• Published 22nd Feb 2016
  • 19,187 Views, 919 Comments

Empty Horizons - Goldenwing

Twilight wakes up, alone in the dark. And she's drowning.

  • ...

II: The Argo

She’d never seen so much water before.

Twilight stood in silence on the deck of the submarine, staring out at the empty horizon. The steady rocking of the ship and the constant ticking of its clockwork machinery did wonders to calm her mind.

She shivered as a wave broke against the ship’s hull, the water sloshing around her hooves before it slipped back into the ocean. A deep breath of sea air filled her lungs as she closed her eyes.

It was far easier to think here, without changelings leaping for her throat from the shadows and frantic commands ringing in her ears. There’s no need to panic, Twilight, she thought. Just ask to see the Princess. She’ll fix everything. Just stay calm.

“Hey, Twilight!”

Twilight opened her eyes, looking back to see Rainbow’s head poking up from the hatch.

“C’mon here. Sabre wants to talk to us all!”

Twilight smiled. “I’ll be right there, Rainbow.” She turned around, walking down the narrow, railed deck. Surely Sea Sabre knew where Princess Celestia was!

A breath of steam rushed past Twilight’s face as she climbed down into the confines of the submarine. It was a small vessel, and as far as she could tell, designed for a small crew. Star Trails and Flintlock had remained in the rear of the vessel, while Twilight’s friends had squeezed themselves into the relatively spacious cargo hold just rear of the hatch.

She went there now, seeing her friends waiting for her amongst the sparse spread of riveted metal crates. Fluttershy, still unconscious, had been lain gingerly across a longer, rectangular crate, her head resting on a folded up towel.

Twilight stepped up to Fluttershy’s side, glancing to her friends. “She still hasn’t woken up?”

Rarity shook her head, frowning. “I don’t know, dear. There hasn’t been a peep from her since we came to this wretched place.”

“She’ll be fine,” Applejack said, tipping her hat back. “She might not act it, but ’Shy’s tough. Ain’t no need to worry ’bout her.”

Twilight looked up to see Sea Sabre enter the room, now wearing a plain, gray-green tunic instead of her armor. A cutie mark of a scimitar with a curving trail of water adorned her flank. “We have a doctor back home that can look at your friend. He’s on the way here,” she said.

“Back home, huh?” Rainbow asked skeptically. “And where’s that, exactly?”

“Heighton,” Sabre said. “Our ride will be here soon enough.”

“Oh, great!” Twilight said, clapping her hooves together. Just a little while longer and she’d know what to do! “When can we see the Princess?”

Sabre arched a brow, looking between the six mares curiously. “The Princess? You want to see the Princess?”

“Uh, yes.” Twilight giggled nervously, taken off guard by the mare’s tone. “I’m sure she’ll be excited to see me again. I’m her most faithful student, after all.”

Sabre let out a thoughtful little grunt. “Miss—”

“Call me Twilight, please.”

Sabre sighed. “Okay then, Twilight... do you know what year it is?”

There was a time when Twilight had loved answering that question. After the redemption of Princess Luna, Celestia had decreed a new calendar: Anno Lunae, and Twilight practically burst from excitement everytime she wrote the date. She was alive in Year One, Anno Lunae! It had felt like being a famous pony from some ancient history book, writing letters and dating the year with a single digit. She had lived history!

But this was different. The way that Sabre had asked the question made Twilight’s blood run cold. Suddenly being ancient history didn’t feel like fun anymore. And as much as she might hope that no time had passed since her brother’s wedding ceremony, everything she’d seen since waking up in that hideous cocoon indicated otherwise.

Slowly, Twilight shook her head. “Uhh… no…?”

Sabre gave a little nod, pursing her lips thoughtfully. She cleared her throat, speaking firmly. “Well, Miss Twilight, it’s currently 673, Anno Caeli. The Princesses have been dead for over a thousand years.”

Exclamations of shock and grief passed over the room. Rainbow Dash sat down heavily, brow furrowed as she began to stutter out whispered denials. Pinkie Pie choked back sobs as her mane deflated, while Rarity fell to the floor with a high-pitched keen. Applejack simply closed her eyes and turned her face up to the roof in silence.

Twilight smiled. She leaned in a little closer. “I’m sorry, I think I must have misheard you.”

Sea Sabre leaned back as Twilight came closer. She quirked a brow. “You didn’t. The Princesses are dead.”

“Ahaha, no that can’t be right.” Twilight waved a hoof dismissively. A small corner of her mind wondered why the new calendar translated to ‘Year of the Sky’. Why was it getting so hard to breathe? “Princesses don’t die! I know that Princess Celestia wouldn’t leave me.”

A choked breath escaped her lips as Sabre grabbed her shoulder.


Warm tears raced down Twilight’s cheeks. She frowned as an ear began to twitch uncontrollably. Why was she crying? There was nothing to be sad about. Everything was fine. Everything is fine.

“The Princesses are dead,” Sea Sabre said. “They watch over us from above, now.”

It was like she was drowning all over again. Twilight braced herself against a crate as her hooves turned to jelly. The Princesses are dead. Nope! Everything was fine, she was the most faithful student. Princess Celestia has left you. That wasn’t possible. Not possible! Princess Celestia had always been there, would always be there. It was just another test! You are all alone.

What was she doing on the floor? The metal was so cold and hard, and yet it still rocked side to side with the waves. Her whole world had been cast adrift in far too many ways. What do I do now, Princess?

She was vaguely aware of Sea Sabre walking away. She squeezed her eyes shut as hard as she could. Wake up. Please wake up.

A shadow passed over her. Twilight opened her eyes, wiping away the blurriness.

Applejack was standing over her, the brim of her hat pulled down low and casting a deep shadow over her face. Another powerful sob racked Twilight’s body as Applejack pulled her into a gentle hug.

Applejack laid down at her side, pushing her hat up. For a moment, Twilight almost thought she’d been crying. “We’re all hurtin’ now, Twilight, but that doesn’t mean we can all just fall over and feel sorry for ourselves. Somethin’s gone awful wrong somewhere, and way I figure it, well… if we don’t fix it, then who will?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight whispered hoarsely.

Applejack nodded. She ran a hoof through Twilight’s mane thoughtfully. “Well, I ain’t much for waitin’ around when there’s a job to be done. Only issue is, I don’t really know where to start or where we’re goin’.”

Twilight looked up, meeting Applejack’s steady gaze. She knew that Applejack was right, even if she didn’t want to believe it. Something had come to destroy her world, and the Elements of Harmony hadn’t been there to stop it. They hadn’t been there to stop it. Whatever it was, the Princesses hadn’t survived the transition, but there were still ponies here, somehow eking out an existence.

Slowly Twilight climbed back to her hooves, looking at her friends around her. She saw Rainbow Dash’s gaze hardening as her wings quivered furiously, and Pinkie Pie staring blankly out the small curved porthole in the wall. She saw Rarity picking herself up from the floor, and Fluttershy unconscious. And then Applejack, waiting patiently before her.

Applejack cleared her throat. “We kinda need y’all right now, Twilight.”

They need me. Twilight couldn’t afford to break down. The Elements of Harmony could fix things, but they didn’t know how yet. It was a problem, a test, another question that had to be answered, and if there was anypony left in the world that could solve it, it would be her. It had to be her.

Twilight gave a weak nod. She wiped the rest of her tears away. “I… I need… a library.”

Applejack smiled, pulling Twilight in for a hug. “That’s my gal.” She paused, and Twilight felt her looking around. “Heck if I know where to find a library, though.”

Twilight let out a little giggle as she choked back another sob. The Princesses may be gone, but she wasn’t alone. She had her friends.

Twilight tore herself free from Applejack’s embrace. She turned to the rest of her friends, taking a deep breath.

“Girls…” Her voice broke as the rest of her friends turned to her with red eyes. She cleared her throat. “I know that—that it feels like the world’s come to an end, and like we’ve all lost everything, but… we still have each other.” Her voice grew a little firmer. She straightened up, locking eyes with each of her friends in turn. “We still have each other, and Equestria needs us. We can still… fix things. I know that we can. But I need you all to stay with me, okay?”

Rainbow Dash fluttered her wings angrily, rising a few inches off the ground. “Don’t worry about me, Twilight,” she snarled. “I’m not resting until whatever—or whoever did this pays for it.”

Pinkie Pie looked up to the ceiling, sniffling. “You’re right, Twilight. Even if some really bad things have happened… we can’t let it keep us down.”

Rarity tossed her disheveled mane, rearranging her haphazard curls gently with her hooves. “But whatever do we do, Twilight? We don’t know the first thing about this new Equestria, who knows what we’ll find out there, and the—the Princesses—!”

Twilight raised a hoof, stopping Rarity before she could work herself up again. “Let me worry about that, okay? We’ll ask our…” She paused, tapping a hoof against her chin as she considered her word choice. “Ask our rescuers to direct us to the nearest library once we get to this ‘Heighton,’ and we’ll go from there. Sound good?”

Twilight smiled as she saw her friends nodding around her. She had to stay strong, to look strong, even if she could still feel her hooves trembling and every glance out the window made her chest tighten. She just had to keep it together until she reached a library, and then she could lose herself in the hefty task that was researching how to save the world.

Pinkie Pie cocked her head, pointing a hoof towards the far window. “Hey, what’s that?”

Twilight turned, catching sight of a small grey object floating above the waves in the distance. She narrowed her eyes at it, but the thing was too far away for her to make out any details.

Star Trails and Flintlock stepped into the cargo room, sporting the same gray-green tunics that Twilight had seen Sea Sabre wearing. Flint walked through the room without acknowledging the mares, while Trails sat down and gave a little wave with a pale blue hoof. Her navy blue mane hung down just enough to tickle at her shoulders, framing curious green eyes.

Trails frowned, looking between the mares. “Uh, you ladies okay?”

Twilight cleared the hoarseness from her throat and offered up a little smile. “We’re fine. Is something happening?”

Trails raised a brow skeptically. “In fact there is. Our ship is nearly here. We’re all heading up top to board.”

Rainbow Dash frowned as she looked out the window at the grey dot. “Uhh… I thought this was your ship?”

“Heh, no. This is our sub, for our dives. She’s tough, but painfully slow for actually getting anywhere. That—” Trails nodded towards the dot, which was quickly growing larger. “Is the Argo. That’s how we get to and from our dives.”

Argo? Twilight recognized the name easily. It was from an old Pegasopolis myth. She felt some small relief at the knowledge that ponykind still knew the name. She’d been worried that much of its history might have been lost.

“Is it some kind of airship?” Twilight asked.

Trails grinned. “That’s right. Have you seen one before?”

“I’ve read some books on the subject.” Twilight actually hadn’t seen a functioning airship in person before, as the technology had only become viable after she’d left for Ponyville. Even then, airships had been little more than regular sea ships clumsily attached to balloons for the most elite of Canterlot high society to parade about.

Rarity gave a polite little cough and waved a hoof. “I’ve actually enjoyed a few airship parties, myself.”

“Huh, we had airships way back then? Cool.” Trails started down the hall towards the hatch. “Let’s go.”

Twilight beckoned to her friends with a nod of her head. After waiting for Applejack to hoist Fluttershy onto her back, the mares squeezed their way towards the hatch. Twilight picked up on a low buzzing in the background, almost imperceptible beneath the clockwork mechanics of the submarine at first, but rapidly growing louder. By the time Twilight began climbing up the hatch, the buzz had become a full-blown roar which threatened to overcome her very thoughts.

A heavy gust of salty sea air blew into her face as Twilight pulled herself out of the hatch. She raised a hoof to her eyes defensively, squinting into the wind as her friends climbed up behind her.

The distant grey speck had crossed an alarming distance since she’d first spotted it, and the Argo now cast a long shadow over the ponies waiting on the submarine. The Argo’s long, slender shape was attached via thick cables beneath a rigid balloon. A single huge propeller on the rear of the gondola pushed the ship forwards, and Twilight could see a series of small ailerons lining the top and sides of the balloon, the ship rotating clockwise as they turned.

As it came closer, Twilight saw that the chassis of the Argo had a strange, elongated ring shape to it, with an open space in the middle. The ship came to a stop directly above the submarine before beginning to lose altitude. Gently, it lowered itself down, the bottom of the chassis dipping into the waves as it surrounded the submarine.

Twilight flattened her ears against her head in a vain attempt to shut out the roar of the airship’s engine. The submarine rocked side to side as the propeller began to kick the waves up higher. There was a barely perceptible hiss of steam, and then a vibration which Twilight felt in her hooves. The rocking of the submarine came to an abrupt stop.

The movement returned as suddenly as it had stopped, but now the submarine was actually rising. Twilight instinctively lowered her stance at the unexpected motion. Looking around, she saw her friends following suit, while their rescuers simply held on to the railing.

The water ran off the deck of the ship for the last time as it rose out of the sea. A pair of metal ramps fell down onto each side of the submarine, clamping onto the railings with thick hooks as a trio of steps unfolded from each one.

Twilight felt a hoof tapping on her shoulder. She turned to see Sabre talking to her, but couldn’t understand her over the din of the engines.

“What?” Twilight yelled. She could barely even hear herself.

Sabre came closer, cupping a hoof to her ear and speaking directly into it. “Follow me! Careful with the edge!”

Twilight gave an exaggerated nod as Sabre pulled back. She made eye contact with each of her friends in turn, beckoning for them to follow.

Sabre climbed the stairs to the port ramp, striding confidently across and to the hatch on the other side.

The wind whipped at Twilight’s mane as she gingerly clambered up the steps. She looked down and—whendidwegetsohigh?!

The world began to rock. Twilight’s entire body went tight as she hugged the cold steel, eyes squeezed shut. They had been in the water just a minute ago and now they were floating at least a couple dozen meters up!

A hoof nudged at her impatiently. Cracking an eye open, Twilight saw Sea Sabre standing before her, leaning halfway out of the open hatch. With a deep breath, Twilight willed the world to stop swaying, and all at once she pushed herself the rest of the way up the ramp and barreled through the hatch.

Sea Sabre stood over her, one corner of her lips ever so slightly pulled up in a smile. “You afraid of heights?” The roar of the engine had been reduced to a muffled drone now, and beneath it Twilight could hear the same quiet ticking that had filled the submarine.

Twilight nodded breathlessly, thankful to be on some relatively solid ground. Even if the floor continued to sway slightly beneath her, at least now she didn’t feel like a single false move would spell her doom.

Sabre grunted thoughtfully. “You might want to work on that.”

Rainbow Dash glided through the hatch next, looking around with wide eyes. “Whoa, what is this thing?”

Trails stepped through behind her. “This is the Argo. She takes us to our dive sites and back home and wherever else we need to go.” She ran a hoof along the riveted steel wall lovingly. “Pretty great ship.”

A flood of questions popped up in Twilight’s mind as she examined the interior of the ship. They seemed to be in a wide hall of riveted steel, with one door on each end and the hatch she’d come through in the middle of one side. Wooden crates and barrels were shoved up against the walls haphazardly, and pipes of all sizes ran the length of the ceiling, with even more half-hidden beneath the metal grating she stood upon. The pale white lights which lined the corners did a poor job of illuminating them, but Twilight could see many of the larger pipes were adorned with small gauges. She peered closer at one above her, flinching back as it suddenly released a torrent of steam. She’d never seen anything like it.

Rarity entered next, fussing with her freshly windblown mane. “And a dirty one, too! Oh, this is nothing like the ships they have in Canterlot! Is there a shower onboard?” She drew a hoof back from her mane, lip curling at the green fluid which clung to her coat.

Twilight watched Pinkie Pie carefully as she came into the hall, grimacing at the pink mare’s near-flat mane and downcast eyes, but she didn’t have time to consider it further.

“Showers can come later,” Sabre said. “Let’s get you all settled first.”

Applejack let out a hefty sigh as she carried Fluttershy inside. “Y’all… y’all mentioned a doctor?”

Sabre nodded. “Come with me.”

Twilight followed Sea Sabre down towards the aft door, marveling as it opened itself when they drew near. She didn’t pick up on any magical enchantments, but she did see gears ticking away within the frame. Is this whole ship… mechanical? Glancing back, she saw Flint and Trails leaving through the opposite door.

Sabre led Twilight and her friends into another hall, this one curving towards the opposite side of the ship and lined with doors. She came to a stop before the largest, a sturdy double-door which vented steam as it opened, and beckoned them inside.

Twilight found herself in a larger room almost completely bereft of decoration or content. Bright lamps set into the ceiling cast stark shadows against the small collection of pony-sized crates huddled in one corner. The hum of the engine was louder here, and she could even feel the floor vibrating beneath her.

“Stay here,” Sea Sabre said. “I’ll go get our doctor.” She stepped back into the hall and out of sight, the door closing behind her with another burst of steam.

Twilight turned back to her friends, taking her place in the loose circle they had formed in the middle of the room.

Applejack glanced about uncertainly. “I hope this ain’t what she meant by ‘get settled.’ It’s all hard places!” She shifted Fluttershy’s position on her back.

Rainbow Dash flew up a little higher and scanned the room with a lazy spin. “Do they not have beds in the future or something?”

“I don’t think they were expecting to find us,” Twilight said. She walked up to the wall where one of the metal plates had been removed, leaning closer to the clockwork machinery within. “Flint said something about looking for salvage.”

She heard Rarity scoffing behind her. “Salvage? There was nothing back there but a bunch of rubble!” Her voice began to quiver, and Twilight imagined her raising a hoof to her forehead dramatically. “All of those beautiful tapestries…”

Twilight cocked her head, brow furrowing as she inspected the guts of the ship. Even in just the small area visible to her she could see half a dozen gears interlocking, ticking away in service of some indistinguishable purpose. She found herself wondering what it was that drove all the gears. It couldn’t be magic—she hadn’t sensed even the slightest enchantments anywhere aboard the Argo—but Twilight couldn’t muster any other means of deriving the necessary energy.

“Hey, do you guys hear that?” Rainbow asked.

“Oh, it sounds like somepony’s coming,” Rarity said.

Applejack took a deep breath through clenched teeth. “They better be bringin’ a bed with ’em.”

Twilight’s ears flicked at the sound of two sets of hoofsteps approaching from out in the hall. She turned away from the machinery, watching the door expectantly as it vented steam. The voice of an irritable stallion drifted into the room as the door opened.

“I can’t believe you’re going along with this charade,” the voice said. “It’s unlike you, Sabre! Did Trails put you up to it? You know you could just tell me if you didn’t bring anything back up, it’s not a matter of who was right or—”

The voice cut off abruptly as the stallion stepped into view. The mug he’d been holding in one hoof dropped to the floor and shattered loudly as his jaw dropped.

Sea Sabre came into view behind him. “But for the record, Dusty, I was right.”

Twilight shifted about uncomfortably as Dusty eyed her and her friends with wide, bespectacled eyes. He visibly swallowed, pulling his glasses off with a hoof and rubbing some invisible filth away before placing them back on his muzzle. His horn gave off a glow so faint that Twilight almost didn’t notice it, and she saw him magically draw his old brown jacket tighter.

“You—Sea Sabre!” Dusty exclaimed, still staring. “You f-found these—them—in there?

“Hey, don’t talk about us like we’re not here!” Rainbow said.

Applejack looked between Dusty and Sabre, narrowing her eyes. “Is that the doctor y’all talked about? And did ya bring a gosh-darn bed?

Dusty ignored the comments, instead walking straight up to Rarity and reaching a hoof up towards her mane. “Who are you?”

Rarity stepped back gingerly and offered up a polite little smile. “My name is Rarity, pleasure to meet you. And you are?”

Dusty swept past her, his eyes drifting over each of the assembled mares before finally coming to rest on Twilight’s flank. “Sweet Celestia!” He looked to each of her friend’s cutie marks in turn. “And they’re all Gifted!”

Twilight’s ears perked up at the way he said the last word, as if it meant something significant. Resisting the urge to ask about it, she instead rose a hoof and asked, “Are you the doctor? Our friend still hasn’t woken up and we really need your help with her.”

Dusty turned back to Sabre. “You found six Gifted in those ruins?”

Dusty Tome!” Sabre barked, startling Twilight and snapping the stallion out of his daze. “Tend to the yellow one!”

Dusty jumped, adjusting his glasses with a hoof. His eyes alighted on Fluttershy as if for the first time. “Oh, yes, sorry.” He trotted up to Applejack’s side, sliding out of his saddlebags and leaving them at his hooves.

Applejack cleared her throat intently. “Hahem. Y’all got a bed or somethin’ I can lay her down on?”

“No, no, that’s quite alright,” Dusty said. He fished about in his bags with a hoof, pulling out a stethoscope and laying it on Fluttershy’s chest. After a few moments he hummed thoughtfully, placing the stethoscope back into his bag. “Well, a cursory inspection shows no damage… are you sure she isn’t just sleeping?”

Rainbow Dash crossed her hooves. “Sleeping?” she deadpanned.

Pinkie Pie spoke up from the corner she’d been sitting in, peering around her mane. “We were just chased through the super creepy ruins of what used to be the biggest city in the world by a horde of freaky mutant changelings, and you think she’s been sleeping?!” Her voice rose suddenly with the last word, and she began to advance on Dusty Tome. “What kind of doctor are you?!” she yelled. “She’s not sleeping, she isn’t okay, and you need to fix her!

Twilight flinched back at the sudden outburst. Pinkie Pie was now face-to-face with a very shocked Dusty, her chest heaving and her face almost completely hidden behind her mane. Wow.

Dusty’s eyes darted side to side. A nervous little chuckle escaped his lips. “Yes, uh, of course! Just, uh, right this way! I have a clinic onboard—uh, this way—as it were…” His voice trailed off into unintelligible mumbles as he ducked out into the hall.

As one, Twilight and her friends made to follow. Sea Sabre frowned, raising a hoof. “Do you all need to go? The clinic isn’t that large.” She looked to Rarity. “Didn’t you want a shower or something?”

“That’s quite alright, dear,” Rarity said as she walked past. “I could hardly enjoy it if I didn’t know if Fluttershy was okay.”

Rainbow Dash swooped out of the room, followed shortly by Applejack with her head and tail drooping. Pinkie Pie stalked past Sabre with a flick of her tail, and Twilight came up last, stopping next to Sea Sabre.

“Thank you,” she said, dipping her head. “For getting us out of there, and for the help with our friend.”

Sabre gave a curt nod. “You probably don’t want to fall behind.”

“Right, of course. It’s just...” Twilight gestured with a hoof at the ship around her. “Once we have time, I’d really like to sit down and talk. I—we—have a lot of questions.”

“Heh.” Sabre began to walk away, down to the opposite end of the curving hall. “Don’t you worry, miss. I’m sure we’ll all have more.”

Twilight watched in silence as Sabre stepped out of sight, lingering for just a moment before trotting down the path her friends had taken. A passing porthole treated her to the sight of an infinite ocean of water. How could this have possibly come to be? The last thing she could remember clearly was Chrysalis revealing herself at her brother’s wedding, and Princess Celestia rising to challenge her. Everything after that was… hazy. Glimpses of running and panic, flashes of light and sudden darkness. And now here she was, who-knew-how-many years in the future, in a strange ship surrounded by strange ponies. Canterlot was in ruins, the Princesses were… gone. She didn’t even want to think about what might have happened to Spike, and the whole world was—well—underwater.

Even now, the experience was so surreal that Twilight still reserved some hope of it all being some crazy nightmare. That she would wake up warm and safe under her sheets with Spike at her side, and her biggest worry would be her post-wedding hangover.

But as much as Twilight might hope, she knew that it wasn’t a dream. She couldn’t hide behind the hope that it was.

She passed another pair of doors before arriving at the end of the curved hall. Once again she watched with wide-eyed amazement as the door vented steam and opened itself, with no interaction from her whatsoever. Catching sight of her friends, Twilight picked up the pace, crossing the threshold into a skinny hall much like the one she had first entered the Argo in. She caught up to the group just as they passed through the door at the far end of the hall, coming out into another wider, curved hallway.

Twilight found herself following behind Pinkie Pie. She watched the pink mare in an anxious silence, unsure of what—or even if—she should say. She’d seen Pinkie like this only once before, when she’d forgotten about her own birthday, but somehow Twilight got the sense that this time it was… worse.

Dusty led them up a flight of stairs which led into a wide, straight hall that Twilight figured to run down the middle of the ship, just under the balloon. Many of the doors here were made of plain wood, though she did pick out one of the strange mechanical doors at each end of the hall.

Dusty Tome shot a nervous grimace back at the following mares as he opened the nearest wooden door. The ponies filed into the room one-by-one, with Twilight just barely having space to squeeze in herself.

There was scarcely any standing space left in the clinic, which was already cramped enough as it was with the array of equipment shoved up against the walls. Along one side a clean steel counter carried a haphazard array of gleaming metal tools, with the cabinets above it hinting at even more. Twilight’s eye, however, was caught by the selection of instruments along the opposite wall, each one decorated with a dizzying array of gauges labeled in a flowing, fine print. Dusty flicked a switch on the largest such instrument with his hoof, causing the pistons on the back to slowly come alive as it vented steam.

“Okay, uh, lay her down there, please.” Dusty pointed to the bed pushed up against the center of the far wall.

“Finally,” Applejack grumbled. She grunted as she rolled Fluttershy onto the bed, straightening up afterwards with a relieved sigh.

Dusty tugged at a thick rubber collar hanging from the device, pulling out some slack. The collar had a hinge on one side, and he opened it with a quick flick before sliding it into place around Fluttershy’s neck. He grabbed a small bellows attached to the device and pumped it a few times, causing the collar to inflate. The needles in the device’s gauges began to bob up and down as the collar tightened around her neck.

Twilight saw her friends shifting about uneasily as Dusty squinted at the gauges. He tapped a hoof against his chin thoughtfully. “That’s… awful strange,” he muttered.

“Well, what is it?” Rainbow Dash asked, flicking her tail.

“Oh, uh…” Dusty straightened up, flicking on another, smaller instrument. “It’s nothing. Nothing at all.” He began to spin a selection of labeled gears on the side, frowning.

Applejack raised a brow. “Nothin’?”

“Whatever do you mean by that, darling?” Rarity asked, cocking her head sweetly.

“It can’t be nothing,” Twilight said, pointing at Fluttershy. “She’s been unconscious for—for hours! Tell us what it is!”

Dusty jumped, his eyes darting about at the verbal assault. “No, I think you misunderstand! She’s perfectly fine!”

“Well, if she’s perfectly fine, then why is she still so sleepy?” Pinkie demanded.

“I-I’m not sure!” Dusty said. Twilight watched with narrowed eyes as he walked over to one of the cabinets and pulled out a dusty hoof-held device. “She appears to be perfectly fine. It really does look like she’s just sleeping!”

Applejack stared at Dusty flatly. “Sleeping?”

Rainbow Dash fluttered her wings irritably. “There’s no way! She wakes up at the slightest thing!”

“Oh, hang on—ah, maybe…” Dusty scratched his chin thoughtfully as he looked down at the device.

“Spit it out!” Rainbow said.

“It seems that your friend is in some kind of…” Dusty trailed off, waving a hoof in the air before continuing. “Well, she’s perfectly fine, nothing wrong with her—physically, at least. It must be a magical affliction of some sort.”

“Magical?” Twilight’s blood ran cold at the word. Oh, no no no no! Is it some kind of a hex? Maybe a jinx or—ahhhhh when was the last time I read about arcane maledictions?! I’m not prepared, I need a library, I need to study—

“There’s no need to panic.” Dusty raised his hooves calmingly. “She’s perfectly safe, just… sleeping, as far as I can tell. If she isn’t waking up, then the problem must be of a magical nature, but it doesn’t seem to have actually harmed her at all.”

Twilight closed her eyes, forcing herself to take a deep breath and calm her racing heart. So she’s fine. She’s okay.

“Okay, so what’s wrong with her then?” Rainbow asked. “You’re a unicorn, shouldn’t you have some spell or something to figure it out?”

Dusty shook his head. “I’m afraid not. I don’t know how things may have been where you came from, but we don’t have much magic here. I’d be surprised if you could even find a doctor capable of treating it.”

Twilight sat back on her haunches, a wave of relief washing over her. She’d been worried that it might have been something else—perhaps internal bleeding, or a concussion—but magic, that was something she understood. Magic was a problem that she was very well familiar with, a problem that she could solve herself. Fluttershy would be fine.

When she opened her eyes it felt as if some great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Even with everything that had happened, this small relief was a sliver of light in the darkness. All was not lost.

Now she just needed to find a library.