Scootaloo glances through the crowd of ponies on the pier. It’s a churning, shifting mosaic-ocean of faces, mane colors, and voices.
The Manehattan Air Dock might not be as big or fancy as the one in Cloudsdale, but it was certainly every bit as busy. Or maybe even more so. After all, if you take the same number of ponies and put them into a smaller space, haven’t you made it busier? Or maybe it only feels busier.
It’s an annoying train of thought, and Scoots quickly abandons it. Here, it’s easy to let her mind wander, almost as if she could just turn off her brain and let the murmuring din of the crowd do the thinking for her.
But not now, Scoots. She clears her head with a quick shake. Focus.
Leaning out over the railing of the Selena, she casts her gaze into the sea of faces on the pier once more, fishing for a familiar one. There’s a white-coated pony to her left (is it her?), but no, it’s a stallion heading towards some big, fancy zeppelin, sweating and swearing as if the heat had singled him out for torment. Scootaloo rolls her eyes at how he stumbles on the gangplank as he tries to board.
Scootaloo briefly entertains herself with mental images of pompous, pretentious ponies tripping and falling off airships. She feels a twinge of guilt from giggling, so she puts it out of her mind and glances through the crowd again.
Scoots is just about to give up and let herself doze off again when she sees a snow-white figure near the back of the Docks. Scootaloo squints—and yes—it’s her! For a moment, she doubts herself, but then she catches a glimpse of the alabaster mare’s cutie mark: a familiar trio of musical notes. Pushing aside her anxiety, she throws both hooves in the air.
“Hey! Hey, over here!” she yells, leaning over the Selena’s railing.
A few long moments pass before Sweetie Belle happens to glance her way. When she does, Scoots flails a hoof wildly in the air. She can see the exact moment Sweetie recognizes her; the unicorn’s form perks up and she turns herself on a dime.
Scootaloo hops from her ship to the dock just as Sweetie Belle comes into sight from behind a passing tour group.
Stars, she’s looks just like her sister.
Two sparkling emeralds for eyes, framed by cheekbones so delicate that they could be made from porcelain. Her face is sleek and graceful, almost celestial. Billowing curls of pink and mauve hair cascade down onto her slender shoulders.
“Scootaloo?” she asks with a liquidly musical voice that bears equal parts anxiety and bewilderment.
Scoots leaps up and forwards and throws both hooves around Sweetie Belle’s head and pulls her in. Her bulky flight jacket makes it a bit difficult, but Scootaloo finds an angle that works. Sweetie Belle’s fur is soft and warm, and Scootaloo rubs her cheek into the crook of her small, princessly shoulder.
“Oh my Celestia, Sweetie Belle, it’s been ages! You look amazing!”
“Scoots—! I… I can’t—” gasps out Sweetie Belle, as she repeatedly and desperately taps Scoot’s shoulder.
Scootaloo turns to see what’s wrong, and then she notices how the top of her jacket’s thick, stiff collar is wedged underneath Sweetie’s chin, up against her throat.
“Oh, oh, I’m sorry!” she says, releasing her hold. For the next few panicked moments, she doesn’t know what to do.
But as Sweetie catches her breath, her gasps and coughs gradually give way to scratchy, whooping laughter.
“Oh my goodness,” the unicorn manages between breaths. “Talk about an adrenaline rush! Ha ha, you haven’t changed one bit, ‘Loo.”
Sweetie Belle finally straightens and takes her first good look at Scootaloo. Her eyes widen ever so slightly, and suddenly Scoots is very self-conscious.
“Ha, I think I might have spoken too soon.” Sweetie giggles. “You look amazing, Scootaloo.”
Scoots’ eyes skirt downwards, and she blushes as she tries to figure out just what’s gotten into Sweetie Belle. Her flight jacket’s the same as when they last met. Her mane’s a bit longer, though; she can twirl it around her hoof, now. Her coat’s a bit more sun-bleached, but, hey, that’s what happens when you’re out on an air boat all the time. That, and the bit of lean muscle she’s put on—sailing’s tough work, after all.
Okay, so maybe I do look a little different.
“Heh, Selena hasn’t changed at all, though.”
Scootaloo realizes that Sweetie Belle isn’t looking at her anymore. Instead, she’s walking alongside Selena, gazing at the ship from the top of its lifting balloon to the bottom of it hull. There’s a lopsided smile on Sweetie Belle’s lips and she takes in the sight of the majestic airship.
Scootaloo smiles. Her boat is sleek and strong and sexy, and she’s proud of it. Sweetie Belle's running a hoof along the gliding curve of its port side, and Scoots knows that she can see it too—the hot spirit and fire in Selena’s soul. Scootaloo loves every inch of her forty feet of hull, and it makes her grin fiercely.
“Yeah,” Scootaloo replies, “she’s a heck of a ship.”
Sweetie Belle giggles. “What does her name mean, again?”
“It’s the old Pegasopolian word for ‘Luna.’”
“Huh, yeah. I’ve always thought that was a little weird.” says Sweetie, with a furrowed brow.
Scoots shrugs. “Well, can’t change the name of a boat, you know. It’s bad luck. Besides, I think it fits her.”
“Yeah,” she replies after a moment. “I guess it does.”
“Well, she and I are more than ready to take you for a ride.” Scoots glances around the dock. “Where are your bags, anyway?”
A little frown etches itself onto Sweetie Belle’s face. “I wanted to travel light, this time. I didn’t like the idea of baggage weighing me down, where I’m going.”
“Okay,” says Scootaloo, with an understanding nod. “Speaking of which, your letter didn’t really specifically say where it was that you needed to go. You’re gonna have to tell me before we leave in case I have to make preparations or all that.”
Immediately, Sweetie’s ears drops, and she bites her lower lip.
“Well…” she said with a fake-as-can-be chuckle. “This is going to sound pretty weird, okay?”
“What do you mean, Sweetie?” Scootaloo tilts her head.
“I think…” She trails off. Then Sweetie Belle shivers, as if steeling herself. “I want you to take me somewhere far. I… don’t really care that much about the specifics. Just, somewhere with ponies, but they need to be all by themselves, you know?”
“I don’t understand.” Scootaloo shakes her head. “Somewhere far? What’s going on, Sweetie?”
“I mean,” says Sweetie, “I just want to be somewhere else, you know? Somewhere that’s not Canterlot, or Manehattan, or Filly. Somewhere that’s not like Equestria. Do you know someplace that’s like that?”
“Yeah, but this is, like, something I’ve never done before, and it’s kinda freaking me out. Are you alright, Sweetie?”
The mare shuffled her hooves.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she says, almost noncommittally. “I just need to be somewhere else, right now, I think.”
Something isn’t right. Scootaloo twirls a hoof through her mane. With a pang in her heart, she suddenly regrets not keeping tabs on her friends as much as she should have during her trips. Maybe that way she’d know what the hay was going on with Sweetie.
This is really, really not okay, I think.
But the way Sweetie’s standing there—so brave and so helpless—twists Scoot’s insides all up. There was something not right, and she was definitely going to figure it out.
Besides, I can’t just leave her here, can I?
“I know a place,” she says, and Sweetie Belle’s eyes light up. “It’s called Summer Island, and it’s about a week or two of smooth sailing straight east. There’s a little kelping village there called Lorelay that I’ve done a few supply runs for. The ponies there are real nice.”
“Kelping?” The unicorn’s snout wrinkled. “Like seaweed?”
“Yeah, it’s actually not half bad. A little salty, but it’s getting more popular. They opened up a place downtown that’s been getting good business, I hear.” Scootaloo shrugs. “Anyways, the folks in Lorelay have got this trading thing going on with the local seaponies. Gems and fruit for stuff like pearls and coral and kelp.”
“Seaponies?” Sweetie deadpans. With a huff she turns her back. “Look, you don’t need to make fun of me. You could have just told me that you didn’t know a place.”
“Yeah, make up some place with kelp and seaponies.” Her voice becomes hoarse, and starts to waver. “Real darn subtle, Scoots.”
“What? No, no, Sweetie!” Scootaloo throws both hooves out and shakes them in surrender. "Seaponies are real! I’m not—I wouldn’t do that to you!”
Sweetie turns her head back to Scootaloo, but she still doesn’t seem convinced.
“Seaponies?” She squints her eyes and studies Scootaloo’s face for any sign of deception. “Like in the fairytale books? Those seaponies?”
“Well, no, they’re not exactly like in the books. B-But those are just kids’ stories you know? You can’t exactly take them word for word!”
“But… seaponies?” Sweetie Belle’s eyes darted from side to side. “Really? Like ‘shoo-be-doo’ and everything?”
Scootaloo shrugs. “They like to sing, what can I say?”
A moment or two passes with Sweetie Belle still on the fence about it all.
“Look,” says Scoots, “You can write a letter to Twilight about it. She and I went and visited some of them, like, four or five months ago. I mean, you can get it from her that seaponies are real…” Scootaloo points to her boat. “…or you could just come with me, and I’ll show you.”
Sweetie Belle glances around the dock and back the way she came. Then she fixes her eyes with Scoots’.
“Okay, let’s go.”
“Awesome!” Scootaloo hugs Sweetie, before letting her go and motioning towards Selena. “I just got stocked up on supplies for the trip, so we can leave whenever you’re ready.”
“How about right now?”
Scootaloo blinks. Then she grins. “Hop right on, then.”
Sweetie nods. As Scootaloo starts undoing the mooring that kept Selena held to the pier, Sweetie takes one tentative step, and then another onto the ship’s gently swaying deck.
“Oh, there’s one thing I forgot to mention,” says Scootaloo through a mouthful of rope. “Lorelay’s a bit, well, out in the middle of nowhere. It’s like the nineties over there; they don’t have radios or anything like that. It’s got a real retro feel to it, ya know what I mean? Might take a few to get used to it.”
“That actually sounds perfect.”
Scootaloo undoes the last rope and leaps onto the deck. “Cool beans. Let’s get in the air.”
Climbing onto the ship, Scootaloo gets behind the wheel and throws open the throttle. Selena’s balloon fills with a hiss, and the entire airship gradually rises up out of its place on the Docks. Slowly, Scootaloo guides her boat through the cloud of airships arriving at and departing from the pier. A short little clipper eagerly takes the newly vacated spot that Selena leaves behind.
“How have you been, Scootaloo?” Sweetie asks.
“Well, I can’t complain.” Scootaloo shrugs. “Work’s been good, and the weather’s been great for sailing this year. Got this deal set up with a small fabric company; they got me shipping their doilies and napkins for about three months out of the year.”
“A three month job?” Sweetie’s jaw drops. “Sweet Celestia, that’s unbelievable! How do you stay sane?”
“Well, it’s actually two six-week jobs, one in the spring and one in the fall,” Scootaloo chuckles. “But, yeah, sometimes it’s just me and Selena for a long while. It’s good to see a familiar face now and then.”
Scootaloo grins at Sweetie Belle, who shoots a smile back. With a twist of a lever, Scootaloo sends Selena over a blimp and into clear skies. Without any more boats to avoid, Selena starts to pick up speed along its ascent.
Scootaloo leans over and sees Sweetie Belle at the bow of the ship, holding the railing at peaking over the front. She remembers how she used to do the same. It’s darned breathtaking the first time you see the Docks down so far below with all the ships and blimps rising and falling from it.
Scootaloo checks the altimeter; they’re high enough now. The smell of the sea below them has faded, and the wind has gained a biting edge. With a turn of the throttle, the hiss of gas flowing into the balloon ceases. When their ascent has slowed to a stop, Scootaloo releases the winch that has kept the sails rolled up at the top of the mast. A sound almost like thunder echoes across the empty skies as the main sail whips open and is slammed full-on by the an east wind.
“We’re tacking! Remember how it goes?” Scoots calls out. “Watch your head!”
Sweetie gives a nod of acknowledgement and carefully watches the boom.
Then Scootaloo turns the ship into the wind. The sail swings around, and Sweetie ducks beneath the wooden beam of the boom as it turns across the deck.
When the turn is complete, the mainsail now hangs over the right side of the boat, with the wind on their left. It pushes them almost due southeast. Scoots check the map and adjusts their course a little. The wind’s blowing the wrong way, so they’re not entirely on track. They’ll have to tack again and head northeast for a while if this eastern wind keeps up for long.
No biggie, thinks Scootaloo as she grasps the wheel.
It’s so much quieter now, compared to the Manehattan Docks. There’s only the shuffle of wind and the creak of wood and the great big empty expanse of the skies. Scootaloo feels the motion of the ship in her hooves, in the little turbulent tugs on the wheel and on her face as the wind kisses her cheeks while it dances by them.
In that moment, all was well and right in the entire world.
/~~~~~ o ~~~~~\
Three days go by with hardly a word exchanged between the two. Sweetie Belle spends most of each day sitting out on the stern, watching the ocean below them or the clouds above them, while Scootaloo works the wheel behind her.
Every once in a while, Sweetie turns back and looks at Scoots and gives her an odd, peaceful little smile. When this happens, Scootaloo doesn’t know what to do, so she just smiles back and waves from her spot all the way at the back of Selena. So far, it seems to be the right thing to do—Sweetie Belle nods and turns back towards the skies or the sea.
On the evening of the fourth day, there’s a good westerly wind, so Scootaloo ties up the wheel to hold course and takes a seat by Sweetie’s side.
“Hey, Sweetie. Whatcha thinking about?”
“I don’t know, Scoots.” Sweetie sighs, and her breath hangs foggily in the air.
It’s crisply cold up here, but Scootaloo has her well-worn flight jacket to keep the chill out. Sweetie Belle is wrapped in a blanket Scoots had found in the room below deck. It’s old and blue and smells of mothballs.
Sweetie Belle is fiddling with something in her hooves. When Scootaloo leans over, she sees that it’s a flat little stone, with a crude faded painting of a caped filly on it. Scootaloo’s eyes widen, and a smile splits her face.
“Is that your CMC graduation medal? How the heck do you still have that thing? I lost mine years ago!”
Sweetie’s eyes twinkle, and she says, “Twilight showed me how to keep it in safe in a little slipspace pocket. She calls it a magical knapsack. Mine isn’t big enough to hold much—just this and a few other keepsakes.”
“Wow, that’s pretty useful.” Sweetie studies the decade-old stone again. “Ha, that’s such a blast from the past, y’know? I almost forgot about how we made those.”
Sweetie nods. Then her brow furrows, and her eyes get all creased around the edges. It’s an odd expression, and just when Scootaloo is about to ask her about it, Sweetie opens her mouth.
“Do you ever think about settling down?” Sweetie asks. “Like, a starting a family?”
Scootaloo rubs the back her neck.
“Not really,” she says. “I mean, if the right stallion came along, then maybe. But that sort of stuff is on the backburner for me. What about you? Looking for a special somepony?”
“I don’t know. There was one pony who came close… but she wasn’t the one in the end.” Sweetie shrugs. The little painted rock tumbles from one hoof to the other. “Sometimes it’s hard to think about the future, you know? It’s gets easier to think about the past, instead.”
“Yeah, I get what you mean,” says Scootaloo. “Being all alone on a boat all the time makes you think about that sort of thing.”
Sweetie Belle smiles. Her eyes are elsewhere, but her hooves are still absently playing with her medal.
“Have you seen Apple Bloom recently?” she asks.
“Yeah, um…” Scootaloo taps her chin as she thinks. “We went to the Gala together last year, and the summer afterwards we spent cider season together.”
“It’s been a while since the three of us went and did something all together.” Sweetie looks out across the bow at the pink-tinged clouds.
“I guess it has,” Scootaloo says. “She’s got the farm, and you’ve got your singing, and I’ve got my Selena. We should try to work something out, though, it’d be nice to get together again.”
“How was it to get to spend time with her? Did you get to do anything fun?”
“Oh, heck, yeah!” Scootaloo grins. “We got absolutely smashed. Did you know the Apples keep the best cider behind the counter? AB and I got into the good stuff like two minutes after she shooed the last customer away.”
Sweetie laughs, and Scootaloo takes it as a cue to continue.
“She and I get drunk off our hooves with Mac, and then the big guy gets it in his head that we should play sip-poker with apple brandy shots.” Scootaloo shakes her head at the memory. “I only remember a round or two before it all goes black. Next thing I know, I’m waking up in Twilight’s throne room with the mother of all hangovers. It was how I ran into her for that seapony trip, actually.”
“Seaponies,” says Sweetie Belle, and she blows a raspberry. “I still can’t get over that.”
“Ha, I bet you’ll still be saying that when they’re right in front of you.”
“Yeah, I will.” Sweetie Belle tosses her head to the side with faux haughtiness. “Not gonna believe a word you say until I shake hooves with a flipper.”
“Won’t that be a sight to see.” Scoots smiles and gazes upwards. The sun is setting behind them, so the very first stars of the night are lighting up in the skies in front of them.
“Do you ever miss Ponyville?”
“I don’t know.” Scootaloo squirmed in her seat a little. “I think I miss the ponies more than the actual place, you know?”
“Ah, that’s not what I meant…” Frustration creeps into Sweetie Belle’s dulcet voice. “I mean, do you miss when we lived in Ponyville?”
“You mean when we were fillies?” Scootaloo chuckles at a few memories that come up. “I guess I do. We had a heckuva lotta fun, didn’t we?”
“Yeah, I guess we did.”
Sweetie Belle’s staring up at a big, twinkling star that’s almost directly in front of them. Their half of the sky is almost completely dark, now. Scootaloo turns back and sees the last light of the sun tip-toeing down the horizon and out of sight. The silver-white edge of the moon is just starting to reveal itself from under the other side of the sky’s dome. As if recognizing her namesake, Selena gives a gentle creak of wood and rocks slowly from side to side in the wind.
“I’ve been thinking about Ponyville a lot, lately.” Sweetie’s voice breaks the stillness of the dark. “I spent so much time trying to figure out who I was and what I was going to be, you know? Crusading and stuff—it was like trying take just a tiny little piece of what the world was all about and squishing it down into our heads and making it a part of us. Like we were trying to understand all that. You know what I mean?”
“I think I do.” Scotaloo shrugs, but she doesn’t know if Sweetie Belle sees it.
“I was so desperate to figure out my entire life.” Sweetie Belle pauses, as if she's trying to pick her words. “But now I look back, even with my cutie mark and everything, and sometimes I think that I knew more about the world when I was in Ponyville than I do now.”
Scootaloo doesn’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter, because after just a moment, Sweetie Belle opens her mouth again.
“Sometimes I think that maybe the whole world was just easier to understand back then, and it’s just gotten worse and worse. I know it sounds dumb, but it feels like that. And sometimes I think the world’s gotten so bad that it isn’t worth waking up in the mornings. Sometimes I think that it’s all downhill from here—that I’ll never feel anything new again.” Sweetie turns the rock in her hooves over and over. “Dumb, I know.”
“It’s not dumb, Sweetie.” Scootaloo shakes her head. “You’re not dumb.”
Half a smile works its way onto Sweetie’s face. Encouraged, Scootaloo continues.
“And it’s not all downhill from here, either. I mean, didn’t you just put out a new album? I hear it’s been selling like candy. That’s gotta feel good, huh?”
Sweetie’s smile vanishes.
Oh, shoot, what did I say?
“Yeah, it did feel good. For a while.” Sweetie’s playing with that rock again, letting it fall from one hoof into the other. “Then I listened to it, like, the whole thing, from start to finish all in one go. And I realized that it didn’t make me happy. I mean, it did a little, but not as much as when I used to sing with Fluttershy, or even as much as listening to you when were singing for that dumb little talent show thing we did back in school. I liked remembering those things more than I liked listening to that stupid album.
“And then it started playing on the damn radio, and then ponies started telling me how good it was, how it was the best thing the industry has seen since Sapphire Shores. What a bunch of baloney!”
With a flick of her horn, the painted rock in her hooves vanishes in into green sparkles. In the brief flash of light, Scootaloo can swear that she sees twinkling teardrops on Sweetie’s face, reflecting the jade glow of her magic.
“I feel like a sham.”
Sweetie Belle’s voice doesn’t sound like a crying pony’s.
Maybe I imagined it?
“Maybe the real Sweetie Belle died, and I’m just a changeling, or a ghost, or something.” Sweetie rests her head on Selena’s railing. “I get these nightmares sometimes. They’re about me forgetting myself, and everypony else trying to remind me who I am. Sometimes I wake up yelling, and sometimes I like them.”
“Sweetie Belle, I…” Scootaloo says. She wraps a hoof around the unicorn’s thin shoulder. “Sweetie, I didn’t know.”
Sweetie Belle shakes her head and wipes her eyes with a hoof.
“Oh gosh, Scootaloo,” she says, “I didn’t mean to make you sad. It’s not your fault, Scoots. I shouldn’t have said anything. I’m sorry, I’m being dumb again.”
“No, you’re not.” Scootaloo hugs her tighter. “You’re just… I didn’t know it was like this.”
“No, it isn’t ‘like that,’” Sweetie insists. “Look, just forget everything I said. It was just some absent-minded garbage. I’m just probably tired. Not used to sleeping on a moving boat, you know.”
“Don’t. Just please, don’t worry about me.” Sweetie Belle gets up, and Scootaloo’s arm falls limply from around her neck.
“Okay,” says Scootaloo. “I won’t, if that’s what you want.” She smiles to prove it.
“Thank you,” says Sweetie Belle. She pulls Scootaloo into another hug. “Thanks for understanding me, Scoots.”
Sweetie Belle picks up her mothy blanket and makes her way back down below deck for the night, leaving Scootaloo alone at the stern. The pegasus watches the moon’s slow journey across a river of stars for a long time. When she’s just about to start dozing off, she pulls herself onto her hooves and follows Sweetie down below deck, where her cot’s waiting.
/~~~~~ o ~~~~~\
The next morning, Scootaloo wakes up, and she can feel it.
She climbs out from below deck and is greeted by the sun shining from its spot on the horizon. The Selena is pointed almost straight towards it, so Scootaloo shades her eyes and blinks away the dark spots in her vision.
Sweetie Belle’s already in her spot at the prow, and the sun behind her makes her fur and mane glimmer golden. Scootaloo smiles and gives her a wave.
During the night, the wind had shifted to the southwest. Scootaloo turns and faces it—and then she feels it again.
Scoots unzips her heavy flight vest, and it falls to the deck with a muffled whump. She spreads her wings into the wind, catching every minute change in its texture.
The wind and her pegasus gut tells her that there’s a storm coming. She can see it in her mind’s eye, now: it’s a big, black, angry animal that’s sprinting to them from the other side of the horizon. She feels the discharge of distant lightning, the howling of approaching winds, the pitter-patter of the coming rain.
“Storm’s coming,” she says as she pulls her vest back on. “Should be here in a couple of hours. It’s a pretty big one, too.”
Sweetie Belle blanches .
“Is there anything I can do?” she says.
“Yeah, could you go below and put away anything that could fall or rock around, especially those jars of dragonflame in the cabinet. I’ll take care of things up above deck.” Scootaloo gives a reassuring smile. “It’s your first storm at sea, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Well,” says Scoots, “you probably should stay in your cot. Sit upright in a corner; it’ll help a bit. It’s a fast-moving storm, so it should be out of our hair after an hour or two. Just ride it out, ‘Belle, you’ll be fine.”
“Okay, I think I’ll go ahead and head down. No point in me getting in your way up here,” Sweetie Belle says. She steps across the deck climbs into the trapdoor. Scoots hears her footfalls on the five steps down.
When she’s gone, Scootaloo starts the process of getting Selena storm-ready. She pulls the sails down to half-mast and gives them enough rope to hang limply. Then she rolls them up against the mast and ties them in place with rope. It takes the better part of the hour to put away each of the sails on the main-mast and the foremast.
Stepping back behind the wheel, Scootaloo checks the pneumatics. The dial is a bit closer to the red than she’d like, and it might even climb a bit during the storm.
Oh well, it’s not like I have enough time to vent and cycle it before the wind starts kicking up. It’ll hold this time.
Her ear flicks when she hears a distant crack of thunder and its rumbling echo. The storm’s almost on them, now. Quickly checking Selena’s rudders and ailerons she heads back behind the wheel and chokes off the throttle.
The pressure in the pipes feeding the balloon drops. Gas hisses out through the tubes and back into the storage tanks below, as the stretched fabric contracted back down. Scoots lets the pressure bleed away until Selena hangs just a couple of hundred feet above the ocean’s surface.
As a last measure against the approaching storm, Scootaloo kicks off the winch that drops a heavy drift anchor into the water below them. It’ll help hold them in place.
Just as it splashes into the sea, the first raindrops start hitting Scoots’ cheeks. Working quickly, Scootaloo ties a safety line around the main mast and hooks it though a carabiner on her flight suit. Finally, she picks up her raincoat from its spot on a peg and squirms into it as the drizzle becomes a shower, and the shower becomes a torrent.
The wind isn’t far behind the rain. It whips across the deck, throwing raindrops into Scootaloo’s face. She turns away and firmly grips the wheel. It wrenches and lurches first one way, then the other as the storm buffets Selena’s air rudders.
Scootaloo has her other hoof on the airbrake lever, guiding it with a precise touch. Being loose with the air rudders wouldn’t do her any good, but straining on them too much might catch the wind the wrong way and snap them right off the Selena’s sides.
It’s tough work, knowing when to strain against the wheel and when ease off. The storm is big and wild; it’d be impossible for anyone to keep the ship absolutely steady, but Scootaloo can fight against the worst of the rocking.
Every few minutes, an especially bad gusts tilts the ship so far that Scootaloo needs to fight to keep from slipping across the deck.
Then a violent blast of wind comes from the portside, where she least expects it. The airbrakes are too loose—they don’t tear, but they fill with wind, and twist the ship around.
Scootaloo’s back hoof slips and she flails for purchase. As her chin strikes the deck, her forehoof wraps around the throttle by chance, and throws it wide open. The rise in pressure is immediately followed by a deafening metallic clack, like a gunshot.
Oh, hail, no.
Scootaloo scrambles back to her feet on the wet, slippery deck and throws the lever shut, but the damage is already done.
The pneumatics dial is at zero; she’s busted a valve somewhere. When she glances at the slowly falling balloon pressure gauge, her worst fear is confirmed. A gate on a feeding pipe must have given way, and the rupture has torn a hole in the balloon. They’re losing altitude, inch by inch and foot by foot. Looking upwards, she can see a wildly flapping strip of cloth that came off of the balloon’s starboard side.
Scootaloo needs to work fast. She takes a length of rope and ties the wheel to the tiller, holding both of them firmly in place. After she unclips herself from the safety line, Scoots scrambles her away across the swaying deck and down the trapdoor to bellow.
“Sweetie! Sweetie Belle, I need you.”
An acid stench fills her nose.
Sweetie Belle is holding her head over the foot of her cot, a puddle of vomit on the floor below her. She’s still retching dryly, spitting up bile and mucus. Her eyes meet Scoot’s, and tears start to brim at their corners.
“I’m sorry, Scootaloo,” she manages as she catches her breath.
“It’s fine, Sweetie.” Scootaloo steps around the puddle and hugs her as the ship lurches around them. “I’ll take care of it later, but I need your help right now.”
She takes off her raincoat and her flight suit.
“We’ve busted a valve and sprung a leak in the balloon,” she says as she helps Sweetie Belle into her jacket and suit. “I’ve got enough lifting gas in storage to make up for the loss, but we gotta fix the hole right now, or else we’re gonna touch down.”
“Okay,” says Sweetie, as she adjusts the raincoat. “What do I have to do?”
“It’s pretty simple, you just gotta hold a couple of ropes for me so I can reach the hole.” Scootaloo grabs the oilcloth knapsack that holds her repair kit and throws the strap over her shoulder. “I’ll show you which ones. You’ll do fine, Sweetie, but we kinda gotta go right now.”
Sweetie Belle nods resolutely, and follows Scoots up the ladder and out the hatch to the deck.
The moment Scootaloo opens the door, she’s drenched to the bone in rain. Blinking it out of her eyes, she leads Sweetie Belle to the mainmast and ties the safety line to her friend.
“Don’t you need one?” Sweetie yells over the rain.
“It’s not long enough,” Scootaloo replies. “Can’t reach the balloon with one on.”
“But what if you fall?”
“Trust me Sweetie, I’ve done this like ten times.” Scootaloo rubs away the water that’s running down in rivers across her nose and chin. She points to a rope that goes up the foremast. “That line there, you gotta pull it and keep it pulled until I’m done. The one over there, keep it slack until I wave at you. Then give it a few quick tugs. Got it?”
Sweetie Belle nods and grasps the ropes in her magic. “Be careful, Scoots!”
Scootaloo spreads her wings and takes a short, hopping flight to the rigging, climbing the rope until she’s at the top of the foremast. When she’s at the top, she walks along the crossbeam until she’s at the very end, right next to the far edge of the balloon.
There’s a gap between the beam and the scaffolding along the balloon’s sides. Gulping away her anxiety, she waits until the ship is in between sways. When Selena is more or less even, she leaps across the gap and onto the rocking planks on the other side.
The wood is slippery, but she finds her footing quickly. Now it’s just a matter of shimmying across until she’s at the tear.
When she gets up next to it, she assesses the damage. It’s a bit bigger than she made it out to be on the deck, but she can still fix it relatively easily.
Careful not to breathe in the fumes escaping from the torn fabric, she begins her work. Scootaloo pinches the cloth up with her teeth to let her pass a needle through it. The thick nylon thread is elastic enough to stretch with the balloon, but strong enough to hold the ends of fabric together. When the flap of cloth is back in place, she takes a heavy patch and sews it on top of the breach. She has to stop every few moments to wipe away the rain in her eyes, and it makes her work slow and frustrating.
Finally, the stitching is done. Reaching into her bag, she retrieves a jar of pitch and brushes it liberally across the patch and the surrounding seams. To finish it off, she coats it all with an oily sealant that hardens within moments of leaving its tube.
She looks down over the side of the boat. They’re less than a hundred feet from the sea, but they’re not falling anymore. Satisfied, she signals to Sweetie down on the deck, who gives three firm tugs to the starboard mooring line. The side of the balloon twists and stretches, but the repairs hold.
Another particularly bad gust of wind reminds her that they’re not out of the woods just yet. She’ll need to hurry down and open up the auxiliary feeds to get them back up to a safer height.
Again, she shimmies across the side of the balloon and makes her way to the mast. Scootaloo hugs the swaying scaffolding until she’s ready to make the jump back onto the mast. When the ship’s rocking becomes less violent, she gets up and leaps.
When she lands, one hoof slips on the soaked wood.
She loses her balance, and her head knocks down on the crossbeam. If she has the time to recover, she might be able to regain her footing, but another violent wind steals that opportunity from her.
Her other hooves slip, and now she’s falling.
She spreads her wings, but there’s almost no hope of straightening herself out in a gale like this.
Her heart sinks when she misses the deck of the Selena and hurtles over the edge, towards the ocean below.
Suddenly, an emerald glow catches her, and she’s not falling anymore. She looks, and she sees Sweetie there on the railing, horn aglow and cheeks puffed out in exertion.
The slim unicorn pulls her up to the deck with a slow, shaking grasp. Finally, Sweetie yanks her over the edge, and Scoots falls belly-first onto solid wood.
Suddenly, all the adrenaline in her blood makes her lightheaded. She sits up, leans against the railing and laughs.
“Oh my gosh, I was that close to buying it,” Scootaloo manages between gasping chortles. “What the hay? What in the hay just happ-”
Suddenly, there is a pair of lips on her own. Scootaloo’s eyes widen. There’s still a hint of sour in Sweetie’s mouth.
Then Sweetie Belle realizes that Scootaloo isn’t kissing back.
“Oh no,” Sweetie says, as her face burns crimson. “I’m so sorry, oh jeez, what the hay was I thinking? Oh god Scoots, I didn’t mean to.”
“W-what?” Scootaloo’s mind is still reeling, and in an altogether unpleasant way.
“Oh, Celestia, I didn’t mean it!” Tears stream from Sweetie Belle’s eyes, mixing with the rain. “It’s just that you were falling, and I was so scared I thought my chest was gonna burst, an-and after all the things I said yesterday I wasn’t thinking, oh gosh, I wasn’t thinking at all.”
The deck lurches again.
Now is not the time to freak out, Scoots!
“Hey, hey, Sweetie! Sweetie look at me!” Scootaloo tugs Sweetie in by her raincoat. “It’s okay, and I’m okay. Just nerves, I get it. I’m not angry or upset or anything. It was just nerves. They get to everyone sometimes”
“Really?” Sweetie bites her lip. “Oh, stars, I’m so sorry. It wasn’t… It isn’t…. Oh, stars.”
“We can talk about it later, if you want, but you gotta get below deck again,” Scootaloo says in her firmest voice. “I need to get Selena back to a safer altitude, and this storm isn’t about to die just yet. I need my harness, and that means you gotta get back inside.”
“Okay,” says Sweetie Belle as she bites her lip again. With a little nod she starts peeling off the rain jacket.
For a moment, Scootaloo wants to tell her to wait until she was down under before taking it off, but now Sweetie Belle’s already taken off Scoot’s flight harness as well.
Scootaloo quickly puts her gear back on. She rushes putting on the vest and the coat; she doesn’t rush retying the safety lines. She passes her repair sack back to Sweetie before helping her make her way across the swaying ship back down through the trapdoor to the living quarters.
When Sweetie’s safe, Scoots gets herself behind the wheel again. Her pegasus senses tell her that the storm has started to wane, but only just. She’s still got a lot of work to do.
/~~~~~ o ~~~~~\
The afternoon sun hangs in the sky, and Scootaloo is still behind the wheel. The storm blew itself out a while ago, but Scoots decides to stay with Selena for a few more hours, just to make sure the repairs were holding and the backup valves were still working. Everything seems good, so far.
The sails are out, and they don ’t have any tears in them. There’s not a lot of wind after a tempest like that, but there’s just enough to get them moving at a slow, easy clip.
A movement below her catches her eye; she looks down to the surface of the sea, and what she sees makes her laugh.
“Sweetie Belle!” she calls out. “Sweetie, come up quick!”
When she gets no reply, she throttles the altimeter almost all the way down and dashes for the trapdoor.
“Sweetie, you gotta see this,” she says as she bounds down the steps.
When she gets to the bottom, she sees Sweetie Belle on her cot, fast asleep. Her mane is dry, but in shambles. The spot next to her bed where she had vomited is clean now.
Scootaloo stands there for just a moment, watching a few of her peaceful breaths.
“Hey, Sweetie Belle,” she says, shaking her gently. “Wake up, girl.”
The unicorn stirs. Her eyes flutter open, and then widen as she remembers.
“Scoots, I— Oh gosh, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” Sweetie buries her face in her hooves. “I don’t.. I mean I guess it’s not…”
Sweetie Belle swallows and tries to continue.
“I didn’t mean it. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I know you don’t feel that way about me,” she says. “I was just wrapped up in the moment—and it just happened. I’m sorry, Scootaloo.”
“Hey, now,” Scootaloo takes her hoof comfortingly. “I told you I was fine, and I meant it. Just nerves, remember?”
“Yeah,” Sweetie Belle nods. “Yeah, okay.”
“I want to show you something, Sweetie. You gotta come up above deck right now.”
“Okay,” she says. Her lips are pursed together in determination. “Okay.”
Scootaloo leads her friend up the hatch and to the sunlight above.
As she glances at the horizon, Sweetie Belle asks, “Why are we so low?”
“You’ll see,” says Scoots as she takes Sweetie to that spot where she liked to sit at the front of the boat. She points a hoof over to the left. “Look!”
Sweetie squints. She doesn’t know what she’s looking at for a moment, but then her eyes widen and her mouth opens wordlessly.
There are five seaponies about a hundred yards from where they are, and they’re dancing and splashing in the water. Their bodies glisten with wetness, as they glide through the sea and leap into the air with an effortless grace that would make a Wonderbolt jealous.
So busy are they in their play that they haven’t noticed the Selena yet, as it slowly approaches them. Only when the boat is less than fifty feet away does one of the quintet notice the shadow of the vessel. She makes eye contact with the two ponies on board.
She has viridian hair, and big, piercing eyes the color of the calm sea. Her face is round and soft, almost like a foal’s. She smiles and waves to the two of them, standing there.
Sweetie Belle tentatively raises a hoof, and she waves back.
The seapony giggles, and it sounds like joy itself. She swims back to her friends, and murmurs a few words, then all of them are waving at Selena and her two passengers.
Sweetie keeps waving, too, and a smile starts to tug at her lips. She waves as Selena passes over them, and she keeps waving as they giggle and wave and splash at her from down where they are.
As Selena starts to leave them behind, a harmony that almost sounds too intricate to be coming from only five voices breaks out between the seaponies.
Whisper, whisper it to me.
Whisper at the waves, whisper at the sea!
Whisper me your fantasies, whisper me your dreams!
Whisper them out loud to bring them to be.
Wish it, wish it all to be.
Wish it to the waves, wish it to the sea!
Wish it to the rolling seas and skies above so blue,
Wish and let it come true!
Dream it, dream a little dream.
Dream it to the rivers and dream it to the streams!
Dare to dream a little dream, and hope to have a hope,
Whisper, wish and dream it just to keep yourself afloat!
Their melody fades, and one by one the seaponies break away to go their own way. At last, there’s only one voice left. It’s the first seapony—the one with the green hair and blue eyes. She follows alongside the Selena long after the others left, spinning and splashing and humming to herself.
A thought seems to strike her; she twirls in the water and looks up to the two ponies watching her.
“Where are you going?” she asks curiously. Her big blue eyes sparkle in the evening light.
Sweetie Belle blinks. “Wh-what?”
“I said, where are you going?” she giggles.
“I, um…” Sweetie leans over the railing and tries to project her voice. “I’m going to Lorelay.”
“You’re going to Lorelay!” the seapony repeated herself, in hushed, excited tones. “Lorelay!”
“Have you heard of it?” Scoots calls out, grinning.
“Yes, I have,” the seapony replies. “I’ve been there before.”
“Me too!” Scootaloo claps her hooves together. “What did you think about it?”
“It’s a good place!” she says with another twirl in the water. “It’s alive.”
“What do you mean, ‘alive?’” asks Sweetie Belle.
The seapony tilts her head and furrows her brow, as if she didn’t understand the question. Or maybe she thought that it was a strange thing to ask.
“Some places are asleep, and some places are awake,” she slowly says. Her voice ripples out like water in quiet pond. “Some places are for resting, and some places are for living. Every place is for something.”
Scootaloo isn’t sure that she understands, but she almost thinks she does. She looks over to Sweetie Belle, and the unicorn’s eyes are soft and her brow is uncreased. It’s as if the seapony’s words are pulling at something inside of her.
“Why are you going?”
Sweetie Belle shakes herself out of the trance.
“Huh?” she manages.
“Why are you going to Lorelay?” The seapony repeats herself again, without a trace of impatience in her voice.
“I… I don’t know,” says Sweetie. Her eyes study the deck. “Maybe I’m just tired of the way things are.”
The seapony nods. “Things change. The magic turns and shifts, like the tides coming in every night. Sometimes things change too quickly for you to understand. And sometimes, you change too quickly to understand yourself. It’s okay not to know, sometimes.”
“But what does that have to do with magic?” asks Scootaloo.
Smiling, the seapony spins in the water with energetic grace.
“The ocean is magic, and so are the skies and the land, too!” she says. “Breathing and feeling and loving are magic. Life is magic, and so is everything else, too, as long as you have friends to share it with.”
Suddenly, Scootaloo finds herself mimicking Sweetie Belle’s expression. What the seapony said makes her she feel as though she understands everything and nothing all at once. Then Sweetie’s voice shakes her from her thoughts.
“Your song from earlier,” says Sweetie Belle. “It was beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she giggles back. “It was magic too, a little bit. That’s how we knew to sing it for you.” She shrugs. “Who knows? It might even come true!”
With a grin, the seapony flips around darts away, as quick as an arrow. The evening sunlight catches on her scales one last time before she vanishes beneath the rolling surface of the sea.
Moments later, she surfaces a distance away, floating lazily in a current. She gives one last wave to the ponies on board before she disappears over the horizon.
Selena sails on.
/~~~~~ o ~~~~~\
“Hey, would ya back that ship of yers up? The wharf ain’t clear for ‘er yet!”
“Sorry, Sinker!” Scootaloo pokes her head over the side of the Selena and sheepishly waves at the stallion below. “Got a little excited, and I let off too much lifting gas. I’ll get out of your way in a sec, dockmaster!”
“Thankee, Scootaloo!” comes the shouted reply.
Scootaloo flips the throttle and turns the sails to back the Selena out of the little, one-ship pier. When she’s far enough away, she closes the throttle and let the sails go slack in the wind.
“Sinker’s a big softie.” Scootaloo says. “I mean, yeah, he’s got a bunch of scars and stories to go along with them, but he’s a real good person underneath it. You don’t even have to go digging very deep. Don’t tell him I said so, though.”
Sweetie Belle giggles into her hoof. She turns back around and surveys Summer Island again, from the top of its domed mountain to the beach beneath them. Lorelay is less than a mile down the shore, and the two of them can just make out the thatched roof s of the couple of hundred buildings that made up the little burg. The late afternoon sun catches the side of the mountain, which casts a long shadow across the town’s half of the beach.
“Okay, let ‘er down now!” Sinker yells. “Slow and gentle-like, this time! This ain’t Cloudsdale cloudcrete we’ve got here, ya know!”
The Selena slowly descends, scraping against the wooden dock just a little before coming to rest in the water surrounding the pier.
“There’s nothing quite like a wet landing,” Scootaloo smiles and puts the throttle at rest.
“Can I… Can I get off?” Sweetie asks, a barely held-in smile of anticipation on her face.
“Yeah, go ahead!” says Scoots. “I gotta put up the sails and wrap stuff up here, but you’re totally free to go. Sinker and his family live here on the docks. They’re super nice ponies, I’m sure you’ll love them!”
Sweetie Belle practically leaps over the portside and onto the pier. Her hooffalls are hesitant and uneven at first, but she gets most of her land legs back in moments. Scootaloo smiles as she and Sinker start chatting it up.
It takes the better part of an hour to prep Selena for an extended stay at a wet dock. After a quick check for leaks in the hull, Scoots deflates the balloon, siphoning all the lifting gas into storage. When the sails are away, and the wheel is locked, and rudder is lifted, Scootaloo climbs off the Selena and trots down the pier towards solid ground.
Up where the beach ends and the meadows begin, there’s a little there’s a little house sitting at the foot of a hill. It’s almost picturesque: redbrick walls and glazed windows, with vines of ivy climbing up its sides. There’s smoke coming from the chimney and sounds of conversation coming from inside.
Scootaloo knocks on the door and slowly pushes it open.
“Scoots!” Sinker recognizes her from her knock. “Get yerself in here, gal!”
Sinker and his daughters, Sandy and Aurora, are sitting in the living room with Sweetie Belle. Whalesong is in the kitchen, cooking a hearty-smelling soup for dinner.
“Hey, Sinker. Hey, everypony. Good to see all of you again,” Scootaloo says. She slips inside and takes a seat on the floor next to the fireplace. “How have you and Sweetie been getting along?”
“Splendidly, just splendidly!” Sinker exclaims. “When were ya goin’ to tell me that ye had such an interesting c’mpanion, Scoots? Did ye know she was a big, famous singer?” Sinker slaps his knee. “These daughters o’ mine can’t get enough o’ her. Voice like an angel, she’s got!”
Aurora nods. There’s an easygoing smile on the young mare’s face.
“It’s a downright shame ye aren’t staying for long,” she says. “We could use a voice like yours down at the tavern. Half Pint’s been complainin’ and complainin’ that we haven’t had any worthwhile entertainment for the customers ever since our pianist r’tired. Methinks a voice as pretty as yer’s would make anyone want to stay all night.”
Aurora winks playfully, and Sweetie Belle blushes and hides behind her hoof.
“Oh I’m sure I couldn’t have been that good,” she humbly insists.
“Nonsense!” Sinker’s bassy voice rumbles. “‘T’was d’vine, it was!”
“No really,” Sweetie shakes her head. “I haven’t even practiced for about a month or so.”
But it’s only fuel for the fire of Sinker’s big, bearhug of a personality.
“Ye hear that?” he turns to Sandy. “She hasn’t ev’n been practicing. She sounds all ‘ngelic like this on a bad day.”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that!” she squeaks out, voice cracking just a little bit.
“Ha, we know, dearie,” laughs Aurora. “Don’t let my pa git to ya like that. He’ll latch right on and nev’r let go! A rabid dog he is!”
“Ye watch your mouth, girl!” Whalesong merrily calls out from the kitchen. “That’s my husband yer callin’ rabid. Don’t think I ain’t prepared t’ defend him! I’ve got knives, girl, many knives!”
A peal of laughter overtakes Sweetie.
“Don’t worry, Whalesong,” she says, “I have it on good authority that your husband’s actually a real nice guy.”
Sinker turns an expression of mock betrayal to Scootaloo.
“And what do ye think yer doin’, tellin’ ponies that I’m a nice guy?” He frowns with all the authority of a coconut. “That’s my girl Sandy’s job. How do ye feel, stealin’ work form a whee little thing like her?”
“Papa, I’m not a whee thing!” Sandy puffs her cheeks. “I’ve got my mark an’ everythin’ now.”
“Yeah, Sandy, you show ‘im!” Scootaloo reaches over to ruffle the filly’s mane. “Dang, squirt, you are getting pretty huge. What the hay have you been eating?”
“Ughh!” comes Whalesong’s voice as she joins them in the living room. “The girl eats everythin’! I ‘aven’t yet found the end of her appetite. She’d eat the floorboards in her room if she could!”
“Stop it, Ma! You’re embarrassing me!” says Sandy indignantly.
“Heh, it’s what moms are for.” Scootaloo pats Sandy’s shoulder. “Don’t worry; I still think you’re a pretty cool little filly. You remind me of myself a lot when I was your age, you know. Except, you know, I was a lot smaller.”
Aurora smiles. “That girl will be taller than me this time next year, mark my words.”
“And then I’ll be big enough to help Miss Scoot’loo on her boat.” Sandy turns her big, hopeful eyes to Scootaloo. “Isn’t that right?”
“Well, Sandy, I’d love to have a quick girl like you on board, but you know what your mom thinks about that.” says Scootaloo with a shrug.
Whalesong nods, arms crossed. “She can go if she wants when she’s sixteen, and not one day sooner! I won’t be sendin’ a little filly to be out doin’ a mare’s work.”
“But I hate waitin’!” Sandy moans.
Sweetie Belle giggles.
“You shouldn’t be in such a rush to grow up, Sandy,” she says. “Trust me, waiting is half the fun.”
“Ugh, ponyfeathers!” The filly pouts.
“Heh, don’t take her the wrong way,” says Aurora. “It’s ‘xactly what I’ve been tellin’ her, and she’s just a mite sick o’ hearin’ it from her big sis. She still likes ya, though, I can tell.”
Sandy harrumphs unconvincingly, drawing giggles from the other ponies.
A shrill, clattering bell rings out from the back of the house. Whalesong perks up and starts to get up on her hooves.
“That’s the timer; soup’s done!” she says as she slips around the corner into the kitchen. “You girls are joining us for supper, aren’t ya? I’ve got plenty for everyone.”
“Oh,” Sweetie shakes her head. “I really couldn’t impose.”
“Nonsense!” Sinker slaps Sweetie’s shoulder. “It’s the least we can do after bein’ treated to a performance like that. I’m certain that there are ponies that have paid a lot more than a simple dinner to hear ya sing for them.”
“But I really—”
“But I insist! It’s hardly becomin’ for a stallion to put his family in the debt of his guests.” The big stallion winks. “I’m afraid there ain’t no two ways around it.”
Sweetie desperately turns to Scootaloo for support. Scootaloo just shrugs in response.
“There’s nothing you can say that I haven’t tried,” Scoots says. “Besides, I know for a fact that you’re pretty sick of dry rations. Better enjoy the good stuff while we can, huh?”
Sweetie still looks a little hesitant, but Scootaloo can tell that she’s been convinced.
“Well, alright,” she says. “But I think I’ll owe you guys another song or two afterwards.”
Aurora’s eyes twinkle.
“Sounds lovely to me,” she says.
/~~~~~ o ~~~~~\
A little more than an hour later, the sounds of conversation still buzz around a tableful of empty bowls. Scoots doesn’t really feel the need to join in; just being a part of it is enough for now. She even closes her eyes for a few minutes—it’s been a while since she was with other ponies like this, and she just wants to soak it in for a while.
When Scootaloo opens her eyes, the first thing she notices is the deep orange sunlight that strikes her full on in the face. Blinking, she glances through the window and sees the low-hanging sun just beginning to kiss the top of the waves at the horizon.
Gosh, it’s starting to get late.
Scootaloo glances at Sweetie, who’s listening, enthralled, to a tall tale that Sinker’s spinning about the time he spent as the captain of a trawler. It’s a story Scootaloo has heard before—one that might have been true a long time ago, but years of embellishments has made it much closer to a fairy tale.
After a little while, Sinker reaches the end of his story, and he’s boasting about how his crew managed to bring in a catch that’s even bigger than when Scootaloo last heard the tale. Sweetie Belle claps appreciatively, and Scootaloo takes the opportunity to cut in.
“Hey, I’m gonna have to borrow Sweetie for a second, if you don’t mind,” she says.
A chorus of exaggerated groans and “we do”s echos through the living room. Scootaloo ignors them and signals Sweetie to do the same. She leads Sweetie through the door and out onto the pier.
There’s a crisp sea breeze that blows away the stagnant summer warmth. The waves break gently against the beach in a rhythm that breathes and sighs with the wind. Both the sand and the sea shine and glitter with an almost magical shimmer as they catch the last of the sun’s rays.
“What’s up, Scoots?” asks Sweetie.
In response, Scootaloo passes a bag of bits into Sweetie’s grasp.
“I’m gonna sleep on Selena, but I’m guessing that you probably want a bed. There’s an inn downtown, I’ll show it to you.”
“I appreciate the thought, Scoots…” says Sweetie, before she magics a bigger coinpurse from thin air. “But I brought my own money. I’m fine.”
“No, really, I’m fine.” Sweetie glances around before continuing. “I think I want to try staying here. For a while, maybe. Like, a long while. And if I do, I can’t really be living off of hand-outs, now can I?”
“What do you mean?” asks Scoots.
Sweetie Belle paws at the ground with a hoof.
“What I mean is…” she trails off. “Well, what I’m trying to say is that I like it here. I haven’t had such a good time just singing a song in ages. It feels right; it feels like I’m home. I’m gonna ask Aurora if she was serious about me singing for her tavern. I think I’d like that. I really wanna try to see if I can make things work, here.”
Scootaloo looks into Sweetie Belle’s eyes, and she nods.
“Yeah, I think I get it.” Scoots smiles reassuringly. “Whatever’s right for you, Sweetie.”
“Thanks.” Sweetie Belle’s smiling, and it’s lovely and sad at the same time.
A thought occurs to Scootaloo.
“Wait right here, I gotta grab something real fast.” Scootaloo hops unto the Selena and makes her way below deck.
When she comes back to Sweetie she’s carrying her satchel with her. Reaching in, she pulls out a metal flask with a knobbed spigot on its top.
“What’s this?” asks Sweetie.
“Dragonfire.” Scootaloo twists the knob, and it lets out a sparkling jet of flame. After a moment, she closes the valve again. “There should be enough in there to last you a while. And it’s easy to tell when you start getting low.”
She passes it to Sweetie Belle.
“Take this,” she says. “Burn me a letter every once in a while. If you ever need me, or if you run out, I’ll come as soon as I can.”
Sweetie takes the lighter in a magical grasp, and after a moment of concentration it vanishes into her knapsack with in a flash.
“Thank you, Scootaloo.”
“It’s nothing, Sweetie.”
The two of them are content to stay there for a moment, listening to the waves and watching the sea.
“Y’know, I’m gonna try to get back in touch with Apple Bloom,” says Scootaloo. “… Maybe the next time she has a few weeks to herself, I could bring her over here, and we could go do something all together again.”
“I’d like that.” Sweetie’s eyes sparkle. “I’d like that very much.”
“Hey, Sweetie Belle!” comes Aurora’s voice. She’s just outside the little redbrick house, and she’s making her way through the front yard. “Pa an’ my ‘lil sis’ an’ I are just dying to hear ye sing for us again.”
Aurora’s leaning against the fence, the wind tossing her blue and gold mane across one of her shoulders, like a pose from a painting. Her eyes are shining, and her smile is inviting.
Sweetie Belle stares for a moment, and then she blushes. Scootaloo’s eyes dart from one mare to the other, and then she laughs at the display.
“Heh, let’s go Sweetie.” Scootaloo grins as she trots on ahead. “It’s not very polite to keep your friends waiting.”
With a drunken little nod, Sweetie follows Aurora back into the little house on the beach on Summer Island.
/~~~~~ o ~~~~~\