• Published 8th Jan 2017
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The Lunar Chalice - Spirals95

A magical chalice prized to Princess Luna has resurfaced in the collection of a wealthy Griffon family. To retrieve the enchanted cup, she sends one of her followers and his friends. But some of Equestria's enemies have plans for the chalice.

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Chapter 3 - The Train Incident

Chapter 3

Canterlot's train station was a place bustling with activity, massive sets of tracks set beneath concrete platforms, with brass arches over them, running up the walls to a fancy glass dome roof. Ponies shoved past each other in the congested station, arguing as the conductors of the titanic steam engines in the stations pushed back to try and maintain order. These were commuters trying to leave Canterlot after a long day at work, and as usual impatience and fatigue from the grind was getting the better of the crowd.

Despite the noise, Techorse and his friends were seated a bit more comfortably on the other major platform opposite of the commotion. They sat on a pink painted metal bench behind their engine and train. Flaming Ivory took notice of the fact that their platform was relatively empty save for their own conductor and a few others loading cargo onto some of the boxcars on the train.

“Ha, look at those fellas pushing around over there,” he said, pointing at the crowd with a hoof, “makes a guy thankful he's a musician and not an office drone.”

“Be nice Flaming,” criticized Shadow Breeze, “they've had a rough day.”

Flaming Ivory noticed the piece of jewelry hanging around his pegasus friend's neck, and continued, “Yeah, I guess. But what time is it anyways?”

Shadow Breeze didn't bother to look at the overhead clock, and instead focused on the amulet around his neck. The diamond-shaped red ruby gemstone, encased in gold like the chain that kept it around his neck, glowed slightly as a thick ray of shadow extended from the gemstone and onto the floor, where it displayed a clock face.

“It's about four,” he muttered, looking at the hour hand displayed on the face of the clock before the shadows receded into the jewel.

The shadow amulet was an artifact he had found one evening while exploring a cave the first time he left Cloudsdale to pursue a career in diplomacy, against his parents' will to some extent. The pegasus hadn't thought much of it at first, but it was capable of producing shadowy energy at will, but it was controllable by almost anyone who borrowed it. He was told by an expert artificer that it was a shadow puppetry toy and nothing else. He'd believe it if it didn't occasionally make the shadows explode...

“So we've got fifteen minutes then before this old piece of junk takes us to Stargazer's Peak?” asked the pianist, interrupting Shadow's thoughts as he glanced back at the train.

It was a massive beast, a large freight steam engine far different from the one that went through Ponyville, black in color with eight mighty wheels painted white coupled together to the pistons at the front that dragged the strong engine forward. The boiler making up the bulk of the machine was at rest, although thin wisps of steam escaped from the wide smokestack on top of the engine. Behind it was a mixed train, with three red-painted passenger cars at the front, and a line of boxcars to carry cargo.

“It's not a piece of junk, Flaming, it's a freight train,” said Techorse indignantly, “there's only a few passenger cars because only a few ponies visit the mountain town we're going to.”

“Yeah but it's an overnight, I was kind of hoping for an actual bed,” sighed the unicorn, “we're going to lose a lot of sleep.”

“We get there early enough in the morning that we can just sleep at the hotel Princess Luna got us a few rooms for,” responded Shadow Breeze, “it'll be late, but we'll be fine.”

“Speaking of late, where's Midnight at, the train leaves in fifteen minutes and they're going to be boarding us soon,” worried Techorse, looking to see if his friend was somewhere in the crowd.

Midnight pushed his way past the horde of workers trying to board their afternoon ride home, his ticket having already gotten him this far into the train station. He knew the departure time was in minutes, and he'd have to hurry. It took him shoving a little bit, as he was trying to avoid using magic indoors, and found his friends on the opposite side of the platform, which he crossed carefully to their side via an overpass bridge laid in an arc over the track. The three other stallions looked up at their friend, their faces lighting up from them knowing he'd made it. But before he could actually make it to his friends, Midnight paused as that nagging voice came back.

Are these your friends? I can't wait to be introduced to them.

Techorse frowned when he saw Midnight stop and look around for the source of the voice. He hadn't heard it himself, and was worried something was troubling his friend.

“Midnight, we've got to get on board,” he called out, “come on!”

Midnight thought he was going nuts as he couldn't find the obvious stalker, and trotted up to Techorse and company.

“Finally,” declared Flaming Ivory bluntly, “let's get going!”

“S... sure,” stammered Midnight, looking around again, “sorry I was late, guys.”

“No problem,” answered Techorse, “is something wrong? You seem a bit worried.”

The blue unicorn was tempted to tell Techorse he felt like he was being watched, but he decided to lie for the sake of time, “Well, no, just something with family. Let's get on the train, I'll talk about it later Tech. Right now I want to get to know your other friends, I haven't met them before!”

“Well, you'll have plenty of time on this trip!” said Shadow Breeze, “My name's Shadow Breeze, and the short fused one is Flaming Ivory.”

“Hey, I'm not short fused, I'm just easily bored,” snapped Flaming.

“See?” snickered Shadow.

Midnight smiled, knowing he was going to like Techorse's other friends, but as the ponies went to the conductor to board the first passenger car, the voice whispered again in his ear, making him cringe.

Don't let them know about me just yet. We need this to be a surprise.

After that, the specter seemed to leave again, and Midnight didn't hear a word while the ponies got settled into their own passenger car. The other passengers had filled the previous two cars, leaving them by themselves in the final one as per the Princess's instructions to the railroad. Luna had demanded they treated her team as well as they would treat her, and so, the four ponies were seated down in front of a large window on the left of the train car, a rounded red cushioned sofa and granite table in front of them. The other passenger cars had these rounded seats as well that put a group of four together, they were luxury cars meant to make the overnight journey a little bit more bearable, with room to sprawl and relax, and the table to play a game or eat a meal on. A fancy blue carpet ran the length of the car in the middle, and a small lavatory sat on the far front right of the car, and the ceiling was decorated with white painted floral patterns, a red cord hanging from one of the decorations.

Techorse took his seat next to Flaming Ivory in the back of the couch, with Midnight and Shadow sitting at the sides. The whistle of the train sounded soon after, and the engine began to chuff as the boilers were ignited and steam was pushed through the pistons, turning the wheels. With a sense of great power about it, the steam engine started from the station, pulling its heavy cargo behind it dutifully as its boiler came to full heat. Once the train had made a safe distance from the station, a switch track up ahead directed the engine away from Canterlot, and the engine traveled past a control tower and interesting array of signal lights before heading out on the lone track for Griffon territory.

About a half hour into the journey, the team was already beginning to show signs of boredom, having caught up fairly quickly. Flaming Ivory knew he was in for a long ride, so he opened up his carry on bags and took out with his magic a fancy magazine, purple on the front with a picture of a mare playing a keyboard on the front, titled Notehounds. He flipped through the pages of the issue, with its large obnoxious font on front, and came to a very interesting section.

The unicorn whistled, and then promptly chuckled to his buddies, “Hey guys, check this out.”

Once the other three stallions had bunched up around him, Flaming Ivory smirked and flicked open the centerfold of his magazine, getting a reaction of surprise from his friends.

“Woah!” exclaimed Techorse, shock in his eyes.

“Oh my...” whimpered Shadow Breeze as Midnight gritted his teeth.

“Heh, thought you guys would like it. Check out the knobs on her,” said Flaming, poking a hoof into the spread pages.

It was a picture of the latest model of electronic keyboards produced by Flaming's favorite company, so long it spanned the centerfold's length of three pages, with all sorts of buttons and knobs to control how the music it produced sounded, its echo, and all of the other modern options available. It was propped up on a heavy tripod, meant to be played on a stage.

“This is the OmniChord 30-Z,” explained Flaming Ivory, “the biggest electronic keyboard in Equestria, with the most options and the best sound quality. Will never be able to actually afford one, but I thought you guys ought to see, especially Techorse, since it's a cool gadget, in a way.”

“Yeah, that is a really neat keyboard, but how are you supposed to play that?” asked Techorse curiously, “With all those buttons I wouldn't be shocked if the thing also made coffee and did your laundry!”

“Oh it's easy enough, just gotta get used to all the extra options, but boy do these sound good when you plug them into a decent amplifier,” answered the musician, “of course, nothing beats the string piano, but I would love to get my hooves on one of these monsters!”

“Especially if it actually did make coffee too,” joked Shadow.

“That's silly, who'd invent that?” asked Flaming.

Techorse laughed, “Please don't tempt me!”

A soft “ahem” from beyond the magazine made the stallions stop, and they looked around it to see a stewardess in front of them, an earth pony with a blue hat and dress waiting patiently for them to look up. She had a blank, disbelieving expression on her face, to her they could have been looking at anything in that spread out magazine.

“Oh um, sorry,” said Flaming Ivory, collapsing the centerfold as his cheeks went red.

Notehounds huh?” she asked, her throat dry.

Flaming Ivory choked up, “Yeah, I uh... read it for the articles.”

“Mhm,” she answered in disbelief, “well, anyways, Princess Luna wanted us to give you some drinks to make it through the night. Would you all like a nice cup of lemon tea?”

“Yes please!” answered Shadow Breeze eagerly.

The stewardess passed out a nice set of white teacups, and left the stallions with a kettle of boiling water and a box of lemon teabags to get started with. She poured them each their first cup, and then, after giving Flaming Ivory one last look of contempt, pushed the drink trolley out into the back of the passenger car and into the connecting bridge between the cars to go serve the other guests.

“What was that about?” asked Techorse, waiting for his tea to steep.

“Well, Notehounds is kinda more for rockstar ponies,” explained Flaming Ivory, “I'm a jazz guy, but ponies from Canterlot don't like seeing rock music instruments, never mind hearing them.”

“Is this like that thing where if you play a rock song backwards it's supposed to sound like Tartarus or something?” asked Shadow Breeze awkwardly.

“Yeah...” answered Flaming, nodding slowly, “I've never been able to get a gig in Canterlot because of that. Makes it hard to be a good musician if you can't.”

“Don't worry, something will turn up,” assured the pegasus, smiling.

Nighttime had fallen over the train, now out in the plains in front of the mountains, smoke and steam sent into the air as it moved along, the moonlight shining down on it. In the engine's control room, exposed to the chill of the night, the four engineers controlling the machine continued to feed the beast coal and keep the speed regulator set properly. The four earth ponies, dressed in their striped shirts and overalls, could sense some kind of a disturbance. Some kind of noise other than the engine was coming from above the train, and they looked about in the darkness for it.

“Did you hear something?” one of them asked.

“Yeah, of course, could be anything, probably just some birds...” answered one of his companions.

Without another sentence, one of the engineers spotted something and let out a terrified scream, but a figure had sounded the whistle on the train, muffling the panic. Just as they had come, they left, and the train's situation had been radically altered.

“That waitress hasn't come back yet,” said a sleepy Flaming Ivory, his head firmly planted on the table in front of him, “we're gonna need more caffeine if we want to survive this.

“Well, the car they use to store everything's just in front of ours, right behind the coal bunker,” suggested Techorse, “we could always walk up and ask, if the door's not locked.”

“I'm not going out there!” whined Shadow Breeze, hating the idea, “We might fall off.”

“Shadow, there's guard rails for a reason, we'll be fine,” assured Techorse, “let's go on up.”

The four got up from the table and headed to the front of the car, a latch in front of the glass door that led to the outside world. Techorse's battle saddle's side ports opened up, and the pair of robotic arm manipulators he used to grab things extended out, the thin metal hands reaching for the latch. Soon he opened it, and the machinery retracted back into the saddle with a whirring noise as the doors on it closed.

“It's going to be chilly out there,” said Shadow again, still not convinced he should be going outside.

Flaming Ivory rolled his eyes, “Don't be a weenie. Think of the free drinks.”

Outvoted and feeling like no one was listening to him, Shadow's ears sunk back as the other three ponies stepped out into the night. The metal bridge that connected the cars had a convenient set of rails to prevent accidents, and the three ponies crossed it single file, shortly followed by Shadow. Techorse undid the latch on the car ahead, and opened the door slowly. It was pitch black inside, much to his surprise, but he helped his friends to get in before fumbling for a light switch and turning it on.

When the car illuminated, Shadow Breeze screamed. All four of the engineers and the stewardess were unconscious on the floor of the car, with kitchen equipment scattered everywhere.

“Holy crap!” exclaimed Flaming Ivory, his fluffy hair standing on end, “Are they...?”

Midnight Blaze's mouth hung open in fear, but he slowly approached the stewardess and held a hoof to her muzzle.

“She's still breathing!” he said with relief.

“So are the engineers,” continued Techorse, nodding as he checked the vitals of the other four crew members, “and they don't seem to be hurt. Think they got sprayed with some kind of sleeping chemical.”

Midnight Blaze inspected the stewardess closer, and noticed a smell of turpentine on her breath.

“Our waitress's breath smells like concentrated sleeping potion, guys, I think they were held down and forced to drink some.”

“Hey, guys,” whispered Shadow Breeze, his eyes widening at a sudden thought, “You know what this means don't you?”

“Yeah?” asked Flaming Ivory, “Guess we're not getting those drinks, huh?”

“No... if the engineers are here...”

Techorse's heart skipped a beat, “Oh no... we gotta get up there quickly!”

The four ponies left the knocked out ponies behind in the car, nearly bashing down the front door. Before them was the tall coal bunker, with another safety rail around the edges. Shadow Breeze worked up the courage to fly over, but the others had to go around since the coal couldn't be climbed on. They noticed there was no connector between the coal bunker and the engine, but it was a narrow gap, and the three others jumped into the control room of the train.

It was a bulky wall of complex metal parts, valves, and levers running all over the place, with a massive glowing cavern in the center where coal was fed into the firebox to feed the engine. Steam pressure gauges and a water level meter dominated the left side of the console, whereas the actual controls were on the right, mostly regulator levers to control speed.

“Oh man, how do we drive this thing?” cried Flaming Ivory, looking over all the valves and controls, “There's so much I don't know about trains...”

“Techorse, do you know how steam technology works?” asked Midnight Blaze hopefully, “Because steam engines are bit out of my jurisdiction.”

“Sure I know how a steam engine works, but driving a train isn't the same thing,” he said, gritting his teeth, “but all we have to do is stop it and wait for the engineers to wake up.”

“Great, except the brake's been broken off,” said Midnight, pointing with a hoof at a place on the floor of the room.

The base of the lever remained, but the handle where the brake was supposed to be was snapped off, a wooden fragment was all that was left.

“The train will run out of coal eventually and we'll coast to a stop then,” concluded Techorse, nodding, “Looks like whoever did this intended on us not getting there on time.”

Shadow Breeze noticed a piece of paper folded over once taped to one of the red circular valve handles, and removed it with his wing, opening the piece of paper with his hooves in front of him. His face went pale, as much as a pony's could, as he saw the contents of the note.

“Techorse, you should see this!” he whimpered.

Techorse and the others stepped over and looked at the piece of paper. In it was a crude drawing of the four of them on their sides in front of a wrecked train, X's over their eyes and their tongues hanging out.

“Ok, first of all, rude,” complained Flaming Ivory, “second of all, if those jerks are still on this train, I'm gonna give them something to think about!”

“Wait, why did they draw the train being wrecked?” asked Midnight, going over the paper himself, his light blue eyes darting over the caricature, “We're just going to run out of steam.”

Shadow Breeze swallowed back his fears, and spread his wings, flying up to see how their invisible enemies planned on crashing the train. The pony landed quickly on top of the train, the boiler's thermal jacket keeping him from burning his hooves on the metal body. The pegasus couldn't see too far in the dark, the headlight of the train having been shut off, and he returned to the cabin.

“Somepony's shut off the train's headlight,” he said, “can we get it back on?”

Midnight Blaze cast a light spell, illuminating the controls completely with his horn, and located the switch connected to the headlight of the train. Flipping it with his hoof, the path ahead was illuminated as the light came on, and Shadow Breeze checked again, flying up to the top of the train and landing on it behind the smokestack. He felt panic when he saw that just a mile ahead, was a hairpin turn in the track to avoid a river.

Landing again in the control room, he quickly explained, “There's a really sharp turn up ahead, and we're stuck going at full speed!”

“Heh, well those losers forgot we can just have Midnight here teleport us off the train safe and sound,” chuckled Flaming Ivory, rubbing a hoof on his front, “let's get out of here and watch the derailment, might be fun.”

“Except those other two passenger cars full of ponies and the crew might go squish,” cried Shadow Breeze, tears welling up in his eyes, “we can't leave them!”

“Whoever did this knows us too well,” said Techorse, anger swelling in his heart, “they know we wouldn't abandon the crew or the other passengers and would ride the train down rather than leave them. They're sick.”

“There's got to be a way out of this,” said Midnight, “I'll try moving the brake magically.”

“You can't, it's been welded shut,” answered Techorse, shaking his head.

“Then we just cut the cars loose and let the engine go,” grumbled Flaming, “let's do that.”

“I don't know if we have time to cut it,” said Midnight quickly, “we should just try to free the brake now!”

Shadow Breeze dried his tears, trying not to think about becoming a puddle in a train wreck, and sat there gloomily while his friends argued about what to do, a few minutes from them derailing at high speed. Suddenly, he thought about something he could do to help, and started to fly back behind the coal bunker again.

“Shadow, where are you going?” asked Techorse.

“I've got an idea!” he said, “wait here!”

The three remaining ponies sat there trying to quickly come up with a plan, Flaming Ivory peeking out the side and seeing the sharp turn coming up.

“We'd better hurry...” he said, “otherwise we're toast!”

“Let's jam the brake and see if we can work it!” suggested Midnight, “If we're lucky we might...”

Suddenly, a very loud hiss was heard, and the screeching of steel as the train suddenly started to brake without warning. The three ponies were tossed forward, smacking into the controls of the train as it ground to a halt, sparks flying from the tracks underneath. Even though the coal was still burning brightly and the wheels on the engine were still trying to turn, the rest of the train had ground to a halt, and the weight of the cargo was holding back the engine, which strained against its load until finally, the couplings snapped off from the conflicting forces and the wheels stopped altogether, letting the train come to rest on the sharp turn.

Techorse peeled himself from the control panel, along with his friends.

“I think I lost a filling...” trailed Flaming Ivory, standing up.

“What was that?!” exclaimed Midnight, rubbing his head.

Shadow Breeze returned to the control panel, a big smile on his face, “I stopped the train! I can't believe it!”

“Excellent work Shadow, how'd you do it?” asked Techorse with approval.

Shadow Breeze blushed and scraped his hoof on the floor, “I... I pulled the emergency brake in the passenger car. The little red cords coming from the ceiling?”

A few moments passed before the ponies realized how trivial the answer to their problem had been, and they laughed nervously about it for a moment.

“Boy are we stupid,” chuckled Flaming Ivory.

“We were panicking so much we forgot the obvious,” admitted Techorse, wiping some sweat from his forehead, “but hey, we didn't go off the rails, that's what matters. Thanks Shadow.”

“Well, the other passengers seem to be ok despite the stop, so now what do we do?” he asked, folding his wings at his sides.

“We wait for the engineers to wake up, and have them fix the train,” answered Midnight, “Looks like we're stuck here for a while.”

Flaming Ivory smirked and started walking for the front car, saying back to his friends, “In that case, since the crew is still knocked out, I'm helping myself to the food and drinks.”

Techorse rolled his eyes and returned to the controls, looking them over. It was clear they had been smashed up, but several scratches had been placed deep into several of the valve lines and hoses, like claws had been raked across them. After analyzing the scene, he followed his friends back into the train, for a well-deserved cup of coffee.

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