“They’re called Hippocampi”
- A My Little Pony short story
Edited (and “edited” does not do it justice) by: Sagebrush
Twilight Sparkle put down her book, Myths and Me, a book on different mythical creatures and how they influenced life today. She had just finished a section that talked about the mythical sea ponies and how they were honored in sailing to this day. It was amazing how many sailing customs were devoted to the mystical sea ponies. Figureheads carved in their likeness adorned cruise ships and trade vessels alike.
As Twilight mused over her studies, Spike came down from the upper section of the library with a pile of new books that were recently delivered by the mail mare. He was almost down the steps when he slipped on a negligently placed book, causing him to trip and fall as well as bringing down the pile with around twenty other books from the shelves. Unearthing himself from the pile, Spike got up a bit groggily.
Twilight, oblivious to her assistant’s painful spill, turned to address him, “Spike, this book is fascinating! Did you know that the reason some travelers sometimes pack painted stones is to give to the forest keepers of legend? It explains the history of many of our customs, and the different ways we have of saying 'good luck'!”
Spike dusted himself off and remarked snidely, “I don’t suppose there’s an entry for ‘Need a hand?’ in there, huh? Where do you want these books?”
Twilight thought for a moment and then pointed towards a corner, “Right over there would be perfect, Spike. Thanks, my number one assistant!”
Spike rolled his eyes as he gathered the scattered books, replying with a curt, “Yeah, whatever...”
Twilight began reading again when she heard the tell-tale sound of one of the princess' letters being delivered. At least that’s what she hoped it was, and not lunch coming back to haunt Spike; she had thought he might have overdone it with the rubies earlier. Turning towards him, she was pleased to see a missive from the princess in the young dragon’s claws, rather than a pile of half-chewed gem stones. With a nod of permission from Twilight, he opened it and cleared his throat.
“My Faithful Student, Twilight Sparkle.
“On this day a few years ago, you became my personal student, a decision I have always been proud of. So to celebrate this occasion, I am sending you off on a vacation to some nearby islands for a weekend. A royal chariot will arrive to take you to your destination in two day’s time; I hope you enjoy the trip. I will meet you at some time so we can talk.
Spike looked up with a wide grin stretching his face, “Wow! A trip, Twilight! Won't that be fun?”
Twilight thought out loud, “Sure, if it's a short trip. I don't want to get behind on my studies.”
Spike expression flattened as he stared at her, pointing at the seventeen ceiling-high stacks of books she had read that morning. He got his point across.
Twilight boarded the boat a couple days later. At Spike’s request she had promised a weekend completely free of hard studying, save for some pleasure reading she had managed to sneak past the dragon. Of course, in her case, pleasure reading meant a selection of complicated spell books, but nothing she’d consider hard. She checked the cruise schedule:
3-5: Free time
5-7: Diving Lessons
Twilight thought for a moment. Did she want to go to the diving lessons? She had a bad experience once. It sufficed to say that she and mackerel discovered a mutual distaste for each other afterwards. She shook her head; she would decide later. For now she had to get to the orientation.
Twilight returned from the orientation with the realization of why the cruise guide gave her two hours between that and the first activity -- it was just enough time to recover from being bored out of her skull. Her head was swimming from two hours worth of names and numbers. She was used to taking in what would by many be considered dull material, but the orientation took it to a whole new level. She could barely stand up.
She lay on her bed and drifted to sleep, lulled to rest by the gentle rocking of the boat. In her dreams she was deep beneath the ocean where the light filtered down in muted blues, allowing herself to be carried on the deep sea eddies. Instinctively she took a breath and felt air enter her lungs. At the periphery of her vision she saw a figure draw close and fade away. She glanced in the direction the figure had approached from and managed to catch sight of it, but no sooner did she do so than it disappeared from her vision once more. She swam deeper into the darkened depths of the sea, managing to spot the figure one more time and calling out in vain as it again fled. Realizing how far she must’ve travelled from her means back to shore, she looked up in horror to see the ship moving above her, leaving her behind.
She awoke with a start as sweat cooled on her fur. She checked the clock and it was 4:45, leaving her 15 minutes before the next scheduled activity. She briefly pondered the dream: it was remarkably vivid, and didn’t immediately flit from her consciousness like so many others. Strangely enough, it had also left her with a strong desire to explore the world beneath those rolling blue waves. The diving lessons would provide an excellent opportunity to do so, but then she would have to trust in some flimsy device to keep her from suffocating. The fear of drowning snuffed her confidence, and she considered instead spending the following hours buried in the books she had brought with her. Then she had an idea. Of course! She could go to the diving lessons! All she needed was an underwater breathing spell to dispel her fears, and she had brought along her spellbook for things just like that! Lucky day!
She pulled it out and flipped through the pages. The spell was early in the book and, thankfully, easy. Twilight read the description out loud, “‘A spell to let a pony breathe underwater twelve hours as well as preventing problems with underwater pressure and lets you see in deep water. It also prevents that itchy feeling in your eyes when you use shampoo.’ Sounds good!”
She began casting the spell. Through the magic of the spell, she felt the silty smoothness of ocean sand on her hooves, and the rhythm of the ebb and flow of the tides in the beat of her heart. It didn't take much energy, just time. Twilight guessed it took around ten minutes.
When the magic of the spell settled Twilight felt no different, but she assumed that it had worked. She couldn't know until she tried, but she kind of hoped she wouldn't be alerted to its failure. That would imply she would be drowning, and that was generally a bad thing.
Twilight and the other students were in the waters soon enough and she was ready to go. That isn't to say she wasn't nervous, but she figured there wasn't anything to lose in learning something new, assuming there weren’t any mackerel in the immediate vicinity. The group was a fair ways away from the ship in a small boat, and the ponies were suiting up. A grey earth pony mare was helping everypony get their hooves through the sleeves of their diving suits and checking their air tanks.
Once everypony was ready the mare turned to instruct them. “Okay, listen. Ocean diving isn’t like jumping into a swimming pool, and that’s what makes it such an incredible experience. You’ll be able to see all kinds of sea life up close, but I want to remind you to be careful. Most of the creatures you’ll see are harmless and won’t bother you unless you harass them, so please look but don’t touch.” She then began explaining how the equipment worked. Everything was basic and Twilight was able to understand it all.
The instructor put on her own gear and dived in, and the others followed her lead. After giving them a time to return, they were swimming around freely. Twilight found the experience incredible, and slowly descended into the navy depths. She didn't realize how deep she was until she looked up. Her group was an uncomfortable distance away, so Twilight began to swim towards them.
Suddenly something brightly colored caught her eye. She tentatively swam in its direction, but it quickly disappeared. She felt an inkling of déjà vu. She shook her head and resumed her rise back up to the surface; she remembered how the dream had ended. That was when she heard a rippling of water unsettlingly close behind her. She whipped around to find the razor-lined maw of a shark barreling towards her. Her mouthpiece fell from her mouth as she emptied her lungs in a terrified scream, but fortunately her earlier spell proved effective in refilling them. Well, for a moment anyways, before a heavy blow drained her of air once more, as well as her consciousness.
When she awoke she was still underwater. She attempted to swim but found herself strapped to the ground by seaweed. Struggling against her bonds, she found the plants to be much stronger than she would have expected. A voice from behind her caught her attention, “Finally, you're awake.”
Twilight tried to turn her head towards the source of the voice, but the seaweed bonds were too tight. “Who are you? What are you doing to me?” she asked, a hint of fear in her voice as she fought not to panic.
The voice seemed to sigh, “I have you tied down, silly. Don’t tell me that horn of yours interferes with your thinking.” The voice giggled.
Twilight tried hard not to snap back at whoever was doing this. She took a breath in and calmly said, “If you excuse me I have a boat to catch and they'll be very worried-”
This was met by a laugh. “Sure, and let you tell them where we are. Sorry, but you're stuck here.” Twilight began to argue but was silenced when a light blue pony came into view. Golden strands of hair were interspersed among the navy of her mane, and she wore a necklace of rounded stones the color of her pelt with golden flecks here and there. With a smile on her face she continued, “Well, unless you are good.”
Twilight struggled again, “What's going on?”
The pony laughed, “Ay, I really do think your horn is messin' with your head if you don’t realize!” As she spoke, Twilight noticed something else odd about the pony, besides her ability to breathe underwater. In the place where the pony's hindquarters should have been was a long, light blue fish tail with golden flecks here and there on her scales. Her hooves also seemed to unravel, revealing that they were actually some sort of flipper-hoof hybrid.
Twilight gasped, “You're a sea pony!”
The pony growled in annoyance, “Hmph! Can’t your kind learn correct names? Or do you call pegasi 'sky ponies' and unicorns 'horn ponies'?”
Twilight stammered, “Uh, I- I'm Wha-”
The pony shook her head, “If you're going to capture us, at least have the decency to learn our actual names!”
Twilight looked around for anything to help in her escape, “Capture you? No, no, no, remember the shark? You saved me! Why would I do that?”
Twlight's captor swished her tail a bit, “Don’t feign ignorance! You land ponies are always trying to come down here and capture us to place in exhibits. We hippocampi may not like seeing other ponies killed, but we still can't risk you telling others of our location.”
Twilight sighed, recalling having seen sea pony, that was to say hippocampi, exhibits. She didn’t like to admit it, but her captor was right in being suspicious. However, she reasoned it was rather hypocritical for her to be taken prisoner in response. Still, she was stuck; she figured she might as well concede to her captor’s argument, for the time being, “Fine. You have a point I guess, even if I don't like it.”
The hippocampus clapped her flippers, “Great! Glad to see you’re not as stubborn as I thought you’d be! I'm Lapis Lazuli. You can call me Lapis.”
Twilight sighed and grumbled, “I'm Twilight Sparkle.”
Lapis Lazuli gave a slight smile, “Twilight Sparkle. How nice. Lovely name indeed.”
The hippocampus turned to fish through a bed of coral, and that was when Twilight noticed she didn't have a cutie mark anywhere on her. “Do sea- I mean hippocampi have cutie marks?” She paused in consideration, “And why hippocampus? It means horse monster doesn’t it? That doesn’t seem too flattering.”
Lapis grunted in frustration again as she continued to root through the coral, “No we don't have those silly designs on our bodies like you ponies on the land do because of our scales, and, really, we don't care. We don’t need a picture on our sides to remind of us of who we are. Furthermore, I don’t see a problem with the name hippocampi. After all, pegasus has its roots in the word ‘well’ or ‘spring’, which to me doesn’t bring to mind images of winged ponies.”
Twilight thought that was a very good point. But continued to think through all the things that puzzled her, “Are there two types of hippocampi? I heard about another type that is more common.”
Twilight could hear Lapis rummaging around when she chuckled, “Funny story, the other type of pony you call ‘sea ponies’ are actually just a strange type of seahorse. They are unusually smart for their kind and capable of language. Some hippocampi taught them how to speak; in return, they called themselves the sea ponies to throw off anyone looking for us. They also are great singers, if you ask me.”
Twilight was going to continue to ask questions about these “Amazing” singers but hesitated when she saw Lapis coming back with something sharp in her mouth. Twilight’s imagination went to the darkest of places, before her captor began cutting the seaweed that was binding her. When she was done, she released the thing in her mouth, and it began walking away. Twilight realized it was a crab. She shook her head.
Twilight felt like she had to say something. “So, why were you named Lapis Lazuli?”
Lapis giggled, “Duh, my body, my hair, the flecks of gold on my tail. Kind of an obvious answer I would think.”
Twilight blushed; it was kind of a stupid question. She considered just clamming up lest her mouth betray her once more, but then she remembered something important. “What time is it?” she asked.
Lapis gave her a curious glance. “It's a quarter past four in the morning, why?”
Twilight gasped. She had been out that long? “The reason I’m able to talk to you and haven’t turned blue in the face, rather than my typical violet, is because I cast a spell to allow myself to breathe underwater. However, it’s only designed to last, oh, I think it was 16 hours, and I cast it at 4:45 PM yesterday!”
Lapis shrugged, “Hmm, I’ll admit I’m not too keen on the idea of letting you go just yet. After all, I wouldn’t want my friends and family ending up in an exhibit somewhere. But don’t worry, I’m not going to let you die.”
Although unhappy about remaining a prisoner, Twilight was relieved to know that her captor didn’t mean her harm. Lapis Lazuli began to swim away, beckoning for the unicorn to follow, “Come on, Twilight!”
Twilight followed along and spotted in the distance the dim lights of what must have been an underwater city. As they approached, she saw that many buildings had been fashioned from beautiful coral architecture, and the bioluminescence of several natural lamps provided an ethereal lighting that painted their sides. Although the magic of her spell was still strong, Twilight found herself breathless.
Twilight decided she would ask one more question, “I understand your desire to avoid land ponies, but do you really find me to be such a potential threat? I mean, you saw the circumstances by which I ended up down here, do you truly think I was hunting your kind?”
Lapis looked at her with an unreadable expression as she answered, “Honestly? I don’t know if you really are a risk. My instinct tells me that you probably are just some novice diver that got in over her head, and that maybe I could trust you,” the hippocampus let out a deep sigh as her eyes dimmed, “However, my experience tells me otherwise...”
Twilight said no more. The sullen expression on Lapis’ face told her enough. Suddenly, something swooped out of the darkness of the surrounded waters and struck the hippocampus in the side. Twilight gasped in horror at the figure: it was the shark from before. It must have followed their scent and now desired hippocampus meat, having been robbed of its unicorn snack. Lapis struggled against the beast and cried out, “Give me a hoof, will you Twilight?! Argh!”
Twilight began to swim toward the flailing hippocampus when she froze with a horrified realization. She couldn’t breathe and the depth was crushing her! Her mind lit with a spit-second decision. She could go and help Lapis escape or she could try and save herself. Her mind raced through the options before making her mind up and pushing upward. The hippocampus would be fine. It probably wasn’t her first shark. Besides, capturing her for no reason wasn’t kind. Maybe Lapis could use a few scratches. She flailed her hooves wildly with great pains, wasting what oxygen was left in her burning lungs as she struggled to swim towards the surface. She could not process Lapis calling out to her, before she at last blacked out.
Twilight awoke on a beach in broad daylight, the sun’s rays forcing her to squint as she sat up. She coughed and felt a bit of water rise out of her throat, staining the sand beneath her. She was surprised to her a familiar call out, “Leave it to a land pony to pass out when the going gets rough!”
Twilight turned her body and felt a sharp pain in her side. A quick glance towards her waist revealed she found that she had been bitten. It was not a deep wound, but it was bleeding enough to cause concern. Looking towards the source of the voice, she saw Lapis by the shore looking at her. She was worse off. She was covered in cuts, bruises and bite marks. “Oh don't worry, I'll live. It was pretty lucky actually; the shark turned toward you after you passed out and figured you’d make an easier meal! It gave me just enough time to get an angle on it with only a small bite on you.”
Twilight felt a pang of guilt. In her moment of panic, she had essentially left Lapis to die. “Why did you help me?” She asked.
Lapis Lazuli smiled genuinely, “Because I have enough decency to help a pony in need. Any other questions?”
Silence came between them. Lapis sighed and spoke once more, “Though... sometimes I do wonder if it’s more than what your kind deserves. My kind is more than happy enough to leave you land ponies alone... We don’t kill yours, or put them in exhibits... We don’t take your parents away...”
Twilight squeezed her eyes shut in shame. Even if she had never committed an action against the hippocampi, she hadn’t batted an eye upon seeing their preserved remains on display, removed so far from the world they called home. When she opened her eyes Lapis was gone. But on the ocean breeze she could barely hear her request, “Not a word to anypony about us. If you cause any trouble, I'll make sure to tie you to a rock and leave you for the sharks!”
Twilight smiled faintly and the last thing she felt before slipping back into unconsciousness was a young, familiar voice crying out, “Celestia, she's here! We found her!”
“Twilight,” a voice said in a far-off manner.
Twilight stirred and tried to shake it off.
“Twilight. Wake up,” it repeated.
She moaned and opened one eye, reluctantly. She saw Spike looking over her as relief spread across his face, “Oh great, Twilight, you're awake! I was getting so worried!”
Twilight moaned. She was in bed back in Ponyville. She was getting tired of constantly passing out and waking up in strange places. She groaned, “Well I'm awake. Happy now? Can a pony that just got bitten by a shark and found by-” She stopped herself in time, recalling Lapis’ request.
Spike didn't notice. “Me and Celestia found you lying on the beach yesterday. We were looking all over after we heard of you disappearing! When we found you, lying around as usual, you were hurt really horribly and you had that weird necklace that’s around your neck.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. She didn't recall having anything on her neck when she had awakened on the beach. However, upon inspection she found that she had a necklace fastened beneath her jaw. Studying the blue stones, she put the pieces together: it was Lapis’ necklace. After admiring it for a while she tried to sit up, but quickly gave up after a jolt of pain ran along her sides. She lay back down with a groan and called to Spike, “Take a letter to the princess, please.”
Spike fetched a quill and scroll and began to transcribe what Twilight dictated.
“Dear Princess Celestia,
“You will be happy to know that I am perfectly fine and am recovering well. I thank you for finding me; I don’t want to imagine what would have happened if you hadn’t.
“You will probably be surprised to know that I learned something about friendship and generally being a good pony during this ordeal. I know it sounds crazy, and I can't exactly give you all of the details, but the vital thing I learned is that even if a pony has wronged you, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help them in their time of need. Whether it be somepony you like or not, somepony you trust or not, it doesn't matter. You should always be willing to be the bigger pony.
“Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.
“Got all that Spike?”
Spike scribbled down the last words and nodded. He inhaled deeply and gave a puff of green fire. In no time at all the letter was gone and on its way.
It didn't take long for a reply, and Twilight winced as she heard it from her bed. Spike unfastened the scroll and began to read, “'Spike please give this to Twilight, and let her and only her read it' Huh, whatever. Here ya go, Twi,” Spike said as he tossed it over his shoulder to Twilight who caught it with her magic. Smoothing the creases in the paper, she began to read.
My faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.
I am happy to know you are recovering. But between you and me, I would be grateful that the sea pony you met was so nice. From what I understand, most ponies never return from such an encounter. Still, it sounds like you had interesting trip and a learned a valuable lesson.
Twilight pondered for a moment on how Celestia knew about the encounter. Then Twilght shrugged and supposed that Celestia just knew those things. but decided to do one last thing. She pulled out a pen and added onto the letter for Spike to return, “They’re called Hippocampi.”