Carry On

by Viking ZX

Chapter 1: Drift

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“Come on, you guys!” Sky Bolt said, her wings fluttering with excitement, pulling her from the ground. “We’re almost there!” She spun in the air, her sky-blue mane whipping around her face.

“Is it something you’ve done at the barracks, dear?” her mother asked, nodding at the short, squat building that Sky Bolt was leading them towards. “Or the new workshop?” There was a hopeful tone to her voice that matched the teasing sparkle in her blue eyes.

“For the last time, Mom,” Sky Bolt said. She tilted her wings back, making a quick loop around her parents. “I’m not just going to tell you what the surprise is! You’ll just have to wait and see!” She stopped in front of her mother, shaking her head.

“And you’re absolutely sure that you suddenly up and joining the Guard isn’t part of the surprise?” her father asked. The dull-red earth pony gave her a wink as he said it, his green eyes reflecting his mirth at his daughters frustration.

“Yes!” She threw her hooves wide, ignoring for the moment that her parents were quite visibly snickering at her exaggerated reaction. Well, she admitted, only somewhat exaggerated.

“Ok, fine,” she said, giving them both a roll of her eyes. “It’s slightly related but … agh! Just come and see!” She kicked her wings back as she darted ahead for a moment, dust kicking up from the bare field around the barracks.

“Well whatever it is, I’m excited!” her mother said, flipping a light-blue curl over her shoulder. “The last surprise was that cruise, and then before that her new job…” She paused for a moment. “I liked your last job,” she said, her smile shrinking slightly. “Did you have to quit?”

Sky Bolt flinched at the question, her smile slipping from her face for a moment. Why? she thought. Why are you asking about this? Her mother was giving her an expectant look, and she began to shrink back. Did she ask about this?

“What about her other surprises?” her father asked with a chuckle. Sky Bolt let out a mental sigh of relief as her mother’s attention turned away from her. “Like me getting my mane burned off?” Her father gave his short, blond mane a pat. “Lucky for me it grew back,” he said with another wink.

“Oh come on!” Sky Bolt said. “That only happened twice! And I was twelve!”

“Well, maybe the surprise involves that good-looking zebra she mentioned,” her mother said. “What was his name dear? Sabra?”

“It does not!” Sky Bolt said, the words flying from her mouth with the speed of a stripped rotor. Her mother laughed and threw a wink at her father. Sky Bolt could feel her cheeks burning as she turned away towards the barracks. “It doesn’t!”

She paused as she reached the front door to the barracks. I didn’t say that, did I? she thought for a moment, pausing with her hoof on the doorhandle. And did mom really…?

“Is something wrong, dear?” her mother asked, her hoof settling on Sky Bolt’s shoulder.

“Huh?” She looked up and shook her head. “No, no. I’m fine,” she said, pushing away the strange thought. “I was just thinking about something. Not Sabra!” she said as she spotted the look her parents exchanged. “The surprise does not involve him in any way, shape, or form,” she said as she turned back to the door, fighting the urge to cover her face with her wings. They never let up, she thought as she stuck her hooves in the door handles. I can only imagine what it would be like if Sabra were actually here.

“In fact,” she said, bracing herself against the ground, “the real surprise lies just behind this door!” She gave the handles a sharp tug, stepping to the side as the heavy metal portals swung open. “Mom and Dad,” she said, gesturing as her parents stepped the workshop, matching expressions of stunned disbelief on their faces, “I give you The Hummingbird.”

The sleek airship bobbed above the workshop floor, its massive envelope nearly filling the expanded interior of the shop. Sky Bolt ran her eyes over the sleek, aerodynamic design. The squat, smoothed, triangular, envelope. The underslung cabin, melded with the bottom of the envelope and carefully sculpted to reduce drag. The sparkling, glass-encased cockpit where she sat when the airship flew.

It wasn’t quite perfect yet. Nor was it—technically—finished. It was still unpainted, bare metal and wood intermixed and bare to the elements. The interior compartments were still one giant compartment, the interior dividers not yet in place. And most of the seating wasn’t even in place. But it didn’t matter, at least, not at the moment. The Hummingbird flew, and that was enough.

“You finished it!” her father said as he stepped into the workshop, his head tilting back as he followed the curve of the envelope up towards the open roof. “They let you finish it?”

“Yeah, they did,” Sky Bolt said, her voice quiet as she stepped between her parents, spreading her wings and setting them across their shoulders. “And I know I promised you guys the first ride if I ever got her finished but…” She paused for a moment, waiting until both of her parents had drawn their eyes away from the spectacle of engineering in front of them.

“We sort of already had to use her,” she admitted, giving them a sheepish grin. “We had a mission, we needed to get there fast, and well….” She shrugged. “Does settling for the second ride seem like too much of a let-down?”

“No, no,” her father said, taking another few steps into the workshop. He shook his head, a sigh of amazement escaping his lips. “You know,” he said as he turned to look back at her. “When you first got that cutie mark on your side, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, after all, I’m just a farmer—” he tapped the three stalks of wheat on his flank with his hoof, “—but I knew you’d do something amazing. This though?” He turned and looked up at The Hummingbird. “This is, once again, amazing.”

Sky Bolt laughed, her eye darting towards the crossed bolt-and-wrench over a blueprint that marked her own grey flank. “Yeah, well, just wait a few years until you can see some of the stuff I’m working on right now,” she said, smiling. “Believe me, it’s cool.”

“Cooler than this?” her mother asked, trotting up the stepladder that led into the ship.

“Trust me,” Sky Bolt said, grinning as she followed her parents up. “I’m working on some really dangerous stuff. I mean cool!” she corrected.

“It looks like you’ve still got a little bit of work to do,” her father commented, glancing around the unfinished interior. “Like around the bathroom area.”

“Yeah, we had to leave in a hurry for the first flight,” Sky Bolt said. She glanced around the ships internal bay, mentally cataloging the things that she still needed to do.

“It’s not going to be hazardous, is it?” her mother asked.

Sky Bolt paused for a moment, again struck by the faintest sense of unease. I thought mom was excited to see the inside? Even if it was a little unfinished. And I thought it was more complete than this. She glanced around the compartment, frowning as an itch made itself known in the back of her mind. And I thought I was further along than this. She flapped her wings, floating up near the ceiling and examining an exposed cable. Weren’t these covered earlier?

“What’s in these?” her father asked, looking at her as he tapped the side of a large wooden crate. The sound of his hoof meeting the wood filled the compartment, and she blinked in surprise.

“I…” She gave her head another shake. When did I put those in here? “Just some parts,” she said, her mind catching up with her as she gave her father a nervous smile. “You know,” she said with a shrug, “odds and ends. Cables. Pieces.” She fought the urge to frown as her father nodded, hiding it until neither of her parents were looking.

Come on, come on! This is your big moment! Don’t blow it! She gave her head another shake and nearly jumped as a hoof touched her shoulder.

“Are you alright?” Sabra asked, the zebra’s brilliant purple eyes looking into hers, concern on his face.

“I—” She stopped. “Are you coming along?”

“Of course,” he said, giving his head a gentle nod. “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. He pulled his hoof away, and the itch in the back of her head intensified. What’s bothering me? she thought as Sabra turned to her parents, greeting them in zebra. There’s nothing wrong, right? She nodded and rolled her eyes as her mother gave her a smug smile.

“Come on, everypony,” she said, stepping towards the cockpit door as she buried the sense of unease. I shut the door, was Sabra already onboard? “Let’s get this baby in the air and make her fly!”

She wrapped her hooves around the control yoke as the docking clamps released. The Hummingbird began to rise beneath her, lifting out of the workshop and into the clear blue sky with almost impossible speed. Her parents gasped as the city spread out below them like a foal’s playset, buildings shrinking into pinpricks as ship rose higher and higher.

“And now…” Sky Bolt said, giving her parents a wink as she moved her hoof to the throttle, “let me show you what she can really do!” She rammed the throttle forward, and her parents slid back as the airship bucked forward underneath them. A dull roar filled the cockpit as the airships powerful boilers spun the twin props at speeds unmatched by any other airship in existence. Clouds peeled past the ships prow, splitting before them as the airship scythed through the air. Sky Bolt laughed as her parents looked around in wonder and she pulled the yoke to one side, sending The Hummingbird into a tight, banking turn.

“Bolt, this is amazing!” her father said, his legs braced against the thick glass beneath him. “I’ve never felt anything like it!”

Sky Bolt grinned as she pushed the throttle even further forward, the whine of the propellers rising as she put the ship into another, tighter, turn.

“But,” her father said, turning and looking right at her. He stood up straight, as if the tilt of the deck meant nothing at all. “What if it isn’t safe?”

“Not safe?” Sky Bolt said, pulling her hooves away from the controls as her heart sank. The Hummingbird stayed in it’s tight, twisting dive. “What do you mean?”

“He’s right,” her mother said, the same concerned expression on her face. “It’s nice, honey, but it could get somepony killed.” There was a dull thumping sound from the crew compartment, and she could feel her heart start to pound in response.

“But mom, dad ... I—”

“Your parents are correct.” Her heart fell further as Sabra stepped up alongside them. “You chose to get involved in something far beyond you, and now...” Sky Bolt winced, her eyes growing wet with tears. The thumping sound from the rear of the ship was louder now, growing closer, but she didn’t care. She wanted to run, to get away from what Sabra—from what her parents, were saying.

“And now,” Sabra said calmly as something smashed against the door to the cockpit, splintering the wood. “Now we’re all going to die.”

The cockpit door blew apart, chunks of wood crashing all around them. Sky Bolt threw her hooves up reflexively as her parents and Sabra stood motionless, wood flying around them. There was something in the doorway, a familiar shape that tugged at her mind. Her mind caught up with what it was, recognizing the familiar wooden limbs and bronze-metaled gears just as the unfolded box golem leapt into the cockpit, its single, crystal eye blazing with inner fire. She barely had time to scream in terror before it had grabbed Sabra in both hands, smashing through the glass with its shoulder as it tumbled forward. Then both figures were gone, swept away into the dark sky as wind and glass shards tore through the cockpit.

“Sabra!” Sky Bolt screamed, diving towards the gaping hole, cutting her legs on jagged glass as she peered out of the opening. Wind rushed around her, thunder rumbling as she scanned an angry sky, searching for any sign of her friend.

Nothing. He was gone.

“Mom? Dad!?” Sky Bolt turned back as she noticed the missing presence at her side. “Mom! Dad!” She spun and The Hummingbird bucked underneath her, the deck tilting as its turn grew tighter. She spread her wings, her hooves fighting for purchase as the ship began to shudder violently.

“Mom! Dad!” she screamed her parents names again, her throat burning raw as she began to pull herself towards the cockpit door. Something was weighing her down, slowing her and keeping her from lunging through the open door to find her parents.

“You can’t save us,” her father said as she pulled herself through the doorway. Her parents were hanging on the far side of the room, two box golems holding them up by their throats. “You can’t.” His voice was flat, emotionless. His face dead, eyes staring at her without any life.

“Dad, no, I—” She was pushing forward now, fighting against a wall that was holding her back. Her legs were burning, screaming in pain as she moved across the bay. “I can. I can!”

The floor fell away beneath her and Sky Bolt let out a shriek as she was dumped from The Hummingbird. She had one last view of the golem’s hands tightening around her parent’s throats as the airships bay doors swept shut, and then she was gone, tumbling against horrific winds that tore at her from every side, spinning her in all directions with no sense of up or down.

She crashed into something, pinching her wing under her side as she hit and letting out a cry of pain. Her armor cracked, the crystalline surface spiderwebbing beneath her from the impact. She rose to her hooves, trying in vain to clear her head, her eyes peering through the gloom to make out what she was standing on. Clear crystal stretched up around her in three pillars, connecting seamlessly to the surface she had impacted against.

It looks like— The pillars around her began to move, and her eyes widened as they crashed down around her, pinning her against the ground. No! Her legs pushed against the hard crystal in panic. It’s a hand! I’m in a hand!

A leering face rolled out of the darkness as she fought against the massive fingers holding her down. Burning-pink eyes stared out at her from under a mare’s disheveled, pale-blue mane. A madly grinning leer stretched across the mare’s muzzle, it and her pale-green coat distorted by the crystal between them.

“You can’t save anyone, Sky Bolt,” Radiant said, leaning in closer as the fingers began to tighten. Sky Bolt let out a cry of pain as her armor began to crack. “You will fail. Your friends will fail because of it.” The fingers tightened further, and Sky Bolt began to fight for breath, her world closing in around her. Her legs, her wings, both were pinned against her sides by the unrelenting pressure. “You can’t help them!”

“Nooooooo!” She sat up, her body drenched in a cold sweat, her breath coming hard and fast. For a moment she froze as her mind took in the dark shapes around her, and then she sank back against her covers with a shaky sigh.

A dream, she thought, fighting a shudder as her heart began to slow its furious pounding. It was just a dream. She wiped one hoof across her forehead and winced as it came away sticky with dank, oily sweat. I took mom and dad up in The Hummingbird yesterday, but Sabra wasn’t with us, and there definitely weren’t any of those crate golems up there. She let out a groan as she rolled onto her side, bruises from the frantic fight at the ERS building making themselves known.

Mom and dad loved the whole flight, and they never said anything about it being unfinished or about my old job, she reminded herself, shaking her head and wincing as a muscle let out a small twinge. She repositioned herself, pulling her legs and wings out of the blankets that had wrapped around her and dropping onto her stomach. The room was silent, nothing but the pounding of her heart filling her ears.

Good thing I soundproofed these rooms pretty well, she thought as she opened her eyes again, the faint, shadowed outline of her quarters coming into view. The last thing I want is for someone to ask me why I woke up screaming. She rolled onto her back, letting out a long sigh as her heart finally started to slow. It took her a few seconds of groping in the dark above her bed with one hoof, but after a moment she was rewarded with a faint click and the soft glow of the magilight lamp springing to life.

“Alri—,” she paused, running her tongue over the roof of her mouth as the dry sound of her voice hit her. It was like sandpaper in her ears. “Alright,” she tried again, the word whispering out. She coughed, swallowing as her throat cleared. “Alright,” she said a third time. It still sounded raspy, but it was better. “What time is it?” She squinted at the clock above her bed and let out a groan as she put the time on the hands together.

“Three-forty-five?” Her head dropped back to the mattress as she let out a groan. “Way too early.” She rubbed a hoof against her eyes, pushing away the sandy feeling that had filled them, and let out a sigh. She wasn’t going to sleep now. Not after that.

Well, she thought, rolling out of bed and heading for the showers, if I can’t sleep, I can at least make myself useful. She opened the door to her quarters, glad once again that the hallway in the barracks was always rudimentarily lit by at least a few magilights at night. There are always a few projects in my workshop I can work on. She flapped her wings once, stretching the stiff muscles as she headed for the shower. Always.

* * *


Sky Bolt looked up in surprise as the low voice cut through the pounding bass beat thumping from the workshops speakers, jerking back as her eyes met Captain Song’s solid blue gaze.

“Sorry,” the olive-green earth pony said, his eyes widening as her noticed her reaction. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“No, no.” She shook her head, and throwing up one hoof up in salute as she caught her breath. “I just didn’t hear you come in. Sorry, sir.”

“Well, you weren’t in your quarters, and I heard the bass beat when I woke up,” Steel said, returning her salute, his hoof coming to a precise stop just shy of his close-cropped grey mane before retreating. She let her own hoof fall. “What are you doing up so early?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Sky Bolt said. She looked down at the hastily cobbled together prototype on her desk and gave it a quick tap with her hoof, pulling her Captain’s attention to it. “Just an idea I had. Some last minute changes to the armor enchantments that might prove helpful.” The stacks of notepaper beneath the connected crystals crinkled as her project rolled to one side.

“Alright,” Steel said, nodding as his eyes looked down at the hastily scratched notes surrounding the two crystals. “What’s ‘anga tone?’”

“Oh, anga tone?” Sky Bolt let out a nervous laugh as her eyes darted to the clock. Five-ten already? Where did time go? “That’s not part of this project, it’s just another idea I had that I’ve been playing with.”

“Is that zebra?” the Captain asked, twisting his head as he looked down at the hastily scratched words beneath the title.

“Um, yeah,” Sky Bolt said, grabbing the corner of the paper and spinning it slightly so that the earth pony could get a better look. “It’s zebra. It means ‘sky drop.’ It’s just an idea I had.”

“Sky drop, huh?” Steel asked, pushing the paper back as he finished glancing over the scarce notes. “Aerial equipment deployment?”

“Yeah, it’s kind of a dead end for now,” Sky Bolt said as she pulled the paper the rest of the way back around. “There’s not really any need for it, and it would take a major overhaul to The Hummingbird to make it work, so…” She shrugged. “That and it would need a much cooler name.”

“Huh,” Steel said, his eyes moving towards a few of the other nearby workbenches and looking at the objects on them. “Did it ever make it into a report to Hunter?”

“No,” Sky Bolt said with a shake of her head, her mane cascading around her face. Her eye caught a spot of grease in her bang, somehow already sunk in despite the short amount of time she’d been working that morning. “It never went past a basic idea and a sketch or two. I just couldn’t see any reason for it.”

“Well,” Steel said, squaring his shoulders. “Don’t toss it, at least. It sounds feasible. Just…”

“Impractical?” she asked, and he nodded. “Don’t worry, Boss, I won’t. I never do.”

“Good,” Steel said, turning his body halfway towards the workshop entrance. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think both of us are being waited on outside. We’ve got a day to start, spec,”

“Give me a second,” Sky Bolt said, holding back a yawn until the Captain had turned fully away, “and I’ll be right there.” Steel nodded, vanishing through the workshop doors, and Sky Bolt let the massive yawn fold out of her mouth as she gave herself another stretch.

“Yeah,” she said again as she pushed herself back from the workbench, her eyes lingering on the interconnected crystals she’d been fiddling with. “Right there.”

* * *

Jambo,” Sabra said, smiling as he slid his tray into the seat next to her.

Nizuri,” Sky Bolt said, an apple halfway to her muzzle. “How are you?” She took a bite as her eyes darted over towards the grey-and-white zebra. Sabra looked like he always did: calm, collected, with just a hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth. He wasn’t wearing his blindfold this morning, leaving his bright purple eyes free to draw in every detail as he looked at her.

“Still a little stiff,” he said, the upward hint at the corners of his mouth becoming a bit more pronounced, a close approximation of a smile.

“Yeah,” Sky Bolt said, nodding her head and giving him an exaggerated wince as her neck tightened. “I’m pretty glad the Captain cut our run short this morning. I don’t think I could have taken much more.”

Vivyo hivyo,” Sabra said, nodding. She paused and tilted her head as she tried to dredge the meaning of his words from her mind. Her grasp of zebra was getting better but—

“Likewise,” Sabra said, clarifying, and she nodded as the words lined up in her head. “So,” he said, keeping to Equestrian, “what were you doing this morning?”

Sky Bolt set her apple down next to the egg-and-veggie omelet that was sitting on her plate. “I was in my workshop, getting some work done. I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep so…” she let her words trail off. No sense in telling him about the nightmare, she thought. Definitely not since he was in it. She lifted her fork and took a bite of her omelet, taking advantage of the pause to consider her words. If Nova even heard the words ‘Sabra’ and ‘dream’ in the same sentence, he’d have enough ammunition for weeks. Not that he didn’t already have plenty, although she got the sense that he was being somewhat gracious in not bringing it up too often.

“You arose early?” Sabra asked as he scooped up a forkful of his own breakfast. “When?”

“Oh, just a while before everypony else got up,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t push and ask for a more specific time. The team didn’t have an official curfew time, but most tried to get to sleep by ten or eleven at the latest to avoid the wrath of the team doctor, Dawn. It wasn’t wise to thwart her carefully prescribed health regimen. “I had some new ideas for some stuff that I wanted to try out and it really couldn’t wait.” Sabra’s eyebrows rose, but he said nothing, instead choosing to bite into his own breakfast, a warm salad with a spicy-scented unfamiliar dressing that made her nose tingle.

“Working on some new stuff, Sky?” Nova asked, dropping into the seat across from her, his tray sliding off of his hooves instead of floating down in an aura of yellow magic. The purple unicorn looked a little groggy, but she had to admit the stallion looked surprisingly alert for someone who had nearly died from magic exhaustion just over three days earlier.

“Yeah, I am,” she said, dropping her fork as he sat down. “What are you doing in here though? I thought you were on bed rest?”

“I was,” he said, grinning as he picked up his own helping of eggs. “And technically, I still am. But I’m allowed to at least leave and get my own meals now.” He shrugged. “At least, that was the condition I got Dawn to agree to after I went running with Captain Song and his friend yesterday.”

“I had heard that you snuck out,” Sabra said, pausing in his breakfast long enough to give the unicorn a pointed look.

“So did I,” Sky Bolt said, chuckling. “In fact, I think Dawn’s shout woke the Night Guard up next door.” Nova rolled his eyes as Sabra let out a small, quiet laugh of his own. “Surprised you’re allowed out of your room at all.”

“Hey,” Nova said. “Magic exhaustion and physical exhaustion aren’t the same thing. I was bored out of my mind after being cooped up in there for three days. Not using magic is one thing, but being confined to my quarters?” He took a bite of his breakfast. “‘Sides,” he said through his bite, “I was asking you about what you were working on, not what you thought about my health-care scenario. And before you ask, I’ve got thirty hours worth of KP as punishment as soon as Dawn gives me a clean bill of health.” He swallowed and leaned forward, his short, red mane almost quivering with anticipation. “So what were you working on? Are the helmets in?”

“No, not yet,” Sky Bolt said, shaking her head and letting her own expression mirror the looks of disappointment from the two ponies. “I talked with the armorer last night and she said she’d run into a snag. Shouldn’t be more than another few days though.”

“What about the damage done to our armor during our last mission?” Sabra asked, his voice just barely betraying a hint of curiosity. It was hard, but she was getting to be better at reading his emotions. Maybe one day she’d be able to figure out what he was thinking without goading a response out of him.

“Another day or two for the small stuff, but several pieces were damaged so heavily they have to be completely replaced,” Sky Bolt said, letting a sigh slip out of her mouth. “Which puts us dangerously close to going over-budget, and that’s with the bonus that Princess Luna granted us when I proposed my initial armor design.”

“That is … unfortunate,” Sabra said, frowning. “What will happen if we exceed our allotment?”

Sky Bolt shrugged. “I have no idea. The Princesses aren’t exactly suffering from a lack of bits, but it all has to come from and go to somewhere. Then again,” she said, pausing to take a bite of her breakfast, “the boss only said that we were getting close to going over our budget. I’ve still got enough to finish up The Hummingbird and get everyone’s gear finished. But it looks like for now, any ‘mark 2’ designs I come up with will have to stay just that: designs.” She let out a mental sigh as she reminded herself of that. Just one more thing to worry about.

“Alright,” Nova said, apparently in no hurry to finish his meal before the rest of the team had to leave. “So what were you working on this morning, if you’ve got armor to fix and a shrinking budget?”

“Something I thought of a few days ago but hadn’t had time to play around with until now.” Sky Bolt leaned back, her eyes darting to the clock at the end of the cafeteria. She and Sabra still had time before they were supposed to be back at the barracks. “It’s a crystal—” She paused for a moment, trying to work out the best way of explaining it her head.

“I guess the best way to describe it would be an ambient battery system,” she said, noting that both Sabra and Nova had leaned a little closer to her. “I got the idea from the golems, actually.” Sabra’s eyes widened, while Nova actually pulled away slightly.

“Relax,” she said, giving her eyes a roll. “It’s just tech. Anyway,” she said, settling in her seat, “I’m trying to reverse-engineer and then re-engineer part of the power process, based off of some of her notes and what we have. If it works, I’ll be able to improve our own armor equipment to give us more flexibility in the field. If it doesn’t, well…” She shrugged. “If it works you’ll hear more about it at the meeting tomorrow.”

Sky Bolt’s eyes darted to the clock as a sense of urgency filled her. “Anyway, I need to hurry up and eat if I’m going to get back to it. I need to get some work done on it before I meet with Hunter for combat exercises.” She shoveled the rest of her breakfast into her mouth, scarfing down the hot omelette without regard for her tongue and washing it down with her orange juice. “I’ll see you two later, alright? Kwaheri!” She darted away from the table with her tray on her back, suddenly very eager to be back in the workshop, to put in what time she had left for breakfast and her normal routine working on her newest project. If she could just get the energies to polarize properly...

Thoughts of her work filled her head so completely that she didn’t even notice Sabra and Nova exchange a questioning look as she trotted out of the cafeteria.

* * *

“Come on…” she said, activating the array again and watching the needle on the magimeter for any signs of movement. She flipped the switch, crossing her feathers that the small change she’d made to the array would work the way she’d intended it to. Slowly but surely the needle began to vibrate, then dip as the grounding crystal she was using as a sink began to draw away the power behind the first crystals enchantment.

“Alright…” she said. “Once again, so far so good.” She pulled crystal leads back from the grounding crystal she’d borrowed and watched as the array sparked. It hadn’t taken her too long to figure out what she’d needed to do, although the professor she’d spoken to at the Celestia’s school had been quite confused as to what her end goal was. Not that Sky Bolt had told her. She’d been warned enough by Luna about the shroud of secrecy most of her work was being put under. To wit, she’d been told only once, and that had been enough.

But however quickly the mare had been able to make the adjustment Sky Bolt had asked of her, it was balancing itself out with how long it was taking her to actually accomplish what she’d set out to do with that change in the first place. She’d lost count of the number of her attempts hours earlier, but she was close. She knew it. What she was trying to do was possible. Radiant’s golems had proven that much. They’d proven a lot of other things as well, she thought as her eyes darted to a nearby workbench, where a cloth had been thrown over two of the golems. Both of the golems, one wood and one metal, had been deactivated and in various stages of disassembly. She had an idea that she wanted to try to implement based on their designs but ... She pushed the thought away. No budget, and it would take her months. Almost as long as building The Hummingbird. What mattered now was the task at hand.

Speaking of which… She turned her attention back to the array, her eyes focusing on the magimeter’s needle. It quivered, started to rise … and then dropped.

“Thunderbolts!” Sky Bolt shouted, disconnecting the array and watching as the needle stabilized once more, the crystal preserving what little power it had left. Once it went dry, she wasn’t sure if what she had in mind would work, especially as jury-rigged as this experiment was. She couldn’t be sure that a dead crystal would work the same way as one that was still enchanted.

She shook her head, trying to fight the urge to yawn, and took a quick look at the clock. It was one-twenty-seven. She would need to be waking up in just under five hours. But she was so close. Sleep could wait.

Besides, she thought with a shudder as the nightmare from that morning came back to mind, I’m not quite sure I want to sleep yet.

She turned her attention back to the array. She was close. Another thirty minutes. Maybe less. Then she could sleep.

But first, she had to finish.

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