• Published 4th Jan 2012
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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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VIII. In The Sky With Diamonds

VIII. In the Sky with Diamonds

Rarity soared through the air, tasting the wind rushing around her body and luxuriating in infinite freedom. She stretched her legs out before and behind her, and accelerated. Beating her wings as hard as she could, she left a sparkling contrail of brilliant diamonds in her wake as she tore across the heavens.

Fluffy white clouds dotted the endless blue, and Rarity whisked past their popcorn forms, laughing at the spray of moisture that kicked up around her as she skimmed their surfaces. Traveling ever faster, the giddiness of flight and speed compelled her to launch into exultant aerobatics. With a powerful flap of her feathered wings, Rarity pulled back into a high arcing loop. Higher and higher she flew, pulling back until she was upside down at the apogee of the maneuver. She spared a moment to stare into the cold emptiness above her before she rolled out of the loop and into a graceful spiral, allowing herself to gently spin toward the ground, carefree and drifting like a falling leaf. Before she had lost too much altitude, Rarity decided that she had had enough of letting the wind carry her, and with a yelp she resumed streaking hither and yon, blasting through the blue.

Blue and white, blue and white. How trite and boring. This place needs some pizazz, Rarity decided. Her horn flared as jets of color shot forth, painting an aurora here, rainbows there, and to top it off she helped a red-gold sunset burst into being.

“That’s more like it,” she said with satisfaction, at the same time flying rings around one her beautiful new rainbows. Rarity was then surprised to feel something smooth and cold against her neck. When she touched the spot with an exploratory hoof she felt a metal necklace and an enormous faceted gem embedded in it. She recognized her element at once. Generosity. Yes, she was a generous mare, Rarity thought proudly. She was veritably, indubitably, the one and only living spirit of generosity. She spent all of her time and effort being generous. Now it was her turn to take.

Canterlot spread out below her, only it was not the Canterlot Rarity knew. Gone were the delicate spires of marble and gold, and in there place were ornate towers of rich royal purple and dazzling diamonds. This was her Canterlot, the city she was born to rule.

Suddenly, Rarity realized there was another pony nearby. When she glanced to her right Rarity was shocked to see Blueblood flying beside her, plying the skies on powerful snow white wings. He flashed her a cocky smile before lowering his horn and speeding up and away from Rarity and her diamond-encrusted citadel below, as if daring her to give chase. For a fleeting second, she did just that, putting all her energy into racing after the speeding alicorn. Then her heart caught in her throat as she realized that something wasn’t right.

Blueblood didn't have wings, did he? For that matter, since when did she have wings?

Of course you have wings, Rarity told herself. Beautiful, beautiful wings! To prove the point, she gracefully pirouetted through the air and then performed a series of entrechats, fluttering daintily on lacy butterfly wings of gossamer and morning dew. She paused, hovering. Hadn’t she had feathers a moment before?

Something felt off. Rarity squinted against the relentless sun that shined in her eyes, and as she turned away from the burning light, an acrid smell filled her nostrils. She tried to flutter away from the sun’s penetrating rays, but she found herself unable to control her movements. She was tilting backwards, and couldn’t halt her downward momentum. In an instant Rarity was falling, and as she plummeted she watched the ashen remnants of her burnt wings dissipate into the air around her. The clouds formed into laughing faces, mocking her as she hurtled away from them.

“So provincial, so uncultured. You should have known from the beginning that you never belonged up here with us,” mocked a cloud in the shape of Fancypants.

“Who’s gonna save you this time?” the puffy white form of Rainbow Dash jeered. “Not me, ‘cuz you’re not my friend anymore.”

“I am your friend, Rainbow Dash, I am! Please!” Rarity called back, her voice dying on the wind. The cloud form of her friend was already gone.

“Equestria is burning, Rarity, and it’s all your fault,” another pegasus cloud chimed in, the voice of Rainbow Dash’s cousin Chroma Prism.

“They’re coming for you now.” Rarity recognized her crewmate Windlass’ voice speaking ominous words through a unicorn-shaped cloud.

Now a flock of griffons appeared and began to circle around Rarity as she fell, filling the sky with their blood-curdling shrieks. She knew they would clean up the mess after her forthcoming inevitable meeting with the ground. As Rarity kept falling, the sky grew dark and lightning began to flash around her. The griffons vanished as hail pounded her body and freezing rain chilled her to the bone. Somehow amidst the chaos of the storm, ethereal blue flames burned, licking her with cruel tongues of fire. Rarity screamed and cried, but her voice made no sound. Seconds became an eternity; the ground would be a welcome release, yet the agony refused to stop. Burned by fire, drenched by rain, buffeted by freezing winds, and falling, ever falling, Rarity closed her eyes and begged the earth to rush up and free her from this impossible torment.

“You’re a mean, sloppy drunk,” Blueblood scolded, appearing beside her again in his alicorn form. “You’ll soon be old and fat and you’ll have added up to nothing more than a punch-soaked never-was. You’ll never touch greatness and you’ll never find the prince you’re looking for; not if you travel to the ends of the world and live to be as old as Celestia.” He sighed. “You should have seen this coming.”

Unable to think of anything better to do, Rarity used what strength she had left to thrust her forelegs out and latch onto the taunting Blueblood. Surprised, he flapped his big wings harder to keep them both aloft in the magical storm. Rarity looked into the stallion’s blue eyes, and through them. She plunged into the cool, clear safety of those blue pools and emerged on the other side.

It was a clear sunny day, and Rarity stood in the town square in Ponyville. A crowd of ponies had gathered around a platform near the town hall. Trying to calm herself after her ordeal, Rarity walked up the crowd and began to push her way though. What were all these ponies doing?

She recognized everypony. Her parents were there, and there was her sister and Sweetie Belle’s little friends too. Friends and acquaintances from town had gathered, and her girls stood closest to the platform. There was Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy, and Pinkie, and Applejack, who had oddly chosen to go hatless for once. They all looked up at the raised platform, where Twilight Sparkle stood with Spike and Ponyville’s mayor.

The crowd was so tightly packed that Rarity could get no closer than halfway to the platform. “What in Equestria is going on?” she asked the mare on her right, but the mint-green unicorn ignored her. Then she saw the painting resting on an easel next to Twilight. It was a portrait of Rarity herself, specifically the one she had painted last year and which now hung in her parent’s hall.

“Oh no.”

Rarity lowered her head and charged through the crowd and toward the platform. They simply couldn't be having a memorial service for her, she was right here! She had to tell Twilight to stop this madness. Indignant at being eulogized prematurely, Rarity shoved aside the last mourners and leaped up onto the platform right in front of Twilight Sparkle. The lavender unicorn, to Rarity’s surprise, was now wearing the golden tiara that bore the Element of Magic, and somehow the others had gathered behind Twilight, each wearing their own bejeweled necklace. That made five out of six Elements of Harmony.

“I’m alive, Twilight!” Rarity protested. “Twilight, darling, I’m right here!”

Twilight stared through Rarity and addressed the crowd. “I once wrote to Princess Celestia, that everypony shares a special magical connection with her friends, maybe even before she’s met them. That letter told only half the story, because in truth that magical connection persists forever, even after our friends are gone.”

“But I’m not. I’m not gone!” Rarity shouted.

“The spirits of the Elements of Harmony are connected by unbreakable thread that nothing can truly sever, not time, nor distance, nor even death.” Twilight paused, and Rarity jumped backwards in fright when Twilight suddenly turned and looked her straight in the eyes. When she spoke, Twilight Sparkle’s voice was her own, yet also more, and her words came with the force of a hurricane.

“Where you are, we are. Where you fall, we fall. Fly, Rarity, and let us be the wind holding you aloft.”

“I don’t understand!” Rarity said, placing her forelegs on Twilight’s shoulders. “Please, somepony tell me what’s going on!” Rarity began to shake her friend when Twilight didn’t respond. “Please!”

Twilight Sparkle’s features grew blurry and indistinct until she was unrecognizable. Rarity blinked, trying to resolve the shifting image before her; once, then twice. After the third blink she finally woke up.

“Hey, Miss Rarity, it’s time for youse to go take your watch,” Elbow Grease whispered as he gently nudged Rarity with a forehoof. “Also, could you please lemme go?”

“Mm? Twilight?” Rarity mumbled groggily. Her eyes shot wide open when she realized that both of her forelegs were wrapped around Elbow Grease’s thick neck. She hastily released the mechanic and uttered an embarrassed apology.

Rarity put a hoof to her cheek, and the warmth of the contact told her she was flushed. She felt clammy inside her jumpsuit and realized she had awoken in a cold sweat. It had all been a dream, but she’d never dreamt anything so real, nor so strange and terrifying, before. She had been flying, then falling, and then found herself at her own funeral. Could an experience like that really be nothing more than dreamland drivel? Here, on this airship, she had nopony with whom to even talk about it. She blinked again, trying to force herself fully awake. For the moment, at least, she had to deal with the reality of the pony standing before her. What had he said to her?

“Ah, did you ask me about a watch? Do you want to know what time it is?” Rarity inquired.

“No, miss, it’s your turn up top to watch the ship,” the mechanic explained quietly.

“Oh, right. Yes. I’m awake.” Rarity kept trying to wheedle and coerce her mind and body into action. Unfortunately, some primal animalistic part of her knew full well that it was the middle of the night, a time when Rarity would be fast asleep ninety-nine times out of one hundred, and that part was making it very difficult for her to find the willpower to roll herself out of the uncomfortable bed. Nevertheless, she forced her hooves over the side and onto the wooden deck below.

The airship’s cabin was nearly dark. The lone lantern hanging above the table burned low, casting only a faint glow barely sufficient for Rarity to fumble around without tripping over her own hooves. She saw that Windlass, Tempest, and Fancypants were sleeping in the other three beds less than a pony length away. That explained why Elbow Grease had been whispering.

“Wait,” Rarity whispered urgently. “All four of you are going to sleep, and you expect me to fly the ship by myself? Oh, no no no.”

“Don’t worry, miss,” Elbow Grease responded sotto voce. “Fancy Free flies herself. We’re supposed to be headed pretty much straight south, so just watch the compass for a few hours to make sure we keep flyin’ the right direction.” The stallion yawned, and his onion breath finally woke Rarity up the rest of the way. As he moved past her to try to crawl into the bed she had just vacated, Rarity began to panic.

“No, please! I can’t, I simply can’t do it by myself. I beg you, just show me what I need to do and then you can go back to bed!”

“Eh? C’mon, s’easy!” Elbow Grease muttered, still moving to climb into bed. “I gotta get some sleep.”

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and Rarity was not about to take command of an speeding airship without at least a modicum of proper training. Her horn glowed faintly in the dim room, and a matching aura appeared around Elbow Grease as she magically dragged the hapless mechanic away from the bed.

“You need to help me!” Rarity hissed.

“Whoa, hey, okay miss, no need to get physical!” Elbow Grease whispered, waving his forelegs in surrender, and prompting Rarity to release her hold on him. “Let’s go topside.”

Rarity, mollified that she wouldn’t be completely abandoned to a responsibility for which she was so wholly and woefully unprepared, followed the mechanic as he walked toward the stairwell. The light grew even dimmer as they moved away from the lantern, and when Elbow Grease stopped short of the stairs she walked right into his backside.

“What is it?” she asked.

Elbow Grease pulled open the door of a small closet between the stairs and the door to the engine room, and he extracted a pair of dark gray raincoats.

“Bit wet out there, and cold,” he said.

“You weren’t even going to tell me that it was raining before?” Rarity asked incredulously.

“I dunno,” Elbow Grease shrugged. “You’re a unicorn, right? Youse ponies just make magical umbrellas and mugs of hot chocolate appear outta thin air, dontcha?”

“Sir, I think you have a lot to learn about unicorns,” Rarity replied, looking in consternation at the mechanic. Then she saw his faint grin and realized that he was simply having a little fun with her. She tried to salvage her sophisticated air by using a bit of magic to slip the rain slicker on over her jumpsuit, and then followed Elbow Grease up the stairs.

Stepping out onto the open deck was akin to a hoof to the face. Cold air rushed at Rarity and a barrage of raindrops quickly wet her mane and spattered against her raincoat. She pulled the hood of the raincoat up over her head and cinched it tight. She was thankful to find that the topmost closure of the coat was high enough that she could pull it up to protect her throat, leaving only her muzzle and eyes exposed. Thus protected, the cold wind and rain were just bearable.

“Now what?” she asked.

“Okay,” Elbow Grease began, peering out of his own raincoat. “Like I said, the ship flies itself, so mostly just don’t touch anything, and we’ll all live to see the morning.” He walked over to the tall console on which which the spoked wooden ship’s wheel was mounted. Now that night had fallen, Rarity saw that there were lanterns placed strategically around the deck, and a cluster of three particularly large lamps hung over the console. The light allowed her to see clusters of gauges and instruments lined up in neat rows on either side of the ship’s wheel. She had no idea what any of them signified.

“Look here,” Elbow Grease pointed toward a small glass window in the shape of a horizontal rectangle, in the center of which the letter “S” was prominently displayed. “This is the compass. ‘S’ means south, which means we’re headin’ in the right direction.”

“I see,” said Rarity. “But how am I to keep us flying south?”

“Okay, here’s another instrument,” Elbow Grease said, thrusting a hoof at a large circle of glass framed by two concentric brass rings. Under the glass was a small top-down outline of an airship, held on a pin. The edges of the circle around the tiny airship were inscribed with numbers, counting in tens from 0 to 360. A small arrow pointing down from the top of the innermost brass ring encircling the instrument currently pointed to the number 180. “This here’s the heading indicator. It’s rigged to a bunch of gyroscopes that keep it accurate even if we’re getting bucked around by weather. It also lets youse pick a direction and have the ship fly there on its own. I’ll show ya.”

Rarity watched as Elbow Grease touched the tip of his right forehoof to the arrow on the innermost brass ring and spun the ring clockwise until the arrow pointed at two hundred. He then pushed in a circular button mounted just below the heading indicator that was marked with the word “hold.” As soon as the button was pushed, Rarity could feel the deck shifting and the wind change direction as the airship began to turn to the right. As the ship turned, the big ship’s wheel slowly turned to the right, while at the same time the numbered dial of the heading indicator and the brass ring rotated left in synchronicity until the arrow was once again pointing down from the top middle of the instrument. Now, however, the topmost number on the dial was 200 instead of 180.

“There, we just made a right turn. Easy peasy,” said Elbow Grease. “Why don’t you turn us back due south?”

“I need to make the arrow point to 180 again, right?” Rarity thought she understood how the technology worked.

“That’s all there is to it,” Elbow Grease confirmed.

Rarity rotated the brass ring left until the arrow pointed to 180, and the pushed in the “hold” button. She felt gratified as the ship turned left and the ring rotated right, and in seconds they were back on course. Just as quickly as the sense of accomplishment had come, however, it was replaced by a flood of new worries.

“But what if we start falling out of the sky? Or what if we fly too high? How do I keep us where we need to be?” she asked.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Elbow Grease replied. “She’s set to fly at two thousand pony lengths, and this part of Equestria is as flat as a hotcake. Even though you can’t see in the dark, I promise there ain’t nothin’ to hit out here. If youse get really worked up about it, there’s a lever right next to the wheel to control altitude.”

“Well, that’s all well and good, but what if something else goes wrong, and I don’t know what to do? What if there’s an emergency and I need to stay here, and I can’t run downstairs to wake you all up?” Rarity demanded.

“Just ring that,” Elbow Grease replied, and indicated the large brass ship’s bell hanging by the door that led belowdecks. A rope hung from the bell with a knot tied in the end to make it easier for a pony to grab with her teeth. “Ok, I’m goin’ back to bed. After two hours are up you can go wake up Miss Windlass. Clock’s on the instrument panel.”

“Wait, one last thing,” Rarity called, before the mechanic stallion could close the door behind him.

“Yeah?”

“Just, thank you, Mr. Grease. I feel much better about this whole affair now. I owe you a drink back in Canterlot.”

“I don’t drink no more, miss,” the stallion replied. “But I’ll let you buy me a sandwich.”

“It’s a deal,” Rarity affirmed, smiling from inside the shadowed interior of her hood.

The door closed, and she was left alone with the dark and the rain and the wet windswept deck of Fancy Free. Beyond the railing of the airship’s deck lay only darkness. Whatever lands were passing by far below were left solely to Rarity’s imagination. From the rain and overcast sky it was apparent that the local southron pegasi hadn’t bothered to keep the skies clear for the racers. Rarity knew that life grew harder exponentially as the distance from the core cities grew, especially for far-flung towns that didn’t have a valuable export like Gallopoli’s famous pearls. The locals here were probably subsistence farmers, and they needed their rain on time. A bunch of fancy steamships from Canterlot flying overhead wouldn’t help their crops to grow. It was just as well that the regatta was passing by at night.

She had two hours to spend pacing the rain-slicked deck and trying to keep the chill off. She needed to occupy her thoughts, but there were so many things to think about that it was difficult to decide where to start. There was Fancypants’ incredible offer, which would overnight make her a made mare and a titaness of Equestrian industry. There were her unresolved questions about Blueblood, Windlass, and Fancypants’ acquisition of the majority stake in North Star. There was still the brewing trouble between griffons and ponies, involving her friend Rainbow Dash and her family. Finally, Rarity thought with a shiver, there was the bizarre dream from which she had awakened.

At first it had been wonderful. She was flying through the sky, soaring like a pegasus. Out of nowhere, Prince Blueblood had invaded her dream. After he appeared she had fallen, and the dream turned into an awful nightmare as her own mind tortured her without mercy. Then, she had borne witness to the bizarre scene of Twilight Sparkle delivering her eulogy, and that final cryptic statement about falling, and wind, and the Elements of Harmony. Rarity was already having a hard time remembering all of the other details of the nightmare, but she recalled laughing faces, fearsome griffons, and Blueblood with wings. Well, she thought, his airship was called the Alicorn. At least there was a connection.

Maybe none of it was really that mysterious, Rarity thought dismissively. She was sleeping in an airship thousands of pony lengths off the ground, and she did have several recent encounters with Blueblood, and griffons, and probably all of the things she had seen in her dream. It was no more than a composite of recent experiences, coupled with the latent fear of falling that was unavoidable on this airship, and fueled by alcohol and a most uncomfortable sleeping arrangement.

Still, if it came down to such a simple explanation, why had it been so incredibly vivid? She’d never been so convinced by a dream of its veracity. Rarity didn’t believe in premonitions, fortune-telling, or prophecies, but she did believe that a pony’s subconscious sometimes worked in ways that her waking mind couldn’t quite grasp. The dream could have been an attempt to tell her something that her rational mind hadn’t yet figured out. This was one of those times when Rarity would wished Pinkie Pie were here. Pinkie Pie’s waking mind worked in ways that nopony else could understand, often including Pinkie herself. If anypony could extract a thread of truth from a snarled knot of a dream, Pinkie could. Once again, though, Rarity was alone, and there was nopony else to answer her questions, or unravel any mysteries, or make the big potentially life-altering decisions she had to make.

At least the rain had stopped, or more likely the ship had flown far enough away from the farms and fields where the locals had scheduled showers. She unfastened a few of the closures on her raincoat and magically threw back the hood. Breaks in the cloud layer were beginning to appear, offering a peek at the starry night sky above. Far in the distance, on either side, dim lights just above the horizon revealed a few of the other racers. As the race wore on and night had come, the difficulties of celestial navigation had scattered the different airships across the sky. They were all headed in generally the same direction, but even slight variances were magnified into enormous differences as leagues of Equestria passed by beneath them. As Rarity scanned the sky, she was pleased to see that the weather was clearing up even further, and soon she had an unobstructed view of the moon and stars shining down on Equestria. She leaned against the railing and spent a long while just looking up at them.

Rarity didn’t study the stars, but she loved them nonetheless. Astronomers and budding scientists like Twilight knew many of them, and all of the constellations, by name. Twilight probably knew all sorts of other facts about stars and cosmological trivia of which Rarity had never heard. That was fine. She had no interest in viewing the sky in the way that Twilight did. Where Twilight saw phenomena to be studied, Rarity simply saw twinkling diamonds sewn into fine black velvet. The moon was out too, shining as the brightest gem of them all. Certainly, its face was pockmarked with imperfections, but for all its flaws nothing else in the sky could outshine it. The girls back in Ponyville were asleep now, Rarity knew, but it was comforting to think that she was looking at the same moon and stars here, wherever she was, that were shining down on Twilight and the others back home.

Rarity walked back to the steering console and checked the instruments. Fancy Free was still flying south, and hadn’t gained or lost any altitude. Everything was as it should be, and she still had another hour to kill before she could sleep again. She was alone with her thoughts, but given their jumbled state, she really would have preferred simply to be alone. To keep the unwanted intrusion of questions and anxieties to a minimum, Rarity set about the mind-numbing task of pacing the length and breadth of the deck, over and over again. As a tactic for passing time without involving any higher mental faculties, pacing worked surprisingly well.

While slowly walking the port side of the ship for the eleventh time, a flicker of movement in the periphery of Rarity’s vision caused her to turn and look back and up toward the moon’s shining face. A long way away, something big was traversing the night sky, it’s shape partially obscuring her view of the moon as it moved. Whatever it was, it had no lamps or lanterns, or at least none lit, and it appeared to be moving further away toward the east. The shape was hard to discern, but it didn’t make sense for any of the other racing airships to be flying with no lights. It was not only dangerous, but also against the rules.

A flash appeared from the direction where Rarity estimated the mysterious object was now flying, and was shortly followed by two more. It was an airship out there, then. Were they signalling for help? Rarity waited to see whether any more lights appeared in the distance, or for any other sign that somepony might be in trouble. She knew that she could use her magic to create a light show that would ignite the night sky if she were in distress, but even non-unicorns should have emergency flares and sirens with which to call for help. The fact that there were no further signs of the unknown ship was proof enough that she didn’t need to wake the others for an impromptu rescue mission.

“And now I have another mystery to worry about,” she grumbled. With any luck, this one would have nothing to do with her. It certainly had seemed that whoever was out there had been minding his own business, and in such cases it was often most prudent to let bygones be bygones.

“Whoever you are out there, I don’t care,” Rarity shouted into empty space. “Just leave me alone!”

“Sorry, it’s just me,” Windlass announced, appearing behind Rarity. “It’s my turn to take the watch. Actually, it was my turn ten minutes ago, and when you didn’t show up I decided to come out on my own and check on you.”

“Oh, hello, dear” Rarity replied, startled by the other mare’s sudden appearance. “I wasn’t shouting at you just now, I was just, well, one does get a bit loopy out here by oneself. I apologize for not waking you. I suppose the time just got away from me.”

“It’s fine,” Windlass said.

“I was watching the stars, you see, and I saw the strangest thing only a moment ago,” Rarity continued. “It appeared to be another airship flying without any lamps, and then all of a sudden I saw three flashes of light from its direction. Now it’s gone. What do you make of that?”

“Well, maybe one of the other ships ran out of lantern oil, but that wouldn’t explain the three flashes,” Windlass replied. “It could have just been a meteor. Sometimes they appear as a series of brief flashes when they burn up.”

“Yes, maybe,” Rarity said. She was sure what she had seen was no meteor, but she hadn’t considered the possibility that another airship was flying in the dark because the crew had no oil. It could have been something innocuous like that, she supposed.

“I’ll take over from here and you can get some shut-eye,” Windlass offered.

Rarity was about to accept Windlass’ proposal and make her way to the stairs when something made her pause. She had not forgotten that Windlass’ story, as told by Fancypants, was a study in contradictions. Fancypants said she had worked for Blueblood, and Blueblood had said he employed no engineers. At this point, Rarity had too many unanswered questions swimming around in her head to not take the first chance she could to resolve one of them.

“Actually, while it’s just the two of us, I was hoping to ask you a few questions,” Rarity began.

“Oh?” Windlass sounded surprised. Perhaps this was an odd hour for an interrogation, but Rarity simply didn’t know when she might have the other mare alone again.

“You see, I was just wondering how you came to work for Fancypants, and I hoped you would tell me,” Rarity prompted.

Windlass sighed heavily. “We’re not an item, if that’s what your asking. I’m not standing in your way or anything.”

“What?” Rarity asked before she was able to stop herself. “No, no,” she said with a forced laugh, “I have no designs of that sort on Fancypants, I promise you.” Rarity hoped she sounded convincing. Windlass would never be cooperative if she saw Rarity as a romantic rival, and she was the only other mare on the ship.

“Please,” Windlass scoffed. “Look, let’s not mince words. I’m well aware of what happens when a stallion and a mare need some ‘time alone.’ You practically hung a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door to the cabin.”

“Windlass, I promise you that nothing took place between Fancypants and I other than a little business talk,” Rarity said. “In fact, he wanted to offer me a job.”

“Really?” Windlass asked, sounding unconvinced. “As far as I know, Fancypants doesn’t have any hooves in the fashion business. Not to sound skeptical, but why would he offer you a job?” Rarity was beginning to think that the other mare’s interpersonal issues went beyond mere jealousy. This latest question was simply rude.

“He’s offered me a managerial role,” Rarity replied, hoping the vague answer would be satisfactory enough to stave off further inquiry. She certainly wasn’t going to let on that Fancypants had offered her control of his entire business empire. That revelation might send Windlass over the edge against her, and Rarity still hadn’t gotten a bit of new information out of the mare. “It’s not in my chosen field, as you suspected, and I haven’t decided whether or not to accept.”

“Well,” Windlass replied after a long pause, “I’d consider taking the offer. Fancypants is going big places, even moreso than where he is now. I’d say you couldn’t go wrong. So, you were asking me how I came to work for him?”

“That’s right.”

“There’s not much to tell,” Windlass began. “I graduated from engineering school and was immediately offered a job at North Star Shipwrights in Canterlot. You probably know that that’s the company that used to be run by Prince Blueblood, or I should say the Duke of Canterlot, until just this past week. I hear that Fancypants is going to be putting new management in charge.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “I’m hoping that if we win this race, he might even consider me for one of the top spots.”

“You must have been quite the student to have gotten a job at a prestigious airship firm like that so quickly,” Rarity said sweetly. “You probably didn’t even have to apply to find a position with Fancypants, did you?”

“That’s right!” Windlass grinned. “North Star was poorly run. The duke only cared about how shiny his toys were, not how profitable the company was or even whether the ships were airworthy. I realized right away that I was going to need a change, and fast. Imagine my surprise when the duke’s brother, Lord Procyon, told me that I would be perfect for a position that had opened up with Fancypants’ advanced development team.”

“Weren’t you wary that Lord Procyon was undercutting his own brother and his own company by helping you leave? I would have been very nervous in a situation like that,” Rarity said. “Blueblood is still a powerful pony, and I’d be afraid he would make trouble for me.”

“A job with Fancypants is as good for my resume as a royal stamp of approval from Princess Celestia herself,” Windlass explained simply. “I’m all set now.”

“Congratulations, that’s wonderful,” Rarity said with a smile. She moved a bit closer to Windlass and leaned toward the younger mare. “Now I have a bit of a funny story to share with you, and I'm sure you will appreciate it. As it so happens, I had occasion to speak with Prince Blueblood shortly before the race began, and he claimed that he was responsible for designing all the airships that North Star released, and that he didn’t even employ any other engineers. Can you imagine? That blowhard, an aeronautical engineer? It’s just too much!” Rarity laughed, and soon Windlass joined her, though a bit tentatively.

“That is funny,” Windlass replied, somewhat slowly in Rarity’s opinion. “I’m afraid things have been spiralling out of control for the duke lately, and I’m sure his tall tales are only going to get more unbelievable now that he’s lost control of his business. I assure you that it took several teams of us to put these ships together. I myself was just an aerodynamicist running wind tunnel simulations.”

“Hehe, the very idea of Blueblood drafting blueprints,” Rarity continued on, still trying to encourage Windlass into speaking further.

“You know, given his obvious mental state, I wouldn’t be surprised if the duke fails to finish the race,” Windlass said, obviously more comfortable now that it didn’t seem that Rarity was questioning her story.

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s just that it must be hard enough for a single stallion to fly an airship like this by himself, and this race is sure to put even teams like ours to the test. I don’t see how he’ll be able to cut it.” Windlass paused. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t even make it through the next day.”

“I hope you’re wrong,” Rarity responded, “if only because I stand in favor of spirited competition.” She yawned. “I thank you for your time, Miss Windlass. Now I think I shall retire.”

“Goodnight,” the other mare said. “We’ll be getting close to Gallopoli in just a few more hours, so don’t get too comfortable. I have a feeling that tomorrow will be a very interesting and challenging day, for all of us.”

As she made her way downstairs and to the empty bed lately vacated by Windlass, casting her raincoat into the closet as she went, Rarity pondered her conversation with the engineer mare. Windlass hadn’t buckled when Rarity had mentioned Blueblood’s side of the story, and that certainly lent credence to the theory that Blueblood was the liar. That was also the most comfortable theory, because it meant that Rarity did not have one or more crewmates who were taking pains to feed her disinformation, and possibly conspire against her in other ways.

In many ways it did make the most sense for Blueblood to be the one to have made up the whole thing. He was certainly the type who would embellish a tale for his own benefit. It was just that Rarity couldn’t shake the feeling that Blueblood had been honest with her. There were a few other things that gave her pause. Windlass had seemed eager to dismiss her sighting of the mysterious airship and its flashing light, and the younger mare obviously suspected that Rarity was trying to get in the way of her hopes for a romantic entanglement with Fancypants.

Perhaps the correct question to ask was not who seemed like a liar, but who had something to gain by lying? Blueblood would have done so to inspire pity in Rarity while at the same time casting himself as the noble, tormented genius. Superciliousness and self-pity were certainly Blueblood’s modus operandi, so Rarity supposed he did have sufficient motive to lie, however petty a motive it may be. For the others, the motive would have to be something grander and more sinister, and that thought made her shudder, even as she pulled the lone, hopelessly inadequately blanket tight around her body.

Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling while airship gently rocked, another angle came to mind. Both Windlass and Fancypants had mentioned Blueblood’s brother, Lord Procyon, as the stallion who had facilitated her employment arrangement with Fancypants. Perhaps he, Fancypants, and Windlass had worked together to wrest control of Blueblood’s company away from him, and now they all shared the same cover story in order to make their business dealings seem less nefarious. If Fancypants really wanted her to accept his offer, then Rarity could understand the desire to cover up any obvious black marks. If that was all there was to this “conspiracy,” then it was really nothing much at all. It was only business. With that as her last thought, she drifted peacefully back to sleep.