The Voyage

by BookeCypher

Chapter 1: The Voyage

The ocean spray kicked up as the steam cutter cut through the rolling waves of the sea, dark clouds rolling in time with the heavy gusts of the building storm. The lone figure on deck pulled its cloak closer around itself, a flash of claws emerging from the folds as it clutched at the thin fabric that shielded her from the storm even as it masked the figures face.

“Gilda,” the cloaked figure turned as a voice approached from behind, a familiar looking griffon approaching. She had the same cloak as the other figure, though with her hood down her avian features were readily apparent. A howl of wind tugged at the green-tinted feathers of her head, a claw coming up for a moment in a vain attempt to block the breeze. “How long are you going to be out here?”

The other figure sighed as she dropped her own hood. Her beak clicked in irritability as one claw ran through the mess of white feathers atop her head. “Until all those ponies in there stop jabbering. That specific enough for you Gretta?”

Gretta rolled her eyes as she approached her friend. The two of them were, at the moment, the only griffon's on the ship and had been since the vessel had sailed out of Siere Lyon. “Taking this ship was your idea, you know.”

Gilda seemed like she was about to say something, but instead simply turned and slumped against a nearby railing. “I know – what you get for putting me in charge of this mess.”

Gretta shrugged as she gave Gilda a companionable pat on the shoulder. “Look on the bright side – the boat hasn't sunk yet.”

“Oh har-har,” Gilda replied dryly as she turned around. “Its not my fault those two bolted back to Equestria before I-”

Her sentence was cut off as he head suddenly snapped to one side, eyes fixated on something in a way most ponies would have found unsettling. Gretta gave her friend a worried look. “Gilda?”

“I thought you said we were the only griffon's on this ship.” Gilda said. It didn't sound like much of a question.

“We are,” Gretta replied as her head twisted around to see whatever Gilda was staring at. Whatever had caught her attention was long gone, leaving only an empty passageway leading back into the ship. “Why?”

“Because I just saw a griffon tail vanish around that corner.” Gilda replied before setting off toward the passage. “Come on.” Gilda didn't wait to see if her friend followed behind her as she shot off after whoever had decided to make an appearance. She caught sight of it again as she rounded the first corner – there, at the end of the hall, a tuft of black fur at the end of a brown tail as it vanished through a bulkhead. Claws slammed against the deck as she dashed forward, digging gouges into the wood as she took a hard turn and bounded into the ship.

She nearly bowled over one of the pony crew members as she sped by, paying no mind to the rain of towels he dropped as she continued her chase around another corner.

She skidded to a stop as she sped out of the hall and found herself in the last place she'd have expected.

“How the Egg did I get to the main hall?” She asked out loud as she stared at the over-sized ornate construct of metal and stained glass in front of her. A pair of double-wide doors sat open ahead of her, another pony crew member standing to one side with a silver platter laden with strange white rectangles. “Hey,” she snapped at the attendant with the platter as she marched over to him as she pulled off her cloak. “You see another griffon come through here?”

“Ah, yes.” He gave a polite nod. “The sir said that you would be coming – the entry fee for you and your friend has been covered.”

“My friend...?” Gilda started before she heard another set of claws echo behind her, followed by Gretta's voice cursing her for her various reasons, she risked a glance behind her to see her friend rolling around in the floor as she tried to untangle herself from her cloak. she turned back to the attendant. If he found anything about the sight of a griffon flailing about on a marble floor amusing, he kept it to himself. “Right...” She looked past the attendant and into the room beyond. “So, he went in there?”

The attendant nodded. “Indeed, miss.” He shook his platter softly, “Now if you and your friend could take a mask, the main event is about to begin.”

Gilda looked down at the platter, finally noticing just what was on it – masquerade ball masks in a every style imaginable, though she noted that only two looked like they were made for griffon heads.

Funny, that.

“What's going on?” Gretta asked as she walked up behind Gilda.

“No idea,” Came the reply before Gretta found Gilda roughly shoving one of the masks into her claws as Gilda slipped the other one onto her head. “but I intend to find out.”

Identities concealed, the attendant gestured them into the main hall. Every one of the dozen's of ponies inside was dressed in their Gala best, cutie marks and faces hidden away under layers of fabric, metal and porcelain. None of them seemed to notice the two new arrivals slipping into the back, attention focused as it was on the figure at the front.

“-But those are the tales most of us are familiar with,” the stallion at center stage announced. It seemed they had come in mid-sentence. “The griffon's have been plying these waters for ages before any pony eyes ever cast their gazes upon them.”

“Oh,” Gretta murmured from next to Gilda. “I think I know this one.”

“They tell tales of the storms that would roll across this narrow sea,” The stallion continued, his voice loud enough that Gilda could only assume he was using a amplification spell. Nopony was actually that loud. “How they could test even the best of their sailors and explorers – and how, in truly dire circumstances, their ancestors would appear and help guide them.” He raised a glass with one hoof. “A toast then, to learning from our past – may we not make the same mistakes twice.” The other ponies returned the toast with great aplomb as they downed their own glasses. "Now then - let the festivities begin!" A moment later a band started playing as the crowd of ponies began to spread out.

Gilda ignored the ponies milling past her as they headed for the dance floor, a few of them giving her aside glances before deciding that they were better off not knowing. Gilda's attention was focused scanning the crowd for her mystery griffon. All she saw, though, was the same annoying profile of pony after pony.

“Well, you look lost.” Gilda didn't have time to turn as she felt herself pulled around and onto the dance floor. Her hind paws scrambled to keep up as her surprise dance partner led her into a simple two-step. “You were following me?”

Gilda took a moment to stop frantically glancing at her own steps as she made eye contact with her mystery griffon. “You,” she growled, “Aren't supposed to be here.”

His beak clicked softly as he chuckled. “I am exactly where I need to be. The better question is why are you here?”

Gilda shrugged. “It was the first ride out to Equestria that I could afford. What about you?”

“That wasn't the question,” her dance partner replied, “and you know it.”

Gilda glared at him for a moment. He was obviously and older bloke, probably old enough to be her father, but time it seems had been kind to him. He had all the calm bearing of experience and the relaxed confidence that only came from winning a lot of fights of one sort or another. With a sigh, she replied “I'm chasing after Rainbow Dash.”

“And who, pray tell,” He asked back, “Is Rainbow Dash?”

“The stupid pony who 'showed' me how to save my homeland and then bailed on me,” Gilda grumbled, “I mean, sure – I've got Gretta now and she's willing to help but everybody else either demands bits - which we don't have - when we try and do anything or just plain doesn't trust us when we try to help.”

“So, why try and help?” he asked, calmly, like it was the most obvious question in the world. Maybe it was.

It also had an obvious answer.

“It's home,” Gilda said with a shrug. “And that used to be something to take pride in. We were amazing once – now we squabble and fight each other over anything. We let our own city fall to ruins, and because of what? Some statue going missing?”

“That statue was a symbol of what made the griffons great.” her partner replied.

“It was stupid chunk of gold!” Gilda snapped. “We used to have pride in what we were and what we did, and now we don't care about anything unless it makes us a bit. There's no honor in that. Boo-hoo, we lost a dumb statue – no reason to get all mopey and let everything else rot.”

“And you think undoing all that damage will be easy?” He asked as the glided across the dance floor. “Revering generations of history? You think such a voyage is worth the trouble?"

“Which is why I'm hunting down Rainbow Dash,” Gilda replied. She had long since forgotten about her footing. “She's an Element of Harmony or whatever – she basically saves the world once a month.” She sighed. “I hate admitting it, but I need her help.”

The other griffon was quiet for a moment before he started to chuckle. “Good answer. The griffons could do much worse than you."

Gilda snorted, "Been around lately? They sort of have. Why I need to catch up with Dash."

"A valid goal," he said with a nod before leaning close and whispering, "but I think you are missing one very crucial detail.”

Gilda tilted her head a little. “What?”

“You seem to believe that she forgot to tell you something.” He replied as the music in the background peaked.

"She did," Gilda replied as the dancing around them began slowly glided to a stop, along with them. "The whole bit about 'how to save Griffonstone."

He gave Gilda a small smirk. "What did she leave you with, then, that makes you so sure she can help?"

Gilda considered how to word it before deciding on keeping it simple. "How to make friends."

"So," he asked as the band finished with one final flourish. "what more do you need?"

The other griffon released her from his hold as the ponies around them stomped in applause for the band. Gilda stumbled back as she settled back onto four legs, her dance partner disappearing back into crowd. “Hey!” She yelled, though over the roar of the applause it didn't carry far. “Get back here!”

“Gilda?” Gilda spun around as Gretta side-stepped around a pair of ponies. “What just happened?”

She gestured in the direction her dance partner had vanished to. “Some dude just-” She turned in time to see the crowd part, and for a brief instant time seemed to slow down. The ponies parted as she finally caught sight of her dance partner as he pulled his mask off. Golden eyes glowed like fire in the low lighting of the ball room, a familiar visage of brown feathers emerging from behind the mask. It was a face that she, Gretta and most everyone in Griffonstone saw on a regular basis.

After all, they had a statue of him. It was one of the only things still standing.

And then the moment collapsed as another pair of ponies passing in front of her. She spun around to face Gretta. “Did you see that!?”

Gretta blinked. “See what?”

“Him! The guy I was-” Gilda turned around again as the ponies cleared, but her dance partner had vanished. “...thats...be he was..." She slammed a claw into the floor in frustration. "oh, come on!”

“Gilda?” Gretta asked as she turned to her friend. “Are you feeling alright?”

Gilda just stared at the now empty spot of the dance floor before she brought one claw up to her face. “Nothing is ever easy, is it?”

“If it was,” Gretta replied as she patted Gilda on the back, “We wouldn't be friends and I wouldn't be here.” She tilted her head back, stretching at her beak. “How did that old saying go? 'The voyage worth taking...'”

Gilda sighed. “'Is never an easy one'” She pulled her mask off as she started out of the hall. “Come on – I think we might have some work to do before we hit port if we don't want the ancestors nosing around again.”

Gretta pulled off her own mask as she followed behind her. “What sort of-” She paused a the rest of Gilda's sentence processed. “Wait, ancestors. What are you-” She looked up to see Gilda vanishing around the corner and quickly rushed to catch up. “Gilda! What are you talking about? Was that a ghost? Please tell me that wasn't a ghost! Gilda, wait for me!”

Author's Notes:

Written in 2 hours for Everfree Northwest's Iron Writer competition - the story is presented here exactly as it was seen by the judges.

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