• Published 17th Mar 2013
  • 984 Views, 106 Comments

The Devil's Details - Carabas

Three stallions are hurled to the other side of the world from Equestria, and must survive the journey home across a vast and perilous continent. Worse still, they may even have to become friends.

  • ...

Here Be ...

After a time, darkness yielded to cold and tangible sensation. Past the clearing fog of unconsciousness, Skewbald became aware first of the startlingly cold wind that slashed across his back. Rustling came from everywhere around him. As if from a great distance, there came a constant and muffled crashing. A harsh caw sounded from above.

Opening his eyes demanded more mental willpower than Skewbald possessed in that moment, and he remained still where he lay. He became aware of the chilly grass beneath him, and the rough surface against which his back rested.

He must have been thrown right off the fort wall, Skewbald concluded. He was probably on the exterior, since the fort's courtyard had been entirely hard dirt. Judging by the lack of thunder and pelting rain, the wyld storm must have been entirely dissipated by the nullifier in the few minutes he'd been unconscious. It had been unconsciousness rather than sleep, he knew – enough misaligned and backfiring spells had educated him about the sensation in detail.

Had it been just a few minutes? Skewbald knew you couldn't be knocked unconscious for much longer without enduring nasty brain damage, and he tried to assess his own faculties as best he could. He was in Fort Livery, in the Neighvada region, and likely just outside one of the aforementioned fort's walls. Before he'd lost consciousness, he was operating the nullifier in spite of the universe's best attempts to stop him. The current Arch-Minister of the Asinial Parliament could be the Queen of Shebuck for all he knew. Nothing about that knowledge seemed incomplete.

Skewbald relaxed. It had just been a few minutes after all. He couldn't feel much discomfort beyond some bruising – even the leg that had been hit by the nullifier didn't hurt much. It throbbed, certainly, but not as much as it should have done if something had been broken inside. His horn itched and his head ached, but not to intolerable degrees. Any moment now, he'd hear the sound of a patrol coming to find him, he'd be taken somewhere warm and with a bed while being roundly congratulated, knock back a glass of heated and well-salted cider for his pains, and sleep until approximately the end of the next glacial aeon.

He liked that plan. He opened one eye on the off-chance the rescue team would be within sight already.

A blurry grassy knoll rose before him, shrouded in night's darkness. A cluster of several wiry pines clung to its top and sides, their limbs and trunk pale and their lower branches as bare as bones. His saddle-bag dangled from one of them, still swinging to and fro gently. Past the treetops, stars glimmered in the blackness, outshone by the rising moon. Faint blue trails ran behind the moon as it rose, the clear and constant aura of Luna's magic keeping it steadily moving.

Skewbald blinked, taken aback. He probed around for his presumably fallen glasses, found them a short distance away, and perched them on his face. He looked over the scene again, to no effect. It had been early in the afternoon when the storm had hit. He couldn't have been unconscious or left alone that long, surely.

And then it occurred to him that he'd not seen any trees inside the fort or around its walls.

He opened both eyes and, with a groan, rose tremblingly to his hooves. The knoll sat in the middle of a long and shallow gully, sparsely covered by the same pale pine trees. Moonlight peeked past the thin canopy and made the damp-looking leaves and undergrowth glimmer. From around Skewbald, there came distant chirps, scuffles of movement, rustles as a faint wind stirred faraway branches.

The rising sides of the dale were similarly covered by the pine forest. Past one side – the west, if Skewbald was judging the moon's direction of travel correctly – he could see great white shapes made indistinct by the veil of trees. From the eastern side, the visible sky of which was dominated by the moon, the same rhythmic crashing sounded. It was vaguely familiar to Skewbald, poking at some distant memory, and he was aggravated that he couldn't determine what it was.

That same aggravation pooled with confusion at his surroundings. There was no sign of Fort Livery; no fort, no ponies making themselves a nuisance, no river or farmland or so much as residual clouds from the wyld storm.

The last fleeting images of falling before he'd lost consciousness then resurfaced in Skewbald's mind, and a slow-burning and sinking suspicion took hold.

He turned for the eastern rise and began trotting there, absently magically lifting and securing his saddle-bag around his middle as he went. It was treacherous going. Far too much of the undergrowth seemed to consist entirely of cold and slippery mud, and protruding roots obliged Skewbald to summon light from his horn to be able to see his path. A small and chattering shadow darted across his path, and it had already vanished between the trees when he flicked his gaze to follow it.

Skewbald turned his attention back to the rise. With a last burst of exertion, he heaved himself up the steepening slope and squeezed through a narrow gap between the trees lining the top. A rocky outcrop ran out from the rise, which plunged down again into another expanse of forest. Skewbald stepped out onto the outcrop.

The world stretched out before him.

An ocean lay across the horizon; an expanse of black water beneath the starlit sky, holding the shimmering reflection of the overhanging moon like a jewel in its midst. The tide pounded on the ragged stretch of rocky coastline; the silhouettes of gulls swept back and forth across the moonlit stretch. The shapes of tiny islands sat out at sea like strewn pebbles. The forest plunged down to fill the great space between Skewbald and the sea, glittering under the stars and stirred by the cold wind.

At Skewbald's right-hand side and back, the forest ran onwards. Great white mountains broke from it like the ridged and worn spine of a leviathan. Their peaks seemed impossibly distant, all but shrouded by clouds and mantled by frost, and beyond them Skewbald saw greater mountains yet, turning the horizon beneath the stars to ragged darkness. The forest rose and fell around them like an ever-churning sea.

There was not a single sign of Fort Livery. Or so much as anything relating to the town, or the Neighvada region, or Equestria for that matter.

Skewbald's mouth slowly dropped open. "Horse-feathers," he breathed. He didn't fall to his haunches, but only with effort.

How?, was the first question that rose in his mind, closely followed by Where?, with a small and spiteful concluding grumble of Why me?

For How?, Skewbald guessed that some form of long-distance teleportation had become involved, assuming that this wasn't some sort of exceedingly underwhelming afterlife he'd been catapulted into by the last lightning strike.

Teleportation also would make sense of his surprisingly unharmed leg – Crepuscular's Formula had been found through examination of whatever long-distance teleportation was found in nature. Keeping yourself unscrambled after projecting everything that you were across hundreds of miles was an evolutionary benefit for magical species like the Sedentary Albatross, and the attribute seemed to naturally bind itself to any teleportation. The leading arcane scientists had yet to determine exactly why.

As for Where? … that was a different beast of a question altogether. Skewbald regarded the twists and knots of trees running before him and felt the sharp chill of a sudden breeze at his back with a faint queasiness. Nature was something every civilisation on the continent with so much as a pair of brain cells to rub together and the self-respect granted by so much as a half-inch of spine knew had to be controlled. He'd seen pictures and film footage of the Everfree, the Greycairns, and some of the untamed land in the continent to the south; but that wasn't anything like the same as actually being in it. If the inhabitants of this strange place didn't take their environment in hand – or if they didn't exist at all …

Skewbald glanced at the trees and resented them for not being more recognisable. Flora and fauna had always been trivia fit for earth ponies as far as he'd been concerned. The best he could guess about pines was that they thrived in colder climes. The snow-shrouded mountains offered support to that guess.

Skewbald looked back towards the rising moon, and what he guessed was the eastern horizon. Equestria didn't have much coastline that faced east, and certainly had none as disgustingly untamed as this.

He regarded the moon with some interest, a line of thought occurring to him. It had been an early afternoon in the late summer back in Equestria. Assuming that he had been out cold for just a few minutes, then he could extrapolate from the moon's position…

His train of thought was broken by a sudden and encroaching crashing from the trees to his left, coupled with what seemed like muffled yells.

It occurred to Skewbald then that he had exactly no idea what sort of creatures and predators haunted this land as well.

He was immediately on his hooves. He crouched slightly, his horn levelled and a defence-standard kinesis spell at the forefront of his mind, his eyes alighting like a marksmare's on each tree and shadow for any sign of oncoming movement.

The crashing, as if of a heavy creature barging past trees and trampling the undergrowth, came closer and closer. Skewbald tensed, looking for anything else he could use. Knock down overhanging branches and use a Fire Trick upon them, Reassign the edge from a sharp stone or broken branch to a kinesis blow, see if the creature had eyes, ankles, a throat –

The crashing came closer, and then terminated with an almighty thunk and a muffled and pained grunt. A few moments passed and then the crashing resumed, veering to one side.

Skewbald paused. Then he crept after the source of the crashing, carefully twisting off a broken branch and floating it at his side as he went. Passing between thick knots of trees and ducking under low-hanging branches, he finally emerged into a space where the trees were thinned out. There, the source of the crashing revealed itself.

A stallion covered over in bronze-coloured cadet armour, his white hide streaked with mud and scratches, seemed to be getting eaten head-first by a rotten tree stump. He stumbled along, blind to where he was going and vigorously trying to slam the stump side-on into the trees he collided with.

Skewbald stared, the branch falling from his grasp. But then again, if he had apparently been swept away to parts unknown –

Who else had been on the tower? "Chevalier?"

The stump-headed stallion paused in his thrashing attempts to dislodge his impromptu headwear, and tried to orient himself in the direction of Skewbald's voice. "Hnngld?"

The racket from Chevalier's attempts to get the stump off could bring down approximately every predator in a thousand-mile radius, if Skewbald was any judge. And he wanted a coherent second opinion on matters of timing, in any case. Green light built around his horn. "Hold still! I'll get that off!"

"Mmk!" Chevalier bowed his head towards Skewbald, trying to not tip over in the process. Skewbald extended his magic out to the stump, extending an aura around it. One hard and sharp tug should do it, and one hard and sharp tug did it; with an eruption of wood fragments and mould, the stump flew free.

It wasn't until the second after it flew free that Skewbald suddenly remembered important concepts like relative position, velocity, and direction of travel, and before more important concepts hit his mind, the stump got there first.

He wasn't knocked unconscious again, mercifully, but he was knocked tail-over-teakettle and spent the next few moments tasting purple while a bronze-coloured mass in the centre of his wobbling field of vision made concerned noises at him.

"- Are you alright?" came from Chevalier when the concerned noises started to coalesce into something Skewbald could make sense of. "Can you talk to me? I can carry you on my -"

"I'm somewhere that isn't Fort Livery," Skewbald managed, in a slightly slurred manner. "I was trying to determine what that somewhere was before some idiot got a stump planted around their skull. Who is the Asinial Arch-Minister, does anypony know?"

"I looked that up. Burro Delver, two terms served as yet. Do you need help standing?"

"Mother of – no," hissed Skewbald, rising by difficult increments to his own hooves and trying to shake his mental cogs and gears back into proper order. "I'm fine. My brain's … thing." More shaking. "Look, in the interests of saving myself needless thinking later on, do you know where we are?"

"I don't. First I knew after that lightning came hammering down was … falling through memories while the land passed underneath, if that makes sense? Then I was falling down through the sky and – well, met that stump head-first. I've been trying to get it off with my hooves and trees I blundered by for the last few minutes." Chevalier looked down at the ground, where his helmet had fallen after being tugged along with the stump. The white crest was spotted over with mould and scurrying woodlice, which Chevalier gently brushed loose. "I thought you might know. If we've been teleported away from the Fort – that what it seems like, at least – can you track where the storm took us?"

"Not directly," said Skewbald. "If I get the time to think, then maybe I can roughly plot where we - "

Just then, there came what sounded like a cry of alarm from further yet in the forest, accompanied this time by a furious high-pitched barking.

"Never mind. Apparently the world just doesn't want thinking to be done today," muttered Skewbald. Chevalier had already turned and was running; he scooped up his helmet and slammed it back into place.

Skewbald followed in his wake after a few seconds, just in time to meet the branches Chevalier had knocked aside swinging back into place. By the time the sound of the shouts and barking drew nearer, Skewbald had had to retrieve his glasses from the forest floor twice and was wishing a black curse upon all foliage that lived. He nearly ran into the armoured back of Chevalier, and turned aside just in time to avoid him. The source of the noise revealed itself.

Amidst the entangled branches of a cluster of confused pine trees that had apparently decided to start getting to know one another exceedingly well, an upside-down, trapped and familiar green-coated pegasus flailed. Each frantic flap of his wings sent leaves spinning to the ground, to the timberwolf that jumped up at the tree's pale trunk and barked incessantly.

"Help!" he cried out, in high and pleading tones. "Anypony? Help!"

The timberwolf in question was a puppy, the wood of its limbs still fresh and dark and spindly, its large eyes still bright and vivid green. It probably came up to the height of Skewbald's knees at its shoulders, and its barks bordered on excited yips.

Skewbald supposed that Zephyr's perspective in all this was upside-down, with the needle-teeth of the puppy landing mere inches away from his eyes with every leap it took; but it was the sort of sight that deserved some amount of snickering regardless.

Another timberwolf came limping out from between the trees. This one was an adult, and probably an old adult from what Skewbald could tell. Its wooden frame was pale and covered with old scars and knots, and it hesitated before each step, as if trying to estimate its environment with its pale eyes anew each time. It hovered near the pup, keeping an eye on the pegasus but seemingly too weary to take a leap of its own.

"Hold on!" Chevalier cantered towards the tree, stamping his hoof once to draw the attention of the timberwolves. The pup turned, seemed fleetingly befuddled by the sight of a larger and shinier oncoming target, and then a tinny snarl bubbled up from inside it. Chevalier wheeled to face it, his stance lowering and eyes narrowing. One steel-shod hoof stamped the ground before him in warning.

Before the pup could pounce up at Chevalier, the older timberwolf slammed out a paw onto the pup's tail with a fierce snarl. The pup yipped twice, with a furious and then imploring tone. A low growl was its answer from the older timberwolf. Its tail was released, and the pup slunk reluctantly behind its elder. The elder looked in turn from the paused Chevalier to Skewbald, and then padded away through the trees once more.

The pup seemed reluctant to follow, until a single rasping yip brought it to heel. It slunk away with its tail between its legs, casting brief glances behind it all the while.

Eventually, the sound of the timberwolves faded away altogether. Zephyr released a long and relieved breath. "I … thank you. That was timely." He tried again to extricate himself from the tangle of branches and wings. "What happened? Where – where are we?"

"Excellent question," said Skewbald, trotting up to stand beside the tree cluster. "I'll let the next pony in distress make themselves known before I start trying to answer."

"What?" Zephyr twisted within the tangle to little effect. "I, ah, I don't suppose you could help me down? I appear to be stuck."

"On it. Brace yourself," said Chevalier, striding up next to one of the trees and turning smartly. He crouched, his forelegs bending, and then snapped out his hindlegs to buck the trunk. The whole tree cluster wobbled under the impact, the shaking extending up to the tangle of branches. Zephyr struggled, got a wing free of the shaken tangle, and one bout of undignified flapping and kicking saw him free. He flapped down to the ground, and after a moment spent catching his breath, he turned to face Skewbald and Chevalier.

"Thank you for that," he panted. "I didn't know what else might … well …"

"What other timberwolf pups might come by and yip at you incessantly?" said Skewbald. "Quite a worry, certainly."

"I …" started Zephyr, flushing red and lowering his gaze. "…It looked bigger upside-down -"

"Enough," said Chevalier, sending a brief glower Skewbald's way before turning back to Zephyr. "Are you hurt at all?"

"No," said Zephyr, glancing over himself and shaking each limb and wing briefly. "No, not that I can tell." He paused, and then asked, "Where exactly are we? The last thing I remember was helping with the nullifier in Fort Livery. Then a bolt of lightning came down, everything got a little hectic, and I ended in freefall over – over wherever this is."

"Same for each of us who were on top of the tower." Chevalier glanced around them, concerned. "Silver Shield and Comet Trail went below, didn't they? They were the other cadets."

"They'd have been out of danger," said Skewbald curtly, glancing around as a distant howl sounded. He couldn't guess where or how far it had come from. Chevalier and Zephyr seemed to have heard it as well. "I doubt they're the ponies we need to be thinking about right now."

Chevalier seemed about to object, and then sighed. "You may be right. Come on. We'll find a safe place, hole up, and then try to figure out where we are."

Zephyr paused, where he'd been retrieving his fallen farrier's bag from the base of a tree. "What's a safe place here, exactly? A cave? A clearing?"

"Anywhere we can get a fire going," said Chevalier. He looked towards the mountains, their great shapes barely visible past the ragged treescape. "Come on. Summon up some light for us, Skewbald."

They made their hurried way through the forest in silence. Fallen branches snapped underhoof, and great trailing tree roots threatened to trip them up at every turn. The green orb of light Skewbald had summoned and which he held suspended above him gave them some illumination. He took the lead, his gaze constantly flicking to where the deepening shadows twitched and moved. Chirps and rustles, cut-off shrill screams and caws and cackles came as a constant litany from the trees around them as they pressed deeper into the forest. Skewbald caught sight of the odd pair of beady eyes watching them from undergrowth or atop branches, which vanished almost as soon as he focused upon them.

At his back, he was aware of Chevalier's heavy treads. From time to time, as they passed a dead and withered tree, he'd hear the cadet smash off several branches and shrug them onto the growing load on his back. Skewbald paid him little mind, assuming he'd be able to keep up. Zephyr, on the other hand, had taken up a scouting position above the treetops. From time to time, helpful advice would be hurled down, such as, "Veer right. I think there's a cave there not too far away!" or, "Wait, no, disregard that! That's a ravine and there's … something, maybe a hive of somethings moving in it!"

Eventually, the shout came, "Keep going straight on! There's a glade just ahead of us!"

Skewbald narrowed his gaze; and yes, there did seem to be a point past the trees where his light played over rustling grass. He cantered forward towards it, Chevalier close at his back. He emerged into the promised clearing, a surprisingly barren grassy circle amidst the trees. A tall and thin-branched tree sat in splendid isolation at the centre of it, while small creatures cropped at the grass around the edges.

Skewbald glanced at the creatures as he passed by; small hare-like beasts with the wings and tails of birds which he recognised vaguely as skvader. He'd only ever seen them before in half-ignored pictures in books and from the odd zoo trip when he was younger, and tried and failed to remember their natural habitat. The skvader flock seemed entirely unfussed by the ponies entering their midst. A pair of leverets even ventured a closer look, half-hopping and half-gliding across the grass.

He ignored them, instead turning his attention to Zephyr as the pegasus descended from the sky with an absurdly pleased look on his face.

"Good, eh?" said Zephyr. "Set up a fire here, and that should keep any wild nastiness off our tails while we catch our breaths and plot the shortest route back to civilisation. Do we need to get wood, or - ?"

"Way ahead of you," said Chevalier, trotting into the clearing and tipping the collected wood off his back with a grunt. He crouched down and began arranging it into a suitable shape for burning, stacking the branches into a rough pyramid of perpendicular layers.

Skewbald let them work, turning his back to them as he looked up and towards the moon, glimmering like a silver bit in the darkness.

With a murmur and a brief exertion of magic, he summoned the green-glowing transparent shape of a protractor before his eyes in mid-air. He angled the base line of the light construct to point towards the edge of the horizon with exacting care, and then rotated a leg on the device to point up towards the moon's centre, peering hard from behind it all the while.

"Is there some trick to lighting it?" came the voice of Zephyr. "Would you need paper, or kindling? I could try and get a lightning bolt to strike it if you need."

"There is such a trick," came Chevalier's intrusive reply. "In the Guard, its technical name is 'Get the unicorn to do it'. Skewbald, could we get a Fire Trick over - ?"

Without pausing as he noted the degree at which the leg sat, Skewbald focused briefly on the position of the fire and willed fire; with a satisfying rush of warmth at his back and orange light that spilled across the grass of the clearing, the wood ignited. There came thanks from Chevalier and Zephyr which Skewbald ignored as he considered the moon's angle. If he had to extract a time of day, he may as well be precise.

"Were either of you knocked out by your fall?" he said, turning back around to face the fire and the two ponies around it. Zephyr considered, and then said, "I don't think so, no," while Chevalier shook his head – he was midway through shrugging off his armour and his mouth was worrying at a strap.

"Assuming no time elapse in our teleportation," muttered Skewbald. "Time of day in Fort Livery versus time of night here, comes out to such-and-such chronoregions travelled - " He tried to bully the distances from his skull, but his earlier rapid-fire calculation at the nullifier and the stump's impact had conspired to leave his thoughts with a constant unpleasant background buzz. Thinking was hard, and he opted for the slow and stupid approach. That would probably be easier to explain to these two, in any case. "Here, I'll show you where we probably are."

He walked to the fire and collapsed next to it, his legs relieved of a fatigue he hadn't appreciated before. With another burst of magic, he summoned forth a rough outline of the continent in the air between him and the fire. Zephyr and Chevalier edged around to get a closer look, Zephyr doing so with a flight right over the building fire, while Chevalier trotted around , kicking the last piece of armour off his leg as he did so. Skewbald took stock of the cadet's unveiled cutie mark for the first time – two interlinked horse shoes – before turning his attention back to the map.

"That's where we were previously," said Skewbald. Equestria's green borders burst into existence on the blank map, and the approximate region of Fort Livery pulsed within it. "It was the early afternoon when we were spirited away, and if we assume it's still that early afternoon in Equestria, we've moved back a few time zones." Thin evenly-spaced vertical lines raced down the map, Fort Livery falling neatly in between two which passed through Equestria.

"I hear you," said Chevalier softly, frowning and peering closer even as he glanced briefly round at the moon. "So we must have been thrown eastwards, if the moon's already low in the sky where we are?"

"Quite a bit eastwards," said Zephyr, looking at the map with concern. "I'm trying to think where, though. Hopefully we're not too far from someone or something friendly. This whole region looks like it could fit into the Greycairns – we might be just north of Capra or Bovaland, or next to an underhold or something of the sort."

"If we look at the time difference indicated by the moon's position, then we could actually get an exact answer rather than vague inferences and blind hoping." A svkvader pressed itself against Skewbald's side and he shoved it away, irritated. He focused again on the map. The lines of the time zone for Fort Livery flashed, and then the flash moved right to the next time zone along. "Working back like this, then …"

Chevalier and Zephyr watched as the highlighted time zone moved steadily eastwards. Skewbald was aware of Zephyr wincing as the highlight passed from Equestria altogether, and of Chevalier frowning briefly as it passed over the narrow strip that was the Asinial Republic.

The highlight moved onto the parallel nations of Capra and Ovarn, the former running along and into the Greycairns and the latter running past Capra down to the coastline. They both sprawled over several time zones as well, and Skewbald kept going.

He only began to get an inkling of the stopping point by the time he'd moved onto the first time zone passing through the mass of Bovaland. "Hmm," murmured Skewbald, in surprised acknowledgement.

"'Hmm'? What's 'Hmm'? Are we – oh, skyfire, don't tell me we're that far out," said Zephyr, his voice becoming ever-so-slightly higher as he spoke.

"Save your skyfires yet. He's still going – oh, perfect," interjected Chevalier, as the highlight moved past Bovaland and into Corva, the last long tapering expanse of land where the Greycairns didn't run into the sea. "Don't tell me we're either north of or within Corva, neither's a pleasant prospect."

"Not exactly," muttered Skewbald as the highlight took its last few jumps across the ragged country.

"What do you mean, not exactly? What the flying feathers is left - ?" Chevalier stopped speaking as the highlight finally stopped.

It had stopped more than a full time zone past the eastern border of Corva. The only dry land in the whole time zone from Utmost North to South was the last spur of the Greycairns jutting into the ocean.

Silence held for a few moments, broken at last by Chevalier saying in an unusually calm voice, "Oh, so that's what's left. Don't you live and learn." A subdued laugh then broke free of him, and he rubbed his forehead with his hoof. "For the love of Celestia, double-check that estimate. Please double-check that."

"We're that far out?" said Zephyr in a small and astonished voice, that didn't seem to know whether it wanted to thrill to the occasion or be terrified. "That … that's as far from Equestria as a pony can get without treading water!"

"Isn't it just?" Skewbald's own measured tone, he felt, managed to conceal a great and growing distemper at this twist of fate. He'd signed up to protect Fort Livery with the hope of receiving kudos and congratulations. Not for this.

This went beyond rank unfairness on the universe's part, beyond what he might have normally come to expect. This was a frankly amazing new low. Skewbald felt he'd need some time to dwell on it before the full implications set in.

In his peripheral vision, one of the skvader leverets hopped closer to the tree at the clearing's centre. The firelight carved rough shadows into the dark red bark of the tree's trunk and made the shadows of the whip-thin branches jerk and dance. The skvader lowered its head to crop at the tree's base.

Without warning, one of the branches lashed down and wound around the skvader's throat. Skewbald started and fell back, surprised by the sudden motion, while Zephyr and Chevalier turned to see the motion and let loose their own cries of alarm. A crack sounded from the tree, and what Skewbald had taken to be a natural thin hole in the wood peeled apart further. The serrated wood at the hole's edge glistened, and a long, low rattle sounded from the tree.

The skvader struggled briefly, high-pitched coughs escaping it all the while. With one ferocious tug, the branch whipped it off its feet and into the air, dragging it swiftly towards the hole in the trunk. The creature was tossed into the hole before it could begin to flap its wings, and with one sinuous motion that seemed to shiver up and down the trunk, the hole slammed shut.

The rumble from the tree and the crash of wood was almost enough to drown out the crunch.

Chevalier boggled, and rested one hoof on his helmet at the ground. Zephyr opened and shut his mouth, his face pale.

"Yes," said Skewbald absently while the other two stared, "Definitely far away from Equestria."