• Published 22nd Feb 2016
  • 11,464 Views, 807 Comments

Empty Horizons - Goldenwing



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

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VII: The Hunt

A piercing agony burst into Twilight’s head. She cried out, the book clattering to the floor as her magic was pushed aside by the pain.

Hoo.

The pain intensified, and Twilight dove to the floor in a vain attempt to escape. From one of her eyeholes she was just able to see Owloysius flying—no, standing—a meter above the ground as if on some invisible perch. His eyes flashed black and purple as the dropped book floated off the ground, no sign of a telltale magic aura.

Hoo.

“Augh!” Twilight could barely think. She was vaguely aware of the crackle of static in her helmet, but couldn’t hear anything apart from the shrill piercing echo of the owl’s screeching. He slowly lowered to the ground, looking straight through the glass and into her helmet. She squeezed her eyes shut.

Hoo!

She couldn’t focus. She couldn’t even feel her magic. The corners of her vision began to redden. It was all going to—

The pain stopped.

Twilight blinked the tears away, remaining still on the floor. She couldn’t hear anything over the ringing in her ears, or see past the redness that clogged her sight. Is it over? Am I dead?

Slowly the ringing began to fade, and Twilight became aware of Trails’ voice, shouting as if from a distance.

“Get the buck up, Twilight!” she said. “I’m sure as hay not carrying your chubby flank back to the damn sub!”

The redness began to clear. She could hear herself breathing again, and she could feel the pump of her racing heart. Twilight shook her head, rolling onto her back with a groan. The ringing had been replaced with a heavy roaring, and Twilight almost felt as if she was floating. She flinched as a thick drop of water splattered across one of her eyeholes.

Twilight gasped. “No, no, no!” Her hooves splashed about in the bloody water swirling over the floor as she scrambled off the ground. The drops were falling like rain now, bursting forth from quickly spreading cracks in the walls and the ceiling. There was water everywhere, pouring into the tree through shattered windows and a single large, smoky crack where the door had been. “The seal’s been broken!”

“Yeah, welcome to five minutes ago!” Trails’ voice said. Twilight turned to see the other mare standing next to her, armored hooves spread wide as she scanned the tree. For the first time, Twilight noticed the small veins of hornbane tracing the horn on Trails’ helmet.

“What did you do?” Twilight shouted to be heard over the roar of the water. “The water will ruin everything!”

Trails seemed to flinch away at the question as if struck. “Ah, for bucks sake! Stop yelling over the radio!”

Sea Sabre’s voice chimed in to the exchange. “That wyrd would have killed you, Twilight. We had to clear an entryway.”

“Wyrd?” Twilight cast her gaze around the tree, searching vainly for any sign of Owloysius. Her hoof bumped against something floating in the water, and she looked down to see a book drifting past. Her eyes widened as she saw three more, and as she turned in place she saw dozens, all shaken from their shelves or pulled free by the water flooding in. She gasped, levitating Predictions and Prophecies out of the wetness, but it was too late. It had been soaked through, the binding tearing from being violently tossed about by the waves. Tears clogged her vision as she opened it. Lily Quick’s notes—so carefully hidden in the mare’s final attempt at redemption—were little more than wet tatters. “No!” She crumpled to the ground, sobbing openly. The water had risen high enough to completely submerge her head.

“Uh, Twilight?” Trails said. “Y’know the wyrd is still alive, right?”

“The notes are gone!” Twilight snapped back, pulling her head out of the water. “Everything they worked for is lost! We’ll have to start from scratch!”

“Calm down, sugar cube.” Applejack’s concern was clearly audible over the radio. “We don’t know what y’all found, but ya gotta get outta there soon. It ain’t over yet, but I reckon we’ll be up the creek without a paddle if somethin’ happens to y’all. Did ya find those books ya needed for Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy. A surge of self-revulsion passed over Twilight. She’d gotten so wrapped up in the notes, in the mystery of Equestria and the floods, that she’d nearly forgotten the entire reason she had first came here. She needed to find the right books if she was going to cure Fluttershy of whatever magical ailment had befell her.

Twilight sniffled, standing back up shakily. Even standing, the water was nearly enough to submerge her. Every book in her old library would be waterlogged and ruined within minutes. She didn’t have any time to waste on tears.

“Thank you, Applejack. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

Trails glanced her way. “Hey, how about out right now? Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Twilight ignored her, closing her eyes and focusing her mind. The books. The rushing water, ruined books bumping against her legs, and the distant sound of Flint and Rainbow arguing over the radio all fell away.

With a flash of inspiration, she pieced together the clues she had found already. At first Owloysius had been an eager and helpful assistant to the research team, finding what they needed where they lacked the knowledge to find it themselves. Whatever ‘corruption’ had spread across Equestria, it must have darkened his heart as well. It was hard to say how much of the true Owloysius remained, but he must have held on to her last order to him above all else, even as he was warped into a dangerous beast. “Keep the library neat, Owloysius. I expect everything to be in its place when I return.”

Twilight’s lips twisted into a somber smile. He may have killed the research party—perhaps even doomed Equestria in doing so—but every book left on the shelves was in precisely its proper place.

It was quick work for her to open her eyes and scan the shelves with her practiced librarian’s eye. Maremmano’s Matrix of Magical Maladies and Malignancies, Perplexing Pony Plagues, and Magical Mysteries and Practical Potions were all placed high enough on the shelves that the water hadn’t reached them yet.

Twilight let out a sigh of relief as she reached out with her magic and pulled the books off the shelves. She cast a powerful shield about them, containing the books in a glowing purple shell that would be able to withstand the high pressure of the ocean floor.

“Hoo!”

Twilight was ready this time. She erected a thick magic barrier around her, grunting as it cracked under the powerful impact and threw her off her hooves. Sweat dripped down her forehead as she cast a gyro featherfall mid-air, the spell correcting her spin. She landed hoof-first, skidding a short distance before coming to a stop.

Twilight shook her head, reinforcing her barrier. Maintaining the three spells all at once was enough to drain even her magical reserves swiftly. She’d have to be cautious.

Trails’ pained cry cut through her helmet. The mare was kneeling near the center of the room as if beneath a great weight, Owloysius floating eerily still in front of her. Although Twilight couldn’t see the magic with her naked eye, she was still able to sense the grotesque claw-shaped arcane energy that stemmed from the owl.

“Leave her alone!” Twilight sent a wave of antimage energy towards the duo, fizzling the owl’s arcane grasp. His head snapped to her, eyes wide and framed in bloody tears.

Hoo.

Twilight flinched back at the sudden burst of noise that erupted in her mind. Shrieks of agony and terror and the crunch of bones as flesh was rent from the body. Her shield nearly broke at the sudden loss of concentration, and she barely recovered in time.

The owl spread his wings, and a duo of invisible arcane claws swept forwards to crush her barrier. They didn’t knock her away this time, instead holding her in place and stabbing inwards from every direction. She felt herself being raised up above the churning waters and began to scream as the foreign presence in her head grew louder, overcoming every thought with the echoes of terror and gruesome death.

She shut her eyes tight, struggling to maintain her barrier and her hold on the three books. The shrieks grew louder still, louder than she thought even possible. She could still see his eyes, unnaturally wide and weeping blood. They consumed her every thought.

It stopped.

Twilight’s shield fizzled as she felt herself dropped into the water, the waves buffeting her body around the treehouse. With her last vestiges of strength she held on to the books, protecting them from the ocean’s wrath.

“Twilight, get up,” Trails’ voice said. “Thanks for the distraction, but I’m still not carrying you.”

Blearily, Twilight opened her eyes. She had sunk to the bottom of the treehouse, her three books floating besides her in their bubble of protection. Her helmet light illuminated Trails standing above her and casted the bodies floating on the surface into eerie silhouette.

“Owl… oysius?” Twilight grit her teeth as she climbed to her hooves.

“I took care of the wyrd,” Trails said. She glanced behind her. “That doesn’t mean we can make the trip back at a leisurely stroll, by the way. It will’ve summoned more.”

“What?” Looking around, Twilight saw Owloysius lying still on the floor, the water currents pulling at his feathers. She staggered over to him, feeling the tears come on once more. His eyes had relaxed, no longer stretched into the wide, pained stare. A ragged, bloody hole pierced his breast, leaking swirling red mist into the water.

She heard Trails sigh over the radio. “Alright, Sabre, I guess I’m carrying her after all.”

“Roger that. Ready to surface when you get here.”

“No,” Twilight sobbed. She weakly tried to wipe away the bloody tears on the owl’s face, but they had been stained into his feathers long ago. “Why is this happening?”

“Hard to say,” Trails quipped. The mare pulled Twilight off of the owl, ignoring her weak resistance. “C’mon, we need to go.”

“But—”

“No buts, alright?” Trails stomped a hoof on the floor, though the effect was dampened by the water. “I don’t know what that thing is to you, but if we’re not out of here in a few minutes then we’re going to be in a very tight spot, and that whole thing with a dragon popping up out of nowhere and bailing us out has only happened once so far. So do you want those books or not?”

She was right, of course. Twilight was just putting the group in more danger. There was nothing she could do for Owloysius. He’d been lost hundreds of years ago. Like almost everyone else.

And what of the research party? Mares and stallions that had made the salvation of Equestria their personal mission and lost their lives in the process. What was their reward? To be left forgotten and unnoticed at the bottom of the ocean, until salvagers came by to strip them of whatever value they had?

Twilight wished that she could wipe the tears out of her eyes, but the helmet made it impossible to do by hoof and she didn’t want to risk anymore magic. She reluctantly pulled herself away from the owl’s limp body, and the current began to push him away. Trails led the way out of the library.

Twilight looked back to her old home one last time. The bodies—now filled with water—had begun to drift back down to the floor.

I’m so sorry.


“Pinkie Pie?” Rarity poked her head into Pinkie’s suite. Nothing here. She crossed the common room and peered into Fluttershy’s chambers. “Hello?” The yellow mare was sleeping soundly on her bed as usual, but Pinkie was nowhere to be seen.

“Where did that mare go off to?” Rarity pouted thoughtfully as she stepped out into the hall. She’d been hoping to invite Pinkie to join her for a walk around Heighton.

With a very unladylike shrug, she headed towards the stairs to the surface. She was far more modestly dressed today, wearing a long-sleeved, ruffled purple blouse and a cyan wool scarf, along with her saddlebags and sunhat, of course. She would hate to burn.

On a whim she asked an aid for directions to the pantry, stuffing her saddlebags with granola bars and trail mix. Mr. Rich had given her and her friends each a hefty sum of bits, and he’d assured them that even simply dropping his name and a promise of future compensation was enough for nearly every restaurant or store in the city, but Rarity didn’t want to waste any time dining out. As marvelous as they may be, the restaurateurs would have to wait today.

As she neared the stairs, Rarity heard the distinctive high-pitched giggling of Pinkie Pie echoing through the halls. There she is! She followed the sound, pausing at intersections to listen with ears twitching to pick out the correct direction. It must have taken her nearly half an hour to finally arrive at a wide mezzanine, railed in with engraved wood. A hefty chandelier hung over the center of the room, decorated with a few multicoloured streamers hanging limply from its arms. Rarity stepped up to the railing, her lips curling into a warm smile as she looked over the edge.

The room below was dominated by a squat, wide square platform divided into tiles of brass and platinum, eight to each edge. Scattered haphazardly across the platform was a life-sized set of magnificently detailed marble chess pieces, each piece highlighted with either ruby or sapphire accents. The two princess pieces in particular were priceless works of art in their own rights, each one wearing royal barding of pure gold or silver, and their manes dotted with sparkling diamonds.

Pinkie Pie herself was sprawled over the half-eaten and mostly-crushed remains of a tastelessly pink cake near the far end of the board. A sapphire pawn seemed to have made it across to the opposing side of the board, his stony attention marred by bucketloads of colorful confetti. Several other pieces were gathered about in a rough curve, their faces covered by cartoony crayon scrawlings of smiles and cheering mouths. Crazy Rich was straddling one of the knights, raising a glass of cider high into the air like a lance as he cheered. Hanging over the board, tied to the mezzanine railing, was a banner reading. “Happy board-crossing, Pawny!”

With a quiet giggle of her own, Rarity turned away. It was possible that Mr. Rich was only pretending, but she didn’t think he really had much to gain from doing so. Perhaps the eccentric stallion truly had taken a liking to the party pony. Either way, it was good to see Pinkie returning more to her old self. Rarity would give her some space today.

It was nearly noon by the time Rarity came out into the gardens. She couldn’t help but stop to appreciate them for a few minutes, but didn’t linger long. She already knew about the rich. She wanted to learn about everypony else.

Mr. Rich kept a small fleet of air taxis tied off on his personal docks, so it was no trouble at all for Rarity to find an idle taxi and step aboard.

The pilot gave a courteous bow at her arrival. “My lady Rarity?”

A very unladylike grin crossed Rarity’s face at the title, and she dipped her head in return. “Might I ask your name, pilot?”

“Open Sails, my lady.”

“Well, then, Mr. Sails.” Rarity levitated out a dozen bits, holding them out on a hoof. “Would you mind granting me passage to the mainland?”

Sails’ eyes darted up at the jingle of the coins, then back down. “The bits are unnecessary, my lady. As a Countess and Mr. Rich’s guest, it would be my pleasure to do so.”

“Pfft, nonsense!” Rarity scoffed, grabbing the earth pony’s hoof in her own and forcing the bits into it. “Please, take them. Ah ah ah!” She raised a hoof, cutting off his protests. “I won’t take no for an answer! Now then, shall we?”

Reluctantly, Sails straightened up and slipped the bits into a pair of saddlebags sitting next to the wheel. “Very well, my lady. Please, make yourself comfortable.”

Rarity nodded, walking towards the front of the boat and settling down before the prow. Open Sails hummed tunelessly as he cast off the ropes holding the boat, slipped out of the docks, and guided it breezily westwards.

The journey was pleasant, and now that Rarity had had the time and tools to make herself look and feel proper, she was far more capable of enjoying it compared to previously. The breeze toyed with Rarity’s mane just enough for her to pretend she was aboard a cruise line in a romance novel, but not so much that it would muss up her appearance. Open Sails did a fine job of weaving around the columns of smoke as well, giving them a much wider berth than Sunfeather had done during the initial ride to Rich’s island.

It didn’t take long for the mainland to begin looming before her, and Rarity looked curiously to the five smaller islands which floated besides it, bound loosely together with thick steel bridges and cords of chain.

She glanced over to the pilot, who was standing with one lazy hoof on the wheel. “Mr. Sails? Could I ask you a question, darling?”

Sails started, straightening up before bowing his head as deeply as he could while still holding onto the wheel. “Yes, Countess?”

Rarity pointed a hoof. “Tell me about those five islands, there.”

The pilot nodded. “Those are The Fifths, my lady. It’s where many of the factories have their laborers to live.”

Rarity cocked her head. “Have?”

“Yes, my lady. Many factories pay their workers more in services than bits. In exchange for labor, the workers are granted a home, meal stamps for the company scullery, and a small stipend for anything else they might need.”

Rarity hummed appreciatively. “Oh, isn't that nice?” Beyond the horrid filth, Heighton has been pleasant enough so far.

At last, the boat floated up to a lonely trio of empty piers. Open Sails grabbed a rope in his teeth, tossing it across the gap for the one dock worker there. After a few quick tugs they tied the boat off. Sails stepped off first, extending a hoof to help Rarity down.

She took it graciously, pleased with the display of chivalry. “Would you be able to wait for me here, Mr. Sails?”

He bowed deeper. “Certainly, my lady. When shall I expect you back?”

She glanced up to the sun, gauging the time. “I can’t say for sure, dear, but I do intend to sleep at Rich’s estate tonight.”

“Very well, Lady Rarity. I shall await your return.”

Rarity smiled, trotting up the pier. It was attached to a narrow cobbled walkway just barely wide enough for three ponies to walk besides each other, shadowed by a pair of wooden buildings. Coming out on the other side of the alley, she raised a hoof to wave down a passing taxi. “Excuse me! Taxi!”

This taxi wasn’t quite as elaborate as the one she had ridden in just a few days ago. It had only two wheels and was open to the air, with only a flimsy wooden lattice to distinguish it from a plain cart and protect any passengers from the elements. If it wasn’t for the word “Taxi” painted black on the yellow sides, she may not have even thought it a taxi at all. Either way, Rarity was here to learn how the common ponies lived, and so when the tired pegasus mare secured to the yoke glanced behind herself uncertainly, Rarity waved towards her reassuringly.

“Yes, you!” she said. “Over here, please!”

The mare came to a stop before her, seeming confused. “Y’meant me, my lady?”

My lady? As much as Rarity was enjoying her assumed nobility so far, the ball had been just yesterday. Surely word of her appearance and new station hadn’t become common knowledge already? Did the commoners here even care about that sort of thing? She knew that the average Equestrian during her time could scarcely name anyone beyond the highest princes in Canterlot, if that, and would be unlikely to recognize a freshly minted countess a day after her introduction.

Then she realized that it wasn’t her identity that had prompted the title, but her appearance. The taxi mare was wearing nothing beyond a raggedy wool scarf, brown cloak, and a pair of goggles, all of which had been stained black with smoke and soot. Rarity could barely even pick out her green coloration beneath the clothes and the blackness stained into her coat. By contrast, Rarity was well-dressed and clean, and she stood and spoke with the stature of a lady of class. The taxi mare didn’t need to know who she was specifically to figure out that the title was appropriate.

“Of course I meant you,” Rarity said, smiling. “Why wouldn’t I?”

The mare cocked her head. “Well, it’s just… y’don’t look much like my usual customers.”

Rarity waved a hoof dismissively. “Oh, please, darling. How much would it cost to take me to The Fifths?”

Even through the smears on the mare’s goggles, Rarity could see her eyes skew skeptically. “I think I must of misheard you. You say The Fifths, my lady?”

Rarity nodded. “Indeed I did.”

“Well, uh…” The mare glanced down the street. Rarity followed her gaze and saw the base of one of the sturdy bridges connecting the mainland to the surrounding five islands, just a couple blocks away. “Two bits?”

Rarity hummed thoughtfully. “Well, what if we took the scenic route? Around the mainland first?” She levitated out a jingling bag. “Would fifty bits be adequate?”

The mare’s jaw dropped open for a few seconds before she recovered, straightening her slouch into a rigid attention. “Uh, yeah! I mean—yes, my lady! S’more than enough!” She reached out with a wing and snatched the bag up, stashing it into a satchel she had hanging at her side. “Anywhere in particular you were wanting t’see?”

Rarity’s smile grew as she climbed into the taxi, only slightly wincing when she settled down onto the hard wooden seat. “Just show me everything, dear. I’m not quite from around here, and was hoping to see as much of the city as I could.”

“Yes, my lady!” the taxi mare said, already pulling back onto the street. “Scenic route it is!”

Rarity allowed herself to relax, leaning back into the—well, no. She tried to relax. She couldn’t help but shuffle about the seat in vain as she tried to find a position that didn’t send every bump and pothole in the road straight to her spine. The cheap wheels clattered loudly in her ears, nearly drowning out everything else with their racket. Within ten minutes Rarity had come to regret her decision as her ears, back, and flank all began to protest violently. This was nothing like the cushioned, enclosed wagon she’d ridden in before!

Alas, it was too late. A lady might complain, but she certainly didn’t whine, and Rarity was determined to experience the plight of the common pony. She grit her teeth and steeled herself for a long journey.


Gliding lazily across the sky, Gava’s beak twisted into a predatory grin. Her eagle eyes picked out a group of chickens scratching through the sparsely wooded field below. They were watching her warily, making their way towards tree cover. She chuckled softly. As if that would make a difference.

She folded her wings, allowing gravity to pull her into a dive. The chickens scattered, squawking their panic and leaping for cover.

Gava opened her wings, leveling out just a few meters above the grass. The undergrowth wasn’t nearly thick enough to offer any protection, and in an instant she was upon them. She killed three, spearing them on her sharp talons, but left the rest alive. They would be for another day.

She took a few quick bites to sate her hunger, one from each bird. A shiver of satisfaction passed through her at the hot blood streaming down her dark blue feathers. Meat tasted better cooked, of course, but her father had taught her that the hunt wasn’t over until a huntress tasted her prey. Blood was the taste of success.

Gathering her catch into a satchel hanging beneath her wing, Gava pumped her wings and took flight. She climbed to a comfortable gliding altitude, scanning the horizon. Like many of the baronlands she had visited in Equestria, Tradewithers was mostly a collection of manors and keeps surrounded by sleepy villages and farms. Although they were almost entirely useless when it came to repairing an airship or finding jobs, they did have the advantage of rural land to hunt in. It only took a few dozen bits to obtain hunting rights from a local lord, and Gava relished the opportunities to stretch her wings and catch things she could eat. She saw a few farmers ushering their chickens inside. There was a part of her that was irritated by the shouts, the pitchforks, and the rocks, but truthfully she found the resistance only made her hunts more interesting.

Tradewithers wasn’t the average baronland, however. It was one of a very small number of baronlands which was also home to a free city. It was rare that landed nobles ever allowed settlements to sprout up without “supervision,” and the creative approach that they often took to concepts like “land ownership” and “individual freedoms” resulted in a suspicious tension between the two sides of the island. Most importantly for her, it meant that she had a place to dock her ship without fear of some headstrong noble getting ideas on having his own pet griffon, while still having land nearby suitable for hunting. She could survive without hunting, yes, but it was frustratingly difficult to find anything but berries and fruit in pony towns. She liked to dock here between jobs and chase some food that would at least try to run away.

The high stone wall of Tradewithers City came into view, cresting the string of low hills that framed the city borders. Gava began to drift steadily lower, making sure to pass over the gatehouse and circle it until the pair of guards stationed there gave her a nervous wave. She couldn’t help but grin at the way they shifted about, as if they thought she might drop out of the sky and eat them on a whim. It was a whim she’d had before, but she didn’t want to risk ruining her relationship with the local guards.

Despite the name, Tradewithers City was more of a big village than an actual city like the towering metropoli that covered more developed islands. The streets were unpaved dirt, the buildings mostly stone with thatch roofs, and the dock was a quiet collection of mostly idle piers. The one thing that Tradewithers had on other free settlements was that it had a fully garrisoned stone wall, complete with a trio of stocky towers spread along its length. She had heard many stories in the local taverns about the city’s founding, an event that had been so mixed up and embellished over the years that the only commonality was a popular revolt and a war of independence that technically never ended.

Within minutes she was circling over her ship, gradually bleeding altitude. The Roc’s Screech was distinct from the other vessels at dock, designed with the sweeping lines and open-air architecture that her father had claimed to be the hallmarks of griffon airship theory.

The ship had three sleek, elliptical levels, with a fully open deck on top and deep balconies ringing central rooms on the lower two. A powerful propeller engine set into the rear provided thrust, and small balloons distributed throughout the ship gave lift. A pair of curved masts angled out from the front of the ship like dorsal and ventral fins, each with four sails that could be turned to best catch the wind and provide a powerful burst of speed.

There was a pony standing out on the deck waiting, a mare with a dark black coat, leathery wings, and tufted ears marking her as a thestral.

The mare grinned as Gava landed, showing her sharp teeth. “Hey there, sister. Enjoy your hunt?”

Gava nodded, slinging her satchel off and holding it out. “It’s always nice to stretch my wings, Ana. Are we ready to go?”

Ana opened the satchel, peeking inside. “Oh, great,” she sighed. “More chicken.”

“Ponies don’t keep many animals they’re willing to part with,” Gava said, walking past the other mare and towards the door that led below deck. “Chickens are all they offered.”

“Maybe you should stop asking,” Ana said, turning to follow. “Dog is quite tasty, y’know.”

“It’s hard enough making friends as is, Anatami,” Gava said. “Half of the guards already have nightmares about us. I’d rather not turn them into reality.” She opened the door and started down the steps.

Ana shrugged, closing the door behind her. “Well, you don’t have to let them see us. Topgallant heard some interesting news while he was out on the town this week.”

“That so?”

They came out onto the common room, a combination kitchen and lounge centered around a long wooden table. A pair of earth ponies were seated there, passing a bottle between themselves.

The first, a lithe red stallion wearing a worn duster, wrinkled his nose as he looked up. “Horseapples, Boss! At least clean the blood off your feathers before you come back to civilization.”

Ana snorted, sticking out her forked tongue and hissing playfully. “What’s wrong, Drift Eye? Not used to us yet?”

Gava ignored the exchange, instead taking a place at the table next to the other stallion. He was thin as well, although his cool blue coat didn’t have the same muscular sheen. “Ana said you had something for me?”

The stallion—Topgallant—gave a few little nods. “That’s right. Y’know that Crazy Rich guy? That rich maniac out in Heighton?”

Gava nodded. “I’ve heard a few things.”

“Well he’s made another big reveal,” Top said. “Says he sent his salvage crew down to Old Canterlot and came back with a bunch of Gifted. Dug ‘em up out of some ruins or something. Six of ‘em! Stronger than anypony alive.”

Gava chuckled, rolling her eyes. “You should know better than that, Top. That old sire makes up half of the shit he shows there and embellishes the rest.”

“This is different,” Top said. “The rumors… they’re all consistent. The stories are too similar for it to be all made up. They all talk about a unicorn mare powerful enough to strip the clothes off every noble in a ballroom at once, and they say she was levitating books at the Heighton library and talking as if she could cast any spell there is.” He tapped a hoof against the table thoughtfully. “This isn’t like the usual stories. There’s something here, I’m sure of it.”

“Hrm.” Gava cocked her head, looking to Ana. “What do you think?”

Ana grinned. “I think that there’s a dozen hungry corporations and twice as many scheming lords that would pay a pretty penny to get their hooves on ponies like that.”

Drift Eye cleared his throat, raising a hoof. “If it’s true, the bounties will be out within a few days anyways. What’s the rush?”

“The rush is that open bounties are an absolute clusterfuck,” Ana said. “There’ll be other teams competing with us everywhere we go. If we’re gonna do this, then we need the head start.”

Gava shrugged, standing up and taking a few steps away from the table. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt to look into it. Worst thing that happens is we waste some time and end up in a big city full of good work. If we’re lucky, then we might just be rich enough to retire. I think I’ll take those odds.”

She turned back to her crew, her break twisting into a predatory grin. “Top, set course for Heighton.”

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