• Published 11th Nov 2021
  • 2,234 Views, 78 Comments

A New Generation - Hakuno

Sunny and friends united the three pony races. Now they have to go on another adventure to restore Equestria's former glory.

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Chapter II - New Horizons

Chapter II. New Horizons

Zephyr Heights would never stop amazing Sunny. The pegasus city was unlike anything she had ever seen or even dreamed of. Tall white towers with golden corners raised to scrape the skies, built around and above an enormous canyon whose bottom was obscured by thick mist. Everything was connected by wide stone bridges, and Sunny just couldn’t help but wonder how they had been made.

She couldn’t stop looking up at the immensity of the city, at the huge screens that showed live news or the many smaller ones that called for her attention on a new product or two. Music and voices and jingles of all kinds sounded from speakers on every corner, competing with each other to see who could attract more ponies. And yet, everything was placed in wide areas, so it never got overwhelming and never felt cramped. Pegasi, Sunny had come to know, really valued being able to freely move. As if they had never stopped yearning for the open skies.

The bridges that connected each plateau were all at different heights, and their brass railings provided unobstructed views of the chasms below. The first time Sunny crossed the higher ones, she had felt such vertigo she had almost fainted, so now she contented herself with walking right in the middle of them. She still felt small heart attacks every time a pegasus jumped off one of the bridges. Even without magic they had been able to glide, so it was a very common occurrence that they’d simply skip what would be an hour-long walk to the lower plateaus and simply jump off a bridge and glide straight down.

Of course, Zipp and Pipp didn’t think anything of it, and even Izzy found it amazing, saying that she’d totally do that if she had wings. At least Hitch was on her side.

“I swear, one of these days they’re gonna miss their target and end up at the bottom of the chasms,” he said right after a group of fillies jumped off the bridge they were currently crossing.

“That’s why we have chasm patrols,” Zipp said with a wave of her hoof. “Most adults already know how to read the signs to get back to Base Plat, but foals can easily get lost in ‘em.”

Pipp pulled out her phone and snapped a picture of herself with the castle in the background. Sunny needed to ask her how those devices worked. “Speak in past tense, Zipp. Now that everypony can fly, there won’t be a need for the chasm patrols.”

“I think you’re underestimating things, Pipp,” Zipp said. “Flight is still new to us. After that first explosion of magic, we’ve been having more difficulties with flying. There’s still a lot of ponies that end up in the bottom and can’t get back up. In fact, I think there are even more now than before.”

“Can we speak about falling to our dooms after we cross this very high-up bridge?” Sunny asked.

Zipp smiled at her and spread her wings. “Don’t worry, Sunny. If you fall I’ll make sure to catch you before you hit the ground.”

“I’d rather not fall at all, thank you very much.”

The Royal Palace of Zephyr Heights was at the northernmost part of the city, built on and against the highest plateau, rising well above the rest of the buildings as if looking over them. This plateau was connected to another three, two on its left and one on its right, with the thickest and widest bridges, where they had dripped gold in the cracks between cobblestones. A bit garish, in Sunny's opinion.

The palace’s plateau itself was a small mountain on its own right, with tall cliffs otherwise inaccessible were it not for the elevator, which had the best views of Zephyr Heights as it reached the top.

“Alright,” Zipp said as they exited the elevator. “We say ‘hi’ to Mom, restock on supplies, then we march to The Heart of the Brave.”

“Why the rush?” Pipp asked. “We can rest for the night here, then leave first thing in the morning.”

Izzy gasped. “We can have a sleepover! I’ve never had a sleepover before!”

“I’m just saying we should try to complete this quest as soon as possible,” Zipp replied, waving a wing. “I, for one, want all magic to fully return.”

Pipp snorted. “Are you sure there’s not another reason?”

“Another reason?” Hitch asked.

Zipp rolled her eyes. “No, there’s not another reason. Come on, we all saw what bringing magic back did. Don’t you want to know what will happen if we bring it all back?”

“I mean, yeah,” Pipp admitted. “But there’s no rush. That Flutterbee—”

“Fluttershy,” Sunny corrected.

“She said nothing will happen if we take it slowly. It’s not like we’re still fugitives for being ‘full of baloney’ or anything.”

“You’re not going to stop being mad about that, are you?”

Pipp only frowned.

Zipp snorted. “Come on, Pipp. We talked about this.”

“Did we?” Pipp snapped, eyes narrowing. “All you did was ask if I thought this was all wor—”

“Girls, please stop,” Sunny said. “I do think we should complete this quest as soon as possible.”

“Thank you,” Zipp said.

“However, I agree with Pipp,” Sunny continued. “There’s no need to push ourselves too much. We can stay the night and then leave for The Heart of the Brave first thing in the morning.”

Zipp rolled her neck back and gave out an exasperated sigh. “Come on, let’s vote. I say we go right now.” She lifted a leg, then waited. When nopony joined her, she frowned at Hitch. “Come on, I thought at least you’d support me on this!”

Hitch shrugged. “I mean, there’s really no need to rush things. Besides, it’s better if we’re well fed and rested. Two weeks ago, we almost killed each other for that apple before reaching Bridlewood.”

“I won it fair and square,” Pipp muttered.

“What I’m trying to say is that we don’t have the need to gallop when we can simply walk.”

Zipp stared at him for a moment, then huffed and turned back to walk to the palace. “Fine, you win. Let’s go.”

As Zipp entered the palace, Sunny walked next to Pipp. “What’s gotten into her?”

Pipp hummed for a moment. “She’s just never really liked being the Crown Princess.”

“What do you mean?”

“Zipp is very responsible, don’t get me wrong,” Pipp said. “But she’s never been the kind to stay in one place. I think she just wants to live as many adventures as she can before Mom abdicates the throne to her.”

“Good thing this is gonna be the biggest adventure ever!” Izzy said.

“Well, The Heart of the Brave is only a few hours away,” Pipp said. “I don’t think it’ll take that long.”

“We’ll see when we get there,” Sunny replied. “But for now, let’s head in.”

Izzy giggled. “If your room is anything like the dungeon, then this is gonna be a blast!”


It turned out that Pipp’s royal chambers were nothing like the dungeon. Yes, every corner had some gold in it, but there were no whites. The carpet was a dark purple, the walls a soft pink. Pipp’s bed sheets were magenta with soft, translucent lavender draperies hanging down. There was a wide desk of dark mahogany sitting by the far corner, next to a large arc that gave way to a small space where Sunny could see different clothes hanging.

“It is bigger than the dungeon cell!” Sunny said. “And more cozy, somehow.”

“Thanks!” Pipp replied. “I decorated it myself!”

Izzy trotted towards a large plant in a corner and inspected the pot. “Ooh! How’d you make the swirly lines?”

“Oh, I didn’t… I had that one commissioned,” Pipp said.

Izzy then looked up at the silk curtains with embroidered gold flowers. “And these? These look so cool!”

Pipp cleared her throat. “Yes, that, uh, everything in here’s bought, Izzy. I didn’t make anything.”

“Oh,” Izzy blinked, not missing her smile. “Well, I still think your room is really pretty.”


“So,” Hitch said as he left his backpack by the entrance. “What’s the plan now?”

Pipp turned her head at him so fast Sunny heard some pops coming from it. “Woah, there! You can’t sleep here!”

“Why not?”

“Because,” Pipp said with a roll of her eyes. “You are a stallion, and I am a princess. Do you have any idea of how my Pippsqueaks will react if I have a stallion sleep in my room with me?”

Hitch blinked. “But we’ve camped together already. Wouldn’t it be the same?”


Zipp giggled and tapped Hitch’s head with the tip of her wing. “You’d think there’d be more going on in that head of yours.”

“What?” Hitch asked.

“It’s not a good idea that rumors start appearing about a stallion sleeping in the same room as a princess,” Zipp explained. “But since I’m sleeping here, you can use my chambers. Come on, dude, I’ll tell the guards to let you in.”

Hitch made a face, but grabbed his backpack and followed Zipp to the hallway. When the door closed behind them, Sunny stepped next to Pipp. “Is it really that bad that he sleeps here even after what we’ve been through as a group?”

Pipp’s frown quickly turned into a grin. “Oh, my guards are so loyal to me, I could steal my mom’s crown in front of them and they wouldn’t say a thing.”

“Ok… That’s disturbing.”

“I’m not worried about rumors,” Pipp continued. “Not really, anyway. It was just an excuse for those two to have some alone time.”

Sunny cocked her head. “Alone time? For what?”

Pipp deadpanned at her. “Come on. You know why.”

While Sunny tried to think of a reason, Izzy hopped next to her and raised a hoof. “Oh! I know! They want to come up with a secret hoofshake!”

Pipp looked at Izzy with the same glare before she huffed. “Come on, girls, I can’t be the only one to notice the tension between those two?” Sunny gave Izzy a glance, and received a confused one in return, making Pipp let out an exasperated sigh. “Honestly, what did I expect from a pair of airheads?”

“Hey!” Sunny protested.

“It’s not an earth pony slur!” Pipp said with a little stomp. “But seriously, how come you haven’t seen it? I’ve barely been in the same city as Zipp and I noticed!”

“Noticed what?” Sunny insisted. Why was Pipp so angry?

Pipp looked up at the ceiling and took a long, deep breath. She then chuckled and looked at Sunny with a smile. “You know what? I’ll let you figure it out on your own.” And with that, she hopped onto her bed and took her phone from under her wing.

Sunny frowned, and she couldn't help but feel like Pipp was insulting her somehow. She didn't like feeling like this, because Pipp was a good pony and a good friend, but all those slights were starting to get under her skin. Maybe it was better if she simply let it go.

"By the way, Pipp, I've been meaning to ask," Sunny said. "How exactly does that phone of yours work?"

Pipp looked up from her phone. "Hm? Oh, it's quite easy, really. Here." She hoofed the device to Sunny. "Put your hoof on the tracker."

Sunny accepted the phone and looked at the large oval-shaped space on the back. Like many things in Zephyr Heights, it had the shape of a hoof. Sunny placed her hoof on it and felt a soft click. She lifted her leg and the phone came with it, securely attached to her toe and heel.

"Ok." Pipp said, nudging the phone so Sunny would look at the screen. "Now, what you want to do is press your sole a bit on the upper side." Sunny did so, and a heart drawing moved upward from the middle of the screen. "Good, now press with the bottom of your sole." Once more, the little heart moved downward.

"Ohh, this is so cool!" Izzy said, having moved to Sunny's side to look.

"Yeah," Sunny agreed. She moved her sole around, pressing in circles, and watched the heart follow her movements on the screen. "I thought the hoof sensors were incredible, but this is on a whole different level!"

Pipp puffed out her chest, practically shoving her fluff on Sunny's face. "Yeah, it's totes better than before. Anyway, you seem to be getting the hang of it. Now move the cursor to the camera icon."

"Move the what now?"

Pipp rolled her eyes. "The heart."

"Oh, ok." Doing her best not to stare at Pipp's admittedly puffy fluff, Sunny made the little heart drawing get on the drawing of a camera.

"Good, now double tap on it," Pipp said. "That is, quickly press your sole two times on the upper side."

Sunny did so, and instead of having the heart move upward, the camera drawing wobbled a little before the whole screen went black. A second later, she was looking at herself on the screen, and… Was that how she looked from below? She didn’t think her snout looked that wide?

"If you double up—that means tap with the upper sole—you will take a picture. To get out of the camera app, you have to double down."

Sunny was about to take a photograph, but then an idea occurred to her. This could be Pipp's phone, but Sunny wanted her first picture to not be herself. So, she moved the phone until Izzy appeared on the screen. Izzy immediately smiled and brought a hoof around Sunny's neck, bringing her close and pressing their cheeks together with a soft squeak.

It was then, with a slight blush and a thundering heart, that Sunny's first ever photograph with a phone was of Izzy and herself.

"Good, you're a natural," Pipp said, eyes glittering. "To release the tracker, simply push down your heel until you feel a click. But be careful, because the phone can fall down pretty easily."

Sunny nodded and pushed her heel, feeling said click, and immediately felt the phone get loose on her hoof. She quickly gave it back to Pipp, fearing it'd fall and break.

Pipp hoofed it to Izzy and taught her how to operate it while Sunny simply sat on her haunches. She glanced at Izzy's face of concentration and couldn't help but smile when she stuck out her tongue and narrowed her eyes. Gosh, she was beautiful.

"Alright," said Zipp as she opened the door. "As long as Hitch doesn't open the windows, he should be fine. Can we—"

"Oh!" Izzy exclaimed, looking at Pipp. "You meant they wanted to make out!"

Everypony looked at her, and Sunny saw Pipp's cheeks redden a little as she side-glanced at a very confused Zipp.

"What are you talking about?" Zipp asked, glancing between them.

"Feather Fall!" Pipp blurted out as soon as Izzy opened her mouth, her fluff flattening as though to mask the sag in her shoulders. "She and Cloud Phase wanted to make out, even though they deny it. You know how celebrities are."

Her fake laugh afterwards made Zipp narrow her eyes, but she ended up rolling her eyes and closing the door behind her. "I thought Feather Fall was married?"

Pipp shook her head. "You need to pay more attention to celeb gossip, Zipp."

Zipp walked in and sat on the floor. "No, I don't. Ponies' personal lives aren't my business."

"If you say so," Pipp said, then recovered her phone from Izzy.

"I do say so," Zipp replied, and Pipp only rolled her eyes as Zipp continued. "We have a lot of more important things to do than care about who is partying with whom and which ponies stopped hanging out."

"Uh-huh," Pipp said and simply kept looking at her phone, her hoof a golden blur behind it.

"Speaking of which, did you read the report of the patrols after the wave?"

Pipp put her phone down. "Who do you take me for? I even made a video about it!"

Zipp snorted. "Of course you did."

"It was a safety video, Zipp!" Pipp delicately stomped a hoof on the plush. "I didn’t even use my branding or anything."

"What report?" Sunny burst, having lost against her curiosity.

Zipp looked at her. "After the magic wave, pegasi flying skills basically up and vanished, and many ponies ended up at the bottom of the chasms, most of them being foals and the elderly."

"Very sad," Pipp said, voice soft and eyes low.

"Wait, what do you mean it vanished?" Sunny asked, eyes wide. That was a very odd statement, considering the pegasi she had seen used any excuse to take to the skies. She thought she would've noticed if they couldn't fly. But if both her feathered friends were this shaken…

"Well, not completely," Zipp replied. "You know how two unicorns could lift that huge tram when magic returned?" Sunny nodded. "Now, Izzy, could you pull that off again?"

Izzy perked up. "Nope!" She then hopped onto the bed, making Pipp fly an inch and almost drop her phone. "Most I can levitate now is a parasol."

Zipp waved her hoof towards Izzy. "Something similar happened to us pegasi. Suddenly, no matter how hard we flapped our wings, flying just took so much more effort. That's why many ponies ended up in the chasms."

"Oh," Sunny said. "Sorry to hear that."

"It's ok," Zipp said. "We can still glide pretty easily. Nopony got seriously hurt, fortunately. But we did have to organize a massive search party."

Sunny raised a hoof. "So, that's the reason your mom had you come back for a week?"

Pipp perked up and shot her face to Zipp, who only glanced at her before letting out a chuckle. "Yep, that's it. Anyway, what do you girls say we get some sleep? The Heart of the Brave isn't very far, but the desert can be really tough."

"Yeah," Pipp said, and Sunny thought she sounded angry for some reason. "Let's."

They all climbed on Pipp's very large bed. Pipp and Izzy claimed the spaces by the headrest, while Zipp and Sunny got the ones by the bottom end. Fortunately, there were so many pillows in the room that no one was left lacking comfort.

As the lights were turned off and they lay down, Sunny couldn't help but notice some tension between Zipp and Pipp. But they shared some goodnight wishes, even smiling at each other, so maybe Sunny was overthinking it.

Sunny wasn't sure how much time she spent staring at the wall. Like Izzy, she had never been at a sleepover. Hitch and Sprout had never been allowed to stay at her place, nor had she ever been invited to their houses. Well, Hitch did ask if he could stay that one time, before his mother dragged him out the door ear-first. And after her dad passed away… Well, she just hadn't thought about it.

She didn't know how to feel about it. Perhaps she was thinking too much. Perhaps—

She felt something rest on her torso. She lifted her head and looked back, only to find Izzy's smile two inches away. Sunny's breath caught in her throat as she looked at Izzy's sleeping face. She really didn't have any reservations about snuggling with other ponies.

Sunny laid her head down and gulped, burying what might have been a giggle at Izzy’s twitching snout. If she had been restless before, now she was sure she was not going to get any sleep.

At least Izzy's warmth felt nice. Maybe this was how she could sense sparkles…


With exactly zero hours of proper sleep—Izzy was not only a snuggler, but a very shifty one. And the way her hooves twitched was too adorable—and her heart just short of giving up from exhaustion, Sunny followed Zipp and Pipp onto the hall, where they found Hitch waiting near a bored-looking guard, and to the dining hall so they could grab breakfast before heading out.

The large room was very similar to the halls, with white tall walls and golden corners and details. The table in the middle was also white and gold, and it was large enough to sit about twenty ponies. Big potted plants decorated the corners and some hung from the ceiling. Food had already been served, for what Sunny could smell. Two guards at each side of the double doors allowed them entrance and bowed at their princesses. One of them, Sunny recognized, was one of the two that had captured her and Izzy on her first visit.

As Sunny sat down where she could see the huge windows on the other side of the room, she took notice of the absolute feast that had been prepared. More surprising was that she barely recognized some things. Those shimmery lumps of gold were definitely baked potatoes with butter, her nose could tell her, and that to her right was definitely a watermelon sculpture of Pipp. Right in front of her was a huge bowl of salad of some kind.

With Izzy to her right, Hitch to her left, and Zipp and Pipp in front, Sunny started considering what to eat first.

“This all looks yummy!” Izzy said as she levitated what appeared to be a slice of pie onto her plate.

A strange sound came from behind, and everypony turned towards the green pegasus stallion that guarded the door. He had the most stoic expression Sunny had ever seen on a pony. However, his shifty legs gave away it had been him who had made that sound.

“Is something wrong, Acting Wingpony Thunder?” Zipp asked.

The stallion somehow squared up even more. “It was nothing, Your Highness! Just an impulse, your highness!”

“Uh-huh,” Zipp said, glaring at the guard with lidded eyes and the faintest frown. “In any case, I suggest you learn how to control your impulses if you ever want to make it to Flying Wingpony.”

“Understood, Your Highness!”

Sunny looked between the two for a moment, then leaned over the table towards Zipp. “What happened?”

However, it was Pipp who replied. “Oh, Izzy just broke this silly rule that royals always eat first.” She waved a hoof and put her phone under her wing. “It’s always bothered me, honestly. I can never use my phone while dining.”

“You really shouldn’t,” Zipp said with a glare.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Izzy said, then pushed her plate away from herself.

“No, no,” Zipp told Izzy with a smile. “Pipp is right in saying it’s a silly rule. Besides, you’re our friends. Ranks be damned. So, eat to your heart’s content, Izzy.”

Izzy smiled and pulled her plate closer again.

The rest of the breakfast was uneventful. Sunny tried the salad, which nearly burst her ears with pure sweetness—before fading to a delightful fizz in her cheeks by the end of the third serving she helped herself to. The grape juice was also fabulously flavored as well. It occurred to her that she could use some pegasi ideas to spice up her smoothies! She’d have to ask either Pipp or Zipp to let her have an audience with their chef.

An hour later, Sunny joined her friends to the western side of the palace, having donned the strange-looking saddles Zipp insisted they wore. The city disappeared behind her, and the brown sands of the desert expanded to the north, challenging her to even set hoof on them.

“So, I’ve got a question,” Hitch said as they got to the cliff, where a tall railing had thankfully been erected. “If you live so close to the desert, how do you grow your food?”

Zipp used a wing to point towards the city. “Crops are planted in the south and southeast. The land to the east is pretty fertile too, but it’s a bit too close to Bridlewood, so it was ignored for generations. Hopefully, we can sign a mutually beneficial agreement and start growing things there soon.”

“Huh,” Hitch said. “And doesn’t it get too hot in here?”

“You know, I’ve heard many earth ponies ask the same question,” Pipp said with a cocked head. “You don’t hang around mountains much, do you?”

“Our city is near the sea, so…”

Zipp giggled and patted Hitch’s back with her wing. “This canyon rises about seven thousand hooves above sea level. We get pretty dry summers, but not very hot ones.”

“Actually, I think Maretime Bay is way hotter,” Pipp said, tapping at her phone with an uninterested-looking face. “All that humidity can’t possibly be good for your furs.”

“I think it’s very nice,” Izzy chipped in. “Bridlewood can get pre-tty cold in the winter, and I bet spending it on the beach will be super awesome.”

Sunny felt her stomach heat up at the thought of spending Bountivale with Izzy. She supposed she shouldn't be surprised, all things considered, but just having it been said out loud was enough to make her feel butterflies. She could almost taste the rich, hearty food they would share and feel the toasty warmth of the fire surely by their side. The heat reached her cheeks. And the soft, snuggly fur cuddled against her under downy blankets…

The sound of hooves approaching ended the conversation, and the group turned towards a small procession of guards, headed by Queen Haven, who looked a lot better from the last time Sunny had seen her. She had been a great help in setting up the Pony Congress, and the fact that she was Queen only sped up the process of creating the very first pact of non-aggression between earth ponies and pegasi, as well as drafting a very nifty free trade agreement that, according to Zipp, was very close to being approved.

The Queen stopped, and the guards stomped their hooves behind her. She looked behind her, then leaned over as if conspiratively. “Are you sure you don’t want a squadron to escort you?”

“This isn’t a pilgrimage, Mom,” Zipp replied with a roll of her eyes.

“At least take a section, or two squads,” Queen Haven insisted, then waved behind her. “Two squads would be—”

“Mother,” Zipp said forcefully, squaring her shoulders and sticking out her chest, making her fluff puff a bit, and, while smaller than Pipp’s, it had a very nice curve downward and Sunny shouldn’t probably be focusing on that. “We’ll be fine on our own. It’s just some recon.”

Queen Haven straighetened up and sighed. “I’m sorry, I’m just… No, I’ll let you handle it how you best see fit.” She cleared her throat, then spoke loudly. “Bringers of Magic, I, Queen Haven the Third, see you off to your journey to The Heart of the Brave on your quest to restore Equestria’s glory. May you succeed and bring forth a new era of prosperity for ponykind.”

Feeling everypony’s eyes on her, Sunny squared up and nodded. “We’ll do our best, Your Majesty.”

With a nod of approval, a guard stepped forward and to the cliff. Without taking her gaze off the horizon, she thrust a hoof into the railing with a deft twist and a pronounced click. Sunny could only blink as the railing swung out into the abyss, her jaw widening to match as it unveiled the tallest set of stairs she had ever seen in her life, going all the way down to the desert below.

“Ah, you— We’re not going down these, are we?” Hitch asked as he pointed a shaky hoof towards the stairs. Sunny shared his apprehension.

Zipp smiled at him and playfully swatted him over the head with a wing. “This is the fastest route. The only other way is to go south and around the city. It’ll take a good two extra days.”

“Don’t worry,” Pipp said, beaming as she took a photo of herself with the desert behind her. How did she keep pulling her phone out without Sunny noticing? “The stairs are very solid. We may be able to glide, but part of the pilgrimage’s ritual is to walk all the way to The Heart of the Brave, so we keep these old things in good shape!”

“But, if you’re too apprehensive,” Zipp said, walking to Hitch’s right, eyes heavily lidded. “Pipp and I can walk on the cliff side, and you three walk near the wall.”

Sunny found herself nodding fervently along with Hitch.

Izzy, who didn’t seem to mind heights at all, walked in front of Sunny, joined by Pipp. Sunny barely held her gasp as the unicorn pronked within the first dozen steps, but she landed safely. With a loud, but soft, springy noise that somehow soothed her nerves. Hitch walked behind her, and Zipp was to their right, positioned closer to Hitch, leaving Sunny an almost unobstructed sight of the endless desert—and seemingly endless fall—below. So the only other direction she could responsibly look at was right in front of her… straight at Izzy’s perkily swaying tail.

She… She didn’t realize when they had reached the bottom. Until Izzy turned to smile reassuringly at Hitch, who had apparently stopped the group twice to gather his bearings. Sunny fought the urge to bury her face into the sand, settling to tell herself that her cheeks weren’t obviously red. No. At least Izzy’s smile made everything seem okay…

“Well, I was planning to say the easy part was done for,” Zipp said with a small chuckle, as Hitch ran his hoof tenderly through the sand, chest heaving. “But I guess this would be the worst for you.”

Pipp flapped her wings a couple of times. “Don’t make fun of him.” She snorted, lip jutting. “Even we were scared the first time we climbed them down.”

“I think the view was amazing!” Izzy said chirpily, and her energy just put a smile on Sunny’s face. And a flush to her cheeks—she had certainly enjoyed the view.

Hitch huffed, his hooves finally still. “I’m beginning to think you’re the bravest of us all, Izzy.”

“Well,” Zipp said, taking out a large tube from a hidden compartment on the wall near the stairs. “Brave or not, the sun won’t care, so let’s suit up.” She pressed a button on the tube and it suddenly became a parasol. With expertise, Zipp placed it on her saddle. Everypony followed suit.

Pipp opened another compartment, and she took a large box from it. Inside, there were a few dozen canteens. “Take four, each of you,” she instructed as she attached the canteens to the straps of her saddle. “You really don’t want to underestimate the heat.”

Zipp snorted, smirking. “Yeah, don’t follow Pipp's hoofsteps.”

“Shut up,” Pipp muttered while her cheeks reddened.

“So, how far away is The Heart of the Brave?” Hitch asked as he swiftly attached the canteens to his saddle.

Zipp hummed. “About four hours away. Maybe five if we take it easy.”

“That’s… quite far,” Sunny said. “Shouldn’t we have brought food?” She shuddered at the memory of that near-death battle for the one apple. Hearing Izzy almost growl at her like that… It was dumb—Izzy was a unique and special and rounded and adult mare—but it still felt wrong to her.

Pipp giggled. “Don’t worry, Sunny. Oases are pretty large and there are many fruit trees there.”

Sunny didn’t know whether to be surprised or not. She had never left Maretime Bay until two weeks ago, so she supposed she could simply appreciate what the world had to offer.

The walk to The Heart of the Brave was different than anything Sunny had experienced before. While she was no stranger to sand, the desert had a way of being oppressive despite it basically being one open field. There barely was any wind, and when it breezed it was too hot and hard on Sunny’s throat. It stretched on into endless nothing, yet that nothing sat brutally on her back. Zipp and Pipp had warned them to cover their mouths with cloths, and only when she swallowed burning hot sand did Sunny heed their advice.

A few hours into their journey, they saw a couple of guards coming from the opposite direction. Instead of armor, they wore billowing fabric that covered their entire bodies, leaving only the eyes and hooves out. Sunny could only tell they were guards because of the insignias they wore and the large spears they carried. They briefly stopped to bow to Zipp and Pipp and continued on their way.

“I thought the oasis would be deserted,” Izzy said, then giggled at her own pun.

“Oh, it isn’t,” Zipp said. “We may use it every few decades for the coronation ritual, but that doesn’t mean we’ll simply leave it unattended. We grow food there, after all, and it always pays to have the paths clear and well maintained.”

Pipp, who had brought a small fan and was pointing it at her neck, hummed. “We also feared unicorns would discover it and try to take it, hence the guards.”

Zipp chuckled forcefully. “Yeah! Uh… No offense, Izzy.”

Izzy’s eyes twinkled, her smile warmer than the sand. “None taken!”

“So,” Hitch chimed in. “I’ve been wondering. Why do you do the coronation ritual so far from the city?” Hitch paused as two princesses raised their brows to his mockery of their traditions. “Uh… just that, wouldn’t it be easier to simply do it at the palace?”

Zipp snorted and smiled. “Well, yeah, it’d be easier. But it’s sort of a family tradition combined with a trial of sorts.”

“A family tradition?” Sunny asked. She then grabbed her notebook and a pen to write everything down.

Zipp rolled her eyes, still smiling. “Records have it that the first Queen of the Pegasi, Zephyrina the First, crossed the desert to find a new place to live after the unicorns had decimated the ancient, lost city of Cloudsdale,” she explained, before her mouth snapped closed. Her eyes flicked to Izzy, who was bouncing ahead of them to a tune of her own making. And never missed a beat. Allowing herself a smile, Zipp turned back to Sunny. “She had a broken wing, so she couldn’t fly, and so all her subjects accompanied her on the ground.”

“But why cross the desert?” Izzy asked.

Zipp shrugged. “What records we have say that the unicorns had erected some sort of magical wall, and pegasi didn’t really have many other options.” Zipp shook her head. “Anyway, they crossed the desert in complete silence, knowing that it could be their last march. They spent three days and two nights walking, not really knowing where they were going. Then they found a large, green area right in the middle of this sandy wasteland.”

“The oasis,” Sunny ventured.

Zipp nodded. “Yep! Right when they thought they wouldn’t make it, they found The Heart of the Brave. They restocked on water and food and continued their march until they found the canyon where they founded the new pegasus city.”

“That’s pretty impressive,” Hitch said, getting a chuckle out of Zipp.

“So, when Zephyrina passed away, her daughter, Queen Mistralia the First, walked all the way to the oasis to honor her memory and bravery. Because of that it became known as The Heart of the Brave, and it became tradition to walk there for the coronation.”

Sunny finished writing and put her notebook in her bag. “That’s a really cool story, Zipp.”

“Heh, yeah, I guess it is.”

“So,” Hitch said, smirking as a brow rose. “You were named after that queen?”

Zipp’s cheeks turned pink. “Well…”

“Wait, your name is Zephyrina?” Izzy asked. “That’s a really cool name!”

“It’s not that cool,” Zipp replied with an uneasy chuckle. “And not that uncommon, either. I’ll be the fifth, you know.”

Pipp cocked her head, her own smirk sharpening. “How come Izzy didn’t know, but you did, Hitch?”

Now it was Hitch’s turn to blush. “Well, I, uh…”

“Hey, look!” Zipp said suddenly, pointing a hoof forward. “We’ve arrived!”

Sunny followed the hoof’s direction, and there, in the distance, if she squeezed her eyes and maybe used a bit of her imagination, she could see a very tiny green spot in the horizon.

“That’s still an hour away, Zipp,” Pipp said with a smile. “It can hardly be said we arrived.”

“It means we didn’t get lost, though!” Zipp said and quickened her pace. “Come on, you bunch of snails! Adventure awaits!” And with that, Zipp broke into a sprint.

“You’re going to pass out!” Pipp called out, eyes wide, but Zipp didn’t listen.

Sunny felt her stomach beat faster at the notion of getting close to their objective, smiling despite the sheer heat. What were they going to find there, and where would it take them? It was like that night in the chasms all over again! And yet…

Sunny found her smile fading.

She doubted they’d simply show up and the crystals would instantly return all magic. After all, reuniting them had been useless without the key element of unity.