• Published 10th Aug 2011
  • 31,947 Views, 267 Comments

Off The Edge Of The Map - Daetrin



Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy journey through unknown lands.

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Mare Incognitum

Off The Edge Of The Map

Part 1: Mare Incognitum

“A-are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Fluttershy’s voice was frayed by the wind as Rainbow Dash whipped back and forth over the clouds.

“’Course I know! I know this is gonna be awesome.” She paused a moment in her work to give Fluttershy a broad grin. “So don’t go away. I’m almost done.” The blue pegasus darted off again, pushing black clouds ahead of her.

“But isn’t it dangerous?” Rainbow Dash outdistanced the sound of Fluttershy’s voice before she’d gotten out the second syllable, and the yellow pegasus sat back on her haunches. “Oh dear,” she said to herself. A long tube of thunderclouds rumbled unhappily as Dash packed them into shape. There was enough room inside the tube for a pegasus to fly through – assuming one wanted to brave the lightning-licked interior.

From Fluttershy’s vantage point on top of a nice, safe, fluffy white cloud gave her a view through the tube, to the small circle of blue sky on the other side. Rainbow’s head appeared there briefly as she pushed the last cloud into place, making sure it was properly secure. The yellow pegasus blanched as a particularly loud rumble of thunder came from the packed-together clouds.

“Okay!” Rainbow Dash swooped around in front of Fluttershy. “This should work. The ‘Rainbow Lightning!’”

“Um…” Fluttershy only got that much out as the blue pegasus began sweeping around her thunderstorm tunnel, flying tight spirals around it and starting it spinning. Lightning flickered ominously throughout as the clouds blurred, and Rainbow Dash sped to the other side, lining herself up for a pass through the tunnel.

Fluttershy leaned forward anxiously. There was no way to do this anywhere near the ground, and Rainbow Dash wasn’t really supposed to have all those extra stormclouds anyway. That left her as the only real audience Rainbow Dash could summon. She was rarely comfortable with Dash’s continual daredevil antics, but the other pegasus was so passionate about it that Fluttershy couldn’t help but support her.

Dash started her run. Her wings flapped furiously as she aimed herself through the tunnel, her wake pulling the clouds after her. The rotating, flickering storm bunched itself up behind her, growling as she compressed it even further. Then she was through, a rainbow streak darting out of the eye of the storm, and Fluttershy ducked as Dash’s wake whipped through her mane.

Rainbow Dash slewed around in midair to see if the idea had worked. The storm, whipped into a frenzy, was a nearly solid sheet of lightning, and Dash’s wake had dragged water out of the storm in her passage. The result was a field of dancing multicolored shards, lighting-fueled rainbows sparkling in the air. “Yes!”

Dash flew back to Fluttershy’s cloud and dropped herself down in front of the yellow pegasus. “See? I told you it was going to be awesome.” She flashed a broad grin at Fluttershy, but sobered when she saw the other’s expression. “Er...wasn’t it?” Fluttershy was looking less impressed and more shocked, her eyes huge.

“Um…Dash?” Fluttershy raised a hoof and pointed back at the storm. Rainbow Dash twisted around and looked obediently.

The storm was moving toward them, and quickly, from the momentum Dash had given it. It was grumbling and growling, but what was most threatening was the vortex of solid lightning that was rushing to engulf them. It gaped like a hungry maw full of electric teeth, scant seconds from devouring them whole.

“Oops.” Rainbow Dash took wing again. “C’mon, Fluttershy, let’s get out of here!” But Fluttershy was frozen solid staring at the onrushing storm, and Rainbow Dash dropped back to grab onto Fluttershy. “Come…on!” But her wings were locked tight against her flank, and she could only give a tiny squeak.

“Oh boy.” Rainbow glanced up. There was no time left. She flung herself on top of Fluttershy instead, shielding the other pegasus as the jaws closed around them. There was a resounding boom of thunder, a gust of wind that shredded their perch, and they were sent tumbling through the air.

Rainbow locked her forelegs around Fluttershy and pulled her upward, or at least what she guessed was upward in the pitch black cloud around them. The yellow pegasus finally stirred, her wings starting to beat just as the blackness cleared. There was just enough time to see a mass of white before they plowed headlong into an enormous swath of cloud.

There was a moment of silence, and then Rainbow Dash wriggled her way out of a mound of cloudstuff. “Fluttershy?” She glanced around, and a pink mane appeared out of a nearby drift.

“I-I’m here.”

Fluttershy carefully pulled herself out of the full-body hole she’d made on impact and looked up as Dash glided over to her. “Sorry about that, Fluttershy, I guess I got a little carried away…” The blue pegasus gave her a nervous chuckle and an uncertain smile.

Fluttershy looked at her for a long few seconds, then dipped her head briefly and gave Dash a gentle smile. “Oh, it’s all right, Rainbow Dash. It turned out all right, didn’t it? Although it was scary…”

Dash’s expression eased slightly. “Well, don’t worry, I’ll be a lot more careful next time. And, uh, we won’t have the audience so close.” She swiveled her head around, ears perked. “All right, I’ll just go put those clouds back and…um. Where’s Cloudsdale?”

Fluttershy blinked and looked around too. They were surrounded by the big, pillowy mounds of a cumulus cloud, but the familiar features of the cloud city were missing from the horizon. “Um…maybe we’re too high up?” She stretched her wings and flew to the edge of the cloud, glancing down to try and get her bearings.

Rainbow Dash drew up beside her, and they stared down at a vast, wind-ruffled expanse of blue. Water stretched from horizon to horizon, with only a few puffs of cloud scattered throughout the sky. Even this far up, the tang of salt scented the air, and the only noise was the sound of wind on water.

“Rainbow Dash,” Fluttershy said in a very small voice. “Where are we?”

***

Fluttershy watched as Dash flew in ever-widening spirals out from their cloud. Her darting about became more and more frantic until she finally came back and dropped down next to Fluttershy. “I don’t know!” The blue pegasus had an edge of panic in her voice. “I don’t see any land at all.”

She began pacing back and forth in front of Fluttershy. “I mean, I guess the storm could have carried us some distance but not this far. I mean, it’s ocean forever and even I can’t fly fast enough that we’d be this far this fast. But it had to be the storm because that’s all that happened!”

“It’s okay, Rainbow Dash.” The blue pegasus blinked and looked over at Fluttershy. “It is?”

“Sure it is. No matter where we are, I’m sure you’ll get us back.” Fluttershy gave Rainbow Dash a hopeful look, and the blue pegasus couldn’t help but smile back. “Yeah…yeah, I’m sure it’ll be no problem.”

“I’m just worried about Angel Bunny and my chickens and birds and all my animals. Who will take care of them if we don’t get back soon?” Fluttershy’s ears drooped and Dash trotted over to put a hoof on her shoulder. “Hey, we’ve got plenty of friends in Ponyville. You know they’ll take care of things while we’re away. Spike’s done it before, remember?”

“I-I suppose you’re right.” Fluttershy looked up. “So, um…which way do we go?” She looked around them. There were no landmarks or signs of life in any direction, not even birds.

Rainbow followed her look and shrugged. “Let’s just go with the wind. West.” The pegasus really didn’t have any idea which was the right one, but Fluttershy was not nearly as strong a flyer as she was. If they were constantly fighting against the wind, they wouldn’t get far.

Fluttershy bobbed a nod to her and spread her wings. Rainbow Dash followed, itching to set a fast pace. But she had to consider the yellow pegasus. If she were by herself, she’d be a lot faster…but she was glad she wasn’t by herself. Even if she felt guilty for dragging Fluttershy into this – however it happened – at least she wasn’t alone.

They flew in silence for a while, soaring from cloud to cloud. Fluttershy spent most of her time looking down at the expanse of ocean below, and finally Rainbow Dash had to break the quiet. “So…what are you looking at, Fluttershy? There’s really not much down there.”

“Oh!” Fluttershy was surprised to be broken out of her reverie. She glanced over at Dash and blinked, her ears going back shyly. “I was just thinking about all the new animals that must be somewhere under all that water. I’ve never been to an actual ocean before.”

“Well, as soon as we reach dry land we can take time out for that. I’d like to get somewhere we can find something to eat first.” On cue, Dash’s stomach gurgled and the blue pegasus gave Fluttershy an embarrassed grin. “Ah-heh. See?”

“Oh. Yes.” Fluttershy nodded. “I’m getting a little hungry myself. But I suppose we must wait.” She sighed as they touched down on yet another cloud. The yellow pegasus trotted over to a projection of cloudstuff and took it between her teeth, tugging and straining out the water. Dash followed suit, even though there wasn’t that much in the white clouds.

It was an old survival skill from the dusty history of flight camp. Dash’s history with flight camp was…troubled, and she had to admit to herself at least that she probably wouldn’t have thought of it. It was also clumsy and messy, and by the time they’d gotten their fill, both pegasi had their muzzles soaked and their manes plastered against their necks.

Dash looked over at Fluttershy whose mane was flattened over half her face, and couldn’t help but snicker. She didn’t look much better herself, with what seemed to be a rainbow-colored helmet plastered over her ears, and the yellow pegasus smiled hesitantly back. They grinned at each other for a moment and both started laughing. Fluttershy’s quiet giggle was almost lost under Rainbow’s raucous cackling, but it was there.

It was good to laugh. Fluttershy was still nervous and worried, and hunger gnawed at her belly, but it released some of the tension there. And it was good to see Rainbow Dash laugh. She knew that Dash was much stronger and tougher than she was, and as long as Dash thought they were okay, they probably were.

Once the laughter had died down, Dash smiled at Fluttershy. “We should go on, try and cover as much air as we can before the sun sets.” Indeed, the sun had slid through the sky while they were flying and was well on its way to the horizon.

“Whatever you say, Rainbow Dash.” Fluttershy’s voice was absolutely trusting, and Rainbow Dash hoped she deserved it. The blue pegasus took a deep breath and took off from the now-diminished cloud, navigating by the sun alone and hoping that they were making progress over the featureless sea.

“So, um,” Fluttershy spoke up after a while. “I’ve never really been far from of Ponyville. Where do you think we are, Rainbow Dash? The Maneterranian Sea? Or maybe the Ponific Ocean?”

“I don’t know,” Dash replied. Fear – and it was fear, deep in her heart – gave her voice an edge she hadn’t meant, and the yellow pegasus flinched back from her. Dash sighed and softened her voice. “I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. We can’t be that far from land.”

We can’t be far was a mantra that Fluttershy repeated to herself as they flew on, though her wings were beginning to ache. She was unused to flying so far for so long, and she envied Rainbow Dash’s effortless glide. Fluttershy looked over at the blue pegasus, who didn’t seem to be anywhere near tired, and bit her lower lip, looking back at her own wings and putting forth a renewed effort to keep up with Dash.

The sun was nearing the horizon when Fluttershy spoke up. “I…I have to stop. I can’t fly anymore. I’m sorry.” Dash had noticed Fluttershy beginning to flag, but didn’t want to say anything. It wasn’t Fluttershy’s fault they were so out of their depth.

“Hey, don’t worry about it. We needed to stop anyhow, with the wind picking up.” Dash pointed at a nearby puff of white. “Let’s just rest there.” The wind was indeed beginning to freshen, driving the clouds scudding before it. Fluttershy dropped gratefully onto the puffy surface, her wings drooping. She took a few steps toward the middle of the cloud, dropping down to lie on the fluffy surface, and Dash landed next to her. “How about I go take a look real quick? I’ll be back in a flash!”

Fluttershy nodded and Dash took off again, speeding out ahead of the wind now, surveying the water below for even the slightest hint of solid ground. She went far enough out that the cloud with Fluttershy on it was a mere speck in the distance, but she dared not go any farther. If she lost the yellow pegasus in the endless blue, she would probably never be able to find her again.

Rainbow Dash had to return defeated. The wind had picked up even more, turning it from merely brisk to actively chilly, and when she landed Fluttershy was huddled into herself in the middle of the cloud. She was also crying. The faint keening sounds were barely audible over the breeze, and Rainbow Dash trotted over to her.

“Fluttershy! What’s wrong?” The yellow pegasus sniffed and looked up at her. “Oh, I’m sorry, Dash. I’m just cold and hungry and tired and worried that we’ll never see home again and that my animals won’t be taken care of…” She sniffed again. “I know. I’m just being silly.”

Dash looked at Fluttershy, then settled down next to the other pegasus. “Hey, no. It’s not silly, Fluttershy. This sucks and it’s all my fault.” For emphasis, Dash’s own stomach growled unhappily, but she put a comforting wing over Fluttershy. “But I promise I’ll get us home safely. All right?”

After a moment Fluttershy leaned in against her. “All right,” she said in a small voice, and in the falling dark Dash couldn’t quite make out her face. “Don’t worry, Fluttershy. Let’s just get some sleep. By morning we might be over land, with this wind.”

The yellow pegasus bobbed a nod and tucked herself close down against the cloud. Dash followed suit, the two of them huddling together. Despite the doubt, worry, and hunger gnawing at her guts, Rainbow Dash closed her eyes and slept.

***

A low, mournful whistling and groaning woke them. Dash clawed her way out of the cloudstuff and lurched sleepily to the edge of their perch, followed closely by Fluttershy. Below them was a pair of enormously long blue shapes cutting through the water. Dash was at a loss, but Fluttershy squeaked excitedly. “Whales!”

“Creepy,” Dash muttered, as the basso rumble echoed choppily from the waves. Fluttershy threw Dash a look of disappointment and then launched herself off the cloud to spiral down toward the waves. After a chastised moment, Dash followed.

The yellow pegasus dropped down to a few feet above the water’s surface, and Rainbow Dash circled warily, not trusting the creatures. “Um, excuse me,” Fluttershy said, trying vainly to be heard above the noise. “But we’re lost. I was wondering if you could help us find where the nearest land is?” Her stomach gurgled loudly and Fluttershy flushed. “Or, er, where we could find some plants to eat.”

The whale rolled in the water, revealing one enormous eye. It fixated on Fluttershy, and she smiled nervously at it. After a long, long stare, it rolled back and an enormous fountain of salty spray jetted from its back, incidentally soaking Rainbow Dash.

“What? Hey!” The blue pegasus spluttered and dived down toward the whale’s head. “What was that for? You can’t -” She was cut off as the other whale performed the same maneuver, though this time the plume wasn’t aimed directly at her. Dash glowered at them and Fluttershy tittered softly. Then with a flash of flukes, the whales dived under the surface.

Dash switched the glower to Fluttershy. “Well that was a waste of time. And now I’m all salty wet! Ick.” She shook herself, and Fluttershy backwinged to keep from getting sprayed. “Well…maybe we scared them.”

“Scared them?” Dash looked at Fluttershy with disbelief. “Did you see how big they were? I could swear they were bigger than the dragon, even.”

“But whales are harmless!” Fluttershy said earnestly. “You weren’t scared, were you?”

“What? No! Of course not!” Dash folded her hooves over her chest. “I just don’t trust anything that big.”

“Well, that’s silly, Rainbow Dash. I’m sure that – eeep!” Fluttershy squeaked as one of the whales crested, splashing Dash yet again. The blue pegasus growled impotently as Fluttershy dipped down to talk again. “Well hello again, I thought you were gone.”

The whale’s bone-jarring groans made Rainbow Dash grimace, but her expression changed as soon as a long strand of leafy plants floated to the surface along with the whales. Along with another, and another. “Food!”

“See? Most creatures are willing to help if you ask nicely.” Fluttershy dropped lower toward the whale. “Thank you so much. We’re very grateful. But do you happen to know where nearby land might be?”

Dash started gathering up some of the plants while the whales rumbled their way through a few words with Fluttershy. After several long minutes of ear-grating noise, they moved off again. Fluttershy drifted over to her. “Um, they said the closest land they know of is to the north. Really far north.”

Dash glanced in that direction. Normally it would have been a beautiful day, with only a single cloud in the sky. But they needed clouds, for water and for rest, and it was obvious that like the Everfree Forest, these clouds operated without pegasus intervention. There wouldn’t be a ready depot of rainclouds to count on. “Well, I guess we have to go north, then.” Dash gathered up the last of the plant and lifted it up toward their personal cloud.

The plant was bitter and salty, but at least it was food, and there was plenty of it. Dash stifled her complaints as she saw Fluttershy gamely chew her share of the leaves. It filled her complaining stomach with plenty left over, and Dash draped some of it around her neck for later. It also made her tremendously thirsty, and between the two of them they cut the cloud in half to sate their thirst.

“All right, Fluttershy, it looks like it’s time to go.” Dash stood on the edge of the cloud and Fluttershy joined her. “It’s just so...big.” When they were just hopping from cloud to cloud, she could kid herself out of her normal agoraphobia, but standing on the edge of a vast swath of blueness she could feel her wings threatening to lock up.

“You can do it, Fluttershy,” she told herself, following Dash’s example as the blue pegasus leapt off the cloud. Her wings were still a little sore from the previous day but there was nothing for it. She followed Dash, trying to focus on the pegasus rather than the rest of the surroundings, and her mind wandered to what she had planned for the week. Her sessions in the garden, the fledgling birds. Her appointment at the spa with Rarity that she never missed.

She was so focused on not thinking about her current predicament that she missed it when Rainbow Dash asked her a question. She blinked at Dash. “Oh, I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I asked, are you okay? You’re kinda lagging behind there.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy flushed and flapped her wings harder, pulling up alongside Dash. “I’m just not used to flying this much.”

“Yeah, you spend more time on the ground than most earth ponies.” The blue pegasus snorted. “Not much good it does you here, does it?”

“No…” Fluttershy dropped her head. It wasn’t exactly like she was planning to be stuck in the middle of the ocean. “But at least I could talk to the whales.”

“True.” Reminded by that, Dash tore a leaf off the garland around her neck and chewed. “Sha shing ish,” she said indistinctly, then swallowed. “The thing is, you’re just not used to distance flying. You need to glide more. Here, watch how I do it.”

Fluttershy obeyed, trying to match her wing movements to Dash’s. She didn’t really see the difference between what she was doing and what Dash was, but she was willing to try. As the hours wore on though, it was clear that no amount of impromptu instruction was going to help. The yellow pegasus slipped closer to the waves, and Dash’s exhortations became more panicked. And still there was no sight of land.

“I…I’m sorry, Dash.” Fluttershy said, her voice barely above a whisper. “I can’t go on. You’ll have to continue without me.”

“No. No way. Rainbow Dash doesn’t leave anypony hanging.” The blue pegasus ducked down underneath Fluttershy, who squeaked as Dash lifted her up. “Hang on, Fluttershy,” she said grimly. Fluttershy obeyed, locking her forelegs around Dash’s neck as she sped forward over the featureless sea.

Fluttershy watched the waves pass beneath them, her wings hanging by her side, aching and limp, and then buried her muzzle in Rainbow Dash’s mane. “I’m sorry for being so…so…” She couldn’t even finish the sentence, but Rainbow Dash stopped her anyway.

“Hey, I got you into this, and I’m going to get you out.” She smiled back at her passenger. “Or my name isn’t Rainbow Dash.” Fluttershy managed a small smile back, relaxing slightly against Dash’s back. For the first time since seeing the vast expanse of ocean, she felt safe.

***

She woke to the wash of waves on shore, but she didn’t remember falling asleep. All she remembered was an endless blur of trying to fly, trying to fly, trying to fly. Fluttershy rolled to her feet, her wings sore and weak from overuse, and staggered in the deep sand of a beach. Rainbow Dash was sprawled out nearby, her salt-crusted coat silent testament to a struggle through the waves themselves.

She half-waded over to the other mare, bending down to nose at her. “Rainbow Dash? Are you okay?” The blue pegasus groaned and stared muzzily upward at Fluttershy. “I told ya I’d get us here.” She gave Fluttershy a rictus grin and tried to get up, only to collapse back in the sand. “Gimme five more minutes…”

Now it was Fluttershy’s turn to carry Rainbow Dash, hauling her up from the beach and onto a strand of grass. She finally took the time to look around, looking for water, trees, and especially any sign of civilization.A tall cone-shaped mountain rose to a snowcapped peak, fading to a the fuzzy green of dense foliage near the base. The land sloped down toward the beach they were on, which itself curved narrowly around in either direction. It seemed obvious to her even without the benefit of an overhead view that they were on an island.

An island, but not a desert one. Where there were that many trees there was water. Fluttershy hefted up the blue pegasus and started into the trees. It was cooler there, and the sun-dappled plant life was almost reminiscent of the forest back in Ponyville. Almost.

She stole snatches of bites from the grass before it was crowded out by plant life she didn’t know anything about. In the canopy of the forest the grass was replaced by flowering shrubs and bushes, but animal life seemed strangely absent. In fact, there were no birdcalls or insects buzzing, no sounds of small creatures flitting through the trees. The realization made her stop and look around. She felt like it was the Everfree Forest all over again.

The plants were a brilliant green, contrasting sharply with vivid orange and red blossoms. Strange fruits and berries weighed down the trees and climbing vines, as brightly colored as the flowers. The air was a riot of strange scents, the verdancy only making the contrasting stillness stranger.

“It’s okay, Fluttershy…maybe they’re just not used to ponies.” She muttered to herself, though she wanted to do nothing more than run back out. But Rainbow Dash had gotten them there, so it was her turn. The blue pegasus herself was still dazed or unconscious, and very heavy on Fluttershy’s back. She was nearly ready to take a rest, no matter how thirsty she felt, when she heard the sound of water coming through the trees.

The sound gave her new energy and she ran – or at least trotted – toward the source. And stopped. Between the trees she could see the silhouette of roofs and buildings. For a moment it seemed like there could be people of some sort, too, but a second glance showed most of those silhouettes as broken and decaying, the ruins of some sort of village.

Fluttershy crept closer, and still nothing stirred. A stream of clear water cut right past the ruins, and she edged up to its bank. The buildings loomed in silent vigil as she eased Rainbow Dash off her back and cautiously dipped her head down to taste the water. It was clear, pure, and nearly sweet. She gulped some down, only now conscious of how parched she really was, then detached a large leaf from a nearby plant to serve as an impromptu cup.

Dash spluttered and coughed a bit as Fluttershy poured water into her muzzle, but she’d had plenty of practice with animals. The pegasus swallowed the water, but didn’t rouse otherwise. “You just rest, Rainbow Dash.” Fluttershy tenderly brushed Dash’s mane away from her muzzle and looked up at the ruins crouched nearby. “I think I’m going to need your help for this one.”

She didn’t dare go far, not with the silent forest close in on every side, but she did nose around long enough to find a spiny seed pod to act as a comb. The salt that splashed her flanks was itchy enough, and Dash was worse off. It was certainly warm enough that the cold water in the stream was refreshing rather than chilling, and she used the water and comb to groom herself and then the unconscious Dash.

It was a long two hours as the shadows crept across the ground before Dash stirred again. “Nng. I had the craziest dream.” Her eyes opened and she looked up at Fluttershy, then around the forest. “Oh man. It wasn’t a dream.” She tried to get to her hooves, her wings working shakily as she toppled over to her other side. “Ow.”

Fluttershy dipped her head down and helped push the pegasus upright. “We’re both sore after all that. I think we’ll have to stick to the ground for now.”

“I guess.” Dash looked downcast for a moment, and then brightened up. “But you know, I bet I set a record for endurance flying with that.”

“I bet you did.” Fluttershy smiled at Dash. “You got both of us all the way here. Thank you.”

Dash smiled back for a moment then looked around. “Wherever here is. Whew, now this is creepy.”

Fluttershy gave a small nod. She’d been trying not to think about it, though the fact that absolutely nothing had happened was slight salve for her fears. The silent forest was clearly unnatural and she wanted nothing more than to leave it. But the ruined town might tell them where they were and, besides, the forest covered nearly the whole island.

“Well, come on, let’s see if we can find anything useful.” Dash started off toward the decaying buildings, and Fluttershy followed close on her hooves. The silence seemed to grow even more oppressive as they walked down an abandoned street strewn with leaf litter, broken twigs and branches. The buildings themselves, on closer inspection, were fairly sound, if overrun with vines and creepers. But every single door had fallen out of its jamb, hinges rusted into smears on the wood.

The buildings themselves were subtly wrong, the proportions off. Dash poked her head into a few doorways while Fluttershy watched worriedly, but there was nothing inside but disused tables and chairs. They seemed slightly too large and wide, the tables too low. The blue pegasus shook her head. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think this town was built by ponies.”

“Th-then who did?” Fluttershy looked around nervously. Without urgency driving her, the earlier bravado had faded back to her more usual apprehension.

“Maybe…monsters!” Dash grinned, attempting a weak joke to cut through the oppressive atmosphere. It did quite the opposite. Fluttershy squeaked and pressed herself against the ground, looking, if it were possible, more nervous that before.

Rainbow Dash sighed. “Oh come on, Fluttershy. Monsters wouldn’t build a whole town, would they? It’s got to be somepony of some sort, even if everything does look weird.”

“I…guess.” The yellow pegasus admitted, though her expression didn’t ease even a fraction.

“I’m sure they just found a nicer place to live,” Dash declared. “Come on, Fluttershy, we need to finish looking around before it gets dark. Maybe we can find a place to stay.” Forgetting herself, the pegasus spread her wings and winced. “Especially since we’re grounded,” she added with a glower at the traitorous appendages.

“Just as long as we don’t stay here,” Fluttershy murmured.

“Well I’m not afraid!” Dash declared loudly. Her voice echoed back to her, weak and flat and stilted, as if the silence was actively consuming noise. “Ah-heh…” She looked at the nearest building, the façade stripped down to the wood and the windows and doors gone, leaving only the bleached bones of a house. “It’s probably unsafe though, so we should find somewhere else.”

Fluttershy nodded and crept along behind Dash. They made their way through the disused main thoroughfare of the abandoned town, the hush complete except for their hoofsteps and the occasional sigh of wind. Plants grew between the cobbles, as evidence of the forest reclaiming the town, and that served to further muffle the sounds they made.

They stopped once they reached the outskirts of the town. The overgrown road cut through the heart of the forest, a straight line directly toward the distant mountain. “A road’s got to go somewhere, right?” Rainbow Dash squinted along the overgrown cobbles.

“I’d really just rather leave,” Fluttershy said, looking around nervously. “I feel like we’re being watched.”

“What?” Rainbow Dash whipped around, staring suspiciously about them. “I don’t see anything.”

“I don’t either, it just feels…” Fluttershy trailed off, looking at the ground.

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Fluttershy. I’m sure just it’s just this woods being creepy.” Dash tapped her hoof against the ground impatiently. “And it’s not going to be daylight forever. I’d like to get somewhere we can camp sooner rather than later.”

“Um…” Fluttershy spoke up again. “Shouldn’t we bring food and water with us?”

“How? We don’t exactly have saddlebags and canteens, here.”

The yellow pegasus lifted her head up, cheered by the opportunity to do something. “Oh, we can just make them, Rainbow Dash. Here.” Fluttershy stepped off the road a few paces to pull an enormous flat leaf from a nearby bush. Rainbow Dash followed, watching as the yellow pegasus fashioned small containers from creeper and tightly rolled leaves.

“Where’d you learn to do that, Fluttershy?” Dash blinked at her. She never would have expected Fluttershy to have such extensive survival skills.

“Oh, I make them for my animal patients sometimes.” Fluttershy lifted up a pair of containers and set them on Dash’s back, the vines making a crude harness, then fashioned a second set for herself. “There, now we just fill them.”

Some minutes later they made their way back to the road, Dash hauling water and Fluttershy burdened with grass. She still didn’t trust any of the other plants to be edible. They walked along the arrow-straight road, the relentless quiet pressing in. It was enough to shake even Dash’s reserve, and she finally stopped and turned to Fluttershy.

“I know I’m not usually one to suggest this, but…how about a song? All this quiet is really getting on my nerves.”

“Oh. Um…” Fluttershy flushed and glanced down briefly. “All right.” They started off again as Fluttershy took a breath.

Home no more home to me, whither must I wander

Hunger my driver, I go where I must

She started off quietly even for her, but gained in volume as she took comfort from the sound of her own voice. Dash relaxed too, as having something familiar seemed to drive back the formless menace of the surroundings.

Cold blows the winter wind over hill and heather

Thick drives the rain and my roof is in the dust.

The soft voice of the pegasus floated through the woods, a small pool of serenity in the midst of a nameless dread. Dash was normally immune to the effects of song, no matter that both Pinkie and Fluttershy had a tendency to break into them, but in this place it was a palpable relief to hear.

Fluttershy’s song carried them deeper into the forest, the road not swaying the slightest fraction, the only concession it made to the terrain being to slope slightly upward. Small bridges supported it over gullies, and it cut uncaringly through small hills. The day turned on toward night without the end of the road or, indeed, any other landmark coming into view.

Rainbow Dash stopped them as they crossed yet another small bridge over a sharp defile. A tall tree with a bulbous trunk and broad, fernlike leaves shaded the road there. “All right,” she said. “Let’s just quit for the night. Maybe tomorrow we’ll be able to fly and actually make good speed through here.” She flapped her wings experimentally and grimaced.“We can hope.”

“Whatever you say,” Fluttershy agreed as Dash took off her water harness and draped it over a low branch. Fluttershy followed suit, the two of them settling down in the sparse grass under the tree. Wind stirred the leaves above them and a few fat drops of rain spattered and spit against the forest canopy.

“…Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy whispered into the oppressive quiet.

The blue pegasus lifted her head up and looked at the silhouette of the other mare. “Yeah, Fluttershy?”

“…I’m scared.” Rainbow Dash looked at the pegasus huddled against the ground and slid closer, putting a wing over Fluttershy. “Yeah, me too,” she admitted. “But as long as we stick together, we’ll be fine. You’ll see.” There was a glint of blue eyes as Fluttershy looked at her, and then nodded, relaxing against Rainbow Dash and putting her head on the ground. She was asleep within moments. Dash looked on enviously, faintly wishing that there was someone to reassure her.

***

Morning brought no relief from the atmosphere of the forest, but their muscles had recovered enough that they could take wing. Not even Dash could fly far or fast yet, but it was better than hooves alone. The blue pegasus did a loop in the air, stretching her legs out comfortably. “Oh yeah, this is better.” Fluttershy followed more demurely, circling above the treetops as Dash rose higher to get a view of the island.

A lazy plume of smoke drifted from the white-capped mountain, fading into the painfully blue sky. Here and there amidst the dense forest canopy, more blue sparkled from lakes and streams cutting their way toward the surrounding ocean. Below, the road could be glimpsed occasionally through breaks in trees, but it took no great imagination to extend the line toward the base of the mountain.

Along that line, near the base of the mountain, was a circular lake with smudges surrounding it that might be buildings. “Looks like we’re headed there.” Dash pointed a hoof. “There’s gotta be something to tell us where are.”

“I hope so.” Fluttershy looked at the distant gleam of water and dropped back down into the trees, shouldering her makeshift saddlebags. The plants were already starting to dry out, and they’d fall apart in another day or so, but there was no reason to leave them behind just yet. Rainbow Dash followed her, grumbling under her breath as she shouldered the burden of the half-depleted water supplies.

They flew in short hops. Rainbow Dash’s wings were still sore enough that she had to, no matter how much she hated being grounded. Fluttershy wasn’t much better off, but it still meant they reached their destination in one tenth the time. They also spent much less time under the confines of the forest canopy, which was vastly relieving. Even though the air held that same stillness, it was not as all-enveloping under the clear blue vault of the sky.

Their destination resolved itself into a circular lake surrounded by more ruined buildings, these ones even more decrepit than the town near the beach. In the center of the lake a half-submerged stone tower rose out of the water, listing drunkenly askew. The road ran right into the edge of the lake, stopping abruptly at the edge of the water. Rainbow Dash touched down at the lake’s edge, followed by Fluttershy.

“What the heck happened here?” The blue pegasus scowled at the tower, then transferred her expression to the buildings. “If there’s nothing new here this is going to be such a waste of time.”

“Um, Rainbow Dash…?”

“I mean, all this way and it’s just more stupid ruins with nothing in them. And a stupid lake. We’ve got, like, a million lakes in Ponyville.”

“Rainbow Dash!”

“What?” Dash turned around, and Fluttershy pointed a shaky hoof back at the forest.

The missing animal life had appeared. Hundreds of small rodents and reptiles that neither of them recognized formed a living carpet at the forest’s edge. The trees were packed with birds, a raucous display of brilliant plumage. Here and there the bulk of a larger animal stood out from the crowd, eyes flashing and angular muzzles pointed at the two pegasi.

In fact, every single animal was watching them. The soft susurration of moving bodies made the lack of vocalization even more eerie. There were no chirps, no calls, no grunts from the assemblage of animals. They simply watched.

“…oh.” Dash blanched at the unnatural mob. “Um…you talk to them, Fluttershy. That’s your sort of thing, isn’t it?”

“That’s not normal!” Fluttershy quailed at the spectacle, then looked at Dash and took a deep breath. “All right, I’ll try…” The pegasus took a step forward. “Um…hello?”

The wind blew. A noise like a sigh ran through the collected animals, mixing with the wind and coalescing suddenly into a roar of comprehensible words.

Who.

Are.

You.

Fluttershy squeaked and backed toward the lake, cringing away from the collective. Rainbow Dash bared her teeth and stepped in front of the yellow pegasus, glaring at the animals. “I’m Rainbow Dash! Who are you?”

I am.

The wind.

The earth.

The trees.

The life.

This place.

I am.

“Oh yeah? I just see a bunch of creepy animals!” Dash narrowed her eyes at them. “And I’m not afraid of some overblown talking wind!” Behind her, Fluttershy whimpered, covering her head with her hooves.

Fear.

Is.

Irrelevant.

Patches of the road began to glow softly – prints, Dash saw, of something that had a front set of paws and a rear set of talons. The prints walked toward them, and Dash couldn’t help but move aside as they walked past the two pegasi and across the surface of the lake. It stopped at the tower, and licked upward, limning a figure in a cool flickering glow.

It had feline forelegs, while its rear talons were that of an eagle. A scaled head with two long horns wavered in the unsteady glow, and its tail trailed off into nothingness behind. The figure stood on the surface of the water, unconcerned by the small waves lapping along its surface. The voice came again, from the animals, from the wind, from all around.

You.

Are.

Intruding.

“Yeah, well, we didn’t really have much choice, did we?” Dash glared back and forth between the figure on the lake and the semicircle of island fauna. “If you hadn’t noticed this is kind of the only land nearby.”

Intruders

Must.

Be.

Dealt.

With.

“Now what is that supposed to mean? I – oh no you don’t!” The silent crowd swept forward as one, toward the two pegasi, and Dash planted herself between the nearly comatose Fluttershy and the animals. They came claw and tooth bared, the birds launching themselves from their branches.

Rainbow Dash’s advantage was speed. She wheeled and kicked the first arrival, sending it wheeling away with a muffled thump. She darted back and forth, hooves flashing as she fended off the crowd, sweeping birds from the air and silently cursing her sore wings. But she was only one pegasus, and there were too many of them.

Dash cried out as a claw scored on her hide, drawing a streak of red across her chest, and another along her flanks. She stumbled back, and the mob pressed on. Her thoughts were not of herself, but of how she had failed Fluttershy. The blue pegasus went down under the press of bodies as the creatures crested like a tidal wave.

“Stop.” The word was not loud, but it rang in the air like drawn steel. The advanced faltered and stilled as Fluttershy stood up. “Stop.” She said again, and even Rainbow Dash was unable to move.

“What gives you the right?” Fluttershy never raised her voice as she stalked through the mob toward Rainbow Dash. The crowd melted away before her. “What gives you the right to attack us? We are guests, lost and alone. We have done nothing to earn your hostility.” Her words flensed the control of the island spirit from the minds of animals around her. Released, they scatted back into the woods, vanishing from sight.

“You claim to be the spirit this land, the creatures that live here, but you are using them. Using them to attack us.” Fluttershy reached Dash’s side, bending to help the blue pegasus to her feet. She was bleeding from a dozen cuts and scratches, but still intact. Fluttershy smiled at her and then turned to look at the figure in the lake. “You are not protecting the land, and you are not protecting them.

Fluttershy was a gentle spirit. But her gentleness was not weakness. It flowed from an adamant core, a heart that would turn even the sharpest blade without a scratch, and could cut in equal measure. “With all this power, you are nothing more than a thug and a bully. Can you really have claim to have the land, the trees, the wind? Because from what I see, all you have is fear.”

The last of the creatures had fled, leaving only the two pegasi and the fiery figure in the middle of the lake. Fluttershy stepped to the edge of the lake and glared at the figure. “So are you a petty ghost, afraid of the living? Or are you really a spirit of nature?”

The pegasus stared into the flickering blue sockets of a spirit that embodied an entire island, the sum of all the life, the water, the air, and the earth thereon. A spirit that counted its age in centuries rather than years, and whose essence was in every blade of grass underhoof. In this place, it was like a god.

And the god flinched.

I.

Apologize.

The wind sighed, lonesome, through the trees.

***

“I accept your apology,” Fluttershy said graciously. “But look at poor Rainbow Dash! You should really be apologizing to her.”

“I..uh…” Rainbow Dash was nonplussed. The figure lowered its head and began to walk toward them, leaving illuminated footprints behind. Fluttershy watched calmly as the spirit walked up to them, but Dash was wide-eyed. It bent its neck until it was muzzle to muzzle with Dash, and breathed.

In a matter of moments, plants grew from the ground, wrapping smooth leaves around Dash’s wounds, and then withering away to leave only the green bandages behind. Her skin tingled and the pain faded. “…thanks?”

The figure stood to its full height again, towering over them.

What.

Do.

You.

Want.

“We’re just looking for a way home,” Fluttershy said. “We’re completely lost and we found your island by accident. Well, Rainbow Dash did. Do you have any idea how to get to the mainland?”

“And what’s with all the creepy ruins around here? Who used to live here?” Dash put in. “Did you run them off too?”

Two.

Halves.

Of.

A.

Question.

The wind keened through the trees in response to their questions. The spirit’s outline flickered as it turned to look at the tower in the center. Ghostly fire dripped from its figure, pooling on the water. It shifted and slid into a model of the island itself. Rainbow Dash limped up next to Fluttershy to watch.

A group of sleek, dagger-shaped vessels slid through the lake-as-ocean, leaving a phosphorescent wake as they cuddled up to the shore. Small figures disembarked, spreading over the land. Two towns arose, one at the nadir of the island, one nestled at the base of the mountain. They briefly flourished, the light defining them growing crisper and cleaner. Then, one by one, the flames representing the inhabitants of the island flickered and went out.

I.

Hold.

Their.

Memories.

Until.

They.

Return.

“I don’t think they’re coming back,” Rainbow Dash muttered. Fluttershy shot her a disapproving look, and Dash rolled her eyes. “Well, it’s true!” The spirit’s head swung around to regard them, burning blue pupils flickering in expressionless sockets.

I.

Can.

Wait.

“Right.” Dash shook her head. “Anyway, what does this have to do with finding the mainland? I mean, there’s nobody around to tell us.” The fiery island dimmed and died as the spirit turned around to face the pegasi.

The.

Ships.

Remember.

Their way.

To.

The land.

Of dragons.

“Dragons?” The two said it in chorus and looked at each other. It was hardly what they were expecting. Fluttershy’s eyes were wide and uncertain as she stared at the blue pegasus, and then at the spirit. “Well,” Dash said after a moment, trying to reassure her. “Dragons do seem to know where Equestria is, so it’s the right direction at least.”

“You’re right,” Fluttershy sighed. Then her expression lightened. “Maybe I’ll get to see more baby dragons like Spike!”

“Uh, yeah.” The blue pegasus blinked at Fluttershy and then looked at the spirit looming above them. “So, if the ships know, whatever that means, how are we supposed to find out?”

The glowing figure swept by them, heading for the forest. The wind whispered through the grass, swirling about them as it trailed after the spirit.

Follow.

The two pegasi obeyed, trotting on either side of the lingering prints left behind. They passed between two trees, and between one step and the next they were no longer near the heart of the island, but at a sheltered cove on the coast. A small waterfall fell into the ocean there, bouncing down a short cliff, the wind whipping the spray into an inconstant rainbow.

“Whoah.” Rainbow Dash was impressed. It was not the magic, for Twilight was proficient enough at teleporting. It was the suddenness of the transition, the lack of flash or sparkle that was showy in its own right. Fluttershy’s attention, though, was captured by the half-dozen dagger shapes in the water below them.

The silver ships were low to the water, with a delicate filigreed rail all around the flat deck. They had no mast or oars, no visible means of propulsion or even anchors. Unlike the towns on the island, the ships were pristine. The waves lapping against the sides of the vessels didn’t seem to even leave droplets of water.

The spirit bent its head to the vessels in a gesture of respect.

When.

You.

Are ready.

One

Will.

Take you.

The spirit’s form flickered and faded, cold fire streaming away on the wind until they were alone again. The forest was no longer silent and oppressive, but cheerful and bustling with life. Birds twittered and called to each other; the underbrush rustled with the comings and goings of small creatures. Dash stared at where the ghostly guardian had stood. “When we’re ready, huh?” Then she glanced down at herself, her blue coat striped with green bandages. “I suppose we should take a little bit to rest and heal up, ah-heh.”

She glanced over at Fluttershy and was taken aback by the other mare’s wide-eyed, tearful expression. “Oh, Rainbow Dash, I’m so sorry.”

The yellow pegasus took two steps toward Dash, but stopped short of actually hugging her for fear of further injuring the pony. “If I had done something earlier, you wouldn’t have gotten hurt. It’s all my fault.”

“Hey, no, Fluttershy.” Dash put one hoof on her shoulder and smiled at her. “You did great. I mean, you made the island not-creepy and got us transportation…well, I’m not sure how that works yet, but still. A few scrapes and bruises don't really mean much.”

“I-if you say so.” The yellow pegasus still looked unhappy, and Dash pulled her into a quick embrace, regardless of her wounds. “I say so.” Fluttershy gave her a small smile in response.

The moment was interrupted by Dash’s stomach gurgling loudly. The pegasi looked at each other for a brief instant and began to giggle. It grew into laughter, and they flopped back against the grass and let it come. It felt good after the unceasing oppressive atmosphere they’d endured, and it chased away the last lingering shadows of fear.

***

“Aw, yeah, this is better.” Dash stretched her limbs as she drifted lazily just above the treetops. Her wings fanned the air, carrying her effortlessly through the clear bright sky. The plant bandages had fallen off, leaving only the smooth welts of healing skin.

They hadn’t seen the nature spirit again, but in the span of a few hours a bower had grown by the side of the cliff, a tight intermeshing of leafy green vines that provided a cool, comfortable shelter. Fruit trees had sprouted around it, bearing a staggering variety of exotic food for the two pegasi. The perfection of the spot provided a harsh counterpoint to the knowledge that they were still utterly lost.

Lost, but they did have direction. Dash drifted over to where Fluttershy was working with vines and leaves, slices of fruit spread out on a flat rock beside her. “Whatcha doing?” The blue pegasus hovered above Fluttershy, and she glanced up at Dash.

“Oh, um, well, I don’t know how long this boat trip will be, and we’ll need food and water, so I’m making supplies. See I have dried fruit wrapped in leaves, and these hollow out gourds are for water.” Fluttershy gave Dash a broad smile. “It’s a lot better than dry grass and seaweed.”

“Hah, yeah.” Dash watched Fluttershy labor alone for a moment, then dropped down beside her. “…so how can I help?” The yellow pegasus gave her a startled look, which transmuted after a moment to a grateful one. “Oh, I’ll show you.”

She scooted over to make room for Dash, and the blue pegasus took to the task of learning how to make water gourds. Dash would admit she had a habit of shirking chores, but Fluttershy’s reaction hurt her. So she bent to following Fluttershy’s instructions, telling herself she’d do her own fair share of the work for their journey.

In all, it took them several days to recover and put together their supplies. Simply being lost was stretching into a longer and longer journey, and Fluttershy couldn’t help but think about life back in Ponyville. The day they were ready to leave, she sighed, looking at the pile of food and jugs they’d made. “Rainbow Dash, what do you think everyone else is doing? Are they still looking for us? We know we’re okay, but they must be so worried.”

Dash looked up from the stream, where she was filling one of their jugs. She put the jug aside and looked down at her reflection. “Yeah, I know. I was thinking about that too. I just wish there was some way we could tell them what was going on. Well, I really wish we were back in Ponyville, but a message would be nice too.”

She turned around to look at Fluttershy. “But hey, I’m sure they know that wherever we are, we’re together. And that means they know we’ll be fine.”

The yellow pegasus nodded, looking unconvinced. Dash trotted over to her and gave her a smile. “Don’t worry about it, Fluttershy. Just think of how happy they’ll be to see us when we get back.”

“I suppose so,” Fluttershy said softly, but she did give the blue pegasus a small smile.

Dash turned to look at the silver ships gleaming against the blue of the cove below. “Speaking of which, I guess we should get going. But how are we going to figure out which ship to take? Or…how to make it go?”

No sooner had the words left her mouth than the blue-green fire of the island spirit kindled nearby. They turned to watch as the ghostly flames licked upward to outline the strange figure. The blue-lit sockets of its eyes surveyed them dispassionately then stepped to the cliff’s edge. The wind whispered over the edge, and the ships responded.

One of the six slid closer to the cliffs, lifting further out of the water, the hull shifting slightly as windows opened in the sides. The rear half of the deck slid upward, a door appearing as the filigreed rail formed into place around the new upper deck. “Nice!” Rainbow Dash grinned at the spectacle and darted out over the cliff to circle around the vessel. The spirit turned to Fluttershy.

You.

Need.

Only.

Ask.

“Thank you so much,” Fluttershy said, ducking her head to the island god. “We’re very grateful to you for all your help. Is there anything we can possibly do to repay you?”

The spirit cocked its head at Fluttershy, and for a moment silence reigned. Dash flew back up, looking between Fluttershy and the fiery specter in front of her.

Carry.

My.

Memory.

With.

You.

With those final words, it disappeared for the last time, streaming away on the wind, the blue and green fire fraying and vanishing. Dash landed next to her, both of them watching until there was no more sign of the spirit. “I wonder if he’s lonely,” Fluttershy said at length.

“He’s an island, Fluttershy,” Rainbow Dash said. “I don’t think that islands can get lonely. Can they?” They looked at each other, and Dash shrugged. “…we should start loading.” The blue pegasus walked back over to the stream, picking up her water jug and flying over to the ship.

The silver hull was cool underhoof, the interior well-lit even where there weren’t windows. The middle deck did have windows, though, and furniture. A pair of beds and couches, the linens a crisp silver-white, took up the most of the deck, with a table and chairs filling the space between. All of the furniture was familiar looking enough, but the proportions slightly off, just like the ruined towns.

The lower deck had no windows, and was full of bins and racks for storage. Dash put her water-filled gourd on a shelf and looked back at Fluttershy, who was bearing a stack of dried fruit. “So, is this what the ship normally looks like or what? It seems awfully convenient.”

“Well it is a magic ship,” Fluttershy said, dropping the food into a bin. “It’s probably trying to be nice. Thank you, ship.” The pegasus added, looking around at the hull. Dash rolled her eyes, following Fluttershy as she flew back up the ramp to the surface. But the blue pegasus paused for a moment before leaving, watching Fluttershy soar back up the cliff. “Um…thank you, ship,” she said awkwardly, before shaking her head and launching herself after the other mare.

It took them several hours fill all the water jugs and load all the supplies, but eventually they were ready to go. The two of them stood on the main deck, looking over the rail. “So…I guess it’s time to leave.”

Fluttershy nodded and looked down at the deck. “Um…ship, if you could take us to the land of the dragons, we’d be awfully grateful.” The ship shivered softly underhoof, and began to slide away from the island. Dash had to brace herself against the roll of the deck as the craft accelerated, wind whipping across the deck as the vessel sped through the waves.

Fluttershy turned to watch the island recede into the distance. Dash stepped up next to her, the wind tossing her mane. “Are you okay, Fluttershy? You look kinda glum.”

“I still think it must be lonely to be an island,” Fluttershy told her. “Even if it is full of creatures.”

Dash didn’t really know what to say to that, so she stayed by Fluttershy’s side until the island slipped out of sight beneath the curve of the horizon. Eventually, though, Dash nudged the other pegasus. “Let’s go below. I’ll make dinner,” she added with a sudden grin. Fluttershy smiled back and followed the mare into the vessel.

Dash spent most of the time her time in the cabin, bouncing around a makeshift ball formed of tightly-wrapped vines and leaves. She occasionally took wing, zipping into the air to look around, only to circle back to the ship as her exploration revealed only more water. Fluttershy was less adventurous, spending much of her time simply watching the waves slip past.

One day turned into another, and the ocean breeze chilled as they sailed on. The first break in the endless water for the entire journey was a chunk of ice, bobbing incongruously among the waves.

“Well that’s…weird.” Dash scowled at the ice. “I wonder where that came from?”

“I bet Twilight would know.” Fluttershy said. “I wish she were here to tell us.”

“Yeah…” The blue pegasus looked out over the water. “I didn’t realize I’d miss them so much,” she admitted after a long pause. There was a moment of silence, and then she was surprised by Fluttershy stepping up next to her to give her a hug. “Don’t worry Rainbow Dash,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll be back soon enough.”

“Heh. That’s what I’ve been telling you.” Dash returned the embrace as they watched the strange sight drift away. “We’ll be okay.”

As the light dimmed, the sky north of them flickered with color. The ponies stood on the upper deck, watching the horizon as green and orange flashed, and then swam through the sky. Slow rivers of light danced in the air and curtains of blue and green, orange and pink shimmered far above them.

“Wow.” Rainbow Dash stared upward, her breath steaming in the cold air. The two of them were huddled under blankets brought from below, unable to resist the lure of the light show above them. “It’s so beautiful,” Fluttershy agreed, her eyes wide as she watched the heavens. “I really wish the rest of our friends were here to see it. But I’m glad that at least we’re here together.”

Dash shot a glance at Fluttershy, but the yellow pegasus was still enraptured by the spectacle overhead. “…yeah, me too,” Dash agreed, huddling deeper under the blankets and returning her gaze to the sky. The sky shimmered and blazed in color as Luna’s night wore on, and it wasn’t until color shone on the eastern horizon that Dash realized she’d stayed up all night watching.

“That was crazy. Now I’m really going to have to catch up on my naps.” Dash grinned, looking over at Fluttershy. The other pegasus was asleep. She looked over at Fluttershy for a moment, then stood up, nudging the other pony onto her back and carrying her down to the hold. Fluttershy stirred but didn’t wake as Dash put her in her bed and draped a blanket over her. Dash stood there for a moment, just watching, and then flicked her wings, flying back up to the deck.

She watched the sky lighten, the ribbons of color above vanishing, and sighed. “This is cool and all,” she said to nobody in particular. “But I really wish we were getting there faster.” In response, the ship under her hooves shuddered. Dash frowned, and turned around as the silver vessel began to shift again. “…uh-oh.”

Between one blink and another, a solid pane of glass slid over the deck, cutting off the wind abruptly. The front narrowed and the whole ship hunkered down closer to the water. The pegasus shook her head from a brief sensation of vertigo as the hull flowed like hot molasses, and then was tumbled from her hooves as they abruptly accelerated.

Below deck, there was a thump, and Fluttershy appeared, disheveled. “What’s going on?”

“I, um, think I made it go faster. Ah-heh”

Dash clambered back to her feet, looking out through the transparent cover that had appeared. The water nearby was blurred, a plume of spray flying out behind them as they cut through the waves. “Oh. Well, I guess that’s okay.” Fluttershy blinked at the changed ship. “Um, thank you, ship.”

The yellow pegasus looked at Dash, and she rubbed at her mane and grinned uncomfortably. “Ah, yeah, thank you ship.” Then she paced to the prow of the ship and peered ahead. “I still wonder where we’re going, though.”

“The land of dragons, of course,” Fluttershy said as she stepped up next to Dash.

“No, I mean...nevermind.” She shook her head briefly. “I haven’t seen anything but water and ice for days. How big is this ocean?”

“Um, big?” Fluttershy supplied helpfully, then yawned, swaying slightly on her feet. “I’m still tired…I think I need to go lay down.”

“Good -” Dash surprised herself with an answering yawn. “Good idea.”

They were woken as the ship slowed and turned, nearly rolling Dash from her bed and pressing Fluttershy against the cabin wall. “What the…?” Dash peered out the cabin window, now sealed along with the deck, and saw high white cliffs rising from an ice-dotted ocean. And far, far above, a winged silhouette glided through the air, the sun glinting off its scales. “Awesome! We made it!”

“Ooh.” Fluttershy crowded in next to her at the window, since hers was now facing open ocean. “But are we going to have to fly that whole way up?”

“It’s no problem, should be a piece of cake,” Dash said, flexing her wings. “Just as soon as the ship lets us out.”

“I wonder where – eep!” Fluttershy flinched back from the window as the ship abruptly dove under the water. As the froth cleared, they had time to see the immense floating bulks of the ice before the ship dived into a hole in the cliff under the water. The outside went pitch black.

“Oh, I don’t like this,” Fluttershy backed away from the window, glancing around as if expecting water to come crashing in at any moment.

“Relax, Fluttershy, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Dash’s voice was not entirely steady, but she turned to give Fluttershy a smile. The blue pegasus looked out the window, willing the light come back. She didn’t have to wait long; it was only a minute or two before pale blue illumination filtered through, and water sluiced away from the glass. The cabin shape shifted and altered, making her eyes hurt, and a whisper of cold, damp air came from the upper deck.

“What’d I tell you?” Dash grinned at Fluttershy. “We’re here.”

***

Continued in Part 2 - Hc Svnt Dracones