• Published 14th Oct 2019
  • 2,780 Views, 141 Comments

Never Seen - semillon



Ten years after Princess Twilight’s coronation, the Student Six are no longer friends.

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GHOSTS

It was a good thing the med bay was close to the kitchen. Gallus wouldn’t have known what to do if he were forced to explore the other decks of the Coralvreckan while drunk. The sailors from the Bloody Herring seemed to have recovered and left. When he entered the med bay, there was only one occupied bed, and it was taken up by Late Harvest.

She smiled as he approached and took a seat by her side. “Took you long enough.” She looked him up and down one more time, her smile withering slightly. “Are you drunk?”

“How could you tell?” asked Gallus.

“You were walking like the floor’s covered in soap.”

“Oh,” Gallus said, and giggled to himself. “Whoops.”

“Where’s Captain Silverstream?” asked Harvest. She craned her neck, attempting to looking behind him for anyone else. “I thought she went to get you.”

“Back at the mess,” said Gallus. He examined his right claw for any dirt under his talons. There was none. “Probably crying now. She cries a lot. Didn’t used to cry before, you know? That’s how she impressed me back at school. She teared up a lot, yeah, but she’d never actually cry unless it was for something important.” Gallus deflated, blowing air out of his mouth as he leaned back, draping his spine over the head of his chair. “Figured she used all her tears on the Storm King, but she got ‘em all back when—well, when—you know…?”

“What?”

Gallus laughed. He wasn’t sure why. She hadn’t told a joke, but the way she said ‘what’ was just so funny to him. And then it wasn’t. And then he was frowning. “Can’t wait till we get off this ship.”

“Why?” Harvest asked. “Wait. Gallus? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” said Gallus. He whipped his head forward, trying to sit normally again, but the momentum was too much and he ended up throwing his torso and face into the bed, near Harvest’s hind hooves. The fabric was nice and soft. Comfy. Soooo comfy. He closed his eyes.

“So that was a lie,” Harvest deadpanned.

“I’m sleepy, Harvest. Sleepy and tired. I hate being here. Why’d it have to be them, you know? Coulda’ dealt with any other hippogriffs but Silverstream and Terramar are...ugh.”

He couldn’t see Harvest, but by the tone of her voice he could imagine her furrowing her brows. “I thought you would be happy to see your old friends.”

“We’re not friends,” said Gallus. “Won’t ever be friends.”

“Did something happen?”

That was even funnier than her ‘what’. Gallus laughed again. “It’s a really really really really long story. I’ll tell it to you someday. Probably not.”

“I...the Captain said you were friends.”

“She wants us to be,” said Gallus. “But you know what? She can’t just decide that. Friendship’s a two way street and I’m foreclosed. Anyway, that pretty looking stained glass window that your brother built? Did you say that? Your brother built our window? Well it’s a lie. It’s nothing now. We’re never gonna be doing that again. Catrina was the last villain we’ll ever fight. I’m gonna take a nap. That cool?”

“Sure,” said Harvest. He couldn’t imagine what expression she was making now, but he could feel that she had more questions—ones that she knew he wouldn’t answer. She cleared her throat. “I’ll just, uh, sit here for another hour until you wake up, I guess. And pretend that I’m not bored out of my mind.”

“Sweet.” Gallus sighed. “Look, I’m glad that you’re alright. You’re not anyone I knew from back in Equestria. Doesn’t hurt to look at you, you know? You’re cool. Thanks, Harvest. You’re pretty cool. Did I say that already?”

“You did,” said Harvest.

“Well, you’re double cool,” Gallus said. “Good night.”

“Night,” she whispered. Before Gallus fell asleep, he could hear Harvest muttering softly. “Celestia. Deadwater could have given me a board game or a book or something.”

Silverstream stared at the rectangular screen of noisy pink light that flickered from her personal communications orb. Normally, she could reach some officer, or Seaspray, or even her mom on a few occasions, but nogriff was picking up her calls. Not since the rain started and she rescued Gallus.

Behind her, Brine sighed. “Sorry, Cap. Nogriff knows what’s up with the orbs. We should be close enough to see Aris on the horizon, but with the new situation I can’t tell if that’s true or not.” Silverstream turned her head back to glance at Brine, who gestured to the cabin window, prompting her to look outside. Or try to, anyway.

In the last hour, a thick white fog had arrived on the water and crept onto the ship. Nogriff could see more than a few metres in front of themselves. The fog wasn’t totally tangible, like Equestrian clouds, but it was undeniably dense, and it hadn’t responded to any attempts to wave it off. It was because of this that Silverstream had called a meeting with her brother and Lieutenant Brine, and because of this that they were considering dramatic measures. They needed to get back to Mount Aris, or at least send a message there. They were sailing completely blind.

Terramar fretted, pacing back and forth. “This is sounding more and more like a magical attack.”

“We should probably assume that it is,” said Brine. “Captain? Have you thought about what we discussed?”

Silverstream turned to face her second-in-command. “Yeah. I’ve decided that we’re not going to send Terramar or any of the other sailors out into the ocean yet.”

Brine nodded. “Fair enough. I simply—”

“I know,” said Silverstream. “It’s the most logical decision. If there’s a mage out there deliberately causing this storm, they might be a former affiliate of the Storm King, and if there’s a possibility that somecreature with the Storm King’s brand of magic is targeting Hippogriff waters, we have to notify Seaspray as fast as we can, with or without the communication orbs. But I don’t want anygriff out in the water just yet.”

Brine nodded again. “What do you suggest?”

“I’m going to use the Amulet.” Silverstream looked down to the blue gem hanging against her chest.

Brine and Terramar’s eyes widened, but they kept their opinions to themselves.

The Amulet of Aurora had a limited amount of power, and certain abilities depleted more energy than others. Things such as tracking, creating light, or the few times that the amulet had bore warnings of future events, were trivial. Silverstream suspected that they didn’t use any power. Other things, such as dispelling magic, were extremely taxing.

“I’ll ask it to take the rain and the fog away, across this side of the sea. From Mount Aris to Trottingham,” Silverstream said. She wouldn’t have access to the amulet’s powers for weeks.

“Across the—are you sure?” Terramar asked.

“If we’re sailing blind, then other ships might be as well. It’s the safest way out that I can see right now. For as many creatures as possible,” said Silverstream. She looked to Brine. “What do you think?”

Brine side-eyed Terramar. “Yes.”

Terramar raised an eyebrow at both of them. “What?”

“Do you think you could swim fast enough to reach Seaquestria?” Silverstream asked.

He thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. “No. I can’t. Your plan is best.”

Silverstream exhaled. “Let’s go outside.”

She went to the corner of the cabin and donned a favorite coat of hers—a tartan peacoat decked out in warmth and waterproofing enchantments, with a few of her medals pinned on its breast. The wingholes were a little tight, and tended to tickle as she slipped her wings through, but once it was on it made her feel like a Captain more than any other coat, and she needed to remind herself that she was responsible for the creatures on her ship. She needed to feel like she could fix everything that was wrong.

They left the cabin, stepping onto the main deck where the rain fell as hard as the worst storms they’d weathered, pelting them mercilessly with thick drops. Brine showed no reaction to her feathers getting wet. Terramar frowned. The rain together with the fog made for a truly dreadful atmosphere.

Somewhere, out in the fog, Silverstream could hear the tired grunts of her crew working the ropes and maintaining the intricacies of the ship. She put on a slight smile for them, and Brine, and her brother. With any luck, they would be fine and home and in front of a warm fire in no time. They just had to find their way there.

Silverstream walked with conviction even though the fog made it seem like she could step off of the boat at any point. She found her way to the bow, and gingerly stepped off of it, onto the figurehead. Behind her, Terramar fretted with concern. Silverstream ignored him. She took the amulet off and held it out in front of her, focusing on the well of magic that she had been connected to for the past few years. Shine, she thought. Show us the way home.

The amulet powered on. Silverstream had never been completely sure how she knew when it was working. She figured that maybe it was telepathic, but other times she wondered if it was some sort of sentient being that she had a connection to. Regardless, power flowed into the amulet as it gathered energy; energy from the sea and Silverstream and the thick vapor around them, from the oxygen and the sky and from the well that contained Silverstream’s emotions.

The amulet began to glow. A soft blue light at first, becoming more and more intense by the second until Silverstream could hardly look at it, but she stared anyway, as if breaking eye contact with the thing would surely spell out uncertain death, and then the amulet went and sputtered out like a candle under sudden rain.

It hadn’t worked.

Silverstream bought the amulet close to her face, appraising it. There were no cracks in its gem. Nothing that would have told her it was broken somehow. She stretched her leg out again, her claw’s grip on the amulet’s chain tightened. Come on, she thought. Come on, Amy. Show us the way home. Clear the rain. Clear the fog. Shine! Lead the way!

The amulet glowed brighter than it had the first time. Then its light died. Again.

“That’s. That’s not good, is it?” Terramar said. He and Brine were waiting back at the bow.

“There’s—something is wrong,” Silverstream said. “I’ve never—the amulet’s never—”

“We’re screwed, aren’t we?” asked Brine.

Silverstream held the amulet out in front of her, speaking audibly this time. “Come on! Amulet! Shine! Work, please!”

The light didn’t even appear this time. Rain threw itself against the metal, sliding off of it as quickly as it made contact. Suddenly the amulet was like an injured bird in her claws. She brought it close to her chest, looking over its surface again, but there was no explanation for why it wasn’t working. This was the same amulet that had managed to interfere, if only for a minute, with Princess Twilight’s rising of the sun once, and that was some of the most powerful Equestrian magic in existence. The fact that she couldn’t seem to clear away the fog was...was disturbing, to say the least.

Silverstream backed off of the figurehead, stepping back onto the bow, rejoining Terramar and Brine. They were soaked. Her brother was anxious, which wasn’t a new look for him but was completely justified given the circumstances. Brine, on the other hand, looked contemplative. Silverstream put the amulet back on her neck and caught her second in command’s attention with her eyes. “What’s up, Brine?”

Brine looked back at her. Her bright, baby blue feathers looked more purple in the dim light of the fog. “The amulet’s not working.”

“No,” said Silverstream. “It’s not.”

“But we don’t just have the amulet right now,” said Brine. “We have the Crown of Grover.”

Suddenly Silverstream regretted briefing Brine on the other artifacts in the amulet’s set. She shook her head. “I don’t think that’ll work.”

“Why not?” asked Brine.

“Because I don’t.”

“Streamie, please,” Terramar begged. “Using the amulet together with the crown is a great idea!”

“The other option is to throw Gallus overboard,” Brine said. “Whatever the reason for this rain and fog, the target seems to be him. Maybe we’ll be spared if we leave him to be caught by whatever’s hunting him.”

“Absolutely not,” Silverstream said, stamping a claw on the deck. “Our next move...” She faltered. The raindrops drumming on her head made it difficult to think. She shook her head, dislodging the water soaking into her crest feathers. “Okay. I—the crown idea is the right move. But let me go talk to Gallus. You guys wait here. Find some umbrellas, maybe.”

Brine saluted her, and, after a moment’s hesitation, Terramar did too. Silverstream beamed, and left them on the bow.

She crossed her boat, past her crew moving to and fro, all frowny-faced and trying to do their best in the rain. She would get them out of this. She just had to get Gallus to use the crown with her again. Something that they hadn’t done in...in a while.

Her steps began to slow the closer she got to the lower decks, but she simply remembered her crew, and her responsibility, and kept walking. When she opened the heavy door leading down, she closed it behind her, took her first step down the stairs, and she fell.


Silverstream’s temples met the edge of a stair. Her body twisted and turned and smashed into the stairs until it crashed hard against the floor. She lay there for a few seconds, paralyzed by the aching pain in her neck, sides, head and shoulders. Had she suddenly lost her sea legs?

Silverstream lifted her head, trying to steady herself, but the ever-present rocking of the boat and the patter of the rain were gone.

Everything was...different. The air was warm, and smelled vaguely of cupcakes. Silverstream stood up, trying to orient herself in the middle of a linoleum floor. A—a dance floor?

A pair of ponies came spinning towards her. She scrambled back as they whirled past. She looked around, seeing that other ponies were similarly paired up, dancing joyously and laughing. Somewhere at the front of the dance floor, the passionate notes of a swing record came flying through as the—the party raged on. Silverstream looked to the walls of the room, vaguely recognizing the streamers and lights that decorated them, and found a large, hoof-painted banner that told her where she was in exuberant lettering. It was the School of Friendship’s third annual Amity Ball.

Silverstream looked down and examined herself. Her tartan coat still draped heavy on her shoulders, and the Amulet of Aurora was still on her neck. Evidently, this wasn’t a time spell. Probably. Maybe...

“Silly!” came a desperate, nasally voice.

Silverstream turned to see Gallus, in a full tuxedo, flying towards her, practically landing at her claws. He looked nervous, but he looked innocent, too. He anxiously scanned the crowd. “You see Terramar anywhere? I really gotta talk to him.”

“You’re flying,” said Silverstream, stepping back. Her heart rate began to pick up. Where in Tartarus was this? “Gallus, your wings.”

“What do you mean you haven’t seen him?” the younger Gallus asked. Worry tore at his features. His eyes couldn't settle on a single place. “He’s your brother! Ugh, okay, sorry. I didn’t mean to yell. Look, just tell him I’m looking for him if you see him, alright? And come by the table. Sandbar’s wondering where you’ve been.”

Silverstream watched as he took to the air and flew away from the main hall. She never understood why all the dances were hosted in front of the entrance. Maybe it was to make it easier to travel to from the dorms. She had always forgotten to ask.

The streamers and confetti and glitter on the floor were all classic Pinkie Pie brand—there were subtle differences in them compared to the generic party store stuff that she still remembered, even after graduating. The stony walls were the special shade of purple that one couldn’t find anywhere else. The students…

November Rain. Sweet Biscuit. Violet Twirl. Citrine Spark. Silverstream hadn’t forgotten any of her graduating class’s names. She knew everypony—everycreature here. She backed away from the dance floor. Her head felt woozy. She had to find a way out of this place, wherever this was. She had to escape.

Silverstream found a door, one of Professor Pinkie’s classrooms, and she took a last look back, seeing her friends’ table.

Sandbar, Yona and Smolder were there. They seemed to be in a really engaging conversation, if the way that Smolder’s dramatic gesturing and Sandbar’s laughing was to be believed. They looked—they looked so good like that. Silverstream found that she didn’t want to look away.

But she did. She turned back to the door and she turned its knob and rushed through before she could change her mind.

A mirror greeted her. Silverstream whirled around to find that she was at the end of her old dorm room. Sunlight came in through the window. That only happened in the morning.

There was a bottle of empty wine on the floor, and on her bed was a black cap and gown with a purple sash the color of Headmare Starlight’s fur. Silverstream shook her head. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. But why was it getting so many things right?

The door opened, and into the room stepped Ocellus, her cap and gown on. Looking as beautiful as ever. Her eyes and elytra sparkled, literally, and her chitin looked as glossy as dew. She tilted her head at Silverstream. “You okay? Hurry up! We’re gonna miss Gallus’s speech!”

Silverstream swallowed. “Can you hear me?”

“Yeah, I know,” Ocellus said. Her voice grew soft as she looked around the dorm, fondly admiring the desk and the bed and the bottle of wine on the floor. “I’m gonna miss this place, too. But it’s like we all agreed last night: it’s about moving forward.”

“You’re so young. You don’t even have your antlers yet…” Silverstream’s heart felt like it had been stretched thin. She shook her head, looking past Ocellus, to the door, and she walked to it, passing the changeling—

But not before Ocellus wrapped a hoof around Silverstream's hind leg. She smiled, as cheery and serene as everycreature was on graduation day. “You should jump into the water.”

“What?” asked Silverstream.

“The water will wash it off. You’ll feel so clean.”

The grip on Silverstream's leg tightened immensely, impossible strong for how young Ocellus appeared. She grunted in discomfort and hopped forward, yanking her leg away before she ran out of the door, slammed it behind her and stepped into the hall.

No, it wasn’t their hall. It was another room.

Silverstream saw herself. Her younger self. Four, maybe six years ago. She was pacing back and forth, half her current height. A quick scan of the surroundings told Silverstream that she was in the Treehouse. But when was she? What was happening?

Her eyes were red. Really red, like she had been crying for days. Every few times she paced the length of the room, she would stop halfway through and lurch forward and sob. Her feathers were matted and greasy. The room smelled like mildew.

Silverstream looked to the open door, and she approached it unsurely, but she stopped when she heard the sound of wings. Two strong, feathered wings, elegant in their flaps despite the underlying impatience in their rhythm.

Gallus was on his way.

Silverstream realized what night this was. She leapt away from the door. “No,” she said. She turned around. “No!” she yelled. “Stop! Stop it! Get out of my head!”

Her younger self stopped her pacing and turned to look her in the eye, and she beamed like she was weathering a storm.

Silverstream screamed. She tripped over herself backpedaling, landing on her side. She turned just as her doppelganger pounced.

There was a noise in the hall. Harvest opened her eyes. At the foot of her bed, Gallus still slumbered. She looked to the door, waiting for another instance of whatever noise that awakened her, but none came. The air seemed viscous, somehow. Harvest wanted to go back to sleep, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.

Gallus let out a loud snore. How long had he been sleeping for? She stared at his face, feeling nothing but jealousy for the utter peace that the griffon seemed to be in. What was he dreaming about? Nothing important, probably. Gallus had never struck her as someone who dreamt about real life events.

Meanwhile, Harvest could only relive the good ol’ days of her past. Working on her parents farm, wanting to leave but not realizing yet how much she would miss the sunshine over the acres of crops...

The thought of closing her eyes and going back to sleep came back to her. Her head hurt. It reminded her of that time her brother smacked her in the face with a shovel. It was a low, aching throbbing that felt like her brain was ready to burst.

Before she could go back to sleep, there was another noise outside. This time, it sounded clearer. Harvest recognized it as a scream.

She scooted forward, getting close enough to prod Gallus in the head. “Hey. Captain. Celestia, you and Silverstream are both captains, aren’t you? That’s gonna get confusing quick. Wake up, dude. There’s something outside and it’s freaking me out.”

Gallus swatted her hoof away. “Stop, Gabs.”

“I’m not whoever that is,” said Harvest. She poked him in the temple again, harder this time.

“What?” Gallus snapped, standing at attention. He was still groggy, but for the most part it looked like he had slept the alcohol off.

Harvest flinched, but then Gallus’s eyes grew apologetic and she remembered the situation at hoof. She cut off his impending apology with a hard look. “There’s something outside.”

“What do you mean?” Gallus asked, turning to look at the door. “If there’s somegriff outside then they can just come inside. I didn’t lock the door or anything.”

“I heard a scream,” said Harvest. “Go check. I’m spooked.”

Gallus shot her a glare before leaning back to yawn. “Fine, but if it’s nothing I’m taking another cat nap.”

“Aren’t cat naps just naps, for you?” Harvest said.

Gallus glared at her again before he got up and walked to the end of the med bay. The air seemed even thicker now; almost syrupy. Harvest watched in fear as he opened the door. Her ears wouldn’t stop flicking up, then down, then up again.

Gallus stood in the doorway, staring at something across the hall.

“Is everything alright?” Harvest called.

He didn’t answer.

“Gallus!” Harvest cried out. “Talk to me!”

It dawned on her that Gallus’s tail had become completely still, and the fur on his lower half had flared up, the hairs on his legs and hips now standing on end.

“Gallus!”

Gallus came back inside and closed the door. There was the same numb frenzy in his eyes that Harvest had seen back in Griffonstone, when he had come to get her out of Greta’s inn. He walked a few steps away from the door before a noise on the other side made him whirl around, his centre of gravity lowered into a combat pose. But nothing came through the door. He waited for a few more moments before relaxing again, slightly.

Harvest was shaking. “What happened?”

“We gotta get out of here,” said Gallus. His brow was furrowed into a hard line, and his voice was resolute.

“Why?”

“Because,” he replied. “Come on. Let me help you off.”

“What did you see out there?” Harvest asked. Gallus put an arm around her shoulders and helped her stabilize herself as she slid off the bed and got to her hooves. Her sense of balance took a second to calibrate, and she nearly fell, but she managed to stand fine on her own before Gallus led her away from the bed.

“You’ll see,” Gallus said. “Try not to panic. I think there’s been some sort of attack on the ship.”

“An attack?” Harvest asked. So this was similar to Griffonstone. Except they were in the middle of the ocean. There was nowhere to run.

Gallus took her to the end of the room. Harvest felt dizzy. She blinked extra long to stave off the nausea as they walked there. When they reached the door, he stopped and stared at the knob. Harvest waited for him to open it. She didn’t know what was out there. He did. He was probably gathering himself for—for a fight or something.

Gallus opened the door, glancing back to her as he stepped into the freezing cold.

Wait.

Beyond the door was a valley of snow under a deep gray sky. The air was no longer thick with humidity, instead crisp with cold. Harvest could only look on in awe as she stepped past the doorframe and into the snow.

“This is the Crystal Empire,” said Harvest. “How—?” She turned back to the door, but it was gone. “Oh, fuck. What’s happening?”

“I’m not completely sure,” said Gallus. “Look.”

Harvest turned to see a glowing dome in the snow, as tall as a small hut and teal in color; a magical force field of some kind. But there was something off about its presence. Not anything bad. Just different. Exotic.

“Should we go in?” she asked.

Gallus was already walking. Harvest followed, grumbling to herself. She had only visited the Crystal Empire once, and it was miserable. The cold didn’t vibe with her at all, not to mention that she hated the way all of the buildings looked, all pointy and irregular.

They waded through the snow, both shivering madly, until they got to the force field, and just before entering Gallus froze again.

“What is it this time?” groaned Harvest. Her head was beginning to act up again. She nearly regretted waking Gallus up in the first place.

Her companion cast a side-eye to her. There was a slight frown on his beak. “I know this place. We’re in a memory of mine.”

“A memory?” Harvest looked around her. “When were you in the Crystal Empire?”

“I was here for Lavan,” he said.

“Lav—” Harvest shook her head. “Lavan was defeated by Princess Twilight and the armies of Yakyakistan.”

“That’s the cover story.”

“Then what happened?”

Gallus stepped into the field, which hummed as he passed through. Harvest rolled her eyes, and followed him in. When she passed through the thin veil of glowing teal, warmth hit her in the face, and the snow on her coat melted off and dried at once.

“Where were we, Oss?” Gallus’s voice came from somewhere off to the side, but it sounded younger. Much younger.

Harvest turned to see a fire pit. There was no snow around it. Instead, the ground was simply dry soil. A group of six creatures were gathered around the pit. A yak and a light green earth pony sat on one end, a dragon and a changeling on the other, and in the middle were two creatures that were familiar to her: a pink hippogriff and a blue griffon whose wings looked healthy, straight and unbroken.

She turned to the Gallus that she had entered the force field with, and found that he was looking on the sight with a grim expression. He wandered closer to the scene, and as Harvest took his lead she heard the tail-end of a conversation.

“I was reminding everyone about Lavan’s specifics,” said the changeling—what had Gallus just called her? Oss...Ocellus? She looked familiar, but Harvest couldn’t put a hoof on it. Maybe she was a princess or something.

“Because apparently no one reads anymore,” Ocellus continued.

“Me and Yona were helping Prince Shining calm everypony down!” the earth pony protested.

“I wasn’t talking about you,” said Ocellus. “Well, not just about you.”

The orange dragon beside Ocellus blew a raspberry. “You know that I have a hard time remembering things.”

“Princess Cadance and Professor Sunburst have determined that the recent disappearances in the Crystal Empire are linked with an evil presence summoned from another dimension,” Ocellus said.

She waved a hoof at the fire pit, the flames turning blue and flaring up, half of it floating out of the pit and morphing into a screen as long as a pony and as thin as paper. On the screen came the image of what looked like a minotaur up to his shoulders in fire.

Harvest backed away a couple of steps, eyeing the fire cautiously. Changelings could use magic? That must have been where the force field came from. It wasn’t a complete surprise, but it was definitely new to her. She felt a touch of regret for never visiting a hive, but she could only suppress her fear of bugs for so long.

Ocellus spoke again. “We’re here to stop this evil presence—Lavan, in case that wasn’t clear—while Princess Twilight and the OG—OG? Am I saying that right? The OG professors stay in Canterlot to figure the other stuff out. Princess Cadance isn’t sure otherwise how a Crystal Pony managed to gather enough magic to summon something as powerful as Lavan.”

“Wait,” Silverstream interrupted. She looked tiny compared to the Silverstream that Harvest had met. “Somepony summoned him? Why?”

“Lavan was banished from this realm because he would lend his power to vengeful creatures,” explained Ocellus. “We’re guessing that a misguided citizen of the Crystal Empire spent some time in the libraries, maybe snuck into the royal forbidden archives and found a spell that would help him get back at somepony he was angry with.”

“This is why libraries are a bad idea,” said the dragon.

Ocellus scoffed and waved her hoof in the fire-screen’s direction again. Lavan’s picture disappeared, replaced by the image of a black castle in the middle of a snowy valley. “This is the part that I’m sure everyone remembers: the last squad that Commander Berrytwist led through the tundra encountered this castle. They ran into some serious trouble, and chose to make enough time for Berrytwist to come back with the intel that they gathered. She maintains that Lavan is currently taking up residence here.”

The image of the castle then disappeared, and three portraits replaced it. A dark green changeling with red antlers and purple eyes, a sienna-colored yak wearing a black crown, and a periwinkle hippogriff with striking golden eyes all appeared on screen.

Gallus—the younger Gallus—glanced to the hippogriff sitting beside him. Harvest saw her eyes harden.

“This is a rescue mission,” said Ocellus. “We only have a few hours before Sunburst notices that we’re gone and figures that we’ve gone off to rescue our loved ones. He doesn’t think that we can do it. Neither do Commander Berrytwist, or Princess Cadance, or Shining Armor. What do you guys think of that?”

“Screw them!” Gallus called, his voice getting lost in the chorus of his friends’ cheering.

Ocellus nodded, her wings buzzing, rubbing together to make a chirp of approval. “Now it’s time to decide our plan of attack.”

“Storm the castle!” the dragon called, resulting in a cheerful roar from the yak.

Harvest shook her head, breaking her hypnotic focus on the conversation, and stepped in front of the Gallus that she knew. “What in tartarus is all this?”

Gallus tore his eyes away from the fire pit as the creatures continued their planning. “I told you, something’s accessing my memories.”

“Okay. But why?”

“I don’t know,” he said, looking past the force field. “Somecreature might have connected our minds via dreamscape, but I can’t sense Princess Luna and I don’t dream about my memories. Ever. This could also be some kind of mind magic, but magic doesn’t really...beat around the bush like this.”

Harvest glanced back to the creatures. “You look so young.”

“I’m about to get a whole lot older,” Gallus snorted.

“What do you mean?”

“This is right before I get three world leaders killed.”

Harvest snapped her head back towards the griffon. “Excuse me? I don’t remember hearing about that.”

“Because it was covered up,” said Gallus. Harvest tried to catch some sort of emotion in his eyes. They were well guarded and neutral, but just beyond that was a soft glimmer of pain. She felt her heart sink, and she looked away, joining him in staring at the force field.

“Do we go back out?” she asked.

“We don’t have a choice.” Gallus began walking, and this time, Harvest was happy to follow.

Fuck you!” roared the younger Gallus behind them. “What do you have? A stupid seashell?”

“And fire breath,” came the raspy voice of the dragon, dripping with cruelty. “You know, something useful.

The argument continued, with the other creatures chiming in, desperately trying to get the two to calm down, but it only got louder from there. Harvest didn’t listen, didn’t look back. This memory wasn’t hers. She wouldn’t ask too many questions.

When they stepped back through the force field next, it wasn’t into more snow. The cold evaporated in a second, and they were now standing on solid ground, at the side of some sort of living room. Harvest looked around, seeing walls made from purple stone, pillows and blankets and beanbag chairs strewn about the floor, and two couches surrounding a comfy-looking rug. Whatever this place was, it looked like a strange blend of a hookah parlour and a room in the Crystal Empire palace.

A look out of one of the windows told Harvest that the current time was night, and that they were likely in Equestria. Luna’s moon looked familiar in some way. A flash of homesickness struck Harvest then, but she had no time to dwell on it.

One of the grand double doors was thrown open. Harvest watched as the dragon from the previous memory flew in, shooting straight for one of the couches.

Harvest side-eyed Gallus. “Do you think she can see us?”

“Don’t think so,” said Gallus.

Harvest nodded, and walked to the couch. Gallus stayed behind.

“What’s her name?” she asked as she arrived at the front of the couch. The dragon had bundled herself up in a thick blanket—Yakyakistan wool, probably—and was clearly trying to get to sleep.

“Smolder,” said Gallus. Venom coursed through his voice.

“Old friend?” Harvest asked, knowing the answer.

“Never,” Gallus growled.

Harvest walked to the rug, looking around the room. She wasn’t quite sure what she was looking for. Something dangerous, maybe. She felt a need to keep her mind occupied lest the pain from her head be the only thing that she could think about. “Have any ideas about what’s going on?”

“I have one.”

“What?”

“We should wait for this to play out first.”

Harvest squinted at the now sleeping dragon. “What is this place?”

“The Treehouse.”

“This doesn’t look like a tree—”

One of the doors swung open again. The younger version of Gallus flew in, eyes red and underscored with heavy bags that were most definitely from sleep deprivation. He had an air of oblivious exhaustion about him that disappeared as soon as he saw Smolder on the couch. He turned and glided over, landing beside her but pointedly not making any eye contact.

Awkwardness hung heavy in the air. Harvest backed away. She found a stray beanbag chair and sat on it, keeping her eyes on the pair on the couch. Somewhere in her peripherals, she could see her Gallus walking around, keeping his eyes on the walls of the place like he was looking for mouse holes.

The quiet discomfort broke when Smolder cleared her throat. “Couldn’t sleep?”

Young Gallus shook his head.

“Me neither,” said Smolder. Harvest watched as the dragon not so subtly scooted closer to him. “Was it…”

“They keep crying,” Gallus answered. “They keep crying. I don’t know what to do. No one cries in Griffonstone. What are you supposed to do? To say? All we’ve learned in class...I’ve either forgotten it or it was never useful in the first place. What am I supposed to say to Ocellus? Yona? How do I—?” he cut himself off. There was a slight whine to his breaths. He was trying not to cry himself.

Smolder’s lip quivered. She turned to Gallus and attempted to say something, but seemed to lose grip of her words. Instead, she scooted closer to him, and laid an upwards facing claw beside his.

Gallus’s eyes stared at her claw for a long moment. Then he put his talon on hers, and they intertwined digits as Smolder let out a relieved breath.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, so soft that Harvest found herself leaning forward to hear it.

“I know,” said Gallus. “I know. It’s okay. I’m sorry too.”

Smolder whispered again. Harvest didn’t catch it fully this time, but she thought she might have heard something like “It’s our fault.”

Gallus nodded. “We should sleep. We have school tomorrow.”

“Headmare Starlight said that we could take the week off,” said Smolder.

“I’m going back to class,” Gallus explained. “What else am I going to do?”

“Stay here?” Smolder suggested. “Or, I...I was thinking of going home. To the Dragonlands, I mean. You could come with. Just for a week or two. My brother would like you.”

Gallus laughed so breathily that Harvest thought he had hiccuped. “I don’t think I want to leave Ponyville for a while. Bad things seem to happen when I do.”

“Aw, Gallus...” Smolder whimpered.

Gallus’s wing stretched out, sliding around Smolder’s shoulders, and their entwined claws came apart so Smolder could wrap her arms around Gallus’s chest, digging her face into his cream colored feathers.

Though Harvest had been watching closely as the memory played out, she was struck with the gross feeling of guilt for violating such a private moment with her presence.

“Memory’s over.” Gallus was right beside her.

Harvest screamed, springing to her feet and backing away a few steps. When the moment was over, and she realized that nothing evil had snuck up on her, she jabbed a hoof angrily at Gallus. “Don’t scare me like that!”

Gallus either didn’t hear her or was ignoring her. He stepped closer to the pair of creatures on the couch, who were now falling asleep in each other’s embrace. “Which one of you will it be?” he asked testily. “I’m really itching to get my claws on whoever’s responsible for digging into my head like this.”

Neither Gallus’s younger self nor his dragon companion responded. Gallus groaned. “Is it really gonna be like that?”

“Like what?” Harvest asked, looking at the young Gallus and Smolder. “Look, I’ll ask it a thousand times if I have to: what is going on?”

Her Gallus turned to her, his voice on the rise, but that was when the fireball struck him and exploded.

Harvest yelled in surprise, leaping away. Her eyes widened several degrees. Smolder was standing up, and the Gallus that she was holding previously stayed frozen in time, tenderly hugging a dragon that was no longer there.

Smolder’s eyes, previously a brilliant shiny blue, were now green and sickly from the iris to the sclera. She opened her mouth and roared, but not anything like how Harvest thought a dragon would sound like. Smolder’s voice had changed drastically. She sounded like a metal bar being bent in half.

Gallus was lying on the ground, groaning. Harvest went to run to him, but he put a claw up, and turned to Smolder with an excited sort of hatred in his eyes. His wings were flared now, and Harvest was reminded of the harsh, misshapen bend in their outer halves. Gallus lowered his stance. “Stay back, Harvest. I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

Smolder roared that awful, metallic roar again. Harvest followed her orders. From what she could see, the Gallus on the couch wasn’t about to start moving, so she took cover behind it and watched.

Her Gallus seemed alive in a way that Harvest had never seen. He deftly dodged a rapid series of fireballs and managed to cross the distance between him and Smolder in no time. A perfectly timed leap gave him the opportunity to swipe at Smolder’s throat, but his sharp talons, definitely enough to slash a mammal’s neck, scratched harmlessly at her scales.

Smolder didn’t acknowledge the failed attack, and kicked him in the ribs. Air audibly expelled from Gallus’s lungs as Smolder took to the air, wrapping her arms around his midsection and spinning him around, quickly building momentum and slamming him into the ground. Gallus grunted. Harvest thought she heard something crack.

“Gallus!” she cried. A pained grunt came her way in response.

Smolder dove down on the griffon, aiming to stomp on his head, but Gallus rolled away at the last second, getting to his belly and immediately shooting for her knees. He tackled them, hugging them close, toppling her to the ground.

Smolder hit the floor hard, and Gallus jumped on the advantage. He kept his body close to hers as he hauled himself upwards, pressing his entire weight on her before he was in a position to straddle her torso and sit up, where he took a hold of one of Smolder’s horns and pulled her head towards him.

Gallus proceeded to drive a talon into Smolder’s eye, and upon hearing the same metallic screech that she emitted before, inserted another into the wound and thrust as deep as he could. The awful screaming ended with the obscene squelch of flesh being torn into, and Harvest couldn’t help ducking back behind the couch and dry heaving.

She then felt a wet talon on her back. Harvest swatted it away. She turned and saw Gallus wearing a look of concern. “Disgusting!” she shouted.

“Oh,” Gallus sheepishly glanced to his claw, dripping hot pink blood. He proceeded to smear it on his chest. “Sorry.”

“What the fuck was that? You just murdered her! Your friend!”

“It,” Gallus corrected. “I killed it.

“What, just because she’s a dragon you don’t feel any feelings of sympathy for her?”

Gallus glared at her and gestured to where Smolder’s body was. “Take a look, Harvest.”

“No!”

“Do it,” Gallus growled. “Seriously. You’ll feel better.”

Harvest grit her teeth and turned.

What she saw lying on the floor was not a dragon. It looked...it looked like a pony. No, it was too lanky for that. A hippogriff, maybe, but without any wings. Its coat was a patchwork design of other creatures’ coat types. It was green all over. Green fur turning to green feathers and green scales on its lower half. And its blood was the pink that was currently soaking Gallus’s chest.

Harvest came closer to it, quickly realizing that it wasn’t just fur or feathers. It was covered in some kind of vegetation. The kind that grew on rocks near the beach. It looked like a timberwolf of the sea, except fused with a hippogriff, somehow. A bit of sea dragon, too.

“I’ve never seen one in real life. I don’t think anycreature has claimed to in like, thirty years,” said Gallus. “It’s a Kelpie. They’re hippogriffs. They used to be, at least. Hippogriffs that were exiled from Mount Aris for messing with the wrong magic. I honestly just figured that they were an old navy legend, but I guess they’re real.”

“Kelpie,” Harvest repeated. “Don’t think I’ve heard of them. And what, do they have mind magic?”

“Kind of,” Gallus answered. “What they’re supposed to do is torture sailors with their past regrets. They feed off of the misery that reliving the ugly parts of your past creates. They’re also supposed to eat you while it’s happening. Looks like this one just felt like screwing with me first.”

“Are we done, then?” Harvest asked. “Why is this place still here?”

“There’s more than one,” Gallus said, searching the walls of the Treehouse. “That’s what I think, at least. It might take too long to hunt down every single one. We need the Amulet of Aurora. We need to find Silverstream and make her expend its full power. That’ll ward off any dark magic on board.”

Gallus walked towards the door, past the kelpie corpse. Harvest trailed behind, but he seemed to be dragging his feet. He must have been, because she passed him and got to the door in no time.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, looking over her shoulder

Gallus was stopped a few paces behind her, staring back at the couch where his younger self was frozen.

“...Hey,” she called.

Gallus’s wings twitched, and he turned around. “Sorry,” he said, laughing softly. “I thought maybe, I don’t know. I saw something. But it was nothing. Let’s go.”

“Stop! Stop!”

Just as Gallus arrived, Silverstream took an elbow to her jaw, roughly scraping a cut into her cheek. Her head lolled to the side as he flew in, appeared to spot something, and then landed towards the end of the room.

Silverstream cried as claws tore into her chest, ripping out feathers and slicing into her flesh. Her double was absurdly strong, and beyond that, good at fighting. Silverstream struggled, trying her best to throw the identical hippogriff off of her.

“Gally?” said her double, her face showing no signs of exertion even as she held Silverstream down. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Silverstream glanced to where Gallus was. He was frozen, staring at where she was supposed to be in this memory. “You didn’t,” he said, talking to the wall. “What—what’s up?”

“I woke you up,” said her double, managing to get a good grip on Silverstream’s neck with both of her claws. Silverstream tried to gasp as pressure fastened around her throat. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been...been thinking. I can’t stop thinking. Seeing. I can’t sleep. Haven’t slept for more than an hour.”

“Me neither,” said Gallus. His voice was growing faint. Or maybe that was Silverstream’s hearing. Her vision was growing black.

Silverstream’s legs kicked around, and she found her left leg able to wrap around the leg of her double. She grabbed one of the arms holding her down, the left one, and pulled down hard on it before turning in the same direction.

Her double showed no surprise as Silverstream reversed their positions and ripped her claws off of her throat. “I’m hungry,” she said. “Wanna make grilled cheese?”

“That’ll wake Smolder up,” came Gallus’s voice.

Silverstream raised a fist, but saw the grief-stricken wetness in her double’s face. Her face. She leapt backwards, wings flared, ending up beside Gallus. He was emoting exactly as she remembered this memory, albeit to the wall and not her.

“Hey,” he spoke softly. “You know we all love you, right?”

“I know,” said her double. She began to stand up. There was something wrong with her eyes. Some sickly green streaks interrupting the purple of her irises.

“You know we won’t leave you?”

“I know,” her double, who was now standing stable, repeated. She crouched, getting ready to charge. “Can I tell you something?” she asked.

Silverstream looked into her double’s eyes and braced herself.

“Yes,” said Gallus. “Of course. Anything, Silly.”

“Remember what happened before we got to that castle?”

“I do,” he said. “But I have a feeling that you’re gonna give me a refresher course.”

“You ran off after fighting with Smolder and we waited. We waited for hours and hours until Ocellus realized where you were. Then we rushed to Lavan’s and we found you, and then we could use the crown and we took him down.”

Silverstream blinked. “I-I didn’t say it like that.”

Gallus’s voice grew softer. “Yeah…”

Her double charged. Silverstream waited until she was close enough before she took to the air. As her opponent raced under her, Silverstream bucked downwards, connecting with the center of her double’s back.

The doppelganger fell to the floor, sliding until she hit the wall, but she immediately got back up, eyes as miserable and grieving as ever, and began to speak. “I can’t stop thinking, you know? I can’t stop thinking about how if we were like, like even ten minutes earlier my dad would still be alive, and after that I can’t help but notice that I can’t look at you anymore. That’s silly, right? Why wouldn’t I be able to look at Gally?”

Silverstream landed, panting. She felt a warmth on her chest and glanced down: the Amulet of Aurora was glowing. Finally! She cheered within her mind. It’s about time, Amy!

“S-Silver—”

“I can’t stop lying about it,” said her double. “I can’t pretend like I don’t blame you and that I’m not mad. You’re the reason we were late. You’re the reason my dad’s gone. And I really don’t think that—that I can stop thinking about that. I don’t think I can look at you without thinking about it. And I can’t...forgive you. I don’t know if we can be friends anymore.”

Silverstream watched numbly as her double began to charge her again, but before they could meet, she reached up and held the amulet close.

Get me out of here.

The room turned white. The floor disappeared. Silverstream didn’t bother closing her eyes as she started to fall. Tears streaked hot on her cheeks, and though her wings still worked, she didn’t bother flying.

Silverstream hit the floor. She was still at the bottom of the ship’s stairs. It was like none of that had even happened.

That was a Kelpie, wasn’t it? That was the source of the illusions. Silverstream remembered the stories. She never expected to meet one in real life.

One thing to note about those things, my dear, Seaspray’s voice entered her mind. They might simply be monsters, and the things that they show you might be just to upset you, but in the end, those are your own memories that they make you watch. Those ghosts are real.

She stood up, recognizing the familiar walls of her ship, and she wiped frantically at her wet eyes before she took off towards the medical bay. She had to keep going, find Gallus, get the crown, do everything she could, real ghosts or not.