• Published 4th Jan 2012
  • 25,718 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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X. Eyes of the Storm

X. Eyes of the Storm

As Rarity plunged through the rain and storm clouds, terrified and screaming, her overriding primal instinct for self-preservation fought with the rational part of her that was trying to convince her mind and body to shut down and accept the inevitable. Her panicked brain, casting about for some means of saving itself, flashed through a hundred useless thoughts and images, all in less than a second, before settling on her one chance for survival. Walk on clouds.

After the Cloudsdale debacle, Rarity had begged Twilight to show her how to cast the spell. She had traded her gem-finding spell for it, and the two unicorns had worked with each other for a long afternoon until Rarity was sure she had learned it. It wasn’t a terribly advanced spell, and she’d successfully turned it off and on, practicing on the little tuft of cloud that Rainbow Dash had provided.

She forced herself to stop screaming and turn her fear-addled brain to the business of spell-casting. Rarity concentrated on the image of a cloud becoming tangible beneath her hooves, but hesitated to activate the spell. The moment had to be right, or she might cast it as she passed through a cloud, and she didn’t dare imagine what the consequences of such a mistake might be. Eyes opened wide to the stinging wind and rain, she saw open space and the dark roiling surface of a cloud directly below her. If she passed through the remaining cloud layer, there would be nothing but air between her and the ground below. It was now or never. Rarity cast the spell.

It only took a fraction of a second for her to reach the surface of the cloud below, and it greeted Rarity with the painful and gut-wrenching shock of sudden deceleration. It did not, however, completely arrest her fall. Instead, the cloud deformed as Rarity sank down into an ever-deepening depression, stretching thinner and wider until the entire cloud finally burst in an explosion of water droplets and ice crystals. Rarity fell again, screaming, but only for a short moment. The next cloud floated just below the first, and Rarity bounced once, twice, and then came to rest.

She was alive, if windblown, soaking wet, and shivering. The tropical warmth far below did nothing for her at this altitude, in this storm. Glancing upward, she saw no sign of Fancy Free. There had to be layers of clouds between her and the airship at this point. Saving herself from falling would be small consolation if there was nopony to rescue her. Either she would perish from hypothermia, or she would simply plummet again once the storm dissipated. That would be an inglorious end after managing to save herself once already. Lightning flashed, forking from cloud to cloud above her and filling the air with the scent of ozone. She wondered what would happen if her own cloud discharged a lightning bolt. She’d probably end up the same way that Spike liked his hay fries - extra crispy.

Rarity struggled to calm her nerves and keep from hyperventilating in the thin air. Somepony - some ponies - had just tried to kill her! She had begun to develop suspicions of Windlass being less than forthright about some things, but Rarity never supposed that the young mare planned to try to murder her, or that Colonel Tempest was her accomplice. She thought she was figuring things out, when in reality she was playing the part of the foolish ingenue, naïvely blundering into the clutches of enemies she didn’t even know she had.

“You could have had a nice, safe, pleasant, and long life in Ponyville, if only you’d never dreamed of fame, fortune, and Canterlot,” she muttered. Clinging to the cloud’s heaving fluffiness, body shivering and teeth chattering from the cold, Rarity suspected that she was only marking time before the inevitable. She was living her nightmare of falling from the sky, but without a means of waking up and making it all go away. After a time she began to feel drowsy, and Rarity knew her body was starting to give up the fight against the elements. When a winged golden pony pierced the clouds above her, Rarity wasn’t even surprised. She merely felt pleased to see that such a fabulous escort had come to take her to wherever lay beyond this life. She hoped there would be hats.

As the clouds parted behind the golden pony, though, Rarity bolted upright on the cloud top with what strength remained in her. The airship Alicorn burst from the storm and into the clear space between clouds, no more than a hundred lengths distant, its golden figurehead leading the way. Rarity was at such an angle that she could even see Blueblood standing at the control column, gripping the wheel to keep a steady course in the high winds. This was either serendipity or cruel misfortune, but Blueblood represented her only chance for salvation. Rarity shouted and screamed for help with every ounce of energy she had. If she could see Blueblood, then he could see her, if only she could cause him to look in her direction.

Closer and closer the Alicorn flew, until she was scarcely a stone’s throw from her captain. Rarity could have even sworn that Blueblood turned his begoggled gaze directly toward her. The airship, however, never even slowed down. Rarity stopped shouting for a moment to watch, helplessly, as Blueblood steamed away from her. Then, having no other recourse, she began to rage in the Alicorn’s wake.

“You, you monster! You utter lout! You waste of perfectly good hay and oxygen! How dare you leave me? Come back here this instant! I’ll … I’ll haunt your dreams after I’m gone, you overgrown, unmannered, ill-bred schoolcolt! I’ll …” Rarity’s stream of invective trailed off as she watched the Alicorn ponderously turn, its hull swinging outward from its large balloon, and began coming back toward her. As it slowed directly over her patch of cloud, a thick rope fell from the ship to dangle in front of her, and Blueblood’s face poked out over the side of the airship.

“That’s not really you, is it?” he called out.

“Who else in Equestria do you think it might be, hmm? Do I look like a cloud sprite? Perhaps a windigo?” Rarity managed, fighting to suppress chattering of her teeth. “Now get me out of here!” She bit down on the rope and did her best to clamp onto it with her legs. Her magic was exhausted, and the cloudwalking spell gave out. Rarity could not afford to let go of the rope, so she clung for dear life as Blueblood used magic, supplemented by the strength of his own jaws and teeth, to haul her aboard. Rarity collapsed to the deck in a sodden heap.

“How?” he asked, walking quickly back to the ship’s wheel. “I thought I was losing my mind, but then I realized that I would never hallucinate something so ridiculous as you, shivering, standing on top of a cloud.”

“B-blanket,” Rarity stammered, shivering.

“What’s that? I’m asking how you came to be standing on that cloud just now.”

“Blanket now,” Rarity reiterated.

“Why in Equestria do you think I’m talking about blankets? I’m asking you how you got on that cloud where I found you. Where did you even learn a spell that would allow you to do such a thing?”

Get … me … a … blanket!” Rarity shouted weakly, gritting her teeth and glaring at Blueblood, before flopping pathetically back down onto the deck and huddling in a fetal position.

“Oh,” Blueblood said, finally appearing to comprehend. “Okay.”

Rarity watched as he magically took hold of what appeared to be a jagged piece of board and jammed in in between the spokes of the ship’s wheel, effectively preventing it from turning. She idly wondered how the supposedly most advanced airship in the world could lack the automatic steering mechanism that she had learned to operate on Fancy Free, and instead be relegated to such a crude solution. Blueblood then opened a hatch behind the steering console and disappeared out of sight. A short moment later he raised his head out of the hatch and called to her.

“Come down here. It’s dry, and you can warm up. If I am going to be recognized for heroically rescuing you, I can’t have you expire on my ship.”

Rarity attempted to stagger to her hooves, but she was simply too tired and cold. Blueblood waited for a few seconds, but eventually understood that she wasn’t going anywhere under her own power. He emerged from the hatch, shoved his forelegs under Rarity, and lifted her, awkwardly balancing on her his rear legs. Careful step by careful step, he descended a folding staircase that led down to the Alicorn’s cabin.

Rarity was struck first by the fact that it was toasty warm belowdecks on the Alicorn, probably because the ship was substantially smaller than Fancy Free and its boiler and steam engine had to be relatively closer to the cabin. Second, the ship was far less spartan than she had become accustomed to since leaving Canterlot. Likely due to the fact that Blueblood flew alone and therefore only needed to carry provisions for one, he had found room for a real bed with a mattress and blankets, a small stove, a tin coffee pot, and a drafting desk which could perform double duty as a table. A sink with faucets appeared to be capable of producing running water, and the fact that a basin of steaming water had been placed at the foot of the bed led credence to this hypothesis. Oddly, the entire area was immaculate, as if nothing in it had been touched. Blueblood was a fussy pony, but not even Rarity herself could keep a room this tidy, especially if nopony was around to see it.

“For me?” Rarity half-whispered, as Blueblood set her down on the bed.

“You are nearly frozen, and half-drowned,” the stallion replied with a shrug. “If you keel over I’ll never learn how you ended up on a cloud in the middle of a thunderstorm.” He paused. “Also, since Fancypants is now disqualified for losing a crewmember, and one of the race markers,” Blueblood indicated the strand of pearls Rarity still wore, “I can take the rest of the rest of the race at my leisure. None of the others has a chance of keeping up with the Alicorn.” Blueblood disappeared up the stairs to the upper deck, closing the hatch behind him.

Rarity was in no state even to chastise Blueblood for his lack of chivalry in leaving her. Instead, she sat up, pulled all the blankets from the bed and wrapped them tightly around her, and plunged her rear hooves into the basin of hot water. The sudden warmth was sweet relief, and vigor began to spread from her core to her extremities. As a spark of life returned, Rarity reflected on her current situation. Miraculously, she was alive. Furthermore, the fact that Blueblood had rescued her appeared to be proof positive that he, at least, was not part of the plot to be rid of her. Rid of her! What a thought! The very idea that there were ponies, and perhaps griffons and Celestia knew what else, who had it in their minds to murder her would have been farcical if it weren’t a matter of her own life and death. She was just a fashion designer from Ponyville, of all places. Why would she be targeted? It wasn’t fair!

It was true that she represented the spirit of the Element of Generosity, but the fact that Twilight Sparkle has showed up in Ponyville and pulled the others along on her mystical mission to recover the Elements wasn’t Rarity’s doing. The responsibility for helping to save the country from its gravest threats certainly wasn’t anything she had asked for, or anything she was capable of attempting on her own. Another ominous thought sent a shiver down Rarity’s spine. If she had been targeted on account of her association with the Elements, did that mean that the others were in danger too? If so, she had to convince Blueblood to turn the ship around at once, or request that the Wonderbolts ferry word home, or better still, do both.

Although, if all of her friends were in danger, the attackers could have easily struck at any time back in Ponyville. Most of her friends didn’t even lock their doors at night, per the local custom. Rarity only did so in order to protect her wares, but a simple deadbolt could easily be circumvented if one was truly determined to get inside. She and the others could have been attacked at home, but they hadn’t been. Instead, Rarity had been singled out while she was alone and abroad. Could the reason behind her former crewmates’ betrayal be unrelated to the Elements of Harmony? What if Windlass had somehow learned that Fancypants planned to have Rarity take over his business operations. Her obsession with the stallion was obvious, and might plausibly drive her to rash behavior. On the other hoof, Tempest had said that he was being paid to start a war. How could Rarity possibly fit into a plan to cause conflict between ponies and griffons, especially when Windlass and Tempest had apparently taken pains to make her demise seem like an accident?

Rarity thought back to the beginning of this misadventure. The griffons, or at least General Karroc and his entourage, appeared eager to blame Equestria for the death of their Chancellor. Yet a mysterious accident at a dinner party was hardly grounds for armed hostilities. There had to be something more, something that would rouse the fighting spirit of a nation of peaceful ponies. Rarity’s seemingly accidental death certainly wouldn’t accomplish that dreadful goal. Her heart sank as she realized the implication - this was a conspiracy, and far larger than Tempest and Windlass. The next horrific machinations must already be in motion, and she had no idea what they could be. She needed to talk to Blueblood now, and convince him - or force him if need be - to turn back toward Equestria.

Rarity attempted to stand, but an overwhelming wave of dizziness forced her back down onto her haunches. She needed more time to recover her strength, but time was now a precious commodity that she could not spare. She had to force herself to be resilient and bear the discomfort instead. Rarity stood, and this time was able to stay on all four hooves. She extracted her rear legs from the water basin and cast most of Blueblood’s blankets back onto the bed in a heap. She still needed something to help stave off the storm outside, though, lest she truly take ill.

The blankets were wool, and therefore impregnated with lanolin, making them naturally water-repellent. Rarity levitated a lone blanket, unfolding it and spreading it fully open in the air in front of her. A simple blanket would be blown off by the wind outside. She imagined the blanket as a basic cape, with a simple closure. There were spare buttons on a coat hanging on a peg in the cabin. Rarity combined the button and blanket in her mind, seeing the threads shifting, reweaving, and forming a new pattern. In a flash of magic the new garment was made. She draped her woolen cloak over her back, pulled up the hood, and buttoned the closure at her throat. Thus equipped, Rarity opened the hatch to the upper deck and climbed up the stairs to find Blueblood. As before, he had his hooves on the Alicorn’s wooden wheel.

“You must turn this airship around at once and make for Equestria. We can get back to Gallopoli by the end of the day,” Rarity demanded, expending no time or effort on pleasantries.

“I’m sorry, but that’s not going to happen,” Blueblood replied, not bothering to turn in her direction. “One of us has not been disqualified from this race. When we reach the next marker, you can get off and have the course monitors call for a transport balloon to take you back home.”

“You obviously aren’t hearing me,” Rarity began, walking around Blueblood so that she could look him in his eyes, covered though they were by his ridiculous aviator’s goggles. “I’m telling you what to do, not asking a favor. Aren’t you curious as to how I came to be standing on a cloud in the middle of a thunderstorm? I’ll tell you. I was picked up by one of my own teammates and thrown overboard! Two of them tried to murder me, and I’m positive they are planning more terrible things as we speak.”

Blueblood stared at her for just a moment, before doubling over in a fit of laughter. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. If you don’t want to admit that you drank too much contraband hooch and fell over the railing, you don’t have to. I must say that was a nice save with the cloudwalking spell, for a unicorn in your obviously inebriated state.”

“Every word I’m saying is the truth. I don’t know why or how, but this has to do with starting a war between ponies and griffons. We must go back.”

“You know, if I hadn’t come along and deigned to pull you up, it would have been the end of you. I suppose you’re forever in my debt, yet here you are making outrageous demands and telling outrageous stories. What would Fancypants think? I suppose he and the others are grieving for you right now. I’m sure they would feel differently if they could hear the nonsense you’re spouting.”

Rarity’s anger was now beginning to simmer, and if she wasn’t careful it might boil over completely. “Forgive me for my lack of graciousness in failing to prostrate myself before you in thanks for not leaving me out in the storm to die. My hero. You truly went above and beyond the call of normal pony decency. Now, you self-absorbed nitwit, I just survived attempted equicide, and I’m not going to let you of all the ponies in this world keep me from getting out a warning that could potentially save lives!”

“Bravo, you’ve almost got me convinced.” Blueblood clapped his forehooves together. “Oh look, your nonsensical ranting has slowed us down enough for Graywings to catch up.” Blueblood pointed a hoof to port, where the dagger-shaped griffon airship had emerged from a break in the storm and was now tracking alongside the Alicorn. “Perhaps we can beg him to take you back home. Of course, his ship would be disqualified for having six crewmembers, but turning around is tantamount to giving up the race anyway.”

“Blueblood,” Rarity began, before the stallion cut her off.

“I simply cannot believe that you managed to fall out of your airship, and now, after I went out of my way to save your life, you have the gall to …”

“Blueblood!” Rarity yelled. “Turn around and look at the airship. Tell me, who is flying it?” Rarity had been observing the griffon airship since Blueblood had pointed it out, and two things were immediately apparent. First, there was no one standing on its deck, either at watch or behind the steering column. Second, it was steadily drifting closer to the Alicorn.

Blueblood turned back to look at the apparently empty griffon airship. Lightning flashed, making plain that no one was flying it. “That doesn’t make any sense. Where is Graywings?”

The griffon airship Stiletto was as tapered and slim as its namesake weapon, but it did have room for a small cabin under an elevated portion of the deck at the far aft. One large open window in that cabin was visible to Rarity and Blueblood, and both unicorns jumped when Graywings’ portly body suddenly appeared. He was standing stock-still, staring directly at them through the opening in his ship.

“Captain! You are drifting in the storm!” Blueblood shouted at the top of his lungs, trying to be heard over the howling storm. “Resume control of your ship at once!”

Graywings did not respond, but rather began to tilt forward ponderously. The fat griffon tumbled out of the window and fell, and as he did so his back became visible. Rarity screamed at the sight of it, because what should have nothing but fur and feathers was marred by the thick hilt of a massive knife, protruding from a hideous wound. Graywings, obviously dead, tumbled away into the storm.

“Of all the times when I might get to say ‘I told you so’ to you, it would have to be at a time like this,” Rarity said. There had been a time, perhaps even earlier that morning, when she would have fainted at the mere sight of something as horrific as what she had just witnessed, but the events of the day had jaded her. "I assume that now you believe there possibly might be something amiss?"

“This can’t be happening,” Blueblood muttered quietly, lips barely moving and sounding as if he was in shock.. “I don’t believe it. This is the Alicorn’s Cup! This sort of thing simply doesn’t happen.”

“Perhaps now might be a good time to listen to me and get us back to Equestria!” Rarity shouted. “In the off chance that this is not obvious to you, whoever put a knife in Elector Graywings is clearly still on that ship, and, if I were a wagering mare, I would gamble that he or she has wings with which to bridge the gap between that airship and yours.”

“I … yes. Perhaps now is not the time to bicker further,” Blueblood said at last. “Find something and hold onto it.” He spun the Alicorn’s wheel hard to the right, and began manipulating various levers on the control column. The Alicorn climbed and yawed away from the uncrewed griffon airship. As the airship accelerated, the force of the storm buffeting it only grew fiercer, and it was all Rarity could do to stay in one place by keeping low to the wet deck planks and wrapping her forelegs around a metal cleat embedded in the deck.

Rarity peered over the side of the airship, back and below toward the Stiletto, and witnessed a solitary griffon female with striking white lion hindquarters and black feathers covering her front half emerge from the ship’s cabin, twirling in her talons a knife like that which had been embedded in Graywings’ back. After sheathing the weapon she took the Stiletto’s wheel. The griffon acted deliberately, and appeared in no great hurry to chase after the Alicorn, though the retreating ship must have been both visible and audible to her. Rarity had decided to assume the worst from this point forward, so if the griffon was not chasing the two witnesses to her crime, that could only mean she didn’t believe they would escape. If something was going to prevent Rarity and Blueblood from escaping back to Equestria, then that could only mean the griffon had help in place to stop them.

Rarity came to this realization a fraction of a second before a deafening crack, louder than a thunderclap, rent the air. The Alicorn shook and shuddered as if it had collided with a granite wall, and Rarity’s teeth rattled from the vibration. The impact sent her sprawling on the deck, and Blueblood barely managed to keep a hold on the ship’s wheel. Rarity realized that the Alicorn was no longer moving forward, even though the steam engine was whining with exertion. The ship began to tilt, the spinning propeller forcing the bow down since it could no longer covert its thrust into forward momentum.

“What was that?” she asked, turning her head to search for the cause of the impact. “Did you hit something?”

“I most certainly did not!” Blueblood retorted.

Rarity’s searching gaze finally came to rest on an enormous rope, as thick as her neck and stretched taut, extending from somewhere on the starboard side of the Alicorn out into the storm. Whatever was on the other end of that rope had a secure hold on Blueblood’s airship and was not letting go.

“There! Something has taken hold of us!” Rarity shouted, pointing.

Staring toward the unseen end of the mighty rope, Rarity felt a sudden surge of magic. It pulled her toward the edge of the Alicorn, compelling her forward. Rarity had to plant her hooves and focus to quell the nascent spell in order to keep from being dragged overboard. Rarity knew only one spell that activated unconsciously and had this effect on her: the gem-finding spell that had earned her a cutie mark. Rarity’s gem-finding magic didn’t always activate without warning, but tended do so in the vicinity of concealed gemstones that were either very close, or very impressive. There had to be a gem of considerably quality and size somewhere in the storm, but why, and how did it get there? It must be related to what lay on the other end of the rope.

“This is absurd” Blueblood exclaimed, standing motionless at the Alicorn’s control console. “Who could be doing this to me? It’s not fair! I must win this race. I was born to win it. I was …”

“Pull yourself together!” Rarity yelled, simultaneously striking Blueblood’s cheek with the backside of a forehoof. “I shall go below and try to dislodge whatever is affixing that rope to the ship. You try to fly us free of it.”

Rarity applied enough magic to heave open the hatch to the belowdeck cabin and charged down the stairs without waiting for an acknowledgement. She had improbably survived one attempt on her life today, and she wasn’t going to stand idly by now that the villains had come for Blueblood. The lantern had not been knocked from its hook on the ceiling, but nearly everything else in the airship’s cabin was in a state of utter disarray. Papers were strewn about and glass littered the floor. Most strikingly, an enormous three-pronged metal hook, nearly as large as Rarity and probably several time as heavy, protruded into the cabin through a jagged hole in the hull. Rarity could see through the opening that the hook was affixed to the end of a long rod, which was in turn tied to the rope that had been visible from the upper deck. The metal prongs of the hook could not have fit through the opening in the hull, so Rarity surmised they must have sprung open after impact. The thing was like a giant clawed arrow, and now it held the Alicorn firmly in its grasp.

Rarity knew immediately that she was not going to be able to budge the hook. Their best chance was the Blueblood would be able to rip it free by overtaxing the steam engine, even though it would take a large portion of the hull with it. She had already turned to go back up the stairs when a rapid series of impacts sounded on the deck above her, and seconds later Blueblood half-galloped half-fell down the stairs. He magically pulled the hatch shut behind him, slamming it closed. There were wide handles on the bottom of the hatch to enable non-unicorns to slip a hoof through and open and close it, and Blueblood rapidly shoved part of a broken hull plank through them to bar the cabin’s only entrance.

“What’s going on out there?” Rarity demanded.

“You brought this down on me, you know that? You have been nothing but ill fortune from the moment I laid eyes on you, and now you’ve finally done it. We’re dead ponies!”

“Done what? Who is out there?” Rarity jumped as a heavy blow shook the hatch, but the sturdy wood did not seem ready to give way just yet.

“Griffons!” Blueblood yelled, his eyes wild and panic in his voice.

If Rarity was going to survive, she needed to get the other unicorn to calm down. She placed her forelegs on his shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “What else did you see?”

Blueblood shook his head and blinked, and Rarity thought he seemed to be pulling himself together. He stood up straighter at least. “They have an airship as large as a cargo lifter, and the three that just landed on my deck are clearly not here to pay a social call. They have firesticks. Flintlock pistols to be precise. I recognize them because Procyon has a brace of them back at the castle. You don’t suppose they’d take you and simply let me be on my way, do you?”

“Feel free to ask them, and then do let me know what they say. I must caution you, however. If they are affiliated with the ponies who threw me overboard, then they believe I am already dead. These griffons are here for you.”

“I suppose the ‘why’ shall have to wait until we survive this,” Blueblood said with a sigh.

“I have a few theories,” said Rarity.

The pounding on the hatch was intensifying, and Rarity thought the griffons might be close to finally breaking through. Once they did, there would be nowhere to run. “Do you, perchance, have a plan?” she inquired.

“Besides cower here until the bloody end?” Blueblood asked. “No. Do you?”

Rarity furiously racked her brain. If even one of the girls were here, she might have a chance in a physical confrontation. Twilight Sparkle could blow the griffons off the ship. Rainbow Dash would burst from the hatch like a tornado, and the griffons would never know what hit them. What was Rarity going to do, knit them a sweater? Sew their feathers together? Sew ...

“I-de-a!” Rarity exclaimed with an excited smile.

“What’s that now?”

“Why, this hook is no more than an ugly, overgrown sewing needle with a claw instead of a point. It has an eye at one end, through which the rope is threaded to hold it fast. If something can be threaded, then I can unthread it. Don’t you see? I can untie the rope from the hook.”

“That rope is extremely strong, and it’s being held tight by the tension between the two airships,” Blueblood said, sounding dubious. “Even together we couldn’t muster a strong enough telekinesis to untie it.”

“The thickest rope is nothing more than a hundred thinner ropes twisted together, and each of those is made of yet thinner, weaker ropes, and so on until you are left with fibers no stronger than the most delicate thread. I can see them in my mind, and if I have to unwind every fiber then by Celestia’s mane I will do it,” Rarity declared. She then winced as a particularly strong blow from one of the boarders splintered part of the hatch. “You’ll still have to deal with them.”

Blueblood looked around the cabin, obviously unsure of himself, before finally nodding. “Do you remember, back at my castle I told you that the Alicorn was not ready, that nothing was working properly? I was telling you the truth. Most of the instruments give faulty readings, and I must constantly hold the wheel to compensate for a misaligned rudder gyroscope that always wants to turn the ship to the right. Unfortunately, the automatic systems are built into all of the controls, and cannot be disconnected. I haven’t slept since we left Canterlot, both because I have been working on the problem and because I cannot leave the ship to her own devices for a second. Currently, only a fragment of planking shoved between the spokes of the Alicorn’s wheel is preventing us from making a very hard turn to starboard. Should it be removed unexpectedly, one who is not prepared would have a very hard time maintaining his balance.”

“Then have we a plan?” Rarity asked.

“We have.”

Rarity ignored the hammering of the griffons and turned all of her focus to the rope holding the metal hook fast. She let her magic play over it, examining it as she might any fabric or textile. Like most rope it was made of coir, a fiber with which Rarity was quite familiar. Like she had told Blueblood, even the thickest rope was no more than a collection of fibers. This particular rope was made of thousands of them, but the sheer number mattered little to Rarity. She had once unraveled an entire stage curtain and created a dress from its fabric in the blink of eye. Here, she had only to unwind and separate the coarse fibers of an ugly rope. It was foal’s play.

At the same instant that Rarity’s horn glowed with magic and the rope frayed and fell away into the storm, Blueblood cast his own spell. Many things then happened at once. The airship, no longer encumbered by the rope, shot forward as if from a cannon. Rarity was wholly unprepared for the sudden acceleration and fell backwards onto her rump. At the same time, the Alicorn tilted to starboard as it turned sharply. Bluelood had obviously succeeded in pulling out the plank keeping the ship’s wheel locked in place, and the airship’s natural turning tendency was as dramatic as advertised. With any luck, chaos would be reigning amongst the intruders on the deck. In any case they would soon find out.

As Rarity staggered upright, Blueblood had already pulled the cracked board that was holding the hatch in place and charged up the stairs. Desperation was the mother of gallantry, it seemed. She hurried to follow him, but by the time she clambered onto the decks the situation had already taken a grim turn. On the positive side, there were now only two griffons. Blueblood must have dealt with one of them somehow. Less fortunate was the fact that both remaining griffons were powerfully built males standing upright on the deck, well-armored, and holding curved agglomerations of wood and metal in their talons. They were pointing the devices at Blueblood’s chest. Though Rarity had never seen such things before, she realized the weapons must be the “pistols” that Blueblood had mentioned. The stallion stood unmoving before the intruders.

“What is she doing here?” one of the griffons rasped.

“Doesn’t matter. Shoot them both,” said the other.

Rarity didn’t know what to expect next, but she heard a loud snap of metal on metal as a small hammer sprung forward on top of each pistol. She was a bit surprised, expecting some sort of explosion.

“They won’t fire, because the frizzens are wet,” Blueblood said, giving Rarity a meaningful look.

She had no idea what he was talking about, but she knew how to seize an opportunity. Rarity lowered her horn and charged. The griffon for whom she was aiming had the sense to take wing and fly out of her range. His comrade was slower to react, and he absorbed a powerful blow from Blueblood’s shoulder that sent him careening over the side of the ship. Rarity’s griffon turned and flew away rather than confront the unicorns without a numerical advantage.

Blueblood hurried to take the wheel and stop the ship from turning in circles while Rarity scanned the surrounding storm clouds for more attackers, using flashes of lightning to see through the clouds. There were no griffons, but she could see the hazy outline of an enormous vessel filling the sky behind them. If what Rarity could see was an accurate representation of the enemy airship’s size, it was easily one of the largest she had ever seen. A flash of red appeared briefly from the direction of the griffon airship, and Rarity jumped backwards as a spray of splinters flew up from the deck in front of her. The griffons were firing at them from aboard their airship.

“We must get out of here!” Rarity shouted.

“Do you have any reason to believe that’s not what I’m trying to do?”

“Watch out!” Rarity shrieked as an enormous steel arrow trailing rope whistled past overhead. It flew well high of the Alicorn’s hull, but raked the airship’s piscine balloon forward of its tail fin. The missile tore a long gash before falling away.

“Well that’s that, then. We’re not getting back to Equestria,” Blueblood said, looking up to assess the damage.

“But we must!” Rarity protested. “We have to warn the others, and the Princesses!”

“What we must do is obey the law of gravity,” Blueblood snapped. “Gravity says that we are going to be landing very soon.”

“If we land they shall find us!”

“We are flying over the densest jungle in the world. If we can shake their pursuit before we land, I doubt they will have an easy time locating us. At any rate, we have no choice. As we lose more helium the ship will eventually drop like a stone. I have to get her down.”

Rarity knelt on the deck, clinging to the control column as Blueblood angled the airship into a steep starboard turning dive. The Alicorn gained speed quickly, and soon Rarity could no longer see any sign of the pursuers behind them. Several minutes after beginning its emergency descent, the ship burst through the boundary of the cloud layer and into clear air, free of the storm at last. As Blueblood had said, below the clouds there was nothing but an endless canopy of thick vegetation as far as Rarity could see in any direction. Where could they land? The Alicorn was an airship, with no equipment for actually landing on the earth’s surface. Finally, Rarity noticed a small break in the jungle ahead and to port: a small, narrow lake. Blueblood had apparently seen it as well, because he turned the wheel and the ship sluggishly angled in the appropriate direction. Meanwhile, the carpet of trees below was quickly coming closer.

“We’re flying too fast!” Rarity shouted. “We can’t land like this.”

“We can’t not land in our present condition, and there’s no time to slow down. If we try, we’ll have so little lift from the balloon that we’ll simply fall out of the air.”

“You have to slow down!” Rarity insisted. Upon closer inspection, the lake Rarity had seen was more like a modest pond. There was absolutely no chance of coming to a stop in its meager length. On the bright side, no enemy searching for them would rationally believe that the Alicorn could have landed on it.

“Find something to brace against!”

There was nothing on the deck that looked more likely to cushion the impending impact than it did to severely injure her, so Rarity simply continued to kneel next to Blueblood and watch the jungle quickly grow closer. If this was to be her final experience, then at least she went out fighting and with her eyes open. She only wished she was spending this moment with somepony else. The jungle canopy was only a few lengths below the airship’s hull now, and the tiny lake still seemed far away. They weren’t going to make it. Rarity wondered if Fluttershy would adopt her cat.

Suddenly she was thrown by a tremendous jolt as the Alicorn bounced off the first trees it contacted, and the airship rocked unsteadily as it gained a few precious additional lengths of altitude from the ricochet. By now, however, the ship had lost so much lift from the balloon’s deflation that it quickly began to settle back toward the ground. The Alicorn fell, crashing through a final line of trees before sailing clear of the jungle and contacting the surface of the lake. The careering airship did not stop there, but its nautical-inspired hull-design kept it from breaking apart on impact. Instead, the Alicorn hurtled across the surface of the water, of which there was not nearly enough on which to stop before reaching the opposite bank. Desperate, Rarity searched for something, anything soft enough to cushion the crash. She threw her forelegs around Blueblood a half-second before the Alicorn barrelled out of the water and into the jungle beyond. An awful crunching sound filled the air, and the rapidly flashing shapes of trees and greenery occupied Rarity’s vision. She had the distinct sensation of flying, no longer by means of airship, before all went dark.

When Rarity came to, she opened her eyes and saw blue sky filtering through tiny openings in a ceiling of broad green leaves. The storm had finally passed, and she was alive. These were welcome revelations. Less welcome was the excruciating pain that she felt in every part of her body. Also unwelcome was the fact that she was lying on her back in a filthy, almost certainly disease-ridden no pony’s land hundreds and hundreds of leagues away from home.

Rarity rolled onto her belly, and then painfully pushed off on the decaying matter of the forest floor until she reached a wobbly standing position. She should be grateful that she hadn’t broken any bones in the crash, she supposed, but gratitude was a difficult emotion to come by at the moment. She had still managed to batter and bruise herself all over, including places she hadn’t previously known were possible to bruise. Inspecting her legs and hooves, she saw that they were unscathed. Her makeshift cloak had been torn away, but amazingly she still wore the Gallopolian pearl necklace.

Rarity realized that she must have been flung free in the crash, since the wreckage of the Alicorn rested some ten pony lengths away, amidst a scene of arboreal carnage. Smashed and splintered trees littered the area. Still, there were so many nearby trees still standing, and their tops were so tall and lush, that there was no significant opening in the jungle canopy through which prying eyes might spy the crashed airship.

Rarity had to find Blueblood. Without him, her chances of survival were zero. With him, they might still be zero, but at least she would have someone with whom to argue. She tried calling his name, but the only responses were the mocking cries of jungle birds. Perhaps he was still on, or inside the Alicorn. A fallen tree trunk formed a convenient means of ingress from the forest floor to the upper deck of the ship.

The enormous balloon that had given the airship its lift had completely deflated and now lay in a limp pool of blue fabric partially draped over the deck of the crashed hull, but mainly tangled in the trees beside the wreck. The hull itself was remarkably intact, but there was no sign of Blueblood on the deck. The decimated ship’s cabin was likewise unoccupied. As Rarity was about to leave to go search the jungle, she heard a loud bang from somewhere nearby. Of course, she realized, the Alicorn had to have an engine room like any other steamship. She found Blueblood beyond a small hatch at the rear of the ship’s cabin, crouched in the ship’s cramped and sweltering engine room. Blueblood had cast an illumination spell to light the dark room and was examining a series of gauges on the side of the airship’s massive engine.

“Thank you so much for coming to find me while I was lying unconscious in the dirt,” Rarity said. Blueblood startled, nearly striking his horn on the room’s low ceiling. As the stallion turned toward her, Rarity saw that he a ugly gash on the side of his head. The wound wasn’t currently bleeding, but it nevertheless looked like it needed attention.

“I know how this must appear,” Blueblood began, “but I assure you that I was moments away from leaving to search for you. I only just came around myself. I rushed to the engine to ensure that it was completely deactivated, because the one thing that would give us away fastest would be a cloud of smoke and steam.”

“How quickly can you get it fixed?” Rarity asked.

“What, the engine? There isn’t anything wrong with the engine. The propeller is cracked, but fixable. The hull is in one piece.”

“Good, then let’s get back to Equestria as soon as possible.”

“You seem to have forgotten that this is an airship, which must by definition be lighter than air to fly. Our balloon is completely deflated and ripped to shreds, and unless you know of a source of helium in this jungle, we aren’t going to be flying out of here.”

“You don’t mean to suggest that we are to walk from the middle of this forsaken jungle, a hundred leagues or more back to Equestria, while at the same time being hunted by a giant airship full of murderous griffons?”

“You’re forgetting that there are ponies who are also out to kill us,” Blueblood replied tiredly. “Though you still have to explain to me why.”

“I’m sorry, one more time, for clarity’s sake. I want to be absolutely sure I am catching your meaning. You are saying that we’ll have to walk,” Rarity drew out the last word, “through this impenetrable jungle, from which it is said nopony has ever returned.”

“Unless you happen to know a spell that gives unicorns wings.”

After everything, this was the final straw. Rarity fainted.