Fading in and out of consciousness, a stitch in her chest, Twilight had only a vague idea of where she was. The full moon glowed in the western corner of the sky, indicating that they were megagrosses of miles away from the Crystal Mountains, from NightMare Moon, from the Shadowbolts. Weary moans and the sounds of hooves shuffling through sand reached her ears.
After what seemed an eternity, Twilight felt strength returning to her hooves, and she rolled over onto her side, a feat made more difficult by the imbalanced weight in her saddle-bags.
The book, Studies on Pundamilia Culture, was theirs!
She stood up, facing her companions − dare she even call them her friends? They were battered and bruised, shaken and rattled with their manes tousled. Pinkie Pie, surprisingly, seemed the least affected, but that may have only been because her mane and tail were perpetually frizzy. She was rolling about in the sand with a look of pure bliss, though. By contrast, Rarity looked utterly woebegone, not just in how unkempt her mane looked after three weeks of constant travel and a high-speed pursuit from the Shadowbolts, but her body language as well; she looked as though her cat Opal had died right in front of her. The other three − Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy − each looked wilder than they had in Ponyville, with ragged manes and overgrown fetlocks. On the Pegasi, it was clear that their wings needed preening work.
“Everypony okay?” Twilight asked hoarsely.
“Looks like it,” Applejack replied with a glance around at the band.
“Okay? I look positively bedraggled!” Rarity groaned. “I don’t believe I have ever looked quite so unkempt in all of my life! Err, I mean…” The alabaster Unicorn started upon noticing the dark withering glare that Rainbow Dash was giving her, “I’m… quite sure that the uncared-for look will be fashionable sometime soon. I just wish I’d packed a swimsaddle if I’d known we were coming to someplace sandy…”
“Twilight…” Fluttershy began timidly, “If you don’t mind my asking… can I ask you something?”
“Of course, Fluttershy,” Twilight said smilingly. “You should never have to ask me if you can ask a question.”
“Ohh. Okay. I’m sorry.”
“Jeez, Fluttershy!” interjected Rainbow Dash. “You don’t have to apologize over everything you say to anypony!”
“You don’t have to apologize about apologizing, either!”
Rainbow Dash groaned in frustration. “We’re having this fight again? It’s, like, the second time we’ve had this fight in a week! We’ve known each other all our lives, we’re closer than we’ve ever been, and we’re still…” The cyan Pegasus let out a growling sigh.
“Oh, we were arguing?” Fluttershy responded. “I’m sorry.”
“So, what was your question, Fluttershy?” Twilight asked loudly, bringing the yellow Pegasus’s attention back from the brash Rainbow Dash, who gaped at the yellow Pegasus with a look of mild irritation.
“Ohh. Umm… Twilight… What made you think to bring all of us here?”
Twilight looked around the beach. In the distance to the south she could make out the lights of a distant seaside village. To the north was a derelict lighthouse visible against the lights of the night sky. She knew exactly where this was.
“I guess I was just thinking of someplace safe and remote. NightMare Moon has to know that we’ve come from Ponyville, so she’s going to crack down on them terribly.”
“Then why didn’t we go back to Ponyville?” Rainbow Dash snapped. “We should stick with ‘em and be protecting them!”
“Ah don’ see it that way, Rainbow.”
Rainbow Dash blinked at the palomino. “You can’t be serious, AJ. You’re all about family sticking together. You think of Ponyville as like a big second family!”
“That Ah do, and Ah don’t deny that family should stick t’gether,” Applejack said levelly, sitting in the sand and drawing circles with a hoof. “But Twilight’s family t’ me, and she’s facin’ a whole world’s worth a’ trouble right now. Troubles that affect ev’rypony ev’rywhere. Ah can’ just let ‘er work through it alone.”
“Applejack…” Twilight gasped.
“An’ besides, Ah cin trust Big Mac t’ keep our family safe. Ah’d hoped you’d do th’ same, Rainbow.”
Rainbow Dash pointed a hoof at Applejack and opened her mouth to retort, but after several seconds of silence, she lowered her hoof and sighed, “I still feel like a pile of horse-apples for not being there.”
“Well, we have a job to do taking down NightMare Moon, Rainbow Dash,” Rarity cut in. “Queen Celestia has left this task to us, and we’ll have to bear our burdens…” She shuddered as she pawed at her mane gingerly. “And carry on.” Spike placed a claw gently on Rarity’s other foreleg, smiling at her. She smiled back.
All was silent for a few moments save the sounds of cresting waves and Pinkie’s humming as she continued rolling back and forth.
“Continuing on from where I left off,” Twilight said, “I knew that it wasn’t safe to go back to Ponyville. I knew that we’d have to trust them to handle troubles that come to them.” She looked out to the lighthouse in the north. “Queen Celestia brought me here five years ago, when I heard that she was meeting with mermare dignitaries from Aquastria. I’d never met one before then, and I admit that I was obsessed with their culture back then. Did you know that mermares are ovoviviparous?”
“What’s that about their uvulas?” Pinkie Pie asked, rolling onto her belly.
“Ovoviviparous,” Twilight explained, a slightly testy edge to her voice, “means that a creature carries eggs to term inside their body. Oviparous creatures, like birds, griffons and dragons, lay their eggs externally and wait for them to hatch. Viviparous creatures, like us ponies, don’t lay eggs. But even among ovoviviparous creatures, mermares are unique.”
“How’s that, sugarcube?” Applejack asked, ignoring Rainbow Dash’s groan of boredom.
Twilight’s eyes lit up, and an eager smile crossed her face the likes of which none of them had seen. The lavender Unicorn had always been so serious about so much that seeing her smile was very peculiar indeed.
“It’s the mermare stallion who gives birth to the babies.”
…But not so peculiar as what she had to share with them.
“What.” Rainbow Dash blinked.
“It’s true!” Twilight continued gleefully. “The merstallion carries the tadfoal to term and gives birth when the eggs hatch!”
“Then why are the guy mermares called merstallions?” Rainbow Dash asked bemusedly. “I mean, the merfillies don’t sound like they do a whole lot to do with the kids…”
“Because females lay eggs,” Twilight explained, trying to keep her patience, “and the merstallion isn’t the one who lays the eggs.”
“Let’s call him Mr. Mom~!” Pinkie piped up, pronking to her hooves.
Twilight smiled nervously, “Sure. Let’s go with that.”
“I still think it’s weird,” Rainbow Dash murmured to Twilight.
“On a more pressing matter,” Rarity cut in, “Twilight, darling, do you have the book?”
“The book? Yes, I have it,” Twilight said, opening up her right saddle-bag with her dwimmer shimmer and levitating the wood-bound book out of it. The carven title Studies on Pundamilia Culture stood out strong against the starlight.
Applejack smiled, “We’ve got it!”
Twilight beamed at the farmer Earth Pony, “Now we just need to decipher the message, and we’ll be one step closer!”
“Umm… perhaps we should take the book a little further away from the shore,” Fluttershy added softly. “Umm… I mean… if it’s okay with you.”
“No, no, no, of course it’s alright,” Twilight said, trotting off with the book in her dwimmer shimmer, Spike close behind. Slowly, one after the other, the five other mares stood and followed after her. Settling down her saddle-bags at a promising spot, Twilight propped the book against a rock and rested down on her cannons and forearms. Her alicorn glowed pink, and the cipher left by the Queen in the Royal Canterlot Archives floated out of her saddle-bag. Settling the cipher next to the book, Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer glowed around the book itself, turning page after page after page. Upon reaching Chapter 25, Twilight beamed; it matched the page numbers on the cipher perfectly.
“It could take a while to figure this out, girls,” Twilight said lightly as she levitated a quill and inkwell out from her saddle-bag. “You should take a rest while I decrypt this. When I’ve finished, I’ll raise the Sun over the horizon for a few moments, as I promised to Ponyville.”
Rainbow Dash looked ready to protest, but a raised hoof by Applejack silenced her potential objection. Pinkie scooped up Spike and plopped him onto her back as she hopped on back towards the ocean.
“Ah don’ rightly think it’s warm enough t’ warrant a dip in th’ ocean,” Applejack observed. “It has t’ be below freezin’ by this point.”
“I would agree,” Rarity added. “I care not for frolicking about in the brine, but in this eternal night, I care even less so.”
“But why’s the ocean still all watery if it’s below freezing?” Rainbow Dash asked. “Shouldn’t it be… well, freezing?”
“Because th’ ocean’s got salt in it. It’s why ponies don’ drink direct from the ocean. Ya’d be losin’ water faster than ya’d take it in. Ya ever wonder why th’ Apple family lays down salt on our roads whenever y’all Pegasi schedule snowfall?”
“‘Cause you’re a bunch of spoilsports who don’t want to have snowball fights?”
Applejack glowered at the cyan Pegasus, who waved her forehooves defensively.
“It’s just a joke, Applesauce! Cool down!”
Applejack snorted through her nostrils, before resting back on her haunches and offering a thin smile, “Ya know, we Apples use salt t’ help chill iced water t’ keep our butts a’ cider cool.”
Rainbow Dash began to snicker, and Applejack narrowed her eyes at this.
“What’s so funny?”
“You said butt!” Rainbow Dash chuckled highly.
Rarity lightly threw a forehoof across the rowdy Pegasus’s cheek. Rainbow stopped laughing immediately, nursing her cheek as though it were cut.
“Hey! What did you do that for?”
“As a fellow businessmare, I will stand by Applejack in defense of her business terminology,” Rarity said with a dignified air, her hooves clicking together and her muzzle held high.
“Pray don’t mention it.”
“Ah won’,” Applejack said, before turning her head back to face Rainbow. “Just so ya know, Rainbow, a butt’s about a ten-dozen gallons. Try drinkin’ all that cider at cider season an’ prove that yer worth yer saltlick.”
The bantering continued on for some time between the two, leaving the other four to find some other means by which to kill time.
“Let’s play volleyball~!” Pinkie squealed with a fluttering jump in the air.
“With what?” Spike asked. “We don’t have a ball.”
“Oh,” Pinkie said, sighing sadly as she sunk to the ground miserably, turning a faint shade of purple. Spike blinked; were ponies really as boneless as Pinkie when they got this sad? She looked like a pale-purple pancake with sad blue eyes.
“Maybe we could collect seashells…?” Fluttershy suggested.
Pinkie literally reinflated − complete with a balloon’s swelling sound − and returned to her normal bright pink hue and bright pink joy. “Ooh! Can we play volleyball with the seashells? Can we play seashells, Fluttershy? Please, please, please?” She was actually grovelling at Fluttershy’s hooves. The yellow Pegasus backed up sharply, alarmed by Pinkie’s rapid changes in behavior.
Pinkie put a hoof in the air victoriously, “Woo-hoo!”
“You can play with seashells all you please, Pinkie Pie, dear,” Rarity said, leading Spike down the beach, “But Spike and I are due a little alone time.”
Spike half-turned back to Pinkie and Fluttershy and held up a curled-up claw with his thumb pointing to the sky. To the best of their knowledge, this was some sort of dragon coded gesture meaning Score!.
Searching for seashells with Rarity proved to be surprisingly entertaining to Spike. When Rarity had taken him along to kill time in this way, he thought that the only thing to look forward to was to be spending more time with his beloved Rarity. But in its own way, it turned out to be quite fun. There were so many different kinds of shells that Spike and Rarity found: clam shells, snail shells, conches of all sorts!
“Hey, Rarity!” Spike held up a clam shell with a white squishy something inside it. “This one’s still got something living in it!”
Rarity resisted the urge to smack the shell out of Spike’s claws, as the only clam shells that she would like to see should have pearls in them. But, for Spike, she swallowed her revulsion and smiled, “W-Well found, Spike! I daresay that that clam may yet produce a pearl for you!”
Spike gently placed the clam back on the beach, fixing Rarity with the best romantic look he could muster, which he held for several seconds. Rarity gave him an expectant look, and his presentation of suaveness evaporated as he scratched his chin, “Darn. Really shoulda come up with a good line about pearls…”
Rarity sharply gasped, pointing out into the spray, “Spike, look!”
He saw it, too. A multicolored shimmering glimmer from under the tide, just a few paces out from the edge of the water.
“I’ll go get it!” Spike cried out, charging to the water.
Suddenly, Applejack’s voice echoed in Rarity’s head.
…we Apples use salt t’ help chill iced water…
“Spike, wait!” Rarity implored, a hoof raised in alarm. “That water is…!”
But Spike was already wading through the water towards the rainbow something in the surf. He seemed completely unperturbed by what must have been freezing water as he reached down and picked up the object of Rarity’s former attention, returning to her side in less than half a minute. He looked slightly confused.
“Why the long face, Rarity?”
Rarity blinked, “You… just walked through that ocean water like it wasn’t… well, freezing.”
Spike looked back at the ocean, “Well… I was gonna show you that my scales can hold back a lotta heat and cold, but… It’s not that bad, actually. It’s actually pretty warm.”
Once more, Rarity found herself blinking at Spike. “Really?”
“Really really. You should try it out!”
“I’m sorry, Spike, but I dare not. My mane will dry out for sure!”
“Aw, c’mon. Just your hooves, at least!”
Rarity hesitated. “Well, I suppose a little couldn’t hurt. I mean, I have also read that seawater is utterly rejuvenating in small exposures… But wait, Spike! What about that… thing in the water…?”
Spike looked down at the thing in his claws, and gaped.
It was a conch made out of some pearlescent rainbow material that almost seemed to glow. Its gleam shone in Spike’s eyes, and his natural draconic urge to start a hoard began to claw at the back of his brain.
“That’s my gift to you, Spike, for saving my life in the Crystal Mountains.”
But when Spike looked up at Rarity, awed by the beauty of her gift to him, the beast shriveled in its corner at the back of his mind, cowed by the strange warm feeling that filled Spike like the Sun’s light.
“Th… Thank you, Rarity…”
“Think nothing of it, Spike. It’s just a little gift to my favorite little dragon!” She nuzzled him as she finished her sweetly spoken statement.
Spike blushed, “Aw, shucks…”
The sky brightened to a deep purple-blue, a bright-red aura hovering over the eastern horizon. Spike and Rarity shared a quick look before a blaze of bright yellow-orange broke across the beach and ocean, and a blast of warmth struck them. They instinctively took in deep breaths as the Sun shone upon them; it was the first sunlight either had seen within a month. The loss of something so simple and so beautiful dawned upon them, and the urge to fight the NightMare was bolstered.
Then it sank back below the horizon, the night returning but not the cold, and Spike and Rarity both took off for their point of unwinking. Their seashell collecting venture had taken them surprisingly little distance from the place where Twilight settled down to decrypt that Bookwork cipher. On the way, they regrouped with Pinkie and Fluttershy, who were both clutching seashells in their mouths, and with Applejack and Rainbow Dash, both of whom was looking smugly triumphant (Rainbow Dash more smugly than triumphantly).
Twilight’s expression was neutral as she placed her ink-and-quill and Studies on Pundamilia Culture in one of her saddle-bags.
“So, does everypony want the good news first, or the bad news?”
The six others conferred quickly and silently amongst each other, and figured that the bad news could come first.
Twilight nodded slowly, blinking. “I figured as much. But… the good news and the bad news are so closely tied that I might as well just go through them the most logical way:” She took a deep breath, before continuing, “The good news is, I’ve decrypted the Queen’s Bookworm cipher. The bad news,” Twilight raised her voice slightly as Rainbow Dash had started to chuckle at the word Bookworm, “the bad news is… well, the bad news is what the decryption is.”
The slip of parchment on which Queen Celestia had written her cipher levitated in Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer, showing her six companions what the cipher said when decrypted.
I, Queen Celestia, have hidden the secret to the sixth Element with the royal bloodline of Pundamilia. Go to the capital, Nyeusi-na-Nyeupe, and present this cipher to Queen Malkia. She will trust you.
“But…” Rainbow Dash was the first to pipe up. “Isn’t Zebra-land basically across the ocean from us?”
“I’m afraid so, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight replied, “and that puts us in a bad position. We can’t bank on NightMare Moon leaving the transpasturic zeppelins and cruises alone. The illusion magic I’ve copied off of Trixie can’t do us any good anymore, because the Shadowbolts have seen through it.”
Applejack nodded darkly, “An’ y’all cin bet that they’ll file some sorta report ‘bout it to that nasty ol’ moon-crater.”
Twilight bowed her head at Applejack’s statement.
“So why don’t we just wink across the ocean?” Rainbow Dash blurted out. “I mean, you just winked us, like, a gigagross miles across the planet, so getting us to Pundamilia should be easy!”
“It’s not that easy, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight snapped. “Nopony who can wink out can wink to a location that they’ve never physically been to before. And since I’ve never been to Nyeusi-na-Nyeupe before, nevermind Pundamilia in general…”
The discussion of Pundamilia petered out after that, and Rainbow Dash floated down the sand, kicking in frustration.
“That’s a bunch of ponyfeathers!” she shouted. “This can’t be how it ends! We didn’t come all this way, fighting all sorts of hypnotized Canterlot Guards, trudging all the way across the Wide Plains, dealing with weird magic that Celestia locked away under a mountain, just to meet a dead end at the edge of some stupid ocean!”
Rainbow Dash took one deep ragged breath after another, her cerise eyes darting around to each of her other compatriots. Twilight Sparkle had a look of mixed anger and sadness on her face, one cloven forehoof rubbing the other foreleg. Applejack looked rather pensive, running a hoof around on the spot where her Stetson usually rested. Rarity was staring down at her hooves. Fluttershy traced out circles absentmindedly in the sand. Pinkie Pie’s mane had become long and lanky, her ears flat against her skull as she drew a smiley face in the sand with a weak smile on her face. Spike clutched a forearm, looking nervously morose as a rainbow conch rested at his feet.
Twilight sighed, “Well, girls, guess we’ll have to go undercover. Work out some secret identities. Smuggle ourselves out across the Pasturic Ocean. Spike, you’ll have to… Spike, where did you find that?”
Spike looked down at the rainbow conch at his feet, before picking it up and presenting it, “It’s a real pretty shell that Rarity gave me! Isn’t she just―?”
“That’s the Prism Conch!” Twilight gasped, eyes wide with mirth.
To Twilight’s immense disappointment, nopony else seemed to know what she was talking about. The rest of her band gave her looks of complete bafflement.
“The what-now?” Applejack asked.
Twilight let out a slow breath, “The Prism Conch is only a priceless artifact linking the Equestrians and Aquastrians together. It’s been thought to be lost for almost a dozen-gross years.”
“Lost?” Rarity asked.
“And found~!” Pinkie added gleefully.
“Yes, lost,” Twilight continued. “For a grossentury after NightMare Moon’s banishment, Equestria was in chaos. Apparently, there were large cults devoted to the former Queen of the Night who were trying to overthrow Queen Celestia. Few of them went quietly. One that was based around here, near the seaside village of Pegasus―”
“‘Pegasus’?” Rainbow Dash interrupted excitedly. “They named a village after the Pegasus race?”
Twilight gritted her teeth, “If you’ve ever read On the Origin of Ponies by Charles Darweanling, you’d know that Pegasi got their name from the village of Pegasus itself. Dozens of gross years ago, before Equestria, before the Era of Discord, before the Queens, even before the Three Pony Tribes, there were just the Earth Ponies and the Unicorns. Pegasus was an Earth Pony village, where Pegasus ponies would wear the wings and feathers of seagulls. It was supposed to represent the freedom they felt by the sea. Then… a gorgon slunk out of its cave and petrified every pony in town. Mare, stallion and foal.”
Fluttershy whimpered, “I don’t like this story…”
“I love this story!” Pinkie squealed. “Ponies always tell the funniest stories!”
Heads turned towards the pink Earth Pony at that statement.
“Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash cocked an eyebrow at the pink pony, “if you’re not a pony… then what are you?”
Pinkie just giggled, grinning at Rainbow Dash with a smile that may have been a little too wide and showed more teeth than should have had any business in a pony’s mouth.
“Silly Dashie. I’m Pinkie Pie~”
“Putting Pinkie Pie’s ambiguous equinity aside for a moment,” Twilight interjected with a raised voice, “Unicorn scholars arrived, subdued the gorgon, and unpetrified the afflicted ponies. But when they were first petrified, the gorgon’s magic stare had even petrified the wings and feathers they wore. And when they were unpetrified…”
“They had wings and feathers themselves?” Spike asked.
“That’s right, Spike, they did!” Twilight answered brightly, before continuing in a more sober tone, “along with the hollow avian bones that allow for unaided flight. That’s why Pegasi break bones easier than Earth Ponies or Unicorns.”
“So, what does this history lesson have t’ do with this doohicky?” Applejack asked, pointing at the Prism Conch.
Twilight smacked her forehead lightly, “Trots of the mouth. Sorry, girls. Anyway, about two-dozen years after NightMare Moon was apparently banished, an anti-Queen Celestia cult calling themselves the Eclipse Gorgons rose up.”
“‘Eclipse’?” Rarity asked. “Pardon my interruption, darling, but what is an eclipse?”
“I don’t know,” Twilight replied with a shrug, “but apparently the Eclipse Gorgons meant to violently invade the Saddle Valley and overthrow Queen Celestia. From what I can tell, based off of my readings on mermares and Aquastria, the Prism Conch was kept in the museum up at New Pegasus, but the Eclipse Gorgons stole it. Their last stand was about a furlong up the beach, where that lighthouse is now. The Wonderbolts tried to negotiate. Yes, Rainbow Dash, the Wonderbolts! Now don’t interrupt me,” Twilight added loudly as she noticed Rainbow Dash perking up at the W word. “Anyway, the Wonderbolts tried to negotiate, but the Eclipse Gorgons wouldn’t compromise, and attacked. Their hooves forced into action, the Wonderbolts completely dismantled the Eclipse Gorgons, but one of the pro-NightMare Moon Pegasi must have had the Conch and been flying over the ocean when she or he was… well, the Prism Conch was lost. But now we have it!”
“So, what’s so big about this stupid Prism Conch?” Rainbow Dash cut in obnoxiously.
“Rainbow!” Applejack barked. “Stop interruptin’ Twilight when she’s ‘bout to explain somethin’!” She gave her lavender friend a look, “Ya were about to explain, right?”
Twilight snorted out of her nostrils, “As a matter of fact, I was, Applejack.” She paused, took in several deep breaths to calm her nerves after all the interruptions, trying to think about all the good things that would come about when (or if) she turned her parents back from their vegetative states. She continued, “The Prism Conch, when blown into, will magically light a beacon down in the Aquastrian capital of Lyonesse, letting the mermares know that ponykind is their ally.”
“So, if we were to blow it now…?” Fluttershy asked.
Twilight beamed, “Then the mermares would know that the Prism Conch was found, and they’ll come up to investigate!”
“But how do we know that they didn’t take down that beacon?” Rainbow Dash asked, and for once, Twilight found it an astute observation. Equestria and Aquastria’s search for the Prism Conch, lost at sea, lasted for douzaides, before it was assumed that it was carried off by an ocean current to some uncharted part of the South, where the Dragons lived. It was widely accepted that it would never be found, that it was now buried at the bottom of some Ice-Dragon’s hoard, and now here it was. One half of the link between land ponies and sea ponies. They could blow on the Conch. But would their message be received…?
Twilight smirked, her alicorn glowing pink, “Only one way to find out!”
The Prism Conch floated out of Spike’s claws, a pink dwimmer shimmer shining around it. Twilight brought the narrow end to her lips, trying not to swallow any seawater. Breathing in deep through her nose, she blew.
A deep bellowing noise, not unlike a trumpet, but less even and refined, boomed out from the conch, reverberating in seven skulls and echoing across the ocean. It lingered in the air and their ears for at least half a minute before they felt that they could hear clearly again.
“Well…” Rainbow Dash scratched at an ear with a hind hoof. “That was definitely a thing.”
“So… how long do we wait?” Rarity asked.
“I’m not sure,” replied Twilight, returning the Prism Conch to Spike’s claws. “Lyonesse is a dozen-and-a-half miles out from here, but they’re at the bottom of the ocean. The mermares aren’t going to get here in ten seconds, even at their top swimming speed. Also, like Rainbow Dash pointed out, there’s no guarantee that the Aquastrians have even kept the beacon up. We might be sending a signal that will never be received.”
“So… what’s th’ plan, leader girl?” asked Applejack.
Twilight paused at that statement by her Earth Pony friend. Well, I do suppose I’m the leader. I’ve been the one who’s made so many of the decisions for our band. For better or worse… Crescent Rose’s face flashed in her mind, and her heart ached. Inhaling deeply through the nostrils, Twilight spoke, “We wait. For a day. That should be plenty of time for somepony from Aquastria to get the signal and swim out here. Everypony okay with that?” She looked pointedly at Rainbow Dash.
Applejack looked at Rarity, who looked back at Applejack. Fluttershy and Pinkie locked eyes. Then Applejack switched to meet Pinkie’s eyes, and Fluttershy locked eyes with Rainbow Dash. Twilight met Rarity’s eyes. One after another, each mare made eye contact with each of the five other mares in the party… and Spike as well.
“Ah’ll wait with ya, sugarcube,” Applejack replied.
“I’ll stay with you… if that’s okay with you,” breathed Fluttershy.
“I can’t wait to throw a sea pony party!” Pinkie Pie squealed.
“I would be a terrible pony to leave you now,” Rarity said with a dignified tone. Spike clutched his claws together and his eyes sparkled at her generosity.
Rainbow Dash sighed, “It wouldn’t be awesome of me to gallop off on you like this, so I’m with you all the way, TS.” She smirked a fangy smirk. “Besides, it’s fun getting your goat!”
Twilight’s ears drooped, “Why am I not surprised?”
“It’s always the most serious ponies who are the funnest to see squirm!” Rainbow Dash snorted in amusement at the sour look on the lavender Unicorn’s face.
Pinkie popped up from between Twilight’s forelegs, her forehooves clamping on either side of Twilight’s mouth and making Twilight make kissy faces, “Aww, c’mon, Twilight! Don’t be looking so dour! Being happy and laughy gives you power!”
Scrunching up her muzzle, trying not to laugh at how her face must have looked, Twilight puffed her cheeks out. Almost everypony in her band started to snicker; Rarity brought a hoof up to cover her muzzle, and Spike actually started to smothered his own mouth to hold back his chuckles. Seeing Spike’s expression, Twilight could not hold it in anymore. She laughed, and the dam broke on everypony else’s restraint, and soon the whole group of seven was laughing on the sand, and they laughed for a good long while.
Applejack wiped away a tear, “Goodness gravy, Ah think we all needed a good laugh right ‘bout now!”
“We all will,” Twilight said with a faint choke, “if it turns out that the mermares didn’t receive the Conch’s call.”
Spike looked down at the Conch in his claws, contemplating taking a blow at it himself. Screwing up his face, he puckered up his lips…
A deep lowing, somewhere between a cow’s moo and an earthquake, boomed out from the ocean. The waves went as still as ice, pale lights stirring beneath the surface.
Spike fumbled, almost dropping the Conch. “That wasn’t me!”
“We know that, Spike,” Rainbow Dash said bluntly.
“Could it be the mermares?” Fluttershy wondered aloud.
“I don’t know,” Twilight replied. “We’re so far out, and they might not even have received the―”
A beam of light shot up into the sky, shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow. A faint choral humming emanated out from the ocean, drawing the seven of them in.
“The message…” Twilight finished weakly. Off in the distance, she could make out the shape of something equine poking up out of the water. Its head turned to face them, and when it spotted them, it dove back down beneath, leaving no ripples. The band caught sight of a pair of flippers in place of hind legs and a long tapering tail.
“Ah think we’ve made contact, Twilight,” Applejack replied shakily.
“Ooh, I’m just so excited, I’m speechless!” Rarity cried. “Meeting our own nautical cousins, living at the bottom of the Pasturic Ocean! Can you just imagine what their saddles must be made out of? Do you think they use seashells? Oh, they simply must bind them with seaweed!”
“I thought you were speechless…” grumbled Rainbow Dash as Rarity continued on.
“I wonder what happens to balloons underwater,” Pinkie Pie mused in rare pensiveness.
Regardless, the six mares and one drake kept their eyes fixed on the edge of the shoreline, waiting for some sort of sign.
With nary a ripple, a half dozen shapes emerged from the deep. They were definitely pony-shaped, at least from the midsection forward. There were differences, though, even in what was equine; narrower muzzles which tapered to a rounded tip, flaps of skin along either side of the neck that were clearly gills, clear fins on the backs of their fetlocks. From the barrel back, though, was where the most pronounced differences were found. Where the hind legs would be were a pair of long flippers, and a tail as wide as the torso stretched out and tapered to a point. They did have cutie marks, like their terranean cousins. Two of the band − for even mermares used that term for a group − had wide translucent fins emerging from their backs, and another two had a row of spines leading from the backs of their skulls which terminated in very long spiraling bone-white alicorns out of the middle of their foreheads. All six wore a clamshell on her or his back.
The mermares had arrived.
“I… I’m Twilight Sparkle,” Twilight said with a high voice, nervously approaching and giving a bow to the orange merstallion at the front. “I’m the apprentice of Queen Celestia, and I call upon you bearing urgent news.”
“I am Wavebreaker,” he replied in a screechy voice that made many land ponies’ ears recede, “And the King already knows of what has unfolded, Twilight Sparkle. Our emissaries have reported on NightMare Moon’s return, and the beacon was immediately reoccupied.”
“King Leo requests an immediate audience with you and your friends, pupil of Queen Celestia,” added the finned mermare, sea-green; her voice, too, was high and screeching.
“An audience?” Rainbow Dash echoed. “But we can’t go underwater; we’d drown!”
“Patience, rainbow one,” the finned mermare replied, before facing the horned merstallion, “Angler, if you please.”
Angler the pearly-white merstallion nodded, his horn glowing the same deep-blue as his eyes, and the seashell upon his back opened up, a good seven leaves floating out in a deep-blue dwimmer shimmer.
“Ah don’ like kelp,” Applejack muttered ruefully. “Ah don’ even like seaweed.”
“The leaves of the sirenomelon plant,” explained the horned mermare, “cause land-ponies who eat them to temporarily exhibit the aquatic traits of those who live in Aquastria.”
“How long is ‘temporary’?” Fluttershy asked. Wavebreaker rounded on her, and she withdrew sharply. “Oh! I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have asked!”
Wavebreaker offered a friendly smile, revealing a mouth of fangs. Fluttershy whimpered.
“You’ll have to excuse Fluttershy,” Twilight interjected. “She’s scared of strangers.”
“I’m terribly sorry to have frightened you,” said Wavebreaker gently, offering a finny hoof to Fluttershy. She took it hesitantly, offering a wary smile. “As you have asked, the sirenomelon leaf’s effects vary from land-pony to land-pony. This batch, however, should last each of you a week, just enough time to cross the King’s Ocean.”
“Call me a landlubber,” Applejack groused, “but Ah’d rather keep mah hooves on solid ground!”
“Pardon my bluntness, but your options are dreadfully limited,” said the finned mermare, “landlubber.”
Pinkie Pie giggled, “She called you a landlubber, for real!”
“These leaves should be enough for you six mares, and your son,” Wavebreaker said to Twilight, looking about. “Where is the little small-fry?”
Spike raised a claw nervously, “Umm… it’s me, Mr. Wavebreaker.”
Wavebreaker looked down on Spike, double-taking. His frilled ears flattened, “I am sorry, Miss Twilight, but our sirenomelon leaves are… disagreeable with dragons’ digestive system.”
“That’s fine,” Twilight said brightly. “I can just cast a Bubble-Head Charm on him!”
Spike’s eyes widened, “But… won’t I run out of air?”
“You shouldn’t, Spike. The spell allows oxygen from the water to permeate the bubble, siphoning out your exhaled carbon dioxide.”
“Oh! Okay!” Spike smiled.
Rainbow Dash nudged the mulberry drake, whispering in one of his ear-spines, “You actually understood any of that?”
“When you’ve grown up with Twilight Sparkle as your mom, you pick up a lot of things.”
Wavebreaker cleared his throat, which sounded like a hoof on a chalkboard. It was immensely effective, as the band rounded on him with wide eyes, flat ears and gritted teeth.
“If you will,” he said as Angler lowered the sirenomelon leaves in front of each of the six mares (the seventh returned to his saddle-clam).
Giving one another tentative glances, each mare balled up her leaf and shoved it wholly into her mouth.
It had a rubbery, clammy texture to it, as though it had spent a great long time in the salty seawater (which it most likely had). It was definitely not terribly palatable, most probably used by mermares as a last-resort meal on long-distance journeys.
As one, they swallowed.
For several seconds, nothing happened. Behind her, Twilight could hear Rainbow Dash rustling impatiently, and just before the inevitable declaration of boredom…
A hot stabbing pain shot through either side of Twilight’s neck, and she felt like knives were stabbing her in the backs of her hooves. Cries of surprise and pain rung out behind her, and Twilight knew that the same feeling was being felt by her friends. Though she’d never experienced this before, Twilight knew that the first-time usage of sirenomelon leaves was as painful as it was surprising, especially for Pegasi; their whole wings would transform into large translucent fins for the duration of the effects.
Once the pain subsided, Twilight faced her friends. Each of them now had gills on their necks, and fins on their fetlocks. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy now had transparent fins where their wings ordinarily were. Fluttershy was shaking inconsolably, and Pinkie… wait.
“Pinkie… Why didn’t you change?” Twilight asked in a screeching above-water mermare voice.
Pinkie looked herself over, checking her feathery fetlocks quizzically. “Really? Silly me! I forgot to…” She took a deep breath, placed one of her forehooves in her mouth and… blew into it. In moments, deep-pink fins erupted from the backs of her hooves, and gills split open on her neck. “Ta-da~!”
Twilight blinked. Something is wrong with me if I don’t question this…
“I… I can’t breathe! What’s wrong with my voice?” cried out Rarity in a high screeching voice; apparently, she did not take well to being temporarily amphibious.
“I don’t hear a difference,” growled Rainbow Dash, her wing-fins bristling. If her voice was grating before, its scratchiness was tenfold now.
“Neither do Ah,” Applejack drawled, looking at the cyan Pegasus. Rainbow scowled darkly at the apple-farmer.
“Well, if you’ll come with us…” asked the mermare beside Wavebreaker, before the six of them turned back towards the water.
“Excuse us for just a moment,” Twilight said, before facing Spike with a glow to her horn. Spell matrices aligned in Twilight’s alicorn, and a pink bubble emerged from the tip, floating down to Spike. He reached for it curiously, before it slid down over his head without bursting. Once it completely encompassed the drake’s head, Twilight’s horn stopped glowing, and the bubble turned colorless and translucent.
Spike felt at the bubble around his head, before looking at Twilight, “Thanks, Mom.” His voice came out distorted by the bubble, and he chuckled, “Now my voice sounds all funny!” Pinkie Pie joined in with his laughing.
“Now, if you please, we’re on a bit of a schedule,” Wavebreaker said sharply.
“But… our saddle-bags…” Fluttershy said, before clamping her hooves over her mouth at how raspy she sounded.
Angler spoke, “If you’ll allow me, I shall carry them in my bubble magic until we can retrieve more appropriate baggage for you.”
Acquiescing, the band relinquished their saddle-bags, and soon they were floating in a half-dozen deep-blue bubbles around his head.
“Now then, let’s go!” Wavebreaker said with no small degree of impatience, before he and his five fellow mermares dived back into the water.
“Well, here goes nothing,” Twilight breathed, before leaping into the water.
“Wait for me, Mom!” Spike called, running after Twilight down into the deep.
Rarity whimpered, “I don’t like to get my mane wet…” before closing her eyes and charging into the sea.
“Don’ think Ah’m gonna be too long before you, Rarity!” Applejack called as she galloped to the water’s edge and did a flying leap into the deeper parts of the water.
“Whee! Cannonball~! Pinkie cheered as she almost literally flew over the water before curling up into a perfect pink ball and slamming into the sea.
Rainbow Dash turned to face Fluttershy, taking the timid Pegasus’s hoof in her own and offering a sincere, tender smile, “Want to hold my hoof on the way in?”
Fluttershy blushed, “Oh, you don’t have to, Rainbow, my dear. It’s no big deal.”
“I want to, so I will anyway,” Rainbow replied. “You ready?”
Fluttershy nodded, never breaking eye contact with her darling Rainbow Dash. Her hoof clenched Rainbow’s.
“Good,” Rainbow Dash smirked, before she darted into the water, almost dragging Fluttershy behind her.
The water was life. The first breath that Twilight took through her gills refreshed her far more than she could have imagined. A wide smile broke across her muzzle as she flipped around through the water; these fins were almost second-nature to her! She felt so free! This must be what Pegasi feel all the time!
“Wait up, Mom!” Spike cried out, flapping his claws frantically to try to keep up with Twilight.
Twilight giggled to herself, and she used her magic to draw Spike towards her. “Wrap your arms around my neck, Spike,” Twilight told him, and she was pleased to hear that her voice was back to normal. “And try not to cover my gills; I do need to breathe.”
Spike nodded and did as Twilight told, just as Rarity came charging down from the surface. She inhaled deeply, her gills flaring as she took her first underwater breath. “O Maker above, this is simply divine!” She gasped sharply. “My voice is back! And my mane!” She flipped her mane back and forth. “My mane is still gorgeously coiffed!”
“Yee-haw!” called out Applejack as she came to a stop beside Rarity, smirking slyly. “Don’t go thinkin’ y’all are more darin’ than Ah am!”
Before Rarity could retort, a pink sphere as big as a pony’s head dropped in between the country pony and the fashionista. Once the cloud of air bubbles cleared up around the pink ball, it let out a faint Pop! and expanded out into Pinkie Pie. She cheered with a “Whee-hee-hee~!” and flapped her fins as she spun about in circles.
The Pegasi of the band swept down into the group − which is to say, Rainbow Dash swept down into the group with a squealing Fluttershy in tow. The moment she joined the circle, she unhooked her hoof from Fluttershy’s and began to flap her back-fins vigorously. Sand kicked up from the bottom of the ocean floor, but Rainbow Dash barely left the ground.
“Why can’t I fly? …or… swim?” she complained with a strained voice.
Fluttershy took a tentative flap of her fins, receiving no lift. She then flapped marginally harder, though still slower than she would have flapped her wings on the surface. Her hooves left the sandy bottom for a few moments. Smiling slightly, she began to flap her fins slowly and regularly. She floated hesitantly off of the ocean floor, levelling up just over the heads of the rest of her band.
Rainbow Dash gaped, “How are you doing that?”
“She took things at a slower pace,” said a hypnotically beautiful stallion’s voice, and the seven turned in shock to see that it was Wavebreaker who had spoken. Evidently, mermares and merstallions’ voices became completely screechy as a result of being out of water. “She chose not to rush herself in an unfamiliar situation, and learned at a speed she was comfortable with.”
“But… I’m only comfortable going real fast.”
“Sometimes,” said the back-finned mermare, “we learn best when we take things in slowly.”
“Now,” Wavebreaker continued, “shall we return to the capital?”
“Of course,” Twilight replied, “but… how did you get here so fast?”
The back-finned merstallion grinned broadly, “The same way we’ll get back so fast!” He waved a hoof off deeper into the ocean, and the band of land-mares blinked at the undersea view stretching out into the darkness ahead of them. By the light of the Moon above, however, they could see the shape of a large fish-like creature with pronounced pelvic fins resembling bird’s wings, a substantial crest of a dorsal fin and a sharp avian beak.
“A manta-hawk…” Twilight gasped.
“The fastest swimmer King Leo’s oceans have to offer,” Wavebreaker said proudly, before facing the horned mermare and merstallion. “Sealight, Angler. Jet on ahead and let them know that Queen Celestia’s company is on their way.”
The horned mermares nodded and, with a flash of their horns, vanished in twin clouds of glowing bubbles. Twilight blinked at her first sight of an underwater wink-out.
“Now, come along, Twilight and company,” waved Wavebreaker. “Climb aboard the manta-hawk’s back, and let it carry us to Lyonesse!”
Twilight flipped her fins as best she could; though she understood the basic movements that she would need to make, a dozen-and-ten years of learning the trot, the canter, the gallop kept coming back to her and she found herself fumbling through the water awkwardly. Wavebreaker and his mermare counterpart took her forehooves in each of theirs and guided her forwards, and Twilight found her forward momentum much more stable.
If Twilight thought she was having a bad time getting her sea-legs, Applejack fared far worse. The farmer was a very grounded mare, barely ever catching sight of a body of water larger than a puddle, and now she had found herself thrust into the largest ocean on Harmonia with little preamble or preparation. It took Fluttershy, with her uncanny learning curve, to hoist the unsteady Earth Pony up into the air and towards the manta-hawk.
“Thanks, Flutters,” Applejack murmured.
“Oh. Y-You’re welcome, Applejack,” Fluttershy replied haltingly.
Rainbow Dash looked nervously at the fins on her back where her wings used to be. Slowly, hesitatingly, she began to flap them. With each full flap, she left the seafloor a little bit more. Confidence growing in her chest, she began to flap harder and faster, though not as frantically as before. Grinning broadly, she drew her legs in close and flapped her fins hard, darting forward to the manta-hawk with a barrel-roll.
Rarity watched Pinkie quite literally canter through the water with giddy little twitches of her deep-pink fetlock-fins, and looked down at her own. The purple fins tweaked this way and that, and Rarity cocked an eyebrow at them. Experimenting, she swished a foreleg slowly, along with the opposite hind leg. She left the ocean floor a small bit. Giggling to herself at her progress, she swished the opposite legs, gaining a bit more distance. Letting out a decidedly unRarity-like whinny of a laugh, she took to a slow cantering swim towards her transport.
“Hey, Rarity, think ya could rustle up a bit more speed?” Applejack called out from the manta-hawk’s back.
“A lady never rushes herself, Applejack!” Rarity shouted in return.
“Time is of the essence, Miss Rarity,” said the hornless mermare beside Wavebreaker. “We must put aside pleasantries and pretense; King Leo requests your immediate presence!”
“Patience, Backstroke,” Wavebreaker said. “We need speed, not haste.”
Rarity took Backstroke’s words to heart, though, and her succeeding hoofstrokes were fuller and harder, and she reached the back of the manta-hawk in less than a dozen-and-eight seconds. She settled onto the scaly back, silently wondering about how they would stay on this creature’s back if it moved as quickly as the mermares attested, when she suddenly felt an adhesion of sorts as soon as her hooves touched the manta-hawk’s back. She looked in awe around at each of her friends. Twilight smiled at her.
“This manta-hawk has been trained by Narwhal Ponies to magically hold riders to its back!” she explained. “Isn’t that great?”
“What’s a Narwhal Pony?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“It’s what mermares call their Unicorns,” Twilight answered. “Their Earth Ponies are Seahorses, and their Pegasi are called Sailfins.”
Backstroke looked mightily intrigued, “You mean, you land-ponies call your Seahorses Earth Ponies? Tell me more!”
“Perhaps we can discuss this more,” said the male Sailfin, “Once we’ve returned to Lyonesse.”
“Right,” Wavebreaker said, before he looked ahead to the manta-hawk’s head. “Cevil?”
Cevil the manta-hawk turned his head to look at the ten equines on his back, his golden eye as big as any one of their torsos, his beak broad enough to snap any of them in two. He looked at Wavebreaker with an inquisitive gleam in his eye.
“Take us back home, Cev.”
With an imperceptible nod, Cev flapped his pelvic fins, beelining up for the surface.
“What, where are we going?” Rarity asked. “The Aquastrian capital is at the bottom of the ocean, isn’t it?”
“It is,” the male Sailfin explained, “but to get there quickly, the manta-hawk needs to leap out of the water to get its forward momentum going!”
“You mean…?” Rarity and Fluttershy asked in fear.
“You mean…?” Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie asked in anticipation.
“Yes!” Wavebreaker shouted with a broad grin. “We’re going to breach!”
“Breach?” Applejack asked. “What’s ‘breach’ mean?”
Her question was answered almost immediately. Cev soared up and out of the water, and for several glorious moments, they seemed suspended in midair, the manta-hawk’s pelvic fins fully extended as he crested through the air, the ocean spray around them glistening under the starlight and moonlight…
Then Cev pulled his fins in and dove into the ocean like an arrow, four mares screaming in fear and two whooping in delight as the manta-hawk tore through the seawater faster than any other creature in the sea.
Deeper and deeper into the ocean did Cev carry his eleven passengers, and eventually even the light of the night sky above the ocean dimmed to nothing. In almost no time, though, their eyes adjusted to the dark, and the land-dwellers spotted veritable forests of reefs and coral and seaweed and fronds in every direction. Schools of fish of every color, shape and size parted at the sight of Cev the manta-hawk.
“Manta-hawks are the apex predator of these waters,” explained High Tide, the male Sailfin (introductions passed by way of terrorful shouting moments after Cev reached top speed). “No fish is faster, or deadlier. They are the perfect high-speed transport for anypony who can tame them.”
“And… who tamed Cev here, if Ah cin ask?” Applejack asked.
“Oh, the beastmasters of Anarpagí have been taming mermares’ mounts since our ancestors started living here in the ocean,” explained Beachcomber, High Tide’s twin sister. “Not everypony can jet out, so we need high-speed mounts to take us far and wide across the ocean for food.”
“Speaking of seeing,” interjected Backstroke, “once Cev’s crested this upcoming ridge, we should be right about at Lyonesse.”
I thought it was starting to look a bit light again, Twilight thought, eyes narrowed slightly at the prismatic lights dancing past the ridge. What wonders awaited them upon arriving at Lyonesse, the capital of of Equestria’s aquatic neighbor of Aquastria…?
Cev crested the ridge, broadening his fins so as to slow himself down for the approach, and…
“By the light of Celestia’s Sun…!”
“Well, Ah’ll be…!”
Towering pinnacles of coral and rock rose up from the seafloor, with fronds of seaweed woven together for bridges interlinking almost every building. Some sort of glowing algae lined the sides of the buildings, bathing the aquatic metropolis in a pale heavenly light. Darting to and fro amidst the seascrapers were myriad mermares, merstallions, Dolphins, Manatees and Narwhals. A low song echoed through the water around them, and Twilight and her band looked up to see the shape of a whale passing across their path.
“I think Cap’n Nemo would like to welcome you to Lyonesse,” Wavebreaker said jovially, waving a hoof up at the pale-white whale.
“Cap’n Nemo…” Twilight mused with a faint knowing smile at the whale’s scarred form.
As they approached the aquatic capital, many mermares of all sorts poked their heads out of the seaweed flanking the path that Cev took. They cast curious and wondrous eyes at the seven non-mermares astride the manta-hawk with four of their own, particularly upon the prismatic conch clutched in the mulberry drake’s claws. Spike waved a claw nervously at the crowd, and a merfilly beside her heavily pregnant father waved back.
“Well, on behalf of King Leo and all the mermares and merstallions of Aquastria,” Wavebreaker said with a clear voice, “I welcome you… to Lyonesse, the greatest city under the sea!”
If the city was bewondering from a distance, to soar through the streets of Lyonesse itself astride a manta-hawk of all creatures was most stupefying. While Twilight still thought of Canterlot as the most beautiful city in all of Harmonia (though she had yet to visit every other city in Harmonia to justify that feeling), she would have had to say that Lyonesse was a close second.
The rocks hewn into the shapes of minarets and towers by mermares of meggrossia past shone as if coated with pearl, with coral accenting the buildings and acting as additional support or windows if need be. The algae patches’ blue glow emitted a faint warmth, enhancing the welcoming feel of such a city beneath the waves. The bridges of seaweed and kelp that Cev passed by as they swam towards the center of Lyonesse were far larger than Twilight had reckoned, and served a more versatile purpose than she had imagined prior as well. As any inhabitant of Lyonesse swam by, she or he would take a small chunk of seaweed in her or his mouth, leaving a clam in its place. They were stop-and-go snack bars!
And those who called Lyonesse home were a fine sort as well. Far from the haughty elitists of Canterlot, everyone who Cev passed gave a warm welcome to the passing newcomers and casually engaged in brief discourse with the four accompanying mermares.
The rainbow fins on Rainbow Dash’s fetlocks bristled impatiently.
“This is boring. I need to fly!” The clear fins on her back rustled.
“Do as you wish, Rainbow Dash,” Wavebreaker said with a surprisingly light tone. “But take care not to lose sight of Cev here. If you slow us down, we won’t wait up for you. The King’s message is imperative.”
“Yeah yeah yeah, important king business, got it.” And Rainbow Dash was off of Cev’s back as quick as could be, her fins flapping none too fast nor too slow. It had an immediate effect, however, as a blissful smile crossed her muzzle and creased shut her eyes. The expression was quickly replaced with one of sheer audacity as she began to perform loop-de-loops and corkscrews around Cev, who followed her with one eye, keeping the other on his twisting path.
For the streets of the city of Lyonesse did not travel in straight lines, but rather turned with the erratic shapes of the seascrapers. Even the most direct path to one’s destination often entailed a fair amount of circling around if one did not wish to take sharp turns… which, considering that mermares and merstallions were more adept at swimming in straight lines and gradual curves than turning sharply, resulted in a rather more leisurely lifestyle in the Aquastrian capital.
“We should be arriving at King Leo’s palace shortly,” Wavebreaker said to Twilight, who was holding Spike between her forelegs.
Twilight smiled and nodded in reply, “It’s been too long since last we met.”
“Whoa whoa whoa, hold on a second,” Rainbow Dash said as she circled back over Cev’s back. “King Leo, city of Lyonesse… isn’t your king a bit bigheaded?”
“Yer one ta talk,” Applejack snarked.
Rainbow Dash flashed a fangy grin at her appley friend, “I’m not bigheaded; I’m awesome!”
“Bigheadedness or awesomeness aside,” Twilight cut in crossly, “Lyonesse was not named by King Leo, but by his steward Seawinkle in the year 22 ER, when Aquastria declared her independence from Equestria.”
Beachcomber gave Twilight an impressed smile, “You know our history quite well, Miss Twilight.”
Twilight blushed humbly, “Well, I just really like reading, and…”
Sharp gasps from her compatriots as Cev rounded the corner caused Twilight to trail off, and when she followed their eyes wide with astonishment, she herself took in a startled breath.
Shells as large as whales fitted together to form a mostly flat and wide palace, gleaming with a golden light. Towering auger shells marked the five corners of King Leo’s palace, two of them respectively peaked with a blue light and a purple light. From the heart of the palace erupted a singular auger shell, as tall as a blue whale was long, standing watch over all of Lyonesse.
And they were approaching it.
“This is Morse, the palace of King Leo the Fatherless, immortal ruler of Aquastria,” explained Wavebreaker, a tone filled with awe indicating that he too was struck by the immensity of the palace Morse.
“It’s… amazing…” Twilight said, lacking anything better to say as Cev approached the front gates of Morse. The moment that the manta-hawk settled before the mermare guards at the gates, Rarity leapt down to the seafloor, almost kissing the sandy bottom. The mermares still on Cev’s back gave her odd looks.
“She doesn’t take well to travel, I guess,” Twilight explained as she stood up on Cev’s back. “She handled side-winking just fine at first, but… she kinda felt sick for a little after it. I feel bad now.”
“Well, she handled it better th’n Ah did,” Applejack admitted as she leapt down off of Cev’s back. When she fell slower than she would have on land, she flapped her reddish fetlock-fins furiously to flap downwards faster. Kicking up sand on her landing, Applejack scratched behind an ear with a hind leg, “Ah can’ rightly say that Ah’m that big on the slow fallin’ in water.” Feeling a gooey sucking at her hooves, Applejack looked down and saw that she was already knee-deep in the briny sand. With a faint green glow about her legs, she managed to shuck herself out.
“You will want to spend more of your time floating than actually standing,” High Tide suggested. “It’s what fins are for.”
Applejack scrunched her lips together, but she acquiesced quickly, as the alternative was having to continually use her Earth Pony magic to pull herself loose from the sandy suction. Spike hugged his arms tightly around Twilight’s barrel as she flapped her fins to float down to hover a hoof’s length above the sand, just as Pinkie and Fluttershy joined the rest of their band on the seafloor.
“So, we’re all set and ready to meet the King?” Fluttershy asked meekly, pale-pink fins on her fetlocks flicking.
“Just about,” replied Wavebreaker, before swimming up to Cev’s beak and running a hoof down it. The large manta-hawk closed his large golden eyes and let out a low content coo. “Good boy. You’ve done good today. You’ll feed especially well tonight.” At this Cev perked up noticeably, a smile − if it could be called that − breaking out on his beak, rows of minute serrated teeth visible. Before Twilight could imagine what it was that Cev would be feeding on, the manta-hawk flapped his pelvic fins and took to the air (so to speak), disappearing in the hazy atmosphere of the sea.
“Wavebreaker presents himself,” said the selfsame Seahorse to the mermare guards before the gates of Morse. “He comes bearing the pupil of Queen Celestia and her fellowship from Equestria, to meet with King Leo posthaste.”
The mermares in their clamshell armor glanced at one another, before nodding at Wavebreaker and uncrossing the spears that they had crossed across the pearly gates of King Leo’s palace.
“You may proceed,” said one of the mermare guards.
Wavebreaker smiled, “I thank you,” before swimming up to the gates, which swung open on their own just as he reached them.
“Sweet! Self-opening gates!” Rainbow Dash grinned, darting after Wavebreaker.
Twilight’s sapphire fins twitched a little at the Pegasus’s brazenness, offering what she hoped was an apologetic smile to the guardsponies before swimming after her herself, her band and Wavebreaker’s following after only a moment.
The path leading to the palace from the gates was made from a single smooth slab of stone, flanked on either side by all manner of undersea plants and trees the likes of which Twilight had only read about before. Having never been to Aquastria before, Twilight had not thought that seeing these things she’d only seen in illustrations and woodcuts before would be very significant. She was wrong. This… this was breathtaking! Twilight truly wished that she had the vernacular and skill with prose of some of her favorite authors, like A.K. Yearling and Inky Dart, so that she could describe the beauty to others…!
Reaching the main archway leading into Morse, Twilight found Wavebreaker speaking with the Narwhal Ponies Sealight and Angler, Rainbow Dash sitting miserably at his side. Twilight approached her warily.
“He says I can’t go in ahead of you guys,” she grumbled. “It’s not like I would’ve knocked anything over.”
“I trust that you wouldn’t,” Wavebreaker said as he broke off from the Narwhal Ponies, “but since we were instructed that ‘Twilight Sparkle and her band’ should be brought before the King, I assumed that you and your group should remain together as much as possible until after parlaying with King Leo.”
Rainbow Dash huffed, folding her forelegs morosely, “Fine. But I really need to dash!”
“Well, the sooner you and your friends can see the King,” said Sealight as she drifted towards Twilight, “the sooner we can assuage your friend’s impatience.”
“Follow us,” Angler said, turning into the archway into Morse. Sealight followed after, then Wavebreaker and his band, then Twilight and hers.
The long walls and high arched ceiling seemed to have been polished with some sort of pearly lacquer, reflecting the light of luminescent jellyfish which drifted freely about the hall. Archways branched off into other halls, beneath large painted depictions of war and peace between the mermares and various foes: chuul, the Sahuagin, Skum, Locathah, Aboleth and even an epidemic of Lacedon.
“Whoa…!” Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened at one painting, “is that… A giant squid…?”
“Not quite,” answered Beachcomber. “That is an aberration among the likes of giant squid: the Kraken. Yes, its maw of tentacles resembles the giant squid of which you speak, but notice the crustacean claws behind its soulless white eyes, the shell as hard as iron ending in an armored whale tail…” She shuddered. “It still haunts the dreams of mermares even so many douzaides later.”
Rainbow Dash returned her eyes to the Kraken, locked in battle over Lyonesse with some sort of great fish. “What happened?” she asked, enraptured.
“The Beast struck us, almost a dozen-dozen years ago. It had stirred after meggrossia of dreamless sleep, and sought to bring the end upon us. It would have been the end of Lyonesse, and Maker knows how much else, but for the friendship that King Leo struck with the mightiest of all whales: Cap’n Nemo.”
Six pairs of eyes swiveled towards the great fish that they saw fighting the Kraken. It was, indeed, the same pale-white whale with its exceptionally long serpentine tail as they’d seen crossing the threshold into Lyonesse.
“No way!” Spike said with a broad grin behind his bubbly source of air. “Is that how she got all those scars?”
“Every one of them,” replied Angler. “You may ask her one day, when you have the time.”
“So that’s why you were so caught up in Cap’n Nemo when we came in!” Rainbow Dash darted down to Twilight, beaming at the lavender Unicorn. “You totally knew that story of how she totally killed that Kraken!”
Twilight chuckled nervously, “Err, yeah, well, I have read about it. I wasn’t exactly privy to the idea that King Leo and Cap’n Nemo were friends, but… it makes sense, I guess. Also… The Kraken isn’t dead.”
Six pairs of eyes widened in horror at Twilight.
“What…?” Spike gasped, pointing up at the eldritch sea-beast locked in frozen battle with Cap’n Nemo on the seapainted portrait. “So… that thing is still out there…?”
“We’re afraid so,” Sealight said with a flourish of her bony alicorn to indicate that they speak as they continued to swim down the main hall. “After it became clear that Cap’n Nemo could battle the Beast to their mutual deaths, so the scops say, it fled to the deepest and darkest cave in the oceans. There may it rest until the Unmaker’s coming.”
The remaining time spent traveling towards King Leo’s throne room was spent in morbid silence; it seemed that NightMare Moon and the fell abominations of Tartarus were not the only otherworldly menaces to Harmonia. Queen Celestia had to have known about them, perhaps even played some role in keeping them from harming the peace-loving denizens of the world. Twilight knew that Queen Celestia and King Leo were very close, having apparently kept in touch with each other for grossenturies and maybe even meggrossia. It would not be a terrible surprise to Twilight if Queen Celestia knew of the Kraken and took measures to further inhibit it. She may have even encouraged King Leo to befriend Cap’n Nemo to begin with!
Wait… she thought as she passed by tapestries woven out of dyed seaweed forming heraldry of ancient honor. King Leo forms a bond of friendship with Cap’n Nemo, who comes to Lyonesse and Aquastria’s aid and drives off the Kraken. Queen Celestia bids me to make friends to defeat NightMare Moon… I know already that friendship can drive a pony to do incredible things, but… what can six mares and a drake possibly do against the Alicorn of Night herself…?
“We’re here,” Wavebreaker said abruptly, stopping before a large double-door forged out of interlinked seashells of many colors, a pair of clamshells for doorknobs. Wavebreaker approached with a reverent air, slowly knocking on the door.
The double-doors glowed with a brilliant sea-green dwimmer shimmer, and a deep voice growled out, “Enter.”
And the doors opened slowly outwards, and Twilight and her band gaped in wonder.
The throne room of King Leo of Aquastria was a wide circular space, the walls arcing into a singular golden dome overhead with a circle opening up into the ocean at the middle. There was no apparent light source; it was as though there was some invisible light in the air that lit up the sanctum. The floor was a prismatic helix that dazzled the eyes, as if some titanic snail’s shell had been pressed flat into a perfectly smooth surface. Archways at regular intervals along the walls formed alcoves which displayed ancient heroes of Aquastria, graven in cold stone. At the far end, directly opposite the double-doors, was a construct of numerous rainbow shells and conches, within which sat a sea-green and vermilion shape which glinted gold at them.
Shaking off her astonishment at the scope of the Aquastrian king’s throne room, Twilight and her band followed Wavebreaker and his five mermare friends towards King Leo himself. If only they had the time to admire each of the carven forms representing some hero of the realm! Surely there was a veritable treasure trove of information that could be gleaned from these that Twilight had not caught in her readings on mermares, or that she had forgotten…!
After what seemed like hours, they stood before King Leo, the ruler of the mermares. Despite being the King of the mermares of Aquastria, no merstallion was he but a large and majestic sea-lion of sorts. His front half was like that of a lion with a wild vermilion mane, but with sea-green scales and vermilion fins alongside his paws, and twin golden horns emerging from in front of his finned ears. More akin to a shark was his back half, with pelvic fins where his hind legs should be and a spiny dorsal fin. Along the back of his head trailing down his back was a golden set of spines which resembled a crown at his crest, and he wore a cape of blue-dyed seaweed.
“Welcome, I say,” he said in the same low growl as he had just before they had entered his throne room. He rose up from his seat, holding a large finned paw out, which Twilight swept up to and nuzzled.
“It’s been far too long, Your Majesty,” she said in reverence. “And I wish my first visit to Aquastria could be in better times.”
“Indeed,” replied King Leo, a dark look in his eyes. “But let us enter a more casual place. I believe that you and your band are quite hungry and tired. You have traveled a long and bitter way. I bid you, stay as long as you please in Aquastria. You are in safe fins with us.” His eyes fell upon Spike, holding out the Prism Conch. The Aquastrian king’s eyes sparkled. “You… found the Prism Conch. I knew when I heard it again, that it had been found at long last.”
King Leo’s private dining hall was far smaller and more intimate than his throne room, though by no means less extravagant. At the center of the hall was a long table made out of a slab of white marble balanced on fused stacks of clamshells. Fronds of coral spread out across the window openings, and algae along the convex ceiling provided light that the outside could not.
“Be seated here, Miss Twilight Sparkle,” said King Leo, gesturing a paw at the spot to his immediate right. Twilight hesitated, but only for a moment; this was a pending discussion of greatest significance. The land was not the only place in the world that would be affected by the stagnant Sun and Moon.
“Spike, Applejack, Rarity, I would like you three at my side,” Twilight said brightly.
“Rarity!” Spike called from his seat at Twilight’s right. “Come sit next to me!”
Rarity giggled lightly, “Well, if you insist, you brave little drake.”
Applejack scrunched up her muzzle, before shrugging; she’d wanted to be as close to Twilight’s side as she could, and if not for Spike’s precocious crush on Rarity…
She smiled in resignation, seating herself on her haunches to Rarity’s right. She couldn’t stay mad at a little kid over an infatuation.
“So, what sort of food does Aquastria have to offer?” Twilight asked the King politely.
“Well,” King Leo said lightly, “we can offer you any dish that you so please here in my palace. Being the King does have that benefit.”
“Ah’d sure as sugar go fer a good ol’-fashioned apple pie right ‘bout now!” Applejack called joyously.
“I would be fine with a daisy-and-oats salad, if you please,” Rarity said in a formal tone.
“I… I’ll just have whatever you offer me; I don’t want to impose,” Fluttershy said meekly.
“I’ll take a watermelon, a whole watermelon!” called out Rainbow Dash.
“You guys wouldn’t happen to have any rubies, would you?” Spike interjected.
“I’ll take some kelp and eelgrass à la mode~!” Pinkie squealed.
Twilight and King Leo blinked.
“While I am certain that our stores can indeed prepare food to your likings,” the sea-lion said levelly, “I am… perplexed that your pink companion should know an exact item on the Aquastrian menu. Are you certain that this is your first time under the sea…?”
“Then… how did you know…?”
“Begging your pardon, King Leo,” Twilight interjected, “but that’s just Pinkie Pie being Pinkie Pie. I try not to question it too much.”
King Leo nodded slowly, glancing back to Pinkie with wary golden eyes. “In any case, the sirenomelon leaves affect the appetite of ponies who eat it for the duration of their transformation. You may anticipate cravings of aquatic flair, and so we will have to… substitute what we have learned do not agree with your stomachs in your quasi-mermare state.”
“Tha’s fine. Jus’… don’t give me any kelp, or seaweed,” Applejack said in as polite a voice as she could muster. “Ah don’ particularly like ‘em.”
“I don’t mean to disagree with you now, Lady Applejack,” King Leo replied, “but your stomach might later.”
“Umm, excuse me, King Leo?” Twilight asked. “But… aren’t we to discuss what we should do about NightMare Moon?”
King Leo placed a large but gentle paw on Twilight’s shoulder, “My child, your goal is noble, but this quest that Celestia set you on is not one that shall be accomplished in haste. You and your companions tire, and yearn for rest.”
Twilight almost protested, but her stomach took that moment to betray her and growl loudly, reverberating loudly through the water. King Leo gave her an amused smile, and Twilight returned it in nervousness.
“Umm… I’ll have a Kelp Forest Cake…?”
Applejack propped her bowl up on her forehooves, “Ah’d like s’more, if ya please!”
The mermare waitress arched an eyebrow as she floated by, taking the bowl in her mouth.
“I never took you to be such a connoisseur for kelp, Applejack,” Rarity commented.
“Ah can’ help it; it’s just… so good!” Applejack replied indignantly.
King Leo smiled amusedly, a paw resting on the Prism Conch, “Did I not say that you would find your brain and your stomach at odds with one another?” He turned to face Twilight, “Is the Kelp Forest Cake to your liking, Twilight Sparkle?”
Twilight nodded vigorously, a fork levitating in her dwimmer shimmer, “It is, Your Highness! Exactly as I remember it! But… better!”
“That would be the mermare in you speaking, child,” the king beamed. “You and your friends are welcome down here anytime.”
Twilight looked out across the dining table, at her friends (Twilight supposed that all five of these mares were friends to her now), and at Wavebreaker and his band, as the whole lot of them dined upon Aquastria’s finest dishes. As Twilight understood it, certain food from the surface did not taste well to the mermares, such as apples. In that way, many of their meals had to go altered to account for the alterations to their biology due to the sirenomelon leaves in their systems. Luckily, the quasi-mermare Applejack had a much greater affinity for kelp and seaweed than the landlubber Applejack.
The fact that King Leo and the mermares ordered meals that contained meat in them was a matter of revulsion and horror to the more sensitive of the foreigners − primarily Rarity and Fluttershy. Twilight, who had experience with Spike’s carnivorous tendencies, alleviated concerns by pointing out that mermares never ate anything that thought at the sapient level of a pony; things like tuna, clams, crabs, lobsters and polyps were fair game, while creatures like dolphins, octopi, narwhals and Aboleth were off-limits. Trusting Twilight at her word, any further ill feelings were silenced, though Twilight did spot Rainbow Dash’s eyes darting over at the crab legs on Beachcomber’s plate.
Twilight looked down at the Prism Conch under King Leo’s paw, and she cleared her throat a little at the king, “Excuse me, King Leo? But… how did you anticipate that ponies would find the Prism Conch?”
“Hmm?” King Leo looked to face Twilight from the slab of tigerfish on his plate. “Oh, well… I shall discuss this in further detail with you later. It’s not proper discourse in present company. I trust,” he began again in a louder voice, indicating that Twilight need not repeat her line of questioning at the table, “that rooms have been arranged for Twilight Sparkle and her friends?”
“They have, sir,” replied Angler from his spot at the table.
“Excellent, my boy. Nothing but the best for my cousin’s star pupil and her friends!”
Rainbow Dash almost choked on a watermelon seed, and Pinkie Pie lamented not having access to a glass of water to spit-take with.
“Hold yer horses there, King Leo,” Applejack said. “Yer cousins with Queen Celestia?”
King Leo looked out one of the tall coral-windows, “You could say that. Our family history is… complicated. Not good table conversation, not at all, and I’d rather not put you girls off of your appetite.”
“Hey!” Spike asked. “What about my appetite?” He waved a half-eaten ruby indignantly at King Leo.
The sea-lion let out a loud hearty laugh and clapped a large paw on Spike’s back, “Don’t worry one bit, son. Your appetite will always be whet at my table!”
“Why? ‘Cause of all the water?” Rainbow Dash asked, a too-wide grin on her face. King Leo grinned back, revealing fangs and teeth as sharp as knives. Rainbow Dash’s dry grin sagged slightly.
Twilight coughed lightly, “Back to the subject at hoof, King Leo, we were told to meet with you at utmost speed.”
“And you were,” King Leo replied. “I have a very firm idea of what has transpired, but… perhaps you and your friends could explain in finer detail what has befallen my queenly cousin and her Equestrian nation.”
And so for the next half-hour, Twilight Sparkle and her friends explained the highs and lows of the journey they had taken, from Twilight’s first discovery of the prophecy regarding NightMare Moon to their arrival at the edge of Equestria’s shores. It was mostly Twilight’s job to explain the trek to King Leo, with help from her friends when their experiences filled in gaps that Twilight was not privy to. It was imperative that King Leo be brought as up to date as possible on their journey.
By the time they had finished, the temperature of the water around them seemed to have dropped by about ten degrees as well. King Leo ran a paw through his vermilion mane, golden claws protracting from the end of each digit. Slowly, he placed his paws on the table, flipping his tailfin so that he could float over the table itself.
“I cannot go forth with an army to face the Night Queen,” he growled slowly, looking at his golden claws. “My little mermares are such fragile creatures out of their homely waters, and Canterlot is so far inland. Besides, I must protect my own here. The oceans are growing colder, and my control over the tides can only keep up with the boiling oceans on the other half of Harmonia for so long. Balance must be maintained, but not on the back of one. No one can keep the world in balance alone. Not I. Not my cousin Celestia. Nor even you, Twilight Sparkle. But if Celestia believes that you and your friends have the power to bring her back from her own madness…”
“Yes…?” Twilight blinked hopefully, briefly wondering That’s the third time that somepony’s made it sound like NightMare Moon’s some kind of puppet… First the Queen, then Crescent Rose, and now Uncle Leo… before King Leo faced away from Twilight Sparkle, giving her a full view of his cape of dyed kelp.
“There is a narbacular tunnel that you can access in Atlas’s Transit Services. I shall pay your fares. Pass through it the precise number of times that you are instructed to, and you should arrive at the coastlines of eastern Pundamilia, not even a day’s journey to Nyeusi-na-Nyeupe.”
A great beam of light shown through Twilight’s heart, and she found herself flapping her sapphire fetlock-fins eagerly, actually floating off of the stony floor by about a hoof. “Oh, thank you, King Leo! This is a real help!”
“You bet!” Pinkie Pie interjected gleefully, flipping to and fro across the table, drawing many arched eyebrows and sharp glares. “It’s super-tough having to trot around for days and days and days and days and having to slow yourself down because all your best pony friends have to slow down and take rests all the time because nopony is totally hopped up on sugar all the time like I am ‘cause I just looo~ove it!”
King Leo, who had seen all sorts of terrors of the ocean that would baffle a land-dweller but paralyze an Aquastrian, could only blink. “She is always like this, you say?”
“‘Fraid so, Yer Majesty,” Applejack replied. “Ya kinda get used to it after a while.”
Letting out a growling cough, King Leo regained his composure, “Regardless, you would need to give the sirenomelon effects time to subside. Until that time has come upon us, you seven shall call Morse, and Lyonesse, your home.”
“If you say so, Your Eminence,” Twilight said levelly.
“I don’t mean in any way to sound impatient, Your Highness,” Rarity queried, “but why must we wait until we begin to become land-ponies again?”
King Leo rested one paw atop the other, “You have to understand, that the sirenomelon’s effects cause a land-pony’s body to depend more heavily on breathing underwater than a mermare. In short, you would not last as long out of water as a mermare would in your current state. As such, I would advise that you make preparations to leave within an hour of the end of the seventh day since you all have ingested the sirenomelon leaves.”
“Also,” added Sealight, levitating six pairs of clamshells in her bright-green dwimmer shimmer, “we have outfitted your old saddle-bags with new clamshell exteriors, to protect the contents from any damage. Each one should respond to each of your dwimmer-prints.”
The seashell-saddle-bags floated down from the far end of the dining table, stopping before each of the six mares. As certain saddle-shells passed by certain mares, they each lit up in the eye color of that mare, being quickly set down at their her side.
Dinner wrapped up relatively smoothly, and after a long day that began with raiding the Crystal Mountains Secure Storage Facility for Studies on Pundamilia Culture, all that anypony − and Spike − wanted to see nothing else but a soft bale of hay to rest in. Bales of hay being rather lacking at the bottom of the ocean, and King Leo loath to risk the potential saviors of Equestria, Aquastria and Harmonia drying up by resting their quasi-mermare bodies in one of the dry rooms, Twilight Sparkle and her party were allotted six rooms in the King’s private guest wing.
The moment that Spike saw the clamshell opening up in their room, a pearly-pink shine to the walls, he let himself fall right into it, and he was asleep in moments. Twilight smiled down at him.
Clamshells for beds… I suppose they’ve been trained not to try eating anypony who rests in them. Twilight leaned down to Spike and, feeling daring, kissed him on his scaly forehead.
Sweet dreams, my number one assistant.
“Seems like you’ve become quite fond of the lad, Twilight,” came a low growl from the entrance to Twilight’s room − a mere curtain of seaweed; privacy was taken for granted, in a good way, down in Aquastria − and when Twilight turned to face the owner of the voice, surely enough, the mighty King of the Oceans swept in.
“Oh, Uncle Leo, it’s nothing like that,” she said evasively. “It’s just… it was a long day… we’re all tired… And…”
“True feelings come out in moments of weakness. Remember that, my dear.”
Twilight had no answer to that.
“Any further progress on your parents…?”
She avoided his eyes with a sigh, “No. I’m on the right track, I feel, but… I just need… more power…”
Leo nodded slowly. “And… nopony else can reverse the transformation?”
Twilight shook her head, invisible tears instantly joining the salty water around her, “Queen Celestia said… That transformation spells can only be reversed by the Unicorn who cast it… It was a failsafe… devised by Star Swirl the Bearded… but… nopony’s ever transformed a whole pony before! It can only be me! And my… my…!”
King Leo swam forward, pulling Twilight in towards his chest with a large paw. There she cried for a long while.
“Give it time, Twilight Sparkle. Time mends all things. Even bad blood will out in the end. Why, my father and brothers would always stir up such a fuss… But that’s a story you wouldn’t like to hear, I’m sure.”
Twilight chuckled tearfully, and Leo returned the laugh deeply.
“You’re much quicker to laughter now, though, my dear. Has that Pinkie Pie been sharing her sugar with you…?”
Twilight choked back more laughter, before replying shakily, “You could say that. She drives me up the walls, though. Ponies just should not be able to do what she does.”
Twilight looked up at her honorary uncle darkly, “If Physics were a law book, Pinkie Pie would be a serial criminal.”
“Really? Could you tell me more?”
Twilight could not help smirking, “That’s a story you wouldn’t want to hear, I’m sure.”
King Leo bowed his head, “Touché.”
Withdrawing slightly as her composure came back to her, Twilight faced Leo with a more serious countenance, “Now, Uncle, tell me how you anticipated where and when somepony would find the Prism Conch.”
King Leo waved a claw teasingly, “Paranoia is a stopped clock, my dear landlocked niece. It’s only right two times a day.”
“Paranoia got me and my friends out of the Crystal Mountains alive. It’s still got one shot left this night.”
The great sea-lion blinked lightly, before nodding in acknowledgement, “Right. You always were one of Celestia’s brightest. One of her most promising. Anyway − and you must understand that this is something that you are to only discuss after you and your band have entered Pundamilia.”
“Anything, Leo. Now what is it?”
“I found the Prism Conch grossenturies ago.”
“I knew it! You − what?”
“I did,” King Leo said, his chest rumbling with a belly laugh as he closed Twilight’s slack jaw with his index-toe. “You must understand that this is a longstanding arrangement. Celestia knew that NightMare Moon would emerge on the dozen-grosseth summer solstice since her banishment, as Forget-Me-Not’s prophecy foretold, and she could not be unprepared. I myself found the Prism Conch less than a year after its loss, but at Celestia’s behest, I would keep its recovery a secret from my subjects, and she from hers.
“I don’t know exactly why, don’t ask me why, but I suspect that Celestia anticipated some word of it reaching NightMare Moon somehow. And she would obviously do all she could to keep the Elements’ Bearers from unlocking the secrets of Harmony. Celestia is a clever one, let me tell you that. Either that, or she likes to leave things to chance and coincidence. Whichever one floats your boat. She would have to have anticipated that a pupil of hers would intuit the placement of her code in the Crystal Mountains. She then would have to have thought that said pupil would wink out to the Pasturic shoreline, as it is the nearest point to Pundamilia in all of Equestria. I knew that such a student would need my help in getting to Pundamilia, so I held the Conch in secret, and waited.
“When the Sun did not rise and alight upon my seas, I knew the time had come. I alerted my watchmares to renew their vigor at the beacon, and I kept watch along the beachline. Then, barely a month later, I saw your little drake trotting along the edge of my ocean with that ravishingly beautiful Unicorn mare of your party. I recalled him, and you whom I also saw, from a diplomatic meeting several years ago. Surely you remember?”
“I do indeed, Uncle Leo,” Twilight smiled at the memory. “Queen Celestia wanted me to become more worldly and more aware of the world outside books. Needless to say, she’s failed up until about a month ago.”
“So rare to hear you speak of Celestia failing in some manner. But I digress. Upon sighting your party at the edge of the Pasturic Ocean, I placed the Prism Conch at the edge of their view, knowing it would catch his eyes, or hers. And… well, here we are.”
Twilight nodded slowly. She supposed that it made sense, but… it seemed as though secrets and lies were tricks of Celestia’s trade. Keeping the Conch a secret, lying about its loss…
“Do not think ill of my dear Tia,” Leo interjected as though he could read Twilight’s mind. “I am an old ruler, canny enough to know a pony’s thoughts by reading their face. Straightforward solutions can be circumvented by cunning trickery. So, you have to be all the more cunning, to trick the trickster. And is NightMare Moon not the greatest trickster of all? Queen of the Veil of Night, which masks the terrors of the world and makes them seem fair, or makes the fair seem terrible?”
“I suppose… You’re right, Uncle Leo. I can’t afford to question the Queen’s plans right now. For almost a dozen-gross years now she’s maintained the Nychthemeron which keeps our world in order. If the harmony of this world remains offset for much longer, we could see the return of discord and chaos to Harmonia…”
King Leo nodded darkly, and the lights of his golden eyes dimmed slightly at some black memory of which Twilight did not know. “Yes. Discord…”
Twilight smiled nervously, attempting to steer the conversation in a more conducive direction, “Umm, Uncle Leo… may I ask you about the Queen of Pundamilia?”
Leo seemed to greatly appreciate the change in topic, as he pulled himself upright with his forelegs standing completely straight upon the smooth pearlescent floor.
“Queen Malkia of Pundamilia is old. Very old. Perhaps the oldest creature on this planet who is not immortal like myself, Celestia or… well, NightMare Moon. She is strict, tolerating no nonsense, but… I see no reason why she would withhold the secret of the Elements from you. The only other recourse would be for Pundamilia to burn away under the everlasting Sun.”
“How does she know so much about the Elements? She didn’t help to make them, did she?”
King Leo shook his head, “She did not, and she has only seen the Elements in action once: the day when the Sun and Moon shone in the sky together. When the Moon attempted to block out the Sun. Such a dreadful day; a fell day. It was the day the Elements fell silent. Why, I do not entirely know. I can guess, but do not know. The Elements are a mystery to even those who have beheld their power, as I have, two-and-a-half meggrossia ago.”
“You’ve seen the Elements?” Twilight asked, glancing at the saddle-shell beside Spike’s shell-bed. “How do they work? What will they do?”
“I would not know, for I took no part in their making. There is only one you could ask presently who would know anything about their creation, and she currently sits upon a stolen throne.”
Twilight’s ears flattened.
“I think that this is all for tonight, my dear Twilight. I would not like to overfill your head with riddles that you will not puzzle out for a long time now.”
Planting a very whiskery kiss upon Twilight’s forehead, King Leo swept out of Twilight’s bed-chamber, leaving the lavender Unicorn alone with a sleeping drake, and her buzzing thoughts.