Chapter 4: Flight
Normally I would have told whoever had the nerve to wake me up in such a way to go suck a rigid one, but I quickly remembered what was happening and clambered out of bed. Jake had already woken Pete and Lily; the four of us, with nothing to bring other than the orbs, the map and the key, wasted no time in slipping out of our tent, sneaking around other tents during breaks between the patrols on the walls. We approached the tower closest to our tent. Jake took the key and, using his mouth, slipped it into the lock and opened the door a crack. He peeked inside for a moment before turning to us and nodding.
We entered the tower; it was evidently the pantry for the alicorn’s food, with sacks of flour, seeds and such lining the walls, haphazardly tossed by the uncaring Somber Blade, and a few large crates beneath the staircase leading to the top of the tower. Pete opened one of the crates and rummaged through its contents. He withdrew a pair of saddlebags for Lily and I, a length of rope, and some fabric that we could use as makeshift cloaks. The four of us climbed the staircase with great care, and were relieved to just find more crates and supplies, as well as a ladder with a trapdoor at the top; our way onto the wall.
I volunteered to climb the ladder and peek through the trapdoor; any guards in sight were either too far along the wall to see us, or had their backs turned. I climbed back down the ladder and relayed what I had seen. “I think our only way down is to jump... or fly.”
“But... I haven’t flown yet!” Lily protested.
“In that case...” Pete said, brandishing the rope. “You’ll use this to rappel down the wall. Remember, you’re heading west, towards Dodge...”
“Which way is west?” I asked.
Pete screwed his eyes shut, trying to remember where the sun had risen in the week we’d been here. After a few moments his lids popped open, and he pointed towards the wall. “That way, the sun rises from the other way. Stay hidden in the forest until you can’t see the camp anymore, then run like hell.” Pete laid his front hooves on our shoulders. “You guys are the best chance we have. We’re counting on you.”
“So, yeah, no pressure or anything,” Jake whispered dryly as he fed the rope between the rungs of the ladder. “Pete and I will hold the rope from here while you rappel down; give us a couple tugs when you’re on the ground and we’ll draw it back.”
As Jake stuffed the saddlebags with everything we’d need, Lily quickly pulled Pete into a tight hug. “We’ll come back for you guys...” She whispered, giving Pete a peck on the cheek. As she did the same with Jake, Pete and I shared a quick bro-hug.
“Keep her safe, man,” Pete muttered in my ear as Lily began climbing the ladder with the other end of the rope. I gave Pete an affirming nod before giving Jake a quick hug and climbing through the trapdoor. Lily stood at the edge of the tower uncertainly, looking down at the ground. I laid a comforting hoof on her shoulder.
“Want me to go first?” I asked. Lily nodded, so I reached down for the rope... and realized I had no idea of how I was going to rappel down the wall without fingers to hang onto the rope. “...Well, shit.” I muttered. I cast a worried glance along the wall; the guards I could see were still stationary at the other towers, but I didn’t know for how long.
“What’s going on?” Pete whispered from below. I whimpered nervously for a second before finally picking up the rope with my mouth and biting down hard. I carefully lowered myself over the edge, biting on the rope for dear life, occasionally loosening my bite enough that I slowly slid down the rope, flapping my wings to keep from falling too fast. My teeth screamed in protest, but I eventually felt my feet find purchase on the ground. I released the rope and beckoned for Lily to come. She hesitated for a good minute before following my lead; she held onto the rope with her mouth, flapped her wings to slow her descent, and soon enough she joined me on the ground. I took the end of the rope in my mouth again and gave a couple hard tugs. The rope was promptly pulled up the wall without a sound. I gave a sad little wave to it before turning to Lily.
“Let’s get moving.”
- - - - -
Lily and I lurked through the forest for an hour, jumping at the sounds of twigs breaking or strange animals chirping in the night. We stayed close yet moved quickly, putting as much distance between us and the camp as we could; we wanted as much time as possible to escape before the Somber Blade realized we were gone and came after us.
Soon enough, the grass beneath our hooves gave way to dirt and dust, and the trees began to part; we had reached the desert. I sighed in relief, but we still had to get to Dodge. We kept walking, hoping to get as far as possible before the sun rose and started beating us down. After about fifteen minutes, I turned to Lily. “How’s about I teach you what I know about flying?”
I initially thought she’d decline, given her unease about the idea of flying off the wall, but she quickly nodded. “Sure!”
I spread my wings. “Okay, so I usually take off by giving one big flap while kicking off from the ground, like this.” I bent my knees and sprung up with a thrust of my wings; I rose about ten feet in the air and soared in a circle above Lily. “See? It’s easy. Now you try.”
Lily bent her knees right, but as she sprang up she flapped her wings frantically like a falling chicken, so she didn’t rise any more than four feet off the ground before landing back on her feet.
“Just one big flap,” I instructed. “If you keep moving your wings like that you’ll get tuckered out. You’ll get the hang of it, don’t worry.”
Lily took a deep breath, closed her eyes, bent her knees and sprung up with a strong thrust of her wings, rising up to my level. She opened one eye and, when she saw that she had done it, gave a happy laugh. She quickly learned the feel of when you needed to flap your wings to stay airborne, and soon we were making great time flying west, even having a race at one point to a mesa in the distance. It was close, but I was the one who won in the end (And if Lily tells you otherwise, she is a filthy liar.) It was probably the first bit of true fun we’d had in a long time.
About an hour later as we were flying we were suddenly bathed in a light shining behind us. We turned and were awed at the sight; the sun was rising, far faster than it did on Earth. It was Celestia’s time to shine, evidently. Ten seconds after we had been in near complete darkness, the sun was suddenly at the point it would typically be at around ten o’clock. We stared at the display... for about a couple seconds, at which point we quickly rubbed our eyes to keep from going blind. As my eyes recovered, I opened them to see another light. This one was much smaller, red, and just barely visible on the horizon in the direction we had come from. I squinted to see it clearly, but it was almost too late when I realized what it was.
I ducked my head as a crimson blast of magic energy zipped over me. “FUCK!” I looked to where the blast had come from; I couldn’t tell how many there were, but I recognized those black and green colors instantly. “RUN!” I yelled. Lily and I spun around and bolted west as fast as our wings could carry us. I dared to look back and saw them; pegasi, three of them, each being ridden by a unicorn who was charging his horn to fire energy blasts at us. Thankfully the pegasi had clearly never carried other ponies while flying before, so they were having trouble flying steady, and the unicorn’s aim suffered for it.
I looked ahead and saw it, just on the horizon; a small, old-west-style town with a set of train tracks stretching past the outside of town from the east to the west: Dodge Junction. And as luck would have it, a train was stationary at the Dodge Platform. I looked to Lily. “We need to get on that train!” I yelled.
“But those guys’ll keep following us!” Lily called back. She was right; we needed to lose them. The anti-magic collars were still around our necks, so magic was out of the question; I looked everywhere in our surroundings, trying to find something - anything - we could use to our advantage. My eyes fell on the cherry orchard on the edge of Dodge, and I had an idea; a risky, stupid idea, but an idea nonetheless.
“Follow me!” I called to Lily before diving down towards the orchard. We flew below the treeline, dodging the trees and the confused farmers that ducked and dodged out of our way when they saw us coming. During breaks in the trees I dared a glance back; our pursuers were definitely having trouble keeping up while trying not to drop their unicorn riders. Sure enough, one of them flew head-on into a tree branch that sent them tumbling head-over-heels into a pile of cherry bushels. Lily and I laughed at their misfortune and kept flying.
As we zoomed between the trees I noticed a big cart being pulled by a brown earth stallion across our path. I quickly gave myself a boost in altitude and barely cleared the cart; one of the pegasi behind us wasn’t so lucky, colliding with the cart and sending his unicorn rider flying into another tree. This time we simply winced at the extremely loud ‘CRACK’ that echoed through the orchard as we kept flying. “One more to go...” I muttered.
The last flyer was either very lucky or very skilled, and remained behind us in the orchard. I decided to try something fancy. I slowed down a little bit to let the last pegasus get closer to me, so they would have less reaction time, when I immediately stopped in midair. “Whoops!” I cried, cracking a smile.
The pegasus and the unicorn soared right past me, both turning their heads at me in confusion. “What the...” The unicorn began before turning and noticing the particularly large tree they were about to get friendly with. “No, no, no, stop STOP STOP--” He yelled at his colleague, but it was too late. Wham! they collided with the tree so hard every single cherry within it fell from its branches. The pair dropped from the tree to the ground; they had left an imprint in the trunk that deeply reminded me of George of the Jungle. Lily banked around and flew up to me.
“Creed, that was awesome!” She cried, pulling me into a hug. My eyes widened at the gesture; it felt... good. Lily quickly released me, giggling modestly.
“Yeah, so, uh...” I coughed. “We should... we should get to the train.”
“We have no money, though,” Lily pointed out. I nodded, that would be a problem. My eyes fell on the unconscious pegasus and unicorn on the ground, covered in multi-colored cherries and leaves. I hesitated at the thought, but I decided that our needs were greater than that of these jerks. I hovered down to them and reached into the unicorn’s saddlebag.
“Hope the Somber Blade has medical...” I muttered to the pair as I leafed through the bag’s contents, finding another orb like the ones we’d stolen, and a small bag that made the oh-so appealing sound of jingling coins when I shook it. “Well, now we do,” I said, tucking the bag of bits into my saddlebag.
The two of us quickly flew over to the train station; the ponies all around town cast awed glances our way, like we were visiting royalty. They probably thought we were, but we didn’t linger, it was only a matter of time before those Somber goons recovered. We went to buy our one-way tickets to Ponyville, and the guy in the booth even gave us a “royalty discount” that he probably made up on the spot. We didn’t argue, the extra bits would likely come in handy. Thankfully nopony questioned the collars around our necks, likely believing them to be some kind of royal swag.
Lily and I sat in the back of one of the front most cars, resting our weary legs and wings. As the train chugged out of the station we both relaxed a little bit. Lily soon fell asleep, leaning her head on my shoulder as I watched the horizon pass by. I debated on whether I should catch some sleep, but I wanted to remain alert in case the Somber Blade caught up with us.
My body eventually gave in, however, and I fell asleep. I was woken up when a pair of laughing foals ran past me through the car; Lily was gone. I began to panic; had she been taken? Before I could get up and start calling for Lily, the door in the front of the car opened and she simply walked through, carrying a few bags of chips in her mouth. I let out a sigh of relief and sank in my seat. Lily sat down opposite me and handed me one of the bags. “Thanks,” I said as I began wrestling with the bag; once again I cursed my lack of fingers.
The two of us sat there in silence, quietly munching on our chips. It felt good to have something actually tasty to eat. Eventually, Lily broke the silence. “My mother was sick...” She said.
I laid my chips down. “Sick how?”
“She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer... I’d always told her to stop smoking, and she tried, but she just kept going back to it. I was in Nevada when I got the call, and I was on the red-eye back home. I fell asleep during the flight, and...” Lily’s lip trembled. “Then I woke up here.”
I was silent as Lily laid back on the headrest of the seat, sniffling. Lily didn’t even make it home... And she wasn’t alone. Hundreds, thousands of people were just living their lives, and then... this happens. No big arrival by Celestia to offer a trip to Equestria, no chance to say goodbye to our friends and loved ones, we were just dropped right into this world without any explanation. Why?
Lily had begun to cry, so I quickly moved into her seat and held her close. She buried her head into my shoulder and wept. “I’m never going to see her again...” She sobbed.
I gently rubbed my front hoof through her hair, unsure of what to say. As Lily quietly wept into my shoulder, I thought of what Bulwark had said when I first met him.
“We’re the reason you’re here, you know... We’re the reason you’ll never see your families again... All that you may have loved, gone within an instant!”
The thought of his smug voice made my skin crawl. That jackass tore countless people from everything on the spot. As I felt Lily’s tears drip onto my gray fur, I made myself a promise.
Bulwark would pay. The Somber Blade would pay.