"The Silent Shore"
Written by The Descendant
Chapter 1: "The Lantern Bearer"
The radiant colors of a full autumn spread far across the Whitetail Woods, the entirety of the forest exploding forth in reds, oranges, and yellows. From above it appeared as a vast sea of color, one that undulated in response to the land hidden beneath it, a secret that the panorama of color kept quietly.
Here and there the sounds of crows calling would sound out, the harsh caw echoing through the branches that moved slightly on the tiniest of breezes. Finding no reply to his heed one large black bird sounded out again, his cawing racing down the line of trees, bouncing off of the grey trunks, flitting past the few falling leaves in a plaintive tone finding no answer and no regard.
The crow tossed his head, his small black eyes regarding nothing as his feet made long scratching noises across the bark of one of the spectacular trees. Finding no answer he opened his wings and once more lifted into the sky above the canopy that came alight with color around him.
As his long wings lifted him higher his hard eyes fell across the sea of trees, saw them shifting slightly on the little breezes that swirled among the outstretched branches. Thus the trees seemed to be marching towards the horizon, a few leaves falling from them as the small breezes floated among them.
The crow hung in the still air, his small hard eyes panning back and forth in the silence.
At once an object grew in his perception, and a deep rumbling sound came from it. Something was there, hanging in the air, its brilliant purple in sharp contrast to the fall colors below.
The crow turned, rode the currents away from the balloon, avoiding it as though it were some sort of cursed object interrupting his solitary journey across the still autumn sky.
"Would ya' look at that!" said Applejack, looking out over the side of the basket, her hooves drawn up beneath her chest as she leaned way out over the side, "That's a right pretty picture "
"It's so beautiful," added Twilight in a soft tone, "and I thought it was so lovely while walking the race last year. It seems so much more vibrant, from up here."
Spike stood next to her, his arms folded across the edge of the wicker, holding himself up to look across the forest below. The dragon whelp did not speak and instead dragged his toes across the inside of the basket. As he did so it made little click-clack sounds that sounded out sharply ones that competed in the conscious thought of the ponies within the basket both with the waves of color below and the statement he had made moments prior.
" I do," he repeated after a long moment, rolling his face back and forth across his forearms, watching a crow slide off into the horizon, "I wanna try a lobster."
"We'll talk about it, when we land," said Twilight with a sigh.
There was another pause, and as the cool air of the autumn day slid past them the silence hung heavily in the basket. It was interrupted only by the occasional blast from the burner overhead as it fed warm air to the balloon.
"I'm I'm a dragon, I'm supposed to eat meat," he said, slowly lowering himself down the side of the basket, his claws catching in the strands of wicker, "and lots of ponies eat fish and seafood Fluttershy does "
"I know," said Twilight, turning to him as apprehension played across her face, "but, Spike, I just "
"Does Shy eat fish herself," interrupted Applejack, arching her eyebrow as her hooves made soft sounds across the floor of the basket, "or does she just feed 'em to the animals? I know she don't have no qualms about that "
"Aaaaggghhh!" came the hoarse, frustrated voice of Rainbow Dash. The other occupants of the basket looked down at her as she placed her hooves to her head and spoke of her annoyance.
"For the last three hours all I've heard is 'Oh, look at the trees!' and "Ain't it pretty, ya'll!' and 'I wanna try lobster.' It's driving me nuts!" she said, jumping to her hooves.
"I could'a flown to Hofston in half of this time! I could be there and stretching for the race already!" she said, her hooves dancing in place in exasperation, "I'm surprised they invited us to be in the Hofton Mare-athon segment of the Running of the Leaves anyway what with how poorly we did last year in the Ponyville segment I don't wanna mess up the chance!"
"Ya' don't think they invited us 'cause of our performance last year, do ya', R.D.?" asked Applejack with a smirk, "You don't think the fact we're part o' the famed team that saved Equestria from Discord had anythin' tah do with it?"
Dash stopped prancing in place anxiously. A smirk went across her face, and with a single burst of her wings she jumped up to the railing of the basket, sending it tilting a touch and her friends within wobbling about.
"I'd like to think," she said, her graceful hooves keeping her standing carefully in place along the rim, short flaps of her wings aiding her balance, "that it's a mix "
At that she wheeled over the side of the basket, her legs splaying out, her graceful form falling down, down, down to the sea of color below. As the occupants of the basket looked on the pegasus pony ignited her wings, recovered from the fall in a long low arch, and then burst at speed along the treetops.
As Rainbow Dash whipped by a great wave of the autumn leaves lifted from the branches behind her, flying up into the air in her wake. As her friends in the basket looked on she careened back through these fragments of autumn hue with a twist, sending them flying out into the sky as a jubilant spray of confetti.
With that she arched back around, landed in the basket, breathing heavily as she concluded, " of both."
Applejack rolled her eyes, turned back out to the vision beyond the borders of the balloon.
She rested her head on the rim, let the unfolding scene play out before her as she listened to Twilight speak with Dash.
"I could have flashed us to Hofston," said Twilight, her voice a little disappointed, "but I thought it might be nice nice to just spend some time together, to see the trees."
"Yeah," said Dash, lying down once more. Her hooves went behind her head, and she stared up past the flickering burner to the enclosed space of the balloon above, "Yeah that's cool."
The four floated there, the balloon carryied on the small breeze above the forest below, the passing of the company unnoticed at large by the trees and their colorful raiment. So as it went by the balloon was as a single purple fish crossing over a vast coral reef.
"I still wanna try a lobster," said Spike, breaking the silence. As Rainbow Dash moaned again Twilight looked past the side of the basket to a darker band of trees one more brown and tan than the red and orange of the Whitetail Woods one darker both in the physical reality and in her memory
"We're so close to the frontier of Equestria here " said Twilight, helping Spike lift himself with her magic, "That's the Everfree Forest up there this is where they meet, and the mountains beyond are where Equestria ends and the world beyond begins "
Applejack's ears had twitched at the name, and memories of the Everfree met her as she looked to the darker shade, the imaginary line between the two forests being almost palpable. She turned her head from them, looked forward across the Whitetail to the horizon.
As she did a new smell reached to her, that of fresh salt, and her senses opened up around her. Lifting her head from the rim of the basket she squinted her eyes and a blue band met her.
"Twi," she called, her voice just on the grounded side of excited, "Twi the ocean!"
The basket wobbled beneath them as the four moved to the side facing the growing line of the sea beyond, as each searched to see where the autumn colors met the unchanging blue.
"Well, it's the sea, really, the North Sea," giggled Twilight.
"Ya'll pardon mah' geographical inequity," smirked Applejack, smiling back at the unicorn.
"Right, sorry to be so nit-picky," laughed Twilight, giving Applejack a quick nuzzle before turning to face Dash, "Now we'll just follow the shoreline up into Hofston we'll have you there in plenty of time to be bored stiff for hours before the Hofston Mare-athon even starts."
Dash however had continued staring across the horizon, seemingly fixed on the sea beyond. It was as though it wanted to see her the sea longing for her, and she for it.
She shook her head at the odd sensation, looked back to it answered it.
"Hey " she began, looking down into the forest below, "If we have this extra time maybe, maybe we can take a break?"
All three looked at her with slight surprise evident on their faces.
"It's just that," began Dash, blushing a bit, "I kinda wanna go down there, and see the, well sea. I I don't know why. I haven't seen the ocean since I was a foal and, for some reason I do. I just kinda, wanna do."
Another silence met them, but before long there was a flash of magic, and they turned to see Twilight unraveling a map that bobbled up to her from her saddlebag.
"I suppose we could do that there's a bay ahead, and the village of Nag's Head is just on the other side of the peninsula there," she said, motioning to a speck of land with her hoof, her concentration remaining on the map as she guessed the position, "We'll walk the beach for a little bit, and then go into town for an early lunch, and then be in Hofston with plenty of time to spare."
"Oh boy! Lobster!" called Spike, as the quartet nodded in agreement at the plan.
"Maybe," said Twilight, grasping at the ropes with her teeth, letting the knowledge of balloon handling take the place of her magic so that she'd have a legitimate excuse not to explore the topic further.
Within a few minutes the balloon had descended into the thin space between the shore and the edge of the woods, coming to rest amid a small meadow alongside the single road that ran the length of the shoreline, from the world beyond, down into Equestria, and long past it into the west the Old Shore Road.
From a distance, it seemed, that the trees had swallowed up the balloon that they had consumed it.
The ponies and single enthusiastic dragon walked through the narrow band of trees and out to the shore beyond. To their surprise there was no sandy beach, no long thin strip of white stretching off in either direction to the horizon beyond.
No, instead there were shelves of stone, tiered platforms that the sea had battered over the long ages of Equestrian history, the same sea that had been rolling over different shores since before the land of the ponies had been dreamt of, summoned, and set.
The four walked cautiously out over the stones, gazing deep into the little cracks between them, watching the seaweed lodged there flowing back and forth in sympathy with the strain of the waves far down the sheets of rock.
Here and there little pools had formed in hollows, and Spike sat over them, staring deep with fascination as Twilight named the creatures that lived within. She smiled as he lifted his clawed hands timidly, lifting out a single shell. As the hermit crab emerged it stared to him with wobbling eyes, Spike returning the look with wonder, Twilight smiling over him gently.
Applejack stood on a nearby tier of rock, letting the sea smells fill her lungs, feeling the power of the waves beyond. As the sea breezes fell over her they moved her mane in little whips that fell down gently among the smell of salt. They tugged at her hat, leaving streaks of white across it.
Rainbow Dash had pelted off deep down the beach, up to the thin, wet, slick surface that remained after each wave had rolled in. Here she cantered back up and down, smiling out over the sea beyond, her wings igniting at times to catch her when she had begun to slip or when her excitement had gotten the better of her.
At once her hoof sunk, and she looked down in surprise. Her hoofprint was left behind, filling with water, in one of the few bars of sand that poked up through the levels of stone.
"Heh," she laughed to herself, self-conscious that she been surprised. She at once looked up to see if anyone had witnessed her little bit of shock
and saw no one.
Fog. Fog had rolled in. "Hey!" she called out, listening for the reply. There was none.
Once more she lifted her voice. "Hey!" she yelled out into the mist, "Where are you guys?"
She listened intently, her ears standing up, alert. They flicked about on her head, moving to catch even the faintest noise, hearing nothing but the waves rushing amidst the rocks.
She opened her mouth, prepared to call again, when a call reached back for her reached to her from behind
from out amidst the fog and rolling seas.
Dash startled, turned slowly, peered out into the grey beyond, out to where the waves came in beneath the haze. She listened listened for a good long while
There was nothing just the sound of the water, nothing but the sound of her own shallow breathing.
She laughed at herself, wondered what the others would think if she told them she was hearing things. It was the fog playing at her perceptions. That was all.
Cursing herself she turned back up the beach, looked around, wondered why she just didn't lift into the sky and clear it all away. Yes, why not just clear it all away? She readied her wings, smirking in concert with the gift of the pegasi deep inside her, and prepared to do just that
when the call found her again.
She spun around, her wings clamping down around her. She spun her head left to right, scanning the rocky beach. She hopped a touch as a wave came farther up the beach than the previous, taking a few steps backwards, recoiling at the small froth it left behind that dissipated in a crackling sound.
Dash looked deep out into the fog, out into where the sea disappeared into the haze. Her eyes narrowed, not believing.
"Hello?" she whispered, the word floating out of her in a cloud of curious uncertainty.
As she squinted her eyes the word hovered over the waters, floated out over them. As it did she thought she saw the fog twist, a cloud of vapor turn over and over on itself
and stare back at her.
Dash backpedaled, splashed through a tidal pool, falling through it as her wings went wide in alarm. At once she bolted through the fog, heading in the direction she had last seen her friends. She closed her eyes, took deep breaths as her hooves skidded across the wet stone.
She opened her eyes to see the faint outlines of her three friends above her, high up on an outcropping of the rocks. With a sigh of relief she leapt up the face of the outcropping with powerful beats of her wings.
They helped her up the last few steps, looked upon her as she panted, waited for her to recover. But she didn't. She trembled, wiped her hoof across her eyes.
"Dash are you okay?" asked a concerned Twilight as Spike stepped forward, began running his clawed hand across her foreleg.
"The fog the fog is getting to me, I think I " she began, trying to smile.
"Well," asked Applejack, moving closer, "Why don't ya' just clear it all away then?"
"I I tried, but " she began, lowering her head, trying to hide her worry behind Spike as he began to stroke her mane. At one she lifted her head, nearly throwing him off balance.
"Twilight, Twi," she began, looking to the unicorn, "Is is it normal to see stuff hear stuff in the fog? You, know things that aren't actually there?"
"Oh, yes!" replied Twilight with a smile, Spike and Applejack adding their own as Dash gave an obvious sigh of relief, "It's called spatial distortian happens all the time, makes you believe that there are things in the mist that aren't actually "
Applejack opened her eyes, looked back from her happy smiling to see all the faces of her friends looking past her to the sea beyond. Behind her she felt movement something vast making slow progress through the mist.
"Oh wow," breathed Spike, as Applejack turned. There before her came the great long bowsprit of a sailing ship, perhaps not even more than one hundred yards off the rocky outcrop where they stood.
"That is so cool," said Dash as the ship sliced through the fog, the mist swirling about it as it slid by them, the four looking on wide-eyed.
As the ship came up they marveled at it, saw how ancient it looked, like a boat out of a fairy tale. As it came on the waves lapped at the hull, the ship grinding on otherwise in total silence. Yet, upon the deck something moved.
"Perytons!" called out Twilight, motioning to the deck as it came into view. Indeed, among the deck and hidden in the dark fog the silhouettes of the winged deer could be seen, the familiar outlines of a race friendly to Equestria moved about quietly hurriedly.
Something something it seemed, was wrong. Something was very wrong indeed, almost palpable from where the black ship stood on the horizon.
The realization dawned over them, the four friends looking to one another in surprise as the sense of urgency that leapt from the craft reached them.
"Do ya'll need any help?" called out Applejack at the top of her voice, "We kin' be out there pretty quick if ya' need anything "
Though they could not see the crew entirely, their features hidden in the mist, the worry that flowed over them, the excitement, was painfully evident. Yet, there came no reply, and not even the words of the crew could penetrate the fog as they strode about the deck
"Hey!" brayed Rainbow Dash, lifting into the air, "We asked if you need any "
As a geyser of flame erupted from the ship's hold Dash was knocked to the ground, Applejack tumbling into her as she was thrown to the stone.
At once Twilight gathered Spike into herself, turned her back to the calamity so that he wouldn't see it so that she could lower her head to his and not have to witness it as well.
As the great rush of fire drove on Rainbow Dash looked on in horror, her mouth moving up and down without words. She watched as the flames consumed the ship, as the figures of the perytons leapt from it, or were consumed in the flames. Some tried to fly away, their little deer wings catching alight as they did so, as they spun down into the cold waters
"Oh Celestia! Oh Luna! Oh Celestia! Oh Luna!" cursed Applejack over and over as she paced back and forth, as she watched the ship become engulfed. At once there was a massive report, and at once she felt Dash leap across her and drag her down to the cold, wet surface of the outcropping. The ship flew apart in a massive detonation that threw red and orange light deep into the fog, that made their ears ring in pain.
Before long there was a silence again, and the four travelers lifted their heads. They looked around, trying to grasp at what they had seen the horror they had just witnessed.
"We we need tah' do something! We need to help," spoke Applejack, her voice a twist of shock and worry.
"Twilight!" said the earth pony again as she cantered up to the unicorn, helped her unfold her forelegs from around the heaving form of Spike. As Twilight lifted her eyes Spike lifted his own, taking a deep breath, looking around to the ponies in startled bewilderment.
"Twilight," spoke Applejack, nuzzling against her friend, "C'mon now, we need yer' organized mind with us we need a plan, Twi "
Plan. At the word Twilight came back to life, her face panning back and forth across the foggy reaches beyond the outcropping
"Twi," came the high, concerned, voice of the dragon, "Twi are, are they okay, the perytons? Twi Twi?"
"You two split up," she said, motioning to the nodding Applejack. Intentionally ignoring Spike she pointed to the still unmoving form of Rainbow Dash, "Go find the wounded they'll have burns elevate their legs to keep them from going into shock. Spike and I will fetch the balloon, we'll have evacuate as many as we can "
With that she began to charge her magic, the sheen of the purple light cascading out into the misty haze.
"Twi are, are they " began Spike again, but before the word could come Twilight had flashed them both away, the fog rolling in as swirls to occupy the space they had vacated.
Apllejack lifted her ears, tried to see if any of the winged deer were calling out in pain. No, no sounds, no shrieks of pain the fog must be muffling the moans.
"Rainbow Rainbow you head on out that way, I'll head this "
Dash had not moved, was still sitting there, her mouth moving up and down wordlessly.
"C'mon Dash!" said Applejack, pulling on the tail of the pegasus, "We gotta go search the wreckage fer' survivors and such "
"What wreckage?" came Rainbow Dash's voice, just above a whisper, wrapped in doubt and confusion, "Applejack what wreckage?"
Applejack tilted her head, looked first at Dash with bewilderment, and then followed the gaze of the pegasus. As she did her own mouth began to drop open.
There were no flames, no cracked hull ripped open by the force of the carnage nothing. Nothing met their gaze, just the swirls of fog drifting above the endlessly rolling sea.
Applejack shook her head, ran her hoof across her eyes. No, no she knew what she had seen. It was fact, real there, there must be some reason
Of course there was.
"C'mon now," said Applejack, nuzzling Dash back into motion, up and onto her hooves, "The fog's just coverin' it is all, you know that eatin' up their voices before they can reach us like what Twilight done told ya' earlier "
"Right, right," said Dash, shaking her head, clearing away the visions of the ship and crew being overtaken by flames, "Right we gotta get down there "
"Thatta girl," spoke Applejack, nodding, "I'll head this way up the beach, you try clear some more of this fog, okay?"
Rainbow watched Applejack leap down the far side of the outcropping, listened as her hooves clapped against the rocks and her sounds of efforts departed into the mist.
Dash found herself alone again, alone atop the outcropping.
She peered out into the fog, out to where she knew she had seen the ship. She tried to lift her wings, but before she could a thought, a recent memory went through her. She stretched out her neck, listened, and then whispered a single word out into the grey
Applejack went down the ridgeline, making her way as quickly as she felt she safely could. Before long her hooves were once more running across the flat surfaces of the tiered platforms of rock.
"Hey!" she called out into the mist, her hooves splashing through the tidal pools, "Hey is there any creature there that needs help?! Call out nice and loud!"
She pelted across the beach, jumping or sliding to avoid large stones or driftwood piles that reached up to her as if to snag her.
At once she stopped, her rear hooves sliding across the slick surface. A call she, she had heard a call. She stood stock still, waiting, waiting for it to come again.
She slowly panned her head, closed her eyes. Listened listened into the far distance, listened as the waves rolled in beside her.
A voice rolled up the beach, just perceptible, the voice just barely audible as it fell meekly across the stones. The voice called to her, called to her down the long beach
called her by name.
"Yes! Yes it's, me! I'm, I'm comin', hold on!" she said, pelting off again. She leapt from one tiered layer of rock to another, scrambling a bit where the slick stones denied her a steady purchase.
She went down the beach, beginning to breathe hard. "I'm comin', I'm comin' I'm I'mma comin' " she said, going quieter, fighting for breath each time.
She blinked, opened her eyes. As she did something caught in them. She skidded once more, slowing as she fought to comprehend what she saw.
A faint green light bobbled across the beach, seeming to swing slowly, steadily. The dim sheen was barely visible, almost drowned amidst the fog. As it went she swore she could see the frame of the lantern, but not all at once, and as the light bobbled it seemed to come up from the water out of it
"Hey!" she called out, splashing ahead through a large pool of the saltwater, "Hey you need some help?" she asked.
The lantern seemed to swing about. At once she thought she saw the light fall across something, across the bearer, but in the fog whatever held it remained unseen.
For a long moment they stood there, the pony and the owner of the light. Neither moved yet the unseen eyes fell across Applejack, and she faltered under the stare.
The light hung there, just far enough from her to offer a hint at who carried it just far enough to touch at her perception. Whatever creature possessed it stood there quietly, unmoving unflinching the unseen bearer gazing back at her
"Hey," she offered up again, her voice breaking a bit, "I'm I'm a friend "
With that the lantern receded, retreated around a bend in the stony beach.
"Hey! Hey, I'm tryin' to help!" she called out, her trepidation leaving her, 'It's okay I'm I'm a friend "
She rounded the corner herself, came down from her trot into a canter, finally a walk before standing still.
There was no bearer, no lantern. Just her just her and the mist that swirled about in the little breezes, and the sound of the sea beyond, hidden from her wide eyes.
She stood there, on a patch of sand that offered up a few stalks of grass, as she looked back and forth across the beach once more.
She was alone, utterly alone.
At once a new dread fell over Applejack, and she dared lift her head. She felt a gaze once more upon her, this one powerful, palpable one that came from her side, staring at her body as she faced down the beach.
Slowly she turned to face the gaze. Taking little breaths, moving in controlled movements that consumed fractions of inches she turned up to face what gazed down over her.
Two massive green eyes peered down at her from high above. She let out a little yelp as she saw them, kicking like a wild pony in alarm, then shrinking back down among the grass. She stared up them in horror, her mouth wide open, as they gazed back down at her unblinking and resolute.
The mist parted, and Applejack saw the fearsome eyes fall down into something more serene. A face appeared there, one hewn into a great massive glyph. She exchanged fear for constrained trepidation as the small breeze revealed the eyes to be that of a vast white peryton, his antlers huge, his form tall his outline pressed in chalk and marble into the immense slab of stone.
Instead of over her the two vast eyes, seemingly made of a shimmering jade, looked out sadly over the sea.
Applejack was at once terrified and moved. With small steps she came forward, came up to where the slab erupted forth from the sand, to where it towered over her and all around her. She looked upon it, blew the mist away to reveal names names of perytons, the exotic accent marks standing out in white, and of ponies. Ponies and perytons inscribed together on the towering wedge of granite and marble that stood alone on an empty shore
Why? Why were they here?
She lifted her hoof, ran them across the names and at once she stopped. As, as she had she'd been called for. Called for once again by nothing.
Names and faces a race through dark trees. The broken glass and the dying falls. Helplessness. Voices lifted from beyond the cold surface.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Applejack lowered herself to the flat of the stone.
"Yes I'm here," she said, laying her head to the stone, "Who are you?"
The mist rolled around, broke down and was built up again in long cords that settled as noiselessly as grey blankets across the silent beach.
"It it sounds right beautiful," she said, running her hoof across the names, sinking more of her body against the cold stone. Her eyes came half-open, gazed at the empty shore.
The sea rippled through the spaces between the ledges of rock, the seaweed bouncing in cadence with the endless cycle of the waves.
"I'm how do I help you? Yes yes, I wanna help, I am your friend," she said, laying fully against it, seeming to deflate against the stone names and white outline.
The grass rustled in the tiny breeze, a few grains of sand rolling down from where they had been deposited on the lonely beach.
"Just just pick up the lantern, and carry down into the water? Far out into the water? Sure sure " she said, turning her head, looking down at the bobbing green flame that filled the lantern that stood by her hooves.
She lowered her head, opened her mouth, prepared to grasp and carry it
"No! No!" her mind screamed. At once Applejack rocked over, fell back. No one had joined her on the beach, she had seen no living thing. She was entirely alone, just her, the waves, and the glyph above
yet there stood the lantern, the green flame rolling in imperceptible breezes.
"No, no, no " she repeated, standing, backing away. As she did so the fog rolled in once more, and she was once more under the gaze of the green eyes of the glyph, and the lantern light that flickered there before her
"No, no, no " she repeated, retreating with uncertain steps over the slippery stones. She clenched her eyes shut, tripped over driftwood, through cracks in the rocks held them shut as the green light faded from her consciousness, until she could no longer feel the eyes upon her.
In this way she went, cutting herself on sharp rocks and splashing across still pools, until she felt the towering stone of the outcropping across her back. At once she turned, dared open her eyes, and began to climb as she made small sobs.
Up the outcropping Applejack went, desperate to find Dash or any other living soul.
Far behind her pale green eyes once more stared out over the quiet beach to the sea beyond.