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Literature
19. Epilogue | The major
“Major Brass, Ma’am.” Raven Inkwell’s deferential announcement followed her brief knock on the doorjamb.
          “Send her in, please, Raven.” The voice floating out through the open doorway was gentle and courteous.
          The white-coated unicorn turned and nodded to the taller pegasus who’d followed her. “You can go right in, Major.” Her tone was perfectly serious, though a slight twinkle suggested she knew full well how unnecessary the instruction was.
          The mares edged around each other, then Raven headed back down the dim, narrow corridor while Rose stepped forward. She blinked at the comparative brightness of the small, cozy study as she entered. To one side of the opposite corner, a fire crackled in a curvilinear fireplace; to the other, open curtains framed a set
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18. Epilogue | The ambassador
“Hey, Twilight?” Starlight Glimmer’s expression—and voice—were ambivalent as she spoke over the muffled sawing, hammering, hollering, spell-chimes, and general mayhem emanating from somewhere outside the crystalline tower. “Mister Cook’s here.”
          “Cook!” Her Highness Princess Twilight Sparkle blinked as she looked up from the writing table in her endearingly cluttered study. “Now? But—uh, please have him come in, Starlight.”
          Starlight sidled over and gestured in token civility toward the doorway. As the other unicorn stepped past her, she faded back into the corridor and disappeared with indecent haste.
          Cook rolled his eyes as he entered the cozy chamber. “I don’t think she’ll ever warm up to me.”
  &
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17. Epilogue | The student
“It sounds like it was just awful, Sunset.” A butter-yellow hand squeezed Sunset’s shoulder.
          Sunset sighed as she rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms. She still hadn’t readjusted completely to being human again, but that was passing quickly enough. “A lot of it was, Fluttershy. I’m sure I’ll have nightmares now and then for a while yet. Rose thinks I should be okay in the long run, though.”
          Her closest friends, true sights for sore eyes that they were, sat with her around the pair of tables pulled together on the terra-cotta-paved back patio of Lectern’s New and Used Books under partly cloudy skies. All were affected by the long, sometimes horrifying story she just finished pouring out, subdued and solemn. Even Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash evinced little of their usual exuberance—Pinkie’s
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16. Leap
“Cook, this is crazy!” Sunset kept her voice down, something of a challenge while she, the stallion next to her, and the procession they were following cantered along the highway from the palace. Fortunately, the buzz of the growing crowds prevented it from reaching any other ears.
          “Yes.” The sober brevity of Cook’s acknowledgement, so unlike his normal voluble irreverence, drew a sidelong look from her. His gaze was fixed on the distance ahead, but somehow she suspected he wasn’t seeing the bedraggled airship toward which they beelined.
          She and Glitter Drops had been panting heavily by the time they clattered into the telegraph station of the patrol headquarters. Sunset had left even before the telegrapher finished pounding out the urgent warning, bursting from the front door and galloping straight for the palace glittering
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15. Respite
The chamber was, of course, palatial—if rather cold-seeming with its shiny-polished floor, ceiling, and walls interrupted only by tall peaked windows and tall peaked doorway. On a crimson rug at the room’s center stood a sizable round table of dark wood, simple and oddly modernist in its double-tiered design. The lieutenant ushered them in and said firmly, “Wait here, please,” then departed and closed the double doors behind him.
          Cook glanced sidelong at the tall leaves and opened his mouth. Sunset cut him off. “Don’t even start.” Both of the other mares gave her surprised looks; Cook’s manner was overtly ironic, but he held his tongue.
          “Yes, he’s that Flash Sentry—or, well, his counterpart.” Sunset’s tone was tart. “What am I supposed to say, Cook? ‘Hi. You don’t kn
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14. Arrival
It was the arctic wall, Equestria’s northern frontier, a natural border stretching across most of the continent’s breadth. The Crystal Mountains marched in stark majesty, blue and gray and white, around the tiny silvery mote that labored eastward up a long narrow pass. Below ran a single railroad track, visible only where snowdrifts had blown away. To starboard reared the western extents of the southernmost range; to port stood the overlapping eastern end of the next rampart. High above a white sun shone in a hard cloudless sky. Somewhere ahead lay the destination of both the rail line and the airship following it.
          “I’ve never been so c-c-cold in my life,” stuttered Sunset. She peered out and down from the warped and twisted waist position missing its gun, keeping a sharp watch, for Comet no longer soared high above the ground.
          As
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13. Weather
“Ms. Brass.” The urgency of the hissed words punched a button deep in Rose’s brain. She woke with a start and a grunt, and the low voice went on, “Um, Ms. Brass, Mister Fancy Pants wants you up in the cockpit.”
          “. . . Time izzit?” she mumbled as she blinked away the sleep. The gondola was dark but just as noisy as ever. It was astonishing what one could get used to—a rattly airship, a swaying train car, a sandbagged bunker in a war zone. Only the soft glow of enchanted crystals, set in fixtures as night lights, prevented falls or barked limbs. There weren’t many; enchantments were, relatively speaking, expensive and work-intensive, but the small lamps were lightweight, required no external power or fuel, and posed no fire hazard.
          Her half-waking mind went back to Sunset’s theorizing about why E
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12. Discipline
Without hesitation Rose rang out “gun crewed” followed by “aft”. When she turned back Sunset was gaping at her. “What?” she yelled over the increasing thunder of the engines and resulting racket in the ship’s structure. “We’re already here, aren’t we? I’ll load.”
          The younger mare blinked, then shoved the binoculars into a protective bin bolted to the trusswork and shut the lid with a hoof. “Uh, yeah.” She skittered around the breech of the gun and settled her barrel and belly on the cradle mounted to the carriage’s right side. One forehoof struck at a big toggle, unlocking the gun; the other landed near, but not on, the trigger pedal. Her hind hooves briefly danced left and right on the checkered deck plating. The long, slender tube obediently swung back and forth. “Gun unlocked. Traverse good.” She shifted her weight to force
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11. ENE
The leisurely pace of refit became a hectic rush. Repairs and adjustments were finished with careful haste. Titles and chain of command were settled. “There’s room for only one captain on a ship. Folks get mighty confused otherwise,” Galea pointed out. “For the duration of the cruise you will be Ms. Brass.” Rose made no comment, accustomed as she was to military traditions and practicalities, and the ship’s master continued, “Wish I had an experienced XO—ah, executive officer—but Mister Fancy Pants will have to do. No offense.”
          Fancy Pants merely smiled. “I’ve heard worse, Captain, and it’s only the simple truth.”
          Billets were offered discreetly to carefully selected ponies, both civilian and ex-Guard, for a cruise north to put the bundle of experimental technology out of easy r
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10. Comet
“. . . It was the first time I’d seen that pattern of flares actually fired off. I hope to heaven it’s the last time. I didn’t like it, but the order was clear: ‘Gather up every unit you can reach and break out any way you can.’” Spitfire’s face and tone were bleak. “There was no way we could get back down to Canterlot and rally anypony. We were doing our best, but we were kitted out for ærobatics, not combat, and we were scattered all over the sky, along with what little regular cavalry there was. All we could do was try to escape. So we did.”
          Sunset was sobbing unabashedly into Rose’s chest, enfolded in both her wings. The scarred pegasus face was stormy with anger and outrage. Cook’s was blank from shock and horror. The old unicorn mare plainly had heard the whole tale before, but looked scarcely less grim.
     &
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9. Cities
The rattletrap old pre-steam trolley was hailed as a minor miracle. Paint was mottled and faded where it hadn’t flaked off completely, metal was rusted and dented, wood was gray and splintery, but the wheels still turned and the brakes still worked. The double-size team hauling it was blowing and sweated—not to mention a bit foolhardy—but they’d managed to climb the pass to another bench, where they met the ponies hiking down the right-of-way. Though much too small and light for all the refugees, the obsolete car could carry the wounded and a few caregivers, albeit cheek by jowl, back to Tall Tale more smoothly than by travois. It brought some food and water, but its only passengers were the pair of pegasus ponies who’d volunteered to fly ahead and make what arrangements they could.
          Cook shook his head as he watched supplies being carried out and the injured and infirm being carried in. “Tha
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8. Downhill
The sun was on the verge of setting before the erstwhile passengers of the last run trudged wearily to the summit. By that time those awaiting them had some inkling what had happened, thanks to an impulsive young pegasus colt who’d swept into a breakneck flight downhill, shouts chasing fruitlessly after him. He’d returned much later, worn out and a little dehydrated, with the news a connecting rod had failed spectacularly, destroying a critical drive component and, as it thrashed, rupturing the main tank; the whistle’s distress call had sounded with the last of the steam pressure.
          The new arrivals were greeted with exclamations of relief and demands for more details. Most of the soldiers simply grunted and shouldered past, but Rose, after a brief conference with the lieutenants, turned back to the crowd and sat heavily, fatigued muscles trembling slightly. “We were partway up the hill when the engine le
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7. Pass
The afternoon was fine and cloudless and hot. The stalwart switcher engine puffed down the track little faster than a pony could canter—but far more tirelessly. So far there had been no other rail or foot traffic on the narrow right-of-way hemmed by forest and foothills. They might be the only ponies in the world for all anyone knew; there had been no glimpses even of activity in the visible strip of sky.
          Rose lay on the cab roof gingerly, wincing from the sun-heated metal, and peered down through an open side window. “Well, what about signals?” she shouted to the pair laboring inside.
          “This line don’t got signals,” the ancient and rather leathery engineer shot back without even looking up. “The company’s still usin’ timetables an’ train orders.” She backhoofed toward the telegraph poles that marched al
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6. Bivouac
The little-used passing loop was almost overgrown; tall grass hid the tracks. A small makeshift train sat on the siding, concealed from possible eyes in the night sky by overhanging tree canopies. Under the foliage, a very few gas lamps and alicorn glows cast a minimal light for tasks that couldn’t—or shouldn’t—be put off until morning.
          Physically and emotionally exhausted ponies sat or lay on the uphill embankment on the outside edge of the loop, between the track and the nearest trees. Some slept. Some murmured or whispered to each other. Guardsponies cleaned their rifle barrels of corrosive and obstructive black-powder fouling. A few who already had finished stood watch. A couple of trainponies did what they could to sweep out the shards of window glass, shattered by stray musket shots, covering the decks and benches of passenger cars. The engineer and her assistant inspected the little switcher loco
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5. Stand
With the possible exception of the Guard company, it was the first clear look anypony had at the mysterious enemy. The huge figures thundered along the road like the oversize gorillas their slate-gray bodies loosely resembled, maintaining an astonishing pace through sheer size. White ruffs of fur around their collars and along their otherwise whippetlike tails streamed in the wind of their passage; long dark faces seemed utterly impassive. Darker still were their belted coverall uniforms, reinforced with jacks and spaulders featuring the peculiar blue insigne of mirrored lightning bolts, and covered with crossed bandoliers of pouches for caps, powder, and bullets. The muzzle-loading rifled muskets they carried—many still slung, some being readied—were built to the same massive scale, crude but powerful.
          They bore no banners and held no formation, instead rushing en masse toward the lines of ponies awaiting t
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4. Legends
Just within the edge of the tangled forest, three equine forms lay on the reverse slope of a broad hill and peeked over the crest. Cuts and scrapes covered them; manes and tails were tangled and ragged. Even their coats, smudged and roughened, lacked the usual sleek luster of civilized ponies. A faint reek of stale sweat clung to their bodies, spiced with a whiff of smokeless powder on the pegasus mare. The Everfree Forest had not treated them kindly, though the two unicorns had insisted stoutly they got off lightly.
          They spared scarcely a glance for the magnificent alpine panorama before them to the north, hazy with distance and heavy with evening shadows, the western ramparts of the mountain chain cleft by Canterlot’s pass. Instead their singular attention focused on the long narrow valley below that stretched east and west.
          In a large clearing on the valley f
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3. Everfree
This chapter contains references to scenes from the Spring Breakdown trailer shown at SDCC 2018.
By the time a gingerly moving Rose found them again, Cook and Sunset had trampled down a spot out on the meadow and cobbled together a pup tent from the somewhat mismatched shelter halves found tied to the older pair’s transformed packs.
          “How’re you feeling?” Sunset circled the tent—almost the only one visible amidst the tall wild grass—and eyed the limping pegasus solicitously.
          “The doc said I’ll live, but I’m not thrilled about these . . . mud packs.” Rose looked down at her chest and opened her good wing, showing small splotches of a drying spackle-like substance covering her quill wounds.
          “Don’t tell me, let me gues
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2. Flight
Sunset squinted in concentration, her nose and the tip of her glowing alicorn nearly pressed against the all-but-opaque green glass; the latch inside the closed window fell and locked with a clunk. Her companions already were lifting their packs from the pile on the grass at the back of the tower, lobbed out the ground-floor window before the three of them followed.
          Rose peered suspiciously and grumbled, “I suppose this is more of the portal’s doing.” Load vest and pack had become a harness bearing satchels in fore-and-aft pairs designed to rest against shoulders and haunches, leaving barrel and wings unobstructed; tie-downs held rolled gear along the spine and an extra pouch was clipped to the chest strap.
          Cook glanced over as he worked his shoulders and hips. “That’s current Guard issue. State of the art for Equestria. You should be fla
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1. Preparations
An actinic glare abruptly flooded the expansive library from a flat upright ellipse, which then rippled and ejected first a small avalanche of packs and straps, then three flailing bodies, one after another, to bounce and slide across the polished-stone floor. With an oddly truncated whoosh the harsh light winked out, leaving the echoing room dim and quiet. For a long moment the only sounds were strained breathing and muffled grunts.
          A pair of softer glows sputtered to life. “Sunset? Captain Brass?” Cook’s slightly breathless voice called out.
          “Yeah,” Sunset called back. “It’s . . . darker in here than I expected.”
          Rose’s contribution was a vigorous and inventive string of curses. “You didn’t tell me I’d need motocross ar
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0. The graduate, the charge, and the captain
“Sunset, slow down,” the masculine baritone interrupted firmly with a mix of exasperation and concern. “Now. Take a deep breath. Start at the beginning and go step by step, okay?”
          The voice didn’t break in again through the ensuing explanation, but when the flood of words finally trickled into silence, a sigh was audible. “You’re right; that doesn’t sound good.” After a moment the speaker added with a glint of his normal humor, “You did the right thing getting ahold of me—but then, who else could you call about something like this? Listen, I need to fire off a flash alert and grab a few things, but after that I’ll head right down and meet you there.”
It took Sunset Shimmer’s trembling hand two tries to hit the disconnect button on her phone’s screen; the recipient number and legend Cookie Pusher disappeared. The young woman
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