• Published 17th Jun 2019
  • 858 Views, 183 Comments

The First Republic - Starscribe

One generation ago, a volcanic eruption nearly smothered all life on Equus. Ponies and griffons ended up deciding not to kill each other. Contrail is going to set down the history of the Migration War, if it doesn't kill him first.

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Chapter 3

I had a few days to prepare, rushing around the city to arrange my affairs. Needless to say, the dean of Twilight’s own school was more than accepting of my absence under the circumstances, and wished me good luck. I didn’t really own much, so it wasn’t hard to gather all I had into a single set of saddlebags to wear up to the dock.

Canterlot’s drydock has remained an important place for innovation ever since the Migration War, with much of it sealed from civilian ponies like me. Not that Canterlot would put up anything as tacky as high walls when a good third of the population could just fly over to take a look anyway. But the areas not populated with uniformed military or the Crown’s engineers were small.

One of those was at the end of the north dock, where an older but respectable-looking airship was waiting for me. She was recent enough to have thaumic impeller engines, though the metal cylinders on her flanks were larger than the rowboats and other pleasure-craft docked nearby. Thin lines of rust traced along the edge of the shell, and I guessed the propeller inside would not be the kind to accelerate us near to the rainbow barrier.

The crew already expected me—not a military crew, as I’d initially expected. There were few weapons among them at all—a handful of six-shooters and a rifle worn by a brawny earth pony. The majority of these ponies carried none. Strange choice for where we’re going. Unless those are my biases talking. I’m not really any better than the princess about that.

A pony wearing a large hat and a coat waited for me at the bridge, settling his tea back onto a table and rising as I approached. “Contrail, if I’m not mistaken?”

I nodded. “And you must be Captain Bluejacket. This is the Daughter of Wintergreen, isn’t she?”

“As proud and true as the day she first sailed from Port Jouster,” Bluejacket agreed. “We took delivery of some crates in your name early this morning, and I’ve seen to the supplies for our voyage. Is there anything else you need from land before we leave it behind?”

I hesitated. Despite my tribe, I was not a strong flyer. Growing up in Manehattan had given me little reason to practice, and an academic pursuit had given me even less. Few birds there knew more than how to get down from buildings, or fly over obstructions in the street. I’d never even been to Cloudsdale.

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I said, crossing the short wooden bridge onto the Daughter of Wintergreen. She rocked slightly from one side to another as I stepped aboard, and never truly stopped moving. The wooden deck wasn’t the ground.

“I’m sorry to say that I’m the only member of the original crew left for any of your…” Bluejacket waved a hoof through the air. “Talking to. Twilight said you might be asking questions, but there aren’t any others here who know.”

“But we’re loyal to the Wintergreen, same as anypony who served on her before,” said a young griffon, with brown and off-white feathers. Even with her age, she was approaching the size of the stallions around her. “Even if we have only stories for her legacy.”

Nopony seemed afraid of her—she was even one of those who carried a weapon.

I opened my mouth to ask why this pony might think I had questions for him—but then I remembered. The reason the name of this ship had seemed so familiar had been staring me in the face the whole time: it was the same one Starlight Glimmer had taken to Accipio, twenty-four years before me. Now it would take me to the kingdom that she herself helped rule.

“I’m sure you are,” I said, the only thing I could think of. “And yes, Captain Bluejacket. I would love an opportunity to talk to you about your experiences. But perhaps I could get settled first, and we could get underway. I’m told that the only way to adjust my legs to an airship is to walk one for a while while she flies.”

“True enough,” Bluejacket said, to nods from some of the other creatures around him. All non-winged creatures. Pegasi, thestrals, and other creatures with wings were supposed to be much better at this. I would test that hypothesis for myself very soon. “I’ll take you below myself. Officer Gerta, heave to and raise anchor!”

I didn’t listen to the crew much as they hurried about preparing for takeoff. I didn’t really need to understand the nitty-gritty of how this all worked, at least I didn’t think so.

“This was her room, best as I can recollect,” Bluejacket said, once we were belowdecks. It wasn’t much, maybe two ponies across and four long. But it had a bed and a desk and a window, which seemed to mean it was luxurious. “I’d lend you the captain’s quarters, but the Crown didn’t pay me enough for that. Think of this as part of the experience.”

I hurried inside, settling my saddlebags on a latched hook by the wall. Everything in the room had some way to secure it in place—the sheets were tucked in tight on the bed, the chair had little straps holding it to the desk, and the furniture was all nailed down.

“What kind of work do you do these days, Captain?” I asked, retrieving my writing case from the saddlebags and buttoning them up securely behind me. “Do you take eccentric scholars around the world very often?”

He laughed, turning back towards the deck. “Let’s just say that ponies don’t change as fast as the world does. Used to be they were afraid of the world beyond Equestria for good reason. Now most of it is our friends, but still they’re afraid. The Wintergreen is one of the few ships that routinely travels outside our borders. Mount Aris, Zebrica, Saddle Arabia, Yakyakistan, Irkalla… and Accipio. All perfectly friendly creatures, but you wouldn’t know that from talking to half the captains down in Canterlot right now.”

By the time we made it back to the deck, Canterlot was already falling behind us. Maybe there was some truth to the natural airworthiness of pegasi after all, because I’d hardly noticed the thrust. Or maybe the airship was the one doing all the work. Wind blew briskly about the top deck, but nowhere near as harsh as I expected. It was more like a windy day than the blasting air as we left the city behind.

It seemed so small from up here. I might’ve been afraid of heights if I didn’t have the deck beneath me. “Would you like to ask your questions now, scholar? My memory won’t be any worse if you wait, but I would prefer to have our conversation in friendlier skies.”

“Accipio isn’t—”

He led me up the deck of the Wintergreen, to where the griffon from earlier was now standing at the helm. She saluted the captain as we approached, though the gesture was more informal than military.

“The nation is friendly to us, aye,” he said. “But there are pirates. Accipio doesn’t have the same sense of order that we Equestrians do.”

We settled down into comfortable chairs near the side of the deck, where we could watch the land below blur past. I removed my things, glancing over my notes. I hadn’t been planning on this interview, so I would have to think on my hooves. What historically relevant information would a crewman on the first official Equestrian ship know that I could record?

“Even with such good creatures on the throne? I’m told that our relationship with the emperor and his wife is excellent.”

Bluejacket nodded. “Again, you’re failing to see the horizon past the clouds. The kingdom is friendly, but not every creature in it is. Not just to us—Accipio has its own problems with piracy. There are corridors of sky patrolled by their fleet, and those are the ones we’ll have to use. The Wintergreen is a good ship, but she’s too slow to outrun their new gas-burning interceptors. But we haven’t had a problem in a few years, so don’t you worry yourself.”

I was, but I would try not to show it.

Tell me about your first trip, twenty-four years ago. We weren’t allies with Accipio then, were you nervous?

He laughs. Back then, no. Those engines under our hull, they were brand new. Fastest things in the sky. A griffon soldier might be able to catch up using a high-altitude dive, but that was it. Besides, Accipio knew we were coming.

But you weren’t sure if they were really going to accept our terms. Sometimes our envoys didn’t come back.

Sometimes. I don’t know what the captain thought, but I wasn’t afraid. It just didn’t make sense for Accipio to betray us by killing the ship we sent. That would make it obvious to all Equestria what they planned. Their best bet would be to send us back content and safe. Exactly like they did.

Tricking Equestria in the process. Making them think they intended to be peaceful when they wouldn’t.

Not our problem. We were all patriotic ponies, but figuring out which creatures are good and evil is a question for princesses. We just had to get Starlight there and keep her safe. We did that.

How were you treated once you arrived?

Well enough. Turns out there were plenty of birds who were as afraid of us as we were of them. Unicorns in particular—they don’t have anything like that. No way to stop it.

Except for the Old Magic. Isn’t that more powerful?

Bluejacket looks away, and doesn’t answer for a long time. Eventually he nods. We’d be in trouble if every bird knew it. Might not have an Equestria left standing today. But it was rare. Most birds thought that only Zebras could learn it. Bet you half the bits on board that a Zebra came up with that myth.

What about while you were in port. Did you ever run into trouble?

We caught birds trying to sneak aboard a few times. Fairly certain they were industrial spies, trying to get a good look inside our engines. We sent them away, and the harbor authorities apologized, but there’s no way those birds got punished. Nothing we could do.

But no crewpony ever went missing.

You mean the slavers? Foalnapping us?

There are stories.

Maybe there are. But it wasn’t a problem for the Wintergreen. Emperor Gaius kept the law in his capital. The Wintergreen had made trips there before, that’s why we were chosen for the mission.

I shuffle around in my papers for a moment, then settle on my last question. You were there during the eruption, weren’t you? The Wintergreen had a shield, so you could watch.

More laughter. We had a Starlight, I guess that’s the same thing. Yeah, we watched. Pray you never see anything like it, kid. Really brings things into perspective. Even the old Princesses Celestia and Luna seem small compared to the whole earth just… ripping up. Billowing clouds of ash rising up, bigger than Canterlot and all the mountains around it. Then the fire starts raining down, chunks big enough to crush your whole ship all at once if you’re unlucky.

He’s silent for a long time, apparently remembering all this. I’ll never forget it as long as I live. Not to mention having the emperor aboard.

Now this is something new, and I pick my pen back up again, eagerly. That wasn’t in any of the official records.

Officially, it didn’t happen. The Republic doesn’t want to admit looking weak, but the truth is they didn’t have a ship that could be close enough to the eruption to see. No unicorns, no shields. But the old emperor wanted to be close for some… religious reason. Couldn’t tell you what that was.

I would have to carefully consider including that in the record. Do you know how many died?

I’m sure you historians have other ideas, but to me: everyone who died during the Migration War was killed by Ignis. Worst part is: nopony knows if she’ll ever wake up again.