• Published 23rd May 2015
  • 2,057 Views, 123 Comments

Where Black Stars Rise - Corah Il Cappo

Yet stranger still is, Lost Carcosa

  • ...

Of Sunsets and Sarabic

The Volonté de Celestia sailed across the still foggy early morning. Blueblood left the wheel after what seemed like an eternity, having set the ship on its course to Saddle Arabia and locking the wheel in place. He sighed softly, pulling up a seat beside a very groggy looking Twilight Sparkle. The poor girl was nearly asleep, her head leaned back and her hooves folded across her chest. She peered at Blueblood with a single half squinted eye. Considering he had spent a night in prison, the Prince wasn't looking too terrible. He had been scuffed up quite a bit, his mane had been mussed, and his suit seemed to be coated in a fine layer of dust and grime. Twilight debated commenting on his appearance, but decided against it. After all, if he realized the amount of dirt on his coat, he might blow a synapse. Blueblood's eyes happened upon the knapsack Twilight had packed the night before.

"Is that my bag?" Blueblood snatched it up, rifling through the contents. "And are these my books? And my jewels? And my wallet?!"

"Oh yeah." Twilight mused, still half in and half out of the conversation. "I grabbed those before I left. I figured we could use some money while we were abroad, and that maybe we can sell those gems and stuff."

"One does not simply sell these things! These are national treasures, Twilight! Those jewels were gifted to me by Duke Sword-Feather of Fliegendkralle! They can't just be pawned off like common baubles! And this golden dagger was from Captain Icewind of the Ibex. And this sapphire was a trophy from the hoard of Craven the Jackal at the last meeting of the Dogs. And this..."

Blueblood paused, as he glanced up at Twilight, seeing that her head had tilted back, eyes closed with her mouth hung open. He rolled his eyes, sighing heavily as he returned the objects to his bag.

"We're not done with this conversation, Twilight." Blueblood cut himself off with a yawn. "But we'll talk after we've landed. For now, you have sleep to catch up on, and I have navigation to do."

The Prince rose from his seat, and trotted over to the front of the ship, opening one of the wood paneled cabinets and removing one of the rolled up maps, spreading it out upon the marble counter top. He began to chart out their course, blinking his eyes a few times, before giving his head a shake to try and keep himself awake. He wished that he would have had the foresight to install a coffee machine on board this contraption. He rubbed his temples, levitating a pencil over with his magic as he began to plot out the course of the craft, letting out a quiet sigh as the sun began to rise over the horizon.

Today was going to be a very long day.

Twilight awoke with a sudden start, nearly falling out of her seat as her mind and body snapped back into reality. She shook her head, wiping a faint trace of drool from her jaw with the back of her hoof. She yawned groggily, her eyes fluttering as the gears in her brain slowly cranked to life once more. She saw Blueblood was adjusting the wheel once more, his eyes looking rather sunken, and his frame half slumped against the wheel. He was awake, but just barely. He mumbled a half-hearted "Good Morning," as he double checked the course on the map.

"How long was I out?" Twilight muttered, glancing out the window. Much to her shock, the forests and grasslands of Equestria had been replaced by a sea of sand dunes that seemed to stretch as far as her eyes could see.

"About six hours." The Prince responded, his gaze never wavering. "We crossed the border into Saddle Arabia half an hour ago. I contemplated waking you up for it, but you were in the middle of your beauty rest, and Celestia knows you need as much of that as you can get."

"Really?" Twilight rolled her eyes in disgust. "I break you out of prison, and this is the thanks I get?"

"Organizing a prison break has nothing to do with one's appearance. Besides, I was owed a jab after you called me... What were your exact words? If I recall correctly, you said I was an egotistical, self centered, royal pain in the flank. Surely you didn't think such an insult would go unpunished, now did you Twilight?"

Twilight didn't turn around to face him, if only because she could already feel his smirk burning into the back of her head.

"Either way, you may want to find something to hold on to. We're going to be landing shortly, and sometimes a stray gust of desert air can really rattle the craft," Blueblood said, giving a level a tug and slowly twisting the gas valve to "off".

The airship slowly began to sink downwards. Twilight peered out the window once more, and could now see something bright white gleaming amid the pale orange sand. As they drew closer, Twilight could see that it was a city, and a large one at that. Brilliant arabesque minarets towered high over cobblestone streets, where vibrantly colored canopies stretched out to shade the inhabitants from the blazing sun above. Closer and closer they drew, until Twilight felt she could practically smell the spices from the open air marketplaces, and was nearly able to reach out and grasp some of the tallest of the adobe brick houses. She could see horses below, clad in robes of silk studded with jewels, feathers, rhinestones and other precious stones and baubles. It was like a parade of fabulous new culture were flowing by her, and she couldn't help but stare agape at it all through the airship window.

The Volonté de Celestia touched down on the outskirts of the city, kicking up clouds of sand and dust with its rotors as it landed. Slowly the engines of the craft ground to a halt, and Blueblood opened the doors, dropping a hefty iron anchor from the airship and let the entry ramp extend out from the side of the craft.

"Welcome to Saddle Arabia," Blueblood said as he disembarked. shaking his head and tossing back his mane. "This is her capital city, Sutaf. I'm guessing the locals will have noticed my arrival by now, seeing as an airship entrance isn't exactly a hallmark of subtlety."

"Do you even know the meaning of the word subtlety?" Twilight rolled her eyes as they began to trek towards the shimmering city.

"I do. Flamboyance is a choice, Twilight, not an accident."

The pair approached the city gate, a towering structure of wood and ornately forged steel. Twilight could hear shouts from above her, as guards began to scuffle about to open the massive barricades. Apparently they recognized Blueblood, as she could hear his name intermingled with native Sarabic. The gates began to swing open revealing the cobblestone streets of the city of Sutaf. As Twilight and Blueblood entered, she could hear the guards whispering to one another, their eyes occasionally glancing in her direction.

"What are they saying?" She said to Blueblood with a hushed voice.

"Most of them are asking if you're Celestia." Blueblood replied, barely breaking pace as he spoke. "They've never seen an Alicorn up close before. Only in the sky above and in legends. The consensus seems to be that you're just weird in person."

"Well that's rather rude."

"To be fair, they don't think you can understand what they're saying. Not many outside of Saddle Arabia can speak it, much less understand it."

They strode down the streets, adobe homes towering on either side of them, with clotheslines full of brightly colored clothes dangling between them. It was like a veritable rainbow of silk, cotton, wool, and flax garments, with the rays of the sun changing color as it passed through the fibers of the fabric, casting the path below in hues of blue, green, orange and red. Twilight couldn't help but notice that Blueblood seemed to know these streets as well as he did the halls of the Canterlot palace, weaving seamlessly through the narrow alleys with ease.

"Where exactly are you taking us?" Twilight said as they wove their way through the maze-like streets of Sutaf.

"We're headed in the direction of the Hall of the Sultanate, though I expect that they've already dispatched an emissary to greet us." The Prince replied, diverting himself back to a larger more open road, avoiding one of the more cluttered alleyways. "Just remember that when we meet with the Sultan, you are to follow my lead. Do not attempt to speak to him unless spoken, and for the love of Celestia, don't forget to kowtow. Got it?"

"Yes, yes. I get it. You know how to bow down to foreign leaders." Twilight's ears twitched slightly, as she began to hear a distant lilt of flutes in the distance. Blueblood seemed to notice it as well, his ears perking as the steady cadence of drums joined with the flutes. His mouth twisted into a frown.

"Sounds like I have less time than I would like to teach you the delicate art of Saddle Arabian etiquette. That's a royal procession headed this way." Blueblood rounded the corner, stepping from the cramped and labyrinthine city streets and into a massive, open market place. There shouts and the smell of spices and food filled the air, half tempting Twilight to wander off in search of the aroma's source. Her stomach grumbled, and she realized that she had yet to eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day. She followed behind, walking through the densely packed plaza, as a multitude of vendors shouted to her, both in Sarabic and in broken Equine, all vying for her attention and most likely her business. A few bold ones even rushed towards her, waving jewelry or clothing, She tried to repulse them with a smile and a "No thank you," but found that it seemed to only strengthen their resolve, and soon found a crowd of anxious shouting salesmen crowding around her. Blueblood turned, rolling his eyes at the group of vendors.

"Mish'lochim!!" The Prince shouted, catching the crowds attention in an instant. "Atem sh'lachtem et bayeet!"

This seemed to work slightly better than Twilight's method, and the peddlers scurried off into the crowds once more, seeking out new prey amid the teeming throngs.

"What did you say?" Twilight said, cocking her head slightly.

"Simple. I told them to go away. A bit stronger than you did, and in their native language of course, but the same thing nonetheless."

The music had begun to intensify now, to the point where the two ponies had to actually raise their voices when speaking. Ahead, they could see horses being pushed aside by a rapidly advancing force, which they could only assume was the royal procession headed their way. Suddenly, the way was clear between them, as four rather muscular guards, each clutching a hefty scimitar in their magical grasp, shoved the last of the citizens out of the way with cries of "L'phantem et derech!" These guards stood in a loose semicircle around another, much smaller horse, who was dressed in all the finery one would expect of an Equestrian royal, though with a distinctly Saracenic feel. He wore a white robe, threaded with gold and decorated with bright blue patterns woven into the fabric. Atop his head was a dazzlingly bejeweled
turban, studded all over with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, with a plumed peacock feather sticking out of the top.

At the sight of this figure, Blueblood almost instinctively dropped to his knees, kneeling with his face towards the street. He bowed low, glancing at Twilight and jerking his head, signalling for her to do the same. Twilight followed suit, trying to replicate the motions she had seen Blueblood make, practically kissing the pavement as she bowed. She could hear Blueblood speak something into the earth.

"Halalti atem, hamalkay malachim." The Prince said, keeping hid face to the ground.

"Sh'cham nasich." Came the reply from the gaudily dressed Sarab.

"Princess Twilight Sparkle, allow me to introduce you to Sultan Caliph, ruler of Saddle Arabia." Blueblood said as he rose back to his hooves, brushing himself off as he repeated her introduction in Sarabic. Upon hearing her credentials, the Sultan's face lit up, reaching out his hoof to shake, grinning from ear to ear.

"Princess, it is so good to be meeting you." The Sultan took her hoof in both of his, squeezing tightly and shaking them vigorously. "I have heard many stories of you nasichah. Is it true that you once cast down a great dragon?"

"Er...yes. That much is true." Twilight said, nodding in reply, glancing down at her slightly throbbing hoof. "Its a pleasure to meet you as well, Sultan."

"Tell me, what winds have borne you to my city, nasich?" Caliph said, quirking his brow at Blueblood. "Has it happened that another trade deal will be brought my way? Or perhaps was the last shipment of silk underwhelming?"

"This time, Sultan, I'm not here to discuss politics. I would have come alone for that. I'm here on a much more personal venture." Blueblood's voice lowered as he spoke, his eyes hardening as they locked with Caliph's. "Twilight and I have come across something strange. Very, very strange. We're looking for answers, and we think they may lie within Alhazred's book."

"Gods...what sort of answers could be important enough to warrant looking in that tome?" The Sultan shuddered at the thought.

"I'd rather not discuss such things in such a crowded space." The Prince's voice dropped to a whisper, checking around to make sure that nopony was giving him any suspicious looks.

"Of course." Caliph nodded, the feather of his turban bobbing. "We can privately discuss this all later, when our surroundings are a bit less crowded. For now, shall I put you and your guest in the usual place?"

"Sounds perfect to me." Blueblood replied, following behind the armed guards of the Caliph, motioning for Twilight to follow. She fell into line along with them, as they wove their way through the open market, and onto a wide road, paved not with cobblestone, but with expertly crafted bricks, all overlaid with a thin layer of electrum that gleamed white gold in the midday sun. The brightness of it nearly blinded Twilight, but as her eyes adjusted to the glare her jaw slackened in amazement. Ahead of her lay the royal palace of Saddle Arabia. It rose high above the desert sands, with exquisite marble walls topped with bulbs of shimmering gold. Its walls contained numerous minarets, which threatened to pierce through the clouds if they were any taller. The whole of the structure seemed to grow more and more opulent as she approached, as Twilight soon could see fabulous outer courts and gardens of lush vegetation as she drew ever nearer to its gates. The rich aroma of spices, luxurious wines, and freshly seared vegetables soon reached her nose, and her mouth practically watered at the tantalizing scent.

As their procession passed by the outer gates and into the main of the palace, Twilight noted a drop in temperature. It felt much cooler inside the palace than it was without, and for that she was grateful. The interior floors were covered in thick, plush rugs so soft she could have sworn her hooves were sinking into it. Servants, advisers, scribes, guards, and merchants milled about within, producing a low din of constant buzzing conversation. Tapestries and murals coated the walls, barely leaving a single bare spot to be seen. The Caliph's guard soon dispersed, and he turned to smile warmly at Twilight. "You will forgive me of course, but I have some business of my own to be tending to. I'm certain hanasich can show you the way to your chambers."

"You mean..." Twilight paused, still trying to take in the spectacle which surrounded her. "We're staying here?"

"Of course. You and he are guests of mine, and guests of Saddle Arabia herself! Only the finest for our guests here!"

"C'mon Twilight." Blueblood grabbed Twilight by the hoof, practically dragging her off through the halls. "Its been a long, long day."

After a short trek through the halls of the palace, Blueblood arrived at their room on the second level of the building. He opened the door to reveal a decent sized room, certainly large enough for two ponies to share. The floor was of that same plush red carpeting the palace contained, and Blueblood half felt inclined to simply plop down and sleep there. Of course, the bed was the far better option, covered in numerous satin and silk sheets, and strewn all over with soft pillows of all shapes and sizes. The rest of the furniture was rather simple. A wooden wardrobe, a sink and mirror station, a desk in the corner, and a low table rounded out their furnishings. Twilight raced to the bed, hurling herself upon it and letting out a small squeal of joy.

"Its so soft! All the silk just feels-" Twilight was cut off and Blueblood suddenly shoved her off of the bed, before promptly flopping down on it himself. She landed on the floor beside the bed with a muffled thud, glaring angrily up at him.

"Don't give me that look." Blueblood's eyelids fluttered as he stifled a yawn. "You got to sleep on the flight over here. I had to... To Navigate..."

Before he could finish complaining, the Prince's eyes closed, and he drifted off into his first real sleep in almost two days. Twilight gave a soft "hmmph!" before trotting over to their window and drawing back the blinds. Her mouth flickered into an excited grin as she gazed out over the desert sands, anxious for what was to come next.