• Published 22nd Feb 2016
  • 11,452 Views, 807 Comments

Empty Horizons - Goldenwing

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

  • ...

III: The Mainland

“Ah, this is so exciting!”

Twilight nodded hesitantly at the remark, re-arranging the blank notecards before her yet again. Normally the opportunity to have an extended conversation with a real live pony from the future would’ve filled her to the brim with excitement. Right now, however, the actual circumstances of that future were putting a bit of a damper on her mood.

“So, would it be okay if I went first?” she asked. She was seated at a writing desk in Dusty’s quarters, a thin wooden construction filled out with equally thin metals. The room was just across from the clinic where Fluttershy was resting, and Dusty Tome had brought her here with great haste when she’d mentioned asking some questions. He would have questions too, of course, but Twilight was hopeful that an intellectual discourse would go a long way towards solving the mystery of the future. Or would it be of the past?

“Oh, sure! No problem. I suppose it would make more sense since you are, aheh, our ‘guest,’ I suppose you could say,” Dusty said. He hummed absentmindedly as he shuffled about the small room, searching for something. Twilight wasn’t exactly sure what he was looking for, but she didn’t think he had very high hopes of finding it. Dusty’s quarters were very similar to Twilight’s own home—shortly after Rainbow Dash crashed into it. Books and scrolls in distressing states of disrepair were scattered haphazardly across the floor and bed, and the only organization Twilight saw were the two piles shoved up against one corner. The bookshelf itself was completely devoid of books, instead being stocked with various trinkets that looked as if they’d been found at an archaeological dig. The walls were covered with random scribblings and aged maps, except for one bare spot, the lone porthole placed just above the desk.

Twilight was finding it very difficult to focus in such a setting.

Still, she was prepared. She had her emergency notecards—the ones that Pinkie had convinced her to keep stashed in her mane—and she had prepared a small oasis of order on the desktop. She just had to power through this, stay focused and not let the mess distract her. Eyes forward, Twilight!

She cleared her throat, turning towards Dusty just as he bent down to peek under his bed. The movement drew his jacket upwards, treating Twilight to her first sight of his cuti—

“You’re a blank flank?!” she blurted out.

Twilight slapped her hooves over her mouth, cursing her idiocy.

Dusty jumped, smacking his head against the bedframe as he pulled out from beneath it. He hastily pulled his jacket down with a hoof, ears drooping. “Well yes, of course I am! Everypony is!”

Twilight raised a hoof. “But you’re the only blank flank I’ve seen so far.”

Dusty scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Well, I’m the only non-Gifted on the ship, alright? I don’t know how common they were in your time, but they’re not even one-in-a-hundred today.”

Twilight’s study instincts kicked in. Her horn glowed as her quill began to scratch across her first notecard. “What do you mean by Gifted?

“Well—ah! Found it!” Dusty’s ears perked back up as he peered behind the map pinned above his bed. He reached a hoof behind it and pulled out a notepad and pen. “The Gifted are ponies born with special talents and magic. They’re almost supernaturally good at whatever their talent may be, and as they grow older they begin to manifest different powers based on their race. Y’know, flying, telekinesis, a spell or two, strength and endurance. Around puberty they usually gain these ‘cutie marks,’ as they call them, and that usually shows them the path they’ll tread in life.” He sighed, plopping down onto his bed. “And then they go on to live lives of adventure or riches or what have you, while the rest of us sit and watch.”

Twilight frowned, looking out the porthole. “So only a few ponies have cutie marks?”

“That’s right,” Dusty said. “I saw that you and your friends are Gifted. I admit I didn’t believe it when Sabre transmitted the report for the dive… six living ponies! And Gifted, at that!”

Twilight shook her head in wonder. “In my time, everypony had cutie marks. We didn’t have any special class of ‘Gifted’ ponies.” What could have caused that to start? I’ve never even heard of an adult pony who never got their cutie mark.

“Really?” Now it was Dusty’s turn to start taking notes. He laid the notepad flat on his bed, scribbling excitedly. “So—so all your pegasi could fly? Control the weather? And your unicorns all had spells? Oh! What spells can you do?”

Twilight flinched back from the sudden onslaught of questions. “Uhh, yes to all of those. And I can do, well, pretty much any spell I come across.”

Dusty’s jaw dropped. “What?! Unicorns in your time could cast any spell they wanted? Even our Gifted only have one or two!”

Twilight shied away, looking down to her notecard. “Well, not exactly. Our unicorns only have—uh, had a few spells too, but my talent is magic, so I can cast anything.” She looked back up and offered a little smile. “If I study hard enough.”

“Wow.” Dusty shook his head in disbelief. He fell back onto the bed, letting his notepad drop to the floor and slide under the bookshelf. “Incredible.”

The room fell silent as Dusty continued to stare up at the ceiling. Twilight looked out the porthole and was surprised to see what looked to be an isolated plateau peeking over the horizon.

“Hey, what’s that?” she asked.

“What?” Dusty jolted as if from a trance. He looked up, seeing Twilight’s pointing hoof, and rolled off the bed before ambling over to the porthole. “Oh, that’s Heighton! We’re nearly there.”

Twilight cocked her head, watching as Heighton continued to grow larger. She didn’t recognize the landmass, and even though her memory of the Equestrian map was a little hazy, she was fairly certain that there wasn’t anything taller than Canterhorn Mountain. And yet the Canterhorn was almost entirely submerged, and here was an entire plateau that seemed to rise far above it. She readied her quill. “Tell me about it.”

Dusty reached a hoof under the desk and pulled out a scroll. He pulled the string loose with his teeth before setting the open scroll down on the desk. “Heighton is the largest city-island in the north, with a population a little under thirty thousand. It serves as a trade hub between many of the smaller islands and the baron-islands, and it’s also where our salvage company is based out of. See? Here’s our place.”

Twilight curiously looked down at the scroll. It looked like a map of some kind of archipelago, though the spread of the islands was unlike any she’d seen before. It looked almost like a comet trail, with the largest island on the western edge and a full crescent of gradually smaller islands east of it. Especially strange were the numbers listed next to each island, which looked to be measures of distance ranging anywhere from several hundred meters to a full five kilometers, but she couldn’t discern their meaning. They couldn’t be measures of land mass—they weren’t squared—and they didn’t seem proportional to the diameter of the islands either.

Dusty’s hoof was pointing towards one of the smallest islands, almost all the way to the eastern edge of the map. It was circled in faded red ink, with a small ‘2,810m’ printed next to it.

Twilight looked back up to the porthole, seeing the plateau move out of sight as the ship turned. “Salvage company?”

Dusty’s hoof tapped against the engraving on the top of the desk. “That’s right! Long Salvage Inc. is the greatest deep-dive excavation team in Heighton, and probably the best in the region, too! We go down to the old world where nopony else will go and dig up valuable resources, artifacts, and, uh—well, I guess ponies now, too.”

Twilight ran a hoof over the engraving thoughtfully. That explained why Flint had kept on talking about ‘salvage,’ at least. They’d gone down into Canterlot in the hopes of digging up some relics from the old world. And I suppose they succeeded, didn’t they?

There was something nagging at her, at the back of her mind, but she couldn’t quite grasp it clearly. She stood up, turning to Dusty. “Are there forwards-facing windows on this ship?”

Dusty nodded, pointing towards what Twilight had reasoned to be the front of the ship, opposite the propellers. “Head for the flight room. The rest of the crew is probably in there right now, watching the approach. It’s straight down the hall, the door right in the middle.”

Twilight gave Dusty a brief dip of her head. “Alright, thanks. It was good talking to you, and I hope we get to resume this conversation soon.”

Dusty Tome responded with a wide, sincere smile. “Me too, Twilight.”

With that, Twilight stepped out into the hall. Sunlight streamed in through the portholes which lined the front part of the hall, the rays filtering through the occasional burst of steam from its pipes. She made a quick stop to poke her head into the clinic and was pleased to see Fluttershy still sleeping soundly. She saw Rainbow Dash there as well, awkwardly curled up on the floor as she snored loudly. Her other friends had been content to get some rest in the cargo hold that they’d been stationed in, but Rainbow had refused to leave Fluttershy’s side.

Satisfied, Twilight resumed her journey to the flight room. The hall widened just beyond the stairs from the lower level, ending in another one of the automatic mechanical doors.

The door hissed as it opened, and Twilight stepped through the haze of steam into a wide room dominated by two walls of gauges, wheels, chains, and levers. At the far end of the room was a solid wall of thick, curved glass, giving a clear view of the world before the Argo. Sea Sabre, Flintlock, and Star Trails were scattered lazily about the back of the room, watching the horizon. An aged pegasus mare stood on a raised dais at the front, surrounded by levers and a low wall of gauges.

Trails looked up as Twilight entered. “Oh, you eggheads done already?”

Twilight glanced askance at Trails, but chose to ignore her word choice. Not like I wasn’t used to it. “For now, yes. I came to get a better look at Heighton.”

“Well, there ye go,” Flint said. It was the first time Twilight had gotten a good look at him outside of his armor. He had a straight blonde mane, trimmed not as cleanly as Sea Sabre’s but perhaps an inch closer. He raised the mug in his thick, white-coated hoof and gestured towards the horizon. The sunlight glinted in his hard blue eyes. “Heighton in all its glory.”

Twilight cocked her head as she looked out the window. She frowned, furrowing her brow, and rubbed at her eyes before looking again. That… makes no sense.

Earlier, Heighton had looked like a plateau, and while it was difficult to believe that there was a plateau so much taller than the Canterhorn Twilight had been willing to accept it considering that she had no idea how much time had passed in her absence. But now that they were closer, it looked far more like some kind of upside-down mountain, with a flat surface and craggy purple rocks beneath that grew gradually thinner towards the bottom. She couldn’t see the bottom quite yet, but Twilight was absolutely certain that such a landmass couldn’t possibly be stable. Or even possible at all, for that matter.

Then the bottom finally came into view, and Twilight realized that it wasn’t even touching the water.

“Is that floating?” she asked, her voice rising incredulously. She looked to each of the ponies around her and pointed. “That’s not physically possible. It can’t be floating.”

The mare at the front of the room looked back flatly with her cool blue eyes. “Obviously it can, because it is.”

Twilight’s frown grew even deeper at that. What kind of explanation is that? She trotted down one of the shallow staircases that separated the back half of the room from the lowered front half, getting a better look at the mare. She had a light gray coat, and her silver mane and tail were both tied into sloppy buns, though her cutie mark was hidden behind the thick, brown wool robe she wore.

Twilight came to a stop next to the mare. She took a deep breath. “There’s no way that the island is less dense than the surrounding air, unless possibly if it was hollowed out and filled with helium, but the horsepower required for such a task makes it unfeasible, and even then it might not be enough! And any levitation enchantment that might be cast upon it would require a dozen top-tier magi to channel it non-stop, or a similar upkeep of magical energies, which is frankly—”

She stopped as the mare rose a single hoof. “I don’t care what you think. It’s floating.”

The gears in Twilight’s head began to jam. Obviously she was right—there was no way for an object that size to float—and yet there it was, floating, against all rationality.

She heard Trails cheerfully chip in from the back of the room. “Twilight, meet Sunfeather. She’s our pilot! Sunfeather, this is Twilight. She’s one of the six mares we dug up at the bottom of the ocean.”

Twilight’s mouth flopped about uselessly as several different trains of thought competed for the right to be spoken. After a few seconds the victor emerged. ”But how can it be floating?”

Sunfeather stared at her silently, as if speaking to ponies found in the depths of the ocean from the distant past was not only a regular occurrence, but indeed an annoyingly common one. “No idea,” she said, and slowly turned back to her controls.

What? How can you live on a floating island and not know how it works? Twilight looked desperately to the three other ponies in the room. “Why does it float?”

Flint and Trails exchanged amused glances. Sabre responded with an apologetic shrug. “We don’t know why. The islands have floated for hundreds of years.”

Islands? Plural? It suddenly clicked in Twilight’s head why there were all those distance measurements next to the islands on the map. Altitudes! All of Heighton was built on dozens of islands floating hundreds of meters above the sea, and nopony even knew why.

Twilight closed her eyes, forcing herself through a mental reboot. She filed the question of the floating islands away in the back of her mind, behind the drowning of the world, the destruction of Canterlot, and the loss of the Princesses.

Twilight opened her eyes to see Sea Sabre standing before her. “Could you go and bring your friends here? We’ll be docking soon.”

Since waking up earlier in the day, Twilight had been assaulted with what seemed to be an unending series of implausible, miraculous, and completely impossible sights. She had begun to think that maybe she was getting used to it, and that maybe she was finally ready to take whatever the future might throw at her. Surely nothing could top a gigantic island floating nearly a full kilometer above the surface of an ocean which covered the whole world, she’d thought. Surely things would tone down from there.

Yet as she stood in the dockroom of the Argo, face and hooves alike pressed up against the thick glass of a window, she realized that the future had far more in store for her.

Heighton was truly a city in the sky, more elaborate and awe-inspiring than even Cloudsdale had been on her first visit. The main—and by far the largest—island was covered with a solid mass of stone architecture. Slender white towers dotted the cityscape, connected with a network of bridges and platforms that cast the buildings beneath into shadow. Scattered amongst them were massive square constructs that Twilight reasoned could only be warehouses, especially if the expansive series of docks and piers that jutted out over the edge of the city were any indication. A flotilla of airships surrounded the city, some coming in to dock beneath the tall cranes that unburdened their open decks of the heavy crates stacked upon them, while others cast off their ties and set off to travel in what seemed every possible direction. Even the sides of the island were put to use, covered in a spiderweb of rickety wooden scaffolding and shacks, some of which looked accessible only from tunnels dug into the island itself.

Five other floating islands were directly connected to the mainland by sturdy steel bridges secured to the land around them with thick cabling. They were much smaller compared to the bulk of the mainland, but no less busy. Two were covered in high-rise apartment complexes that reminded Twilight of pictures she’d seen of Manehattan. The other three belched thick clouds of black smoke from the veritable forests of smokestacks that rose from their surface. Noxious waterfalls of murky brown sludge poured from the pipes which jutted forth from their sides.

“Shucks, I’ve never seen anythin’ like it,” Applejack said.

“Neither have I,” Rarity said, turning her nose up at the black stains in the water. “It’s absolutely filthy!”

Rainbow Dash snorted indignantly and crossed her hooves. “Cloudsdale is still cooler.”

Pinkie Pie scuffed a hoof against the floor bitterly. “If it’s still there.”

Rainbow arched a brow. “Of course it is!” she snapped, before adding, “It was already floating. The cloudgineers would’ve just moved it up some.”

Rainbow turned back to the window, shoulders slumping. Twilight frowned as she watched the display. Dusty had told her that most ponies had lost their magic, and without their magic she didn’t think any pegasi would be able to live in Cloudsdale, even if it had survived whatever calamity had befallen the world. She decided against voicing the thought.

Focusing back on the window, Twilight watched as they floated gently towards the mainland of Heighton. A pair of small boats which Twilight took to be tugs—really, nothing more than a deck, an engine, and a balloon—approached them. There was the muffled sound of venting steam, and a pair of thick chains shot forth from the Argo’s hull, one landing on each tug. After a brief scramble from the ponies aboard, the chains were secured, and they began to ease the larger ship through the dizzying cloud of airships which filled the air around Heighton.

A hoof tapped Twilight on the shoulder. She jolted in surprise, turning to see Sabre holding out a folded up uniform. Trails and Flint had also entered the boarding room, though it looked like Sunfeather had stayed behind in the cockpit.

“Put this on,” Sabre said.

Twilight levitated the uniform, holding it up.

“Also, don’t do that,” Sabre added, slapping her horn.

“Hey!” Twilight flinched as the sudden impact broke her concentration. The uniform fell limply into her hooves. “What was that for?”

Sabre shrugged. “I’d rather avoid advertising that I found six Gifted at the bottom of the ocean. If anypony asks, you’re from Skymoor and your business is your own.”

Sabre didn’t wait for a response. She advanced down the line to deliver another uniform to Rarity, leaving Twilight to rub her horn gingerly. The uniform was made of the same plain, gray-green fabric that Sabre wore, though it covered the legs and flank as well as the barrel.

Rarity let out a muffled whimper as she looked the clothes over. “Oh, these are terrible! Do we really have to wear them?”

“Yes,” Sea Sabre said, holding a uniform out for Applejack.

Rarity let out a dramatic sigh as she began to pull the uniform on. “It really is the apocalypse,” she muttered.

With her cutie mark now hidden, Twilight turned to watch as the Argo was tugged into port. The tug crews tied their chains off at the pier, securing the ship to the thick wooden beams, and set off to pull in their next charge.

A deep vibration shook the room as heavy gears audibly sprang into life. An entire wall of the room began to slowly open up, allowing the sounds and smells of Heighton to filter in. Hoofsteps on wood and steel reached Twilight’s ears. A gust of wind blew in, bringing with it heavy smells of smoke and salt, with the scent of dried fruit just barely detectable underneath it. The ramp came to a stop on the dock with a tired shudder, allowing Twilight to see the crowds of ponies hastily milling about. Most wore simple cloth tunics or leggings, their coats marred with black stains. A select few were outfitted in elaborate silk robes and vests, their eyes protected by thick shaded glasses and their manes tucked away beneath wide-brimmed hats decorated with gold and silver. Twilight didn’t see a single cutie mark amongst them.

“Come with us,” Sabre said, speaking up to be heard over the din of the city.

“And keep close,” Flint added.

Twilight didn’t need to be told twice. She’d never been anywhere with so many ponies in such a small space before, and the hasty indifference in their eyes was enough impetus to keep her next to Sea Sabre as they stepped out onto the dock. Flint led the way, breaking a path through the crowd with his girth, as Trails brought up the rear of the group.

Occasionally Twilight would bump into a passerby, calling out with a reflexive apology only to find that the offender had already moved on. The crowd was so thick here on the docks that she could scarcely see more than a few meters ahead of her, and the cloud of smoke cast out by the airships kept her from seeing anything over their heads. She found herself in between Rarity and Pinkie Pie, the fashionista strutting proudly down the path while the party pony ambled forward with her eyes down. With a glance back, Twilight saw Applejack pushing Fluttershy’s gurney, and Rainbow Dash glaring at anypony that dared to come close to her unconscious friend.

Twilight sighed in relief as they finally came out on the other side of the crowd. The wood of the dock gave way to the cobbled stone of the city proper as the ponies and smoke thinned out enough for her to see. The buildings were huddled close together in Heighton, as if trying to fend off the constant breeze that wove through the city and carried the smoke away. She didn’t have any time to look around, however, before Flint began to wave a hoof.

“Taxi!” Flint looked back to the rest of the group, brow furrowing. “I need three taxis!”

Within seconds, a trio of faded yellow, enclosed wagons pulled up to the curb. A stallion waited patiently in front of each.

After a brief meeting the group divvied up into the taxis. Flint and Applejack rode in the middle with Fluttershy, and Trails took Rainbow Dash and Rarity in the front wagon. Twilight found herself in the back with Sabre and Pinkie, who seemed set on looking silently out her window.

“So uh, where are we going?” Twilight asked, gritting her teeth as the wagon passed over a hefty bump.

“To our office,” Sabre said. “It’s where you’ll be staying.”

“Office?” Twilight cocked her head at that. “Dusty told me that you’re some kind of ‘salvage crew.’ What do you do there?”

“Ponies can come there to hire us out, when we’re free. It’s also where they come to buy our salvage.”

Buy our salvage? That’s when it clicked. Twilight’s heart sank as she suddenly realized what had been bothering her before, when Dusty said they were a salvage crew. These ponies had dived into Canterlot, risking their lives for the potential of finding some salvage to sell, and all they had found was her and her friends. They were the salvage.

She could feel her heartbeat speeding up. “Uh…” She gulped, glancing out the open window of the wagon. The other two taxis seemed to have pulled ahead, out of sight. Could she escape, if she needed to? “So are—you wouldn’t—are you going to sell us?”

The corner of Sabre’s lips pulled up into a tiny little smirk. “To be honest, Miss Twilight, I don’t even know, myself. Normally we sell most of what we find, but, well, finding actual living ponies—and from before the world drowned, no less—there’s no precedent.” She looked out her window thoughtfully. “I’ll have to speak to our benefactor about what he’ll want to do with you all. But I wouldn’t worry if I were you. I’d say you were lucky that we found you instead of another crew.”

Twilight smiled nervously, trying to calm her racing heart. “Why’s that?”

“Because our benefactor is more interested in having a priceless relic to show off to his friends than he is in turning a profit,” Sabre said. She turned to look Twilight in the eyes. “And I don’t think it would be exaggeration to say that you and your friends are the most priceless relics we’ve ever dug up.”

Twilight wasn’t sure how to respond to that. She glanced over to Pinkie Pie, but the mare didn’t look like she’d even heard the conversation. Sabre didn’t seem to be waiting for a response, however, so Twilight allowed the wagon to fall into a steady silence, broken only by the clamor of the wheels upon the street.

She spent the rest of the ride looking out the window on her side, letting the sight of Heighton passing by distract her from her worries. The streets were more narrow than in Canterlot, just wide enough for two carriages to pass side-by-side while still leaving room for pedestrians to squeeze through, and thankfully carriages didn’t seem very common. The roads were filled mostly with hoof traffic, the crowds flowing around any passing taxi wagon or cargo-laden cart like a stream around stone. Most of the ponies here wore nothing, leaving their coats open to be stained black by the smoke which wafted through the streets, though Twilight did notice the popularity of bandanas and goggles to protect the face.

The ride was shorter than Twilight had anticipated. It couldn’t have been even an hour when the wagon finally clattered to a stop, and when Twilight climbed down to the street, she was surprised to see that they had already reached the other side of the mainland. She quickly glanced about, surreptitiously searching for a possible escape route. Sabre was busy speaking with the taxi driver, but the street was thinly populated here. It would be too easy to get caught if she ran now.

Perched on the very edge of the island, and indeed a little beyond, were a bar and a gambling hall. Running between the two, on the third story, was an arching, open-topped bridge that gave easy passage to drunks looking to win money and gamblers looking to spend it. It was between these two buildings, crammed into the space underneath the bridge, that Twilight saw the office of Long Salvage Inc. It was a sordid stone construct, its top floor almost completely blackened from years of exposure to smoke, and its bottom a plain, worn grey. The only decoration was the four squat windows that looked out onto the street and the painted wooden letters on the second story. Twilight got the impression that the letters were supposed to spell the name of the company, but between the faded, chipped paint and a pair of missing letters, they instead sadly labeled the building as “Lo–g Sa–vage Inc.”

Twilight frowned. She had expected something more. “Is this it?”

Pinkie Pie sighed. “It makes me want to cry.”

Twilight’s ears flicked at the clattering of their taxi driving away. She glanced back to see Sea Sabre walking up.

“I know it’s not much, but we don’t really use it for much either way,” she said. “C’mon.”

Sabre led Twilight and Pinkie to the door, holding it open with one wing and beckoning them inside with the other. Long metal shelves took up most of the first floor, each one adorned with a selection of ancient, dusty mundanities. On one shelf Twilight saw old quills, cracked cider mugs, rusty pans, and faded picture frames side by side, each set up as if a valuable antique. It looks almost like somepony raided my kitchen to stock this place. Which I suppose they very well could’ve.

Trails looked up from where she sat behind the desk, idly toying with a pencil. “Ah, there you are. Flint is upstairs with the others.”

Sabre responded with a brief nod, leading the way to the back of the store and up the stairs to the second story. Most of the second floor was devoted to a small living space, with a pair of patched sofas flanking a low wooden table. Rainbow Dash and Applejack were seated on one sofa, with Fluttershy laid across the one opposite. Rarity was peering out a window in the back of the room, which looked out over the sea. Flintlock leaned against a corner, watching the ponies sharply.

Rainbow Dash looked up as Twilight entered. “Took you long enough,” she said. “We’ve been waiting here forever.”

Applejack glanced askance to the mare at that. “It ain’t even been five minutes, Rainbow.”

“Five minutes?” Rainbow scoffed. “Might as well be five days!”

Flint rolled his eyes, looking to Sabre. “Alright, so we’ve got ’em all here. What now, Boss?”

“I’ll be going over to Mr. Rich’s place to talk to him,” Sabre said. She looked to each of the other ponies up in turn, stopping on Twilight. “In the meantime, you all will stay here under the watch of Flint and Trails.”

“What?” Rainbow Dash leapt to her hooves, wings flared. “You’re gonna keep us cooped up in here even longer?”

Sea Sabre was already starting down the steps. “Non-negotiable!” she called.

Twilight went down after her, keeping pace. “But Sabre, I need to get to a library! I have to figure out what happened!”

“I’m sorry, Miss Twilight, but nothing you say will prevent me from doing my job.” Sabre looked back briefly as she opened the door. “I’ll be back after a couple days. We’ll talk about your library visit then.”

Sabre stepped outside, using a wing to shut the door behind her before Twilight could say anything else.

“Ugh!” Twilight glanced back and immediately locked eyes with Trails.

Trails grinned. “Yep. I’m watching. How about you back away from that door?”

Twilight narrowed her eyes. She was already at the door, and Trails was all the way across the room. What would happen if she just slipped out right now? Disappeared into the crowd?

A blue glow surrounded Trails’ horn, and a long, slender harpoon floated up from behind the counter. “Go ahead, Twilight. Step outside. It’ll hurt you more than it’ll hurt me.”

Twilight froze, her ears flattening against her head as she eyed the barbed head of the harpoon. It was becoming all too apparent to her that these ponies might not be their rescuers after all. Would she really use that on me? No, no, there’s no need to be worried, Twilight. Sabre said that you’re a priceless artifact! But then what if they make an example of you, for the others? How many prehistoric mares do they really need, anyways? Slowly she pulled herself away from the door, watching as Trails followed her with the harpoon. We’ve got to get out of here before they hurt my friends.

Once she was halfway across the room, Trails gave a content little nod and stashed the harpoon away. Twilight flicked her tail irritably at the smug expression on her face, but said nothing. It wouldn’t do to challenge her now, and Twilight couldn’t entirely blame her for following orders.

Without another word Twilight trudged up the stairs. When she arrived on the second floor she was surprised to see Flint slumped over in his corner, snoring loudly.

What? It’s only been a few minutes and he’s already asleep?

Rainbow Dash was standing just inches away from the sleeping stallion. “Do you think he’s faking it?” she asked.

“Rainbow! Get away from him before he wakes up!” Applejack hissed, climbing off the couch.

“But think about it, AJ,” Rainbow Dash said. She glanced suspiciously at Flint before continuing. “If he’s asleep, we can get out of here.”

“And then what, huh?” Applejack shot back. “We don’t know the first thing about this place!”

Twilight raised a hoof. “Also, Trails is waiting downstairs. With a harpoon.”

Rarity tossed her mane indignantly from her position next to the window. “I don’t know why you’re in such a rush to traipse about in this filthy city anyways, Rainbow. I think we should wait and try to get an audience with that ‘Mr. Rich’ gentlecolt that Sabre was talking about.”

Pinkie Pie, who was lying limply on the couch next to Fluttershy, waved a hoof in lazy circles above herself as she mumbled something under her breath

Rainbow scratched at the floor. “Okay, well why don’t we go ask Trails? Maybe she’ll let us go.”

Twilight frowned as Rainbow brushed past her, down the steps. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said, but Rainbow was already gone.

“Gosh dangit, that mare’s more stubborn than a cat in a rainstorm.” Applejack immediately crossed the room and and started down the steps. Twilight let out a hefty sigh as she followed.

She came out on the first floor to see Rainbow Dash hovering over the counter, her muzzle pushed up in Trails’ face. “C’mon, let us go! We’ve got more important things to do than wait around in here!”

Trails cocked a brow as she stared back coolly. “Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Like—like—ugh, I dunno! Saving the world!” Rainbow Dash looked around, zeroing in on Twilight. “We need to go visit a library!”

Trails nodded with mock sincerity. “Mmm, yeah. Well, I need to keep you here, so that sounds like a personal problem to me. Can’t help you.”

Twilight took a sharp breath as she saw Rainbow Dash draw back, her body coiling like a spring. Applejack jumped up and bit down on her tail just as she tried to pounce, causing the pegasus to slap limply against the countertop and roll onto the floor.

“What the hay, AJ!” Rainbow rubbed the back of her head gingerly.

Applejack stomped a hoof sternly. “Y’all need to calm down, Rainbow! Y’ain’t gettin’ nowhere fast like that.”

Twilight stepped in front of Trails, blocking her sight of the arguing mares as she cleared her throat. “Star Trails, have you ever heard of the Elements of Harmony?”

Trails shrugged. “’Course I have. It’s just some old mare’s tale.” She tried to lean around Twilight and get a better view of the continuing argument.

Twilight mirrored her movement perfectly. “And you know about the six Bearers that wield the Elements against any danger to ponykind?”

Trails froze. Her eyes came up to meet Twilight’s. “Are you saying…”

Twilight gave a curt little nod. “Actually, I am.”

“No way.” Trails shook her head vehemently. “There’s no way. The Elements aren’t real! That’s impossible.”

Twilight couldn’t help but let out a sharp, barking laugh at the word. Impossible? I thought I knew what was impossible when I went to my brother’s wedding, and yet here I am! “Well, digging up six living mares from hundreds of years in the past was impossible too, wasn’t it?”

Trails frowned. She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “It was.”

Twilight smiled sweetly. “Well, as long as you’ve done one impossible thing today, why not make it two and help the Elements of Harmony save the world by showing me a library?”

A silence fell over the room. Even Rainbow Dash and Applejack had ceased their bickering. Twilight could feel their eyes on her back as they watched her and Trails face off.

Trails gave a ponderous nod of her head, leaning back. “Well… I suppose, maybe, I’ll humor you, if only to see where you go with it. But only you, okay?”

“Hey, no fair!”

“Rainbow! C’mon here!”

Twilight let out a relieved sigh, allowing herself some small relaxation as Applejack pulled Rainbow Dash back upstairs. Maybe now I can finally find out what happened. “So, when can we leave?”

“I just need to talk to Flint real quick, pull in some favors.” Trails turned for the stairs. “Make sure he doesn’t fall asleep as soon as I leave… And then I’ll take you to the library myself.”

Twilight sat back on her haunches, a wily smile forming on her face. The library visit would give her an excellent chance to learn more of the city, and perhaps even find some method of escape. And better yet, she’d even get the opportunity to borrow a few books.

“What do you mean, I can’t get a library card?”

The librarian mare very slowly raised a brow. Her head moved at a glacial pace as she eyed the massive pile of books on the desk before her. “I just need your ID, hun.”

“ID? Ughh!” Twilight tossed her hooves up in frustration. “I don’t have an ID!”

The librarian seemed unfazed by the protest. Over the course of several seconds she leaned back in her chair, picking up her magazine. “Look, if you forgot your ID then just go home and bring it here, m’kay? No card without ID, and no rentals without a card.”

“But—what—Trails!” Twilight perked up, looking back as a solution came to her mind. “You have an ID, right? You can borrow them for me!”

Trails laughed nervously as she scratched the back of her neck. “Actually, I kind of have a hold on my account.”

The librarian cleared her throat loudly. “Which will be cleared as soon as Miss Star Trails returns her book or pays the lost fee. It’s been overdue for 789 days.”

Twilight swore she could feel her heart stop. A small part of her died inside as she closed her eyes and took some time to digest what she’d just heard. They opened abruptly, honing in on Trails with a fire so intense that the other unicorn actually took a step backwards. “Over two years? Two years that you haven’t paid for one lost book?”

“I didn’t lose it!” Trails shot back. “It’s just I haven’t—I’m sure it’s right where I left it, I just haven’t gotten around to finding it yet is all.”

“It’s been two years!” Twilight said, throwing a hoof up in disgust. “Just admit you lost it and pay the fee!”

Trails flinched back, shaking her head vehemently as if struck by the suggestion. “Are you crazy? I’m not going to pay them a month’s wages for a book I haven’t even lost!”

“Ugh, fine!” Twilight turned back to the librarian. She leaned all the way over the counter and pulled her magazine down with a hoof. “I don’t have an ID. I’ve never had one.”

Slowly, the librarian arched a brow. “Ahuh. Real funny, miss. No ID, no books.”

Twilight rounded on Star Trails, leveling a hoof on the startled mare. “How do I get an ID?” she demanded.

Trails shrugged helplessly. “Hay if I know! I’ve never met anyone without one!”

“What?! How is that possible?” Twilight began to advance on Trails, pushing the mare up against one of the library’s bookshelves.

“We all get one when we’re born!” Trails said, raising her hooves. “It’s just part of being an Equestrian citizen, alright?”

“Hah!” Twilight raised a hoof and jabbed Trails in the chest. A few books rained down upon her, jostled free from the impact. “So what if I’m not an Equestrian citizen, huh? How do I get an ID then? There must be an immigration office, right?”

“What—immigration?” Trails pushed Twilight back, chuckling. “Where the hay would anypony immigrate from? There’s no land outside of Equestria!”

What? Twilight could feel her brain finally snap.

She slumped down onto the floor, taking some small comfort in the books that had fallen there.


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