• Published 31st Mar 2012
  • 14,403 Views, 606 Comments

Harmony - Aquaman



An adaptation of BioShock for the world of MLP, starring several OCs and the entire Mane cast.

  • ...
39
 606
 14,403

Welcome to Harmony - Part 1

At the exact moment I become conscious, the first thing I feel is cold. All around me, the air cuts into my skin, pushing straight through into my chest and stomach and chilling me to the bone. It’s dark too, the blackness flowing over and around me like a thick woolen blanket. And yet the cold isn’t absolute, and the darkness isn’t complete: dull patches of red and orange light flash in the distance now and then, each one accompanied by a gentle gust of wind and a brief rush of heat.

I try to blink, but my eyes are already closed. A blurry squint is all I can manage before the biting chill of the cold strikes me blind again. Now I notice the noise too, a heavy, irregular thumping noise like somepony is beating on a thick wooden door. A shudder runs down my back, and I squeeze my eyes shut tighter still. Freezing. The air is freezing. Why is it so cold? Why can’t I move my legs right? Where am I?

I open my mouth to call out for help, and the bitter taste of salt floods my senses. Wet. The air is wet. My face is wet. I stretch out for something to grab hold of, and find myself swimming through open air. I’m floating. No, not floating. Weightless.

Cold. Weightless. The air is wet.

I open my eyes and kept them open a second longer this time. Another burst of orange explodes in the distance, too far away and too indistinct to tell what it is.

The air is water.

Eyes shut again, mouth open again. Salt. Burning. Something is burning.

Water.

Burning inside me. Burning inside my chest. I can’t move. I can’t think.

Underwater.

My eyes shoot open, just in time to see a white beaded string float down in front of me, followed by a brown rectangular lump. A necklace of pearls. A saddlebag. My lungs heave and contract, and orange and red flashes light up the air. Light up the water. Can’t move. Can’t think. Can’t breathe.

I’m underwater.

Stars above, I can’t breathe.

I’m underwater!

My mind clears in an instant, and I kick backwards just in time to dodge a roaring black mass as it plummets down into the bottomless black void below me. I whip my head around, and my entire chest seizes up as white-hot panic flares up inside it. Those aren’t red and orange lights; those are explosions. That mass wasn’t black; it was bright salmon pink.

I couldn’t think before, but now there isn’t even time to try. A muffled cry punches out of my throat, and I throw all four legs into a mad paddle for the shimmering gray canopy overhead that I know is the surface. Around me, more debris sinks towards the bottom: suitcases, pink chunks of fuselage, misshapen black blobs I can’t bring myself to look at. I need to go faster. I need to breathe.

By now, I can only moan in terror, the scream stuck in my throat slowly dying away for lack of air to feed into it. The water is fighting me, tugging me down with slimy tentacles of sleep that pull at my legs and creep into the corners of my eyes. Go faster. Kick harder. Survive. Breathe. The surface is twenty feet away, now ten, and then the blackness sweeps in and I’m blind once more. My legs go numb, the cold stabs my heart, the last of my breath escapes in a cloud of bubbles…

…and I break the surface as water sprays from my mouth towards an empty night sky. My sight rushes back as I suck in a huge, blissful breath, and I nearly slip under again before all my limbs start working properly and I grab onto a big hunk of something or other floating nearby. For a minute or two, I just stay where I am, not moving and certainly not thinking, just bobbing up and down on my makeshift raft and reveling in the taste of fresh air on my tongue. I look up from the water once I build up the energy to lift my head, and what I see once I do takes me a long, heart-stopping moment to even process as being real.

The sea is dyed the same shade of ugly jet black as the sky, and smouldering on top of it is a floating wasteland of twisted sheet metal and rippling orange fire. The air is thick with the smell of smoke and ozone, and it isn’t until another blistering blast of flames streaks across the water to my left that I figure out where the second smell is coming from. There’s an arcane combustion engine around here somewhere, and it’s leaking its power source right into the fire. I need to get out of here before it drifts in my direction, before that fire starts streaking right towards…

Arcane combustion. Sheet metal. Bright salmon pink. The puzzle pieces start clicking together in my mind far too quickly for me to force them all apart, and suddenly the silence around me might as well be filled with screams. It wouldn’t be this quiet unless there was nothing left to make any noise. Unless everypony else is already dead.

Denial is my last hope for salvation, so I cling to it for all I’m worth. This is a dream, I shout inside my head. This is a horrible nightmare. I’ll wake up in an hour and we’ll be hitching up in Mau’u, and I’ll get off the zep and go see Garnet and everything will be just like it’s supposed to b

I’m staring down at the scrap of metal beneath me to keep from looking at anything else around me, and that’s the only reason I see it. But once I do, there is no denial anymore, no last refuge of sanity and hope. The golden letters on the fuselage below me are scratched, dented, and almost flash-burned out of existence, but I can still read them no matter how blurry my eyes get, no matter how hard I try to look away afterwards: in dramatic bold print right between my outstretched forehoof, the word Elysium stares up at me, the name of the pride and joy of all Equestria still glinting under a starless sky.

“This is real,” I whisper with lips too numb to even form the words right. “This is real.”

I’m paralyzed, as much as the cold as by the shock coursing through my body. I need to move, but to where? There’s no safe place to move to. We were the first airship in history to ever fly this far out to sea. It would take a search-and-rescue weeks to even find us, and I don’t have weeks. I have a tiny scrap of fuselage to hold on to, and an overturned hourglass counting the seconds until my organs shut down, until cold and hunger turn my body to ice and send it sinking helplessly down into the deep to never be seen again.

I grind my head against my hooves and moan again, but even sinking my teeth into the skin of my foreleg doesn’t chase away the thought of freezing, of drowning, of water rushing into my lungs and filling my body and purging every last trace of me, of Ruby. I’ve read adventure books before about daring heroes and heroines who stare death in the face and laugh, but right now my teeth are chattering too hard to let out so much as a whimper. I’m not like that. I’m not brave, or strong, or noble of heart. All I am is small, and cold, and afraid, and alone.

Alone. The word sizzles like fire in my mind, branding itself onto the front of my brain and echoing around me in the vast, terrible silence of the night. Alone. There were over a hundred ponies on the Elysium when it took off from Manehattan, and out of all of them I am the only one still breathing. How many of those sinking shapes were bodies? How many souls were fizzling out as I swam for the surface? I can’t begin to think of the situation like that. For a long time, I can’t even get the concept through my head. No one ever thinks about death in Equestria, because in Equestria it happens at the end of a long, happy life with close friends and family right by your side. That’s how death is supposed to work. We’re born into peace, we live in peace, and we die in peace. Nothing else makes sense. Nothing else seems entirely real.

Too cold and too confused to make sense of the world around me anymore, I lay flat against the fuselage and focus only on breathing in and out. My mind is empty of thoughts or feelings, and the gaps they leave behind are filled raw sensations of cold and pain and a numbing, almost gratifying fatigue. I should be panicking, I should be yelling for help, but instead the light behind my eyes is already sputtering away into nothing. Instead I am perfectly content to lie here and accept my fate.

I have almost closed my eyes again when I hear the scream.

My head snaps up and I nearly fall off my raft from the violence of the motion, and by the time I’ve gotten my grip back my face is burning with shame. Two minutes of losing my mind over the zeppelin crashing and everypony around me dying, and I had just about thrown in the towel myself and resigned myself to joining them. What in the name of Celestia is wrong with me? What kind of pony would choose surrendering to death over struggling to stay alive? A whole host of answers spring to mind: a weak one, a cowardly one, one that shouldn’t have survived in the first place. That’s what I am. That’s what I almost was. I am weak and I am a coward, but I am still alive. Everypony else is dead, and I am still alive.

Heeeelp!”

And so is somepony else. So is whoever just screamed. There is no doubt in my mind about what I should do next. Too many ponies have died today already. I can’t let it happen again while I can still do something about it. I slide my torso off the edge of the fuselage and count down slowly from ten while my stomach and chest get used to the frigid water. Once my muscles have unclenched again, I start kicking with hind legs that feel as thick as ice blocks, and make fittingly slow progress through the debris field towards the voice.

The pony in the distance cries out again half a minute after I start paddling, and I scowl as I realize I’ve only moved forward a few feet. Too slow. This pony could be drowning already, or…I don’t want to think about what the alternatives could be. In any case, holding onto this fuselage is getting me nowhere fast. I suck in a breath and grit my teeth. I’m going to have to swim.

I spend a few precious seconds working up the courage to leave my raft behind, and I catch my first glimpse of the tower when I look up one more time to plot the course I’ll swim through the wreckage. In that moment, it looks for all the world like an oily black sea monster rearing up to search for a fresh meal. Even after I look closer and see the blocky masonwork and the barnacle-crusted island it sits on, I can’t shake the distant feeling that I shouldn’t go near it, that there’s something deep and powerful stirring within it that isn’t meant for me or anypony else to see. In the end, though, my desire to get the holy hay out of this water overpowers my sense of foreboding, and I push myself off the fuselage and start swimming towards the voice again, a low hiss slipping out of my mouth as the water covers my shoulders and laps at my chin. Whatever this thing or its reason for being out in the middle of the ocean is, it clearly wasn’t put there by accident. Somepony chose to build it out here, and that means that somepony knows—or once knew—where it is. It’s a slim hope to hold on to, but considering how I reacted the last time I lost all hope, I’m willing to take what I can get.

I only have to swim for a minute or two before the sound of splashing reaches my ears, and it isn’t long after that when I skirt around a half-submerged tail fin and see a dark figure struggling to stay on top of a soggy purple seat cushion. The pony’s shouts sound like they belong to a colt, and one in a good bit of pain at that, but I’m far beyond caring about anything as immaterial as what he looks like or what condition he’s in. All four of my hooves are filled with lead, and my heart is still thumping from my last halfway-voluntary brush with the great beyond. My one and only priority right now is getting to that tower, and as long as this colt is floating in the middle of my path towards it, I might as well take him along with me. I reach the other pony just as he loses his grip on the cushion and slips under with a rasping cough, and dive down under the mind-numbingly cold water just long enough to pull him back up into the air again.

“That way!” I yell in his ear as he gasps and squirms beside me. “Towards the island!” It occurs to me between shouts that trying to save a drowning pony without anything for us both to hold on to is probably going to end really badly for one of us, but luckily this colt handles his new situation a bit better than I did. After a few seconds, he gives me what I figure is supposed to be a nod and starts kicking towards the tower, and I follow behind at about the same pace. To him, it probably looks like I’m making sure he doesn’t go down again on the way out of the wreckage, but actually I’m barely keeping myself afloat as it is. The cold isn’t just painful now; every time I move my legs, I swear I can feel my skin peeling off and dissolving away beneath me, letting all the energy left in my body seep out into the ocean. By the time my hooves finally bump into solid ground and I drag myself out onto a flight of weather-worn concrete steps, it’s all I can do to keep from rolling right back down into the water again like a boneless, waterlogged stuffed animal.

“Wh-wha…wha-what h-happened?” the colt tries to say. His teeth are chattering just as badly as mine. “Wh-where’s everypony else?”

Shaky and feeble as it is, his voice is familiar. I’m sure I heard it at some point before the plane took off, but the comparatively warmer air still hasn’t thawed out my mind enough for me to call up a name or a face. “We crashed,” I tell him slowly. “Something happened to the zep. Something went wrong.”

There’s a long pause, and I know the colt is looking back at the wreckage like I am. “Holy…are we it? Are we the only ones left?”

“I…I-I think…” A violent shiver shakes the words out of my mouth, and I can’t bring myself to gather them back up again. “I don’t know,” I say. “You okay?”

The colt coughs, and then makes a strained noise deep in his throat. “Hit my head on something,” he groans. “I think I blacked out.”

I turn around to look at him, and there’s enough light from the sputtering lamps lining the staircase for me to get a much closer look at his face. The sense of familiarity is overpowering: silver coat, soggy blue mane sagging down over his eyes, a slightly rounded jaw tucked under a nose that’s just a bit too small for his face. I know I’ve seen this pony somewhere before. “You don’t remember anything?”

“I remember waking up underwater with the zep gone and my head splitting in two. What happened to you?”

His mouth is curled into a frown, and even under his mane I can tell his brow is creased. He’s trying to figure out who I am too. “I was asleep,” I say. “I never saw us crash either.”

The colt stares at me and I stare back, and he is about to say something else when it suddenly hits me. It’s his eyes that do it; I could be frozen in an iceberg or inches from death, but I’d known those emerald-green eyes anywhere. Finally, I know who this colt is, but the excitement of my success quickly turns to shock and then, as the colt’s eyes widen in recognition as well, condenses into a feeling of dread that’s somehow colder than any of the water I just swam through.

“Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me…” he mutters as he drops his head back against the steps, and more than anything I wish that were somehow true. But it’s far too late to lie to myself about what we’ve just found out, let alone to him. Call it fate, call it destiny, call it somepony upstairs putting the cherry on top of the most horrific experience of my life, but the reality of the situation is clear: out of all the other one hundred and six passengers and crew abroad the Elysium, the only one of them that’s still alive is the colt who thought I was in his seat and hates me more than anypony else on the whole freaking ship. And now I just saved his life.

“Well, this is definitely not how I expected my day to end,” the colt remarks, though his look is still one of cautious distaste at best. I try to nod back, but only end up shuddering again. I’m not entirely sure it’s because of the water soaked into my fur this time.

“We need to get inside,” I say. “Maybe it’s warmer in there.”

“Warmer in…you want to go inside this thing?” He throws his foreleg up in the air and points it towards the tower. “Do you even know what this thing is?”

“I know it’s out of the water and not on fire,” I argue back, watching as he glances back at what’s left of the zeppelin. “Considering our circumstances, I’d say it’s the best option we’ve got right now.”

The colt seems to agree after a bit of thought and stands up when I do, but doesn’t make any motion towards climbing the stairs. “Can I at least know who it is I’m following into this place?” he asks.

Instinct force me to hesitate, but rationality opens my lips back up a few moments later. “I’m Ruby,” I tell him.

“I’m Link,” he tells me back. When I don’t volunteer to add anything onto that, he steps back towards the railing and gives me a cockeyed look of submission. “After you,” he adds with a sweep of his foreleg, and besides a quick dirty look of my own there’s not much else I can do to belabor the point. I haven’t decided I regret saving him just yet, but as I trot past him and start climbing, the notion is definitely on my mind.

The staircase spirals around to the opposite side of the tower, and ends at the biggest set of double doors I’ve ever seen. Each one is at least thirty feet high and made of what looks like solid copper, and carved into their fronts is the raised image of a muscle-bound male alicorn, his forelegs stretched straight up over his head towards a solid, unmarked sphere. As I step closer, the light from the lamps on either side shimmers on the polished metal, and I see that the left-side door is hanging wide open. The room that lies beyond it is pitch-black.

“Looks like somepony’s expecting us,” Link comments, his neck craned up towards the peak of the tower. “Or at least forgot to hit the lights on their way out.”

“Maybe it’s a lighthouse,” I suggest, trying to bide some time so I can work up the courage to walk in the door. “Or a research station.”

Link gives me a skeptical look. “Researching what, how salty the water is?”

“Do you have any better ideas?”

“I’m not saying you’re wrong. I just wouldn’t put any money on it.”

“Well, no one was asking you to,” I mutter under my breath. Before Link can get another smart comment in, I shut him up by shoving the door open a few inches—it’s even heavier than it looks from the outside—and walking straight on through it into the tower.

“Hello?” I call out. Behind me, I hear Link come inside too. “Is anypony in here? Our zeppelin just crashed, and we need somepony to hel‒”

A hair-raising creak interrupts me before I can finish, and Link and I turn around just in time to see the double doors slam shut of their own accord. We spend a single terrifying moment trapped in total darkness as the sound of our breathing echoes off the walls, and then without warning the room is flooded with light and a monster the size of a freight train is diving down on top of me.

I jump about a foot in the air before I realize that the beast is just a giant statue of a stern-looking unicorn mare sticking out from the wall, and I can’t help but take a small bit of satisfaction from hearing Link curse to himself in the background. I start to walk forward now that I can see again, but can’t go more than a few steps without looking back up at the statue. In retrospect, “stern” just doesn’t seem like a strong enough word for what this mare’s expression is. Every facet of her face, from her wrinkled forehead to her strangely coltish lips to her piercing iron gaze, seems to extend an open challenge to anyone who enters her domain, and I can’t figure out whether it’s ordering me to turn back or daring me to keep going. Above her head, the walls are gilded with gold, and below her chin, a cherry-red banner proclaims in faded gold letters:

IN HARMONY WE TRUST
FOR HARMONY WE PROGRESS

“Research station,” I hear Link mutter behind me. “Right.”

More lights flicker on in the back to illuminate a flight of stairs going down, but nopony comes up them to greet us. Instead, a slight breeze drifts through my soaked mane and chills me to the bone, and somewhere far in the distance I swear I hear somepony playing a deep, mournful melody on a violin. It sounds close, but at the same time I can’t begin to place where it’s coming from. The song almost sounds as if it’s emanating from the walls, as if the music is being played from places where there couldn’t possibly be anypony hiding from view. Must be some weird thing with the acoustics in here, I theorize. Maybe something with the ceiling being so…

“Wait, where are you going?”

I turn around and look at Link as I reach the head of the staircase. I hadn’t even realized I’d started walking again. “Somepony’s gotta be playing that,” I say. “Maybe they can help us.”

Link stays put and gives me an incredulous look. “You’re just gonna wander down there? What if that pony isn’t friendly? What if he tries to hurt us?”

“What if we sit up here for days and starve to death because nopony knows where to look for us?” Even I’m a bit surprised at the sudden bite in my voice. “It’s not like we have anywhere else to go. Besides, what kind of psychotic madmare plays the violin?”

The kind that would live in a gold-encrusted tower in the middle of the ocean, my conscience whispers in my ear, but I keep my mouth shut tight and watch Link follow me from a distance as I descend deeper into the tower’s base. The farther we go, the more lights come to life around us, and the more my gut twists itself into a knot. Even without the circumstances of our arrival and the statue that still looms overhead, there is still something altogether unnerving about this place. The lights, the music, the way the door was left hanging open…everything is set up to make a statement, to embed a certain feeling about this place in my mind. As crazy as it is, it almost feels like somepony was expecting us to be here tonight. Like somepony is welcoming us home.

“What in the…”

I don’t have to ask what Link just saw, because I’m looking straight at it too. The stairs stop at a balcony overlooking the single lower floor of the tower, and the only thing occupying that floor is an enormous metal sphere floating in a pond of rippling black water. A faint hum emanates from the bowels of the vessel, and the spotlight sticking out from its top illuminates the room enough to see that there are no other doors or passageways out of here. This is where the tower ends.

“What is that thing?” Link mutters in confusion. Once again, I’m the first one down the next—and last—flight of stairs, so I’m the first one to see that the sphere has a glass door on its far side big enough for two stallions to walk through side by side, and also the first to see that it’s hanging wide open. Inside, I can see two padded red benches and a lever on a pedestal stuck right in the middle, but nothing that indicates anyone else has been here anytime recently. In the background, the violin still plays the same somber tune, but whoever’s playing it is still a complete mystery.

“It’s got a big lever inside it,” I report back to Link, glancing up at him before craning my neck around the side of the sphere. “And a propeller in the back. Must run on a track of some kind.”

“And that means what exactly?”

I take a few steps closer, and after a deep breath to calm my suddenly jumpy nerves, I stick my head inside the craft. Link isn’t going to get to me that easily. “It means that if we get in this thing and pull that lever, I bet it’ll take us somewhere where somepony might be able to help us.”

“In other words, you have a death wish,” Link says breezily. “Okay. Great. At least that’s out in the open now.”

All right, definitely beginning to regret saving this guy now. “Well, you were just fine and dandy with going deeper into the tower,” I snap back. “How is this any different?”

“’Tower’ was the operative word there. Not ‘little round we-have-no-idea-what-this-thing-is-omatic’.”

I don’t know precisely why, but even down here in the presence of this ominous-looking device, I’m still the brave one. “There’s nothing else in the tower except for this,” I argue, “and there aren’t any steering controls inside it, so wherever it goes, it has to go there on its own. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather check that place out than sit up here in this one waiting to see if the rescue team crashes here too.”

Link stares down at me with a strange, almost pitiful expression on his face, but doesn’t move a muscle. On the outside, I’m blazing with confidence, but on the inside I’m starting to wonder just exactly what the hay my pride is about to get me into. “I’m getting in this thing,” I go on firmly, even as my courage starts to fade away just as quickly as it came. “And if you’re not inside it in about two minutes, I’m sending it off without you. Your choice.”

It’s a completely empty threat, and I’m pretty sure both of us know it. As annoying as Link has been the past few minutes, there’s no way I’m going to just abandon him up here to die, no matter what our circumstances look like. As it turns out, though, I don’t even have to worry about what I’ll do after Link calls my bluff, because I’ve hardly even gotten in the sphere myself before I turn around and see him standing right behind me. The same expression is still on his face, but it’s tempered this time by a cold mask of indifference.

“I still don’t like this,” he informs me as he flicks his eyes around the inside of the sphere and avoids looking at me the whole time.

“You don’t have to like it,” I sigh back. “Just get in.”

Link obliges and steps inside, and now neither of us knows what to do. The sphere is big enough for us both to have a bench to ourselves, but Link has stopped close enough for me to see his chest rise and fall with each breath he takes. He’s still out of breath from the crash, as am I. His fur’s still wet too, and now that his saddlebags are gone I can see what looks like a coiled gray chain stamped on his flank, and a little white scar on his side just over his…

His saddlebags. His saddlebags are gone. My saddlebags are gone. My haunches are bare and my mane’s a sopping mess and my eyes are…

Oh, Celestia help me. My glasses aren’t over my eyes. My glasses are at the bottom of the ocean. Heat floats my cheeks and flushes down into my chest, and I feel for all the world like I’ve been shaved bare. I can’t look at Link without my glasses. I can’t even look at myself in a mirror without glasses. I look awful without glasses, like a little kindergarten filly with too big eyes and too large a nose and a stupid wet braid that she can’t even tie by herself. Part of me knows I’m being stupid, that under the circumstances I should be a bit less concerned about how my face looks and a bit more ecstatic to be alive—but losing my glasses makes me feel naked, makes me feel exposed. Nopony wants anything from a mare with glasses. Mares with glasses are just left alone.

“So are you gonna pull that lever, or...”

Without even looking up, I can feel Link’s eyes sweeping over me, probing for an explanation about why I’m so suddenly fascinated with the tops of his forelegs. I’m not brave enough to look him in the eyes, but I’m not cowardly enough to change my mind about the sphere either. Link shifts back a bit and opens his mouth, but by then I’ve made up my mind. Before he can get even a single word out, I twist my gaze away from his chest, hook a forehoof around the lever, and yank down for all I’m worth.

In the next few seconds, several things happen at once. All the lights in the room around the sphere shut off simultaneously, and the glass door on its front slams shut, a series of invisible locks clicking into place as it does. The air grows warm, the hum in the background ratchets itself up to a steady buzz, and I have just enough time to wonder what the hay is going on before the entire craft lurches down into the pool of water beneath it and throws me and Link into a heap against the wall. Before either of us even have time to panic, a tinny voice too high-pitched to be Link’s and too feminine to be mine makes my flesh crawl with shock.

“…et off me, Pinkie! Oh, heavens, when was the last time you washed your hooves?”

Another pony with an infectiously bubbly voice apologizes a moment later, and a soft chorus of groans and coughs fills the cabin. Link and I stare at each other from inches away. His eyes are green like oak leaves, and big enough to hold a whole forest.

“You hear that?” he whispers. I nod quickly, and Link falls silent again as yet another voice cuts in, still female but with a definite southern twang to it.

“Everypony okay?” she asks. “Apple Bloom?”

“’M fine,” replies a new voice, one much younger but with a similar accent. “Just got a little…ouch! Sweetie Belle, you’re on my tail!”

“Sorry!” A different filly this time, with an even higher voice that cracks on the first syllable.

“Sorry, guys…” A mare again, one who speaks in a soft tone that reminds of my fifth-grade teacher. I finally steady myself enough to sit up, but still can’t figure out where all these voices are coming from. “I didn’t expect us to submerge that fast.”

The word “submerge” rings in my ears even after the mare stops talking, and once I get to my hooves and look towards the door, I nudge Link in the side and point towards the water rushing by outside. He gets up just in time to watch with me as an ornate white sign passes by the window and disappears into the darkness above us.

“Twenty fathoms,” Link reads aloud. “How far is that?”

“I don’t know,” I answer as a familiar tingling begins to return to my chest. “But we’re still going down.”

“So wait, where are we going?” asks yet another voice, this one brash and powerful but also a bit squeaky and tinged with nervous energy. “I thought this guy was on an island someplace, Twilight.”

“The coordinates in the letter led straight to the tower, and this was the only thing in it,” answers the teacher voice. That’d be Twilight, I guess. “Looks like the place this pony can’t get away from is underwater somewhere. Maybe they work at a research station.”

I shoot a smug look at Link. “Oh, shut up,” he mumbles back as the other ponies go on.

“I think I bumped my head on something.” It’s the bubbly voice again. “That little glow-y something right over there.”

“Pinkie, what are you…oh. Oh, my,” says the first voice. “Twilight, what on Earth is that thing?”

“I don’t know, Rarity,” Twilight replies, and a sudden hiss of what sounds like radio static finally draws my attention over to the wall beside the sphere’s door, where there’s a little square machine with a row of buttons running along its top, and an indentation full of what looks like luminescent lime-green jelly right in its center. Twilight’s voice is much louder the next time she speaks, and the jelly ripples and vibrates in exact sync with her words.

“It looks like it’s a containment unit for some kind of self-sufficient spell,” she murmurs, “but the magic for enchanting non-solid objects is incredibly advanced. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“Is it dangerous?” a new mare asks, her voice quiet but tinged with budding panic. By now, Link has picked up on the sounds coming from the machine as well.

“I don’t think so, but I can’t imagine what it’s for. The gel looks like it’s responding to my voice in some way, but as for what it’s supposed to be doing, I…”

A burst of orchestra music cuts Twilight off in mid-theory, and I don’t realize that the same music is playing in the sphere with us until a white canvas screen slides down in front of the door, and a faded advertisement flashes up for the same machine the voices are coming from. “‘Glowing Ember’s Personal Voice Recorders’,” Twilight recites. She’s looking at the same ad that I am. “‘Need to remember? Count on Ember!’” Twilight pauses for a moment, and reads further down the slide. “’Free sample in every bathysphere.’ Huh. Guess that explains that.”

A bathysphere. That’s what this thing is. The name rings familiar in my ears, and I’m not the only one who feels the same. “It’s a personal submersible, Rainbow,” Twilight explains, after her brash-voiced friend loudly asks what the hay a “bath of fear” is. “Ponies who study ocean currents and marine life use them to go underwater and make observations, but…”

“…but they’re not supposed to be moving like this,” I finish under my breath. Now I remember where I’ve seen that name before: in a thick blue book in the Mechanics section of the Rockton Library, printed under an charcoal sketch of a complex mechanical orb hanging twenty feet underwater on a thick black cable. The bathysphere in that book didn’t have a propeller behind it. It also didn’t have a little square machine inside it filled with magical green jelly that could snatch a mare’s words right out of the air and let her play them back anytime she pleased. As far as I know, nothing has one of those machines in it. For a moment, I can’t help but wonder if this whole thing really is just a long, crazy nightmare after all.

In front of me, the image in the window flickers and disappears, and is soon replaced by a second one with no pictures but a lot more text. This time, no one on the other end of the voice recorder reads it aloud, so after a few seconds Link decides to fill the silence with his own voice.

“Please remain seated until the bathysphere has come to a complete stop. Further instructions will be given once docking procedures are complete. Welcome to Harmony.” I can hear Link’s confusion hanging in the air as he falls silent, probably because I’m about as baffled as he is. “Harmony…” he mutters to himself a moment later, and once again it’s all I can do to suppress a shudder. I still can’t place my hoof on exactly what it is that feels so off about all this, but the more surreal my situation gets, the stronger that feeling becomes. Far too late, I begin to wonder whether staying up in the tower wasn’t the better idea after all.

“I don’t like this, Twi,” Rainbow says through the recorder, her tone a good bit quieter than I heard before. “This is really weird.”

“I know it’s weird, Rainbow, but I don’t think I can turn this thing around until it gets where it’s going,” Twilight replies, sympathy mixing with unmistakable determination. “Besides, anypony who could build something like this must be worth talking to. I want to find out what they want from us.”

“What they want from you.”

“Rainbow!” the country mare hisses.

“Well, it’s true, isn’t it? We’re all just along for the ride. We aren’t even supposed to be here!” The country pony tries to argue back, but Rainbow keeps talking right over her. “I mean, seriously, what kind of pony lives somewhere you have to get to underwater? Who does that? So she built this bathysphere thing, big deal. It’s not like that means she’s gonna be some crazy-smart inventor with a whole…whole…”

The sudden silence draws my attention back over to the right, where the screen in front of the window has dropped back out of view. In the distance, behind a massive sandy ridge coated with rocks and seaweed, an unearthly glow illuminates what I’d call the horizon on the surface. “What is that?” Rainbow whispers, and now her brashness has been replaced entirely by fear. To be honest, it’s pretty easy to relate to her at the moment: my heart’s turning backflips inside my chest, and goosebumps are rolling back and forth across my back.

“W-we’re moving towards it,” the quiet mare stammers, and she’s right. Already, I can feel my stomach being pulled towards the floor as the sphere ascends up the ridge. The light gets brighter every second.

“Everypony calm down,” Twilight pleads. “It’s probably just the docking platform. Just hold on until we get over this ridge, and then you’ll see there’s nothing to worry abo…abo…oh my gosh.”

I see exactly what Twilight saw the instant we crest over the ridge, and in that first moment where we are looking with the same eyes, the bathysphere vanishes from beneath my hooves and the senseless cold of the ocean sweeps in all around me. I am floating past a building taller than any skyscraper in Manehattan, bigger than any castle in Canterlot, and behind it is another one just as huge, and then another, and another. Each construction’s façade is lit up by countless neon signs and double-paned windows, and each of them shimmers and gleams in the murky haze of the water surrounding them, the water that should cleave them in two and grind each shattered brick into dust. This can’t be possible. This can’t exist. I can’t be seeing this with my eyes, sensing this with my body. I can’t still be alive at a depth that only the dead could ever hope to reach.

It’s almost a full ten seconds before the bathysphere snaps back into focus, before my legs find solid ground again and I can see the reflection of Link in the door glass as his chest heaves and his eyes widen to the size of saucers. I shut my eyes and bite my lip hard, but when I look up again the buildings still stand as strong as ever. In fact, we’re close enough now to see a polished white statue hanging off the front of one. A statue of a pony. A statue of an alicorn with both hooves extending over his head. The same image I saw carved into the doors of the tower that had gotten us down here.

“Holy sh…” Link tries to say, but his jaw never moves back up to form the final syllable, and from then on all I can think is the same thing I thought when I broke the surface of Eternity’s Crossing and held onto a piece of fuselage to keep it from sealing back over me again.

This is real. This is real. This is real.

I’m not looking at a docking platform. I’m not looking at a research station or a lighthouse, or even another tower like the one on the surface. I’m looking at majestic tiered structures a hundred stories tall, at walkways and guiding tracks snaking between and into them, at squid and whales the size of ocean liners weaving through the spires like rabbits between trees. I try to rationalize what’s in front of me, try to dream up some fantasy I might be able to compare this to, but this place’s existence defies description, defies logic. The ocean around me is dead, but this place is alive, like an organism. Like a microcosm. Like an ecosystem.

Like a city.

I’m looking at an entire underwater city.

And the bathysphere I’m standing in is taking me right to it.