don’t mind the pink!”

Ana blinked, her mind struggling to catch up. “It’s—nice.”

“Glad you like it!” Pinkie put her free hoof on the doorknob. She hopped in place, as if startled. “Oh oh oh! Rarity wanted me to tell you to sleep well tonight. She’ll want to measure you tomorrow!”

Ana’s heart was finally beginning to relax. “Uh, thanks?”

“Good night, Ana!” Pinkie said, opening the door and closing it behind her.

Ana watched the door for several seconds before remembering herself enough to say, “Good night, Auntie.”

She laid her head back on the pillow. The bed felt far less comfortable to her. After some debate, she decided she would let herself fall asleep. Still, she stared at the closed door for some time before finally drifting off.

Twilight hesitated as she looked down into the helmet. It wasn’t the same one she had worn down in the Everfree. The thick glass visor was clean, devoid of cracks or blemishes. And yet she could almost still see it there.

“Are you good to dive?”

Twilight looked up, seeing Sea Sabre enter the little ready room. The other mare looked more than at home in her custom-built dive armor. Twilight’s eyes lingered on the barely visible gleam of the sheathed blades on her wings.

“I’ll be fine,” she said. She took a deep breath and levitated the helmet over her head. The world was reduced to a little circle of glass with a snap and a hiss. The suit’s clockwork machinery began to spin up, the steady tick-tocking doing little to calm the pit that had formed in her stomach. “I’m not going to leave Rarity and Pinkie down there.”

Sabre gave a curt nod. “I wanted to confirm that you’re giving me tactical command for the dive.”

Twilight stood up, refamiliarizing herself with the armor’s weight. “What do you mean?”

“In the Everfree, you followed Flint into Princess Luna’s chamber against my—” Sabre paused, eyes narrowing. “Recommendation. I understand that Mr. Rich has placed my team under your command, and you are an impressive mare in your own right. But you lack experience in several fields.”

Twilight nodded. She was glad that the visor kept her from having to meet Sabre’s eyes. “You’re right. You definitely know what you’re doing, and I should listen to you while we’re down under.” She grimaced, wondering what to say next. Sabre didn’t seem like the type of pony who cared about apologies.

Sabre saved her from having to figure it out. “I appreciate it,” she said. “Let’s go.”

Twilight followed her out into the hall. It was just a short walk to reach one of the two hatches that led to the submarine’s docking clamp. She resisted the impulse to look out the passing windows, instead letting her attention fall to the commotion next to the hatch.

Rainbow Dash was hovering mid-air, her muzzle pushed into Flint’s face. “What do you mean, I’m not going? Of course I’m going! Those are my friends down there!”

Flint didn’t back down. His thick armor helped give the impression of towering over the mare, despite looking up at her. “Sabre says yer not goin’, so yer not goin’.”

Applejack and Fluttershy were sitting on their haunches against a bulkhead, the latter carefully watching her hooves. Applejack’s hat was perched awkwardly atop her helmet, while Fluttershy wore nothing. Star Trails was pacing back and forth the narrow hall, her helmet hanging from a clip on her armored flank.

She looked up as Twilight and Sea Sabre approached. “Oh, hey. Glad you’re here. This one’s causing a bit of a ruckus.”

“Ruckus?” Rainbow echoed, rounding on Trails. “I’m tired of sitting around and watching! I want to help!”

“Rainbow Dash!” Sabre barked. Twilight flinched back, suddenly feeling as if she had done something wrong. She saw Fluttershy slide herself behind Applejack’s steady form. “What is your fatal flaw?”

Flint let out a low chuckle. “Ooh, ye done it now.”

Rainbow faltered, her anger slipping into hesitation for just a moment before settling on thin-lipped determination. She landed in front of Sabre, meeting her eyes. “It’s—discipline. Ma’am.”

“Correct.” Although Sabre had lowered her voice, her presence seemed only more imposing for it. “And what is the first rule of your training?”

At first, Rainbow said nothing. Her tail flicked side to side as she stared into Sabre’s hard, red-eyed gaze with a single fiery cerise eye. Even with an eyepatch, her glare seemed just as intense as it had always been.

After agonizing seconds, Rainbow spoke. “Obey your orders. Ma’am.”

Sabre’s head bobbed in a single slow nod. “I’m not letting anything sneak up on my ship again, Rainbow Dash. You will be patrolling the surrounding airspace and watching for threats until we return from the dive. Is that understood, or do you no longer wish to train with me?”

Rainbow took a deep breath. Keeping her eye fixed on Sabre’s, she forced out the words. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Good.” Sabre stepped past her, stopping in front of Flint. She sat back on her haunches and secured her helmet to her suit, sending small jets of steam down her sides. “Fluttershy, where’s your suit?”

Applejack nudged Fluttershy, and the timid pegasus jumped in alarm. She cleared her throat, straightening up. “Um, I-I would like t-to stay here, too.” She gulped. “Please?”

Sabre cocked her head. Perhaps Twilight was imagining it, but her voice seemed to soften by a half measure. “You’ve proven yourself to be a valuable asset on a dive. Are you certain that you’d rather stay?”

Fluttershy hunched back down. “Yes, please,” she whispered.

“Very well.” Sabre nodded to Flint, who spun the hatch wheel and pulled it open for her. “Let’s not waste any more time.”

She stepped outside, the roar of the Argo’s engines filling the void she left. Flint and Trails exchanged nods before following after their commander.

Twilight approached Rainbow Dash, laying an armored hoof on the sulking pegasus’ shoulder. She had to speak up to be heard over the wind. “Don’t worry, Rainbow. We’ll figure this out.”

“I’m sure Pinkie and Rarity are fine,” Applejack added. “Shoot, that filly was probably goin’ on about her tail twitchin’ and islands fallin’ hours before anythin’ happened.”

Twilight glanced askance at the helmeted cowpony. She was a great help when it came to comforting friends, but not so good a liar. I wonder what her face looks like, after saying that.

Rainbow’s ears flicked. “Just make sure you get back in one piece. I’ll be watching. Again.” She sighed, wings flaring, before rocketing out the hatch and into the open sky.

Fluttershy seemed torn between following after her distraught friend or staying in the safety of the airship. Her eyes roamed from side to side as the inner turmoil built up inside her. “Ohhh…”

“She’ll be fine, sugar cube,” Applejack said. “Not like y’all could catch her anyways, if’n she didn’t want ya to.”

After a moment’s deliberation, Fluttershy let out a heavy sigh. “She might still want me to try.” Her wings spread with a slow grace, and she gingerly flew outside and up out of sight.

Twilight couldn’t help but sympathize with Rainbow. How would I feel, she wondered, if I had to sit and watch for somepony else to save my world? It wasn’t a difficult question. She might lash out just as much, or even more. She wouldn’t want any of her friends to bear her burden, though. She beckoned to Applejack with a nod of her head. “Let’s not keep them waiting.”

It had started raining. The soft pitter patter of the drops on her helmet kept her company as Twilight stepped outside, crossed the narrow metal ramp, and climbed down the submarine’s open hatch.

The hatch squealed as Applejack shut it behind them, spinning the wheel to tighten the seal. Sea Sabre, Star Trails, and Flintlock were waiting in the control room when the two mares arrived.

Sea Sabre looked back at them. “Twilight, I want you supporting Trails. Applejack, follow Flint. He’ll show you how to handle the sub’s weaponry.” She flicked a switch beside her, sending a groan through the hull as the Argo’s clamps set the sub loose to rock with the waves.

“Weaponry?” Applejack asked. She reached a hoof up to adjust her hat before it fell off. “I dunno, sugar cube, I ain’t never tussled with anythin’ like that before.”

“Eh, it’s not that hard,” Flint said. He squeezed past her, towards the rear of the sub. “C’mon. Best job on th’ sub, ye’ll see.”

“I’m just warnin’ y’all, is all I’m sayin’,” Applejack said as she followed after him.

Steam hissed out of the pipes set in the hull as Sabre continued the sub’s startup sequence. The gears set in the hull began to spin up, starting as a ponderous tick-tock-tick that soon settled into an eager chatter.

Sabre’s hooves settled in over the controls as the water swallowed them up. “Any heading?” she asked.

Twilight approached Trails, who was channeling magic into her terminal with her eyes closed. The other unicorn spoke first. “I’m not making out anything distinct. I bet miss magician is ready to show me up, though.”

“I can give you some tips, later,” Twilight offered as Trails backed away from the terminal.  “I’ve been getting a lot of use out of your spell, and making a number of improvements.”

“I guess we’re lucky I’m not the spiteful type,” Trails quipped. She nodded at the little grey sphere set into the metal. “I’ll take you up on that sometime, but let’s focus on the dive for now.”

Twilight nodded, closing her eyes and casting her magical senses out through the network of hornbane that spiderwebbed through the submarine’s hull. A thin wake of debris filled the waters above and around the slowly sinking island, making it difficult to get a complete image of the city itself. “Just bring us in closer for now. I’ll tell you when I find it.”

The ticking of the sub accelerated, and gravity shifted. Twilight kept one eye on the bubbles floating past the viewport as she continued sending out pings. Fellis was a big island, and one that would have had thousands of ponies on it when it fell. They didn’t have the resources or time to search the whole thing, but Rarity had left Twilight with a written copy of the name of her ship and the dock they planned to stay at before her departure. If they could find the dock, then they could search it for signs of her ship. Twilight’s legs went a little weak just at the thought of what she was doing, and the pit in her core deepened. She desperately hoped that she wouldn’t find it.

A shape drifted into the sub’s headlights. Twilight stiffened, expecting it to attack them, but it slipped out of sight within seconds. Calm down, Twilight. These waters are full of debris, and you can’t be jumping at everything you see.

A soft thud sounded from the front of the sub as a shadow appeared, smacking into the glass. Again, Twilight jumped. The shadow began to slip off, emitting a slow squeal until it finally lost its grip. Twilight’s relieved sigh was cut short as the shadow flashed past the sub’s lights, revealing itself to be a waterlogged corpse, its face oddly calm.

Twilight yelped, her scanning spell fizzling out. Flint’s voice clicked on over the radio. “Any action goin’ on over there? We’ve been gettin’ some impacts on th’ hull.”

“Just bodies,” Sabre said. Her head angled itself towards Twilight. “Make sure to keep an eye out for any fast-movers, especially if it’s heading for us.”

Twilight took a deep breath. “Right.” She turned her attention fully to the terminal, keeping the viewport out of sight. “Just bodies, Twilight,” she muttered. “Nothing to be afraid of.”

The impacts began to come more often, and Twilight contemplated casting a minor silence over her helmet. She couldn’t push the image of swimming through a sea of bodies out of her head, but she knew that it would be too risky to deafen herself. She had read about the deepfish that were drawn to objects that disturbed the surface. Their numbers may have thinned once the island was fully submerged, but there was a good chance that there were still dozens of the creatures lingering, feeding on the carcasses.

Twilight suppressed a wave of bile in the back of her throat. That image wasn’t much better.

“Sweet Luna,” Trails breathed. Twilight could hear her hooves slowly approaching the viewport.  “There’s so many of them.”

She focused herself on the scanner, squeezing her eyes shut tight. The cloud of bodies kept her from getting a full picture, but they were close enough now that she could mentally fill in the blanks herself. The island had been shattered into a hundred pieces at least, and even now Twilight could sense the way that they drifted apart as they sank. It was difficult to say how much further the seafloor was, but by the time the island’s remains finally settled into place it would be spread across miles at the very least.

From this range she could almost see how the island had crumbled. The pieces seemed to be clustered into groups, as if gravitational forces had broken it into a dozen larger chunks before each one slammed into the ocean and exploded into a dozen more.

She distanced herself from the scale of the calamity in cool analysis. She hypothesized that the spell holding the islands up did so with a distributed upwards force that perfectly canceled out gravity, adjusting on the fly to account for shifts and changes in mass. The way the island seemed to have fallen apart before hitting the ocean implied that the spell had cut out all at once, like somepony flicking a switch. With its arcane foundation suddenly gone, the island had only been able to retain its shape for moments before the forces acting upon it had torn it apart.

She was glad that she had thought to check a collection of historical city guides out of the Heighton library. She had found Fellis within it on the ride over and spent an hour familiarizing herself with its layout. Her map was years out of date, of course, but the basic shape of a city was a slow thing to change once it was laid out.

She could see the island’s many river valleys, its busy industrial center, and its mountainous southern edge. Several clumps of straight-edged metals indicated where airships had landed for the last time, but none of them were the proper mass for the Sip of Ambrosia. Still, Twilight wouldn’t be satisfied until she searched the waters around Rarity’s dock.

Motion came to her attention. It was distant still, but sudden and fast. She thought back to how the sea serpent had felt to her arcane senses, and was glad that nothing nearly as large seemed to be moving among the ruins. “I’m picking up movement,” she said. “Just deepfish, I think.”

“Confirm, Trails.” Sabre said. A couple seconds passed. “Trails?”

“Uh, right. On it, boss.”

A hoof tugged at Twilight’s shoulder, and she allowed herself to be pulled away from the terminal. “It was around ninety-three degrees, and lower than us,” she said.

Trails nodded, but said nothing as she positioned herself before the terminal. Here movements were sluggish, and her magic felt weaker when she began scanning. Twilight could feel the frayed edges of her spell, as if it had been tied together through rote instinct, lacking refinement.

Despite her clear distress, Trails still worked fast enough to keep Twilight from having to find a new distraction. “She called it right, boss. Deepfish.”

“Roger that. Flint, load a flash torpedo in tube one and a frag in tube two.”

“Ye got it, boss.” A slow, distant scrape traveled up from the rear of the sub as Flint grunted over the radio. “Grab that there, cowfilly. There ye go.”

Trails stepped back from the terminal, seeming drawn to the thick glass that separated them all from the freshly sunken grave. Small jets of steam burst from the armor around her neck as she pulled her helmet off and let it fall to the floor.

Sabre glanced back, the question clear in the movement. Twilight’s gaze lingered on Trails’ face. Her eyes were wet with tears, her mouth hanging open. A shiver ran through Twilight’s body before she repositioned herself in front of the terminal. She closed her eyes and let herself take solace once more in the cool analytical world of arcane ping and response.

Trails’ shaky voice broke her concentration within seconds. “All these ponies…”

“Trails, are you with me?” Sabre asked. There was another hiss of steam. Twilight cracked an eye open and saw Sabre standing before Trails with her helmet held in a wing. “Look at me.”

“Fuck,” Trails groaned, falling back onto her haunches. “Is this what apocalypse feels like? How many ponies died here?”

Twilight’s mind helpfully pulled up the relevant statistic. As of 650 Anno Caeli, Fellis Island had a steady population of six thousand four hundred and forty ponies. She closed her eyes again and shook her head in an attempt to dislodge the knowledge. Of course it didn’t work. She settled for deep breathing instead.

“Star Trails,” Sea Sabre said, “Save it for when we’re back on the surface.”

“What the fuck, Sabre?” Trails shot back, her tone accusing. “What is wrong with you? How can you sit there and act like we’re not swimming through a city-sized graveyard?”

“My concern is not with the dead,” Sabre growled. “And neither should yours be until we’re above water.”

A merciful motion in the distance caught Twilight’s attention. She focused her arcane senses on it, observing the way that her pings seemed to almost warp around it, giving feedback so distorted that the spell failed to translate it into anything approaching comprehensible. “I’m picking something up. It’s distorting my spell.”

“Where?” Sabre asked. Twilight’s ears flicked as the sub’s gears spun up. The pegasus must have returned to the controls.

“It’s hard to say,” Twilight said, opening her eyes. “It should be passing into sight soon, I think.”

As she said this, a harsh white light shone through the sub’s viewport, drowning the colors out in to a uniform pale blue. Twilight raised a hoof to shade her eyes as her curiosity got the better of her, and she tracked the twinkling new star as it zipped across their vision. Shadows spasmed around the control room as the shooting star ducked behind bodies and floating rubble. Flares of pale red and whitewashed purple flickered around its edges, forming a wide trail that lingered for only seconds before dissipating.

“What is that?” Trails asked.

“How far away is it?” Sabre added. She slipped her helmet back over her head, the suit sealing with short bursts of steam. “Your helmet, Trails.”

“It’s still a few hundred meters off, at my best guess,” Twilight said as the light dipped behind a chunk of island. Spotlights of white and red danced through the water it had once occupied. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Trails took a deep breath before resecuring her helmet. “Fuck.”

“It doesn’t seem to be interested in us, at least,” Sabre said. “Keep an eye on it, Twilight.”


The water swirled around them as the submarine maneuvered. The mangled corpse of Fellis Island stretched before them, dimly lit by sunlight filtering down from the surface and streaks of brightness shooting out from behind the island’s bulk. Unlike Ponyville or the Everfree Forest, which had been so deeply submerged that it was impossible to see anything without a light, Fellis hadn’t yet settled onto the ocean floor kilometers below. It was still sinking, and most of it was illuminated in a smothering twilight that gave the mind too many dark corners to toy with.

Applejack stepped into the control room, one hoof steadying her hat. “We got them tubes loaded for y’all, Sabre. I reckon I got them things more or less figured out, but I sure as hay wouldn’t want to run that rodeo if’n it really mattered.” She stiffened as she noticed the macabre cityscape stretched out before them. “Whoa, nelly.”

The stillness of the dead city made Twilight’s coat stand on end. The only motion came from the racing strobelights of the strange star. The city and its scattered contents were all sinking at the same rate, giving the impression that the hundreds of bodies silhouetted in the abyssal twilight were hovering in place above the shattered buildings.

A cracked tower stretched across four chunks of island, its broken pieces having settled into the rubble of the surrounding buildings almost like a wounded snake curling up in a nest of crumbling stone. Twilight’s breath hitched as she saw the metallic protrusions that were all that remained of the piers where airships would’ve tied off.

“Is this it?” Sabre asked, bringing the sub in closer. Its lights shone on a scraped and bent metal sign, gleaming against the words carved into its surface. Sunrise Venture Skyport.

“That’s it.” Twilight swallowed, stepping closer to the glass. A voice inside her whispered that she was looking at the grave of two of her best friends. She hated that part of her, sometimes.

Sabre nodded. The radio clicked on in Twilight’s ear as she spoke over it. “Flint, get ready for EVA. You and Twilight will be searching on hoof.”

“Are you done yet?” Ana asked. She shifted her weight from one side to the other, granting her stiff legs some small relief.

The Countess tutted at the motion, continuing to prove she held no professional respect for personal space as she squinted at the measuring tape glowing blue in her magic. “Just a moment, my sweet! You’ll find the end result quite worth the wait.”

Ana resisted the impulse to suck in air for a deep sigh. She knew that such a disturbance would only extend her torment in the end.

The two mares had been hidden away in Rarity’s cabin for what felt like hours, which meant that it probably actually had been hours, considering the fact that Ana had developed a pretty good knack for estimating the passage of time. She spent an awful lot of it waiting around and watching, after all.

At least that incessant pink one isn’t involved. The Countess had insisted on privacy for the procedure, spouting some melodramatic prattle about the bond between artiste and canvas. Ana had since discovered that this bond largely consisted of standing still so long that she was about ready to fall over whenever she was allowed to move again.

“Ooh, I think that should quite do it!” Rarity hummed a little ditty to herself as she marked the measuring tape with a pencil before backing off. The tape followed behind her like a loyal servant as she made for the stand-up curtain blocking Ana’s view of a third of the room.

Free from the seamstress’ scrutiny, Ana heaved a heavy sigh. She wasn’t even allowed to lay eyes on the dress until it was finished. She didn’t have much tailoring experience beyond patching the occasional damaged barding, but she was pretty sure that the final alterations would move along far faster if she was actually wearing whatever it was the Countess was trying to hide from her. Stupid pony superstitions.

She was pretty sure it was a dress back there. She didn’t like dresses.

At least the room is nice. Unlike Pinkie’s preferred decorating method of spraying her surroundings down with pink and floof, the Countess had a softer touch. Her cabin was clean and tidy, accented by complementary splashes of pastel purples and greens. The faint smell of lilacs hung in the air.

Rarity’s humming devolved into an eager giggle. “Ooh, I dare say it’s finished!” she sang. The tiny wheels of the curtain rattled as the unicorn brushed it aside to reveal her creation. “Voila!”

Ana blinked. It was no wonder that the Countess had insisted on working behind a curtain. The mess of fabric scraps around her gave the impression of a careless foal that had torn up a cloudy night sky, shredded a foamy sea, and finally cracked open a morning sun before tossing it all together on the floor.

“Don’t look at the mess, darling!” Rarity whined. “Look at the dress!”

“Oh, right.” Ana tore her gaze away from the hurricane of color, focusing instead on the clean lines of the dressed ponequin they surrounded. Her attention was immediately drawn to the polished moonstone cabochon secured to the model’s neck. The gem was nestled in a flower-shaped splash of glimmering silver. She would have paid for the chance to steal just a necklace with that design on its own, but the dress didn’t stop there.

Dark blue fabric seemed to flow from this centerpiece in sharp, sweeping arcs that reminded Ana of her own leathery wings, forming a light cloak that gradually deepened to hang just below the flanks, leaving plenty of space for the legs and tail to move. A wide purple hemline played along the edges of the cloak, twisting up into swirling patterns around the teardrops of clear glass that studded it like twinkling stars. Underneath was a loose-fitting blouse of pale blue, the soft pink laces on the neck left undone. The sleeves hung somewhat loose around the model’s forelegs, giving the coat room to breathe and blooming out at the fetlocks to leave the hooves free. The entire ensemble looked almost as if it would float off to return to its home in the night sky if it was left unwatched.

“It’s, uh—” Ana stepped closer, running a wingtip along the patterns of purple integrated into the cloak’s hem. She laid a hoof on the silver flower that surrounded the moonstone gem. At first she was surprised that it wasn’t an actual flower. Then she remembered how long it had been since she’d seen that particular bloom. “Is this supposed to be a certain flower?”

“Night-blooming cereus, actually.” Rarity beamed at her. “Did you recognize it? I’m afraid it’s been months since I saw one.” She paused, some of her enthusiasm leaving her. “Well, centuries, I suppose.”

Of course I recognize it. What self-respecting thestral couldn’t pick out princess of the night in a sea of flowers? “It’s… beautiful.”

Rarity clapped her hooves together with renewed gusto. “You simply must try it on! Come, come, I have some mirrors set up in my closet, and we can—”

“No,” Ana said, cutting the seamstress off. She blinked, carefully dialing back the harshness in her voice. She still had to be Anatami the refugee, after all. “I mean—thank you, Countess. It’s the greatest gift anypony has ever given to me.” She resisted the urge to flick her tail. Why did it bother her to speak that lie when a thousand others had flowed freely before it? “I’m still worn out from the fight with the bounty hunters, I think. I’d like to go back to my cabin.”

Rarity’s lips twisted into an ignoble pout. “Are you certain, dear? I don’t want to pressure you, but there is truly nothing that would make me happier right now than seeing you glow in this couture.”

“Sorry, Auntie,” Ana said. “Some other time, I’m sure.”

Rarity sighed. “Very well, then.” Her horn glowed, and the dress tugged itself free of the model. The sound of her magic and rustling cloth filled the little cabin as she carefully folded the dress into a small box. A set of four silver shoes settled down on top before she closed it, securing the box with a thin pink ribbon. “Do feel better soon, Ana,” she said, levitating the box before her.

“Thanks.” Ana hooked the ribbon with the clawed tip of a wing. She left the cabin at a measured pace, careful to not look back.

Sea Sabre’s voice buzzed into Twilight’s ear. “Opening the outer lock.”

A cloud of bubbles obscured her sight as the heavy metal hatch swung open. Twilight raised a hoof to step forward, only for Flint to shove in front of her.

“Not this time, ye don’t,” he growled. “I go first.”

“Oh, right.” Twilight moved back. “Sorry.”

Flint grunted as he used the airjets built into his armor to push himself out into the open water. He hung for a moment before drifting down to the stone bulk of the collapsed tower beneath them and landed with a deep thud. Twilight poked her head out and watched him cast the red light mounted on his shoulder around the ruins.

“Looks clear enough,” he said. “C’mon and join me, ‘Light.”

Twilight dropped down by his side, bending her knees to absorb the impact of the fall. She was at first surprised that no sand cloud was stirred by her landing. Every time she had ever set hoof outside of the sub, there had been at least a thin layer of sediment waiting below, obscuring her vision for a couple seconds when she landed. But of course there isn’t one here, she thought. This dead land is still fresh.

Twilight clicked her radio on. “We’re out. We’ll make our way towards the other end of the skydock and search for—” She paused, licking her dry lips. “Search for clues.”

“Acknowledged,” Sabre replied. “We’ll be scanning from above for any trouble. Torpedoes are at the ready for fire support, if necessary.”

Applejack’s uncertainty was easy to hear, even with the distortion from the radio. “For a certain meanin’ of ‘ready,’ I reckon.”

“Ye’ll be fine, cowfilly,” Flint said. “Just press the right fire button when ol’ Sabre tells ye. I’ll be sure t’ kill anythin’ down here before ye have to reload, just t’ make it easy on ye.”

“Uh, thanks. I guess.”

Twilight took a moment to adjust to the strange sense of reduced weight, no doubt due to the island’s continual sinking. She led the way along the top of the fallen tower as the submarine floated further above them. Its shadow passed over the divers, making it difficult to walk without stumbling over the scattered chunks of stone underhoof. Twilight summoned a small purple orblight to hover above and behind her, illuminating the surrounding rubble with enough clarity for walking. What she had thought to be just more rocks was revealed to be a bruised corpse, and she stiffened as her armored hoof crunched through bone.

“Watch yer step there,” Flint rumbled as he walked past her. He kept his shoulder light trained on the ground in front of him, taking care to maneuver around the mangled cadavers.

Twilight took a deep breath as she took her weight off the leg she had stepped on. She was getting too used to it. She wasn’t even sure if the corpse had startled her more than the surprise of stepping on something unexpected.

The submarine’s powerful lamps played over the ruins to either side, picking out shattered architecture, torn up earth, and the extruding parts of the dead buried beneath. In some places the rubble had held together enough to be recognizable as storefronts or homes. Many of the bodies were merely broken or battered, but some bore the marks of more gruesome endings. Flesh rent from limbs and deep gashes in the flesh marked those ponies who had been hunted rather than crushed. They often had limbs or entire halves of their bodies missing altogether.

But there was no airship to be seen. Not yet, at least. Twilight returned her focus forwards as she and Flint came to a break in the tower. The tower here hung out over a seemingly endless abyss. Twilight peered down into the darkness, her hooves sending a spray of rubble sinking into the black.

“Looks like we’ll have to jump,” Twilight said.

“Ye want me t’ carry ye across?” Flint asked.

Twilight shot him a sidelong glance, hidden by her helmet. “I think I’ll manage.”

The submarine’s lamps travelled across the wide gap. The other island chunk was sitting at a steep angle, as if one edge had risen up out of the water as it sank. Most of the buildings had slid down to the lower side, all piling up on top of each other.

“We can aim fer that hole there,” Flint said, indicating a collapsed section of wall that led into the depths of the rubble.

“But we won’t be able to see if there’s an airship wreckage from in there,” Twilight said. “What if we pass them?”

“Can’t ye use that spell of yers?” he asked. “Trails is lookin’ from the sub, too. Between th’ two of ye, I think it’ll work out.”

The entire island flared with a sudden brightness. Twilight raised a hoof to shield her visored eyes as she turned towards the source of the light. The mysterious shooting star from before had arced back into view, painting the ruins with its harsh glow.

“It’s coming closer,” Trails said over the radio. “I can’t tell how fast.”

“We’d best get movin’ then,” Flint said. “Th’ big jumble’ll make fer good cover.”

Twilight grimaced. As much as she hated the thought of possibly passing over her friends, Flint was right. The ping spell wouldn’t have any trouble finding the metal hull of a wrecked ship among all the stone and earth of the fallen city. If they were down here, she’d find them. Even if she wanted nothing less.

“Let’s go,” she said.

The two of them jumped together, propelling themselves across the gap with jets of pressurised air. Floating debris acted like tiny clouds to the miniature sun of the unknown creature approaching, casting misshapen shadows over the city.

Flint landed fast, absorbing the impact with his hooves and training his guns on the enclosed area as he skidded to a stop. Twilight was more cautious, using her airjets to counter her velocity before landing. She floated her orblight forward into the gaping hole before them. The purple glow drifted silently deeper into the tunnel.

Flint grunted as he led the way after it. “This place is givin’ me th’ creeps.”

“You?” Twilight asked. Her horn glowed brighter as she began sending pings through the surrounding superstructure. The knot in her stomach tensed with every signal out, and relaxed as each one returned with no terrible omen of her friends’ waterlogged grave. Her voice threatened to shake, but she needed something to keep her mind off what she was doing. “That’s not like you.”

“Jus’ look at that.” Flint gestured towards one side with a hoof.

Twilight followed the motion, spotting a pair of bodies sticking out of the wall. Their lower halves had each been crushed together by the surrounding architecture, leaving the limp upper halves to sway freely in the current. Each one had its hooves wrapped around the other. Twilight looked away before she could see the faces.

A spiteful rush of anger flared up in Twilight’s chest. “You only care about bodies when they come from your world, Flint?” She gnashed her teeth, pushing the heat back down. She didn’t want to risk upsetting herself while her magic was active.

Flint looked back at her. He slowed his pace to let her close some of the distance between them. “I know I’ve been a bit rough with ye, ‘Light,” he said. His voice was low, a grave contrast from his usual boisterous volume. “I’m guessin’ that apocalypse of yers ain’t never been so close t’ home for me til’ now.”

Twilight didn’t turn to meet his gaze. That had sounded almost like an attempt at an apology, but she was still focused on reining in her unruly emotions. Instead she quickened her pace, using a burst from her suit’s airjets to drift into the lead.

Sabre’s voice crackled into her ear. “That thing is getting too close. Applejack, be ready to fire tube one on my mark. Twilight and Flint, stay at the ready.”

“Roger that, boss,” Flint said.

Applejack’s acknowledgment was less steady than Flint’s, despite her attempt otherwise. “Sure thing, sugar cube.”

The tunnel widened around her as Twilight pressed further into its depths. She sent her orblight up, allowing its steady purple glow to pick out the edges of a small pocket formed within the rubble. A deepfish corpse was splayed out here, its ragged hide punctured on both sides by a metal pipe.

Flint’s shoulder light played over a trio of pony bodies piled up against a thick metal beam opposite the deepfish. The larger stallion body was marred with deep cuts and bruises, but the two foals behind him looked almost peaceful in death.

“That pony’s got my respect,” he said. “Fightin’ off one of th’ deepfish before goin’ down. Here’s hopin’ he found some peace at th’ end.”

Twilight said nothing. There was still some lingering anger over the sudden appearance of Flint’s appreciation for the dead. Her eyes followed the beam behind the bodies up to where it was lodged into the rubble. Some part of her imagined it to be some valiant defender, holding up the weight of an island in honor of the pony who had died defending the helpless.

“Part of the island is breaking free near you two,”Trails said over the radio. “Brace yourselves!”

A deep rumble passed over the island as if on cue. Twilight could feel the shifting motion of the superstructure through her hooves, and found herself instinctively squatting low as small rocks dislodged themselves from above before thunking against her visor. She yelped as a heavy wad of bricks bounced off of her armored flank, pushing her to the ground with its impact.

“Ah, buck!” Flint growled. “Th’ whole place is comin’ down around us!”

Looking up from the ground, Twilight saw the metal beam shift dangerously, straining against the mass of the city above them. “Stay near me, Flint!” she said, wrapping the beam in her magic. She didn’t know if her shield would hold if the little cave collapsed, but hoped that her telekinesis would be enough to keep the beam in place.

The disturbance was over as quickly as it started. Twilight took a deep breath as the water relapsed back into its dead silence, allowing her magic to fade.

The beam shifted. Twilight’s eyes focused in on the chest-sized rock falling for her face just in time for her to let out a strangled, “Agh!”

The rock bounced off as if it was made of paper. Twilight blinked, confused by the lack of impact.

“Twi, y’allright?” Applejack asked.

“She’s fine,” Flint said. “We’re fine. Jus’ a bit of a scare.”

“I’m fine, AJ,” Twilight confirmed. She picked herself off the ground, wrapping the rock in her magic and pulling it closer. It was a soggy cardboard package, neatly gift-wrapped in yellow paper with pink ribbon, miraculously still in one piece.

“Get back to open water,” Sabre said. “The city is still settling into place, and we don’t know how much longer it’ll be before it hits bottom.”

“Roger that, boss.”

Twilight formed a small shield around the package, teleporting the water out with a flash of purple. It fell apart like a marathon runner collapsing at the end of a race, revealing the trio of envelopes sealed inside.

“That star creature is up to something,” Trail said. “It almost looks like it’s tracking you two in there.”

“We should get movin’, ‘Light,” Flint said. “Ye can fiddle with whatever ye got there when we’re somewhere safer.”

“Just give me a second,” Twilight said, waving his words off with a hoof. She recognized these envelopes. Pinkie Pie had been relentless in bugging her for weatherproof envelopes once she heard about the spell Twilight had placed over her old library.

With bated breath Twilight found one addressed to her and slid open the seal. A spray of confetti popped out, the accompanying party horn muted by the water and her helmet. She pulled out the letter inside, a tentative smile pulling at her lips as she noticed the cupcake tucked beside it, and opened it.

Thick, happy pink and blue letters waited inside. “YOU’RE INVITED,” it read, “TO PINKIE PIE’S GETTING-THE-GANG-TOGETHER PARTY AT ALTALUSIA THIS ???” At the bottom of the letter, a small note had been written in Pinkie’s bouncy script. “PS: Don’t worry about us, Twilight! I just had a hoof twitch, rump itch, nose flick, and that means everything’s gonna be okay! Just relax and come enjoy the party!

A breathy laugh escaped Twilight’s lips. Oh, Pinkie Pie, this is absolute nonsense. The laugh returned, fuller and freer. It didn’t make any sense, but Twilight had never known Pinkie to operate within the confines of logic.If one of Pinkie’s invitations had found its way to her through a minor apocalypse with an assurance of well-being at the bottom, then that was good enough.

“What ye got there, ‘Light?” Flint asked, stepping in front of her.

“It’s from Pinkie Pie,” she said. What was she crying for? Her friends were alive. She hadn’t failed them, too. “She says she and Rarity are alright.”

“Whoa there, nelly.” Applejack’s voice buzzed into her ear. “Y’all got a letter from Pinkie? Down there?”

“I’ll explain once we get back to the sub,” Twilight said. She took a deep breath, wearing a goofy smile inside the privacy of her helmet. “But I believe our friends made it out okay.”

“Well if it’s good enough to convince y’all, then it’s more than good enough for me,” Applejack said.

“Mission accomplished, then,” Sabre said. Was that a hint of relief in her voice? “Find some open water and we’ll pick you up.”

“Right.” Twilight tucked the letter back into its envelope, being careful not to smudge too much of the cupcake frosting, and renewed the weatherproofing spell. She let the shield fizzle, levitating the three letters into a rigid pocket on her dive suit. With the package safely stowed, she once again began sending out arcane pings. “Scanning for a way out now.”

“That glowing thing is right on top of you two,” Trails said. “Watch out!”

Twilight’s pings were coming back to her distorted. Her pulse quickened as she sensed the way they seemed to wrap around an invisible line through space, curling tighter and tighter. A shrill, warbling cry echoed through the ocean as the distortion seemed to thicken around Flint.

“Get back!” Twilight reached out with her magic, throwing Flint to the side as a beam of brilliant white light blasted into the cavern where he had stood. A billowing cloud of bubbles rushed over them, and Twilight could feel her coat heating even through the thick shell of her armor. She cried out as she was thrown back by the wave of boiling water, tumbling backwards until she collided with a low-hanging protrusion of bricks.

“Applejack, fire!” Sabre shouted. Twilight shook the stars from her vision as she rolled back onto her hooves.

“Oh, hay! Tube one off!” Applejack replied. Twilight began to send out the pings again, gauging the telltale distortion of the feedback for signs of the attacker.

Flint was back on his hooves already, charging for the clean circular hole that had been burned through the rubble wall. It was still glowing red with heat. “Think ye’re gonna take me out without a fight, do ye?” he growled. “Come n’ get it, then!” The deep thud of his repeater bounced around the cavern as he fired out into the open ocean.

“It’s not working,” Trails said. “Flash torp failed!” Twilight began to run for the hole. A spotlight of brilliant white shone down on Flint through it, framed in licks of twisting purple and curling red.

Sabre didn’t miss a beat. “Applejack, fire tube two on my mark!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Twilight finally made it to Flint’s side. She squinted up towards the glare of their attacker, trying to make out its shape as it danced ever closer. Her heart skipped a beat as the pings began to distort again, this time curling around something she couldn’t see, off to the side.

“It’s aiming for the sub!” she said, propelling herself towards the open ocean with her airjets. “It’s going to shoot again! Sabre, get out of the way!”

Again the high-pitched call sounded, and Twilight’s vision went white. She could still hear the low rumble of the tunnel shifting around her, and feel the little rocks bouncing off her armor, but it was impossible to see anything through the overbearing brightness.

“Brace!” Sabre ordered. A painful surge of static popped in Twilight’s ears. The sound of the submarine’s metal hull colliding with hard stone carried clearly through the water.

Twilight gnashed her teeth, trying to blink the light away. The afterimage of a ragged bird, framed by a circle of molten stone, had burned itself into her retinas. She didn’t even know where she was anymore. She flailed out with her hooves, searching for something solid.

“Damage report!” Sabre barked.

“Agh, spalling!” Trails hissed. “I’m bleeding, but I’m good!”

“One of these racks broke back here,” Applejack said. “Everything’s all over the place! I dunno what’s what!”

Twilight’s eyes recovered enough for her to see. She had floated nearly all the way through the melted tunnel. She reached out, grabbing onto the lip and pulling her head out into open ocean. Still blinking away the bird afterimage, she picked out the submarine’s dark shape lodged in a crack running through a chunk of island. The swimming star from before floated before it, its glow having diminished enough for her to make out a pair of wings splayed out in the center.

Her pings were distorting again, centering around the submarine. The monster was going to shoot again, and this time there would be no chance of evasion. The sinister fury flared in Twilight’s breast, her magic pooling unbidden in the tip of her horn.

End that troublesome beast.

Flint’s deep voice rumbled over the radio. “What are ye doin’ over there ye shiny moron?” His repeaters thump, thump, thumped at Twilight’s side, and she turned to see him floating a short distance off from the ruins, firing both guns at the monster’s back. “I thought ye wanted t’ play with me!”

The monster’s warbling cry sang through the water once more. Its glow brightened and danced over the ruins as it turned, a pair of white-hot eyes locking onto Flint.

Twilight forced her magic down, trying not to dwell too much on the way it resisted her will. Her friends were safe for now. She wouldn’t risk losing control again until it was absolutely necessary.

Instead, she used her airjets to tackle Flint, pushing him out of the way just as another lance of superhot light boiled the water where he had been. “I don’t think your bullets are working! We need to run!”

Flint let loose with a guttural roar. “Damnit, why don’t we ever dive around things that die when ye shoot them anymore? Fine!”

Twilight glanced back at the monster again. Its light had diminished enough for her to see its curved beak stretch unnaturally wide to release a furious cry.