• 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 3

Ocellus kept in the air another moment longer, hoping that her friends would understand. This disguise had passed an initial test—this was the phase of any operation where she could make observations of the culture she was about to infiltrate, learning everything she needed about their customs.

Well that was what her mother probably would’ve suggested. She didn’t think they’d be here long enough for that—and she wasn’t leading a changeling expedition.

But she circled up and over the boardwalk, taking in as much of its details as she could from the sky. Not all of the aliens dressed like the ones who had visited the beach—actually, most didn’t. The cold looked to bother them more than it did ponies, because they all wore lots of clothes. Pants and jackets mostly.

In a few seconds, she didn’t think they were that odd. Smaller than ponies for certain, but not that much shorter. But where ponies achieved their size with four legs, these creatures were always walking around on two, with their strange soft-claws always moving.

Further from the boardwalk, and things got harder to understand. The aliens were obviously accomplished builders, but they didn’t seem to have much sense of style. Many of these structures were bigger than anything she’d ever seen in Equestria, despite the size of their residents. But they were built to a similar, dreary style. Why not make something look nicer? The boardwalk was nice enough.

But that wasn’t the strangest thing she saw. There were roads, like any large city, and more of the ponyless carts that moved themselves. They were loud, and she suspected they were producing the remarkably unpleasant odor assaulting her nostrils. There were so many of them.

Far more than she’d seen in photos of Manehattan—there were thousands of metal carts, in hundreds of different styles and colors.

There is no way this is anywhere near Equestria. No way. They had a seemingly limitless supply of flat rock to build with, of perfect glass for their buildings, and carts that needed no hard work to get around. If creatures like this existed, they’d be the richest beings in the whole world.

So where are we?

She couldn’t be left to her own thoughts for much longer. Her friends—particularly Yona and Smolder—would get into trouble if not supervised. She suspected they’d been frightened by their first encounter with the aliens, even if they wouldn’t admit it. Can they make weapons as good as their carts? We don’t want that answered.

She turned back around, angling herself for the wrecked ship on the harbor. More carriages like the one already there were on their way, bright red and blue lights flashing and an awful screech heralding their approach.

We need to get away from here. Ocellus spent another precious minute in the air, scouting out possible routes of escape. There was one—straight north, where developed beach turned into unpleasant rocky land. The boardwalk ended, and there was even countryside visible. Smaller homes. We can go that way.

Ocellus landed behind the ship, and wasn’t too surprised to see that her friends had all emerged from within. Anyone who had been weary from their crash seemed to have returned to wakefulness.

Ocellus changed back in front of them, and they didn’t even stare. They were used to her by now, and she them.

“Have a nice flight?” Silverstream asked, grinning at her.

“Yeah, I hope you did.” Smolder sounded bitter as she said it, rather than friendly. “Because we really could’ve used you here. We’re trying to figure out what in Tartarus to do.”

Ocellus blushed, looking away from them all, kicking a bit of sand with her hooves. “I’ve been… scouting things out. Learning.”

She could feel annoyance coming from Smolder, and a little from Gallus as well. At least he tried to hide it. It’s okay, we’re all on edge, we’re afraid. We’re somewhere we shouldn’t be. This is natural.

“Learning what?” Smolder asked.

“Yona is curious also. Yona wonders why you did not want her to greet the strangers. She could understand their Ponish. They could understand her. What is problem?”

“They were going to hurt you,” Ocellus began, but she didn’t continue. Trying to get across complex social cues to a yak was an uphill battle she didn’t have time to fight right now. “Look, there are going to be more of them, a lot more. I think they’re frightened of us.”

“Eh, not the worst thing.” Smolder rose onto her hind legs, flexing her claws one at a time. “I don’t mind a little fight.”

“We should,” Sandbar said. “Because these creatures are brand new, and fighting them isn’t a good way to make friends.”

“Eh, I’m not in a friendly mood. The shipwreck ruined it. Maybe breaking things will make me feel better.”

Gallus shrugged. “No difference to me. I saw them, they didn’t look so tough. Short and frail, like minotaurs who haven’t eaten in months.”

“What do you think we should do, Ocellus?” Silverstream asked, bouncing up and down nervously. She kept glancing back at the ocean—maybe she wanted to go swimming. But she’d stayed with them through everything. Through the storm, presumably, or else she could’ve swam back to Equestria. “We need to call for help somehow.”

“Yeah,” Ocellus said. “But I don’t know how yet. For now, we… need to get out of here.” She pointed up the coast. “It looks pretty wild in that direction. If we can go fast enough, we might be able to get lost in the forest. Maybe… with you flying to make a distraction while the rest of us escape.” She nodded towards Smolder. “A distraction that doesn’t involve burning any creatures, even creatures we haven’t met yet.”

“Especially creatures we haven’t met yet,” Sandbar corrected. “We’re still on our friendship final. Our ship is wrecked, but… maybe this is all part of it! Maybe Twilight knew what was going to happen, and she trusted us to… to visit an island ponies had never been to before! We can’t waste that chance!”

Her friends started to argue for a bit… and while they did, Ocellus was painfully aware of their time running out. The creatures were building up in greater numbers along the pier. The more of them there were, the harder it would be to create a distraction large enough to escape.

Will they be friendly? What is an animal control, anyway? It was a name that confused her. Animals were something else, right? Things ponies kept as pets, or lived in the woods. With emotions too diffuse for a changeling to feed on.

“I think we should put it to a vote,” Silverstream said cutting through the argument enough that even Ocellus looked up. “Arguing isn’t going to fix anything. We need a decision before things change too much and we can’t decide anymore.”

“Stay put,” Yona said, plopping her considerable rear in the sand and water as she said it. Even she had been up just below her knees in seawater—but she didn’t seem to care now that she was half soaked. “Rescue come for us. All we have do is wait long enough.”

“I’m with Ocellus,” Silverstream said. “Some creatures are dangerous. The Storm King’s island was… we would’ve been better off if they never found us. We don’t want to introduce ourselves to these creatures if they are the same way.”

Gallus shrugged. “Whatever. Sandbar?”

Sandbar finally nodded. “I would rather just go talk to them—but running off to hide for a bit is the same thing. It’s better than fighting them. I know that’s what Smolder wants.”

The dragon shrugged. “Apparently I’ve been out-voted. Distraction, you said?”

Ocellus nodded. “If we’ve grabbed everything we could, then… yeah. You distract them, and we’ll all run. Everyone follow me. I’m going to be a seagull again, so… look for the one with the white splotches on her wings.”

She changed again in front of them, jumping at the same time so she wouldn’t end up with her head underwater. She spread her wings, then pointed. “Go on, Smolder. You can find us from the sky once you’ve confused them a bit.”

She nodded. “Just make sure Yona is out in the open, and I could find you on the dark side of the moon. But I know what way you’re going, so it should be faster than that.” She stuck her tongue out to Gallus. “Guess you get to help with the next plan.”

He shrugged one wing ambivalently. “This is fine. Be careful.”

Smolder scoffed, then took to the air with a wave of sand and water. The shock and surprise that Ocellus sensed from the boardwalk was so strong that she nearly fell over—she hadn’t even been trying to monitor their emotions, yet they were suddenly impossible to ignore. There had to be at least a dozen creatures up on that pier.

“We go now?” Yona asked, annoyance in her voice. At least she seemed to be willing to respect their vote too. “Yona want to stay, but Smolder is having so much fun. We can’t let her go to waste.”

“Very soon,” Ocellus said, landing on a length of broken wood over their head. “We have to let them be distracted. It sounds like she’s doing a good job…”

She heard terrified shouts, screams of what was unmistakably “Dragon!” They know what we are. But why don’t we know them?

There was no time to wonder about that now. “Time to go!” Ocellus took off again with a squawk and a spray of white feathers, flying slow this time, straight away from the Solidarity. The shore became rocky not too far away, but the boardwalk continued for a little distance more. They would have to go even further—until the real wilderness started—if they hoped to escape.

At least her friends were good runners. Equestria was a dangerous place at times, and there had been plenty of opportunity to run for their lives. Even Yona could keep pace without much difficulty, though she couldn’t fly along like Silverstream or Gallus. Sandbar was an earth pony, and no amount of rocks were going to bother his hooves.

She spared a glance for Smolder, who was putting on quite a show with her fire-breath. Not actually aiming at any of the creatures or buildings, but straight into the air in front of them. Was she trying to write words with the smoke?

She could hear other sounds then—like little cracks, tiny fireworks going off. Ocellus didn’t know what they were, but she didn’t like the sudden aggression she felt from behind them.

“Faster!” she screeched, her voice distorting a little with the strange body she’d taken. But not so much that her friends wouldn’t be able to understand her. “We’ve got to get further away! To those trees!”

She pointed, and her friends changed direction. Off the beach now, and up into the tree-line. She watched the Solidarity retreat away behind them, until its outline was lost. All those hundreds of hours of work together, the research and the practice jaunts into the harbor… all gone.

It’s okay, we survived. This is enough.

Yona was slowing down, though, and she wasn’t the only one. Gallus dropped down from the air to limp after her, and Silverstream followed.

“I wasn’t done,” she muttered, her voice crestfallen. “Do we have to stop?”

“We can’t stop.” Ocellus landed on the ground ahead of them all, changing smoothly back into herself. She was getting winded from so much magic, even if the flight hadn’t bothered a seagull. It will probably be a few hours before I change again. I wish I’d practiced more.

We ran here through sand. That means we left a trail.” She pointed towards the rocks, back on shore. “But if we use that for a bit… a few miles… they won’t be able to find us.”

“You think they’ll want to?” Sandbar asked. “We didn’t really… do anything. Maybe they’ll just be happy we’re gone.”

Ocellus shook her head, glancing back towards the beach. She couldn’t see Smolder anymore over the tops of the massive trees. “Maybe before Smolder showed off so much. But they’ll want to find her now… and us too. I’m sure of it.”

They wanted to hurt her. But she didn’t tell her friends that—they didn’t need to be any more afraid than they already were.

“Come on then,” Gallus said, pointing with a claw. “She said she could find us. We need to keep moving.”

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