Chapter 15: Bubble Trouble
Ye can search the world for fillies fine
'Til your eyes are weak and dim,
But don't go searchin' for a mer-mare, buck
If ye don't know how to swim!
I'd only been out for a few moments before my eyes blinked open again.
I knew that much, because if I'd been under for more than a minute, I'd've already drowned. I was already deep enough that the lake's surface had become a rippling, glass-like ceiling, looking out on an endless blue expanse that grew narrower in my vision as it receded from me. Earth ponies are known for solidity, not buoyancy; I was sinking like the proverbial stone.
Yes. You may insert another joke here about how dense we are. Ha-ha. You're welcome.
A bubble of air escaped my left nostril, floating away towards the ever-more-distant sky above.
I wasn't entirely sure why I was bothering to hold my breath at this point. The remaining tatters of the burst Fun Suit dragged in the water, slowing my movements. Its collar had popped off and fallen away, likely when the suit exploded, but I'd still have to wriggle out of the remnants before I had the remotest chance of flailing my way to the surface. That would take time I didn't have. Everything just seemed so completely futile...
At least I hadn't burned alive like Commander Bitchy; I must not have fallen very far before I hit the surface. So there was at least that small comfort before I died. And right now, I was bone-tired. Aside from being knocked unconscious and/or drugged on a few occasions, I hadn't had any real sleep since leaving my warm bed at the Lucky Chance.
That'd been --- at least two days ago. Three? Time and details were blurring together, likely a side-effect of my incipient asphyxiation. Sleep would be so much nicer than the alternative...
I felt weightless, the water growing colder as I dropped ever deeper. I wasn't unfamiliar with these sensations. It was like one of my drowning-dreams, where even though I'd been cold and alone I was at least... safe. Safe from worry, safe from fear, safe from attack, safe from the world.
Well, except for that one time in the whiskey bottle, sure, but there was no hint of amber here. Only a clear blue ceiling far above, framed by a gathering darkness, the sun's light finding it increasingly difficult to smash through so much water.
The weight of that water put more and more pressure on my barrel. Trying to squeeze out and steal away my precious last lungful of air. All my efforts now went into keeping that inside, but why was I still fighting? In dreams, letting my lungs have their fill was how I found peace. There would be no waking up this time, but the end was inevitable now. I closed my eyes against the fading of light from above.
Pink-E... I'm sorry...
Even as I forcefully blew out a cloud of bubbles, I felt angry with myself.
Why should I be sorry?! To anyone, about anything?
My parents were junkies who'd sold me off for a hit of second-rate chem. My adoptive dad had dragged me across half the wasteland until he got killed. Everything I ever got in life, after that, I took from some bastard's dead body.
And Pink-E? Pink-E had been nothing but an annoyance from the moment I met her! I could've caught Benny five times over, without her interference! Well, sure, maybe I'd've been killed by the Diamond Dogs hiding up in Slimm Pass, but I might've shot or snuck my way through too. And If she hadn't managed to alert Benny when I finally caught up to him, I'd've got paid, gone onto another job, not been caught by the Zoomers and shoved into this stupid fucking balloon-suit and dropped into the Casino Fucking Royale and dumped into this lake and drowned...
Enough stalling; my lungs desperately wanted something inside them. As I opened my mouth, something warm and smooth bumped my belly. I gasped, spooked by the unexpected contact into taking a long, deep breath.
That surprise was immediately followed by another; my hooves struck a springy, concave surface. Which, as I immediately discovered, had a definite tendency to roll. All four of my hooves went right, the rest of me went left, and I bounced twice when I hit the floor.
What the fuck?! No, seriously, what the -
A soft giggling broke through my confusion. I shook my head and focused on its source.
Just a length away, a lakepony held a fin over her mouth and blushed, still smiling behind it. The scales of her hide were the color of pale coral, fading below into the sweeping emerald-green flukes of a fish-tail. Her deep red mane floated, nimbus-like, about a face which could have been sculpted in the days of ancient Pegasopolis.
Four shocks, in as many seconds, had my heart struggling to remember what rhythm was.
Lakeponies are not supposed to be beautiful! They were grotesquely malformed mutants, a merging of equine and piscean life into a single horrific organism. They were also the reason there were few permanent fishing villages along Lake Cider, due to their habit of dragging anypony they could catch down into the depths. Every year, there would be at least one report of a fishing expedition losing one or more of its less-than-careful members, a reminder to others of the occupation's hazards (and as good an excuse as any for why fish was more expensive than steak).
Despite my natural caution, I reached out towards this unexpected picture of loveliness... and my hoof bumped into more of that smooth, flexible surface, prompting another giggle from my presumable savior.
She darted below and to my right, looking up at me. Then up and over, back to the side, around and around --- I got dizzy trying to follow her movements, lost my hoofing on the rolling floor, and fell over again with another bounce.
Now she broke out laughing, a soft-squeaking merriment that --- well, I couldn't get angry at. I guess it was pretty funny, me falling all over myself, entirely out of my element inside this giant... um... bubble.
Yes, okay, I said it was a joke before about earth ponies being dense. I'd just had a quadruple-kick to the brainpan, above and beyond having just fallen out of the sky, added to which was the surreality of rescue by a not-ugly-as-fuck-all lakepony who didn't seem interested in killing me outright. Given another moment she needn't have bothered, so...
I waved a hoof at her. She giggled again, waving a fin back.
"Hello..." I doubted she could understand me. Lakeponies supposedly spat gibberish at each other in what might amount to some kind of language, but that hardly meant one would just happen to speak Equestrian. Still, what else was I supposed to do, play charades? "Er... can you talk?"
Surprising me yet again, she immediately nodded and seemed to take a moment to compose herself.
"You funny pony. Funny color. Pretty."
I... wasn't sure how to take that. At least it meant she wasn't hostile... at which realization I finally noticed there were no color bars in my vision; my Eyes-Forward-Sparkle spell had been knocked offline when I hit the water. Or maybe the PipBuck'd gotten waterlogged and shorted out? Nope, a quick set of mental commands brought the EFS back up, marking the lakepony with a green bar of friendliness.
A lot of other bars also appeared, in amber, scattered across a wide range. But I couldn't make out much beyond the little red-haired lakepony; everything just faded off into blackness in every direction but up or down. Upwards, the distant surface was visible only as a broad circle of blue light, framed in deepening greys which eventually turned black at the edges. Below (and not far below) was a brown expanse of lakebed where ribbons of green weeds drifted to and fro with the currents.
It was actually kind of... nice. Especially since I was no longer drowning in it.
She flitted back around into my view once more, then swam in close, pressing her fins and chest against the bubble's skin. I pressed back with my hooves, gingerly, feeling the pressure of her pushing.
Pushing? I blinked and looked down. Sure enough, the bubble was moving, carrying me past ferns and weeds at a ponderous gait. Lifting my eyes again, I found myself gazing into hers --- how had I not noticed those before? They were as normal as any pony's, but for irises the color of strawberry milk.
How do I even know what the hell strawberry milk looks like? But the comparison stayed in my head.
I had so many questions. Why had she saved me --- just because she thought I was "pretty"? Why didn't she look like any lakeponies I'd ever heard of? Where did this bubble come from, and what kept it from popping or floating to the surface? What was her name?
But after those first few words, I could get nothing more from her. She just smiled and swished her tail, slowly pushing her captured cargo of pretty pink pony along.
Where were we even going? It sure wasn't the surface. In fact, we seemed to be taking a slightly downward angle, the lake-bed mud getting closer as we passed the occasional reef. Sometimes, the hulk of an old boat would appear in the distance, the only lasting impact surface ponies had ever made on this strange domain.
Without warning, a single huge reef loomed up out of the dimness. Actually, that did it one hell of a disservice. I should say that a castle loomed up out of the dimness, composed entirely of a single huge reef.
There were no battlements or palisades, none of the classic means by which ancient ponies once defended their holdings. Why would there be, given that any invader could just swim right over them? But there were towers and high domes and a gate-house, all built from layers of luminescent coral. Even in the wan light available at this depth, every length of the place carried a soft glow, different colors of algae providing a coat of lustrous, living paint. Around the whole thing grew a moat-like band of green weeds, like somepony's unkempt lawn.
Scattered around its perimeter stood carefully-arranged frameworks of reclaimed junk, covered with beds of coral polyps that turned land-pony garbage into undulating gardens. Seeing ruin made into something beautiful brought a smile crawling onto my muzzle; it would have made for a gorgeous snowglobe design.
An old crooner's solo blared from my PipBuck, which had decided to let me know it had relocated Radio New Pegas:
Some-where, beyond the sea
Some-where, waiting for meeee...
My lover staaands, up-on golden saa-aaaands...
Hastily I fumbled through the menu system until finally I flipped the damned thing off. That's enough of that!
"Da*kssht*Robert. 'Beyond the Sea'. D-R-B-T-S, One-Nine-Four-Six*kssht*." Um, well... I'd THOUGHT I'd flipped the damn thing off! For a moment I wished I was a unicorn so I could better control it, particularly given the scratchy and generic mechanical voice on this old recording. But no matter how hard I smacked its buttons, it wouldn't shut up.
"*kssht*ERNATE AUDIO ENCRYPTION SATIS*kssht*: Case file Magical Amethyst, One-Five-B." Without warning, the machine-voice was replaced by a normal one. Although, given Mr. Horse's reputation, most folks would have said that was from a machine, too. Luna pump my ass with an hydraulic ram! How'd that motherfucker get into my PipBuck?!
"Prin*kssht*una formed her 'Ministries' today. That was amu*kssht* to watch. They keep underestimating Sparkle, don't they? Luna acted like her acceptance of the Prime Minister role was a given. Alicorns, noblesse oblige, and all. Can't have a Princess in charge of one Ministry, without putting her in charge of all of them. The look on Sparkle's face... I don't think she's psychologically capable of exerting lordly authority over her best friends. Not even for Goddess and Country." The capitalizing was audible.
He gave one of those laughs, the kind where you can't really tell if it's genuine or not. "So of course, she abdicates! Right there on the spot, no protest, no shouting, boom, and she's a unicorn again. I would have thought it impossible, after all this time and research... but then again, she was made an alicorn via magical transformation, wasn't she? With Magic itself being both her special talent and acknowledged realm of royal power, who could possibly neigh-say her decision?"
A snort of definitely genuine derision. "Certainly not Luna, that hidebound beast of protocol... she blanched so hard, I thought she might turn pink! I am so very glad my camera was rolling. That scene alone was worth the price of admission to this --- this Ministerial farce."
There was a pause of several moments, long enough that I thought maybe the recording had ended in a glitch. Then it resumed, Horse's voice more somber now. "Interministr*kssht*airs is playing a far deeper game than *kshht*ought. Sparkle's unpredictable decision must have them second-guessing their next move. I think it might be time to find a seat at this table. A few technical demonstrations should provide a reasonable ante, get Goldenblood's attention..."
Now what the hell was that all about? Did Pink-E pick this up when she was flitting around in the Lucky Chance? When did she upload it to my PipBuck?
The recording ended with the usual double-beep, bringing my attention back to more immediate concerns; the bubble had drifted to a stop just above another low-lying reef short of the weed lawn. I looked around in time to see Red-Head flitting past.
"HEY!" I shouted after her, but she disappeared into the yawning gate-house without so much as looking back. Most of the amber bars in my vision were concentrated in that direction, so I supposed she'd scampered off to tell her friends about me.
Guess as long as nothing goes red, I shouldn't be too worried... though the air in this thing can't last forever, can it...? To take my mind off that particular reminder of my mortality, I looked down between my hooves at the reef just below the bubble.
Now that was weird. It obviously wasn't part of the castle complex, and didn't seem to be part of any garden, either, but it had a lot of very definite right angles. Not something often found in nature. From my inveterate book-reading, I knew coral would happily grow on just about any underwater surface, but normally it would just clump up at random. Natural reefs were just blobby collections of dead polyps layered on one another.
So why did this one look like a giant "T" with a perfectly round end?
A sudden swell of exuberant music caused my ears to prick up, then go flat.
Oh, what fresh new hell is this?!
When I turned to look, my interest in the minor mystery of the reef went up in a puff of mental smoke. Hundreds of lakeponies were bursting out of the castle gate in wave upon wave, not an ugly among 'em, and every one with a green bar!
Shoo be doo! Shoo shoo be doo! Aaaaand now they were going to sing me the song of their people.
They swung into color-matched chorus lines, weaving around and through one another like a basketful of hopped-up water snakes, their exuberant melody turning the whole thing into a psychedelic cacophony. It was hard to focus on any one detail from one moment to the next. For example, which of them was playing saxophone, and which was on clarinet?
Hi there, we're the Lake-Ponies, gee, you're really in a mess!
Maybe, for your sake, pony, we should send a little S-O-S?
I planted my hooves up on the bubble-wall and nodded rapidly, hoping to catch the attention of whoever was in charge. "Yes, that would be very nice, thank -"
Well now, if you catch our drift, you'll never see the shore,
A dozen or so suddenly lunged in close, leering at me with smiles full of needle-y teeth: WHORE!
You won't be around for long, but at least you won't be bored! Shoo be doo! Shoo shoo be doo!
Just like that, their E.F.S. markers flashed to red. Aw, FUCK. I knew it was too much to hope for!
And here I was, stuck at the bottom of Lake Cider. Even if I could bust out of this bubble, I'd only drop right to the bottom. I couldn't think of anything in my PipBuck's bag of tricks that would be useful, either. With Wallbuster I could teleport, but where? A quick look at the PipBuck's short-range map showed nothing but lakebed in all directions, and it didn't even come up as an option on bigger scales. It might get me back to the surface, but then what? Use Turbo to flail around for a few seconds before drowning again?
Three of the gorgeous, smiling monsters began pushing the bubble towards the open gateway, not even missing a beat. They each had their own lines, too:
Are you sinking fast? asked the smirking purple blonde.
Had some nasty shocks? inquired the white-maned green, mockingly fluttering her lashes.
Feeling like all hope is gone, and washed up on the rocks? sarcasted the bay brunette. Yes, I used "sarcast" as a verb. Sue me.
The rest all picked up on the chorus: Washed up on the rocks! Shoo be doo! Shoo shoo be doo!
I'd thought of the castle as, well, a castle. Like in the old stories, you know, with hallways and throne rooms and Imperious Twats and all. But as my escorts shoved me inside, my first impression was of a single dark cavern, a wide shaft of golden light spearing down from a huge gap at the top of the domed ceiling. In the center of the glow stood two tall pillars of carved basalt, with some knobbly bits on the facing sides. That was it.
Well, until my Luna-cursed eyes adjusted to the gloom. Shit. The floor was littered with bits and baubles, thickly enough to qualify as a formal carpet. But it was the bones that drew the breath from me. Most of them were old, pitted and grey, but there were plenty of clean white ones. And then there were those to which shreds of cartilage, and pale red meat, still clung. Some of the wrack had been arranged into piles, nestling egg clusters that shimmered with mottled shades of green and blue.
The Lake-pony Musical Revue wasn't satisfied to stay outside, nearly blotting out the sunbeam as they swooped by dozens through the dome's aperture.
My three escorts pressed in, bursting the bubble between them and sending the freed air fleeing towards the surface. As the cold water slammed in I clamped my muzzle down and kicked at my captors, but for all my underwater agility I might as well have been wearing a lead suit. I just didn't want to die without trying to get a shot in.
White-Mane darted around, leaned in, and pursed her lips to blow another, smaller, bubble around my head. My relief at being able to breathe again was cut short as her sisters puffed at my hooves, snaring them in identical spheres. Each grabbing a bubble, they dragged my flailing carcass to the black stone pillars as easy as a raider gang with a sackful of colts.
Need rescue from the Lake-Ponies? Better not hold your breath!
Blond and Brunette pulled my forelegs apart, mooring each bubble to one of the pillars' knobby bits, then did the same for my hindlegs. Spread-eagled again? This was getting repetitive. Not to mention that, with the number of near-death experiences I'd been through in just the last hour or so, I was really starting to feel the effects of adrenaline burnout.
We need to breed with you ponies, and now we'll pump you to death!
Needless to say, none of my squirming, kicking or punching had any useful effect. The bubbles would give a little, stretch a bit, but never let go. Didn't stop me from trying... wait. What was that last bit?
White-Mane swished up over my head, then dove back down and between my hindlegs, brushing through the cloud of my tail before pulling up in front again with a teasing smile. My heart was too busy trying to hammer through its ribcage for me to appreciate it on a less panicky level. Her sisters zipped away to join the chorus lines swirling beneath the dome ever more energetically as the inappropriately-bouncy tune reached its climax:
While our bubbles hold you here, as strong as any silk (Silk!)
Count upon the Lake Ponies!
We'll... see... you... get... milked!
Looking down, I watched helplessly as White-Mane cupped her fins, blowing one more sheer, delicate bubble between them. Right down at 'little buckaroo' level. Oh, you have GOT to be fucking kidding...
Lake Ponies, Lake Ponies
Then we'll eat him while he's fresh (Eat him while he's fresh!)
Lake Ponies, Lake Ponies
Then we'll eat him while he's fresh (Eat him while he's fresh!)
Eeyep... from something out of the setup for a New Reino porno flick, down to implied cannibal luau, in ten seconds flat. My head drooped with the weight of defeat, the prospect of a less-than-quick end sending a deeper chill up my back than the water could.
The festivities pulled to a screeching halt. All eyes but mine turned a glare on Red-Head, swimming out from the shadows into the light with one fin upraised in protest... and a green, glowing EFS bar above her head.
Her milky eyes looked around at the others imploringly. "Why hurt pretty pony? Not like so many we catch, so small! Not feed many Lake-Ponies, not seed many eggs..." She reached down into a well-gnawed pile of ribs, pulling forth a little --- snowglobe? --- and held it up for the others to see. "We not have many pretty things?"
She whirled in place with it, her long red mane billowing, the globe's glass glinting in the sunlight... while another swell of music arose. Oh, I get it: fish-pony magic includes the spell "Spontaneous Musical Number". I didn't realize how wrong I was at the time... but hey, who knew?
Look at all this, isn't it neat?
Wouldn't you think our collection's complete?
Would you think we're the girls...
The girls who've got everything?
Along the curving walls, the other lakeponies stared questioningly at one another. Some shrugged, others pointed and whispered, but all paid attention to Red's song like they hadn't just done one of their own.
Look at this grotto, with treasure galore
How many Land-Ponies would gawp and adore?
If they knew what we have here, they'd say
'Sure... they have everything!'
Quite a few in the crowd started nodding at that. The whispering rose in pitch, joined by gesticulations as several of bystanders began arguing in hushed voices. Red-Head didn't pay the slightest bit of attention, caught up in her own song, zipping between heaps and piles to pick up and display one thing after another.
We've got Equestrian Bits, somewhat dirty,
There's bottlecaps and books on our floor
Up came a load of rusty, rotting rifles, whose gemstones still gleamed with the promise of malice.
Want magical weapons? We've got thirty!
She dumped them with an exaggerated sigh and turned her face upward, letting the sun's rays illuminate her features like some sort of sublime and Celestial being.
But who cares?
No big deal...
She shrugged, then raised her fins in supplication to her audience:
I want moooooorrre...
The rest of the lakeponies began to crowd in towards the light, jostling for proximity to the angelic vision and dulcet voice.It was clear that'd only been her preamble. The music swelled anew, and so did her chest, just before belting out:
Oh, I want to be where those ponies are,
I wanna see...
They tore her apart.
One moment they seemed placid enough, and the next, there was a giant ball of frenzied motion filling the dome, from which rapidly exuded a spreading cloud of red. Tiny bits of my would-be savior drifted momentarily out of the fracas, and then one or another lakepony would greedily snap them up.
Burning bile choked its way up my throat. Fighting it down, I retched several times rather than just let go... drowning in a bubble-ful of puke still didn't seem a preferable end. Some exploded into my sinuses, setting off a fit of coughing and sniffling that nearly forced it up anyway.
I'd seen violence, sure. I'd seen ponies and other creatures die horribly, sometimes even made the arrangements myself. In my job as a bounty hunter, I'd pulled the trigger on plenty more. I'd even seen bloodwing packs tear into a crippled manticore. But I'd never seen something so purely visceral, married to such intense, furious hatred.
They hadn't just eaten her. They'd performed an execution.
When the frenzied lakeponies broke up, most of them darted up out of the castle dome and away, leaving a fresh set of gleaming white bones to form their own little pile on the floor. Only White-Mane, picking a long red hair out of her needle-thin teeth, remained. Her other fin still held the bubble clamped to her side, and once she'd composed herself she resumed her sultry approach as though nothing had happened at all.
"I Sea Swish. My honor to collect seed. You like, much fun, be happy."
I blinked. "What's with the bad lingo? When you lakeponies sing, you talk just fine."
She shrugged dismissively. "Not know words, not care. Not job. You like now." She pressed closer...
*** EXCERPTED ***
>>>SECTION "15.2: Bubble Trouble Blow-Out"
>>>PER ORDER OF REPUBLIC CENTRAL SECURITY
>>>PER AUTHORITY OF CRIMINAL CODE 16.2a (Indecent Publications)
*** EXCERPTED ***
Sea Swish was still there. Still patiently squeezing, twisting, and oh Luna Celestia please if you have any mercy in your damned souls take me to Tartarus with you!
There was a place beyond "numb". If I only felt numbness, it wouldn't have been so bad.
Most of my exposed muscles, stretched out and deep-chilled for literally days on end, had locked up in a rictus that was likely just shy of rigor mortis. Every now and again a few lakeponies would swim past with their fins cupped, as though guiding something along, and I'd be briefly inundated with a rush of warmer water. They needed to keep me going at least long enough to finish the job... and who knows, maybe they were basting me with something for their after-coitus snack.
By contrast, fish-pony magic kept everything inside the bubbles warm and dry, kept the air fresh, kept me from dying. Dead ponies can't fill bubbles. Maybe it even kept the fedora on my head; I hadn't a clue otherwise as to how it had remained on my head through all this.
But infrequent warm-water baths only go so far, and the equine body only has so much heat to surrender. My bouts of shivering had overlapped into a perpetual shudder at some point, matched by the incessant vibrations of chattering teeth. I fought to keep my head tipped back towards the sky... mostly because if I didn't, my tongue would flop out, and I'd bite it repeatedly until I worked it back in. The only time I intentionally dropped my muzzle was to suck moisture from the collected puddle of sweat and condensation that pooled around my neck at the bubble's bottom. Otherwise, my eyes were locked on the castle-dome's open gap, watching the distant ball of sun dragging itself across the disc of mirrored sky once again.
I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention how much it literally fucking hurts to be pumped to orgasm every quarter-hour for three days solid, without any food or sleep, regardless of whether or not your cojones have produced anything worth milking in between. Not the sharp jolt like you'd get from a hoof in the groin, but the lingering, debilitating pain that keeps you on the ground clutching yourself in a fetal ball afterwards.
Occasionally, a few lakeponies would flit in just to stare at the proceedings. I had nothing left for rage, or begging, or even meeting their eyes. I definitely did not want to look around the castle, either, not at the junk and eggs and... bones scattered across the floor. Everything I had left went to waiting, just waiting for it all to end.
For three days, that damned bubble had been squeezed straight up my urethra, pumping and draining me in ways that should have been equinishly impossible. Then, without preamble or warning, Sea Swish finally pulled it free with a soft pop of releasing suction; it almost felt like my prostate was being yanked out with it.
The sensation triggered a final, pathetic, listless twitching down below, producing nothing more than extra strain on already-overworked muscles. My entire lower torso, entirely apart from my groin, throbbed with the sort of red pain that you'd normally associate with a septic gut wound. I couldn't hold back a groan, couldn't keep my head up now that I was no longer being tormented from moment to moment. Unbidden, my haggard gaze drooped down to stare at what my days and nights of suffering had created.
She was already turning away, swimming towards the first clutch of lakepony eggs with a taut, shiny ball of whitish fluid clutched to her chest. Three days' worth of small talk (mainly me, trying to distract her, without a bit of success) had already told me why. Every blue egg seeded by a land pony's gunk would hatch another lovely pony-eating monster, and every green egg would produce a hideous mutant moron. The latter would serve the former as hunters, laborers and raiders. I was going to father dozens --- if not hundreds --- of new abominations.
At least I wouldn't live to see it. And there was nothing left in me to care about what would co - happen, next.
The rest of the lakeponies were already filtering in a few at a time, a few humming the refrain to their song. Now we'll eat him while he's fresh... Oh, just get it the fuck over already! Looked like that's what they had in mind, too, but as the crowd got bigger Sea Swish kept getting impatient glares. Apparently, dinner couldn't start until she'd finished her job -- nice to see that even aquatic barbarisms bowed to table manners.
Far, far above, the sun's disk hung in the sky's blue circle. With so much water between me and it, there was hardly any glare at all. Just a beautiful yellow orb, perfect in its simplicity, a wedge of black slowly moving from right to left across its face...
...I knew, now, what an eclipse was. When the Princesses had been around, they'd occasionally arranged one to honor Luna, but in their absence the phenonemon occurred with predictable regularity, all on its own. After half-blinding myself as a colt, I'd had something of a passion in learning the cycles.
And there was NOT supposed to be an eclipse today!
Gasps sounded from all around; I wasn't the only one struck by the dome's sudden darkening as the sunbeam was blotted out. The lakeponies began squealing, arguing, jostling... all that, I got from the noises they made, because I sure wasn't looking at them. My widening eyes were rooted to the shadow obscuring the disappearing sun.
Something was off about this eclipse... it was going much faster than I remembered. That, and the wedge was more an oblong, not circular at all. As it passed, a second, smaller oblong became evident, following in its wake. This newcomer quickly grew larger, bigger than the first, filling a sizable chunk of the sky-circle visible through the dome's hole.
Whatever it was, it was coming right at me!
That fact didn't escape the lakeponies' notice. They began swirling around the dome agitatedly, squealing challenges at the intruder. Heedless, it dropped straight through the hole and struck the floor, raising a cloud of displaced muck and bone-shards before rebounding on a course right for my right leg.
Mentally and physically, I was completely exhausted. I couldn't comprehend what exactly was happening, or what I was seeing. All I knew what that this thing burst straight through the bubble snaring my leg, latched onto the rubber cuff left behind by the Fun Suit's detonation, and bodily yanked. The bubbles mooring my remaining legs to the pillars stretched, drew taut, and then burst as well. Helpless as a rag doll, I was dragged up out of the dome, the lakepony mob in hot pursuit.
Not content to share, they drove upward to attack the counter-abductor. Whatever it was, it was going for the surface at speed, dragging me upside-down by the leg. Even if I hadn't been almost dead of fatigue, I'd have had a hard time fighting the acceleration long enough to look anywhere but down. Instead, I helplessly watched the castle, its weed-moat, and the weird reef all recede until the depths finally obscured my view.
Now it was just a matter of who would get to finish me off. It might have been a bit more exciting than I'd expected, but it was still me getting eaten by a godsdamned fish-monster of one kind or another. If I'd had the energy to curse, I would have spent the chase yelling at the whirling, colorful, idiotic mass of lakeponies trying to kill the newcomer instead of just biting my cuff loose. At least on the pillars, there'd been some sense of ceremony, a slightly more dignified end than being dragged backwards by the ankle.
From somewhere up above came the sound of shouting, splashing. It got louder, fast, and then a green-haired lakepony brushed past me, fleeing back into the depths with dark red blood trailing from a gash above the fluke. Three others, screaming with raw animal hunger, tore after her.
There were several thunk noises, with the scene repeating for each thunk --- a bleeder and several pursuers, ending as often as not in frenzy of bloody chunks. Whatever had a hold on me pulled relentlessly through the carnage, as though paying it no attention at all.
Suddenly, I was ripped bodily from the water altogether. The last bubble burst from around my head, releasing a spray of droplets that rained back down on the shining, shimmering surface of the lake --- and also my hat!
Not my new hat! With a quick stretch I shouldn't really have been capable of, I was barely able to snap it up with my teeth, before being hauled up into the air.
Two lengths above the water, I blinked as a lakepony leapt up, was stabbed by a long spear from somewhere off to my side, and fell back with a splash. After half a dozen such tries, the remainder of the school fled beneath the rippling red riot with hateful cries and a final chorus of shoo be doo!.
I coughed out something green and vile, caught my breath, and yelled:
"Someday I'll be back with a load of balefire grenades, and then we'll see who gets shoo be doo'd!"
A familiar giggle caught my ear. With not a little effort, I managed to raise my head.
Pink-E was frowning --- no, grinning, at me. Even upside-down, she still looked like a dog's breakfast. Next to her, beneath a red-and-white-striped sail, sat the biggest earth pony I'd ever seen. Bigger than a buffalo, with a stupid-looking helmet made small by the sheer size of his cranium. He had a pale-gold coat, a brown mane done up in braids, and forelegs damn near big around as I was. Clasped between those legs, and braced against his belly, was his fishing rod: a godsdamned tow-truck gantry. Its reel, wound with what had to be at least fifty lengths of spliced cable, was mounted just behind the prow.
And I hung in the air from its hook, slowly twisting in the wind. As I did, I counted three other longships of modular design, all crewed by grinning, burly ponies --- though none nearly so overbuilt as the fisher-king. All of them carried weapons, mostly spears and rifles, and all wore the same stupid-looking helmets. The reason they looked stupid, of course, were the dual horns made from screwdrivers and hex keys.
Vikeans, I groaned internally. Somepony just kill me right now.
Footnote: Level Up.
New Perk: Adrenaline Rush - Your repeated near-death experiences have shown you how to harness fear. When you drop below 75% of maximum health, you gain +2 Strength.