• Published 19th Sep 2012
  • 1,342 Views, 37 Comments

Sky Matron - Owlor



In a world where two of the three tribes died out, Rarity turns to the sky as a sky pirate.

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2. Red-Tinted Memories

“Our hats and saddle’s both been sold,
heave away, the captain cry!
Equestrian nights can be so cold,
sailing through a blood-red sky!”
~From Broken Wings by Lyra Heartstrings, based on Tattered Sails

The adrenaline rush that had powered Rarity though most of the fight was still making her body ache with each movement and her heart pound against her ribcage, putting her on edge enough to make her ready to stab anypony who even looked at her funny. She paced on the deck, frowning all the while, and began to mutter unintelligibly.

A yellow stallion, seeing her captain’s distress, slowly walked towards her. “Captain, is something wrong?” Rarity’s pacing instantly stopped when his words left his mouth. This slight pause in her concentration was enough to allow the emotional dams holding her internal turmoil, not to mention the little annoying voice with perfect hindsight, to break loose. Her overflowing frustrations and self-doubts were let out in a high-pitched lament.

“I shouldn’t have! I shouldn’t have ordered that raid! I shouldn’t have been flying this low! I should've kept better watch of the unicorns...”

She stopped when she noticed a couple of her crewsponies looking her way in concern. Taking a few deep breaths, she forced her self-doubt away and tried to maintain a more average demeanor. She knew that her crew mirrored her feelings; the same tired, wretched sensation that had a hold of her, had also gripped the crew. And they relied on her for emotional strength and support.

Once her mind was clear and she was sure she had completely regained focus, Rarity turned to the mulberry pony standing a few hooves away from her.

”Cheerilee, damages?” She said in the most nonchalant voice she was able to muster.

“We’ve got a few wounded... fortunately, most of them aren’t in a grave state, like Lyra or Roseluck, but...” she trailed off, biting her lower lip. Without even looking at the mare’s physical expression, Rarity was able to assess what information struggled to leave her boatswain’s throat.

“... we had a few casualties.”

Rarity was silent for a moment, looking at the floorboards of the Elusive and frowning. A few moments passed before she continued: “How many?”

“Three,” Cherilee replied bitterly. “Crimson Brass, Hairy Tipper and Tam-a-Line.”

The captain slowly nodded and shifted her eyes to look at her crew. Many of them looked back at her with sad eyes that conveyed that they, too, cared for each member of the crew like they were a part of their own family.

Tears welled in Rarity’s eyes as the silent exchange of information took place, but she sucked in a breath and held it, unwilling to let too much of her own sentimentality influence the crew further. She mentally cursed Celestia’s name, wishing to be the one to tear out her remaining wing in homage of her fallen friends.

“Thank you, Cheerilee.” she simply said. Cheerilee’s head drooped as she walked towards the crowd of ponies forming next to the Sky Matron. Seeing that many ponies were looking at her with eyes that begged for some sense of resolution, she felt an obligation to make a short eulogy or something to help her crew cope. Trotting towards the still-forming crowd, she once more drew a breath and began to speak.

“You’ve all fought bravely, and I can honestly say that there isn’t a single pony among you that has not made me proud. But this life in the air comes with its own risks, as all of you know. The sky is a harsh mistress; although she offers us freedom, away from the tyrants that try to control our lives, she also demands a lot from us.” As she spoke, she allowed her tongue to roll freely, unwilling to sugar-coat the truth from her crew.

A few ponies looked at her, gloomy expressions still plastered across their faces. Although they weren’t strangers to death, it still hurt to see a fellow crewpony lose their life. As Rarity paused to gather her thoughts, she heard some ponies muttering silent, forlorn agreements, whilst others just listened intently.

“Only a hoof-full of ponies in the world are brave enough to heed the call and go into battle, not knowing if they’ll survive. And I’m honored to say that I believe most of those ponies are standing by my side on this ship, fighting—and dying—alongside me.” While she spoke, she noticed through the corner of her vision that, in a somewhat far corner of the fo’c’sle, Bon Bon was tending to Lyra’s wound.

In spite of the distance between them, Rarity could see that the cream pony looked at her mate’s cut with a soft motherly expression. Lyra, unpracticed in the art of battle, cringed as Bon Bon poured alcohol in into the gash before carefully bandaging it. Rarity then continued.

“We lost three of our crew today. The unliberated citizens of Equestria will think of their deaths as just the passing of another vulture, one less threat to their asinine order. But we all know better. We will remember our fallen friends and honor them; because if we won’t, then nopony else will.”

Rainbow Dash was the first pony to break the silence, stepping out from the crowd. “Aye!” She said loudly, prompting others to soon follow her example, reminding the captain that they still believed that their trust in her was well-placed. She couldn’t help but smile lightly as, one after the other, they all assured her.

After Rarity finished her speech, she wandered through the crowd of pirates, looking for Roseluck. She remembered how the brave mare had been rudely attacked from behind, not even having a chance to defend herself. After her search on the upper deck turned out fruitless, Rarity decided to go below it. As soon as she went down the stairs, the incessant buzzing of the Elusive’s engines assaulted her ears, which flattened against her head.

That did nothing to stop the noise, as the metallic hum seemed to just force its way through Rarity’s skull. She stopped for a moment to let her eyes adjust; the lamps glowed faintly, barely managing to light the middle deck, which remained shrouded in darkness. Rarity walked through the many hammocks that hung from the walls and wooden columns supporting the upper deck. Some were occupied by ponies sleeping off the fear and anxiety of battle, prompting Rarity to move quickly but silently across the deck, looking around as well as she could while trying not to disturb those resting.

Her search proved fruitless as Roseluck was nowhere to be seen in the crew’s quarters as well. She poked her chin with a forehoof, imagining where and, most importantly, she could be hiding. The engineering deck? No... Pinkie wouldn’t be able to leave her alone for one measly second. If there is one place in the Elusive that she isn’t hiding in, it would be the engineering deck. Rarity began to retrace her steps until she was met with the staircase that brought her to the middle deck. She walked past it and turned around, finding the staircase that lead downwards.

As she slowly descended the steps, the machine’s hums grew louder. She was able to notice various subtle metallic noises that she couldn’t before, probably muffled by the floorboards separating the two decks. She quickened her pace, unwilling to get her coat stained by grime, oil, grease—or worse, one of Pinkie’s sticky confectionary inventions.

The engineering deck was darker than the middle deck, with no sunlight whatsoever to help light what the gas lamps couldn’t. How Pinkie Pie manages handle being this dreadful pitch-black darkness is beyond me she thought, wasting no time and descending the stairs to the gun deck.

The insufferable noise was actually worse below the engineering deck; the wood seemed to reverberate according to the machine's cacophony up above, magnifying the racket further than what she’d hoped. I’ll have to ask Pinkie Pie or Scootaloo to soundproof the floorboards when we have some spare time...

After wandering for quite some time, she found Roseluck hiding between two cannons, crying silently in spite of being unaware of the crew’s losses. Rarity slowly approached the mare, but was courtly enough to make her hoofsteps sound heavy, alerting Roseluck beforehand of her presence. Roseluck quickly turned her head to face away from Rarity and desperately tried to clear her bloodshot eyes from the tears streaming down her cheeks.

Worry washed through Rarity as she pitifully eyed the mare. “Are you okay, my dear?”. Apart from a few sobs, the distant hum of the engines was the only reply she got.

“Please tell me if you’re hurt; I know a nurse in Ponyville who owes me a favor, and she’s good with not asking questions,” she tried once again, this time getting a reaction. The pale mare looked at her with moist eyes. She opened her mouth slightly, but hesitated for a moment.

“I’m... okay...” she croaked out, and Rarity was instantly taken aback by the sudden guttural sound.

She now understood why the poor mare was so depressed. Roseluck had always looked up to Rarity as the image of fierce beauty, modeling herself after her captain as some sort of elegant warrior. Now Roseluck felt like some of that beauty had been tarnished as her rasp and swollen throat distorted her voice to something akin to an old mare’s dry cough.

In spite of the scars and bruises, Rarity still saw the same loyal, graceful pony as ever in front of her, and understood how harsh it must feel. Rarity herself had received more than her fair share of scars through the many years she had been steering the Elusive, although she was quite adept at hiding them.

When the time was right, she’d give Roseluck some of her make-up tips. Right now, though, Roseluck didn’t need the time to linger on that thought, and giving her tips on how to hide her bruises would only send the wrong message.

“Please come up on deck where the rest of the crew are. The others would like to see you safe. They won’t make fun of your voice, I promise. They’ll just be glad to see that you’re alright.” Rarity smiled softly at her, but she noticed Rose’s gaze intensely shifting from side to side.

Taking note of her hesitation, Rarity was quick to add, “And if they do make fun of your voice, I’ll send them down to the engineering deck and make them oil the machine while listening Pinkie Pie talk about her favorite confectioneries for a whole month.”

Roseluck couldn't help but smile back through her tears, giving a few brief chuckles in-between her now calming sobs. Rarity offered her one forehoof, which she took and got back on her forehooves. Both mares began to walk back to the stairs leading to the Elusive’s upper deck. The metallic hum of the engines grew a bit faint with each step, signaling that they were nearing their destination.

As they climbed the stairs though, the racket slowly grew weaker and weaker until it ceased almost completely by the time they reached the upper deck. Rarity furrowed her brows as the harsh sunlight assaulted her azure eyes which had grown unaccustomed to it in the last few minutes.

“Do you think you’ll be alright? I’m afraid I have duties to attend to.” She gave her the best reassuring smile she was able to muster, still using a forehoof to defend her eyes from the golden rays of the sun.

The pale mare nodded hesitantly after a moment, so Rarity galloped away to the bow, leaving Roseluck alone amongst the crew. After the initial shouts of “There you are,” and “Glad you’re alright,” they mostly let her be, seeing as she didn’t respond and simply sat down, clutching her throat sorrowfully. She didn’t notice Lyra limping up to her, eager to have somepony to talk to.

“Bonnie is driving me nuts!” she complained. Roseluck quickly turned her head but swallowed the yelp she was about to release, startled from being approached from behind so quietly. “Sure, the wound smarts, but there’s no need to be that overprotective; I’m not a little filly... ” she pouted, looking at the white bandage surrounding a portion of her forehoof. Rose didn’t reply and resisted every attempt at making eye contact.

“Are you okay?” Lyra pried worriedly. Hesitantly, Roseluck moved her hoof to expose the hideous bruise on her throat, clearly visible through her light fur.

“Can’t speak, huh?” Rose nodded, but did not look back at her crewmate as she did, choosing to face the floor instead.

Lyra rummaged through her saddlebag and produced her writing set; a rough notebook consisting of a stack of parchments sandwiched between two small pieces of wood left over from one of the Elusive’s many repairs, a quill and a small flask of ink.

“Here.” Lyra handed her notebook over to Roseluck, who eyed it for a moment before taking it within her hooves. “Until your throat feels better, use this whenever you need anything.”

Roseluck’s eyes became moist all over again at the generosity; good paper and ink weren’t easy to come by, and Lyra was always complaining about running short on the Elusive’s longer trips. Remembering this, she quickly shook her head and handed the notebook back to Lyra, who understood the gesture perfectly.

“You need it more than me right now,” she said, pushing the notebook back into Roseluck’s hooves. “And besides, I’m having a writer’s block right now. You see, there’s this poem I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time, but I just can’t...” Her eyes instantly widened as she realized that she had just given her whole notebook to Roseluck.

The creamy mare innocently opened the notebook and started skimming its contents. Before she could properly read anything, Lyra snatched it away from her before ripping out a few pages, giving it back to her when she was done.

“Uhm... you don’t need to see those,” she said sheepishly, blushing slightly. “They aren’t any good anyways...”

Rarity made her way through the crowd of busy ponies and approached the fo'c'sle. As she opened the door to the armory, Scootaloo sprung out with a dagger in her hoof, swinging wildly. Rarity leapt to her side, easily evading the filly, who continued her mock rampage undeterred.

“Take that, you unicorn bastard!” she shouted, swinging her dagger around as if she was completely surrounded. Rarity chuckled briefly and wondered who the poor imaginary enemy the filly was currently dueling with.

“Woah there, darling, watch where you wave that thing.” Rarity said, prompting the filly to quickly open her eyes and look at her regretfully. “The fight is over, y’know.”

“I’m sorry captain...”

“You need to be more calm and collected if you want to be an accomplished swordsmare,” she said, striking an elegant, yet fierce pose.

“But Rainbow Dash said—”

“Well, I suppose there are different schools of thought... “ she admitted, playfully rolling her eyes before remembering why she was looking out for the filly.

“But nevermind that now, darling. We’ve got a crisis on our hooves,“ Rarity added dramatically.

Scootaloo instantly looked fearfully to her captain before turning her gaze to both her sides, as if soldiers from the Task Force were about to pop out from between the floorboards any second. The captain gestured for the filly to follow before turning around and walking towards the larboard side. She stopped by the railing and turned to the orange filly, who still warily looked everything around her. “Do you see it?”

“What?” she demanded and quickly got on her hind legs, trying to look groundboard in search for potential threats.

“Just look at this.” Rarity gestured towards the Elusive’s railing. Scootaloo raised one eyebrow in confusion before it finally hit her. “It’s completely covered in bolts... Oh! And look over there, some of the planks are broken and protruding out! It’s most unbecoming!” The filly frowned intensely, switching her gaze from her captain and then toward the railing.

“Oh, come on!” The filly rolled her eyes in an overrepresentation of annoyance. “Those are just cosmetic injuries, we’ll be fine! The hull is strong and I see no deep damage done to it. Even the wings aren’t torn!" she protested, jumping in place and stomping her little forehooves on the floor. Rarity disregarded the little outburst and knocked on the wood, carefully analyzing the sound it produced.

“But can’t you feel it?” she cried, delicately feeling the airship’s railing. “The ship isn’t flying right, she is sort of wobbling and resisting against the air instead of majestically flowing through it as she is supposed to.” Scootaloo once again rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue out in mock disgust.

“What if we run into more of Celestia’s army on our way to Ponyville? We won’t be able to outmaneuver them!” Rarity’s eyes widened as she overly dramatized the situation.

Scootaloo let out a weary sigh when she acknowledged that there was no way to excuse herself from this one. “I’ll fix it the next time we tether the ship somewhere,” she said, already imagining how boring it would be to spend her evening replacing planks.

“But that could take days, can’t you do it now?” She pouted, fluttering her eyelashes to the filly, who looked completely unfazed.

Scootaloo opened her mouth to retort but thought against it and closed it. She rubbed a forehoof on her temple as she looked to the railing and the practically undamaged hull. “I guess I... can. But isn’t it better to wait?”

“But my ship is broken, it needs care!” Rarity’s voice went up a few octaves. She turned to the ship’s railing and began to nuzzle it, continuously caressing it tenderly with a forehoof. “My poor little baby... how could they ever dared to mar such a beautiful thing!” She planted a kiss on a particularly undamaged part of the railing. “Don’t worry, mommy’s gonna make everything alright again.”

She looked over to Scootaloo with a meaningful look that made the orange filly gulp. Once again she looked over the railing, trying to imagine herself dangling several fathoms above ground. Her eyes unfocused slightly as vertigo grabbed a hold of her. She swallowed the newly formed lump on her throat and gave her captain a pleading look.

“D- do I have t- to?” she stammered out, prompting Rarity to sigh, who has ever heard of a sky pirate with acrophobia? This was a brave—if occasionally foolhardy—filly, she had proven that much time after time; she just needed a way to block those mental barriers of hers, and Rarity knew exactly the thing. With a sly smile she leaned over to the young filly and said in a mocking tone, calculated to get on the filly’s nerves.

“What’s the matter, darling, are you chicken?” Rarity played with Scootaloo’s weak spot; her overgrown ego. Sure enough, this was enough to shake Scoots out of her hesitation and she instantly tensed up, putting a brave face.

“What did you just call me?” she asked slowly through grinded teeth, glaring at her captain.

“A chicken,” Rarity continued matter-of-factly, pleased that her little scheme seemed to be working. “Pwak pwak pwak.”

Steam was practically coming out of the ears of the young pony and—to Rarity’s shock—she jumped onto the railing, the vertigo from before lost in a sea of rage.

“I’ll show you! I’ll climb down the side... see who’s a chicken then!” Scootaloo muttered furiously. She made a few dangerous steps, trying to find a spot with enough grips to use for climbing. But before she could do something foolish, Rarity extended her hoof to stop her.

“Now, calm down, darling. Let’s get you a security line,” Rarity said and quickly snatched the filly from the railing.

This was enough to summon Rainbow Dash, who took pride in knowing what was going on in every part of the ship. She strolled casually and examined the scene as Rarity began to secure a rope around Scootaloo’s waist, passing it by her shoulders and crossing it on the filly’s chest.

“Hey, squirt. What’re you up to?” Rainbow asked, making the orange filly instantly perk up at the sound of her voice.

Rainbow Dash!” the filly practically yelled, excited to see the mare she looked up to the most. “Today I’ll be fixing the ship all by myself! While it is still airborne!” She puffed her chest out, wanting to sound courageous. Rainbow smiled at her and caught a glimpse of Rarity jerking her head, pointing it to the orange filly.

Rainbow was quick to understand the message and lowered herself, nearing the filly’s height. “Then how about I hoist you down over there, squirt?”

Rainbow looked over to the captain, visibly annoyed that she’d risk her protegé like this, even though the risk of falling was small compared to the risk inherent in being on a pirate ship in the first place. Not wanting to disobey her captain, she opted to put herself in control of her little admirer’s safety instead.

“Afterwards, I can show you how to do some of my awesome acrobatic tricks, alright? And if you do a good job, I might even let you practice using my own sword.” Rainbow promised.

The filly’s eyes instantly widened and glistened with anticipation, exactly the way Dash had planned. “For real?! You would let me handle your sword? Rainbow Dash’s sword?!” Rainbow nodded, and the filly was quick to climb onto the railing once more. The cyan mare bit the rope and began to lower the filly, who did her best to fight the vertigo, unwilling to look anything but fearless in front of Dash.

Scootaloo waited patiently for Rainbow to tie a toolbox to a rope and to lower it down at her level. The filly moved across the side almost effortlessly as she began putting the planks into place, throwing the damaged ones on board for Pinkie Pie to burn in one of her boilers later. While Scootaloo worked, Rarity left the two alone, with Rainbow’s cheering being the last thing she heard once she closed the door to her private quarters.

Once she was alone, she allowed herself to breathe a weary smile. Hanging her hat in an expertly finished wooden coat hanger, Rarity noticed the soft, orange-tinted glow that bathed her entire cabin. As she turned around to the enormous windows, she saw the sun slowly descending towards the horizon, and only then did she realize how late it was getting.

The soft, pastel light transformed the entire world into a much more calming, restful place, and Rarity couldn’t help but stare in awe at the orange blanket that completely covered the ground below. The sky is always beautiful from above, Rarity marveled to herself.

The clouds stood like a frozen ocean as the Elusive gently nicked the cumulus, soaring above them undeterred. The sun’s glimmer was slowly taking a crimson hue, bathing the clouds and forming such a convincing sheet that once they passed over a gap in the cloud, it was almost startling to realize that they weren't just sailing across a strange cotton candy ocean, but rather flying several fathoms in the air, with the ground seemingly stretched out endlessly below them.

It was hard for her to fully grasp that she wasn’t just looking at a map, but rather the world itself. As much as she enjoyed the scenery, she couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of familiarity over this particular area. It took a while for her to place herself, but once she did, there was no denying it. Gneisserville!

Gray buildings, looking more like huts than houses dotted the ground below in a random pattern. In what appeared to be the center of the town stood a cluster of what looked like obelisks. A sense of nostalgia gripped her very being, for the last time she was around these parts she wasn’t flying, but fettered to the ground in more ways than one.

Without being able to help it, the visions of the past washed over her and Rarity soon found herself lost to her memories.

Rarity walked slowly over the dirt road that would lead her into the heart of Gneisserville. She quickened her pace once she heard a peal of thunder that rang throughout the landscape. Daring to look up, she saw the dark gray sky above the heavy clouds that spat out torrents of rain across the barren scenery.

She cursed the unpredictable weather to herself whenever she happened to step in a mud pool, cringing every time she looked down to her soiled, muddy hooves. Nevertheless, she had to keep her gaze focused on them since every time she tried looking away, she risked another dirty puddle.

To anypony who saw her steadfastly making her way through the rain and mud, she would look like just another gypsy pony wandering on the lonely roads of Equestria, with just one hoof in front of the other telling them where to go. Nopony would guess that she actually possessed a big chunk of Blueblood’s fortune and that her wagon’s modest closet was filled to the brim with extravagant custom made dresses that could be the toast of any gala.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t money that compelled Rarity to trek through the muddy ground, exerting herself like she never had before. The ache in her heart made all the bits in the world look like dry autumn leaves—utterly worthless. She had learned firsthand that money could not buy her happiness. Then again, nopony seemed happy these days, not with the way she ruled Equestria. And perhaps especially around these parts.

The houses surrounding her seemed more like tribal huts than anything else. Their gray, dilapidated structures were bent in odd shapes, having resisted the harsh weather for too long without any maintenance of any kind. To Rarity, it was a surprise that many of them still standing. If one building already made Rarity cringe from its sight, the whole town made her seriously question why she was there in the first place; however, she couldn’t stop and question herself now that she was so close.

Inside her wagon stood, amongst several other things, many letters from different inventors. All of them had rejected her idea—all of them but one. She remembered how disheartened she had felt, having to open each one and find out that her idea had been declined over and over again. She had grown accustomed to it in time, but it still hurt to know that her dream seemed less and less real with each piece of parchment she had to read. It all changed one day, when she received a simple scroll with nothing but one word written on it.

Sure!

She remembered how giddy she had felt when it finally hit her that somepony out there had finally accepted her proposal. Her hoofsteps had echoed through the mansion she lived in as she had darted to the trashbin, retrieving the envelope and writing down its sender’s address. The one pony who did not outright laugh in her face.

When she arrived her destination, Rarity’s left eyebrow rose in confusion. She took the piece of paper with the address that was quickly written and did a double take. Yes, there is no denying it. This is the place. But it looks so...

The building she was in front of had nothing in common with the rest of the city; it had every color of the visible spectrum except for gray. Most of its front yard was taken up by what looked like amusement park rides. No matter how many ounces of her imagination Rarity used, she could not see it as a workshop at all.

She walked towards the front gate, struggling to drag the wagon behind her. She paused to look around for a doorknocker, but found only a button insted. Warily, she pressed the button and immediately yelped when a loud melody chimed out from somewhere inside the odd building. She had barely gotten over her initial confusion when a pony suddenly appeared by her side, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Hi!” she chirped in an unusually bubbly voice that contrasted with everything Rarity had seen in Gneisserville so far. Her coat, although sharing the town’s darker shade, was of a pink that clearly made her stand out amidst the population, buildings and landscape.

As she whipped her greasy pink hair away from her eyes, Rarity—with her usual keen eye for detail—noticed a dark spot that looked somewhat out of place among her otherwise sunny face. After the initial shock of being surprised, Rarity slowly turned towards her and smiled politely back.

“I’m sorry...” she said as gently as she could. “I must’ve had the wrong address. You see, I was supposed to go to the ‘Anything but Granite’ workshop.”

The pony’s smile got even wider at this mention. “Why, you’re right in front of it!” She placed one of her forehooves around Rarity’s shoulder and gestured towards the brightly colored workshop in front of her with the other.

“It... looks like a carnival...” Rarity deadpanned. Ther pony instantly gasped at this and, for one brief second, Rarity thought that she might have insulted her.

“Why, thank you!” The pink pony’s reply was nothing she had expected. In one swift motion she hugged Rarity, nearly crushing her bones with a strength that contrasted with her thin physical type. Her gasps for air were the only thing that hinted the pony to stop.

“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt you but I was just so happy to see somepony new! You see, most of the ponies in this town are just mean grumpy mean meanie pants who don’t like to be hugged by me, so when I saw somepony new I just knew I had to give them one of my signature hugs so they could remember me forever and ever!”

The pain in her ribs was quick to make way for an uncomfortable numbness, making breathing less of a chore for Rarity. “Name’s Pinkamena Diane Pie. Everything you ask I can do as easy as catching foals in the rye!” she proclaimed, striking a funny pose with her forehooves stretched out to the sky.

“Pinkamena, are—”

“Diane, please. I don’t like my first name so much.” Rarity instantly noticed the pink mare’s attitude deflating a bit. Diane’s face drooped slightly and she flashed Rarity a weak, gloomy smile. “Please, just call me Diane... all of my friends... do...”

Rarity’s eyes instantly widened in realization. As her sunny facade gave way, she found something a bit eerie in her expression that added to her bruised body; she thought that there seemed to be more to this outwardly cheerful pony than she first realized.

“Diane, then. Are you the one in charge here?” Rarity asked in a gentle tone, not wanting to have the fuschia pony dwelling on her own unpleasant memories. The question seemed to wake her from her thoughts as the mare bounced back to her jubilant mannerisms.

“Oh no, silly! I’m just the apprentice. Come on in!” She carefully inched the gate open with her muzzle, holding it open for Rarity and her wagon to come through. She waited until both the white mare and the wagon were inside the shed before closing the gate.

“Welcome, to my testing grounds!” She announced as Rarity unstrapped herself from her wagon and looked in awe at everything around her. Various types of machines, some of which she had never seen before, were on display or hanging from the walls. It was with a bit of amusement that she noticed a few streamers dangling from the candle lamps, as if the colors themselves were showering from the sky. All in all, a nice contrast against the cold, relentless storm that roared outside.

“I was just about to test my gyroscope!” Diane trotted to a coppery device that consisted of a few halos surrounding a disk. “I’ve modified it so it can also test the acceleration of any moving thing. I’ve been using them on my racetrack right here.”

She then gestured towards a flat board of wood that was thoroughly polished in order to decrease friction. Rarity amusingly looked towards the “racetrack” and held back her giggles when she saw that the surface had been painted amateurly, as if it had been painted by foals with their hooves.

Diane, seemingly aware of Rarity’s mirth, quickly grabbed her and drew her close, whispering conspiratorially into her ear. “I always build miniature prototypes first.”

“Right...” she muttered, struggling to break free of her manticore-like grasp. “And what about... this one?” Rarity asked, trying to distract the eager, sugar-high apprentice until her master craftspony arrived to rescue her. She pointed towards a seat attached to a column that nearly reached the ceiling, with various rubbery pipes attached to its back.

“Oh, this one is just for fun, try it out!” Before Rarity was able to politely decline, Diane had grabbed and effortlessly carried her towards the seat. She placed her on it and proceeded to strap her to the device before galloping towards a lever and pulling it.

Rarity felt herself ascending quickly and instantly covered her mouth to stop her from emptying her stomach. Her seat suddenly stopped when she was mere inches away from the ceiling, but before she could breathe a relieved sigh, it began to descend as quickly as it went, seemingly in free fall. Her legs tensed up and buckled upward, trying to avoid the speeding floor quickly that grew nearer. The seat came to a halt right before it hit the ground, though, allowing Rarity to breathe once more.a lot

“Was that fun or what?” Diane asked, grinning from ear to ear, seemingly oblivious of Rarity’s nauseated, slurred speech.

“Never... do that again... ever!” she spoke as the mare unstrapped her. It took some time before Rarity’s legs stopped shaking and she was able to stand again on the floor on her own without falling.

“Okay!” Diane chirped, and began bouncing again towards the other side of the room, as Rarity slowly followed her. “Oh, let me show you—”

“DIANE!” Rarity yelled angrily , prompting the pink mare to stop dead on her tracks and look back at her. Just by looking at Diane’s pained expression, Rarity had instantly regretted being so harsh with her. “I’m sorry, darling. But I’m really on a tight schedule here... is your master craftspony around?”

“Oh, sure! You just wait right here and I’ll be back shortly.” Diane threw a wink her way, almost as if Rarity’s outburst had never happened, and trotted to the middle of the room. Rarity’s face took an expression of utter confusion as the mare simply sat on the floor and kept smiling at her. A few moments passed in complete silence, Rarity awkwardly pawing at the ground with a forehoof whilst Diane’s warm smile was slowly unnerving her.

“Well...?”

“‘Well’ what?”

“The craftspony,” Rarity deadpanned.

“Oh, right, I forgot! It’s me! I’m the craftspony!” Diane said and began to giggle uncontrollably. Rarity fumbled with words in her brain; this mare’s unusual attitude was against anything she had ever seen.

“But... but... you told me—”

“Aww, don’t worry your pretty little head about it!” Diane appeared next to Rarity and tapped her head as if one would do with a foal. Rarity repeatedly looked to where the pink mare was last standing and back to where she was now, unable to register the fact that she seemed to have teleported. “If there’s some crazy contraption you need built, I’m the right mare for the job!”

“Oh! Em... Ah... Right. Well...” she trailed off, not sure if she should trust this overexcited pony with something so delicate and complicated. But then she remembered that no other inventor in Equestria wanted to take part in her idea, no matter how much she offered to pay them. “Well, I had this ship I wanted to build...”

“A ship? Well, that’s easy peasy. You’ll be sailing through the ocean faster than you can say—”

“An airship,” Rarity corrected herself. Diane paused for a second and poked her chin with a forehoof, before something clicked inside her mind.

“Oh! You’re the crazy lady that wanted to fly! How cool!” Rarity cringed at being called crazy once more, but allowed it to pass since Diane wasn’t outright making fun of her for it.

“So, can you help me?”

“Well, DUH! I told you so on my letter back to you! Have you got the blueprints?”

“Of course.” Rarity trotted back to her wagon and rummaged through its contents briefly before returning with a couple of slightly crumpled blueprints. She took the first one and handed it over to Diane, who couldn’t help but grin excitedly as she looked at the delicate drawing.

“Ooh! This is a big ship!” Diane said as she stared wide eyed at the blueprints, smiling as she imagined herself smelting different alloys for the engineering deck. she turned the papers upside down and sideways as she studied each one intently.

“But... why would you need a gun deck?” she asked, giving Rarity a quizzical expression. Rarity got taken aback, having never come so far before as to need to make up a cover story for herself.

“Well, I- I’m going... somewhere, yes!” she stammered out after quickly making up a story. “Somewhere that can be rather dangerous for a famous lady such as myself.” Rarity pouted and fluttered her eyelashes to Diane, whose only reply was to frown at her.

Rarity could see doubt formed in Diane’s eyes as her stare pierced through her. She tried not to crack under this tense silent examination, especially when the pink mare hardened her gaze even further. A few moments passed like this until the pink pony snapped back to her usual bubbly attitude.

“Okie dokie lokie!” she chirped, smiling warmly at her before taking another good look at the many blueprints before her. "Well, I'm not going to lie... this will be expensive. But nothing a famous lady such as yourself can't afford, am I right?" she asked, smiling cockily.

Is this young mare trying to blackmail me? Rarity thought and sternly looked into her eyes. Well, never mind, it’s Blueblood’s money after all. She made a mental shrug and decided to let the matter go.

“Why yes, it’s just a trifle,” she lied, trying to imitate an upper-class accent to the best of her abilities, smiling internally at the prospect of the prince unknowingly losing all his wealth.

“It’s a deal!” Diane said, practically beaming with joy. “I better get started right away then!” She bolted behind a workbench, disappearing behind it. Rarity heard the mare rummaging loudly through her tools, trying to find one in particular.

“It’s alright to—” Rarity began, but stopped abruptly as Diane reemerged with an overly large mallet, startling her quite a bit. The pink pony saw Rarity’s hesitation and smiled reassuringly, which proved to be the wrong choice of action since it only made her look even more unhinged than before.

“Don’t you worry, lady. This is just my thinking hammer!” She smiled as she placed the mallet in front of her. “It helps me get my little pink cells going.” And before Rarity could protest or argue about the color of neurons, the very eccentric engineer had brought the hammer down onto her own head, staggering around for a bit afterwards.

Rarity immediately placed both her forehooves over her mouth in horror as Diane shook herself violently until her hair puffed up. She noticed that her demeanor was also slightly different; gone was that little hint of gloom she had sensed through Diane’s smile. All that remained standing before her was nothing short of a sugar-high on four legs.

“Diane! What have you done?! We must get you to the hospital! There’s got to be one ar—”

“Shush!” Diane demanded after she had placed the mallet back where it was originally. She trotted to the table, grabbed a pencil with her mouth and began to jot down equations like a caffeinated squirrel. She stopped and distanced herself from her work, trying to see it as a whole and not just lines of numbers. “Yeah... that seems about it.”

“WHAT?!”

“All done, lady.” She opened the drawer and proceeded to take out a few sheets of white paper. “Now I just need to visualize it...” With her tongue sticking out from her mouth, Diane began to quickly, but carefully, fold the paper sheets into what resembled a ship’s hull.

A slack-jawed Rarity waited patiently until the mare had folded the pieces of paper into ten different structures and then, with precise movements, assembled them together to form the airship depicted in the blueprints.

“Is that how you make a blueprint?” Rarity asked, pointing at the origami Elusive that sat lazily on Diane’s hoof.

“Well, how else are you supposed to do it?” she asked, sounding honestly confused. “I know it isn’t blue... but then again, blueberries aren’t either... I guess they should be called magentaberries... no, that doesn’t sound yummy at all. Oh! Oh! Violetarries! Now that sounds delicious!”

Rarity was having trouble following along with the strange twists and turns of logic of this pink pony, but any hesitation she might have had about her suitability for the job disappeared as she marvelled at the surprisingly detailed origami airship held up before her.

It looked exactly like how she had pictured it in her head, albeit six inches tall and made out of slightly yellowed paper. As she watched, the miniature airship started flapping its tiny wings and took off by itself. It rounded Rarity’s head, to her amazement, and landed on the desk in besides Pinkie Pie, who didn’t seem to notice it.

“Oh my stars! I can’t believe it actually flew!” Rarity said, lost in wonder.

“It did?” Diane exclaimed as her eyes grew wider. “Oh shoot, it’s not supposed to do that yet! I forgot to take into account the square-cube law! Hang on, I need to rejigger my equations.” The young mare returned to stare at her many equations at the same time Rarity decided that it was probably best to let her work things out in peace.

“Uhm... I shall return in a week to check up on how things are going then,” she announced, suspecting what Diane’s reactions to these words would be; and sure enough, the pink engineer tore herself from her equations and practically jumped Rarity to give her a farewell hug with the strength of a hydraulic grip.

“G’bye friend,” she said into Rarity’s chest. “See you again soon!”

Rarity spent that week not too far from Gneisserville, deep inside the forest that stretched itself across the northern side of the town. With Blueblood no doubt having pressured the Queen to send out soldiers to search for her, she couldn’t risk being too visible around town, deciding that she would only go there when it was absolutely necessary—like when she needed supplies—and even then, she went usually cloaked in a black hooded mantle that looked absolutely repulsive from a fashion standpoint, but therefore useful to mask her identity.

Being a social pony by heart, she quickly got cabin fever from having to live alone far away from everypony. Even another visit to the crazed inventor she had trusted with her dream project started to sound strangely appealing by this point. But she was pressed for time and didn’t want to distract the mare with her presence. To pass the time, she instead turned to books, devouring tome after tome.

Her usual diet of romance novels and vintage collections of fashion magazines was soon replaced by manuals on tactics and warfare that she had snuck out of Blueblood’s prized collection of banned books. He probably never read any of these, the pedantic bastard... and to think I once fell comple- No, Rarity! You mustn’t dwell in the past. Your new life is soon beginning! She thought, licking a forehoof and using it to turn the book’s page.

She couldn’t help but notice how the rules of the battlefield weren’t all that different from those of the social gatherings she used to frequent. It relied just as heavily on misdirection, agility and—if all else failed—outright force. The only difference was the context. A battle was deadly, but swift, and in contrast, there were no quick kills in social warfare.

The isolation and her reading material made her more and more paranoid, and she'd often find herself startled by the slightest rustling of a bush. She soon learned to distinguish between sounds coming from an animal just running about and sounds coming from somepony strolling in the woods, prompting her to hide in her wagon and keep her noises to a minimum.

After the week slowly went by, it was with some relief that she returned to Gneisserville; not to collect supplies, but to pay a visit to Diane. At this point, I must be just about as crazy as her. We’ll get along nicely, I imagine.

Once again, she rang the button and was greeted by the same strange musical chime. She awaited for Diane to pop out from somewhere improbable, but a few moments passed and nopony had come to greet her.

She tried once more and only after she had spent about five minutes waiting alone she felt the urge to see what was going on. Feeling the gate, it was with a small tinge of surprise that she noticed it was unlocked. But instead of rushing in, she hesitated for a while, not wanting to be rude. Her curiosity and thirst for company won out over her manners eventually, and she crossed the gate.

She found Diane outside her workshop, sleeping soundly beside something covered by a large canvas. The poor mare looked half-dead and her hair had deflated to the flat state it was when they first met. Unsure of what to do in this situation, she poked the sleeping pony gingerly and heard a grunt coming from her.

“Please mummy, I don’t wanna go to school today; the other ponies think I’m strange and they don’t want to play with me...” the sleepy voice of Diane mumbled.

“Diane? Diane dear?” Rarity continued poking her with a forehoof delicately. “Have you been sleeping at any time this entire week?”

“You said you were coming back here in a week.” Diane said as she rubbed sleep out of her eyes and proceeded to draw out a long, contagious yawn.

“I said I’d come back to check on your progress, dear. I didn’t expect it to be even half-finished by then!”

“Oh... I can’t sleep when I work on a project anyway, it makes all the ideas disappear and I need to catch them again, and you can't catch an idea with a butterfly net, nuh-uh! Have you tried it? It doesn’t work!” she exclaimed, flailing her forehooves around and sounding genuinely angry at the fact that ideas were unable to be manipulated physically.

“Did you seriously create an airship in just a week?!” Rarity asked with a voice that was coated with disbelief. All the ire from before disappeared from Diane’s demeanor and she sprung up from the ground, hopping towards a enormous covered contraption in the middle of her workspace.

“Oh yes,” she cooed as she went up on her hind legs to enhance the drama. “Allow me to present to you, Equestria’s first and so far only airship: The Elusive!”

She removed the canvas, which was rigged to trigger many streamer poppers. It would have been an extraordinary reveal if it wasn’t for the fact that Diane was blowing an acapella fanfare through her lips the entire time, completely ruining what little suspense she was able to build so far.

Still, the sight in front of Rarity was enough to floor her. Among the many colored paper-strips that danced through the air was nothing less than the physical realization of her wildest, most vivid dreams. And not as a paper miniature this time, but as a full-sized contraption in wood and canvas.

Every aspect of the airship had an unmistakable elegance to it, just like she imagined it would. The whimsical colors were probably the addition of Diane, but most of the design was taken right out of Rarity’s carefully designed blueprints, with a few things reworked to be more aerodynamic.

The area where Diane had done the most rework were the twin wings; rather than the straightforward bat wing structure of her initial draft, she had turned them into an eclectic mix of bird and butterfly wings; a structure of light rods that held up a fabric of cotton and silk that glistened subtly whenever the angle changed. Crowning the ship was a large balloon held together by a light, sturdy alloy and fastened by a net to each side of the deck.

“Do you like it?” she asked, noticing Rarity’s speechlessness. “I did the best I could.” Rarity stared at it, unable to believe what was right in front of her, and through her weary eyes, the pink engineer beamed with well-deserved pride.

“Yes!” she practically screamed, unable to contain the happy emotions swelling up inside, threatening to overtake her like a tidal wave.

“You want to take a test ride?” Diane asked, wiggling her eyebrows and inching towards the airship with her head.

“Are you sure it’s done?” Rarity inquired, mindful of the unnaturally short and hectic production time.

“We won’t know until we test it, right?” Diane began to climb a wooden ladder, hauled by a rope attached to the railing of the airship. She made it to the third step before she heard sobs coming from behind her. She instantly looked behind her and noticed that Rarity was sobbing loudly, hiding her face between her forehooves. Diane began to feel panic start gripping her being, but calmed down when she managed to see the genuine smile on Rarity’s face.

“H- how? B- but it’s impossible...” Rarity said as her eyes dribbled tears of happiness.

This was her dream unfurling right before her; her destiny. For her, that wasn’t just a simple airship. It was future itself promising her what she sought for the most. I travelled halfway around the earth, she recalled, living like a bucking beggar for well over a year, gathering rejection letters like you’d gather ticks, each telling me that what I was asking for was impossible, and then this lunatic goes and does it in a week. Is this some sort of cruel joke?

“Hey,” Diane said and walked to Rarity, placing a hoof on her shoulder and smiling warmly, tears also glistening in her eyes. “I’m Pinkamena Diane Pie. Nothing’s impossible.”

It was with weak legs Rarity boarded the airship along with the engineer that deserved every bit she had asked for tenfold. Rarity remained on deck as Pinkamena ducked into the engineering deck and began fiddling with knobs and levers. With a sharp jerk, the wings began moving in a synchronized motion, pushing in air underneath it.

It glided on the pillow of air for a couple of hoofsteps, then Diane started the propeller and the airship took off in an exponential arc upwards, while Rarity, completely unprepared, had to hold on to the nearest rope. Her shrill yells echoed across the clouds and it wasn’t until well after Diane had leveled the ship and choked the engines that Rarity dared to actually open her eyes.

Hitting her for the first time was the alien cloudscape she’d henceforth call her home. It was the first time in all her life she realized just how massive clouds were; they weren't just balls of cotton across an endless blue fabric, they were more like floating mountain chains, or islands gliding majestically through an invisible ocean. It was a strange, alien landscape that would hold just as much wonder now, after years of being a sky pirate, as it did back when she first saw it.

A few knocks on her door awoke Rarity from her fond memories. “Come in,” she said and turned around to face whoever was knocking on her door. She smiled when she saw Rainbow Dash’s colored mane. Scootaloo trailed behind her, looking a little bit like a puppy by her side.

“Hey, Scoots is done for the day, captain,” Rainbow informed the captain. “The sun is nearly set and she can’t see the hull very well in this darkness. I’m taking her downstairs so we can practice some of her fighting techniques.”

Dash proceeded to ruffle the filly’s purple mane, who mocked an angry “Hey!” and proceeded to hug Rainbow. Those two act exactly like sisters ought... to... Rarity thought with a bit of pain as both ponies exited her quarters, leaving her alone to her thoughts once more.

Rarity figured that the rest of the crew would go to bed early, all deadly tired. She turned to look at the setting sun until it sank below the clouds, leaving only a soft red glow that gradually became darker until it finally disappeared from the sky. The first stars seemed to wait for a bit before twinkling faintly in the sky, as if they were afraid of the sun.

Soon afterwards, Rarity squinted her view where the sun would raise that morning, looking for the moon. It took her some minutes to see it properly; she had to focus on a patch of the black ocean before her and try to recognize the faintest of the lights. But as her eyes became accustomed to it, the ebony moon greeted her.

Rarity felt a strange emptiness inside of herself as she stared at the seemingly invisible moon, almost as if she felt robbed of something, like the shell of an oyster tossed back into the ocean after being relieved from its pearl.

She remembered reading in one particular book she took after a raid on one of the Queen’s private archives about the giant orb in the sky, and how it supposedly was meant to glow much brighter, powered by the sun’s rays. It also said that when the world was standing between the two, it would block the sunlight from shining on the moon in what they called an eclipse.

She looked up to the sky and wondered if they were living in a perpetual eclipse. Even though she was often described as a “rebel”—among several, less flattering things—by Celestia’s press, it was hard for her to just erase everything she had learned as a filly; the idea that the night sky once had it’s own “sun” in the form of a bright orb that colored the skies dark blue, instead of pitch black, was almost too hopeful to be true.

It sounds like something a starry-eyed revolutionary would make up as he lost his grip on reality, Rarity thought. But still, the idea was much too appalling and she soon lost herself to her imagination:

Lost in a spring evening that practically oozes romance, staring at a pond. My love is there with me... holding me... caressing me... whispering true vows of love into my ear. I shift and nuzzle his chin delicately, while he embraces me. The sun starts to set; azure giving way to orange giving way to red in turn giving way to the darkness. It slowly spreads through the meadow we’re in. I feel frightened, which only makes him hold me tighter against his chest. I breathe a sigh of relief as the moon, in its full splendor, slowly ascends into the sky, bathing everything in a serene, pale light.

Rarity donned a light blue, breezy nightgown as she mentally played out the scene, caring little if her crew were to laugh at her for using it. We dance as the little stars formed figures in the sky, glimmering with the hope of a tomorrow to come. We would wait until the moment was just perfect before looking into each other’s eyes, losing ourselves into those pools of emotion.

Our hearts now ache pleasantly in our chests, urging us on, but our minds would want to make sure before making a move. His head inches closer to mine and I close my eyes, wanting to drink the passion from his lips. Our lips touch for a brief second before he looks me in the eye and says those words, the glorious moon and the chirping crickets being our only witnesses as the world turns around.

Rarity kept lulling herself to sleep as she added more details and vivid descriptions to her mental image. It began to put her mind at ease, even as images of her battle with the Task Force still flickered across her eyes. But her internal narration slowly became less pleasant, and more wild as the drowsiness removed her mental safeguards.

How could I have thought that the roof of the archive would be unguarded? She thought, suddenly flashing all the way back to her first disastrous raid many years ago. Yes, they didn’t expect an airship to attack, but they were still prepared for a coordinated assault. Our ship was littered with crossbow bolts before even landing, and when we did... Rarity’s mind rambled on drunkenly in her cocoon of sleep, as visions she had tried very hard to suppress returned to her in the form of restless nightmares.

The Elusive was hovering over the archive, undetected at first; but soon enough a guard turned around and shouted towards the rest. As if on cue, a volley of crossbow bolts was launched into the air, piercing the delicate fabric of her wings.

I shouted frantic orders down the speaking tube, but the poor pony below deck is way too slow to react, being inexperienced with the controls. The ship started to tilt dangerously, and I struggled to hold on.

“Mare overboard!” somepony was screaming, and before I could anticipate it, I heard a nasty, wet, cracking sound that made my body shiver in sympathetic pain.

I heard the frantic yells of the soldiers, and I realized that the ship was about to crash right into the roof. I barely had time to brace myself for impact, let alone shout a warning; and I hoped to Celestia—yes, that time I just couldn’t help myself—that nopony else would fall overboard from the impact.

Our ship had barely stopped when the soldiers jumped us with readied weapons. Their battle cry rang in my ears as I froze. My crew had already begun fighting before I finally snapped myself out of it and struggled to get control over the situation. I grabbed the speaking tube and kept shouting into it, sounding more desperate with every word.

“Can you start the engine? Please start the engine! By- Celestia- please- start- the- engine!”

My crew was more used to combat than me but even so, we just barely kept the soldiers from boarding the ship. When the engines finally roared awake, I was just about ready to cry in gratitude.

The wings started their wounded flapping, its halfway torn fabric whipping across the harsh roof of the building, damaging them further. The violent motions were enough to scare the soldiers back, but we still didn’t have enough lift.

“Start the propeller!” I ordered as the mad notion entered my head. The ship began to shake as it rushed towards the railing. I prayed that the hull would prove stronger than the metal bars, and fortunately it was... if only barely.

I was expecting us all to die with a volley of arrows from behind as the ship lurched sickly through the air, but to my surprise, we managed to escape the assault. The soldiers presumably had been too stunned by the sudden bursts of motion from strange machine to think clearly.

* * *

After that nearly fruitless battle, the ship had looked much too damaged to withstand another confrontation with any of the Queen’s ponies. Rarity noticed some of the crew grumbling about voting her off the ship due to her lack of competence.

She had struggled for a long time with that burden, fearing for her own life amidst her crew. But she noticed that most complains towards her were derived from complains about the physical state of the ship, not her actions.

Light came to her one day and she figured she could kill two birds with one stone. Since she knew that the Queen would take it as a personal offense, she would need to lay low for a few days. And since repairing the ship meant not being able to be on the move, it just left her with the question of where would she seek someone to repair it.

Rarity scrunched her face together in a sour expression. She knew where there was somepony—perhaps the only pony in the world—who could help her repair the ship, and she happened to live in Gneisserville, far enough away from Canterlot and the Queen to be a perfect hiding space. But thinking about Diane’s sunny smile overwhelmed her with apprehension. Am I really going to have to resort to threatening the one pony who’s never been anything but kind to me, just to force her to fix my airship? she thought; then an extremely bitter notion came over her: What other options do I have?

Rarity waited for one particular day in which the clouds were very dense in order to descend and tether the Elusive in the thick woods of Gneisserville. She left the most trusted pony at that time to take care of the airship while she was away—Kelpdancer, one of the first to join Rarity’s ranks, and the pony who helped her compose her pirate code. While the rest of the crew were uneasy towards her due to her mistakes, he stuck by her side and defended her honor.

She mentally thanked him for being such a loyal pony as she trekked through the dirt roads, remembering her path from memory until she was, for the third time in her life, in front of the ‘Anything but Granite’ workshop. But this time, Diane was standing by the gate, as if she had been waiting for her all this time.

“Hey, it’s my crazy flying lady friend!” she said to nopony in particular and proceeded to tackle Rarity into a powerful hug. The captain, however, dodged Diane and tripped her, drawing out her sword and pointing it at her. Diane’s expression betrayed showed no fear, just confusion and a bit of hurt.

Rarity tried her best at a pirate schtick, still pointing the sword dangerously close to nicking the skin under her pink fur. “Alright you mule, my airship needs to be repaired, and you’re going to do it! And if anypony ever comes snooping around, we were never here, understood?”

In spite of the blade close to her throat, Diane couldn’t help but smile at the sight of her friend who, after so long, returned. This act gave Rarity enough doubt that Diane would be able to push the blade in another direction, but instead she chose to ignore it.

“Oh, of course I’m gonna repair your airship! Everything I build is Pinkamena Diane Pie-guaranteed, didn’t I tell you that?”

“Uhm... no?” Rarity said, her rough necked pirate facade crumbling into dust. Diane looked at her with reassuring eyes.

“And why didn’t you say you were going to raid the Ampersand Archive?“ she asked rather bluntly.

Rarity’s eyes went wide as she heard what Diane said. She felt trapped by this pony’s carefree gaze, but was unable to deny her claim. “Well... I—uhm—eh...” she sputtered, not knowing at all how to lead the conversation away from the subject.

“Well, if you’re not going to the fancy places you told me you were, I’m gonna have to do a few modifications so she can hold herself better in combat,” Diane observed, oblivious to her friend’s baffled tongue-tied state. Eventually, Rarity managed to snap out of it.

“How did you know we tried to raid the Ampersand Archives?” she asked, pushing the blade over her throat a bit harder. Diane, instead of being scared, gave her another puckish grin.

“Silly, this is the only airship of its kind in Equestria, remember? So when I hear about a flying ship being shot down over the roof of the Ampersand Archives, I don’t need to be the genius that I am to put two and two and two together. Basic arithmetic is pretty intuitive, y’know?”

Rarity fell silent. Of course, why didn’t I think about that? she thought, her ears burning bright with shame.

“It was very brave y’know that?” Diane continued after Rarity had allowed the mare to stand on her own. “If I had an airship, I’d just fly far away, somewhere where there’s lots of friendly ponies and cupcake grows on trees and the clouds are made out of balloons! That’d be awesome!” she said, poking her chin with a forehoof, imagining how a balloon cloud would be like.

After some moments in silence, Diane shook her head and continued on with her speech: “But instead you chose to raid something very important to the Queen! I didn’t even think it could be done! I never even dreamed of it, and I regularly dream of fishing for cake rolls in a sea made out of cherry juice.”

She looked at Rarity with a concerned face, as if fishing for cake rolls in a sea made out of cherry juice was a serious thing, but then her mood changed to a more thoughtful one. “I know why you did it too... I could see it in you and I know you’ve seen it in me. Do you really think we can do it? Do you think we can all just be free?”

“I don’t know,” Rarity said honestly, “but I suppose it’s worth a try, don’t you think?”

“Often.” Diane replied with a forlorn smile etched in her face. She turned around and started placing various tools and some inventions inside a bag she removed from under her desk. The bag was already full, but Diane kept stuffing it with various contraptions before neatly closing it, making Rarity wonder if there was something this mare couldn’t do.

“I’ll lead you to the Elusive. Once it’s repaired you can come back, Diane. I promise you won’t be harmed.” Rarity waited, but instead of following her, the mare took another bag and began to remove all the decorations from her workshop, stuffing them inside of it. “Diane, darling, what are you-”

“You know... I never told you why I don’t like my name that much.” The mare said, cutting Rarity’s line short. The captain thought better not to reply and waited for Diane to finish her thoughts and explain herself. “I mean, what kind of name is Pinkamena? It isn’t fun... but then again, so isn’t Diane...”

She placed both bags over her haunches and carried them effortlessly, walking faster than Rarity’s normal pace. “Diane...” Rarity muttered, unable to come up with anything to say to comfort her.

“No... not Diane,” she turned her head and flashed rarity a confident smile. “Name’s now Pinkie Pie. And I’m coming with you.”

As the carriage was pulled through the uneven dirt roads that lead to Canterlot, Twilight Sparkle played the confrontation against the Sky Matron over and over again in her head, cringing at every mistake she had made and every opportunity lost.

Her flair for the dramatic had taken over, fueled by thrilling adventure stories. In spite of of the action of such distinguished commanders such as Admiral Apart or General Patter, it wasn’t the place for a superior officer to rush into battle herself unless absolutely necessary. Had something worse happened, she wouldn’t be remembered as a brave pony like those two were. She would’ve been remembered as a fool.

The wagon rocked slightly when one of its wheels hit a few loose pebbles in the road, bringing down the pieces of the chess board in front of her. She sighed in frustration and put the pieces away; it was too easy to win when you were playing with yourself after all.

Her loyal soldiers pushed the wagon closer and closer to Canterlot, sending an edge of panic through her. She was seriously contemplating about ordering them to stop right where they were, just so she could collect her thoughts a bit further before meeting with Celestia.

I’m not gonna be able to lie to her, and even if I tried, she’d end up discovering it... She has her sources; she would easily find out what happened, and she’s definitely not going to be impressed by my performance... especially if I lie.

“General, we’re now approaching Canterlot,” Twilight’s head draftspony informed her. The general swallowed like she was taking some bitter medicine before replying:

“Thank you, colonel,” She took some comfort in the fact that she was able to refrain from betraying any of her own apprehension in her voice.

Looking out the window, she could see the castle herself, even from the distance she was at. The distinctive, imposing towers of Canterlot stood proudly against the the side of the mountain, as if the city was mocking gravity itself.

The alabaster marble that constituted the castle glinted in the setting sun, something that enhanced its imposing architecture further. Each tower, with their slightly convex shapes, had pointed spires that seemed to impale the dark carpet of clouds that angrily hovered over the city.

From the distance, the city looked much more majestic; the way it was very strictly planned out on the steep, unreliable mountainside amplified it’s message of power to anyone who were to gaze upon it. The waterfall brought some bucolic serenity to the scene, but that was just when one was looking at it from afar.

From up close, one would notice the strong currents of water that flowed from the bowels of the mountain, slowly helping to shape the valley below it for centuries past and centuries to come. The water that cascaded down into the valley also served to bring life to the dynamo that powered the heart of Canterlot; the Royal Palace.

In the late evening light, Twilight Sparkle could see the street lights lighting up one after another. First, the electrical ones that surrounded the palace lit up, along with the ones inside of it. After that, the main street began lighting up in one continuous wave that flowed from Canterlot’s gate towards the palace.

Twilight couldn’t help but wonder what kind of training the ponies who lit the gaslight lamps in the main street with a precision of seconds received. After the main street and the palace were lit up completely, the lamplighters slowly lit the remaining streets surrounding the citadel.

The chariot was eventually led up to the gate and Twilight had already begun to take deep breaths. The gatekeepers, seeing the insignia of the Task Force, hastily opened the gates and let them into the city. Twilight bit her lip as she saw the palace’s highest chambers towering over the chariot, making everything at ground level seem pathetic.

Twilight saw the soldiers rushing out of the palace and ordering themselves in neat lines on both sides of the street. The chariot came to a stop between the two lines of ponies and she breathed yet another sigh before stepping out. With forced dignity, Twilight trotted towards the high, gem encrusted palace double doors.

On the door stood two shields, both containing mirrored versions of the sun sigil, albeit with a few style differences. One of them looked faded with age, seeming to date back more than a millennia. The other, in comparison, was brand new and didn’t seem to fit its crest in the shield as perfectly.

Twilight frowned every single time she noticed the slight asymmetry of the sigils, something that deeply bothered her. They should’ve really have gotten a better sculptor to make the replacement for The Traitor’s sigil, she thought as both golden emblems completed a full turn before the double set of doors opened, allowing her to pass through the arc.

Once she had crossed the portal, both of the heavy doors closed and locked behind her, making the castle’s walls reverberate with the force of the movement. Knowing what awaited her ahead, Twilight Sparkle took a deep breath and slowly walked towards the castle’s main atrium, trying to buy as much time as she could.

Every aspect of the palace was designed to make ordinary ponies seem small and meaningless, and it was with a bit of fright that Twilight admitted that it succeeded in such a task admirably. The roof was twice as high as it needed to be, making it nearly impossible to see the ceiling even in the brightest of days.

The main atrium was interrupted by a statue of Queen Puddinghead, which divided it in two hallways. Her towering gestalt was carved out of the finest marble and both her wings and horn were plated with pure gold while the eyes were replaced by perfectly lapidated sapphires. The electric torches—something rare, restricted for the palace alone—were strategically placed around the statue, making its appearance seem as imposing as possible.

As Twilight admired the statue, she couldn’t help but wonder if there was any portrait left from before the old queen liberated Equestria from the two other tribes. If there were, they must be in private collections, because if one happened appear in a museum, Celestia would’ve seized it for being anti-Equestian propaganda and had it destroyed. Rounding the statue, she found Celestia in her throne, and all that self-doubt she hardly managed to quell began to resurface, stronger than ever before.

Celestia was clad in her ceremonial golden armour, and her right, good wing flapped irritably as a complex of gears, escapements and balance wheels made the mechanical prop wing mirror its motions. A couple of metallic rods also provided the skeleton for a hollow left hind leg, encapsulating and augmenting her stub.

Twilight felt ice climbing up her spine as the Queen slowly walked towards her, lumbering as if the hind leg was always one step behind. She hastily averted her gaze to the floor, fearful of what might happen if the Queen thought her to be staring her leg—or worse, her wing.

“My Queen...” Twilight bowed deeply at her feet, touching her forehead to the floor. It was hard to read Celestia’s expression as she towered over her general, casting a somber shadow.

“At ease, my child,” she said, with a soft voice mismatched by her harsh appearance. Even though Twilight had mustered enough courage to sit on the floor, she still didn’t dare look directly at her, keeping her gaze on the impeccably polished floor. “I trust you bring news regarding the raid of the Pandora forgery?”

Twilight was stunned into a silence she imagined the queen would have no trouble reading. She fumbled with many words and phrases in her brain, but the adrenaline coursing through her body made her unable to pinpoint exactly what she wanted to say. Her lips moved incessantly, but no sound ever came out. It was as if the Queen’s presence alone had shattered completely her resolve.

“... I’m sorry,” she muttered pitifully, finally gathering enough courage to look at the Queen. The brim of Celestia’s helmet blocked the view of her bad eye, and in its place was a large ruby that glittered fiercely in the harsh electric light.

Her ethereal mane flowed by itself as if a soft breeze was perpetually ruffling it. Nary a strand of hair was visible, it was as if her mane was composed entirely out of rays of light, tinted in the muted colors of the evening sun. Twilight remembered some stories and rumors—something that would probably warrant anypony a ride in Luna’s swingset—about her mane once being as bright as the morning sun and she couldn’t help but think back at the Queen’s wing and leg, wondering what had happened in the past.

Through her peripheral vision, Twilight was able to see other commanding officers of the Task Force entering the throne room and positioning themselves in a line against both lateral walls. She hadn’t been expecting an audience like this, and she dared a brief glance towards her queen, wondering with trepidation what she had in store.

“Well, I was only asking out of formality anyway, I just got a dove from my intelligence pony with the information. I believe his exact words were,” she stopped as if looking for the right words written on the parchment levitating before her. Twilight couldn’t help but tense up and look at the floor once more in shame.

“The general climbed onto the ship like something right out of a cheesy pulp adventure, preventing further fire-log assaults,” she slowly read the levitating letter before her, making sure to voice it loud enough for all present to hear. “Is this description accurate, general?

“... yes.” The Queen’s soft voice from before had lulled Twilight into a false sense of security, something that made her now harsh tone hurt even more.

Several of Celestia’s advisors turned their heads towards the scene, exchanging inaudible murmurs as they stared at Twilight with judging eyes that seemed to burn her even as she closed hers, trying to escape everypony’s gaze.

Celestia raised an eyebrow when she noticed a slight, nigh imperceptible shiver on her general’s forehooves. “Is that why you act like a school-age filly sent to the principal’s office for passing notes in class?” she asked, casting a sidelong glance at her advisors, who instantly shushed and resumed their business.

“I made a mistake, your majesty! Please forgive me!” Twilight pleaded, forgetting about appearances and throwing herself at the Queen’s hooves as her eyes glistened with fresh tears.

“Forgive?” Celestia tasted the word for a moment, savoring the panic that she could practically feel emanating from her general. “I remember back when that word meant something closer to ‘give up’... no, I do not forgive, Twilight Sparkle. You of all ponies should know that.”

Celestia forcefully removed her forehooves from her general’s grasp one at a time, leaving the purple mare sprawled on the floor, fighting to control her sobs. The Queen slowly turned around and walked back to her throne, smiling as she heard the few whimpers that managed to escape Twilight’s throat.

“Just be grateful that in spite of your many failures, I still consider you valuable for the security of this nation.” She stuck her verbal dagger into Twilight’s heart and twisted it around.

The princess is right. I failed my oath. I failed her. I failed Equestria... again. I don’t deserve her mercy... She should just have me imprisoned for being such a complete and utter failure. Twilight thought in her state of utter helplessness. She knew she had sworn an oath out of her own free will. It was everything she had dedicated her entire life for; her childhood dream, and it stung to have failed to uphold it.

I should feel proud to serve my country, even though it isn’t perfect. At least it has order; it is a structure in which everypony has a purpose, and who could ask for more? Still...

The Queen opened her mouth to strip Twilight further from her pride, but before she could say a word, one of her advisors galloped towards her. She frowned at the intrusion and glared at the pony, who instantly began shivering.

“I’m s- sorry t- to interrupt you, your m- majesty,” he stuttered before bowing to her. “B- but I have news, look at t- this!” His hooves trembled as he handed her a parchment. Her horn was enveloped by a golden veil which quickly spread to the parchment, surrounding it in the golden glimmer.

She magically plucked it from the stallion’s hooves and held it in front of her. The stallion watched attentively as her eyes scanned the written lines, breathing a light, relieved sigh when he noticed her stoic expression softening a bit.

“Ah yes, this is good! The production will continue as planned in the Icarus forgery instead until the repairs are done, and we’ll only be a few weeks behind schedule,” she said to the advisor before incinerating the parchment into dust. She watched as her advisor bowed once more before returning her gaze towards Twilight Sparkle, who had managed to calm herself enough not to shed any more tears “It seems my goodwill has smiled upon you once again, general. You are dismissed, may you serve us well.”

“As you wish, your majesty,” Twilight choked out and walked towards the door as quickly as she could but without looking as if she was frantic to escape. While she was halfway to the door, she heard the Queen’s voice calling her name. She cringed and instantly turned around, being met by the Queen’s cold eye.

“Don’t count on it to smile twice.”

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