• Published 22nd May 2019
  • 212 Views, 8 Comments

Stardust's Odyssey - Cosmic Eclipse

A Thestral awakens in a world he never fell asleep in, is thrust into the middle of a century's long feud, and forced to come to terms with his new reality.

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Ch IV - "The City in the Clouds"

I hesitantly looked over to Onyx, who had pulled his goggles back down over his eyes. “Just how far away is this city?”

He didn’t turn back towards me, choosing to keep flying straight. “It’s kind of tricky to say, but see that large mass of clouds in the distance? Looks kind of spooky right?”

I squinted my eyes at the mass of dark clouds. “That’s really a city?”

He chuckled and nodded his head, “It sure is! Isn’t it something? Trust me though, it’s a lot more hospitable than it would seem. Gotta keep any would be attackers out, and what better way to do that than make some big scary looking construct to intimidate them with.”

I nodded as best as I could while flying. Thestrals were similar to pegasi, perhaps even sharing some ancient common ancestor, but the two were still very different. I gulped nervously as I remembered that most couldn’t walk on clouds back home unless they had some pegasi heritage. I never really knew much about my family tree, other than that my mother and father had come from a long line of thestrals. This obviously didn’t bode well for me, but still I held out hope that maybe somewhere within me there was some latent pegasus gene.

I nervously gulped again. “Hey Onyx? Can thestrals usually walk on clouds here?”

He laughed loudly, “Ha, is that a joke?”

“Er-- no.” I stammered out, the tremble in my voice no doubt betraying my unease.

He smirked, seemingly catching onto this. “Well I guess you’ll find out when we get there then eh?”

I tried to give a half hearted chuckle, but found it hard. “Yeah… I guess we will.”

As I gazed out into the distance I could start to make out various monolithic structures, it was hard to accurately get an idea of how massive this place was, but it was definitely bigger than Cloudsdale back home.

He spoke up once more, drawing my attention away from the city. “Get ready to dive on into it, there might be a bit of turbulence up ahead, another one of their little defense measures. Makes sure that only the ones who need to be there are there. Make sense?”

I agreed, trying to hide my own anxiety. “And what if they can’t make it through, what happens then?”

“Oh they usually plummet back down to the surface world, real nasty fall, it’s almost better to die in some cases.” He paused for an uncomfortably long time, “Ya worried?”

I stammered out another weak response, “N—no…”

He let out a chuckle, the cheerfulness standing in stark contrast to the grim visuals he had conjured for me. I shook my head to dispel those thoughts, opting to take a deep breath instead.

As we grew closer to the city the storm seemed to grow more intense, lightning and thunder crashed all around us as the rain seemed to only grow in intensity, stinging as it rapidly fell against us. I could now see the value in why so many winged ponies carried goggles around. Remembering that I now had my own pair I quickly shifted them to cover my eyes, giving me a brief respite from the torrential downpour.

“Alright Star, get ready to really go all in, we’re ‘bout to breach the barrier!” he shouted back at me, his yelling proving almost futile at this point. Not seeing any point in straining my own voice I simply nodded, increasing my own pace as the world seemed to blur around me. Just as I felt as if I’d get knocked out of the sky by the force of the turbulence the sky suddenly cleared around me as we pierced the cloud barrier, giving me my first real view of the place.

Words could hardly do this place justice. The view was simply breathtaking, the sun lighting up the clouds around us as if we had breached the heavens, the natural mist generating rainbows as far as the eye could see. Buildings that could never compare to anything on the surface peppered the landscape creating an almost otherworldly tableau. Evidently Onyx could tell that I was awestruck, as he quickly flew in near me.

“It’s a great feeling eh?! Like flyin’ through the eye of the storm!”

I smiled and nodded, truly having never seen anything so spectacular in my entire life. “It’s incredible! The stuff back home has nothing on this place!”

“I figured you’d like it, now how about we see if you’re really Cloud City material?”

I raised an eyebrow in confusion, “What… do you mean by that?”

He nodded his head towards the cloud layer below us, “Well, we glide down and land, if you can cloud walk you can stay, if you can’t…” he took an uncomfortable pause, gesturing down at the world below, “well you get the picture.”

I nervously gulped and nodded, gliding quickly over a few stray clouds and circling around the entire square with Onyx at my side. I closed my eyes as I touched down, fearing the worst as I felt myself sink down slightly.”

A thousand thoughts immediately ran through my head as I began to hastily flap my wings in fear.

Onyx’s chuckling broke the pained silence, “Hey Star, calm down, you can open your eyes! You’re good to go!”

I cautiously opened an eye, laughing as I realized that I was on semi solid cloud. “I… I did it! I can’t believe it but I did it!”

“That’s great, glad to see you’ve got a little bit o’ pegasus blood in ya after all! It uhh… well it would have made getting to the Crystal City a little more challenging if you couldn’t, so I’m glad you’re apparently one of the rare breeds that can!”

This caught me off guard, returning me from my euphoric daze, “So why would Xenith even suggest this if you thought I might have fallen?”

Onyx chuckled. “Yeah well you see, Xen’s impatient. He’d rather send you here on the off chance you could cloud walk rather than just make you take the long but safer route. I guess we don’t have to worry ‘bout that anymore.”

I slowly nodded my head, unsure of what to make of Xen’s complete disregard for safety, ”Uh huh… very good indeed.” I looked around at the city around me, just trying to make sense of the place, “So where’s that caravan we’re supposed to be looking for?”

Onyx flashed me a wide eyed stare, jumping up in surprise, and ignoring my inquiry, “Aha, that’s what I’m forgetting! Go ahead and give Xen a call, he’ll want to know that the great hero of legend survived his little trip.”

I raised my metallic hoof, tapping the stone that was securely fastened to it. Immediately I pulled my good hoof back in surprise at the strange magical buzz that began to emanate from the strange stone. Almost immediately the magic began to “speak” to me in ways that were impossible to explain, it was as if my brain was tuning in to the signal and transforming it into comprehensible words.

“Stardust, can you hear me?” Came the strange magical buzz of Xen’s voice.

I hesitantly began to speak, quickly realizing that I was speaking not in words but that same strange magical buzz, “Xenith… is this working? It feels…”

“Strange right?” He said, finishing my sentence, “never mind that though, all that matters is your quest. I’m correct in assuming that you both made it to the city in one piece?”

“Yes, we touched down moments ago, Onyx wanted to let you know that I survived…” I paused for a moment, debating whether I should be mad, grateful, or both, “a little heads up would have been nice, but I guess that’s all water under the bridge now isn’t it?”

“Ah Yes, I apologize for withholding that information from you, I feared you may have called the whole journey off if you had known. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“I really have no right to… but apology accepted, I suppose it’s the least I can do to repay you and Onyx for saving my life. So where do we go now?”

“Right, head towards the Cloud City Caravan office, it’ll be the big cloud spire in the center ring of the city with the red Pegasus sign, can’t miss it! Ask for Storm Glider, tell him that Xen’s collecting on that debt he owes him, he’ll get the message… or try to kill you, maybe both.”

I rolled my eyes, “anything else you want to tell me that may put my life in mortal peril?”

“No, not particularly, I’d rather not scare you away so soon…”

“Well, at least you’re somewhat honest in telling me that there’s more to come. I guess I’m just going to trust Onyx on this one, he’s a capable enough medic right?”

“Well he’s an apprentice but a competent one, I don’t think you’ll have too much to worry about with this one.”

“Right, well I guess I’ll get right back into it, how do I turn this thing off?”

“Give it a tap, he paused for a moment, “oh and do give Storm my regards, I’m sure he’ll be cordial with you.”

“I sure hope so. Goodbye Xen.”

“Farewell.” He said as I tapped the stone, a strange feeling of relief passing through me as the magical aura began to fade.

I raised my head back to Onyx, “Well we have our heading, we’re off to see Storm Glider… fair warning, Xen said he might try to kill us, is that news to you?”

Onyx chuckled, “Ahh another classic Xen, I guess I can add that to the list.”

I stared back in disbelief, “You’re keeping a list of all the ponies that want to kill Xenith?”

He continued to laugh, “Oh it’s not just ponies, it’s every creature imaginable.”

I returned a wide eyed look of bewildered concern, “Just how long is this list?!”

He countered with a nervous laugh, “I don’t think you want to know… let’s just say that it’s long and leave it at that. Why else do you think he’d live in such a secluded space?”

I face hoofed, taking a moment to compose myself, “alright, let’s just get to the Caravan and hope that Storm doesn’t try to kill us and go from there.”

“Right, you know where we’re going?”

I raised my goggles, staring off in the distance at the large cloud spire that dominated the sky, “I think I have a good idea, just keep an eye out for a red Pegasus sign and well known we’re in business.”

Onyx nodded and took to the sky, as we quickly flew towards the towering spire.

I gazed up at the spire, marveling at the enormous structure that seemed to be the very heart of the city. Being up close to it, I couldn’t help but notice how complex it was, with numerous cloud bridges connecting to the different buildings that surrounded it. Truly this was the hub of all trade in the land, words could never do it justice. Looking at the sign, I nodded, “Alright, red pegasus sign, giant cloud spire. This is the place, shall we give it a shot?”

“Sure, want me to plan an escape if it goes bad?”

I shook my head, “No, let’s just assume that he won’t try to kill us, and if he does we wing it.”

Onyx began to hesitantly nod his head, “Well… aye aye captain.”

I pressed forward, flying towards the large opening at the base that appeared to be the entrance. Walking through the large arched entrance only made the spire seem that much larger.

We walked towards a desk with a frantic looking Pegasus hastily flipping through a large ledger, writing out notes and delivery orders. I slowly approached him, clearing my throat and speaking up, “Hello, I’m looking for Storm Glider, I have business with him.”

He paused his frantic motions and turned towards me, adjusting the glasses he wore before giving a frantic reply, “Do you have an appointment?”

The thought of telling him the truth briefly passed through my head, however the realization that Storm Glider’s schedule was already packed full quickly dashed those thoughts. I instead opted for a lie, “Yes, and I’m afraid we’re running a bit late, we need to see him right away.”

He slowly nodded his head, “Right… and your name?”

“Tell him that we’re on a special assignment from Xenith Glow, I’m afraid that I can’t share anything else.”

His eyes lit up in a knowing realization, “Xen you say? Alright well follow me, Storm Glider will see you in his office.”

I nodded, waving Onyx over as we began to follow the book keeper through the long featureless hallway.

We entered a strange circular room set at the heart of the spire. Onyx could no doubt sense my confusion and reassuringly explained what was about to happen,

“This is what we call a sky lift, kind of like a big cloud that raises you up somewhere. It’s a little weird but don’t worry, you’re perfectly safe,” he paused momentarily, catching the strange look from the bookkeeper, “He’s not used to seein’ things like this, it’s kind of his first visit to the city.”

The bookkeeper’s face brightened up as the floor below us began to rise, bringing a strange magical feeling over me once more. “Well in that case, welcome to Cloud City! Don’t mind any of the stares you might get, it’s not often we get thestrals here, let alone ones with a natural ability to walk among the clouds.”

I nodded my head as the sky lift continued to rise, bringing us higher into the great spire, “Thanks, to tell you the truth, I had no idea I was able to do this before today, so I’m really just as awestruck as the others.”

“Well then it’s a very fortunate turn of fate indeed, it’s an uncommon ability but one that the unicorns can magically grant, albeit temporarily… and for a fairly steep price.”

I arched an eyebrow, “The unicorns charge for that? Where I’m from you can just buy an amulet or ask one to cast it for you.”

“What don’t they charge for? Pardon the pun but I’m sure your own prosthetic cost an arm and a leg to get, I’m amazed that they even sold you such a model, that’s usually only reserved for their own kind.”

“It’s… a complicated story, but I guess you could say that. I guess I live in some fantasy world where unicorns are nice and don’t just keep everything to themselves. It’s strange to imagine that they get such a bad rep here, they’re so well respected back home,” I said as I began to trail off, thinking of Canterlot back home and how it was so revered for it’s notable unicorns

The bookkeeper’s counter stirred me from my thoughts, snapping me back to this reality, “What a concept eh? Anyway, we’re almost there, I’ve already notified Storm of your meeting’s… special circumstances so he’ll be expecting you in his office.”

As if to punctuate his words the sky lift came to a stop in front of another hallway, though this one was punctuated with stunning panoramic windows that looked out over the stunning vista. I might have been some strange inter dimensional alien but I was already growing to love this world. He stepped forward, gesturing for us to follow. The feel of the clouds below my hooves was still a strange and alien sensation for me, though I was starting to at least get used to it. I hesitantly stepped forward, staring down at the ground with wide-eyed curiosity. Onyx had evidently caught on to my distraction and gently tapped me on the shoulder, pointing towards the bookkeeper who had begun to outpace us.

“Star you better get a movin’ before you’re left behind. There’s plenty more time to go play in the clouds when we aren’t looking for some ancient artifact or monument.”

I nodded and resumed a more normal walking pace, muttering out a hushed apology as we continued our walk towards the large double doors, “Sorry Onyx, this is just so… weird. I guess I never realized how soft clouds were, it’s like every step I take is on the world's softest pillows.”

Onyx chuckled, “Well you are of course, these kinds of clouds are a rare luxury item down below, ponies would kill for this kind of comfort.”

“You mean Pegasi don’t usually make these down there?”

He shook his head, “Oh no, we do. We just don’t share them much, we can’t really give all of our best luxuries away.”

“This is kind of a culture shock, I’m sure you can imagine. Back home everyone just… shares. It must be a weird concept here.”

“Aye, it is… but it’s just how the tribes have grown to be. The great schism divided the lands and even though you have groups that have moved on you still have large enclaves holding onto their more independent nature. It’s just still in our cultural DNA if that makes sense.”

I nodded, “it does, I come from a world of harmony and balance. Something’s thrown that off here and the entire world’s just shifted as a result. It’s strange but I’ll get used to it.”

“Glad to hear that Star, I know it must be hard to adjust but you’re handling it pretty well.”

“I’ve always been the kind of pony to take what life gives me and roll with it, nothing’s perfect and the world’s always going to change, so why hold onto the little things when there’s so much more just waiting for me?”

Onyx nodded and smiled, “Well there’s not many like you here so that’s reassuring to see.”

The bookkeeper cut in, clearing his throat, “Alright, Storm Glider will see you now.”

We pushed the doors open and walked into the large office. Large windows wrapped around the room offering us yet another spectacular view of the surrounding landscape. Packages and containers were haphazardly strewn about the room in a showcase of true organized chaos if I had ever seen it.

At the heart of this chaos sat a white Pegasus with a silver mane who I could only assume was the pony we were looking for. I stepped forward and nodded my head, “Storm Glider I presume?”

“Yes. So is that traitorous wretch of a thestral with you or are you merely his errand boy?”

“I’m not running an errand for him, he’s simply helping me with a problem. Now he said you owed him a favor so are you going to pay up to that or should I just save my breath and move on to better couriers.”

“Better couriers? I’m it kid, there’s no one who has the connections or resources that I do. So what’s the job? What does Xenith think could be so important that he calls up the courier he betrayed?”

“We need passage to the Crystal City, he said you could do it. So will you?”

Storm rubbed his temple, staring down the two of us in consideration, after a long pause he continued, “So Xen isn’t involved aside from assisting you?”

I shook my head, “Xenith is offering us advice and help, that’s it. So will you help us or not?”

“I’m a pony of my word, I hate Xen with a passion and by all means I should throw you two out for even associating with him, but I do technically owe him a favor. The ship departs in an hour, be on there or you’re out of luck.”

“Thanks Storm, I owe you one.”

Storm chuckled and shook his head, “You’re not from around here are you? You don’t want to owe me something, believe me. I’ll give you this one for free just so I’m squared away with Xenith.”

“Well thanks anyways Storm, it means a lot to us. Where should we board?”

“You’ll board at docking bay 82, ask Diamond Quill for directions. Be on the ship early, it’s leaving right on the hour. My end of the agreement is only to offer you a place on the ship, not the actual passage, I run a business after all.”

“Diamond… who?” I asked in confusion.

He gestured towards the bookkeeper with a wing, “Diamond Quill, my assistant and bookkeeper. He’ll direct you but he won’t hold the ship so if you miss it you’re on your own.”

“Alright well thanks again. We’ll make sure we’re onboard before. Do you mind if we explore the town a little?”

He shook his head, “Do whatever you want, like I said, I’ve upheld my end of the bargain and that’s all I owe you. It’s up to you to be punctual on this, if you miss it you can only blame yourself.”

“Right. Well we’ll see you then.”

“Until the Horizon.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

Onyx leaned in, “It’s a traditional Pegasi farewell,” he turned towards Storm and Diamond, “like I said before, my friend’s not from around here, he’s still adjusting.”

I nodded my head, countering with my own awkward farewell, “Right, well thanks again,” Onyx and I began to depart, pausing momentarily. I turned back towards Storm, “Xenith does give his regards as well.”

“Does he now? Well do me a favor and tell him that we’re squared away and that he better sleep with one eye open if he knows what’s good for him.”

“Oh I will, don’t worry about that.”

We stepped outside and I took a few minutes to update Xen on our current status, relaying Storm’s threat back to him. Pleased with the update he closed the connection and left me to my own devices.

Onyx and I wandered around the city, though we stayed close to the spire so we wouldn’t need to frantically fly back in the short amount of time that we had to ourselves. Onyx had visited the city often in his youth, and was enthusiastically giving me the grand tour.

He chatted as we walked along, gesturing at the magnificent cloud buildings that were densely packed into the sprawling complex, “The taller the building is the more prominent of a business it is. The spire is obviously the biggest one, so as you can imagine the caravan kind of runs the place.”

This piqued my interest, as he seemed to imply that Cloud City had no formal governance, “Wait so there’s no real leadership here?”

“Oh no, there’s leadership but it’s not nearly as formal as anywhere else. There’s a whole city council that runs the day to day operations but the city itself is mostly run by the businesses, the more powerful they are the more influence they have around here.”

“Doesn’t that… you know, kind of get chaotic?”

“Ya know, surprisingly not. It might seem weird but this whole city’s built on trade. It’s not like other towns that are focused on residential needs, Cloud City is almost all business.”

I nodded along, though I feel that Onyx wasn’t truly convinced that I comprehended it all the way, “I think I can kind of understand. It’s still such an alien concept to me, but I guess if I’m stuck here I’ll have to learn to get used to it.”

“I can't imagine that it’s necessarily easy, but hey, at least you’re up beat and in good spirits about everything so props to you.”

“I’ll always be up beat if there’s at least a chance that I could find a way home. That’s the whole reason why I’m even going along with this. Xenith seems to think that it’s possible, so I’m willing to entertain his plans for now.”

“Well I can't say that I blame ya, I can’t even begin to imagine what you’re going through…”

“Yeah? I can’t even begin put it to words… I don’t think anyone could. You could put yourself in my shoes but I doubt you’d even be able to imagine it. Let’s just say it’s a lot and end it there to save yourself some trouble.”

Onyx nodded his head, “Mhm, we should probably start heading over to the docking bay, it wouldn’t kill us to get there a little early, the sooner we’re settled the better.”

I nodded my head as we turned back towards the spire, “Right, well lead the way Onyx.”

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