• Published 15th Oct 2018
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Friendship Abroad - Starscribe

Ocellus and her friends only planned to sail to Manehattan for their final project. They never imagined a storm could take them... a little further than that.

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Chapter 1

So far as bad ideas went, Ocellus had seen worse. She’d been barely a grub during the first invasion of Equestria, but she could still remember their queen’s rage when her own terrible plan failed.

But however nervous she might be about this, the entire support-network of ponies around them hadn’t raised any red flags. Maybe it wasn’t so bad.

The SS Solidarity wasn’t a mighty ship, or even a professional-looking ship. But she stopped to admire it as it floated beside the Seaward Shoals docks, remembering the long hours they had labored constructing it. An entire summer had gone into the Solidarity. While most of the other students at Twilight’s school went back to their families and wasted their summers, she and her friends had been preparing. Preparing for this moment.

“It is pretty awesome,” Gallus said, walking past her with both claws full of supplies. She felt a little guilty for not helping load—but she wasn’t as strong as some of the others. They could do in minutes what took her hours. “Don’t worry, the ponies will take pictures. We’ll be able to remember this moment.”

“I don’t need a picture to remember it,” Ocellus muttered. She’d certainly take one back with her. The other changelings would never believe this. I built a ship and sailed from the south to the north of Equestria with only my friends for company.

The Solidarity itself wasn’t a mighty warship, and it wouldn’t be winning any races. But they’d designed her themselves using the help of a few pony shipwrights, earned the bits for the materials, and then spent months of free time to put her together.

Of course she still had to do that last part.

It wasn’t just the six of them who had turned out for the launch. There were just over a hundred creatures here—many of them ponies, but not all. Many families were here, though not Ocellus’s own. It didn’t matter—King Thorax would be attending their triumphant arrival in two weeks’ time.

“Is everything alright?” Twilight asked from behind her on the dock. Few of the other creatures had dared to cross onto their section, where the last few sacks of supplies were being loaded. But this was Twilight’s school. “Not having second thoughts about your route, are you? I’ve already talked to the weather team, they’ll keep the whole corridor clear for you.”

Ocellus nodded. “We’re… we’re not worried about anything.” Except falling off the side of the ship, getting lost, unexpected weather, going crazy with just each other for company, or getting eaten by sharks. “Just… nervous, you know? Something this big…”

“Oh, yeah.” The Alicorn headmare leaned close to her, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “When I was working on my final project for Celestia’s academy, I worked on it for almost as long as you all have. It wasn’t quite this dangerous, but… you’ll do fine! That’s the whole point of the assignment, after all. I can’t think of a better test of your friendship than this. If it survives this trip, then it can survive anything.”

If. Ocellus couldn’t help but share that sentiment. Creating this thing had been hard enough that she wasn’t sure they’d still be speaking to each other by the end. Even now she could hear Smolder and Yona arguing about how to pack supplies into the hold.

“We cannot just shove in supplies, Smolder. Yona has seen this. We will be moving, great distance. Will not find what we are looking for when we need it!”

“We don’t have time!”

But she tuned that out, shaking her head once to dismiss the sound of arguing. “We’ll be fine,” she said, grinning at Twilight with what she hoped was confidence. “I’m glad you came to see us off.”

“Her and the rest of Equestria,” Sandbar said, emerging from the ramp and offering her a life-jacket.

Ocellus pulled it on easily, jerking the zipper as tight as it would go. It still felt loose—it had obviously been made for a pony. “Thanks,” she said, grinning back. “And yeah, it’s… a little overwhelming. But at least now I’ll have the food for the trip.”

“You… don’t eat love anymore,” Twilight said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes,” she agreed. “It was a joke. N-not a very good one, I guess.”

Twilight chuckled awkwardly, then rose. “Well, good luck to you all. Nopony’s expecting you to make a speech or anything, and honestly you shouldn’t waste time with it. You’re running low on daylight as it is! Weather teams all up Equestria know you’re coming, but that doesn’t mean Celestia can just stop time for you to make the trip.”

“We’re almost ready,” Sandbar said, grinning proudly. “Once the hold is packed… we should be on our way.”

“You should know that I’m proud of everything you all have accomplished over the last few years. You’re going down in the record books at the School of Friendship, no matter what happens. But I just know you can rise to the occasion. Next year’s creatures are going to have a hard time living up to this.”

She turned, vanishing with a flash from her horn. Ocellus didn’t watch to see where she’d reappeared in the crowd, or try and listen to what they were saying. The ponies had brought signs, and she could hear their chants echoing over the water. “Did you have anything to do with them?” she asked Sandbar. “The… cheerleaders?”

“No! I mean… yeah, pretty sure I don’t. I told mom not to bring anyone else. I… don’t think she listened, though.”

“Well, they won’t be able to follow us the whole way.” Ocellus turned towards the Solidarity, stepping gingerly onto the ramp. If Yona can do this, I can too, she thought.

“Welcome aboard!” Smolder called, wearing a wide-brimmed pirate’s hat and a heavy cloak instead of any useful safety gear. “I could use a few more good claws on my ship! Prepare to shove off!”

“Spike should not have got you into comics,” Sandbar muttered, glancing back at Ocellus long enough for her to see his grin.

“Is that insubordination I hear?” Smolder called, her grin widening. “First mate, I think you should teach them a lesson. Throw these scoundrels overboard!”

Yona emerged from below-decks, wearing her own little hat, much smaller than Smolder’s. Her huge braids made it look like it almost fit. “I think Yona let them off with a warning, captain. This time.”

It didn’t take them much longer to get underway. A few more minutes of messing around, a few to pack away everything below deck, and they were ready to raise the sail and set off. It was mostly Gallus and Silverstream up there, since they were the best fliers. Ocellus watched from beside Smolder near the helm, as Yona shoved off from the shore and leapt the distance to catch up. For a creature with such a bad history with water, Yona sure kept her fears in check.

From the shore, a cheer went up from the crowd that was so loud she could practically see it catch the sails. “Safe trip!” she heard, or thought she heard. But for all their enthusiasm the ponies weren’t very coordinated.

“Equestria has given us a powerful northern wind to speed us on,” Gallus said from his perch on the mast, his voice carrying well over the distant shouts. “But we’ll have to tack to get away from shore. Watch the boom.”

“I’m sure you’re up to the challenge!” Smolder called. “Ocellus, keep your eye on that map! I intend to make it to Manehattan a day ahead of schedule.”

The next few days passed as Ocellus had expected them. There were highs and lows, dangerous swells and close calls. But her friends were resourceful, and they really had learned a lot at the School of Friendship. They were even on track for Smolder’s absurd day-early arrival.

At least until the storm found them.

It came on slowly, slowly enough that even Ocellus didn’t notice it at first. The sky went a little grayer, the wind got a little less friendly. Instead of gliding along an even sea, they began bobbing up and down.

At first she didn’t think anything of it—just glanced at her compass a little more often, checked her pocket-watch, and kept counting the miles. But then they smacked straight into a particularly violent swell, pouring water over the deck and nearly sending her sprawling.

She changed instead—into a sturdy earth pony, and suddenly the force of water didn’t bother her.

“What’s going on?” Smolder emerged from below the deck, replacing her silly hat along the way. But she hadn’t put on the rest of the costume. “Sandbar, I trusted you to navigate us while I slept.” Then she made it up onto the deck beside them, and her eyes widened. “Oh.”

Gallus landed soaking wet a second later, dropping a bit of torn cloth to the deck. “That was the jib sail! I think we need to lower the mainsail, or else… we might capsize!” He dropped to the ground, and Ocellus did too. Smolder didn’t, and the boom smacked her in the chest, throwing her off the upper-deck and down to the lower, where she nearly hit Yona.

Ocellus winced at the sound of the impact, but knew the crack she heard was probably the Solidarity, not Smolder. Dragons were tough.

“I thought Equestria was going to keep it clear all the way up!” Silverstream called from high above them, pointing out along the horizon.

Ocellus followed her gesture, crossing to the railing and wrapping a hoof around it as she did so.

Ocellus had grown up in the Badlands, where months of drought could be broken with torrential thunderstorms that flooded everything and killed anypony foolish enough not to find shelter. But never in her life had she seen a storm like that. The sight stole her transformation from her in a second, and her old self probably would’ve fled into a corner to curl up and hide.

Instead of a cloud, what she saw on the horizon was a wall. Blackness stretched all the way up from the ocean to the sun, blackness occasionally broken with a roll of thunder that shook the whole ocean beneath them.

“Celestia save us,” Sandbar said from beside her, staring off as she did. “No, really. Celestia, if you’re listening? I think we need saving.”

“We can’t count on some Alicorn saving us!” Smolder shoved past them both, taking hold of the helm and spinning violently. The whole ship spun with it, and the boom swung back around. This time Smolder was out of range—but Ocellus and Sandbar still needed to duck. “You can’t lower the mainsail, Gallus! Look at that! We need all the speed we can get! I should have you and Silverstream fly out there and pull us!”

Wind blasted over the deck, filling the air with water and blinding Ocellus for a moment. She was very nearly ripped right off her hooves, at least until she crouched low and it stopped picking her up.

“We can’t!” Gallus advanced on them, pointing urgently up. “It’s tearing, can’t you see? If we lose that sail, we’re dead in the water!”

“If we don’t make it back to shore, we’re regular dead!” Smolder shouted back. “Unless you know any forms that can get us out of this, Ocellus! We could really use some changeling magic about now!”

A dozen different transformations flashed through her mind—gigantic dragons to try and pull their ship away faster, or mythical storm spirits that might be able to quell whatever was bearing down on them. But when her magic finally came, she could feel her legs fading away—she was changing into a seapony.

Or she almost did. Ocellus stopped the spell, forcing herself back onto four legs, and shook a little more saltwater from her body. “I… don’t know anything that can get us out,” she said.

“Then hold on!” Smolder called, her voice rising. “Look to our left!”

She did, and suddenly wished she hadn’t. The storm wall was fast approaching—it seemed to fill half the world now, a single dark mass of violent rain and churning ocean.

A single wave had emerged from within, a wave that would’ve made Canterlot Mountain seem small. It would be on them in seconds.

“If we don’t make it,” Gallus shouted, his voice quavering. “This whole thing has been great. Being your friends… everything.”

“Yona thinks so too,” said the yak, clambering up the stairs from the lower deck. “Yona thinks we will be fine. All we have done together—we built Solidarity good. You’ll see.”

Then they did.

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