• Published 19th Sep 2012
  • 1,341 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 3

Chapter 3. Growing Pains

“The songs contained on these pages may shock or offend you and are only provided here in order to shed some insight on the culture and mindset of the common pirate [...]
~ Excerpt from the intro to Equestrian Shanties by William Wright

The ship drifted across the sky, soaring over orange-tinted clouds from the morning sun. Rarity was one of the first ponies to wake as sunlight flooded her cabin through the window. Her night had been restless, something still seemed off about the Elusive’s flight.

The captain struggled to get out of bed. She was sore and tired, and her muscles seemed intent on not cooperating with her. After stretching herself, she exited her private cabin for a thorough morning inspection, starting from where Scootaloo had last repaired the airship. True to Dash’s words, the hull wasn’t completely repaired yet; however, she was pleasantly surprised at how much damage the filly had manages to fix in just a couple of hours. Only minor repairs remained, nothing that truly disturbed the shape of the airship.

Yet, she felt the Elusive choking a bit as it glided above the clouds. It was almost imperceptible, but Rarity noticed how the airship shook slightly from time to time. Maybe Scootaloo was right; maybe I really am just paranoid and there’s nothing wrong with the Elusive, she thought, frowning. Deciding to get an expert opinion on the subject, Rarity walked to the rear deck hatch and went down straight towards the engineering deck.

Even though she lead the airship for years, she had never grown accustomed to the loud cacophony that came from the many contraptions. She walked towards Pinkie's quarters through a rhythmically moving sea of iron and copper. She knocked on it and impatiently pawed at the floorboards with a forehoof. A reply never came, so Rarity merely shrugged her politeness away and opened the door.She was instantly assaulted by a plethora of bright colors from every inch of the room.

The ceiling and walls were completely covered in either streamers, confetti or images of hoof-painted ponies smiling, laughing or running together. Rarity hoped that her engineer would be able to contain her obsessions to her own cramped quarters. If she began trying to redecorate the engineering deck like this, it would surely cause a malfunction in one of the many delicate gizmos.

She approached the sleeping mare in the middle of the room, envying her peaceful sleep. After she prodded her with a forehoof, Rarity was awarded with a few unintelligible mumbles and groans before the mare began to stir. She waited patiently as Pinkie Pie rolled from one side of the bed to another, trying desperately to catch the metaphorical train back to her dreamland.

“Pinkie Pie,” Rarity half whispered, prompting the mare to open her eyes and let out a long yawn. She scratched the back of her head with a forehoof and sat down on the bed’s side before spreading all her four limbs, her joints popping pleasantly.

“Hiya, Rarity!” She smiled, albeit with a visible drowsiness. “How was your night?”

Rarity paused for a moment, pondering on whether or not she should tell her jubilant engineer about her dream. Ultimately, she decided against it, since it revealed an aspect of her career as a pirate that she’d be glad if Pinkie Pie never got to hear about.

“Oh simply splendid, darling! After all, what kind of day would it be if we weren't attacked and boarded by the Equestrian Task Force? What about you?”

“Hm... not so much,” she said while deep in thought, seemingly unaware of Rarity’s sarcasm. The expression on her face, however, made Rarity doubled her attention on Pinkie. She was rarely bothered by anything, which meant that if something was causing her distress, it was probably worthy of paying attention to.

“Ever since I used the duster, the cogs have been grinding on each other a bit. The engine is also stuttering like that one time when I was little and ate a whole batch of cookies and started shaking and running around the house and mommy got angry at me and then daddy—”

“You’re telling me that you felt it too?” Rarity asked with disbelief. Whilst she felt worried about what it might mean, she also felt intrigued that there appeared to be something to this gut feeling of hers after all.

“Well, duh!” she said, gesticulating exaggeratedly. “Of course I did; I kept telling the engine that I wasn’t angry at it, that even if it did eat a whole batch of cookies, it was okay and I could just make more,“ Pinkie paused and frowned, shooting a pensive gaze towards the ceiling. Rarity opened her mouth, intent on urging her with her explanation, but the Pinkie cut her short:

“I think that the delicate centrifugal governor exceeded its capacity when I deployed the duster to increase our vectorial acceleration, meaning that it is no longer properly regulating the engine’s Rankanine cycle, creating a dissonance in the rollers that is in turn causing the posterior helix to miss approximately...” she stopped, and with her tongue sticking out her mouth, gesticulated with her forehooves as if she was pressing invisible buttons over Rarity’s head.

“Five point seven cycles in every minute,” Pinkie Pie concluded before smiling proudly.

Rarity looked at her with her mouth hanging in awe. “You... I... What?”

Pinkie Pie started giggling, and grasped her stomach before falling backwards on the floor, rolling with laughter. Rarity began to blush, flustered, but nevertheless waited until Pinkie’s giggles had subdued. When she calmed herself enough to stand, she saw Rarity’s quizzical expression and addressed it in elementary terms.

“The spinning thing is going WHEEE!”

Rarity breathed a relieved sigh. “Oh, good. For a second there I thought it was something more seriou—”

“Which means that we have about six hours before the engine collapses and the Elusive goes KABOOM on the ground,” she chirped, beaming with joy. Rarity’s face was the exact opposite from that of her bubbly engineer; it had instantly twisted into an expression filled with horror.

“WHAT!?”

Pinkie Pie, unfazed by her captain’s screech, began to describe various complicated mathematical equations, believing that Rarity was questioning her calculation skills. The captain instantly turned around and galloped outside the engineering deck, leaving Pinkie Pie to her recital of physics formulas from memory.

She emerged at the fo’c’sle with a somber expression. The few ponies from her crew that were awake, enjoying the morning’s warmth, mirrored her expression as they noticed it. They all remained silent however, not wanting to bother their captain unnecessarily. Still, all who saw here were aware that it was never a good sign when she was in this kind of mood.

Rarity disregarded their stares and galloped towards the pony currently at the helm, Pipsqueak. She opened her mouth to compliment him on the steering during his nightly pass —the course had been steady enough and there was no need to worry him unecesserily— and order him to land the airship, under her supervision. But before she could say anything, he greeted her:

“G’morning, capt’n. We’ll be above the outskirts of Ponyville in a couple of hours. I was going to have somepony call you since you told me we’d be making a short landing over-”

Good heavens! I completely forgot!” she exclaimed, cutting him short. The small colt watched in confusion as Rarity paced back and forth incessantly, trying to gather her thoughts as quickly as she could.

“We could, but... no! We don’t have time... but if only we... no... Pinkie Pie could probably...” she continued on with her mumblings as the young colt watched helplessly, unsure if he should break her concentration by asking what was going on.

”Capt’n... what... what’s wrong?” Pipsqueak asked as curiosity eventually won over his doubt.

The helmspony’s squeaky voice was lost to Rarity. Her entire focus was fixed groundboard, trying to find someplace safe enough to land. Her eyes tried to scan beyond the horizon but all she saw were the checkered patterns of farms and fields. Some minutes passed before she spotted something that at first, looked like an oddly regular forest. Squinting her eyes, she managed to see some wooden edifications next to the forest, telling her that it was actually an orchard.

In spite of the altitude and the distance, the red apples glistened invitingly in the sun. Rarity however, had her eyes set on something else at the edge of the orchard. Something far more valuable than a thousand apples right now. There stood a large, inconspicuous—and hopefully empty—barn. It would be the perfect hiding place for something the size of her airship.

“Change of plans,” she announced. “Pip, wake up the crew; we’re getting ready to do a sharp starboard turn.”

Rarity rushed ahead to the middle deck before Pip could even react. Waking a bunch of battle-fatigued sailors was a feat not entirely unlike necromancy, especially for such a small colt. While Pip had barely gotten one crewmember up on her hooves, Rarity had already managed to wake half the deck with her shrill, urgent voice. She waited until all the air pirates were gathered around her before explaining their situation.

“Attention! Yesterday’s battle left the Elusive severely damaged.” A few murmurs broke out from the crowd, but they were quickly silenced as Rarity waved her forehoof. “We are going to land the ship a little earlier than expected and lay low. We’ll have until Pinkie completes the repairs on the ship’s engine before we leave. Any objections to that?”

Rarity merely questioned this as a formality; the situation was a dire one that, although risky, needed to be addressed immediately. Most of the crew nodded in reply, but she was able to hear a few complaints as well. She remained calm, however, as she figured that the complaints were out of reluctance rather than out of any genuine objection.

“Good. Flitter, take the helm from Pipsqueak. Bon Bon, Lyra, come with me to the main deck. The rest of you, get ready for a corkscrew.” Just as she finished, three sleepy-eyed ponies stumbled towards the main deck alongside her.

“Double-secure the starboard wing,” Rarity ordered and the two ponies went to work. She couldn’t help but notice that the two mares did not work together as well as they normally did; Lyra would tell something to Bon bon, but she’d only grunt in return. Thankfully they had both done it enough times to pull it off, regardless of their current personal problems.

Slowly, the ship banked starboard and began its descent. The massive airship slowly circled the area next to the barn in its downwards spiral, something that would make an unaccustomed pony feel his stomach churn. A wisp of cloud got caught in the larboard wing and traced their spiral flight path behind them, disappearing soon afterwards.

As the airship slowly neared the ground, towering over the many apple trees, Rarity saw what registred as an orange blur galloping outside of a small house that stood inside the fenced perimeter. She followed it with her eyes as it made a beeline towards the sought out barn that stood a few hundred hooves away. A worried frown appeared on the captain’s face, one that gradually grew more resolute as she weighed her options.

The airship halted its descent a couple of fathoms from the ground and Pinkie cut off the engine, leaving it suspended in the air only by its various tiny ballonets of helium, encapsulated inside the envelope. As Lyra and Bon Bon finished tying the ropes to the rail, Rarity turned towards her crew with another announcement:

“I had hoped we wouldn’t be attracting attention, but as usual, its not easy to be inconspicuous with our fabulous airship.” There was a couple of “aye’s” from the crowd.

“So far, we don’t know if these ponies are hostile or not. I will go down there with Rainbow Dash and assess the situation. The rest of you, keep an eye out for any possible unicorns in the distance, and if there’s any sign of trouble, land by the barn and find me immediately.” She turned and nodded to Rainbow, who flashed her a confident, action-thirsty grin.

Without hesitation, Rainbow Dash tossed a rope tied to the railing and lowered herself down. A cloud of dust swirled up around her hooves as she landed. She looked up towards her captain who was ordering two ponies from her crew to bring her a makeshift elevator to hoist her down in.

Rainbow rolled her eyes and waited for her captain, crossing her forehooves and tapping restlessly at the ground. When Rarity finally touched the ground, she shot her a somewhat guilty smile.

“We could’ve been halfway to the barn by now, “ Rainbow Dash informed her.

“Yes, but we’re not in that much of a hurry, are we? And besides, the elevator is much more comfortable.”

Rainbow Dash just grumbled at this while Rarity focused on the surroundings. She noticed that the orange mare wasn’t around before her eyes soon got lost in the idyllic surroundings. This place more than anything reminded them of just how flat the ground was. Once out of the trees midst, the world seemed to stretch on forever in a patchwork of fields sewn together with dirt roads, only interrupted by the occasional grove or small cottage.

This was a pirate’s retirement fantasy. Even Rarity, whose retirement fantasies usually involved an imaginary version of Canterlot where you could be the first and most prominent sky pirate in recorded history and still be able to go out at night for cocktail dinners would admit to this being a decent second option.

The bucolic scenery wasn’t enough to distract both mares from their current task, however. Their ears remained attentive as they approached the barn, shooting wary glances to everything surrounding them. Rarity blocked out the white noise from the chirping birds and focused on hearing anything rustling or moving nearby.

She slowly inched the barn’s door open and waited a few seconds for any kind of noise. Hearing nothing, she risked a few steps inside, loyal Rainbow Dash never leaving her side. As soon as they were in, their eyes took little time to adjust to the partial lack of sunlight inside. Rarity looked around, taking note of everything that could be used to their advantage or against them should they be ambushed by the farmpony they saw before.

Rainbow Dash frowned as she stepped on one of many strands of hay scattered all across the floor, amplifying their hoofsteps. Her movement ceased when her gaze caught with something in the far distance. She placed a forehoof in front of Rarity and signaled towards a brown stetson hat that was peeking from under a block of hay. Rarity nodded and they both advanced towards it as quietly as they could.

Throughout it all, one of Rainbow’s hooves kept grazing the handle of blade with each step, as if it had a life of its own and had a terrible itch for a battle. Halfway to the hidden pony, the barn’s doors suddenly closed, prompting both mares to turn around. Behind them, they found the orange pony they thought was hiding, standing on her hind legs and grasping a pitchfork with both her forehooves.

“What are y’all doin’ on my ranch?” she asked, furrowing her brows and tensing her muscles.

Dash was quick to draw out her sword and lounge forward, locking her gaze with the farmpony’s. Rarity stepped in to desperately prevent the situation from escalating into a conflict.

“Please, we are not here to look for a fight ,we assure you.” She gestured towards Rainbow, who huffed and lowered her weapon, but still kept it on her hooves, ready for action. “We are just looking—”

“Lookin’ for trouble, that’s what you’re lookin’ for!” she hollered, thrusting her pitchfork forward in a taunt. “Y’all will take that ship and those pirates away from my ranch this instant, if you know what's best.”

“Shut your trap, mule!” Rainbow Dash yelled back, readying her sword once more.

“Calm down, Rainbow,” Rarity said with an unusual calmness as she placed one forehoof on her quartermaster’s shoulder and lowered her sword with the other. “She’s not a unicorn, nor is she’s with them. There is no need for a fight.”

Rainbow Dash grit her teeth and glared daggers at the farmpony, but relented and scabbared her weapon.

“Yeah, that’s right. Now walk outta here before I get my brother!” Applejack ordered in a voice that made her threats seem very palpable. Rarity, however, remained collected:

“I’m sorry, miss...?”

The orange mare hardened her gaze towards Rarity before replying: “Applejack.”

“I’m dearly sorry, miss Applejack, but we can’t and won’t leave the premises.” She saw the orange mare grit her teeth and open her mouth to voice her opposition, but cut her short.

“We need a place to hide until our airship is properly repaired and I’m afraid that your ranch is the only place that is both far enough from the town for us to remain hidden and close enough for us to get supplies.”

“The hay you are! I’ve got enough troubles at the ranch without you folks comin’ around!” Applejack shouted, stomping on the floor for good measure. The room was locked into a deathly stare where each of the three ponies exchanged glances with various shades of distrust and hate.

Applejack turned towards the door when she heard hasty hoofsteps from outside that were quickly approaching. Her eyes narrowed as understanding hit her like a brick. She jumped out of the way before the barn’s doors were barged open by frantic members of the crew.

“Captain, we heard screams! We came in to—” Cheerilee was cut short when she saw an orange blur coming from her left. Acting quickly, she jumped out of the way as Applejack thrust her pitchfork forward, sinking it onto the wooden floorboards. She desperately tried to dislodge it, but much to her dismay it remained still.

The pirates wasted no time in circling her, slowly closing their snare. Applejack let go of the pitchfork and bucked wildly into the air before realizing that nopony had even tried to touch her. Rarity studied her behavior and saw her anger petering out as a result of her confusion. Applejack began looking back towards the house through a window and Rarity could notice a cocky smile appearing on her face. Seeing through the mare’s thoughts, Rarity coughed lightly to get the orange pony’s attention.

“You told us your brother was in there. So... the reason you’re here while he stays at home must mean that he’s protecting somepony.”

There was no doubt that her guess had been correct. The smile was quickly washed off of Applejack’s face as she tensed up.

“What ‘bout it?” she asked cautiously.

“I know you won’t believe me, but I know what it’s like trying to protect somepony. It’s horrible, that feeling you get when you don’t have any control over the situation and lack the power to keep the ones you care about safe.

“To be perfectly frank, you know as well as I do that you cannot fight and entire pirate crew. However, unless the Celestian propaganda has completely poisoned your skull, you also ought to know that we don’t want any more trouble than is strictly necessary.”

Applejack’s gaze hardened as she studied Rarity intently. Her brows were coated with cold sweat, but she dared not make any movement.

“Neither of us wants a fight, but if it comes to that, you will lose. As much as you might hate it, its in your best interest as a protector to let us stay.” Rarity’s gaze was completely expressionless. Something that made Applejack frantically look to the many pirates surrounding her, trying to find the faintest hint of deceivance in Rarity’s words.

The seconds felt like minutes for Applejack, who was expecting the pirates to jump her at any moment. However, true to the captain’s words, they didn’t seem intent on attacking unless provoked first. She cringed for a short moment before letting out a dejected sigh.

“Alright. Y’all can stay for the time being. But I’m watchin’ you,” Applejack stated, pointing to Rarity. “If you or any of your kin make any sort of trouble I’ll...”

Applejack’s sentence trailed off and she huffed before turning around. Rarity ordered the pirates to back off as she walked outside her encirclement and towards the open air. Once the farmpony had disappeared through the door, Rarity was quick to turn to her quartermaster.

“Rainbow Dash, I want you to keep an eye on her from a distance. Do not confront Applejack, but make sure she’ll be keeping her word,” she ordered.

Rainbow nodded once and walked outside. Rarity peeked through the door and saw Applejack some distance away, partially obscured by a bush and a few tufts of grass. Rainbow Dash positioned herself a few hundred hooves away from Applejack, where the environment blocked the line of sight.

As the rest of the crew busied themselves in getting the large airship inside the barn, Rarity walked around, inspecting the place. Many tools were available for Pinkie Pie to use but sadly, all of them were meant for farm labor. She stopped when she saw a brown stetson on top of a pitchfork’s handle, right behind a big block of hay.

“Oh, hello there,” she uttered before taking the hat.

Applejack walked away from the barn with stiff vacant steps. Once she had gotten some bit into the orchard, she stopped and glared over to a nearby tree. The rage she had suppressed welled up inside of her and she gave the tree a good hard buck, causing a couple of overgrown apples to fall down around her with dry ‘thuds’.

Damn pirates, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold them off on my own! Why did they have to rub my face in it? She sighed and tried to push the thought away as she walked back towards the farmhouse.

* * *

Rainbow Dash quickly hid behind a tree and waited for Applejack to distance herself before galloping to the back the the farmhouse and peeking through a window. She saw an elderly green mare tightly grasping a metal pot in her hooves and looking like a general ready for her greatest battle. Next to her stood a big, red stallion who smiled when he saw Applejack nearing the house, but still kept hovering protectively over a young cream filly.

The filly tried to peek over the front’s window pane only to be grabbed by, what Rainbow could infer, her big brother’s strong hooves. When Applejack entered the farmhouse and bucked the door closed, all their eyes were on her.

* * *

“Oh goodie, the scout is back. Report, soldier!” the old mare demanded, stomping a forehoof on the floor. Applejack breathed a bemused sigh as she noticed the rusty pot in her hooves and the military helmet on top of her head. She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could get any words out she was interrupted by a volley of questions from the cream filly.

“Did y’all see the pirates, sis? Were they scary? Did they ride dragons? Did you get to see the Sky Matron?” The filly blurted out with a speed that could rival Pinkie Pie’s. Applejack’s demeanor drooped and she shook her head before replying:

“The pirates aren’t goin’ to be a problem, Apple Bloom... I hope.“

“Big sis, what happened to your hat?” Apple Bloom asked, pointing to Applejack’s golden forelock. It wasn’t until then Applejack realized with wide eyes that the familiar brim was no longer in her edge of vision. Aw, shoot!

“Big Mac, Granny Smith, take care of Apple Bloom. I’m goin’ out again,” she announced before walking outside once more.

For every step Applejack walked towards the barn she wanted to take two steps back. Biting her lower lip, she looked behind to picture an escape route in case things didn’t go well. The feeling of insecurity when inside her own property made her grit her teeth, but she shook off her feeling of trepidation as she reached the barn. She was about to knock on the door but stopped herself. What the hay am I doing? This is our barn! she thought as she grunted with displeasure.

She kicked the door open, drawing the looks of the pirates inside towards her. She barely had time to shot an icy glare of her own before she felt herself being gripped by Cheerilee. The mare held Applejack with one forehoof whilst the other pressed a knife to her throat. But once the initial confusion died down, Cheerilee’s eyes widened and she promptly released the farmer.

“Oh, it’s you. I’m so sorry!” she said hurriedly. “The captain told me you’d probably come back tomorrow so I didn’t know who to expect.”

“She did?” Applejack asked, still reeling from the shock of having a knife pressed against her throat. “Where is she?!” Cheerilee sheathed her weapon, and gave her an apologetic look that calmed Applejack down somewhat.

“She is in the captain’s quarters. In the poop cabin,” Cheerilee replied, causing Applejack to raise an eyebrow.

“The whatnow?”

“The stern!” Cheerilee said, rolling her eyes. Applejack’s only reaction was to shoot her another confused look.

“The rear end of the ship,” she tried once more. “You may climb aboard, just remember to knock before you go in. The captain is very picky about that.”

Applejack huffed and trotted towards the ship, glaring at the few members of the crew not out on errands or exploring the environment. The pirates ignored her as best as they could, unwilling to start an unnecessary fight.

It occurred to Applejack that she had never actually seen a pirate ship up close before. Her breath got caught in her throat before she saw that the Elusive was not like a large flying animal, like she was told from gossip and folk tales. Instead, it seemed to be some sort of contraption built around the base of a regular sailboat. She quickly suppressed a chuckle when she remembered one particular pony telling her that sky pirates rode on dragons.

Her eyes met the airship’s wings, making her scrunch her muzzle. Days above ground without ever getting to feel the earth beneath your hooves. Just clicking your horseshoes against dead wood... who’d ever want that?

Applejack struggled a bit with the stepladder as she climbed aboard. Once on the deck, it was easy for her to find the captain’s quarters. She walked towards the double doors and pushed them open. Her ears perked up as she heard music coming from a phonograph. Reminds me of what my family used to listen in Manehattan. What kind of pirate listens to this fancy-schmancy stuff? Applejack thought as she slowly walked inside.

Her eyes widened as she laid eyes on the captain’s many expensive decorations and her multitude of books. She shook her head and walked towards an open double set of doors and peered in. Rarity was rummaging through her closet, humming along with the music, completely oblivious of the intrusion.

To Applejack’s surprise, she pulled out a fluffy pink and baby-blue dress and draped it lazily across her back. After fudging with the gown a bit, Rarity looked at the mirror and sighed to her reflection.

“I haven’t had a chance to wear this in a while, and its just coming back in style too,” she muttered to herself. “Why don’t I ever get to wear anything that looks this smashing? Wearing nothing but a red coat does get tedious after awhile.” She paused to put the dress back in its hanger.

“But I suppose my crew wouldn’t respect me as much if I charged into battle with pigtails, don’t you think?” She said to the mirror and puffed her hair with a forehoof. “Thought so,” she added as if it had replied. She went back to the closet and took out a folded tuxedo.

The option to butt in before this situation turned into outright spying entered the mind of Applejack, but she was overcome with a voyeuristic thrill and opted to continue watching.

“Anyway, to business,” Rarity muttered to herself as she produced a clipbook lavishly studded with gemstones from her desk. It took Applejack a while to see what was in it, but eventually she figured out: it was a collection of newspaper photos of various ponies who she didn’t recognize, but they all looked very important judging by their formal attire. Rarity flipped the pages gingerly as she hummed to herself.

“Amethyst Glare? No, she’s too thin... High Horses? Like he’d be caught anywhere near Ponyville... Ampersand? Let’s get real... William Wright? Hmmm, looks like I could pull that one off...”

She opened the bottom drawer of her desk and fumbled with it for a short while before pulling out a small container with a gray powder. She removed the cork from the container with her teeth and spread the powder over her coat and mane. Applejack’s eyes instantly widened as she saw Rarity began to age very quickly, until she looked roughly twenty years older. After the effects ceased, she walked back towards the mirror and began to meticulously analyze her reflection.

“The coat looks fine, but my mane is far too dark and long...” she noted. Her gaze lingered on a pair of scissors briefly before she quickly tilted her head away.

“No. I’ll just hide it under a hat. It’ll be fine...” she murmured as she began to check for any imperfections on her disguise. “Yeesh, I hope this stuff washes off...” she mused before continuing to hum for herself. She took a black top hat from her closet and neatly placed it over her head before walking towards the mirror once more.

“My eye color doesn’t match, though. Hmm...” She rummaged through the drawer some more before finding a pair of round smoked glasses that bore at least a vague resemblance to the glasses worn by William in the picture.

“This will have to do,” she commented after placing the pair over her muzzle.

As the whole scene unfolded, Applejack tensed up. It became impossible for her to just watch without somehow feeling that it made her an accomplice. She cleared her throat, causing Rarity to tense up. Slowly, the now bespectacled and gray pony began to turn around bearing a forced, polite smile towards Applejack.

“Why, hello darling,” she began in a stilted manner. “Didn’t Cheerilee tell you to knock?”

“My barn, my rules,” Applejack deadpanned.

“Ah yes, I suppose you’re right. I apologize, it was rather impolite of me. We’re your guests after all, are we not?” Rarity replied with a smirk calculated to get on Applejack’s nerves. She opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted when Rarity simply trotted to the closet and produced something from the top shelf.

“You’re looking for this, I imagine?” Rarity said and tossed Applejack her stetson hat. “It’s not my taste, I must admit. But it has sort of a rustic charm to it.”
Applejack narrowed her eyes, unsure on whether she should feel insulted or not.

“So what’s your style then?” she said mockingly and pointed towards her head. “Black top hats?”

“Ah, n-not really...” Rarity stumbled over her words, sounding like she was trying to claw her way out of a trap. “It’s for a little thing I need to do...” Applejack stared at her with narrowed eyes as she closed the snare.

“Are you gonna go swindle some poor pony?” she asked bluntly. Rarity no longer squirmed uncomfortably trying to retain her elegant facade and resigned to Applejack with a somewhat sad tinge in her eyes. She let out a deep sigh.

“If I really were up to no good, do you think I’d tell you?” she asked.

“No?”

“And I if I weren't but told you, would you believe me?”

“... no!”

“Then what would be the point of me telling you anything?” Rarity concluded as some of her superior air returned to her. “Now please step out of my cabin, if you’d be so kind. I trust you to find your way out of here? It’s your barn after all.” She ended with a haughty smile that not just struck, but practically pounded on her host’s nerves.

Applejack let out an annoyed roar from deep down her throat and stormed out of the cabin, kicking the door closed. She simply trotted past Cheerilee, ignoring her every attempt from the mare to strike up a conversation. Applejack came halfway to her house before curiosity overcame her and she began to track back towards the barn.

Seeing Rarity exiting it alone, Applejack jumped behind a bush and studied her as she made her way towards Ponyville. The farmpony almost didn’t recognize her, even though she had watched her put on the disguise. The way Rarity walked was completely different; she staggered a bit as if she was a pained, but hurried like an old stallion who had at least three more important places he’d like to be right now.

Applejack turned herself into Rarity’s shadows as she stalked the disguised pirate across Ponyville. Several ponies who came across the disguised captain stopped to greet her, bowing down so deep their foreheads hit the dirt. Every time, Rarity would dismiss them with an irritable whip of her hoof.

Applejack lowered her brow in disgust every time she saw this display of subordination to a false authority. At first, it seemed only baffling and somewhat pointless, but once she started to approach the mayor office of Ponyville, Applejack grew more alarmed.

A highly ranked government official was hardly the most inconspicuous disguise. Rarity however, was no stranger to attention. Fortunately for her, she managed to project enough of an air of authority that nopony would dare to question her even though her disguise was far from perfect. She risked letting out a satisfied smile from behind her hoof and her darkened glasses as she approached Town Hall without incident. The stage lost a fine actress when I decided to pick up piracy, she thought confidently.

Her thought process was interrupted by the sound of hooves hurrying towards her on the dirt road. Before she could react though, somepony tackled her into an alley, sending her top hat tumbling down along with a couple of scrolls from her tuxedo.

With a skillful maneuver, Rarity managed to grab a hold of the attacker’s fetlock and landed on top of her, pressing one hoof against her throat. Her eyes widened as she gazed on her attacker, who was wearing a pained expression after the sudden and unexpected landing.

“Applejack!” she half-shrieked. “Good heavens, what do you think you are doing?”

“Stoppin’ you from connin’ honest pony folk,” Applejack remarked, gesturing towards the document lying on the ground of the dirty alley. Rarity gave out an annoyed growl at the accusation.

“Oh for Luna’s sake! I’m not... just read the paper!” Rarity let go of her assailant, allowing her to get back on her hooves. Applejack glared angrily back at her before walking to the documents and swiping them from the ground. Rarity looked around to see if the two had been noticed while Applejack browsed through the lines of text. She struggled through the neatly brushed script and the obtuse vocabulary and her eyes grew wider with every word she read.

“But this... what could you possibly gain by...” she trailed off, looking at Rarity incredulously.

“I made a mistake, okay? The hospital was in financial straits, but I couldn’t exactly go up to the front desk and go ‘arr, ah be donatin’ me booty to des ‘ere establishment, want me stolen gold?’“ Rarity’s imitation of a pirate accent caught her off guard and Applejack couldn’t help but let out a short burst of giggles.

“So I had one of my crew sneak into the hospital and deposit a rather handsome sum in bits to the hospital’s meager treasure chest. Nopony ever suspects a reverse burglary. However, I planned it badly, we should’ve spread it out over time. Such a sudden acquisition of wealth did raise some eyebrows,” Rarity said, looking somewhat gloom. Applejack remained silent, wanting to hear the explanation to its end.

“And then, somepony with too much time on their hooves connected it to the recent burglaries. Now the hospital is being investigated. Noble ponies are way too protective of their wealth, if you ask me.“ She coughed meaningfully.

“Anyway, since the whole mess is my fault to an extent, I was going to clear it up with this document here. Give them something that looks good and official enough so that nopony needs to worry their pretty little heads.”

“So you are seriously expectin’ me to believe that you are stealin’ from the rich and givin’ to the poor like some buckin’ Robin Hooves just out of the goodness of your heart?”

“Believe whatever you want to. I had no intent of telling you this. You can think I’m a bloodthirsty buccaneer for all I care, as long as you stay out of my way,” Rarity added sternly before gesturing towards the Town Hall.

“There’s no way in hay you’re gonna be able to fool anypony in there with that shoddy disguise!” Applejack said, poking Rarity’s chest with a forehoof and messing her chiqué tuxedo.

“Oh really? Then watch me!” she muttered and slapped Applejack’s hoof away.

Applejack watched in awe as Rarity resumed her elitist façade and trotted confidently to the large building. After shaking her head, Applejack followed her path, always standing a few steps behind whilst trying to look inconspicuous. She stayed by the door while Rarity went inside and walked to the secretary, a creamy pony with a pink mane that had a very weary expression on her face. Rarity paused for a moment and looked at her nametag, which announced her as Ivory Scrolls, before resuming her confident trot.

“Sir? You need to get an appointment to speak with mayor,” the secretary said, sounding more bored than concerned. To this, Rarity merely grumbled something unintelligible and practically threw the document on her desk.

Ivory Scrolls’ eyes widened as she grasped the paper. “What’s this?” she muttered to herself and looked up to the stately gentlepony in front of her.

Through her disguise, Rarity rolled her eyes and slowly shook her head in annoyance, giving off a sense that the secretary should already know what this was about, and if she didn’t she wasn’t doing her job properly. Flustered, Ivory began reading the scroll, hoping that it’d get her up to speed Once the significance of this paper hit her, she let out a wide-eyed gasp.

“Ah, y-yes, I see, sir. I-I’ll take care of this right away, sir,” she stammered, to which Rarity merely huffed and turned around, trotting to the exit with her nose high up in the air. She trotted out and had to fight back the urge to laugh at Applejck’s awestruck expression.

She had been waiting outside with a chin that nearly touched the ground in dumbfounded amazement. Rarity simply walked past her, still deep in the role, but gave a faint nod commanding Applejack to follow along. She made her best attempt at looking like she just happened to be going the same way until they were a dozen or so hoofsteps away from the town hall and Rarity felt safe to shed her disguise.

The transformation was swift, but no less baffling. She simply removed the glasses and hat and let her bangs flow down over her face. With a quick shake of her head, she ordered them back into their usual curl, making her look like herself again, albeit still twenty years older. The pained limp of an old statespony got replaced with her own swift, graceful way of walking and she looked back towards Applejack with a warmer smile than before.

“So, what did you think about that?” she asked once the farmpony had caught up with her.

“I can’t believe they bought it!” Applejack whispered back, failing to hide her awestruck chuckle. She had the look of a filly who just went along with one of her friends silly pranks.

“It’s all in the attitude,“ Rarity informed her as she continued to march in her aristocratic pace. “As long as you convey an air of authority ponies aren’t going to question you, lest they get into trouble. We got Celestia to thank for enforcing that tendency,” she added through gritted teeth.

Applejack was slightly taken aback by the way the Sky Matron reacted to the Queen’s name. For some reason, Rarity’s display of anger made her think back to Sweet Apple Ranch and her family. Her stomach began to churn bitterly as Rarity’s words from before repeated themselves inside her mind over and over again.

I know what it’s like trying to protect somepony.

The mental image of Apple Bloom cowering in fear as Big Macintosh stood paralyzed flashed before her eyes. Applejack quickly shook her head before shooting a glance at an oblivious Rarity. Something clicked in her mind as she observed how much pent up anger the captain had. Part of Applejack still was reluctant to accept what she, deep down, already knew. The queen is using this kind of fear to control us, it just ain’t right.

Applejack shook her head, trying to gather her thoughts. But Rarity’s speech was imprinted on her brain like someone had branded it on the back of her skull.

It’s horrible, that feeling you get when you don’t have any control over the situation, and lack the power to keep the ones you care about safe.

“Miss... uh... Rarity?”

“Yes, Applejack?”

“I’m... I am... uh...” Applejack fumbled for words in her brain, but she couldn’t pick a proper way to voice her request. She breathed a deep sigh, to which Rarity turned to look at her with one raised eyebrow. “Would... dagnabbit! I’m not good with... Gah!” Applejack grunted in frustration and stomped hard on the dirt floor.

“Are you alri—”

“Would you like to come an’ have dinner with us?”

“A dinner? Are you crazy?” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, flailing her forehooves around. “They’re gonna trap you and hand you over to Celestia for sure!”

Her words echoed in Rarity’s head as she walked towards the house. Her long sky blue dressed trailed behind her, the cool evening wind got playing in the light, but elegant fabric. Her head was adorned by a weaved hat, miles away from her plain captain’s cap. A large lavender brim framed her face and the floral details that lined its side added a playful touch to the outfit.

Somehow her hooves refused to move by themselves and she had to force them forward. The one thing driving her was her reluctance to go back to her quartermaster whom she had raised her voice to. What am I supposed to say? That I’m tired of eyeing everypony with suspicion and would like to have a nice pleasant dinner with somepony for once? That even if we can get the trust of even one lowly farmer, we’ve at least accomplished something and I don’t need to feel like I’m swinging my hooves at a shadow?

Rarity kept trying to justify herself, but as reasonable as her arguments sounded, that niggling doubt in the back of her head refused to go away. And as she walked towards the front door, once again, her muscles seemed to clench.

She forced herself out from her stupor and sighed before knocking on the door. She awaited a few moments before raising her forehoof to knock on it again. Just as it was about to hit the wood, the door opened slightly and an elderly, green suspicious face greeted her.

Rarity nearly got her heart caught in her throat seeing the old mare wearing an army helmet. But her fears turned to confusion when she realized that the helmet didn’t match any of those used by Celestia’s army and the patina on it hinted that it was at least a hundred years old, if not more.

It took all of her social training to repot over refrain from commenting on the mare’s odd choice of headgear. Instead, Rarity bowed slightly to her in a style usually only practiced in the finest salons of Canterlot and Manehattan.

“Good evening, madam,” she said in her most amiable voice and smiled warmly.

Granny Smith kept her gaze focused on Rarity, frowning all the while. She found herself locked into a staring contest with the wrinkly eyes underneath the turtle green helmet, pushing Rarity back into nervousness. She might’ve cracked from the sheer oddity of the situation, but Applejack came unwittingly to the rescue, appearing behind her grandmother.

“Please, Granny, take that silly thing off. You’re scarin’ our guest.” Applejack placed a forehoof on Granny Smith’s shoulder, who broke her gaze away from Rarity in order to look at her granddaughter.

“Oh really?” she said and shot Rarity another critical glance. “I know what you’re up to,” she said in a voice that made Rarity break out in cold sweat. “But lemme tell ya, my granddaughter ain’t no fillyfooler! So don’t even try, y’hear me?!”

Applejack instantly blushed and tried to hide herself with both forehooves. Rarity’s eyes went as wide as saucers as she frantically looked to her sides at a loss for words.

“I- I uhm... I uh... what?” she managed to blurt out through her mental daze.

“Don’t worry, Lady. Granny’s just been grumpy ‘cuz she saw some of them scary-looking pirates land nearby,” Apple Bloom chirped in as she walked in the living room.

“Oh yes, I heard about that. How unfortunate,” Rarity said in a faked casual voice and laughed nervously before turning to Granny Smith. “I can assure you, madam that I don’t have any romantic intentions towards your granddaughter. I just got here from Canterlot, and Applejack said she wanted to show me some old fashioned Ponyville Hospitality.”

Rarity glanced over to Applejack, both begging for help and hoping that she wouldn’t take her lie badly. The mare scrunched her muzzle and quickly looked away, but didn’t react in any way otherwise. Granny Smith’s hard, doubtful eyes locked with Rarity’s once more, stretching out the seconds before the elder’s face shone up.

“Well, of course, dearie! Let’s get you some apple pie... and apple tarts.. and apple cinnamon crisps... and apple bumpkins... and apple fritters, apple pancakes, apple cakes, apple cider and caramel apple!” Granny Smith pulled Rarity’s forehoof, leading her towards the dining room.

The captain couldn’t help but be even more taken aback by the sudden mood shift. Applejack stepped aside and granted both mares passage before closing the door behind them.

Granny Smith showed Rarity to the living room whilst maintaining her bear-like grip on the Sky Matron’s hooves, chanting dinner options all the while. Rarity gasped in surprise when she saw the old maple table set with an abundance of rustic, hoof-crafted dishes along with various apple-related goods fresh from the oven.

A rumbling from Rarity’s stomach reminded her of trial and tribulations of the pirate life; filled with brief periods of feasts followed by long periods of starvation. She did try to suppress her most ravenous urges, but Granny Smith was an experienced hostess and could detect the hunger in her eyes.

“Go right ahead, dear,” she ordered, with a warm smile that didn’t entirely hide her suspicious glances.

Regardless of the invitation, Rarity waited until all the family members could be seated, a task only made possible by conjuring up all the self control she learned as a socialite pony.

“So, what are you doing in Ponyville,” Granny Smith asked. “We don’t exactly get a lot of ponies like yourself out here.” It took Rarity a while to figure out what the old pony meant.

I her mind she was far from beautiful, just worn down and weary. Piracy had left several unflattering marks on her and she knew the location of every hidden scar. Her appearance was also not helped by the fact that the powder had left a grayish stain on her coat that refused to wash away. But in spite of that, she apparently had an elegance to her that years of strife and hardship had failed to take away.

“Well, I’m a tailor... But I haven’t had much luck recently,” she replied, trailing off before she could trap herself in a complicated web of lies. This was enough to make Apple Bloom shine up. The filly stomped on the table and, with an enormous grin, looked at Rarity.

“Oooh, Ooooh! Have you heard about the Sky Matron, then? They say she used to be a tailor from around here. Mmh hmm hm-hm o’ the mare o’ the sky, a tailor from Ponyville who knows how to fly...” She began humming a few bars on a corrupted version of Lyra Heartstrings’ old song, but was quickly silenced by a stern Applejack.

“Apple Bloom! I told you not to sing that song! What if somepony hears you?” This failed to deter the filly however, who was well-on her track on one of her favorite subjects.

“But pirates are the good guys, aren’t they? They help those who need it and go on adventure to find treasures!” The little filly beamed, forcing Rarity hide a small smirk of her own as Applejack’s warning eyes met hers. “When I grow up I wanna be a pirate!” At this, Rarity felt it was too much and couldn’t help but chuckle lightly.

“Oh, how I wish that to be true!” she said, making Applejack glare at her. “Truth is, most pirates are only in it for their own benefit, caring little for the common pony.”

“Oh.” Apple Bloom sighed, but her wide-eyed enthusiasm refused to go away. “But there are good pirates right? When I become a pirate, I will give all of my treasure to farmponies so they don’t have to sell their farms and move every time Celestia wants to expand the city. And if Celestia comes and try to force them away, I’ll take my sword and I’ll—” She jumped onto the table to demonstrate, sending apple pies flying in all directions.

“Take that! And that!”

She swung her imaginary sword wildly, slaying equally imaginary opponents before Applejack grabbed a hold of her in a bear hug, forcing her to calm down. In Apple Bloom’s wide innocent eyes, Rarity could see a shadow of her own sister, attacking life with equal amounts of naive enthusiasm. If she was still alive, I think these two would’ve been very good friends.

“Well, who knows, maybe you’ll be a pirate someday,” Rarity let slip with a chuckle.

She suddenly became aware of a deathly cold that hit her and crept down her spine. Looking up, she found Applejack staring into her soul with narrow eyes, oozing discontempt.

“My sister ain’t becoming no pirate, y’hear?” she roared.

“And who are you to decide that?” Rarity snapped back, all sense of politeness and etiquette having disappeared from her mind. “You can’t control her life!”

Applejack hit the table with a forehoof, sending her plate to the floor. Only the sound of the shattering porcelain was enough to halt her will to tackle Rarity where she stood. She suddenly became aware of her family’s startled gazes lingering over her. She huffed before turning around and walking with heavy steps to the entrance. She opened the door and turned her head, glaring once more towards Rarity.

“I don’t wanna see your in our home ever again!” she shouted and slammed the door with enough force to visibly shake the wooden walls of the farmhouse.

Rarity immediately regretted her outburst as she saw Apple Bloom hugging her brother, eyes brimming with tears. Granny Smith who also looked fazed by her granddaughter’s outburst, turned her sad eyes towards Rarity. The eye contact lingered for a fraction of a second, but it was enough for her to understand its plea.

“I apologize to all of you for ruining this dinner,” she said, ignoring her stomach’s complains.

Without another word, she turned around and silently walked out the front door of the Apple’s house. She breathed the cool air of the night and felt a nearly magical inner peace like she never had before, nulling her shame for the situation that just took place.

A few starts faintly shined in the dimly lit sky, adding a bit of gloom to her serene mood as she thought back about how the night sky must have been beautiful when Princess Luna helped to rule Equestria. Hearing hoofsteps, she looked to her left and saw Applejack walking with haggard steps towards the edge of the orchard completely oblivious of Rarity’s presence.

She bit her lip as she watched her slow steps; her presence alone had already caused enough trouble as it was. She thought about approaching the mare to talk, but the farmpony’s expression, unless when angry, was almost unreadable. As if on cue, a gentle breeze came from behind and ruffled her mane and coat, seemingly pushing Rarity forward, as if urging her to go.

She waited a few moments, just observing Applejack as she walked. She stopped by the fence and got up on her hind legs, resting her forehooves onto the white railing before she breathed what surely looked like a weary sigh.

Rarity walked up to her and stopped by her side, keeping her distance out of respect more than wariness. Applejack acknowledged her presence, but did not act likewise; keeping her gaze fixed on the dark sky above.

“Just so you know, I never intended to recruit Apple Bloom to be a sky pirate,” Rarity said to her, ears dropped down apologetically.

“I know.” Came Applejack’s nonchalant reply.

Rarity perked up a bit, glad to see that the farmpony had calmed down. For a moment they both just stood there, gazing into the distance, with nothing pressing to say to each other.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Rarity said, unaware how she should break the ice without resorting to petty small talk.

Applejack smirked briefly, having taken notice of the fact but remained silent nevertheless. Both mares kept looking at the pitch black sky as they both heard nature’s symphony. Being so distant from Ponyville, Rarity was able to hear the cricket’s chirps and the leaves’ rustle with perfection, something that complemented the scenery further. After a few moments of enjoying the visage, she turned to Applejack:

“Thank you. For not telling on us.”

“Thank me? Y’all pretty much forced me to be quiet. Lest my family gets hurt by one of you pirates,” she grumbled.

“I’m sorry about that. But still, I must thank you. You could’ve went to town... called a few ponies. And yet you didn’t...” AJ remained silent for some time, apparently deep in thought.

“I was just doin’ the right thing.” She muttered silently.

Rarity turned to the mare with a quizzical expression, but remained silent, allowing her to further clarify herself. “This... this ain’t right. I may be a simple farmpony, but I... I know that y’all aren’t,” she stopped for a moment and drew out a long sigh. “Things are bad... it’s just that nopony is able to notice...”

Rarity nodded, understanding the mare’s silence perfectçy. They kept looking the darkness above before Applejack continued. “I... I just keep thinkin’ about my family’s safety, y’know? Celestia’s goons and I aren’t exactly on good terms... we already got ourselves in a bunch of trouble with them in the past. And you comin’ here makes it all even worse if one of them were to show up.”

“I’m terribly sorry that our intrusion is making things especially hard for you, Applejack,” Rarity said in the most comforting tone she could muster. “I promise you that as soon as the Elusive is able to handle herself on air again, we will leave you and your family alone. Don’t worry, my crew is trustworthy; they know how to keep a secret.” Applejack shot her another icy glare before snorting. Rarity frowned slightly at this.

“Listen-I know you don’t trust us... and I’m not asking for your trust, Applejack. But I really am thankful for what you and your family are doing. Just know that I won’t forget it.”

Applejack looked at Rarity for a moment before slowly tipping her stetson hat. Rarity nods and slowly walks towards the barn, leaving Applejack alone with her mullings. She kept her weary gaze fixed onto the neatly dressed captain until she disappeared behind the barn’s doors. Her eyes lingered briefly at the wooden building before turning towards the stars above.

Images of her foalhood flashed before her eyes, flooding her being completely. The first time she tried apple bucking with Big Macintosh and hurt her hindlegs. The way her parents carefully embraced her when they finally found her after she decided to spend a whole afternoon in the forest alone to prove that she was a big pony. The day she found out she would be getting a little sister. Her mother’s reassuring smile after a nightmare had caused her to run teary eyed to her parents in the middle of the night. His father’s proud smile as she had to take over his work during cider season. I remember back when getting a cookie after dinner was the crowning achievement of my day, she thought and let out a weary sigh.

Life changed, and it all had happened so fast. The first signs were one of the many dinners spent in complete silence, just for a cacophony of angry shouts to erupt whilst her parents thought her and Big Macintosh to be asleep. She was just a young filly back then, but she still remembered some of the words thrown at each other during those nights.

After it had happened, everything became much too clear for her. Why her father always had those dark, round puffs beneath his eyes. Why her mother occasionally shot a longing stare into an empty bottle when she thought nopony was looking. Why Granny Smith started spending more and more time around with the three Apple siblings. As the pressures around them built up the situation just became too much to handle. Many of their friends and neighbours sold their homes, trying their luck in the big cities. The Apple family, however, had too much pride.

They kept working diligently and without complains. But as the economy’s ever-present grip tightened, they were met with no other alternative other than to sell part of their property. It was a hit that, as Applejack suspected, both her parents never recovered from. In the end, the stress got the best of them, adding up to their physical stress. It all came down to a boil on one seemingly normal day.

She never thought that it would happen as fast as it did; she never thought that it could happen at all. But life under Celestia was rough and Applejack was forced to grow up.

She allowed her eyes to drift freely as the pain from the unhealed wounds assaulted her soul. “Ma... Pa... if y’all are there, I really need your advice on this.” Her eyes brimmed with tears, but she was much too proud to ever let them touch the ground. “I don’t rightly know what to do and I’m scared.”

The stars twinkled faintly amidst the darkness of the celestial sphere above. The breeze picked up slightly, sending a comfortable shiver through her body.

“I just... I just don’t want to make the wrong decision.” Her longing eyes reached the black veil that surrounded the world as more memories brought her to the verge of allowing her emotions to spill. “I really wan—”

“Hey sis!” Apple Bloom called as she galloped towards her sister. Taken aback by the filly’s intrusion, Applejack tipped her stetson over her face, trying to hide her emotions. Apple Bloom, getting the wrong message, slowed down to a trot. “You aren’t mad at me for wanting to be a pirate, are you?” she asked with her ears flattened against her head.

Applejack just turned her head away from her sister as the filly walked near her sister and sat beside her. The silence permeated the air, making Apple Bloom unsure of what to do. Expecting a scolding, she turned to look at her sister, who was now looking intently towards the ground.

“Sis—have you’ve been cryin’?”

“O’ course not!” Applejack said and once again turned away from the filly before cleaning the moisture that threatened to pour from her eyes. Apple Bloom waited for a moment before daring another question.

“What are you doin’ out here on your own?” Apple Bloom’s left eyebrow rose along with her ears.

“I can rightly ask you the same thing, lil’ filly. What are y’all doin’ awake this late? You know that you ought to sleep after dinner,” Applejack said, trying her hardest to smile.

“I can’t sleep, sis! There’s just so much happenin’ today that I feel so excited! I mean—can you believe it? Sky pirates? Near our orchard?!” The filly was so excited at the prospect of having pirates nearby that she didn’t acknowledge Applejack’s eyeroll.

“And that lady Rarity! Gosh, she dresses up so nice! I liked her hat a lot!”

“Hey! What’s wrong with my hat?” Applejack exclaimed, faking a hurt tone and placing one forehoof over her chest.

“It’s yours, sis. I can’t rightly take it.” Applejack looked at her sister’s innocent smile before one of her own formed in her muzzle.

She took her stetson and placed it on the filly’s head. “There... lookin’ real good, Apple Bloom.”

“Gosh, thank you so much, sis! I love it!” Apple Bloom squealed and proceeded to tackle her sister’s forelegs into a tight hug, causing the oversized hat to slump down over her eyes. Applejack could no longer contain her face and streams of sparkly tears streamed down her face.

She didn’t let Applebloom untangle from their embrace until she could be sure most of traces of her tears were gone. After playfully tugging on the brim of the hat and sending the young filly straight to bed, she turned her eyes back to the sky, and mouthed a silent thank you to the darkness above.

Pinkie Pie beamed with pride as she hopped, leading Rarity into the engine deck. The silence was slightly unnerving to her. Without the symphony of wheels spinning, cogs clicking, or greased-up parts squeaking against each other, Rarity felt as if the airships’ heart had stopped. As if feeling her captain’s unease, Pinkie Pie cranked up her phonograph and began to play the triumphant opening chords of a classical tone poem.

“Behold,” she announced, trying her hardest to make her bubbly voice sound ominous. “The latest marvel of modern engineering.” Pinkie Pie gesticulated in perfect synchrony with the music. “I call him mister-pister Governator, the Tenth!”

Rarity rolled her eyes at the purposeful mispronunciation, but held her tongue. Just as the music picked up, a spotlight seemingly came to life on its own, basking the contraption with a yellow hue. Once her spectacle was over, Pinkie Pie looked eagerly to Rarity, awaiting some sort of recognition. The captain, however, studied the new device critically, not looking as enthusiastic as Pinkie Pie hoped she would.

The replacement governor was of a much cruder cut than the elegant brass-piece it had replaced. Part of it was visibly salvaged from a rusty faucet and the whole thing was held together with adhesive tape.

“Wonderful, Pinkie. It really is,” Rarity said, failing to hide the slight concern in her voice. “But when can we expect to be up in the air again? Being on the ground for too long isn’t good for my legs.” Pinkie Pie instantly began to rub her chin as she unconsciously pouted.

“Well, I still have to oil the cogs and pumps, adapt the new governor, recalibrate both the duster and boiler and test the engine once I’m done. A conservative estimate would put it in...” She let the gears in her head grind for a moment as she fast-forwarded the scenario, taking every possibility into account. “Twenty-four hours, twelve minutes and ten seconds,” she concluded, breaking out in a huge grin.

“Good, I’m sure our kind host Applejack will be happy to hear that.” Rarity turned around to leave and nearly collided with a panting Cheerilee. Rarity frowned for a moment before acknowledging the fear in her eyes.

“Come with me, there’s something you need to see! But you’ll have to stay quiet!” Rarity mentally cringed at being ordered something, but found it best to obey her.

Cheerliee led her to a knothole by the side of the barn, surrounded by many curious crewponies. When they saw their captain approaching they made way, granting her passage. Before Rarity could even peek through, she heard a familiar voice that made her freeze up and break out in cold sweat.

“We’ve heard from the children in the town that there might be pirates around,” Twilight Sparkle’s distinct voice sounded.

Looking through the hole, Rarity saw the back of Applejack’s stetson and the headsmare. She couldn’t distinguish her expression though, but her voice had a distinct tinge of annoyance that only Rarity was able to discern.

“Since when does Celestia’s Task Force listen to the idle gossip of lil’ children,” Applejack snapped. Twilight was taken aback a bit, but quickly regained her confidence.

“Oh you'd be surprised,” she said with a smug smile. “Colts and fillies are Celestia's best citizens. They’ll tell you things that adult ponies would prefer to keep a secret.” A The slight twitching of Applejack’s ears betrayed that the meaningful tone in Twilight’s voice hadn’t escaped her.

“Is that so? I thought the Task Force had better things to do than to trespass on the property of a farmer because of some child’s loose imagination.” Applejack took a hostile stance, akin to that of a cornered cat, but Twilight dismissed her with a quick flick of her forehoof.

“I advise caution. Your outspokenness is going to get you in trouble some day. I do have the authority to search your property if I should see fit. You don’t need to concern yourself tough, I just wanted to ask if you’ve seen any strange ponies or suspicious activities around. I merely remind you of your duty, citizen,” Twilight spat the last word.

Applejack fell silent and, inside the barn, protected by a comforting shade, Rarity and an entire crew of pirates waited with bated breath for her response. Some of the pirates motioned towards their weapons, but Rarity held up a hoof to stop them.

“Yeah, I've seen some new folks around town,” Applejack said in her best facsimile of a casual tone. “But I know they ain't the kind yer looking for."

Twilight analyzed this statement as the entire crew breathed a silent sigh of relief. She looked deep into Applejack’s eyes to discern any trace of lying or dishonesty but the farmpony could only assume that she passed her examination.

“Very well, you’ve made your choice. I’m sorry for keeping you,” Twilight said before leaving. Even from this distance, Rarity could see beads of cold sweat breaking out on the back of Applejack’s neck. The captain remained ominously silent as the crew watch her in concern. Feeling their glances against her back, she turned around to address their fears.

“Don’t worry everypony, the unicorn is gone... for now.”

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Comments ( 8 )

Excellent chapter, I really like the premise of this fan fic. I'm putting my bits on Applejack joining the Elusive in the next chapter and possibly for things to get crazy with Twilight bringing back the guards and such.

Or Granny Smith throwing a pot at Rarity.

One of those two.

:rainbowwild:

“I think that the delicate centrifugal governor exceeded its capacity when I deployed the duster to increase our vectorial acceleration, meaning that it is no longer properly regulating the engine’s Rankanine cycle, creating a dissonance in the rollers that is in turn causing the posterior helix to miss approximately...” she stopped, and with her tongue sticking out her mouth, gesticulated with her forehooves as if she was pressing invisible buttons over Rarity’s head.

“Five point seven cycles in every minute,” Pinkie Pie concluded before smiling proudly.

Why would the duster (being essentially a large steam-jet directed vaguely down and back from the ship's centre of gravity) be tied in to the centrifugal governor? Redirecting the pressurised steam through the nozzle should bypass the steam turbines of the ship's power plant, thereby isolating the mechanically-integrated governor from the duster's effects. Even if the governor was damaged enough to allow an over-rev condition within the steam turbines, the only way this would cause the rear rotor to miss is if one or more teeth inside a geared transmission were sheared, meaning that the governor would be the least of their problems when the time came to perform repairs.

I am left to wonder which members of the Apple family shall be spared when Twilight's crew comes to raze the farm. The image of a winged airship bursting through the roof of a burning barn in a cloud of billowing embers is the mythical end that does indeed justify the means...

1636508

Why would the duster (being essentially a large steam-jet directed vaguely down and back from the ship's centre of gravity) be tied in to the centrifugal governor?

Oh sush, :trixieshiftright: I'm a biogeek and my co-author is a med student, neither of us are engineers in any way, shape or form. :twilightblush: If our technical descriptions sound off, it's just cus it's Pinkie Pie designed technology, and it works differently than normal steam engines. :pinkiehappy:

1637020

All things considered, the basic design of the Elusive really isn't that far from being sound. The wings are probably the most dubious bit of engineering, but aerostats using wings for propulsion (with and without propellers for additional thrust) were successfully built and flown back in the late Eighteenth Century. The size and bulk of the three- or four-level car beneath the envelope would merely necessitate a larger gas envelope to compensate, and (assuming a non- or semi-rigid design without too many gas cells) could fit within a large barn once the envelope was deflated.

I know I'm over-thinking it, but truth be told I'm having a blast doing so. :pinkiecrazy:

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I know I'm over-thinking it, but truth be told I'm having a blast doing so. :pinkiecrazy:

Overthinking is fun, knock yourself out. :pinkiehappy:

The size and bulk of the three- or four-level car beneath the envelope would merely necessitate a larger gas envelope to compensate, and (assuming a non- or semi-rigid design without too many gas cells) could fit within a large barn once the envelope was deflated.

That's a load off my mind then, I was afraid that someone would point out that Applejack barn must be ENORMOUS if an entire friggin airship can fit it. :rainbowlaugh:

All things considered, the basic design of the Elusive really isn't that far from being sound. The wings are probably the most dubious bit of engineering

TO put it MILDLY :rainbowderp: I mean, Gadget Hackwrench would be proud of this design, but it does owe its existence more to victorian science FICTION than it does victorian science... :raritydespair:

Pinkie Pie's little tirade in this chapter is pure technobabble, read it as "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow..." or eqvivalent. :twilightblush: We do like to discuss while writing about how various pieces of tech works, we developed no less than three systems Twilight could use to reload her gun when our pre-reader complained about it not being clear exactly HOW she did that, and not satisfied with my explanation ("Uhm.... it's like cunnulingus, it involves the mouth and a lot of enthusiasm." :rainbowwild:) But there's a limit to how realistic one can make a 1600-era pirate ship being airborne with 1800-century technology, at one point you just have to go "it just DOES, okay?" :twilightblush:

1644481

That's a load off my mind then, I was afraid that someone would point out that Applejack barn must be ENORMOUS if an entire friggin airship can fit it. :rainbowlaugh:

Well, suspension of disbelief and all that. :raritywink: I've been picturing each deck of the car having ceilings just a bit taller than the head of an average pony, leading to an overall car height somewhere in the neighbourhood of two stories tall. Deflate the gas cells in the envelope, fold the wings, and I can imagine the whole thing fitting inside a lofted barn with tall double-doors. I'm picturing a gabled American-style barn here, and those can be rather large inside.

TO put it MILDLY :rainbowderp: I mean, Gadget Hackwrench would be proud of this design, but it does owe its existence more to victorian science FICTION than it does victorian science... :raritydespair:

Using wings for propulsion was something the French were experimenting with alongside hand-crank propellers, back before on-board powerplants were seriously experimented with. They never really worked all that well (aerostats were little more than hot-air balloons at this point in time), but such a system was proven to have some functionality over their contemporary conceptual competitors. The steam engine and rotor render the wings largely pointless, but they're just lovely to imagine. :raritystarry:

... We developed no less than three systems Twilight could use to reload her gun when our pre-reader complained about it not being clear exactly HOW she did that, and not satisfied with my explanation ("Uhm.... it's like cunnulingus, it involves the mouth and a lot of enthusiasm." :rainbowwild:).

... I wasn't going to bring that one up. :twilightsheepish:

I still love this story! :raritywink:

1658258 Lucefudu has [jokingly] asked me to ask you to take over this story a long while ago. I simply forgot about it until stumbling upon your comment here. Well, I guess that, from what he told me of his chats with Owlor, that dude would be okay with it too.

But I don't want to be pushy.

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