Empty Horizons

by Goldenwing


Three Days Later

Rarity gasped as the sound of the doorknob turning roused her from her fitful sleep. She blinked the fog from her mind as she looked up to watch Rainbow Dash step inside.

She glanced towards Pinkie and, seeing the mare still sound asleep in her bed, Rarity pulled herself to her hooves. She beckoned Rainbow towards the wardrobe.

The pegasus was still in her dive suit, cradling the armored helmet under one wing. The injuries she had sustained during the battle three days prior were still healing, and patches of missing fur left bare her fading bruises and scratches. A trio of jagged scars had formed running down one side of her muzzle. She answered the beckon with a stiff nod and followed Rarity to huddle in the corner of the room.

“Did you find—anything?” Rarity whispered.

Rainbow shook her head. “Still nothing.” Her eye flicked over to the sleeping Pinkie Pie. “C’mon. Let’s talk about this in the dining hall with the others.”

The two mares stepped out into the hall, closing the door behind them as silently as they could. They walked for a few seconds, putting distance between themselves and Pinkie, before speaking again.

“Is there anywhere left to search?” Rarity asked.

Rainbow shrugged. “A bit, yeah, but I don’t think she’s gonna be there either.” Her armored hooves thudded against the carpet as they passed by a collapsed section of wall outlined in scaffolding. The villagers had been working hard since the battle, but the damage to Titus’ estate was too extensive to fix quickly without endangering crop harvests.

“Well, why didn’t you look there before coming back?” Rarity snapped. “We have to be certain!”

“She’s not there, Rares,” Rainbow insisted. “I flew all the sky around this island for miles in every direction, and Trails has done the same for the seafloor. There’s nothing but the same old monsters down there.” She paused, pursing her lips. “She’s gone somewhere.”

They came out into the dining hall. The blood and rubble had all been scrubbed up and cleared away here, but the cracks in the walls remained. Applejack and Fluttershy were engaged in quiet conversation at one end of the table. The former was covered in sawdust and rock dust, and the latter was scrubbing idly at blood dried onto her apron. Both of their coats had a sheen of sweat.

Applejack dipped her head in greeting. “Did y’all tell her the idea yet?”

“I only told her what we found,” Rainbow said. “Or didn’t find, I guess.”

Fluttershy waved a hoof. “How’s Pinkie?”

Rarity answered with a wan smile. “She’s holding up.”

“Poor gal.” Applejack sighed as she took off her hat and shook some dust out of her mane. “Losin’ her legs like that. I feel for her.”

“At least she still has them,” Rainbow said. She plopped down into a seat, perhaps harder than necessary. “I bet Twi can get them working again.”

“If we can find her,” Fluttershy added.

“We’ll find her!” Rainbow snapped. “She’s out there somewhere.”

“But how can you be sure, darling?” Rarity asked. She sat down opposite Rainbow, extending a hoof to touch hers. “Maybe we should start talking about—”

“She didn’t give up on you,” Rainbow said. “An entire island fell out of the sky, and she wouldn’t even sleep until we went down to—to at least find your bodies.”

Applejack cleared her throat. “Y’all don’t really reckon that Twi would just—y’know, do ya? That filly’d barely close her eyes for a nap before she plans her schedule. Way I figure, she’s still got her mission and she ain’t gonna be puttin’ too much thought into any kind of sleepin’ till she sees it through.” She let out a low chuckle. “Shucks, I bet she ain’t caught a wink of shuteye without us hoverin’ over her.”

Fluttershy cracked a smile, but Rarity was too tired to consider laughing. Rainbow Dash just arched a brow. Applejack’s smile faded, and she hid her face behind her hat for a moment before placing it back atop her head.

“Plus there’s the whole ‘don’t follow me’ thing,” she continued. “Sounded kinda like she was goin’ somewhere, and didn’t want us to worry.”

“I’m, um, worried,” Fluttershy mumbled.

“We all are, darling,” Rarity said. “But how can we even know where to begin? There’s all of Equestria out there!”

“She’s probably scared,” Fluttershy whispered. “And lonely. I would just want to go hide under my bed if I were her.”

“Except we kinda crushed her treehouse as soon as we got here,” Rainbow said. She shook her head. “And then with Owloysius? I dunno if she’d want to go back.”

“She did have a home before Ponyville, dear,” Rarity said. “Perhaps Canterlot? It’s dry still. She might have gone back there to gather her bearings.”

Applejack shrugged. “I ain’t got any other ideas.”

Rainbow sighed. A small jet of steam vented from her armor as she stood up. “Well, I guess I’d better get going. The Argo will just need a bit of resupplying and then we can head out.”

“Now y’all hold your horses,” Applejack said, standing up. “Y’all know I’m comin’ along.”

“I would like to go as well,” Rarity said, raising a hoof. She let out a quiet “Oh, goodness” as her leg complained about the effort. She glanced around the room, hoping her friends hadn’t noticed.

All eyes turned to Fluttershy, who hid behind her mane. “I, uh, think somebody should stay behind and watch Pinkie. And all the soldiers, um, need me, too. Is that okay with all of you?”

“That’s quite alright, dear,” Rarity said. She reached over to pull the yellow pegasus into a sidelong hug. “We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

“Reckon that settles it, then,” Applejack said. “The three of us’ll join Sabre’s crew and go check out Canterlot. And hopefully we find somethin’, cause frankly I ain’t got a clue of where to check next if we don’t.”

“We’ll find her, dear Applejack,” Rarity said. She gave each of her friends in turn the most confident smile she could muster, shutting out her own doubts. “We’ll find her.”

With a grunt, Gava shoved the heavy wooden beam to the side.

It fell back to the ground with a crash, splitting down the charred middle section where it had burned through the most. She grimaced as she looked down at the shriveled and burnt corpse that had been hidden underneath it. A few patches of blue fur had survived around the ring of its horn.

“Sorry, Top,” she muttered, pushing him out of the way. “We had a good run.”

She ducked through a collapsed wall, waving the lingering smoke out of her face with a wing. A couple other bodies were hidden here, though she didn’t recognize them. She stepped over them without hesitation, making a beeline for an iron-bound wooden chest half-buried in rubble.

After a few good tugs, the chest came free with a great clatter of falling wood. She held her breath as she gingerly lifted the cover.

A bleached white griffon skull waited within. She let out the breath she had been holding as she picked it up and held its forehead up to her own.

“Hey, Dad,” she whispered, closing her eyes. “I really fucked up.”

She let several seconds pass in this way, feeling for her father’s spirit. His disappointment was clear, but he was also proud of her for admitting her mistakes. For a brief moment she was a fledgling again, listening to him lecture her on the dangers of pride. It was a lecture she had received many times.

With a sigh, she gingerly placed the skull back into the chest, making sure to nestle it snugly among the cushions within. “I’ll keep her safe. Promise.”

The chest closed with a solid click. She cradled it in her forelegs as she weaved her way out of the belly of her crashed ship and back to open air. She would have to find a new, safer place to store her father while she considered the best way to free Ana.

Somebody cleared their throat. She whipped around, drawing and cocking her revolver in the same motion that she lined up the sights.

A pale blue unicorn stallion was standing in the shade of one of the few trees lucky enough to have survived the airship crash. He greeted the barrel of her gun with a polite smile. “Good evening.”

She scowled down at him. The arm holding her gun shook with its weight. Fucking injuries. “What are you doing here?”

“I was hoping we could come to an agreement.” The unicorn dipped into a precisely measured bow. “My name is Whitehorn. Do you mind if I sit?”

“You can put your plot where you want, pony,” Gava said.

“Thank you.” He straightened up, tugging the creases out of his silver vest before sitting down against the tree. “I know you’re not one for wasting time, so I’ll get right to the point. I need you to stop hunting those Gifted.”

“What?” Gava snorted. “What do I care about what you want? Fuck off before I eat you.”

Whitehorn’s smile didn’t falter. “You’ve caused me a great deal of inconvenience with your interference, Gava. I need you to stop.”

Gava narrowed her eyes at him. Her tail swished from side to side. Why isn’t this one getting scared? She lifted a talon still stained with some of her own blood. “You got a deathwish, pony?”

He shook his head with a civil little laugh. “I’m not here to fight you, Gava. I do have some understanding of your motives, after all.” He reached into his saddlebag, pulling out a pouch as big as Gava’s head with a small grunt of effort and tossing it onto the floor between them. The bag’s contents jingled alluringly as they settled.

“You’re gonna pay me off?” Gava asked, arching a brow. She tugged at the bag’s tie with a claw, loosening it enough for her to confirm its contents. Gleaming golden bits stared back at her. Designs from several different islands were stamped onto their faces. A real traveler, huh?

She looked back up to him. “This isn’t nearly worth what all those Gifted would be. Not even a fraction.”

Whitehorn’s smile grew thin. “The stories I’ve heard weren’t exaggerating when they mentioned your arrogance.”

Gava pounced. She was on the pony before he could even react, bearing him to the ground and pinning him on his back. He grunted as she slammed into him, but didn’t offer any resistance as she brought a talon up to his face. “Insults will get you nowhere, food. Any last words?”

He grimaced as she pushed down on him with her weight. “If you kill me, you’ll never see Ana again.”

Gava hesitated. She picked him up off the ground by the neck, spinning him around and slamming him against the wreckage of her ship. “Where is she?!”

He grasped at her talons with his hooves, tugging weakly. “Can’t—breathe.”

She snarled as she let him drop to the ground. “Talk!”

He sucked in a few quick gasps of air and let out a breathy laugh. “Whew. She is being held by Duke Titus.” He looked up to meet her eyes, the same courteous smile returning. “He intends to execute her as soon as he can spare the time.”

Gava glared down at him for a few seconds. “So I’ll break her out, then. But for now, ready to die?”

“Still?” Whitehorn picked himself up and wiped some of the dust off his vest with a hoof. “You can’t save her, Gava, not on your own.Titus is on high alert after the attack on his home, and he knows that you will likely make a rescue attempt.” His smile grew a bit wider. “And after all, isn’t she the one with all the plans?”

Gava snatched the bag of bits up, shaking it so its contents clinked together. “I’ll buy help.”

“From who?” Whitehorn asked. “Who will be willing to attack a Duke’s home just days after some unknown monster sliced a piece of the island off the mainland and caused earthquakes for miles around?” He paused, letting his words sink in. “You cannot free her by force. But if you cooperate, I can ensure she survives.”

“So you’re blackmailing me,” Gava spat. She turned away from him, digging her talons into the ground.

“I am inviting you to join me,” Whitehorn countered. “Look at your situation, Gava. Your ship is destroyed, your crew is gone, and your partner is awaiting execution with no way for you to rescue her. You’re at the end of your line.”

She could hear his hoofsteps coming closer as he spoke. He put a hoof on her shoulder. She stiffened, but forced herself to keep still instead of ripping his leg off.

“But I’m giving you another chance. I could use a pair of skilled individuals such as yourself and Ana in the days to come. They will be trying times, and I expect I’ll need actors willing to do what must be done to further a noble cause. And once it’s all done, I will make sure that there’s a place for both of you in the new world we create.”

Gava shot him a sideways glare. She entertained a brief fantasy of cutting the smile right off his face.

“If nothing else, Gava, you will be well compensated in bits,” Whitehorn added. “And we can part ways once it’s all over.”

Gava narrowed her eyes at him.

He smiled up at her, as courteous and mannerly as ever.

Continued in Act Two: Sunken Horizons