• Published 4th Jan 2012
  • 25,640 Views, 1,518 Comments

The Flight of the Alicorn - Ponydora Prancypants

Rarity finds herself forced into an unlikely alliance when her airship crashes far from home.

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I. Girl on the Go

I. Girl on the Go

“I can’t possibly disappoint the Canterlot elite by rejecting their invitations, now can I?”

Rarity had asked herself that question a hundred times until it became more a mantra than an interrogatory, and now she asked it again as she stood waiting at a corner of the intersection of Troika and Thoroughbred in the heart of the Canterlot fashion district. The last two days had been a whirlwind of hobnobbing at one elegant engagement after another, until her head was swimming with a melange of unfamiliar ponies and places. All of them were fabulous, and nearly all of them were becoming indistinguishable in her overstuffed mind.

She could stop now, of course. She could go back to her suite at the castle, turn down the lights, and ignore the inevitable invitations that would follow her. She had a promise to Twilight to keep, after all, and there wasn’t much time left to finish her friend’s birthday dress before the special occasion.

“I can’t possibly disappoint the Canterlot elite,” Rarity whispered the words again, this time inaudible above the urban clamor around her. “Can I?”

“Rarity!” a now-familiar voice shattered her monologue, and she looked up to watch its owner step out of an elegant new steam-driven carriage. Fancypants, dashing as always, wore a gray scarf over his navy blazer and a captain’s hat, complete with embroidered anchor, was perched jauntily atop his head. He trotted gaily toward her with his customary jovial smile and a twinkle in his blue eyes. Rarity suppressed a grimace as she realized he had fully dressed the part of a sailor for today's excursion. She could only hope her striped red and white dress was nautical enough for the occasion.

“I’m here,” Rarity replied dumbly, her mind still not yet completely in the moment. The witty repartee would come, as it always did, she reminded herself

“Indeed, my dear, here you are!” Fancypants exclaimed gleefully in his impossibly perfect Canterlot accent. “To my great delight. Now, are you ready for a glorious afternoon among the clouds?”

“Ready, mon capitan,” Rarity replied, following her affirmation with a gracious smile.

“Right then, let’s hop to it." He draped a foreleg over Rarity’s shoulder and turned her toward his waiting carriage. As they approached the open door of the modern, self-propelled vehicle, Rarity gratefully braced herself against Fancypants’ extended hoof and stepped up and into the passenger compartment. The compartment was unsurprisingly luxurious, filled to capacity as it was with plush cushions, expensive fabrics, decorative gold filigree and gems. Fancypants’ smartly-dressed driver had his own seat up front. Rarity noted that in place of reins, the driver held his front hooves in some sort of yoke affixed to a metal column. That strange device had to be the steering mechanism for the carriage.

“To Canterlot Skyport, Coltsworth,” Fancypants declared upon pulling himself into the vehicle and magically closing the door behind.

“Of course, sir,” the driver replied deferentially.

The carriage vibrated from what Rarity recognized was the steam engine adding power, and the vehicle shuddered and lurched into motion. It was not the smoothest ride she had experienced, but she had to admire the novelty of the conveyance.

“I’ve never had the pleasure of travelling by means of steam carriage before,” Rarity admitted, speaking loudly enough to be heard over the thrum of the engine.

“I’m not so sure I would quite call it a pleasure,” Fancypants responded, bracing himself against the side of the compartment as they bounced and bumped through Canterlot. “Nevertheless I feel that it is my patriotic duty to patronize the technological innovators in our fair country of Equestria.” He paused. “I also must confess that I have no small financial investment in the company that produced this contraption, and perhaps my crass public display of riding the metal beast about town will drive further interest in the development of the new power source. I belong to the cadre of ponies who believe that engines will eventually become part of our everyday lives. After all, enchantments have their limitations.”

“Indeed,” Rarity replied. “With new pony settlements springing up in the borderlands, far from the magilectric grid, the steam engine may indeed be the key to making life on the frontier more appealing, and easing the overcrowding in the major cities.”

“Quite right,” Fancypants replied, his face expressing appreciation and delight. “Rarity, you are a gem, and a cut above the mindless aristocracy I find myself mired in daily. I must know where you received your excellent education.”

Rarity dared not answer that question. How could she tell the most important unicorn stallion in Canterlot, the great tycoon and tastemaker Fancypants, that the sum total of her formal education had been received at Ponyville Day School? Were he to learn the truth of her provincial upbringing, then surely the rest of her charade would be made plain as well. Fancypants would realize that she was not a noble, a mogul, or a very important pony. Despite the Canterlot accent she had cultivated for years, despite all she had achieved in bringing attention to her fashion business, she was still merely a unicorn named Rarity, born and raised in the bumpkin farming village of Ponyville. Once Fancypants realized that she didn’t belong here, it would all be over, and she would be on the first train back home.

It didn’t matter that she bore the spirit of one of the Elements of Harmony, nor that she had helped save all of Equestria twice. Canterlotian elites cared little for current events and even less for violent conflicts. Their attention was focused inward on the gossip and intrigues of their families and noble houses. It was no surprise to Rarity that on this trip she had not been recognized even once for her part in stopping the threats of Night Mare Moon and Discord. Fancypants would have no time for her if he knew the truth, of that Rarity was certain. Mercifully, she was able to dodge his inquiry.

“Another time, perhaps?” Rarity replied coyly. “It appears we have arrived at the Skyport.” Rarity gestured at the carriage window, inviting Fancypants to look for himself. Outside, massive cylindrical hangars loomed overhead, climbing in a long row up the side of Mount Equestria. Dockworkers and longshoreponies trotted briskly past, hurrying about their business of managing the loading and unloading of cargo at the busy port. Rarity looked up as a long shadow swept past and saw the boom of an enormous port crane swing overhead with a suspended cargo container hanging underneath.

“Too right,” Fancypants agreed. “Another time, then.” With Coltsworth’s steady hooves on the control column, the carriage maneuvered deftly through the port and past an ornate golden gate that led to the private marina where the wealthiest Canterlotians kept their airyachts. The carriage rumbled to a halt in front of the stately home of the Royal Yacht Club. Fancypants opened the door and, after a small jump to the cobblestones below, courteously assisted Rarity down.

“Thank you ever so much for inviting me to accompany you on this cruise around the mountains,” Rarity said. Even after spending multiple days in his company, Rarity was unsure of Fancypants’ apparent fascination with her. She harbored no delusion that his interest was romantic. She had seen firsthoof that his consorts were mares so dauntingly beautiful that they almost resembled the alicorn princesses more than they did mere unicorns. While Rarity considered herself an attractive mare, especially by Ponyville standards, she in no way rivaled Princess Celestia. She flattered herself to think that he could find her interesting, for the illusion of worldliness that she projected was nothing more than the product of books, magazines, travel journals, and more than anything else, her own innate sense of style. No, Fancypants’ interest remained a mystery.

Unlike Fancypants and his friends, class was not Rarity’s birthright. She suppressed a laugh at the idea of admitting that her mother was a simple homemaker and her father was a former college hoofball star from Whinnyapolis who had played one season professionally for the Broncos before injuries sidelined him permanently. He had then provided for his wife and daughters by teaching primary school athletics. Rarity’s parents were as far removed from high society and its rules and manners as any two ponies could be.

“Of course, I’m simply thrilled to have you along,” Fancypants replied. “Have you had the opportunity for much cloud cruising before?”

“I’ve never actually had the pleasure,” Rarity replied honestly. She gave nothing away with the admission. Very few unicorns actually plied the skies on airships, as flying was traditionally seen as the sole purview of pegasi. It was a relatively small subset of the rich and noble among whom sky yachting was a popular pastime.

“Then my dear, you are in for a treat. You see, today is actually my first time taking company out on Fancy Free. She was only launched and had her shakedown cruise last week. She’s actually a new design of fast pleasure cruiser that I commissioned from Canterlot’s premier naval architecture firm,” Fancy Pants explained.

“I can’t wait to take her out,” Rarity replied. At that moment, a large carriage pulled by four strong young earth ponies drove into the yard in front of the yacht club and the rest of the yachting party stepped out. Rarity’s throat caught for a moment as she scanned the faces of the earth ponies pulling the carriage, wondering whether any of them might recognize her from Ponyville. It was common for many young stallions from town who wanted to see the big city to take short-term carriage team jobs in Canterlot. It was good money, and rumors abounded of the opportunities for liaisons with lonely high-class ladies. She relaxed only once she was certain that they were unfamiliar to her.

The four guests rounding out the yachting party were old friends of Fancypants. Swan Song and Goldilocks were unicorns, wealthy heiresses and widows of noble birth who delighted in hosting soirees renowned across Canterlot. Top Shelf and Chevalier were earth pony stallions, lacking in magic and a horn but not wanting for wealth. Top Shelf, who always wore lapels and a silk top hat, owned the most famous distillery in Equestria. Chevalier was from old Manehattan money. According to Fancypants, both stallions had been taking great pains to get closer to the two widows of late. They were all nice enough ponies. In fact, Rarity had agreed to attend Swan Song’s dinner party later that night, before catching a late performance at the opera. The cavalcade of events kept coming, and Rarity found herself for the first time feeling a hint of pity for the ponies whose lives consisted of these social engagements day after day.

“Shall we?” Fancypants asked, beckoning toward the club entrance. Rarity and the others followed. The lobby of the yacht club was filled with aeronautical textures and colors; dark wood trimmed with blue and gold accents. The far wall was an enormous picture window looking out into open air and over the rolling hills and green fields far below the mountain. The effect, Rarity realized, was to give the illusion that the club itself was a grand airship floating amidst the clouds. Off of the lobby were parlors and club rooms where stylish mares and stallions gathered around long wooden tables and sipped beverages. Fancypants informed a club attendant that he wished to take out his yacht, and the attendant spoke instructions into a conical tube that Rarity supposed was somehow used to relay messages to club employees at the marina outside.

“I’ve asked the good ponies of the club here to prepare my yacht for us. They’ll have her larder and bar stocked, and the lines ready to cast off in a jiffy,” Fancypants said, turning back to the group. “Ordinarily, I’d delight in prepping her myself, but today I’m anxious to be out in the wild blue yonder, and these folks are much quicker than I in getting a vessel shipshape.”

Rarity nodded, and the other four ponies resumed gossiping among themselves. At that moment, Rarity happened to glance at a large oil painting hanging above the massive fireplace on one side of the lobby, and barely suppressed a gasp. The painting was a masterfully accurate portrait of a fiendishly handsome white unicorn stallion with a flowing blond mane and sky blue eyes, and wearing an aviator’s hat with goggles pulled up to perch atop his broad forehead. Rarity recognized the likeness instantly, and the recognition sent a chill down her spine.

Him. The painting depicted none other than Blueblood, prince of Canterlot. After her disastrous first encounter with the prince at the previous year’s Grand Galloping Gala, Rarity had fervently hoped that she would never have misfortune of meeting him again. As luck would have it, her wish had not been granted. Only yesterday evening she had seen Blueblood again at a dance and card party at Count Przewalski’s manor house near the royal palace. If anypony could have spoiled her foray into high society, he could have in a moment, for after the Gala he doubtless learned from Princess Celestia herself just who his ill-starred date had been. It was a minor miracle that he had kept his distance and said nothing. After all, he was an egomaniacal twerp, and she imagined he would, under ordinary circumstances, like nothing better than to out an interloper like herself, especially since he seemed the type to carry a grudge. Perhaps, Rarity supposed, the constant glare she had shot his direction had encouraged him to leave her be.

Why did he have his portrait here in the Royal Yacht Club, dressed in that ridiculous aviator’s costume? Rarity guessed Blueblood was the type of pony who enjoyed lounging on his couch and ordering his servants to fetch him more sparkling wine and black lentil caviar, not the type who would voluntarily slip the bonds of earth and take to the sky. She filed away a mental note to ask Fancypants about the portrait once they had some privacy. She dared not indicate a personal interest in the prince in front of the others, who would take great pleasure in spreading and exaggerating that information to the far corners of Canterlot.

“You look as if your mind is elsewhere, my dear,” Fancypants commented, snapping Rarity back to the present.

“Do I?” Rarity replied, feigning surprise. “I was just taking in the decor. One never knows when the aeronautical style may return to mainstream fashion, and this place is such a perfect example of the genre.”

“Ah, quite so,” Fancypants replied, apparently finding the answer satisfactory. “If you enjoy the club, you will find Fancy Free most splendid. As a matter of fact, the manager has just informed me that she will be pulling up to the dock momentarily. Shall we go and watch?”

“I would like that very much,” Rarity answered.

“Excellent!” Fancypants proclaimed enthusiastically. He addressed his other guests. “Friends, we are about to embark on the day’s adventure. Please, follow me.”

Rarity and the others trailed behind Fancypants as he led them into a hallway leading off the lobby and then through a thick oak door to the marina behind the yacht club. Unlike the marinas in the lakes around Ponyville, here there were no wooden piers or forests of bare masts reaching upward like dead trees, but merely a wide flat stone plaza ending in a sheer drop, its edge hewn completely straight so that airships could pull up alongside. The vessels themselves could not be stored indefinitely in the air, and were kept secure on dry land until ready for flight. To her left, Rarity could see something massive slowly turning around a corner of the mountain and knew that it must be Fancypants’ airship.

Rarity and at least one of the others gasped, and she took a few steps backward toward the relative safety of the yacht club as she saw that it was not a ship, but a monster that emerged into view. It appeared to be a massive, wide-eyed sea purple sea creature, somehow gliding through the sky with its thick and powerful flippers. Rarity looked at Fancypants, and was surprised to see that he looked rather more pleased than terrified.

“Ha ha!” Fancypants laughed. “There she is, fillies and gentlecolts, Fancy Free, my new vacation home in the sky.”

Rarity took in this information and cautiously looked again at the flying monstrosity as it drew near. Now that it had cleared the mountain, she could see that the creature was in reality a large balloon with a decoratively embroidered cover in the shape of a sea beast. Below the balloon thick cables held suspended a graceful hull painted purple and festooned with propulsive and steering fins covered in gold leaf. She collected herself, and managed to turn to Fancypants to reservedly remark on the beauty of the vessel.

Fancy Free is the first of her kind,” Fancypants said proudly. “She’s completely steam-driven, and equipped with all sorts of gears and gyros to control the steering and even hold course and altitude with nopony at the helm. She’s also the fastest pleasure yacht in Canterlot.”

The airship pulled up to the stone wharf and a pony standing on the vessel’s deck threw ropes down to another yacht club attendant who secured the lines to metal cleats bolted to the stone. A wheeled ramp was quickly pushed over and fasted to the airship so that Fancypants and his guests could safely go aboard.

Rarity was afraid of many things, failure and public humiliation chief among them. Height and open space, fortunately, were not among her fears, and she quickly scampered up the ramp right behind Fancypants. When his guests were aboard and the yacht club staff had gone ashore, Fancypants asked Chevalier and Top Shelf to help him haul in the dock lines. After they had cast off, the club staff used long poles to push the yacht away from the wharf.

“And now, I am happy to announce that we are officially underway!” said Fancypants, walking toward a steering console jutting out from the open deck toward the stern. “I believe you will find hors d’oeuvres and champagne set out near the bow,” he said as he took up a position behind the helm. Rarity could see him fiddling with levers and knobs, and then the large ship’s wheel glowed with yellow light as Fancypants magically took control of it. Rarity could hear the steam engine chugging below deck, and felt its vibration as the deck pitched underneath her and the airship turned. Feeling a little like an excited schoolfilly, Rarity could not stop her hooves from carrying her over to the railing to watch as the Skyport and all of Canterlot began to recede in the distance. The sky was almost perfectly clear, and she could see far below as the rocky crags of the mountains gave way to the green fields and vales of the countryside around the capital. On the side of the airship’s hull, large sail-like fins swept powerfully forward and backward in a semicircular motion, pulling the craft through the air. It might not match the effortless grace with which pegasi lorded over the sky, but the new Canterlot technology was beautiful in its own way.

“My dear, you seem to be enjoying yourself,” Fancypants said, appearing suddenly at Rarity’s side.

“I’ve always found that flying gives one such a wonderful feeling of freedom,” Rarity replied.

“But I thought you had never had the pleasure of traveling aboard an airship?” Fancypants reminded her.

Rarity dared not launch into the story of the time when she had briefly owned a beautiful pair of magical translucent wings, and had pirouetted through the air around the pegasus city of Cloudsdale. Such a story was unseemly for a cultured and demure Canterlot lady, and she couldn’t chance Fancypants figuring that she was really an undereducated country girl with overly lofty aspirations. “Oh,” Rarity began, “well, I have been up in an uncontrolled hot air balloon before, but never an airship like yours.”

“Ah, of course. Well, I imagine that someday every pony in Equestria will find airship travel as common and easy as walking. Why, it was only a generation ago that the first train tracks were laid down, and just this year that the modern steam locomotive began operating between Canterlot and the neighboring towns. Did you know that the consumer price of apples in Canterlot has fallen by half since we started bringing them up the mountain from Ponyville by train?”

“Truly, you paint a dazzling picture of the future,” Rarity answered. “I imagine there will always be unicorns and earth ponies who would rather keep their hooves on the ground, though.”

“Indeed,” Fancypants dismissively replied. “But then, progress waits for nopony.” He paused. “Come now, would you like a tour of the ship? It appears my other friends are quite preoccupied with each other at the moment, so we should be able to steal away.”

Rarity saw that Top Shelf and Chevalier were practically fumbling over each other trying to hand drinks and plates of snacks to the ladies, and she failed to suppress a laugh at the sight. “I’d be happy to accompany you, but who will steer the ship?” she asked.

“A fine question,” Fancypants replied. “I’ll explain as we walk.” He beckoned with a hoof for Rarity to follow, and then opened a door behind the steering column to reveal a staircase leading down into the airship’s cabin. Rarity followed as Fancypants descended the stairs.

“The navigation controls on my airship are a marvel of clockwork design,” Fancypants said as he and Rarity entered the airship’s opulent main salon. “I am able to use the control knobs to set a heading and desired altitude as well as an amount of time to travel on the chosen course. I am even able to record multiple vectors so that the ship can turn around and head back toward Canterlot after a predetermined period of time. The control gears interlock with multiple clocks as well as the altimeter and gyroscope, and all are connected via gears and cables to the fins that maneuver and propel the airship. It’s an absolutely brilliant system, all invented by the pony who designed the ship.”

“It sounds ingenious,” Rarity agreed. “Do you know the ship’s architect personally?”

“Indeed not, sadly. The company that built Fancy Free is called North Star, and they maintain intensive security around their designs and designers in order to protect against corporate espionage. I suppose I might have ways of finding out who was responsible if I truly desired to know, but I value my good relationship with the company too much for that.” Fancypants paused. “I apologize for boring you with all this claptrap about business and technology, I’ve been utterly selfish getting carried away like that.”

“Not at all,” Rarity replied. “Your passion for the amazing technology that is being developed today is actually quite infectious. In my line of work I haven’t the need to keep abreast of the latest science, since there hasn’t been an advancement since the first automagical sewing machine was enchanted a generation ago.” Rarity didn’t mention that she kept close tabs on research into new artificial fabrics that was currently underway at various fashion houses across the country. She hadn’t yet had the opportunity to ask about Blueblood, and she knew Fancypants would be able to carry on about science and technology for the rest of the flight if she encouraged him to do so.

They continued on, and Fancypants showed Rarity the rest of the well appointed airship, including three staterooms, and observation lounge with viewing portholes on the walls and floor, and the cramped and deafeningly loud engine compartment. Finally, the tour was complete and Fancypants offered a glass of champagne back in the main salon, which Rarity accepted. After her first sip, she dared ask the question that was eating at her.

“If I may be so bold, I’d like to inquire about a pony whose portrait I saw hanging in the lobby of the yacht club,” Rarity opened.

“Hm, oh, you must be referring to the painting of the Duke of Canterlot,” Fancypants replied. “It seems only right that he should have his portrait hanging, since after all he is the royal patron of the club.”

Rarity coughed. Mercifully she was between sips, or she would have spewed champagne at Fancypants. “The … Duke … of Canterlot?” she repeated haltingly. Blueblood was a Prince, of course. The Prince.

“Indeed. I suppose that you’ve deduced that I know His Grace personally,” Fancypants continued.

Rarity’s confusion grew, as she had absolutely no idea how she might have deduced any such thing. Now, however, she was aware that Fancypants knew Blueblood. Rarity could not imagine how a courteous and genteel pony like Fancypants could even bear to be in the same room with an insufferable brat like Blueblood. “Of course,” Rarity answered, covering her ignorance with a feigned smile. “I was hoping you would tell me a little more about the … duke.”

“Ah, yes, I understand it now,” Fancypants replied with a chuckle. “The duke is Canterlot’s most eligible bachelor, and you’d like an ‘in.’ Very shrewd, and surprisingly forward of you, my dear.”

Rarity felt queasy upon hearing Fancypants’ supposition, but she dared not correct him now, as he appeared poised to tell her what she wanted to hear.

“As you correctly guessed, I know Duke Polaris quite well, as he quite famously owns and runs North Star Shipwrights, and he is perhaps the only pony more crazy about airships and steam technology that I am.” Fancypants gave Rarity a sorrowful look. “But I’m afraid that I must inform you that Polaris is a world-class ass, and when I make that comparison I must apologize to all of the donkeys and asses of the world, because they truly don’t deserve to be associated with him. I strongly advise you to stay as far away from His Grace as possible.”

That description confirmed it, as far as Rarity was concerned. Somehow, Duke Polaris and Prince Blueblood were the same pony. “Oh, but that can’t be true!” she replied, throwing a hoof to her mouth in mock surprise at Fancypants’ strong words. “Why, I’ve heard that he is positively princely!”

Fancypants laughed. “Don’t let the meaningless title fool you. Polaris may be the eldest scion of the old royal family, but calling him Prince Blueblood doesn’t magically make him charming. I take great pains to limit my interaction with the duke to transacting business with his company. Unfortunately, there is no better shipbuilder in Equestria than North Star.”

Rarity covered her surprise as best she could, but internally she reeled from the shock of the revelation that “Prince Blueblood” was merely an honorary name, and not the true identity of the obnoxious royal. What else was she mistaken about? “I certainly appreciate your perspective,” she said to Fancypants. “If I ever have the opportunity to meet the duke, I’ll keep what you’ve told me in mind.”

Fancypants cocked his head and flashed a mysterious grin at Rarity. “If I told you you could meet him this afternoon, would you be interested?” he asked.

Rarity felt her gorge rise at the thought of being forced together with Blueblood while Fancypants was in attendance. That would be the end of her play at being a very important pony. At the same time, she couldn’t very well refuse the offer without drawing more suspicion. After all, no high society pony would refuse Fancypants’ offer of an introduction with a prominent royal. There was no way out. “Oh, what a generous offer!” she said. “Thank you, but I could never take advantage of your station or commit such an imposition on your time.” She had to seem reticent, but not too reticent.

“Nonsense, there’s no imposition,” Fancypants replied. “As a matter of fact, Duke Polaris will be at the yacht club by the time we return, preparing for the launching ceremony of his own new airship. When I placed my order for Fancy Free, Polaris decided he would have to build one of the new class for himself as well, rather than allow me to have sole possession of the title of owner of the most amazing yacht in Canterlot. I’ll simply arrange for the two of us to attend the ceremony, and introduce you to the Duke there. I expect you’ll see His Grace’s true colors quickly enough.”

“How can I refuse?” Rarity replied, and smiled wanly.

The ponies finished their champagne and returned to the upper deck just as Fancy Free was automatically executing its turn back toward Canterlot. Rarity could faintly see the contoured domes and sharp spires of the capital glinting in the afternoon sun far in the distance. She and Fancypants joined the others for idle conversation and another glass of champagne as they made for home port. As they drew closer to the city, a knot tightened in Rarity’s stomach and she found she had little appetite for the delicate morsels that Fancypants had provided for the ponies’ cruise. She did, however, manage to quaff more champagne. Perhaps the liquid courage would enable her to find a way out of the trap she was heading for. Irrespective of that, at least it would make her feel a little better about her impending unceremonious exit from Canterlot high society. She magically suspended her glass one more time as Fancypants poured. As with everything else he did, the stallion poured generously.