• Published 24th Jul 2012
  • 3,753 Views, 145 Comments

Darkened Shores - Silver Flare

An adventure that takes the Mane 6 around the world to face the what destroyed the alicorn homeland.

  • ...

12: An Interesting Life

Twilight found the morning slipping out of her hooves much faster than she would have thought. The emptiness of the sky, the constant rush of wind, the endless, unchanging expanse of the visible world. . . All of these things should have been boring to say the least. Especially to a pony who’s usual schedule is parsed by the minute for maximum productivity. Instead, Twilight Sparkle felt calmed. The movement, the simple spells, the hum of the airship’s engines beneath the wood of the deck all felt very meditative, helping to still Twilight’s spiraling thoughts. She found herself feeling the entirety of the vessel under her hooves, as though it was its own living thing. And Twilight was but a part of it.

The regal sun had barely climbed a respectable portion of the sky before Twilight sensed someone scaling the stairs behind her. A moment’s thought recognized Rainbow Dash and a gryphon without needing to spare a glance behind her. Another part of her wondered what kind of image she must portray, if she appeared the way Luna did perched upon the edge of the ship and gazing into the unknown ahead. She almost giggled at the overly-dramatic thought. Rarity would certainly approve.

As the door opened behind her, she caught snippets of conversation approaching through the wind.

“. . .elling you, It’d. . . roblem. . .”

“. . .ss harness is basic saf. . . otocol.”

“. . .an handle it!”

“I don’t think you apprec. . . spee. . . Ms. Dash.”

“Ugh, don’t call me that! And like I s. . . ven’t seen me fly before.”

“Then perhaps. . . me feel better. Humor me.”

“Fine. Good morning, Twilight! We brought you breakfast!”

A blue pegasus appeared on Twilight’s right, and a beak appeared on her left. She couldn’t see much on that side thanks to the soft black eye-patch. Both figures attached themselves to the deck, just as Twilight was. With a thought, Twilight widened her shield, diverting the worst of the wind away from the new arrivals before she glanced to her left. Twilight did a bit of a double-take. She’d been instinctively assuming Pin Feather, since he and Dash had hit it off so well last night. Instead, she found the tan and brown gryphon who’d been arguing with Luna. What was his name?

“Here, sunflower sandwich.” Dash hoofed her a napkin-wrapped bundle and a canteen. “We thought you could use some company, too. Neat spell.”

Twilight took the breakfast and offered a grateful smile in return. “Thanks Dash.”

The large gryphon smiled charmingly, head cocked to one side. “Captain Thistle Down. Please forgive my brusqueness last night, Ms. Sparkle. Something about our Princess Luna and evading my own government frays my civility, it would seem.” His words were clipped, intelligent and cordial. As though he was used to having a disarming effect on anyone around him. “The forward deck is somewhat inhospitable at these speeds, but I’m afraid we haven’t the luxury of slowing down quite yet. Although you seem to be holding up rather well.”

Twilight nodded. “Pleased to meet you, Captain. It’s beautiful up here.”

As Thistle followed her gaze off towards the horizon, his smile widened. “Yes it is, isn’t it?”

Dash snorted. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Pinkie was right. There isn’t anything to see out here. The ocean’s big, but it’s kind of boring.”

Thistle lifted an eyebrow. “And yet when that boring horizon changes, changes at all, it’ll be anything but boring. It’ll be a new land. Unexplored. It might be the most interesting thing any of us will ever see in our lifetimes.”

Twilight had opened the canteen and drank deeply, but it hadn’t distracted her from the undercurrent of yearning in Thistle’s voice. “You’re excited about this whole trip aren’t you? Exploring new places?”

Thistle shrugged a feathered shoulder. “It’s kind of my thing.”

Twilight’s thoughts drifted back to Celestia’s story concerning her homeland. “What if this new land is corrupted and dangerous? Don’t your people have, you know, stories?”

“I find that most stories are just that, Ms. Sparkle. Some of us don’t believe everything we’re told. I’ll believe what I see.”

Twilight grimaced. “I guess. But even if we are flying towards danger, you’re right about one thing. Our lives will become interesting.”

“That’s the spirit! Although in your case I might say ‘more interesting.’ Just from the gossip I’ve picked up the last few hours. . . I would love to hear about your adventures.”

Dash perked up when Thistle glanced her way. “Oh yeah, we’ve got stories about stories. Remind me to tell the one about Twilight and the fifty-ton bear.”

Thistle smiled. “I’ll hold you to that.”

Twilight’s smile was swept away by the wind. “How’s Fluttershy doing?”

Dash’s face fell. “She’s okay, I guess. Rarity and Shady found her in the infirmary.”

Thistle arched an amused eyebrow. “Shady?”

“Yeah.” Rainbow Dash stared in incomprehension for a moment. “Oh! Sorry. I mean ‘Miss Shady.’ Anyway, they talked her up last night and I apologized this morning. She didn’t sound mad, but she didn't seem herself, either.”

“Well, she should be mad!” Twilight put a little bit of the Stern Lecturer into her voice. “You embarrassed her in front of strangers, Rainbow! I would be mad at you.”

“Geez, I said I was sorry. Besides, Fluttershy could stand to toughen up just a little.” Twilight glared with her good eye at that last statement.

Thistle broke the resulting awkward silence. “You should know, Ms. Sparkle, that Princess Luna has been helping us map out our progress. At this speed we should see land in eight or nine days, assuming her memories are accurate.”

Twilight’s ears perked up. “Oh, that’s not too bad.”

“That’s only if we maintain this speed. However, we can’t keep pushing the engines at this pace. We’ll have to cut our speed in half today or risk warping the pistons, or worse. Aether’s Vigil was never tested at these speeds for more than a few minutes. Our cooling units are strained as it is. But even taking a slower pace, we have enough fuel and supplies to last us months if need be. We’ll be fine.”

Twilight’s eyes returned to the horizon. “Well, it’ll be nice to have nothing happen for a change. I’d be okay with having a slightly less interesting life for a couple of weeks.”

Dash agreed. “I’d drink sarsaparilla to that!”

Thistle laughed. “You know, among the zebras the phrase ‘May you have an interesting life.’ is considered a curse.”

Twilight felt a subtle change in the vibrations beneath her hooves. Maybe they were slowing down. “Do you feel that?”

“Feel what?” She heard from both sides at once, although only Thistle sounded concerned.

“The. . . vibrations from the engines, I guess.” The vibrations continued to deepen. “Didn’t you say we’d be slowing down?”

Thistle glanced back towards the rest of the ship. “We shouldn’t be. Not yet. We. . .” He clamped his beak shut as he caught the sound himself. He flicked an eartuft. The sound was followed by a soft ka-chunk, and the odd vibrations scaled back up to rejoin the hum of the other engines. Through Twilight’s senses, she felt something falling, something inanimate, from the bottom of the ship. The gryphon’s eyes flew wide. “Was that one of the turbines?” His horror was infectious.

Twilight frowned in concentration. They couldn’t be under attack, could they? She would have sensed something. They were beyond alone this far from shore. Dash had her ears perked, awaiting instructions. Twilight asked her, “Can you take a look?”

Thistle had unclipped his harness and pivoted to throw himself back towards the hatch. As he heard Twilight’s question, however, he twitched back to face her so violently he slipped, hitting the deck. This was the first time Twilight had noticed one of the Captain’s wings was trussed up in a sling. He was shouting before he found his footing. “’Take a look?’ Are you insane? We’re doing almost seventy knots!”

Dash answered by unclasping her harness from the deck. “Give me a boost, Twi?”

Twilight’s horn began to glow, and an answering glow hoisted Rainbow Dash into the air and pitched her over the railing and into the howling wind, where she was instantly snatched out of sight. Thistle Down’s shocked expression made Twilight giggle. “Yes.” She assured him. “She’s fast.”

Thistle blinked and sputtered. “For her sake she’d better be! Let’s go.” They both began a fast trot towards the doorway. Twilight dropped her shields, and the sudden wind behind them helped shove them forward. Thistle splayed his limbs against the deck, sliding neatly to a stop and popping the hatch open. Twilight overshot and stopped herself by splatting against the wall. She dropped into a crouch to get under the wind and looked up, grinning sheepishly.

Only a few tense moments passed before Rainbow Dash reappeared alongside the airship, wings a blue blur. “Fast my furry butt.” Thistle muttered under his breath. “She’s like lightning.”

Fighting the wind, she swept lightly over the guardrail, under the beam of the loading crane and landed easily on her hooves, her colorful mane gusting chaotically as she struggled to be heard. “So, like, one of your big fans under there lost its fan blades. It’s like they all tore off.”

“Which one?”

“One of the front ones. Um, this side.” Dash pointed.

“Crowfeathers!” Thistle spat as he flung himself through the hatch. Dash and Twilight followed, Twilight pausing to shove the door behind them shut with magic. She leapt down the stairs, racing past the bench where she’d left Spike the night before, chasing the rainbow tail in front of her around a turn, down another set of stairs and doubling back through another hallway.

From an open doorway ahead, a cacophony of excited and playful voices was cut to silence by the Captain’s booming voice. “Quarter speed and ease us down to skim-line! NOW, you oil-soaked pigeons!”

Twilight stumbled into Dash’s flank as she rounded the corner and found a strange display, shocked to stillness. They stood in the entrance to a large room, well-lit by three large windows set into the front of the airship, providing an excellent view of the sweeping panorama of sky and ocean before them. A young and startled-looking pegasus pony stood before a modest yet complex bank of electronics. He was easing back a pair of levers while a striped and colorful gryphon next to him rapidly flicked switches.

They were far from alone. The cabin actually looked crowded. Pinkie Pie was picking herself up off the floor. It looked as though she’d been spattered with oatmeal and had been laughing hysterically. None of which, knowing Pinkie Pie, was out of the ordinary. On the far side of the cabin, Applejack had a rope around Spike, who was holding her large and worn western-style hat. A trio of other crew members Twilight hadn’t met, all gryphons, looked on in stunned silence, wondering what was going on.

Twilight clutched onto a nearby rail, expecting the nose of the airship to tip forward, but they stayed level as they began descent. She suddenly felt lighter, and she was reminded forcibly of the small moving-room in Nova Coltia’s Town Hall.

Thistle prowled forward. “Clear Sky. How is our bird holding up?” His civil tone didn’t mask his anger so much as provide a frame for it.

“Um. . . G-Green across the board, Sir.” The poor pegasus scanned his instruments frantically, searching for his mistake.

“Oh?” Thistle loomed over the helmspony.

“Sir? Velocity and altitude were holding steady. Fuel stable, temperatures just below the red, as you instructed.” He ran a deep-brown hoof through his light blue mane. He sounded frightened. “I’m not sure. . .”

“What you missed?” Thistle’s voice rose in volume. “Did you see a power spike to forward engines one and two?”

“I didn’t see any power spike, Sir.”

“Because it didn’t happen or because you weren’t looking?”

“Because I wasn’t looking, Sir.” A faint flush shone through his coat.

Thistle’s voice lost its edge. His words were tinged with exhaustion as he said, “Kelbrri, cut power to forward engine three.” Grim, meaningful glances were exchanged throughout the cabin.

“But, engine thrrree is rrruning fine, Sir.” Said the vibrant yellow/green/red striped gryphon with the regal accent. She complied while she protested, however.

“I’ll bet it’s running fine.” Thistle’s crest flattened against his skull. “But it isn’t doing much good without blades.”

Spike shrugged out of Applejack’s impromptu lasso and gave her back her hat. Then he waddled his way back to Twilight and clambered atop her back. Applejack didn’t bother putting her hat back on. She just held it in front of her chest as she appealed to the Captain. “I’m awful sorry Captain. The blame properly belongs over here. We were bein’ a mite distractin. . .”

The Captain ignored her. “Sky, find Cloud and send her in. She should be on her way anyhow. Then find Summer Reeds and send her in too. Then I want you to hit the hay. You’ll be pulling a triple shift starting at 1800, so get your rest now.”

The other crew members cringed at the punishment, but Sky just nodded. “Yes Sir.” he turned away from the controls, leaving Thistle at the wheel. Twilight wasn’t certain how to react, since she technically hadn’t met this pony before. But she didn’t have time to consult her copy of Friendship Etiquettes and Guidelines 7th Edition even if she had brought it along. However, she figured that erring on the side of kindness couldn’t be too ill-mannered. So she put out a silent hoof as Clear Sky walked past, and she offered him a sympathetic smile. Rather than hurry past or take offense, he offered her a small, sad smile in return.

Rainbow trotted up to the big windows, but directed her question towards Thistle. “Hey, we’re still in the air. Can’t we just keep flying?”

Thistle sighed and stared out the window at the blue-green expanse of ocean rising up to meet them. He placed a foreclaw over his face and held it there for a bit before shaking his thoughts loose. “Possibly.” He said. “But the simple truth is that we just didn’t run through the right tests. I never dreamed we’d disembark on the run. Always figured we’d slip out quietly at dusk, even if this ship deserved fireworks and champagne. I never thought to push her at flank speed for a day. You said the fan blades just stripped clean off?”

“Yeah. I could see the gouges left in the walls where the blades had hit. Guess they’re at the bottom of the ocean by now.”

Applejack donned her hat. “Maybe the fan blades weren’t rightly balanced ta begin with.” Everyone turned to look at her. “I mean, wouldn’t that do it?”

Thistle’s brow creased. “Rainbow Dash, did you notice if the flywheel was intact?”

Dash blinked.

“The center of the turbine, did it still look like the others?”

“Oh, yeah. Exactly the same.”

Thistle said, “I’m convinced an imbalance would have shattered the down-rod. I’m afraid the metals we used just weren’t strong enough for these kinds of stresses. And now the other two forward engines will have to work harder to keep us afloat.”

Twilight spoke up from the doorway. “Can it be fixed?”

“Of course.” Said a gruff voice from behind her. Twilight leapt out of the way as a mottled steel-colored gryphon paced into the room like she owned it. “Anything can be fixed. We’ve got parts enough in the hold to rebuild half of this ship.”

“But no dry dock.” Thistle added. “Friends, this is Clouded Gaze, First Helmsgryph.”

Twilight perked a little bit. She knew the process for making new friends by heart. Step one? Introduce yourself with a smile. “Nice to meet you. I’m Twilight Sparkle.”

“Great.” Cloud grumbled as she took Thistle’s place. Twilight recoiled a bit in shock. That’s not how it was supposed to go.

Pinkie Pie noticed too. She said, “Hey, that’s not how it’s supposed to go! You say ‘Pleased to meet you!’ or something of equal or nicer value!” Cloud didn’t respond, but the glance she tossed Pinkie’s way caused the party pony’s eyes to widen, her ears to flatten, and she mimed zipping her lips, locking them and and setting fire to the key.

“Can we replace it in the air?” Dash asked. “Have someone fly out there or something?”

Applejack grew solemn. “That sounds mighty difficult, not ta mention dangerous.”

“That’s putting it mildly.” Thistle replied. “But it is possible. I’m just trying to figure out how to keep it from being suicide.” The Captain paced the deck, his talons clicking on the floor with each step. “We have the parts, the tools, and the know-how. We’ve got more than enough ropes and harnesses. The real danger is dropping anything or anyone overboard. One of those turbine fans weighs more than I do, and we only brought one replacement.”

Twilight’s eyes lit up. “You know, I think I have a spell or two that might help.”

A couple of hours later, most of the crew of Aether's Vigil had gathered on the forward deck beneath the bright midday sun. With the Vigil at a near standstill there was no wind to contend with. Rarity and Sun Shade had even set up a small table laden with sandwiches and tea. Applejack kept them company as they took in the beautiful day and carried on a friendly debate between Sun Shade's elegant parasol and Applejack's reliable Stetson. Pinkie Pie tried to see how far she could lean over the railing and Rainbow Dash threatened not to catch her if she fell. Spike took in the view with wide eyes, holding the rail and rocking back and forth on his heels.

Twilight couldn't resist taking a peek herself. It was tough to tell, but it seemed the fall to the water's surface wasn't quite the drop that, say, a leap off of Canterlot's balconies would provide. but it was close. She edged back from the rail.

To one side of the deck a portion of the crew had gathered, surrounding a pile of tools, parts and coils of rope. Princess Luna had joined Thistle Down and a deep blue unicorn introduced to everyone as Summer Reeds, First Tinker aboard the Vigil. Her green mane was streaked with white and disheveled, and her hooves were stained with the ghosts of oil and grime.

"You're certain you can fix this in less than an hour?" Thistle asked.

"I'll be certain when I see the damage first-hoof." She spoke with shades of an accent, possibly rural Mane. Her 'R's seemed to lose their way and come out of her nose. "If that purple filly over there can pull off the spells she says she can, it should be fast work."

Twilight nodded, rejoining the group. "I've practiced these spells often enough. We shouldn't have any trouble. It just might feel. . . strange."

"I'll say." Summer checked her harness one more time. "This'll be one for the books." She began slipping tools into her tool belt as though she was arming herself for battle.

Thistle received a ready signal from Kelbrri, having stationed herself at the crane controls. Nodding, he pitched his voice across the ship. "Ms. . . Rainbow Dash? We're ready!"

Dash hoofed the rest of her sandwich over to Pinkie Pie, who downed it in one bite. Dash trotted over. "Where do you need me, Captain?"

Thistle pointed to a rope coiled nearby. "That's the anchor rope. We need it to circle under the hull and attach back here. Just mind the turbines still running."

"Got it." Dash grabbed the end in her jaws and flung herself overboard, reappearing on the far side less than a second later. There were general gasps and murmurs from anyone paying attention, clear admiration for the young mare's speed. But Rainbow Dash didn't waste time posing, preening or otherwise basking in the praise. She simply offered the other end of the rope to Thistle, who quickly hauled in the slack and started tying it off. Twilight smiled in genuine admiration, but not at Dash's speed.

Thistle turned to Twilight. "Have you double-checked your harness, Ms. Sparkle?"

"I quadruple-checked it, but feel free to quintuple-check me. This is my first time doing something like this." Twilight still wore the same safety harness Sun Shade had helped her put on the night before; they'd just added a couple more well-placed carabineers.

Thistle did so, examining every buckle and strap. Nodding, he waved to Kelbrri, and the crane arm juttered to life, unfurling and swiveling, shaking the deck with a deep thrum. Twilight's wide eyes took it all in, watching every gear and joint move together in harmony. A steel cable unspooled from the tip and lowered towards the Captain's outstretched talons. He caught it and fastened the end to the replacement turbine gleaming in the sun. It was almost twice as long as Twilight herself, and it looked like it weighed a ton.

"Twilight Sparkle." Although Luna stood in full sunlight, she appeared a little shaded, as though the light were reluctant to intrude upon the Princess's personal space. "We offer our assistance in this endeavor. Wouldst thou accept it?"

Twilight pondered Luna's choice of words. She seems to think my honor rides on this, or something. Then another thought occurred to her. Wait, does it? Oh ponyfeathers, what's the right answer? "Thank you, your Highness, but. . . I'll be okay."

"Didst thou not drown last night? Twilight, such things exact a toll upon the spirit." Twilight's brow furrowed, but she said nothing. Luna continued. "Are you certain you do not desire aid today?"

Twilight squared her shoulders. "I know I can do this, your Highness."

For the first time since last Nightmare Night, Twilight saw the Princess of the Moon smile. "As do we, Element Bearer. Despite our sister's soft teaching, we find steel within thee. Thou shall succeed. Although we are happy to see that the safety lines have been doubled."

Twilight felt a small weight lift off her back. "Thank you, your Highness." I think.

"We're ready over here!" Summer Reeds had secured her harness to Dash's rope and she perched on the edge, ready to drop.

"Be careful, Twilight." Spike said, appearing at her side.

She smiled reassurance at him. "I'll be okay. Worst-case scenario, somepony goes for a swim." Twilight ruffled his head and walked over to where Summer waited. The blue unicorn nodded and lowered herself gently over the side, slowing her descent with her hooves. Twilight attached both of her safety lines and re-checked all her fastenings. Then she lifted herself over the cold steel rail, waved to her friends, carefully grasped the rope before her, and with a DZZZZZZT sound and a surprised yell she dropped out of sight.

The rope slipped away too fast. She couldn't get a hold of it. The side of the airship blurred past. The guide rope curved under the ship, altering her trajectory without slowing her free fall. She glanced down in time to see Summer Reeds cringe and then she stopped. There was nothing but the sound of her adrenaline-fueled breathing, the hum of the engines, and the soft flapping of pegasus wings.

"I think the idea was to let yourself down slowly." Rainbow Dash's voice was right behind Twilight's ear, and her hooves were under her arms. She sounded like she was holding back laughter.

Twilight chuckled weakly. "I'll remember that for next time. Thanks for the save Rainbow, I owe you one." She checked her head self-consciously to make sure her crown-thingy hadn't fallen off. It hadn't. Twilight wondered for a brief moment if it had permanently attached itself to her head. That would be weird.

"Actually," Summer said, "I think I'm the one who owes you, Rainbow. I'll buy you a drink tonight, whatever you like." Whatevah you like. "How's that sound?"

Dash let Twilight take her own weight. "But, there's no charge for food or drinks. . ."

"Then I'll buy ya two."

Rainbow Dash grinned. "You got it." She flew back up to the deck.

The underside of the ship consisted of long planks of wood, curved and fitted so as to look nearly seamless. Twilight studied the planks so that she wouldn't study the drop below them. She followed the pony ahead of her, crawling along the rope like an inchworm. At least it's nice being out of the sun for awhile. She thought. Maybe I can borrow somepony's parasol for the rest of the day. I didn't realize I'd been slow-cooking myself all morning.

Summer Reeds stopped at a large, circular hole in the bottom of the ship, and Twilight peered upwards behind her. They could both see the center of the turbine and the shredded edges where the blades had peeled off. "Okay," Twilight steadied herself atop the rope. "Are you ready?"

Summer nodded absently. "Yeah."

"Hold on." Twilight's horn began to glow, and after a few moments the unicorn before her swung around the rope and fell upwards, her mane and tail trailing against the deck of the ship. Summer let go, setting her hooves against the bottom of the airship. She laughed in wonder. "Well, if that isn't wicked amazing!" She leapt off the hull and landed lightly on her hooves again. "It's like I stayed the same and the world went all topsy-turvey." Her smile vanished and she glanced around nervously, crouching a little.

Twilight's horn continued to glow. "Don't worry, you can't fall off the planet. Even if I kept the spell going, my magic wouldn't reach that far."

"Who said I was worried?" She trotted carefully over to the hole and peered in, sliding her safety line along with her. "Oh yah, this looks doable. Hmmm." She reached in and started feeling around. "Sure. Let me just get this out of here." She reached into her belt, pulled out a tool, and it immediately fell out of her grasp and towards the water below. "Oh, hoof me!"

Twilight was ready, and she caught the tool with another spell before it fell too far. "The gravity spell doesn't extend too far. You'll have to hang on to these." She levitated it back to the startled tinker.

"This is trippy." Summer took the tool back with her own magic. "Thanks."

"No problem." Twilight maintained the spell and tried to make herself comfortable as Dash flew by again, holding a second rope. Glancing behind her, she saw the new turbine being lowered by the crane, and Dash hooking the second rope to it. She flew back up out of sight.

The work went fast, with Summer Reeds removing the damaged parts and tossing them into the ocean below. The crew above helped haul the new piece into place with Dash telling them when to stop and when to pull, and they managed to hoist the new part into place using their combined magic and Dash's wingpower.

Twilight had broken into a sweat holding the gravity spell and the levitation steady, but she kept her mind clear and let the power flow through her horn. Out of the corner of her eye something caught her attention. Carefully, very carefully, she turned her head to look at the ocean far below her.

Something had broken the surface. Small, sleek forms leapt out of the water, dozens of them, all headed in the same direction. Even from a distance, they appeared playful, maybe even beautiful. Twilight held her breath in wonder. They formed a rough pattern, like water cascading over stones. She wondered if they were friendly.

"Almost got it. . . Okay, it's attached at least." Summer wiped sweat off her brow with a greasy hoof, leaving a streak across her forehead that would make Rarity twitch. "Help me detach the ropes, Rainbow, and tell the Captain we're almost through."

Twilight dropped her levitation spell with a sigh and asked, "What are those?"

Her two companions stopped to look down. "Woah." Dash's eyes flew wide.

"Oh, those're probably dolphins." Summer had already turned back to her work. "Smart enough swimmin' critters, but they eat the same fish the gryphons like. I don't mind them, though. I think they're pretty."

"I'm gonna get a closer look."

Before Rainbow could take off Summer stuck her head out of the hole. "Hold up a second. We've got some work here to finish, can we focus on. . ."

"WOW!" Dash interrupted, pointing.

Twilight followed her hoof and saw a much larger shape, long and knobbly, break the surface behind them. It was hard to say for sure, but this new creature looked larger than the airship. Twilight's heart sped up, and her brain felt stunned at the sight. There was a wet sound, a burst of air, and a hole at the top of this monster sprayed a geyser of mist and water up into the air. Twilight had never felt so small. She clutched the rope and held on, focusing on maintaining her spell if nothing else. The enormous shape had been joined by another, and another.

"So, what are those?" Dash asked, without the slightest trace of fear.

Summer opened her mouth, and then closed it again. She shook her head, her mane swaying against gravity. "Um, bigger dolphins? I dunno." She said softly. Ever so faintly, they heard voices shouting up on the deck. They must have seen them too. Suddenly Twilight wanted very much to stay out of the water. The reality of her ignorance about the sea hit her hard. Why wasn't anypony out here studying? There were now a dozen of those things, maybe more.

Summer shook herself and got sluggishly back to work. She disengaged the support lines from the turbine and re-clipped the rope one to herself, and the steel cable from the crane she offered to Twilight, who took it with her magic and clasped it to herself. When they were finished, the lines would be used to haul both unicorns back up either side of the airship to the safety of the flight deck. "Um, could you tell the Captain how we're doing, Rainbow?"

"Sure." Dash still sounded distracted, but she flew back up and out of sight.

The tinker turned back to her work, levitating a pair of tools and what looked like a container of grease. "Almost set here." She said, her voice sounding hollow as it resounded out of the hole. "Maybe this is a little morbid to say, but if this engine turned on right now I think I'd be powdered unicorn in a blink. What would make a pony think that, I wonder?" No response from Twilight. "Yeah, I guess it's a silly thing. I always seem to imagine the worst-case scenario. My brother used to call me a worry-wart growing up. . . But what does he know, right?" Still no response. "Well, I think we're about done here. We've earned a few drinks, haven't we?" Summer heard a strange rushing sound, like a river or a waterfall. She peeked over the rim.

Everything she'd been holding dropped into the no-longer still ocean far below. Twilight had paled with fear, and her whole body shook, clinging desperately to the rope beneath her.

Far below them the gigantic creatures had scattered, swimming away from a literal mountain that had broken the surface in their midst, pushing the water upwards in a massive swell. The rough ridge would have to be measured in miles, and it had emerged like magic, an island in the sea. A few of of the great creatures wound up stranded upon its surface, lifted high into the air as their companions fled.

The landmass before them already towered over the airship itself, and the water sloughing off its surface created a roar of sound that drowned out everything else. It was covered in clusters of small, white bumps and seaweed and all manner of strange creatures. The smell of the ocean grew overwhelmingly sharp.

It was approaching the airship at an alarming rate. "MOVE!" Summer shouted, throwing herself over the edge of the hole and grabbing Twilight by the tail. Twilight let herself be dragged along, her carabineers scraping the rope while Summer galloped upside-down along the hull of the ship towards the far side, skirting the middle engine, its spinning blades a silver blur. In an instant, one of Twilight's safety lines snapped taut, hauling herself and Summer to a standstill. Twilight fumbled at her harness. "Here!" Summer Reeds appeared at her side, disengaging the link with a quick twist of a hoof and letting the crane's steel cable swing free. Then she grabbed Twilight and kept running.

Twilight watched as the colossal mass drew closer and closer, wondering what spell she had that might help them but she'd hesitated too long and the entire airship jostled with a mighty crash making Summer miss her footing and sprawl upon the deck and slide towards the last engine. With a soft and sickening buzz her tail vanished into the blades before Twilight dropped her spell and Summer Reeds fell towards the planet, gasping and hanging by her harness.

Twilight glimpsed another swell, far ahead of the mountain behind them. The ocean rising up in a globe far, far too large to be real. And beneath the surface a second mountain could be glimpsed.

A mountain larger than Ponyville.

One shaped vaguely like a head.

With a maw that could swallow everything.

Absolutely everything.

It wasn't a landmass at all.

Twilight may have screamed, she wasn't sure, but she cast her gravity spell on both of them and flipped neatly through the air, landing easily on her hooves. Summer fell upwards badly, hitting her head. She didn't move right away, so Twilight grabbed her companion by the harness and dragged her forward, sliding downwards (upwards?) as the hull curved, dropping them down (up?) zipping along the rope as it flung them back onto the deck. Twilight released both of her spells and they collapsed together in a heap.

The forward deck was overshadowed by the mountainous ridge that loomed over them all. Most of the crew couldn't be seen, but Rarity stood her ground, facing the edifice with her horn and the jewel at her throat aglow. She seemed to be trying to push the airship away, with limited results. Rainbow Dash and Sun Shade stood by her side, ready to protect her if they needed to. If they could.

The colorful gryphon from earlier, Kelbrri, rushed over, helping Twilight detach their harnesses from the rope. "You must get inside! It will be saferr therre!" She trilled.

Summer still hadn't gotten up. Twilight glanced around the deck. "Where's Luna?"

"She flew frrom the deck! I don't know what she intends to do! Come quickly!"

"No!" Twilight gestured towards the door. "Help her!" With that, she turned and lunged towards her friends. She only made it halfway before the airship turned abruptly, and the deck flew out from under her hooves. As she slid, the time seemed to slow down to a crawl. Her friends were right near the edge, in the greatest danger of falling overboard. But Kelbrri behind her hadn't made it off the deck carrying the unconscious Summer, and both of them were in danger too.

She seemed to have all the time in existence to think, but she only had time to cast one spell. I have to trust my friends. She arched her head backwards and her horn blazed to life, enveloping Kelbrri and the unconscious unicorn across her back in purple light and stopping their uncontrolled slide. With a mental shove, Twilight pushed them through the open hatch behind them and into safety.

Twilight hit the guardrail with her back, hard enough to stun her. Her momentum flipped her over the rail and into open air. The world spun past her, the blue of the sky blurring into the bulk of the colossus and the side of the airship. Until everything tinged with ivory and stopped spinning. She floated gracefully back aboard the airship cradled in Rarity's magic.

As the airship sped away to a safe distance, Rarity brought Twilight close enough for Dash to grab her in her sky-blue hooves. Twilight noticed that all of her friends had been tethered to the deck with quick loops of rope. She sighed in relief.

As the airship attained a safer distance it slowed and turned, far gentler this time. Twilight looked over the rail and saw a small speck of black just above the water's surface, at the foot of the mountain that had emerged from the deep. From a distance, it might have looked like a shell of some sort. One that would flatten Canterlot without trouble. Twilight remembered an obscure bit of information about ice, and how much of it would be visible above water, and her heart fluttered in her chest. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe.

"Hey, it's sinking!" Rainbow Dash called out, breaking the silence. "Way to go Luna!"

Sun Shade's voice quavered a little. "I am astonished. And I am not easily astonished."

"I think I may require more tea after this." Rarity said breathlessly.

There was a small flash behind them and the four ponies turned to find Princess Luna standing behind them, dripping wet from crest to hooves, levitating a long metal pole before them, maybe three or four pony-lengths. It too was dripping wet. She breathed easily, as though she'd only nipped out for a walk through a park. "The leviathan has gone." She said, setting the pole down before Sun Shade. "Our thanks for allowing us use of your weapon."

Twilight's ears perked in interest as Sun Shade lifted the pole in her hooves. With a deft twist it telescoped into itself, and she slid it into the unbloomed-flower of fabric slung across her shoulder.

Twilight's eyebrows shot skyward. "That was a piece of your parasol?"

Sun Shade smiled coyly. "Oh, you couldn't buy this parasol in a Hayrrod's, darling. It's custom-made."

Dash crouched in excitement. "And you beat that thing down with it? That's so awesome I can't even stand it!" She said, squishing her cheeks in her hooves.

"We did not 'beat it down,' Rainbow Dash."

"Poke it in its giant eyeball?"

"Neither didst we do that."

"Oh." Dash thought for a moment before giving Princess Luna a quizzical look.

"We sang to it."

Twilight thought she understood. "You sang to it, and you needed the pole to channel the vibrations underwater."

"Yes, something akin to that." Luna smiled again.

"That's incredible." Twilight shook her head. As they untethered themselves and headed back in towards the safety of the airship's interior, Twilight posed another question. "How did you know what song to sing?"

Luna's gaze darkened with remembered sorrow. "Didst our sister describe to thee our history? Our origins?"

"Yes." Twilight said.

"When we first crossed the Great Sea so very long ago, we did not do so by air, Twilight Sparkle. We lost more than one ship before my sister and I discovered the Songs of the Leviathans and what they might mean. Had we not found a way to calm them, perhaps every life in our care would have been lost."

Twilight pondered this in silence as they shut the hatchway behind them and continued into the ship. A wave of exhaustion crashed over the purple unicorn and she stumbled. In a blink Rarity was at her side, holding her up as she regained her footing. Their eyes met and Rarity smiled, a warm and affectionate thing full of concern. Twilight smiled tiredly back. Thistle bounded into view from the stairs. "Twilight! Is engine three fixed?"

Twilight's face scrunched up in thought, trying to remember what happened before her whole world turned upside-down. In, well, in multiple ways. "Um, I'm pretty certain Summer said 'We're done here.' before all the, uh. . . excitement started."

Thistle's eyes grew very serious. "Almost certain or certain?"

Twilight reviewed her memory again. Nodding decisively, she said, "Certain."

Thistle's beak cracked into a broad grin. "Excellent." He turned back down the stairs.

"Rarity, Rainbow Dash," Luna's voice had warmed considerably. "Please ensure that our Twilight Sparkle is provided food, drink and ample rest." Her eyes bored into Twilight's with a familiar intensity. Celestia always looked at her the same way. "Thou acquitted thyself well today. Were thou our student, we would be pleased."

"Thank you, your Highness." Twilight felt the exertion of the day pile atop her, and a deep ache began to radiate from her horn and through her skull. But it didn't do much to drag her spirits down. The prospect of food and a nap was incredibly reassuring.

"Come Twilight, we will get you washed up." Rarity said.

"Hmmm?" Twilight was mildly confused by that statement, until she glanced down and found blood staining her hooves. Summer's blood. She suddenly felt a little sick.

Despite the fact that she didn't taste any of it, Twilight managed to wolf down enough food to feed two of her. Applejack commented as such, several times, comparing her appetite to her brother's. A number of compliments were exchanged, involving Rarity's bravery, Dash's speed, Sun Shade's parasol and Twilight's magic. Spike in particular couldn't stop talking about the leviathan they'd seen. "I always thought dragons were the largest creatures on the planet!"

Applejack reclined with her hat tipped forward to cover most of her face while she spoke. "I reckon you've been knocked down a peg or three there, shortstuff."

"Wow!" Dash seemed even more energetic than usual. "I mean, that thing was. . . it was just so. . . just really, really. . . huge!"

Rarity's eyes sparkled. "Your eloquence is staggering, Rainbow Dash."

"Thanks!" Dash replied, missing the sarcasm entirely.

"That was the most cooleriffic thing ever!" Pinkie Pie added. "I wish I could have met it, introduced myself. I wonder what it eats. . ."

"Us, you sugar-fueled nitwit!" Dash exclaimed.

"Silly Dashie! If all it eats is 'us' I'm guessing it must be mighty hungry. We haven't been eaten at all!"

"Hey," Twilight interrupted, "Where's Fluttershy?"

The atmosphere, previously giddy with the relief that accompanies survival, turned somber very quickly. Rarity recovered her poise first, "Let's go and visit her, shall we?"

The companions made their way through the airship, down a pair of corridors Twilight recognized. She began to worry when she realized they were headed to the infirmary, but the door to the room before the infirmary was open, revealing a small room with a bed. Twilight instantly recognized Pin Feather, and she stopped in the entryway.

Pin Feather shifted, revealing the form of Summer Reeds, her head resting on an icepack. She lay on her side, and Feather was bandaging what was left of her tail. Twilight's breath seemed to catch in her throat. She swallowed hard. "Is she going to be okay?"

"Oh, hey Sparkler! Yeah yeah, she's fine. Here. . ." He reached over to a nearby tray and picked up a vial, unstopping it and waving it underneath the unicorn's nose.

"BUCK A BEEHIVE!" Summer thrashed awake, knocking the vial from Pin Feather's talons. "Ugh, that stuff's nasty! 's the matter with you?"

"Like I said, she's fine." Pin Feather grinned over his shoulder.

Twilight laughed in relief. "Good to know. Thanks." Rarity touched her shoulder and motioned Twilight forward. In the next room, Twilight found Princess Celestia exactly as she had last seen her, stretched out unceremoniously on the cot against the wall of the infirmary. Curled up against her was Fluttershy's small, yellow form. It only took a moment to notice that something was wrong. Twilight glanced around for her friends, but they stayed in the hallway.

"Fluttershy?" Twilight's concern didn't seem to touch the pegasus. She stepped closer. "What's wrong, Fluttershy?" She reached out a gentle hoof, but when she touched her friend's shoulder she twitched away so violently that Twilight recoiled too. Her eyes filled with tears. "Ev. . . Everypony's okay. We're all okay. There's nothing to worry about. The big creature is gone. Luna sang it away." All Fluttershy did was curl up into herself a little tighter.

Rarity's soft voice carried from the doorway. "She hasn't been herself since we boarded, actually. Neither Sun Shade nor I could reach her, though we spent most of the night with her. I'm at something of a loss."

"Not jus' bein' on this here airship." Applejack stepped inside, standing next to Twilight. "It's been ever since our tussle in the woods last night. Remember?"

Twilight did remember. In fact, she remembered it vividly. And Fluttershy had seemed more upset than anyone else. "Oh Fluttershy. . . Talk to us. Please."

Fluttershy didn't move and she didn't speak. Twilight reached out a hoof again, but she maintained the contact even when her friend twitched away. It felt like all her muscles were shaking beneath her fur. Twilight nodded to herself. "AJ, can you find another bed to squeeze in here?" Applejack ducked out. "I'm going to stay."

"Me too." Spike added, his wide eyes reflecting the light from the porthole beyond.

"Of course." Twilight smiled fondly down at him. "We both will."

Night had just begun to fall when Twilight felt a stirring next to her. She lifted her head and, with an effort of will that brought her headache back twofold, she lit the room with a soft glow. Fluttershy was gone, the space where she'd been curled up was still warm. Spike slept soundly; he hadn't twitched a muscle. Maybe she just went for a walk? That thought was little comfort. But just as Twilight was going to get up to look for her she heard a warm voice resonate in the darkness.


Celestia had awoken.

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