She grumbled softly so that the other two unicorns wouldn’t hear her. She didn’t have anything against Miss Doo, but this was some really unfortunate timing.
This day was just getting worse and worse. Her client was clearly not paying her enough for all these extra-curricular activities… hay; she had half a mind to ask for an extra for having had to deal with Lulamoon today. At least she managed to play a little prank on her. The starfish prank wouldn’t repay all the trouble the Representative caused her in the past, but it was a start. She could always get her more embarrassing subscriptions to colt-cuddler magazines later. Direct revenge was much more satisfying off course, but, in her line of work, vengeance was a risky luxury that was best to avoid.
It was supposed to be a simple day of swimming in the sea and checking out corals, but then that insufferable mare and her friends had to pick the same day to go see the reefs! Playing the part of the vapid fashionista was starting to grate on her nerve. Having to play the dumb bimbo to seduce that cute pegasus was fun enough, playing the part in front of Trixie and her posse was just tiring. And now that clumsy pegasus had gone off and got lost or something.
The other unicorns had seemed doubtful, but unlike a lot of things she had said so far today it was the honest truth: she felt she owed a debt to Ditzy Doo. Well all the Elements really, but helping rescue one of their own would satisfy her inner ledger. One thing she had learned in her career is that nothing in this world is free. Every favor, every gift, every smile, comes with a cost of some kind, regardless of the giver’s altruism. It was her personal policy to always anticipate such costs and always reimburse them on her term rather than hope they would disappear. The Elements of Harmony saved the world from Corona, and it was time to pay them for their work.
Plus without the grey pegasus the world would probably be doomed. Only a fool who didn’t witnessed Corona with her own eyes would think of herself first in such a situation.
“Hey Rarity, are you swimming or just pretending?” shouted Trixie from up ahead, breaking her out of her musing.
Two exasperated blue eyes rolled. “I’m coming, I’m coming,” replied the pearlescent mare as she caught up to her two companions.
“If you’re heart is not into this, you should just go back to the ship,” added the blue mare.
Two white cheeks puffed in anger. Trixie was too busy tracking Ditzy’s movement to see the angry glare the unlikely member of their trio was shooting her way.
“I already told you Miss Trixie,” began the flustered mare, “I am here to repay my debt to Miss Doo, and nothing will stop me. Not even your incessant nagging.”
Lyra, aware that things could escalate quickly, decided to change the subject. “How’s the tracking going Trixie?”
“Not perfect, but not too terrible. It seems like coral soaks up magic like a sponge! If I was the researcher type I’d probably be interested in it, but for now I’m just glad it gives me signposts to follow. This way,” said Trixie before veering down into a field of kelp and then between two sandy cays.
A cold blue eye glanced discreetly around. She had seen a shadow move amongst the kelp. It didn’t look like any of the fishes they’d seen so far.
Before the three mares opened a large expense of sloping sea floor. They were clearly getting closer to the edge of the continental shelf. All around them were a series of small rock outcroppings with various corals growing on them. Wordlessly Trixie pointed into a direction and the other two followed her. They swam down closer to the sandy floor and began to slalom between those formations. After a while Trixie suddenly stopped mid-water. Her face was scrunched in a mixture of anger and confusion.
“A problem?” asked Lyra.
“It’s gone! Ditzy’s magic’s gone! It’s like… I was following a trail of sand and suddenly something disturbed the trail. There’s only faint traces and that’s all,” answered Trixie, shaking her head to stop her spell. “And now I have a headache from overusing my sight.”
Lyra was flabbergasted “That doesn’t make sense! This should be the most recent magic! How could it just scatter here? It should be the easiest to spot!”
Their companion also had something to say, but she was a lot more discreet about it. “We have another problem,” whispered the white member of their little trio, “we’re being followed.”
“Rarity what are you talking about?” Trixie said.
She almost turned around but the purple-haired unicorn brought a hoof around her shoulders and forced her to look forward again.
“Don’t look back, it might tip them off,” she whispered with an annoyed tone to her voice. “Trust me, something’s been following us since that kelp patch and it’s big.”
She had to be careful not to let her put-on Canterlot accent break: now was not the time to get sloppy and break character. Already pointing out they were being followed was straining credibility, but it was a small price to pay for some help.
“Are you sure it isn’t just some fish?” asked Lyra.
“Well one can never be too careful, darling,” said the stressed out white unicorn.
“Where are they now Rarity?” asked Trixie.
“I don’t know, there’s plenty of space to hide around here,” she replied, shaking her head, “We need to set up an ambush or something.”
Lyra nodded in agreement “Trixie, think you could turn us all invisible and replace us with illusions?”
“Too much strain to pull it off effectively, but I could turn invisible and put a copy of myself as decoy. You two keep following me, and I’ll fall back while invisible to keep an eye out for our stalker. When my illusion disappears, double back and come lend me a hoof.”
“Sounds like a plan, darling.”
When Ditzy emerged from the cave she had been resting in, she found herself into a roughly round depression in the sea floor, surrounded by tall rocky walls partially covered with coral formations. Many cave openings were visible all around the campsite, many partially covered by braided kelp drapes, or large clamshell pieces. There were about half a dozen seaponies of various colors milling about in groups; mostly females but Ditzy spotted two males. All of them stopped talking and stared at Ditzy.
She felt a little self-conscious about it, but had to remind herself that, for a change, no one was staring at her because of her strabismus, but rather because she was as strange and alien as they were to her. Regardless of the reason that many stare felt a little intimidating.
“Hey everypony! This is Ditzy Doo, she’s a pegasus! Ditzy Doo, these are my friends! Those three are Sea Racer the daredevil, and the twins Sea Light and Sea Shimmer,” she said waving to a group of one blue male and two pink females. “Over there you have Sea Stone the stoic one, and Sea Shell the packcrab, making sure we have enough food,” she continued, pointing to a grey male and a beige female looking over a couple of braided bags, “And finally in the corner you have Sea Wave and Sea Youaround, she’s the joker of the group,” she finished, looking over a pale purple female and a magenta one.
Ditzy waved awkwardly at the assembled seaponies. All of them just stood, or rather floated, there in silence. Sea Cucumber then took the initiative and swam behind Ditzy to push her along toward a specific opening flanked by two big empty seashells.
“Com’on Ditzy, our leader will want to see you!” she said happily.
Ditzy swallowed audibly, getting a taste of sea water at the same time, as she looked at the dark cave in front of her. It was a rather ominous gaping hole in the rock surface. Soon after entering she found herself faced with a wall with alcoves carved into it containing pottery and broken pieces thereof. She realized the cave had an elbow that turned to her right, leading to a doorway closed by another kelp curtain. Sea cucumber swam ahead and pulled it aside, revealing a well lit room. She entered to find a seapony with her back to her. Her body was a pale yellow, not unlike Fluttershy’s coat, and her mane, coiffed into an elegant bun held together by pearl inlaid jewelry, was a deep royal blue.
“Hello Chari!” greeted the enthusiastic Sea Cucumber; “the dry pony is awake so I brought her to you!”
The seapony turned around, casting a warm and motherly gaze with her deep brown eyes over Sea Cucumber and Ditzy. While the other Seaponies she had met so far all seemed to be around her age or slightly younger, this one was obviously older. Not quite old enough to be Ditzy’s own mother, but old enough to be a mother in her own right. She stared at Ditzy like the others, but she had the good sense to catch herself doing it and blush in shame.
“I’m sorry, where are my manners? My name is Charybdis, I am the de facto leader of this group and I welcome you to our humble little camp,” she said giving a little bow of her head.
“I’m Ditzy Doo,” replied the pegasus, bowing as well"Thank you for taking care of me...how long was I out?"
"About two hours. Sea Cucumber tells me you hurt your head pretty bad trying to escape from a pair of Kaosharks, but I don't think you have a concussion," replied Charybdis.
Ditzy gasped. "Two hours? Everypony must be worried about me! Thank you again for the hospitality but I'll have to go."
"Wait!" called out the Seapony leader, "It's dangerous out there, and you might get lost, let me send a guide with you."
"That's very nice of you Miss Charybdis," said Ditzy with a smile, "but I'll just surface and fly back to our boat, I can't be that far," she added, flaring out her wings to make her point.
"Well if you want to take the way of the sky I must then ask you go break the surface away from our camp. Our enemies know we rescued you, and they'll be watching the sky, if you fly up from here they'll be able to find us."
Ditzy frowned at that. "Your enemies?"
Charybdis didn't have time to answer, as another seapony male, this one orange with a rather big yellow mane, burst into the chamber. He looked scared and was bruised at multiple places, and a part of his tail was wrapped in pale blue algae. There was a dark red stain visible through the improvised bandage.
"Charybdis! It's terrible,” he said, visibly out of breath as he stopped swimming and let his momentum carry him forward.
"Sea Lion! What happened?!" gasped the seapony leader, catching the male in her flippers.
"They...they took Sea Chanty! I tried ...to...to fight but there were too...too many..."
Sea Cucumber gasped. "Sea Chanty! No! We have to go rescue her!"
Charybdis gave Sea Cucumber a very sad look. "You know it isn't possible... we tried before and couldn't find anything... we can only keep going forward. Once we find Andalantis we..."
"I don't care about your stupid city!" shouted Sea Cucumber in anger, her voice cracking. "I don't care about finding a place that doesn't exist! I want my friend back! I just... I want my friend."
And with that she left, sobbing softly. Ditzy felt terribly uncomfortable, she wasn't sure what to do now. She looked at the sea floor beneath her, sadness etched on her face, her ears dropping. She felt really bad for that little green seapony. She wasn't sure what kind of mess she had gotten into, but she knew one thing: she wanted to help them.
"What...what's going on?" the pegasus asked, breaking the heavy silence that had befallen the cave.
"The Kaosharks... the creatures that attacked you... took another one of my little pony," replied Charybdis, lowering Sea Lion down on the ground.
There was pain in her voice, the pain of a mother who had lost a child. Ditzy wondered if it was possible to cry underwater. Sea Lion seemed to have used the last of his energy to return to camp as he had almost immediately fallen asleep once laid down.
"We don't know where the Kaosharks come from, but we do know one thing: they work for our worse enemies. They are the soldiers in their genocidal war against us. Anypony taken by the Kaosharks simply dissapears..."
"Who would do such a thing?" asked the pegasus.
Charybdis' feature visibly hardened at that question, and she glared angrily at an enemy she was the only one to see. "The merponies."
Trixie’s little plan had worked extremely well in the end. She had turned invisible and simply sent her illusionary decoy ahead with her companions. Companions might be too strong a description for the white unicorn that had invited herself along, but Trixie figured that with Lyra being a genuine friend ‘companion’ was a pretty decent average between the two points to accurately describe the pair.
She briefly wondered why she had to make that justification to herself in the first place, but then brushed it off when their pursuer had revealed itself.
Coming out from a patch of kelp came a shape unlike any Trixie had ever seen before. It looked a lot like Octavia, or her sister with blue eyes, had traded in her rear legs for a long fish tail with matching dorsal fin. This half-pony half-fish could only be one of Lyra’s aquatic pony. Whether it was a seapony or merpony, Trixie didn’t know or cared enough to make the distinction. Whatever that creature was, she needed to be caught so they could find out what she wants and if she had seen Ditzy somewhere. Trixie quickly dismissed her illusionary self and charged the aquatic pony.
The surprised fish-like pony struggled against Trixie’s grasp while protesting loudly at being grappled like that. Just when the grey stalker was about to get loose that pretentious purple-maned prissy princess showed up out of nowhere and showing some surprising skill managed to pin the aquatic pony to the seafloor, holding up one hoof behind her back in the process.
“Let me go! Let me go!” said the pony, whipping her tail about and kicking up a cloud of sand.
“Oh my stars!” declared Lyra, “It’s a merpony!” she said, solving the mystery of their pursuer’s tribe.
"Why were you following us?" Asked the surprisingly authoritative white unicorn.
"Yeah! What she asked," said Trixie, in a futile attempt to establish herself as the leader of the group in front of the merpony.
"I was just curious, please let me go," replied said aquatic pony. "I've never met a dry pony before."
"Let her go Miss Rarity, I think it's okay," said Lyra, "I never saw a merpony before myself, so why don't we try to be friends?"
The white unicorn sighed but did as asked and let go of the grey pony. The merpony moved a respectable distance away from the one who had pinned her to the sea floor,but made no further motion to run away.
"My name is Rock Beauty, I'm sorry I scared you."
"Nice to meet you, my name is Lyra, Lyra Heartstrings and these are Trixie and Rarity," said the mint unicorn, extending a hoof to Rock Beauty.
"Pleasure to meet you! Wow this is so incredible! I've seen some dry pony on boats before but this is the first time I get to talk to any! I thought you guys couldn't breathe underwater," said Rock Beauty, swimming around the trio excitedly.
"Normally we can't,” explained Lyra, “but I used a spell to let us breathe down here."
Rock Beauty's eyes grew in size while she opened her mouth wide, clearly impressed by what she just learned.
"Magic! That is so cool!" she said doing a little looping. “Merponies can’t do magic! I’m so jealous.”
“Not that chatting up with a member of a long lost tribe of pony isn’t fun,” began the unicorn that had only a few seconds ago been holding Rock Beauty in a lock, “but aren’t we on a mission to find somepony here?”
“Right!” added Trixie, swimming up to Rock Beauty. “We’re looking for a friend of ours, she came over here and we lost track of her. She’s a pegasus, grey with a blond mane, golden eyes that look in two different directions at once. ”
Rock Beauty shook her head. “I told you, you’re the first dry pony I’ve ever seen… maybe my friends have seen yours! I’ll take you back to our camp!”
“That’d be wonderful!” said Lyra, excitedly.
“Altough…” began Rock Beauty, suddenly looking sullen for a moment. “She might have run into trouble out here. Maybe she ran into…them.”
“Them?” Asked the three unicorns at the same time.
The merpony nodded grimly. “Yes, them… the evil seaponies!”