• Published 20th Feb 2019
  • 218 Views, 12 Comments

Pandemic: Departures - Cosmic Eclipse

Following the ETS Pandemic three months prior, A group of ponies embark on a journey to find their place in a rapidly changing world, with dreams to change the very future itself!

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Ch 8 - "A Grand Reunion"

Author's Note:

Takes place concurrently with Chapter 7.

One chilling word
Like shriek or killer
Can spark the mind
To start a thriller...
Add some more sparks!
Like dagger, blood and gory!
And then ...
A mystery story...

Stanley started to stir from his sleep, the dream fading in moments. Marcus was sitting behind the wheel of the van, a good sign to the young night pony, it meant that he had likely slept through most of the journey so far. He took notice of Stanley’s movement and turned down the loud rock music that was currently giving him a headache. “Hey kid you finally awake?”

Stanley rubbed the sleep from his eyes, looking around the strange van he woke up in. “uh huh. I am now.” It was a little bit of a bumpy ride, and Stanley was glad that he hadn’t drank as much at the celebration dinner. “Where are we?... how much longer do we have?”

“Oh I don’t know kid, maybe 45 minutes to an hour? We’ll be there soon enough. Need anything?”

Stanley started to say no, but stopped himself as he suddenly became aware at how dry his mouth was. “Oh.. uhh just some water if you have some.”

Marcus continued to look at the road, gesturing to the back as he spoke. “There’s a whole box of it in the back if you want to crawl back there and get some.”

“Thanks!” Stanley sat up and carefully crawled to the back of the van, reaching for a bottle of water.

“Hey Kid, grab me one too while you’re back there.” Marcus called from the front.

“Oh.. ok Marcus, sure thing!”

Stanley crawled back into the front seat, and stared at the rapidly passing desert landscape, thinking about everything that was about to go down. He would see his old friend for the first time in years, something that he couldn’t wait for.

Stanley had to be patient however, so he simply laid down, watching the world zip by him at a rapid pace, humming along to the music.

Marcus spoke up. “So you ever been this way before kid? You’re looking at everything like it’s some alien world.”

This pulled Stanley out of his trance. “Oh uh.. Well no. What about you? Have you ever driven over here?”

“To the Canyon? Yeah, plenty of times! Every few months I’ll stop by, if anything just to watch the sunrise over it. It’s a spectacular sight to behold... the canyon that is, you’re gonna really love it!”

This put Stanley at ease, and he relaxed a little, just enjoying the ride and scenery.

Stanley had evidently zoned out again, as the next thing he noticed was Marcus pulling into the seemingly abandoned park entrance.

“Okay kid, sit tight. I’m going to pull into the parking area and get some stuff set up before I cut you loose. Do you have your phone on you by chance?”

“Uhh yeah… why?” Stanley said, as he awkwardly dug through his bag to find it.

“Here kid, let me help. If you’re going to be out for a while you might as well have actual use for your phone in case you need to call me for any reason.”

Marcus took Stanley’s phone, flipping to the settings and setting up voice controls, adding his number to the contacts, and marking the van’s location on the phone’s GPS app.

“What are you doing?” Stanley said as he craned his neck to see what Marcus was working on.

“Don’t worry kid, I just set some stuff up to make your life a hell of a lot easier in case you get lost or caught up in a sticky situation. Just ask your phone to “Call Marcus” if you ever need something. I also programed the van’s location into your GPS, it’ll make it easier to find your way back if you ever get lost. I know you’re not used to this so I’m just keeping an eye out for you.”

“Oh well… uhh thanks?”

“No problem kid, I’m gonna set up camp here for a while, just give me a ring if you need anything ok? Oh and be careful out there, there’s some dangerous wildlife around here and I don’t want to have to call out some search party on you if you wind up getting bit by some rattlesnake or stung by a scorpion.”

Stanley’s eyes widened at this. “W..what… what do you mean? Rattlesnakes? Scorpions?!”

“Yep! Don’t worry kid you’ll be fine.”

“I really wish you hadn’t mentioned the scorpions and rattlesnakes.”

“Ok, my bad. Look, you’re going to be fine, if you hear a rattling just fly out of there. You’ll… probably be ok on the scorpion front, they shouldn’t cause any problems for you as long as you don’t mess with them.”

Stanley sighed. “Ok Marcus, I’ll trust you… there’s no going back now.”

“Don’t worry kid, you’re a natural! I believe in you.” He said as he started grabbing some supplies out of the back of the van.

Stanley wandered around the empty national park, nervous and jumpy from Marcus’ admittedly blown out of proportion warning. Still though fear was something that kept him safe, all night ponies had this drilled into their heads, so he saw it as something to at least trust, lest he invade some critter’s privacy and wind up on the receiving end of an angry rattle snake’s bite. As he pushed on through the ghost town that was the national park he couldn’t help but marvel at how untouched everything was. It was just as if everypony had simply vanished into thin air. He continued to walk around the park, eventually coming across a little scenic lookout. A little ways away there was a relatively new looking trail leading down to the Canyon floor, and further down a small village could be seen.

He couldn’t help but wonder about the village off in the distance. Was it only ponies that lived in it? How did it even come to be? Pony only settlements that were bigger than a small handful of ponies weren’t all too common, so if he was looking at one he was looking at something unique indeed. Stanley walked over to one of the old but still functional binoculars, and gazed out towards the village. He couldn’t make out much but he did notice a few figures flying around above it, but it wasn’t enough to really confirm or deny his theory. He simply shrugged and walked over to a concrete bench near the lookout, not really seeing any reason to investigate the village any further.

Stanley sat and just breathed in the cool air for a few minutes, looking over at the Canyon in front of him. The bench wasn’t the most comfortable thing to sit on, but it was better than the floor, so he put up with the minor inconvenience. Stanley sighed and dug out his phone again, awkwardly navigating to his messages, and clicking the link that Patrick had sent him. He was definitely in the right place… but probably the wrong time. He didn’t know when Patrick would arrive, but he was where he was supposed to be so it didn’t matter much.

The sight before him was truly beautiful, the fact that such a wonderful sight was left untouched by the world around it, save for the small village set up in the distance, was something amazing to the young night pony and it genuinely took his breath away. Stanley glanced down at his watch, glad that one of his most prized possessions could still be of use to him. His old friend should have been there already, Stanley hoped that he didn’t run into any kind of trouble along the way.

As if on cue a loud commotion could be heard from within the nearby brush.

“Gah! Get out of here!... I’m really not set up for this, this isn’t a life for a Unicorn!”

“Pat is that you?!” Stanley shouted out, obviously surprised by the sudden interruption.

“Stanley?! Man is it good to hear a familiar voice.” His friend stumbled out of the brush, dusting himself off. “Would you get a load of the local wildlife?” He joked.

“I… already have. So how have you been?!”

“I’m great! It’s great to see you again, it’s really been too long Wolfie. Damn, it must have been at least three or so years since we’ve caught up in person right?”

“Only two… but that’s still too long. I’ve been doing great, I had some… help… with getting over my fears.”

“That’s great to hear! Anyone from the old gang?”

“Well… Let’s just say they’re a friend and leave it at that.”

“Hey that works for me, so what do I owe this unexpected visit? You’ve never been one to just venture out into the world and explore…”

“I kind of needed to, it’s weird but transforming really made a lot of things easier for me. I found the strength to conquer my fears and move on with my life. There wasn’t anything left for me back in Crystal Cove. I had a dream, something that gave me a new direction, something to look and work for. It started as a pipe dream of my own, but fate brought me to new friends, friends that could help with this dream.”

“What is that dream?”

“It’s a dream of the future… kind of vague I know, but it’s the best way I can word it. It’s a place where ponies like me can fit in, where ponies and humans can work and live together without having to fight or be afraid… that’s what I want at least. My new friends have dreams for it too, but they’re more focused on changing the entire world one small step at a time. I think it’s a lot of work but I won’t argue with them.”

“... So a city of the Future? That’s a tall order Wolfie, you know that right?”

“I do, which is why we need all the help we can get. I know that you’re not really a scientist, but I also know that you’ve always been an optimist, those are the kind of people that we need.”

“Well Wolfie… I suppose I could give it a chance. I mean hey, I’m a drifter right now as it is, so what’s another adventure?”

“I’m glad to hear that Pat, I really am. I think you’re going to get along with the others just fine! So what brought you all the way here Pat?”

“That’s a fine question indeed Wolfie, my reasons for coming here are more out of necessity more than anything. I kind of got run out of my old town, so I’ve been drifting around Arizona for a while, trying to find a more permanent home. The Grand Canyon is beautiful, but it’s also home to a small tightly knit pony community. “The Court of Miracles”, “The City of Silence”, The Mirage in the Canyon”... a lot of fantastical names, for a seemingly un-fantastical place. Truth be told I’d rather take my chances with you and your friends, but I’ve come all this way, we might as well take a look at the village, see what kind of ponies live there… you know?”

“Yeah… I know… something seems off though. Look, my camp’s not too far away, we can head over there if you want, settle down for the night, and then head back to Phoenix in the morning.”

“Well let’s just give it a quick look then, maybe grab a bite to eat, and then head back to your camp.”

“You’re dead set on this then?”

“I’m not dead set on it… but I’m curious… what’s the harm in at least looking?”

Stanley sighed deeply. “Ok Pat, fine. We can go look-- but not for too long ok?!”

“Sure thing Wolfie!”

Stanley and Patrick walked along the narrow trail that hugged the canyon wall for a while until they reached a larger ledge overlooking the canyon floor. The sun began to set, Stanley was amazed at the sight before him. The canyon walls lit up by the sunset were really a sight to see.

“You really think we should go down there? I mean my friends are setting up a more permanent home in Phoenix for now, I don’t think they’d mind if we stayed with them…”

“...That’s fine, but I’ve come all this way and I’ve been trying to find this for a while. I kind of just want to get some closure on it if that’s alright with you? Come on Wolfie, it’s time to take a Journey… to the Center of the Earth!”

With a somewhat hesitant tone in his voice, Stanley replied, “Oh alright, but just for a little while ok? This place kind of gives me the creeps.” A Jules Verne reference? Pat and Silver are going to get along just fine when they meet… he thought to himself

With that the two friends ventured down into the canyon, coming across a smooth adobe wall and a closed gate.

“This is genius! It’s all so authentic!” Patrick yelled as he gestured at the adobe walls.

Stanley nervously glanced around. “I’m still a little hesitant about this Pat, it just feels too… perfect?”

“We’ll be fine Stanley, look, if you’re worried just give your friend a call.”

“No, it’s fine Pat.”

“Awesome! Let’s go in then!” Patrick pushed the gate open, and the two friends walked in.

Stanley gave off a few more nervous glances. “Ok we stopped by!--”

“--Look Stanley, more night ponies, maybe you’ll make a few friends here too!”

“I don’t know, I think maybe we should leave--” He was suddenly cut off by a cheerful greeting.

“A warm welcome to you both! You must have come a long way if you’ve found yourselves here, why don’t you sit down for a little bit, we’ll get you some food and water!”

“See Wolfie, we’re fine. Let’s just sit down and have a quick meal and then we can go, ok?”

An orange night pony mare trotted over to the duo. “My apologies, I haven’t even introduced myself yet. My name is Sunset Dawn, the leader of this fair community.”

“Well nice to meet you too Sunset, I’m Patrick and this is my good friend Stanley. I heard all about this place a few weeks ago when I was riding with some drifters out in the desert, and I’ve been looking for this place ever since. You’ve sure started quite a few rumors in the local villages.”

“Well rumors are rumors of course, I hope nothing bad though!” She laughed out.

“Sunset Dawn? Isn’t that a little contradictory?” Stanley said out loud.

“Well my dear, it’s more symbolic. Surely you’re not shy to the concept of Shimmerists right? I personally believe that the ETS Pandemic was some miracle of fate, that we’ve been given a higher purpose in our lives. Sunset Shimmer gave us a new dawn, and I believe that we have an obligation to take it.”

“I… I suppose that makes sense”

“Fear not travelers, you’re safe from the outside world for now. Now, you’ve yet to receive a tour of this wonderful city, one of our wonderful residents will guide you through the city and show you all that it has to offer and bring you down to our marvelous great hall, where you can eat and drink as much as you’d like. Who knows, you might never even want to leave!”

Stanley was getting a very strange feeling of unease, this place, these ponies… they all seemed too… perfect.

Patrick on the other hand was as cheerful as ever. “Thanks for the warm welcome Sunset--”

“--Dawn, please. We’re all friends here, so I ask that you just call me Dawn.”

“Sure thing Dawn, thanks for all the hospitality, we appreciate it.”

A dark green night pony mare trotted up to the group, nervously looking back towards the building she had just exited from.

“Aha, your guide is here at last, Midnight you’re late again.”

“My apologies Dawn, I was caught up with our other new resident.”

“Now you know I don’t like excuses, we can talk about this later. Please introduce yourselves to our new guests, Stanley and Patrick.”

“It is very nice to meet you both, my name is Midnight Sun, I’ve been a resident here for a couple months now, and I’d be pleased to show you around the city!” She said somewhat cheerfully.

“Well I’ll leave you three to it, I have some business to attend to, I’m sure we’ll all meet for dinner later in the grand hall.”

“We would be delighted to Dawn!” Patrick enthusiastically said.

With that, Midnight led the duo down the hall she had exited from earlier, leaning close to the pair.

“Sorry for the overly zealous act, I need to put on a show for Dawn otherwise she’ll get on my case… Look, you shouldn’t have come here, It’s dangerous, these ponies seem welcoming at first but the group is like a cult. I can help you leave though… I want out too.”

“What do you…” Stanley began to ask, Midnight cutting him off before he could finish his sentence.

“Shh, I’ll answer all your questions later, but we need to get to a more private area.” In a louder tone she started pointing out the different sights and facilities of the village. “And over here we have our library, a truly wonderful little room, real good for all your entertainment and intellectual needs! Shall we take a look inside?!”

“Uh… Sure?”

Midnight opened the door and led the duo in, keeping an eye out for any other ponies that might have been shadowing them. Seemingly pleased with the situation, she shut and locked the door behind her.

“Ok, we should have enough privacy in here, Gizmo you can drop the act now.”

An older looking earth pony sat in the corner of the room, examining a weathered copy of the bible. Sitting up, he adjusted in his seat, looking towards the group.

“Finally, I can’t say it’s a real page turner, but you guys have the good stuff under lock and key… Oh howdy there, pleased to make your acquaintance, I’m Dr. Jacques Seeker… but please just call me Gizmo, or Giz, whatever suits you best.”

Patrick led the charge this time

“Well hello there… Gizmo. I’m Patrick…”

“And I’m Stanley. Nice to meet you.”

Midnight just rolled her eyes and looked at the clock on the wall. “Ok, we don’t exactly have a lot of time so let’s drop the formalities. You’re all fools for coming here… all of us are to be honest…”

Patrick looked at Midnight with a look of pure confusion. “I hate to interrupt, but what makes you say that?”

Midnight just rolled her eyes again. “Are you blindly optimistic or something? Did you not question why everypony’s been so cheerful and happy here? It’s not just some coincidence, Dawn’s a bit of an overzealous nutcase and she’s attracted like minded company. The city is nice enough but the residents just give me the creeps.”

“I… well… Look, optimism has nothing to do with it, they’ve been very hospitable to us so I’ve just been trying to repay their kindness. What do you mean by all of this? You’re making it sound like they’re some kind of cult.”

With a slightly annoyed tone, Midnight replied back, “Look, they practically are… Dawn runs this place like a cult and once you’re in She’ll find any reason to keep you here. I could have just flown out but I have nowhere else to go, no supplies, you guys evidently do. I want to go with you.”

“Ok, let’s get back to the topic at hand, arguing back and forth with each other won’t get us anywhere.” Stanley said, suddenly gaining a bit of confidence.

Gizmo sat up in his chair. “Your friend’s right… Pat was it? I might be old but with age comes wisdom, and your friend’s got a wise idea.”

Midnight spoke up again. “Ok listen, Dawn, her guards, and the leader of the guard, Calamity, won’t let you leave. At least not tonight. They’ll cite the danger of the world outside the walls, the wildlife, whatever they can think of. Besides, it’s not exactly the smartest idea to just go wandering through a dark canyon at night. I know we can see in the dark but Giz and your friend here can’t.”

“I’m sorry… Midnight, but what exactly do we need to do?”

“Be yourselves, Stanley. Pretend like you’re interested in seeing the community. These zealots might be overzealous but they’ll respect you if you act out the motions. It’ll help keep the heat off of us for when we decide to leave. Giz and I have been plotting out the patrols, trying to guess the schedule. There’s some guards that go into rotation early in the morning that should be friendly towards us and won’t go running for Dawn and Calamity. They can’t do anything about us leaving, but they’ll talk our ears off and just wind up distracting us.”

“So what you’re saying is that we sit and wait?”

The green earth pony perked up, facing Patrick, “Yes, that’s more or less the gist of it. I used to be a botanist before… well before all of this, so i’m used to waiting around all day.”

“Which is why you’ll be playing the part of the unassuming guests skipping town. Dawn’s going to be upset when Giz and I try to leave, but if we’re just escorting you out she probably won’t realize we’re gone until we’re far from this place. Dawn’s got an ego bigger than the canyon so this is going to hit her right where it hurts.”

It was Stanley’s turn to speak now. “Ok… I think this makes sense. When is this all going down?”

“Tomorrow. It’ll lessen the blow. I don’t hate Dawn, and I’d hate to genuinely hurt her, but she’s just not the kind of pony I want to be around.”

“I guess that makes sense… I can’t say that really I trust anypony here to be honest. No offense or anything.”

“I can’t either kid, these shimmerists are unlike any other that I’ve encountered. You ever hear about the shimmerists down south? Led by some fanatical unicorn going by the name of Sunset Blessing. Now I don’t care much for her fanaticism, but she sure knows how to lead a cause… She’s rallied the whole town, some town goin’ by the name of Riverview, into expanding out. Last I heard they were already building entire neighborhoods of new houses for ponies and humans alike, it sounds like some tall tale but I’ve lived through enough tall tales to believe anything at this point.”

Stanley thought back to his interaction with Silver a couple nights prior, specifically Sunset’s offer… “Yeah, I know about Sunset Blessing. That’s… reassuring though. It really is, thanks… Gizmo.”

“Glad to help kid, when we’re out of here I’d love to tell you all a few stories around the campfire, not exactly the best kind of thanks but for me sharing stories is one of the most valuable things a group of drifters can do.”

Midnight smiled, showing genuine cheer this time around. “I’d love that Giz, maybe we could grab a real drink or two somewhere too… that communion wine isn’t doing shit for me anymore, and I can’t justify raiding their stash anymore without raising more suspicion.”

“Only if you’re buying, it’d be awfully rude to make our new friends pay, wouldn’t it?”

“Well you know Giz, all three of you kind of owe me for this masterfully thought out plan after all… Oh come on, you know I’m just kidding of course.”

“Alright, well with that out of the way, is there anything else we need to cover? I’m sure three newcomers to town hiding out in one room with a long time resident doesn’t look super natural when we’re all supposed to be on a tour of the town.”

“Don’t worry about it Patrick, Dawn encourages spending time in the library, you could spend every waking moment in here and no one would even suspect a thing. It’s the perfect meeting place for us.”

“Well… if we’re going to fit in, it wouldn’t hurt to finish our tour of the town.”

“You know, that’s not a bad idea Wolfie.”

Stanley jumped up from his spot at the table, seemingly embarrassed

“Damn it Pat, did you need to use that dumb nickname!?”

“Wolfie?... I’m sure there’s a good story behind that.” Midnight chuckled to herself.

“It’s really a dumb story for a dumb nickname.”

“Oh don’t worry about it Stanley, I think it’s kind of cute.”

“Alright you two, I don’t know about you but I’m starting to get a little peckish. Maybe we should head down to the great hall and grab something to eat.” Gizmo interjected, cutting through the awkwardness

“Yeah… I like that Idea, let’s go grab something to eat!” Stanley said, grateful that Gizmo had spoken up.

“Alright… Wolfie, I can finish showing you two around on our way there.” Midnight said, still chuckling to herself.

“Well don’t let me stand in your way, I’d love to get some real food for a change, none of that scavenged stuff I’ve been living off for a month now.” Patrick said, chuckling at Stanley’s annoyance.

And on that note, the four ponies exited the library, with their grand plans for departure fresh in their minds.

Stanley sat in the roomy guest quarters reading a book and trying to bide his time until they would make their leave in the morning. Patrick and Gizmo were already fast asleep-- had been for hours now. He had mellowed out a little since he had first entered the village, but something was still nagging at his thoughts, and despite his best efforts he couldn’t get it to leave his head. Stanley sighed and stood up, walking over to the adjacent cottage, really more of a small shack that Midnight Sun had called home.

“That you Stanley? I can almost hear your hesitation you know?” came the deadpan voice from the other side of the door.

Stanley was taken aback for a moment, suddenly remembering that pony hearing was a lot more sensitive than human hearing. “Uhh.. yeah it is. Sorry, I just needed to talk with you about something. Can I come in?”

“Door’s unlocked, feel free to come in.”

Stanley opened the door and walked in, midnight closed her book and reached over for a glass of water and took a few sips. He noticed a small bag sitting by the door, no doubt recently packed. “You’re all set to go?”

“Yeah. Nothing much to take with me, it’ll make it easier at least.”

Stanley flashed a few worried glances, finally finding the right words. “Midnight… you said this place was a cult right? Why haven’t you just called the police or some other group that might be able to help?”

“I said it was like a cult. Dawn and her loyalists are overzealous and fanatical but they’re not actually doing anything illegal-- well except maybe vandalizing a natural park, but that’s a whole different can of worms. Their operation is extremely unethical yes, but illegal no. No one’s a prisoner here, but it’s not exactly easy to leave on your own. Dawn keeps most of the food under strict lock and key, so there’s not exactly a lot of resources to flee with unless you spend weeks saving up small amounts of food.”

“Why haven’t you tried to leave already?”

“Why? Well let me tell you the truth Stanley. I was onboard with Dawn’s ideas at first, thought that maybe following the vision could work out for us but over time I guess I just grew distant from her constant spiritual lectures about how ponies are far superior to anything else and that we should try and spread that message as far as we can. I do think that we’re better off as ponies, but I’m tired of Dawn treating this like some religion. Giz coming in a few days ago, followed by you two today was the final thing I needed to convince me to make my exit.”

“Do you think that there’s others like you in here?”

“Other ponies that are maybe second guessing their decisions? Yeah, definitely. But none have come forward with it yet.”

“What if we help them?”

Midnight sighed. “Stanley… I know you mean well, but how do we help ponies that aren’t actively pointing out that they need help?”

“That's… well… ok fine-- what about the guards though? The ones that you befriended?”

Midnight’s face scrunched up into a look of confusion. “What about them?”

“What if you tell them to keep an eye out for anypony that wants to leave but doesn’t know how to, and we just come up here and hide resources outside the city every once in a while? Or maybe offer them a route out of here?”

“I guess that could work. Listen Stanley, if you want to coordinate that I’ll gladly help. But I’m not staying here any longer than I need to ok?”

Stanley shook his head. “Okay.”

Midnight smiled back at him. “Good. Now go get your stuff packed together and maybe let your friend know that you’re gonna have two extra passengers joining you on the trip home, just so it isn’t a surprise to him.”

“Alright, good idea Midnight… thanks.”

“Any time Stanley, any time!”

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